Three great things happened in local government in the West Midlands last week and it’s been a while since that happened.
Firstly, new Birmingham City Council chief executive Mark Rogers posted his first blog in his first week in charge there… and it was human. It didn’t fall into the trap of councilspeak. Or jargon. It felt like it was written by a real person. Online, the mood of staff and those who care about the city rose by several degrees. You can read the blog here and see some of the reaction here.
Okay, so this is a small step and ranged against the good times is the small matter of the £822 million that needs to be saved from Birmingham’s budget, the need to sell-off the flagship NEC, the 1,000 jobs that will go this year and the need to turn around the giant super-tanker pretty darn quick.
The task facing Birmingham City Council is immense. It’s going to hurt. But the knowledge that there is a human being in charge gives an injection of hope and the knowledge that the city stands a chance. You could argue that from this point on Mark will never be as popular. You could also say that times must be bad for public sector when a demonstration of being obviously human behaviour from someone at the top gets such a warm welcome.
And engaging on Twitter
Secondly, Mark started to engage with people online and Twitter saw a few human interactions between the bloke in charge and the bloke who does things for him as a far smaller part of the wheel. He even quoted Joe Strummer.
— Kevin Johnson (@urbancomms) March 5, 2014
Lessons from a dancing nut
Thirdly, and rather wonderfully someone in Mark’s network Liz Newton shared a link that Mark suggested people go watch. It’s leadership lessons drawn in under three minutes by a dancing guy in a field at a festival. At first, it’s just one dancing guy but in under three minutes the field is transformed.
(QUICK NOTE: THE YOUTUBE CLIP REALLY IS A KEEPER SO DON’T SKIP IT.)
To quote the narrative spoken by Derek Sivers who posted the video:
First of course, a leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous. But what he is doing is so simple it’s almost instructional. This is key. It must be easy to follow. Now here comes the first follower with a really crucial role. He shows everyone else how to follow. Notice how the leader embraces him as an equal so it’s not about the leader anymore it’s about THEM the plural. It takes guts to be the first follower. You stand out and you brave ridicule yourself. The first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint the first follower is the spark.
Now here’s the second follower… this is the turning point. It’s proof the first has done well. Now, it’s not a lone nut and it’s not two nuts. Three is a crowd and a crowd is news. A movement must be public. Make sure outsiders see more than just the leader. Everyone needs to see followers because new followers emulate followers.
Now we’ve got momentum. This is the tipping point. Now we have a movement.
Leadership is really over-glorified… there is no movement without the first follower. When you see a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.’
So, that’s three lessons for leaders delivered by social media by one lone bloke in a suit in less than a week.
That happened listening to Millie Riley a broadcast assistant who was talking on BBC Radio 5’s Review of 2013.
She was talking about how under 24-year-olds consume their radio and how their radio is online, face-to-face, shared… and on the radio.
It reminded me that you can learn things from people outside public relations and I was listening thinking of how this affected me in my job as local government public relations.
Listening to Millie talk about her radio was like listening to someone talk about a foreign country. But that’s fine. I’m not in that generation born post 1982 that are known as Millenials.
Just think of it all as content without boundaries.
As Millie says:
“It’s just to do with great content. Wherever there is great content we will be. The main understanding is that it can be funny, it can be news, it can be documentaries. We can put lots of different hats on. There’s a misunderstanding that we want really funny stuff or just music. Actually, we can do all sorts of things.
“As clichéd as it may sound, wherever there is great content that’s where we’ll be.
“They’re listening to the radio and they don’t even realise they’re listening to the radio. They’ll be listening to clips on the BBC website or whatever. They’ll suddenly realise: ‘oh, that’s radio.’ Everything out there is just an amalgamation. It’s just stuff to be interested and enjoy. It might be radio. They may not even realise it.
“We do have lots of options. But if you create content that’s multi-platform and multi-media and Radio One are really good at this. They’ll create a video and then they’ll talk about it on air and people will watch it online and they just bring the two together and I think that’s the way to do it.
