STOP PRESS: Are seven income streams the future of hyperlocal news?

 Unless there are six or seven income streams a hyperlocal site won’t pay for itself.

That’s the verdict from the excellent Future of News West Midlands event in Birmingham.

Depressing? Not really. Realistic? Absolutely. And there’s a surprising amount in common between hyperlocals and local government web experimentors like me.

This rather excellent event at Birmingham City University drew web entrepreneurs, hyperlocals and newspaper people.

Forward looking rather than finger pointing it looked for solutions and answers rather than blame.

The seven income streams idea for hyperlocals prompted debate about what those streams could be. Straight forward banner ads emerge from the print model. But then what?

Actually, a whole myriad of ideas that the show web as a vibrant place for entrepreneurs.

Picture framing, listings, ad features, hyperlocal t-shirts bigging up an estate or area and PR services all emerged as potential solutions. There was even a natty idea to maximise dead air time on pub TVs.

However, the danger is the cash cow you chance upon replaces the hyperlocal reason for doing it in the first place. Besides, what works in one town may not work in a different estate.

But surely this lack of sure funding means hyperlocals are doomed? If you were an accountant, yes. You could be right. And if you were looking at these sites to make piles of cash.

But then balance sheets don’t count the enthusiasm, community spirit and zeal many people are powered by.

So, wearing my local government what what does all this mean?

First, there’s still demand for local news, for one. And a passion for an area.

But if something really did become crystal clear it’s this: there are barriers to hyperlocals as we’ll as local government. They just have different labels.

For hyperlocals it’s lack of time and the prized extra time seven income streams can bring.

For local government, who can have a degree of funding, it’s lack of time and the barriers a chain of command – and IT departments – can bring. We may want to deploy leftfield ideas. It’s just not always possible.

Both sides can be forgiven for looking enviously at the other.

Yet, for all these obstacles there are some brilliant ideas taking shape in all corners of the web in the public and private sectors.

There’s no golden bullet for the future of news but I’m convinced the answers will be found through pioneering spirit plus a passion for an area.

That’s not unlike how good web ideas will succeed in local government.

 

Creative commons credits.

Abstract image www.imageabstraction.com.

Corrected journal Judge Mental

COFFEE VIA WIFI: What makes a Social Media Cafe work?

 “Given enough coffee,” someone famous once wrote “I could rule the world.”

Bet they weren’t drinking Mellow Birds, though.

There’s something brilliant about a good cup, convivial company and the caffinated exchange of ideas.

It’s no surprise that Social Media Cafes have sprung up across the globe as the rise of social networking spreads. There are more than 20 in the UK inspired either consciously or unconsciously by London’s Tuttle Club and Lloyd Davis.  They are listed here.

Aside from the general social media coffee drinking government (local and national) in London provide the quite marvellously titled Tea Camp. 

Birmingham has an inspirational Social Media Cafe, but then again Brum is a hugely inspirational digital place with a vibrant grassroots community. I like the way it’s monthly cafe describes itself as: “a place for people interested in social media to gather, get acquainted, chat, plot, scheme, and share.”

But what makes a good one? It’s not always enough just to do it Field of Dreams-style ‘build it and they will come.’

Twelve months on from the first meeting of the Black Country Social Media Cafe a few thoughts struck me.

Of the 20 who came to the first meeting in Costa Coffee, Wolverhampton organised by David Stuart three remain regulars including David, yet far more interesting people have come along to take their place.

We’ve met in six venues in three towns sometimes daytime, some times not.

 

Here are some thoughts which are by no means a definitive list ….

You can’t please everyone all the time.

Twitter people seem more receptive to Social Media Cafes.

There’s people who can’t come to events in the daytime. Ditto evening.

Big cities with creative sectors can support a ‘turn up and chat’ Social Media Cafe. Small towns have less chance.

Smaller communities respond better to events with some networking and speakers.

People with jobs who need something to show for disappearing out of the office for two hours respond to speakers.

A Facebook and a Twitter presence are a must.

Don’t rely on old media for publicity. The BCSMC were told by one reporter that they wouldn’t publicise the event since: “this was a competing medium.”

Online polls to decide venues don’t work. Ask David Stuart.

 It’s better to have a leading figure who is not anti-social – particularly when meetings are arranged around online polls (only joking, David).

Somewhere close to train or bus links helps.

An arts centre or a place where creative people hang out is a good place to hold a cafe.

If you’re looking to cover a region or a county a big, big section of people just won’t travel. The prospect of some Stourbridge types travelling to Walsall, for example, is on a par with Mars exploration.

Get somewhere that sells good coffee. It’s more important than wifi.

The law of 4th XI cricket applies to this the same as other voluntary organisations. A few people do a lot. If 40 people say they’ll come, 10 will.

Creative commons credits

Laptop lass, cafe – Scott Beale Laughing Squid

Coffee montage – Nick Bilton

DAY TO DAY DATA: An idiot’s guide to what the open data revolution means for local government

Okay. Cards on the table. For the last 12 months I’ve been coming across geeks who have been banging on about data with a religious zeal.

You can see them wherever digital people meet-up with their Atari t-shirts and their Mash the State badges.

Internet creator Tim Berners-Lee a while back got an entire conference to chant ‘free the data!’ over and over.

Why?

What the flip is data? Why the flip should I be bothered? I’m just a local government press officer.

It was Tom Watson MP who I first heard talk about data in the summer of 2009 at the Black Country Social Media Cafe.

Gradually, after scores of conversations, blog reading and thinking it’s started to make some sense.

What has emerged to me is a picture of the potential for nothing short of a revolution. In life and by extension in local government.

What is data?

