Facebook for Local Government. It’s all been said hasn’t it?

Preface.

Just  like the article produced on Twitter here, this article on Facebook is not meant to be  a document which tells you all, or teaches you everything, about Facebook. It’s more an overview of what Facebook is, how to set it up for non personal use and to offer some suggestions as to how it can be used in local government .

Overview.
Just like Twitter, Facebook is meant to be  a communication tool.
Mark Zukerberg, the founder of Facebook says…

“The thing we are trying to do at Facebook, is just help people connect and communicate more efficiently.”

That’s a pretty important statement especially when you are talking about a Facebook market of some 750million users in July 2011. One in nine  people on the planet have a Facebook account. The market is simply vast.

In August 2010 Roy Wells, a commentator on Social media said…

7% of the worlds population is on FaceBook.”

But that doesn’t show an even distribution. You can see his break down of usage per country and many other interesting Facebook facts here.

“Yes, yes” I can hear you say. “It’s just kids!” That’s an understandable assumption, but you’d be wrong.

I’ll give you that 2010-2011 saw a 74% increase in the younger demographic age group of 18-24 but there was an increase  of 58.9% in the 55+ age group. The 18-34 age group provide 50% of the users in the UK. That’s a level of engagement that can’t be ignored.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal here, the growth in usage of Facebook by the older generation is discussed. The article is worth a look, even though it talks about the American market, but you all know where America goes we tend to follow, so it’s a fair assumption the percentages shown in this article will be appropriate to the UK  too at some time in the (near) future.

Just how much is Facebook used? 
In March 2010 Facebook overtook Google as the most used web site in the USA.  And it’s the 2nd most used web site in the world. Facebook, its usage and its users is/are ubiquitous*.

* There are places where Facebook doesn’t exist in quite the same way. The author’s daughter is currently working in China and bemoans the lack of any access to Facebook.

Facebook UK

  • As of April 2011 there were 30,168,260 users
  • The gender usage is nearly 50/50.
  • The average user has 130 friends – so news travels fast.
  • The age demographic is as per this pie chart.

Once again, just like Twitter, you can see that by excluding yourself and your information from Facebook you are excluding a huge information channel.

Enough!
OK, OK… enough facts and percentages! However, whichever way you look at it, the use of Facebook is widespread, mind boggling in fact. It’s no use being luddite. Local government officers need to use this channel of communication because their clients are. Simple.

Starting off a commercial (non-personal) Facebook  site.

Syncing with the lingo.

Before we go further; the use of peculiar language on Facebook is the biggest block to understanding what to do and what to expect. “Add as a friend” “like” “profiles” “fans” all have meanings that are slightly out of kilter with those of the average UK based  conservative ( note the small c)  user. I don’t want ‘fans’ but that’s what the follower of a page is called. It’s a bit cloying but you’ll just have to live with it.

If you want more information and clarity, at this link you will find a glossary of terms in common use on Facebook.

Onwards…

How do you get started?

There is a difference between you as a Joe public user and how a commercial users (business or local authority) use Facebook.

Commercial users – and that’s what we are aiming to be here – use ‘pages’ and not ‘profiles’. What’s the difference?

A profile – a Joe public piece of content for non commercial users:

  • will have details at the top like “lives in” and “from” and “born”.

Clearly those epithets don’t apply to a local government site because local government is not a person. It’s an entity.

  • And you will be able to add a profile as a “friend”
    A commercial entity should not use a personal profile.  It is not allowed by Facebook but, that said,  it’s an easy mistake to make.

A Page – a commercial (none personal) piece of content.

  • Will have none of the personal details of a profile and you will be able to “like” that page.
  • Pages have limited access to user profiles.
  • With Pages you can update your status (these will be your posts)  which will then appear in the newsfeeds of  “fans” who have chosen to be so.
  • With Pages you can adjust the settings to allow fans to write on the page wall or not.
  • With Pages you can alter the look and feel of the page, using apps, to be more in line with your corporate ID.

How do you construct a Page?

  1. Go to facebook.com
  2. Underneath the “sign up” green button you will see “Create a Page for a celebrity, band or business”. Click on that link.
  3. You’ll be presented with a series of icons defining your business type. Choose one.
  4. You’ll probably choose “Company, organization or institution”. Complete the required information.
  5. You’ll then be asked to create a Facebook account or choose to use your current one.
  6. Go through the required process  – confirmation e-mails etc -and get to your site.
  7. On the left of your page you will get the basic apps like wall, info, etc

What now?

