So this is Christmas

Did you all have a nice Christmas?

I did. Bridesmaid for my friend on the 22nd and then the joy of my nearly-three-year-old bouncing off the walls with seasonal excitment. I had the whole of Christmas week off for these two landmark events. I didn’t think about the corporate twitter account at all.

But Boxing Day is pretty boring isn’t it? So I nipped on to see what had happened during my week off. And what had happened was that at least one person found it wholly unacceptable that there had been no corporate tweets during Christmas week.

I do agree. If we used RSS for our news / events etc there would have been one tweet. Or if we used something like Hootsuite I might have scheduled a couple of things in. However, we do it all manually here because we like the human touch. That did work against us last week though.

The question of whether we were the exception or the rule  roused my interest though. Who else had been tweeting to their corporate Twitter charge over Christmas? Well, Dan Slee at Walsall Council had for one. This account’s Christmas service was highlighted to me by several others on Twitter (thanks guys) and he had indeed been doing a sterling job.

Excellent tweeting had been done each time their gritters headed out. I wish I’d been as organised as Dan in getting the highways team to email me each time ours went out (something which has gone straight on the to do list this morning on my return to the office).

There were a few others councils also standing by to reply to @ messages – Hillingdon, Northampton and Richmond (BC, Canada rather than North Yorkshire).

Maybe there were more but this was the extent of the response I got. Whether or not more of us should / could have been tweeting more leads to an interesting question though: who is required to offer a Christmas social media / online service and how many of us did it out of our own goodwill?

Perhaps it depends on who looks after your Twitter. A press officer who is on call (and contracted to be so)? If I tweeted (and I did on Boxing Day just because there was something to say) it was because I felt, in myself, that it was the right thing to do and I was willing to log on and do it.

I’m not contracted to work out of hours or be on call. But online doesn’t recognise office hours, Bank Holidays. It is a non-stop real-time channel and so (in my opinion) organisations should be ready and able to respond as such. It’s a significant shift in thinking and ways of working, particularly for public sector.

It was interesting to look over the state of play though. It’s given me a few ideas for what I’d do differently given the time over as well as things I’ll be trying to implement to further improve the service as soon as possible.

I’d love to know whether anyone had any feedback from citizens / residents / followers on the service given? Or any thoughts generally on what the round-the-clock online space means or could mean for working patterns in council PR / online comms.

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12 thoughts on “So this is Christmas

  1. Hi Sarah

    We’ve had a corporate presence throughout the holiday season – me. I worked right up until 4.15 on Xmas Eve and was back here at 8.45 on the Tuesday morning. I also checked for tweets every day. Helps that we don’t “do” Christmas in our house, except in the alcohol department.

    We did have a “conversation” about icy pavements though this was not out of office hours. Other than that, I’ve been pushing out post-Xmas messages on recycling and tree planting. We are also seeing a continuation of a good RT rate of our posts, which is very encouraging.

    The number of Twitter interactions we’ve had is around a dozen over 10 months. Not huge, but I can honestly say that the response when we do reply has been very positive. Responding quickly as we do and in a personal way makes all the difference.

    Your post does bring home an important point about managing the Twitter account. I do believe that because of the way Twitter works – differently to other social media platforms – and because of the way we work at North Devon Council, it makes a lot of sense to keep account control with one person in the organisation. Having a personal voice is a little less easy if you have multiple users on the same account.

    That said, I do need a deputy and not just so that I can take a day’s leave or so that I don’t have to check the account over the weekend. The trick is to maintain that personal voice and to ensure we don’t overload the conversation. How to do this is a little task for the New Year.

    We still do have a number of RSS fed tweets – jobs, photos, consultations. Some of those will stay. But…

    I would like to see our corporate social media usage broaden so that we don’t have to rely on automated tweets for the non-press office stuff. For example, I’d like the planning team to push out planning application/decision tweets. Our consultation manager would make good use of Twitter and possibly a blog. And, as I think I mentioned at Lincoln, I’d love our customer service centre to tweet.

    Maybe ideas for a post of my own.

    pete (aka iamadonut)

  2. Would be interested to read a post on those lines as the conversation at LocalGovCamp Lincoln was interesting and I find what you do at North Devon inspiring and interesting anyway!

    I think you’re coming across the same sorts of issues and thoughts as I have failed to express eloquently here. I also think that a one voice approach is best but having to consider whether it is sustainable or right given our set up here.

    I’ve just set us up to use Hootsuite from this afternoon as I think it will help with some of the issues I feel have been raised over the Christmas period but also the stuff you talk about here – getting services to tweet there relevant stuff in the future. Will see how it goes but you and others sharing experience of using it has convinced me it is the right move for us right now.

    How do you feel about how you manage the account at the moment from an employee persepective? Do you feel you do the checking on the weekend etc because you think it is the ‘right’ thing to do for this network / service rather than something you are contracted to do?

    Thanks for taking the time to reply…look forward to your post! 😉


  3. Hi Sarah

    Great post. I’ve had the same worries over Christmas – knowing I wasn’t tweeting from the corporate twitter account (@OrbitGroup), knowing that no one else was either, and seeing Walsall Council use it so well! Like you, its made me think harder about how we handle leave and holidays in order to continue to maintain our on line presence. Thank you for posting.


  4. Hi Kate,
    Thanks for sharing – would be good to know what changes you do decide to make. I’ve set us up to use Hootsuite now so we can schedule information and move back to using an RSS feed to publish our news to Twitter. Hopefully this will help with the resourcing and continuation of service. More changes to come but it’s a start!

  5. Sarah

    Thanks for your reply.

