Digital Engagement – the Richmond Council approach

Digital engagement & Social Media

This week, Westco’s very own Elinor Firth gives us her approach on Social Media in her current role as Head of Communications at Richmond Borough Council.

How should Councils behave on Social Media? 

Whilst all councils have now embraced the need to use social media to engage and inform residents, I am a firm believer that social media is about people and not organisations.

All communications teams have strategies and plans about how to best use Twitter / Facebook / Instragam. We all read industry blogs and try to stay ahead of the next social media tool in the pipeline. However, the key thing is we are still corporate organisations. We are communications specialists hiding behind a ‘handle’. We are safe in the knowledge that @resident doesn’t know what @pressofficer looks like.

Some organisations do provide the first names of their staff in their posts, but for councils, is it really appropriate for @Councilspokesman to suddenly become ‘Sarah from Sutton’ or ‘Bill from Brighton’. We are not the decision makers or policy designers.

The key to real engagement is showing that councils really are listening organisations, who want to work with communities to shape future policy. And for those who are public facing to be engaging on social media platforms the same way they do on the door step.

Is Social Media appropriate for Councillors? 

Many Councillors across the country are already embracing this technology. We have Leaders’ Tweeting, Cabinet Members ‘instragraming’ and ward Councillors blogging.

But, as more and more people turn to social media to find out their news, have their say and make their views known, we need to make sure our Councillors are equipped to respond. It is my view that it is no longer an option for Councillors to ignore social media.

Working with our partners at Transmute, we have designed a social media training course for Councillors. And, we have tested it with Cabinet Members at Richmond Council.

What did the training involve & did it work? 

As always we try to design training courses around the needs of a particular group. And, I think it is fair to say that here the social media usage of Cabinet Members is mixed. We have some members who are not on social media at all, others who are just there to watch, some just re-tweet and some who try to tweet occasionally.

Part of what I wanted the training to achieve was to give them all a basic introduction into Social Media. Start at the beginning. Why should a Councillor use social media? How can social media benefit the work of Councillors and support the work of the council.

So, we designed a training package that looked at the basics – but also was very practical. We looked at hashtags, images, re-tweeting, who to follow, good practice and the important question – what happens when people are negative?

One of the important things we were trying to demonstrate is that social channels are a way to show personality – show who Councillors really are. Councillors are parents, grandparents, students, have other jobs, have pets, have hobbies, – they are real people that have real life experience. Social media gives them a chance to show that and gives them a chance to start having meaningful conversations with residents.

The big question – has it worked? Feedback was really good. Attendees felt that the training was informative and helpful. Nearly all of them have asked for further 1:1 support to help them build their profiles. But, as with all of these things, the proof will be in the pudding.

Get in touch with Harvey Sandhu to find out how Westco and Transmute can review and support your Digital Communications strategy.