Public Services Start To Embrace Social Media

Public services are beginning to find uses for Twitter and other social media formats to improve their image

Brighton and Hove City Council and the Greater Manchester Police are both using social media to throw a new light on their services.

Social Media Is Citizens’ Medium

At the Society of Information Technology Management annual meeting (Socitm 2010), John Barradell, chief executive of Brighton and Hove City Council, said that the role of the CIO will be key in breaking down the barrier between government and the tax payer.

He sees social media as playing a central role in this and the council has controversially appointed a full-time social media officer for a six month trial period. In a time of cuts, Barradell sees the new officer’s role as an essential channel to the city’s voters.

“Not someone who simply broadcasts press releases from the communications department, or issues missives from the council,” he said, “but someone who converses, involves, interests and is part that that digital community.”

He added that issues like replacing broken street lights can be addressed efficiently without the need to pick up a phone or fill in a form.

Bobbies On The Tweet

In Manchester, whoever broke the street lamp could find themselves tweeted about by the arresting police officer. For a 24-hour period, police officers used Twitter as a live diary of their daily endeavours.

The initiative was taken to show how essential the police service is in the Greater Manchester area. The hope being that when the local budget cuts are made it will help ring-fence the local force from serious financial damage.

It proved so popular with the officers that new Twitter channels had to be created to cope with demand. Unfortunately, pranksters copied the tweeting format and started posting their own “police” messages.

So it was that Call 034 reported that the Gallagher brothers (of rock band Oasis) had been “approached on suspicion of stealing the Beatles’ back catalogue”.

Truth is always stranger than fiction, however, and an actual police tweet said, “Report of man holding baby over bridge – police immediately attended and it was man carrying dog that doesn’t like bridges.”

Exploiting of digital channels

Back in September, a report by Econsultancy claimed that better services could be provided if the UK government made more use of digital channels and embedded the culture within civil service thinking.

The report stated that many areas of government have made excellent progress using their own websites as well as social media channels, such as Twitter and YouTube, to broadcast information. However, “Most digital engagement is still reactive to events and requests rather than proactive,” according to independent government adviser Tom Raggett, who wrote the report.

“To some extent this represents a lack of awareness of digital engagement options and a reluctance to use them sufficiently early in policy and communications planning,” he said.