Dark nights, cold and frosty mornings – it's finally winter and the chance for every council comms team to prove their worth.
Decent communications during spells of bad weather is not fancy work, and it's not complicated. But it's the stuff that matters to local people; we're all obsessed with the weather, we hate our daily routine to be disrupted and if bungling bureaucrats make the problems worse by not telling us what's going on in our neighbourhood when the blizzards bite, it's a recipe for everyone to complain.
So a big hooray, then, for social media – in all its forms – which is proving to be brilliant in giving people what they want when the temperatures plummet. In Coventry we used Facebook to tell parents (and their kids) that their school was closed when the snow fell and added 10,000 followers in a fortnight. Last night we told our 3,300 followers on Twitter that the gritters would be out in freezing temperatures, and were retweeted to thousands more in a few minutes. We're using a hashtag (#wmgrit), which most West Midlands councils are also using when their gritters are out so drivers across the region can see the state of play on the Midlands roads. Easy, simple and cheap communications that does the trick.
We sometimes get asked if it's luck that's seen us get more than 20,000 Facebook followers. But giving people the information they need (the roads are icy, your school is closed) when they need it (late at night, early in the morning) somewhere where they're likely to see it (Facebook, Twitter) isn't lucky, or even opportunistic, it's just what we do, and what we should be doing more of. Get the bad weather information right on social media…. and then aim to reap the benefits when the snow melts, the days get longer and it's spring again.