Headlines: December 11th, 2008

Social Networking Sites have become a global phenomenon, with communities such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo reporting user figures in the hundreds of millions. Through networks it is possible to identify people who share common interests, professions and pastimes. The public sector is increasingly recognizing the value of social networking sites to provide easy and accessible information about policies and services. A new service launch in Scotland means that 2009 is likely to be a watershed year in local and central government communications.

Glasgow City Council and social media company DA group have launched a cutting-edge technology platform, Huzu, which is designed to create, support and build online communities with all the socialising and user generated content features familiar to the major social networks. There are plans to bring in forward-thinking organisations looking to translate social networking into the mainstream of public information campaigning and government communication, with the objective of making them truly interactive. The network will also involve people in the policy-making process and encourage them to participate in the debate about the issues that affect their lives.

Networks already exist to support hundreds of subjects from a desire to stop smoking, to coming to terms with a death in the family, to cultivating mushrooms. They open up the possibility of engaging with public services and organisations in a very different way, and have the potential to engage those who may currently find the public sector distant and impenetrable.

The Local Government Information Unit believes the online sites can be used to increase youth participation in the democratic process and in the delivery of children’s services and it is leading a group of councils to promote the idea. It is calling on councils to work with other public, private and voluntary sector service providers to develop their capacity and commitment to communicating with young people through social networking.

The potential for social networks include excluded groups and people. Vulnerable groups could be helped by providing them with a voice and by giving access to people with similar issues or challenges, for example people suffering from chronic or serious illnesses such as coronary heart disease.

Visit the social network at Huzu. http://www.huzu.com/