We’re at a funny stage of the pandemic.
Today is May 17 2021, and pubs in England are re-opening their indoor premises to customers who previously had to shiver outside in beer gardens.
Elsewhere, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland are travelling at a different pace but the mood music is we’re over the worst.
The dark cloud on the horizon is the India variant where 250,000 have died of COVID-19 and forecasts say a million is in sight before its over.
In the UK, the Indian variant is troubling public health people.
So, how is the latest pandemic chapter playing out on Facebook?
I had a look.
People in Facebook groups have stopped talking about COVID
I looked at 25 Facebook groups across the Black Country on Sunday May 16 to see how much COVID-19 content there was.
I also mapped the four Black Country council’s Facebook pages and the four NHS Trusts in the region.
Just 2.4 per cent of Facebook group conversations were about COVID-19. This includes Brierley Hill and Halesowen which has an outbreak of Indian variant.
It’s not there.
Content in Facebook groups about COVID-19
In short, people in groups are disinterested and talking about other things.
Hey, its been 12-months and we’re all bored of it, right?
Over on pages, the COVID public sector content isn’t cutting through
On public sector pages, artwork carrying central and local messages simply aren’t landing.
Even without seeing each posts’ insights its clear that nobody is sharing them.
I’ve a lot of time for public sector comms people these past 12-months. Barely able to look up from their kitchen table work stations they are time poor and tired.
But its important to be clear that the content being posted is ticking a box but not much more.
It appears the question is not to ask how many people have seen it let alone what they have done as a result of it.
In the snapshot survey of public sector pages, 23.7 per cent of content was COVID-19 related.
Content in public sector pages featuring COVID-19 on NHS and council pages
The content is certainly there.
The problem is it’s just not getting shared.
Of the analysis of four councils and four NHS Trusts, the median number of shares per post was just two.
Twenty of the 80 posts were pandemic-related. Seven were national government or NHS while eight were locally made. The majority was a text called to action on image.
The data shows its not being shared.
Public sector COVID-19 content with shares per post
One piece of content that did connect was Dudley Council’s warning of the Indian variant in Brierley Hill which received 81 shares. It highlighted a local matter in two places in the borough. It did not have high production values but that doesn’t matter if the message is important.
Message fatigue and pandemic weariness means COVID-19 content is largely not cutting through.
I absolutely don’t blame individual comms people for this. Overworked, under paid and often sworn at online daily they are just trying to get through the day.
This describes the problem but there are clues for a solution.
Firstly, generic national messages don’t work. Twelve months into the pandemic, its time to retire this routine generic content. Like a man on a bus with his face mask half off it’s more harm than good.
The only content that does cut through is localised warnings for named areas and human stories which also carry a message.
When I’ve blogged before, locally-made content worked best as does content with real people.
For example, Telford & Wrekin Council’s story of Sharn the coronavirus hospital survivor led to 3,400 shares, St Helen’s Council’s 340 shares of the coronavirus case study and 800 shares for Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust’s doctors fronting their warning video.
Then theres chef Marcus Warning’s reminder to follow the rules with 500,000 views on the St George’s NHS Foundation Trust Facebook page.
The content that works has people in it or at the very least has local areas listed.
This leads to a conclusion of less is more.
People stories and video work.
So do local messages with local place names.
This means concentrating efforts on better made efforts that will take more time to create but are more effective.
Facebook pages included in the snapshot were Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, Dudley Council, Sandwell Council, Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust, Wolverhampton Council, Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, Walsall Council and Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust.
Facebook groups in the Black Country included in the study were in Dudley borough, Halesowen Times Take Two, Safe at Home Quarry Bank, Spotted Dudley, I’m From Dudley and Bromley / Pensnett and Brierley Hill Local Issues.
In Wolverhampton, Finchfield, Merry Hill, Penn, Castle Croft Community group, WV11 – Ashmore Park, Wolverhampton COVID-19 Mutual Aid, Bushbury Fordhouses and Oxley Neighbourhood Watch.
In Walsall, Brownhills Bob, Walsall Wood Community Group, Rushall Now, Walsall Chit Chat and Natter and Walsall For All.
In Sandwell, The Oldbury Page, West Bromwich Updates, Roeley Rergis Page, Blackheath / Rowley Regis Page, Spotted Tipton and Dudley Port and We Are Smethwick.
The first 25 posts in each Facebook group as served by the algorithm were assessed along with the previous 10 of page posts.