Tom Foremski’s this-can’t-go-on wail reads as powerfully as a Martin Luther deconstruction of one of the central pillars of the public relations industry.
“I’ve been telling the PR industry for some time now that things cannot go along as they are,” Tom wrote, “business as usual while mainstream media goes to hell in a hand basket.”
There is no point, he says, in writing slabs of text in journalese, and sending them to journalists when the traditional newspaper industry is dying and the news landscape is undergoing a digital revolution whether it likes it or not, Tom argued.
He’s right. The future is the message being shaped as web content and as social media conversation that has to be two-way and authentic, fun and interesting. Public relations people, no, communications people need to realise this if they are to still be relevant.
But that’s not to say that the press release is dead overnight. It’ll be here but diminishing.
Twelve months ago at an LGComms event I pointed to Tom’s post in a presentation and explained why this was something people needed to know. For five years I’ve been pointing to rapid change from my very small corner of the digital allotment.
Other louder voices have seen what I’ve seen too.
Government director of communications Alex Aiken made a similar point although more forcefully in a speech to the PRCA conference reported by PR Week.
Ashley Brown, Coca Cola’s global director for social media and digital communications, recently talked about the wish to end not just the press release but the corporate website too.
“For the first time ever, our PR teams are being asked to think beyond a press release or beyond a toolkit or beyond a launch package. They had to think: ‘Wow, what is a two-minute really high quality video that someone would really want to share with the friends?’”
“We’re finally breaking the last connections to the corporate website. I think the corporate website is over. I think it’s dead. I think everyone needs to start thinking beyond it. How can you turn it into a media property and hopefully the age of press release pr is over as well.
“I’m on a mission. If there’s one thing I do it’s to kill the press release. We have a commitment to reduce the number of press releases by half by the end of this year. I want them gone entirely by 2015. That’s our goal.”
That’s fine for Coke. But how easy is it if you work somewhere else?
Actually, press release murder is a pretty tricky subject to raise amongst comms people. It’s akin to telling people the skills they’ve spent a career crafting are now not so important. It’s telling a room full of sailors to put down their reef knot and lore and learn how to service an outboard motor. PR people are often former journalists who have in any event spent years as juniors crafting the ability to write press releases. Every word is pored over and shaped by committee. That control gives power. To attack the use of the press release is to launch a personal attack on the career history of PR people.
In the UK, the Government Digital Service published a fascinating study - the half life of news – of more than 600 press releases on gov.uk that looked at the traffic they got. Many spike quickly then fade like digital chip paper.
But if the battle is to be won it’s probably not the revolutionary cry of ‘Die, press release!’ that will win in it. It’s not even a study of how effective the numbers are in getting a story across that will lead the victory, although that will be important. It’ll actually be you, me and the people you went to school with who vote with their feet and share the sharable content.
There is nothing so boring, I’ve heard it said, as the future of news debate amongst journalists because what they say will have no bearing whatsoever on what the outcome will be.
It’ll be things like Oreo’s mugging of the Superbowl with an image of a biscuit created on the spot and tweeted and Facebooked within minutes to take advantage of a powercut. It wasn’t the lavish TV ads that was talked about. It was the real time marketing team who made the sharable image and the 15,000 retweets and 20,000 likes it achieved.
What’s real time marketing? It’s people making content that capitalises on real time events. Look it up. You’ll need to know it.
All this is why I’m finding communications utterly fascinating right now.
And you have to ask yourself the question, if you are not thinking of what post-press release life looks like now, what will you be doing in five years?
Creative commons credits
Sorry, no gas http://flic.kr/p/7vtFzZ
It’s trust from people out there who you want to communicate with and trust back there from the organisation to allow you to do good work.
Too often we don’t see the wood for the trees. We think when we’ve got permission to use digital for an organisation or a company the battle is over. It’s not. It’s ongoing and will take years to win.
