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/

CLICK INSPIRE: 20 golden links from 2011

If links are the web’s currency of inspiration then some shine as bright as a gold coin on a summer’s day.

Vivid and memorable as wild flowers they can sow seeds that bloom into bright ideas.

Some challenge while some crysyallise half thoughts.

They can be blog writing, tweets, news stories or images.

Over the past 12-months I’ve read thousands. Mainly in spare moments. As December trudged towards Christmas in downtime I’ve reflected on those that have shaped my outlook.

I’ve not gone online to remind myself but instead racked my brains for writing that has stayed with me.

There are scores of good writing. Many of them can be found on the pages of the blogroll on the right of this webpage.

A couple of them are mine. Mitigation for this is that they capture collaborative working.

Using Twitter to Stop Riots. As rioting spread and London police hip shootingly spoke of switching off the internet Wolverhampton shone. Superintendent Mark Payne used Twitter to shoot down rumours circulating online and off. Blogs such as WV11.co.uk and Tettenhall.co.uk plugged into this to retweet and shout via Facebook. Public I did a useful study.

The Icelandic Facebook page. With the country in financial tatters the Icelandic government started a root and branch review. The constitution which dates from 1944 was being re-drafted. Rather than whack up a 500 page pdf they broke down proposals into bite sized chunks and crowdsourced it. More than 2,500 Icelanders took part. In a country of 250,000 that’s astounding. You can read how here.

Twelve commandments for council news. Adrian Short isn’t a comms person. But his insight into how news online should be presented really needs reading by comms people.

Changing how council news is done. In a second post Adrian points out the folly of presenting press releases verbatim on a different medium. It needs reading if you care about local government and what it does. Read it here.

Birmingham City Council Civic dashboard. Critics say open data stands more effective in theory than in practice. This website starts to answer that and stands as a landmark.

Trust me I’m a follower. Scotland has some amazing people in the public sector. Carolyn Mitchell’s piece on the changing landscape is essential. As a former print journalist she has an eye for a line. That a senior police officer spoke of how he trusts his officers with a baton so why wouldn’t he trust them with a Twitter account is one of them.

Stop being irrelevant. Explains why I think comms people need to see their changing landscape and evolve to stay relevant. It drove my thinking throughout the year.

Localgovcamp. The event in Birmingham in June brought together creative thinking, ideas and inspiration. The posterous here captures blogs that emerged from it.

Brewcamp. I’m proud to be involved in this. It’s a platform for like minded people to come together, share ideas and drink tea. You can read it here.

@walsallwildlife on Twitter. That a countryside officer can attract 800 followers by tweeting about her day job of bats, ponds and newts astounds me. It shows what can happen when bright people share the sweets.

Joplin Facebook. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds killed when a tornado levelled the town. It was residents who self-organised with sites like these. This shows the power of community sites.

Queensland Police Facebook. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds killed when flooding struck. 200,000 signed up. This shows the power of official sites when given a flow of regular information.

Look how not on fire this is. When the shadow of rioting overshadowed Walsall in the summer rumour the town police station was burning was dismissed in real time by a police officer with a phone camera and a dry wit. PC Rich Stanley’s image had more than 2,000 hits.

The Walsall Flickr group. There are more than 9,000 images here from 130 members.  This shows the power of community sites and the good things that can be achieved when local government can work with them as equals as we did on this town centre empty shop scheme.

The Dominic Campbell youtube. I love the idea of ‘militant optimists’ pressing for change in unlikely corners of local government. It strikes a chord. This is a good 15 minutes to invest.

Twicket. Because John Popham and others live streaming a village cricket match is a good idea and shows good tech is less about the tech and more about fun and community. The big picture stuff sorts itself out. Read it here.

The end of crisis communications. Jim Garrow is a US emergency planner. It’s called emergency management over there. He writes with foresight. Not least this piece on why real time social media is replacing the set piece emergency planning approach. I’m proud he talks about one of my projects but this wider piece crystalises why real time events work.

Comms2point0. I’ll blog about this more at a later date. But this is a place where comms people can share best practice and best ideas. It’s largely Darren Caveney’s idea. It’s brilliant and so is the photographic style guide.

Digital advent calender Number 1. Many say  the media is dying. David Higgerson, of Trinity Mirror, proves that there is a home for good journalism on the web. His collection of writing is a directory of excellent tools of gems.

Digital advent calender number 2. Steph Gray steers Helpful Technology and helps people understand that technology is an opportunity not a minefield. He is that rare thing. A geek who can communicate with non-geek by speaking human. His advent calender will be pulled out and consulted far into 2012 like a Playfair Cricket annual is to a summer game enthusiast sat on the boundary at Worcester.

