COVID-19 COMMS #47: Reminder: National messages delivered in a local voice can have 800 times more reach

And like that, England is back to earnest COVID-19 communications.

Over the last few days, UK Government announced the need to wear masks in shops in England as part of a range of measures. This follows the spotting of the Omnicrom variant of the virus which is suspected to be more virulent.

The emphasis now falls on the public sector to communicate and enforce the new rules.

So, UK Government led the way with this post…

Intrigued to see how the public sector local to me had communicated it. Looking around online they hadn’t.

There was no re-sharing of the Government content.

That in itself isn’t that bad.

I don’t say that because I think wearing a mask to help stop the spread is an appalling infringement of my civil liberties.

I say that because of some research I did earlier on in the pandemic which showed clearly that national messaging at this stage of the pandemic was failing in England.

The numbers then showed an average of two shares for UK Government or England NHS messaging.

Looking at it objectively, post-Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle trust was never quite the same.

However, what has been more successful in being shared was a local voice delivering a national message.

For example, the A&E staff of Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust were featured in a video asking people to observe the rules. How did that fare? Superbly. The content was shared 800 times.

For me, there were three reasons for this.

Firstly, it was video and this content is proven to do well on Facebook.

Secondly, it was delivered in a human voice and a local accent by people who work in the area.

Thirdly, it was given a power-up by comms teams actively sharing it in Facebook groups in Sandwell and West Birmingham.

You can see the video here.

For me, a local delivery of a national message is essential.

The data shows that more people share a message that’s identifiably local to them.

CONFERENCE NOTES: What I learned from #firePRO21

It was #firePRO21 last week, the coming together of fire and rescue communications.

For the first time for 20-months I caught a train and headed to a room where 50-people were in the same room. Weird.

Some reflections here on the two days in Birmingham.

Do the right thing

Whatever your organisation does, there’s a purpose to it. Strip everything away, the purpoise of the RNLI since 1824 is to rescue people in peril at sea regardless of how they got there.

In summer 2020, right wing commentators attacked them for their role in saving the lives of refugees who got into difficulty in the English Channel.

They could have buckled under the political pressure but their sense of direction came from the moral compass that pointed them to do the right thing.

In this case, doing the right thing was pushing back at the critics while staying true to the idea that they were rescuing people at sea.

They were not refugees or migrants. They were people.

Their video illustrated this but the comms team and the senior leadership team, made sure those doing the rescuing were fine with the edit.

We do well to remember this lesson.

Human comms

At the session, I spoke about human comms. For the last few years I’ve blogged examples where the human voice shines through. That is a voice we recognise when we see it.

There is a lesson in everything we do to put human beings at the centre of our communications.

Researching the presentation I was reminded that the idea of the human voice on the web pr-dates what we imagine as conventional social media.

It is an idea that runs through the Cluetrain Manifesto. This revolutionary document was put together on an internet discussion forum that tried to imagine what web 2.0 would look like.

These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.

The Cluetrain Manifesto, 1999

Every organisation should have a dog

Ironically, one of the most human things at #FirePRO21 wasn’t human but a dog.

Digby the dog became an internet sensation when Devon and Somerset Fire & Rescue posted the news story of how their dog helped bring to safety a woman threatening to jump.

Digby is a ‘defuser dog’. In other words, he gets called in when crews return from a particularly stressful job. He defuses the stress. How? Because he’s lovable, friendly and loves people. All of a sudden the stress of the situation is replaced by this lolloping animal.

Paul Compton and Rosalie Fairbairn spoke of the ethical questions they encountered. It’s a great story, but what about the woman? What of the duty of care?

The Samaritans have guidelines for reporting on suicide which they looked to follow.

It made me think that every organisation should have a mascot.

Every organisation should have good internal comms

The theory of internal comms is clear. If you keep your staff informed they’re more likely to deliver.

The 10 hospitals across Northumbria Healthcare NHS is a good match for a fire and rescue service with multiple stations and local loyalties.

A 92 per cent open rate for the key internal bulletins shows the value of filtering out the must know from the nice-to-know.

And some others

Creativity is key.

TikTok is a thing.

People are not robots and they need to recover from crisis moments.

Decent engagement takes time and doesn’t turn on like a tap.

Well done to the FirePRO organising committee. Well done speakers Mark Hadingham, Louise Knox, Ross Wigham, Amanda Coleman, Helen Reynolds, Mandy Pearse Claire Mason and James Morton.

COVID COMMS #46: Winter is here, ready to go again, public sector comms?

Growing up there was a local newspaper sports reporter nicknamed ‘Dave McCliche’ because of his fondness for the same phrases.

With Dave, the picture caption of two footballers would always read how Player A wins the ball ‘despite the close attentions’ of Player B.

