SOCIAL MEDIA: Why solutions, not shiny matters most

Sometimes you can hear someone say something that makes complete sense.

Twice in the last few weeks that’s happened to me.

Firstly, at Digital Futures in Shrewsbury Futuregov’s excellent Carrie Bishop spoke of using ‘just enough of the internet’ to get something done. That feels such a perfectly weighted, perfectly observed comment to make from someone who can comfortably grandstand by talking shiny tech.

Secondly, Coventry City Council’s Martin Reeves at the 10 by 10 WM event in Coventry.

The chief executive popped in to deliver a 15-minute speech to those that had gathered. We’d just finished hearing 10 examples of really good innovation across the region and were feeling just a little bit pleased with ourselves. There’s some really good things happening in the region and I’m really proud to be part of that.

“You are doing great things,” Martin said. “But I’ve just spent a few days locked away with other chief executives to discuss things that face us. Not once. Not once was social media mentioned in that time.”

The fact that Martin, who is one of a growing handful of chief executives who tweet, was telling us this was significant. Martin is an advocate. He’s a believer.

“How do you need to change that?” he asked us. “Stop being evangelists. Stop talking about the technology. Talk about the solutions. Talk about the solutions that may just have social media as part of it. Then you’ll get people listening.”

It’s a brilliantly clear, well thought through approach to take.

If there’s one thing that social media people are is passionate evangelists. Sometimes that passion comes from a belief that if only others could share this vision then the world will be a better place. The reality is that some people just don’t think that.

It’s not the shiny technology that matters to most people.

Thinking it through the good things at my own council have happened it’s been around finding a solution.

How do countryside people find better ways to connect? By having a ranger like Morgan Bowers on Twitter. How do we dispell rumours in a crisis? By using Twitter alongside people like the police. How do we stop people thinking we don’t grit? We tell them on Twitter.

But that hits one of the great conundrums about social media for an organisation. Organisations use it to get real life results. They want ticket sales or units shifted. But social media is a conversation. If you use it well you’ll use it with a human face and with a human voice.

So, maybe we need to be two things.

We must talk with a human voice when using technology to those outside the organisation.

We must talk solutions to those within.

Picture credit 

TEA AND INNOVATION: Are we, like, getting mainstream, now?

It’s a bit rubbish following an event online if you know they have good cake, good people and good ideas.

Especially when you’re hungrily sat work at 9 o’clock at night and could really murder a slice of Victoria sponge.

 Last night I followed Brewcamp’s first outing to Coventry, this time organised by Kate Sahota and Karen Ramsey-Smith.

 What’s Brewcamp?

 It’s a few like minded local government people in the West Midlands who want to innovate, share ideas and learn things. We speak nicely to a cafe or bar owner who has wifi to set aside some space for free, set a date, set-up an eventbrite for tickets and then come up with a few topics people want to talk about.

 Looking down the list of attendees for the Coventry event the name of Sandwell Council chief executive Jan Britton stood out.

 Jan has already carved something of a reputation with his blog. It’s accessible to members of the public as well as staff. It’s a great thing and you can see it here.

 Unconferences like Brewcamp are great for sharing ideas and learning things. They’re informal and, heck, they make work fun. You don’t have to be an expert. You just need to turn up.

 Previously these things have always been the haunt of the enthusiast willing to give up their time and often pay out of their own pockets to attend.

 A running undercurrent debate at them is often that ‘this is great but how do we get the suits here?’

 In other words, how do you get senior management?

 Three things have made me think this brilliant approach is dangerously close towards making a breakthrough to the mainstream.

 First, to have a first local government chief executive like Jan Britton to attend one of them is actually pretty significant. Let’s stop and think. He’s a talented man. He’s also busy. By actually coming to an unconference he’s opened up the door for others in his organisation.

And in other people’s organisations.

 Second reason? The media are starting to take notice. Sarah Hartley at The Guardian ran an excellent piece on her time at localgovcamp in Birmingham. The LGC ran a two page spread on what makes things like localgovcamp work. They put some of it up online to non-subscribers.   Hats off to it for covering it.

As Ken Eastwood, an assistant executive director at Barnsley, wrote of those who attended:

“In many cases they are frustrated by their lack of influence and by local government’s resistance to change and bottom up innovation. It seems clear to me that this needs to change. We need to be more agile, more adaptive and better able to encourage and nurture grass-roots, low cost creativity.”

 A third reason? It’s clear also that the traditional events sector has woken up to the creative side of unconferences too. The PSCF event in Glasgow will have an informal side to it in the afternoon with masterclasses.

The SOLACE conference in October, for senior officers, will also incorporate an element of unconference creativity too.

It would be hopelessly naive to think that we’ve won the war. But we’re slowly winning lots of important battles.

In local government in 2011 it’s clear we need to innovate and encourage new ideas. It’s not if but how.

As the excellent Nick Hill from PCSF says, mainstream is essential otherwise you basically remain like ‘Fight Club.’

Creative commons credits:

Paul Clarke UKGovcamp

Modomatic Tea

I LIKE: How Local Government can do Facebook

Heard the one about the council Facebook group with two friends?

It’s up there with forgetting the rings on your own wedding day for how not to do it.

Back in the day you had to be a fan of a council if you wanted to see what your council was doing on Facebook. Thing is, not everyone did.

As a platform, it’s a behemoth. Theres 500 million registered globally and more than 20 million in the UK.

Today there’s some brilliant examples of how Local Government can use it.

If you believe in the argument that you go where the debate is – and everyone sensible does – then Facebook is a must.

How to do it well as an organisation?  Go to Coventry. They do it brilliantly. Look, observe and learn.

The story of just how they do it is well covered in this blog by Steve Woodward from a talk given by Ally Hook at the Coventry and Warwickshire Social Media Cafe. There’s also this natty video of her talk if you want it direct.

Ally Hook is one of the good people on Twitter. I’d spoken to her before launching our own council’s Facebook fan page.

What’s her secret? Simple. The main messages I took are:

  1. Use the language of the platform.
  2. Be laid back.
  3. Don’t call yourself  ‘Council.’ Call yourself  after the area you represent, if you can.
  4. Don’t have a logo. They switch people off.  Have a nice picture of the place you represent.
  5. Don’t update too much. People will get bored and stop ‘liking’ you.
  6. You can delete abusive posts.
  7. Use a fan page not a Facebook group. You’ll get a breakdown of amazing stats on people who like you.
  8. Interact. Talk to people. They’ll talk back.

Coventry went from 300 to 11,000 in weeks when they started to use Facebook as an outlet for school closure updates.

There are other examples of good work too. Check out this exhaustive study by Ben Proctor . Belfast City Council do good things, as Ben quite rightly points out.

Should this be the only way Local Government uses Facebook? Of course not.

For venues and events it works brilliantly. Anywhere where there is a community it can work. People respond strongly to bricks and mortar far more than they do to institutions. Have a look at the Warwick Arts Centre, New York Public library or Solihull libraries.


Creative commons: Facebook wants a new face SM Lions 12

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