— Dan Slee (@danslee) November 25, 2013
So, what’s to share from a trip to the Russian Ambassador’s residence in London for a discussion on how the internet shapes political decision?
Actually, quite a lot and not just that it’s a very large house in Westminster. And no, there was no Ferrero Roche. It was hosted by Jimmy Leach the former head of digital at the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office and had Tom Whitwell the head of digital operations at The Times and Sunday Times and Guido Fawkes blogger Paul Staines. Conservative MP Douglas Carwell began with a discussion on the birth of what he calls ‘i-democracy’.
Maybe it was because we are British but the alleged treatment of dissidents was not raised until almost the end of the session and it was Guido Fawkes who mentioned it in passing.
For all that it was a discussion about democracy and what it looks like and is shaped by the web in 2013 there were some useful take-homes for someone interested in digital communications.
Here are 18 things I learned from the event
- The Russian Ambassador’s residence is a mighty grand place.
- At Westminster, there are backbench MPs who have a greater profile than ministers in government.
- We are not yet at a stage where elections are decided by social media.
- E-mail played a major and unheralded part in the election victory of Barack Obama but it’s never had the attention that social media had.
- People really, really hate spammy or insincere emails.
- Digital democracy can also include unsubscribing from spammy and insincere emails.
- At the next election, the difference between the two largest parties is that the Conservatives are favouring Facebook and Labour are focussing more on Twitter.
- At the last UK general election, social media gave a skewed view of what would happen at the polls with more traffic for Labour not equating to votes.
- In Telford, the election of the police commissioner was won by a candidate who tweeted once and the one with the biggest online profile finished third.
- There is a feeling that it is only a matter of time before the UK government more closely regulate social media.
- Under current defamation laws, a 15-year-old tweeter is treated just the same as a newspaper editor.
- Twitter has democratised comment and there are political commentators who have been rendered obsolete by it.
- Until 1918, an MP seeking to join the government by being appointed a minster in a re-shuffle had to resign and stand again in a by-election before taking office.
- The smoked salmon at the Russian Ambassador’s residence is very good.
- The e-petition asking for Jeremy Clarkson to be PM wasn’t deleted when it was first posted because Jimmy Leach was ‘too tired.’
- The screening mechanism for angry letters is well developed in government. Less so for social media. Twenty people write on a topic and little happens. Twenty tweet and it gets seen as a movement and consultants get called in.
- A good blog is simply good stories well told, say The Times.
- Twitter may not be a force for democratic good. It’s owned by one company in America. The jury of history is still out.
That’s why with the Walsall Town Stories event we will try and use it to give an idea of the people who work in the town centre.
Twenty people whose jobs are often celebrated will be featured as part of the initiative on Friday October 25.
Starting at 6am, for an hour each they will be shadowed and their story relayed via @walsallcouncil before they pass on to someone else.
There will be a range of people from Walsall Council staff who do an uncelebrated job like the street cleaner and the trading standards officer to the market trader and the curry house worker.
Two things have helped shape it. The @sweden account which is passed to a new Swede every week and also the wonderful Kabul: A City At Work series which uses film and a blog post to ask who the people are who do day-to-day jobs.
Why those two? Because they allow a human face to develop.
When we did #Walsall24 a few years back we wanted to develop the idea to see where it would take us. It’s a simple model that can work in all sorts of organisations and the LGA have done some great things with it in pushing it out as a national initiative called #ourday. But it will be interesting to see how an hour of time can tell a human story.
You can follow the event by following @walsallcouncil.
I’ll whack up a storify after the event here too.
800? Really? Absolutely.
Chances are if you leave your house you’ll have come across something that the sector has done or helped with.
Trouble with such a vast thing that most people struggle to name more than half a dozen things that local government does.
“The council? They empty my bin and gave my next door neighbour planning permission for their horrible extension,” may be a common answer.
The struggle of how to tell people what local government what they get for their council tax is a timeless one and never been more important.
One way to tackle it is the Local Government Association’s Our Day which aims to put Twitter in the hands of some of the unsung heroes who do some of the unseen jobs.
Back in 2011 at Walsall Council I was part of a team which was the first in the country to use Twitter in real time to tell people what a council did across 24-hours. It won the inaugural LGComms social media gold award. It’s a model of communicating with people that quiet fascinates me. It breaks down barriers. It shines a light. It informs and educates.
Some tips on live tweeting a Twitter event
There’s lots of different ways but here’s some things to bear in mind.
