BETA BLOCKER: Is comms at risk of being the new IT?

The only difference between a stumbling block, a barrier and a stepping stone is the way you use them, apparently.

There were a lot of stumbling blocks talked about at localgovcamp in Birmingham.  Many such obstacles were were from corporate comms. They were the corporate branded elephant in the room.

Heard the one about the comms team’s response to snow? Instand updates via facebook or Twitter? Nope. Book a half page advert in the local paper?

Oh, how we laughed. As a comms person myself it was more a case of nervous laughter.

I believe strongly that there’s an argument for having a light touch on the tiller from enabling comms people.

When you put online and offline channels together they can be incredibly powerful. You’re delivering a similar message on the platform people want using the language of the platform.

But then again, if you’re reading this on Facebook or Twitter you already know this even if you haven’t admitted it out loud.

So, what’s localgovcamp?

It’s an event that saw more than 100 people giving up their free time on a Saturday to help make their corner of local government bloom a little more. It’s Glastonbury for local government geeks. There was web people, open data people, comms people, hyperlocal bloggers and even an engineer.

Attending the first event at Fazeley Studios two years ago changed the way I think about my job. I’ve heard the same said from others too. It’s been brilliant seeing the light bulbs going on above people attending their first ever localgovcamp.

Two years ago one of the main frustrations was some IT people who were keeping the social web in lockdown. Many, but not all, think progress ended with the Commodore 64. Of course, it goes without saying that the IT people I work with are all hugely helpful and forward thinking.

That battle to use social media seems to have be getting won. Slowly in places but the it’s irreverable. The battle now is with unenlightened comms people and it’s a subject I keep returning to.

For people in a PR job it’s about waking up. For those not in PR it’s about helping wake them up. And yourself and colleagues while you’re at it.

So, because I can’t write a blog post without a heap of links, here’s a heap of links to help those who don’t get it wake up…

A heap of links…

Whats the role for local government comms and social media?

I’d suggest anyone reads this excellent blog post by Ingrid Koehler of FutureGov which she wrote when she was still with LGiD

How does the social web work in practice?

Social by Social is a NESTA-produced landmark text that shows how the web can be used for a social impact both by government and individuals.

How does the social web work in practice?

When a tornado struck Joplin killing 154 people the state support networks were overwhelmed. A website was launched as a place to log missing people and phone numbers. It evolved into a place for info and help. More than 48,000 people ‘liked’ the Joplin Tornado Info page set up as a

How can the public sector use social media in an emergency?

In Queensland when floods struck Facebook became the prop people turned to. The talented Ben Proctor has blogged on how they responded here. You can see the Queensland Police page here:

Can local government do Facebook outside of a crisis?

Stirling Council has more than 3,000 ‘likes’ Coventry chose a nice picture of their city rather than a logo and have 18,000 signed-up You can search the book data base via the Manchester Library and Information Service

Can local government use Twitter?

An organisation that has the right tone A venue with an engaging manner and an officer who puts a human face on the service

Can local government use YouTube?

Stirling Council used a short video as part of their bag it and bin it campaign But it doesn’t have to be broadcast quality. An apprentice gritter driver made this short film of how he helps treat the roads

Thanks to Ben Proctor for the crisis comms links, Corrine Douglas for Stirling Council YouTube.

Thanks Si Whitehouse, Dave Briggs and others for organising localgovcamp.

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  1. The first words I read today were in the opening line here -” The only difference between a stumbling block, a barrier and a stepping stone is the way you use them, apparently” – before I then made a phone call where I was expecting a brush off … I got a ‘stepping stone’ instead ! The comments on Comms are ( as per usual ) ‘on the nail’ and we are in danger in the ‘snowglobe’ of change in the public sector of merely putting old wine in new bottles in terms of how comms works. keep up the good work – Steve O’N.

    1. Thanks, Steve, Sometimes it’s funny where the barriers – andthe stepping stones – are…

  2. Hmm…

    Two years ago one of the main frustrations was some IT people who were keeping the social web in lockdown. Many, but not all, think progress ended with the Commodore 64.

    This is a comment I keep seeing from people evangalising social media, or whatever the new Internet fashion is at any one time. I’m not saying there’s not an element of truth in your (tongue-in-cheek) statement, but I feel I have to make the case for the corporate IT bods- as a time-served one (more than 20 years now) myself, though not in local government (any more).

    Internet ‘stumbling blocks’, and restrictions, web filters, firewall, proxies, and rsetrictive user policies are there for a reason, or a number of reasons. It might be that someone in IT has decided upon it off their own back, but it’s just as possible that soemone higher up the food chain has told them to. It might be for system protection, there may be legal issues that make an organisation reluctant to adopt a free-for-all. It might even be that some employees spend all their days pissing about on Twitter/Facebook instead of doing their jobs- this does happen.

    Whatever the reasons, it’s wrong to blame corporate IT departments for something on the grounds that they don’t like progress. What IT departments don’t like is being forced to dsinfect hundreds of machines because someone got infected by a worm, for example, or discovering that a random application has stopped working because a patch or upgrade has been applied without testing, or to be asked ‘why can’t we do X, when X was never panned for or though of until it’s too late. They’re the guys you rarely see, keeping the systems working, and in the case of local government, under vastly reduced budgets/manpower these days. You know how difficult it is when your PC at home breaks? Multiply that by 500 PCs and tens of servers.

    The web is a risky place, and your IT department will be the ones in the shit if it ifects your corprate IT. You should all remember that, and perhaps make a date in your diary for the 29th of July?

    1. That’s a really interesting comment. Thanks for that.

      It’s absolutely true that IT people do a really valuable job. Often it’s thankless. I know I wouldn’t want o staff an IT helpline. I wouldn’t know where to start.

      The spending all day on social media issue is a real one. But it’s a management issue. Not a tech one. If someone is not producing, isn’t that a problem that falls to the manager? People look out of the window all the time. Most of the time it’s not a problem. If there’s one errant window starer, should we put brown paper over all the windows? It’s extreme, but you get my point.

      The same arguments were made against adopting telephones. I know because I heard my grandpa tell em why he never had one.

      The same also when PCs became prevalent, ditto email, ditto the internet.

      It’s only when they are seen as an everyday tool that can actually make your job easier that these fears are removed.

      I suppose, one thing that does genuinely baffle me is that innovation in the web should be led by IT. Not be blocked by it. Shouldn’t they be the ones who are trialling the stuff, experimenting with Google chromebooks when they arrive?

      1. Agree completely that spending all day on SM is a management issue, but too often this gets ignored, so IT get told to block because management are unwilling to deal.

        As to IT innovating, sadly, many IT departments are understaffed, so they end up firefighting and reacting rather than innovating and trialling.

        The answer clearly is that the SM evangalists and the corporate IT people need to work together, and SM needs to become important at a corporate level, so that it’s responsible implementation becomes as commonplace as email, and adequate resource is given.

  3. Nodding in agreement weith all of tha, Stymaster. Especially the last paragraph…

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