Social media – is there a grand plan?

Through social networks I have been able to make contact with people around the world with no regard to boundaries and borders. It has effectively given me the opportunity to have conversations that span the globe. Like most people when I started using social media I had only a vague ideal what I was getting into and what affect it may have on my life. One thing is clear, I never had a grand plan about how I was going to use it, which is the same for many organisations.
People often spoke about the Internet being the thing that made the world a smaller place but with the arrival of social networking it has got even smaller. The things that may concern me when i am sat at my desk in Manchester are also probably things being considered in offices across Europe. It was brought home to me at a social media workshop involving police officers and academics from seven countries that took place in Manchester this week.
There were representatives from the UK, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Vancouver and France all looking at how to make best use of the new technology and the opportunities provided by social media. Everyone wanted to learn from the experience of others clearly recognising that no one individual, organisation or country has all the answers. Everyone had different legal systems to work within and in policing environments that are very different. However, there was one thing that everyone at the workshop had in common and that was to find how social networks can help policing.
And that for me is the joy of social networks, firstly that I can start such conversations with people around the world, but also that I can use it as an introduction and forerunner to face-to-face meetings. It gives us all the opportunity to establish a network around whatever our main interests may be. I have to say that although I support organisations having created a clear social media strategy I have never been particularly big on the academic evaluation of how social media is used. One of the main concerns I have is that a lot of how social media develops such as the tone etc is intuitive rather than part of some deliberate grand plan.
There has been some detailed research carried out of the Tweets that were issued by the @gmpolice during the August riots. It does make interesting reading and you can identify in it the stages of the incident through the information and conversations that were talking place. But when I was asked why certain Tweets had been sent or why specific information was provided I had to confess that although there was a communication plan the details of Tweets were very much linked to the activity that was taking place. We listened and responded. Simple. Does that make the activity any less valuable? I don’t think so.
It is important to know why as an organisation you are using social networks but to over-analyse the tweets or messages risks trying to provide a formula for what makes use of social networks effective. I really value the access social networks have given me to colleagues around the world but will avoid trying to great a grand plan for how it works on a daily basis.

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