ABUSE: Reasonable steps to combat the online abuse of public sector people

Reasonable people are shocked at the killing of MP David Amess.

But this shines a wider light on the issue of online hate around the wider process of democracy.


One MP’s constituency manager interviewed on BBC Radio 4 spoke of logging 100 death threats a week.

But I’m also sure in local government, elected members are also threatened. 

The LGA have a really useful download on handling intimidation that you can find here that can help people in the public eye. 

Data says that comms people are in the firing line

In the most recentb set from June 2021, of the 400 respondents who work in pubklic sector comms, 30.4 per cent have seen verbal abuse aimed at their organisation, 13.2 per cent have had it aimed at them or a member of staff, 6.3 per cent have revieded threats of violence and 8.3 per cent have seen racist abuse.

That’s all on a weekly basis.

Anecdotally, going back several years people in comms have been stalked online and have taken time off with their mental health. 

To act is to be reasonable

Now, this isn’t on a par with being stabbed in person but this is part of the side wash of the wider problem that should be taken seriously. 

I’ve blogged before on the legal requirement to log threats as health and safety issues. Why? Two reasons. Because the law classifies a threat as violence in the workplace and it’s the law to log them and for the employer to take steps. 

When I cover this in training on how to handle comment, criticism and abuse there’s often surprise. 

Right now, in too many places it’s just seen as a part of the job to just shrug off. 

That’s just not good enough. 


Reasonable managers will be happy to act on this. 

COVID COMMS: What do communicators do when cases are rising but people are getting bored?

Today, 157 people died of COVID-19 and a public sector comms person talked of how we are living in a ‘post-COVID’ world.

If we are truly living in an after the pandemic world then someone also needs to tell the 45,066 people in the UK who tested positive today.

And that’s the problem.

How do we communicate with people on a topic where people appear to have got bored?

Consumption of COVID-19 messaging is dropping

Ofcom data would suggest that our consumption of pandemic-related news has dropped.

In their latest data release, 73 per cent of UK people are looking for coronavirus news every day. That compares with 97 per cent in the first four weeks of the first lockdown.

The places where get our pandemic information have broadly remained the same but the numbers have fallen.

The BBC was the dominant channel for news in the first weeks of lockdown 1.0 with 79 per cent getting information from it and that’s dropped to 63 per cent.

Maybe the only place where the numbers have remained the same have been friends family and neighbours. In the early weeks,. this was around 30 per cent and that’s stayed about the same.

As for councils and local NHS, their COVID-19 messages are getting through to between five and six per cent of people in October 2021.

Across official channels, that’s now at 27 per cent.

Anecdotally, public sector communicators say they are spending less time on the topic than they have been.

Of course, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

We’re tolerating high rates in the UK – for now

Hannah Devlin wrote an engaging piece in The Guardian that looked at the UK’s high rates of infection compared with the rest of the world.

The article quotes Linda Bauld, professor of public health at University of Edinburgh:

“We’ve become used to something that has not gone away. I think there’s been a desensitisation to the mortality.”

The moment where the change kicks in may be when it appears that hospitals may be running out of beds, Devlin ponders.

We are built to react to change, she writes, not deal with a background noise of the same, she says.

So, what do we do? We plan

I’m struck by something that a Commscamp Still At Home attendee said in a session.

Jim Whittington, a communicator who has decades of experience dealing with large scale fires in incident that can last for months, said that one of the key roles is planning. Short and long term can take several hours a day. It’s the only way to stop you from getting out of a reactive mode, he said.

Part of that planning needs to factor in the fact that communicators are often broken, with mental health issues and physical health deteriorating.

Not only that, but Brexit-related shortages are also very much in view.

With winter approaching, it feels like teams and local resilience forums need to get into that planning mode.

VIDEO EDIT: Five video trends for 2022 and what to do about them

As a communicator, I want to talk to people in effective ways and for the last few years this has been increasingly video.

It’s been a while since I blogged specifically about video so with my online video skills training now back up and airborne again I thought it an idea to do some horizon scanning.

The first thing to tell you is the popularity of video as content.

Video is the most popular type of content

Video is the content most people reach for in 2021, according to Animoto.

