Social media forms part of your public image, which means that done right it can improve council reputation and build public trust. Of course, social media platforms also offer the council an opportunity to connect with residents and other stakeholders on their platform of choice – enabling two way communication opportunities, an ‘ear to the ground’ and (potentially) brand new audiences for your messages.
In a crisis, certain things become especially important. So, what does good social media look like during COVID-19?
- Establish a core team of people who are comfortable with doing social. Help each other out and make a rota for being “on call” so you can all take a break. Don’t hesitate to reach out to other colleagues in the sector, support is always available via
- Monitor: used in the right way, social media is another ear to the ground. Now is a good time to make social listening a part of your routine. If you use a social media management tool with listening capabilities – great. If not, make it a habit to check in on the chat in the community Facebook groups and monitor local key words on Twitter.
- Plan ahead, but don’t schedule posts in too far in advance. Flexibility is key. The news agenda might have slowed down since the first couple of weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, but it is still moving pretty fast and things can quickly become out of date or even seem insensitive.
- Have council accounts managed by non-communications colleagues? Every staff member who does social on behalf of the council should be up to speed on the latest messaging and priorities of the council. Make sure the communications team have the passwords for these channels.
- Map out your partners. Local charities, BIDs, community groups, council staff – lots organisations and people will be able to help you get your messages out to the right people. Ask them to share your messages to their followers where appropriate.
- Evaluate. In times of crisis it is easy to forget to evaluate, but setting up sensible objectives, regularly tracking your performance and letting it guide your future steps is still a crucial aspect of strategic social media. What content works well on which platform? Engagement, reach, comment sentiment, website visits? Can you measure ‘on the ground’ impacts?
Chances are you can find yourself a bit overwhelmed and inundated with requests to get information out. To be strategic is important. As such, your social content should be:
- In line with communications priorities. As mentioned above, this goes for all council affiliated accounts.
- Reliable. Council channels should be a trusted source of information. At the time when the UN has labelled the amount of misinformation surrounding coronavirus an ‘infodemic’, it has never been more important to be timely and correct. In this context it worth noting that relatively few people will click on links so make sure you have covered the most important aspects in the post itself.
- Responsive. Can you move the conversation on or help? Perhaps even counter misinformation? Signpost people to council webpages or other trusted sources if so.
- Adapted to platforms. Every platform has its own jargon, character limit and preferred image dimensions. Adapting the content for each is ideal, but sometimes there just isn’t time. If you follow the below criteria, the same post will look ok across the most popular council platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn):
- copy in plain English (rewrite copy if necessary)
- less than 280 characters
- 16:9 image dimension
- Engaging. A good social media post adds value to followers. This can look very different. The common denominator is usually content which is:
- Authentic. Keep your content as honest and human (without losing professionalism). It can be to celebrate an achievement or to relay a more serious message. Images and/or candid video messages from staff - who often are residents themselves - is often a good way of doing this. This video from Darren, working on the frontline in Nottingham is an excellent example and is nearing in on 50,000 views on Facebook alone.
- Unexpected. There are many different ways of presenting messaging, as this viral Twitter thread from Doncaster shows. There are of course many factors that play into what is appropriate at any given time, but if you know you are going to repeat the same core message over and over again, have a think about ways to mix it up.
Here’s how some councils have been using social media to connect with and keep their communities informed:
- Braintree District Council: COVID is no excuse for rubbish
As part of its ‘litter tosser’ campaign encouraging residents to dispose of their waste appropriately, the council has taken the opportunity to remind residents that COVID-19 is no excuse for being a ‘litter tosser.’ After noticing used face masks building up around the borough, the council used its social media platforms to remind residents that face coverings pose a huge threat to animals, marine habitats and humans, and to encourage the responsible disposal of face coverings. The creative post was the council's best-performing to date, with the Facebook post alone reaching over one million people and 89,000 engagements.
- Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council collaborate with local celebs
BCP Council has been working with a number of celebrities with connections to the area to video messages encouraging residents to stay at home – with the team creating another way to spread an established message. So far celebrities including Harry Redknapp, and Simon Francis, Captain of Premier League AFC Bournemouth have joined in.
