Local Government Chronicle
15 August 2014
With 1.75 billion, out of a world population of around seven billion, actively using social media, businesses and service providers have an opportunity to secure huge amounts of valuable information to drive improvements in what they do.
In the private sector, businesses are trawling Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and thousands of blogs to help open up lucrative business opportunities by detecting subtle changes in consumer behaviour. You may not know it, but the films showing in your local cinema, the number of screens and their scheduling is heavily influenced by understanding social media in order to predict UK demand.
Local government too has reacted to the growth in social media usage, with 73% of councils having a Facebook presence and 84% operating a Twitter account. However, unlike their private sector counterparts, most councils use social media merely to push out messages. This means they are not engaging users and making the most of the rich and accessible ‘social intelligence’ it provides.
Securing that intelligence could help them predict behaviour and that could provide them with highly valuable ways to understand and manage demand. However, this is not an easy task, due to the sheer volume of material that is available and the need to understand the context of comments, which can have very different meanings depending on how they are said and by whom. The interpretation of the material on social media is critical.
Some local authorities, however, are making progress in this area. Hounslow LBC recently used social intelligence to supplement its traditional approach to community engagement. Over a six-month period, the council found that 79,935 conversations on social media related to the borough, equating to a daily average of 438 conversations, including on average 420 conversations per month that specifically mentioned the council.
Using social intelligence, the council was able to glean valuable intelligence on highways, for example ‘hotspots’ in the borough where traffic calming and repairs were causing issues.
It was also able to gather data on council tax – in relation to arrears and billing – and customer services – opening hours at specific locations, letter response times and performance of call centre services – from people whose views would not otherwise been captured.
By monitoring and responding to social media traffic in this way a council is can enhance its commitment to providing quality services and responding to complaints.
David Rees, head of local government services, PA Consulting Group
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