Social Media

5 stars of open local democracy?

Posted on 19th June 2014 by

5 star

There’s a conversation going on in South Birmingham – led by Karen Cheney and Austin Rodriguez and others – about how to get more public democratic processes shared more widely.  This builds on various work (including a Cllr in Billesley buying some kit to live stream for the first time their ward ctte meeting).    At a meeting yesterday we talked a bit about equipment and platforms, but also that not all meetings need to be live streamed etc.  So, I wondered, could establish stages of activity for digital open local democracy?  I said I write up my thoughts as a blog post….

What are the principles?

In the mould of Tim Berners-Lee, I’m adapting his 5 stars of open dataI’m know I won’t be the first person to think through these stages, – I’ve searched but not found the 5 stars thing for very local public meetings. If you find it then please share.  Update: this is where I’ve seen something similar before:

This is a summation of some of our experience social reporting over the years and the following list applies to local processes, currently things like police priority setting meetings,  patient forums for GP and CCG’s, council ward committee’s, housing association walkabouts, neighbourhood forum meetings or neighbourhood watch groups.  This is the myriad of daily democracy that we have created over time.

5 stars of  open (hyper)local democracy


1 star:  Be seen and be welcoming.  Putting agenda’s and minutes somewhere where it is very easy to find them and where it is easy for others to share them. Make sure everyone knows they’re invited.  (This could be a blog, just on google docs with a link or creating an eventbrite to invite people to meetings. It can include putting invites through doors and agenda’s and minutes on public noticeboards.)

2 star: Talk about what you’re doing.  This means that you have a #hashtag for your meeting and publicise it and also share what you know (make sure that background information to papers is publicly available). You are open to others live reporting or recording what you are doing.

3 star: Do it live.  You do the above but you also do it during your meeting or event.  This is where you can introduce a livestream of video or audio or live social reporting through twitter, facebook and or a blog. This also means you only hold meetings in places where there is good, publicly usable wi-fi or 3g.

4 star:  Involve people outside the room in the meeting.  This is a step change from being seen to be doing. This values the questions and comments made on the web as being as important to your meeting as the ones made in the room.  They are incorporated though hashtags or services like cover it live, blyve or a facebook q&a as the event unfolds.  This could also mean organising events specifically for talking to people on the web.

5 star:  It’s a permanent conversation. This fifth step recognises that the civic conversation you’re having doesn’t just happen at times and places you decide.  It can happen all the time. It means being responsive in between meetings when, for example a comment appears on a website or a hashtag.


There are other stages I could have added – using open data for example, but I’m trying to envisage stages by which we can help us develop from the familiar “meeting with 1 man and a dog in a draught village hall”.  So perhaps the 5 stars of “more” open local democracy.

Behind all this is another core principle:

Keep it simple:

  • Collaborate.  Don’t do this in silos, have things that involve many services, voluntary or statutory.
  • Use available tools.  make things happen with the mobile phones around you, using livestreaming through google hangout or similar, rather than needing to build a thing.  (there are very fine services used for some formal democratic processes, but they’re not essential here)
  • Use available kit – what can you achieve with a smart phone or two?  How much do you really need to buy, is video right for your sort of event?
  • Go to where people are  If the busiest place to find people is on facebook can you use that for your online conversations.  Sharing live events online through hyperlocal blogs is another example

If you can’t make it work without these then clearly start looking for other ways of doing but start with keep it simple, not with “we need to build a portal for that” .

Thanks also to our very own Steph Clarke for helping me think through this – she’s oodles of experience of encouraging public services to get involved with people online both at work and her volunteer efforts at




Facebook Reach – How to reach your non for profit / hyperlocal audience for free

Posted on 2nd May 2014 by

Something has been really frustrating me recently about Facebook – and it’s been covered lots of other blogs – the reach that pages are getting with their posts has seemingly plummeted  since Facebook has moved towards a model of trying to get you to “boost” your content – or rather, pay to get a wider audience to see it. But when you’re a not for profit, or a community website paying to promote content just isn’t an option….and as we’ve posted before it may not actually be the best option.

Insights and more importantly reach – specifically how to reach more people is something we get asked about a fair bit at Social Media Surgeries  and when I got asked about it again this week I decided to do some digging to try and work out 1. What on is going on with reach and 2. Can we improve page reach without paying?

