#LGCOMMS: the digital debate: is traditional comms dead?

1664489869_3fadab9f95_oIt’s the LGComms Academy in Cardiff this week. A three day event looking at where we are, why we are and where we’ll be going in communications in local government.

There will be some excellent speakers and there will I’m sure be much to learn. You can take a look at the line up from May 21 to 23 via a pdf here. The line-up is not available in a more a ccessible format, I’m afraid.

Last year, there was the profoundly depressing experience of a panel on social media being glibly introduced with the words: “There’s only two things wrong with social media. It’s not social and it’s not media.”

Thankfully, the person who uttered these words has since spoken of his sea change in attitude. There’s also a lot of digital on the agenda. There’s even an unconference slot with Lloyd Davis on Thursday afternoon which should be interesting.

Is traditional comms dead?

There’s also a Think Tank discussion I’ll be chairing on The Digital Debate: Is Traditional Comms Dead? That takes place at 6.30pm on Tuesday May 21. On the panel will be Eddie Coates-Madden of Hull City Council,

Eddie Coates-Madden, Assistant Head
of Service: Communications and Marketing, Hull City
Council, Gavin Sheppard, The Media Trust and Sara
Moseley, Cardiff University
Kuku Club, Park Plaza Hotel

With that in mind here’s five links that may fire some thought. See? I’ve even highlighted some key points to save you the bother.

Are comms the blockers?

Catherine Howe, of Public i wrote a useful summary of the commscamp unconference session in Birmingham asking if comms team are the single biggest block on good social media un local government.You can read the full text of her post here.

I think we have to conclude that communications are often blockers to social media activity but that they have good as well as bad reasons for acting this way. As the use of social media becomes more entrenched then I would speculate that this will become increasingly a question of organisational leadership rather than any specific practitioner groups and that it will be important to start discussing where that leadership should come from. If we want to start to see social media operating outside of comms then arguably that leadership needs to be external as well.  The question of being good organisational customers of digital projects will perhaps be the next challenge we have to collectively face in taking some of the excellent best practice we see around us into more mainstream use and out of the ambit of a single team.

In defence of the press release

Local government press officer Kam Mistry wrote a defence of the pr here sparked by a different debate at commscamp in Birmingham earlier this year.

When you dissect it, you realise that the press release is a fantastic form of communication. You grab someone’s attention with a good headline, they then read your first paragraph and, assuming it’s still interesting, will continue to 97220057_bdf73cb248_bread the rest of it and then publish it. I suppose it’s a bit like the mating game – initial attraction, stimulate interest, maintain interest and then… oh dear this is turning into a Swiss Toni metaphor.

Yes, the press and media are having to evolve but they will be there for many years to come. Newspapers – in print and electronic forms  – will continue to be key channels for effective communication and we really should not see them, or press releases, as anachronisms.

Put it this way. First there was radio and then television came along. Have we all thrown away our radios?

You can read the full text here.

PR is dead and so are newspapers

Eddie Coates-Madden is part of the LGComms panel and wrote this on the challenge that traditional pr and newspapers face and a presentation he gave:

And I ended with my prediction of the future for journalism; that it will be fast, fast, fast; that stories are everywhere, not on a Press Release; that everyone can be a journalist (not necessarily a good one, but everyone can break stories and has the tools to publish); that journalists have become a brand in themselves; that  broadcast without response is dead; that there will be ever more accountable journalism, more easy disgust, more easy offence and that accountability is every organisation’s to handle, and that there are more easily targeted campaigns and more moral tensions. activism is clicktivism and that might mean more and more difficult challenges, to freedom of expression, politically unpopular views, financial security, even – when wrongly done – to personal safety.

You can read more here. 

Death to the campaign!

Jim Garrow works in public health in Philladelphia. He writes a blog and updates it prodigiously. He has the uncanny ability to nail things. This post may be uncomfortable – nay challenging – reading for comms people at LGComms. But that’s why you should read it. He argues that campaigns are counter-productive and switching things on and off don’t work with people.

First, it assumes that our audience is there, available, placid and interested, during the time we decide they should hear our messages. If they are otherwise ready to lose weight, or set up a communications plan, or change the batteries in their smoke detectors, except for some family crisis that happens during our predefined “campaign time,” then they don’t get the message that they need to change their behavior. (This is a HUGE reason I despise days, weeks and months 2911854766_250af8cebe_othat celebrate or raise awareness for something; what, tuberculosis doesn’t matter the other 364 days of the year?

