Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

Writing an effective tweet

Writing a tweet is easy – after all, what can you get wrong when you only have 140 characters to play with?

Quite a lot, it turns out.

Recently Ben and I did some training at a local authority up in the North-East, and part of it was a quick workshop on writing for the web and for social media. We spent a fair bit of time looking at Twitter as a medium.

We ran an exercise where everyone had a story for which they had to write a tweet to promote it. We went through the process a couple of times, with people rewriting their tweets to improve them, save characters, and that sort of thing.

Here’s some of the learning that emerged:

  1. Make sure it begins with an impactful, information carrying word or two. Tweets may be short, but they still need to grab the attention. Tweets beginning with ‘News’ or ‘Announcement’ are wasting space – we know it;s an announcement, else it wouldn’t be on Twitter!
  2. Use  a URL shortener to save characters – but customise it to make it human readable too, as this adds meaning and can save characters elsewhere
  3. Leave some space for old school retweeters and those who like to add a short comment to a retweet
  4. Formatting on Twitter is limited. Make use of capital letters to add emphasis – but sparingly
  5. Draft tweets and work on them – don’t publish your first go. Instead, go through it a couple of times trimming characters and improving the language
  6. Time your tweets – those posted in the morning tend to get more active attention than later in the day. Also don’t post on the hour – lots of automated systems are set up to do that and you might get drowned out
  7. Don’t be afraid of repeating a tweet so people can pick it up at another time or day – but don’t do it too often
  8. You need to work hard to appear authoritative in a social space so people feel they can trust the information you are providing. Ensure you include concrete facts to reinforce this
  9. A key thing for people getting information from social networks is the idea they are getting something special – use language that enforces the uniqueness of the content they are seeing
  10. Whatever you do, don’t automate this process! There’s nothing worse than those press releases pumped out onto Twitter, with half the tweet filled with “PRESS RELEASE” and then half the title missing on the end… just taking five minutes to think about what you are writing can make a real difference!

If a workshop on best use of social media in your organisation would be helpful – just get in touch! We’d be happy to chat about your requirements and design something that meets your needs.

Reputation: not a goal but a measure

I am not Dave Briggs*.

I’ve been following the #lgcomms12 hashtag this week. This is the label for tweets from the LGComms Academy event in Birmingham. It is much more lively than in previous years I must say and it sounds like they’ve been having a really interesting time.

Richard Stokoe from London Fire Brigade has caused quite a stir. He seems to have been arguing that Councils should not care about their reputation. I’ve put a flavour of the tweets in a Storify. Richard refuses to tweet himself.

It is pretty strong stuff for corporate comms professionals. Managing reputations is what PR professionals do. Already under threat from digital comms, from people “just doing it” within their own organisations they now face one of their own turning on them.

Which is all to the good.

I’m pretty sure that Richard Stokoe does care about the reputation of local government. He ran the LGA news team after all.

But he cares more about looking after people. When I interviewed him about how London Fire Brigade approaches social media he was very clear that it is all about stopping fires.

I agree with that approach, communications activity should be about changing people’s lives. It should be about making sure that the vulnerable know what services they can access, it should be about making sure that everybody makes use of the recycling service, it should be about transforming the way services are delivered.

Though I have concerns about where that narrative takes us. If local authorities cease to care about their reputation locally that could take them into some very dark areas.

Local authorities are important. They intervene very heavily in the lives of the most vulnerable in society and they shape the environment and economy for us all. They regulate things, they balance competing needs and wishes, they hold the ring in communities.

If we don’t trust or respect our local authority it will find it hard to deliver services. It may make people’s lives worse. It will become dragged into conflict and a cycle of failed projects and angry customers.

Local authorities should earn and re-earn trust. They should care about their reputation: not as a goal in itself but as a measure of how well they serve their community.

PR in local government should be a tool by which citizens can drive improvements in the council. It should not be a tool by which citizens can be persuaded their services are better than they are.

*This is my first blog on Kind of Digital’s site. I have my own blog where I write about digital comms and emergencies. The plan is that, as I often help Dave deliver projects and training, I may post on this site from time to time about non-emergency comms stuff. But I guess that depends on how many complaints the Kind of Digital team receives.

The digital press office

One innovation in the way that local councils communicate is the developments of digital press offices, or newsrooms.

There are two elements to these, I think. The first is having a digital savvy communications team, who get the growing importance of online new sources and the need for mixed media; as well as the increasingly realtime nature of news reporting. This tends to be the result of already existing inspiration in the team or through training.

The second is having the means to deliver on this, often through an online platform. Some examples of these include Birmingham, Shropshire, and Leeds who all have separate microsites for their digital newsrooms. I hear that Warwickshire have one in development that is close to release.

Often these site are using a lightweight, flexible publishing system like WordPress, rather than being a part of the corporate content management system (CMS). Why is this? I suspect there are several reasons:

  • Speed – using a tool like WordPress you can circumnavigate some of the process and workflow associated with a big enterprise CMS and get messages live as soon as you need them
  • Flexibility – WordPress and tools like it can handle pretty much any content you throw at it, whether text, images, audio, video
  • Conversation – the inbuilt commenting engine in WordPress means you can have a discussion with journalists and other media outlets – again, not the sort of thing that happens often on a corporate CMS

One way that such a platform can be used is to develop online news releases, rather than the more static traditional variety. Rather than sending out a PDF or Word document to journalists, the release can b published online, and the link sent out to people – so if there are any amendments made, the latest version is always the one that’s out there.

Photos, videos, related links and documents to download can all be embedded in there as well, so everyone has all the available media resources to work with as well.

What’s more, this way of doing things ensures a bit of visibility, and findability too. Rather than sending your release to the list of people you know, which is obviously pretty finite, by making it searchable online, many different people are likely to find it, and make use of it, whether they are newspapers or hyperlocal bloggers or whoever.

If you’re interested in developing a digital press office, or newsroom, at your organisation, do get in touch!

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Portfolio: sharing council comms resources

Portfolio looks an interesting idea, coming out of Nottingham City Council.

This, from an article at LGComms:

We’re launching Portfolio, a web portal that allows public sector organisations to share marketing materials. Councils and other public authorities can sign up to it for free and save money by buying ready-made, proven marketing campaigns. It also enables them to make money by uploading and selling their own designs.

Kind of an app store but for comms resources. Cool.

Right now it’s just traditional print media designs that are available, but I’m guessing it wouldn’t be too hard to include video assets, audio and so on.

Maybe even WordPress templates and the like?

Bookmarks for April 28th through May 18th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Bookmarks for February 23rd through April 4th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Radical transparency in local government – what can you do?

Something like Wikileaks couldn’t happen in local government, could it?

Watching LCC

Well, it looks like something similar is kicking off in Lincolnshire, with the Watching Lincolnshire County Council blog.

It’s a whistleblowing site, where disgruntled employees are sharing rumours, gossip and occasionally confidential details, all anonymously. Collective Responsibility have an interview with those behind it.

Whether or not this is the right thing for those behind the site to do is a moot point. The real issue is that the internet makes this kind of activity easy to do, and very difficult to stop.

All organisations need to be aware of the fact that any of their employees at any time could start something similar. And no matter how sophisticated your information management systems and processes, the fact that it’s human beings behind the controls means that any data can find its way into the public domain quickly and easily.

What can you do about it? First of all, acknowledge your lack of control here. You can’t stop this from happening. All you can do is to try and prevent the situation arising where employees might want to do this.

That means: be open in your communication, and involve and engage staff in any large scale change programme that might be taking place. Examples such as Watching LCC show that staff are increasingly willing to go to the internet to share their concerns – other instances include the setting up of Facebook groups to support staff in similar circumstances.

One way to prevent this is to provide a similar area for discussion within the organisation, such as simple discussion forums, or with tools like Yammer. Ensure staff trust the space, don’t manage it, and hopefully they will prefer to air their issues internally rather than in a public space.

There’s an assumption that face to face communications are always best. That may be true, but the problem is that they don’t scale well. As soon as you are dealing with groups larger than say 25, the intimacy is lost and there are better ways of dealing with it.

I remember being involved in an organisation-wide restructure when working in local government, and most of the communications involved hundreds of people trooping into the council chamber to hear the chief executive tell us what was going to happen to us. There was an opportunity to ask questions, in front of everyone. Unsurprisingly, not many people bothered.

Discussing issues openly and in a trusted online environment won’t be a panacea for employee engagement during times of significant change. But it might mitigate against the risk of staff going elsewhere to have these conversations.

Has anyone else heard of any public sector staff rebellions, using the web? Are any of your organisations actively managing the issue – and is it in a positive, constructive way, or a negative, let’s-shut-it-down way? The latter, of course, is bound to fail.

Where does social media belong?

Well done Ingrid, whose post has caused a number of interesting discussions to kick off. One is around where social media activity belongs within an organisation. She writes (on her newish personal blog, which you really ought to subscribe to)

2. Social media in local gov become the domain of Comms

A lot of comms people in local government have been resistant to social media, but 2011 marks the end of that. Hurray, you say. Danger! I say. Social media works best where it’s a conversation between real people. Comms teams work under a model of communication that facilitated messages going between monolithic entities – the council and the local newspaper. Or where it was a more disperse model, it’s the council and broadcast only mechanisms like advertising and newsletters to a passive public. This is the year that councils comms catches on to the free to use (but labour intensive) social media scene, but attempts to control the messages even more tightly.

Of course central communications must play a role, but the benefits of social media can only really be achieved when there’s a more federated model of communications. Councillors communicating more easily with their constituents. Local people sharing information among themselves and council officers sharing matters of fact and pointers to more information with local people.

Ingrid is broadly right here, and I don’t mean to be, well, mean to any of the loyal DavePress readers who work within communications teams.

The thing is, the value of social media isn’t just about communicating – it’s also about sharing, collaborating and being open. The danger in putting responsibility for all this activity in one department is that it threatens to make it a silo, something that isn’t the job for anyone else in the organisation.

This is another reason why I think the occasional appointments of ‘social media officers’ is probably misguided.

A handy analogy would be from my work in local government as a risk manager (yes, really). What I found was that an awful lot of people thought my job was to manage their risk. In fact, it was supposed to be about enabling them to manage their own risks, by providing tools and training.

The same I suspect would happen with a social media officer, or where people within a specific department (comms or elsewhere) control social media activity.

It’s vital to have champions of this activity, but try to have several, and for them to belong to different parts of the organisation to ensure no one department is seen to be in control.

There is an awful lot of good that can be done by communications teams with social media, but the opportunities in emerging web technology go far beyond marketing, PR and the like. For an organisation to get the most out of it, a more holistic approach is needed.