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
Just lately I came across a rather magnificent link to the MOD’s digital guidelines.
As a starting point for beginners or for the more advanced they’re pretty handy. The US Army Social Media handbook has been around for a while and it’s good to get a British perspective too.
What do they offer?
Well, it’s basically a pretty robust framework that strikes the balance between common sense security and telling stories. Frontline staff are encouraged to go via the chain of command to tell their stories.
As the introduction says:
UK Service and Ministry of Defence personnel are permitted to make full use of social media (such as social networking sites, blogs and other internet self-publishing), but must:
- Follow the same high standards of conduct and behaviour online as would be expected elsewhere;
- Always maintain personal, information and operational security, and be careful about the information you share online;
- Get authorisation from your chain of command when appropriate, and seek advice from your chain of command if unsure.
There’s some interesting social media presences that have grown over the past few years.
The UK Forces Afghanistan Facebook page has more than 12,000 likes and has a social approach with shots of servicemen and women. There’s a big input from families which is interesting to see. The feel is upbeat and focussed on the safety of the soldiers, sailors and airmen. The cover shot of a soldier waving to the Afghan passing by is unmistakably hearts and minds territory.
A rather good Flickr page Defence Images gives a feed for shots with creative commons licences for re-use.
The Ministry of Defence blog is a useful round-up of links as well as news updates. It also covers the deaths of service personnel.
There are two voices that come through the MOD social media pages. First is servicemen and women themselves. Second are their families. This is less of a forum to debate and question the rough edges and controversy of war and it feels like a deliberate decision for this. But as a means for the MOD to talk to people direct this is an interesting resource that will only grow.
Of course, the great thing for those in the public sector is that the fact that they are doing it at all is a battering ram to break down barriers. After all, if the Army are doing it sensibly and with rewards where’s the risk?
“The best social media,” it read “doesn’t happen in an office.”
That’s dead right.
For a long while now I’ve been arguing that communications people should share the sweets, relax a little and learn to let go. It’s by doing that they can really reap the rewards of good and trusted communications channels.
I’m not alone by any means in thinking this and it’s excellent to start seeing the rewards being reaped.
Here are some good examples of digital communications that caught my eye over the last few months.
What’s worth commenting on is that the majority of the good examples are not done directly by comms people. They’re done by people in the field telling their stories or they’re using content that first originated outside an office to tell a story.
Real time updates by people on the ground work brilliantly.
Back in 2008, digital innovation in the public sector – and third sector – was isolated. What this quick link collection now shows is that it’s mainstream and unstoppable.
National Trust Dudmaston Hall, Shropshire – If only more organisations were like the National Trust. We’d all be eating better cake for one. They’re also getting good at digital communications. They’re equipping venues with social media accounts to give you updates and insights from the ground.
I’m quite partial to this stream from the Shropshire stately home which is near Bridgnorth and a personal family favourite. They talk to people and they update. More people are likely to sign-up for a venue rather than an organisation that looks after lots of venues although there is a space for that too. You can follow them on Twitter here.
Acton Scott Museum, Shropshire – An imaginative use of pictures makes this Twitter stream fly. How can you not see horse drawn ploughing and not want to go and visit? You can follow them on Twitter here.
National Trust Central Fells – Using the principle if you do good things tell people the @ntcentralfells Twitter do a good job of updating people on the work they do. Most of the time it’s witnessed by two walkers and some sheep. They updated progress on building a bridge in a remote spot of Easedale in with pictures of them at work and reaped the benefit of feedback from people stuck in offices. You can follow them on Twitter here.
Supt Keith Fraser – A Superintendant in Walsall who keeps people up to speed with events and crime in the town. Personable. Informative and willing to engage on the platform. You can follow him here.
Swedish Tourist Board – It’s rather marvellous is this. Technically, it’s run by the Swedish Tourist Board but this isn’t a collation of picture book shots and platitudes. They give the @sweden Twitter to a new Swede every week. More than 20,000 people follow it. You can follow them here.
I know this writer! Qaisar Mahmood askes what it means to be Swedish. The answer he gets: ”Blond and reserved”.
— @sweden / Micke (@sweden) April 3, 2012
Walsall Council Countryside Officers – I’m a bit biased in that I know Morgan Bowers the countryside ranger but I absolutely love what she has done with social media. A digital native she uses her iphone to update Twitter with what she is doing, what newt survey results are and pictures of the sky over Barr Beacon. This is brilliant. You can follow her on Twitter here. Her manager Kevin Clements has also picked up the baton on Twitter with regular updates. You can follow him here and it’s good to see the burden shared.
Walsall Council Environmental Health Officer David Matthews – Britain’s first tweeting environmental health officer David Matthews was a big part in why Walsall 24 worked as an event. He was able to spot snippets of interest that he passed through for others to tweet. Afterwards, he didn’t need much persuasion to take up an account in his own name. The @ehodavid was puts out the normal updates and warnings but with added humour. Much of the frontline updates is anonymised. Pictures taken of dreadful takeaways need a health warning to look at during lunchtime. You can follow him here.
