When I wrote this post, it was as is shown below the dashes below.
However, the first comment here was from LouLouK at Blackburn & Darwen Council, just up the road from me, who pointed out that some councils have got it right.
I need to be clear that a lot of good work is going on and that, especially in these times, it can be really hard to get people motivated to try things. Where this stuff is going on, it needs to be shared. Maybe it is being, and I’m out the loop. When you’ve read my post, stick to my action plan….or just skip past it and read LouLou’s comments….what they are doing there seems to be better than any action plan I can produce!
It’s getting cold out there.
I don’t know who reads this blog in terms of location. I’d like to think we have a readership in exotic places like Hawaii, California and Walton-on-the-Naze. Those people may well not be aware that we’re approaching winter and have snow heading our way, apparently before the end of the week. If or when the snow does come, we’ll inevitably ignore the fact that this happens every year and, in a wild panic, close the schools, shut down the shops and make worried calls about whether we should attempt the journey into work.
Last year, this joke wasn’t even as unfunny as it is now. A heavy covering all over the country left everyone frozen to the spot and local government, schools, colleges, public transport and every other public body scrambled to find the resources to cope. In the mess, everyone realised there was a lot to gain from social media in a crisis and many of the commentators had got it right in predicting this.
In the wake of snow, there was much reflection. Some great examples of the use of technology emerged, some lessons in how not to use technology were learned. Alastair Smith, then a comms man at Newcastle Council, ran a workshop about this at last years UKGOVCAMP and I followed that up with another at LocalGovCamp YH. The details were compiled in my “Told you Snow” post.
So, as the snow approaches again, it’s interesting to see more people on board than last year. Just the other day, Leeds City Council announced that they would be running a feed similar to Kirklees Councils’ “Kirklees Winter” feed (dubbed The Gritter Twitter), giving out information about the closures. It’s fantastic that more councils are looking to social media now and they are right to do so; I certainly use Twitter and Facebook more than ever in emergency situations, and we’ve seen some great examples of Twitter’s use in crisis since then.
What’s disappointing, though, is that many of the lessons have not been taken on board. Again, Twitter is being used like an RSS Reader to roll out news releases that could be on a website.
In many council approaches, the conversations element, where people can ask questions and get responses via twitter extremely quickly is missing. Isolated, cold, damp and fed up people don’t need to know details about every school closure. They do need cheering up. A bit of conversation, when time allows, is as valuable as those road closed details.
The strategy for incorporating information into general twitter feeds and facebook pages is missing. This is particularly worrying if an inexperienced person has to update all the social media because management can’t get in.
The social media mashup element, where tweets can be placed on a google map to chart disruption hasn’t materialised. The lessons about wider access to open / mobile working to prepare staff for working from home have, amazingly in a time of austerity, been ignored.
There were some great Twitter stories last time. Newcastle Council’s Twitter worked with Sky News while Sarah Lay got Derbyshire Council working with volunteer 4×4 drivers through social networking. Part of the reason this worked was because, rather than inventing their own hashtags, they used existing conventions like #uksnow. It wasn’t just social media either. A huge percentage of people accessing school closure information did so using games consoles or television compatible browsers…how many councils test their web space with those?
It seems that, as the cold returns, councils are just rolling out the Twitter gritter with the traditional ones and no one is listening to the innovators who tried this last time round. So, what should local authorities do?
- Look at whether they need a separate Twitter feed for the winter or whether their existing feed with a hashtag can cover the job
- Find out existing hashtags and conventions for Twitter (so for snow use #uksnow followed by a postcode followed by any information or a number out of ten to rate severity of snow fall eg. #uksnow bd22 Hebden Road closed or #uksnow bd22 9/10
- Put together a communications plan. Ensure that the social network tools are accessible from the office and from home, that people know the passwords, how to use them and conventions for using them
- Make sure that as fewer updates as possible are needed. For example, updating a page with an RSS feed can automatically update twitter (using something like HootSuite), a facebook page and a website at the same time.
- Check that your website updates don’t rely on flash, java or other technicalities that could make it unusable from some smart phones and games consoles. If it has to rely on these, make sure there’s a link to something that doesn’t
- Think big – this isn’t just a tool for you to roll out news releases, it’s a tool for people to report things to you, for people who’re stuck to talk to you, for the media to keep in touch with what you’re doing. The feed isn’t just about you locally, it could be used nationally to paint the picture
- Use the right hashtags on Twitter. Use you own by all means, but make sure you use the nationally trending ones, so that others can pick up on your feeds
- Have a plan – if you need to rope in emergency services, volunteers, community wardens etc, can you get information from them onto social media quickly? How? Maybe they have their own feeds you can re-tweet or share on facebook. If not, is there a comms number/email accessible outside the office to keep the information up to date.
- Above all, make sure if you start this, you finish it. There’s nothing worse than a twitter feed that shuts down at five when the snow starts at 4. Make sure you don’t use the feed one day and not the next. If using separate feeds, don’t neglect your original feeds. Have plans in place for how to do this.
With the right thought processes, another snow crisis could mean some real innovation in local authorities….I just hope it’s not a snowman that melts with the thaw, but one that stays with local government for a while, because, let’s be honest, it’s getting cold out there.