HERE NOW: video is not the future, it’s the now

18446561558_269901d6cb_bThe title I was given for the session ‘video: it’s the future’ made me think. It’s actually already here.

It’s been clear for some time that video has been getting more important.

These aren’t bold predictions from industry analysts that may or may not come off. They’re the here and now.

The four reasons for video’s rise

What has convinced me is first anecdotal data of travelling on buses and trains watching people with their mobile phones. Where once they read newspapers now they are on their phones swiping through emails, websites and social media. People’s smartphones have got more powerful. They can watch and shoot their own video. Behemoths like Facebook and Twitter fall over themselves to make video more accessible in your timeline. Besides, we are inherently lazy. We are drawn to images.

The data makes the case

All that is true and where it is confirmed is the data. Ofcom say that 66 per cent of UK adults have a smartphone and almost half are happy to watch short form video. That’s footage less than five minutes.  TV is still here. So is TV news. But in the battle for your attention it is getting out-gunned by the clip of a new-born panda. No wonder BBC journalists are being taught how to make more short-form content.

People want to learn

It’s been an amazing experience co-delivering video skills for comms workshops with Steven Davies. People do want to learn and with a few basics they are off making good use of video. The barrier? Often it is the tech and time. An android or an apple device will cut it. A blackberry won’t. As you practice more the quicker you get at thinking through, creating, editing and delivering video.

But where does video go?

Convention has it that YouTube is the only show in town. That’s not the case anymore. Facebook at the moment is rewarding you for uploading video to a page by showing it to more people.  Twitter joined Facebook in autoplaying video as you scroll through your timeline. It’s made it easier to post video from your phone. But the idea of making one video and posting it everywhere is dangerous. The optimum time for a Facebook video is 22 seconds and on YouTube far longer. Vine is six seconds and Instagram not much more than 10 seconds. What counts as a view is opaque. On Facebook it is three seconds and YouTube 30 seconds.

The what is next?

We’re moving as fast as the tech is moving. A few years ago watching video on your phone would have been unimaginable. Today? It’s common. Two important steps are realtime and what can be grouped together as virtual reality.

Realtime is the posting video as live. Your smartphone becomes an outside broadcasting truck and as the super-portable clip onto yourself GoPro cameras are now integrated with livestreaming Twitter app Periscope the climber livestreaming his ascent up the north face of the Eiger is now possible. Even with a smartphone you can post within minutes an Environment Agency officer talking during the floods of how the Morpeth dam was working:

 

Virtual reality is something I’ve blogged about before. It’s watching footage that sees you standing in the scene and allows you to look down and around. New York Times are pioneering new ways of storytelling.

Facebook’s 360 video allows you to watch footage on your smartphone and move it around to see a different perspective. Footage of US fighter pilots taking off show this. YouTube has also allowed a 360 video and Flickr has done something similar.

But the tech

A few years ago virtual reality could be said to be a niche. Now a Google cardboard headset costs a tenner and allows a more immersive experience. But you can watch just with your tablet or smartphone. It’s not strictly the same experience but you get a flavour.

Two helpful things

We’ve created an ever-updated resource for video and comms. You can see it here.

We also co-deliver workshops for comms people with University lecturer Steven Davies who has worked as a cameraman with BBC and as a filmmaker across the public sector.


15 predictions for public sector comms in 2016… and one for 2020

3747527884_81f7e9d19a_zThe best political reporters don’t make predictions, Judi Kantor once said.

So, seeing as I’m not a political reporter for the last few years I’ve made predictions about what may happen in my corner of the internet.

Looking forward, 2016 will be my seventh year of blogging, my 23rd year in and around the media industry and fourth year in business. I’m struck by the pace of change getting faster not slower. It’s also getting harder.

Last year I made predictions for local government comms that both came true and failed. Ones I got right? Some councils no longer have a meaningful comms function. Evaluation become a case of do or die. People who bang the table and say ‘no’ to stupid requests will stand a chance. Those who don’t won’t. There are fewer press releases. Video did get more important. Customer services, social media and comms need to become best friends. Facebook pages did become less relevant unless supported by a budget for ads. Linked

I was wrong about some things. There was experimentation with social media and new platforms like Instagram, whatsapp and snapchat were experimented with. Not nearly as much as people need to.

The jury is out on content being more fractured. There are still too many central corporate accounts and not enough devolved. I’m still not sure that enough people are closing failing social media accounts.

Public sector comms in 2016…

For the last few years I’ve looked at social media in local government. But the barrier between digital and traditional has blurred and the barrier between sectors also blurs so I’ve widened it out.

The flat white economy will form part of the future. Economist Douglas McWilliams gave the tag to web-savvy freelancers and start-ups with laptops. To get things done in 2016, teams buying in time and skills for one-off projects will become more common.

