OWN GOAL: What Aston Villa’s demise teaches comms and PR people

19753404670_9bf9cf0977_bSometimes it’s tempting to say that better PR can make up for anything… but that’s just a big fat lie.

Take Aston Villa Football Club. They’re a team that has just been relegated from the top flight of English football with four games of the season left.

This was the football equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade only with none of the honour, heroism and poetry. This was not a rush towards the Russian guns with lightly armed horses to maintain a reputation. This was a dash towards a brick wall in an ice cream van. Driven by a bloke in a circus clown’s outfit. Blunders to the left of them, fowl-ups to the right. Into the valley of PR nightmares they rode.

It’s tempting to feel truly sorry for the actual PR team at Aston Villa who have had to all too often pick-up the pieces. How much of a thankless task must that be?

However, in the interests in learning from failure, here are some lessons.

You cannot polish a turd

Yes, PR can do much. But if the product is broken all the PR and comms in the world can’t make up for it. If the owner isn’t interested and a string of bad appointments have been made there really is very little you can do.

I’m reminded of Robert Phillips’ ‘Trust Me PR is Dead.’ His advice to a burger chain facing flak for excrement traces in their burgers was not to talk about the community grants they gave and corporate social responsibility. It was to stop putting crap in the burgers.

Speak truth to power

Of course, what you say may not always be welcome. But honest, diplomatic feedback of what your customers are saying should be given house room. If the customers are angry about something it’s as well to know early. You won’t be welcomed in the short term, but speaking truth to power is a role of the comms person.

What happens on a night out…stays on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube

Aston Villa players carved out a special place for themselves through the season by being spotted ‘tired and emotional’ in a range of places. Jack Grealish started the trend pre-season in Tenerife. He then added Manchester to the list after losing to Everton.

Know how to spell

Eyebrows were raised when Frenchman Remi Garde was plucked from the French league to become the man who was going to save Aston Villa from a spiral of despair. In fine tradition the club took to the internet to orchestrate a welcome campaign.#welcomeremy the image on the club website read. Perfect. But his name was spelt wrong. It was Remi.

Know when to be humble

Defender Joleon Lescott has got very rich playing football for a number of clubs including Manchester City. A player who has won a handful of caps for England he has cashed in on the Premier League era. But after losing and getting abuse on Twitter he responded by tweeting a picture of his new car.  Then he hurriedly deleted the car and blamed the fact that his pocket had accidentally tweeted the image.

Beware the corporate re-branding

Of course, a new look can breathe life into a new brand. But when the chips are down it can lead to criticism. You have taken your eye off the ball looking at fancy marketing stuff when you should be looking at the basics. Like winning games. Unfair? Perhaps. But perception is everything. So when Villa rebranded for £80,000 losing the traditional motto ‘Prepared’ from the badge they were open to criticism. Especially as they looked so unprepared losing every week.

Follow back… don’t unfollow

On social media, it costs nothing to follow someone back. On a basic level it says that you have been recognised even if your content isn’t slavishly being read. So as a time of the season when Villa needed all the friends they could mass unfollowing 47,000 fans on Twitter wasn’t the best thing to do. The reaction was not positive. Don’t do it.

There is no such thing as off-the-record

With Aston Villa relegated former player and radio phone-in host Stan Collymore laid into some of the more under-achieving players. Singling out Joleon Lescott the car tweeting defender responded by Twitter direct message privately offering to meet and sort things out as men. The screen grab was then tweeted by Collymore.

Say sorry… and mean it.

As the final whistle blew at Old Trafford and Villa were relegated the chief executive Steve Hollis posted an open letter to supporters. It expressed ‘regret’ for how the season panned out and was an exercise in acknowledging responsibility. As an attempt, it was good. No doubt he was hurting. But it would have been far more effective if the word ‘sorry’ had been used.

In the Middle Ages, stocks were used for public contrition. The miscreant was forced to sit there while rotten tomatoes and excrement was flung at them. There’s actually a social role for this. There’s also a place where this takes place today. It’s called the radio phone in. A grovelling apology by the owner on BBC Radio WM may go some way to healing the rift.

Creative commons credit: joshjdss / Flickr 


140 CHANGE: Twitter may change but who cares? you still need to embrace chaos

22435524039_7431c7fa21_bTwitter is not the last word in digital communications and maybe it’s about time you remembered that.

There’s been a lot written just lately about how Twitter is changing.

