It’s been a busy few days at Wolverhampton Today, the Facebook page for Wolverhampton City Council. Not only has it managed to acquire nearly 10,000 new followers in 10 days. It also seems to have won the hearts and souls of many of its own employees.
Why? The white stuff of course. Monday saw the closure of around 97 schools/children’s centres due to the snow. Past winters would have seen the corporate website buckle under the pressure of so much traffic. Not this year. Instead, meticulous advance planning and organisation by officers in education and comms were able to successfully direct traffic to the social media platform. So far it seems to have worked seamlessly.
Behind the scenes the admins for WT are working at all hours, usually in their own time to ensure that all incoming information is shared with its followers as quickly as possible. Where possible trying to answer individual enquires, making phone calls, accessing websites so that their followers get the answers they need. They do this not because of the need to win brownie points or the need to out-number a neighbouring council for the number of friends they have. No. They do this because; well they’re proud of the service they’re providing.
When you work in comms for a local authority and you’re given the ultimate power of being able to use social media (yes, this is still a treat for some!) you don’t abuse it. Far from it, you take the opportunity that’s given and actually start to have a conversation and engage with your audience. You humanise an organisation that very often makes the headlines for the wrong reasons. You develop its personality. And finally (big sigh of relief), the personality has started to be shaped. Let’s hope that those that feel empowered now will be permitted to continue with the good work and continue to nurture this channel of communication without the fear of ‘big brother’ looming over their shoulder.
There is something very pleasing when dozens of complete strangers say ‘thank you’ or when work colleagues join the platform for the first time because they realise the benefits on offer. And it would seem that being able to access Facebook at 11pm on a Sunday night and find out that your child’s school is shut is indeed a benefit.
As the name suggests it was about social media and specifically facebook. A fairly light subject you would assume. Well no, for a start I wasn’t expecting to be so moved and humbled after watching it. Let me explain.
The BBC produced programme told the story of what happened in the lead up and during the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011. Of how the Arab world erupted in revolution, as a new generation used the internet and social media to try to overthrow their hated leaders. These were ordinary people who utilised technology that is generally accepted as a leisure tool to change a regime, a country and make history.
While watching the film the age old saying ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’ sprung to mind. It took just 25 days to topple the president. The rest of the world would have stayed oblivious to what was happening in a small town in Tunisa had it not been for social media and the determination of normal everyday people no different to you and I. These people or ‘activists’ risked their lives to ensure that the truth was seen by the outside world, with no other tools then social media.
I’ve always thought the term ‘activists’ was a bit extreme, a militant that wanted to upset the system, dare I say a ‘troublemaker’. But it would seem that after all these years I’ve misunderstood the real definition. To be honest I’m a little embarrassed. People, regular people gathered strength from the actions of these activists, they found a voice to spread their message amongst fellow compatriots and unite against a dictatorship that ruled their lives.
The speed at which events developed was too fast to be compared with the Zapatista Movement but the principles that networked technology can be a weapon when used as a communication tool hold true. Tunisa’s censorship of political sites was no obstacle for the activists.
The story in Egypt is similar. Like a ticking time bomb people saw what was happening in Tunisia and felt empowered to take action against the regime. As in Tunisia they used social media to plan the revolt. When one channel closed they found other means of communicating, and when the regime closed all networks, ‘people power’ took over to spread the word. During WW2 areas where leafleted from the air to spread propaganda messages, these days it’s SMS! What is clear is that politics throughout the world has been transformed by digital media, including digital TV, online social networking and mobile computing. Joss Hands covers some interesting points in his book ‘@ for activism’ with his perspective on networks and political change and indeed his definitions of ‘activism’ and its association with dissent, resistance and rebellion.
What is clear is that people around the world are using social media in ways that are changing their lives and that of their fellow countrymen and women. In times of hardship and oppression people can build hope and camaraderie with such platforms. Makes me wonder, shouldn’t I be doing more?
It seems a little ironic that I’m in China writing a blog on Social Media (SocMed), a country that denies me access to both my twitter and Facebook accounts. Time to reflect by reading a paper by Marwick and Boyd as they shed light on some very interesting characteristics of SocMed users. The research confirms the importance users place upon the perceived (imagined) audience/s and how this is a if not the key factor when deciding how to use different platforms. As well as the regulated T&Cs, platforms have ‘unwritten’ codes of conduct which the user follows. The behaviour of the user determines the reaction they generate from their posts.
