» twitter ¦ What You Can Get Away With

Going through my recap of old posts, I’ve recently found the one where I announced that I’d joined Twitter. Almost four years on from that, I now have an additional Twitter account – @CllrNickBarlow – that I’ll use solely for ‘official’ stuff. It’ll mainly be about things I’m doing as a councillor, information about meetings and events and will hopefully work as a point of contact for people who want to contact me about Council business, rather than getting that and everything else confused.

Don’t worry, my main account will still be continuing as normal, though the two will have separate content.

I spent yesterday in London at the first ever Councillor Camp. This wasn’t a group of local government people hanging around in tents and/or pretending to be Kenneth Williams, but a version of BarCamp especially for councillors who wanted to look at ways we could use social media to better carry out our roles. It was organised by the LGIU and Futuregov, and we were very lucky to be hosted by Facebook, who gave us the run of their London training and meeting room, complete with Doctor Who-themed room names.

Unlike most local government events that I get invited to, this was a free event, and rather than having a rigid schedule, it was run as an ‘unconference‘ where most of the sessions and what they covered were determined by the participants, not by some schedule determined in advance. Another key feature of the day was that we were all encouraged to keep electronic devices on throughout the day and so as well as what was happening at the event itself, there was lots of discussion on the #cllrcamp hashtag on Twitter.

The day started with a number of different speakers offering a variety of perspectives on the use of social media in local politics. Again, this differed from normal conferences in that they were only allowed five minutes each to speak, and thus none of the presentations turned into death by PowerPoint. (“Conducting a PowerPoint presentation is a lot like smoking a cigar. Only the person doing it likes it. The people around him want to hit him with a chair.”) This meant they had to boil things down to a few key points, which helped to set the tone for the day, rather than telling everyone what to think. Some key points I picked up from those speeches:

  • Brighton and Hove Council created their own Twitter hashtag – #bhbudget – to promote online discussion of their budget, and councillors were active participants in the online debate, which did feed concrete proposals into the budget
  • Denmark’s tax authorities use their online presence to post details and pictures of what people’s taxes are used for
  • “Be yourself – everyone else is taken.” “Your residents are human, so be human.” Politicians need to be on social media as themselves, not constructing a separate online personality.
  • After those brief talks, we were into the main meat of the day, with people filling out a huge number of post-it that were then collated together into a grid of different sessions, where we could talk about what we wanted to. These discussion sessions were, for me, more useful than breakout sessions at other events. Again, there was no sitting round watching one person PowerPoint us to death, and the fact that people had come to a session because they wanted to be there and had chosen the topic meant people were much more willing to participate.

    (And in itself, letting people define the terms of their engagement and interaction, not having it rigidly imposed from on high is something local government could and should learn to do)

    I could go on for ages, but some of the thoughts I’ve had from Councillor Camp are likely going to generate posts in themselves over the weeks to come, but here are some of the key points for me:

  • Engaging in social media means giving up some control – councils and councillors can create and start discussions, but can’t determine where it goes after that.
  • There has to be more work done to get more people involved and online, so the discussion isn’t just amongst the most savvy.
  • Any social media strategy has to be capable of evolving to recognise the growth of new networks and platforms.
  • A new generation is coming through who see being online and involved in social media as entirely natural and integral to their lives, not an added extra (see this quote fromDouglas Adams). That councillors are generally much older than the population they represent could create issues here.
  • The effectiveness of your social media presence is linked to authenticity – people expect you to be yourself and respond as such, not a programmed drone.
  • Interactivity is expected, not an added-extra. People will expect to interact with the social media presence of councils and councillors and get a meaningful response.
  • There’s more to come – and some of it might link with the thoughts I’ve had after reading The Political Brain this week – but overall Councillor Camp was a great experience, and I’d recommend any follow up and repeat events to other councillors, especially those who aren’t as engaged online and want to discover how to go further. One idea suggested was the potential for regional events, to get more people involved in a more convenient location – anyone fancy a Councillor Camp East?

