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Thoughts From LGComms New Media Seminar #lgcommsnm

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After much, uhming, ahing and “what are the roads like”ing I finally dragged myself out of the house and down the snowy roads of east Birmingham, the roads were fine until I got out of Solihull, but that’s another story.

I arrived at the venue (The Blues ground, which would horrify my Villa-supporting in-laws) expecting to see an empty room, but people had clearly made the effort and it was pretty darn busy. Saw plenty of tweeple (hello @StevenTuck, @pigsonthewing, @mafjohnson, @simonwakeman, @podnosh and @bounder (and his alter-ego @jonbounds) as well as some of my compadres from the Staffordshire Webmasters’ group (who still aren’t on Twitter - sort it out people!)

Anyway, there were some great talks and a lot of live tweeting (the #lgcommsnm hashtag trended on Twitter search half way through the day) and I got a helluva lot out of it.

The main message of the day seemed to be not to underestimate the time needed to spend on social media and this is something I echo wholeheartedly. In fact, at the conference I had to log into my work account and tweet about leisure centre closures and I’m making it a priority to get some of the comms team using the work Twitter account (via HootSuite (formerly BrightKit)) so if I’m away, or get run over by a bus, the Twitter account still remains active!

We missed a few presentations due to the snow and other reasons (I was especially looking forward to Graham Jones’s presentation, but the slides are coming up online I’ve been told), but I think many more would’ve been information overload.

The Home Office team showing how they used Bebo in an anti-knife crime initiative was particularly interesting. The use of viral video (don’t click if you’re eating!) was really cool too. A few people had concerns about the cost of the campaign (it cost around £2 million over 3 years), but it’s worth bearing in mind that this was a national campaign, so the costs are bound to be higher. A Bebo-led campaign for a local authority can be done on a shoestring.

It also made me think that maybe we’re using the wrong channels for social media. At the moment, we shy away from Bebo, purely because it’s difficult to use and glitchy, preferring Facebook, but should we really not use a social network just because we don’t like it? (after all Bebo is the top Social Media destination for 7-16 year olds (Facebook doesn’t even appear in the top 20!))

Another statistic that I’ll take home with me came from Jeremy Redhouse from Redhouse Lane who said that we retain 50% of what we see, and 70% of what we discuss, and video is a great way to generate discusssion. Specifically video created by Redhouse Lane, but he’s not running a charity, so I understand why he had to give the big plug

Simon Wakeman’s talk on lessons learnt from new / social media was great too, showing that engagement via social media can sometimes have dire consequences - I think sometimes people forget that social media can have consequences in the real world.

Nice to see Merlin Sinclair take it back to the basics with his talk about how he and his team redeveloped the Westminster City Council website (even though he did slag off Twitter - the swine!), but as @PSFBuzz tweeted during the presentation, new media doesn’t always have to be about ‘web 2.0’.

Scott Wilson from Essex talked about a campaigning approach to social media, they’ve had a couple of campaigns on Facebook against a second runway at Stanstead Airport and against Post Office Closures. He also talked about monitoring social networks and engaging with negative campaigns, which they did with an anti-speed camera group (again on Facebook, can’t find the link!).

Nick Booth (a.k.a @podnosh) was next up, talking about various ways that the web has changed democracy for the better, including the great work that some of the Birmingham Bloggers have been doing with Big City Plan Talk - a plain English and easy to use version of Birmingham City Council’s Big City Plan consultation*, as well as the brilliant stuff that MySociety do.

I had a bit of a rant afterwards about building APIs not being hard - this wasn’t a dig at councils by the way, more a dig at suppliers who like to lock data away in horrible unusable systems.

Mark Hansen from Labourhome rounded things off nicely, talking about how the group had helped bring the Labour Party kicking and screaming into the world of social media, he mentioned about not stifling debate, which I think is crucial if you’re going to have any kind of credibility on the web (no point only publishing comments that agree with your agenda :coughdailymailcough:), as well as the various other methods the party have used to get social online.

All in all, it was a great day, a good opportunity to learn about other people’s experiences with social media and also a marvellous networking opportunity. Cheers to all at LGCommunications for putting it all together!

  • Actually, the Big City Plan website itself isn’t bad, it’s fully accessible, user tested and uses microformats, it’s the actual consultation bit that’s the problem. Once again another example of departments not listening to the experts and just plumping for an off the shelf solution. Sigh.

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