GUEST POST: Writing with empathy, like a human being

Human comms is something that works. We can sometimes forget to do iut as a communicator. Catherine Molloy shows how it can be easily done.

It is the responsibility of the communicator to be understood. But beyond that, it is the responsibility of the communicator to write in such a way as to evoke the desired response. Do acronyms and council-ism’s help you to be understood? Do they encourage a positive response? Referring to ‘Members’ rather than ‘Councillors’? Referring to the ‘AQAP’ rather than the Air Quality Assessment report? Many still feel that writing to customers’ needs to be a version of a 1970s formal letter….

“Dear Resident, I am writing on behalf of the Council regarding your application for…….”.

Stop! Stop! Stop!

Our written communication needs to be show we are human. We need to use ‘normal’ language, demonstrate understanding, show we care in finding a solution or listening to the problem…. ultimately, we need to show empathy.  It is only when we communicate on a human level that guards come down, anger and frustrations fade away to be replaced by acceptance and perhaps even understanding.

As communicators we know all of this and like me, you probably spend much of your time trying to explain this to others in your organisation or rewriting letters, emails, web copy etc etc.

To aid you in your internal endeavours, I offer my tips for writing with empathy.

Tips for writing with empathy

Think about how you like people to talk you

How do you feel when you receive an overtly formal email? Chances are your customers will have the same reaction. Stop, think and write as you would like to be spoken to – open, honest and not overloaded with information.

Throw out that template email / letter – how old is that thing?

How many iterations from different people has it had? Let’s not create work for ourselves but at the very least begin an email should refer to the specific correspondence you have received. Of course that is not…”I refer to your letter of 6 November 2021..” but rather “I can appreciate your frustration and I would like to help you. Let me start by recapping on the situation…..”

Treat people as important

You may have received the same query / complaint from numerous other people, but individual circumstances differ, and we should take the time to acknowledge that.

Show your personality in your writing

That doesn’t mean writing as if you were replying to What’s app message of course, but the reader should be able to get a sense of you from your writing (or your Chief Executive or Leader if you are writing for someone else).

In a world where people are bombarded by so many pieces of written communications each day, it is those written with empathy and thought that will stand out and positivity support us in our work with our communities.

Catherine Malloy is communications manager at Elmbridge Borough Council in Surrey.

GUEST POST: Three ways to re-purpose your content and grow your public sector LinkedIn page

LinkedIn is sometimes a tough nut to crack. But it can be a positive channel as Connor McLoughlin of Wokingham Borough Council says.

LinkedIn? Shouldn’t we give control to HR? That’s where people go to find a new job right?’ 

Sure, it can be used for recruitment, it’s where people go to talk about work after all.

But LinkedIn is a legitimate news feed. And it’s one where we can adjust our messages to help reach more even more of our residents and partners.

Since we opened our account at Wokingham Borough Council two and a half years ago, we’ve more than doubled our followers by repurposing content with the right emphasis. 

As this has grown, we’ve found that more people who see our content each month has trended upwards (see graph below). 

Chart, line chart

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You don’t start with a NextDoor-sized following (those generous people giving us five-figure audiences), but you’ll probably have a few thousand. We started at 2,500.

We’ll top 400,000 impressions in 2021 and that’s the kind of awareness which I’m sure all public bodies want to tap into.  

Easier to repurpose

The Ofcom Online Nation 2021 report says 27 per cent of adults aged 16 or older use LinkedIn, making it the sixth most popular social media platform. 

But crucially it’s the third most popular where the content is arguably not video-led, like Instagram (second), YouTube (third), Snapchat (fifth), and TikTok (eighth).

Your Facebook and Twitter content is more easily put onto LinkedIn than any other channel. 

If you’re lucky enough to have one of those social media scheduling tools, you might just need to tick an extra box and make a few changes to your copy.

A simple change to emphasis, or bringing something else to the fore, maximises engagement for LinkedIn. Things we find which always work are:

  • Shout about great news for your area
  • Leverage your partners on shared projects
  • Celebrate your colleagues and their successes

Example: Safe place for successes

For example, this post about the borough being a healthy place to live here.

And this post about investment.

We find LinkedIn is a place where our great news for our business and our area are celebrated by our audiences. 

New film studios in our area and our borough coming top of the ONS health index (see above) are two examples of this in 2021. Both had more impressions (6,000+) than we have followers (less than 4,500 at the time of posting).

On Facebook these items were dampened with pessimism from a few residents, the type all local authorities deal with on that channel.

But on LinkedIn we only see positivity and it helps us to higher engagement rates. Colleagues, residents and partners amplify this with their networks and help us celebrate the success.

We are always happy to be the hook people work from to promote something themselves.

Example: Celebrating teamwork

Here’s another example this time also involving video.

And also this post here.

In the public sector partnership working is essential. It’s also essential it’s celebrated. 

We find when we draw these partnerships out in our LinkedIn posts, tagging our partners in, they always perform better. 

The companies/businesses, and sometimes their staff, we work alongside want to mark these too. People are proud to work with us and bring benefits to our residents.

We’re fortunate to have several large construction projects taking place across the area, linked to additional housing in our borough in recent years.

There’s also a chance to share content, hence some of the excellent video content we’ve been able to promote in the last 12 months.

Put your colleagues at the front of the story

Our work is done by great people. LinkedIn is the right place to talk about them and what they do for us.

Look at your stories. It might work better on LinkedIn if instead of talking about the thing, we talk about the person who did the thing. 

Or we make sure we factor the people who were involved into the wording of a post in a way we wouldn’t on another channel.

We’ve all had to re-nose a news story or press release, apply the same to your social content for LinkedIn and you’ll see the engagements jump up.

And if you are using LinkedIn for recruitment, no potential staff member is going to be deterred by a workplace that shouts about the great work of its colleagues. 

But what does the data tell us?

These points of focus have helped us more than double our following in two years, with consistent growth in the number of people who see our content and engage with it. 

In the last year, we’ve seen total engagements alongside audiences of local authorities with followings five times ours (see table below). LinkedIn provides this data for ‘competitors’ in its native analytics if you’re interested. 

There’s no competition for audience but it helps to know if what we’re doing is resonating and providing value to those who do see our content relative to similar organisations.

CouncilFollowersPostsEngagementsAverage engagements per postEngagements to followers ratio
Wokingham Borough Council5,6402888,39329.141.4881
County council 126,1112168,54339.550.3272
County council 226,6741958,77745.010.3290
New, large unitary4,9834887,01614.381.4080
Similar sized unitary6,5362412,84811.820.4357

Data correct as of 13 December 2021

Make it work for you

If it’s a channel you’re already using or one you’re looking to unlock, these are a great place to start with adapting some of your content from other channels. 

Lift and shift. Repurpose with purpose. It won’t involve a 9:16 video. 

You could bring lots more eyeballs on some of your biggest projects and get to highlight your perfect partnerships or celebrate your colleagues. After the last few years, we could all do with a bit of the latter. 

Connor McLoughlin is senior communication, engagement and marketing specialist at Wokingham Borough Council.

NEWS NUMBERS: Reach plc websites reach more UK people than the BBC

Here’s something public sector communicators need to know.

Reach plc’s combined websites reached more people in the UK than the BBC.

The figures were announced by Ipsos Iris which form the new UKOM audience data.

Here they are in the list as the highest UK channel in 5th behind global brands Alphabet (i.e. Google) Meta (i.e. Facebook), Amazon and Microsoft.

Why is this significant?

It’s significant because it represents a reminder of the importance of traditional media and that they are re-inventing themselves.

It’s a reminder to take local media seriously.

Reach plc have more than 100 print newspaper titles and more than a dozen web presences like Staffordshire Live. They also have national titles The Daily Express and Daily Mirror.

Reach have done some great work with changing from the traditional print focussed model to the hybrid of print and web.

The flipside is that I’ve questioned Reach plc’s lack of policing of online comments in the past and the BBC remain the most trusted news brand in the UK.

LONG READ: Predictions for public sector comms in 2022

The most critical time in any battle, Craig D. Lounsbrough once wrote, is not when you’re fatigued, it’s when you no longer care.

Fatigue is certainly something familiar to public sector communicators but no-one can accuse them of not caring.

If anything, I think those in NHS, local and central government, police and fire care a little too much.