In the first weeks of lockdown we had the same emptiness of phrase. Our experience out-stripped our language. We were left grasping for ‘uncertain times’, ‘the new normal’ or even majestically the written phrase ”all this’ *gestures wildly*.’

So, it’s hard to know what phrases to use at the news that there’s a new COVID-19 variant called Omnicron.

Or that warnings that the NHS is at risk of collapse have been dismissed.

Or that parts of the country literally ran out of ambulances.

Or that 150 people a day are still dying of the first variants at a time when people are talking about being in the ‘post-pandemic’ period.

What if people won’t listen?

Talking to people, there’s not just a serious risk of burn-out, burn out is already amongst us. So is walking off the job for the sake of your sanity.

Numbers say, police comms have had it worst, followed by NHS and local government. Fire comms haven’t been in the epicentre but have been drawn into delivering vaccine.

Comms asked to step up again

With another chapter of crisis now facing the UK the public sector are being asked to step back up again. Or before you ay it, did they ever step down?

What’s interesting to me is that for months COVID-19 messaging has all but evaporated. In the tracker survey I’ve been running 65 per cent of public sector communicators in Autumn 2021 recorded that they’ve been sending out less pandemic messaging over the last three months.

No wonder.

There is no way that the level of messaging could be maintained. The cold bath shock of lockdown 1.0 saw 42 per cent of the UK watch Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s address to the nation. For weeks hands, face and space was the messaging shared and reported. But as we grew used to it the message blunted.

Burn out and risk

In Winter 2021, the important questions facing public sector comms are this.

How do we crank back up the messaging that works about hands, face, space, wear a mask, get a jab or a booster?

How do we do all this without breaking what’s left of the people who are communicating these messages?

Because if we break the people who are doing the communicating, what then?

But if we don’t get the message out what then?

What if people won’t listen?

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons.

XMAS CHEER: Christmas ideas for radical comms & PR people

Well, we’re not there yet but we soon will be…. Christmas is coming.

Prior to the pandemic, the focus was on what present to buy and how much turkey you can eat.

In 2020, it was all about bubbles. In 2021, it’s all about shortages.

So, with that in mind, here’s some Christmas present ideas selected for tired, exhausted comms and PR people almost two years into COVID-19 with thousand yard stares and the collective trigger phrase: ‘if you’ve got a minute.’

Thanks to everyone on the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group for the crowdsourced ideas.

‘Meetings That Could Have Been Emails’ – notebook

For those meetings / Zoom / Teams calls that didn’t have to happen this note taking media node is essential.

WTF Notebooks £9.59 plus postage

Channel 4’s social media policy – t-shirt.

The words ‘don’t be a d**k’ were famously one broadcaster’s entire social media policy. It’s great advice.

‘I work in social media everyday I wake up and choose chaos’ – mug

For the social media manager or page admin in your life. Thousand yard stare while drinking your coffee.

Social Media Tea £10.22 + postage

‘Whatever, I’m Still Fabulous’ – notebook

For the meeting when you need to take a book that reminds you it’s not YOU, it’s definitely THEM.

Flamingo Candles £10 + postage

‘Yet Despite the Look On My Face You’re Still Talking’ – mug

Deliver that passive aggressive rejoinder while simultaneously a sip of coffee. Marvellous.

Amazon £8.99 plus postage

‘Please Wait Here Until You Are Useful’ – poster

A poster to brighten your office workspace summer house loft conversion telephone table.

Redbubble £10.02 + postage.

‘The Science of Storytelling: Why Stories Make Us Human, and How to Tell Them Better’ – book by Will Storr

A really good book to improve a key element of your comms skill.

Amazon £8.99 + postage

‘Sort This Nonsense Out’ sticky notes

Perfect devices for leaving a message to yourself or others.

Penny Black – £3 plus postage

‘Greetings from Effing Birds’ – 100 tear-out postcards

“What could be better than than 100 line drawn postcards of birds saying what we’re all thinking at work, but are too polite to say out loud. I heartily recommend.”

Amazon £11.99 + postage

‘Panic as Man Burns Crumpets: The Vanishing World of the Local Journalist’ – book by Roger Lytollis

This book is an essential read for anyone who remembers newspapers as they were (i.e. with staff and readers).

‘The Gift of Not Giving a Single f***’ – pin badge

Deliver your attitude through a lapel badge. Limited edition.

Veronica Dearly – £7.95 + postage

Personalised Facemask

I wonder if you could ask someone to stand in for you with one of these? Just a thought.

Printster £3.99 + postage

‘In The Loop’ – film DVD

Because I will never not include this on a Christmas round-up for PR people.

Amazon DVD £3 + postage

Retro sweet selection

Say: ‘keep going, team’ more than this collection of e-numbers and sugar.