Everyone thinks their day job is boring. But everyone else finds it interesting. That may be your 12th pothole of the day. But you use what to fill it? And it’s outside the school my children go to, you say? And the council has done 4,000 so far this year?
Routine tasks build a broader picture. You’ve got a team that cuts overgrown hedges. They do it every day. I didn’t know that. They’ve done 11 streets today. That’s important to the people who live in that street that is now safer to walk in at night. Tell them where and when.
Pictures work better than text. People are four times more likely to open a link to a pic than a link to text.
Yes, you can talk about programmed work. If you are collecting bins in those three estates then tell people. (See: routime tasks build a broader picture.)
Sharing the sweets is a good idea. Get the librarian to talk about her day on a library account. Get the museum to do something on theirs. All of a sudden it makes sense to have different voices.
Use the main account for sharing the other accounts. You won’t want to run everything through one account. Use several. Create some if you have to.
Get people to channel shift. If you’ve got a web form to report potholes promote it.
News is people. My old editor’s maxim rings true. Talk about the people who do the service. Bob the lifeguard or Keith the caretaker who has been doing this job for 12-years.
Capture it and share. Create a storify to allow you to capture what was said at 2.37pm that Monday afternoon. Tell people and embed the library’s story on the library pages. It’s more interesting.
Schedule some content. If you are sure it’s going to happen and to save you some time you can schedule content via something like hootsuite.com. It’ll lay down some background noise for you.
Avoid Twitter gaol. This is where Twitter doesn’t like you posting more than a certain threshold and thinks you are a spammer. Avoid going over 20 tweets an hour from one account and you should be okay.
Capture it and share it internally. More than anything an event on Twitter will be an internal comms thing. You’ll be telling staff about the organisation they work in. You’ll also be telling people about social media who just think it’s Stephen Fry eating breakfast.
Have fun. Be creative. Tell your story.
Creative commons credits
Hello Reader… I’d like you do me a quick favour.
Normally, I try and post some ideas, case studies or things that have impressed me about digital communications. If you’ve got something out of them then great. If that’s the case they I’ve a favour to ask.
I’d like you in the words of Deelite to vote, baby, vote. For a local government digital comms manager Carl Haggerty. Would you do that for me? And spread the word with your friends and colleagues?
Who is Carl Haggerty? He’s been nominated for the Guardian Public Services Awards and the Leadership Excellence shortlist. You can see the shortlist here – and vote Carl while you are at it.
Sure, there’s some great people that shortlist. There’s a local authority chief executive, a chief constable, a chief prosecutor and a bloke who is doing great things at the heart of government with digital. Each of these no doubt deserves the accolade of being shortlisted. There should be more good people in the public services.
But I’d still really like you to Vote Carl.
But I’d also like to tell you some reasons why I’d like you to do me that great favour.
Because he’s at the sharp end. Carl is digital communications manager at Devon County Council. It’s probably an unfashionable place to some. But it’s got a great recond in the field. They were the first council in the country to use Twitter. They have a good grasp about what digital skills are and people who are involved with digital are encouraged to blog as part of their learning.
Because they’ve encouraged innovation and learning. They encourage people to learn and share skills through innovative ways. They stage internal events that take a different slant at what they are learning about. Like this event that encouraged people to learn through playing a board game.
Because Carl likes dogs. Look at this picture. What a lovely dog. Another reason to Vote Carl.
— Carl Haggerty (@carlhaggerty) September 28, 2013
Because of localgovdigital. A peer led group set-up with the help of the LGA this is bringing together and sharing good work from across the country. Carl is chair. He’s really good at it and has got a good sense of direction about what needs doing. It’s starting to get stuck into some good work. Our blog is here. (Disclaimer: I’m also a member.)
Because like me Carl has been shaped by the unconference movement. In local government training budgets are largely a thing of the past. As the challenge of digital looms we’ve never been in a worse state financially as we are now. People like Carl are staging events to encourage learning for free. Because they want to. And because in an era of no experts we’re all learning and all contributing.
Because this will make a difference to all the above. It will. Honest. It will bring recognition and allow Carl and people like him to do more of the things that local government needs to do.
Because just imagine what kind of statement we can make. A bloke in Devon who is a leading light in making digital work better in local government who connects people using social media and who builds on them and gives back a heap of things can take down a load of very respected people to win an award.
How cool would that be?
Please do your bit and Vote Carl.