Sure, there are still dinosaurs. But they’re dying out and have lost the battle so let’s not bother with them.
Ignorance is being replaced with the realisation that social media can’t be ignored by comms and PR people. Great.
But have we truly won the war? I’m not at all convinced we have.
There is a mindset that sees digital as a one way tick box exercise that exists only to generate likes or calls to action. In other words, it’s an extension of what traditional comms has always tried to be.
I absolutely get the need for comms teams to demonstrate worth. You sit down with the organisation, you listen to how you need to recruit 10 more carers to save £100k. Then you communicate to the right people at the right time in the right place. You record the new carers. Then you report back what you did.
I get that in spades.
I also get enthusiastically the idea that comms is not the size of the audience but what that audience has done as a result of what you’ve done.
I can also get the need to base comms on evidence and business cases to cut out the pointless vanity comms. You know the sort. The sort that needs this doing because we’ve always done it because the Director likes it.
I get that too.
I also get much of Rachel Moss’s post on not slavishly sticking to digital and doing traditional things too. If a poster works, use a poster. There is no earthly point, I’m guessing, for a LinkedIn group aimed at under fives.
I don’t think that comms people have fully realised what social is. It is not driven by likes, sign-ups and results. It is driven by conversation, sharing and stories. The return on investment comes as a spin-off and is all the more powerful for that.
Think of it in postal terms. It’s the difference between junk mail asking you to buy, buy, buy and the handwritten postcard addressed to you on your door mat.
I think of the police officer I spoke to early in my career who was one of the first to embrace Twitter. A senior officer he had a face that looked as though it had been in a few scraps in its time. I would not argue with that face if he asked me to move my car.
He used Twitter, the policeman told me, in exactly the same way as he would use conversation as if he walked down a parade of shops on his beat. He’d say good morning. He’d pass the time of day. He’d share a joke. He’d then ask someone once the ice was broken to remember to shut their windows when they went out in warm weather. Simple. And human.
The real return on investment for that officer comes in an emergency where there is a pre-built network of people willing to share their message.
Police officers get that you need to be human on the social web to be listened to. I’m not sure if comms people look at .
I think of the brands who tried to ‘leverage’ their audience with 9/11 tweets. I think of Pete Ashton one of the first people in Birmingham to use this thing called Twitter and work out what the social web was all about. I think of the chat I had with him on how he had consciously divorced himself from the growing social as numbers professionalisation of social media.
I think of the Best by WM survey that shows that digital comms in the West Midlands social has stalled at Twitter and Facebook and the new channels are not being explored.
It all points to this as a conclusion: social media and digital communications is one set of tools in the mix.
Use them if you think they’ll work but don’t be a channel fascist.
Share, inform, entertain and engage.
Measure if you like. But don’t let the tape measure drive you.
Explore with it. Experiment. Learn. There is so much wide open space to be experimented with.
Always, always, always be human with it.
If a police officer with a broken nose can get this, why can’t more comms people?
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.
If you’ve ever wondered if my willow bird boxes are just for decoration…. pic.twitter.com/jM355vG97C
— Morgan Bowers (@TheReremouse) July 25, 2014
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.
In the old days there used to be a telephone number and an answering machine and an email address too. Now, the eventbrite platforms allows Morgan to issue tickets for events for free.
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.
A short clip of Morgan talking about her work
From Herefordshire in the south to Stoke-on-Trent in the north the region and across the Brum and Black Country conurbation continues to blaze a trail for how local government best uses social media channels.
Last year the Best by West Midlands whitepaper and survey gave a snapshot of where authorities were.
This year, the 2014 survey has done the same and have we moved on? Of course we have. You can read the round-up post here.
But a couple of things really stood out and I’ll blog them in the coming weeks. Not least the statistic that comms teams are comfortable with the established platforms like Twitter and Facebook but new channels like Snapchat and WhatsApp? Not at all. Of the 18 channels used – three up from last year the results paint a picture.
Most Used Channels
Twitter 100 per cent
Facebook 96 per cent
YouTube 81 per cent
Flickr 65 per cent
Whats App 4 per cent
Snapchat 0 per cent
Source: Best by West Midlands IEWM July 2014
The findings formed part of a session at commscamp last week and it turns out this blindspot for new channels is not something unique to the West Midlands.
You need a digital comms expert in your team.
It’s something I’ve been banging on about for some time now. The world is changing. You need to keep pace. Unless you have someone horizon scanning you’ll be missing the bigger picture. Sales pitch: that’s a service comms2point0 provides but really as a comms person you need to have a voracious inquisitiveness about how the web is changing your job.
But what is Snapchat?
The low down is that this is a picture messaging service beloved of young people. It’s picture led and is meant to disappear from the web in 24-hours. The sender can opt to save a pic and the the recipient can take a screenshot. There’s a useful parents guide that Snapchat themselves have produced.
Some brands have started to use it like McDonalds who are telling people about changes to the menu and offers, the Philadelphia Reds baseball team giving behind-the-scenes access and the World Wildlife Fund who used a Snapchat-inspired campaign and this short YouTube clip showing endangered species at risk and asking if the images would be their #lastselfie.
You can watch the YouTube clip here:
The stats are that Snapchat is growing although the detail is hard to piece together. A survey suggests 25 per cent of smartphone users in the UK have Snapchat and 70 per cent of users are female.
What is whats app?
It’s SMS without the spiralling charges. You send and receive something that looks like SMS but without the individual charges. As of April 2014, there is 500 million users and the company which was bought for $19 billion by Facebook says it has only just started.
It’s fair to say that marketing and comms people are baffled by what impact this will have on them with predictions of zero impact although others have been creative to engage with it. Like the Israeli chocolate company who created a game for users to play and the Bollywood cinema who created a competition to promote a new film.
But is this something that comms let alone public sector comms has got their teeth into? Not at all.
Your two big challenges
Firstly, you need to know where do they fit in the landscape and secondly, we need to think how we go about getting the skills.
The re-assuring thing in debating this at commscamp is that this feels no different to Twitter in 2007. Those that work in comms and PR at first thought it would go away and then we gradually worked out how to use it. That’s a journey we’ve already been on so shouldn’t be too worried.
It’s fine for us grown-ups to work out what these platforms are so you don’t appear like the magistrate who famously asked: ‘Who are The Beatles?’
The old rules stand true. Go onto a platform as yourself for a bit to understand the language and what works. Then think about using it yourself.
I’ve argued before that there needs to be space to experiment away from the bustle of the day job and campaign evaluation. This is one of those times.
Creative comms credit
Grid: Ann Kempster https://www.flickr.com/photos/annkempster/sets/72157645172301580/
We are all publishers now, we know that, as the internet gives organisations the ability to have a voice in the media landscape. But how to use it?
A good picture is worth 1,000 words and in the medium of short status updates a powerful picture is content that will be shared.
I’ve been an advocate for years of ‘sharing the sweets’ and for comms teams to give social media access up to those on the frontline. Why? Because what you are doing should be shared especially if only a few people are seeing it.
With a smartphone in your pocket this ability has never been easier, so what are you waiting for?
Here are five ways
BIG EVENT SPECTACLE: North Yorkshire Police at the Tour de France
When Le Tour came to Yorkshire people scoffed. But this image brilliantly sums up why those at the frontline are exactly those who should be getting access. A brilliant photograph. A wonderful piece of content shared widely around the web with a quick message on what the police were doing. Pic: https://twitter.com/NYorksPolice/status/485420729631260672/photo/1
TO FLAG UP POLICY ON THE GROUND: Caution: Bison on the Road
Flagging up a link to the YouTube channel with this arresting picture of bison being restored to Yosemite National Park this image makes you smile and invites you to marvel at the work of the US Department of the Interior. How can you stage this? With difficulty. How can you capture it as it happens? With a smartphone close to hand. People don’t care about the piece of paper the policy was written on but they do care about the effect the policy has. So, show it to them.
IN A CRISIS: West Midlands Police
In summer 2011, riots were spreading across the UK. Rumours were being circulated over the web and in particular Twitter. Some forces and politicians called for the web to be banned while others correctly knew that the right way was to engage. This tweet scotched a rumour that Walsall Police station was on fire. The rumour was scotched in minutes by an officer taking a picture and posting it to his force-approved Twitter stream. The image was shared to harness the power of positive networks. http://twitpic.com/63jj73
POP CULTURE: Star Wars and gritting and Linconshire County Council
HUMOUR: English Heritage
So, what are you waiting for?
Four years ago during the World Cup I blogged about how Panini stickers were the original social media.
I’m fascinated at how a Greek defender and a spare Polish midfielder can bring people together and forge connections.
I’m also fascinated at how as an extra layer on top of these human interactions the social web is being put to use.
There’s the inspired Twitter hashtag #gotgotneed that Panini deployed.
There’s stories like Russ Cockburn only spending £90 to collect the entire Panini sticker book because he used the closed Facebook group Panini World Cup Swapsies I belong to with 117 members that I belong to that just grows and grows.
