GREEN DIGITAL: How parks and countryside can use social media…

If William Wordsworth was alive today he’d be using Twitter.

Not the old stick-in-the-mud he became but the young man fired by revolution.


Why? Because he celebrated the English countryside through the media of the day.

How we think of the landscape was shaped by Wordsworth. Before him, mountains were frightful places. After? Beautiful. And Willie cashed in with an 1810 Guide to the Lakes that was the iphone app of its day.

Exploring how our countryside team could use social media made me trawl through some examples.

Whoever said places work can really well on social media were bang on. That’s especially true of parks and countryside. So how is social media being used by to promote the countryside? There’s some really good ideas in patches out there but nothing fundamentally game changing that makes you sit up and write verse. That says to me that there is plenty of potential.

Photography should be at the heart of what the public sector does with countryside and parks. Why? Because a picture tells a 1,000 words. Because they can bring a splash of green into someone’s front room or phone at one click. Criminally, many sites should be promoting the countryside relegate images to a postage stamp picture.

Here are 10 interesting uses:

1. The British Countryside Flickr group has more than 4,000 members and some amazing images. It’s a place where enthusiastic amateur photographers can share pictures and ideas.

2. Peak District National Park chief executive Jim Dixon leads from the front. He blogs about his job at and tweets through @peakchief. It’s a good mix of retweeting interesting content and puts a human face on an organisation.

3. Foursquare, Walsall Council added a landmark in a park as a location. The Pit Head sculpture in Walsall Wood was added to encourage people to visit and check-in. You can also make good use of ‘tips’ by adding advice.

4. On Twitter, @uknationalparks represents 15 UK national parks run a traditional Twitter feed with press releases, RTs and some conversation. With 2,000 followers it’s on 145 lists.

5. But you don’t have to be in a national park to do a goods job. In Wolverhampton, @wolvesparkies have a brilliantly engagingly conversational Twitter stream. There is passion, wit and information that make most councils seem the RSS press release machine that they are.

6. National Trust have an excellent Facebook profile. You may get the impression that members are 65 and own a Land Rover. That doesn’t come across here. They observe one of the golden rules of social media. Use the language of the platform. It’s laid back and it’ll tell you when events are planned.

Yorkshire Dales by Chantrybee
Yorkshire Dales by Chantrybee

7. Even more relaxed is the quite new I Love Lake District National Park is quite brilliant. It allows RSS, it blogs and it really encourages interaction. Heck, they even encourage people to post to the wall so they can move shots into albums.

8.  On YouTube, West Sussex County Council have a slick short film on tree wardens that deserves more than 45 views in five months. Or does this show how much take up there is on YouTube?

9. The rather wonderful is an ambitious online tool for images of 6,500 parks and gardens and the people who created and worked in them. @janetedavis flagged this up. It’s a project she worked on and she should be proud of it. There’s a school zone to to connect to young people too and is populated by google map addresses and photographs. Really and truly, council parks and countryside pages should look like this but mostly don’t.

10. Less a government project, or even social media Cumbria Live TV celebrate the landscape they work in utterly brilliantly. Slick and powerful broadcast quality three minute films do more than most to capture the jaw dropping awe of the fells. They self-host some brilliant films on a changing site. Check them out here.

EIGHT things you CAN do aside from write bad poetry about daffodils and shepherds called Michael…

1. A Facebook fan page to celebrate a park or open space. Call it I love Barr Beacon. Yes, the Friends group can use it as a meeting place. But naming it after the place not the organisation leaves the door open to the public too.

2. Give a countryside ranger a Twitter account. Use @hotelalpha9 as an inspiration. Let them update a few times a day with what they’ve been up to. Post mobile phone pictures too.

3. Despite a dearth of amateur good examples there’s potential in short films to promote countryside. You only have to point a camera at something photogenic for people to come over all Lake Poet.

Flowers by Vilseskogen

4. Start a Flickr group to celebrate your patch of countryside. Walsall has 1,000 acres of parks and countryside with amazing views and vistas.

