Bridging the gap

One of the most challenging things for communicators who are attempting to introduce social media into their organisation is getting everyone to the same level of knowledge. It is only to be expected that there will be early adopters, those that follow and then the latecomers. If you add in the hierarchical nature of many organisations then the mix can be a real problem. What happens when a middle manager with a lack of understanding about social doesn’t like the tweet or post?

Social media, like many changes in the workplace, can be seen as a threat, a distraction, a novelty, or as a strange and unknown world. It will always take some time to share knowledge and skills across the business. There is no easy way of getting everyone to the same point. People are all different and will approach things from their personal perspective.

The most important thing is how, as communicators, we deal with this issue. Will we put pressure on the latecomers? Will we impose sanctions on staff who may get a bit exuberant? Will we allow senior staff who don’t understand social networking to decide what does and doesn’t work? Will we be prepared to invest time and energy into training and sharing skills to everyone in the organisation? Will we stand up for what we believe or know is the right path?

Senior people and middle managers are often among the last to gain an understanding of social networking. They are often older and struggle to get to grips with the informality, the conventions of networks and the merging of personality into work based communication. If they look at what more junior colleagues are doing it is easy for them to become nervous and possibly to overreact. As communicators it is our responsibility to stand firm on what is acceptable and appropriate and to be able to articulate that to the uninitiated. We also have to make sure that we can provide appropriate training and learning opportunities for everyone.

The basic motto is ‘keep calm and carry on’. Don’t let bosses with a lack of knowledge derail your work to embed social media in the organisation. Be strong, be determined and you will start to reap the rewards.

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A 999 call, Manchester United and a message shared

The 999 call made by someone wanting to speak to Sir Alex Ferguson attracted a lot of interest this week. It was put out by officers through the GMP Manchester North Facebook page they administer to raise awareness of the problem of inappropriate calls and to encourage people to think whether they have a genuine emergency. It was the way this information became public that was most important for me.

If you missed what happened you can check it out on the PR Week website.

More than three years ago Greater Manchester Police embarked upon a new way of working that reduced central control and became about facilitating and empowering officers and staff to be communicators. The way this could be achieved was by maximising the opportunities of social media. It needed determination and support from senior staff who were prepared to make the change even if it meant taking some risks.

What has happened is that there are more great stories and details being made public now than we have ever seen. Before we made the changes the way such a story as the 999 call would have made its way to the central communication team would have been long and tortuous – if it had ever made its way to us. Despite an education programme in place to raise awareness of the communication team and what it does, and explaining the opportunities of working with the media it was so distant that it had no relevance to staff. Not any more.

The programme which has now established Twitter and Facebook for local neighbourhoods and communities has ensured that effective communication is now something at the fingertips of staff. They are able to make a difference and see how they are doing it on a daily basis. When they get it right it has a huge impact, as with the 999 call but it doesn’t come without difficulties.

Many of the officers and staff have times when they are concerned about what they have done. Has their genuine attempt to engage been misinterpreted? Do people get their sense of humour? Can they really have a personality on social media?

The role of the communication staff becomes to help provide reassurance to guide when guidance is needed and above all to give encouragement to people stepping into this challenging world. It is not about controlling, chastising or questioning but has to be much more about building confidence for the future. We all know there will be times when things do go wrong and need to be dealt with but these are few and far between.

These are definitely exciting times and I hope that we are now seeing the fruits of the work that began more than three years ago and has been able to put communication into everyone’s daily lives.

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Are we forgetting young people?

I had the opportunity today (Thursday 16 January 2014) of speaking to social media apprentices at the Juice Academy. In case you are not aware of it, this is definitely something worth checking out. Run by Tangerine PR it is the first of its kind in the country and offers 16 to 18 year-olds an alternative to going to university.

The youngsters have real ‘day jobs’ with some large organisations but are also provided with regular training so that they become highly employable in the fast growing social media sector. I have had the chance to meet a few of the apprentices in the past year and have always been impressed by their maturity and professionalism. Today was no different. The group listened as I explained the social media journey that Greater Manchester Police have been on for the past three years. I hope that they found it useful or interesting to see a different side of social media. 

It did make me think whether the communication industry is doing enough for young people in these difficult times? Are we thinking about the future of PR and communication and giving young people an opportunity? At the moment with so many highly qualified and experienced people looking for work it is easy to overlook teenagers or graduates. They need to get work experience and a foot on the ladder if they are going to be able to progress.

I was delighted to see Toronto Police Service also advertising for a young person to lead on their 2014 youth in policing initiative. This is an opportunity to make the programme of activities happen and also develop links between communities and particularly their young people and the police service. The central requirement is for it to be a local student aged 15 to 18 to lead the work during the summer break. A great opportunity to do some good but also to get some valuable work experience.

There are some great opportunities that exist and people who are doing great work to ensure that there is a future for young people. The question is can we do more to give young people a chance?

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Doing the right thing

I am sure most people could not help to be moved by the story this week of the 15-year-old boy who died after confronting a bomber at school gates in Pakistan. Aitzaz Hassan died in hospital after ignoring fellow students and deciding to confront and attempt to capture the bomber who then detonated his vest at the gates of the school in the Hangu district on Monday.

It such an amazing story of a young boy that stood his ground and in doing so saved many other people. The school held an estimated 2,000 students so the impact could have been significant if the bomber had achieved their goal.

But how many of us would have done the same thing faced with such a set of circumstances? And on a much lower level how many of us will stand up for what we believe is right on a daily basis? Do we have the courage, the determination and the passion to step away from the crowd and possible go on alone to confront things?

If we are really going to make a difference in our daily lives and to make progress within our communities then we need to show some courage and commitment. If there are things that we think need to be changed then we need to be in a position to stand up and get them changed. Sometimes doing this is relatively simple and just needs us to put a bit of time and effort into things. But often in standing up for what we think is right it has the potential to have a negative impact on our own lives. That is where the big challenge takes place. How many of us will put the good of others before that of ourselves? How many will risk reprisals to do what is right?

When we are all going about our daily life I hope we will remember the sacrifice made by Aitzaz and challenge ourselves to do the right thing when those difficult issues confront us.

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Eight communication predictions for 2014

We have reached the first day of 2014 and I am sure there will be lots of people making resolutions, deciding to change their lives or to do something new or different in the coming year. I am not one for New Year resolutions so have skipped that. But I did think it might be worth considering what we are likely to see in the year ahead for those working in communication.

I decided to limit myself to eight predictions of things that 2014 might bring. Let me know whether you agree or disagree, and whether we just have to wait and see.

  1. Content not channels – this should be the year that many people stop focusing on the channels, particularly with social networking and instead focus on content. There are so many channels available but the investment needs to be in content development rather than channel management.
  2. Smaller teams – it is a fairly safe bet that we will see communication teams shrinking again in the year ahead. But how they look at the end of that is still up for some discussion and may be dependent on the sector they are working in.
  3. More to do – people have high expectations of brands and expect good service and a swift response to any problems. Managing reputation will continue to get even harder, more demanding with a lot to do. 
  4. Breaking down boundaries – the communication team will become much more than the group of people managing media and social media. They should hopefully be the ones shaping organisational change and culture. 
  5. Wearable technology – will become more commonplace. The arrival of Google Glass and smart watches have the possibility of changing our relationship with technology. If they can demonstrate how they make life easier for us then people will get over the concern about how they look. 
  6. Social integration – I like this phrase from @tedrubin which basically means that organisations, companies and businesses all need to move from social being the thing that marketing or communication run and have to integrate it into processes and systems. There can’t be a split between communication and customer service it is all about social interaction. 
  7. Google+ finds its place – it already has more than 540 million active accounts and with the links to Google search  it has the ability to do more for you than a lot of social networks. We might see it going from the second largest network to take the top spot. Definitely one to start looking more closely at for any business. 
  8. Privacy issues – obviously these will remain at the forefront of discussions and developments in communication. This is from the impact of wearable technology through to what access governments have to what we are doing online. It is all going to be the subject of much more debate in the coming year. 

Only time will tell whether these things happen but it should be an interesting time. I will be fascinated to see if communication and social can develop even further.

Let me know what you think 2014 may bring. Happy New Year.

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What has 2013 taught us?

So with a few days left of 2013 I find myself pondering the question what have we learnt during the last 12 months. Perhaps it is more accurate to say I am considering what I have learnt. I think when reviewing this year it boils down to seven things.

1. Learning is still fun and even easier. This was the year that I tried my first MOOC (massive open online course) and I liked it. The opportunity to be able to tap into university courses from around the world through Coursera was both exciting and liberating. It gives everyone the opportunity to develop themselves as most of the courses can be taken for free. All you need is some determination and some time. It is something well worth checking out for 2014. I have already signed up for two more.

2. Social is here to stay and breaks down barriers. In January I was given the opportunity to go to Europe to talk about social media and disaster management. I met people from many countries but all had a desire to make full use of social media. Throughout 2013 I have discussed the impact of social media with many different people. Frustratingly, many are still too caught up in the issue of risks and resourcing to take full advantage of what is readily available. The past 12 months have shown that those willing to embrace social media can reap the rewards.

3. Visual information is good. This year has seen the rise in popularity of the infographic and why? Well the answer is clear many people remember information more clearly when it has been provided visually. It is also a busy world and being able to get the detail quickly is essential. I am sure that the use of the infographic will develop further as the technology updates and develops.

4. Security at the forefront. We have seen lots of media hype and some genuine public concern about what protection exists for the individual citizen and how much ‘snooping’ is taking place by governments. And at the same time there has been more demand for protection to be put in place on social networks to ensure people are less at risk of bullying, harassment and are not exposed to things they shouldn’t be. The fine balance between the rights of society and the individual is going to be long debated.

5. Communication professionals need to adapt to survive. More is being asked of people who work in communication and public relations. They are expected to be innovators, archivists, psychologists and many other things. This can be quite scary like looking at a huge mountain that you have to climb. On the other hand, it is a great opportunity to demonstrate what communication professionals can do and can achieve. It has put the role at the centre of the organisational change and development if we are prepared to take up the challenge.

6. Keep logged on. I learnt that I am one of the estimated 56 per cent of people who suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out). For us sad individuals social networks cannot be far away and being offline for any period of time can be stressful. I get a huge amount of information, immediate updates and news through social networks, without those networks I fear that I am going to be ‘out of the loop’.

My final thought has been brought to the fore in the run up to Christmas. Working on the annual Christmas safety campaigns was more fun than normal because we involved the inquiring minds from the local primary school. They helped us share important messages but more importantly we were able to give something back to them. Some fun, some education and a Christmas to remember. This was the year when people became even more generous. There were a number of stories about victims of crime who had suffered and when details were circulated by police on social networks so many people came forward. We can all definitely look to 2014 as a year when we can do more good and help more people both virtually and in the real world.

Now that is the learning from 2013 I can start to consider the predictions for what may be coming in 2014. But that is another blog for another day.

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Possibly a Merry Christmas?

Tis the season to be spending, to be online shopping and to be demanding of the service industry. In December the focus is on buying presents, going on Christmas outings and preparing for the festivities. When we do that it means we have more than a few customer service experiences – both good and bad.

How important is good service to our buying habits? Do we feel able to criticise when things fall below our expectations?

I have had a few experiences of both good and bad service in the past few weeks. When things are bad I have felt quite within my rights to highlight them and this is often through social networks. Nowadays, not only do my close friends and family know if I have been frustrated by something but so does everyone that I am connected to through social networks. Get it wrong and fail to react and it will be shared with as many people as possible. However, get it wrong and then manage to deal with it appropriately and I will share that positive experience as well.

One recent interaction was with Royal Mail over a lost parcel. I tweeted my frustration that a package had gone missing while submitting my complaint through the website. The local delivery office provided a fantastic service, found the parcel, phoned me to tell me and arrange redelivery. Straight away I went back onto Twitter to share the news. What is more I asked the main corporate account to ensure that the thanks was passed onto the staff at the delivery office. In my mind not only did I share the details of the good service I received but I was able to highlight it to management.

If the experience had been poor would I have changed my habits? A little difficult when people send things through Royal Mail but in other circumstances the answer has to be yes. There is no way I will continue to accept poor service when I am parting with my hard-earned cash. I suffered poor service some years ago from a garage and have never returned. Instead, I chose to buy my next vehicle from another dealer and found another dealer to provide the servicing. The service I receive is excellent and so I will never return, and I remain very vocal about the poor experience I had.

In these challenging financial times I wonder whether companies and businesses are still providing customer service training for staff? It could be the difference between building and maintaining customers and seeing people disappear down the road. The expansion of social media has put the shop window of every business on a global stage. For those that realise this and invest in their frontline staff it could possibly be a Merry Christmas.

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