iSulk or iUnderstand – how leaders respond to social media

9 Jan

I am a huge advocate for leaders networking with their employees, boards, citizens and their peers via social media channels. I am such a keen user, I have become the example of extreme user my colleagues use! (This is with fondness, I am sure). I first started using social media when I was a Member of Sussex Police Authority and had a lead member role for diversity and for Public Order. I was enthusiastic to hear first hand accounts of people’s experiences of policing in their own words, when they wanted to talk about it and without setting the agenda. This informal conversation was hugely useful to triangulate between official surveys, formal meetings with community leaders and official performance data. After all, it’s a well worn phrase but worth repeating: “We may hit the target but miss the point.” I was very pleased to see Sussex Officers grasp the opportunities of social media early on and engage with communities and criticism as well as praise.

So, when I saw the #TimeOnOurHands discussion following this verbal statement from Tom Winsor, I was really concerned:

Winsor quote - Time On Their Hands from Evening Standard 8 Jan 2014

You can see the original piece this is captured from on the Evening Standard 8.1.14 here. Immediately, there was a twitter fury from officers, some politicians, and ACPO at this statement which they felt undermined their efforts to engage and inform and relegated their efforts to time-wasting. Later Tom Winsor sent a statement to ACPO digital engagement lead, DCC Ian Hopkins clarifying this statement which is at apparent odds with HMIC policy:

Tom Winsor clarification

What Tom was referring to was the context online which existed when he was first appointed when there were many anonymous, federation and retired officers criticising his appointment, changes to police terms and conditions recommended in his report and other big changes to leadership and governance such as the new Police and Crime Commissioners. This context has changed but it appears to have remained current in Mr Winsor’s mind. In this, he is not unique.

I have spoken to many politicians who have used social media during campaigns only to abandon it afterwards. Having been in this position myself, I really understand why. Social media can be an unfriendly place when the context is people campaigning against you. I was really taken aback by the change in tone of interactions I had from people I had regular interactions before. I experienced the hideous unfairness of lies and character assassinations. I posted on how to deal with this atmosphere just after that campaign here – Sticks and Stones

However, once the campaign was over, so was that type of interaction. People who had been ‘shouting at me’ with rhetorical questions went back to interacting on a more conversational basis largely. Context shifts. If you are campaigning or bringing in a radical change this context will affect digital interactions and noise. When that change or campaign is done, the conversation moves on. It doesn’t make the people who participated in it, bad or people to avoid. That noise, triangulated with other evidence, in my case from the doorstep, the papers, activists etc has a useful place even if difficult to bear. A modern leader does have to understand that their context shifts online, as it does offline. Context affects tone. And, as Solihull Police Commander, Sally Bourner always says “feedback is a gift”.

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3 Responses to “iSulk or iUnderstand – how leaders respond to social media”

  1. Web design essex January 14, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

    Have to say I agree completely about networking. It is not just important to network with other businesses but also to network internally with your own staff. In my website design company in Essex my office meetings usually start every day at 9am and we brainstorm between us for better results.

  2. huxley06 February 21, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    Reblogged this on Policing Social CItizens.

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