It’s information. It may be bicycle accidents. It may be crime figures. It may be the location of street lights or a leisure centre.

Pretty boring, yes?

On it’s own probably. But it starts to get really, really interesting when that information gets presented in an easily digestible way. Like on a map, say.

It gets even more interesting when several streams of information are put on the same map. It can make the world we live in look a different place.

The bicycle accidents map is a brilliant early example of how this can work.

Isn’t that only of interest to cyclists?

Yes, but that’s the whole point. It’s information – or data – that’s buried away which is fabulously interesting if you were a cyclist. You could find out where the accident blackspots were and avoid them. Or maybe campaign for something to be done about them.

The open street map is one such editable map with scores of snippets of data.

In the West Midlands, the MappaMercia project have kicked some ideas around. The gritting map of Birmingham is one example of turning data into something interactive. It plots gritting routes around the city which are treated in icy weather.

Start to make sense?

Here is a Q and A. It’s an idiot’s guide to data written by an eejit after talking and listening. It’s not a definitive. But it’s one take on what data will mean for local government.

What is data?

Data is information. Simple as that. Broadly speaking, this can be on a whole range of subjects. It could be weather data, news data, scientific data or government data. Even what time the 404A bus route runs from Cradley Heath to Walsall can be classed as data.

What about personal data?

All that stuff isn’t really of interest to enthusiasts who want to build maps and mess about with things. However, every time you use your Tesco Clubcard that data gets stored by Tesco. The supermarket giant then use that to build a picture of what lines are doing well and also a snapshot of your shopping habits.

Isn’t data available anyway?

If you are Sherlock Holmes and you look hard enough there’s a stack that could be found. But that’s just it. In the 21st century we expect more than just that information is stored in filing cabinets that may or may not be open to the public twice a year. In 430 different locations (one for every local council).

But isn’t data about bus routes and bus arrival times like, really, really boring?

To you maybe. But if you catch the 404A from Cradley Heath you’d want to know when the buses left and – here’s the nub – how reliable they were.

What is a ‘mash-up’?

This is where information has been taken and presented in a different format. On a fun level, the United Cakedom mash-up plots where cake reviews were carried out. There’s also a picture and a link to the blog that carried them.

Yes, but what does this mean for local government?

It means more transparency.

It means that people can see what is going on. It can also means that better informed decisions can be made by decision makers. That has to be good.

What would the average council officer think of making data freely available?

Frankly, they may be terrified.

Why?

If you are working at a particular coalface you may think that the information you are collecting is actually yours.

It can be sat on an officer’s hard drive and jealously guarded.

The officer may be worried at how this information plays out amongst residents. It could lead to criticism and awkward questions being asked. That’s democracy.

Why should local government officers not worry?

Frankly, many of the decisions about releasing data are being made at a very senior level in Government. More than 3,000 data sets – that’s packets of useful information – have been made available by the British Government via data.gov.uk.

Are there any amusing examples of data worry?

The Localgovcamp event in London recently heard of an example of how the Royal Mail stepped in to ask a council to stop mapping Victorian postboxes as the information ‘could be of use to terrorists’.

There was also the worry that a grit bin map could be used by grit thieves at a time of short supply.

What’s all this fuss about data.gov.uk?

This is a website for masses of data to be made available.

What sort of information can be found there?

It’s a range of public information from birth rates to accident statistics to death rates.

Isn’t data.gov.uk difficult to understand to the lay person?

Yes and no. It’s all in one place which makes a start. But the real beauty is when web developers get their hands on it and make easy to use applications like the iphone ASBOmeter that tells you where and how often anti-social behaviour orders are handed out by courts.

What about council websites? What does this mean for them?

Previously, there was effectively one door to knock on for council information. The council website. That’s changing.

As data becomes freely available anyone tech-savvy can build a website and display council data. Remember, as taxpayers it is effectively theirs.

Remember the bicycle accident site? People would be more inclined to go there rather than turn detective. See? See how it starts to work?

Do council websites do nothing then?

No, not at all. It means that as the bar has been raised to present information council web people will have to learn new skills. Interactive mapping is a must. Simply posting a pdf that won’t show up in a google search just isn’t good enough.

Is this political?

Different political parties are starting to construct policies around it. It’s not for me to comment on the rights and wrongs of those parties.

Undoubtedly, in local politics the trends and anomolies thrown up by open data will enter into the political arena.

So, this is all about big government then isn’t it?

Not really. There’s a stack of data collected by government both local and national.

There’s also a lot more which individuals create, either consciously or unconsciously. It happens every time you use the web, for example. Google checks where you are clicking so it can rank pages accordingly. When you follow someone on Twitter data is collected. Add a picture to Flickr and more gets created.

Can we go off as local government officers and build Google maps? And what about Ordnance Survey?

Err, no. No blog about the public sector and maps is complete without a line about Ordnance Survey. This is the state-owned organisation that licenses people, companies and state owned bodies, such as councils, for the right to use maps.

Open data people get really cross with OS. It’s our data, they argue.

Right now, there is a row going on between OS and Google which means that local government people can’t use Google maps. This may change in the near future.

Not heard enough? What does world wide web creator and brains behind data.gov.uk Tim Berners-Lee say about it?

There is a brilliant TED talk on data which should be required viewing. You can view it here.

During it (at about 4 minutes 30 seconds) he shows a clip of Hans Rosling using data visualisation to shatter a commonly held myth about poverty. People in non-western countries die early with big families. Right? Wrong. Not any more they don’t. He used birth and death data to create an animated chart to bring alive his argument.

The original talk by Hans is here.

This is what Tim Berners-Lee says: “Data drives a huge amount of what happens in our lives.

“I want to think of a world where everyone has put data on the web and so everything you imagine is on the web.

