TRUE GRIT: A localgov winter social media case study

Every mile is two in winter, the Elizabethan poet George Herbert wisely said.

True words then and true today and he never had to drive a Vauxhall Astra on the M6 in minus five degree weather.

In local government its worth going the extra mile in wintry weather.

Get things right in sub zero weather and you’re laughing.

Get it wrong and you’re not. Just ask the Scottish transport minister who resigned after scathing criticism.

For the past two weeks Walsall Council – the council I work for –  has been using social media as a key way to keep people updated on wintry weather.

It’s not the first time. Last year, we were one of a small number to use social media. We used Twitter to flag up gritting and service disruption.

This time, we expanded a touch. During the icy period of November 26 to December 11 2010 we used the council website, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.

What did we do this year?

Staff were primed to email the communications unit, members of the team by 8am every day as well as individuals. When the gritters went out the engineers e-mailed and even called to flag up what they were up to.

Council website www.walsall.gov.uk

With new digital channels taking all the attention you’d be forgiven for overlooking your website. Don’t. It’s where a lot of your content can go.

We used one page on the website as a links directory to more than half a dozen potential service areas so people didn’t have to search around the website.

It’s where most people will go first.

Twitter @walsallcouncil

Stats: 2,200 followers (a five per cent rise in two weeks)

261 tweets at almost 19 a day.

Content: Updates on gritting, school closures, service disruption.
Links to council gritting pages, school closure page organised by education provider Serco.

Links to winter shots taken by residents and posted on Twitpic and Flickr.

Links to BBC weather.

Link to the @mappamercia grit map.

Did we RT?: Of course. Social media is supposed to be social. We retweeted the Met Office weather forecasts, neighbouring authority grit updates and advice on

Facebook: Our Walsall fan page

Stats: 345 likes (up 10 per cent in two weeks)

Daily post views up 3,105 or 82 per cent.

Updates: 27

Each status update received between 159 and 783 page impressions.

Content: Three to four updates a day with links to a general page.

Flickr and Twitpic

Stats: 6 pics posted on Flickr and 12 pics crowdsourced and retweeted on Twitter to provide content from residents themselves. Shots varied from the amateur twitpic to the almost professional here.

A set of pics were posted of the gritters in action at a training event in late autumn designed to test out the routes. These were posted to Flickr but the best pics came from residents themselves. In the spirit of web 2.0 we posted links to good shots.

One pic was crowdsourced for the council website header shot.

Content: snowy scenes taken by residents as well as shots of gritters posted by the press office.

Open data

It’s one of the great jobs of this winter to see a mapping project really take off in Walsall. The Mappa Mercia group are people I’ce blogged about previously. Last winter they drew-up a grit map on open street map for Birmingham. You can take a look here. They spotted the grit routes for Walsall and Solihull too and quietly added them. So, when winter came we were quite happy to link to their map. It shows residents spotting a need and doing it themselves.

Content: grit routes.

EIGHT things we’d suggest:

  • Get service areas to tell you what they are doing.
  • Communicate to residents in good time.
  • Monitor, respond and communicate every four hours. Have a rota to do this.
  • Put the same message across different channels. But in the language of the platform. Don’t RSS it across everything. It won’t work.
  • You can crowdsource good picture content.
  • Have an idea what the frequently asked questions are and think about the answers before you are asked.
  • Take a screen shot of the positive and negative comments from Facebook and Twitter. It gives the service areas an idea of what is being said if you email it to them. The positive stuff will go down very well and make them more supportive of what you are doing.
  • You can reply to negative comments. But if people swear or are sarcastic think twice. You may not have a constructive conversation.

5 Comments on “TRUE GRIT: A localgov winter social media case study”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dan Slee, PublicSectorBloggers, Sue Pellegrino, Andrew Mackenzie, Kai Rudat and others. Kai Rudat said: RT @danslee: Just blogged – True grit: A winter #localgov social media case study http://bit.ly/fghhnS #uksnow #gov20 […]

  2. […] TRUE GRIT: A localgov winter social media case study « via The Dan Slee Blog December 13, 2010 — Ingrid Koehler via danslee.wordpress.com […]

  3. […] TRUE GRIT: A localgov winter social media case study « via The Dan Slee Blog December 13, 2010 — Ingrid Koehler via danslee.wordpress.com […]

  4. Mark Clayson says:

    That is a great way to use social media. It is a good example of how social media can be used to facilitate management and change. Many companies are not aware of this power and still believe social media to be a “chatting” platform. Looks like you have led the way in adoption this powerful medium.

  5. Dan Slee says:

    Thanks, Mark. The basic principle for this is simple. If you are doing something good, tell people. It’s not good enough just to do it and hope people will notice. You need to shout it from the roof tops and on the platform that they demand.


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