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another london

London 2012 Olympics has been a chance to showcase the best. It's also showcased the best of central government digital comms in platforms that picked up on the event to show a human face.

by Gillian Hudson

There’s a photography exhibition going on at Tate Britain at the moment called ‘Another London’ and I went along to see it the other day. It’s made up of around 40 black and white photos taken between 1930 and 1980 by photographers who were foreigners to London – Henri Cartier-Bresson and Bill Brandt among them. 

As the photographers were often commissioned for their work, there’s a lot of ‘touristy’ images of the capital – Hyde Park, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square – and images of Royal Weddings and Jubilee events, flags waving, Pearly Kings and Queens and fancy dress.

It was especially interesting to me as this week I too have been taking photos in Another London, and coincidentally it’s a London occupied by flag wavers, Pearly Kings and Queens and fancy dress.

The Olympic Park in Stratford is about as un-London as I have ever experienced. Forget grumpy people, rushing about and never saying hello or sorry or thankyou, everyone on the park seems infected with an Olympic glow.

Games makers shout hello to people on loudspeakers perched on Wimbledon-style umpire chairs, police chat and laugh with people, often posing for photos. And if you’re female, you’ll most probably have just been greeted with ‘ma’am’ by the member of the armed forces who swiftly got you through security (a thrill I can assure you).

In social media terms this is pure gold. The digital team I’m part of at the Government Olympic Communications team is able to use channels like Twitter and Facebook in a joyful and celebratory way. Our tweets more often than not feature photos taken by myself or colleagues, and we’re also experimenting with sound (using audioboo), Tripline to chart the torch journey, and finally good old stalwart Youtubefor voxpops and more.

Our instagram account in particular is a colourful mosaic of people and places – it’s quirky, fun and peculiar. Take my colleague Julia’s idea to tweet our office countdown to the Olympics from ten to one by instagraming the little posters put on the wall each day.

Another image shows Mick, a PC from West Yorkshire, on his horse Marley. It’s a cute photo with big horsey nostrils in the foreground, but has a really useful message of assurance for people on the park – ‘It’s a big night at the velodrome, so Mick and Marley are on hand to deal with congestion.’ This was posted to Foursquare too for those checking in to the Velodrome on the night Chris Hoy took Gold.

My favourite day on the park so far has been interviewing people for a little film to capture the public’s thoughts about the venues and atmosphere. Not one person I approached said ‘no’ to the chance to say on camera ‘well done’ and ‘thank you’ to the government, police, armed forces, Games Makers, LOCOG, for an unforgettable experience.  This is, I think, unprecedented in the field of voxpopping, and possibly in the field of government communication.

It’s harder than you might think to harness a friendly, joyful tone as a government department on social media. For me, coming from the Home Office and Cabinet Office, fun has just never been on the tweeting agenda.

But it has been a great experience to be positive, fun and friendly,  to react to people and to express emotion – we’ve been excited on Twitter, we’ve celebrated as golds flooded in and commiserated near misses. And that’s because the 2012govuk corporate account is a close to a personal account as I’ve ever worked on.

I think when the Olympics and Paralympics are done, our little 2012govuk - with its excitable tweets and crazy instagram filters - will be a fitting reminder of the joy we all experienced – whether you worked on the Olympics, watched it from the stadium or experienced it via shouting at the telly. 

I hope we’ve been able to tell a slightly different story through our social media channels, celebrating the people and the places associated with London 2012, away from the sport. I think this has worked most successfully with our ‘Beyond 2012’ Tumblr, which focused on a different aspect of the Olympic legacy for 150 days in the run up to the Games. A digital legacy for the Legacy Games perhaps.

To wrap this up, I’ll avoid comparing myself to Henri Cartier-Bresson and will instead turn to a more apt cultural reference. To paraphrase the excellent Jessica Hynes in the BBC’s Twenty Twelve – ‘Awesome job guys! Go us!’ And I do mean everyone.

Gillian Hudson is currently seconded to and is normally a digital campaigns manager in the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office digital comms team. The team is responsible for No.10 site and associated digital presences.

photo credit

The blog has been cross-posted on the Government Communications Network blog here.

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