Tuesday, 10 November 2009

should the chief executive blog?

Well just to remove any suspense I think the answer is a resounding NO. Nevertheless that was the intriguing suggestion that Tory blogger, (TV pundit, columnist for the Telegraph, Eastern Daily Press and GQ magazine-not to mention Total politic publisher etc etc) Iain Dale made to a local government conference last week.

I was in London for work and found time to attend some of the session at the LGiU conference which was looking at local councils and social media'. John Ball-formerly of this parish and now a Lib Dem councillor in Ealing-was one of the speakers.

Anyway back to Dale who traced the staggering growth of this type of media to the point where all Westminster journalist blog and have twitter and where since 2007 more Christmas greetings were sent via facebook than email.

Some Local authorities have been early and enthusiastic adopters which other lag stubbornly behind hoping the new world can be ignored. Bracknell Council apparently does press releases via twitter, advertises jobs, as well as publishing every expenditure over £500 online thus enlisting and army of citizen scrutinisers.

Even at the basic level of running a website most council's fail. Dale quoted Lib Dem Mark Packs article in Total Politics, sadly he could not resist a 'put down' as he did so. Packs article does lay out the basics and it will be interesting to see how many of the points he makes are covered when we are presented with a new media strategy for Sefton. I am not holding my breath. It will be interesting to see if they pick up on this posting.

One reason frequently given for not adopting these newer forms of social media is that there are some 'nutters' out there. Indeed there are. Stephen Fry's public pondering of giving up twitter because of one of them has been much in the news. dale told the conference that he got scores of phone calls from one critic and low and behold the said 'nutter' put an appearance on the twitter feed projected behind him! It must be said that such folk regularly put in appearances at public meetings and they are to be found on the door steps of the nation as we canvass.

The concern was raised that the new social media tends toward polarisation. Right wing blogs link to other right wing blogs and people can spend their whole time without having to interact with those who take a different view. Apparently this is very prevalent in the US. In the UK things are a little better. Dale felt that there was a 'blogging' community which meant that when the Daily Mail launched a 'homophobic' attack on him people across the political spectrum rallied to his support. I suspect that is true. It is a bit like the community of interest amongst those active in politics. People like Labour's Kevin Cluskey or the Tory Sir Ron Watson and I could easily have a chat about the US presidential election which would be of little interest to most of our elector.

One thing is clear that the impact of this style of social media is nor going away. There is nowhere where a hand held device cannot now be taken. Youtube, photos and podcasts will make much more accountable and the next generation seem more relaxed about the intrusion

There are some upsides. I would love to have had a tape recorder in Sefton's cabinet when the Tories had a collective attention deficit five minutes and demanded to have their anti vote recorded on a motion that had they paid attention they would have voted differently. There are lots of occasions when accountability would be enhanced by transparency that comes with the new social media.

John Balls contribution was to tell of an amazing campaign he organised via twitter. This brought out lots of volunteers most of whom had no previous involvement in campaigning.

So back to Dale's throw away suggestion that the Chief Exec should blog. It was based on the view that the social media age demand personalisation. This is undoubtedly one of the lessons of the Obama campaign where we saw lots of 'personal stories' from voters explaining why they were going to support Obama.

Dale told us that since the Tories had personalised their website so that visitors now have a named individual to ask questions of-a new member of staff called Sam. Since Sam has appeared on the website and people can directly ask him question the number of enquiries have rocketed.

It follows that in this new personalised social media Chief Execs will be tempted to join in. For myself I think it is something that politicians should do. We are accountable at the ballot box. we need to use this media to communicate with our voters AND to listen what they have to tell us. In that context it is sad to note that according to Iain Dale the Total Politics survey could only find 109 councillors to blog-and most of them suffer a fair amount of criticism from their non blogging colleagues.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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