“The more their content becomes ubiquitous and the more they become a name on YouTube and that’s the main platform that they’re using the more people will become connected to Radio One as a brand. They’ve definitely upped their game at the beginning and end as that tells them that it’s Radio One. They’re getting better at that.”
You can hear Millie’s contribution on Soundcloud too here…
So, that leads to this kind of content. A Muse track with a homemade video and 60,000 views.
So, what does that piece of radio advice mean for my corner of communications?
It made me think of something Julie Waddicor wrote on comms2point0 about making friends with creative people from colleges as part of a campaign. That makes sense. There may be some rough edges but you’ll get a different perspective.
By thinking of something more creative you may open the door to something like Melbourne Metro system’s ‘Dumb Ways To Die’ which saw a 21 per cent dip in track incursions and 67 million views on YouTube.
So, it begs the question, what are you doing to get a message to under 24s? And others?
Are you really sure that press release of yours is making it?
Or should there be different talents in the team too?
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.
Our cameras show Lincs drivers today must beware black ice,frozen standing snow +an Imperial assault on the rebel base. twitpic.com/bxks6r
— Lincs County Council (@LincolnshireCC) January 23, 2013
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.
“The best social media,” it read “doesn’t happen in an office.”
That’s dead right.
For a long while now I’ve been arguing that communications people should share the sweets, relax a little and learn to let go. It’s by doing that they can really reap the rewards of good and trusted communications channels.
I’m not alone by any means in thinking this and it’s excellent to start seeing the rewards being reaped.
Here are some good examples of digital communications that caught my eye over the last few months.
What’s worth commenting on is that the majority of the good examples are not done directly by comms people. They’re done by people in the field telling their stories or they’re using content that first originated outside an office to tell a story.
Real time updates by people on the ground work brilliantly.
Back in 2008, digital innovation in the public sector – and third sector – was isolated. What this quick link collection now shows is that it’s mainstream and unstoppable.
National Trust Dudmaston Hall, Shropshire – If only more organisations were like the National Trust. We’d all be eating better cake for one. They’re also getting good at digital communications. They’re equipping venues with social media accounts to give you updates and insights from the ground.
I’m quite partial to this stream from the Shropshire stately home which is near Bridgnorth and a personal family favourite. They talk to people and they update. More people are likely to sign-up for a venue rather than an organisation that looks after lots of venues although there is a space for that too. You can follow them on Twitter here.
Acton Scott Museum, Shropshire – An imaginative use of pictures makes this Twitter stream fly. How can you not see horse drawn ploughing and not want to go and visit? You can follow them on Twitter here.
National Trust Central Fells – Using the principle if you do good things tell people the @ntcentralfells Twitter do a good job of updating people on the work they do. Most of the time it’s witnessed by two walkers and some sheep. They updated progress on building a bridge in a remote spot of Easedale in with pictures of them at work and reaped the benefit of feedback from people stuck in offices. You can follow them on Twitter here.
Supt Keith Fraser – A Superintendant in Walsall who keeps people up to speed with events and crime in the town. Personable. Informative and willing to engage on the platform. You can follow him here.
Swedish Tourist Board – It’s rather marvellous is this. Technically, it’s run by the Swedish Tourist Board but this isn’t a collation of picture book shots and platitudes. They give the @sweden Twitter to a new Swede every week. More than 20,000 people follow it. You can follow them here.
I know this writer! Qaisar Mahmood askes what it means to be Swedish. The answer he gets: ”Blond and reserved”.
— @sweden / Micke (@sweden) April 3, 2012
Walsall Council Countryside Officers – I’m a bit biased in that I know Morgan Bowers the countryside ranger but I absolutely love what she has done with social media. A digital native she uses her iphone to update Twitter with what she is doing, what newt survey results are and pictures of the sky over Barr Beacon. This is brilliant. You can follow her on Twitter here. Her manager Kevin Clements has also picked up the baton on Twitter with regular updates. You can follow him here and it’s good to see the burden shared.
