A while back I helped with some comms planning for a web project that aimed to link members of the community with groups and clubs in their area.
There were more than half a dozen around the table. On the face of it, I quietly reflected that this was worthy but what was the point?
My misgivings were answered by a bright community worker. He told the story of a hypothetical man aged 66 who had just lost his wife. He may start drinking. He may start getting ill and see his GP. He may start being a nuisance to neighbours and the housing authority and police may get involved. All of this costs the taxpayer spiralling amounts of money. Suddenly, the project came alive. We could attach a financial value to the benefit it brought.
“Oh no,” another voice around the table said. “We would never work that out. That’s not what we do.”
But it’s the voice of the bright spark we need to listen to and the naysayer we don’t.
I’ve blogged before that we need to look finance in the eye. We absolutely need to justify what we do and using pounds shillings and pence.
Now, a massively useful tool is with us. The download ‘Measuring the Financial Value of a Subscriber’ has been published by Govdelivery at the Public Sector Communications conference in London. They’ve worked with respected communications consultant and academic Guy Dominy to work out the value of an email subscriber. The figures and approach, they say, translate to social media too.
Dominy nails it in the opening paragraph:
“The demand for financial accountability is now more than ever before one that public sector communications can no longer afford to ignore. This means we must not only be able to say exactly what we are investing in our communications but we must also place a financial value on the impact of our communications.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Forget likes, sign-ups and shares. The real test of how effective your communications is what people have done as a result. This is what AMEC’s Barcelona Principles addresses. After research, the Govdelivery whitepaper shows the value of an email subscriber is £1.51. That calculates the benefit to the individual, the organisation and society in general.
Here are some numbers to think on
Weather warnings – Every death on the roads costs £2 million, serious injury £200,000 and minor injury £23,000. They’re Department for Transport figures. So reducing this figure saves drivers, fire, police and NHS staff.
FOI – costs local government £35.5 million in staff time with 121,000 requests costing £293 each. Better communications to keep people informed can reduce this.
Children in care – the cost of sending children into the private sector can cost more than £120,000. The cost of fostering in-house can be less than £30,000.
They’re three of the hundreds of things that government – local or central – does but dig and you have numbers attached. Dominy argues that there is value in that:
“Conceptually, you multiply the probability a subscriber will carry out a particular action by the financial value of that action. If a subscriber has a one in ten chance of doing something that is worth £1,000 to you, that subscriber is worth £100 to you.”
The good news is that Dominy sets out a process to help you calculate the value to individuals, organisations and society.
To download the Govdelivery ‘Measuring the Financial Value of a Subscriber’ whitepaper by Guy Dominy click here.
Okay, so here’s three things that may just help you fall off your seat a little bit. Or at least raise an eyebrow.
Boom! Email can be a bit sexy. Not shiny hipster Apple sexy but in an effective way of communicating with people kind of a way.
Boom! I’m seeing one of the key roles of public sector communications is to point people at more efficient ways of contacting them that’s going to make them happier and save the organisation a stack of money.
Boom! Somebody somewhere in a restaurant had a service so very bad they spelt out their complaint in mustard and ketchup.
Here’s 20 things I learned from the excellent Govdelivery Delivering Real Value to the Public Through Effective Use of Digital Communications 2012 event at the National Audit Office.
1. Bad customer service can be repaid in ketchup
Gerald Power from Trapeze used this rather fabulous slide that told a rather splendid story. Person or persons go into restaurant with wipe-clean tables. Nobody comes and talks to them for half an hour. They spell this out in condiments, take a picture, post it to the web and leave. It’s a perfect tomato-based illustration of where we are with customer service in the social web.
If people just ain’t happy they’ll tell their friends. In creative ways that will go viral.
2. Email is…. sexy?
Actually, bad email is always bad news. The sort that clogs the inbox. The cc to far. But cutting through the rubbish, email does have results as a comms channel. Clearly, govdelivery are keen to stress their product which helps government deliver opt-in targeted emails on request on a whole bunch of subjects. But actually, there’s some pretty good results. Thinking it through, wouldn’t mind opting in as a parent for child-friendly events in the borough where I live. Or winter school closure updates.
3. Comms is essential
As one speaker said, the role of comms in delivering the changes needed in local government is central, fundamental and essential. That made me think a little.
Research by accountants PWC has worked out the cost of local government contact by residents to resolve a problem. For face-to-face it’s £10.53, for telephone it is £3.39, while post costs £12.10 and online just 8p.
One of the roles of comms teams is to help point people at the channel that’s most effective to help save money.
So point people at more efficient ways of talking to the council and you’ll earn your worth as a comms team. That’s just a bit important.
Here’s some other things from the event:
4. There are 650 UK gov services (bar the NHS) costing up to £9bn a year but 300 have no digital presence at all.
5. The new gov.uk domain has saved £36m savings pa by moving from directgov and businesslink.
6. There’s a government target to save up to £421m from #localgov by digitisation.
7. The UK gov could save up to £1.7bn by digitising more.
8. Investment in comms is critical for local government.
9. There’s no need for fancy emails. Simple, to the point and effective for MHRA audience.
10. The digital by default line for UK government isn’t just coming from digital people. It’s coming from the heart of civil service too.
