It's an important point that still needs to be made. Using Facebook isn't messing about on the internet. It is going to where the people are and talking to them there. Take the excellent Newcastle City Council Facebook page who are mixing video into their updates with good results.
The only thing worse than being a reporter for the local rag – at least as far as Newcastle taxi drivers are concerned - is to work for the city council.
The council is to blame for faffing about with the street network yet neglecting to grit the roads, sucking up to cyclists, pandering to foreigners, and failing to collect the bins - despite charging too much tax for the service.
We closed libraries, cut Sure Start, can’t control problem parking, and ignore dog fouling.
And, they suspect, we are all paid far, far too much. Of their money.
I would not dare admit to them my role at the council is to boost our ‘social media presence’. By playing about on Facebook and that.
How is that a proper job?
But I think Facebook can transform their perception of who we are and what we do.
I’ve now been on the job a fortnight.
On my first day I added 800 or so extra Facebook followers – a bit of a fluke, but not entirely – and hope to drive this into five figures by the end of the year.
The first day there was a flood in Newcastle.
Or there would have been, had not our staff worked through the night with pumps at key locations around the city to drain filthy brown surface water away from people’s homes.
With two of the council’s top men, Director of Communities Mick Murphy and Head of Highways and local services Peter Gray, we sped around flood water danger zones filming a series of iPhone clips and interviews and posting them straight to Facebook. Examples are here, here, here and here.
It was almost an ‘as live’ broadcast as the posts were published online, one following the other.
We were able to show the dangerously swollen rivers about to burst their banks, allotments almost inundated, and flood water spurting from manhole covers on city streets.
And we were able to show our front line staff – lads and lasses in high-vis vests, cold and dirty from where they had been manning the pumps for hours, and those on the phones in the call centre and emergency flood room – working round the clock to keep the city safe.
“It’s good to see local people and hear local voices. Keep it up,” one new follower posted online.
And that is what I hope to do.
Use the faces, voices, and experience of our staff working on the front line of all our services to inform the public of who we are and what we do.
Present people with whom they identify rather than figures of authority telling them stuff they don’t want to know.
Show them ordinary people striving to achieve extraordinary things.
Drive up engagement to all our social media channels.
And do it using video, filmed and edited on phones.
Then maybe I can stop lying to taxi drivers.
Hugh Macknight is a policy and communications business partner at Newcastle City Council.