“I’m calling that linked data. It’s about making the world run better.”

If you were looking for a starting point, take a look at Tim Berners-Lee’s six minute film here on how that data stuff and people who knew what they were doing helped save lives in Haiti in 2010.

SIX things local government people can do:

1. Remember that data collected by local government doesn’t belong to local government. Or the officer that collected it. It belongs to residents.

2. Realise it’s going to happen anyway. It’s not your decision. Open data is often Government level.

3. Start using data to feed back into the decision making process. Maybe there is a site out there that can be used?

4. Raise the bar when presenting information on council websites. Think maps. Think RSS feed too.

5. Realise that data no matter how boring to you is madly interesting to somebody somewhere.

6. Look for data that can be made public. A map with layers to show who your councillor is, where the leisure centre is and where the library is is a start. Add past election results too.

Start to make sense now?

Creative commons credits

Data – Patrick Hoesly, Bike – Kicki, Seventies computer – AJ Mexico, Caramel – Matthew Murray, Handheld – Zach Klein, Tim Berners-Lee – Farm4Static.

MAPPING FUN: Could Foursquare work for local government?

It’s relentless this social media lark. One minute it was MySpace. Then it was Twitter. Whatever happened to Friends Reunited?

The latest in this relentless onwards march is Foursquare. What the heck is Foursquare?  Basically, it’s a metrocentric social media platform that has locations and geo-tagging at it’s heart. That means places and plots on an online map.

By January 2010, according to compete.com, there were 600,000 unique users globally per month. Still way off the more than 300 million people signed up to Facebook. But it’s probably no coincidence that Google Buzz has emerged with mapping as an option.

How does it work? Basically, you ‘check in’ to good venues that you’d like to recommend, like museums, galleries and restaurants.

You can lay down recommendations too through ‘shouts’ at the locations. Maybe there is a great picture to see or a special dish that is worth a visit. The constituency of Foursquare are city-based 20 somethings who love exploring and being ‘seen’ at hot places.

It’s big in downtown New York. Not sure how it’ll work in rural North Yorkshire.

How it works is this. There is the tour guide part and the boy scout part. You are at somewhere good. You take out your mobile. You log onto Foursquare. You see if you can find somewher nearby that looks interesting. Maybe you are at somewhere good.  If it’s on you can check in. If it isn’t you can add it along with it’s address and postcode. You can ever make a ‘shout’ to your friends to let them know where you are.

And you can maybe leave advice for the next person to check in. That’s the tourist guide part of Foursquare.

The boy scout part?You score points through check ins. There is a weekly challenge to see who can score most points. New venues and other landmarks can see badges unlocked.

All fine, you are probably thinking. Great if you are 23 and live in Greenwich Village. But what exactly does this offer local government?

At face value, slim pickings. This won’t help you explain changes in council tax or let people know about school closures.

You also can’t take part directly as a council as you can on Facebook or Twitter. But after two months of using it as an experimentmyself  it’s started to emerge that some use could be made of it.

Where it starts to make sense is with leisure and culture. Your gallery, your museum and even your Town Hall and leisure centres could all be destinations. Why wait for them to emerge? Stick them on as locations.

You can also work with marketeers to put on offers for Foursquare users. For example, those with the highest number of check-ins at a venue can win the status of ‘Mayor’. The Mayor, once a week could then be rewarded with a free cup of coffee or a free swim. That’s the idea.

This is not going to be a game changer in the way that Facebook and Twitter have become. But it does offer interesting alternatives and what it does start to do is herald the era of mapping using mobile phones in a big, big way.

Remember, most mobiles that are sold come with GPS positioning capabilities. I’m convinced that the mapping capabilities of mobile phones will become massively significant in the future. This is the first platform to really take that seriously.

I also quite like the idea of encouraging people to be ‘friends’ with a venue. This kind of behaviour has worked well with Facebook, for example.

What local government social media visionaries could do…

1. Input key locations onto the Foursquare list. These can be picked up when people are nearby. Cafes, galleries and museums can all work. The New Art Gallery, Walsall for example, is on Foursquare as a location.

2. Offer a discount to the Mayor. You’d be amongst a few hundred locations globally that do.

3. Avoid cyber squatting by securing Mayor status on the Town Hall.

4. Check comments on your venues for feedback. Good service? Bad service? Listen and act.

5. Let the Mayor make a recommendation. Cecily Walker on her blog suggested that the Mayor of a library could be allowed to display their favourite book. Every week the Mayor could make their suggestion via a whiteboard. It’s an interesting idea.

Creative commons credits:

New York Philip Klinger

Walsall Lee Jordan

WEB: So, what makes a good council website?

Jason Santa Maria / Flickr

This was drawn-up after the ‘What makes an ace local government website?’ session at #ukgc10 by Liz Azyan from Camden Council and also the #ukgc10 WordPress session. Some extra thoughts were inserted after…

You’re in a rush. You’re going swimming. You’ve three minutes to find out when the nearest leisure centre closes… and you’re face with a council website.
 
This could be a pleasant experience and for many it is. But if you’re unlucky  you’ll be faced with a sprawling brick wall behemoth of a website written in a funny language riddled with jargon.
 
Oh, Lord.
It’s not gritting information, for example. It’s a winter service plan.   
Your opinion of your council suddenly plummets and you hurl abuse at the screen.
 
But ladies and gentlemen, it doesn’t have to be this way.
 
Liz Azyan’s session at the UK Government Bar Camp ’10 at Google was a thought provoking session with some cracking points.
 
Cards on the table at this stage. I don’t work in a web team. I work with them and more to the point I’m a council taxpayer who uses one.
 