Here is a list of predictions for 2022 after two years of pandemic.

Predictions I got right for 2021

It’s going to be a tough year. Up there with death and taxes this is the most obvious thing to get right.

There has also been an avalanche of mental health problems. Almost two thirds of public sector comms people have reported their mental health deteriorating.

Disinformation and misinformation has been vital. It’s a battle that against anti-vaxxers has been won. On Facebook, bright teams across the UK did start to recruit an army of volunteers. Locally-made content did in the end prove more effective than the generic national message.

Equality in PR did fail to improve. Social media teams did face the brunt of online abuse. The age of comms teams did continue to age without there beinga flow of new younger talent.

Media relations did become more important as people looked to traditional news for pandemic updates.

Predictions I didn’t get right

Given the numbers, I thought they’d be more WhatsApp for Business use to tackle disinformation. Deepfakes remains a fringe issue not mainstream as the tech improves. The knowledge gap with AI and PR in the public sector didn’t close despite best efforts. Issues surrounding Brexit remained local or regional as the pandemic took priority.

PREDICTIONS FOR 2022

WORKPLACE

  • Yes, it will be harder still. Sorry.
  • Health and Safety. Communicators will wise-up and realise that Health and Safety legislation around online abuse covers them too. This represents a final maturing of the field. The risk of not taking these steps for the organisation will be an expensive lesson through litigation.
  • Gap months to recharge will be more common. Buoyed by a low unemployment and burnt out by two years of pandemic public sector comms people will increasingly feel able to walk off the job, recharge with gap months away safe in the knowledge they’ll likely find work on their return.
  • A dip in political authority. In England, the weaker grip on authority shown by Boris Johnson will make this a tougher year. Communicators will be asked to communicate messages that more will push back on. They will need to localise the message. This will be most pronounced in England but with trust in politicians taking a battering Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland PR need also to take account of this.
  • Brexit again. As the full implications of withdrawal from Europe come into force this will cause problems for public sector communicators.
  • Staffing the rota. It will be harder to keep the wheels turning as staff numbers suffer from retention problems, COVID-19 outbreaks in the team and growing expectations on what the team can do. You think you can do business and usual as well as COVID comms for a third year? Things and people WILL be falling over.
  • Decision making across the board will be poorer. In the US, firefighters have a bank of learning from incidents that last months. Chief amongst this is proper rest. Why? Because decision making suffers without time to recharge. The UK hasn’t grasped this strategically, at government level or tactically. This will roll downhill to the comms team.
  • Diversity continues to be overlooked. We’re aware of the problems posed by having a middle aged white workforce in PR. Doing something about it is another thing.

TECHNOLOGY

  • The AI gap grows. Some great work has been done by the CIPR in this field to encourage communicators to learn about how Artificial Intelligence can affect their jobs. The pressure of the inbox means a lack of strategic thinking to properly embrace this.
  • TikTok. This will be the year when this platform continues to breakthrough and becomes a solid way to reach all ages and not just under 24s. This will open up if you love the platform or hate it. I’m not convinced the public sector realises this.
  • Organic Facebook continues to wither. Just chucking your content onto a corporate page will continue to be, as the kids say, a dick move. It won’t be reaching many people. An ad strategy or a strategy for connecting with groups continues to be vital.
  • Video continues to soar. No surprises to hear me talk about this. It’s a continuing trend. 5G will make it easier as will social media’s obsession with copying TikTok.
  • Upright and wide video. Videographers will need to get used to shooting in two formats and in different styles depending on the platform.
  • Hello, Nextdoor. This is the year when the community platform continues to thrive. Its audience is over 55s in a geographic area and a public sector agreement means you can reach every member. This is more compelling in 2022.
  • One size fits all comms continues to fail. If you’re making the same content and stuffing it across a range of channels you will fail even bigger in 2022 than you have done in 2021.
  • Think granular comms. The one-size-fits-all broadcast message continues to fail and more observant people will be aware of this. Personalised messages for sub-communities will be the most effective use of time. This could be content posted to a Facebook group or £50 spent to reach a specific community.
  • WhatsApp continues. Half the country use WhatsApp. The public sector has been slow to adapt or innovate. It needs to. There may be movement later in the year as tools and functionality emerge.
  • Algorithmic upheaval. This is the year to pay attention to how your content performs week-by-week and month-by-month. Tried and tested ways of doing things will stop working more than they have for a decade. Will you notice? This will acutely be felt in Instagram as they react to TikTok but others will change how they perform, too. Pay attention.

