SCILLY SEASON: Why we’ll miss Sgt Taylor on the Isles of Scilly Facebook page

Ladies and gentlemen, a period of mourning, please. The internet is over. Switch it off. There’s no more to see.

What has happened? Sgt Colin Taylor has left the Isles of Scilly Police Facebook page.

He has returned to the mainland with his family.

The page, I’m sure will go on, but the man who helped make the page the best public sector social media page has moved on.

If you’ve not come across the page you can find it here.

It is the police Facebook page for the Scilly Islands which can be found off the southern tip of Cornwall.

It’s page describes it thus:

“Like Heartbeat but less frenetic. Policing is like this everywhere but not everywhere is Scilly.”

In numbers, there are less than 3,000 people living on the islands and yet the page drew an audience of more than 50,000. It succeeded quite simply because it was human. Wryly witty and always professional it was clear there was a human behind it. This was why it succeeded.

I have two hopes. Firstly, that whoever takes it on continues in the same spirit but isn’t overawed. And secondly, that Sgt Taylor continues to use social media for his next role in the police. He is worth 500 community police officers.

If you’ve not come across him, he’s also on Twitter here.

This nisn’t messing about on the internet. This is being human and educational so when support is needed, as Sgt Taylor, has said, he could police the island with 50,000 helpers.

Five examples of Isles of Scilly Police public sector social media brilliance

The one when they crowd-sourced the Running Man video

People will look back at 2016 and wonder where there were so many meme videos of police dancing to an obscure dance track.

What started as a joke by one police force spread around the world and when New Zealand bobbies nominated Scilly Police the team there is an example of perfect community engagement crowdsourced support. You can see the video on Facebook here.

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The one with the ball bearing gun

Did you know the law about guns? I didn’t until I read an account of a conversation with a visitor to the island.

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The one with the lost property

Ever wondered what happens when cuddly toys go missing? They put out witness appeals.

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The one with the picture of the harbour

Some places are jst lovely to look at and the Scilly Isles are one of them. So, an operation to fight crime in the harbour has to have an image of the place, doesn’t it?

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The one where Welsh football fans are reminded where to tinkle

Everyone loves a happy football supporter. But the problem of tinkling revellers is an issue to tackle on Facebook with a gentle reminder.

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There is a debate that runs that public sector people shouldn’t put themselves into social media. This is cobblers. Of course they should. Being human is one of the traits that public sector people need.

There’s a downside when they move on, sure. Morgan Bowers’ much-missed @walsallwildlife Twitter went from the web when she left Walsall Council. But the fact that there is a hole when people move on shows just what a good job they do. Online and offline.

 


POST CRISIS: Being an informal whistleblower should be part of the job description

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So now ‘Rotherham’ is doomed to enter the lexican of towns long shadowed by failure.

It is a town where 1,400 girls were abused between 1997 and 2013 and where a report pointed the finger of blame for failing to do enough to stop the attacks at Rotherham Borough Council and South Yorkshire Police.

Times journalist Andrew Norfolk who helped expose the story welcomed the council’s recent openness but warned the council’s successors not to be ‘tempted to chase leaks rather than act on their failings.’

This warning isn’t small town politics. It should be taken seriously.

It should echo through the corridors of town halls, police stations and hospitals across the land and the first people to stop and listen should be public sector communicators.

There will always be more bad news to emerge from somewhere in the public sector. It could be a council, a police force or a hospital. That’s life.

Let’s not forget every day lives are saved and changed by the public sector but when things go wrong the public sector is often damned more loudly than the perpetrators of the crime.

So what should public sector PR people do? Two things. First, the strategy.

In the past the default comms strategy was about painting the best picture possible. At worst this was ‘spin’ and at best it was telling the positive stories residents would often not be told of. There were stories of success to tell and investment. There still are in some cases. But after eight years of working in a local government comms team I’m convinced there needs to be a realism and honesty in public sector communications. There needs to be the ‘sorry, we won’t be able to do that anymore and here are the reasons.’

