Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Don't control the use of social media. Guide it.

One question that most often arises when I am working with Planners or municipalities on their use of social media goes something like "How do you 'control' (with air-quotes) the use of those online tools by staff?".  The simplest variation of my answer is "I don't. And you won't either, so don't try".

When you are exploring the use of social media tools for your organization and the discussions move in a fear-based direction, ask yourself "What are the policies we have regarding telephones, email, or letter writing?".  There is as much potential for 'damage' to be done through the use of other communication methods, but we have developed simple (written or unwritten) professional norms around their use.  I suggest that a similar approach be adopted for social media.  Don't try to control the use of social media. Guide it.

Looking at the vast potential of these tools, such as: cost savings; facilitating collaboration; improved communication; openness and transparency; community participation, and improved project management, through a lens that is focused on control is wrongheaded.  In terms of Planning and municipal service provision & information transfer these tools have more than just the multiple benefits listed above, they also provide opportunities for creativity and innovation.  The fear of misuse should not taint decisions regarding the integration of online tools and social media for organizations such as planning departments.  Let the discussion focus on the potential creativity and innovation that could be afforded your organization.  Don't look to control, but find the necessary structure and insure that it is balanced and context appropriate to maximize benefits. 

I fully acknowledge that there are nuances relating to staff experience, expertise, and expectations, which can also be compounded by generational norms; however, there is no need to overreact or become paralyzed by potential hazards of social media.  Address key issues in training or individually as the use of these tools are implemented.  Don't avoid the potential because of fear of the hazards. 

I have used the following six policies for the management of online tools and social media use with all the Planners, municipalities, regional and national projects that I have worked with.  These policies are easily understood and build upon existing professional practices, ethics and expectations of conduct.  I hope you will find them helpful.

1.  Only professional opinion will be included in online content, as governed by the ethics and code of conduct of OPPI (Ontario Professional Planners Institute) and CIP (Canadian Institute of Planners).
2.  Only public information and facts about a specific project will be posted online, no editorial comments.
3.  Links will only be provided to reputable sources (such as: professional organizations; government sites; research centres; etcetera).
4.  Posting shall be done by logging on with Town identities, not personal accounts.
5.  No posts that appear to advertise a particular service, company, or product.
6.  All comments made by the public will be moderated, with no obligation to respond to rude comments.   


Anonymous said...

Great job Robert. I am a firm believer that Social Media can assist planners in communicating with stakeholders and encouraging innovation. I think one of the problems that some organizations are faced with is a 'generational knowledge gap'. I think some people from older age groups don't fully understand the technology and as such can't appreciate how powerful of a tool it is.



social media planner said...

As stated in your title, I hardly believe in this. You just have the discipline to use social media.