RESULTS DAY: Universities nail A level results day comms

I’ve noticed this for years but having an 18-year-old with ‘A’ level results really has brought it to the fore… University comms.

When I was heading to higher education, it was the phone and some disappointing results that secured an eventual place.

Today, UK Universities have really nailed the idea that their students need help online and through a raft of different places. Why not? Each student brings with them the best part of £30,000 in fees.

It’s a UK industry that sees 2.5 million students studying at UK institutions and more than 20 per cent come from abroad with an income of £39 billion a year. You can see why in a crowded market comms is at the forefront.

In 2022, my son got a place elsewhere but I decided to take a look at Keele as tghey’ve created some really good content over the last few years. They were also named best University in a student satisfaction poll.

Here’s what I learned from the University of Keele’s comms on A level results day.

A website that’s geared up

There’s nothing worse than a disjointed campaign where the socials are on fire and they point at a website that tells you nothing. Keele have their web home page geared up for clearing where students with A level results but no course find a port in the storm. Having quick to find information at this moment in time is valuable.

Individual messages

Scrolling through Twitter, the University spots tweets that mention it and they respond with a word of celebration. It’s beautiful human comms. What does it show? A University that rates the human touch in what it does.

Celebratory video asset

What tickled me was a short clip shot in landscape that worked across several of their channels of students celebrating next to a sign showing they’d got the grade for Keele.

In this link they’ve posted to LinkedIn but it was in several places. Next year, I’d expect to see a portrait as well as a landscape version for TikTok and Instagram.

A timely Facebook Live that helps students with clearing

Here, Keele broadcast live from Newcastle College in nearby Newcastle-under-Lyme. It celebrates those who have a place but also talk through the clearing process.

Why Facebook? I’ll bet the fact that parents of children looking to navigate clearing may be one reason.

But as with most effective live broadcast the timing is everything. This advice is gold on the morning of A level results. In December, it’s not worth much at all.

A back story of TikTok videos

On the day, they didn’t go all in on TikTok and by the looks of things the channel is something they’re exoperimenting with. What they’ve created so far gives a sense of what Keele is about.


Explore our 600-acre campus, tour our state-of-the-art teaching facilities, meet our academics, and learn more about what it’s like to be a student at Keele 📅 20th August 💻 #uni #student #college #studentlife #LoveKeele

♬ Levitating – Dua Lipa

Instagram live gives a tour of the place

Over on the ‘Gram the pivot to video hasn’t fazed Keele University. They give a point of view (POV) tour of the campus that lasts more than an hour to give a sense of the place. “Many, many squirrels,” as their bio boasts.

International comms

Given international students are such an important part of the audience, there’s bespoke content.

Firstly, they have a presence on Chinese social network Weibo.

Beyond this, the website has clear pages for different countries.


Overall, University of Keele are using their channels in an intelligent and co-ordinated way. They’re creating a fair amount of content bespoke for each channel, too.

DIARY NOTE: Better start planning for the winter ahead

In one of the more sensible things I’ve heard economics, it is said, catches politics in the end.

In other words you can say something at the Despatch Box and eventually real life will catch up with you. 

And so to warnings of a £5,000 power bill in the New Year and if you stay with this blog to the end I will end with a joke, I promise.

Before that joke, aside from the pain of trying to find the money yourself for public sector communications this is also likely to land with the day job. 

Heating or eating? 

Council tax or heating or eating? 

Mortgage or rent or heating or heating? 

Candles or heating or eating?

The late Terry Pratchett told us that civilization is two meals and twenty-four hours away from barbarism.

The impact on the NHS, police, local government, central government and fire and rescue over the winter may be pronounced. Social housing and third sector too. 

Better start the planning.

Lastly, that joke.

Q: Why did the energy bill cross the road?

A: Because it was sellotaped to the chicken.

I’m here all week.

Do try the veal.

GUEST POST: Being part of the collective: volunteering at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games only happened in Birmingham because of 14,000 volunteers. Liz Marsden spent her time polishing her comms skills as one of that army of people who gave their time.