5. Start a blog. WordPress takes minutes to set-up and after messing around only a short time to master. Tell people what you are up to. Whack up a few images. Lovely. For no cost.

6. Make your countryside and parks pages a bit more web 2.0. Use mapping to set out a location. Use Flickr images – with permission – to showcase the place.

7. Add your parks and countryside to a geo-location site such as Foursquare. If the future of social media is location, location, location then venues, landmarks and places will score big.

8. Text. With more mobile phones in the UK than people sometimes the humble text message can be overlooked as part of the package of ways to connect with people. Most councils are also text enabled. Create info boards around a park or countryside with numbers to text to recieve info on what they can see. Change it for the seasons to make best use.

Picture credits:

Newlands Valley, Lake District, UK: Dan Slee.

Wordsworth: Creative commons courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Yorkshire Dales: Creative commons courtesy of Chantrybee

Flowers: Creative commons courtesy of Vilseskogen

MY C90: Mixtapes are the original social media

Once upon a time there was something more powerful than Twitter, MySpace and Facebook combined.

It was a platform that brought people together and allowed a you a chance to paint on a blank canvas with music.

This, ladies and gentleman was the mixtape.

This was a cassette filled with tracks you’d selected. It wasn’t just art. It was an art.

For over 25s the mixtape was the status update of the day. They could be a love letter, a  sign of friendship or the grandstanding of musical knowledge. All recorded across two sides of a C90 cassette with 45 minutes on each side (or if you were a real oddball, a C60).

From the 1970s to the mid-1990s the cassette was a standard medium for music. With my bedroom too small for all but a ghetto blaster cassettes were the way I listened to music. I wasn’t alone. As a teenager, music was massively important. It help shape who I was. Through it all, mixtapes were how I circulated my thoughts.

Brian Eno used to make mixtapes for his mates. He’d record slow classical music movements back-to-back. They were a prototype to the ambient music he pioneered.

“Composers hadn’t caught up,” he recalled on BBC Radio Four’s Frontrow .

“People didn’t buy records and sit at home between two speakers listening to an LP.

“They bought music and they were cooking or washing up with music in the background.

“New technology means new music. Always.”

In 1990, more than 400 million cassettes were sold in the US. Many for home taping and unlike the slogan no, it didn’t kill music. But what did die was the cassette as a popular platform. By 2007 barely 200,000 cassettes were sold in the US. Those figures are likely to be reflected in the UK.



When making mixtapes I’d arrived at a series of golden rules. Always start with two fast paced corkers one after the other. Make the third slower. Surprise with a build between fast and slow. Be unexpected. And never, ever let the tape run out before the track finished. Ever.

In High Fidelity, Nick Hornby’s story of a music obsessive the mixtape is a way repressed men could communicate. He impressed his girlfriend with a mixtape.

In the late 1990s powered with red wine I  compiled a cassette for a girl.  With Stereolab, The Stone Roses, The La’s and The Beatles it was a combination of care and bravado. Just enough sensitivity with a layer of cool disregard just in case.

The girl who I made that tape for 12-years ago, dear reader, is now my wife. The tape? Somewhere in the loft.


A rather marvellous conversation on Twitter sparked the idea of Mixtape night classes. Like woodwork or macrame these skills could be kept alive at Stafford College. What would those sessions look like? Check @janetedavis’ quite excellent Mixtape night school syllabus. There is input there from @sarahlay and @jvictor7 too.

Feel free to contribute your own…

Creative commons credits

Cassettes Erica Marshall

Mixtape links

Philip John’s excellent blog on how Spotify risks failure by not tapping into the social side of compiling play lists is here.

Jim Anning’s Twitpic of his mixtape. I could have had a borrow of that back in the day. The shot is here.

A mixtape USB stick. The dream present for geek music lovers over 25. Amazing. Thanks to @cahrlottetwitts it’s here. 

You can rely on Flickr for having a mixtape group. They’re here.

