Telling stories with Snapchat and Instagram

During the 2016 Bradford Festival I experimented with Snapchat Stories to share a behind-the-scenes account of the festival. It was a successful pilot, and I feel that both Snapchat, and Instagram’s new Stories feature, have potential for more storytelling by organisations.

Imperfect sharing and capturing the spirit of an event

Stories on Snapchat or Instagram are an ideal way to capture the spirit of an event, with a chronological narrative of how the event unfolds. Both types of Story are made up of photos and short videos that stay online for 24 hours and then disappear from your Story. So when we used our Snapchat Story at Bradford Festival, at any one point during the festival, followers could see the last 24 hours worth of snaps. Then once the festival had passed, so did our Story.

The ephemeral nature of Snapchat and Instagram Stories makes them ideal for imperfect sharing, where capturing a moment, and telling a story, is more important than quality of shot. The transient content on your Story can help bring an experience to life while your carefully crafted material is shared on your permanent Instagram feed, on Twitter and Facebook.

Snapchat is largely used by young people, and a local cultural festival is an ideal opportunity to reach out to a younger audience. This is why I chose to pilot it at Bradford Festival.

How we promoted and used our new Snapchat account

We shared our snapcode on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in the build up to the festival to publicise our new account.  Discoverability of new accounts and audience growth is still a bit of a problem on Snapchat. About 30 people added us that weekend, which wasn’t bad given that we had only just announced our new channel. Snapchat will show you who has seen each snap in your Story, and most of those 30 people who added us went on to view our Story, so we had a pretty good engagement rate.

Our Snapchat Story for Bradford Festival included:

  • footage of the stage being set up before the festival started
  • footage from the side of the stage while artists set up gear and while they performed
  • an exclusive video message from a local performer
  • the stage being taken down the day after the festival ended.

Using Snapchat Geofilters

Snapchat’s stickers and filters add life to your content, with Geofilters helping to localise your snaps. Geofilters are pre-existing graphics or text that you can overlay on top of your snaps. Not only did I find that there are several Geofilters for Bradford, but there is also a Geofilter for City Park, the exact location of Bradford Festival. It is likely that if you use Snapchat you will also find several options for local Geofilters. Perhaps you could also encourage people in your local community to submit Geofilters to Snapchat.

Snapchat Memories changed the rules

As luck would have it, Snapchat launched its Memories feature in the UK on the weekend of Bradford Festival. This gave me the opportunity to save all of the snaps from our Story within our Snapchat acount, and even save a replica of the story itself. While we can now reshare individual snaps from our Memories, the Story itself now only exists on my phone.

One game changing feature that Memories has introduced is the ability to upload snaps edited elsewhere into a Story. Some organisations have already started to take advantage of this new storytelling method. See for example, BBC News on Snapchat, who have developed Stories specifically edited for Snapchat’s vertical display.

Making stories more of a shared experience

One potential problem with Stories is that it is quite a one-way communication, with not much in the way of open engagement. Snapchat does have a feature called Live Stories which broadens the process out from simply broadcast to participation. With Live Stories, everybody at an event can submit a snap to a collaborative Story. To use this feature at local festivals would be brilliant, but unfortunately this feature is only currently available at events Snapchat endorses.

Instagram’s clone of Snapchat Stories

Instagram’s Stories is largely a copy of Snapchat Stories, mimicking a lot of its features, although there are some key differences. I’ve seen Instagram Stories described as ‘Snapchat for adults’, but I think that’s perhaps an oversimplification of what is still largely an untested medium.

It’s certainly true that the content you share to each network should be based on what is relevant to each audience. Always consider your own unique audience, whatever the channel. Think about what is relevant to share in a Story, rather than what is technically possible to share, or what you want to share.

Instagram Stories is very intuitive to use.  Many people new to Snapchat find they way it works to be unfamiliar and difficult to get used to. Also, the placement of new Stories from at the top of the news feed means Stories are likely to be seen. The flip-side to that, however, is that as Snapchat and Instagram Stories become more used, the crowded space in both apps doesn’t lend itself to scrolling beyond the first few visible.

Always stay relevant

Also, although content in Stories can have a low quality threshold, I still feel there needs to be a high relevance threshold before sharing content. What you add to your Story should add value to your narrative and not slip into just talking about yourself. I felt the same when live streaming took off in 2015.

I’d love to know if your organisation has embraced Snapchat or Instagram Stories. Let me know in the comments below, or you can catch me on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook Messenger.

This post was first published on Comms2point0.


Reflections on #localgovcamp 2016

As I have now come to expect, this year’s LocalGovCamp was brim full of opportunities to learn and share. Here are a few of my reflections after the event.

