The Belfast Telegraph ran a stats-based news story that gained traction this week with the headline “Revealed: Belfast City Council spends over £116,000 updating Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts.”
The public were outraged, the council were forced on to the defensive, Communications people up and down this small land… snored. Not literally of course, we barely get time to eat on the job let alone sleep.
We snored because this isn’t news to us. I would bet my next pay cheque that not one of us is able to complete a piece of work these days, be it client or in-house delivered, without providing social media content, if not setting up entirely new community channels. It’s a huge part of our job. Therefore, it represents a large chunk of our salaries.
Was I surprised to learn that in a Council serving our capital city and its 641,000 citizens, 3 people manage Facebook, Twitter and YouTube between them (among their other duties)?
Was I surprised to learn that it could take said employees a significant chunk of time to create content, manage comments and complaints and reply to private messages on their channels which have some 43,000 followers collectively?
I was surprised, however, to see so many people outside the industry act surprised. OK, not everyone is online, but for a majority of young to middle-aged folk, Facebook alone must eat up the guts of a few hours each day. This is how people connect, it’s how they spread messages (be they motivational or hatred-filled), it’s how they digest their news and how they stay in touch with family and friends.
My Mum runs her personal business completely online, via Facebook. My friends book their hair and beauty appointments by messaging the salon on Facebook. My brother complains about a company’s shipping time by mentioning them on Twitter. My boss found out when her Christmas bin collection was because she followed the Council on Twitter.
We may desire that companies and organisations we engage with do so online, but most of us expect and demand it of our local government services.
The Taxpayer’s Alliance of course fuelled the fire saying “town halls should focus on keeping council tax low, not wasting it on barely followed Twitter accounts.” However @BelfastCC is followed by 25,600 people - almost a tenth of the city’s population. I don’t see how this constitutes “barely followed.”
The fact is, communicating with this many people about the plethora of services and projects a council manages is no mean feat. Most PROs will know how easy it would be to spend our entire day covering social media, and we would still miss a hundred tweets of news while we nip out to the loo. This is why it requires strategy and planning. And it is essential that the people running the channels are skilled and experienced. They are, after all, low-to-middle rate employees who are basically given free reign to speak on behalf of an entire organisation.
It’s a responsibility that isn’t taken lightly and considering it’s a round-the-clock job which we monitor in the evenings, on holidays and sometimes in the middle of the night (during a crisis) it’s a role that shouldn’t be reimbursed lightly either.