- Wandsworth Council radio phone-in
Wandsworth Council Leader Ravi Govindia took part in a phone-in session with the council’s local radio station, speaking to listeners about the measures Wandsworth is taking to support vulnerable residents, local businesses and the borough's voluntary sector. The council’s communications team has recorded a video Cllr Govindia’s phone-in and repurposed it for its social media channels, giving residents a clear and succinct update on the local response to Covid-19.
- Camden Council – how you can help council key workers
Many council front-line services require key workers to be out in public. The same social distancing rules apply to everyone, and it’s important that residents remember that includes key workers. Kenny, a Camden estate caretaker, explains in a short social media video, how we can all keep key workers, and ourselves, safe.
- Essex County Council – local stats to encourage social distancing
Essex County Council is sharing local traffic statistics on social media to encourage residents to do more to adhere to Government guidelines. The council has been sharing the change in the number of drivers on the road to encourage residents to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.
- North East Lincolnshire teams up with Grimsby Town football
North East Lincolnshire Council teamed with its local Grimsby Town players and their manager Ian Holloway to do some personal videos for social media on social distancing and how residents can stay safe while we work to limit the spread of Covid-19. They were also part of an open letter from the area’s leaders to residents on what they should and shouldn’t do to keep themselves and others safe.
Stoke on Trent City Council has facilitated the creation of a virtual rainbow trail across the city. The #SoTRainbows hashtag has been shared widely across social media by residents and organisations alike, with people using it to share positive messages and support for each other.
- Hertfordshire County Council mental health infographic
Whilst most of us are consumed with thoughts about our, and others, physical health, it’s increasingly important that we continue to look after our mental health and wellbeing. Hertfordshire County Council has created a useful infographic that brings together the current impacts of coronavirus on mental health.
- Reigate and Banstead social media brings more donations
Reigate and Banstead Borough Council has transformed its closed theatre into a community support centre to distribute food, medicines and essential supplies to vulnerable residents. The council shared its endeavours on Twitter and Facebook, receiving very high engagement on its posts, which in turn encouraged more residents to donate essential items and to support the council’s community support initiative. Collaboration has been key to the council being able to organise so effectively, with Heads of Wellbeing and Intervention, Community Partnerships and their teams, alongside volunteer co-ordination with our local volunteer bureau, mapping community needs and support, stakeholder engagement and help information for their website.
- Islington Council’s social distancing animation
To many, social distancing remains quite an abstract concept. Whilst it’s easy when you’re inside your home, it can be harder to know how we can make sure we’re following social distancing guidelines when you leave the house to exercise outdoors or to shop for good. Islington Council has created an animation that brilliantly explains just what two metres looks like in these situations.
- Twitter timeline for UK authorities
Twitter has created a live Timeline of Tweets with information and advice from UK authorities including the Prime Minister, First Ministers, NHS and public health authorities.
- Barking and Dagenham daily video briefings
Barking and Dagenham Council is sharing direct-to-camera daily video briefings on COVID-19 – all in 140 seconds or less. Echoing the Prime Minister’s daily briefing, Leader Councillor Darren Rodwell, often joined by the council’s Director of Public Health, gives an update on the local situation as well as the local response to COVID-19, and the latest developments in national policy that may affect residents.
- Essex County Council
Essex County Council is using its twitter feed to keep residents updated on local responses to national COVID-19 developments. It serves as a clear point of reference for residents who will want to know how they might be affected by national policy changes, and their council’s action. Essex is using the pinned tweet feature to ensure residents are brought the council’s most recent response in a way that is direct and timely.
- Doncaster Council: stay at home
Doncaster Council has used its social media accounts to hammer home a simple message: stay at home. Tapping into the popular #StayAtHomeSaveLives hashtag, Doncaster are finding engaging and creative ways to encourage local residents to follow Government guidance and stay at home during the COVID-19 outbreak. Asking their residents to share their heroic actions (is it housework? binge-watching your favourite tv show?) or sharing popular memes is helping residents to understand what the council wants them to do – stay at home!
- Working together: COVID-19 specific accounts
Several councils have started to separate their social media presence to include coronavirus-specific accounts. Doing this can be an effective way to work with partners and to ensure that stakeholders are hearing one clear message. Liverpool City Council is working with Liverpool CCG, Public Health North West and NHS North West on the Liverpool Coronavirus Official twitter account to keep residents up to date with national guidance, the local response and, to coordinate their community support.