Creative commons credits

Yellow flowers http://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/2808827891/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Iceland http://www.flickr.com/photos/stignygaard/3830938078/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Police officers http://www.flickr.com/photos/glamlife/4098397848/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Stickers http://www.flickr.com/photos/theclosedcircle/3624357645/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Localgovcampers http://www.flickr.com/photos/arunmarsh/3656742460/in/set-72157620328138849

BETA BLOCKER: Is comms at risk of being the new IT?

The only difference between a stumbling block, a barrier and a stepping stone is the way you use them, apparently.

There were a lot of stumbling blocks talked about at localgovcamp in Birmingham.  Many such obstacles were were from corporate comms. They were the corporate branded elephant in the room.

Heard the one about the comms team’s response to snow? Instand updates via facebook or Twitter? Nope. Book a half page advert in the local paper?

Oh, how we laughed. As a comms person myself it was more a case of nervous laughter.

I believe strongly that there’s an argument for having a light touch on the tiller from enabling comms people.

When you put online and offline channels together they can be incredibly powerful. You’re delivering a similar message on the platform people want using the language of the platform.

But then again, if you’re reading this on Facebook or Twitter you already know this even if you haven’t admitted it out loud.

So, what’s localgovcamp?

It’s an event that saw more than 100 people giving up their free time on a Saturday to help make their corner of local government bloom a little more. It’s Glastonbury for local government geeks. There was web people, open data people, comms people, hyperlocal bloggers and even an engineer.

Attending the first event at Fazeley Studios two years ago changed the way I think about my job. I’ve heard the same said from others too. It’s been brilliant seeing the light bulbs going on above people attending their first ever localgovcamp.

Two years ago one of the main frustrations was some IT people who were keeping the social web in lockdown. Many, but not all, think progress ended with the Commodore 64. Of course, it goes without saying that the IT people I work with are all hugely helpful and forward thinking.

That battle to use social media seems to have be getting won. Slowly in places but the it’s irreverable. The battle now is with unenlightened comms people and it’s a subject I keep returning to.

For people in a PR job it’s about waking up. For those not in PR it’s about helping wake them up. And yourself and colleagues while you’re at it.

So, because I can’t write a blog post without a heap of links, here’s a heap of links to help those who don’t get it wake up…

A heap of links…

Whats the role for local government comms and social media?

I’d suggest anyone reads this excellent blog post by Ingrid Koehler of FutureGov which she wrote when she was still with LGiD http://ingridkoehler.com/2011/01/what-role-for-localgov-comms-and-social-media/

How does the social web work in practice?

Social by Social is a NESTA-produced landmark text that shows how the web can be used for a social impact both by government and individuals. http://www.socialbysocial.com/

How does the social web work in practice?

When a tornado struck Joplin killing 154 people the state support networks were overwhelmed. A website http://joplintornado.info was launched as a place to log missing people and phone numbers. It evolved into a place for info and help. More than 48,000 people ‘liked’ the Joplin Tornado Info page set up as a http://www.facebook.com/joplintornadoinfo?ref=ts

How can the public sector use social media in an emergency?

In Queensland when floods struck Facebook became the prop people turned to. The talented Ben Proctor has blogged on how they responded here. http://www.benproctor.co.uk/2011/02/five-things-we-can-already-learn-from-queensland-police-use-of-social-media/ You can see the Queensland Police page here: http://www.facebook.com/QueenslandPolice?ref=ts

Can local government do Facebook outside of a crisis?

Stirling Council has more than 3,000 ‘likes’ http://www.facebook.com/stirlingcouncil?ref=ts&sk=info Coventry chose a nice picture of their city rather than a logo and have 18,000 signed-up http://www.facebook.com/coventrycc?ref=ts You can search the book data base via the Manchester Library and Information Service http://www.facebook.com/manchesterlibraries?ref=ts

Can local government use Twitter?

An organisation that has the right tone http://twitter.com/MonmouthshireCC. A venue with an engaging manner http://twitter.com/OrkneyLibrary and an officer who puts a human face on the service http://twitter.com/walsallwildlife

Can local government use YouTube?

Stirling Council used a short video as part of their bag it and bin it campaign http://youtu.be/bMoMNK3tX6A But it doesn’t have to be broadcast quality. An apprentice gritter driver made this short film of how he helps treat the roads http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TClrk-VDthM

Thanks to Ben Proctor for the crisis comms links, Corrine Douglas for Stirling Council YouTube.

Thanks Si Whitehouse, Dave Briggs and others for organising localgovcamp.

The original post: http://wp.me/pBLBH-sc

Creative Commons credits

Barrier: http://www.flickr.com/photos/selva/424304/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Localgovcamp room: http://www.flickr.com/photos/1gl/5845534577/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Stickers:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/1gl/5846133704/sizes/z/in/set-72157626866274047/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just starting out…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More advanced stuff…

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

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

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

Innovate and start doing something new….

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

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

Creative Commons credits

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

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

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

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