Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Eight ways to craft a top government tweet

Often the issue today is no longer how an agency or council gets a message or response approved for release via social media, but rather how to cut through all the noise.

I analysed the top tweets by Australian governments and councils over the last two months, as reported by Great Oz Gov Tweets.

Out of this I identified eight ways in which agencies and councils could stand out from the crowd.

I blogged about it over at Delib Australia's blog and wanted to draw my eGovAU audience's attention to it as well as I think there's some very helpful ideas in the mix.

To read my post visit: http://delib.com.au/2014/02/eight-ways-create-top-government-tweet/

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Monday, February 24, 2014

A good community engagement professional understands their tools - and picks the right ones to meet their goals

I had an interesting conversation via Twitter with @hughstephens of Dialogue Consulting on Friday regarding how and when different consultation and engagement tools should be used by government.

His view was that online surveys should not be the default consultation method for government,
I found this a rather unusual thing to say - though I did agree with his follow-up tweet that,

There was an interesting discussion between Hugh and myself after this point, which you can follow via my Storify or directly on Twitter.

However I can boil my position down to one point: focus first on the goals of your consultation or engagement, then select the tools based on which will best suit your needs.

This approach works whatever your goals and whether you're consulting online, offline or both.

It causes me no end of concern when senior management, communication or community engagement professionals start from a position of which tool they prefer to use and then justify it within the goals they seek to achieve.

This can lead to distortion of the goals, poor outcomes and, potentially, significant pain for agencies, councils and governments or councillors when there's substantial pushback on the decisions arrived at via this process.

I'm also concerned when I hear engagement professionals state personal biases for or against specific types of tools. This can also bias an engagement process.

Someone who doesn't like, is unfamiliar with, or out-of-date on the capabilities of certain types of consultation and engagement tools may not be able to provide the best advice as to which tools and approaches will best meet an organisation's engagement goals.

I've been talking about this issue for around eight years now within and with government, exposing public sector professionals to a range of online approaches now available to them for engagement purposes to deepen and broaden their toolkit.

Only by understanding the capabilities, strengths and weaknesses of a good cross-section of the tools available today can communication and engagement professionals provide good advice to their senior management and elected officials regarding how to achieve their goals.

So for everyone involved in community engagement from the public sector - don't focus on the tools you like or dislike, focus on your goals.

Use your breadth of experience with different engagement and consultation approaches, together with evidence of past successes and failures, to select the right tools to meet your goals, whatever they happen to be!

PS: I'll shortly be crowdfunding a product designed to help community engagement and communications professionals to understand and select the right online tools for their goals. It is based on the training tool I developed and have been using successfully around the world for the last eight years.

Keep an eye out for more information in my blog and at socialmediaplanner.com.au

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What governments can teach businesses about social

Below is the presentation I gave at Social Business 2014 today on what governments can teach business in Australia about using social media and digital effectively.

There's plenty of good examples of how government is using social well - for policy development, service delivery, engagement and more.




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First the internet, then social media and now crowdfunding is disrupting government

Government has proven no more immune to disruption by digital than any other industry.

The internet changed the model for governments in delivering information and dealing with pressure groups. It has been a largely positive disruption, facilitated billions in savings as government moved services online in egovernment initiatives. At the same time it has seen governments able to provide the same, or more, services to citizens without growing staff numbers at the same rate as population growth.

In Australia the Australian Public Service employs roughly the same number of staff as in 1990, despite a 30% increase in our population. While not all attributable to egovernment, I think it is fair to say that considering the range of services and activities of the Australian Government today, compared to 40 years ago, digitalisation has had a substantial impact in respect of job numbers.

Social media has been a more uncomfortable disruption for government, thus far providing for a mixed experience. Governments in Australia have rapidly adopted the use of social media - as I track through the proxy of Twitter accounts (over 920 today compared to none in early 2007) - using social platforms for activities from communication to engagement, customer service, codesign and policy development.

At the same time social media has challenged government by giving millions a more public voice and way to organise groups - from simple petitions for bank notes usable by blind people through to connecting people and facilitating the organisation of mass rallies during the Arab Spring.

Governments have found it more difficult to ignore self-organising groups than single isolated individuals, and have begun to face continual critiquing of every decision as soon as it is announced - an unprecedented environment of scrutiny and noise.

However the clamour of critics on social networks can be ignored - we've already seen several elected politicians cancel social media accounts and put much greater constraints around how their staff use these networks.

The next disruption, crowdfunding, is already showing some signs of having a material impact beyond that of raised voices and organised protests.

Historically when governments stopped funding activities or services, or changed what they delivered - as a result of electoral and policy changes - the media would comment, the public would talk about it for a few weeks, maybe even protest, and then generally governments could get on with delivering their new mix without significant disruption.

Governments were in control - they chose where their budget was spent and things that were cut remained cut.

Of course some form of charity or other provider might choose to find alternative funding to continue delivering a service on a small scale, however this could be safely ignored, or even declared a win by government as it was clear that government didn't need to fund that service anyway.

This line was actually used very recently by the current Australian government after it defunded the Climate Change Commission (a government-funded body for providing expert advice on climate change to the public) and the commissioners went out to find alternative funding.

However something was different on this occasion.

Rather than having a few organisations or wealthy and concerned individuals provide funds to keep the Climate Change Commission alive under a new name, the Climate Council, the Commissioners used a crowdfunding route.

The first donation to keep the Climate Council live was $15. Over the first 12 hours it raised $160,000 - literally overnight.

At the end of the first week the Climate Council had raised one million dollars, and the donations continued to arrive.

For awhile it was unclear whether this was a once-off event. The Climate Commission dealt with an emotive topic - climate change - and was led by prominent and well-respected Australian, Professor Tim Flannery. It was an existing body with an existing purpose, so already had structure and goals.

This was a useful combination for crowdfunding, providing a leg-up for marshalling the right crowd to provide the donations required to continue operations.

However we're now seeing crowd funding used to underpin the completion of another defunded Australian Government project, the Blueprint for an Ageing Australia.

While it is unclear whether this project will meet its goal, it is beginning to suggest that crowdfunding may become a regular tactic used to counter government decisions.


Effectively communities could use crowdfunding, in certain casesm as an alternative to government funding. The approach allows them to self-organise and finance public initiatives that they feel are important but governments, for funding or ideological reasons, do not.

The impact of this crowdfunding may be benign - communities simply getting the services they wish, regardless of the government's priorities - or may be considered highly political.

If a government defunds something and then supporters find the funds in the crowd to keep it alive, what does that say about the community's view of the government's priorities and decisions? Will governments be forced to back down or change their approach? Will it affect elections?

This is still very early days, however it is worth governments beginning to build their awareness of crowdfunding and how it is beginning to be used - as well as how it can be used for the benefit of government, such as by seeking some public crowdfunding for an initiative before agreeing to put public money into the mix.

At the end of the day an individual putting down their personal cash to back a crowdfunding project is a significantly greater commitment of belief and value than a signature on a petition, a social media backlash or even a march on the street. Governments need to appreciate and understand this and treat it accordingly.


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Monday, February 17, 2014

Help me create a crowdfunding video for a social media planning tool

I need a little help from folks in Canberra for an upcoming project.

I'm crowdfunding a social media planning tool I developed to help people increase their social media expertise and assist teams in planning effective social media strategies.

I've used the tool with hundreds of people to great effect, however need a little funding to make it more widely available to social media professionals and organisations.

To improve my chance of raising the necessary funds, I'm creating a video demonstrating the tool in use.

I need 3-4 people to help out in Canberra on Saturday 22 February (between 9am and 3pm).

You will be filmed using the tool, and the video will be published online.

I will cover your lunch and you'll have my thanks, plus I'll keep you informed about the progress of the project.

So if you're interested in being involved in a crowdfunding process, in trying out a social media planning tool, in getting more video experience and/or in helping me out, then:

Please get in touch with me via email: craig@socialmediaplanner.com.au

BTW - you can follow progress on Twitter at @socmedplanner

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Register now for BarCamp Canberra (on 15 March)

Register now for BarCamp Canberra 2014

What is BarCamp Canberra? An annual event now in it's seventh year, BarCamp Canberra is part of the global movement of self-organised conferences, of which thousands have been run.

As a free event, BarCamp Canberra covers topics from science and social media to design and democracy, inviting attendees to network and interact with each other through the day.

Speakers are not pre-organised, but determined on the day, with the three rooms available meaning there will be up to 40 presentations to choose from.

To see what others think about BarCamp Canberra, view the videos below.

For more details on what you can expect at the event, visit the BarCamp Canberra website.

Note - I am one of the 'unorganisers' for the event.

The view of an attendee at BarCamp Canberra 2013



A presentation from BarCamp 2013: Where's my jetpack?

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

What's beyond transparency? Find out at the next Code for Australia event in Melbourne

As part of the CodeAcross2014 series of global events (over 44 events in 9 countries), Code for Australia is holding a free event on Friday 21 March from 5:30pm in Melbourne.

Featuring four guest speakers, the event will approach the "Beyond Transparency" theme by discussing how citizens, civil servants and entrepreneurs can move beyond open data to come together and build new ways of solving problems.

For more information, or to register, visit canbook.me/codeforaustralia

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Use open data from the Victorian Government to improve awareness and literacy for social and safety issues - potentially win $2,500

The Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA) in conjunction with the Victorian Department of State Development, Business and Innovation (DSDBI), have launched a data competition to identify approaches using Victorian government open data to improve awareness and literacy for social and safety issues.

The competition is open for registration, with entries closing 28 February and winners to be announced at the Connect Expo in Melbourne on 14 March this year.

So what makes this different to past data competitions held by or with Australian governments?

There's a little prize money ($10,000 split across four $2,500 prizes), but more importantly there's the offer of support for the winners to develop their entry over the next year.

The four winners will have an opportunity to consult with the Victorian government to continue development, with mentoring from leading SIBA members.

This is a step in the right direction for open data competitions in Australia - not just giving out prizes for using open data, but helping foster great projects so they can become sustainable and, where appropriate, commercial.

There's been thousands of websites, apps and services created out of open data competitions around the world in the last five years, but only a handful have seen ongoing development and success.

As governments get better at understanding the value proposition for open data, I hope they begin appreciating the need to provide a support system for open data entrepreneurs - who often have little or no traditional start-up field and require additional support to take an open data prototype into a sustainable product.

Start-up incubators, Angel investors and even early stage venture capitalists may also want to look at how they can foster these 'accidental entrepreneurs', whose mindset can be more focused on social good or simply an interesting data challenge, than on profiting from their open data work.

One thing is certain to me - if governments don't learn to be better at fostering the ongoing success of services developed from open data, at some point politicians and senior public servants will begin to see the open data space as an unsuccessful fad. A waste of public sector time and money, littered with the corpses of cool app ideas which never translated into economic returns or improved social outcomes.

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Saturday, February 08, 2014

The art of 21st century political protests - and preparing for when it is turned on government agencies and companies

The right for citizens to express political views and to protest (within limits) against specific acts, or inaction, by politicians is one of the fundamental and defining principles of democratic government and has been in place for, well, as long as there's been democracies.

In fact this principle is one which democracies frequently use to differentiate themselves from other governance systems.

However the methods by which this principle is expressed is constantly changing - driven by the creativeness of individuals, changes in social values and the advances of technology.

Why is this so interesting?

Political protests are a fertile ground for innovations that are later applied to other protest movements, against industries, companies, social groups and directly against government agencies.

Protests directed against politicians and their ideologies are often a 'canary in the coalmine' that can be used to inform senior management, communications specialists and social media professionals what they may expect to be directed against their own organisations in the future and give them an opportunity to proactively take steps to mitigate any emerging issues.

This is why it is fascinating to watch the internet become one of the primary channels for political protests, with a range of new twists on old approaches.

We've seen significant use of older forms of protest adapted to the web. Platforms like Change.org have taken petitions and supercharged them by removing the need for collectors to travel widely to collect signatures and becoming the platform not only for the fast and simple act of signing, but for ongoing organisation and communication across issue-based groups to 'maintain the rage'.

Some governments have even adopted online petitions approaches for their own purposes - taking back some influence and control, with the UK and US the best examples.

We've seen a virtual transformation of the physical blockade approach, favoured by activists and unions to deny companies labour, supplies or customers, and also used to prevent or add difficulty to staff and politicians entering political offices.

Online blockades, termed denial of service attacks, are however treated as criminal offenses rather than civil protests in many nations. This position reflects the importance of online commerce and the blurring of lines between activities which could be legitimate protests or criminally motivated activities by individuals or coordinated groups.

The old chestnut of ridicule is, of course, used widely, from parody tweets and videos to reusing the actual words, photos and videos of some politicians against themselves.

Politicians have even used parody as a tool to show their sense of humour and stand up to detractors - my favourite being the deliberate self-parody video of George W Bush at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner, an approach repeated, but not equalled (in my view) by his successors.

We've also seen new forms of parody emerge that could not easily be replicated in the physical world. From sites that allow people to virtually throw a shoe, water bomb or even punch a politician, to browser plugins that transform the words or photos of a politician. 

Use of the Stop Tony Meow plug-in on the
Australian Prime Minister's website
The most recent of these is the Stop Tony Meow plug-in, which automatically replaces photos of the Australian Prime Minister with cats and kittens.

As most communications professionals understand, unless these protests go far 'beyond the pale', make criminal accusations, are relentlessly negative and defamatory, are provably untrue or extend beyond common standards of social decency, often the best approach is to deny them oxygen. They can be ignored or laughed off while respecting the rights of others to hold differing views.

In many cases this 'higher ground' approach will blunt the impact, or even turn the protest in favour of the politician or issue.

In some cases acknowledging or taking actions in response to a protest might be counterproductive - leading to an escalation of protest actions, greater and more organised opposition to an agenda, or leaving a politician looking ridiculous and weak for 'overreacting'.

Of course there are also many times when politicians should take note of these protests - where there is a clear groundswell of views on a particular matter, or the politician can satisfy the wishes of a group without compromising their agenda or other interests. Protests are legitimate and are a valid way to influence policy in a democracy after all.


So why should government agencies, companies and other groups take note of these protest activities?

Because, inevitably, some or most of these techniques will be turned on them and their interests.

It is important for all organisations to keep a watching brief on the evolving art of 21st century political protests and how politicians respond (or do not respond) to different techniques.

Being aware of the forms that protests can now take helps senior managers and communications professionals to proactively prepare their systems and processes to mitigate or blunt the potential impact of new approaches.

It helps them to prepare and select appropriate responses and thereby mitigate much of the risk and cost their organisations might face when these protest techniques are turned against them.

So keep an eye on how political protests evolve in the next few years, it may help you reduce stress, reputational or economic damage or even help preserve your organisation intact, should your organisation face similar forms of protest in the future.

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

How Cancer Research UK is using mobile gaming to conduct medical research

Recently the World Health Organisation announced that cancer had overtaken heart disease as the number one killer of Australians, as well as being the number one killer of people globally.

The WHO had another message as well. That cancer was a largely preventable disease.

Humans have lots of medical data about cancer. With millions of cases each year there's a vast amount of data available to researchers that can help them understand how to prevent and treat the disease.

Much of this data needs to be analysed by the human eye as computers are not flexible or sophisticated enough to recognise the patterns that humans can detect.

This is where the bottleneck occurs. Lots of data, but few paid researchers.

To address this issue Cancer Research UK, a charity focused on cancer research, held a GameJam in March 2013 in London hoping to come up with game concepts that would help analyse cancer data.

Within 48 hours they had 9 working games and 12 game prototypes, different approaches combining cancer data analysis with fun and replayability.



Over the last year the charity has been working with a game developer to refine several of these games to the level where they could be publicly released.

Now, Cancer Research UK has just launched the first free mobile game (for Android and iOS) that has players analysing cancer data while they're having fun.

Named Genes in Space, players must map their way through subspace then fly the route in a custom spaceship, collecting a fictional substance called Element Alpha and dodging or blowing up asteroids on the way. The more Element Alpha they collect, the more money they make, allowing them to further customise their ship.

Meanwhile cancer researchers harvest the data created by players at two points, when they map their route and when they fly it. The subspace that players map is real genetic data, and while Element Alpha is fictional, what players are actually collecting is data that helps researchers make sense of the genetic structure.

I've long been a fan of combining data with gameplay. We need to make research and science fun to lead more people into the area. If people think they're simply playing a game rather than doing science, that's fine too.

I hope that one day soon we'll see an Grade A game developer take an interest in this area and set out to integrate elements of science data research into a high quality game.

However to get here, we'll also need to see research institutes and governments, who hold the data, interested in pursuing new ways to analyse data, rather than relying on a few expensive researchers.

Until that happens, I guess we'll have to be satisfied playing Genes in Space.

Or Cellslider, or FoldIt...


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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Social media doesn't threaten people, people threaten people

It feels bizarre to me to use an argument popularised by pro-gun lobbyists to counter claims of the risks of social media, however there's some very real parallels worth considering about when agencies and corporations debate the risks of social media.

Yesterday there was a story in the Brisbane Times about a man who was arrested for making death threats against the Queensland Premier and his family.

How did he make these threats? In person at an event or rally? Via a rock through his home's window? Via postal mail to his electoral office? Via a mobile call to the Premier?

No, it was via social media, using a Facebook account.

On Twitter I've seen multiple claims that this demonstrates one of the risks of social media. Based on past form I expect the news media to pick up on this over the next few days and wail about how dangerous social media is as it enables disgruntled or mentally unstable citizens to make threats hiding behind a cloak of anonymity.

Well sorry, this actually isn't a risk of 'social media'. It's a risk every public figure in history has faced.

People threaten people. People say nasty things, photoshop images, make ranty videos about all the people they hate. People sign epetitions, write pleas for mercy, fight about 'left' and 'right' and often ignore facts and evidence which contradicts their values and beliefs.

In a world without social media, which those of us old enough can recall, people did exactly the same things they do not with social media. They made death threats, they character assassinated their rivals, they spread rumours and they gawked at sideshows.

They did these things via older technologies, phone, mail, at public gatherings, on radio and TV - even in books.

In other words - social media doesn't threaten, abuse, belittle, bully, lobby or otherwise behave in anti-social ways. People do.

This isn't to say that social media hasn't contributed to negative behaviours by humans. The internet and social media has given far more people a public platform and global distribution than has ever before been possible in human history.

Communications are far faster and harder to contain, resembling a pandemic for which humans have no immunity. A single comment can become a movement. A single photo can become a cyberwar, a single slap can lead to the overthrow of governments.

The internet has contributed to these issues and the concerns that many organisations have when engaging online, however the risk remains the same it has for all of human history - the risk of bad behaviour by individuals and groups.

So how should organisations manage the real risk - of 'bad eggs' ruining engagement for everyone, of activists and lobbyists hijacking a cause or of commercial interests using their dollars to inflate their influence?

By making the engagement guidelines clear and transparent, clarifying the scope of the engagement and actively managing the community the risk of disruptive or destructive people can be managed, whatever the medium of engagement being used.

So in conclusion, social media doesn't threaten, bully, discredit or otherwise hurt people. People do.

Social media is an accelerant and amplifier, but humans load it with content and pull the trigger.

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