GOAL! 29 good things and a poor football anecdote from #localgovcamp 2012

There’s this sinking feeling you get as a football supporter when you look down the team sheet for the first game of the season and see a lot of the old faces missing.

There’s no-one you know in the back four and your midfield playmaker is missing. You know it could go one of two ways.

So it was for the fourth year of localgovcamp in Birmingham with a lot of the old timers missing and new people coming through.

What is localgovcamp? It’s an event for local government people who give up their time to kick around ideas on doing things better. There’s no agenda. It’s decided on the day and anyone can put up their hand to suggest a session. As a comms person I go to get ideas and inspiration.

So in football terms how was it?

Very well, actually. Very, very well. It was another convincing victory and the newer faces really stepped up to the plate. Team manager Dave Briggs could go home happy he’d recorded another triumph and the digital trophy cabinet that has been well stocked since the event first started has been added to.

A good unconference can be powerful. Ideas can flow, connections can be made and your opinion counts for just as much as the chief exec who had come along to see what the fuss was about.

Why do I go to these as a senior press & publicity officer? For the inspiration, excitement, beer, curry, discussion, connection and learning.

In previous years I’ve waited for a week or so before blogging. Now after an event I try and chuck some thoughts up.

those 29 things…

1. localgovcamp doesn’t need a big number of veterans to make it work.

2. There is absolutely a need for it in the calender.

3. It inspires people. It makes them think in different ways. That’s powerful.

4. It can remind you why you work in local government. Despite everything.

5. The new people came to the fore. In one session, on local government blogging, I was really happy to sit back and see some cracking feedback from people who hadn’t been to one of these things before. That’s brilliant.

6. Blogging is a good idea. But telling your boss, pinging them what you write and making sure you’re not an idiot are good things to do.

7. Kabul is a place we can learn from. I just don’t care how many people I tell how great a project and a model for story telling kabulacityatwork.tv is. Start at ‘Who Is The Taxi Driver?’ if you haven’t come across it before.

8. Comms people are coming in good numbers. That’s brilliant to see.

9. There seemed to be fewer open data sessions. With fewer of the open data community there.

10. Si Whitehouse reminded comms people that open data can tell stories too. Good work, Si.

11. There appeared to be less about the shinyness of tech platforms and more about getting things done.

12. Mess about with new platforms as an individual. Evaluate. Then see if they’ll work for you in local government.

13. Lloyd Davis will write a book or thing that I’ll re-re-read in years to come to remind me what it was like to be around when the social web was relatively new. I’m sure of it. And it’ll stand the test of time. I can’t wait for this to happen.

14. Some people are unduly precious about the word ‘geek.’ To me it’s a word that celebrates someone who knows their stuff backwards and gets excited about the detail of it. There were a lot of such geeks here.

15. It’s not the social media platforms your organisation adopts, it’s the culture that matters (thank you @simon_penny)

16. The Anchor in Digbeth, Birmingham is just a brilliant pub.

17. Press officers must realise that they need to do more than just write press releases to survive. More are realising this.

18. I wish I could have had a proper chat with many people. Like Peter Olding, Nat Luckham, the bloke who does @actonscottmuse, Kate Bentham, Paul Webster and bunch of others. Including Simon Penny.

19. Post-it notes don’t stick to whiteboards without bluetack. Definite learning point.

20. localgovcamp is actually a place to make connections and ideas. It’s not about the suits who do or don’t go. I see that now. It’s not even about the ideas you’ll put into place on Monday morning (and there’ll be some.) It’s about coming across ideas that’ll hove into view in your day job two, six, 12 and 18 months down the line. Then knowing who to talk to about them because you heard / met / saw / followed them on Twitter at localgovcamp.

21. Digital press offices are a good idea.

22. I missed speaking to the old timers who didn’t make localgovcamp. But when I see them next I’ll tell them they missed out on some terrific first timers.

23. How do you handle augmented reality as a comms officer is a question that’s around the corner.

24. There is a splintering of unconferences to focus on more niche things. That’s fine.

25. Some of the best ideas I’ve had as a comms person have originated in conversations with coders, bloggers, policy people, engineers and others.

26. It must be great to have free time. The free time that Gareth Young and Glen Ocsko have now they’ve retired from We Love Local Gov. Yes, I’m jealous.

27. The West Midlands is a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant place to be working in digital.

28. It would be great to find a way to get first timers pitching session ideas. Maybe postcards into a cardboard box is the way forward? Yes, I know it’s not web 2.0. That’s the whole point.

29. Some of the possibility and excitement we glimpsed at localgovcamp in 2009 is coming true. Best bit? We’ve only just started.

Creative commons credits

Shoot! Hartlepool Museum http://www.flickr.com/photos/hartlepool_museum/6925401413/sizes/l/

Gareth and Glen Peter McClymont  http://www.flickr.com/photos/iamadonut/7575785604/sizes/l/in/set-72157630588436326/

Pitching Peter McClymont http://www.flickr.com/photos/iamadonut/7575811056/sizes/l/

TRADITIONAL DIGITAL: What comms teams should look like in 2012

All the best films have a challenge at their heart.

In Dunkirk, its Johnny Mills as a British corporal steering his men to safety.

