Social listening in government – practical uses

We live in a data world and the predicted rate of growth is staggering. 73% of adults in Great Britain access the Internet every day, 53% of them do so using a mobile phone.

The expectations of networked publics are different and demanding.

Service Delivery

Many businesses today now rely on monitoring social media to find out when and where their services are not functioning; simply it became an easier, faster route than relying on system auto alerts that have no context other than themselves.  Digital service design is particularly good for filling knowledge gaps at a local level, putting context into issues and allowing government to focus on what residents are really concerned about.  Integrating real time social data into services, such as Transport Buzz, FixMyStreet, allows a host of actions from public utility to potential efficiencies in public supply chain and logistics.

Operators and services informed by real time data can draw a broad range of insights from quantitative to qualitative metrics allowing government to focus on efficacy.  An example is the #311 program, a service that gives citizens a direct way to connect with government for non-essential services without getting lost in bureaucracy.  The programme now operates in over fifty North American cities with Toronto being the biggest.  Sweden, Finland, Germany and the United Kingdom are adopting similar programs.  In 2010, an Open311 API was announced.

Social Media as Service Provider in Crisis & Emergency Management

Social media plays an increasingly important role in crisis management.  For example, in 2011, during the floods in Queensland, Australia; and in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy wrought enormous destruction across the East Coast of the US.  One organization in particular “funnelled an enormous quantity of donated goods and supplies out to the hardest-hit areas, ensuring that thousands of New Yorkers were sheltered, warmed, and fed, and provided crew after crew of volunteers willing to take on the difficult, dirty, and occasionally dangerous job of site clearance.”

“It may be that the #Occupy movement’s most defining moment will be its indispensable mobilization for Sandy victims” @anildash tweeted.  It’s provocative but for many residents and observers OccupySandy replaced the Red Cross and FEMA as the go-to resource for aid.  For New Yorkers who wanted to help it was the simplest, easiest, fastest and most effective way to get involved.

Social media lay at the heart of what made that effort work; lessons learned were subsequently integrated into a Homeland Security report.  Comparing the uses of social media in times of crisis the uneven distribution of knowledge is notable.  The learning is coming together but more can and must be done to develop emergency services social media skills and capabilities.

Being There

During the London Riots in August 2011, the Mayor refused to use the hashtag #londonriots as his Comms people suggested that using the hashtag would be seen to be “endorsing” the riots. This meant that in the most important conversation of his mayoralty he was talking to himself while the rest of the community are talking to each other?  However, the hashtag including another #riotcleanup mobilised a large number of citizens to organize a cleanup of the streets.

Simply, you have to be where your public is.  The rest of the world has moved from broadcast to engagement so too must the public sector. Public servants are on the front line of deep social change. We need to get closer to the narratives and stories told by citizens that can better guide our effort.   We need to be in the places where those narratives unfold.


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