Early in 2021, my partner of the best part of 20 years passed away. That was a huge point in my life. Like many people who have been in the same situation, the first few months were a rollercoaster of emotions, but I’m not going to dwell on that, that’s just the context for what’s to follow…

In the middle of the year, about four months after the event, the call for volunteers to join the Games was released, and one evening, admittedly after a glass of wine, I decided that nothing ventured, nothing gained and wrote an application (thankfully, video evidence wasn’t required…)! It turns out that 45,000 other people also applied.

The process of being selected

Later that year, I had the ‘we’d like you to come for an interview’ email. I’d made it through the initial shortlist, and down to 25,000 or so. This happened in November (after a few failed attempts at getting there – the interviews were in Birmingham, I’m based in West Yorkshire). And the “we’d like you to be part of our Games as part of the “Commonwealth Collective” and this is your role” email landed, after what seemed like an eternity and multiple refreshes of the workforce portal a day for about a week in mid February.

Game on. (Along with 14,000 others)…

My task during the Games

My role – Media Operations, Mixed Zone. Erm…. What?

I could guess at the first bit thankfully, but ‘a mixed zone’? Not having done a major event like this before, that was a new term to me.

Turns out, there were four standard media roles:

  • Team member looking after the press tribunes at the individual sports.
  • Flash quote reporters Getting interviews with the athletes post-match and filing for national and international journalists to use.
  • Photo team member Both taking and looking after photographers on the field of play.
  • Mixed zone Essentially making sure that, as much as possible, the journalists in the post-match area got the interviews they wanted and liaising with the team attaches.

So, fast forward a few months, role training followed – most of the media ops volunteers weren’t media people, the excitement of the uniform unveiling, the venue training a week before the Games opened – I was based at the NEC – and the first shift.

In between February and July, there were various Facebook groups set up by volunteers to support each other. Fielding countless questions around transport, uniform fitting, accommodation and hundreds of other enquiries is no small time commitment, I’ll warn anyone else! But thankfully, a small group of us banded together to admin them.

My first stint was on the last Saturday in July (Day 2 of the Games), then a break until the Wednesday, through every day to Sunday. 6 days in all.

First day nerves

I still got first day nerves (even at my ripe age!) Thought they’d have gone away by now, but no, they seemed to be omnipresent. But as the Games went on, you realised you were part of a family, and to be part of that was something special.

As I write this, my stint at the Games has just finished, and there’s a few reflections in case you’re still reading.

Liz’s Games volunteer story in numbers

  • 6 days of volunteering
  • 65,000 steps
  • 1000+ miles of driving there and back from Yorkshire
  • 1000s of people waved at, met and said hello to
  • 100s of athletes of all nations from the Commonwealth seen
  • Countless memories made.

What struck me

Being part of something

For most people, being a volunteer was the opportunity to be part of something special. I didn’t mind that I was making tea for international journalists one minute and shepherding international athletes the next through the media zones.

I was just happy to do my bit, as one of more than 14,000 of the ‘Commonwealth Collective’ of volunteers, without whom, the Games wouldn’t be possible.

However, for some people, the experience wasn’t what they wanted or expected – it happens.

These are real jobs

The jobs in volunteering at a major sporting event are as real as any job outside. And most are done while the Games are on by unpaid volunteers with a few paid ‘team’ who work from well before the Games actually start, and don’t finish for a long while yet. But that doesn’t matter. Everyone wore the same uniform and received the same respect as each other.

There were volunteer drivers, people to welcome athletes at airports people who provided information and directions, people with megaphones (lots of these), people who worked on the field of play like the ones who put the hurdles out on the track and field events, people who worked backstage, people who looked after the rest of the volunteers, medical help, and hundreds of other roles.

On the first day I met one of the flash quote reporters at the netball, who is at Uni and an aspiring sports journalist. He got to interview some of the top players in the world down in the media pens. That’s what volunteering is all about. Made my heart sing to see the opportunities being offered, and taken.

Some unique experience

At the Games, I had some really unique opportunities – I was based with the Netball and got to see lots of matches from some of the best seats in the house, but worked backstage afterwards to link up athletes with the various media outlets that wanted interviews, so also missed some of the best moments.

Never again, in my lifetime, I suspect, will the Commonwealth Games be held in Birmingham. I had no connection to the city before I started this stint, but it will have a place in my heart from here on in.

