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.
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.
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.
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.
— Tony Clark (@tony1888c) August 30, 2015
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.
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.
— Lord’s Ground (@HomeOfCricket) July 16, 2015
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.
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.
— Mr Homes of Football (@HOMESofFOOTBALL) August 28, 2015
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.
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.
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.
Original 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.
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.
Original link: Peterhead RNLI.
Sure, there are still dinosaurs. But they’re dying out and have lost the battle so let’s not bother with them.
Ignorance is being replaced with the realisation that social media can’t be ignored by comms and PR people. Great.
But have we truly won the war? I’m not at all convinced we have.
There is a mindset that sees digital as a one way tick box exercise that exists only to generate likes or calls to action. In other words, it’s an extension of what traditional comms has always tried to be.
I absolutely get the need for comms teams to demonstrate worth. You sit down with the organisation, you listen to how you need to recruit 10 more carers to save £100k. Then you communicate to the right people at the right time in the right place. You record the new carers. Then you report back what you did.
I get that in spades.
I also get enthusiastically the idea that comms is not the size of the audience but what that audience has done as a result of what you’ve done.
I can also get the need to base comms on evidence and business cases to cut out the pointless vanity comms. You know the sort. The sort that needs this doing because we’ve always done it because the Director likes it.
I get that too.
I also get much of Rachel Moss’s post on not slavishly sticking to digital and doing traditional things too. If a poster works, use a poster. There is no earthly point, I’m guessing, for a LinkedIn group aimed at under fives.
I don’t think that comms people have fully realised what social is. It is not driven by likes, sign-ups and results. It is driven by conversation, sharing and stories. The return on investment comes as a spin-off and is all the more powerful for that.
Think of it in postal terms. It’s the difference between junk mail asking you to buy, buy, buy and the handwritten postcard addressed to you on your door mat.
I think of the police officer I spoke to early in my career who was one of the first to embrace Twitter. A senior officer he had a face that looked as though it had been in a few scraps in its time. I would not argue with that face if he asked me to move my car.
He used Twitter, the policeman told me, in exactly the same way as he would use conversation as if he walked down a parade of shops on his beat. He’d say good morning. He’d pass the time of day. He’d share a joke. He’d then ask someone once the ice was broken to remember to shut their windows when they went out in warm weather. Simple. And human.
The real return on investment for that officer comes in an emergency where there is a pre-built network of people willing to share their message.
Police officers get that you need to be human on the social web to be listened to. I’m not sure if comms people look at .
I think of the brands who tried to ‘leverage’ their audience with 9/11 tweets. I think of Pete Ashton one of the first people in Birmingham to use this thing called Twitter and work out what the social web was all about. I think of the chat I had with him on how he had consciously divorced himself from the growing social as numbers professionalisation of social media.
I think of the Best by WM survey that shows that digital comms in the West Midlands social has stalled at Twitter and Facebook and the new channels are not being explored.
It all points to this as a conclusion: social media and digital communications is one set of tools in the mix.
Use them if you think they’ll work but don’t be a channel fascist.
Share, inform, entertain and engage.
Measure if you like. But don’t let the tape measure drive you.
Explore with it. Experiment. Learn. There is so much wide open space to be experimented with.
Always, always, always be human with it.
If a police officer with a broken nose can get this, why can’t more comms people?
With social media dedicated frontline people can brilliantly provide a human face to champion the work an organisation is doing.
Morgan Bowers, Walsall Council’s senior countryside ranger, is a pioneer of this approach and has worked to innovate around how people outside the comms team in the public sector can do to really connect with people.
Seeing what she does blows away any institutional objections that comms people may have to opening up the gate to allow people outside comms to use social media. She connects using Twitter, Facebook, Scribd and a range of platforms not because they are there but because they serve a useful purpose.
Morgan is what happens when you open up social media use at an organisation to allow people to use social tools not as a one-off project but every day.
For my own part, I’m hugely proud of Morgan because I helped shape the open door access for frontline staff when I was at Walsall Council. In short, this was an appproach which saw people invited to come forward with ideas on how they could use social media. If their manager was fine and they were willing to have a chat we let people get going. One thing we did make sure of was that we got people to undergo some basic training for a couple of hours wiith a reminder that the code of conduct still applied online as it does offline. We also had six golden rules based around common sense that we asked people to abide by. Then we let them get on with it and were at the end of a phone if they needed help.
I’ve lost count of the number off times during training I’ve pointed to what Morgan is doing.
So, it was great to catch-up with her sat on a log in the middle of Merrion’s Wood surrounded with birdsong to chat to her to create a Soundcloud podcast you can hear here:
Morgan started the @walsallwildlife Twitter account in March 2011 which has grown to 1,700 followers. She looks to update every working day and finds that pictures work well. This may be a newt survey or volunteers repairing a fence. She’ll look to respond to people and will try and answer when people have a question. For events, the real time element of Twitter works really well as well as joining in wider discussions.
If you’ve ever wondered if my willow bird boxes are just for decoration…. pic.twitter.com/jM355vG97C
— Morgan Bowers (@TheReremouse) July 25, 2014
With more than 300-people added to her email list people who aren’t on social media can still keep in contact. If you come to a session you can get added to the mailing list to get updates on events being staged by the Walsall Council countryside services team.
For Morgan, the people liking her page are more from Walsall than further afield. Why? Maybe this is because Walsall people sign-up for it and when they comment thekir friends comment when they see them commenting or sharing an image. It becomes self-fulfilling but people are less inclined to click on a link to navigate away on Facebook than they are with Twitter. But they are more likely to share an image and ask what that particular plant or animal is.
Pictures are taken by Morgan at events and while she is out and about and then posted to her own Flickr stream as a record of where and what things have been done.It builds up a useful image library not just of the places Morgan looks after but provides sharable content that can drive traffic.
In the old days there used to be a telephone number and an answering machine and an email address too. Now, the eventbrite platforms allows Morgan to issue tickets for events for free.
Being passionate about wildlife Morgan was keen to get information out about the bee populations in Walsall and how people could help. She created a download which was titled very ambitiously The Bees of Walsall: Volume One. It got 2,000 downloads in a short space of time. If a niche subject like bees and Walsall can achieve wuite a lot in a short space of time just imagine what will happen with a more mainstream subject that people are really, really keen to hear.
Morgan has recorded audio trails around places like Merrions Wood in Walsall where she can record short sound clips. She makes QR codes on laminated paper cheaply and then puts them up across the wood so people with smartphones can directly access the clip. The beauty is that it is cheap to do.
What’s the downside?
Is it all good? Are there times when there is a chalk mark in the downside column? Absolutely. ForMorgan, the grey area between work and life can be a problem. She has her own Twitter account where she can talk about other things on days off. But she does often respond when someone on Friday night asks what to do with a baby bird.
So, what’s Morgan‘s return on investment?
For Morgan, the drive for using social media is not to do it for the sake of it but to connect with people. Still do the traditional commss like the press release to reach some people but overwhelmingly the web of Twitter, Facebook and email can be the way that Morgan sells out her activities and sessions which is an important way that she can quantify how effective her and her department is.
The Meteorwatch events that draws people to Walsall venues to help observe meteor showers has gone from attracting just 20 people to brining along up to 3,000 people which is a staggering figure.
A short clip of Morgan talking about her work
From Herefordshire in the south to Stoke-on-Trent in the north the region and across the Brum and Black Country conurbation continues to blaze a trail for how local government best uses social media channels.
Last year the Best by West Midlands whitepaper and survey gave a snapshot of where authorities were.
This year, the 2014 survey has done the same and have we moved on? Of course we have. You can read the round-up post here.
But a couple of things really stood out and I’ll blog them in the coming weeks. Not least the statistic that comms teams are comfortable with the established platforms like Twitter and Facebook but new channels like Snapchat and WhatsApp? Not at all. Of the 18 channels used – three up from last year the results paint a picture.
Most Used Channels
Twitter 100 per cent
Facebook 96 per cent
YouTube 81 per cent
Flickr 65 per cent
Whats App 4 per cent
Snapchat 0 per cent
Source: Best by West Midlands IEWM July 2014
The findings formed part of a session at commscamp last week and it turns out this blindspot for new channels is not something unique to the West Midlands.
You need a digital comms expert in your team.
It’s something I’ve been banging on about for some time now. The world is changing. You need to keep pace. Unless you have someone horizon scanning you’ll be missing the bigger picture. Sales pitch: that’s a service comms2point0 provides but really as a comms person you need to have a voracious inquisitiveness about how the web is changing your job.
But what is Snapchat?
The low down is that this is a picture messaging service beloved of young people. It’s picture led and is meant to disappear from the web in 24-hours. The sender can opt to save a pic and the the recipient can take a screenshot. There’s a useful parents guide that Snapchat themselves have produced.
Some brands have started to use it like McDonalds who are telling people about changes to the menu and offers, the Philadelphia Reds baseball team giving behind-the-scenes access and the World Wildlife Fund who used a Snapchat-inspired campaign and this short YouTube clip showing endangered species at risk and asking if the images would be their #lastselfie.
You can watch the YouTube clip here:
The stats are that Snapchat is growing although the detail is hard to piece together. A survey suggests 25 per cent of smartphone users in the UK have Snapchat and 70 per cent of users are female.
What is whats app?
It’s SMS without the spiralling charges. You send and receive something that looks like SMS but without the individual charges. As of April 2014, there is 500 million users and the company which was bought for $19 billion by Facebook says it has only just started.
It’s fair to say that marketing and comms people are baffled by what impact this will have on them with predictions of zero impact although others have been creative to engage with it. Like the Israeli chocolate company who created a game for users to play and the Bollywood cinema who created a competition to promote a new film.
But is this something that comms let alone public sector comms has got their teeth into? Not at all.
Your two big challenges
Firstly, you need to know where do they fit in the landscape and secondly, we need to think how we go about getting the skills.
The re-assuring thing in debating this at commscamp is that this feels no different to Twitter in 2007. Those that work in comms and PR at first thought it would go away and then we gradually worked out how to use it. That’s a journey we’ve already been on so shouldn’t be too worried.
It’s fine for us grown-ups to work out what these platforms are so you don’t appear like the magistrate who famously asked: ‘Who are The Beatles?’
The old rules stand true. Go onto a platform as yourself for a bit to understand the language and what works. Then think about using it yourself.
I’ve argued before that there needs to be space to experiment away from the bustle of the day job and campaign evaluation. This is one of those times.
Creative comms credit
Grid: Ann Kempster https://www.flickr.com/photos/annkempster/sets/72157645172301580/