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.
So, it was great to be able to sit down with 12 of them and talk to them about social media and how it could work for them. Walsall Council countryside ranger Morgan Bowers came along too and I’ve hardly finished a training session over the past few years without pointing to her as an excellent example of what a frontline officer can do with social media.
For those that don’t know she blogs, she tweets, she Facebooks and she posts images to Flickr. She’s also written an e-book entitled with great confidence and surity ‘The Bees of Walsall Vol: 1.’ Almost 2,000 people have downloaded the e-book which for me redefines how you should approach an audience.
Firstly, here are some links which show what is possible. It’s vital to look outside of the sector that you work in which is what we did here.
Some basic principles
‘Organisations Don’t Tweet People Do’ is a book by Euan Semple. Even if you don’t buy the book – and you should it’s great – then think of the clear advice that sentance gives. Human beings respond to human beings and not logos.
‘The 80/20 principle’ is a good way of looking at a great many things. On the social web it works out as 80 per cent conversational and 20 per cent the stuff you really want people to know. So be sparing with your library events and talk – and share – about other things.
Good social media
Appliances Online Facebook – because they have more than a million Facebook likes by good online customer service done in a human voice: https://www.facebook.com/AOLetsGo?fref=ts
Sandwell Council Facebook – because there isn’t a Facebook page anywhere in the public sector that is done better than this West Midlands council https://www.facebook.com/sandwellcouncil?fref=ts
DVLA’s I Can’t Wait To Pass My Driving Test Facebook page – because it shows that putting aside thr logo and even the name of the organisation works if you get the people to pay attention to pay attention: https://www.facebook.com/mydrivingtest?fref=ts
PC Stanley on Twitter – because it shows a human face in an organisation from a West Midlands Police officer: https://twitter.com/PCStanleyWMP
PC Stanley blog – because it shows a human face and talks about anonymised aspects of police procedure that most people don’t know about http://pcstanleywmp.wordpress.com/
Storify Streetly floods – because it shows how social media reacts in a crisis and how a trusted voice from police, fire and council online can fill the news vacuum http://storify.com/danslee/social-media-and-flooding-in-streetly-walsall
Facebook in libraries
Facebook works best updated two or three times a day with sharable content. Pictures work well. So does video. Be engaging and informal.
100 Libraries to follow on Facebook – blog http://www.mattanderson.org/blog/2013/01/31/100-libraries-to-follow-on-facebook/
British Library https://www.facebook.com/britishlibrary?fref=ts
Library of Congress https://www.facebook.com/libraryofcongress
New York Public Library https://www.facebook.com/nypl
Halifax Public Library https://www.facebook.com/hfxpublib
Birmingham Library https://www.facebook.com/libraryofbirmingham
Realtime updates work well. Pictures too.
Author Amanda Eyereward https://twitter.com/amandaeyreward
Author Carin Berger https://twitter.com/CarinBerger
100 Authors http://mashable.com/2009/05/08/twitter-authors/
Birmingham Library https://twitter.com/TheIronRoom
Orkney library https://twitter.com/OrkneyLibrary
Waterstones Oxford Street https://twitter.com/WstonesOxfordSt
Essex libraries https://twitter.com/EssexLibraries
Just for you here are a few examples of tweets:
— Orkney Library (@OrkneyLibrary) February 20, 2014
— Waterstones (@Waterstones) February 14, 2014
Images are powerful
Images work really well and there are a couple of resources. You can link to images you find anywhere. It’s the neighbourly thing to do and you are driving traffic to their website so people will be fine about that.
You can link to Flickr which is a depository of more than five billion images. See the Libraries Flickr group here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/librariesandlibrarians/
But remember not to abuse copyright. Don’t ever right click and save an image hoping you won’t get found out. There’s a Google app for just that. But what you can use are images which have been released with a creative commons licence. Basically, creative commons allows the re-use of pictures so long as you meet basic criteria. There are several types of licence so check to see which licence has been attached. Often people will be fine for re-use so long as you attribute the author and link back to the original image.
Search the Compfight website ticking the creative commons search button http://compfight.com/
Have a look at Wikimedia which has a lot of specific content. If you are after a creative commons image of Jack Nicholson or The British Library search here: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
You can brighten up book discussions amongst reader groups, or author visits, or bounce and rhyme stories by recording them with people’s permission and post them to Audioboo or Soundcloud. These are applications that gives you three minutes of audio that you can share with the web or embed in a webpage.
Here is author WHJ Auden readingh one of his poems: http://ht.ly/tSdv6
Blogging is made for libraries and librarians. You can host discussions here and allow for comments on different aspects of the library.
Literary blog http://www.internetwritingjournal.com/authorblogs/
Video works great. You can make your own or maybe there is some content around a theme you are looking for. The First World War, for example. Create your own channel or search and share what is there. Look out for the comments section here. They can be a bit ripe.
Birmingham Library http://www.youtube.com/user/LibraryofBham2013
Southend library reading group http://youtu.be/dEh7fBfB_O4
But where will I get the content from?
It’s amazing how once you take a few doggy paddle strokes in the shallow end that all this makes sense and you start over time to get a return on the time you put in. There are no quick fixes. A few minutes a day will help you and as with anything what you get out is what you put in.
Here are 11 things you could do as librarians
1. Record an interview with an author on Audioboo or Soundcloud and post to your Facebook, Twitter or email list.
2. Post details of events to your social media accounts. Use something like hootsuite to schedule when the messages appear so if needs be repeat the message at a time when more people are likely to be around. Lunchtime, first thing in the morning and evening are times when people tend to be online more. Don’t forget though, if you are cancelling the event, to unschedule any queued content.
3. Share things that other people have posted. If it is in your geographical area and a public sector or third sector organisation have posted something share it or retweet it. You’ll find that they’ll be more inclined to do the same.
4. Use a popular hashtag on Twitter around a TV programme. Check the schedules. A link to a book or DVD on dancing or dress making with sequins may work with the hashtag #strictly while Strictly Come Dancing is being shown on a Saturday night.
6. Use an image of a cat from compfight that has a creative commons licence – see the above – to illustrate a campaign on cats and other animals. What you have on your display shelf or window can be repeated online too.
7. Create a Facebook group or a Google group – which works with email – for a reading group.
8. Post book reviews from librarians on your website and onto the social web.
9. Take a picture – with people’s permission – of people using the library or people taking part in an activity.
10. Be creative. Ignore all the above and use your imagination. Make your own case studies.
11. Install WiFi.
Who needs books? http://www.flickr.com/photos/boltron/6175154545/sizes/l/
Sitting reading http://www.flickr.com/photos/jstar/345712329/sizes/o/
Library search engine http://www.flickr.com/photos/47823583@N03/4993073773/