Posted by:4 October, 2011
Brighton & Hove City Council councillor, Jason Kitcat, talks about using social media as a tool for creating a dialogue with the local community.
We’re transforming our relationship with residents in Brighton & Hove. We can listen and respond to their views whenever and wherever they are. Indeed the council’s Twitter account now has more than 5,500 followers. Are these all people obsessed with local government? Absolutely not!
Through Twitter, Facebook and other social media we’re deepening and expanding our connections with residents. Recently we’ve used social media to mobilise residents to ensure food and medicines get to vulnerable residents stranded by severe weather. We’ve encouraged residents to attend events in libraries, given practical travel advice and updates on emerging problems affecting the city, such as with our rail links.
Personally, as a councillor, and collectively as a council, we are talking to people we might never have otherwise reached. For it to work there has to be a genuine willingness to engage in conversations. The rewards are potentially significant, whether it’s the expert designer offering tips to improve our website or a new local group revealing their first event, councils can benefit and further their positions of community leadership through nimble use of social media.
Avoiding challenging debates, in true “The Thick of It” style simply won’t work. You signal to be whisked away in a limo. If you’re in the social media space then you’re expected to respond meaningfully.
It’s important to recognise that this isn’t about the tools or any one specific social media provider. I’m as committed to discussing issues with residents in meetings, through social media or the letters page of the local paper. There is no one single channel through which we can push all engagement, local authorities need to be as active as possible on all of them.
But the speed and reach of social media do make them especially powerful. Misinformation can be quickly rebutted, helpful contacts instantly shared and breaking information distributed as soon as it’s known.
As the council’s budget-setting process begins in earnest we will be looking to use social media to help engage residents in the choices we face, and participate in an ongoing conversation throughout the process, not just at a limited ‘consultation time’. We are promoting a hashtag of #bhbudget in addition to an online budget simulator and an offline component - all of which will be promoted through our social media, quarterly newsletter and libraries.
We may not always agree with or like what we hear, but open conversations with residents are what help to keep us honest, and improve residents’ understanding of the decisions we face. And this is more important than ever given the cuts our budgets face over the coming years.
Cllr Jason Kitcat (Green), Cabinet member for Finance & Central Services, Brighton & Hove City Council
Anyone wanting to find out more about Brighton & Hove City Councils efforts in using Twitter to communicate with the local community can contact Simon Ellery, senior media officer, Brighton & Hove City Council on 01273 291555 or email Simon.Ellery@brighton-hove.gov.uk
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