FAIL SUCCESS: It’s time to celebrate failure

5131407407_626de3a9d0_oLadies and gentlemen, I want to celebrate failure.

Not just the small I’ve-forgotten-to-put-the-bins out fail but the epic failures that really leave egg on your face.

So, say it once say it proud, I’ve failed and I’m proud.

Because he or she who really knows the bitter pill of underachieving is dealt a golden weight of life lessons that will make them better.

‘Fail fast, fail forward,’ is a good maxim to follow.

‘Fail and do the same thing over and over again,’ probably isn’t.

So, why celebrate failure?

Let’s look at some of the great success stories, shall we?

Successful failures

  • Walt Disney went bust twice and was reduced to eating dog food before his third attempt worked.
  • Henry Ford went bust before he came back with the winning formula.
  • Colonel Sanders was a failed potato farmer who reinvented himself as a Southern gentlemen with a recipe for fried chicken.

In communications, it’s not so different. Not everything you do will come off. Sometimes things won’t work. But by doing you will learn.

Now, I’m not saying go out and do stupid things. So park up the animation of your chief executive as a botherer of goats.

But in life, the risk of taking no risk is that you won’t grow, that you will live your life in a bunker getting your meals delivered on a tray.

Document1 - Word 03042014 072500

As you can see, there is a relationship between failure and learning. Epic fail, big learning.

Epic comms fails

There are some corking comms fails in PR. Justine Sacco, British Gas’s Twitter chat and the Findus horse meat saga spring to mind.

One of the best presentations I’ve ever seen was Helen Reynolds ‘Our five biggest Social media fluff-ups’ in which she celebrated when things went on. The twitpic of Princess Margaret visiting onmouth which was cut and pasted with a digit missing and linked to a chimp is priceless. What was the learning? Post a pic from within Twitter. The online community are very forgiving if you are straight with them.

Michael Lockwood’s post on how he accidentally used an inappropriate hashtag was one of comms2point0′s most popular. He’s also a highly skilled operator who knows his onions. What was the learning? Do a quick search before you settle on a hashtag and the online community are very forgiving if you are straight with them.

Comms hero – I’ll be talking on this more

At the commsheroes event on May 13 I’ll be talking about my own fails and those of others. One of my own was to give a member of staff access to the council account when the Olympic Torch came to Walsall. He forgot he was using the council account when he posted a series of tweets blasting education minister Michael Gove with the hashtag #saveusfromtheposhboys. We were a Tory council. It wasn’t fun. What was the learning? Use different platforms to seperate work and your own streams. Politicians can be understanding.

You can book a place for the Commsheroes event in Manchester on May 13 here and there’s a rather good line-up including John Popham, Helen Reynolds, Grant Leboff and chaired by Caroline King. The event was put together by Asif Choudy at Resource Housing.

Share your fails

I’d genuinely love to hear – anonymously if you’d rather – your own fails to show that we are all indeed human and we can all learn from your mistakes. Or ones you have seen.

Feel free to post a line in the comments box below or email them to Dan@comms2point0.co.uk.

Creative commons credits

Succesful failure https://www.flickr.com/photos/18259771@N00/5131407407/

 


FUTURE TACKS: Why every organisation needs a digital comms specialist

6701931811_e69e5e0f1e_bRight, I’m going to say something bold and then directly contradict myself. But just stay with me on this, okay?

We all need to be doing more of this digital communications stuff from the hard-bitten pr to the frontline officer.

There shouldn’t be a digital comms team and a traditional comms team in a different part of the building.

There should be one. Which doesn’t mind if frontline people use digital too.

But this is the tricky bit. Every organisation now needs a digital communications specialist to help make this happen.

Let me explain.

Why there shouldn’t be a divide between digital and traditional comms 

Back in 1998 the newspaper I was worked at with reluctance set-up email addresses. Our office of 12 reporters had one email platform rigged up to one machine. We gathered around like a bunch of Marconis as the first e-mail landed. “Oooooh!” we cooed as it landed and someone plucked up the courage to type a reply. When the inbox filled we didn’t know what to do.

Back then email in the office I worked in email was seen as specialist job trusted to just one person. Times change and now every new reporter there gets an email address. Which is as it should be.

When digital communications emerged to greet the social web a whole new series of skills were required. Cutting and pasting a press release didn’t work so people re-discovered conversation and informality. It became clear that the language of each platform was different to each. People’s media use splintered and people could no longer be found in one place but several.

This is something I’ve blogged about before and others have too and GCN’s Ann Kempster has written:

I don’t see how a modern press function can operate in isolation, not taking up modern communication methods and solely relying on press cuttings and column inches. The world just does not operate this way anymore. We all need to be able to operate across comms disciplines. That goes for digital too – we need to grasp marketing and press and internal comms.

7830838870_5a934c4e1b_bAnd also Jeremy Bullmore in Campaign was at it in 2008:

As soon as everyone realises that digital is nothing to do with digital and all about interactivity and that interactivity allows brands and people to interact as no other medium does then trad and mod will all regroup under the same roof.

To communicate over a range of platforms needs new skills

According to Google, 90 per cent of our media consumption takes place via a screen. Sometimes several screens at once as the Newsnight TV audience contribute via their smartphones to the debate on the #newsnight Twitter hashtag, for example.

Acording to Ofcom’s annual survey, in 2012 more than 50 per cent of adults have a social networking profile with 78 per cent of those aged 15 to 24. It makes fascinating reading.

In short, if you want to communicate with people you need to use a variety of channels.

A press release is no longer your gateway to the media.

A press release, web update, a picture of a nature reserve posted to Twitter on a mobile phone, a sharable Facebook image, a Soundcloud audio clip of a politician speaking or a LinkedIn group contribution from a named officer is. But the thing is. It’s not always all of those things. Knowing the landscape means knowing which will be relevant.

Which is why we need a digital communications specialist.

But won’t a digital comms specialist mean that people think ‘oh, that’s their job?’

I’ve heard it said from people I rate that having a social media officer or a digital comms specialist means that things get chucked over to them to tweet, or whatever. That’s certainly a fair point.

6754500383_898d6ab22d_bBut the specialist whose job it is to share the sweets, advise and train others is vital and won’t let that happen. Think about the teams you’ve worked in. If you are lucky you work with great people who come up with great ideas. But not everyone in the team is always like that. Often, you can only be as good as your least enthusiastic employee and if their grasp of digital comms is poor their delivery will mirror it.

The pace of change in technology is frightening. It’s unrealistic to think that everyone will be equally across it.

Which is why we need a digital communications specialist.

What a digital comms specialist should look like…

1. A trainer…

2. A geek…

3. A solver of problems that aren’t problems yet…

4. A horizon scanner…

5. A builder of an internal community…

6. A source of help…

7. A winner of internal arguments…

8. Someone who knows the channels. Trad and digital…

If you have someone who is already doing this full time you’re quids in. If you’re not your organisation risks falling behind.

Some great work has been done adhoc with digital communications across local government. But without mainstreaming the advances at best will be patchy.

Creative commons credits

TV logo http://www.flickr.com/photos/jvk/6701931811/sizes/l/

Talking http://www.flickr.com/photos/yooperann/7830838870/sizes/l/

Screen http://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/6754500383/sizes/l/


COMMSCAMP: Die Press Release! Die! Die! And six other things PR people need to know…

There was once a horror train crash that claimed the lives of 56 and changed communications forever.

In 1906, a de-railed train plunged into the icy waters close to Atlantic City railway stations. Within minutes thousands of onlookers lined the banks to witness the rescue attempts. Journalists were close behind.

As every PR student will tell you Ivy Lee of the West Jersey and Seashore Railroad Company persuaded his employers to issue a statement direct to the gathered hacks… and thus the press release was born.

But in 2013 that trusty war horse, the granddaddy of comms channels is no longer the only show in town.

Shaped for journalists often by ex-journalists it has intro, headline, quotes and notes to editors. It works best as a means of providing content for print. Cut, paste and stick it into other channels it works far less effectively. It’s like starting a telephone conversation: “Dear Sir, With reference to your letter dated June 10…” it’s the wrong language for the wrong platform.

That comms teams – can we call them Press Offices these days? – are so geared up for press releases and print has troubled me for some time. In a digital landscape where digital by default is the aim not just of newsrooms but any forward thinking organisation they appear as outdated as the idea of getting your football scores by waiting in the newsagent at Saturday tea time for the Pink football final to arrive.

All this worrying about press releases isn’t new. Former FT writer Tom Foremski wrote his seminal blog post ‘Die Press Release! Die! Die!’ in 2006. I only came across this a year or two ago but it captured perfectly an iconoclastic wish.

He wrote:

I’ve been telling the PR industry for some time now that things cannot go along as they are . . . business as usual while mainstream media goes to hell in a hand basket.

You can read the original here and I suggest strongly you do.

Now, I don’t agree with all of what is written. And yes, I think the press release still has a future. If a declining one and part of the mix rather than being the only ingredient of the mix.

At LGComms in Manchester I gave a presentation on this and six other things every press officer should know. Some of the points me or others have blogged about them. With commscamp imminent it’s high time I chucked it up onto the web for wider debate.

Six other things…

Every organisation needs a digital comms specialist – I’ve heard the theory that we should all be doing this stuff so we shouldn’t have people specialising in it. In practice, this is cobblers. To make this works every member of the team needs to be as keen and forward thinking as the keenest. Look around yours. That’s not quite true is it? Every team needs someone who is passionate about it. Whose job it is to hunt out new platforms, try them for size and then… share the sweets.

Share the sweets – Because it’s important that comms shouldn’t be the only people to be using social media. The best content comes from people in the field and at the coalface. Look at Walsall Council countryside officer Morgan Bowers, for example, and tell me that’s not brilliant, engaging and wonderful. https://twitter.com/walsallwildlife Footnote: tell the measure-all comms people that this stuff is supposed to be conversation and they can get their tape measures out for when Morgan sells out her courses using Facebook and Twitter pretty much alone.

Marry the traditional with the digital – Don’t just do one channel. Or all. Do the ones that are likely to work. A press release about a street being evacuated is just silly. A web update and a tweet isn’t. Look at Gatwick Aiport. They tweet snow disruption and post children’s stories to Soundcloud so fractious parents can keep their offspring occupied. You can see what they do here. http://www.gatwickairport.com/at-the-airport/gatwick-and-social-media/

Evaluation: Channel shift – It’s not the 100,000 people who read the press release that’s the measure. It’s the 150 who signed-up for smoke detectors as a result that’s the measurement. Even better is the £10k – or whatever the figure is – not spent on call-outs because the smoke detectors give better cover.

Be human – Sometimes comms people in their quest for evaluation forget that being human really works. Or as blogger Adrian Short says: ‘Speak Human.’

Innovate – Experiment, do things differently, see what works, look at what people are doing outside comms for ideas too. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn. Go to an event like commscamp. See what ideas are bouncing off people.

Lastly, a quote I love from 20-something PRO Jarrod Williams on what the new generation of comms people offer. You can read his post here: 

 “My generation of the Web 3.O PR will be a digitally native team with skills… yes there will be the specialists, but I’ll be the cost effective one, the one who will build your campaign, take the photos, make the videos, stick it on a web site, tweet about it and get your brand the press attention you want.

“The future is diverse, and the industry needs people who can adapt and change across all platforms, digital and otherwise.”

If that’s not a wake-up call to experienced comms people then for heaven’s sake what is?

The 1906 Atlantic City train crash.

The 1906 Atlantic City train crash. Pic: Wikipedia

Creative commons credit:

1906 train crash http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1906AtlanticCityTrainWreck.jpg


YOU AND ME: Why we’ll all make #commscamp13 fly

bond3A passion for tea, cake and sharing brilliant ideas work is what will make the first unconference for communications people work (disclaimer: I’m biased.)

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.

5847098219_83ee1f5deb_bYou 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.

6743879607_578df3e4aa_bOur 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.

Sounding good?

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.


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/

HALF TIME: Glass half-full comms

3339729380_7202c5d82c_bAre we better off saying the glass is half full? Or empty? Or pretending it’s full?  

That was the iconoclastic view of London Fire Brigade’s head of comms Richard Stokoe.

Back at the annual LGComms Academy earlier in the year he spoke eloquently about the challenges the public sector is facing and his take on what it should do.  We shouldn’t pretend that things are fine when they’re not, he says.  Neither should it try and bea cheerleader for business as usual because business as usual is over.

Richard pointed to the example of the fire strikes in the capital in 2011 when far fewer appliances were available for use. Normally, there are 167 covering the capital but on the day of the strike just 27 were mustered. That’s around 20 per cent of the usual number and the potential for problems it posed was immense.

So, instead of saying how fine everything was London Fire Brigade instead pointed to the number they would have during the strikes and asked people to be more responsible as the level of service would be so much different.

PR was targeted at the areas of London with a historically high number of incidents.

What was the outcome?

Disaster?

A thin red line?

Zulu Dawn with fire engines?

Actually, no. Fewer calls.

According to the stats, 999 calls were 32 per cent lower than 2004 when Bonfire Night last fell on a Friday. Smaller fires were 56 per cent lower than the 2004 yardstick and 30 per cent down on the previous year.

It’s an approach that goes against the grain for many public relations people. Shouldn’t we be doing all we can to talk up what we do?

Certainly, his organisation took a bit of a battering for being so honest.

But I think Richard Stokes has a point.

If we’re doing less we should be telling people. If we’re not doing services at all we need to be telling people.

We risk far more in the long term by pretending that nothing has changed. We need a slab of honest realism. Residents would be better informed.

That’s something that public sector comms people are having to wrestle with up and down the country.


DIGITAL COMMS: How #ourday helped tell the local government story

Okay, so the stats of the #ourday event tells one story but there is so much more to tell.

What was it? It was a chance to see what local government did over a 24-hour period.

A load of unglamorous unheralded tasks across the 700 services that your council does to help improve people’s lives.

A total of 10,161 tweets reached a potential audience of 768,227 people, according to organisers the Local Government Association.

And 3,967 accounts tweeted or retweeted the updates. That’s a large set of figures.

Hats off to Sarah Jennings and the Local Government Association team for attempting to herd cats and encouraging people to take part in the event.

Lovely stories

It goes without saying that the snippets of stories that emerge point to why things like this work.

The officer talking about the public art in Walsall or the barking dogs being investigated.

Tales like this is beauty of campaigns like #ourday.

It’s a model that does work.

But what next?

Back in March 2010 at Walsall Council we staged Walsall 24 an idea we shamelessly borrowed from the inspirational GMP 24 which saw every call logged to Greater Manchester Police’s call centre.

It was fun, inspiring and brilliant to do and we learned loads.

But it dawned on us that actually, this is how it should be everyday. If we’re doing good things then we should tell people in a variety of channels.

But most of all it underlines why devolving social media access is important and that the sweets should be shared. Something I never tire of banging on about.

It’s public relations that’s taken out of the pr department. Or comms that can be done by non-comms.

Because stories from the frontline handcrafted and authentic are like bullets of gold in telling the local government story.

Making the most of a Twitter 24

The big lesson we learned in Walsall was that things like this shatter glass ceilings.

This is the important bit.

Take screen shots of what you’ve done. Print them out. Circulate them. Turn them into posters. Put them where people can see.

Add them to your intranet.

That piece of praise for the parks department that came back from a resident? Tell parks.

That shot of the roadmending machine out and about? Put it on the noticeboard in the Town Hall.

By taking things offline we can show the benefits of using digital communications to people who may never have thought that this is for them.

I bet that’s what the real legacy of #ourday will be if you’re careful.

Wouldn’t it be good if…

Next time we did this there are lots more of the difficult stuff to cover. The social care people, the binmen, the teachers and the housing staff.

And wouldn’t it be good if there was a single issue – as well as everything – to focus on too. Whether that be signing people up to a library. Or doing a specific task.

But maybe more important than that is the fact that it starts conversations and makes local government appear what it can be best. Human.

Creative commons credit

Urban initiatives http://www.flickr.com/photos/watchlooksee/4525612637/sizes/l/

Man http://www.flickr.com/photos/watchlooksee/4526163424/sizes/l/


MOBILE FIRST: On augmented reality and communications

A few weeks back my son got a new Nintendo 3DS for his birthday, the lucky lad.

Excited and smiling he took it out of it’s wrapping in the living room. Light blue and shiny it was. It fitted into his hands perfectly. A while later that day after all his cards other presents were opened I found him playing with it on the settee. He was moving the device around as if chasing objects around the room.

“What are you doing?” I asked. “Shooting aliens in our living room?”

“Well, they’re not aliens,” he says. “They’re pictures of mum on my new augmented reality game.”

Leaning over his shoulder I could see what he was doing. He’d used his new Nintendo to take a picture of his mum and he’d transferred them onto bubbles which he had to shoot down as part of the game. On the screen, there was my living room as the backdrop for the game. The image came from the device’s video camera. As my son moved the device so what was on the screen moved too.

What’s augmented reality?

Rewind to earlier this year. I’d heard Mike Rawlins of Talk About Local talk about augmented reality at a Brewcamp session in Walsall. He’d spoken of the experiments him, Will Perrin and others had been doing with augmented reality by effectively placing blog posts, pictures and news updates on a map. In effect each item was given its own co-ordinates and through a platform called layar people could use their phone’s GPS system to find it. Of course, each items was on the web anyway. It’s just that they can be accessed a different way.

In short, augmented reality is adding an extra layer of information to what you are looking at. You point a phone at a building, an artwork or a landscape and you can opt to access content related to it. It also works with print too. Point a smart phone at an image and you can access extra content. You can link to a video clip or even buy the item.

To me, this is just a little bit amazing. To me as a communications person it starts to get me thinking.

A mobile first strategy

Back in 2009 I read a blog post that utterly changed the way I think about news and the future of news. Going back to it today Steve Buttry, it’s author, seems like some kind of Tomorrow’s World visionary pointing out the obvious. In short, he wrote that he spends lots of time in airport departure lounges. In the past, people had killed time by reading paper newspapers turning each page literally. Increasingly, he was seeing people killing time by reading their mobile phones. So, he suggests, isn’t it smarter to think about mobile first? In other words, he describes a mobile first strategy.

Steve suggests that newsrooms take a deep breath, stop using antiquated titles like reporter, photographer and editor and just think of themselves as journalists. They need to get used to the idea of metadata. That’s the tags of extra information that help categorise an item so it can be found again. In other words, a story about a £5m leisure centre in Brown Street, Oxdown would be tagged with Brown Street as well as Oxdown, as well as leisure, Oxdown Council, finance, the ward name and the co-ordinates of the new building. That’s nothing to be scared of. It’s just the who, what, where, when and how that’s always been the cornerstone of news.

The mobile first approach, Buttry says, also includes links to the back story. The pieces of content that have already been produced which are relevant. The approach also allows journalists to crowd-source a story or views on a story.

It’s what most national news organisations do today and what The Guardian do very well.

Yes, yes but public relations?

What’s relevant to the news landscape is also relevant to communications landscape too.

I love newspapers. I started my career on them before I moved into local government communications. But I’m long past the point that Buttry saw of seeing more people look at their phones rather than look at their local paper. Only, I’m not catching planes. I’m catching a bus or a train and I’m in the Black Country in the English Midlands.

For me, I’m less interested in shiny technology than I am with communicating with people. If shiny tech can help reach an audience then I get to be really, really interested. Where news, the media and ultimately residents are heading then I believe that’s where communications people must be there too. Or even be as one of the first so they can get to understand what’s over the horizon. Maybe it echoes Buttry’s call that newspaper titles are obsolete but I’m getting increasingly convinced that the phrase ‘press officer’ and ‘PR officer’ are getting irrelevant. What does a press officer do when there’s less or no press and we still need to communicate with people?

We’ve changed in my corner of communications to adapt to social media because that’s what people are doing. We need to start to tentatively think about augmented reality too.

Yes, yes but how?

Now, I’m, not saying for a minute that we need to change everything to add everything we do to include an augmented reality – or AR to use the buzzword – element. The communications team that ditched print for the web in 1993 may in hindsight be seen as visionary. They’d also be a bit silly too. For me, it’s just being aware of the curve and investing a little time and effort into a project that’s going to be a learning process.

That’s probably where something like The Guardian’s n0tice platform can really start to come into play. Set up earlier this year, it aims to add news to maps on its platform. It has a small but growing following. There’s a board for Walsall which I’ve very tentatively started and I’m looking to head back to soon.

There’s also plenty of mileage in creating getting to know platforms like http://www.layar.com/ or seeing if a friendly webbie can work with you.

As comms teams are looking at changing the way hey do thinks through digital press offices this is something that can add some value.

How can augmented reality be used in local government?

Just last week I was in my car giving a lift to a town planner and somehow amongst the football banter, the work gossip and the cricket talk the subject of websites for planning applications came up. Yes, yes. I know. That’s just how I roll. The discussion turned to augmented reality. At this the light bulb above my planner mate’s head really lit up. Planning applications could be accessed. Maybe artists impressions could be added too. With links to allow people to comment.

Looking at other parts of local government and the opportunities are vast. Local history. Leisure. News. Content to help explain areas of countryside, habitats and what lives there. The truth of it is, we don’t know how local government can fully use augmented reality until people start to use it more, start to innovate and to try things out.

But in the back of my head I always think of my Dad when I hear of digital innovation. The real tipping point is when it opens up for someone like him with his very old phone and his late adopter use of the web. But if you wait until then to start to look at the subject you’re already far too late.

It’s far better to know what’s on the other side of the hill so you can spend a little time innovating and making a few mistakes when there’s not many people around to see.

If my eight-year-old is already using augmented reality it’s probably time grown-up organisations started to think about it at a comfortable pace too.

Some extra reading

Steve Buttry’s blog post on how news organisations can put mobile first 

Talk About Local on hyperlocal websites and augmented reality

Augmented reality. A useful six minute YouTube starter 

Will Perrin of Talk About Local demonstrating augmented reality

Philladelphia History on using augmented reality in local history.

Creative commons credits

http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/6197150925/sizes/l/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/4659579077/sizes/l/


BOW SKILLS: 37 skills, abilities and platforms for today’s comms person

Before the internets were invented life must have been so dull. Y’know, really dull.

You wrote a press release, you organised a photocall and once in a while TV and radio would show an interest.

A few years back the yardstick of success where I work was getting the local TV news to come host the weather live from your patch.

There’s been a change. Like a glacier edging down the mountain valley blink and not much has happened. Come back a while later and things have unstoppably changed.

Truth is, it’s a fascinating time to be a comms person. We’re standing at the intersection between old and new.

Former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans once said that he loves newspapers but he’s intoxicated by the speed and possibility of the internet. That’s a quote I love.

Here’s another quote I love. Napoleon Dynamite once said that girls only like men with skills. Like nunchuck skills, bo staff skills or computer hacking skills. For a digital comms perspective Napoleon’s quote could be applied there too. What you need are social media skills, press release skills and interactive mapping skills. And a bit more.

Sitting down recently I calculated the many strings to the bow that are now needed. I counted 37 skills, abilities and platforms I’m either using on a regular basis or need to know. Some more than others. Or to use Napoleon’s parlance, bow skills.

Out of interest, and to save me time in googling their associated links, here they are:

TIMELESS SKILLS

The ability to understand the detail and write in plain English.

The ability to understand the political landscape.

The ability to communicate one-to-one and build relationships.

The ability to work to a deadline.

The ability to understand comms channels and what makes interesting content on each.

WRITTEN CONTENT

Write a press release. The ability to craft 300 words in journalese with a quote that’s likely to tickle the fancy of the journalist who you are sending it to.

Use Twitter. To shape content – - written, audio, images and video – in 140 characters that will be read and shared.

Use Facebook. To shape content – written, audio, images and video – that will be read and shared.

Use Wikipedia. To be aware of what content is being added knowing that this belongs to wikipedia.

Use LinkedIn. To shape content – written, audio, images and video – that will be read and shared.

IMAGES

Arrange a photocall. The ability to provide props and people to be photographed and to work with a photographer and those being photographed so everyone is happy.

Use Flickr. To source pics, to post pics to link to communities, to arrange Flickr meets.

Use Pinterest. To source pics and share your content. To build a board around an issue or a place.

Use Instagram. To share your pics.

AUDIO

Arrange a broadcast interview. The ability to provide an interviewee when required and give them an understanding of the questions and issues from a journalists’s perspective.

Record a sound clip to attach to a release, embed on a web page or share on social media. I like audioboo. I’m increasingly liking soundcloud too. It’s more flexible to use out and about.

VIDEO

Create and post a clip online and across social sites. Using a camera or a Flip camera. With YouTube or Vimeo.

WEB

Add content to a webpage. That’s the organisation’s website via its CMS.

Build a blog if needs be or add content to a blog. That’s a blog like this one or a microsite like this one.

To know and understand free blogging tools. Like wordpress or tumblr.

COMMUNITY BUILDING

To know when to respond to questions and criticism and how. The Citizenship Foundation’s Michael Grimes has done some good work in this field.

To know how to build an online community. Your own. And other communities.

HYPERLOCAL

To engage with bloggers. Like Wolverhampton Homes’ policy suggests.

To be search for blogs to work with. On sites like openly local.

LISTENING

To be aware of what’s being written about your organisation, issue, campaign or area. By tools like Google Alerts.

MAPPING

To build and edit a simple map. Like a Google map. And be aware of other platforms like Open Street Map.

ADVERTISING

To understand the landscape to know which audience reads which product. Like the local paper, Google Adwords and Facebook advertising.

MARKETING

To understand when print marketing may work. Like flyers or posters. Yes, even in 2012 the poster and the flyer are sometimes needed as part of the comms mix.

INFOGRAPHICS

To understand when information can be better presented visually. Through a simple piechart. Or more interestingly as a word cloud or via wordle. Or if its packets of data in spreadsheets or csv files through things like Google Fusion Tables or IBM’s exploratory Many Eyes.

OPEN DATA

To understand what it is and how it can help. It’s part of the landscape and needs to be understood. Internet founder Tim Berners-Lee’s TED talk is an essential six minutes viewing.

NEWSLETTERS

To understand what they are and how they can work. In print for a specific community like an estate or a town centre or via the free under 2,000 emails a month platform mailchimp to deliver tailored newsletters by email. There’s the paid for govdelivery that some authorities are using.

CURATION

To make sense of information overload and keep a things. With things like pinboard.in you can keep tabs on links you’ve noticed. Here’s mine you can browse through. For campaigns and useful interactions you can also use storify to curate and store a campaign or event. You can then embed the storify link onto a web page.

SOCIAL MEDIA

To know the right channels for the right comms. Social media shouldn’t just be a Twitter and Facebook tick box exercise. It should be knowing how and why each platforms works for each audience. Same goes for the smaller but important platforms like Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and Flickr.

HORIZON SCANNING

To know what’s on the horizon and be prepared for it when it lands. Same for emerging fields like Augmented Reality. What is science fiction today will become commonplace in years to come. People like hyperlocal champions Talk About Local who are already working in this field.

ANALYTICS

To know how to measure and when to measure. The measurement for traditional comms have been around. Potential readership of newspapers. Opportunities to view. Opportunities to see. The new digital landscape doesn’t quite fit this and new ways are being worked out. There isn’t an industry standard means just yet. But the gap has been filled by those who claim to be. The very wise Dr Farida Vis, who took part in the Guardian’s acclaimed research into the English riots of 2011,  pointed out that sentiment analysis wasn’t more than 60 per cent accurate. There’s snake oil salesmen who will tell you otherwise but I’ve not come across anything that will be both shiny and also impress the chief executive. Tweetreach is a useful tool to measure how effective a hashtag or a tweet has been. Google Alerts we’ve mentioned. Hashsearch is another useful search tool from government digital wizards Dave Briggs and Steph Gray.

CONNECT

To connect with colleagues to learn, do and share. Twitter is an invaluable tool for sharing ideas and information. It’s bursting with the stuff. Follow like minded people in your field. But also those things you are interested in. Go to unconferences. Go to events. Blog about what you’ve learned and what you’ve done.

WEB GEEKNESS

To truly understand how the web works you need to use and be part of it. That way you’ll know how platforms work and you can horizon scan for new innovation and ideas. It won’t be waking up at 2am worrying about the unknown. You’ll be embracing it and getting excited about it’s possibilities.

Good comms has always been the art of good story telling using different platforms. No matter how it seems that’s not fundamentally changed. It’s just the means to tell those stories have. That’s hugely exciting.

This blog was also posted on comms2point0

Creative commons credits 

Who are you talking to most? http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/6810200488/sizes/l/

Reading a newspaper upside down http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/2542840362/sizes/l/in/set-72157623462791647/

Photographer http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/2744338675/sizes/l/in/set-72157605653216105/

Reading http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/2477046614/sizes/l/in/set-72157614042974707/

Eternally texting http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/4473276230/sizes/l/in/set-72157614042974707/

Toshiba http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/4711564626/sizes/l/in/set-72157614042974707/

Smile http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/5542156093/sizes/l/in/set-72157614042974707/


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