TWELVE STEPS: Twelve lessons for using Twitter in local government

It’s now not why local government uses Twitter but how.

More than a hundred UK councils are on the micro-blogging platform.
That’s progress.

Since late 2008 we’ve been using Twitter at Walsall Council to inform and engage.

We’re fortunate our head of communications Darren Caveney and head of press and PR Kim Neville were quick to spot the potential.

More than 6,000 tweets on and there are a series of lessons we’ve learned.

In one of the first blogs I ever wrote I talked of the 27 things that work on a local government Twitter stream.

For a presentation at LG Comms in Nottingham I boiled that down to 12 key lessons.

The slides are available on slideshare (click the link above).


#1: Realise that the landscape has changed (and your skills need to too.) You know that a few years ago that writing a press release and booking a photo call was enough? That’s still a great skill. But you need other things too.

#2: The channels of communication have changed. In the old days there was the newspapers. Maybe the radio. Every now and then TV would show up and it would be a really big thing. They’re still there. In some cases just or not at all. It’s just that people get their news in different ways now. Remember, Facebook is the fourth biggest news site on the internet.

#3: Learn the language of the platform first (by messing about with it yourself.) When you start to use Twitter – or any other platform – you’ll notice that there is a different way of talking to people. It’s a lot more relaxed and conversational. Get to know how things work under your own name. Once you build some confidence up you’ll be up to speed on how to use it for your organisation.

#4: You can’t control the message. It’s a big one for press officers this. In the old days there may have been key messages. There’s still things you want to say. Just realise that this stuff works as a conversation. So be conversational.

#5: It’s okay to be a human voice. What works best on Twitter is a relaxed tone. It’s not about linking to an RSS feed and tweeting the first 140 characters of a press release. That’s just shouting. A police officer once told me that as a beat officer he would start conversations with people. Then he’d slip in some information he thought may be of help. That’s what Twitter does. It’s probably why many police officers are very good at it.

#6: Link. Share. Retweet. Be web 2.0. It’s okay to retweet. So long as it’s third sector or public sector. Spotted a police witness appeal on Twitter? Link to it. Charity car wash in your borough? Link. Share. Earn social capital. Be a responsible council. Share interesting content.

#7: Take the argument offline. It’s never a good idea to have a row in public. Point people to the place where they can get information that can help. Most non-trolls are fine with this.

#8: Take the re-buttal online. Is your local paper circulating via Twitter a link you have a major issue with? Have they failed to include your statement adequately? Post the statement online. Link to it. Tweet it to them – and your followers.

#9: Service areas work well on Twitter (so be prepared to share). It’s fine for comms to use it. Others can too. There’s no-one better at knowing what’s popular with libraries than librarians. So if your library want to use it, let them. Give them some pointers first.

#10: Have a simple to understand social media policy. A hundred pages won’t work. Something that fits into a screen does. Make it simple.

#11:  Make sure it connects with other channels of communications. Write the press release. Send it. But also send it via your other channels too.

#12: Cut, past and send your positive feedback to off-line officers. It’s amazing how effective this is at breaking down barriers to social media. If you are doing something residents approve of they will thank you for it.

Hat tip: Nick Booth who first told us about Twitter and what it could do.

Join the Conversation


  1. A good collection of tips. I might add that confirming Twitter as the medium of choice of local area residents isn’t a bad idea. Here in small town Berwick, Nova Scotia, Twitter enjoys practically no local uptake, but everyone goes berserk on Facebook. I’m not a big facebook fan, myself, but that matters for nothing if what I’m trying to do is reach our constituency.

    Your tips still apply, however.

    Thanks for this post!


  2. Knowing what YOU have learned from Twitter is interesting. Would it be too much to ask what the elected members have learned from Twitter?

    Are the Twitter sites burning as we speak from people who want to see their libraries closed? Are they deliriously happy about the dissection of their Education service or the performance of Serco?

    Dan, the new media is not about communicating, but about learning and responding to what is posted on the new channels. Without that it becomes nothing more fancy than idle bar-room gossip.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: