Challenges of digital communications at a district council

Mews Kinver

Many more councils are realising the power of social media and embracing the new ways it gives them of communicating with residents.  Fantastic for those for larger councils, with their communications ‘teams’ able to share responsibility for monitoring multiple channels, but what about smaller councils who don’t have that luxury?

Communications in a small council has its challenges.  You are often the ‘one man band’, managing many different channels, offering advice on marketing, media, internal communications, websites and others.  Introducing new concepts like ‘live tweeting’ when it’s not something that has been done before can be difficult, especially when you don’t have a veritable army of communications colleagues at your back offering reassurance that yes, it will work, and yes, people will be interested.

So how does it work?  The answer is simple, and it lies in one of the main advantages of working in a smaller council—the direct, undiluted contact with services.

Take Baggeridge Country Park in South Staffordshire for example.  They have a Facebook page—updated by the service themselves—that contains everything you want to know about the park and its services.  Having a marketable product coupled with a genuine passion for the service has resulted in a successful and engaging social media presence.  How many people are interested in the first smooth newt to be found at the park?  The answer is a lot, judging by the 850+ likes the page has.  It’s a great example of how social media can really work on a smaller scale, for a smaller organisation and yet gain significant interest.

Currently, South Staffordshire Council has six Facebook pages, a Youtube channel, a Flickr account and a twitter account (@south_staffs).  While the communications officer oversees them, they are updated by a dedicated few personnel who are more involved, passionate and knowledgeable about the services they represent.

For many organisations social media can be seen as risky, scary even.  It’s not, and the more we can educate our colleagues about this and share what has worked well, the more they can embrace it and see the power it can have.  Success breeds success, after all.

Of course this doesn’t mean there should be a free-for-all, with every man and his dog having access to the corporate Twitter account, but there is a balance to be struck between reputation management, and educating, training and just plain allowing the services to get on with what they know best.

So yes, social media in a smaller council does have its challenges, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be just as effective, engaging ad interesting as that in a larger organisation.  We just need to allow it.

I see the peregrine falcon is back at Baggeridge, apparently.  It may be time for a visit.

by Gemma Styles,

South Staffordshire District Council

Picture credit

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