A Muted Trumpet

Last Saturday’s LocalGovcamp in Birmingham was a bittersweet experience. Meeting up with bright sparks is a great way to recharge the public sector batteries and the proliferation of great ideas and challenging debate were a tonic. The abiding memory I’ll take away was an expression. It was a look of sheer frustration. That expression was on the face of a few people in a session I attended. Let me explain. The session was led by the excellent Dan Slee of Walsall Borough Council who is one of a small team that pulled off a couple of social media coups for Local Gov. Inspired by a police force (sorry can’t recall who) and a Children’s Ward, Walsall decided to Tweet for 24 hours (#Walsall24) across its range of services. This was followed by #Walsall100 across a whole week by which time our own homage, #Shrop360 was in the advanced planning stages. Last Saturday was the penultimate day of our 7-day campaign and the Shropshire delegates were somewhat buoyed by its apparent success (full report to follow). So I gatecrashed Dan’s session with a view to adding to the discussion and encouraging others to take the plunge. Now, anyone who’s attended a govcamp event will be familiar with the blame game.

“Yes, we’d love to but IT won’t let us.” or “Yes we’d love to but management won’t let us.” These statements are sometimes based on actual policy but sometimes simply a perception of policy that has yet to be tested or challenged.

What surprised me was the response to our comments about the positive potential of social media to open up channels of communication and improve the reputation of councils which was, “Yes, we’d love to use social media but Comms won’t let us.”

I’ll pause for a moment to let that sink in.

“Yes, we’d love to use social media but Comms won’t let us.”

Dan and I shared a glance with ‘disbelief’ written all over it. Having experienced first hand a week’s worth of the kind of positive PR that shrinking budgets could never afford, delivered through a free medium by front-line officers going about their daily routine, you have to ask yourself..what is the problem?

For Comms of all people to object to engagement through social media is akin to turkeys voting for Christmas. Dan has far more eloquently expressed the view that anyone presently in Comms who hasn’t made it their business to ‘get‘ social media is sleepwalking their way out of the organisation. Though he is at pains to point out that there’s no need to panic.

Here’s the thing. Stop thinking you can manage the message. Sorry, but you can’t. You couldn’t pre-social media and you certainly can’t in the digital age. Comms need to evolve to have any relevance as I wrote in an earlier blog . I can only say that #Shrop360 unearthed a wealth of talent and enthusiasm that we harnessed from across the organisation to the benefit not only of the reputation of the organisation but also the moral of staff at a difficult time. Your call.

Kudos: Digital Birmingham, Podnosh, Public-i, NALC, Firmstep, Talk About Local, Arcus Global, Global Crossing and @pigsonthewing for making Localgovcamp happen.



  1. “Yes, we’d love to use social media but Comms won’t let us.” Did you ask why? Was it because they were trading standards professionals? Or social workers? Or IT helpdesk? Were they a bunch of indiscreet tweeters? Or do they have a social media officer who is paid to do they job while they get on with their trading standards lark? It would have been useful to find out. Yes, it’s great to have ambassadors who can use social media but that doesn’t work everywhere. Also, you can manage the message, or at least make sure it’s in line with what your council politicians want and not littered with spelling mistakes. Popular to contrary Pickles and Daily Mail-shaped belief, a lot of comms people know what they’re doing and for local gov staff to suggest that they shouldn’t be regarded as professionals (“anyone can do it!”) really grates.

    • Hi Charlotte
      Thanks for your response. First up, I work in Comms. I fully understand your a passion and I’m sorry if you thought I was attacking Comms in general.
      I wasn’t. I work for an enlightened Comms manager who ‘gets’ social media and the piece was intended to convey my suprise that other Comms managers don’t. I also wished to convey the frustration felt by officers I met at #Localgovcamp who are facing a brick wall. There must have been times in your career when you’ve found yourself trying to communicate with someone who just doens’t get it. It was also not intended to suggest that anyone can do it (Comms, that is). I belive that the role of Comms will and must evolve and the role will be a vital one. I’ll be following up with a blog on FutureComms which may make things a little clearer. Keep the faith.

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