POST EMERGENCY part 1: We’re still stuck in crisis mode but the emergency has eased

The pandemic has been the biggest emergency the UK has seen in 70 years. More than 160,000 people died but just as many lives were saved through advances in medical science and strong public sector communications. But now the worst of the emergency has passed teams are still stuck in the emergency response loop of long hours, stress and burn-out. This time servicing business as normal. One senior comms officer is wondering if there’s a better way.

by Anonymous

The wheels in local government often turn slow. Over stretched, under resourced and driven by the whims of the government of the day even the simplest decisions can take an age to implement.

Unless you happen to work in comms. Tight deadlines, fast paced and quick turnarounds are what we do.  Tell a comms officer you need it tomorrow and you can consider it done.  Give us a 3pm deadline and we’ll say no problem. It doesn’t matter that we’ve got a million things to do because we’ll perform minor miracles and get it done.

Then COVID happened. Fast was no longer good enough. Deadlines went out of the window. Everything needed to be now, immediate, ready to go before anyone knew what they needed.

With government guidance changing every 10 minutes (sometimes literally) and the public in a panic we became a public information service. Webpages, social media, press releases, videos and more were created within hours and constantly updated.    

Saving lives 24/7

We weren’t saving lives, making PPE or keeping essential shops open but we played our part by keeping the public informed 24/7.  Working 12 hours a day became the norm – 16 and 18 hour days weren’t unusual.   

While government Ministers held daily press conferences and the media ran dramatic news stories, public sector comms officers made sure people got the information and support they needed to stay safe.

Lockdown after lockdown, tiers, local restrictions, roadmaps – whatever the government planned – we were there to make sense of the guidance and to pick up the pieces when things went wrong.

Then came the announcement so many hoped for, not for the first time but hopefully the last, life was finally going to get back to normal. Public sector comms officers can return to the slower pace of tight deadlines and quick turnarounds – or can they? 

Back in the real world it turns out we did such a good job of responding immediately during the pandemic there’s no reason why we shouldn’t do the same now.

The pandemic may officially be over (unless a new variant appears) but for public sector comms officers the pressure continues to build. After all it’s not like comms is difficult, everyone did comms during COVID, anyone can design a poster and social media is something to do in your spare time.

By stepping up and doing the right thing we’ve made a rod for our own backs. And now we need to find a way to live with a COVID defined future for comms.

The author is an experienced communications professional who works in local government.

MEDIA RELATIONS: How to make dealing with a reporter’s media query less stressful

The greatest fear of someone new to dealing with media queries is simply this… answering the phone to journalists.

The nightmare runs along the line of a phone rings and at the end will be an angry person demanding answers NOW.

That’s the fear. The reality is very different, of course.

In life as in anything, preparation leads doubt and doubt leads to worry.

Here’s a simple approach.

Not all reporters are scary

First things first. Not all reporters are scary. They’re just trying to do a job just as you are trying to do a job. They need your help to get the right information. You need them to tell people about the job your organisation is doing. It’s a two way street.

I was a reporter for 12-years and I worked in a Press-heavy comms team for eight years. I’ve asked thousands of questions of press officers and I’ve answered thousands, too.

Here’s your script

Here’s what you need to know when dealing with a media query.

If you ask the reporter:

  • What’s your name?
  • What’s your publication?
  • What are your contact details?
  • What’s your question?
  • When’s your deadline?

Top tip: read the question back to them and email it back as a confirmation that you are on the same page.

You won’t go far wrong.

A more experienced reporter may try and pump you for a steer before you’ve gone and checked out the information. A couple of occasions as a press officer I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to give unapproved information to help a reporter on a deadline. It’s not always ended well.

One time I told someone what I knew. Turns out it wasn’t all accurate. It came back on me. Yes, I was quoted. No, it wasn’t ideal. I did it once.

I realised at this moment that name, publication, question and deadline was what I’d stick to from here on in. Even if I had some background knowledge.

One time I was buttered-up by a reporter who asked me how long I worked there. “Five years,” was the answer. Five years? Then I clearly knew more than I was letting on.

