UK councils which engage on Twitter

We recently published an interview with Sunderland City Council about the role Twitter and other social media plays within their communication strategy. Since then we’ve contacted some other councils with the same questions.

All councils are now in some way involved in the usage of social media and the General Election has pushed all councils even harder to start engaging with their followers. Read the different ways in which these three councils are involved in Twitter, Facebook and other online communication channels.

Jayne Connolly from Elmbridge council

Elmbridge council is relatively new to social media. They previously just fed events, jobs and press releases to Twitter.

Jayne Connolly from the Elmbridge council explains: “I check the Twitter / hoot suite account daily. I can then see if there are any topics that have been raised by residents and of course reply.

My first goal is to increase the number of people following us on Twitter. We were trying to do this via the election - as a hook to get people interested. I have been tweeting election updates and the number of tweets increased running up to election night.

The trial proved to be very successful with lots of new followers and a high level of engagement. We will look into it for other areas of the council eg consultations, sports activities, weather etc etc.”

Solihull Council: popular Twitter feed, exploring other social media channels

Dave Musson, one of Solihull Council’s communications officers, said: “Solihull Council has been active on Twitter since April 2009 and, on average, our communications team spends around 30 minutes a day using and monitoring it – but this is spread out over the course of a day. We also use the programme Co-Tweet to co-ordinate our tweeting, which is useful because it can email alerts to team members when someone sends us a message, meaning we don’t have to keep checking it all day.

In terms of the communications strategy, the Solihull Council Twitter feed is playing an increasingly important part of it. We send out links to all our press releases once they have been posted to our website, which allows our followers to read them regardless of whether or not the local press feature them. We also use it to highlight events going on in the borough, such as those going on in parks, theatres or town centres.

We use twitter to send out important messages – this was particularly useful during the severe winter weather at the start of the year, as we could give the latest information about school closures, waste and recycling collections and any other breaking news. We have also used twitter to engage with residents and, where appropriate, respond to their enquiries, as well as re-tweeting any messages we think our followers would find useful or interesting.

Twitter’s resilience means it is a useful tool to have in our pocket as communicators; were our website ever to crash at a time when we needed to send out an important message, we would more than likely still be able to get the message out using Twitter because it is used to dealing with such a high volume of traffic.

Our use of Twitter is constantly evolving as we learn more about how best to use it. The live coverage of our local election on Twitter was quite exiting. Our coverage started at the same time as the count, and culminated in announcing the results for each ward, live. This gave residents a different way of engaging with local democracy.

As yet we don’t have a Council presence on other social media channels, but this is something we will look to explore in the future and we already have ideas about how we could best use Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.”

Walsall Council

Daniel Slee explains: ”In terms of the amount of time we spend on Twitter, it can be anything from 20 minutes to an hour a day. It all depends on the feedback coming through and what messages are coming out. I’m often asked ‘how do you make time?’. The same question was put when the telephone was first introduced to the office and then the internet. You make time and it becomes part of the daily landscape.

We think that tweeting using a human voice is vital to using Twitter. You have to use the language of the platform. ‘Dear Sir / Madam, With reference to your letter of April 1,’ works well as a letter. It doesn’t on Twitter.

Twitter fits into our overall comms strategy to support planned communications. When a release is sent out it’s added to the website and then to Twitter (and also Facebook if it is relevant). However, it also gives the freedom to respond to situations as they develop, such as school closures or gritting. As well as this it gives the ability to be flexible. Is it sunny on Friday afternoon? Tweet some links for parks and countryside people may want to explore.

We’re using Twitter because there is an audience. Around 5.5m people in the UK have registered on Twitter. We are going to where the conversation is.

Aside from Twitter, we are using Facebook increasingly as well as YouTube and Foursquare.”