So, there we were 10 minutes before 6am at the start of #walsall24 and still not sure if it would work.
What was this? We were using Twitter to tell people a snapshot of all the things our council did in real-time over the course of 24-hours from a pothole on the A41 to a Zumba class. Nothing would be too small.
We’d got some content lined-up. Lists of scheduled work from road engineers, leisure centre programmes and had someone stationed in the social care contact centre in the small hours.
Would it work? We checked our first potential tweet and knew that it would… it was environmental health officers investigating a noisy cockerel in a built-up area. Wow. I didn’t know we did that.
From there, we took part in the first Local Government Association #ourday and hosted the first discussion of a #housingday for housing.
We’ve learned things since and from this experience here’s 12 things to help shape your day.
Routine is interesting. From the jet pilot to the parking officer, everyone thinks their job is boring and no interest to anyone else. It always fascinates other people. Find the routine and share that.
Realtime is interesting. One of the strengths of Twitter is the realtime aspect of things whether they be football results or road closures. Tell people as you do it.
Pictures work and video works better. Words of text don’t leap off the screen like an image or footage. You have a smartphone in your pocket. Use it.
Share the sweets. Let other people from across the organisation tell their stories in realtime.
Tell stories. The boiler being installed in Brown Street, Oxdown is great. The boiler being installed for Jessie Timmins who has two children aged five and nine is greater.
Get people to do something. Stories of what librarians are doing are fine. Asking people to sign-up to join the library or to take out a book is better.
Shout wider… the world is not on Twitter. So embed the content on your website, use something like storify to capture your tweets and embed it on the relevant webpage.
Shout wider… and use other platforms. There’s this amazing website called Facebook that’s doing quite well. Whats App or Snapchat too. Experiment. Don’t stand still.
Shout wider… internally. By screenshot, email, poster or telephone call. The telling of the story shouldn’t be limited to just online. Take it offline too.
Best content comes from outside the office. Encourage those people who are out and about to use social media and in places where they don’t or wouldn’t shadow them for a while. If the street cleaner clears up rubbish in an empty street at 6.12am… does she?
Use the main account as Match of the Day highlights… and use others. This is where the wider network of linked social accounts works. Let the library talk on the library, the repairs team on theirs. Use the central one to collate and share.
Build a community from it. Update your A-Z list of council accounts. Bring the people connected to them together. What worked well? What didn’t work well? Meet in a café at 4pm where they serve coffee and cake. Do it regularly.
With social media dedicated frontline people can brilliantly provide a human face to champion the work an organisation is doing.
Morgan Bowers, Walsall Council’s senior countryside ranger, is a pioneer of this approach and has worked to innovate around how people outside the comms team in the public sector can do to really connect with people.
Seeing what she does blows away any institutional objections that comms people may have to opening up the gate to allow people outside comms to use social media. She connects using Twitter, Facebook, Scribd and a range of platforms not because they are there but because they serve a useful purpose.
Morgan is what happens when you open up social media use at an organisation to allow people to use social tools not as a one-off project but every day.
For my own part, I’m hugely proud of Morgan because I helped shape the open door access for frontline staff when I was at Walsall Council. In short, this was an appproach which saw people invited to come forward with ideas on how they could use social media. If their manager was fine and they were willing to have a chat we let people get going. One thing we did make sure of was that we got people to undergo some basic training for a couple of hours wiith a reminder that the code of conduct still applied online as it does offline. We also had six golden rules based around common sense that we asked people to abide by. Then we let them get on with it and were at the end of a phone if they needed help.
I’ve lost count of the number off times during training I’ve pointed to what Morgan is doing.
So, it was great to catch-up with her sat on a log in the middle of Merrion’s Wood surrounded with birdsong to chat to her to create a Soundcloud podcast you can hear here:
Morgan started the @walsallwildlife Twitter account in March 2011 which has grown to 1,700 followers. She looks to update every working day and finds that pictures work well. This may be a newt survey or volunteers repairing a fence. She’ll look to respond to people and will try and answer when people have a question. For events, the real time element of Twitter works really well as well as joining in wider discussions.
With more than 300-people added to her email list people who aren’t on social media can still keep in contact. If you come to a session you can get added to the mailing list to get updates on events being staged by the Walsall Council countryside services team.
For Morgan, the people liking her page are more from Walsall than further afield. Why? Maybe this is because Walsall people sign-up for it and when they comment thekir friends comment when they see them commenting or sharing an image. It becomes self-fulfilling but people are less inclined to click on a link to navigate away on Facebook than they are with Twitter. But they are more likely to share an image and ask what that particular plant or animal is.
