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.
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.
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.
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?
Sure, there are still dinosaurs. But they’re dying out and have lost the battle so let’s not bother with them.
Ignorance is being replaced with the realisation that social media can’t be ignored by comms and PR people. Great.
But have we truly won the war? I’m not at all convinced we have.
There is a mindset that sees digital as a one way tick box exercise that exists only to generate likes or calls to action. In other words, it’s an extension of what traditional comms has always tried to be.
I absolutely get the need for comms teams to demonstrate worth. You sit down with the organisation, you listen to how you need to recruit 10 more carers to save £100k. Then you communicate to the right people at the right time in the right place. You record the new carers. Then you report back what you did.
I get that in spades.
I also get enthusiastically the idea that comms is not the size of the audience but what that audience has done as a result of what you’ve done.
I can also get the need to base comms on evidence and business cases to cut out the pointless vanity comms. You know the sort. The sort that needs this doing because we’ve always done it because the Director likes it.
I get that too.
I also get much of Rachel Moss’s post on not slavishly sticking to digital and doing traditional things too. If a poster works, use a poster. There is no earthly point, I’m guessing, for a LinkedIn group aimed at under fives.
I don’t think that comms people have fully realised what social is. It is not driven by likes, sign-ups and results. It is driven by conversation, sharing and stories. The return on investment comes as a spin-off and is all the more powerful for that.
Think of it in postal terms. It’s the difference between junk mail asking you to buy, buy, buy and the handwritten postcard addressed to you on your door mat.
I think of the police officer I spoke to early in my career who was one of the first to embrace Twitter. A senior officer he had a face that looked as though it had been in a few scraps in its time. I would not argue with that face if he asked me to move my car.
He used Twitter, the policeman told me, in exactly the same way as he would use conversation as if he walked down a parade of shops on his beat. He’d say good morning. He’d pass the time of day. He’d share a joke. He’d then ask someone once the ice was broken to remember to shut their windows when they went out in warm weather. Simple. And human.
The real return on investment for that officer comes in an emergency where there is a pre-built network of people willing to share their message.
Police officers get that you need to be human on the social web to be listened to. I’m not sure if comms people look at .
I think of the brands who tried to ‘leverage’ their audience with 9/11 tweets. I think of Pete Ashton one of the first people in Birmingham to use this thing called Twitter and work out what the social web was all about. I think of the chat I had with him on how he had consciously divorced himself from the growing social as numbers professionalisation of social media.
I think of the Best by WM survey that shows that digital comms in the West Midlands social has stalled at Twitter and Facebook and the new channels are not being explored.
It all points to this as a conclusion: social media and digital communications is one set of tools in the mix.
Use them if you think they’ll work but don’t be a channel fascist.
Share, inform, entertain and engage.
Measure if you like. But don’t let the tape measure drive you.
Explore with it. Experiment. Learn. There is so much wide open space to be experimented with.
Always, always, always be human with it.
If a police officer with a broken nose can get this, why can’t more comms people?
Four times a year UK media industry watchdog Ofcom publishes a report on the media landscape.
Packed full of insight it is that rare thing of a free report that will help you if you work even just a little bit in digital communications.
It’s also a document that we often keen going back to so this time around we thought we’d fillet it and, because we love you, we thought we’d publish it in bite-sized chunks so it can help you too.
Much attention has been focussed on the fact that adults spend more time engaged with the media – eight hours 41 minutes – than they sleep which accounts fr eight hours 21 minutes.
More hidden in the report is the conclusion that the differing types of communicatin is leading to a generation gap. Where once post and the telephone was universal now young people only send a letter when they absolutely have to while the habit remains with older people.
The figures cover the first quarter of 2014.
An average day for a UK adult aged 16+ (selected)
2’58” watching live TV
1’19” listening to the radio.
