Facebook groups and local government — “digital doorknocking”

Dan Slee (he of Comms2point0 and general digital helpfulness fame) did a great blog today on Facebook groups and proactively speaking to them.

The heady days of enormous organic reach on Facebook are so far gone that it’s almost not worth bringing them up, but let’s pause for a moment and remember when planking was fresh and posting on your page would get into the feed of most of your followers without having to pay Mark Zuckerberg for the privilege.

At Oxfordshire County Council we rather missed the boat on those days and only really started using Facebook (especially ad tools) a few years ago. Instead we’ve built up our followers steadily by using Facebook’s advertising tools heavily to get the best out of the content we put out — including creating new audiences made up of people that have engaged with that content. (A side note -we don’t pay for likes because it’s cheating.)

Dan’s point is that however nice your page is, it probably won’t ever have the same engagement and loyalty that a local page will have.

We’re doing our best to make our page an interesting and useful community for residents, and the numbers are moving up which tells us we’re moving in the right direction, but it’s the interactions on a specific post that is really critical.

Trying a different approach

Over the last month and a half, we’ve been trying something different. We’ve sharing posts proactively to local groups, joining them and getting involved in the conversation. Going where the people go, as Dan (and curiously the Wildhearts) often say.

We kicked off with a comprehensive bit of desk research into local groups, cross-referenced against our list of parish and town councils and ranked by likes, activity and post stats. We found that generally a location would have a town or parish council facebook page, and a page or group formed by the local community — of which one would be popular and the other not.

Taking a ‘chuck it at the wall and see what sticks’ approach we created a calendar of posts on a bunch of topics — family events from our Family Information Service Directory, a nice little video about our Home Library Service , a video about our new bus service The Oxfordshire Comet and a few Fire and Rescue safety messages. Then we liked a bunch of pages, and started messaging details to each one, introducing ourselves and asking if they could re-post them, then popping back a bit later to check in on the conversation.

So.. what did you find out?

Most people were happy to share. Some posts worked, some didn’t. As a rule, video got a good response, service related things had a good response and including the name of the community in the post made a difference. Fire and Rescue safety messages weren’t quite so effective.

It worked best with hyper local content, especially where there was an event happening — a post with electric blanket testing sessions went down well because we were able to target those specific locations.

We also asked for feedback by messaging group admins.

“Just make sure they are relevant and don’t send too many
So for example, fire blanket testing with testing in Abingdon = good
events for children to do, but none of them actually in Abingdon = bad”

Whoops. Our bad — although to be fair we thought that the events were reasonably close to Abingdon so it might be a perception about what’s really ‘local’.

“someone actually engaging with comments people make on posts would be good
lots of people ask questions and stuff…”

Indeed they do, and that’s the tricky bit. If we create a post on Facebook on our own page, we can set up a comment stream in our dashboard to monitor comments and keep tabs on the conversation. But once it’s on someone else’s page, this gets a lot harder.

Evaluation is also difficult. When putting content out onto their pages for communities to re-post although they have a bigger stake in the content because they’ve curated it, it’s almost impossible to get hard metrics back unless you’ve made friends with them. Where we’ve asked, a few pages have been nice enough to send us their stats though. So where we attempted to make friends with about 20–40 pages, you might want to try a smaller number to begin with.

What next?

It’s early days yet. As ever, the best advice is usually something that makes you think, ‘well of course, that’s obvious’, and then set about doing that obvious thing you’ve not been doing so far. This was certainly the case with us.

A month and a half, many conversations and a lot of tea later, the thought occurs that this exercise has definitely been worthwhile, but it’s been as much about having that initial conversation with people to keep them in the back of your minds as it is getting them to look at your posts.

While we probably won’t carry on posting as much as we have to different pages, what we have done is factored local groups properly into our campaign planning, so that whenever a new campaign is launched, we know that we’ve got good content we’ve invested time in, and we have a database of groups refer to when spreading the word.

Tl:dr

  • Yes, you should do it. But start small and manage expectations
  • Local pages still have to get around the newsfeed algorithm and have fewer skills to overcome it. Use about 10% of the pages likes as a ballpark figure for their actual reach when deciding whether to engage with them.
  • One post that is then shared to community pages is harder to personalise, but it’s much easier to keep track of that all-important conversation and engage with it over the long haul.
  • You still need good quality content.
  • Local people’s definition of ‘local’ is more local than your definition of local.
  • This isn’t an alternative to advertising on Facebook — it complements it.
  • Mapping local groups across your patch is worth the time investment.

Fancy a chat? Get hold of me on Twitter — @jonathanpyke