An essential part of being a good councillor is knowing how and what to communicate with different audiences. The following broad principles can help you.
Listen as well as promote
As an elected representative it is important to let local people know what you have been doing, but it's equally important to listen to people and groups in your area, such as:
- local residents
- fellow councillors and officers
- local MPs
- your political party or group
- local organisations (businesses, voluntary and community sector, partners)
- the media
- community and faith leaders
Make the most of available help
Most councils have a communications team whose job it is to represent the council from a corporate point of view, reflecting the policy decisions made. By law, they are not allowed to write or send out press releases on behalf of individual councillors, but they can still help you to promote council work you have been involved with. If you think you have a newsworthy item, your communications team can advise you on how best to promote it.
Learn about the different communication channels
Find out what methods of communication are available to you and who their audience is (for example council and party websites, newsletters and magazines, e-newsletters, social media channels and focus groups). A good place to find out more about developing your approach to communications is: www.local.gov.uk/communications-support
Develop a positive relationship with the local media
Local journalists are always looking for good stories. By building and maintaining a positive relationship with the reporters in your area, you can establish yourself as a valuable and credible contact for news and comment.
Journalists you have built up trust with will often call you looking for tip-offs. Think about the stories you can offer – even if they are not necessarily council-related. If you have a story of interest, don't assume that issuing a press release will automatically do the job. Get to know the local media's deadlines and give reporters as much notice as possible.
Present a story
The best news stories are those that tell the TRUTH: Topical, Relevant, Unusual, Trouble or Human.
Remember that your greatest strength with the media is as a community leader. A local reporter may not be interested in a political press release, but they will take notice if you are campaigning on behalf of your residents on high-profile local issues.
Know your residents, relate to their concerns, understand their ambitions and be their champion. Work with local community groups. Often they will be involved in campaigns of interest to the media that can help boost your profile. And think pictures: if a story has an obvious visual angle involving local people, it is far more likely to be covered.
Meet people where they are – online and off-line
Good communications need not cost a lot, sometimes just the price of a coffee. You can:
- visit local meeting places – cafes, shops and markets
- write newsletters (on paper or email)
- hold events and meetings
- hold surgeries, either in person or online – provide opportunities for local people to ask questions or raise concerns (for example, you could use Skype to carry out some surgeries)
- use social media such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Make sure your content is accurate, informative, balanced and objective, and if in any doubt check your council's social media policy
- set up a basic website or blog.
Using social media
Councillors, officers and the council itself will use social media in distinct ways. However, there is a set of universal principles that are useful to keep in mind. (You can find out more in our Digital Councils section).
- Be human: be approachable in your language and tone; behave online as you would in person.
- Be engaging: respond to questions and join in when you can move the conversation on or help.
- Be professional: remember that you represent your council, so be aware of how your public voice comes across.
- Share and attribute: you can share what others have posted but it is polite to acknowledge and attribute where this has come from.
- Go to where your audience is: if the section of the population you want to connect with is on a particular platform, forum or group, join it.
- Content is king: by creating sharable and engaging content you can contribute to the conversation and be heard.
- Be authentic: don't pretend to be something you are not.
- Be strategic: plan ahead – who do you want to engage with, why and how? What do you want to achieve?
- The internet is forever: be aware that what you post now could be found in years to come