Published in 1999 as the product of a web forum the 95 points sketches out how the social web will work and what the future will look like.
It’s bold stuff. The old way of doing things are dead. Thanks to the web people can organise themselves far faster than organisations. The organisation that fails to realise all this will be left behind.
Not all of the points have come true. But enough have to make a closer reading of the original 95-points part of your reading list. The 10 year anniversary paperback with essays around the subject is worth a punt. But the original list will do just fine.
For those on the bow wave of innovation this will be nothing new. But to comms people coming to terms with the changing landscape it’s good advice.
For me, the thing that shines through really clearly is the importance of using the human voice.
On the social web, the streams that, in the wise words of blogger Adrian Short ‘speak human’ are the ones that connect best and in times of stress have some social capital to fall back on. Social capital, by the way, is the indefinable sense of appreciation when someone talks to you like a human and even helps you out on a thing or two.
Just to whet your appetite here are 16 of them comms people need to know right here:
- Markets are conversations.
- Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
- Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
- Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
- The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
- In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.
- Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.
- Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.
- Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.
- Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.
- To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.
- You’re invited, but it’s our world. Take your shoes off at the door. If you want to barter with us, get down off that camel!
- We want you to take 50 million of us as seriously as you take one reporter from The Wall Street Journal.
- We know some people from your company. They’re pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you’re hiding? Can they come out and play?
- Our allegiance is to ourselves—our friends, our new allies and acquaintances.
- We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.
Creative commons credits:
But it’s the landscape of change that all comms people need to understand.
There are some wonderful things happening in some unexpected places in Britain. In towns and villages people are using the internet to connect and build things. I’ve long thought that the best grassroots innovation is happening outside of London. That can be a remote Scottish library using Twitter brilliantly, a Welsh town converting folk knowledge to Wikipedia or local government countryside ranger building an online community. All these things play a part in their communities.
What also strikes me is that scratching the surface of a community and you’ll find the web used in imaganitive ways.
Take the borough of Telford & Wrekin, for example. It has 170,000 people and a surprisingly high number of roundabouts. It has a small town distrust of its neighbours but a pride in the communities that make up the place.
Just recently there was a brewcamp staged there. This was an informal meet-up at a café that has been staged elsewhere in the wider West Midlands. Around 20 people came. The debate was good but the ideas that emerged were as arrestingly good as the cake.
A connected town
1. Letting a blogger live stream a council meeting and use a bingo card to liven it up
A resident from the Lightmoor Life blog used an iPhone to stream a council meeting to show democracy in action. They made a note of when the items were so people could go back and see the items for themselves. You can see that here.
Marvellously, there was a bingo card where viewers were encouraged to take a drink when key politicians mentioned idiosyncratic phrases. That’s lovely.
2. Using football as a way to talk about dementia.
Telford United as a community-run club have good links with its fans. Pete Jackson and others used the idea of football to encourage people to learn more about that issue.
For the most part a football fan’s recollections are not of the goals but of the crowd, the terraces, who you went with or the long drive home from that away game.
You can see a YouTube clip that tells more about the project here.
3. Connecting people through civic pride
Telford has large parts of it built as new town built in the Sixties and Seventies.
It doesn’t always have the heritage or roots of other places but there is a pride and nostalgia for that early vision of how Telford was going to be.
Telford Live posted scanned pictures from a scrapbook that recorded those early visions.
4. A museum that tweets
Coalbrookdale is a world heritage site and deservedly so. It’s where the industrial revolution truly started. They have a Twitter stream that’s engaging and informative.
5. A campaign to save a cinema using the web
Bright residents have a vision to return the Clifton cinema in Wellington back to use as just that. A cinema. They are organising in real life but have a web resource to tell people what is happening.
6. Wellington soup
The brilliant Wellington soup website aims to celebrate the good things and stir up some extra ones. It’s a central place where people can organise, seek help and bounce ideas. It’s brilliant and it’s here.
As the site says:
What are the ingredients that make a town interesting; that make it bubble with activity? And whose job is it to find those ingredients and throw them into the pot? Councils and governments spend millions trying to make places work, economically, socially and culturally, and rightly so. But they can’t do it all. The small local projects that bring neighbours together; the little shops that brighten up a street; the fetes and festivals, markets and fairs, plays and concerts - most of them start a long way from council offices.
