LOCAL GOV: So, we’ve got Twitter Gritter sorted, what’s next?

5115786276_faaf0896c3_bYou know you are in trouble when Kenny Dalglish tells you on Twitter your gritting efforts are rubbish.

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.

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?


GUEST POST: Live tweeting to tell a human frontline story

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”.

Sheila and Ron Haynes. Sheila gives round-the-clock care to husband Ron.

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:

http://www.coveritlive.com/index2.php/option=com_altcaster/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=d21510425c/height=550/width=470

Links:

A social care blog: The Who Cares Walsall blog

A tweeting social worker: @ermintrude2

Shirley Ayres: Why social media is important to social care: challenges and opportunities by Shirley Ayres

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:

Flowers: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alijava/6210239598/sizes/l/in/photostream/


SOCIAL NATION: Further adventures with 24-hour Twitter

Like a wild flower seed a good idea can take root in unexpected places, grow and get better.

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.

Go, Scotland!

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.

Go, Bracknell!

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.

Tameside Council. 24 hour Twitter in June 2011 focussing on day-to-day tasks. Council press release,  Manchester Evening News, The Guardian.


CIVIC SOCIAL: How digital tools can help connect a Mayor

Mayors in Walsall go back to the 13th century. Yes, children it’s safe to say that even pre-dates Friends Reunited.

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?

Facebook

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.

The events functionality also allows a good way to flag up fundraisers.

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.”

Twitter

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.

Flickr 

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.

Press releases

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


WALSALL 24: Case study: 12 thoughts on tweeting what local government does in a day

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.

Statistics


1,400 tweets

116,000 potential audience

10 per cent rise in @walsallcouncil audience

9 Twitter accounts used


But there’s also in the days after 12 things that struck me:


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.

6. People like being told how their council tax is spent. No matter how routine. One person said that they didn’t like the updates. That was after the event.

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.

9. Innovation is a good thing. It makes you look at things in a different light. In the old days something like this may have been bought in from outside. Not any more.

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.

Blogs

Sarah Lay ‘A Day in the Life.’

Carl Haggerty ‘Even More Determined’

Adrian Short ‘#walsall24 – Whats the Point of a Tweeting Council?’

Resources

The Guardian ‘Walsall Council Live Updates.’

Walsall Council @walsallcouncil on Twitter

Walsall Council Walsall 24 diary


HISTORY TWEET: Connecting over cornflakes with @manal in Tahrir Square

So, there I was one morning watching TV coverage of protests in Egypt.

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.

I retweet it thinking there may be people who follow me  interested.

Minutes later one of those whose name I retweeted thanks me and several others for this act.

Let’s get this straight.

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


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