How much difference does it make to add a picture to a Facebook update? Lots. Or to be more precise 147 per cent.
That was the figure when we posted two updates within minutes on a broadly similar subject.
The first celebrated a Britain in Bloom win for towns in Walsall Council’s boundaries with a picture of flowers in Aldridge drew 37 shares, 88 likes and an audience of 3,,508 on the authority’s Facebook page. I’d be the first to admit that this image isn’t the most arresting in the world. But it says both place and colour and that’s enough.
The second posted without a picture a few minutes later celebrated recognition in the same competition for a school and nine pubs. That drew four shares and 12 likes with a reach of 1,415.
Okay, the subject matter is slightly different: towns compared with school children and popular pubs. But there’s enough there to draw some conclusions.
It’s an approach that the ECB takes when the England Test team are playing. It’s something I’ve written about before. Rather than just posting a text score update they post an image of the man of the moment with text too.
If you can, adding text through a simple picture editing tool is a great idea. A phone number or a message works. For that you can use Google’s own Picasa3 software.
What do the numbers teach us?
Firstly, sharable content is important on Facebook and in this case so is a celebratory upbeat message.
Secondly, people are really keen to share messages. Obvious. But it’s important to remember this.
Thirdly, having a stack of pictures available to you is helpful.
But where do you source pictures?
This is potentially a bit of a minefield. No, you can’t go to Google images right click and save. Copyright applies to images online just as much as they do online and people have ended up in hot water. Google also allows people to search for a specific image online so if you think you’ll be safe hiding in the fire hose of information that is the web think again.
Your image library?
The basic fact under the 1988 Copyright and Designs Act is that when someone takes a picture they retain copyright. Even if you have paid them. If you’ve, say, commissioned a freelance photographer to take some shots of a night market you are buying a licence to use them for a specific purpose. That can be as broad as marketing and promotion on your website, in print and with the local paper. It may not include social media and you’ll need to check this with the photographer. This NUJ link on copyright and photography is helpful.
And by your own I mean one that you’ve taken yourself with your smartphone or camera. Handy if you have time and ability. Not so good if you need an image of flowers in a town centre at a moment’s notice.
One of the great things about the social web is the ability to share. Creative Commons licences are licences which a photographer – amateur or professional – can attach to an image when they post it onto an image library. They’re basically saying that they’re happy for their image to be re-used under certain laid out conditions. The US government, for example, releases virtually all images with a creative commons licence.
So where do I go for creative commons images?
Without doubt the best place on the web is compfight.com. This is a site which works with Flickr’s API to search for key phrases and words. It also searches through a variety of filters from the non-creative commons to the creative commons to the most liberal of all – commercial creative commons which allows a broader re-use.
It’s not great for specific locations, I admit. There’s a handful of images creative commons for Walsall, for example. But it comes into its own when you need a stocjk pic, like boxing gloves, a coffee cup or clouds in a sky.
It’s a brilliant site. But please, don’t forget to attribute and share where the picture has come from. It’s what makes the social web work.
Legal disclaimer: Always, if you need specific legal advice go and see a lawyer rather than base it on this or any other online advice.
Back in 1882 when England took on Australia at the game of cricket it took 10 weeks for the message of who won to travel 9,000 miles from London to Melbourne. Today it takes seconds.
Nothing is a better yardstick of how communications is innovating than this never ending battle between two countries.
Message by ship was succeeded by the telegram, radio, TV and the internet. Like a timeline each innovation has carried the message.
In 2013, it’s been no different and this historic game of bat and ball has shown a yardstick of where we are. As Australia lost to England the story was told by tweet, picture, TV broadcast and blog.
Here are 18 things we can learn about digital communications and The Ashes.
1. Pictures work on Facebook
As a Facebook page Official England Cricket works brilliantly in many ways. They are a case study in how creating sharable content works well. They don’t add score updates. They post pictures of Ian Bell lifting his bat in triumph with a message. Even a damp image of an outfield gets more than 60 shares and a barrage of 1,800 likes.
2. You need to moderate your Facebook page
As great as Official England cricket is at posting content they’re not always the best at moderating the abuse that goes on at times between people. Including an amazing amount of spam and grief that comes out of the Indian sub-continent.
3. Post on Twitter to the popular hashtag
Both England with 221,000 and Australia with 219,000 followers used Twitter effectively. But when they posted content they may have had their own hashtags but they also added content to the far more popular #ashes community which at its height was trending globally.
4. Be careful about your own hashtag
Yes, it’s lovely looking at metrics which belong to you through a distinctive hashtag. England had #rise based on a piece of commissioned poetry which was all about rising to the challenge. Australia had the bold #returntheurn about how Australia were going to sieze back the six inch urn. Which sounded fine when the series started but led to derision when they were on the end of a 3-0 stuffing. It was dropped.
— Cat Jones (@Cricketbatcat) August 25, 2013
5. The Twitter hashtag as news channel
Forget the TV. Forget the radio. Forget news sites. If you were away from them the place to find out what was happening was just checking the #ashes stream itself where you had the beauty of two perspectives. The English and the Australian. At the same time. So, as I sat on a train as Stuart Broad ran through the Aussies to secure victory it was via Twitter that I was following what was happening.
6. Hashtags as an instagram community
The photosharing site Instagram was used by Australia. Less newsy than Twitter. Less engaging than Facebook Instagram was a platform for capturing people photographing the TV they were watching, the pint they had just bought or their view from the boundary itself. Australia sprinkled their own content with behind-the-scenes pictures.
7. Google Plus has good numbers but a mixed take-up
While Australia ran a cracking page for 50,000 people updated regularly with images and content the Official England page for 190,000 was lacking the TLC that makes a page fly. The jury remains out it seems.
8. Old media doesn’t like new media and would rather it went away
For decades radio coverage of cricket in the UK has come from the BBC’s Test Match Special. It has done the job incredibly well. But they pay for the privilige. And the alternative Test Match Sofa coverage doesn’t. The Sofa is some blokes sat on a settee watching the cricket of telly and burbling into a laptop and broadcasting the results online. Deliciously amateur? Yes. But when The Cricketer magazine linked up with them the BBC was not happy.
The late Christopher Martin-Jenkins remarked:
“The thought of having to listen to the predators who purport to be producing commentaries from sofa or armchair without paying a penny to the England and Wales Cricket Board for the rights, is too ghastly to contemplate. The sooner they are nailed and swept offline, the better.”
The row escalated when a Cricketer employee tweeted about Test Match Sofa in breach of accreditation guidelines.
9. Audio works
Both Test Match Special and Test Match Sofa did rather well with tailoring snippets of commentary from key moments of the series. Like Kevin Pietersen falling for 62 in a glorious thrash towards a target in the 5th Test. The BBC did similar with their polished version although they only stay up for a limited amount of time. But nothing was as good as the close-of-play podcast the BBC version produced.
10. YouTube works if it is from the heart
Aussie journalist Geoff Lemon produced a memorable diatribe against his error strewn opener Shane Watson recorded outside the ground as the crowd were heading home. It’s so angry it’s beautiful. The thing is that Shane kept getting out lbw. And then to make matters worse kept wasting a precious review that allows a second look by off-field umpires. “Stop being so… Shane Watson,” a red-faced Lemon roared as he searched for the worst abuse he could think of.
You can watch it right here.
11. The player’s relative’s social media account is a news creator
Aussie opener David Warner was demoted to the ‘A’ team after he attacked a rival player in a Birmingham pub. His brother unhappy at Shane Watson taking his bro’s placed launched what is known in the journalist’s trade as a ‘Twitter tirade.’
12. Ghost written columns by players are pointless
They don’t say anything, they don’t do anything. They’re exercises in platitudes not offering a scrap of anything interesting.
13. The celebrity fan’s social media account is a news creator
When Piers Morgan tweeted from the US to criticise Stuart Broad’s decision not to volunteer his wicket and instead turn to the umpire to make the decision (he didn’t) it became news. Drearily.
14. Journalists need to be on Twitter
The leading journalists from old media – and new – were active on Twitter. Not just linking to their latest finely crafted piece but also presenting a human side. Without noticing it the journalist as human being has entered the list of things the good hack must be. It’s not enough to lurk or to dismiss the platform.
15. Social as a way of taking the temperature
When things blew well for either side it became clear by taking a look at social. A search for either time showed how happy / angry / incandescent supporters of both sides were with Stuart Broad / DRS / the weather / umpires / David Warner.
16. The accidental tweet is alive and well
When a particularly amazing umpiring decision was made against Australia the official stream chipped in with a tweet describing the decision as #bullshit. It was quickly deleted. Make sure you know who has access to the account is one lesson. I’ll bet that using two different platforms to get onto Twitter – one for personal and one for work – is now part of the press office brief.
