DIGITAL LEADERS: Vital lessons from a human leader and a lone dancing nut

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.

Ready, Steady, Go  - Google Chrome 09032014 081308

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.

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.


TIMELINE: 12 tips after three years of blogging… and some reflection

“Of course,” said John Lennon in passing, “the problem is we’re bigger than Jesus.”

Always put the most eye-catching quote in the first par of a feature is indeed a handy trick to know.

It reels the reader in and makes them want to read on. Same for pictures too. Get something arresting and witty.

Two things I’ve learned over three years as a blogger. There. Now they’re yours.

Only thing is, a Beatles quote and a picture of an exploding car doesn’t work when it’s a reflective piece. Unless, of course you use them as a device to get people reading and keep them reading by offering blogging tips in amongst the reflection.

Tip three:  Have a very understanding partner who doesn’t mind you hammering into a laptop when she’s watching the telly.

Tip four: Don’t worry that your first few are rubbish. It’s the law.

Now for some reflection. Three years ago I started to blog to add to the debate and conversation. There were many people I admired and respected and very few of my contemporaries are still at it. Many have moved on and are now turning their talents to other things. Realising this made me feel a bit lonely. Every blog has a lifespan. It made me think of what this blog’s timeline would be. We Love Local Government was a blog that was a cornerstone on the digital landscape. Speaking to the people behind it Glen Ocsko and Gareth Young a while back I felt a burning sense of kinship.

“Sometimes you really don’t want to write something,” one said “but you sort of have to because you’ve set yourself this deadline. Which is mad because it’s all self-imposed.”

Tip five: Write where you feel comfortable. In a chair. On the train. At the kitchen table. Vary it if it helps. But give yourself a weekly deadline.

One lapsed blogger Ingrid Koehler drifted through my timeline today. Ingrid used to work at the IdEA. It’s criminal that her talents have been lost to the public sector. She is responsible for some great work and much of it stands the test of time. Like her Connected Councillors guide, for example.

Ingrid used to collect case studies and blog them insanely early the morning. It was one of the many inspirations for comms2point0 a blog about comms and PR and an idea that Darren Caveney came up with that I sprinkled some hundreds and thousands on.

I spoke to another lapsed blogger today too. Sarah Lay is still passionate about what she does but has taken a conscious step back from writing.

We spoke of how the great mountain of work and case studies on digital innovation in local government has been produced in people’s spare time. In my corner of the allotment, it’s about public relations and communications.

We also spoke about how you can only go so far to embed good digital practice by out-of-hours work and unconferences. We’ve both thought at one time or another that they were the golden bullets.

We agreed that if local government is serious about mainstreaming change then the bright sparks doing the innovation need to be able to have room – and funding – to create and share the best practice sweets.

Tip six: It doesn’t matter what you write about is niche. It’s your niche and you’ll be amazed at how you’ll find fellow travellers.

On a lighter note, three years on and Hyper WM is going from strength to strength. A loose collection of local government people help run it. This time, Sandwell Council chief executive Jan Britton and officer Liz Onions have chipped in and former Birmingham City Council officer Si Whitehouse is taking a lead this year. The first 50 tickets went in 24-hours. If you want one go here. Quickly. It makes me feel quietly proud something that was quietly floated on this blog  following a Eureka conversation with Si Whitehouse has taken root with help, love, dedication and cake from a bunch of others. A handful of people read that blog post proposing it. But the good thing was that several of those that did wanted to come and wanted to help. That’s the beauty of a blog post. It circulates an idea cheaply.

Tips seven to ten: Write about things you are passionate about. Write one every week. Post what you write on Twitter and add the #weeklyblogclub hashtag for a ready made audience.

Since I started there are new bloggers in and around local government whose work I love. There’s comms officer Stuart Macintosh from Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, Ross Wigham head of communications at Northumberland County Council, London social worker Ermintrude2, Carolyne Mitchell in Scottish local government and from the US Jim Garrow who is doing some brilliant stuff. Matt Murray in Brisbane Australia is doing some great stuff with photography. Kate Hughes does housing comms really well, Helen Reynolds of Monmouthshire County Council writes some cracking stuff in Shropshire Jon King  and Kate Bentham  are doing some brilliant things as is Phil Jewitt at Leeds City Council while the weeklyblogclub initiative skippered by Janet Davis is a constant source of good content.

Whatever the future holds for me I’m sure that it will be in part because of the work I’ve done and shared. I’m certain of that.

Tip eleven: Compfight is a brilliant tool to search for creative commons pictures for blogs (especially ones of people smiling which draw you in.)

Tip twelve: Don’t write too much. A few hundred words will do. That’s why I’m ending this post here.

Around 3,000 people read this blog every month which is slightly mad. If you’ve read, commented, shared or taken something from any of the 120 posts I’ve written in the last three years from me to you: ‘thank you’.

Creative commons credits
Exploding car http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourbartender/49458670/sizes/l/
Table http://www.flickr.com/photos/cocokelley/4433654477/sizes/o/
Smile http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexmasters/106771263/sizes/z/
Bang http://www.flickr.com/photos/hoyvinmayvin/5002699621/sizes/l/

SEVEN LINKS: Five blogs to delve into

A rather wonderful thing happened the other day. Someone who I’ve never met recommended my blog as part of a pass it forward sort of project.

Seven links sees bloggers talk about things they’ve learned from what they’ve posted and nominate five bloggers to do the same. The result is some learning and picking up some other blogs you may not have come across before.

Andy Simcox, the blogger who nominated me, works in local government. He writes about things here. He writes with honesty about often personal things. It’s good stuff.

So, to pass it forward here are seven things I’ve learned and five bloggers I’d recommend and like to know what makes them tick too. I could have listed about 15 quite easily from the blogroll on the right but ere are five.

My most beautiful post

Being a news journalist was easy. You asked who, when, where and why and invariably wrote it in the first par. “Two people were taken to hospital when three cars collided on the M6 in West Bromwich today.” Easy. What I found difficult were features that need a different approach. The only feature I wrote in 12 years as a print journalist I could hang my hat on was about my grandfather’s death in the First World War. Not on the glamorous Western Front but of dysentry in Mesopotamia, near Basra in modern day Iraq.

With Remembrance Day approaching I told that tale again as a blog. It’s a desperately sad story that knocked me sideways to write and involved a death in the First World War and the domino consequences that ended with a mother abandoning her children to search bins for food. It’s here.

My most popular post

Showing colleagues Twitter I posted a request to people who followed me for advice. It came back in unexpected numbers and quality. Rather than cast it to the wind I collected it, blogged it and thought no more about it.

Things started to get a little mad when it wa spicked up by @twitter and reposted. Overnight, 8,000 people clicked through to read it and overall 22,000 have. More than 700 people have retweeted it on Twitter. Mad, really.

The moral? Do and share and there’s unexpected consequences.

My most controversial post

Writing about things in  local government isn’t actually that controversial. But Andy Mabbett once got quite animated about what we did with opening-up museums to Walsall Flickr group members. The museum service wanted people to sign a quite draconian permissions sheet based on a neighbouring council’s. The hugely talented Steph Jennings worked to draw-up a compromise that left everyone happy. Andy argued that it should have gone further. It’s not exactly the Rumble in the Jungle but you can read it here.  What did I learn? People don’t have to agree with everything you say and that’s a good thing. It makes you think.

My most helpful post

There motivation for this blog was to share what we’d done at Walsall Council. The most important step we’d taken was the route we’d taken to secure a green light. This boiled down to eight steps. It was written with someone from Lancashire in mind who at UK Govcamp made a plea for help. What did I learn? It’s good to share.

A post whose success surprises me

The post on helping colleagues understanding Twitter that’s also my most popular. It was a bit surprising was that.

A post I feel didn’t get the attention it deserved

There’s some stinkers that don’t deserve a wider audience. This one about what Turkish football team Galatasaray can teach local government probably deserves a wider re-pimp.

The post I am most proud of

Not for it’s immediate impact. A handful of people read it. But the post wondering aloud a conversation I’d had with Si Whitehouse if we should have a hyperlocalgovcamp led to some good things that I’m hugely proud we did. It’s here.  I suppose that’s the point. It’s not the numbers. It’s what a handful of readers can do with it that counts.

Here are five – from lots – that I rate highly and really do urge you explore:

Chie Elliott is brilliant. There is a tonne of good learning on her blog Blaggetty, Blogetty Bragitee. As a publishing person who packed it in to get NCTJ training as a journalist she has a different perspective on news and the media. She’s always bang on the money, always engaging and always thoughtful. That she is job hunting means she is writing a blog of quiet rage at the system she finds herself. Some people sink when hit with the invisible brick walls of the JobCentre. Not Chie. You can read here unemployment blog here.

I’ve probably learned more from Liz Azyan than any other local government blogger. There is more pearls of wisdom per square inch at her blog LGEO Research than almost anywhere else online. The other week I dropped her an email on behalf of a colleague asking her for 100 words on her thoughts on user testing websites. She didn’t just reply to the email, she wrote a blog on it. That one act sums up the generosity of spirit and willingness to share that endlessly inspires me about the local government community online.

When I was starting to get my head around social media there were a few people I badgered for help. I rang them up in the manner of a cold caller. Alastair Smith patiently listened and explained. He was the first person to tell me about Flickr. His work at Newcastle City Council has been trailblazing and his blog on engaging with an angry community on Facebook set a standard. You can read him here  and now he’s back in local government I’m kinda hoping he’ll pick up the blogging baton again.

Jim Garrow works in emergency management in Philadelphia. That’s emergency planning in the UK.  But wait. It’s not a blog about hi-vis jackets and tabards. It’s big picture stuff. There isn’t a blog like it for stopping me in my tracks and making me think. You can read it here and I urge you to.

Kate Hughes is doing some brilliant stuff quietly in a corner of the Black Country. As a press officer for Wolverhampton Homes she is innovating in an area where you wouldn’t imagine there is the ability to innovate. If it works in Wolvo, it can work anywhere. You can read her blog here.

Over to you I think …

Creative commons credits

Localgovcamp 1gl http://www.flickr.com/photos/1gl/5845575017/sizes/m/in/pool-1155288@N23/

The way I see it http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderlane/2970736472/sizes/z/in/photostream/

Stop Erica Marshall of muddyboots.org   http://www.flickr.com/photos/erica_marshall/2669075603/sizes/z/in/photostream/

Pots of colour http://www.flickr.com/photos/lucynieto/2263693205/sizes/z/in/photostream/


DO, SHARE: Why I blog (and you should too.)

Just recently I hit an unexpected milestone. 

This blog has clocked-up more than 50,000 page views in the past 21 months.

Considering it was only ever written for two men and a dog that’s something I’m falling off my chair at.

Mind, that figure is skewed by a single crowd sourced blog post on what I should tell colleagues sceptical about Twitter. That got RT’d by @twitter itself and pinged to its 5.4 million followers.

But what it did do was make me think of why I started blogging in the first place. What has resulted and why I think others should too.

There are 98 million words a day posted to WordPress blogs, 53 per cent of bloggers are aged 25 to 35, according to Mashable.

Why did I start blogging?

Because I was getting a fund of information from them myself and wanted to add to that stream.

Because I saw blogs that I admired from colleagues. Like Alastair Smith, Dave Briggs, Carl Haggerty and Sarah Lay.

Because I similarly felt I had something to say and share.

Because something on Liz Azyan’s excellent blog prompted me to take the plunge.

Because – most importantly – I bet @jaynehowarth who was similarly dithering that if I didn’t I’d send her cake.

Some of my blogs have been absolute stinkers. Some I’m proud of. One I even wrote in a car park in Solihull. All have been written in my spare time.

What’s been the benefit?

Valuable thinking time.  An online notebook to refer back to. Having a voice. Shouting about some of things we’ve done or others have done well.

There’s been the unexpected spin-offs too. A chance to speak on interesting subjects to interesting people at interesting places. I’ve a vague feeling this may be a help to my career at some point down the track.

Why YOU should blog

For all the above reasons. But mostly because we’re all learning. All of us. There are no experts. There’s just shared knowledge. Your view is a just as important.  There’s not a blog post I’ve read by someone in local government I’ve not learned something from.

Because with platforms like WordPress it’s pretty straightforward.

Because it’ll give you skills for the future. Whether you write about local government things or, like Kate Goodall, a blog on parks you take your dog for a walk in.

Because ‘do stuff then share it’ is a good thing to aspire to.

Because none of us are experts on everything. But we do know about our tiny corner of the allotment and by sharing it we get a sense of the bigger picture.

Creative commons credits

Tomato http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/2178363927/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Sky writing http://www.flickr.com/photos/floridamemory/3328074451/sizes/m/in/faves-danieldslee/

Red tulip Erica Marshall of muddyboots.org

http://www.flickr.com/photos/erica_marshall/469245453/sizes/l/in/photostream/


PIC PICKY: If a picture tells 1,000 words why are bloggers so rubbish at using them?

Striking pictures leap from a page and grab the reader by the throat.

They demand attention, illustrate a point and reel a reader in.

So why the ruddy heck are so many blogs laid out pictureless like telephone directories?

Am I being unrealistic? Maybe. I’ve worked in the media for more than a decade and I’m used to thinking text plus pictures. Not everyone is wired that way. Fair enough.

