PATHWAY: We are alone together

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You need good boots and a wise head to walk the Appalachian Trail. It is 2,190 miles long and cuts through the lonely American wilderness.

Almost 3,000 walk it’s daunting dark length from end-to-end every year and from time to time people go missing.

Risks faced by the traveller include the American black bear, mosquitos, yellowjackets, poison ivy, biting flies and dangerous streams.

The trail is linked by camping points a day’s walk apart. Sometimes they are just clearings. but they are places walkers pitch a tent, meet and swap trail stories. Knowing there is a ford ahead can make the next day safer.

Five years ago we launched commscamp on a clear blue sky excited about the power and possibility of exploring the green empty space of the internet.

This year, there was the sense that things have evolved. There was a feeling more people used the event as safety trail camp. New things to learn? Yes. But most of all a sanity check.

The world has changed and we are trying to all change with it. Fractured channels. New audiences. New demands on time. Income targets. Bad intranets. Bad comms plans. Bad managers. Not enough time. Time taken over by an emergency. Not enough budget.

Not enough regard for what we do.

There are still people looking to innovate and get good at new things. But there are less people wide-eyed at the possibility. The militant optimists from the early years have moved on. I miss them. Those that remain on the trail journey are quieter somehow but more determined. They know that they are still travelling through uncharted forests. Through the trees they can sometimes hear the crunch of nearby footsteps. We are alone together. They know this path will take years to complete.

It’s things like Commscamp, the Public Sector Headspace Facebook group and other places that are the safe camping points to rest.

But knowing you are not alone is just as important today as it was five years ago.

Picture credit: VinceTraveller / Flickr


FIFTH LIST: 23 things and a safety net from commscamp

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A couple of days on from the 5th commscamp in Birmingham and the dust has settled a little. I’m on a train reflecting.

1. There is a need for this. The first batch of tickets went in two minutes. The second in four. That’s 70 tickets in six minutes. There isn’t a need for gimmicks. Just a room and good people.
2. This is our tribe. Someone used these words to describe the people in the room. I get that. They’re people impatient to do a better job.
3. Around three quarters of the live video session had tried live video. That’s a figure that surprised me. Last year it would have been a handful.
4. You can’t get to all the sessions you want to even when you organise the thing.
5. Cake is a force for good.
6. Kate Bentham is a force for good.
7. We are starting to be faced with the idea of talking to people in Facebook groups. But we are very nervous about using our own profiles to do this.
8. The trend in sessions seems to have evolved from tech to safety net. It is important that people have moral support. It is tough in the public sector at the moment.
9. After a major incident, you need to look after the comms team weeks and month after the event.
10. It is getting harder not easier.
11. There is still a place for print.
12. Commscamp has led to other ideas and events just like other events led to commscamp.
13. If you are not competent at video you need to be.
14. The real value of an unconference comes not on the day but in six months time.
15. The fax is more popular than the press release.
16. With live video the important thing is just to do it. You can refine and improve with experience.
17. Windows phones and blackberries don’t allow you to fully communicate.
18. Steph Gray is very quick at writing good content. An engaging post within a couple of hours.
19. Nigel Bishop takes good pictures.
20. Emma Rodgers is a good person to plan an event with.
21. Anyone can run an unconference.
22. When we started these, it felt like the war to convince people to use digital wasn’t won. Now it is. But the struggle continues against ignorance, box-ticking and bad digital just as it always has done. Are we winning? I think we are. We can look over our shoulders and see where we’ve come from. But there are battles ahead. Nirvana isn’t instant. It is hard-won.
23. The volunteers, sponsors and attendees who came and made this a success are brilliant.
24. I’m glad we tried Friday but it feels too close to the weekend and I’m not sure its the best day for the event.
The next commscamp will be in Birmingham on July 12 2018. There may be others before. You can sign-up for updates here.

FACE PALM: When is a Facebook campaign not a Facebook campaign? When it ignores people on Facebook

Almost a decade ago there was a drive to encourage people to have a say about the future of their city.
At first glance, it was bold, imaginative and ambitious with posters splashed across Birmingham. It had a catchy name. The Big City Plan.
It’s aim was to fire imaginations and to capture ideas. It had two flaws. It was written for planners and to have a say you had to send your views to one email address. All that buzz online? Ignored.
So, the Brum Bloggers group built a website with a plain English translation, captured opinion and sent them to the council themselves. Almost 300 of the 1,600 comments came from the site. Birmingham City Council managed to incorporate those comments.  Eventually, the city council copied the approach which made it easier for people to make a comment and for the city council to listen.

Please speak human

Eight years on from the lessons of Big City Plan, a Facebook ad dropped into my timeline one Sunday afternoon from my local council. A good piece of targeting, I thought.
It asked me to comment on the Black Country Core Strategy. I don’t know what this means. Even after eight years in local government and being the son of a planner I don’t know what this means.
So, what would the man on the 404A guess it was? I’ve no idea.
On the site were pdfs. There is much written as to why pdfs are a bad idea. There are email addresses and a list of events. Gamely, I found a survey to comment on. But that didn’t render all that well on a mobile phone.

