Do you really need to know that I’ve read it?

For as long as I can remember now, the people who message me have been able to see that I’ve read them.

Back in the first few minutes of using iMessage there was a pop up which asked for permission to send them and, hhaving come from a BlackBerry where it was standard fare, I couldn’t think of a reason to decline.

I wasn’t alone. The vast majority of the people I talk to on iMessage have their read receipts turned on. It’s pretty safe to assume that if someone is messaging you from another iPhone then you’ll likely see if they’ve read your message or not.

The situation is pretty similar on other apps too: What’sApp defaults them to on (and hides the off), even Twitter’s Direct Messages let you know when someone has read your message.

But that’s a little strange, when you think about it. Because the only people who thought it was acceptable to have ‘read receipts’ turned on for email were weird distant relatives, and y’know… that person at work.

So I’m starting a revolution.

Earlier this month I turned ‘read receipts’ off globally. No one knows the difference between me reading a message and deciding not to respond, and me (as is usually the case) losing interest and forgetting to respond until it’s so late as to be awkward if I actually did reply.

Nothing terrible has happened, and I’ve not even had a “why have you turned off read reciepts message of doom” from anyone. I feel liberated.

Technology is amazing, but it’s also run primarially be people who need to keep you engaged with their thing. My life is improved drastically by the ability to control all of the lights in my house from my home, but I can’t find any way that sending read reciepts to anyone and everyone is helping.

So I stopped them. Sometimes, even if I love you a lot, I just don’t have any words left. I’ll reply later; maybe you can too?

Checking in

At the start of 2017, I followed my aunty’s advice on how to get stuff done – I wrote a ‘prioritisation plan’. As the nights begin to draw in and I start to wonder where the time has gone, now seems like as good a time as any to review how things are going.

I’m terrible at reflecting: by which I mean I’m very good at doing it – but usually, to my own detriment. I’ve a mental list of things for each and every day where I’d say I wasn’t up to scratch. I’ve always thought that a good thing – because I focus on turning those reflections into actions, lessons or things I’d do better next time. It’s a system that has served me – mostly – well.

Relfecting on concrete objectives and priorities, though, is something I’m far more used to at work than at home. Before this year, I’ve never had (see: made) the time to set out what I wanted to acheive from a year and then got on with doing it.

I’ve always known the destination I wanted but, as anyone who has ever gone on a car journey with me can attest, the exact details of getting there are significantly less well understood.

So, I have been thinking of my prioritisation plan as sort of like a ‘Google Maps’ for my life. And much like when I’m following instructions from Google Maps, my conclusion from reviewing my progress was a steely determination to get to the destination but perhaps a few wrong turns along the way.

I’ve had definite wins: starting to save for a house, reducing my slightly exuberant spending on coffee in Starbucks, saying no more to short term in favour of long term and finishing off my CIPR Diploma in Public Relations.

In other areas I’ve let the business of life lead me astray, but a review is a good time to get things back on track and with four months left of 2017 I’m pretty certain I’ll be able to look back on the year and mark it a success.

Photo by Sabri Tuzcu / Unsplash

And I think that’s the lesson in all of this really, and the reason I wanted to write this post. I get incredible satisfaction in my work life from hitting goals, delivering projects and crossing items off from my to-do list but I’d never thought about translating that to life life.

While I was at University, I set myself 3 goals every 90 days – but they were always focused on work and education, never on what I wanted for me.

But having prioritised my life, written down some specific goals – and prioritsed them – and then kept the sheet somewhere I saw them every day for 9 months I’ve not only managed to achieve what I wanted, but also get the satisfaction of knowing that I did.

I’d say that was a tick for the inferred opposite of ‘say no more to short term’.

If you want to try out prioritisation planning for yourself you can find the guide I used and a handy blog from Karen to tell you how to fill it out here.

Do you have a template or shall I create something?

I can’t be the only one to have noticed that this is a question that comes up a lot, in communications – and I’m torn on the right answer.

Should I feel bad that I’ve made everyone think I’m too busy to do my job and advise them, or should I feel bad that I haven’t provided them with a template already?

I see the my role, and that of all in house communications ‘people’, as being an advisor – but, of course, many of our colleagues in other departments see only the tweets, the website updates and comments in the media when something goes particularly well or badly.

So from that perspective it stands to reason that when someone wants a communications plan, or a press release or whatever else, they should be able to pick up a template and write it.

And yes, they should – and it’s part of our role to make sure that the templates we do have are put together in such a way that they also can, but we also, surely, have a role in arguing that good communications isn’t ‘template’ communications.

It’s not only that every problem is unique, but also a matter of perspective in a profession which is highly context-dependent.

Would a template with the headings ‘Objectives,’ ‘Strategy’ and ‘Tactics’ and ‘Outcomes’ really be all that much use anyway?

A communications plan written from a single perspective, whether from a template or not, will never be quite as good as one written with input from someone whose job it is to know about things happening across the organisation, knowing the political context and – probably – having ‘been here before’.

The value of a communications professional should not be tied up in producing templates for colleagues, but instead in helping our colleagues – with real problems, needing high quality and effective communications strategies – solve their problems.

Or at least that’s why I go to work each day, anyway. Tweet me @picnarkes and tell me whether you agree – and how you address the ‘Do you have a comms plan template?’ question.

Facebook is a small threat for now, but what about next time?

We know that Facebook had a big impact during the election, with left-wing news websites managing to play the Facebook algorithm far better than the right wing ones did, but something I saw during the last week of the campaign worried me more than all that.

