Social Scrutiny

Scrutiny

What, you may ask, is Huw Lloyd Jones thinking about in writing a blog that focuses mainly on the use of social media? Surely someone who is beginning to catch glimpses of the paradise of retirement through the mist must have something better to do with his time?

You may be right! I’ve been a Linked-In user for a while but I confess that, until recently, I’ve used it as an older person’s equivalent of an autograph book. My attempts to open a Facebook account were met, within seconds, by an avalanche of horrified texts between my grown-up children (though not addressed to me), followed soon after by an unequivocal Facebook Ban from my wife. ‘You’ll get yourself into trouble’, she said.

Huw Lloyd-Jones

So, when the Wales Audit Office decided to encourage its staff to use social media, I thought to myself, ‘Leave it to the youngsters’ (and the trendy-but-not-so-young)! When I saw that a session at a staff training day was devoted to Twitter, I was sceptical. But I duly turned up, listened and asked a few questions. What impressed me most, perhaps, was that, in practising our rudimentary skills, we got an instant (and witty) response from an only-just-ex Welsh Government Minister! I guess that this alerted me straight away to the influential power of social media!

To cut a long story short, as an open-minded (aka gullible) trainee, I signed up to Twitter. In doing so, I managed to delete everything on my Blackberry, but I got there in the end! I have no interest in what celebrities had for breakfast so I decided to focus mainly on following:

  • the six councils I work with; and
  • education stuff.

So what have I learned as a result of my ‘experiment’? First of all, a couple of generalities for anyone else who’s thinking about opening a Twitter account:

  • Even if you only follow a small number of other Twitter users, you could spend all day every day looking at what comes in. Get yourself something like Hootsuite that allows you to sort your incoming Tweets into different categories. It’s not like email – you can afford to miss lots of ‘messages’ because, if they’re important, someone will Retweet them.
  • You don’t need to send lots of Tweets. I’ve made some horrendous gaffes (particular apologies to @Snowded and @whatsthepont as well as anyone else I may have offended). Think carefully about how your not-so-carefully constructed 140 characters will appear to others before you light the blue touch paper and send the Tweet!

What about ‘my’ six councils? It was quite an eye-opener in terms of the differences between them in the way that they’re using Twitter. As an auditor, you’d expect me to introduce some data somewhere, so here are the ‘basic’ Twitter statistics for the six councils at the time of writing:

Council

Tweets

Following

Followers

A

1197

0

2735

B

2046

14

3402

C

6992

174

6597

D

3156

31

4097

E

1783

182

1646

F

6586

3078

5273

So what? I guess that the number of tweets reflects, to some extent, the length of time that the council has been using Twitter. Also, tweeting in both languages adds to the count (and engages more people, too). It’s interesting that the number of followers seems to match quite closely the number of tweets!

What caught my attention, though, was the number of other Twitter users that each council follows. Following lots of people and organisations means that you receive hundreds of tweets every day – time consuming, and possibly of little benefit! On the other hand, if you follow very few others, the only tweets you receive are those directed specifically to you. You miss out on what your partners are up to and on what the media and influential individuals and groups within the community have to say.

The variation in the type of information that councils tweet has also been fascinating. Some tend to tweet information about vacancies and things like unexpected school closures. Others use Twitter to proclaim good news stories and to advertise events that they are running, usually via links to the council’s website. Those that follow their partners often retweet information about their work. In my area, for example, the police make great use of Twitter and those councils that follow the police can significantly increase the audience for police tweets by passing on the message, as well as reinforcing the fact that the council and the police are working together closely.

Just one council so far has used Twitter to advertise an ongoing consultation – just think how many more people now know that the consultation is ‘live’ compared with the numbers that might have stumbled upon the information via the website! And another council has begun to hold ‘Twitter surgeries’ where Cabinet members respond to tweets from members of the public about their areas of responsibility. There hasn’t been a great response thus far, but what a great idea in terms of engaging with the public in a forum that’s open to anyone who’s interested!

Tweeting information about forthcoming committee meetings happens only rarely and inconsistently. Our recent work on scrutiny across Wales has identified that most councils feel that they could engage more effectively with the public in the way in which they hold decision-makers to account. Why not, therefore, take the opportunity to tell all those followers about meetings that will focus on important issues? Even better, why not use Twitter beforehand to allow people to express their views and to gauge public opinion? The potential is huge!

So, to quote an oft-used phrase, What’s the PONT?

  • You’re never too old to use social media, but think before you Tweet!
  • Councils vary hugely in the extent of their Twitter engagement and the nature of what they tweet.
  • The potential of social media such as Twitter to engage with the public is huge.
  • Councils’ scrutiny functions, in particular, could make much more use of social media to engage with the public and to reflect their views when holding decision-makers to account.

- Huw

2 thoughts on “Social Scrutiny

  1. Pingback: Musings of a Twitter Toddler | Good Practice Exchange at The Wales Audit Office

  2. Pingback: People that are close, places faraway | weeklyblogclub

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