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Avoiding Twitter disgrace: what Local Councils can do

07 August 2012 | 05:46 am

Local Government can’t afford human errors on social media. But can they avoid it? We think so.

One of the most frequent causes of social media scandals is related to representatives of an organisation tweeting or posting out inappropriate content form the organisation’s social media accounts. When this type of misstep happens to a government organisation, besides embarrassment and loss of prestige it also generates tedious internal investigations.

On the 7th of July – a Saturday evening, from the official Walsall Council Twitter feed a tweet mocking Education Minister Michael Gove was sent. It linked to an image of ventriloquist Ray Alan's dummy known as 'Lord Charles'.

The first Twitter statement from Walsall Council came a few hours later: their account had been  hacked and they apologised for the offensive tweets:

Ironic reactions across social media were quickly picked up by news sites. They pointed out that hacking was highly improbable, and most likely one of the council employees was to be blamed.

On Monday, council leader Mike Bird announced it was believed the tweet had been sent by someone in the authority’s communication team (composed of 5 people) who thought they were using their own personal account. An investigation led by politically neutral councillors was started.

Besides the fact that the Council’s feed has violated its obligation of remaining an impartial source of information, the incident produced negative PR, casting doubt on the council’s competency. With council budgets shrinking across the UK, news sources have been quick to point out that in 2009/10 the Communications department had a budget of almost half a million pounds and sent nearly 1000 press releases.

Could the council have done anything to prevent this type of incident? The answer is ‘Yes, easily’. When an employee has direct access to the official Twitter feed and uses the same computer to log directly on his personal Twitter, mix-ups are frequent. But the council should have the employees in charge of social media posting out through an intermediary social media monitoring and management platform. The employees would only have access to the official social media account through this platform, and mix-ups would become impossible.

In Walsall Council’s case, CrowdcontrolHQ’s bespoke social media risk monitoring and management system would have brought another benefit: the system records audit trails. Any post or tweet sent out is labelled with the name of its sender. Checking out whether the account had really been hacked would have been a matter of verifying if the post was labelled with the sender’s name or not.

James Leavesley,


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