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 – 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.

Learning by doing – Parklife 2014

Last weekend I helped out at my council’s biggest event of the year, a sports-based family fun day at our local country park. It was great, even though we had to close early due to a torrential thunderstorm. Lightning plus watersports and climbing walls aren’t a great mix.

Here’s a Storify of tweets and other links from the day. It was the perfect event to use social media to encourage people to attend, talk to people and organisations who were there on the day and showcase highlights. It was also a learning curve:

  • Vine is a brilliant app and dead easy to use – I made a few videos of set-up and activities during the day, Owned by Twitter, Vine takes six-second looped videos you can easily share. You can shoot continuously or film shorter chunks in a stop-motion fashion that run as one video. I was shown how to use Vine in less than ten minutes at LocalGovCamp by Albert Freeman (thank you again!). If I can use it, anyone can. Honest.

  • Hashtags help – our event hashtag of #Parklife was a great way to find other tweeters at the event, making it easier to chat with them and retweet their information and photos. So much more fun to have conversations than seemingly talking to yourself. Easy to speak in ‘human’ at this kind of event too.
  • Hashtags can be problematic – a drawback to our use of #Parklife was that a music festival was also using it – and it’s in general use as a pop culture reference – so the timeline needed a bit of sifting. A learning point for future events.
  • Photos, photos, photos – pictures and video really are worth a thousand words, especially when you’re limited to 140 characters. We tried to tweet photos where we could, and it was fantastic to see and share photos from other council staff, volunteers and activity organisers. Here are a few of my favourites.

  • Video and photos use up battery life super-fast – fantastic as video, photos and social media are, boy do they gobble up your battery. I got to the event at 9.30am with 84% battery life and my phone ran out of juice by 1.30pm. There was nowhere to easily recharge. This was an issue, especially when the decisions to postpone activities, and later call it a day, were taken. Luckily, a colleague generously handed over their smartphone and I was able to log on to Twitter and Facebook. I’ll be investing in a portable recharger for the future.
  • Storify is an easy way to collate and share content – as a way to capture online content from different sources,  I’m enjoying using Storify. It’s not flashy but is fairly straightforward to use and you can quickly create, share and update a timeline of an event. Handy as reference guide for repeat events too.

All in all it was a great event, which even the rain couldn’t take the edge off. I’m looking forward to next year when I think we’ll improve again on the social media side. After all, there’s always room for improvement.

2014 elections – what I’ve learned

Polling card showing council logo and the words "Poll Card. Voting on Thursday 22 May"Elections – there were a few about last week. In the district my Council serves, we administered elections for the European Parliament, one County Council by-election, 19 District Council seats and three Parish Councils. It was busy.

It’s the first election where I’ve really been able to get my teeth into tweeting and posting on Facebook about the election and counts. It’s been a big learning curve, especially as I was also running a polling station and an election count supervisor at the same time.

Some of the things I’ve learned:

Elections and Storify go together like cheese and picklethe Storify of our election ran throughout polling and both the local and European election counts. From 22-25 May it was published with the most recent post first so that readers could find the newest information straight away. Post-election it’s been reordered chronologically. It’s had over 300 hits and was inspired by the Birmingham City Council elections Storify by @ColeBagski

Have back-up tech – running a polling station in a bowling pavillion is fun. It’s not wi-fi central though. Thankfully my 3G dongle was up to the task of keeping me online and posting, as was my trusty smartphone. It also proved crucial at the local count, as social media sites were restricted on the guest wifi service.

First-time voters can be a bit shy – I was really keen to get a photo and quote from someone who was coming out to cast their first vote. It’s one of the best things about running a polling station, seeing young people using their vote and being heard.  I asked three voters before finding someone willing to let me tweet their picture. One completed trusty photo permission form, and it was done.

Be prepared when tweeting election results – ahead of the count I created a cut-and-paste sheet of district wards and candidates, ready to drop results into. It also noted which political party held the seat going into the election. Even with this, it was a job to keep up with results as they came in thick and fast. I think it’s something that we’ll get better at as a team with practice.

Photos of results are OK – when it came to our Parish Council results, two had 15 seats and one had 20 candidates. I have no idea how many tweets those results would have had to have been spread across because we took a picture of the results declaration sheet instead. Much more immediate and, in some ways, more interesting as it shows some of the background of how elections are run.

We sent out a photo of our European election local totals this way too, which was retweeted nine times, reaching an estimated 10,809 Twitter account timelines.

Overall, our election tweets reached the timelines of over 50,000 unique users, and the potential number of times tweeters could have seen the hashtag topped 340k.

Photos, in general, are fab – let’s be honest, elections can get a bit word heavy. We tried to send out photos on Twitter where we could to make our messages more interesting. The ones that get a lot of interest each year are from our chief executive and returning officer, Jean Hunter, as ballot boxes return to the council offices.

We also tried to add photos to as many Facebook posts as possible, to make them stand out. Our stats show that our page likes were up by 16.4% and our total reach increased by 156.7%, with overall engagement up by over 480%. People want election information and will click/share/comment on it.

Get your hashtag straight – we agreed to use #SCDCelection; checking first that it wasn’t being used elsewhere of course. It may be that a more local version of the national #Vote14 would work better in future. For the European count, we followed the lead of the Regional Returning Office and used #EuroElection. Will we see a more coordinated approach to hashtags for future elections across the UK?

We’ll get better at this – I can already see where we can do things better and smarter next time around. I’m pleased with our social media work this time around, but can see where we can boost some areas, build on others and generally just keep on improving.

The Storify will be handy as we now have a permanent timeline of our work to act as a benchmark for the future. And by using analytics, we can see if our total reach changes at each election. Roll on #Vote15!


The art of promotion

I’ve seen a few good examples of social media-related promotion lately. They’re all pretty meat and potatoes ideas, but they get the job done. It’s also interesting to see how social media has become mainstream in so many settings.

The play’s the thing

This was a great basic example of back-of-the-toilet-door advertising at The Vaudeville Theatre in London. Always a winner as you have a captive audience.

Poster for theatre production of Handbagged listing social media sites and hashtag

The Twitter account had someone monitoring it, replying to and retweeting messages. A good addition to the night. It’s an excellent play by the way.

Keep on running

On a very chilly February morning at the Silverstone half marathon – I was a spectator, not a runner – Adidas were doing a roaring trade giving away free shoelaces promoting their Boost trainers.

Adidas branded laces and marathon runner number

It was a practical giveaway that promoted their product, their hashtag  and could well see runners wearing Adidas laces in other brand trainers. Promotion staff cheerfully asked runners to tweet the hashtag, it was also emblazoned on every runners’ race number and along the course. There was no chance you were going to miss it.

Advertising hoardings showing the Adidas #Boost hashtag and other brand logos


Please take photos

At Spitalfields Market one Sunday afternoon, I was surprised at the number of “No photos please” signs at stalls, presumably to protect creative ideas. Then one stall fabulously bucked the trend.

Sign asking people to take photos and publish them on social media sites

Well played The Last Stop For The Curious for making people smile and involving people in actively promoting you. Great hats too.

Last Stop For the Curious hat stall with stall-owner


Stall sign for hat sellers Last Stop For the Curious









One that got away

As well as all the good examples, I came across a missed opportunity from Transport for London. Having grown up in London I have a huge affection for the Tube and often think their posters are excellent.

London Underground poster promoting their new travel alert Twitter account

The design is clever, I love the Twitter bird in the roundel, but it’s lacking a vital element – the handle for the Twitter account it’s promoting. According to the Huffington Post the posters have been the same since January this year. One of those good reminders of what not to do.