If you build it, will they come?

building blocks

Back in the sixties, when I was a kid, I loved to play with a well known building block toy (you’ll know the one).Essentially it was a collection of plastic blocks in a range of sizes. Some were grey and some were red and at some point in my childhood, they introduced clear plastic ones. With these basic blocks I built castles and forts, aircraft carriers and rocket ships. They were clunky and angular but my imagination filled in the curves. The point is, from those basic building blocks, I made whatever I wanted. There seemed no limit to the things I could construct.

Some years later, the parts became more sophisticated and were clearly intended to build a replica of whatever was illustrated on the box.

Now, this post isn’t about corporate greed dulling the creative capacity of our children. I’m using this as an analogy for public consultation. Local Authorities deliver stuff. It may be the management of refuse, a working road network, libraries (for now) and leisure centres. But in future, what will it be?

Perhaps if we began with basic blocks and not proscriptive solutions and had a dialogue with residents around that, we could identify what people need, rather than want. We could start with a snap shot based on known data sets and local intelligence at the hyperlocal level. We’d need to manage expectations and establish some ground rules. For instance, asking for a positive, can-do attitude. That isn’t about air brushing out failures. When we get it wrong we should fess up but airing old grievances wastes time and if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Most importantly, the blocks don’t have to be three-dimensional because people are infrastructure too; they have interests, passions and transferable skills. If we harness those, that’s a lot of energy. And if you add those into the mix, you’re on your way to creating sustainable solutions. So, when it comes to public consultation and building communities, let’s see what happens when we don’t put a picture on the box.

This post was inspired by a recent conversation with Rob Francis @ThinkingRob on Twitter. Check him out, he does this kind of stuff for a living.

Don’t shoot the messenger

Nike

So, the story goes like this. A group of young, British nationals become radicalized and leave their families to fight a Holy War on foreign soil in the Middle East. Their families are baffled and upset and lay the blame on clergymen who have lit a fire under impressionable minds by citing holy scripture to justify bloody acts. In the name of this Holy War, barbaric deeds are committed, including the massacre of innocent civilians and all for the sake of an idea.
Ideas are powerful things. And all the more powerful in a vacuum. Apart from a small minority, most people would agree that the world is in a bit of a mess right now. And, historically, when the world is in a mess, many people seek leaders to get them out of it. But. if history has taught us anything, it is that even the dumbest ideas can be adopted by the majority, if the circumstances are right. What’s that phrase? “Well, do you have a better idea?” That’s the moment for rational, reasoned minds to speak up though too often they do not. And in this way the direction of travel, already misguided, is set on a course of inevitable destruction with leaders out-doing each other to appear more in favour of that direction of travel for fear of losing their position.

Occasionally, leaders buck the trend.Take the response of then Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg to the infamous slaughter of innocents in a summer massacre.

What is occurring now in our domestic political scene and across the Middle East is bad ideas thriving in a vacuum. And it isn’t the fault of the medium through which the ideas are spread. Because the story I referred to at the start of this blog is the story of The Crusades and the first of those happened 800 years before the creation of YouTube.

In Moderation

Consultation was always a hit and miss affair. We tried to run it by appointment but more often than not, the community centre would be empty apart from the local government officers and the tumble weed. Social media has changed all that. We need to pay attention now, because the comments and feedback come when our residents feel inspired. It’s useful stuff and it helps us design the way we deliver our services. Mind you, there is that other stuff too. And if you want to retain your sanity, it helps to recognise it for what it is.

Recently, I was listening to a radio interview with a moderator for a successful community swap & sell Facebook page. Like many such sites, it’s run by volunteers. Asked what takes up the most time, he cited the amount of energy used to respond to what he called the ‘me too’ brigade; people who see a comment and can’t help but add their h’apenny worth. We all know the scenario and we may even have done it ourselves in our private lives. But not all comments are prejudiced or misinformed Sometimes, a voice of reason speaks out as if to reset the balance. It put me in mind of when I first moved to rural Shropshire. A local farmer used to graze his sheep in the adjoining field to our property. After a few days, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. The sheep would graze silently for long stretches of time but as soon as one broke the silence with a bleat, one-by-one, the rest would join in. After a short time they would fall silent again before repeating the process a little later. If sheep do communicate, I wonder if the last bleat has some significance and if social media moderators can learn anything from it? Hope you enjoy the following strip by way of illustration…

Sheep

Sheep

Sheep

Sheep

 

 

Evening All

Dixon of Dock Green

Dixon of Dock Green

Back in the sixties, the police were viewed very differently from the way we view them today.

There was something called ‘due deference’. It was a thing, you may need to look it up.

On our black & white TVs, Dixon of Dock Green epitomised the public perception of the police. Played by Jack Warner, Dixon was a mature, steady hand at the helm of public order. Each episode was prefaced by Sergeant Dixon addressing the camera, beginning with the immortal words “Evening all.” He would then set up the story for that week. And after the drama had played out, he would return to address the camera once again with words of reassurance to help us sleep easy in our beds.

In the intervening years, a number of real life episodes have dinted the reputation of the police for some. In the 1970’s, accusations of corruption and malpractice were met with closed ranks and secrecy which did little to restore public trust.

In the 21st century, it could be argued that the police are more accountable than they’ve ever been. Statutory bodies, PCC’s and formal public liaison aside, there’s been another development. For a number of years, the police have slowly but steadily been using social media to reach across the thin blue line and connect directly with the public.

I applaud the police for taking the risk because their lead has been followed by other public organisations…”if the police can do it”

So the news that, since 2009, a number of officers have contravened police social media guidelines is regrettable but hardly surprising given the scale of the operation. And if it serves to spark a conversation about the right way and the wrong way for public organisations to use social media, that’s fine. But, please let’s not start talking about restricting the deployment of social media by the police.

Bobbies on the beat, dog handlers and even helicopter crews are using social media. They’re sharing their day-to-day work and providing the reassurance that Sergeant Dixon did on a Saturday night. And that’s a good thing.

If Sergeant Dixon had been able to use twitter, I’m pretty sure he would have done #eveningall

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.