The task facing Labour’s Digital Review

There has been some interesting scepticism about the launch of Labour’s digital review. Some of it is errant nonsense. Computer Weekly again leads with the idea that it’s politicising GDS. As if the delivery of government services is simply a case of effective administration. But some of the reactions are more thought-provoking. This may be my favourite so far.

I’d love to contribute to the review. I met an interesting group of people last summer from Google, Virgin, the House of Lords and a local authority to discuss the formation of the group. They were impressive characters. And there are impressive people who’ve touched Labour’s digital thinking in recent years – Dominic Campbell stands out.

But there are four good reasons to be nervous:

  1. Reviews manage stakeholders, internal and external. They don’t generate innovative thinking. The early reaction has made that stakeholder management harder, not easier.
  2. It’s not clear that the review starts with an analysis of user need. Rather, it appears to focus on the relationship between the citizen and the state. All very Miliband, not very digital.
  3. The review doesn’t smack of Agile thinking. It doesn’t appear iterative. It’s all a bit PRINCE 2.
  4. It’s GDS-centric. Digital isn’t “whatever GDS does”. At the time of the election after next (presumably the horizon frame of the review), digital government will look very different. Beginning with an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the team at Aviation House is backward-looking.

But it’s a review, there’s limited information available and who knows what it might turn up? So three questions to contribute to the debate:

  1. Where does it fit in Labour’s policy review? I understood most of that work was complete. So why is digital thinking late to the party?
  2. Where does Labour’s digital transformation story fit in? No – not the stuff about apps, tweets or even Nation Builder. But whether the shadow cabinet understands open policy making and the power of open data. It’s out of scope for this review but apparently not in scope for any others. The organisations I advise on digital transformation see digital as cutting across the full remit of the organisational scope. And it’s now about multi-channel, or even omni-channel. Not just digital.
  3. What’s Labour’s response to the change of skills and culture that GDS is aiming to bring about in the civil service? GDS has some of the brightest and best in their field, changing government as insurgents. What can Labour learn from that in terms of wiring Whitehall and delivering its relational state?

That’s a debate I’d love to be part of.


Quick tips for social media listening DIY

I spoke at a Government Knowledge seminar today on the value of listening to and monitoring social media. I focused the talk on applications for the public sector, for the majority of the audience. Few public bodies have dedicated budget for social listening. And many would benefit from first understanding what is happening and where – and to what extent – the organisation can use those insights before investing in a paid-for service.

So I suggested some quick tips for a bit of DIY social media listening:

  1. Bitly+

Put a + at the end of a bitly link and you can find out the stats for it eg This can be hugely helpful for evaluating your own content but even better for understanding if third party content is making a lot of noise (and whether you should engage with it).

  1. Topsy

A great free Twitter search engine. Useful for some historic tweets (but only a small sliver of what actually happened). Even more useful for finding tweets that linked to a particular URL. Eg.

  1. Scraperwiki

Fantastic free tools to grab content from websites. Particularly tweets. Low barriers to entry (price or writing code). See particularly their list of Twitter scrapers. I use it to get all the recent tweets from a particular user (eg. to see how many times they’ve talked about a campaign) or to get all of the followers of an account into a spreadsheet (to build a Twitter list or search people’s bios). The latter can be a great way of building a list of Twitter users in a particular area. Just search for the followers of the local authority, local newspaper etc.

  1. Blogsearch

People do still blog, even though there isn’t a single good search engine for the purpose. But do try Twingly and Icerocket (acquired by Meltwater) and also is worth a look. All struggle with spam.

  1. Free analytics

Make full use of Google Keyword tools, Facebook advertising and Google Trend. Play around with Google Correlate. See what you can discover, don’t get distracted and one day you’ll find a use for the tool.

Lastly, approach it all in the spirit of discovery. Most of what I’ve learnt was in the process of trying to learn something else. Find out what’s possible and compare it to what works for you.


5 lessons for marketers from Sir Alex Ferguson’s resignation

Manchester United’s handling of the resignation of Sir Alex Ferguson could have been a fairly simple communications task. But the club maximised the opportunity to make a statement about its brand values, to give profile to its commercial partners and manage expectations of stakeholders from fans to shareholders.

The club has traditionally rejected social media. Some attributed that to Sir Alex Ferguson’s reluctance to let his players be distracted / exposed by social tools. But for a time the commercial department was also reported to be concerned that diverting audiences from would reduce advertising revenue from the club’s official website.

However, this week’s announcement was given the full social media treatment. And the handling contains some important lessons for marketers:

1. Surprise can be as effective as suspense at generating buzz

Film releases are all about suspense. There’s the news that a film will be made, who will be in it. Then there’s the release date, the footage from the making of the film, the interviews with the cast, the release of the trailer and then, eventually the premiere and the opening weekend. The suspense is built over weeks, months and even years.

But as David Bowie demonstrated, in the right circumstances surprise can be as effective at generating interest. If there’s something, or probably someone, who has significant cache, their fanbase can react to the news, bringing it to the attention of the wider, passive audience. The surprise element can grab sudden attention in a way that the slow-burn of suspense may never do.

2. Make the actions obvious for your audience

Manchester United fans, and most British football fans were always going to react to the news. By placing #thankyouSirAlex on the banner of the website, the club marshalled its fanbase around a clear proposition. Oh, and they incorporated their largest commercial partner into the picture.


3. Social first, website always

Lots of brands make announcements on social media channels first. Some don’t even use standalone websites. But there’s some content that just doesn’t work on social channels. Long-form quotes, press releases – nuanced messaging isn’t for Facebook status updates. Without a website, there’s no space to make this work. And a website isn’t just for imparting news or even selling advertising but can develop passing interest into deeper engagement – merchandise sales, subscriptions, ticket purchases.

4. Don’t forget internal comms

Wayne Rooney removed ‘Manchester United player‘ from his Twitter bio on the day of the announcement of Ferguson leaving. It probably didn’t damage the Man United brand unduly given Mr Rooney’s previous behaviour towards the club. But it took some of the gloss off the day and distracted the press office. Ensuring key stakeholders are managed, and preferably lined up in support, is critical for making the most of big news.

5. Explain why not just what 

Jose Mourinho was the obvious assumption for those speculating about Ferguson’s successor. Until David Gill, chief executive, set out the criteria for the new manager on MUTV. From that point on, most informed commentators expected the job to go to David Moyes. Explaining what they wanted – and didn’t want – in a new manager was critical to framing expectations amongst fans and the commentariat. Had the appointment of Moyes been a surprise, it may have been less well-received.

So 48 hours of excellent execution at Manchester United. How the team supports David Moyes’ early days in the job will be critical for determining whether or not he will be accepted by the club and its global community.