A couple of years ago that’s what the former Liverpool manager told Liverpool City Council in 140 characters.
Chances are they’d already been out treating the roads but without regular updates nobody would have know.
Looking out of the window in January 2013 as snow falls after 24-hours of snowmaggedon warnings it’s s different story. There’s real time updates on Twitter, Facebook and in some cases rolling blogs too like at Walsall Council and Norfolk Council. That’s great to see.
It was a different case back in 2009 for local government when some leftfield councils – including Derbyshire, Walsall, Kirklees and others – boldly decided to use Twitter to tell people they were going out. I wrote about it here in early 2010.
Things stepped up a gear in 2011 when the excellent Geoff Coleman came up with the idea of getting councils across the West Midlands to tweet grit alerts using the #wmgrit hashtag so people could see the state of things across the region.
Taking a look at the stream in full effect this morning there’s messages of support being tweeted and a tweetreach stat that paints an impressive picture.
Stourbridge Town center has been gritted by @dudleymbc with men n shuvel! well done! town centre snow free to walk around #stourbridgesnow— Dave Baker (@The_Grim_Weeder) January 18, 2013Of course, audience stats aren’t the be all and end all as we know but 134,000 people potentially seeing what is happening on the roads is quite powerful.
Seeing a tweet or update land in your inbox or sail by helps. It saves people ringing up an engineer and asking for information and can even in passing can see that local government is doing stuff for them.
That doesn’t mean sweetless and light has broken out. People still complain they didn’t get their street treated. Or have a pop because they didn’t see a gritter go by. But that’s just it. They’re not shouting into the void anymore and the council can hear and respond.
But as much as I love the grit and winter disruption alerts I don’t think this is the last word. This should be a first word. But we should now be looking to see how else these real time alerts could work.
The digital landscape has evolved since 2009. Much has changed. This stuff is no longer revolutionary. It’s mainstream and being taken seriously. The LGA and DCLG have this month signed off the localgov digital group to try and innovate and share best practice. That’s rather good.
So after grit, what’s next?
As dull as unexciting as it may sound, something around bin reminders delivered in the evening by email or Twitter or by another means would be a rather handy piece of communications.
Any other ideas?
Sometimes a press release just isn’t enough to tell a story. Living day-to-day as a carer can be tough. To give a flavour of just how tough Walsall Council comms team members Tina Faulkner and Becky Robinson live tweeted four hours to show – with sensitivity – how dementia affects the life of one couple Sheila and Ron. You can follow it here and you can also read their story here. But this one powerful story is just part of a wider drive to highlight often unseen work carried out in social care in Walsall. Tina explains the background to the innovative campaign which uses a mix of old and new media:
If I could wear a t-shirt that best describes how I feel about work right now it would bear the slogan “I heart Social Care”.
I can see some of you now, exchanging a knowing look with your laptop or iphone and thinking, “Yep, she’s a social worker.”
Not a bit of it. In fact I’d be a rubbish social worker. I’d just want to scoop everybody up and take them home with me and we just haven’t got the room. Plus the retired greyhound would have something to say about that. He’s very set in his ways.
No, I heart social care as a press and pr officer who is working to try and dispel some of the myths about this area of work and highlight some of the innovative things that are going on. The things that are making a real difference to people’s lives and should be shouted about.
I have been working with my colleague Becky Robinson, a public information officer, to run week-long multi-media “events” called Who Cares? (see what we did there!) to show a side to social care that’s not picked up on.
The first one we did was last November and we featured the story of a paraplegic man who left residential care after 27 years to live independently, with support.
We Tweeted the calls coming into our social work teams which ranged from adult safeguarding tip-offs to families and carers wondering how to make life easier for loved ones leaving hospital.
We also showcased the stuff done by the community social work scheme which can sometimes be a simple as helping someone find a friendship club in their community to get them out of the house a few times a week.
And our Neighbourhood Community Officers got a look-in too as they go into some seemingly hopeless situations and bring about a sea change.
All in all it was a great week and we know it made some people sit up and take notice.
So it seemed only right to do it all again. And make some more people sit up and take notice.