I’ve been mulling over the whole trust thing for a while. Ever since the IEWM Best by West Midlands put trust and a lack of it as one of the biggest barriers to embedding social media. Almost 40 per cent of people pointed to it.
The mulling continued at Scotgovcamp where I led a great discussion with some fine people on the subject. You can read a great post by Kenny McDonald on the event here. As the session wrapped up and almost as an after thought I asked how long it would take for digital not to be seen as a dangerous threat.
‘Five to 10 years,’ was the answer.
That scares the heck out of me. It’s too long. And Eddie Coates-Madden in his post is right to say as much.
Former Police Assistant Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie says that he trusted his officers with a baton so why wouldn’t he trust them with a Twitter account? He’s right. But it’s more than that. Top down trust is rare and should be celebrated. But it’s the winning it from the frontline up that’s the tricky part.
With trust you can start to prove the worth of what you are doing. You can shout about your successes and you can store up some house points for a time when the budget decisions are made and a bad day when things go wrong.
Here’s six things about trust you need to know
Trust is something that your social channel needs to earn with the outside world
Your internal comms for digital is never ending
Take and share screen shots
Build up an understanding of social among senior people
Knitting patterns can sometimes rock
Training and a policy
Creative commons credits
Green knitting http://www.flickr.com/photos/breibeest/874865119/sizes/l/
Orange knitting http://www.flickr.com/photos/48559365@N05/5183452474/
It’s not often I’ll re-post someone else’s content. It’s even rarer that I re-post someone re-posting someone else’s content. But this one is something of a belter and it’s entirely within the spirit to do so.
There was an excellent TED talk YouTube on Stephen Waddington’s blog from Tom Standage who is both digital editor at The Economist and an author. The book he’s written is ‘Writing on the Wall’ which shows how far from being a modern blip is actually 2,000 years old. Not only is it rooted in history it’s the last 150-years of print mass media that’s actually the faddish blip.
As a historian that really appeals to me. It appeals even more to the geek in me. And it appeals yet more from someone who helps with the brewcamp meet-ups that actually idea sharing in a coffee shop has been around before. As Standage says, coffee shops in 18th century London were known as ‘Penny Universities’ where people could share listen, talk and meet with social superiors for the price of a brew.
Tom Standage’s three phases of media
New media 1993 – to date
That’s the stuff that’s been around since about 2000. It’s Twitter and it’s Facebook and it’s this blog post.
Old media 1833 – 1993
That’s the stuff that’s powered by a steam powered printing press. It starts with the first penny newspaper and ends with the invention of the internet.
Really old media 51 BC – 1833
That’s the stuff that first emerged in the late Roman period where people like Terentius Neo and his wife write letters to each other. Letters would be shared. Books were scarce. So you wrote one copy and place it in a library. If it was any good it it would be copied and shared. Or in other words, pirated. If it was pirated often enough then publishers would step in and produce more. So you really wanted your wortk to be pirated by as many people as possible because it meant your ideas got spread.
“You say my letter has been widely copied. Well, I don’t care. Indeed, I myself allowed several people to take a copy of it.” – Cicero Rome, 106 BC – 43 BC.
News would get around on wax tablets with the same aspect as the i-pad, Standage says.
Martin Luther’s ideas go viral
Priest Martin Luther sparked a revolution when he started to question with the Roman Catholic church was selling pardons from purgatory. He writes out a list of questions he’d like answering. He pins it to a church door in Latin. It gets copied down in long hand and shared. It gets copied and further shared. It gets printed. It gets printed in German and shared even more widely. Luther is amazed. He never intended the challenge to go viral. So, the next time he gets his message out by going straight to the printer with a German text. The result? The Reformation as the Catholic church splits and Protestantism is formed.
Coffee Houses and social media
There were no barriers to class in a coffee house and in London they led to an explosion of ideas and debate. Lloyd’s of London the insurance brokers began in a coffee house as did The Stock Exchange. So did the Royal Society.
“(The coffee house) admits of no distinction of persons, but gentlemen, mechanic, lord and scoundrel mix and are all of a piece.” – Samuel Butler, London, 1668.
