if the residents' mag goes, what then?

Newsletters used to be a standard way the public sector used to let people know what was happening. But increasingly their days are starting to be numbered. But what next? As one organisation shows, the answer is likely to be digital.

by Lisa Green

The guillotine is hanging over our council magazine in circulation since 1992, and I'm waiting for it to fall.

When I heard our much treasured magazine was on the table as part of 'the spending cuts' I had two thoughts – first was a genuine concern about how we would communicate with our older residents if we didn’t have the magazine and the second was, bugger that’s part of my day job!

Our research has shown that the magazine’s readers are typically over 55 and we all know that there’s a strong relationship between how well informed residents feel about what their Council is doing, and their overall satisfaction with us. The magazine has been the principal vehicle through which we communicate with our residents for 21 years, it’ll be like saying goodbye to an old friend, but savings have to be made and if the blade falls, what then?

Reach our older residents via social media? Don’t be daft, Twitter and Facebook are for young people, the older generation are doing crosswords, watching countdown or out in their gardens. Wrong - that just isn’t true anymore - many older people have been online for a while, last year the Mail ran an article on the increase in the over 60’s using online dating sites. The older generation is meeting up with friends via friends reunited, playing games, swapping recipes and looking at what the grandkids are doing on facebook. My 72 yr old mum told me this weekend that she has followed Age Uk’s guide for the silver surfer and set up Skype on her PC so she can see and speak to her granddaughter Megan who’s in Australia on a gap year!

It’s not going to be easy, communicating to the older generation via social media won’t be without its challenges, but just like any other age group; they want to feel we understand their needs and are speaking directly to them. One of the first things we have to do is figure out which social media channel to use. Will we pick them up via twitter and facebook or are they watching video clips on YouTube. We’ve just produced our first ever video New Year message from the leader of the council, @willumnunn and it’s had 279 hits so far. Staff, family and friends most probably but you never know!

If they’re not out there on twitter, facebook or youtube, then we’ll search out other channels, web forums, hyperlocal blogs and community minded forums such as streetlife where people discuss local matters online. I believe with some imagination and patience we’ll be able to reach our older audience, and if we use the right social media channel, if we don't find them all, they will eventually find us.

In a recent Guardian online article, Adam Wilson of Connect Assist said that statistically the over 60s ‘are the fastest growing demographic accessing the internet and slowly, but surely older people are using social media. As our current population ages, the uptake will naturally increase with time, so consider adding social media channels and promoting them clearly alongside the more traditional ones.’

The growth of social networking is evident, Twitter is said to have over 500 million active users worldwide. More than 30 million people in the UK use Facebook and each month 800 million unique users visit YouTube.

My fear at the prospect of losing our magazine has all but gone, I am more confident that if the guillotine does drop we can use social media to engage our older generation and keep them engaged. I’ll keep you posted…

Lisa Green is senior marketing and communications officer at Breckland Council.

Picture credit.