I stuck to the script.

This formula may seem simple.

But the best ideas always are simple.

Simple.

I help deliver ESSENTIAL MEDIA RELATIONS workshops to help people with the proactiove and the reactive of dealing with journalists. More here.

HOT TAKES: Following the war in Ukraine on TikTok

As an English & History graduate and a communicator I’m fascinated with how the war in Ukraine is playing out on TikTok.

The historian in me is struck by the parallels between the black and white footage from 1941 and footage from 2022.

Refugees share the same look of exhaustion and uncertainty as they live tragedy the stakes for Ukraine feel just as high.

As a communicator, I’m struck at how the information war is being played out in real-time on the TikTok video platform.

When the First Gulf War broke out when I was 18 in 1990, the 24-rolling news of CNN was the eye witness to events. More than 30 years, this is being served up to your smartphone.

For those who think TikTok is all about dancing this war is a wake-up moment.

I had a look to see what kind of content the algorithm has serving up.

Categories of organic Ukraine war content on TikTok 13.3.22

Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest category is ‘hot takes’. Namely, people claiming to be experts giving their takes on the day’s developments. This amounted to 48 per cent.

You are twice as likely to see ‘hot takes’ rather than journalism in the field. I’d argue, there’s even more room for misinformation and disinformation here than in news bulletins. It also shows there is a demand for the interpretation of what is playing out.

In second place, is news updates from journalists or news organisations at 17 per cent.

In third place comes first person footage from inside Ukraine most often from combatants or eye witnesses. Isobel Kashow in a chilling piece describes reports of Russian troops going door-to-door to search for mobile phones and laptops with footage. Command of the footage then is a salient part of how the war is being fought.

In fourth place, is first person footage from the UK (10 per cent) with accounts such as loading relief trucks. In fifth, is military footage (5 per cent) such as drone strikes with 6th, first person anti-war footage from within Russia (4 per cent) . Strikingly, all the content I saw from within Russia is anti-Putin.

I’ll leave it to others to judge how effective the Russian social media operation is as a whole. On TikTok it doesn’t seem present. But it does need pointing out that the average Russian relies on official news on TV which paints a different picture.

Of course, it’s important to say that wars between armies are won with guns and bombs and not just sympathetic videos.

First person footage from Ukraine

Ukrainian fighters commandeer an abandoned Russian tank and take it for a joy-ride. It could be kids on a Saturday night in a stolen Ford Sierra as they whoop with exciotement. It isn’t. It’s a tank and everyone is armed.

Hot takes

Often these are people with no training in journalism, diplomacy or fighting giving authoratively delivered viewpoints in how the war is unfolding. Their qualifications and the risk for disinformation and misinformation are also high.


News updates

Journalists are sending upright portrait shaped video to TikTok to tell the story of the war. Sometimes first person to camera and sometimes taking military footage they are new ways to tell the story.

They are not conventional bulletins but TikToks themselves using the language of the platform with text ion the screen.

First person footage from Russia

This footage is less prevalent but striking in its anti-Kremlin flavour that would lead to arrest and a lengthy sentence.

This clip shows a protestor being bundled away for asking the question ‘what two words could I put on my placard?’

First person footage from the UK

This can be aid packing, pledges to go and fight, reactions to the news or this account that gives insight into British Ukrainian life.

Military footage

Video from drone strikes which may or may not be in the Ukraine can also be found on TikTok. Again, the risk of the video not quite being what it seems is high.

COVID SURVEY: The pandemic is easing but mental health and workload isn’t

The worst of the pandemic is over… but trust and mental health has been badly damaged amongst public sector comms people.

That’s the verdict of almost 300 NHS, police, fire, local and central government PR, marketing and communications people.

The results are in the 5th quarterly tracker survey as we emerge from the omicron variant into the bright new future of 2022. Key trends emerge.

Key survey findings

Are we there, yet?

It’s over, is it? 45 per cent agree or strongly agree that the worst of the pandemic is behind us.

So, does that mean a return to the old ways? Not at all.

Mental health isn’t bouncing back. 56 per cent say this is worse – five times as many as those recovering.

