LONG READ: Where WhatsApp sits in the media landscape and how public sector communicators can use it

We’ve reached the point where it is more of a risk NOT using WhatsApp as a comms tool than use it.

That’s the firm conclusion I’ve reached sifting through the evidence, data and research.

I’ll take you through all that and then I’ll talk about how you can negotiate the pitfalls and risk.

The data low-down on WhatsApp

Firstly, what is WhatsApp? It’s a US-based Facebook-owned messaging service founded in 2009 to connect mobile phone numbers to the internet by sending messages, video, calls and location. You can also use it on the web so long as your mobile device is switched on and connected to the internet.

In the UK, Ofcom say that 30.7 million people use it. That’s around half the population. It’s the most popular app in the UK in 2019 and 2020, according to Audience Insights. And all ages use it. It’s as close to being the all demographic magic bullet.

The numbers are incredible. Ofcom say that between seven and eight out of 10 of ALL under 54s use it and almost half over 65s. They are astounding numbers.

Why communicators are hesitant

There’s a few reasons why comms people are not charging full tilt at using it. Firstly, they’ve got plenty on already using the channels they are.

Secondly, buried in WhatsApp’s terms and conditions is the news that you are not supposed to use WhatsApp as a business tool. You’re supposed to use WhatsApp for Business which is their gateway for business to reach the 1.2 billion global users. If you’re a private company this could mean using the WhatsApp API as companies like KLM have done. Anecdotally, this route isn’t open to the public sector in the UK.

The evidence in favour of using WhatsApp is overwhelming.

So, what can you do?

Well, you can’t have two WhatsApp accounts on the same phone. This basically means buying a cheap mobile phone to download WhatsApp for Business account. So long as this is charged up and connectged tyo the internet you can download a dashboard top your laptop.

The next problem is our old p[al GDPR. You can’t just shovel phone numbers into your new WhatsApp for Business account and crack on. You can sign people up through your Facebook page if its linked to your WhatsApp for Business or you can point people to the QR code or URL. If you put some terms of use when people sign-up you should be fine for GDPR.

On top of all this, the analytics for WhatsApp right now are poor. Your message disappears into WhatsApp and you don’t see how much engagement there is. It’s a Facebook platform so this will change, I’m sure but there’s examples of people changing behaviour in part influenced by WhatsApp.

What does a WhatsApp for Business broadcast list do?

The place you want people to sign-up to is the WhatsApp for Business broadcast list.

What does this mean?

Basically, this means you can send one-way broadcast messages to up to 256 contacts and those contacts don’t see everyone else’s phone numbers and names as they would do in a WhatsApp group. You also don’t have the conversation hijacked by someone looking to undermine your message. So, Coke messages would not be diluted by someone sharing a Pepsi promotion. Or a vaccine message wouldn’t be undone by a 5G conspiracy theorist.

But the 256-contact limit is less of a sticking point than you’d think.

The 256-limit is a red herring

Of course, it would be great if WhatsApp was  a kind of mailchimp substitute where you hoovered-up phone numbers and blasted them messages. The fact it isn’t makes it virgin territory for marketeers and if you can get your messages onto the network there’s more chance of it landing.

The best use of WhatsApp I’ve seen has come from a political pressure group who asked recipients to sign-up advised who to vote for in internal elections and then – this is the killer – asked them to forward the message onto other Party members.

So, in other words, if you get 10 people signed-up and they forward them onto another 10 you can get to 100 very easily.

Of course, it depends on the message that you are sending but the truth is you don’t need big numbers to start to reach people. Think of it as a Ponzi scheme for social good. You get a message and you pass it on.

It’s how Hackney Council used WhatsApp in the first weeks of lockdown to reach the observant Jewish population who didn’t use the internet. They listened to the Jewish community and understood that WhatsApp was the preferred method of keeping in touch. So they created content with WhatsApp in mind and people in the community did the rest.

Why WhatsApp is so powerful

Aside from the numbers, there’s another reason why WhatsApp is so powerful. It’s called ‘social normative theory’.

This basically means that you are more likely to be receptive to a message from your peers. Oner NHS person during a training session where we were looking at WhatsApp complained that she’d feel as though a message from the NHS on WhatsApp would be intrusive. She’s right. It would be. But that’s just it. Social normative theory means that it’s a message not from the NHS but from your brother Andy, your Mum or Dad or maybe Joanne who you work with. It flies under the radar and it’s beautiful.

Research shows that there is more misinformation on messenger platforms that across the open web. When it comes to something COVID-19 that means you can’t not be there.

Ways to use WhatsApp

There’s a range of ways to use WhatsApp. If I was working in the public sector the first thing I’d do is create a WhatsApp broadcast list for that town, city or borough’s COVID-19 news. I’d ask people in the organisation to sign-up then I’d extend it to community leaders and anyone who fancied signing up. Then I’d send them messages.

Or, it maybe that you are looking carefully at the data and you spot that the Yemeni population aren’t responding to Public Health messages and they tell you that WhatsApp is a favoured channel. At this point, it makes sense to buy a cheap £20 mobile phone to send a message to this group. You’d spend more on a display ad in the local paper or a boosted Facebook ad.

One thing to note is that if you are looking to send a video or picture plus words you need to send two separate messages.

