Tag Archives: communications

Changing Twitter might not be such a bad thing

There’s been a lot written and tweeted about the new direction that Twitter is taking in terms of introducing a more algorithm based timeline rather than its current chronological feed.

Twitter purists aren’t happy about this change and there are those who think it takes the social network down a similar route to Facebook, which as we know picks and chooses which posts you see (or don’t see) and in which order.

Twitter was, or is, my favourite social network. I spent a lot of time chatting on Twitter to other mums around 2009-2012 during the time I had my two youngest daughters.

These days I use it more professionally. I think it’s a fabulous source of information, news, tips and advice from other professionals. For breaking news, or for seeing what others think of the TV programme you’re watching? It can’t be beaten. It’s also a great customer service tool allowing customers to interact with brands, get real time information, provide feedback and get answers to questions (when done properly).

But Twitter does have a problem. It isn’t making enough money and it isn’t attracting enough new users to the site. There tends to be a lot more pushing out of content and a lot less conversation than there used to be. And they’ve even lost Stephen Fry, thanks in part to the rising army of twitter trolls who aren’t using the network for good.

In my job I spend a lot of time advising others on how to most effectively use social media to communicate. When people approach me about using social media, they usually just mean Facebook. I always used to encourage people to think about Twitter too (as well as other social networks), because I loved it and found it so useful. But the other day when somebody asked me about using Twitter and whether it was worthwhile, I found myself hesitating.

For all that I love Twitter, there’s no denying that in my experience it’s nowhere near as effective as Facebook when it comes to the number of interactions you get with posts. The number of hits to our website that comes from Facebook far outweighs those coming from Twitter, and this always disappoints me. Especially when you have to spend a fair bit of time crafting several tweets on one topic to schedule at different times of the day over several days, compared to maybe just one or two on Facebook (if you get the post right).

In that respect, an algorithmic timeline on Twitter might be no bad thing. Craft a really good tweet with some great media and maybe it’ll have that bit more shelf-life, showing up in follower’s timelines for longer than before. If the algorithm got really smart it might even ensure those followers who were particularly relevant for that piece of information still got to see it, even if they didn’t visit Twitter for hours or days after it was posted.

I can also accept that Twitter can be difficult to get into, especially if you’re not sure of the ‘house rules’ and don’t know who to follow. Suggestions like making it easier to mention and reply and to take usernames, links and photos out of the 140 character limit that I read recently make a lot of sense and personally I’d like to see Twitter exploring this before opening up to longer posts. For me, the brevity and the challenge of crafting something meaningful within those 140 characters is part of the appeal of Twitter.

The problem Twitter has is that is knows a lot less about us than Facebook does. It hasn’t spent years gathering as much intelligence on our every move – what we like, where we go, our friends, family, favourite brands, personal interests and relationships – like Facebook has. With much less time than I used to have to spend scrolling through my timeline, as a user I’m open to the idea of something that curates those tweets which I’m most interested in so I don’t miss anything. I’m a fan of Nuzzel, which does exactly that. But I’m not sure Twitter knows me well enough to know which content I’ll value most.

One thing is certain, Twitter has to move with the times and it has to make improvements both to attract new users and to retain the interest of the ones it has. So unlike the purists who want to see Twitter stay the way it was I’m interested to see how it develops and what those changes will mean for me, as a user, and also as a communicator.

As communicators, we shouldn’t be too afraid of an algorithmic approach. What we’ve learnt from Facebook is that we just have to get better at what we do, challenging ourselves to produce higher quality content that people find useful and entertaining – and that’s no bad thing. Maybe a bit of ‘competition’ for timeline space will raise the quality of what we see on Twitter too.

Anyway, I’m up for the challenge and hoping that the changes will help reinvigorate Twitter so that I never have to hesitate when discussing its value again.

 

 

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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.

WhatsApp experiment shows we mustn’t be afraid to ‘fail’

A little while back I blogged about what I thought was quite an exciting trial that Shropshire Council were running, allowing residents to contact the council (and specific elected members) via WhatsApp.

It struck me as a brilliantly simple idea and I was really interested to see how their trial worked out.

The other day I did a little bit of twitter stalking to see if there was any news about the results – sure enough Lorna Perry, who was behind the trial at Shropshire, recently posted an update about how it went.

The results were – as Lorna says – a little disappointing, and a bit surprising really, I thought. Despite lots of publicity , the council leader only received eight messages during the four week trial, and the general enquiry number only seven.

Lorna puts that down partly to a certain amount of apathy in terms of contacting local councillors – and I suppose that has a part to play. Perhaps, as Lorna suggests, if the trial had taken place during a period when there was something particularly controversial going on in the area – am unpopular planning issue or something of that nature – then the uptake might have been higher – mind you perhaps the councillors who took part wouldn’t have been so keen to receive the kinds of messages that might have arrived on their mobiles!

However you’ve really got to admire the attitude that Shropshire – and it’s elected members – took on this one – a kind of “let’s just do it and see how it goes” attitude. It wasn’t going to cost anything and it might just have worked – they made it clear from the outset that if it didn’t work, it didn’t matter – no unrealistic expectations were raised, internally or externally. They kept it simple and didn’t invest either extortionate amounts of time or money on it – so they could afford to be bold and there was no major drama if it didn’t work out.

In these fast changing and austere times councils shouldn’t be afraid of trying something new – without making a huge industry out of deliberating the pros and cons – and if it doesn’t work out, be happy to say so and move on to try something new. What’s important is that we think, and act, innovatively.

Lorna does mention in her post that some of the other council services – such as those who work with parents and young people – are still interested in exploring the possibility of utilising WhatsApp, so the idea isn’t dead yet.

Well done Shropshire for trying something new. I wonder if any other councils will also give it a go – maybe to take feedback on very specific projects or proposals perhaps – and whether any will have more luck in doing so?

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…

 

4 best links of the week

Here are 4 of the best things I’ve read this week – hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Five challenges for student union comms – A really interesting piece by Jo Walters, Digital Engagement Manager at the University of Sussex Students Union, on the brilliant Comms2Point0 blog. She makes the point that today’s students are a very different breed to the stereotype we might have in our minds – or even to the kind of students we were not that long ago. With the rise of smartphones and social media, long gone are the days when a poster in the Student Union was the main form of communication…

Five things businesses need to know about Facebook’s save feature – I love the fact that Facebook finally offer the chance for users to ‘save’ relevant links that pop in their newsfeed to read later. I’m going to use it a lot – but it’s also a good thing for Facebook page managers. In this post, author Mari Smith makes some really good points about how we might want to consider adapting our content as a result – she suggests more posts with links (which can be saved), for example. As this post rightly points out, Facebook is not currently offering any analytics on the save feature – so page managers will not know how many times their content has been saved for later. I think that would be a really useful thing to know – so hopefully Facebook will think about introducing that in coming months.

Why Content marketing fails – A really humorous guide to content marketing by Rand Fishkin. Very entertaining but also packed with advice. I’d recommend showing this to anybody who ‘doesn’t get’ content marketing yet – but even for those who already live and breathe it there are some tips and advice which will help you ‘fail’ less!

Why increased visibility on Twitter is just a few tweaks away – While a lot of the advice in this post by Sprout Social is basic stuff, it’s good to go back to basics once in a while and make sure you’re still getting the fundamentals right. The advice on using no more than 2 hashtags per tweet actually made me realise my organisation should be using them more – hashtags are something we probably don’t make enough of at the moment (but we will keep it to no more than two when we do!) I was also interested to read that the majority of users prefer it when you capitalise the first letter of every word in your tweet – something that I personally dislike… not sure I can bring myself to do this?!?