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
So, it was great to be able to sit down with 12 of them and talk to them about social media and how it could work for them. Walsall Council countryside ranger Morgan Bowers came along too and I’ve hardly finished a training session over the past few years without pointing to her as an excellent example of what a frontline officer can do with social media.
For those that don’t know she blogs, she tweets, she Facebooks and she posts images to Flickr. She’s also written an e-book entitled with great confidence and surity ‘The Bees of Walsall Vol: 1.’ Almost 2,000 people have downloaded the e-book which for me redefines how you should approach an audience.
Firstly, here are some links which show what is possible. It’s vital to look outside of the sector that you work in which is what we did here.
Some basic principles
‘Organisations Don’t Tweet People Do’ is a book by Euan Semple. Even if you don’t buy the book – and you should it’s great – then think of the clear advice that sentance gives. Human beings respond to human beings and not logos.
‘The 80/20 principle’ is a good way of looking at a great many things. On the social web it works out as 80 per cent conversational and 20 per cent the stuff you really want people to know. So be sparing with your library events and talk – and share – about other things.
Good social media
Appliances Online Facebook – because they have more than a million Facebook likes by good online customer service done in a human voice: https://www.facebook.com/AOLetsGo?fref=ts
Sandwell Council Facebook – because there isn’t a Facebook page anywhere in the public sector that is done better than this West Midlands council https://www.facebook.com/sandwellcouncil?fref=ts
DVLA’s I Can’t Wait To Pass My Driving Test Facebook page – because it shows that putting aside thr logo and even the name of the organisation works if you get the people to pay attention to pay attention: https://www.facebook.com/mydrivingtest?fref=ts
PC Stanley on Twitter – because it shows a human face in an organisation from a West Midlands Police officer: https://twitter.com/PCStanleyWMP
PC Stanley blog – because it shows a human face and talks about anonymised aspects of police procedure that most people don’t know about http://pcstanleywmp.wordpress.com/
Storify Streetly floods – because it shows how social media reacts in a crisis and how a trusted voice from police, fire and council online can fill the news vacuum http://storify.com/danslee/social-media-and-flooding-in-streetly-walsall
Facebook in libraries
Facebook works best updated two or three times a day with sharable content. Pictures work well. So does video. Be engaging and informal.
100 Libraries to follow on Facebook – blog http://www.mattanderson.org/blog/2013/01/31/100-libraries-to-follow-on-facebook/
British Library https://www.facebook.com/britishlibrary?fref=ts
Library of Congress https://www.facebook.com/libraryofcongress
New York Public Library https://www.facebook.com/nypl
Halifax Public Library https://www.facebook.com/hfxpublib
Birmingham Library https://www.facebook.com/libraryofbirmingham
Realtime updates work well. Pictures too.
Author Amanda Eyereward https://twitter.com/amandaeyreward
Author Carin Berger https://twitter.com/CarinBerger
100 Authors http://mashable.com/2009/05/08/twitter-authors/
Birmingham Library https://twitter.com/TheIronRoom
Orkney library https://twitter.com/OrkneyLibrary
Waterstones Oxford Street https://twitter.com/WstonesOxfordSt
Essex libraries https://twitter.com/EssexLibraries
Just for you here are a few examples of tweets:
— Orkney Library (@OrkneyLibrary) February 20, 2014
— Waterstones (@Waterstones) February 14, 2014
Images are powerful
Images work really well and there are a couple of resources. You can link to images you find anywhere. It’s the neighbourly thing to do and you are driving traffic to their website so people will be fine about that.
You can link to Flickr which is a depository of more than five billion images. See the Libraries Flickr group here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/librariesandlibrarians/
But remember not to abuse copyright. Don’t ever right click and save an image hoping you won’t get found out. There’s a Google app for just that. But what you can use are images which have been released with a creative commons licence. Basically, creative commons allows the re-use of pictures so long as you meet basic criteria. There are several types of licence so check to see which licence has been attached. Often people will be fine for re-use so long as you attribute the author and link back to the original image.
Search the Compfight website ticking the creative commons search button http://compfight.com/
Have a look at Wikimedia which has a lot of specific content. If you are after a creative commons image of Jack Nicholson or The British Library search here: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
You can brighten up book discussions amongst reader groups, or author visits, or bounce and rhyme stories by recording them with people’s permission and post them to Audioboo or Soundcloud. These are applications that gives you three minutes of audio that you can share with the web or embed in a webpage.
Here is author WHJ Auden readingh one of his poems: http://ht.ly/tSdv6
Blogging is made for libraries and librarians. You can host discussions here and allow for comments on different aspects of the library.
Literary blog http://www.internetwritingjournal.com/authorblogs/
Video works great. You can make your own or maybe there is some content around a theme you are looking for. The First World War, for example. Create your own channel or search and share what is there. Look out for the comments section here. They can be a bit ripe.
Birmingham Library http://www.youtube.com/user/LibraryofBham2013
Southend library reading group http://youtu.be/dEh7fBfB_O4
But where will I get the content from?
It’s amazing how once you take a few doggy paddle strokes in the shallow end that all this makes sense and you start over time to get a return on the time you put in. There are no quick fixes. A few minutes a day will help you and as with anything what you get out is what you put in.
Here are 11 things you could do as librarians
1. Record an interview with an author on Audioboo or Soundcloud and post to your Facebook, Twitter or email list.
2. Post details of events to your social media accounts. Use something like hootsuite to schedule when the messages appear so if needs be repeat the message at a time when more people are likely to be around. Lunchtime, first thing in the morning and evening are times when people tend to be online more. Don’t forget though, if you are cancelling the event, to unschedule any queued content.
3. Share things that other people have posted. If it is in your geographical area and a public sector or third sector organisation have posted something share it or retweet it. You’ll find that they’ll be more inclined to do the same.
4. Use a popular hashtag on Twitter around a TV programme. Check the schedules. A link to a book or DVD on dancing or dress making with sequins may work with the hashtag #strictly while Strictly Come Dancing is being shown on a Saturday night.
6. Use an image of a cat from compfight that has a creative commons licence – see the above – to illustrate a campaign on cats and other animals. What you have on your display shelf or window can be repeated online too.
7. Create a Facebook group or a Google group – which works with email – for a reading group.
8. Post book reviews from librarians on your website and onto the social web.
9. Take a picture – with people’s permission – of people using the library or people taking part in an activity.
10. Be creative. Ignore all the above and use your imagination. Make your own case studies.
11. Install WiFi.
Who needs books? http://www.flickr.com/photos/boltron/6175154545/sizes/l/
Sitting reading http://www.flickr.com/photos/jstar/345712329/sizes/o/
Library search engine http://www.flickr.com/photos/47823583@N03/4993073773/
How much difference does it make to add a picture to a Facebook update? Lots. Or to be more precise 147 per cent.
That was the figure when we posted two updates within minutes on a broadly similar subject.
The first celebrated a Britain in Bloom win for towns in Walsall Council’s boundaries with a picture of flowers in Aldridge drew 37 shares, 88 likes and an audience of 3,,508 on the authority’s Facebook page. I’d be the first to admit that this image isn’t the most arresting in the world. But it says both place and colour and that’s enough.
The second posted without a picture a few minutes later celebrated recognition in the same competition for a school and nine pubs. That drew four shares and 12 likes with a reach of 1,415.
Okay, the subject matter is slightly different: towns compared with school children and popular pubs. But there’s enough there to draw some conclusions.
It’s an approach that the ECB takes when the England Test team are playing. It’s something I’ve written about before. Rather than just posting a text score update they post an image of the man of the moment with text too.
If you can, adding text through a simple picture editing tool is a great idea. A phone number or a message works. For that you can use Google’s own Picasa3 software.
What do the numbers teach us?
Firstly, sharable content is important on Facebook and in this case so is a celebratory upbeat message.
Secondly, people are really keen to share messages. Obvious. But it’s important to remember this.
Thirdly, having a stack of pictures available to you is helpful.
But where do you source pictures?
This is potentially a bit of a minefield. No, you can’t go to Google images right click and save. Copyright applies to images online just as much as they do online and people have ended up in hot water. Google also allows people to search for a specific image online so if you think you’ll be safe hiding in the fire hose of information that is the web think again.
Your image library?
The basic fact under the 1988 Copyright and Designs Act is that when someone takes a picture they retain copyright. Even if you have paid them. If you’ve, say, commissioned a freelance photographer to take some shots of a night market you are buying a licence to use them for a specific purpose. That can be as broad as marketing and promotion on your website, in print and with the local paper. It may not include social media and you’ll need to check this with the photographer. This NUJ link on copyright and photography is helpful.
And by your own I mean one that you’ve taken yourself with your smartphone or camera. Handy if you have time and ability. Not so good if you need an image of flowers in a town centre at a moment’s notice.
One of the great things about the social web is the ability to share. Creative Commons licences are licences which a photographer – amateur or professional – can attach to an image when they post it onto an image library. They’re basically saying that they’re happy for their image to be re-used under certain laid out conditions. The US government, for example, releases virtually all images with a creative commons licence.
So where do I go for creative commons images?
Without doubt the best place on the web is compfight.com. This is a site which works with Flickr’s API to search for key phrases and words. It also searches through a variety of filters from the non-creative commons to the creative commons to the most liberal of all – commercial creative commons which allows a broader re-use.
It’s not great for specific locations, I admit. There’s a handful of images creative commons for Walsall, for example. But it comes into its own when you need a stocjk pic, like boxing gloves, a coffee cup or clouds in a sky.
It’s a brilliant site. But please, don’t forget to attribute and share where the picture has come from. It’s what makes the social web work.
Legal disclaimer: Always, if you need specific legal advice go and see a lawyer rather than base it on this or any other online advice.
Sometimes a press release just isn’t enough to tell a story. Living day-to-day as a carer can be tough. To give a flavour of just how tough Walsall Council comms team members Tina Faulkner and Becky Robinson live tweeted four hours to show – with sensitivity – how dementia affects the life of one couple Sheila and Ron. You can follow it here and you can also read their story here. But this one powerful story is just part of a wider drive to highlight often unseen work carried out in social care in Walsall. Tina explains the background to the innovative campaign which uses a mix of old and new media:
If I could wear a t-shirt that best describes how I feel about work right now it would bear the slogan “I heart Social Care”.
I can see some of you now, exchanging a knowing look with your laptop or iphone and thinking, “Yep, she’s a social worker.”
Not a bit of it. In fact I’d be a rubbish social worker. I’d just want to scoop everybody up and take them home with me and we just haven’t got the room. Plus the retired greyhound would have something to say about that. He’s very set in his ways.
No, I heart social care as a press and pr officer who is working to try and dispel some of the myths about this area of work and highlight some of the innovative things that are going on. The things that are making a real difference to people’s lives and should be shouted about.
I have been working with my colleague Becky Robinson, a public information officer, to run week-long multi-media “events” called Who Cares? (see what we did there!) to show a side to social care that’s not picked up on.
The first one we did was last November and we featured the story of a paraplegic man who left residential care after 27 years to live independently, with support.
We Tweeted the calls coming into our social work teams which ranged from adult safeguarding tip-offs to families and carers wondering how to make life easier for loved ones leaving hospital.
We also showcased the stuff done by the community social work scheme which can sometimes be a simple as helping someone find a friendship club in their community to get them out of the house a few times a week.
And our Neighbourhood Community Officers got a look-in too as they go into some seemingly hopeless situations and bring about a sea change.
All in all it was a great week and we know it made some people sit up and take notice.
So it seemed only right to do it all again. And make some more people sit up and take notice.
This time round we’re tweeting from the home of a lady who cares for her husband with dementia to try and convey the relentless demands and challenges that this role brings and to try and make us all a bit more aware of dementia and mental health issues.
We’re tweeting from a carers’ consultation session too and featuring the partnership work being done in our communities to offer people of all ages, something to do and somewhere to go.
And we’re looking at people with learning and physical disabilities who were sent out of the borough for care many years ago, away from their families and communities, who are being supported to come back.
If we can achieve this in social care with all of its perceived “barriers” we can achieve it anywhere.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from all this it’s “Don’t assume people won’t want to speak about their experiences.”
In our experience they have no problem with speaking up – it’s getting people to listen that’s the key.
You can follow the tweets from @whocareswalsall on Twitter or via this link on CoveritLive:
A social care blog: The Who Cares Walsall blog
A tweeting social worker: @ermintrude2
The Guardian: Walsall uses Twitter to ask who cares about social care
The Guardian: Social care and social media live discussion round-up
Community Care: Time for social work to embrace social media
Creative commons credit:
Nothing revolutionary and I’m sure people have been doing it for years but for a few weeks I’ve been experimenting with Audioboo.
What’s Audioboo? It’s a way of posting online short recording clips of interviews, sounds, noise or perhaps even with permission live music.
You can download it for free through the app store or via the Android market and all you need is a smartphone or an iphone.
There are other platforms out there and SoundCloud has its followers too.
The dabbling I’ve done is centred around photocalls I’ve attended where some parties have been gathered together. With them all in one place it’s made sense to whip out the phone and make a quick recording. In less than five minutes you can have something posted to the web.
At a cold photocall with a few minutes to spare I made an Audioboo, posted it to the Walsall Council Facebook and Twitter and by the time it took to get back to the office there was an email: “One of the neighbours has listened to your recording and thinks this is a great project.” Beginners luck maybe, but it did get me thinking.
For some time I’ve been thinking about how to generate content for different places. This is another string to the bow of the comms person.
Why bother? Here’s NINE good reasons
- Because it’s a good way to post a recording straight onto the web.
- Because you’re offering different content on a different platform.
- Because it’s free.
- Because you don’t have to be a BBC-trained sound engineer to use it.
- Because you can record snippets from frontline staff and events.
- Because it’s simple.
- Because you can post it to Twitter, Facebook and embed on a website very easily.
- Because you can listen as a podcast.
- Because it makes your content more accessible to the visually impaired.
How do I do it?
Go to Audioboo and create an account.
When you are happy post it to the web.
Add metadata (that’s things like the words ‘Walsall’, ‘regeneration’, ‘new homes bonus’, ‘housing’ if it’s a New Homes Bonus scheme done by the regeneration directorate in Walsall.)
It’s that simple.
How about some examples?
Here’s a Norfolk County Council social worker talking about why he does his job..
Here’s Devon and Cornwall Police on setting the budget.
Here’s a former postman recalling the Swansea docks posted by Swansea Council
Here’s Walsall Town Centre Champions talking about plans to bid for Mary Portas cash
Here’s Scottish pipers playing at the Godiva Festival posted by Coventry City Council
So what’s next?
I’m sure there’s more possibilities but here’s three that struck me:
1. Broadcast journalist content. Nick Booth from Podnosh many years back spoke of creating clips along with a press release that could be downloaded by broadcast journalists. That’s a step in that direction.
2. Adding Audioboo links to press releases when they’re e-mailed out. Add a straight forward link.
3. Embedding Audioboo links to news stories or web pages. As a way to brighten up web content.
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.
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