Deliciously, Standage points to the parallels with social media and coffee houses and points to how people thought that people in coffee houses were just messing about.
“Why doth solid and serious learning decline, and few or none now follow it now in the University? Because of coffee houses. Where they spend all their time.” – Anthony Wood, Oxford, 1670s.
What the history lesson is for today
“Is social media a fad? If anything was a fad it was the old media mass media period that was a historical anomaly. Now we’ve gone to a more social model super-charged by the internet.” – Tom Standage, Oxford, 2013.
All of that rather appeals. It means that the brewcamps, teacamps and for that matter unconferences we think of as new ideas are actually rooted deeply in something that has gone before. It’s also something that has a track record of innovation. You put people into a room with a cup of coffee – and maybe some cake – and you start to get some good results. That’s tremendously re-assuring and tremendously exciting.
A few years ago when all this digital stuff was new to me I sat in the pub with Michael Grimes who is @citizensheep on Twitter. We were complaining that people were thinking that social media was just people wasting their time. And that people had once complained about telephones. And railways in the Victorian era. And every other invention.
Tom Standage’s book is called ‘The Writing on the Wall: Social Media the First 2,000 Years’ and you can buy it from shops and the internet very soon. You can watch the TED talk here…
Creative commons credit
Coffee and laptop http://www.flickr.com/photos/librarianbyday/2931756818/sizes/o/
Back in 1882 when England took on Australia at the game of cricket it took 10 weeks for the message of who won to travel 9,000 miles from London to Melbourne. Today it takes seconds.
Nothing is a better yardstick of how communications is innovating than this never ending battle between two countries.
Message by ship was succeeded by the telegram, radio, TV and the internet. Like a timeline each innovation has carried the message.
In 2013, it’s been no different and this historic game of bat and ball has shown a yardstick of where we are. As Australia lost to England the story was told by tweet, picture, TV broadcast and blog.
Here are 18 things we can learn about digital communications and The Ashes.
1. Pictures work on Facebook
As a Facebook page Official England Cricket works brilliantly in many ways. They are a case study in how creating sharable content works well. They don’t add score updates. They post pictures of Ian Bell lifting his bat in triumph with a message. Even a damp image of an outfield gets more than 60 shares and a barrage of 1,800 likes.
2. You need to moderate your Facebook page
As great as Official England cricket is at posting content they’re not always the best at moderating the abuse that goes on at times between people. Including an amazing amount of spam and grief that comes out of the Indian sub-continent.
3. Post on Twitter to the popular hashtag
Both England with 221,000 and Australia with 219,000 followers used Twitter effectively. But when they posted content they may have had their own hashtags but they also added content to the far more popular #ashes community which at its height was trending globally.
4. Be careful about your own hashtag
Yes, it’s lovely looking at metrics which belong to you through a distinctive hashtag. England had #rise based on a piece of commissioned poetry which was all about rising to the challenge. Australia had the bold #returntheurn about how Australia were going to sieze back the six inch urn. Which sounded fine when the series started but led to derision when they were on the end of a 3-0 stuffing. It was dropped.
— Cat Jones (@Cricketbatcat) August 25, 2013
5. The Twitter hashtag as news channel
Forget the TV. Forget the radio. Forget news sites. If you were away from them the place to find out what was happening was just checking the #ashes stream itself where you had the beauty of two perspectives. The English and the Australian. At the same time. So, as I sat on a train as Stuart Broad ran through the Aussies to secure victory it was via Twitter that I was following what was happening.
6. Hashtags as an instagram community
The photosharing site Instagram was used by Australia. Less newsy than Twitter. Less engaging than Facebook Instagram was a platform for capturing people photographing the TV they were watching, the pint they had just bought or their view from the boundary itself. Australia sprinkled their own content with behind-the-scenes pictures.
