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.





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.

We’ll take it from here

We'll take it from here

We’ll take it from here

Regular readers (do I have any?) will know of my involvement with the Save The Clifton campaign. At present, five of us are working to save a cinema and adjoining building to create a multi-use community arts centre.

Over the years, I’ve had some involvement in cultural capital projects in my capacity as a local government officer and it would be fair to say that recent austerity has put the kibosh on a great deal of publicly funded cultural investment. But even if we claw our way out of the present mire, I wonder if there’ll ever be a return to the levels of investment we saw a decade ago?

Remember all those ill-fated Millennium projects?

The Clifton got me thinking whether the future is community-inspired, community-owned-and-run projects as the new norm?

Sure, someone has to stump up the money in the first place but isn’t it the case that for the long haul, the sustainable business model – the well of enthusiasm and sense of ownership, the lack of political interference that independent people-power projects provide can offer is the best hope? (that’s quite enough ‘P’s – Ed). In our case, only time will tell but we’re looking beyond the straight out commercial approach to creating a centre where arts are used for community cohesion, to tackle isolation and to offer opportunities to engage in the Arts as a form of, well, therapy. We’ll need to find backers and we’ll certainly be looking at share issues and crowdfunding but if we can persuade the local authority to support us in saving the building, we might just be able to say “we’ll take it from here.”

A Nice Cup of Tea

Have you ever noticed how on TV soaps the initial response to any kind of tricky problem is “I’ll put the kettle on and make a nice cup of tea”? It seems tea solves all things. It’s a view that’s at the heart of the Brewcamp movement. Tea, cake and solutions.

Last night I attended the first Telford Brewcamp. We were lucky enough to have the #brewcamp founding fathers with us in the shape of Dan Slee, Darren Caveney, Simon Whitehouse and Andy Mabbett which was a ringing endorsement for what I hope will be a new event in the local calendar. Our venue was King’s Street Cafe, Wellington TF1 1NS and our hosts plied us with coffee and homemade cake. Pete Jackson was the instigator of the event and pulled together a healthy mix of local gov bods, councilors and hyperlocal activists.

Here’s one case study from last night: I happen to live five minutes from the venue so this was most definitely a home fixture. Just up the road in Lightmoor is one of a number of new communities springing up in a town that was ‘New’ forty years ago. And in that community are some particularly switched on people like Lightmoor Mark & Jake Snr who recently took it upon themselves to live stream the Telford & Wrekin Council meeting. From an iPhone on a tripod to three cameras mixed through Google Hangout, the set up is more sophisticated than most council’s offer; if indeed they offer it at all. It’s community action at it’s best. The council have embraced the streaming and councilors even winked at a play along, spot-the-cliche drinking game devised by local community news feed Telford Live. In Lightmoor they’ve also set up twitter text alerts to the mobile phones of residents who don’t access social media so they don’t miss out on community news. And the ambition doesn’t end there. They’ve given serious consideration to providing a feed of the council stream to the flat-screen TV in the communal lounge of the local sheltered housing complex for elderly residents.

So Telford#brewcamp was a great success IMHO and it’s cool to know that there are so many engaged people in my neighborhood. If you haven’t been to a Brewcamp, I’d recommend it. Better still, organise one of your own.  Dan Slee sums them up HERE and check out the Lightmoor blog HERE

Being a real authority

Interesting title ‘Local Authority’. I work for one and my interest is cultural change through innovation. And lately I’ve been looking at that name in a different light. Here in Shropshire, we’ve been slowly building a family of social media accounts across a range of services and the old stalwarts of Facebook & Twitter are the foundation stones. There’s still a bit of hearts-and-minds stuff to do to help colleagues see the benefits of going where the conversation is but we’re getting there. Now, my interest is turning towards service-related blogs.

Recently, I’ve been describing to colleagues the notion of being not just a local authority in the institutional sense but an authority on key matters, locally. So the term local authority can have a different meaning. Each part of our organisation has access to privileged information. Not privileged in the top secret sense, just privileged in the sense that we hear about it first. There’s an audience for that. A while back, we adopted the Birmingham City Council model of creating our own online newsroom as the primary source of council news. But social media can also empower frontline officers and managers to be the news provider for their service; becoming advocates for the work they do as well as responding to the conversations that the information sparks. Look at the work that Wolverhampton Parks have been doing on Twitter, for example or Acton Scott Museum here in Shropshire. But Twitter and Facebook have their limitations. A blog can tell the whole story. Our Shropshire Family Information Service has already shown colleagues the way in terms of blogging. And kudos to @katebentham for that.

There are multiple audiences for this kind of content. Broadly, our customers but also stakeholders, partners and businesses in the sector. Fellow professionals too as well as news agencies and the media in general. Guest blogs from any one of those groups adds a new dimension to the output and adds another level of advocacy.

There’s a wealth of stories to tell and who better to tell them? Even as we undergo unparalleled structural change we still need to communicate what we do and why we do it. In that context, maybe ‘doing’ social media starts to look less like a chore and more like a necessity.