Birmingham, I love you

By the way, Birmingham, you looked amazing! As a comms person who normally works in the fields of regeneration and economy, seeing so much colour around the city, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the persuading it must have taken the planning department. And I admit to taking photos of coloured bollards, columns and various bits of buildings to show just what can be done.

What volunteering can give you

If you’ve a mind to spare a few hours, or be part of something bigger, my advice would be to go for it. There’s always plenty of local opportunities, or why not search out those special events in areas that you’re interested in: I think the volunteering selection for the Paris Olympics opens later this year.

Returning to the life-change I referred to at the start of this, the volunteering stint has taught me a lot. It gave me something to focus on when times were rough. It gave me a new outlet to find new friends. It gave me the confidence to dance in public – not sure how that happened – and it gave me another outlet to learn from.

Volunteers come from all walks of life though there were a lot of teachers there. You just never know who you’re going to bump into next and what their take on life is.

Volunteering is what you make it. It’s yours to make it as special as you want it to be.

Liz Marsden is strategic communications lead (economy and place) at North East Lincolnshire Council.

STRESS POSITION: We are faced with a tidal wave of online abuse and we’re letting staff sink

I had a good chat this week about the issue of online abuse of public sector comms people.

Yes, its a problem. In the last tracker survey where I asked this question 36 per cent said they saw verbal abuse daily and 8 per cent saw racist abuse daily. By any measure horrible figures.

The conversation turned to what’s being done about it.

Little, is the answer and at glacial pace.

Until it starts hitting the pounds, shillings and pence through employment tribunals I’m not sure that’ll change much.

Some organisations are heeding the Health and Safety Executive requirements to protect comms staff from violence in the workplace but most don’t. Verbal abuse in law is classed as violence in the workplace, by the way. There’s a whole download on it you really should dive into here.    

The problem is that senior people don’t take an active hands-on roll in monitoring social media channels so they don’t know the level of abuse.

“Grow a thicker skin.”

“It’s all part of the job.”

No it isn’t.

We are outsourcing stress and harm to the people who monitor social media channels. Then managers are doing nothing about it. 

That’s not good enough.

What’s your team doing?

NEW RESOURCE: A rebooted download for elected members’ social media #followme2

I’ve long thought that the best advice is simple, straight forward and universal.

Life is simple, Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, but we just over complicate it.

In 2015, I helped write the first social media guidance for elected members in Scotland called ‘Follow Me’. It’s strength was its simplicity and what we produced was a document that stood the test of time.

Social media is conversation, the advice said, and you can listen and take part in that conversation.

Back then, just over six in ten Scots had smartphones and there was still a debate in some quarters over using social media or not.

Wind the clock forward and today social media is as embedded amongst local government as leaflets and door-knocking. There is a generation of new voters in Scotland who were just a year old when the iphone was invented. To them this isn’t new, it’s what’s expected.

Seven years on, I’m proud to have helped write updated advice for elected members in a download called ‘Follow Me 2’.

#followme2 is available from the Improvement Service here.

The advice is published again by the National Communications Advisory Group (Scotland) and Scottish Government’s Improvement Service. People can download the 26-page document that I’m confidant helps elected members to meet the challenges of 2022 and far beyond.

What’s new? It’s noisier with more channels, for one

What challenges did we face when drawing up the new document?

Well, the world of 2022 seems a lot more complicated than 2015. Back then it was all about Twitter and Facebook. Online abuse then was a whisper not the angry roar it of a problem it can often now be.

‘Follow Me 2’ takes the promise of social media but sets out clear advice with eyes wide open. Yes, there are opportunities but there also risk.

The document gives advice on a far more complicated social media landscape that sees Twitter and Facebook joined with Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Nextdoor, WhatsApp and Messenger as potential tools for elected members. We explain each.

We’ve drawn on data to show what age groups are using what channel. Over thirties are using Facebook, for example, over 55s can be found on Nextdoor and WhatsApp can connect and mobilise supporters across the ward.

We’ve also shown how traditional media have adopted Facebook as the default way of reaching people and how Facebook groups in the community have grown in importance.