7. Google Plus has good numbers but a mixed take-up
While Australia ran a cracking page for 50,000 people updated regularly with images and content the Official England page for 190,000 was lacking the TLC that makes a page fly. The jury remains out it seems.
8. Old media doesn’t like new media and would rather it went away
For decades radio coverage of cricket in the UK has come from the BBC’s Test Match Special. It has done the job incredibly well. But they pay for the privilige. And the alternative Test Match Sofa coverage doesn’t. The Sofa is some blokes sat on a settee watching the cricket of telly and burbling into a laptop and broadcasting the results online. Deliciously amateur? Yes. But when The Cricketer magazine linked up with them the BBC was not happy.
The late Christopher Martin-Jenkins remarked:
“The thought of having to listen to the predators who purport to be producing commentaries from sofa or armchair without paying a penny to the England and Wales Cricket Board for the rights, is too ghastly to contemplate. The sooner they are nailed and swept offline, the better.”
The row escalated when a Cricketer employee tweeted about Test Match Sofa in breach of accreditation guidelines.
9. Audio works
Both Test Match Special and Test Match Sofa did rather well with tailoring snippets of commentary from key moments of the series. Like Kevin Pietersen falling for 62 in a glorious thrash towards a target in the 5th Test. The BBC did similar with their polished version although they only stay up for a limited amount of time. But nothing was as good as the close-of-play podcast the BBC version produced.
10. YouTube works if it is from the heart
Aussie journalist Geoff Lemon produced a memorable diatribe against his error strewn opener Shane Watson recorded outside the ground as the crowd were heading home. It’s so angry it’s beautiful. The thing is that Shane kept getting out lbw. And then to make matters worse kept wasting a precious review that allows a second look by off-field umpires. “Stop being so… Shane Watson,” a red-faced Lemon roared as he searched for the worst abuse he could think of.
You can watch it right here.
11. The player’s relative’s social media account is a news creator
Aussie opener David Warner was demoted to the ‘A’ team after he attacked a rival player in a Birmingham pub. His brother unhappy at Shane Watson taking his bro’s placed launched what is known in the journalist’s trade as a ‘Twitter tirade.’
12. Ghost written columns by players are pointless
They don’t say anything, they don’t do anything. They’re exercises in platitudes not offering a scrap of anything interesting.
13. The celebrity fan’s social media account is a news creator
When Piers Morgan tweeted from the US to criticise Stuart Broad’s decision not to volunteer his wicket and instead turn to the umpire to make the decision (he didn’t) it became news. Drearily.
14. Journalists need to be on Twitter
The leading journalists from old media – and new – were active on Twitter. Not just linking to their latest finely crafted piece but also presenting a human side. Without noticing it the journalist as human being has entered the list of things the good hack must be. It’s not enough to lurk or to dismiss the platform.
15. Social as a way of taking the temperature
When things blew well for either side it became clear by taking a look at social. A search for either time showed how happy / angry / incandescent supporters of both sides were with Stuart Broad / DRS / the weather / umpires / David Warner.
16. The accidental tweet is alive and well
When a particularly amazing umpiring decision was made against Australia the official stream chipped in with a tweet describing the decision as #bullshit. It was quickly deleted. Make sure you know who has access to the account is one lesson. I’ll bet that using two different platforms to get onto Twitter – one for personal and one for work – is now part of the press office brief.
17. Venues are poorly equipped for social
Outside of press rooms the paying punters are overlooked when it comes to WiFi – free or otherwise. The bright venue will look to offer a way of their customers staying online to contribute to the conversation, tell the world what a great player Michael Clarke or Ian Bell is and what a tasty burger they’ve just eaten. This will change.
18. Social media is just part of the landscape
Sometimes those who live on Twitter can lose sight of how the media landscape isn’t just Twitter although sometimes it’s hard to seem otherwise. The industry around the Ashes remains TV and radio with a whole side industry of books a by-product of every series. But social is becoming so embedded we no longer see it as something to raise an eyebrow at. Like an Aussie win in the 1990s. Or an English victory since 2009.
