A tool for digital engagement that Covers It All?

With public engagement and consultation high on the political agenda it’s imperative that local government starts to look at ways of delivering engagement which is effective, but requires little resource and importantly, little cost.

Cornwall Council kicked off its 2014-2019 budget consultation recently with such an approach, aimed specifically at our online audience and which can be easily replicated.

It was a first for the Council, centred as it was on our existing Cover it Live chat account but (and here’s the clever part) integrated on our website, through Facebook, Twitter and You Tube – each platform synchronised, simply and seamlessly.

Cover it Live – which labels itself as the World’s Real Time Experience Leader – provides the heart of the event. Using our existing enterprise account (delivered as part of our webcasting offer) we were able to dig deep into its inner workings.

If you’re not familiar, Cover it Live (CIL) allows you to host and moderate online, real-time, text and media-based discussions.

Put simply, you create an event, invite people to submit their comments and then add them into a real-time chat timeline, all with the ability to moderate (add, reject, private message) individual’s comments as they come in.

You can embed the chat window pretty much anywhere so your one conversation appears on a variety of platforms, ranging from your website (see image below for a shot from our page) to Facebook. Sending the embed codes to the local media allows them to run (and promote) the chat via their own websites too.

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In fact, the ability to integrate the chat window onto your Facebook page (via easy installation of the Cover it Live app) is a fantastic boon for leveraging page fans into the conversation.

On Twitter, rules can be set up to pull in Tweets from certain users or hashtags (in our case #haveyoursay), each with or without prior moderation and each can be easily added to the live chat after moderation. You can also simultaneously post your comments to both the live chat window and your Twitter account.

Cover it Live even allows for keyword or people searching all from within the platform so you can grab social media and online content that you may want to add to the conversation.

If this all sounds complicated, fear not. Cover it Live benefits from excellent, clear and concise support which guides the user painlessly through the process (such as allowing you to launch your event in prep mode and see exactly how it will look and act before making it live).

One other key benefit we discovered is the ability to have individual panellists (with their own avatar and name) contributing to the same conversation.

So, as well as the chat moderator, our Cabinet Member Alex Folkes was able to write his responses from his own event studio, on his own computer. (Worth noting out here that in order to keep the conversation logical that your panellists ‘reply’ direct to individuals questions and comments rather than just submitting a fresh post each time. This helps to keep the conversation clear and chronological.)

The author and Cabinet Member at the control desk as the chat got underway.

The author and Cabinet Member at the control desk as the chat got underway.

This panellist approach really opens up the software to the possibility of online chats with several contributors to the same, themed conversation – perfect where you may require a moderator as well as several specialists discussing the one topic.

We discovered that Cover it Live also has some great functionality around adding media to the timeline. You can upload your own content direct within the platform or easily integrate You Tube films, images or links into the conversation.

The day before our event we produced seven short films covering some of the most frequently asked budget questions likely to crop up. Then, when the relevant question was asked we seamlessly added the film from You Tube into the chat timeline as a rich media response.

This visual impact is important to keep your chat feeling fresh and relevant. As is Cover it Live’s ability to customise the look of your chat so as well as a chronological stream, you could decide to display a media rich content wall. You can also customise your chat by adding your own branding logos and title page.

It goes without saying that all of this is accompanied by a pretty decent statistics package so measuring and evaluating the success of your chat is a given.

Such was the success of our initial engagement efforts that we’ve already committed to doing a similar event, but this time for employees only.

This is on top of our more ‘usual’ Cover it Live offerings that accompany our standard and one-off webcasts.

Certainly in the online space I don’t know of a better, current solution. It’s free, easy to resource and opens up the prospect of pulling in a potentially massive audience. This could be a boost for your communications and the reputation of your Council and I’d recommend you give it a try.

So all in all; Cover it Live pretty much Covers it All.

To see Cover it Live in action, follow THIS LINK to view the archive chat from our Budget 2014-2019 event.

Unleash the power of You Tube

In which I argue that for too long You Tube has been thought of as the ‘bolt on’ communications channel, that place where you chuck your films without a care and perhaps link via your ‘more popular’ Facebook and Twitter accounts.

So what then, are we to make of the first quarter 2014 Ofcom Communications Market Report which shows that the most popular UK social media site is not Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin but yes, you guessed it, You Tube.

Yes, You Tube; that oft neglected corner of content that so many organisations large and small consider second fiddle to the Facebook and Twitter behemoths. That place where youngsters watch banal 30-second films but which, come on admit it, you find yourself navigating around more and more.


To me, as a self-confessed film content fan, this was perhaps the most startling statistic to come from the Ofcom report, which covered the first quarter of 2014, and certainly awakens a need for all comms professionals to start taking You Tube more seriously.

The findings run parallel to the fact that in the UK, You Tube is now the second largest search engine after Google.

So, let’s just quickly take a look at those facts again. You Tube is the most popular social media site in the UK, and the second largest search engine.