Here are some points that emerged from the session — sprinkled with some that struck me afterwards.
 
What do people want?
 
They want to find the information they are after. Simple.
 
 

What do they often find? 
A website written in council speak with difficult to find pages presented poorly. In short a frustrating experience.
 

Tech frustration by CCB Images / Flickr
Tech frustration by CCB Images / Flickr

So, why bother with a council website?
 
It’s an argument that – surprisingly – seems still to exist in some quarters. Isn’t it just a big waste of money? Actually, no. Quite the reverse. After getting attacked for wasting money by TPA Lincolnshire Council responded with a cool, calm and brilliantly argued piece that argued that the cost of web was staggeringly lower than employing people to help face-to-face or over the telephone. It’s worth taking a look at.
 
What’s the average cost of contact via a council website?
 
For contact, read an occasion a member of the public needs to contact the council.
 
            Face to face              £7.81
            Telephone                  £4.00
            Online                         £0.17

 
Which does make you think. Vast resources get put – rightly – into a help desk or a one stop information shop. Often, web is seen as a poor relation.
 
There is also a theory that telephone numbers should be hard to find. If you have cost savings in mind pushing people towards the £4 option may not make good sense.
 

 

Do Local Government websites pay enough attention to design and appearance?
 
The hell they do. Some of them look utterly dreadful. There’s an organisation called SOCITM who seek to raise standards in government. Every year they survey Local Government sites on a checklist. Accessibility is key. So is usability. But nothing seems to get assessed on design.
 
One point that Devon’s Carl Haggerty made very strongly – which I totally agree with – is the need for this to change. Design and look IS important. If the website looks poor people won’t even get as far as starting a search.
 
As someone who has worked on newspapers and has put together magazines the look of something is fundamental. Look across the news stands. From the unscientific straw poll in the session colour seemed to be important.
 
Why should we bother to make websites better?
 
We need to improve because people’s expectations are higher.
 
We need to improve because at a time of tighter budgets web is a cost effective solution.
 
We also need to improve because while once council websites had a virtual monopoly on local information those days are changing.
 
As barriers are lowered – by things like WordPress and by the surge in hyperlocal blogs – others can do the job themselves. The case of the tech-savvy Birmingham residents who knocked up their own council website – bcc.diy.co.uk should send wake-up calls throughout local government. If you don’t do it, they are basically saying, someone else will.
 
As more and more data gets released web developers will find their own uses for it. Leisure centres? There’s an app for that. The days of the council website being a monopoly are ending. Smart people are just starting to wake up to that.
 
Yes, but it’s all about the home page, isn’t it?
 
The figures can vary widely. Around 15 per cent of people came onto the site through the home page from one council. That’s not much more than one in ten. A piddling figure. Especially when you take account the time and effort that goes into it. But in another council researched after the session was around 90 per cent.

Brent Council's opt in less busy webpage.
Brent Council's opt in less busy webpage.

The moral of the story to local government webbies  is to research your web stats before changes are made.
 
 
Can you make your homepage less busy?
 
Yes. Brent council offers the option of the traditional busy page and a more simple one. That quite appeals to me.
 
So how do people navigate around your site if they do do that?

 
There’s your website search box. Which often isn’t that great. Even if it’s a google one, apparently. From the experience of several councils much time and effoft is wasted bu users here.
 
There’s your A-Z of services too.
 
There’s also the postcode search which to me seems rather attractive and far more relevant. If I lived in Baswich in Stafford, wouldn’t it be better to tell me what was on offer for me there?
 
There’s also the novel idea of a pictorial map. You point at it. You hover over the bits you want and you click through there. Directgov have a rather attractive planning map that does that.
 
Widgets. Redbridge Council have use this. It’s a similar theory to the igoogle approach where you compose the page that you want from the information that you want. The idea is great but feedback suggests that only small numbers of people have embraced this
 
The message from Liz’s session was that as far as search is concerned you need to pick one way and stick to it. Sites that try and do absolutely everything in the way of search look cluttered, busy and turn people off.

How about open source (and what the hell does that mean?)

At the WordPress #ukgc10 session the idea of WordPress as a web content managament system was talked about. There is much going for it. It’s open source. Which for non-geeks means that you don’t have to pay someone a lorry load of cash to buy it and maintain it. It’s free. You can download it from www.wordpress.com and web developers who know what they are doing can build you widgets so you can customise things to suit your ends.

The downloadable version of WordPress is from WordPress.org while WordPress.com is where you get your hosted versions.

There are plenty of examples of Government using open source. The 10 Downing Street web site relies on it in parts for it’s press operation. So do almost half UK government departments in one shape or another. It’s great if you need an emergency website knocked up at short notice.

However, the feedback was that there was  a 500-page limit on WordPress. That’s probably more than enough for some sites but bigger projects may be hampered by that limitation.  

But how about the Birmingham City Council experience? (insert clap of thunder here.)

There has been plenty written about the Birmingham experience. But if you haven’t come across it it’s a tale to strike fear into local government web managers up and down the land.

In short, Birmingham City Council appointed consultants to build their website. The final bill was more than many expected and wasn’t as good as people were expecting. It led to Press criticism.

The Birmingham bloggers build a DIY site when they were less than impressed with the council version.
The Birmingham bloggers build a DIY site when they were less than impressed with the council version.

There is a thriving community of bloggers and the digitally-connected in Birmingham. They decided to build their own DIY council site by taking the data that was publicly available and constructin their own website.

Based on open source and while it may look rough at the edges, it is a site born of social media and built by community-spirited people eager to do their own thing. That it cooked a snook at authority to boot was for some a bonus.

They came up with something based on a postcode search and using stunning Flickr imagery of their home city.  

