140 CHANGE: Twitter may change but who cares? you still need to embrace chaos

22435524039_7431c7fa21_bTwitter is not the last word in digital communications and maybe it’s about time you remembered that.

There’s been a lot written just lately about how Twitter is changing.

If you’ve missed it, the way you are presented with tweets is going to change. Gone will go the timeline of most recent first. In comes a Facebook-style algorithm of things they think you’ll like first. It may be optional when first introduced. The unique 140-character limit may also go too.

Of course, being Twitter, there was a meltdown on Twitter and a hashtag #TwitterRIP.

It may be the end of Twitter. It may just evolve as Facebook has done.

But all this talk of change poses you three questions.

  • Where else can I now get what I get from Twitter?
  • As the ground shifts beneath our feet should we really be surprised?
  • Do I even care?

Do you care? Many people do. If you have been using the platform you will. If you won’t it won’t trouble you. But if you aren’t a bit interested in how all this will affect how you do your job, that troubles me.

Once-great platforms like Friends Reunited, AOL or MySpace have withered. Why should Twitter be any different?  Besides, as broadcaster and historian Dan Snow wrote in The Guardian, if Twitter didn’t exist someone would have to invent it.

What makes this an important question to think on for UK public sector comms people is that Twitter has become hugely important. It’s precisely that the most recent tweet gets shown first that makes it useful to it. Realtime matters. What was first truly shown during the riots of 2011 was confirmed yet again this year by flooding.

But hold on. Maybe we got lazy. Maybe we just thought that Twitter was everything. So, maybe it’s actually quite healthy to rethink that.

What can do what Twitter does?

Thinking about LinkedIn. Sharing a useful link to help you with your work was one thing Twitter was brilliant at. But more and more when gathering links for comms2point0 it’s been to LinkedIn that I’ve been turning. What was once an ecosystem for grey people is now a thriving network.

Thinking about blogging. Again, LinkedIn scores well. Blogging functionality was introduced in early 2014 and engagement rates are good. Anecdotally, people are far more likely to comment and share on a post on LinkedIn than in on a blogging platform.

Thinking about email. With a decent list and decent content your organisation can duck below shifts in platform changes. Almost everyone has an email address. A cinderella platform it is quietly being effective for many places. Ask Amazon.

Thinking about other platforms. As social media grows and evolves an ecosystem of channels for sub-groups has developed. WhatsApp. Instagram. Snapchat. It means your job has got harder to understand how each works. Know enough to know when it is relevant for what you are trying to do.

Thinking about Facebook. If you want Facebook you can have Facebook. Why would you want Twitter? For organisations without a budget to advertise and reach key demographics will continue to struggle.

Thinking about serendipity. Of course, one of the great things about Twitter was the stumbling across something a friend had just shared that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. It’s hard to see how this won’t be affected. Email bulletins like Nieman Lab, Feverbee or econsultancy do that for me. You’ve probably got some good ones too.

Thinking about how Twitter used to be. Back in 2008 it was an amazing place where many people were connecting for the first time. Events were organised through it and friendships grew. Much of my Facebook timeline is now those original Twitter people I’m connected to.

It’s foolish to think that disruption and change won’t stop. It will. Maybe these Twitter chances will be seismic. Maybe they won’t. But as Robert Phillips writes in ‘Trust Me: PR is Dead’ to embrace chaos is one of the most important things a 21st century comms person needs to do. So, who cares? Embrace it.

Picture credit: Sebastian teer Burg / Flickr / https://flic.kr/p/AbxVDZ

MINDFUL AWARE: And how to deal with negative or inappropriate comments… and keep sane

2474521727_6b00bc3b61_bJust this week I was reminded that those who run social media accounts for an organisation need extra sets of skills.

To make something work well you need to put body and soul into it. You expose yourself online much more than you do offline. It can be 10 o’clock at night and you are dipping in to respond to a query.

