Belfast City Council
Relevant Background Information
Significant progress has been made in developing an efficient and effective communications service for Belfast City Council with a view to improving the image and reputation of the organisation. New communications channels, such as the website, Facebook and Twitter are successfully being used to reach ratepayers alongside the continued development and improvement of existing and traditional channels such as the media, City Matters and publications. All of this has been achieved while at the same realising significant savings for the council. This report sets out to outline details of progress to members.
Awards and recognition
July 2009: UK Good Communications Awards (the main communications awards for the public sector in the UK) – Belfast City Council Corporate Communications was one of just four local authorities across the UK to be shortlisted for PR Team of the year and was a commended runner up.
December 2009: CIPR Awards (the PR industry’s main awards of the year for both in-house and consultancy PR) – Belfast City Council was described as the most prolific winner on the night, picking up awards in a range of categories. The awards were the result of excellent team work across departments.:
Gold Award – Best Newsletter – the A-Z of Council Services
Gold Award – Best Leaflets – Information on Flooding
Gold Award – Best Website – The Zoo
Gold Award – Best Integrated Communication – Waste Management
Silver Award – Best Newspaper/magazine – City Matters
Silver Award – Best Event – the MAD Awards.
October 2009 – Belfast City Council was held up at a Social Networking Conference in the Odyssey in Belfast, attended by 400 people, as the best example of how organisations should use Facebook and Twitter to engage with customers.
The Council has developed a corporate approach to effective communications, by the internal transfer of resources, delivering the 2005 recommendations while also achieving significant savings. With the support and co-operation of departments, total efficiencies in the area of communications will have amounted to over £1.265 million in the three year period ending 2009/10. See table below:
The number of unique visits to the council website has increased almost threefold in the past three years, from around 675,000 in 2006 to almost 2 million in 2009. The progress has continued this year with 135,130 visitors in April compared to almost 160,000 in September.
Hits on the website peaked in August with 216,000 unique visitors as a result of the Tall Ships visit ensuring that Belfast City Council website was one of the top four sites for traffic among all public sector sites in the UK.
City Matters continues to be our most successful communications tool. We continue to get up to 1,000 responses from the publication’s readers including comments, feedback and requests for information, with the vast majority of these being extremely positive about the publication and about Belfast City Council.
The cost per edition is £38.5k. It is partly paid through advertising income which averages £20k per edition. City Matters is delivered six times a year but one edition will be removed from next year’s budget for efficiency reasons.
A-Z of council services
Our A-Z directory highlighting all the services the council provides began distribution on 7 December and will be delivered to all ratepayers.
The income generated through advertising for this publication was £27k out of the total cost of £40.5k.
Out of the 207 design jobs carried out over the past six months, over half of these were completed by our in-house designer. These include:
· City Matters
· The City Hall reopening campaign
· Garden Gourmet campaign
· Tall Ships publications.
A second designer on a fixed contract is starting in December 2009. This means that we will significantly reduce our spend on graphic design – over £120k was spent on using external companies in 2008-09 – as we will be able to do even more design work in-house.
Corporate Communications will bring forward a digital strategy for the council early in the New Year and will also develop policies and procedures around the use of new communications technologies, such as email marketing and social networking, to ensure a corporate value for money approach is adopted across the council.
· Email marketing
A procurement document has been sent out for an email marketing solution to ensure a corporate approach. This will provide efficiency savings by cutting down on things such as print and postage. It will also be a more targeted and measurable way of communicating.
· Social networking
The use of this new channel of communication is proving to be extremely successful. For example over 8,000 people said they would be visiting the continental market at Christmas through our Facebook site .We have successfully promoted events, such as Stitch and Style for Waste Week, as well as our Lord Mayor’s blog on both Twitter and Facebook. Belfast City Council now has 972 followers on Twitter and 415 followers on Facebook.
Corporate Communications is working closely with BCVB on the development and roll out of the ‘B’ brand and developing council guidelines around its use.
Media enquiries – Increasing media demands, with 24 hour news bulletins and more weekly newspapers, meant that there has been a 10 per cent increase in media queries during the past six months, 1626 enquiries were dealt with – an average of just under 300 per month.
Response times - An improvement in response times indicates 71% are dealt with in less than one hour, and 11% in 1 to 4 hours.
Analysis of enquiries - During the period, analysis of figures for regional broadcast media show that BBC NI made most demands on staff time with 61% of enquiries and UTV 12% of enquiries
Media coverage - over 80% of newspaper stories are now positive
Positive media coverage that has been achieved for BCC has included the Tall Ships, the Belfast 2009 campaign highlighting the reopening of landmark buildings, such as the City Hall and Ulster Hall, alongside new developments, Safer Belfast, anti-litter and waste management campaigns, the continental market, health and leisure initiatives, economic development and older people.
Journalists recently surveyed as an part of an evaluation of the implementation of the 2005 review of communications said that the Belfast City Council media operation is among the best, if not the best, in Northern Ireland. The services we provide the media include:
Following implementation of many of the recommendations from the Verve 2007 report on advertising the following advertising savings have been made this year to date:
· Recruitment advertising - £100,200
· Placement of advertising - £6,500 (by booking adverts display not classified)
· City Hall opening campaign - £17k of media delivered for £10k, 41% discount
· Boost January (planned) activity – £40k of media delivered for £19,182, 52% discount
· Added value delivered such as FOC print for bus stop 6 sheet activity and FOC outdoor sites
Significant volume advertising discounts have also been negotiated with main media suppliers ensuring that the council gets value for money when placing its advertising. We have also generated advertising revenue to help cover the cost of City Matters and the A-Z directory as outlined above.
