Trust me, I’m a follower

On Friday I hosted my first unconference on behalf of the Scottish Improvement Service. The theme was social media in the Scottish public sector and you can check out #smuncon of you like.

I knew the discussions would be lively and I knew I’d learn a lot. What always amazes me though is the innovation going on in the public sector – Everyone assumes that the private sector drives innovation and that wherever they lead we will follow but I reckon they could learn a thing or two.

What we’re not good at, and this could be a Scottish Calvinist trait, is shouting about how good we are so I thought I’d have a bit of a shout out here on everyone’s behalf.

During the conference we covered all the usual topics – which social media channels for which job, community engagement, security issues, publishing and monitoring tools, social media use in emergencies, QR codes and location tools etc.

However the line that blew me away came from the Gordon Scobbie, the Deputy Chief Constable from Tayside Police (@DCCTayside). He encourages his staff to use social media, even bobbies tweet on the beat!

“I trust my staff with a baton. I trust them to remove your liberty. Why wouldn’t I trust them with a Twitter account?”

When I tweeted this line after he said it @jonbolton came straight back with “We trust social workers with care & protection of most vulnerable people. We need to trust them with socialmedia”. We’d obviously hit on something.

Trust has to go hand-in-hand with great training but why are managers so reluctant to let staff share their day? Some council jobs lend themselves perfectly to Twitter – environmental health, trading standards, animal welfare. Put the right person on Twitter and you have an ambassador for the organisation.

Who’s the right person? Usually the one who approaches you, showing an interest. Usually the one who speaks animatedly at team meetings. Usually the one who can write like they speak. Usually the one with a bit of ooomph. Usually the one who obviously enjoys their job.

Social media isn’t rocket science and neither is trust. As a manager you shouldn’t have to take a gamble, you should know without a doubt who is sociable enough for social media and if that means learning how to do it yourself you should. You never know – maybe you’re the right person for the job.


  1. lelil · December 5, 2011

    Sounds like it was a really good day Carolyne. Well done.

    I think there is something about us Scots that stops us talking about the good stuff we’re doing. For some reason, our friends down south are much better at blowing their own trumpets 🙂 As you know, I’ve been banging on about the lack of blogging in the public sector in Scotland.

    Re the trust issue, did you get any sense at the unconference that things are changing? Are managers in local authorities starting to see the benefits of allowing their staff to use social media?

    • carolynemitchell · December 5, 2011

      It’s definitely a Scottish thing this being backwards at coming forwards but it’s so deep in our communal psyche I’m not sure what we can do about it without tipping it completely the other way.
      As for trust I think we were preaching to the converted – it’s senior managers we have to persuade and that’s where Tayside Police are onto a winner because Gordon Scobbie isn’t a senior manager, he’s a leader and he leads by example. We need more great leaders in the public sector who get social media.

      • lelil · December 8, 2011

        No senior managers there then (apart from DCC Scobbie)?

  2. April X J Pressley · December 5, 2011

    Totally agree. In this current political climate, people would only benefit from hearing all about the hard work the public sector does- and in this era of personalisation of the media/entertainment it makes sense to let everyone know exactly what you do for us all, make public sector workers more accessible, and help promote local initiatives. Another interesting blog Carolyne.

  3. carolynemitchell · December 5, 2011

    Thanks April. Most of the time I think I’m talking nonsense so it’s good to hear people agreeing with me and that’s another good thing about social media – you can bounce ideas off other people around the world before you share them at work, knowing that what you’re saying is sound.

  4. Tom Phillips · December 6, 2011

    Those final quotes are wonderful and should become social media legends! Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Koaladj · December 6, 2011

    How interesting, I am a big believer in embracing and educating not blanket bans! I will continue to strive for this, and I also agree it is Senior managers who we need to have on board, however many are not social media ‘users’ and often suggest complete bans that are not thought through.

    • carolynemitchell · December 6, 2011

      Couldn’t agree more. Often what they need is to see someone else in another organisation at a similar level using it well with good results and that’s where @DCCTayside comes in. Let’s face it if the police are comfortable with it, as are GCHQ, then who are the rest of us kidding?

  6. MinimumCover · December 6, 2011

    So many elements of truth here…there is such an inherent fear within the management of letting people have freedom of expression regarding their working day. Our force are starting to release some officers into the wild with their own Twitter accounts, but those that are passionate are sometimes overlooked as they aren’t working within the “pilot” departments.

    People like me who have a genuine desire to use the social media available to us are simply bypassed only to watch the accounts being forced onto those that don’t want or understand them. Playing to the strengths of the establishment this is not!

    I have resorted to writing a blog for the last five months and although it is gaining an ever widening readership, I have the unfortunate need to keep it anonymous for fear of discovery and corporate gagging.

    I fully support the use of social media in Policing and other aspects of public sector working. You trust us with your lives, trust us with a Twitter account…


    • carolynemitchell · December 6, 2011

      It’s a shame you have to be anonymous. When I talk to people about using social media to talk, not only about work but also their personal lives, I usually quote the Channel 4 social media policy which is four words – Don’t be a dick!
      Follow those guidelines and you’re pretty much sorted.
      Good luck with the blog. Keep plugging away, always add value and you will be recognised.

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