Local authorities on Twitter

This is the fifth in a series of posts on local authorities’ use of Twitter. We’ve been counting down local authorities according to the size of their following – this post reviews the results and offers up some thoughts.

As we’ve suggested here before, social media is a cheap and easy way to engage stakeholders, for think tankscentral governmenttrade bodies and directly elected mayors. We even think it could be used to open-up policy research and development, for example for local authorities to connect with their communities. So which councils appear to be using social media, in this case Twitter, the most?

We’ve looked at the corporate Twitter accounts of all 434 UK local authorities – district, county, metropolitan borough and unitary authorities. This shows that 91% of local authorities have a corporate Twitter account. Of these that don’t, Northern Ireland is disproportionally represented, with 15 authorities out of the 39 not having a Twitter account. The 91% figure represents a significant expansion of local authorities’ use of Twitter since 2009 (at that time, a study by LGEO Research showed that only 124 councils were using Twitter, now this has grown to 395 authorities).The total Twitter community around councils is 941,610, whilst local government has tweeted 646,755 times.

The top ten authorities are:

No. Local authority Twitter name No. of followers No. of tweets
1 Glasgow City Council @GlasgowCC 24,016 1,765
2 Edinburgh City Council @Edinburgh_CC 13,054 2,527
3 Newcastle upon Tyne City Council @NewcastleCC 11,992 5,521
4 Belfast City Council @belfastcc 11,639 6,444
5 Manchester City Council @ManCityCouncil 11,313 2,962
6 Cardiff City Council @cardiffcouncil 10,054 4,926
7 Nottingham City Council @MyNottingham 9,374 2,694
8 Leeds City Council @leedscc 9,161 1,838
9 Brighton and Hove City Council @BrightonHoveCC 8,718 7,573
10 Kent County Council @Kent_cc 8,664 2,782

Nine of the top ten councils are large cities, with only one traditional county council represented – Kent. None of the top ten are district authorities, in fact only two appear in the top 50 – Oxford (no.25 – 5,688 followers) and Preston (no.46 – 4,747 followers). Both are large towns with populations of approximately 140,000 to 150,000. No London Boroughs appear in the top 20, although 7 appear in the top 50 with Lambeth (no.21 – 6,434 followers), Lewisham (no.28 – 5,411 followers) and Westminster (no.29 – 5,392) leading the way.

Six local authorities have more than 10,000 followers. Whilst 38 have more than 5,000 followers, representing 10% of councils. 28% of local authorities have less than 1,000 followers. So whilst this expansion has taken place, this is not universal. Our research points to both an urban connection and the use of Twitter and the number of followers.

A slight aside, we also observed the Government’s policy to rationalise back off functions in councils manifest through their social media presence.  Adur and Worthing share a joint Twitter account.  Whilst in Dorset, a number of authorities are sharing a Twitter account @dorsetforyou.

In our previous research on think tanks, we only looked at the number of followers. In this case, we also included the number of tweets sent. We didn’t analyse the quality of tweets, or separate out broadcast tweets from those that engaged in dialogue with local citizens. Nonetheless, we found that 203 local authorities have tweeted more than 1,000 times. Meanwhile, seven authorities with a Twitter account have never sent a tweet. Clearly, resourcing social media efforts matters. Walsall Council for instance has a team of five people who are named as their tweeters on their feed.

Top ten tweeters are:

No. Local authority Twitter name No. of followers No. of tweets
1 Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council @WalsallCouncil 5,214 12,949
2 St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council @sthelenscouncil 3,886 9,514
3 Sunderland City Council @SunderlandUK 8,202 7,835
4 Brighton and Hove City Council @BrightonHoveCC 8,718 7,573
5 Monmouthshire County Council @MonmouthshireCC 4,109 7,044
6 Winchester City Council @WinchesterCity 3,151 6,963
7 Stoke on Trent City Council @SoTCityCouncil 4,603 6,877
8 South Ayrshire Council @southayrshire 3,097 6,628
9 Surrey County Council @SurreyCouncil 4,534 6,585
10 Belfast City Council @belfastcc 11,639 6,444

There also seems to be a connection between activity on Twitter and the number of followers. Of the 106 councils with less than 1,000 followers, only eight have tweeted more than a 1,000 times.

Position on top Twitter list Local authority Twitter name No. of followers No. of tweets
283 Allerdale Borough Council @allerdale 997 3,785
288 Mole Valley District Council @MoleValleyDC 949 1,747
289 Bexley Council @whatsoninbexley 943 1,141
291 Copeland Borough Council @copelandbc 911 1,169
298 East Staffordshire Borough Council @eaststaffsbc 855 1,578
312 Surrey Heath Borough Council @Surreyheath 717 1.572
316 Melton Borough Council @MeltonBC 657 1,127
328 Derbyshire Dales District Council @derbyshiredales 502 1,427

We also found some interesting examples that further point to this connection between activity and presence on Twitter. Fenland District Council who were an early adopter of Twitter appears at no.65 on our list (4,234 followers) compared to neighbouring South Holland, which appears at no.389 (24 followers). South Holland and Fenland have many common similarities. Fenland and South Holland have similar population sizes (91,000 and 76,000), demographic and economic make up. The difference does seem to be connected to their investment in social media. South Holland has never tweeted whilst Fenland has tweeted over 500 times.

North Devon, Mid Devon and Torridge also offer up a further interesting comparison. All are neighbouring rural district authorities with similar population sizes ranging from 65,000 – 91,000. North Devon appears at no. 78 on our list (3,796 followers) compared to Torridge at no.373 and Mid Devon at no.377 both with less than 200 followers. North Devon has however tweeted nearly 5,000 times and has dedicated tweeters compared to 220 and 26 tweets sent by Torridge and Mid Devon.

Fenland and North Devon, both with small rural populations demonstrate the possibilities of increasing reach in a cheap and easy way using social media. Our recent blog on 5 top tips for think tanks using social media has many transferable lessons for local government.  Some lessons from this piece of research for local councils could be:

  • Actively use social media – the more active you are, the more likely you are to build a community;
  • Engage in dialogue, don’t just broadcast;
  • Promote others and not just yourself. A good local council account is a repository of a range of community information and news;
  • Social media is personal – individuals who work for local councils are critical in extending reach and impact;
  • Think without limits: social media offers up endless possibilities.

Of course, only looking at the number of tweets and number of followers on the main local authority feed doesn’t provide a broader analysis of the effective use of social media by any authority. It doesn’t take account of quality of engagement or local population size in particular – and these are factors that we could incorporate into future analysis. Even so, it still provides some indication of local authorities’ take up of social media and offers some interesting insights and lessons. Your views on the results – and what further questions and analysis should be conducted (by us or others) – are welcome.


2 Comments on “Local authorities on Twitter”

  1. Matt says:

    Just a thought. If the number of twitter followers is a useful measure on how innovative or engaging an organisation is, where does Guerilla Policy’s 504 followers leave them?

    • Thanks Matt, we actually have just under 1,800 followers – 1,288 on our original account (@newthinktankuk) and now 510 on our new account (@guerillapolicy). Without wanting to sound at all apologetic, I’d also add that we’re a new ‘organisation’ (or rather a wholly self-developed and still-developing experiment), rather than say a public organisation with staff, funding, a defined constituency etc. We’ve been pretty encouraged by the response so far – we’ve already got a larger social media following and web presence than some established and funded think tanks – but we certainly want to develop this further, and in particular we believe that the internet offers the potential engage many people and groups that otherwise tend to be marginalised from policy development. So any positive ideas would be welcome.


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