This time round we’re tweeting from the home of a lady who cares for her husband with dementia to try and convey the relentless demands and challenges that this role brings and to try and make us all a bit more aware of dementia and mental health issues.
We’re tweeting from a carers’ consultation session too and featuring the partnership work being done in our communities to offer people of all ages, something to do and somewhere to go.
And we’re looking at people with learning and physical disabilities who were sent out of the borough for care many years ago, away from their families and communities, who are being supported to come back.
If we can achieve this in social care with all of its perceived “barriers” we can achieve it anywhere.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from all this it’s “Don’t assume people won’t want to speak about their experiences.”
In our experience they have no problem with speaking up – it’s getting people to listen that’s the key.
You can follow the tweets from @whocareswalsall on Twitter or via this link on CoveritLive:
A social care blog: The Who Cares Walsall blog
A tweeting social worker: @ermintrude2
The Guardian: Walsall uses Twitter to ask who cares about social care
The Guardian: Social care and social media live discussion round-up
Community Care: Time for social work to embrace social media
Creative commons credit:
One such idea is the idea of using Twitter to tweet in real time what local government is up to.
Starting with snow, ice and grit alerts in 2009 the approach went stellar in 2010 when Greater Manchester Police tweeted calls it recieved.
As a local government approach, Walsall 24 saw a 24 hour snapshot of what local government does from crossing patrols, complaints about rats as big as badgers to missing people reported to social care staff at 1am.
As proud as I am to be involved with that project, we always hoped that a little further down the track that idea would be eclipsed by something far more impressive.
With practically the whole of Scottish local government coming together to live tweet what it does that moment looks to arrived. And then some.
A total of 28 of 32 local councils in Scotland are taking part from noon on Tuesday September 27. You can read about it here.
It’s a fantastic achievement just to reach the start line and yet to me this is no surprise. There are some hugely talented people in Scotland. I met some of them on a trip to an LG Comms seminar in Dalkeith near Edinburgh earlier this year.
I’m looking forward to meeting many of them again at the Public Sector Network event in Glasgow on Wednesday September 28.
It’ll be good to see how the Scottish Twitter 24 event develops. That hashtag for that is #whatwedo.
It’s also brilliant to see Bracknell Forest Council in Southern England look to stage a 24 hour event using 140 character updates. On Monday September 26 using the hashtag #yourbfc for Your Bracknell Forest Council. The single council approach definitely still works and the benefits both internally and for Bracknell residents in knowing more about what their council does will be worth it. You can read more here.
Should real time Twitter only be used on large scale 24 hour events? Hell, no although there’s a place for it. I’m convinced the approach can work on a smaller level and become part of the comms mix routinely. In other words, it can become something that’s part of everyday use.
For example, if you’re looking to explain a new traffic scheme, yes write the press release but also walk the route with the engineers, tweet in real time and take pictures or video footage to help explain the project.
Curating and storing
The one thing I’d always suggest would be to find a way to store and preserve some of the content.
There was some recent research that showed the lifespan of a tweet to be three hours. Something like Storify can preserve what you’ve produced as well as allowing non-Twitter users to see what you’re up to. This is a Storify from Walsall 100.
Some other useful linked social events
Water Aid 24 Saw a water charity span the globe from Australia to Zambia over a 24 hour period to tweet from the frontline as well as from its support centres. It’s something I blogged about before. The press release is here. The piece in Brand Republic is here.
Shropshire 360 Saw Shropshire County Council tweet over the course of a week focussing on different areas of what it does every day. Press release.
Walsall 100 Saw West Midlands Police join with Walsall Council and public sector partners to tweet on topics over a seven day period. This covered a police initiative against errant drivers to a Q&A with regeneration staff LGC Plus, council web page, blog on the aims, council website, residents’ local history blog,
Mole Vale District Council during #molevalley15 became the first district council to use the linked social approach and tweeted day-to-day tasks. They reached 3,000 people against a following list of 300: Press release.
RSPCA the animal charity staged a 24 hour Twitter #rspca247 event to highlight the day-to-day tasks it does. Sky News.
What helped spread the word then was probably a Town Crier with the useful profile of having a loud voice in the marketplace where people gathered.
Today, the landscape has changed. But a voice in the place where people gather is still important.