Partygate HAS damaged the message. 82 per cent of communicators found that evidence of Ministers and civil servants staging parties during lockdown had made it harder to deliver public health messages.

We need to live with COVID-19. This has support without it being a majority. 41 per cent agreed with the idea – twice as much as didn’t.

Hours have increased after the pandemic receeds. 77 per cent of comms people are working longer hours than they are contracted. There has been a leap from 42 to 51 per cent working between one and five hours extra. in just three months.

Staff remain isolated. After two years of working from home, more people are feeling isolated now than at the start of the pandemic. The figure is 44 per cent to 34 per cent in June 2020.

Staff are more not less stressed. Staff are more stressed now than the first three months of the pandemic. 67 per cent say the problem has increased compared to 65 per cent in June 2020.

Through it all, they felt as though they worked for the common good. In an optimistic note, 73 per cent agreed with this statement after two years of lockdown against 74 per cent in June 2020. A remarkably robust figure.

Teamworking has not been so strong. While people see the big picture, a feeling of working as a team 48 per cent has slipped six points from June 2020.

Working from home is here to stay. 82 per cent are still at home either full or some of the time.

All of these figures are striking but in their own words they are particularly memorable.

PARTYGATE

After hours parties and the protracted cover-up have made an impression on people.

“Their behaviour undermines the basics of trust.”

Definite strong change in the public mood, hostility on social media.”

“I don’t think that people link the PM to the NHS in Scotland. It would have been far more difficult if it was our First Minister.”

“Shameful and shameless. Having endured the past two years seeing the things I have in the NHS first hand it boils my blood.”

“This is a complete breakdown of trust in what the Government are saying.”

“I think the Government and Boris have lost public trust.”

“I don’t see a link between partygate and public health.”

“We’ve lost he goodwill of the people entirely in my borough.”

THE WORST OF THE PANDEMIC IS OVER

There is broad support for this position but while people hope as much there’s sometimes doubt and a hedging of bets.

“It is still not over… still impacting on services and people. We do need to learn to live with it but this will take timeand behaviour change. Living with it isn’t the same as doing what we did before.”

“The impact on mental health and the economy will be felt for years.”

“Agree today, but who knows if it’ll change again tomorrow with another variant.”

“This phase is still very much here, it’s rife in schools and large numbers of people are still losing their lives.”

WORKING FRM HOME HAS HAD AN IMPACT

What was once an adventure has become the norm.

“There’s a weird guilt I feel. Feel the need to work more hours and sacrifuice lunch and breaks to prove that my role is still worth the money.”

“There’s enough work for me to do more hours but I’ve made the conscious decision since the Christmas break to focus on keeping my work life balance in a better place.”

“Horrendously understaffed and working at home has made hours ‘electric.’”

“Been in the office and home since March 2020. Feels like living at work.”

“Exhausted, on my knees and with no end in sight.”

“I have put boundaries in place and I stick to them for the sake of myself and my family.” 

ABUSE REMAINS A FACTOR

“The public seem frustrated and angry and this can come across in their communication with the council.”

“We have seen levels of abuse increase. The vibe at the start of the pandemic when we were all in this together has long been forgotten.”

“A lot of abuse aimed at the organisation is due to other issues not the pandemic.”

The winners of a box of brownies prize draw are Catherine Laws and Oly Tipper.

ACTIVIST DAY: How an International Women’s Day post can backfire

A couple of weeks ago I recalled the views of Clay Shirkey who in ‘Here Comes Everybody’ observed that the social web saw a shift.

Consumers were no longer happy to be consumers but wanted to have a voice too, he said.

Those words really came back during International Women’s Day on March 8 that global celebration of women and their place in society and the workplace.

Over recent years, this has often been content focused by brands and organisations on women who make a difference.

Like this one…

However, over the last few years this has taken a markedly activist turn.

Comedian Richard Herring has taken the day off to search Twitter for blokes complaining at the lack of International Mens Day.

In 2022, it’s got a harder as fewer people make this quip. But still…

This year, the whole International Women’s Day under a microscope has gone on several levels.