The majestic epic brilliance of the got, got need machine…
But what’s also caught my eye is a web application knocked up by brewcamp colleague Simon Whitehouse from Birmingham. Called the Got, Got Need Machine it’s a way of working out based on maths how many stickers you need to buy in order to complete your collection based on probability and a whole load of sums. You can see it here:
Me and Simon have talked before about open data and data. I’m a bit of a sceptic. When I see it demonstrated it’s brilliant. But I think the open data community are too inward looking and too keen to impress each other rather than impress real people whose lives they could make a big difference to. Open data has not delivered on a promise to change the world. That’s not to say it won’t. But it’s reaching out as this does that will help it.
So, if data crunched to produce something can work for Panini stickers what could it do crunched for other comms projects?
That’s an idea to swap.
But first go and check out Simon’s website.
I posted to Twitter a query that I wondered if people could help come up with some stats to show how amazing the internet is in numbers. And Twitter delivered just as it so often does. Rather than just favourite the responses and move on I thought I’d blog the results.
Six people retweeted the request and four people came back with some results. Here are those results.
It breaks down into the picture today and predictions of what is likely to happen. There’s a health warning to this. You’ll quickly lose track of the numbers and your jaw will hit the floor.
The internet: what is here today
The internet in realtime is a brilliant link that shows how quickly is generated. The figures whizz by across a range of platforms like twitter, Instagram, google, foursquare and others and start from zero from the second you log on.
Alternatively, internet live stats looks at the big picture. The really big picture of how many internet users there are in the world (2.9 billion and counting when I looked) and the number of websites (almost 1 billion when I looked.)
There is also a rather cracking digital marketing website that seeks to pull together a blizzard of stats from across the internet over who is using what and where.
And also the excellent Shift Happens update for 2014 with a blizzard of stats in a YouTube film.
And also the wearesocial global social media survey for 2014.
(thanks @dansutch @sarahlay @brownhillsbob and @annieheath @madlinsugdn @paulwebster)
The internet: what is yet to come
Here is a link to infographics about the internet of things. This is part of the internet that has yet to arrive in a widespread way. This is the device that has its own IP address and can communicate over the internet. This
It also talks about how the internet doubles in size every two years and is expected to rise from 4.4 trillion gigabytes to 44 trillion gigabytes a year. An 8 gigabyte kindle is supposed to store 3,000 books and my brain capsizes at what a gigabyte may store.
There’s also a rather good internet trends deck which is worth carefully studying.
(thanks @straightbatpr and @nicdaviesuley and @6loss)
Have you heard the one about the chatty English book shop and the unspontaneous French cheese maker?
One has 50,000 followers on Twitter and from their smartphone give a slightly idiosyncratic view from Waterstones in Oxford Street, London. It shows how trusting staff can work.
The other President Cheese has 153 followers and employs a company with a team of 13 in a Star Trek-style ‘war room’ that takes up to 43 days to draw-up a tweet in a highly planned campaign.
But for me nothing I’ve come across better illustrates how being human on social media runs rings around the scripted, over agonised and contrived.
Here are a few quick examples:
Don’t be confused. It is a Bank Holiday tomorrow. You can still be awake. There is no work. BOOKS. There is still time. Read BOOKS.
— WaterstonesOxfordSt (@WstonesOxfordSt) May 4, 2014
Who is going to go first? pic.twitter.com/DhYH6yKhfo
— Herdwick Shepherd (@herdyshepherd1) May 25, 2014
— Dave Brookes (@BaggieDab) May 17, 2014
This right here is the culture clash that I come across talking to the traditional comms person who doesn’t want to let go of the reigns, agonises over and wants to measure everything.
I’m not against scheduling some content. Honest, I’m not. The 3am tweet from the NHS to reach the person suffering from stress and unable to sleep is inspired.
I’m not even against measuring things. What people did as the result of some digital content is far more interesting than the size of the audience.
I quite like the 80-20 split that many good social profiles have. The 80 per cent conversation and the 20 per cent things you’d like people to know. The pics of bees posted along with a rescued bat in Walsall Council countryside ranger Morgan Bowers’ work to build an audience. The occasional update about basket weaving gets people along to her sessions.
But the professionalising of conversation just leaves me feeling uneasy and reminds me of a conversation I had with Birmingham blogger Pete Ashton who did much to build the social landscape in the West Midlands. He said he deliberately moved away from the ‘professional social media’ because he hated what it was becoming in the wrong hands.
If you need to outsource your conversation and take 45 days over 140 characters then, Holy Cheddar, you are struggling.
Acknowledgements: Simon Whitehouse who flagged up the original 45-day case study and Chris Ellis for spotting that the cheese account has 153 followers.