Walsall Council Environmental Health Officer David Matthews – Britain’s first tweeting environmental health officer David Matthews was a big part in why Walsall 24 worked as an event. He was able to spot snippets of interest that he passed through for others to tweet. Afterwards, he didn’t need much persuasion to take up an account in his own name. The @ehodavid was puts out the normal updates and warnings but with added humour. Much of the frontline updates is anonymised. Pictures taken of dreadful takeaways need a health warning to look at during lunchtime. You can follow him here.
9 cases of Campylobacter food poisoning last week Symptoms include diarrhoea/vomiting/stomach/pains+cramps+fever FAQ? tinyurl.com/boeanm2
— David Matthews (@EHOdavid) April 2, 2012
Pc Rich Stanley blog – Walsall has a stong claim to be a digital outpost. One of the big reasons for this is the way West Midlands Police have picked up the baton – or should that be truncheon? – and embraced social media. Pc Rich Stanley uses Twitter well but also blogs excellently on various day-to-day aspects of the job. Here he talks about policing the Aston Villa v Chelse football game.
Walsall Council Social Care – People in social care do a brilliant job. They’re good at saving lives. Literally. But all too often they don’t do a good jo of telling their story. As a sector they shelter behind big stone walls and hope a high profile case like Baby P NEVER happens to them. Tina Faulkner and Becky Robinson are comms people who both understand old and new media and have blogged stories from the frontline. You can read them here.
Walsall Leather Museum Audioboo – Francesca Cox eyes lit up when she heard of Audioboo. A couple of days later she posted this chat with a demonstrator about her first day at work. What the clip does is open up all sorts of possibilities with oral history and when embedded on another website brings a different aspect to this.
US Army – Like geeks with an interest in sub-machine guns the people behind the US Army social media presence are blending both interests well. Pinterest is a way to collect pictures in the one place. If pictures tell 1,000 words this collection speaks a great deal on what messages the military would like to get across. It’s split into themes. You can find it here.
Can We Make Walsall A More Creative Place? – Walsal Council’s regeneration scrutiny committee wanted to look at the creative industries. We launched a Facebook page to begin to connect. Fifty people have liked it so far to allow the start of feedback. Face-to-face meetings are now planned. You can like it here.
NASA Facebook timeline – One of the many things I really love about this page is the way NASA have embraced timeline. Scroll back to 1965 and you can look at content they’ve updated from that year featuring the first NASA spacewalk. For any organisation with a long history this approach is a must. You can like it here.
Northycote Park and Country Park on Facebook - Wolverhampton Council’s parks team do a really good job of innovating using social media. They’ve been experimenting with creating Facebook pages for venues. This is Northycote Park and Country Park and has 200 likes a few weeks after it was launched. It has pictures of new born lambs and updates on events. You can like it here.
Monmouthshire Council Youth Service on Facebook – Hel Reynolds has flagged up this page. A youth worker updates it. Not a comms person. This means that it has a tone that suits the people it is aimed at and doesn’t come over as trendy uncle Monmouth breakdancing at a wedding. You can like it here.
US government’s EPA Documerica project on Flickr – In the early 1970s the Documerica project sent photographers to capture environmental issues across the country. They captured car jams, low flying planes, people meeting up in public spaces and other things. They’ve posted many of the images onto Flickr and they’re a time capsule of how the US was. You can see them here. To update them they have a blog to encourage a 2012 version here and a Flickr group here.
Torfaen Council on Flickr – Here’s a council that is posting images to Flickr routinely. They show a good range of images that residents can see. You can see them here.
WV11 on PACT meetings – The wv11 blog have worked with West Midlands Police to cover public meetings – known as PACT meetings – to allow residents to pose questions and see what is happening in their patch. It’s great work and shows how you can connect to people who want to be civic minded but struggle to reach meetings. You can read a blog of a meeting here and a storify here.
Oldham Council – It’s an excellent idea to make interactive council meetings. This Guardian pieces captures why.
Birmingham City Council – Comms officer Geoff Coleman has done some excellent work with live streaming council meetings. It opens up democracy and promotes transparency. It’s netted 10,000 views. You can read about it here.
Birmingham City Council’s election plans – This year plans to be a big year in Birmingham. There’s a chance of a change of administration and there will be great attention on the council and most importantly, how they communicate the changes in real time. What better way than crowd source what people want? You can read it here.
