VISUAL COMMS: Some bold and some worrying predictions for public sector comms in 2018

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For the past few years I’ve blogged at the end of the year some predictions. For 2018, here are some more.

The broad trend is one of rapid change and a broad shift to more visual ways to communicate with people… who are consuming more visually, on mobile and on-the-go.

Get Facebook right and you’ll be a long way to cracking your comms. It won’t be the answer to everything but it is so big and so all encompassing for people that it is comfortably the biggest platform, the largest way people get their news and understand what is happening in their friends’ lives.

The Facebook group admins who communicate with your audience have already become as important as journalists. Groups have grown in importance. Get to know them. Join them. Build bridges with the admin. See if you can work with them. As Facebook pages get more money driven their importance rises. They can challenge fake news about you because they are often where it starts.

Technology is outpacing the public sector massively. This worries me. In the mid-1990s mobile phones became a mainstream Christmas present. They became part of how people communicated to become the dominant platform it is today.  Today, the best organisations for years have been experimenting with voice recognition, artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality.  Amazon Echo and Google Home have led the breakthrough shifting units for Christmas 2017. And where is the public sector with this trend? Nowhere. This very soon will be a comms issue.

Bad video is not good video.‘Can we have a video’ has replaced the request for a Twitter account as the request from those in service areas who think they can do your job. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. ‘What do you want to achieve?’ remains the response to the request for a video. Or a Twitter account.

Go beyond your Facebook page. Far, far, far beyond. If you think posting to a page and leaving it there is reaching your audience you are almost certainly wrong. Navigate across Facebook as your page to visit other pages. Cross post your page update to groups.

Re-balance from broadcasting by being human. After 12-months of social media reviews, the baked-in problem remains treating social media like a broadcast channel to make it work better. Calls to action should be 20 per cent of your content to be most effective.

Specialist generalists. In the NHS and other areas, the specialist or generalist debate continues as teams shrink. The answer is comms people should be specialist generalists. They should be really good at two or three niche things and have some core skills. But no-one should have the monopoly on anything.

Not keeping pace is dangerous for your organisation. The cost of falling behind with how people want to consume media is that your organisation will be at best irrelevant and at worst seen to be actively not caring.

GIFs and threads will become expected. THREAD. How Twitter threads changed. 1. First there was the tweet. 2. Then the tweet got longer. 3. But words are inherently a bit dull. 4. So the animated GIF started to be used more. 5. And the thread which links tweets together. Keep reading, okay? 6.  This is all part of a wider trend to move from text to images and video.

Twitter continues to wither. Twitter is a channel to reach PR people and journalists brilliantly. But increasingly not residents. Three years ago, it was the third largest channel in the UK, Ofcom says. In 2017, it has slipped to fifth. Against a background of hate and fake news, this trend with carry on. Good on Twitter? Fine. What else are you good at?

Social media is becoming less social. In part, fueled by the Trump effect but in part by sharing fatigue, social media will become less broadly social and more splintered into places where small groups of like-minded people will exist. No, I’m not sure that’s healthy. But that’s what will happen.

Becoming digital first. If you haven’t already work out how you’ll need to work out how to respond as an organisation to a mis-truth posted in a village Facebook group that is picked up by a newspaper Twitter account. You don’t have 24-hours to get back. You can’t leave that person in a meeting. They need to respond now. But they need to understand why they have to respond, first. That’s best done in peacetime.

Video continues to rise. It’s more than 80 per cent of the internet. This is an easy prediction to make.

Live video continues to rise. The public sector has been left behind by media companies in this field but will continue to catch-up.

360 images and virtual reality grow as part of the landscape. Where short video was once daring, the daring use of virtual reality content will continue to grow.

The need to demonstrate results grows ever more important. Again, an easy prediction to make.

There will be another terrorist outrage and comms teams need to be kind to themselves. London and Manchester suffered in 2017. They showed some of the best public sector communications I’ve ever seen. They also came with lessons from those involved. Yes, accept offers of help from day one. Yes, this will affect the mental health of you and your team.

Brexit will affect everyone. Teams in London are already feeling the effect of EU staff leaving. But the predicted economic effect will hit public sector organisations too. That means comms teams going through more austerity challenge. So, get good. Or get so small you can barely answer the phone.

Internal comms reaches crisis point. We’ve gone as far as we can with 2003-era intranets which have become a repository for pdfs. The public sector keeps its head above water through the good will of staff alone. The organisation that fails to take seriously how it talks to its staff will reap the results. The comms team that spells out the risks and leads a renewal of channels will reap the benefits.

The comms person who stands still won’t get a new job in two years. If you don’t learn you really will get left behind. Who needs a fax-operating press release writing envelope-stuffer in 2018?

Income targets will remain a minority burden on comms teams. But the trend will be slowly upwards bouyed by some success stories.

If you fail to change what you do, your life WILL get harder. This will mean changing how you do things, I know. As a team and as an individual. This will take time. But it is time you need to spend. Change the supertanker. Please. It’s more fun than hitting the rocks.

Predictions for 2017: How did I do last year?

Things I got right

Zombie comms teams did rise. The risk of being leant on by politicians did increase. Teams remain too old and there remains a recruitment gap. Educating the client remains the most important thing to do in a changing world. Post-truth remains an important problem. Facebook groups did become more important.

Things I got half right

Did the rise of dark social leave comms teams flat-footed? Dark social is things like whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. Platforms that link a few people together but can’t be searched. Thing is, I don’t think most teams even realise how large dark social has become to even become flat-footed. Twitter did wither but LinkedIn didn’t charge up the table. Press offices have transformed and changed title at a fast pace.

Things I didn’t get right

Merged comms teams that bring NHS, fire, council and police together haven’t happened. Yet. Although fire and police in some places have joined together.

Have a good 2018 and lets be careful out there.

 

 


MOBILE FIRST: On augmented reality and communications

A few weeks back my son got a new Nintendo 3DS for his birthday, the lucky lad.

Excited and smiling he took it out of it’s wrapping in the living room. Light blue and shiny it was. It fitted into his hands perfectly. A while later that day after all his cards other presents were opened I found him playing with it on the settee. He was moving the device around as if chasing objects around the room.

“What are you doing?” I asked. “Shooting aliens in our living room?”

“Well, they’re not aliens,” he says. “They’re pictures of mum on my new augmented reality game.”

Leaning over his shoulder I could see what he was doing. He’d used his new Nintendo to take a picture of his mum and he’d transferred them onto bubbles which he had to shoot down as part of the game. On the screen, there was my living room as the backdrop for the game. The image came from the device’s video camera. As my son moved the device so what was on the screen moved too.

What’s augmented reality?

Rewind to earlier this year. I’d heard Mike Rawlins of Talk About Local talk about augmented reality at a Brewcamp session in Walsall. He’d spoken of the experiments him, Will Perrin and others had been doing with augmented reality by effectively placing blog posts, pictures and news updates on a map. In effect each item was given its own co-ordinates and through a platform called layar people could use their phone’s GPS system to find it. Of course, each items was on the web anyway. It’s just that they can be accessed a different way.

In short, augmented reality is adding an extra layer of information to what you are looking at. You point a phone at a building, an artwork or a landscape and you can opt to access content related to it. It also works with print too. Point a smart phone at an image and you can access extra content. You can link to a video clip or even buy the item.

To me, this is just a little bit amazing. To me as a communications person it starts to get me thinking.

A mobile first strategy

Back in 2009 I read a blog post that utterly changed the way I think about news and the future of news. Going back to it today Steve Buttry, it’s author, seems like some kind of Tomorrow’s World visionary pointing out the obvious. In short, he wrote that he spends lots of time in airport departure lounges. In the past, people had killed time by reading paper newspapers turning each page literally. Increasingly, he was seeing people killing time by reading their mobile phones. So, he suggests, isn’t it smarter to think about mobile first? In other words, he describes a mobile first strategy.

