Some Twitter nostalgia…

A bit of random Googling the other day and I unearthed this: A blog post which once listed of all UK councils that were on Twitter in early 2009.

It was put together by Liz Azyan and it was at time when being on Twitter was, for a council, something a bit new and wacky. The debate then was all about whether councils should be on Twitter at all, not how they should be using it.

Sadly you can’t see the original list on the page anymore, but I remember it detailed all the councils on Twitter, their handle, and how many followers they had.

I can vividly remember at the time thinking how brilliant this was and how excitedly I scanned the list. And I remember being genuinely gutted that my few month old shiny new council account hadn’t made the list…

No worries, a quick post in the comments and Liz sorted it for me:

My comment

I had a good old chuckle to myself when I read that back. How could we have been overlooked?? After all we had a whole 134 followers!!!

But yes, I was genuinely proud of that number at that time… because we were new, we were cool and the council Twitter account was my brand new baby!

Happy to say we now have more than 7,600 followers… (and it’s still a little bit my baby, even if it is now coming up for six years old!)

Easier content curation?

I can’t scroll through my Twitter timeline these days without seeing links to blog posts promising to show me how to manage social media in “five minutes a day” or some other such incredible time saving feat.

I quite often like to look at these posts, because they’ll usually list some useful tools which help you with social media management, but in my opinion, if you want to do social media properly you are going to have to invest some time and effort!

Like with everything, you’ll get back what you put in. However, it is true that there are some brilliant time-saving tools out there (Hootsuite, IFTTT etc), but I am willing to go on record and say that if you’re only spending five minutes a day managing your social media accounts, you’re probably not doing a particularly effective job!

Tonight, I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, The Digital Marketing Podcast by Target Internet, and they were talking about the subject of how to streamline your content curation.

Daniel Rowles, one of the podcast presenters, talked about how he is using Feedly alongside Hootsuite to source relevant content and auto schedule it to his social media accounts.

I’m a big fan of Feedly, having moved my feeds over there when Google Reader closed. And I use it a lot for keeping up with all my favourite blogs and, as a natural follow on from this, for my content curation. Currently I do all this manually. I find an article I think is interesting or useful, I open up Hootsuite and I copy and paste across titles, URLs, look for the Twitter handle of the author if possible, compose my tweet, choose my network, schedule my post and then press submit.

Daniel’s suggestion was about signing up to the premium version of Feedly (currently $5 a month – about £3.16), and using their automated ‘post to Hootsuite’ feature. This allows you to send an article of interest to your followers straight to Hootsuite, it automatically shortens the link, suggests text for your tweet (which you can, of course, edit). You then choose which account to post to and press ‘auto schedule’.

I’ve not used auto schedule on Hootsuite before, although I am a big Hootsuite fan and use it for both work and personal accounts to manually schedule content. I was interested to hear that you can choose the maximum number of tweets you want the platform to auto schedule a day (e.g. no more than 8). As you find relevant and interesting content to push out to your audience, you ‘auto schedule’ it, and if you’re finding more than 8 articles a day, Hootsuite will automatically schedule that for the next ‘available’ day.

There are the usual arguments about whether or not too much content curation is making Twitter too ‘noisy’, but personally, people sharing relevant, interesting information that helps me learn and develop is one of the main attractions of Twitter for me – so I’m all for it! But that’s with the strong proviso that I only ever share content which I have read and genuinely found interesting, thought provoking or useful. I would never share for sharing’s sake.

It was interesting to hear that the combination of Feedly putting content straight into Hootsuite and the use of the auto schedule feature had been so useful for Daniel. He also reports that posting regularly (around 8 times a day) had helped him grow his twitter following.

So I’ve decided I might give it a go and see how it works for me. I don’t think I’ll be aiming as high as 8 times a day… maybe more like 3 to start with! And I will make sure I’m not sharing anything I don’t genuinely believe to be a good, engaging, informative read.

No doubt I will report back with my thoughts in a later blog post…

 

Can TV help prove councils are more than just bins?

A few weeks ago I was really interested to read that Wigan Council had agreed to be featured in the next series of the BBC’s Call the Council series, a fly on the wall documentary going ‘behind the scenes’ at a local authority.

Obviously I’m going to be particularly interested in this, as I work for a (different) local authority, and I actually live within the area covered by Wigan Council.

I also have some ideas of the conversations and considerations that will have gone on behind the scenes in deciding to take part in the programme.

This morning I was reading a piece on the Guardian online by Donna Hall, Chief Exec of Wigan Council, in which she defends this decision after some apparent criticism of them for doing so.

