Back To School

I’m leaving local government…again. It’s been a roller-coaster ride and a fascinating period in my working life. I’ve met some dedicated people who work in difficult circumstances and ever-shifting sands for poor pay and precious little thanks from the general public. They are good people who make a difference to other people’s lives and it’s been a privilege to work alongside them.

In the past I’ve convinced myself that change was the worst thing that could happen only to be proven wrong when it was forced upon me. I’ve also taken fate into my own hands with mixed results but fundamentally come to realise that if I am truly disaffected it is no one else’s job to make me happy.

So I’m leaving to study Media & Sociology at the University of Wolverhampton.
I am certain that it will open up a whole new world of opportunities even though I am uncertain what they may be.

I’m sure I will continue to blog and tweet but soon it will be as a mature student entering the world of academia.

I wish all my friends and colleagues in local government the very best of luck in the coming months and hope that if you get the chance to follow your dream, you take it.
Carpe Diem! Thinker

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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.

 

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.

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Curtains

Curtains

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 expediency..at 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.”