The other reason only communicating through campaigns is harmful is, in my estimation, infinitely worse. Say your timing works out and you get lucky and actually find someone who was patiently waiting for your message. Not only that, but the message is specifically tailored to the group she self-identifies with (because you’re still marketing to audiences and not everyone), and she takes action on it. She’s moved from Contemplation to Preparation based solely on your messaging. Congratulations! But, what happens when you end your campaign? Specifically, what happens to this wonderful person that you’ve prepped to be ready to move forward and actually change her behavior? Does she not move to the Action stage? Does she resent your messaging for leaving her hanging, alone? Is she willing to wait another year for you to become interested in her problem again? Will she even listen next time?

You can read more here.

Creative commons credits

Newspapers http://www.flickr.com/photos/53531820@N00/1664489869/

Movable type http://www.flickr.com/photos/cibergaita/97220057/sizes/l/

Yellow wall http://www.flickr.com/photos/notsogoodphotography/2911854766/sizes/o/


FUTURE TACKS: Why every organisation needs a digital comms specialist

6701931811_e69e5e0f1e_bRight, I’m going to say something bold and then directly contradict myself. But just stay with me on this, okay?

We all need to be doing more of this digital communications stuff from the hard-bitten pr to the frontline officer.

There shouldn’t be a digital comms team and a traditional comms team in a different part of the building.

There should be one. Which doesn’t mind if frontline people use digital too.

But this is the tricky bit. Every organisation now needs a digital communications specialist to help make this happen.

Let me explain.

Why there shouldn’t be a divide between digital and traditional comms 

Back in 1998 the newspaper I was worked at with reluctance set-up email addresses. Our office of 12 reporters had one email platform rigged up to one machine. We gathered around like a bunch of Marconis as the first e-mail landed. “Oooooh!” we cooed as it landed and someone plucked up the courage to type a reply. When the inbox filled we didn’t know what to do.

Back then email in the office I worked in email was seen as specialist job trusted to just one person. Times change and now every new reporter there gets an email address. Which is as it should be.

When digital communications emerged to greet the social web a whole new series of skills were required. Cutting and pasting a press release didn’t work so people re-discovered conversation and informality. It became clear that the language of each platform was different to each. People’s media use splintered and people could no longer be found in one place but several.

This is something I’ve blogged about before and others have too and GCN’s Ann Kempster has written:

I don’t see how a modern press function can operate in isolation, not taking up modern communication methods and solely relying on press cuttings and column inches. The world just does not operate this way anymore. We all need to be able to operate across comms disciplines. That goes for digital too – we need to grasp marketing and press and internal comms.

7830838870_5a934c4e1b_bAnd also Jeremy Bullmore in Campaign was at it in 2008:

As soon as everyone realises that digital is nothing to do with digital and all about interactivity and that interactivity allows brands and people to interact as no other medium does then trad and mod will all regroup under the same roof.

To communicate over a range of platforms needs new skills

According to Google, 90 per cent of our media consumption takes place via a screen. Sometimes several screens at once as the Newsnight TV audience contribute via their smartphones to the debate on the #newsnight Twitter hashtag, for example.

Acording to Ofcom’s annual survey, in 2012 more than 50 per cent of adults have a social networking profile with 78 per cent of those aged 15 to 24. It makes fascinating reading.

In short, if you want to communicate with people you need to use a variety of channels.

A press release is no longer your gateway to the media.

A press release, web update, a picture of a nature reserve posted to Twitter on a mobile phone, a sharable Facebook image, a Soundcloud audio clip of a politician speaking or a LinkedIn group contribution from a named officer is. But the thing is. It’s not always all of those things. Knowing the landscape means knowing which will be relevant.

Which is why we need a digital communications specialist.

But won’t a digital comms specialist mean that people think ‘oh, that’s their job?’

I’ve heard it said from people I rate that having a social media officer or a digital comms specialist means that things get chucked over to them to tweet, or whatever. That’s certainly a fair point.

