RIGHT WRITING: The Business of Blogging: One Voice of 14

6046349308_d716c904e7_oBlogging. Why bother? It’s a question I’ve asked myself before as I’ve reached for the laptop after a busy day when probably a bottle of wine would have been better.

As it turns out, I’m not alone. According to one estimate there are more than 200 million and that’s not event counting micro-blogging platform Twitter.

For me, it’s a place to think things through, bounce an idea or record something as a snapshot and it was fascinating to read through the other entries CIPR President Stephen Waddington captured in ‘The Business of Blogging.’ You can read it here.

There is also a slideshare where you can read and download.

This is my short contribution:

There’s a loose network of people in the public sector I’m proud to belong to. We’ve been called ‘militant optimists’ because despite everything we’re still determined to make a difference.

We work in central government – or in my case local government – and we organise through Twitter, we meet-up and we kick around ideas, we learn and we share through blog posts.

Why do we bother? Because we’re all in it together. We’re all facing cuts and we’re seeing empty chairs where colleagues used to be. We’re faced with the internet turning old certainties on its head.

We’re not in competition against each other so we can collaborate. We stage our own events that anyone can come to and we share ideas afterwards on blog posts that have become the currency for learning in a sector where training budgets have been stripped where the rule book hasn’t been written and it’s never been more important to do a good job. For us blogging is booming and mobile is simply sharing our ideas on the go.

I’ve blogged for five years. Why do I blog? Because I can flesh out an idea far easier online than in practice. I can capture or share. It’s changed how I think, how I work and I’m finding doors opening that the blog has led me to.

Creative commons credit

Blogger http://www.flickr.com/photos/66356408@N07/6046349308/

WATER HERO: Why tweeting from the riverbank frontline works

12253595404_a7240a9652_bSo this, ladies and gentleman, is what I’ve been banging on for years. You give a smartphone and social media access to a frontline worker who ‘gets it’ and gets out of the office and then you sit back.

For the past six weeks swathes of England has been under water with the wettest January for more than 200 years deluging rivers and forcing them to burst their banks.  Platoons of soldiers have been deployed as local government, fire, the Environment Agency and others have battled .

Through it all an army of public sector people have worked on in damp, wet and miserable conditions often without credit or recognition.

One of those is Dave Throup, an Environment Agency manager for Herefordshire and Worcestershire. When the radio need an update it is Dave who is the voice of the agency giving up-to-date updates on river levels, flood risks and advice.

He also uses Twitter to post real time updates that are hyperlocal and county wide. The state of flood barriers in Bewdley, business as usual messages in Ironbridge and advise not to drive through floods. Often they are basic mobile phone pictures like this one:

He’s using basic technology to post real time information at a time when people need it most. He also shares other people’s tweets and blogs here. He posts to Flickr too.

Why is this brilliant?

If you want the science, the Edelman Trust barometer talks of how staff lower down an organisation are trusted more than those at the top. People who are just like you are trusted even more. For communications people, this changes the game and turns on its head everything. To put it simply, the chief executive may not be the best person to front an interview or a campaign. The officer with the smartphone may well be. I say this repeatedly when I’m training people: it’s not enough to do a good job in the public sector in 2014. You need to tell people too. That’s why the people like Morgan Bowers the Walsall Council countryside ranger works really well on social. It’s a real person talking to a real person.

Why is Dave even more brilliant?

Public sector people get a shabby Press. Why? Because it’s always our fault. Often judged by people who proclaim to know the value of everything and the value of nothing and yet far, far more good is done by the public sector than bad. Dave is brilliant because he cares. People get that too. And yet there are so many people in the sector like him but for some reason he’s struck a chord with the folk who have come to rely on the information that he gives.

He’s also got a fan club:

So, here’s to Dave. And everyone in the public sector who does a vital job and that state of mind that elite public sector workers attain to.

Just think about what an army of people like Dave can do for the organisation they work in. Or what they could do for yours.

Creative commons credit

River Severn in flood http://www.flickr.com/photos/davethroup/12253595404/sizes/l/

#NHSSM #HWBlearn can you help shape some key social media guidelines?

8437560643_19ffc287a9_oYou may not know this but there’s a corner of local government that’s has a major say in decisions that will affect how your family is treated when they are not well.

They’re called health and wellbeing boards and while they meet at Town Halls they cover the intersection between GPs, local authorities and patients groups.

They also have a say on spending worth £3.8 billion – an eye watering sum in anyone’s book.

The LGA themselves say:

“Health and wellbeing boards (HWBs) are crucial part of the new health landscape, the drivers of local system leadership and will provide an unprecedented opportunity to bring together local government and health services together to improve health and wellbeing outcomes. Local system leadership is required to ensure that the totality of public resources are brought together to address shared priorities for health improvement.”

Okay, so what?

Well, many of them do great work but there’s a growing feeling that they could do better to use social media to really engage with the communities they serve. So we’re helping see how some social media guidelines can help.

