Too soon to drop Twitter?

You’ll remember back in 2016 when the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke (where personal data belonging to millions of Facebook users was collected without their consent) and sparked the #DeleteFacebook movement. Many left the platform in protest only to join Instagram instead, which is also owned by Facebook (now known as Meta).

More recently, whistleblower leaks from former Facebook employee Francis Haugen showed the company failed to combat misinformation and abuse causing more negative headlines and similar #DeleteFacebook protests. Reported user numbers fell for the first time in 2022 and while it remains to be seen whether this trend will continue Facebook continues to be a huge platform.

But what about Twitter?

It’s tough because the way Elon Musk has gone about ‘managing’ his new workforce is widely seen as awful and that goes against the grain for many of us. And mistakes have been made early in his tenure – from the switch to paid for verified accounts causing a rise in bogus accounts, through to a public vote on whether Donald Trump should be allowed back onto the platform – have been reputationally damaging for Twitter. I can’t imagine advertisers are currently approaching Twitter with too much optimism either and this could lead to further problems.

However, important conversations and engagements take place all across local government and with our residents and businesses each day on Twitter.

I’ve reviewed more than one thousand council social media accounts and at their best they perform as important information channels and helpful customer services outlets.

So, here are four reasons why I believe councils should remain on Twitter:

1. Twitter is still powerful and punches above its weight

Around 19 million of us are registered users in the UK, putting us fifth in the world for user numbers.

Twitter is the breaking news channel of social media. The media are there, our politicians are there, and opinion formers (and opinion shouters) are there. If a big news story lands it will break very quickly on social media and generally Twitter first. The past six years of politics in the UK have at times made the platform a compulsive ride.

Councils like Doncaster have used Twitter brilliantly to tell their story and in the process set a gold standard for the public sector. The team know from their own evaluation they have a national audience on Twitter to promote both the council and the area. And their more resident-facing engagement takes place on Facebook. They understand the differences in the platforms and use them accordingly.

2. We have communities and networks on Twitter

We have built networks and communities on Twitter not easily replicated elsewhere. Yes, some Twitter users have moved to Mastodon but it’s a totally different platform and the worldwide user numbers are tiny in comparison. It isn’t going to challenge Twitter on any level playing ground. Other platforms may emerge to do this, of course – so watch this space for new developments.

The truth is no one single platform will do everything we need in terms of giving us the opportunity to talk with and engage with residents, businesses and communities. A multi-layered approach is called for – that’s always been the case and I suspect it always will be.

3. Twitter is the customer services channel on social media

Councils have built large followings on social media including Twitter, which has become part of the customer services landscape whether we like it or not. Leeds City Council were a forerunner here and launched dedicated Twitter (and Facebook) customer services channels over a decade ago. This has contributed towards reduced call volumes which in turn can represent a financial and time saving for pressed contact centre teams.

4. The conversations will just go on without us

Whether councils are present or not conversations about them and their services will continue to flow on Twitter. We need to be in that space or else vacuums will appear and both misinformation and disinformation will go unchallenged.

I always think of social media as shifting sands. It’s ever-changing – nothing stands still or is assured a future. The emergence of TikTok in the past three years is a brilliant example of how new platforms can emerge and get serious traction. Even LinkedIn has had a renaissance over the past couple of years – if your audience is there it can offer excellent engagement opportunities.

We need to play a waiting game. Councils’ comms and customer services teams have invested huge amounts of time, energy and creativity into establishing strong social media accounts to add to telephone, web and email contact options. We shouldn’t throw this away quickly. Equally we can’t assume that everything will stay the same.

Maybe Musk will get bored of Twitter soon enough and move onto his next project anyway.

Darren Caveney is owner and creator of comms2point0 and Creative Communicators Ltd and a former head of communications in local government. @darrencaveney @comms2point0

NB: This article was originally published in the MJ on 7 December 2022.

Should my council quit Twitter?

Lots of LGcomms members have been asking about Twitter and what they should do following its recent takeover and the changes this has prompted – particularly whether they should transfer their content to other platforms, like Mastodon.

Social media expert and trainer Helen Reynolds has provided the following advice for LGcomms members:

“Now is a good time to analyse what Twitter is (or has been) doing for your organisation. We can’t predict what platforms will live or die, but we can spend our comms energy wisely.

“Ask yourself the following questions: have you built a community of people who engage with your work on Twitter? If so, do you know who they are and why they follow you? What do you do on Twitter that’s different from what you do elsewhere?”

“If the answer is ‘not much’, then transferring to over to another platform like Mastodon may be a waste of time. You might just be putting a whole load of stuff that people don’t want to see or hear into another place. 

“However, if you have clear answers to these questions, they should steer you in the right direction later. There’s no need to hurry. 

“It’s impossible to know what will happen with Twitter or any other platform in the future, so concentrate on your strategy – who you want to talk to, what you want to say and how you build trust and community.”

Zander Mills is Corporate Communication Manager at South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue, and Vice Chair of LGcomms


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