If you want something new, stop doing something old

Last month I travelled down from South Lanarkshire Council’s HQ in Hamilton to spend the day working with Darren Caveney (@darrencaveney) and the Comms team in Walsall Council.

Kim Neville (@kimneville) and I are taking part in the LGComms Future Leaders programme, part of which is a peer review day at another council.

The programme of events was released in back in February and I knew exactly where I wanted to visit – Walsall to see the very rare but not exactly shy Dan Slee (@danslee) in his natural habitat.

Dan and I had met before and I’d heard him speak about the shift from traditional media to social media and how the Walsall Comms team has adapted and adopted new media. Aside from that Dan and I regularly chat on Twitter and I’m a total convert to the new Comms2point0 resource for digital comms, set up and run by Dan and Darren.

I must admit that in the few days before my trip south I felt like I was off to do some work experience but I left with my managers words ringing in my ears, “Campaign measurement and evaluation – find out how they do it.”

So Darren picked me up at the hotel and we had a good chat all the way through Birmingham to Walsall about our office set up and our common issues, mainly journalists with pages to fill in newspapers with falling advertising revenue and circulations.

After a quick tour of the council chamber and introductions, the Comms team did its quick 10-minute daily round-up of what everyone had in their diary for the day which is captured on their Yammer group. I really like this idea and it’s something I’ll suggest introducing to South Lanarkshire’s team. At the moment we do a weekly round-up which can run on for over an hour but 10 minutes a day seems much more manageable.

Next I had a session with Mel Lee to talk about how Walsall Council uses Yammer. Now, I’ve used Yammer before but for some reason I’d always thought that for us to use it as a council we’d have to pay for it. To discover that the basic version is free was a revelation so as a pilot I’ve set up a group for our web publishers to see what they think. I suspect that it will be a fully used, essential tool across the council before long.

Mel also showed me the Chief Executive’s core brief, the internal magazine Team Spirit and the Weekly Bulletin, all of which are on the council intranet. Again this is similar to what South Lanarkshire Council has except that we also print our monthly magazine The Works as we have 11,000 employees who don’t have access to work PCs. However the Weekly Bulleting seems like a good idea – I’m wondering if we could produce it as a wiki on our intranet. That may be a step too far at the moment though – maybe we should start with the web publishers collating and publishing the information on our CMS in the meantime.

After a quick bite to eat, Dan and I then headed off to Walsall Central Library where I met senior countryside ranger Morgan Bowers (@walsallwildlife and @brumbats) . Morgan has been tweeting under various council and personal guises and just that morning she’d announced a new strawberry seed beetle record for the area on Twitter. It was really heartening listening to Morgan – not only is she passionate about her job, she’s passionate about telling the world about it using social media and has struck up many conversations with people in the process. This is exactly the type of person and the type of job that lends itself to social media and is something I’d like to kick off at my council. I want to involve trading standards officers, environmental health officers, countryside rangers – all ambassadors for the council and the area.

The main reason for the visit to the library however, was to do some live tweeting from an author event. Steve Jenkins was born and brought up in Walsall but after an early career as a local DJ he made the move to London, then the US where he became one of the music industry’s top promoters, working with Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, R. Kelly and The Stone Roses, to name just a few. It was a pleasure to be tweeting as Walsall Council, although I may have tweeted a bit too much – but then Steve had so many great stories that he made it an easy job.

Next it was back to the office to have a chat with Kim and Jo Stewart about media monitoring, campaign evaluation and working with community groups. I learned loads during this session and it was good to see that there are many areas of the business where our two councils work in very similar ways, for example multi-media campaigns. For both teams evaluation is a hot topic – often our outcomes are actually another department’s outcomes. Often it is behaviours we are trying to change – measuring them can be tricky and difficult to pin to a comms campaign. The results sometimes aren’t visible until well after the campaign has finished. There is a seismic shift going on in comms teams across the country, not only in what our day-to-day activities are but how we deliver and measure what we do.

I had a bit of a eureka moment talking to Jo about partnership working. She was explaining how Walsall shares information for local community and third sector groups. This would be such a simple thing to do I don’t know why we hadn’t thought of it before.

Before I knew it the day was over and Dan and I were heading for Birmingham for Brewcamp where I met more people that I’ve spoken to on Twitter but had never met – always a weird experience.

I learned more in those 12 hours than I have at any 3-day conference and I reckon all services in councils across the country should consider exchange schemes. Dan is coming to see how we do things in South Lanarkshire in June – hopefully he’ll go back to Walsall with his head buzzing as much as I mine was on train back to Hamilton.

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