0’40” recorded TV
0’36” websites or apps
0’29” phone calls
0’25” social media
0’15” newspapers (print or news website)
0’04” online news but not a news site
0’02” photo or video messaging
Popular UK social media sites
40.0 million YouTube
35.1 million Facebook
11.9 million Twitter
11.3 million LinkedIn
8.8 million Google Plus
0.9 million MySpace
0.4 million Friends Reunited
eBay overtook Amazon as the most popular retail site with 27.3 million users
Social media use by adults
2009 – 30 per cent
2010 – 40 per cent
2011 – 46 per cent
2012 – 50 per cent
2013 – 53 per cent
2014 – 54 per cent
Television 75 per cent
Internet 41 per cent
Newspapers 40 per cent
Radio 36 per cent
Adults spend more time – eight hours 41 minutes – engaged with the media than time spent sleeping (eight hours 21 minutes.)
We are getting used to following two things at once. We may watch television and use the internet at the same time as 11 hours seven minutes worth f media is consumed in that eight hours 41 minutes.
We watch two hours 58 minutes of TV a day.
There are 83.1 mobile phones in the UK.
8 hours a month is spent on Facebook
Mail has fallen 5 per cent in 12-months
20 per cent of adults didn’t get an item of post in the last week.
77 per cent of all UK households have broadband.
79 per cent of homes have a PC or a laptop.
61 per cent of all adults own a smartphone.
57 per cent of all adults use their mobile phone to access the internet.
44 per cent of all UK households have a tablet.
60 per cent of adults say that technology confuses them.
49 per cent say technology isn’t making a difference to their lives either way.
24 per cent say technology is harming their lives.
16 per cent live in a mobile phone-only home.
Radio remains popular but is falling from 24.3 to 21.5 hours a week.
71 per cent of audio activity is radio.
2 per cent have used 3D printers.
82 per cent of households have an internet connection.
66 per cent say that they rely on the post.
46 per cent say they email fr work purposes out-of-hours.
23 per cent say they email about work while they are on holiday.
80 per cent say flexible working makes it hard to switch off.
51 minutes a day is social media use.
37 per cent of their time spent using the media is spent on watching TV.
2 per cent of their time spent using the media is spent on print media.
16 per cent of their time spent using the media is spent on text.
94 per cent watch live TV.
77 per cent use email.
71 per cent send SMS messages.
18 per cent of their time spent with the media is spent on social media.
41 per cent of adults use the internet to consume news.
Adults over 65
50 per cent overall have internet access at home.
66 per cent of adults 65 to 74 have internet access.
6 per cent of their time spent using the media is spent on print media.
49 per cent of their time spent using the media is spent on watching TV.
7 per cent of their time spent using the media is spent on text.
19 per cent play games on social media – the highest of any age group.
Young people aged 16-24-years-old
74 per cent use a social network.
4 and a half hours is the time they spend on media activity every day
If they use it they’ll spend one-and-a-half hours using social media a day.
They are watching less TV a day than they did. This has fallen to 148 minutes a day from 154
60 per cent get their news online – three times the amount of other adults.
1 per cent of their time spent using media is spent on print media.
24 per cent of their time spent using media is spent watching TV or films.
23 per cent of time spent using media is spent using text.
Young people aged 12-15
30 per cent are likely to use print media – half the adult average.
36 per cent of their media time is spent on social media – double the rate of adults.
Young people aged 6-15-years-old
60 per cent use a tablet.
75 per cent say they wouldn’t know what to do without technology.
70 per cent say they tell friends and family about new technology.
18 per cent use Snapchat.
Young people aged six-11-years-old
26 per cent of their time using the media is spent using social media.
Digital TV take-up has risen from 84 per cent in 2008 to 95 per cent.
Smart TVs – web enabled TVs – have risen by five per centage points to 12 per cent in 12-months.
Smart TVs account for 45 per cent of TVs sold in the UK.
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
From Herefordshire in the south to Stoke-on-Trent in the north the region and across the Brum and Black Country conurbation continues to blaze a trail for how local government best uses social media channels.
Last year the Best by West Midlands whitepaper and survey gave a snapshot of where authorities were.
This year, the 2014 survey has done the same and have we moved on? Of course we have. You can read the round-up post here.
