Up until the summer of 2012, Herefordshire Council had approached twitter as a broadcast and emergency messaging system. Tweets were sent automatically to a range of twitter accounts to issue alerts on school transport, gritting and general press releases.The Council also used Twitter around the jubilee and torch relay celebrations.
A new approach to social media started in August 2012 with a change in communications management.
A council Facebook page was created and the corporate comms unit managed this page and the corporate twitter account. The accounts are checked daily, questions were responded to promptly on the network. An acceptable use policy was published to allow effective moderation.
Local social media users quickly noticed that the council was responding to messages. Initially many messages were hostile but the messaging soon evolved to a more normal range of questions, comments and chatter around council services.
A social media policy was prepared and even before this was adopted it provided a framework within which the council could develop new social network accounts. The Council now has thriving facebook pages for its museums, libraries and countryside services along with twitter accounts for those services and to support a sustainable transport initiative.
The most direct benefits the council has seen by embracing social media has been around emergency situations. During recent flooding, fire and snow events facebook and twitter have been the primary ways by which citizens have been kept informed of the latest developments.
The Council also engaged with social networks during its recent budget consultation process. Face-to-face “your community, your say” meetings were supplemented by online discussions on facebook. The council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for finance took part in a live twitter chat to discuss the budget proposals which was well received by local social media users. The councillors themselves found the speed and brevity of the medium to be a challenge but they are keen to develop their skills in this area.
The biggest shift within the council has been to consider online networks alongside other communities when planning consultation and communication activity. In April the council committed to a policy of digital by default and is working to ensure that online transactions are excellent and that information provision online is first class. The Council is also a partner with Gloucestershire County Council and BT in the Fastershire project which will bring broadband to every home in the county.
Working effectively on social media requires a shift in approach across the organisation and the council is open about the fact that it has just started shifting its approach.
by Ben Proctor,
Herefordshire County Council