Seeing as the only thing I’m affecting between Christmas and New Year is a large cake tin and a box of celebrations I’ll be ignoring the man who helped put Clinton in the White House.
But first here’s a few things I predicted 2013 would have in store for us in my corner of local government communications on my own blog in 2012.
For those who’d like to point and laugh here is my 2011 predictions too for 2012
The ones that came off…
Comms teams have been becoming smaller. The recent comms2point0 survey revealed to 31 per cent thinking their team would shrink as against 19 per cent who thought they would grow.
Twitter defamation lawyers4u will become a reality. Partly true. The Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow settled in the High Court over a defamatory tweet and action was taken against scores of others. But ambulance chasing hasn’t quite happened yet.
Innovation will wither as spare capacity is cut. True. It’s certainly harder to experiment in a far smaller team just as the need for experimentation has increased.
The private sector has been better at innovating in digital comms. They’ve the budget and the will. But this doesn’t always mean private is better than public in all cases. They have different decision making processes.
The LGA-backed localgov digital project is a good idea whose time has come. Is bang on the money and chair Carl Haggerty winning a digital leadership award at The Guardian awards proves this.
Social media is fracturing. Is true. While 10 platforms were mentioned in the 2012 comms2point0 poll it now stands at 30 in the same poll a year later.
The ones where it’s too early to tell…
Smart comms people will realise that channel shift may the reason they survive. The jury is still out although it’s fascinating to hear some case studies where people have been experimenting with this.
People will see social media isn’t a golden bullet. People are gradually waking up to the idea that while this is important it’s part of the mix and a Facebook page on its own won’t change the world.
Digital comms specialists are needed. Skills need to be developed and shared.
The one that didn’t…
Facebook as a local government platform is over. There are some god ones but with fewer and fewer people seeing updates from pages it is no longer the wunderkind. Give this one time.
10 predictions for local government digital comms in 2014…
Teams will continue to get smaller. The ones that fail to grasp the nettle and look at what they are doing will wither.
Heads of comms will become fewer. As a result of the first two.
Better evaluation is needed. The 1980s idea of story counts and positive, negative and neutral need to go. Now. What will replace will be shaped by results. Like channel shift or user growth targets. Failure to do this will see teams become irrelevant.
Local government comms will become the poor relation of public sector PR. With training budgets gone, workloads increasing teams will struggle to do the basics without major recalibration.
Digital will continue to mainstream. But the digital specialist will need to be a jack of all trades and must be able to shape content for all manner of platforms – from the village magazine to YouTube to Twitter to a press release and web content.
Teams will be outstripped by the pace of change. When revolution is needed slow evolution will be allowed to occur.
Digital comms will step up a gear from simply tweeting press releases to tackling the really thorny problems. In local government these insoluble issues are called ‘wicked issues.’
Digital comms will continue to be a frontline officer task. Giving people the tools in the field will continue. Policy and training will need to come from the centre as the role of digital comms becomes part of all areas and not just a specialist.
There will be a major emergency in 2014 where digital comms plays a decisive role. And they’ll do a good job and more people will see the worth. But senior officers will still roll their eyes.
Teams will need content creators. Not press officers.
Teams that overlook internal communications – and in particular telling their own story internally – will suffer.
Change the model http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/4554851174/sizes/o/
Learn or retire http://www.flickr.com/photos/blairpeterson/5743993819/sizes/o/
The ideas that fire me are not from one organisation or institution. They come like refreshing drinks from the firehose of the internet that shares and spreads ideas.
Every working day myself, my colleague Darren Caveney or from time-to-time a guest editor will trawl the social networks looking for content that will help make sense of this fascinating landscape we find ourselves in.
Now the year is coming to an end I racked my brains for some links that really stopped me in my tracks. There was plenty and this is just a snapshot.
