Council in WhatsApp engagement experiment

A council has announced a trial of mobile messaging application WhatsApp as a tool to allow residents to contact councillors.

Unitary authority Shropshire Council said that it is branching out following the “huge success” of its Twitter account, which it started to use as a communication channel in 2013.

Council leader Keith Barrow, along with four other councillors and a council general enquiries service all joined WhatsApp on Monday. The trial will last four weeks.

Barrow said: “By trying new ways of communicating, we open up a whole new dialogue with people in a way that suits people and is comfortable to them.

“I want the council to only ever be as far away as a text message, a friend on Facebook or a fellow tweeter.

“Following on from the success of our twitter account, it seems sensible to see how we can use WhatsApp to interact with local people.”

WhatsApp allows messages and images to be sent via WiFi connections, rather than SMS messages. It has 417m users around the world. It has an annual charge of 69 US cents a year.

Barrow said that the council was keen to communicate using channels that people have already adopted, rather than creating new ones and expecting citizens to adapt to them.

He said: “Of course we hope that it’s successful as it could be a fantastic way for us to talk to each other; but if not, we’ll dust ourselves down, learn from it and move on.”The general council enquiries number will be monitored Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm, the council said.

Messages outside of these hours will be picked up, but may not be responded to instantly.

Earlier this year, a Freedom of Information request revealed that 129 local authorities.had spent £3.22m over the past three and a half years on social media messaging.

Eight councils spent more than £100,000 over the period, with some councils employing members of staff solely to work on social media.

Colin Marrs

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