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Social Media

in Empowerment DRAFT

A briefing note for all decision makers, senior managers and elected members regarding
the role of social media in increasing participation in decision making.

Richard Wilson
Stephen Frost Spring 2010

izwe insights 2010

We believe that everyone should have a say in how their world works.

Involving people and communities in the decisions that affect them ensures that the decision-makers remain in touch

and that the big issues are dealt with effectively - because everyone has something valuable to contribute. That's why

we've created izwe.

It's a new platform for decision makers and people like you to come together at your own convenience to create the

change you want to see.

izwe is driven by you, our partners and users. You will help decide on our strategy, what we do and how we spend

our profits. At least 15% of our profits will be donated to good causes every year and you will decide where it goes.

izwe is a new kind of organisation dedicated to maximising our positive impact in the world and empowering all who

are part of izwe: the team, our partners, but most of all you, the users. Together we are izwe.

We’re a social enterprise made up of researchers, community experts, web
people and policy experts.!

izwe was set up by Richard Wilson, Nick Nielsen and Benoit Thieulin. Richard previously founded the public

engagement think tank, Involve; Nick founded youth empowerment charity Envision which won the Guardian Charity

Award 2008 and Benoit founded La Netscouade who have delivered some of the most successful e-democracy

campaigns across Europe.

They are all empowerment enthusiasts, having delivered many high profile community participation projects for local,

national and international governments across the world. Most recently these have included at the UN Conference on

Climate Change in Copenhagen ( and European Citizens Consultation (www.european-citizens-, both of which combined community events with international e-participation. They also delivered

the biggest events for the Swedish and French EU Presidencies and were involved in drafting much of the UK

government’s participation policy over the past decade.

Now they have decided to pool their experience and build a platform for significant change. This is izwe.

izwe insights 2010

75% of adults in the UK now have access to the Internet1 , and 73% of them use the internet daily2. The

British spend more time online than they do watching TV; they work, play and even fall in love online. The

web is changing almost all parts of our lives and all industries. The closure of many local newspapers, TV

stations and record labels is just the tip of the new media iceberg.

Government is already adapting to this changing landscape. This briefing paper focuses on social media

and outlines what government can do to make the most of the opportunities it creates. It also comes with

a warning that some of the most excluded in society remain offline; however they are probably more likely

to get to you through social media than through any other route.

izwe insights 2010

Social media is that bit of the internet which is social. If you’re reading this briefing paper chances are

that you already have a Facebook account; 23 million of us already do in the UK, with the over 50s

counting for more than 2 million UK users. Facebook is the world’s biggest social networking site allowing

people to communicate, manage relationships and share things such as video and photos. Many of the

most popular social websites (such as Bebo, Twitter and Google Mail) have a wide range of functionality;

the following five headings cover just the most popular functions:

‣ Social networking (e.g. Facebook, Flickr, izwe)

‣ Instant communication: video, audio and text (e.g. Google Mail, Skype)

‣ Blogging & commenting (e.g. the Guardian's “Comment is Free”, blogs)

‣ Status updates (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, izwe)

‣ Content sharing (e.g. YouTube, Flickr).

izwe insights 2010

In short, social media can help you connect and communicate with more people, more effectively. Ofcom

recently found3 that, in general, people are far more likely to get involved with government related

activities through social media than any other route, and this difference is more pronounced for

traditionally excluded groups. As our lives become busier4 and the internet becomes ever more integrated

into our daily routines through the spread of wireless hotspots and mobile devices, the pressure to

redesign government in response to this has become immense. The main thrust of the argument is that

most people are not prepared to give up their spare time for community forums or consultation events –

unless the issue is important or controversial enough to do so. Many more, however, are happy to spend

a few minutes on a website and get involved, providing the website is well designed.

Be warned though: the competition for people’s attention online is fierce. Your offer must be compelling

to win in the online market.

When government does it right, and it often does, there are a wide range of substantive benefits

government can deliver through using social media. These include:

‣ Improving the quality of decisions (e.g. through involving larger numbers of people in key decisions

such as service changes or major planning proposals)

‣ Improving service quality (e.g. providing simple mechanisms for service user feedback and monitoring)

‣ Making government more transparent (e.g. putting more information online which local communities

can use for other services and to better understand why decisions are made)

‣ Saving money (e.g. social media if used well can reduce the costs of consultation, communications

and social research)

‣ Building social capital (e.g. encouraging online social networking in your community can translate into

stronger actual communities – leading to safer communities etc.)

‣ Increasing your democratic legitimacy (providing more opportunities for elected members to interact

with citizens and through tools such as e-petitions – government can become tangibly more open)

‣ Engaging staff (e.g. using social networking in-house to support a more cohesive workforce)
izwe insights 2010
Your social media landscape is defined by your interests and location. There are the major global sites,

which have become integral to the social media infrastructure (see 4.1), and then there are local and

hyperlocal sites (4.2).