Sharon O’Dea, who was a local government force for good before she became a wider force for good, calls out the worst offenders.

Here, she tweets Capgemini for ‘upholding the values that drive our actions’ and yet their female staff don’t share in pay equality.

Of course, its marvellous to read but this year, it’s gone to a whole new level with @PayGapApp whose Twitter bio reads:

Employers, if you tweet about International Women’s Day, I’ll retweet your gender pay gap.

Here’s one…

And another…

The fact the account is having some impact can be seen by the number of accounts deleting tweets or deleting then reposting without the hashtag.

Of course, online activity is one thing but taking real steps to demand action is something quiote different. But this feels like a start. If you make claims you need to back them up.

If women are important then pay them.

Just as if the environment is important, do real things to make a difference.

It is the job of communications with a poker face to flag up the reputational damage of standing next to a cause without the policies to back them up.

Words and action.

Judge people by their actions not their words.

PR WAR: That time I had tea with the Russian Ambassador

Sometime in the far away days of 2012 an email landed to invite me to the Russian Ambassador’s residence in London.

Well, of course I said ‘yes.’ I remember the Cold War.

Today, this invitation would be to sit down with evil. Back then it was to be in the audience for a discussion ‘How internet affects political discussion making.’ I know this because I checked my gmail to re-read the invite. Douglas Carswell MP was making a keynote.

On the day, I went along to the Russian Ambassador’s venue. Kensington Palace Gardens was guarded with a barrier and armed British police. The Russian Ambassador’s house was one of dozens of huge white homes with driveways. More Disney than Dacha.

Going into the building, past central casting Russian security I went into a ballroom where the talk was taking place was elaborate. A top table of gold leaf chairs and rows of the same for the audience.

I sat in the audience for the discussion and chatted to fellow guests. I remember media people, someone from Conservatives for Russia and a veteran British journalist about to launch an English language newspaper in Moscow.

Why was I asked? Maybe because I was a blogger. There was certainly no illicit approaches or Putinesque lectures during the session. The British panel talked about the strengths of the internet in Britain. The Russian Ambassador joked of how he finds things out on the news before the communiques from home. Then we wrapped up with a convivial buffet of tea, caviar, vodka and smoked salmon.

Of course, this was the days when Russia was adopting soft power rather than hard power. Running the same event today would be unthinkable. No-one would come. But the question of the session remains valid.

How does the internet affect political discussion making?

I was reflecting on this as I listened to BBC Ukrainecast on the ninth day of Russia’s invasion and war in Ukraine. It was a day after Russia had made illegal to reference ‘war’ to describe what is going on. It was six days after Twitter and other social media sites were blocked by Moscow.

As I listened, I heard audio from a video posted by a Ukrainian politician in the north of the country. It captured the stunned aftermath of a Russian artillery attack. On the podcast, Victoria Derbyshire describes the scene of grey dust, fire bodies without limbs and you hear a woman screaming.

So, how does the internet political decision making?

So, Back to the Russian Ambassador’s question.

Russia has tried to brick up all the ways that the internet can get into its borders. The Kremlin deny there is a war. They stop people seeing the aftermath. Twitter and Facebook has been banned in the country. Independent journalism has been banned. Protestors face 15 years for voicing opposition or even calling war ‘war’.

Elsewhere, the internet is finding ways to bypass the blockage as it always has done. Ukrainians are using Google reviews on Google maps to post harrowing pictures from Ukraine in order to tell their Russian cousins what is going on. The Russian social channel is being unbanned in Ukraine to allow the network to be flooded with messages to ordinary Russians from Ukrainians. The BBC is upping short wave broadcasts to by-pass the internet entirely. And other ways for Russians.

On TikTok, residents are filming actions. The car driver who stopped and offered to tow the broken down tank back to the border. The myth of the ghost airplane that shoots down Russian jets.

Some Russians are uysing VPNs to by-pass the bans. But the vox pop of real Russians I saw yesterday is depressing. They still support Putin because and they’re not exposed to what’s going on.

Winning the PR war?

