Social media is experiential in nature: it is difficult to fully understand social tools until one has participated and experienced them for oneself. Unlike basic computing skills, such as word processing or spreadsheet manipulation, the core understanding required to make good use of social technologies is cultural, not procedural.
Carnegie UK Trust (Charman-Anderson, 2010)
This report illustrates some of the many and innovative ways in which individuals and communities are using social media to find, share and act and upon information, knowledge and experience. These 'bottom-up' initiatives to some extent complement the more 'top-down' e-marketplaces, such as Shop4support to create a rich and varied landscape. They also highlight the scope for innovation and lend support to the notion that social media is experiential.
The Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services, which reported in June 2011, believes that bottom-up initiatives will deliver better outcomes for users. Specifically it recommends (paragraph 8.5)
Managers and leaders within public service organisations should develop and extend the empowerment of front-line staff, to support their engagement with people and communities.
The must be some concern this engagement my be hampered by the continuing inability of much of the public sector to engage with and experience social media and the networks in which these communities are increasingly active.
This inability stems at least in part from policies that routinely block access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. If professionals working on the front line are unable, or not encouraged, to gain experience of the language and cultural norms of, say, Facebook, they are effectively disempowered from understanding and empathising with their increasingly fluent clients.
SOCITIM (2010) has argued the case for IT managers taking the lead in encouraging their organisations to embrace social media and IRISS (2010) has summarised the arguments for breaking down the cultural and technological barriers that are prevalent in the public sector.The growing importance of social media for service users is a reminder of the importance of having policies and guidelines on using social media at work and ensuring that staff develop confidence and competence in its use.
Evidence from the Social Innovation Camps suggests there is no shortage of ideas for applying social networking tools, although devising sustainable business models may prove more challenging. Perhaps the market will determine what is sustainable.
A challenge for e-marketplaces such as shop4support, the Yorkshire and Humber Joint Improvement Partnership, the Northeast Improvement and Efficiency Partnership electronic marketplace ;or the Glasgow City Council initiative will be to achieve the critical mass of customers and service providers necessary to be economically viable and sustainable.
In this respect, it is worth noting that the established players such Amazon and eBay already offer goods, if not services, relevant to those receiving support. A number of care providers have already established Facebook groups, and in the future, may choose to use Facebook and the established e-marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon to market their care services.
The marketplace for social care good and services is likely to continue evolve as the online marketplaces mature, as the mainstream providers players extend their offering and as service users continue to exploit the opportunities for networking afforded by social media. Because of its inherent decentralised, or bottom-up, nature, social media may offer the key to sustainability.