Social media can be great. You reach residents you don't normally connect with. Of course, the flipside of social media is that can you get shouted at in your own time as this heartfelt blog says.
by A Local Government Officer
It’s a Sunday afternoon and I’m working. It’s raining – fair enough – but I still probably shouldn’t be working. I’ve got a toddler who is demanding attention (and some housework that could do with some, too), but instead I’m at my laptop.
I’m working because I’m part of a tiny (reduced) communications team for a council. I am working on a Sunday because if I don’t, I won’t get everything done that needs to be done during a working week. I think this type of working is known as ‘doing more with less’, but I digress.
While I wait to be allowed into the IT system, I pick up my iPhone to check the council’s Twitter account We don’t officially monitor Twitter out of office hours, but in reality, we do. We all check in from home so we can stay on top of any evolving issues and keep in touch with what’s being said to us/about us, at evenings and weekends.
I am met with the following Tweet:
“Do something about the f***ing potholes.”
That is all.
I am not surprised. We get it all the time. We usually just ignore the expletives and respond politely. We sometimes block them if they get particularly offensive.
But today it hits a nerve.
I think I’ve had enough.
I think - why should we put up with this?
My little girl is setting out a tea party for some teddies to my left; my husband is on the sofa watching the golf. I would never accept being spoken to like that by either of them. My mind wanders to how I might react if my husband suddenly turned from the TV and said, “sort my f***ing tea out,” (it wouldn’t be pretty). I’m disturbed by the very idea of my daughter even using the ‘f’ word in front of me, now or ever.
So why do our residents think they can ‘speak’ to us like that on social media, when we’d never put up with it in real life – not even from our nearest and dearest - and why do we let them?
And I use the word ‘speak’ deliberately, because Twitter is very much a medium of dialogue, albeit in just 140 characters. There is a human tapping those 140 characters (or less) into a device; there is a human at the other end reading them.
Just about every local authority has a Twitter feed these days. We were a fairly late adopter – we wanted to see how others got on first – and ours officially launched in 2011. We now have over 6,300 followers, all humans as far as I can tell, not all of them especially polite.
Twitter has become one of our primary communication channels and I don’t know what we’d do without it. It’s a fantastic medium for connecting with residents; for getting issues and queries dealt with quickly; for spreading information and news and for getting a real sense of what residents think about a particular issue (don’t mention parking charges). But it does have its dark side.
Like Mr Angry Resident and his pothole-related swearing.
In the past, I’ve seen a team member close to tears because of what she was dealing with on Twitter one day, which she casually termed ‘abuse’. It was a particularly thorny issue, the issue wasn’t her fault, but when you are the ‘keeper’ of the Twitter feed that day (we take turns as we don’t have the luxury of a dedicated social media officer) and you’re the one reading and responding to the constant stream of Tweets, if they’re persistently negative it CAN get to you.
Sometimes I’m tempted to suggest we just turn off the Twitter, silence the haters, give us just a little bit of peace and quiet. But of course we can’t, nor would we want to. It’s part of who we are now, what we do.
I can’t imagine ours is the only team that gets worn down by these things; the abuse, the bad language, the general council-bashing, even the ‘aggressive’ punctuation (????!!!).
So if we can’t silence the sweary ones, the nasty ones, the unreasonable ones, how do deal with them?
We wouldn’t want to swear back, we rarely block. But why should we just have to suck it up, when we wouldn’t take it from our own family or friends.
And I get the frustration about the potholes, Mr Angry Resident on Twitter; I am a taxpayer and a driver, too. I also have gripes about my own local council, but when I make complaints, I do it in a nice and polite way - without swearing - and in return I receive a nice and polite reply, also with no swearing, and nobody gets offended or upset. Easy.
Of course we want residents to give it to us honestly – councils aren’t perfect (of course they’re not, they’re run by people) – and feedback is how we get better, but we’d also like that feedback to be constructive, or at the very least un-offensive. After all, we are human too. And I think sometimes it is worth reminding people of that.
In fact I think that might be my first Tweet on Monday morning….if I can get it down to 140 characters.
Or if anyone has any better ideas for dealing with the anti-social side of social media, please let me know.
This post was written by an anonymous local government communications officer.