Almost all municipalities in the United Kingdom (UK) and the Netherlands are using social media. Research in the Netherlands however, shows that social media is, above all, a toy of the communications department. It is little used professionally, and therefore not all possibilities are being used. How do UK cities use social media? Compared to each other, the sort of city and to Dutch cities? This study shows that cities in the UK use social media similar as their neighbors in the Netherlands: we’ve only just begun.
In July 2013 a questionnaire was send to all 435 cities in the UK. Of these cities 183 have completed the questionnaire (42%). As a result we have a good idea of how cities in the UK use social media.
In the UK there are different types of cities: districts, counties, Unitaries, Metropolitan boroughs, London Boroughs and the London greater city. When we split the responses by type of city, we see the following breakdown:
|Type of city||Reacted||Percentage|
Social media are primarily used to broadcast information in the UK
In the UK, as in the Netherlands, Twitter and Facebook are unrivaled: 99% of the cities has a Twitter account (Netherlands: 96%) and 91% have a Facebook account (Netherlands: 72%). YouTube is in third place with 66%.
Notable in comparison with the Netherlands is the low use of Linkedin: on average 31% of the cities use this channel, compared to 53% in the Netherlands. Only Metropolitan Boroughs seem to use Linkedin more: 56% of them are using this channel. The high use of photo site Flickr is also noticeable: 54% indicates that they use this channel. In the Netherlands this percentage lies between 5 and 10%.
Looking at the differences between the types of cities, we see that Counties, on average, make little use of Facebook (80%), but lots of Pinterest (40% versus 9% on average). Next to Linkedin Metropolitan Boroughs also make extensive use of Youtube (94%) .
As in the Netherlands, social media are mainly used to inform residents: 90% of the cities indicate that they use there channels a lot for this reason. On second place with 63% is “interaction with residents” and in third place with 62% “to listen”. If we compare this with the Netherlands, we note that cities in the UK have been using social media more for interaction.
When we look at the differences between types of cities, we see that counties use social media primarily to answer questions (90%). London boroughs use sociale media, on average, more to listen. The London greater authority and Unitaries use social media more than average to not to respond to press releases.
Social media will be used more
Most of the cities in the UK, as in the Netherlands, predicate that they use social media more than last year (91%, Netherlands 96%). They also plan to use these channels even more in 2014 (88%, Netherlands 97%). The question is whether they will use the channels that they have now, or open even more channels and use them in the same way. Or: more channels used the same, versus the same channels used more (and better)?
Districts predicate more than average they use social media at the same level as compared to 2012 and will stay using social media at the same level in 2014 too.
Cities score themselves an average of 6.1 (on a 10 point scale) for the use of their social media channels. This is slightly lower than Dutch cities (6.3). Most cities score themselves a 7 (33%). All London Boroughs score themselves a 6 or a 7, but the greater London authority scored itself a nice 10.
Social media: a hobby of the communication department
On average 94% of the communication departments use social media. At the same time 81% of the cities in the UK state that the communication department is responsible for the use of social media. This percentage is 10% higher than in the Netherlands.
Comparing the use of social media, we see that councilors score much lower than the communication departments (69%). Specific projects are in third place with a score of 56%. Mayors and management score the lowest with 19%, customer services score just slightly higher (26%). These numbers are consistent with the use of social media in the Netherlands.
Like in the Netherlands, customer service departments in the UK have little to say. Only 1% is responsible for social media and 8% of the cities predicate they are responsible together with the communications department. This is remarkable because research in the Netherlands shows that 70% of the questions asked through social media, are simple service questions, which a customer service department should be able to answer easily.
As in the Netherlands the management is not (or hardly) involved in social media. Just 19% of the management make use of social media and in 1% of the cities the management is responsible for social media. These figures are similar to Netherlands. Exceptions are the London Boroughs: 17% indicates that their management is responsible for social media.
When we look at the differences in types of cities, we see that 100% of the councilors in London (greater authority and boroughs) use social media. Compared to the average score the management (38%) and customer service (56%) have a high score at the Metropolitan boroughs. The Metropolitan boroughs indicate also that at 19% of the cities customer service along with communication is responsible for communication. That is more than twice the average.
Department of sports scores
When we take a look at individual departments, we can conclude that departments in the UK generally make less use of social media. The department with the highest score is the sports department: 39%. Environment (35 %) and youth (28%) are at place two and three. Parking (7%), social care (9%) and education (12%) make the least use of social media. The fact that the departments of social affairs makes the least use of social media is a bit striking, because in those departments there are many opportunities when it comes to participation through social media. In the Netherlands many questions are asked about traffic and public space. These departments aren’t really using social media yet in the UK.
|Departments (% makes use of social media) UK and Netherlands|
When we look at the differences between the types of cities, we see that there are many differences in the usage of sociale media in departments. Especially the Metropolitan boroughs stand out in many areas, communication more on average through social media. Departments within Unitaries also make, on average, more use of social media.
|Department||Counties||Districts||London Boroughs||Metro-politan boroughs||London gr. Auth.||Unitaries||On average|
How are the cities organized?
Almost 64% of the cities indicated that they have an internal guidelines for employees. Exceptions are the counties, where 90% say they have internal guidelines.
Less than half of the cities have a social media strategy (45%). About a third is developing a strategy. Exceptions are the London Boroughs: 83% already has a strategy developed.
Half of the cities has a webcare team (49%) and about the other half, 45%, doesn’t. Again counties are an exception: 70% of the counties has a webcare team .
Cities inform there residents about there social media channels primarily through the website (93%) and during specific projects (75%). The traditional (local) newspaper also is popular: 65%. Residents aren’t yet actively approached personally (15%) and slightly more than half of the cities indicated that they work with a fixed hashtag (52%). London Boroughs communicate a lot through local newspapers and during specific projects (both 100%). Counties also make extensive use of social media during projects (90%). Metropolitan boroughs once again make, more than average, use of hashtags (81%) and they also approach people personally more than average (31%).
Social media is used by many, but not many use it well
This conclusion was given as additional comment by one of the respondents. Many municipalities are present on social media in the UK. At the same time there is, according to the same respondent, little interaction.
In the UK social media is largely managed by the communications department, just as in the Netherlands. Other similarities with the Netherlands are the lag of management and customer service departments.
Although a lot of cities just started using social media, we can already see two things:
Being present on social media is not enough. In other words: you can start channels, but there should happen something as well in order to create communities with what you can communicate. And this should not and can not be limited to the broadcasting of information, but interaction must come first.
Social media should be part of the organization. In other words: a lot of people now communicate via social media, including your employees. We must teach them what is possible and what is not, so that not only the communications department knows how social media works. Cities should primarily lay the responsibility with customer service. And that is not weird, because they already have the answers to all the questions that come through all other channels. Communication can then do more meaningful things, like making analyzes and educating colleagues. More facilitating than orchestrating.
Many cities state that “online” is the future and that they should be improving the online presence. The question is: how are cities going to do that? Are they going to embed social media in the organization, or will it stay a hobby of the communication department?
Before the rising sun, we fly
So many roads to choose
We start out walking and learn to run
And yes we’ve just begun
Carpenters – We’ve only just begun