Then the massive elephant in the room has to be, ‘why oh why aren’t we doing more on You Tube to reach, engage and form relationships with our audiences?’

I recently had a meeting with a member of the Council’s sexual health and teenage pregnancy team, who are looking into developing a social media presence.

“We need Facebook and Twitter”, they said; but when faced with the above we started talking much more about You Tube as perhaps the best channel to engage with their target audience.

It wasn’t long before we started throwing creative ideas around and came up with a film idea that certainly has the potential to go viral, if and when it happens (watch this space).

So, acknowledging that You Tube could (should?) be a priority channel to communicate, what are some key tips to making it work?

Firstly, carry out an audit of who’s out there. Identify the key advocates, channel hosts or video bloggers and start talking to them, sharing their content and becoming a part of their conversation.

Collaboration is the keyword here; it’s a great way of attracting new audiences and also helps you to potentially work with other video creators to cross-promote content between channels.

You must work to get subscribers to your channel; it’s not all about viewers. Producing videos that fit a particular niche can be a good way of attracting these new subscribers.

In terms of content, You Tube shouldn’t just be seen as the host for those multi-thousand pound productions. Get out there with a smartphone, find a ‘moment that matters,’, film it and hit ‘upload’ – this can now be done almost as seamlessly as composing a content-heavy Facebook post.

Live streaming is now easily  done on your smartphone

Live streaming is now easily done on your smartphone

Who out there has had a chance to start playing around with You Tube’s new live event offering? This could be ground-breaking in terms of offering your audiences a new way to find out what’s going on with their Council – in real time.

Think live interviews at the scenes of major projects, press launches syndicated live to your online media colleagues or, dare I say it, your own hosted live streaming of key Council meetings. And importantly, all for free.

If you do want to pay, You Tube’s TrueView video ads can also be deployed at certain times (although don’t make this a shortcut to replace meaningful content).

TrueView works by charging you when viewers actually choose to watch your ad and not when an impression is served.

We recently ran a campaign that utilised TrueView and resulted in a 1200% increase in views (9,711) of a film that had managed 760 organic views.

So on You Tube, essentially the same rules apply; find your relevant communities and key advocates and start talking with them – collaborate. Plan your content in-line with your audience’s tastes and then start creating content making sure it captures those ‘moments that matter’ making it as shareable and engaging as possible.

As always, access to Google’s mightily impressive analytics via You Tube is another essential step to evaluate your efforts, learn and evolve.

So, if You Tube is playing second fiddle in your social media comms, then now may be a good time to start tuning in to understand the benefits of what could be the most effective social media channel you currently have at your disposal.

You can read the full, 400-page Ofcom Communications report or for a great, summarised version visit Dan Slee’s blog post over at Comms2Point0

Communications Academy takeaways

From time to time, we manage to lift our heads from the business as usual and get an opportunity to do some forward thinking in an innovative environment.

One such occasion for me was the Government Communication Service Comms Academy I was fortunate enough to attend in Manchester this June.

What a fantastic event. As well as leaving me on occasion stunned and positively excited about the evolution of comms and how much there is  to learn and implement, it was fantastic to spend time with both local and central government colleagues.

There was a massive amount of takeaways from the event but below are some of the most pertinent ones for fellow comms professionals that I came away determined to act upon.

  1.  Evaluation, evaluation, evaluation. All our work needs to show a measure of outcome (not output), what was the result of this, what behaviour did it help to change.
  2. Work to increase our robustness, show what value we bring and share this throughout the organisation. We have a duty and responsibility to promote, explain and justify things to the Administration and we should never forget that. However, we need to also work harder to forge links and show value with opposition politicians as well as with the Administration.
  3. Have more confidence in our brand – Cornwall is a great product. Brands today want to look like they’re making a social contribution. Let’s help them by aligning ourselves more with the Cornwall brand.
  4. Build powerful partnerships. Local is key. We need to start where people lead their lives. Move from an issue/service based model to a place-based model where people decide what they want. Identify their passions and recognise their ‘sweat equity’ through match funding to give them what they want. Stops citizens pitting themselves against each other and encourages working together for social change.
  5. Renegotiate the social contract: 1) What is it people in local communities are best placed to do themselves to create better lives, 2) what is it people can do with some help from us, 3) What’s left for us – to do unilaterally. We have been treating these in reverse for too long.
  6. Not just locally but nationally too. Work closer with Central Government colleagues and GCS and use the tools and guidance they provide to establish a common set of standards in line with national development. It’s clear they’re trying to forge links and are creating tools to help us – let’s use them.
  7. Internal comms is a cornerstone of organisational change. Connect better with our line managers who are key advocates.
  8. If a piece of content has no value towards our strategic and corporate priorities then don’t do it. It’s really time to cut out the jargon. Stop eight page reports that politicians don’t read. Instead do it in a two page executive summary and then add appendices.
  9. Let’s work to make communications teams more professional and establish clear development opportunities.
  10. Be authentic and tell stories that have human scale. Give citizens what they want, not what we think they want. Create content that captures those Moments that Matter; use the data it provides to Make Better Decisions and then constantly innovate and improve on this.
  11. Learn more about behaviours to drive good comms. Attitudes don’t change behaviours; behaviours change behaviours.
  12. The world is changing. Technology is changing. People are changing. But, if we think the pace of technological change is fast now, we are wrong. In actual fact, the pace of change will never again be as slow as it is now. We need to make the most of this current ‘hiatus’ to learn as much about it as possible and for its potential to help us communicate better.
  13. PRIDE! Above all, be proud of what we do as professional communicators.  Start making more efforts to run our comms as a business. Consider establishing a commercial team to look into this. Establish an a la carte menu of services we offer and can sell. Look at our comms channels and see how to monetise them (website advertising, lamppost ads, neighbourhood guides, ads in A-Z of services)

Problems, not solutions

I’d wager that as well as time spent creating content, a lot of time is taken up by comms peeps advising others on how communications can, or cannot, help to solve a particular challenge.

All too often, customers come armed with a solution predetermined, and, while it can be easy to let the creative juices takeover and accept their concept, it is important at this point to apply the brakes – firmly if necessary – and remind them to think first about the problem they’re trying to solve rather than the channel, platform or piece of comms they believe will solve it.

“Come to us with a problem, not a solution” is something that is certainly part of our comms’ mantra and you’d do well to add it to yours if not already.

I was recently approached and asked for help in either filming, or facilitating the filming, of a conference to then make the event available for viewing to those who couldn’t attend.

While this is a good idea in principle, our experience shows that these after-the-matter films are rarely viewed by those who didn’t attend.

So, the advice the customer was given was to think about how else the conference could be presented. For example, get one, or several, of the attendees to write a blog post – perhaps with self taken images; or ask the presenter to make their slides available on Slideshare and linked to from a website which provides some context.

There were others but I think you get my drift – getting the customer to think about the problem (in this case making a presentation appealing to an audience that wasn’t there) rather than accepting a predetermined solution is vital.

I hear what you’re saying; “This is common sense”, and it is, but all too often I see examples of where a solution has been accepted too fast, without proper consideration and the final product doesn’t match the brief and everyone’s time and resource is wasted.

Now, the first question I ask of a customer is, what is it we’re actually trying to achieve here. Not purely in a comms sense but more generally. Getting customers to go back to the basics – what is it here you are trying to achieve, who is your audience, how is what we do going to help and how are we going to measure whether it’s a success or not.

I was lucky enough recently to see this approach echoed on a grander scale when on a visit to the Two Four Productions offices in Plymouth on a South West Public Relations Officers digital marketing workshop.

Led by Two Four’s Head of Content Strategy, Howard Gregory, the session was a masterclass in how content should be pre-planned, created, delivered, integrated, measured and evaluated and how each story, each campaign, will have its own factors that drive the best way to do this.

In essence, Howard told us, the Two Four digital content department adheres to Three Simple Rules:

1) Link clearly to your comms strategy

2) Understand your audience (keep up to date as it changes)

3) Create a clear and engaging story

But much further than that, he went on to share the company’s guiding content principles which help to ensure that as comms professionals, we are always thinking about the wider problem and not just the solution.

This breaks each customer problem into five key stages:

Audit: Understand your aims – What are we doing – What’s the vision and strategy

Insight: Analyse your audience – Demographic insight, preferred engagement

Develop: Plan activities and how to tell the story – Channel mix, develop narrative

Execute: Create compelling content – Design, deliver on time and budget

Evaluate: Measure, learn and plan – ROI, Quantitative and qualitative, Plan for the future

These five stages  – what you learn from step 5, Evaluate, should be fed back into the process between Audit and Insight – should become a key tool for every comms’ team’s strategy and approach.

After all, if they work for a massively successful, international content and broadcast company then they should also work for us. And with a bit of forethought they can help achieve a great solution to the next customer problem that happens to come your way.


The Social Shift – and how you should embrace it

Could the evolving relationship between digital technology and the requirement this is placing on us to become more social as organisations force a change in the way we think about communications?

That is the question I have been pondering of late as a picture emerges that increased social media use – and the fundamental shift this has caused in human behaviour – is stimulating the green shoots of a need for reflective change in how we as organisations communicate with our colleagues, customers and stakeholders.

I’m convinced this is a fundamental time for communications professionals to grasp this concept and have even come up with a name for it: ‘The Social Shift’ (I didn’t Google this so it’s highly likely this has been named elsewhere).

The point, like the name though, has stuck. The Social Shift, I believe, sums up the current movement that requires organisations to become more open and authentic and which will only increase as digital technology become more prolific. This is more than just ensuring the fundamental, ‘social’ PR principles of People and Place are satisfied in our comms, it’s about realising that because we deal day-to-day with human issues, we need to do more to ensure our workplace values reflect this. And, in order to do that, we need to introduce more human elements throughout organisations; from the very top to the very bottom.

The question is how do we go about it?

While social media is no doubt acting as the catalyst of change, I believe it’s now time that we move away from over analysing it as a separate communications channel. Yes, we need to continue to measure and monitor to drive improvement and increase engagement but continued macro analysis is surely only preventing us from looking at the effect of this change in a more general context?

Take one example of where customers post images onto Facebook, say of council staff parking in restricted bays or having a nap at the wheel of a street sweeper. Currently, we’d accept this as the norm, post a reactive message that hopefully defends the content and move on. But, while the act of capturing and posting the photo is a tangible reality of The Social Shift, the question I’m keen to explore and answer is: would the employees have done that in the first place if they’d been made more aware of the potential for someone to take their photo and then share it?

So, while social media provides a user-friendly tool to aid The Social Shift, it’s hard to disagree that it will be tech hardware that is going to play the next major role in driving the agenda forward, and perhaps forcing even greater change. The growing use of smartphones and tablets has forced us to rethink our own openness and engagement agenda, from talking to residents via social media in contact centres to the filming of council meetings. (‘Forced’ is used purposefully. Imagine a world where, instead of being reactive to changes in tech and social channels, we could start being more pro-active on our communications evolution?)

A current example of the potential of technology to affect such major change is Google Glass, due to hit the shelves in 2014. Who in your organisation has given thought to the soon-to-be-realised impact of this tool, especially on the issue of privacy? Google Glass will perhaps signify one of the biggest shifts in technology to affect social change, especially for public facing organisations. Anyone will soon be able to record, film, or photograph at leisure and, with in-built facial recognition, upload and link that content anywhere on the web and all of it almost instantaneously.

If you haven’t thought much about its capabilities yet, this short film from Google may help:


Some commentators have even suggested that the next, large public disorder events will be around privacy, started initially by such immediate forms of technology as Google Glass.

Techradar has an interesting article  to in which it identifies that in 2007 the Institute of the Future called this the “participatory panopticon”, and in 2009 award-winning author and futurist David Brin explained what that might mean:

“With our senses and memories enhanced prodigiously by new prostheses, suddenly we can ‘know’ the reputations of millions, soon to be billions, of fellow Earth citizens.


“It’s seriously scary prospect and one that is utterly unavoidable. The cities we grew up in were semi-anonymous only because they were primitive. The village is returning. And with it serious, lifelong worry about that state of our reputations. Kids who do not know this are playing with fire. They had better hope that the village will be a nice one. A village that shrugs a lot, and forgives.”


“A tap of your VR eyeglasses will identify any person, along with profiles and alerts, almost as if you had been gossiping about him and her for years.

So, where does this leave us as communications professionals in an increasingly more open and socially orientated world?

Firstly, if we’re not already doing so, we need to evolve our awareness of the technology beyond day-to-day measurement of specific channels. Both in software and hardware terms, we need to learn and assess what the impacts of these are now, and are likely to be, into the future.

As the social shift continues apace, as the ‘world community’ continues to link together and increasingly knows more about everybody else’s ‘business’ we need to get a much better handle on how we as organisations are going to adapt to keep (or get ahead of) the pace of change. We need to ensure we don’t become too insular (particularly while dealing with very internal and very real budget pressures) and continue to horizon scan and react to our findings.

Practically speaking, internal training, or awareness raising, for employees up and down the organisation is one key element, as is the need to start assessing the impact now of how technology such as Google Glass may impact upon our organisations and to start embedding this culture change into the organisation now.

The comms world as we knew it is changing, thanks largely to social media, smartphones and mobile devices and as we’ve seen, with Google Glass and other similar immediate technologies it will doubtless change again. Transparency, ownership, learning and collaboration are some core elements of human organisations and as the world becomes more like a global village, people will expect our organisations to reflect these values too.

What I’ve learnt so far on my discovery is that we must all learn fast, adapt and start integrating these values into our organisations and I’d urge you, if you’re not already, to set off on your own journey of discovery and start planning for The Social Shift, before you’re forced too.


Three years in Local Government comms – What I’ve learnt so far

Maintaining a good balance can be tricky.

Maintaining a good balance can be tricky.

Recently, I passed the three year milestone of working in local government. A whole three years since I threw my journalism cap into the trash and donned my public sector beret.

So, I thought it a pertinent time to have a think about the move, to take stock and ensure I’m still on the right track and importantly, to share some of the wisdoms and experiences that I’ve learnt since entering the world of local government comms.

For me, this experience hasn’t just been about joining the world of local government, it’s also been about swapping work at the head of a small team in a relatively tight-knit community to working at the corporate heart of one of the largest unitary authorities in the country, with over 6,000 full time employees and in a county that has a very diverse range of attitudes, individuals and groups.

So, I’m hoping that by sharing my experiences I can motivate others who may be new to this colourful, collaborative and often cumbersome world.

So, with no further ado, here are my top tips for surviving the world of local government.

