GUEST POST: Live tweeting to tell a human frontline story

Sometimes a press release just isn’t enough to tell a story. Living day-to-day as a carer can be tough. To give a flavour of just how tough Walsall Council comms team members Tina Faulkner and Becky Robinson live tweeted four hours to show – with sensitivity – how dementia affects the life of one couple Sheila and Ron. You can follow it here and you can also read their story here. But this one powerful story is just part of a wider drive to highlight often unseen work carried out in social care in Walsall. Tina explains the background to the innovative campaign which uses a mix of old and new media: 

If I could wear a t-shirt that best describes how I feel about work right now it would bear the slogan “I heart Social Care”.

Sheila and Ron Haynes. Sheila gives round-the-clock care to husband Ron.

I can see some of you now, exchanging a knowing look with your laptop or iphone and thinking,  “Yep, she’s a social worker.”

Not a bit of it. In fact I’d be a rubbish social worker. I’d just want to scoop everybody up and take them home with me and we just haven’t got the room. Plus the retired greyhound would have something to say about that. He’s very set in his ways.

No, I heart social care as a press and pr officer who is working to try and dispel some of the myths about this area of work and highlight some of the innovative things that are going on. The things that are making a real difference to people’s lives and should be shouted about.

I have been working with my colleague Becky Robinson, a public information officer, to run week-long multi-media “events” called Who Cares? (see what we did there!) to show a side to social care that’s not picked up on.

The first one we did was last November and we featured the story of a paraplegic man who left residential care after 27 years to live independently, with support.

We Tweeted the calls coming into our social work teams which ranged from adult safeguarding tip-offs to families and carers wondering how to make life easier for loved ones leaving hospital.

We also showcased the stuff done by the community social work scheme which can sometimes be a simple as helping someone find a friendship club in their community to get them out of the house a few times a week.

And our Neighbourhood Community Officers got a look-in too as they go into some seemingly hopeless situations and bring about a sea change.

All in all it was a great week and we know it made some people sit up and take notice.

So it seemed only right to do it all again. And make some more people sit up and take notice.

This time round we’re tweeting from the home of a lady who cares for her husband with dementia to try and convey the relentless demands and challenges that this role brings and to try and make us all a bit more aware of dementia and mental health issues.

We’re tweeting from a carers’ consultation session too and featuring the partnership work being done in our communities to offer people of all ages, something to do and somewhere to go.

And we’re looking at people with learning and physical disabilities who were sent out of the borough for care many years ago, away from their families and communities, who are being supported to come back.

If we can achieve this in social care with all of its perceived “barriers” we can achieve it anywhere.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from all this it’s “Don’t assume people won’t want to speak about their experiences.”

In our experience they have no problem with speaking up – it’s getting people to listen that’s the key.

You can follow the tweets from @whocareswalsall on Twitter or via this link on CoveritLive:

http://www.coveritlive.com/index2.php/option=com_altcaster/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=d21510425c/height=550/width=470

Links:

A social care blog: The Who Cares Walsall blog

A tweeting social worker: @ermintrude2

Shirley Ayres: Why social media is important to social care: challenges and opportunities by Shirley Ayres

The Guardian: Walsall uses Twitter to ask who cares about social care

The Guardian: Social care and social media live discussion round-up 

Community Care: Time for social work to embrace social media

Creative commons credit:

Flowers: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alijava/6210239598/sizes/l/in/photostream/


SOCIAL CRISIS: Using Twitter in emergency planning

A rather marvellous moment of digital serendipity happened the other night.

Walking back from a late night meeting at Walsall Council House a police car sped past with sirens and blue lights on.

Absent mindedly I tweeted that I wondered if this was @pcstanleywmp. He replied:

A short time later @pcmarshallwmp chipped in:

That’s just a bit mad. But in 2012, in Walsall in the West Midlands it’s not as surprising as all that. As a local government press officer, emergencies land in our lap. Even when they’re not directly ours. Here’s some thoughts on social media in an emergency.

Bigging up West Midlands Police on Twitter

For some time the West Midlands Police force have been trail blazing with their use of digital channels to connect to the people they serve.

The payback comes in many ways but when the chips are down it comes by having a ready made channel to shoot down rumours. Andrew Brightwell from Public I blogged a cracking piece on how Wolverhampton Police joined with bloggers to help explode myths. You can read it here.

One of those bloggers was Steph Jennings of Podnosh whose site wv11.co.uk was in the frontline against the rumours worked around the clock on Facebook and Twitter. Their Facebook page drew 200,000 hits in a week. That’s just an incredible figure.

Post riot lessons

Last summer, not long after the dust settled there was an informal meeting between police, local government and bloggers to see what worked.

