Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Social Media part 9

Energising through Social Media: some tools

Two key components for energising one's customers are to provide them with a means of developing their interest in what you do and giving them a feeling that they are valuable and special - and this must be genuine. There is some cross over between these in terms of what the tools can offer, so rather than list the tools under these two categories, I have just listed the tools and tried to show how they can help. This list is not meant to be exhaustive.


Amazon book ratingsYou will probably already be familiar with ratings tools: perhaps the best known is Amazon's customer book reviews. The power of these tools is that the creators of the ratings feel empowered - they truly feel that they can have an influence. Amazon takes this a step further because you can even rate the ratings (i.e. provide "was this useful" feedback on the reviews). This tool crosses the two components described above.

How could we use it in councils?
A high risk, but potentially high reward approach is to open up some of our services to user ratings. We could create a "How are we doing" web site, divided into different services (e.g. waste collection, benefits, housing) and in each one list the kinds of services we provide (e.g. household waste, household recycling, bulky items). For each of these users would be invited to post a review of the service and give it a rating, and we could also include an Amazon-like "was this useful" rating as well.

People who post reviews would have to register, so we'd know who they are and be able to get back to them about their feedback. If we do this is a positive way, and fix problems they've highlighted we'll start to build an energising relationship.

Champions and Experts

LinkedIn Q&A pageHave you ever visited specialist discussion forums? If so you'll probably notice that some of the users of the forums have a special status, and these are not members of staff. These are usually people who are acknowledged as being experts. For example the LinkedIn professional network has a Q&A section where members can ask questions and other LinkedIn users can answer them. The person who asks the question can rate the answers, and those people who get Good and Expert ratings become flagged as such within the LinkedIn community. As this is entirely a user-powered mechanism, people are encouraged to provide answers in the hope that their peers will rate them as Good or Expert. So a sub-community arises within the main community of people who are strongly motivated to support and grow the community's activities.

How would this work for councils?
We could do this is a couple of ways. One way would be to monitor the reviews people post using the first of the above tools. People who post frequently and who also give responsible and constructive (though not necessarily positive) views could be identified. We could then contact them and thank and engage them. Give them a special status in the "How are we doing" site whereby they can, for example, respond to other people's posts. We can also give them access to information so that they can become a kind of informal support agent for the council. For example someone posts a review about the recycling collection and raises an issue about how to get a new bin. Our expert sees this and posts the answer. This makes them feel good (energised), helps the original poster, and costs the council nothing.

The second option is to use the LinkedIn method of identifying experts, and then once they have been identified by the community, engage with them directly ourselves - "how can we help you to do what you do better?"

A step up from this is to also grant these experts a moderator role so that they can police and remove offensive materials from the ratings site. Again this is an energising mechanism because it gives them greater control, and it minimises what the council has to do by itself.

Digg this

Digg most popular page 4 Nov 2008No I haven't misspelt "dig". Digg is a bookmarking site that uses ratings to show the most popular web sites. For example today (4th November, the day of the USA election) the most popular Digg is... no, not the US election but the fact that Obama's grandma has died (7878 diggs). Digg is an energising tool because again, like the reviews, it gives power to the users: each person feels that their vote (i.e. Digg) can count. Like LinkedIn and Amazon the host plays no role in actually assigning the ratings: it's all user generated.

So how can we use it for councils?
How about comparing councils with each other? Risky, or what? Users would be encouraged to rate a council for a specific service. On the web site you could then either look at a council to see how all its services rate against others (Council X is great for benefits claimants but useless for getting fly tipping cleared), or you could look at a specific service and see who's best and who's worst. This is really empowering stuff for the users - the question is, what would we do about the results because they could be very challenging! But just maybe the fact that we're encouraging and enabling people will in itself be a power for energising.

This model could be developed beyond just councils to include other public sector services.

Hopefully you'll see the common trend that runs throughout all three examples: giving the users freedom and power. This is at the heart of the Social Networking thesis as I have explained previously. It can be very scary indeed for control-oriented organisations like councils. But just maybe it can free us too and help us develop better services with as well as for our citizens and local businesses. And it's no coincidence that the last step on the ladder, supporting, moves us further down that road.

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