28 March 2012
Understanding your customers — and finding new, fresh ways to engage with them — is key to a thriving business. This is something the Met Office understands all too well. With our innovative use of new media, we are leading the way within the public sector — and picking up awards along the way.
Last year the Met Office won 'Best Use of Social Media in the Public Sector' at Computer Weekly's 2011 Social Media Awards. This was a real coup for the organisation and was just one of many awards won and numerous short-listings gained - against competition in both the private and public sectors. "We've only been doing social media for a few years which makes the awards we've won even more impressive," says Dave Britton, Communications Manager at the Met Office.
As Dave says: "This award is a reflection of the work we've put into growing these channels over the past few years and the impact that they now have. As well as growing reach, we've also increased levels of engagement and advocacy. One example is retweets - at the start of 2011 we were getting around 30 retweets a month, this has now grown to thousands."
We're also using our social media channels for customer service and support, with the Met Office Weather Desk team available to respond to queries on Twitter 24 hours a day, 7 days a week the world is only one tweet away from the very latest information from the Met Office.
"Our team of weather experts build engagement with our followers, making sure that they know everything from if they can hang their washing out, go walking on the moors to if there is severe weather expected," says Chalky Langley, who manages the Met Office Weather Desk.
The rise of social media has given organisations the chance to have a more direct relationship with the general public and today makes up a large part of many companies' communications strategies. The Met Office now reaches more than 100,000 people every month through social media, including blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google+. The Met Office has over 60,000 Twitter followers - growing by an average of 800 each week - one of the largest followings of a public sector organisation.
Chalky says, "During times of severe or unusual weather, social media is a useful tool for communicating messages quickly and raising awareness."
For instance, when Hurricane Katia crossed the Atlantic, reaching the UK as a post-tropical storm in September, the Met Office kept people up to date, day and night, though Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and our blog. We produced a YouTube forecast that was rapidly shared around the world and watched over 65,000 times.
The Met Office uses a range of methods to help people access weather forecasts - and we work to defined targets - not only for the number of people we reach but also the type of people we reach. There are many groups of people that have very specific needs from weather forecasts, whether for leisure purposes, such as hill walkers, or for business reasons, such as farmers.
The Met Office has always used the tools at its disposal to communicate effectively, from radio to television and, more recently, our website. But today new technologies are becoming increasingly important.
Twitter for example, is highly valuable because it can reach thousands of people at once. But to get to specific-need groups, you have to find a platform that's common to that group. For example, LinkedIn could be the best platform to contact business leaders. Social media will play an important part in identifying - and getting to - these specific-need groups in the future. And, interestingly, we're also finding that Facebook in particular is helping us to reach a much younger demographic.
More locations, sharper accuracy, harnessing technology
Through social media and new technologies, the Met Office is starting an exciting journey, engaging with - and improving its services to - the public in a very new way.
In October 2010, the Met Office fundamentally changed its forecasts by increasing the number of UK locations from around 480 to 5,000. "This presented tremendous benefits to the public as it gave them a weather forecast that's more local, and therefore more accurate," says Charlie Ewen, Head of Data and Applications.
We also recently upgraded our technology to make best use of these extra locations - developing our first ever Android app, updating the hugely successful iPhone app and creating a new website.
Our website already receives around 4.5 million visitors each month but is now more interactive than ever before. The site gives organisations the opportunity to download a 'weather widget' for use on their own website. And the public can make use of an events calendar, which has been a particularly good way to target groups at events such as the Glastonbury Festival. Last year, the Met Office's Glastonbury event page alone received 146,000 visits.
At the beginning of February, snow and cold temperatures meant that, for the first time ever, traffic to our mobile apps exceeded traffic to our main website. Charlie goes on to say, "5.6 million people visited the website and an extraordinary 7.8 million used the mobile apps. It proved just how invaluable forecasts on the move really are."
On a winning roll...
Here's a line-up of the Met Office's new media accolades since 2011, against both private and public sector competition.
GovDelivery's 2011 Excellence in Communications Award for Central Government
GovDelivery celebrates agencies that take an innovative approach to improving service to the public through effective communication channels, cross-promotion, and compelling content.
Best use of social media in the public sector at the Computer Weekly Social Media Awards
Recognises innovative uses of social media and the impact it's had.
Best SEO campaign at the 2011 UK Search Awards
This recognises campaigns that have achieved outstanding results in search engines in natural, free or organic listings.
Best in-house team at the 2011 UK Search Awards
This recognises outstanding in-house teams or practitioners that demonstrate consistently great understanding and use of search.
Innovation in SEO at the 2012 Econsultancy's Innovation Awards
These awards shine a light on the finest creative thinking across the digital industry.