Launched in 2006 twitter is one of the largest platforms around. Perhaps because of its very public nature, twitter is seen as a more professional platform than Facebook. The lack of control over who can read a tweet can have both positive and negative implications for the creator of the tweet. Tweets can ‘trend’ very quickly making them go viral and reaching a huge audience in a very short time. This was highlighted during the Olympics when derogatory comments made by an individual about TeamGB diver Tom Daley made news worldwide and resulted in an arrest and caution. Such is the access to tweets that audience don’t have to have a twitter account to read their contents. My time away from the platforms has let me assess how and why it is I use the sites.
As the paper illustrates content can be categorised into two types: - authentic - strategic Apart from LinkedIn my key platforms are Facebook and twitter. As the research shows users tend to use different platforms in different ways. I’m no exception, on Facebook I’m a voyeur, occasionally posting about myself, most likely to be reading what my friends are up to and ‘liking’ or making a comment. When I do post I like to think it authentic, normally it’s when I’ve done something I consider to be exciting and want to share it. The posts aren’t intended to get a reaction, just a sign that I’m still here. In reality what I’m probably doing is taking self-censorship to an extreme level by refusing to share information about myself with my on-line ‘friends’. Maybe a part of me is fighting against SocMed?
But surely this can’t be true as my twitter persona is very different. Unlike Facebook I care about how many followers I have, the number of times I’m getting retweeted etc. Tweets are strategically written/retweeted as I build up my twitter presence. I incorporate my interest in SocMed, marketing and local government as the professional face, but just as Soraya Darabi and Brandon Mendelson say the professional face alone won’t allow me to reach all the imagined audience, so, I interject some of my own personality and passions into my tweets.
As I carry on with my SocMed schizophrenia by living completely two separate lives on different platforms. I feel reassured that I’m not alone.
The absence of the platforms has let me assess my usage and behaviour, not surprisingly I fit the stereotypes of the classic users discussed in the research.
By the end of my holiday (honeymoon!) I will have been away from SocMed for two weeks. Did I miss it? No, I don’t think I did. After the initial 48hrs I’ve realised that I don’t need to know what the girl I went to school with had for dinner last night or which groundbreaking SocMed strategy has been in the news. For now I’m content with the here and now. However, I’ve absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the minute access is restored I’ll be catching up and contributing like my life depended on it.
Marwick AE, Boyd D (2010) I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience. New Media & Society 7 July
Today, when we’re all spoilt for choice trying to select our next social media platform, whether it’s for work or pleasure the question that comes to mind is what will become of the existing tool loved by so many…
I’m not ashamed to say I quite like email, in fact I use it everyday for work, it serves a purpose and it’s not something I ever really think about.
But, recently it’s playing on my mind and this is because of two unconnected things that have happened. Firstly, a younger friend of mine who works in the creative industry mocked me for using email, I thought it was a bit harsh but now I’m starting to think she was right. She uses a host of tools that seem to get her job done and traditional use of email is not one of them. The second thing that happened was that my work place outlook network collapsed. Sometimes this can be a good thing as you have the opportunity for that unexpected 10min break. However, the last time it went down it stayed down. I have no idea why, but I was told by my ICTS helpdesk ‘it needed an engineer’, sounded serious.
The reason I feel so affected by this is that even by being a lover of all things new and related to social media, my organisation still operates in the traditional way – that is using email for everything! We have Twitter and Facebook (limited access rights only) but that’s about it. Everything else to do with day-to-day work is conducted on email.
While email is great for short communication between people (similar to SMS) I think it’s lost its way a little in the modern workplace. I realise that we’re all culprits of abusing email when we transfer huge documents between ourselves, ping-ponging attachments back and forth and creating document chaos. The sad thing is that there are so many other tools available where documents can be shared, amended and tracked such as Google docs and SharePoint (to name but two) yet the use of these platforms is still by the minority.
Come on on you big organisations stop being so cautious and give these other tools a go. This could be the ideal place that smaller businesses can outrun the bigger boys and teach them a thing or two. I hope so. I really don’t want to have days like the ones I’ve been having recently.
The event successfully took place at 12h00 (GMT+1) with Steph, Adeline, Sari, Isaac and me (Bal) discussing the use of social media in a humanitarian crisis situation.
It was really useful to see what the similarities and differences are when working in a non-profit making organisation dealing with crisis, both on a local and an international scale.
As promised here are some general points that were raised during our discussions.
To be a good public organisation using social media you must be honest and transparent so that your audience can build a level of trust with you and, ultimately with what you’re sharing with them.
Building trust with your audience is absolutely essential, ideally built an audience when you’re not in a crisis!
If you’re caught unprepared in a crisis, do something about it and fast. Like now, not when the crisis is over.
Use all the platforms that you can on a daily basis so that more often then not (and probably by trial and error) you’ll see which one works best for you, if you are in a crisis you can direct all your audiences to one site.
