Actually, I struggled giving this post a title. I wanted to call it something like:
‘I wish local government communications people would stop self-aggrandising and give credit to their citizens instead’.
There was lots of snow in and around Birmingham on Friday (Jan 18). There was a time when the resultant unfolding narrative of school closures and rush hour traffic chaos used to be played out solely on local radio (oh how we used to gather round the radio praying for our school to be called out). Now we live in different times and not only are other media organisations able to publish updates but local councils can play a part by publishing updates on websites or via social media.
Unfortunately Birmingham City Council’s special website for disruption fell over on Friday morning so proved pretty useless. However, its twitter account (
952 followers up to 2754 followers by Jan 22) did a pretty good job of tweeting school closure news as they came in.
Local government communications people seem to like the snow. The idea to come up with a hashtag for gritting (#wmgrit) got them a write up in a SOCITM report, coverage in mainstream media and in a report on Innovation in West Midlands councils (PDF). “By following that hashtag, residents can now see instantly when their council is out working on a cold night gritting the roads to make sure the county keeps moving,” the report says.
But a recent write-up asking ‘what’s next’ for snow-related local government comms seems to sum up a particular problem within local authorities. That is, the assumption that their adeptness in using social media places them at the centre of our communications universe. The role of citizens in this narrative is to ‘complain’ or ‘have a pop’.
The opposite couldn’t be more true on Friday. A hyperlocal website close to where I live, B31 Voices, showed how citizens are more than able to make communications contributions in times of crises that are a world away from ‘having a pop’.
B31 is run by Sas and Marty Taylor who decided at the first sign of snow on 11 January to organise their communications around a hashtag: #B31Snowwatch. It came into its own on Friday 18th with Sas and Marty juggling getting their own kids ready for school whilst tweeting (2464 followers) and facebooking (2324 likes) school closure updates.
Their information sources were both official and unofficial. By the latter I mean that other parents were tweeting updates as well as schools themselves or the council. They stayed online throughout the day and evening, updating on where the buses were terminating and on traffic problems.
But if you stand back from the key coordinating role that Sas and Marty played in this then perhaps more impressive is the contribution of the citizens of south Birmingham. #B31Snowwatch is an exemplar of networked communications innovation and its contributors should lauded for the ways in which they kept south Birmingham moving and communicating in an emergency (well, as much of an ’emergency’ as a bit of snow is).
All I’m suggesting is that it would be nice if professional communicators gave examples like this more recognition.
The storify below covers tweets (not inc. retweets) from 11 Jan to 19 Jan 2013.