4.1 Global Sites 5

Site Core Audience Key Functionality How Should I Use

Visual history & media Engage younger community with

Bebo Young People (under 17) multimedia content

Hub for other social media activity,

Young to middle age (Ages Friend management and promoting events, links to existing
Facebook online services, highlighting news
25 - 54) status updates
of interest... it is a flexible platform

Photography experts & As a place to store photographs

Flickr Photo sharing and share integrate with other
enthusiasts (Ages 18-54) social networks
Email is the easiest way to
communicate with and respond to
Users of other Google Email and instant large numbers of people.
Google Mail
services (All ages) messaging Instant messaging can be valuable
for internal communications

Web savvy network or Establishing community websites

Ning Private social networks or invite-only networks
community leaders

Young professionals but Listening to the community,

proactive engagement, direct
Twitter growing quickly (Ages Status updates responses to other users and
linking to other web content and
25-34) services

izwe insights 2010
4.2 Local Site Examples

‣ Norwich Paper Mill Yard Residents 6

The residents of Norwich Paper Mill Yard have created a

Facebook group to provide a place for the community

to “have a moan and a groan” about their area but also

for people to connect with each other and strengthen

community cohesion. The organisers link the group with

the City Living Management committee so that the

issues that are discussed online are channelled into

existing decision making processes. Locals also use the website to highlight council services and solve

problems themselves. It is similar to a regular resident's panel but it lowers the barriers to accessing

information and contributing than just offline meetings would allow.

‣ Harringay Online

This hyperlocal website is a social network for

residents of the ward of Harringay within the London

borough of Haringey. The local community treats it like

a social café and the topics covered range from local

history and general gossip through to organising offline

events. The citizens have successfully used the site to

engage with decision makers both through their own

mobilisation (e.g. petitions) and also by inviting local

decision makers to use Harringay Online to answer questions or post their own thoughts and updates.

izwe insights 2010

5.1 Pointers

Don’t get lost in the hype or in confusing descriptions, but concentrate on social media as a

communication tool. However, with any communication method, there are some essential guidelines to

keep in mind:

‣ Listen

Social media has changed the dynamic of communication and engagement from a monologue to a

dialogue. This shift means that it is important to use the opportunity created by these tools to listen to the

community and, in small or big ways, address the topics it wants to discuss.

‣ Respond

To really embrace social media is to respond and use the interactivity it allows for your benefit. This is an

essential and often overlooked component of any social media approach. As Camden Council's Twitter

experience shows , the emphasis is as much on responding to the content and contributions of others as

it is on your own message.

‣ Engage

There is a general guideline for using social media that at least half of the content you create should be a

response to someone else. This helps to build relationships with the community and makes responses to

your content far more likely.

‣ Keep it human

Keep communications human, not corporate. Politicians are often gifted at communicating in a highly

personal way, while big organisations may not always be.

izwe insights 2010

Camden Council’s approach to Twitter has become a best practice example of how a Council (or any organisation)

can use the site to communicate to its residents and open up a new channel for the community to engage with the


As well as spreading its news, the Council also uses Twitter to engage with community questions and conversations

on Twitter about Camden. By being responsive and proactive the Council has embedded itself as part of the Twitter

community and created new relationships between users and their services.





izwe insights 2010
5.2 Next steps

‣ Step 1

Search for your organisation or location on Twitter and Facebook and see what is going on and if anyone

is talking about you.

‣ Step 2

Set clear objectives for your social media use and create a policy that helps to guide your

communications and staff. Try and do this with as much staff participation as possible – the more it feels

like their own idea the more comfortable they will feel using it. For ideas on how best to write these try the

Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Digital Diplomacy resource7 and the Civil Service Code8

‣ Step 3

Start doing. Set up accounts on the services you think will be of use to your community and complement

your existing activities. Flickr and YouTube require little maintenance but something like a Twitter account

should be updated daily where possible – the more you use the services the more return you will see from

the community.

‣ And finally

Evaluate your use and seek to identify if your community values the tools and where better use can be

made of them. This is such a new medium that constant evaluation and reflection is invaluable, as is

sharing best practice with other organisations you know who are also using these tools.

izwe insights 2010

‣ Getting people onto your site

Your social media sites will be competing against many other sources (friends, celebrities, news,

entertainment etc.) and, against this background, people need to know your service exists and have a

reason to become part of your community. These may sound like simple hurdles but the number of social

media initiatives which have not achieved this points to a wider misconception that merely starting a

service is enough – this is definitely no longer the case (if it ever was).

‣ Letting go of control

Every organisation (across all sector) that has made use of social media tools, has had to come to terms

with the fact that it may not necessarily have complete control over who engages with them online and

how the content they create is used by others. For some who are used to one-way communication or

more structured decision making processes, this can be one of the biggest challenges of social media.

‣ Embracing Innovation

The use of social media tools in decision making, empowerment and engagement is still a new

methodology, and even though a community of best practice is developing it can be daunting to take

those first few steps. The “beta” tag with which websites approach their functionality and design is often

the antithesis of the way decision makers plan engagement processes.

izwe insights 2010

Social media is notoriously unpredictable. Before Facebook took off there was much scepticism as to the

market for social networking. This unpredictability represents the excitement of using these services but

also the challenges. In such an environment, flexibility is key. You must be prepared to change what you

are doing in response to the results you are getting.

There are six factors which are likely to dominate the emerging field of public sector social media:

Co-production of services (e.g. involving citizens directly in the design and delivery of specific services),

co-production of information (e.g. using online surveys such as Survey Monkey) and other tools to create

social research quickly and accurately.

‣ Bottom-Up (e.g. new proposals will emerge from the community that were never expected)

‣ Top-Down & Bottom-Up (e.g. integration of government-led and community-led initiatives)

‣ Visualisation of governance (e.g. making clear where elected members stand on issues and how they

have voted)

‣ Mobile devices (e.g. the rise of mobile devices such as iPhones will make all of the above ever easier,

breaking down barriers to entry).

One thing is clear in 2010: more and more people will be online using social media and in order to engage

with them Councils will have to go where they are.

izwe insights 2010

1" Ofcom (2009), “UK Adults Media Literacy interim Report”

2" Office for National Statistics (2009), “Internet access: Households and Individuals”

3" Ofcom (2009), “Citizens' Digital Participation Research Report”

4" IIPS (2009),”Henley Planning for Consumer Change Survey” – (2222), Henley Centre

5" Creative Brand Marketing: UK Social Networking Statistics


6" Building Communities Online

7" Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Social Media Guidance


8" Civil Service Code: Principles for Participation Online



‣ Cover picture: stevecadman ,

izwe insights 2010
PROGRAMMES Government Interoperability

Connecting London As society becomes more mobile and resources more

constrained, the need for shared platforms and
common models of online engagement becomes
In 2010 izwe is going to be working with six London increasingly acute.
boroughs to improve how they relate to their people Our intent is to create a future where citizens and
(especially the hard-to-reach), whilst building the governments alike can work together on common
foundations for significant efficiency savings across platforms, whether they are in Britain, Bahrain or
the boroughs. At the heart of the programme will be a Bangkok. Through pooling our collective ICT
community social networking platform which will resources we will also be able to pool our social
support real-time social research of community capital, and then anything is possible.!
perceptions and opinion.! Izwe is working to develop standards and structures
The Connecting London Programme has been that enable governments nationally and internationally
designed to help local authorities and partnerships to share software and services.
engage the hard-to-reach, create efficiency savings We are working to support significant service quality
through better coordination of online and traditional gains and efficiency savings through enabling different
communication and participation tools, and meet and public bodies to share common web platforms and
exceed requirements related to the Duty to Involve, the associated online tools.!
Duty to Promote Democracy and National Indicator 4.
Connected London is funded by! Capital Ambition,
London Civic Forum and the Department for
Leadership 2009
Communities through the National Empowerment
Partnership. In 2009 we invited applicants from public bodies
across the UK to work with us to take a step change
Health 2010 in how they engaged online and face-to-face. From
the many applications we received, four public bodies
were selected.
In 2010 izwe will be working with four Primary Care Each member of the programme is going through the
Trusts, supporting them in meeting and exceeding following four steps:
World Class Commissioning (WCC) Competencies 3, ‣ Step 1 - Research:!we will complete an audit
5, and 8, as well as their statutory Duty to Involve. process of engagement architecture &
We will do this by delivering a radical improvement in performance
their engagement performance, and at the same time ‣ Step 2 - Agree Engagement Strategy:!based on
create efficiency savings for partners through refining step 1 - engagement strategy agreed
and integrating existing engagement, research and ‣ Step 3 - Social Network Development:!the social
communication activity.! networking site for opinion launched
We are currently seeking applications from potential ‣ Step 4 - Community Participation:!targeted at
partners. Each partner will receive: engaging the hard-to-reach.
‣ a bespoke social networking website Their initial sites will be launched in Spring 2010.
‣ significant efficiency savings - through effectively The programme is endorsed by the National
targeting finite resources Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts
‣ informed commissioning decisions in line with ( N E S TA ) , a n d t h e r e s u l t s w i l l i n f o r m t h e
local needs and priorities Empowerment Delivery work of the Department of
‣ innovation in designing and delivering responsive Communities & Local Government (CLG).
‣ a new live data creation and management system
‣ 360 degree engagement
‣ significant increases in the number of people
actively engaged online.
In developing this programme we have worked with a
number of key stakeholders including the! NHS
Institute for Innovation and Improvement.!

izwe research 2010
Spring 2010

For any suggestions or comments on

this report, please email:

izwe research 2010