There also needs to be the ‘actually, there’s a problem here and we want to take a look at it. Will you bear with us and help us fix it?’

The feeling is that Rotherham Borough Council by ordering the report and by the resignation of the Leader is now starting to acknowledge the problem.

The strategy for public sector communications should be to listen, to be human and to accept when things go wrong. Do this and you won’t be chasing leaks and you’ll be acting upon failings.

One story from my own life illustrates the culture shift of what is needed. I’m from Stafford. Stafford is where the Mid-Staffs Hospital scandal was centred where hundreds of people suffered because of poor care. When the news broke my Facebook timeline was filled by personal stories shared by people I grew up with that floored me. The mother who had died in pain. The grandfather who was wrongly sent home and never recovered.

A few weeks later I heard two NHS comms people from another area talk dismissively about ‘whinging patients.’ ‘It would have been better,’ I challenged them ‘if some of the whinging patients at Stafford had been listened to. Some of them may still be alive.’

Of course, they accepted that. But back in their office surrounded by the culture of fear and blame I have to ask myself, would they? I’m convinced that it is the role of comms – especially in the public sector- to challenge and be the grit in the oyster. Being an informal whistleblower should be part of the job description in theory. It in practice, though, I know of at least a couple of people whose careers were blighted by objecting too strongly.

One was asked to leave when concerns were raised about an appointment. Another fell foul of their chief executive and had to leave. This all points to the age old concern of public sector communicators to be near the ‘top table.’ In other words close to those making the decisions. A comms professional close to the top table may get sight of the problem earlier and can advise. They also find their words carry more weight.

Of course, it’s fine to challenge if the PR officer is in a position to know what is going on at all times. There are 700 services provided by local government alone. There is no way a comms team can be across all of these areas. Often, when I worked in local government comms office door would fly open after 5pm with an 11th hour request for some help on an issue that was about to hit the papers. My worry is that at this point it is too late.

To learn the lesson of Rotherham public sector communicators should be mindful that glossing away the problem won’t solve the problem. Honesty and openness may be a start.

Creative commns credit 

Rotherham magistrates court sign.


 


SOCIAL TOWN: Using social media to tell a town centre’s story

With Walsall 24 we told the story of what a council did across a borough in 24 hours.

With Walsall Town Centre 100 we’re looking to go a step further and tell a different story.

We want to tell a hundred things about the life of a town centre across seven days from May 17 to 23 2011.

It’s not just about litter getting collected this time. It’s the faces on the market, the people in the shops and what gets done to keep people safe and protect law and order.

In effect it’s the council, the police, businesses and other partners joining forces to tell people what they do. It’s also about letting residents speak with Q&A sessions for key people.

All these factors make up the life of a town centre.

In many ways, Walsall is a typical town. It competes against bigger neighbours in Birmingham and the Merry Hill Shoping Centre in Dudley 14 miles away.

There’s three indoor shopping centres, 400 shops, an 800-year-old market, a circa 1905 Council House, a New Art Gallery, two museums and a 35-acre Arboretum giving a splash of green on the edge of the town centre.

It’s a town with civic pride built on the leather industry and one that was once known as the town of a hundred trades – hence the name of this experiment.

What are the channels?

We’re looking to use the council website walsall.gov.uk, the Walsall police web pages, Twitter, flag up some locations on Foursquare and also keep people informed via Facebook. There’s even geocaching too and a Flickr group to celebrate the beauty of the town.

The purpose is not to use a whole load of web tools just for the sake of it.

It’s to talk to people on a platform they might want to use.

How can you follow it?

You can take a look at three main Twitter accounts as well as the #walsall100 hashtag.

@walsallcouncil from the council.

@walsallpolice from the town’s police force.

@walsalltown from the town centre management team.

There’s also historic updates from @walsalllhcentre.

There’s a web page on it to tell you all about it here.

Why more than one organisation?

Because what happens in an area isn’t just down to one. It’s down to several.

Why use social media?

Because it’s a good platform to communicate and listen.

What will it look like?

If you’ve seen Walsall 24, that was a barrage of information in real time. This is slightly different. There may be a background noise of tweets with more focussed on events this time.