Steph has written a fantastic post about the mix CD that her chap James game to her in the mid-1990s. It shows brilliantly the stories behind the homemade selections. Read it here.

Epic visionary Sarah Lay has written a  great piece on what the mixtape means to her. It’s a great read and it’s here.

Jamie Summerfield blogged about how a mixtape helped provide the answer after his father died. You can read it here. 

This is genius. An idea by Andrew Dubber for a mixtape making service was picked up by a Canadian web developer who created this wonderful, amazing, brilliant thing here.

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…


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.


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.


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?


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?


Sarah Lay’s blog on Christmas social media activity.

Snow disruption: Shouldn’t we be using the internet more? By @johnpopham

An argument why #socialmedia in snow is vital for #localgov. Top piece by the excellent @timhobbs

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

Pic credit:


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 Content: general tweets.

2. THE SERVICE AREA. Eg @anycouncil_libraries Biog: updated by Kim. 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.

SAVE BENNO: Case study: How a sport team used social media to take on the establishment

Months before Stephen Fry turned Twitter’s guns on injustice a happy band of cricketers got there first.

Instead of Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir the target was the heirarchy of a Midlands village cricket club.

Angry at the ousting of Fillongley 2nd XI cricket captain Richard Bennet the Save Benno campaign was launched.

Inspired by Barack Obama, Soccer AM and Top Gear the Save Benno online campaign was started across a blog, You Tube with more than 300 views and Twitter with 440 followers.


It raised a smile, support and pressure on the powers that be.

Every time the club’s committee tried to outflank the campaign with the club’s rule book it was across social media. They appeared wholly out manoevred by the protesting players.

The campaign was designed by frustrated player David Howells and his team mates.  In the end they were beaten by the club’s committee. But was it all fruitless? Not entirely. A point was made.

It was also an imaginative marker for how a campaign using social media could be waged.

What could be the first cricket match arranged over Twitter was also played as a result. Looking for a fixture Save Benno used Twitter to broadcast an appeal.


As press officer for Stone SP Cricket Club and a Twitter user the fixture was a no brainer.

The game was excellent, except for my comedy run out with just 1 run on the board.

Aside from this, it was an excellent match decided by a boundary hit on the final ball.

Footage shot on Flip was taken for a Sky Sports-style highlights package. After much beer was drunk in the Pavillion that idea got kind of scaled down.

Instead an A Team-style You Tube calling card was made for more fixtures.


1. Social media are excellent campaigning tools.

2. Sports teams looking for fixtures can use Twitter.

3. Sports teams should use Twitter to broadcast score updates.

4. Flip video highlights packages for You Tube are a brilliant idea.

5. Brilliant ideas are dreamed up over a beer.

6. Cricket is a superb sport played by superb people. It’s just the administrators that let it down.

7. If you are not part of the conversation (in this case the committee were not) you look leaden footed, slow and unresponsive.


The Save Benno blog

Save Benno on Twitter

Save Benno on You Tube

MY BLOG OBSESSION HELL: How cake brought people together through Social Media

pic credit: jimbosussexmtb
Originally uploaded by


Okay. Quiz time. So when was it I realised I took my blog obsession just a little too far?

Was it a) when supermarket giant J.Sainsbury’s started tweeting us?

Was it b) when the excellent @sarahlay designed a superb google map around it?

Or perhaps c) when I loaded my two poorly children and drove to a garden centre just to photograph a piece of cake so I could write a 140 review blog post?

We sat there in the complex’s empty cafe the three of us. Joe, aged five. Libby, one, and me looking every inch the out of touch divorced dad who has no clue of what makes his children tick any more.

I’m not divorced by, the way. I just have a very tolerant wife.

“But Daddy,” said Joseph, aged five. “You don’t like gardening. Mummy says so. Can’t we go to the park? I like the park.

“No, son.” I tell the hopeful faces. “We can’t go to the park.”

“Why, Dad, why?”

“Because, Joe, They don’t sell cake there.”

I write a blog about cake. I’m quite partial to the odd slice but its never ruled my life.