STRATEGIC

  • Educate your client. Comms teams used to leaving out copies of the local papers for visitors are long a thing of the past. So too will be teams just reporting broad numbers. With effective comms evolving to granular personalised messages the leadership need to be educated more than ever. They may be used to seeing a breakdown of headlines in the local paper. They’ll need to know that U24’s got this message on TikTok. You didn’t post it to Facebook because that’s not where they are, for example. Those who you report to need to be brought along with you or tghey won’t understand what you’re doing.
  • New skills. After two years in the trenches refining skills and plugging the gaps is essential. Come up for air. Your brightest people have a broad set of skills. Bright people will take those skills elsewhere if they don’t feel valued. Never truer than in 2022.
  • Online harms bill. This is likely to have an impact in 2022. It will ask organisations to be more aware of abusive content and ask them for plans for dealing with it when they see it. You’ll need to record keep and show other steps. This is a work in progress.
  • GDPR Lite. The UK Government announced changes to GDPR seeing as we’re no longer in the EU. This is a work in progress you’ll need to keep up with.
  • Virtual reality and augmented reality. Keep an eye on this space. It won’t be truly mainstream in 2022 but people will properly be experimenting with it as the tech in their hands improves.

GUEST POST: The power of your outdoor break: evaluating the value of woods

It can be hard to evaluate the value of things as a communicator. Putting a value on things is a powerful way of stating your case. Clare Parker, head of communications at Forest Research which is part of the Forestry Commission, explains how they were part of a team team that arrived at the mental health benefit of woods as £185 million. The report sets out the methodology used to arrive at the conclusions.

For years there was a lot to be said about the benefits to your mental health if you went outside. That personal good vibe, a break from the routine, even medical professionals making ‘green’ prescriptions to make the most of fresh air and a connection to nature. We all knew there was something good about it.

A report from the social science team in Forest Research, the Great Britain-wide research arm of the Forestry Commission, for the first time put a figure on it. £185million A YEAR can be saved by visiting woodlands.

It’s not often there’s a real gamechanger, but this report is worthy of its landmark status.

 “Valuing the mental health benefits of woodlands” report has some pretty impressive findings. A scoping study showed how being in forests increased chemical levels and hormones to make people feel better, and people felt less stressed during and after their visits. Incidents of depression went down by seven per cent and just 30 minutes per week will give you noticeable benefits. This isn’t about exercise either, just sitting or meditating amongst the trees increases the benefits too.

Those statement themselves are amazing, but it’s the hard fact that savings can be made in the annual costs to society of living with depression or anxiety. That is, in working hours no longer lost, medicines gone unprescribed, professional therapy unused. And those savings might even be underestimated.

The monetary value of the outdoors is an incredible piece of evaluation. Demonstrating the “avoided costs” to society is a powerful tool in understanding the impact of recognising, managing and even curing mental health.

In short, that lunchtime walk is not only doing you the world of good, it’s saving your organisation and society money.   

Footnote: It was a privilege to work on the communications for this report. This truly was a team effort from the authors, the publishers and communications and press teams across Forest Research, the Forestry Commission, Defra, Scottish Government and Welsh Government.   

Clare Parker is head of communications at Forest Research which is part of the Forestry Commission.

GUEST POST: After a hard few years, this is what happened when I recognised workplace trauma

New Year, new you? Actually, it doesn’t have to be a New Year resolution to recognise the tough time you’ve had and act. Kelly Harrison talks about her journey from trauma back to the light.

This time last year, we were surrounded by chaos and uncertainty and emotions were raw. Everyone around me railed against more Covid restrictions and were devastated they couldn’t see friends and family for Christmas. 

I welcomed the opportunity to hide away from everyone, and felt nothing.

I had just walked away from a role that made me feel worthless. My confidence was rock bottom and all the plates I had tried to keep spinning for so long fell to the floor and smashed. 

