A SCOTTISH local authority has become the first in the UK to use Facebook to publicise its council services. Members of the social networking site can sign up to receive updates on forthcoming events, special offers, photos and newsletters from East Renfrewshire.
The council has also launched pages for all ten of its libraries, its four sports centres and the local theatre, including information on opening times and facilities. Users can leave comments, interact with staff, discuss their favourite book or seek advice on how to use a PC with other users on discussion boards.
Councillor Mary Montague, East Renfrewshire's community services convener, says: "We wanted to create a way of letting the UK's 7.5 million Facebook users interact with our services and to access information about the range of leisure activities available.
"It also creates a forum for discussion, where users can tell us what they like and don't like about the services so that we can keep improving and providing a service of which everyone in East Renfrewshire can be proud.
"There are many advantages of becoming a fan of our pages, from meeting like-minded people in your area to finding out when tickets go on sale for 'hot' events such as Jed Rubenfeld and Jodi Picoult, who are two of the UK's biggest-selling authors appearing in our theatre this season."
Although just launched, the pages have already received a number of responses, including one from a Facebook user who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Andrew Thomson, internet consultant with marketing agency Ambergreen, says social media have always been a good way for companies to increase brand visibility, and it is natural for local government to follow suit.
He says: "East Renfrewshire council has adopted the use of Facebook reasonably well. While it still appears to be in the early stages of development and there are not many active 'fans' for its groups, the idea is sound and is a good way for the council to keep in touch with constituents.
"Social networking has become a hugely powerful form of communication because, among other things, you can gain access to a much wider community. The page can become a virtual meeting point to publicise local events and gauge popular opinion on issues through online discussion.
"Of course, the intrinsically democratic nature of the internet does leave the council open to very public criticism but, by offering this platform, they are opening up the discussion, encouraging community spirit and making the organisation that bit more approachable."
Graeme Binnington of design and communications firm Emperor Design says it is also a very cost-effective way of promoting council services.
He says: "It will be interesting to see how it is regarded by the social networking community and to what degree this type of information is used in the future. I have no doubt that some people would argue that this is not what social networking is all about."
• To join the East Renfrewshire Council pages, Facebook users can visit www.facebook.com/group.php?gid>18144605260