NICE, NICE BABY: Seven examples of good icy weather comms


Oh, the weather outside is frightful… and its the time to baton down the hatches.

If local government can get icy weather comms right they can keep people happy.

Here is a round-up of some content that worked well:

The myth-busting web page

There is a regular set of moans. You weren’t out. You didn’t grit. You didn’t grit enough. Having a web page like this is an excellent resource to have at your finger-tips. You can see it here.


The video from the cab of the gritter

It’s a video that is the perfect length to work on Twitter. Less than 20 seconds and shoots down the allegation that there were no gritters out. Great work.

The snowman post

This post from the Mayor of Walsall asks people to chip in with their snowmen pics. It prompted people to respond with images from across the borough.

The video of the gritters heading out

This is perfect. Gritters loaded up and heading for the exit at the gritting depot. Evidence that the work is taking place.

The shared hashtag and the conversational response

The #wmgrit hashtag works in the West Midlands as a 20 minute journey can cut through two or three council areas. So 10 councils have joined together to share the searchable hashtag.

The news jacking of the big event

Ahead of the Merseyside derby Liverpool Council were telling people of the work that is going to take place to keep the game running smoothly. It fills a vacuum and was well shared.

Getting the message out early

With cold weather ahead this tweet to ask people to look after each other was well recieved.

Thanks to Viki Harris, Andrew Napier, Liz Grieve, Kelly Thompson, Paul Johnston and Dawn McGuigan.

LOCAL GOV: So, we’ve got Twitter Gritter sorted, what’s next?

5115786276_faaf0896c3_bYou know you are in trouble when Kenny Dalglish tells you on Twitter your gritting efforts are rubbish.

A couple of years ago that’s what the former Liverpool manager told Liverpool City Council in 140 characters.

Chances are they’d already been out treating the roads but without regular updates nobody would have know.

Looking out of the window in January 2013 as snow falls after 24-hours of snowmaggedon warnings it’s s different story. There’s real time updates on Twitter, Facebook and in some cases rolling blogs too like at Walsall Council and Norfolk Council. That’s great to see.

It was a different case back in 2009 for local government when some leftfield councils – including Derbyshire, Walsall, Kirklees and others – boldly decided to use Twitter to tell people they were going out. I wrote about it here in early 2010.

Things stepped up a gear in 2011 when the excellent Geoff Coleman came up with the idea of getting councils across the West Midlands to tweet grit alerts using the #wmgrit hashtag so people could see the state of things across the region.

Taking a look at the stream in full effect this morning there’s messages of support being tweeted and a tweetreach stat that paints an impressive picture.

Seeing a tweet or update land in your inbox or sail by helps. It saves people ringing up an engineer and asking for information and can even in passing can see that local government is doing stuff for them.

That doesn’t mean sweetless and light has broken out. People still complain they didn’t get their street treated. Or have a pop because they didn’t see a gritter go by. But that’s just it. They’re not shouting into the void anymore and the council can hear and respond.

But as much as I love the grit and winter disruption alerts I don’t think this is the last word. This should be a first word. But we should now be looking to see how else these real time alerts could work.

The digital landscape has evolved since 2009. Much has changed. This stuff is no longer revolutionary. It’s mainstream and being taken seriously. The LGA and DCLG have this month signed off the localgov digital group to try and innovate and share best practice. That’s rather good.

So after grit, what’s next?

As dull as unexciting as it may sound, something around bin reminders delivered in the evening by email or Twitter or by another means would be a rather handy piece of communications.

Any other ideas?

#WMGRIT: Innovation in Twitter Gritter

Get three things right in local government you may well be laughing: school closures, bin collections and gritting.

Those three horseman of the winter apocalypse can wreak havoc with lives.

Communicate them well and you are winning a big part of the battle.

Back in 2009, a handful of councils started to tweet when they were going out to treat the roads. Why? Because at 3am when there’s two shift workers and a drunk you need to shout about it.

Those pioneering early grit tweets opened-up a door and showed how real time information – and stories – is worth while.

By 2010 the idea had spread, thanks in part through SOCITM’s Twitter Gritter report which hailed best practice. I blogged a case study on it here.

By 2011, digital innovation looks to have taken another step forward with #wmgrit. This is a hashtag but so much more. A Cover It Live pulls Twitter Gritter tweets from eight West Midlands Councils – Birmingham, Walsall, Dudley, Sandwell, Wolverhampton, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Solihull – as well as the Highways Agency which treats motorways.

You can click through to the Cover it Live here: West Midlands Gritting Alerts

The eight councils are looking to embed it in their websites and the embed code has been released for others to use.

Why does this work? Because often a journey in the West Midlands can start in one area and go through others. Travel from Telford to Dudley and you can pass through five council areas in less than 30 miles. Bigger areas like Northumberland probably don’t need this.

Giving simple real time information is a brilliant way to make life a little easier for motorists, shout alerts and lets not forget remind people what local government does for them.

Who is the brains behind this? Much kudos to the digitally-savvy Birmingham City Council press officer Geoff Coleman who has developed this idea. Geoff – who is @colebagski on Twitter – hatched the plan and got people on board.

The man is brilliant. It’s people like Geoff and his militant optimism and his spirit of innovation that makes local government such an inspiring place to work and I’ll look forward the case study Geoff writes.


Twitter Gritter SOCITM’s report.

Creative Commons:

Walsall Gritter

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