Guide to creating content for social media
This is an introductory guide for councillors about how to create social media content. It also briefly sets out how councillors can positively engage with other people, and organisations, on social media.
Producing content for social media platforms:
- how to do it
- how often to do it
- understanding what our ‘digital tone of voice’ sounds like as councillors.
Engaging positively with other people and organisations and social media:
- how to get started
- what to be mindful of.
Social media guidance for councillors
The LGA has produced a series of guides to support councillors in using social media.
Producing social media content
So, you have set up your public social media profile. The next step is to start creating content. Before you do that – stop. Take a second to think and plan. You don’t have to jump straight into content creation.
It is advisable to plan what content you are going to create. This will make it more engaging and effective. But, more importantly, it will make sure that you don’t post something that you might later regret.
The ‘stranger in the street’ test
For councillors, there is one important rule on social media content – something every councillor should remember. It is this:
If you are unsure about something, stop and ask for advice. Don’t just carry on and hope for the best.
Don’t forget that you are personally responsible for the social media content you post, publish and share.
Councillors should also recognise that they hold public office and will be held to a higher standard. There is also a Code of Conduct in place.
So, before you post, publish, or share, take the ‘stranger in the street’ test. Ask yourself this simple but important question:
Would I walk up to a stranger in the street and speak to them the exact content I am about to post, publish or share on social media? If the answer is ‘no’, or ‘I am not sure’, then don’t do it!
Don’t forget that you are personally responsible for the social media content you post, publish and share.
Who should I create content for?
Before creating content an important question to ask is: ‘Who am I creating this for?’ In other words, who is your audience?
Different people find different content engaging. For example, what appeals to an 18-year-old college student is likely to be different to what appeals to a 68-year-old retiree.
There is one simple example that most councillors will recognise. Many councillors represent a ward which covers more than one area or community. People in these different areas or communities might require different content.
A simple way to get a feel for your audience is to make a simple bullet point list. In the list include all the groups that are in your audience or that you want to be.
When planning or creating your social media content keep that list in mind. Consider whether it is engaging for the different people that make up your audience.
What content should I create?
Aim to create interesting and engaging content that people want to read or watch, share and interact with. Try to avoid continually ‘broadcasting’ information. ‘Broadcasting’ happens when the traffic is one way, that is, from you to the rest of the world.
You will, of course, need to give information from time to time. However, you should be aiming for a two-way conversation wherever possible.
One easy way to start a conversation is to expand on the information you are sharing. Don’t just forward a bit of news about the area. Provide an opinion. Ask a question. Start a poll.
As we have discussed, you will need to have an audience in mind. You will also need to have some idea about what that audience’s interests are. This is critical if you want to sustain interest in your social media over the long term.
Regardless of the audience your content should be, or do, at least one of the following:
- tell a story
- seek feedback
- ask questions.
Types of content
There are, broadly, four content types that most councillors will create for social media:
- news and information – for example, from your council or local groups, keeping people informed and updated
- signposting – to your council’s services and to services provided by other organisations
- asking questions – to find out what people think about different issues
- sharing content – from others, such as local councils and local groups.
Short sentences and paragraphs
Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. Avoid complicated or technical language. Try not to use local government jargon. Where possible, avoid acronyms.
Don’t assume your audience has prior knowledge of a subject. Most people don’t attend council meetings or read official reports. Your default position should be that your audience doesn’t know everything about the subject you are posting about.
One easy way to make your content stand out is to use emojis. Younger people, in particular, are likely to find the use of an emoji eye-catching and engaging. Keep accessibility in mind and don’t use emojis alone to convey meaning.
Images and videos
Try to include a video or image with each post. People find videos and images more engaging in general. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. It can help to explain complex situations in a quick and effective way.
Another benefit is that most social media algorithms will ‘prioritise’ posts with videos and images. This means that posts with images or videos are more likely to appear in your followers’ feeds.
Call to action
Try where possible to include a ‘call to action’. This could, for example, be a question, a request to share, a poll or a survey. Whatever it is, it should be clear and relevant. This will help you to develop a two-way conversation with your audience.
Adding hashtags to a post can be a great way of sharing information and helping people to find it. To create a hashtag all you have to do is add ‘#’ before a word, phrase, place or acronym.
Try to be consistent with hashtags and don’t go over the top. If you are unsure where to start, try to use the existing hashtag for the community you represent. For example, if you lived in Birmingham you would use #Birmingham.
