DODGING HIPPOS: How to say ‘no’ to the highest paid person in the room without actually saying ‘no’

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Its been a busy few months. One of the good things about it is travelling to places and hearing new ideas. Often when I’m training I come back with a few pearls of wisdom.

I heard about HIPPOs when I was in Devon.

Not the large irratable African animals that can block and then flatten your car. Oh, no. The HIPPO is the Highest Pail Person’s Opinion. The HIPPO in the room can flatten your idea simply because they are the ones with the large salary and the job title.

There was a smile of recognition in the room at the description. I smiled too.

Problems HIPPOs pose

Bright leaders know they don’t have all the answers and surround themselves with people who are expert in their field. Bright leaders listen. Less bright – lets call them heroic leaders – think they have to have the answers and stand on top of the tank and point heroically.

It’s where the ‘the executive director would like a poster’ line comes from.

The problem with this is they are rarely right.

Convincing HIPPOs they are wrong

Of course, once the HIPPO has spoken you are in trouble.  It’s then you against the senior person and it can be very tricky for you to turn the column of tanks around. But you need to. If you don’t give your professional advice there is little between you and a shorthand typist.

But the problem can be is that it can appear as though it is you folding your arms and saying ‘no’ because you are just being difficult.

The way round it is by adopting a process to find the best idea.

Data driven communications

One slide I very often point to is from the Edelman Trust Barometer. This research was started the best part of 20 years ago after the Battle in Seattle when anti-globalisation protesters clashed with police. ‘Why do people hate us?,’ the cry went up and the research helped map trust.

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The useful thing about this is that tells you that the person like your self with 53 per cent is more trusted than the director who has 38 per cent. So, if the issue is around children playing on railway lines,  then children and maybe parents are the best people to deliver that message.

Need another example? The acclaimed NHS #thisgirlcan campaign used the word ‘girl’ rather than woman or female because the data said that the word ‘girl’ would cut through to most people. So data won and helped the campaign fly.

Data driven communications is a really good idea.

It’s not you that’s saying ‘no’. It’s letting the data points to the right answer and that just takes the sting and the personality out of it.

And that can be brilliant for getting past HIPPOs.

Picture credit: Daniel Jureno / Flickr

 


PUNK ATTITUDE: Today’s comms person needs to learn three chords and form a band over and over to still have a job in 20 years time

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It’s funny how two things collide and you start thinking about things in new ways.

Take today. I’m reading Jon Savage’s history of punk  ‘England’s Dreaming.’ It talks of Sniffing Glue fanzine’s revolutionary advice on forming a band. Learn two chords. Then a third. Now form a band.

Why? Because punk was simple. Anyone could do it. You needed a lot of attitude and some talent.

Later today, I’m reading Paul Sutton talking about the music industry and how society will change in 20 years time when there are those who’ve only ever known social media.

It got me thinking.

Never mind society. Will there even be a place for today’s comms people in a world in 20 years time when there are people around who’ve always known social media?

Your music collection is shaped by someone you’ve never met

Here’s a story. Bear with me. Once, when I worked in local government comms I worked with the museums service on an exhibition to celebrate the life and career of a bloke called Steve Jenkins.

Steve who?

Steve Jenkins.

The exhibition ‘Kylie, Britney, Justin and Me’ was about Steve’s behind-the-scenes role in the music industry across 25 years. He was a hugely powerful figure who had a role in more than 140 top 40 UK hits. He was part of the talent-spotting team that signed Britney Spears as part of a two year project to find the new Madonna. He was MD of Jive Records and the marketing brains behind Stock, Aiken and Waterman. He is a fascinating bloke.

He was also a press officer’s dream. Pete Waterman? They both used to plan campaigns in the back of a car going to Walsall games. Or the time they HAD to get Kylie’s album in the Top 40 or Pete faced ruin. They did. Just. And a pop star was born. Boom.

I met Steve back in 2009 and we’d only just started to use social media. He was intrigued by it. I’d love to go back and use what I’ve learned to promote it.

Save yourself by being a geek

Steve Jenkins got good because he was a geek about music and how the charts worked. As a record industry marketeer, he discovered that by promoting your record in Woolworths on a certain day with certain strategies would be the difference between a new entry at 38 – and the boost of a mention on Top of the Pops – and one that would stall at 42 and sink without trace. So, he signed an exclusive deal with Woolworths that saw only him place promotional content in their chain of stores. If you were a record exec who wanted to break top 40 you’d have to deal with him and his marketing company.

I often think of Steve when today I hear comms geeks speak about a way they’ve maybe got the algorithm to work for them. You’ve got to know the topic, love it, be able to take it apart and put it back together again and think about nothing but it when you’re walking down the street.

And once you’ve cracked it you need to do it all over again.

Why is this relevant?

To understand ANY landscape you need to be a geek and that won’t change. How people use social media shifts rapidly. For people who’ve only known social media understanding it in 2038 would be no trouble. They’d be fascinated by it but would they be a geek about it? Some will. Some won’t.

What the landscape will look like in 20 years

Today, it’s fine to have a range of traditional and digital skills. But the dial is turning slowly towards digital and it’s not turning back. Two things not to be fooled by? That the future will be 100 per cent digital. Or that your ability to write a press release will save you. It won’t. There was a pitch at commscamp last week about Analogue Comms and what role it still plays. If I’d have gone to that session I’d have said that what we’ll need are not skills but an attitude.

Your challenge? You’ll have to float and adapt

But the big challenge for those of us around today and who want to be in 20 years is in attitude. You’ll need to be able to float and adapt. Lessons learned in the early days of the internet are already as out-of-date as 1976’s payola tricks for today’s music pluggers. Those who have made their name in working out what the social web is for need to know this.

The gap between head frying innovation and mundane expectation has never been shorter. Once, telling people election results on Facebook in real time was ground-breaking. Today? That’s bread and butter.

When Punk came, new lessons had to be learned.

History tells us that not everyone will adapt.

To survive, you may have to ditch every single thing you know.

You’ll need to learn three new chords and form a new band.

Over and over.

That’s going to be your challenge.

Excited by that yet?

Picture credit: Eddy Van 3000 / Flickr 


THREE LIONS: How the FA have changed how they use video to communicate

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There’s a time limit to this post. I hurry to write it before England play Columbia in the round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

My first World Cup watching England was in 1982. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve been let down. Let’s get this straight. I’m a cynic.

How the FA used to communicate with video

There was a bloke called Graham Taylor who was the face of the FA. He was 40 in 1985 but his jowly face and provincial solicitor fashion mode made him look so much older. That he was the face of the FA tells you all you need to know. This is him in action, children, with an even older bloke called Ted Croker.

Fun, no?

How the FA now communicate

Coming into the 2018 World Cup, the FA ditched how they normally communicate the squad they’d be sending. Rather than a man walking into a room and reading a list of names to a roomful of journalists they released it straight to their audience.

They made a video aimed at young people of young people shouting the names of players out. A girl in a kit slides in celebration shouting Danny Rose’s name, kids on a bus Harry Kane. It’s a list of optimism and celebration.

Here’s the interesting thing.

My video skills colleague Steven Davies dislikes it. He’s Welsh but he makes valid criticism of the video as sometimes hard to follow with regional accents, a lack of sub-titles and others.

I get that and I recognise the valid criticisms. But I love it. I love how it makes me feel optimistic.

It’s short. It has the demographic in mind. It’s visual with fast cuts and I love it.

Tournament video

It’s also not a one-off. Through the tournament the FA have been producing a stack of content from match highlights to behind the scenes content and quizzes between players that are all shareable across their YouTube, Facebook and Twitter channels.

But just in case it all goes wrong, I’m posting this blog ahead of the Columbia game.

I’m @danslee on Twitter and dan@comms2point0.co.uk. If you hate missing out on the good stuff subscribe to my weekly email here.


30 days of human comms #45 University of Reading

I’ve written before about the trend for drawing a line in the sand on social media.

It’s something I’m in favour at he right time and right place.

Normally, I’ve featured things that are pretty defensible. The police Facebook comment pointing out that the reason we have speed cameras is death on the road, for example.