Covid turned everyone’s lives upside down, but for me it just made an unreasonable job impossible. It was only when my husband gently suggested that opening my work emails shouldn’t reduce me to tears, that I decided to throw in the towel.

I didn’t get the support I expected in my role and for months I blamed myself. I felt I had ‘failed’ at the job, and had no business in a senior role if I couldn’t cope with it. 

After making the decision to leave, I started to feel better. I packed my feelings away in boxes and started to feel cautiously optimistic about the future. One morning I went for a walk with my husband and had been excitedly telling him about my plans. I felt in control and more confident than I had in months. 

And then my mobile rang. It was someone from my old workplace and I suddenly felt sick. My chest was tight, my breathing was high in my chest and shallow. It wasn’t a difficult call, it was about something very boring and routine. But having to speak to them again, having to see that number flash up on my phone had triggered a trauma response I had no idea existed.

Recognising workplace trauma

Trauma is a word usually associated with something violent, like a car crash or an attack. For something to be traumatic, we might think there is force and shock. But I have found that trauma can sneak up on you. It can happen very quietly, while you are working away trying to convince yourself and everyone else, that you are ok.

From talking to colleagues and friends, I know my situation was not unusual. Communications is a field that rarely gets the respect it deserves. Under pressure to deliver campaigns and messages with very little resource, budget, or time. It is an easy department to blame when projects don’t go well, but it is not so easy to attract plaudits when things go well. 

We have all seen the countless public Facebook comments deriding councils and public bodies for spending money on communications professionals. Wasting money on “someone to look after Facebook and Twitter. That money could be better spent on emptying my bins on time!”.

And then of course I take my hat off to my peers who have to face a deluge of abuse on those social media channels every day. Constantly absorbing the anger and frustration of local residents, who vent their fury on Facebook and don’t think about the person having to read these messages. 

Until last year, I hadn’t really heard of workplace trauma. Of course I was aware of how people working in the police or fire service could be traumatised by the things they have to do and see every day. That fitted my understanding of ‘trauma’, but I didn’t realise that you could be traumatised by a toxic workplace.

Constant pressure to work over your hours, relentless workloads, bullying, racism, poor work-life boundaries and job insecurity all cause emotional and psychological damage. It can lead to depression and anxiety, and in some cases post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In this kind of working environment, the stress that everyone is experiencing just gets kicked down the line. The pressure and unreasonable expectations flow from senior management down to junior staff. It creates a damaging culture where everyone is facing the same trauma at work every day. Add to that a customer facing role, where you are also being abused every day on social media for just doing your job.

For me, sobbing over my work emails was admittedly, a red flag that something was really wrong. More importantly, I had started to withdraw from everything including my children. I struggled to find joy in anything, my head was full of all things piling up at work and it changed how I felt about everything. I told myself how useless I was, and my body was telling me things were not ok.

Getting out

I was lucky I could get out. I could just hand in my notice and take a couple of weeks to just breathe outside of the toxic culture I had been trapped in. Some friends thought I was insane to leave a job in the middle of a pandemic, but I knew the insanity would have been to stay.

I signed up for some coaching, and it was an amazing experience. It allowed me to step back and assess what was important to me. The coaching made me think about how I talk to myself, which was pretty awful at that point. I had to look for opportunities to be kind to myself, and focus on the things I was really good at, and really enjoyed. 

Slowly I started to get better, and I found a new job. Thankfully, my new role is great and a complete breath of fresh air. However, I know I have trauma triggers. Something might happen at work that reminds me of how I used to feel and I have to take a moment. I get some fresh air, go for a walk, or empty every thought in my head into my husband’s lap while he is trying to work (or cook, or DJ, or sleep).

Trauma doesn’t have to be one violent event, or a catastrophic series of events. It can be a slow build up of circumstances that have long-lasting effects on your mental health. I know my experience is not unique, particularly in the communications sector, and it is something we have to take seriously. Recognising trauma is the first important step, so the best thing we can do for ourselves is to just check in every now and again.

Go for a long walk on your own, or sit somewhere quietly and just ask yourself ‘am I ok?’.

You might be surprised by the answer. 

Kelly Harrison is communications manager at Communicourt.