6754500383_898d6ab22d_bBut the specialist whose job it is to share the sweets, advise and train others is vital and won’t let that happen. Think about the teams you’ve worked in. If you are lucky you work with great people who come up with great ideas. But not everyone in the team is always like that. Often, you can only be as good as your least enthusiastic employee and if their grasp of digital comms is poor their delivery will mirror it.

The pace of change in technology is frightening. It’s unrealistic to think that everyone will be equally across it.

Which is why we need a digital communications specialist.

What a digital comms specialist should look like…

1. A trainer…

2. A geek…

3. A solver of problems that aren’t problems yet…

4. A horizon scanner…

5. A builder of an internal community…

6. A source of help…

7. A winner of internal arguments…

8. Someone who knows the channels. Trad and digital…

If you have someone who is already doing this full time you’re quids in. If you’re not your organisation risks falling behind.

Some great work has been done adhoc with digital communications across local government. But without mainstreaming the advances at best will be patchy.

Creative commons credits

TV logo http://www.flickr.com/photos/jvk/6701931811/sizes/l/

Talking http://www.flickr.com/photos/yooperann/7830838870/sizes/l/

Screen http://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/6754500383/sizes/l/


COMMUNICATE BETTER: On putting the show on right here

8509492809_a9766a9e56_bIt’s like a line from a Sixties ‘B’ movie: “Hey everyone, let’s get a converted banana warehouse next to a canal in the West Midlands and put on an event! With no agenda! It’ll be a sell out!”

Which is pretty much what we did with Commscamp the first unconference for communicators in and around local and central government.

Held at The Bond Company, a lovely converted warehouse in Birmingham’s creative quarter of Digbeth, we drew people from all over the country. It’s 135-capacity we could have sold four times over.

More than 170,000 saw the tweets on the day, a tweetreach survey revealed, and more than 500 joined in the debate on Twitter. More watching the sessions which were livestreamed.

People left the day fired with ideas with connections having been made with the unconference format allowing debate to flow over the tea, coffee and cake.

What is an unconference? It’s attendees deciding what gets talked about and voting with their feet to choose the break-out sessions they want. Want to crack a problem? Pitch a session and help run it yourself.

A revolutionary approach? Not really. It’s based on the success of sister events like UK Govcamp, localgovcamp, librarycamp and Hyper WM with many of them being staged in the highly networked city of Birmingham.

Why has there  been such an explosion? Simple. A perfect storm of budget cuts, new technoplogu and people excited a little by the new and better things they can do with them.

A couple of years ago I talked to Home Office press officers.

“Why would I bother with a few thousand people on Twitter when the frontpage of the Sun gets read by two million?” one asked.

A few months later the riots struck and those organisations without a Twitter presence were hopelessly exposed.

I thought of that press officer when the streets burned.

But commscamp was far more than just geeks needing to understand how the web has changed.

It was also about the real human day-to-day problems of how not just to do better for less but how to do completely different for less too.

There was the central government comms person sharing in her session how they coped when their team was cut by two thirds almost overnight.

There was the local government officer talking about how comms people should be letting go of the reins and allowing frontline staff to use social media to tell their day-to-day story.

I’m biased, but people like Morgan Bowers, Walsall Council’s tweeting countryside ranger should be revered and held up as an example to every organisation. You can connect with people with a realtime picture of a newt. Morgan does.

There was the heated debate over the future of the press release. Some thought they had just as important a role as ever. Me? I’m not so sure. Not when you see what things like Torfaen Council’s excellent singing Elvis gritter YouTube can achieve with its 300,000 views. That’s just brilliant.

There was the local government press officer who button holed me with the words: “I just didn’t know comms people could help democracy” or the central government comms person almost drunk with the ideas and possibilities they’d breathed in the asking anyone who would listen how things like commscamp could be repeated.

But the simple answer is it can. With enthusiasm, some volunteers and a smidge of sponsorship you can run your own and it was heartening to hear how others were planning their own.

The fact that it was planned by three people – two local government people myself and Darren Caveney – along with the Cabinet Office’s brilliant dynamo Ann Kempster really shows the power of a good idea, drive and some free social media platforms. The helpers who helped on the day showed that too.

The real value of unconferences is not just the lessons learned on the day and there are plenty. But it’s the connections made and the experiences shared that will still be paying back in 12 months time.

There’s no question that local government and central government have got so much in common and can learn from one another. Fire and rescue people too. And NHS. And the voluntary sector. We need to work with each other more because we face the same problems.

