OUR MAN: ‘We Need to Communicate Like Insurgents.’

51470257_e1c8bb2ac8_o“What we need to do,” said the man in the blue jacket and the crisp white shirt, “is to communicate more like insurgents.”

An arresting comment to make, particularly  as the man in the jacket was HM Government’s Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher.

The comment was made – and a whole host of others – at the tail end of a fascinating two day event in Jordan hosted by the Foreign Office for their Middle East and North Africa comms staff.

A week later and it’s a comment that keeps rattling around.

We need to communicate more like insurgents. What does that mean?

It could mean a whole host of things. To nail the obvious, it’s not about communicating beheadings. To me, it’s more about having an overall framework to work in and allowing people on the ground to be flexible, creative and agile. What I took was that it was about being not hemmed in by procedure. It’s about creating sharable content that is going to be shared. It’s seeing what works in the field and replicating it.

Here’s a second arresting comment from the event that keeps re-occuring.

“Al-Qaida’s leaders view communications as 90 percent of the struggle.”

Think for a minute of that group and what do you see?

Ossama bin Laden in a fuzzy vhs video?

The Twin Towers?

Both are powerful images which frame the first 14 years of the 21st century.

They are communications.

They were framed by communications people.

The Ambassador is of course right. Sometimes we can be too hemmed in by process to think agile, creative, sharable and flexible.

To have such a green light from the top is a gift to cherish.

Sometimes the play book comes not from the institution or the old ways of doing things. It comes from unexpected quarters and what your enemy does.

It also poses the question that if communications is 90 per cent of the issue then are you doing enough? More importantly, have you got the support to do enough?

Spanish poet Baltasar Gracian said that a wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.

So, how can you learn from your enemies?

Picture credit

Magic bullet https://www.flickr.com/photos/45175402@N00/51470257/


PROTEST PR: How Comms Should Answer Cuts Questions

8544982977_36a47ac99a_oYou’re a public sector PR person and you’ve got to answer a question from the media about cuts, what do you do?

Forecasts say there will be 40 per cent job losses in some areas of the public sector with £3.3 billion being taken from the voluntary sector over a five year period and £20 billion coming from local government and £15 billion of efficiency savings due in the NHS.

So, what stories are being shaped? If you work in the sector it’s probably long overdue time to think about it.

A)      Apply a positive gloss and insist that yes, efficiencies will be made but frontline services will not be cut.
B)      Tell people that they had their chance to have their say in the budget consultation and they blew it.
C)       Tell people that this is what cuts look like.

All too often people in the public sector have been going for a) to try and minimise panic and upset on the population. But with £20 billion worth of cuts coming down the tracks in local government we need to be above all honest. So, let’s just take a closer look at that, shall we?

What insisting that efficiencies will be made and frontline services will not be cut means

You’ve been cutting millions of pounds from budgets for years. But the frontline hasn’t been affected? Efficiencies? Clearly, you were wasting that money all along so why on earth should I trust you now?

Or, you’re trying to be a bit clever and you know that the frontline will very much be affected but the couple of hours of mobile library visit will somehow make-up for the five-day-a-week building the community used to have. People won’t buy it, or they’ll see through it. So, why should they trust you now?

What telling people that they’ve had their chance means

You’ve pinned up details of a public meeting at the church hall and you paid three times the rate for a display ad in the local paper because it’s a public notice and they’ve got you over a barrel. Twelve people turned up and the Twitter chat you ran reached a fair number but not everyone. In other words, you’ve not done a very good job of this public consultation lark. Why should they trust you now?

What telling people that this is what cuts look like looks like

In Birmingham, this is exactly what Cllr James McKay told the Evening Mail about green bin charges in the City as people were protesting against cuts. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, people won’t like it. But look yourself in the eye. This is the truth. This is going to happen more and more and public sector comms increasingly is going to be about what you don’t do rather than you do.

But at least they’ll trust you more because you are being honest.

A grown-up conversation is needed about communicating cuts and if you work in the area you need to work out which choice you make pretty quick.

Creative commons credit 

Dog protest https://www.flickr.com/photos/16230215@N08/8544982977/


POST RELEASE: Life After the Press Release Dies

LandscapeIt’s seven years since the ground-breaking post ‘Die! Press Release! Die! Die!’ was written.

Tom Foremski’s this-can’t-go-on wail reads as powerfully as a Martin Luther deconstruction of one of the central pillars of the public relations industry.

“I’ve been telling the PR industry for some time now that things cannot go along as they are,” Tom wrote, “business as usual while mainstream media goes to hell in a hand basket.”

There is no point, he says, in writing slabs of text in journalese, and sending them to journalists when the traditional newspaper industry is dying and the news landscape is undergoing a digital revolution whether it likes it or not, Tom argued.

He’s right. The future is the message being shaped as web content and as social media conversation that has to be two-way and authentic, fun and interesting. Public relations people, no, communications people need to realise this if they are to still be relevant.

But that’s not to say that the press release is dead overnight. It’ll be here but diminishing.

Twelve months ago at an LGComms event I pointed to Tom’s post in a presentation and explained why this was something people needed to know. For five years I’ve been pointing to rapid change from my very small corner of the digital allotment.

Other louder voices have seen what I’ve seen too.

Government director of communications Alex Aiken made a similar point although more forcefully in a speech to the PRCA conference reported by PR Week. 

Ashley Brown, Coca Cola’s global director for social media and digital communications, recently talked about the wish to end not just the press release but the corporate website too.

“For the first time ever, our PR teams are being asked to think beyond a press release or beyond a toolkit or beyond a launch package. They had to think: ‘Wow, what is a two-minute really high quality video that someone would really want to share with the friends?'”

“We’re finally breaking the last connections to the corporate website. I think the corporate website is over.  I think it’s dead. I think everyone needs to start thinking beyond it. How can you turn it into a media property and hopefully the age of press release pr is over as well.

“I’m on a mission. If there’s one thing I do it’s to kill the press release. We have a commitment to reduce the number of press releases by half by the end of this year. I want them gone entirely by 2015. That’s our goal.”

That’s fine for Coke. But how easy is it if you work somewhere else?

Actually, press release murder is a pretty tricky subject to raise amongst comms people. It’s akin to telling people the skills they’ve spent a career crafting are now not so important. It’s telling a room full of sailors to put down their 8301863218_bdbac61ef4_oreef knot and lore and learn how to service an outboard motor. PR people are often former journalists who have in any event spent years as juniors crafting the ability to write press releases. Every word is pored over and shaped by committee. That control gives power. To attack the use of the press release is to launch a personal attack on the career history of PR people.

In the UK, the Government Digital Service published a fascinating study – the half life of news – of more than 600 press releases on gov.uk that looked at the traffic they got. Many spike quickly then fade like digital chip paper.

But if the battle is to be won it’s probably not the revolutionary cry of ‘Die, press release!’ that will win in it. It’s not even a study of how effective the numbers are in getting a story across that will lead the victory, although that will be important. It’ll actually be you, me and the people you went to school with who vote with their feet and share the sharable content.

There is nothing so boring, I’ve heard it said, as the future of news debate amongst journalists because what they say will have no bearing whatsoever on what the outcome will be.

It’ll be things like Oreo’s mugging of the Superbowl with an image of a biscuit created on the spot and tweeted and Facebooked within minutes to take advantage of a powercut. It wasn’t the lavish TV ads that was talked about. It was the real time marketing team who made the sharable image and the 15,000 retweets and 20,000 likes it achieved.

Oreo-Expion-Screenshot

What’s real time marketing? It’s people making content that capitalises on real time events. Look it up. You’ll need to know it.

All this is why I’m finding communications utterly fascinating right now.

And you have to ask yourself the question, if you are not thinking of what post-press release life looks like now, what will you be doing in five years?

Creative commons credits

Sorry, no gas http://flic.kr/p/7vtFzZ

Coke http://flic.kr/p/dDBdGJ


PLUS ONE: Why Google+ is now part of the comms landscape

google_plus_logoLadies and gentlemen, I admit it. Google+ is starting to become a contender for comms people. 

Yes, it’s true that it has only a percentage of the users that Facebook has. But when the bottom line of that percentage is 230 million that’s a significant figure.

It’s also true that some people have been evangelising about what Google+  can do for a long time. For a quick catch-up try Stephen Waddington herehere and here.

As someone who dodged the hype of the ill-feted Google Wave I hung back when Google+ was launched as a local government comms person. A couple of things have made me re-think things.

Firstly, there is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Google+ page that has racked-up more than 200,000 likes. Shane Dillon has been a real evangelist for the platform and as one of the pioneers he deserves credit and wrote a fine post on the page here.

Secondly, there was a hugely fascinating chat with Shane as well as community web evangelist John Popham, Leah Lockhart from Scottish local government and Phil Rumens from localgov digital who wrote this fine post on what it can offer. That chat really offered up some insight.

Thirdly, there’s the Birmingham City Council Google+ page with more than 24,000 users. That moves the bar from being a global brand thing and one that my corner of local government can take a look at.

So, in Janet and John terms, what’s Google +?

For me, it’s an intelligent Facebook without the farms or a slightly longer Twitter. It’s ad free for now. It’s a place to start a discussion or share a link, a video clip or an image. When you start an account you can create circles where people from different interests can be placed so you can more easily drink from the firehose of information.

When you have your own account you can then create a page that acts in the same sort of way that a Facebook page does for the Google+ community.

So how has this big corporation attempt at social sneaked-up up on us all?

The reality is that since it was launched in summer 2011 there has been a devoted list of people who have been using it and enjoying. Niche perhaps at first but they’re growing and as Google+ develops and keeps adding features that are rather useful those numbers will grow.

Many were sceptical at Google’s record in the field. Great tech but poorly presented. Besides, this felt like a top-down invention from big business rather than something that emerged from a start-up’s bedroom. The counter argument is that neither Facebook or Twitter are exactly small business these days.

Fullscreen capture 29062013 232217

Where are the good examples?

When I asked the question 12-months ago there were few if any pages that you could look at and feel as though new ground was being made. But here are three good pages.

With more than 3.2 million followers (or maybe they’re likers? Or plus-ers?) the Cadbury page  is witty, imaginative and engaging. It’s a soft sell. There is sharable content aimed at people who like chocolate. Look hard enough and you’ll see the purple and white branding.

Furniture made out of chocolate photographed and posted, for example.

Odd as though it may sound, amongst the corporate pages there’s a rather lovely example from little business too. Ladders Online are a company that supply extra big ladders. Their page features content of inappropriate ladders badly positions and other trade advice. If ladders can be made to be engaging what is the rest of us waiting for?

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office page for me is the gold standard. There’s senior buy-in. There’s updates from the Minister and good content.

Birmingham City Council’s Google+ page went into orbit after Google reached out and made contact, verifying it and then promoting it. As I understand it from Guy Evans, the council’s social media officer, content is linked to Facebook.

When the Shropshire Family Information Service wanted to reach more more they chose Google+ as a way to do it. More knackered dads use the platform that knackered mums and elsewhere North Yorkshire County Council are starting to make some sense of it while Toronto Police used the Google hangout functionality to livestream a press conference here. In New Mexico in the US Governor Gary Johnson staged a hangout with some residents. 

Fullscreen capture 29062013 232548

What’s good about Google+

  1. Google juice. There’s extra brownie points in the search rankings for a link from Google+.  For the most part, my corner of local government doesn’t have to stress too much about such things as SEO (that’s search engine optimisation, the art of getting a website up the Google search rankings.) But for micro-sites and other projects this is rather good.
  2. Google hangouts. Back in the day video conferencing was an expensive business. With Google hangouts there is built-in video conferencing between users and the ability to run it via YouTube to larger audiences.
  3. It’s not got adverts. A refreshing change after spending time on the hyper-targeted world of Facebook. Google makes it’s money via search, mainly so doesn’t need to spam users just yet.
  4. Images and video. Realising that good images get shared it’s clear that they’ve put images at the heart of things. You post a link and the image gets posted prominently to catch the eye.
  5. How to use it is largely a white piece of paper. Because it’s new it’s not blighted by people who claim to know what they’re doing and where you’re going wrong. 

What’s bad about Google+

  1. There aren’t the numbers of Facebook or Twitter. They have big numbers but not really, really big numbers.
  2. The mobile apps aren’t great. Certainly the Android app is a bit clunky for pages although this may change.
  3. It’s 50-50. Blogs knocking it sometimes seem equally balanced with those gushingly praising it.
  4. Anyone can add your personal profile to their circles. So be careful about dissing your boss thinking you are behind a walled garden. You’re not. There are some excellent comments on this theme on this blog post here.
  5. It doesn’t have the stickiness of Facebook. People don’t stay on it for long. Just three minutes or so a month in this study compared to more than seven hours with Facebook.

In the changing landscape, Google+ is now a feature. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

Huge thank you to Mike Downes for contributing to a Google+ discussion asking for good examples and to Leah LockhartPhil RumensShane Dillon and John Popham for their continuing inspiration.


GLASTO FOR GEEKS: Bullet points from UK Govcamp 2012

Like an apple tree planted in the Spring a good thing can give you a fine harvest of fruit years into the future.

Events like barcamps and unconferences are the lifeblood of innovation in government. Ideas spark when you put good people into a room.

Heading for work on Monday morning it can give you the zeal of a convert. But the beauty is that many of those seeds of ideas take time to take root and form an idea.

Trouble is that some of those those valuable moments of inspiration and insight can be misplaced.

UK Govcamp is a grand daddy of an event staged at Microsoft in it’s fifth year and has expanded into a two day event drawing more than 300 people to London.

I went for a day. A family celebration stopped me from staying for the second (at which Stoke City ended up losing). The morning after my visit I had this exchange on Twitter:

So here is my list of bulletpoints, in no particular order (and I’ll be adding to them in the days to come):

  1. It’s like Glastonbury for government geeks. It’s big. It’s brilliant. You plan to see a big act on the main stage. You end up in setendipity.
  2. A Saturday barcamp is what good people would do every day if bad people, obstacles and emails were removed.
  3. There are town centres whose shops and shopkeepers are connected digitally.
  4. There are creative people who work in their back bedrooms who could be connected digitally.
  5. We don’t put inspiring people in a room often enough.
  6. Suits won’t ever come to a barcamp. Some will. Most won’t. But half way house events that have a bit of both can work.
  7. Nick Booth is one of the Holiest Saints who ever walked this earth.
  8. Archant are a newspaper group in London who ping out daily emails with headlines and links in. As well as print. That strikes me as being like news 2.0.
  9. Philip John is a bright kiddie.
  10. Dave Briggs and Steph Gray should be revered as Lennon and McCartney for organising this.
  11. Talk is good. But doing something on Monday morning is more important.
  12. Use local government services like a resident would to see how you can improve things. Then tell someone how it can be improved.
  13. The golden bullet answer is there are no golden bullets. Just lots of different solutions.
  14. People in Ludlow were behind a hyperlocal site that celebrates their town.
  15. People in central government don’t have a budget for photography.
  16. Everyone is paranoid of releasing Flickr images as creative commons in case someone does something silly. But people scratch their heads when asked if they can come up with an example.
  17. People would love us forever if local government came up with a way to issue digital bin night reminders.
  18. People in central government talk about strategy and policy lots. Less so in local government. They tend to talk of case studies and doing.
  19. Nobody has come up with a killer solution to return on investment for social media. That’s the score that looks at what you spend you get as a return. Followers are a bit important. But it’s what you and they do together that matters.
  20. The new single Alpha gov platform .gov.uk website will save pots of money. My 50p says that it’ll be offered / handed to local government next.
  21. The idea of a two day event gives space for people to come up with problems to fix. That’s a compelling thing
  22. The people at Microsoft are jolly good hosts.
  23. I’ve come away with a list of people I’d wish I’d met / spent more time with. Again.
  24. Don’t ever give in being an optimist. Ever.
Useful links:
The UK Govcamp 2012 buzz page.

