COMMS TIP: Why You Need to Challenge Like a Three-Year-Old

P1030315I’ve blogged about the need to be the grit in the oyster in comms and PR and to the need challenge.

That scheme the chief executive has? It’s going to fail and you need to diplomatically warn them.

That elected member who demands a press release? It’s down to you to tell them that won’t work.

Unless you do you are nothing more than a glorified shorthand typist.

Here’s one way you can challenge… by be an annoying three-year-old.

Or rather, adopt the questioning strategy of a small child who is asking questions because they are just plain nosey.

If you are a parent you’ve been there. Picture the scene in a super market right now somewhere in the world.

‘What’s that?’

‘It’s a tin of beans, Jimmy.’

‘Why do we have tins of beans?’

‘So the food doesn’t go off.’

‘What’s ‘off’…?’

And there we have an explanation to Jimmy of food storage, freshness and the degrading process that makes food dangerous to eat.

Small children have got a brilliant quality of cutting through the crap.

A couple of times recently in a training session I’ve thought of the two-year-old interrogation strategy.

We’re doing a ‘thing’. It’s great.

Why?

Because it’s a good idea.

Why?

Because if we give people some basic information it reduces the chance of them coming back with an even worse problem.

Will that cost you money?

Yes, lots, about £10,000 a time.

How many could we stop coming back with a worse problem?

So, the ‘thing’ moves from being a good thing to a thing that is going to tangibly improve lives… and tangibly save money.

That’s win and win.

It’s also the beginnings of your evaluation because as we know, it’s not the column inches or the tweets but what people have done as a result.

‘Hey, chief executive, we’ve just communicated to a load of people and 100 have gone away with information that could stop them costing us £10,000 each.’

Does that sound better?

So, shouldn’t you be more of a three-year-old?

Picture credit

My daughter.


AUTHENTIC: How to do frontline social media: Morgan Bowers (a podcast, a video and a blog)

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:

Twitter

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.

Email

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.

Facebook

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.

Flickr

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.

Eventbrite

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.

Scribd

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.

Audioboo

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

Morgan Bowers talks about how she uses social media as a senior countryside ranger out and about. from comms2point0 on Vimeo.


COMMS ADVICE: Be Bold, Be the bit of Grit in the Oyster

3875021320_445f89a757_b (1)If there is one piece of advice I came to late in my career that I value  it is this… the role of comms is sometimes to be the bit of grit in the oyster.

It was Paul Willis of Leeds Metropolitan University who I first hear use the phrase.

Really?

What the heck does this mean?

My take on it is that sometimes, the role of the comms person is to politely stand your ground and to challenge and to point out where things won’t work.

The chief exec of the water company blamed for water shortage taking questions with a clean bottle of water, British Gas staging a Twitter Q&A on the day of a price hike or senior officer hellbent on back of bus ads… because that’s the way they’ve always done it.

I was reminded of the need for this a short while back in a comms planning workshop where one attendee mentioned the pressure she was under to come up with evaluation weeks after the launch of a campaign to encourage people to sign-up to volunteer for a specific task.

“It’s really difficult,” she said. “I’m getting pressure to show if the campaign is a success but we know it takes six months for it to work.

“It’s been a month and the thing is, it’s really difficult, because it’s a senior person who is asking.”

Of course, in an ideal world that senior person would immediately see the folly of asking how many cars the Forth Bridge had carried after just a week into its construction.

But life is not like that.

So, if tact and diplomacy don’t work, sometimes your role as a comms person is to be the person to draw a line in the sand and point out where something, in your professional opinion, doesn’t work.

When I worked as part of a comms team I’d often find it useful instead of directly rubbishing an idea directly just spelling out the logical sequence of events that decision would bring.

“We can have a back of bus advert by all means,” it’s better to say, “but do we know if the Primary school children we’re trying to get through to drive? And how many signed up for that course last year as a result of it? Could we talk to some parents and teachers to see what the best route may be, too?”

Be professional, be polite but never be afraid be the grit in the oyster. It will almost always be the harder path but if you take it you will almost always win respect. Involve your boss if needs be. Or their boss.

If you don’t are you sure you aren’t just being a glorified shorthand typist?


#BESTBYWM 2014: Good But We Dare Not Stand Still

14606509774_102b1412ab_kNo question I’m really proud of being involved for a second year with IEWM’s Best by West Midlands initiative.

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.

Screen-Shot-2014-02-25-at-1.22.19-PM.png (288×435) - Google Chrome 13072014 111604The 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/


#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


IMAGE RIGHT: 5 Ways Pictures Can Work for Organisations on the Social Web

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

Twitter  NYorksPolice Unbelievable scenes #Buttertubs ... - Google Chrome 05072014 213859

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.

https://twitter.com/Interior/status/484719451703894016/photo/1

Twitter  Interior Restoring the bison, @YosemiteNPS ... - Google Chrome 05072014 213828

 

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

Walsall Police Station at 1911 today, not on fire. Look how ... on Twitpic - Google Chrome 05072014 215019

Walsall Police Station at 1911 today, not on fire. Look how ... on Twitpic - Google Chrome 05072014 215234

POP CULTURE: Star Wars and gritting and Linconshire County Council

All too often organisations can appear aloof and remote. A photo-shopped image of a Star Wars At-At was a good way to get a message across that the roads were icy to motorists.
Twitter  LincolnshireCC Our cameras show Lincs drivers ... - Google Chrome 05072014 221130

HUMOUR: English Heritage

The sight of a Roman, a Knight, a First World War soldier and a Red Coat on the underground arrests the viewer and makes them smile.
Twitter  EnglishHeritage Delays of up to 2,000 years ... - Google Chrome 05072014 221540

 

So, what are you waiting for?


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/

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