There was a question this week that made me think.Broadly it’s this: “What do I do when people senior people to me come to me and think ChatGPT can do all my comms now.”
ChatGPT is easy. So is Google’s Bard. Ask a question and hit the button. Seconds later you’ve got a plan. What’s not to like?
For me, ChatGPT, is a spare brain. It can fill, a blank page in seconds and some of those ideas will be really good. Maybe 20 per cent will not but it takes a human to spot that 20 per cent.
If you’re the Leader of a Council with not much experience of comms a comms plan knocked up by ChatGPT is going to look pretty plausible.
So what do you do?
The question here is absolutely fundamental to how AI will reshape jobs.
If you’re buying a house you’d be advised to commission searches to see what planning applications, rights of way and mining your dream plot is affected by. The key information is largely stored on paper files that searches clerks must go through by hand. There will be few who will mourn the loss of these clerks but if its you will.
What gives comms a God given right to communicate?
There is no God given right. You need to demonstrate that your experience and advice is sound and that you’ll reach an audience, that they’ll do that thing and the organisation will be helped.
Banning technology? Until 2011 no police officer in the West Midlands could use the internet because a previous Chief Constable hated it. Hindsight shows us this is ridiculous. So the real question is, not that it should be banned but how can it be used appropriately, safely and effectively?
The ClipArt argument
The first clipart was introduced by IBM in 1983. The VCN ExecuVision package allowed users to add arrows, boxes and other basic images to their work. It was a revolution. The upside was that basic design was freed from the tyranny of graphic designers. The downside? it often looked sh-t. Then people came back to designers for the really important stuff.
The effectiveness of clipart was tested out in real time and at fairly low risk.
The argument of allowing ChatGPT to produce comms so the budget can be cut by a third is outwardly compelling but what would be lost by minimising human intervention?
Nouse is an untaught filter to evaluate actions based on experience and knowledge. AI doesn’t usually have it and humans do.
For example, don’t turn up as a local government comms person on election night with a ‘Vote Labour’ sticker on your jacket, Why? Because you’re supposed to be politically neutral and questions will be asked.
In my time in local government there was only one person I worked with in comms who had no political nouse. They’d been a journalist and genuinely didn’t see the difference between being a journalist and a press officer. The individual would laugh and joke with opposition councillors before Full Council and ignore the other members. It wasn’t long before questions were asked not just of them but of the wider team. It caused a lot of problems and as we dug into it there were many more examples of a lack of nouse by this individual.
ChatGPT may produce a comms plan but it may also suggest materials that your judgement says you wouldn’t be using for good reason. Maybe because that particular suggestion wouldn’t fly. Or maybe because it suggests a course of action that’s too expensive.
I asked ChatGPT to produce a script for Staffordshire Day. It did. It suggested shots of Stafford Castle, Alton Towers and Cannock Chase. Excellent. But the final shot of crowds each with Staffordshire flags and fireworks just wasn’t going to work without time and a big slab of budget.
There’s no way I could have made that video unedited and here’s where comms can add value.
The costed ChatGPT test
AI tools can be useful but as the CIPR’s ‘Humans Needed More Than Ever’ research shows humans are still needed. The Guardian newspaper is closely restricting the use of AI. UK Government is considering what restrictions to put in place to ethically and safely use AI. We are not at the stage of putting out foot down on the accelerator. Buzzfeed sacked most of its nerwsroom and was rewarded with a jump in share price. Can a council do the same? It can, but it’ll miss out on the skills of human operators to sift the good ideas and to use nouse to navigate away from the bad.
However, the language of pounds shillings and pence is definitely part of the landscape for AI.
So, here’s a test. Create a comms plan for a topic the traditional way. Then create a comms plan using a tool like ChatGPT. What good ideas did it have? What’s the full cost in staff time, videography, photography and other resources of that ChatGPT plan? What’s the risk to political nouse? From all this you can see the financial and creative benefit of ChatGPT, the cost of using unbridled ChatGPT and the risk of removing political nouse from the equation.
