Nikolaus Münster is Head of Press and Public Relations at the City Council in Frankfurt/Main, Germany. I spoke to him about the city’s “Social Media Newsroom“, which gathers content from all of its social media channels and presents it on one website.
Nikolaus gained inspiration for the idea when he took part in a European exchange programme in 2009, completing a secondment at Birmingham City Council. That is where I met him and where he learned about Birmingham News Room. Apart from anything, I think this is a nice bit of European best practice exchange, which can often be hard to quantify. It’s also nice to see Frankfurt getting something in return for the Christmas Market that they send to Birmingham ever winter!
John Heaven (JH): What is a Social Media Newsroom?
Nikolaus Münster (NM): Our Social Media Newsroom brings together all of our social media channels on one website. The user can view this site to see news about the city on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube and other media at a glance.
We have been using these means of communication for a while now. Since 2009 we have been on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. When we started we wanted to gain experience before actively publicising our social media presences. Now, social media are central to our communication strategy.
JH: What is the main aim of the Newsroom?
NM: The Newsroom representes an improvement in user experience. The most important point is that all channels are brought together on a single website, enabling users to get an overview of what is being put out by the city — whether on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube or other channels. This is more convenient for all users, not only those that aren’t Facebook or Twitter members.
JH: How does Frankfurt choose which tools to communicate with?
NM: Communications and PR always have to keep up with current developments in the way people communicate. Newspaper and email, for example, still play an important role. However, the channels that we currently use are simply the most important in terms of reaching large numbers of citizens. This may change in the future, so we keep an eye on new developments and must be open to trying new things. We are monitoring Google+, for example.
JH: Where did the idea for the Newsroom come from?
NM: It was Birmigham News Room that gave me the idea when I was in Birmingham. The idea of a social media newsroom was unheard of in Germany. At first it was difficult to describe the idea concretely and plausibly. However, following a conversation with a SAP-employee, we were able to define it more exactly. He advised on the technical realisation, which in our case is based on WordPress. I think it’s really important to have people in-house who have a thirst for innovation and who are able to put ideas into action.
JH: Is there a big difference between Frankfurt Social Media Newsroom and Birmingham News Room?
NM: The biggest difference is that we don’t have the Media Watch. That is something that we are looking into, because it would be nice to have all news relevant to the city displayed in a prominent place on the website, although our newsroom does display news from local newspapers.
JH: How do you keep track of social media use when any employee is able to set up a Twitter account of Facebook page? And how do you stop the resources required from spinning out of control?
NM: We tackle this problem with our social media guidelines, which state that only the Press Office is allowed to represent the city in an official capacity. But we have nothing against departments opening social media accounts for their particular target audience. That can make a lot of sense for services with specific audiences. Of course employees are free to use social media in a personal capacity.
Social media does require investment of extra resources, because it’s not just about broadcasting information over a different channel. Instead, you have to be prepared to innovate. This extra cost is hard to manage. We started using social media without investing extra resources, but soon we will have to think about taking on extra staff. On the one hand you have to make sure you don’t spend your whole time on social media, but if you choose to do so you have to take it seriously and actively look for opportunities to make use of them.
JH: Under what conditions would you advise other cities to open a social media newsroom?
NM: I would advise cities with established social media presences and audiences, and therefore experience with social media, to open a social media newsroom.
JH: Do social media offer advantages over conventional media – newspaper adverts, letters, flyers etc. – other than being inexpensive?
NM: Yes, of course. Social media can be very labour-intensive. You have to respond to critical comments that people may post about you because social media is all about dialogue. But we get lots of “Likes” and social media represent a very direct channel to our target audience. They are really good for our purposes.
JH: Do you know of any examples of innovative social media use by other directorates?
NM: Above all, museums and organisations with direct contact to the public. Examples that occur to me are: Städelmuseum, Kunsthalle Schirn, das Museum für Angewandte Kunst, das Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK).
JH: What did you learn during your time in Birmingham? Does Birmingham communicate differently from Frankfurt?
NM: Birmingham invests a lot more in communication than Frankfurt does. They make a big effort to make their communication easy to understand and even produce some brochures with pictures and single sentences for people that can’t read so well as well as pamphlets for disabled people telling them about dangers that they should be aware of. Producing these materials is a painstaking process because they are tested on the target groups before being published.
JH: Would you advise others to take part in a similar exchange programme?
NM: Yes, definitely. I learnt a lot from colleagues during my time in Birmingham. While I was there I wrote an article every week for the staff intranet in Frankfurt to share my experience. There was a lot of interest from colleagues, with the articles receiving up to 1,000 views each. I really would recommend taking part in such a programme.
JH: Nikolaus, many thanks for taking the time to talk to me.