What a difference a day made

This month saw our first ever large scale experiment in the use of Twitter to share public information and improve communications.

The 24 hour Twitter challenge began on 10th September at 7am and ended the following morning at erm 7am….24 hours later.

The aims of the challenge were:

  • To raise the profile of the highways service and its range of services on a “typical day” and to increase awareness and following leading up to winter.
  • To understand the skills development, capacity and resources required to manage social media activity within a service
  • To also promote alternative ways to contact the council using the internet

Firstly, I should point out that we are certainly not the first public sector organisation to run a 24 hour Tweet experiment. Perhaps the first was Greater Manchester Police who tweeted every 999 and non-emergency call received over the period, Walsall Council shared day to day tasks their officers face and several authorities across the country took part in #Ourday sharing some of the stories across Local Government.

Yes I'm using the hashtag #OurDay

Whilst this was not a new concept nationally, it provided a new opportunity for staff who otherwise weren’t normally involved with social media to join in and apply their particular skills to the challenge.

You can view the full Storify timeline of the day but I thought i’d also share some of the highlights.

I was going to use this blog post to talk about how successful the day was by analysing statistics like:

  • Over 200 Tweets sent during the day (around 8 per hour) from officers located at County Hall and out of the road.
  • Over 150,000 impressions of our @DevonRoads account. Up from an initial 5,000 (www.tweetreach.com)
  • A 30% increase in our followers during the day and a 50% increase to date.

However, I’d like to talk about some of the other effects the Tweet-a-thon had, specifically empowering some of our staff to take a look at what Twitter can offer and how they could apply it to their services in a practical way.

During most of the Twitter challenge we were joined in the Highway Operations Control Centre by it’s manager Hugh. As part of his job, Hugh monitors incoming highway network issues (e.g. congestion, potholes, blocked drains and fallen trees) reported either online or through the Customer Service Centre. The 24 hour challenge provided the perfect platform to train Hugh and his team how to use Twitter. You can see his first tweet of the day below:

No blog post would be complete without a Top 5 of some sort. So here is my Top 6 lessons learned from the day:

  1. Trusting people isn’t always easy but it certainly is empowering – Hugh is just one example of a skilled professional who is familiar with managing risk looking to utilise other communications channels to share useful information about his work. In the past he would have to pass his messages onto a member of the Digital Communications Team who would then send it out as a Tweet.
  2. We can’t become those things we hate if we want to move forward – This might be ok if we’re only receiving a few messages a week that aren’t time dependant, but if there are several messages a day where the issue is real time then we’re potentially causing a disruptive bottle neck. And if there’s one thing we don’t like in Digital Comms it’s bottle necks, well that and IE6, oh and our CMS crashing. Let’s just say bottle necks are in our top 3.
  3. releasing control is quite scary but also liberating for everyone – by releasing some control and in it’s place provide training, support and guidance we’ve enabled someone to enter a new digital space and start engaging with a new audience. And what’s really great the sky hasn’t fallen in and the world hasn’t come to an end.
  4. We need to adapt or die – I feel this is the future of our role, to become facilitators/enablers and those who monitor and maintain standards and leave the communicating to those who have the answers.
  5. Technology can work if you think outside the box…a few ipads, wifi and decent mobile devices lets you create and tell great stories
  6. Every part of the council has a story to tell – who would have thought that roads could have been so interesting and generated as much buzz as it did on a pretty slow Monday and Tuesday in September.

It’s still early days but there is a lot of positive energy in the air and I feel that we have turned a corner and begun to open some eyes to the possibilities of using new technology and digital tools.

All it took was 24 little hours.



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