Channel 4 news reader Jon Snow apparently once told a Local Government conference: ‘The trouble with you lot is this. You do wonderful things. You’re just a bit boring.’
As an ice breaker it’s bold. Trouble is, he’s right. Partly.
Councils deal with people. They help them in all sorts of ways with 800 services – many of them amazing.
But how do you give them a human face?
That’s where Twitter can work brilliantly for councils.
Since April ’09 Walsall have used Twitter.
We were within the first 100 councils in the world and with @walsallcouncil we’ve had more praise than criticism.
We’ve been asked a few times for how we do it. That’s very nice to hear but we certainly don’t profess to have invented it all ourselves. In fact we’re still learning.
If there’s is a secret? Good listening.
For a kick-off we listened to what Nick Booth had to say. Nick – @podnosh – showed us what was possible. He’s a hugely inspirational and talented man who specialises in social media for social good. You can find out more about him here http://podnosh.com/blog/ – or someone like him – can put you at basecamp equipped with an ice axe, crampons and goggles.
We also listened to Alastair Smith @alncl at Newcastle City Council who was generous with his time. We also paid attention to David Hamilton at @fenlandcouncil for their chatty approach. We also looked at the excellent research work of @liz_azyan @barryearnshaw as well as @sarahlay. Amongst others.
Seeing as I’m unavoidably detained from #localgovcamp in Lincoln here’s a note of what we learned next.
27 STEPS TO A SMILEY FACE TWITTER
1. Tweet for yourself first. Take some time to get to know the platform, how people use it and the language they use. Then you can tweet as an organisation with confidence.
2. Do use a human voice. Be polite. Be helpful. Be approachable.
3. If it helps, think of Twitter as walking into a pub. There’s some friendly people. There’s some who are a bit misinformed but friendly. There are some who are just plain hostile. If you can’t move the conversation on, don’t take part. If you can, do.
4. Don’t argue with an idiot. My Uncle Keith told me this. It’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard. If someone is being daft you really don’t have to engage with them.
5. Do respond within 24 hours. Many councils have a promise to respond to a letter within 21 days. In the world of social media that’s just too slow. By the time that letter is sitting on the doormat the debate will have been long lost. Even a ‘thanks for your tweet, I’ll pass on your comment,’ will be appreciated.
6. Do have a deputy. It’s great you are in charge of the Twitter account. But get someone to stand in if you’re on holiday.
7. Do Tweet everyday. Frequency builds an audience.
8. Do tweet out of office hours from time to time if you can. You may well reach a different set of people. They’ll be impressed you have.
9. Don’t tweet by committee. You’ll end up with a camel. Take a steer from someone if needs be what the answer should be but writes it yourself.
10. Do use the search button to see what people are saying about you. And then get involved in the conversation if you need to. Be polite and point people to where they can get help.
11. Don’t use RSS. This is the automated service that sends out a message based on your press release intro. What works well on social media is a human face NOT a machine. Don’t do it. Please. You’ll be missing the point.
12. Don’t put out an out-of-office.’We’re going on holiday now. Back in three weeks.’ It. Looks. Rubbish. At a push switch to RSS.
13. Be named. Put your first name in the organisation biog. It at least shows a human face.
14. Change your profile pic regularly. Landmarks and seasonal shots work better than a shrunken logo.
15. Re-tweet. RT. This means you’ve read something interesting and you’ve cc’d it to your group of followers too. If its a third sector or public sector tweet that’s relevant. That’s the spirit of social media. eg RT @walsall_hospice great to see so many people at our fundraising event at the Arboretum yesterday.
16. You are allowed to #followfriday. This is where you can recommend good people to follow. If you are a council suggest other council departments that are on Twitter. Or maybe a local charity.
17. Do use smileys if the need arises : ). It’s part of the landscape of Twitter. But use it wisely. It won’t be appropriate next to a link to the death of a former Matyor : (
18. Do listen and feedback. Forward comments to the right place. Let officers know what is being said. It’s a good listening device.
19. In the long term think of Twitter for services. Have a general council one. But think about one specifically for jobs too. Or planning applications. Or library events. Or maybe any of the 800 services.
20. Use pictures. They’re full of win. Link to pics on flickr the photo sharing website, for example. You’ll also build connections with your community.
21. Live tweet an event or a press conference. Widen up the event to a bigger audience.
22. Use hashtags. Hashtags are a way of joining in a wider conversation. For example the hashtag #iranelections saw over a million tweets a day at its peak.On a more routine level put the name of your town or borough in. eg #Newcastle, #Derby, #Brownhills. Or even the service #environment #libraries or #countryside.
23. Be prepared for people saying unpleasant things about you. But remember that they’d be saying it about you anyway. This is your chance to listen and connect.
24. Get used to the fact that you can’t control Twitter. But by being part of it you can take part in the conversation.
25. Be prepared to speak with hyperlocal bloggers. They’re part of the conversation too.
26. Keep a note of what you do month by month. Analysing the impact of social medioa is still in its infancy and there are no clear universally adopted industry standard ways yet. An average followers multiplied by tweets gives an opportunities to view-style marketing figure that is compelling to those within the organisation. In Walsall in June, for example, there were 40,000 opps to view. Even accounting for the fact that Mashable says that 20 per cent of accounts are dormant that’s a serious figure.
27. Let people in your organisation know your social media activity. Keep them in the loop. A monthly update should do it.
That’s a long list. It works for us. It may not suit your organisation.
If it seems daunting rewind to point 1. Stick with it. You’ll get there. Make a few mistakes under your own flag.
There’s a stack of best practice out there. Take some time to look at how other councils do it.
Have a look at:
@cultureleisure – great use of Twitter by a council department.
But also keep tabs with social media by following:
@mashable – Anglo American daily social media blog for people who don’t usually read blogs. Full of good research
@scobleiser – US social media commentator.
@davebriggs – UK local government and third sector commentator
@paulocanning – UK local government and third sector commentator
@liz_azyan – brilliant and inspiring UK local government researcher and http://www.lgeoresearch.com/
Local Government: Check Liz’s list of good people to follow of Twitter:
Check the LGEO Research list of Councils on Twitter: