Local authorities on Twitter – a perspective

SimonDigital2 Comments

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.

2 Comments on “Local authorities on Twitter – a perspective”

  1. You rightly say:

    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 ….etc etc

    Just to point out that in Socitm’s Better connected 2011 and 2012, Twitter Gritters, its work on elections and social media and other reports and briefings, Socitm has published extensive analysis on why, how, and to what effect local authorities are using social media.

    But the analysis has to start somewhere, and trying to get a handle on who is doing what is a natural starting point for debate. And this is exactly what has happened with what Geurilla Policy has done: anyone who falls for the ‘linkbait’ will actually get a lot of useful commentary, links and further information around social media and its use by local authorities.

    And that seems to me to be a positive thing.

    1. Hi Vicky – thanks for taking the time to comment.

      I agree the analysis has to start somewhere – but my worry is that too many communicators take this kind of thing at face value and don’t think beyond the basic numbers – and that’s where the problem lies.

      It’s frustrating how many comms people still don’t think about the strategic value (or not) of social media – and instead fall for “how many likes”, “how many followers”, “klout scores” etc as a proxy for meaningful outcome-based evaluation.

      But yes, the fault there lies with comms people, not Guerilla Policy, SOCITM or anyone else publishing that kind of data.

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