11. There’s no universal best time for an email as each campaign is different.
12. Don’t automate social content. Re-shape it.
13. Only way to realise cashable benefits from digital is headcount reduction and estate rationalisation.
14. A quarter of UK adults and half of all teenagers with smartphones and 77 per cent have broadband.
Before the internets were invented life must have been so dull. Y’know, really dull.
You wrote a press release, you organised a photocall and once in a while TV and radio would show an interest.
A few years back the yardstick of success where I work was getting the local TV news to come host the weather live from your patch.
There’s been a change. Like a glacier edging down the mountain valley blink and not much has happened. Come back a while later and things have unstoppably changed.
Truth is, it’s a fascinating time to be a comms person. We’re standing at the intersection between old and new.
Former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans once said that he loves newspapers but he’s intoxicated by the speed and possibility of the internet. That’s a quote I love.
Here’s another quote I love. Napoleon Dynamite once said that girls only like men with skills. Like nunchuck skills, bo staff skills or computer hacking skills. For a digital comms perspective Napoleon’s quote could be applied there too. What you need are social media skills, press release skills and interactive mapping skills. And a bit more.
Sitting down recently I calculated the many strings to the bow that are now needed. I counted 37 skills, abilities and platforms I’m either using on a regular basis or need to know. Some more than others. Or to use Napoleon’s parlance, bow skills.
Out of interest, and to save me time in googling their associated links, here they are:
The ability to understand the detail and write in plain English.
The ability to understand the political landscape.
The ability to communicate one-to-one and build relationships.
The ability to work to a deadline.
The ability to understand comms channels and what makes interesting content on each.
Write a press release. The ability to craft 300 words in journalese with a quote that’s likely to tickle the fancy of the journalist who you are sending it to.
Use Twitter. To shape content – – written, audio, images and video – in 140 characters that will be read and shared.
Use Facebook. To shape content – written, audio, images and video – that will be read and shared.
Use Wikipedia. To be aware of what content is being added knowing that this belongs to wikipedia.
Use LinkedIn. To shape content – written, audio, images and video – that will be read and shared.
Arrange a photocall. The ability to provide props and people to be photographed and to work with a photographer and those being photographed so everyone is happy.
Use Flickr. To source pics, to post pics to link to communities, to arrange Flickr meets.
Use Pinterest. To source pics and share your content. To build a board around an issue or a place.
To understand when print marketing may work. Like flyers or posters. Yes, even in 2012 the poster and the flyer are sometimes needed as part of the comms mix.
To understand when information can be better presented visually. Through a simple piechart. Or more interestingly as a word cloud or via wordle. Or if its packets of data in spreadsheets or csv files through things like Google Fusion Tables or IBM’s exploratory Many Eyes.
To understand what they are and how they can work. In print for a specific community like an estate or a town centre or via the free under 2,000 emails a month platform mailchimp to deliver tailored newsletters by email. There’s the paid for govdelivery that some authorities are using.
To make sense of information overload and keep a things. With things like pinboard.in you can keep tabs on links you’ve noticed. Here’s mine you can browse through. For campaigns and useful interactions you can also use storify to curate and store a campaign or event. You can then embed the storify link onto a web page.
To know the right channels for the right comms. Social media shouldn’t just be a Twitter and Facebook tick box exercise. It should be knowing how and why each platforms works for each audience. Same goes for the smaller but important platforms like Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and Flickr.
To know what’s on the horizon and be prepared for it when it lands. Same for emerging fields like Augmented Reality. What is science fiction today will become commonplace in years to come. People like hyperlocal champions Talk About Local who are already working in this field.
To know how to measure and when to measure. The measurement for traditional comms have been around. Potential readership of newspapers. Opportunities to view. Opportunities to see. The new digital landscape doesn’t quite fit this and new ways are being worked out. There isn’t an industry standard means just yet. But the gap has been filled by those who claim to be. The very wise Dr Farida Vis, who took part in the Guardian’s acclaimed research into the English riots of 2011, pointed out that sentiment analysis wasn’t more than 60 per cent accurate. There’s snake oil salesmen who will tell you otherwise but I’ve not come across anything that will be both shiny and also impress the chief executive. Tweetreach is a useful tool to measure how effective a hashtag or a tweet has been. Google Alerts we’ve mentioned. Hashsearch is another useful search tool from government digital wizards Dave Briggs and Steph Gray.
To connect with colleagues to learn, do and share. Twitter is an invaluable tool for sharing ideas and information. It’s bursting with the stuff. Follow like minded people in your field. But also those things you are interested in. Go to unconferences. Go to events. Blog about what you’ve learned and what you’ve done.
To truly understand how the web works you need to use and be part of it. That way you’ll know how platforms work and you can horizon scan for new innovation and ideas. It won’t be waking up at 2am worrying about the unknown. You’ll be embracing it and getting excited about it’s possibilities.
Good comms has always been the art of good story telling using different platforms. No matter how it seems that’s not fundamentally changed. It’s just the means to tell those stories have. That’s hugely exciting.