COVID COMMS #33: Direct content is punching through the COVID-19 fatigue

A few days ago I blogged about the need for direct communications to cut through to people.

I’m so pleased to see that others independently had reached the same conclusions.

Why this change of tack?

Because people have grown tired and the messages of last March have blunted with new ones needed.

Reasons to be cheerful

There are things to be encouraged by.

Trust in local institutions remains and there are lots of trust in local voices.

Besides, perhaps surprisingly, the number of people sticking to the rules hasn’t dropped that much. Ask the BMJ who have blogged the results of surveys that show this and also highlight the danger in the circulating the perception this isn’t true.

This means that the right messages can still land if they are refined.

In this stage of the pandemic, the message has become urgently more direct, hard hitting and human.

For me, this also confirms the ages-old truism that news is people. Or to rephrase it, people connect with people. The old lessons I learned in a newsroom as a junior reporter are still relevant.

The human story of the COVID-19 victim

This post from Telford &Wrekin Council punches you between the eyes. It is a real person, a resident of Telford, called Sharn telling her story in her own words in a post shared with pictures.

You see her healthy at Christmas and you see also the images of her deteriorating.

I was admitted last Sunday and Tuesday I thought I was leaving in a box as I couldn’t breathe unattended!! I have never been so scared and alone in my life thinking you are never going to see your children again is torture.Fortunately I’m getting stronger everyday so will be home soon. Sadly not everyone is as fortunate so many bodies leaving this hospital it’s awful… TAKE THIS VIRUS SERIOUSLY GUYS

Sharn, aged 34, Telford, January 2021.

In 20 hours the post has been shared 2,400 times and there have been 1,100 comments. Scrolling through them they look almost entirely positive with messages to Sharn wishing her a speedy recovery.

Sharn gave her permission for her story to be featured.

This is the kind of content that has cut through. Telford & Wrekin Council’s Kellie Thompson who is responsible for the content deserves enormous credit.

The human story of the workers at the temporary morgue

But it’s not just content for Facebook.

All age groups use traditional media the most to find out COVID-19 information, Ofcom say. Surprisingly, eight out of 10 16 to 24-year-olds turn to these channels for their pandemic updates.

In this BBC content, Surrey County Council worked with traditional media to feature the new temporary morgue built in woodland as an overflow as the morgues in the county’s hospitals are full.

In the footage, we see the construction, the empty racks for the dead bodies and interviews with staff who work there. The BBC in this clip are at pains not to film the bodies out of respect for the families of the dead.

The Local Resilience Forum spokesman sets out the big picture and Kirsty the re-deployed Surrey police detective talks about the numbers increasing not decreasing.

Credit to Andrea Newman’s team at Surrey County Council for this.

You can watch the clip on the BBC website here.

The human response in the Facebook post

Also in Surrey, Surrey Heath Borough Council are also in the eye of the storm with rising infection and death rates. Like many other public sector organisations they’ve been posting the official messages but have been facing the rising tide of abuse, frustration and conspiracy theories.

Credit to Joanne Atkinson and the team for using a very human approach. In the post they dispense with the well worn government graphics and throw their hands in the air. We get it, they say. We’re all fed-up. So are we. But because the rates are so high we have to keep playing our parts.

The response is positive. In 20-hours, there’s been 98 shares, 15 positive comments and 168 positive reactions. This is a good response.


These are three examples of content that capture the current direction of travel. I’m sure there are many more.

Directness can work.

The more direct and human appears to be cutting through to people online. It is, of course, a different matter as to whether or not these messages convert into action.

I’m so impressed at the work of public sector people right now. That needs to be repeated as sometimes those at the coalface don’t always see the bigger picture. If that’s you, thank you for what you are doing.

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