Council tweetathon 'success' - though second to Harry's haircut
The latest local government "Tweetathon" exercise - last week's "OurDay" exercise promoted by the Local Government Association - was pronounced a success after more than 10,000 Tweets were posted nationally by around 4,000 councillors and local authority staff.
The 24 hour event, using the hashtag #OurDay, reached more than 760,000 people, according to the organisers, with the #OurDay hashtag at one point becoming the number two trending topic on Twitter in the UK.
UKAuthority.com has established that the number one trending topic at the time was in fact #OneDirection, as discussion raged about the voluminous haircut of the boy band's singer Harry Styles (sic). "It was difficult to compete with that", admitted Local Government Association spokesperson Dale Atkinson - "a double blow for me, as a balding man. But overall, we were really pleased with the day, a great success."
As with all these kinds of exercises run by individual councils, public bodies or nationally in the past (see for example the Scottish Tweetathon "#whatwedo" held a year ago http://www.ukauthority.com/NewsArticle/tabid/64/Default.aspx?id=3346) one of the most powerful impressions projected was the sheer breadth and scale of service that councils provide, and the ways they interact with people's lives.
This "day in the life" is encapsulated by a "storify" image and Twitter collection created from the day by Michelle Rea, Online Knowledge Officer at the Local Government Association (http://storify.com/mick_rea/ourday-27-sept-2012) and tells a proud and compelling tale of treetrunks fished out of rivers, dogs returned to owners and high streets restored to vibrant life.
However might it be the case that there can only be a certain number of times that these kinds of exercises will work in this way?
Since the event, online discussion by those who took part has confirmed that the Tweetathon was successful in showing residents and also other staff the range of service a council provides. However other comments included that Twitter is not a good channel for handling more complex queries to a council from the public; that comparatively low numbers (well below 1%) of people are viewing this kind of material; and that such days should not be a one-off, but part of a wider ongoing plan.
To help with the latter, the Local Government Association launched "a new way to alert residents to the fact they have embraced social media", in the shape of a national "Social Media Friendly Mark" - a logo which can be affixed to websites, papers for meetings, communications with residents and anything else to show a local authority's commitment to social media communication and reporting.
This will not help in some areas where council staff are still not allowed access to social media from their workplace, however - another issue highlighted in recent online discussion. Some councillors may be facing a struggle to tweet, as well.
Although MPs are now allowed to Tweet from the Commons chamber and many councils also allow Tweeting, it is up to each authority to lay down meeting rules, and a ban by the community council Clevedon Town Council on councillors tweeting from council meetings led to a protest this week by local public engagement action group the Bristol Democracy Project.
Observers of meetings are now protected: in early September a law came into force requiring local authorities to provide reasonable facilities for members of the public to report the proceedings of council meetings as they happen, including through blogging, tweeting and live videoing (see: http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/newsroom/2204300).
Cleveland Town council has now appeared to back down, too: this week council clarified that the rule was simply that councillors were not allowed to use mobile phones during meetings, a rule that was still in place.
Members of the public who had their phones or mobile devices in silent mode can " tweet away to their hearts' content" from meetings, the council's clerk Paula Heath told a local website - though the row seems set to rumble on, with some councillors complaining of alleged rule changes and double standards.
It's all in a day of local government.
Social Media Friendly Mark: http://bit.ly/SMFMLGA
Bristol Democracy Project: http://www.bristol-democracy.org