Since May when Cllr Garry Perry was appointed to the post he’s been successfully experimenting with digital channels. As a 33-year-old he’s the borough’s youngest ever appointment. As a Facebook native and as at home there as in the Council Chamber it made sense for him to experiment using the channel.
He’s also used Twitter and connected with the Walsall Flickr group. Jokingly, Cllr Perry has spoken about creating the Mayor’s Parlour as a location on Foursquare so he can become Mayor of that too.
But is this just a gimmick? Or have lessons been learned?
A Facebook page was created for the Mayor of Walsall. The idea was to allow the Mayor to post updates and pictures from his phone when out and about. The aim was conversational. It also helps give an idea of where the Mayor had been and the people he’d met. It’s not a dusty civic position. It’s carried out by a person. For an organisation for people.
The stats speak for themselves. More than 160 people have signed up in about six weeks. There has been more than 8,000 page views in a four week period and people have responded posting enthusiastic comments. It’s clear that successful events also draw-in enthusiasm from residents.
As the Mayor of Walsall Cllr Perry says: “It’s been brilliant for getting feedback from people and for connecting with them. When you’re at an event you can post that you’ve been there with a picture. There’s still a tremendous respect for the office of Mayor and it’s good to be able to meet people. Using things like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr have really helped reach a different audience.”
More than 180 people and organisations have signed-up with updates of visits and fundraising. Cllr Perry’s sporadic previous account was re-named @mayorofwalsall.
A Flickr meet was staged where members of the excellent Walsall Flickr group came along to the Mayor’s Parlour and Council House one Saturday morning.
More than 200 shots were posted by six photographers to a specially created group to capture shots for the day. It was a chance for Walsall people to visit the 1905 building and meet the Mayor. As a visit it was a success. Those who came took some excellent pictures and Cllr Perry’s – and the Mayoress’ – easy going and informal approach saw the council giving a good account of itself. Staging a Flickr meet at a council venue is something I’ve blogged about before.
As a spin-off, and by no means the purpose of the event, the photographers were happy for the authority to re-use the posted pics for the website or for other marketing. That’s a good thing whichever way you look at it. You can see the pictures here.
Yes, we’ll do the traditional things too for old media too. That’s part of the repertoire.
Lessons to learn
1. It can put a human face on an organisation. As Pc Rich Stanley does for West Midlands Police in Walsall so Cllr Perry does for Walsall Council. They use social media to put a human face on the organisation that can sometimes be seen as remote.
2. It depends on the individual. A social mayor who is at home with the channels or willing to learn will prosper. A remote character with few social graces and mistrust of technology won’t.
3. Little and often works. Updates on the routine day-to-day tasks work really well. Don’t think you need to crack the front page of the local paper with every update.
4. It works best if the Mayor writes it. A voice can be unique and despite being a fairly politically neutral post it’s not for council officers to update on people’s behalf.
5. Be prepared to JFDI. Not everything with social media has a 100-year-old record to it. That’s a given. So just try things out.
Pic credit: Swissrolli (c) http://www.flickr.com/photos/swissrolli/5989959370/in/photostream
Funny how an unremarkable Spring day in the West Midands can go down in history.
From 6am on March 4, an audience of 116,273 on Twitter got to hear about the Walsall 24 experiment staged by Walsall Council.
Those figures are tweetreach.com, by the way. Not mine.
Historically, this was the first time a council had tweeted a snapshot of what it was doing in real time in the UK. Quite possibly this was a world first. That’s worth a ‘woot!’ in anyone’s book.
Yet, every day local government does tens of thousands of things for its residents.
Trouble is, we rarely tell people about the bread and butter things leaving some people ignorantly thinking ‘all I get is my bins collected.’
It was this lazy myth we looked to explode with Walsall 24.
There’s a blog post one day in the brass tacks of how the event was done.
By the way, this is an idea I’m proud to have played a role in amongst quite a sizable cast.
116,000 potential audience
10 per cent rise in @walsallcouncil audience
9 Twitter accounts used
1. The tipping point has been reached. It’s not about whether or not local government should use social media it’s how.
2. The internal battle has been won. People who 12 months ago were sceptical were keen to get involved. How do we channel that?
