As it turns out, I’m not alone. According to one estimate there are more than 200 million and that’s not event counting micro-blogging platform Twitter.
For me, it’s a place to think things through, bounce an idea or record something as a snapshot and it was fascinating to read through the other entries CIPR President Stephen Waddington captured in ‘The Business of Blogging.’ You can read it here.
There is also a slideshare where you can read and download.
This is my short contribution:
There’s a loose network of people in the public sector I’m proud to belong to. We’ve been called ‘militant optimists’ because despite everything we’re still determined to make a difference.
We work in central government – or in my case local government – and we organise through Twitter, we meet-up and we kick around ideas, we learn and we share through blog posts.
Why do we bother? Because we’re all in it together. We’re all facing cuts and we’re seeing empty chairs where colleagues used to be. We’re faced with the internet turning old certainties on its head.
We’re not in competition against each other so we can collaborate. We stage our own events that anyone can come to and we share ideas afterwards on blog posts that have become the currency for learning in a sector where training budgets have been stripped where the rule book hasn’t been written and it’s never been more important to do a good job. For us blogging is booming and mobile is simply sharing our ideas on the go.
I’ve blogged for five years. Why do I blog? Because I can flesh out an idea far easier online than in practice. I can capture or share. It’s changed how I think, how I work and I’m finding doors opening that the blog has led me to.
Creative commons credit
There was an event the other day in Whitehall which looked at this very topic which I would have loved to have got to. But I work in the West Midlands so that wasn’t going to happen.
It’s a good question and one that I’d given a lot of thought to just recently. Not just because the LGComms Future Leaders course I’d been involved with was asked just this question and asked to come up with a presentation.
One of the good things about being in the public sector is the ability to share ideas and approaches. This doesn’t happen in the private sector. As one person recently put it, they’ll tell you what they did but they’ll just leave out a vital piece of information so you can’t follow. It’s like handing over a car without the spark plugs.
So here are some things that should happen.
6 things to bring local and central government comms people together
1. Realise that each side isn’t the enemy. You’d be forgiven for thinking sometimes reading the Daily Mail that local government was to blame for the banking crisis, Northern Rock and the nationalisation of the banks. Just think what would have happened had local government mis-sold products. Step aside from the headlines and realise that there is more to bring civil Service and local government comms people together. We both face the question ‘what does communications mean in 2014?’ for example.
2. Paid secondments both ways. A few years ago a secondment from local government into the civil service could have been do-able. Not now. There isn’t the spare capacity anymore in local government. But funded posts could help backfill and share the knowledge. Even better if they are French-exchange-style two way affairs. Better still if they involve co-operation on the same project.
3. Open up central government training to local government. The Goverment Communications Service (formerly the Government Communications Network) stages a range of good training opportunities. It would be great if this was open to local government too.
4. Open up local government seminars to central government. Places like LGComms put on some excellent sessions. The different perspective of a Whitehall comms person would be useful. Just as the comms person more used to dealing with the community would be a benefit to a central government person.
5. Encourage events like commscamp. In February last year more than 130 comms people from Whitehall and local government came together in a joint event for what must have been the first time. There were more than 400 on the waitlist when it was turned off. The agenda was decided on the day by those who went. Anarchy? Not really. It worked beautifully. It was organised by people in central and local government in their own time. (Disclaimer: I’m biased as I helped co-organise commscamp.)
6. Realise that neither side is better. They’re just different. As government departments put more focus on stakeholder groups local government listens to residents more. At a time when the Foreign Office is putting more effort – rightly – into answering queries on Twitter there’s pr people in Staffordshire or Norfolk who could tell them a few things. They are two different skills. It made me realise that neither side is better. We’re just different.
7. We both work in the public sector and should be proud of that. Sure, the private sector does some good things. But we delivered the Olympics, we save lives, we keep the roads running, our children educated and a whole load of other things too. How much better is that than flogging toothpaste?
EDIT: GCS courses are also now available to local government people. That’s welcome.
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An unexpected email dropped the other day from the nice people at Cision. They’ve rated this blog as 4th in their list of UK PR blogs.
I haven’t a clue what metrics they’ve used but I suspect pictures of cake have played a role in this. Still, this did make me smile.
It also prompted me to take a look back at what I’ve written and knock up a quick top 10.
If you’ve not come across this blog, then hello. If you’ve read it before, welcome back. It’s a blog that looks mostly at digital communications in local government and whose ideas, I’d suggest, can transfer to other sectors.
Why blog? To contribute to the debate, to float an idea and to chuck up an idea to see if it works. Even though I’m posting a lot to comm2point0 these days I’ll always look to cross-post here too.
A top 10 of posts
‘Die Press Release Die’ and Six Other Things PR People Need To Know - In 2006 Tom Foremski wrote a blog that was a scream of frustration at how public relations hadn’t grasped that the world was changing. I loved it and when presenting to LGComms gave a presentation on the idea and what it now means.
Channel Shift – A Future for Public Sector Comms in 2013? – A post about why we need to have an end result to what we do and how that can be powerful when its linked to a major aim for an organisation.