It’s legacy will be more than a website. It’s legacy is a warning shot that internet users have a powerful voice and if you don’t provide them with something they’luse and be impressed by, they may well build their own. As a warning shot to council it’s there to be heeded.

So, how about asking people what they think of your site?

I’m impressed with the Camden Council Facebook group set up to see what people thought of their site. An impressive use of social media. Bold, imaginative and connecting directly to the online community. Magnificent. And a template to follow.
 
 
In a nutshell: So what would NINE really good things to do be?
 

 
1 Use pictures better. Pictures tell a 1,000 words and are a brilliant way of showcasing your organisation. Not just the arty commissioned ones. The Flickr ones too.
 
2 Choose a way for people to navigate about the site. And stick to it.
 
3 Don’t make your site busy. It looks awful. Simplicity works.
 
4 Don’t get too hung up on the homepage. Remember that few people can get onto your site that way.
 
5 Speak to the people in the calls centre. What subjects come up most often?
Shouldn’t that play some role in what appears on the homepage? And be well designed and put together?
 
6 In an A-Z of services think Yellow Pages. Put links in several places. For example, people could be looking at household waste in several places. Waste, rubbish or even trash
 
7 And finally, wouldn’t it be good if SOCITM took more account of design and look? That way we may all have better websites.

8 Use social media to see what people think. Use Twitter and Facebook. If social media is about a two way conversation then what better way of connecting with web-savvy citizens? 

9 Don’t rule out open source. It’s free. And one day someone with vision will come up with something that government can use.
 
Input for the #ukgc10 ‘What makes an ace website?’session included points from Dan Harris, Ally Hook, Liz Azyan, Sarah Lay, Martin Black, Stephen Cross and Andrew Beeken.

Flickr pics used with creative commons licence laptop (Jason Santa Maria) and frustration (CCB Images).

SOCIAL MEDIA: Your EIGHT step guide to getting started…

This blog post was inspired by #ukgc10’s local government hug session where one person asked for help in how to get started with social media. Some good pieces of advice came out. Here are some from the session and some that struck me afterwards…


THE 8 STEP APPROACH FOR GETTING STARTED….

You’ve read about social media. You may have thought it was a fad. Now you’ve been waking up at 3am with the gnawing thought that you’ll have to do something.

If you’re at this stage. Congratulations. You’re sharp. You’ve seen which way the wind is blowing. And, yes, it’s only going to blow harder.

So what to do?

Here’s some thoughts on how to go about turning your organisation into something fit for the 21st century.

It’s simply not enough to say that you must do it because Steven Fry does it. Or because it’s cool.

You need to construct a cohesive and persuasive argument backed by figures that will work with people who look on digital with the suspicious eye of a Daily Mail reader.

 

Step 1 – Look at the national picture.

More than 30 million people use social media in the UK, according to the most recent figures. Clicky Media’s figures are a good starting point.

You can compare this to national and local newspaper figures.

Locally, a 20 per cent dip in local papers is predicted by 2012 in weekly papers. In regional daily papers it’s more like 30 per cent.

In short: If you’ve always relied on your local paper to get your message out then think again.

Step 2 – Have a look at the sites.

There are dozens of social media sites.

For the sake of argument, look at six of the most popular sites.

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr all do different things. For blogging, WordPress and Blogspot are key.

Don’t worry if it all looks an unclimbable. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Anyway, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has only just got round to joining Twitter himself. So, relax.

Join one if you like. See how it works. Get to know it.   

In short: Don’t worry about not getting your head around all of them.
Get your head around them one at a time.

Dive in! That water is great….

 

Step 3 – See what some inspired people say.

All you need is out there on the internet. The trick is, like anything, knowing where to look. You’ll find it a creative, inspiring and sharing place if you choose to join.

Check Mashable for basic guides to all this stuff. The guide to social media is a must. Follow the link and click download for Learning Pool Twitter guide.

There are some quality blog posts on the subject. Michelle Ide-Smith recently wrote a post that nails how to construct an argument in favour.

Have a look at these blogs for ideas an inspiration:

Nick Booth, Dave Briggs, Sarah Lay, Carl Haggerty.

If you join Twitter – and I’ve learned so much from it I’d seriously recommend it – I’d also recommend these:

@sarahlay – Derbyshire webbie.
@alncl – Alastair Smith, Newcastle web man.
@davebriggs – Local government social media specialist.
@timesjoanna – Former Birmingham Post reporter turned Times writer. Great for links.
@liz_azyan – Lives and breathes local government and social media.

@gecko84 – Teckie Arsenal fan.
@abeeken – Lincolnshire webbie.

@mmmmmmcake – A stream about cake, believe it or not.

@pezholio – Local gov webbie from Staffordshire who is borderline genius. Also likes real ale.

@talkaboutlocal – a window into the amazing world of hyperlocal blogs that can serve a town or even a housing estate.
@wv11 – a hyperlocal blog based in Wednesfield, Wolverhampton. Shows how a local site can use it.
@philipjohn – a website developer who is a useful font of information.
@mashable – the Twitter version of the social media blog.
@doristhecow – Anchor butter’s well judged use of Twitter. I love it.
@scobleiser – Silicon Valley geek who writes about tech news.
@walsallcouncil – Because their use of social media is really, really, really inspired (disclaimer: I help write it).

 

Step 4 – Create a social media map.

Work out what activity there is in your area. These figures are a clincher so take an afternoon out to build this picture.

Paul Cole and Tim Cooper in Derbyshire did one for their area. They used mindmeister although you could use an exercise book. It’s just as good and you don’t have to re-boot it. It lists all trhe social media activity they could find.

How?

