Tag Archives: facebook

What I learned at #barcampnfp

On Friday I went to my first barcamp and, as per the rules, I’m meant to blog about the experience. So here goes.

First of all, I should write about my expectations. In retrospect I think they were a little too high, like I had just got some kind of golden ticket into the inner sanctum of the social media world. Somehow I had it in my head that I was going to have some revelatory experience due to the format of the event itself. None of this is rational, but to hear some people talk about barcamps and unconferences, you’d think that people had come up with some sensational new form of organising which was quietly transforming the world. The reality was a little more prosaic.

As someone with a background in politics, and in particular youth and student activism – typically disparaged by the social media world for its lack of inclusiveness – the format itself wasn’t that different to what I’m used to. Indeed, the lack of structure was in many ways inversely related to the level of participation. I could have really done with a bit of hand holding to begin with.

I’ve already been told off by colleagues for making so-called grumpy tweets about the lack of an icebreaker. I didn’t mean them to come across that way; they were meant to be constructive. But my fundamental concern about the day is that I left without a clear idea of who else was attending, when I feel I really needed to know that at the start in order to make the most out of the day. And, while many people are blessed with the ability to go up to complete strangers and start engaging with them, I’m not. In the end, I got the most out of the more salesy sessions than the discursive ones for the simple reason that the organisers of the former had more of an interest in being engaging.

Let’s just get a few other housekeeping things out of the way. Again, this isn’t meant to criticise, just for future reference:

1) Organiser Sylwia Presley acknowledged on the day that the structure of a main plenary room and breakouts wasn’t ideal for the format. In my experience, a large room like that can be made to work but you need to break it up into several small groups and discourage the conference format wherever possible. Arrange the chairs into 3-4 circles around the room at the start. If a full plenary is absolutely necessary, then get people to move their chairs to form one. But should a full plenary, at least on conventional conference lines really necessary?

2) Instead of leaping in with some rather specialised topics, start the day with some deliberately general topics (“introducing barcamp” or “what are the challenges we face?”) and get people breaking into groups to begin with. Encourage people to spend those first sessions talking about what sessions might be needed for the day. Give them post-it notes to write the ideas down. By all means have pre-prepared topics, but don’t put them up straight away as that will automatically dictate the agenda to everyone else; instead have them as a fallback. Attempt to gain some consensus on them first before putting them up, so that everyone is on a more level playing field; you may even find it makes more sense to merge two sessions or hold multiple slots or another topic that way.

3) For a building which houses the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, 19-22 Charlotte street did have some remarkably poor signage. Personally, I never got my head around where two of the breakout areas where and missed some interesting sounding sessions as a result. Always come to a venue armed with makeshift signs and blu-tack.

With all that out of the way, what did I actually learn from the day itself?

1) Google Hangouts are interesting, and there might be something in it, but I’m yet to be convinced of its value for non-profits. I can see their potential as an organising tool, for getting groups from around the country to interact. But with a maximum of 10 users at any one time, it has the potential to become a victim of its own success with willing participants unable to jump in. Admittedly, getting to the stage where that becomes common would be a good problem to have for a small network.

I was wholly unsold on the claims that they are powerful because “TV news anchors might pop by” (one of the speaker’s anecdotes about George Takei being a keen exponent lead to me having an extremely vivid dream that night about George Takei turning up to support a campaign I was organising; he was a lovely bloke. But I digress). While I can totally see what is in it for celebrities to use such tools to engage with fans in a manageable way, I can’t see how the same applies to NGOs, aside from some weird bragging rights.

2) I was rather more sold on using AudioBoo; indeed, this was one of my take-aways. I can see definite merit in my organisation making much greater use of this app in the way that I attempted, and failed, to make use of video in the past. The problem with video is that even a short three minute video winds up being a couple of hours in terms of editing and faffing about. Uploading short interviews on a regular basis and have the website sort out feeds, iPod channels and embed codes? Given that I’ve had an AudioBoo account since its early days, I can’t understand why I didn’t think of it before.

3) I think I can see the potential of Storify as a curating tool for campaigns, but the website itself is hopeless at explaining its potential and I didn’t actually attend the session at which this was discussed. So, I’ve had a little play myself to get my head around it. I can see how this could be quite useful in terms of creating an accessible space for people to follow a specific campaign or issue that an organisation is focusing on.

4) The challenges facing large nonprofits and small ones are wildly divergent. This was brought home to me when I found myself sitting in on a session entitled “who owns social media?” In my organisation the answer is, broadly, whoever wants to. The problems people described in that session, in which tech teams would be responsible for designing sign up tools but not necessarily have a clue about making the best use of language, or of struggling within an unmanageable command structure, were quite alien to me. I think it would have been useful to unpick whether such structures are genuinely beneficial to an organisation but without much of a common frame of reference, I struggled to really find a hook as a means to contribute.

5) Too many people see a dividing line between campaigning and fundraising that isn’t really there. This is a small organisation problem as much as it is a big organisation one, and something I struggle with myself (having recently taken on direct responsibility over fundraising at UD). The web in general, and social media in particular, blurs the edges between the two to the point where distinguishing them as anything other than two sides of the same coin is no longer helpful. It was my perception however that there were a lot of people at the event who were only really thinking of social media as a way of making money rather than as a way of fulfilling their organisation’s goals more generally. I suspect that if you only look at it as a way of feeding the cash cow, you won’t ever get it to be a profitable exercise for you.

6) Last week was Social Media Week. Now, I’m a pretty web-savvy person and I’m a total Twitterholic. Yet I had no idea about this. I’d be amazed if anyone other than a self-identified “social media professional” had a clue that this was going on. That ought to send chills down people’s spines because spending a week talking to yourself and not even expanding your audience is an utter waste of time.

The day itself gave me plenty to think about both in terms of social media and event management and I’m glad I went. With the whole barcamp thing now demystified, next time I will hopefully be a little less backward in coming forward!

My thanks to all the organisers who made the day happen.

James Graham is the Campaigns and Communications Manager of Unlock Democracy but writes here in a purely personal capacity.

Lembit versus Lembit

Lembit OpikLembit is making a great deal out of the fact that he has more Facebook supporters than Ros Scott, which is fair enough. I’ve never bought into this idea that this election is a shoe-in for Ros Scott. He can also claim a mini-coup in the fact that Mark Littlewood has abandoned ship and is backing Lembit over and above his Liberal Vision colleague Chandila Fernando.

One thing that confuses me about the Lembit Facebook strategy though is how come he has two, apparently official Facebook groups? One has 516 members, the other features an official video. It’s almost as if they launched an official Facebook group but it was less successful than a disparate group of supporters who had managed to get more people to sign up in the same amount of time, so they abanoned ship. With the website change as well, it certainly does seem as if there has been a mini-coup d’etat within Team Opik. But if you have to save your candidate from himself, is he really worth saving?

Building a better compass

Peter Dunphy wrote an interesting post last week about the limitations of Political Compass.

Of course, in the blogosphere there is very little new under the virtual sun, and this was a topic of debate 5 years ago. The late and much missed Chris Lightfoot was a great critic of the application and wrote his own version, along with this explanation. Entirely open source, it is ripe for someone to adapt and inflict on Facebook. Having said that, I’m not sure Chris would have approved of this in light of Facebook’s somewhat lax attitude towards user privacy – I do miss his postings.

Facebook: in God’s name why?

I’ve just found that when you type the word “procrastinating” in your Facebook status update, the website adds a space before the “g” at the end for no apparent reason. Why is this?

By the way, if you got a dictionary out and looked up “procrastinating” this blog post would be there.

UPDATE: The space is gone. What is this crazy shit? Is the government sending radio signals in my brain again?

UPDATE 2: It’s back again! See below:

Facebook Screenshot which clearly shows a space before the g in the word procrastinating

And now it’s gone again:

Facebook screenshot a couple of minutes later - the space has gone!

Why?!

