Posted on

Social media and local government – 10 tips for councillors

Approx. reading time: 3 minutes
  1. Prepare for a lot of shit to be thrown your way.
    Politics is a dirty business. Always has been. But the trolls lurking in the darker corners of the social web have made it a whole lot dirtier. And the quality of political discourse nationally has only made things worse.
  2. Don’t be too negative.
    Politics, of course, involves saying how badly your opponents are doing. But as a Labour councillor if you over do the Tory-bashing, or vice versa, people will tire of your moaning.
  3. Show don’t tell.
    We know you want to make Anytown a better place to live, work and play. That you’re passionate about the area. And that as a councillor/group/party/administration you have an enviable track-record for getting things done. You would say that wouldn’t you? After all you want our votes! But leave the self aggrandisement to your election blurb and show us instead of tell us. Which means posting pictures and videos of yourself with your sleeves rolled, getting involved in your community. Helping clear the litter. Shovelling snow. Stacking sandbags. Making tea. Forge a positive visual association in people’s minds between your face/name and good work. 
  4. Don’t push the politics.
    You probably enjoy the cut and thrust of the council chamber or the Commons but not everyone likes the adversarial nature of our political system. So ease back on the politics. A conversational tone is better on the social web.
  5. Avoid picking a fight online.
    It’s easy when provoked on Facebook or Twitter to hit back. What’s the old adage? Attack is the best form of defence. It isn’t on the social web. Or at least not very often. Even if you win. Because by hitting back you’re likely to draw more attention to the criticism (unless that’s what you want). Try to take any angry exchange of views offline. Suggest you follow one another so you can deal with the issue by DM (direct message) away from the public gaze. Or if the prospect of following your arch nemesis seems a step too far (although can always unfollow one another later) offer to email them instead. Anything instead of a public slanging match.
  6. Don’t post just for the sake of it.
    Overposting increases the background noise (I liken it to the shash of a mistuned, old school radio) and makes it even harder for you to cut through. Post too much and you risk becoming the online equivalent of the councillor, unloved even by their own party, who drones on and on and on and on…at council meetings. Or the little boy who cried wolf once too often, so when he had something really important to say nobody was listening.
  7. Go easy on slavishly sharing and reposting material from your party’s central social media accounts.
    If we want to hear from Boris or Jeremy or Jo or Nicola we can always follow them ourselves. Encourage us to follow you because of you not because you’re simply a cipher for Conservative Central Office or whatever. Local people still vote for local candidates and often across party lines. How many times have I heard “Ooh I’ve never voted Tory/Labour/Lib Dem/SNP/Plaid before in my life but councillor so and so gets my vote every time because they’re local and you see them at all the local events. He even lets us throw wet sponges at him and the vicar in the stocks at the village fete.” (I made that last bit up but you get my point).
  8. Be nice and be human.
    It’s easy to forget that politics can be consensual. Be generous and (even grudgingly) praise your opponents when they vote for something you believe in. Show us who you are behind the rosette. It’s the social web not the antisocial web.
  9. Listen and watch.
    The social web is a great place to tap into the community “vibe.” You’ll be alerted to issues that need dealing with more quickly this way than waiting for somebody to bring it to your attention at one of your surgeries. Be the councillor with your finger on the pulse.
  10. Walk away.
    And finally, back where we started, used strategically the ups of using the social web can far outweigh the downs. But if the online abuse gets too much, switch off, close your accounts (at least temporarily) and walk away. Nobody needs that kind of shit in their lives. Not even politicians!

Richard Uridge facilitates ACM Training’s social media and other communication workshops. We regularly have councillors attending our open, public workshops. Or why not book us to deliver this training in-house for your group or administration? That’s the way we work with hundreds of local authorities across the UK from Aberdeenshire to Devon and from Bangor to Boston. It could just get you re-elected!

Posted on

Formal or informal language? What toilet signs can tell us about writing for the web

Approx. reading time: 2 minutes

This is the tale of two loos. Both of them at venues we use at ACM Training for our open workshops. One of them – Ort House Conference Centre in Camden – at the more traditional end of the market. The other – Waterfront Meeting Rooms in Bristol – at the funkier end. Now I’ve nothing against traditional or funky per se. But it’s funny how the signage at the two venue follows suite.

“We will endeavour to fix the issue in a timely manner,” asserts the sign from the Building & Facilities Team (their capitals) at Ort House when, in truth, the team is probably just a bloke with a spanner who doesn’t speak like that in real life – the bloke, that is, not the spanner.

By comparison the Waterfront sign is much less formal and the writer has even thought about the audience by appealing directly to younger gents (I can’t vouch whether the same sign appears in the ladies) with the “or your parents’ home” line.

Now you could argue that a sign on a toilet wall doesn’t really matter because people’s impression of the venues is based on so much more – the friendliness of the reception staff, the cleanliness of the facilities, the airiness of the training rooms. And that’s certainly true with face-to-face businesses. But what about those businesses whose customers only transact with them online in a virtual sense? Or those where the initial contact is via a website or blog? Then words really matter because, like the reception staff in this example, they are for many people the first point of contact. And first impressions matter.

So if you’re writing for websites instead of toilet signs you need to think long and hard about the most appropriate use of language. For most organisations conversational but purposeful is best. That and plain English. Have a ponder next time you visit the loo.

