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In hock

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When I was at university I had a flamboyant economics professor who told us only rich people can truly save, the rest of us just create cushions against hard times.  I’m not sure if that’s true, but in today’s economy too few of us have any cushion left at all. According to Stella Creasy, MP and Shadow Minister of Business, Innovation and Skills who’s been campaigning on matters of personal finance around a third of British families have no savings at all and thousands are facing a personal debt crisis.

The LGiU along with StepChange and the Consumer Finance Association held the first personal debt summit earlier this week for local authorities and their partners.  We heard stories of families with crushing debt in a cycle endless consumer loans and facing hard choices about whether to pay the rent, the ‘leccy or eat.  We heard stories about people in cycles of depression and debt who showed up to Citizens Advice Bureaus or to debt advice charities like StepChange with carrier bags full of un-opened red letter bills or who only sought advice when the bailiffs – sometimes sent by the council – were at the door.

We know that councils have a vital leadership role in supporting the wellbeing of communities and the individuals who live there, and so many councils do great things. But perhaps too little attention has been paid to the financial wellbeing of local people and how councils can contribute both as guardians of the community and as creditors.  Without a stable financial position, the good things in life; education, family, fun and health become precarious, too.

Some of the great things we heard about at the Personal Debt Summit was how Lambeth is using their access to a wealth of data about citizens who owe them money and proactively seek them out to support them with debt counselling.  Although this programme has some upfront costs, they believe the business case is clear – not only is the council more likely to get its money but these families who others money, too can start to achieve a more stable economic position and a less stressful life.

I was also mightily impressed by the loan shark busting work of the Illegal Money Lending Team hosted by Birmingham’s trading standards unit.  Loan sharks are the illegal and informal lenders of money who often use threats and intimidation to collect extortionate returns on original loans.  Cath Wohlers and her colleagues have an impressive record of gathering grass roots information to remove these blights from the community.  The Illegal Money Lending team offers training and to councils and other groups across the country on how to spot people who are prey to these sharks and how to help communities which are suffering from the effects.

LGiU chief exec Jonathan Carr-West has highlighted five steps councils can take to help residents ease debt and the LGiU will be pulling together the lessons and good practice from this conference. We’d be very interested in hearing about other good practice in debt management and financial wellbeing across the country and successful community innovations.
Photo Credit: hermanusbackpackers via Compfight cc

Posted in innovation.

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New role for me at LGiU

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

After a little time out, doing yoga and rugby and hanging out with my boy*, I’m back in the saddle again.  I’m the brand new Senior Policy Researcher at LGiU (Local Government Information Unit).

I’m very excited about my new role and about returning to the world of local government. There is so much engaging work to be done and much to be achieved. I’m still as passionate as ever about transparency, good governance and local democracy. There’s a long shopping list of things I’m interested in: better information sharing, better engagement, the evolving role of elected representatives, community action, making places nicer to live and innovation in service provision.

So…how can we do that?

Let’s have some coffee and talk about it.

You can now reach me at or via twitter @ingridk or leave a comment here.


*keeping the rugby and, of course, the boy – taking a little rest from the yoga

Photo Credit: zedworks via Compfight cc

Posted in musings.

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Rugby and social media

The fabulous 300 Seconds, a series of lightning talks to promote opportunities for women to talk about technology and Ada’s List, a new network of technical women – from engineering to internet combined forces last night to put on a fantastic event.  Yours truly kicked off the speakers’ list with a talk on rugby and social media.

