Tag Archives: north Wales

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

Social Scrutiny

Scrutiny

What, you may ask, is Huw Lloyd Jones thinking about in writing a blog that focuses mainly on the use of social media? Surely someone who is beginning to catch glimpses of the paradise of retirement through the mist must have something better to do with his time?

You may be right! I’ve been a Linked-In user for a while but I confess that, until recently, I’ve used it as an older person’s equivalent of an autograph book. My attempts to open a Facebook account were met, within seconds, by an avalanche of horrified texts between my grown-up children (though not addressed to me), followed soon after by an unequivocal Facebook Ban from my wife. ‘You’ll get yourself into trouble’, she said.

Huw Lloyd-Jones

So, when the Wales Audit Office decided to encourage its staff to use social media, I thought to myself, ‘Leave it to the youngsters’ (and the trendy-but-not-so-young)! When I saw that a session at a staff training day was devoted to Twitter, I was sceptical. But I duly turned up, listened and asked a few questions. What impressed me most, perhaps, was that, in practising our rudimentary skills, we got an instant (and witty) response from an only-just-ex Welsh Government Minister! I guess that this alerted me straight away to the influential power of social media!

To cut a long story short, as an open-minded (aka gullible) trainee, I signed up to Twitter. In doing so, I managed to delete everything on my Blackberry, but I got there in the end! I have no interest in what celebrities had for breakfast so I decided to focus mainly on following:

  • the six councils I work with; and
  • education stuff.

So what have I learned as a result of my ‘experiment’? First of all, a couple of generalities for anyone else who’s thinking about opening a Twitter account:

  • Even if you only follow a small number of other Twitter users, you could spend all day every day looking at what comes in. Get yourself something like Hootsuite that allows you to sort your incoming Tweets into different categories. It’s not like email – you can afford to miss lots of ‘messages’ because, if they’re important, someone will Retweet them.
  • You don’t need to send lots of Tweets. I’ve made some horrendous gaffes (particular apologies to @Snowded and @whatsthepont as well as anyone else I may have offended). Think carefully about how your not-so-carefully constructed 140 characters will appear to others before you light the blue touch paper and send the Tweet!

What about ‘my’ six councils? It was quite an eye-opener in terms of the differences between them in the way that they’re using Twitter. As an auditor, you’d expect me to introduce some data somewhere, so here are the ‘basic’ Twitter statistics for the six councils at the time of writing:

Council

Tweets

Following

Followers

A

1197

0

2735

B

2046

14

3402

C

6992

174

6597

D

3156

31

4097

E

1783

182

1646

F

6586

3078

5273

So what? I guess that the number of tweets reflects, to some extent, the length of time that the council has been using Twitter. Also, tweeting in both languages adds to the count (and engages more people, too). It’s interesting that the number of followers seems to match quite closely the number of tweets!

What caught my attention, though, was the number of other Twitter users that each council follows. Following lots of people and organisations means that you receive hundreds of tweets every day – time consuming, and possibly of little benefit! On the other hand, if you follow very few others, the only tweets you receive are those directed specifically to you. You miss out on what your partners are up to and on what the media and influential individuals and groups within the community have to say.

The variation in the type of information that councils tweet has also been fascinating. Some tend to tweet information about vacancies and things like unexpected school closures. Others use Twitter to proclaim good news stories and to advertise events that they are running, usually via links to the council’s website. Those that follow their partners often retweet information about their work. In my area, for example, the police make great use of Twitter and those councils that follow the police can significantly increase the audience for police tweets by passing on the message, as well as reinforcing the fact that the council and the police are working together closely.

Just one council so far has used Twitter to advertise an ongoing consultation – just think how many more people now know that the consultation is ‘live’ compared with the numbers that might have stumbled upon the information via the website! And another council has begun to hold ‘Twitter surgeries’ where Cabinet members respond to tweets from members of the public about their areas of responsibility. There hasn’t been a great response thus far, but what a great idea in terms of engaging with the public in a forum that’s open to anyone who’s interested!

Tweeting information about forthcoming committee meetings happens only rarely and inconsistently. Our recent work on scrutiny across Wales has identified that most councils feel that they could engage more effectively with the public in the way in which they hold decision-makers to account. Why not, therefore, take the opportunity to tell all those followers about meetings that will focus on important issues? Even better, why not use Twitter beforehand to allow people to express their views and to gauge public opinion? The potential is huge!

So, to quote an oft-used phrase, What’s the PONT?

  • You’re never too old to use social media, but think before you Tweet!
  • Councils vary hugely in the extent of their Twitter engagement and the nature of what they tweet.
  • The potential of social media such as Twitter to engage with the public is huge.
  • Councils’ scrutiny functions, in particular, could make much more use of social media to engage with the public and to reflect their views when holding decision-makers to account.

Huw