Internet-free Thursday #ift

Yesterday was my first internet free Thursday (#ift).

Why am I having internet free Thursdays? It’s all explained in my ‘Dealing with digital distractions‘ post.

How’d it go? Well sadly I had a good distraction from digital – a colleague’s leaving do. Being at the pub with great colleagues reminiscing helped stop the cravings but I was amazed how subconscious my movements to my phone and it’s unlock button were.

To help get over that I turned off my mobile internet, plunging myself into circa 2005. This taught me to stop looking at my phone!

After that I enjoyed a spell of just concentrating on chatting and enjoying the company of the people in my immediate vicinity. It was lovely.

There was one slip-up though. Once home I ordered a smart new shirt from

What?! There’s a good sale on!

I’d recommend #ift to all of you. It’s a helpful reminder of the need to turn off and look up from the screens.


Thoughts from a social media chat

T’other day I went down to the South West of England to have a chat with comms leads from the regions hospitals about social media.

First and foremost, despite growing up round there the journey down there was a happily recieved reminder of the beauty of that part of the world. The pace of life is also different to London. Better than London in my eyes and more friendly of course. I digress….

All-round I felt the meeting was a success. People in the room were open and honest with their level of experience on social media and some great lessons and case studies came out of that.

For my part I was really motivated to hear how far down the road most people were with social media. 18 months ago it was all about getting executive sign off to use social media, or IT clearance for comms teams. Now I was hearing about how people have been building online communities and integrating social media into their media relations work for a few months or more.

Below are a few Q&As I picked up from the chat. Pardon the strange style it is copied and pasted from an email. I also apologise for breaking *all the blog post length rules*; bare with it I think there is some useful stuff hidden away in there for you all.

Questions and answers from a social media chat in the South West

Writing for the different platforms. This only comes with practise! I would take some time to look around at how people you follow/are friends with are writing. What writing styles make you happy/sad/annoyed, click on a link, RT a tweet, like a post? How can you use those styles in your work? Using active verbs and plain English are obviously a must.

Making your organisation’s news more topical. The key here is to join in with region-wide and national topics. For example, the PiP implant scandal – what could your hospital say to its followers about it? Could you RT the DH info? Remember it needn’t be original content all the time with social media.

Increasing Twitter followers is an odd game. There is little use in using follower number as a marker of quality. You could have 2,000 followers but no real influence or interaction. On the other hand you could have 10 local bloggers follow you who subsequently blog about your organisation news and help you get your messages out to the local population. Don’t fret about follower numbers. Here are a few tips to increase the number over time:

  1. Tweet regularly. The nature of Twitter means the more active you are the more chance people have of coming across you.
  2. Network with your local public sector organisations and get them to RT your tweets, RT theirs in return.
  3. RT local people and organisation tweets (you may want to think about a Twitter policy which makes it clear a RT doesn’t equal support)
  4. Join in on local hashtags. Is there a local tweetup (online or offline meet up of people on Twitter) you could join?

Increasing conversations online. Activity and topicality is key here. People won’t talk to a silent account much and it’s difficult to get people to talk about something they aren’t interested in. What issues and concerns are in your area? Perhaps maternity service redesign… in which case can you tweet/update Facebook with news of the proposals, consultation, key dates and facts? Your organisation will of course cop some flack but that is the role of comms. If we’re doing it right we can then feedback the concerns of online followers to the appropriate clinicians and managers in inform the decision making process. Finally, don’t try and lead the conversation all the time, go looking for others’ active conversations about health and join in.

Capacity issues with a 1.5 WTE team. The key here is to remember the broadcast-reactive stages of my ‘sliding scale of [online] conversation’ diagram (below). Don’t try and do it all online. Just maintain a presence. This can be done easily using scheduling functions on Twitter (TweetDeck (software) and (website) offer scheduling functionality). Perhaps you can plan the weekend and next weeks content on Twitter on Friday and schedule it in. Facebook updates should follow your press releases at this stage, just remember to personalise the content a little for Facebook’s very personal life culture. A friend of mine checks Twitter and Facebook for notifications each hour, it takes him two minutes (roughly 15 mins a day). He only uses more time when someone has interacted with the organisation’s profiles.

You won’t get left behind. Use your networks around the NHS to get updates on future social media ideas etc.

The colleague with the control of social media, you with little understanding of what goes on there. I’ll be honest, this scared me a little. If the comms lead hasn’t got an understanding of what is going out under the organisation’s name and brand there is a risk of issues arising. A weekly check-in of what is planned to go out and a daily 5 min update on any interactions on Twitter/Facebook would be useful to make sure you know what is ongoing and help you understand how the platforms work. No need to be an expert, just know enough so you can explain it to a director if something does go well or badly online.

Video quality. My personal opinion on this is that it is not worth us spending money on high-end broadcast quality video. News outlets around the world are now regularly screening mobile footage and Skype interviews. The public are used to slightly lower quality video. It is the content that counts. You can have perfect HD head and shoulder shots of a CEO banging on about what’s important but it is still boring to most people! This excellent urology robot example proves that. Save the money and spend it on training your staff in how to use a basic flipcam/digital camera and buy a cheap piece of editing software.