I decided not to pitch a session this time. I have led sessions at the past few unconferences I’ve been to, but this time I wanted the flexibility that comes with not being committed to any particular room at a particular time. Plus Commscamp is just a month away and I can pitch my session ideas there.

Data maturity models

The first session I went to was Ben Proctor’s session on data maturity models. I went to this one because:

  1. I didn’t know what Ben meant by data maturity models
  2. I felt I should know what Ben meant by data maturity models

We were a small group in this session, but I felt it was productive. I learnt a lot from Ben, Esko Reinikainen and Lucy Knight, who summarised the session in a Google Doc.

I knew what data was but, as I admitted in the session, I didn’t fully understand how, when and why the word should be used.

It sometimes feels to me that data is the longest short word in the English language. A writer or speaker can convey an impression of authority simply by using the word data instead of softer words like information or statistics.

What I now understand is that data, in its truest form, is real, valid and of sound quality, and is used as evidence to inform reasoned decisions. Why has nobody told me that before? Perhaps because I hadn’t felt comfortable enough to ask what might be perceived as a naive question.

And with data maturity comes an understanding of how valuable data is, how it should be used, and how it can be presented.

For example, data presented in the form of a dial on a live dashboard is more useful than data sitting in a spreadsheet. And data sets that are linked and analysed together can be more valuable than a dataset analysed in isolation.

There is more to it than that (see the above Google doc) but they were my key learning points. From a personal perspective, my objective in attending that session was well and truly met.

Satori – personal reflection

Esko’s ‘satori’ session took me on a journey I wasn’t anticipating at the start of the day. Satori, we learnt, is a Japanese word meaning the moment at which you see your true nature. I knew I was in the right session as soon as Esko said that.

Esko began with the diagram you can see at the top of this post. The purpose of this was to illustrate that our personal potential is often stifled by our job description and the organisation we work for.

Inspired by Da Vinci’s 100 questions technique, Esko asked us to write down a short list of questions that were meaningful and pertinent to both ourselves and our working lives.

There then followed a discussion in which those of us willing to do so opened up some of our questions to the group. I won’t share what we talked about here, but it was amazingly refreshing how honest people were with their questions and also how we all responded to each other.

Sessions I missed

It is inevitable at an uconference that there will be sessions I wished I had been able to attend. This time, I would have liked to be at the session is about making local elections better, underused public space, the death of the Council newsletter, the waste standards, “dark value”, and the session on localism / increasing the talent pool. Thankfully, there are Google Docs summaries for some of these to catch up with.

The non-session bits

As ever, some of the most productive conversations to place in the courtyard between sessions. My one regret is not saying hello to more people, but that is mostly because I was already having so many useful conversations. Not a bad problem to have. Thanks to Esko, Lizzie Standing, Sharon Dale, Phil Rumens, Dyfrig Williams, Alison Hook, Ian Graham and several others for some good chats.

The next steps

So that the experience of the 2016 LocalGovCamp is not lost once I have remembered just how much I have to do at work when I get back there tomorrow, here are several things I promise myself I will do:

  1. Think more about data I have access to and how we can benefit from it
  2. Write more self reflection questions, think about them and discuss them
  3. Read blog posts and session notes from sessions I didn’t attend
  4. Share the above with colleagues

Future Leaders at Bradford Council – reflections on my first week

Throughout this year, myself and 39 other staff at Bradford Council are undertaking the council’s Future Leaders Programme. We are the chosen ones from a pool of over 100 applicants, and I’m delighted to have a place. A schedule of learning has been set out to help us become, as the title suggests, leaders of the future. We are now one week into the programme, and here are my reflections of these early days.

Things were kicked off a week ago with a morning of talks to set the context and give us an idea of what we will be doing and what will be expected of us. I was impressed with the way Kersten England (our chief executive) spoke, incorporating our New Deal objectives into all that she said without over-emphasising the four specific New Deal work streams. Those work streams underpin the fabric of all that we do, and that came across in the way Kersten spoke.

Two things in particular from Kersten’s talk really struck me:

  • A quote from an economist who believes we are closer to the next recession then we are to the last recession.
  • Due to the unprecedented nature of the shift in funding for local government, there is no guarantee that by 2020 the Council will still directly provide any services.

When taken together, those two things highlight how important strong leadership will be over the coming years. What form that leadership will take, and where it will come from – well, that is to be seen, and is partly why we’re on this programme.

