Luke Blair: Councils should follow Twitterthon example

So another public body - this time Tameside Borough Council - has turned to social media to reach out to its customers.

Luke Blair: Councils should follow Tameside's example
Luke Blair: Councils should follow Tameside's example

Inspired by Manchester police putting on Twitter all incidents dealt with over a 24-hour period last October, around 60 staff at Tameside started tweeting what they were up to from midnight last Wednesday. ‘It is important in these austere times that residents appreciate what we do, so they can better judge the value of services we offer,’ said councillor John Taylor, and who can disagree with that?

Okay so a lot of the tweets were rather mundane – ‘blowing up balloons for Carers Week’ and ‘Sean has just finished cutting and edging off Droylsden bowling green’ were among my favourites in this category. Others begged misinterpretation – ‘large snapped limb hanging down over public walkway’ and ‘residential home now treated for ants and kitchen re opened just in time for lunch’ for example.

And then there was just the day-to-day grittiness of urban life – e.g. ‘had to arrange for police on this funeral – family dispute issues’ and ‘need to chat with Lee and come up ideas on best way to tackle a couple of issues within our toilets’.

Whatever the content, one had to admit it seemed a refreshingly unedited warts-and-all taste of Tameside, part of the 24-hour ‘Twitterthon’ becoming quite an established practice, usually as a profile or fund raising exercise or other campaign tool.

I’d be interested to know the costs involved, how much hassle it was setting the system up, and how difficult it was to control. Spoof sites are also a risk, especially where significant public bodies are involved, and of course suddenly increasing the number of your followers tenfold can cause twitter to have a fit – Manchester police were ‘twitjailed’ temporarily.

But as a relatively straightforward exercise in openness, community relations, and harnessing the Internet for exactly what it was built to do, it is hard to fault the tweetathon as a vehicle for public bodies. Other councils – particularly in London should follow Tameside’s example.  

In the era of Pickled council publications, this is surely the perfect cost-effective way of telling anyone who really wants to know exactly what their council tax is being spent on. Manchester Police certainly seemed to have been pleased with the results, declaring the whole exercise a triumph for transparency and positive PR for the force.  

I have to admit I am not a great twitter adopter at an individual level. I just can’t believe my day-to-day life (or for that matter, most other people on Twitter) is that interesting for anyone else to pore over in such detail.

But perhaps the real strength and future potential of twitter is as a corporate window onto the daily life of organisations who want to be totally transparent about all the things they are doing for their customers, whether those things are interesting, banal, or rather gritty. I do hope Lee in Tameside managed to sort out those toilet issues.

Luke Blair is a drector at London Communications Agency.

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