There will be more freelancers. There’s not enough jobs to go around and more people will start to freelance project to project. Some will be good and some bad.

Video continues to grow massively. For a chunk of the year I talked about Cisco estimating that 70 per cent of the web would be video by 2017. By the end of the year some commentators said that figure had already been reached. People are consuming short-form video voraciously. But can you make something that can compete with cute puppies?

LinkedIn will be the single most useful channel for comms people. Twitter is great. But the convergence of job hunting, shop window and useful content will push LinkedIn ahead.

Successful teams will have broken down the digital – traditional divide. They’ll plan something that picks the best channels and not have a shiny social add-on right at the end.

Say hello to VR video. By the end of 2015, the New York Times VR – or virtual reality – videos broke new ground. These are immersive films viewed through a smartphone and Google cardboard sets. By the end of the year the public sector will start experimenting.

The most sensible phrase in 2016 will be: ‘if it’s not hitting a business objective we’re not doing it and the chief exec agrees with us.’ Teams of 20 have become teams of eight. You MUST have the conversation that says you can’t deliver what you did. It’s not weakness. It’s common sense. Make them listen. Or block off three months at a time TBC to have that stroke.

‘Nice to have’ becomes ‘used to have’ for more people. As cuts continue and widen more pain will be felt by more. Some people don’t know what’s coming down the track.

People will realise their internal comms are poor when it is too late.  Usually at a time when their own jobs have been put at risk.

Email marketing rises. More people will realise the slightly unglamorous attraction of email marketing. Skills in this area will be valued.

As resources across some organisations become thinner the chances of a fowl-up that will cost people lives increase. It probably won’t be a one-off incident but a pattern of isolated incidents uncovered much later. The kick-back when this does emerge will be immense. For organisations who have cut, when this emerges the comms team will be swamped. At this point the lack of functioning comms team will become an issue and the pedulum may swing back towards having an effective team. For organisations who have retained a team, this will be a moment to prove their worth.

Comms and PR continue to become female. A trend in 2015 was the all-female team. This will eventually percolate upwards towards leadership.

Comms and PR will get younger. Newsrooms when they lost senior staff replaced them with younger people. This trend will continue to be replicated.

As the pace of change continues training and peer-to-peer training will never be more important. Teams that survive will be teams that invest in their staff. And encourage staff to share things they are good at.

Speclaist generalists will continue to be prized. That’s the person who can be really, really good at one thing and okay to good at lots of others.

And a prediction for 2020

Those people with a willingness to learn new skills and experiment will still have a job in 2020. Those that won’t probably will be doing something else. Don’t let that be you.

Creative commons credit: https://flic.kr/p/6Ha4tJ


CLOSED DATA: The Problem With Open Data is Open Data People

3703575103_e11976b530_bThere is a movement that many people haven’t heard of that in theory has the power to re-shape the world you live in.

It can expose fraud, save lives and give new insight into the London blitz.

The movement is for open data. That’s the publishing of all public information.

So, that’s everything from the location of public toilets or grit bins to what suppliers a council buys toilet roll from.

Once the data is published in a format that computers can read – csv files on a spreadsheet should do it – the information can start to throw-up trends and spikes unseen by the human eye. Tim Berners-Lee gave an excellent TED talk on the subject which you can see here.

There’s a significant role it can play in creating insight that can shape communications decisions.

But the single biggest obstacle to all this is that open data people are bad – no, stratospherically bad – at communicating with non-geeks.

I’ll give you an example.

In Birmingham, there’s an informal event called Brewcamp which sees people come together at a café after hours to hear three speakers. There’s room for discussion afterwards.

A year or so back, with the coffee bought we sat down for the first speaker. This was on an aspect of open data which more than half the audience had come for. It was a pretty technical discussion of SPARQL queries and universal formats that left the converted animated and unconverted in the dark.

“Could I just say,” one baffled audience member said to the geeks at the end, “that you lot are really, really scary and I diidn’t understand a word that anyone said.”

And then hack days. That’s the process where mainly coders gather round to put their heads together to try and solve a problem by building a website or an app. Largely as a prototype. At best, this creates new ideas and approaches. At worst, it’s geeks showboating to other geeks.

I’m not remotely open data expert. I get the broad principles. I even helped the council who I was working for pioneer publishing every line of spend over £500. And no, bloggers did not act as an army armchair of auditors. I also co-founded a long defunct blog to try and share examples of where open data made a difference to tell the story. I gave up.

But the excellent BlueLightCamp event in Birmingham reminded me of the problem that the open data community have of speaking outside the coding ghetto. The people I met were all fine, passionate people. But they voiced day-to-day frustration in dealing with non-coders. Rewired State and Young Rewired State do good work in the field. And I like the look of Mark Braggins’ Open Data Aha! blog.

