by Tom M This week I went along to the LGComms event at which digital media guru Drew Benvie was speaking as part of a panel discussion on the use of social media in Local Government. The discussion included Hugh Davies, Comms Director at mobile provider 3, Stephen Foxworthy from BPL Marketing, who masterminded The British Legion’s highly successful Facebook campaign last year, Mark Westaby of Spectrum Consulting and former journalist, Nick Booth, founder of Podnosh The panel was initially faced with an audience of marketing and comms managers from local councils from Caerphilly to Kent, who while aware of their role in safeguarding the reputation of the organisation they represent, were less clear on how they could engage with their local citizens through social media. The debate was characterised by a continual struggle many PR and Marketing managers face within the public sector on how to overcome knee jerk pressures from senior management when it comes to social media. This was typified by questions from the audience which ranged from demands from senior management to ‘do a blog’ often with little strategic direction to the real sense of fear that existed at senior levels when negative comments were posted by local citizens on social networks, particularly Facebook. There was also an interesting discussion on the impact social media is starting to have on the organisational structures within Local Government. Many members of the audience agreed that customer care and comms departments were increasingly being forced to work much more closely as complaints aired over the web through sites such as fix my street were gaining increasing attention from local press. It was interesting to hear in particular Hugh Davies’ thoughts on this given his experience in the mobile industry which in many ways is already much further ahead in addressing customer complaints as part of a joint comms strategy. What was clear from the discussion was the clear need for PR & comms managers in the public sector and local government to educate their colleagues (many of whom were currently banning social media sites at work) on the benefits social media and how it can be integrated into a holistic strategic campaign that starts a conversation and engages with its audience rather than just being a means to an ends in itself. There was a lot of demand from the audience of the need for, ‘a big idea’ to convince their superiors of the benefits of embracing social networking. However it became quite clear that what is needed is smaller steps through which PR & comms managers can educate their colleagues through the demonstration of success of smaller projects. As panel agreed quite accurately in their summing up, any organisations that bury their head in the sand and hear no evil and sees no evil in social media may only witness its true power when they find it swing against them.