3. It’s not about network access. In the opening minutes of Walsall 24 we tweeted on a Blackberry because the network decided it didn’t like Twitter.
4. It’s ALL about network access. ‘This is great,’ one member of staff said, ‘but I couldn’t log on to my PC to follow it.’ Opening up social media internally would have been a powerful way to tell the story to the staff.
5. This could only work through collaboration. It was a neighbourhoods officer Kate Goodall that did much of the groundwork to get people on board and head of comms Darren Caveney that secured very top level buy-in. Without this it would have looked threadbare.
7. Having people in service areas savvy with social media is a good thing. Spread the joy. Don’t hog it.
8. Getting people together in a common cause makes a bigger noise. The noise made by more than a dozen is more than an individual.
10. This is the future. It’s not a hypothetical theory. It’s real and it’s here.
11. Free is good. Doors opened because there was no charge to this.
12. I never knew local government had people out at dawn investigating noisey cockerels. But we do.
Sarah Lay ‘A Day in the Life.’
Carl Haggerty ‘Even More Determined’
The Guardian ‘Walsall Council Live Updates.’
Walsall Council @walsallcouncil on Twitter
Walsall Council Walsall 24 diary
Across the cornflakes I’m seeing a bulletin with overnight pitched battles in Tahrir Square on the news.
This square in Cairo has been the symbolic battleground. Pro-democracy protestors hold it. The President’s men want them out.
Stones, bottles get thrown to dislodge them. Snipers too but the protestors hold on by their finger tips.
Checking Twitter the hashtag #egypt is filled with news reports, pictures and messages.
One catches my eye. A man proud that he knows one of the protestors who is there on the ground.
Minutes later one of those whose name I retweeted thanks me and several others for this act.
One of the protestors in Tahrir Square who has been fighting for what he believes in sends me a tweet to say ‘thank you.’.
The historian in me can’t handle that.
The geek in me is amazed.
What would a tweet from the French Revolution look like? Would @marieantoinette RT Let them eat #cake…?
But this is the 21st century, baby.
Now, those protestors are not figures on a screen. I know one of their names and contact – fleetingly – has been made. It’s Manal Hassan. His Twitter name is @manal. He is from Cairo.
I know in years to come what I’m saying now will seem as naïve as the school teacher who marvels at the photograph from the Crimean War.
Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Twitpics are the first draft of history.
I see that.
I’m now just hoping for a peaceful outcome. And I’m hoping Manal is alright.
Pic: Twitpic http://twitpic.com/3whv3g
It’s always good to show people Twitter when they don’t use it themselves.
Isn’t Twitter Stephen Fry talking about his tea? Isn’t it a load of noise? Isn’t it a waste of time?
I was sat with two people who don’t get Twitter.
Instead of explaining, I asked Twitter a question. It’s sometimes amazing the response you get.
I posted the following question:
Then several people started to chip in with what they thought.
Then @adrielhampton posted. It can amplify what matters to you. When I showed them his Twitter profile they started to get interested.
“He’s from America,” one said. “How do you know him?”
Through Twitter I told them.
“Oh, he created the e-petition platform at 10 Downing Street. He does Talk About Local. They support hyperlocal blogs.”
I show them some hyperlocal sites they’ve not seen before.
I talk about Pits n Pots in Stoke-on-Trent and a few others.
We talked about how we could use the platform for the council.
I log back onto Twitter and there were a stack more replies waiting.
“Are they interested in anything?” one posted. “Find experts in that. Fast. Find their friends. Find themselves.”
It’s all good stuff.
Their faces change from confusion to awe.
“I’m starting to see the point now,” one said.
I show them hashtags. I show them how I can find out what’s happening at Stoke City, in local government and I show them the UK Govcamp hashtag #ukgc11.
I show them #xfactor because that’s a TV show that one likes.
I tell them that you can watch TV and get a real time running commentary on the programme you are watching via Twitter.
That gypsy wessing fly-on-the-wall programme they were talking about. I heard all that on Twitter and I hadn’t even got the telly on.
US people who specialise in emergency planning had started to contribute.
“Situational awareness, direct connectivity to public, better engagement,” one tweeted.
“Wow,” my colleague said.
