Movies aren’t just for the silver screen

A few months ago I attended a training day with BBC Scotland and sportscotland about using shortform film to tell stories. Whenever I am in meetings and refer to it people ask if I have anything I can share. Well, I have six pages of scribbled notes so I decided I should try to get it down in a blog.

Shortform is generally anything up to 90 seconds and used most effectively on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Some simple rules before we get down to business:

  • avoid talking heads
  • it should be able to be understood without sound
  • use text overlays but keep each screen short and snappy
  • if you are using text, use Plain English

One of the easiest ways to schedule film work (and any other social media for that matter) is to look for ‘tent pole moments’. These are the dates in a calendar when people are likely to be looking for online content. Examples include Blue Monday, the Queen’s birthday, Wimbledon. These moments aren’t necessarily big events but occasions that may spark conversations which end in people looking up Google. Can you create content that will tie in and maybe even appear in those Google search results underneath the ubiquitous Wikipedia entry.

You then need to CODE your content:

  • Content – what is the objective?
  • Optimise – make it the best and most sharable it can be
  • Distribute – use the right channels
  • Evaluate – did it achieve its objectives?

Shortform rules:

  • Jump straight in – get to the point within 3 seconds. That means no messing about with logos or scene setting. People scroll quickly on their phones and their eye is subconsciously scanning for what’s coming next. If you haven’t got to the point by the time they have moved your film to the centre of their screen, chances are you’ve lost them and they’ll scroll straight past.
  • Any movement in the first 3 seconds should be towards the camera.
  • Tell audiences how to feel straight off the bat. Go straight for the emotion you need.
  • You don’t need the traditional crescendo at the end – the payoff should be 2/3rds of the way through because after this point people are beginning to think about what to watch next.

Shortform tools:

  • 1 Second Everyday – tell a story in a second or join them together for a longer story. Great for travel journals or ‘lifetime’ stories.
  • Boomerang – the Instagram child of a photo and a gif
  • YouTube cards – these let you collect live feedback while your film is playing
  • YouTube Creator Academy – tutorials by YouTubers for YouTubers
  • Google Trends – helps you identify topics for evergreen content
  • Giphy – a place to create and share gifs. A great example is the #blacklivesmatter gif – simple but effective. It makes your news feed look busy

This photograph is from the Australian War Memorial’s collection

Making content sharable

In a similar way that movies have just 7 storylines there are 7 qualities that will make people want to share your content.

It needs to:

  • be amusing
  • be inspiring
  • be illuminating
  • be shocking
  • make people fearful
  • make people angry
  • be controversial

There are also 5 rules to follow.

  1. Appeal to the audience’s key motivation – the need to connect to each other
  2. Keep your message simple
  3. Appeal to the positive emotions above
  4. Embed a sense of urgency- Snapchat is perfect for this as it is built in
  5. Spend time listening to a community then establish credibility. If you can add value to a conversation you will gain credibility

Tools to make sharable content

  • Combine apps – use a Boomerang within an album. this will create movement within the album and draw the user’s eye, making them more likely to stop and take a look
  • Facebook Canvas – Canvas uses a combination of video, photos and call to action buttons

Distributing content

  • What are people actually searching for? Capture users’ intent by playing with the predictive search box in social media platforms such as YouTube then create and tag content that fits.
  • Create recurring episodes to keep viewers coming back.
  • Schedule around tent pole events
  • Release content at the right time of day to suit the target audience. Many organisations have found that weekend posts perform better than office hours posts.
  • Get content embedded in 3rd party sites looking for stories. CBeebies got a better reaction from film embedded on NetMums than they did on the CBeebies site.
  • Try newsjacking where appropriate. This is the art of inserting yourself into a news story.  However this can be risky but if you’re willing to try you should: 1. have a process with sign off in place because you have to move fast. 2. monitor the news using tools such as Google Trends. 3. Create your response. 4. Promote it across appropriate channels.
  • Breathe new life into old content.

Digital storytelling
It’s not just about movies though, it’s about great content combos like words and photos or film with text overlays.

Great examples
Humans of New York
Body on the Moor which is built on the Shorthand storytelling platform

Digital storytelling tools
FiLMiC Pro – turns your mobile camera into a broadcast quality high-definition video camera
Lanparte gimbals – turn your phone into a steady cam
Smartlav+ microphones – broadcast quality wearable mics for mobile phones
Quik – free editing app that uses content from your phone’s gallery, albums, Google photos, Facebook, or GoPro Plus footage
BBC Taster – a place to try, share and rate new ideas

Not everyone is equal online

I dropped off the social media radar for four days recently. I doubt anyone noticed – everyone’s timelines and feeds are so busy I’d have to be Caitlin Moran or the Pope for anyone to miss my tweets, posts or Snaps.

The fam and I headed north for a short break on the far north west coast of mainland Scotland, Red Point to be exact. I’d never heard of it until just after New Year when HimIndoors and I watched the film What We Did On Our Holiday starring Billy Connelly and David Tennant. It was written by the Outnumbered team and follows the family north to visit David Tennant’s character’s father for his 70th birthday party. The story is hilarious and poignant in equal measure but what stole the show for me was the beach used for a lot of the shoot. Golden sand, turquoise sea, an island on the horizon and blue skies made the perfect backdrop.

A quick look on the web revealed it was Red Point Beach and the first thing Google threw up for Red Point was a log cabin for rent, practically a stone’s throw from the sand. A quick email to owner Ian Warren and it was booked for the start of the school holidays. Another email revealed there was no wifi and a search on the web showed no signal in the area from 02 or 3. Hurrah, said I – a complete break from everything to do with work, including Twitter and Facebook. We decided to let the kids find out for themselves. We knew the first day would be hell then they’d get used to it.

On the way north it all dawned on MiniMe when her reception disappeared between Perth and Inverness but the sulk didn’t last long. The cabin was cute with unspoilt views over to Raasay and Skye.

Inside was a home from home but once the car was unpacked we all piled down the beach. It was picture perfect, often deserted and we visited it at least once a day.

The next day we discovered there was a second beach just around the headland. Day three was the only complete day of rain. I went out for a walk myself – I’ve always said skin is waterproof and the rain was warm anyway. I started on the first beach, the headed cross country to the second beach. The tide was out this time and I realised that around the corner was a third beach.


Between the beaches, the pony trekking next door, the shops in Gairloch and the walks and the ever-changing landscape out the windows there was plenty for the kids to do and at night we watched DVDs and played copious amounts of Uno and Cluedo.

There were only two reasons we really missed the connectivity.

Conversations tend to die out when you don’t have Google or a complete set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica to hand for reference.

The other, and I may sound sad, was the recycling. We recycle a lot as a family and South Lanarkshire Council recycles more materials than most. The cabin had a black bin and a blue bin but I couldn’t assume that they were used for the same things as our black and blue bins. Then, if the blue bin was for recycling, what could I put in it. And what days were they collected. I’d have loved to have seen the vehicle coping on the single track road too. See, I’m sad.

No internet meant I couldn’t look up Highland Council’s website so in the end everything went into one black bin bag and slung in the black bin.

Bu that got me wondering how Highland Council, with so many holiday homes, is ever going to meet its recycling targets. Even locals with their slow broadband would struggle to use the things the rest of us take for granted.

But it’s not just Highland Council. My parents live in rural South Lanarkshire and struggle with the BBC iPlayer with their 3Mb broadband. If you and your neighbours live a bit away from the exchange I doubt you’d all be able to stream Netflix at the same time.

And there’s the rub. Digital exclusion is rife in Scotland, because you can’t afford to be connected, you don’t have the skills to use digital safely and effectively or you just don’t have the infrastructure to cope. DotEveryone has produced this telling digital exclusion heatmap and some of the information contained in it is worrying. 0% (and that’s not a lot!) of homes in the Highland area have 4G coverage by all providers and 37% of homes have broadband speeds of less than 10Mbps and 17% of residents have never been online. Ditto on the 4G for Dumfries and Galloway who have a quarter of homes with broadband speeds of less than 10Mbps and 20.6% of residents have never been online. Meanwhile in Glasgow only 5% of homes have broadband speeds of less than 10Mbps, only 10.3% don’t get 4G from all providers yet 16.6% pf residents have never been online.


It’s not like BT and the other communications companies can’t afford to sort this out – they make profits every year after all. Rural communities shouldn’t have to sort this out for themselves – us townies got it handed to us on a plate but we just want it bigger, faster, stronger and to hell with the rest of you! But there’s still a worrying amount of people around us who have never been online

The Internet is the fourth utility. This has been discussed since 2006 – go and read  for yourself.

The very people who most need online services are the ones who are being excluded. Think of the remote elderly who could use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family. Families in poverty could be taking advantage of the cheaper online prices. There’s a wealth of online courses available to those who maybe can’t move away to the city to go to university and those people far from a supermarket could be taking advantage of home delivery.

The telecomms companies claim they are addressing the problem but the people living in rural areas tell a different story. Access to the internet should be equal for all and basic digital skills should be just as essential as the three Rs.

I have to admit it was great to be cut off from the world for a week. I didn’t miss the ever changing political landscape and Pokemon Go was a bit of an enigma for 24 hours till I caught up – @JenniferMJones soon had me up to speed.

If you work in work in comms and particularly social media I can’t think of a better place than Red Point to get away from it all. Running a business or living there full time would be a challenge. In the words of Joni Mitchell ‘You don’t know what you’ve lost till it’s gone’.

If you fancy renting the Cabin at Red Point you can check out the website and email

But Ian, please don’t install any broadband – let’s keep it off grid.

You can’t be 21 – again!

I’ve made a couple of observations over the last few months. I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

If you ever do age-specific Facebook marketing or advertising err a good few years either way, if you can. There’s a whole generation on there and there will be for ever more who lied about being 13 just to have an account.

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Have you noticed a spike in the visitors to your website last month and this? I’m putting it down to people researching their summer holidays and clearing their history and cookies to try to get round the underhand price-fixing the airline companies use. If you don’t know what I’m on about basically the sites remember who you are so if you go back to look at the same flight the price will miraculously have gone up and there will only be a few seats left at that price. Clear your history and cookies and you’re regarded as a new customer on all the sites you visit.

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I’ve just started a PgCert in Making Use of Digital Research at Edinburgh University and so far, apart from technical teething troubles the course has been fascinating. I’ll share some of it here over the next few months.

A tune from me to you

The Jaynetts – Who Stole the Cookie From the Cookie Jar

Happenstance is a wonderful thing

So this year I’ll be 47 – three years off 50. I thought my life would be slowing down, but then sitting on the couch watching Coronation Street or Eastenders has never held much appeal.
Last week my latest course started so I’ve been busy reading research papers all week. The course is brand new, a Pg Cert in Making Use of Digital Research, distance learning at Edinburgh University. The first module looks at the social shaping of digital research – I had my usual wobble, thinking I wasn’t going to be intelligent enough but I suspect I just picked the wrong paper first.
One paper struck many chords though. My last post about teenage relationships on Facebook drew a comparison to some of Danah Boyd‘s research and I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t even know who she was at the time. I did a bit of digging though and was pleased to discover that my random thoughts are actually being proved right by actual research by someone so influential. Her paper Six Provocations for Big Data echos more random thoughts of mine about how the white male geeks have had their way too long and that coding and data analysis should be core to every pupil’s learning, across every subject, a conversation I’ve had with our Education Improvement Manager and Caroline Stuart Business Development Director at Oracle. About 18 months ago I had a T-shirt made with the legend ‘The geek shall inherit the earth’ on the front and if we don’t act soon it’ll come true. For our children to understand the world round about them they will need killer coding and data analysis skills.

Geek T-shirt
This course is aimed at policy makers and our employee development manager is keeping an eye on the course for colleagues. I’ll give you regular updates on here but if I’m anything to go by an old dog can definitely learn new tricks, especially if there are biscuits involved!
The other things that will be keeping me busy is a research project at Glasgow University. I was asked by the project lead for some feedback on his initial proposal and after a couple of reads it blew my mind.
The Serendipity project’s aim is to develop a dashboard for use by organsations to help with decision-making when working on new policies. It can also be used to give a real-time picture of a place or scenario and maybe even used during emergency situations to help work out the best decisions on the fly.
The idea is to overlay real hard data with all available social data to create community biographies. It’s hoped that public behaviour could also be predicted over time.
For instance if you overlay all the anti-social behaviour data a council has about an area with all the sentiment created about the area on social media you’d get a rounder picture than just all the bad news.

Serendipity equation
If there’s a major accident on the roads, social info about how people divert around it can be used to model future behaviour and help roads departments and the police plan ahead.
During incidents, past research can be overlaid with social data and emergency planning decisions about evacuations etc and can be tested for potential public reaction before they are actually announced.
It’s looking highly likely that the council will be signing up to the research to be partner, although the details still have to snagged. Needless to say I’m excited.
I might not be ready for the easy chair yet but a nice comfy pair of slippers wouldn’t go amiss and maybe a SAGA holiday brochure.

A song from me to you

Miles Kane – Happenstance

That status narrowly missed me

When you’re 14 Facebook comments can make or break friendships but in my experience it’s like real life – everyone falls out then their best of pals two days later.

Teenage relationships tend to be fluid but until social media they were played out in youth clubs, classrooms, bedrooms and the playground. Often the only parental inkling of teenage turbulence would be a passing comment along the lines of:

“How was school today?”


“You going round to Sophie’s tomorrow?”



“Just don’t feel like it.”

Then tomorrow she goes round to Sophie’s as usual, like nothing was ever wrong.

And then Facebook happened. Now the drama is there for all to see and we, if we’re Facebook parents have to learn when to pretend we didn’t read that or when to have a quiet word in the shell-like.

As a networked parent I’ve held my daughter’s social media hand along the way, from CBeebies aged 4 to Facebook, aged 12 and three quarters. I’ve hopefully given her the tools to keep herself safe, in general and to think about channel security settings. Now she’s a bit older she’s now helping me get my head round Vine, Instagram and Snapchat.

However, on Facebook, among teenagers there’s this phenomenon known as an aimed status. Yes, aimed statuses are a thing.

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My daughter and some of her friends are friends with me on Facebook and I kind of noticed these aimed statuses a while back. A random statement, seemingly plucked out of nowhere, no one tagged, no one named, but something, usually snide, aimed at someone who’s hacked you off. The first time I noticed them for real was when I thought one of them was aimed at me. Turns out it wasn’t but it showed me the power of an aimed status to raise paranoia levels.

I’ve noticed lots of these going through my news feed – they all seem to be at it – and the flurry of responses is sometimes funny as friends try to work out who it’s aimed at. Everyone has a laugh and it all blows over.

Then this happened.

“You’re pathetic tbh. Sort yourself out.”

A couple of people chipped in with suggestions as to who was being pathetic. The one girl who’d been ruled out but hadn’t obviously read all the posts suggested she be tagged the next time my daughter was aiming a status at her.

Her retort? “I wasn’t talking about you but if the shoe fits.”

At this point there were about 5 people in the conversation and 10 comments. Then the girl’s mum waded in, all guns blazing and it all took a turn for the serious.

Suddenly the people in the conversation were being accused of treating her daughter badly. She then went on to name a mutual friend on Facebook for all to see and described her as ‘troubled’ and said she’d already warned my daughter away from her but didn’t listen.

To Alyx’s credit she came right back with the fact that she can choose her own friends thank you very much.

At this point I felt I had to intervene to I posted the following:

“Facebook is not the place to be having discussions like this. If you have any issues with my daughter I’d appreciate a grown-up phonecall, not a slagging session on here with a bunch of teenagers.”

This comment got 18 likes – almost a record for me.

A few comments later one of the teenagers came out with this gem of a truth:

“Teenage lassies argue all the time then fall back in within a week anyway.”

And another:

“If my mum was fighting my battles for me in an aimed status I’d take a head dive out my window.”

265 comments happened while us mums had a heated Messenger debate – I never got the grown-up phonecall. Turns out her daughter was giving as good as she got with the aimed statuses but had been blocking her mum! But she doesn’t think that I should leave Alyx to fight her own battles because she’s just a child.

Well, actually I consider Alyx at 14 to be a young adult and if she can put her own wrongs right then I’ve taught her well.

However, the lesson learned from this is that a parent diving head-first into a Facebook conversation is like butting into a playground conversation – wrong, cringey and just a tad creepy.

What starts as teenage banter suddenly becomes slander when an adult joins in.

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As for aimed statuses, I might not like them but they seem to be as much part of teenage life as spots and Freederm.

I’m pretty much over you and your random thoughts tbh . . .

A song from me to you

I think your ears are bleeding

So my last blog caused a bit of a stir. Most people felt my pain. Others thought it was the braggers who had the problem.

One person took things into their own hands and nominated me for a Comms2point0 UnAward.

David Grindlay from Falkirk Council has been a partner in social media crime for a few years now. We met on Twitter, then at social media events, then at regular meetings. Now he’s a firm friend of the whole family. I’m sure our paths would have crossed eventually but social media sped things up. He phones me every now and again to ask a question, usually about social media, sometimes about emergency comms, occasionally about behaviour change. I always come off the phone feeling sorry for him because once I start talking I rarely come up for air. I always imagine him putting the phone down, ears bleeding and gently banging his head off his desk.
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But I guess his ears must be OK and he must value my input or he wouldn’t have taken the time to write such a glowing nomination. I was overwhelmed, happy that someone I respect thought so highly of me. But at the same time the Calvinist in me was on the verge of breaking out in hives.

There were 202 nominations for the UnAwards and a panel of judges did the shortlisting, although Dan and Darren couldn’t shortlist the Best Comms Officer category. I don’t know who was responsible for picking me but I’d like to thank them because being shortlisted for a Comms2point0 award, un or otherwise, means more to me than anything from the CIPR or any other official body.

I love Dan and Darren and have learned so much from them over the years that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without their help and influence.

I met them on Twitter, then in person. I have worked for the day with them when they were at Walsall Council. I have been in the audience at events where they have presented or run workshops. I have eaten curries with them and drunk pints. On Monday I co-presented with Dan at a social media training day and that was just the icing on the cake – sharing knowledge with comms colleagues and sharing a stage with one of my social media rock stars. In fact, I was also sharing a stage with another social media rock star, Leah Lockhart, another person I met on Twitter but now count as an actual, real life friend.

And that’s the great thing about comms people on social media – we really bring the social part to the table. Twitter breaks the ice at events – suddenly people you’ve been talking to for months in bursts of 140 characters are right there in front of you and the niceties have already been done.

I have regular get-togethers at the house and have invited Twitter acquaintances whom I now count as friends.

I have never been more social in my life.

I used to be the painfully shy kid, who’d go red if the teacher asked me a question in class.

I’d go to parties and stick with the friends I went with.

I could never pluck up the courage to speak to a stranger – I mean, what on earth would I say.
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