Shabby PR from SOCITM

Shabby PR from SOCITM

It’s been quite a while since my last post I have to admit. Not through any lack of thoughts about interesting stuff to write about, but purely thanks to a lack of time to actually put some words down.
But tonight I have been spurred into action in a minor fit of pique by online coverage of a story from SOCITM about council websites and their (lack of) compliance with the recently enacted privacy regulations on the use of cookies on websites.
I can’t see a press release about this in the news section of the website but given the coverage, I’d guess they’ve put out a release about how poor councils are at understanding their current use of cookies – highlights from various websites below:

I’ve no problem with news stories about issues with council websites – the scrutiny of online or offline media of any sort is valuable in holding the performance of public sector websites to account.
However what really does hack me off is SOCITM, a membership organisation for ICT professionals working in local authorities and the public and third sectors, publicy bashing the competence and performance of the sector they are meant to support. And all of this because they have recently launched a chargeable service to help councils manage their cookies in the light of the new regulations.
As a PR man I’m well versed in the technique in play here – create a stir around headline grabbing stat or two then ride to the rescue with a carefully pitched product or service to solve the various woes created by aforementioned stat. It’s a common ploy and used to great effect by IT security companies among others.
But surely a membership organisation for the sector can see the wider picture beyond their own commercial noses? The sector has enough reputational challenges of its own without a body meant to be supporting and helping the sector using cheap headlines to sell their own products.
Apparently one of SOCITM’s three aims is:

explicitly benefit employing organisations as well as individual members

It shouldn’t really need pointing out, but publicly trashing the services provided by “employing organisations” and “individual members” to get coverage for a product you’re trying to sell us isn’t going to meet this aim.
Shabby PR tacics from SOCITM and I’m not impressed.
And having got that off my chest, I shall resume more constructive blogging once again…!


I work with founders and senior leaders in rapid growth businesses. My focus is building resilience, coherence and high performance in teams and organisations to enable sustainable business growth.

20 thoughts on “Shabby PR from SOCITM”

  1. Simon
    Dont believe everything you read in the press! We did not say that 99% of sites are breaking the law (we only looked at 603 organisations in the local public sector, by the way). We did say that very few had no cookies and we had evidence that some were understimating the number they had and hence the size of the task. That is not evidence of breaking the law.
    As soon as I spotted this distortion, I pointed it out to the offending ‘journalist’ who has since corrected the headline but not before others picked up the original version

    • Yeah, great, so everyone misreported SOCITM, but why was the first members heard from the press instead of their organisation?
      In other words: why was this released to press before members? How does that help achieve the aim that Simon mentions?

  2. Earlier in the year I had cause to call Socitm ( Martin Greenwood) to ask about the issue of cookies legislation and what they saw as the impact on Local Government. This was for a piece on a blog I run. I was surprised to discover they had little or no knowledge of the legislation. You can read a piece I produced back in January here.
    Imagine then my surprise to discover Socitm are now “the experts” and have a chargeable service. In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king .-)
    This is not the first time that Socitm have panned their clients to get publicity. I have taken them to task before on similar disparaging headlines.
    One such was regarding their view on the quality of Local government web sites and how that contributed to an £11m per month cost to the tax payer.
    I wrote about that here…
    It did, perhaps still does, make me wonder who they are working for. Given the continuation of such commercially self benefitting messages I think that’s abundantly clear.
    There’s nothing like charging folks to then poke them in the eye. Ed Debevic’s in Chicago does it so much better.

  3. I am, of course, posting pseudonymously because I work on a local authority webteam, and do not wish our rating for Better Connected 2012 to be harmed by anything which the Socitm spies might have read here.
    It strikes me – and a lot of people who also attended #localgovcamp in Birmingham recently – that Socitm are basically the #localgovweb equivalent of an East End gangland protection racket.
    “Nice website you’ve got here – be a shame if it got, like, you know, damaged. Tell you what, for just 3 grand a year, we’ll, like, look after it for you. Know what I mean? Of course, if you don’t think your website is worth 3 grand a year for us to protect, well, it’s rough round here – who knows what might happen?”
    Who appointed Socitm as having the last word in what a council website should or shouldn’t look like, do, have as its content, or even where in the council structure the webteam should sit? The Socitm reviewers are all, no doubt, fine people with a wealth of experience, but that experience is far from transparent, and at the end of the day, what they write in their reviews are all just personal opinions, not objective facts about how the site should be. And different reviewers come up with different opinions – one reviewer fails a website because of the location of the A-Z index, whilst another reviewer passes a different website on its A-Z index in exactly the same location!
    And we all swallow it; we hang off every pronouncement from Socitm, we diligently hand over our cash to read the report every year (which often fails to notice some aspect we were particularly proud of and that our own customers told us they were particularly pleased with), attend the conferences, watch the powerpoints, and drink the coffee and eat the pastries, and every year they tell us that we all passed or failed on a completely different set of criteria from the year before – some of those even being contradictory from previous years’ guidances!
    And this year it’s particularly farcical; they’ve told us in advance they are going to be looking for the ‘customer journeys’ on their chosen ‘top tasks’ – tasks which Socitm have chosen as top tasks regardless of what our own experiences of what our own customer needs and desires.
    So we’ve been told that in October we’ve all got to have a big ‘top tasks’ box on our websites giving people links to information about the winter gritting routes and where to comment on a planning application, even though our own evidence, qualitative and quantitative, points to our own customers being more interested in information about the rat catcher and wanting to report potholes.
    So what’s going to happen? Are the council webteams which all diligently obey their Socitm overlords going to get four stars, whilst the councils which are implementing their website according to their own needs going to struggle to even get two?
    Will this madness ever end??!

    • Completely agree. Do what is right for the customer not what some external body says is the standard. Be driven by genuine user experience and feedback not someone with a pecuniary interest in finding fault.

      • Yep this is my negative experience too. Soctim are a useful scapegoat for web middle managers (without technical ability) to defer too which leads to the question – why are incompetent people in often in charge of web strategy?
        Persoanally found their reports contradictory in a technical sense over the years of successive reports on even the same site! The W3C is the only safe partner to work with in the respect and they are FREE although donations are accepted!
        The protection racket analogy fits the reality of these ‘consultants’!

  4. Found this recently which appears to provide cookie compliance but not yet implemented it
    On the surface it appears to provide the same type of request functioning on the ICO website.
    This was found and posted responding to a thread initiated here
    Would value feedback from all here?
    Not yet implemented or testing the technical implications since it appeared that compliance has been deferred to next year and found that there were so many more pressing matters to deal with.
    Over to you gents.

  5. As a regular of the LocalGovCamp and that whole scene I’ve come to know the likes of Socitm, even working with people involved.
    It baffles me that members pay for a service which requires them to collect data, hand it over and then pay again to receive that same data as a report on their performance, measured by metrics which don’t actually equate to anything useful in terms of online service delivery.
    Any council using Socitm should, IMO, release the data they give to Socitm and let others provide competing analysis. Then, they should spend a couple of hours reading up on conversion enhancement and do their own benchmarking themselves at little to no cost.
    CIPFA is another organisation that could do with some light shone on it.

  6. I must apologise for my failure to post the press release I issued on 19 August onto the Socitm website before I went on holiday (without my laptop, unusually!).
    If I had, Simon would have been able to see that what Socitm said was far removed from the headline in Out-law that was subsequently copied by various other news sites and blogs before they changed the original headline.
    Simon would also have seen that the release did not ‘trash’ services provided by the public sector websites.
    It did point out, however, that on the basis of evidence we have, some public sector web managers may be underestimating the volume of cookies on their websites, and in doing so run the risk of falling foul of the new law.
    Socitm is indeed keen to promote the Cookie Management Service, which we believe will provide a useful response to a real need at a cost much lower than commercially available alternatives (never mind the potential cost of non-compliance)
    In response to some others who have commented:
    MJ Ray – several notices with information about the Cookie service and the audit were sent to members in advance, the first of these being issued on 21 July. You perhaps won’t have picked this up because you are not a member of Socitm or Socitm Insight.
    Ronnie Brown – we are with you about there being no experts here. However, we have discussed the legislation and our response to it with a range of legal advisors and with colleagues at the CoI, so we are confident that what we are doing is both reasonable, appropriate, and useful.
    David Jones – this debate is best had with other web managers. There is pretty active web community that regularly discusses web issues, including Better connected and related matters. Please do join if you are not already a member. Find it at
    Phil – councils don’t collect any data for either Better connected (our annual survey of the usefulness and usability of council websites) or the Website takeup service (that tests usage and satisfaction with council websites). The former is based on a ‘mystery shopping’ exercise conducted by a review team using an survey running to 136 questions. The later is based on a pop-up survey completed by website visitors.

    • Yes, I’m not a member of SOCITM because I’m not currently working directly for the public sector. I was reacting to the comments from SOCITM members like Simon who seemed surprised by this.

  7. Vicky/Martin – Where do I find information about the use of cookies on the SOCITM website and which cookies are used and what they do?
    Could you flick me a link it might help to put the right information on our own sites?

  8. Vicky,
    I believe you used a similar “reason” the last time I took Socitm to task over a flagrantly wrong headline.
    Is this a strategy? Do you choose to write a ‘News of the world’ headline to get the interest? Get the publicity and then post a really tiny ‘sorry’ after the damage is done?
    Sounds very tabloid to me.
    And the irony of Socitm pontificating on cookies is simply delicious. just in case you missed it above
    Peter Barton

  9. I see your frustration, Simon: there is an essential conflict between the SOCITM aim of “explicitly benefit employing organisations as well as individual members”, and some of the ways in which some commercial operations of the society are conducted. I am a steadfast defender of SOCITM’s aims and some of its work, and have been a persistent and ruthless critic where I have thought things have been going wrong.
    My 2d-worth is that the SOCITM website is vastly better than it was a couple of years ago (to the point that it is for the first time useful for non-ICT local authority people to get value from), and I think your implied critisim of that is a bit harsh.
    However, SOCITM has a *long* way to go in getting the balance between member benefits (and involvement) and commercial activities right: Better Connected and associated activities is one problem area, events are another. My perception, though, is that the direction of travel is hopeful: it is to be hoped that the new employees of the organisation continue to receive support and resources from older hands like Martin Greenwood, Martin Ferguson and Vicky Sarjent to continue the improvements which have started to make SOCITM look as if its keeping up with (and hopefully starting to lead) the rest of the world in ITS OWN operations.


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