I know, of course, that both left and right are happy to make things up (or, perhaps, over-simplify things) about their opposition in order to be more convincing, particularly during an election and it’s more common (for me at least) to see the left doing this.

It might be because there are more of ‘them’ online, because Tories generally aren’t as loud about being Tories, or because of the people I follow and see, but I pretty much expect that the Internet will tell me the Tories have done bad things with power and the ‘left’ have a dodgy past, are hypocrites and so on.

What I didn’t expect to see was something like the Conservative Voters for Teresa May pages.

There’s the twitter accounts dedicated to memes and ‘well-sourced’ graphics proving that the Tories are the cause of all evil and there was the ‘fake’ Conservative website, pitched as a ‘joke’ but most certainly counting as serious campaigning in my book, saying it was uncovering “Tory Lies” by mocking their manifesto.

But these are both obvious that their true aim is to get you to vote for someone else, even if how exactly they’re funded might be a bit more hidden for me.

Conservative Voters for Teresa May on Facebook and Twitter isn’t anything like that. The pages use Tory-style graphics and messaging to convey negative messages about the party, pitched as campaigning for them.

Only… with a few seconds of scrutiny, the whole thing feels a bit like the projection of what an ardent Corbynista thinks happens inside the head of a Conservative voter rather than something serious.

The posts focus on many of Labour’s key attack messages: the Tories will prioritise good education for the rich and cut other school’s budgets, privatise the NHS because it worked well for the railways, raise taxes for everyone (because the rich already pay enough) and so on.

It could be a joke site, of course, but if it is then it’s doing a pretty terrible job, and the descriptions make clear it’s supposed to be a group of Conservative supporters running it. And it could well be, but for how I came across it at all.

About 4 days before the election, my feed repeatedly showed me sponsored posts from the page. Yes, someone had paid for me to see the posts.

Now, as many comms professionals will know from their own experience, my Facebook profile isn’t really representative of me at all. I follow pages I wouldn’t aside from for work, visit posts that criticise the people I work for and generally cause Facebook a great deal of confusion in working out what I like and who I am.

So while I do know that someone had paid to show me an ad for the page, what I don’t know is whether I was being targeted as a potential Tory or as an on-side Corbynista. Either way the opaque nature of what was being posted worries me.

This actual page is not a big thing at all: it’s gathered a relativley insignificant 1,400 Facebook followers, and a rather lacklustre 23 on Twitter – but it’s a proof of concept which could be easily be something bigger next time round.

What I’ve been wondering is whether this was an exercise in mockery or was it intended as a final shove over the line for people who might’ve been teetering on the edge of supporting Labour?

The comments on the pages, mocking the Tory lines, suggest it’s the latter – but then so do most of the comments on official Conservative social media properties, so it’s really hard to tell.

Facebook sharing of shaky partisan stories might be hard for the right-wing media to compete against, mock sites might be confusing a very small number of voters and enforcing the spirit of local spending rules on local campaigning a big challenge for the Electoral Comisssion, but what if pages like this were set up on a bigger scale next time?

Could this influence a big number of people? This style of messaging is probably never going to convert a Tory to vote Labour (it’s too obvious), but having both sides of the argument could very well help keep those who aren’t sure – but might have previously voted not-Tory – on side.

It’s almost like a virtual reality echo chamber, affirming what people think – even when it’s not actually been said – and I think it’s quite worrying.

Of course it also could be real…

The images throughout this post are taken from the page I’ve written about, and so are of course owned by whoever the authors are.

The people’s railway

I’m a bit late to this one, as seems my theme this year, but I couldn’t let ‘The Passengers That Took On The Train Line pass without comment.

There’s still 10 days at the time of writing for you to go over and watch the showand then work out whether you agree with me or not. If it’s sometime after 13 July then I’ll just assume you agree with me anyway.

The premise of the programme itself, that passengers can do a better job of running a train company than a train company can, is a simple winner. It’s logical: if you ride the train every day then you know what the problems are to fix and, by being a real person, you’re a real person.

So despite knowing the problems already by virtue of being real people, the ‘passengers’ did some market research: standing outside train stations asking people what they wanted.

Because they were real people too, they had the same thoughts and desires as the other real people: an end to delays, a seat for everyone and cheaper tickets.

Those are the things that real people want, and who are we in this Brexit induced haze to argue that having more of something and less of money is in no way contradictory and entirely achievable.

No more delays means no more delays. And of course that’s what everyone wants.

The programme went on to discover that in order to run a train franchise you need to have the money to run a train franchise.

The real people also made such revolutionary other discoveries as tracks being owned by the Government, trains being quite expensive and the Government not really liking the idea of a random group of passengers and a TV guy running a safety critical, highly regulated company which millions of people rely on every day for travel and thousands rely on for their livelihoods.

And while the real people got on with being astounded at that, the TV documentary maker went off to some foreign place in Europe (we don’t like those, do we?) where trains ran on time. He found that they do things such as ‘maintenance’ and have trains designed to scan the tracks for problems which we absolutely don’t also have. Who’d have thought.

In conclusion, the programme said, the system is skewed against the little guy and that is unfair.

Well, yes I suppose it is unfair that we were all deprived of the opportunity for the government to bend procurement rules to allow real people, who had no money or experience, to win a franchise they had no idea or competence to run in order to deliver a spate of improvements which would cost money, while charging less money.

Perhaps lacking in good business sense, but the real people have spoken, so give it 6 months and Brenda from Bristol will probably be running Great Western Railway.

I despair.