GUEST POST: How Norfolk used Twitter to show a human face

Norfolk County Council and its partners did a rather innovative thing using Twitter recently. They told the story of five different public servants. It put a human face on what they do. I rather liked the idea. And I really liked the way they made use of Storify and Audioboo so you can catch-up. So much so I asked Norfolk County Council’s Susie Lockwood to write a guest post on how it worked and what she learned. On Twitter she is @susieinnorfolk. Here it is:

I should start by saying I’m not Dan, I’m Susie. Dan has very kindly invited me to write a guest post about a Twitter event I helped to organise last week. 

I’m a media officer at Norfolk County Council and on Tuesday, 4 October we tweeted the working days of five very different frontline service areas under the hashtag #nccourday.

We took our lead from Walsall Council and other public sector tweeting pioneers and sought to increase understanding and make people feel closer to the council and its services. But we also wanted to do something a little different to what had gone before, initially because we knew we stood to get more attention for the project this way.

We decided to focus on trying to convey a day in the life of five specific teams or individuals who work for the council, all in one day, ‘Our Day’.

We felt this would give a human and engaging feel to the organisation and our tweets while also demonstrating the breadth of work we do and the different ways our employees support and serve the people of Norfolk.

Five seemed like a good number too – manageable to resource but still giving us enough scope to show how multi-faceted the council is.

So on that Tuesday, I was out in mid-Norfolk shadowing and tweeting about the working day of two of our highway rangers while some of my colleagues followed an adult social worker, a shift of fire-fighters, our biggest library and our customer service team.

I’d say this approach worked better than we could have imagined, in ways that we didn’t really consider when we decided on it, and I’ll explain why in a short while. First, so you can judge for yourself, we’ve preserved the #nccourday tweets on Storify, have a look here (and you’ll make us very happy!), you’ll find each of the five strands that we ran on Our Day separated out into individual stories. We’ve included some of the retweets, comments and questions we got – and ‘Storifying’ the tweets has made me realise just how much interaction and support we got.

So what worked well?

I think our ambition to give the council a human face, or more accurately several different human faces, really worked. We used first names of our staff where appropriate and because my colleagues and I were tweeting as observers it had the feel of being fly-on-the-wall, helped by the fact that we, the tweeters, were ‘visible’ as narrators – we thought it was important to make it clear whose perspective was being tweeted and this meant we could react and comment ourselves.

We also supplemented the ‘official’ tweets with ones from our personal accounts, still using the hashtag, and this was adopted by some other staff who were involved in or aware of the event.

You can see from Storify that we received a lot of warmth in the feedback, and we were surprised to get no negative feedback about #nccourday on Twitter whatsoever, and I think this was in no small part due to the obvious human touch that ran through it.

It was also great to run the event across three well-established Norfolk County Council Twitter accounts. @Norfolkfire tweeted the fire-fighters, @NorfolkLibs tweeted the library and @NorfolkCC tweeted the rest. This meant we could reach more people and reduce the potential for confusion and the risk of clogging up people’s feeds from one account. It also meant that members of the communications team, where I work, got the chance to work closely with those people in the fire service and library service who are responsible for their social media work, and it was brilliant to share our knowledge and work together, it’s knitted us together where before, although supportive of each other, we were pretty disparate.

We’re already talking about other ways we can continue to link up and hopefully get other partners involved too – and on this note I think holding the event engendered increased goodwill towards us on Twitter from some of our peers in Norfolk too.

One of the best outcomes of Our Day was the boost it seemed to give the staff we shadowed, and their wider teams.

We chose the five service areas because they were ‘customer-facing’ and for the breadth they demonstrated as a whole, but also because each in their own way can be misunderstood and have a bit of an image problem.

Without exception we found the teams were really pleased that their roles were considered interesting and important enough to be featured in the event. And it did the profile of the communications team and our work the world of good internally.

By the end of my day with the highway rangers they were suggesting that I should come out on a gritter with them and do something similar again while in the customer service centre some of the team have expressed an interest in shadowing members of the communications team for a day too.