“The comms plan we made will take two days of staff time to deliver. We’ve managed the political risk of spending too lavishly on this.
“The ChatGPT comms plan will cost £3,000 and five days of staff time. The political risk is FOI on what the cost is.”
“However, some of the ideas ChatGPT came up with we’ll repurpose.”
In other words, you’re testing it, you’re assessing the benefits, you’re calculating the cost and the political risk and THAT is the conversation to have with senior people.
Molly McPherson has a cracking TikTok channel where she deconstructs media car crashes and non-apology apologies. Her book ‘Indestructible’ is excellent if you’re looking to polish your media relations. Recommended.
Someone asked me the other day which councils were doing a really amazing job at TikTok. I really had to think.
TikTok can be a really engaging place with users watching almost 30-minutes of video a day.
Users’ interests are the oil that powers the wheels of this platform so if you’re all about the dog videos, the recipes and the football then that’s what you’ll likely see. It’s all about keeping you entertained, you see.
This slant for interest and entertainment is a big stumbling block when it comes to local government’s 1,200 services few of which can be charitably called entertaining.
First, here’s a quick reel of eye catching local government TikToks. If you’re used to TikTik you’ll be used to faster edits, fast paced music and trends.
What councils do it all well? There’s a few I like the look of. West Sussex Council did an eye catching campaign around voting.
Birmingham City Council have an innovative approach where they have a couple of members of staff who act as creators where they star in a TikToks which cast an entertaining view of Birmingham. There’s nothing on the council going bankrupt but there are tips for students on where to study, for example. That’s fine. TikTok isn’t and never will be a channel for everything.
Almost 800,000 views would say this approach is working fine on TikTok. That may be a harder sell for some councils.
Elsewhere, it’s service areas who are performing well. This appeals to my sense that not everyone wants the 1,200 service wide spread of what the council does. Invercargill Libraries in New Zealand has built a following through making videos that celebrate reading, libraries and librarians. So does Whitby Library in the UK and the fabulous Hays Public Library in the US.
It’s not about posting about the date, time and link for a booking. It’s about making libraries fun and entertaining.
Place marketing can work really well on TikTok. It’s fun, engaging and can be entertaining. Visit London isn’t strictly speaking a council account but there is input from the Mayor of London so that works.
The Mayor of London’s TikTok also works well with a mix of the Mayor celebrating the capital and making set-piece statements. It’s the best example of using a politician and given the post’s high profile incumbents you can see how this works.
If that’s what to look at here’s also what to do and avoid.
What to do and don’t for good local government TikTok
Be creative. People are watching TikTok for the entertainment. They’re not waiting to tick a box for a middle manager who doesn’t know how the internet works.
Experiment with what areas you’ll cover. Museums, leisure and the fun stuff, yes.
Plug in the real people. People warm to people on TikTok not things designed on Canva alone.
Follow the BBC. BBC News are market leaders for quality journalism on TikTok. They have reporters who create content with the platform in mind. There are cutaways and pieces to camera.
Experiment with trends. Trends are clips, music or approaches that can burn and fade quickly. They get the lion’s share of attention and by hopping on them you can boost your reach.
Reshare. Resharing is the equivalent of the RT. If someone has already made a cracking TikTok of a footpath to explore next time you’re looking to explore the area thank them warmly and reshare it.
Work with creators. Explore TikTok. See what works on it before launching onto it. Look for hashtags and creators that are making content. Maybe see if yo can work with them.
Look beyond local government. There’s some good accounts outside of the sector.
Look for a licence to operate rather than have to get permission for each clip. You know the platform and you know the code of conduct. Get going.
Use a burner phone to get around the UK Government restrictions. Whitehall has asked civil servants not to use TikTok on the same device as work emails. So get a second device.
Finish off using the TikTok editing tool. Add captions to make it accessible and add music from the TikTok library.
Have a business account. Yes, this will limit the sounds that you can use but it means you’re limited to the tracks you have permission to use. You’ll also get insight.
Go for Councillors. Yes, I know that elected members make the world go round but they often land as well as a bag of glass bottles that’s fallen off a recycling wagon.
