If you are looking for a blog post for something you are thinking of doing…
If you are looking for a blog post for something you are thinking of doing…
Seven years ago I started to blog and everything that I do now is influenced by that decision.
I’m changing the way I blog. Just as an experiment for November first. Maybe for good. Maybe not.
What is blogging? It’s thinking something through publicly, then keeping a public record of it to share.
Why change? Because I want to see what impact it has on how I do things. And because I quite fancy a place to develop half-thought thoughts as short reads or possibly longer. For the past couple of years I’ve been writing about things that I’m running a workshop or a session on. That’s fine. But I’d like to expand beyond that too.
Why #blogvember? Because a month feels achievable. Some content every day.
Why a dog video? Becuase I really don’t like reading pronouncements from other people about how they use social media. Just do it, chap. Go on. But this public declaration just to myself is sugared with a viral dog video just for you.
Just look at the little chap’s face.
Three great things happened in local government in the West Midlands last week and it’s been a while since that happened.
Firstly, new Birmingham City Council chief executive Mark Rogers posted his first blog in his first week in charge there… and it was human. It didn’t fall into the trap of councilspeak. Or jargon. It felt like it was written by a real person. Online, the mood of staff and those who care about the city rose by several degrees. You can read the blog here and see some of the reaction here.
Okay, so this is a small step and ranged against the good times is the small matter of the £822 million that needs to be saved from Birmingham’s budget, the need to sell-off the flagship NEC, the 1,000 jobs that will go this year and the need to turn around the giant super-tanker pretty darn quick.
The task facing Birmingham City Council is immense. It’s going to hurt. But the knowledge that there is a human being in charge gives an injection of hope and the knowledge that the city stands a chance. You could argue that from this point on Mark will never be as popular. You could also say that times must be bad for public sector when a demonstration of being obviously human behaviour from someone at the top gets such a warm welcome.
Secondly, Mark started to engage with people online and Twitter saw a few human interactions between the bloke in charge and the bloke who does things for him as a far smaller part of the wheel. He even quoted Joe Strummer.
— Kevin Johnson (@urbancomms) March 5, 2014
Thirdly, and rather wonderfully someone in Mark’s network Liz Newton shared a link that Mark suggested people go watch. It’s leadership lessons drawn in under three minutes by a dancing guy in a field at a festival. At first, it’s just one dancing guy but in under three minutes the field is transformed.
(QUICK NOTE: THE YOUTUBE CLIP REALLY IS A KEEPER SO DON’T SKIP IT.)
To quote the narrative spoken by Derek Sivers who posted the video:
First of course, a leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous. But what he is doing is so simple it’s almost instructional. This is key. It must be easy to follow. Now here comes the first follower with a really crucial role. He shows everyone else how to follow. Notice how the leader embraces him as an equal so it’s not about the leader anymore it’s about THEM the plural. It takes guts to be the first follower. You stand out and you brave ridicule yourself. The first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint the first follower is the spark.
Now here’s the second follower… this is the turning point. It’s proof the first has done well. Now, it’s not a lone nut and it’s not two nuts. Three is a crowd and a crowd is news. A movement must be public. Make sure outsiders see more than just the leader. Everyone needs to see followers because new followers emulate followers.
Now we’ve got momentum. This is the tipping point. Now we have a movement.
Leadership is really over-glorified… there is no movement without the first follower. When you see a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.’
So, that’s three lessons for leaders delivered by social media by one lone bloke in a suit in less than a week.
As it turns out, I’m not alone. According to one estimate there are more than 200 million and that’s not event counting micro-blogging platform Twitter.
For me, it’s a place to think things through, bounce an idea or record something as a snapshot and it was fascinating to read through the other entries CIPR President Stephen Waddington captured in ‘The Business of Blogging.’ You can read it here.
There is also a slideshare where you can read and download.
This is my short contribution:
There’s a loose network of people in the public sector I’m proud to belong to. We’ve been called ‘militant optimists’ because despite everything we’re still determined to make a difference.
We work in central government – or in my case local government – and we organise through Twitter, we meet-up and we kick around ideas, we learn and we share through blog posts.