But not just any rugby – women’s rugby.
Not too long ago, I ran into a guy on the bus with fencing kit. I struck up a conversation with him and he said “We both play minority sports.” That struck me as a bit odd, as I don’t think of myself as playing a minority sport. I play rugby.  Yes, with women, against women, but women’s rugby is played under exactly the same laws as men.
(Slide 3)The truth is though that women’s rugby is a minority sport and a relatively new one at that. The first women’s rugby club was founded in 1968 and the first women’s International was played in 1982.  There are about 100 women’s clubs in England and the RFU estimates that there are 7000 active women players.  England will be hosting the Men’s Rugby World Cup in 2015 – which means more eyes on our sport and a big opportunity for women’s rugby, too.
Social media can of course play a huge part in promoting women’s rugby at all levels. But we need to take a considered approach. Like many women’s sports, we’re not immune from the immature and ill-considered comments on popular platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  Female athletes are subject to negative commentary not so much on missed tackles or passes but on how they look…too manly, not manly enough or with crude, sexually offensive comments. (Slide 5)
(Slide 7) There are already some great digital resources for women’s rugby – like ScrumQueens or Your Scrumhalf Connection and the IRB’s women’s rugby twitter feed.  And my personal favourite – (Slide 8) FuckYeahWomensRugby (which is not entirely safe for work). But these resources, brilliant as they are, are largely for the already initiated.
(Slide 9) We need more accessible and polished content like the brilliant Arizona State University’s campaign aimed at raising awareness of the sport. Its clever and humourous overturning of the stereotypes of feminine weakness is eye-catching and engaging.  The young women used in the campaign are attractive but not sexualised.  Unlike the images used by the Canadian National Team (Slide 10) for a fundraising calendar which can only be described as soft porn.  I have a great deal of sympathy with these women – they’re raising funds to go to the next World Cup and sexualised imagery isn’t entirely inconsistent with rugby culture. But I’m not sure  this attracts is the kind of attention we want. Nor am I sure that it does much attract amateur athletes to the sport. We need content that makes people think “I can do that. I want to be a part of that.”
What we need is more help to develop, easy local strategies to share content: images, video and stories of normal, everyday women and girls playing rugby and having fun. (Slide 11) alongside supported campaigns with professionally designed content like Arizona State’s.
Being in a roomful of amazingly talented women last night I know this achievable. I had several people last night tell me that my talk was inspirational, but I felt really inspired by the amazing audience, speakers, organisers and sponsors I was with to do more for my team and my sport. I’d really like to work with the RFU to bring together some communications and net professionals to work with women’s clubs to make the most of social media to promote their teams and our sport.
Oh and I also gave a little plug for tonight’s International Match at the Stoop between England  and those Canadian Calendar Girls…wearing a lot more than a strategically placed rugby boot (I suspect).  I’ll be there.

Posted in socialmedia, sport, tech geekery.

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Battle of Britain monument
Yesterday on my way to minis rugby, I had a chat with my son about what we’d be doing at 11am. We would stop playing rugby and we’d pause for a moment of silence and remembrance. I asked him why and he said to remember the dead soldiers. Yes. But I told that I also remembered everyone who suffered and sacrificed for war, even if they survived and even if they never fought.  Those who lost loved ones, those who lost their homes and even those who were luckier but struggled to hold it all together while husbands were away for years and in danger.

As it happens, I didn’t spend much time reflecting at 11am on Sunday morning as I spent most of my time keeping two of the six-year-olds I coach quiet. But I can’t say they ruined it for me as much the people who are jumping on the bandwagon of Remembrance Day refusal. Those who say that they won’t participate because it’s too political or too glorifying of war or is used by politicians to support current wars or policies, exemplified by this New Statesman article by James Bloodworth.

While I certainly support the right of people to not participate in Remembrance Day activities and even the right to moan about poppies and commemoration services, I find the latter distasteful and disrespectful.  Disrespectful not just to those who suffered and died, but disrespectful to huge numbers of people like me who wish to share in community remembrance.  And it’s enormously disrespectful to those whose lives were touched more closely than mine by war. Every year I think about the people I’ve encountered at the Garden of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey, the old soldier who struggled to bend down to hammer in a cross for a fallen comrade. The old woman in her service medals whose gentle touch of a newly unveiled memorial to the Battle of Britain spoke of pain and loss. The man who was only a child during WWII, but who was befriended by a group of soldiers from Arkansas – most of whom died. He lays a wreath for them every year.  I think, too about the people I know who have fought in recent wars. Wars I admit I have not supported, but I appreciate their personal sacrifice and those of their families nonetheless.