Try and shoehorn stuff that won’t work. Planning want you to make their consultation exciting but they haven’t got anything visual, a story to tell or anyone who will appear on screen. Don’t.
Look to get all your content shot by shot signed off by people who don’t understand the platform. They are not the audience. Look for a licence to operate where you can experiment.
Use landscape video. Shoot in portrait.
Cross post what you’ve done for another channel and think it’ll work on TikTok. It probably won’t. Not only that you only have permission to use TikTok approved music on TikTok. Not on other platforms.
So. I thought I’d run a snapshot using the Fedica tool I use in social media reviews.
I chose five organisations from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and counted inactive and accounts that hadn’t posted for six months or more.
Overall? A total of 55.0 per cent of accounts hadn’t been active for more than six months.
Here’s how they panned out across local government, NHS, police and fire & rescue.
I’ve anonymised the account names so as not to point a finger.
Overall, 53.5 per cent were inactive over six months. A Scottish city council with more than 200,000 followers led the table with 63.5 per cent inactive. Working through the list, a London unitary with just 39.2 per cent inactive was the lowest figure.
Overall, the five councils had a combined 300,000 with half of those no longer being active users.
For these, I looked at corporate accounts as well as NHS sub-accounts which belonged to a team within an organisation.
The overall result was 48.1 per cent inactive with the highest inactive rate 54.3 per cent belonging to a Welsh hospital trust. The lowest was a Northern English integrated care board with 27.3 per cent. Given that integrated care boards have only become formal entities in 2022 this is understandable.
Follower numbers ranged from 1,200 for a northern English integrated health board to 93,200 for a UK-wide organisation.
The Northern Ireland account is a regional account that covers NHS and social care.
Police corporate accounts have big overall numbers and are long established.
A Welsh police force recorded the highest disengagement rate at 67.4 per cent of followers with a northern English police force 66.9 per cent and a community account that covers an area of Northern Ireland 58.3 per cent.
Almost 700,000 have followed the five accounts with four force corporate accounts and one police city account.
Around two thirds of all police accounts looked at had a disengaged audience.
Fire and rescue
For fire and rescue, long established accounts have high levels of disengagement.
Of the five fire and rescue corporate accounts, there is an average of 30,000 followers per account with an average of 56 per cent no longer using X, formerly Twitter.
The largest is a northern fire and rescue service with 59.1 per cent with a Welsh service at 51.0 per cent.
So, what to make of this.
The public sector first started to use Twitter in 2008 with most accounts being created across a four year window. The headline numbers do not represent the current potential users in 2023.
With half of users straying away from the application the question to ask is whether or not the platform should be used. It’s a reasonable question to ask. For me, there isn’t an overall answer. It depends on your audience.
The audience for X, formerly Twitter, has historically been strong amongst journalists and if this remains the case there is an argument for using it as a distribution channel. Not only that but it has been a go to channel in an emergency such as the London Bridge attacks in 2017.
The jury is out on the role the channel will be playing in an emergency. The reach has been limited by Elon Musk so you’ll see fewer tweets. As you’ll see fewer tweets that can only limit the effectiveness of it as a channel.
Your own use of the channel is something you need to actively consider.
Of course, all social media channels may have an element of dormant accounts.
The Fedica tool is useful but needs a subscription. However, one thing you can do to see how effective your X, formerly Twitter, account is performing judged by Adobe’s own social media engagement research. An engagement rate of 1 per cent is classed as ‘good’ on the channel.
Are you getting more than 1 per cent engagement with your content?
In the finest post-unconference tradition here’s a list of things I learned at commscamp scotland.
It worked as an event. But of course it was going to work as an event.
The most popular football team in Glasgow is Pollock Dynamo AFC.
The Queen Margaret Union in Glasgow was a great choice for the event.
There is creativity, determination and ideas amongst Scottish public sector people that I’m consistently blown away by.
People are starting to engage with AI at this unconference for the first time. The last time it was on the agenda no more than four people came.
The debate about quitting X, formerly known as Twitter, is ongoing. The questions for me are if your audience is there and is it a safe space rather than whether or not you like it.