The blog was founded in August It has received 1,400 hits in eight weeks with almost 60 blog posts. It tweets @mmmmmmcake with 150 followers.

Amazingly, there have been 15 contributors so far from as far afield as Mumbai in India, Nova Scotia in Canada and Brownhills in England. They are people who love cake and enjoy the ridiculousness of pointing a camera at it in a cafe and sharing it with the world.

So why Dan, why?

It began as a wheeze. Make mistakes on your own rather than for your organisation. Besides, I wanted to better get to grips with wordpress.

Why cake? A chance remark on Twitter sparked it.

I introduced a friend new to Twitter. Silence. No followers.

“This is @sarahjpowney. She loves cake.”

Within seconds she had been welcomed on board the Twittersphere with open arms by several people.

“Cake brings people together,” @jaynehowarth enthusiastically tweeted.

She’s absolutely right.

I tweeted a picture of a cake I’d taken in Shropshire. It led to 40 hits on my flickr page in a day.

@brownhillsbob then responded with pics of his own in a kind of sponge and frosted icing arms race.

The penny dropped. This needed a blog to bring things together. From there it’s grown.

But the best bit?

It’s not actually the cake I’ve liked about doing this. It’s the enthusiasm and ideas people are having sparked by cake.

Cake really does bring people together.

The google map by @sarahlay, the Indian contributions by @rbx, the Nova Scotian contributor @halifaxcakes.

There’s a man in Sussex who blogs and photographs cakes with a skill of a baking David Bailey and zeal of a Cuban revolutionary.

All magic.

Then there’s parallel blogs @mmmmmmwine and sweets and chocolate versions by the writer’s children. There’s @mmmmmm_beer by Stuart Harrison (@pezholio) and @mmmmmmcurry by Philip John.

So what lessons to learn?

Any good social media project is listening, collaboration, trial and enthusiasm to be fun.

Having something that people connect with helps. Whatever that may be. Cake or a passion for your estate, model buses or football.

Twitter has been brilliant for this. It taps into the network of social capital. Post the blog. Post the tweet signposting people to it. Marvellous.

Joe’s favourite cake is chocolate, by the way. He’s rarely happier eating it. Me? I’m partial to Mrs Slee’s flapjack.

Birthdays are nature’s way of telling you to eat more cake. So, happy birthday.

And can you send me a quick review?

Thanks to fellow cake blog contributors:

@brownhillsbob, @smartmatt, @stu_arts, George Cunningham, Clare Slee, @rbx, @englishmum, @jaynehowarth @lindasjones, @jimbosussexmtb, @sarahlay @philipjohn, @halifaxcakes, @thetalleygraph, @pezholio, @darrencaveney

And send your reviews to:




SOCIAL MEDIA?: When Twitter put a human face on the global meltdown

Pic credit:
Recession Britain
Originally uploaded by The real Derryn


I have a name for the recession. It’s not Gordon. Or Barack. It’s Alan.

Alan? Alan who?

Alan South. Or rather @alaricthegoth.

Let me explain.

Alan lives in the South of England. He was made redundant some time ago from the financial services sector. He’s victim of the credit crunch like millions of others.

I started following Alan on Twitter after seeing his details tweeted by BBC’s morning flagship show BBC 4’s Today Programme.

He was one of four jobless people selected for regular updates.

He has children. They’ve grown up now. He supports Spurs. He’s tickled sometimes when I talk about my children from time to time.

He encourages me occasionally when I get down about my football team, Stoke City.

He’s a good man.

It’s one of those impermanent Twitter relationships. Occasional 140 character snippits that give tiny fragment snapshots into a character.

We kid ourselves if we get to really know people through social media, don’t we? We can’t really be too bothered about what happens to them. Can we?

That’s what I thought.

It was a while since I noticed @alaricthegoth’s tweets. With Twitter’s ease of follow and unfollow  you can’t be expected to know what all are up to.

Which is why I was suprised at myself when I came across Alan breaking a silence of several weeks.