Caerphilly Council – Digital video clips are easy to consume but notoriously difficult to do effectively. Many have tried in local government but few have been as effective as Caerphilly Council with their nationally sigificant use of YouTube clips. One clip both pokes gentle fun at themselves and features a sheep with social media logos roaming the borough. It makes you smile. It keeps you informed. It’s fleecey brilliance.
Creative commons credits:
Road at Rifle, Ohio in 1972 http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3815027813/
Documerica Photographer, David Hiser, at Dead Horse Point, 05/1972 http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3814966348/
One of the great things about a bright idea is that someone comes along, innovates and makes it even better.
Last year Greater Manchester Police had the bright idea of tweeting all the calls they had in a 24 hour period for #gmp24.
At Walsall Council we picked up the ball and hooked up 18 Twitter accounts to tweet what an average local government day looked like for #walsall24.
The linked social approach went global with a 24 hour event that reached a potential audience of more than a million people.
Water Aid 24 was a worldwide operation realtime stories were posted from across the world moving from Australia to Nepal to Africa and South America.
It’s amazing the stories that were told. Here is a few:
- On the blog, Slus Simba, Papua New Guinea, on the Water Aid blog wrote about his pride in encouraging people to build life saving water toilets.
- In Nicaragua, Mishel, aged 15, has to collect water herself and walk home with it. We get to see a twitpic of her.
- In Mozambique, taps were installed at two primary schools while in Britain, the routine back office functions were tweeted.
- In Nepal, only 203 of 3,915 villages have been declared ‘open defecation free.’
- In Timor Leste, Jose ‘Rui’ de Oliveira Pires drives an hour by motorbike every day to remote villages to carry out work.
- In Liberia, it takes two days to travel 300 miles. Roads as well as water is needed.
It’s the bringing together of those stories that build a picture of work going on around the globe.
It brings the fact that people die from water borne disease right home to your smart phone. The subtle message is this: give us the means to act and we’ll do it for you.
But the YouTube clip recorded for Glastonbury that’s embedded above also helps deliver the message in a fun, accessible way.
There’s a few things I love about this:
It thinks big. It brings together a variety of voices to tell a louder story and it uses the real time approach that is uniquely powerful. There is a stronger connection made in real time by a message delivered with a picture.
But the campaign does not stay on Twitter. It’s on the Water Aid blog, YouTube on their website and is communicated through the traditional means through press release to the media. It’s brilliant stuff and shows how social media and traditional routes can work hand-in-hand.
You can also read the highlights of the event on storify here.
If William Wordsworth was alive today he’d be using Twitter.
Not the old stick-in-the-mud he became but the young man fired by revolution.
Why? Because he celebrated the English countryside through the media of the day.
How we think of the landscape was shaped by Wordsworth. Before him, mountains were frightful places. After? Beautiful. And Willie cashed in with an 1810 Guide to the Lakes that was the iphone app of its day.
Exploring how our countryside team could use social media made me trawl through some examples.
Whoever said places work can really well on social media were bang on. That’s especially true of parks and countryside. So how is social media being used by to promote the countryside? There’s some really good ideas in patches out there but nothing fundamentally game changing that makes you sit up and write verse. That says to me that there is plenty of potential.
Photography should be at the heart of what the public sector does with countryside and parks. Why? Because a picture tells a 1,000 words. Because they can bring a splash of green into someone’s front room or phone at one click. Criminally, many sites should be promoting the countryside relegate images to a postage stamp picture.
Here are 10 interesting uses:
1. The British Countryside Flickr group has more than 4,000 members and some amazing images. It’s a place where enthusiastic amateur photographers can share pictures and ideas.
2. Peak District National Park chief executive Jim Dixon leads from the front. He blogs about his job at www.jimdixon.wordpress.com and tweets through @peakchief. It’s a good mix of retweeting interesting content and puts a human face on an organisation.
3. Foursquare, Walsall Council added a landmark in a park as a location. The Pit Head sculpture in Walsall Wood was added to encourage people to visit and check-in. You can also make good use of ‘tips’ by adding advice.