It became clear that in a time of crisis people just wanted an authoratative voice. The role of local government comms people was not to stand by but to retweet on Twitter police messages. That’s a big step to take but an important one.

Lessons in rumour scotching

At the excellent Bluelightcamp In Manchester  there was a brilliant session from researcher Farida Vis.

She spoke about analysing six rumours and how they went away. Heard the one about the tiger on the loose from London Zoo? Or Birmingham Children’s Hospital being attacked?

Farida mapped all of the tweets and drew some interesting conclusions. First, you sometimes need to scotch rumours repeatedly. Especially if they’ve gone viral. Secondly, often rumours are shot down by trusted people online. In teh case of Birmingham Children’s hospital, it was Andy Mabbett – @pigsonthewing on Twitter – who pointed out that the hospital was directly opposite Steehouse Lane Police station, so it probably wasn’t true.

She also posed the interesting point that we need to identify trusted people in the community for times of crisis. That’s an interesting thought but I’m not sure if we’re there yet.

You can see the reseach and some excellent data visualisations here.  Farida Vis is on Twitter as @flygirltwo.

Post riot lessons put into practice

Within weeks that lesson was put to the test in Walsall when 150 homes were flooded in Streetly.

The first mention on Twitter was at 6.13am when PC Rich Stanley then tweeted that there was flooding.

As the picture built, confirmation that 150 homes were involved was tweeted at 7.54am.

There was misinformation from people but what was striking was that this was drowned out by the multiple retweets of the police messages.

On election day in Walsall in 2012, part of the town centre was evacuated by police because of a security alert. We retweeted the @walsallpolice stream which did a great job in keeping people up to speed. It wasn’t anything major in the context of other events. But it did have a major impact on the town.

There’s a storify here.

SEVEN things you can do for public sector crisis comms

Here are the lessons learned from the Walsall and Wolverhampton police – blogger debrief, from practical experience as well as from Blue Light Camp. Feel free to agree or disagree.

1. Talk to your colleagues in the emergency services. When it’s not busy. Establish if and how they are using Twitter.

2. When an incident starts, use Twitter’s search function to see what people are saying.

3. Use Twitter’s search functions to seek out what fire, police and any other official channels are saying.

4. Retweet the official streams only. Monitor but don’t RT non-official streams. They may or may not be accurate.

5. Think web first. Before you get the press release signed off agree 140 characters to put onto Twitter. Even if it’s a holding statement. It’s fine to say we’re investigating reports of a chemical leak at a council building if that’s what you are doing.

6. Scotch rumours before they spread.

7. Keep scotching rumours. It may take several times as rumours re-ignite.

Picture credit

Police car http://www.flickr.com/photos/laughingsquid/6319901926/sizes/l/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


CROWD PHOTOS: Are crowd sourced pictures a golden bullet?

It’s temptingly lazy but wrong to think residents pictures can fill the hole left by dwindling budgets.

A couple of things have made me think.

First, basking in the afterglow of a successful project a debate started.

We’ve worked with residents to turn an empty shop window in Walsall town centre into an information point brightened up by shots from the Walsall Flickr group.

It’s a brilliantly simple idea that came from Flickr photographer Lee Jordan. I’ve written about it here and you can read Lee’s blog on it too.

Lee and others were fine about having their work used and showcased.

In response to my venturing a repeat in a different scheme one Flickr member on Twitter wrote:

“Local council have just requested use of some of my pics on Flickr for a printed guide, for a credit and linkback. I declined. Any thoughts? On one hand it may be good publicity, on the other it devalues photography. What do others think…?”
After an online debate I deliberately stepped back from, other residents talked about the benefits of photo sharing. The member changed heart and threw his hat into the ring.

Thirdly, blogger Pete Ashton invited his council to ‘f*** you’ (literally) after they once again asked to use pictures for free. This came after a shot of his which he got £50 for was used without his knowledge for a major national cultural campaign that wasn’t fully explained when he was first approached.

Fourthly, when I post an image to Flickr these days I always add a liberal creative commons image so they can be re-used as long as there is a credit and a link. I’m forever using and linking to cc images on this blog so it seems churlish not to share. So long as you are not a commercial enterprise. You can read more about creative commons here.

So, there are four views. For my money each if those are just as valid.

Why FOUR answers and they’re all right?

Because everyone’s approach is deeply personal. That’s why.

There’s no such thing as one size fits all.

Are crowd sources images a cure all for cut budgets?

No.

Don’t think that Flickr is a sweet shop full of free images that’ll solve your slashed photographic budget.

Don’t think you can wander along to Google images, right click, save and Bob’s your Uncle. Don’t ever do that.

There’s still a place for commissioned freelance photography for marketing and press shots. Not least because photographic staff on newspapers are being laid off.

