TRADITIONAL DIGITAL: What comms teams should look like in 2012

All the best films have a challenge at their heart.

In Dunkirk, its Johnny Mills as a British corporal steering his men to safety.

In Pulp Fiction, its Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta getting away with accidentally shooting Marvin in the face.

One if the biggest challenges facing press offices and communications teams is how to blend the old with the new to stay relevant.

There was a fascinating post by Ann Kempster who works in central government about what comms teams should look like. You can read it here. Emer Coleman from the Government Digital Service and others made some excellent comments.

A couple of years ago I blogged about what comms teams needing to adapt and have traditional and digital skills. I probably over-sold open data. We’re not there just yet but will be but the basics I still hang my hat on.

Back then I said the communications team needed to be both digital and traditional so calling something a press office these days is a bit of an anachronism. It would involve the basics:

  • Have basic journalism skills.
  • Know how the machinery of local government works.
  • Write a press release.
  • Work under speed to deadline.
  • Understand basic photography.
  • Understand sub-editing and page layouts.

But would need to have these too:

For web 1.0 the press office also needed to:

  • Add and edit web content

For web 2.0 the press office also needs to:

  • Create podcasts
  • Create and add content to a Facebook page.
  • Create and add content to a Twitter stream.
  • Create and add content to Flickr.
  • Create and add content to a blog.
  • Monitor and keep abreast of news in all the form it takes from print to TV, radio and theblogosphere.
  • Develop relationships with bloggers.
  • Go where the conversation is whether that be online or in print.
  • Be ready to respond out-of-hours because the internet does not recognise a print deadline.

For web 3.0 the press office will also need to:

  • Create and edit geotagged data such as a Google map.
  • Create a data set.
  • Use an app and a mash-up.
  • Use basic html.
  • Blog to challenge the mis-interpretation of data.

So how can we make the joint traditional and digital press office work?

There’s no question that the traditional press office and the digital press office should be under the same roof.

There’s no point in having an old school team with spiralbound notebooks and in the next room a digital team with jet packs and Apple macbook pros not communicating.

So what can help make the joint digital and trad comms team work?

Press officers won’t all head voluntarily to this bright new dawn. It’s just not going to happen overnight. Some won’t change and will be left behind.

The bright ones will adapt and are adapting to a place where a bog standard comms plan will include old media + social media + web as a matter of course. After all. We don’t all have specialists for TV or radio sat in most press offices and certainly not in local government where I work.

We all need a specialist digital comms officer to help blend the old and the new

Once I knew a man who was a mechanic. He used to repair petrol engines. At night school, he learned how electrical generators worked.

When his company changed to electrical generators he alone had the expertise for both and was invaluable in training staff.

That’s the approach we need for press officers.

In other words, what will blend old and new in the short and medium term is the dedicated social media or digital communications officer.

On Ann Kempster’s blog the anaology was made about digital cameras. We don’t refer to cameras as ‘digital’ these days. They are just cameras. That’s true and that’s where we need to go with comms teams.

But in many ways there’s more to it than that. I remember working as a newspaper when the first photographer – who was not a popular man – walked in proudly with a satchel with the paper’s first digital camera and laptop. “Schools broken up early has it?” came the dry-balloon bursting quip from the long-serving deputy chief reporter. The same quip was made every time the photographer walked in until the whole of the company’s photographers had them. Somehow, knowing the characters involved that made it funnier.

There was a cross-over period while photographers adapted to the new technology but the basic work of the photographer remained the same. Composition was unaltered. They were still building the same things through their view finders. But with digital communications it’s asking people to use a completely different set of skills. Like asking a photographer to become a sculptor overnight. But still take pictures when needed too.

From experience, the shift from the traditional to the traditional + digital takes time but it has to be coaxed and encouraged. That’s where the digital specialist in the comms team comes in so long as they share the sweets, horizon scan and work to give back-up to help others gain confidence. They also need to flag up the successes. They need to do some measuring and reporting back. We need to include digital stats along with traditional media ones so when the cabinet member in local government, or whoever, gets told what’s happening in the media they’re getting the digital picture too.

Just because an organisation has given the green light to social media doesn’t always mean the influential people in an organisation get it. One of the big complaints is that digital is tacked onto the busy day job. Well, if the day job means press releases churned out to dwindling newspapers maybe that work needs re-calibrating. But you need to convince the powers that be that it’s not 1985 anymore and digital and traditional is the way forward.

Why do comms need to share the sweets?

That’s something I’ve been banging on about for a long time. Comms needs to train, give advice, shape policy where needed but most importantly hold the door open for others to go through.

Across the country these either formally titled or informally tasked digital comms people can be seen doing good things. Look at Helen Reynolds in Monmouthshire County Council, Geoff Coleman at Birmingham City Council and what Al Smith did at Newcastle City Council and elsewhere as a couple of examples.

It’s the path that Walsall Council’s comms team has taken too thanks to bright leadership. As a result we now have press officers like Tina Faulkner and Becky Robinson who by no means are digital natives putting together inspiring campaigns like this one which saw a morning with a carer and her husband who suffers Alzheimers. They found magic in this approach which told a human story beautifully.

