20 things I learned at CommsCamp 2017

I’ve been at the annual summer CommsCamp unconference event in Birmingham today organised by the awesome Dan Slee, Emma Rogers and volunteer team.

The 20-things-I-learned format is a good one, so here goes again:

  1. The General Data Protection Regulation kicks in from May 2018 and we should all learn more about it: not least because we’ll need to rewrite those wordy T&Cs pages into something people can realistically consent to
  2. I found this handy summary of the other lawful reasons why an organisation might hold or process personal data where consent isn’t obtained
  3. The Scottish Government have a nice Individual, Social, Material model for looking at behaviour change, including the barriers which hold people within the organisation back from engaging online
  4. The Film Cafe team know their video onions, and are generous with their knowledge. You should probably book yourself onto one of their workshops with Comms2Point0
  5. A classic ‘cutaway’ in film editing is 6 seconds, as that’s apparently the conventional wisdom on how long it takes a viewer to tune into something. (In other news, six second video service Vine is no longer with us…)
  6. The optimum film length for Facebook is 21 seconds; Instagram 15 seconds; YouTube 3.5 minutes. Bear in mind though that 80% of your viewers will have tuned out/scrolled past after 30 seconds of your film, so put the key info up front rather than building up to it dramatically.
  7. 360 video and VR is pretty cool (it was fun seeing people experience it for the firs time) and you can make your own with a £150 camera. But it’s not really about gadgetry: it’s about really immersive and powerful experiences, in a world of flicking through feeds. Big implications for charity fundraising, media and public sector comms.
  8. Check out Purple Planet for royalty-free music for your film soundtracks
  9. Use lapel mics, rather than directional mics for good video sound. There are options from Rode and Tonor on Amazon for sub £10
  10. Maybe we’re returning to a new era of silent movies: so many videos on social media are viewed with subtitles on/sound off
  11. Facebook can auto-subtitle live video now (and lets you correct errors, thankfully)
  12. One organisation changed all its departments’ Twitter passwords to force them to get in touch with central Comms about purdah… and to identify which accounts which nobody was taking responsibility for in the organisation. Brutal but effective.
  13. You can be overwhelmed not just with hostility but also with supportive messages during a crisis: during the recent Manchester attack, the Fire Service had to work hard to sift through and subsequently acknowledge the sheer volume of positive feedback and encouragement (we’ll bank that idea for future simulations)
  14. Encouragingly, the multi-agency Tier 1 flooding exercise we helped support last year in Greater Manchester helped at least one organisation feel better-equipped to handle a real crisis when it hit. That unprompted feedback is great to hear.
  15. Politicians and political advisors are a growing challenge for emergency comms. The last few months have turned up the pressure on them to respond quickly, show emotion, and make the right strategic decisions. Right now, managing their information requests can be distraction for emergency responders.
  16. All is not what it seems on Twitter. I’ve followed Kate Starbird’s work on fake accounts for a while, and Andy’s example of copy/pasted statuses is intriguing (and another reason to be sceptical about numbers and automated monitoring)
  17. Sainsbury’s allegedly shot a fox near one of its stores (there’s a story that begs some questions by itself) and didn’t handle the online backlash well
  18. Facebook Groups are a challenge for digital engagement: critical to working with local/subject matter groups, don’t get picked up by monitoring tools, but hard to participate in as a professional without overwhelming your personal feed or seriously blurring the boundary between work and home. For ref, here’s the golden oldie case study I mentioned from Al Smith on turning a hostile Facebook group into a positive crowd
  19. Christian from the Scottish Govt bakes a mean brownie.
  20. And on that topic: you can eat your bodyweight in cake from the bake sale stall (thanks Kate Bentham!) and still walk away empty handed in terms of the charity shop tat raffle. Next year… *shakes fist at sky*

I had an exchange with Esko from Satori Lab about to what extent public sector comms people can really be expected to start adopting networked behaviours when so much of the world around them, from unions, to leadership, to the press office model, is so hierarchical and naturally adversarial.

