If you’ve ever worked in local government communications you’ll know first-hand how important it is to get your winter communications right. Here’s how one top team makes the most from the opportunity to engage with its residents.
by Viki Harris and Niel Stewart
Some people like snow, some hate it - but I don’t know anyone that likes ice unless it’s in a glass or they go skating and let’s face it, this last week has been very, very icy.
We started our @kirkleeswinter Gritter Twitter in 2009, in the early days it was run during office hours and had basic info about gritting actions. It’s changed over the years, so has our relationship with the Highways service, our audience and our messaging.
We have an agreement with Highways, the comms team build engagement early in the season (it’s a dedicated, seasonal channel). We provide cut and paste tweets for them to use for those times when it’s all a bit run of the mill…but as soon as the white stuff (or the ice) hits – comms take over.
The relationship with the service is key to this working. Someone from the Comms team is there in the summer planning meetings, there in the winter board meetings and there in the review sessions.
If I could only pick 3 things to say about the channel it would be:
- When it snows or it’s icy, emotions run high and rational information doesn’t always work. We try and put rational information out when people are rational, and recognise people are emotional when the weather hits. We try and remind them that we are people as well and that we are not immune to the weather! The more human tone of voice works well in many ways and more so this year we have had a lot of support back for our crews and our service.
We quickly go from office hours, to any hours. When it snows - interaction goes through the roof. People see no-one tweeting as no-one gritting, when the weather is bad we need a reassuring presence.
A dedicated channel gives a different audience, we can geek out and provide levels of detail we don’t on our other channels and (for the most part) our audience love the more in depth weather and action tweets…
A few more things we’ve picked up along the way:
- We start the season with a toolbox talk with all the gritter drivers – if they don’t like something they read, if they feel we are not sticking up for them enough, we ask them to contact us directly. All the drivers have a mobile contact number for comms it helps keep them on side and we get very few going to the press or using their own social media accounts.
- Every Highways standby officer has out of office contact numbers for the Communications team we check in regularly in times of bad weather. The more information we have, the better the channel runs.
- We have shared folders for dash cam footage and photos and encourage the service to send us as much as possible. It may not be real time, but we can have a video posted within a couple of hours.
- We always try and vary the content. It could be winter driving advice (www.kirklees.gov.uk/winterdriving) or household resilience (www.kirklees.gov.uk/householdemergencyplan) or throwback Thursday photos or winter tyres, or dash cam videos.
- When it’s severe weather we take more of a multi-channel approach – focusing still on twitter but also sharing to Facebook and using our 9,000 subscriber email list.
On those wild and wintry days when you can’t type fast enough to keep up, we love the feeling of getting to a tweet that someone else, a member of the public, has already answered… and answered well.
That’s a key measure of success for us.
image via the Dutch National Archive