This is getting to sound a bit like my hobby-horse. In response to a query from someone working in local government who wanted to know how they could use social networking sites to engage with their citizens, I felt compelled once again to remind them that technology by itself was not the answer.
I know this is a very contentious thing to say, but you don’t need online social networking tools to engage with citizens. You could – for example – talk and listen to them (an ancient craft, dating back several millennia, but rapidly falling into disrepute). I don’t want to knock the advantages now available through social networking, which provides enormous opportunities for connecting people we wouldn’t otherwise know existed, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that technology is an enabler and not in itself a solution. It doesn’t necessarily follow that building the best website with all the latest social media widgets will deliver better/more effective engagement with citizens.
The blinding light of Web 2.0 hype seems to be obscuring the fact that the most important aspect in building any community (of interest or practice or whatever) is the people and NOT the technology. Though I do appear to be an increasingly isolated voice on this point. And just in case I’m accused of having Luddite tendencies, I did design and develop the (very successful) Web 2.0 community platform being used across local government (almost 9000 registered users and growing). There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that it’s continued success is very much a factor of the considerable investment in the people that support and facilitate the communities within it and not the fact that they have access to the latest social media tools. Surely I can’t be the only one who thinks this way? I’m deeply troubled if I am 🙁