Local government on Twitter

SimonGeneral5 Comments

Having spent a few hours over the past week setting up Medway Council‘s Twitter presence and associated systems, I was planning to write a post about how we did it.

But scanning through my RSS feeds this evening, I spotted this post from Stuart Harrison:

A beginners guide to Twitter in local government

Stuart’s post is an absolutely superb and comprehensive summary of how a council can easily get started with the nuts and bolts of a Twitter presence – based on his experience at Lichfield District Council.

At Medway we’re using Twitterfeed (RSS to Twitter), Twittermail (email to Twitter) and Twilert/Tweetbeep (keyword alerts for Twitter) to make things work.

The only comments I’d add to Stuart’s piece are about how councils can use Twitter – once they’ve got it up and running as a communications channel.

Councils could fall into the trap of setting up Twitter as a broadcast channel – using it to send out mass messages to people that choose to follow the council.

But I think that’s missing the real value of Twitter.

To get the most of Twitter councils need to use the tool to engage in conversations – listening and interacting with residents and other stakeholders in a way that more traditional tools don’t allow to happen.

5 Comments on “Local government on Twitter”

  1. John Fox

    You’ve hit the nail on the head Simon.

    Using Twitter as a broadcast channel only gets messages out into the public domain and promotes the existence of the council in an online environment, it raises awareness. But it doesn’t necessary lead to interactions.

    The next step is for the council to fully engage in a two-way conversation as you suggest.

    But that, I suspect, will be a stumbling block for organisations that aren’t fully geared up to embracing the web as a primary communications channel.

    I’d say that Twitter has come mainstream in just the last month or so. Everyone’s talking about it – if it can be featured on The ONE Show and get Gyles Brandreth hooked, then the sky’s the limit.

    So now IS the time for councils to get on board and exploit its full potential – its in everyone’s interest.

    1. Simon

      Hi John,

      I agree there’s a challenge about how councils adopt tools like Twitter – for example needing to set up processes to handle in-bound customer services requests that residents post/DM via Twitter.

      But the key is to get stuck in and give it a try, manage things carefully and then see what happens – if it works and residents use it, then start to work through some of the operational issues – rather than use them as a reason not to.

      1. John Fox

        If you’ve not caught up with Better Connected 2009 I recommend it … several mentions of Twitter there. And trust me, I know your website extremely well 😉

  2. Stuart Harrison

    Hi Simon,

    Thanks for the link up there, I’m sure your blog gets much more traffic than mine! I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts, I did kinda touch on them in my post too.

    Broadcasting info is only one way of using Twitter and it definitely should not be the only way. Tweeple are very suspicious of accounts that only broadcast and will give them short shrift.

    It also smacks of a ‘quick fix’, getting on there because you feel you have to, or should (very similar to starting up a council Facebook page without any idea of where you’re going with it, something I’m guilty of doing).

    A lot of councils started off with the broadcast approach, but have now moved on and are listening. If you’re from a council and you haven’t got a Twitter account, I recommend listening from the word go.

    1. Simon

      Hi Stuart,
      Thanks for the comment – keep up with the blog – I certainly find your posts interesting (a good more technical perspective for me to read!).

      I think it’s better that councils get started with new tools (eg social networks, twitter) than not doing it at all – but equally once they have a presence established that shouldn’t be seen as the end game – it’s just the start and what they do in the first place will need to evolve rapidly as the tool develops and the organisation learns about it.

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