More than 80 per cent prefer video bearing images (68 per cent), text (31 per cent) and stories (30 per cent).

So, if video is what works, think about what video will work.

AR and video

Tech journalist Kris Kolo tweeted this short clip which made me smile. Watch it and you’ll see why.

Smart glasses download Augmented Reality software to put a smile on the faces of those you go past on your morning commute. How refreshing.

Augmented reality is a preserve of the under 24s with a global survey pointing to 24 per cent of web users from this demographic using AR in the previous month.

Augmented Reality is also something that Facebook are looking at expanding and that’s an indicator of where things will go.

This is a lived video experience rather than a recorded one and is an on-the-horizon trend rather than one that’s essential.

Working with TikTok creators

The daunting learning cliff that TikTok poses is that it has a language all of its own.

‘Don’t make an ad, make a TikTok’ is the platforms advice. Or in other words, make something bespoke for the platform. Don’t shoehorn in something from somewhere else.

Photomyne is an app that allows people to use their phone to scan old photographs and convert them to a digital file.

Instead of making their own videos they worked with TikTok creators through the platform’s own clearing house to make 12 organic posts with creators. The best performing ones they then turned into Spark Ads.

This led to a 27 per cent conversion rate for app installs – which is what they were after.

While this exact route isn’t open to everyone the idea of working with creators absolutely is.

This is one creator’s story of converting her brother Mohammed’s only picture into a digital file.

Instagram will be a video platform

Instagram’s change of direction needs repeating.

They want to see themselves as a video platform and not just a picture platform.

You can use this as more evidence on the onward march of video and how all social media is including video in what they do.

Adam Mosseri put the cat amongst the pigeons in this video which talking through the change of direction.

On Facebook, video still performs powerfully

Earlier in the year, I blogged on how Mark Zuckerburg spoke of how half of all time spent on Facebook is spent watching video.

That trend continues with Facebook revealing the majority of top performing posts including either a picture or video. If you don’t have one or the other the clear signal is that you are going to struggle.

If LinkedIn are getting involved with live video it must be a thing

Live has been a feature of the video landscape for a number of years.

Facebook has been at it for some time and have been joined by others including Instagram, YouTube and also… LinkedIn.

The format can work really well. Behind the scenes tours, Q&As and interviews are all content that perform well.

But the fact that LinkedIn now has gone down the path of live again shows a direction of travel.

At the moment, this is for approved members but you can see the tool being rolled out.

I help deliver ESSENTIAL VIDEO SKILLS REBOOTED online training. You can find out more and book a place here.

GUEST POST: Four tips for better social media imagery

It’s rare to have guest posts from outside of the public sector but this advice from Emeka Ikechi of London-based photography consultants Vanity Studios works whatever the sector.

Strategies for reaching and engaging customers/followers via social media have grown and evolved rapidly. While this is great news for those businesses and influencers doing social media well, for those failing to grow their audience, increase site traffic or convert followers into sales, it is hard to know what’s going wrong. 

One area that is always worth looking at is imagery. Instagram now boasts more than 500 million daily active users, demonstrating the importance of imagery to your social strategy.

Additionally, 72 per cent of US teenagers now use Instagram. As this demographic ages, they will gain spending power, so it is important to be engaging with them now to develop a strong customer base in the future. 

Keep it fresh

Even if you don’t have a huge budget to dedicate to your social media imagery, you can improve the impact of your images by following these four tips: Keep it fresh

While it is fine to reuse and repurpose images, they can quickly feel stale, especially if you reuse them a lot. This is true whether you are talking about a product shot or a headshot. Switching up your imagery regularly keeps people interested and engaged.

When it comes to headshots, it is important to give people a clear impression of who you are. If they meet you in person for a pitch, for example, then it helps if your headshot matches reality. That means updating your headshot when you change your style as well as generally as you get older. If you’ve changed your hair, update your image. Got a new pair of glasses? Take a new snap.

When it comes to things like product shots, it helps to have them in the appropriate setting. That means not using a sunny beach shot in the middle of winter…unless you are advertising in the southern hemisphere. If you’re pushing your product as a Christmas gift – add some festive elements to the image. In fact, making your product shots seasonal can be fun and engaging while demonstrating how your product stays relevant year-round.

Maintain high quality

Creating great images in a high-quality format helps you appear professional and high-quality yourself. Great images start with great composition and setting. Having either lots of negative space or lots of clutter can seriously impact the quality of the image. Including engaging visual elements, such as people’s faces or cute animals, on the other hand, can help attract positive attention.

When considering the quality of the image format, more pixels isn’t always better. Every social media site has a strict size limit and specific resolution at which they will display images. Smaller images will be scaled up, which can look incredibly grainy and low-quality. However, larger images will be scaled down, which can also make them look very grainy. While the effect often isn’t as pronounced, the more the image is scaled up or down, the grainier it will look. 

As such, it is best to aim for images that are the exact size and resolution the site will display them at to avoid scaling. This can vary between social media platforms and image placement. Facebook Ads images are a different size to Facebook Feed images, for example, so do your research first.

Showcase your business, personal brand or products

As the old adage goes: show, don’t tell. If you can demonstrate how your product or service is used to improve your customers’ lives, you will create an image and idea in customers’ minds. They will imagine enjoying themselves on your holiday, eating your delicious food or looking stylish wearing your watch, for example.

The key is to make the images relatable. This is why images with people in them work well ─ the customer will substitute themselves into the image, gaining an instant sense of what it might be like. Once that image has been imagined, it is hard to shake off.

So, rather than a swanky shot of your new jewellery against a plain background, perhaps try showing an image of someone aspirational wearing the jewellery at a trendy party. And instead of simply showing a beach hut against the azure blue sea, show people walking, swimming and laughing as well.

The same rules apply if you are simply selling your own personal brand. Whether it’s images of you or products you are reviewing or recommending, create images that are more than just a picture of you, or a flat picture of the product. Instead, show you/it in action. Show how buying the product will solve a follower’s problems, why engaging with you will make their life better. 

Experiment with colour

Bright, colourful images may be eye-catching but that doesn’t mean black and white images should be disregarded. Opting for a monochrome image can be an excellent way to stand out in a sea of brightly coloured pictures, especially on sites like Instagram where people endlessly scroll through swathes of visually similar photographs.

Again, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to using colour vs black and white. You should test both types of image and see which works best for you. However, a good rule of thumb is that the more luxurious and product-focused the image, the more likely it is to work in black and white. Watches, jewellery and cars, for example, often stand out in black and white. For experiences, such as holidays or trips, colour can flesh out the imagination and make it appear more real.

The best approach is to get a copy of the same image in both colour and monochrome, testing both out and gathering results. You will then have a better sense of what works for you and your brand, whether you are sharing a product, experience or headshot.

Imagery, whether it is a photo of a product or your face, is essential to creating a strong brand. Pictures help customers imagine what it is like to work with you or use your product, making an abstract idea feel a lot more real.

Social media platforms are a great place to showcase your visual assets and build your personal brand, but to really stand out in an endless sea of images, you need to produce consistently high-quality, regularly updated visuals. When you can, invest in help from professionals.

Emeka Ikechi is director of Vanity Studios in London and can be found on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

FACEBOOK CHANGE: There are plans to allow people to be a page admin without linking their personal profile

Rejoice people, rejoice… Facebook is looking at ways to let you be an admin of a page without linking your personal account.

Facebook’s terms and conditions have long insisted that you link your personal profile to the back end of the page you are an admin of.

It’s a way that Facebook can keep tabs on who is being an admin and cut down on fake accounts spamming or spreading misinformation.

However, one of the results of this is that people who set up ‘work’ accounts to admin a page risk losing access entirely to an established page when – not if – Facebook’s algorithm spots them and deletes the false profile.

I’ve had more than a few conversations with a distraught comms person who thought that running a profile called ‘Council Comms’ or ‘John Smith Work’ was harmless and has had the profiler deleted and wiuth it access to a page.

But wait.

Help is at hand.

Will Lodge, comms manager at Tendring Council, has spotted that Facebook are trialling ways for people to access a page without linking their own profile.

In a blog post here it seems as though Facebook are trialling this tool which could be widely available in 2022.