The challenge is to find the innovator in every comms team and gently give others room and confidence to grow if they need it.

Creative commons credits

Posters http://www.flickr.com/photos/brocco_lee/6055430502/sizes/l/in/pool-778206@N20/

Facebook http://www.flickr.com/photos/westm/4690323994/sizes/l/in/set-72157624125586003/

Newspaper http://www.flickr.com/photos/judybaxter/2828795347/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Flowers http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5576302231/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


SLIDESHARE: Case studies on connecting people using social media


Once upon a time clip art was once cutting edge.

No, really. It was.

Back in 1997, the first Walsall Council website sported a dancing light bulb.

No, really. It did.

There’s also a notice telling people that the website was under construction (it’s slide number two on the presentation embedded in this post.) If you’re on a mobile device the embed may not be showing. If that’s the case the link is here.

We need to evolve, learn and innovate. Nothing demonstrates that better than the late 90s webpage frozen in time showing Billy the Bulb and one giant leap for a council website. Time has moved on and we need to too.

At the Socitm Learning from Better Connected event at Manchester there was plenty of examples of innovation.

Not least the forward-thinking webteam who ripped up the rule book and re-designed the liverpool.gov.uk website based on what people want rather than what officers think people want.

Here’s my preasentation that I’ve posted to Slideshare.

Included on it are:

Some stats on internet use.

Some stats on the mobile web.

A quick map of the Walsall media landscape 2011 and 2005.

A quick case study on engaging with the community through Flickr.

A quick case study on two hyperlocal sites: WV11.co.uk and Pelsall Common People.

How a countryside ranger can tweet from the sharp end.

Some stats on Walsall 24 which saw us live tweet for 24 hours in real time.

All good stuff for 2011, but you can bet your bottom dollar in 13 years time when we’ll All have robot butlers it’ll seem a bit tame and dancing lightbulbesque.

Quite right, too.


CASE STUDY: How Yammer can help local government innovate

“Yammer?” a colleague once asked, “isn’t that a Black Country word?”

Actually, no. It’s a web-based platform to allow people from the same organisation to talk to each other.

Used by 80,000 comanies as of Septrember 2010, it’s a way of sharing ideas, links to useful websites and for asking for help to crack a problem.

You need your organisation’s email address to access it so it’s a walled garden to allow discussion that cuts across directorates and teams.

The best thing of all?

It’s free.

It’s been used at Walsall Council since October last year when members of the communications team Kev Dwyer and Mel Lee came across it at the Hyperlocal Govcamp held in Walsall. Our head of communications Darren Caveney saw the value in it straight away.

In the first five months more than 600 people have signed up from around 8,000 employees.

Isn’t this just a glorified water cooler where people talk about last night’s telly?

Actually, no.

There’s a string of useful discussions.

  • Webteam members asking for feedback on how our website header should look like.
  • Transport asking what people thought of bus lanes.
  • A link to a Guardian Society piece on what hyperlocal blogs are.
  • A link to a blog written by a Cambridgeshire County Council officer on localism.
  • A thread on heavy imminent snow and best routes out Walsall.
  • A discussion on what planning pages should look like.

STATS ON HOW YAMMER IS WORKING…

We took a snapshot of 27 days of Yammer activity at Walsall Council from December 2010 and January 2011.

What we found were people busily innovating. Of the sample of 188 posts and comments:

82 per cent were work related

17 per cent were non-work.

Of the non-work posts, a third were about snow, information they’d seen in the staff e-mail Weekly Bulletin, on the intranet or were New Year greetings.

Not one was about Saturday night TV. Not one.

That compares favourably to the amount of time spent off-topic in some meetings.

Of all activity:

37 per cent were posts

63 per cent were comments.

What were the work-related topics about?

61 per cent were about proposed policy ideas.

For example, how a new operating model should look or what should happen to a new initiative should look.

Some were happy to ask for input while others were an update on what their team were working on.

22 per cent were on actual policy.

Such as an update on new sickness arrangements.

10 per cent were posting links.

A useful website, page on the council website or blog, such as a news story on how smart phones are having an impact.

0 per cent were abusive.

Not a single post on any subject was intemperate or even remotely threatening the code of conduct. That’s important to know and shoots down an early worry.

The regular cry ‘we need to be better at communicating with each other’ has never been louder.

Yammer is proving one way to do it. It won’t do it on it’s own but it is a powerful tool.

Links:

Yammer on Wikipedia.

Why Yammer failed at my organisation.

A Yammer experiment in local government.

LGC Comms Yammer thread with an account of the Kent County Council Yammer network.


ICE INNOVATION: Ten case studies and ideas to innovate in the winter

Oh, the weather outside is frightful but the idea of doing cool things is always delightful.

Last year, the idea of tweeting when your gritters was going out was revolutionary.

Around half a dozen councils were leftfield enough to do it and the idea spread.

Public sector web standards organisation SOCITM picked up on it making it mainstream with their report for subscribers.