Not only engage in conversations on the platforms you host (e.g. your organisation’s Facebook page). Explore how you can proactively engage on others’ blogs and sites too (e.g. correct information, address rumours and answer questions that concern your work).
Monitor whats going on out there, you could prepare/halt a crisis before it happens. Examples of good tools to monitor real-time information sharing taking place on platforms like Twitter are: monitter.com, hootsuite.com, tweetdeck.com and Radian6 (commercial).
It’s very important to triangulate and validate information filtered via platforms like Twitter. Especially if you gather the information to feed a process that might lead to significant operational decisions.
A major challenge for international organizations is multiple language. Current social media platforms, like Facebook and Google+, don’t facilitate for organisations like the Red Cross often communicating in English, French, Spanish and Arabic. Running multiple pages and accounts are not always an option due to being too labour intensive and costly.
Local organisations can keep the sites up to date on a regular basis with local community based information. But, how would international organisations do this and do they do this, maybe something to consider for another debate.
Never underestimate the power of crowd sourcing. Just like Steph’s experience of the New Zealand earthquake where she managed to provide information to her family at the scene of the crisis despite being 1000’s of miles away.
After several weeks of planning, writing blogs, hanging out (lots) on Google+,tweeting, updating Facebook, sweet talking social media experts to participate, the ‘Hangout Event’ has been and gone.
While a part of me lets out a huge sigh of relief there is also a part has been really fired up and excited about taking part in more events like this.
Group exercises can be difficult, when do you participate? is it enough? is everyone pulling their weight? etc,. I need not have worried about any of these things. The hardest part was deciding on the format of our event. Once my fellow MA Social Media students and I had decided on a Google+ Hangout everything else fell into place.
I paired up with Isaac Griberg, a distance learning student from Geneva. Isaac’s experience with the International Red Cross and my own working for a local authority meant we shared a common interest in working with non-profit making organisations. We decided that the topic of out hangout would be ‘The use of Social Media in Humanitarian Crisis’.
Isaac would use his experience and focus on the use of social media on an international scale, while I would bring experiences from a little closer to home and focus on crisis that have occurred on a local level.
We both produced presentations, set up a schedule of tweets, Facebook and Google+ posts, personal blogs, all to maximise the promotion of the ‘hangouts’. Where we deemed appropriate personal invites were emailed out with some background details about the event, the recipients were all encouraged to visit EventBrite to register for the event of their choice.
Unfortunately, not everyone who registered could attend, but this is inevitable. However, this was never an issue as the topic seemed to generate a huge amount of contributions from our panel! With three guests on our panel being able to ‘hangout’ for the entire one hour session there was lots to discuss, share and ponder over. The only time I had to resort to my ‘hangout’ schedule was when I had to call time. The back-up questions stayed just that, back-up.
I would like to thank all our guests who attended but also the ones that tried but were let down by technology. The ‘hangout’ will be shared with everyone once the screen-cast is edited along with the presentations.
I would also like to say a huge thank you to Isaac for being such a super partner to work with and for all his support and encouragement, this really was a great team effort!
Finally, bit of a confession really. I was so caught up in the logistics of planning and hosting the event that the potential learnt outcomes from the topic completely passed me by. That is until I was in the ‘hangout’. I’ll share these with you in my next blog.
The whole experience has been such a steep learning curve, but one that I’m so glad to be taking part in.
On 29 September, 2009 Tropical Storm Ketsana (also known as Ondoy) caused devastating floods in the Philippines. As Ketsana moved away, the destruction left behind in the Philippines became apparent. The death toll stood at 246 people, with many more missing. In addition to this the devastation also left some 450,000 people displaced.
This is a terrible tragedy but what is undeniable is that while all the devastation was taking place social media sites were used to maximum effect. Not only were they used to share information about the storm but also to report rescue efforts and emergency cases in disaster-struck areas. The internet became a major platform by those affected by the crisis who found they had no other means by which to be heard.
As telephone networks became clogged Twitter and Facebook became the means by which citizens could keep pace with developments and share information, such as the text numbers for disaster relief agencies and volunteer organizations. For the first time different agencies were able to collect the crowd sourced data and target the rescue efforts, no doubt the speed at which this could happened saved many people from death.
It also gave the opportunity for real time data to be collected relating to the nature of the storm and the corresponding flood waters. Scientist could measure the effects of the storm as it occurred which in turn helped in the rescue efforts.
Now this happened nearly three years ago. Yet there are similar stories of the use of social media in other crisis from around the world - Haiti and New Zealand Earthquakes, Australian fires. The list goes on.
So, back to the original question ‘Can social media save your life?’.
Lets discuss this in the Google+ hangout on ‘Use of Social Media in Humanitarian Crisis’ 25 April, 12h00 (GMT +1).