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All of a twitter in Walsall

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It’s not often you get the chance to make a bit of history, reach thousands of people and don’t cost the taxpayer a penny. But the 24-hour Walsall 24 initiative did just that.

The idea was very simple. We’d use Twitter to post 140 character updates on our typical day-to-day tasks as we wanted to get across the message that we don’t just do bins.

Walsall 24 was powered by free web tools and staff goodwill and didn’t cost a penny in outlay. On the day itself, scores of messages were posted across 11 Twitter accounts to build a compelling picture of what local government does day in day out.

Overall, including the discussion about what we were trying to do - which was overwhelmingly positive - more than 1,300 tweets were sent.

From 6am we started off, opening up lock-up garages, picking up litter in the town centre and even environmental health investigating complaints of a cockerel in Pheasey. You could almost hear the surprise in the BBC Radio WM Breakfast presenter’s voice as he read it out.

As the day rolled on, bins were collected, school meals were prepared, potholes were fixed and library events took place. All things we’d have done anyway. This time we took the trouble to tell people.

The most popular tweet of the day was that we were moving a woodpecker roost from a rotten tree.

As day turned into night, social care staff with a comms team volunteer stationed at the calls centre to tweet what was going on. It all painted a picture of a vibrant authority filled with dedicated people doing good work. A series of small things that add up to so much more.

Think Walsall 24 was just for people on Twitter? Think again. Our local radio station got involved, the local paper, the Express and Star, built a webpage where people could follow the tweets even if they weren’t on Twitter. The web team worked round the clock to include a snapshot of what was being said online on walsall.gov.uk.

Local government has used social media for several years. The tipping point has been reached over whether this is a good idea or not. As the number of people who use them soar, traditional media continues to decline.

In the last six years the number of journalists and photographers covering Walsall has dropped from 20 to nine today. Openness and the public scrutiny that follows are good things that we should support.

While this started as a joint communications and neighbourhoods project others joined in and it was remarkable how those within the authority were learning things about what we do – not just residents. One tweet read: “Anyone interested in what their council gets up to while they sleep should check out #walsall24.”

Of course, people took the opportunity to comment on the cuts and these views were useful as well.

This is by no means the only use of new media we’ve used. Earlier this year we used a budget simulator to inform residents of budget proposals and their implications. This gave people the opportunity to comment and make suggestions.

Paul Sheehan, chief executive, Walsall MBC

 

Pick of the Blogs: Are we really ready for social media?

Are local councils or central Government for that matter, built to engage the citizen? In a recent project I was working on, the local authority insisted that Facebook was the weapon of choice and that citizen engagement was their top priority. “We have to be seen to be engaging with our citizens. We can talk to them about things happening in the area and ask them for their feedback”, said the manager in charge of the websites and IT.

All appeared fine in principle until a little scenario planning was introduced. What would happen if citizens are encouraged to engage on Facebook and they posted a series of observations?

“Dear Council, today I was in the swimming pool and noticed a sharp tile beside the showers, three of which had faulty heads. On the way out of the car park there was a tremendous pothole that my car almost fell into. Finally as the car turned into my street I noticed someone had left some rubbish just under the faulty street lamp. Can you let me know when you will have all of the above fixed?”

Asking for engagement, setting up a Facebook presence, claiming that citizen engagement is essential are all easy tasks. Setting the citizens expectations once they engage however is extremely difficult. Is your local authority so efficient that it can ask for engagement and set the right customer expectation?

Will it expose the council as process centric and not citizen centric? It’s very difficult for both commercial organisations and government bodies to achieve both.

Niall McKeown

More information on www.ionology.com/blog

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