There’s an excellent post on comms2point0 by Emily Taylor on how to deal with criticism on behalf of an organisation. That’s when people get angry about a project that isn’t going down well or some other aspect of what your employer is doing. It’s a great post. You can read it here.

But in an off-line conversation, I was also reminded that a thick skin is also something you need. It’ssomething I’ve blogged about before.

There are anecdotes of unpleasant trolling of staff. Thankfully, that’s rare.

But I’m struck by a dedicated local government officer who looks after a corporate account who told me: “I don’t look at Twitter in the evening now. I have enough of people telling me I’m an idiot between 9 and 5.”

There’s some excellent advice on staying positive online if you are getting cheesed off with your friends’ perfect baby pictures when you are, say, a new parent. Use the off switch. Unfriend. But when you are running a corporate account it’s not so easy.

For five years I ran a corporate Twitter account and was responsible for the training of more than 60 others.

Advice for people who speak online for an organisation

What advice did I give above and beyond the points made in Lucy’s post?

Don’t take it personally.

Count to 10 before replying.

Never argue with an idiot. They bring you down to their level and to a passer-by it’s just two idiots arguing.

Talk to a colleague or a friend if you feel things are getting on top of you. Blow off steam.

Ask – or maybe even let – a colleague to step in and take over for a while.

If you feel it becoming an issue talk to someone and make your line manager aware. Stress is a workplace issue and your employer has a duty to you. Asking for help isn’t being weak it’s being strong.

Have set hours when you will deal with stuff and time when you won’t. You are not on 24/7.

You’re not alone.

Picture credit: Ben Tesch / Flickr / https://flic.kr/p/4LEz6H


ANTI-SOCIAL: What are you going to do about love and hate in 2016?

4053398162_31444711b1_bBack when I was a journalist I used to cover Magistrates’ court a couple of times a week.

It was a mundane list of people charged with minor driving offences with the odd murder thrown in.

There were two characters to look out for. One was ‘Tipton.’ Most of the time he wore a woolly hat because he’d got drunk once and self-tattooed his forehead. Only he used the mirror so the word was written backwards.

Another character was ‘Love and Hat.’ He’d had ‘Love and Hate’ tattoed on his knuckles but an industrial accident robbed him of a vowel from ‘Hate.’

“Don’t laugh when you see him,” I was told. “He hates it when people spot it and laugh.”

In 2016, there is a question to be answered by everyone who uses social media around love and hate I’m not sure what the answer is. And no, not laughing, either.

Undercurrent of hate

There feels like an undercurrent of hate on the social web. You’ll have spotted it in 2015 Asylum seekers, Paris attacks, Charlie Hebdo. Labour leadership election, votes for bombing Syria, Britain First, Katie Hopkins and Donald Trump.

Hate rises to the surface in sometimes unexpected ways. Maybe it’s a colleague or a shared tweet.

In 2016, there’ll be more. Trump (again), the EU referendum. More terror attacks. You know it.

A tipping point

For me, a tipping point came in a former colleague’s Facebook post. Anti-Muslim sentiment reached fever pitch. It was the call to machine gun refugees that did it. This bothered me. A day later as no-one else was I chipped in to counter. No, it’s not alright to randomly shoot people. Not everyone agreed. But I felt better for drawing a line in the sand.

And what to do..?

Of course, one of the good things of holding a politically restricted job was a bar on making political comments. It makes life easy. Broadly, I follow that now even though I’m no longer politically restricted. It’s just easier. I get the advice of not feeding the troll. I also get what Euan Semple was getting at when he said that there is a volume control on the mob. But I’m, not sure that’s enough when it is so close to home. I also get the meme of folk singer Pete Seeger and the words: ‘It’s very important you learn to talk to people you don’t agree with.’

The mass unfollow-a-tron

There’s an application you can use to auto unfollow everyone who likes the Donald Trump Facebook page. Ha! Great stuff, right? Thing is, I’m not so sure. I’ve signed-up for his campaign emails just as I have Hilary Clinton to see what they are saying and how they are saying it.

It’s made me think about what I do. As a conscious attempt, I follow people from all the mainstream political parties. I want to find out what they are saying. I rarely engage on controversial stuff. If you come out with stuff my Grandpa spent four years in a tank fighting you are gone. But I’m wondering if that’s the right path. Or if that’s enough.

So, what are you going to do about hate in 2016?

Creative commons credit: https://flic.kr/p/7bbJ4d

 


DIGITAL DAY: 12 things to make your #ourday or #housingday go well

snippoSo, there we were 10 minutes before 6am at the start of #walsall24 and still not sure if it would work.

What was this? We were using Twitter to tell people a snapshot of all the things our council did in real-time over the course of 24-hours from a pothole on the A41 to a Zumba class. Nothing would be too small.

We’d got some content lined-up. Lists of scheduled work from road engineers, leisure centre programmes and had someone stationed in the social care contact centre in the small hours.

Would it work? We checked our first potential tweet and knew that it would… it was environmental health officers investigating a noisy cockerel in a built-up area. Wow. I didn’t know we did that.

From there, we took part in the first Local Government Association #ourday and hosted the first discussion of a #housingday for housing.

We’ve learned things since and from this experience here’s 12 things to help shape your day.

Routine is interesting. From the jet pilot to the parking officer, everyone thinks their job is boring and no interest to anyone else. It always fascinates other people. Find the routine and share that.

Realtime is interesting. One of the strengths of Twitter is the realtime aspect of things whether they be football results or road closures. Tell people as you do it.

Pictures work and video works better. Words of text don’t leap off the screen like an image or footage. You have a smartphone in your pocket. Use it.

Share the sweets. Let other people from across the organisation tell their stories in realtime.

Tell stories. The boiler being installed in Brown Street, Oxdown is great. The boiler being installed for Jessie Timmins who has two children aged five and nine is greater.

Get people to do something. Stories of what librarians are doing are fine. Asking people to sign-up to join the library or to take out a book is better.

Shout wider… the world is not on Twitter. So embed the content on your website, use something like storify to capture your tweets  and embed it on the relevant webpage.

Shout wider… and use other platforms. There’s this amazing website called Facebook that’s doing quite well. Whats App or Snapchat too. Experiment. Don’t stand still.

Shout wider… internally. By screenshot, email, poster or telephone call. The telling of the story shouldn’t be limited to just online. Take it offline too.

Best content comes from outside the office. Encourage those people who are out and about to use social media and in places where they don’t or wouldn’t shadow them for a while. If the street cleaner clears up rubbish in an empty street at 6.12am… does she?

Use the main account as Match of the Day highlights… and use others. This is where the wider network of linked social accounts works. Let the library talk on the library, the repairs team on theirs. Use the central one to collate and share.

Build a community from it. Update your A-Z list of council accounts.  Bring the people connected to them together. What worked well? What didn’t work well? Meet in a café at 4pm where they serve coffee and cake. Do it regularly.


We Need to Reboot Twitter Events

3887881562_265de98f19_zI’ve been thinking for a while that 24-hour Twitter events have driven up a bit of a cul-de-sac.

You know the sort of thing. An organisation tweets what it is doing for 24-hours and shines a light on unsung heroes. You learn things you didn’t know and then the timeline moves on.

Back in 2011, I was part of an award-winning team at Walsall Council that ran this first one in local government called #walsall24. We encouraged teams from across the council from 6am to join in. There was a countryside ranger talking about what she was doing, scheduled road repairs and events at libraries.

We created a wall of noise and we didn’t even bother to tell the local papers. We just did it. It was the first time it felt like we siezed the channels off production and just did ikt ourselves. I’m still hugely proud of that.

We wanted #walsall24 to be like an Atari ZX81 game. Amazing at the time but quickly outdated. A social Pong, in other words. Pong being the basic computer tennis game with two lines anfd a ball. I’d been thinking just lately that this model hadn’t moved on all that much.