A few days ago, I was reading optimistic commentary pieces on how Ukraine was winning the information war. A video of the country’s President in fatigues surrounded by his chief ministers was posted to deploy Russian misinformation that he had fled the country. What chops, the comments ran. They’re right.

But no war is not won by information alone. There are bullets and guns and in the case of Russia, the casual threat of nuclear war, too.

I stop short of reading too many PR blogs with hot takes on how company CEOs need to be more like Zelenskiy. Please, don’t. This isn’t a place for hot takes. I’m using this blog to think things through rather than deliver a zinger. .

Internet pioneers

In ‘Here Comes Everyone’ Clay Shirky wrote of how social media was going to change things and people will no longer be passive consumers. In the old model, media gatekeepers would filter and then publish, he said. In the new model, we are all producers. There will be publish and then filter. There was no mention of the bad guys winning.

But it’s filter of journalists that I’m finding most important in 2022. Good journalism isn’t dead. It’s never been more needed to cut through the avalanche of misinformation.

Those of us who saw social media as a purely force for good have had our minds changed a lot since Shirky first published his bold ideas.

The reality is obscene truths from Ukraine can be found if you look for them on social media. There are dead bodies. There is the news crew ambushed in their car. A Facebook Live broadcast will happen which shows a family’s painful death in realtime.

But that won’t be the truly shocking part.

The really terrifying thing will be that nothing may change as a result.

Then what?

You can donate to the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for Ukraine here.

NEW NUMBERS: Here’s the UK social media statistics for 2022

I’m fond of using the analogy of icebergs when it comes to UK social media stats.

Stare at them and dare them to move and not much happens but look at a snap shot year-on-year and you’ll see changes.

So it goes with YouGov’s data which I’ve mixed here with some Ofcom data for three platforms – Messenger, Nextdoor and WhatsApp – which YouGov’s data doesn’t include.

The stats are here…

You can find a free 1080 version of the slide here.

In plain terms, Facebook leads with 46.1 million users or in other words an astonishing 70 per cent of the population.

In second place is Instagram with 40 million users or 26 per cent of the population while in third is WhatsApp (45 per cent), YouTube is 25 million (39 per cent) and Twitter 20 million (17 per cent).

Reading further down the list is LinkedIn with 17 million users (11 per cent), Snapchat 10 million, (16), TikTok 9 million (14), Pinterest 9 million (14), Reddit 6 million (4 per cent) and Nextdoor 4 million users (3 per cent).

What the numbers mean

The big number from the YouGov survey is that 86 per cent of the UK population use social media.

Beyond that, we see a landscape dominated by Meta with Facebook 1st, Instagram 2nd and WhatsApp in 3rd.

The YouGov numbers are striking by showing Instagram in second place. Normally, Ofcom’s numbers give YouTube the largest social app with Facebook in second place. Here, Google’s video network is 4th.

Elsewhere, TikTok is making inroads but not as fast as some people may think. Snapchat is still strongly a thing. Often this takes people by surprise. Often those people are older than 24 and don’t use the platform. The fact they don’t may show why teenagers use it.

Reddit is an interesting one. US data say that globally there are 52 million users centred on the USA and most popular with late 20s.

It will be interesting to see Ofcom’s figures for this space later this year.

COVID COMMS: The multiple public sector comms challenges of a move to end restrictions

It looks like we’re at a really odd stage of the pandemic with a UK Government announcement due to end restrictions.

UK Government has announced plans to end legal restrictions. So, no more requirement to self-isolate after a positive COVID-19 result. Free testing also is set to end.

The British Medical Association have described this as ‘odd.’

The World Health Organisation call the plans ‘alarming.

There have been warnings of a surge in numbers.

The UK Government’s own figures show 74 daily deaths and 25,696 confirmed cases.

But isn’t what Boris Johnson said true? That the jabs have blunted the worst?

Public Sector communicators across the UK now find themselves faced with a series of dilemmas.

How do they commmunicate these changes?

Will they?

I’ll dodge the politics of all this and just concentrate on the practical dilemmas facing NHS, police, central and local government comms people.

