Nine in 10 councils embrace social media

Dan Jellinek

Birmingham City Council's Twitter feedAlmost all UK local authorities now make official use of social media, with many councils now running multiple accounts to cover different services and projects, a report due out next month will find.

The annual “Better Connected” snapshot report of UK council websites, published by the Society of IT Management (Socitm), is set to include a social media report for the second time, focused on the most popular services Twitter and Facebook.

According to initial results seen by E-Government Bulletin this week, the survey finds 88% of council websites have social media accounts. These break down as 70% with links on website home pages to Twitter, Facebook, flickr or YouTube, and 18% with Twitter or Facebook links located by searching. For the other 12% of councils, no accounts were found.

As for the type of social media in use, some 84% of councils (363) have at least one Twitter account, compared with 73% last year. Just under three-quarters (73%) have at least one Facebook account, compared with 62% a year ago.

The report recommends that all councils should maintain an overview page of social media activity to raise awareness and promote all their accounts in one place. Currently however only 134 councils (31%) are doing this. Walsall council is singled out for praise for creating a local social media directory including services offered by public and voluntary sector organisations.

It also recommends that councils publish online at least some of their policies on acceptable social media use by staff. Nottinghamshire and Central Bedfordshire councils are cited as good examples of authorities which clearly explain their policies on issues such as liking and following, sharing, re-tweeting, moderation and ‘purdah’.

Councils’ social media activity now forms a key part of their communications, engagement and customer service activity, the report says. All authorities should be drawing up strategies accordingly, including the formal allocation of resources.

Most councils using Twitter (94%) have a corporate account (eg news, general communications, customer services updates etc). However many councils are now developing a “spectrum” of specialised Twitter and Facebook accounts, the report finds.

Other accounts relate to services such as tourism, libraries, sports, waste and recycling, arts development, parks, museums and galleries, theatres and youth or feeds dedicated to specific types of update such as events, jobs and emergency alerts.

Birmingham has the most accounts in social media – with 62 official accounts in Twitter and Facebook (31 on each) with a total overall of more than 70,000 followers. Three other councils (Edinburgh, Surrey and Walsall) have in excess of 20 Twitter feeds listed on their site.

Other councils with high numbers of Twitter followers were all cities such as Glasgow; Edinburgh; Newcastle upon Tyne; Manchester; Belfast; Cardiff; Leeds; Nottingham; Brighton & Hove and Swansea.

Uses of Twitter by residents to send messages to councils has risen this year, with a range of areas covered, some repeated from last year such as missed rubbish collections but many new areas such as condition of football pitches; parking ticket complaints and school registration.

More innovative uses of Twitter include by Cornwall to promote webcasts of council meetings; by Surrey Heath BC, for new planning applications located on an embedded Google map; by Dudley MBC in a ‘Follow the apprentice’ where an apprentice with the council tweets his experiences for a week; and Salford City has a tweeting ghost, @TheOrdsallGhost.

Apart from Birmingham, councils with multiple Facebook accounts and more than 5,000 Facebook followers overall include Coventry, with around 30,000 followers over 10 Facebook presences; West Lothian; Fife; Belfast and Wolverhampton. In the case of Coventry and West Lothian, the report estimates that if all ‘likes’ were residents following the council, their Facebook statistics would represent 6.5% and 10% of their entire local populations respectively.

Councils cited for special innovation on Facebook include Dudley, which holds sessions where you can quiz the leader live on Facebook, and Croydon, where more than 2,500 residents responded to council and community leaders’ call to ‘show support for Croydon’s recovery’ following the August riots. The ‘Support Croydon’ Facebook page which featured postings of photographs of the clean-up operation, listings of organisations accepting donations and the police request for help with identification of suspects through photographs.

NOTE: Better Connected 2012 will be published online on 1 March for Socitm Insight subscribers; Non-subscribers can purchase printed copies for £495 from 15 March:

NOTE: Article originally published in E-Government Bulletin issue 345.

Click here to visit/return to issue 345 index

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2 Responses to “Nine in 10 councils embrace social media”

  1. John Popham says:

    This is very good news. There is a big difference, however, from using social media for corporate communications and letting all staff access it to communicate with the public in the ways they expect to interact in the 21st Century. The efforts of Monmouthshire County Council, for instance, led by the brilliant Helen Reynolds, are exemplary in this respect.

  2. While Twitter and Facebook are important, the data collected by suggests that the smaller networks shouldn’t be ignored. This includes LinkedIn, Reddit, Pinterest and Google Plus.

    Obviously this is more work for a council, but if the intention is to reach the widest possible audience….

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