Answering the ‘So what?’ question

The big question that any such event should face is ‘So what?’

In other words, you did all this, but what has changed?

Ideally, what did people do that made a difference? Maybe even how this saved money.

Two impressive grassroots campaigns

Two things just recently have impressed me. Firstly, the #Iminworkjeremy hashtag. Something which evolved ad hoc without organising. This was prompted by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s comments that consultants don’t work at weekends. So, working consultants tweeted pictures of themselves working. It was Twitter at its best.

The obvious ‘so what?’ of that is to challenge a statement and to reach out to others who are in the same boat.

The second thing that impressed was the Remember Srebrenica campaign in the UK which has strives to ask people to remember the genocide of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys murdered by Serbs in the bloody Balkans civil war. It was a simple ask. Pledge that you’ll remember them and an online and offline campaign co-incided beautifully.

NHS and commscamp

Several weeks back Amanda Nash pitched a great session at commscamp where she crowdsourced ideas for an NHS-wide event. She and others will make a success of it whatever they do. They’ll find solutions and make it fly.

The session spoke of the need to let people inside and outside the NHS join in. It also mentioned that sometimes they may need to shadow staff to give a flavour of what they are doing.

But I wonder, is there an NHS thing that can galvanise people, bring people together and make an appreciable difference?

Is there a pledge? A call to action? A promise? Something that answers the ‘so what?’ question?

But at the same time, keep it simple.

That’s for those doing it to work out and for the people behind houjsing day and any social event.

Answer the ‘so what’ question and you can move mountains.


CAMPAIGN JUSTICE: What Journalism 2.0 Looks Like and What You Can Learn

(5) Birmingham Mail - Google Chrome 21112014 110418It was around 2010 and as depressing conversations with a reporter go this one took quite some beating.

I was in local government communications and we had started to post gritting updates in real time on Twitter. We were talking with our residents directly without going through the Priesthood of journalists.

“The thing is,” the reporter said, “When you post your updates to Twitter, newsdesk want you to give us a call as well, so we know.”

I declined. I pointed out that they needed to be on Twitter themselves. I shook my head in despair.

Despair

I started in newspapers in the early 1990s and spent 12 years as a journalist. I still love them despite themselves and despite a further eight years in a local government communications team.

There was a time when I despaired of local newspapers utterly. Declining newsrooms, re-locating to ‘hubs’ far away and shedding staff still make me shake my head.

But just recently, I’ve had cause to think that maybe the penny is dropping and that newspapers really can use the social web and create journalism that will be relevant to the channels of the future.

Telling a story with the web

Making brilliant use of the web are the Evening Mail in Birmingham. They are telling the story of the Birmingham pub bombings which killed 21 people 40 years ago today. They are doing so with imagination and passion. The incident remains an unhealed wound in the city. Nobody has been brought to justice for it. Six people were imprisoned wrongly.

They are using thunderclap to gather support for the case to be re-opened. You sign-up using a social channel and agree to share a message.

For audio, they recreated the IRA telephone call to the Evening Mail offices which came minutes before the explosion.

Birmingham pub bombings We name the man who masterminded the atrocity - Birmingham Mail - Google Chrome 21112014 102057

For images, they created a gallery of news images from the time from their archive.

On Twitter, they used the hashtag #justiceforthe21 and #BirminghamPubBombings to promote the call to bring people to justice.

On the web, the posted the news story in which they name the man, now dead, they allege is responsible for the attack.

On Facebook, they shared content and drew scores of responses.

Also on the web, they hosted as as if real time recreation of the 24-hours leading up to the incident. Anecdotes and snaps of life from those who were living their last day. It is a docudrama told in realtime and you can see it here.   

Birmingham pub bombings Minute by minute - 24 hours that changed our city forever - Birmingham Mail - Google Chrome 21112014 103025

This is what future journalism looks like. Story telling on a range of platforms. It’s sharable and commentable and has a purpose. But above all it is human. I just can’t tell you how much I like this.

