Local services need to use social media – Ashley Wilcox

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There’s a great opinion piece in this week’s PR Week from Ashley Wilcox making a pretty watertight case for local public services to use social media in their comms mix (can’t find it on the PR Week site so no deep link I’m afraid).

Ashley’s piece makes some pretty sound points:

Treat social media as part of the comms mix, not a quick fix gimmick
Absolutely – social media provides new communications tools, but does far more than that by shifting the balance of communications power in the relationship between the public sector and the public – tokenism or box ticking by just deploying new media comms tools for the sake of it is a short term strategy that will undermine effective communications.

Comprehensive area assessment (CAA) means the public sector needs to make better use of social media
Yes – CAA explicitly mentions the role of digital media in engaging with residents, but more importantly also forces the public sector to focus on residents’ experience of living in a particular place – and for many people that includes their digital experience as well as their physical experience of a place.

Two-way communications through social media is vital, and even more so given the declining role of local media
Again, he’s right. The role of the local media as gatekeeper for local public sector messages is in rapid decline, thanks to declining circulations and reduced resources in local media.

The public sector needs to understand this and grasp the ever-growing opportunities to communicate directly with their publics – whether through direct marketing (through email, for example) or through social media.

The issue of public sector workers not having access to social media at work
This is something that features strongly in the emails I receive, but is something, thankfully, I haven’t experienced personally. There’s a conversation going on out there about people’s experience of living in a place, and if the public sector blocks it out, it’ll still be going on, it’s just those that should be listening and responding won’t be able to.

As Ashley says

They need to trust staff and stop missing massive opportunities to speak to their service users.

It’s really encouraging to see some social media advocacy from a council communicator from outside the usual group of social media proponents – the mix of CAA, growth of social media and structural changes in mainstream media means interesting times ahead for public sector communicators.

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