17. Venues are poorly equipped for social
Outside of press rooms the paying punters are overlooked when it comes to WiFi – free or otherwise. The bright venue will look to offer a way of their customers staying online to contribute to the conversation, tell the world what a great player Michael Clarke or Ian Bell is and what a tasty burger they’ve just eaten. This will change.
18. Social media is just part of the landscape
Sometimes those who live on Twitter can lose sight of how the media landscape isn’t just Twitter although sometimes it’s hard to seem otherwise. The industry around the Ashes remains TV and radio with a whole side industry of books a by-product of every series. But social is becoming so embedded we no longer see it as something to raise an eyebrow at. Like an Aussie win in the 1990s. Or an English victory since 2009.
Bear with me on this one.
When I was 18 he came back from Australia to visit and he took me to the pub in the Cumbrian village Portinscale near Keswick where he was born.
He buys me a pint and after we take a drink he tells me he’s doing to tell me something really important.
He levels with me and I’m expecting some tips on how to chat up women. Or at the very least play cricket better. He leans across the table.
“Dan,” he says, “the best advice I can give you in life is never argue with an idiot.
“You end up on the same level and to a passer-by it’s just two idiots arguing.”
At the time it didn’t really register.
When that advice made sense…
Years passed by and as the social web became something that started to fascinate I end up helping train and advise people. Often, people are worried about being inundated with abuse from trolls when actually that very rarely happens. In my long experience most people are not looking for a fight but looking for information or maybe sometimes to let off some steam. A professional and human voice can really help.
But sometimes my Uncle Keith’s words came back as good sensible advice. It’s Cumbrian for ‘do not feed the trolls.’
When Cineworld looked a bit silly…
A customer unhappy at the pricing structure that Cineworld had fired a questioning tweet at them. It wasn’t an unreasonable thing to ask. The response was a masterclass in how to be a bit overbearing.
@cineworld Why delete my tweet without a response? Just wanted to know the justification of £8.30 per ticket to watch a standard 2d film?
— Alan Bishop (@AlanBishop85) April 23, 2013
Maybe as others have said Cineworld’s Twitter operator was having a bit of a bad day. But their response was at best high handed.
@AlanBishop85 Well, seeing as we’re the number 1 cinema in the UK by attendance I’d argue that isn’t the case. And the delete thing?
— Cineworld Cinemas (@cineworld) April 23, 2013
You can read the entire exchange via this storify here.
Eleven things to remember when you’re operating social media for an organisation
1. You’re the public face of that organisation.
2. In a little guy v big guy row you can expect people take the side of the little guy as a default setting.
3. The vast majority of people you’ll come across are really decent.
4. If they’re not you need to rise above it.
5. And count to ten.
6. You need to not take things personally when you are the voice of the organisation. They’re not having a go at you personally when they’re complaining.
7. You need to print off the picture at the top of the post and stick it by your screen.
8. Remember the Channel 4 social media policy of ’don’t make your boss look stupid.’
9. Most of the time you’ll not need the above at all. Seriously.
10. Be human. It beats everything. The @londonmidland Twitter bio has the words: ”We aim to reply to all tweets, but pls try to be polite if things have gone wrong – we’re real people just trying to help!”
11. Shout a colleague for a second opinion or help if you’re unsure.
Creative commons credits
Two men arguing (remixed) http://www.flickr.com/photos/97248642@N00/860372850/sizes/o/
Talk to anyone who uses it and the answer is often the same. “Bloody London Midland. Late again. Only their @londonmidland has told me why. In a human voice. So I can’t quite bring myself to hate them.”
There are lessons there for all of us.
When local government started to use the social web it needed to buy into the idea that this was going to be two-way and a place where people ask questions. We can’t just tell people the latest announcement. People aren’t waiting for us to post them links to a press release. They want a place where they’ll be listened to about potholes, bin collections and things that matter to them, too. Maybe then they’ll wear some of the things we’d really love it if they listened to.
It’s a measure how things have become mainstream when questions via Twitter get plugged into customer services too.
Vodaphone UK emerged in a recent Socialbakers study as the most connected with almost of 80 per cent of incoming tweets answered. When the channel was established it was primarily a customer services tool, the company say.