For police, this is relatively straight forward. The law is black and white. But tempers are likely to fray between those happy and those looking to maintain protection.

For everyone else, this is likely to be trickier.

The legal restrictions are gone in England but will people still ask to take precautions?

Here’s a few dilemmas.

The Boris Johnson trust dilemma

Ipsos MORI’s veracity indsex on trust put doctors trusted by 91 per cent of the politicians and politicians trusted by 19 per cent. Polling data on Boris Johnson himself put him far into negative equity following a collapse in personal trust. He’s not trusted by 69 per cent of the population in February 2022.

So, do public sector comms put the Prime Minister front and central of their campaigns or not?

Will there be health professionals queing up to add their weight to this eye-catching move?

The Trust me, I’m a health professional dilemma

Without the strong support of the NHS and Public Health its hard to see how the rule changes can be communicated effectively in a way that will cut through.

Pressure, I’m sure, will be placed on the NHS to tow the line but will it? And will public health who are at arms length in local government?

Will the message instead by a request to comply with mask wearing and social distancing? Particularly in hospitals and GP surgeries.

So far, as the UK we’ve done comparatively well with complying with messages compared to other countries. The Cummings effect led to a measurable fall in trust. Whitehall’s Partygate did similar.

Will this add to the fracturing of compliance?

The U-turn dilemma

For the past two yearts a central plank of COVID-19 comms has been the importance of self-isolating, social distancing and you playing your part.

Any campaign message that looks to reverse this is in for a tricky time.

Last week it was this and now its that, they’ll say. Which one is it? And who do I believe?

And what about if we have to bring restrictions back?

The anti-vax dilemma

Always through the pandemic there has been a strain who have refused to believ ethe health messages. At the start, it was because it was a hoax. Then it was that the vaccines wouldn’t work. Then that they would give you health risks.

Like playing whack-a-mole, public sector communicators have countered the messages by and large successfully.

Hang on a minute, they’ll say. It can’t be much of a virus if you legally don’t have to stop going to work. Clearly, it was lies all along.

So how does the campaign for a 4th jab work?

The devolved government dilemma

Lastly, Wales, Northern Ireland Scotland can make their own decisions.

Who are they likely to follow?

Medical professionals or a beleagered Downing Street?

Do we trust the Welsh message? Or the English?

Good luck, everyone.

EDIT:

The announcement was made and Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance insisted that COVID-19 still had the potential to be dangerous and more dangerous strains were likely.

In other words, we now have two speed communications. What the politicians say and what public health says.

Good luck, everyone.

GUEST POST: Reflections from a comms professional after a terror incident

A hospital saw a terror attack. Andrew Duggan, Head of Communications, Marketing & Engagement at Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust has reflected on the learning.

by Andrew Duggan

Just before 11am on Sunday 14th November 2021, a car explosion occurred outside the main entrance of Liverpool Women’s Hospital. It was later confirmed that this explosion was an act of terror.

The incident was extremely traumatic and upsetting for everyone, in particular our patients, families and members of staff at the hospital.

It feels flippant to say that ‘it could have been worse’ but there is no escaping the fact that as we now know the intention of the attack was to cause much more harm than it did, we are at least fortunate that the outcome was not more severe.

If you followed the news at the time of the incident you will probably know what happened and if you don’t there are plenty of news articles online to find out (like this one: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-59287001). So for the purpose of this blog I will assume you know about the incident.

A little bit about me first. My name is Andrew Duggan and I am the Head of Communications, Marketing & Engagement at Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust. I lead a small comms team and we were responsible for leading the communications response to the incident on behalf of the Trust.

Firstly, this blog is merely a product of my own personal reflections on the challenges of leading the communications response during and following the incident, what I experienced and what I would advise others to consider as a result. It isn’t intended to be a list of best practice actions or a lecture on how YOU should do things. It’s just a few pointers that may or may not work for you.

I hope this is of some use to anyone who may be thinking ‘how would we have dealt with that incident?’. The truth is we will all deal with things differently. This is my take on it all, summarised in 20 short points.

