We are running a short series of posts from councillors around the country about different aspects of the role. Some will be talking about the daily details of what being an elected member entails for them; others have written about a specific cause or issue that being on the council has allowed them to champion. All the contributions add up to a snapshot of the busy and varied job of councillor. A big thank you to all those who have taken time to contribute.
Councillor Andy Boddington is a Liberal Democrat councillor for Ludlow North, Shropshire Council; in this post he talks about his life as a digital councillor.
In the early hours of a bitterly cold March four years ago, I made a commitment to myself. After months of pushing paper through doors to get elected as a unitary councillor for Ludlow in Shropshire, I knew that leaflets and flyers were not the way forward. It had been a fast moving campaign and by the time leaflets were printed they were out of date. As exhaustion slipped into sleep after the count, I told myself I was going to be a digital councillor.
It wasn’t easy at first. I was not well known locally and my digital friends were anywhere but Ludlow. I didn’t have a strategy. Playing by ear, I built up a following through my blog and a twice monthly emailed newsletter. The newsletter now goes out to 500 people and is probably read by three times that many. My blog gets around 100,000 page views a year. I reckon that’s good for a small town blog written by a small town councillor.
At first it was hard to find people online. But then people started talking about my blog and newsletter in town. They walked up to me in town to say, “Thank you for keeping us informed.” That gave impetus to write more. As I wrote more, more people signed up.
In a busy little town like this there is always enough news for two or three new articles a week. If I am writing an angry email on parking policy, it is not much extra work to write an article. Writing also helps me get my ideas together. I don’t hold back on political opinion but I want to be a “trusted source” of information. That means I don’t distort facts.
Because I am regarded as a “trusted source”, I have a high media profile. We have only a handful of local journalists in this deeply rural area. They are desperate for copy. Three or four articles a week quote from my blog, sometimes copying articles almost word for word. I can publish breaking news in the evening and hear it headline on breakfast radio.
Facebook has much become more important in the last year, especially for reaching younger and hard to access constituents. It’s different from my newsletter and blog. People read less and react more quickly. Most of my confidential inquiries now come through Facebook Messenger. Younger people especially feel comfortable with the privacy and intimacy of the medium.
There is a lot of talk about online abuse. I have been lucky. I get flak. That’s inevitable as a councillor. But abuse is rare and I am quick to block the perpetrators. There are concerns too about digital exclusion. I represent one of the oldest wards in the country and being a digital councillor works here. I reach more people than I would pushing paper through letterboxes.
That’s why I am committed to being a digital councillor.