Tweeting allowed or integrated?

I am grateful for the update from David Sudworth that the West Lancashire Borough Council never planned to ban the use of Twitter and social networks from meetings. The plans were about managing the situation and they attracted media coverage. He explained that the recommendations were:

“The use of Mobile phones/devices to send texts or emails, access Facebook, send tweets, take notes, open emails, access the internet etc should be done discreetly and with common sense and should not cause a disturbance to the smooth running of the
meeting.

“The Mayor/Chairman has discretion to require that mobile phone/devices are not used as at above if a disturbance to the smooth running of the meeting is caused.”

It makes perfect sense to look at what implications social networks can have on the way organisations and companies run. Although I am intrigued as to what circumstances may arise that are seen to be a disturbance in the eyes of the Mayor or Chairman.

What the whole issue has made me do is consider whether we are really making the most of the opportunities provided by social networks? I am not saying I have any answers or that in the organisations I have worked in they are doing things right.  But what is clear is that we are, in many cases, merely adding social networks to the existing structures, processes and procedures.

If we are truly to make the most from the opportunities of engagement and developing a conversation with our key audiences we may need to redesign or re-engineer our working practices to make the most of social networks. For example, looking at the way council meetings run is there an opportunity for people to pose questions or give comments through social networks during the meeting? Can the development of the new Police Commissioner give an opportunity for more direct use of social networking at the heart of this newly created accountability? And can social networks give you a greater say in the workings of your local community?

We are trying to adapt – web chats, virtual meetings and online polling is now fairly standard for a lot of organisations. But when Eric Pickles talks about the ‘armchair auditors’ and urges local authorities to encourage bloggers and tweeters is he really missing the point? Have we got so caught up in the rules and procedures around social networks that we have missed the benefits the could bring if they are used effectively. Instead of encouraging them perhaps those in public sector organisations have to find a way to work with them in a new and innovative way.

As I have already said I am not sitting writing this with all the answers. I am just posing some questions that I think most of the communication professionals I speak to have yet to really consider.  The question is not about how the company should have a Twitter feed but more about how that can be part of the transformation of the business. I have stated many times in this blog that I think social networks provide us with new opportunities as well as challenges, and also that for communication professionals they must understand the way the world is changing.

I have had a short break from work and will be back in the thick of it tomorrow. One thing I am sure about is that in the middle of clearing the in-tray, deleting the hundreds of emails and catching up on the events of the past seven days I will be considering how social networks could transform the way we communicate. What are the systems that may be improved by not just allowing tweeting or blogging but fully integrating it? This is the real challenge we all face.

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