It's true that the best social content can often be from the frontline and from officers who are not senior. But what does that look like? In this case study a town centre officer talks about how with the support of his comms team he is using Twitter and Facebook.
by Jon Burnett
About three years ago I moved over to the town centre management team at Walsall Council to become the regeneration officer for Walsall town centre.
Apparently not. To this day, I'll never forget the words the press officer told me: ‘If we can trust officers to send emails, make phone calls and meet the public day in day out why can’t we trust them to use social media?’
So, I was free to set up both accounts, although Twitter was very new to me but a master class from the comms team and I was away.
Three years on and I would be lost without my town centre social media accounts. They are an information gathering tool and a quick and easy way to let people know what exactly is going on.
So, I don’t have the same amount of followers and likes as Lady Gaga but I was pleased when I passed the 2,000 followers mark on Twitter given it’s just me telling people what I do and what’s going on in Walsall.
Tweeting and Facebooking is not hard work despite some of my businesses saying they don’t have the time for it and the benefits to a town centre can be really positive.
Here are six lessons learned from my own perspective when using social media for town centres. You may even be able to relate to them in your own line of work.
1. It’s really not hard work.
Yes, I sometimes tweet at 11.30pm on a Wednesday night or at 5.30am on a Friday morning. But if it’s interesting and relates to my town centre, why not? I admit, I am a bit passionate about the town centre I look after and I do believe people want to know what’s going on. Why else would they be following? At all other times I’m only going about my daily business, checking my phone and letting people know what’s going on. Most of all it’s a good promotional tool for my businesses letting people know they are setting up, have a good offer on or a running an event.
You know the saying a picture speaks a thousand words? If I’m walking through town and there is something of interest I’ll take a photo and tell you about it. It could be anything from a great offer at the local butchers or our Clean & Green team jet washing the steps of the fountain. Not everyone will be interested but it gives a visual flavour of what is happening in town and shows the diverse range of tasks undertaken every day. It will also usually get the most retweets or comments.
3. The Facebook & Twitter divide
Over the years there has been a distinct divide of information released between my Facebook and Twitter accounts. My Twitter is very much now geared towards the business end. I may retweet a new story about businesses rates or a new government policy along with all the fun stuff like events and new store openings. At no time would you really see the business rates story on the Facebook page. I suppose I see the Facebook page for families and those interested in what’s happening in their town and ‘Katy’ the college student really is not interested in the business rates issue. So I’ve tailored what goes on both accounts. I also use my own experience not to bombard people on Facebook and try to limit the amount of posts on Facebook to around two a day. It’s difficult to get people to like a Town Centre Facebook page operated by their local council and once I’ve got them I don’t want to turn them away. Something I have done myself when my timeline is littered with post after post from the same brand or organisation.
4. Don’t delete anything ever*
I ran an event once in the town centre just after I had taken on tweeting and posting on Facebook. The event was a huge success and the comments from those who visited were really positive with the two months of planning paying off. That was until I checked the town centre Facebook page later that night where a negative comment had been left about the event and how it was operated. Well there was only one thing for it, all this hard work for someone to criticise my event; I deleted it.
At a time where local government is actively promoting being transparent and open this was not the thing to do and that one action turned into a full blown debate on its own.
I learnt my lesson quickly, hey we are only human and the public should have their say.
I think at the time I took the criticism personally after all it was my event.
Now I’ll take anything negative posted on the chin and usually respond back asking for more info or for the member of public to contact me directly to discuss. As you can imagine it’s usually complaints about car parking or litter which are easily resolved.
*Unless it’s explicit, or illegal
5. Sometimes try and go above and beyond
Over the last few months I have been finding myself in my own time trawling the job sites for vacancies in the town centre so I can make people aware what we have and that there are jobs out there. It benefits my businesses who are seeking candidates and shows there are businesses recruiting. I hope it also helps those seeking jobs, looking for a small part time job or a new challenge.
I also search ‘Walsall’ on Twitter because I’m nosey and want to know what’s going on and what people are saying about the town. It also helps dispel the myths like a few months ago when there was a long twitter conversation about the cost of council car parks in town costing £7 a day. A quick tweet from me saying you are all incorrect its £3 and here is the link. Nothing more was said.
6. Promote your events.
I always use Facebook to market and promote my events. Its free, easy to use and I can add instantly to it as and when information becomes available. Best of all I can get my businesses involved. I will always ask my businesses to get help me promote the event, after all it will hopefully benefit them in the long-term with increased footfall and promotion in town. By getting businesses to invite their followers I have a bigger reach for no cost and pick up the odd new follower on my page as well. The last Walsall Night Market event took place on July 25. On July 21, the town centre facebook page had a weekly reach of 15,609. During the next seven days the weekly reach peaked at 104,027 dropping to 17,880 on July 29. During the same period the Facebook page picked up 30 new likes.
Jon Burnett is a Walsall Council regeneration officer.