Twitter and the Courts
The Magistrates’ Court Victoria commenced a Twitter pilot in July 2012. It undertook its own evaluation in early 2013 and amended some aspects of its Twitter account. This project considered both the initial pilot undertaken by the court and the effectiveness of the Twitter account as a result of the court’s internal evaluation and policy changes.
The role of internal Twitter champions was very important in establishing the Twitter account. The pilot was driven by the top staff of the MCV. This may have led to only limited internal promotion of the pilot, which can mean that content for tweets needs to be generated by the designated tweeters. The lack of content can affect the potential to inform a new audience through Twitter.
The content of the tweets passed through a number of stages and, after a strong mix of promotional and administrative content, had become mainly administrative in nature. What appears to have been missing from the tweets are stories about magistrates and their work. Between May and the middle of November 2013, there was one media story about a magistrate plus some links to Law Week events in May. In the light of the MCV Twitter objectives, a change in content needs to be considered.
The original Twitter Policy required the MCV tweeters to obtain prior approval from either the Chief Magistrate or the Chief Executive Officer. When the MCV evaluated the Twitter pilot, the main change was to the approval process. A new clause (6.7) in the 2013 Policy stated that the MCV Tweeters did not require approval for basic information, to links to information on the website nor for re-tweets.
At the time of the study, in August 2013, MCV had 1,228 followers, which was a good base and it continued to grow with 2,273 followers as of November 2014. The majority of followers already know what the MCV does and how it works. Generally, this is not an audience that is learning about the MCV. Almost all tweets relating to cases are re-tweeted, thus indicating an area of strong interest. The followers do appear to be new visitors as most do not visit the website.
More internal support/knowledge for the Twitter account needs to be encouraged, at least to the extent of obtaining more content. One suggestion is to run six monthly promotions of the Twitter account, calling for content, and outlining the success of particular tweets.
Generally, the tweets sent by the MCV meet its first objective of using Twitter as a tool to publish information, but does not succeed in promoting awareness about the MCV in the community. There is a need to look at both the objectives and the list of anticipated key audiences in the policy to determine if these need review. Perhaps a fortnightly tweet focusing on a particular activity of the court could assist in promoting it to the community and broadening the audience.
What worked well?
Discussions with the social media officers in the Magistrates’ Court and in the other courts and justice-related bodies using social media worked very well, as did the interviews with the two magistrates who volunteered to be part of the project. There was a lot of interest in discussing what they were doing and why, and what the future uses might be.
How were obstacles overcome?
There was a change in the position of Chief Magistrate at the beginning of the project. The former had championed the Twitter trial in the court whereas the new Chief Magistrate, while happy to support the project, was not a particular champion of it. Staff changes will always happen during projects and there is little that can be done to avoid these happening. For this project, it led to the research team talking to the Victorian Courts Social Media Group, which was a great advantage, and to working closely with the social media officer in the Magistrates’ Court.