Perspective

perspective

Knowledge is knowing stuff.

Wisdom is being able to use it wisely.

So. where does the wisdom lie in your organisation?

At the coal face is the practical experience, in the boardroom is the strategic vision and somewhere in between there are people with perspective.

Perspective is a valuable thing and acquiring it is something of a luxury. When you’re at the coal face or balancing the books, you rarely have time to acquire perspective. Perspective doesn’t tell people how to do their jobs; it accepts that the coal face and boardroom have years of accumulated experience. However, perspective might suggest that there may be ways to make life a little easier – a different angle, another approach. Perspective doesn’t judge, it enables.

Progress stalls when experience won’t listen to perspective.

So, if you’re wise, you’ll make room for perspective, even if you don’t have it yourself.

Gone Fishing

gone fishing

The last time I went fishing, if you don’t count crabbing off Aberdovey jetty, was 1972 in Dartmouth Park Pool, West Bromwich. After at least ten minutes in a rowing boat, I became so frustrated at my lack of success that I ended up throwing my meat pie at the water. This tells you at least two things about me. One, I’m no angler and two, I demand instant gratification.

I mention this only as a precursor to an analogy that neatly encapsulates everything I learned at Commscamp14. As comms officers, we are essentially in the business of marketing. It could be encouraging people to recycle more or pay online instead of coming to the Town Hall but either way we want people to buy-in to something.

And whatever the proposition is, the principles remain the same, regardless of the channel; so. Let’s go fishing…..

1 The Stream

Choose your spot. Don’t market to everyone; it’s a waste of time and effort. Go where you have the best chance of success. It could be appealing to an interest group on social media using an existing chat room, community or hashtag. It could be editorial in an old school, printed community newsletter.

2 The Bait

This needs to be appealing to your target audience. Something glittering and attractive that looks very much like the kind of thing your target audience is regularly attracted to. For instance, people like sharing images of cute animals on social media. One council gets a huge response on Facebook when they post pictures of lost dogs – no accident. Plus they re-unite said pooch with owner on a regular basis. Result.

3 The Hook

The bait will be consumed greedily but on its own, it’s wasted effort. Tie it to something; a proposition, a call to action.

4 The Line

Tie the hook to a friendly URL that isn’t searchable. A tracking device is the term often used in the marketing world. In the case of Facebook, this moves your fish away from 3rd party metrics to stuff you can measure for yourself.

5 The Reel

So the fish is on the hook, time to reel them in. They’ve taken the bait and they’re on the line, the web content they’ve come to needs to be compelling or at least fit-for-purpose. Don’t generalise. The bait promised something, it’s time to deliver.

6 The Keep Net

Okay, I admit, the fishing analogy is wearing a bit thin at this stage but essentially, this is where you land your fish. If the proposition was to sign up to something or get into the habit of self-serving, this is where it happens; because, if you hadn’t already guessed, this whole exercise is about behavioural change.

Of course, our customers aren’t fish and, as you already know, I’m no angler but I hope you’ve found this useful. Tight lines

LINKS: Local Government social media marketing survey by Deeson Creative

Martin Belam, Editor New Formats, Trinity Mirror on creative content

Mobilize your troops

And by troops, I mean your customer base.

Working for a local authority in the UK can seem increasingly like standing on a piece of melting pack ice. We may have a shrinking payroll but we still have lots of customers.

So when you embark on a marketing exercise, it’s worth asking yourself whether you’re making the most of your greatest asset; particularly when the marketing budget is meagre.

In an age of viral ‘shares’, ‘likes’ and ‘favourites’ it’s never been more pertinent.

It’s something that occurred to me whilst talking to colleagues in Public Health who recently joined us from the NHS. It was clear that they shared some common ground with colleagues in Leisure Services. Both are in the business of making people healthy and both need to motivate people to respond to the call-to-action; but in many cases that call is falling on deaf ears.

