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.
Here are a few quick examples:
Don’t be confused. It is a Bank Holiday tomorrow. You can still be awake. There is no work. BOOKS. There is still time. Read BOOKS.
— WaterstonesOxfordSt (@WstonesOxfordSt) May 4, 2014
Who is going to go first? pic.twitter.com/DhYH6yKhfo
— Herdwick Shepherd (@herdyshepherd1) May 25, 2014
— Dave Brookes (@BaggieDab) May 17, 2014
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.
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?
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:
A human voice helps put a human face on an organisation.
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.
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
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.