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a perfect viral storm

Once in a while a piece of brilliance comes along that deserves to be revered as a religious relic. Such a thing was Torfaen Council's YouTube clip of an Elvis impersonator singing a council gritting-related version of a classic. How did they do it? No, really. How did they do it?

by Neil Jones

Last week was not the first time I had sang a bad rendition of ‘in the depot’ across the office.  When colleagues in Neighbourhood Services need assistance it is often met with a warbled Elvis impersonation.

It was also not our first video parody. Our Christmas present to residents complete with key messages on gritting was a £1.85 remake using cotton wool and blu-tack of the £6million John Lewis Christmas ‘Power of Love’ blockbuster.  After 1,300 views (we were ecstatic) EMI removed it.

We have been switched on to the power of snow to grow social media networks from the day we launched the Torfaen (not council) facebook page at the start of the 2010 snow crisis. We’ve also paid twitter homage to #wmgrit with our own regional version #gwentgrit.

The public love nothing more than mass disruption of public services to remind them of our duties and where their council tax goes. School closures and missed bin collections are two key ingredients to make female residents aged 25-45 engage with their council.

Our challenge was to take a complex winter maintenance plan and make it simple.

Step 1. Call Elvis

Here’s a quick production timeline for our video:

15/01 – Snow was forecast for the end of the week. We knew we needed to move fast. Lyrics were written in two shakes of a shivering lamb’s tail. I contact my former colleague and local blogger Ben Black for a number.

16/01 – I phone Elvis.

17/01 – We meet for an hour (after work) in a backroom of a local pub to record the audio.

18/01 – We film Elvis for an hour on location and post a photo tease on our FB page.

21/01 – We edit video in a couple of hours, forget hang-ups on quality and synchronicity and post on Youtube.

And the result? ‘In the depot’ goes global using a simple, sticky message which ticked all the viral boxes.  People love discussing the weather, people love discussing snow, people love Elvis and people love having a laugh.  The final viral ingredients were a sprinkle of planning and perfect timing.

What happened next? - a place on the Youtube’s facebook page with their 66million followers and we start trending as the third most popular video on Youtube, just beneath Rita Ora and just above Call of Duty which gave me credence with my children.

From over a quarter of a million views from across the globe we’ve only received a few dislikes and a couple of FOI requests from media hoping there’s a story on cost.


Our FOI response is brief.  Elvis gave his time free of charge. The video was promoted on free council channels and free video sharing internet site Youtube.  The video was produced during a week which started just after at 5am each day and finished around midnight, for which our only reward is a warm social glow. So total cost? Zero!

Step 2 – Get the basics right.

It was vital to our online reputation not to rest on our laurels post Elvis. Here’s a few stats over just one week of winter weather:


  • Facebook - 226 posts, 4455 people commented, 7138 liked posts, 3421 shared posts, 58,899 unique people reached (up 851%), 2144 new followers, total likes 5342 (up 65%.)
  • Snow web page - updated 134 times, 20,090 unique visitors and 108,306 page views.
  • Twitter - 127 snow tweets – 2400 mentions and 300 new followers.
  • Daily messages to staff on Yammer, email and our Intranet (around 70% of staff are also residents)
  • Worked the traditional media channels and ensured the chief officer made her customary TV appearance.


In all the number crunching which has followed, the most important stat for us was the doubling our own Facebook followers.  It’s a sign of the times when we have more Facebook followers than readers of the Members favourite weekly.  We now have a route into several thousand pockets and homes in the borough. Even with missed bins and frozen side streets, residents perhaps have a changed perception of their council and the public voice has been overwhelmingly positive.

And for Elvis?  A week of national TV coverage, interviews on Sky TV, calls from Big Brother, 10,000 messages on his phone in two days and internet superstardom.

And for us? Just a guarantee from the King that ‘for one night only’ Elvis will perform at our free summer event for residents.  How corporate are we?

And what next? After catching our breath, our priority will be to maintain forward thrust and keep the audience engaged.  We may also have a little number planned for the summer!

Neil Jones is Head of Communications at Torfaen County Borough Council.

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Reader Comments (1)

Well done to you and yours, Neil - a nailed-on award-winner for sure.

In the era of £0 budgets across swathes of the public sector this is case study number one about the merits of thinking really creatively.

And you reminded a bunch of people that a bit of fun is allowed, sometimes, too.

Brilliant stuff


January 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterDarren Caveney

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