Local authorities on Twitter – a perspective


My Google Alerts threw up an interesting link today – a “league table” of councils on Twitter, ranked by the number of followers they have on their primary Twitter feeds.

Looking at some of the comments and chat on Twitter about the league table, published by Guerilla Policy, some people have already identified some basic inadequacies with the approach:

  • Looking at the total number of followers for a specific council needs to be viewed alongside the total target audience for that activity – which in the case of most council corporate feeds is going to be people living in the local area – it’s not surprising that Glasgow has more Twitter followers than Winchester – they’ve got more residents!
  • Followers is a crude and poor substitute for effective communication. Late last year I did some analysis for a Welsh council I was working with that showed that more than 80 per cent of their Twitter followers weren’t actually from their local area – which shocked them as they’d assumed their followers were local residents and were targetting their social media content accordingly.
  • Plenty of councils use a number of Twitter feeds – to target different audience segments with different content and conversations – something that doesn’t appear to have been taken account of in the analysis.

So for the chaps at Guerilla Policy to claim that the councils with the most followers are “seizing the opportunity” of social media is a tad misleading – although I’ve got plenty of respect for their patience in looking up almost 400 councils and their Twitter stats.

While this kind of list makes for great linkbait (yep, I fell for it too!), it is essentially meaningless.

The only way to evaluate who is seizing the opportunity of Twitter is to understand what councils set out to achieve on there in the first place – for different organisations there will be different drivers for what they’re up to – and therefore different ways of judging what is successful and what’s not.

It’s not just about how many followers, but who they are, who you want them to be, what content they consume, how they interact, and what they think, do and feel as a result of what a council does on social media.

However Guerilla Policy isn’t the first to fall into the trap of seeing the most easily measurable numbers as being those most indicative of success. SOCITM have done much the same in some of their analysis of social media in the past too.

But any sensible communicator will be looking beyond the obvious numbers and asking more probing questions before proclaiming one council or another as an example of good practice on social media.