Creative commons credits:

Puffles the dragon and friend by David J Pearson  http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidpea/6736374453/sizes/l/in/faves-danieldslee/

Writing on a sticky by Ann Kempster http://www.flickr.com/photos/annkempster/6730392597/sizes/l/in/faves-danieldslee/

Discussions over lunch by Harry Metcalfe http://www.flickr.com/photos/annkempster/6730392597/sizes/l/in/faves-danieldslee/

Govcamp logo shadow puppet by David J Pearson http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidpea/6735824359/in/faves-danieldslee/


SOCIAL MEDIA: Your EIGHT step guide to getting started…

This blog post was inspired by #ukgc10’s local government hug session where one person asked for help in how to get started with social media. Some good pieces of advice came out. Here are some from the session and some that struck me afterwards…


THE 8 STEP APPROACH FOR GETTING STARTED….

You’ve read about social media. You may have thought it was a fad. Now you’ve been waking up at 3am with the gnawing thought that you’ll have to do something.

If you’re at this stage. Congratulations. You’re sharp. You’ve seen which way the wind is blowing. And, yes, it’s only going to blow harder.

So what to do?

Here’s some thoughts on how to go about turning your organisation into something fit for the 21st century.

It’s simply not enough to say that you must do it because Steven Fry does it. Or because it’s cool.

You need to construct a cohesive and persuasive argument backed by figures that will work with people who look on digital with the suspicious eye of a Daily Mail reader.

 

Step 1 – Look at the national picture.

More than 30 million people use social media in the UK, according to the most recent figures. Clicky Media’s figures are a good starting point.

You can compare this to national and local newspaper figures.

Locally, a 20 per cent dip in local papers is predicted by 2012 in weekly papers. In regional daily papers it’s more like 30 per cent.

In short: If you’ve always relied on your local paper to get your message out then think again.

Step 2 – Have a look at the sites.

There are dozens of social media sites.

For the sake of argument, look at six of the most popular sites.

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr all do different things. For blogging, WordPress and Blogspot are key.

Don’t worry if it all looks an unclimbable. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Anyway, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has only just got round to joining Twitter himself. So, relax.

Join one if you like. See how it works. Get to know it.   

In short: Don’t worry about not getting your head around all of them.
Get your head around them one at a time.

Dive in! That water is great….

 

Step 3 – See what some inspired people say.

All you need is out there on the internet. The trick is, like anything, knowing where to look. You’ll find it a creative, inspiring and sharing place if you choose to join.

Check Mashable for basic guides to all this stuff. The guide to social media is a must. Follow the link and click download for Learning Pool Twitter guide.

There are some quality blog posts on the subject. Michelle Ide-Smith recently wrote a post that nails how to construct an argument in favour.

Have a look at these blogs for ideas an inspiration:

Nick Booth, Dave Briggs, Sarah Lay, Carl Haggerty.

If you join Twitter – and I’ve learned so much from it I’d seriously recommend it – I’d also recommend these:

@sarahlay – Derbyshire webbie.
@alncl – Alastair Smith, Newcastle web man.
@davebriggs – Local government social media specialist.
@timesjoanna – Former Birmingham Post reporter turned Times writer. Great for links.
@liz_azyan – Lives and breathes local government and social media.

@gecko84 – Teckie Arsenal fan.
@abeeken – Lincolnshire webbie.

@mmmmmmcake – A stream about cake, believe it or not.

@pezholio – Local gov webbie from Staffordshire who is borderline genius. Also likes real ale.