This tweet from the University of Reading either is just the right side of things or oversteps the mark.

Personally, I get it.

On the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group, there was dissenting voices between those who liked and those who think this is helping to coarsen debate.

There is no one size fits all with content. This may work in some organisations but not in others.

Using an unscientific yardstick, there are more than 5,000 likes and of the replies there was mix of comments.

I’m @danslee on Twitter and dan@comms2point0.co.uk. If you hate missing out on the good stuff subscribe to my weekly email here.


ROBOT COMMS: What public sector comms people need to know about artificial intelligence

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There’s this amazing clip from late 1970s Blue Peter where the presenters are demonstrating the first commercial mobile phone.

John Noakes stays in the studio while Peter Purves heads into the Blue Peter garden and whips out from under his mac an over the shoulder plastic phone. You can tell the smugness in his voice as he dials his colleague.

Ladies and gentlemen, the mobile phone.

And so, Artificial Intelligence – or AI – will become as normal as texting or taking a selfie is now. This is not sci-fi fantasy but what is happening today. Just less than four million Google Home and Amazon Alexa devices have been sold in the UK, researchers voicebot.ai say. By far the largest number in Europe.

But, what is Artificial Intelligence?

In 2018, most people don’t know what Artificial Intelligence is. But what they do know is it sounds scary. In a nutshell, they are computers that learn. The dictionary definition is computer systems that can complete tasks that normally require human intelligence such as visual recognition, speech recognition and decision making.

To get you started, I’d suggest taking six minutes to watch the HubSpot animation that makes it as Blue Peter as possible without a trip into the Italian Sunken Garden:

Artificial Intelligence can be very scary, can’t it?

AI at home is still the preserve of early adoptors. My video skills colleague Steven has had one for months. When he asks Google to do something it often even does the thing he’s asked it to do.

Me? I’m in several camps. I want to know more as it is going to shape the world we live in but I’m dubious. I’m not thrilled by the idea of a swarm of killer drones. I’m not that thrilled that the top search for military drones is the Chinese mail-order giant Alibaba. Robotics researcher Peter Haas in his Ted Talk talks about the lack of ethics in the field.

Me? I’m more struck by the rather excellent @internetofshit that talks RTs accounts of Teslas being stranded in the desert as they can only re-start with a mobile phone signal. Or the lift that can’t be used because of a system update.

In that context, AI is very, very scary indeed. But that’s not where AI is right now.

Artificial Intelligence is here, baby. Right here

Of course, its not all swarms of drones with machine guns.  In fact. It’s hardly that at all. Former CIPR President Stephen Waddington has been leading some superb work to look at where AI is in PR. I simply cannot recommend his work enough.

Through the #AIinPR project, Stephen and around 20 volunteers have collated an open list of tools that already have elements of AI in them. The results are truly surprising. There are more than 150 tools identified that have an element of AI in them.

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The full Google sheet with the findings can be found here.

What’s striking about the list is how commonplace the tools are. Link shortener bitly, for exampls, has been a staple for the best part of a decade. Mailchimp, If This Then That and Canva are staples of my working day. Your’s too, maybe.

So, if AI is also day-to-day, doesn’t that mean that AI is already having an impact on PR and comms?

The answer to that is ‘yes.’

How much AI is affecting you… and will affect you

Again, Stephen Waddington’s inspired research is useful to map the next steps. His work leads into CIPR’s excellent ‘Humans Still Required’ report by Canadian academic Jean Valin. This sets out how much of PR is already AI-affected. At the moment, 12 per cent of PR is potentially AI. That’s things like evaluation, data processing, programming and curation.

But it starts getting even more interesting when looking at the future. The figure rises to 36 per cent by 2023. There’s a whole range of areas that can be maximised from stakeholder analysis to reputation monitoring. Areas like ethics, law and career management stay outside the long reach of the robots.

Other research from the University of Oxford put PR managers as the 67th safest from a list of more than 700.

All this is striking. But where does it affect you?

The future is already quietly colliding with the presentout of view.  There is no one single moment but a series of moments. It’s already happening. There is no announcement to close 100 pits but 100,000 decisions to use different software that can help you do your job more easily.