7. If you are born in Lightmoor you get a tree planted in an orchard.
Which is such a cracking idea.
That’s Telford and that’s all a bit great. If that’s happening that’s off the beaten track just imagine what’s happening elsewhere.
I’m sure that the communities of Telford and Wrekin have pockets of connectivity and areas that just aren’t on line. But they’re making broad brushes on a canvas that are connecting and informing.
As a comms person that’s a fascinating landscape.
Creative commons credit
We’d talked about the old days when we were both reporters at a daily newspaper and we smiled as we reminisced at old war stories.
Then our talk turned to the future for newspapers and a dark cloud drifted over our chat.
I spoke of how newspapers needed to be digital first and think of the web ahead of print.
I spoke of how bloggers shouldn’t always be seen as the enemy but people to work with when you can.
I talked of how the bright newspaper should link back, attribute and ask for permission before using content.
I mentioned how annoyed bloggers get when their content is lifted.
“But this has always happened,” my former colleague angrily said.
“They should just stop being precious. Think about when you lifted a story from another newspaper.”
The reporter was right. In the dog-eat-dog battle between papers we’d never dream of attributing a tale to a rival paper.
But this is just the point.
Blogs are not newspapers nor do they want to be.
They’re put together often by community spirited residents. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are awful.
But treating bloggers as the enemy all the time is missing the point.
The way newspapers should deal with bloggers is the same as how they’ve always dealt with contributors whether they be the village contributor from Gnosall for the Stafford Newsletter or the U13 match report writer for the Stourbridge News.
They’re relationships to nurture and encourage.
Then a rather wonderful thing happened today which made me think of this conversation.
A Walsall Advertiser reporter Helen Draycott asked a blogger via Twitter for permission to re-use images from the Walsall night market in the Walsall Advertiser.
The blogger, Brownhills Bob, agreed for a £10 donation to charity.
@brownhillsbob would we be able to use these in the Advertiser?
— Helen Draycott (@helen_marie83) March 29, 2013
@brownhillsbob The editor is going to arrange a donation. Could you let me know what credit to put in the paper with the photos? Thanks.
— Helen Draycott (@helen_marie83) April 2, 2013
That’s how we should all look to engage with residents whether they be bloggers or someone who has taken a good image that you’d like to add to your corporate website.
If the answer is ‘no’ don’t take it personally.
Creative commons credit
All you had to do was knock over a phone box, sell your brother’s motorbike and you had enough to record and release a 7″ single.
I quite like that.
Few things have given me greater satisfaction than a DIY project I’ve been involved with that has grown and evolved over the past three years with Si Whitehouse, Andy Mabbett, Kate Sahota, Mike Rawlins and others.
The project, called Brewcamp, brings people together to talk, learn and share in and around local government in the West Midlands. We even have a sporadically updated website here.
I’ve blogged about it before here and I’m re-posting this advice to encourage you to do something similar.
Basically, every two months we find a cafe to meet up for three sessions.
It’s very simple.
1. You find a cafe that opens in the evening and is willing to take 15 or 20 extra customers.
2. Wifi is nice but not essential.
3. You find three people to each talk about a topic.
4. You don’t allow presentations. They gets in the way.
5. You think of a name for it that means something to your area.
6. You put up an eventbrite with the location, date and time so you can issue tickets.
7. You carry it out.
8. You learn things and enjoy.
9. If you fancy changing these rules to suit yourself you can.
10. That’s it.
If ever you fancied learning about the changing landscape, felt like learning something and think that tea, cake and conversation is a good idea you should do this.
So, what’s stopping you?
Creative commons credit
So, here they are. To continue the list meme things that struck me after commscamp an unconference for pr and comms people.
I wish there was more of these.
I hope that some people who came to commscamp left as inspired as I did when I left localgovcamp in 2009.
I wish there was more time to stop and chat with more who came.
I hope people left for London with an inkling of why the West Midlands is good at this unconference stuff. It’s three c’s: cake, curry and conversation.
I wish that I’d have got those ‘stuff your press release’ stickers made in time.
I hope that our team meetings in future also run peer training which sees colleagues show others how they did something.
I wish that not just local government and central government share ideas better but fire, police, NHS and voluntary sectors too.
I hope that other events bring people from outside the comfort zone too with the confidence to point out things like that no, we’re not brands we’re people to a room full of comms people.
