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 – 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.

CommsCamp14 – views on video

Class of 2012

Yesterday’s CommsCamp14 was all about things beginning with C: communications, cake, channels, collaboration, content, communities and chests (getting stuff off them). The C this post is about is (video) cameras.

When people were asked ahead of time to bat some session ideas around, I suggested a video topic as a way to share and learn from others. Thankfully, digital storyteller John Popham was on hand to guide it – he also filmed this session and others. This was particularly handy as I missed the start, so have been able to catch up on what I missed. Here are the  key points I took away:

  • content is more important than quality
  • don’t forget that not everyone can, or wants to, access video. You need to consider if you want/need to reach these people in another way through another channel/s
  • hearing people’s stories in their own words is powerful
  • be brave and cover the ‘we could do better’ as well as ‘we’re great at this’. Ask stakeholders for their honest opinions to share with colleagues at all levels
  • colleagues outside of comms teams have video skills, use them to tell their customers’ and services’ stories
  • if you have a smartphone you can shoot video. iPhones and iMovie are easy to use and you can cut out background noise to a certain extent, try to shoot in as quiet a place as possible if you can in the first place though
  • John cited a BBC person saying that they can’t tell the difference between footage taken on a high-end smartphone and that from a BBC camera. You don’t need expensive or separate equipment. Adding a microphone can make a difference though, and a tripod can be handy too
  • video and streaming Council meetings – fewer members of the public attending. First attempt by one council had 450 viewers. Pop a microphone by one of the speakers for the audio system and stream live if possible. Ask the Chairman to announce that filming will be taking place to remind people. Worried about bad behaviour? Anecdotally, video has improved it at some meetings
  • consider making videos available on a creative commons open licence so they can be used by other people, bloggers, groups and websites like Wikipedia. If your footage is used out of context, you still have the full version that can be used to give the correct position
  • local bloggers are already videoing and tweeting live from some Council meetings. If they can do it, why can’t you?
  • try not to just have talking heads, get a bit more creative and think about what you want to show
  • enthusiasm for video shouldn’t mean it becomes a default medium, challenge why people want to use it, be clear about what it’s for and if it fits the needs of the target audience and objectives. Ask what you want people watching to think, feel and do
  • how will it be promoted and shown? If you directing people to further information like a webpage or form, is it fit for purpose or does it need any work done on it? A rousing call to action that leads people to awful information is an own goal
  • using video for internal comms? Check that people will be able to watch or hear it on their desk PCs, and put something in place for colleagues who don’t have one – shared tablets for bin crews were mentioned
  • Videoscribe from Sparkol was mentioned as a good tool to create animated videos and bring information presentation to life
  • if you shoot a video and it doesn’t look great, or people don’t want to appear on camera, try putting the audiotrack to pictures, sketches or animation that illustrates what’s being spoken about
  • consider using screen shots of online content/forms to walk people through where to find or fill in information
  • subtitles for videos can be useful if people are deaf or can’t watch with sound. If you can’t subtitle or caption, consider adding a trackable link alongside the video that provides the same information in written format
  • link to what other people have done, it may even be possible that you could use the bulk of another organisation’s video for council services like elections, food safety or similar. Why reinvent the wheel when you could top and tail content that is already available? Residents tend to only look for/see information from their own council anyway
  • tailor the length of your video to the channel you’re posting on – shorter often better on social media as people more likely to be watching on mobile device in shorter chunks. Thirty seconds to a minute was suggested as a good length. Vine videos are only six seconds long, so ideal for bite-sized info. Here’s one I shot on my iPhone and uploaded via 3G at a recent event:

and another from the CommsCamp14 lunch session:

  • how are you going to measure and evaluate the impact of your video? Are you looking for people to sign-up to a service, click through to information or come to an event for example? Trackable links are useful as are follow-up surveys or building in ‘how did you hear about this’ into sign-up information
  • short and sharp often feels more authentic than scripted, glossily produced video. Asking people quickfire questions for short replies in their own words can be much more engaging than a scripted, pre-approved line. Authenticity rules
  • C is for content. It’s more important than quality.

Photo used under creative commons licence: Class of 2012 by Dave Lawler on Flickr

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.