Good? Jim Garrow isn’t good he’s brilliant. He’s a blogger who works in public health and emergency planning in Philadelphia in the US. Nobody has written more challenging stuff than him in 2013. From a fistful of possible posts The Rise of the New Media on how journalists have lost their pre-eminent position is excellent at describing the landscape we live in.
And that’s the secret. I am the new media. You are the new media. They are the new media. Anyone can be. While the media laments their diminished (but absolutely not disappeared) role as, “breakers of news,” there are still other roles in the news-making world that they can fill.
Monmouthshire County Council’s digital manager Helen Reynold’s post Your Organisation Doesn’t Need a Social Media Expert It Needs Its Experts on Social Media articulates perfectly why social media shouldn’t be the preserve of PR people.
I work in PR though, there’s a great need for PR. But it can’t be about polishing turds, smartening up text to make press releases and pushing out stories on Facebook and Twitter. That’s old news. PR should be helping our experts to communicate well.
US blogger James Altucher in 10 Reasons Why You Have To Quit Your Job This Year takes the last 10 years of your career levels them, scoops them up again and repeats it. Ten times. You should read it.
You’ve been replaced. Technology, outsourcing, a growing temp staffing industry, productivity efficiencies, have all replaced the middle class. The working class. Most jobs that existed 20 years ago aren’t needed now. Maybe they never were needed. The entire first decade of this century was spent with CEOs in their Park Avenue clubs crying through their cigars, “how are we going to fire all this dead weight?”. 2008 finally gave them the chance.
German art students shot a short film about getting closer to nature. It was a surprising internet sensation.
We miss you.
In 2013 I was involved in Best by West Midlands a white paper that celebrated social media use in local government across the region. Why? Because we’re quite good at it. And because there are more than 30 case studies worth celebrating.
Contained in this document are some case studies from the towns, cities, villages and – quite literally – farms across the West Midlands.
Many councils across the UK have one bright person who is shaping their digital presence. Often, they don’t look at the clock and care passionately about what they do. One such is Claire Bustin at Sandwell Council who deserves to be revered as someone who shaping the best Facebook page in local government. Her 11 Things You Should Do With Your Facebook Page should be read and re-read.
There’s nothing that will turn people off your page quicker than warning people about “inclement weather” when what you really mean is snow. And say “I” or “we” rather than “the council”. It reminds people there’s a human being updating your Facebook page. Use smiley faces where appropriate.
The best social accounts come from unexpected quarters. To prove this, here’s a sheep farmer from Cumbria. The @herdyshepherd1 account gives insights from a thousand feet up and it is breathtakingly good. This a piece in The Independent.
I’m feeding a flock of our sheep surrounded by the fells of the Lake District. So a mass of grey fleeces and bright white heads… I see it every day, but I never get bored of it.
Eddie Coates-Madden’s post for comms2point0 on the world where we are is compulsory reading. PR is Dead and Just For Good Measure Newspapers are Dead Too tells the tale of a talk he gave.
And I ended with my prediction of the future for journalism; that it will be fast, fast, fast; that stories are everywhere, not on a Press Release; that everyone can be a journalist (not necessarily a good one, but everyone can break stories and has the tools to publish); that journalists have become a brand in themselves; that broadcast without response is dead; that there will be ever more accountable journalism, more easy disgust, more easy offence and that accountability is every organisation’s to handle, and that there are more easily targeted campaigns and more moral tensions. activism is clicktivism and that might mean more and more difficult challenges, to freedom of expression, politically unpopular views, financial security, even – when wrongly done – to personal safety.
There’s much to admire in Service Before Self an anonymous post on the We Love Local Government blog. But most to admire is the sense of heart-on-the-sleeve honesty. This is what it feels like to be a senior officer trying to make cuts.
“My lifeline has gone; I am alone. No-one has explained why the cafe has shut. Doubtless some suit I will never meet will write a strategy to tell me what I need. I know the cafe isn’t coming back.”
I am the person that writes strategies like that. I am the person who will have to decide where to find the savings from. I am The Suit. I constantly try and apply the so-what test to everything I do. I am my own greatest critic.
