Tag Archives: 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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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?

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…

 

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!)

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.

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.