Message in a Bottle

This blog originally appeared in the Municipal Journal, here.

The use of social media is increasing at a phenomenal rate. Many commercial businesses have quickly seen the benefits of engaging with customers through social media channels and local government is no different.

Over the last three years, we’ve been tracking the social media journey of councils across the UK to find out how they are using it in their organisations. The findings have been compelling, as highlighted by our new report, Direct Message.

Councils have come a long way in just a few years. In 2012 local authorities saw that there was some potential in using social media but were only beginning to use it – predominately in the communications team. Fast forward a year and 2013 showed that enthusiasm had increased but that councils were concerned about how to measure return on investment and manage risk.

In 2014, councils have a greater appetite for, and are investing more time in, using social media than ever before. But what is causing this change in behaviour?

Local authorities are now thinking more broadly about which services can benefit from social media, from reporting anti-social behaviour to adult social care.

And moreover, councils are also using social media to secure savings. While they are still struggling to definitively measure return on investment, we are increasingly seeing councils using social media to save money by reducing both inefficient use of officer time and costly printing on leaflets publicising council information.

We’ve heard of councils taking to Twitter to find the location of floods in their borough, enabling them to send support sooner, or using SMS to remind constituents that their council tax is due. Rather than sending out lengthy letters, flyers and press releases, or using valuable officer time, councils are able to engage in a more fluid dialogue with their citizens.

In the space of a few short years we’ve seen that councils are overcoming their belief that social media is an inherently risky activity. This is helping to drive the use of social media out to service delivery teams, away from central control of their communications team, and cutting the number of blocks on social media use.

Councils are therefore starting to see social media use as financially beneficial and lower risk. This will act as a catalyst to drive social media use forward in local government. Acknowledging reduced risk by empowering service delivery teams to use social media brings service users closer to the people who actually deliver their services. The ‘how’ and the ‘who’ the public speak to has therefore changed in a way which could make services more responsive.

Social media is now truly part of the furniture which councils are using every day to better serve the public.

AL

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