Why do we bother? Because we’re all in it together. We’re all facing cuts and we’re seeing empty chairs where colleagues used to be. We’re faced with the internet turning old certainties on its head.
We’re not in competition against each other so we can collaborate. We stage our own events that anyone can come to and we share ideas afterwards on blog posts that have become the currency for learning in a sector where training budgets have been stripped where the rule book hasn’t been written and it’s never been more important to do a good job. For us blogging is booming and mobile is simply sharing our ideas on the go.
I’ve blogged for five years. Why do I blog? Because I can flesh out an idea far easier online than in practice. I can capture or share. It’s changed how I think, how I work and I’m finding doors opening that the blog has led me to.
Creative commons credit
Two days I spent going through old editions of the paper in the corner of the aircraft hanger of a newsroom.
Proudly I picked up the next edition to read a double page spread with my name on. What do I recall of that? Very little. There was a nun who got charged with drink driving and the Holstein prices at Uttoxeter were especially high in March that year.
Over this past year I’ve read scores of blog posts and news pieces links. At times I’ve been stopped in my tracks by a turn of phrase, a perceptive argument or just a good piece of writing. Here are 14 from 2012 that I’ve rated particularly highly.
CAMPAIGNS ARE DEAD: Nobody has done more than Jim Garrow in 2012 to challenge my thinking. He has a skill of turning a vague idea you may have had into a compelling argument engagingly written. He also asks questions of things people take for granted. Jim does public health emergency planning in Philadelphia in the US. He’s brilliant. His blog is worth subscribing to and there’s plenty of good ones to choose. This one here on the death to the campaign is particularly good. Comms people love campaigns. It makes them feel as though they’ve changed things. No they haven’t he argues. You can read it here.
WEEKLY BLOG CLUB: If no one single blogger has done more to challenge than Jim then the Weekly Blog Club is the website has been the best collective source of writing and inspiration. The idea is simple. You blog something once a week and post it on Twitter using the #weeklyblogclub hashtag where it finds a ready audience and will be collated into aweekly round-up. Janet Davis has taken this idea, polished it, showered it with love and made it something that brightens my timeline. You can read it here.
RAILWAY INSPIRATION: Good blogs shouldn’t just be about your corner of the world. John Kirriemuir is a librarian who often writes creatively. This carefully observed piece on a fellow traveller in Birmingham New Street Station is powerful. All too often we can pass through without looking at who we’re travelling with. John does. You can read it here:
RE-SHAPING PRESS TEAMS: Ben Proctor is a digital specialist who has experience in local government and working as a consultant. His modest proposal to get rid of press offices suggests that change is inevitable and gives a few ideas on what this may look like. You can read it here.
FUTURE COMMS: The Cabinet Office’s Ann Kempster sparked a creative and much-needed debate on the future of press teams and digital teams with this cracking post which generated a cracking set of comments that show the vibrancy of debate in the public sector in 2012. You can read it here.
FACEBOOK IS DEAD: A former colleague Matt Murray is now doing great things in local government in Queensland, Australia. For a while I’d been wondering uneasily about the turn that Facebook had taken when Matt wrote a post that spelt out why it is no longer the go-to platform. You can read it here.
DIE PRESS RELEASE: This is actually from 2006 but I’d only chanced upon Tom Foremski’s Die Press Release, Die! Die! post earlier in 2012. It spells out why the traditional press release is dated and what the thing that should replace it should look like. You can read it here.
CASE STUDY: Hackney Council’s Al Smith doesn’t blog enough. This post from his time at Cannock Chase District Council shows why he should and spells out the steps he took tio help crack down on domestic violence one Christmas.It’s imaginative and effective stuff. You can read it here.
GOOD WRITING: Tom Sprints‘ post about a chance encounter in the shadow of a mountain was lovely writing. If you missed it you can read it here.
DIGITAL STATS: Emer Coleman of the Government Digital Service wrote this cracking piece on the measurement of social media and what we should be looking out for. For anyone looking to get a handle on the changing landscape it’s essential. You can read it here.
A GOOD REMINDER: Sometimes we can spend too much time online. Sometimes we can spend too much time not doing the important things. This short post from Phil Jewitt asks us to re-assess and think of those around us who matter most to us. You can read it here.