But the golden thread that ran through everything was a determination to do things better by sharing ideas. That, people, is just a bit exciting.

A version of this appeared on The Guardian.


CROSSROADS: 12 predictions for local government digital comms in 2013

3905842249_7dd2e55bf9_bNever make predictions, especially about the future. Wise words I feel.

With a bit of time to pass about 12 months ago I rather boldly made some 12 predictions for local government digital which is an area I work in a bit. You can read them here.

So, 12 months later I thought it maybe an interesting experiment in pointing and laughing at myself to see how accurate they were and make 12 more.

What was right? 

JFDI did die. What’s JFDI? It’s Just Flipping Do It. It’s putting something up as an experiment without having to go through layers of policy and permissions. Chucking up a Facebook page had the whiff of revolution in 2009. Now everyone is using it and there’s strategies wrapped in HR policies it’s hard to have the space to innovate.

Digital customer services are growing. Norfolk County Council have blazed a trial on Twitter that others are following.

Someone did do something really stupid and it didn’t see their operation shut down. Little did I think it would be my own organisation. A member of staff accidentally tweeted from the corporate account that they soon wished that hadn’t. It wasn’t fun. But it wasn’t fatal, thankfully.

Emergency planners are using digital channels as second nature. The gift of big-powerful-ultra-storm-but-not-quite-a-hurricane Sandy which struck New York showed how powerful real time updates, cleaning-up and myth-busting became.

The local government social media star was someone you’d never heard of in place you didn’t think was digital friendly. For me, this was @whocareswalsall who stage pop-up campaigns around social care. Their live tweeting from the home of a dementia sufferer and his carer was breathtakingly good. Why? It painted a personal story that would not have been possible without digital.

4734206265_cba1558b2d_bLinked social has grown. This is a move away from just a corporate account to a range of accounts and platforms from the same authority.

Good conferences had an unconference element. Or were unconferences. The days of £200 a ticket events have gone. The days of £100 a ticket seem dated. There was a lively online debate on the merit of unconferences but the best bits of inspiration I found came from barcamps and in the West Midlands there was an explosion of them.

Newspapers have carried on dying. Bit of a home banker of a prediction this. Although there are signs with live blogging and other tools that they are seeing the value of social media.

What was wrong?

Data journalism didn’t grow. Nationally, maybe. But locally not and bloggers were not in the main building mash-ups to hold instutions to account.

What was half right?

Comms is still fighting for control of social media and not sharing the sweets nicely, like they need to. They’ll learn eventually.

Data visualisation didn’t boom. There were isolated pockets of how it could be used well but it’s far from being an accepted part of the comms armoury.

Some amazing things happened in Scotland. There were events planned across the country on Twitter and people like Carolyne Mitchell, Leah Lockhart, David Grindlay, Kate Bond and others are doing great things but I get the feeling it’s not quite in the mainstream.

Here’s 12 rash predictions for 2013

1. Comms teams will become smaller. Always in the frontline for criticism they will become bigger targets.Which leads to…

2. Smart comms people in local government will realise that channel shift comms may be the reason they will survive. It costs money to talk to people face-t0-face. It’s cheaper on the web. But how do you tell people about the best way to get a job done? By good comms which needs to be evaluated to see how effective it has been not by a potential audience but by the number of people who stopped calling and started reporting online.

4399722909_b77b178be8_o3. Twitter defamation lawyers4u will become a reality. The wild west days of the social web will be over. The row over tweeting false allegations against Tory Ministers has changed the landscape. How soon before ambulance chasing gets replaced with tweet chasing? How soon before a local politician takes legal action over a rogue tweet?

4. Innovation will wither as as spare capacity is cut. With less people doing more things they room for ground breaking projects will shrink and ever disappear.

5. The private sector will be doing the best innovation. Up until now JFDI has taken the public sector very far. Well resourced private sector comms teams will do the best creative thinking. Seen what Gatwick Airport do with social media? You simplty must. Twitter as an engagenent channel. Pinterest to promote shops and offers. Soundcloud for audio books for children parents can play their fractious children. Brilliant.

6. Digital comms specialists are needed. Yes, we all need to be doing it. But there needs to be a hand on the tiller of any organisation just to steady the ship, see what is on the horizon and think creatively. Sorry. But there is. The evidence of Gatwick tells us this.