If you’ve missed it, the way you are presented with tweets is going to change. Gone will go the timeline of most recent first. In comes a Facebook-style algorithm of things they think you’ll like first. It may be optional when first introduced. The unique 140-character limit may also go too.

Of course, being Twitter, there was a meltdown on Twitter and a hashtag #TwitterRIP.

It may be the end of Twitter. It may just evolve as Facebook has done.

But all this talk of change poses you three questions.

  • Where else can I now get what I get from Twitter?
  • As the ground shifts beneath our feet should we really be surprised?
  • Do I even care?

Do you care? Many people do. If you have been using the platform you will. If you won’t it won’t trouble you. But if you aren’t a bit interested in how all this will affect how you do your job, that troubles me.

Once-great platforms like Friends Reunited, AOL or MySpace have withered. Why should Twitter be any different?  Besides, as broadcaster and historian Dan Snow wrote in The Guardian, if Twitter didn’t exist someone would have to invent it.

What makes this an important question to think on for UK public sector comms people is that Twitter has become hugely important. It’s precisely that the most recent tweet gets shown first that makes it useful to it. Realtime matters. What was first truly shown during the riots of 2011 was confirmed yet again this year by flooding.

But hold on. Maybe we got lazy. Maybe we just thought that Twitter was everything. So, maybe it’s actually quite healthy to rethink that.

What can do what Twitter does?

Thinking about LinkedIn. Sharing a useful link to help you with your work was one thing Twitter was brilliant at. But more and more when gathering links for comms2point0 it’s been to LinkedIn that I’ve been turning. What was once an ecosystem for grey people is now a thriving network.

Thinking about blogging. Again, LinkedIn scores well. Blogging functionality was introduced in early 2014 and engagement rates are good. Anecdotally, people are far more likely to comment and share on a post on LinkedIn than in on a blogging platform.

Thinking about email. With a decent list and decent content your organisation can duck below shifts in platform changes. Almost everyone has an email address. A cinderella platform it is quietly being effective for many places. Ask Amazon.

Thinking about other platforms. As social media grows and evolves an ecosystem of channels for sub-groups has developed. WhatsApp. Instagram. Snapchat. It means your job has got harder to understand how each works. Know enough to know when it is relevant for what you are trying to do.

Thinking about Facebook. If you want Facebook you can have Facebook. Why would you want Twitter? For organisations without a budget to advertise and reach key demographics will continue to struggle.

Thinking about serendipity. Of course, one of the great things about Twitter was the stumbling across something a friend had just shared that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. It’s hard to see how this won’t be affected. Email bulletins like Nieman Lab, Feverbee or econsultancy do that for me. You’ve probably got some good ones too.

Thinking about how Twitter used to be. Back in 2008 it was an amazing place where many people were connecting for the first time. Events were organised through it and friendships grew. Much of my Facebook timeline is now those original Twitter people I’m connected to.

It’s foolish to think that disruption and change won’t stop. It will. Maybe these Twitter chances will be seismic. Maybe they won’t. But as Robert Phillips writes in ‘Trust Me: PR is Dead’ to embrace chaos is one of the most important things a 21st century comms person needs to do. So, who cares? Embrace it.

Picture credit: Sebastian teer Burg / Flickr / https://flic.kr/p/AbxVDZ

MINDFUL AWARE: And how to deal with negative or inappropriate comments… and keep sane

2474521727_6b00bc3b61_bJust this week I was reminded that those who run social media accounts for an organisation need extra sets of skills.

To make something work well you need to put body and soul into it. You expose yourself online much more than you do offline. It can be 10 o’clock at night and you are dipping in to respond to a query.

There’s an excellent post on comms2point0 by Emily Taylor on how to deal with criticism on behalf of an organisation. That’s when people get angry about a project that isn’t going down well or some other aspect of what your employer is doing. It’s a great post. You can read it here.

But in an off-line conversation, I was also reminded that a thick skin is also something you need. It’ssomething I’ve blogged about before.

There are anecdotes of unpleasant trolling of staff. Thankfully, that’s rare.

But I’m struck by a dedicated local government officer who looks after a corporate account who told me: “I don’t look at Twitter in the evening now. I have enough of people telling me I’m an idiot between 9 and 5.”

There’s some excellent advice on staying positive online if you are getting cheesed off with your friends’ perfect baby pictures when you are, say, a new parent. Use the off switch. Unfriend. But when you are running a corporate account it’s not so easy.

For five years I ran a corporate Twitter account and was responsible for the training of more than 60 others.

Advice for people who speak online for an organisation

What advice did I give above and beyond the points made in Lucy’s post?