Prezzybox £12.99 + postage


‘Do the F*cking Work: Lowbrow Advice for High-Level Creativity’ – book

I have this on my desk right now. Have you?

Amazon £15.72 + postage

Video Conferencing Blunder Can – set of six

In effect a swear jar for ‘Sorry, I was on mute moments.’

Etsy – £7.99 + postage

Set of six inspiring message pencils

Fab comms tips like ‘Know Your its from your it’s’ as graphite message takers.

Not on the High Street £6

Personalised message ink stamp kit plus ink stamp

Imagine the fun you can have as you make up the text to go on your hand stamp kit. ‘Great work!’, maybe. Or ‘Another set of fine notes to keep’.

Etsy £15.50 + postage

‘Thanks for putting up with my shit’ – chocolate

What better way a clear ‘thanks mate / colleague / boss’ than with this chocolate with a message?

Firebox £9.99 + postage

Grammar Police – guessing game

Just because it’s the holidays their’s no reason that your grammar pedantry need’s to stop.

Amazon – £9.95

Letraset typographic transfers

Back in the days before desk top ink jet printers you were left with two choices. Handwriting or letraset. Relive the 1970s with these transfer letters.

£5.95 + postage

Ideas Meeting tea towel

“Don’t just think about it, say it!”

“F**k off.”

Shop Modern Toss £12 + postage

‘There’s Literally Nobody I Don’t Hate Right Now’ – t-shirt

Wear it with pride.

Redbubble £15.91 + postage

‘F**k This S**t’ enamel badge

For extra direction in life.

Chiswick Gift Company £7 + postage

Thank you

Thank you to contributors who came up with ideas including Debbie Goodland, Eve Hart, Sara Aida Ospino Martinez, Joanne Atkinson Terry, Susan Haigh, Leanne Hughes, Keziah Leary, Jo Walters, Heather Marriott, Anna Hinde, Amy Flo Rutland, Rosalie Fairbairn, Katie Christie, Sasha Watson, Jane Slavin and Hannah Collins.

GUEST POST: How to create a growing Instagram account

Instagram is a platform going through changes. Clodagh Pickavance is Marketing and Communications Manager at Runnymede Borough Council. She also produces a career focused podcast called Comms Hun, which you can listen to here. In this post she talks through what she did to build an Instagram account.

Six tips and tricks for growing your Instagram following

Beautiful bloggers, luxurious locations, inspiring interiors, delicious dishes and pampered pooches. Just a few of the things that spring to mind when thinking about Instagram.

In fact, since its creation in 2010, Instagram has evolved rapidly from a simple photo sharing app (where we may all be guilty of sharing daily dinner snaps back in the day) to its latest incarnation, where video rules. Whether it’s Reels and Stories, the choices are endless, users can even shop in the app.

It’s evident that this social channel has a clear connection to big brands, but what about your local council? How do us comms folks make food waste sexy? Perhaps we can PR our pothole projects here, surely a nice filter should do the trick?

Align your audience with the right channels

I am sure it will come as no surprise when I say there is a time and a place for certain messages. In fact, I am incredibly confident that my fellow marketing maestros will always start off by identifying the best channels to reach the desired target audience.

It might mean adapting our copy and content depending on the channel we are using – or not using certain platforms at all!

That last point is important. Very important – and leads rather nicely into my next point

Think beautiful

How do you personally use Instagram?

I use it to browse and save images of clothes, nail art inspo, dream house interiors, and of course, funny dog videos.

And, if I’m posting myself, you’ll get the best bits. My highlights reel, so to speak; holidays, festivals, birthdays, weddings – and if you’re lucky – pictures of my ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ French Bulldog, Rex.

Largely, Instagram is for escapism. Users want to see beautiful pictures and they want the content to inspire them, whether it’s with a family activity, next stylish staycation, or a new fitness class.

So my first ‘rule’ for Instagram is ‘beautiful content only’. It was the first channel specific rule I implemented when joining Wokingham Borough Council in 2019 and one that thankfully, my then colleagues were on board with.

During the two plus years that I was there the channel grew from 400 followers to more than 3,000. Something that I am incredibly proud to have played an integral part in and which is a real testament to the team’s approach.

This rule will help you to say no to content that doesn’t work for this channel. Government Covid-19 graphics which feature lots of text and unrelatable stock imagery? No, thank you. 

In fact, the vast majority of Covid-19 messaging went out on other platforms such as Facebook or Twitter and if posting or on Instagram, sat predominantly on stories and highlights. And, that’s not to say Covid messaging didn’t reach the grid, but when it did, it was localised, it was visual, and it told a story that resonated with our audience.

What story am I trying to tell? 

