This week we spoke to the lovely Helen Reynolds of Monmouthshire County Council. Helen has been involved in some excellent social and digital projects throughout the country and we wanted to know more!
Where do you work: Monmouthshire County Council
Job Title: Digital and Social Media Manager
Blog address: www.acedigitalcomms.wordpress.com/blogposts
1. Could you tell us a little bit about your role and what a "typical day" looks like for you?
My role is pretty cool for anyone who thinks that government should be more transparent and accessible. I define my job as "Growing, nurturing, enabling online communities." I don't see my role as being focused on traditional ideas of PR or marketing: it's about helping people in the organisation and residents and business in Monmouthshire to use networks to grow communities. My aim is to enable people to improve life in Monmouthshire their own way.
A typical day for me is hard to find, I can work flexibly which means I can work wherever I need to - home, out in the community, in an office or even once I worked for a few days over in Ireland when I stayed with a relative. As long as my work is done effectively my organisation trusts me to find the right place to do it. This often opens opportunities to network - for example while I was staying in Ireland I was able to fit in a visit to colleagues in a local authority over there to find out how they work - learning and sharing with them was fascinating.
This month my days involve working with my team on redesigning our website and developing a more modern style guide for the way we communicate with people online. I tweet and Facebook information and chat with residents about Monmouthshire-y things going on, I blog and I YouTube. Most of the time I'm doing training and helping staff out using social media and looking at ways technology can make their work and relationships better.
2. We've heard fantastic things about the Monmouthpedia project. Could you tell us more about the project and how you are involved?
Monmouth is the first Wikipedia town in the world - we call it 'Monmouthpedia'. Visitors and locals can discover life and history in Monmouth using a smartphone to scan barcodes to get information about places of interest sent to their mobile.
Special barcodes, known as QR codes, are used to allow the user to access information from Wikipedia. If a user from another country scans the code, they'll be taken to an article translated into their home language. The initiative came about after local man John Cummings attended a Wikipedia event and heard about a project using the QR codes technology in Derby Museum. Our council officers got involved early on, supporting the Monmouthpedia appeal for people to contribute articles, reference material and photographs on interesting places, people, objects and buildings of Monmouth.
I got involved in the project team simply because it was such an ambitious and frankly awesome concept. What I love about the project is how it gets locals learning how to contribute to Wikipedia. It also gave people who love the town a place to share all the wonderful information they had locked away in cupboards and attics and their heads. A local social enterprise were commissioned to make plaques and so many people from different walks of life got involved. It was great to work with the gang from Wikimedia UK too and we have an immense amount of interest and loads of spin off projects around the world. Monmouthpedia is now slowly spreading across the whole county of Monmouthshire and we see it as a long term opportunity to connect communities and share knowledge.
3. So why do you think Monmouthshire County Council has been so forward thinking in their approach towards social media - especially as many people think of councils as reluctant to embrace new attitudes?
Well, Monmouthshire have given all their staff permission and access to social media during their working day - in fact we encourage use so that we can network with professionals across the world and also to talk and listen to residents and other people interested in our county. It means as a whole, we have a better understanding of what's happening in the county.
During the snowy weather in January, residents and staff were tweeting incredibly useful information and we were able to keep up to date information flowing around the county around the clock.
We see social and digital tools as an opportunity not a threat: we have to ensure as a council we are keeping up with people's expectations of having access and input into a 24-hour, modern operation. There's a long way to go but we're happy that we have the right attitude to keep getting better at being social and good at digital. I think the key to our forward thinking approach is in the leadership: our chief exec and council leader are active tweeters - they don't just buy into it, they use it and completely understand how important a business tool these digital channels are.
4. Can you give us your top 3 social media do's and don't's? (3 for each)
I think that social media is only good when employees understand and experiment with networks for personal use first. So these are general, non-work, tips.
1. Think about what you would like to get from social media - think about your professional interests and follow or connect with the people you admire who are leaders in that field. It's not just celebs and people tweeting about their breakfast, there's amazing information to be found!
2. Remember to be your best self - your wit and charm can make your output fantastically engaging but probably safe to keep your online persona as the person you'd be comfortable showing in a room full of relatives and potential bosses. The tipsy pub side of me is only appropriate when I'm, well, tipsy and in a pub.
3. Meet people in real life - there are so many cool people out there you can get to know so make the most of your connections and buy them a coffee some time. Networking has never been so easy!
1. Treat social media like ad space - people don't like the hard sell, especially when they're trying to find interesting people and content online. Just talking about what you have to sell, whether it's yourself, a product or a service - it puts people off.
2. Drink and tweet/Facebook (see 2.'Do') - if you're lucky it'll make no sense, if you're unlucky you'll have told the world how much you really love your ex and shared a picture of the inside of your handbag.
3. Worry too much - worrying about what to say, how it might go wrong: it stops you doing anything! Most people on social media have messed up some time, they got over it, the world didn't end.
5. So this is your opportunity to predict the future...where do you see social media going in the coming years?
I think that as smartphone technology gets more accessible and cheaper, social media will become normal for all ages and incomes, just as texting became 'just another way to talk'. I see social media as a place where we'll do all our business - from shopping to bill paying to entertainment like cinema and gigs. I think that just as we don't mind sharing information like we do with loyalty card schemes, we'll see the benefits of sharing our preferences and purchases with our communities (so we can chat about shared interests) and with companies who may reward us for our custom.
I hope to see social media for social good, with apps and social tools that allow me to actively contribute to my community locally and to use my skills to help causes I believe in. Already apps like this exist but often it feels like 'do gooding' or not an effective use of time. As we get more sophisticated in gamifying experiences and developing our understanding of the psychological needs and desires of those who want to help and those who want to get help, we'll be more likely to be more productive in our charitable deeds.