CROSSROADS: 12 predictions for local government digital comms in 2013

3905842249_7dd2e55bf9_bNever make predictions, especially about the future. Wise words I feel.

With a bit of time to pass about 12 months ago I rather boldly made some 12 predictions for local government digital which is an area I work in a bit. You can read them here.

So, 12 months later I thought it maybe an interesting experiment in pointing and laughing at myself to see how accurate they were and make 12 more.

What was right? 

JFDI did die. What’s JFDI? It’s Just Flipping Do It. It’s putting something up as an experiment without having to go through layers of policy and permissions. Chucking up a Facebook page had the whiff of revolution in 2009. Now everyone is using it and there’s strategies wrapped in HR policies it’s hard to have the space to innovate.

Digital customer services are growing. Norfolk County Council have blazed a trial on Twitter that others are following.

Someone did do something really stupid and it didn’t see their operation shut down. Little did I think it would be my own organisation. A member of staff accidentally tweeted from the corporate account that they soon wished that hadn’t. It wasn’t fun. But it wasn’t fatal, thankfully.

Emergency planners are using digital channels as second nature. The gift of big-powerful-ultra-storm-but-not-quite-a-hurricane Sandy which struck New York showed how powerful real time updates, cleaning-up and myth-busting became.

The local government social media star was someone you’d never heard of in place you didn’t think was digital friendly. For me, this was @whocareswalsall who stage pop-up campaigns around social care. Their live tweeting from the home of a dementia sufferer and his carer was breathtakingly good. Why? It painted a personal story that would not have been possible without digital.

4734206265_cba1558b2d_bLinked social has grown. This is a move away from just a corporate account to a range of accounts and platforms from the same authority.

Good conferences had an unconference element. Or were unconferences. The days of £200 a ticket events have gone. The days of £100 a ticket seem dated. There was a lively online debate on the merit of unconferences but the best bits of inspiration I found came from barcamps and in the West Midlands there was an explosion of them.

Newspapers have carried on dying. Bit of a home banker of a prediction this. Although there are signs with live blogging and other tools that they are seeing the value of social media.

What was wrong?

Data journalism didn’t grow. Nationally, maybe. But locally not and bloggers were not in the main building mash-ups to hold instutions to account.

What was half right?

Comms is still fighting for control of social media and not sharing the sweets nicely, like they need to. They’ll learn eventually.

Data visualisation didn’t boom. There were isolated pockets of how it could be used well but it’s far from being an accepted part of the comms armoury.

Some amazing things happened in Scotland. There were events planned across the country on Twitter and people like Carolyne Mitchell, Leah Lockhart, David Grindlay, Kate Bond and others are doing great things but I get the feeling it’s not quite in the mainstream.

Here’s 12 rash predictions for 2013

1. Comms teams will become smaller. Always in the frontline for criticism they will become bigger targets.Which leads to…

2. Smart comms people in local government will realise that channel shift comms may be the reason they will survive. It costs money to talk to people face-t0-face. It’s cheaper on the web. But how do you tell people about the best way to get a job done? By good comms which needs to be evaluated to see how effective it has been not by a potential audience but by the number of people who stopped calling and started reporting online.

4399722909_b77b178be8_o3. Twitter defamation lawyers4u will become a reality. The wild west days of the social web will be over. The row over tweeting false allegations against Tory Ministers has changed the landscape. How soon before ambulance chasing gets replaced with tweet chasing? How soon before a local politician takes legal action over a rogue tweet?

4. Innovation will wither as as spare capacity is cut. With less people doing more things they room for ground breaking projects will shrink and ever disappear.

5. The private sector will be doing the best innovation. Up until now JFDI has taken the public sector very far. Well resourced private sector comms teams will do the best creative thinking. Seen what Gatwick Airport do with social media? You simplty must. Twitter as an engagenent channel. Pinterest to promote shops and offers. Soundcloud for audio books for children parents can play their fractious children. Brilliant.

6. Digital comms specialists are needed. Yes, we all need to be doing it. But there needs to be a hand on the tiller of any organisation just to steady the ship, see what is on the horizon and think creatively. Sorry. But there is. The evidence of Gatwick tells us this.

7. Digital box ticking needs to be guarded against. As the argument has been won it becomes mainstream. Bad social media will become more prevalent as the box marked ‘we’ve tweeted from our own special account’ is ticked.

8. People will see that social media isn’t a golden bullet. Social media has had a great run. It’s promised lots and has delivered an awful lot. But it’s one of several channels.

9. Facebook as a local government channel is over. With the change of algorithm Facebook at a stroke has reduced the number of people who see your updates to around 10 to 15 per cent. That’s like the postman keeping 90 per cent of your birthday cards. No, really it is. Matt Murray and Jim Garrow have blogged well on this subject.

10. The localgov digital project is a good  idea whose time has come. A practitioner network with support from the LGA and DCLG this has potential. Big potential if there is enough time and resources.
11. Social media is fracturing. It’s not a case of Facebook + Twitter. It’s knowing YouTube, LinkedIn, Vimeo, Soundcloud, Audioboo, Google Plus, Pinterest, Instagram and other emerging platforms in the right place and at the right time. That may be a series of small communities to service.
12. Digital projects to make a difference must be big. If we’re still here talking about Twitter Gritter as the finest use of digital in local government we’ll have all failed horribly. Small projects are great. Ones that tackle big issues are what are needed to make a difference.
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    1. Hi Vicky. Hope you are good. The localgov digital is a practioner network that is being shaped with input from the LGA. It’s quite beta at the moment.