There’s a known adage that says “a picture is worth a thousand words”. This is a key mantra when managing an Instagram channel, in fact, this ethos could, and often does supersede the beautiful images only ‘rule’ that I just waxed lyrical about.

However, rules are meant to be broken and for what better reason than if you have a visually interesting story. Since joining my new job at Runnymede Borough Council, I’ve recently taken over running Magna Square’s Instagram page.

Magna Square forms part of a £90m redevelopment project for the Council, transforming the centre of historic Egham, with brand-new residential apartments, shops, restaurants, and more.

As the development is literally being built, I’ve had to get creative with my content. This includes sharing pictures of cranes, an in-situ building site and CGI images. I have pretty much burned my ‘beautiful pictures’ only rule, but, do you know what? We’ve seen a steady increase in followers.

In fact, over four months we’ve jumped from 30 followers to 139! So, what exactly am I trying to tell you? Use your pictures and videos to tell a story. Residents want live updates and behind the scenes insights, as long as what you’re sharing is visually interesting, people will follow along.

Reels, reels, reels

It will come as no surprise when I say Reels are king. Much as stories were introduced to challenge Snapchat, the introduction of Reels challenges social newcomer TikTok.

There’s much internet chatter that says the Instagram algorithm favours Reels over static posts, meaning your audience is much more likely to engage with this medium. I’d be inclined to agree, especially if my own stats are anything to go by.

We recently opened our ultra-modern student accommodation, Parish Hall, at Magna Square. I decided to pull together a quick Reel to showcase the new building. Within hours, the video had clocked up 100 likes and currently sits at 12.5k views. For a seven second video, it was certainly worth the effort.

Cross channel promotion

This is a trick which is easily overlooked, but with some forward planning can drive traffic for your page.

Use your other social media channels to encourage existing followers to join you over on Instagram. Chances are your Facebook followers also use this channel and it’s another chance to catch their attention if they are signed up to your pages on multiple platforms.

Newsletters are also a great way to promote your Instagram page, or any of your social media accounts for that matter.

What to avoid

Graphics with text

I mentioned this briefly earlier, but I personally don’t love text graphics on Instagram. I will sometimes use them if we don’t have a picture that works, but often I find the engagement is lower.

If you must use a graphic which features text, make sure you get the right ratios (1080 x 1080 px). I often remind people to think of the grid as a whole, yes Instagram now has a nifty scaling button, but if you use a wide landscape graphic with text, it’s going to cut the text off in the grid view – and that my friends looks naff.

Hashtag ambiguity

Get specific with your hashtags. If you’re promoting a family friendly activity and simply put #FamilyFun you’ll soon find it’s too wide reaching (with 10.1m tags). You need to hone in on things that your audience might actually search – in my case #SurreyFamily is much more niche with 3.1k tags. 

In addition, it was thought that 10 to 15 hashtags was optimum for increasing your posts reach, but now recent updates from Instagram suggest three to five will do the trick. Make sure you include hashtags in the body of your post.

Slow and steady wins the race

Another piece of advice is don’t get pulled into posting everyday. If you follow the rule of beautiful photos only or visually interesting content you might not have something to post everyday. And that’s ok. If you’re running a public sector account, chances are your content ebbs and flows depending on project timelines and activities taking place. You are better to showcase your best bits, that post substandard items, just for the sake of posting.

Overall…

My main advice when using Instagram is to think of the channel for good news stories. It’s where people go to escape or discover new things, be that your brand-new leisure centre opening or a sunset snap at a local park.

Ultimately, people want to feel proud of where they live and connected to the community. Tell stories, use real people and show off interesting locations.

Clodagh Pickavance is Marketing and Communications Manager at Runnymede Borough Council.

NEXTDOOR DATA: How influentual is Nextdoor becoming?

Landscape

Nextdoor has been quietly making a mark in communities across the UK. Communicators now need to take a long look at this platform. Lucy Salvage has been comparing the Nextdoor v Twitter data.

Forget Twitter. Nextdoor is the social media platform you didn’t know you needed.

Following on from my previous guest blog post on Nextdoor vs Facebook (April 2021) I’ve been doing some further research into how the newer social plaform compares to our old faithfuls.

We’ve known for a while now that the Twittersphere isn’t once what it was and the OfCom stats prove it. Twitter is the main social media account for only 5% of 16-24 year olds, and the older folks don’t rate it much either, with only 4% of 65+ year olds tweeting on the regs.

Ofcom Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes report 2020/21

But it’s not just about the newest Salt Bae memes and trending famouses for getting ‘cancelled’. I was surprised when the majority of our council audience told us that they mostly used Twitter for keeping up to date with news. Not that surprising I guess, coming from people who choose to follow their local council on social media (we can’t all be as good as @MyDoncaster, we can only dream).