Linking back what you do as a communicator to what your organisation’s priorities are is not a one and done thing it is painting the Forth Bridge. It never ends.
Everyone’s experience of an unconference with 25 sessions and 135 attendees is going to be unique.
Car parking in the west end of Glasgow is rubbish.
Small teams and solo operators need their own network for their own unique extra set of issues.
The newspaper landscape has changed. It’s long since been more than cuttings and how much you report these can be an impediment to progress.
The ability to say NO and prioritising links through to knowing what the organisation’s priorities are.
There are people in junior positions who make valuable points and are five years away from getting near the agenda of a traditional conference.
If you’re at the start of your career, network, ask questions, approach people you don’t know and ask if they have half an hour spare to tell you how they did that amazing thing.
The principles of an unconference are that whoever comes is the right people, whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened, whenever it starts is the right time and when its over its over. I sincerely hope that people loved thinking and acting differently. They can carry on with this after the event.
David Grindlay, Leanne Hughes and the volunteers did a great job.
I’ve enjoyed that people in the aftermath of the event have put their thoughts onto LinkedIn when once they put them onto Twitter.
Lloyd Davis was right when he said that an unconference should take you out of your comfort zone and put you somewhere more comfortable.
Often books around media relations can be undermined by being strong on traditional media but weak on the socials.
I’ve a lot of time for Alastair Campbell’s analysis of media but he’d be the first to acknowledge his way of dealing with the media belongs to an era.
What’s terrific with Molly’s book is the absolute core of drawing up a response if you need to hold your hands up to something be it online or as a statement is reduced to three things to get right.
Step One: Own it. You must acknowledge accept or apologise.
As Molly writes, this is the hardest part and fail to roll your sleeves up with this and the statement will come undone within minutes. You’ll get called out.
Step Two: Clarify it, Put the issue into context.
This is where you can put in some explanation.
Step Three: Promise it. Announce your commitment to plans, priorities and changes to come.
This is where you’ll promise to do things differently.
You’d think the process would be foolproof but you’d be surprised at how poorly many media statements are delivered.
Too wordy, too vague and too quick to pass the buck.
Like most effective ideas, if the steps that need to be taken are expressed simply and with clarity you’ve got a chance whether you are a celebrity, a hospital or a council which has messed up bin collections.
As we know, what can start as a media story WILL bleed into the socials and vica versa.
Excitingly, it’s the week of commscamp scotland and I thought I’d write a quick few pointers if you’re new to an unconference.
If you’re going then congratulations you’ve got the hottest ticket in town.
If you’re going to an unconference for the first time you’d be forgiven for feeling a touch of intrigue.
An unconference is very different from a traditional conference.
UK Government civil servant and Brummie James Cattell describes the two simply:
“A conference agenda is set by organisers. An unconference agenda is set by attendees.”
That nails it beautifully.
To put more detail on it, the conference agenda is designed by a small group of people months in advance. There is limited chance to ask questions and discuss. There are many, many PowerPoint slides.
An unconference’s agenda is drawn-up on the day to reflect what the people in the room on the day want. It is flexible and it is reactive. There are no PowerPoint slides.
On the day of commscamp scotland, the agenda will get filled by the attendees with the help of the organisers. There will be a series of breakout spaces across the venue which will each host sessions suggested by attendees. Anyone can suggest a session.
At an unconference, there is no hierarchy. The opinion of a marketing assistant in their first month is just as valid as a veteran head of comms. Given the changing pace of the media landscape that’s not such a bad idea.
Will it work?
It’s the first time in Scotland. Will it work?
I’ve done a lot of work in Scotland in the past decade and I’ve found a group of committed well networked public servants who want to do a better job. I can’t wait to hear what they have to say and what I can learn.
There is a process to the unconference model that works. Find a room. Invite people. Collaborate. Go home. That’s it.
What makes a good session?
There will be more than 20 sessions at commscamp scotland. All will be proposed by those in the room.
What makes a good one?
I’ve given this a bit of thought this week.
