Facebook's darling is fading. Is it time to re-think how we use it as comms people?
Attention council Communications Teams. Nobody wants to be your friend, especially not your residents. Don’t feel unloved – what we do is vital to our organisations – but we need to work smarter.
Digital and social media has been heralded for years as the way forward for comms, and it is. But the world moves fast, and we need to keep up.
Facebook, the original social media darling, is faltering. Share prices are dropping, expansion is stalling, and it’s becoming clear that, while Facebook is a primary tool for social interaction, it’s not the place people go to for local information.
Most councils have a Facebook page, often because they feel they have to. In truth, most of those pages aren’t very good and, in terms of reputation, a bad page is worse than no page at all. Council pages usually consist of new stories, events and, sometimes, information about campaigns. Likes, fans and interaction levels tend to be really low, even on the best pages. Birmingham City Council runs a good page but, as of this morning, only 512 people out of a population of 1,036,900 (0.05%) like it. Birmingham has a youthful population; exactly the sort of people we would expect to want to interact with their council through Facebook, but they don’t.
Even Coventry City Council, the standout stars of local authority Facebook, appears to sometimes struggle to create the conversations, interaction and movement that we want. Facebook is increasingly the digital equivalent of printing 20,000 leaflets, distributing them all over the place and hoping for the best.
So is Facebook a lost cause for us? Maybe not. We need to recognise that people use Facebook for social interaction with people they like. So perhaps we need to find the real characters within our services and communities and let them be our face, rather than having a generic corporate presence. People respond to authentic communication, and who is more authentic than Bill the road sweeper or Claire the teacher? Perhaps using the pages for consultation is the way forward: a single place to have your say on everything the council wants to talk about. By being creative with the way we use Facebook and targeting specific audiences we might be able to create the conversations and movements that we all want, but it will take a lot of effort, time and training.
In the meantime, we can utilise social media in other ways. Twitter is the big channel and is an ideal platform for our kind of information. Hyperlocal websites are leading the way in engaging local audiences. So let’s continue to embrace digital, but let’s do it in the right way. Flickr? Yes. Hyperlocals? Yes. Twitter? Absolutely. But Facebook used as just another comms channel? We might as well knock out a few leaflets and hope for the best.
Julie Waddicor is Senior Communications Officer at Staffordshire County Council