Jan Rezab, Socialbakers CEO, says Vodafone UK is particularly well set up for social customer service because it applied itself to the format early on by structuring up its internal trained team to handle queries.
Rezab says: “Brands should apply themselves, it’s more authentic when it’s a trained employee of the organisation answering your queries. Companies have to be ready – and it’s actually cheaper to reply to questions via Twitter than it is a phone call.”
That’s not to say that social should only be customer services. Or comms. If people are talking or asking questions then local government needs to be there too.
The ‘why bother?’ question
If you’re asking why bother have a customer services team at all you’re the absolute last person to think about the social customer services stream. If you think that people should be helped in the channel that works best for them you’re onto something. Once, all customer services used to happen by letter. Then the telephone was invented. And email. We responded to them because that’s where people wanted to be helped. In short, we remembered that we are here to serve. Not the other way round. It’s been five years since local government started to use it. There’s at least 10 million UK users. It’s a good way to respond to issues in public to show that you are listening and also give out answers to a large audience that may need them too. In short you are being more responsive, more relevant and dammit, more helpful too.
The preparing to do it…
Have a dedicated customer services Twitter. Yes, I know your organisation probably has at least one already. But plan with scale in mind. You may be answering three or four a day now. But once your generic enquries email was doing that too. Just as you have different email accounts for different things you need different social accounts for different things too.
It should say when it’ll be monitored. 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday is fine so long as you make that clear. You’ll get more brownie points dealing with things out-of-hours but sometimes this just ain’t possible.
It should be staffed by real people. It should be authentic. Human. It should talk about the weather if it’s raining cats and dogs. That’s fine.
It should speak human. It should talk in a recognizably human way. Like real people do. It shouldn’t talk in jargon.
The actually doing it…
Start the day with a tweet from a real person. Close it the same way, too. Train operator London Midland do this beautifully.
Good afternoon, it’s Fi signing in for the rest of the day. Let me know if you have any queries (rail related!)
— London Midland (@LondonMidland) June 1, 2013
Acknowledge the query. People don’t expect fully formed answers within the hour to complex problems. They know life isn’t always like that. But they do want to know you are on the case. The tweet that says: ‘Thanks for your tweet. Will find out for you’ is fine in the short term.
Get back in 24 hours or less. And make a point of saying this on your Twitter bio.
Have a few people trained up. Not just one.
Never argue with an idiot, is what my Uncle Keith once told me. How right he was. How much of a web visionary he was, too. If you can help then help but if people shout, swear or troll you are probably better off spending your time answering other queries. Michael Grimes of the Citizenship Foundation’s seminal blogger engagement guide works well.
When in doubt think what you’d do if this conversation was taking place on the telephone. Which, when you think about it, is a lot more tricky than Twitter. You have to talk to people directly in real time. How tricky is that?
Use the channel as two way. Getting a flood of telephone calls about bin collections? Maybe a Twitter update and a piece on the website can help.
The working out if you are doing it right…
In short, you’ll find this out if people are asking you questions.
But yes, you can evaluate it. Don’t bother too much with follower numbers although that’s always nice. Keep a log on how many queries you dealt with each week. Then work out how much they would have cost you to deal with using other routes. The SOCITM stats for avoidable contact can help with this.For face-to-face it’s £10.53, for telephone it is £3.39, while post costs £12.10 and web just 8p.
Report the stats and the successes back far and wide. A satisfied customer is worth shouting about.
Creative commons credits
Helping hand http://www.flickr.com/photos/9729909@N07/4970060350/
The @soldieruk Twitter aims to set out military best practice for social media use both for the job but also in military personnel’s private life.
Part teacher and part digital Military Policeman the account also taps people on the shoulder to let them know they’ve strayed across the line.
It’s also fascinating to watch how they strike the balance between adopting a voice that’s somewhere between the parade ground and the water cooler. A retro profile pic and reminders that ‘careless tweets sink ships’ does this rather well.
There are more than 200,000 British servicemen and women. There’s no way the digital genie can be put back into the bottle and it’s clear that social poses a real danger to the MOD as well as opportunity. It’s not just the giving away of troop movements that’s an issue. It’s the personal data that can put individual service personnel in harms way too. The murder of a soldier in Woolwich shows this.
When one serviceman tweeted about the far right English Defence League they were met with this from @soldierUK.
