Social Media Accounts Don’t Run Themselves

Social Media Snoopy Cartoon

The Belfast Telegraph ran a stats-based news story that gained traction this week with the headline “Revealed: Belfast City Council spends over £116,000 updating Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts.

The public were outraged, the council were forced on to the defensive, Communications people up and down this small land… snored. Not literally of course, we barely get time to eat on the job let alone sleep.

We snored because this isn’t news to us. I would bet my next pay cheque that not one of us is able to complete a piece of work these days, be it client or in-house delivered, without providing social media content, if not setting up entirely new community channels. It’s a huge part of our job. Therefore, it represents a large chunk of our salaries.

Was I surprised to learn that in a Council serving our capital city and its 641,000 citizens, 3 people manage Facebook, Twitter and YouTube between them (among their other duties)?

Was I surprised to learn that it could take said employees a significant chunk of time to create content, manage comments and complaints and reply to private messages on their channels which have some 43,000 followers collectively?

I was surprised, however, to see so many people outside the industry act surprised. OK, not everyone is online, but for a majority of young to middle-aged folk, Facebook alone must eat up the guts of a few hours each day. This is how people connect, it’s how they spread messages (be they motivational or hatred-filled), it’s how they digest their news and how they stay in touch with family and friends.

My Mum runs her personal business completely online, via Facebook. My friends book their hair and beauty appointments by messaging the salon on Facebook. My brother complains about a company’s shipping time by mentioning them on Twitter. My boss found out when her Christmas bin collection was because she followed the Council on Twitter.

We may desire that companies and organisations we engage with do so online, but most of us expect and demand it of our local government services.

The Taxpayer’s Alliance of course fuelled the fire saying “town halls should focus on keeping council tax low, not wasting it on barely followed Twitter accounts.” However @BelfastCC is followed by 25,600 people – almost a tenth of the city’s population. I don’t see how this constitutes “barely followed.”

The fact is, communicating with this many people about the plethora of services and projects a council manages is no mean feat. Most PROs will know how easy it would be to spend our entire day covering social media, and we would still miss a hundred tweets of news while we nip out to the loo. This is why it requires strategy and planning. And it is essential that the people running the channels are skilled and experienced. They are, after all, low-to-middle rate employees who are basically given free reign to speak on behalf of an entire organisation.

It’s a responsibility that isn’t taken lightly and considering it’s a round-the-clock job which we monitor in the evenings, on holidays and sometimes in the middle of the night (during a crisis) it’s a role that shouldn’t be reimbursed lightly either.


  1. Great article Lee and so right! Love the image! Social Media isn’t a cake walk – in fact I’d say it’s tedious and boring lol. It’s numbers and time!

    My blogs will begin to be published soon :), I’m working on my own website!

    • Can’t wait to read it Lucas! We’re starved of good local content here. And I agree, Social Media at work isn’t as much fun as your friends think it would be!

  2. I think people are struggling to distinguish between the skills required to run their own Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr or YouTube channel and the skills required to run that of an organisation with budgets in and around hundreds of thousands or even millions.

    So many people are self-taught in digital media, and some very effective, however when it comes to applying for a job in digital media, online communications or communications generally, they won’t likely be able to demonstrate that they meet the essential criteria. Generally people working in communications need relevant qualifications and proven paid previous experience in order to provide effective and strategic communications for an organisation.

    Once in post they will need to demonstrate that they can write a social media policy relevant to the organisation that also reflects what’s going on externally. They’ll need to train staff in both the policy & on using the various social media platforms. They’ll have to provide an out of hours service, as work-related social media tends to sit on the antisocial side of any communication officer’s social life.

    They will have the responsibility of publicly representing the brand and messages of an organisation, as well as their staff and the various communications needs of all the departments. If something goes wrong online, this individual is ultimately accountable.

    This is a publicly-funded organisation, therefore the right structures and accountability processes need to be in place. So whether you’re a self-styled social media type or set up social media platforms for the organisation you work for, it still doesn’t necessarily qualify you for this role.

    Meanwhile, aren’t we all forgetting about the individuals commenting, tweeting or sharing this story online (presumably for most) during their working day? Assuming they don’t all get paid to be on their personal social media platforms during work time, why has no one called them up on the irony of what they’re doing. They alone are one of the key reasons social media for organisations, especially publicly-funded ones, needs to be appropriately resourced.

    One final observation (and of the negative variety) – when trying to argue about how effective I think Belfast City Council’s use of social media is (for the record I think they’re pretty good), it would nice for my point to be validated by the council actually using their social media channels to clarify the negativity coming their way. Maybe they should invest a little bit more spend on engagement…

    “Social media, sure I take selfies every day, retweet jokes flat out and update my Facebook every day. Wee buns, pure easy” – said no one ever employed in communications.

    • Totally agree with all of this. Have to laugh particularly at certain journalists claiming its part of people’s day jobs and it’s easy. We don’t claim to know your profession, don’t lay claim to ours. I do agree after the dog fiasco, bcc seem uneasy responding to crisis via social media but they absolutely should.

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