Three great things happened in local government in the West Midlands last week and it’s been a while since that happened.
Firstly, new Birmingham City Council chief executive Mark Rogers posted his first blog in his first week in charge there… and it was human. It didn’t fall into the trap of councilspeak. Or jargon. It felt like it was written by a real person. Online, the mood of staff and those who care about the city rose by several degrees. You can read the blog here and see some of the reaction here.
Okay, so this is a small step and ranged against the good times is the small matter of the £822 million that needs to be saved from Birmingham’s budget, the need to sell-off the flagship NEC, the 1,000 jobs that will go this year and the need to turn around the giant super-tanker pretty darn quick.
The task facing Birmingham City Council is immense. It’s going to hurt. But the knowledge that there is a human being in charge gives an injection of hope and the knowledge that the city stands a chance. You could argue that from this point on Mark will never be as popular. You could also say that times must be bad for public sector when a demonstration of being obviously human behaviour from someone at the top gets such a warm welcome.
And engaging on Twitter
Secondly, Mark started to engage with people online and Twitter saw a few human interactions between the bloke in charge and the bloke who does things for him as a far smaller part of the wheel. He even quoted Joe Strummer.
— Kevin Johnson (@urbancomms) March 5, 2014
Lessons from a dancing nut
Thirdly, and rather wonderfully someone in Mark’s network Liz Newton shared a link that Mark suggested people go watch. It’s leadership lessons drawn in under three minutes by a dancing guy in a field at a festival. At first, it’s just one dancing guy but in under three minutes the field is transformed.
(QUICK NOTE: THE YOUTUBE CLIP REALLY IS A KEEPER SO DON’T SKIP IT.)
To quote the narrative spoken by Derek Sivers who posted the video:
First of course, a leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous. But what he is doing is so simple it’s almost instructional. This is key. It must be easy to follow. Now here comes the first follower with a really crucial role. He shows everyone else how to follow. Notice how the leader embraces him as an equal so it’s not about the leader anymore it’s about THEM the plural. It takes guts to be the first follower. You stand out and you brave ridicule yourself. The first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint the first follower is the spark.
Now here’s the second follower… this is the turning point. It’s proof the first has done well. Now, it’s not a lone nut and it’s not two nuts. Three is a crowd and a crowd is news. A movement must be public. Make sure outsiders see more than just the leader. Everyone needs to see followers because new followers emulate followers.
Now we’ve got momentum. This is the tipping point. Now we have a movement.
Leadership is really over-glorified… there is no movement without the first follower. When you see a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.’
So, that’s three lessons for leaders delivered by social media by one lone bloke in a suit in less than a week.
It’ll be staged Bond Company in Fazeley Street, Birmingham.
This place used to be a warehouse that shipped ice to London. I mean. How cool is that?
Now it’s a meeting space and offices for Birmingham’s creative industries.
Commscam will see more than 150 people come to put their collective heads together for a barcamp around comms, pr, marketing digital stuff. You can mention the word ‘press release’ too. That’s allowed.
I’m pleased to say there’s a real mix between local government, government and people outside these fields and a mix too between unconference veterans and newbies. That’s just how it should be.
Why am I biased? Because I’m helping organise it with Ann Kempster from the Cabinet Office and Darren Caveney from Walsall Council two quite brilliant people.
Why are we doing it? Because we’ve seen enough of how unconferences work to see that they can be hugely successful and we think there’s things to be discussed and ideas to be shared in our field.
So, what’s the agenda? There isn’t one. It’s a big blank sheet of paper that those who are coming along will help to shape. That’s the beauty of an unconference. It all gets pulled together by those who are coming along. You can find out more about the event at it’s website here and if you haven’t already feel free to mention a session here. You don’t even have to have a ticket as we’ll be livestreaming some of the sessions and we’ll be tweeting too on the #commscamp13 hashtag.
So why are we doing commscamp?
Well, I can’t speak for Darren and Ann but for me…
We need to share ideas and inspiration. In 2013 it can be tough working in comms in and around government. But those who work in the field can be a hugely passionate bunch. A good idea at the FCO could well work somewhere in local government. Without big budgets sharing the ideas can work.
You don’t have to be an unconference veteran to get something out of it. Just last week I was up in Manchester for the LGComms social media event. Rather bravely, they tried a loose unconference element. Of the 60 in a room about six had been to an unconference. Was I worried? Yes. People were only too keen to suggest the 12 sessions we had. Commscamp was roadtested and passed.
