#COMMSCAMP14: Did That Really Just Happen?

14421903699_6fd42b66a6_kA couple of days have now passed since the rather glorious Monday in July that was commscamp.

First thought is ‘did that really just happen?’ and second is ‘how the hell do I process all that information?’

The answer to the first is ‘yes’ and to the second: ‘with a bit of time and space, if that’s okay?’

This isn’t going to be your traditional list of things I learned at an event post but rather a quick chance to chuck up a few paragraphs after a bit of time has passed. There will be a proper ‘thank you’ post in the next couple of days and there’s a load of people to thank.

It isn’t just about eating cake. But cake is a trojan horse that disarms people. How serious can you be when discussing the merits of Victoria sponge as an introduction?

There is value in an unconference. I’ve said repeatedly, that I started to think differently after the first unconference I went to. That was localgovcamp in 2009 a rather seminal moment for myself and a whole load of other people too. There’s something in the format that allows people who don’t get the chance to have a voice and that’s really powerful.

There’s a cycle in event organising that runs from having a great idea, then starting the ball rolling and then doing the work, then wondering if this thing will work, then realising that it will and then repeating. If someone came to commscamp and is a bit inspired to run something the advice is to do it.

Evaluation, evaluation, evaluation… is the thing that’s going to either save pr and communications or kill it. And there’s a blog post brewing about what you can do and how to do it. If you evaluate you can show your worth and show how you are making a difference. Without it you are an expensive luxury that people think that they can do without and let’s face it, if you are not telling your story, who can blame them? Forget the new shiny channel for a second. Think of the fundamentals and spend time on this. It’ll save your life.

If you think that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn are the last word in social media you’re dead wrong. One of the conclusions of the IEWM survey was that local government in the West Midlands isn’t touching Whats App and Snapchat. 14586772736_3317557b05_kStats would tell you that it would be a good idea if we all did. The web keeps moving. But the lessons pioneers learned in the foothills of 2008 when convincing places to use things like Facebook are lessons that will see us all through.

The thing that makes me smile is people with light bulbs going on above their heads. It’s the thing that makes my day worthwhile now comms2point0 is a company. Going somewhere and training and then seeing someone’s face when they realise how powerful the web is and how they can use it. It’s brilliant. I think at commscamp there were people with light bulbs popping all over the shop and that for me is brilliant.

There’s never enough time to blog and I’ve counted five I’d like to tackle in the next few days. Why blog? Because it’s working things out that lets me go back and look at the workings out a bit later down the track.

Thank you for helping make commscamp a success. There really are some great people out there.

Creative commons credits

@Blangry eating cake: https://flic.kr/p/nYq2w4 by Ann Kempster

Two people talking: https://flic.kr/p/odZ2kE by Leah Lockhart

SOCIAL VOICE: Corporate Criticism Shouldn’t Be Taken Personally

136999986_e410a68efb_oThere’s a thing about people who put their heart and soul into making a social media account work.

They go the extra mile, they’re pushing at the margins and they take a real sense of pride about what they are doing.

But there’s also something that connects them whether profile they are running whether that’s a town centre Facebook, a corporatel Twitter or an NHS Trust YouTube channel.

Because they put heart and soul into what they do their skin is that bin thinner when they face criticism of the organisation or service they front-up online.

Is it aimed at me? It feels like it… 

“I used to go onto our social channel in the evening and answer questions,” one said to me recently. “I don’t bother now. When I’ve spent all day being told that I’m rubbish and the service we provide is dreadful I’m worn down. I just don’t want it in the evening as well.”

Of course, that person isn’t rubbish and the person making the complaint isn’t singling out that individual. They just happen to be the person operating the place where people can make a voice heard.

It’s a feeling I can relate to. A one-off project I helped run went well but the numbers we produced were lambasted by a lone voice in the early hours of the morning and that made me far more angry than it probably should.

That’s not to say that there should be no criticism or even that it’s always, always unwelcome.

We should just acknowledge that when a half brick comes flying towards an organisation’s social media it’s not meant for you but the organisation you work for. It’s rarely personal.

Creative commons credit
Dandelion https://www.flickr.com/photos/51194339@N00/136999986/

#LOCALGOVCAMP: And where are we now?


A good thing is about to happen.  Localgovcamp is taking place in Birmingham.

Local what?

Localgovcamp. It first happened in 2009 and has happened sporadically since.

You put more than 100 people in a room and you let them to set the agenda about what’s discussed. Ideas, connection and inspiration emerge and  ideas, magpie others and make connections.

For one day job titles are left at the door and everyone has a say in working out how the internets plus people and enthusiasm can make a difference. I learned more about the social web in its early days from people who went to localgovcamp than I did from anyone from PR.

