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Lots of councils experience just how important social media is when the weather gets extreme. A week or so ago, Monmouthshire people received and shared timely, useful information, chat and photos during a snowy period. I’ve been really impressed by how effective and helpful the network of Monmouthshire people – council employees, businesses and residents – were. Here’s why I think it worked.

by clickclique
[Photo by clickclique]

This was first published over on the website on 24th January.

Monmouthshire has experienced a very snowy spell in the past week and, rather than berating the council for services that aren’t running, residents here have been incredibly supportive. This kind of feedback is incredible for staff morale.

There has been some great debate online about how residents can be unfair in criticising their council during extreme weather conditions but in Monmouthshire we’re finding the support from people on Twitter and Facebook is really keeping our staff positive and upbeat as they keep the county moving. Here is a collection of over 50 messages of praise we’ve had in the past few days.

I think social media has given positive people who contribute and care about their communities a place to voice their views. We did get a bit of stick when, just at the worst time in the year, our website briefly collapsed under the increased traffic of people looking for school closures. But people’s frustration was warranted and we hastily set up a blog post with the information as a back-up. We also got loads of updates out as they happened using Facebook and Twitter. Social media to the rescue!

streetclearWhat’s been really useful in this period is the council’s open access for staff to social media. It means that as the person who tweets from our corporate account @MonmouthshireCC, I’ve been able to quickly get and retweet information from staff all over the county. From the chief executive to the youth service to the safety manager out with the gritters, residents were getting real-time answers and information as staff went about their business. I was able to curate and share all this information this from the warmth of my living room as we’ve spent a few years making sure we can work in an agile way – I’ve got all the tools I need to work wherever I need to. Work is what you do not where you do it.

But it wasn’t only council employees contributing – we got great info from those on the ground about cancelled events, school closures, and traffic issues. Many of our residents are regular tweeters so we could be sure they were credible sources of information and share their information across our networks.

Social media is really important for getting information out during extreme weather but just as important is the information we get back.

We’ve been making use of other social channels to give people a picture of what’s been happening. Pinterest allowed us to gather some of the lovely pictures people were sending us of Monmouthshire in the snow. Storify allowed us to do a good summary of our first day of snow, and since it’s being snowing I’ve not had a minute to compile another round-up yet. Anyone can see them but when putting them together I was especially thinking of the staff out keeping things going – they’re busy working so when they have a break it’s nice for them to see what people have been doing and saying.

I think the key to doing social media well is to make sure that times like snowy weather events aren’t the only times we put effort into using it. We’ve built up a good rapport with many of our tweeting residents and we know that it’s not just the comments of praise that matters – we’re trying to start conversations with people. And, if I’m honest, I just think that loads of Monmouthshire residents are really lovely and understanding but that is helped by our efforts to get out there and talk to people.