9 cases of Campylobacter food poisoning last week Symptoms include diarrhoea/vomiting/stomach/pains+cramps+fever FAQ? tinyurl.com/boeanm2
— David Matthews (@EHOdavid) April 2, 2012
Pc Rich Stanley blog – Walsall has a stong claim to be a digital outpost. One of the big reasons for this is the way West Midlands Police have picked up the baton – or should that be truncheon? – and embraced social media. Pc Rich Stanley uses Twitter well but also blogs excellently on various day-to-day aspects of the job. Here he talks about policing the Aston Villa v Chelse football game.
Walsall Council Social Care – People in social care do a brilliant job. They’re good at saving lives. Literally. But all too often they don’t do a good jo of telling their story. As a sector they shelter behind big stone walls and hope a high profile case like Baby P NEVER happens to them. Tina Faulkner and Becky Robinson are comms people who both understand old and new media and have blogged stories from the frontline. You can read them here.
Walsall Leather Museum Audioboo – Francesca Cox eyes lit up when she heard of Audioboo. A couple of days later she posted this chat with a demonstrator about her first day at work. What the clip does is open up all sorts of possibilities with oral history and when embedded on another website brings a different aspect to this.
US Army – Like geeks with an interest in sub-machine guns the people behind the US Army social media presence are blending both interests well. Pinterest is a way to collect pictures in the one place. If pictures tell 1,000 words this collection speaks a great deal on what messages the military would like to get across. It’s split into themes. You can find it here.
Can We Make Walsall A More Creative Place? – Walsal Council’s regeneration scrutiny committee wanted to look at the creative industries. We launched a Facebook page to begin to connect. Fifty people have liked it so far to allow the start of feedback. Face-to-face meetings are now planned. You can like it here.
NASA Facebook timeline – One of the many things I really love about this page is the way NASA have embraced timeline. Scroll back to 1965 and you can look at content they’ve updated from that year featuring the first NASA spacewalk. For any organisation with a long history this approach is a must. You can like it here.
Northycote Park and Country Park on Facebook – Wolverhampton Council’s parks team do a really good job of innovating using social media. They’ve been experimenting with creating Facebook pages for venues. This is Northycote Park and Country Park and has 200 likes a few weeks after it was launched. It has pictures of new born lambs and updates on events. You can like it here.
Monmouthshire Council Youth Service on Facebook – Hel Reynolds has flagged up this page. A youth worker updates it. Not a comms person. This means that it has a tone that suits the people it is aimed at and doesn’t come over as trendy uncle Monmouth breakdancing at a wedding. You can like it here.
US government’s EPA Documerica project on Flickr – In the early 1970s the Documerica project sent photographers to capture environmental issues across the country. They captured car jams, low flying planes, people meeting up in public spaces and other things. They’ve posted many of the images onto Flickr and they’re a time capsule of how the US was. You can see them here. To update them they have a blog to encourage a 2012 version here and a Flickr group here.
Torfaen Council on Flickr – Here’s a council that is posting images to Flickr routinely. They show a good range of images that residents can see. You can see them here.
WV11 on PACT meetings – The wv11 blog have worked with West Midlands Police to cover public meetings – known as PACT meetings – to allow residents to pose questions and see what is happening in their patch. It’s great work and shows how you can connect to people who want to be civic minded but struggle to reach meetings. You can read a blog of a meeting here and a storify here.
Oldham Council – It’s an excellent idea to make interactive council meetings. This Guardian pieces captures why.
Birmingham City Council – Comms officer Geoff Coleman has done some excellent work with live streaming council meetings. It opens up democracy and promotes transparency. It’s netted 10,000 views. You can read about it here.
Birmingham City Council’s election plans – This year plans to be a big year in Birmingham. There’s a chance of a change of administration and there will be great attention on the council and most importantly, how they communicate the changes in real time. What better way than crowd source what people want? You can read it here.
Caerphilly Council – Digital video clips are easy to consume but notoriously difficult to do effectively. Many have tried in local government but few have been as effective as Caerphilly Council with their nationally sigificant use of YouTube clips. One clip both pokes gentle fun at themselves and features a sheep with social media logos roaming the borough. It makes you smile. It keeps you informed. It’s fleecey brilliance.
Creative commons credits:
Road at Rifle, Ohio in 1972 http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3815027813/
Documerica Photographer, David Hiser, at Dead Horse Point, 05/1972 http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3814966348/
A picture can tell a thousand words.
So, thank the Lord for creative commons.
It’s a place to go when there’s no photography budget and you need an image in a hurry.
Creative commons licences allow for images to be re-used so long as certain conditions are met.
