After eight years at UK councils, Matt Murray took up the challenge of transforming an Australian council’s digital strategy.

In eight years working for councils in the West Midlands, I was never asked to photograph a koala or invited to watch a scheduled bushland burn. It’s fair to say that there’s never a dull moment in my digital communications role at Redland city council in South-East Queensland.

Redland city borders Australia’s largest local government region, Brisbane city, and is home to 145,000 people living in bayside suburbs and on six islands in Moreton Bay.

When I started work here in the summer of 2012, we decided our aim was to become a leader in digital communications. The first thing we improved was the quality and quantity of content posted on our social media sites.

A colleague started the #RedlandLocal segment, encouraging people to tag photos of the Redlands using our hashtag. Once a week we feature those images on Facebook. Over 400 photos have been tagged so far. These images give us a real insight into what people love and value about the Redlands.

As a history lover, I started a new segment using historic images to show the role we play in local history. Most Fridays we post a photo from our local history library collection on Facebook, asking people to guess the year and the suburb. Many interesting conversations and memories about the photos are posted by the public.

Introducing regular segments saw our interaction on Facebook increase. However, it was our posts during severe weather events that made the biggest impact on our follower numbers.

On the Australia Day long weekend in late January 2013, ex-tropical cyclone Oswald slammed into South-East Queensland causing widespread damage, power cuts and flash flooding.

Our regular posts updating residents and visitors on our response to the severe weather events won praise from the community and the media. We logged dozens of incidents during this time via Facebook and Twitter – mostly fallen trees and flooded roads – but we also helped reunite an owner with his two dogs.

More of our residents are turning to social media to lodge customer requests. These range from reporting a light out on the jetty to reporting a missed bin or pothole.

In February we launched our first WordPress site for news and media releases following the lead of UK councils Birmingham and Liverpool and closer to home, Queensland police.

The advantages of using WordPress as a news site are many. The site can be updated anywhere instantly by our team, it’s mobile friendly, and being hosted externally means that it won’t be affected if our corporate website goes down.

The news site is integrated into our corporate website in two main ways – through an RSS feed on the home page and through the search.

The news site is used not only for media releases, but also for content such as our eight-part Weed of the Week feature written by a communications officer in conjunction with our bushcare staff. More blogs about worm farms, composting and garden design are planned following our upcoming good gardening workshops.

This week we launched our second WordPress site, Our Redlands – a digital companion site to the print edition of our new quarterly magazine and report. I built and customised the site in WordPress using an off-the-shelf theme in about a week. Feedback so far has been very positive.

Integrated into the Our Redlands site is a social hub – a single page that brings together all of our social media posts. The social hub software is incredibly versatile – we are using another instance of it on a Facebook tab for our #RedlandLocal photos.

Yet another instance of it brings together social media from our partners ready to be used in an emergency situation – kind of a local version of Queensland Alert.

I’m continually being inspired by innovative uses of social media from around the world. Brisbane city, for example just used a YouTube video to explain whether you need development approval to open a cafe.

I’ve no idea how we are progressing with our aim of becoming a leader in digital communications, but like many things in life, it’s the journey that is most important.

This article first appeared on The Guardian Local Leaders Network on 30 July 2013.

About the author: Matt Murray

Matt Murray
Matt Murray

Matt Murray is Digital Communications Coordinator at Redland City Council in South East Queensland. His blogs have been published by comms2point0, American photo blog Keepsy and The Guardian.

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