25 May 2023
by Michael Stringer

How can local government get better at social media? (Guest blog by Orlo/Surrey County Council)

Guest blog by Michael Stringer, Assistant Director of Communications at Surrey County Council #LPSInnovation

Michael Stringer, Assistant Director of Communications at Surrey County Council shares how social media can promote better engagement and customer service with citizens.

The debate over whether local government should use social media is long over. Almost all UK local authorities now have a presence on Facebook and Twitter. But are we making the most out of social media platforms?

Many local authorities don’t have dedicated social media teams and the responsibility for handling inbound messages is often split between the comms and customer services teams.

It takes quite a significant amount of thinking to bring the two elements together and it’s often been difficult, taking up too much time and resource to merge these services. Councils can certainly become better at combining the two so there is better synergy, taking the lead from some organisations that are further along the road, for example, the police force.

There is already good practice in place, with the councils offering customer service responses on Twitter and Facebook, even as far back as 10 years ago. Demand on comms teams is higher than it has ever been with increased expectations post-pandemic, and incoming messages on social media channels are only adding to that. Customer services teams are also constantly under pressure.

Snowball effect

Being responsive on social channels has a snowball effect. By encouraging more people to use social media channels to interact with their local authority, this naturally drives more efficiencies by preventing calls into contact centres. However, as more people shift to digital channels, the number of enquiries in that space increases, so teams need to have the skills and training to be equipped to handle these.

Watershed moment

Since Covid, there has been an increased realisation in the public sector of the importance of social media channels to disseminate information and better serve our communities. The pandemic was a watershed moment and gave us the opportunity to demonstrate the value of comms to senior leaders in local government and how effective good comms can be. However, with that has come an increased expectation of what can be achieved through social media channels post Covid.

With this increased pressure, comms teams need to be more efficient as the expectations of their outcomes have grown. We’ve been working with public sector social media management experts, Orlo, to help us better utilise our digital channels to increase our engagement.

Better experience

Over the past few years, there continues to be an increase in inbound enquiries via social media channels and there is no sign of this trend reaching a plateau.

With the cost-of-living crisis, it is usually seen by citizens as a cheaper channel to communicate with councils rather than picking up the phone. Similarly, with tightened budgets for local authorities across the board, it is more cost efficient for councils to serve the public on digital channels rather than via call centres.

A digital channel is more convenient, especially if it isn’t so urgent and fits in with the lifestyle of the user who can contact us at any time of the day, when it suits them. It also enables people with different abilities, including citizens who are neurodivergent, to more easily contact their local authority for information. The challenge with so many social channels to manage is being adept to picking up and responding to all the messages that are coming through to the council.

Social media has become a much bigger part of people’s lives so it is important that local government embraces this shift in behaviour and can respond with effective and meaningful social media comms campaigns that closely integrate with their customer services and provide the best communication with their citizens.

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Michael Stringer

Michael Stringer

Assistant Director of Communications, Surrey County Council