In January, senior press and public relations officer Dan Slee at Walsall Council wrote a piece for the Guardian about the social media innovations councils will use in 2014.
In a nutshell, Dan proposed that council-related social media will go down two routes in 2014: external social and digital projects will evolve tackling issues that councils always struggle with; while internally, council social media will be leveraged by customer service teams; signpost users to self-serve and be used to facilitate better relationships within communities.
We can see how progress is being made for councils with social media, but sadly, it all feels really late.
Those organisations with commercial objectives have scratched their heads, experimented, made mistakes but have been learning the value of social media and are moving forward to varying degrees in this new world.
For councils, if ever there was a need for a crash course in digital and content marketing to make up lost ground, this is the time.
Refer to Google Trends for search interest in any specific council and you’ll find on the whole a steady decline. Which – we suspect – means users are either up to speed on what the council is offering (at best) or have given up even bothering: hence the startup community offerings Dan references where, all kudos to them, the originators have probably thought ‘F*** it, lets’ do it ourselves’.
It’s of no value going over shoulda, woulda, coulda’s but at integrated communications agency, Embrace, we put our heads together to brainstorm what councils should really do at this juncture when it comes to social media and marketing communication strategy. We know it’s never that easy but this is our blue sky thinking:
1. Focus on the basics
There’s been a tendency with digital and social media for organisations to keep on chasing innovation before it beds down. Or setting up some social activity around one-off campaigns which a) isn’t the best use of time and b) doesn’t deliver analytics or insight for the organization as a whole.
It’s fair to say Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter aren’t going anywhere – and that even late adopters are getting to grips with at least a Google search.
For councils digital marketing plans, concentrating on getting your website up to speed and SEOed, creating a good portfolio of FAQs (textual and video) for dissemination together with basic set-up and management of the top social networks should ensure councils are at least in motion and on the first rung of the ladder.
2. Focus on core needs
Any basic topline keyword search will showcase what your community is naturally coming to you for and where to place your attention.
For example, if we were to look at key interest around Islington Council (where integrated communication agency) Embrace is based, you can unearth the following insights: Islington Council Tax – 1,900 searches a month; Islington Council Parking – 720 searches a month; Islington Council Planning – 480 searches a month… etc.
This at least gives councils a sense of the level of need and how much of that can be diverted away online from valuable human resource offline.
And of course, a spin through Google Trends – or even just a dash of some common sense – will also allow you to plan when you may need extra bandwidth to manage user need, eg, winter weather as we’ve witnessed recently means more hands on deck are inevitably necessary.
3. Tear up the rulebook
Digital and social media communications cut through all aspects of council work. And users don’t care about how you’re organized internally – they just want what they want, sorted out.
Budgets and departments need to adapt to this new way of the world. Other organisations have realized/are realizing they need to adapt and that digital is now at the heart of what they do.
Just look at how banks have morphed to accommodate the changes going on.
4. Invest in external resource
Innovation rarely comes from within where history, politics and fear of change is inevitably the over-riding culture. Nowhere is this more true than for organisations like councils who have no research and development culture.
The world’s leading organisations are successful because they buy in people with skills they don’t have internally.
The new business model puts content marketing at the core of what it does and builds on that. Are there any lessons councils can learn from these leaders?
5. Invest in brand
Admittedly, to the wider world this is probably the most outrageous suggestion and council branding may be deemed a luxury when there are cuts being made and jobs lost.
But in the long run, it requires little investment, just more TLC to achieve a lot.
It’s common sense: How is anyone supposed to care about you or have respect for your organization, if you have low self-worth? Broken links on website, lack of cohesion across messaging, poor customer service all denote you’re an organization not worth bothering with.
The original blog piece was written by Howard Wilmot for This Is Embrace.