In Pulp Fiction, its Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta getting away with accidentally shooting Marvin in the face.

One if the biggest challenges facing press offices and communications teams is how to blend the old with the new to stay relevant.

There was a fascinating post by Ann Kempster who works in central government about what comms teams should look like. You can read it here. Emer Coleman from the Government Digital Service and others made some excellent comments.

A couple of years ago I blogged about what comms teams needing to adapt and have traditional and digital skills. I probably over-sold open data. We’re not there just yet but will be but the basics I still hang my hat on.

Back then I said the communications team needed to be both digital and traditional so calling something a press office these days is a bit of an anachronism. It would involve the basics:

  • Have basic journalism skills.
  • Know how the machinery of local government works.
  • Write a press release.
  • Work under speed to deadline.
  • Understand basic photography.
  • Understand sub-editing and page layouts.

But would need to have these too:

For web 1.0 the press office also needed to:

  • Add and edit web content

For web 2.0 the press office also needs to:

  • Create podcasts
  • Create and add content to a Facebook page.
  • Create and add content to a Twitter stream.
  • Create and add content to Flickr.
  • Create and add content to a blog.
  • Monitor and keep abreast of news in all the form it takes from print to TV, radio and theblogosphere.
  • Develop relationships with bloggers.
  • Go where the conversation is whether that be online or in print.
  • Be ready to respond out-of-hours because the internet does not recognise a print deadline.

For web 3.0 the press office will also need to:

  • Create and edit geotagged data such as a Google map.
  • Create a data set.
  • Use an app and a mash-up.
  • Use basic html.
  • Blog to challenge the mis-interpretation of data.

So how can we make the joint traditional and digital press office work?

There’s no question that the traditional press office and the digital press office should be under the same roof.

There’s no point in having an old school team with spiralbound notebooks and in the next room a digital team with jet packs and Apple macbook pros not communicating.

So what can help make the joint digital and trad comms team work?

Press officers won’t all head voluntarily to this bright new dawn. It’s just not going to happen overnight. Some won’t change and will be left behind.

The bright ones will adapt and are adapting to a place where a bog standard comms plan will include old media + social media + web as a matter of course. After all. We don’t all have specialists for TV or radio sat in most press offices and certainly not in local government where I work.

We all need a specialist digital comms officer to help blend the old and the new

Once I knew a man who was a mechanic. He used to repair petrol engines. At night school, he learned how electrical generators worked.

When his company changed to electrical generators he alone had the expertise for both and was invaluable in training staff.

That’s the approach we need for press officers.

In other words, what will blend old and new in the short and medium term is the dedicated social media or digital communications officer.

On Ann Kempster’s blog the anaology was made about digital cameras. We don’t refer to cameras as ‘digital’ these days. They are just cameras. That’s true and that’s where we need to go with comms teams.

But in many ways there’s more to it than that. I remember working as a newspaper when the first photographer – who was not a popular man – walked in proudly with a satchel with the paper’s first digital camera and laptop. “Schools broken up early has it?” came the dry-balloon bursting quip from the long-serving deputy chief reporter. The same quip was made every time the photographer walked in until the whole of the company’s photographers had them. Somehow, knowing the characters involved that made it funnier.

There was a cross-over period while photographers adapted to the new technology but the basic work of the photographer remained the same. Composition was unaltered. They were still building the same things through their view finders. But with digital communications it’s asking people to use a completely different set of skills. Like asking a photographer to become a sculptor overnight. But still take pictures when needed too.

From experience, the shift from the traditional to the traditional + digital takes time but it has to be coaxed and encouraged. That’s where the digital specialist in the comms team comes in so long as they share the sweets, horizon scan and work to give back-up to help others gain confidence. They also need to flag up the successes. They need to do some measuring and reporting back. We need to include digital stats along with traditional media ones so when the cabinet member in local government, or whoever, gets told what’s happening in the media they’re getting the digital picture too.

Just because an organisation has given the green light to social media doesn’t always mean the influential people in an organisation get it. One of the big complaints is that digital is tacked onto the busy day job. Well, if the day job means press releases churned out to dwindling newspapers maybe that work needs re-calibrating. But you need to convince the powers that be that it’s not 1985 anymore and digital and traditional is the way forward.

Why do comms need to share the sweets?

That’s something I’ve been banging on about for a long time. Comms needs to train, give advice, shape policy where needed but most importantly hold the door open for others to go through.

Across the country these either formally titled or informally tasked digital comms people can be seen doing good things. Look at Helen Reynolds in Monmouthshire County Council, Geoff Coleman at Birmingham City Council and what Al Smith did at Newcastle City Council and elsewhere as a couple of examples.

It’s the path that Walsall Council’s comms team has taken too thanks to bright leadership. As a result we now have press officers like Tina Faulkner and Becky Robinson who by no means are digital natives putting together inspiring campaigns like this one which saw a morning with a carer and her husband who suffers Alzheimers. They found magic in this approach which told a human story beautifully.

The challenge is to find the innovator in every comms team and gently give others room and confidence to grow if they need it.