You can also ‘tag’ other people and organisations. You can do this on a lot of social media by putting the ‘@’ sign before a person or organisation’s name.
Be careful not to overdo this, as some people can find it irritating. However, it can be a nice way of acknowledging someone – a quick way of letting them know you have posted about them.
Once you are confident with social media you could think about ‘going live’. This is where you stream video content live to social media.
There is one big advantage to doing this. Most social media will advertise the fact you are live quite prominently to your followers. It will sometimes notify them before, during and after the time that you are live.
Going live can be a great way of engaging with younger people. You could use this to do a live Q and A session on a subject. This can be very useful for creating a two-way conversation. It can also help you to explain a complex subject.
Find and follow best practice
Social media is great for finding best practice. It’s simple – when you find an individual or organisation doing something you like, follow it. Try to incorporate the aspects you like into your own content. If someone has a lot of followers, likes and engagement with their posts it is usually a good sign they are doing something right.
How often should I create content?
Don’t get too hung up on the amount of content you put up. In an ideal world you would create at least one piece of engaging content every day. Some people can do that, many people can’t.
It is wise, therefore, to be realistic. Try to create content at a rate which works for you. The key is to have a realistic plan and then stick to it. You don’t want social media taking over your life. You also don’t want your account to become dormant.
Another factor to consider is timing. Sometimes posting at the right time can be just as important as the content you create.
The optimum time of day to post depends on the audience. For example, if your audience is made up mostly of commuters who are stuck on trains between 5.30pm and 7.00pm that might be a good time to post.
There are social media management tools that allow you to schedule posts in advance. This means you can post any time day or night. Some tools will even provide ‘optimum times’ for you to post content.
Sharing others content
Sharing content from other social media can sometimes be helpful. This is where you share others’ tweets, posts, images and videos. For example, if your council is conducting an important survey that might be a good thing to share via social media.
Please remember to check the post or content before you share it. You don’t want to accidentally share something that is offensive, illegal or ridiculous.
Finding your ‘digital tone of voice’
What is a ‘digital tone of voice’?
This is not about what you say on social media. It is about how you say it.
In the normal course of life, most people adopt different tones of voice for different situations. For example, the way you speak to an old friend is likely to be different to the way you speak to a panel during a job interview. The same is true on social media.
Why is my ‘digital tone of voice’ important?
Take a moment to think about your digital tone of voice. Ask yourself the following:
How do I want to come across on social media?
When councillors don’t ask this question, they tend to adopt a formal and ‘broadcasting’ tone. This default tone works with some official communications, but it might not be helpful in other situations. In fact, it might work against you.
It is likely that to be truly effective on social media you will need to develop a ‘digital tone of voice’. For most councillors an informal but not inappropriate one works best.
How do I develop my ‘digital tone of voice’?
Start by looking at what other councillors and councils are posting. You will note that those who are the most effective are able to adapt their ‘digital tone of voice’ to different audiences and situations.
You should also listen to your audience and see how people in it communicate. Make notes. Look to see what is popular. What works and what doesn’t. Where possible, adapt your ‘digital tone of voice’ accordingly.
So, what should I aim for?
Most councillors should aim for informal but not inappropriate. However, you should still try to be authentic. Don’t adopt a ‘digital tone of voice’ that makes you feel uncomfortable.
It is likely that you will need to adapt your digital tone of voice to different audiences and situations. For example, a post about a skate park survey will need a different tone of voice to a post about Remembrance Sunday.
Consider developing a ‘digital tone of voice’ that you can use with different audiences and in different situations. For example:
- everyday and personal conversations (To be used in direct social media conversations. Try to be conversational, almost chatty. The goal is to be friendly, helpful and accessible.)
- official and respectful content (This is used in a situation that requires a more respectful, sombre or official tone. The goal is to be formal, professional and in most cases not humorous.)
- community content (This is the tone of voice to use when speaking to large audiences on social media. You are trying to encourage a sense of community and often engagement. It should be friendly, encouraging and can be humorous. The language should be simple and the message or call to action clear. This sort of content should be easy to share.).
What should I use to create content?
Some of the content you see on social media is flashy and professionally made. In reality, all that most people need to have to create social media content are:
- a smartphone
- a tiny bit of technical know-how
- a working social media account or profile
- a stable internet connection
Once you have the above you can then consider:
- creating content within social media (For example, inside Facebook, Instagram or Twitter in the same way most people do. This is a good way for beginners to start or if you are in a hurry. However, it will in the long run limit what you will be able to achieve.)
- using social media tools (For example, using Meta Business Suite (for Facebook and Instagram) or Hootsuite. You will need a little technical skill, but most people should be able to master it quite quickly. These tools are easy to use and give a greater degree of flexibility. It will allow you to do things such as schedule posts and to easily create content.)
- using software, apps, and platforms (You could use desktop publishing software, video editing apps or graphic design platforms. The great advantage of using such software and platforms is the huge range of possibilities, templates, and useful content available. However, to do so, you will need to acquire additional skills and ‘kit’ to create your content.).
Please remember that people use smartphones for social media
Most people will use a smartphone for social media. You should remember this if you are creating content on a laptop or desktop computer. Where possible, check to see how your content and posts will look from a ‘mobile view’.
From time to time you should review your social media content. Try to do this at least once every six months. Have a look at your social media’s insights or statistics. If you don’t have access to them, look at who has liked, shared, or engaged with your content.
Ask yourself the following:
- what worked?
- what didn’t?
- what can I improve?
Try to keep a regular record of your social media insights or statistics. This will help you to build up a picture over time.
An introduction to positively engaging with other people and organisations
There are obviously a lot of other things to consider when trying to engage positively.
We thought it would be helpful to create an A to Z of how you, as a councillor, can engage positively. This will give you some simple tips for you to put into practice
The A to Z of how to engage positively with other people and organisations
When sharing others’ content or news it might be a good idea to acknowledge them. In some situations, this might be the polite thing to do. It could also help to ensure that you aren’t seen as ‘falsely claiming’ to have created or achieved something.
Become an active member of groups or community pages
Some social media platforms have groups or community pages. These are areas where people in the same geographic area congregate on social media. Becoming an active and positive contributor is important.
Try to post relevant, topical, and interesting information to community spaces. Be careful not to spam groups or community pages. Where appropriate you should also share groups’ and community pages’ content to your social media channels.
Conversation is the goal
The first and most important thing to do is to work towards a two-way conversation with the community. ‘Broadcasting’ information will only get you so far. To build long-term positive engagement you will need to have a conversation with the community.
For example, you could ask relevant questions, set up polls or carry out surveys. If you do nothing else, just responding to comments and messages is good. Your goal should be to get past ‘broadcasting’ to achieve a two-way conversation.
“Don’t feed the trolls”
In many situations it is best to remember: “Don’t feed the trolls”. Eventually, in most cases, trolls will probably get bored and move on.
Try not to respond; and, especially, don’t respond with emotion. There are some good reasons for this. Many trolls don’t really believe in what they’re posting. This means you can’t ‘beat’ them with facts or logic.
Responding will also have the effect of throwing you off topic. Your social media will start to become reactive. Ironically, you could also increase engagement with the social media content that the trolls are commenting on.
In some cases, you might need to report a profile or a group to the relevant authorities or social media platform.
It is important that councillors seek feedback from the community. You could do this in an informal way as an individual councillor through polls, surveys and discussion on social media.
Alternatively, you can do it in a more official way. For example, when your council sets up a consultation or survey you can disseminate the information and feed back any questions.
Follow pages, profiles and accounts that are relevant to your community. Share information and provide a voice to your community by giving information back.
Encourage others to follow you and make it easy for you to be followed. Make your public profile social media easy to find. Provide links on your councillor profile page if possible. Have a poster on the noticeboard. It is, after all, difficult to build a positive relationship if no one knows about your social media.
The broader goal behind this is to keep in touch with local groups, organisations, and businesses within your community.
This seems like such a simple thing to do, but it is so often overlooked. Share good news about your community. Post about if the village gets recognised by In Bloom, the local Scouts group wins an award or there is investment in the area.
And don’t just post once about the good news – post lots of times.
This could also include reporting back to residents about issues or sharing information about the work of your council and what you’re doing as a councillor.
With so many others trying to be the bearers of bad news, why not make yourself stand out? Be the bearer of good news to your community!
Highlight and signpost
Another positive thing most councillors can do is to signpost people to sources of information. This is a really important step in the two-way conversation. So, if someone doesn’t know how to report that their bin collection was missed, highlight the relevant page on the council’s website.