More interesting than that I discovered, was the engagement and reach the poll received compared to similar polls on Facebook and Nextdoor. A not too shabby 8,154 people made up of residents and businesses follow Wealden District Council on Twitter – yet only a measly 19 of them responded to our poll, with 47.4% of them saying that news was the main reason they used Twitter. The post itself received 428 impressions – slightly above average for one of our Twitter posts.

@wealdendistrict on Twitter

I put the same question to our 6,029 Facebook followers. The post reached a pitiful 398 people, and only TWO people responded (and one of those was a member of staff!). Not even Destiny’s Child era Beyonce could entice them to take part – her penance was to be permately deleted from the GIF library.

@wealden on Facebook

But this is more interesting still…

A similar poll put to our Nextdoor audience attracted the attention of 2,392 residents. Even more surprisingly 127 of them took part in the poll and confirmed what Twitter had already alluded to – that our audience loves themselves a bit of news. I was very pleased to see that 48% used Nextdoor predominately for news and alerts, especially seeing as this has been the focus of our strategy for posts to this platform.

Wealden District Council on Nextdoor

What the data says

I’m not sure why I was so surprised at the power of polling on Nextdoor compared to that of Facebook and Twitter, as I have seen many times before on organic posts how it knocks the socks off of both for achieving higher rates of impressions and engagement – certainly for Wealden anyway.

This could be for a lot of reasons, but scoring highly is the fact that Nextdoor want public sector authorities to use its platform, and so they want you do well and get good results. They are the only social media platform I’m aware of that offers a personal service targeted at local councils, police forces, fire services and the NHS. Their pesky algorithm isn’t trying to thwart you at every turn and bury your very important messages. It scores particularly highly with me that you can target audiences at a granular level for free at the click of a button. This is another reason I think our posts do particularly well on Nextdoor – because they arrive unfiltered and uninterrupted directly to the people who need to see them.

Here’s a comparison of some recent posts to our council Facebook, Twitter, and Nextdoor account. The messages were all identical. The only difference being with the one highlighted, that it was only sent to residents of Crowborough and its surrounding areas on Nextdoor and not our entire following. The same post was also shared with Crowborough Community Group on Facebook as well as our own Facebook page, and yet Nextdoor was still able to achieve 186 per cent more impressions than the same Facebook post.

Data: Nextdoor v Twitter v Facebook
DateSubjectFacebook ImpressionsFacebook ReactionsTwitter ImpressionsTwitter LikesNextdoor ImpressionsNextdoor Reactions
3/11/21Household Support Fund1,041420101,6273
3/11/21Covid mobile testing (Crowborough)1,8113513285,1737
29/10/21Firework safety8231233005,40014
29/10/21WDC reception still closed57552,1371
5/10/21Fly tipping appeal10,28021,3432  
10/9/21Open spaces consultation10,2881538512,0102

Wealden District Council – social media reach and engagement comparison

We had just as well not bothered with Twitter. In fact, when putting this table together and seeing the data side by side for the first time, I did wonder why we bother with Twitter at all when the reach and engagement is so poor. We’ve tried threading, and not including links to other sites to appease Twitter’s algorithm, as well of course being strategic with our use of hashtags, but the numbers just never seem to change.  As you’ll also see from the table, there are instances when I have chosen not to post some stories on Twitter at all, as I know full well it won’t perform anywhere near as well as Facebook and Nextdoor.

One thing I can be certain of, is that our audience loves a good fly-tip and any news relating to the possible development of open spaces in the district. Nextdoor may certainly trump Twitter when it comes to the performance of posts on these topics, but where I’m from, Facebook will always knock it out of the park if so much as a crisp packet or brick is out of place.

Time to venture Nextdoor

I’ve seen a lot of posts over the last 18 months from social media managers saying that they’re “thinking” about venturing into Nextdoor, but either haven’t gotten around to it yet, or haven’t been brave enough to test the water. As I mentioned in my previous blog on the subject, I was incredibly sceptical about what it could bring to the social media table. Not often am I happy to be proved wrong, but in this case as a long-time lover of Twitter I will happily state on record that in the workplace, if it were Twitter and Nextdoor face to face in the dance off, I’d be voting for Nextdoor to stay and dance another week leaving Twitter to waltz off into the sunset.

Sadly, this is not a paid for ad, and I am not on any commission with Nextdoor although I probably should be. For anyone who has been unsure up until now, I hope that the data speaks for itself and you’re tempted to dive straight in. Your engagement stats will thank you for it.

Lucy Salvage is Media and Communications Officer at Wealden District Council.

FACEBOOK DATA: How important are Facebook groups? Membership is booming and there’s new tools

People are joining Facebook groups more in 2021 with an astonishing 79 per cent surge in memberships.