4. On Twitter, @uknationalparks represents 15 UK national parks run a traditional Twitter feed with press releases, RTs and some conversation. With 2,000 followers it’s on 145 lists.
5. But you don’t have to be in a national park to do a goods job. In Wolverhampton, @wolvesparkies have a brilliantly engagingly conversational Twitter stream. There is passion, wit and information that make most councils seem the RSS press release machine that they are.
6. National Trust have an excellent Facebook profile. You may get the impression that members are 65 and own a Land Rover. That doesn’t come across here. They observe one of the golden rules of social media. Use the language of the platform. It’s laid back and it’ll tell you when events are planned.
7. Even more relaxed is the quite new I Love Lake District National Park is quite brilliant. It allows RSS, it blogs and it really encourages interaction. Heck, they even encourage people to post to the wall so they can move shots into albums.
8. On YouTube, West Sussex County Council have a slick short film on tree wardens that deserves more than 45 views in five months. Or does this show how much take up there is on YouTube?
9. The rather wonderful parksandgardens.ac.uk is an ambitious online tool for images of 6,500 parks and gardens and the people who created and worked in them. @janetedavis flagged this up. It’s a project she worked on and she should be proud of it. There’s a school zone to to connect to young people too and is populated by google map addresses and photographs. Really and truly, council parks and countryside pages should look like this but mostly don’t.
10. Less a government project, or even social media Cumbria Live TV celebrate the landscape they work in utterly brilliantly. Slick and powerful broadcast quality three minute films do more than most to capture the jaw dropping awe of the fells. They self-host some brilliant films on a changing site. Check them out here.
EIGHT things you CAN do aside from write bad poetry about daffodils and shepherds called Michael…
1. A Facebook fan page to celebrate a park or open space. Call it I love Barr Beacon. Yes, the Friends group can use it as a meeting place. But naming it after the place not the organisation leaves the door open to the public too.
2. Give a countryside ranger a Twitter account. Use @hotelalpha9 as an inspiration. Let them update a few times a day with what they’ve been up to. Post mobile phone pictures too.
3. Despite a dearth of amateur good examples there’s potential in short films to promote countryside. You only have to point a camera at something photogenic for people to come over all Lake Poet.
4. Start a Flickr group to celebrate your patch of countryside. Walsall has 1,000 acres of parks and countryside with amazing views and vistas.
5. Start a blog. WordPress takes minutes to set-up and after messing around only a short time to master. Tell people what you are up to. Whack up a few images. Lovely. For no cost.
6. Make your countryside and parks pages a bit more web 2.0. Use mapping to set out a location. Use Flickr images – with permission – to showcase the place.
7. Add your parks and countryside to a geo-location site such as Foursquare. If the future of social media is location, location, location then venues, landmarks and places will score big.
8. Text. With more mobile phones in the UK than people sometimes the humble text message can be overlooked as part of the package of ways to connect with people. Most councils are also text enabled. Create info boards around a park or countryside with numbers to text to recieve info on what they can see. Change it for the seasons to make best use.
Newlands Valley, Lake District, UK: Dan Slee.
Wordsworth: Creative commons courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.
Yorkshire Dales: Creative commons courtesy of Chantrybee http://www.flickr.com/photos/chantrybee/2911840052/
Flowers: Creative commons courtesy of Vilseskogen http://www.flickr.com/photos/vilseskogen/4182443498/
This blog post was inspired by #ukgc10′s local government hug session where one person asked for help in how to get started with social media. Some good pieces of advice came out. Here are some from the session and some that struck me afterwards…
You’ve read about social media. You may have thought it was a fad. Now you’ve been waking up at 3am with the gnawing thought that you’ll have to do something.
If you’re at this stage. Congratulations. You’re sharp. You’ve seen which way the wind is blowing. And, yes, it’s only going to blow harder.
So what to do?
Here’s some thoughts on how to go about turning your organisation into something fit for the 21st century.
It’s simply not enough to say that you must do it because Steven Fry does it. Or because it’s cool.
You need to construct a cohesive and persuasive argument backed by figures that will work with people who look on digital with the suspicious eye of a Daily Mail reader.