I try to be forgiving, because I assume many of these people have lives not much touched by war. I do find it ironic that many of them say they are left wing, but have little respect for the working class lads and lasses who enlisted then and continue to enlist now partly because the military offers opportunities they wouldn’t get elsewhere.

I do agree with some of the Remembrance refuseniks that there is an element of war glorification in Remembrance Day activities. But I personally find that less offensive than those who somehow claim we’ve all been hoodwinked by the establishment into participating in some gross political act.   Having grown up in the US, I deeply admire much of the British commemoration acts and a feel a sense of community during these times. Of course Remembrance Day is political, war is political, public acts are political. But I’m not espousing any particular policy or party when I chose to participate.

During my moment of silence (when I finally got one before kickoff at my own rugby match this Sunday), I didn’t feel fooled by political puppet masters. I thought about my grandfather who had fought in WWII and the friends he had lost.  I reflected on the sacrifices made by many for privileges that I enjoy today. It was an emotional moment for me.  I hope that those who take potshots at Remembrance activities will reflect on what it means to everyday, normal people who feel moved by the shared remembering.


Posted in bee in my bonnet, musings, Remembrance of things past.

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What rugby has given to me

Besides a more intimate knowledge of my local emergency medical services…

end of 2012-13 season

end of 2012-13 season

I’ve never thought of myself as an athlete. Certainly not a ball player. I played a little soccer in high school, reffed a little bit of youth soccer, but when I was focused on fitness (which wasn’t often enough) I did solo stuff – a bit of cardio, some weight lifting.

But like every woman with a sketchy athletic history and a couple of old injuries who hits the age of forty, I decided I should take up rugby.

It wasn’t a straightforward path. First an acquaintance suggested I should play rugby. I didn’t just laugh. I scoffed. I don’t think he was entirely serious, nor do I think he was entirely sober.  When I informed him about 18 months later that I had followed his advice, he asked me if women’s rugby was full contact. Clearly he had no idea what he’d been recommending. And by the way, yes, women’s rugby is full contact.

Not too much later a client suggested that I should play rugby for a local team. I had a torn calf muscle at the time, so it was impossible. But he seemed quite serious.  When he found out I had a son, he told me I should at least bring him down to the club for rugby minis. Having played soccer, I thought this was likely the way I’d go.  But in the end, I fell into rugby. And when my son was old enough, I took him to Wimbledon minis.

Not coming from a rugby culture and never having experienced other clubs, I have to say I just love Wimbledon RFC. It’s a friendly and open club with a lot of people committed to making it work well.  I was invited to a social function hosted by the Ladies’ team by a couple of other rugby mums and I got a little tipsy. When the other rugby mums left I stayed on. By the end of the evening I was slurring that I wanted to play rugby, too.

Foolish me. I didn’t realise that you could back out of drunken pledges to play vicious collision sports. I was absolutely bricking it when I attended my first training session. It nearly killed me. But I went back for more. I improved my fitness. And by February, in sleet and icy rain after several more experienced players left the pitch with hypothermia I played in my first rugby match. It was an experience I’ll never forget. I can’t say it was pleasant, but I felt incredibly alive.

I’m old for rugby. I won’t have a long career. But I’m really glad I did it.

  • I’m a better team player. I’ve always enjoyed working in teams, but playing rugby has helped me to better understand when people are just talking the talk of team playing and when they really mean it.
  • Through being coached and in coaching courses. (I work with my son’s age group) I’ve learned some really cool facilitation approaches. I’ve always been a pretty good facilitator, but I’ve got some new tricks in my bag.
  • Cold-hardiness and weather resistance. Yes, I can now stand around in freezing, wet conditions in shorts.
  • I’m more in touch with my inner toughness.  This weekend I played rugby while sick, dizzy and barely being able to see after getting smashed in the face earlier in the week. I can’t say I played at my best – but I did it.
  • I’m more in touch with my femininity. This was the biggest surprise of all to me. I’ve never been a girly girl. But playing rugby allowed me to be myself in a way that made it easier to be a bit more feminine off the pitch.
  • Sisterhood. I’ve developed some great friendships with people I’d probably never have met otherwise. You might as well be friends with someone who’s sticking their hands between your legs in the scrum.
  • Fun. I’ve been having so much fun.

