Social Management for Newbies

Ron Burgundy

I’ve just completed another beginner’s social media management session with local authority colleagues. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve done but in the past five years, the questions and concerns don’t seem to have changed much. So, if it’s any help to anyone, I thought I’d run through some of the common ones.

1 Responsibility

We’re very busy people who have little time to dedicate to social media

Delegate. Draw up a rota and take a day each. You won’t be on it all day anyway but at least everyone knows who’s keeping an eye on things. And when you have time, train up more colleagues to spread the load.

2 Strategy

Forget channels for a moment. Having a Twitter account isn’t of itself, an outcome; what do you want to achieve? Web traffic? sales? bums on seats? That’s how you can start to measure your success.

3 Planning

Sit down for half an hour and talk about the kind of things you could talk about. Why not create a spreadsheet for the month or year, populated with all the key events and diary dates relating to your service? Add national holidays and even major sporting events. There are lots of opportunities to piggy-back on big stories but as Ron Burgundy says, stay classy; there are some really clunky examples out there. Now you’ve got a basic framework where you’ll never be lost for words. This gives you space to get creative and be topical the rest of  the time.

4 Content Marketing

Be an authority. Make your account the go-to place for people interested in Planning, Health & Safety or whatever your department covers. Use trusted, credited content from other sources, videos, blogs, media stories. If you provide a wide range of content, why would followers need to go anywhere else?

5 Stand out from the crowd

Facebook posts or Tweets without images will be lost in the noise. Explore making micro videos; short 30 or 40 second clips on specific topics “How to submit a planning application online”. Facebook lets you load video files directly so that they play as soon as your customer scrolls over the post on their timeline. Twitter takes short video clips too. But always post on YouTube as well. It’s one of the biggest search engines, so tag your films with the topics you’re covering.

6 Find Your Voice

Authoritative but not shouty would be my best advice. Be friendly but not too chummy. If you’re not funny, don’t try and be funny. If posting on social media fills you with dread, go on Twitter and Facebook and lurk. Watch how other organisations do it and you’ll soon pick it up.

7 Listen and Respond

Pay attention. It’s called social media for good reason. Don’t bellow down your megaphone, you can have exchanges on social media, and being attentive and responding in good time builds trust in your audience. It also builds advocacy and that’s the best kind of marketing.

8 Measure, measure, measure

Facebook and Twitter analytics are free, use them. Try A/B testing messages; one with a picture, one without, different times of day. Learn what works but stay alert, things are changing all the time.

9 Be selfish

For your personal, professional development, get your own Twitter account. Follow people and organisations who do a similar job to you, find the innovators and the sharers and learn from them; I did. How else do you think I got started?

10 Pay It Forward

When you learn stuff, be generous and pass it on.

Finally, as a wise person once said “We’re all born stupid but it takes a certain kind of dedication to remain that way”. Everything you need to know is online if you care to search for it. The social media landscape is fluid; stay inquisitive, stay alert.

Fondly dedicated to all the sharers out there. You know who you are.



chimpanzeeImagination, above all else, is the facet that makes humans so successful. It exists in other creatures; witness a chimpanzee stripping the leaves from a twig and inserting one end into an ant hill. She slowly withdraws it along with a number of ants who have clung to the twig. Deftly, she wipes the twig across her open mouth and eats the ants. It may be learned behaviour but once upon a time an ancestor sat beside an ant hill and imagined what it would be like to be able to extract ants without having to destroy the colony. She imagined inserting a foreign object into a fiercely defended colony and it being attacked by the ants. She saw a twig and imagined it without leaves, sleek and streamlined, the perfect foreign body. Because she imagined it, she experimented, refined her technique and perfected it.

Prior to this breakthrough, no none imagined it possible to extract ants so easily and with so little destruction to the colony. Yet, now it is common behaviour.

Over centuries, human society has developed many ways to solve problems. As hunter gatherers, we co-operated as a matter of life and death. I have no notion of whether these groups were egalitarian but surviving, so-called primitive societies often have tribal leaders or elders suggesting an inevitability of hierarchy in some form or other. As we became settlers, new ways of organising emerged. Governance became expressions of competing political ideologies. These have become synthesised into relative positions on a sliding scale whose opposing points are Left and Right. We have become wedded to the notion of this linear model of political ideas. So much so, that anything that is not fundamentally Left or Right is Centrist or left or right of centre; not, in effect a new idea but a variation of an existing position on the imagined horizontal,sliding scale. And these positions are often held from varying perspectives of what is or is not fair.

The speed of scientific progress in my lifetime has been breathtaking. But our smartness cannot supplant our imperfect humanness. The Internet and social media have great potential in terms of the democratisation of knowledge. But Umair Haque on his recent blog about abuse on Twitter shines a light on an ugly truth. With all our flashes of brilliance, we are still, fundamentally human…flawed.

I find it ironic that the creature with the largest brain often has the smallest mind.

We snipe and we sneer. We resent and belittle. We abuse and demonise those that are other and not we. Why? Because, despite the randomness of the natural world we inhabit, we cling to the notion of fairness. It is fairness or the apparent lack of it that inspires so much of the vitriol we see and hear.

Fairness makes a poor man resent a rich man and a rich man resent a poor man. Fairness drives a thief to take from those who have what he has not. Fairness inspires a man as rich as Croesus to hide what he cannot spend in vaults rather than see it put to any practical use because he earned it (or perhaps inherited it). Fairness makes an otherwise kindly person seethe with anger when a person fleeing bombs and bullets is carrying something as commonplace as a mobile phone. When we allow our imagination to speculate on fairness, we become less human. So long as we believe in fairness, we cannot progress.

Instead, I would argue that we should apply our imagination to the practical, and most importantly, that governments should.

For example; how much political instability in the world is directly or indirectly attributable to the pursuit and use of non-renewable fuels? Is that practical?

Could we imagine spending ten years perfecting a universally accessible renewable energy infrastructure and in so doing eliminating inequality, ending unnecessary conflicts and addressing the refugee crisis?

It is one example of many I could cite where a focus on the practical can challenge entrenched systems of belief, economics and governance. But that takes imagination.

The chimpanzee that perfected the stick technique clearly didn’t keep it to herself. All chimpanzees benefit and despite a few losses, the ant colonies continue to thrive. Imagine that.

Post script:

I caught Brian Eno’s recent John Peel Lecture which set me off on this train of thought. I thoroughly recommend it.

Channel You

"What's my motivation?"

“What’s my motivation?”

When I pitched for my present job, I majored on capturing the stories of positive people so as to inspire other people to act positively.

A lot of my work centres around Public Health messaging and I made the point that the public is bombarded by warnings and entreaties; to do something-or-other less or more…or not at all. Yet, withal, some people simply won’t act. Is it because they aren’t listening or do they think themselves immune?

I suspect it’s because they’ve convinced themselves that the message doesn’t apply to them. In which case, no amount of top-down hectoring is going to change their behaviour or their minds.

“What if” I asked “we were able to provide a first hand account of someone who did act?”

We would ask them a little about their circumstances, ask them what prompted them to act and, most significantly, ask them how they feel now. Could that prompt a positive response, in the vein of ‘well, if she can do it, so can I’

I had no experience of film making or editing but I made it my business to learn.

I’ve since made several videos and not all of them Public Health-related.

Too early to tell if they’ve prompted mass behavioural change but they’ve taken an average of 100 hits  per video on YouTube. Not telephone numbers level, I’ll grant you but my instinct tells me that we should push on and develop the approach across a range of services.

I submit by way of illustration two videos on varying topics. The first was intended to demonstrate that one small step can have a life-changing effect on your wellbeing:

The second is intended to demonstrate that the barriers to starting your own business via a market stall are a lot lower than you think:

If you’ve got any good examples of videos to prompt behavioural change, let’s start sharing them. Add yours below.

Also, check out @johnpopham on Twitter, he’s been an advocate of storytelling for yonks.




Ever sat in front of the TV and screamed at the politician “Do you take me for an idiot?”
The short and most honest answer would most likely be “Yes.” Though it might come as something of a shock, it would at least demolish the all-pervading pretence.

It’s an election year and for some of us working in local government comms, it will be local and national elections. The double whammy.
Shortly we’ll be entering the period known as purdah. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word originates from the early 19th century Urdu and Persian word parda meaning ‘veil or curtain’
Purdah is a period when comms teams must steer clear of communicating anything that has the slightest taint of political spin. We mustn’t be seen to be giving unfair advantage to the incumbent administration over the opposition. Ironically, we won’t be hidden or remain totally silent. We can still report the day to day operations of our authority, the bread-and-butter, so to speak.  In that respect, the notion of a veil or curtain is not entirely apt. One could argue that the veil or curtain is transparent or at least opaque in that we will be telling people exactly what we do. There just won’t be any gloss on it. Which begs the question, does it ever need any?

I’ve been in local government for over a decade now having spent the previous ten or so years in the media. I’m lucky to have seen both sides of the story as well as experiencing local government as a civilian. And the more I look at it, the more it occurs to me that party politics are a distraction when it comes to dealing with local and hyper local issues. Often you will see the leader of a local authority at odds with the national government of the day when the two wear the same colours. The view from the local coal face isn’t always the same as the one from central office.
Council Chamber discussions across the country too often degenerate into political point scoring and name calling when they ought to be run like a boardroom meeting. Like it or not, local authorities are a business these days and businesses don’t adopt bad practice for the sake of ideology or political least, not the enlightened ones.

I do have a particular business model in mind. The 18th century in England saw the emergence of a new breed of industrialist. Brave innovators who invested as much energy into the welfare of their workforce a they did the bottom line. They understood that the two are inextricably linked. Check out Darby, Fry and Cadbury for starters.
There are many competent councillors who transfer skills honed in the business, public and voluntary sectors into local governance. It’s that interesting mix that makes local government so lively. And though some councillors may serve for long periods, you don’t get the phenomenon of career politician so prevalent in national politics. Councillors live in the real world not the Westminster bubble.

We joined Streetlife recently. It was interesting to read the tone of comments that greeted our arrival; much less embittered than the tone on Facebook or Twitter. In the context of this piece, one in particular stands out:
This is the sort of thing that brings a special relationship between the Council and residents. Please use it wisely for non political purposes and enjoy the positive response that you will receive from the local people.”
It’s early days for Streetlife but if I read this comment correctly, it’s the ‘localness’ and practicality that people are warming to. And the gentle nudge to keep politics out of it only serves to underline my original point.

So, councils run on enlightened business principles by councillors who have the right skills and the interests of all their residents and workers at heart may be a pipe dream but it leaves little room for petty party politics. Allegiance would be to residents not political ideals.
Non-political governance based on human dignity, sound business sense unfettered by dogma , a dedication to sustainable practice that has the courage to take the long-view; all this may be even further away at a national level but in that respect, local government is the most likely place to incubate it.
Governance would become much more of a partnership between the governors and the governed. And ‘vested interest’ would be a universal notion rather than an exclusive club. In this utopian future evidence will be the pillar of every decision. Political rhetoric would become redundant and I for one would spend much less time screaming at my TV.

To paraphrase John Lennon:
“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m surely not the only one.”

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


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…