Creative commons credits

Posters http://www.flickr.com/photos/brocco_lee/6055430502/sizes/l/in/pool-778206@N20/

Facebook http://www.flickr.com/photos/westm/4690323994/sizes/l/in/set-72157624125586003/

Newspaper http://www.flickr.com/photos/judybaxter/2828795347/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Flowers http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5576302231/sizes/l/in/photostream/

GREAT WORK: 23 bright ways to use social media in the public sector

There was a brilliant update on Twitter the other day which hit the nail right on the head.

“The best social media,” it read “doesn’t happen in an office.”

That’s dead right.

For a long while now I’ve been arguing that communications people should share the sweets, relax a little and learn to let go. It’s by doing that they can really reap the rewards of good and trusted communications channels.

I’m not alone by any means in thinking this and it’s excellent to start seeing the rewards being reaped.

Here are some good examples of digital communications that caught my eye over the last few months.

What’s worth commenting on is that the majority of the good examples are not done directly by comms people. They’re done by people in the field telling their stories or they’re using content that first originated outside an office to tell a story.

Real time updates by people on the ground work brilliantly.

Back in 2008, digital innovation in the public sector – and third sector – was isolated. What this quick link collection now shows is that it’s mainstream and unstoppable.

Twitter

National Trust Dudmaston Hall, Shropshire – If only more organisations were like the National Trust. We’d all be eating better cake for one. They’re also getting good at digital communications. They’re equipping venues with social media accounts to give you updates and insights from the ground.

I’m quite partial to this stream from the Shropshire stately home which is near Bridgnorth and a personal family favourite. They talk to people and they update. More people are likely to sign-up for a venue rather than an organisation that looks after lots of venues although there is a space for that too. You can follow them on Twitter here.

Acton Scott Museum, Shropshire – An imaginative use of pictures makes this Twitter stream fly. How can you not see horse drawn ploughing and not want to go and visit? You can follow them on Twitter here. 

National Trust Central Fells – Using the principle if you do good things tell people the @ntcentralfells Twitter do a good job of updating people on the work they do. Most of the time it’s witnessed by two walkers and some sheep. They updated progress on building a bridge in a remote spot of Easedale in with pictures of them at work and reaped the benefit of feedback from people stuck in offices. You can follow them on Twitter here. 

Supt Keith Fraser – A Superintendant in Walsall who keeps people up to speed with events and crime in the town. Personable. Informative and willing to engage on the platform. You can follow him here.

Swedish Tourist Board – It’s rather marvellous is this. Technically, it’s run by the Swedish Tourist Board but this isn’t a collation of picture book shots and platitudes. They give the @sweden Twitter to a new Swede every week. More than 20,000 people follow it. You can follow them here.

Walsall Council Countryside Officers – I’m a bit biased in that I know Morgan Bowers the countryside ranger but I absolutely love what she has done with social media. A digital native she uses her iphone to update Twitter with what she is doing, what newt survey results are and pictures of the sky over Barr Beacon. This is brilliant.  You can follow her on Twitter here. Her manager Kevin Clements has also picked up the baton on Twitter with regular updates. You can follow him here and it’s good to see the burden shared.

Walsall Council Environmental Health Officer David Matthews – Britain’s first tweeting environmental health officer David Matthews was a big part in why Walsall 24 worked as an event. He was able to spot snippets of interest that he passed through for others to tweet. Afterwards, he didn’t need much persuasion to take up an account in his own name. The @ehodavid was puts out the normal updates and warnings but with added humour. Much of the frontline updates is anonymised. Pictures taken of dreadful takeaways need a health warning to look at during lunchtime. You can follow him here.

Blogs

Pc Rich Stanley blog – Walsall has a stong claim to be a digital outpost. One of the big reasons for this is the way West Midlands Police have picked up the baton – or should that be truncheon? – and embraced social media. Pc Rich Stanley uses Twitter well but also blogs excellently on various day-to-day aspects of the job. Here he talks about policing the Aston Villa v Chelse football game. 

Walsall Council Social Care – People in social care do a brilliant job. They’re good at saving lives. Literally. But all too often they don’t do a good jo of telling their story. As a sector they shelter behind big stone walls and hope a high profile case like Baby P NEVER happens to them. Tina Faulkner and Becky Robinson are comms people who both understand old and new media and have blogged stories from the frontline. You can read them here.

Audioboo

Walsall Leather Museum Audioboo – Francesca Cox eyes lit up when she heard of Audioboo. A couple of days later she posted this chat with a demonstrator about her first day at work. What the clip does is open up all sorts of possibilities with oral history and when embedded on another website brings a different aspect to this.

Pinterest

US Army – Like geeks with an interest in sub-machine guns the people behind the US Army social media presence are blending both interests well. Pinterest is a way to collect pictures in the one place. If pictures tell 1,000 words this collection speaks a great deal on what messages the military would like to get across. It’s split into themes. You can find it here.

Facebook

Can We Make Walsall A More Creative Place? – Walsal Council’s regeneration scrutiny committee wanted to look at the creative industries. We launched a Facebook page to begin to connect. Fifty people have liked it so far to allow the start of feedback. Face-to-face meetings are now planned. You can like it here.

NASA Facebook timeline – One of the many things I really love about this page is the way NASA have embraced timeline. Scroll back to 1965 and you can look at content they’ve updated from that year featuring the first NASA spacewalk. For any organisation with a long history this approach is a must. You can like it here.