The other day I posted a story about young girl Freya Powers, to the WV11 website and facebook page – Freya has not long been diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma and her parents are fundraising for the cancer ward she is being treated on. We basically put a call out asking for help with the fundraising. It was a popular post which is why I’ve chosen this one to look at.

This is what the reach looks like on the front page of Facebook:

Freya post 1

22 people liked this content, 38 people shared it and 4,168 people reached – just under 60% of our pages followers

BUT 38 people have shared this and our reach is less that our total page likes? I know from past experience that when you see shares like that the reach is normally way way over the total numbers of likes on a our page, so I looked deeper.

Here is the expanded insights  for that post:

Freya post 1 expanded

It’s still showing a reach of 4,168 put but it’s now showing 42 likes  – 22 on our page  – and a further 20 on shares…. And then I realised something  – on previous versions of Facebook insights you could view a separate figure for viral reach and this wasn’t showing, so I went searching.  I download the full  insights file….

They say this:

  • Lifetime The number of people who saw your Page post in News Feed or ticker, or on your Page’s Timeline. (Unique Users) 4186
  • Lifetime The number of impressions of your post in News Feed or ticker or on your Page’s Wall. (Total count) 12033

But then the figures from “followers” only say this:

  • Lifetime The number of people who saw your Page post because they’ve liked your Page (Unique Users) 2018
  • Lifetime The number of impressions of your Page post to people who have liked your page. (Total count) 4731

So it appears facebook have started to combine  pages organic reach with it’s viral reach in its overview and when looked at like that it’s worse than I thought.

Facebook have delivered our content to 32% of the people who liked our page –  the rest of the figures have come from people sharing the post which is a huge drop in reach to what we were seeing just 12 months ago.

Reach in decline


Edgerank Checker  have done a much wider piece of research into this and they’ve noted a year on year decline too

For the typical Page on Facebook in March 2014:

  • Organic Reach per Fan = 6.51%
  • Fan Reach per Fan = 6.46%
  • Viral Reach per Fan = 0.99%

Where were we before this?

Organic Reach per Fan (Median):

  • Feb 2012 = 16%

  • Sep 2013 = 12.60%

  • Nov 2013 = 10.15%

  • Dec 2013 = 7.83%

  • Mar 2014 = 6.51%”



I Googled to see if I could find an answer for this steep decline and the best explanation I could find was on this Tech Crunch article – The filtered feed problem – Why Is Facebook Page Reach Decreasing? More Competition And Limited Attention

It is well worth a read but essentially it  says – while we add more people and more things to our facebook feed by making friends and liking “stuff”  – the amount of  time we spend looking at the feed stays the same so facebook are working to try and make that time relevant – which means filtering irrelevant content.

Which means followers won’t always see the stuff we want them to see.

It also has a really interesting simplification on the algorithm facebook uses to filter posts.

BUT importantly it also states that all pages are not treated equally

Facebook is penalising pages for link bait tactics and spammy posts.  Post memes or banal “share this if you love your mom” or “1 like = 1 respect”  text and image based content or over share repetitive content you are going to see a sharp reduction in the amount of places your content is seen.

So how do we stay on the right side of facebook’s filtering and increase your reach without paying to boost your content?

Based on the post from Wv11 I shared above we have an average post to followers reach of 32% –  which by looking at all the sites I’ve read through today puts us at the higher end of the scale for organic (non paid for) reach .

Why do I think that is? Well, I think on whole it’s by following  these set of tips

  • Be useful and relevant – is the content something your page followers would want to see – is it the type of posts they are used to seeing? Write about the things you know about and your audience will care about.
  • Accessible content  – Think mobile as well as desktop. Lots of people use their mobile to browse the internet and specifically Facebook , is your content mobile friendly  –When we post links to stories  try and summarise that content for mobile only readers – some people still wont or cant click on on external links from the page, especially those with contracts or PAYG mobiles that include free facebook browsing but not a lot of other data.
  • Photos, photos and more photos Anything we post with an image is guaranteed to the get more love than either text or video.  It takes the lowest amount of effort from the reader to take in the information so they engage with it, which improves your reach. You can also invite readers to tag themselves and friends in photos from events. Videos are also popular but get less views from mobile than desktop. I think this maybe down to the data usage again
  • Timing. Facebook insights are a wonderful thing. They are broken down to such an extent that we can even know when our followers are online – We get a graph that averages hourly visitor numbers over days  – but we can also see data for each day of the week which allows us to post when potentially the most people are online to reach the widest audience possible.
  • Don’t post repetitive content – if we want to re-share something – we reword it or post content with a different photograph so that facebook can see your making an effort to share something new.
  • Don’t spam.

