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Comms officers must make councillors care about Twitter

Lydia Forbes-Manson
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Earlier this month we embraced #OurDay and we were tweeting every 20 minutes.

Our tweets ranged from updates about ‘Takeover Day’, where pupils from local schools visited to learn more about the council and the democratic process, to updates from the dog warden about a skinny dog that needed a home.

This was part of a national initiative arranged by the Local Government Association in which councils tweeted about the work they were doing. Even a cynic would find it hard not to be impressed with the scale and scope of activities that go on at a rural council.

The sheer scale of information and range of subjects we were tweeting about should help hammer home the importance of social media to councillors; it’s where people are communicating, where they get their information from and where councils and councillors need to be.

I’m not recommending that every councillor should be tweeting from morning to night but they need to at least see what’s being said about their area, their council and what residents are worrying about.

I recently trained some councillors (not East Hants members) about how to use social media more effectively. One of them said: “I’m not using it. I don’t see the point. Why should I care?” Well, Councillor, you should care.

Would you ignore the phone if it was ringing because you don’t ‘do’ phones? Would you ignore emails about important local issues? Would you ignore a string of people lined up outside the council desperate to get their voices heard? I don’t think you would. So why is social media different?

There isn’t a definitive answer but my view is that councillors see social media as a mass of noise with people discussing nonsense like what they had for breakfast and what’s happening in their favourite soap. Maybe it’s easy to forget about the massive social media campaigns that have been hailed as instrumental to the success of Obama and lately Trump.

At East Hants I was delighted when one of the councillors stood up at a full council meeting and suggested we use social media to help tackle fly-tipping. Hooray! The message has got through.

But it isn’t like this everywhere. Some councils are nervous about councillors using social media. Some councillors themselves are nervous about it.

That’s good; it means they’re thinking of risks. We don’t want councillors going ‘off message’, so we’ve run evening training sessions for them.

There are going to be slip-ups along the way but we have to put our trust in councillors. After all we can’t censor them when they’re on the phone or down the pub. Councillors need to listen to what residents are saying and if they’re saying it on social media councillors need to be there to hear it.

Lydia Forbes-Manson, communications manager, East Hampshire DC

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