AND START BEING RELEVANT: Things a comms person can do to still have a future

Okay, so you’re not stupid. You see the landscape is changing. But what the flip do you do about it? 

Think about Bob Dylan and the famous cry of ‘Judas!’ from a disgruntled punter when he went electric.

The most lasting effect, as The Guardian’s History of Modern Music rightly points out, was not on Dylan but on folk revivalism which was sidelined as a bit stick in the mud.

That’s the price you pay for trying to stop progress.

How the media landscape is shifting from print to print and digital is something I’ve blogged on here.

But it seems fair pointing out to people they’re sleepwalking to irrelevance to point them in the right direction.

Here are some pointers to equip you as a comms person — or a press officer for the 21st century when there are fewer presses. I’m no expert. Every day is a school day. But what I can say is that the best learning for a comms person isn’t within an organisation or a college that teaches HND in Geek – although Birmingham City University is doing brilliant things –  it’s actually to experiment yourself and learn from what others are doing.

Just starting out…

Firstly, don’t panic. You can’t know it all straight away. In fact, you can’t know it all. Learn one thing at a time. One step at a time. There are some useful people who can come in and give you a headstart. Helpful Technology, Nick Booth or Andy Mabett are all good people. Cold calling emails that promise the earth probably aren’t going to always deliver. If you’re doing this as a solo mission there’s plenty of resources.

As a starting point, watch the YouTube clip Shift Happens. It’s a cracking piece that while slightly old is still relevant. It sets out the pace of change. You can see it here.

Watch the Simply Zesty clip on where UK social media is in 2010. There’s some good stats. See the link here.

Read a landmark text. Clay Shirky’s ‘Here Comes Everybody’ is a brilliant book that sets out how social media can work.

Set aside time every week to read blogs. There’s a stack of good learning from innovators across the field. Have a look at those of my blogroll and also at Public Sector Bloggers. It doesn’t matter if they’re not comms people. There’s good learning all over.

Map your media landscape. Work out how many papers get sold on your patch. Then compare that with how many people are on Facebook. There’s an easy-to-follow way you can do that right here. It’s something I bang on about but it’s worth doing.

Sign up for mashable.com. It’s a social media news website that looks for things so you don’t have to. Don’t be put off by the geekiness of some of the headlines. There’ll be things there that are relevant.

Get a Google Reader. It’s a way of getting updates from blogs or web pages you like the look of. It’s really simple to set one up.

Get a Twitter account. Yes, you may have scoffed about it being ‘Twatter’ and it being full of people talking about their breakfast. It’s actually a brilliant way to connect with people. Here’s a piece that helps explain it.

If you’ve got a Twitter account, follow some good people. Ones that share links can be a real help. @pubsecbloggers is one that pulls public sector blogs in one place. Other good ones for comms people include people who aren’t all comms people: @dominiccampbell, @davebriggs, @ingridk, @adrielhampton, @simonwakeman and @pigsonthewing. I’m on Twitter as @danslee. Have a look at who I’m following for some suggestions.

Get a Facebook account. If half the population are on its useful to know how they work.

Start to understand hyperlocal sites. These are often community-run sites for a street, an estate or a town. This is why they’re important for comms people. Here is where you can search for one near you.

Start to look at Flickr. There’s lots of things it can be used for.

More advanced stuff…

Learn how Facebook pages work. Look at how Coventry City Council do Facebook for a corporate approach.

Go to an unconference. They’re brilliant ways to learn, share and discuss. You’ll see them mentioned on Twitter.

Start to understand open data. As a comms person it’s going to be increasingly important. Don’t just take it from me. Tim Berners-Lee says so and he invented the internet.

Innovate and start doing something new….

Start blogging. Do. Then share. It helps other people learn. It’s also a helpful thing to demonstrate what you’ve been up to in these post-CV times. WordPress is a good platform.

But most of all, embrace it. Don’t worry. You’ll not look back and by not standing still you’ll stand a better chance of keeping your job and prospering in your career.

Creative Commons credits

Life belt http://www.flickr.com/photos/realjimbob/155640658/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Computer http://www.flickr.com/photos/sdasmarchives/5019024318/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Swing http://www.flickr.com/photos/george_eastman_house/3122866921/sizes/s/in/photostream/

GLOBAL SOCIAL: How a 24 hour idea went world wide

One of the great things about a bright idea is that someone comes along, innovates and makes it even better. 

Last year Greater Manchester Police had the bright idea of tweeting all the calls they had in a 24 hour period for #gmp24.

At Walsall Council we picked up the ball and hooked up 18 Twitter accounts to tweet what an average local government day looked like for #walsall24.

The linked social approach went global with a 24 hour event that reached a potential audience of more than a million people.

Water Aid 24 was a worldwide operation realtime stories were posted from across the world moving from Australia to Nepal to Africa and South America.

It’s amazing the stories that were told. Here is a few: 

  • On the blog, Slus Simba, Papua New Guinea, on the Water Aid blog wrote about his pride in encouraging people to build life saving water toilets.
  • In Nicaragua, Mishel, aged 15, has to collect water herself and walk home with it. We get to see a twitpic of her.
  • In Mozambique, taps were installed at two primary schools while in Britain, the routine back office functions were tweeted.
  • In Nepal, only 203 of 3,915 villages have been declared ‘open defecation free.’
  • In Timor Leste, Jose ‘Rui’ de Oliveira Pires drives an hour by motorbike every day to remote villages to carry out work.
  • In Liberia, it takes two days to travel 300 miles. Roads as well as water is needed.

It’s the bringing together of those stories that build a picture of work going on around the globe.

