We’ll tweet again, we know where, we know when

This week’s blog is an unashamed plug for an event I’m organising.

After facilitating an unconference @DCCTayside asked what we could do next. I suggested a tweet up but in typical DCCTayside style he wanted it bigger, better and stronger than just a bunch of tweeters getting together for a chat.

And so the Tartan TweetMeet was born. Six venues in six Scottish cities where public sector tweeters will get together all at the same time to compare notes, share best practice and just meet face-to-face. What’s more for an hour during the event, the public will be contributing their thoughts and asking their questions about engaging with them using social media, using #tartantm.

All good on paper but first things first, a WordPress site to hang the whole thing from. I came up with Tartan Tweeple in the hope that it would have a shelf life beyond the first event, a site for anyone to use for their tweet ups. The next one could be for businesses, the voluntary sector, educators, whatever sector fancies running one.

Once the website went live I thought “Oh s**t, what have I done? What if there’s a big, fat silence? What if no one steps forward to help co-ordinate the other five venues?” If all else failed I had my Glasgow venue sussed at the fabulous Lansdowne Bar & Kitchen.

Within minutes of the event launch on Twitter I had my volunteer in Dundee in the shape of @TaypolStudents and @denkmit offered one of the spaces at Abertay University’s students union.

Next to step up to the mark was @corrinnedouglas in Stirling, quickly followed by @LockhartL and @prettysimple in Edinburgh.

The fabulous @jonbolton offered to co-ordinate Inverness even although he not from up there but would be there training. In Aberdeen Victoria from Aberdeen Council and @k8marb offered their help and we were off and running.

In each venue we have people from the NHS, police, SEPA, councils and fire. The only place we’re struggling with is Inverness, probably because we’re lacking that local knowledge – if anyone can help drum up the Highland numbers please spread the word.

The next step is to tell the public about #tartantm on our respective organisations’ Twitter streams and then just turn up on the night with toes and fingers crossed.

So there you have it – Scotland’s first national TweetMeet. It’s happening next Wednesday (February 22) – organised for free, with very little overall effort, just a little synergy happening from six ingredients.

And that’s what I love about social media – the results far outshine the component parts.

Watch this space next week, the morning after the night before.

Tartan Tweeple

Bill Anderson CBE 1934-2012

I seem to have reached the age where I have a funeral to attend each month.

On Friday I’m heading to Dundee to say a sad farewell to my first editor Bill Anderson.

Bill was old skool. He earned the name nickname Flash because of his meteoric rise to editor at the tender age of 34, although no one called him that to his face.

Bill and and my youngest

He took The Sunday Post into the Guinness Book of Records for its readership.

Under Bill’s tutelage, DC Thomson took on 10 trainee journalists in 1990. I was one of them.

As well as a covering letter we had to send in a photo. Everyone else had sent a photobooth head shot. I’d sent a holiday pic, complete with fake Raybans obscuring my face.

There was a first interview. I turned up a day late. I had to sit a spelling, grammar and news knowledge test. I had to write 500 words about a person I’d met who’d impressed me. Everyone else wrote about famous people. I wrote about my step dad.

Against the odds I got a second interview – a panel of five suits, including Bill sat in front of me. It was relentless, quickfire questions. Bill gave me some facts about a warehouse fire in which five firemen died. I had to instantly tell him the intro to my story. I forgot to mention the five dead men. He told me to face him, not turn round and describe Mr Millar. I knew Mr Millar was short, bald and thickening round the middle but instead I said he had dark hair, blue eyes and a blue suit. The tea trolley came round and I asked for tea with milk and one sugar. Bill came back with coffee and no sugar. I drank it anyway. Apparently he’d done it on purpose to see what I’d do.

I got the job and so started a four-month training course where we learned to sub, learned about Scots Law, learned interview techniques and how to write headlines, learned  about the stress on the night the Herald of Free Enterprise went down and why the picture editor had chosen the photos he did from the Hillsborough disaster. Once a week we were dropped off in pairs in some windswept Scottish town and told not to come back without a story.

After four months we were placed in the jobs they thought suited us and off I went as a junior reporter at the Sunday Post office in Glasgow to cut my teeth on bingo winners and middle page stories.