Is that enough?

Can we stand still now?

The fact is local government needs to innovate like never before.

Someone famous once said when you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts.

So, where’s the innovation this year? Here’s some ideas and pointers on how straight forward they are…

1. MAP YOUR GRIT ROUTES

In the West Midlands, there’s some amazing innovation from mapping geeks.

Bright people from Mappa Mercia including the excellent Andy Mabbett last year built a grit map on Open Street Map to show grit routes in Birmingham. They dug out the routes from pdfs on the council website.

Now, they’re adding Solihull and Walsall too ready for the winter onslaught.


Birmingham City Council have linked to it from their transport pages and we at Walsall Council are tweeting it when the weather gets bad.

That’s a good example of working with a talented and community-minded online community.

Advantage: Community engagement.

Disadvantage: You need mapping geeks to be grit geeks too.

2. TWITTER GRITTER

Everytime you go out you tweet the fact. If you’re not doing it you should. It’s not enough to provide a service at 2am. You need to tell people. Why? Because they won’t know your council tax is being spent in such a way and they may well ring your harrassed staff at a time when they are thinly stretched.

It’s something I blogged about last year with a case study mapping more than 70 tweets.

Advantage: Community engagement. Cuts down unneccesary contact.

Disadvantage: You’ll need some kind of rota or it’ll all fall on one person’s shoulders.

3. YOUTUBE

A short clip to explain what the gritting service is all about. Shot on a Flip video It’s a good way of communicating what is being done.

Embedding the video in the service’s pages should be straight forward. Linking to YouTube and posting via Twitter and Facebook is easy. Tweet the link when you’re team are hitting the road

Advantage: Creates blog-friendly web 2.0 video content.

Disadvantage: You need a Flip video. The process isn’t instant.

4. MAP GRIT BIN LOCATIONS

Publish grit routes as open data? Why not.

But beware the perils of derived data that quicksand argument that means anything based on Ordnance Survey is mired in dispute.

Advantage: Publishing open data increases transparency

Disadvantages: It can’t be based on OS maps.

5 FACEBOOK

As local government Facebook sites mature and grow there’s more reason to post grit updates there too.

Drawbacks? Not all phones will allow you to post to fan pages and you may have to log on at a PC or a laptop.

Advantage: You reach the massive Facebook demographic.

Disadvantage: Your Facebook fanpage is harder to update than a profile.

6. LIVE TWEET

A trip around the borough in a gritter with a camera phone geo-tagging your tweets. It works as a one off and builds a direct connection.

At Walsall, we tweeted the testing of the gritters in a dry-run for winter including geotagged shots from the cab itself as it trundled around the streets.

Advantage: A service from a different perspective.

Disadvantage: Labour and time intensive.

7. TEXT AND EMAIL ALERTS

Sometimes we can be so struck by new gadgets that we can forget the platforms your Dad and mother-in-law have.

Simply speaking, there are more mobile phones in the UK than people.

Many councils are charged around 8p a text to issue an SMS. That’s a cost that has to be picked up from somewhere. But using the standard costs per enquiry of around £7 face-to-face and £5 over the phone the 8p charge starts to look viable.

Advantage: You can reach large numbers of people and cut down potentially on unavoidable contact.

Disadvantage: It costs.

8. BIG SOCIETY TWITTER GRITTER

Not every council has the resources to tweet its gritting. In Cumbria, the community of Alsthom high in the dales regularly gets cut off in the snow. Fed-up with the council response the town clubbed together to buy their own gritter.

Community and digital innovator John Popham floated the interesting idea of the community stepping in to tweet gritting activity. In effect, a Big Society Twitter Gritter It’s a fascinating idea, would share the burden and may fill the gap where a council doesn’t have the digital skills or the staff.

Advantage: If there are residents willing it’s a good partnership potentially.

Disadvantage: It’s dependent on volunteer power.

9. QR CODES

What are they? Funny square things that your mobile phone can identify and can download some information about. I don’t pretend to fully understand them and I’m not sure if they’ve reached a tipping point in society just yet. However, Sarah Lay of Derbyshire County Council is looking at adding QR codes to grit bins to allow people to report problems. It’s a fascinating idea that needs looking at.

Advantages: Tech-savvy citizens can use them to pinpoint problems.

Disadvantages: A format that is still finding traction amongst the rest of the population.

10. OPEN DATA

What can you publish as open data? Wrack your brains and consult the winter service plan. There’s grit routes themselves. There’s the amount of grit stockpiled. There’s the amount of grit spread day-by-day.

Advantage: Open data is good for transparency.

Disadvantages: Day-by-day updating could be tricky as engineers are snowed under. If you’ll forgive the pun.

Links:

Creative commons:

Walsall grit pile Dan Slee http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5087392858/

Four Seasons bridge http://www.flickr.com/photos/fourseasonsgarden/2340923499/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Twitter gritter Dan Slee http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5115786276/

Road m4tik http://www.flickr.com/photos/m4tik/4259599913/sizes/o/in/photostream/


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