There’s a place for stock photography websites such as istock.

There’s a place for searching The Commons on Flickr where scores of museums and institutions have added millions of images that can be re-used by anyone. NASA, The Smithsonian and the US Library of Congress stand out.

There’s a place too – if residents are agreeable – for their images to be used by local government. Just so long they are not taken for granted and the shots are treated with the same reverence as a very delicate vase or a signed first edition you’re borrowing for a while.

That’s why I’m not desperately keen on the approach that some councils have of creating a Flickr group where by adding you allow automatic re-use. It just doesn’t feel right.

If there’s an image a resident had taken ask nicely, explain what it’ll be used for stick to the agreement and don’t be offended if the answer is ‘no’ and if there is some cash in the budget for payment try very hard to.

Everyone benefits that way.

Creative commons credits

Gun http://www.flickr.com/photos/m4tik/6243269249/

Smiling Sky http://www.flickr.com/photos/frank_wuestefeld/4272333063/


PHOTO SHOP: How Flickr made a difference to an empty shop

Sometimes good things come to those who wait.

Worth waiting for has been an informal project between the Walsall Flickr group and Walsall Council.

Faced with an empty Tesco supermarket in the centre of town a debate was started on how to fill it.

A chance comment from a Flickr member Lee Jordan made some time ago came to the fore. He is @reelgonekid on Twitter.

Wouldn’t it be great, he said, some time before if shots of Walsall taken and posted to Flickr were displayed in an empty shop window?

Wouldn’t that be better than having an empty shop?

So, that’s just what we did.

Walsall Council’s regeneration town centre team have Jon Burnett working to improvce the town centre. He came up with the funding and picked up the ball. The landlord was agreeable. Jon helps run @walsalltown on Twitter, by the way.

I helped Jon ask the wider Walsall Flickr group if they’d like to take part and were pleasantly surprised at the response. You can see the original conversation thread here.

More than half  a dozen members submitted more than 30 shots and our print and design team who then pulled together a design with some town centre information.

We added a picture credit and a link back to the photographer’s Flickr stream. That was important.

There’s plans to redevelop the site and Primark and The Co-Operative are lined up to move in some months down the track.

When that happens the vinyl images will be taken down. But until then bright, creative people of Walsall have a chance to celebrate their work and their town.

According to a Local Data Company report there are more than 28,000 empty shops. That’s about 14 per cent of all the 202,000 shops in England, Scotland and Wales.

This isn’t an answer to all any town centre’s problems. It’s just a good thing to do to ask local people to display their work and brighten up empty shops.

LINKS

A slide show of the Walsall town centre Flickr window by Stuart Williams can be seen here.

Lee Jordan, whose inital idea it was, took a set of pics including this one.


CIVIC SOCIAL: How digital tools can help connect a Mayor

Mayors in Walsall go back to the 13th century. Yes, children it’s safe to say that even pre-dates Friends Reunited.

What helped spread the word then was probably a Town Crier with the useful profile of having a loud voice in the marketplace where people gathered.

Today, the landscape has changed. But a voice in the place where people gather is still important.

Since May when Cllr Garry Perry was appointed to the post he’s been successfully experimenting with digital channels. As a 33-year-old he’s the borough’s youngest ever appointment. As a Facebook native and as at home there as in the Council Chamber it made sense for him to experiment using the channel.

He’s also used Twitter and connected with the Walsall Flickr group. Jokingly, Cllr Perry has spoken about creating the Mayor’s Parlour as a location on Foursquare so he can become Mayor of that too.

But is this just a gimmick? Or have lessons been learned?

Facebook

A Facebook page was created for the Mayor of Walsall. The idea was to allow the Mayor to post updates and pictures from his phone when out and about. The aim was conversational. It also helps give an idea of where the Mayor had been and the people he’d met. It’s not a dusty civic position. It’s carried out by a person. For an organisation for people.

The stats speak for themselves. More than 160 people have signed up in about six weeks. There has been more than 8,000 page views in a four week period and people have responded posting enthusiastic comments. It’s clear that successful events also draw-in enthusiasm from residents.

The events functionality also allows a good way to flag up fundraisers.

As the Mayor of Walsall Cllr Perry says: “It’s been brilliant for getting feedback from people and for connecting with them. When you’re at an event you can post that you’ve been there with a picture. There’s still a tremendous respect for the office of Mayor and it’s good to be able to meet people. Using things like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr have really helped reach a different audience.”

Twitter

More than 180 people and organisations have signed-up with updates of visits and fundraising. Cllr Perry’s sporadic previous account was re-named @mayorofwalsall.