That’s the headline stat of a rolling data project I’ve carried out over the past years to look at how one district is embracing the platform.

In October 2021, in Braintree, Essex there are almost 940,000 individual memberships of Facebook groups in the district – up from 521,000 the year before.

In the week where Mark Zuckerburg announced a raft of new tools for Facebook groups this is further evidence of the vitality and importance of groups on then platform.

What is a Facebook group?

A Facebook group is an online community where people with a shared interest can connect. They can be communities of interest that have come together or they can be geographic communities building themselves a space online. Here, a village, town or housing estate can build their own Facebook group.

The trend for groups mirrors an established trend away from the open market of discussion and towards more private walled gardens.

Facebook’s own data from 2020 would suggest that two thirds of all Facebook users use Facebook groups. That figure is likely to have increased.

Admins of Facebook groups are responsible for content and good order and have long been more influential in their community than the local patch newspaper reporter.

What does the data say?

The trend is upwards as the data shows there are more memberships of groups.

For the past five years I’ve collected data from Braintree in Essex a district of 150,000 39 miles from London. Braintree is a new town largely built in the 1960s top house the overspill from the capital. It has the same problems that face other urban areas.

Surrounding the town is a rural district of small towns and villages with the mix of urban and rural making it an ideal mix to study.

Memberships boom in Braintree

In Braintree, Facebook group membership is booming with the 940,000 memberships set against a backdrop of a population of 147,000. That works out as 6.3 memberships per head of population.

Back in 2017, the number of Facebook group memberships was almost half the current number on just less than half a million.

Groups in Braintree can range from the parish noticeboard of the small village group of Little Bardfield Online with 271 members to the 13,000 who belong to the Braintree Hub.

They can also reflect existing networks such as Steeple Bumstead Badminton Club (47 members) or Rayne Neighbourhood Watch (585 members).

They can be self-organised protest groups, such as the Hatfield Peverel Delay and Repay group set-up with 86 frustrated commuters or Parishes Against Incinerator with more than 5,000 members.

Elsewhere, you don’t have to go far to understand the demise of local newspaper small ads. Braintree Sales (4,400 members) is one of dozens of selling sites where people can sell unwanted bikes, pushchairs or guitars. Jobs in Braintree Essex has more than 5,000 members.

Overall, in 2021 the number of groups also rose – by 219 per cent – to 721 across the district.

Pages rise but find it harder to cut through

The study also found that the number of pages had also risen but the 14 per cent increase to 1,128 lags in pace behind groups in the same area.

Facebook data also shows that less page content is being shown in people’s timelines than groups or updates from friends and family. Just 14.3 per cent of your timeline is from pages while 19.3 per cent is from groups and 57 per cent from friends and family.

In short, there are more pages chasing fewer organic slots.

New tools and Facebook groups in the metaverse

A further indication of Facebook’s love affair with groups are the increased number of tools being created for the platform.

Over the past 12-months, the creep of groups has increased as content from groups you don’t follow is being slipped into your timeline if it’s relevant to you and if the group is public.

When I post in the Old Football Grounds group I’m in I end up with related content from other groups.

Facebook announced more tools at the Facebook Communities summit in 2021.

Fundraisers, sponsorship, shops, paid sub-groups and other transactional things have been announced.

But beyond that, groups are also part of the metaverse idea. In a nutshell, this is using technology to share experiences.

“Groups and communities are going to be an important part of the [metaverse] vision. When we can’t be together the metaverse will get us closer.”

Mark Zuckerburg, Facebook Communities Summit 2021

Now, what he metaverse is trying to be and could be is up for discussion but again its a sign of direction of travel that groups are part of the plan.

For me, I can see the functionality making it easier to run events online.

To learn how to better engage with Facebook groups sign-up for the ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER programme that shows you this and other skills. More here.

GUEST POST: Social media content: how to plan in advance

Doncaster Council have won admiration for their wit and style on social media. But how do they manage the clamour for content? NICK FROMONT their digital communications manager explains how.

Planning. It’s always a vital part of any comms campaign.

Many of my colleagues successfully create and execute plans that look ahead days, weeks, even months in advance. But when you’re working in the world of digital comms it’s not quite as easy.

How do you plan in the fast moving, immediate world of social media, where successful content can still be engaging days after clicking ‘post’ and your reaction to relevant trending topics can boost your campaign in ways you were neve expecting days before?