It brings the fact that people die from water borne disease right home to your smart phone. The subtle message is this: give us the means to act and we’ll do it for you.

But the YouTube clip recorded for Glastonbury that’s embedded above also helps deliver the message in a fun, accessible way.

There’s a few things I love about this:

It thinks big. It brings together a variety of voices to tell a louder story and it uses the real time approach that is uniquely powerful. There is a stronger connection made in real time by a message delivered with a picture.

But the campaign does not stay on Twitter. It’s on the Water Aid blog, YouTube on their website and is communicated through the traditional means through press release to the media. It’s brilliant stuff and shows how social media and traditional routes can work hand-in-hand.

You can also read the highlights of the event on storify here.  

STOP BEING IRRELEVANT: Here’s five things every comms person should know

It’s amazing communications people are walking towards irrelevance but have not yet woken up.

In 2011 people get their information through a range of places.

Twitter broke the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. For some peoplem, it was Gary Neville’s Twitter stream that did it.

Closer to home, for the first time I found out the reason for a blocked road near my house via social media. That’s a personal tipping point.

But what of communications units?

They’re tackling the 21st century media landscape with a 20th century set-up. They’re geared to print when the world is turning to digital. It’s still what the local paper says that drives the agenda despite the paper being read by a minority. They’re a voice. But they’re one of several.

It’s now about doing both. Really well and getting to that point really, really quickly.

Here’s a quick history lesson.

Typesetters were once the kings of their craft using hard won skills to play a key role in delivering the news.

Computers came along and soon it was easy to replicate what they did.

Almost overnight generations of hard learned skills were irrelevant.

Once, having the skills to deal with media queries and to shape messages for print were all important.

But the media landscape has changed.

  • Newspaper sales are collapsing around us. People who read at least one a day fell from 26.7 million to 21.7 million from 1992 to 2006.
  • Best estimates  in 2011 are that 12 million local and national newspapers are sold every day. A further three million like the Metro are given away every day in the UK.
  • In April 2011, not a single national newspaper recorded growth.

And digital? Here are some random stats:

  • How many people are on Facebook in the UK? There’s 29 million. About half the population.
  • Facebook is  the fourth biggest website in the world for news.
  • By 2013, smartphones are predicted to be the first point of contact with the internet overtaking PCs.
  • 85 per cent of the UK population in summer 2010 was online.
  • Of those, 29 million had visited a social site in ther past month.
  • If you’re starting out there’s a great YouTube clip from Simply Zesty that’s a good starting point. The link is here.

Stop and think.

Where are people getting their information? Where do you get your information?

Then think how much time do traditional communications units and press offices devote to print media.

How much time is spent on digital platforms?

Are we really spending time going out onto Facebook to tackle issues where they arise? Or are we – at best – waiting for them to come to our corporate page? If we have one, that is.

Too many communications units have got the balance wrong putting scarce resources into print with little if any for digital.

But by doing so they’re becoming more irrelevant with every passing day and comms people with them.

This isn’t an argument for stopping writing press releases overnight. It’s more about recalibrating and getting the balance right.

Right now, it’s the press release, the photocall – where news photographers or photography budgets – AND the digital channels too.

My grandpa was a headteacher in the Lake District. He refused to have a telephone in the house because people he didn’t have the time to answer it. Many comms units are backing off from truly embracing digital for the same reason. They think they’ll be inundated, that the world will end and they don’t know where to start.

But digital is the one thing that will keep them relevant.

A couple of times recently I’ve been at events where trad comms people have been in the majority. You could almost touch the fear of change. The digital disasters and ‘what if scenarios’ were being trotted out. You could practically see the wagon train forming a circle.

It’s fine to keep the trad comms skills for the while. But press officers and marketing people need to learn new skills too if they’re not to become the typesetters of their generation.

A transport officer recently asked me if comms people would be irrelevant in 10 years time when we all have Facebook streams and officer Twitter accounts or presences on platforms that have yet to be even start-ups.

It’s a fair question.

As things stand, yes.

But as professionals who can help deliver a message through different channels, not at all if we evolve to meet them. That means new skills but most important of all the time and space to deploy them.

Here are five things a trad comms person needs to know:

Without learning new skills you’re unemployable. Interviewing skills, drawing-up a release, a campaign and dealing with the old media are still good basics to have. But without the digital strings to your bow how are you going to talk to the Facebook generation? Social media is not a silver bullet. But it’s a bullet you’ll need in your next job.

It’s not scary. Honest. The fact that you can deliver a message via print and radio means you are halfway there. Surely, you’d like to reach as many people as possible? Once you grasp the basics the door will open and you’ll find whole new vistas of possibility opening up.

It’s easy to get started. Do things under your own steam first to learn how platforms work. The lessons you’ll learn blogging about cake will come in handy further down the track. There’s also a wealth of learning out there on blogs, at mashable,com and places like the LGiD’s Communities of Practice forum.

There’s no such thing as a social media expert. We’re all learning. All of us. Every day is a school day and chances are the things you’ll do will be pioneering because social media hasn’t been around that long.

It’s web 2.0, baby. It’s a new way of doing things. People expect a two way conversation not someone broadcasting at them.

All these things so many people are already taking for granted.

Are you?

And have your comms team?

Creative commons credits

Facebook http://www.flickr.com/photos/ajc1/503165914/sizes/o/in/photostream/#

Phone full http://www.flickr.com/photos/djenan/468459784/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Smiles http://www.flickr.com/photos/walker_ep/5771324633/sizes/m/in/pool-26241990@N00/

Turn out the lights http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/4272463964/sizes/l/in/photostream/

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