Before you do, I’d find out the circulation figures for newspapers in your area. This is good to compare and contrast. The Walsall edition of the Express & Star, for example has sales of around 22,000.

For Facebook, there are 23 million users as of January 2010. Want to see how many are local to you? Log onto Facebook, then click the button marked ‘advertising’. Fill out an ad. Don’t worry you won’t get charged just yet. It’s then you reach the section that gets really interesting.

Here, you can ask Facebook how many people are registered within a 10 mile radius of a town. This gives some staggering figures. Click the box marked ‘location’ and put in the town you want to aim at.

In Walsall, in January 2010 there are 170,000 people on Facebook within 10 miles of the town. The population of the borough is around 250,000 and the 10 mile radius also spills out into part of Staffordshire, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. But, you get the picture.

There are therefore, around eight times as many Facebook users as buy copies of the Express & Star in the wider Walsall area, you may argue.

For Twitter, it’s harder to work out your area’s figure. Nationally, by November 2009 there are 5.5 million UK users. You’ll have to work out your area’s percentage of the national population, then divide the Twitter users by that percentage.

For YouTube, log on and search for your area or town. You’ll be surprised. Using the keyword ‘Walsall’ gave just less than 5,000 clips.

Same with Flickr. This is a photo sharing website. Count how many images of your patch there are. The Walsall Flickr group of more than 80 members, for example have around 5,000 iamges of their home borough.

WordPress and Blogspot. Search for your areas and they’ll crop up on blogs.

 

Step 5 – Get your arguments ready

There’s a brilliant few resources online with the most common arguments against social media and the counter arguments to deploy.

They work a treat.

Jeff Bullas’ blog on the subject is useful. So is this from SEO Blog. Google the word ‘reasons to use social media

 

Step 6 – JFDI Just flipping do it.

Now, if you are particularly brave you can cut to this one skipping step four entirely.

The argument goes like this. Just flipping do it. By the time anyone important notices it’ll have reached critical mass and harder to close down.

It’s not something I’ve done but other far braver people have and with great success. Will Perrin – @willperrin on Twitter – often talks about how he deliberately avoided asking permission to launch Downing Street’s petition site.

 

Step 7 – Call in an expert.

There’s a good quote about a Prophet never being recognised in his own land.

The translation of this is if you think they won’t listen to you they may listen to someone from outside.

It’s worked on several occasions with local authorities who have called in Nick Booth’s Podnosh company. Dave Briggs and Simon Wakeman from Medway Council have done similar jobs.

However, do be careful of people who call themselves social media experts. Or ninjas. Or any such rot. They’re almost certainly not and there are plenty of snake oil salesmen about right now.

 

Step 8 – Keep winning the internal argument.

Now you are up and running as nobody will be able to counter such stunning arguments it doesn’t end there. No, sir.

The social media head of one of Britain’s main parties once said that up to half his job is taken up with winning the internal argument.

Report back progress and keep a measure of followers and activity.

Banning social media is rather like trying to outlaw the telephone in the 19th century.

It’s a communications channel. We need to embrace it. Smile. It’s the future. And your children’s.

 

Pics: Used under a creative commons licence, Amit Gupta (Facebook), Badjonni (swimmers),  Dan Slee (Newlands Valley), Sean Dreilinger (mobiles) and the Little Tea Cup (Dan Slee).

TWITTER GRITTER: Case study: Gritting and social media.

Tyre tracks in the snow. Pic by lovestruck from Flickr.
Tyre tracks in the snow. Pic by lovestruck from Flickr.

It’s 3am, freezing and snow is about to fall.

Within an hour roads will be covered with a snow blanket children will squeal at and commuters will swear at.

It’s a race against time. And a time when the myth ‘all local government clocks off at 5 o’clock’ is tucked up along with everyone else.

If roads are not gritted there will be rush hour chaos, anger and hell to pay. Just ask the councils who look after Reading and Basingstoke.

Gritting is one of 800 often unseen vital local government jobs.

So as local government isn’t it a good idea to use social media to let people know what we are doing?

Or in other words, it’s not enough to do the job and hope residents pick up on what you are doing. That’s trickledown public relations. It doesn’t work.

What is increasingly important is doing the job and letting people know you are doing a job.

Gritting is a perfect way to marry an important service with social media.

It’s fast, immediate and talks to the resident direct. No need to wait for the evening paper to come out and people – hopefully – turning to halfway down page 16 to read what you are doing.

At Walsall, in the winter period we decided to tweet gritting information. In winter time gritting is becoming – like school closures and the cancellation of markets and events – important to communicate by social media.

At Walsall, in the winter period we decided to tweet gritting information. That was on top of schools closures, household waste and which schools are open.

There is a winter service plan at Walsall. It’s a 49-page document that sets out the 16 gritting routes covering more than 250 miles of road – that’s 50.1 per cent of the network.

A duty engineer checks weather data and assesses the risk of freezing temperatures. It’s down to them to make the call to order the fleet out.

Why? We already had a twitter feed @walsallcouncil with 1,000 followers. As the result of regular press queries we had good relations with the transport officers responsible for it. It was a small step to actually tweeting the info.

How? Engineers were primed to email when they made the decision to order out the gritting teams. Press officers are equipped with Blackberries and are able to pick up the email and use Twitter.

When? FHow? Engineers were primed to email when they made the decision to order out the gritting teams. Press officers are equipped with Blackberries and are able to pick up the email and use Twitter.
When? From December 28 2009 to January 8 2010 we tweeted 71 times. We’d warn we were going out. We’d also link to advice on our website and issue urgent advice. There was a spate of thefts from the 175 grit bins, for example. Two incidents were reported to West Midlands Police. That was tweeted too. We also retweeted relevant @wmpolice advice and @metoffice updates.