FRONTLINE BLOG: People on the frontline should be given access to social media. Comms people are often resistent. Walsall police officer PC Rich Stanley is a case study of why access should be opened-up and the sweets shared. You can read one of his posts on his day job here.
OLYMPICS GAMESMAKER: Jo Smith founded Vindicat PR in what has been a difficult year for her. She spent time as a London 2012 Gamesmaker and saw close-up how the city fell for the games. Volunteers like her were part of the secret. How did they manage it? Good internal comms. You can read it here.
DAN HARRIS: If London 2012 was joyous then the memory of seeing BBC News 24 carry pictures of medal triumph with the confirmation of Dan Harris‘ death on the ticker was a bitter memory. I’d met him a few times and corresponded often. His death devastated those who knew him far better. He’d agreed to write for comms2point0 a website I help with and had written this fine post a few weeks before. You can read it here.
GANG MEMBER: Digital can bring people together and can share stories. Steph Jennings of Podnosh’s account of meeting a former gang member at a social media surgery was arresting. You can read it here.
ANOTHER LONDON: Gillian Hudson of 10 Downing Street’s digital team wrote a cracking blog to capture some of the work she had been involved with over the Olympics. It spoke about comms with a human face and it was cracking. You can read it here.
Seven links sees bloggers talk about things they’ve learned from what they’ve posted and nominate five bloggers to do the same. The result is some learning and picking up some other blogs you may not have come across before.
Andy Simcox, the blogger who nominated me, works in local government. He writes about things here. He writes with honesty about often personal things. It’s good stuff.
So, to pass it forward here are seven things I’ve learned and five bloggers I’d recommend and like to know what makes them tick too. I could have listed about 15 quite easily from the blogroll on the right but ere are five.
My most beautiful post
Being a news journalist was easy. You asked who, when, where and why and invariably wrote it in the first par. “Two people were taken to hospital when three cars collided on the M6 in West Bromwich today.” Easy. What I found difficult were features that need a different approach. The only feature I wrote in 12 years as a print journalist I could hang my hat on was about my grandfather’s death in the First World War. Not on the glamorous Western Front but of dysentry in Mesopotamia, near Basra in modern day Iraq.
With Remembrance Day approaching I told that tale again as a blog. It’s a desperately sad story that knocked me sideways to write and involved a death in the First World War and the domino consequences that ended with a mother abandoning her children to search bins for food. It’s here.
My most popular post
Showing colleagues Twitter I posted a request to people who followed me for advice. It came back in unexpected numbers and quality. Rather than cast it to the wind I collected it, blogged it and thought no more about it.
Things started to get a little mad when it wa spicked up by @twitter and reposted. Overnight, 8,000 people clicked through to read it and overall 22,000 have. More than 700 people have retweeted it on Twitter. Mad, really.
The moral? Do and share and there’s unexpected consequences.
My most controversial post
Writing about things in local government isn’t actually that controversial. But Andy Mabbett once got quite animated about what we did with opening-up museums to Walsall Flickr group members. The museum service wanted people to sign a quite draconian permissions sheet based on a neighbouring council’s. The hugely talented Steph Jennings worked to draw-up a compromise that left everyone happy. Andy argued that it should have gone further. It’s not exactly the Rumble in the Jungle but you can read it here. What did I learn? People don’t have to agree with everything you say and that’s a good thing. It makes you think.
My most helpful post
There motivation for this blog was to share what we’d done at Walsall Council. The most important step we’d taken was the route we’d taken to secure a green light. This boiled down to eight steps. It was written with someone from Lancashire in mind who at UK Govcamp made a plea for help. What did I learn? It’s good to share.
A post whose success surprises me
The post on helping colleagues understanding Twitter that’s also my most popular. It was a bit surprising was that.
A post I feel didn’t get the attention it deserved
There’s some stinkers that don’t deserve a wider audience. This one about what Turkish football team Galatasaray can teach local government probably deserves a wider re-pimp.