You need to plug into the West Midlands. Okay, so I’m a bit biased (but I declared that right there at the start) but there’s been a stack of good things in the West Midlands for some time around digital and innovation. Perhaps it’s the beer or the geographical closeness but there’s ideas to be had and shared.
You need to learn from people outside comms. Some of the best ideas and approaches I’ve had have come from talking to bloggers, engineers, police officers and coders. Listen. Talk. Learn. While there’s a focus on PR people there’ll be some input from those outside the sector too.
Local government people need to talk to government people once in a while. There are ideas in Shropshire that may shape what’s done by a government department to communicate to people. Vica versa too.
Our sponsors are lovely. There’s a big list of them down the side of the blog here.
If you’ve ever been told: ‘what we need is a comms plan’ and wanted to scream you’ll be in good company. There’ll be a session of primal screaming just to get over this, I’m sure.
Cake is good. Underpinning any unconference is the cake table. Baking is the first social media, I’m sure of it.
Here’s your call to action right here:
1) If you’ve got a ticket say ‘hoorah!’ and think of something that you’d like to see cracked or maybe think of something you are proud of and would like to share. Post it here on the discussion thread.
2) If you haven’t got a ticket go to February 26 in your calender and put the date in your diary along with the words: “Dammit, I missed a ticket but I can still follow #commscamp13 on Twitter.” There’ll be a livestream posted to this hashtag on the day too.
3) If you’ve a ticket and you can’t go tell us, say: ‘oh no!’ Tell us and we’ll release it to the frankly large waitlist.
4) Take a look at the commscamp blog here.
5) Can you help? See how you can help here and share the buzz. Or as we’re in Brum, point people where to catch the buzz. Take a look here to see how you can help.
Two days I spent going through old editions of the paper in the corner of the aircraft hanger of a newsroom.
Proudly I picked up the next edition to read a double page spread with my name on. What do I recall of that? Very little. There was a nun who got charged with drink driving and the Holstein prices at Uttoxeter were especially high in March that year.
Over this past year I’ve read scores of blog posts and news pieces links. At times I’ve been stopped in my tracks by a turn of phrase, a perceptive argument or just a good piece of writing. Here are 14 from 2012 that I’ve rated particularly highly.
CAMPAIGNS ARE DEAD: Nobody has done more than Jim Garrow in 2012 to challenge my thinking. He has a skill of turning a vague idea you may have had into a compelling argument engagingly written. He also asks questions of things people take for granted. Jim does public health emergency planning in Philadelphia in the US. He’s brilliant. His blog is worth subscribing to and there’s plenty of good ones to choose. This one here on the death to the campaign is particularly good. Comms people love campaigns. It makes them feel as though they’ve changed things. No they haven’t he argues. You can read it here.
WEEKLY BLOG CLUB: If no one single blogger has done more to challenge than Jim then the Weekly Blog Club is the website has been the best collective source of writing and inspiration. The idea is simple. You blog something once a week and post it on Twitter using the #weeklyblogclub hashtag where it finds a ready audience and will be collated into aweekly round-up. Janet Davis has taken this idea, polished it, showered it with love and made it something that brightens my timeline. You can read it here.
RAILWAY INSPIRATION: Good blogs shouldn’t just be about your corner of the world. John Kirriemuir is a librarian who often writes creatively. This carefully observed piece on a fellow traveller in Birmingham New Street Station is powerful. All too often we can pass through without looking at who we’re travelling with. John does. You can read it here:
RE-SHAPING PRESS TEAMS: Ben Proctor is a digital specialist who has experience in local government and working as a consultant. His modest proposal to get rid of press offices suggests that change is inevitable and gives a few ideas on what this may look like. You can read it here.
FUTURE COMMS: The Cabinet Office’s Ann Kempster sparked a creative and much-needed debate on the future of press teams and digital teams with this cracking post which generated a cracking set of comments that show the vibrancy of debate in the public sector in 2012. You can read it here.
FACEBOOK IS DEAD: A former colleague Matt Murray is now doing great things in local government in Queensland, Australia. For a while I’d been wondering uneasily about the turn that Facebook had taken when Matt wrote a post that spelt out why it is no longer the go-to platform. You can read it here.