I wish Mike Rawlins could have been around for the punch up on press releases. What larks would have followed.
I hope that Kate Bentham knows how much I was grateful to her for being Official Cake Monitor. She was brilliant.
I wish to accept 1/135th of credit for the good things said about the event and deflect the rest to the other 135 who came. I’m pretty sure that Ann Kempster and Darren Caveney would say similar.
I hope that there is a localgovcamp in Brum again this year.
I wish good things to volunteers Alex, Kate, Pauline, Si, Kelly, Emma and Laura.
I hope the sponsors know how appreciative we are that the organisers don’t have to sell their cars to pay for it to Govdelivery, FutureGov, dxw, comms2point0, The Social Simulator, Claremont, NLGN, Improvement and Delivery West Midlands, PSCSF, Public i and LGA.
I wish that when people see spam on a hashtag they’ll react calmly and not click on the boob links rather than suggest we abandon the hashtag.
I hope that everyone who came did a little thing to change or innovate before they switch on their inbox every day.
I wish that people would stop thinking about traditional and digital and just think of comms.
I hope we have more people who become the organisation’s digital comms sweet sharer who scans the horizon, tries things out and encourages other less keen colleagues to come on in.
I wish people outside the sector could see that there’s real value in sessions that are about meat and potato issues. Not just horizon scanning.
I hope to do other things in the future with Ann Kempster.
I wish every event had a facilitator as good as Lloyd Davis and that I took pictures that make you smile as well as Paul Clarke.
Creative commons credits.
So, clearly for the third HyperWM unconference we thought we’d have a crack at producing our own.
What a jolly wheeze we thought. We’d collaborate to turn some blog posts into a newspaper using the Newspaper Club website. What larks. You use their website to produce a newspaper and they use spare capacity on presses to send you the printed thing.
A newspaper. We’d get people not used to the blogs reading blogs. After all, isn’t it a good idea to give information in the format that people would like?
A quick disclaimer. I spent 12 years on newspapers starting in the early days of the internet and ending the year after Facebook was invented. For others it was their first experience of a newspaper.
Myself, Si Whitehouse and Liz O’Nions worked to produce the finished edition.
Here’s some things that struck me.
Bloggers were a bit phased by it all. People seem mildly tickled to see their name in print. But they got a bit irked when their work was edited to fit the space available. They also hated he idea of deadlines and in some cases had to be pushed and threatened to come up with the goods. In some cases no goods were come up with at all. There’s something about aiming for a deadline that some people not used to deadlines struggle with.
Editing I’m reminded that having to write for a specific space is irritating. I’m also struck by how clunky and basic the basic Newspaper Club editing tools are. You can only add your content in sequential order. Oh, and edit something on page two and you push everything on pages three to eight off kilter. Thankfully, you can upload your own work via a pdf which may well be the best way to tackle things. Phew.
Newspapers make me swear. I’m reminded – how could I forget? – that newspapers are only produced by lots of swearing with an undertow of threats. On his first day on a daily newspaper a former colleague had his first proudly written story returned with the words ‘SHIT’ written on the top by his news editor. He re-wrote and re-sent. It was sent back with the morale-boosting message ‘STILL SHIT’ on it followed by a phone call in which the news editor treated his new charge to a lecture with a wider array of swear words. That in a nutshell is the approach to management on many newspapers. Besides, a newsroom without swearing I just don’t feel is a newsroom. Looking back on my career there was a lot of swearing. Not all threatening ranging from the soft curse to the humorous aside punctuated by Anglo-Saxon to the red faced abuse. During the process of the HyperWM newspaper I swore a lot and I’m struck by how I’m actually incapable of producing one without it.
Reporters’ war stories can only be understood by other reporters. You can have a pride of lions, a gaggle of geese, a whinge of newspaper photographers and an anecdote of reporters. After Hyper WM we went to an Indian restaurant. I regaled the story of how I was on calls duty when I got a tip-off that it had collapsed killing three people and had 30 minutes to write the frontpage. It turned out it was only one person killed. People seemed aghast that reporters then track down where the deceased lived with the aim of securing a picture and an interview with the grieving family. Actually, it is quite shocking. But people need to know how their family newspaper is produced.
