Commscamp 2015 round-up

A plate of cupcakes decorated with piped icing and fruit

Commscamp – the annual unconference for communications-types in and around the public sector. I went, I found it hard to choose between the sessions on offer, I listened to interesting people talk about a host of communications topics, I ate cake.

What did I learn?

  • the organising team make running an unconference look easy, which takes huge skill considering the amount of time and effort they must have put in to pull everything together – huge round of applause to them all, especially for the work that means tickets are free
  • the more you pitch sessions, the less nerve-wracking it gets – feel the fear and do it anyway
  • it is impossible to get to all of the sessions you’d like to at an unconference
  • I love that nobody is ‘just’ anything, you are you and know your stuff whatever your job title may be
  • there are plenty of people out there giving things a try and they’re happy to share their learning
  • you will never have time to speak to all of the people that you’d like to, and it’s hard to use real names if you know someone by their twitter handle
  • that I can’t condense what I heard in the sessions I attended into one post, so have captured bulletpoints from:
  • the unconference format is one I enjoy, and I’m going to find it increasingly difficult to go to traditional conferences and just sit and listen
  • I wish there was something similar in East Anglia, and I’m working up the courage to sound people out about viability – starting small 
  • Pimms cupcakes are pretty easy to make and very tasty indeed

Photo: Commscamp15-033 by W N Bishop via Flickr

CommsCamp15 – engagement using WhatsApp

WhatsApp logo - a green circle with a white speech bubble design and a white phone icon in the middle, WhatsApp written underneath

This session was led by Geoff Coleman who can be found on Twitter @ColeBagski

  • Birmingham City Council (BCC) trialled using WhatsApp during the 2015 General and Local Elections
  • people were encouraged to sign-up to receive information throughout the elections
  • bought a £30 pay as you go Android phone, loaded WhatsApp and synced it to work desktop PC using WhatsApp Web, no cost apart for this as long as the phone is linked to a wifi network
  • used desktop WhatsApp Broadcast lists (up to 256 people per list) which act like an email blind carbon copy list – everyone on the list can see what you’ve sent out but not who else has received it, individuals can also send back messages to the broadcaster and no-one else will see them
  • WhatsApp can be a little shaky so less suitable for time-sensitive news
  • if you wanted everyone to see all of the messages back and forth you could use the group chat function instead, but this would make everyone’s details available – perhaps best for discrete internal groups with clear parameters
  • BCC asked local online influencer to help spread the word as well as using their own channels
  • just under 600 people signed up to the service – how to opt out was also made clear and easy- and attracted a younger profile than other social media audiences who weren’t necessarily following the Council’s Twitter or Facebook accounts
  • as it was an opt-in service, the majority of interactions were polite and productive, with good inquiries that help shape content, as interactions are not public less trolling or showboating as there’s no external audience
  • the BCC team sent out information and updates using text, video and graphics as well as updates from the election count as quickly as possible – hard to keep up on any channel when results are coming in thick and fast though
  • after the election users were asked for feedback which was positive overall
  • had support from chief executive Mark Rogers who was filmed to get across key messages – videos were short, shot on an iPhone and edited in iMovie
  • a few people did try to call or text the WhatsApp phone but were helped to sign up to the service
  • using WhatsApp did create more work over the election campaign but it was high quality engagement
  • which other services could use WhatsApp and deliver added value to publics? Suggestions included:
    • roadworks
    • arts and culture updates
    • adoption and fostering groups to put people in touch with each other and to share news and advice
    • virtual focus groups allowing people to contribute in a group setting but without the dynamics of a face-to-face group where quieter people can be overwhelmed
    • community forums and discussions
    • groups such as tenants and sheltered housing residents
    • first responder groups in an emergency or to potentially ask the public for incoming information
  • the application works well for niche campaigns, wouldn’t work as well for time-sensitive news – if you’re interested in X sign up here and we’ll send you Y as and when
  • Project WIP at Shropshire County Council has trialled using WhatsApp for residents to contact Councillors
  • are there other social messaging apps that could be used? Kik, Snapchat and YikYak were all mentioned but “why would you want to go into that space and would you be welcomed?” was a point made by one delegate

Image: downloaded from the WhatsApp media library

CommsCamp15 – is Facebook dead?

Facebook thumbs-up icon with meh written next to itThis session was led by David Worsell who you can find on Twitter @dworsell with some input from me asking how can we reach younger people as their social media use diversifies?

  • Is Facebook dead? No, but it’s no longer all-pervasive and, like all channels, its effectiveness depends on the type of audience you are trying to reach
  • Facebook’s advertising capabilities had been used by a range of people in the room who found it useful for targeting demographically and geographically – much more targetable than the classic ‘ad on the side of a bus’
  • according to one delegate, one in seven people use adblockers online, but adblocks don’t apply to Facebook
  • interesting facts and figures about media usage in the Ofcoms’s Adults’ media use and attitudes Report 2015 (as linked to by Neil Spencer include that across all age groups 66% of internet users use social media weekly, rising to 90% in the 16 to 24 years old age group
  • many felt that they originally signed up for a community network and that more was being pushed into their feed from corporate pages and through advertising, the community feel has gone although groups – geographical or interest-based – have increased in popularity
  • social media channels give different experiences and the diversification amongst them is fragmenting audiences
  • the profile of Facebook users seems to have shifted from early adopters to older people, as covered in this blog from the Government Digital Service (GDS) about social media trends in 2015
  • what you post on Facebook of course has an effect on who sees, likes, comments and shares on it – one council’s most popular post was a lost dog photo
  • Streetlife was cited as a local postcode-based social network which one delegate in healthcare had dipped their toe into, it may be that councils and other governmental organisations may be able to access wider areas: find out how Suffolk County Council have trialled using it

Where are all the young people?

  • the GDS social media trends blog post cited earlier, states: “Most importantly for Facebook it is the teen market who appear to be leaving the platform completely, or accessing it less. This could potentially have a snowball effect; if one teen stops using Facebook, soon their friends could follow to new platforms to maintain their communication.”
  • the feeling was that teenagers want to go where adults aren’t, and it doesn’t necessarily follow that organisations trying to reach young people will be welcome in these new spaces
  • Ofcom’s Children’s media lives report following eighteen 8 to 15 year olds was published in June 2015
    • it states: “Most of the children with Facebook accounts claimed not to be using them, and younger children showed minimal interest in joining the network.”
    • one 14 year old explains: “I don’t actually use Facebook any more because, I don’t know, no one’s really on it. I have Facebook Messenger because you can have a massive group all talking to each other but without actually going on Facebook.”
    • Facebook and Twitter were seen as “part of the adult world”, “slightly outdated” and “not targeted at younger people”
    • the report goes on to say that Instagram and Snapchat are popular with young people, the latter partly because of its perceived privacy
    • YouTube is the site most go to for both videos and searching, and vloggers are popular across the age range
  • James Cattell pointed people to a teenager’s view on social media, one view, but food for thought

Photo: Facebook Meh Button by Sam Michel via Flickr

CommsCamp15 – video beyond YouTube

Class of 2012

This session was led by Albert Freeman who you can find on Twitter @AlbFreeman

  • Albert has made slides available covering some of the following points
  • over past six months, Bradford Council have had good reach posting video directly on to Facebook
  • Facebook’s algorithm has opened wide to favour direct video posts, reach is reduced if you post a link to a video hosted on YouTube though
  • a video of Victorian tunnels underneath Bradford which was posted direct to Facebook garnered 1,000 likes, reached 53,000 people and had 20,000 views – helped by Facebook’s autoplay function
  • the same video posted to YouTube reached 9,000 Twitter accounts and had 1,500 views
  • captions on Facebook videos will display on the mobile app and help when people have the sound turned off when they are at work or in public
  • rough and ready good content will always work better than carefully crafted dullsville – there isn’t always a need to storyboard and spend hours sweating over the perfect edit. Public sector videos that are too glossy may attract negative feeling too, even if you’ve made it on a shoestring
  • don’t have great skills or video gear? You don’t need more than a smartphone these days, just make sure what you’re shooting is in focus and get recording – story is key, not Spielbergesque skills
  • short footage of an event in progress can be much more compelling than something staged – a Christmas market video for one council was hugely successful simply because it was timed well
  • how long should your videos be? The feeling in the room was that one minute or less was good, with three minutes the upper limit the average audience would watch for. Mixing up shots to include cutaways or stills with soundtrack overlaid for example helps to liven things up a bit and keep people’s attention – talking heads straight to camera could be offputting if they go on for too long
  • don’t just make and distribute a video for the sake of it, what are you trying to achieve – what do you want people to know, do, change? What’s your call to action? Have you made it clear or just got caught up in the video excitement, and anyway, is video really the best way to reach your target audience?
  • if you’re getting video from people on the ground WeTransfer, Dropbox and Google Drive were all mentioned as ways to transfer files, although all are only as quick as your internet connection will allow
  • Vine which produces six second looping videos was mentioned as a good way to get short messages across, trail longer videos, take a snapshot of an event or even take timelapse videos over time, there are some examples in Albert’s slides
  • if you’re taking photos of people in a public place they have no image rights, but ask for permission if you’re going to focus in specifically on them. If asking permission, a release form can be useful, and care must be taken for under 18s with parental/guardian permission secured. Makes sure your permission covers different uses such as print and social media
  • beware copyright infringement – photos, logos and music must not simply be lifted from the internet or ripped from your own collection. Creative commons open licensed photos and media are your friend as Andy Mabbet tweeted during CommsCamp
  • as well as being able to search for creative commons on Flickr other sites mentioned included FreeStockMusic and Pond5 plus YouTube has creative commons footage and music available when you create videos on the channel
  • need help with skills you don’t have like animation, graphics or voiceovers? Websites like Fiverr and People Per Hour can help you find experienced freelancers, the whiteboard animation app Videoscribe was mentioned and there are many others available for techniques like stop motion
  • consider making your video/s and image/s open licence, so that other people can use or adapt them too
  • remember that video can be a two-way communication tool – don’t just broadcast. Ask questions of your audience, what other videos they might like you to make and reply to comments. Making videos that no-one wants to see is a waste of time, energy and resources
  • don’t forget to evaluate whether your video has met its objectives
  • Steph Gray tweeted a link to a handy Department for International Development video guide
  • having problems with the first you hear of a video being made is when a 15 minute cut of talking heads emerges?
    • sell yourself and your knowledge, showing colleagues and decision-makers how you can make things better, working with people to do something great
    • create a best practice guide for use across your organisation, crowdsourcing good techniques and giving easy to follow dos and don’ts – this will also help with keeping tone and key branding similar
    • is there a place for digital ambassadors? Who in your organisation has skills and interests in this area – none of us is as smart as all of us
    • be helpful, not a blocker.

CommsCamp15 – media law

The Defamation Act 2013: Complete and Unabridged

This session was led by David Banks who you can find on Twitter @DBanksy

  • Changes to libel law came in on 1 January 2014 via the Defamation Act 2013
  • 12-month time limit to start legal action for libel if it appeared in print or online – used to be no time limit for online, this has now been brought into line with print
  • libel claimants have to show that their reputation has been seriously harmed
  • if you’ve got something wrong, apologise early and remove or correct defamatory content
  • if a media or other outlet has got something wrong about you, you may be able to ask that a correction/apology is prominently displayed, The Times recently put a correction on their front page
  • apologies and corrections are legally considered to undo any harm caused. This can be significant, as was seen in the Sunday Mirror and Midland Heart Housing Association ‘Benefits Street’ case
  • if you’re issuing press releases or similar about prosecutions, stick to the facts of the case and avoid comment on the character or behaviour of the person who’s been prosecuted
  • if frontline workers are attacked they can take out a personal libel case, councils and other public sector organisations are becoming increasingly politically wary of taking action on individuals’ behalf. In 2012 The Guardian questioned if councils should be doing this 
  • newspapers and other publishers are not immediately liable for unmoderated comments under their articles, however they do become liable if they’re notified of an issue and don’t do something about it
  • the comments function on Facebook pages cannot be turned off or moderated, but comments can be hidden or deleted. Facebook would be liable for comments made if they were notified of libellous content and they didn’t take any action
  • a council cannot sue for libel, as reported by The Independent following an action brought by Derbyshire County Council against The Times and others, “because any governmental body should be open to uninhibited public criticism and to allow such actions would place an undesirable fetter on freedom of speech.”
  • What is the definition of a ‘publisher’? If you have more than two people publishing news-related content, you may be defined as a publisher and be sued for libel as outlined in the Crime and Courts Act 2013. Exceptions include public bodies and charities publishing “news-related material in connection with the carrying out of its functions.” and multi-author blogs that come under “microbusiness” definitions
  • From 3 November 2015, publishers that are not part of a charter-approved regulator, and are sued for libel or harassment, may end up bearing both their and the claimant’s costs (again, as outlined in the Crime and Courts Act 2013)
  • The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) which replaced the Press Complaints Commission post-Leveson inquiry, will not be charter-approved, but another regulator – IMPRESS – aims to be

Photo: The Defamation Act 2013: Complete and Unabridged by RobertSharp via Flickr

Getting ready for 7 May

 Infographic showing candidate  and constituency information for South Cambridgeshire , including the 2010 results Just one week to go until the General and Local elections, which in the district I work in means one Parliamentary*, 19 district and four parish polls.

Working with elections, graphics, web and mapping colleagues, we wanted to pull together some useful tools to help local voters. Looking at what other councils have done previously, we plumped for an online polling station finder and infographics showing Parliamentary and District Council candidates and previous results.

Find my polling station

As a rural district, my area is entirely made up of villages. We have 120 polling stations, but only one location per village as we tend to run double stations. Most stations are in the same place each year, so why the need for a map, especially when we send out polling cards which give all of the relevant information?

  • polling cards are often mislaid so it helps voters to easily find out where their polling station is
  • we want to help dispell the assumption that you need your polling card to be able to vote
  • there are always new people moving into villages who may not know where the station usually is
  • polling stations do sometimes move – three are in diferent locations this year
  • there are up to three polls to vote in depending on which village you live in – the map tells you which polls are being held in each village, which is especially useful as residents vote in two different parliamentary constituencies

    You can find the map here – covering the whole district. We’re looking forward to seeing how many people use it in the run up to, and on, polling day.


    Infographic showing candidates for the South Cambridgeshire Balsham ward on 7 ay 2015, plus previous 2011 election resultInformation about candidates for all polls is available on the council and other websites, as are details about previous poll results. It’s not all in one place though, so taking a leaf from the fantastic election work from Birmingham City Council’s newsroom over the last few years, we’ve designed infographics for the Parliamentary and District elections. 

    Each infographic is available on the Council website as PDFs, and via Flickr as image files with a creative commons licence. We’ve also provided them to election count and local media via Dropbox, and sent links to local political bloggers who have kindly shared them with their followers.

    Why no infographics for Parish Councils? Logistically, creating them for the four Parish Councils going to poll, and the 28 which have seen candidates elected unopposed, is more difficult:

    • candiates tend to stand in just their name without political affiliation
    • there are many candidates for many seats – often more than ten at a time
    • many are elected unopposed, so there is not always comparative voting data to display. 

    We have still made candidate information available, but via the standard electoral Statement of Persons Nominated and Declaration of Results. It may be that we’ll come up with a more user-friendly way to do this in the future.

    Images: infographics from South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Flickr stream

    *When I say one Parliamentary poll, constituency boundaries mean that we deal with one constituency, but only some of our residents vote in it – some vote in the neighbouring constituency which is dealt with by a neighbouring council. And we also take on a ward of yet another council into our constituency. 

    Crowdsourced squirrels


    This post is a chance to share my favourite thing in my garden and a fantastic crowdsourced research project.

    The black squirrel in this video took up residence last year after a stand of horse chestnuts was felled locally, forcing him and his friends to move home. 

    Black squirrels are the same species as grey squirrels, just with a different pigment, and are commonly sighted in East Anglia after a gaggle of them were released in Woburn around one hundred years ago.

    Anglia Ruskin University have been crowdsourcing black squirrel sightings for a few years on their Black Squirrel Project website. The project aims to: “gather data on the geographical range of the grey and black squirrel in the British Isles. This data may help explain why the grey squirrel is such a successful invader here.” It’s a fun, easy to use website and you feel that you’re involved in some interesting scientific research. That’s a great use of the web in my book.

    Photo: Black Squirrel_3377 by Robert Taylor on Flickr