Step 1 – Look at the national picture.
More than 30 million people use social media in the UK, according to the most recent figures. Clicky Media’s figures are a good starting point.
You can compare this to national and local newspaper figures.
Locally, a 20 per cent dip in local papers is predicted by 2012 in weekly papers. In regional daily papers it’s more like 30 per cent.
In short: If you’ve always relied on your local paper to get your message out then think again.
Step 2 – Have a look at the sites.
There are dozens of social media sites.
For the sake of argument, look at six of the most popular sites.
YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr all do different things. For blogging, WordPress and Blogspot are key.
Don’t worry if it all looks an unclimbable. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Anyway, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has only just got round to joining Twitter himself. So, relax.
Join one if you like. See how it works. Get to know it.
In short: Don’t worry about not getting your head around all of them.
Get your head around them one at a time.
Dive in! That water is great….
Step 3 – See what some inspired people say.
All you need is out there on the internet. The trick is, like anything, knowing where to look. You’ll find it a creative, inspiring and sharing place if you choose to join.
There are some quality blog posts on the subject. Michelle Ide-Smith recently wrote a post that nails how to construct an argument in favour.
Have a look at these blogs for ideas an inspiration:
If you join Twitter – and I’ve learned so much from it I’d seriously recommend it – I’d also recommend these:
@sarahlay – Derbyshire webbie.
@alncl – Alastair Smith, Newcastle web man.
@davebriggs – Local government social media specialist.
@timesjoanna – Former Birmingham Post reporter turned Times writer. Great for links.
@liz_azyan – Lives and breathes local government and social media.
@gecko84 – Teckie Arsenal fan.
@abeeken - Lincolnshire webbie.
@mmmmmmcake – A stream about cake, believe it or not.
@pezholio – Local gov webbie from Staffordshire who is borderline genius. Also likes real ale.
@talkaboutlocal – a window into the amazing world of hyperlocal blogs that can serve a town or even a housing estate.
@wv11 – a hyperlocal blog based in Wednesfield, Wolverhampton. Shows how a local site can use it.
@philipjohn – a website developer who is a useful font of information.
@mashable – the Twitter version of the social media blog.
@doristhecow – Anchor butter’s well judged use of Twitter. I love it.
@scobleiser – Silicon Valley geek who writes about tech news.
@walsallcouncil – Because their use of social media is really, really, really inspired (disclaimer: I help write it).
Work out what activity there is in your area. These figures are a clincher so take an afternoon out to build this picture.
Paul Cole and Tim Cooper in Derbyshire did one for their area. They used mindmeister although you could use an exercise book. It’s just as good and you don’t have to re-boot it. It lists all trhe social media activity they could find.
Before you do, I’d find out the circulation figures for newspapers in your area. This is good to compare and contrast. The Walsall edition of the Express & Star, for example has sales of around 22,000.
For Facebook, there are 23 million users as of January 2010. Want to see how many are local to you? Log onto Facebook, then click the button marked ‘advertising’. Fill out an ad. Don’t worry you won’t get charged just yet. It’s then you reach the section that gets really interesting.
Here, you can ask Facebook how many people are registered within a 10 mile radius of a town. This gives some staggering figures. Click the box marked ‘location’ and put in the town you want to aim at.
In Walsall, in January 2010 there are 170,000 people on Facebook within 10 miles of the town. The population of the borough is around 250,000 and the 10 mile radius also spills out into part of Staffordshire, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. But, you get the picture.
There are therefore, around eight times as many Facebook users as buy copies of the Express & Star in the wider Walsall area, you may argue.
For Twitter, it’s harder to work out your area’s figure. Nationally, by November 2009 there are 5.5 million UK users. You’ll have to work out your area’s percentage of the national population, then divide the Twitter users by that percentage.
For YouTube, log on and search for your area or town. You’ll be surprised. Using the keyword ‘Walsall’ gave just less than 5,000 clips.
Same with Flickr. This is a photo sharing website. Count how many images of your patch there are. The Walsall Flickr group of more than 80 members, for example have around 5,000 iamges of their home borough.