According to the site:

We know you hate having to give access to personal accounts in order to run your business, and undoubtedly as you grow more and more people will need access to the platforms you trade and advertise on. Now, Facebook will offer access to business products with separate credentials from their personal Facebook account.

Tamebay.com September, 2021

Hunting round there’s not too much on this announcement.

But there is a page on the Facebook business site that’s empty but ready for an update on work accounts.

But the blurb on Google shows that something is afoot.

The text reads:

Facebook Work Accounts are a way for business employees to access Business Manager and Business Console without using their personal Facebook accounts.

What’s likely to happen is that if Facebook go ahead with this it’ll get rolled out over a period of time. There’ll be some frustrations I’m sure with those at the end of the queue.

If the predictions are accurate and its 12-months before the change takes place it’s worth maintaining the line that linking a personal profile is still the way to go. Long term this may change.

When there’s more on this I’ll blog it.

COMMSCAMP: Hello, hybrid conference, I think you’re here to stay

Four hundred tickets for the online conference Commscamp Still At Home went in eight minutes but how did the real event go?

The hard stats are that 45 online sessions across six slots were held over two half-days and more than £1,000 was raised for a good cause.

We had a guest appearance from Jackie Weaver described unprompted to me by three different people as ‘Local Government Royalty.’

Rolling attendances went from a high of 130 at anyone time to a low of 90. This would suggested people dipped in and out. Without the commitment of buying a train ticket they were pulled away so their interaction with the event came through email, the Facebook group or the LinkedIn group.

This means what it means to be an attendee has changed just work has changed.

You can experience the event online or by following the debate on Facebook or read the blogs that emerge.

But overall, what I really, really loved was hearing a new attendee enthusing that she had overcome reservations to pitch a session and had loved it. For me, that’s a big reason for helping run commscamp.

Everyone’s experience is going to be different because the options they pick will be different but I hope the inspiration and new ideas are things they took home.

Online v offline

The last two commscamps have been online.

What’s the advantage? We can reach more people from further afield. For the first time, commscamp had a truly global feel with attendees from New Zealand and the USA.

But running the event also made it easier for people across Britain to attend. Take Sweyn from Orkney Council who has run the tech for the past two years. To be there in person would have meant two days travelling along with the time attending. It would have cost him, too. The cheapest flight is £535 and factor in hotels that’s a big ask.

Am I looking forward to running the event again in-person? Of course I am. There is nothing to beat the bumping into people in the corridor or at the coffee stand. For all its reach online doesn’t have that.

I missed going to the pub at the end to debrief.

Just like the office, online events have proven their worth and I don’t think they’re going back into a box.

So, using the idea of working in public, what would that look like?

Previous experiments

In the past, experiments have seen online being grafted onto an in person event. The pitching at an unconference has been streamed live, for example. There’s even been a camera in a corner of a room during the session but the synch between debate online and in the room has never really worked. The nature of a candid discussion doesn’t lend itself to being live streamed where anyone can see.

So, maybe the hybrid event shouldn’t be a mix of the two but instead be two seperate freestanding events. Maybe on separate days. Maybe on the same day. I don’t know.

Working this out will be the interesting thing.

GUEST POST: How to run an effective corporate public sector LinkedIn page

When one organisation looked at LinkedIn they went back to the drawing board to plan their approach. Creative content aimed tailored for their audience was key as communications and web team leader at Cheltenham Borough Council Katie Sandey shows.

A creative challenge is where it began. As a comms team, we love a creative challenge. Who can come up with the best idea, or achieve the most Facebook likes, or come with the most witty headline. Only this one was a bit bigger.

We needed to create one of the best performing council LinkedIn accounts, with the highest amount of followers possible. We were pretty much starting from scratch with, to be honest, not much knowledge about the platform and very little understanding across the organisation of the benefits it could bring with targeted use. We’re a small team with even smaller budgets.  

Work out your priorities

So in true, post-it note on the wall fashion, we developed some priorities – and got them narrowed down to three. Simply, we wanted to: grow the council’s sector profile in support of high level ambitions with inward investment opportunities; improve our recruitment process to attract the best talent pool; and use the platform to complement the council’s business to business efforts.

We set these aims against a (what seemed like ambitious) objective of growing our followers by 50 per month, through engaging, innovative, creative content – or content that’s not too ‘council-y’ as the team put it.

Work our the right content

So what did we do? We changed our approach entirely. We found ways to tell our story and share our successes through creative, directly uploaded videos and timelapses. We shared photos and infographics. We designed documents using page flipping software, rather than PDFs, improving the user experience. We visually advertised council services and training opportunities. We shared award successes and human interest stories and positioned the council firmly as an employer of choice.

Then measure

All the way along, we measured. We used conversion rate optimisation principles to help improve content engagement and to attract more followers by using different approaches to see how effective they were at increasing engagement.  It was trial and error and the team adapted content when some ideas worked better than others.

We applied these principles to all of our social media platforms and saw a marked increase in our organic reach.  We developed our own skills sets, we brought other internal teams on board, with individuals and teams now showcasing their work and experiences and sharing this with the sector.  

Our results

So was it all worth it? Well, in the space of two years, we grew our LinkedIn following by 89 per cent. Our target was to increase by 50 followers per month but we have consistently exceeded this target and have actually grown organically by an average of 121 followers per month.  According to the Local Government Association, there are 181 district councils in the UK and of these Cheltenham now has the second highest number of LinkedIn followers for its company page, which is a staggering achievement given our initial limited experience with the platform.  

Importantly we connected. With people, communities, businesses and employees. And this for us was one of our biggest successes.

Oh and did we mention, we won GOLD? In the 2021 IESE transformation awards ceremony, our little comms team took home gold – in recognition of our LinkedIn success.  

Why not connect with us?

Katie Sandey is communications and web team leader at Cheltenham Borough Council.

NEWS LEAK: Local news in 2021 is still part of the mix… it’s online

As an ex-journalist, my relationship with newspapers has changed over time.

I fell in love with them in the 1990s when I started to work on them and some ink will alwasys be in my blood.

In the 2000s I got frustrated, as newspaper owners blithely sailed on while the internet eclipsed tyheir business model.

True story: a senior executive at the regional daily newspaper I was an asistant chief reporter at dismissed the internet as ‘A fad like CB radio that will go out of fashion in six months.’

In the 2010s, I once gave a presentation called ‘Die Press Release! Die! Die! Die’ based on a blog post from a disillusioned former FT tech reporter.

I’ve seen good work as newspapers have re-invented themselves and I’ve seen them fail to act on abuse, insult and vaccine misinformation that endangers lives.

Here’s the data

Always, the queue should be in the data.

In 2021, the media is part of the wider comms mix. They’re often stronger online than they are in print.

Here’s some useful data on summer 2021 newspaper statistics.

The wider stats are useful but from a regional perspective, there’s the Reach titles Manchester Evening News on 30 million at 10th, Liverpool Echo 11th on 21 million and Birmingham Mail at 13 million.

Readers from across the UK will also see Scotland’s daily record 13 million and 19 million for walesonline.

What this means for comms teams

Comms teams have navigated away from the newsroom. The link between local journalism and the local council press office has substantially weakened. You can get a job in a comms team quite happily without ever having worked on a paper. Thirty years ago that was less common.

Yet, today’s comms teams don’t have the skills of shaping content for a newspaper, selling a story in or dealing with a hostile media query from a journalist on deadline.

I run the ESSENTIAL MEDIA RELATIONS workshop to give comms people the skills to be better at pro-active and reactive media relations.

Picture credit: istock.

COMPUTER RULES: What you need to know about social media algorithms

Over the past few months I’ve been delving into research on social media algorithms to keep my training deck updated.

Like mystical golden fleeces these evolving rules are secret codes locked in Mark Zuckerburg’s golden throne.

So powerful are they that they can dictate what is rewarded and overlooked on social media. Each platform has one. They are unique and complex. But there are some common themes that run through them all that I’d like to share.

Please remember, the algorithm doesn’t care about what that that middle manager wants. It’s going to tickle the tummy of people doing the things IT likes.  

