How can local government use social media?

Ingrid Koehler at the IDeA has posted some questions about how local government can use and engage with social media. As an ex-local councillor (where my responsibilities included being lead member for corporate communications and customer services) and as a public relations consultant that works with the public sector I thought it would be worth responding on the blog as well as in the comments.

  • What are the greatest areas of potential benefit in councils using social media?

Interesting one this. My advice is often ‘don’t think too big’. Some of the best social media ROI might come from smaller or niche uses. For example how about using you can use it to improve communication within an area management structure in order to reduce the number of meetings required between officers, community groups, members and other organisations.

  • How can councils support local communities and individuals in becoming digitally enabled and empowered?

Don’t aim too high. Initially you don’t need to convert/empower/support the wider community. Start off with the ‘empowered citizen’ (sometimes known as the ‘usual suspects’) who are already active in community groups and forums.

  • How can local and hyper-local social networks increase community cohesion and empowerment.

Yes, but as an addition to face-to-face real world communication, not as a replacement.

  • How can councillors develop their leadership and communication skills using social media?

This must be down to councillors themselves with support from their political parties. I think I was the first councillor in the UK to start a blog and one thing that made it successful was that it was political. The ‘local politics’ posts were the most popular, for example knocking the Tory executive member for leisure because he cancelled our local November 5 bonfire. If councillors have official support they can’t create the content that really interests and fires up local people. But thing councillors must understand is that a successful local ward blog isn’t the same as a national political blog.

  • How can councils create the space for community conversations without overpowering them?

Not sure what is meant by ‘create the space’. The spaces already exist and it is about finding appropriate ways to participate. That means looking at what you can give, rather than what you can take. It’s no different to how businesses should be behaving in the space. ‘Create the space’ sounds dangerously close to ‘build it and they will come’ – well they won’t necessarily.

  • How can social media be used for more effective social marketing encouraging the behaviour change necessary to achieve complex outcomes?

Huge question and not space to answer here, other than to say that’s already what we’re doing for some of Wolfstar’s clients.

  • What’s the ‘next practice’ in social media, including virtual worlds and more?

Everyone has their predictions, with lots published on blogs as new year forecasts. I’m not going to get into that game other than to say that mobile and convergence will become even more important.

If you’re really interested in social media for local government then I’d highly recommend you read Simon Wakeman’s blog, he’s the head of marketing at Medway Council.


About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://rhythmbluesandpr.wordpress.com Paul

    Hi Stuart,
    on the subject of 'the next thing' in social media what about online worlds for consoles? The Wii has the beginnings of one, Playstation have just launched 'home' and I've heard rumbles of an X-box version. Console based online gaming caught on so rapidly it's hard to see how these worlds won't.