Truth, Trust and Twitter

It was great to see social media high on the agenda for day one of this year’s LGCommunications conference in Birmingham, which I attended on Tuesday.

Indeed the first publication I picked up as I arrived was the Government Digital Service’s new publication Social media guidance for civil servants.

What’s nice about this is that the actual guidance is only four pages long and in fact breaks down into six easy sections (plus a final one about the Civil Service code):

  • Communicate with people where they are – 50% of the UK population use Facebook for example
  • Use social media to consult and engage – ask for feedback and listen to what is said
  • Increase the impact of your wider communications – news often breaks on social media channels first, so use this to your advantage
  • Be more transparent and accountable – open up the decision making process
  • Be part of the conversation – listen carefully and get the facts out quickly
  • Work in partnership – don’t do things in isolation


It was observed by Dan Slee in the conference room and afterwards in his very helpful blog of the day, 18 pearls of wisdom, that local government could use some very simple guidelines like these. It was noted that many councils in the room didn’t have social media guidelines at all.

Looking back over my tweets from Tuesday, I’m struck by how many times the words “truth/true” and “trust” appear:

  • Only 26 per cent of people TRUST local government managers to tell the TRUTH.
  • TRUST is an essential part of brand.
  • Never sacrifice TRUST – don’t make promises you can’t deliver.
  • Communication is at its best when it’s TRUE and compelling.
  • The bond of TRUST between us and the people we serve is low – we need to rebuild.


A key theme running through the day was ensuring the authenticity of your communications and building and maintaining a trustful relationship with the people you work for and with. In my mind, any social media guidelines should include a point about being real, truthful and authentic in any interaction with customers and staff.

I’d be interested to hear people’s views on this. Do you agree that local government needs some similar social media guidance? If so what kind of guidelines would you like to see? Perhaps you have some examples to share? Does the Civil Service guidance cover it?

Oh, and if you'd like to hear more from the LGComms conference check out Dan’s blog from day two – 24 pearls of wisdom this time!

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2 Comments

Leah Lockhart 8 Years Ago
I was watching #lgcomms12 all day yesterday and there was so much good stuff going on- most of which I am sure I missed! At my home council, Edinburgh, work on social media policy and guidance has been ongoing for nearly two years. It's a little bit silly but things don't move fast when you have to contend with management who don't know or understand social media, corporate comms colleagues trying to keep control while staff on the ground are racing ahead opening accounts and engaging, ambiguity about the best way to monitor and measure, writing risk assessments and on and on and on. My own opinion is the social media guidance for civil servants is well written common sense and would be suitable for everyone in local gov. Or we could all just go the way of Gordon Scobbie of Tayside Police and keep guidelines to something like, 'I trust you. Be creative. If you make a mistake apologise and move on.' PC Scobbie says if he can trust his staff with truncheons he can darn sure trust them with a Twitter account. I say if local gov can trust their staff to speak out loud at community meetings, on the phone and in local offices they can darn sure be trusted with a social media account. But that does not mesh well with engineered comms and PR. In my opinion we overcomplicate communications in local gov (read my thoughts about corporate comms and PR in local gov on my blog ) and I feel like that is demonstrated some way in the fact that telling the truth needs to be emphasised at a local gov comms conference! Information delivery is democratised now and local gov PR and comms need to loosen up and get on board (I know I'm using a broad brush here) as it is the only way to feel less threatened and not appear to be only delivering happy clappy bull instead of controlling negative messages floating around the web and social media. Where local gov social media is controlled by a corporate team it's totally obvious and it's not something I'm personally interested in keeping up with. I think it's a turn off. I'd like to see communications open up in local gov but while we have two camps running alongside each other- the plain old non-media trained staff and the professional communicator- I think not many organisations will sign up to guidance because roles are too confused or roles are changing too fast. As an aside I wonder if stalling on guidance in organisations is down to corporate comms people largely ignoring web and social media as effective and important channels. I was recently at a Scottish local gov comms conference and I was totally bowled over by the lack of knowledge (or really interest) in using multiple platforms. Print and radio are still all the rage apparently. It's a strange thing not to want to evolve and be present on new platforms.
Liz Copeland 8 Years Ago
Hi Leah, thanks for your insight. I completely agree about the trust side of things. It's imperative that local gov employees feel trusted to get on with it when it comes to social media. This not only helps in terms of building trust and relationships with customers, but it also empowers and builds trust with staff too. This in turn can increase motivation, morale and productivity. I think you're right that there's still a lot of mistrust and misunderstanding about the power of social media channels as a communication tool. There was a lot of talk about "handing over responsibility" for social media channels from the corporate communications centre to contact centre teams for example, but alongside doing that goes the need to provide training and have the conversation about what's appropriate and what's not. There's still a lot of concern about people doing it right. However, as you rightly say, if staff are already trusted to have a conversation on the phone or face to face - why not online too? I like PC Scobbie's approach, but it takes quite a lot of guts if you're working in a risk averse environment. Interesting your point about traditional channels versus online. You'll be pleased to hear that there were a number of discussions around appropriate channels for appropriate audience and that social media featured heavily in this debate. I guess this goes back to the first piece of social media guidance above: communicate with people where they are.