It's all gone a bit quackers - day three at LGcomms Academy

Yesterday was my turn in the LGA Digital Comms tag team at the LGcomms Academy.  Statistics in the morning and social media in the afternoon – lovely stuff.

Neil Wholey’s presentation on benchmarking was excellent – packed with great stats, fascinating correlations and a clear message that  benchmarking should help drive improvement in performance – not be an excuse for complacency if you are above average and dismissing the results with a; “Ah but things are different here”, if you are below the mark.

I love a good chart I do

I loves a good chart I do

What struck me in the LGinsight research was the clear relationship between those residents who felt informed and kept up to speed by their council and overall satisfaction levels. Later in the day, Tim Seamans of Lancashire County Council gave an excellent presentation about the internal engagement work being undertaken there. Through survey work they came to the conclusion that employees typically had the same opinion about most issues as residents. Well of course I hear you say - they are not disparate groups – all council staff are residents of one authority or another and have the same concerns about tax rises, available care for the elderly, community resources etc as any other resident. I think some interesting work could be undertaken in demystifying the unknown mass that is residents, never breaching the walls of the council offices. We know how we like to be engaged with/informed - why should be doing things much differently when it comes to residents?

Conferences, by their very nature, with a critical mass of like-minded people can sometimes veer into preaching to the converted. I would say many there yesterday knew that consumer/customer power has never been greater (though perhaps not some of the interesting titbits such as 50% of us would have been willing to complain ten years ago – it’s now shot up to 75%), that 25 gazillion people use Facebook everyday in the UK (OK slight exaggeration) and that now more than ever we have the tools at our disposal to confer with peers, friends and family about products and services and then tell the world once we have made up our mind. What I would like to have seen more of were suggestions as to how we get senior management on board when it comes to new ways of engagement – to make it clear to them that huge swathes of customers/residents are interacting with the world around them in a way we haven’t quite caught up with yet. There were some great examples of innovative things happening – Michelle Leavesley’s  golf ducks absolutely nailed its target audience and demonstrated how cost effective a well thought out social media strategy can be. However there was also paraphernalia being handed out about social media monitoring services that to my mind erred on the side of scare-mongering. It would have done little to reassure more nervy senior managers who were reticent about dipping their toe into new ways of engagement.


Totally quacky - good speakers though      

NOOOO! Don't you dare hit that like button

I am not saying that social media is the answer to all engagement/communication issues. Simon Ruda of the Cabinet Office gave a fascinating presentation on the work of the Nudge unit and behavioural insight and their use of randomised control trials to test subtle changes in more traditional methods of communication. An additional sentence in a letter had unbelievable effects. All this demonstrated to me the sophistication to which we should be approaching our engagement strategies. Dan Slee and others have highlighted that what the last few days have made clear is communication professionals need greater and wider skills than ever before. Our work is not that of the cheesy photocall with a councillor shaking hands beside a new recycling bin; as has been said good communicators should have more akin with scientists than artists.

So back to the critical mass of like minded people. At a conference such as this, it can be very inspiring to speak with so many people that feel the same way and feel passionate about driving forth new approaches. However, once we head back to work that critical mass can feel like it’s dissipated somewhat. I am with the call for LGcommuncations unconferences – perhaps a few spread out across the year. Some peer assists and roundtable discussions would certainly help in keeping up to speed with what colleagues are doing across the country and hopefully inspire others to take the bold step and try something new.

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