Social media like Facebook and Twitter are no longer water-cooler topics of discussion whose use and reach is to be debated. Like iPhones or Taylor Swift’s music career, social media are now globally used communication tools which are well and truly here to stay. And that is a fact which is having implications in the most unexpected of places – like local councils across the state of Queensland.
A quiet revolution is occurring within local government, with innovation fast becoming the watchword of a sector stamping its own unique slant on use of social media to showcase and communicate its work to a broad audience. Increasing numbers of councils and elected members are taking to social media platforms in order to directly communicate to their constituents and advocate for issues in their region formally relegated to the pages of the local daily. The richness and diversity of issues tackled and discussed by councils and councillors online is a reflection of the depth and breadth of Queensland.
Most recently, the Council of Mayors SEQ joined forces in a social media campaign to encourage Queenslanders to ‘Give a Beep’ about the Bruce Highway, registering their ‘Beep’ in an online petition to convince Federal candidates to commit to funding transport upgrades. Shortly after, we saw the Bruce Highway become a central policy piece for the Federal Opposition, with Tony Abbott pledging $6.7 billion dollars for the upgrade if elected.
Redland City Council has recently launched a Our Redlands – a website delivering community information with an integrated social media hub. Brisbane City Council responds to feedback, complaints and online comment logged via Twitter in the blink of an eye. Boulia Mayor Rick Britton is something of a Twitter fiend, posting updates about everything from meetings with State Ministers to pictures of daybreak in the outback. We’re currently tracking 52 Queensland Elected Members who use the platform, each in their own unique way.
As a member-driven association, the LGAQ prides itself on building a leadership reputation. In the case of social media, this means growing our social media base, integrating it into our everyday communications and using it as a way to promote and profile the work of Queensland councils.
We’re most active on Twitter. We’ve just hit 1800 followers, and in three months have grown our base by almost 45%. Each day, LGAQ sends out anywhere between 10 – 40 tweets, depending on what’s happening in local government land. Bucking what has become an accepted trend in many organisations – shutting down social media use by employees, Big Bother style – LGAQ is preparing to run a series of staff workshops encouraging its staff to use Twitter as a medium to share and engage with the online local government and advocacy community. Our inspiration has been organisations like TNT and Google – and a little closer to home, the Queensland State Library – who embrace social networking and encourage an open and transparent policy amongst employees.
LGAQ is also working with councils in this space, running a Media and Communications Forum later this year designed to up-skill council communication officers and nominated employees in the use of social media as a communication tool. Senior Get-Up Campaigner Kelsey Cook will be joining us to share her experiences using online communication tools to harness grass-roots community support.
Ultimately in local government, as within many traditional organisations and sectors, barriers to social media use stem from a dichotomy between the instantaneous and autonomous nature of a medium like Twitter and the structured workplace environments most people are used to. If you feel compelled to get each of your 140 characters signed off by your boss, for instance, you’re going to have to rethink your Twitter strategy.
I’ve found the best organisations, councils and elected members and employees using social media as a professional networking platform treat it as an online extension of a professional personality. The best thing is, if you make a mistake or post something you shouldn’t – you can just as quickly clarify and respond to it!
Some argue a generational gap is responsible for reticence towards acceptance and use of social media as a professional as well as personal platform. Twitter have released some recent stats which suggest otherwise – it’s fastest growing age demographic is 55 to 64 year olds, registering an increase in active users of 79%.
As the level of government closest to the people, local government is well suited to use and adapt to social media communication platforms. Across the globe, there are inspiring and innovative examples of local government using social media to consult and communicate with their communities on an almost daily basis. Citizens in Columbia are discussing trends in urban living in an online project called ‘My Ideal City’. The Local Government Association in the UK last year launched a ‘Social Media Friendly Mark’ for use by councils across the country, offering suggestions for authorities on how best to publicise their dedication to social media.
We’re moving towards an era where the hallmark of a transparent and healthy democracy and public sector will be online openness and availability. As councils become increasingly tech and social media savvy, it will be communities who reap the rewards.
About the author: Samantha Dean