Councils turn their back on social media

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It was only two years ago when David Cameron said he wasn’t on Twitter because he thought too many tweets “might make a twat”. How things have changed. Westminster has moved with the times and embraced a variety of social media platforms, with Number 10 now having its own pages on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Many MPs have their own Twitter sites – Labour MP Tom Watson has over 16,000 followers – and use these to engage with the public in a way that wasn’t possible before. At long last, social media is now a key part of the political process, as it gets the politicians out of their ivory towers and more in touch with the electorate.

But it’s come to light that local government isn’t quite so up-to-speed. In an article for The Guardian, Wayne Gibbins – a communications and partnerships director – said that 90 per cent of local authorities have restricted employee access to social media sites. On top of that, nearly two-thirds of councils have blocked its use completely – it’s something that’d be unthinkable in other workplaces.

He used the example of Wigan Council as a model for others to follow. It recently set up Facebook and Twitter accounts and, as information then became more readily available, the council saw a 94 per cent drop in calls to its call centre.

Bob Neill, an MP from the Department of Communities and Local Government, has also contacted councils to encourage them to use blogs and social networking platforms to get “local news stories to a wider audience.” With an argument like this, surely local councils can’t avoid using social media any longer?

Banning access to social media platforms sends out a message that it’s viewed with suspicion and isn’t trusted – a view so backward-looking that it leaves many of us shaking our heads. Local authorities need to understand that social media isn’t something to be avoided and that it will help them communicate with the public in a cost-effective way.

Social media would be a quick and effective way for councils to keep us informed of relevant news and information. If big brands and central government can use it successfully, surely our local authorities can do too?