DIE PRESS RELEASE: This is actually from 2006 but I’d only chanced upon Tom Foremski’s Die Press Release, Die! Die! post earlier in 2012. It spells out why the traditional press release is dated and what the thing that should replace it should look like. You can read it here.
CASE STUDY: Hackney Council’s Al Smith doesn’t blog enough. This post from his time at Cannock Chase District Council shows why he should and spells out the steps he took tio help crack down on domestic violence one Christmas.It’s imaginative and effective stuff. You can read it here.
GOOD WRITING: Tom Sprints‘ post about a chance encounter in the shadow of a mountain was lovely writing. If you missed it you can read it here.
DIGITAL STATS: Emer Coleman of the Government Digital Service wrote this cracking piece on the measurement of social media and what we should be looking out for. For anyone looking to get a handle on the changing landscape it’s essential. You can read it here.
A GOOD REMINDER: Sometimes we can spend too much time online. Sometimes we can spend too much time not doing the important things. This short post from Phil Jewitt asks us to re-assess and think of those around us who matter most to us. You can read it here.
FRONTLINE BLOG: People on the frontline should be given access to social media. Comms people are often resistent. Walsall police officer PC Rich Stanley is a case study of why access should be opened-up and the sweets shared. You can read one of his posts on his day job here.
OLYMPICS GAMESMAKER: Jo Smith founded Vindicat PR in what has been a difficult year for her. She spent time as a London 2012 Gamesmaker and saw close-up how the city fell for the games. Volunteers like her were part of the secret. How did they manage it? Good internal comms. You can read it here.
DAN HARRIS: If London 2012 was joyous then the memory of seeing BBC News 24 carry pictures of medal triumph with the confirmation of Dan Harris‘ death on the ticker was a bitter memory. I’d met him a few times and corresponded often. His death devastated those who knew him far better. He’d agreed to write for comms2point0 a website I help with and had written this fine post a few weeks before. You can read it here.
GANG MEMBER: Digital can bring people together and can share stories. Steph Jennings of Podnosh’s account of meeting a former gang member at a social media surgery was arresting. You can read it here.
ANOTHER LONDON: Gillian Hudson of 10 Downing Street’s digital team wrote a cracking blog to capture some of the work she had been involved with over the Olympics. It spoke about comms with a human face and it was cracking. You can read it here.
On Saturday, 120 people from local government will head to Birmingham to share ideas, scheme and try and make the world a better place.
It’s an unconference which means the agenda gets decided on the day by those who go. Andy Mabbett’s guide for newbies is here
Seeing as it’s been three years since the very first one organised by Dave Briggs and people from Birmingham City Council I thought it high time to look back at how things have actually changed.
Back in 2009 at Fazeley Studios in Birmingham, there was a feeling of excited idealism. Tom Watson MP stood in the queue for coffee talking to a press officer while a web manager from Yorkshire was busy talking to a blogger from Brum.
This new thing called Twitter was connecting people in a way few people understood but all who were in on it were excited by.
It was brilliant. Sarah Lay, who I rate, wrote this piece in 209 that hasn’t dimmed with time.
So what’s changed?
Me. It made me think differently. It made me see new ideas and the confidence to try some of them out. My job title says press officer. I actually do far more than that.
Knowing bright people. It’s not always what you do first thing Monday morning that made localgovcamp. It’s making connections – so when you need WordPress skills further down the line you turn to Philip John. For open data Si Whitehouse. Localgovcamp 2009 created a network that has built and thrived and rebnews itself each year. That’s an amazing achievement.
Some bright people aren’t here anymore. Jack Pickard, who I met briefly at localgovcamp, died a short time after. He was someone I rated from a distance. I’ve never unfollowed him.
Some bright people have fallen by the wayside. Not everyone with talent is valued by an organisation. Some bright minds from 2009 haven’t been given the space to shine. They’re shining some of them at other things instead. Some have dazzled then faded.
It’s an ideas factory. Some ideas first come across in 2009 took three years to be relevant enough to put into practice. But that’s okay.
Unconferences work. One question asked in the run-up to the 2012 event was if people are fed-up with them. For me, you only have to look at mailcamp, museumcamp, librarycamp, hyperwm and others to realise that’s not the case. They’re getting more niche and more specific.
The web is making job titles irrelevant. At a barcamp you are a sticky badge who stands or falls on your willingness to share – and most importantly listen. That’s rather good.
