Earlier this year I was invited to speak at the LGPro Social Media 2015 event in Melbourne on 22 April: it was a fantastic event attended by over 100 Victorian local government communications people. Here are some post-conference takeaways and thoughts:

1) The City of Ballarat has 25% of their population following their social channels. Yes, Ballarat is a tourism hotspot, but it’s a great example of what can be done by local government.

2) Ballarat has a digital transformation specialist. This looks to be a job role that will become increasingly in demand by government agencies.

3) Digital disruption: what affect will it have on government? With the success of Airbnb, Uber, Netflix and others, there’s been a lot of talk about what digital disruption will look like in the government sector. Unlike other industries, we have a monopoly on essential services, so will it happen or are we too bureaucratic and stuck in our ways for it to have a big impact?

4) Jason Laird, Communications and Chief Social Officer at Telstra, spoke about his company’s ambitions: one voice supported by many, all employees social, all communications roles social.

5) A pilot project for local Telstra store Facebook pages has been successful: people value a local perspective from national brands.

6) Telstra’s aim on social is to tell great local stories. Brilliant.

7) Jason said that small community groups now have an equal voice to big corporates using social media: ignore this at your peril. He gave examples of Facebook pages opposing – and in some rare cases supporting – new mobile phone mast towers.

8) Listening to Jason reminded me how fascinating it is finding out what people in other industries are doing and how they are innovating. How can we take these ideas and adapt them to a government context?

9) There was still frustration from some at the conference that social platforms were not getting the dedicated time and budget they need in local government.

10) There’s a growing role in comms teams for dedicated content creators. I was fascinated to hear that Shepparton Regional Council in Victoria have a former commercial radio producer doing their digital stuff.

11) One of the benefits of social media is that we can tell stories from a more genuine point of view instead of pitching them to what we think a newspaper wants to hear. To put this in a Marxist kind of way, through our own digital channels, we own the means of production (publication) and don’t have to go begging cap in hand to journalists to print our stories.

12) A challenge we face is upskilling traditional comms people with digital skills to be part of this new landscape, or as per the point 10 above, facing competition from people coming into government from other sectors.  Can you take a photo? Shoot a video? Storyboard an infographic? See my list of 36 skills and abilities for comms people

13) The 24 hour nature of monitoring social media is still a concern for many councils.

14) Risk is the single biggest issue for local government use of social media as so many councils are risk-averse.

15) Cultural change is still the biggest barrier and is related to the point about digital disruption. How do you combat the staff who counter change with “But we’ve always done it this way”? Another classic question: “Why are we taking customer service requests via social media? Why can’t they just ring or write a letter?” Answer: Because they don’t want to.

16) Future budget uncertainties: In Victoria there is the prospect of rate-capping, in other Australian states there is the issue of potential or forced council amalgamations. The prospect of decreasing budgets may well force redundancies, and make staff do more with less. Back to point 12: will you make the cut?

17) Austerity driving innovation in localgov. There have been many impressive social media case studies over the last few years in the UK, with austerity seemingly driving innovation. This almost sounds like a good outcome, but they don’t call it austerity for nothing. With many UK local government friends on my Facebook, I’ve read about the devastation that cost-cutting measures have caused many times.

18) What a talented, dedicated bunch of people we are! Go us 🙂

19) I wish we had an LGPro in Queensland. The event showed that low-cost events can be fantastic! Thanks in particular to Jen from RedRebelComms for the invite to speak at #LGProSM15 and Diana from LGPro for making all the arrangements for me!

20) You can check out my two conference presentationsBuilding an online community in Redland City and Social media in emergencies.

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