Newspapers give an illusion of permanence. Holding something in your hand is real. You’ve made something. Not just a line of code. Reading some print is something that millions of people still like to do and I’m one of them. But as the saying goes they’re also fish and chip wrappers. You can’t Google print. Now the dust has settled I’m thinking of how to put the text online too.
Newspapers are great. When was a reporter and I had a few minutes spare I’d walk down to the Press Hall past the towering presses humming with noise just to pick up one of the first copies after it came off the line. The spectacle of this impressed me on my last day just as much as it had on my first. Those presses have close now and production has been moved. This is life.
It takes time and money to produce a piece of print. In hard stats it took two days of work to put the newspaper together and we waited for days for it to arrive. We produced 200 copies. The contributors could have reached ten times that at no cost on Twitter. But – and this is the main point – they may not have reached the 200 who picked up the newspaper. Sometimes you can spend too much time focussing on the one channel and forget about the others. But you need to work out the cost in reaching them.
You can read the newspaper here:
Big thank you to the Interreg-funded Cross Innovation EU project from Birmingham City University for helping to sponsor and to fellow contributors Andy Mabbett, Si Whitehouse, Liz O’Nions, Jan Britton, Alexa Torlo, Ben Procter, Caroline Beavon and Geoff Coleman.
Creative commons credits
Always put the most eye-catching quote in the first par of a feature is indeed a handy trick to know.
It reels the reader in and makes them want to read on. Same for pictures too. Get something arresting and witty.
Two things I’ve learned over three years as a blogger. There. Now they’re yours.
Only thing is, a Beatles quote and a picture of an exploding car doesn’t work when it’s a reflective piece. Unless, of course you use them as a device to get people reading and keep them reading by offering blogging tips in amongst the reflection.
Tip three: Have a very understanding partner who doesn’t mind you hammering into a laptop when she’s watching the telly.
Tip four: Don’t worry that your first few are rubbish. It’s the law.
Now for some reflection. Three years ago I started to blog to add to the debate and conversation. There were many people I admired and respected and very few of my contemporaries are still at it. Many have moved on and are now turning their talents to other things. Realising this made me feel a bit lonely. Every blog has a lifespan. It made me think of what this blog’s timeline would be. We Love Local Government was a blog that was a cornerstone on the digital landscape. Speaking to the people behind it Glen Ocsko and Gareth Young a while back I felt a burning sense of kinship.
“Sometimes you really don’t want to write something,” one said “but you sort of have to because you’ve set yourself this deadline. Which is mad because it’s all self-imposed.”
Tip five: Write where you feel comfortable. In a chair. On the train. At the kitchen table. Vary it if it helps. But give yourself a weekly deadline.
One lapsed blogger Ingrid Koehler drifted through my timeline today. Ingrid used to work at the IdEA. It’s criminal that her talents have been lost to the public sector. She is responsible for some great work and much of it stands the test of time. Like her Connected Councillors guide, for example.
Ingrid used to collect case studies and blog them insanely early the morning. It was one of the many inspirations for comms2point0 a blog about comms and PR and an idea that Darren Caveney came up with that I sprinkled some hundreds and thousands on.
I spoke to another lapsed blogger today too. Sarah Lay is still passionate about what she does but has taken a conscious step back from writing.
We spoke of how the great mountain of work and case studies on digital innovation in local government has been produced in people’s spare time. In my corner of the allotment, it’s about public relations and communications.
We also spoke about how you can only go so far to embed good digital practice by out-of-hours work and unconferences. We’ve both thought at one time or another that they were the golden bullets.
We agreed that if local government is serious about mainstreaming change then the bright sparks doing the innovation need to be able to have room – and funding – to create and share the best practice sweets.
Tip six: It doesn’t matter what you write about is niche. It’s your niche and you’ll be amazed at how you’ll find fellow travellers.
On a lighter note, three years on and Hyper WM is going from strength to strength. A loose collection of local government people help run it. This time, Sandwell Council chief executive Jan Britton and officer Liz Onions have chipped in and former Birmingham City Council officer Si Whitehouse is taking a lead this year. The first 50 tickets went in 24-hours. If you want one go here. Quickly. It makes me feel quietly proud something that was quietly floated on this blog following a Eureka conversation with Si Whitehouse has taken root with help, love, dedication and cake from a bunch of others. A handful of people read that blog post proposing it. But the good thing was that several of those that did wanted to come and wanted to help. That’s the beauty of a blog post. It circulates an idea cheaply.