Suits are starting to come. In small numbers. For the first time a chief executive is on the 2012 guest list. That’s a good thing.
Unconferences can have the same faces. That’s fine because people connect and re-connect. But there’s a danger of staleness if there’s not new faces. Seeing a new idea from a new person fills me with impish glee.
Others have picked up the baton. Those that came in 2009 have been organising their own things like a glorious domino effect. It led to events in York and London that led to events in Walsall and Warwick. And elsewhere.
Meeting people broadens horizons. The answers for being a better communications officer, I’ve found, can be found by talking to coders, to bloggers, to residents, to officers, to elected members and to people who do other things.
We are winning. The basic idea of localgovcamp 2009 that the social web could make peoples lives a little better remains the same. You doubt it? Look back at where you were three years ago and think how far you’ve come.
Creative commons credits
Fazeley Studios in 2009 http://www.flickr.com/photos/arunmarsh/3656735854/sizes/l/
Fire, storm, pestilence or just a burst water main, in an emergency local government can swing into action.
In the UK it’s known as emergency planning and in the US emergency management. Whichever part of the world you are in it’s the part of the public sector that has plans for every eventuality.
For a comms person, it’s often only when there’s a problem you’ll speak to the emergency planners. Don’t let that happe n. Make a pact with yourself. Go and speak to them as soon as you can and sort out what to do with social media. Here is why.
At localgovcamp in Birmingham this year Ben Proctor, who runs the Like A Word consultancy, ran an excellent session on emergency planning and the social web. It’s something he writes about well too. His blog is well worth a look.
Catherine Howe, who does things with Public I, made the closing but clear point: “Whatever you do put social media in your emergency plan.”
Of course, I reflected smugly, my council has. There’s 3,000 people following the our corporate Twitter stream. What could go wrong?
Overnight there had been a minor incident that I’d missed on my Blackberry which had ran flat. Thankfully, it wasn’t more serious. But it showed very clearly where we’re blindsided.
If only comms people have the keys to the Facebook and Twitter things can easily fall down. What’s the answer? Go to where the audience is. Give them access to the corporate account. They’re generally very sensible people and know what to say. If the situation develops you can always step in.
So, what sort of role does social media play in an emergency?
In a true disaster the web falls down before SMS. But people are instinctively running to it.
A tornado in Joplin – In in the Mid West US town when a milewide tornado struck, the community rallied by building their own space on the web. At first this was to search for missing people and then as the disaster turned to recovery it charted that phase too. The moral? People have the tools like this or this community Facebook page to build things for themselves. They’re not waiting for the council to do it. They just will.
The EDL in Birmingham – When the far right English Defence League first rallied they used Twitter to spread misinformation. The police monitored by were powerless. Third time they came they had an officer monitoring Twitter, Mark Payne checking each claim and then re-butting within minutes point by point.
Facebook in Queensland – When floods struck 3,000 comments a day were posted on the Queensland Police site. It took a 24-hour effort to monitor, explain and rebuff wild rumour.
The report into the Queendsland event singled out social media as part of a range of channels to take action with. Ben Proctor has blogged on it here. A key finding is to talk, prepare and practice. That’s as just as much relevant to comms people as anyone.
An interim report into the Queensland flood made a series of comments and recommendations. On social media it stated:
“As it may be possible for the public to post information directly to an official social media site there are concerns that a member of the public may post false information. For example, inaccurate information was posted on the Western Downs Regional Facebook page. However, where there are enough staff to monitor content social media can be a useful tool to respond to rumours in the community.”
Seven things comms people need to know
1. Share the keys – Give emergency planning an awareness of what social media is, encourage them to monitor and respond and give them the keys to the corporate feeds.
2. You can’t control the message – As if the main message of our times is needed to be repeated.
3. There’s a shorter turn around time to respond – Speed may be of the essence.
4. It’s not just about social media – It’s one channel of several. Important and growing but don’t think that everyone will be on Facebook.
5. It’s good for combating rumours – As a comms person that can save yourself time.
6. Journalists will follow and like – You can save time and effort by creating channels of communications.
7. If the balloon goes up it’ll take resources – Social media is free is a bit of a myth. The platform is free. The time spent to manage it, listen and update isn’t. The lessons of Queensland are that it can take up resources. But you do get valuable return on investment for doing so. Regular monitoring when there is a crisis is absolutely critical. Don’t link to a press release and forget about it.