City of Lincoln Council and Social Media – Baby Steps to Change

First post of the new year! Hello all, hope you had a great one.

The influence for this post came from an email sent to me as City of Lincoln Council Web Co-ordinator by SocITM’s Helen Williams. She was asking what our approach, as an organisation, to social media was, how we were using it and who was involved. As I sat mulling this in preparation to respond I though I would share the tale of our social media strategy here as it may be of interest/use to readers of this blog.

Here we go…

As an organisation, the general approach to social media and its uses is to apply some forward thinking and embrace new technology, helping us increase our reach and engage with a larger channel in a setting that is familiar to them. We also see it as an efficient way to disseminate our content across these channels, in some instances taking advantage of the technology provided by those channels to add value to our website where development would otherwise be required. I think as a web bod in general that’s also my philosophy, to use existing web technology where appropriate to do a job; why reinvent the wheel when, say, YouTube is providing decent video hosting anyway?

So where did this start? Well, I’d say that the first tool we implemented was YouTube, sometime in late 2008. This was really out of necessity as our events team wanted a video hosting on our website. In the past, videos had simply been uploaded in whatever file format they were available in, meaning that the user had to download to watch them; to me this was simply not good enough. So, I proposed that we start a YouTube account and host the video there, allowing online streaming and embedding. At first there was some huffing and puffing regarding comments and the fact that YouTube dictated the “Related Videos” that appear next to your clip, but once I’d got consent I set the ball rolling.

The next big step for us was to move into a much more engaging channel – Twitter. I’d joined as an individual in 2008 and, on a personal level, it dramatically changed the way I viewed online engagement, networking, and the possibilities for the public sector. I could see other councils beginning to take their communications services into this channel and I new that this was something we needed to begin tapping into ourselves, lest we were left behind. I put together a proposal, proving that we could use this for communications and that it would not be abused by members of the public, ultimately getting the go ahead when the plan received comms team approval. We launched Twitter without too much fanfare, simply advertising it as another means of communication. It’s been fairly successful, used for two way communication and, through Dlvr.It, as a means of pushing our RSS alerts online. The best use of Twitter for us as an organisation, however, has to be for our 2009 Christmas Market; during this event, we set up the Lincoln Elf account, used to provide updates to marketgoers. This proved massively popular and our senior comms officer actually enjoyed using it as an engagement channel for the period of the market.

2010 in general saw more of a sea change in the way social media was perceived in the organisation. Instead of being a bit of an insidious channel where people could talk about us behind our backs, it was now a very real and valid way of bringing the discussion “to the people” as it were. We were now making use of Flickr for video hosting, including controls on our web pages to allow users to share content on their networks of choice and dabbling in using WordPress as a satellite site delivery platform that would allow us to engage with people through comments. Through 2010, we’ve also moved to give the Comms team more of an ownership over social media as a whole, especially by using tools such as CoTweet to manage our Twitter accounts, and by setting up a clear social media policy.

So what’s next? For us it’s about constantly and consistently monitoring and improving these systems and allowing them to compliment our primary website. It can sometimes be tough to maintain consistency but as more officers get on board it’s becoming easier.  I also look to other channels that we could tap into, such as Facebook and the recently emerging Quora to see how they could benefit us as an organisation. It’s a brave, constantly evolving world online so organisations need to make sure that they keep on top of new developments and emerging technologies.

Hopefully this is of some use to anyone looking at using these systems; if you want to talk in more detail, however please feel free to hit up the comments section or use the “Contact” link above.

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