We saw the brewcamp idea exported first to Dudley and then to Stafford.
It worked beautifully in both places too.
What’s a brewcamp? It’s an idea that has its roots in unconferences. It’s shared learning through conversation, coffee and cake. Like a coffee morning for militant optimists.
How does it work?
Find a cafe willing to open up after work. Find three topics and people happy to lead a discussion on them. Set up an eventbrite. Tell people about it.
It’s that simple.
But the value is less what the speakers tell you, but the connections you make and the realisation that even after a difficult day you are not alone. Other people still care about the public sector. What’s the value of knowing that it is not you, it’s them?
In truth, both were quite individual. In Dudley, it was called Bostincamp. Bostin being a Black Country word for ‘great.’ In Stafford it was Oatcakecamp. Oatcakes being a North Staffs delicacy that doubles as an expression of regional pride.
ELEVEN things that struck me at Bostincamp…
- In Dudley CCG’s media officer Laura Broster they have someone busy re-writing what a comms person should look like in 2013.
- There are people at Dudley Council who are starting to wake up to social. What they’ll do with it will be amazing.
- Barriers are being eroded all the time. Often by the people who used to build and maintain them.
- You can’t argue against case studies that West Midlands Police have. They are a tweeting trojan horse for doing good digital things.
- Academic red tape is gummier than local government.
- Lorna Prescott is amazing.
- The Secret Coffee Club in Pearson Street, Brierley Hill has free WiFi and would be a good place for co-working.
- If you can’t trust your frontline staff with digital how the hell do you trust them to do the rest of their job?
- Comms people still need to convince their managers that digital conversations on the frontline are a good idea. Jim Garrow has written well about the Edelman Trust Barometer here. It basically gives a pile of research to back up the idea that people trust the postman more than the chief executive of Royal Mail.
- There are issues for doctors to use social media. But they are not insurmountable.
ELEVEN things I learned at oatcakecamp…
- As training budgets vanish we face a critical challenge of where our learning comes from.
- At some point there will be a price to be paid for training ending. It may take years but it will come.
- Bright people do their own learning.
- If something is free, does that make it have less worth than something that costs £500 to attend?
- Some people won’t look out of their sector for learning. Some won’t look out of their town.
- Wolverhampton Council have a cracking Facebook page. But they need to tell people about what they do.
- Comms people can learn more about good comms from people who in the past we wouldn’t let near comms.
- The MOD still invest in people. Local government has stopped doing this in many areas.
- Emma Rodgers is amazing.
- An oatcakecamp in a fire station sounds cool.
- Hyperlocal blogs can be patchy in quality but there are some gems like WV11 and A Bit of Stone. If we add some content they may be interested in to general releases we can amplify our message.
I absolutely urge you to go along to one of these when they are staged next.
— Dan Slee (@danslee) August 8, 2013
If there’s not one near you, start your own. Here’s how.
Tea pot http://flic.kr/p/e6C3Yx
This month I got to go to Dublin to talk to some great people from Dublin City Council who are looking, like we all are, to better understand how the internet is changing what they do.
There I got to meet The Studio a kind of crack team of people enabling change with skills from different parts of local government.
I also got to hear how Carmel McCartney, a community worker for the council has built and nurtured a Facebook page to serve the Crumlin community in the north of the city . There’s also Pauline Sargent who runs a hyperlocal blog in the community of Drimnagh who has met and connected with Carmel.
Carmel, although she doesn’t know it, is doing things that in years to come with be second nature to community workers. She set-up a Facebook page for one of the community she serves. She’s savvy enough to know that the 83 likes she has on her page isn’t the measure of what she’s doing. What is is that when she posts other neighbourhood Facebook pages pick up on this and share her content which allows her to reach thousands.
At the heart of it is a simple thing. It’s basically the council talks to it’s residents at the place where they’re gathering.
There should be more people like Carmel and in truth there are. But they’re often the people and in places you’d least expect.