The wonder of Trello

One thing we’ve found vital at Doncaster Council to help us plan our social media output is Trello. For those that don’t know Trello, it’s a free web application which allows you to work and manage projects collaboratively – and it includes a calendar feature! Here’s how a blank one looks:

 But why do we like it so much? Well…

  • We’ve got our own social media content calendar board which all the members of our team have access to. That means they have easy access to see what’s planned to go out when – particularly useful in the last 18 months when we’ve all been working remotely.
  • You can create separate cards for each piece of content, and provide further information when you click into it if needed.
  • You can assign separate card to team members so others know who’s working on it.
  • You can label each card with lovely colour coded labels – we use ours to label the platforms we plan to post on to, here they are in all their glory.
  • It’s really easy to move cards around and change dates if needed – as we know, social media planning can be really fluid, so this makes having a rethink when needed much easier.

Here’s an example of one of our days content showing the contents and labels:

Don’t plan too far ahead

So we’ve got the platform to plan our content, but how do we actually use it? Well first of all, we try not to plan too far ahead. We’re aware of longer-term landmarks, council projects and key dates that we pencil into the diary, but on the whole, we find short term content planning works best. Social media is such an immediate and ever-changing landscape that getting bogged down in longer term planning just wouldn’t be useful or effective. As a rule, we work on a week-to-week basis.

Work out when and where

Every Monday morning, it’s about sorting the content for the week – what do we have on the list to go out? From there it’s about deciding which platforms will be best to reach the target audience for each message and labelling them up. Then we’ll then work out when each message should be posted to give each post the best change possible of successfully engaging. For instance, post too many messages on Facebook on the same day and some of them will simply get lost in the algorithm, as it pushes the best performing posts up people’s timelines. With that in mind we try and space out where and when to post messages on each day.

Leave a bit of space – you never know what might crop up

Most importantly, we’ll always keep room in our schedule for any last minute stories and content changes. We’ve all been there. The last minute desperate calls about a vital story that needs to go out that afternoon – if you haven’t got the space to move things around to fit it in then you might be in trouble!

Another reason we leave space is just in case something starts trending on social media – and we think there’s an opportunity for us to jump on the trend. Obviously there’s no way of knowing what’s going to be trending from one day to the next, so we always need to be prepared to spot something and move quickly to try and engage with our own messages within a trending topic.

At Doncaster Council, we’ve had plenty of examples of this over the years, whether it’s using a trending hashtag or repurposing a successful meme, but these posts ALWAYS need to be timely. A perfect example was a post we did on the European Super League. There was no way this could have been planned beforehand, the story broke on the Sunday afternoon and by Monday this post had gone out and ‘gone viral’.

Make sure everyone’s happy

As a management team we’ll then meet and go through the board to make sure everyone’s happy, we’ve got all the information we need and everything’s covered. This meeting also provides a chance to discuss the approach for posts, what we might still need from the service and any last minutes changes that might crop up.

Time to get to work

Then it’s just about prepping and posting the content, and being prepared for the next big trending topic that we can somehow change to a message about fly-tipping or bin collections!

And don’t worry, no matter how much planning you do, there always be that last minute bit of content that needs tweeting straight away, but we’ve found that following these little tips have really helped our messages be as successful as possible across all of our social media channels

Nick Fromont is digital communications manager at Doncaster Council.

30 days of human comms: #80 The American diplomats trying Scottish cuisine for #COP26

The COP26 conference has been billed as the last drink in the last chance saloon for climate change.

World leaders have gathered in Glasgow to discuss ways to keep the damage to a minimum.

The US mission has used the opportunity for soft power. To charm the locals. Not the British locals but the Scottish locals.

It’s a well trodden path on TikTok and YouTube for people to film their reactions trying different food. This American trying British candy here has 3.7 million views, for example.

So, for diplomats to try this in a Twitter video is inspired.

It’s especially inspired because Scottish food contains some gems that are at home on the menu of a Michelin starred restaurant and some that Rab C. Nesbitt would be at home eating on a street corner.

There’s also the curve ball of Haggis. Yes, it involves sheeps innards.

Yes, they get told seconds before they put it in their mouth.

Take a look.

As with all reaction videos, the reactions make it.

Irn Bru?

“That’s quite something.”

Cullen Skink?

“Cullen Skunk?”

“I could eat that all day long.”

Haggis?

“Sheep heart, lungs and liver? You probably shouldn’t sell it with that.”

Magnificently self deprocating and human.

If they held COP27 in Stoke-on-Trent I expect the same only with bacon oatcakes and pikelets.

YOUNG DATA: What Beatfreaks’ The 2nd Dose youth insights can teach communicators

A marketing manager who has clocked-up 21 million likes on TikTok was asked why her organisation – a museum – were using TikTok.

‘Because we want to reach under 24s, don’t you’, was her answer.

The answer in pretty much all organisations should be that yes, the under 24s are pretty important. But I suspect there reemains a block amongst communicators.