Why Solutions Not Shiny Matter Most – A post about a comment from a chief executive that we should stop being evangelists and go with digital as a solution if we really want to make a difference. He was right and still is.
37 skills, abilities and platforms for today’s comms person – A post about the skills we need today’s comms landscape. I wrote this in a deckchair in Devon with a cup of tea which is why I’m particularly fond of it. I’m sure cake was involved too.
11 Rules of Social Media in an organisation - A post about the ingredients you’ll need to make things work using social media in an organisation.
Twitter Gritter: Gritting and Social Media – A post about the idea of when local government goes out and does something that it tells people. What a fine idea is that?
27 Ways To Give Your Organisation a Smiley Face With Twitter – Which was the first blog post I wrote where I found a voice back in 2009 and began to hit my stride. We’d been using Twitter for six months and looking back it’s a bit perscriptive and you can pick and choose I’m still rather proud of this.
Stop Being Irrelevant: Five Things Every Comms Person Should Know – For a while I was getting quite irritated at the stick-in-the-mud head-in-the-sand attitude of the PR industry. It still irritates. But I get the sense that the penny has dropped and things are evolving. This was a shouty wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee post.
‘I’m Showing Two Colleagues Twitter. They Say They Don’t Get It.’ – When I wrote this @twitter picked it up and shared it and 23,000 people came and saw it in the space of a month. Mad, really.
Why I Blog And You Should Too – Sets out why I do this and still do.
And 10 blogs you need to look at
So, thank you for reading and thank you for sharing.
Rolling Stones http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/2782376836/sizes/l/
Seeing as the only thing I’m affecting between Christmas and New Year is a large cake tin and a box of celebrations I’ll be ignoring the man who helped put Clinton in the White House.
But first here’s a few things I predicted 2013 would have in store for us in my corner of local government communications on my own blog in 2012.
For those who’d like to point and laugh here is my 2011 predictions too for 2012
The ones that came off…
Comms teams have been becoming smaller. The recent comms2point0 survey revealed to 31 per cent thinking their team would shrink as against 19 per cent who thought they would grow.
Twitter defamation lawyers4u will become a reality. Partly true. The Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow settled in the High Court over a defamatory tweet and action was taken against scores of others. But ambulance chasing hasn’t quite happened yet.
Innovation will wither as spare capacity is cut. True. It’s certainly harder to experiment in a far smaller team just as the need for experimentation has increased.
The private sector has been better at innovating in digital comms. They’ve the budget and the will. But this doesn’t always mean private is better than public in all cases. They have different decision making processes.
The LGA-backed localgov digital project is a good idea whose time has come. Is bang on the money and chair Carl Haggerty winning a digital leadership award at The Guardian awards proves this.
Social media is fracturing. Is true. While 10 platforms were mentioned in the 2012 comms2point0 poll it now stands at 30 in the same poll a year later.
The ones where it’s too early to tell…
Smart comms people will realise that channel shift may the reason they survive. The jury is still out although it’s fascinating to hear some case studies where people have been experimenting with this.
People will see social media isn’t a golden bullet. People are gradually waking up to the idea that while this is important it’s part of the mix and a Facebook page on its own won’t change the world.
Digital comms specialists are needed. Skills need to be developed and shared.
The one that didn’t…
Facebook as a local government platform is over. There are some god ones but with fewer and fewer people seeing updates from pages it is no longer the wunderkind. Give this one time.
10 predictions for local government digital comms in 2014…
Teams will continue to get smaller. The ones that fail to grasp the nettle and look at what they are doing will wither.
Heads of comms will become fewer. As a result of the first two.
Better evaluation is needed. The 1980s idea of story counts and positive, negative and neutral need to go. Now. What will replace will be shaped by results. Like channel shift or user growth targets. Failure to do this will see teams become irrelevant.
Local government comms will become the poor relation of public sector PR. With training budgets gone, workloads increasing teams will struggle to do the basics without major recalibration.
Digital will continue to mainstream. But the digital specialist will need to be a jack of all trades and must be able to shape content for all manner of platforms – from the village magazine to YouTube to Twitter to a press release and web content.
Teams will be outstripped by the pace of change. When revolution is needed slow evolution will be allowed to occur.
Digital comms will step up a gear from simply tweeting press releases to tackling the really thorny problems. In local government these insoluble issues are called ‘wicked issues.’
Digital comms will continue to be a frontline officer task. Giving people the tools in the field will continue. Policy and training will need to come from the centre as the role of digital comms becomes part of all areas and not just a specialist.
There will be a major emergency in 2014 where digital comms plays a decisive role. And they’ll do a good job and more people will see the worth. But senior officers will still roll their eyes.
Teams will need content creators. Not press officers.
Teams that overlook internal communications – and in particular telling their own story internally – will suffer.
Change the model http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/4554851174/sizes/o/
Learn or retire http://www.flickr.com/photos/blairpeterson/5743993819/sizes/o/