Social media: why you should take notice

Back in October I facilitated a workshop at the National Children and Adult Services Conference in Eastbourne. NCASC 2012 brought together leaders from across health and social care in the UK to discuss, debate, learn and network around the pressing topics of the day. There was much talk of the challenging financial situation, the (then) recent Cabinet reshuffle, and the ever growing demands of a population with growing need, living for longer.

The workshop I facilitated took a quite pragmatic approach. I wanted to focus on something that is readily available as a tool to support individuals, communities, councils or other organisations who are looking to engage with, develop alongside, and understand their stakeholders. Therefore, the focus was on the role that social media can play as a tool for citizen and community engagement. There is already much written about the benefits of social media, but not so much that links it explicitly to engagement. What follows is a series of blogposts addressing the issues raised during the session – the first, this one, details the reasons why people need to take notice of social media, now.

The slides from the whole session can be viewed on Slideshare here:

Social media as a tool for citizen and community engagement #NCSAC 2012 Workshop from George Julian

Why should I care about social media?
I have been working to support social care to consider the benefits of social media for a number of years now, and during that time there have been several reoccurring reasons given for why this is not relevant. The central argument of most of these are that a) it’s not something that most people engage with, b) it doesn’t matter because people aren’t allowed to use facebook in our workplace/ council/ organisation, or c) I don’t want to be one of those people who wastes hours tweeting about what I had for breakfast.

I’m paraphrasing for effect, but this has generally been the meat of the argument for why social media is not mainstream enough to worry about in social care just yet. I attempted to blow that myth out of the water in the session introduction; although in the end, to be fair I think I was mostly talking to open minded or converted people anyhow.

Felix Baumgartner – the man who jumped into space
The session started by a discussion of Felix Baumgartner, who had recently set four new records in his 24mile fall to earth from space. Three of these records had been anticipated, the first human ever to break the sound barrier; the highest free-fall altitude; and the highest manned balloon flight. The fourth, the one most pertinent for our discussion, was that Baumgartner had been watched by a record breaking concurrent audience of 8 million people live on YouTube and there were 3.1 million tweets sent about the event. No-one can deny any longer that social media is here, and that’s its increasingly mainstream across society.

What the evidence tells us
Latest available statistics in the UK (the Q3 update from ONS) show that 85% of the UK population aged 16+ (42.79 million people) had used the internet and only 15% (7.63 million) had never used it. This figure is down 2% from the previous quarter and is 9% lower than 2011 figures for the same period. Ofcom data from Q2 2012 shows that 40% of UK adults own their own smartphone and 40% of them say that it is their most important device for accessing the internet. There were also over 20 million fixed broadband connections and 5 million mobile broadband connections in the UK by this stage. 

What we can conclude
While issues of internet access remain significant, especially for people who are likely to rely on council provided support for social care, it is no longer sensible to ignore the potential of social media and dismiss it as something for a niche group of people. Most of the citizens who live in our communities are accessing the internet, for social and transactional reasons. Our staff are using the internet, and anyone who thinks that they don’t need to worry about social media because they ‘ban it from their workplace’ needs to think again, and rather rapidly. More and more of us have the social web available to us, in our pockets, throughout our working day.

Instead of ignoring that fact, or creating obstacles to it’s use, I implore you to take a more considered view. It’s time that those of us involved with health and social care, in a personal or professional capacity, look to social media and the web and consider the many benefits and opportunities that it presents. These will be considered in the next post.

Internet Access Quarterly Statistics from ONS can be found here.

Telecommunications Market Data Updates from Ofcom can be found here.


8 comments on “Social media: why you should take notice”

Pete Hill says:

George this is an excellent post I particularly like the paragraph on Why Should i Care About Social Media have heard all of those in the last few weeks. I’m trying to persuade Local Authorities to take the shackles off Twitter which is like herding cats. I’m also fed up with people saying I don’t have Twitter as if it was some sort of household luxury. I’ve also met my share of “The internet is the work of the devil” believers but then again as Western Union said when Alexander Graham Bell offered them the rights to the telephone “What use could this company make of an electrical toy? ” They’ll be plenty of those about social media for our kids to laugh about in future.”

george says:

Thanks Pete. There are sooo many reasons given for why people aren’t prepared to engage. I understand the uphill battle/herding cats feeling. Have attempted to put some more thoughts together about why people should be engaging with social media. I think too often we’re stuck on quite simplistic conversations without too many real reasons behind them, so have worked up the social media as a vehicle analogy as I find metaphors helpful. Concrete examples of how it can be useful to follow in a later blog.

I suspect eventually the value of social media will shine through and people will kick themselves for why they didn’t get involved earlier, but for now I think focusing on a good reason is helpful, if people know what they want and we can share how social media will help them with it, then we’re half way there. Keep up the good work, G

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