What’s new? It handles threat too

We’ve drawn from the good advice COSLA and the Local Government Association offer to elected members. Their advice on setting standards for users on an elected members’ profile is excellent. Yes, engage with people who disagree but only if its done with courtesy and respect. Harassment, abuse and threats should not be tolerated. Neither for transparency should anonymous accounts.

We’ve also offered advice on what to do if you’re in the crosshairs of trolls. Don’t let on that the abuse is getting to you, switch off alerts and feel free to block or mute. Take a screenshot of offensive comments.

Follow Me 2 feels more mature than the first edition but that’s exactly how it should be. Social media has matured and is no longer the new kid on the block. Has it replaced leafletting and meeting people face-to-face? Not at all. Social media is an extra. But its an extra that can make a sharp hardworking elected member understand better what’s going on in the ward. It can also let people know what you’re doing about it.

‘Follow Me 2’ is good and simple advice that I hope will be a benchmark not just for Scotland but for far wider, too.  

I’m taking part in a webinar for elected members with the Improvement Service to go through the guide on 23.8.22. You can find out more here.

CHANGE #3 Ofcom 2022 data for how the UK consumes media

Ofcom is here with its generous array of data into how people are consuming the media.

The Communications Market 2022 report is here once with useful insight.

Here’s a round-up of some of the data the struck me.

UK social media use (monthly users)

Facebook 46.7 million
YouTube 45.6 million
WhatsApp 41 millon
Instagram 36.3 million
Twitter 30.8 million
LinkedIn 18.8 million
Pinterest 16.6 million
TikTok 15.4 million
Snapchat 11.8 million
Nextdoor 9.2 million

Time spent by UK adults listening to radio in 2022 (hours per month)

15 to 24-year-olds 10.9 hours
25 to 34-year-olds 14.8 hours
35 to 44-year-olds 18.1 hours
45 to 54-year-olds 21.8 hours
55 to 64-year-olds 24.9 hours
65+ 26.0 hours

Time spent online by UK adults (daily)

All UK adults over 18 3 hours 59 minutes
18 to 24-year-olds 5 hours six minutes
55+ 2 hours 58 minutes
All UK women 4 hours 11 minutes
All UK men 3 hours 46 minutes

Other stats on UK adults

94 per cent of homes have internet access
39 per cent play games online
10 per cent use online dating apps
67 per cent see there being more benefit than pitfalls for using the internet
47 per cent seen online harm in the previous week
41 per cent of women are bothered by online harm
28 per cent of men are bothered by online harm
48 per cent is the rise in revenues by social media companies in the UK in 2021
42 per cent of 13 to 64-year-olds have used a VR game with headset

Online news in the UK consumed by adults

30 per cent visit BBC online daily
8 per cent visit the Daily Mail online daily
8 per cent visit The Sun online daily
7 per cent visit The Guardian online daily
6 per cent visit the Daily Mirror online daily

In Scotland, 42 per cent visit the Daily Record online daily
In Wales, 60 per cent visit walesonline daily
In Northern Ireland, 47 per cent visit Belfast Live daily

CHANGE #1: You may not need your own Facebook profile to be an admin soon

It’s a punch up almost as old as time… and it looks as though it may change.

Basically, Facebook have always insisted on you having one profile and one profile only.

This means they’re able to see who is admin of what to help cut down on abuse, fake content and general unpleasantness.

How this has played out is that people in the team you want to assign as admins have had to use their own Facebook profile to be added as admins.

This has been a bone of contention for many years for a minority public sector comms people.

“We don’t want to use our own profiles,” the argument runs, “because we want to keep a barrier between work and home. Or we hate Facebook. Or we think someone really will somehow click through to our holiday photos.”

My advice has always been really simple.

If you want to be admin use your own profile. If you won’t use your own profile you can’t be an admin. It’s as simple as that.

Don’t whatever you do make a fake one or have a shared fake on.

You’re at serious risk of being spotted by Facebook and the profile deleted without warning and with itm access to a page.

But wait…

Things may be about to change

According to CNet, there’s the whiff of change in the air with Facebook profiles.

Facebook Is Testing a Way to Add Multiple Profiles to an Account

The social network says users will be able to add up to five profiles to their Facebook account.