Please listen to people

Back on the Facebook page there was a lively debate about building houses on the green belt and a host of other things. Debate there had come alive and people were – in council speak – engaging. Or in other words, talking.
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But as a resident what really got my goat was the council pages’ disclaimer half way down the thread that comments on Facebook wouldn’t be accepted. It had to be the official consultation.
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Or in other words, a Facebook campaign that wouldn’t allow people to have their say on Facebook.
(Disclaimer: I worked for eight years at Walsall Council which is one of four Black Country councils behind the campaign. I have a high regard for many people who work at all four of those councils.)
Local government does a brilliant job. My council does a good job. My children go to school there. There are good parks and the roads are gritted (thank you!).
So, when I blog this, I do it with love and because I want local government to communicate better with me as someone who lives here.

Please, please, please…

So, please, have a website that speaks human.
Please call the website something more interesting than ‘core strategy.’
But above all and I really do mean this, please listen to what people say on Facebook. Particularly when your campaign is on Facebook itself.
You may need to speak truth to power on this. But fail to do this really simple step and I don’t know what you can tell people when they next tell people their council is remote and don’t care what they think.

TAKE THAT: How to rebut stories as well as the BBC

The BBC are known for quite a few things… Wimbledon coverage, Comic Relief, the Nine O’Clock News and now cutting rebuttals.

What is a rebuttal?

This is when a media organisation has written something which you disagree with.

Take the case of the Daily Mail. They hung a story on the back of digital figures which show the screening of Blue Peter had zero figures. Zip.

This, ladies and gents, is a national outrage.

Only thing was that it was being economical with the truth.

The episode had almost 300,000 viewers. The screening in question was a repeat at 2.30pm in the afternoon when kids were at school in sign-language.

Rather than sit and seethe the BBC Press Office did what every organisation should do now the internet is here. It used the web to challenge and rebut the piece.

 

 So, what have we learned?

Don’t sit and seethe. Something shareable gets shared. And if you are a journalist? There’s every likelihood that the full picture will emerge.

This isn’t the first time these two have been at it…


GROUP BOOST: Why you need to think differently about Facebook groups

8560618867_833556324a_bSomething rather marvellous happened on the train this morning.

Free coffee? WiFi that worked? No, I found that Facebook groups now have insights. Lots of them. And yes, I do know being the grinning man in the carriage sounds a bit sad. But bear with me.

Why is this marvellous? Because it shows that Facebook is taking them more seriously and if you haven’t already it is time to sit up and take notice.

As is reported, Mark Zuckerburg sees groups as central to the future of the platform. Why? They can offer more meaningful interactions. He’s right.

What are Facebook groups and why should you care?

Groups have long been a Cinderella corner of Facebook. Anyone can start a group. They’re a lot more democratic than pages. They are rallying points around a common theme. A village. A town. A football club. They can be big or small. There is a simple guide here.

Importantly, they don’t yet suffer from Facebook zero. You also get to see posts in chronological order.

You should care because they are quietly being used more and more by people. In my experience, an average sized borough of 250,000 can expect to have 2,000 Facebook groups and pages. That’s a serious set of numbers. I’ve blogged on this before.

What do the Facebook group analytics look like?

Data tracks back up to 60 days and logs new members, top contributors, comments, posts and reactions. The Public Sector Facebook Group that I started earlier in the year shows, for example, a staggering 7,500 interactions in the last 28 days.

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Sure, they’re not as advanced as pages. You don’t get a age group breakdown. But you do find out what day of the week is busiest. For my group? 9pm on a Wednesday.

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What groups are you in?

There’s a good chance you’ll be in a Facebook group. Me? I’m in a number. A Stone Roses fan group, one for the area I live, a Down’s Syndrome support group that my brother runs, a virtual reality video group, a freelance PR ghroup and others.

 

But what can communicators do with groups?

All this got me thinking. The trajectory of Facebook is projected to carry on rising with 41.3 million UK users by 2021. And with groups playing a key role they need to be taken as seriously as a press release or Facebook advertising.

  1. Community groups and pages

If you want to reach a sub-set of a community there is now a chance that a Facebook group is the best way to reach them. If you are in Birmingham and want to reach Poles this Facebook group may be part of the solution, for example. Similarly, local history and heritage in Telford have a group with 19,000 members. Those two are not one offs. The country is criss-crossed with groups around sub-areas.

You’re too busy to talk to all of them? Sure. I get that. But if you have content you want to put before one of these communities suddenly they are relevant.

  1. A support group

The Brain Tumour Charity have three Facebook groups depending on what you need. There’s a general one, one for parents and one for carers. What the organisation are doing is providing a space for people to talk and standing back. They don’t drive the content. People do.