You can read the full piece here – and I recommend you do so.

Of course I had a wry smile when I read the bit about the last strike action, and the hundreds of social media messages of complaint, the common theme being “when am I going to get a refund on my council tax” – I’m sure anyone managing local Government social media accounts is familiar with that one!

But I think Ms Hall’s article really puts across well why they have agreed to do this – so that people will hopefully understand the breadth of services your local authority provides. Many of us are lucky enough not to need many of them – but if you did need them, believe me, you’d notice if they weren’t around.

In this time of cuts and budget pressures on local authorities they need to make sure their voice is heard more than ever. Hopefully programmes like Call the Council will play a part in doing that – and we as communicators need to keep playing our role.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished programme, and well done to Wigan for being the ones to put themselves under the spotlight, hopefully for the benefit of local authorities up and down the country.

Not sure it’ll stop the Facebook ‘haters’, though!

Does your Twitter account need some TLC?

Remember when you first set up that twitter account?

Chances are you spent some time trying to build up some followers, made sure you had great content to share and uploaded some pretty profile pics and cover images.

Hopefully, that early effort paid off, and you built up a community of interested, engaged followers. A quick glance at the stats tells you that you’re attracting a steady stream of new followers – so keep the content flowing and it’s job done. Isn’t it?

It’s easy to ‘neglect’ an account without realising you’re doing it. I try to make sure I spend some ‘quality time’ with each of the twitter accounts I manage for work and it is amazing how a little effort brought in instant rewards – lots more relevant, interested followers!

So if your trusty old twitter account is overdue some TLC, here’s a little checklist that’ll be a great start:

1. Log onto the account directly, rather than through a third party
I usually use Hootsuite for scheduling content, managing replies etc. But when you log onto Twitter on a desktop PC you’ll soon get a feel for how the account is really looking and any quick updates you can do to jazz things up a bit.

2. Regularly refresh cover photos and ‘pinned’ posts
The right cover image can make a page look fabulous – so make sure they’re current. A beautiful snow scene isn’t the look you want to go for in summer. If you’ve pinned tweets to the top of your page, check they’re still relevant – if not, change them. Make a note to remind yourself to change them again before too long.

3. Check notifications
Have a look and see who your new followers are. Depending on how many you have you could tweet them to thank them for following. If they’re relevant people, maybe follow back, or add them to lists. See who’s been retweeting your content and thank them – it’ll be appreciated and might start an interesting conversation. Maybe they’re also worth a follow if you’re not already.

4. Use the ‘Discover’ tab
Have a look at the accounts and tweets that Twitter thinks you might be interested in – you might be surprised how relevant some of their suggestions are. It has come a long way from the “people like you” feature of a few years ago. Look for relevant people to follow, conversations to join, hashtags to follow and content to retweet.

5. Look through hashtags to join conversations and accounts to follow
Consider the hashtags that are relevant to your account – take a look at them. Are you remembering to make best use of hashtags in your tweets? Research shows that using a maximum of two hashtags per tweet (but no more!) increases engagement. Look at trending topics and the popular hashtags used by your target audience – is there anything relevant that you can join in with? (Without posting spam!)

6. Use Just Unfollow
If you’re worried about your following to follower ratio (which isn’t something I lose sleep over, to be honest), use Just Unfollow to unfollow inactive accounts or irrelevant ones that aren’t following you back. Once you’ve culled a few, you can try following some new accounts in their place and hopefully you’ll be rewarded with new followers in return!

7. Check over your analytics
Twitter’s own analytics offer a really fascinating insight into which content went down well with your followers. Take a look at yours (all users now have access to Twitter analytics – just go to analytics.twitter.com). See which tweets worked best – and take that as inspiration for future content.

8. Set up searches to help you join conversations and see relevant content
Head back to Hootsuite (or whatever platform you’re using to manage all your accounts). Make sure you have tabs set up to see your account’s lists and to do keyword searches for tweets that mention relevant topics or hashtags. Don’t forget to review these regularly, joining in conversations, retweeting interesting content and generally engaging with others.

It’s amazing how spending a bit of quality time with a twitter account can reinvigorate your enthusiasm for it, inspiring you to build your audience and produce even more quality content in the future.

So go on, try it!

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.

Crisis comms, Twitter tools, Facebook rules & the changing newspaper world: 4 top reads this week

Here are four of the most interesting reads I’ve found on the web this week:

‘Cut out and keep’ guide to crisis management – Catherine Lane covers the basics of how to respond to a crisis – the rest is up to us! Speed, clarity and establishing yourself as the trustworthy source of information are key.

