Brighton and Hove City Council has defended its plans to appoint a social media officer as part of a strategy of engaging more closely with residents.
The seaside city - where 50 per cent of residents are online - is believed to be one of the first councils to create a role specifically targeted at social media.
The hunt for a temporary six-month appointment earning up to £28,353 a year was branded insensitive by one opposition councillor who pointed to City Clean workers who are facing a pay cut of up to £8,000.
But Brighton & Hove City Council head of corporate comms John Shewell defended the move: 'This links into our comms strategy. It is about improving the reputation of councils. It is based on the idea of really strong community involvement, and being able to start conversations with people that matter.'
He added that council comms departments were still 'some way off' from using social media properly, compared with the private sector.
Green Party councillor Ben Duncan told Brighton paper The Argus: 'This will rankle with people facing pay cuts and unemployment.'
The council is currently undergoing an audit of its residents' usage of the internet, which will reveal which sites they visit, what they talk about when they go there and with whom they have the conversations.
Shewell suggested that once the audit was completed and the social media officer appointed, they might even be able to conduct public consultations and campaigns online, using existing communities.
London Borough of Hillingdon head of corporate comms David Holdstock, who is also LG Communications' chair, said: 'More and more social media sites are being used as a comms tool and a way of delivering services. People will go on social media sites to find out where, for instance, parks are in their area. Councils that are on the ball are using that to respond to people. It can be used as a way of delivering services. But it has got to be part of a strategic approach to comms.'
Camden Council corporate comms manager Ashley Wilcox said: 'We have been using social media successfully for some time and are currently upscaling our use to ensure our messages are reaching residents. We are looking at ways of developing all our comms staff to use social media effectively as part of the general comms mix.'
HOW I SEE IT - WILL MCINNES, MD, NIXON MCINNES
Most organisations are trying to find ways to exploit the way they harness social media. I do not think it is just about getting one person, sticking them in a corner and saying they are a social media expert. But having a specialist does have its virtues.
More citizens are spending more time online. Most local councils are spending way too much of their money where citizens are not. But it is also about value for money. Councils are gearing up for budget cuts. There is an opportunity to get better value for money by going where the people are, and not wasting money on printed material that is not read.