Northycote Park and Country Park on Facebook – Wolverhampton Council’s parks team do a really good job of innovating using social media. They’ve been experimenting with creating Facebook pages for venues. This is Northycote Park and Country Park and has 200 likes a few weeks after it was launched. It has pictures of new born lambs and updates on events. You can like it here.

Monmouthshire Council Youth Service on Facebook – Hel Reynolds has flagged up this page. A youth worker updates it. Not a comms person. This means that it has a tone that suits the people it is aimed at and doesn’t come over as trendy uncle Monmouth breakdancing at a wedding. You can like it here. 

Flickr

US government’s EPA Documerica project on Flickr – In the early 1970s the Documerica project sent photographers to capture environmental issues across the country. They captured car jams, low flying planes, people meeting up in public spaces and other things. They’ve posted many of the images onto Flickr and they’re a time capsule of how the US was. You can see them here. To update them they have a blog to encourage a 2012 version here and a Flickr group here.

Torfaen Council on Flickr – Here’s a council that is posting images to Flickr routinely. They show a good range of images that residents can see. You can see them here.

Covering meetings

WV11 on PACT meetings – The wv11 blog have worked with West Midlands Police to cover public meetings – known as PACT meetings – to allow residents to pose questions and see what is happening in their patch. It’s great work and shows how you can connect to people who want to be civic minded but struggle to reach meetings. You can read a blog of a meeting here and a storify here.

Oldham Council – It’s an excellent idea to make interactive council meetings. This Guardian pieces captures why.

Birmingham City Council – Comms officer Geoff Coleman has done some excellent work with live streaming council meetings. It opens up democracy and promotes transparency. It’s netted 10,000 views. You can read about it here.

Crowd sourcing

Birmingham City Council’s election plans – This year plans to be a big year in Birmingham. There’s a chance of a change of administration and there will be great attention on the council and most importantly, how they communicate the changes in real time. What better way than crowd source what people want?  You can read it here.

YouTube

Caerphilly Council – Digital video clips are easy to consume but notoriously difficult to do effectively. Many have tried in local government but few have been as effective as Caerphilly Council with their nationally sigificant use of YouTube clips. One clip both pokes gentle fun at themselves and features a sheep with social media logos roaming the borough. It makes you smile. It keeps you informed. It’s fleecey brilliance.

Creative commons credits: 

Road at Rifle, Ohio in 1972 http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3815027813/

Documerica Photographer, David Hiser, at Dead Horse Point, 05/1972 http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3814966348/

WE LIKE: Ideas for a good Facebook page timeline

It’s the easiest thing in the world to create a Facebook page. It’s a lot harder to do it effectively.

As a platform used by almost 900 million people the question is not ‘how’ government and local government uses it but ‘if.’ There are some cracking examples of how to use Facebook outnumbered by scores of absolute stinkers.

As part of a brilliant session at the rather wonderful Comms2point0 and Public Sector Forum event in Birmingham we looked at how the introduction of timeline Facebook pages would impact.

As the session wore on it looked pretty fundamental. Think timeline is just the chance to stick a big letterbox picture on top of your page? Think again.

Here’s some collected learning gathered at the event and some extra.

Thinking about it afterwards, I can’t help but think that what’s needed for an effective Facebook page – timeline or not – is:

  • Good content to connect to people.
  • Shouting about it online.
  • Shouting about it offline (which is actually the most important than shouting online).

The getting started: ‘We need a Facebook page’

It’s almost as common a thing to hear as a comment on the weather. It’s what people want. But ask a simple question: do you really need a Facebook page?

Ask if people will monitor every day and are prepared to respond. If they’re not, don’t bother. If they’ve never used Facebook before don’t start with a page. You’ll fail. Start by creating your own profile and then using it for a month or two to work out how it all works. If you are none of the above you are better off chipping in to the corporate page or someone else’s page.

What does good content look like?

A couple of posts a day or three at most so as not to drown people with noise. Make it engaging. Post pictures. Stage polls. Link to YouTube. Think beyond the ‘I’m linking to the press release.’ Make it fun. Make it timely. Make it informative.

With Facebook timeline, what’s the same…?

Facebook pages are still the platform for using Facebook as local government. You get loads of stats as an admin you won’t if you don’t have a page. With timeline you can still add posts, add pictures, links, video and create polls. You still have to have your own profile in order to create a page and become an admin. It also doesn’t change the frequency of how often to add content. More than two or three times a day and it starts to get a bit noisy and people will switch off and yes, you do need to add text in a way that works on Facebook.

Don’t be stuffy and formal.

Be sociable.

But we all know that, don’t we?

Ally Hook’s Coventry page is a good place to look to for ideas. It’s something I’ve blogged about before here.

What’s different with timeline compared to the old pages?

There’s a stack of extra features I’d either not noticed with the old page or have been slipped on with the new timeline approach. Here’s a quick run through of some of them.

Admin

When you first navigate to your home page as admin you’ll see the under the dashboard part of the page right at the top. Helpfully, there’s a natty chart which tells you the reach of the page and how many are talking about it. In other words, how many have posted a comment or liked.

You can have a cover pic

It’s the letterbox shaped image that’s right on top of the page. Facebook are keen for this to be not predominantly text so a nice shot of your borough, city, parish or county will do just fine. Or if its a service maybe it’s a shot of them doing something. But change it every now and then.

