Mark Wallace of the Taxpayers' Alliance warns councils against jumping on trendy bandwagons which serve no purpose – like West Sussex County Council's little-watched YouTube channel.
More evidence this week that some councils either have more money and time than they know what to do with, or have a misguided understanding of what their job involves.
Publicity and communications has long been an area where some councils simply don’t seem to understand what is a good idea and what isn’t. More worryingly, some of them don’t seem either able or willing to learn from their mistakes and stop pursuing poor ideas when they have clearly failed.
A prime example is West Sussex County Council’s range of videos on YouTube, which have been posted over the last 18 months or so.
The first clear failing is that no one seems to want to watch the council’s films. The most popular of the 46 videos that they have so far uploaded has attracted 1,398 views, and has taken 15 months to do so. Plenty more have been sitting on the internet for months, being watched by only a handful of people.
One has to wonder what measure of success or failure was set down at the start of the project. Did it even have one? It seems hard to believe that anyone could view this as a success.
Part of the problem with WSCC’s online offerings is that they are utterly mistargeted. One recent video, highlighted this week by the Brighton Argus, instructs people how to use a mobile phone:
As well as being hugely patronising in its tone, this video has a fatal flaw. It is clearly aimed at those who lack experience with modern technology such as mobile phones, but how likely is it that such an audience are able to use the internet, still less YouTube?
This sums up the mistakes being made in this area. It is absolutely within the remit of local authorities to provide adult education, and to help people currently lacking key skills to learn them. Practical skills such as using mobile phones are particularly important in the modern age. However, providing a YouTube video about it is irrelevant to the target market, and so a waste of money.
And yet at least the mobile phone video is well intended, if useless in practice. Plenty of West Sussex’s other films are simply propaganda for the council. Take for example “A hole lotta road-mending going on…” (uploaded 18th August 2008, but only watched 91 times), the only point of which seems to be to convince people that the County Councillors are listening to their concerns:
Unfortunately for WSCC, the videos have not only proved a waste of money and failed to reach all but a handful of people, they have even backfired in PR terms, attracting the opprobrium of local residents. It may seem a less glamourous option, but you can’t help but feel that the Council would have been better off just getting on with the important task of providing services to people.
West Sussex’s somewhat embarrassing foray into YouTube should be a cautionary tale for other councils. If you find yourself tempted to jump on a trendy bandwagon, pause to consider for a moment: does this serve a purpose, or are you is it about the urge to be fashionable? Is this publicity for publicity’s sake, or for self promotion, or will it actually help the people who need services to access them? Last, but not necessarily least, could you end up with egg on your face?