Women – I can’t recommend rugby enough! If you’ve ever even had a passing thought about it, go and train with a local team. It may or may not be for you, but if it is, I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Posted in musings, sport.

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In love and money, it’s best to say sorry…

Colette Sales

I recently read an article by Charles Saatchi in the Evening Standard (afraid I can’t find a link to the article) in which he claims that men find it terribly hard to say sorry (while women don’t) and that if you want to have a satisfactory and perhaps even blissful home life, it’s best to say sorry.  He claims that there are six necessary elements to an apology and that you better “kitchen sink” it and throw them all in.

The necessary elements are:

  1. Acknowledging the wrongful act
  2. Acknowledge the hurt feelings
  3. Express remorse
  4. State your intention not to re-offend.
  5. Offer to make amends
  6. Seek forgiveness

He also warns agains the dreadful non-apology language: “I’m sorry that you’re upset,” or “I’m sorry if you feel that way.”   Absolutely! Anyone’s who’s ever received one of these non-apologies knows just how patronising and infuriating they are.

I don’t agree that you should ever throw in all of these approaches. And there’s a good reason for that, people hear apologies in different ways. On a personal level, I absolutely despise Number 6.  If someone asks me for forgiveness, I always feel like the apologiser is wanting me to make them feel better after having just injured me.  But for other people, it’s an important signifier that they recognise they’ve done wrong and wish to repair the relationship.

There’s a great exposition of these different apology styles called The Five Languages of Apology.

  • Expressing regret
  • Accepting responsibility
  • Making restitution
  • Genuinely repenting
  • Requesting forgiveness.

Like the Saatchi article, it’s designed for personal relationships, but there are important lessons here for any relationship.  Perhaps particularly customer service relationships. Things do go wrong in providing services, acknowledging that wrong and putting things right is a great way to ensure that wronged customers stay customers.  (Oh and you can take a quiz to find out what your apology language is and more importantly ask your partner to take the quiz, too)

Examples of customer service apologies and non-apologies:

The Bad Apple:  Apple Apologises for Maps: Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO apologised for the poor quality of their maps function which was included in an iPhone operating system update.  They acknowledged that it wasn’t good enough and said: We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.  Note that Apple didn’t use language like “we are sorry for any inconvenience you may experienced”. They acknowledged that, yes, people were put out by not being able to find out where they were going.  They also offered some alternative solutions from their competitors with links to instructions about how to do that.  Note also that The Register reports that another Apple executive was forced out because he wouldn’t say sorry and sign his name to the letter. (And they weren’t so good at apologising to Samsung.)

High Volume Customer Services:  In a high volume and complex service industry like airlines, thing can and do go wrong. Delta Airline’s @DeltaAssist Twitter account is full of apologies.  But also offers to make things right and to help out where they can.


The social media disaster:  During one of the Obama-Romney debates, President Obama told a story which included the fact that his grandmother died three days before he was elected.  Someone manning the @KitchenAidUSA twitter account then made a tasteless joke about her death.  The tweet was deleted but not before it got significant media attention in the US and many, many re-tweets. But on the plus side, KitchenAid’s Head of Marketing Cynthia Soledad apologised immediately, said that person wouldn’t be tweeting from that account again but also took responsibility. She also proactively contacted reporters to say that she was willing to talk on the record about the incident.  Obviously this should have never happened, but it did and KitchenAid responded quickly and well.  (More here from Ragan’s PR Daily)

Consistent non-apologies:  The NHS. Although I’ve received some really great care from the NHS, I have also received some really dire care and verbal abuse (shouting, swearing and bullying) from a nurse/midwife in the post partum ward after three days of labour and an emergency c-section.  I was left shaking in terror. I complained.  After over a year chasing the complaint through the patient liaison service and intervention from Health Services Ombudsman I finally got a non-apology “I’m sorry you feel you were shouted at.”  The Health Services Ombudsman has criticised the NHS for a culture of non-apology.  Mistakes happen, people snap, but adding a bureaucratic grind and a non-apology adds injury to injury. It also increases cost. Many people, including myself, would have been satisfied with a sincere apology early on – thus avoiding the cost of further complaint procedures and missing the opportunity to improve “customer” care. There’s evidence from America that saying sorry for medical errors can reduce litigation costs and payouts. I’ve also heard a similar tale of non-apologies generating higher levels of complaints from a former Local Government Ombudsman worker.