Pictures are taken by Morgan at events and while she is out and about and then posted to her own Flickr stream as a record of where and what things have been done.It builds up a useful image library not just of the places Morgan looks after but provides sharable content that can drive traffic.
Being passionate about wildlife Morgan was keen to get information out about the bee populations in Walsall and how people could help. She created a download which was titled very ambitiously The Bees of Walsall: Volume One. It got 2,000 downloads in a short space of time. If a niche subject like bees and Walsall can achieve wuite a lot in a short space of time just imagine what will happen with a more mainstream subject that people are really, really keen to hear.
Morgan has recorded audio trails around places like Merrions Wood in Walsall where she can record short sound clips. She makes QR codes on laminated paper cheaply and then puts them up across the wood so people with smartphones can directly access the clip. The beauty is that it is cheap to do.
What’s the downside?
Is it all good? Are there times when there is a chalk mark in the downside column? Absolutely. ForMorgan, the grey area between work and life can be a problem. She has her own Twitter account where she can talk about other things on days off. But she does often respond when someone on Friday night asks what to do with a baby bird.
So, what’s Morgan‘s return on investment?
For Morgan, the drive for using social media is not to do it for the sake of it but to connect with people. Still do the traditional commss like the press release to reach some people but overwhelmingly the web of Twitter, Facebook and email can be the way that Morgan sells out her activities and sessions which is an important way that she can quantify how effective her and her department is.
The Meteorwatch events that draws people to Walsall venues to help observe meteor showers has gone from attracting just 20 people to brining along up to 3,000 people which is a staggering figure.
In all my years in local government I’ve not come across anyone so Militantly passionate about the job they do than librarians.
So, it was great to be able to sit down with 12 of them and talk to them about social media and how it could work for them. Walsall Council countryside ranger Morgan Bowers came along too and I’ve hardly finished a training session over the past few years without pointing to her as an excellent example of what a frontline officer can do with social media.
For those that don’t know she blogs, she tweets, she Facebooks and she posts images to Flickr. She’s also written an e-book entitled with great confidence and surity ‘The Bees of Walsall Vol: 1.’ Almost 2,000 people have downloaded the e-book which for me redefines how you should approach an audience.
Firstly, here are some links which show what is possible. It’s vital to look outside of the sector that you work in which is what we did here.
Some basic principles
‘Organisations Don’t Tweet People Do’ is a book by Euan Semple. Even if you don’t buy the book – and you should it’s great – then think of the clear advice that sentance gives. Human beings respond to human beings and not logos.
‘Be human.’ is good advice on how to engage with people over the social web. In fact it’s good advice for life.
‘The 80/20 principle’ is a good way of looking at a great many things. On the social web it works out as 80 per cent conversational and 20 per cent the stuff you really want people to know. So be sparing with your library events and talk – and share – about other things.
DVLA’s I Can’t Wait To Pass My Driving Test Facebook page – because it shows that putting aside thr logo and even the name of the organisation works if you get the people to pay attention to pay attention: https://www.facebook.com/mydrivingtest?fref=ts
Images work really well and there are a couple of resources. You can link to images you find anywhere. It’s the neighbourly thing to do and you are driving traffic to their website so people will be fine about that.
But remember not to abuse copyright. Don’t ever right click and save an image hoping you won’t get found out. There’s a Google app for just that. But what you can use are images which have been released with a creative commons licence. Basically, creative commons allows the re-use of pictures so long as you meet basic criteria. There are several types of licence so check to see which licence has been attached. Often people will be fine for re-use so long as you attribute the author and link back to the original image.
You can brighten up book discussions amongst reader groups, or author visits, or bounce and rhyme stories by recording them with people’s permission and post them to Audioboo or Soundcloud. These are applications that gives you three minutes of audio that you can share with the web or embed in a webpage.
Video works great. You can make your own or maybe there is some content around a theme you are looking for. The First World War, for example. Create your own channel or search and share what is there. Look out for the comments section here. They can be a bit ripe.
It’s amazing how once you take a few doggy paddle strokes in the shallow end that all this makes sense and you start over time to get a return on the time you put in. There are no quick fixes. A few minutes a day will help you and as with anything what you get out is what you put in.