When diplomats leave they leave a valedictory. It’s a note where they can be brutally honest as a kind of payback for years of diplomatic silence. Emer Coleman left a valedictory when leaving the government digital service. We have a choice, she wrote:
You will remember the scene when Morpheus offers Neo the red pill or the blue pill. If he takes the blue pill everything stays the same – if he takes the red pill (like Alice in Wonderland) he falls through the rabbit hole and sees things like they really are. We are at a juncture in society and technology where the system (and government) keep taking the blue pill struggling to deal with a new generation who swallowed the red one years ago. It’s a bit like the arrival of email – I still remember colleagues who used their PC monitors as a place to stick post-it-notes (this computer-email-thingy-will-never-catch-on).
Intranet Directions dropped into my Twitter stream the other day with a series of downloadable cardsbased loosely on the Oblique Strategies cards that Brian Eno drew-up in the 1970s. They were there to help musicians make decisions but these tweaked can make anyone make decisions. They look brilliant.
Use them at your desk, in a team meeting, in a workshop or pop them straight into the recycling bin, it’s completely up to you. We’ve got four suits of themes.
Matt Bowsher is assistant director for social care for Dudley Council and on leadership that can work elsewhere too.
One of my favourite maxims is “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” You can design the best strategy in the world, if people don’t shape it, buy in to it and then have a clear role in delivering it, expect it to be confined to the dustbin of history.
One of the most inspiring things from 2013 I was involved with was commscamp which was staged along with Ann Kempster and Darren Caveney. Both brilliant people. More than 120 people came from central and local government and ideas were shared and debated. It was ace. This link rounds up an explosion of ideas that emerged from the event.
Well, that was fun. The day was great… but sitting back and reading what comes out of it is even better.
Commscamp for this co-organiser was tiring, exhilarating, challenging and rewarding. But most of all worth it.
Sometimes on the day you can be so busy talking to others to see the whole picture and it’s only in the days and weeks later that the full picture does emerge.
Sure, getting those messages out represents a big step to what went on before but the achievement as I’ve said before shouldn’t stop at that.
I’ve pondered for a while what the next steps may be from my own corner of the digital allotment. Occasionally I look across at people like fellow local government officers Carl Haggerty and Phil Rumens who think big picture digital things and I sit back on my shovel and I ponder.
For comms people it’s getting involved with channel shift and helping an organisation score some savings while offering people a better service. Yes, but what else?
As barriers blur and the internet changes everything it’s fascinating for a comms person like me to think beyond the argument that press releases are dead.
There’s been a fascinating debate just recently by a post from SOCITM president Steve Halliday who suggested that digital in local government should be helping to solve ‘wicked’ problems.
What’s a wicked problem? It’s the term given to particularly uncrackable local government issues that tend to crop up in places like social care or planning.
In this world he suggests information sharing using a secure web to network could maybe bring professionals together to crack those particular thorny headaches. It’s a measure of how things have evolved that people are thinking of using this social media stuff to tackle the real grown-up problems.
On the question of whether we should use digital to tackle these ‘wicked’ issues he’s absolutely right.
Then a few things that keep nagging at me like the clunk of a mobile phone left inside a coat that’s being put through the washing machine that asks you to do something about it.
Firstly, there was a bold call to action from Coventry City Council chief executive Martin Reeves who at the #10by10wm event 12-months ago in Coventry told a room full of geeks to stop evangelising about social media but come armed with solutions… which incidentally may have some social media in them.
On that, he’s absolutely right.
And there’s a third snippet which has lodged in my head from former civil servant Gerald Power. He said that to make a big difference you need to tackle the big problems in your organisation the really big ticket issues need to be tackled. Not the little ones.
On that he’s right too.
But all that Big Problem tackling would take time, effort and resources at a time when there is none. But if that Big Problem affected 100 of the 350 or so councils and cost, say, £1 million a year then would a one-off £50,000 project make sense?
