Social Media | “Not everyone’s on Twitter”

The past week was Local Democracy Week and Exeter City Council organised several events, including a Question Time from Exeter College.

During the event, I live-tweeted questions and answers. To what end?

Well, local councillor, Catherine Dawson had been signed off sick and was unable to attend Full Council on Tuesday and the other events during the week – she felt isolated from what was going on. At least she had Twitter.

She followed the Question Time event on Twitter as I Ilinked my tweets from Exeter College with the hashtag #ExeQT.

She made the following comment:

which prompted the response:

To receive a response from Cllr Andrew Pope is interesting – he is a Labour Councillor in Southampton, yet he was following events at Exeter’s Question Time.

At first I was pleased with the view that I’m “a social media legend!

But then a thought I thought popped into my head – “Not everyone’s on Twitter”, and led me to question whether Andrew Pope’s comment was a good thing?

I’ve heard that phrase –  “Not everyone’s on Twitter”  – at least twice over the past couple of months.

The first time was at a Labour Party branch meeting in June, where the county councillor was updating the 16 members present on a consultation on the future of Exeter’s Walk-In Centres.

“Oh, yes”, I said, “I sent some tweets made from notes I made at the meeting the following morning”

“Not everyone’s on Twitter” came the reply form the county councillor.

I thought about it.

And the truth dawned that my notes were able to be seen at the time of writing by any one of my 1,300 or so followers. Indeed, I know at least 5 people not only saw them, but read them. And wanted to respond to my notes as they provided further information. We continued the debate long after the original meeting

And I can link you to them now – in a storify feed entitled Exeter Walk-In Centres.

Here you’ll not only see my – and others – tweets but some background information about the subject.

I also wrote an article for The ExeterDaily  – The Future of Exeter Walk-In Centres

The same thing happened a couple of months  later, in September,  when I attended the public examination of the Teignbridge District  Council Local Plan.

Sitting beside me in the public gallery was Cllr Margaret Clark, ward councillor for Alphington., which could be affected by some of the new developments outlined in the Local Plan.

Already Alphington Village is to have “up to 500 new homes” within the Exeter City Council boundaries; contained within the Teignbridge Local Plan are “at least 2000 new properties” on their side of the border.

Much braver now, I said to Margaret that I was going to live tweet about the meeting.

As you can guess, the reply from Margaret was “”Not everyone’s on Twitter”

I know…but I also know that during that meeting via the medium of Twitter I interacted with several interested parties. Indeed, one quickly gave me the information that it was a 5 mile round trip when an development agent suggested that is was “a 20 minute walk” from a additional development he wanted to see included in the Local Plan.

My notes on the meeting are in Plan Teignbridge | Local Plan Public Examination – and to date have had 53 views; I wonder how many have seen the notes in Margaret’s notebook or heard her speak about that meeting?

I know that Alphington Village Forum have picked up on my thoughts and comments – because they’ve retweeted many of them from their own Twitter account, @Alphington Forum.

And here you go, proof that you don’t need  to be on Twitter to read what’s being said on Twitter – you can link into conversations from any computer, whether you are registered with Twitter or not.

Some more discussions around the issues raised at the public examination still abound – last week I went on a visit to Cranbrook as part of a project I’m working on in my professional career as a theatre practitioner and several tweets I made that weekend had resonances with those with an interest in planning in and around Exminster and SW Exeter urban extension.

But Twitter helps get the message out in other ways.

I am an avid note taker at meetings – it helps me digest the information.

I used to write in notebooks, scraps of paper, agenda papers, reports. But that left the question, what to do with them? They usually ended up in the recycling pile at some later stage, and I have no further access to them once the green wheelie bin has been emptied

Now I use my trusty iPad to make notes.

I can keep annotated copies of council agendas and reports

If I’m participating in an ECC Scrutiny Committee or Full Council meeting, I make notes on an app to tweet later

If I’m in the public gallery, I will often live-tweet, compressing the message into 140 character bite-sized chunks

Then I often curate my tweets and those of others into those Storify feeds.

An example of this happened after the live-tweet from the Exeter City Council Full Council meeting on 15 October 2013.

This was the first time we had allowed live-tweeting from the Guildhall (Standing Orders were altered at the start of the meeting to allow this) and an ECC gave an impartial view of proceedings.  Others contributed and I added facts about the process in this storify feed, 15 October 2013 | @ExeterCouncil Full Council

So that’s one reason why I use Twitter. But not the only reason.

I use Twitter to broadcast information – from Exeter City Council, pressure and campaign groups on issues that interest me.

I use Twitter to engage in conversations – to develop awareness of these issues.

I’ve received casework from Twitter.

I try to be a 2-way conduit of information – sending out information from the City Council to residents , and receiving views and opinions from residents to feed to the City Council – and one way of doing this is Twitter.

But it’s not the only way.

Nothing beats face-to-face contact on the doorstep and at public events.

i’ll still continue to write and deliver newsletters and street letter.

And to speak to residents on the phone.

But Twitter and other forms of social media is becoming a growing way for politicians to start to convince the general public that politics is relevant to people, and show that politicians are real people with real personalities.

So I now believe that the answer to the phrase “Not everyone’s on Twitter” is:

“yes, I agree, but not everyone’s in when I knock on their door” or

“yes, I agree, but not everyone actually reads the newsletter I post through their letterbox”.

And another one, “you don’t have to be signed up to Twitter to see what’s happening on Twitter”.

Google Paul Bull + Twitter and it will direct you to my feed @Paul4Cowick.

Social media is a new weapon in the arsena of a politicianl to engage and connect with our electorate, so let’s embrace it and use it how we want to.

Who knows, you might even want to join Twitter and join in the debate?