Giving time for nothing. Why?

It was a day off today and so I could have had a lie in and then got up and taken myself off somewhere, or gone shopping. Instead, I chose to get up ridiculously early and spend eight hours doing work for no payment. This wasn’t usual charity work but it was voluntary. I was helping with a dressage competition learning stuff and helping out.

There are so many things from sporting competitions to charity shops that rely on volunteers giving up their time to make it happen. Without people giving their time to hobbies, interests and pastimes many things would not be able to exist. Every weekend there are people coaching, training, being refereesĀ and stewarding a whole range of sporting events.

But why do we do it and more importantly why should we do it?

People do voluntary work for a whole host of reasons. It may be that they enjoy the sport or hobby that they are helping with, they may find a sense of achievement, it may be part of them giving something back to the community or it may be a way to make friends. So why should we volunteer some time to things?

We are all members of society whether we like it or not. People live together in neighbourhoods or communities, as well as being involved with communities of special interest. If we only did what we got paid to do then it would be a very sad and more depressing life. Children would not be playing in sporting teams, many sporting competitions would not happen, charity shops would cease to exist, the list is endless.

Unfortunately, I think there are many people within communities who can’t see beyond their own world. The only thing that matters to them is what is in their world and what they want. The challenge as time moves on is to get people to recognise the benefits of volunteering and what they can gain beyond money. I know this is not going to be easy but in a couple of weeks it will be Volunteers Week so hopefully it will be a chance to highlight what is a really important element of our society.

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Up Periscope

I have been looking at how people are using Periscope in the past few days. For anyone that doesn’t know what Periscope is it is a live streaming app linked to Twitter. My review of the activity on it hasn’t been a particularly uplifting experience and I know that a lot of individuals and organisations are still trying to get the feel of it. But it is becoming really clear that there are some things that work well on it and some things that don’t. In a nutshell we are back to the age-old thing which is needing good content for all social media activity.

If you haven’t got an interesting story to tell then why should anyone listen and get involved? This is the same for me whether you are using Twitter, Facebook, or newer apps such as Periscope. You have to find the interesting angle on something as it has to resonate with people.

There are some simple things I have found so far:

1. Offer something different – with live streaming it can be really dull just to show people what the media cameras will already have access to. It is interesting to show behind the scenes, from a different angle or something no-one else will see. There has to be a reason for people to watch.

2. Avoid speeches to camera – just broadcasting someone talking to the camera about something is really dull. Remember there needs to be action and an eye-catching element.

3. Make it not too rough round the edges – I know that Periscope is available to everyone so it isn’t expected to be broadcast quality but it does need to be thought through. When you start make sure you have done all the pre-briefing for those taking part. Ensure those people being streamed are aware and supportive of it. There is nothing worse than showing the preparation when you should be showing the action.

4. Promote your use of it – if you auto-Tweet when you use Periscope people who are checking social media will notice. To maximise the interest promote the fact that is going to be used and the time that it is going to happen. People can then make a note to check in and see the stream.

5. Plan how you are going to use it – with any new network or app there is a rush to be seen to use it. Before embarking on live streaming with Periscope ensure you know what you are doing and why, don’t just dive in as it could easily turn people off to see poorly thought through activity.

6. Keep it short and interesting – it is worth remembering that Twitter is 140 characters and the shorter the better to keep people’s attention. If you try to stream through it for extended periods of time people will switch off and you will probably drain your battery significantly.

7. Interact while you are streaming – social media is all about being social so make sure you move beyond broadcasting on Periscope and are able to tweet and send messages during the stream.

I will be continuing my research on how Periscope is being used before jumping in, and will wait to find the right opportunity with the right content and a clear purpose.

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A reminder of the importance of crisis communication

I have been watching with interest the unfolding aftermath of the tragic case of the two children that died on holiday. It is terrible and the thoughts of everyone are with the parents who have had such a horrific experience that has changed their lives. They had been planning a fun family holiday that turned into a nightmare. As the inquest took place my thoughts were with them as they had to relive the experience.

However, as a communicator the aftermath and the handling of the situation by Thomas Cook has been interesting to watch. The company have been out of step throughout the past few weeks and seem to be completely misreading the nation’s mood. I watched a TV news report tonight where the company stated that they had not seen any reduction in bookings so far. It may have been the media interpretation that made it appear so stark but it again appeared the company were more concerned with business than with people.

Nowadays reputation can be lost at the touch of a button. It is much easier than in the years of Ratners to see your company disappear because of an ill-thought through comment, statement or action. People can now share their disgust or hatred in an instant and gain support.

One survey this morning on breakfast television found that a third of people would not want to book a holiday with Thomas Cook after the recent publicity. This is where the decision-making around the compensation, the donation of half of it, failing to apologise and their approach will start to hit the business. The key for me is that they failed to recognise the human element of the situation. People should have been at the centre of their approach and in that most importantly the couple left without their children.

It is yet another reminder of how important the response to a crisis is. Not just what you do but what you say. I appreciate that many communicators working in-house or in agencies may not have faced such a crisis in their career but this is why they need to be prepared. It is vital to consider approaches, to discuss the key issues and of course to look to others for advice when a crisis emerges. Failing to do this could mean the difference between a company existing or going out of business.

My question to all professional communicators is when was the last time you considered how you would deal with a reputational crisis? Perhaps you should.

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Final thoughts on The Detectives

The final episode of The Detectives has just been broadcast and it has proved to be disturbing, thought-provoking and compelling in equal measure. It was able to have objectivity but also to show the human faces on all sides of the investigation. For many people who will never need to meet the police – they are just a uniform but this programme showed they are much more.

Behind every uniform is a human being a real person who has a family, bills to pay and domestic chores to do. The only thing that is different is that they have a critical job to tackle crime, support victims and make communities safer. To do this they have some significant powers but that doesn’t mean they stop being human.

I blogged recently about the importance of recognising the contribution that the emergency services make to society. It is something that we often take for granted and yet it is so vital to safety and security. Watching The Detectives was an odd experience as it covered issues that as a police communicator the team have to deal with on a daily basis. The difference here was that we got to see all sides and most importantly the victims.

I have worked in police communication for 14 years and have played my part in publicising appeals and raising awareness of important issues. I have assisted investigation teams and shared the joy and relief of an arrest, charge and conviction but also the despair at a case that either doesn’t get solved, get to court or get a conviction. The police communicator has an important role supporting frontline officers and it is a responsibility that people take extremely seriously. They have to be dedicated individuals, creative, determined and persistent.

For the past three nights though the world I know from work has been brought home in a stark but emotional way. It has hopefully given an important insight for victims or anyone affected by rape and sexual assault. Beyond that it was a reminder that police officers are more than a uniform they are real people who do a job like no other.

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Would you be caught on camera?

This is a bit of a late night blog after doing an evening shift. Why was I in the office so late? It was linked to the documentary currently showing the work of the Serious Sexual Offences Unit – The Detectives.

I have to admit to being a bit sceptical of taking part in documentaries. They are often poorly conceived and cheap television. At their worst they can appear incredibly exploitative of individuals going through traumatic or difficult moments in their lives. However, when it is good it can be a thought-provoking piece of television that can help to educate and inform not just entertain.

The Detectives has in the first two of its three parts proven to be work well worth getting involved in. It sheds light on an aspect of police work that people rarely see and shows what takes place behind closed doors. If it proves to be really valuable then it will encourage people to come forward and seek help. It will mean an increase in reports. It will help to challenge attitudes people have towards rape and sexual offences.

A lot of time has to be invested to bring such documentaries to the television screen, both from the production company and the subject of the programme. It takes courage of people to be shown dealing with such traumatic experiences both victim and police officer. I have been particularly in awe of the victims who have been brave enough to talk through their experiences in such an open way. They deserve their experiences to be sensitively handled and I hope that is what has happened.

In a busy television schedule with multiple channels available it is still amazing to see how many people can be reached with one programme. If all those people watching take away some messages about how to report serious crimes, what help is available and how they can help make a difference then it was an investment of time well worth taking.

Many companies, organisations or businesses will receive regular requests to get involved in documentary filming. Few opportunities are taken but when they are they should be a window into something people will not normally have access to. I hope that is what The Detectives has been.

If you have been involved in a documentary how did you find it and what did you feel was achieved?

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Roll with the changes

I am just sitting down with a cup of tea after a really fast and furious weekend. This is the time to sit back and reflect on what has been a busy but enjoyable couple of days. When I was planning the weekend it wasn’t at all how it has turned out. On Friday I had a very different view of what was going to take place.

The weekend was supposed to start with a relaxing ride on my horse followed by catching up with some chores around the house. Sunday would then involve some dressage judging followed by a riding lesson. In the end I had a busy Saturday taking my trailer to get serviced, accidentally meeting friends for lunch, and then a riding lesson. Sunday was much more relaxed with riding and then some dressage judging.

It reminded me how important it is for us to be able to be flexible when we are making plans. This is even more critical when we are in a work environment and at the moment when the financial challenge is making us all adapt and alter how we work. The ability to be flexible and to roll with changes is not valued as much as it should be.

When new systems and process are being introduced, or when new people arrive in the team we all have to change the way we work. If we try to stick with the way it was done and the plans we had then we will fail to move forward and in worst case will end up moving backwards. What we need to do is recognise what the change means and then work out how we will be able to deal with it.

Finally, we have to make sure we have some personal resilience. Change is disruptive and if we are not careful we will be asking too much of ourselves and our colleagues. If they, and we, haven’t got the personal resilience to be able to work with the altered situation then it could be a very stressful time.

This was a wonderful weekend that was enjoyable, busy and also relaxing. I am sure that if I had been concerned about the changes and had fought against the alterations it would have been a stressful 48 hours.

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Train, train and train again.

“Haven’t you learnt how to ride yet then,” is often said when I say to people I am having a riding lesson. Today I had a lesson as I have every few weeks since I first had my own horse back in 2003. I have been riding for many years but value someone with knowledge watching me and giving additional hints and tips. Even the top riders have regular lessons or training feedback from others.

Why is this important? I started to think that training, learning and developing should be at the heart of everything we do, no matter how young or old we are. As children our whole lives are about learning new things and everything we do comes with knowledge sharing, testing and feedback. So at what point in our lives do many people stop learning?

Really we are all learning new things on a daily basis but we don’t recognise that we are. Things are seeping into our brains without us even knowing. But for some people finding ways to expand knowledge and experience is a top priority and they seek things out. They are the ones that are doing courses, finding training opportunities and are still questioning whether they have all the right skills.

Of course, you can try to avoid learning new things and stick to what you have done before. You can keep doing the same things while the world is moving on and leaving you behind. I believe every communication professional must continually look to develop themselves further. They need to seek feedback, learn about new techniques and find ways to access training.

When I have lessons on my horse I am given feedback about how I am riding, what I need to do to improve. In the same way I need to ensure I have that feedback throughout my working life about the job I am doing. Have I developed some bad habits at work, and how can I improve my work. In short, train, train and train again should be something we do so that we can move further towards being at the top of our game – whatever game that is.

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