WordPress and Blogspot. Search for your areas and they’ll crop up on blogs.
Step 5 – Get your arguments ready
There’s a brilliant few resources online with the most common arguments against social media and the counter arguments to deploy.
They work a treat.
Now, if you are particularly brave you can cut to this one skipping step four entirely.
The argument goes like this. Just flipping do it. By the time anyone important notices it’ll have reached critical mass and harder to close down.
It’s not something I’ve done but other far braver people have and with great success. Will Perrin – @willperrin on Twitter – often talks about how he deliberately avoided asking permission to launch Downing Street’s petition site.
Step 7 – Call in an expert.
There’s a good quote about a Prophet never being recognised in his own land.
The translation of this is if you think they won’t listen to you they may listen to someone from outside.
It’s worked on several occasions with local authorities who have called in Nick Booth’s Podnosh company. Dave Briggs and Simon Wakeman from Medway Council have done similar jobs.
However, do be careful of people who call themselves social media experts. Or ninjas. Or any such rot. They’re almost certainly not and there are plenty of snake oil salesmen about right now.
Now you are up and running as nobody will be able to counter such stunning arguments it doesn’t end there. No, sir.
The social media head of one of Britain’s main parties once said that up to half his job is taken up with winning the internal argument.
Report back progress and keep a measure of followers and activity.
Banning social media is rather like trying to outlaw the telephone in the 19th century.
It’s a communications channel. We need to embrace it. Smile. It’s the future. And your children’s.
It’s 3am, freezing and snow is about to fall.
Within an hour roads will be covered with a snow blanket children will squeal at and commuters will swear at.
It’s a race against time. And a time when the myth ‘all local government clocks off at 5 o’clock’ is tucked up along with everyone else.
If roads are not gritted there will be rush hour chaos, anger and hell to pay. Just ask the councils who look after Reading and Basingstoke.
Gritting is one of 800 often unseen vital local government jobs.
So as local government isn’t it a good idea to use social media to let people know what we are doing?
Or in other words, it’s not enough to do the job and hope residents pick up on what you are doing. That’s trickledown public relations. It doesn’t work.
What is increasingly important is doing the job and letting people know you are doing a job.
Gritting is a perfect way to marry an important service with social media.
It’s fast, immediate and talks to the resident direct. No need to wait for the evening paper to come out and people – hopefully – turning to halfway down page 16 to read what you are doing.
At Walsall, in the winter period we decided to tweet gritting information. In winter time gritting is becoming – like school closures and the cancellation of markets and events – important to communicate by social media.
At Walsall, in the winter period we decided to tweet gritting information. That was on top of schools closures, household waste and which schools are open.
There is a winter service plan at Walsall. It’s a 49-page document that sets out the 16 gritting routes covering more than 250 miles of road – that’s 50.1 per cent of the network.
A duty engineer checks weather data and assesses the risk of freezing temperatures. It’s down to them to make the call to order the fleet out.
Why? We already had a twitter feed @walsallcouncil with 1,000 followers. As the result of regular press queries we had good relations with the transport officers responsible for it. It was a small step to actually tweeting the info.
How? Engineers were primed to email when they made the decision to order out the gritting teams. Press officers are equipped with Blackberries and are able to pick up the email and use Twitter.
When? FHow? Engineers were primed to email when they made the decision to order out the gritting teams. Press officers are equipped with Blackberries and are able to pick up the email and use Twitter.
When? From December 28 2009 to January 8 2010 we tweeted 71 times. We’d warn we were going out. We’d also link to advice on our website and issue urgent advice. There was a spate of thefts from the 175 grit bins, for example. Two incidents were reported to West Midlands Police. That was tweeted too. We also retweeted relevant @wmpolice advice and @metoffice updates.
Here’s some examples:
Grit update – Careful on the roads tonight. We’re gritting at 10pm after a sharp fall in temperature.
Grit update – We’re out. You’ll not be suprised to know. Take it steady on the roads. We’ll be monitoring the weather through the night.
Thanks @richjohnstone_. Heard back from a gritting team in Pheasey. A trip through the night is highly likely.