Steve suggests that newsrooms take a deep breath, stop using antiquated titles like reporter, photographer and editor and just think of themselves as journalists. They need to get used to the idea of metadata. That’s the tags of extra information that help categorise an item so it can be found again. In other words, a story about a £5m leisure centre in Brown Street, Oxdown would be tagged with Brown Street as well as Oxdown, as well as leisure, Oxdown Council, finance, the ward name and the co-ordinates of the new building. That’s nothing to be scared of. It’s just the who, what, where, when and how that’s always been the cornerstone of news.

The mobile first approach, Buttry says, also includes links to the back story. The pieces of content that have already been produced which are relevant. The approach also allows journalists to crowd-source a story or views on a story.

It’s what most national news organisations do today and what The Guardian do very well.

Yes, yes but public relations?

What’s relevant to the news landscape is also relevant to communications landscape too.

I love newspapers. I started my career on them before I moved into local government communications. But I’m long past the point that Buttry saw of seeing more people look at their phones rather than look at their local paper. Only, I’m not catching planes. I’m catching a bus or a train and I’m in the Black Country in the English Midlands.

For me, I’m less interested in shiny technology than I am with communicating with people. If shiny tech can help reach an audience then I get to be really, really interested. Where news, the media and ultimately residents are heading then I believe that’s where communications people must be there too. Or even be as one of the first so they can get to understand what’s over the horizon. Maybe it echoes Buttry’s call that newspaper titles are obsolete but I’m getting increasingly convinced that the phrase ‘press officer’ and ‘PR officer’ are getting irrelevant. What does a press officer do when there’s less or no press and we still need to communicate with people?

We’ve changed in my corner of communications to adapt to social media because that’s what people are doing. We need to start to tentatively think about augmented reality too.

Yes, yes but how?

Now, I’m, not saying for a minute that we need to change everything to add everything we do to include an augmented reality – or AR to use the buzzword – element. The communications team that ditched print for the web in 1993 may in hindsight be seen as visionary. They’d also be a bit silly too. For me, it’s just being aware of the curve and investing a little time and effort into a project that’s going to be a learning process.

That’s probably where something like The Guardian’s n0tice platform can really start to come into play. Set up earlier this year, it aims to add news to maps on its platform. It has a small but growing following. There’s a board for Walsall which I’ve very tentatively started and I’m looking to head back to soon.

There’s also plenty of mileage in creating getting to know platforms like http://www.layar.com/ or seeing if a friendly webbie can work with you.

As comms teams are looking at changing the way hey do thinks through digital press offices this is something that can add some value.

How can augmented reality be used in local government?

Just last week I was in my car giving a lift to a town planner and somehow amongst the football banter, the work gossip and the cricket talk the subject of websites for planning applications came up. Yes, yes. I know. That’s just how I roll. The discussion turned to augmented reality. At this the light bulb above my planner mate’s head really lit up. Planning applications could be accessed. Maybe artists impressions could be added too. With links to allow people to comment.

Looking at other parts of local government and the opportunities are vast. Local history. Leisure. News. Content to help explain areas of countryside, habitats and what lives there. The truth of it is, we don’t know how local government can fully use augmented reality until people start to use it more, start to innovate and to try things out.

But in the back of my head I always think of my Dad when I hear of digital innovation. The real tipping point is when it opens up for someone like him with his very old phone and his late adopter use of the web. But if you wait until then to start to look at the subject you’re already far too late.

It’s far better to know what’s on the other side of the hill so you can spend a little time innovating and making a few mistakes when there’s not many people around to see.

If my eight-year-old is already using augmented reality it’s probably time grown-up organisations started to think about it at a comfortable pace too.

Some extra reading

Steve Buttry’s blog post on how news organisations can put mobile first 

Talk About Local on hyperlocal websites and augmented reality

Augmented reality. A useful six minute YouTube starter 

Will Perrin of Talk About Local demonstrating augmented reality

Philladelphia History on using augmented reality in local history.

Creative commons credits

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