But I’m a reader too and you know yourself something that looks rubbish has a stronger chance of getting overlooked.

Yes, through blogging you swiftly publish content.  Being able to chuck stuff up is a strength.

But please, remember that a dowdy looking page may not ever get read.

Look at Linda Jones, or Jayne Howarth or Lee Jordan.

They’re  a good marriage of words and pictures. You’re drawn into them.

FIVE things to do to add pictures…

1. Use your own pictures. It’s surprising what good images you have. Particularly if you are David Bailey.

2. Use Creative Commons pictures Flickr.com  is a brilliant resource but it’s also a community so remember to be polite. If you are looking for a shot of a farm gate search ‘Farm + gate + creative commons.’ You’ll get some interesting results. Creative commons gives you permission to use a pic so long as you observe certain conventions.

3. Free to use stock image websites. Help yourself so long as you sign in. You’ll have to pay for the best ones. Not so best are usually free.

4. Use the ‘blog this’ button on Flickr. Many pictures you can add straight to your blog by following a set of instructions but be careful. The pic comes at the same size everytime and appears in the top right hand corner. It also publishes straight away which means you could have some surprised people scratching their head at their RSS feed of an empty page with a  picture floating there unless you add pre-written content pronto.

5. Don’t steal. Yes, it’s tempting just to save to desktop but it’s better not to.

Picture credits:

Elephant in the room – David Blackwell

Field – Dan Slee


BE LEGAL: Six things a hyperlocal blogger really should know about the law

Pic credit:
The scales of justice
Originally uploaded by Soggy Semolina 

There is an amazing vibrancy, vibrancy and passion about hyperlocal blogs.

With the bottom falling out of newspapers self-motivated people are filling the news gap themselves.

No town, housing estate or tower block is too small or disconnected to support these grassroots newsgatherers.

But to a qualified journalist turned press officer like myself the potential for danger in the ice field of libel law is terrifying.

Chatting to the excellent Philip John of the Lichfield Blog at a recent Black Country Social Media Cafe it’s clear this hasn’t escaped attention.

The idea of registering a company for a blog is an excellent way of getting yourself some protection.

Why? Because British libel laws are amongst the most draconian in the world.

At some point I’m convinced someone will lose their house in the not too distant future over an internet blog post. It’s potentially that serious.

This isn’t a shot across the bows for local bloggers from an old hack who doesn’t ‘get’ social media. Far from it.

In the words of former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans “I love newspapers. But I’m intoxicated by the speed and possibility of the internet.”

This is more a call to action for the blogging community to be as legally aware as they are SEO-savvy.

Of course, not everyone should have to take a law exam before they are allowed onto WordPress. That defeats the object of Web 2.0.

What I am arguing for is as the blogging community slowly self-organises legal advice, or a place where a blogger could find it, is an overdue must.

It’s excellent that Talk About Local have further enhanced their reputation by spotting this need and they now have a place to go.

They have also drafted a nine point manifesto themselves to help. Maybe a tenth should be “Be legal.”?

This would be self-preservation. It could also help construct foundations for a bridge of trust between bloggers and local councils and other organisations.

With the advent of no win no fee legal firms sniffing around blog comments it’s also increasingly important.

SIX things every hyperlocal needs to know about media law:

1. Libel law covers the web – legal action is rare but you need to know what you blog about could become actionable in every jurisdiction on the planet. Technically.

2. It is big money – Living Marxism magazine folded in 2000 after two television reporters and ITN won £375,000 after being accused of sensationalising images of an emaciated Muslim in a Serb run detention camp in Bosnia.

3. It’s useful to know what libel is – there are defences against libel. Here is a link with British Libel laws explained 

4. Don’t touch court reports – The rules around court reporting in the UK are so strict, so complex and carry unlimited penalties that all but the foolish would look at it. Take freelance reporters’ copy direct if you like. Don’t lift it from newspapers. And don’t try it at home. Contempt of court is about as much fun as serious illness.

5. Have a copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists by your side. It’s the media industry standard. It can save lives. It could save yours.

6. Use the Talk About Local site designed as a signpost for finding legal advice.

LINKS

Philip John: Getting serious about #hyperlocal blogs. Great piece about media law http://bit.ly/VCf1D

Social By Social legal issues for hyperlocals debate http://bit.ly/2EnY9M

My earlier blog about what hyperlocals mean for Local Government http://bit.ly/nkPrD

Great presentation on media law for bloggers and journalists by Paul Bradshaw http://bit.ly/22NeNs


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 838 other followers