The basic set up of the page is a little boring so you’ll want to make it look at little more interesting.

  • The first task is to create an additional landing page.
  • The landing page can be more strongly branded using a third party app like those available from Involver.com, pagemodo.com or set it up in iframes if you have some techie support.  I used pagemodo.
    It was very simple, though of course there are some limitations.
  • Call the landing page “welcome” or something similar.
  • If you want people to click on from that landing page you should have some sort of “call to action” (where you want the viewer to do something) like click here to enter a competition or to get a free down load or whatever you wish. You can of course change the content of the landing page when you wish to align with any new campaigns you run.

You’ll now want to adjust the settings to manage permissions, use block lists to block things you may feel you should, set the default landing tab – this is where you use the landing page you’ve created – thus when people come  to your site afresh they will see the zappy little  landing page you’ve made.

You may also like to take a look at the resources section, the apps and the help centre. All interesting and useful stuff and available as tabs or navigation items in your Facebook page.

OK. You have your page, you’ve set the landing page, you’ve adjusted your settings what now?

You first need to get 25 likes. That should be easy as you can get 25 of your staff to like the pages.

Once that’s achieved  the facebook page is up and running and you can do more.

And then?

It’s all down to content. And we all know how difficult that can be.

Using a Facebook page is akin to marketing. It’s all about building long term relationships with customers.

You will need to:

  • beat content fatigue. Use multiple admins (more than one editor) to keep the posts fresh and relevant;
  • be interesting/funny/insightful and useful;
  • be careful how you update a Facebook page. This is not Twitter so 1 maybe 2 posts a day but no more;
  • not ‘push’ your authority too much. ‘Over the top’ selling is not liked;
  • create a social media calendar with your team so you can schedule what you are going to put out and when, especially if you have multiple admin officers for the pages;
  • perhaps create a weekly video, weekly poll, photo share;

And don’t forget the sharing buttons on your own web site. Use your Web site, Facebook pages and Twitter account to drive readership and usage. Remember not everybody has both Facebook and Twitter accounts. And some of those users may never visit your web site.Ensure your web page, Facebook page and Twitter are in sync and working harmoniously. This isn’t easy but it’s worthwhile.

Apps.

There are any number of apps you can embed in your page. Try here . Hundreds of apps for your Facebook page.You will be surprised what you can drive from a Facebook page.

Sundry.

Places.

Use ‘places’ to let people check in. Try giving discount at something like swimming pools for people who have checked in. Or maybe a free cup of coffee at your libraries if that facility is available. You can read more about places/location here.

Insights

When you get over 30 likes ‘insights’ kicks in ( it’s over on the right of the pages when you are an adminstrator). This allows you to get high quality stats,  which will help you to get the best out of Facebook.
You can learn more about the very powerful insights application here.

Finally.

  • Your Facebook page is just like any other of your communications channels. It requires effort. No effort = no good.
  • Using Facebook you can reach your actual customers without being filtered by an editor in the print media channels.
  • You can measure results with insights.
  • You can alter your campaigns easily and cheaply.
  • The cost of set up is free.
  • But most of all Facebook is interactive. It’s 2 way, providing invaluable feedback on what you say and do.
    If that’s not for you then I would suggest neither is customer service. And could you afford to ignore that aspect of your business?

About the author.

Peter Barton was the Head of Service for “Web and Information Governance” at Lincolnshire County Council until December 2010.

Peter introduced many innovative elements into Local Government Web sites many of which have since become commonplace. Advertising for instance.

Peter’s background, prior to Local Government web site production  was in commerce where he started and ran a successful design business for many years. Peter has been involved in web site production since 1992 building the first sites in hand written code.

Peter’s business is a commercial venture  in on-line retail. Quite a departure form local government but a departure which has involved learning about the otherwise hidden intricacies of the web again. This time with a commercial eye. What he now has is a commercially augmented experience of local government web production.  And that’s refreshing and useful.

Peter also provides consultancy to local government organisations on things web related.


Contact details:


Peter Barton

T:  +44 (0) 1522-878135

M: +44 (0) 7712-578596

E: peterdbarton@gmail.com

Skype: V70PDB

Twitter: @lgwebman – Tweets about local government web stuff