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The digital year: view from Downing Street


By The Drum Team, Editorial

December 14, 2011 | 5 min read

Nick Jones, head of digital at No.10, has had a unique vantage point from which to watch the rapid development of social media. Here, he presents his review of 2011, explaining why it was the year that digital moved the world.

Since the COI first issued guidance, four years ago, on how government communicators can use social media, I’ve uttered a simple mantra to explain it. It is social media if it lets you ‘create, connect and share’ more easily. 2011 has been a year that’s allowed me to experience the creativity of hundreds, thanks to the thousands of connections my friends and colleagues have made and shared through. So, here’s my highly subjective review of the year.2011 was the year of place. It wasn’t just the year we put Number 10 Downing Street on Foursquare. It was the year many realised that checking-in was a great way to share the experience of being somewhere wonderful or at an inspiring event. It was a case of no longer wishing you were here. All could share in the experience.It was also the year of simples. The consumerization of marketing tools mean self-service ad-buys and rapid campaign creation are within the grasp of all. For example, Angry Birds’ developer Rovio created a campaign microsite in just 17 hours using Hammerkit’s platform. Many new skills and competencies, initially held by a few early innovators, were acquired by the mainstream of marketers this year. That’s good and bad. Watchout for the intern doing more and more moderation.It was the year I spent a lot more time round at Stefffy L’s. No, not some hipster social media maven’s moniker but my personal acronym for the new channel mix I have to deliver on: Site, Twitter, E-mail, Facebook, Foursquare, Flickr, YouTube and Linkedin. Each with its own particular audience behaviour and content foibles to understand. And, with so many social channels, tools and add-ons it was a year we got invited to the beta. Be it quizzing Quora or egotracking on Twenty Feet. Or conducting follower phrenology on Twtrland to find out why Klout differed from PeerIndex. Anyone Want! an invite to Launchrock? Perhaps we should all so we can hear the quieter voices.But beta will so be so last year. 2011 was also the year of alpha, well for us in Government., the replacement for Directgov, surfaced as to publically expose new thinking in a grand gesture of transparency as a brand action. While we maxed on sharing and connecting, great creativity wasn’t exclusive to social channels. Volkswagen’s Passat Darth Vader TV ad, originally made in the US debuted here in the UK. TV struck back in 2011. But, with a typical twist, that only social media can delivery with such alacrity, Greenpeace hijacked the Death Star. It draped the VW banner over it and took it multi channel as its Dark Side campaign accusing the car maker of greenwashing and activated an army of social media stormtroopers to go rogue and campaign on its behalf. And, talking of disobedience, 2011 was also the year social media got the blame, from some quarters, for the riots. Bad boys and Blackberry Messenger allegedly a dangerous combination. However, many people found it all a useful way to navigate the rumoured no-go areas and to lend a hand in cleaning up. Thanks to savvy data journalists timelines also tracked and mapped the incidents, those involved and what punishments were meted out.2011 also saw social media really nicking the public’s attention as they spent time poring over crime maps of their neighbourhoods. Such mapping is based on open data and the government’s site became the place for do-good developers to go if they wanted to sprinkle social data into the apps they were cooking up. Finally, 2011 was the year that digital really moved the world. Personally, I experienced digital that was emotional. Not mere lolcat memes provoking mirth but digital magic that wove a story about community, creation, destruction and loss - one that could be experience interactively. The Pine Point documentary, produced by Vancouver-based creatives The Goggles *moved* me and many others. ‘An understated work of stupefying grace’, wrote one reviewer. This is no symphony, this is digital today. And, in 2011, such tectonic movement was not restricted to a personal experience of clever digital media. For many millions digital helped change their world. The Arab Spring saw ideas and dreams created. Across the world millions connected with each other and shared their aspirations for a different world. 2011 was the year digital grew up. Nick Jones writes here in a personal capacity. Currently splitting his time between two roles, he is a deputy director in the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office communications directorate with responsibility for digital communications. He is also director of interactive services at the Central Office of Information.
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