MEMBER SKILLS: Training elected members on using social media

Dad used to work in local government ‘it would be such an easy job,’ he used to say, ‘if it wasn’t for the public and councillors.’

In my own time working for a council I kind of got what he meant.

In time I grew to realise that the elected member who was able to listen and tell people what they were doing were the ones that made the most difference.

This brings me to social media and the elected member.

I drew-up the LGA social media guidance for elected members for England and did the same for the Improvement Service in Scotland.

I’ve spoken to dozens of elected members to understand what makes them tick and surveyed many more and I’ve trained lots.

There are good ones and not so good ones and that’s fine. When I first trained elected members in 2010, it was more about telling them what was coming down the line and sitting down with two or three of them to physically set them up.

Things have changed.

Ten things elected members need to remember

What goes online stays online

When you post something it tends to stick around. Even if you have second thoughts there’s every chance there’s been a screenshot taken. So count to 10 first.

Be yourself

People really warm to people who speak human, including elected members. So if you have a dog and enjoy taking her for a walk across the fields then tell people. You become human instead of a press release regurgitator.

Professional and council standards still apply online

There’s a myth that the internet is the Wild West where you can say just whatever you like. That’s just not true. Many councillors have found this out to their cost. It’s not uncommon to see complaints rise with social media the driver. Check your council’s standards are.

Defamation still applies online

Defamation laws have evolved in recent years to meet the changing landscape but the fundamentals stay the same. Publishing a false allegation is the same if you print it rather than post it online.

You can’t control the internet

Unless you are North Korea District Council but their control mechanisms wouldn’t go down well.

Sometimes people will say nasty things

People seem to be getting angrier and they want to influence the things they can control. So, bins not collected can lead to meltdown. Why? It’s easier to do that rather than complain about bigger things but yes, there are strategies for this.

Avoid being political

Truth: what that Minister said on Marr on a Sunday morning is of interest to very few people. If you’re a politico you may be engrossed. This will probably not be the talk of the public bar in the Bull & Bladder, Brierley Hill. But talk about local issues? Now you’re talking. Tackle those issues and that’s even better. Tackle them while talking about your dog occasionally too and you’re really cooking with gas.

Use the tech

A smartphone can do it.

Not after 9pm and not on a Friday night

There was a councillor I remember who had this rule who I spoke to for the LGA work. He didn’t tweet at these times because he’d noticed that people had had a skinful by then. Take a look yourself.

Social media is an addition

The delivery of leaflets in normal times will generate some response but it’s not a golden bullet and neither is social media. It’s one tool amongst many.

Do shout if you’d like to chat about helping you with training for elected members.

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