An audit report on the council’s approach to advertising is currently being completed. Once it is finalised, Corporate Communication will begin to develop an advertising strategy, including defined policies and procedures. Its aim will be to further improve effectiveness and achieve further significant savings and will be brought to the committee for approval early in the New Year.
Interlink – employee intranet - News stories of interest to staff including council decisions and policies are uploaded with many new sections added regularly with information on staff offers, the staff restaurant, ISB customer zone, Waste treatment facilities and performance. The success of the site is underlined by the fact that more than 1,600 distinct staff visit the site on a monthly basis with over 7,000 hits per day, making it an effective communications tool.
Getting People Connected - A pilot, called Getting People Connected, is to run at six sites (depots, leisure and community centres) during December 2009 to get information to staff who don’t have PCs. TV screens will be installed in staff canteens to display stories from interlink's homepage.
Intercom – During the past six months three editions have been produced. Among the stories features has been the 2009 MAD Awards and a pull out on the reopening of City Hall, the Tall Ships event and stories on performance and business issues such as absence and local government review updates. A reader satisfaction survey in July showed over 96 per cent of respondents rated the publication as good or very good.
Team brief - The team brief has been reviewed with the brief now issued to all departments every second month. Over 150 team briefers have been on refresher training and the new evaluation system has been running for six months.
Face to face - one council briefings – Regular staff briefings take palce at City Hall informing staff of important issues, such as RPA and the many challenges facing our organisation.
Future plans – Initiatives under consideration include the use of video to get across messages to staff, further development of Interlink as a two-way communications device with staff.
A high priority will be given to exploring with Members how they want to receive information and be kept informed about operational work and activity and initiatives aligned to our corporate themes.
Members are asked to note:
· The recent awards successes achieved by Belfast City Council for its communications activity, which enhances the image and reputation of the council and the city as a whole;
· The efficiencies and improvements achieved as a result of professionalising the communications service
· The efforts to embrace new communications channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, as a way of improving services and engagement with ratepayers.
Appendix 1 - Twitter details and examples
Appendix 2 – Facebook details and examples
Appendiz 3 – You Tube
Appendiz 4 - Flickr
What is Twitter?
Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets.
Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author's profile page and delivered to the author's subscribers who are known as followers.
We currently have 925 followers (16 November 2009). Our followers include ratepayers, businesses, councillors, other councils and government agencies, as well as members of the press.
What do we use Twitter for?
We use Twitter to post information about council projects, events, news, jobs and tenders. We also use it during emergencies such as flooding. It is a quick and easy way to communicate key messages.
Within our messages, we always include a web link back to the council website so users can get further information.
Our followers can also communicate with us via our Twitter page, sending us queries or questions about council events and services.
· Search facility - this allows us to monitor what people are saying on Twitter about the council and council projects or events.
· Re-tweet facility - Twitter enables people to ‘re-tweet’ our tweet to their followers so our message is spread virally to people.
· ‘Follow’ facility – we can follow other users and organisations, particularly partners, tp promote a joined approach
Example - Lord Mayor’s blog
We are currently trialling the Lord Mayor’s blog at www.belfastcity.gov.uk/lordmayorsblog
It was set up at the end of August 2009 and currently has eight postings.
On average, the blog receives around 500 visits per month but this will increase over time as we develop the section.
When a blog post is added on our website, we put a comment on Twitter directing our followers back to our website. Some of these postings are below:
These Twitter postings have generated over 300 visits to the Lord Mayor’s blog on our website. This builds awareness of the Lord Mayor’s role and activities as well as showcasing what the council website has to offer.
What is Facebook?
Facebook is a global social networking website. It allows people to connect and share information with friends. Businesses and organisations can also use it to communicate key messages to their ‘fans’ – people who have decided to receive information and updates from a business or organisation.
We currently have 363 fans (16 November 2009). Our fans include rate payers, businesses, councillors, government agencies and members of the press.
What do we use Facebook for?
We use Facebook to post information about council projects, events, news, jobs and tenders. We also use it during emergencies, such as flooding. Within our postings, we include web links back to the council website so users can get further information. It is a quick and easy way to communicate key messages.
Our fans can also communicate with us via our Facebook page, sending us queries or questions about council events and services. They can also comment on our postings and say whether they like it by ‘giving it the thumbs up’.
· Photo and video galleries
· Events calendar
· Discussion boards.
Example – Christmas Continental Market
We added the Christmas Continental Market to the council’s Facebook events calendar and it has received a huge response from people on Facebook.
Like Twitter, users can ‘share’ our information/events/postings with their friends and our message can spread virally. People can also invite their friends to go to our events and this is what has happened with the Continental Market. We currently have 7,850 confirmed guests (16 November 2009) for the market - the event was communicated to these people virally.
Our fans can also post comments on our Facebook page and events. We currently have 241 posts about the Christmas Continental Market.
What is YouTube?
YouTube is a video sharing website on which users can upload and share videos.
What do we use YouTube for?
We have uploaded nearly 20 videos to our council You Tube account including:
· Belfast brand TV adverts
· Anti-litter TV adverts
· Youth Forum videos.
You Tube compresses and resizes videos which we can then place on our website. Videos can also be shared between users to highlight projects and events.
* makes use of video being produced already
* attracts a new and hard to reach audience
* reduces load on services
* allows content to be spread virally
What is Flickr?
Flickr is an online photo management and sharing application.
What do we use Flickr for?
We have uploaded a number of photos to our Flickr page. Once there, we can pull the images back onto the council website as an easy to use photo gallery. This saves time and resources as Flickr will crop and resize images automatically.
Flickr is also a good way to publicise an event or council project as users can ‘share’ photos with each other.
* makes use of photography being produced already
* attracts a new and hard to reach audience
* reduces load on services
* allows content to be spread virally