Don’t take it personally.

Count to 10 before replying.

Never argue with an idiot. They bring you down to their level and to a passer-by it’s just two idiots arguing.

Talk to a colleague or a friend if you feel things are getting on top of you. Blow off steam.

Ask – or maybe even let – a colleague to step in and take over for a while.

If you feel it becoming an issue talk to someone and make your line manager aware. Stress is a workplace issue and your employer has a duty to you. Asking for help isn’t being weak it’s being strong.

Have set hours when you will deal with stuff and time when you won’t. You are not on 24/7.

You’re not alone.

Picture credit: Ben Tesch / Flickr / https://flic.kr/p/4LEz6H


ANTI-SOCIAL: What are you going to do about love and hate in 2016?

4053398162_31444711b1_bBack when I was a journalist I used to cover Magistrates’ court a couple of times a week.

It was a mundane list of people charged with minor driving offences with the odd murder thrown in.

There were two characters to look out for. One was ‘Tipton.’ Most of the time he wore a woolly hat because he’d got drunk once and self-tattooed his forehead. Only he used the mirror so the word was written backwards.

Another character was ‘Love and Hat.’ He’d had ‘Love and Hate’ tattoed on his knuckles but an industrial accident robbed him of a vowel from ‘Hate.’

“Don’t laugh when you see him,” I was told. “He hates it when people spot it and laugh.”

In 2016, there is a question to be answered by everyone who uses social media around love and hate I’m not sure what the answer is. And no, not laughing, either.

Undercurrent of hate

There feels like an undercurrent of hate on the social web. You’ll have spotted it in 2015 Asylum seekers, Paris attacks, Charlie Hebdo. Labour leadership election, votes for bombing Syria, Britain First, Katie Hopkins and Donald Trump.

Hate rises to the surface in sometimes unexpected ways. Maybe it’s a colleague or a shared tweet.

In 2016, there’ll be more. Trump (again), the EU referendum. More terror attacks. You know it.

A tipping point

For me, a tipping point came in a former colleague’s Facebook post. Anti-Muslim sentiment reached fever pitch. It was the call to machine gun refugees that did it. This bothered me. A day later as no-one else was I chipped in to counter. No, it’s not alright to randomly shoot people. Not everyone agreed. But I felt better for drawing a line in the sand.

And what to do..?

Of course, one of the good things of holding a politically restricted job was a bar on making political comments. It makes life easy. Broadly, I follow that now even though I’m no longer politically restricted. It’s just easier. I get the advice of not feeding the troll. I also get what Euan Semple was getting at when he said that there is a volume control on the mob. But I’m, not sure that’s enough when it is so close to home. I also get the meme of folk singer Pete Seeger and the words: ‘It’s very important you learn to talk to people you don’t agree with.’

The mass unfollow-a-tron

There’s an application you can use to auto unfollow everyone who likes the Donald Trump Facebook page. Ha! Great stuff, right? Thing is, I’m not so sure. I’ve signed-up for his campaign emails just as I have Hilary Clinton to see what they are saying and how they are saying it.

It’s made me think about what I do. As a conscious attempt, I follow people from all the mainstream political parties. I want to find out what they are saying. I rarely engage on controversial stuff. If you come out with stuff my Grandpa spent four years in a tank fighting you are gone. But I’m wondering if that’s the right path. Or if that’s enough.

So, what are you going to do about hate in 2016?

Creative commons credit: https://flic.kr/p/7bbJ4d

 


DIGITAL DAY: 12 things to make your #ourday or #housingday go well

snippoSo, there we were 10 minutes before 6am at the start of #walsall24 and still not sure if it would work.

What was this? We were using Twitter to tell people a snapshot of all the things our council did in real-time over the course of 24-hours from a pothole on the A41 to a Zumba class. Nothing would be too small.

We’d got some content lined-up. Lists of scheduled work from road engineers, leisure centre programmes and had someone stationed in the social care contact centre in the small hours.

Would it work? We checked our first potential tweet and knew that it would… it was environmental health officers investigating a noisy cockerel in a built-up area. Wow. I didn’t know we did that.

From there, we took part in the first Local Government Association #ourday and hosted the first discussion of a #housingday for housing.

We’ve learned things since and from this experience here’s 12 things to help shape your day.

Routine is interesting. From the jet pilot to the parking officer, everyone thinks their job is boring and no interest to anyone else. It always fascinates other people. Find the routine and share that.