For me, this is where good links with Flickr members somes in handy. With their permission use a shot and link back to their page.

Dawn O’Brien for Wolverhampton Parks has used this rather wonderful shot of one of their parks, for example.

You can still have a profile pic

It’s just not the main emphasis of the page anymore. But try and keep it interesting. Use Ally Hook from Coventry City Council’s time honoured tack of not using a logo. They’re not terribly social things are logos.

There’s a funny info bar just under the cover pic

It’s a handy place to see how you are doing with likes as well as a place to search for pictures. That’s a bit tidier.

You can create and add content to a historic timeline

One person at the Birmingham event pointed to Manchester United‘s Facebook page as a trailblazing way to use a historic timeline. They were formed a long time ago and this particular bit of functionality means you can add old, historic content from years ago. It’s actually really good. Click on 1977 and you can see a shot of two members of the FA Cup winning team. Clearly, as a Stoke City supporter they remain a plastic club with fans who live in Surrey but I can live with this screenshot as it has a picture of Stoke legend Jimmy Greenhoff on.

I was talking through this change to Francesca from Walsall Leather Museum.

All of a sudden her eyes lit up. “Wow,” she said. “We can add old pictures to the timeline.” She’s right. You can. The possibilities for museums and galleries are pretty endless.

Even for a council page you can add historic images that build a bit of pride. You can do this by posting an update and then in the top right hand corner clicking on ‘edit.’

You can select a date that best suits it. Like 1972 for Stoke City winning the League Cup, for example.

What the edit page button can do

You can let people add content to your page whether that’s a post or video.

Many councils, especially during Purdah, are a bit nervous about letting people do this. Especially when they are not monitored around the clock. Allowing it builds an audience but it’s a judgement call. There’s also the moderation block list. That’s not really something I’d noticed before but you can add terms you are not happy with.

I’d use it sparingly and not to stiffle debate.

It’s also probably worth adding the swearing filter.

For a few days there was a setting to pre-approve all content. That’s now disappeared and a good thing too.

This star post thing

On the top right hand of each timeline post is the star icon. Click that and your post gets larger and is seen by everyone who navigates to your page. Obviously choose the best ones for that.

The pinning a post thing

In the top right hand of each timeline post is an edit button. Click that and you’ll see the option to pin. That sends the post to the top and something that will remain at the top until its unpinned. Save that for the really important ones.

Insights are your new best friend

If Facebook have gone to the trouble of providing you with a pile of stats for free the least you can do is use them. Let people know. Sing from the rooftops. Include them in reports. Tell people what you are doing. Don’t think that everyone will notice.

Don’t forget to use Facebook as a page

It’s something I’ve blogged about before but needs repeating. You can find out how to do it here. Your page is a very small allotment in a country the size of France. Use the principle of go to where the audience is so add and comment on larger pages.

Facebook adverts From the Birmingham session there are few cases of big numbers coming from ads. However, Shropshire Council have used it for specific job ads with some results. A blend of shouting offline and good content to interest if people do drop by would seem to be the answer to building useful Facebook numbers.

A successful Facebook page makes lots and lots of noise offline

It’s amazing how it’s easy to fall into the trap it is of only thinking Facebook to shout about your page. Actually, that’s one part of it. Look at how others do it.

1. Put your a link on the bottom of emails. Tens of thousands of emails get sent every week. They’re mini billboards.

2. Tell people about your page via the corporate franking machine. Tens of thousands of items of post go out every week. They’re mini billboards too.

3. Put your Facebook page on any print you produce. Leaflets, flyers and guides.

4. Put posters up at venues with QR codes linking straight to the page. I’m not convinced QR codes are mainstream but I am convinced its worth a try.

5. Tell your staff about a page – and open up your social media policy to allow them to look. As Helen Reynolds suggests here and Darren Caveney here.

6. Don’t stop shouting about your Facebook page face-to-face. If people enjoy a visit to a museum tell them they can keep up on Facebook.

7. Use your school children. Encourage schools to send something home to tell their parents about the Facebook page.

8. Create a special event for Facebook people. For events and workshops create something special only for the very special people who will like your very special page. Like a craft table at a family event. Maybe use eventbrite to manage tickets.

9. Stage on offline competition. Get people to enter via Facebook. That’s just what Pepsi are doing with a ring pull competition. Send a text (25p) or add to the Pepsi Facebook page after you like it (FREE.)

SOCIAL SOUND: Can We Use Audioboo In Local Government?

Okay, so here’s an idea. You record a quick interview or a snippet of a festival and then you post it online.

Nothing revolutionary and I’m sure people have been doing it for years but for a few weeks I’ve been experimenting with Audioboo.

What’s Audioboo? It’s a way of posting online short recording clips of interviews, sounds, noise or perhaps even with permission live music.

You can download it for free through the app store or via the Android market and all you need is a smartphone or an iphone.

There are other platforms out there and SoundCloud has its followers too.

The dabbling I’ve done is centred around photocalls I’ve attended where some parties have been gathered together. With them all in one place it’s made sense to whip out the phone and make a quick recording. In less than five minutes you can have something posted to the web.

