How a local council uses social media for community engagement

In Learnings: Among the presentations that appealed to me at the PRINZ Conference  held recently in Rotorua was the one by Jason Dawson (GM, Community Relations, Northland Regional Council). Jason who is himself quite active on social media talked about using this platform to provide a ‘human’ voice to the organisation’s corporate messages. 

The best part was that he was quite unlike the ‘let’s live our entire lives online’ speakers who seem to miss the importance of building the online-offline connection. Jason instead talked about how organisations could use social media for community relations without burning their energies and pockets. 

Jason Dawson, GM Community Relations, Northland Regional Council

Here’s an extended interview with Jason for some tips on how you could leverage online tools for engaging with your communities, even when you think you don’t have the resources.

Northland Regional Council uses Twitter to extend its reach  

Live streaming tweets from our monthly council meetings has enabled us to open up our democratic processes and reach audiences who do not normally participate in civic issues. We were the first council in New Zealand to offer this service. It was a very cheap option over web-streaming a meeting. Also with declining media representation at council meetings, it’s important we provide other opportunities for our citizens to stay informed outside of the traditional media channels.

The importance of having a social media policy

I think it’s imperative to have a social media/social networking policy to avoid or manage organisational reputation risk. 

It’s easier to educate your staff on the ‘dos and don’ts’ of social media through a clear policy and supporting guidelines, rather than try to resolve or reduce the impact of an escalating negative issue once it goes online. 

 Some key aspects include: 

  • Definite it: what social media tools are covered, who your policy applies to and how you can use it.
  • Guiding principles: include ‘principles’ or basic rules of engagement on social media (such as transparency of who you work for, giving credit, being respectful, polite and professional, etc).
  • ‘No go’ zones: be specific about what is off-limits such as confidential information, staff issues or commercially sensitive matters.
  • Link to relevant policies: provide linkages and align to your current company policies such as code of conduct, media, acceptable use of technology, copyright and privacy, customer service, etc

What about monitoring social media conversations?  

Remember, your customers are already using social media networks to talk about you, so by not keeping a tab on what they’re saying can really put your organisational reputation at risk. There is plenty of freeware available online to help you monitor conversations, so lack of budget is no excuse.

On dealing with negative feedback/comments online…  

If by responding you may enflame the situation, it’s probably best to let someone else respond (like one of your external brand champions or stakeholders) or just let sleeping dogs lie. However, if the negative posts begin to grow and you feel that by responding you’re clarifying incorrect information or acknowledging a mistake/error, you should post a response. Remember, everyone is entitled to have their say and voice their opinion.

Don’t have the time or resources to leverage social media? Read on…  

You can use social media whatever the size of your organisation and make it fit to your needs. For example, for SMEs you do not need to have a dedicated full-time social media resource. Instead you can manage it in 10-15 minutes per day based on the following recommendations: 

  • Take one platform at time: if you want to dip your toe in the social media world, just start with Twitter or Facebook first. Get to know the platform, its functionality, its culture and the vibe of your followers before you launch another platform. By trying to be on every platform too quickly will use up a lot of time and resources.
  • Alternate between platforms: don’t try and be everywhere on a daily basis – engage on Twitter one day, then Facebook the next. It keeps your time more manageable.
  • Focus on 1-2 actions per day: Be practical with your time and set manageable expectations with your followers that suit you. 

Related Resources:

Northland Regional Council’s Twitter policy for followers: 

Website: Association of Local Government Information Management  on use of social media in local government

Database: Social Media Governance – the online database of social media policies across various organisations. This list includes BBC, PRSA, CIPR, IBM, Ogilvy, Porter Novelli, US Navy, WOMMA and Yahoo! among others. 

Presentation: Social Media Monitoring Tools – An Overview on Slideshare by Stefan Betzold (Germany)

Jason Dawson is General Manager – Community Relations at the Northland Regional Council and manages the Council’s online, communications, events, education and customer service teams. Jason is also on the Executive Board for the Association of Local Government Information Management (ALGIM), Maritime New Zealand’s National Response Team (Media) for oil spills, is Northland Civil Defence’s Public Information Manager and leads the communications for Northland’s Rugby World Cup campaign.


One thought on “How a local council uses social media for community engagement

  1. Pingback: Can organisations spy on their employees via social media? | Our Wired World

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