7. Digital box ticking needs to be guarded against. As the argument has been won it becomes mainstream. Bad social media will become more prevalent as the box marked ‘we’ve tweeted from our own special account’ is ticked.

8. People will see that social media isn’t a golden bullet. Social media has had a great run. It’s promised lots and has delivered an awful lot. But it’s one of several channels.

9. Facebook as a local government channel is over. With the change of algorithm Facebook at a stroke has reduced the number of people who see your updates to around 10 to 15 per cent. That’s like the postman keeping 90 per cent of your birthday cards. No, really it is. Matt Murray and Jim Garrow have blogged well on this subject.

10. The localgov digital project is a good  idea whose time has come. A practitioner network with support from the LGA and DCLG this has potential. Big potential if there is enough time and resources.
11. Social media is fracturing. It’s not a case of Facebook + Twitter. It’s knowing YouTube, LinkedIn, Vimeo, Soundcloud, Audioboo, Google Plus, Pinterest, Instagram and other emerging platforms in the right place and at the right time. That may be a series of small communities to service.
12. Digital projects to make a difference must be big. If we’re still here talking about Twitter Gritter as the finest use of digital in local government we’ll have all failed horribly. Small projects are great. Ones that tackle big issues are what are needed to make a difference.
Creative commons credits
Clock face http://www.flickr.com/photos/adesigna/3905842249/sizes/l/
Atari http://www.flickr.com/photos/x-ray_delta_one/4734206265/sizes/l/
Atomic http://www.flickr.com/photos/x-ray_delta_one/4399722909/sizes/o/in/set-72157622098292751/

MOBILE FIRST: On augmented reality and communications

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

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

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

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

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

What’s augmented reality?

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

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

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

A mobile first strategy

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

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

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

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

Yes, yes but public relations?

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

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

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

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

Yes, yes but how?

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

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

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

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

How can augmented reality be used in local government?

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

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

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

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

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

Some extra reading

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

Talk About Local on hyperlocal websites and augmented reality

Augmented reality. A useful six minute YouTube starter 

Will Perrin of Talk About Local demonstrating augmented reality

Philladelphia History on using augmented reality in local history.

Creative commons credits

http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/6197150925/sizes/l/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/4659579077/sizes/l/


TRADITIONAL DIGITAL: What comms teams should look like in 2012

All the best films have a challenge at their heart.

In Dunkirk, its Johnny Mills as a British corporal steering his men to safety.

In Pulp Fiction, its Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta getting away with accidentally shooting Marvin in the face.

One if the biggest challenges facing press offices and communications teams is how to blend the old with the new to stay relevant.

There was a fascinating post by Ann Kempster who works in central government about what comms teams should look like. You can read it here. Emer Coleman from the Government Digital Service and others made some excellent comments.

A couple of years ago I blogged about what comms teams needing to adapt and have traditional and digital skills. I probably over-sold open data. We’re not there just yet but will be but the basics I still hang my hat on.

Back then I said the communications team needed to be both digital and traditional so calling something a press office these days is a bit of an anachronism. It would involve the basics:

  • Have basic journalism skills.
  • Know how the machinery of local government works.
  • Write a press release.
  • Work under speed to deadline.
  • Understand basic photography.
  • Understand sub-editing and page layouts.

But would need to have these too:

For web 1.0 the press office also needed to:

  • Add and edit web content

For web 2.0 the press office also needs to:

  • Create podcasts
  • Create and add content to a Facebook page.
  • Create and add content to a Twitter stream.
  • Create and add content to Flickr.
  • Create and add content to a blog.
  • Monitor and keep abreast of news in all the form it takes from print to TV, radio and theblogosphere.
  • Develop relationships with bloggers.
  • Go where the conversation is whether that be online or in print.
  • Be ready to respond out-of-hours because the internet does not recognise a print deadline.

For web 3.0 the press office will also need to:

  • Create and edit geotagged data such as a Google map.
  • Create a data set.
  • Use an app and a mash-up.
  • Use basic html.
  • Blog to challenge the mis-interpretation of data.

So how can we make the joint traditional and digital press office work?

There’s no question that the traditional press office and the digital press office should be under the same roof.

There’s no point in having an old school team with spiralbound notebooks and in the next room a digital team with jet packs and Apple macbook pros not communicating.

So what can help make the joint digital and trad comms team work?

Press officers won’t all head voluntarily to this bright new dawn. It’s just not going to happen overnight. Some won’t change and will be left behind.

The bright ones will adapt and are adapting to a place where a bog standard comms plan will include old media + social media + web as a matter of course. After all. We don’t all have specialists for TV or radio sat in most press offices and certainly not in local government where I work.

We all need a specialist digital comms officer to help blend the old and the new

Once I knew a man who was a mechanic. He used to repair petrol engines. At night school, he learned how electrical generators worked.

When his company changed to electrical generators he alone had the expertise for both and was invaluable in training staff.

That’s the approach we need for press officers.

In other words, what will blend old and new in the short and medium term is the dedicated social media or digital communications officer.

On Ann Kempster’s blog the anaology was made about digital cameras. We don’t refer to cameras as ‘digital’ these days. They are just cameras. That’s true and that’s where we need to go with comms teams.

But in many ways there’s more to it than that. I remember working as a newspaper when the first photographer – who was not a popular man – walked in proudly with a satchel with the paper’s first digital camera and laptop. “Schools broken up early has it?” came the dry-balloon bursting quip from the long-serving deputy chief reporter. The same quip was made every time the photographer walked in until the whole of the company’s photographers had them. Somehow, knowing the characters involved that made it funnier.

There was a cross-over period while photographers adapted to the new technology but the basic work of the photographer remained the same. Composition was unaltered. They were still building the same things through their view finders. But with digital communications it’s asking people to use a completely different set of skills. Like asking a photographer to become a sculptor overnight. But still take pictures when needed too.

From experience, the shift from the traditional to the traditional + digital takes time but it has to be coaxed and encouraged. That’s where the digital specialist in the comms team comes in so long as they share the sweets, horizon scan and work to give back-up to help others gain confidence. They also need to flag up the successes. They need to do some measuring and reporting back. We need to include digital stats along with traditional media ones so when the cabinet member in local government, or whoever, gets told what’s happening in the media they’re getting the digital picture too.

Just because an organisation has given the green light to social media doesn’t always mean the influential people in an organisation get it. One of the big complaints is that digital is tacked onto the busy day job. Well, if the day job means press releases churned out to dwindling newspapers maybe that work needs re-calibrating. But you need to convince the powers that be that it’s not 1985 anymore and digital and traditional is the way forward.

Why do comms need to share the sweets?

That’s something I’ve been banging on about for a long time. Comms needs to train, give advice, shape policy where needed but most importantly hold the door open for others to go through.

Across the country these either formally titled or informally tasked digital comms people can be seen doing good things. Look at Helen Reynolds in Monmouthshire County Council, Geoff Coleman at Birmingham City Council and what Al Smith did at Newcastle City Council and elsewhere as a couple of examples.

It’s the path that Walsall Council’s comms team has taken too thanks to bright leadership. As a result we now have press officers like Tina Faulkner and Becky Robinson who by no means are digital natives putting together inspiring campaigns like this one which saw a morning with a carer and her husband who suffers Alzheimers. They found magic in this approach which told a human story beautifully.

The challenge is to find the innovator in every comms team and gently give others room and confidence to grow if they need it.

Creative commons credits

Posters http://www.flickr.com/photos/brocco_lee/6055430502/sizes/l/in/pool-778206@N20/

Facebook http://www.flickr.com/photos/westm/4690323994/sizes/l/in/set-72157624125586003/

Newspaper http://www.flickr.com/photos/judybaxter/2828795347/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Flowers http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5576302231/sizes/l/in/photostream/


SOCIAL SURGERY: Building the Art of Good Listening

“Oh, so it wasn’t actually local government that won a prize for Social Media Surgeries?

“That’s a shame isn’t it?”

That’s more or less what someone from a local government organisation said to me. They weren’t really listening and it got me thinking.

What’s a social media surgery? It’s volunteers with digital know how being put together in a room with voluntary groups and charities who would like to know.

It’s about giving a voice to groups who really need a voice.

It’s an idea that emerged three or four years ago from the vibrant community of Birmingham bloggers.

