The recent #PSDigital conference gave a lot of food for thought around how public services use social media. Ben Black spoke at the event about his Cwmbran hyperlocal site, and I also had a chance to speak to him about how Cllr Giles Davies, the Mayor of Torfaen, is using it to connect with the community of Abersychan. If you want to see what’s happening in the area, check out the hashtag #AbersychanWard, which Cllr Davies has started.
Local v National
Cllr Davies was kind enough to discuss his approach with me, and one of his first points was that people are interested in what’s happening in the locality by their front door rather than national party political issues. It’s by covering issues in Abersychan that Cllr Davies has been able to successfully communicate with his community.
Due to the workload involved in managing social media accounts, Cllr Davies has chosen to focus on using Facebook and Twitter. People aged 16-85 have contacted Cllr Davies through Facebook, and Twitter has been helpful as posts are uploaded quicker. The local press follow him too so they share his activities through their channels.
Social media enables Cllr Davies to be responsive to things that are happening in his area. If a road is closed, Cllr Davies is able to quickly share where has been affected to his community as his phone is always in his pocket. It also enables him to be available at all hours and chat straight away, which is much more convenient for community members.
Online v Offline
Since taking to social media, Cllr Davies no longer runs traditional surgeries, which were poorly attended. This hasn’t stopped him from engaging offline though, as he walks through the borough and meets residents to discuss any issues they may have. He uses social media to tell people when and where he is should they want to talk to him, and also uses the WiFi at local businesses to interact, which means he can give publicity to them and meet members of the public there at the same time. By meeting people in cafes, he highlights his support for shopping local and keeping communities vibrant.
Cllr Davies’ use of social media helps him to communicate what his work involves, and to show that he is actively responding to people’s concerns. When he is contacted about an issue, Cllr Davies posts his email to the council about the matter on Facebook so that people can see that he is responding to what they’ve said.
Cllr Davies is also able to showcase the difference he’s making to the community by sharing his litter picking when he’s out walking. By responding to comments on the post, he’s also able to help people deal with waste management issues.
The transparency of Cllr Davies’ approach enables him to build trust with the community. He even published his expenses online and had a supportive response. He’s able to get feedback on ideas of things that might be able to help the community, like a Chamber of Trade, and even invite people to check whether his Draft Annual Report is accurate. It’s well worth reading the comments beneath the post to see how the community feels about him.
Overall I was blown away by how Cllr Davies is using social media. As someone who uses it myself I’ve always seen the potential for social media to change how elected members interact with people in their community. It’s fantastic to see how Cllr Davies is making the most of opportunities that social media has made available to better communicate with the people of Abersychan.