Similarly, hyperlocal blogger Pauline Sargent is another glimpse of what things should look like. Her hyperlocal site Drimnagh is Good seeks to better tell people about what is going on in the community and sites like hers should be welcomed as part of the news landscape. They won’t always say great things about the council. But then newspapers don’t either but we think nothing about engaging with them where we can.
The whole relationship between blogger and local government is something that will become more important. Just because we never have is no reason to never will. I’ve written about what the blogger – press officer relationship should look like before.
But as Pauline and Carmel show it all just boils down to building good, human relationships. Offline as well as online.
Creative commons credit
Yes, it’s true that it has only a percentage of the users that Facebook has. But when the bottom line of that percentage is 230 million that’s a significant figure.
As someone who dodged the hype of the ill-feted Google Wave I hung back when Google+ was launched as a local government comms person. A couple of things have made me re-think things.
Firstly, there is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Google+ page that has racked-up more than 200,000 likes. Shane Dillon has been a real evangelist for the platform and as one of the pioneers he deserves credit and wrote a fine post on the page here.
Secondly, there was a hugely fascinating chat with Shane as well as community web evangelist John Popham, Leah Lockhart from Scottish local government and Phil Rumens from localgov digital who wrote this fine post on what it can offer. That chat really offered up some insight.
Thirdly, there’s the Birmingham City Council Google+ page with more than 24,000 users. That moves the bar from being a global brand thing and one that my corner of local government can take a look at.
So, in Janet and John terms, what’s Google +?
For me, it’s an intelligent Facebook without the farms or a slightly longer Twitter. It’s ad free for now. It’s a place to start a discussion or share a link, a video clip or an image. When you start an account you can create circles where people from different interests can be placed so you can more easily drink from the firehose of information.
When you have your own account you can then create a page that acts in the same sort of way that a Facebook page does for the Google+ community.
So how has this big corporation attempt at social sneaked-up up on us all?
The reality is that since it was launched in summer 2011 there has been a devoted list of people who have been using it and enjoying. Niche perhaps at first but they’re growing and as Google+ develops and keeps adding features that are rather useful those numbers will grow.
Many were sceptical at Google’s record in the field. Great tech but poorly presented. Besides, this felt like a top-down invention from big business rather than something that emerged from a start-up’s bedroom. The counter argument is that neither Facebook or Twitter are exactly small business these days.
Where are the good examples?
When I asked the question 12-months ago there were few if any pages that you could look at and feel as though new ground was being made. But here are three good pages.
With more than 3.2 million followers (or maybe they’re likers? Or plus-ers?) the Cadbury page is witty, imaginative and engaging. It’s a soft sell. There is sharable content aimed at people who like chocolate. Look hard enough and you’ll see the purple and white branding.
Furniture made out of chocolate photographed and posted, for example.
Odd as though it may sound, amongst the corporate pages there’s a rather lovely example from little business too. Ladders Online are a company that supply extra big ladders. Their page features content of inappropriate ladders badly positions and other trade advice. If ladders can be made to be engaging what is the rest of us waiting for?
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office page for me is the gold standard. There’s senior buy-in. There’s updates from the Minister and good content.
Birmingham City Council’s Google+ page went into orbit after Google reached out and made contact, verifying it and then promoting it. As I understand it from Guy Evans, the council’s social media officer, content is linked to Facebook.
When the Shropshire Family Information Service wanted to reach more more they chose Google+ as a way to do it. More knackered dads use the platform that knackered mums and elsewhere North Yorkshire County Council are starting to make some sense of it while Toronto Police used the Google hangout functionality to livestream a press conference here. In New Mexico in the US Governor Gary Johnson staged a hangout with some residents.
What’s good about Google+
- Google juice. There’s extra brownie points in the search rankings for a link from Google+. For the most part, my corner of local government doesn’t have to stress too much about such things as SEO (that’s search engine optimisation, the art of getting a website up the Google search rankings.) But for micro-sites and other projects this is rather good.