#1 When you get the call, remember your essentials and prepare for the long haul
After the initial shock of whatever news you receive, at some point you’ll need to do things. Resist the urge to speed into work unprepared. Remember your ID badge, laptop, phone charger and whatever else you normally take into work. It might delay you by a few minutes but you need to be well prepared because you’ll potentially be in this for the long haul. It’s an unnecessary inconvenience to yourself having to let someone buzz you through doors or on printers because you dashed in without your essentials – it’s an honourable move but ultimately hampers you in the long run.

#2 Keep your own log as early and as accurately as possible
This will be a combination of a to-do list, diary, journal – basically your go-to resource for actions and reflections during and after the event. You will also use this information for reviewing your work after the event as evidence. So keep a note of calls, conversations, actions, and a log of your comms output throughout the event with times and dates. It will save a lot of retrospective searching and collating later on.

#3 Action cards do not prepare you for real life
You will most likely have some form of major incident comms action cards in your organisation. This is valuable information to have on file and will be of use to many in the organisation other than comms. The reality however is that they are of limited use to you and your team during a live incident. You will most likely call on the resources that naturally work most effectively to meet your needs. You know the tools that work, you know the people, and you have the What’s App groups. You will always need the formal action cards but you will do a lot of things naturally via your most effective routes.

#4 Share the load
The most senior comms person will understandably be the individual who will be called upon initially and a lot of the responsibility will fall to you. But call on your team early and don’t try to do it all alone. You will need rest and recuperation at some point so you need to make sure you are all close to the workload and can share responsibilities.

#5 Collaboration and support provides a boost
You will be blown away by the offers of support and mutual aid that will come your way through your social media networks from peers and colleagues far and wide. You will be full on and it will be difficult to digest those offers straight away, or even find the time to say thank you. But knowing your peers and colleagues are there for you is a huge boost. So even though you might not get a reply, don’t underestimate how far a friendly text goes to show your support – it means a lot.

#6 Limit your signposting to a dedicated resource for updates
When you start your comms journey in response to a significant event or incident there will be a never-ending flurry of essential messages to distribute to various audiences. It’s essential that you establish ONE clear and simple signposting resource that ideally all of your updates can lead to. A prime example would be a live news page on your website. All roads should lead to one live location which can be updated easily. It will make your life easier and will keep the messaging clear and easily accessible for key stakeholders.

#7 You’ll need a tone and style so try and decide what it is early on
This will depend on the event you are experiencing but aside from the essential ‘need to know’ messages, the longer an incident unfolds the more you will need to think about a tone or style to adopt with your comms output. You will need to use your creativity and instincts for this but the most important thing is to keep your audience engaged and reassured. Focussing on positivity, kindness, and togetherness is likely to work well.

#8 Is that list of key spokespeople up to date?
We all have an idea in our heads about who we should ask to front up public speaking requirements whether it be staff briefings or media interviews. But how up to date is your go-to list? With personnel in most organisations occasionally or regularly changing, it’s important to make sure that you have a suitable bank of people who you can call upon in a crisis and more importantly that they know they are on your list. It doesn’t always have to be your CEO. For the purpose of planning for a crisis try to have at least three primary spokespeople who are good under pressure.

#9 Stepdown BAU tasks and don’t forget things that might fall through the net
You will inevitably be swamped, and all focus will be on the incident you are dealing with, so it is sensible to stepdown anything that is non-essential. But when doing this don’t forget certain things that may not be in your line of sight to pull. For example, did you remember to cancel that scheduled Tweet that will be going out about something trivial in a few hours’ time? Be careful to not unintentionally appear insensitive due to something automated not being pulled down.

#10 Don’t get frustrated if people are asking you for BAU support
Point #9 above is an important one but don’t be surprised if during the chaos you still come across random requests for help with seemingly un-important tasks. If people do this, although you will politely ignore the requests for now, try to take the positives that it’s likely to be a good sign that your comms approach is working and you are keeping people calm and reassured enough that allows them to get on with their job.