How was it received? Very well. There were two negative comments about what we were doing. But overall, there was a heck of a lot more positive feedback. We even had a couple of positive blog comments.
Spotted a @walsallcouncil gritter in the Crescent, Walsall! Good work guys.
We also responded to incidents in almost real time. A burst water main was flagged up as an ice hazard at a busy junction. We called engineers who were able to send out an emergency gritter as part of rounds…
@WalsallCouncil looks like a water main has burst – leighswood ave / middlemore lane WS9 – traffic lights being set up – traffic chaos
Thanks @stevieboy378. The Leighswood Ave / Middlemore Lane water leak has been added to the duty gritters’ list.
We got some positive, real time response. Forwarded to the team on the ground it was a boost to the drivers.
We also backed up the Twitter activity with a short film shot on a Flip camera and posted to YouTube.
We supported this with a press release to local media and trade press.
HOW OTHERS HAVE TACKLED IT…
The Walsall Council approach was by no means unique. There have been several other councils looking at gritting and social media.
In Warwickshire, a gritter was fitted so that it could send out geotagged tweets on it’s route. It’s a great idea in principle. But I do reckon @warwickwinter will need a few tweaks. Or is four or five tweets a minute okay if you lived in the area?
The hugely talented @pezholio took a look at the Warwick approach and drew up a test geotagged map. It’s a fantastic idea that could realy work. You can see a map of where the gritter has been and at what time. It would solve at a stroke the argument from an angry resident that swears blind his road hasn’t been visited.
Kirklees Council has also some good things with @kirkleeswinter
Essex Council have also been tweeting gritting through their mainstream Twitter account. As this is something that has a 700+ following it makes sense to inform as many people as possible. Camden Council have also kept up a good output with snow updates through their central Twitter feed.
Also, big up Sutton Council who have provided a map of grit bins. However, with thefts taking place across the country of grit – and the bins themselves – would this escalate problems with crime?
ELEVEN THINGS TO BEAR IN MIND
1. GET PLUGGED INTO YOUR ENGINEERS – arrrange with your engineers to let you know when they’re gritting, find out what the standard questions are and find out what the answers are – or who can tell you them.
2. MONITOR TWITTER - Have someone monitoring who can use the corporate Twitter. Tweet out-of-hours. Explode a few myths.
3. CONVERSATIONAL – Be conversational. On-the-spot tweets are a good way to use Twitter and to turn around important inform
4. YES, YOU WILL GET FLAK – People will accuse you of not gritting. Even when you have. They’ll also want their side street gritted when you don’t do side streets. You’ll need to have a form of words ready. Bear in mind that social media is another form of communication. Those conversations you’ll have over the phone you’ll also have via Twitter. With this stuff you can be part of the conversation that is already taking place.
5. PASS IT ON – Even if you have an answer to the tweet cut, paste and pass it onto the engineers.
6. TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT – Make a log of your activity and pass it on internally. Don’t keep it t yourself. Create a Slideshare for your power point.
7. RESPOND TO @REPLIES – Where you can, try and respond. Even if it’s just to say ‘Thanks for your tweet. We’ll pass it on.’ People don’t expect a detailed answer within seconds. An acknowledgement is only what you do off-line. But if you can act, then respond quick.
8. YOUTUBE. A film of gritters shot on a Flip video camera is cheap and effective.
9. THINK PICTURES – Tweet pics of what you are doing. Add to the community’s Flickr group pool with your shots of council staff in action.
10. EXPLAIN, LISTEN, PROMOTE – It’s clear that everyone in your organisation won’t be an advocate of social media. Even if the person at the top ‘gets it’ you need to be aware that you may have to re-sell to managers. Possibly at times of great stress and pressure. Be patient.
11. THINK GEOTAGGING – Technology exists to geotag vehicles. It’s a small step to produce a googlemap where people can go to se when and where their street has been treated. Talk to engineers and you’ll find that hours are spent insisting to residents that yes, their street has been gritted. Wouldn’t it be simpler to let people log on if the technology already exists?
Sarah Lay’s blog on Christmas social media activity. http://bit.ly/5AGZSG