- Google hangouts. Back in the day video conferencing was an expensive business. With Google hangouts there is built-in video conferencing between users and the ability to run it via YouTube to larger audiences.
- It’s not got adverts. A refreshing change after spending time on the hyper-targeted world of Facebook. Google makes it’s money via search, mainly so doesn’t need to spam users just yet.
- Images and video. Realising that good images get shared it’s clear that they’ve put images at the heart of things. You post a link and the image gets posted prominently to catch the eye.
- How to use it is largely a white piece of paper. Because it’s new it’s not blighted by people who claim to know what they’re doing and where you’re going wrong.
What’s bad about Google+
- There aren’t the numbers of Facebook or Twitter. They have big numbers but not really, really big numbers.
- The mobile apps aren’t great. Certainly the Android app is a bit clunky for pages although this may change.
- It’s 50-50. Blogs knocking it sometimes seem equally balanced with those gushingly praising it.
- Anyone can add your personal profile to their circles. So be careful about dissing your boss thinking you are behind a walled garden. You’re not. There are some excellent comments on this theme on this blog post here.
- It doesn’t have the stickiness of Facebook. People don’t stay on it for long. Just three minutes or so a month in this study compared to more than seven hours with Facebook.
In the changing landscape, Google+ is now a feature. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.
Bear with me on this one.
When I was 18 he came back from Australia to visit and he took me to the pub in the Cumbrian village Portinscale near Keswick where he was born.
He buys me a pint and after we take a drink he tells me he’s doing to tell me something really important.
He levels with me and I’m expecting some tips on how to chat up women. Or at the very least play cricket better. He leans across the table.
“Dan,” he says, “the best advice I can give you in life is never argue with an idiot.
“You end up on the same level and to a passer-by it’s just two idiots arguing.”
At the time it didn’t really register.
When that advice made sense…
Years passed by and as the social web became something that started to fascinate I end up helping train and advise people. Often, people are worried about being inundated with abuse from trolls when actually that very rarely happens. In my long experience most people are not looking for a fight but looking for information or maybe sometimes to let off some steam. A professional and human voice can really help.
But sometimes my Uncle Keith’s words came back as good sensible advice. It’s Cumbrian for ‘do not feed the trolls.’
When Cineworld looked a bit silly…
A customer unhappy at the pricing structure that Cineworld had fired a questioning tweet at them. It wasn’t an unreasonable thing to ask. The response was a masterclass in how to be a bit overbearing.
@cineworld Why delete my tweet without a response? Just wanted to know the justification of £8.30 per ticket to watch a standard 2d film?
— Alan Bishop (@AlanBishop85) April 23, 2013
Maybe as others have said Cineworld’s Twitter operator was having a bit of a bad day. But their response was at best high handed.
@AlanBishop85 Well, seeing as we’re the number 1 cinema in the UK by attendance I’d argue that isn’t the case. And the delete thing?
— Cineworld Cinemas (@cineworld) April 23, 2013
You can read the entire exchange via this storify here.
Eleven things to remember when you’re operating social media for an organisation
1. You’re the public face of that organisation.
2. In a little guy v big guy row you can expect people take the side of the little guy as a default setting.
3. The vast majority of people you’ll come across are really decent.
4. If they’re not you need to rise above it.
5. And count to ten.
6. You need to not take things personally when you are the voice of the organisation. They’re not having a go at you personally when they’re complaining.
7. You need to print off the picture at the top of the post and stick it by your screen.
8. Remember the Channel 4 social media policy of ’don’t make your boss look stupid.’
9. Most of the time you’ll not need the above at all. Seriously.
10. Be human. It beats everything. The @londonmidland Twitter bio has the words: ”We aim to reply to all tweets, but pls try to be polite if things have gone wrong – we’re real people just trying to help!”
11. Shout a colleague for a second opinion or help if you’re unsure.
Creative commons credits
Two men arguing (remixed) http://www.flickr.com/photos/97248642@N00/860372850/sizes/o/
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/