Save Our Bubbly

Given the success of the Bring Back Wispa campaign, I am perplexed as to why my Save Dairy Milk Bubbly campaign has thus far failed to elicit much support. Surely the time is ripe for a nostalgia campaign, now that it is on its way out? Given how excitable people get, I’m surprised no-one (apart from me, obviously) has started bemoaning how our 21st century traditions are under threat.

Dairy Milk Bubbly has one thing over the Wispa – ridges. It’s a sure sign of progress. Frankly, I’m amazed that Richard Dawkins hasn’t already started charging from the barricades. Plus, I’m sure a Scot must have been involved in the decision somewhere down the line (a Welsh woman has already been outed) – how come the English Nats aren’t up in arms?

Return to Ealing Southall

I’ve sure everyone is heartily sick of the Ealing Southall by-election by now, but I thought I’d add a few final thoughts.

The Tories made a big play about how they were, to paraphrase one Iain Dale commenter, “parking their tank on the Lib Dems’ lawn”. Many of their leaflets did indeed ape our style (although as I said earlier, they were appallingly amateurish – in particular their version of “Talk of the Town” OK Magazine style literature), but they were still infused with Toryish notions about the candidate standing stiffly and self-importantly in every picture. I don’t think I saw a single photo of Tony Lit actually listening to someone talking in any of their literature. Of course such photos are always posed, but they send important subliminal messages about your candidate. Of course, if you come from a Conservative standpoint and see politics as a thing done by important men in suits rather than for ordinary people (it’s interesting to compare and contrast the photos posted on the Facebook groups for Conservative Future and Lib Dem Youth & Students: the former has portraits of Cameron, Hague, Osborne et all, the latter is full of pictures of LDYS campaigning, partying and doing lewd things to one another. Same age group, different planet), you will struggle desperately to get your head around such a concept.

That leads me onto the choice of Tony Lit himself. Why would you even consider a non-local candidate who wasn’t a party member, let alone impose him on the local party (I heard Caroline Spelman on Today yesterday saying that the ES campaign showed that Cameron was committed to localism – ha!)? But Tony Lit does rather conform to the ideal Cameroon candidate, not because he is minority ethnic, but because he is a dilletante. To be sure, he isn’t a top hatted toff like Boris Johnson or Zac Goldsmith, but he screamed money. Far from seeing this as a problem in an economically under-performing place like Southall (I should be careful here because I actually loved the place and have added it to my list of places I might consider moving to), the Tories tried selling him as a ‘local success story’. In doing so they blithely ignored the fact that his ‘success’ is rooted in his father’s money; but when have ‘meritocrats’ ever let the truth get in the way of a good story? Again, it boils down to a Toryish concept of the candidate as ‘hero’ as opposed to ‘public servant’ and one that I’m not convinced has much traction outside of the sort of cosy suburban areas that the Tories have retreated to over the past couple of decades. Far from modernisation and reaching outside of the Tory supporter base, Cameroonism is looking distinctly old fashioned and inward looking from where I’m sitting this morning.

Then there was the bad tempered nature of their campaign. I for one was taken by surprise by the sheer intensity of it. It started with Grant Shapps bizarre claims about ‘poster lotteries’ which he still hasn’t offered any evidence of and continued with a stream of threats to either sue their opponents or sic the police on them. In the event, only one campaign team are being investigated by the police: the Conservatives, for allegedly leaking the result of the postal vote count. The Grant Shapps/YouTube incident will live on forever as an example of quite how mad, bad and plain stupid the Conservatives can be.

But there was another, more subtle but in some ways even more lamentable aspect of this. In by-elections, tensions among party activists run high. There are regrettable incidents such as the Watson/Kemp addiction to using rentamobs to intimidate their rival candidates. But as a general rule you make a point of being polite to one another when you cross each other in the street or tell at a polling station. There is simply no need to make it personal.

The Tories I encountered in Ealing Southall however were something else. Without fail, if I crossed one of them in the street, they would sneer, mutter something rude under their breath or otherwise make it clear that I was wasting my time and the Lib Dems were about to be victorious. One Conservative woman was polite when she drove up to me on the eve of poll, but that was simply because she was trying to plug me for information (having just carefully taken the Lit posters off her window ten metres down the road).