1) Being human helps. This sounds like an obvious point but what I really mean is that working in a large organisation can sometimes feel like your personality needs to be left at the door with your coat. However, I’ve learnt the importance of retaining your personality and importantly your individuality. It can be difficult sometimes to speak out in a room of peope who have been in the business far longer than yourself but you have to have confidence in your beliefs and opinions and have the personality to drive them home in a non-arrogant way. Overcoming that fear to speak out, stay true to yourself and allowing yourself to follow your instinct is essential.

2) Work with the wider organisation in mind. There’s nothing more frustrating than working on a project only to send it out to everyone and receive a mountain of ‘feedback’ (never see it as criticism) that means you have to re-write the whole thing. Breaking out of the comms silo, encouraging feedback and consultation from the wider organisation means not only that you can work with everyone’s view in mind but by having the buy-in of your colleagues or stakeholders from the start means your project is much more likely to succeed and become a reality in the long run. Don’t pigeon hole yourself, or your ideas.

3) Learn politics, and how to deal with it. One of the most rewarding experiences I had was shadowing one of our prominent opposition councillors. I learnt how to accept that like it or not Politics with a ‘P’ does play a major role and that means not taking things personally as an employee of the Council when councillors attack the council on a public forum. You have to learn that it is the political administration, and not Officers, that are the targets of the majority of political decisions.

Conversely, always be aware of the political ramifications of your actions. If you are a dynamic individual (see point 2) the tendency can be to go off headstrong, set on a particular goal. My advice is to always pause, to consider your work from both an organisational and political view. Ultimately, Councillors are the decision makers and we have to bear them in mind and engage with them at all times.

4) Learn to multi-skill and to do things on a budget. As budgets are squeezed and times get tougher (or give us more opportunity depending on your point of view) the need to multi skill is never more apparent. I have good experience in journalism, copy writing, editing, design and filming but this wasn’t always the case. I purposefully set out to develop my skills, especially in the digital realm, and have taken advantage of internal courses to continually stretch myself and/or learn from colleagues who can do the things I’m not so hot on. Not only do you learn new skills but you also help to stave off stagnation, and these experiences help to keep the job interesting, and a continual development. Don’t be afraid to ask, just ask to job shadow, or to be mentored and you’ll be surprised how open people are to the idea.

5) Which leads me nicely to …. Innovation. It’s hard, but never give up! It can be difficult not to get swept away by the organisational entity but you have to learn to stand up and ride the wake – and throw in the occasional somersault too. Yes, local government can suffer from not being as dynamic as other sectors but there’s no reason why you can’t be a dynamic individual. Be intrepreneurial! I heard somewhere that things in local government take five years to fully materialise from concept to reality. While thankfully this is somewhat of an exagerration there is no smoke without fire and things do take longer in local government. Learning to put up with this is hard but worthwhile as long as you maintain focus, innovate and see the challenges local government face as just that, challenges to overcome, rather than barriers to doing your job!

6) Share your knowledge. Just because you’re in the public sector and local government doesn’t mean you should keep your light under a bushel. If you’re doing some great work in your field – whichever one that may be – then get out there and shout about it. Write a blog post, contribute to blogs, send out a press release, tell colleagues. You’ll find that not only is there great pleasure to be derived from sharing knowledge but that also, it can work wonders for the overall reputation of your authority, and ultimately I guess that rubs off on you too.

7) Increase your self confidence and especially your public speaking skills. Presentations and speaking out in meetings large and small are a key and integral part of working effectively in the public sector, and especially in the corporate centre. I’m still not 100% confident around this but after some presentation skills training, speaking at a social media conference and to a room full of new Members for a training session I’m fast learning the skills required – preparation and a belief you can do it are key.

8) Realise that it is very difficult to please all the people all the time. Unfortunately, a vast swathe of your residents will always see you as a cog in the government wheel, an elitist, sat in your ivory tower detached from the realities that they face. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve felt an urge to defend ourselves against this claim. I’m lucky to work with a large bunch of very dedicated professionals who all are doing their best to improve services for the people of Cornwall. If only people could see that, I’m sure their view would change. Maybe there’s more we can do to communicate that view but would they listen? I’m not sure on that but either way, learnt to accept that often, despite your enthusiasm, passion and determination, not everyone will see this.

9) Enjoy it. Yes it can sometimes be frustrating to wade through the local government treacle; yes, working with a myriad different personalities both on the corporate and political sides can be challenging, but, local government is also a great sector in which to work. Where else do you get the chance to bounce ideas off a creative, multi-skilled team, discussing film ideas one morning and major change comms the next? Where you can find yourself in one day talking to everyone from the Chief Executive to calming down a disgruntled resident on social media. Where, with a bit of tenacity and a dashing of experience you can come up with ideas that can have positive benefits for both your colleagues and your fellow citizens? Enjoy the challenges local government brings and don’t let them get you down. You have to make the choice to be happy.

It’s been just over three years in local government for me but as time goes by, I’m beginning to like it more and more each day.

Please feel free to add your own tips to how you survive, and thrive, in our sector.

Is Facebook the new Friends Reunited?

I seem to have been repeating the same mantra with increasing regularity lately – Facebook will, within five years (but I reckon nearer to three) become … Friends Reunited.

There, I’ve said it, and I’m willing to put it out there and stake my blogging reputation on it*.

You don’t have to look too closely to see that it’s already becoming less of an immediate, “this is what I’m up to now” platform and over time, I believe, will simply become a platform for people like you and I to archive our digital life. A sort of social cloud storage for film, photos and links that make up our digital lives and interests.

As a tool to keep in touch with people, to actually have online conversations it is becoming all about instant chat. Snapchat, What’s App, in-built chat options on smartphones, and many others, are now entering the fray and commanding more attention, especially among the younger generation.

A few other sources have been backing this theory lately including these interesting articles from The Drum (UK loses 9% of Facebook users) and Daily Mail (Facebook admits teens are tiring of it)

Facebook is losing its appeal due to two main reasons: An abundance of aged thirty-plus people (i.e. parents and grandparents) having and maintaining accounts meaning Facebook is losing its ‘cool’ moniker, and advertising.

But what does this mean for social media use in local government and should we already be thinking, ‘what’s next’ and/or, especially, ‘how do we communicate and keep engaging with young people’?

Interestingly, our own Facebook insights at Cornwall Council mirror this view. Our core users are females aged 25-34 with less than eight per cent of our total Likes being aged 25 and under across both genders.

It would be interesting to see summary reports from other authorities on demographics but it would seem already, based on our own stats, that Facebook is good for reaching the plus 25 age group (and especially women) but not so good for anyone younger.

So, I say it again, how are we going to engage with these people? As they become more platform savvy, you can bet your bottom dollar they won’t be using a platform that forces them to click on or view adverts (Google+?). They will be having closed conversations (rightly so) that no-one, especially us as public information stakeholders, will have access to to find out what they’re thinking, doing, what are the trends etc.

Thinking aloud, could we therefore be seeing a turnaround in engagement with young people in that proper engagement now means getting off digital and taking the conversations back into the real world (if they ever left)?

The default I hear quite often is “we need to engage with young people, so let’s start a Facebook page”. My advice has always been to think before you leap and from now on I will really hammer this home and encourage other offline / online channels as a priority.

This theory is given extra weight when you consider that in my spare time I voluntarily do the social media and communications, as well as help on the beach, for a local surf life saving club. Some of our younger members refuse to like the club’s Facebook page even though they’re actively involved with the club – and this is surf life saving, what some would deem a prety ‘cool’ thing to be associated with.

Liking a Facebook page is for all of us, and especially young people, an action that comes with emotional value attached. By liking something you are admitting to your peers that you like it in a way that for some can be too revealing, it can be a label and in some ways defines who you are.  Following a Twitter account doesn’t carry the same level of emotional ‘buy-in’ that Facebook can, hence why most Twitter accounts have far greater numbers attached than Facebook

So what’s the best way to get over this? Now, I’m not, and never professed to be, an expert at engaging with young people, and good practise may already be suggesting that offline communications is far better quality than online, but the fact remains; for those of us still thinking that social media and Facebook is the default way to go when dealing with youngsters it may be time to start altering your point of view – or risk becoming ‘No Friends Reunited’.

*Subject to change pending investment from Facebook. Terms and conditions apply.

Why a comms – customer service link is essential

Picture the scene. You arrive at work on a Monday morning after a weekend of downpours to find your social media accounts inundated with cries for help. Requests to clear a flooded drain sit alongside a query on how to find out if a dead cat has been collected by Council staff, and much more besides.

So, (to coin a well-know phrase) who you gonna call?

Luckily for us, we had already started talks with our contact centre colleagues on how to better resource our Facebook presence so that it not only reduces pressure on the corporate comms team but also satisfies the contact centre’s own channel shift ambitions. I’m sure we’re not alone in starting to see our Facebook page being used much more as a direct customer service channel rather than the ‘celebration of where we live’ ethos that we originally envisaged.

Yes, we still post campaign messages and promote the council and wider Cornwall as much as possible, but as our social media presence evolves, we’re finding that our customers simply want a better way to get hold of us and to get the information they’re after quickly, accurately and with a friendly tone.

It’s up to us to respond to this call.

In the above example, what would have taken a comms team member the best part of a morning to source contacts and write responses took the contact centre team just 15 minutes; both quick and accurate. We even got some thanks from customers – The mark of a social interaction well done!

And reputation boosting is just one of the benefits of bringing your contact centre colleagues on-board.

In corporate comms we have to keep ourselves as ‘in the loop’ on corporate matters as possible but it has been surprising to learn just how much the customer service team know about those customer priorities that are happening now, in real-time (rather than reactively) on the ground.

For example, their knowledge of the corporate calendar – from changes to bin collections to notices of council tax being issued – is an invaluable resource worth tapping into on its own. They also have a far better awareness of which customer contact channels may be experiencing busy periods at any particular time and can react and divert people accordingly.

This knowledge means that as time goes on, we’re finding that they are equally adept at posting proactive corporate messages to Facebook.

And the benefits don’t end there. Your contact centre will already have a book full of the contacts your customers need and can intuitively, due to years of experience, find the right person for the right answer, and fast.

As Karen Collet from the contact centre says: “With social media we are finding that we can interact with people in a public place (one to many) and this allows us to engage with those who may not use our website as a preferred tool for information or as a way to contact us through the traditional channels.”

On the mechanical side we currently use a flagging system using a shared email inbox – flagged red for customer services and yellow for comms. We’re not sure yet if this is the best approach (a situation not helped by some Facebook notifications not being sent as email alerts) but it seems to be working for now.

A natural part of the process are regular feedback sessions on how we’re all finding it. Knowledge sharing on the best ways to move forward and what challenges, opportunities we may face going forward has done wonders to cement these new-found working relationships.

In fact, as time goes on, it becomes ever more apparent to us that better links between internal communications and customer service teams are a vital part of effective service delivery.

Looking ahead it’s obvious that while we’re merely scratching the surface at the moment we can all see the potential.

Whether the next logical step is moving customer services onto Twitter, You Tube, Vimeo and beyond we’ll have to wait and see but if our Facebook experiences are anything to go by then it is certainly worth considering.

It helps if, like us, you have a contact centre team that buy-in to the more authentic tone that social media allows.

Karen added: “We hope that this collaboration will allow us to publicise customer service information that affects residents directly such as refuse and recycling, highways information, permit renewals, disruptions to service, and hopefully correct inaccuracies in things other people are saying, but overall showing that we are human and are here to help.”

So our advice? Next time you find your social media pages inundated with requests for help, make sure you’ve put your customer service team on speed dial.

This post was initially written for the Comms2Point0 website. The link to the post and site is HERE

Film in local government

The results of the UK’s first Local Government survey into the use of film by local councils has shown that 80% of respondents plan to increase the use of film to communicate both internally and externally.

The power of film as an effective communications tool was given more weight with the majority of respondents agreeing that their existing films were a success in delivering the right messages.

However, there is still room for caution. The survey shows that while the use of local government film is on the increase, there is still confusion around its creation, sharing and effectiveness.

Internal bandwidth issues, resistance from I.S departments, too much control from the Corporate centre and restricted access to software (with some staff forced to edit films on their personal computers) are given as barriers to future growth.

The vast majority of respondents (87%) have the capacity to produce their own films and indeed many do, with one council producing around 100 films per year. However, the average number of films produced each year for each local authority is 10.

While the numbers are encouraging, in terms of content, there was a large variation. Crucially for local government departments with small budgets, the majority of respondents disagree that a film needs high production values to be a success with not one person strongly agreeing to that statement. This is clearly good to hear and is a signal to others that a lack of equipment or technical expertise shouldn’t be a barrier to producing effective films. 60% of people also disagreed that professionally produced films are necessarily better than user generated ones.

I’ve written lots recently about the importance of story and its importance to the effectiveness of film content but worryingly, 53% of respondents feel story doesn’t count towards a film success. Only one respondent answered that story should be deemed as very important to the effectiveness of a film.

47% of respondents also disagreed that running time had no impact on success. I’d disagree and maintain that a shorter running time will do far more to encourage viewers to watch the film to the end (thus increasing its effectiveness) than many other factors. However, it’s not all doom and gloom on this subject as conversely, 54% said a film needs to be short and to the point to be most successful.

The effectiveness of film has to be as a two-way communications tool so it’s not just pushing messages to viewers. 57% of respondents said yes, they do get feedback, although only 31% of respondents said they actively engage with online communities and join in conversations about their films. 46% said they’d like to do more in this area, although with two comments suggesting corporate communications disabled or needed to sign off comments, this is an area that clearly needs work.

 Other key findings from the survey include:

  • 85% of respondents have work access to video sharing sites
  • 87% have capacity to produce films internally
  • 67% (10 people) commission films externally with an average of 6 per authority
  • 60% offer resources for others to use film

In conclusion, with 80% of respondents agreeing they plan to use more film in the future, the signs are that film is a communications tool that is being taken more seriously.

One local authority is redesigning its website to integrate more film while another is producing video answers to its FAQs page. New digital roles are being considered within corp comms and one Council was encouraging more film production, especially on internal campaigns.

To develop the profile of Councils and councillors and the work each does up and down the country, the survey proves that film is an essential weapon in the comms arsenal.

Comments from the survey’s ‘Your Thoughts’ section

  • YouTube has shown that the message of a film means as much as its production values. With the hostility of our local newspaper linking our videos through YouTube to hyper local sites with more of a community emphasis allows a fairer message to be delivered to our residents. Why should our message be at the whim of a aggressive teenage reporter out to make his name. Technology interfaces are making access to tools much easier for lay people. Local authorities should nor fear an amateurish effort, they have a home spun charm of their own.
  • Its a great opportunity and as we are continually living in a digital world local authorities (including my own) need to play catch up with technology and the use of film to market and promote the services we provide to our residents. Its a great opportunity to create new jobs in local authoritiues and potentially save money by having the expertise in house and continue to communicate more effectively.
  • Close collaboration between IT, Comms and L&D/OD is crucial to make the platform for film flexible enough for others across the organisation to work.
  • Egos – need to take account of this to ensure more effective films
  • More needs to be done to enable others to create film
How do you measure the success of a film?

How do you measure the success of a film?








The Local Government film survey was first published in the Summer of 2012 and, due to moderate response rates, was extended up until December. A total of 19 respondents took part in the survey. 

 With thanks to the Local Government Association communications team for its help in collating and publicising the survey.

P.S. I will add all graphs from the survey in due course – at time of going to press, a new WordPress update has rendered my image upload function useless – am on the case but if you’d like any more info or detail before then please just get in touch! :0)

What should we be learning from the Lord McAlpine case?

Listening to Radio Four on the drive home last night and the update on the Lord McAlpine Twitter story I couldn’t help but think about what the investigation, subsequent allegations and potential of legal action against Twitter users could mean for us in the world of comms.

In particular, I wanted to focus on the escalating legal web that seems to be engulfing social media (and in particular Twitter) and how this could, or should, be perceived by those in organisations who are currently using these platforms.

Much of my thinking is shaped from experience during sessions where myself and comms colleagues, acting as advisors and advocates of social media use for individuals within the organisation, come across a frequent and justified concern centred on the fear of saying something wrong and the repercussions this may bring to the individual, their job, the organisation and even their lives away from work.

Predominantly, in line with current thinking, the advice we tend to give in reply is to always exercise common sense, to Tweet and post as if talking to a public audience and to always pause, even get a second opinion, before hitting the Send button.

However, as the McAlpine case has highlighted, and it’s a question we should all be asking ourselves; is this, some may say, ‘laissez-faire’ attitude the right line to take right now and if not, what should we be doing as comms professionals to better exercise our credentials and support and advise these people?

I’m not suggesting we immediately change the current practise of encouragement and nurturing for those who want to enter the world of Twitter and I’m always conscious of knee-jerk reactions. But, as an ex-newspaper editor, I do believe that the time may have come for us to start giving the legal (rather than purely reputational) risks of social media use much more weight than we might currently do.

For its part, the legal system has been slow to keep up with the developments in social media and defamation and libel laws, and is currently doing its best to catch up and establish stability and precedent to cases of social media misuse. Rightly so I must add.

So, one would assume that when this happens in the near future, our Tweets and social media posts will be covered by a much more rigid and definitive set of laws. (On a positive note, this will act as a stabiliser and provide professionals with a clear set of guidelines from which to advise others.)

However, the pertinent question it does throw up is, as a result, just how much faith should we continue to put into the hands of ‘untrained’ professionals to communicate through social media?

My previous life in the press taught me only too well the perils and pitfalls that come with the often blurred areas of defamation, libel and public interest.  Even with a couple of years of dedicated journalism training – with an emphasis on journalism law – journalists themselves often get caught out by the law (hence why we have subs and editors to act as a gatekeeper). So how can we reasonably expect our non-trained social media users to have total confidence that they may not themselves inadvertently fall foul of the law?

For example, ask yourself, just how many of your social media users are aware that libel law says you don’t have to be named to be identified?

To compound the problem, the McAlpine case has brought the phrase jigsaw identification process much more into the public consciousness and again, this very real threat creates an entirely new set of concerns to consider.

So, how best do we adapt and improve in line with this recent sea-change in Twitter use – previously predominantly considered as a cuddly, positive communications ‘blanket’?

Do we now need to ensure our social media communicators undergo at least some kind of legal training or at the very least awareness-raising on the legal issues? Will this frighten them off even more, or do we continue as we are, safe in the knowledge that our “this is what we’re up to” style Tweets are relatively safe from any legal harm?

I’m not suggesting I know any of the answers right now; no doubt these will materialise and mould into shape as the law and best practise evolve. It seems like this is the state elsewhere too as once again we see and hear the arguments swing both ways between those for and against tighter social media control and how the McAlpine case should progress  – to sue or not to sue those who Tweeted or Retweeted allegations.

But one thing I do know is that right now, much of my concern lies with those sitting in both mine, and your, organisation who are either thinking about, or being asked to use social media and who must be feeling quite lonely and unsure indeed about whether they can or should, what help and clear guidance is available and how they can Tweet while avoiding these very real pitfalls?

In my mind, never has the need for a social media ‘expert’ been more apparent and necessary; one versed not only in good practise but also now in excellent legal knowledge. Is the role of social media communicator and the general media becoming more blurred as the legal implications of each start to merge, should large organisations consider having an ‘editor’ role in its social media use? Perhaps?

As always, there are often more questions than there are answers but for now, it’s in all of our interests, and it’s all our jobs, to ensure that we provide this role to our non social media professionals as quickly and as efficiently as possible.