@exsacerdotal The views of the EDL, (like any extremist motivated group) are contrary to the core ethos & values of the UK Armed Forces.
— SoldierUK (@SoldierUK) June 2, 2013
There’s also more general messages too…
Are you running a Mil WAGs Facebook group? Think about making it a closed group and verifying members. #BeSafeOnline
— Roger Noduff (@Walter_Mitty007) May 31, 2013
In addition, there is general advice on how to use social media and to stay safe online. It’ll be interesting to see how the account pans out. Certainly, by embracing digital the MOD stand a far better chance of knowing the risks, pitfalls and opportunities. But with so many accounts to keep an eye on is just one team enough?
There will be some excellent speakers and there will I’m sure be much to learn. You can take a look at the line up from May 21 to 23 via a pdf here. The line-up is not available in a more a ccessible format, I’m afraid.
Last year, there was the profoundly depressing experience of a panel on social media being glibly introduced with the words: “There’s only two things wrong with social media. It’s not social and it’s not media.”
Thankfully, the person who uttered these words has since spoken of his sea change in attitude. There’s also a lot of digital on the agenda. There’s even an unconference slot with Lloyd Davis on Thursday afternoon which should be interesting.
Is traditional comms dead?
There’s also a Think Tank discussion I’ll be chairing on The Digital Debate: Is Traditional Comms Dead? That takes place at 6.30pm on Tuesday May 21. On the panel will be Eddie Coates-Madden of Hull City Council,
Eddie Coates-Madden, Assistant Head
of Service: Communications and Marketing, Hull City
Council, Gavin Sheppard, The Media Trust and Sara
Moseley, Cardiff University
Kuku Club, Park Plaza Hotel
With that in mind here’s five links that may fire some thought. See? I’ve even highlighted some key points to save you the bother.
Are comms the blockers?
Catherine Howe, of Public i wrote a useful summary of the commscamp unconference session in Birmingham asking if comms team are the single biggest block on good social media un local government.You can read the full text of her post here.
I think we have to conclude that communications are often blockers to social media activity but that they have good as well as bad reasons for acting this way. As the use of social media becomes more entrenched then I would speculate that this will become increasingly a question of organisational leadership rather than any specific practitioner groups and that it will be important to start discussing where that leadership should come from. If we want to start to see social media operating outside of comms then arguably that leadership needs to be external as well. The question of being good organisational customers of digital projects will perhaps be the next challenge we have to collectively face in taking some of the excellent best practice we see around us into more mainstream use and out of the ambit of a single team.
In defence of the press release
Local government press officer Kam Mistry wrote a defence of the pr here sparked by a different debate at commscamp in Birmingham earlier this year.
When you dissect it, you realise that the press release is a fantastic form of communication. You grab someone’s attention with a good headline, they then read your first paragraph and, assuming it’s still interesting, will continue to read the rest of it and then publish it. I suppose it’s a bit like the mating game – initial attraction, stimulate interest, maintain interest and then… oh dear this is turning into a Swiss Toni metaphor.
Yes, the press and media are having to evolve but they will be there for many years to come. Newspapers – in print and electronic forms – will continue to be key channels for effective communication and we really should not see them, or press releases, as anachronisms.
Put it this way. First there was radio and then television came along. Have we all thrown away our radios?
PR is dead and so are newspapers
Eddie Coates-Madden is part of the LGComms panel and wrote this on the challenge that traditional pr and newspapers face and a presentation he gave:
And I ended with my prediction of the future for journalism; that it will be fast, fast, fast; that stories are everywhere, not on a Press Release; that everyone can be a journalist (not necessarily a good one, but everyone can break stories and has the tools to publish); that journalists have become a brand in themselves; that broadcast without response is dead; that there will be ever more accountable journalism, more easy disgust, more easy offence and that accountability is every organisation’s to handle, and that there are more easily targeted campaigns and more moral tensions. activism is clicktivism and that might mean more and more difficult challenges, to freedom of expression, politically unpopular views, financial security, even – when wrongly done – to personal safety.
Death to the campaign!
Jim Garrow works in public health in Philladelphia. He writes a blog and updates it prodigiously. He has the uncanny ability to nail things. This post may be uncomfortable – nay challenging – reading for comms people at LGComms. But that’s why you should read it. He argues that campaigns are counter-productive and switching things on and off don’t work with people.
First, it assumes that our audience is there, available, placid and interested, during the time we decide they should hear our messages. If they are otherwise ready to lose weight, or set up a communications plan, or change the batteries in their smoke detectors, except for some family crisis that happens during our predefined “campaign time,” then they don’t get the message that they need to change their behavior. (This is a HUGE reason I despise days, weeks and months that celebrate or raise awareness for something; what, tuberculosis doesn’t matter the other 364 days of the year?
The other reason only communicating through campaigns is harmful is, in my estimation, infinitely worse. Say your timing works out and you get lucky and actually find someone who was patiently waiting for your message. Not only that, but the message is specifically tailored to the group she self-identifies with (because you’re still marketing to audiences and not everyone), and she takes action on it. She’s moved from Contemplation to Preparation based solely on your messaging. Congratulations! But, what happens when you end your campaign? Specifically, what happens to this wonderful person that you’ve prepped to be ready to move forward and actually change her behavior? Does she not move to the Action stage? Does she resent your messaging for leaving her hanging, alone? Is she willing to wait another year for you to become interested in her problem again? Will she even listen next time?
Creative commons credits
A couple of years ago that’s what the former Liverpool manager told Liverpool City Council in 140 characters.
Chances are they’d already been out treating the roads but without regular updates nobody would have know.
Looking out of the window in January 2013 as snow falls after 24-hours of snowmaggedon warnings it’s s different story. There’s real time updates on Twitter, Facebook and in some cases rolling blogs too like at Walsall Council and Norfolk Council. That’s great to see.
It was a different case back in 2009 for local government when some leftfield councils – including Derbyshire, Walsall, Kirklees and others – boldly decided to use Twitter to tell people they were going out. I wrote about it here in early 2010.
Things stepped up a gear in 2011 when the excellent Geoff Coleman came up with the idea of getting councils across the West Midlands to tweet grit alerts using the #wmgrit hashtag so people could see the state of things across the region.
Taking a look at the stream in full effect this morning there’s messages of support being tweeted and a tweetreach stat that paints an impressive picture.
Stourbridge Town center has been gritted by @dudleymbc with men n shuvel! well done! town centre snow free to walk around #stourbridgesnow— Dave Baker (@The_Grim_Weeder) January 18, 2013Of course, audience stats aren’t the be all and end all as we know but 134,000 people potentially seeing what is happening on the roads is quite powerful.
Seeing a tweet or update land in your inbox or sail by helps. It saves people ringing up an engineer and asking for information and can even in passing can see that local government is doing stuff for them.
That doesn’t mean sweetless and light has broken out. People still complain they didn’t get their street treated. Or have a pop because they didn’t see a gritter go by. But that’s just it. They’re not shouting into the void anymore and the council can hear and respond.
But as much as I love the grit and winter disruption alerts I don’t think this is the last word. This should be a first word. But we should now be looking to see how else these real time alerts could work.
The digital landscape has evolved since 2009. Much has changed. This stuff is no longer revolutionary. It’s mainstream and being taken seriously. The LGA and DCLG have this month signed off the localgov digital group to try and innovate and share best practice. That’s rather good.
So after grit, what’s next?
As dull as unexciting as it may sound, something around bin reminders delivered in the evening by email or Twitter or by another means would be a rather handy piece of communications.
Any other ideas?
Or maybe you’d have it covered if there’s an explosion in a quiet street?
For the most part public sector communications can be pretty difficult. But with more than 500 deaths a year in fires in the UK there’s something uniquely challenging about handling the comms for a fire and rescue service. Especially at a time of tighter budgets.
How digital channels have utterly transformed communications is something that absolutely fascinates me. Forget six hours until the press conference. It’s now six minutes until the first tweet from an eyewitness and six hours until the first Facebook page set-up by residents.
You simply have to have social media in your emergency plan. It’s something I’ve written about before.
A few weeks back I was asked to speak at a FirePRO event in Manchester put together by the Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue. It was a rather useful event that gave an insight into the challenges. You can read the Storify the excellent Sam Thomas here. http://storify.com/samontheweb/fire-service-communicators.
Multi-agency use of digital media in a crisis
There’s a few small scale examples that have helped my thinking in Walsall. There’s the excellent use of social media by West Midlands Police and West Midlands Fire Service. It works because people on the ground have been given permission to tweet. So, when there’s an emergency there’s a network of people on the ground who can create an authoratative voice.
