WE LIKE: Ideas for a good Facebook page timeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The getting started: ‘We need a Facebook page’

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

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

What does good content look like?

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

With Facebook timeline, what’s the same…?

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

Don’t be stuffy and formal.

Be sociable.

But we all know that, don’t we?

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

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

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

Admin

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

You can have a cover pic

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

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

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

You can still have a profile pic

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

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

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

You can create and add content to a historic timeline

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

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

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

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

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

What the edit page button can do

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

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

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

It’s also probably worth adding the swearing filter.

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

This star post thing

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

The pinning a post thing

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

Insights are your new best friend

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

Don’t forget to use Facebook as a page

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

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

A successful Facebook page makes lots and lots of noise offline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOCIAL SOUND: Can We Use Audioboo In Local Government?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intro to Audioboo from Mark Rock on Vimeo.

Why bother? Here’s NINE good reasons

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

How do I do it?

Go to Audioboo and create an account.

Press record.

When you are happy post it to the web.

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

It’s that simple.

How about some examples?

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

CHANNEL SHIFT: Picking the right voice to tell the council news story

You know the good thing about listening to different voices? Sometimes you get a different perspective.

That’s certainly true of Adrian Short, a web developer, who has written two excellent posts that comms people really do need to read. The first How to Fix Council News you can read here. It deals with a frustration that very few councils do council news on the web terribly well.

At best it’s a cut and pasted press release.

The second piece from Adrian is a 12 commandments for council news. It’s good thought provoking stuff and like the first post I don’t agree with all of it there’s enough there to think and reflect about.

Here are a few extracts:

Too long, too dull and far too pleased with itself. Little more than an exercise in vanity publishing. Irrelevant to the vast majority of people.

What’s this? 400 words on a benefit fraud case that didn’t even result in a prison sentence, complete with lengthy quotations from the magistrate and the lead councillor.

Now here’s 700 words on an upgrade to the council’s IT system that won’t be noticed by a single resident.

Sadly this useful information is presented, like the rest, in a turgid press release style. Residents are asked to plough through a huge slab of words that’s hard to scan for the essential details. The text is laden with contrived quotations from people no-one knows that rarely do anything more than state the obvious. It finishes without a call to action. It’s a wonder that anyone bothers at all.

There’s more points in the second blog post of commandments:

News is for residents. Press releases are for journalists. Thou shalt mark the distinction and honour it in all thy labours.

Thy reader is not an Editor and does not require his Notes. Likewise, his news shalt end when it ends, not when he espies “ENDS”.

Every comms person should read this stuff. Even if you don’t agree with all of it, it’ll make you think.

What is true is that council news is often steeped in the traditions of print. Many press officers a drawn from newspapers which makes sense as for decades newspapers and the council newsletter have been a prime source of information. The press release is tailored for the newspaper. It has a snappy intro, a quote from the relevant elected member and notes for editors. For newspapers it works. For the web, less so.

What’s needed is one approach for print, a different approach for the web and a different approach for each social media platform.

News is print + web + social media. Each of these needs a different voice.

Trying to bolt one format onto each of those doesn’t work.

So, how long before someone gets hired for their Twitter skills alone rather than their ability to write a press release?

Creative Commons credits

Reading newspaper http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/4659576761/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Newspaper iphone http://www.flickr.com/photos/yjv/4123045194/

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/

SLIDESHARE: Case studies on connecting people using social media


Once upon a time clip art was once cutting edge.

No, really. It was.

Back in 1997, the first Walsall Council website sported a dancing light bulb.

No, really. It did.

There’s also a notice telling people that the website was under construction (it’s slide number two on the presentation embedded in this post.) If you’re on a mobile device the embed may not be showing. If that’s the case the link is here.

We need to evolve, learn and innovate. Nothing demonstrates that better than the late 90s webpage frozen in time showing Billy the Bulb and one giant leap for a council website. Time has moved on and we need to too.

At the Socitm Learning from Better Connected event at Manchester there was plenty of examples of innovation.

Not least the forward-thinking webteam who ripped up the rule book and re-designed the liverpool.gov.uk website based on what people want rather than what officers think people want.

Here’s my preasentation that I’ve posted to Slideshare.

Included on it are:

Some stats on internet use.

Some stats on the mobile web.

A quick map of the Walsall media landscape 2011 and 2005.

A quick case study on engaging with the community through Flickr.

A quick case study on two hyperlocal sites: WV11.co.uk and Pelsall Common People.

How a countryside ranger can tweet from the sharp end.

Some stats on Walsall 24 which saw us live tweet for 24 hours in real time.

All good stuff for 2011, but you can bet your bottom dollar in 13 years time when we’ll All have robot butlers it’ll seem a bit tame and dancing lightbulbesque.

Quite right, too.

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

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