In fact – confession time! – it was one particularly unpleasant incident outside the Conservative HQ in West Ealing that lead me to blogging about that Billy Taylor post on their Facebook group.

What is clear from these incidents, and from a cursory glance at the blogosphere is that the Conservative campaign team committed the ultimate sin of convincing their own activist base that they were on the cusp of victory. You don’t piss in your own backyard. The innocent little CF monkeys who were so arrogantly sneering at rival party activists in the street two weeks ago will have had their hearts broken. It was clear from the outset that the Tories weren’t getting activists in sufficient numbers, despite the hype. Next time, they’ll have to rely on Paul Seery to do everything (if he hasn’t defected to Labour by then). And that’s not to mention all the political journalists, such as Jonathan Isaby and Michael Crick who they were quite clearly telling fibs to. Campaign teams in backwater, moribund seats get this sort of electionitis all the time, but when your senior by-election task force gets carried away like this, you have a crisis on your hands. Just how badly do you think they’d have screwed up if it had been a General Election?

Finally, you have to ask serious questions about David Cameron’s judgement. I’m not just talking about his decision to put his personal credibility on the line, to the point of having his name on the ballot paper, but of his decision to dedicate so much party resources to a campaign that went nowhere. Let’s be quite clear about something: the Conservatives did play a decisive role in denying the Lib Dems another by-election win. The Tory campaign was effectively a spoiler, muddying the waters, confusing the media and enabling Labour to present it as a straight Labour-Tory fight. If they hadn’t gone for it in the same way, perhaps concentrated their resources in Sedgefield where they were second, the Lib Dems might just have been able to take the seat.

Of course, for people like the aforementioned Paul Seery, that is mission accomplished. But if Cameron thinks that, he should resign. Coming a poor third in Ealing would not have got them worse headlines than they received yesterday and today – indeed without the over hype, they wouldn’t now be getting spanked. But it would have damaged Brown and brought his honeymoon period to a crashing end. Instead, Brown’s bounce has been consolidated. From a strategic point of view, it has to be one of the worst political miscalculations ever.

It could be that the Tories genuinely believed they had a real chance of winning, but who managed to convince them of that? Nothing is certain in politics, but if you can’t guarantee with 100% certainty that you are going to come at least second, you should never campaign to win. I think I learnt that in Primary School. What do they teach those crazy kids at Eton?

There is a comparable pre-1997 example. In 1995, Labour took a strategic decision to challenge the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election, a Tory held seat where the Lib Dems were second. They ran a hard, even nasty campaign, that many Lib Dems still feel sore about. The Lib Dems won, but Labour significantly came second and went on to take the Oldham East and Saddleworth seat in 1997 (which they hold to this day). Peter Mandelson knew exactly what he was doing. Did Grant Shapps?

All this suggests that, for all the froth, Cameron doesn’t really have a clue what his anti-Brown strategy should be. He’s done a good job at making people sit up and pay attention to the Tories again, but he’s done a lousy job as changing hearts and minds within the Conservative Party itself. He surrounds himself with top hatted toffs and dilletantes, and calls it ‘diversity’. At the height of his popularity he nearly lost the Bromley by-election, while at the height of Gordon Brown’s popularity, he ends up humiliating himself when he didn’t need to. The money continues to flow in, some of it not from the clinically insane, but money can’t buy you activists in the North and other areas they need to win. And now we have a return to back to basics and posturing over Grammar Schools (sorry, ‘Grammar streaming‘), entirely at the behest of the very swivel eyed loons who have been keeping them in the political wilderness for the best part of two decades now. It isn’t looking good.

(and after all that, I failed to blog about my favourite Tory election leaflet of all time! Maybe later).

Not so friendly

Odd thing this facebook lark.

The other day, a dark horse from my past Peter ‘Conservative Commentary‘ Cuthbertson contacted me on it, requesting me to be listed as a ‘friend’. I obligingly did so, including some basic data about how we know each other (dating history, that sort of thing), only to find he has now de-listed me.

What was all that about then, Cuthie? Think you can just love me and leave me, eh?

I feel so used…