The opportunistic apology: OK, this is a joke, but it’s brilliant. When a male customer complained on Bodyform’s Facebook page about periods not being so happy, the maker of a female hygiene products crafted this brilliant faux apology. Total respect.

Just say it

Whether you’re an individual, a company or a public service – being willing to take responsibility and apologising when you’re wrong is an important part of maintaining an healthy relationship: personal, civic or commercial.  It’s not easy, but it’s better than leaving people angry and wounded or losing existing or potential customers.


Posted in bee in my bonnet, communications, community engagement, socialmedia.

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Swedish Lessons: 12 key points for tech enabled participative democracy

Stockholm Town Hall

Back in May, I participated in the Swedish Association of Local Authorities summit on digital participation.  I was in some very fine company…  We brought experience from around the world and listened to some of the key challenges Sweden is facing. I have to give them some massive credit for identifying problems on the horizon and wanting to innovate, to ‘fix’ the system before it becomes ‘broken’.

These are some of the key points from the summit.  But you can see the more subtle analysis and reflection, as well as all the participants’ essays on the subject here:

  1. Strategies for effective engagement are necessary. It’s important to be; credible, consistent, responsive, integrated and transparent.
  2. New forms of participation have some differences from our traditional democratic structures and processes; they are open, personalised, direct and immediate. Understand those differences, how they affect communication style between citizens, institutions and politicians.
  3. Be yourself, remain authentic and be honest about your weaknesses and mistakes.
  4. Target your audience proactively, don’t assume they will be interested and come to you or your platform.
  5. Examine forms of participation which are growing and ask whether these can be used to reconnect citizens to formal decision making.
  6. Exploring more direct forms of communication between citizens and elected representatives can also help to bring the gap between old and new ways of working.  This can be done without the need to do anything other than change the approach taken when training politicians.  (i.e. this is not a replacement for representative democracy, but a way to augment it)
  7. We need to reframe the debate about the use of tech in government as a cultural and social rather than technological. This allows us to address some of the fundamental structural and behavioural issues which inhibit the effective use of technology in Government.
  8. “Doing digital” without thinking about the right approach and the objectives is oversimplified and undifferentiated. Government and public authorities need to think about whom they are working with and select the right tools.
  9. In some cases, for example, anonymity can be extremely important; in others, it can be a barrier to
  10. Keep the voice of citizens at the center of your work and invest in strategies with civil society that continues to build this.
  11. You may need to give minority voices more specific consideration.  It is crucial to see that the voices of those on the fringe of society are brought into the conversation. This task is shared with civil society and grassroot movements and initiatives.
  12. It is also important to have a clear strategy for community engagement which recognises that it is the long term journey that moves from information sharing, through consultation to dialogue and partnership working. A good democratic experience is one where you are happy that the outcome is fair even if it isn’t your preferred outcome.

Posted in communications, community engagement, innovation, socialmedia.

10 design gaps in my life


Do the elastic shoe laces work? I’m afraid not.

I’m currently enrolled in a Coursera design class – Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society. The Coursera concept is pretty cool. They offer free short courses on a whole range of subjects that are taught by leading academics in their field. Everything from algebra to…I wanted to say zoology, but I didn’t actually see a course on that.

One of the first assignments is to identify 10 design gaps in my everyday life.  The internet is built on cats and lists of 10, so I thought I’d go ahead and post here.

1. Shoelaces. My son can’t tie his shoes. I could blame the parents for failing to teach him, but I’d rather blame the proliferation of velcro closures on shoes. All shoes except for rugby/football boots. I put elastic laces on his shoes, but they just turned out to be a frayed mess. There has to be an easier way.

2. Insufficient rugby information. As a new fan I’m hungry for more. I want push notifications. I want full premiership and international rugby schedules and results. I want info on where I can watch or listen to games. I can get this for my college football team, but not for rugby.

3. Things to do. Yes, there are things-to-do apps. I’ve got a high energy boy. I want to know where I can take him – either free playgrounds, pay-to-play, swimming, special activities. I would pay to get this information.

4. In terms of services, I would like an unstructured play area to take my son to. Pay-to-play places are expensive. Sometimes, particularly on rainy weekend days, I’d just like to have a big gym that I could take my son and maybe one of his friend and just let him run around and maybe play with balls.  I know there are spaces around where I live. Church halls, school halls and even in my gym.

5. I love my electronic key fob for locking and un-locking my car doors. In absent-minded moments, I occasionally find myself aiming it at my front door. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could electronically unlock my front door, especially when I have hands full of groceries?

6. I’m still on the hunt for the perfect hoodie.  I need one which is a good masking color, I invariably spill coffee on mine. Charcoal grey would be awesome. It should be long enough to provide good coverage and warm enough for standing around the rugby pitch. It needs to zip and have generous pockets. Ideally it will carry a small, cool emblem or logo – but it won’t advertise someone else’s brand.

7. Easy-peasy donation-stations.  I love the idea of the Marks & Spencers campaign/ service Plan A  which lets you bring in clothes for donation and even provides a money off voucher if you also make a purchase on the same day.  But I never think to bring my stuff as I don’t shop their often. It would be awesome if something like this were offered at a grocery store I often shop in.

8. A Southern Accent app.  I’ve always had a variable Southern accent despite being raised in Tennessee. And then at University I totally lost it, even though I went to school in state. There are apps in the App Store for losing or softening your Southern accent, but not for recovering or gaining one. Can I say, “Market failure, y’all”?

9.  Broken jewellery. I have necklaces with broken clasps. Yes, I could take them to a jeweller, but that’s expensive. I want a cheap secure ‘thingy’ to help me wear broken necklaces again.

10.  Reward charts.  So many reward charts out there, but they’re all so uninteresting. They’re either ugly or cutesie, certainly nothing I’d hang up in my house. Online reward charts (apps) that I’ve looked at aren’t customisable enough and it would be kind of awesome if I could link a reward chart app to an allowance manager app. There are already some cool allowance manager apps.

Posted in bee in my bonnet, musings.

What is social media friendly?

Recently the Local Government Association produced a sort of kite mark for councils wishing to proclaim themselves social media friendly.  My first reaction was “That’s good. This is big stuff. Glad to see they’re taking this seriously.”

But my second reaction was “What does that even mean?”

My third reaction was to read the guidance and then to be even more puzzled still.

  • Any local authority can use the mark.
  • It is being implemented via a trust system that expects local authorities using the mark to believe in its ethos; ie are committed to the use of social media.

and from the press release:

The mark can be affixed to websites, meeting agendas and the other publications, letters and pamphlets councils send to residents, to advise people of their local authority’s commitment to social media reporting. It can also indicate the availability of wi-fi in public buildings for live tweeting, blogging and taking and uploading photos.

This feels dreadfully gimmicky. I’ve got nothing against a good gimmick; it’s eye-catching and a powerful communication tool. But I suspect that no ‘social media friendly’ mark on a website is nearly as powerful as having these far more familiar marks on your webpage or literature.

And frankly – anyone who’s digital savvy at all doesn’t really need permission to Tweet or take pictures in a public space.

Perhaps more importantly, a social media friendly mark should be a sign that a council really is social media friendly.

Here’s how you’d know:

From the outside:

  1. Social media is used in a friendly and engaging way. It’s not just a broadcast from the Town Hall, but a space for communication between council and citizen.
  2. The council takes all digital interaction seriously. From paying council tax to reporting complaints to finding out about local events and resources, there are easy low-friction ways to engage with the council online.
  3. There’s some actual evidence that the council wants to hear from citizens through social platforms. Maybe they’re using a cool deliberation tool for real policy co-production or maybe they’re using local digital images for citizens
  4. There isn’t just one way to access the council through social platforms.  But you can engage directly with the services you use and each has a different and suitable feel.
  5. Paper literature, posters, etc have URLs and social accounts where you can follow up or get more information.

From the inside:

  1. Social media sites aren’t blocked for employees or at least there is a generally permissive approach with clear guidelines about who can and can’t access social sites from work for work as part of clear, simple social media policy.
  2. There is a federated approach to communications. It isn’t solely owned by a Comms team, but the Comms team supports and oversees social media communications.
  3. Social tools are used for internal communications. The intranet isn’t simply some software but an approach to sharing knowledge and information between teams and individuals.
  4. Managerial and political leaders demonstrate that they hear and respond to what staff and the public communicate to them through social media.
  5. There’s a clear digital communications strategy and services and staff know where they fit in it.
So in other words, not just ‘social media friendly’ but a truly social organisation. Just what councils and frankly many other public and private sector organisations that work with people should be.

But well done LGA for encouraging councils to think about what it means to be social media friendly and encouraging the debate.  Recent campaigns like #ourday encouraging people who work in councils to share their day through Twitter gives me some hope that this may be more than a gimmick.

Posted in community engagement, socialmedia.

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Social media the rugby way: or Come On You Quins

DO YOU RUGBY? Alexandre Estanislau via Compfight

I’ve been thinking a lot about social customer relationship management lately – and what better example of a business that really needs to turn customers into fans and advocates than a sports team?

I’m a new rugby fan. Being American, my only experience of the game was random exposure to university rugby club members in the bars of Knoxville.  They did not always conduct themselves as gentlemen.  However, since starting my son in rugby, I’m developing a love for the game and decided to choose a premiership team as well as a local club. So, after doing some research on stadium distance, I picked Harlequins based solely on ease of travel to home games.  I didn’t even know they are the reigning Aviva Premiership Champions.

The initiation

The Quins social strategy has a couple of key elements for turning a casual customer (like me) into a fan. My first game was a trial effort: was it easy to get to, was it a good atmosphere, and frankly could I be engaged in the action for 80+ minutes?

To buy tickets I didn’t have to register on the site, but I could choose tickets more easily if I did. So they easily collected a significant amount of my personal data. Not only that but the process encouraged me to register my son as well, as I was taking him with me. Now they know quite a bit about me including the age of my child.

In advance of the game I received some emails about my ticket order. But they missed a trick in not linking me directly to their Twitter account and Facebook page. Sometimes these are included in emails, sometimes not.

My first match was a great experience if not a great game (Harlequins pumelled London Welsh 40-3). I had some minor trouble getting into the stadium, but was helpfully directed to another ticket gate before I joined a lengthy queue. The next day I received an apology by email about the experience. A really nice touch!

I’ve continued to get emails at just the right frequency. Not so much that I want to unsubscribe, not so few that I feel forgotten. I’ve since been to another game as a result of a direct email to me and brought two people with me.  Post game I immediately got another email thanking me for my support and asking me about my experience at the stadium. My son even got an email asking him to join in a rugby training camp. He’s a year too young, but because I’m involved at a local club, I forwarded it on to an appropriate age group which then reached 35 more families.

But I want more. And I have a lot of catching up to do.

1) I don’t know that much about rugby, really.

2) I need a rapid induction into the traditions and culture of the Quins.

And a better social presence would help me get closer.

Sports and social: a natural partnership

People love their teams. They love the experience and even the ups and downs.  There’s nothing more bonding to fans than a losing season.  But teams need to make money. Social media can be a big part of getting fans to stadiums, buying stuff and ensuring sponsors get bang for their buck.

And it’s not like widget selling where you have to work hard to come up with content.  Sporting teams already have great content.  Video highlights, player interviews. Player pictures. Words of wisdom from the coach.  Fans eat that stuff up.  And fans like to see other fans having a great time at games, at the bar afterward, wearing team colours and shaving insignia into their hair and dressing their toddlers as mini-players.  Premiership rugby teams are already pretty good at sharing team content, but none of them are particularly cracking at being a node for fan created content. (London Wasps come pretty close with consistent retweeting of fan pics).

