Musings of a Twitter Toddler

Huw Lloyd-Jones

Ahead of our forthcoming Scrutiny Conference on 28 November, the Wales Audit Office GPX team has persuaded me to contribute another blog that sets my own ’developing’ use of social media in the context of its potential for councils and for individual elected members. We have workshops at the conference on:

  • The Role of the Networked Councillor in Scrutiny; and
  • Public Engagement in Scrutiny

Twitter has something to offer to both!

In my last post on this subject, I was a ‘Twitter Baby’ – easily amused by the new world that had opened up around me, with lots of ‘Twitter Parents’ helping me to get along and to avoid trouble. A couple of months down the line, I now consider myself a Twitter Toddler – we have to grow up quickly in blogland! I’m now more independent, but the hazards are greater than they were. I’m also prone to the odd tantrum. And bear in mind that toddlers always see the world from a perspective where they are firmly at its centre!

Toddler-with-ipad-610x300

So what kind of Twitter behaviours make me stamp my feet and shout? I suppose that I’ll become more tolerant as I grow up but, right now:

  • Some Tweets are frankly impenetrable unless you’re ‘in the know’! I appreciate that the 140 character limit demands that the author is concise, but surely the aim is to engage with your followers? Coded messages jam-packed with hashtags might be useful under certain circumstances but, in general, this Toddler yawns and moves on if it’s a good day and, when tetchy, starts ranting..!
  • Is it me, or are there some Tweeters that overdo it? When my Twitter stream is full of messages from the same source (sometimes retweeting what they tweeted a couple of hours previously), I can’t help feeling that self-promotion is the aim, not engagement.
  • I occasionally feel pleased that I’ve crafted a carefully-worded Tweet that (politely) demands a response from someone or some organisation. No response is therefore annoying, but a ‘Favourite’ badge from that organisation (without a response) adds insult to injury!

The ‘Unfollow’ route is always an option, of course but I still feel, at this stage, that it’s a bit rude and drastic to do so without at least explaining why!

Not all is doom and gloom, though, and there’s plenty to make me smile. I still follow the North Wales councils and several individual members with interest, and often with admiration. One of ‘my’ councils recently started posting pictures on Twitter of the lost dogs that their wardens are looking after, along with brief details of where and when the unfortunate hound was found. What a brilliantly simple and cost-free idea to re-unite more dogs with their owners while, at the same time, reducing kennel costs and vet’s fees! Others are very obviously increasing the type of material they post, often promoting local events and activities within the area alongside the more mundane (but nevertheless useful) information about job vacancies. Like me, though, councils have good days and bad days and I’m still not convinced that they’re using social media consistently well to signpost key publications and consultations as a means of engaging with citizens.

What about the numbers? This toddler has had a penchant for data from a young age! The table below updates the numbers I included in my last blog:

Council

Tweets

Following

Followers

 

12/9/13

1/11/13

12/9/13

1/11/13

12/9/13

1/11/13

A

1197

1257

0

61

2735

2928

B

2046

2153

14

17

3402

3647

C

6992

7313

174

197

6597

7041

D

3156

3278

31

31

4097

4391

E

1783

2049

182

208

1646

1850

F

6586

7364

3078

3102

5273

5580

TOTALS

21,760

23,414

3,479

3,616

23,750

25,437

What does this tell us?

  • In less than two months, North Wales councils have attracted an extra 1,687 followers – that’s an increase of 7.1 per cent! That means that everything councils Tweet reaches 7 per cent more people than  was the case less than two months ago!
  • There have been some dramatic changes in the number of other people and organisations that some councils are following. More opportunity to learn from others, therefore.

So What’s the Pont?

  • Twitter users become more critical as they gain experience! Sometimes Twitter may not be the best medium through which to convey the message!
  • Clear communication is a necessary (but not a sufficient) condition for effective engagement, including public engagement with scrutiny.
  • To engage well, you also need to know that you have an audience and the Twitter audience out there is growing fast! The potential for councils to use Twitter to inform, to consult and to gauge opinion is massive.
  • There’s lots more scope for the corporate centre in councils to make sure that their communications teams promote key plans, documents and reports using Twitter and other social media.

Looking forward to a thought-provoking Scrutiny Conference at the Swalec Stadium on 28 November. Be there!!

Thanks @huw711

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