Doncaster Council have raised the social media content bar in recent weeks with their brilliant storytelling and creative approach to discussing core services. This new post gives comms2point0.co.uk readers a sneak peek behind the scenes…
by Rob Jefferson
Gone are the days where you’re trying to seek permission to use social media (I truly hope this is the case for you - if not, leave your current employers immediately and find someone better)
Almost all organisations now recognise the need to use social media as a key weapon in their arsenal to talk about what they’re doing and connecting with those they serve. As a result, the challenge now is to stand out from all the noise. To be different.
#OurDay is an interesting concept. In some respects, it’s the complete antithesis of what social media is all for; a campaign that encourages us to use a two-way platform to broadcast to the public about how we ‘keep [their] community running’. Cue grumbles about missed bin collections, potholes or, worst of all, complete indifference.
That said, it amazes me every year just how much the sector gets behinds it and shares all sorts of content gems. Twitter accounts you never realised existed spring into life and share some really engaging stuff. New things are learnt about the very place you work, such as the cat that lives down at our transport depot.
So how do you try to make #OurDay more #YourDay and do something different? This year, we decided to give people the opportunity to be a council officer. To put them in the shoes of our staff so they could make the kinds of difficult decisions that are made on a daily basis.
Ready player one
Clearly the bureaucracy involved to get someone physically into the office to do actual council stuff just for a day is a hurdle too great to overcome. Plus, how would we know their shoe size matched our officer?
Instead we decided to do it digitally and create something based upon those popular Choose Your Own Adventure books off of the 1980s. The concept is fairly simple; you play the lead character and at key points in the book you have to make a decision that takes you to a specific page in the book. Ultimately, this means you can end up enjoying a completely different story each time you read it if you pick alternative decisions.
So this is what we did. If you’ve not seen them yet, here’s the first story, entitled “Raiders of the Lost Chickens”:
And here’s the second one: “Council worker and the Landlord of Doom”, both of which are working titles…
Stealing Borrowing other’s ideas
Applying this concept to twitter isn’t something entirely new although we’d not seen it done in the public sector before. I first spotted it on Twitter a couple of years ago when Sky were promoting a TV series called Critical. Ever since then I’ve wanted to replicate the concept but didn’t really have a suitable opportunity, until now.
I suspect our version was slightly easier to produce than Sky’s. They went to the trouble of creating individual twitter accounts for the different story threads which would have required a unique email address for each account. Time consuming!
Putting it together
I won’t go too much into the mechanics of it, partly because this is a blog, not a Haynes manual but also because I think you need to have a go yourself to get your head around it. In a nutshell, the game was constructed by creating a series of threads that were made up of tweets we’d replied to to form parts of the story’s narrative. These threads were then woven together as quoted tweets to
That said, here are a few pointers:
- It can get very complex, very quickly. That’s why mapping out the different story threads is essential. I used Realtimeboard because I’m allergic to pen and paper but you could quite easily use Post It notes or a whiteboard.
- You have to construct it in reverse because of the way quoted tweets work.
- Mistakes cost, especially if it’s at the beginning of a story thread and you end up having to redo the entire thread of that story, so check, check and check again before you post a tweet.
- If you do it in real time on a live account, people can’t complete the story until it’s done. If you protect (hide) your account and do it in advance (as we did) accounts you mention in the story won’t get notified that you’ve mentioned them. We’d hoped to get a bit more traction by mentioning key local influencers but because of this, it didn’t work.
- Test every possible branch of the story to make sure you don’t have any dead ends.
- Make it as easy as possible for people to navigate their way through the story. We ended up providing specific guidance such as ‘TAP HERE’ because initial user testing of the prototype left people scratching their heads about how follow the threads.
Aside from the mechanics, the most important part of this is the storytelling itself. We’re rather lucky to have Liam Smith on our books, the brains behind the viral #DoncasterGrittingWorldCup campaign and the Flytipped Speedboat who’s got a unique talent for telling stories in an engaging way.
Liam and I wrote and constructed the first story together and he worked with other colleagues to produce the second story. I actually prefer the depth of the second story because I felt it was truer to the principles of #OurDay. The subject matter is more serious and we deliberated quite a bit about how best to present what were real (anonymised) stories in an non-trivial way. The selection of appropriate and sensitive GIFs was an example of this.
It took at least half a day to produce each story - from writing, to production, to testing. You could easily spend more time sourcing more original content and adding additional threads or dead ends to the story.
To date, the stories have been seen by people around 70k times with plenty of engagement but to be honest, reach was only part of the aim. It was more about testing a new concept to see how it went down, what we could learn from it and how it could be improved for future campaigns. Even after creating the more lighthearted first story we learnt a lot that was applied to the second one.
Did many residents from Doncaster see them? Hard to say. Most of the engagement appeared to be from people from other parts of the country or comms/social media pros who admired the concept.
The recent success from the #TuesdayTales, #DoncasterGrittingWorldCup and now these stories have raised shedloads of questions about our strategy and how to effectively manage our social media going forward to keep the momentum going. There are implications for customer service and emergency planning too, all of which need thrashing out.
It’s hard to measure the outcomes of such content pieces as they aren’t about driving people to websites, or generating leads. They’re more about engagement and reputation. Up until recently, our twitter engagement was struggling so these content pieces are part of a longer term plan to improve that.
We’re focusing on quality, not quantity; trying to be more personable, personalised yet professional; and ensuring we’re more consistent with our content & tone of voice. All our metrics around conversations, amplification and applause rates are well above our uplift targets as a result of this and recent press engagement is way beyond what we’d receive from a traditional press release.
As Liam quite rightly put it the other day we’ll keep doing stuff we’re proud of, and see what happens. We never in a million years anticipated the success we’ve had from some of these experiments and I’ve personally been blown away by the potential of it all. I always knew social media was powerful but I never truly believed it until now.
Rob Jefferson is web and digital manager at Doncaster Council