But on reflection I think I was wrong – or at least, not ambitious enough.

It’s clearly good to do classic corporate comms better with more engaging video, faster crisis comms and better co-ordination of Twitter accounts. But there’s a bigger opportunity for the individuals working in organisations to properly work with each other and with citizens through digital tools. It’s the kind of community engagement I’ve been blogging about here for almost a decade, that takes courage and passion. Depressingly, that kind of digital comms is still rare and some are still being burnt as heretics in their organisations.

CommsCamp, OneTeamGov, UKGovcamp and events like it are about reinforcing the network and building our collective confidence to agitate for change, not simply to accept the status quo and our place in it.

Because if not us, then who?

20 things I learned at #CommsCamp15

CommsCamp15 cakes

I’ve spent a really lovely day at CommsCamp in Birmingham, recharging my batteries after a busy few weeks. Spending time listening to (mainly) public sector comms people doing interesting things in their organisations has taught me loads about what’s happening at the cutting edge. It’s also reminded me just how powerful the unconference format is with the right mix of people. I went to five sessions, all interesting, all different, none of which would have worked without the infrastructure the organisers Dan, Darren, Emma and Kate brought to the event, and all of which would have failed if they’d tried to structure it more. It’s really a magical format for professional development, and the comms2point0 team deserves a medal.

Someone once invented a useful ’20 things I learned at…’ format for post-event blogging, so here goes:

  1. I can vouch for the fact that Manzil’s is very nice
  2. The Radisson Blu, Birmingham is one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed in, and good value
  3. The Defamation Act 2013 is worth knowing about: amongst other things, it defines that publishers online can’t be sued for libel more than 12 months after a piece of content is first uploaded (h/t @DBanksy)
  4. There’s no legal precedent yet for whether organisations are liable for libellous comments left on their Facebook page. That’s an interesting one.
  5. Don’t wait: if you get your correction/apology in early, you’ll save big time on libel action costs, apparently, in terms of correcting any harm considered to be done
  6. There’s no-win-no-fee style changes coming in November as part of the reforms to press regulation: 2 or more people publishing news content online are considered publishers, and if they aren’t in a Royal Charter-endorsed regulated body, they’re liable for costs of legal actions against them. Time to check that group blog over just in case.
  7. The Privilege defence in libel actions gives public sector organisations justification to talk about their work if they can defend it as fair, accurate, relevant and without malicious intent (that last one matters)
  8. You can use WhatsApp on the web (and @colebagski did, at Birmingham City Council during the last election period)
  9. On WhatsApp, you can share video and infographics to a Broadcast List of up to 256 recipients – and the resulting comments are surprisingly civilised
  10. Intranets stir up strong feelings, and we need to show & tell more to share the cultural lessons learned or there’s a risk of getting stuck in religious wars between platforms
  11. Uploading a video directly on Facebook is much better for engagement and functionality than sharing a YouTube link (it autoplays, and shows closed captions amongst other useful tips, from @AlbFreeman. More about video beyond YouTube here.)
  12. Iconosquare lets you access more analytics for your Instagram account, and search tags neatly (h/t @DaveMusson)
  13. …and Instagram hashtags do matter to build audience since that’s how a lot of people find stuff. You can add up to 30 per post.
  14. ‘IGers’ are local groups of Instagram users who you could give exclusive, behind the scenes access to your organisation to engage a whole new audience
  15. You can regram
  16. Orcid identifiers help you identify as an author online (h/t Andy Mabbett)
  17. Christine Townsend used to police my old hometown of Hastings
  18. The Children’s Encyclopaedia Britannica on CD-ROM runs to 7 discs
  19. You can have three different kinds of lemon drizzle cake, all of which are lovely
  20. The chaps of Govdelivery make a fine Victoria sponge and coffee & walnut cake (and have 5m UK subscribers to boot)

If there’s a common theme running through the (non food-related) points above, it’s that we’re at at interesting and confusing inflection point in corporate social media use. Newer channels like WhatsApp, Instagram and Periscope are challenging comms people, IT managers, news organisations and lawyers to confront questions about public vs private spaces, niche vs numbers, and publishers vs participants. Mistakes will and need to be made as we discover where those lines are drawn, and intelligent people like the CommsCampers need the space and opportunity to make them.

I’ve not enjoyed myself or learned so much in ages.

The Wheel of Misfortune

I had a great time at CommsCamp in Birmingham last week. Ann, Dan, Darren, Lloyd and helpers did a fantastic job, putting on an event which worked for old hands and those new to unconferences. Every time you think there’s nothing more to talk about, you realise there is (and as always, many of the best bits are the casual chats in hallways and foyers).

commscamp session

Photo credit: Simon Booth-Lucking (I promise, the body language belies a lively discussion…)

I ran a little session with a pretty self-serving goal: to pilot brainstorming a generic ‘Wheel of Misfortune’, or a set of communications risks, that I (or anyone else) might be able to use to help prepare an organisation for hostility in social media.

To me, the purpose of the Wheel of Misfortune is really threefold:

  1. To make risk assessment for communications something a bit more engaging the normal dreaded grids, and provide the thinking behind formal documents that can demonstrate to bosses and others that you’ve thought through what might go wrong
  2. Issues Management: to identify some of the potential problem areas or vulnerabilities which, if you handle them well, can help you avert a crisis
  3. Crisis Management: to identify some of the constraints or dependencies which might cause you problems when you find yourself needing to communicate in a crisis

The basic plan was to divide a circle into about 20 segments, and brainstorm the ‘misfortunes’ recording one in each segment. Then we went round and tried to find some mitigations or solutions to each misfortune (though in the time, we only got about half way round):


About 20 CommsCampers helped me out, and we ended up with the following list of misfortunes:

  • Confidential policy info or personal data is leaked
  • Something embarrassing is posted from wrong account/inadvertently made public
  • Message timing is bad, clashes with news agenda or makes organisation look insensitive/out of touch
  • Hashtag or discussion gets hijacked
  • People from across the organisation give out inconsistent messages
  • Communications get watered down and become ineffective
  • Excessive process delays speed of response in a crisis
  • Short social updates/messages get taken out of context
  • Ongoing customer service issue: sustained customer complaint doesn’t get handled properly
  • Organisation faces an exposé/investigative report due to FOI/transparency
  • Personal abuse is directed at staff/leaders
  • Messages are deliberately misinterpreted to suit someone’s agenda
  • Get drawn into heated online discussion
  • Audience/internal colleagues have over-inflated expectations
  • Nobody cares
  • Internal politics and egos overrule communications strategy
  • Key platforms or data are lost/shut down
  • Organisation or key individuals are spoofed/parodied
  • Organisation is accused of abusing platforms/breaking rules
  • Someone posts something with an embarrassing typos or makes a miscellaneous cockup

(I particularly enjoyed ‘Nobody cares’, the perennial fear but all-to-frequent reality of public sector communications…)

The mitigations had some sound threads in common (but as I say, we only got half way):

  • Have the clarity of process and skills in place to act quickly
  • Monitor actively
  • Develop strong internal/stakeholder relationships and contacts, in order to co-ordinate activity
  • Defend sensible strategic communications, and don’t be swept along by ego or events
  • Seek second opinions
  • Be prepared to ignore or block abuse

I took the thoughts into a session Ben Proctor and I ran on Friday for the Government Communications Network on Digital Communications for Crises and Emergencies, which was a fascinating day in its own right, highlighting the breadth of crises that public sector communicators deal with, often day-in-day-out.

So many thanks to the CommsCampers who brainstormed, and may the Wheel of Misfortune spin kindly for you all…