We use social media to help people actively engage in the work of Parliament and show the impact of that work. The content team is responsible for managing and improving @UKParliament's presence on social media and recently we went to Social Media Week London.
We wanted to hear what industry experts have to say about using social to build strong partnerships with your audience and work out how the latest innovations can help us continue to be where people are and do it better.
There were more than 50 sessions including talks, interviews, panel sessions and workshops. Here are three of the most interesting things we learnt which you should see reflected in our future posts.
Lesson 1: put the human in the machine
When working in social media for a busy organisation it can be easy to forget that it's not just about pumping out content. People want to follow your brand because they're interested. They'll soon give up, however, if your brand has the personality of a robot and has the conversation skills of a brick.
So what should you do? Well, thanks to some insights from David Schneider (of 'I'm Alan Partridge' fame) and David Levin (from MTV), their first suggestion was to make your account's personality that of "a fan of your product who just happens to be writing for you."
Secondly, add a little humour and be self-deprecating, show that you understand your audience. Of course this depends on the social channel and context of the post. For an account like @UKParliament, adopting humour might not be appropriate given the serious nature of our work and the history of the building.
It doesn't mean, however, we can't develop a personality and to aim for the voice of a trusted friend who talks about complex things in a way that's easy to understand.
The final point was "write more, better" which supports the plain English approach we're already taking to writing online. Why use 20 words when 10 will do? Use short sentences, contractions and simplify messages with your social audience in mind.
Lesson 2: Prepare for a “post literal” social media world
There were some pretty startling statistics about smartphone usage flying around at Social Media Week. For example, the average smartphone user checks their device “over 150 times a day” and users “scroll further every week than the height of Big Ben” (that’s 96m, if you’re interested).
In addition, not only are people scrolling further they are scrolling faster. Research shows smartphone scrolling is much faster than desktop scrolling. Smartphone users are also absorbing this content faster.
The competition for attention is fierce and you really need to earn your right to be in the newsfeed. There is not a lot of time to make a first impression with your content. Even if you do grab a user's attention you probably haven’t got it for very long.
There was talk at Social Media Week of a “post literal environment”. In the context of smartphone usage this means images, animations, videos and emojis. These have the edge over words when communicating information quickly and with maximum impact.
This is a huge challenge for Parliament where the printed word still dominates. As one of the presenters pithily observed “things have never changed so fast before and will never change so slowly again” and we need to make sure Parliament keeps up. We’ve been working hard to develop our visual skill set. We are producing more visual content than ever before but the demand for this kind of content just keeps increasing.
Lesson 3: if your website isn't up to scratch, social can fill the gap
Parliament is gradually transitioning to a new website and a more sustainable website platform. The new site will be mobile responsive. The majority of Parliament's content, however, lives on the current site which is not mobile responsive. The content therefore doesn't work as well as it could for the two thirds of UK adults who use smartphones to go online.
Social media provides an opportunity to connect people using mobile devices in a way that works for them. Almost 80% of time spent on social media users comes from smartphone users and the platforms are optimised for that.
We need to think carefully about the end-to-end user journey for our followers on social media. Often we direct them to web pages for more information but we don't always need to send users to www.parliament.uk if there's a better experience where they are. Could we share the same information in a short video (30 seconds or less)? Or would text superimposed on an image plus a tweet or caption give them everything they need to know?
In a talk, "Telling impactful stories with social video", we heard that four times as many people would rather watch a video about a service or product than read about it. If a 30 second video is worth 900,000 words and Parliament is already producing accessible videos that work on mobile devices, you can expect to see more of that from us in future. We'll also be using some new templates soon that will allow us to share more interesting, fact-filled posts with images.
Tweets to pay attention to
We couldn't make it to every session and workshop but plenty of other social experts shared their highlights or interesting facts using the #SMWLDN. Here's a selection of our favourites.