Sometimes something just flies unexpectedly on Facebook and goes viral.
That something happened when Paralymic swimmer Ellie Simmonds, who started her career in Walsall won her second gold of the London 2012 Olympics.
An outburst of deep joy on Ellie’s face was reflected back by all those watching and especially by those in the borough where she was born and learned to swim.
She’s moved to Swansea since to build her career but still has close ties to Aldridge in the borough of Walsall.
Straight after the race the debate was about where in Walsall the gold letter box would be. As a marketing ploy the gold letter boxes and the stamps of the winners takes some beating.
We’d spotted a picture posted on Twitter using Twitpic by a BBC reporter James Bovill of a workman painting the postbox in Aldridge High Street.
We shared it on Facebook acknowledging where it came from in the spirit of the social web. You can see the page here.
And 24 hours later the image had been liked 3,215, had been shared 273 times, commented on 117 times and had been seen by a potential audience on Facebook of 29,608. We also put on 100 new likers.
Tim Clark, a press officer at Wolverhampton City Council, recently wrote an excellent post http://twoheads.squarespace.com/comms2point0/2012/8/1/how-a-cloud-burst-took-facebook-by-storm.html on the 16-second clip of torrential rain that captured the imagination as it went viral.
The point that both make is that it doesn’t have to be polished content to work. Just something that captures the imagination.
The team behind the the Team GB Olympics team as well as GB Paralympics team know this too with a cracking use of licensed images of athletes in action, medal successes on Facebook. Every athlete and team, it seems, gets their picture added to the page with some staggering numbers of shares and likes. The Team GB Facebook page is one example. The Paralympics GB page is another.
Here’s five things it shows
1. Reporters with mobile phones can reach big numbers by putting mobile first.
2. What takes off doesn’t have to be great art.
3. Timely posts work.
4. Sharing is a good thing.
5. Paralympians are amazing people.
Creative commons licence
Just lately I came across a rather magnificent link to the MOD’s digital guidelines.
As a starting point for beginners or for the more advanced they’re pretty handy. The US Army Social Media handbook has been around for a while and it’s good to get a British perspective too.
What do they offer?
Well, it’s basically a pretty robust framework that strikes the balance between common sense security and telling stories. Frontline staff are encouraged to go via the chain of command to tell their stories.
As the introduction says:
UK Service and Ministry of Defence personnel are permitted to make full use of social media (such as social networking sites, blogs and other internet self-publishing), but must:
- Follow the same high standards of conduct and behaviour online as would be expected elsewhere;
- Always maintain personal, information and operational security, and be careful about the information you share online;
- Get authorisation from your chain of command when appropriate, and seek advice from your chain of command if unsure.
There’s some interesting social media presences that have grown over the past few years.
The UK Forces Afghanistan Facebook page has more than 12,000 likes and has a social approach with shots of servicemen and women. There’s a big input from families which is interesting to see. The feel is upbeat and focussed on the safety of the soldiers, sailors and airmen. The cover shot of a soldier waving to the Afghan passing by is unmistakably hearts and minds territory.
A rather good Flickr page Defence Images gives a feed for shots with creative commons licences for re-use.
The Ministry of Defence blog is a useful round-up of links as well as news updates. It also covers the deaths of service personnel.
There are two voices that come through the MOD social media pages. First is servicemen and women themselves. Second are their families. This is less of a forum to debate and question the rough edges and controversy of war and it feels like a deliberate decision for this. But as a means for the MOD to talk to people direct this is an interesting resource that will only grow.
Of course, the great thing for those in the public sector is that the fact that they are doing it at all is a battering ram to break down barriers. After all, if the Army are doing it sensibly and with rewards where’s the risk?
“The best social media,” it read “doesn’t happen in an office.”
That’s dead right.
For a long while now I’ve been arguing that communications people should share the sweets, relax a little and learn to let go. It’s by doing that they can really reap the rewards of good and trusted communications channels.
I’m not alone by any means in thinking this and it’s excellent to start seeing the rewards being reaped.
Here are some good examples of digital communications that caught my eye over the last few months.
What’s worth commenting on is that the majority of the good examples are not done directly by comms people. They’re done by people in the field telling their stories or they’re using content that first originated outside an office to tell a story.
Real time updates by people on the ground work brilliantly.
Back in 2008, digital innovation in the public sector – and third sector – was isolated. What this quick link collection now shows is that it’s mainstream and unstoppable.
National Trust Dudmaston Hall, Shropshire – If only more organisations were like the National Trust. We’d all be eating better cake for one. They’re also getting good at digital communications. They’re equipping venues with social media accounts to give you updates and insights from the ground.
I’m quite partial to this stream from the Shropshire stately home which is near Bridgnorth and a personal family favourite. They talk to people and they update. More people are likely to sign-up for a venue rather than an organisation that looks after lots of venues although there is a space for that too. You can follow them on Twitter here.
Acton Scott Museum, Shropshire – An imaginative use of pictures makes this Twitter stream fly. How can you not see horse drawn ploughing and not want to go and visit? You can follow them on Twitter here.
National Trust Central Fells – Using the principle if you do good things tell people the @ntcentralfells Twitter do a good job of updating people on the work they do. Most of the time it’s witnessed by two walkers and some sheep. They updated progress on building a bridge in a remote spot of Easedale in with pictures of them at work and reaped the benefit of feedback from people stuck in offices. You can follow them on Twitter here.
Supt Keith Fraser – A Superintendant in Walsall who keeps people up to speed with events and crime in the town. Personable. Informative and willing to engage on the platform. You can follow him here.
Swedish Tourist Board – It’s rather marvellous is this. Technically, it’s run by the Swedish Tourist Board but this isn’t a collation of picture book shots and platitudes. They give the @sweden Twitter to a new Swede every week. More than 20,000 people follow it. You can follow them here.
I know this writer! Qaisar Mahmood askes what it means to be Swedish. The answer he gets: ”Blond and reserved”.
— @sweden / Micke (@sweden) April 3, 2012
Walsall Council Countryside Officers – I’m a bit biased in that I know Morgan Bowers the countryside ranger but I absolutely love what she has done with social media. A digital native she uses her iphone to update Twitter with what she is doing, what newt survey results are and pictures of the sky over Barr Beacon. This is brilliant. You can follow her on Twitter here. Her manager Kevin Clements has also picked up the baton on Twitter with regular updates. You can follow him here and it’s good to see the burden shared.
Walsall Council Environmental Health Officer David Matthews – Britain’s first tweeting environmental health officer David Matthews was a big part in why Walsall 24 worked as an event. He was able to spot snippets of interest that he passed through for others to tweet. Afterwards, he didn’t need much persuasion to take up an account in his own name. The @ehodavid was puts out the normal updates and warnings but with added humour. Much of the frontline updates is anonymised. Pictures taken of dreadful takeaways need a health warning to look at during lunchtime. You can follow him here.
9 cases of Campylobacter food poisoning last week Symptoms include diarrhoea/vomiting/stomach/pains+cramps+fever FAQ? tinyurl.com/boeanm2
— David Matthews (@EHOdavid) April 2, 2012
Pc Rich Stanley blog – Walsall has a stong claim to be a digital outpost. One of the big reasons for this is the way West Midlands Police have picked up the baton – or should that be truncheon? – and embraced social media. Pc Rich Stanley uses Twitter well but also blogs excellently on various day-to-day aspects of the job. Here he talks about policing the Aston Villa v Chelse football game.
Walsall Council Social Care – People in social care do a brilliant job. They’re good at saving lives. Literally. But all too often they don’t do a good jo of telling their story. As a sector they shelter behind big stone walls and hope a high profile case like Baby P NEVER happens to them. Tina Faulkner and Becky Robinson are comms people who both understand old and new media and have blogged stories from the frontline. You can read them here.
Walsall Leather Museum Audioboo – Francesca Cox eyes lit up when she heard of Audioboo. A couple of days later she posted this chat with a demonstrator about her first day at work. What the clip does is open up all sorts of possibilities with oral history and when embedded on another website brings a different aspect to this.
US Army – Like geeks with an interest in sub-machine guns the people behind the US Army social media presence are blending both interests well. Pinterest is a way to collect pictures in the one place. If pictures tell 1,000 words this collection speaks a great deal on what messages the military would like to get across. It’s split into themes. You can find it here.
Can We Make Walsall A More Creative Place? – Walsal Council’s regeneration scrutiny committee wanted to look at the creative industries. We launched a Facebook page to begin to connect. Fifty people have liked it so far to allow the start of feedback. Face-to-face meetings are now planned. You can like it here.
NASA Facebook timeline – One of the many things I really love about this page is the way NASA have embraced timeline. Scroll back to 1965 and you can look at content they’ve updated from that year featuring the first NASA spacewalk. For any organisation with a long history this approach is a must. You can like it here.
Northycote Park and Country Park on Facebook - Wolverhampton Council’s parks team do a really good job of innovating using social media. They’ve been experimenting with creating Facebook pages for venues. This is Northycote Park and Country Park and has 200 likes a few weeks after it was launched. It has pictures of new born lambs and updates on events. You can like it here.
Monmouthshire Council Youth Service on Facebook – Hel Reynolds has flagged up this page. A youth worker updates it. Not a comms person. This means that it has a tone that suits the people it is aimed at and doesn’t come over as trendy uncle Monmouth breakdancing at a wedding. You can like it here.
US government’s EPA Documerica project on Flickr – In the early 1970s the Documerica project sent photographers to capture environmental issues across the country. They captured car jams, low flying planes, people meeting up in public spaces and other things. They’ve posted many of the images onto Flickr and they’re a time capsule of how the US was. You can see them here. To update them they have a blog to encourage a 2012 version here and a Flickr group here.
Torfaen Council on Flickr – Here’s a council that is posting images to Flickr routinely. They show a good range of images that residents can see. You can see them here.
WV11 on PACT meetings – The wv11 blog have worked with West Midlands Police to cover public meetings – known as PACT meetings – to allow residents to pose questions and see what is happening in their patch. It’s great work and shows how you can connect to people who want to be civic minded but struggle to reach meetings. You can read a blog of a meeting here and a storify here.
Oldham Council – It’s an excellent idea to make interactive council meetings. This Guardian pieces captures why.
Birmingham City Council – Comms officer Geoff Coleman has done some excellent work with live streaming council meetings. It opens up democracy and promotes transparency. It’s netted 10,000 views. You can read about it here.
Birmingham City Council’s election plans – This year plans to be a big year in Birmingham. There’s a chance of a change of administration and there will be great attention on the council and most importantly, how they communicate the changes in real time. What better way than crowd source what people want? You can read it here.
Caerphilly Council – Digital video clips are easy to consume but notoriously difficult to do effectively. Many have tried in local government but few have been as effective as Caerphilly Council with their nationally sigificant use of YouTube clips. One clip both pokes gentle fun at themselves and features a sheep with social media logos roaming the borough. It makes you smile. It keeps you informed. It’s fleecey brilliance.
Creative commons credits:
Road at Rifle, Ohio in 1972 http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3815027813/
Documerica Photographer, David Hiser, at Dead Horse Point, 05/1972 http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3814966348/
As a platform used by almost 900 million people the question is not ‘how’ government and local government uses it but ‘if.’ There are some cracking examples of how to use Facebook outnumbered by scores of absolute stinkers.
As part of a brilliant session at the rather wonderful Comms2point0 and Public Sector Forum event in Birmingham we looked at how the introduction of timeline Facebook pages would impact.
As the session wore on it looked pretty fundamental. Think timeline is just the chance to stick a big letterbox picture on top of your page? Think again.
Here’s some collected learning gathered at the event and some extra.
Thinking about it afterwards, I can’t help but think that what’s needed for an effective Facebook page – timeline or not – is:
- Good content to connect to people.
- Shouting about it online.
- Shouting about it offline (which is actually the most important than shouting online).
The getting started: ‘We need a Facebook page’
It’s almost as common a thing to hear as a comment on the weather. It’s what people want. But ask a simple question: do you really need a Facebook page?
Ask if people will monitor every day and are prepared to respond. If they’re not, don’t bother. If they’ve never used Facebook before don’t start with a page. You’ll fail. Start by creating your own profile and then using it for a month or two to work out how it all works. If you are none of the above you are better off chipping in to the corporate page or someone else’s page.
What does good content look like?
A couple of posts a day or three at most so as not to drown people with noise. Make it engaging. Post pictures. Stage polls. Link to YouTube. Think beyond the ‘I’m linking to the press release.’ Make it fun. Make it timely. Make it informative.
With Facebook timeline, what’s the same…?
Facebook pages are still the platform for using Facebook as local government. You get loads of stats as an admin you won’t if you don’t have a page. With timeline you can still add posts, add pictures, links, video and create polls. You still have to have your own profile in order to create a page and become an admin. It also doesn’t change the frequency of how often to add content. More than two or three times a day and it starts to get a bit noisy and people will switch off and yes, you do need to add text in a way that works on Facebook.
Don’t be stuffy and formal.
But we all know that, don’t we?
Ally Hook’s Coventry page is a good place to look to for ideas. It’s something I’ve blogged about before here.
What’s different with timeline compared to the old pages?
There’s a stack of extra features I’d either not noticed with the old page or have been slipped on with the new timeline approach. Here’s a quick run through of some of them.
When you first navigate to your home page as admin you’ll see the under the dashboard part of the page right at the top. Helpfully, there’s a natty chart which tells you the reach of the page and how many are talking about it. In other words, how many have posted a comment or liked.
You can have a cover pic
It’s the letterbox shaped image that’s right on top of the page. Facebook are keen for this to be not predominantly text so a nice shot of your borough, city, parish or county will do just fine. Or if its a service maybe it’s a shot of them doing something. But change it every now and then.
For me, this is where good links with Flickr members somes in handy. With their permission use a shot and link back to their page.
Dawn O’Brien for Wolverhampton Parks has used this rather wonderful shot of one of their parks, for example.
You can still have a profile pic
It’s just not the main emphasis of the page anymore. But try and keep it interesting. Use Ally Hook from Coventry City Council’s time honoured tack of not using a logo. They’re not terribly social things are logos.
There’s a funny info bar just under the cover pic
It’s a handy place to see how you are doing with likes as well as a place to search for pictures. That’s a bit tidier.
You can create and add content to a historic timeline
One person at the Birmingham event pointed to Manchester United‘s Facebook page as a trailblazing way to use a historic timeline. They were formed a long time ago and this particular bit of functionality means you can add old, historic content from years ago. It’s actually really good. Click on 1977 and you can see a shot of two members of the FA Cup winning team. Clearly, as a Stoke City supporter they remain a plastic club with fans who live in Surrey but I can live with this screenshot as it has a picture of Stoke legend Jimmy Greenhoff on.
I was talking through this change to Francesca from Walsall Leather Museum.
All of a sudden her eyes lit up. “Wow,” she said. “We can add old pictures to the timeline.” She’s right. You can. The possibilities for museums and galleries are pretty endless.
Even for a council page you can add historic images that build a bit of pride. You can do this by posting an update and then in the top right hand corner clicking on ‘edit.’
You can select a date that best suits it. Like 1972 for Stoke City winning the League Cup, for example.
What the edit page button can do
You can let people add content to your page whether that’s a post or video.
Many councils, especially during Purdah, are a bit nervous about letting people do this. Especially when they are not monitored around the clock. Allowing it builds an audience but it’s a judgement call. There’s also the moderation block list. That’s not really something I’d noticed before but you can add terms you are not happy with.
I’d use it sparingly and not to stiffle debate.
It’s also probably worth adding the swearing filter.
For a few days there was a setting to pre-approve all content. That’s now disappeared and a good thing too.
This star post thing
On the top right hand of each timeline post is the star icon. Click that and your post gets larger and is seen by everyone who navigates to your page. Obviously choose the best ones for that.
In the top right hand of each timeline post is an edit button. Click that and you’ll see the option to pin. That sends the post to the top and something that will remain at the top until its unpinned. Save that for the really important ones.
Insights are your new best friend
If Facebook have gone to the trouble of providing you with a pile of stats for free the least you can do is use them. Let people know. Sing from the rooftops. Include them in reports. Tell people what you are doing. Don’t think that everyone will notice.
It’s something I’ve blogged about before but needs repeating. You can find out how to do it here. Your page is a very small allotment in a country the size of France. Use the principle of go to where the audience is so add and comment on larger pages.
Facebook adverts From the Birmingham session there are few cases of big numbers coming from ads. However, Shropshire Council have used it for specific job ads with some results. A blend of shouting offline and good content to interest if people do drop by would seem to be the answer to building useful Facebook numbers.
A successful Facebook page makes lots and lots of noise offline
It’s amazing how it’s easy to fall into the trap it is of only thinking Facebook to shout about your page. Actually, that’s one part of it. Look at how others do it.
1. Put your a link on the bottom of emails. Tens of thousands of emails get sent every week. They’re mini billboards.
2. Tell people about your page via the corporate franking machine. Tens of thousands of items of post go out every week. They’re mini billboards too.
3. Put your Facebook page on any print you produce. Leaflets, flyers and guides.
4. Put posters up at venues with QR codes linking straight to the page. I’m not convinced QR codes are mainstream but I am convinced its worth a try.
5. Tell your staff about a page – and open up your social media policy to allow them to look. As Helen Reynolds suggests here and Darren Caveney here.
6. Don’t stop shouting about your Facebook page face-to-face. If people enjoy a visit to a museum tell them they can keep up on Facebook.
7. Use your school children. Encourage schools to send something home to tell their parents about the Facebook page.
8. Create a special event for Facebook people. For events and workshops create something special only for the very special people who will like your very special page. Like a craft table at a family event. Maybe use eventbrite to manage tickets.
9. Stage on offline competition. Get people to enter via Facebook. That’s just what Pepsi are doing with a ring pull competition. Send a text (25p) or add to the Pepsi Facebook page after you like it (FREE.)
We were looking at how a leisure centre could best use Facebook. In the room with me was a colleague and the centre manager himself.
“Maybe we should just have the one Facebook page for leisure centres right across the borough.”
Hmmm. That didn’t feel right.
“Or how about one for a leisure centre?”
Better. Much better. But that still didn’t quite feel totally there. We spoke about the centre user and what they may want.
“So, what if someone loved zumba and didn’t want to be bothered with gym opening times?”
We searched for zumba and Walsall on Facebook. That’s the borough we were in. Just to see what is there.
We found an zumba instructor and a rather magnificent 1,400 people liking her page.
Suddenly, it became quite clear.
Would a zumba enthusiast be more likely to sign-up for zumba updates? Or zumba floating in amongst gym, badminton, squash, swimming, weight lifting and judo?
Or to ask another question, when you look for information on a council website, would you want it straight away or would you want to have to go through six other services before you got the lollipop?
That’s a simple question. You want the one.
So, maybe, what we need is not just one big Facebook page. Or even an oligarchy of pages based on services. What we need are lots of little ones for each class, group or community.
Look at New York City. They have 5,000 people liking their City Council Facebook page and a similar number on Twitter. But they have 400,000 following @metmuseum as well as 1,300 liking an AIDS initiative.
Or look at the Scottish Island of Orkney. On Twitter 2,000 follow the council, 4,000 like their library, 400 the story telling festival and 80 sign-up for the jobs feed. So in other words, twice as many like things the council does rather than the council itself.
Look even at Walsall Council. 4,000 like the council Twitter while 800 sign up for @walsallwildlife a countryside ranger’s tweets about bats, birds and wildlife and 160 getting environmental health updates.
So, it’s not about having one medium size official presence jealously guarded by a comms person.
It’s actually about having scores of engaged little ones that together add up to a better connected, better informed population.
