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After the earthquake

The changes going on right now in central government digital communications are pretty seismic. Not least because thanks in large part to GDS, digital teams no longer view ‘communications’ as the limit of their ambition these days, as they mainly still did when I was part of one.

So what’s the role for a company like mine in a GOV.UK world? It’s just over three years since I incorporated this blog into Helpful Technology Ltd, and the world around us has changed quite a bit. So we’re making some changes too.

Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore

For a start, we’re properly plural now – Luke Oatham has flourished in his six months on board, delivering some awesome work for Wilton Park, CLG and DCMS amongst others. And from next month, there will be three of us, when my former BIS colleague Howard Gossington joins the team. Howard’s an actor as well as a solid gold webby, and I’m excited about what he’ll bring to the team.

We’re two separate companies now, too: the work we’ve been doing with social media crisis simulation is a global enterprise now, with export clients in the US, Singapore and Europe and hopefully more to come. It’s a very different kind of business too, from simulating tram crashes with Manchester Fire & Rescue Service, to throwing petitions-gone-wrong at the team at Change.org¬†(and they’re just some of the ones we can talk about).

We’ve also been working closely for a couple of years now, particularly on social media training, with our good friends at Claremont Communications, and we’re hoping to start sharing office space this summer, with a view to blending more of their social PR nous with our nuts and bolts digital skills.

But over the last three years, our bread and butter has been central government work, and as Inside Government gets smarter, there’s likely to be less of that around. That’s a good sign.

Like many small firms, at times over the last six months, we’ve found ourselves stretched in lots of different directions. So in 2013-14, we’re going to be trying to focus our work in four main areas:

  1. Digital engagement: effective digital engagement lives or dies by the strategy, skills and connections which underpin it and we’ve too often found ourselves at the end of a food chain, supplying a platform without the involvement to help make it effective. A year ago today, I launched the Digital Engagement Guide; now, I’m hunting for more opportunities to help organisations consult better and discuss policy online, and be a less peripheral part of the teams doing it.
  2. 21st century intranets: Luke’s work for the terrific team at DCMS has rightly been celebrated by GDS. What they’ve achieved with content, and how Luke has shaped a platform for it, is really impressive. There’s much talk (but few examples) of ‘social intranets’ and led by Luke, I’d like us to help more people turn their intranet from a waste ground of corporate guff, into something people use to solve their problems. Maybe it’s time for Intranet Club II.
  3. Power to the elbow of the little guys: a client once described themselves as ‘puffer fishes’ – able to do what appeared to be a big team’s work with a small team’s resources, thanks to the magic of WordPress and friendly, can-do support.¬†Working for one- or two-person teams at Involve, Wilton Park, LGIU, University Alliance, and the Committee on Climate Change amongst others has been really rewarding, and they’re the clients for whom we add the most value.
  4. Social media in a crisis: around the globe, organisations large and small are realising that bad news travels differently now, and we’re refining a platform and consulting service that rivals anything in the world. We’ve established partnerships with around half a dozen agencies so far to offer social media crisis simulation services to their clients, and we’re developing intermediate products focusing on practical writing skills and Twitter in particular.

So while it’s sad to see old friends like the Department of Health’s innovative WordPress site fade into the archives, even I can wish it a fond farewell. The good stuff is around the corner.

  1. Congratulations Howard! Sure you’ll be a brilliant addition to the team.

    • Thanks, Jenny – really looking forward to starting tomorrow!

  2. Helpful Technology is a rare gem of a company and we’re honoured to be working with you, Steph – long may it continue!

  3. I revived the Intranet Club in 2011, albeit with slightly different rules, and ran it for 2 years. It’s great because intranet webbies have few other forums to meet and exchange ideas, work, etc. Maybe we need a social intranets sessions led by Luke?

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