Now Facebook is testing a way for users to create up to five profiles linked to one account. Facebook said that switching between the profiles will require only two taps. 

The experiment shows how the site has been trying to evolve beyond just a place to share updates with family 

Now, whether this is something Facebook follow through is as much of a guess as anything.

But it definitely is worth keeping a weather eye on as this could change how people become page admins. It may also change how public sector people engage with Facebook groups.

Whatever you do, don’t jump the gun. Don’t go changing off and making fake profiles that aren’t you at all.

Wait and see what Facebook have to say. Many ideas get trailed and not all get taken-up.

NEW VIDEO: I’m launching a workshop to help you crack TikTok and Reels

I’m excited to announce that I’m launching a workshop to help comms people crack TikTok and Reels.

ESSENTIAL PORTRAIT VIDEO FOR TIKTOK & REELS builds on the six years of experience I have delivering video training for comms people.

You can find the event page for it here.

I’ll be joined by Julia Higginbottom who brings 20 years experience of filmmaking as well as her experience TikToking from her croft in the Hebrides. 

The aim is simple.

We’ll take you step-by-step to understand where portrait video fits into the landscape. No experience is necessary. We want to make this area of emerging comms less scary and well within your grasp. 

Why this workshop?

Firstly, in the UK, there are more than 12 million TikTok users.

But it would be wrong to think that portrait video is just for TikTok. 

Meta have been strongly advancing the portrait Reels format across Instagram and Facebook. This means that if those two are part of your content armoury then by default you need to know about portrait shooting too.

So, secondly, if you want to reach the 40 million Facebook users and 25 million Instagram portrait video is now a key skill.

Shooting in portrait is learning new vocabulary of film. It’s faster, has a language of its own and is growing at pace.

If you’re a Facebook user, you’ll have been seeing Reels in your timeline. 

If you’re an Instagram user, you’ll have seen experiments with all video being Reels.

  • 30 per cent more Reels content is being watched in 2022, say Facebook.
  • 20 per cent of time on Instagram is spent watching Reels, say Instagram.
  • 67 per cent of new TikTok users are aged over 24, say TikTok.  

“Most of the content 10 years ago was text, and then photos, and now it’s quickly becoming videos,” Zuckerberg said, justifying Facebook’s aggressive push into the area. “I just think that we’re going to be in a world a few years from now where the vast majority of the content that people consume online will be video.”

Mark Zuckerbug, Meta CEO, 2022.

“We’re no longer just a square photo-sharing app. Video is driving an immense amount of growth for all online platforms right now and its one we need to lean into more.”

Anton Mosseri, head of Instagram, 2022

What the workshop will show you

The programme will be practical way to learn the strategic role portrait video is playing.

We’ll take you through the basic shooting, editing and uploading across three online sessions. We’ll then be on hand for the next month to support you in your next steps. 

We’ll also show you how to work out when the answer is portrait or landscape and plan your video.

We’ll show you how to make the most of trends and to work with existing creators themselves.

We want to show you show to create effective comms content shot in portrait. And in answer to one question you may have, nobody is going to make you dance. 


Programme #1 will be delivered online from September 21. 

Programme #2 will be delivered online from October 21.   

To learn more and to book head here

CHANGE #2: What the heck is going on with the algorithms?

Einstein reckoned that the measure of intelligence was an ability to respond to change… he’d have loved the social media algorithms right now.

Change and turbulence is blowing through the channels at a pace that would knock your washing clean off your line.

Big twisters of change are howling through what you may think is an established landscape.

Here’s a catch-up what you need to know.

TikTok is causing panic, basically 

It all starts to make sense when you realise that the established order of YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are looking at TikTok with a measure of anxiety. These are not just tanks on the lawn. These are Chinese tanks playing by different rules.

The main point here is that TikTok’s algorithm is wired differently.

The main driver for the algorithm for the portrait video platform is not connections as social medioa always has been, it’s interest. 

In other words, your relationship with Steve your next door neighbour or your work colleague Joanne is of no importance to TikTok. What is important is what you’re interested in. What are your interests? So, if you like cute puppies, brass bands, London history and Stoke City then that’s a big measure of what you’ll get.

Every time you like, watch or download a video the TikTok algorithm will make an adjustment to what you see. 