Tips seven to ten: Write about things you are passionate about. Write one every week. Post what you write on Twitter and add the #weeklyblogclub hashtag for a ready made audience.
Since I started there are new bloggers in and around local government whose work I love. There’s comms officer Stuart Macintosh from Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, Ross Wigham head of communications at Northumberland County Council, London social worker Ermintrude2, Carolyne Mitchell in Scottish local government and from the US Jim Garrow who is doing some brilliant stuff. Matt Murray in Brisbane Australia is doing some great stuff with photography. Kate Hughes does housing comms really well, Helen Reynolds of Monmouthshire County Council writes some cracking stuff in Shropshire Jon King and Kate Bentham are doing some brilliant things as is Phil Jewitt at Leeds City Council while the weeklyblogclub initiative skippered by Janet Davis is a constant source of good content.
Whatever the future holds for me I’m sure that it will be in part because of the work I’ve done and shared. I’m certain of that.
Tip eleven: Compfight is a brilliant tool to search for creative commons pictures for blogs (especially ones of people smiling which draw you in.)
Tip twelve: Don’t write too much. A few hundred words will do. That’s why I’m ending this post here.
Around 3,000 people read this blog every month which is slightly mad. If you’ve read, commented, shared or taken something from any of the 120 posts I’ve written in the last three years from me to you: ‘thank you’.
Remember when Homer addresses the lynch mob with an impassioned speech and they’re so impressed they want to make him Mayor and ditch Mayor Quimby?
If only local government was that simple.
If only it took a good argument to change the world.
Actually, real life is a bit more complicated.
Back in late 2008 I started to see that my job was going to get turned on its head by social media. In 2009, at events such as localgovcamp there was a real messianic zeal of those who to get these channels embedded.
We made the case. We argued that we’d need to change what we did. We weren’t alone in this. Some exciting innovation took place. Much of it JFDI – or just flipping do it. We experimented and along with other comms teams we changed our culture.
Social media should be at the heart of what we do in comms. It should be shared and it should see frontline officers on Twitter using their own voices. But this is just the start.
We need better social media customer services…
Carolyne Mitchell, of South Lanarkshire Council, posed the question of local government comms being at a cross-roads with social media. She’s right. She quite rightly asked if social customer services is part of the next step. It’s something echoed by Darren Caveney on the Comms2point0 blog here.
It makes sense to have a customer services presence on to answer queries direct in the channel where people want them answering. That argument works with Twitter or Facebook just as effectively as telephone or face-to-face. After all, if what people are saying about us online shapes our reputation then a swift response online can help shaped this.
One of the best case studies of good social customer services is @londonmidland for London Midland Railways. It talks to people. It finds out information. It explains things. It wins awards for it too.
@burgessgr Which station was that? Sorry for late boarding. Conductor responsible for opening doors but some delays re: power line damage.
— London Midland (@LondonMidland) June 8, 2012
“I love London Midland,” one regular user told me. “Not because of the service. That can be shocking. But I love it because it’s got such a brilliant Twitter that tells me what I want to know.”
But good customer services is only part of the battle of what’s next.
We need better digital engagement (that’s better listening…)
Jon King and Nigel Bishop who are doing great things at Shropshire Council have made the point before that we need social organisations. In other words, we need organisations that listen. Why? Because there’s no point having a shiny social media presence to announce a £1 million super scheme when people weren’t even properly consulted about the scheme in the first place, hate it and would like some answers, please.
In a world where people have an online voice all this means an organisation needs to think about better listening and better conversations.
With every good example on Helpful Technology’s Digital Engagement Guide I’m more convinced about the need for better digital engagement. Some of that has a comms aspect to it without ever being purely a communications channel. Take the Ordnance Survey blog, for example, , the head of the Civil Service Bob Kerslake taking questions via Facebook or how three agencies communicated when the gangway collapsed on HMS Belfast.
Dave Briggs’ Kind of Digital Digital Engagement Cookbook is another excellent resource.
So, the job of the bright digital comms person may not just be to ask ‘how can we communicate digitally’, but also how can we talk to people better and answer their problems too.
Comms people bothered about their organisation’s reputation need to know this and act on it.