Blog Entries:
11 tips for councils in using digital comms in snow blizzards

The reason for the post comes after the tips, but it’s partly in answer to the age-old question of ‘well, what use is social media and digital communications for councils’.

Social media outlets like Twitter are great when there’s a problem. It’s a simple, time and cost-effective way of sending out information that the majority of your electorate can see. They may not be able to get a newspaper, the TV may be part of a powercut but a laptop might have some charge and the mobile phone may be able to access the services. Failing that, they may have a friend who spotted the timely information (the time aspect normally being the most important of this).

Tips for councils using social media to inform the public

1) If setting up your Twitter stream as broadcast only (and you don’t want to engage) state so in the bio and occassionally put out a tweet telling people that. Otherwise – because it is seen as a two-way medium – there is an expectation of engagement and people will ask you questions. And people will criticise you for not responding. Would you pick up a phone and not say hello?

1b) Also, if you don’t give people enough information, don’t moan when they don’t use your resource and go get the info from elsewhere.

2) Make sure the advice going out is timely. Parents need to know early in the morning if schools are open/closed, not at 10am. (In fairness, North Lanarkshire Council say that Tuesday’s announcements will be made at 7am – but Edinburgh City Council made the decision on Monday afternoon to give people more planning time.)

3) If sending out info by SMS, make sure it’s timely. Don’t send a SMS at 1pm to tell me the school is open and then send another at 2.05pm to say the school is closed.

4) You are THE trusted source for news. It shouldn’t come via local radio stations or elsewhere. You are the primary source.

5) If you have gritters out, why not liveupdate? As one area is gritted, put an update out on Twitter saying that it was done. Similarly, if people are asking when they will be gritted, let them know if they are a route for gritting or not. (note, this doesn’t mean the gritter guys should be tweeting – they’re busy enough)

5b) Show on maps where the gritters are going in a day

6) Use the likes of Hootsuite and Twellowhood to find the most prominent local tweeters and make sure they see your tweets because then they will RT for you, spreading the message.

7) You can’t just operate it Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm like normal business hours comms.

8) Having said all of this, you do have a digital comms usage policy in place don’t you?

9) Make sure the press know of your streams and set up a Twitter list/links list of all the local media and useful agencies so people can get all the info they need.

10) If you want, add CoverIt Live to your site so that people off-Twitter (but with web access) can get all the data too.

11) Are you set up on other digital comms channels for people to find you? Do you need to be.

The beauty of all of this is that if it is set up prior to an emergency/disruption then it’s not a lot of work. If you leave it to the last minute then it makes life a little harder.

Even though it comes fairly annually now to Scotland, snow can still disrupt things and I feel sorry for councils in these situations because if they spent a lot on snow/winter treatment tactics and there was none, they would be hammered. If they spend little, and there’s snow, they also get hammered.

However, while it’s impressive that North Lanarkshire Council has embraced some digital comms, the way it was used shows that there’s a lot to learn.

When the snow started falling, like many others I headed over to my local council site to see what was being done in the area. I was quite delighted to see that North Lanarkshire Council was updating the website and also set up a Twitter stream called NLCwinter. Even better, both were being updated. But then, looking further, they weren’t being updated too quickly – in fact it was more or less normal business hours.

Then a tweet appears saying that the schools are open – where did this come from? Not NLC but Radio Clyde News. NLC merely retweeted it.

Now, NLCWinter is being hit by questions by people – asking if routes are open, buses are running, areas are safe – and there’s no replies going out. Now, I can accept that Twitter isn’t a high comms priority – there seems to be around 3000 people in the council area who use Twitter – but these are people highly likely to spread info about.

(Before anyone thinks this is a needless anti-council bash, hold off: I pay money for this area and on top of that, the points being made are suggestions for improvement. Criticism for the sake of criticism helps non-one. And lastly, some information is better than none. It’s just frustrating to see when it could do so much more)

(and, as the Lanarkshires straddle each other, fair play to South Lanarkshire Council for getting a Twitter stream up and running too and pointing out gritter routes and some other info)

  1. Dan Frydman

    Good post – and encouraged that @edinburgh_cc is doing some of this.

    Remember that people who aren’t on Twitter can still view the updates – but info embedded in the council site is also still worth doing.

Leave a comment