One of the beauties of digital comms, social media and self-publishing is that we are no longer reliant on traditional media to share news. So what better time for a council to maximise this than during local elections…
by Adam Keating
Election night has changed for many local councils. For those in pretty ‘safe seats’ with little chance of upsets, the usually buzzing media areas are in danger of being undertaken by tumbleweed. That is certainly the case at Southend-on-Sea, where the numbers of journalists attending our counts has diminished rapidly in a short space of time. This is of course linked to dwindling media numbers and reporter reduction in general, with resource being prioritised on more politically interesting areas like Basildon for example.
This has encouraged us in sunny Southend to start taking a different approach to election comms and becoming more like a local news service for the night. We may not have many broadcasters attending any longer, but with the wonders of modern technology, why not become your own broadcaster for the night? So, rather than reducing our resources according to the numbers of media attending, we have kept them the same and concentrated on delivering the results via social media and video, and providing engaging coverage at the count for local people.
I am lucky to have the wonderfully creative Michael Sargood in my team, who ran a 90 minute plus Facebook live which has so far been viewed by over 4,000 people and had over 300 comments.
Our original intention was to film as and when and in bite size chunks – “surely no one wants to watch a video of a standard sports hall for 2 hours!” we thought. However, and this is what is so great about the opportunities social media afford us, Michael reacted to the comments of our viewers who asked him to stay live rather than stopping and starting the feed.
With some research and great history and stats from our apprentice, Michael gave a regular commentary David Dimbleby-style, and as you will see from the feed, answered questions as he went, both on camera and on the feed which whilst being helpful, also helped to fill some of the time. This got us lots of supportive feedback and people really seemed to value the service. There was lots of engagement back and forth whilst we were live, and people also had their own conversations.
We took a simpler approach to Twitter at the count, with a little bit of pre-planning helping us to deliver a fast and efficient ‘results service’ as it happened. Based on the principle of being a local news service for the night, we put some ground work in and made it clear in the day that Twitter was where to come for live results. We also decided early on in the planning to make some simple colourful graphics similar to those that people would be familiar with through national media – our great Social Content Officer who is a whizz at online GIMP graphics, produced every possible permutation and I pre-loaded these onto my phone ready for the results.
A really simple idea, but we think the colours really helped to demonstrate visually and simply on our feed how the night was going politically. I hope you agree!
Stats wise, we got over 50,000 impressions on our results tweets, over 2500 engagements, and over 750 URL clicks to the website where we posted the results once we had finished tweeting!
None of this is rocket science of course, but my advice for what it is worth – prepare, assign roles, listen to what your audience is telling you, and have fun with it (remember - be human!).
Adam Keating is Strategic Communications Manager at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and LGComms executive committee member – on Twitter he is @adamkeating1981
image via the State Library of Queensland