Nick Booth of Podnosh has turned that idea into something truly remarkable that has outgrown the West Midlands (disclaimer: I just think Nick is great.)

Podnosh won a Big Society award for the project hence the conversation I start this blog with.

I’ve helped out at a handful social media surgeries. Not as many as I would have liked. But enough to know why people do it and enough to be applauding wildly those who truly deserve the award.

Is it sad local government didnt win this?

Not at all. Because this isn’t a local government idea. It’s a community one.

But it also got me thinking about local government’s role.

A lot of the early volunteers come from local government. Birmingham City Council’s Digital Birmingham arm recognised it’s worth quite early on and helped get volunteers, for example.

At the last Walsall Social Media surgeries, which is one of more than 80 registered, the majority of surgeons happened to be from local government too.

That’s more a yardstick of there being decent people at councils rather than some strategic thing.

But social media surgeries, from what I see, are built on far more than volunteers from local government and I wouldn’t want to overstate their role.

Social media is transforming council communications. Gritting updates now come via Twitter. Libraries have Facebook pages.

But local government is founded in Victorian Britain and can still act like it at times. Even the best Twitter stream unplugged into officers who don’t want to listen will ultimately fail.

Just recently, I’ve helped start a Facebook page to help regeneration officers understand how they can make Walsall a town where creative people will live and work.

It’s called ‘Can We Make Walsall A More Creative Place?’

It won’t change the world, but I’m gobsmacked at how if you plug into networks and listen they’ll crackle with electricity and they’ll tell you things. I’m a bit excited at how its playing out.

Just recently I spent a really inspiring hour or so at Shropshire Council with Nigel Bishop, Jon King and others. Part of what they are doing is looking at how to embed social media in every corner of the council and at every step of the way. Not just as the end stuck on as a megaphone to tell people. Jon writes about it here. In short, they’re after better listening as well as communicating. That’s quietly brilliant.

So, what can local government really get out of what’s built at social media surgeries?

They can be places to help build good listening.

That strikes me as being very important.

LINKS:

Andy Mabbett on Social Media Surgeries

Social Media Surgery Plus

10 Downing Street: The Social Media Surgery is the latest Big Society award winner

CREATIVE COMMONS CREDIT:

Chris and Mary http://www.flickr.com/photos/podnosh/3529022026/

Laughing at Dudley Social Media Surgery http://www.flickr.com/photos/gavinwray/5921616904/sizes/l/in/photostream/


EPIC CHANGE: 12 predictions in digital in local government for 2012

“Inventions reached their limit long ago,” one important person once said, “And I see no hope for further development.”

Roman Emporer Julius Frontius made this bold comment in the 1st century. And he didn’t even have Google Plus to contend with. Bet he feels a bit silly now.

Tempting as it is to apply it to today you’d be similarly way off the money. Robot butlers and jet packs may top my own wish list but in practical terms what is likely to change?

If 2011 was a year of rapid change in local government then 2012 may see more of the same. Most of it is just a continuation of themes that started in the previous 12 months.

Here are 12 predictions for the year ahead from my perspective as a local government comms person. (Disclaimer: much of this probably won’t ever happen).

1. Comms will have a fight for control of social media. They’ll lose in the long term if they want to keep it all for themselves. They’ll win if the create an environment for others to innovate.

2. Data visualisation will boom. With the web prompting comms people to search for new platforms to tell a story data visualisation will expand. With free tools being available there will be innovation.

3. JFDI dies. As the mainstreaming of digital continues JFDI – or Just Flipping Do It – as a way of getting things done in an organisation will end. You can’t fly under the radar on Facebook if 29 million people in the UK are on it.

4. Digital customer services will expand. Just as calls centres emerged as the telephone matured as a way you can talk to people so too will a social presence for customer services people.

5. Someone will do summat reely stoopid and it won’t matter. In 2008, a rogue tweet could have closed down a council’s social media output. As it gets more embedded it’ll be more bullet proof.

6. Emergency planners will use Twitter as second nature. There’ll be more big incidents played out on social media. But best practice will be shared.

7. The local government social media star of 2012 will be someone doing a routine task in a place you’ve never visited. Step forward the local government worker who talks about his day job. There will be more like  @orkneylibrary and @ehodavid.

8. Linked social will grow. Linked social is different voices on different platforms growing across an organisation or across the public sector. It will be especially interesting to see how this develops in Scotland and the West Midlands.