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    The instalment you’ve all been waiting for. Somewhere within these links lies the final secret of the Illuminati. Probably.

    The “Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators” Article – Jay Rosen notes a trend in the press
    Conservative coffers boosted in “sale of opportunities” to kids of the super rich – Not really the image you want to present to the public, is it?
    Egypt And (No) Democracy – Zelo Street on how various US right-wingers are pushing the whole ‘democracy should only be given to people who agree with us’ argument.
    Britain gets comfy as Melanie Phillips explains ‘Biblical sexuality’ – The Daily Mash explains just how people consume the views of “the Daily Mail’s in-house Tasmanian Devil”.
    Multiculturalism and the Monkeysphere – On Angry Mob, an interesting discussion about how our worldview is limited by the number of people we can properly know. (via)

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    Just to let you all know that the 4th Colchester Winter Ale Festival is happening for the next few days. It’s running every day from noon through to 11pm at Colchester Arts Centre with a wide variety of beers available.

    I’m also informed that it will be the venue for a Colhester tweetup – a gathering of Colchester Twitter users, if you don’t know what that means – on Saturday afternoon from 3pm. Hopefully I’ll be there for that, so come along and say hello.

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    From what I can tell, this is how it happened:

    First, someone working at ITV News forgets that they’re logged into the work Twitter account, rather than their personal one, and tweets: “Nigella Lawson is nowhere near as attractive as she thinks she is”

    This is spotted, and retweeted, by Andy Reeves. A short while after that, Andy finds that his Twitter account is suspended (and at the time of writing this post, it still is).

    Any explanations?

    (Via Jennie)

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    The observant amongst you will have noticed that I’m not at Liberal Democrat Conference this year. I had originally intended to go, but then events (the Tour of Britain on Friday, the Free Festival yesterday and various meetings next week) got in the way and meant it wouldn’t really have been worth my while to go all the way up to Liverpool for just a day or two.

    Or so I thought. When I heard I’d been nominated for a Blog of the Year award for co-creating the bizarre phenomenon that was #nickcleggsfault , I thought it was nice to be recognised but there was no way I’d win the award, and I assumed that was the general consensus from the lack of interest there was in volunteering to stand in for me at the awards. It was quite a big surprise, then, to turn my computer on this morning and discover that I’d won.

    So, with thanks to Stephen Tall for standing in for me and providing a relevant excuse, here’s an approximation of what I might have said had I been there to accept the award last night:

    First off, I’d like to thank Justin McKeating – while I used the phrase ‘Nick Clegg’s fault’, he was the person who put a hash in front of it while blaming Nick for stubbing his toe. However, I don’t think either of us expected it to become as explosively popular as it did.

    I also feel somewhat guilty about winning this award as I did basically nothing compared to the hard work everyone else has done – I was one of the supporters of Bridget’s motion to get the Digital Economy Bill discussed at the last Conference, I’ve seen the amount of work candidates like Daisy and Tamora do even before they spend time doing digital campaigning on top of that and I’m still a member of Simon’s Vote Clegg, Get Clegg group and see how it’s continuing to generate interesting – and by the usual internet standards, fantastically polite – conversations months after the election. So, to get this award for typing 140 characters early one morning seems almost as absurd as some of the things Nick was being blamed for and so I’d also like to thank everyone out there who took part in #nickcleggsfault back in April and May – this is as much your award as it mine and Justin’s.

    It’s still coming home with me and going on my mantelpiece, though.

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    Budgeting

    We’re currently having lots of meetings talking about Colchester Council’s budget for next year. Because of the economic situation and the likely severe drop in money we get from the Government – despite the fact we still send them far more of the business rates we collect for them than we get in return – there are likely to be cuts in several areas, so we want to know which areas are of the most importance to people in Colchester.

    So, to have your say on which areas you think are most and least important – and to suggest any other savings or income ideas for the Council you might have – visit www.colchester.gov.uk/yourcolchester and have your say. You can also take part in the process by following @YourColchester on Twitter.

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