One tweeter reminded me of the @savebenno campaign on Twitter.
What was that?
That was a campaign to highlight the unfair dismissal of a 2nd XI village cricket skipper.
It ended up with the team I was playing for playing a Save Benno XI.
“Wow,” my other colleague said.
“It’s starting to make sense now.”
It’s now not why local government uses Twitter but how.
More than a hundred UK councils are on the micro-blogging platform.
Since late 2008 we’ve been using Twitter at Walsall Council to inform and engage.
We’re fortunate our head of communications Darren Caveney and head of press and PR Kim Neville were quick to spot the potential.
More than 6,000 tweets on and there are a series of lessons we’ve learned.
In one of the first blogs I ever wrote I talked of the 27 things that work on a local government Twitter stream.
For a presentation at LG Comms in Nottingham I boiled that down to 12 key lessons.
The slides are available on slideshare (click the link above).
#12 LESSONS FOR USING TWITTER IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT
#1: Realise that the landscape has changed (and your skills need to too.) You know that a few years ago that writing a press release and booking a photo call was enough? That’s still a great skill. But you need other things too.
#2: The channels of communication have changed. In the old days there was the newspapers. Maybe the radio. Every now and then TV would show up and it would be a really big thing. They’re still there. In some cases just or not at all. It’s just that people get their news in different ways now. Remember, Facebook is the fourth biggest news site on the internet.
#3: Learn the language of the platform first (by messing about with it yourself.) When you start to use Twitter – or any other platform – you’ll notice that there is a different way of talking to people. It’s a lot more relaxed and conversational. Get to know how things work under your own name. Once you build some confidence up you’ll be up to speed on how to use it for your organisation.
#4: You can’t control the message. It’s a big one for press officers this. In the old days there may have been key messages. There’s still things you want to say. Just realise that this stuff works as a conversation. So be conversational.
#5: It’s okay to be a human voice. What works best on Twitter is a relaxed tone. It’s not about linking to an RSS feed and tweeting the first 140 characters of a press release. That’s just shouting. A police officer once told me that as a beat officer he would start conversations with people. Then he’d slip in some information he thought may be of help. That’s what Twitter does. It’s probably why many police officers are very good at it.
#6: Link. Share. Retweet. Be web 2.0. It’s okay to retweet. So long as it’s third sector or public sector. Spotted a police witness appeal on Twitter? Link to it. Charity car wash in your borough? Link. Share. Earn social capital. Be a responsible council. Share interesting content.
#7: Take the argument offline. It’s never a good idea to have a row in public. Point people to the place where they can get information that can help. Most non-trolls are fine with this.
#8: Take the re-buttal online. Is your local paper circulating via Twitter a link you have a major issue with? Have they failed to include your statement adequately? Post the statement online. Link to it. Tweet it to them – and your followers.
#9: Service areas work well on Twitter (so be prepared to share). It’s fine for comms to use it. Others can too. There’s no-one better at knowing what’s popular with libraries than librarians. So if your library want to use it, let them. Give them some pointers first.
#10: Have a simple to understand social media policy. A hundred pages won’t work. Something that fits into a screen does. Make it simple.
#11: Make sure it connects with other channels of communications. Write the press release. Send it. But also send it via your other channels too.
#12: Cut, past and send your positive feedback to off-line officers. It’s amazing how effective this is at breaking down barriers to social media. If you are doing something residents approve of they will thank you for it.
Hat tip: Nick Booth who first told us about Twitter and what it could do.
BETTER CONNECTED: Case study: How a community festival used social media – with 4 extra ideas for next yearPosted: September 21, 2010 | |
Digital skills may be valuable online but offline they’re part of a mix of things needed to make an event work.
One blogger has argued that its such a part of her life she didn’t think of ‘social media’ as such anymore. It’s part of life.
That’s fine for digital natives. But that’s not the case for people like Walsall artist Alan Cheeseman.
Together with a team of like-minded volunteers he helped stage a festival in the Caldmore in Walsall in the West Midlands.
Walsall Council chipped in with funding and support. So did social housing provider whg, the National Lottery and one or two other places.
