[Photo by Andalib.]
Here’s a case study about how Monmouthshire County Council‘s youth service has used Facebook to revitalise the way it communicates with kids and teenagers.
Established: Around April 2010
Moderated by: Dan Davies of Monmouthshire County Council’s youth service
The reason it’s fantastic is because it’s being used not just as a way to push out messages to young people in the county (although it does do that): it has become the hub of all social activity, has saved the service money and is a genuine example of using tools to serve a purpose not just doing Facebook ‘because we should’.
I met Dan Davies, a youth worker, about a year ago after I’d spotted lots of activity going on in his Facebook page. I went to meet him to run through our social media policy and guide and I thought I’d give him a few tips on how to get the most from social media.
It turns out he was an avid Facebooker and he’d already used his skills and his connections with schools and kids in the system to create a great page with, then, about 500 young people talking to his department and each other. Last week I met him for an update and to look at applications like Hootsuite to make life easier – he told me some brilliant stuff he’s doing that puts his page ahead of anything like it I’ve seen. This discussion I had with Dan answers the question ‘what about offensive and inappropriate posts?’ and highlights how letting talented staff do their thing pays off enormously.
Dan, how many kids do you work with?
We have five youth centres and staff in every secondary school – mainly kids come to us because they want to, it’s not a compulsory service. We work with young people aged 10-25 but our main core focus is 14-19 year olds which is roughly 3,000 people.
On-the-ground youth work can’t be replaced – they come to our social media channels after face-to-face contact. First they have to come on a trip with us, then they have photos taken and uploaded to Facebook and they get involved that way.
Who runs your Facebook account?
At the moment it’s just me but we are planning to get a team of young people in our ‘Roving Reporters’ project eventually primed to be gateway for all our social media.
Could you give a brief description of your role?
I work with challenging young people – supporting schools in tackling challenging behaviour and engaging young people with education. So for example if a young person finds a lesson hard to engage with we will work with that person one-to-one and in lessons to get them where they want to be. I also work in the community outside of school hours. I am responsible for web development and using social media has become a part of that.
What made you think Facebook was right for your service?
Every October we work with police to take pupils to Thorpe Park at Halloween. We used that trip to ask 350 young people from across Monmouthshire ‘do you use Facebook?’. We got 100% of people saying yes. It was clearly a good avenue for communicating and the whole project is about communicating with people in a way they want to be communicated with. I’m a Facebook user myself and I was confident I could make it work.
My personal feelings were that we wanted to safeguard people on Internet and we wanted to get a message across to communicate in a safe way – where better to do that than on the Internet?
What kind of stuff can kids do on there?
We are completely open, anyone can post photos or whatever. I’m administrator – staff send me stuff and I post it for them if it compliments our activities or delivery of services.
If, for example we have a project launch we would post a video to get people interested. Young people will help with the making of that video and then they can tag themselves if they’re in it, ‘Like’ it or give opinion on video or project itself.
At activities I take photos and post a photo album – they tag themselves which will appear on their profile.
I use Facebook for organising proms – in the case of the Caldicot School Leavers Prom 2011 I set up a separate business page and every student in that year (bar three who don’t have Facebook) ‘Liked’ it. All ticketing is done through Facebook: I use Paypal going to the community group bank account for the prom tickets so they can all buy tickets through Facebook. Everyone (235 people) bought ticket at Caldicot – if they didn’t use Facebook they got their friend to buy it. When they bought a ticket they were on the guestlist and I IDed them on the door using their Facebook profile picture.
I can keep up with how many are buying and I’ve wasted no time distributing leaflets and saved on printing costs.
Our Health Alliance recently sent ten questions and asked for 500 hundred responses. I posted a Survey Monkey survey at 5pm on a Monday and by the next day at noon we had 416 responses.
I also use Facebook groups for football clubs to promote discussion. A Facebook group is a constant meeting. I get the captain to add all team-mates and we ask questions on where to go using polls. The closed discussion is great because their experience is about bonding and sharing and promoting the team aspect.
What kind of steps do you take to manage unwanted content?
Well, they can untag themselves in photos and if they comment that they don’t like the photo is instantly taken down. This has happened one or two times.
With inappropriate or abusive posts I’ll post saying it’s unacceptable and have the post removed. It hardly ever happens – only about two times can I remember abuse, and it was banter gone wrong – ‘you look ugly in this photo’ that kind of thing. Language on Facebook can be more relaxed than we normally allow for and if someone says something is shit then its constructive feedback which we take on board, but I have to delete it. Our young people hardly ever swear – they know what we do, that it has a tie to schools and know they need a level of formality.
I hate it when businesses or profit making organisations advertise on our wall, I don’t approve those posts and they remain hidden – I will only promote something like that if people ask by email and if it’s involving young people and enhancing their lives. In those cases I’ll send the company an email saying if you’d like to promote something please email.
Young people are always eager to help, and I have a knack for identifying people interested in certain areas who will take a leadership role and they’re happy to be on board. Getting teachers’ trust has meant we have a rapport that adds trust in the service and credibility.
Did you encounter any problems or issues that you had to find solutions for?
It was first set up as information giving service only – people could only read and they couldn’t comment. I took a risk and enabled comments, enabled people to post on our wall to share information. It was phenomenal. With feedback it became interactive and then we needed a moderator to filter appropriate and not appropriate content. We use a filter with a list or terms that would make a post hidden and it works really well.
As a council we can’t publish photos without consent. For trips and events I modified forms to include social media usage.
When you set the page up, did you refer to the Monmouthshire County Council social media policy? If so, what was helpful and what was missing?
A few months after I set up the account I consulted with you in the communications department and ensured I was working within the parameters laid down by the council and we luckily do have a lot of freedom to use social media.
There were IT restrictions – social media websites were blocked when I first started so I had to do it on personal equipment – so on my phone at work or my own laptop out of work hours. I had to be make sure I was allowing young people to communicate safely and I felt I had to be careful what we said as managers followed us on the page.
The social media policy wasn’t too restrictive and gave us freedom and when all staff got access in January 2011 it was a big relief to access pages in work hours in our offices . It meant I could encourage more users to join in and I could do more. More than that it gave credibility to the work I do and it meant I had backing from the Chief Executive and management. I wasn’t worried about comments of ‘why are you sitting around on Facebook all day?’ as people were more aware of the importance of the role.
Do you think Monmouthshire County Council is more supportive of the use of social media to engage people than other authorities?
Definitely, I’ve read about other councils who aren’t allowed to use it and are very protective over what happens online. We have realised this is how people communicate and posters and letters just aren’t up to scratch any more. Social media comes with policies and procedures but we need to tackle these issues and get on with it. All councils will need to become more permissive.