BE FUN: Elvis, Star Wars and comms with a smile on its face…

3413093866_4ab6e43e70_bSometimes, there’s something that just works brilliantly as a piece of communications.

There’s been three of late that have caught the eye. One from NASA about a petition for a Death Star and one from an Elvis impersonator singing about council gritting. One about using Star Wars to make a point.

Elvis? This was a YouTube clip made by Torfaen Council’s comms team the clip features a local singer who sings – or maybe croons – about the job the council do to keep the roads clear. You can see it here.

Yes, we can use Elvis to be human…

It’s January 2013 and Neil Jones and his team should clear their mantlepiece for the silverware for that film that will rightly come their way. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Ben Hur, Titanic and The Lord of the Rings rolled into one. Best short film, best PR on a shoestring and best use of a Welsh Elvis tribute act. Step forward, Torfaen Council.

In a fine blog post for comms2point0 Neil says they’ve had more than 250,000 views, 7,000 Facebook likes and more than 2,000 Facebook shares. They’ve also batted away FOI requests demanding how much (budget: zero) and made the BBC TV news.

But what was the success? You can read the full post here but as Neil says:

‘In the depot’ goes global using a simple, sticky message which ticked all the viral boxes.  People love discussing the weather, people love discussing snow, people love Elvis and people love having a laugh.  The final viral ingredients were a sprinkle of planning and perfect timing.

Fun is the key. Fun makes people smile and remember and share.

Yes, the White House can use Star Wars to be human…

I’m struck by how much it chimes with other things that work. I’m also struck by a post by Philadelphia blogger Jim Garrow who writes the fine ‘Face of the Matter’ blog points to the quite brilliant response from the US Government’s Paul Shawcross who is Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

That’s a grand job title but in ruling out a request for the US Government to start work on a Death Star Paul writes:

The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.

  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.

  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

Yes, council gritters can use Star Wars to be human…

The third? Lincolnshire County Council’s skillful editing of a snowy scene to shot an At-At (that’s an enemy walking thing that’s not to be messed with) that is walking across the road with a reminder to stay safe on the roads.

It was picked up by the @starwars official account and re-tweeted to 300,000 accounts in one go.

Hats off to Jonathan Fitzgerald and the comms team there.

“Our gritting teams are receiving overwhelming support and praise on our @LincsCC_Winter gritter twitter and on @LincolnshireCC for their efforts in the 2013 Snow Wars; we’re proud to give our residents – and, it seems, half the planet now, the benefit of our timely advice, warnings and updates, along with a smile.”

So in short, being human is a good way to talk to people and to ask people to listen.

That’s not rocket science.

Picture credits:

Elvis http://www.flickr.com/photos/52499764@N00/3413093866/

Star Wars: 


LINK LOVE: 16 blog posts that have inspired me in 2012

20120728155907Back in the day my glittering media career was launched with a review of the year in the Stafford Newsletter.

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.

7973076834_a68abc4470_bFACEBOOK 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 clentgames. 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.

There’s been far, far too many things I’ve read that have stood out over the past 12-months. If I’ve ever retweeted, shared or quoted a link you’ve been involved with then ‘thank you.’
Creative commons credits
London 2012 http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/8327395938/in/photostream
Children: http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/8299745515/sizes/o/in/photostream/

CLICK INSPIRE: 20 golden links from 2011

If links are the web’s currency of inspiration then some shine as bright as a gold coin on a summer’s day.

Vivid and memorable as wild flowers they can sow seeds that bloom into bright ideas.

Some challenge while some crysyallise half thoughts.

They can be blog writing, tweets, news stories or images.

Over the past 12-months I’ve read thousands. Mainly in spare moments. As December trudged towards Christmas in downtime I’ve reflected on those that have shaped my outlook.

I’ve not gone online to remind myself but instead racked my brains for writing that has stayed with me.

There are scores of good writing. Many of them can be found on the pages of the blogroll on the right of this webpage.

A couple of them are mine. Mitigation for this is that they capture collaborative working.

Using Twitter to Stop Riots. As rioting spread and London police hip shootingly spoke of switching off the internet Wolverhampton shone. Superintendent Mark Payne used Twitter to shoot down rumours circulating online and off. Blogs such as WV11.co.uk and Tettenhall.co.uk plugged into this to retweet and shout via Facebook. Public I did a useful study.

The Icelandic Facebook page. With the country in financial tatters the Icelandic government started a root and branch review. The constitution which dates from 1944 was being re-drafted. Rather than whack up a 500 page pdf they broke down proposals into bite sized chunks and crowdsourced it. More than 2,500 Icelanders took part. In a country of 250,000 that’s astounding. You can read how here.

Twelve commandments for council news. Adrian Short isn’t a comms person. But his insight into how news online should be presented really needs reading by comms people.

Changing how council news is done. In a second post Adrian points out the folly of presenting press releases verbatim on a different medium. It needs reading if you care about local government and what it does. Read it here.

Birmingham City Council Civic dashboard. Critics say open data stands more effective in theory than in practice. This website starts to answer that and stands as a landmark.

Trust me I’m a follower. Scotland has some amazing people in the public sector. Carolyn Mitchell’s piece on the changing landscape is essential. As a former print journalist she has an eye for a line. That a senior police officer spoke of how he trusts his officers with a baton so why wouldn’t he trust them with a Twitter account is one of them.

Stop being irrelevant. Explains why I think comms people need to see their changing landscape and evolve to stay relevant. It drove my thinking throughout the year.

Localgovcamp. The event in Birmingham in June brought together creative thinking, ideas and inspiration. The posterous here captures blogs that emerged from it.

Brewcamp. I’m proud to be involved in this. It’s a platform for like minded people to come together, share ideas and drink tea. You can read it here.

@walsallwildlife on Twitter. That a countryside officer can attract 800 followers by tweeting about her day job of bats, ponds and newts astounds me. It shows what can happen when bright people share the sweets.

Joplin Facebook. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds killed when a tornado levelled the town. It was residents who self-organised with sites like these. This shows the power of community sites.

Queensland Police Facebook. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds killed when flooding struck. 200,000 signed up. This shows the power of official sites when given a flow of regular information.

Look how not on fire this is. When the shadow of rioting overshadowed Walsall in the summer rumour the town police station was burning was dismissed in real time by a police officer with a phone camera and a dry wit. PC Rich Stanley’s image had more than 2,000 hits.

The Walsall Flickr group. There are more than 9,000 images here from 130 members.  This shows the power of community sites and the good things that can be achieved when local government can work with them as equals as we did on this town centre empty shop scheme.

The Dominic Campbell youtube. I love the idea of ‘militant optimists’ pressing for change in unlikely corners of local government. It strikes a chord. This is a good 15 minutes to invest.

Twicket. Because John Popham and others live streaming a village cricket match is a good idea and shows good tech is less about the tech and more about fun and community. The big picture stuff sorts itself out. Read it here.

The end of crisis communications. Jim Garrow is a US emergency planner. It’s called emergency management over there. He writes with foresight. Not least this piece on why real time social media is replacing the set piece emergency planning approach. I’m proud he talks about one of my projects but this wider piece crystalises why real time events work.

Comms2point0. I’ll blog about this more at a later date. But this is a place where comms people can share best practice and best ideas. It’s largely Darren Caveney’s idea. It’s brilliant and so is the photographic style guide.

Digital advent calender Number 1. Many say  the media is dying. David Higgerson, of Trinity Mirror, proves that there is a home for good journalism on the web. His collection of writing is a directory of excellent tools of gems.

Digital advent calender number 2. Steph Gray steers Helpful Technology and helps people understand that technology is an opportunity not a minefield. He is that rare thing. A geek who can communicate with non-geek by speaking human. His advent calender will be pulled out and consulted far into 2012 like a Playfair Cricket annual is to a summer game enthusiast sat on the boundary at Worcester.

Creative commons credits

Yellow flowers http://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/2808827891/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Iceland http://www.flickr.com/photos/stignygaard/3830938078/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Police officers http://www.flickr.com/photos/glamlife/4098397848/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Stickers http://www.flickr.com/photos/theclosedcircle/3624357645/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Localgovcampers http://www.flickr.com/photos/arunmarsh/3656742460/in/set-72157620328138849


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/


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