This post is written by Stephen Hallmark, Greater Manchester Probation Trust PR Officer – you can follow him on Twitter on @gmptprobationpr
As everyone connected with the world of probation knows, it’s no joke that on April 1st all of the UK’s Trusts will cease to exist as the Government’s overhaul of the sector kicks-in. So an obvious question about running the first probation Twitterthon now is… why bother?
I passionately believe that promoting what probation does to as many people as possible is crucially important, because the sector suffers from a lack of public understanding – a situation which arguably it has contributed to in the past by not shouting about its achievements as effectively as other services. In 2003 a MORI poll showed that only 20 per cent of people had a sound grasp of what probation does.
The Twitterthon involved colleagues from across Greater Manchester Probation Trust (GMPT) tweeting about their job during a 24-hour period so that they could provide a snap shot of the rich breadth of our work. The aim was to develop an understanding of probation and its role in improving public safety among our stakeholders.
A total of 47 staff took part in the Twitterthon, which was hosted on Thursday, December 12th. People representing every element of the service took part, including representatives from all offender manager grades through to admin, Victims Liaison Team, prisons, hostels, court staff and the programmes team. This was vital so that we could illustrate the full scope of probation, from sentence at court through to supervision.
At its peak, the Twitterthon’s hashtag #GMPT24 was being referenced 155 times an hour, the Trust’s account – @gmptprobationPR – saw an increase in followers of more than 150 and the Trust’s website clocked 256 hits on the day. At the beginning of the process, @gmptprobationPR’s following had just risen above 1,700; it is now more than 2,000 and is growing more rapidly than at any point since being launched in 2011.
But the Twitterthon’s impact was not restricted to on-line. Thanks to the press releases we issued, the event generated positive coverage across Greater Manchester’s regional press. Reports were carried in the Manchester Evening News, Rochdale Observer, Bury Times and Salford Advertiser, to name a few.
Another notable achievement is that, while GMPT consistently generates good local coverage, promoting our work in prisons, programmes and hostels is a tougher nut to crack. However, the Twitterthon included a raft of tweets from Mark Stanley, based at HMP Risley, from an hostel’s day and night time shifts and from the programmes team. I was delighted that a common theme from the feedback received was that by following the Twitter feed even staff members learnt things about probation that they hadn’t previously known.
Planning is critical
Considerable work had been done in advance of the Twitterthon to ensure the website www.gm-probation.org.uk was populated not only with good news stories, but also with case studies of offenders who have done well and examples of work done by each department. This meant staff tweeting on the day could signpost followers to the site so they could learn more about our work.
Finally, to overcome the hurdles presented by the IT infrastructure that probation operates, some departments tweeted from their own accounts. These accounts saw a really big jump in their followers on the day, which helps during the changes that probation is going through as they are then able to disseminate their own messages about how they are being affected and therefore better equipped to keep partner agencies informed.
GMPT’s staff also took a great deal of pride in the Twitterthon, almost half of the Trust’s staff looked at twitter updates on GMPT’s intranet.
Whatever happens to the work of probation, it will always be important to champion the invaluable work that committed professionals carry out in order to support rehabilitation and to protect communities. Intimately linked to this, contrary to the view propounded by elements within the national media, promoting the fact probation supports offenders in making positive changes is vital.
GMPT’s Twitterthon helped raise awareness about both of these issues.
See the infographic below for more details on the Twitterthon’s impact: