Working in local government at best can be inspiring and life affirming. At worst can feel like a cross between a natural disaster and the battle of the Somme.
Great landslides are appearing overnight in an old familiar landscape and the normal ways of doing things have gone. I loose count of the number of bright people I know who have left or have been forced to leave.
Against that backdrop the LGA have reacted to a major funding cut by calling into question their walled garden Knowledge Hub be closed. The thinking is that this job can maybe be done by social media without the need for an expensive to maintain website and small army of mostly voluntary curators.
I feel for those in the LGA worrying for their jobs. I’ve been there. Those at risk would rather Knowledge Hub closed in a flash if it meant their jobs were saved. I know I would. When you are in a trench being shelled old soldiers would recall how you would hope the next shell doesn’t land on you. You are not thinking of innovation and better concrete-lined dugout.
If unconferences like localgovcamp is a kind of digital Glastonbury which brings the cutting edge together then the Knowledge Hub is the Top 40. A mainstream place to ask questions.
I’m an infrequent visitor to Knowledge Hub and I get my ideas and inspiration from Twitter. But I know that this isn’t for everyone.
I help with comms2point0 whose blog gets 10,000 visitors a month for comms people. I know how much work it takes. I simply don’t see similar platforms emerging for the 600 tasks local government does.
I’ll leave the debate on what and how to others like Steve Dale who were involved in the original concept for how Knowledge Hub should look and know that it didn’t quite work out that way.
The truth is obvious. There is a need for a central safe platform where people can ask, share and be inspired in. It’s madness to think otherwise.
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Talk to anyone who uses it and the answer is often the same. “Bloody London Midland. Late again. Only their @londonmidland has told me why. In a human voice. So I can’t quite bring myself to hate them.”
There are lessons there for all of us.
When local government started to use the social web it needed to buy into the idea that this was going to be two-way and a place where people ask questions. We can’t just tell people the latest announcement. People aren’t waiting for us to post them links to a press release. They want a place where they’ll be listened to about potholes, bin collections and things that matter to them, too. Maybe then they’ll wear some of the things we’d really love it if they listened to.
It’s a measure how things have become mainstream when questions via Twitter get plugged into customer services too.
Vodaphone UK emerged in a recent Socialbakers study as the most connected with almost of 80 per cent of incoming tweets answered. When the channel was established it was primarily a customer services tool, the company say.
Jan Rezab, Socialbakers CEO, says Vodafone UK is particularly well set up for social customer service because it applied itself to the format early on by structuring up its internal trained team to handle queries.
Rezab says: “Brands should apply themselves, it’s more authentic when it’s a trained employee of the organisation answering your queries. Companies have to be ready – and it’s actually cheaper to reply to questions via Twitter than it is a phone call.”
That’s not to say that social should only be customer services. Or comms. If people are talking or asking questions then local government needs to be there too.
The ‘why bother?’ question
If you’re asking why bother have a customer services team at all you’re the absolute last person to think about the social customer services stream. If you think that people should be helped in the channel that works best for them you’re onto something. Once, all customer services used to happen by letter. Then the telephone was invented. And email. We responded to them because that’s where people wanted to be helped. In short, we remembered that we are here to serve. Not the other way round. It’s been five years since local government started to use it. There’s at least 10 million UK users. It’s a good way to respond to issues in public to show that you are listening and also give out answers to a large audience that may need them too. In short you are being more responsive, more relevant and dammit, more helpful too.
The preparing to do it…
Have a dedicated customer services Twitter. Yes, I know your organisation probably has at least one already. But plan with scale in mind. You may be answering three or four a day now. But once your generic enquries email was doing that too. Just as you have different email accounts for different things you need different social accounts for different things too.
It should say when it’ll be monitored. 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday is fine so long as you make that clear. You’ll get more brownie points dealing with things out-of-hours but sometimes this just ain’t possible.
It should be staffed by real people. It should be authentic. Human. It should talk about the weather if it’s raining cats and dogs. That’s fine.
It should speak human. It should talk in a recognizably human way. Like real people do. It shouldn’t talk in jargon.
The actually doing it…
Start the day with a tweet from a real person. Close it the same way, too. Train operator London Midland do this beautifully.
Good afternoon, it’s Fi signing in for the rest of the day. Let me know if you have any queries (rail related!)
— London Midland (@LondonMidland) June 1, 2013
Acknowledge the query. People don’t expect fully formed answers within the hour to complex problems. They know life isn’t always like that. But they do want to know you are on the case. The tweet that says: ‘Thanks for your tweet. Will find out for you’ is fine in the short term.
Get back in 24 hours or less. And make a point of saying this on your Twitter bio.
Have a few people trained up. Not just one.
Never argue with an idiot, is what my Uncle Keith once told me. How right he was. How much of a web visionary he was, too. If you can help then help but if people shout, swear or troll you are probably better off spending your time answering other queries. Michael Grimes of the Citizenship Foundation’s seminal blogger engagement guide works well.
When in doubt think what you’d do if this conversation was taking place on the telephone. Which, when you think about it, is a lot more tricky than Twitter. You have to talk to people directly in real time. How tricky is that?
Use the channel as two way. Getting a flood of telephone calls about bin collections? Maybe a Twitter update and a piece on the website can help.
The working out if you are doing it right…
In short, you’ll find this out if people are asking you questions.
But yes, you can evaluate it. Don’t bother too much with follower numbers although that’s always nice. Keep a log on how many queries you dealt with each week. Then work out how much they would have cost you to deal with using other routes. The SOCITM stats for avoidable contact can help with this.For face-to-face it’s £10.53, for telephone it is £3.39, while post costs £12.10 and web just 8p.
Report the stats and the successes back far and wide. A satisfied customer is worth shouting about.
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Helping hand http://www.flickr.com/photos/9729909@N07/4970060350/
The @soldieruk Twitter aims to set out military best practice for social media use both for the job but also in military personnel’s private life.
Part teacher and part digital Military Policeman the account also taps people on the shoulder to let them know they’ve strayed across the line.
It’s also fascinating to watch how they strike the balance between adopting a voice that’s somewhere between the parade ground and the water cooler. A retro profile pic and reminders that ‘careless tweets sink ships’ does this rather well.
There are more than 200,000 British servicemen and women. There’s no way the digital genie can be put back into the bottle and it’s clear that social poses a real danger to the MOD as well as opportunity. It’s not just the giving away of troop movements that’s an issue. It’s the personal data that can put individual service personnel in harms way too. The murder of a soldier in Woolwich shows this.
When one serviceman tweeted about the far right English Defence League they were met with this from @soldierUK.
@exsacerdotal The views of the EDL, (like any extremist motivated group) are contrary to the core ethos & values of the UK Armed Forces.
— SoldierUK (@SoldierUK) June 2, 2013
There’s also more general messages too…
Are you running a Mil WAGs Facebook group? Think about making it a closed group and verifying members. #BeSafeOnline
— Roger Noduff (@Walter_Mitty007) May 31, 2013
In addition, there is general advice on how to use social media and to stay safe online. It’ll be interesting to see how the account pans out. Certainly, by embracing digital the MOD stand a far better chance of knowing the risks, pitfalls and opportunities. But with so many accounts to keep an eye on is just one team enough?
There will be some excellent speakers and there will I’m sure be much to learn. You can take a look at the line up from May 21 to 23 via a pdf here. The line-up is not available in a more a ccessible format, I’m afraid.
Last year, there was the profoundly depressing experience of a panel on social media being glibly introduced with the words: “There’s only two things wrong with social media. It’s not social and it’s not media.”
Thankfully, the person who uttered these words has since spoken of his sea change in attitude. There’s also a lot of digital on the agenda. There’s even an unconference slot with Lloyd Davis on Thursday afternoon which should be interesting.
Is traditional comms dead?
There’s also a Think Tank discussion I’ll be chairing on The Digital Debate: Is Traditional Comms Dead? That takes place at 6.30pm on Tuesday May 21. On the panel will be Eddie Coates-Madden of Hull City Council,
Eddie Coates-Madden, Assistant Head
of Service: Communications and Marketing, Hull City
Council, Gavin Sheppard, The Media Trust and Sara
Moseley, Cardiff University
Kuku Club, Park Plaza Hotel
With that in mind here’s five links that may fire some thought. See? I’ve even highlighted some key points to save you the bother.
Are comms the blockers?
Catherine Howe, of Public i wrote a useful summary of the commscamp unconference session in Birmingham asking if comms team are the single biggest block on good social media un local government.You can read the full text of her post here.
I think we have to conclude that communications are often blockers to social media activity but that they have good as well as bad reasons for acting this way. As the use of social media becomes more entrenched then I would speculate that this will become increasingly a question of organisational leadership rather than any specific practitioner groups and that it will be important to start discussing where that leadership should come from. If we want to start to see social media operating outside of comms then arguably that leadership needs to be external as well. The question of being good organisational customers of digital projects will perhaps be the next challenge we have to collectively face in taking some of the excellent best practice we see around us into more mainstream use and out of the ambit of a single team.
In defence of the press release
Local government press officer Kam Mistry wrote a defence of the pr here sparked by a different debate at commscamp in Birmingham earlier this year.
When you dissect it, you realise that the press release is a fantastic form of communication. You grab someone’s attention with a good headline, they then read your first paragraph and, assuming it’s still interesting, will continue to read the rest of it and then publish it. I suppose it’s a bit like the mating game – initial attraction, stimulate interest, maintain interest and then… oh dear this is turning into a Swiss Toni metaphor.
Yes, the press and media are having to evolve but they will be there for many years to come. Newspapers – in print and electronic forms – will continue to be key channels for effective communication and we really should not see them, or press releases, as anachronisms.
Put it this way. First there was radio and then television came along. Have we all thrown away our radios?
PR is dead and so are newspapers
Eddie Coates-Madden is part of the LGComms panel and wrote this on the challenge that traditional pr and newspapers face and a presentation he gave:
And I ended with my prediction of the future for journalism; that it will be fast, fast, fast; that stories are everywhere, not on a Press Release; that everyone can be a journalist (not necessarily a good one, but everyone can break stories and has the tools to publish); that journalists have become a brand in themselves; that broadcast without response is dead; that there will be ever more accountable journalism, more easy disgust, more easy offence and that accountability is every organisation’s to handle, and that there are more easily targeted campaigns and more moral tensions. activism is clicktivism and that might mean more and more difficult challenges, to freedom of expression, politically unpopular views, financial security, even – when wrongly done – to personal safety.
Death to the campaign!
Jim Garrow works in public health in Philladelphia. He writes a blog and updates it prodigiously. He has the uncanny ability to nail things. This post may be uncomfortable – nay challenging – reading for comms people at LGComms. But that’s why you should read it. He argues that campaigns are counter-productive and switching things on and off don’t work with people.
First, it assumes that our audience is there, available, placid and interested, during the time we decide they should hear our messages. If they are otherwise ready to lose weight, or set up a communications plan, or change the batteries in their smoke detectors, except for some family crisis that happens during our predefined “campaign time,” then they don’t get the message that they need to change their behavior. (This is a HUGE reason I despise days, weeks and months that celebrate or raise awareness for something; what, tuberculosis doesn’t matter the other 364 days of the year?
The other reason only communicating through campaigns is harmful is, in my estimation, infinitely worse. Say your timing works out and you get lucky and actually find someone who was patiently waiting for your message. Not only that, but the message is specifically tailored to the group she self-identifies with (because you’re still marketing to audiences and not everyone), and she takes action on it. She’s moved from Contemplation to Preparation based solely on your messaging. Congratulations! But, what happens when you end your campaign? Specifically, what happens to this wonderful person that you’ve prepped to be ready to move forward and actually change her behavior? Does she not move to the Action stage? Does she resent your messaging for leaving her hanging, alone? Is she willing to wait another year for you to become interested in her problem again? Will she even listen next time?
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There are four reasons why I’m not in the CIPR which is progress, I suppose, as there used to be five.
Of course, the optimist in me calls this a 20 per cent improvement year-on-year.
But the realist in me still thinks there’s an 80 per cent reason for me not to join. Just yet. Although there’s much I greatly admire.
The CIPR – the Chartered Institute for Public Relations – is an organisation based in London and represents PR people from across the broad sweep of the industry from the newest student to the most experienced agency chief. It costs £260 to join as a member with £50 of that being a joining fee.
They do good things
It’s also an organisation I do have time for. Their excellent CIPR conversation aggregates blogs from people across the industry and pulls them into one place. They’ll also be tweeted. Disclaimer: my blog gets syndicated there from time to time and Andrew Ross does a fine job in pulling all of this together. I learn things there.
I’m also quietly rooting for Stephen Waddington to become president in the current elections. Why? Because he’s from Northumberland. But mainly because he understands digital communications and sees its growing place of importance. Besides, he tweets pictures of lambs on his farm.
It was a Twitter exchange with Stephen and then with CIPR member Stuart Bruce a couple of days ago that prompted me to think just why I wasn’t a member. So, here are the reasons:
Four reasons why I’m not a member
1. I’m local government. I spend a lot of time in the trenches with my sleeves rolled up doing day-to-day comms that doesn’t easily fit into extensive comms plans. There’s definitely the ability to draw-up one page of A4 as a comms plan in 20 minutes that is a skill that draws on local knowledge.
It also means that having a budget to carry out strategy is largely a thing of the past.
2. I’m West Midlands. There’s no question that if I was in London with the events on offer this would be a different proposition. But a trip to the capital makes even a free event cost £50 and the activities in the middle of the country are scarce.
3. I’m public sector. With budgets cut it means that paying £200 to attend a day of conference isn’t ever going to happen anytime in the next 20 years.
4. There’s too many PR people. Stick with me on this. When we were getting our head around social media in 2008 case studies were rare and the CIPR seemed to be living in the past. A group unhealthily centred on print and talking a 20th century language of channels and key messages. The ideas that formed the bedrock of our use of social came from coders, bloggers, police officers and geeks who were busy inventing new envelopes to push to care too much about comms plans. They inspired us at events like localgovcamp and every day still do. As social tools become easier to access the role of comms is changing. It’s often those at the frontline who are doing amazing work and it’s the role of comms to inspire, train and give the green light.
I’m sure there are some hugely talented PR people who are re-writing the rule book. But there are many more rule books being invented on the web by others outside the traditional comms job description. These are the geeks that are inheriting the world that are taking code, messing about with and building things.
There was of course a fifth which isn’t always the case these days. The CIPR is not just understanding digital but doing some great pioneering work with it too.
No comms organisation can exist in 2013 without both eyes firmly on 2023 and not with it’s heart hankering for 1983.
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Telephones black http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicholasjon/4331186333/sizes/l/
Jo Smith has taken a massive step towards clearing her name and accepted an out-of-court compensation payment from Argyll & Bute Council rather than press ahead with her claim for unfair dismissal. You can read all about it in the Dunoon Observer.
Okay, isn’t this just a backwater story? Actually, no. If you work in local government, are a comms person or speak or have ever learned something at a conference this all is pretty significant. Had Jo lost there may have been a chilling effect on all three.
It’s an attractive story on the face of it. Council spin doctor accused by an anonymous source in the Glasgow Herald of saying at a conference she’s been spying using social media. Uproar at conference. Politicians get angry. She gets sacked.
Only thing was it was not true. There was no uproar at the conference. The story emerged four months after it took place. The comments some people attributed to her at the event were not made. People at the conference confirmed this. There were no spy accounts despite a thorough and expensive internal investigation. Jo even topped the feedback as being the most popular speaker with attendees. Some uproar.
Disclaimer: I was at the uproar-less conference and confirmed this less exciting version of events to the Glasgow Herald journalist who first wrote the non-story and failed to quote me. Or organiser Nick Hill. As a former journalist that’s, how shall we say, somewhat disappointing. I also contributed to the internal inquiry along with others who were at or spoke at the event.
You may have heard of Argyll & Bute Council before. They gave the world a world case study in how not to do social media. You may recall they picked a fight with an eight-year-old who was blogging on the Never Seconds blog about her school meals. Jamie Oliver and others came in on the child’s side and they were forced to climb-down. You just know you are on a loser when even a sock puppet makes up a song about you…
You can read BBC technology correspondant Rory Celland-Jones’s take on the Argyll & Bute Never Seconds debacle here.
By the looks of things there are enough people in Argyll & Bute asking questions that now need asking and I think that’s best left to people there.
Jo hasn’t commented on the matter but as organiser Nick Hill this week told Scottish media:
““I organised the conference where the allegations stemmed from and I told both the newspaper involved and the council’s investigation at the outset that Jo didn’t say any of the things she was accused of.
“This has been an extremely trying time for Jo, and I know she wants to thank everyone who has supported her: family, friends, the National Union of Journalists, colleagues and fellow communications professionals. This episode would have been much more difficult to weather without their efforts.
“I know Jo wishes Argyll and Bute Council all the success it deserves.”
Here are seven thoughts…
1. Would the Never Seconds blog debacle have happened with Jo Smith in her post? It was clear that there was no handle on how to respond to bloggers. Or how to respond when things started to go wrong. A Twitter account that was silent but being bombarded with angry tweets is a case study in how not to. It shows the value in having a digital communications-savvy comms person on the bridge.
2. This shows why it’s a good idea to be in a union. The National Union of Journalism stepped in to offer advice and legal representation. Not everyone knows it covers PR people too. I’m in it because you just never know when you’ll be in a situation that Jo found herself in.
3. Jo Smith is made out of stronger stuff than you or me. Weaker people could have gone under. Heaven knows there must have been some dark times but she battled through and can now hold her head up again.
4. It begs the question of what Jo now does about a sometimes digital foot print. In which some pretty vile stuff remains. She’d be entirely forgiven for taking a long hard think about that with her legal team.
5. There could have been a chilling effect on the sharing of knowledge across local government comms had Jo have lost. Many would have re-thought the benefits of speaking at conferences or even attending when the penalty for mis-quoting is the sack and potential career ruin.
6. Jo is an excellent and engaging writer. We were fortunate enough to take a guest post from her on comms2point0 last year based on her experience as a London 2012 games maker. You can read it here.
7. She now deserves to make a success of her life as she puts her experience behind her. With the determination she’s shown she will. Vindicat PR is her new venture and I hope she’ll continue as a contributor to comms2point0.
PRINT TRUTH: ‘Newspapers in print are clearly going away. I think you’re an idiot if you think that’s not happening.’Posted: April 12, 2013 | |
Fail to understand the changing landscape and very soon you won’t have a job.
It’s something I’ve been banging on about for some time now and It’s true whether you are a journalist, comms person or a fifth generation pit prop maker in 1983.
A bright person a few weeks ago told me that there would always be newspapers because they’d always be there.
People thought that about coal mines once too.
There’ll always be news but there’ll always be print newspapers? Really?
As the rise of Twitter as a breaking news medium and sites like BBC that’s just not the case.
Here’s an interesting few quotes from John Paton, CEO of Digital First Ventures who own, as their website says, more than 800 print and digital products that reach 57 million customers a month.
If you aren’t taking it from me take it from a news organisation that has a $1.3 billion turnover.
They are quotes that comms people need to know about because they represent more evidence of the seismic change in the media landscape.
But why switch to Digital First as a company name?
“Digital First is my name. I’ve been saying it long before I got here. The name originally was to say very loudly — in a headline kind of way — that what we thought we did in newspapers, we had to change dramatically. And that, of course, meant digital first.
“And actually “digital first, print last.” I wanted to hammer home that this idea about the Web as something else we do was ridiculous.”
“The Web was and it should be what we do. Print is something else that we do, which happens — at this moment in time — to have almost all the revenue. But that’s not going to be our future. It was something that I named to try to hammer home that message. It’s kind of funny — I don’t think they have a “digital first” strategy at Google. They have a strategy. The name, hopefully, if we’re successful, becomes very dated.”
On paywalls and digital dimes…
“I don’t think paywalls are the answer to anything. If we’re swapping out print dollars for digital dimes, I think paywalls are a stack of pennies. We might use the pennies in transition to get where we’re going.”
On newspapers going away…
“Newspapers in print are clearly going away. I think you’re an idiot if you think that’s not happening.
On making the shift…
“I think we still are too afraid to take the kinds of risks we need to take because there’s so much money tied up in print. We have $1.3 billion in revenue. And of $1.3 billion, $900 million is advertising and $165 million of the advertising is digital advertising. Four years ago, that was almost nothing. That $165 [million] is going to have to more than double in three years. To do that, we’re going to have to take some risks on the print side. That’s the one thing that scares the [expletive] out of everybody.
“I love newspapers. I’m a newspaperman. My father was a printer. I started off as a copyboy. I love newspapers. But they don’t love me anymore.”
You can read the whole interview here.
That’s something worth reflecting on.
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