Here are 11 things you could do as librarians
1. Record an interview with an author on Audioboo or Soundcloud and post to your Facebook, Twitter or email list.
2. Post details of events to your social media accounts. Use something like hootsuite to schedule when the messages appear so if needs be repeat the message at a time when more people are likely to be around. Lunchtime, first thing in the morning and evening are times when people tend to be online more. Don’t forget though, if you are cancelling the event, to unschedule any queued content.
3. Share things that other people have posted. If it is in your geographical area and a public sector or third sector organisation have posted something share it or retweet it. You’ll find that they’ll be more inclined to do the same.
4. Use a popular hashtag on Twitter around a TV programme. Check the schedules. A link to a book or DVD on dancing or dress making with sequins may work with the hashtag #strictly while Strictly Come Dancing is being shown on a Saturday night.
5. Connect with other librarians so you can build a network of other people doing a smilar job to you. This works especially well with Twitter.
6. Use an image of a cat from compfight that has a creative commons licence – see the above – to illustrate a campaign on cats and other animals. What you have on your display shelf or window can be repeated online too.
7. Create a Facebook group or a Google group – which works with email – for a reading group.
8. Post book reviews from librarians on your website and onto the social web.
9. Take a picture – with people’s permission – of people using the library or people taking part in an activity.
10. Be creative. Ignore all the above and use your imagination. Make your own case studies.
How much difference does it make to add a picture to a Facebook update? Lots. Or to be more precise 147 per cent.
That was the figure when we posted two updates within minutes on a broadly similar subject.
The first celebrated a Britain in Bloom win for towns in Walsall Council’s boundaries with a picture of flowers in Aldridge drew 37 shares, 88 likes and an audience of 3,,508 on the authority’s Facebook page. I’d be the first to admit that this image isn’t the most arresting in the world. But it says both place and colour and that’s enough.
The second posted without a picture a few minutes later celebrated recognition in the same competition for a school and nine pubs. That drew four shares and 12 likes with a reach of 1,415.
Okay, the subject matter is slightly different: towns compared with school children and popular pubs. But there’s enough there to draw some conclusions.
It’s an approach that the ECB takes when the England Test team are playing. It’s something I’ve written about before. Rather than just posting a text score update they post an image of the man of the moment with text too.
If you can, adding text through a simple picture editing tool is a great idea. A phone number or a message works. For that you can use Google’s own Picasa3 software.
What do the numbers teach us?
Firstly, sharable content is important on Facebook and in this case so is a celebratory upbeat message.
Secondly, people are really keen to share messages. Obvious. But it’s important to remember this.
Thirdly, having a stack of pictures available to you is helpful.
But where do you source pictures?
This is potentially a bit of a minefield. No, you can’t go to Google images right click and save. Copyright applies to images online just as much as they do online and people have ended up in hot water. Google also allows people to search for a specific image online so if you think you’ll be safe hiding in the fire hose of information that is the web think again.
Your image library?
The basic fact under the 1988 Copyright and Designs Act is that when someone takes a picture they retain copyright. Even if you have paid them. If you’ve, say, commissioned a freelance photographer to take some shots of a night market you are buying a licence to use them for a specific purpose. That can be as broad as marketing and promotion on your website, in print and with the local paper. It may not include social media and you’ll need to check this with the photographer. This NUJ link on copyright and photography is helpful.
And by your own I mean one that you’ve taken yourself with your smartphone or camera. Handy if you have time and ability. Not so good if you need an image of flowers in a town centre at a moment’s notice.
You can, but it costs. Istock is one example of an online image library but there are charges. It’s even more for a Getty shot.
One of the great things about the social web is the ability to share. Creative Commons licences are licences which a photographer – amateur or professional – can attach to an image when they post it onto an image library. They’re basically saying that they’re happy for their image to be re-used under certain laid out conditions. The US government, for example, releases virtually all images with a creative commons licence.
So where do I go for creative commons images?
Without doubt the best place on the web is compfight.com. This is a site which works with Flickr’s API to search for key phrases and words. It also searches through a variety of filters from the non-creative commons to the creative commons to the most liberal of all – commercial creative commons which allows a broader re-use.
It’s not great for specific locations, I admit. There’s a handful of images creative commons for Walsall, for example. But it comes into its own when you need a stocjk pic, like boxing gloves, a coffee cup or clouds in a sky.
It’s a brilliant site. But please, don’t forget to attribute and share where the picture has come from. It’s what makes the social web work.
Legal disclaimer: Always, if you need specific legal advice go and see a lawyer rather than base it on this or any other online advice.