The wrath of Bill was at the back of my mind during every interview and while I wrote each story. He was a living legend who was totally approachable, quick-witted, super-intelligent and knew his readers so well he could tell you how they took their tea. Do something stupid and he came down on you like a tonne of bricks but the thing was, as you were getting your dressing down, you knew he was right so you stood there and took it. And whatever it was, you never did it again.

Bill was awarded the CBE in 1991 for his contribution to journalism and it was truly deserved.

Bill was also ahead of his time with the Internet. The Sunday Post had a website before The Guardian and instead of taking a well-earned retirement Bill went on to head up DC Thomson’s Internet venture Scotland Online and I had the chance to learn how to write for the web doing interviews with pop stars, musicians and DJs and reviews of gigs, festivals and club nights.

For my last eight years with DC Thomson I worked under Bill’s wife Maggie, who was editor of the Sunday Post Magazine and a former editor of Jackie, the only magazine I’ve ever subscribed to.

Like Bill, she knew the industry inside out and knew her readers like they were her friends.

Both were great bosses, firm but fair and I like to think I thrived working for them. I suspect everything I do now is driven by the ethics they instilled in me. I even have every single cutting from those days, carefully pasted into scrapbooks.

I remained friends with them once I’d moved on and they’d both retired, visiting with my family and staying over occasionally.

Although he’d been ill Bill’s death still came as a shock to me and I’m guessing there will be standing room only at his funeral.

I’m also guessing that once he gets where he’s going there will be plenty sailing and fishing to be done and if there happens to be a newspaper he’ll soon have it whipped into shape.

Goodbye Bill. Thanks for taking that risk with me – I owe you big time x

I’m sticking up for the little guys

I was accused of misunderstanding something this week. I admit, I’ve probably misunderstood quite a lot in my 43 years but I don’t think I’m the one not getting this.

Over the last 18 months I’ve taken part in numerous webinars, some run by pretty famous people and organisations in the world of websites. I’ve attended workshops, seminars, lectures, you name it and the trend over that time has been that the little things shouldn’t get in the way of the top tasks and that local authority websites need pared right down so that people can find what they need, do what they need to do and leave, as quickly and efficiently as possible. Time is important to the public and our websites are wasting it apparently.

At one seminar we were told by one site’s developers that they’d fought to have all the news removed from the homepage because no one was looking at it but had run out of time before the launch. They were determined to continue the fight with their comms people and their councillors to have it reduced significantly.

Other teams have spoken of decimating the number of pages on their site to make it easier to maintain and to make it easier for people to find those top tasks.

Now, I’m all for plain language, removing the ‘pat on the back, aren’t we doing well’ content and the stuff that’s frankly out-of-date.

What I’m not sure about is removing the pages that maybe get one reader a month or a couple a fortnight because I’m guessing that if you add all of those views up you get a total more than some of your big hitters.

I’m sticking up for the little guys – the Settlement Checking Services page, the Children in Entertainment licence application, the Private water supplies page – I could go on.

You see, remove them to only cater for the majority and the majority ends up thinking everyone is just like them. If you have a good nosey round a comprehensive council website you suddenly realise what a diverse audience we cater for. I had no idea council’s did so much till I started work on our council website six years ago. If I worked anywhere in the council other than the website or customer services I would probably only know my own part of the business.

In fact I’m now looking at council services that I thought I’d never have to use but that’s a whole other blog. And that information is catering very much for a minority at the moment and if some statistic watchers had their way (not in our council thankfully) that information wouldn’t be there because it would be getting in the way of the Blue Badge application form.

Now back to the news on council sites. These days councils are losing their budgets for council magazines and newspapers and the local press, quite frankly, have it in for us. But all the research, and a huge chunk was done a couple of years ago by@LGComms, show that a well-informed public is happier about its council’s performance so in my opinion news is an important part of the website – it just needs written properly. Show Joe Public how that new policy/initiative will affect him, not how good an elected member thinks it will be for the council.

Writing good web content is a knack that only a few have but that is just part of the equation. A bit of marketing works but what really matters is clear navigation, a good A-Z, a great site search and whizzbang SEO are how people find what they’re looking for. Remove content and Mrs McGinty will never know we teach Gaelic in one of our nurseries.