#11 Make social do the media hard work for you
The social media noise will be big and the media enquiries will be consistent. It will take you a little while to get to grips with both but if you can make them complement each other and allow your social media approach to manage some of the message it will help all parties who are seeking regular updates. Where possible, broadcast via your own social media honestly, emotionally and regularly to keep people informed but to also help shape your media coverage. You won’t be able to accommodate all the media requests but they will appreciate notifications in advance about any content you have planned for online.

#12 Have you got a resilient set up?
Unless you have tested this you won’t know until you encounter an event. But a good place to start is to ask, ‘What if?’. What if your Head of Comms was on holiday? What if a couple of members of your team were poorly and unavailable? Some of these things are outside of your control but a reliable resilience plan to call on in the form of paid support at short notice or a mutual aid agreement with partner organisations may give that added assurance to your organisation.  

#13 It is strangely calm in the eye of the storm
From the outside we see incidents occurring and it looks chaotic and impossible to deal with. In reality it’s relatively calm. There is lots of waiting for information, thinking, reflecting and preparation. However, the calmness is often the most exhausting part if you are caught up in it and the adrenaline comes and goes. Don’t feel guilty about using the quieter periods to take stock and re-charge.

#14 Move on and move forward as soon as you can
No matter what the incident is it will be time limited. Whilst you have to respect sensitivities it is also important to focus on optimism and what the longer-term plans are. How are you going to keep people reassured and feeling safe one week, two weeks, six months from now? When it’s possible to do so, start planning your comms beyond the here and now.

#15 Don’t under-estimate the aftermath
The impact of an incident doesn’t end when a situation is declared safe and things get back to normal. There will be de-briefs, reflections, reviews and workstreams with multiple actions for a long time after any significant incident. It’s time consuming and can be just as challenging as the incident itself, especially when most of the organisation is in a back to normal mindset and the day job requirements resume.

#16 Nobody is perfect – accept and address the gaps
A significant event can really expose areas for improvement both personally and operationally. If your comms resilience is not good enough or your team/function needs investment, do not let a crisis go to waste – it is the best form of evidence to justify any changes or improvements you might need. 

#17 Find the positives
These events are probably going to be a once in a lifetime thing so try to appreciate the valuable experience you’ll take from it, and the small part you are playing in responding to a challenging situation. This will keep you focussed and motivated during your toughest moments.  

#18 Do this
Don’t be shy. Share your experiences with people. You will be asked to share your learning and this is a good way to showcase what you did well and what you could have done better. It’s important to help each other.

#19 It is true that people come together
As comms people we can all get down on modern life sometimes and shake our heads at how people talk to each other or interact face to face and online but these events do often bring out the best in people. Whether it’s offers of help or just kind words, people generally show each other the love in times of a crisis… even on Twitter.  

#20 If you haven’t already got a good contact network, build one now
Like many things in life today, when you are dealing with an unexpected incident you’ll do a lot of your good work via various What’s App conversations. Being in pre-existing groups with colleagues, partner organisations, and other sector comms leads is a big help. Having established contact groups (on whatever platform) is invaluable when you need to dialogue with certain people regularly and quickly in times of a crisis. It saves time and duplication. So if you aren’t well networked already, work on doing so now. You never know when you might need it.

Andrew Duggan is Head of Communications, Marketing & Engagement at Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust.

30 days of human comms: #80 Northamptonshire Police deal with online snark

Dealing with Facebook comments is not a new issue but dealing with it well can lead to a round of applause.

Step fiorward Northamptonshire Police, whose online comms I’ve followed for a while.

In a court story on the banning order of a football supporter found guilty of homophobic.

So far so straightforward.

Enter Facebook user ‘Gary’ who puts his own views forward criticising the court decision.

Of copurse, the decision making for the admin is how to react.

Let’s look at the options.

Leave it.

Hide it or delete it.

Challenge it.

They decide to challenge it.

The resoponse is more than 300 likes in less than a quarter of an hour.

It’s fair to say that the internet is not on Gary’s side this morning.

The police also have the advantage of support from other users to challenge Gery’s world view.

Of course, its worth keeping tabs on to stop things from getting out of hand. But broadly, the approach here works well.

Bravo, Northants Police.

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