Frivolity and Connections

rainThose of you who have known me for a while know what a sucker I am for serendipity, for unplanned happenings that benefit everyone, for luck. Planning can so easily turn into planning oneself to death.

I’ve written about serendipity twice on this blog, and I’m sure I will again soon. Today though, I wanted to talk about the second part of that equation: lack of planning. Yes me, the disaster planner, telling you, disaster planners and communication experts, to stop planning. But I have good example that I wanted to highlight that shows how going “off-message” every once in a while can be beneficial. (and it’s nearly a year old example; I’ve been holding on to it for that long!)

I’ve done some writing for a British blog that, frankly, every risk and local government communicator should be following: comms2point0. (What’s up, mates!) Last summer, they had a guest post talk about a single Facebook post. A short video of a rainstorm:

The clip showed the steps outside St Peter’s Church in the city centre after they had been turned into an impromptu waterfall following a torrential rain storm. It was just 16 seconds of footage, shot on my phone under the cover of my trusty umbrella as I ventured out into the deluge.

I decided to head outside after first seeing the ‘waterfall’ from the office window. It was an impressive site and in six years working here I had never witnessed anything like it. As a former journo, instincts took over and I figured that if something out of the ordinary was happening it would be worth sharing it. It was a spur of the moment, gut reaction thing. Not planned, not thought up in a meeting or devised as part of a strategy.

The post went on to be their most successful Facebook post, by an insanely large margin, and the views continue to rise. For sixteen seconds of rain and flowing water. The author sounded just as amazed at the success as you might be:

The video was not designed to promote the work of the council. There was nothing on it to indicate that it had any connection with the council. People may question what then was the point of posting it, how did it help us to fulfill our departmental aim of enhancing the reputation of the authority?

The bottom line, I believe, is that if you want your social media sites to make an impact for the right reasons, you have to give people a reason to come and look at you. It sounds simple and it is. Content really is king.

The video was successful because it wasn’t a typical government post. It wasn’t staid and planned and metricized and approved and massaged. It was something that a real person found interesting and wanted to share with his friends. It was frivolous. And that frivolity is what made the public connect with it.

No one is all business, all the time. (Not even your boss.) They like to connect with people. People that like interesting things. Sure, a video of rain won’t benefit your organization directly, but it will create a connection. A weak tie. (Which can be one of the most powerful things in the world, see this classic article by Granovetter.[PDF]) And who knows what that connection will give you someday.

Now think about your own agency’s social media presence. When was the last time you were frivolous?


5 thoughts on “Frivolity and Connections

  1. Wow. Thanks, Jim. As a co-founder of comms2point0 your kind words. They’re really, really appreciated. Big up to Tim Clark from Wolverhampton Council who shot that video and wrote that post.

    You are, of course, absolutely right.

    A while back Torfaen Council in South Wales recorded an Elvis Presley tribute singing a song about gritting. You can watch it here: I suggest that you do.

    Seriously. It’s genius and yes, it’s also as wonderfully ridiculous to a UK audience as it probably is to a US audience. A chubby bloke. Singing. About gritting. What key messages and focus group does this hit?

    Well, actually, it works because it hits the key message that is so obvious that it rarely gets written down in a comms plan. It works because it’s human. It’s simple as that. For any organisation, that’s a desperately hard thing to do at times but something that unless we have it we will fail.

    A while back we helped do something called commscamp. It was an event which drew local and central government communications people from across the UK together. In one of the sessions there was a discussion about things that had really worked. The Torfaen Council YouTube came up.

    One press officer, to her credit, admitted that she loved it but she thought that it would probably be never made at her council because they subscribed to the idea that you need the evidence before you go ahead and do things and you needed things to measure.

    I’m a big believer in measuring the results of something. Not slavishly. But if they are there let’s do it. The number of smoke alarms fitted as part of a drive to get people to think fire safety, for example. But at times you just need to kick your shoes off and go with your gut instinct and not your metrics. If a load of people ‘like’ your page or follow your Twitter account because of some daft clip of rain falling and stick around in the audience for stuff that we’d really like them to hear exactly who is the winner then?

    1. Thanks so much, Dan, for your comment and all of the work you guys do. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that everything I’ve learned from comms2point0 is much greater than the sum of what I’ve contributed to that community.

      As for needing metrics for these types of “fun” pursuits, I think we need to remember that we need to actually do it first to get some metrics. Unfortunately, I think this is one of the reasons that governments are so late to the game in adopting social media. We kept waiting for someone to present us with a white paper saying that, “yes, people on social media (read: nearly everyone) are interested in your government work.” We completely ignored the monumental successes experienced by the private sector and Madison Avenue–as if communication differed so greatly from the private to public sector. Now that there are folks like you out there showing that this stuff really does work, we have the metrics we need to get the slower government agencies online. Next up, posts like this (with demonstrable metrics!) will show others that’s it’s okay to have fun! We just have to keep plugging away and reminding folks of our successes, as accidental as they may be.

      It’s a shame it has to be this way, but like a group of penguins, someone has to be the first to jump into the icy water, instead we just crowd at the edge of the ice now, jostling each other and not doing much of anything useful.

  2. I’m not sure why but this site is loading incredibly slow for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a problem on my end? I’ll check back later on and see if the problem still exists.

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