Can you name more than a dozen services provided by your local council? No? Well, you're not alone. Most people falter after refuse collection, road sweeping, libraries and street lights, but the reality is that each local council provides in excess of 700 different services. And so, in an effort to give the public a better understanding of what they do, local county councils took to Twitter on 17 October to tell their stories in a 24 hour Tweetathon.
Using the hashtag #OurDay, councils shared local stories to raise the profile of their work. Coordinated by the Local Government Association but run by the local councils themselves, the idea was to use social media to shout about the unsung heroes working hard to provide services in their communities.
'#OurDay is very much about shining a light on local government and is not 'owned' by any organisation,' explains Sarah Jennings, head of digital communications and knowledge at the Local Government Association. 'Our role is simply to hold the reins and encourage participation. We provide the focal point, but it's local governments that do all the work.'
With 3,500 contributors, nearly 11,000 tweets and an overall reach of three million people, the campaign proved a great success as councils tweeted about services ranging from recycling facilities to youth support. Around 200 councils, each with multiple Twitter accounts, took part.
With more than 500 tweets, Gloucestershire County Council won the day's 'Top Tweeter' accolade. 'We felt that #OurDay would provide us with the perfect platform to give people in Gloucestershire a deeper insight into how we deliver services to our communities, and to shout about the great work of our staff and councillors,' says Emma Smith, senior communications officer at Gloucestershire County Council.
Sharing videos, photographs and information from each council department, @GlosCC used the day to tweet about road gritting and fire safety, dementia awareness and adoption processes. Smith adds: 'We were delighted to be the Top Tweeters. Even more importantly, we were delighted by the amount of people who engaged with us and shared our content on the day. It was a really effective way of telling our story.'
Gloucestershire Council's tweets were retweeted 270 times and its account gained almost 100 new followers over the 24 hours. Followers joined in, like @NicDaviesUley who tweeted It's good day to follow your council on twitter because it's #OurDay where they're making a big effort to tell their story. Mine is @gloscc.
Mundane is fun
It's the tweets about routine work that tend to be most popular in this sort of campaign, says Dan Slee, senior press and PR officer for Walsall Council and co-founder of @comms2point0. 'It's the things happening on the front line that people find most interesting. Routine services like digging up the street, gritting roads and school closures, because they actually impact people's lives.'
Walsall Council took part in #OneDay but also ran their own Twitter campaign, #walsalltownstories, where local services took over @walsallcouncil for one hour at a time to tell their stories, showing the 'human' side to local government. According to Slee, this sort of campaign works because it shines a light on the mundane. 'Most council workers think they do a dull job but actually other people find those jobs very interesting, because they affect and even save lives. People just forget to tell their colleagues and council residents about that.'
He says that front line workers bring an authenticity that a communications department can't always create. 'Front line workers don't always tweet polished messages or use a corporate voice,' he explains. They're simply people who work for the local government and are passionate about it, and this message reaches people in a far more effective way.'
Slee uses an example from a similar campaign run a few years ago, Walsall 24, to prove his point. 'The most popular tweet from that campaign was one sent at six in the morning by a team of environmental health officers who'd been sent out to investigate a noisy cockerel,' he laughs. 'People just seem to relate to the everyday.'
While these campaigns are important for raising public awareness of local government services, they also play an important role internally, as they encourage council workers to feel positive about what they do and each department is given the opportunity to learn more about their colleagues' work. #OurDay was important for bringing colleagues together, says Smith. 'Staff from a wide range of our services across the council took part. We've really enjoyed celebrating our success together.'
Jennings agrees: 'Local councils across the country are able to see what others are doing, and so can learn from each other. #OurDay actually created competition between councils, to see who could tweet the most.'
But there's more to #OurDay than just a feel-good Twitter takeover: there are real economic benefits to be gained. According to Slee, if a member of the public wants to contact their local council, it will cost the council £12 if they send a letter, £7.50 for a face-to-face meeting, £4 for a phone call, and just 15p to communicate online. Slee insists that councils need to think about what they do with the extra followers after a Twitter campaign: using social media to direct the public to different, more cost-efficient ways of communication with their council is an obvious way to capitalise on a successful Twitter campaign.
#OurDay is an important and positive campaign to take part in, says Jennings. 'We're hoping to make it an annual event,' she says. 'We coincided #OurDay with Local Democracy Week this year, which is a European event. Next year we'd like to involve Europe in #OurDay, which would widen out the learning and sharing even further.'