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

 


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.  

 

 

 

 


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


30 days of human: day #41 Lidl Ireland ask how your weekend was

So, spare a thought for Lidl Ireland.

They had a rough weekend.

The tail end of a snow storm closed a raft of stores and caused all sorts of supply and staffing issues.

Thieves used a JCB  to break into a Dublin store… which then set on fire and collapsed.

So Lidl Ireland’s Monday morning tweet was a masterpiece.

It’s exactly what someone who had had a high profile disaster of a weekend would have said to break the ice.


WINTER COMMS part 2: Using a Twitter thread to communicate a complex point

It’s the winter and of course the council never treated the roads. Ever.

Only thing is, yes, they do. But icy blasts can see things deteriorate quickly.

Perth & Kinros Council made that very point using a Twitter thread. This is the convention of linking a series of tweets. For me, this functionality is a gamechanger as it moves things from 140 characters to as many characters as you like.

They used two shots from a traffic camera. One to show you the road conditions shortly after the gritter passed and then a new shot 45-minutes later. They used GIFs in addition to sugar the pill and reinforce their points.

So far so good. Now the first image. The road that’s just been cleared.

Then a GIF that illustrates snow.

Now the second picture of the same scene less than hour later.

Now the two of them side by side.

And a round of applause for those doing the hard work.

A complex point simply executed. Bravo Perth & Kinross Council. Well done their comms officer Lisa Potter.


WINTER COMMS part 1: Seven ways to communicate using video

If you don’t think that love is a little bit like gritting in icy weather then, boy, let me convince you. 

There’s a short 48-hour window every year when Valentines cards are hugely important. Then for the other 363 days a year they’re not all that.

For a handful of days a year the state of the roads, grit levels and snow are really important. But unlike Valentines Day those days don’t come pre-printed in your WH Smith desk calendar. You don’t know when the cold blast will come.

My gritting obsession

For three years, I was a local government Twitter account. Every tweet in. Every tweet out. I put back Christmas dinner by 10 minutes to tell people that we were going out gritting. The reason for this? Those handful of days people wanted to know if it was safe to go out.

There’s a lot riding on getting it right. Reputational damage. A switchboard in meltdown. Serious injury. Loss of life. Get it right and your follower numbers increase and people see what you are doing.

Why video is important

I’ve been banging a drum for video as a comms channel for three years now. More than 70 per cent of the UK population have a smartphone and almost three quarters are happy to watch videos of less than five minutes, Ofcom say. That’s your audience right there.

In the latest cold snap,#BestFromTheEast – or #BeastFaeTheEast if your are in Scotland – has shown public sector communicators going into overdrive to communicate.

Here are SEVEN videos that communicate a cold weather message

Using humour and song a pre-prepared snow day announcement

Frimley Junior School in Surrey made this great video to announce a snow day. They’ve used a homage to an 1980s rapper to get their point across to parents. It shows humour and delivers the message.

Using a Facebook Live on icy roads

The Facebook Live platform is currently being encouraged by Facebook. Shoot one and you’ll reach more people. So, hats off Oldham Council for shooting this on what looks to be an ipad. An officer introduces himself and introduces the vehicle driver who is responsible for the gritting operation. As they negotiate the streets they talk about the myths and what they are doing.

Importantly for a Facebook Live is that there is a reason to keep watching. In training myself and my colleague Steven often talk about this as the ‘sword of Damocles.’ You want to keep watching for a specific reason. Here there are two. Will the WiFi cut out? Will it cut out before the exposed heights? Spoiler: they make it to the closed hill and see a Spanish truck stuck.

Using an animation to tell a story

The Met Office need to get a series of messages out with weather warnings. They’ve done this through a variety of means bu the animations have proved eye-catching and effective ways to reach people.

Using a GIF to make the text more interesting

The GIF is the 1990s technology that’s at home on the web. They are short animations that allow you to repurpose some footage. You can make your own or you can use a GIF library. Both Facebook and Twitter have libraries you can delve into.

Here Transport Scotland lists the prevention advice and then adds a GIF of a sliding car.

Using pre-shot footage to explain how grit works

During the time I spent in local government comms I tweeted the fact that grit was not fairy dust dozens of times. Same too for how grit works. This Kirklees Council clip with the backdrop of a salt barn shows a man in hi-vis talk through how things work. Shoot them in the autumn and have them to hand. Good tip.

Using realtime footage of work in progress

Fake news! I never saw the gritter! Well, here is video footage of the gritters in action. It doesn’t have to have a narrative arc. Just point, shoot and publish. And combat thosze trolls who say that you weren’t out.

Using hyperlapse video

North Yorkshire County Council had the bright idea of using footage from the cab of a gritter as it passed through the rural county. Shoot the footage on the hyperlapse app and you can look as though you are moving far faster.

 


COMBAT ROCK: How to make a rebuttal: West Midlands Police v The Sun

Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest rebuttal to an inaccurate story by a public sector body.

This week there was an incident in a theatre in Birmingham city centre. Equipment malfunctioned during a performance and there was an explosion backstage. There were no injuries. As a precaution the theatre evacuated.

This translated to this on The Sun newspaper Twitter:

In the old way of doing things there would have been a phone call to the newsdesk. There would have been tooing and frowing and maybe the newspaper would have got round to correcting it.

But probably not.

Instead West Midlands Police took to Twitter with a direct rebuttal within EIGHT minutes:

This is brilliant.

The swift rebuttal was shared more than 400 times within eight hours and The Sun’s tweet just over 30.

The response from the public? Overwhelmingly positive.

If we no longer have to go through the Priesthood of journalists to talk to residents let’s do it and hold inaccurate damaging reporting accountable.

Thanks Emily Dunn for spotting this.