The first 4 months of 2019




TM as PM in AMA – why not?

New PM, new opportunities.

Cameron was a PM who normalised social media simply by turning up with some channels, and using them (or at least, signing off their use), and in doing so seemed to understand the importance of networks and communities online.

However, there’s nothing novel about this in 2016, so it’ll be interesting to see what Theresa May does online. She certainly understands the impact it can have. As far as I can tell she’s never openly dismissed social media, or belittled its role.

Does it really matter whether or not she tweets? I don’t think so. In fact it might be more helpful for everyone (apart from the media) if she chose not to.

Seriously, why not be the first leader to abandon twitter?

This could be a great opportunity for our most senior politician to make a break for it, and focus on the needs of specific audiences. Dare I say it: of the web, not just on it.

I’d like to see Theresa May help answer my questions about Europe, immigration, the economy, transport and so on, by:

  • Participating in an AMA on Reddit, and more web Q&As, generally
  • Knuckle down on policy making processes, ensuring consultations are easy to read and respond to online, and as representative as they can be
  • Use more video to explain the really complex issues, and not leave it to the press
  • Insist on regular, granular blogging from the new Brexit team
  • Demonstrate that Government is listening online generally, and not just hanging on headlines and comment from media and big business
  • Also, we don’t know much about our new PM, personally. A little bit of human insight on Instagram perhaps, wouldn’t go amiss

Wish list? Maybe. But far more meaningful, and useful, than ghost-written twitter accounts.

A tick box approach to Prime Ministerial social media won’t do in 2016.

Hidden tweets for grabbing someone’s attention

This post from Andy Baio is a great insight into various hidden features on Twitter.

Despite Andy calling it ‘Stupid tricks…’ I’ve gone back a few times trying to articulate how one of the features might be useful for comms teams.

Here goes.

If you are running a campaign, or making an announcement, you may want to get the attention of a group of different people at the same time: for example journalists or bloggers. You may not have their contact details, just a Twitter account. They don’t follow you, so you can’t DM.

A lot of people (me included) are tempted to publish a load of the same tweets in quick succession, directed at different people.

This doesn’t look great, because if a follower of yours also follows some of your recipients (highly likely in the case of, say, a Government department and related stakeholders), their timeline will fill up with your @ messages.

Your recipients might also notice that you are sending the same message over and over to different people.

What if there was a way you could contact different people with the same tweet, without those tweets appearing in your timeline, or anyone else’s apart from the individual you are addressing? Well, there is a way.

  • While logged in to whichever account you wish to use, go to
  • Start the process for creating a new ad campaign, and select Twitter engagements
  • Go to the Compose panel and write your tweet, mentioning the person you wish to target. Hit the tweet button.Twitter business compose panel
  • Your tweet has been published, but only you and your recipient can see it. It won’t appear in your timeline and no one else can see it, unless the recipient replies, at which point the conversation is public again.
  • No need to continue building the campaign. A record of who you have tweeted in this way will build on the right hand side of the screen.

I wouldn’t normally endorse this kind of approach, of course. You need to put the effort into relationships in good time, and not rely on a random tweet that will encourage someone to write about your story, or change their behaviour. But we’ve all been on deadline and eager to get people’s attention. In these circumstances this might just work for you.

10 questions every Government comms leader should be asking themselves

A modern communications team, capability, leadership and, of course, digital. All important strands, among others, in the latest improvement program for the Government Communication Service (GCS).

If GCS is to continue learning and improving, those leaders who are not already hands-on with digital need to quickly adapt, and those who are already of the internet need to make sure valuable (sometimes tough) lessons are being learned.

We often find ourselves asking senior teams to take a long, hard look at their own understanding of digital. These are the ten questions we are asking communications leaders in departments and agencies, to ask of themselves:

1. Do I use digital regularly as part of my work, beyond reading Twitter?

2. Have I personally asked Ministers/CEOs/organisation heads if they would like to see online coverage included in media reports?

3. Do I receive clear evaluation of digital communications activity, showing what has and has not worked, and how this has contributed to communications objectives?

4. Do I understand enough about how our audiences access and share information online?

5. How will I help the organisation get beyond broadcast every day, and be part of the conversation online?

6. Are all the people who I manage clear on the digital competencies identified within GCS?

7. Who are those people in my team who naturally use digital as part of their work?

8. Am I regularly signposting the social media guidance for civil servants to my team?

9. How often do I encourage my team to experiment with digital, and share their experiences and evaluation with GCS?

10. Does my team blog publicly about how they have applied digital in their campaigns, successfully or otherwise?

If it takes more than a few seconds to answer any of these, then there is plenty of mileage left to properly embed digital – and it falls to everyone, including the leaders.

Leaving the Civil Service

I’m leaving Business, Innovation and Skills in July, to join Helpful Technology. I’m sad to be leaving government, but excited about my new job working alongside Steph Gray and his very clever colleagues.