After 10 years of organising unconferences I’ve reflected on what makes a good session idea.
If you make a session pitch the only thing you have to do is to go to the session and start the ball rolling. That’s it. You don’t have to bring slides, a speech or be expected to provide all the answers. A session is a discussion where people are encouraged to have a say.
I’ve found good pitches often start with the following and if you’re in two minds whether or not to pitch, think how you would fill these.
“I’ve never pitched an idea before but…”
If you’re in two minds do it. Share what you’d like to learn or share. Some of the best sessions I’ve been to have started like this.
“I really don’t know how to do X. If anyone else is in the same boat shall we put our heads together?”
I remember in the early days of social media someone came along who’d been asked to draw-up a social media policy and didn’t know the first place to start. She frantically scribbled down ideas and came up with some great ideas.
“I’ve just done X which worked quite well. Let me tell you what I did and the mistakes I made so you don’t make them. Have you done similar? Can we swap ideas?”
The great danger of standing up at a conference is to represent your employer. It’s all got to smell of fresh paint, right? But what’s of much more value is to hear about the errors and crossings out along the way. A conference rarely tells you this. A chat over coffee sometimes does. An unconference isn’t live streamed, doesn’t have a slide audit trail and can dip into Chatham House Rule when people don’t want the detail of the tatty truth exposed. How fantastic.
“I’d really like to get this off my chest.”
Often at an unconference there’s a session under Chatham House rules that’s just a chance to show and tell what’s bugging people. Sometimes it’s to search for a solution. Sometimes it’s to just vent. In the past titles have been ‘Local government rant’ or ‘And another thing…’
“I’m worried about X, are you?”
There can be horizon scanning and the good thing about this is that not everyone has the answers.
Road testing your session idea
People are at liberty to pitch a session on the day. If you’re an attendee that’s fine. Come along. No experience necessary.
I’d heard that the biggest single threat posed by deepfake isn’t video at all. It’s deepfake audio.
Audio rather than video, the argument runs, is easier to create and easier to believe.
Of course, I put this to one side onto the pile of things I’d look at when I got around to it.
Days later but hours before Labour leader Keir Starmer was due to make his speech to the Labour Party conference audio was posted that appeared to be of him swearing at an aide for forgetting a tablet.
“F-king idiot,” he appears to say. “I f-king told you, didn’t I? F-ks sake. Bloody moron. No, I’m sick of it.”
Here’s the clip.
The 25-second clip posted to X, formerly Twitter, by an anonymous account with a track record of criticising Starmer, appears to be the politician caught in a private moment.
Online, it was greeted with critics of the opposition leader who gleefully greeted the clip as evidence he has feet of clay.
A follow up tweet claiming to be a screengrab from left wing Skwarkbox website quoting a named audio engineer as saying it is authentic.
Thirdly, a denial can breathe life into a story. What’s that? What’s the thing they don’;t want me to hear? I’m off to hear it.
Experience shows the best source of online debunking is a trusted third party.
Here, it was a Conservative MP.
But we’ve known this since The Guardian and Reading University’s excellent Reading the Riots research. In it, amid riots blogger Andy Mabbett debunking the rumour that Birmingham Children’s Hospital was on fire. That hospital, Andy pointed out, is right opposite Steelhouse Lane Police Station. That’s hardly going to happen is it? As a result the rumout stopped being shared.
But it got me thinking, why audio and how easy is it? And can fake audio be spotted?
Why audio? It’s got a long history
There’s a long track record of secret recordings tripping people up.Far before the internet was invented there was a cricketer caller Ian Botham. Fans love him. The cricket establishment hated him because, in good story fashion, he was a maverick who didn’t play by the rules.
So, when Ian Botham was secretly recorded at a charity event calling those who ran cricket ‘gin slinging dodderers’ which didn’t go down well.
Those people warning that deep fake audio will have an impact have got a point.
A problem far, far away?
Of course, it’s tempting to look at this and dismiss it as a story about far, far away.
I don’t think it is. This is likely to drop into the inbox of public sector communications people.
First, a story.
