Villages get twittering

PUBLISHED: 11:59 16 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:53 20 February 2013

Villages get twittering

Villages get twittering

Tweeting and Facebooking aren't just for the young... social network sites are a way of keeping rural communities connected

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Tweeting and Facebooking arent just for the young social network sites are a way of keeping rural communities connected

If you are someone who still thinks that surfing belongs at the Cornish seaside and that tweeting is something that only birds do, the explosion of new social media may make you shudder. But before you turn the page, take a moment to consider why one third of the population are registered on at least one social network and how this is set to change the way rural communities work in the future.

Village websites are well established and for scattered rural communities can be an ideal way to share information about activities and events. Calverhall, in north Shropshire, was the Shropshire Life/Calor Vilage of the Year in 2007. At the time the judges from the Community Council of Shropshire, were particularly impressed by the village website (www.calverhall-village.co.uk) which enables people to research local history as well as view pictures from the many local village activities. It also provides a marketing opportunity for local businesses.

Facebook is the most widely known electronic social network.Launched in 2004, this market leader now has an estimated 600 million users worldwide. Users create a personal profile, add other people as friends, exchange messages and share photographs. But how can it be used to benefit communities? With an estimated 20 million UK residents registered on Facebook, and half checking their page every day, it can be a very effective and cheap way for groups to inform, involve and engage with people. Users can join common interest user groups, including ones organised by the community, and as people meet on line, it can actually increase inclusion in community life.

One example is David Jones, a resident of Rhosllanerchrugog, a village just north of Oswestry, who was concerned that a planning proposal would reduce the few parking spaces in the village by almost half. Only a handful of householders were aware of the application although many more people in and around the village would be adversely affected. David set up a Facebook page to tell people about the proposals, and through posters in shops and on noticeboards told people how to find it. Two hundred and 45 people linked up and were kept informed about deadlines for letters of objection and key meeting dates. Copies of the plans were put on the page as well as links to the local authority website. After the level of public outcry, the planning application was withdrawn.

Twitter is a social messaging service which hasnt enjoyed the best profile. Stories of people using this platform for telling the world what they are planning for tea have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, it can be an effective way for users to share information quickly and one
example of a rural shop shows how useful it can be.The village shop in Longtown, Herefordshire uses Twitter to engage with local people to keep them informed about what they are doing. For them, Twitter is not primarily a marketing tool, as only a tiny fraction of the 100 million tweeters will ever visit the village, let alone the shop. But shopkeeper Christine Hope found it useful during the bad weather in December when newspaper deliveries were delayed. Christine says: We were able to inform customers the papers would be a couple of hours late and prevented themmaking a wasted journey.

The growth of social networks is likely to continue as more organisations and services become available through this route. Already there are signs people are reducing the number of emails they send and publishing group information through social network sites instead.

Chief Executive of the Community Council of Shropshire, Julia Baron, says: We are keen to help people in Shropshire make the best use of these new tools for communication and run surgeries for people to find out what is involved and how to get started.

Ben Proctor, one of the volunteer surgeons explains: Its a simple idea. For example, the chair of a local community group wonders if there might be anything in this Facebook idea that people keep talking about, so they decide to drop-in on the social media surgery. A surgeon (a geek like me) sits down with them, asks about their group and what they are thinking of doing. Then they can show them how to go about it.
Its relaxed, informal, and tailored to individual needs. Its just a quiet chat with a volunteer who knows what they are talking about.

To find out more, contact Renee Wallace at the Community Council,
tel: 01743 360641, for dates of surgeries.

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