Things I learnt during that opening event include:

  • I’m capable of succeeding
  • we have a large degree of autonomy about how we progress
  • there are big inequalities both in the Council and in the district
  • I need commercial and strategic awareness
  • we need to look to tomorrow. Today has already gone. (and I don’t mean we should procrastinate!)
  • the Future Leaders Programme is not simply a receipt of information
  • I need to pay more attention to what those around me think and feel
  • I’m going to be busy!

Continue reading Future Leaders at Bradford Council – reflections on my first week

Breaking down silos

A recent episode of the Natteron podcast included a discussion about how people who work in different services, or different departments, within large public sector organisations can communicate and collaborate better and more openly. Or in other words, how to break down silos.

Team-messaging app Slack was mentioned, and Ben Proctor made a bold assertion:

“By the end of this year you’ll be able to classify local authorities as good or bad according to whether they use Slack or not.”

I followed this up on Twitter, which led to further insights from both Ben and Esko Reinikainen. I was still thinking about this when the 2016 UKGovcamp came along, so I pitched a session on breaking down those silos.

It turned out to be my favourite session at UKGovcamp. And I don’t say that because it was ‘my’ session. I didn’t have to do much other than light the fuse and make sure everyone who wanted to had the chance to contribute to the discussion. In fact, that’s what made it such a good session. That so many people had something to say, and it was such a varied debate.

Most of the excellent discussion is summarised in the live Google doc from the session and in the tweets in this Storify story.

These are a few of my take aways from the session: Continue reading Breaking down silos

What pleased me most about #LocalGovCamp 2015

The thing about the 2015 LocalGovCamp that most pleased me is not something I did, or learnt, while I was there. What I’m most pleased about is who else I got to go along from Bradford.

I was enthused after the 2014 LocalGovCamp in Birmingham. Yet I also knew that as far as Bradford Council was concerned, there were services other than my own that would benefit from being involved with the excellent LocalGov Digital network. There were so many useful conversations to have at LocalGovCamp, and I couldn’t take part in them all alone.

So, when I learnt that this year’s LocalGovCamp would be held in Yorkshire, I was doubly chuffed. Not only would it mean less travelling for me, but I also felt confident I would be able to persuade more people from Bradford to go too.

And they did go. There were seven or eight of us from Bradford Council over the two days, including the fringe event and the main unconference. As well as myself from communications and marketing, staff from electronic services, customer services and revenues and benefits also went.


Once back at work the following week, I sent an email round the others who had gone from Bradford Council, saying I was planning to blog about it, and asking if they would like to contribute.  This is what three of my colleagues had to say after attending LocalGovCamp: Continue reading What pleased me most about #LocalGovCamp 2015

Facebook video – enjoy it while you can

We have all seen organic reach falling on Facebook, but I’ve had remarkable success with Facebook videos recently.

This video of Victorian tunnels in Bradford reached over 50,000 people, being shared 300+ times, within its first five days:

That video didn’t take long to put together. I filmed it on an iPhone and edited it on an iPad. It was online within a couple of hours of me donning a hard hat to enter the tunnels.

To put the 50,000+ reach of that video into some sort of context, Bradford Council’s Facebook page has fewer than 2,000 likes, and other recent posts have an average reach of just a few hundred people. The tunnels video has been by far the most successful Facebook post Bradford Council has ever published.

But even before that freakish success, I had observed a trend, with videos on our Facebook page outperforming other post types:

Another recent video that did well was one announcing the sudden closure of one of our customer service centres due to wind damage. It was a far from brilliant video, but that didn’t matter. It seems that using Facebook video for news items is working well.

Continue reading Facebook video – enjoy it while you can

Yorkshire LocalGov Camp

I recently went to my first LocalGov Camp, and came away enthused. I had arrived enthused as well to be fair, but that’s not the point.  The point is that my enthusiasm has meant I have somehow talked myself into taking the lead on organising a regional event in Yorkshire – a local LocalGov Camp for local people.

The idea began during a Twitter conversation with Phil Rumens about how LocalGov Digital can reach out to councils who are working with beta websites.  One of Phil’s suggestions was to have a regional LocalGov Digital meet-up, something he is already planning in his own neck of the woods.  I particularly like this thought from Phil about the reasons for holding a localised event:

Are you local?

I already have enough people interested (after the above Twitter conversation) to feel sure that a Yorkshire LocalGov Camp is good idea, and we are probably looking at late autumn.   Because of the timing, one thing we might choose to discuss is winter weather.  Maybe we might want to work towards coordinated gritting communications, like they do with #wmgrit in the West Midlands.

I don’t want to plant too many ideas in your mind, as if you are interested in attending, I want your thoughts to be unhindered by my own suggestions – start with a blank canvas, and think about what you think we could achieve.

Continue reading Yorkshire LocalGov Camp