Not for it’s immediate impact. A handful of people read it. But the post wondering aloud a conversation I’d had with Si Whitehouse if we should have a hyperlocalgovcamp led to some good things that I’m hugely proud we did. It’s here. I suppose that’s the point. It’s not the numbers. It’s what a handful of readers can do with it that counts.
Here are five – from lots – that I rate highly and really do urge you explore:
Chie Elliott is brilliant. There is a tonne of good learning on her blog Blaggetty, Blogetty Bragitee. As a publishing person who packed it in to get NCTJ training as a journalist she has a different perspective on news and the media. She’s always bang on the money, always engaging and always thoughtful. That she is job hunting means she is writing a blog of quiet rage at the system she finds herself. Some people sink when hit with the invisible brick walls of the JobCentre. Not Chie. You can read here unemployment blog here.
I’ve probably learned more from Liz Azyan than any other local government blogger. There is more pearls of wisdom per square inch at her blog LGEO Research than almost anywhere else online. The other week I dropped her an email on behalf of a colleague asking her for 100 words on her thoughts on user testing websites. She didn’t just reply to the email, she wrote a blog on it. That one act sums up the generosity of spirit and willingness to share that endlessly inspires me about the local government community online.
When I was starting to get my head around social media there were a few people I badgered for help. I rang them up in the manner of a cold caller. Alastair Smith patiently listened and explained. He was the first person to tell me about Flickr. His work at Newcastle City Council has been trailblazing and his blog on engaging with an angry community on Facebook set a standard. You can read him here and now he’s back in local government I’m kinda hoping he’ll pick up the blogging baton again.
Jim Garrow works in emergency management in Philadelphia. That’s emergency planning in the UK. But wait. It’s not a blog about hi-vis jackets and tabards. It’s big picture stuff. There isn’t a blog like it for stopping me in my tracks and making me think. You can read it here and I urge you to.
Kate Hughes is doing some brilliant stuff quietly in a corner of the Black Country. As a press officer for Wolverhampton Homes she is innovating in an area where you wouldn’t imagine there is the ability to innovate. If it works in Wolvo, it can work anywhere. You can read her blog here.
Over to you I think …
Creative commons credits
Stop Erica Marshall of muddyboots.org http://www.flickr.com/photos/erica_marshall/2669075603/sizes/z/in/photostream/
This blog has clocked-up more than 50,000 page views in the past 21 months.
Considering it was only ever written for two men and a dog that’s something I’m falling off my chair at.
Mind, that figure is skewed by a single crowd sourced blog post on what I should tell colleagues sceptical about Twitter. That got RT’d by @twitter itself and pinged to its 5.4 million followers.
But what it did do was make me think of why I started blogging in the first place. What has resulted and why I think others should too.
There are 98 million words a day posted to WordPress blogs, 53 per cent of bloggers are aged 25 to 35, according to Mashable.
Why did I start blogging?
Because I was getting a fund of information from them myself and wanted to add to that stream.
Because I similarly felt I had something to say and share.
Because something on Liz Azyan’s excellent blog prompted me to take the plunge.
Because – most importantly – I bet @jaynehowarth who was similarly dithering that if I didn’t I’d send her cake.
Some of my blogs have been absolute stinkers. Some I’m proud of. One I even wrote in a car park in Solihull. All have been written in my spare time.
Valuable thinking time. An online notebook to refer back to. Having a voice. Shouting about some of things we’ve done or others have done well.
There’s been the unexpected spin-offs too. A chance to speak on interesting subjects to interesting people at interesting places. I’ve a vague feeling this may be a help to my career at some point down the track.
Why YOU should blog
For all the above reasons. But mostly because we’re all learning. All of us. There are no experts. There’s just shared knowledge. Your view is a just as important. There’s not a blog post I’ve read by someone in local government I’ve not learned something from.
Because with platforms like WordPress it’s pretty straightforward.
Because it’ll give you skills for the future. Whether you write about local government things or, like Kate Goodall, a blog on parks you take your dog for a walk in.
Because ‘do stuff then share it’ is a good thing to aspire to.
Because none of us are experts on everything. But we do know about our tiny corner of the allotment and by sharing it we get a sense of the bigger picture.
Creative commons credits
Red tulip Erica Marshall of muddyboots.org
Striking pictures leap from a page and grab the reader by the throat.