Here’s some examples:

Grit update – Careful on the roads tonight. We’re gritting at 10pm after a sharp fall in temperature.

Grit update – We’re out. You’ll not be suprised to know. Take it steady on the roads. We’ll be monitoring the weather through the night.

Thanks @richjohnstone_. Heard back from a gritting team in Pheasey. A trip through the night is highly likely.

How was it received? Very well. There were two negative comments about what we were doing. But overall, there was a heck of a lot more positive feedback. We even had a couple of positive blog comments.

Spotted a @walsallcouncil gritter in the Crescent, Walsall! Good work guys.

@WalsallCouncil How about gritting upper station street? Lots of pedestrians walk up it from the station into town centre. Very slippy today.

We also responded to incidents in almost real time. A burst water main was flagged up as an ice hazard at a busy junction. We called engineers who were able to send out an emergency gritter as part of rounds…

@WalsallCouncil looks like a water main has burst – leighswood ave / middlemore lane WS9 – traffic lights being set up – traffic chaos

We responded…

Thanks @stevieboy378. The Leighswood Ave / Middlemore Lane water leak has been added to the duty gritters’ list.

We got some positive, real time response. Forwarded to the team on the ground it was a boost to the drivers.

@WalsallCouncil thanks . . . best of luck to your guys – its damn cold out there . . . .

We also backed up the Twitter activity with a short film shot on a Flip camera and posted to YouTube.

We supported this with a press release to local media and trade press.

HOW OTHERS HAVE TACKLED IT…

The Walsall Council approach was by no means unique. There have been several other councils looking at gritting and social media.

In Warwickshire, a  gritter was fitted so that it could send out geotagged tweets on it’s route. It’s a great idea in principle. But I do reckon @warwickwinter will need a few tweaks. Or is four or five tweets a minute okay if you lived in the area?

The hugely talented @pezholio took a look at the Warwick approach and drew up a test geotagged map. It’s a fantastic idea that could realy work. You can see a map of where the gritter has been and at what time. It would solve at a stroke the argument from an angry resident that swears blind his road hasn’t been visited.

Kirklees Council has also some good things with @kirkleeswinter 

Essex Council have also been tweeting gritting through their mainstream Twitter account. As this is something that has a 700+ following it makes sense to inform as many people as possible.  Camden Council have also kept up a good output with snow updates through their central Twitter feed.

Also, big up Sutton Council who have provided a map of grit bins. However, with thefts taking place across the country of grit – and the bins themselves – would this escalate problems with crime?

ELEVEN THINGS TO BEAR IN MIND

1. GET PLUGGED INTO YOUR ENGINEERS – arrrange with your engineers to let you know when they’re gritting, find out what the standard questions are and find out what the answers are – or who can tell you them.

2. MONITOR TWITTER – Have someone monitoring who can use the corporate Twitter. Tweet out-of-hours. Explode a few myths.

3. CONVERSATIONAL – Be conversational. On-the-spot tweets are a good way to use Twitter and to turn around important inform

4. YES, YOU WILL GET FLAK – People will accuse you of not gritting. Even when you have. They’ll also want their side street gritted when you don’t do side streets. You’ll need to have a form of words ready. Bear in mind that social media is another form of communication. Those conversations you’ll have over the phone you’ll also have via Twitter. With this stuff you can be part of the conversation that is already taking place.

5. PASS IT ON – Even if you have an answer to the tweet cut, paste and pass it onto the engineers.

6. TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT – Make a log of your activity and pass it on internally. Don’t keep it t yourself. Create a Slideshare for your power point.

7. RESPOND TO @REPLIES – Where you can, try and respond. Even if it’s just to say ‘Thanks for your tweet. We’ll pass it on.’ People don’t expect a detailed answer within seconds. An acknowledgement is only what you do off-line. But if you can act, then respond quick.

8. YOUTUBE. A film of gritters shot on a Flip video camera is cheap and effective.
9. THINK PICTURES – Tweet pics of what you are doing. Add to the community’s Flickr group pool with your shots of council staff in action.
10. EXPLAIN, LISTEN, PROMOTE – It’s clear that everyone in your organisation won’t be an advocate of social media. Even if the person at the top ‘gets it’ you need to be aware that you may have to re-sell to managers. Possibly at times of great stress and pressure. Be patient.

11. THINK GEOTAGGING – Technology exists to geotag vehicles. It’s a small step to produce a googlemap where people can go to se when and where their street has been treated. Talk to engineers and you’ll find that hours are spent insisting to residents that yes, their street has been gritted. Wouldn’t it be simpler to let people log on if the technology already exists?

LINKS

Sarah Lay’s blog on Christmas social media activity. http://bit.ly/5AGZSG

Snow disruption: Shouldn’t we be using the internet more? By @johnpopham http://wp.me/ppLRZ-2I

An argument why #socialmedia in snow is vital for #localgov. Top piece by the excellent @timhobbs http://ow.ly/UdPB

INFORMATION OVERLOAD: And one way to tackle it

 
 
Do me a favour, would you? Stop. Just for a second and relax.I don’t want you to finish this blog more tense than you started.

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.

And Liz Azyan with LGEO Research and Dave Briggs knows local government because she has knows her onions.

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

BROADCASTING CHANGE – Seven skills the BBC can teach social media

Pic credit:
Official_BBC_Logo
Originally uploaded by nguyenht_hk
 
 
 
 “Citizen journalists,” the sneer goes, “Whatever next? Citizen surgeons?”
 

It’s a glib, throwaway, catch-all comment designed to dismiss social media sites which spread news without the aid of shorthand, a spiralbound notepad and an NUJ card.