@talkaboutlocal – a window into the amazing world of hyperlocal blogs that can serve a town or even a housing estate.
@wv11 – a hyperlocal blog based in Wednesfield, Wolverhampton. Shows how a local site can use it.
@philipjohn – a website developer who is a useful font of information.
@mashable – the Twitter version of the social media blog.
@doristhecow – Anchor butter’s well judged use of Twitter. I love it.
@scobleiser – Silicon Valley geek who writes about tech news.
@walsallcouncil – Because their use of social media is really, really, really inspired (disclaimer: I help write it).

 

Step 4 – Create a social media map.

Work out what activity there is in your area. These figures are a clincher so take an afternoon out to build this picture.

Paul Cole and Tim Cooper in Derbyshire did one for their area. They used mindmeister although you could use an exercise book. It’s just as good and you don’t have to re-boot it. It lists all trhe social media activity they could find.

How?

Before you do, I’d find out the circulation figures for newspapers in your area. This is good to compare and contrast. The Walsall edition of the Express & Star, for example has sales of around 22,000.

For Facebook, there are 23 million users as of January 2010. Want to see how many are local to you? Log onto Facebook, then click the button marked ‘advertising’. Fill out an ad. Don’t worry you won’t get charged just yet. It’s then you reach the section that gets really interesting.

Here, you can ask Facebook how many people are registered within a 10 mile radius of a town. This gives some staggering figures. Click the box marked ‘location’ and put in the town you want to aim at.

In Walsall, in January 2010 there are 170,000 people on Facebook within 10 miles of the town. The population of the borough is around 250,000 and the 10 mile radius also spills out into part of Staffordshire, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. But, you get the picture.

There are therefore, around eight times as many Facebook users as buy copies of the Express & Star in the wider Walsall area, you may argue.

For Twitter, it’s harder to work out your area’s figure. Nationally, by November 2009 there are 5.5 million UK users. You’ll have to work out your area’s percentage of the national population, then divide the Twitter users by that percentage.

For YouTube, log on and search for your area or town. You’ll be surprised. Using the keyword ‘Walsall’ gave just less than 5,000 clips.

Same with Flickr. This is a photo sharing website. Count how many images of your patch there are. The Walsall Flickr group of more than 80 members, for example have around 5,000 iamges of their home borough.

WordPress and Blogspot. Search for your areas and they’ll crop up on blogs.

 

Step 5 – Get your arguments ready

There’s a brilliant few resources online with the most common arguments against social media and the counter arguments to deploy.

They work a treat.

Jeff Bullas’ blog on the subject is useful. So is this from SEO Blog. Google the word ‘reasons to use social media

 

Step 6 – JFDI Just flipping do it.

Now, if you are particularly brave you can cut to this one skipping step four entirely.

The argument goes like this. Just flipping do it. By the time anyone important notices it’ll have reached critical mass and harder to close down.

It’s not something I’ve done but other far braver people have and with great success. Will Perrin – @willperrin on Twitter – often talks about how he deliberately avoided asking permission to launch Downing Street’s petition site.

 

Step 7 – Call in an expert.

There’s a good quote about a Prophet never being recognised in his own land.

The translation of this is if you think they won’t listen to you they may listen to someone from outside.

It’s worked on several occasions with local authorities who have called in Nick Booth’s Podnosh company. Dave Briggs and Simon Wakeman from Medway Council have done similar jobs.

However, do be careful of people who call themselves social media experts. Or ninjas. Or any such rot. They’re almost certainly not and there are plenty of snake oil salesmen about right now.

 

Step 8 – Keep winning the internal argument.

Now you are up and running as nobody will be able to counter such stunning arguments it doesn’t end there. No, sir.

The social media head of one of Britain’s main parties once said that up to half his job is taken up with winning the internal argument.

Report back progress and keep a measure of followers and activity.

Banning social media is rather like trying to outlaw the telephone in the 19th century.

It’s a communications channel. We need to embrace it. Smile. It’s the future. And your children’s.

 

Pics: Used under a creative commons licence, Amit Gupta (Facebook), Badjonni (swimmers),  Dan Slee (Newlands Valley), Sean Dreilinger (mobiles) and the Little Tea Cup (Dan Slee).