Flickr 

A Flickr meet was staged where members of the excellent Walsall Flickr group  came along to the Mayor’s Parlour and Council House one Saturday morning.

More than 200 shots were posted by six photographers to a specially created group to capture shots for the day. It was a chance for Walsall people to visit the 1905 building and meet the Mayor. As a visit it was a success. Those who came took some excellent pictures and Cllr Perry’s – and the Mayoress’ – easy going and informal approach saw the council giving a good account of itself. Staging a Flickr meet at a council venue is something I’ve blogged about before.

As a spin-off, and by no means the purpose of the event, the photographers were happy for the authority to re-use the posted pics for the website or for other marketing. That’s a good thing whichever way you look at it. You can see the pictures here.

Press releases

Yes, we’ll do the traditional things too for old media too. That’s part of the repertoire.

Lessons to learn

1. It can put a human face on an organisation. As Pc Rich Stanley does for West Midlands Police in Walsall so Cllr Perry does for Walsall Council. They use social media to put a human face on the organisation that can sometimes be seen as remote.

2. It depends on the individual. A social mayor who is at home with the channels or willing to learn will prosper. A remote character with few social graces and mistrust of technology won’t.

3. Little and often works. Updates on the routine day-to-day tasks work really well. Don’t think you need to crack the front page of the local paper with every update.

4. It works best if the Mayor writes it. A voice can be unique and despite being a fairly politically neutral post it’s not for council officers to update on people’s behalf.

5. Be prepared to JFDI.  Not everything with social media has a 100-year-old record to it. That’s a given. So just try things out.

Pic credit: Swissrolli (c) http://www.flickr.com/photos/swissrolli/5989959370/in/photostream


SOCIAL TOWN: Using social media to tell a town centre’s story

With Walsall 24 we told the story of what a council did across a borough in 24 hours.

With Walsall Town Centre 100 we’re looking to go a step further and tell a different story.

We want to tell a hundred things about the life of a town centre across seven days from May 17 to 23 2011.

It’s not just about litter getting collected this time. It’s the faces on the market, the people in the shops and what gets done to keep people safe and protect law and order.

In effect it’s the council, the police, businesses and other partners joining forces to tell people what they do. It’s also about letting residents speak with Q&A sessions for key people.

All these factors make up the life of a town centre.

In many ways, Walsall is a typical town. It competes against bigger neighbours in Birmingham and the Merry Hill Shoping Centre in Dudley 14 miles away.

There’s three indoor shopping centres, 400 shops, an 800-year-old market, a circa 1905 Council House, a New Art Gallery, two museums and a 35-acre Arboretum giving a splash of green on the edge of the town centre.

It’s a town with civic pride built on the leather industry and one that was once known as the town of a hundred trades – hence the name of this experiment.

What are the channels?

We’re looking to use the council website walsall.gov.uk, the Walsall police web pages, Twitter, flag up some locations on Foursquare and also keep people informed via Facebook. There’s even geocaching too and a Flickr group to celebrate the beauty of the town.

The purpose is not to use a whole load of web tools just for the sake of it.

It’s to talk to people on a platform they might want to use.

How can you follow it?

You can take a look at three main Twitter accounts as well as the #walsall100 hashtag.

@walsallcouncil from the council.

@walsallpolice from the town’s police force.

@walsalltown from the town centre management team.

There’s also historic updates from @walsalllhcentre.

There’s a web page on it to tell you all about it here.

Why more than one organisation?

Because what happens in an area isn’t just down to one. It’s down to several.

Why use social media?

Because it’s a good platform to communicate and listen.

What will it look like?

If you’ve seen Walsall 24, that was a barrage of information in real time. This is slightly different. There may be a background noise of tweets with more focussed on events this time.

For example, We’re live tweeting a pubwatch meeting, a day on the market and a Friday night with the police on patrol. All this is part of what makes a town centre tick.

What else?

There’s a Peregrine Watch staged by countryside officers, RSPB Walsall and the West Midlands Bird Club, a walk in the Arboretum and other things.

There will also be a chance to ask questions with Q&A sessions.

The full list is here.

Why seven days?

To show all parts of the town centre from Saturday morning shopping to a Friday night on the town to a regular weekday morning.

This is what linked social is about. It’s a range of voices from a range of places with input from residents and shoppers too.

Will there be resources from it?

With Twitter being the live action, we’ll look to pull together Match of the Day-style  highlights with storify.com.

Hats off to the following for their role: Kate Goodall, Jon Burnett, Jo Hunt, Gina Lycett, Darren Caveney, Morgan Bowers, Helen Kindon, Kevin Clements and Stuart Williams.

Pictures:

Peregrine Falcon on Tameway Tower http://yfrog.com/hs90k9j

Walsall images from my Flickr stream http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/


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