In a Nutshell – Reflecting on Devon’s Social Media Journey

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Following on from Andrew Beeken’s post about Lincoln City Council’s Social Media Journey in response to SocITM’s Helen Williams.  I include the response that myself and Russell Taylor have provided for Devon County Council.

1. Why have you chosen to use the social media channels you have, and how did you go about building a successful presence?

We chose platforms that had a high volume of users and therefore an element of penetration with local citizens. In terms of building a successful presence, we initially reposted and fed content via the councils RSS feeds in order to learn how the tools worked and to allow time for staff to grow in confidence around using the tools appropriately. We try to ensure that content is relevant and timely as well as expanding our responses and conversation due to resource constraints.

Russell Taylor:

I think the biggest increases in our presence (followers, messages, referrals) have always been linked to the promotion of topical current events and information like elections, extreme weather, budget consultations, and campaigns etc. So we try to promote these events through our social media channels when ever it’s appropriate.

2. How are you using social media?  (e.g. corporate communications tool managed by comms / service specific news from individual services themselves / campaigns / engagement tool / customer service / promotion of the local area)

We are using social media in a variety of ways – corporately we have Facebook, twitter, vimeo, blogs, flickr and some services have also developed a presence – for example libraries have used flickr to show photos of library refurbishments. It is an evolving approach and we are constantly learning how to best take advantage of particular social media tools either through opportunities such as extreme weather or by learning from other councils or other organisations we also promote via website.

Russell Taylor:

As Carl mentioned we use social media for a number of things and learning as we go. Our earliest use was for corporate communications in Twitter and Facebook. Our press releases were published into these channels. This then expanded to include announcements/promotional messages requested from other departments/partner organisations (e.g. events, alerts and campaigns).

We also try to help other organisations spread their important messages. Our YouTube channel includes many other organisations (Emergency services, DirectGov, NHS) videos in our playlists to help increase their reach. We also retweet other organisations messages were appropriate to help spread the word on important announcements (e.g. District council updates on road closures)

3. How long have you been using social media and who is involved?

we set up twitter 2.5 years ago (not sure when Facebook was created) and is has been driven primarily by the webteam with increasing contributions from other parts of the council

Russell Taylor:

At the moment the Corporate Web Team publish most of our none automated content. However as we increase awareness of social media throughout the council more of our messages are requested by other departments. We are also in the process of training users from our Customer Service Centre so they can publish their own message and provide support.

4. Who’s in charge and do you have a strategy / policy? (eg, is it comms / web / services / corporate policy or chief execs)

We have a social media policy which is documented and approved, but do not have a formal strategy. However our unwritten strategy implicitly implied by the policy is to allow and encourage access and usage, linking to business outcomes and outputs, whilst managing and mitigating risks and reputation damage. We also encourage sharing any learning across the council and wider

No one is formally in charge although the chief executive is social media and social networking champion.

We do not currently have a web manager who would be seen as a key driver in progressing and co-ordinating this activity further

5. What benefits do you see from your efforts in this area (to your organisation or customers)?

Here are some of the benefits we have seen from using social media:

  • ability to rapidly communicate messages to a vast number of people either directly or via retweets and “likes”
  • access to low cost development tools to reduce the cost of web development in some areas (blogs etc)
  • 2 way engagement and communication with people from Devon and wider.
  • the potential to reach people who may not normally visit our main website for information.
  • ability to share richer content e.g. video, photos etc (YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr)
  • mobile access – social media isn’t a 9 to 5 channel so being able to update the feed from home or on the move can be extremely useful when there is a requirement to get messages out quickly (e.g. Extreme weather/events)

6. How do you manage your social media activity? (automation, monitoring tools / software?)

For our automated messages we use RSS feeds connected through Twitterfeed. We link our Twitter and Facebook accounts using Hootsuite which we also use to monitor our mentions and references to Devon County Council.

7. What tips would you pass on to others?

Don’t try and solve every problem, start with small projects and grow and scale them up. Engage with people inside and outside of the council. Learn from others and adapt quickly. Stay positive and promote the channels via your main website

Russell Taylor:

Think about who your audience is and what information they would be interested in. Is your audience different for each social network? If so consider altering the content/tone for each. It can take time to increase followers/awareness so don’t expect too much too soon.

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