Category Archives: Social media in the public sector

Yes, council communicators should think like ‘content marketers’

Chalkboard with "What's Your Story?" written on itWith a background in journalism and now public relations, the concept of content marketing is one that I am really interested in.

I don’t count myself as a ‘marketer’ but for me, content marketing is all about telling stories that are relevant to your brand/organisation, in a way which is useful and interesting to your target audience/stakeholders. That’s very much what I love to do.

Basically, you tell interesting stories, people read them.

Simple!

As council communicators we have a never ending supply of interesting and informative stories to tell which the people we wish to communicate with (our residents, mainly) are likely to find interesting and useful.

If you don’t believe me, or you’re short of inspiration then this list of inspiration for blog posts from Ragan.com can be very much applied to our work as council comms people and should generate more ideas than you could ever possibly hope for!

I like to think that we’ve reached a point where the vast majority of councils are embracing social media, but now it’s time to take that to the next level. It’s not enough just to tweet out links to media releases. We should be thinking like journalists within our organisation and telling our stories in the most compelling, interesting and relevant way we can.

Social media has allowed us to talk directly to the people we want to talk to. So let’s not bore them, nag them or fob them off with council speak or media releases that weren’t written for them. Let’s grab their attention, hold their interest and give them something which is genuinely entertaining and useful. Believe me, it’s the future.

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More changes to Facebook newsfeed

On Friday, Facebook announced more changes to the way in which it selects which of a Page’s posts will appear in the newsfeeds of those who’ve ‘liked’ it.

Facebook say the changes are designed to reduce the amount of promotional posts in users’ newsfeeds, and instead encourage pages to produce more engaging content.

These are the two examples of the kinds of status updates which will, from January 2015, see a much reduced organic reach on Facebook:

Example post1

Example post 2

Encouraging quality content in itself is no bad thing – organisations and brands should already be striving to do this.

And while this change is probably not as alarming to public sector pages as to those companies whose main purpose is selling products or services – it should be taken as a wake up call that unless we get more creative about our content, nobody is going to see it!

Clearly, Facebook is much more focused these days on encouraging companies to turn to paid advertising and promoted posts. But in the public sector where budgets are squeezed, the main focus has to be on organic reach, which is decreasing all the time.

We hear a lot about PR being the new ‘brand journalism’, and this is an excellent reminder of why that must be our focus.

Facebook has given us a fantastic way to build and participate in communities, reach stakeholders directly and develop positive relationships online. Now we need to work harder to make sure that the content we are producing is relevant, interesting, and of value to our audiences.

WhatsApp? I’d like to report some flytipping please…

Shropshire Council this week announced that they were going to start using WhatsApp as a way of communicating with residents.

Genius.

A brilliantly simple idea that had me thinking – ah, why didn’t we think of that?

Shropshire say they’re going to trial the service for four weeks and see how it goes. What I love is that residents can not only contact ‘the council’ on WhatsApp, they can also contact particular portfolio holders on the council’s Cabinet.

At a time when local authorities need to be thinking very seriously about channel shift, we need to make it as easy as possible for residents to communicate with us. It’s why we started using Facebook, Twitter and all the other social platforms – to be where the people are.

With 17 million users worldwide, lots of them are on WhatsApp.

It’s also a way that people can easily send ‘private’ messages to the council, or to the elected members that represent them, quickly, easily, for free, and without having to broadcast their message to the world via a Facebook comment or Tweet, if that isn’t what you want to do.

Maybe we might even encourage more of the ‘silent majority’ to communicate with us this way?

So, well done Shropshire Council. I’m really excited to hear about how you get on. And I’m sure that, if it works for you, many other councils will be following your lead very soon…

 

Social media for work: Just add common sense

I was interested to read the story last week about the number of police officers who have been disciplined in relation to the misuse of social media.

These stories crop up ever so often, either about the police, councils or other public bodies. I’ve seen a number of FOIs that hope to uncover some secret scandal about hundreds of public officials unable to control themselves as soon as they’re left in charge of a twitter account.

The truth is, some people say or do stupid or even offensive things sometimes. And where there is serious offence caused of course, it should be investigated – the same way as it would if it occurred offline. But these kinds of issues existed long before social media was invented – Facebook didn’t make this happen.

I was really pleased to then read this follow up piece in PR Week, which included the response from Amanda Coleman, Greater Manchester Police’s Director of Corporate Comms. It was particularly interesting to read this bit:

Amanda Coleman told PRWeek that just three of the 88 incidents investigated involved official police accounts and off-duty use was the main issue.

“The problems that arise are often in people’s personal use, where people will say and do things as they would while having a conversation down the pub. We have very few issues with staff trained to use social media at work.”

Often when I’m training people to use social media for work one of the things they ask is: “what if I say the wrong thing?” I just ask them whether they trust themselves to speak face to face with members of the public (of course they do) and then ask them why they would be saying something online that they wouldn’t say in person.

It’s true that social media has blurred the lines between our professional and individual personas. And I would agree that the standards we’re asked to maintain in our work life should carry on into our personal lives, especially if we’re making public statements on the internet. I think that’s common sense and good advice for anyone to follow.

Of course, we’re all human and we all make mistakes. If an organisation encourages its employees to use social media in their work and wants to enjoy the positive benefits that having actively engaged employees online can bring, they need to adopt a supportive and understanding culture. Otherwise staff won’t want to ‘take the risk’ and won’t be willing to be the online advocates you would wish them to be.

If people use their common sense and their professionalism, then, like Amanda says, there shouldn’t be too many issues. And, if we trust staff to be a representative of the organisation in person then we should be able to do the same online.