At a cold photocall with a few minutes to spare I made an Audioboo, posted it to the Walsall Council Facebook and Twitter and by the time it took to get back to the office there was an email: “One of the neighbours has listened to your recording and thinks this is a great project.” Beginners luck maybe, but it did get me thinking.

For some time I’ve been thinking about how to generate content for different places. This is another string to the bow of the comms person.

Intro to Audioboo from Mark Rock on Vimeo.

Why bother? Here’s NINE good reasons

  1. Because it’s a good way to post a recording straight onto the web.
  2. Because you’re offering different content on a different platform.
  3. Because it’s free.
  4. Because you don’t have to be a BBC-trained sound engineer to use it.
  5. Because you can record snippets from frontline staff and events.
  6. Because it’s simple.
  7. Because you can post it to Twitter, Facebook and embed on a website very easily.
  8. Because you can listen as a podcast.
  9. Because it makes your content more accessible to the visually impaired.

How do I do it?

Go to Audioboo and create an account.

Press record.

When you are happy post it to the web.

Add metadata (that’s things like the words ‘Walsall’, ‘regeneration’, ‘new homes bonus’, ‘housing’ if it’s a New Homes Bonus scheme done by the regeneration directorate in Walsall.)

It’s that simple.

How about some examples?

Here’s a Norfolk County Council social worker talking about why he does his job..
http://abfiles.s3.amazonaws.com/swf/fullsize_player.swf

Here’s Devon and Cornwall Police on setting the budget.
http://abfiles.s3.amazonaws.com/swf/fullsize_player.swf

Here’s a former postman recalling the Swansea docks posted by Swansea Council
http://abfiles.s3.amazonaws.com/swf/fullsize_player.swf

Here’s Walsall Town Centre Champions talking about plans to bid for Mary Portas cash
http://abfiles.s3.amazonaws.com/swf/fullsize_player.swf

Here’s Scottish pipers playing at the Godiva Festival posted by Coventry City Council
http://abfiles.s3.amazonaws.com/swf/fullsize_player.swf

So what’s next?

I’m sure there’s more possibilities but here’s three that struck me:

1. Broadcast journalist content. Nick Booth from Podnosh many years back spoke of creating clips along with a press release that could be downloaded by broadcast journalists. That’s a step in that direction.

2. Adding Audioboo links to press releases when they’re e-mailed out. Add a straight forward link.

3. Embedding Audioboo links to news stories or web pages. As a way to brighten up web content.

TWITTER GRITTER: Beware Inferior Private Sector Product

We’re told local government should be more like the private sector.

If that means charging £20,000 to make a change to a Government website then I’d rather not, thanks.

This week the gov.uk website, built in-house by geeks using open source (ie free) software was launched.

I’m not a webbie but even I can see the value in being able to make changes and tweaks suggested by people and there’s a great piece on it here on the Cabinet Office digital blog.

In an entirely different scale and in an entirely different corner of the digital allotment there was a public versus private issue in local government I stumbled across.

A private company is approaching councils offering to take over grit alerts.

That’s an area I do know something about as Walsall Council, I’m proud to say, was amongst the pioneers of the Twitter Gritter model along with places like Derbyshire County Council and Kirklees Council. Our engineers looked at us a bit funny at first, heard us out, trialled it and now are big advocates for it. It’s cost us £0 in three years but we’ve connected scores of times with people.

What’s Twitter Gritter?

It’s real time alerts keeping people up to speed on what their council is doing to treat the roads.

If we go out at 2am to treat the roads and only two shift workers and a drunk see what we’re doing isn’t it a good idea to tell people?

It’s also talking back to answer questions and pass on serious problems like a burst water main that’s turning to sheet ice.

I’m not against the idea of the private sector. Far from it. I’ve spent a big chunk of my career there and there are plenty of freelancers and organisations whose time would enrich the organisations they help. You’ll know them by the track record they have. Others in the private sector? They’re poor bandwagon jumpers, to be fair.

What I see in the public sector with events like UK Govcamp, Localgovcamp and other events are people willing to share and develop ideas to make the world a better place.

That simply wouldn’t and isn’t happening in so much of the private sector.

What does the private sector Twitter Gritter look like?

You can read the text I’ve posted to a Google Doc here. I’ve taken out the name of the company to spare their blushes. Nothing against people looking to make a profit out of something, per se. But when someone you don’t know asks you to hand over the keys to your Twitter account so they can do a poorer job and charge you for it then forgive me for being underwhelmed.

Why is it bad?

I’m tempted to just leave it to Mike Rawlins’s 140 character reaction.

But here are FOUR cut and pastable reasons and can be shared with gritting engineers to help them avoid making the wrong decision.

1. If it means handing over access then don’t. You wouldn’t do that with your email. Don’t do it here either.

2. If it’s broadcasting then don’t. The social web works best when it’s two way. People can ask questions and report problems. Run simply and sensibly that’s possible. Talk to your council’s social media person. They’ll tell you. Don’t if it doesn’t.

3. If it’s not their area of expertise then don’t. It looks what it is. Something developed by people who don’t know how the social web works. You wouldn’t let non-engineers loose on an engineering project. Don’t do the same here.

