Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Brighton and Hove's social media ambitions

Brighton and Hove City Council is advertising for a social media officer, I discovered today.

My first reaction was to laugh. Then I saw the salary (more than I've ever earned), my news editor hat came on again, and the story of a council paying someone good money to play about on Twitter and Facebook took over. Now, although I will defend the validity of that angle to the hilt, I've had a bit more time to reflect, and I'm more in two minds.

It's way past my bedtime, so some quick thoughts (many prompted by @artistsmakers):

Why do you need a separate press officer to perform this role? As @artistsmakers pointed out, social media is just a tool to talk to people - it's the equivalent of hiring someone to type and send emails.

Perhaps that's disingenuous of me though - the fuller job spec says part of the role is to "evangelise, train and coach staff on the implementation and use of new technologies such as blogging and tweeting". So will normal council staff be allowed to use social media? (I'm told that Facebook etc are currently blocked.)

If council staff are let loose, will they be allowed to respond to tricky questions publicly, e.g. on a Facebook wall, on Twitter, or in the comments of a blog?

If so, will these responses have to be vetted in the way I'm sure B&HCC press responses must be? Surely that would be far too time-consuming? And kind of defeat the point of being open, accessible and accountable in the first place!

But if council staff are allowed to respond freely, then will journalists be allowed to ask questions in these online forums? And if they are, then where does that leave the press office? Could we be seeing a return to the times when journalists were able to talk to the horse's mouth? But now joined by citizen journalists too?

Interesting times . . .


Anonymous said...

Hey Jo

What's really interesting about it is that it's in the marketing team, not the press office - so will they be answering any difficult questions at all?

I know of a few councils that use Twitter for promo-ing what they're up to but I've never yet seen them asked any difficult questions, by journalists or punters.

And, knowing what I know about what I'm allowed to say when I'm tweeting as the Echo, I'd always assume the Twitterer was a first point of call, not the person who can answer any questions I might have.

So it'll be interesting to see what happens....

Jo Wadsworth said...

I've since had several long conversations with someone who wants to be identified as a "senior council communications officer", and who clarifies
*the job is likely to be about writing strategy rather than actually doing
*normal council officers are unlikely to be doing it themselves, it will be comms officers

he also makes the fair point it would be unfair to expect normal officers to respond to questions, in same way it's unfair to expect Whitehall civil servants to take flak for Government ministers' decisions.

It's interesting you've not seen difficult questions being asked - nor have I yet. But then, I didn't get that many difficult questions to begin with, until people realised I was quick to answer other questions. Oh, and eavesdrop on them talking about us and stick my oar in anyway - which I think is what Brighton and Hove City Council intends doing too, based on their saying "people are having conversations about us which we want to be involved in" (paraphrase)

I guess the thing we're all agreed on is that social media is a great way of talking to people in a transparent way. For a cynic like me, the acid test, as with any of the many, many consultations councils spend thousands of pounds conducting, will be to what extent it influences policy . . .

Sarah said...

That is good money. Shame I only just noticed it... Too focused on trying to get my own job done while being dragged into print-related work and covering for other people.
One day I will get to be a proper web editor.