Great content is already there for the taking and the sharing.  And I’d love to get closer to my new team and my fellow fans through social media.

Social networks:

The Quins have a pretty good presence on social media. But although they’re near the top of the premiership table, they’re decidedly mid-ranking when it comes to social media.

Followership of rugby premiership clubs at 8 Oct 2012



Of course, numbers certainly don’t tell the whole story.  But Leicester Tigers at the top of the table have a really nice interactive style on Twitter with lots of retweeting of fans and some relatively decent coverage of games.  Their Facebook page is far and away the most popular in the Premiership and just about every post drips with fan comments by the dozen.  Plus they actually interact with fans on the page. They’ve got the tone pretty much right.

The Exeter Chiefs, though sitting in the bottom third, definitely deserve an honourable mention for their approach to Twitter. They even use a super fan to cover home games online which I thought was so good I put it in my case example blog.

And although I’ve stacked the teams up against each other, in this case it’s really not a competition. Great engagement by one club is good for rugby overall.


As someone looking for work, I’m always having a look around for networking opportunities.  The Quins have started a series of  face-to-face networking events: Quins Means Business.  But to be honest, I’m probably not likely to pay the money to go unless I have a better feel for what happens at these events. My natural inclination was to look on LinkedIn to see if there was already a networking group and what kind of people were in it. Unfortunately there wasn’t one.

Other rugby clubs do have a LinkedIn presence, but few appear to be making good use. (It’s hard to do a comparison as some are private). Some clubs have fan-started groups – some of which are quite large like Leicester Tigers with 725 members and Northampton Saints with 456, but there doesn’t appear to be much interaction from the clubs themselves. Some teams seem to be using their LinkedIn group more as a marketing opportunity for corporate hospitality. It’s absolutely fine to slip that in, but for a LinkedIn group to work it needs to focus on mutual benefits to members – and those groups are unsurprisingly moribund.

Five tips for better social media in rugby

1. Find the rugby voice. As someone who comes from a sporting tradition of hate and rival fan baiting, I’ve been amazed by the convivial atmosphere at every level of rugby I’ve been exposed to so far. The friendliness among and between fans is something that should come through every social posting by clubs. Too many club postings feel a bit corporate.  That being said, rugby is a bit blokey and beery. Revel in it without hitting the gutter. A fine line to tread, I know.

2. Help your fans share their love of rugby.  There needs to be more shareable content, including video.  Clubs need to not miss an opportunity of helping people find their accounts; one club didn’t even have links on their main website.  Some clubs aren’t using YouTube to its full advantage.  Not enough clubs are celebrating their fans and their content.  And I’m not seeing enough celebration of community rugby, a shame since the hands-on reach of rugby across all levels of play is one of the great things about this sport.

3. Be helpful. Use social accounts to help your fans enjoy matches even if they can’t be there. Provide links to video and audio coverage of games. If there’s a customer service issue, respond.  The Quins shop was shut this weekend for stock taking. Yes, it was posted on Facebook, but when people complained there was no response from the club, which isn’t consistent with the Quins general approach to customer service. A perfect opportunity to direct people to the online shop.

4. Be open and responsive and follow social media conventions.  Several clubs aren’t following many other accounts on Twitter. One club follows none.  And although there is some retweeting of fans, there’s little visible interaction between club accounts and fans. When there is it’s a tweet which begins with an @reply most fans won’t see it. I’m also not seeing enough use of hashtags by clubs to help fans follow conversations about their teams.

5. Look outside the sport of rugby for best practice.  Look at who’s being lauded for their social media.  Although the approach of LA Kings hockey team is inappropriate for English rugby, similar outside-the-box thinking could go down well. Look at consumer brands like Cadburys or Innocent (maybe a bit too wacky) or my favourite: SunDrop, a regional soda brand which has a fanatical following.

And I know I’ve been a bit critical, but I really am doing this from a place of love.  Blokey, beery love.

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