  1. Dan, good stuff. Your final bit bothers me a bit, though. Things don’t ever start big or become big overnight. They start small. Some stay small because that’s their job. The trick, if your prediction is to come true, is to find ways to take small beginnings that have the potential to be really good, big projects, and grow them in the right way.

    I’m regularly on record as saying that one of the most damaging characteristics of local government is its “not invented here” attitude – its regular scorn for things that are not home grown. That’s not universal, but it’s oh so common in the larger authorities: the very ones whose involvement might actually give a project the necessary critical mass.

    So, how do we take something small, yet make it big while still allowing it to be seen as being small in places where “big” might suggest it “wasn’t invented here”? The crucial thing is that it has got to be seen as making a difference wherever it goes. No good trumpeting that “Project X” made a huge difference in Authority Y. That’s because “Can’t see that happening here” is first cousin to “Not invented here”, and is just as much of a wrecker.

    You’re right that part of the answer is that the projects need to tackle “big issues”. Maybe the biggest issue still to be tackled is the continuing snail’s pace of social media development in far too many local authorities? It’s easy to say that not embracing it is “their loss”, and that sort of thing, which I’ve heard often in 2012. The truth is that we all lose when potential big projects are having to move at the pace of the slowest and most reluctant partners.

    McAlpine, and the spectre of the “tweet chasing” litigation to which you refer, have, in my view, set us back immeasurably. It’s now far too easy for the knockers, who are, of course, usually those with most to lose (power, influence, empires, etc) to point to one incident and tar everything with that brush. Let’s not forget that we all agreed a long time ago that local government was cripplingly risk-averse.

    So, we want a big project, that will look like a small project, while also looking “safe”? Reckon your prediction’s going to need more than a year to pull that one off.

    And interesting that social media didn’t feature on Pickles’ “50 ways” list, too?

    1. Hi Tom,

      Thanks for your considered comment. It’s always good to read your thoughts on things.

      I know where you are coming from on things starting small. I’ve always believed in the idea of doing three or four things small scale to see if they’ll work and telling your bosses’ boss about the two that really fly. Think we’re both agreed that if you try and fly something you are not quite sure about you are likelyto have egg on the face.

      I suppose what I’m getting at is the need to tackle bigger subjects. Universal Credit for me is the elephant in the room. It sounds like a piece of government name changing at face value. Actually, in practice it’s going to be huge and especially huge in terms of its impact on local government and residents. More than 20 per cent of the population don’t use the web but to claim this they’ll have to use the web. That’s a potential headache.

      So in short, how to take a small scale project and try and scale it up very swiftly. That can be shared across huge parts of local government. That’s what’ll make a big impact and it feels as though that step change is needed for what we’ve all collectively done over the lst few years to really grow, really develop and really make an impact.

  2. Hi Dan – Great stuff as always and keeping me going as I’m alone in the office over the holidays.

    I’m still not totally convinced that FB is dead as a LG channel. I think we all know that FB is a space where a lot of our stakeholders (I can’t think of a better word at the moment) interact. And, at least here, we put a lot of effort into listening to what’s being said in social media channels.

    I’ve always been slightly sceptical about FB partly because FB seems to change itself every 6 months (finding how to monetise content?) Also, the idea of users “liking” a local authority doesn’t compute.

    We’ve taken a deliberate approach to use FB for general services/events that we provide, manage and/or fund rather going corporate. It’s not an overwhelming success, but we do seem to be tapping into some broader networks and had good conversations.

    Of course, losing 90% of your potential reach is going to make you think about how you use FB. That said, I’ve got stats in front of me that show reach of one of our pages increasing fivefold in the last week.

    Given FB’s record of goalpost moving, I wouldn’t bet that the 90% hit is permanent. I’m willing to post smarter and hold on for another 6 months.

    1. Hi Pete. Think of the Facebook comment as a cry of frustration. Not least because it’s a bit dispiriting sitting down with people across the organisation and watching their enthusiasm wane because people just don’t see their updates to grow the page. Jim Garrow – who is brilliant as I know you know – did point out that it’s probably still worth having a page to interact and communicate. For people who haven’t see it you can do here:

  3. This is just a great post. There’s a lot of insights packed in here. I loved the line “Bad social media will become more prevalent as the box marked ‘we’ve tweeted from our own special account’ is ticked.” Definitely have to give the Facebook question some thought. I’m thinking that even if 10 percent see the message, if the message is important enough they will share it with others.

    1. Thanks, Walter!

      Social media used to be a club. Enthusiasts would do it and fight to do it at work. Now they’ve – we’ve – won the battle as to whether or not organisations should do it there’s the army of laggards being press ganged into doing it. Without the zeal and enthusiasm that saw early projects fly.

      The box that says: ‘I have a Twitter. It has 12 followers. We have tweeted. Ergo we have social media covered’ is one to be aware of and points to why good organisations have one responsible for social media. Not responsible for delivering it all themselves. But to allow a decent standard to be maintained and to horizon scan because trust me, the bloke who has been told he has to do social media and would rather not will NOT be experimenting with ways to best use LinkedIn as an org…

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