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


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 .

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.

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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


  • 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

Twitter and Local Government. Is it a mismatch?


This article is not meant as an erudite and all answering document from an expert. It’s meant to be less puffed than that. The writer was a practitioner in producing high quality local government web sites (responsible for the web site which won Local Government Web Site of the year (2011) at a recent award in London) who has since become re-involved  with commercial web sites.
This shift in direction has enabled him to judge Local Government web sites from a changed perspective and to better see some of the elements Local Government can improve upon.
The aim of this article, therefore, is to be more commonplace and worthy. More hands on. And is meant to show how using Twitter can alter the way you interact with your clients, by providing hints, tips and links on how to achieve that.

Twitter and Local Government

Why does Local Government generally shy away from Twitter?

Local Government struggles with Twitter for a number of reasons. I suppose the main being fear.

  • Fear caused through a lack of understanding. Many officers and a good percentage of Councillors have no idea what Twitter is all about. And it follows that you don’t touch what you don’t understand.
  • Fear of losing control of “The Message”. Once the ability to (widely) talk about the authority falls outside of those who control such things there is panic.
  • Fear of things being said authorities don’t want the public to hear(as if they are not going to be said anyway) or don’t want raised.
  • Fear of damage to the Council’s reputation caused by the loose lipped/fingered internal Twitterarti.
  • Fear of the immediacy and enormous power provided by Twitter.
  • Fear of the ability to “group” around a topic afforded by Twitter.

Apart from the first of these fears – and that can be handled by some familiarization with the technology – the other negative fears can, and should, be turned into positives.

What’s a Tweet?
This is not a treatise on what Twitter is or where it came from or, for that matter the ethos behind it. That type of information can be found in clear detail here…


Neither is it meant to be a “Tweeting for Dummies”. That book must have already been written.

It’s about the application of social media concepts to the medium of local government.

If it’s an audience you’re after…
Twitter describes itself as an information network. It’s built from millions of conversations carried out in 140 character sized chunks.

Whatever your opinion of Twitter, be it embracing or dismissive, you cannot ignore the huge (and that’s an understatement) potential for your 140 character tweets to have an impact on others, or theirs on you.
If you ran a business back in the early part of the 20th century  you couldn’t ignore the telephone or in the latter part of the century the internet. Similarly you can’t ignore Twitter. And for much the same reason:-

  • business is being conducted on Twitter;
  • the public have a growing expectation i.e. they are expecting you to use current technology because they themselves do;
  • using Twitter can save time and money.

Why you shouldn’t ignore Twitter?

Just look at these stats;-

  • 300million accounts (mid 2011) worldwide with about 5million of these (approx) being in the UK.
  • 52% of users are female 48% male.
  • Over 50% are between 25 and 54.
  • About 1 billion Tweets a week
  • Increasing use by business

People are talking about you.
This is worthy of repetition… it’s an “information network. It’s built from millions of conversations”.

So Twitter is  about conversations. Some of those will be about you or your services. Shouldn’t you be a part of those conversations or at least be listening to what people are saying about you?

It’s not one sided. You can pitch in to correct witless and uninformed comment and add value to the whole by providing solid, helpful information.
You can manage your reputation.

I have long held that  “it isn’t from those who pay you compliments you learn anything. It’s from those who complain about your service”.
The complainers are the users of your service and they are taking the time to tell you what you don’t have right, at least for them. If you can answer those complaints you are likely to turn those same complainers into your biggest advocates.

Previously people might have sent you a letter, 1 to 1 sort of thing. This would have happened, in private, without any damage to your reputation. Not now. Little man has a VERY BIG voice.

Spotting what is being said about you on Twitter couldn’t be easier, though I’ll give you putting things right may not be quite so easy – but you can join in.Tell people you’ve heard what they’re saying and are working on it.  Isn’t this what Customer Service is all about; listening, changing and keeping people informed?

Twitter allows micro, detailed management of your customers view of what you do. All you have to do is listen and respond.

So how is this magic performed?

The Hash Tag #

First, learn how to use the hash tag ‘#’ (alt3 for you Mac users).

You can use hash-tags to follow specific groups, to message specific groups and much more.

There’s a really useful “how to” on Hash-tags here… http://tinyurl.com/6gnx64 in fact http://www.twitip.com/ is a great place to answer those general Twitter questions.

Searching for information.

  • Use hash tag to search for relevant tags.
  • Use advance search at http://twitter.com/#!/search-advanced . It’s a definable search so you can exactly specify, and therefore identify, just what it is you’re looking for. Try looking for your own council. See if there are people talking about you now.
  • Save your searches. If your’e using ‘Tweetdeck’ these searches are saved, displayed and updated for you.
  • Use ‘lists’ to group your interests. i.e. Council name, social care, council tax etc.
  • Search using your saved searches everyday. New stuff is being tweeted all the time. ( you can use Tweetgrid.com to do some of this)

Using these techniques you can gather intelligence, see what other councils, thought leaders etc are up to, watch future trends in your industry but most of all you can …
Listen to and identify your customer needs and complaints.

Developing relationships.