The Public Sector Forum and Comms2point0 Facebook for the Public Sector takes place on March 14 at Birmingham City Football Club. You can find out more here and do come over and say hello.
First posted on Comms2point0.
Mark Zuckerburg: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MarkZuckerberg.jpg
Right now it hasn’t. All too often it’s a tumbleweed corporate page shovelling out press releases and a handful of brave people following. Often it’s nothing at all.
That’s as social as standing outside the Town Hall waiting for someone to emerge from a window with a megaphone and then disappear. Now hear this? I’d rather not, if it’s all the same.
Since Facebook is the largest social media platform and, as the presentation cliche goes, if it were a country it would be the fourth largest in the world.
But the fact is most people just don’t want to ‘like’ the institution. It can be seen as social suicide. But if you provide interesting, targeted, social timely content they may. A page for a specific library may work. And yes, you can follow the excellent Coventry City Council route an de-brand your page so the barrier is as low as possible as a session at Hyper WM in Warwick heard directly from Ali Hook.
For instant followers, a crisis really works. The Queensland Police Facebook page saw numbers rocket when flooding struck the state.
But as Ben Proctor in the same session said:
“For me the reluctance of people to “Like” your Council’s web page is a signal that they don’t have a real relationship with your Council. Broadly Facebook is what people use to manage their real life relationships. I don’t think the solution to this is to be found within the Facebook environment.”
It’s an interesting point worth reflecting on. You can read his full round-up of Hyper WM here.
Should we pack up and go home?
I’ve written about things local government can do elsewhere. But what you do on your page is actually a really small part of the Facebook landscape. You’ve got 500 residents signed up to your corporate page? Fantastic. Think of it in terms of people coming to your meetings it’s huge. But in a borough of 300,000 they not even one per cent of it’s population.
If you believe that your reputation is what people are saying about you in the local paper, on the radio or online then this is a question you’re going to have to face.
The conclusion is actually simple. You need to go out to the big wide world and start to talking to people on Facebook itself. Not on your corporate page but actually on Facebook itself. On the Facebook group that has been set up as a protest but is actually shouting into a void.
You need to get out of the comparable safety of the corporate Facebook page.
That’s a deeply profound step to take.
So, how do we go out onto the wilds of Facebook?
1. You can don a tin hat and go on with your own profile. But that opens the whole grey area of personal and work profile and whether or not last summer’s holiday snaps from Magaluf really create that professional air.
2. You can create a work profile. Or rather you can’t. Facebook’s terms and conditions don’t allow you to and you run the risk of having the profile and maybe any page it may administer taking down.
3. You can use Facebook as your page. If you’re an admin you have the option to use Facebook as your page to comment on other pages. That’s a brilliant piece of functionality that I just never knew existed until the excellent Ben Proctor pointed it out to me.
4. And be sensible. You’re really unlikely to have a cogent debate on cultural diversity on a far right website populated by trolls. But the single issue pressure group that’s shouting about an issue the council may not be aware of is crying out to be listened to. The Citizenship Foundation’s Michael Grimes’ one page blogger engagement guide for organisations is just as important here as it is for bloggers themselves.
But has anyone actually done this?
Case studies are thin on the ground. Al Smith’s blog on how he engaged with the regulars of the Cooperage pub on Facebook using his own profile is a good starting point. You can read it here.
Far less well known is an example of Sussex Police venturing onto Facebook to talk to worried residents who joined the ‘Make Our Streets Safer Again in Bognor Regis’ Facebook group. Julia Burns, a Sussex Police communications officer, presented what she learned at a Local Government Improvement and Delivery event in Coventry a while back.
You can find the slides at the Communities of Practice site here (log in required).
In a nutshell, a Facebook group was launched by disaffected residents worried about their streets with more than 2,000 joining in three days. Advice from Julia was to engage on Facebook using a frontline officer’s profile. After overcoming some trepidation, fear and nervousness an officer did just that and got a positive response. The site’s admin became engaged offline with the police and her voice, and those of her group, started to get an audience.
Which is another mountain to climb altogether.
Creative commons credits