So much has happened…

The first one made me think differently. It was a Road to Damascus moment. I realised my view counted and that the future was going to be digital. We could see the future and that we could shape it.

But not all for the good…

And yet change hasn’t happened as quickly as it needs to. Some of those early travellers have fallen by the wayside gone but not forgotten. The revolution didn’t happen overnight and austerity has stopped much innovation in its tracks. Yet the pace needs to pick up. Change in a sector shouldn’t be left to enthusiasts doing things in their spare time.

And the trajectory is onwards….

Some bright people are doing good work in part because of the freedom of thought and network attending a govcamp has brought. The Localgovdigital group is one of those heading forward though not nearly as fast and with none of the resources the sector needs.

And a bunch of freelancers emerged…

A long while back talking to Al Smith on Twitter I tried to guess how many from the first event had left local government. A while later using the orginal eventbrite and LinkedIn I worked it out.

118 went.

28 were from local government itself.

Of the 28 from local government 13 have left and 8 now run their own businesses. I’m one of them.

The Google doc with the attendees from localgovcamp 2009 and what they are doing is here.

I used to think unconferences like localgovcamp would change the world. I was wrong. Not on their own they don’t. They can provide the ideas and inspiration. But it’s the action that counts. Yet, if they do things like this they must carry on…

PODCAST: My Podcasting Guest Debut With Dave Briggs

4693366430_48c3e2fdf0_bA good podcast educates, informs and leaves you wanting more and I don’t listen to anywhere near enough of them.

I’m delighted to say that the excellent Dave Briggs has started a podcast where he talks to someone about what they’ve been doing that week and talks to them about some links they may have come across.

Dave has done some fantastic work understanding how the internet and the social web can work in government and local government and he continues to do great work most recently looking at how digital skills can benefit the workplace through his worksmart project.

I’m even more delighted to say that Dave asked me to be a guest on the first podcast he recorded and we spent an engaging 45-minutes talking.

You can hear the podcast here:


We spoke about quite a few things including failure and the benefits of failure, the content14 event in Cardiff, Pete Ashton, infographics, Helen Reynolds and ChannelShiftCamp North.

The full links and show notes can be found on Dave’s blog here.

It promises to be an interesting series with more guests and I’d urge you to pay attention.

Creative commons credit

Dave Briggs https://flic.kr/p/89JJjS

PROTEST PR: How Comms Should Answer Cuts Questions

8544982977_36a47ac99a_oYou’re a public sector PR person and you’ve got to answer a question from the media about cuts, what do you do?

Forecasts say there will be 40 per cent job losses in some areas of the public sector with £3.3 billion being taken from the voluntary sector over a five year period and £20 billion coming from local government and £15 billion of efficiency savings due in the NHS.

So, what stories are being shaped? If you work in the sector it’s probably long overdue time to think about it.

A)      Apply a positive gloss and insist that yes, efficiencies will be made but frontline services will not be cut.
B)      Tell people that they had their chance to have their say in the budget consultation and they blew it.
C)       Tell people that this is what cuts look like.

All too often people in the public sector have been going for a) to try and minimise panic and upset on the population. But with £20 billion worth of cuts coming down the tracks in local government we need to be above all honest. So, let’s just take a closer look at that, shall we?

What insisting that efficiencies will be made and frontline services will not be cut means

You’ve been cutting millions of pounds from budgets for years. But the frontline hasn’t been affected? Efficiencies? Clearly, you were wasting that money all along so why on earth should I trust you now?

Or, you’re trying to be a bit clever and you know that the frontline will very much be affected but the couple of hours of mobile library visit will somehow make-up for the five-day-a-week building the community used to have. People won’t buy it, or they’ll see through it. So, why should they trust you now?

What telling people that they’ve had their chance means

You’ve pinned up details of a public meeting at the church hall and you paid three times the rate for a display ad in the local paper because it’s a public notice and they’ve got you over a barrel. Twelve people turned up and the Twitter chat you ran reached a fair number but not everyone. In other words, you’ve not done a very good job of this public consultation lark. Why should they trust you now?

What telling people that this is what cuts look like looks like

In Birmingham, this is exactly what Cllr James McKay told the Evening Mail about green bin charges in the City as people were protesting against cuts. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, people won’t like it. But look yourself in the eye. This is the truth. This is going to happen more and more and public sector comms increasingly is going to be about what you don’t do rather than you do.

But at least they’ll trust you more because you are being honest.

A grown-up conversation is needed about communicating cuts and if you work in the area you need to work out which choice you make pretty quick.

Creative commons credit 

Dog protest https://www.flickr.com/photos/16230215@N08/8544982977/

FAIL FORWARD: Don’t Fear Failure – blog and slideshare

IMAG0519It’s such a damning word isn’t it, failure? It’s the bowler hatted man falling on a banana skin or the wrongly sent tweet that leaves us falling about LOL-ing.