But a couple of things really stood out and I’ll blog them in the coming weeks. Not least the statistic that comms teams are comfortable with the established platforms like Twitter and Facebook but new channels like Snapchat and WhatsApp? Not at all. Of the 18 channels used – three up from last year the results paint a picture.
Most Used Channels
Twitter 100 per cent
Facebook 96 per cent
YouTube 81 per cent
Flickr 65 per cent
Whats App 4 per cent
Snapchat 0 per cent
Source: Best by West Midlands IEWM July 2014
The findings formed part of a session at commscamp last week and it turns out this blindspot for new channels is not something unique to the West Midlands.
You need a digital comms expert in your team.
It’s something I’ve been banging on about for some time now. The world is changing. You need to keep pace. Unless you have someone horizon scanning you’ll be missing the bigger picture. Sales pitch: that’s a service comms2point0 provides but really as a comms person you need to have a voracious inquisitiveness about how the web is changing your job.
But what is Snapchat?
The low down is that this is a picture messaging service beloved of young people. It’s picture led and is meant to disappear from the web in 24-hours. The sender can opt to save a pic and the the recipient can take a screenshot. There’s a useful parents guide that Snapchat themselves have produced.
Some brands have started to use it like McDonalds who are telling people about changes to the menu and offers, the Philadelphia Reds baseball team giving behind-the-scenes access and the World Wildlife Fund who used a Snapchat-inspired campaign and this short YouTube clip showing endangered species at risk and asking if the images would be their #lastselfie.
You can watch the YouTube clip here:
The stats are that Snapchat is growing although the detail is hard to piece together. A survey suggests 25 per cent of smartphone users in the UK have Snapchat and 70 per cent of users are female.
What is whats app?
It’s SMS without the spiralling charges. You send and receive something that looks like SMS but without the individual charges. As of April 2014, there is 500 million users and the company which was bought for $19 billion by Facebook says it has only just started.
It’s fair to say that marketing and comms people are baffled by what impact this will have on them with predictions of zero impact although others have been creative to engage with it. Like the Israeli chocolate company who created a game for users to play and the Bollywood cinema who created a competition to promote a new film.
But is this something that comms let alone public sector comms has got their teeth into? Not at all.
Your two big challenges
Firstly, you need to know where do they fit in the landscape and secondly, we need to think how we go about getting the skills.
The re-assuring thing in debating this at commscamp is that this feels no different to Twitter in 2007. Those that work in comms and PR at first thought it would go away and then we gradually worked out how to use it. That’s a journey we’ve already been on so shouldn’t be too worried.
It’s fine for us grown-ups to work out what these platforms are so you don’t appear like the magistrate who famously asked: ‘Who are The Beatles?’
The old rules stand true. Go onto a platform as yourself for a bit to understand the language and what works. Then think about using it yourself.
I’ve argued before that there needs to be space to experiment away from the bustle of the day job and campaign evaluation. This is one of those times.
Creative comms credit
Grid: Ann Kempster https://www.flickr.com/photos/annkempster/sets/72157645172301580/
They go the extra mile, they’re pushing at the margins and they take a real sense of pride about what they are doing.
But there’s also something that connects them whether profile they are running whether that’s a town centre Facebook, a corporatel Twitter or an NHS Trust YouTube channel.
Because they put heart and soul into what they do their skin is that bin thinner when they face criticism of the organisation or service they front-up online.
Is it aimed at me? It feels like it…
“I used to go onto our social channel in the evening and answer questions,” one said to me recently. “I don’t bother now. When I’ve spent all day being told that I’m rubbish and the service we provide is dreadful I’m worn down. I just don’t want it in the evening as well.”
Of course, that person isn’t rubbish and the person making the complaint isn’t singling out that individual. They just happen to be the person operating the place where people can make a voice heard.
It’s a feeling I can relate to. A one-off project I helped run went well but the numbers we produced were lambasted by a lone voice in the early hours of the morning and that made me far more angry than it probably should.
That’s not to say that there should be no criticism or even that it’s always, always unwelcome.
We should just acknowledge that when a half brick comes flying towards an organisation’s social media it’s not meant for you but the organisation you work for. It’s rarely personal.