Social Media and One-way Traffic Systems

Public Service institutions may be sticking too closely to old assumptions about communications as they start using social media channels. There is evidence of too much metaphoric one-way traffic, in situations which cry out for two-way systems

This is a local story (although it may have wider interest). Regular subscribers will know that I work in the Manchester metropolis. Recently, [Nov 3rd 2010] something struck me about the way local authorities involve in social media as evidenced by their Tweeting activities.

The Manchester Police get it

I was most impressed last week when the Greater Manchester Police decided to have a 24-hour period tweeting everything that was happening on the beat. Great, I thought. Leaders of our thin blue line have got the idea of social media. Fast friendly communications. Well done.

So what about the local authorities?

Then Twitter suggested I might like to follow the tweets of Manchester City Council. Why not, I thought? If the police are starting to experiment with Twitter, maybe the regional politicos are at it as well. So I got on to the Manchester Council Twitter Site to find out. I rather liked the personal tone of some of the messages. But there was something not quite right. I had a growing feeling that a lot of the traffic was a bit ‘one-way’. That is to say it was sent out into the internet without a great attempt to connect up with the audience. I had noticed the same sort of thing in the operation of celebrity twitter sites.

So I looked at the sites of a few more local authorities. The sense of one-way traffic systems persisted. As a matter of fact Manchester turned out to among the sites which did provide more personalised messages which inviting two-way traffic. However, I began to think of a way of measuring the amount of one-way traffic around any paarticular site.

The signal for one-way traffic

The ratio of followers to people being followed may be a crude starting signal. Celeb sites tend to have a ratio showing many people following, to few people they follow. This is one-way traffic. [There are also a few sites which have the opposite ratio of following many people to having few followers. This is a different kind of one-way traffic.]

The follower/following ratio

Whipping on an academic hat, I suspect there will be value in examining more closely the follower/following ratio. It’s tempting but a bit simplistic assume that a ratio of 1:1 will be appropriate in every case.

Manchester City has a ratio of ‘following’ to ‘followers’ of about 1:3, which is higher than most sites I visited. Stockport Metropolitan Borough, in contrast has a percentage of about 1: 200.

There is someone out there

So I sent Manchester City a tweet [Nov 3rd 2010] “@ManCityCouncil Why do public service sites think social media is about sending your message out to a receptive world?”

To my pleasure I got a reply later the same day, which sort of confirms my point about the receptivity of the Manchester Council site. There is someone out there in a two-way traffic system. Stockpost has not as yet replied…

The dilemma of firewalls

The challenge of achieving the full potential of social media is made more difficult by the presence of fire-walls and the concern of ‘leakage’ of sensitive information beyond them. These issues concern many executives in public and private sectors alike. The dilemma is an important one, and calls for leadership, judgement, and creativity.

From reactive to proactive?

The brief experiment helped change my jaundiced view about Manchester City Council’s receptivity to the community based on one set of social media. More broadly, the initial evidence suggests that here is still much that can be done to go from reactivity to proactivity, as one-way become converted to two-way communication systems.

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One Response to Social Media and One-way Traffic Systems

  1. Smyth Harper says:

    Interesting article. Thanks for the positive feedback on our Twitter presence. It’s still a work in progress of course, and the points you raise are certainly valid. One of the aims we have with our tweets is to signpost people to the council leader’s blog, which is certainly two-way and can get quite lively!
    Smyth Harper, head of news, Manchester City Council

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