They demand attention, illustrate a point and reel a reader in.
So why the ruddy heck are so many blogs laid out pictureless like telephone directories?
Am I being unrealistic? Maybe. I’ve worked in the media for more than a decade and I’m used to thinking text plus pictures. Not everyone is wired that way. Fair enough.
Yes, through blogging you swiftly publish content. Being able to chuck stuff up is a strength.
But please, remember that a dowdy looking page may not ever get read.
They’re a good marriage of words and pictures. You’re drawn into them.
1. Use your own pictures. It’s surprising what good images you have. Particularly if you are David Bailey.
2. Use Creative Commons pictures Flickr.com is a brilliant resource but it’s also a community so remember to be polite. If you are looking for a shot of a farm gate search ‘Farm + gate + creative commons.’ You’ll get some interesting results. Creative commons gives you permission to use a pic so long as you observe certain conventions.
3. Free to use stock image websites. Help yourself so long as you sign in. You’ll have to pay for the best ones. Not so best are usually free.
4. Use the ‘blog this’ button on Flickr. Many pictures you can add straight to your blog by following a set of instructions but be careful. The pic comes at the same size everytime and appears in the top right hand corner. It also publishes straight away which means you could have some surprised people scratching their head at their RSS feed of an empty page with a picture floating there unless you add pre-written content pronto.
5. Don’t steal. Yes, it’s tempting just to save to desktop but it’s better not to.
If William Wordsworth was alive today he’d be using Twitter.
Not the old stick-in-the-mud he became but the young man fired by revolution.
Why? Because he celebrated the English countryside through the media of the day.
How we think of the landscape was shaped by Wordsworth. Before him, mountains were frightful places. After? Beautiful. And Willie cashed in with an 1810 Guide to the Lakes that was the iphone app of its day.
Exploring how our countryside team could use social media made me trawl through some examples.
Whoever said places work can really well on social media were bang on. That’s especially true of parks and countryside. So how is social media being used by to promote the countryside? There’s some really good ideas in patches out there but nothing fundamentally game changing that makes you sit up and write verse. That says to me that there is plenty of potential.
Photography should be at the heart of what the public sector does with countryside and parks. Why? Because a picture tells a 1,000 words. Because they can bring a splash of green into someone’s front room or phone at one click. Criminally, many sites should be promoting the countryside relegate images to a postage stamp picture.
1. The British Countryside Flickr group has more than 4,000 members and some amazing images. It’s a place where enthusiastic amateur photographers can share pictures and ideas.
2. Peak District National Park chief executive Jim Dixon leads from the front. He blogs about his job at www.jimdixon.wordpress.com and tweets through @peakchief. It’s a good mix of retweeting interesting content and puts a human face on an organisation.
3. Foursquare, Walsall Council added a landmark in a park as a location. The Pit Head sculpture in Walsall Wood was added to encourage people to visit and check-in. You can also make good use of ‘tips’ by adding advice.
4. On Twitter, @uknationalparks represents 15 UK national parks run a traditional Twitter feed with press releases, RTs and some conversation. With 2,000 followers it’s on 145 lists.
5. But you don’t have to be in a national park to do a goods job. In Wolverhampton, @wolvesparkies have a brilliantly engagingly conversational Twitter stream. There is passion, wit and information that make most councils seem the RSS press release machine that they are.
6. National Trust have an excellent Facebook profile. You may get the impression that members are 65 and own a Land Rover. That doesn’t come across here. They observe one of the golden rules of social media. Use the language of the platform. It’s laid back and it’ll tell you when events are planned.
7. Even more relaxed is the quite new I Love Lake District National Park is quite brilliant. It allows RSS, it blogs and it really encourages interaction. Heck, they even encourage people to post to the wall so they can move shots into albums.
8. On YouTube, West Sussex County Council have a slick short film on tree wardens that deserves more than 45 views in five months. Or does this show how much take up there is on YouTube?