Sometimes a press release just isn’t enough to tell a story. Living day-to-day as a carer can be tough. To give a flavour of just how tough Walsall Council comms team members Tina Faulkner and Becky Robinson live tweeted four hours to show – with sensitivity – how dementia affects the life of one couple Sheila and Ron. You can follow it here and you can also read their story here. But this one powerful story is just part of a wider drive to highlight often unseen work carried out in social care in Walsall. Tina explains the background to the innovative campaign which uses a mix of old and new media:
If I could wear a t-shirt that best describes how I feel about work right now it would bear the slogan “I heart Social Care”.
I can see some of you now, exchanging a knowing look with your laptop or iphone and thinking, “Yep, she’s a social worker.”
Not a bit of it. In fact I’d be a rubbish social worker. I’d just want to scoop everybody up and take them home with me and we just haven’t got the room. Plus the retired greyhound would have something to say about that. He’s very set in his ways.
No, I heart social care as a press and pr officer who is working to try and dispel some of the myths about this area of work and highlight some of the innovative things that are going on. The things that are making a real difference to people’s lives and should be shouted about.
I have been working with my colleague Becky Robinson, a public information officer, to run week-long multi-media “events” called Who Cares? (see what we did there!) to show a side to social care that’s not picked up on.
The first one we did was last November and we featured the story of a paraplegic man who left residential care after 27 years to live independently, with support.
We Tweeted the calls coming into our social work teams which ranged from adult safeguarding tip-offs to families and carers wondering how to make life easier for loved ones leaving hospital.
We also showcased the stuff done by the community social work scheme which can sometimes be a simple as helping someone find a friendship club in their community to get them out of the house a few times a week.
And our Neighbourhood Community Officers got a look-in too as they go into some seemingly hopeless situations and bring about a sea change.
All in all it was a great week and we know it made some people sit up and take notice.
So it seemed only right to do it all again. And make some more people sit up and take notice.
This time round we’re tweeting from the home of a lady who cares for her husband with dementia to try and convey the relentless demands and challenges that this role brings and to try and make us all a bit more aware of dementia and mental health issues.
We’re tweeting from a carers’ consultation session too and featuring the partnership work being done in our communities to offer people of all ages, something to do and somewhere to go.
And we’re looking at people with learning and physical disabilities who were sent out of the borough for care many years ago, away from their families and communities, who are being supported to come back.
If we can achieve this in social care with all of its perceived “barriers” we can achieve it anywhere.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from all this it’s “Don’t assume people won’t want to speak about their experiences.”
In our experience they have no problem with speaking up – it’s getting people to listen that’s the key.
You can follow the tweets from @whocareswalsall on Twitter or via this link on CoveritLive:
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.
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.
Worth waiting for has been an informal project between the Walsall Flickr group and Walsall Council.
Faced with an empty Tesco supermarket in the centre of town a debate was started on how to fill it.
A chance comment from a Flickr member Lee Jordan made some time ago came to the fore. He is @reelgonekid on Twitter.
Wouldn’t it be great, he said, some time before if shots of Walsall taken and posted to Flickr were displayed in an empty shop window?
Wouldn’t that be better than having an empty shop?
So, that’s just what we did.
Walsall Council’s regeneration town centre team have Jon Burnett working to improvce the town centre. He came up with the funding and picked up the ball. The landlord was agreeable. Jon helps run @walsalltown on Twitter, by the way.
I helped Jon ask the wider Walsall Flickr group if they’d like to take part and were pleasantly surprised at the response. You can see the original conversation thread here.
More than half a dozen members submitted more than 30 shots and our print and design team who then pulled together a design with some town centre information.
We added a picture credit and a link back to the photographer’s Flickr stream. That was important.
There’s plans to redevelop the site and Primark and The Co-Operative are lined up to move in some months down the track.
When that happens the vinyl images will be taken down. But until then bright, creative people of Walsall have a chance to celebrate their work and their town.
According to a Local Data Company report there are more than 28,000 empty shops. That’s about 14 per cent of all the 202,000 shops in England, Scotland and Wales.
This isn’t an answer to all any town centre’s problems. It’s just a good thing to do to ask local people to display their work and brighten up empty shops.
A slide show of the Walsall town centre Flickr window by Stuart Williams can be seen here.
Lee Jordan, whose inital idea it was, took a set of pics including this one.
Mayors in Walsall go back to the 13th century. Yes, children it’s safe to say that even pre-dates Friends Reunited.
What helped spread the word then was probably a Town Crier with the useful profile of having a loud voice in the marketplace where people gathered.
Today, the landscape has changed. But a voice in the place where people gather is still important.
