WhatsApp: Could it help you make your community a better place to live?

As the world changes, it’s fascinating to see how public services are changing too. A few years ago, an organisational social media account was a novel thing, like when Helen Reynolds created a MySpace page for Shire Hall in Monmouth. While lots of us are still getting to grips with what social media means for the way organisations interact with communities, it’s embedded in the way that we communicate as individuals on a day to day basis.

WhatsAppIt’s probably no surprise then that there’s a lot we can learn from the people within our communities.

As budgets are shrinking, public services are being asked to do more with less. Organisations are starting to move away from the paternal role that they’ve often played in the past to enabling people to make the most of their opportunities. We shared how the Bromford Deal is doing just that as part of our Adopting Preventative Approaches Seminar last year. You can find out more about the deal in the video below.

I’ve been using WhatsApp personally for a while. I’ve been intrigued as to how it might be used to improve the way we work, but I couldn’t quite get my head round how that might happen. This Storify by Will Barker of the #nhssm Twitter Chat changed that, and I could instantly see how organisations could use it to better inform people about what they’re doing. It’s startling that in the case of the Oxford Mail, WhatsApp has a six or seven times times greater conversion rate to page views than Twitter.

Trafodaethau WhatsApp DiscussionsBy sharing that Storify, I quickly got into a conversation with Ben Black, whose street is using WhatsApp in a really interesting way. The platform gives people the chance to better connect with each other (Ben tells me there’s a fair bit of banter on the thread). It means that when the power’s gone out, there’s a quick way of checking if it affects one house or the whole street. If one resident is heading to the dump, a quick message to the group means that they can take other people’s rubbish while they’re there. When a restaurant on the street applied for licensing, it was used to send feedback from the council meeting. It’s been used to highlight issues that affect the street like potholes, or to see if people can lend or borrow equipment or even each other’s time, such as by cutting each other’s lawns.

I was just thinking about using WhatsApp to communicate with people, but Ben and his neighbours have taken it that step (or five) further and are actively using it to help make their street a better place to live.

I bet if we asked people how they felt about the public services they received, the vast majority would ask “what public services?” Through tools like WhatsApp and Streetbank, people are actually delivering some aspects of services themselves. If we spare a second to think about how we might work differently and take a lead from Ben’s street, I reckon there’s a lot we can do to improve the work we do.



  1. Great post Dyrfrig

    Some great examples here. I would be wary of trying to find the perfect tool for this kind of thing, because actually the best tool is the one that people are actually using. So, it might be Ning, in the case of Harringay Online, or Facebook, in the case of the M32 Group for Stretford which has over 5,500 members!

  2. Another great post, Dyfrig.

    I’m glad the #nhssm chat and Storify was useful. I think the example of how Ben and his street are using WhatsApp is a brilliant one. I also think the broadcast lists (like the Oxford Mail and other news outlets like the BBC are using) are really interesting – less about a conversation and more about how info is being consumed easiest.

    I recently subscribed to the Battenhall (digital agency) broadcast list for regular updates on digital news – something that I see a lot of in my Twitter feed, but I don’t have to search for as it comes to me. They have blogged about their experiment with it so far and it matches with what you’ve said about higher engagement rates than Twitter. Worth a read: http://battenhall.net/blog/the-battenhall-whatsapp-stats-show-engagement-wins-over-noise/

    I would be interested to see how many WhatsApp groups/lists already exist that services could get involved with, instead of starting something new.

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