@citizens –local government twitters

I started thinking about this after being inspired by Simon Wakeman’s and Liz Azyan’s recent posts on the whys and ways that local government is using, or could be, using Twitter. The spur into action was Twitter’s change from @replies to@mentions, leading me to spot this one of @Derbyshirecc (the twitter of the organisation for which I work and for which currently I do most of the official tweeting for).

Twitter is not RSS. Why is @DerbyshireCC on twitter if it’s not about giving it a human face? *sigh* #LocalGovtFail – 1:31am Mar 14th from TweetDeck.

I think this first part of the post will probably come across as defensive. I don’t really want it to but I think it probably will.
We soft-launched on twitter on 4 March 2009. This was the first step into social media for the organisation. Sure, we have a website but we hadn’t got involved in any other networks.
As yet we’ve not publicised our twitter presence elsewhere online or offline. We’re still finding our feet. Mostly, we’re still learning from other council’s and organisations who have been on twitter for longer and who have different approaches.
Yes, most of our tweets so far could seem like an RSS feed – news, events, consultations. We split jobs off into a separate @JobsDerbyshire account (as an aside I don’t think this one will survive long term and am struggling to identify value in it).
Our intention is to start making our tweets more conversational. We’ve been watching @Dorsetforyou and like their approach although perhaps ours won’t end up being quite so chatty (not saying their approach is wrong, again just my own feeling for our organisation).
We started moving in this direction with ad hoc tweets yesterday – all related to content on our website but more conversational nevertheless.
Where we go from here or where we end up is still very much up for discussion. And all local government is in the same boat really…the general feeling seems to be that we should be getting involved in social media in order to engage with citizens (or talk to people in everyday language) but how and where we do that are still questions to which we’re all trying to find answers.
The @mention tweet is really interesting though – how would we give @Derbyshirecc a ‘human face’?
I suppose I (or another member of the online communcations team) could be the ‘face’ of the organisation and tweet conversationally with followers. There would surely have to be guidelines though of what is and isn’t appropriate to deal with in person on Twitter? Could / should a communications officer have this responsibility?
I think that if we ever do get contacted by one of our followers about a service we’ll be much better off forwarding that query onto a relevant officer (in similar fashion to contact into our call centre) rather than an online communications officer trying to answer directly. So, played out all 30,000 plus staff could need to have access to tweet to the account at various times. Apart from being logistically undoable would this multi-voiced twitter feed be anymore worthwhile than the seemingly faceless one we have now?
How else then? Perhaps the best way would be for our chief executive and leader of the council to have personal twitter streams. Would these contain personal tweets as well as highlighting news etc on our website or elsewhere? The potential here is for ghost-writing (been enough about that on Twitter recently) and possibly having tweets posted by communications officers of one ilk or other rather than the chief exec or leader themselves (I am not saying this WOULD definitely happen, merely is a possibility for any organisation). Is that really any better either?
I would certainly like to see more councillors using twitter or social media to listen to and talk with people. With county elections in June I hope social media and what use it is to them will be something that will be put on the agenda for any new as well as re-elected councillors.
At the moment I don’t think we’ve got @Derbyshirecc quite right but neither do I think we’re completely off track. Although I doubt it looks like it to our social-media-savvy citizens taking a step into the online space is big step forward and we hope to move on from here in leaps and bounds.
Perhaps it may be back to a slightly-tempered but defensive stance: if you aren’t interested, don’t listen; if you want to talk to us, please do; and if you think we could do something better, tell us!
I don’t think we joined Twitter with the intention of gaining another broadcast channel although that is pretty much all we’ve done with it so far. I think it would be great if people started talking to us, about council services but also about themselves, via social media. I would love for this to be a starter in the organisation being able to be involved and work in online communities. I do question whether people want to though. In my personal life do I want to talk with my county or district council, my fire service, the police force? No more than I wanted to converse with them by phone, email or in person ie only when I want a service or something has gone wrong.
I want to spend my time talking to people who share my interests or can further my knowledge. I guess I apply some roughly Reithian values to my networks – do they inform, educate or entertain?
I would see an organisation as falling into one of the first two categories and therefore merely broadcasting at me is fine for me.
But I want to know (and I think the organisation should want to know) how people want us to engage with them on social networks, if in fact they do? It is, after all, about conversation and that takes at least two!

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