How Well Is Your Local Council Using Twitter? (December 2013 update)

Scotland Flag with text Engagement?

In two blog posts dated July and October 2011, we examined the Twitter activities of Scottish Local Councils – see Scottish Local Councils Twitter Engagement and How well is your Local Council using Twitter?

The two papers showed that the majority of Local Councils (27 out of 32) were active on Twitter. However, most were still at the ‘testing the water’ stage using Twitter as a broadcast/PR channel rather than encouraging active engagement with local residents and businesses. The ‘mindset’ being adopted was summarized in the Twitter profile statement of one particular Council:

‘Thanks for your comments! Sorry we can’t reply directly. Information on council services can be found on our website at ……..’

In order to assess whether things have changed or not, we have updated our 2011 findings to cover the period up to the beginning of December 2013 – see link to the updated 2013 table at the end of this article. As in the October 2011 paper, we used Twtrland as the main data source.

Key points to note from the attached table are as follows:

  • All 32 Scottish Local Councils are now active on Twitter. The case of East Dunbartonshire remains interesting. For the research conducted in 2011, there was an ‘unofficial’ Twitter page at @EDCouncil. This contained a message to the Council that if ‘you wish to take over this account please message us using Twitter’. This is now an official Council page
  • There has been a massive increase in the number of people following Scottish Local Authority Twitter pages over the last two years – from 63,878 followers in October 2011 to 238,228 in early December 2013; an increase of 273%. The two largest Councils Glasgow (37,258) and Edinburgh (24,256) account for 26% of the total number of followers. However, this represents a decline from 34% in 2011 as other Councils have become more active (Glasgow – 11,972; Edinburgh – 7,206)
  • The 32 Councils have posted a total of 134,038 tweets. While this represents a substantial increase from October 2011 (a total of 32,485 tweets) it still only averages around 3 tweets per day per Council compared to 2.3 tweets per day in 2011
  • Significant variations exist in the volume of Twitter activity across different Councils – ranging from an average of 11 tweets per day (Fife) to less than one per day for Dundee, Inverclyde and Orkney. Twenty four of the 32 Scottish Councils tweet less than three times per day on average
  • One of the most interesting findings from the 2011 research was the breakdown by type of tweet posted. A full 86 per cent of all Council posts were ‘plain tweets’ or tweets with ‘links’ (mainly to Council specific information). By comparison, only 4 per cent of tweets were ‘replies’. In 17 councils, over 90 percent of all posts were ‘plain tweets or links’. This led us to conclude that Local Councils were using Twitter as a broadcast PR channel rather than for customer engagement
  • The 2013 results show little change in this respect. The proportion of ‘plain tweets’ or ‘tweets with links’ has fallen to 67%. However, this has been mainly due to the significant increase in the number of RTs by Local Councils which now account for 21% of the total number of tweets sent. Further examination shows that the majority of these RTs are of a broadcast or PR nature disseminating Council or Council related information. Eighty-eight per cent of all tweets sent by Scottish Local Authorities still fall within three main types – ‘plain tweet’, ‘tweet with link’ or ‘broadcast RT’. By contrast, only 9% of tweets are replies. This leads us to conclude that very little has changed since publication of our 2011 results
  • There are only four Councils where ‘replies’ account for more than 15% of all tweets sent – East Renfrewshire (31%), Edinburgh (25%), North Lanarkshire (17%) and the Scottish Borders (17%). In 19 Councils, ‘replies’ account for less than 10 per cent of all tweets sent. According to the data provided by Twtrland, Dundee holds the proud record of never having replied to a tweet. There is an interesting contrast between the two largest Councils. For Edinburgh, 25% of all tweets are ‘replies’. In Glasgow, this falls to just 4%.

Based on the new evidence presented above, covering the period up to early December 2013, we conclude that the majority of Local Councils in Scotland are still using Twitter as a broadcast/PR channel but not for customer engagement. This is a very disappointing finding especially given the massive increase in Twitter followers over the last two years.

Constantly connected customers (residents) now expect high levels of Social Customer Service. Social media in general, and Twitter in particular, is not a broadcast channel. First and foremost, it is a channel for listening to and engaging with your customers (residents), developing ‘actionable insights’ from the dialogue that takes place. For Local Councils, especially in an era of tight budgets, Twitter can be a very efficient use of public sector money, delivering enhanced customer service at low cost.

To achieve this Councils will need TO BECOME SOCIAL as well as DOING SOCIAL. The evidence presented here suggest that much progress still needs to be made before Councils in Scotland are leveraging the full potential of Twitter as a platform for customer engagement.

As usual, comments and feedback are very welcome. In particular, we would welcome comments from colleagues working in the public sector. What progress do you think has been made? What are the barriers that need to be overcome? In an era of tight public sector spending, would the more effective use of social media allow local councils to deliver more for less?

How well is your own Council doing? Put their twitter address into twtrland.com to find out.

Take care.

Jim and Vincent


Scottish Local Councils Twitter Use Dec 2013

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