Since May when Cllr Garry Perry was appointed to the post he’s been successfully experimenting with digital channels. As a 33-year-old he’s the borough’s youngest ever appointment. As a Facebook native and as at home there as in the Council Chamber it made sense for him to experiment using the channel.
He’s also used Twitter and connected with the Walsall Flickr group. Jokingly, Cllr Perry has spoken about creating the Mayor’s Parlour as a location on Foursquare so he can become Mayor of that too.
But is this just a gimmick? Or have lessons been learned?
A Facebook page was created for the Mayor of Walsall. The idea was to allow the Mayor to post updates and pictures from his phone when out and about. The aim was conversational. It also helps give an idea of where the Mayor had been and the people he’d met. It’s not a dusty civic position. It’s carried out by a person. For an organisation for people.
The stats speak for themselves. More than 160 people have signed up in about six weeks. There has been more than 8,000 page views in a four week period and people have responded posting enthusiastic comments. It’s clear that successful events also draw-in enthusiasm from residents.
The events functionality also allows a good way to flag up fundraisers.
As the Mayor of Walsall Cllr Perry says: “It’s been brilliant for getting feedback from people and for connecting with them. When you’re at an event you can post that you’ve been there with a picture. There’s still a tremendous respect for the office of Mayor and it’s good to be able to meet people. Using things like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr have really helped reach a different audience.”
More than 180 people and organisations have signed-up with updates of visits and fundraising. Cllr Perry’s sporadic previous account was re-named @mayorofwalsall.
A Flickr meet was staged where members of the excellentWalsall Flickr group came along to the Mayor’s Parlour and Council House one Saturday morning.
More than 200 shots were posted by six photographers to a specially created group to capture shots for the day. It was a chance for Walsall people to visit the 1905 building and meet the Mayor. As a visit it was a success. Those who came took some excellent pictures and Cllr Perry’s – and the Mayoress’ – easy going and informal approach saw the council giving a good account of itself. Staging a Flickr meet at a council venue is something I’ve blogged about before.
As a spin-off, and by no means the purpose of the event, the photographers were happy for the authority to re-use the posted pics for the website or for other marketing. That’s a good thing whichever way you look at it. You can see the pictures here.
Yes, we’ll do the traditional things too for old media too. That’s part of the repertoire.
Lessons to learn
1. It can put a human face on an organisation. As Pc Rich Stanley does for West Midlands Police in Walsall so Cllr Perry does for Walsall Council. They use social media to put a human face on the organisation that can sometimes be seen as remote.
2. It depends on the individual. A social mayor who is at home with the channels or willing to learn will prosper. A remote character with few social graces and mistrust of technology won’t.
3. Little and often works. Updates on the routine day-to-day tasks work really well. Don’t think you need to crack the front page of the local paper with every update.
4. It works best if the Mayor writes it. A voice can be unique and despite being a fairly politically neutral post it’s not for council officers to update on people’s behalf.
5. Be prepared to JFDI. Not everything with social media has a 100-year-old record to it. That’s a given. So just try things out.
With Walsall 24 we told the story of what a council did across a borough in 24 hours.
With Walsall Town Centre 100 we’re looking to go a step further and tell a different story.
We want to tell a hundred things about the life of a town centre across seven days from May 17 to 23 2011.
It’s not just about litter getting collected this time. It’s the faces on the market, the people in the shops and what gets done to keep people safe and protect law and order.
In effect it’s the council, the police, businesses and other partners joining forces to tell people what they do. It’s also about letting residents speak with Q&A sessions for key people.
All these factors make up the life of a town centre.
In many ways, Walsall is a typical town. It competes against bigger neighbours in Birmingham and the Merry Hill Shoping Centre in Dudley 14 miles away.
There’s three indoor shopping centres, 400 shops, an 800-year-old market, a circa 1905 Council House, a New Art Gallery, two museums and a 35-acre Arboretum giving a splash of green on the edge of the town centre.
It’s a town with civic pride built on the leather industry and one that was once known as the town of a hundred trades – hence the name of this experiment.
What are the channels?
We’re looking to use the council website walsall.gov.uk, the Walsall police web pages, Twitter, flag up some locations on Foursquare and also keep people informed via Facebook. There’s even geocaching too and a Flickr group to celebrate the beauty of the town.
The purpose is not to use a whole load of web tools just for the sake of it.
It’s to talk to people on a platform they might want to use.
How can you follow it?
You can take a look at three main Twitter accounts as well as the #walsall100 hashtag.