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

YOUTUBE: Your handy a ‘Social Media: Is it a fad?’ crib sheet

 We’ve all been there. The You Tube clip starts. Fatboy Slim ‘Right Here, Right Now’ fades in and you are bombarded with fact after fact with one almighty underlying message. The world is changing. Get with the plan, Stan or join the Linotype machine operators in the dole queue.

“But I just can’t taken it all in,” you think. “Isn’t there just a crib sheet to all this so I can take it all in myself?”

To ease fact overload here is a crib sheet of Socialnomics 09’s ‘Social Medis: Is it a Fad?’

Chew over. Question. Digest…..

  1. By 2010 Gen Y will outnumber baby boomers. 96 per cent of them will have joined a social network.
  2. Social media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the web.
  3. 1 out of 8 couples married in the US last year met via social media.
  4. Years to reach 50 million users: Radio 38 years, TV 13 years, Internet 4 years, Ipod 3 years
  5. Facebook added 100 million users in less than 9 months.
  6. Ipod app downloads hit 1 billion in 9 months.
  7. If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s 4th largest. Yet China’s QZone is larger with over 300 million users.
  8. 2009 US Dept of Education study revealed that on average, online students outperformed those recievibg face-to-face instruction.
  9. 1 in 6 higher education students are enrolled in online curriculum.
  10. 80 per cent of companies are using LinkedIn as their primary tool to find employees.
  11. The fastest growing segment on Facebook is 55 to 65 yearold females.
  12. Ashton Kucher and Ellen deGeneres have more Twitter followers than the entire population of Ireland, Norway and Panama.
  13. 80 per cent of Twitter usage is on mobile phone devices. People update anywhere, anytime. Imagine what that means for bad customer experiences?
  14. Generation X and Y consider email passe. In 2009 Boston College stopped distributing email addresses to incoming freshmen.
  15. What happens on Vegas stays on Twitter, Facebook, bebo, flickr, digg.
  16. If you were paid a dollar evertime an article was posted on Wikipedia you would earn $156.23 per hour.
  17. 34 per cent of bloggers post opinions about products or brands? Do you like what they are saying about your brand?
  18. 78 per cent of peope trust peer recommendations. Only 14 per cent trust advertisements.
  19. 24 of the 25 largest newspapers are experiencing record circulation declines.
  20. In the near future we will no longer search for goods and services. They will find us via social media.
  21. Social media isn’t a fad. Its a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.