Category Archives: Guest post

Police, Twitter, and riots

Really pleased to be able to publish this post from Cisco’s Jeremy Crump on the use of Twitter by the police, with specific reference to the recent disturbances in London, Birmingham and other cities.

The widespread use of social media has been a significant feature of the riots in England over the last week. Looters used BBM to organise and swarm. In response, outraged citizens used Facebook  and Twitter to organise clearing up local streets. The police are making extensive use of social media. They have used it for keeping people updated about what has been happening, and very importantly for dispelling rumours when things haven’t been happening. They’ve used Flickr to crowd source collecting photographic evidence, and for getting citizens to help in identifying offenders. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary noted in their report on public order policing earlier this year that the police were lagging behind demonstrators in their use of social media. The service has had to learn fast.

What we have seen in the last week shows some real innovation, building on the  work of @nickkeane of the NPIA and innovators across the police service over the last three years. There will be extensive analysis of what worked and what didn’t over the coming months. An immediate pointer to the extent to which social media are becoming an essential aspect of policing is the growth of the number of people following police force twitter accounts.

Almost all of the 43 local forces in England and Wales have central twitter accounts, which are run by force comms departments and are mostly used for giving out public information notices, seeking information about incidents or reporting successes. Since June, the total number of followers of these sites has increased 121,000 to 347,000. Unsurprisingly, the forces with the biggest growth include those where there was the most unrest – Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, West Midlands and Derbyshire all show increases in the number of followers in this period of over 200%. So do Cambridgeshire, West Mercia, South Yorkshire and Hampshire. The biggest growth has been in the Met, which was relatively late in committing itself to the use of twitter. @metpoliceuk now has over 34,000 followers, against 2,900 in June. Of course, not all the 346,000 followers now following police force accounts in England and Wales are unique individuals – there is overlap between these groups. But the scale of the growth is striking. The experience of Greater Manchester Police from their GMP24 exercise last year suggests that these high numbers of followers will persist. A significant group of followers are media organisations and the publication of information through the site is a means for the police to feed their messages into a debate which goes wider than their immediate followers on Twitter.

There has been more modest growth in the number of followers of the accounts managed by neighbourhood and borough policing teams.  402 such accounts which were already set up in June and still used in august have grown from 108,000 to 166,000 followers – an increase of 54%. Some of them, such as @brumpolice and @suptpaynewmp have gained several thousand new followers.

There is more work to do in understanding how the police have used these sites, what the impact has been and what new and effective practices have emerged. Much will be changed by the events of the last week, including the way the police work with local citizens to share information and maintain confidence. We can expect the police service to build on what it has learned about the potential of social media for closer engagement with the public.

Note on the data

 The number of followers for 41 force accounts and 402 local policing accounts were downloaded on 22 June 2011 and 11 August 2011 using NodeXL, which is a free extension to Excel. http://nodexl.codeplex.com/. The source of the account names are the lists @nickkeane/ukcops-who-tweet and @nickkeane/uk-police-force-twitters. The local police list excludes specialist units, ACPO officers’ accounts and others which aren’t used primarily as channels for communicating with the local public.

Jeremy Crump is a director at Cisco Systems and was previously Director of Strategy at the NPIA. He will be publishing articles on the police service use of Twitter later this year.

Announcing moreopen micro-grants

Cross-posted from the new blog over on moreopen.org, here Steph announces some small-scale funding available for public sector-oriented digital events and projects:

As UKGovcamp 2011 fades into the memory, and exciting events such as ShropCamp (19 April) hove into view, it’s time to formally lift the veil on our mini grant scheme to help get more great public sector digital innovation off the ground.

UKGovcamp was a great event, and we managed to bring in enough sponsorship to cover costs, and set up a small fund to support follow up events. So far, four have been supported:

  • ShropCamp: how social media and open data can help service providers to work more effectively at a local level in and around Shropshire
  • Youth Work Online: the third national get-together of people interested in using the social web for youth engagement and participation
  • Localgovcamp: the national get-together of local government folk, held in Birmingham, to talk about digital stuff at a local level
  • MailCamp [working title]: a show-and-tell seminar event on how effective use of email can help public sector organisations reach audiences more cheaply and drive engagement at scale

But to cut a long story short, there’s still a bit of money in the pot, so we’re inviting applications from individuals and teams who have an idea for an event or project which ticks the following boxes:

  1. Is for people in, or interested in, the UK public sector
  2. Is about transparency, engagement or collaboration involving new technologies
  3. Doesn’t have much – if any – other funding or sponsors, and needs help to cover catering, venue or logistics costs
  4. Is run on a not-for-profit basis; ideally free to participants

So it might be that you want to run a weekend localgovcamp in your area. Or you might want to get together a group of people new to this stuff and run a pecha kucha evening. Or you might want to focus on something specific like film-making or consultation or using Facebook effectively in the public sector, and get people to show-and-tell their experiences.