It’s also worth mentioning that we got really good traditional media coverage locally for the event, which of course helped to prove its worth.

We all think we probably could have got more coverage in fact but we were on a tight deadline because we wanted to run the event to coincide with Customer Service Week, for internal rather than external communications purposes, and really only had two weeks to plan the whole event from start to finish.

But of course you can always do more and having to get on with it and not having the chance to second guess and doubt our approach too much was no bad thing in this instance.

And this brings me to the final benefit – Our Day invigorated us!

It made us believe that we can ‘do’ social media and not to be afraid of it. We had played it pretty safe up till that point and I would heartily recommend doing something along these lines if you think your council’s social media endeavours could do with a bit of a kick start. I think the success of the event, for all the reasons listed above, has given us confidence, will make us ‘think bigger’ in the future and potentially be bolder in our choices.

Would we change anything if we had our time again? Well, not much. There were minor technical problems at stages but none were catastrophic, although perhaps we would have a clearer back-up plan in place next time. There were benefits and drawbacks to tweeting three strands from the @NorfolkCC account, and at times it was probably a bit confusing to follow (this feedback from within the communications team rather than from a resident or on Twitter) so we might reconsider this approach if doing something as broad again, perhaps using more – and even personal – accounts. And it would be nice to think of a way to involve other members of staff in a future event.

One employee tweeted us to congratulate us on Our Day and said he hoped he might be allowed to tweet his working day at some point – the challenge will be not letting Twitter interfere, or appear to interfere, with the important work done by our staff but it’s definitely something we’d bear in mind.

I’ll leave you with some stats, if I may. In the week when Our Day happened the @NorfolkCC account gained about 100 followers, which is more than usual (my estimate would be 20-30 on an average week). The #nccourday hashtag was used more than 550 times, with fewer than half of these coming from the three official accounts.

Do feel free to comment below (she says, making herself at home on Dan’s blog!) with any feedback or queries, or DM me @SusieinNorfolk or ‘me and others’ on the @NorfolkCC account if you want to get in touch.

Links:

Storify highlights of library staff’s day: http://storify.com/norfolkcc/httpyfrogcomkjbkmwcj

Storify highlights of Norfolk Fire and Rescue’s day: http://storify.com/norfolkcc/nccourday-day-in-the-life-of-norfolks-fire-and-res

Storify highlights of a social worker’s day: http://storify.com/norfolkcc/our-day-2

Storify highlights of customer services staff’s day:  http://storify.com/norfolkcc/nccourday-day-in-the-life-of-customer-services

Storify highlights of highway ranger’s day: http://storify.com/norfolkcc/nccourday-day-in-the-life-of

Overall event highlights: http://storify.com/norfolkcc/our-day

Audioboo on how Toby became a social worker: http://audioboo.fm/boos/492638

Clare from Picture Norfolk on Audioboo: http://audioboo.fm/boos/492424-picture-norfolk-with-clare-everitt


8 Comments on “GUEST POST: How Norfolk used Twitter to show a human face”

  1. ermintrude2 says:

    Thanks for sharing this post. I think it’s a great demonstration of how social media can share positive stories – I work in adult care and think often we get caught up in not sharing the work we do in detail for reasons of confidentiality (obviously) but Twitter offers a brief enough insight not to put that at risk while sharing information about work that often goes unnoticed.

    • Dan Slee says:

      Sometimes the best stories are at the coal face where the hard work gets done. I can only imagine that it’s tough being in social work and there are 101 reasons why it doesn’t do to share personal data. But there’s some very good reasons why in 2011 in local government you need to be shouting from the rooftops about what you do…

  2. Great use of Twitter to show a human face. I particularly like the way you used other tools such as Storify to capture the details for those who didn’t follow it live. Lincs Police Authority have done similar things with their Tweet on the Beat, where they tweet live as a member of the Authority goes out on the beat with local officers.
    I talk about technology and social media (mainly in policing) and similar issues on my blog http://partridgej.wordpress.com

  3. johnpopham says:

    Hi Susie and Dan

    Firstly, can I congratulate you, Susie, on this initiative. I think it’s a fantastic step towards opening up local government processes and engaging the public in the work you do. I hope more local authorities will see that this is the way forward.

    I wanted to make my support for your actions clear at the outset, because I hope that what I have now got to say won’t sound churlish. I called it a “step”, because it is just that, a step on a journey which, I think, still has quite a long way to go. Tweeting about your work is one thing, but it is only getting the message out to a small audience. I would contend if you really want to engage people, firstly you need to be doing that in Facebook, and secondly, you need to be using video rather than status updates.

    I maintain that one of the key problems with our public bureaucracies is the dependence on the written word, which turns so many people off. Social media status updates condense the message into something much more palatable, but they are still about the written word. Ask yourself how many people read the minutes of council meetings compared to the numbers who will watch a reality TV documentary about Rat-Catchers or under-cover council chief executives? I’ve witnessed the excitement recently about the fact that MacDonalds have filmed their latest TV advert on the streets of Huddersfield. That will tell far more people what the town is like than any written material would. Facebook is much more popular than Twitter because what most people use Facebook for is for sharing photos and videos (and playing games). People like me, who want to use social media for deep discussions based on the written word, can be frustrated by this, but it is how it is. That’s how most people interact.

    So, I contend, if local authorities really want to engage people in their work, their first aim should be to get someone to make a Reality TV programme about it. Failing that, make your own videos and stick them on Youtube and Facebook, and allow people to comment, share and tag themselves.

    Keep up the fantastic work Susie and Dan. We are getting there.

    • Dan Slee says:

      Thanks for the comment, John. Thoughtful and constructive. As ever.

      It’s a very, very good point about this kind of approach being worth celebrating as a brave and bold step but a step as opposed to the finished thing.

      You are also quite right about looking at Facebook. Not just for an event like this but in general. It’s the most popular platform and the world which many people are happy to use. If 29 million people in the UK are registered we need to be all over it wheras the genuinely good uses you can count on one, perhaps two hands.

      Would an event like this or Scottish local governments #whatwedo work on Facebook? I’m not so sure. Facebook people are quite different to Twitter people. Lots of status updates shared on Twitter will see an audience grow. With Facebook people get narked at more than two or three status updates a day.

      I’m a bit agnostic about video but I’m waiting to be convinced. You’re absolutely right that a well shot TV documentary can really lift the lid and show what local government does very powerfully. A Flip camera or something similar can start to bridge the gap but from experience, it’s labour and time intensive. A DIY short clip can take an hour to do, edit and turn around and the stats thus far are not overwhelming. I absolutely love the Derbyshire grit cam but nine months on and there’s 900 views. (You can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TClrk-VDthM.

      I’d love to see more examples of YouTube and Facebook getting used well in the public sector.

      One thing I wouldn’t agree with you is that events like this on Twitter may have a small audience. If you embed, use things like Storify and Cover It Live you can reach a far wider audience than just the Twitterers important though they are.

      But what I think we’d all like to see is social media genuinely being used to engage in real time. I can’t help but think that the resident watching Eastenders in the evening and being happy to contribute to a poll or ask a question and get an answer is where we need to be.

      Something, in fact, a little like Iceland’s crowdsourced constitution: http://mashable.com/2011/07/29/iceland-crowdsourced-constitution/

      • johnpopham says:

        Thanks Dan.

        The Iceland thing is interesting, I hadn’t seen that.

        You are right about video being time-consuming, and then not always attracting high viewer numbers. Maybe, one day, we will lure the viewing hordes away from Eastenders and X-Factor to the gritters instead. It seems to me that this is maybe something that could help to make the half-baked Local TV proposals into something useful. There are lots of organisations, Local Government being prominent among them. that have stories to tell to the public. Some of that content could form part of the menu for Local TV.

      • Dan Slee says:

        Cheers, John.

        Yes, the Icelandic constitution Facebook is just the best thing I’ve seen in a long long time. At it’s heart it’s very simple. Break things up into bite size chunks so people can spent a couple of minutes to think and comment. Isn’t that just 4,000 per cent better than posting a 400 page pdf and wondering why there’s radio silence?


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