Social media turning into too much of a customer service channel. This is a tough one. There is the balance between reputational risk and wasting capacity. If I were to be cynical I would say treat the people with large and or influential online followings like customers and people with 10 followers less so. Shocking but one school of thought. This question also brings into focus the issue of teaching PALS teams to use social media and perhaps providing a suggestions and complaints specific Twitter account for people to contact.

Finally on this, remember the invention of emails allowing people to directly email the CEO? Twitter may follow the same grain, a busy start, slowing as people (who are more reasonable than we sometimes recall) realise Twitter isn’t the right channel to complain on. #waitandsee.

Apps. This most definitely should be done at a national level. If you are to look at it remember apps shouldn’t be costing £10,000+. They are quick and easy to produce for people with programming knowledge. Is there anyone in the NHS system in your region who could help you? Could your team provide the service to other acutes for a fee and start to satisfy the need for more income generation? Philosophically a strange argument but something to think about.

A few general issues were raised too…

EU Cookie Law – read these things and don’t worry to much for now.

Econsultancy’s Q&A with ICO’s Group Manager for Business & Industry
Government Digital Service’s theory
Government Digital Service’s approach and

IT issues – these often depend on local relationships. There may be some ground to be made in educating your IT colleagues as to the approach by other trusts in the South West.

Telling difficult stories online – In short – plan, plan, plan. Just the same at traditional comms and pr.

Twitter is now often the source of stories that get printed – how could you use Twitter as the hook for a boring story. #NHSXmas is a great example – we got a boring “don’t go to A&E when you aren’t dying/really ill or injured over Christmas” message into the London Evening Standard on the back of using Twitter.

The digital divide – SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REPLACING TRADITIONAL COMMS!! One day I will get a t-shirt printed with this on. It is merely being added to the toolbox. It is not the silver bullet to end all our comms problems. The traditional comms rules apply, particularly the go where the audience is one. You’re not going to communicate with me or the many people younger than me through quarterly magazines and leaflets.

Unison – are you deliberately misinforming your members and the public?

As I came into work today I saw Unison’s pensions advert calling for a general strike on 30 Nov. This brief post is not a rebuttal of the strike or the pension changes. There is plenty online about both already. I’ve a quick point to make about vocabulary.

Unison informs us all that the strike ballot is about a “pensions robbery”. Now, a definition of robbery I would hold to the word is: ‘The act of forcibly taking an object that is in the possession of another person/company/organisation.’

I hope you wouldn’t argue too much against that.

Based on this I think Unison are mis-informing us. The reforms (huge caveat: as I understand them) are about changing future contributions, not past accrued contributions or what is already in your pension pot. Therefore, based on the definition above there can be no robbery, people don’t own what they thought they might get in the future.

It’s a side issue, but it annoys me. It assumes that UNISON  members (of which I’m not one) and the public don’t know what the details are and takes advantage of that, using a word with negative emotional connotations and not dealing in facts. Also known as propaganda.

Berate me in the comments if I’ve got it all wrong.

So how did I do? A review of the week

On Monday I wrote my London gearing post which included these three rules:

1. Work my hours – leave work on time and don’t bring home stuff to do in the evenings.
2. Prioritise the hour before bed – give myself time to wind down before sleep, maybe write a list for tomorrow and read a non-work related book.
3. Attempt to follow my Dad’s sage advice – alternate between soft and alcoholic drinks, the more alcohol you have the less and worse you’ll sleep.

So did I manage to follow them, even one of them?

Well, no.

1. While I have been better at work I still have been leaving later than I should and not taking a lunch break. Work to be done there. But the killer has been #nhssm this week. We’ve a huge announcement on Tuesday and working towards that has meant early morning and late evening emails and telephone calls have been standard across the week.

2. The late night emails took care of this rule. I’ll hopefully be better at this next week.

3. Initially I did well at this, but a chance evening out in Square Mile was too much excitement to handle and my sleep suffered for it. It was worth it. Next week I’ll continue with my early week form.

A work most definitely in progress then, but one I think is going to help as the long winter months roll in.

Have you any tips for me?

London gearing

You’re confident you have the legs, you click smoothly into top gear and go hard.

Just like the self adjudicated bike race home London seems to ask you, ‘Can you up the pace and keep it there?’.

It’s been nye-on three months since I moved to London and it feels like only four weeks. The pace of this place is unrelenting! There is forever something to do, go and see, learn, experience, somewhere new to eat or drink and someone new to meet. Ideas and innovations of all sizes flow over, round and under you as you attempt to grasp onto one to make your own, one to ensure you are adding something to the vibrant intellectual mix.

Add to this the potential pitfalls of an internet enabled phone and love of Twitter and you can easily get a cocktail of lots of work, play and no time to yourself. A recipe for potential success and potential burnout. To help it be the later I’m going to try and follow the below three rules (it’d be grand if you can remind me of them now and again)

  1. Work my hours – leave work on time and don’t bring home stuff to do in the evenings.
  2. Prioritise the hour before bed – give myself time to wind down before sleep, maybe write a list for tomorrow and read a non-work related book.
  3. Attempt to follow my Dad’s sage advice – alternate between soft and alcoholic drinks, the more alcohol you have the less and worse you’ll sleep.
They sound easy when you type them but in my experience they’re hard to do. What would be your three rules?