One of the best places to look for them is Flickr.
Here’s what you do looking for a picture:
1. Go to Flickr.com.
2. Let’s say we’re looking for a picture of a computer. Search everyone’s uploads for the terms ‘creative commons + computer.’
3. You’ll have a stack of thumbnails to look through.
4. Make a selection. Click on the image you want. This is what it will look like:
5. Double check the creative commons licence. That’s on the right hand side of the image. Half way down.
6. Click actions. That’s just above the image.
7. Choose a size. Download it.
8. Use the picture creatively.
9. If you can’t find it using the general search have a look at opting for searching for The Commons…
10. Now sit back and have a slice of cake.
Creative commons credits:
It’s temptingly lazy but wrong to think residents pictures can fill the hole left by dwindling budgets.
A couple of things have made me think.
First, basking in the afterglow of a successful project a debate started.
We’ve worked with residents to turn an empty shop window in Walsall town centre into an information point brightened up by shots from the Walsall Flickr group.
Lee and others were fine about having their work used and showcased.
In response to my venturing a repeat in a different scheme one Flickr member on Twitter wrote:
“Local council have just requested use of some of my pics on Flickr for a printed guide, for a credit and linkback. I declined. Any thoughts? On one hand it may be good publicity, on the other it devalues photography. What do others think…?”
Thirdly, blogger Pete Ashton invited his council to ‘f*** you’ (literally) after they once again asked to use pictures for free. This came after a shot of his which he got £50 for was used without his knowledge for a major national cultural campaign that wasn’t fully explained when he was first approached.
Fourthly, when I post an image to Flickr these days I always add a liberal creative commons image so they can be re-used as long as there is a credit and a link. I’m forever using and linking to cc images on this blog so it seems churlish not to share. So long as you are not a commercial enterprise. You can read more about creative commons here.
So, there are four views. For my money each if those are just as valid.
Why FOUR answers and they’re all right?
Because everyone’s approach is deeply personal. That’s why.
There’s no such thing as one size fits all.
Don’t think that Flickr is a sweet shop full of free images that’ll solve your slashed photographic budget.
Don’t think you can wander along to Google images, right click, save and Bob’s your Uncle. Don’t ever do that.
There’s still a place for commissioned freelance photography for marketing and press shots. Not least because photographic staff on newspapers are being laid off.
There’s a place for stock photography websites such as istock.
There’s a place for searching The Commons on Flickr where scores of museums and institutions have added millions of images that can be re-used by anyone. NASA, The Smithsonian and the US Library of Congress stand out.
There’s a place too – if residents are agreeable – for their images to be used by local government. Just so long they are not taken for granted and the shots are treated with the same reverence as a very delicate vase or a signed first edition you’re borrowing for a while.
That’s why I’m not desperately keen on the approach that some councils have of creating a Flickr group where by adding you allow automatic re-use. It just doesn’t feel right.
If there’s an image a resident had taken ask nicely, explain what it’ll be used for stick to the agreement and don’t be offended if the answer is ‘no’ and if there is some cash in the budget for payment try very hard to.
Everyone benefits that way.
Creative commons credits
Sometimes good things come to those who wait.
Worth waiting for has been an informal project between the Walsall Flickr group and Walsall Council.
Faced with an empty Tesco supermarket in the centre of town a debate was started on how to fill it.
A chance comment from a Flickr member Lee Jordan made some time ago came to the fore. He is @reelgonekid on Twitter.
Wouldn’t it be great, he said, some time before if shots of Walsall taken and posted to Flickr were displayed in an empty shop window?
Wouldn’t that be better than having an empty shop?
So, that’s just what we did.
Walsall Council’s regeneration town centre team have Jon Burnett working to improvce the town centre. He came up with the funding and picked up the ball. The landlord was agreeable. Jon helps run @walsalltown on Twitter, by the way.
We added a picture credit and a link back to the photographer’s Flickr stream. That was important.
There’s plans to redevelop the site and Primark and The Co-Operative are lined up to move in some months down the track.
When that happens the vinyl images will be taken down. But until then bright, creative people of Walsall have a chance to celebrate their work and their town.
According to a Local Data Company report there are more than 28,000 empty shops. That’s about 14 per cent of all the 202,000 shops in England, Scotland and Wales.
This isn’t an answer to all any town centre’s problems. It’s just a good thing to do to ask local people to display their work and brighten up empty shops.
A slide show of the Walsall town centre Flickr window by Stuart Williams can be seen here.
Lee Jordan, whose inital idea it was, took a set of pics including this one.
Snow ploughs? Yes. There’s two groups. There’s more you can shake a stick at for libraries and museums but there was nothing for the overall umbrella institution of local government.
So, after a bit of messing about there’s now the Local Government Does Brilliant Things Flickr group. Feel free to have a nose around and explore it.