So, instead of marketing to ‘everyone who isn’t presently a customer’, could we explore encouraging our current customer base to explain to their friends why they responded to the call? There’s a lot of current thinking to support this approach. Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove, talks about the power of storytelling in his recent BLOG on boosting reach. It’s well worth a read.  I’d summarise my thoughts using the analogy of a reverse target:

Audiences

Reverse target

The reverse target represents three audiences:

1 CONVERTED: Our existing customers who have already adopted elements of a healthy lifestyle

2 AGNOSTIC: People similar to ‘1’ but presently not engaged

3 IMMUNE: People who are resistant to key messages – “I hear you but I’m not listening”

 

 

 

 

Though we aim for the outer circle, we consistently hit the inner circle. So, how do we become counter-intuitive, improve our aim and hit the outer circle more often?

All services produce information about their offer and all services need to find ways to motivate people enough to change behaviour and be receptive to that information. Making converts of agnostics is the quicker win though by no means easy. Ultimately, we want to hit the outer circle which contains what we sometimes refer to as the hard to reach. It’s a well worn phrase though it could be argued that they’re only hard to reach because we simply aren’t communicating with them properly.

The Nudge

In marketing terms, one approach would be to harness the power of peer-to-peer recommendation; a recognised phenomenon in the marketing world. It’s always been an important factor but the advent of social media has increased its range and effectiveness because of the principle of communities of interest as illustrated here:

Communities of interest

These communities are built by people congregating around circles of friendship, shared values and shared interests.

My interactions with services and institutions through social media are also shared with my circle and, indirectly, with their friends.

It is the interleaving of these circles that create the viral nature of social media.

 

 

Within a community of interest will be existing customers who would be receptive to a video containing powerful, first-hand testimony on ‘Why I finally gave up smoking’.  A peer-to-peer recommendation from them has the potential to make a convert out of an agnostic. Within the same group, it also has the potential to make someone previously immune to messages to at least become an agnostic. By this means, more people become receptive to the call; and the market for our offer expands.

In essence; never forget that information of itself has no value if you can’t attach a motivation to change.

 

Images: Feel free to re-use but a credit might be nice.

Darwin’s Origin

Darwin's Origin

So, on Wednesday, despite appalling weather, a small band of enthusiasts gathered to toast the birthday of Shrewsbury’s most famous son; Charles Darwin.

It’s a tradition that began back in 2003 when I founded the Shrewsbury Darwin Festival. The venue is the courtyard in front of the Morris Hall. Darwin’s birthplace is half a mile or so away and it may seem odd that we don’t toast his birthday there. Truth to tell, the former Darwin family seat is not open to the public. It’s the offices of the District Valuer. But that’s not why I chose this alternative venue for the birthday toast.

Beside the gates to the hall stands a smooth boulder just over half a metre in width. It’s known locally as The Bellstone and may have once been used as a parish boundary marker. It’s what’s known in geological circles as an erratic. That’s to say, it ‘aint from around these parts. In fact, you’d have to travel as far north as Cumbria to find this stone occurring naturally (over 180 miles).

Back when Darwin was a fresh-faced (clean shaven) youth, a local amateur naturalist, Mr Coton said to the youngster “the world will come to an end before we learn how this stone came to rest here”

The assumption being that because there is something we don’t presently know or understand, we will never know or understand it. At this point it may be useful to be reminded of Darwin’s lineage.

His grandfather on his father’s side was Erasmus Darwin; physician, inventor, poet and philosopher. On his mother’s side, it was Josiah Wedgwood; innovator, amateur scientist and founder of the Wedgwood dynasty. And both of them were members of the 18th century group known as The Lunar Men; polymaths, revolutionaries and free thinkers all. The nature/nurture debate has been a long one but if Darwin picked up even the merest essence of his grand-parental DNA it would help explain his young enquiring mind. And this young enquiring mind would not have been content with Mr Coton’s take on scientific understanding. In fact, Darwin remembers this incident in his autobiography and recalls sitting in a geology lecture just a few years afterwards and learning about the brute force of the encroaching glaciers during the last Ice Age . How they re-painted the landscape beneath them like a palette knife through oils. And how boulders even bigger than The Bellstone were left dazed and displaced when the ice sheets retreated. And as the explanation unfolded in that Edinburgh lecture hall, Darwin ‘marvelled at the progress of science

It’s also the tradition at the birthday toast to read an extract from the final two paragraphs of Darwin’s greatest work ‘On the Origin of Species’. He’d worked on the book for decades and planned a might tome but when a letter arrived from Alfred Wallace  outlining Darwin’s own theory in startling brevity, he was rushed into print. It could be argued that the result was a better work for all that. Concise and written for the lay man, it was an instant best seller and arguably the first work to further the public understanding of science. After explaining how tiny changes over generations lead to new variations in nature by likening it to man’s breeding of race horses and pigeons to create desirable traits he comes to a simple, startling conclusion; this is what is read out at the birthday toast:

“It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing in the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into new forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.”

Charles Darwin:On the Origin of Species 1859

 So that’s why we toast Darwin at The Bellstone at noon on the 12th of February every year come rain or shine. Perhaps you’d like to join us next year?

The Darwin Festival is currently run by The Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

Jon leads a Darwin Walk around Shrewsbury for small groups, underlining the importance of early influences on the later development of the great naturalist. Use the contact form below for enquiries.

Telford Brewcamp

Last night I attended the second Telford Brewcamp. The venue was HOME: Bistro and Coffee House, Lightmoor Village. It was a fitting location for a gathering that featured a lot of community action and social enterprise. Their business model is one founded on sourcing local produce whenever possible and using profits for charitable action…and the carrot cake was gorgeous!

The evening was ably facilitated by Peter Jackson (@pete62jackson).We were honoured to have Brewcamp veterans Dan Slee (@danslee) and Simon Whitehouse (@siwhitehouse) with us to add an air of authority to the proceedings and it was good to catch up.

But on to the business of the night – A few years back there were a lot of articles and papers written on the subject of social capital; the notion that within every community there is latent talent just waiting to be tapped. It’s true that there is passion and pride and often in unexpected places. What last night proved was that Telford has it in spades. Example: Telford Memories. Marcus Keane   created a Facebook group back in November to help people share memories and photos. It’s three months on and a staggering 8,000 plus people regularly follow or contribute on a regular basis. We heard from @dawleysue that her partner complained so bitterly about the amount of time she spent reading posts and viewing old photos on that site that she introduced him to Candy Crush so at least now he understands the nature of online addiction! But it’s not all about nostalgia. Telford Memories has spawned a number of community action groups. There’s a group wanting to save The Anstice, a much loved social venue in Madeley. There’s another group aiming to restage All Hands Round the Wrekin – a dramatic illustration from the early 80’s of people coming together on a grand scale.

Another example – the live streaming of council meetings by community volunteers. If your local authority is still naval gazing about the ins and outs of citizens tweeting from council meetings, this story may either depress you or give you hope. Jon Farmer (@viperdudeUK) told us about his small band of tech-savvy residents who approached Telford & Wrekin council with the idea of live-streaming council meetings and the council said yes. It seems they were pushing at an open door. A few tech iterations and they’ve settled on Google Hangouts as the medium of choice. The videos are archived on YouTube and key issues flagged with timings for easy reference. That’s accountability. As an aside, the team were a little disappointed when the viewing figures were only in three figures. But ask yourself, when was the last time over 100 people attended a council meeting? There’s a whole other discussion to be had around engagement in the democratic process but surely this demonstrates that there is another way; one that engages with citizens via the media they choose. A public meeting is an appointment to attend but if I can’t be there, I don’t have to be excluded if web technology is harnessed. Telford Memories didn’t get 8,000 followers by calling a public meeting; the meeting is on Facebook, whenever it’s convenient for you.

We heard from Jake Bennett (@JakeSnr) that Telford Crisis Network (formerly Telford Food Bank) organises support almost exclusively through Twitter. It led to one resident taking it upon herself to organise a fundraising charity ball and raffle. And they in turn have been promoted through another grass roots, social media driven idea, #telfordtogether. This micro-volunteering group was created by @telfordlive; a Twitter newsfeed trusted by 6,285 followers. The news is provided and shared in seconds by the TelfordLive community and is a good deal more agile than established news outlets.

I was there in my capacity as a trustee of the newly formed Clifton Community Arts Centre Ltd. We’re a group formed as a direct result of an Ideas Farm organised by Rob Francis (@ThinkingRob). The trick was to get the right group of motivated people in the same room and set the agenda early on. That’s to say, no negativity, no problems, only ideas and solutions and a will to step up to the plate. We wouldn’t have started The Clifton Group without it. We’ve launched a Community Share Issue and we’re building up a head of steam, so watch this space.

And whilst reflecting on all these ideas, it occurred to me that it may be the fact that social capital exists in communities but it takes a particular type of trigger to set it in motion. It may be local history, a sense of identity or shared experiences and values. But they are powerful things. So, if authorities wonder why there’s so much apparent apathy for engagement, perhaps you’re asking the wrong question. Rather than ‘do you agree that XYZ is an important priority to this locality’ try ‘what do you think is an important priority to this locality’

Perhaps the real work and energy isn’t in planning for delivery but helping people share their stories. If Telford Brewcamp demonstrates anything, it’s that a common sense of place can unlock social capital and set exciting things in motion. That’s the kind of place-making that’s sustainable.

Relevant articles:

Dan Slee on Brewcamps

Rob Francis on Ideas Farms

Bully for You

Bully for you

Bully for you

I’ve watched the flurry of Twitter traffic surrounding the abusive online comments made recently with some interest. The media coverage and even Twitter’s own apologies frequently made reference to the real world as somewhere that exists outside the social media bubble. It seems to me that in discussing or even beginning to understand the phenomenon of trolling, one needs to dismiss the idea of that bubble even existing.

A bully is a bully on any platform; from the blog forum to the schoolyard. Funny how they will often defend their position by suggesting that the person on the receiving end should ‘get a sense of humour’ as if it’s somehow the victim’s fault. I’m sure I’m not alone in having been a victim of schoolyard bullying and it’s no fun to be on the receiving end but it has taught me a thing or two. The latest incarnation may have the gloss of technology but it comes from the same dark corner of the human spirit. Comments are all too often directed at things the victim can’t change such as colour, ethnicity, sexuality or gender. Children are even bullied for being bright.  The primary difference is that the schoolyard bully will attack when no one is watching whereas the online bully attacks where everyone is watching. And for me, that’s the key. As I’ve often said when training, ‘If you act like a prat on social media, you look like a prat on social media’. So, Kudos to all those who’ve spoken up about being bullied and to all those who simply retweet the offending message to their followers to illuminate the coward raising his fist behind the bike sheds. Kudos too to The Mail newspaper for naming the unnammed in an example of what investigative journalism should be doing. It isn’t really about new legislation or censorship because that won’t change people. If these people are dumb enough to broadcast their ignorance, let’s help them by spreading their sorry words to even pore people; people who can see them for what they really are – bullies. My late father taught me that you can’t expect to change other people, only the way you feel about those people. As soon as I realised that, that’s when the bullies started to lose their power and it changed my life for ever.

Adopt, adapt, improve & share

adapt

I left my post in local government 3 months ago on the hunt for a new challenge. Shortly thereafter,  I was given a great opportunity to work with the Shropshire Wildlife Trust covering Comms over the Summer. It’s been a good opportunity to see if the enlightened approach we’d been deploying at Shropshire Council would transfer into the charitable sector and nature conservation in particular. Turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that it does. An early trick was to create a blog  linked to Facebook and Twitter to provide a fast-track to followers and friends that wasn’t reliant on the vagaries of local media. Becoming your own news agency is a tactic I would highly recommend but with two provisos;

1 All organisations be they for profit or otherwise, need to communicate. Let me be clear, I’m not talking about pronouncements and press releases. The kind of communicating I’m referring to is reflecting the day-to-day business of doing your job, showing people your busy-ness. Not with a spin or ‘look how great I am'; because if you are any good, your customers will do that on your behalf.

2 You can draw like-minded people to your organisation with a well-time tweet or Facebook post but you’ll only keep them there by reinforcing your shared values; by demonstrating them through reflecting your work and providing ample opportunities for people to engage or converse with your through those channels. That’s real communication.

There are lots of cases studies of New Comms practice across the West Midlands in the white paper launched today by IEWM and Comms2Point0. Here’s a LINK to the paper.