The application process is really simple: use the application form on this site to tell us:

  • a little bit about who you are
  • what your event or project is about
  • what you need the money for

You can bid for any amount up to £1,000, but we expect most grants for small events to be around £250 or £500: enough to cover pizzas or a large room if you can’t find one for free.

The grant scheme will be run on a rolling basis, until the money runs out, so don’t delay in making your application. Having a bit of seed funding behind you will hopefully make you a stronger candidate for sponsorship by other organisations, so the idea is to help you get the ball rolling.

FAQs

  1. Can you run the event for me?
    No, sorry. We just help with a bit of money. We’re still knackered from organising UKGovcamp.
  2. OK, but can you promote it for me?
    To an extent, we’d love to. We’ll tweet and blog about it here, and can set you up with a subsite on http://www.ukgovcamp.com if you want. In any case, we recommend you set up a group and get people talking about the event, to sound out interest and ideas for content.
  3. How big is the grant fund?
    Not very. A few grand altogether.
  4. I’ve got an idea but I’m not sure it’s what you’re looking for
    Drop us a line and let us know what you’re thinking about. There’s no harm in asking, and it’s a very informal process.

 

Pulling, Not Pushing: How To Make Me Pay Attention

In my previous post about online listening, I mentioned RepKnight, a soon to launch lightweight tool for tracking keywords across social media services. In this guest post, RepKnight’s Lyra McKee talks about getting people’s attention online without irritating them.

RepknightSocial media is like the Internet in 1999; no one’s quite sure how best to use it or what exactly it should be used for. This tends to lead to a lot of bad behaviour, mainly by those trying to engage or market to citizens. At times, it verges on spam, with scheduled marketing messages and PR copy blasted in your ear like a trumpet.

The marketing spin gets our attention but it doesn’t make us “pay” attention; like the man being scolded by his wife to clean the living room while watching the Arsenal match, we’re listening but tuning the noise out so that the message doesn’t get through anyways. So how does someone make us “pay” attention on social media? And how can you get those you want to engage with to pay attention to you?

In the Web 2.0 world, marketing and adverts no longer impact us. We’re no longer wowed by the glossy billboard or TV ad. The only messages getting through are those that contain value. They are the ones that make us “pay” attention.

I separate the value providers in my Twitter and Facebook streams into 3 categories:

  • The Influencers: These people are like the parents of teenagers who actually do as their told. In our eyes, they have credibility so we listen to their every word. Generally, they’re either celebrities or industry thought leaders.
  • Friends: Our peers bring us value by satisfying our need for social approval (and sometimes making us laugh).
  • Founts of Knowledge: These are the folks who tweet links the rest of us find useful, like marketers who Tweet links about how to use Facebook and Twitter properly. We visit their social network profiles again and again to see if they’ve tweeted any news or info we’ve missed.

If you’re not the first or second one, you need to be the third one.

The important thing when pushing links and information is to be aware of who your audience is and question if it’s relevant enough to them. Try to add an element of engagement to the information; ask a question, like “What’s everyone think of the latest news *insert link*”. Use a tracking tool such as Bit.ly that lets you monitor how many people click the link.

Most of all, add to the conversation – not with your opinion (unless asked for it) but with useful tips and hints. You must constantly be bringing gifts to the table. This will get you noticed and make your target Tweeters and Facebookers pay attention.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to Tweet or Facebook me at @RepKnight; alternatively, follow me on my personal Twitter account @LyraMcKee or email me at lyra@repknight.com.

 

Stimulating informed debate around AV

Steph provides an update on the AVdebate project (cross-posted from Helpful Technology).

Six weeks ago, Dave kicked off a little project which he described as follows:

I’m rather interested in the referendum that we are going get get next May in the UK about changing our voting system.

It occurs to me that it isn’t an issue I have a particularly strong understanding of, and I’m sure that’s the case for a few other people as well.

So, with the help of friends like Anthony and Catherine, I’ve kicked off AVdebate – which will be an online space for constructive, deliberative debate and learning about voting reform, which will hopefully help folk make up their minds.

For now, AVdebate is a Google Group with a dozen or so people on it, but there’s already been some interesting activity:

My small recent contribution was to start thinking about how the site might be organised, and how you might start to visualise a debate of this kind online. A timeline? A mind map? The pros and cons? Or something else?

There’s great potential in this kind of site, that takes the work of pioneers like Debategraph and uses a combination of curated and original content, social media aggregation, and a really good interface to help host and stimulate an intelligent discussion about a tricky question. The AV referendum feels like a great testing ground, but I see potentially much wider application to help explore the big policy questions of our time. What’s the economic case for cuts vs stimulus? Why is tackling climate change difficult? How can we improve the lot of people in the developing world? What would it take to make our society more socially mobile?

It would be great to have some more minds and ideas on the job. If you’re interested in this stuff – whether it’s the content, the aggregation, the user interface or the sociology of it all – then it would be great to have you on board the Google Group. It feels like we could build something really quite clever if we put our collective minds to it.

6 months of Google

Paul McElvaneyPaul McElvaney, Director at Learning Pool, posts an update on how the company is faring with Google’s suite of enterprise tools for email, calendaring etc.

Learning Pool moved its corporate systems like email, calendaring and document storage into a Google service. I wrote about it at the time but thought we’d do an update on what our experience has been since.

In general terms the move has been a real success. We’ve never lost connectivity, our service is reliable and robust and there are no performance issues. It also lets us work in a different and often more efficient way. All that being the case, there are a few things that are different from what we were used to and in some cases not as good. While these things definitely aren’t as good a reason to despair, they might be useful for someone. Here goes:

  1. The new solution have us no way of managing our desktops in the office. This seemed like a solvable problem but in the end we relented and bought an Active Directory licence which cost about £2,000. Not bad value but we hadn’t budgeted for it and it was a bit of a pain – at least we can print again though!
  2. Connectivity with iphones just isn’t as good as with an Exchange set-up. Things like calendaring are a bit weird and we miss the Exchange set-up for this
  3. Using Outlook isn’t a wonderful experience with Google. In hindsight we should have banned Outlook and forced people to use the Google interface but we may have had a mutiny if we’d one that!
  4. Mail is sometimes unexplainably slow – it always arrives eventually but if its 4 hours late its a bit of a problem. That said if your exchange server goes down, 4 hours looks like a walk in the park!
  5. Google spreadsheets are a real let down – they are fine for managing simple spreadsheets but once you go into an complexity (like introducing a formula for example!) then you are pretty much on a hiding to nothing!
  6. Everything changes a lot – while this is fine in the main and the changes are normally good, things like removing docs offline access caused a stir!
  7. Training is a bit of an issue. I know I know, Learning Pool should be on top of this, but we have struggled to help some of our users learn how to use the technology most effectively. The stuff that Google give you is pretty good but you always need to spend some time with non-technical users so that they are up to speed. When you don’t do this, as we didn’t sometimes, acceptance of the system tanks pretty quickly.

As I said, those things are slightly annoying but we can, and are, living with all of them. Overall, I’d heartedly recommend moving to a Google environment to handle the boring stuff like email and calendars – and whilst the Google productivity apps (word processing, spreadsheets, presentations) can’t quite match the desktop equivalents for features or power, their web enabled sharing and social functions make them a fantastic part of the toolkit, especially for a distributed workforce like ours.

We’re also keeping our eye on developments in places like Los Angeles, where the city government is moving across to Google Apps. Here’s a video explaining why they went for a cloud based solution:

LocalGovCamp Yorkshire and Humber

All Aboard the Great Yorkshire & Humber LocalGovCamp Train!

Departing from: The National Railway Museum in York (only 2hrs from London)

Departure date: Saturday 12 June 2010

For tickets and more information: www.localgovcamp-yh.co.uk

This first LocalGovCamp under the new Coalition Government will undoubtedly see some big issues debated, not least the future of local government itself.

The landscape has changed considerably since Dave organised the first event in Birmingham last June and our focus is now firmly on achieving more with less, or even less with less. So what of technology, social media, co-design and citizen participation? What about new ways of working enabled by technology and what of our digital future and vision?

If these questions are of interest, or you have some of your own, hop on the train and join in the debate in beautiful York. Bring an open mind, some passion and some ideas to share and explore. Bring a sense of fun too, it is a Saturday after all.

LocalGovCamp Yorkshire & Humber will also feature short parallel work streams for elected members on the use of social media, sessions being led by colleagues from Kirklees with input from Cllr Tim Cheetham (Barnsley), Cllr Simon Cooke (Bradford) and Ingrid Koehler (IDeA & Connected Councillor Programme).

If you work in local government perhaps you can ensure your Democratic Services colleagues inform your elected members of this opportunity.

The event is FREE for all to attend and as a bonus we’ll be having a World Cup themed after party to celebrate (we hope) victory for England in their first match!

You can book your tickets now: www.localgovcamp-yh.eventbrite.com

Twitter: @localgovcampYH and #LGCYH

UKGovCamp group: http://www.ukgovcamp.com/groups/yorkshire-and-the-humber-localgovcamp/

See you in York – WooooOOOoooWooooOOOooo!

Moving to Google Apps…and surviving!

Dave says: Paul is a director of Learning Pool, and thus my boss. When he offers to contribute a post to this blog, I don’t have to say yes, but it kind of makes sense to do so. As well as being someone who knows how to run a great business, Paul also has an understanding of big IT that I simply don’t, thus he is much better placed to write about this than me!

Everyone knows that Learning Pool is all about collaboration, sharing and saving money.

Over the last three years it has also been all about growing a busy and successful business too.

While most of us at #teamlovely just want to meet customers, sell business and do interesting projects, someone has to make sure the lights stay on and that our growing team can continue to work efficiently, no matter where they were.

A few months ago I realised that at least some of this responsibility was mine. I was sitting in an airport (can’t remember which one) unable to connect to our exchange server.Frustrated, I called our tech team and asked them what was up. They fixed the immediate issue but reminded me that the server we were using was

  1. old;
  2. underspecified;
  3. overworked.

Some joviality along the lines of ‘it should see my diary and see what overworked really is!’ later, I received a quote to replace our internal systems with the latest that Microsoft and Dell had to offer.

The response left me running straight into the arms of Google!

We implemented Google Apps in around five weeks and are using the service for email and documents. In the next few weeks we’ll also be moving to Google Sites, from Sharepoint, having trialled this extensively and successfully.

While the project was pretty straightforward, there were a few things to consider that we would have thought should be just easy:

  • How do you set up a LAN without an expensive piece of Microsoft kit and associated licencing? – Google have no good ideas about this so we’ve gone with a standard Windows Server workgroup (much to the displeasure of @ianmoran!);
  • How do you deploy updates to each PC? – answer is that you don’t so you’re expecting all your users to be diligent about keeping their kit up to date;
  • What about all that historical data? – there are a number of solutions for getting archived email data into the Google cloud. We found a real restriction with our upload speed which made this process a pain we could have done without.

And so to Google Apps…

The Good

  • Excellent support. The guys at Google listened to what we wanted to achieve and then in a very matter of face way did it;
  • You can save money. The total cost of ownership of a Google based approach is much lower than a traditional solution. We’ve spent around £6,000 on hardware and licenses. The alternative was a £35,000 project. While we will need to pay an annual subscription to Google, having to pay out less cash has been very welcome;
  • Collaboration – Google docs just works. Several people can collaborate on a document across the net in real time;
  • Google works offline – we didn’t really expect it to, but it does!
  • No more Sharepoint – while I’m sure Sharepoint is a valuable and well built tool, it became the subject of intense hatred at Learning Pool over the last few years. I guess we didn’t invest enough in the initial set up and training. Although my experience is that Google Sites is far better in terms of its ability to enable collaboration.

The Bad

  • Google is a work in progress. I can pretty much guarantee that if you see something you don’t like, the answer from Google will be “we’re fixing that”. On the one hand that makes me feel better about the approach we take at Learning Pool – I have no doubt some of our customers feel the same frustration. At least we know they are working on it I guess;
  • Collaboration requires a Google account – I think this will be a seriously limiting factor in the long run, particularly as we work with organisations who are mainly public sector;
  • We still use Outlook – much and all as we would love to get rid of this, we’re reliant on Outlook for integration with our CRM – something we just can’t live without. No doubt though that Google mail works best in the browser;
  • Managing PCs on our ‘network’ is now pretty difficult – over time this could become a real overhead but we’re working on it as best we can for now;
  • Google Spreadsheets – in my opinion this just doesn’t work right now – the functionality isn’t rich enough and its routinely too slow to use and so there’s no way we can leave Excel behind just yet;
  • Google sites don’t really support hierarchy – this means that all your sites exist at the same level and you need to stitch it together with some html yourself;
  • Search on Google sites isn’t security trimmed. If a user searches all sites they’ll get documents returned that they don’t have permission to. We did have a bit of a chuckle at how Google have mucked up the search function – they are working on it of course (release due in a few weeks!)

On the whole then I’d recommend Google Apps as a way forward for providing groupware for a small to medium sized enterprise like Learning Pool. We like the idea of software as a service and five weeks into the project, most things work just as well as before and some things work a lot better indeed.

Nice work Google (and the Learning Pool and Konnexion teams too of course!). Kenny, our Head of Tech, has written two posts covering the operational side of the big switch over on the LP blog.

The World of GovCraft

Dave says: Carl is a local government blogging legend, who works at Devon County Council as an Enterprise Architect. This post originally appeared on his blog, but he graciously allowed it to be published here, too.

Inspired by the excellent Joanne Jacobs at the recent Likeminds event in Exeter to think more about the role of games and game play in solving problems and creating solutions.

I started to think about how Government in general could be seen as a game so that we could not only engage people in the problems and challenges we all face but actually inspire them to be part of the solution and help make changes happen.  In the lunchtime session that Joanne facilitated she spoke very passionately about the role of games and how we all play games all the time but just don’t realise it.

I kind of hit a blank wall as the big picture of Government is pretty boring, but the individual components that make it are actually interesting. So how do you start to get to a level of engagement and participation that inspires the average person on the street to want to get involved.

I then came across this excellent TED video of Game designer Jane McGonigal who spoke about harnessing the power of game mechanics to make a better world. Surely this is the stuff that Government innovators should be thinking about.

In the video she talks about “gamers” and the super powers they have developed and how these super powers can help us solve the worlds problems.

The 4 super powers that gamers have are:

Urgent Optimism – extreme self motivation – a desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.
Social Fabric – We like people better when we play games with people – it requires trust that people will play by the same rules, value the same goal – this enables us to create stronger social relationships as a result
Blissful productivity – an average World of Warcraft gamer plays 22 hours a week: We are optimised as humans to work hard and if we could channel that productivity into solving real world problems what could we achieve?
Epic meaning – attached to an awe inspiring mission.

All this creates Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals – People who are individually capable of changing the world – but currently only online /virtual worlds

So what is the chance of Government creating a meaningful game that inspires people to get involved, help change the world around them and contribute positively to the social fabric around them – Hold on a minute, haven’t we got something that is supposed to do this = Democracy? The challenge we have to make engagement and participation more engaging not just to young people but to people in general is to start inviting people into the game and make the game more interesting to start with.

So some observations:

If people have “Urgent Optimism” then what are we doing to tap into that to help solve and tackle obstacles?

if people have a “Social Fabric” what we are we doing to build trust with them and do we play by the same rules and share the same goals?

If people have “Blissful Productivity” then what are we doing to mobilise and optimise the people around us in our communities to work hard at solving real world problems

If people can be inspired around “Epic Meaning” what meaning are we providing in our engagement  and participation offering?

We should recognise that games are powerful in more ways than we can imagine, we need to think hard and fast about how we can develop the right kinds of games to engage people and to involve people in shaping their future and solving common problems

The video is 20 minutes but is well worth watching.

A digital engagement glossary

DictionaryThis glossary of social media and digital engagement terms comes from a recent piece of my strategy work. It’s skewed towards the government sector, in terms of language and examples. Feel free to use any of this that might be useful for other purposes. Or to challenge my definitions. Or, perhaps, to add glaring things I’ve missed. There are probably no definitive answers to some of these, but I hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.

Blog: Derived from “Web log” – originally a regularly-updated journal on which visitors (and the original author) could leave comments. Now generally used for a site (or section of a larger site) where text-based content can be created in the form of short articles, almost always open for comments to be posted. These comments may be subject to some degree of moderation.

Campaign site: Website created in association with a specific promotional campaign; usually for a defined period of time; may include facilities to receive user feedback and present an opportunity for engagement.

Commentable document: A facility for hosting a document under review, usually divided into manageable sections, and permitting comments to be left for the author – and to permit dialogue between commenters. Combines some of the features of a wiki for collaborative working, but retaining an initial document structure throughout. Has been used on a number of government policy documents made available for digital consultation. One tool that delivers this functionality (an implementation of WordPress) is Commentariat. e.g. http://interactive.bis.gov.uk/lowcarbon

Content-based networking sites: e.g. YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, TripAdvisor – sites based on content of a certain type (e.g. video, images, reviews) with a strong element of user feedback, user-generated content (UGC) and elements of social networking (e.g. ability to create groups, forums, favourites, peer-to-peer relationships etc.)

Crowdsourcing: The use of digital (or other) media to allow the contribution of information or ideas from a wide range of people, usually around a topic, a question, or a request for innovative suggestions.

Dashboard: a utility that searches and aggregates information from many channels across the internet, and displays it all in one place, in real time, for management, monitoring or consumption purposes. Example: http://www.netvibes.com/socialcare

Digital engagement: The use of interactive techniques to improve service delivery and information provision via digital media technology.

Email subscription: Although not ‘social’ in terms of community formation and peer-to-peer interaction, allowing users to register email addresses to receive personal(ised) updates represents a form of digital engagement. Digital tools build a two-way relationship: the user receiving content, and also experiencing some sense of being part of a community, even as information recipient.

Forum: Area for registered members to discuss specific topics. Can form part of a wider overall site. Characterised by a core user base making multiple contributions and often sharing relationships or culture. Forum content may or not be moderated.

Group: A type of forum generated by users within a social networking or similar type of site. Shares many of the characteristics of a forum, but can be more volatile. Members (who are a subset of the members of a larger form or social network) will typically interact for a shorter period of time, usually around a specific single issue. Creation of fan pages (or similar designations) also effectively forms a Group.

Metadata: Information about information. Often invisible to the user, metadata allows content to be classified, structured and sorted. Tags represent a use of metadata.

Microblogging: e.g. Twitter, Identi.ca, Yammer (the latter within corporate environments). Member communities sharing short message content, openly and by direct peer-to-peer message. Highly flexible in their use, and prone to rapid escalation of issues: creation of “a Twittermob”.

Moderation: Editorial judgement over or control of user-generated online content. Numerous varieties exist, from moderation by peers or by the site owner/author, to outsourced arrangements where professional moderators assess and process comments on a larger scale.

Post: To publish content to a blog, micro-blog, forum or website, either as a new topic or as a comment on existing content. Also, as a noun, to describe the content posted (synonymous with ‘blog post’, ‘forum post’ etc.).

Private social networking site: A social network intended for a specific community of interest. Offers similar features to an open social networking site, but almost always sets conditions and controls over entry and participation. E.g. sites set up using Ning.

User-generated content: Any content provided by users, rather than the owners of an online environment. May or may not be moderated (see above)

User feedback: A specific type of user-generated content: that created as a response to provided informational content. Can take the form of freeform text comments, ‘votes’, likes/dislikes, or more detailed survey-type information.

Social bookmarking: A method by which people can store, organize, search and share articles, blog posts and other information. There are many different libraries, each with their own bookmark, including Digg, de.lici.ous and Reddit. Increasingly, posting content links as tweets or to Facebook profiles provides a common form of bookmarking.

Social marketing: The use of marketing techniques to achieve desired social outcomes (e.g. behaviour change). May or may not involve the use of social media. Included here to avoid confusion with social media marketing.

Social media: Digital tools that permit people and organisations to interact freely with low (or no) barriers to entering a conversation. The nature of the relationships between social media users is often as important as the content they share – the ‘social’ aspect is very important.

Social media marketing: The use of social media to promote a particular cause or product. May or may not have social marketing implications. Included here to avoid confusion with social marketing.

Social networking site: A website offering general-purpose networking features to all who may want to join. Facebook dominates the adult market; Bebo has a focus on a younger/teenage audience; MySpace is now focused on music/video content and may be regarded as a content-based networking site, albeit one with a high membership.

Tags: Keywords describing online information that allow other users to search for relevant information.

Twitter: The best known of the micro-blogging platforms. Users contribute short messages, either on the twitter.com website, or using a number of third-party ‘client’ applications: whatever the route, interaction happens in a consistent and open way. Terms include:
Tweet: to post content (short messages up to 140 characters long)
Re-tweet: to republish another’s post. Good for spreading messages widely, or adding commentary to them
Hashtags: words or phrases preceded by ‘#’. This allows them to be grouped together and easily searched.

Webchat: A structured discussion using instant messaging to a host, who then responds. Usually moderated.
Example: http://webchat.number10.gov.uk

Wiki: An open collaboration environment in which users may freely (or with some controls) create and modify content as a community. The best known example is Wikipedia, where an open community collaborates to create an encyclopaedia, but wikis can be used for tasks as varied as communal creation of a policy document, or managing the names and interests of attendees to an event.


Dave writes… Paul Clarke is a very nice man who is also very clever and good at lots of things. He blogs at honestlyreal where a version of this post previously appeared. You’ll find him on Twitter – @paul_clarke. He’ll also be coming to the Learning Pool conference on 12th May to take a few photos and join in the conversations.

How to be an everyday innovator

PlugsAlongside watching James Graham Gardner’s book on innovation develop online, I was reminded recently about the concept of ‘everyday innovation’ – making innovation something that we all do in our day jobs, rather than something mystical and abstract which is done by pointy-heads in research labs (and alternatively, as more than something as meaninglessly fluffy as a bit of random brainstorming).

In as much as the stuff my team does is ‘innovative’ in a low-key, process-oriented kind of way, I thought I’d describe how we go about it. There’s really not a great deal to it.

1. Gather stuff

Read lots about the work and experiences of people in similar fields to you (for me, government webbies), parallel fields (government non-webbies; webbies outside of government; supplier blogs; technology magazines) and totally different fields (random New York bloggers; lifehackers; science bloggers).

Use tools like Delicious, Instapaper and starred items/favourites in Twitter and Google Reader to keep track of interesting ideas, technologies and individuals. For example, I tag interesting WordPress plug-ins, themes, projects and people so I can find them when I need them.

Go to events (like UK GovWeb Barcamp, TeaCamp, gov 2.0 conferences) and make time to talk to people who work in interesting fields, even if there’s not an immediate project on the table to work on. My first professional WordPress project, the commentable version of Innovation Nation, came out of a chance coffee with Glyn from Open Rights Group about their use of the tool. Of course, there’s a small risk of developing a reputation as a time-waster here, so be up front about your interest and whether you’re just interested or want specific help.

Play (briefly) with new tools you come across. Get a sense of whether they’re useful yet, whether they’re good value and how they might be used. Most tend to be free, after all, so try them for 10 minutes and see what you get out of them.

Bottom line: have plenty of links, tools and contacts floating around ready to use.

2. Connect things together in a new way

Take something you’ve gathered – maybe a tool, a contact or an approach – and see how it would fit into one of the projects that lands on your desk:

Build in analytics and measures to help you track the success or otherwise of the new approach – Google Analytics, Bit.ly stats, or some manual work to benchmark before and after mentions/downloads/perceptions and feedback from the people involved. When you’re innovating, it’s not just about the output – whether the process itself worked is a valuable learning too.

Think about the risks involved too and what you can do about them. What if it doesn’t work? (Fall back to the traditional way of doing it). What if we get overwhelmed with feedback? (Great problem to have! Anyway, in that unlikely event, there are people who can help) But it’s not accessible! (Do your best, and have good, accessible alternative content in place. If it takes off and you start using the approach regularly, you can make it more fully accessible in due course).

Bottom line: take a real world project, try doing it with a new tool or technique. See if it works better or worse than the normal way. Have answers to people who ask you about the risks involved.

3. Share it widely

On the face of it, this looks like the hardest part, in that projects that don’t work or seem risky are potential bad news stories that won’t do much for your credibility. Personally, I’ve hardly ever encountered resistance to talking about the things we’ve tried or negativity when I’ve done so, though to be honest I usually try to couch the less successful results in context of some positives too. Being human, I sometimes don’t bother writing – even though I should – about the most dismal failures. But without talking about your approach and its results, I’d argue you’re not really innovating – to do that, you have to provide something others can see, learn from and build on.

Blog and tweet about it. Take screenshots and present them as warts-and-all case studies at events. Volunteer to run seminars internally and externally to share your learnings. If you can, release what you’ve done in a form and with a licence others can re-use – especially if it’s code or a methodology. Sure, it takes time, but not only will others get something, you’ll benefit from the feedback and improvements people suggest.

Bottom line: make an effort to communicate what you did, how, and what you learned. Be frank and open, but above all, be shameless.

Steph works in digital communications in central government and blogs at http://blog.helpfultechnology.com

Photo credit: Eisenrah