Twitter is my favourite social network. I love its simplicity, restriction on characters and ability to connect people to each other, and them to news and information from all over the world so quickly and easily and at no cost!
I have come across examples recently in Norfolk where Twitter is being used as more than a marketing tool or news feed though, and actually enabling communities to engage with each other in real discussion and provide a sense of community cohesion.
My first insight into this was when Norfolk Tweetup was invited to Swaffham by Cllr Ian Sherwood. He promised that Swaffham was very active on Twitter and that there would be a good turnout, and he was not wrong, it was the best attended Norfolk Tweetup to date! Whilst there I got talking to Ian and also Town Clerk, Richard Bishop, and they explained to me how they, as town council representatives, had taken it upon themselves to enlighten Swaffham as to the virtues of Twitter. They had held training sessions where, once sceptical local businesses, had learnt the ropes and at the same event those businesses told me how they now loved Twitter now and found it incredibly useful to share news about their business and keep up-to-date with their industry.
“Twitter adds greater depth to any community, reaching some people previously uninterested in what is going on in their parish or town…” Richard Bishop, Swaffham Town Clerk.
I then did an interview with Martin George from the EDP who told me that he was actually tweeting from the Swaffham town council meetings and that the discussion on Twitter with local residents and businesses before, during and after the meetings was a real sign that Swaffham had taken to Twitter to share ideas and opinions, sometimes strong ones!, about their local town.
“Twitter has a real role in community cohesion. It is a great leveller, with anyone able to easily and instantly communicate with anyone else, no matter what their position. The conversations are conducted in the open – great for spreading information and seeing elected representatives held to account. It lowers the barriers to participation – I’ve been to town council meetings with three people in public gallery but many times that following and joining the debate on Twitter. The debate can happen at any time, and does not have to be tied down to specific venue and date. And I have seen what started on Twitter spill out into the physical world, and lead to new friendships and relationships.” Martin George.
Shortly after this I was invited to Watton to meet with Iain Cockburn, centre manager of the Wayland Business Centre, and Julian of the Breckland View. They told me that they had also been running free Twitter and social media training sessions for local residents and businesses and felt strongly that as a community, Watton could benefit from being more proactive on Twitter and use it to communicate with residents and share local and business news.
‘We have set-up the Wayland Twitter Network to bring together the community to the benefit of all those who work and live in Wayland. We want to build an online community where people who care about the Wayland area can meet with others who share the same belief. We offer a place where individuals, organisations, groups, clubs and businesses can share what’s important to them in the local area.’ Iain Cockburn, Centre Manager at the Wayland Business Centre in Watton.
I am now seeing a upsurge in Twitter accounts and people tweeting in Fakenham and understand that Fakenham Town Council are looking into using Twitter as a tool for communication.
If used well Twitter is an excellent tool to quickly communicate and share information on a local level. It is designed to be viral and one tweet has the potential to be seen and read by many people. It is also a free way for a local community to engage and talk to each other and share opinions.
If you would like to understand more about Twitter come along to a ‘Get to Grips with Twitter’ workshop on 15th May.