Where’s Caldmore? First, it’s pronounced karma. Narrow Victorian terraced streets crowd around a small green hardly big enough to host a cricket square. Legend has it that Boy George lived there in his Walsall days.
It’s a place where migrant workers settled amongst the indiginous English to take low-paid jobs in factories. The communities have remained while the factories they came to have gone to the wall.
It’s a place a mile square of three churches, a mosque and a Sikh temple.
It suffers from deprivation, crime and suffers the stigma of a prostitution problem that has eased.
But as the Caldmore Village Festival shows, the place has a powerful resilience and a creative and community-minded people.
In part its scores of micro-communities around the mosque, the church, the pub or the temple.
For this event they came together.
More than 11,000 came to 15 venues across three days for the festival.
Kibadi, Bollywood dancing, live music and dance brought people in. So did the Pakistani sport of stone lifting. An amazing sight where men lift carved stone.
Ask Alan what made it worth while and its not the numbers that excite him. It’s the little stories. It’s getting the tearaway kid to put a volunteer’s orange bib on and give him what could be the first piece of responsibility he’s ever known.
But what role did social media have in all this?
“Things like the internet. That’s for educated people really, isn’t it?” says Alan.
“I’m not sure how much of what we did actually helped.”
In Walsall,the percentage of people online every day is below the national average of 60 per cent.
Caldmore is the place the Talk About Local project was invented for.
An initiative to bridge the digital divide and equip communities with an online voice the initiative trained Alan and set him up on a blog.
Sessions open to all backgrounds were run at a neighbourhood resource called Firstbase by community worker Stuart Ashmore where the basics of WordPress were explained.
As a tool for communities this blogging platform is as powerful as a printing press in the 19th century.
Easy to use and simple to master it gives an online presence to anyone with an internet connection.
Alan explained: “We used the blog. We’d update it maybe once a month and we had links to it coming from around 50 other sites.”
Alan was quietly impressed at the digital waves he did make: ”I was quite suprised to see 1,000 hits in the week before the festival started.”
But as Alan says the main lesson is to see digital as just one part of the jigsaw. That’s something some forget. It may reach some people. It won’t reach everyone. So what does?
“Networking helps,” says Alan. “A piece in the local paper helps. So do leaflets.
“We made contact with several organisations and we found that their agenda was similar to ours in many places.
In effect, Alan was doing the things that work on the web in the real world.
The message to the online community? Online is part of the answer. It’s not the answer on its own.
Or to put it simply, the equation is this:
Face-to-face + networking + leaflets + digital + newspaper support + community groups + public sector + council staff + ward councillors = a successful community event
The Caldmore Village Festival’s digital footprint…
Blogging – A WordPress blog with monthly updates.
Flickr – Walsall’s Flickr group members were invited along to the event too were made welcome. Some amazing pictures came out of it. A group was created as a repository for images.
Plug into the blogging eco-system – Walsall news aggregator The Yam Yam – named after the way Walsall people are supposed to speak – plugged the event through its website, it’s Twitter and Facebook streams.
Twitter support – Walsall Council Twitter stream @walsallcouncil linked to new blog posts.
Link support – Links to the blog ended up on around 50 sites.
YouTube – A short film of the stone lifting attraction helped raise the profile.
Ideas for future online activity…
1. Twitter — A face to the organisation on the @hotelalpha9 would work brilliantly. Or simply a festival stream.
2. Facebook — In Walsall, Facebook is the platform of choice with 197,000 people registered in a 10 mile radius. A fan page for the festival will capture that support.
3. Flickr — Use the images from year one to promote year two. Bring the Flickr group back for a second year.
4. Foursquare — Add the venues to the geo-location game. Leave tips for things to do.
Creative commons pics:
Swissrolli: Police officer: http://www.flickr.com/photos/swissrolli/4673534659/in/pool-caldmorefestival
Stuart Williams: Wigs: http://www.flickr.com/photos/swilliams2001/4656475393/sizes/s/in/pool-1470631@N22/
Stuart Williams: Parade: http://www.flickr.com/photos/swilliams2001/4656478577/in/pool-caldmorefestival
Stuart Williams: Drummer: http://www.flickr.com/photos/swilliams2001/4656478577/in/pool-caldmorefestival