Use images to help get across information and to make your posts stand out. Images can be an effective way of helping to share information. People also like looking at pictures of their local area. Your photos don’t have to be professional, just relevant and interesting.
Juggling your time
Put enough time to one side to be able to develop positive engagement. Your social media connections and conversations will not grow or manage themselves. Don’t start something and finish halfway through. Try also not to take on too much at once. It’s best to master one social media platform before moving onto the next one.
Keep calm and…
… ask for advice.
If you are unsure about how to handle a situation, or if something goes wrong, seek advice. Don’t just carry on and hope for the best. When you get advice, don’t ignore it – particularly legal advice.
Some social media channels allow the user to ‘like’ something. Be careful when doing this. In some cases, it might be best to ‘follow’ rather than ‘like’ another person or a group. To ‘like’ something could be seen by some as you saying that you ‘support it’.
Make your posts relevant and interesting
Remember that building conversations and positive engagement takes time. You will not be able to do it in an afternoon. You will need to build the relationship and engage in dialogue.
A personal touch will go a long way in building a relationship with either an individual or organisation. Use direct messaging where it’s appropriate. Tailor content where possible. Make your posts relevant and interesting.
Never assume social media will look after itself
Social media never stops. It is something that keeps going and can’t be ignored. Don’t assume that social media will look after itself. If you have spent months or years developing a positive relationship, don’t just let it all fall away. Just like any relationship it is important to keep on nurturing your social media connections.
Open and transparent
Being open and transparent is important. Trust is a key factor in developing positive engagement.
One of the biggest traps that people fall into on social media is replying in anger. If you find yourself in such a situation – pause, take a breath and possibly even walk away from your device. Try writing out the response you want to send in Word and sleep on it. Don’t respond straight away if you are angry.
Quality not quantity
Sometimes one well-timed and effective post to social media can be more effective than 10. Think about your content and who you’re sharing the post with. Schedule posts for a time that people will open them. 9.30am on a weekday is probably not going to be the best time for many people.
Respond to messages and comments
There is nothing more annoying than someone not responding to your email or phone call. The same is true on social media. If someone writes a comment or sends a message, you should respond (unless, as outlined, it is abusive or harassment). This is a very important part of building positive engagement.
Social media conflict
Occasionally, some would say inevitably, conflict will break out on social media. Most conflicts are short-lived and will peter out quite quickly. Unfortunately, some can go on for years. In such situations a councillor should think very carefully about how they will react. They should consider whether they will get involved at all.
Taking an informal tone too far
It is important to get your tone on social media right. Try not to take it too far. Humour does have its place – but be careful. Avoid innuendo, irony, and libellous comments.
Understand your audience
It is important that you understand your social media audience. This will help you to develop a positive relationship. If you don’t understand who is in your audience, it is likely that a lot of your posts and content will fall flat. To get to know your audience, have a look at the insights that social media provides and see what is popular.
Videos are a great way of humanising the work that you as a councillor and the council does. They will help you to connect with a wider audience. Videos can also be useful for helping you to explain complex issues.
Willing to reach out
Reach out and engage with residents across many different age groups, especially harder-to-reach residents who may not otherwise engage with the council or councillors.
There is also an opportunity for councillors to be a ‘listening ear’ to the community – listening to local concerns, issues and what’s being talked about on social media.
Explain complex issues and decisions
Social media is the perfect platform for you to explain complicated issues and decisions. The short sentences and few words will help you to write in plain English. The use of images and videos can also help.
Most importantly, social media allows you to have a conversation with your community. Use the opportunity to get feedback and to allow people to ask questions. Go live where you can and do live question and answer sessions.
Your social media goals and aims
One of the worst things you can do is to try to do everything at once. Have some simple aims and goals. These should be no more than four or five sentences. Once you have some goals and aims stick to them.
One goal could be to ‘try to develop a positive relationship with the community’. Over time review what is happening. Try to work out what is going well, what isn’t, and where you can improve.
By approaching social media in this way, you will stop yourself from being spread too thinly. You should also remain on target and understand how things are developing.
Z – This doesn’t begin with ‘Z’ but it is probably the most important thing
Before you post, publish, or share, take the ‘stranger in the street’ test. Ask yourself this simple but important question:
Would I walk up to a stranger in the street and speak to them the content I am about to post, publish or share on social media? If the answer is ‘no’, or ‘I am not sure’, then don’t do it!