For example, We’re live tweeting a pubwatch meeting, a day on the market and a Friday night with the police on patrol. All this is part of what makes a town centre tick.

What else?

There’s a Peregrine Watch staged by countryside officers, RSPB Walsall and the West Midlands Bird Club, a walk in the Arboretum and other things.

There will also be a chance to ask questions with Q&A sessions.

The full list is here.

Why seven days?

To show all parts of the town centre from Saturday morning shopping to a Friday night on the town to a regular weekday morning.

This is what linked social is about. It’s a range of voices from a range of places with input from residents and shoppers too.

Will there be resources from it?

With Twitter being the live action, we’ll look to pull together Match of the Day-style  highlights with storify.com.

Hats off to the following for their role: Kate Goodall, Jon Burnett, Jo Hunt, Gina Lycett, Darren Caveney, Morgan Bowers, Helen Kindon, Kevin Clements and Stuart Williams.

Pictures:

Peregrine Falcon on Tameway Tower http://yfrog.com/hs90k9j

Walsall images from my Flickr stream http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/


A FACE TO A NAME: Why organisations should be personal in social media


Pic credit:

Light-Hearted

Originally uploaded by fiznatty

There is one truly brilliant thing about Harrogate copper @hotelalpha9 on Twitter.

It’s not the fact PC Ed Rogerson has a truly cool Hawaii Five O sounding name online.

It’s not even because the police are using social media. Although, that is great.

What’s really brilliant, is that he has succeeded in putting a human touch on what is by definition a large organisation.

In North Yorkshire there are 1,500 police officers serving 750,000 people. @hotelalpha9 is able to connect with his beat particular brilliantly.

Here is an example: “Residents of Camwell Terrace – there’s a meeting for you at 10am tomorrow at St Andrews Church. Let’s make your street the best it can be.”

“@annicrosby Hi, I’m following you as I saw you location is ‘Harrogate’. I follow anybody from Harrogate as I want to communicate better.”

“Just dealt with some criminal damage. Paint thrown over a car.”

It’s stuff specific to a small area. It’s in effect hyperlocal blogging for an organisation.

The debate about whether or not police should use digital is a short one (answer: yes).

On that topic there is an inspiring and groundbreaking blog by Chief Inspector Mark Payne of West Midlands Police – on Twitter as @CIPayneWMPolice – that deserves a special mention: Police and social media: Why are we waiting?

But what it really opens up is how best to use this stuff to connect.

By all means have a central presence with a corporate logo on.

However, in Twitter 2.0 shouldn’t we start putting the individual to the fore?

If we call a council, government – or a big company for that matter – you are often met with a name when you ring or write. Why not do that with social media too?

Recently, when Walsall Council contacted a protest group on Facebook an officer set up a dedicated work profile to make contact. It wasn’t a logo. It was a real person that made that connection. On behalf of the council.

So, isn’t there a case the closer we get to an organisation hyperlocal blogging we start allowing the individual to be the organisation’s face? They are in real life over the phone and at other contact points. Why not in social media too?

This may well create new headaches. Would staff be prepared for the potential for brickbats, for example?

How about if they leave?

Then there is the usual ‘what if they say bad things to us?’

But let’s not forget that these dilemmas also apply offline too.

A possible three tier organisational model for Twitter and other social media platforms:

1. THE CORPORATE VOICE WITH NAMED INDIVIDUAL. Eg @anycouncil. Biog: news from Any Council updated by Darren info@any.gov.uk. Content: general tweets.

2. THE SERVICE AREA. Eg @anycouncil_libraries Biog: updated by Kim. Kim@any.gov.uk. Content: niche tweets from a specific service area. More specific info for fans of that subject. Eg author visits, reminders to take out a holiday book.

3. THE HYPERLOCAL INDIVIDUAL Eg @artscentreguy Biog: Bob from Any Arts Centre. Content: More personal updates from an individual first and foremost who just happens y’know to work for a council. Eg. Twitpics of rehearsals, behind the scenes shots and listings info.