9. Good conferences will have an unconference element. Or they’ll actually be unconferences. Some people don’t get unconferences. But they generally want to leave on the stroke of five o’clock and don’t do anything outside their JD. Bright ones do but will be happier if they’re wrapped up and presented like a ‘proper’ conference. But unconferences will be more diverse and targeted.

10. Newspapers will carry on dying. Bright comms people will carry on developing web 2.0 skills and use them in tandem with old media. Good Journalism will carry on adapting to the web. But this may take time to filter through to local newspapers who have been the bread and butter of local government press offices.    

11. Data journalism will grow. But not in local newspapers. Bloggers will uncover big stories that a print journalist doing the work of three doesn’t have time to look for.

12. Amazing things will happen in Scotland. Some of the brightest people in the public sector who are innocavating aren’t in London. They’re north of the border serving as police officers as well as in local government. It’ll be fascinating to see how this develops.

Creative commons credits

Geeks http://www.flickr.com/photos/duvalguillaume/2494520518/

Computer for the space shuttle programme http://www.flickr.com/photos/sdasmarchives/6521818485/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Twitter stream http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5897611358/sizes/l/in/photostream/


MY DIGITAL TIMELINE: Learning by stealth from a pocket calculator

“When you grow up and leave school,” my headteacher Mr Stanley told me as a nine-year-old, “you’ll be using computers and you’ll have to learn how to write code.”

This was 1981. This was Leasowes Junior School, Stafford. Not Palo Alto, California. Of course he was half right but he did show me for the first time the amazing possibility computers have.

How did he do it? He showed me how to make my name march across a TV screen by writing a computer programme. My mate Nigel Adams was in the same class (he’s extreme right in the back row of this picture. I’m two to his left). He has gone onto do great things with computers in Queensland. I never wrote code again. But Mr Stanley was bang on about using computers every day at work.

A while back I heard this inspirational teacher still teaches at the school as a volunteer. Remembering his prophetic words I found myself idly tracing my life’s digital timeline. I found I could largely measure my life not in coffee spoons but the technology and the computer games and the people I played them with. That surprised me. I’m not a geek. I know them but I’m not really one.

Looking back pretty much every year I could recall something that caught my imagination. Looking at the list I’m struck by two things. The amount of games I played and the people I played them with.

My son is seven and has a laptop. I was 33 before this happens.

My learning curve started with a pocket calculator. It’s still going on.

Why is messing about important?

Because looking back the things I’ve played at and messed about with helped me learn. And what other way are Carlisle Utd going to win back-to-back European Cups?

‘Playing is learning by stealth’ is a line from the Media Snackers book ‘Zen At The Heart of Social Media.’  I rather like that.

Here’s how I learned by stealth.

16 dates from my digital timeline

1980 – Learn how to write SHELL OIL on a pocket calculator.

1981 Nigel Adams gets a ZX 81. Mr Stanley tells us we’ll all need computers and we’ll all need to code.

1983 – Start Walton High School in Stafford. We have 10 computers amongst 900 pupils.

1986 – Play lots of Gauntlet on the BBC Micro with Mark Alden, David Bell and Ali MacCulloch.

1990 – Start University. Play lots of Kick Off 2 on the Amiga.

1994 – Play LOTS of Sega golf against Steven Pink.

1996 – Use a computer at my first journalism job.

1997 – Get a mobile phone free with something.

1999 – E-mail arrives at the Express & Star. At one screen out of 14.

2001 – Get the internet at work. Discover the Oatcake messageboard. A forum for Stoke City supporters.

2004 – Get my first computer. And the internet.

2005 – Goodbye wife. I’m playing Champ Manager for three months to lead Carlisle United to back-to-back European Cups.

2008 – Discover the social web. Join Twitter. 

2009 – Go to localgovcamp in Birmingham. It changes how I think and do. Start blogging.

2010 – Help arrange a digital unconference. Do interesting things using the internet to communicate with people to explain, listen and learn.

2011 – Do interesting things to make local government communicate better using the web. Buy my son a laptop. Son beats me at Skylanders battle mode on the Wii. Feel a bit proud.

Creative commons

Pocket calculator http://www.flickr.com/photos/boazarad/5417411624/sizes/l/in/photostream/