If you are thinking of tweeting a council meeting, or maybe you are already tweeting meetings but thinking about how you might improve, here are some ideas that you might find helpful.
Tweeting council meetings is a great way of making council business more visible, transparent and accessible. Whether it’s full council, cabinet, scrutiny, live tweeting helps local democracy by reaching out and making connections that might not otherwise have been made. People who do this, whether as part of their jobs, or as citizen volunteers, deserve a lot of credit in my opinion – I think it’s a much undervalued public service and something that requires a fair degree of skill.
I’ve written this because there doesn’t seem to be a guide out there and because I think there should be.
I’m particularly grateful to Diane (@72prufrocks who tweets meetings from @kirkdemocracy) and James (@javerilljourno who covers Northamptonshire) for their ideas and, if you want to see what good looks like, definitely start by checking out what they do.
OK, so here are the suggestions. First the general strategy followed by some specific tactics but remember – this is just what others have found helpful – you decide what’s best for you.
Think of your audience
The first question you should ask yourself is ‘who am I tweeting for?’ It may be one audience or many, either way you should have them in your mind when you are tweeting – this will help you get the tone right. If it helps, think about some actual people when tweeting and tweet for them (without using their names obviously…).
Use the right language
Council meetings tend to use a very particular language and it can be easy for those involved to forget that people ‘outside’ might find it unfamiliar or even off putting. Things like apologies, motions, points of order and minutes might make sense to you but they could mean something very different to your intended audience – you really don’t need to use them. Just talk as you would to someone in a cafe or bar. Remember also that tweets can only ever be a summary and that’s fine – they do not need to be a verbatim account.
Pick the interesting bits
James makes a great point when he says: “I actually think it’s a case of working out what ‘not’ to tweet. I generally have the rule of thumb that if I find it dull, then the readers definitely will and I won’t tweet it.”
Report rather than comment
Again, James makes another great point when he says: “Effectively all I do is cherry pick the most interesting quotes, provide them with a little bit of context, and allow people to come to their own conclusions.” This will be particularly true for council officers who need to be ‘politically neutral’.
Use pictures and videos if you can
OK, so pictures of meetings may not be so exciting but seeing the people involved can bring things alive for those following on twitter. Oh, and pictures make things that much more shareable. By the way, @kirkdemocracy produce short video explainers of each council meeting – a lovely way to start a live tweet.
Set yourself up right
This might just be personal preference, but I find it easier to get on top of some high quality tweeting if I’m using a laptop and sat at a table. It’s just easier to tap away and to grab links links. You can also use a twitter app like Tweetdeck to manage things across a number of columns.
Nothing interrupts the flow like having to find that online report or that twitter handle. Spending a little time beforehand digging out the things you know you are going to need and getting familiar with the agenda will help to ensure a more relaxing experience.
Listen, listen, listen
Great advice from Diane and perhaps one of the harder parts of this – properly paying attention to what’s going on while writing summary tweets at the same time.
Make sense of it
Another great point from Diane – explain what’s happening and keep doing it, don’t assume that everyone is a local democracy expert
Share their story
Yet another great point from Diane – councillors and citizens are people and what’s personal is relatable.
Notice what works
There is no perfect way of doing this – it’s all about what works best. So, notice what works well for you and do more of that. Accept that there will be some trial and error. Things take time to build sometimes so don’t worry if you don’t get much response at first.
As well as these general points, there are some specific things you can do when tweeting that might be helpful.
Threading means replying to your last tweet so that, when people read those tweets, they follow nicely, one below the next in order. Doing a separate thread for each agenda item creates a nice mini story for each. It also means that, when someone retweets something they are sharing a link to an entire item.
Tagging means including someone’s twitter handle in a tweet. It’s a really helpful way of letting people know that they are being mentioned and gives them the chance to share and respond. If an organisation gets mentioned in a report you can tag them to let them know it’s being discussed. Many councillors now have twitter accounts so you can tag them as well.
Hashtags (written with a # at the start), are short labels that allow people to search for tweets that are of interest to them. Using the same hashtag for council meeting tweets (e.g. #anycounciltweets or #anytowndemocracy) will allow people to create searches to follow the action with. Others can also join in knowing that everyone will see what they have tweeted. When tweeting also think about the hashtags that might attract the attention of people who might not otherwise have been aware of the meeting. So, for example, you might add the local area hashtag to the start of the thread for each item. By the way, people tweeting council meetings often use #ldreporter so check it out to see what others are up to.
By providing links to the agenda, online reports, and webcasts, stories or anything else that’s relevant, you can help make these things much more accessible to those outside and those inside the meeting.
If someone does reply to one of your tweets it’s always good to respond – even if it’s just to acknowledge them.
Oh, and of course, you should always be respectful and remember that what you are doing is publishing – the law still applies – even to twitter.
One final point from Diane, which I’m guessing is from bitter experience. She says simply: “Charger.”
Photo credit: @kirkdemocracy