The past five years working in the Civil Service have been amazing. I have learnt an awful lot about digital, management and getting things done in the public sector. But I have also missed the imperatives that came with working for a small business.

I am hoping to capture the best of both worlds, by delivering exciting things like the Social Simulator, Digital Gym and brilliant intranets, to public and private organisations.

The world of digital in Government was very different, even as recently as 2009. The arrival of GDS and soon after I started was a relief for someone like me, who doesn’t know their HTML from their Linux (just don’t tell my new team). Government digital was a really welcoming community back then, and continues to be so today. I’ll miss not being on the inside of that community, but I suspect there’s plenty of room for people who are a tiny bit more patient than I.

Personal highlights from my time in the Civil Service include:

And what wasn’t so good?

  • I learnt the hard way that I was definitely not cut out for private office.
  • My web chat for Andy Burnham on Mumsnet was a baptism of fire.
  • I only wrote five papers in my whole time in the civil service. The rest of my work is on this blog or this one. I probably should have written more papers.
  • Pushing through things like hot desking, new skills and spending less time worrying about hashtags, was, I think, the right thing to do in the long run. But in hindsight I probably made a lot of people’s lives quite difficult for a while, and I don’t feel great about it.

So, plenty of experience to take with me to my next adventure and lots of new friends made.

My current role is being advertised, and the deadline is 11 June. Let me know if you have any questions about it (and sorry about the hot desking).

Happy Birthday

Can it really be a year since was officially launched? Yes it can.

October 17 2012 feels like a very long time ago. Goodness knows what it must feel like for the Government Digital Service.

I am grateful every day that I do not have to run a big corporate website anymore. We obviously have to take responsibility for content on, but aside from a couple of cheeky campaign sites, there’s no more worries about hosting, security and contracts. None of which makes me want to leap out of bed in the morning.

Instead, digital teams like ours are free to use the rest of the web to better effect: for communicating policy, listening to our audiences and sharing content in different ways.

This, along with a revolution in editorial content, huge consolidation of costs and, most importantly, a much improved user experience, is what has delivered in the past 12 months.

There’s also much greater transparency around content. Gone are the days when departments could publish content in odd places. And we have a whole raft of very clever and talented new people to work with and learn from.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing though. For me, the real story behind GDS’s achievements will be the cultural shift inflicted on the civil service by Unfortunately that story isn’t complete yet, which means that the past 12 months have been spent trying to quickly help colleagues less focussed on user need to understand – and accept – how people use the web. We definitely haven’t got there yet.

In an effort to help people understand and love, it feels like there has been the odd compromise along the way, which is understandable but also a bit of a shame. The original vision was so pure, but the home page, certain landing pages, use of video content and so on, have diluted this.

Sometimes I also have a sense of unease about the volume of work has created outside of GDS. I guess this is inevitable when an organisation and its product grows, but I feel that as the numbers of emails, meetings and paperwork goes up, the passion with which I can speak about the site is slightly diminished.

All of which is pretty irrelevant in the context of what has been achieved for the British public. I will be putting my own user needs first on 17 October, and visiting the pub. But I’ll be sure to raise a glass to and GDS.

‘PDF me a coffee!’ Where does it all go wrong?

In 2003 I worked for a small Anglo-American company publishing journals, magazines and websites. The company had moved with the times, sort of, but was still predominantly an advertising sales-led, offline publishing company.

Useful technology was making the production process easier and faster. But we still used a fax machine for certain processes.

PDFs were still something of a novelty in certain quarters and the term was bandied around, without everyone fully understanding what it was. Hence, one morning I was walking through the office kitchen when I heard a senior director say to another colleague 'and PDF me a coffee, please'. Needless to say, I wasted no time in taking the piss.


Now, what could possibly have happened for him to think that a file format could also help deliver a hot beverage, I know not.

In hindsight I was arrogant and stupid to react the way I did to the PDF comment. Why should my colleague have known or cared? He wasn't on the production team. His work was a million miles away from the Macs and wires and printing presses.

But his words come back to haunt me when I peddle presentations about digital engagement around Government departments.

Until now I have never worked in any organisation where there is such a broad range of ages. I really value it, because there's a corporate memory there that has often been lacking in the young, high churn companies I have worked for. But it also makes me think twice about assuming too much knowledge or confidence when it comes to digital.

I don't think for a second that age automatically relates to confidence or knowledge of digital. But its fair to assume that while my career started in a digital environment, many people's did not. And for some, that does affect confidence. I do my best to allay fears and preconceived ideas.

This got me thinking about what, where or when will be the break point for me? I would consider myself reasonably close to the innovative end of the modern workplace, but presumably so did lots of other people at one time. I don't have much to do with open data or code, so maybe that is the future and therefore where I might be left behind. Or perhaps there is some yet unknown platform or channel out there that I just won't be able to get my head around?

I feel like I am waiting for my own 'PDF me a coffee' moment. Has anyone else identified theirs?

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