I’d finished putting my 17-month old daughter to bed. With her asleep in her cot I felt the tired elation every lucky parent knows at the end of a long day.

With feet up I idly scanned through the tweets.

I follow a mixed bag of people. The entertaining. The social media savvy. Local gov people. News updates. Black Country people. The man who takes a picture a day from the Clent hills.

As I scrolled down I noticed @alaricthegoth back online. But as I read I was stunned with Alan’s bleak tone.

“Thoroughly fed up,” the first tweet read. “Nothing, but nothing new. No interviews since I can’t remember when. Am sending new cv but zero responses. Still.”

He continued: “BBCs Today prog interviewed me again yesterday, going out at 7am tomorrow.

“Last few quid runs out soon, I’ve cut everything down to the bone but I won’t be able to eat and have broadband/mobile/electricity soon.”

More worrying still:

“Next step is gradual slide into homelessness.”

That worried me. And it worries me still.

Of course, I sent him tweets to cheer him. He thanked me because that’s the sort of chap Alan is.

It bothered me that he was down. It made me remember my spell on the dole post-University in 1993.

Unable to get a job I was reduced to living at home drawing benefit once every two weeks.

It was the blackest time of my life. The shadow that time cast can still send a shudder.

This is not a political blog. Or even a recession blog. It’s a blog about social media. And people.

Twitter is a resource unimaginable to previous generations.

In real time it can bring you the news stories.

But it can also bring you the pain behind those stories. It’s a pain that can address you personally.

I’d like to be able to tell you that @alaricthegoth has found work. I’d like to say that Alan’s BBC interviews and tweets have led to a fairy godmother benefactor. It hasn’t happened.

I’m still hoping for a happy ending.

But I still believe in Alan.

Because he is a good man.


Originally written as a guest blog on

JUST BE SOCIAL: 27 ways to give your organisation a smiley face with Twitter

Originally uploaded by Maniackers Design

Channel 4 news reader Jon Snow apparently once told a Local Government conference: ‘The trouble with you lot is this. You do wonderful things. You’re just a bit boring.’

As an ice breaker it’s bold. Trouble is, he’s right. Partly.

Councils deal with people. They help them in all sorts of ways with 800 services – many of them amazing.

But how do you give them a human face?

That’s where Twitter can work brilliantly for councils.

Since April ’09 Walsall have used Twitter.

We were within the first 100 councils in the world and with @walsallcouncil we’ve had more praise than criticism.

We’ve been asked a few times for how we do it. That’s very nice to hear but we certainly don’t profess to have invented it all ourselves. In fact we’re still learning.


If there’s is a secret? Good listening. 

For a kick-off we listened to what Nick Booth had to say. Nick – @podnosh – showed us what was possible. He’s a hugely inspirational and talented man who specialises in social media for social good. You can find out more about him here – or someone like him – can put you at basecamp equipped with an ice axe, crampons and goggles.

We also listened to Alastair Smith @alncl at Newcastle City Council who was generous with his time. We also paid attention to David Hamilton at @fenlandcouncil for their chatty approach. We also looked at the excellent research work of @liz_azyan @barryearnshaw as well as @sarahlay. Amongst others. 

Seeing as I’m unavoidably detained from #localgovcamp in Lincoln here’s a note of what we learned next.


1. Tweet for yourself first. Take some time to get to know the platform, how people use it and the language they use. Then you can tweet as an organisation with confidence.

2. Do use a human voice. Be polite. Be helpful. Be approachable.

3. If it helps, think of Twitter as walking into a pub. There’s some friendly people. There’s some who are a bit misinformed but friendly. There are some who are just plain hostile. If you can’t move the conversation on, don’t take part. If you can, do.

4. Don’t argue with an idiot. My Uncle Keith told me this. It’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard. If someone is being daft you really don’t have to engage with them.

5. Do respond within 24 hours. Many councils have a promise to respond to a letter within 21 days. In the world of social media that’s just too slow. By the time that letter is sitting on the doormat the debate will have been long lost. Even a ‘thanks for your tweet, I’ll pass on your comment,’ will be appreciated.

6. Do have a deputy. It’s great you are in charge of the Twitter account. But get someone to stand in if you’re on holiday.

7. Do Tweet everyday. Frequency builds an audience.

8. Do tweet out of office hours from time to time if you can. You may well reach a different set of people. They’ll be impressed you have.

9. Don’t tweet by committee. You’ll end up with a camel. Take a steer from someone if needs be what the answer should be but writes it yourself.

10. Do use the search button to see what people are saying about you. And then get involved in the conversation if you need to. Be polite and point people to where they can get help.

11. Don’t use RSS. This is the automated service that sends out a message based on your press release intro. What works well on social media is a human face NOT a machine. Don’t do it. Please. You’ll be missing the point.

12. Don’t put out an out-of-office.’We’re going on holiday now. Back in three weeks.’ It. Looks. Rubbish. At a push switch to RSS.

13. Be named. Put your first name in the organisation biog. It at least shows a human face.

14. Change your profile pic regularly. Landmarks and seasonal shots work better than a shrunken logo.

15. Re-tweet. RT. This means you’ve read something interesting and you’ve cc’d it to your group of followers too. If its a third sector or public sector tweet that’s relevant. That’s the spirit of social media. eg RT @walsall_hospice great to see so many people at our fundraising event at the Arboretum yesterday.

16. You are allowed to #followfriday. This is where you can recommend good people to follow. If you are a council suggest other council departments that are on Twitter. Or maybe a local charity.

17. Do use smileys if the need arises : ). It’s part of the landscape of Twitter. But use it wisely. It won’t be appropriate next to a link to the death of a former Matyor : (

18. Do listen and feedback. Forward comments to the right place. Let officers know what is being said. It’s a good listening device.

19. In the long term think of Twitter for services. Have a general council one. But think about one specifically for jobs too. Or planning applications. Or library events. Or maybe any of the 800 services. 

20. Use pictures. They’re full of win. Link to pics on flickr the photo sharing website, for example. You’ll also build connections with your community.

21. Live tweet an event or a press conference. Widen up the event to a bigger audience.

22. Use hashtags. Hashtags are a way of joining in a wider conversation. For example the hashtag #iranelections saw over a million tweets a day at its peak.On a more routine level put the name of your town or borough in. eg #Newcastle, #Derby, #Brownhills. Or even the service #environment #libraries or #countryside.

23. Be prepared for people saying unpleasant things about you. But remember that they’d be saying it about you anyway. This is your chance to listen and connect.

24. Get used to the fact that you can’t control Twitter. But by being part of it you can take part in the conversation.

25. Be prepared to speak with hyperlocal bloggers. They’re part of the conversation too.

26. Keep a note of what you do month by month. Analysing the impact of social medioa is still in its infancy and there are no clear universally adopted industry standard ways yet. An average followers multiplied by tweets gives an opportunities to view-style marketing figure that is compelling to those within the organisation. In Walsall in June, for example, there were 40,000 opps to view. Even accounting for the fact that Mashable says that 20 per cent of accounts are dormant that’s a serious figure.

27. Let people in your organisation know your social media activity. Keep them in the loop. A monthly update should do it.

That’s a long list. It works for us. It may not suit your organisation.

If it seems daunting rewind to point 1. Stick with it. You’ll get there. Make a few mistakes under your own flag.

There’s a stack of best practice out there. Take some time to look at how other councils do it.

Have a look at:





@cultureleisure – great use of Twitter by a council department. 

But also keep tabs with social media by following:

@mashable – Anglo American daily social media blog for people who don’t usually read blogs. Full of good research

@scobleiser – US social media commentator.

@davebriggs – UK local government and third sector commentator

@paulocanning – UK local government and third sector commentator

@liz_azyan – brilliant and inspiring UK local government researcher and

Local Government: Check Liz’s list of good people to follow of Twitter:

Check the LGEO Research list of Councils on Twitter:

IF A PICTURE SAYS 1,000 WORDS – How pictures can brighten up your Tweets

Originally uploaded by mattmurray74


Striking pictures can deliver striking stories.

That’s been the case since the first monk in a windswept Northumbrian monastry inscribed Biblical scenes on velum.

Good pictures leap from the page. They do in social media too.

It’s amazing how this can be overlooked. Some Twitter feeds concentrate so heavily on RSS-heavy slabs of text they can have the appearance of a 19th century newspaper. All content. No pictures. Not much in the way of fun.

At a time when most phones take servicable pictures and digital cameras come free with a tank of petrol there really, really is no excuse.

Pictures can work amazingly well on Twitter to liven up your organisation, group or council’s Twitter feed. It can give a few soft edges, give it a human face and make your place a lot greener and more attractive.


But the really big potential engine for all of this is flickr, the online community of amateur photographers.

The most amazing pictures are being taken by amate

Flowers in a Walsall churchyard by Matt Murray
Flowers in a Walsall churchyard by Matt Murray

ur photographers armed with enthusaism and a passion for taking good pictures.


1. The Twitter profile pic.

Marvellous as most corporate logos can be the truth is it was never designed to be shrunk to the size of a Twitter postage stamp. Stick some flowers on. Or a landmark. Go, on. Brighten up people’s lives. We’ve had a statue, flowers from a garden and a horses head from a museum. Mind you, that wasn’t too popular and we had to ditch that.

2. Use your mobile and tweet.

That thing in your pocket. Sunny day? Nice view? School being opened? Take a picture. Share. Enjoy. Connect. You’d tell your friends , so tell your Twitter friends. Go to and post on Twitter from there. It’s a brilliant, brilliant resource. (Our countryside team have been particularly good at supplying pics.)

3. Find your flickr group

This is where things get really interesting. For all your lofi efforts with your Nokia you’re going to have to work hard to beat an image taken by a craftsman. Or an enthusiastic amateur.

Search flickr for your town or community. Chances are there will be scores of pics. In the Walsall, for example, there’s a thriving community of more than 70 contributors with 4,000 images.

There’s some brilliant, brilliant work. Look out for the Four Seasons garden flickr feed from Walsall with more than 100,000 hits.

The best thing is with flickr there is a real web 2.0 willingness to share and link. People are very happy to have their work showcased.

4. Tweet a flickr pic

Now its time to get interesting. Choose a pic. Cut and paste the URL into a link shortening site. Something like is brilliant. It’ll keep tabs on how many people open and when.

The industry average for click-throughs is about three per cent, say Mashable. For apicture posted to Twitter it can be three times that.

Top tip: countryside shots and sunny pics go down ever so well.

5. Stage a Flickr meet

Contact the organiser of your flickr group – or photographic society – and invite them down. Those war memorials, Mayor’s Parlour curios and rooftops may get a cursory glance if you work in a Council House. They may well be a source of some great pics.

6. Start your own flickr feed.

If you are a group, an organisation or have a stake in an area a flickr feed works. Newcastle City Council, for example, have their own flickr site. It’s a place where good quality pictures can be seen and downloaded. A word of caution of you have a massive back catologue of freelance commissioned shots. Check with them first to see if they are happy for you to do this. Photographers own the copyright of shots they take. Even if you’ve paid them for them. What they’ve most likely given you is a licence to use the images in a certain way. Which leads to…

7. Link to a freelance photographer’s site.

If a freelancer has done work for you they may well be happy for you to direct traffic to their site to view one of the pictures you’ve commissioned. In fact, they’d probably be ecstatic. Everyone wins. Your followers are treated to good images and they get some web traffic. 

Do all this, you’ll connect with people, you’ll take part in amazing conversations, you’ll promote your area and you’ll encourage talent.

If a picture says 1,000 words, why aren’t you using it in 140 characters?


@walsallcouncil #PicoftheDay

Walsall flickr group

Countryside in Walsall posted via Twitpic

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