Nothing changes overnight.

But until enough open data geeks speak human then open data will not realise its potential.

Here’s how: tell them what the problem you faced was. Not the code problem but the actual real world problem. Then tell them what the thing was that cracked it. Then mention there’s a bit of open data under the bonnet that helped that.

The story needs to be told again and again. Not as a csv file. But in plain English.

Creative commons credit 

Bike https://flic.kr/p/6DgMRa


LIGHTBULB TYPES: The Great Universal Sticky ‘Do They Get It?’ Problem and the Three Types in Your Team

7142989057_53d70b6bae_zTwice in the past couple of weeks I’ve been reminded about about the great universal sticky problem and what to do about it.

The problem that almost dare not speak it’s name is how much your team are keen to change, innovate, be creative and explore new ways of communicating. Do they see an infographic or Snapchat and want to know more? Or do they roll their eyes and look at the clock?

In short, do they ‘get it’?

The subject came up at BlueLightCamp in Birmingham which was an excellent event for people in organisations who may deal with emergencies.

You may be a great person in a senior position. You may want your team to change and adapt. But the hard fact is that they all may not. I’m here to tell you that that’s okay. And it’s not your fault. So stop blaming yourself.

When I was in local government I was fortunate enough to have a boss who did ‘get it’ and was keen for me to experiment and try things out. I was lucky. Early on I helped organise an unconference in the town where I worked to talk through some of  the bright ideas on how to communicate better using the web. I invited the rest of the team along expecting them to come and ‘get it’ straight away. I was expecting a Simpsons moment where everyone comes, the penny drops and everyone cheers wildly. Of 16, just four came. Two were unimpressed and two ‘got it.’

It took me a while to work this out. My team, your team, their team, everyone’s team is generally made up of three types of people.

Section One: People with light bulbs over their head

They are the ones who need to be celebrated. They have ideas, energy and enthusiasm. They can see that the world has changed and they want to try and create the new rules. They want things to work and they’ll leave at 7pm at night if they have to and carry on at home.

Section Two: People who need a piece of paper

They are the ones who don’t have a lightbulb above their head. But they may have a bit of a glimmer. But the glimmer is obscured by worrying about permission and bandwidth and what the director might say. But if they have a piece of paper in their hand to say that ‘it’s alright, I have permission and I’ve been on a training session’ then that glimmer may spark. And some of them may well turn into people with lightbulbs over their head. They’ll leave the office at about a quarter past five.

Section Three: People who are unengaged

They don’t have a lightbulb over their head. Someone tried to do something differently in 2003 and it didn’t work. This won’t work either. They’ll fold their arms. They’ll mutter. They may even be actively unengaged and want the thing to fall over. They’ll leave the office at five o’clock on the dot and hate staying any later.

A simple plan for what to do

Give everyone the same opportunity. But concentre on the folk from section one. Their bright ideas, creativity and innovation will drive you forward. They’ll may even bright some of the section two people along when they realise that this is do-able.

And the section three people? If they don’t want to play you can’t make them. Make it clear that this is the path you’ll be going down. They can come with you or be left behind.

But don’t beat yourself up. Not everyone agreed with Winston Churchill, Tim Berners-Lee or Steve Jobs.

Creative commons picture credit: NASA.


DIGITAL CLASH: Comms and Social: Have we won the War?

272900992_18af4400c3_oA few things have crossed my timeline of late that reminds me that comms and social for all their outward signs are struggling to fit.

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.

Be timely.

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?


#VOTECARL: Can you help us make a statement?

Hello Reader… I’d like you do me a quick favour.

Normally, I try and post some ideas, case studies or things that have impressed me about digital communications. If you’ve got something out of them then great. If that’s the case they I’ve a favour to ask.

I’d like you in the words of Deelite to vote, baby, vote. For a local government digital comms manager Carl Haggerty. Would you do that for me? And spread the word with your friends and colleagues?

Who is Carl Haggerty? He’s been nominated for the Guardian Public Services Awards and the Leadership Excellence shortlist. You can see the shortlist here – and vote Carl while you are at it.

Sure, there’s some great people that shortlist. There’s a local authority chief executive, a chief constable, a chief prosecutor and a bloke who is doing great things at the heart of government with digital. Each of these no doubt deserves the accolade of being shortlisted. There should be more good people in the public services.

But I’d still really like you to Vote Carl.

But I’d also like to tell you some reasons why I’d like you to do me that great favour.

Because he’s at the sharp end. Carl is digital communications manager at Devon County Council. It’s probably an unfashionable place to some. But it’s got a great recond in the field. They were the first council in the country to use Twitter. They have a good grasp about what digital skills are and people who are involved with digital are encouraged to blog as part of their learning.