The argument goes that like a surgeon’s scalpel only someone trained can handle news properly.

But with the quiet opening up of the BBC College of Journalism website another brick in the ever shaky argument comes toppling down.

The website http://www.bbc.co.uk/journalism/ has been run internally for the corporation for three years. It is a treasure trove of skills refined from more than 60 years of award winning peerless journalism.

BBC economics correspondant Robert Peston recently warned that: “the traditional distinctions between television journalists, radio journalists and print journalists are quite close to being obsolete.”

To survive a 21st century journalist must blog, podcast, film, edit and interview and write.

In the era of multi-skilling the press officer will also do well to take a look at the array of skills the site offers coaching in. There is plenty there for them.

But where the BBC training site’s hidden strength really lies is in the trasure trove of skills it offers to the hyperlocal blogger.

Recently, there has been a fierce debate in the UK digital community about defamation and media law. The Talk About Local project to encourage hyperlocals has started to debate it. Bloggers such as The Lichfield Blog’s Philip John have come up with some hyperlocal friendly resources.

But what the BBC site offers is a more extensive, professional insight into what will and won’t get you into trouble.

I’m tempted to call the opening up of the BBC training site as their greatest contribution to digital since the BBC Acorn computer pushed home computing out of the science fiction pages into the spare room in 1981.

This website starts to put quality journalism within the grasp of anyone  who can operate both a WordPress site and the BBC’s training pages.

For a qualified journalist looking to embrace change this is a welcome resource.

To the press officer it is a reference point. But also another signal that the 21st century landscape is changing.

To a blogger it should be bookmarked and memorised.

SEVEN TOP TIPS FROM THE BBC THAT COULD PROVE USEFUL IN SOCIAL MEDIA….

1. A guide to defamation These tips will be especially useful to bloggers. But also with the ever changing media landscape handy for press officers and journalists a long time out of NCTJ college.

2. Contempt of court You don’t have to be in the dock to get on the wrong side of a court of law. The rights and restrictions that govern news – and yes, blogs – are complex and can be devastating if you get it wrong.

3. Using submitted content A great insight into how the BBC uses it. For hyperlocals where photography may rely heavily on submitted pics this could be of use.

4. Original journalism There are news rooms across the country drained of experience and talent that could benefit from this. High standards are never a bad thing.

5. Bloggers and the law A contribution from Birmingham City University leacturer Paul Bradshaw – @paulbradshaw on Twitter. Nice to know the BBC are listening to someone like Paul who has a foot in the blogosphere as well as journalism.

6. Making short news films With YouTube in the driving seat high production values are not needed. But a few tips that could transfer into making something watchable can’t be a bad idea.

7. Filming interviews A few minutes with a Flip video and you’ll know it’s a tricky business balancing the questioning with the filming.

A FACE TO A NAME: Why organisations should be personal in social media


Pic credit:

Light-Hearted

Originally uploaded by fiznatty

There is one truly brilliant thing about Harrogate copper @hotelalpha9 on Twitter.

It’s not the fact PC Ed Rogerson has a truly cool Hawaii Five O sounding name online.

It’s not even because the police are using social media. Although, that is great.

What’s really brilliant, is that he has succeeded in putting a human touch on what is by definition a large organisation.

In North Yorkshire there are 1,500 police officers serving 750,000 people. @hotelalpha9 is able to connect with his beat particular brilliantly.

Here is an example: “Residents of Camwell Terrace – there’s a meeting for you at 10am tomorrow at St Andrews Church. Let’s make your street the best it can be.”

“@annicrosby Hi, I’m following you as I saw you location is ‘Harrogate’. I follow anybody from Harrogate as I want to communicate better.”

“Just dealt with some criminal damage. Paint thrown over a car.”

It’s stuff specific to a small area. It’s in effect hyperlocal blogging for an organisation.

The debate about whether or not police should use digital is a short one (answer: yes).

On that topic there is an inspiring and groundbreaking blog by Chief Inspector Mark Payne of West Midlands Police – on Twitter as @CIPayneWMPolice – that deserves a special mention: Police and social media: Why are we waiting?

But what it really opens up is how best to use this stuff to connect.

By all means have a central presence with a corporate logo on.

However, in Twitter 2.0 shouldn’t we start putting the individual to the fore?

If we call a council, government – or a big company for that matter – you are often met with a name when you ring or write. Why not do that with social media too?

Recently, when Walsall Council contacted a protest group on Facebook an officer set up a dedicated work profile to make contact. It wasn’t a logo. It was a real person that made that connection. On behalf of the council.

So, isn’t there a case the closer we get to an organisation hyperlocal blogging we start allowing the individual to be the organisation’s face? They are in real life over the phone and at other contact points. Why not in social media too?

This may well create new headaches. Would staff be prepared for the potential for brickbats, for example?

How about if they leave?

Then there is the usual ‘what if they say bad things to us?’

But let’s not forget that these dilemmas also apply offline too.

A possible three tier organisational model for Twitter and other social media platforms:

1. THE CORPORATE VOICE WITH NAMED INDIVIDUAL. Eg @anycouncil. Biog: news from Any Council updated by Darren info@any.gov.uk. Content: general tweets.

2. THE SERVICE AREA. Eg @anycouncil_libraries Biog: updated by Kim. Kim@any.gov.uk. Content: niche tweets from a specific service area. More specific info for fans of that subject. Eg author visits, reminders to take out a holiday book.

3. THE HYPERLOCAL INDIVIDUAL Eg @artscentreguy Biog: Bob from Any Arts Centre. Content: More personal updates from an individual first and foremost who just happens y’know to work for a council. Eg. Twitpics of rehearsals, behind the scenes shots and listings info.

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