Don’t repeat yourself. I repeat, don’t repeat yourself

Nobody likes a bore. That same story repeated over and over. But what if the same thing is what you are being asked to do over and over? If you are bored creating it you can bet your audience is too.

Well, for one, think of a variety of ways to tell the tale. Video, an image with text added. But don’t use the same image over and over. When briefing a freelance photographer ask them to take a spray of images moving the camera or the subject so there is some motion. This way the algorithm can work out that this is a different image.

Use a different type face or choice of colours.

Don’t link

All the algorithms HATE, HATE, HATE it when you link away from their site.

They want you to stay and never leave. Why? Becuiase the longer you stay the more attractive you are to advertisers. So, Mark wants you to put your holiday snaps, jokes, events, fundraising, video sharing and messaging of your Gran all in the one place and never leave. So, basically, do the other platforms. Twitter rewards threads and LinkedIn encourages long form posts.  Everyone rewards video.

Tell real human stories

Think of your audience, who are you trying to connect with? New parents? The Edelman Trust barometer every year confirms that ‘someone like yourself’ is trusted higher than the chief executive for routine matters.

So, a homeowner talking about their experience to another homeowner connects and will get more engagement.

The additional benefit of this is that those real people will also have social media accounts where they share your content with friends and family. Make a point of enlisting their help when sharing it and telling them what time you’re posting.

Enlist supporters offline to go online

When you post can you call on a tribe of supporters?

The family who are warning people against swimming in the reservoir because their son drowned have their own network of friends and relatives. So does the staff member who has won an award. Ask them to share the contact with them and tell them what time you’ll look to post, too.

Birmingham City Council have a network where they alert residents when they post COVID-19 information. They ask them to share with their friends, families and communities. That’s such a good idea.

There is no number, there is just quality

Don’t fall into a trap of making yourself post only twice, five time or ten times a day to a particular channel.

The truth is that quality is the benchmark. If its fresh content that will chime with your audience then you’ve got a chance.

If you engage then others will engage

Another consistent trend amongst algorithms is that it encourages and rewards you for engaging with people.

In other words, that may include asking them questions they’re likely to respond to. Answer their questions. Like their Instagram post. Comment on their answer. This stuff isn’t hard. Before the internet it used to be known as manners.

Avoid catch-all studies and look at YOUR data

You can find them if you look online, the ‘best time to post to Twitter’ studies that crunch tens of thousands of tweets. Avoid them. Your audience is your audience and if it’s 18 to 24 Afro Caribbean men think about what time they are likely to be online.

Look at your insights and do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

Each algorithm has differences

I’ve written about the generalities. If you really want to dig into a platform you need to dig into the research. TikTok, for example, likes it when you use existing video trends. Twitter likes threads. Get to know them.

I’ll go into more detail into social media algorithms at the ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER workshops here.

SCREEN TIME: TikTok is beating YouTube in a UK head-to-head

Broadcasters have a comprehensive rule book when they are reporting on elections.

In that book, outlying polls are not reported until they are supported by at least two other polls. It saves everyone from looking stupid.#

So, I was fascinated to be forwarded a link to a US study which shows that US and UK TikTok users spend more time watching the Chinse-owned channel than they do YouTube. Thanks for the spot, Gareth Wood.

The figure is 24 hours of content plus a month for TikTok against 14 hours for YouTube.

Now the small print. This was Android users only. And it is limited to the platform’s users. So, disclaimers right there.

No, I don’t think anyone should be deleting YouTube but it does show the trend towards video accelerated by the pandemic and will get a further boost as 5G continues to roll out.

But what it also does, I think, is to again re-inforce the position of TikTok as a genuine contender and something to really take seriously as a channel.

One of the reasons for these figures is that TikTok users leave the platform feeling happier. For social media in 2021 this is quite a novel experience.

If you’ve not tried it yet, try it.

Here are some clips to get you started.

History Hit is a subscription History TV channel and their video here shows a quick viewing of historic gloves, Dr Julie Smith remains my favourite clinician narrowly ahead of GP Dr Nighat Arif.

Liverpool City Council show how you can do place marketing effortlessly. You can see what deep sea fishermen do to protect fish stocks and one of my favourites a block who does one minute beer reviews.

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