I don’t deny it’s frustrating to have put the effort in to build and audience of over 6000 to only reach a third of them. But in the short term a third of 6000 is still 2000 more people to connect with than if Facebook didn’t exist and in the long term hopefully as Facebook filtering gets better and spammy pages are penalized by following these rules the relevant, informative pages will see their reach stabilise, or increase.

Why public meetings are the rocky-bed of the public talking to public services.

Posted on 24th March 2014 by


A very honest piece from Delib called Why Delib Has Given Up on Police and Crime Commissioners has given me an opportunity to pull together a range of things about the bleedin’ obvious.

Delib is a business which helps public services with digital engagement – much like us but a bit different.  They’ve spent months trying to get Police Crime Commissioners talking to them about better ways to talk to the public about policeing and crime and safer communities.  They’ve now given  up.  Why?  Because they keep being told that the Police Commissioner holds public meetings, and that’s good enough:

You wouldn’t walk to a phone box to call a friend in Australia anymore. Equally you wouldn’t walk to a draughty town hall, at an inconvenient time, to ask a question of a PCC you’ve never heard of.

Public meetings have moved from the bedrock of local democracy to the rocky-bed. A place that only seems still comfortable for those used to a diet of lumpy and cold communications – or those who would rather not share their bed with anyone.

This has been recognised in Birmingham with an impassioned report from Cllr Lisa Trickett and her scrutiny colleagues on public engagement. (I gave evidence to the ctte).  In it they conclude that the traditional Cllrs meeting with residents in a hall doesn’t cut it:

7.3.10. Overall our conclusion is that Ward Committees are not currently fit for the purpose set out in the Leader’s Policy Statement (2012) as the major means for citizens to engage on issues affecting their area.
Its recommendation opens the door to radical democratic alternatives.

7.3.13. Some strong pioneering effort should be promoted across the city for radical experimentation with new and different formats.

We are about to start working in Kings Heath and Moseley to support that shift.  There the aim is to create a fledgling partnership. How this will happen in detail I’m not yet clear.  That’s a good thing.  It is very easy for those who organise one process to replace it with another which they in turn have organised.  Doing that misses the opportunity to involve new people in change, but there’s a tricky balancing act between the open and involved and the organised enough for people to appreciate how it might help them.

That’s the core of it:  it’s better to meet people where they are – very few people are in draughty halls and more and more people are on the internet.

—–  Some extra stuff…

but, there are also wider changes for the council centrally to

1. to improve the Council website
2. for an improvement plan for how the Council deals with citizens as customers
3. for a ‘cross-cutting improvement plan’ for consultation
4. to ‘bring forward a plan that addresses the key concerns raised and opportunities set out in the report and take on the fundamental step changes set out in Chapters 5-8.’

Number 1 is actually about the core problem that for years the democracy section of the council’s website has been unusable – you can’t link to an individual document.   I found the report on the Centre for Public Scrutiny and the Birmingham Against the Cuts website – I couldn’t find it on the council site through a google search. A google docs accounts with some folders in it would have been cheaper and better – and that, or dropbox, still might be the best solution.

As for two -when given evidence I bashed on a bit about this thinking of us as customers.  I’m very keen to encourage officers to be thought of and act as citizens – not as shop assistants.  This report talks of people as citizens (although recognises that  often all we do really want is a simple and effective service from the council).

Our job is to encourage a wider participation in local civic conversation on the web –  encourage people to use the web to say what they want to say and try and help public services learn how to listen to that – join in and make what comes out of the conversation useful for the community.  Of course Moseley and Kings Heath already has plenty of that.    Which is why some people still stick to their public meetings – because they can be fairly confident of what will happen.


West Midlands Police Working With Hyperlocal Bloggers through Podnosh

Posted on 22nd October 2013 by

Lol being shown around the new West Midlands Police website by Digital Service Manager Stuart Davis

Working with the Community Safety Partnerships in Birmingham has allowed us to help partners start great conversations across the city.