9. The rather wonderful parksandgardens.ac.uk is an ambitious online tool for images of 6,500 parks and gardens and the people who created and worked in them. @janetedavis flagged this up. It’s a project she worked on and she should be proud of it. There’s a school zone to to connect to young people too and is populated by google map addresses and photographs. Really and truly, council parks and countryside pages should look like this but mostly don’t.
10. Less a government project, or even social media Cumbria Live TV celebrate the landscape they work in utterly brilliantly. Slick and powerful broadcast quality three minute films do more than most to capture the jaw dropping awe of the fells. They self-host some brilliant films on a changing site. Check them out here.
1. A Facebook fan page to celebrate a park or open space. Call it I love Barr Beacon. Yes, the Friends group can use it as a meeting place. But naming it after the place not the organisation leaves the door open to the public too.
2. Give a countryside ranger a Twitter account. Use @hotelalpha9 as an inspiration. Let them update a few times a day with what they’ve been up to. Post mobile phone pictures too.
3. Despite a dearth of amateur good examples there’s potential in short films to promote countryside. You only have to point a camera at something photogenic for people to come over all Lake Poet.
4. Start a Flickr group to celebrate your patch of countryside. Walsall has 1,000 acres of parks and countryside with amazing views and vistas.
5. Start a blog. WordPress takes minutes to set-up and after messing around only a short time to master. Tell people what you are up to. Whack up a few images. Lovely. For no cost.
6. Make your countryside and parks pages a bit more web 2.0. Use mapping to set out a location. Use Flickr images – with permission – to showcase the place.
7. Add your parks and countryside to a geo-location site such as Foursquare. If the future of social media is location, location, location then venues, landmarks and places will score big.
8. Text. With more mobile phones in the UK than people sometimes the humble text message can be overlooked as part of the package of ways to connect with people. Most councils are also text enabled. Create info boards around a park or countryside with numbers to text to recieve info on what they can see. Change it for the seasons to make best use.
Newlands Valley, Lake District, UK: Dan Slee.
Wordsworth: Creative commons courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.
Yorkshire Dales: Creative commons courtesy of Chantrybee http://www.flickr.com/photos/chantrybee/2911840052/
Flowers: Creative commons courtesy of Vilseskogen http://www.flickr.com/photos/vilseskogen/4182443498/
Three things dawned on me today as a blizzard of amazing links poured through my Twitter stream.
One. My brain was capsizing. And I was starting to get tense.
Two. There are only 24 hours in a day and you only have one pair of hands. You can’t know it all.
Three. The answer became clear. Do one thing at a time. Bit like my Grandad did growing things on an allotment.
The scale and velocity of social media is exciting, inspiring and frightening.
“One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload,” said Marshall McLuhan.
“There’s always more than you can cope with.”
He died in 1980. And all he had to deal with were three TV channels that finished at midnight and Pong. Lucky man.
I quitelike this one, too. “Getting information from the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” Mitchell Kapor said that.
Information overload? Here’s me. I’m following 500 people on Twitter. I try to keep up. I do. Really.
Oh, and Right now I’d like to know more of geotagging, Foursquare, smartphones, Flip, Google maps, podcasting and Facebook.
I know it can’t all be done.
This is exactly why people who call themselves ‘social media experts’ are not. Because you simply can’t be.
So what? Here’s my answer. Be good at something rather than a dabbler in everything.
It’s okay not know everything. Why? Because you can’t. And besides, nobody likes a know-all.
Do one project at a time. One month at a time. Make it a good one. Understand it. Then maybe move on.
I forget where I heard that, but it’s a brilliant, brilliant piece of advice.
Philip John is good at WordPress because he has spent time on it.
Bristol Editor is good at blogging about journalism for the same reason.
Sarah Lay got good at Google maps because she spent a bit of time on it. And listened to how Stuart Harrison did it.
Specialise. Relax. Have a little corner allotment plot of the digital universe and take time to grow something good there.
As my Grandad once said, do potatoes first. Watch them grow. Get good at them. THEN try something a bit trickier. Like carrots. Then try artichokes. Before you know it you’ve got a thriving corner of produce. You can try to be Sainsbury’s. You’ll fail. It’ll be more fun being an allotment market gardener with this stuff.
One step at a time.
Okay? Feel a bit better now?
Main pic credit: Will Lion