They still make me shake my head do newspapers. The public subsidy they get through the government insisting local government pay them for print small ads for public notices at a time of 85 per cent internet connectivity is plain wrong.

But the Evening Mail have shown peerlessly how to tell powerful stories on the web. This really does tower over anything else I’ve seen in the 21 years I’ve been involved with local journalism. Sincere congratulations to them. Buy shoe polish and make sure your suits are pressed. You’ll need them for the awards.

Brilliant work and the lessons to take

This is brilliant work. Genuinely brilliant. This is using the social web to tell a very human story. It’s powerful. It’s moving. But it has a sense of purpose. The purpose is to mobilise public support for a specific aim. It is is to press for justice.

Yet there are lessons here for the public sector where I now work. Just recently the #housingday initiative saw a 24-hour campaign which saw housing people talk about the jobs they do and the people they serve. Very soon #ourday will do a similar task for local government. I’m an advocate for them. They tell hundreds of stories that tell a bigger story. They empower people. They connect people too.

But wouldn’t it be something if that wall of noise was made easier to follow with a live blog? And wouldn’t it be something if there was one single call to action, whatever that was? What is the biggest issue facing housing? Or local government?

What would that campaign be?

Wouldn’t it be something if that energy was pointed at something?


SOCIAL CONTENT: Are You Getting the Balance Right?

5434541912_9e55fb3821_b

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for comms planning and having a purpose.

If the aim is to do something then it makes sense to have your comms pointing at that.

The only thing is that social media isn’t like that. It’s social. So, a stream of call-to-action updates just won’t work. It’s as social as a stream of flyers being pushed through your letterbox.

So, what’s the answer?

There needs to be a balance of the social and the stuff you want people to sign up for, buy or do.

Often in training I’ll refer to an 80-20 split. The 80 per cent is conversational and engaging content. The 20 per cent is the things you’d like people to do.

In a fascinating interview on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Bottom Line’ Asda’s social manager puts the balance at 10 to 1.

Dominic Birch, Asda senior director of marketing, innovation and new revenue, said that the social media team has now become part of the wider PR team.

“We didn’t have a budget. So it wasn’t the case of advertising that we were on Facebook. Each time we posted some content we had to rely on even a very small number of people at first liking it for that content to be seen my anyone else otherwise we would be speaking to ourselves.

“We averaged two or three posts a day, every day, so maybe 20 posts a week.

It started to get interesting when they started to get customers to chip in with decisions. Nothing big. Customers chose the design for Christmas tea towels.

“What was really interesting was that 4,500 people went to the bother of asking whether they liked design ‘a’, ‘b’ or ‘c’. Actually, it was that moment that with 18 million customers we understood that if you connect to the right ones they really do care about what you do, what they say and why wouldn’t they? Ultimately, they’re going to come into your shop and choose to buy it.”

Big numbers is not the answer as fewer people see the posts. If the people who like your page are true customers it’ll cost you less effectively to reach them through Facebook ads.

“There is a danger that social media becomes diarrhea. We had a rule of thumb that for every post we wanted to push or sell something to be very blunt about it we had to put 10 other posts in the bank. They are there solely to engage our customers. We have to have done hard work  talking about what the customers wanted to talk about before we have the right or licence to push something out.

“It’s a two-way dialogue social media. It just is. Our starting point is not to sell. It’s to listen. A few years ago we had a Christmas ad that was based on insight that it was Mum who does the heavy lifting, organises the present, gets the tree, cooks the meal and we depicted this advert and were met with a media backlash. Some people thought this was filmed in the 1950s and Fathers for Justice were going to do protests in the turkey aisle but we had three or four thousand comments saying things like ‘I nudged my husband awake when that came on the TV and said:L ‘that’s how it really feels.’ If you’d have gone back two or three years there would have been a high level meeting and the advert would have been pulled.”

That’s useful insight. Are you getting the balance right?

 

Creative commons credit

Balance https://flic.kr/p/9herYu

 


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