Realtime is interesting. One of the strengths of Twitter is the realtime aspect of things whether they be football results or road closures. Tell people as you do it.

Pictures work and video works better. Words of text don’t leap off the screen like an image or footage. You have a smartphone in your pocket. Use it.

Share the sweets. Let other people from across the organisation tell their stories in realtime.

Tell stories. The boiler being installed in Brown Street, Oxdown is great. The boiler being installed for Jessie Timmins who has two children aged five and nine is greater.

Get people to do something. Stories of what librarians are doing are fine. Asking people to sign-up to join the library or to take out a book is better.

Shout wider… the world is not on Twitter. So embed the content on your website, use something like storify to capture your tweets  and embed it on the relevant webpage.

Shout wider… and use other platforms. There’s this amazing website called Facebook that’s doing quite well. Whats App or Snapchat too. Experiment. Don’t stand still.

Shout wider… internally. By screenshot, email, poster or telephone call. The telling of the story shouldn’t be limited to just online. Take it offline too.

Best content comes from outside the office. Encourage those people who are out and about to use social media and in places where they don’t or wouldn’t shadow them for a while. If the street cleaner clears up rubbish in an empty street at 6.12am… does she?

Use the main account as Match of the Day highlights… and use others. This is where the wider network of linked social accounts works. Let the library talk on the library, the repairs team on theirs. Use the central one to collate and share.

Build a community from it. Update your A-Z list of council accounts.  Bring the people connected to them together. What worked well? What didn’t work well? Meet in a café at 4pm where they serve coffee and cake. Do it regularly.


GREAT STAT: The Value of an Email Subscriber is £1.51 and it’s the same for social media too

7531926016_de54e72dab_oA while back I helped with some comms planning for a web project that aimed to link members of the community with groups and clubs in their area.

There were more than half a dozen around the table. On the face of it, I quietly reflected that this was worthy but what was the point?

My misgivings were answered by a bright community worker. He told the story of a hypothetical man aged 66 who had just lost his wife. He may start drinking. He may start getting ill and see his GP. He may start being a nuisance to neighbours and the housing authority and police may get involved. All of this costs the taxpayer spiralling amounts of money. Suddenly, the project came alive. We could attach a financial value to the benefit it brought.

“Oh no,” another voice around the table said. “We would never work that out. That’s not what we do.”

But it’s the voice of the bright spark we need to listen to and the naysayer we don’t.

I’ve blogged before that we need to look finance in the eye. We absolutely need to justify what we do and using pounds shillings and pence.

Now, a massively useful tool is with us. The download ‘Measuring the Financial Value of a Subscriber’ has been published by Govdelivery at the Public Sector Communications conference in London. They’ve worked with respected communications consultant and academic Guy Dominy to work out the value of an email subscriber. The figures and approach, they say, translate to social media too.

Dominy nails it in the opening paragraph:

“The demand for financial accountability is now more than ever before one that public sector communications can no longer afford to ignore. This means we must not only be able to say exactly what we are investing in our communications but we must also place a financial value on the impact of our communications.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Forget likes, sign-ups and shares. The real test of how effective your communications is what people have done as a result. This is what AMEC’s Barcelona Principles addresses. After research, the Govdelivery whitepaper shows the value of an email subscriber is £1.51. That calculates the benefit to the individual, the organisation and society in general.

Here are some numbers to think on

Weather warnings – Every death on the roads costs £2 million, serious injury £200,000 and minor injury £23,000. They’re Department for Transport figures. So reducing this figure saves drivers, fire, police and NHS staff.

FOI – costs local government £35.5 million in staff time with 121,000 requests costing £293 each. Better communications to keep people informed can reduce this.

Children in care – the cost of sending children into the private sector can cost more than £120,000. The cost of fostering in-house can be less than £30,000.

They’re three of the hundreds of things that government – local or central – does but dig and you have numbers attached. Dominy argues that there is value in that:

“Conceptually, you multiply the probability a subscriber will carry out a particular action by the financial value of that action. If a subscriber has a one in ten chance of doing something that is worth £1,000 to you, that subscriber is worth £100 to you.”

The good news is that Dominy sets out a process to help you calculate the value to individuals, organisations and society.

To download the Govdelivery ‘Measuring the Financial Value of a Subscriber’ whitepaper by Guy Dominy click here.


DIGITAL LIST: 10 things on the web that caught my eye

Back in the day when the social web seemed new case studies and examples emerged like roadsigns in the fog. Rarely and eagerly sought. 

Today, things are different and what was once rare is now expected. Such is the pace of change. So, here’s a crack at rounding-up some of the good things in one place before they get lost. Some you may know. Some may be new. I’ve veered away from posting the sort of content I’m helping to share on comms2point0. That’s more case studies, data and think pieces.

  1. Celtic fans respond with cocoa pops to online Turkish fans who threaten to stab them

Turkish football fans have carved out a reputation for trouble in the past with knife attacks on rival supporters. So, when Fenerbache drew Celtic in Europe some armchair hooligans took selfies with knives threatening violence.

The response from the Celtic supporters was rather sharp. They could have threatened even greater violence in response. Instead they used the Simpsons-inspired hashtag #thatsnotaknife to respond with an arms race of their own. They took masked selfies with household objects including a spoon, a banana and a box of cocoa pops. As an example of an organic self-organised campaign it’s brilliant.

scot2

Original link: Daily Telegraph.

2. Star Wars scenes as album covers

I’m really no Star Wars nerd. I really couldn’t tell you the name of the bar Hans Solo walked into in Return of the Jedi. Or was it Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? But this collection of mock retro album covers really is a fabulous thing of design.

tat

Original link: cnet.com.

3. Australian batsmen Chris Rodgers and Steve Smith head through the Long Room at Lord’s

Another Ashes series and another victory for England. As ever, the two sides went head-to-head ov er social media to see who could produce the best content. Video emerged as a key battleground. Here’ is a clip of the two batsmen coming off the field through the historic Long Room. It works for me for being real-time, slightly geurilla, unpolished but giving behind-the-scenes content. It was shared almost 200-times giving a tidy digital footprint.

Original link: @homeofcricket.

4. The Humans of New York Facebook page

There are two sides to the internet. The good and the bad. The Humans of New York Facebook page is everything that’s good about the internet. It started as a photography project by a photographer. As he took the pictures the powerful human stories behind them came tumbling out. Sometimes they make me laugh and sometimes cry. Always they tell a story with humanity. This summer the page has visited Pakistan and Iran. Two countries whose web presence in my timeline is shrouded in darkness. The Humans of New York page let some sunshine in.

pakistan

Original link Humans of New York Facebook page.

5. The Homes of Football

As the Humans of New York is to cities the Homes of Football Twitter is to football. Roy Stuart Clarke has been taking pictures of the sport for more than 20 years. He’s not interested in the action. It’s what happens away from the pitch that he’s more interested in.

Original link: @homesoffootball.

6. Pages from Ceefax… revived

Back in the day you had two choices. You went to the paper shop and bought a paper and maybe they something on Stoke City. Or you used ceefax and turned to p312. It was the internet of the day and how I loved it. But then its faster and slicker younger brother the web came along and turned our heads. But a geek in a bedroom has rebuilt Ceefax and has taken a live news stream so you can watch today’s news again. Slowly.

ceefax

Original link: pagesfromceefax.net

7. The Isles of Scilly Police Facebook page

This is as close to a perfect public sector Facebook page as its possible to get. Public servants talking like humans. There’s wit, humour and drama. All of it points towards the fact that there isn’t much crime there but if there is they are ready to strike.

scilly

Original link: Isles of Scilly Police Facebook page.

8. dorsetforyou.com’s social media directory

As new sites are created it’s sometimes hard to keep track of ones that have been started. That great Facebook page. What was it called again? Councils across Dorset – there’s seven of them – do collaboration while others just talk about it. They have a shared website and they’ve got a shared A-Z where people can find social sites from across the region.

dorsetOriginal link: dorsetforyou.com 

9. The Official North Korea Instagram

Access to the life under the Pyongyang regime is closely restricted. But bizarrely, one of the few routes is via Instagram. The official North Korean government account @northkorea_dprk_today is one route that’s open. Propaganda posters, pictures of crops and smiling people prevail along with lengthy narratives in support of the socialist utopia. If you want to get a flavour of what the USSR would be like on social media it’s here. A historic oddity. No pictures of starvation or opponents getting machine gunned, however.

insta

Original link: @northkorea_dprk_today.

10. RNLI crew rescue a man from a sinking ship 

When the RNLI go to work they do it miles from view with no-one really to see. The trouble is that people love to see what they get up to. This footage from the onboard camera is raw and unedited but was seen by almost 3,000 on the Facebook page and more via mainstream media. This demonstrates the benefit of sharing the sweets by sharing access to those on the ground as well as the usefulness of video.

rnli

Original link: Peterhead RNLI.

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