Last month, Facebook had its tenth birthday and I wrote a piece for the Guardian on council use of the platform. You can read the original article on the Guardian website.
Facebook: 10 reasons why councils should embrace it as a tool http://t.co/jkDVdRryrl
— GuardianLocal (@Guardian_local) February 13, 2014
Councils can get good use from Facebook as a way to reach communities and talk to residents. Here are 10 reasons why local authorities should embrace it.
1) Facebook groups and pages allow residents to take action and feel empowered. If residents want to save a service that’s being cut, or form a support group to help each other with a common problem, Facebook makes it easy. How brilliant for our counties and cities that residents feel able to change their lives for the better.
2) Councils are learning that we don’t need to keep building digital platforms, we can just take part in others. It used to be the case that if we wanted to talk to people online we had to build our own websites. Now, if we want to talk about, say, family issues, a Google search is likely to throw up many local and thriving Facebook groups set up by parents, which will let us talk to and learn from an existing community. If we want to talk to teenage girls about issues that affect them, maybe a local Harry Styles fan group would be a place to start a conversation. Thinking about what our audiences like can help us access a ready-made focus group.
3) Facebook makes us speak like normal people. Long, boring statements don’t cut it on Facebook. In general, an image and a couple of sentences is as much as you have to capture people’s attention. It’s made us more succinct and less likely to use corporate jargon.
4) We don’t have to rely on the media to get urgent information out. Often councils are the first to know about urgent issues such as traffic mayhem or how weather is affecting roads and schools because we have to deal with them. We don’t have to pick up a phone to find a reporter who is free to talk, Facebook’s facility for people to share our statuses with their friends means the word will get out quickly. That keeps people safe and helps avoid inconvenience.
5) Facebook helps councils build relationships and show support.The best and easiest way to create good content is by sharing useful and interesting information from local media, community groups and residents. It has the added benefit of supporting and encouraging citizenship.
6) Local government communications people used to only hear from the public when they wrote angry letters to the papers. Now, we see residents for what they are on Facebook – funny, angry, eager and committed to their communities. They’re not the enemy, they’re people like us. They deserve our very best work. So we’ve upped our games.
7) Facebook is a local government consultation game changer. We still pitch up in town centres and run consultation events in community halls. It’s good. But not everyone wants to leave their house at a time set by the council to talk about issues that affect them. Some are working or their circumstances make it difficult for them to get around.
Facebook gives us an easy way to talk about where we live and allows us to do it in our own time – on our phones, at school or work, or in the comfort of our homes.
8) You get to know how people really feel. The distance Facebook gives people to make their views known allows a degree of boldness and honesty that many people may be uncomfortable showing face-to-face with a councillor or council staff.
Facebook is helping councillors and councils understand how people really feel. It might not be easy to hear but it is useful in the long run to better understand opinions and needs.
9) It provides a free communications channel and data. Facebook allows us to talk to many people at no cost.
Without paying for anything, we can see via Facebook exactly the number of people and their age, gender and interests of people on Facebook in the areas we serve. That’s a communicator’s dream and Facebook gives us great statistics on how people respond and interact with our posts.
10) Facebook has made councils more relevant. Council posts are now showing up in a space where people share photos of their kids and chat about their cats. Potholes, bins, dog poo, care homes, libraries and schools are all part of everyday life. Being on Facebook has reminded people that councils are integral to the way we live and work and that is great for democracy.