The approach in Walsall amongst police, council and other areas is simple. In a crisis, if it’s a police thing others with retweet. If it’s a council thing, others will share it.
The example of the Pheasey floods where 150 homes were flooded is an example of this. The presentation takes you through some of the tweets from that day.
Here’s 12 things that struck me.
1. There’s some cracking examples of social media case studies. It’s at the sharp end and an ability to use different channels is essential.
2. In an emergency the first pictures will come from a resident. The Shaw gas explosion wiped out one house and damaged others. The first image didn’t come the day after in the evening paper. It came within minutes from a resident posting to Twitter.
3. Having a presence on Twitter helps get the message out in real time. Tweet within minutes and you’ll create an authoritative voice that people can home in on.
4. In an emergency think like a journalist. Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue sourced stories and content in the days after the explosion. The evacuated pets return. Families return.
5. In an emergency the traditional sign-off is dead. Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue kept partners up to speed but such was the speed that they needed to respond far quicker than waiting for sign-off from everyone concerned. The leisurely approach to news is over. Minutes count.
6. In a fatality put the organisation first and not the news media. When two firefighters died at a fire in Southampton Hampshire Fire & Rescue made a conscious decision to think about what they released. They decided to consider the needs of the dead employee’s work mates first. Then the needs of the organisation. Then the Press. That’s an important decision to make.
7. In a fatality put internal comms first. I’m massively impressed at the way Hampshire Fire & Rescure kept staff informed with things like daily updates from the inquest. That involved two comms officers rotating their coverage in the court.
8. There’s a need to have hard news skills in fire comms teams. Death sells. Death makes the media interested. To have the knowledge of how the media works and will react is an essential skill in this life threatening area of comms.
9. There’s a need to have digital skills in fire comms teams. With the changing news cycle social media is massively important.
10. Google hangouts are rather good. The line to Hampshire worked rather well.
11. Communications should be a job for specialists. It wasn’t an issue mentioned here but there’s a pressure in other parts of the country to create desk jobs for firefighters. Like PR. Or to make the cuts away from fire stations. Like in PR. But this is a fundamental mistake born from not knowing the value of proper communications. That’s actually an internal comms challenge for the whole of public sector communications.
12. It’s not just hard news. Much of the day-to-day centres around asking people to take greater care and not set fire to things. Digital communications can only be vital for this.
Hats off to speakers Bridget Aherne from Greater Manchester, Rachel Stanley and Dave Thackeray from Hampshire, Stuart Jackson and Paul Williams of Ice Creates and to Shelley Wright and Sam Thomas and her team for putting on an excellent event. There’s a seperate blog post about the Ice Creates work alone.
Books on climbing? Yes. Books from self-styled social media ninjas? no thank you.
One of a few that stands like a shining beacon is the excellent ‘Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do’ by Euan Semple.
I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve recommended this hardback work to. Even if you don’t go out and buy it you can take something from the title.
One of the reasons why I’m rather keen on it is that it strikes a chord with some of the work we’ve done.
One example that Semple comes up with is ‘Trojan mice.’
In other words, in an organisation do lots of little things to see where they end up and if they work without shouting about them to the world. Or senior management. He writes:
“Conventional initiatives are like the more familiar Trojan Horse. Big, lumbering, slow moving. It takes a lot of people to move it and it is very hard to get it to change direction without a lot of effort.
“As we deployed low cost small tools and kicked off little initiatives at the BBC we began to describe our approach as deploying Trojan Mice, a metaphor borrowed from British consultant Peter Fryer.
“Set up small, unobtrusive inexpensive and autonomous tools and practices set them running and cajole and nudge them until they begin to work out where to go and why.”
It’s an approach that in spirit chimes with Dave Briggs’ line about JFDI – Just Flipping Do It.
Thinking back, some of the things I’ve done have worked well. Others haven’t. None of them we’ve made a big noise about from the word go.
Of course, there is the argument from some PR people that everything – Trojan Mice and otherwise – has to be linked up to a campaign with objectives, key messages and things to measure. I’m just not so sure about this. This feels like trad comms sellotaping itself to the new stuff and forgets that fact that to make this new stuff work you have to embrace the fact it’s a conversation.
With Trojan mice you can make some mistakes. Do five things. If two work, tell your bosses’ boss about them and see how you can nurture them elsewhere. Even the quiet failures you can learn things from.
Creative commons credits: