Making my website fit for a maturing social media world
Next month I will be revamping my website. I was originally going to go for a full very expensive overhaul but a very user-friendly and straight-forward existing theme, along with not being able to afford spending lots of money on it influenced my decision.
I’ll be working with Karen Arnott again – she was the talent behind my logo, which I’ve grown fond of and have decided to keep. I’ve also commissioned Karen to teach me about WordPress beyond the basics that I currently use for this site and for my blog.
Making Puffles more…professional?
I’ve spoken to a number of people about this. It’s a tricky one to manage. In April 2013, Puffles broke through the 5,000 followers milestone. Anecdotally, I found that once you get beyond 1,000 followers, you end up with people perhaps more interested in the stream of tweets than in the conversation. The issue that I have at present is that I’ve always thought of Puffles as ‘conversational’ rather than a broadcast stream. Indeed, this website was originally set up as somewhere where I could experiment with different things – not least a single place where I could refer to the digital videos that I have since created.
In recent months however, I’ve diversified beyond my existing niche markets, delivering training sessions within the private and not-for-profit sectors. Given my – or rather Puffles’ growing profile, I feel that I need a social media presence to match. In particular, one that reflects that I’m practising what I am preaching – the big theme being making my social media presence greater than the sum of its parts.
A seamless flow from one profile to another
I have a number of social media accounts – Twitter, Facebook, blog, website, LinkedIn, Flickr and Vimeo. Part of my activities prior to the revamp will be working out how I want these to link together, as well as deciding which ones I’ll need to upgrade.
One of the things I’ll be looking to create is a landing page – similar to how Jon Worth has done his. On that landing page I’m looking to have a segment linking to a different digital video each day, a segment linking to my latest and/or a featured blogpost, a feed to my Twitter account, and perhaps links to events that I have either attended or spoken at.
Keeping Puffles’ persona and my independence
This is always the hardest line to tread – both inside and outside of the civil service. I’ve moved beyond social media training too – I’m an associate facilitator/trainer for Westminster Explained for some of their public policy courses. I’m also a volunteer for the charity Cambridge Online, where with some social media-savvy friends we run free social media surgeries. (The next one is on 20 June, but you must phone to book your place!) Finally, I also run Cambridge’s Teacambs Network for public sector social media types. Each one of these requires a different approach as the people I engage with at each of them come from different backgrounds and with different expectations. That said, it’s a challenge I enjoy.
Hopefully the revamp will go smoothly and that everything will be ready for when everyone comes back from their summer holidays, whether you are staying local (as I probably will) or heading off to far away places.
I was one of the speakers at the Digital Women event run by the Whitehall Teacamp Collective in London.
Now, you might think why a man would be on a speakers’ panel talking about digital women. (Fortunately in this case the majority of the esteemed panel are women). My short talk was about the young people – six women and one man – who worked with me to make the digital video social media guides that I keep here.
One of the things all of those that worked with me had said prior to the projects was that no one seemed to be giving them a chance in what is a very competitive working environment. When I landed a couple of big training commissions, I decided to spend a large chunk of the fees on a series of projects to make some digital video guides to social media – hiring them to work both with and for me.
Couldn’t I have done this all myself?
In principle, yes. In reality, no.
I have the software and hardware necessary, and could have sat down and plugged away at it myself. But I chose not to for a series of reasons. The first is the state of my health – mental health – is still not good. Things may look fine on the outside but following a crisis in 2012, I can only manage working a few hours a day and only for a few days per week. A full day working takes a day to recover, and 2 days, up to a week.
Secondly, from a business perspective I found with my early training sessions the ‘live demonstrations’ of social media tools were generally far too fiddly. Far better to have a digital video that can demonstrate these things to an audience – one that they can return to later on in their own time. Finally, having other people’s voices on the digital video guides breaks up the monotony of one single voice doing the presenting. It also gives a separate discussion point for people to comment on too.
For all of them, this was the first ‘commercial commission’ they had worked on. Several of them had social and digital media experience either in an educational or voluntary setting, but none had made digital videos for a commercial environment. None of them had met each other prior to working with each other – they all came from different parts of my social media community. Yet they bonded very quickly and got on with the tasks in hand.
I gave them a clear set of instructions with clear parameters and let them get on with the tasks in hand – intervening only when necessary or only when asked. They also brought in their own expertise to the group. In the case of Dana and Katie, it was their experience with digital video editing that was essential. One of the deliverables I included in the instructions was for them to help train the rest of the group (and myself) on how to use the digital editing tools that we had. That way, everyone would come away with a new set of skills that they could apply to future employment.
Dana wrote up a very nice blogpost of her experience working on the project. The nature of the project meant that we were experimenting a lot of the time, solving problems as and when they came up. What was really nice was when she said that the work she was doing was ‘what she had been educated to do’ – comparing it to past office temping work. This was an interesting and challenging project for all of them – and for me too. I had done project and programme management in the civil service in the past, but it is a completely different experience doing this when it is your own money that you are spending.
Finally – and as you’ll see in the digital videos themselves, you won’t hear my voice on any of them. It’s their voices you will hear. With the exception of Martin (who is one of the most powerful male feminist voices on Twitter anyway), the voices that you hear are female voices. Female voices demonstrating their expertise to audiences far and wide.
One of the kindest comments on the digital guides was this one by Mike Bracken, Executive Director for the Government Digital Service.
There you have it – the talents of a group of very talented young women (and one chap too!) being acknowledged by one of the most influential people in digital services.
One of the other things that we all got out of working together was that it wasn’t all hard work. As well as having a final output that I could use and share in training sessions, I also wanted to use the project to bring together disparate parts of my social media community together. And it did this brilliantly. As a result it has strengthened and deepened the bonds within my social media community.
What we have shown is that our model of making things and problem solving works. Bringing a group of like-minded (but from different backgrounds) people together to produce something or to solve a specific real world problem that you can then go on to use in other environments worked wonders. Not only did I come away with a series of high quality products (that, on reflection I could never have made myself), I strengthened friendships too. I provided an exciting platform for a group of young people to showcase their skills and their work.
We would like to make some further guides, but because what we want to make is far bigger than the amount of money that is available, we are on the lookout for grants, sponsorship and/or benefactors to provide similar opportunities for more young people who otherwise are unable to get the work experience demanded by employers. So if you know of anyone or anywhere that we can apply to, please let me know.
As you may have gathered, one of the things I want to do is to help people living in and around Cambridge become more familiar and more comfortable with social and digital media. The local charity Cambridge Online started running social media surgeries in 2011/12 at which I became a volunteer ‘surgeon’.
They are free to attend for anyone – member of the public, small business private sector, local voluntary groups and even those in the public sector. I’ve helped out numerous people at these, mainly people who run their own small businesses or local voluntary and community groups. In most cases I have dealt with, they have got the very basics of social media, but want to take things further. This is the difference between how to use social media vs how to use it effectively in the environment that you are in. What might work for a small business may not necessarily work for a small community group.
While we can do the ‘step by step’ guides, one of the things I find that most people get out of these sessions is the conversation. In particular asking some of the fundamental questions, the answers of which can shape how an individual uses social media.
One of the reasons why I commissioned the digital video guides to social media was because they allowed people to go over the basics of how to use the tools in their own time. This means that they don’t have to spend the whole session taking notes, but rather can engage in the conversation and ask questions knowing they will be able to access the digital videos later on.
The next social media surgery with Cambridge Online is scheduled for
- 21 February 2013 from 4:30pm to 6:30pm
- at the Hester Adrian Centre, Hawthorn Way, Cambridge, CB4 1AX.
- If you’d like to book a place with them, please call on 01223 300 407
- or email them at help [at] Cambridgeonline.co.uk
What I’d like to see later on in 2013 is to see if we can hold similar sessions in Cambridgeshire’s libraries as a number of them have the IT suites in which to do so. If you’d like the councils to put something on, drop your local councillor an email via Write To Them.
For those of you that have expressed an interest in these ‘micro commissions’, many thanks – and if you haven’t already, please can you make sure you’ve had a look through here.
Having used the first two digital videos produced by Katie, Martin, Nyika and Alice, the feedback from corporate audiences has been excellent. I also find them extremely easy to use as part of presentations. It breaks up the monotony of a single voice presenting, while at the same time showcasing the work of people who engage with me through social media.
For me, the key word in the phrase ‘social media’ is the word ‘social’ – it implies a conversation and also implies getting along. With that in mind, for those of you relatively new to following Puffles, please have a look at the Twitter lists of politically aware young people here and here. For those that interest you, please follow them and engage (politely) with them. One of my key objectives for these micro commissions is to allow people from across my social media community to meet each other – often for the first time. I’m creating and strengthening a web of friendships. I’m not looking to be the centre of a wheel with the spokes reaching outwards.
The creation of these guides is an ongoing programme for me, enabling to build up a library of digital video guides that can be available for all on a Creative Commons basis. I’ll be working with a small group of new people in very early January, the results of which I hope to have up online by the middle of that month. I’m hoping to have another group together in February/March time, followed by a further group over the Easter break.
If you’ve not already been in touch, please drop me an email at antonycarpen [at] gmail [dot] com
Due to an increasing number of commissions and increasing awareness of both myself and Puffles, it’s time to overhaul this website and make it look…more ‘professional’.
It was only around six months ago that I actually launched this website following requests to deliver a social media training workshop for local councillors in Cambridge. Prior to that, I had not done any formal social media training for anyone. All things Twitter and blogging were (and still are) things I did for fun. As I originally stated, this site began as something of a playground and a repository for social media things I did outside of the world of Puffles, tweeting and blogging.
Over the past couple of months I’ve been commissioned by a number of organisations to deliver social media and other training workshops. Given the nature of both the organisations, commissions and commissioners, something is telling me that I now need to sharpen up this website and upskill in a number of areas.
The other thing that has happened is that the commissions that I have completed recently have enabled me to afford paying for the professional services needed to make the changes – either by getting trained myself or commissioning other people to help deliver certain things – such as the digital videos or even the initial logo.
So, what do I need?
The main things I’m looking to do are:
- Revamp this website with a new design
- Commission bespoke WordPress training so I can make the tweaks that I need to
- Have circular business cards produced
- Provide clarity around my intellectual property – copyright & creative commons
Revamping the website
Given that I want to do something substantially more than what I have at present, best practice is to seek a number of quotations and/or run a tender. I’ve done a number of tenders before within existing frameworks during my civil service days, but this will be the first one that I have done spending my own hard-earned cash. It’s a different ballgame when it’s your own money you’re spending. I’ll provide more details in the next couple of weeks after I’ve picked the brains of people more familiar with micro-tendering. If you are interested, I’m looking at spending between £500-£600 on the revamp. (Civil service best practice is to seek three quotations for anything over £500). Ideally, the successful individual will be someone who is competent with both graphic and website design, and with WordPress. Also, ideally the successful individual will be familiar with Puffles & the environment I work & blog/tweet in, and live within easy/affordable reach of Cambridge as I’d like to meet up to discuss ideas first.
Bespoke WordPress training
I’ve got the books and guides, and have seen a few digital videos, but I’m at a complete mental block with:
- some of the ‘next steps’ coding – ie doing more than just uploading new posts or new media
- selecting and using the most suitable plugins for my needs
- making the dashboard much more user-friendly and getting more of the analytics to work for me
Ideally I’m looking for a couple of hours over a coffee. Again, ideally someone within easy/affordable reach of Cambridge who is familiar with Puffles and the environment I blog/tweet in would be marvellous.
Circular business cards
Q: “Do you have a business card?”
A: “Sorry, I only have a dragon.”
Initially, business cards were on the list of ‘nice to haves’ but were not an immediate priority because no one asked for them – until recently. Hence needing them now. However, I would like something significantly different to the bland rectangular cards that are the norm in business. Hence going for something circular like these ones.
Do you know where I could get something like these made, but with a mugshot of Puffles on the front and my contact details on the back?
What to do if you’re interested?
Please contact me in the first instance to register an expression of interest. For the website revamp, this will allow me to contact you with the full specification of the tender. For the WordPress training, a short summary about your background and skills, where you’re based and what you know about Puffles and the environment we operate in would be great. For the business cards, details (including costs, timeframes and what format you will need digital materials in) on how to go about getting these made would be lovely.
All the best
Following the success of the first digital videos, I would now like to make some more. This post explores some ideas, sets out some criteria and invites young people to respond.
Please see the resources page for my repository of digital video guides
The feedback from clients and commissioners to the first set of digital videos has been positive. I incorporated the first two into a social media workshop for academics at the University of Bristol in September 2012. Both the introduction to Facebook and an introduction to blogging using WordPress broke up the monotony of hearing mainly one voice (mine) as well as introducing them to a resource that they can come back to at any time.
I also learnt a great deal in the process of commissioning and working with a team of young people, all of whom I saw growing in confidence as they worked and socialised together on a clear project with defined aims. As I made clear, I paid them for the time that they spent working on these projects. As I’m using their work in workshops that I am getting paid for, it’s only fair that I pay them for their work. Also, I feel it is important for their CVs to have paid commissions listed on there. It’s one thing to have ‘unpaid work experience’ making digital videos on there, but quite another if someone is going to pay them beyond the minimum wage and publicly crediting them for their work.
Because of the workshop I was invited to deliver by Professor Alex Marsh of the University of Bristol, I am now in a position to commission a new set of digital videos to follow on from the first set. My initial thoughts on future digital video projects are here. Please let me know what you think.
Criteria – background
I have deliberately aimed these projects at young people because of the number of Twitter followers I have who are struggling to find employment – let alone employment requisite with the skills and experience they have. I’m not excluding older people altogether, but rather prioritising those who don’t have the record of work experience that older people are more likely to have. The other thing I am looking for when considering commissioning people is some sort of record of engaging with me/Puffles through social media. The reason being that I want to use these commissions to help strengthen the bonds of friendship within my social media community. I don’t want it to be one where people drop in to deliver commissions then disappear from sight as can be the case with normal consultancy commissioning. Also, it’s not just me you’ll be working with, but others from my social media community.
Criteria – digital video guides
These are the specifics. The digital videos will be the outputs – ones that I will be looking to use at social media awareness workshops in the future. Therefore:
- The guides will need to be made to a standard that is suitable for a professional commercial audience
- The guides will need to be around 5 minutes long
- The guides will need to make a positive impact – both to inform people and to encourage people to act upon the content that they have seen
- The guides will, where appropriate need to be consistent with previous guides – for example if it follows on from an introduction. i.e. no significant content gaps
Criteria – people
- I am looking for people who are passionate in their use of social media
- …but who are not necessarily or do not see themselves as experts. Regular use of a specific platform to the extent that you are comfortable using it and talking about it is sufficient
- I am looking for people who are not on the big career ladder, who have not had the elite corporate/high profile paid internships or who don’t have the ‘connections.’
- I am looking for friendly people – you’ll be working as a team and you’ll be paid more than the minimum wage for your work. Therefore I want people who are likely to get on with each other.
- Whatever skills, expertise or attributes you do have, I will have an expectation that you will share them with everyone you are working with.
Ideally I’ll be looking to do two projects at a time with groups of four people. With each group of four people, I will be looking to ensure that one person in that group of four will have prior experience of making digital films so as to help guide the rest of the group (who may not have had this experience before) through the planning, filming and editing processes.
These digital video guides are part of a wider programme – to produce a series of resources to help introduce people to social media. Therefore, when it comes to choosing which guide you would like to work on, it is important for me that you can explain why the platform/tool concerned is fun, useful and potentially important in an industry/commercial context. i.e. “How can this tool help me engage with my clients/customers/citizens/constituents?” Those are the sorts of questions my audiences are likely to be asking. Can you answer those questions before your short film has ended.
In terms of which platform to choose, pick one that you use regularly and are passionate about. If you don’t use one regularly or don’t particularly like it, chances are that lack of enthusiasm will translate through to the voice-overs that I will be asking the team to do. I will be looking for those I commission to be doing as much of the voice-overs as possible, as well as appearing in front of camera. The two reasons for this are that presentationally I want to break up the routine of me speaking to an audience. Bringing in different voices helps immensely. Having your voice and/or face on camera is also conclusive proof to prospective employers that you took part in this commission.
Have a look at the blogpost on future digital video projects, and get in touch with your ideas for a new one. I will probably want to meet up face-to-face where possible (though for some this might not be due to distances – in which case an extended Twitter/Facebook/Skype/Email exchange will suffice). When I’ve selected a suitable team and choice of new guides, I will let you know and will arrange timings and places too.
Have a look at the first digital video guides covering Facebook and blogging with WordPress.
Many thanks to:
And to all of you that responded to our crowd-sourced requests.
Some things I want to do for the second half of 2012 to help get things going.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m on about, please have a look at my introduction to Cambridge L!VE along with my work and activities up until now trying to get in touch with local groups and organisations.
Being a connector
This is what I see my primary role as: putting people and organisations in touch with each other and to help them work together towards common goals. I’m already sort of doing this with the TeaCambs network of people interested in public sector social media. We’ve managed to get several public sector organisations on board and had a speaker from Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Service in June. In that gathering, we’ve got a group of grassroots advocates who happen to have good connections / working relationships with influential people and organisations. As a result, slowly but surely we are bringing people together who I hope can make a difference, not because of their job title but because they have a passion and an interest in what we want to achieve. The same holds for this project.
Specific actions – social media surgeries and training
On Tuesday 3 July 2012 I will be joining Net-Squared Cambridge to help at a free social media surgery. I hope that this will be the start of something more regular so as to get more people using social media both to help make the City a better place, and generally. So if you want to know more about using social media, feel free to sign up in the link above – or phone Cambridge Online on 01223 300 407 or email help [at] cambridgeonline.org.uk
I’d also love to hold these at local libraries and community centres that have the IT facilities too. This is where I’m looking to the County Council (and to any Cambridgeshire County Councillors reading this!) in particular to see if we can at least pilot something to see if it works for people. These surgeries and training sessions for me would be about the practicalities of social media and getting set up if you are completely new to it. For example if I were to run an introduction to Facebook or Twitter session, I would want people to have come away with an account that is up and running and one that will provide them with a news feed that updates fairly regularly. This would mean following/friending a reasonable number of people, fan pages and organisations so that it provides some sort of incentive to interact.
It may be that I need to run a short ‘social media awareness’ workshop in advance to help people decide whether they want to go down the route of setting up social media accounts or not. Amongst other things it would make the introductions to things like Facebook and Twitter easier to run if everyone concerned either has an account or signs up for one at the session. For example it would allow everyone in the room to friend/follow each other. (Difficult to do if half the room is refraining from signing up in the first place!)
Specific actions – social media informal seminars
These are different to the workshops described above. This is where I would want to bring together a set of pre-existing groups (and anyone else interested in their activities) to talk about all things social media. In particular I’d want to get discussions going on how they can use social media to improve communication, co-operation and collaboration with each other, as well as reaching out to new audiences. In my post Groups, organisations and networks I’ve given a list of the ones that I’ve been in touch with or met up with. To start off with, I’d love to hold a social media seminar involving members and supporters of:
- Cambridge Carbon Footprint – @CCFCambridge
- Cambridge Cycling Campaign – @CamCycle
- Transition Cambridge – @TransitionCambs
- Cambridge Past Present and Future – @CambridgePPF
- Perhaps the local branches of Greenpeace & Friends of the Earth
You can see the common theme running through those organisations. Some of us receive regular emails from some or all of these groups. Social media gives the opportunity for a more continuous involvement for more people. Rather than having a one-to-many method of communication that happens on specific dates (i.e. scheduled emails), social media allows many-to-many. What happens as a result of that many-to-many communication & co-operation…is up to the people involved. It’s not for me to say.
Bringing the politicians in?
Back in March I gave a presentation to councillors in Cambridge on social media. I’d like to do a similar one, but amend the content to take into account the recent local elections that took place in the late spring.
For me, there is a huge opportunity to move away from the model of ‘paper candidates’ – paper in three ways. Whether it’s putting up a candidate in a ward they have no hope of winning (so no street canvassing is done), whether it’s because you only hear about what they do because of a paper leaflet dropped through your letterbox or whether it’s because you only hear about them because they write into the local newspaper.
Social and digital media means that candidates have the potential to be far more available to local residents than before. I think a basic short digital video (such as this one by Cllr Daisy Benson in Reading). Looking at that, I know what she looks like, I know what she sounds like and I can keep track of what she’s doing as an elected representative via Twitter and her blog. On digital video, there are a couple of people who have offered to help make them – such as Richard Taylor. Alternatively, there’s always the option of going to one of the colleges locally to see if any students would be happy to help – perhaps as part of their courses. After all, if college students can do one (unofficially) for the Monster Raving Loony Party…exactly.
What about local councils – and the Cambridge Societies Fair?
I’ve not heard much back since Cllr Richard Johnson referred my idea for a Cambridge Societies Fair to Cambridge City Council officials. So I’ll need to see how that one is progressing – if at all. The fair isn’t something that I see as being a ‘stand alone’ event. It’s an essential part of bringing the city together. But for such an event to be successful it needs some groundwork to be done – some of which I’m already doing. Amongst other things it means leaning on the Cambridge CVS to get them both on board and connected. For example they have a Twitter account but they are not yet using it. This is where either the social media surgeries above, or a social media awareness workshop for the CVS and its members I think would be ideal. But then I’m biased (especially with the latter) because I get paid to deliver commissions. Hey, I have to make a living somehow!
The aim of the fair is as I described in the blogpost linked above. But it can only succeed if the groups and networks that I think should be taking part are all working together to support it. It would be lovely to see them preparing displays for a fair and encouraging people to come along to them to create an atmosphere similar to that of the students’ freshers fair. A sea of energy and activity with lots of people getting involved in groups and organisations they previously did not know existed. But in order to do that, the groups and societies (in my opinion) need to be talking to each other first using social media, going beyond the formal meetings that they may already have.
Cambridge social media unConference
What is an unConference? Have a look here.
Assuming getting groups and organisations up and running using social media and assuming the societies fair is successful, this could be the next event. Essentially it’s a much bigger version of the social media surgeries described above, but organised along the lines of social media gatherings found in London.
It’s a case of ‘bring something to contribute’ – even if it is a series of questions. By this time I’d hope that people, groups and organisations will have been using social media for long enough to have something to show or present in terms of how they are using social media. The purpose here is to allow everyone to share their learning of social media in the context of bringing the city together and making it a better place. It’s not in a commercial context of how to use it to sell more things or how to use it in a party-political context.
This is the final ‘big output’ for me. The talent in the city is there to do this. Can we bring together all of the people running the various different platforms to create a common platform that online at least is seen as the place to go to for all things Cambridge? Can it combine:
- The forums with the vibrancy and volunteer moderation of Urban75 or The Student Room?
- The ease of use for events listings as On The Wight? (We have for example Events in Cambridge)
- Improving the user-friendliness of Cambridgeshire.Net
- A place where free offline meetups can be listed and organised?
- A place where people can post non-commercial digital media or art work that they have done – perhaps even link it to offline events taking place such as exhibitions?
- A place where established organisations – such as local councils – can engage with the community on things like consultations or plans for the future?
This is the project manager in me coming out. I can only see the Hack Camp succeeding in its objectives if the unConference succeeds. For the unConference to succeed, the Societies’ Fair needs to succeed. For the Societies’ Fair to succeed, groups and organisations need to come together. If the groups and organisations don’t come together, none of this will succeed and this whole Cambridge L!VE project will fail.
So that’s my offer. Over to you.
This post follows on from my introduction to Cambridge L!VE.
What’s not worked in the past
I’ve spent the past few months getting out and about locally to find out what is ‘out there’ before launching into all of this. It would be all too easy to take the principle of ‘bringing everyone together’ as a good idea, set up a website and linked social media accounts and hope that people would automatically get on board. I’ve seen it tried in a variety of sectors – including in central government – and this model for me does not work. Quite often it leads to a burst of initial activity followed by a quick death.
One of the assumptions I believe is that large organisations in particular assume that the power of their own brand – or the personalities at the top of them – are enough to get people on board and using something in a manner that is self-sustaining. Such is the short tenure of those at the top of said organisations that succession beyond the time in post of the person that is driving the initiative is rarely considered. Hence if the vision I’ve set out in the slide pack “120613 Cambridge Live scoping” is to have any chance of success, I need to ensure that the way I go about bringing people together is done in a manner that in the longer term can outlast my time involved – assuming my career eventually takes me away from Cambridge.
What have I already done? Who have I already contacted?
Over the past six or so months I’ve been in touch with, visited or attended meetings with a number of groups, organisations and networks. These include but are not limited to the following:
- Cambridge Cycling Campaign – @CamCycle
- Junior Chambers Cambridge – @JCICambridge
- Cambridge Transition – @TransitionCambs
- Cambridge Skeptics – @SITPCambridge
- Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service
- The YouCan Hub – @YouCanHub
- Net Squared Cambridge – @Net2Camb
- Cambridge City Council – @CamCitCo
- Cambridgeshire County Council – @CambsCC
- Teacambs – @Teacambs
- Cambridge Carbon Footprint – @CCFCambridge
- Cambridge Network – @CambNetwork
- Cambridge Hub
- Creative Front - @CreativeFront
- Cambridge Geek nights – @CamGeeknights
There are also a number that I’ve been following on Facebook that I’m yet to get in touch with – such as:
That’s a fair bit of getting out and about. At many of the gatherings I’ve had Puffles with me – as these photographs with the great and the good (both locally and nationally) reflect. As an aside, it’s got to the stage where my social media persona is more well known in a number of circles than I am. (“Yeah…who’s that bloke with Puffles?“)
What are my thoughts on what I have seen?
There is a HUGE amount of really good stuff going on in Cambridge, with a range of different people working their socks off for the greater good of the city and its surrounding areas. I pay tribute to them for what they have already achieved and continue to achieve.
Interestingly, one of the themes that came up with several of the groups and networks was around outreach. How can they reach out to people beyond their normal audiences? This is important given that a number of the groups I have visited form an essential part of what can generally be called ‘civic society’. People within these groups and organisations not only put on interesting events and activities but also help scrutinise and hold local public bodies to account.
Is there room for improvement?
Of course – there always is with these things. Also, I wouldn’t be doing any of this if I didn’t think a substantial difference could be made – whether by me or by others. I don’t want this to sound like a preacher saying “You should do this, this and this” and expect people to get on with it. Just as much is about what I can input and help with. After all, if you want to get outputs in anything, there have to be inputs. It’s not going to magic itself out of thin air.
What do you mean by ‘improvement?’
A couple of examples sprang to mind.
Cambridge Cycling Campaign
I went along to one of their meetings – bumping into a couple of familiar faces inside. Their ideas around the Chisholm Trail and future cycle infrastructure planning (Cycle 2020) are both imaginative and brilliant. Yet given the number of young people who cycle to school, college and work, young people at that meeting were conspicuous by their absence. So I’ve been asking myself: how I can help them get more younger people involved? It’s all very well saying “You need to get more younger people involved!” and leave it at that but in the grand scheme of things that’s not going to do much. It’s got to be followed by actions. (My next post will go into actions in detail).
Junior Chambers Cambridge
I met some lovely people here in June 2012 and saw a network of young professionals with hearts in the right place that has huge potential to make a real impact on the city. At that gathering I counted around 30 people. Again, same question as above applies: How can I help them get more people involved? The graduates are there – in the large employers, in small businesses, in the science parks, commuting to London. Is there a way I can help link JCI Cambridge with, for example the Cambridge Student Hub?
What are your next steps?
I hope that this and my previous posts have seeded a few thoughts with a number of people who would like to get things going. Some of these things are already in motion. My idea for a Cambridge Societies Fair has already been taken on by Cllr Richard Johnson and is currently in the hands of officials at Cambridge City Council. In order to help speed things along I think it will need the help of those of you who live and work in the city, and/or who are part of the various groups/networks/organisations to tell the Council that this is an idea you’d like them to run with – assuming that this is the case of course!
I also have ideas around running social media workshops and using social media in general, along with face-to-face outreach such as going into schools, colleges, workplaces etc to invite people to get involved.
This sounds like a new network. Is it?
Absolutely not. It’s about making better use of the ones that we have already got – joining up the dots between individuals, groups and networks. Where can we co-operate, collaborate and communicate? Are we duplicating activities and not making best use of limited resources in tough economic times? Are there things that different groups and networks can run and host together? Is there outreach work that they can do together, such as giving lunchtime talks in colleges, offices, workplaces and day centres?
If you are interested, please let me know either in the comments field, in a tweet to Puffles at @Puffles2010 or via email at antonycarpen [ at ] gmail [ dot ] com.
This post stems from a comment by Cllr Steve Tierney of Cambridgeshire County Council following some issues I had with a new Twitter account he had set up for Conservative Councillors who were on the Cabinet of Cambridgeshire County Council.
What is a blog?
Essentially it’s a place where you can post your thoughts (and more) up online. There’s a nice extended Wikipedia article that goes into the history and detail of blogging but as with Wikipedia, don’t quote from it directly but look at the sources they’ve linked to.
Because it’s fun. (For some people – like me). That should be the primary reason for blogging. Activities tend to be done better if the people doing them are having fun doing so. The same is true with blogging. If the blog is a chore, chances are it will reflect in what you post.
It’s not just the enjoyment though. For local councillors there is an essential community engagement aspect too. By ‘engagement’ I don’t mean one-way broadcasting, which is often the mindset of both people and organisations new to blogging. Blogs should not be seen as additional channels to send out pre-approved press releases. If that is all a blog is used for, chances are it will be ignored, or worse still, lampooned. For a politician who wants to take themselves reasonably seriously, the last thing in the world that they want is for every thought they put out to be the subject of widespread ridicule.
Why not simply write into the local paper?
This is what politicians have been doing for decades. In my local papers you’ll often see exchanges between politicians over the course of a week or two. But letters are subject to editing and the timing constraints of the publishing process. On a blog, this is the blogger – raw, unpolished but authentic. You don’t have to worry about newspaper word limits or which bits may be cut out and/or paraphrased by the letters’ editor.
The nature of blogging and social media cycles means that the peaks of interest in news items don’t necessarily match what’s happening in the print run or the mainstream media. By the time your letter appears in the local newspaper the interest in the news item will have long since evaporated and the agenda will have moved on.
The advantage of writing to a local paper is that you’re likely to hit an audience that may not be into reading the thoughts of a blogger – irrespective of who that blogger is. However, more and more mainstream media organisations are turning towards social media as sources for quotations in their articles and reports. It cuts out the need to phone, email or call a press office to ask for a quotation – thus saving time and money. So even if you’re not being read by part of the community due to say lack of internet access or lack of awareness, there’s every possibility that your blog will be picked up by local media assuming your content is both relevant and of high quality.
Why would anybody be interested in what I’ve got to say?
Well…you’re a councillor for a reason.
Your constituents and your voters are more likely to be interested in your views than on your party’s line. The latter voted for you so it’s the least you can do for them in return. It’s also not just about what you say – it’s also about what you do and what you’ve done. For whatever reason, few members of the public go to meetings of the council. Therefore they seldom get to hear the views of councillors – let alone have those views cross-examined. A blog allows you to get your views and thoughts across – and allows them to be cross-examined by other people. This process of online debate and cross-examination for me has the added benefit of refining the thoughts and views of the original blogger.
One line I took from Whitehall is: “My opinions change when the evidence in front of me changes”. How many of you have looked back on your past and thought about what you would have done if you had known about something that at the time was hidden from you? “I wish I knew what I know now…when I was younger” – as Rod Stewart once sung. The way people are using the internet means that it’s far easier to source viewpoints with evidence – and have that evidence scrutinised.
Dealing with feedback – and haters
Internet hate is a genuine concern – a number of councillors have raised this with me. Internet hate is a growing problem, one that law enforcement authorities have only just begun to take an interest in. Receiving nasty horrible feedback and comments in the political field is seen as part of the deal for getting into politics – but it shouldn’t be. This mindset is putting too many good people off from engaging in party politics. It’s one of several reasons why I’m not the sort of person who could stand for public office – my skin isn’t thick enough.
For a start, manage your expectations with a series of self-written house rules. I have them for my blog and Twitter account. This says to people that breaking them could lead to them being blocked, reported and ignored. One thing trolls and haters try to seek is a reaction. If you are automatically ignoring them and don’t get to see what they are writing, they don’t get a reaction and soon move on.
On polite feedback that disagrees with you, it’s best to publish those comments – even if it’s one that tears your original blogpost to shreds. Don’t ignore the post – chances are that the person commenting will have their own blog and put the comment on their own blog with criticism of you for not posting it up in the first place.
Don’t make it all about politics
There’s more to life basically. Politics can be a depressing subject – even at the best of times. Add some variety to it – whether it’s about an event you’ve attended (from rock concerts, football matches and community fairs) to a place that you’ve visited to a niche hobby. You may think that few people will be interested in your niche hobby but you’ll be surprised.
Link and credit liberally
If someone points you in the direction of something online, credit them in your blogpost. If someone has written or created something that you agree with, say so. Share the love! Do something positive in the face of the hate that’s around on the internet. If you link to other people, they are more likely to read and reciprocate back.
Club together with others if you are nervous about blogging for the first time
You don’t have to have a personal blog in your name. It’s perfectly acceptable to get a group of you together to share blogging responsibilities. This reduces the burden and gives you more time to think about what you want to write. It still means that the group blog is updated regularly, but the onus on you to come up with something on a very regular basis is somewhat reduced. When you are blogging as part of a group, it’s best to identify which individual is posting which blogpost. That way if any comments and questions come back, it’s clear who is responsible for responding to them.
Which blogs do you recommend?
I don’t particularly recommend any particular politics blog as what works for me may not work for you. The most comprehensive guide on political blogging is from Total Politics – where readers have voted for their favourite blogs across a wide number of categories. Have a look and see which ones you like the most.