SURVEY: The pandemic price paid by communicators is revealing itself

Public sector people have paid a bitter price for their role in creating life-saving communications with exhaustion, stress, long hours and damaged mental health, a survey shows.

NHS, police, fire, local and central government PR and communications people all played a pivotal role in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Communicating lockdown and the vaccine the public have relied on messaging crafted and shared by teams.

But 20-months into the emergency the heavy price paid by communicators is becoming clear.

70 per cent of public sector communicators are more stressed than before the pandemic.

56 per cent say their mental health is worse.

42 per cent feel isolated.

41 per cent complain of a lack of leadership in their home government.

39 per cent see verbal abuse weekly.

10 per cent see racist abuse weekly.

However, the survey also shows a positive side with 70 per cent saying they still feel part of a team – a drop of only 4 per cent since the early months of the pandemic.

There is clearly pride in team working needed to communicate lockdowns, vaccines and booster campaigns across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Why keep the survey?

The answer is simple. I was seeing anecdotal evidence of stress, pride in the work and long hours. But without data, this moment of history would be lost. So, the first survey was staged three months into the pandemic in June 2020 and has been repeated quarterly since. Overall, 1,500 public sector communicators have taken part.

For the 5th quarterly survey, more than 340 people took part in October and November 2021.

So, are we all going back to the office?

The picture is split.

Just three per cent have fully returned to the office while seven per cent never left in the first place.

By far the largest group – 41 per cent – are running a hybrid system that splits time between the office and working from home.

Overall, 40 per cent are working from home.

Three times as many people think the working from home process is being handled well compared to those that don’t. Just 15 per cent aren’t impressed with how the process is being carried out.

What are people saying?

“Home working pretty much banned now despite it working extremely well.”

“Lack of equipment means I don’t really want to work from home. Tiny flat makes it impossible.”

How are the longer hours working?

Anecdotally, business as usual has returned on top of COVID-19 messaging leading to 10 per cent of public sector comms people working an extra 10 hours a week.

The long hours are widely reported with some now reporting they’ve deliberately reigned in their hours as the crisis eases.

“It is pure chaos.”

“I’m exhausted after the initial flurry of Covid-reactive communications work and just doing what I can as things settle.”

“I was working over my hours but since our flexi system has been put on hold I am now only working my contracted hours.”

“Working from home makes me work more than usual. I would never have driven back to the office to catch-up on things at 8pm at night.”

How about physical health?

The impact of longer hours and stress has been marked on public sector communicators. More than half – 51 per cent – say that their physical health has worsened. That’s five times as many who report a better physical state.

“I am more overweight and lethargic than pre-pandemic. I cannot find the time or the mental headspace to prioritise good eating and exercise.”

“Since getting back to the office I’ve been cycling and have lost some weight.”

And mental health?

Mental health rates are alarming. For all the public commitments to looking after staff 57 per cent say their mental health has worsened. Some respondents reported the death of loved ones from COVID-19 adding to the pressures.

Talk of burn-out is frequent but the lack of commute is often seen as a positive.

“It’s been among the top three toughest experiences I’ve encountered. The other equally awful experience was the death of my parents.”

“Isolation from colleagues make it harder to manage pressures.”

“Overwhelmed, undervalued and no support.”

If you are monitoring social media you’re exposed to a stream of abuse.

Some people just aren’t seeing the abuse that’s flying around social media. If you’re in a strategic role, central government or a head of comms you’ve often no idea what others are facing.

Run a web search and you’ll find abuse, threats and a nasty undercurrent in racist abuse aimed at organisations.

Overall, the survey showed 39 per cent see abuse weekly aimed at the organisation. That’s twice the rate of those exposed to abuse directly or seeing it aimed at a member of staff.

High profile racist abuse in sport has rightly gathered attention. But such abuse is common and seen by a steady 10 per cent right the way through the pandemic.

Those opposed to vaccines are often behind the abuse, the survey shows.

Police, NHS and councils have seen abuse.

“Everyone hates the cops.”

“Anti-vaxxers aren’t afraid to unleash their venomous rhetoric on the masked majority.”

“Directed at clinical teams mostly who are vaccinating.”

“People feel very angry and hacked off at the world in general.”

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.

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