COMMS CHALLENGE: How could public sector organisations challenge post-truth?

‘It wasn’t supposed to be like this,’ is the first line of a blog post about post-truth and the internet I never got around to finishing.

Why didn’t I finish it? Maybe because the very tools that I had such faith in when I first came across the social web are the tools that have helped make facts redundant.

If you work in PR or communications you need to know that there is much thinking, reflecting and most importantly doing that you need to do about post-truth.

Stephen Waddington has written a tremendous contribution to this debate as a manifesto for public relations in a post truth world. I suggest you read it and let it soak in. This doesn’t have all the answers but the questions it asks are the right ones.

So what?

Steven is dead right to identify that Trump and Brexit had the stronger message and appealed to the heart not the head.

He’s right to identify that news cycles are gone and will go. The Trump cycle of bombarding the internet and then moving on has proved effective.

Stephen also makes a valuable point:

If you’re working on a campaign for 2017 use tools to establish a hypothesis and then put them down and go into the real world to talk, and more importantly listen to your publics.

He’s also right to say that social capital will play a part in whatever comes next. What’s social capital? It’s the undefinable credit you get for doing something good, kind or useful. You can find it everywhere. In the classroom when you were a kid when you lent someone a pencil. In the office when you pick-up someone’s slack. But here’s a confession. I’ve always struggled with the term. It works for academics. It doesn’t work outside the boardroom or the classroom.

I prefer thinking of it as people who give a stuff.

So, how does a public sector organisation challenge post-truth? Why, on Facebook, stupid

Let’s take the myth that the council’s Deputy Leader gets paid £100,000 for doing his council job. It’s a disgrace. It’s almost more than the Prime Minister. Only, it’s not true.

Where can you find that myth? You don’t have to go far on a community Facebook group or page to find something like it. There are hundreds in every town and city. Even the smallest village usually has one.

So, how do we challenge that?

Shouldn’t council comms people be going to Facebook groups and pages as individuals to engage – factually not personally – with people?

If you think you are too busy, how is it working out for you not engaging?

This is a difficult question to answer. But I’m convinced it needs to be worked out. I did a small part of this myself for five years while looking after the corporate Twitter and Facebook. I added my name because I wanted people to know I was a real person. Was it tiring? Actually it was. Not physically, but mentally if you are doing it round the clock.

What do you think?


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  1. Totally agree. The terms social capital, engagement and, as Stephen mentions ‘community’, just get in the way of people interacting. In some cases they can switch people off.

    Be it residents with each other, frontline staff with residents or staff in different services working together … people relate to people not processes or committees and boards.

  2. I think it’s a difficult ask – asking comms people to go into online (often hostile) discussions and fight the council’s corner, under their own name.

    I know we’re not in this world any more, but traditionally the comms person’s name was known only to the media and yes, you represented the council and were often its voice, but your name was never publicly attached to that representation. The world has moved on admittedly but there’s still some reluctance and trepidation in suddenly putting yourself and your profile on the front line of defence.

    There’s something that jars as well about being seen as that person who always wades in to protect the faceless bureaucratic beast. Who is seen to defend it to the hilt.

    Maybe it stems from the comms person’s regular experience of dealing with the nasty, the hostile, the unreasonable, the conspiracy theorists, the ones who never forget or forgive or let things legitimately move on.

    We’ve always talked about having ambassadors, those independent third party voices who understand the issue and the facts and are willing and prepared to do the council’s bidding for us. A good, solid ambassador is a hen’s tooth or rocking horse muck though so do we do it ourselves? I think it’s the right idea – to a degree. It just sits a bit uneasily with me, still.

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