By the way, I have endeavoured, on behalf of ORT House, to fix the linguistic issue in a timely manner so here, for what it’s worth, is my alternative…

If it’s broke we’ll fix it. You just need to let us know.

If your website is broke (linguistically that is) we’ll help you fix it.Or, better still, we can train you to fix it yourself. Either way you just need to let us know.


Posted on

“Right Royal chump leaves BBC” – how Danny Baker became Twitter’s latest twit.

Approx. reading time: 2 minutes
Danny Baker: still smiling as he’s doorstepped by reporters following his sacking by the BBC.
Image credit: PA

He’s not on the BBC’s list of top earners, so we can safely assume Danny Baker was paid less than £150,000 a year for his Saturday morning job at Radio 5 Live. But getting the sack for tweeting a picture of a smartly dressed chimp captioned “royal baby leaves hospital” was an expensive mistake all the same – both financially and reputationally.

Of course, he’s not the first to, dare I say, make such a chump of himself on the social web. And he definitely won’t be the last. So what is it about Twitter that leads so many people who should know better to say silly things?

“Facility and immediacy combined are a toxic mix.”

Richard Uridge, social media trainer, ACM Training

Facility, that is ease of use, is the first part of the problem. Speed is the second part. The two together make a toxic mix. The ubiquity of mobile phones with their always on apps leads to what I call instant quips: words and images that we realise, too late (post post if you will ), are really not that funny or, worse still, potentially offensive. If we had to go home or back to the office and login via a dial-up internet connection (remember them?) we’d have time for reflection.

There’s a third component in the Danny Baker case. Journalists and, in particular, those working in live broadcasting thrive on the buzz. Believe me I’ve been there. It’s like a drug. In fact it is a drug – just a naturally occurring one called dopamine. So tweeting leads to a natural high. And, just like junkies, the more you tweet the more you need to get the same level of high. Until one day you overdose.

So what’s the answer? Short of coming over all cold turkey and deleting your Twitter account(s), I recommend you follow my seven minute rule as a part of a social media policy. It works a bit like a longer version of the seven second delay on early radio broadcasts which meant that bloopers and profanities could be stopped before they made it to air. Wait seven minutes – you really won’t miss the party – and if the tweet still works* for you and, crucially, your target audience then by all means hit the tweet button. And if it doesn’t? Then use the next seven minutes to change it until it does.

*By works for you I mean is the tweet or social media post purposeful in that it helps move you even a small step towards your personal or organisational objectives? By works for your audience I mean is the tweet likely to be received in the way it was intended. If the answer to one or the other question or both is no then at best you’re simply adding to the white noise on the social web and at worst you’re going to land yourself a P45. Just ask Danny Baker.


Posted on

When Lightning Strikes

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

Approx listening time: 28 minutes.

In October 2005 Allan MacDiarmid was struck by lightning as he played football with a group of friends near Sudbury in Suffolk. Amazingly he survived with barely a scratch. Combining Allan’s extraordinary testimony with the latest scientific thinking and the work of amateur storm chasers, What Happens When Lightning Strikes deconstructs the moments before and after he was hit by the blinding flash in an effort to better understand one of the most powerful forces in nature.

This podcast was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

Posted on

When Madmen Sailed the World

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

Approx listening time: 28 minutes

“When Madmen Sailed the World” – a look back at the extraordinary events of 1968 when nine yachtsmen set out to become the first person to sail non-stop, single-handed around the world. Only one made it, as yachting journalist, Bob Fisher, recalls

Posted on

Still Joined

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

Approx listening time: 28 minutes

The moving and inspirational story of Lori and Reba* Schappell, the world’s oldest surviving female conjoined twins. Fiercely independent, they argue passionately against the current medical trend for separation. And, as Richard Uridge discovers, if you think of them as anything other than two very different individuals you’d better watch out!

This podcast was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

* Since this programme was made Reba has identified as male and is now know as George. They continue to live in Pennsylvania.

Posted on

Who Goes First?

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

Approx listening time: 28 minutes

Should scientists be able to act as “Guinea pigs” in their own experiments? Self-experimentation has a long and often bizarre history, from the scientist who drove into a “brick wall” at a hundred miles an hour, to the doctor who swallowed his patients (or at least a part of them). And that’s not to mention the modern day Jekyll and Hyde with a three and a half thousand mile long body. Richard Uridge explores the arguments for and against with the help of scientists who have experimented on themselves and have the scars to prove it.

This podcast was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

Posted on

Death of the Building Site

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

Approx. listening time: 30 minutes

Richard Uridge discovers if bricks and mortar have finally had their day and asks what the future holds for the construction industry.

This podcast was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

Posted on

The Bridge at the Bottom of the Sea

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

Approx listening time: 14 minutes

The North Sea is a baby in geological terms. Before it was born at the end of the last Ice Age Britain was joined to the rest of Europe. Conventional wisdom says by a land bridge. But a student, searching through seismic data discarded by oil companies, has discovered what archaeologists believe is the best-preserved prehistoric landscape in the world. Richard Uridge dives to the seabed in search of evidence that’ll force history textbooks to be rewritten.

This podcast was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

Posted on

Clever Trees – Westonbirt

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

Approx listening time: 14 minutes.

In the last of his current series celebrating Clever Trees Richard Uridge visits the National Arboretum at Westonbirt in Gloucestershire – with 18,000 specimens a veritable tree university – and talks to the trees.

This podcast was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

Other episodes in this series: