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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"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.”

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.

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.

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.