Drawing up social media guidelines

We’re a bit excited that the LGA through their health and wellbeing board integrated care and system leadership have asked comms2point0 to take a look at how this could be improved. That’s a real chance to help connect those who are making the decisions with those who are being affected.

So, as part of this review it would be great to crowdsource some ideas and insight from the online community to help shape the guidelines to be the best that they could be.

What questions should we ask?

I’d be keen to understand – particularly from people working with Health and Wellbeing Boards – if social media could play a role?

If it is playing a role already, what that role is and also what success may look like?

Who should we be talking to?

Should we respond?

What could the benefits be?

What are the barriers?

So, how can you help?

If you work in local government, the NHS or have an interest in the NHS I’d welcome your thoughts.

  • There is a #nhssm discussion on Wednesday February 12 from 8pm. Thanks to the brilliant Gemma Finnegan and her colleagues they’re hosting a discussion. Use the hashtag #nhssm to contribute. It would be great if you did.
  • Feel free to comment on this blog post.
  • Ask your council how they are using social media for their health and wellbeing boards.

Thank you!


GOVCOMMS: 7 things to bring local and central government comms people together

9422535872_8e4d08002a_bSo, how do local government and central government comms people work better together?

There was an event the other day in Whitehall which looked at this very topic which I would have loved to have got to. But I work in the West Midlands so that wasn’t going to happen.

It’s a good question and one that I’d given a lot of thought to just recently. Not just because the LGComms Future Leaders course I’d been involved with was asked just this question and asked to come up with a presentation.

One of the good things about being in the public sector is the ability to share ideas and approaches. This doesn’t happen in the private sector. As one person recently put it, they’ll tell you what they did but they’ll just leave out a vital piece of information so you can’t follow. It’s like handing over a car without the spark plugs.

So here are some things that should happen.

6 things to bring local and central government comms people together

1. Realise that each side isn’t the enemy. You’d be forgiven for thinking sometimes reading the Daily Mail that local government was to blame for the banking crisis, Northern Rock and the nationalisation of the banks. Just think what would have happened had local government mis-sold products. Step aside from the headlines and realise that there is more to bring  civil Service and local government comms people together. We both face the question ‘what does communications mean in 2014?’ for example.

2. Paid secondments both ways. A few years ago a secondment from local government into the civil service could have been do-able. Not now. There isn’t the spare capacity anymore in local government. But funded posts could help backfill and share the knowledge. Even better if they are French-exchange-style two way affairs. Better still if they involve co-operation on the same project.

3. Open up central government training to local government. The Goverment Communications Service (formerly the Government Communications Network) stages a range of good training opportunities. It would be great if this was open to local government too.

4. Open up local government seminars to central government. Places like LGComms put on some excellent sessions. The different perspective of a Whitehall comms person would be useful. Just as the comms person more used to dealing with the community would be a benefit to a central government person.

5. Encourage events like commscamp. In February last year more than 130 comms people from Whitehall and local government came together in a joint event for what must have been the first time. There were more than 400 on the waitlist when it was turned off.  The agenda was decided on the day by those who went. Anarchy? Not really. It worked beautifully. It was organised by people in central and local government in their own time. (Disclaimer: I’m biased as I helped co-organise commscamp.)

6. Realise that neither side is better. They’re just different. As government departments put more focus on stakeholder groups local government listens to residents more. At a time when the Foreign Office is putting more effort – rightly – into answering queries on Twitter there’s pr people in Staffordshire or Norfolk who could tell them a few things. They are two different skills. It made me realise that neither side is better. We’re just different.

7. We both work in the public sector and should be proud of that. Sure, the private sector does some good things. But we delivered the Olympics, we save lives, we keep the roads running, our children educated and a whole load of other things too. How much better is that than flogging toothpaste?

EDIT: GCS courses are also now available to local government people. That’s welcome.

Creative commons credit.

Big Ben http://www.flickr.com/photos/mahatsorri/9422535872/sizes/l/

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

CHANGE THE MODEL: 10 predictions for local government communications in 2014

4554851174_87e6b96177_o“I’d rather not predict,” US Democratic strategist James Carville once said, “I’d rather affect.”

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.

5743993819_fe0f9e9f05_oSocial media box ticking needs to be guarded against. True. “We need Twitter,” is replacing “we need a press release,” as the non-comms call to action. No you don’t. Not all the time any way.

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…

5165377895_ccd93e6654_bThere will be more shared comms teams. People will look at how this can work across a geographical area and also between authorities.

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. 

Picture credits

Change the model http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/4554851174/sizes/o/

Learn or retire http://www.flickr.com/photos/blairpeterson/5743993819/sizes/o/

Share http://www.flickr.com/photos/carlos_maya/5165377895/sizes/l/

LOVE THESE: 13 Inspiring Links from 2013

8298068701_59923f3d46_bFor a good long while now I’ve strongly felt that if you stop learning you stop growing and with the pace of change learning has never been more important.

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 8510599726_27c28f402f_hmy 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.

Picture credits

Love: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21560098@N06/8298068701/sizes/l/

Fear http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixfav/8626239915/sizes/o/

Commscamp http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/8510599726/sizes/l/


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