What’s there? A whole array. This Japanese election poster with a man and a lapdog is stunning. So is Brian doing the bins. And as for the Korean school dinner… that’s about as far away from the pink custard of my school days as it’s possible to get.
Amazingly, after two weeks there’s now more than 400 images posted to the new group from several dozen Flickr streams. The excellent US blogger, Gov 20 Radio host, Flickr user and advocate for Nation Builder Adriel Hampton has got behind it too with this blog post which is rather great to see.
It’s a social photography website that people, clubs and organisations have been using in growing numbers. Or six billion to be exact. That’s the number of images uploaded so far.
You join and upload images and you can post them to an array of different groups with a common theme.
Yes, local government can be a frustrating institution at times and when it’s done badly it can be as horrid as the little girl in the story. But even it’s fiercest critic must admit that local government does some really good things. It’s by celebrating them that we ensure it’ll be around in the future.
Celebrate the routine stuff…
I’m becoming increasingly interested in the routine things that local government does. We’re hopeless at shouting about the day-to-day things that get taken for granted. That’s the play equipment, the park, the roads we drive on the school bus or 700 other services.
It’s fascinating to look through what’s been posted to the local government Flickr pool so far to see shots of routine tasks being done elsewhere in the world.
Yes, there’s a place for the set piece media ribbon cutting shot. But the routine shots of people just doing everyday things for me are what really stand out. All to often what we think is everyday is actually a really vital service to someone else’s parents.
It would be really fantastic if you could post some too. They really don’t have to be a staggeringly good quality. A camera phone will do.
Just so long as there’s something of local government in them.
What helped spread the word then was probably a Town Crier with the useful profile of having a loud voice in the marketplace where people gathered.
Today, the landscape has changed. But a voice in the place where people gather is still important.
Since May when Cllr Garry Perry was appointed to the post he’s been successfully experimenting with digital channels. As a 33-year-old he’s the borough’s youngest ever appointment. As a Facebook native and as at home there as in the Council Chamber it made sense for him to experiment using the channel.
He’s also used Twitter and connected with the Walsall Flickr group. Jokingly, Cllr Perry has spoken about creating the Mayor’s Parlour as a location on Foursquare so he can become Mayor of that too.
But is this just a gimmick? Or have lessons been learned?
A Facebook page was created for the Mayor of Walsall. The idea was to allow the Mayor to post updates and pictures from his phone when out and about. The aim was conversational. It also helps give an idea of where the Mayor had been and the people he’d met. It’s not a dusty civic position. It’s carried out by a person. For an organisation for people.
The stats speak for themselves. More than 160 people have signed up in about six weeks. There has been more than 8,000 page views in a four week period and people have responded posting enthusiastic comments. It’s clear that successful events also draw-in enthusiasm from residents.
As the Mayor of Walsall Cllr Perry says: “It’s been brilliant for getting feedback from people and for connecting with them. When you’re at an event you can post that you’ve been there with a picture. There’s still a tremendous respect for the office of Mayor and it’s good to be able to meet people. Using things like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr have really helped reach a different audience.”
More than 180 people and organisations have signed-up with updates of visits and fundraising. Cllr Perry’s sporadic previous account was re-named @mayorofwalsall.
A Flickr meet was staged where members of the excellent Walsall Flickr group came along to the Mayor’s Parlour and Council House one Saturday morning.
More than 200 shots were posted by six photographers to a specially created group to capture shots for the day. It was a chance for Walsall people to visit the 1905 building and meet the Mayor. As a visit it was a success. Those who came took some excellent pictures and Cllr Perry’s – and the Mayoress’ – easy going and informal approach saw the council giving a good account of itself. Staging a Flickr meet at a council venue is something I’ve blogged about before.
As a spin-off, and by no means the purpose of the event, the photographers were happy for the authority to re-use the posted pics for the website or for other marketing. That’s a good thing whichever way you look at it. You can see the pictures here.
Yes, we’ll do the traditional things too for old media too. That’s part of the repertoire.
Lessons to learn
1. It can put a human face on an organisation. As Pc Rich Stanley does for West Midlands Police in Walsall so Cllr Perry does for Walsall Council. They use social media to put a human face on the organisation that can sometimes be seen as remote.
2. It depends on the individual. A social mayor who is at home with the channels or willing to learn will prosper. A remote character with few social graces and mistrust of technology won’t.
3. Little and often works. Updates on the routine day-to-day tasks work really well. Don’t think you need to crack the front page of the local paper with every update.
4. It works best if the Mayor writes it. A voice can be unique and despite being a fairly politically neutral post it’s not for council officers to update on people’s behalf.
5. Be prepared to JFDI. Not everything with social media has a 100-year-old record to it. That’s a given. So just try things out.
Pic credit: Swissrolli (c) http://www.flickr.com/photos/swissrolli/5989959370/in/photostream