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The problem with social media: Don’t believe the hype

You’ve got your new website. You’re using Twitter and Facebook to “engage” with residents. Your community has access to all the latest news and information as it happens. The channel shift savings are predicted to be huge…So why isn’t it working?

Don’t let the hype surrounding Social Media convince you this is an effective way to reach and engage your community because the figures really don’t stack up.

GovDelivery research reveals Social Media usage within a random sample of Local Authorities suggests that only a tiny percentage of the population actively engages using these new channels. The average is a disappointing 0.33% for Twitter and 0.175% for Facebook as a percentage of the population served.

The disappointing figures only tell part of the story. Deeper analysis of Followers/Fans showed that a large proportion of the audience are Suppliers, Staff, Consultants or other Local Authorities. The number of genuine residents is very small in most cases.

Time to pull the Plug?

The main reasons Local Authorities have failed to “engage” residents isn’t down to the technology. The technology is simple and works very well. When used correctly it can be highly effective as the figures for Coventry City Council above prove. Steve Woodward’s excellent blog post explains more on how they did it. However, Coventry is a very rare exception rather than the rule.

Why bother with these technologies unless you are allowed to resource and promote them effectively, the later being vitally important. Any investment, no matter how good the

implementation, is likely to be completely wasted unless you promote the services properly. The rewards for a well planned and thought-through promotion strategy will pay dividends longer term.

Treat the launch of all new digital assets as you would physical ones, consult, design, build and promote. As an example, would you build a new Sports Centre and then not tell anyone when it opens? Naturally some local people would find it, the local sports community would already be talking about it but the audience would build slowly. Wouldn’t it be much better to promote it with a big story on your website, get the leader talking about the service, invite the local press to a grand opening, print newsletters and posters which list the facilities available to be distributed all over town?

Social Media is the same. Don’t expect the audience to build quickly using these channels when they don’t know they are open. Remember, Promotion, Promotion, Promotion…you can’t do too much.

Tips for Effective Promotion

Use the right tools – Use social media tools in conjunction with more effective online channels to engage residents. GovDelivery research has shown that Local Authorities who use an email led engagement strategy to coordinate social media activity are likely to engage 10-20 times more residents than social media alone. Email is by far the most effective communication channel and is much more effective than social media, so use them together to reach the biggest audience.

In your Face – Ensure all your communications channels e.g. Twitter, FaceBook, Email alerts, YouTube etc are promoted on the top left or top right of every page on your website, not just the home page. Ensure these channels are always displayed “above the fold” and you use distinctive and colourful icons to encourage subscription.

Cross-promote – Cross promote your online presence at every available opportunity and an all forms of communication media.

  • Make sure all stories you carry link to your digital channels.
  • Run stories in traditional Newsletters and the Local Press that contain links to your digital communication channels.
  • Ensure all your outbound emails contain links to your all social channels in the footers.
  • Ensure your customer service team captures email addresses and SMS numbers from residents using traditional contact centres so in future you can use these to communicate proactively on common topics like missed refuse collections.

Leverage Events –Many successful local authorities with high-levels of digital engagement have used unexpected events to rapidly drive up subscriber numbers. For example, when it snows create a news story about how you are using new technology to minimise snow disruption. Provide links to your digital communication channels as a way of keeping informed in future. Watch the numbers climb and continue to climb when the snow stops.

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