  1. As a way of connecting the team

Facebook Workplace is coming down the track. This is the platform’s way of creating a company-wide way of talking to each other. For non-profits it is free but at $3 per user per month I’m not sure that the Public Sector can stretch to that. Actually, I am sure. It can’t. But re-creating the groups feature amongst a team on a project or a comms team may be useful.

  1. As a way of consulting

Sometimes, we need to listen to what people are saying. This may be to better shape a scheme or see what people think about budget cuts. If there is already a forum for this, then use that. If there isn’t, and if it can be updated regularly a group may be a way to keep people informed.

A different mindset

Fundamentally, Facebook groups are people coming together to talk about a common interest.  That’s different to the traditional comms method of broadcasting. They’re not recepticles for all your content. They are about building a relationship with the group admin and the people in the group.

A different approach

Cumbria County Council have made friends with the admin of a group with 100,000 members and invite him to post content on their behalf. Tom Gannon has blogged on the subject here. This is brilliant. This is the way to go. A decent number like that has clear scale. But there will be times when you need to reach new mums, residents on an estate or the Polish community.

Nobody expects you to know all the 2,000 groups and pages in your area. But you can start by knowing the big ones and by making a search every time you post content.


ARMY FOOTAGE: When NATO invited a comedian along to reach a new audience

There’s been a lot just lately about going through influencers to talk to your audiences.

That all sounds a bit abstract on the face of it.

What does that mean exactly?

It means Jeremy Corbyn being interviewed by grime star JME in the run-up to the General Election.

It also means a YouTuber being invited by NATO as part of a Press trip to sensitive exercises.

I stumbled across this when listening to Emily Unia reporting from the trip on ‘From Our Own Corespondent.’ I listen to iplayer a lot when I’m working.

Eastern European comedian and vlogger Mircea Bravo was asked along to shoot his take on the exercise.

What was his take?

It was camp airline steward safety run-throughs on the Army transport plane. It was joking about female soldiers wearing make-up on the battlefield. But as Emily says herself there was a logic to this.

Emily Unia “It turns out that Mircea Bravo is a well known Romanian prankster. He posts funny videos on YouTube and he has hundreds of thousands of fans. I watch the video he has made about NATO and the Romanian Army’s involvement.

“It’s subtle PR. There are soildiers wear yeti camoflage described as ‘professional players of hide and seek.’ The principle of collective defence is described as ‘All for one and one for all.’

But as the BBC reporter goes on, if the Romanian involvement in NATO needs to flourish in future generations it is by reaching those generations now wherever they are that will help deliver this.


LIVE COMMS: 35 things you can use live video for

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More than a fifth of Facebook users have used the new live feature and the numbers are growing.

Back in 1952, the BBC used every camera at their disposal to cover the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Today, it would take one person with a smartphone to start a basic coverage of the occasion.

For the last two years, I’ve helped deliver video skills for comms training. Just lately, we’ve also offered skills and advice on how to use live social media broadcasts. It’s been fascinating to think how this can be used.

1. For election results.

2. For a behind the scenes tour of the art gallery.

3. For an advance view of the new exhibition.

4. For a Q&A on why you should apply for a job here.

5. For a first hand realtime walk through a scenic beauty spot.

6. For a tour of potential redevelopment sites with planning and regeneration sites.

7. For a trip to the top of the bell tower with a local historian.

8. For a public open day where you are demonstrating what you do.

9. For a public meeting with an opportunity to ask a question.

10. For a workshop on how to complete an application for a school place.

11. For consultation with residents in a geographic area where something new may happen.

12. For an explanation of what things you can do as a carer of a loved one who is struggling to get about.

13. For an explanation about what keep fit moves you can do in the comfort of your own home.

14. For a press conference.

15. For a talent competition.

16. In an emergency to keep people updated.

17. For a behind-the-scenes tour of a fire station with some fire safety advice.

19. For the view from the top of a mountain or hill.

20. For an event in a park.

21. For an event in the street.

22. For a street party.

23. For a tour of the museum stores.

24. For a an author visit to a library.

25. For a tour of the farm or urban farm.

26. For a chance to hear what the budget may entail.

26. For a Q&A on what council services a new parent may need.

27. For tips on how to encourage wildlife in your garden

28. For a walk around the town centre with a history expert.

29. For musical performances as part of a talent show.

30. For an explanation about what bin to use for recycling.

31. For a civic celebration.

32. For a tour of the Mayor’s Parlour.

33. For an update on what work has been done to protect a community from flooding.

34. For a tour of a river that’s been improved for wildlife with a wildlife expert.

35. For a chance to meet and ask questions of a senior politician, official or police officer.

Workshops in Skills You Need for Live Video will be held in Leeds on June 20, Birmingham on July 18 and Edinburgh on October 19.