LINOTYPE: WordPress v Hot metal. A (sort of) case study

Pic credit:
Linotype machines
 Originally uploaded by edinburghcityofprint


As an evocative recollection of a lost world, the opening lines of Marcel Pagnol’s memoir is hard to beat.

“I was born in the Aubagne in the last days of the goat herders,” he wrote of rural France in the 1890s.

“I was old as my mother and two years older than my brother. That always remained the same.” It is a beautiful book. You can feel the sunshine and the sense of a landscape changing and disappearing from view.

As someone who started in newspapers I’m getting that sense of seeing the old world disappearing.

Newspaper circulation in Britain has fallen by 19.1 per cent since 2001, according to website paidcontent:UK.

Truth is, I feel as if I am seeing the world disappear quicker than most. Why? I started on a hot metal newspaper.

“Of course,” I sheepishly tell people. “I began my career carrying pages of type from a linotype machine to a flatbed press.”

Fopr the record, it is worth stressing that I’m 37. Not 97.


In computer terms that’s pre-Bletchley Park. In fact, that’s several generations pre-Enigma. It represents 1880s technology and I have war stories my grandfather would have had.

For 12 months in 1993, I worked on The Uttoxeter Advertiser, a small weekly in rural Staffordshire which claimed a circulation of 5,000 but was actually selling far fewer copies than that.

It was written and printed in a two storey brick workshop in a courtyard off the Market Square.

Yellowing paper covered the skylight. A century of grime and proofs had built up. Its nickname in the town was ‘The Stunner’.

Why? Because people from the Moorlands town have a very dry sense of humour. It stunned no-one.

As a paper it made no sense either. Deadline was Friday. It then sat about for two days. The front page was printed on Monday and it was folded by hand. Never mind the Internet. It was beaten hands down by word of mouth on the High Street.


Uttoxeter was a strange place. Film maker Shane Meadows grew up there. His small town tales of revenge and violence are all drawn from his early life there.

There was a vicar who owned two pubs and would serve behind the bar wearing his dog collar.

He ran a rehearsal room for bands. Bartley Gorman, the self-proclaimed King of the Gypsies, was a resident.

He took part in bare knuckle prize fights and would stage pony and trap races down the A50 bringing traffic to a halt. Police would just shrug at visitors stuck in the jams. “That’s Bartley for you,” they would say.

My job on the Advertiser was to carry pages of lead type known as ‘formes’. They weighed eight stone (50kg) each.

They needed cleaning, once used, before being melted back down. That was my job too – using a brush with only seven bristles. I also took pictures. And I wrote stories.

It was a noisy job. And dirty. The clank of the linotype machines against a backdrop of whirring Press. You would have to shout to get yourself heard. Each picture needed developing. In black and white. By hand. Then burning to create a printable plate.


Then it needed washing. Then mounting onto blocks of wood raised to the level of the surrounding type.

That took two hours 15 minutes tops. It can take Twitpic 10 seconds and a mobile phone less than a minute.

The reporters had one typewriter between them. Then one day, it broke so they had to write out stories in longhand and pass them to Len, the typesetter. Len was a veteran. You had to hope Len was in a good mood or he would refuse to convert your story into printable slugs of type, one for each line.

It was a fascinating place and I developed a love of newspapers, telling a story and journalism there.

Despite everything. Of course, this crazy backwards world couldn’t last. You knew it as you lived it.

The ‘Stunner’ was put up for sale and this hand to mouth, Dickensian existence came to a halt.

The Burton Mail bought the newspaper and made all but two of the staff redundant.

The machines were switched off and the ink stiffened overalls hung up for the last time.

I left knowing there was a better way of doing things.

So why am I telling you this on a social media blog?

Because the past has gone. It wasn’t romantic and I don’t miss it.

There will still be newspapers. Just in a very different landscape.

I’m telling you this because I want you to know that WordPress can create and distribute more in 20 minutes than it took a team of 12 to do in a week.

Digital cleans up and puts a Press into our desktops and mobile phones.

So go out and use it.

And please – don’t complain next time you see a Fail Whale….

SOCIAL PICTURES: Case study: A Flickr meet at Walsall Council House

Pic credit:
Plenty stained glass in Walsall Council House
Originally uploaded by Lee Jordan

There’s nothing better than seeing social media come alive and create something vivid, exciting and worthwhile.

Take good connections between creative people, an open mind and suddenly all sorts of possibility opens up.

Just such a thing took place at our first Walsall Flickr group meet at Walsall Council House.

If you haven’t come across Flickr take a look. It’s a photo hosting website founded in 2004.

You can search and view pictures and look at dedicated groups ranged around the most arcane places or subjects.

The Lake District group has 3,000 members. One dedicated to clouds alone has 8,000 members.

Five years after it was founded Flickr now has more than four billion images.

People often self organise along geographic lines. For example, the excellent Walsall Flickr group has 70 members with a pool of 5,000 images.


These can be everything from corn fields in summertime and famous landmarks to sunrise over the allotment. There’s even one contributor who specialises in shots of old buses taken in Walsall over the past 30 years.

As a council, on Twitter we’d been tweeting links from @walsallcouncil to individual shots in the group’s pool for months. Reaction had been good.

Geographic Flickr groups often stage meets at events or landmarks where members will take pictures.

Frustrated by a national trend for police officers to use counter-terrorism to stop photography in the streets Flickr meets are becoming increasingly important.

At Walsall, we have a beautiful Council House that dates to 1905. Its polished wood and plaques make it the ACME of Georgian civic pride.

There is a carved wooden memorial to the Boer War with 100 names and an alabaster First World War plaque with a carved British Tommy.


There are stern pictures of bewhiskered Mayors gone by hanging from the walls and ornate stone carvings. All things that can make fantastic pictures.

All too often, Council Houses up and down the land can appear remote, closed and intimidating. Let’s not forget they are there to serve and they belong to the people they serve.

The thinking behind the Council House Flickr meet was twofold. First, use social media to connect with people. Second, open up the building to let residents taking pictures of their council and their heritage.

An email, a phonecall and a meeting with organiser and talented amateur photographer and social media enthusiast Lee Jordan showed the group were keen to come to the Council House.

Tentative plans were made for other landmarks. A car park and a Bell Tower – both with panoramic views were singled out as examples.

Permissions for the shoot were sought from the Council hierarchy and a consent form for participants drafted.

Who retained copyright proved one issue. Nerves were calmed when it was discovered we did not want to claim it. Museums with a store of paintings and collections often want to keep this, I understand, and that’s something to work with.

Those who took part had the option of allowing us to use pics for marketing in return for a picture credit.

A slot on a Saturday morning was set and promoted to the Walsall group via their Flickr messageboard.

There was a vibrant thread of 50 messages on the group’s forum and six photographers came along.


We spent around two hours taking shots in the deserted building. War memorials, Mayoral photographs, the board of honour, the cavernous Town Hall where Slade once played were covered.

The sanctum of the Council Chamber itself was also shot by the group.

Was it a success? Absolutely. More than 100 shots were posted to the Flickr group pool building from the event. There was a suprisingly good standard to the quality. They are not happy snappers. They are seriously good amateurs whose work can compete with some of the best professionals.

We are now looking to build a page on the council website where those who took part’s nominated pics can be hosted. Links will be added back to individual’s Flickr pages to showcase their other work. Everyone is a winner.

So, why did it succeed?

1. Like all good social media projects it connected with people.

2. By taking part in social media the council could start a conversation.

3. Residents could photograph part of their heritage.

4. It opened up a civic building giving special access to Flickr group members.

5. Talented individual’s work could be showcased and taken to a wider audience.

6. Shots taken could be tweeted on the council’s Twitter feed.

7. Selected shots – with permission – could be added to the council’s image library.

8. The council could start a dialogue with residents.


1. First join Flickr as an individual. Get to know how it works by playing around with it. Same as any social media platform.

2. Join Flickr as an authority. Start posting pics — but check that the copyright holder is fine with that. Even if you have an array of pictures from freelancers he or she will still retain copyright. Always ask first (see copyright and photography link below).

3. Search Flickr groups for one in your area. (eg Black Country or Walsall).

4. Contact the group admin. See what locations you may have the group may want to set-up a meet at.

5. See what you can do with the pictures that have been taken. An exhibition? A spread of pics on your website? Be creative. Be social. 


Flickr on wikipedia

The Walsall Flickr group pool (needs Flickr membership to view)

Pictures from the Walsall Council House Flickr meet (needs Flickr membership to view)

Useful things to know about photography and copyright

A take on the Flickr event at Walsall Council House by photographer and digitally connected chap Lee Jordan

SAVE BENNO: Case study: How a sport team used social media to take on the establishment

Months before Stephen Fry turned Twitter’s guns on injustice a happy band of cricketers got there first.

Instead of Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir the target was the heirarchy of a Midlands village cricket club.

Angry at the ousting of Fillongley 2nd XI cricket captain Richard Bennet the Save Benno campaign was launched.

Inspired by Barack Obama, Soccer AM and Top Gear the Save Benno online campaign was started across a blog, You Tube with more than 300 views and Twitter with 440 followers.


It raised a smile, support and pressure on the powers that be.

Every time the club’s committee tried to outflank the campaign with the club’s rule book it was across social media. They appeared wholly out manoevred by the protesting players.

The campaign was designed by frustrated player David Howells and his team mates.  In the end they were beaten by the club’s committee. But was it all fruitless? Not entirely. A point was made.

It was also an imaginative marker for how a campaign using social media could be waged.

What could be the first cricket match arranged over Twitter was also played as a result. Looking for a fixture Save Benno used Twitter to broadcast an appeal.


As press officer for Stone SP Cricket Club and a Twitter user the fixture was a no brainer.

The game was excellent, except for my comedy run out with just 1 run on the board.

Aside from this, it was an excellent match decided by a boundary hit on the final ball.

Footage shot on Flip was taken for a Sky Sports-style highlights package. After much beer was drunk in the Pavillion that idea got kind of scaled down.

Instead an A Team-style You Tube calling card was made for more fixtures.


1. Social media are excellent campaigning tools.

2. Sports teams looking for fixtures can use Twitter.

3. Sports teams should use Twitter to broadcast score updates.

4. Flip video highlights packages for You Tube are a brilliant idea.

5. Brilliant ideas are dreamed up over a beer.

6. Cricket is a superb sport played by superb people. It’s just the administrators that let it down.

7. If you are not part of the conversation (in this case the committee were not) you look leaden footed, slow and unresponsive.


The Save Benno blog

Save Benno on Twitter

Save Benno on You Tube

BE LEGAL: Six things a hyperlocal blogger really should know about the law

Originally uploaded by Soggy Semolina 

There is an amazing vibrancy, vibrancy and passion about hyperlocal blogs.

With the bottom falling out of newspapers self-motivated people are filling the news gap themselves.

No town, housing estate or tower block is too small or disconnected to support these grassroots newsgatherers.

But to a qualified journalist turned press officer like myself the potential for danger in the ice field of libel law is terrifying.

Chatting to the excellent Philip John of the Lichfield Blog at a recent Black Country Social Media Cafe it’s clear this hasn’t escaped attention.

The idea of registering a company for a blog is an excellent way of getting yourself some protection.

Why? Because British libel laws are amongst the most draconian in the world.

At some point I’m convinced someone will lose their house in the not too distant future over an internet blog post. It’s potentially that serious.

This isn’t a shot across the bows for local bloggers from an old hack who doesn’t ‘get’ social media. Far from it.

In the words of former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans “I love newspapers. But I’m intoxicated by the speed and possibility of the internet.”

This is more a call to action for the blogging community to be as legally aware as they are SEO-savvy.

Of course, not everyone should have to take a law exam before they are allowed onto WordPress. That defeats the object of Web 2.0.

What I am arguing for is as the blogging community slowly self-organises legal advice, or a place where a blogger could find it, is an overdue must.

It’s excellent that Talk About Local have further enhanced their reputation by spotting this need and they now have a place to go.

They have also drafted a nine point manifesto themselves to help. Maybe a tenth should be “Be legal.”?

This would be self-preservation. It could also help construct foundations for a bridge of trust between bloggers and local councils and other organisations.

With the advent of no win no fee legal firms sniffing around blog comments it’s also increasingly important.

SIX things every hyperlocal needs to know about media law:

1. Libel law covers the web – legal action is rare but you need to know what you blog about could become actionable in every jurisdiction on the planet. Technically.

2. It is big money – Living Marxism magazine folded in 2000 after two television reporters and ITN won £375,000 after being accused of sensationalising images of an emaciated Muslim in a Serb run detention camp in Bosnia.

3. It’s useful to know what libel is – there are defences against libel. Here is a link with British Libel laws explained 

4. Don’t touch court reports – The rules around court reporting in the UK are so strict, so complex and carry unlimited penalties that all but the foolish would look at it. Take freelance reporters’ copy direct if you like. Don’t lift it from newspapers. And don’t try it at home. Contempt of court is about as much fun as serious illness.

5. Have a copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists by your side. It’s the media industry standard. It can save lives. It could save yours.

6. Use the Talk About Local site designed as a signpost for finding legal advice.


Philip John: Getting serious about #hyperlocal blogs. Great piece about media law

Social By Social legal issues for hyperlocals debate

My earlier blog about what hyperlocals mean for Local Government

Great presentation on media law for bloggers and journalists by Paul Bradshaw

POCKET CALCULATOR ANALYTICS: Measure and share your organisation’s Twitter impact (until someone smart designs an app.)

Just how do you measure how effective Twitter is?

One day wfame will all click a button and some kind of advanced free analytic will do it all.

There is of course

 But a score out of 100 isn’t really going to cut the mustard with the chief executive.
What are we doing? One way is to  keep a log of the traditional opportunities to view figure.  In other words the number of times a tweet has been put in front of people.

Until something better comes along we’re keeping tally ourselves with little more than a word document and a pocket calculator.


We do it monthly. First, we keep a tab on the number of followers on the first day of the month.
1. At the START of the month log the current number of followers
2. At the END of the month log the new total of followers
3. Work out the average number of followers that month.
4. Work out the number of times you’ve tweeted that month.
5. Then its MONTHLY AVERAGE FOLLOWER score multiplied by MONTHLY TWEETS. You are left with opportunities to view.


This is the formula we use. It’s a formula that is designed to show the impact of our Twitter use. It’s not neccesarily the one for everyone but it’ll do until a smart app designer comes up with something that gets traction industry wide. It works like this: If there are 100 followers at the start of the month and 200 at the end the average follower score is 150. Yes?
Let’s pretent the tweets we sent that month was 50.
If that was the case our opportunities to view score would be 150 x 50 = 7,500.
In other words, there were 7,500 opportunities to read your organisations tweets.

As a swift number crunch, work out how many months you’ve been tweeting, your followers today, divide your followers today by the number of months and you can come up with a rough figure without having to put in months of investment. 


From April to November ’09 our tweets could have been read more than 700,000 times. This sounds a compelling score – and is – but is by no means unique.

April 09 — 59 tweets x 77 average monthly followers = 4,543

May 09 — 172 x 175 = 30,100

June 09 — 251 x 166 = 46,646

July 09 — 450 x 288 = 129,600

August 09 — 540 x 215 = 116,100

September 09 — 642 x 244 = 157,136

October 09 — 758 x 293 = 222,094

Opps to view total April to November ’09: 706,319



If you are really keen you can use a link shortening website like

From that you can also get data for the number of clicks. However, this is only collected link by link so you can’t bring them all together. It’s also time consuming going through each click. Mashable reckons an average is about 3 per cent click through.

Now you’ve got your stats what are you going to do with them?
You could leave them on your hard drive but isn’t it better to spread the word?
Stick it on the intranet. Tell all your friends.
With thousands of organisations on Twitter I’m amazed a free killer app hasn’t been designed already to properly measure.
Until then, I’d be genuinely interested to know what others do…

Three basic things organisations should be doing when they use social media:

1. Measure. Whatever the way you want to measure – followers, friends, opps to view or views – keep a log. Yes, it’ll take time. Yes, you will come up with some compelling figures that paint a picture of what you are doing.

2. Broadcast. Tell people in your organisation what the statistics are. Don’t keep them to yourself.

3. Circulate case studies. Turned around an inaccurate Chinese whisper using Twitter?  Take a screen shot of each tweet. Put together a mini Power Point and circulate. Let non-adoptors know what you can achieve.

4. Put your social media stats with your Press monitoring stats. Don’t keep them in the box bedroom. Let them breathe. It’s also a good way of getting the message over to people that the weekly paper that has had the monopoly for 100 years is not the only game in town.


E-Consultancy debate on measuring social media success

MY BLOG OBSESSION HELL: How cake brought people together through Social Media

pic credit: jimbosussexmtb
Originally uploaded by


Okay. Quiz time. So when was it I realised I took my blog obsession just a little too far?

Was it a) when supermarket giant J.Sainsbury’s started tweeting us?

Was it b) when the excellent @sarahlay designed a superb google map around it?

Or perhaps c) when I loaded my two poorly children and drove to a garden centre just to photograph a piece of cake so I could write a 140 review blog post?

We sat there in the complex’s empty cafe the three of us. Joe, aged five. Libby, one, and me looking every inch the out of touch divorced dad who has no clue of what makes his children tick any more.

I’m not divorced by, the way. I just have a very tolerant wife.

“But Daddy,” said Joseph, aged five. “You don’t like gardening. Mummy says so. Can’t we go to the park? I like the park.

“No, son.” I tell the hopeful faces. “We can’t go to the park.”

“Why, Dad, why?”

“Because, Joe, They don’t sell cake there.”

I write a blog about cake. I’m quite partial to the odd slice but its never ruled my life.

The blog was founded in August It has received 1,400 hits in eight weeks with almost 60 blog posts. It tweets @mmmmmmcake with 150 followers.

Amazingly, there have been 15 contributors so far from as far afield as Mumbai in India, Nova Scotia in Canada and Brownhills in England. They are people who love cake and enjoy the ridiculousness of pointing a camera at it in a cafe and sharing it with the world.

So why Dan, why?

It began as a wheeze. Make mistakes on your own rather than for your organisation. Besides, I wanted to better get to grips with wordpress.

Why cake? A chance remark on Twitter sparked it.

I introduced a friend new to Twitter. Silence. No followers.

“This is @sarahjpowney. She loves cake.”

Within seconds she had been welcomed on board the Twittersphere with open arms by several people.

“Cake brings people together,” @jaynehowarth enthusiastically tweeted.

She’s absolutely right.

I tweeted a picture of a cake I’d taken in Shropshire. It led to 40 hits on my flickr page in a day.

@brownhillsbob then responded with pics of his own in a kind of sponge and frosted icing arms race.

The penny dropped. This needed a blog to bring things together. From there it’s grown.

But the best bit?

It’s not actually the cake I’ve liked about doing this. It’s the enthusiasm and ideas people are having sparked by cake.

Cake really does bring people together.

The google map by @sarahlay, the Indian contributions by @rbx, the Nova Scotian contributor @halifaxcakes.

There’s a man in Sussex who blogs and photographs cakes with a skill of a baking David Bailey and zeal of a Cuban revolutionary.

All magic.

Then there’s parallel blogs @mmmmmmwine and sweets and chocolate versions by the writer’s children. There’s @mmmmmm_beer by Stuart Harrison (@pezholio) and @mmmmmmcurry by Philip John.

So what lessons to learn?

Any good social media project is listening, collaboration, trial and enthusiasm to be fun.

Having something that people connect with helps. Whatever that may be. Cake or a passion for your estate, model buses or football.

Twitter has been brilliant for this. It taps into the network of social capital. Post the blog. Post the tweet signposting people to it. Marvellous.

Joe’s favourite cake is chocolate, by the way. He’s rarely happier eating it. Me? I’m partial to Mrs Slee’s flapjack.

Birthdays are nature’s way of telling you to eat more cake. So, happy birthday.

And can you send me a quick review?

Thanks to fellow cake blog contributors:

@brownhillsbob, @smartmatt, @stu_arts, George Cunningham, Clare Slee, @rbx, @englishmum, @jaynehowarth @lindasjones, @jimbosussexmtb, @sarahlay @philipjohn, @halifaxcakes, @thetalleygraph, @pezholio, @darrencaveney

And send your reviews to:




SOCIAL MEDIA?: When Twitter put a human face on the global meltdown

Pic credit:
Recession Britain
Originally uploaded by The real Derryn


I have a name for the recession. It’s not Gordon. Or Barack. It’s Alan.

Alan? Alan who?

Alan South. Or rather @alaricthegoth.

Let me explain.

Alan lives in the South of England. He was made redundant some time ago from the financial services sector. He’s victim of the credit crunch like millions of others.

I started following Alan on Twitter after seeing his details tweeted by BBC’s morning flagship show BBC 4’s Today Programme.

He was one of four jobless people selected for regular updates.

He has children. They’ve grown up now. He supports Spurs. He’s tickled sometimes when I talk about my children from time to time.

He encourages me occasionally when I get down about my football team, Stoke City.

He’s a good man.

It’s one of those impermanent Twitter relationships. Occasional 140 character snippits that give tiny fragment snapshots into a character.

We kid ourselves if we get to really know people through social media, don’t we? We can’t really be too bothered about what happens to them. Can we?

That’s what I thought.

It was a while since I noticed @alaricthegoth’s tweets. With Twitter’s ease of follow and unfollow  you can’t be expected to know what all are up to.

Which is why I was suprised at myself when I came across Alan breaking a silence of several weeks.

I’d finished putting my 17-month old daughter to bed. With her asleep in her cot I felt the tired elation every lucky parent knows at the end of a long day.

With feet up I idly scanned through the tweets.

I follow a mixed bag of people. The entertaining. The social media savvy. Local gov people. News updates. Black Country people. The man who takes a picture a day from the Clent hills.

As I scrolled down I noticed @alaricthegoth back online. But as I read I was stunned with Alan’s bleak tone.

“Thoroughly fed up,” the first tweet read. “Nothing, but nothing new. No interviews since I can’t remember when. Am sending new cv but zero responses. Still.”

He continued: “BBCs Today prog interviewed me again yesterday, going out at 7am tomorrow.

“Last few quid runs out soon, I’ve cut everything down to the bone but I won’t be able to eat and have broadband/mobile/electricity soon.”

More worrying still:

“Next step is gradual slide into homelessness.”

That worried me. And it worries me still.

Of course, I sent him tweets to cheer him. He thanked me because that’s the sort of chap Alan is.

It bothered me that he was down. It made me remember my spell on the dole post-University in 1993.

Unable to get a job I was reduced to living at home drawing benefit once every two weeks.

It was the blackest time of my life. The shadow that time cast can still send a shudder.

This is not a political blog. Or even a recession blog. It’s a blog about social media. And people.

Twitter is a resource unimaginable to previous generations.

In real time it can bring you the news stories.

But it can also bring you the pain behind those stories. It’s a pain that can address you personally.

I’d like to be able to tell you that @alaricthegoth has found work. I’d like to say that Alan’s BBC interviews and tweets have led to a fairy godmother benefactor. It hasn’t happened.

I’m still hoping for a happy ending.

But I still believe in Alan.

Because he is a good man.


Originally written as a guest blog on

JUST BE SOCIAL: 27 ways to give your organisation a smiley face with Twitter

Originally uploaded by Maniackers Design

Channel 4 news reader Jon Snow apparently once told a Local Government conference: ‘The trouble with you lot is this. You do wonderful things. You’re just a bit boring.’

As an ice breaker it’s bold. Trouble is, he’s right. Partly.

Councils deal with people. They help them in all sorts of ways with 800 services – many of them amazing.

But how do you give them a human face?

That’s where Twitter can work brilliantly for councils.

Since April ’09 Walsall have used Twitter.

We were within the first 100 councils in the world and with @walsallcouncil we’ve had more praise than criticism.

We’ve been asked a few times for how we do it. That’s very nice to hear but we certainly don’t profess to have invented it all ourselves. In fact we’re still learning.


If there’s is a secret? Good listening. 

For a kick-off we listened to what Nick Booth had to say. Nick – @podnosh – showed us what was possible. He’s a hugely inspirational and talented man who specialises in social media for social good. You can find out more about him here – or someone like him – can put you at basecamp equipped with an ice axe, crampons and goggles.

We also listened to Alastair Smith @alncl at Newcastle City Council who was generous with his time. We also paid attention to David Hamilton at @fenlandcouncil for their chatty approach. We also looked at the excellent research work of @liz_azyan @barryearnshaw as well as @sarahlay. Amongst others. 

Seeing as I’m unavoidably detained from #localgovcamp in Lincoln here’s a note of what we learned next.


1. Tweet for yourself first. Take some time to get to know the platform, how people use it and the language they use. Then you can tweet as an organisation with confidence.

2. Do use a human voice. Be polite. Be helpful. Be approachable.

3. If it helps, think of Twitter as walking into a pub. There’s some friendly people. There’s some who are a bit misinformed but friendly. There are some who are just plain hostile. If you can’t move the conversation on, don’t take part. If you can, do.

4. Don’t argue with an idiot. My Uncle Keith told me this. It’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard. If someone is being daft you really don’t have to engage with them.

5. Do respond within 24 hours. Many councils have a promise to respond to a letter within 21 days. In the world of social media that’s just too slow. By the time that letter is sitting on the doormat the debate will have been long lost. Even a ‘thanks for your tweet, I’ll pass on your comment,’ will be appreciated.

6. Do have a deputy. It’s great you are in charge of the Twitter account. But get someone to stand in if you’re on holiday.

7. Do Tweet everyday. Frequency builds an audience.

8. Do tweet out of office hours from time to time if you can. You may well reach a different set of people. They’ll be impressed you have.

9. Don’t tweet by committee. You’ll end up with a camel. Take a steer from someone if needs be what the answer should be but writes it yourself.

10. Do use the search button to see what people are saying about you. And then get involved in the conversation if you need to. Be polite and point people to where they can get help.

11. Don’t use RSS. This is the automated service that sends out a message based on your press release intro. What works well on social media is a human face NOT a machine. Don’t do it. Please. You’ll be missing the point.

12. Don’t put out an out-of-office.’We’re going on holiday now. Back in three weeks.’ It. Looks. Rubbish. At a push switch to RSS.

13. Be named. Put your first name in the organisation biog. It at least shows a human face.

14. Change your profile pic regularly. Landmarks and seasonal shots work better than a shrunken logo.

15. Re-tweet. RT. This means you’ve read something interesting and you’ve cc’d it to your group of followers too. If its a third sector or public sector tweet that’s relevant. That’s the spirit of social media. eg RT @walsall_hospice great to see so many people at our fundraising event at the Arboretum yesterday.

16. You are allowed to #followfriday. This is where you can recommend good people to follow. If you are a council suggest other council departments that are on Twitter. Or maybe a local charity.

17. Do use smileys if the need arises : ). It’s part of the landscape of Twitter. But use it wisely. It won’t be appropriate next to a link to the death of a former Matyor : (

18. Do listen and feedback. Forward comments to the right place. Let officers know what is being said. It’s a good listening device.

19. In the long term think of Twitter for services. Have a general council one. But think about one specifically for jobs too. Or planning applications. Or library events. Or maybe any of the 800 services. 

20. Use pictures. They’re full of win. Link to pics on flickr the photo sharing website, for example. You’ll also build connections with your community.

21. Live tweet an event or a press conference. Widen up the event to a bigger audience.

22. Use hashtags. Hashtags are a way of joining in a wider conversation. For example the hashtag #iranelections saw over a million tweets a day at its peak.On a more routine level put the name of your town or borough in. eg #Newcastle, #Derby, #Brownhills. Or even the service #environment #libraries or #countryside.

23. Be prepared for people saying unpleasant things about you. But remember that they’d be saying it about you anyway. This is your chance to listen and connect.

24. Get used to the fact that you can’t control Twitter. But by being part of it you can take part in the conversation.

25. Be prepared to speak with hyperlocal bloggers. They’re part of the conversation too.

26. Keep a note of what you do month by month. Analysing the impact of social medioa is still in its infancy and there are no clear universally adopted industry standard ways yet. An average followers multiplied by tweets gives an opportunities to view-style marketing figure that is compelling to those within the organisation. In Walsall in June, for example, there were 40,000 opps to view. Even accounting for the fact that Mashable says that 20 per cent of accounts are dormant that’s a serious figure.

27. Let people in your organisation know your social media activity. Keep them in the loop. A monthly update should do it.

That’s a long list. It works for us. It may not suit your organisation.

If it seems daunting rewind to point 1. Stick with it. You’ll get there. Make a few mistakes under your own flag.

There’s a stack of best practice out there. Take some time to look at how other councils do it.

Have a look at:





@cultureleisure – great use of Twitter by a council department. 

But also keep tabs with social media by following:

@mashable – Anglo American daily social media blog for people who don’t usually read blogs. Full of good research

@scobleiser – US social media commentator.

@davebriggs – UK local government and third sector commentator

@paulocanning – UK local government and third sector commentator

@liz_azyan – brilliant and inspiring UK local government researcher and

Local Government: Check Liz’s list of good people to follow of Twitter:

Check the LGEO Research list of Councils on Twitter:

IF A PICTURE SAYS 1,000 WORDS – How pictures can brighten up your Tweets

Originally uploaded by mattmurray74


Striking pictures can deliver striking stories.

That’s been the case since the first monk in a windswept Northumbrian monastry inscribed Biblical scenes on velum.

Good pictures leap from the page. They do in social media too.

It’s amazing how this can be overlooked. Some Twitter feeds concentrate so heavily on RSS-heavy slabs of text they can have the appearance of a 19th century newspaper. All content. No pictures. Not much in the way of fun.

At a time when most phones take servicable pictures and digital cameras come free with a tank of petrol there really, really is no excuse.

Pictures can work amazingly well on Twitter to liven up your organisation, group or council’s Twitter feed. It can give a few soft edges, give it a human face and make your place a lot greener and more attractive.


But the really big potential engine for all of this is flickr, the online community of amateur photographers.

The most amazing pictures are being taken by amate

Flowers in a Walsall churchyard by Matt Murray
Flowers in a Walsall churchyard by Matt Murray

ur photographers armed with enthusaism and a passion for taking good pictures.


1. The Twitter profile pic.

Marvellous as most corporate logos can be the truth is it was never designed to be shrunk to the size of a Twitter postage stamp. Stick some flowers on. Or a landmark. Go, on. Brighten up people’s lives. We’ve had a statue, flowers from a garden and a horses head from a museum. Mind you, that wasn’t too popular and we had to ditch that.

2. Use your mobile and tweet.

That thing in your pocket. Sunny day? Nice view? School being opened? Take a picture. Share. Enjoy. Connect. You’d tell your friends , so tell your Twitter friends. Go to and post on Twitter from there. It’s a brilliant, brilliant resource. (Our countryside team have been particularly good at supplying pics.)

3. Find your flickr group

This is where things get really interesting. For all your lofi efforts with your Nokia you’re going to have to work hard to beat an image taken by a craftsman. Or an enthusiastic amateur.

Search flickr for your town or community. Chances are there will be scores of pics. In the Walsall, for example, there’s a thriving community of more than 70 contributors with 4,000 images.

There’s some brilliant, brilliant work. Look out for the Four Seasons garden flickr feed from Walsall with more than 100,000 hits.

The best thing is with flickr there is a real web 2.0 willingness to share and link. People are very happy to have their work showcased.

4. Tweet a flickr pic

Now its time to get interesting. Choose a pic. Cut and paste the URL into a link shortening site. Something like is brilliant. It’ll keep tabs on how many people open and when.

The industry average for click-throughs is about three per cent, say Mashable. For apicture posted to Twitter it can be three times that.

Top tip: countryside shots and sunny pics go down ever so well.

5. Stage a Flickr meet

Contact the organiser of your flickr group – or photographic society – and invite them down. Those war memorials, Mayor’s Parlour curios and rooftops may get a cursory glance if you work in a Council House. They may well be a source of some great pics.

6. Start your own flickr feed.

If you are a group, an organisation or have a stake in an area a flickr feed works. Newcastle City Council, for example, have their own flickr site. It’s a place where good quality pictures can be seen and downloaded. A word of caution of you have a massive back catologue of freelance commissioned shots. Check with them first to see if they are happy for you to do this. Photographers own the copyright of shots they take. Even if you’ve paid them for them. What they’ve most likely given you is a licence to use the images in a certain way. Which leads to…

7. Link to a freelance photographer’s site.

If a freelancer has done work for you they may well be happy for you to direct traffic to their site to view one of the pictures you’ve commissioned. In fact, they’d probably be ecstatic. Everyone wins. Your followers are treated to good images and they get some web traffic. 

Do all this, you’ll connect with people, you’ll take part in amazing conversations, you’ll promote your area and you’ll encourage talent.

If a picture says 1,000 words, why aren’t you using it in 140 characters?


@walsallcouncil #PicoftheDay

Walsall flickr group

Countryside in Walsall posted via Twitpic

HERE COMES EVERYBODY: What hyperlocal blogs will mean to Local Government

Originally uploaded by willperrin
 There’s a tremendous scene tucked away in the extras of Armando Iounnucci’s excellent verge-of-war satire ‘In The Loop’.

Senior press officer Jamie McDonald, the angriest man in Scotland, is discussing his choice of film.

“‘There Will Be Blood,” he says. “Great title for a film. But you know what? There wasnae any blood.”

The idea of bloodless confrontation is one I can’t get away from after the excellent Talk About Local Unconference in Stoke-on-Trent.

Organised by @talkaboutlocal the project saw the cream of hyperlocal bloggers from across the country gather to plot, scheme and bounce ideas of each other.

It was fascinating stuff with some amazing things being done.


So where does the confrontation come in?

If old media and social media are colliding then it’s at local government press offices that the front lines can be being drawn.

As newspapers close or scale back there is an overpowering feeling amongst residents of being left without a voice.


Take the The Lichfield Blog. Founder and ex-journalist Ross Hawkes set it up in January 2009 when a fire engine went past his house prickng the curiosity of his wife.

“My wife said to me ‘I wonder where that’s going?’,” he told me. “I realised that there was no way of finding out anymore because local papers just aren’t there.”

Nine months on and his site now has 16,000 users a month while the incumbent newspaper The Lichfield Mercury has a print run of 60,000.

Then there’s – a hyperlocal for Wednesfield in Wolverhampton.

It was set up by two residents who wanted to make a difference and get a voice heard. Six weeks from launch they had 600 friends on Facebook.

All of a sudden the figures are stacking up.

It could be a town, a borough, a housing estate or even a tower block or two streets. Hyperlocal blogs are beginning to fill a gap. Too small for newspapers to compete with they are their worst nightmares.

Armed with a wordpress site and enthusiasm people can now have their say.


So where’s the friction?

Experienced press officers are used to dealing with trained reporters who know where the law is drawn.

They are often staffed by ex-reporters who earned their spurs the hard way.

Who are these bloggers, they say? Where’ve they come from? Why give them oxygen of publicity by dealing with them in an already busy day?

In Stoke, the Pits n Pots blog say they are not allowed near the press bench despite strong council coverage. It is said that the authority’s communications unit won’t speak to bloggers. At Talk About Local there was at times searing resentment at some press offices’ disregard of bloggers. At best it’s seen as unhelpful. At worst it’s deliberate.

Like them or not, many local government press officers do care passionately about their job and get very irritated when mis-truths and opinion get promoted as hard fact.

On the other side are bloggers, many who don’t have journalistic experience whose ignorance of media law could cost them their house. They care passionately about the place they live or work. That’s why they blog.

Let’s be quite clear here.

Bloggers and press officers are here to stay.

Does it have to lead to friction? Not necessarily. But while each side views the other with suspicion and at times hostility it’s hard to see a way through.


If a council’s reputation is being debated in a newspaper a good press officer is there.

If its being done through the letters page the press officer can take issue there.

Go where the debate is.

If that’s Facebook, Twitter or the comment boxes of a newspaper website or yes, a blog, go there.

An organisation’s reputation is increasingly what is being said about it online. So it makes no sense to bury heads in sand and pretend blogs will go away. They won’t.


1. Treat them as journalists. Give them access to the same information. Coca Cola launched energy drink Relentless in part by explaining the product to bloggers first.

2. Put them on press release mailing lists. It’s not the Crown jewels. Its public information. Who knows? You may even correct misinformation at source.

3. Use blog comment boxes as a press officer. Say who you are and where you are from. Put the council’s position politely and link to further info where you can.

4. Accept not everything bloggers write is going to be favourable. And complain politely – and constructively – if things are wrong.

5. Respect what they do. More often than not they are residents who are articulating issues. Years ago, this was through letters pages. Now its online.

But it’s not all one way traffic. Like the best local newspaper Diamond wedding caption reveals, any relationship is a question of give and take.


1. Don’t be anonymous. If you have courage of your conviction put your name to what you do. You’ll find your voice getting heard far better.

2. Don’t be afraid to check stories. You’ve heard a new housing estate is being built on playing fields. Isn’t it better to confirm that first – if you can?

3. Respect press officers. They have a job to do too.

4. Be accurate. The same rules for newspapers apply to blogs.

5. Buy a copy of McNae’s Essential Law For Journalists. The best, most readable book on media law there is. If you are even halfway serious about blogging on issues that could be controversial buy it and put it next to your computer.  It tells you what’s legal and what is not.  It. Will. Save. Your. Life.


The Lichfield Blog (lichfield, Staffordshire)

WV11 (Wednesfield, Wolverhampton)

Pits N Pots (Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire)

Talk About Local

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