People wont read your tweets and re-tweet your messages simply because the message exists or indeed because they are from the Council. The tweets have to be interesting, amusing even but most important they have to be useful.

On your Tweet you can:-

  • break news;
  • share experience;
  • become the group people go to for advice;
  • provide hints and tips;
  • give information on road closures, school closures and the like;
  • tell people what’s happening across your area in libraries, schools etc;
  • guide users to your web site for current  information say on committee meetings etc;
  • get guest tweeters to tweet e.g the Chief Exec or the leader;
  • ask for questions to ask of the guest speakers;
  • tweet discussion on a local topic of interest e.g. closing a school;
  • Develop the relationships by Championing your customers. Reply to them or  retweet their tweets. Show them you are interested in what they say.

What sort of tone should you adopt on your twitter feed and what about the content? What should you say?

  • The tone of voice should be chatty and informal – think of a local radio presenter.
  • 70% of the tweets should be informal with only 30% dealing with more formal, pushy content.
  • Use the tweets to highlight and link to topic points from your web site e.g. videos content etc.
  • Use keywords from a list which you decide on before you started publishing social media. Something like. “your-council-name”, “local government”, “social care”, “libraries” etc. This is particularly powerful if these are also hash-tags.
  • Make using your tweet a rich experience. Full of interest and information.

Managing and monitoring.

Twitter isn’t like a normal web site where you can monitor use with the likes of Google Analytics. There are however some tools you can use to mange your social media – not just Twitter..

  • Tweetdeck. An all purpose tool, now owned by Twitter, which allows you to monitor multiple Twitter accounts as well as Facebook, LinkedIn etc.
    If you save a search in Tweetdeck, say for  ‘Local Government’, it displays real time information on that search.
  • Hootsuite. Similar in some ways to Tweetdeck but seems to have better reporting facility.
  • Sproutsocial ( monthly cost with this )

Depending just how far you wish to delve into Social Media here’s a few more tools you may find of use.

  • Tweetpivot.com. Discover people who tweet on a range of topics and displays them graphically.
  • Twellow.com allows you to discover twitter id’s for people Boris Johnson for example @MayorOfLondon
  • Tweriod shows when followers are most active so you can write to them when they are there to read your tweet.
  • Twtqpon.com allows the creation of coupons for twitter users. With this you can offer discount coupons for some of your services for people using Twitter. Say a discount at the local baths for twitter users.

Where should the responsibility for this medium sit?

The ideal place is in the comms/PR department with a strong sideways link into Customer Services.

Comms is an ideal first filter for incoming information from Twitter. It’s where messages about the authority originate and is therefore perfect for constructing Tweets and controlling the medium in general.

The strong sideways link into Customer Services is to handle the specific complaints and solution providing.

This is not a medium for web techies. It’s about human communication and customer service. It should not be a web function unless of course web and comms are as one in your organisation.

Nearly Lastly…

Being local government organisations you are going to want a policy for all of this. You could look here for quick policy generation – at least the skeleton of one. www.Socialmedia.policytool.net . It’s not perfect but it can give you a base from which to start.

Really lastly…

Don’t expect instant results  and don’t give up.
Social media is hard work if done properly and it requires a lot of (constant) effort and ingenuity.
Stick at it. It really is worth the sweat and remember it forms an increasing part of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) algorithms – more on that not so black art in a piece to come later.

To sum up.

  • We have explored why Local Government seems reticent about joining in.
  • We have discussed the large audience yet macro possibilities of using Twitter.
  • We have seen Twitter is another communications device.
  • We have explored the use of Hash-tags showing their relevance and power.
  • We have seen how using advanced search enable authorities to glean information.
  • We have said that listening is an important part of the Twitter process.
  • We have talked about developing the community and how that can be done by interacting with your clients and complainers.
  • We have talked bout the tone of your tweets and how to manage and monitor your use of Twitter.
  • We have discussed where responsibility for Twitter should sit.
  • We have talked about the need for a policy for your Twitter actions.
  • And we have talked about managing your expectations.

Useful links.

Some of these have been mentioned in the text above.

Crowd-sourced Twitter guide for local government.   Interesting views and observations.

Don’t’ know what to Tweet, Facebook or Blog. Go take a look here and download the free e-book. Though ideally aimed at  commerce there is a lot that can be learned by the local government social media manager from this treatise.


Policy tool mentioned above.

Risk assessment tool for social media from Carl Haggerty In Devon. It’s a draft but well worth a look.

The “how to” on hash tags.


Twitter Advance search. This is really good.


Twitter – the basics and much more.


UK Public Sector Web sites – the blog.


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 on all things web.

Contact details:

T:  +44 (0) 1522-878135

M: +44 (0) 7712-578596

E: peterdbarton@gmail.com

Skype: V70PDB

Twitter: #lgwebman – Tweets about local government web stuff

The ‘How To’ on social media

Dave Briggs is running an event in May.

If you don’t know about Dave Briggs… where have you been? Dave is a gifted speaker – I had the sinking feeling of following on from him once at conference in Birmingham – and general uber-geek on all things Social media.

Social media. If you want to know what it’s all about, why you should be using it and how it can help you in local government get along to his event. You’ll learn a lot and your council will benefit.

Information here.