In 2009, the far right English Defence League came to Birmingham to protest. Twitter was still in its infancy and we were all working out how it could be used. A tweet from one of the group claimed that a white youth had been attacked by a gang of Asians. It was reposted. It sparked a flurry of accusations that increased tension with sporadic fighting across the city centre.
At first, the police were baffled as to how to respond until a police Superintendent frpm Wolverhampton worked out that if he was in the police’s Gold Control command centre with his smartphone he could monitor Twitter and if a rumour was posted he could shoot them down in realtime.
So, he did just this succcesfully when the EDL returned.
This example set a gold standard for online rumour. Use a trusted source to debunk it in realtime. Not in tomorrow’s papers but a message within minutes.
Just as Twitter was weaponised to spread rumour deep fakes will undoubtedly be used to cause trouble.
It doesn’t need that much imagination.
For example, a school is facing protests on religious grounds from a section of the community about how they teach their children sex education. How is it going to run if deep fake audio was released of the headteacher abusing that religion’s Holy book?
Or how about the council election where the politician is subject to a deep fake about bribery?
How hard is it to create audio like this?
I thought I’d take a look.
What are social channels’ attitudes to deep fakes?
“the product of artificial intelligence or machine learning, including deep learning techniques (e.g., a technical deepfake)”; and the post would mislead an average person to believe that “a subject of the video said words that they did not say.”
The trouble is that complaining through the official channel can take time. Relying on that alone is the definition of bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Creating deep fake audio is really easy
I’m looking at this not so anyone creates deep fake audio themselves but so they’re aware of the issue.
One of the largest AI audio platforms on the internet is resemble.ai. With it you can create audio firstly with some generic voices. Paula J, for example, has an English, accent. Beth sounds like an American. There are more than 20 off-the-shelf examples.
Secondly, things start to get even more interesting when you explore the other functionality.
You can add your voice to your resemble.ai account. So, I did. I recorded 25 voice clips of myself reading prepared text with which to train the tool. There is also the option of uploading audio but to do this I had to explain to them why I was looking to do this. I did and they said they’d email me back. After five minutes of waiting and no email I pressed on ahead to use a generic voice.
I’m sure resemble.ai would say that this is a step to stop potential bad actors. But I’m just as sure there are other tools out there that don’t do this.
The plan was for the AI tool to read back some of the script fake Keir Starmer had said.
So, painstakingly I typed in about 15 seconds of audio.
“F-ing idiot. Have you got it? The f-ing tablet. F-ks sake. I literally told you. F-ks sake. Bloody moron.”
Deep fake audio
I downloaded the audio.
Just to make sure, I also screen recorded the playback of the recording on my mobile phone.
Of course, this audio emerged in one burst without the required pauses so editing to insert suitable gaps would be needed to make it sound more authentic.
I also needed some ambient background noise. So, I screen recorded 30-seconds of audio from a cafe from a clip I found on YouTube.
I then used the Kinemaster video editing app to put together a clip that sounded plausible to the untrained ear. I used the app to add a bit of distortion to the audio and change the sound balance. But this was not a hard thing to do.
A basic knowledge of video editing and I was able to record the clip from start to finish in less than half an hour.
Here it is.
And yes, that’s a stock pic of a couple arguing in a cafe.
After all, if you’re feeling smug look at how many people were taken in by a tweet alleging Nigel Farage was a punk.
For the benefit of the tape, no he wasn’t.
For audio, there’s annoyingly few tools. Resemble.ai say they have such a tool. But the webpage is behind a wall which harvests contact details and there’s a promise to get in touch. If this is needed in a hurry it’s not the answer you’re looking for.
So what to do?
Well, a piece on Ampere Industrial Security’s website talks about research being published by researcher Siwei Lyu from University of Buffalo, State University of New York. There is such a researcher called Siwei Lyu, I found. But there isn’t the source of the research there. Does that mean it doesn’t exist? You spend anytime looking at fakes online and you start to get a bit sceptical of the most ordinary looking things.
The Keir Starmer example shows that yes, it will happen. But the debunking should probably come from a third party rather than yourself.