Embed a tweet within a tweet – I love a new little trick and I really like this one, which allows you to link to a tweet in your tweet and have an image preview of that tweet appear underneath your comment. Brilliant if you want to comment but just don’t have enough characters. It also means you’re including an ‘image’ with your tweet too, helping boost your tweet’s engagement rate – brilliant.

Facebook is demolishing the like gate – From November, Facebook no longer wants page owners to incentivise people to ‘like’ their pages – so you won’t be allowed to prevent people from entering a competition or getting a discount if they haven’t ‘liked’ your page. The aim is to make sure that page likes are really genuine – that they come from users who want to stay in touch with the content on your page. I’ve never used a ‘like gate’ on any of my pages, but have run competitions where users have been asked to ‘like’ the page to enter. I think there is a place for this, if the thing you’re giving away is specifically relevant to the page you manage – e.g. a Spa business giving away a pamper day – you would hope the kind of people who would enter are local to that place and interested in attending that Spa. Therefore, asking them to ‘like’ the page seems perfectly reasonable as it should be in line with their interests. However, if that same Spa was giving away £50 cash and you had to ‘like’ the page to qualify, then the potential competition entrants may not be interested in the Spa business at all and you can see the problem. Maybe there’s room for some discretion on this one – what do you think?

David Dinsmore: ‘We aren’t as obsessed by the Daily Mail as we used to be’ – Not the most popular newspaper around my part of the world, but still interesting to read Sun editor David Dinsmore’s views on how the newspaper industry is changing around him. He says that:  “In this hugely fragmented media environment, we understand that our competitive set is not other papers. It’s Google, Facebook and BuzzFeed, even Netflix, as much as the Mail. And it’s also Alton Towers and where you go shopping.”

 

The true ‘value’ of social media marketing

I was reading this post by Neville Hobson: ‘Why the C-suite don’t ‘get’ social media marketing – and how to change that’ the other day and it got me thinking.

It’s quite amazing to me that some people don’t want to accept that social media has changed the world, like it or not. People’s expectations of how companies will communicate with them have changed. Many people I know would be reluctant to use the services of a company which doesn’t have a website – and I think that this will increasingly apply to companies who have no social media presence.

As Neville Hobson says in his post, the best way to get the ‘powers that be’ to understand the value of social media is to get them on there themselves. Let them see for themselves the professional value that being on Twitter or LinkedIn can provide – as a way of networking, information gathering, profile raising, building trust. Once they understand that social media is not all about Justin Bieber and pictures of what you had for dinner, you will have their interest. Once they see how the companies and individuals they admire are using social media, they’ll start to want that for themselves and their company too.

As communications people, we have a duty to help the less social media savvy members of our organisation understand the value of social media. We flag up complaints, possible issues or negative feedback that people post about our organisation on social media. But are we as good at showcasing the positive interactions? You can understand why somebody only seeing the negative side of the picture would wonder: “why are we doing this?”

In the world of Local Government comms, we know, that when we answer a person’s question quickly, efficiently, and actually get their problem sorted out, they’re usually pleased. They’re happy that, with one tweet, they’ve managed to get their bin emptied, flytipping removed, streetlight fixed, whatever. Even the most frequent posters of complaints or issues on to a council’s social media accounts are only looking to have those issues dealt with, and when they are, usually there’ll be a “thanks”. Actually what they’re doing is being an active, engaged citizen, who cares about the place they live and likes to know that they only have to post a quick comment on Facebook, or a tweet, and that information will be passed on and dealt with. That’s pretty brilliant in anyone’s book.

Local authorities are not so worried about monetary ROI as the CEOs in Neville Hobson’s post. But of course time is precious, and everyone in the organisation wants to be sure that effort and resources are not wasted on anything which doesn’t demonstrate a true “value” of some sort.

So it’s important that when good things happen on social media, we’re sharing that with the people at the top, as well the less positive things. If we can get more of those positive examples noticed, that slightly intangible “value” of social media will start to be recognised more. It is about conversations, building relationships, and expanding customer service online into the places where our residents already are.

I’m sure there are far fewer social media sceptics at the top of organisations than there used to be – and comms has a vital role to play in helping the uninitiated understand what they’re missing out on. As for reputational risk – the risk of not using social media far outweighs the risk of doing so – it’s what your customers and stakeholders now expect of you.

It will soon be impossible to ignore the expectations of social media – if it isn’t already.

A place where I'll share interesting stuff about comms, PR and social media