But the truth is, failure is beautiful. From failure we learn and we can do a better job. We shouldn’t fear failure. We should leave space for failure so we can have the confidence to do bigger better things.

I was faced with a real dilemma just recently. I’d agreed to speak on the topic of failure at the commshero event in Manchester. Fantastic, I thought. A chance to have people rolling in the aisles at a parade of digital fails. Like the subbing mistake on the front page of a magazine that led you to think of how the cover star was a dog eating cannibal.

Or the British Gas #askbg hashtag.

Or maybe even struggling Aston Villa’s Twitter chat with a fringe player that went badly wrong. I could maybe even tell the story of the Walsall Council Twitter fail and what we learned. And that’s the key. What we learned. When you fail you learn.

There’s a matrix that shows the bigger the fail the bigger the learning. It’s what happened on the north face of the Eiger in the 1930s where one of the most famous mountaineering disasters in history killed the four members of the climbing party told in mountaineering epic ‘The White Spider’ by Heinrich Harrer and the excellent film ‘The Beckoning Silence.’ A fixed rope was gathered in trapping their retreat when their summit attempt turned into a retreat.

Every attempt since has seen climbers leave the rope in place. See? We learn. Don’t laugh at failure. Learn. But what was also tempting was just to look at digital fails when there is more to communications than that.

Because if you are not thinking about strategy you are failing. If you are not finding out what keeps senior people awake at night and planning your comms around that you are failing.

If you are not leaving space to experiment, learn and even fail, you are failing. That’s all a bigger crime than a tactical. blunder.

So, what are you doing about that?

Commsheroes danslee-final from Daniel Slee

CHART POST: My top 10 at being in the top 10

2782376836_7de66e1f4a_bLadies and gentlemen, I’ve made the charts new in at number four.

An unexpected email dropped the other day from the nice people at Cision. They’ve rated this blog as 4th in their list of UK PR blogs.

I haven’t a clue what metrics they’ve used but I suspect pictures of cake have played a role in this. Still, this did make me smile.

It also prompted me to take a look back at what I’ve written and knock up a quick top 10.

If you’ve not come across this blog, then hello. If you’ve read it before, welcome back. It’s a blog that looks mostly at digital communications in local government and whose ideas, I’d suggest, can transfer to other sectors.

Why blog? To contribute to the debate, to float an idea and to chuck up an idea to see if it works. Even though I’m posting a lot to comm2point0 these days I’ll always look to cross-post here too.

A top 10 of posts

‘Die Press Release Die’ and Six Other Things PR People Need To Know - In 2006 Tom Foremski wrote a blog that was a scream of frustration at how public relations hadn’t grasped that the world was changing. I loved it and when presenting to LGComms gave a presentation on the idea and what it now means.

Channel Shift – A Future for Public Sector Comms in 2013? – A post about why we need to have an end result to what we do and how that can be powerful when its linked to a major aim for an organisation.

Why Solutions Not Shiny Matter Most  – A post about a comment from a chief executive that we should stop being evangelists and go with digital as a solution if we really want to make a difference. He was right and still is.

5112453782_90e3801e25_b37 skills, abilities and platforms for today’s comms person – A post about the skills we need today’s comms landscape. I wrote this in a deckchair in Devon with a cup of tea which is why I’m particularly fond of it. I’m sure cake was involved too.

11 Rules of Social Media in an organisation - A post about the ingredients you’ll need to make things work using social media in an organisation.

Twitter Gritter: Gritting and Social Media – A post about the idea of when local government goes out and does something that it tells people. What a fine idea is that?

27 Ways To Give Your Organisation a Smiley Face With Twitter – Which was the first blog post I wrote where I found a voice back in 2009 and began to hit my stride. We’d been using Twitter for six months and looking back it’s a bit perscriptive and you can pick and choose I’m still rather proud of this.

Stop Being Irrelevant: Five Things Every Comms Person Should Know – For a while I was getting quite irritated at the stick-in-the-mud head-in-the-sand attitude of the PR industry. It still irritates. But I get the sense that the penny has dropped and things are evolving. This was a shouty wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee post.

‘I’m Showing Two Colleagues Twitter. They Say They Don’t Get It.’ – When I wrote this @twitter picked it up and shared it and 23,000 people came and saw it in the space of a month. Mad, really.

Why I Blog And You Should Too – Sets out why I do this and still do.

And 10 blogs you need to look at


The Face of the Matter

Bentham Towers

Paul Bromford

Stephen Waddington

A Day Without OJ

Kate Reynolds

Asif Choudry

Weekly Blog Club



So, thank you for reading and thank you for sharing.

Picture credits 

Rolling Stones http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/2782376836/sizes/l/

Beer http://flic.kr/p/8MLEoS


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