In North Birmingham a whole host of police officers are now tweeting and community groups are starting to organise themselves online. In South Birmingham a whole spectrum of people from the Community Safety Partnership now blog & tweet to help inform their community of the things that matter to them.  In East Brum?  Well in East Brum we have Lol .

We’ve written about him before, but Lol Turstan is a  resident who loves where he lives so much he hasn’t waited for any of the local partners to get online, he ran with it himself and created B26 Community – A hyperlocal website for the community of Sheldon, where Lol can help spread the message from his Neighbourhood Watch group.

Lol has been working to forge partnerships locally to make the most of his site for the local residents, including strong links with his local police team.

I caught up with Sgt Hanif of Sheldon’s Neighbourhood Police team to find out what they thought of Lol and working with the B26 Community Blog;

“Lol is a very active, influential, member of Sheldon’s community, and already has vested interest in our area, so when we saw the opportunity for our team to attend the social media surgeries he was an obvious choice for us to take along. When it was first suggested to him he couldn’t dream of being involved – he was scared his age would be a barrier to understanding the technology.

But he went along with some of our officers and a few weeks later when I saw him next I was just, well WOW!  He’d set up a website and was doing everything he could to make it as useful as possible.

Every time we have a community meeting he brings handouts to promote the site and is always asking others to get involved. We’ve worked with Lol to share our messages and make other things happen in the area – but some credit has to go to our PCSO  Steve McGrath too.  He’s worked especially close to Lol to get things on the site.

Together they’ve coordinated local schemes like installing locks on residents sheds after a spate of break ins and and recruiting for the street and neighbourhood watch groups.

We forward everything to him not just police stuff but anything that’s relevant.  It gets it out there and it works because people tell me they’ve seen it on the site – and this level of communication was especially important to us after a murder in a local public house.”


“The day after the murder took place, because of the nature of the incident, we had to get a reassurance message to the effected communities as soon as possible, and while technically it happened in our neighbouring ward residents don’t recognise those boundaries we had to act fast.

There had been a shooting, and a possible case of mistaken identity and we wanted to help allay any rumours. I was informed at 11am and within 2 hours we’d got key members of the community  together at the station and gave them what information we could for them to share.. We had a time sensitive message to get across.   We wanted community we had gathered together  was to share that message with other people.

Lol used his website and the contacts he’s made there to circulate this for us. We know his distribution is vast so for us it’s a short cut to the community. An officer on the beat or any other member of the community by word of mouth may have only reached out to 20 people they bumped into – with Lol and B26 Communty we reached potentially hundreds in a short space of time.

Moving forwards, as his contact list builds we would like to work with Lol to use his website to spread other key messages – we can reach a much wider audience than before and as a result we have a better informed community – which means they can make safer choices for themselves.”

Direct Link to Local People

Hannah Fitzgerald, West Midlands Police East Birmingham Communications Officer had this to say about the usefulness of communicating through community websites;

“Having someone like Lol running a site like B26Community is really useful  for Sheldon and East Birmingham as a whole. There is no really localised press coverage in that area so he’s a direct link to the people there.

He’s hosted our live webchats for us on his site.  The last one we broadcast was around Anti Social Behaviour and as Sheldon Park has suffered from episodes of Anti Social Behaviour in the past it was good to be able to communicate directly with the community there.”

Richard Eccelstone, West Midlands Police Social Media Champion added;

“We used to promote our webchats on our Twitter and Facebook pages – but that would attract comments from the whole of the West Midlands even when we wanted to focus on a  specific area –  that would really dilute the conversation but by connecting to  local blogs we were able to use their audience to focus the talk and make it more relevant. This is true of B26 and other hyperlocal websites across the midlands.

We are looking to focus more of our communications on a local level and working with hyperlocal blogs such as B26Community is a fantastic way of doing this”

What’s great about the approach the police are taking to local communication is how effective it is. Our work with all the community safety partnerships has proven that talking with local people using the tools they understand improves communication right across the neighbourhood and in turn improves the perceptions of safety in those areas and helps make things happen. The video below is of Safer Places Office Austin Rodriguez, he’s talking about how using digital tools to communicate locally has benefited his area – evidence that partners working with the community – talking to them at a local level, works.