Because they’ve encouraged innovation and learning. They encourage people to learn and share skills through innovative ways. They stage internal events that take a different slant at what they are learning about. Like this event that encouraged people to learn through playing a board game.

Because Carl likes dogs. Look at this picture. What a lovely dog. Another reason to Vote Carl.

Because of localgovdigital. A peer led group set-up with the help of the LGA this is bringing together and sharing good work from across the country. Carl is chair. He’s really good at it and has got a good sense of direction about what needs doing. It’s starting to get stuck into some good work. Our blog is here. (Disclaimer: I’m also a member.)

Because like me Carl has been shaped by the unconference movement. In local government training budgets are largely a thing of the past. As the challenge of digital looms we’ve never been in a worse state financially as we are now. People like Carl are staging events to encourage learning for free. Because they want to. And because in an era of no experts we’re all learning and all contributing.

Because this will make a difference to all the above. It will. Honest. It will bring recognition and allow Carl and people like him to do more of the things that local government needs to do.

Because just imagine what kind of statement we can make. A bloke in Devon who is a leading light in making digital work better in local government who connects people using social media and who builds on them and gives back a heap of things can take down a load of very respected people to win an award.

How cool would that be?

Please do your bit and Vote Carl.

Thank you,

Dan xx


EMBEDDING DIGITAL? It’s the trust stupid. And knitting patterns

874865119_0a252ffd35_bTrust, trust, trust. Forget everything else. It’s not technology. It’s trust that you need to make social media fly in an organisation. That, ladies and gentlemen and knitting patterns.

It’s trust from people out there who you want to communicate with and trust back there from the organisation to allow you to do good work.

Too often we don’t see the wood for the trees. We think when we’ve got permission to use digital for an organisation or a company the battle is over. It’s not. It’s ongoing and will take years to win.

I’ve been mulling over the whole trust thing for a while. Ever since the IEWM Best by West Midlands put trust and a lack of it as one of the biggest barriers to embedding social media. Almost 40 per cent of people pointed to it.

The mulling continued at Scotgovcamp where I led a great discussion with some fine people on the subject. You can read a great post by Kenny McDonald on the event here. As the session wrapped up and almost as an after thought I asked how long it would take for digital not to be seen as a dangerous threat.

‘Five to 10 years,’ was the answer.

That scares the heck out of me. It’s too long. And Eddie Coates-Madden in his post is right to say as much.

Former Police Assistant Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie says that he trusted his officers with a baton so why wouldn’t he trust them with a Twitter account? He’s right. But it’s more than that. Top down trust is rare and should be celebrated. But it’s the winning it from the frontline up that’s the tricky part.

With trust you can start to prove the worth of what you are doing. You can shout about your successes and you can store up some house points for a time when the budget decisions are made and a bad day when things go wrong.

Here’s six things about trust you need to know

Trust is something that your social channel needs to earn with the outside world

The authentic works on social media. The corporate voice doesn’t. This doesn’t mean adding a sad face to a post about the passing of a former Mayor. It just means using a human tone and language. It also means being a named human being online just as much as you need to be offline to build trust.

Your internal comms for digital is never ending

Congratulations. You’ve won permission to use digital for the organisation. That doesn’t mean it’s embedded. It just means you’ve convinced enough people to put a toe in the water. The thing with toes in water is that they can be taken straight back out again. You’ll need to maintain the internal comms about what you are doing.

Take and share screen shots

That sucessful Facebook post that went viral? Take a screen shot and share it. Ping it to officers on the frontline and 5183452474_437b37fdbc_bthose higher up too. Let them see that you’ve connected with people and you are gathering useful feedback. The engineer sceptical about tweeting gritting was an early convert back in 2009 when he saw positive feedback.

Build up an understanding of social among senior people

Some say that your chief exec needs to tweet. I’m not so sure. I’ve seen organisations where the man at the top seems a digital native but the rest of the place lag far, far behind. You don’t need them blogging. You just need them to have a basic understanding of what digital communications is. That includes the pitfalls as well as the positives.

Knitting patterns can sometimes rock

One good point about engaging senior people is by working out what their interests are. Sit down with them and understand what they do away from the day job. Is it cricket? Football? Macrame? Or as one person at scotgovcamp said maybe it’s knitting? This is where a Twitter stream about knitting patterns can do a lot of good. Once they can connect with the social web in a fun informative non-work way they’ll bring that understanding with them.

Training and a policy

Yes, you need to train and you need some guidelines. But you need to make sure you leave space for creativity to take you places you never thought possible.

Creative commons credits

Green knitting http://www.flickr.com/photos/breibeest/874865119/sizes/l/

Orange knitting http://www.flickr.com/photos/48559365@N05/5183452474/


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