It’s no accident that there are two settings for TikTok. The first is ‘For You’ which the algorithm serves you based on your interests. That accounts for 95 per cent of all traffic. The ‘Following’ setting shows you the people you’ve opted to follow. That’s tiny.

This interest driven approach to the algorithm is proving popular with people. In the UK, TikTok users spend 25 minutes a day on the platform compared to about 10 minutes each for Instagram and Twitter. Facebook is out in front with 29 minutes but looking nervous. 

It‘s also worth pointing out that more people leave after a session on TikTok feeling happier than any other platform. That’s deliberate.

The Facebook response

Facebook has grown to become huge by a combination of aggressive innovation, purchasing and aggressive copying. 

If a platform is doing something that Facebook likes the look of they’ll either buy it or copy it.

In the case of TikTok they are copying it.

Facebook are moving away from solely having connections as a driver. They’re using what they’re calling a ‘discovery engine’. This basically means that Artificial Intelligence is working out the things that work well as a whole across the platform. Then it’ll serve more of that.

In an earnings call this week, Mark Zuckerburg spoke of around 15 per cent of content across Facebook is now via the discovery engine with the timeline, videos and group. In Instagram it’s slightly higher, he says. That’s surprising.

“One of the main transformations is that social feeds are going from being driven primarily by the people and accounts you follow to increasingly driven by AI recommending content that you’ll find interesting from across Facebook and Instagram even if you don’t follow these curators.

“Social content from people you know is going to remain important part of the experience but increasingly we’ll also be able to supplement that with interesting content from across our research.”

Mark Zuckerburg, Meta CEO

All this will double by the end of 2023. So, more cute dog videos if that what works for you rather than updates from Steve you want to school with about his new car.

All of that is fine. The only thing is that TikTok have years headstart on Facebook in this game and it’s the game they’ve perfected.  

Reels, Reels, Reels for Instagram and Facebook

One key part of the Facebook response to TikTok is to aggresively copy the portrait video approach. 

Reels is being pushed across Facebook as well as Instagram. 

Yes, there has been pushback from Instagram users at how their beloved platform has turned into a clone of TikTok and a certain amount of rowing back. But the trend is set. 

By the way, spotting this trend I’ve launched after months of work and research a workshop to create portrait video like TikTok and Reels. I think you’ll like it.

Oh, by the way there’s Twitter

Twitter are too busy having a punch-up with Elon Musk to make significant changes to their algorithm.

However, many social media users have failed to spot that links have long been downgraded. Threads are rewarded. Sending people off to your website isn’t. 


In short, turbulent times will see results fluctuate. It absolutely pays to keep a weather eye on what the algorithm is doing. You’re kidding yourself if you think things aren’t radically changing.
I research algorithms and go into more detail for the ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER programme which gives a digital focussed package of skills that every comms and PR needs.

I’ve also launched a workshop on creating video for TikTok and Reels. ESSENTIAL PORTRAIT VIDEO FOR TIKTO & REELS. Take a look.

FACEBOOK SNARK: South Yorkshire Police draw a line in the sand beautifully

Learning how to handle online comments is one of the hardest things you can do in the public sector.

Learning how to deal with comment, criticism and abuse needs different strategies and there’s a load of grey areas.

One thing that gladdens my heart is when admin go back and challenge a comment and by doing so educate the rest of the room.

For some reason, police seem to be a lot more robust at this technique than others. But there’s no reason why others can’t be as direct.

In this example, South Yorkshire Police launch a campaign ‘No More: Stand With Us’ aimed at targeting street harassment. A Facebook post within 21-hours attracts almost 1,000 shares, 600 comments and more than 2,200 likes. This would represent good engagement.

One of the keys to the engagement is the debate it sparks. The coments are almost all supportive although there’s also regret from a woman that her experience when reported didn’t lead to a prosecution.

One comment from a man stands out, as it suggests that dressing in a particular way encourages attention.

The response from South Yorkshire Police is excellent:

On the one level, bravo South Yorkshire Police.

On another level its striking that we have to remind ourselves that it’s okay to speak with a human voice and to challenge people.

Huge thank you to Kevin Wright for spotting this example.

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