On Friday 20 January I woke at 4.15am – and for once, it wasn’t because of the kids - to set off for 'the smoke' to attend UKGovCamp.
A long, long day was in store, a day which helped me to crystallise some thoughts around comms approaches in 2012.
UKGovCamp was hosted down at Microsoft’s (very, very smart) offices and brought together the great and the good of all things digital communications, open data and social media.
Central and local government were well represented, along with many other others, and the format was ‘unconference’, whereby you get to talk about the things you want to share or know more about, rather than sitting and listening to a dozen Gatling gun-style, powerpoint-led presentations. If you want to know more about unconferences take a look here.
Five key things emerged for me, which as comms people we need to consider:
- We must attend these gigs. There are a bundle of pressures on us all – time, budget, work demands - but these events are free to attend and are a fantastic learning and training opportunity. And let’s be honest, it’s unlikely that you’ll be awash with training outlets within your organisations these days, right? On day one, I estimate that out of over 200 delegates there were only around 7-8 comms people. We need to up the ante. If Microsoft is keen to hand over their facilities, for free, for two days then that tells me that this event has some real significance.
- But isn’t it a bit geeky? In truth, yes. But in a good way. You really can learn from these people for the benefit of your future communications activity and for you personally. The geeks do talk shop, do talk tech, and do talk new and emerging things that you may not have heard of. Some of it you maybe don’t need to know, but the bulk of it is content and solutions that you really do need to at least be mindful of if you want to stay at the front of the comms pack.
- Is social media a golden bullet? Well no, course not, but the metrics alone make social media something we have to consider and include in our activity. There is a but, though. Like PR before it, social media is still trying to wrestle with really compelling evaluation of meaningful, large scale outcomes. Instinct tells me they are out there, and will become more and more common as these platforms mature, but at the minute really fantastic, behaviour-changing social media campaigns are a little thin on the ground. So as comms people we need to work harder on evaluation so that when the next round of ‘so what?’ questions come from our most senior managers and leaders we can reel off polished, proven examples.
- Morrissey and The Smiths sang about ‘cemented minds’ in The Headmaster Ritual. Don’t be one. In just about every session I sat in, Communications – both the respective teams and the discipline – were getting some stick for being barriers in these areas and still clinging to the concept of owning the message. Those days, if they ever even existed outside of North Korea, are long gone. Accept it, move on with that knowledge and life becomes a little simpler. Let’s not become ‘the new IT’, and get in the way of innovation. To quote Dan Slee, “we need to share the sweets.”
- Equally, comms still has a major role to play in the governance of the use of these channels. Back in the day, when departments had a free-for-all on marketing - having a go at design (I still carry the mental scars of clip art) mis-using an organisation’s logo and placing expensive, badly targeted adverts - it was a smoking ruin. Comms departments worked hard to change that, improve two-way communications and make a shed-full of savings and efficiencies along the way. Comms teams, in my view, should hold the trump social media card and be the link to senior management to make the case for social media, to lead on innovation and to report back on its successes and failures. Building this confidence in the powers that be is the only way this activity will ever be mainstreamed and comms teams are the best placed people to deliver this. But we can’t do it in isolation.
A delegate at UKGovCamp suggested that communication’s approach needs to be: ’ for you’, ‘with you’ and ‘by you’. This feels right for 2012. After all, working together always produces better results, we all know that.