FROMAGE SHOP: Why Being Human Beats Being French Cheese

Have you heard the one about the chatty English book shop and the unspontaneous French cheese maker?

One has 50,000 followers on Twitter and from their smartphone give a slightly idiosyncratic view from Waterstones in Oxford Street, London. It shows how trusting staff can work.

The other President Cheese has 153 followers and employs a company with a team of 13 in a Star Trek-style ‘war room’ that takes up to 43 days to draw-up a tweet in a highly planned campaign.

But for me nothing I’ve come across better illustrates how being human on social media runs rings around the scripted, over agonised and contrived.

For the book shop you can substitute it for the Lakeland Shepherd, the police constable or the Scottish island librarian. All people for whom with engaging conversation online builds bridges.

Here are a few quick examples:

This right here is the culture clash that I come across talking to the traditional comms person who doesn’t want to let go of the reigns, agonises over and wants to measure everything.

I’m not against scheduling some content. Honest, I’m not. The 3am tweet from the NHS to reach the person suffering from stress and unable to sleep is inspired.

I’m not even against measuring things. What people did as the result of some digital content is far more interesting than the size of the audience.

I quite like the 80-20 split that many good social profiles have. The 80 per cent conversation and the 20 per cent things you’d like people to know. The pics of bees posted along with a rescued bat in Walsall Council countryside ranger Morgan Bowers’ work to build an audience. The occasional update about basket weaving gets people along to her sessions.

But the professionalising of conversation just leaves me feeling uneasy and reminds me of a conversation I had with Birmingham blogger Pete Ashton who did much to build the social landscape in the West Midlands. He said he deliberately moved away from the ‘professional social media’ because he hated what it was becoming in the wrong hands.

If you need to outsource your conversation and take 45 days over 140 characters then, Holy Cheddar, you are struggling.

Acknowledgements: Simon Whitehouse who flagged up the original 45-day case study and Chris Ellis for spotting that the cheese account has 153 followers.


CLICK INSPIRE: 20 golden links from 2011

If links are the web’s currency of inspiration then some shine as bright as a gold coin on a summer’s day.

Vivid and memorable as wild flowers they can sow seeds that bloom into bright ideas.

Some challenge while some crysyallise half thoughts.

They can be blog writing, tweets, news stories or images.

Over the past 12-months I’ve read thousands. Mainly in spare moments. As December trudged towards Christmas in downtime I’ve reflected on those that have shaped my outlook.

I’ve not gone online to remind myself but instead racked my brains for writing that has stayed with me.

There are scores of good writing. Many of them can be found on the pages of the blogroll on the right of this webpage.

A couple of them are mine. Mitigation for this is that they capture collaborative working.

Using Twitter to Stop Riots. As rioting spread and London police hip shootingly spoke of switching off the internet Wolverhampton shone. Superintendent Mark Payne used Twitter to shoot down rumours circulating online and off. Blogs such as WV11.co.uk and Tettenhall.co.uk plugged into this to retweet and shout via Facebook. Public I did a useful study.

The Icelandic Facebook page. With the country in financial tatters the Icelandic government started a root and branch review. The constitution which dates from 1944 was being re-drafted. Rather than whack up a 500 page pdf they broke down proposals into bite sized chunks and crowdsourced it. More than 2,500 Icelanders took part. In a country of 250,000 that’s astounding. You can read how here.

Twelve commandments for council news. Adrian Short isn’t a comms person. But his insight into how news online should be presented really needs reading by comms people.

Changing how council news is done. In a second post Adrian points out the folly of presenting press releases verbatim on a different medium. It needs reading if you care about local government and what it does. Read it here.

Birmingham City Council Civic dashboard. Critics say open data stands more effective in theory than in practice. This website starts to answer that and stands as a landmark.

Trust me I’m a follower. Scotland has some amazing people in the public sector. Carolyn Mitchell’s piece on the changing landscape is essential. As a former print journalist she has an eye for a line. That a senior police officer spoke of how he trusts his officers with a baton so why wouldn’t he trust them with a Twitter account is one of them.

Stop being irrelevant. Explains why I think comms people need to see their changing landscape and evolve to stay relevant. It drove my thinking throughout the year.

Localgovcamp. The event in Birmingham in June brought together creative thinking, ideas and inspiration. The posterous here captures blogs that emerged from it.

Brewcamp. I’m proud to be involved in this. It’s a platform for like minded people to come together, share ideas and drink tea. You can read it here.

@walsallwildlife on Twitter. That a countryside officer can attract 800 followers by tweeting about her day job of bats, ponds and newts astounds me. It shows what can happen when bright people share the sweets.

Joplin Facebook. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds killed when a tornado levelled the town. It was residents who self-organised with sites like these. This shows the power of community sites.

Queensland Police Facebook. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds killed when flooding struck. 200,000 signed up. This shows the power of official sites when given a flow of regular information.

Look how not on fire this is. When the shadow of rioting overshadowed Walsall in the summer rumour the town police station was burning was dismissed in real time by a police officer with a phone camera and a dry wit. PC Rich Stanley’s image had more than 2,000 hits.

The Walsall Flickr group. There are more than 9,000 images here from 130 members.  This shows the power of community sites and the good things that can be achieved when local government can work with them as equals as we did on this town centre empty shop scheme.

The Dominic Campbell youtube. I love the idea of ‘militant optimists’ pressing for change in unlikely corners of local government. It strikes a chord. This is a good 15 minutes to invest.

Twicket. Because John Popham and others live streaming a village cricket match is a good idea and shows good tech is less about the tech and more about fun and community. The big picture stuff sorts itself out. Read it here.

The end of crisis communications. Jim Garrow is a US emergency planner. It’s called emergency management over there. He writes with foresight. Not least this piece on why real time social media is replacing the set piece emergency planning approach. I’m proud he talks about one of my projects but this wider piece crystalises why real time events work.

Comms2point0. I’ll blog about this more at a later date. But this is a place where comms people can share best practice and best ideas. It’s largely Darren Caveney’s idea. It’s brilliant and so is the photographic style guide.

Digital advent calender Number 1. Many say  the media is dying. David Higgerson, of Trinity Mirror, proves that there is a home for good journalism on the web. His collection of writing is a directory of excellent tools of gems.

Digital advent calender number 2. Steph Gray steers Helpful Technology and helps people understand that technology is an opportunity not a minefield. He is that rare thing. A geek who can communicate with non-geek by speaking human. His advent calender will be pulled out and consulted far into 2012 like a Playfair Cricket annual is to a summer game enthusiast sat on the boundary at Worcester.

Creative commons credits

Yellow flowers http://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/2808827891/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Iceland http://www.flickr.com/photos/stignygaard/3830938078/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Police officers http://www.flickr.com/photos/glamlife/4098397848/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Stickers http://www.flickr.com/photos/theclosedcircle/3624357645/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Localgovcampers http://www.flickr.com/photos/arunmarsh/3656742460/in/set-72157620328138849


SOCIAL NEWTWORKING: A case study on how to use social media to promote countryside

Some things work better on social media than others.

Parking wardens and council tax collectors struggle.

Libraries, parks and countryside can work brilliantly. Why? Because people love them.

There’s several good librarians using social media. Not least the excellent @orkneylibrary.

But  there isn’t many examples of good countryside and park use I’ve seen.

Until now that is.

Countryside ranger Morgan Bowers  is doing some truly great things at Walsall Council. She works for the same authority as I do. But I’d be saying it whichever authority she was working for.

Morgan has set up @walsallwildlife on Twitter and tweets as an real person.

She is leading a team of volunteers recording wildlife across Walsall.   I don’t get newts. But her enthusiasm for her subject I do get.

She tweets about her subject and celebrates a newt find in the same way a football supporter celebrate a 93rd minute winner.

She also talks to people. How refreshing is that?

Rather wonderfully, it works across several platforms. She has also set-up a Facebook page to share her work and also has a lively Flickr stream.

All three are really good examples on how to use each platform. Morgan isn’t alone in Walsall Council’s countryside team in using social media.

Countryside manager Kevin Clements is gradually taking a more active role with Twitter too as @countrysidekev.

Their approach is similar in many ways to @hotelalpha9, the tweeting police officer in North Yorkshire.

A personal face and real time updates that are conservational. It’s a blend that seems to work.

Often, people who work in the public sector think their day-to-day job isn’t that interesting to people.

The fact is any job that you don’t do yourself is interesting to people.  And in 2011, in the public sector why not fly the flag for what you are doing?

Here’s why I think this approach works:

Twitter

A human voice helps put a human face on an organisation.

A niche Twitter stream can appeal to a cross-section of the population.

Responding and listening are good things for an organisation to do. It can drive traffic to other web pages.

It can work in real time.

Facebook

It can connect with people who use Facebook and no other network.

Because half the population are on Facebook in the UK.

It’s good to post pictures here as people can connect with a strong images

Flickr

It’s a good way to showcase images and connect with a wider community. Remember, there’s five billion images on Flickr.

It’s a good way to keep a record of images of what a project has discovered.

It  can can act as a bulletin board to the group and a wider community.

It’s a good way to map the changing of the seasons in an accessible way.

There are a few things that can work in parks and countryside and it’s fascinating to watch innovation in a corner of local government that people have a real connection with.

Pic credits: (c) Morgan Bowers.