(“Hmm… Not seeing anything here that really goes against what I was saying…”)

As you will know from a previous post, I am concerned about the direction the City of Guelph has taken in monitoring official speak in social media and… ah, correcting inaccuracies where it finds them.

But if your day now includes the City of Guelph monitoring your comments online, I have to wonder how much of this strategy is also about managing official speak internally, towards staff as well — not that you can actually convince someone of something that they know not to be true — they know what they’ve seen, what they’re seeing — they don’t need help in that, but that really doesn’t matter when it comes to “official speak”.

The following is my correspondence with Ms. Hare from the City of Guelph regarding its Media Analysis program. In reading Ms. Hare’s reply to me, I was looking for something that suggested I had it all wrong. Instead, I was left thinking, wow, I really don’t see anything that goes against what I’ve been thinking and saying about what this City is doing in our cyberspace.

So, I have to say, to dismiss what I’ve been saying about this amounts to willful naiveté.

Or complicity.

I’ve included Ms. Hare’s response to me for the sake of transparency and so as to not leave you wondering if I’ve taken her words out of context.

To be clear, the corporation we know as the City of Guelph can and does use various forums in soliciting feedback or input or in promoting its message to the public, at taxpayers’ expense — but it’s another matter entirely to probe and inject itself into the conversations citizens are having. As I have said, there are boundaries.

In a time when a tablet or a smart phone is today’s version of a pencil, the City’s monitoring of your social media activity is today’s version of parking a staffer at the table next to you while you’re talking to someone over coffee.

A few questions:

Will the City of Guelph report on and make public which social media sites it has examined and/or participated in?

Will the City of Guelph report on and make public whose comments it has logged or otherwise examined in social media?

Has the City of Guelph collected information from identifiable individuals without their explicit consent?

If City of Guelph Communications is as understaffed as was suggested by CAO Ann Pappert during Council’s final budget deliberations, why is the City of Guelph spending time monitoring social media sites, and why is it managing its message in forums that are not its own?

Is this what happens when an organization has determined it has to spend more time and resources managing its message?

If the City of Guelph’s monitoring of your social media posts is ultimately politically motivated, what can of worms does it open for us in Guelph and who should be accountable for that?

The thread, chronologically ordered from last to first:

From: Craig Chamberlain <craigchamberlain@rogers.com>
To: “communications@guelph.ca” <communications@guelph.ca>
Sent: Friday, November 23, 2012 4:16:09 PM
Subject:Media Analysis

Hello;
I am writing to request how much the City of Guelph has spent to date, and will have spent on completion, on or regarding the project Media Analysis. Also, please indicate what additional programs or projects or activities the City of Guelph is undertaking directly or indirectly to monitor media, including social media, and how much the City of Guelph is spending on them.
Please acknowledge receipt of this email and please respond to my request via email.
Thank you;
Craig
Craig Chamberlain
68 Powell Street West
Guelph, Ontario
N1H 1V2
***
From: Craig Chamberlain [mailto:craigchamberlain@rogers.com]
Sent: November 27, 2012 9:20 PM
To: Communications
Subject: Fw: Media Analysis
Hello;
As you will note, I asked that you acknowledge receipt of the email I sent to you November 23, 2012.
I am wondering if it will be necessary to report that you haven’t acknowledged receipt of that email in my presentation to Council Thursday evening. An explanation of why you haven’t done so to date would be helpful.
Craig Chamberlain
—– Forwarded Message —– [Same as above.]

***

From: <Stacey.Hare@guelph.ca>
Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2012 11:17:55 -0500
To: <craigchamberlain@rogers.com>
Subject: RE: Media Analysis
Craig,
You’re right. We should have acknowledged your email earlier, and we apologise for the delay in responding.
The media analysis project is still underway. When it is complete and presented to Committee and Council it will include the financial information you’ve requested. It’s important to provide this information to all members of Council and the community at the same time, within the context of the project and the City of Guelph Communications Plan.
I am happy to send you a copy when it is available to the public.
You also asked about the City’s media monitoring activities. We monitor traditional and social media—we’re listening to what people are saying about the city—it takes about an hour a day.
It’s one way we “take the pulse” of the community. Combined with public opinion research, direct community input and feedback, media monitoring helps the City develop policies, programs and services designed to reflect the needs of the community.
Also, because we monitor social media, we respond to questions, correct inaccuracies, and inform, educate and engage the community in conversations about the programs and services that are important to them. Guelph is considered a leader on this front and I have included a link to a recent study comparing Guelph’s use of social media with cities across Ontario.
Municipal Social Media Survey: http://www.redbrick.ca/resources.asp
Thank you for your inquiry and I hope you find this information useful. Feel free to contact me directly with any further questions.

Stacey Hare, Senior Communications and Issues Management Coordinator

City of Guelph
T 519-822-1260 x 2611
C 519-829-0999
E stacey.hare@guelph.ca

***

From: “craigchamberlain@rogers.com” <craigchamberlain@rogers.com>
To: Stacey.Hare@guelph.ca
Sent: Thursday, November 29, 2012 11:38:42 AM
Subject: Re: Media Analysis

Ms. Hare (Stacey);Thank you for this reply.I do not agree with this direction for reasons you may respect if not agree with.Again, thank you.CraigCraig Chamberlain

***

I’ll close with a quote from an article by Guelph Mercury’s Scott Tracey, regarding Council’s final budget deliberations December 6th, 2012:

Guthrie unsuccessfully urged his colleagues to remove the communications person — and the $85,000 price tag in 2013 — from the budget.

Bob Bell was on side with that.

“I think generally we’re trying to say too much and make too many comments,” Bell said. “We should do good things and say very little.”

About Craig Chamberlain

Ward 3 Guelph resident, dad and step-dad.
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