But who is there to identify the problem and scrape together the time, effort, collective will and resources?
The mantra of JFDI – just flipping do it – has taken us a long way but this feels too big and too important to leave to people working under the radar.
What’s the answer? I’m just a comms person fascinated with how we can use the internet better to make a difference. I’ll leave that for other people to ponder.
Allotment notice http://www.flickr.com/photos/48778414@N04/8536372179/
— Dan Slee (@danslee) November 25, 2013
So, what’s to share from a trip to the Russian Ambassador’s residence in London for a discussion on how the internet shapes political decision?
Actually, quite a lot and not just that it’s a very large house in Westminster. And no, there was no Ferrero Roche. It was hosted by Jimmy Leach the former head of digital at the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office and had Tom Whitwell the head of digital operations at The Times and Sunday Times and Guido Fawkes blogger Paul Staines. Conservative MP Douglas Carwell began with a discussion on the birth of what he calls ‘i-democracy’.
Maybe it was because we are British but the alleged treatment of dissidents was not raised until almost the end of the session and it was Guido Fawkes who mentioned it in passing.
For all that it was a discussion about democracy and what it looks like and is shaped by the web in 2013 there were some useful take-homes for someone interested in digital communications.
Here are 18 things I learned from the event
- The Russian Ambassador’s residence is a mighty grand place.
- At Westminster, there are backbench MPs who have a greater profile than ministers in government.
- We are not yet at a stage where elections are decided by social media.
- E-mail played a major and unheralded part in the election victory of Barack Obama but it’s never had the attention that social media had.
- People really, really hate spammy or insincere emails.
- Digital democracy can also include unsubscribing from spammy and insincere emails.
- At the next election, the difference between the two largest parties is that the Conservatives are favouring Facebook and Labour are focussing more on Twitter.
- At the last UK general election, social media gave a skewed view of what would happen at the polls with more traffic for Labour not equating to votes.
- In Telford, the election of the police commissioner was won by a candidate who tweeted once and the one with the biggest online profile finished third.
- There is a feeling that it is only a matter of time before the UK government more closely regulate social media.
- Under current defamation laws, a 15-year-old tweeter is treated just the same as a newspaper editor.
- Twitter has democratised comment and there are political commentators who have been rendered obsolete by it.
- Until 1918, an MP seeking to join the government by being appointed a minster in a re-shuffle had to resign and stand again in a by-election before taking office.
- The smoked salmon at the Russian Ambassador’s residence is very good.
- The e-petition asking for Jeremy Clarkson to be PM wasn’t deleted when it was first posted because Jimmy Leach was ‘too tired.’
- The screening mechanism for angry letters is well developed in government. Less so for social media. Twenty people write on a topic and little happens. Twenty tweet and it gets seen as a movement and consultants get called in.
- A good blog is simply good stories well told, say The Times.
- Twitter may not be a force for democratic good. It’s owned by one company in America. The jury of history is still out.
That’s why with the Walsall Town Stories event we will try and use it to give an idea of the people who work in the town centre.
Twenty people whose jobs are often celebrated will be featured as part of the initiative on Friday October 25.
Starting at 6am, for an hour each they will be shadowed and their story relayed via @walsallcouncil before they pass on to someone else.
There will be a range of people from Walsall Council staff who do an uncelebrated job like the street cleaner and the trading standards officer to the market trader and the curry house worker.
Two things have helped shape it. The @sweden account which is passed to a new Swede every week and also the wonderful Kabul: A City At Work series which uses film and a blog post to ask who the people are who do day-to-day jobs.
Why those two? Because they allow a human face to develop.
When we did #Walsall24 a few years back we wanted to develop the idea to see where it would take us. It’s a simple model that can work in all sorts of organisations and the LGA have done some great things with it in pushing it out as a national initiative called #ourday. But it will be interesting to see how an hour of time can tell a human story.
You can follow the event by following @walsallcouncil.
I’ll whack up a storify after the event here too.