About ten years ago, give or take a year, the New Local Government Network produced a booklet which aimed to demystify the still very new world of social media for councillors and officers.
It was called “Going Where the Eyeballs Are”. I ghost-wrote an essay for the then Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, Jill Tuck, which was included within it.
At that point, Cambs CC was experimenting within the world of what used to be called hyperlocal, developing our own network of local web platforms for communities to populate with content (It was called Shape My Place, and was successful for a number of years before, basically, Facebook took over that world).
In the ever-morphing world of social, going where the eyeballs are still resonates as a particularly sage bit of advice, but one that, regrettably, some councils still don’t heed.
Take Essex County Council. Our corporate Facebook account has 13,750 or so followers.
But if you added up the followership of all our local, town-based Facebook groups, you’d soon top 200,000.
Why, then, do so many councils slavishly focus their attention on placing content within corporate channels which are far less effective than those run by local people, for local people?
The answer is, it’s easier. But if we want to be effective, we need to stop doing easy.
Co-producing content with FB Admins - we have 16 power admins in Essex - gets results. It’s harder work to establish relationships, but it delivers. In South Woodham Ferrers, not far from Chelmsford, there are more members of the Facebook group than people who actually live in the town. Working with the admin there led to over 200 people in the local community being trained to spot the signs of poor mental health/illness and what to do next.
Next up, our power admins will be leading work across Essex on combating social isolation - a campaign called United in Kind - deliberately designed to exploit the reach and extent of online local networks.
This is pay dirt. Campaigns not measured in terms of reach, but in terms of those reached. In terms of lives saved. In terms of tragedies avoided. It might be a few years before the full effects are felt - public health-centred campaigns frequently burn slowly before showing results - but it’s worth the candle in terms of the outcomes.
At this year’s LG Comms conference, Essex will be show-casing and leading a discussion on this work, along with a power admin involved in it, and Facebook themselves, because the role of groups within communities is a central part of their strategy. I’m looking forward to eyeballing you all there.
Andy Allsopp is Head of Communications and Marketing at Essex County Council