AI will come not through the organisation but through suppliers. In all likelihood, this won’t be driven by individual teams writing code but an arms race between providers. A to-be-invented Google tool, for example. Or the news management software company that adds AI elements to existing AI elements to its own existing press release management system.

Content will be written by AI. News agency Press Association are experimenting with distributing news stories written by AI. If news stories can be written this way then press releases and other content can be too. But that’ll be through a supplier doing the hard yards and pricing it.

At first, AI knowledge will be outsourced. Given the rapid developments in the sector and the fact that existing public sector teams are busy enough already there isn’t the headspace. Advice from outside will be important at the start. It’ll be as much about efficiencies as it is delivering a better job.

Sit back, but don’t sit back. Others will be doing the hard yards to make this work. But don’t sign your future away.  A baseline need to understand AI is needed. You won’t need to know how to code. But you will know how that code can affect you and most importantly of all, you’ll need to know the ethics and the law of it.  For the public sector, this is going to be tricky. Right now, there isn’t a publicly-accepted code of ethics for AI. But there are broader approaches that can govern it across the sector. Like GDPR, for example.

Leaders will have to lead to bring teams along. AI is and can be scary. It is different. Yes, it can mean fewer people doing the job. But the tasks it may replace are likely to be the routine in comms and PR rather than the the big ticket. You won’t be sending a robot along the corridor to the crisis meeting with emergency planning to discuss the three day old fire. You will be automating the fire’s evaluation.

The risk of ‘computer says no’ IT teams. PR and comms risk outsourcing AI knowledge at their own peril. From fear or ignorance, there is a temptation to look to IT for answers. But with many IT teams being the blocker and struggling even 10 years on with social media, this isn’t a strategy to take. You need to know some of the basics yourself to work out what can and can’t be done.

Data driven decisions. Often public sector comms can be driven by personality, politicians and practice. One of the great achievements of the UK’s Government Communications Service is to move away from comms that’s just churning stuff out for the sake of it. But other teams and other organisations still shoot from the hip. In an emergency, there is nothing better than working at speed on-the-hoof. That skill will stay hugely valuable. But there feels like a clash between this and the more data-driven strategic approach of AI. It’ll be interesting to see how this works itself out.

Reputational damage and lots of it. The application of bad AI in parts of the sector will be keenly felt. The self-driving car delivering meals on wheels to the wrong house. The very idea of self-driving cars delivering meals on wheels in the first place.  This will all be bread and butter. The benefits of AI won’t be celebrated but the disasters absolutely will be. There is a huge role for comms in explaining – and warning – against the delivery.

‘Hey Google, what time does the tip close?’ Websites are useful but cumbersome things. Your organisation will not prosper if they can’t work with tools like Alexa. One idea kicking around is for a box in the kitchen that talks to the local council website and flashes the colour of the right bin that needs to go out the night before. That’s AI right there, that is.

Learning. Ever learning. The comms person who thinks they’ve learned everything is the one who will be replaced. This is not remotely a bold statement. We’re seeing it. If the only skill you have is writing press releases that’s not something you’ll be getting a new job with. But a range of skills and a willingness to learn gives you a chance of a career. AI just underlines this. Stephen Waddington’s advice to learn, read and keep learning is valuable.

Open the pod bay doors, Hal. In 2001 A Space Odyssey the human is faced down by Hal the robot who refuses to open the pod bay doors. This is one moment is the nightmare scenario for humans. It’s the moment when computers take control. But I’m genuinely not seeing this in comms and PR just yet. Hal the robot refusing to do write the Facebook update? Probably not. R2D2 software running the alerts and producing the reports for you? Then next week producing machine-learnt better reports? Absolutely.

Pic credit: Robot by Alexander Svensson /Flickr.  

 

 

 

 


HARD DAYS: Two things The Beatles can teach you about tips for making effective short form video

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My Mum once did something astounding when she was younger. She blew out the Beatles.

She was about 20 and working in Liverpool city centre in the early 60s when a friend asked her to come see this new band that was playing lunchtime concerts at The Cavern club.

Off my Mum went, but half way down the steps she halted hit by a wall of sweaty heat rising from the subterranean club.

“I’m not going in there,” she said, “it’s too hot and smelly.”

And by those slight chances history passes you by.

For the past three years I’ve co-delivered workshops to show comms people how to plan, shoot and edit effective comms video. I come back to The Beatles to give two tips because people are switching off your video far quicker than you’d like them to.

Beatles video tip #1: Make your video like a pop single

In the UK, 71 per cent of the population have a smartphone and research shows we check our phones on average more than 85 times a day. So as we scroll we make snap decisions on what to watch and for how long for.

Your audience will make a decision on whether or not to watch your video within a few seconds. Surprised by this? Pick up your smartphone and go scrolling. You’ll quickly come across a video auto-playing. How much did you watch? A few seconds? And then you scrolled down to the next?

Did you watch with sound? On Facebook 85 per cent of people don’t.

The Beatles came from an era when singles were king. So, they made records to be singles. They needed a hook straight away. They needed you to listen.

When I think of The Beatles’ ‘Taxman’ I think of the count in and the riff. For ‘Twist and Shout’  I hear the guitar riff and John Lennon singing ‘shake it up baby’. Think of any Beatles song and within five seconds you’ve got a hook. You need to think of this when you are making a short form video. Put your best content right at the start. Make people watch. If you save it for the end chances are it’ll just be you.

Beatles video tip #2: John Lennon and the Beatles are bigger than Jesus

When I was a reporter I found hard news easy to write. Put who, what, when, where, why, how in the intro for a hard news story and you have a ‘clothes line’ interview. Dead easy.

I found writing a feature much harder. A feature is a more expansive think piece where you can be more creative.

The best tip I came across for writing a feature was simply this… put the best line in the intro. So the first line of the John Lennon interview should be:

“We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.”

So, put your best visual content at the start to get people to stop scrolling and watch.

I’m @danslee on Twitter and dan@comms2point0.co.uk. If you hate missing out on the good stuff subscribe to my weekly email here.

Pic credit: Tyler Merbler / Flickr

 

 

 


UPDATED: What are the best lengths for social media video?

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All video is no the same… it really does depend on what channel you are looking to post it to.

Where your audience is should frame what channels you are looking that.

In turn, those channels should have a big say in how long your video should be.

So, if you are aiming at people on Facebook, 15 seconds for video that is likeley to drop through the timeline is best. Longer than that and your audience is likely to be evaporating.

Here’s an update on the optimum times.

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Notes and queries on the research

YOUTUBE: The maximum length of 15 minutes can be increased to 12 hours through a straight forward verification step.  Optimum length is much shorter.

FACEBOOK: Facebook maximum length against Facebook’s own suggested lengths for ads. INSTAGRAM: Maximum length was increased from 15 seconds to 60 seconds with research via Newswhip suggesting a much shorter length. TWITTER: Maximum length of 240 seconds   is comfortably within Hubspot’s suggested 45 seconds.

SNAPCHAT: Maximum length is a mere 10 seconds but Hootsuite suggest five seconds is the sweet spot.

PERISCOPE: A maximum length and the sky is the limit but there is no research on what the optimum length of a live broadcast is.  FACEBOOK LIVE: Can run for 240 minutes but 19 minutes is best say Buzzsumo.

LINKEDIN is the new kid on the block with native uploaded video. Five minutes is the most you can upload and there is research that the best length is 30 seconds.

Other platforms

There’s a number of other ways to present video I’ve not touched upon. VIMEO has fallen behind in recent years but still has fans and you can upload via VIMEO LIVE with a premium account. You can go live via YOUTUBE LIVE but there is little accessible guidance for the amateur. FLICKR can take video of up to 1GB but will only play back the first three minutes.

360 & VR Facebook and YouTube in particular are chasing this new way of shooting video but there is little out there on maximum and optimum upload times.

I’m @danslee on Twitter and dan@comms2point0. If you hate missing out on the good stuff subscribe to my weekly email here.

Picture credit: Documerica / Flickr