    I spend a lot of my own time online and so it’s very easy to monitor the corporate account. It’s not in my job description – social media doesn’t figure at all and I’m not expected to be on call. But, I’m quite passionate about using social media, so I’ve got no problem spending my own time dealing with customers. I believe social media can augment our reputation and what I’m doing out of hours is helping to build on the excellent work that our customer service centre does.

    I guess my approach might be an issue in the future. If the responsibility passed on to someone else they might not be able to give the same commitment to social media that I do. But, that might apply to any part of my job. I’m setting out guidelines that I’d expect other account users to follow.

    As for using Hootsuite, I think it is a great tool for certain tasks and it could come into its own if we want to have multiple users. But, my client of choice is Echofon, which is odd, because I usually hate pop-ups and alerts.


  6. Pete – sounds very similar to my own approach and thoughts on working and social media. I don’t doubt that in the coming months, years etc working patterns and expectations will change and we’ll adapt again. Being online and passionate about customer service in the online space is a pretty good place to be starting from I think!
    I’ll see how we get on with Hootsuite. I like it at the moment. I like it’s cuteness and the functionality seems to fit us. We have the potential for multiple users as there are two other people in the same post as me – we should / could share the responsibility.

  7. That’s a quality post Sarah.

    Thanks for your kind words about @walsallcouncil.

    You are quite right to identify the need for tweeting through holiday periods. If the internet gets used every day of the year then heck, councils should be doing it too.

    Is there much to tweet about? Absolutely darn tooting there is. It’s a time of year when people will be up for exploringh the parks and countryside you’ve got. They’ll be keen to explore the public buildings you’ve got open. They’ll be keen to know what your opening hours are. They’ll want to know when their bins are being taken away and what days to leave them out. They’ll also want to know how to recycle their Christmas tree, the cardboard box from the new Wii and the mountain of wrapping paper.

    That’s just for starters.

    There’s also one eye on the weather. Will it be icy and will the gritters be out? It’s no good just doing the job quietly as local government and hoping people will notice. This is trickledown PR. Don’t be disappointed if people don’t know you’ve been out at 3am if you don’t tell them.

    In any case wouldn’t you like to tell people what you’ve been up to? Don’t those hard working social care people who are out on Christmas Day deserve a pat on the back?

    Besides, I’ve long had a theory that if you tweet out of office hours then you will get a good response pretty much no matter what you say. Why? Because it’s unexpected. Because the misconception is that the Public Sector universally only opens at 8am and finishes at 5pm. Because people who log on at 10pm may not be paying too much attention to Twitter at 10.30am when it suits you to tweet.

    I’d love to hear how you get on with Hootsuite. It sounds like it can create some flexibility which means that you don’t have to be tweeting with a mince pie in one hand and a small child in the other on Christmas Day. (And yes, sad sap I am I did tweet from @walsallcouncil to wish people a Merry Christmas. It took two minutes.)

    All this underlines one deeply held belief I have. You have to tweet as a human being to get the most out of it rather than be hooked up to RSS.

    Dead right to suggest the duty comms person. In our case that would be right. I’m guessing in other councils comms are not quite bought into this stuff. In which case couldn’t a nominated other person do it??


  8. Dan,

    You are one of the local gov online people who have most inspired me in 2009 and this comment just cements what I already knew – you really get how to do online comms and customer service! It’s no wonder that @walsallcouncil was so highly recommended over the festive period.

    I agree about the tweeting as a human and we’ve certainly seen the most success in terms of two-way comms from doing it this way so far. I’ll give the RSS news feed a go for a while but with plenty of ‘human’ tweets thrown in.

    I’ll certainly let you know how I get on with Hootsuite.

    All the comments here have set the cogs whirring again. This time last year we didn’t even have a Twitter account (launched March 2009). Ideas forming for 2010…


  9. Ha! That’s really nice of you to say, Sarah.

    I think we are lucky in Local Government having a growing number of people who are using social media across the 800 services we collectively offer. If there are, say, five key channels of social media then it means the potential for 800 x 5 ways to use it. At the very least.

    I think what may seperate us from some more commercial social media consultants is we have a collective enthusiasm AND a willingness to share good practice. We are not mentally checking the pounds, shillings and pence of that bright ‘Eureka!’ moment.

    As for being inspirational, then take a bow. One of my resolutions is to sit down with your Google map post. Then there’s the stuff that @carlhaggerty is doing. And @alncl. And @davebriggs, @paulocanning, @fenlandcouncil and a whole array of others that’s growing exponentially by the day….

  10. Hi Sarah
    Was interested to read your blog post, and others’ experiences of using Twitter over the holiday period.
    We’ve been using Twitter (@belfastcc) here in Belfast since February this year and use a combination of real-time updates (done by the four-person web team), RSS feeds for our news releases, jobs, tender notices and events listings, and timed updates (using Hootsuite) to keep our profile up to date.
    Feedback has been very positive so far (we have more than 1,100 followers to date) and our profile is pretty interactive – it helps that we check the accounts daily and respond to queries as and when needed.
    Like you, we don’t provide an out-of-hours service but we have found the timed Tweets to be helpful to keep the profile ‘ticking over’ during the holidays, or when we know of upcoming events/service arrangements at the weekend.
    We’ve been busy with Twitter over Christmas and the recent bad weather, when there has been an upsurge in queries and comments coming through and, while we haven’t yet tracked the subsequent response traffic back to our main council website, the feedback we’ve received has been very positive.
    It helps that there are only four of us using Twitter, to keep the voice ‘human’ as you suggest, but we’ve found that the combination of timed and ‘live’ updates is working well for us at the moment.
    Keep up the good work!

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