Enabling citizen engagement 2.0
If there’s one thing positive to come out of this new age of austerity, it’s the bottom up changes to service delivery models that it has encouraged, says Richard Giblin.
Local government has always provided the accessible face of government services within local communities. But let’s face it, many of the traditional access mechanisms were dreamt up and implemented in a bygone era, when there were fewer communications channels available. Not so long ago call centres or face-to-face meetings provided limited direct access to citizens and the local newspaper was perhaps the best means of mass communication.
Now, regional press circulations are dwindling and maintaining the level of face-to-face and telephone contacts is prohibitively expensive. Furthermore, 35% of citizens regularly interact with their local council website and 77% of the UK population has a social media account, including 18% of pensioners. This indicates a massive untapped opportunity to ‘fish where the fish are’ and target more citizen communications towards these new digital channels.
In a previous post I discussed the role that social technology and segmentation will play in enabling councils to communicate effectively with the ‘Citizen of the Future’, but what makes the adoption of social media an immediate priority?
In its ‘Better Served’ report, Socitm is very clear on the instant value of shifting more customer engagements to online channels: the data shows the average cost to handle a citizen enquiry online comes to 32p, compared to £2.90 over the telephone and £7.40 face-to-face. To illustrate, that means a local authority that currently receives 50,000 face-to-face visits per month could feasibly save over £2 million per year by reducing these by 50%!
So how can social media be used to engage more successfully with residents with the added possibility of making cost savings?
Our fellow Solace partner, BDO, has gathered together a number of case studies of successful deployments of social media in local authorities so I won’t go into too much detail about the where and when of deployment.
More interesting is what these all have in common. In each case the use of social media comprised a targeted campaign to improve service delivery, thereby reducing costs, improving the citizen experience and gaining deeper insight into citizens’ most pressing needs.
Rarely are we presented with the opportunity to improve citizen engagement in a form that can achieve significant cost savings. Social media isn’t some silver bullet that can instantly solve all our problems. However, it does have a vital role to play in empowering citizens to do more for themselves and in local authorities understanding the best allocation of resources to meet local citizens’ needs.
Richard Giblin is UK Corporate Sales Manager, Pitney Bowes Software.
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