4. If it costs when it can be done far, far better for free in house then don’t. So many other councils already do it. Look at what Birmingham City Council’s in-house freelancer Geoff Coleman has achieved on a budget of nil, for example. Good freelancers will always work with you to shape something. They’ll pass you the skills so you can flourish. If they don’t then don’t.

GLASTO FOR GEEKS: Bullet points from UK Govcamp 2012

Like an apple tree planted in the Spring a good thing can give you a fine harvest of fruit years into the future.

Events like barcamps and unconferences are the lifeblood of innovation in government. Ideas spark when you put good people into a room.

Heading for work on Monday morning it can give you the zeal of a convert. But the beauty is that many of those seeds of ideas take time to take root and form an idea.

Trouble is that some of those those valuable moments of inspiration and insight can be misplaced.

UK Govcamp is a grand daddy of an event staged at Microsoft in it’s fifth year and has expanded into a two day event drawing more than 300 people to London.

I went for a day. A family celebration stopped me from staying for the second (at which Stoke City ended up losing). The morning after my visit I had this exchange on Twitter:

So here is my list of bulletpoints, in no particular order (and I’ll be adding to them in the days to come):

  1. It’s like Glastonbury for government geeks. It’s big. It’s brilliant. You plan to see a big act on the main stage. You end up in setendipity.
  2. A Saturday barcamp is what good people would do every day if bad people, obstacles and emails were removed.
  3. There are town centres whose shops and shopkeepers are connected digitally.
  4. There are creative people who work in their back bedrooms who could be connected digitally.
  5. We don’t put inspiring people in a room often enough.
  6. Suits won’t ever come to a barcamp. Some will. Most won’t. But half way house events that have a bit of both can work.
  7. Nick Booth is one of the Holiest Saints who ever walked this earth.
  8. Archant are a newspaper group in London who ping out daily emails with headlines and links in. As well as print. That strikes me as being like news 2.0.
  9. Philip John is a bright kiddie.
  10. Dave Briggs and Steph Gray should be revered as Lennon and McCartney for organising this.
  11. Talk is good. But doing something on Monday morning is more important.
  12. Use local government services like a resident would to see how you can improve things. Then tell someone how it can be improved.
  13. The golden bullet answer is there are no golden bullets. Just lots of different solutions.
  14. People in Ludlow were behind a hyperlocal site that celebrates their town.
  15. People in central government don’t have a budget for photography.
  16. Everyone is paranoid of releasing Flickr images as creative commons in case someone does something silly. But people scratch their heads when asked if they can come up with an example.
  17. People would love us forever if local government came up with a way to issue digital bin night reminders.
  18. People in central government talk about strategy and policy lots. Less so in local government. They tend to talk of case studies and doing.
  19. Nobody has come up with a killer solution to return on investment for social media. That’s the score that looks at what you spend you get as a return. Followers are a bit important. But it’s what you and they do together that matters.
  20. The new single Alpha gov platform .gov.uk website will save pots of money. My 50p says that it’ll be offered / handed to local government next.
  21. The idea of a two day event gives space for people to come up with problems to fix. That’s a compelling thing
  22. The people at Microsoft are jolly good hosts.
  23. I’ve come away with a list of people I’d wish I’d met / spent more time with. Again.
  24. Don’t ever give in being an optimist. Ever.
Useful links:
The UK Govcamp 2012 buzz page.

Creative commons credits:

Puffles the dragon and friend by David J Pearson  http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidpea/6736374453/sizes/l/in/faves-danieldslee/

Writing on a sticky by Ann Kempster http://www.flickr.com/photos/annkempster/6730392597/sizes/l/in/faves-danieldslee/

Discussions over lunch by Harry Metcalfe http://www.flickr.com/photos/annkempster/6730392597/sizes/l/in/faves-danieldslee/

Govcamp logo shadow puppet by David J Pearson http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidpea/6735824359/in/faves-danieldslee/

EPIC CHANGE: 12 predictions in digital in local government for 2012

“Inventions reached their limit long ago,” one important person once said, “And I see no hope for further development.”

Roman Emporer Julius Frontius made this bold comment in the 1st century. And he didn’t even have Google Plus to contend with. Bet he feels a bit silly now.

Tempting as it is to apply it to today you’d be similarly way off the money. Robot butlers and jet packs may top my own wish list but in practical terms what is likely to change?

If 2011 was a year of rapid change in local government then 2012 may see more of the same. Most of it is just a continuation of themes that started in the previous 12 months.

Here are 12 predictions for the year ahead from my perspective as a local government comms person. (Disclaimer: much of this probably won’t ever happen).

1. Comms will have a fight for control of social media. They’ll lose in the long term if they want to keep it all for themselves. They’ll win if the create an environment for others to innovate.

2. Data visualisation will boom. With the web prompting comms people to search for new platforms to tell a story data visualisation will expand. With free tools being available there will be innovation.

3. JFDI dies. As the mainstreaming of digital continues JFDI – or Just Flipping Do It – as a way of getting things done in an organisation will end. You can’t fly under the radar on Facebook if 29 million people in the UK are on it.

4. Digital customer services will expand. Just as calls centres emerged as the telephone matured as a way you can talk to people so too will a social presence for customer services people.

5. Someone will do summat reely stoopid and it won’t matter. In 2008, a rogue tweet could have closed down a council’s social media output. As it gets more embedded it’ll be more bullet proof.