I get why. Time is limited. People who are commissioning your work may not see that age group as important. Properly reaching them means learning a new set of skills with a new set of channels and that’s an extra task in a busy day.

Part of the block is also not understanding the age group. This is where Beatfreeks’ The 2nd Dose youth trends research comes in really handy. With a younger audience, I’ve long advocated talking with them to work out what’s important and how best to reach them.

I’m a bloke in my 40s. I don’t know from lived experience what this demographic think. I’d head to insight and I’d ask them which is what the report does,

Why is this research handy? It’s UK-based. Its data collection is also late 2021 and mid-pandemic.

Here’s what public sector people need to know

First, the brass tacks.

What’s Generation Z?

Generation Z are people who were born from the late 1990s to 2010. That means they’re aged 11 to to around 24. For the purpose of the Beatfreaks report its 16 to 24.

They’re the group who succeeded Millennials who are born from 1981 to 1996. In 2021, these are aged 25 to 40.

What the report says

89 per cent of Gen Z think of themselves as creative people

In other words, people who are used to making, selecting, clicking and dreaming have a set of skills where creating is the norm.

I’ve often spoken to someone whose aim is to make video as good as their son or daughter. This quantifies it.

A crucial factor is that there are simply more outlets and opportunities to exercise creativity than ever before. First, the (sometimes) democratising internet has rendered it’s users curators of their own museums and galleries, stockers of their own newsstands, DJs on their own stations, window dressers of their own arcades. We’re all now faced with an almost endless number of options for content, our feeds becoming more and more personal, where we can pick what to consume and when we want to consume it.

Beatfreeks 2nd Dose Report

But anxiety is widespread and empathy is valued

37 per cent anxious at big events, the report says. The long shadow of COVID-19 hasn’t gone.

Mental health problems which were prevalent amongst Gen Z before lockdown haven’t gone.

Anxiety is changing how people think. The report says that this was the case pre-COVID-19 and the pandemic has accelerated that. Those with teenagers at home can relate to this.

Five children in a classroom of 30 are likely to have a mental health problem, they quote the Childrens Society as saying.

Empathy is highly valued, their research says.

They believe in equality and want to shape the future

This is a group who know they have years ahead of them and want to change the world they live in, the report says.

Black Lives Matter, climate emergency and other campaigns have left a mark. They believe in equality and they want to change in work and out of it.

But 92 per cent thought that the pandemic was a chance to make positive changes.

To respect a brand, the report says, it needs to be making an improvement in the world.

One of things which has been made clear throughout by this group, as well as many others, is that matters of equality, diversity and inclusion, are not going to go away. Pressure has mounted in the mainstream over the past two years.

Diversity cannot just sit across marketing and HR but rather needs to be embedded in all parts of corporate strategy.


Working with Gen Z on their vision of the future is the most effective way to sustain organisations and build the Institutions of the Future. In understanding, learning from and working with young people to
forge culture, to change narratives, and to challenge norms, organisations will slowly begin to change today, so that they’re still around tomorrow.

Beatfreeks The 2nd Dose report

This optimism is good to see but it needs to be tapped into by those who can tap into it.

Social media is positively embedded in Gen Z

For good and for ill social media is something that is part of the life of a 16 to 24-year-old.

The report says that 99 per cent of this demographic use at least one platform but how they use it can be different to how older people use it. That chimes with Ofcom data.

We’re told that young people are slaves to their tablets and are missing out. The data says that’s not broadly true.

Social media is seen by the majority as a positive with 60 per cent said it brightened their day – four times as many as had a negative view.

We need, and rely on, these platforms to connect, for escape, for belonging.

Whilst there is little debate about the evolution of our use of social media, we still often settle for the dated and aged view that social media = anxiety.

Beatfreeks The 2nd Dose report

Interestingly, there are a range of reasons why young people use social media. Education, for friends and for entertainment were amongst the most popular.

Older people may use it to check football scores or keep in touch with family. Young people’s use is far more broad than that. It’s a cornerstone of their life.

What content works best? Visual story telling.

Career isn’t important but doing something they love is

A further trend is that career isn’t really something that’s a strong motivator.

More than half say they feel burnt out with salary, work life balance and good people to work with important.

Perhaps surprisingly, they aren’t bothered about working exclusively remotely. Just eight per cent want this – that’s a third of the rest of the population.

Conclusion

For public sector communicators, the Generation Z demographic who fit into the 16 to 24 age group are a demographic at home with social media whose lives are improved by it.

They want to improve the world they live in and value empathy and equality.

They are an audience of their own and what’s also clear is that they should be treated as an audience in their own right. If you want to reach them you need to understand them and create content that’s pitched to them.

It’s tempting to think that the Facebook page post will reach everyone. It won’t and this is further evidence.

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