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Wednesday
Aug012012

how a cloud burst took facebook by storm

What works on social media is good content. Sometimes that content isn't about key messages and campaigns as almost 13,000 Facebook likes on a weather storm clip in Wolverhampton shows.

by Tim Clark

I was out on a site visit recently and at one point was using my smartphone to update some pictures to the council’s social media sites.

A non-communications colleague who had accompanied me quipped: “It must be nice having a job where you can mess about on Facebook all day!”

It got me thinking. She was right on one level, it is pretty amazing being paid to use new and evolving technologies to communicate instantly with thousands of people every day. However, she was wrong to suggest – even if in jest – that we are just “messing about." 

I would be the first to admit that here in Wolverhampton we were quite late arriving at the social media party. Our Twitter account was launched in August 2010, with Facebook site and YouTube channel arriving in November 2011. However, I think we’ve made up for lost time.

We now take our new media work as seriously as our traditional media work and are constantly looking to develop our sites to make the content that populates them more engaging, informative and enjoyable for our followers.

There is no better way to demonstrate this than a video I recently posted onto our Facebook site Wolverhampton Today which became our most popular ever post by far – both in terms of how many people viewed it and the level of engagement with it.

The clip showed the steps outside St Peter’s Church in the city centre after they had been turned into an impromptu waterfall following a torrential rain storm. It was just 16 seconds of footage, shot on my phone under the cover of my trusty umbrella as I ventured out into the deluge.

The waterfall clip can be viewed here.

I decided to head outside after first seeing the ‘waterfall’ from the office window. It was an impressive site and in six years working here I had never witnessed anything like it. As a former journo, instincts took over and I figured that if something out of the ordinary was happening it would be worth sharing it. It was a spur of the moment, gut reaction thing. Not planned, not thought up in a meeting or devised as part of a strategy.

I’m extremely glad that I did it. As soon as I’d uploaded onto Wolverhampton Today it immediately started to generate ‘likes’, comments and shares. The response was unprecedented and so far it has been viewed a total of 18,292 times and 6,345 of those viewers were engaged users (meaning they liked, shared or commented on it).

The video was not designed to promote the work of the council. There was nothing on it to indicate that it had any connection with the council. People may question what then was the point of posting it, how did it help us to fulfil our departmental aim of enhancing the reputation of the authority?

The bottom line, I believe, is that if you want your social media sites to make an impact for the right reasons, you have to give people a reason to come and look at you. It sounds simple and it is. Content really is king.

I think there is a danger that we can over-theorise how social media channels should best be used. Ultimately there is a simple truth that we would be wise not to forget – people react best to posts which are of the moment, give a sense of shared experience, surprise them, excite them, delight them or even simply inform them about something they find useful.

In other words, do everything you possibly can never to bore them.

Wolverhampton Today – which is only eight months old – is the second largest council Facebook site in the country with 12,864 likes at the time of writing.

A recent post on Comms2point0 by Dan Harris rightly argued that it was wrong to simply strive for more and more likes on Facebook. He eloquently made the case that it was better to have a smaller reach, but to be more engaged with those followers.

I would argue that we should aim to have a big reach combined with big engagement. While posts like the waterfall might be considered one-offs, they do go to show that we ex journos still know a thing or two about how to get people talking – even if the channels we are use to do that these days are changing.

I was always taught that if you could imagine people talking about something down the pub, it was a story. In the case of the waterfall vid, people love the weather. News will always be news, whatever the channel.

Tim Clark is a corporate communications officer for Wolverhampton City Council. You can reach him at Tim.Clark@wolverhampton.gov.uk.

Picture credit.

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