Thursday, 20 November 2008

Social Media part 11

From my last post (14th November) I set out the aim of providing support for communities that use Social Media tools in such a way as to relieve us of some of the effort of providing support by other means and/or generating higher levels of positive energy within our target groups.

Meetup was a great example of such a tool because it used a Social Media web site to support a real world activity. So how can we apply this to our environment? As ever I have a few suggestions, but this isn't meant to be an exhaustive list - rather I hope it is an appetite whetter!

You ask - We do

Tidy Oldham website One thing that the web provides is a much easier way to communicate. Our existing web site already has many online forms that people can submit to services ranging from general complaints or compliments to reporting specific issues such as fly tipping. But this seems like a bit of a "black hole" - when I report a problem, can I be guaranteed that there will be an action and/or reply? Oldham Council has already taken a step further along the road here with the "TidyOldham" website - here you can post a picture of a problem (using mobile phone MMS or standard email), e.g. fly tipping, graffiti - and when action has been taken this is shown next to the picture and report you gave along with a picture showing the result of the action. They don't yet seem to have built on this and rolled it out to further services - for example what about having a facility for people to upload design ideas for parks and play areas and then see the results (albeit with a longer turn-around time).

Find my nearest

My Hants websiteThis is almost a cliché now, with commercial advertising on TV highlighting services available on mobile phones and car satnav systems showing petrol stations, cash machines, etc. Many councils have started to adopt this idea, perhaps the best example being myHantsWeb, where, if you sign up by providing a name and address, you get a personalised web page showing you stuff that's going on near to your address, e.g. what's on, local road traffic reports, local schools and libraries. What's more, myHantsWeb doesn't reinvent the wheel - where there are existing services it can tie into, it uses them. An example of this is the recycling facilities section. Here there is an automatic link (based on your address, which myHantsWeb knows) to the national recyclenow web site (which shows recycling points near a specified post code). A support system like this is great because it's self-help: people can find the information they need without contacting the council - and because the council (Hampshire CC in this example) makes it simple and easy to use, it leaves one feeling positive about the council. You could probably get some (but not all) of the information myHantsWeb web provides on the Oldham web site, but you'd have to hunt around - it's not all in one place. We don't make it easy.

Real time support 

Online chat support website exampleIf you're a bit of a techie, like me, you'll probably have ended up on various online support forums from time to time. Most of these take the form of an online message board where you can post questions and either someone from the user community or someone from the actual company will respond. These tend to get rather messy over time because the number of questions grows and it can be hard to find the right place to post your question anyway. So this means frequently asked questions get asked over and over again because the posters either can't find earlier examples or can't be bothered to look. Now there's nothing wrong with this approach, and it's one I'd recommend we could try - but it does need resource because someone has to monitor the posts, weed out the offensive and non-relevant material, and make sure questions do get answered. But some of the more innovative sites have now started to provide an online chat facility (many of you will be familiar with instant messaging services like MSN or AOL). Here you can post a question to someone who is actually online and you'll get a more or less instant response. This is the online equivalent of a call centre, so it needs resource allocation in the same way, i.e. people on hand to take the "calls". But quite often (good old 80:20 rule) the answer will be in the database of messages that have been replied to previously and/or in the site FAQ, and all the agent needs to do is provide the link so that the customer can click and get straight to the answer they're looking for.

Hopefully these ideas give an impression of the ways in which we can provide support using Social Media tools - ranging from self-help through to online chat-centres; different tools being suited for different purposes, but all aimed at providing support.

Next up: Embracing!

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