6. Emergency planners will use Twitter as second nature. There’ll be more big incidents played out on social media. But best practice will be shared.

7. The local government social media star of 2012 will be someone doing a routine task in a place you’ve never visited. Step forward the local government worker who talks about his day job. There will be more like  @orkneylibrary and @ehodavid.

8. Linked social will grow. Linked social is different voices on different platforms growing across an organisation or across the public sector. It will be especially interesting to see how this develops in Scotland and the West Midlands.

9. Good conferences will have an unconference element. Or they’ll actually be unconferences. Some people don’t get unconferences. But they generally want to leave on the stroke of five o’clock and don’t do anything outside their JD. Bright ones do but will be happier if they’re wrapped up and presented like a ‘proper’ conference. But unconferences will be more diverse and targeted.

10. Newspapers will carry on dying. Bright comms people will carry on developing web 2.0 skills and use them in tandem with old media. Good Journalism will carry on adapting to the web. But this may take time to filter through to local newspapers who have been the bread and butter of local government press offices.    

11. Data journalism will grow. But not in local newspapers. Bloggers will uncover big stories that a print journalist doing the work of three doesn’t have time to look for.

12. Amazing things will happen in Scotland. Some of the brightest people in the public sector who are innocavating aren’t in London. They’re north of the border serving as police officers as well as in local government. It’ll be fascinating to see how this develops.

Creative commons credits

Geeks http://www.flickr.com/photos/duvalguillaume/2494520518/

Computer for the space shuttle programme http://www.flickr.com/photos/sdasmarchives/6521818485/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Twitter stream http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5897611358/sizes/l/in/photostream/

CIVIC SOCIAL: How digital tools can help connect a Mayor

Mayors in Walsall go back to the 13th century. Yes, children it’s safe to say that even pre-dates Friends Reunited.

What helped spread the word then was probably a Town Crier with the useful profile of having a loud voice in the marketplace where people gathered.

Today, the landscape has changed. But a voice in the place where people gather is still important.

Since May when Cllr Garry Perry was appointed to the post he’s been successfully experimenting with digital channels. As a 33-year-old he’s the borough’s youngest ever appointment. As a Facebook native and as at home there as in the Council Chamber it made sense for him to experiment using the channel.

He’s also used Twitter and connected with the Walsall Flickr group. Jokingly, Cllr Perry has spoken about creating the Mayor’s Parlour as a location on Foursquare so he can become Mayor of that too.

But is this just a gimmick? Or have lessons been learned?

Facebook

A Facebook page was created for the Mayor of Walsall. The idea was to allow the Mayor to post updates and pictures from his phone when out and about. The aim was conversational. It also helps give an idea of where the Mayor had been and the people he’d met. It’s not a dusty civic position. It’s carried out by a person. For an organisation for people.

The stats speak for themselves. More than 160 people have signed up in about six weeks. There has been more than 8,000 page views in a four week period and people have responded posting enthusiastic comments. It’s clear that successful events also draw-in enthusiasm from residents.

The events functionality also allows a good way to flag up fundraisers.

As the Mayor of Walsall Cllr Perry says: “It’s been brilliant for getting feedback from people and for connecting with them. When you’re at an event you can post that you’ve been there with a picture. There’s still a tremendous respect for the office of Mayor and it’s good to be able to meet people. Using things like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr have really helped reach a different audience.”

Twitter

More than 180 people and organisations have signed-up with updates of visits and fundraising. Cllr Perry’s sporadic previous account was re-named @mayorofwalsall.

Flickr 

A Flickr meet was staged where members of the excellent Walsall Flickr group  came along to the Mayor’s Parlour and Council House one Saturday morning.

More than 200 shots were posted by six photographers to a specially created group to capture shots for the day. It was a chance for Walsall people to visit the 1905 building and meet the Mayor. As a visit it was a success. Those who came took some excellent pictures and Cllr Perry’s – and the Mayoress’ – easy going and informal approach saw the council giving a good account of itself. Staging a Flickr meet at a council venue is something I’ve blogged about before.

As a spin-off, and by no means the purpose of the event, the photographers were happy for the authority to re-use the posted pics for the website or for other marketing. That’s a good thing whichever way you look at it. You can see the pictures here.

Press releases

Yes, we’ll do the traditional things too for old media too. That’s part of the repertoire.

Lessons to learn

1. It can put a human face on an organisation. As Pc Rich Stanley does for West Midlands Police in Walsall so Cllr Perry does for Walsall Council. They use social media to put a human face on the organisation that can sometimes be seen as remote.

2. It depends on the individual. A social mayor who is at home with the channels or willing to learn will prosper. A remote character with few social graces and mistrust of technology won’t.

3. Little and often works. Updates on the routine day-to-day tasks work really well. Don’t think you need to crack the front page of the local paper with every update.

4. It works best if the Mayor writes it. A voice can be unique and despite being a fairly politically neutral post it’s not for council officers to update on people’s behalf.

5. Be prepared to JFDI.  Not everything with social media has a 100-year-old record to it. That’s a given. So just try things out.

Pic credit: Swissrolli (c) http://www.flickr.com/photos/swissrolli/5989959370/in/photostream

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