The difference WhatsApp makes

In Singapore, the Government WhatsApp channel for COVID-19 gives out official information in four different languages. You can pick which one you’d like.

Such is the reach of the channel that around 10 per cent of the population have signed-up. Chances are those one-in-ten are forwarding the messages on to others in the population.

Researchers Liv & Tong in their research p[aper ‘Demographic data influencing the Impact of coronavirus-related misinformation on WhatsApp’ showed that severe mental health incidents were reduced by 7.9 per cent. At a time when health services are being stretched to breaking point this has real value.

This is why, dear reader, that it is more risk NOT using it than using it.

Research I carried out in May 2021 showed that just six per cent of communicators were using WhatsAopp as a communications channel. Of those that weren’t, 26 per cent said they were likely to use to use it and 26 per cent were unlikely. Almost half were undecided.

There is a small but growing user base of communicators who are experimenting with the platform. The innovators include Public Health Wales, Hackney Council, Watford Council and Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust.

The evidence for using WhatsApp is overwhelming.

What you waiting for?

You can learn more about WhatsApp and other emerging channels as part of the ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER workshops I run.

GUEST POST: What was behind the England team’s Euro2020 comms success?

Chris Lepkowski has been on both sides of the fence. He’s been a football reporter and looked after comms at a Premier League football team. Many have remarked on the breath of fresh air the England team have been at Euro 2020. How has that emerged? A change of landscape and a change of strategy. Here’s how.

by Chris Lepkowski

The beer cans have been swept away, the bunting has been removed, the St George’s flags have been packed away. Save those for another day, another tournament, maybe even another final.

While the media wade through the mess left behind by a section of – and let’s not beat around the bush here – drugged-up, beer-fuelled monumental dickheads masquerading as football fans, you would be forgiven for thinking Euro 2020 was another tournament for inquests and pointing fingers.

On some levels it will be. And so it should.

But amid the chaos of Sunday, we shouldn’t overlook that the legacy of Euro 2020 and this group of England players. Twenty six young men, led by a manager of class and dignity.

The calm leader

Gareth Southgate is that uncle who will happily drop to his hands and knees to play with his three-year-old nephew or niece, without so much as a quibble. Invite him for dinner, and he’ll be the first one to roll up his sleeves and wade in to wash the dishes afterwards. I interviewed him a couple of times some years ago. He came across as a thoughtful, calm man…and crucially he knew that this young journalist, as I was then, needed to come away with a ‘line’ – a story my editors would deem worthy to use in the next day’s newspaper. He obliged on both occasions.

I’m not going to offer an opinion on England’s on-the-field performance – that’s for another conversation. Let’s, instead, look at what this team has brought to a nation.

The fraught past

To get where we are now, it’s important we understand the journey of an England manager against the media backdrop.

Since the 1970s it has been a relationship fraught with problems. Don Revie’s shock departure in 1977 was to stoke up the first circulation war of such, when he gave the Daily Mail’s Jeff Powell the exclusive that he was quitting the England role to take up a role with the United Arab Emirates. By doing so the world and his dog knew Revie was leaving England before his resignation letter had even been delivered to FA headquarters. In choosing the Daily Mail, Revie was also deemed to have flicked two fingers to other Fleet Street pretenders. It didn’t end well for him, with the Fourth Estate (bar the Mail, obviously) going straight for his throat.

A decade later, Bobby Robson was told ‘In the Name of Allah, Go’ following a draw with Saudi Arabia just a few weeks before Italia 90. By now, the circulation wars were in full swing, with Kelvin McKenzie’s bombastic editorship of The Sun attempting to claim readers from Maxwell’s Daily Mirror. In doing so, football managers, politicians, musicians, actors, celebrities were fair game for a sting. The more dramatic the headlines, the better. And didn’t Graham Taylor know it. Robson’s successor found himself depicted as a turnip following a defeat to Sweden during Euro 92 (Swede…Turnip, get it?) as sub-editors found novel ways to add graphics to sub-editing software. Taylor, we must add, knew what the media was about. His father had been a football journalist, so he knew the game. Even that wasn’t enough to spare him considerable barracking from the media.

The players are conditioned to deliver interviews, ensuring media are flooded with content – so there can be no complaints about access.

Fleet Street on the warpath

Fast forward through the 2000s and we saw a succession of stories threatening to derail England bosses – notably Sven-Goran Eriksson’s eye for the ladies, and a sting by the ‘Fake Sheikh’, as reported by the News Of The World. We had reports of alleged affairs, we read tales of club allegiances creating factions in squads during major tournaments. We even had an England captain banned by the FA for alleged (and unproven) racism. The so-called Golden Generation might have won a trophy or two had they invested as much time to winning football matches as they did in squabbling. Team England came across as a fairly unpleasant bunch.

In 2016, Sam Allardyce talked himself out of the England job when he spoke to Daily Telegraph investigators about how to bypass FA third party ownership rules. Yet that was reckless drop of the ball on his part, rather than a frenzied media campaign.

The press occupies a different province these days. The circulation wars are long gone, with a greater priority shifting towards digital and social delivery. The US-owned media group The Athletic revolutionised the way football was reported two years ago by effectively cherry-picking writers from the nation’s broadsheet and local newspapers. Football reporting these days is less about the soundbite and tub-thumping, more about heatmaps, data and analysis. Sure, you still get ridiculous rabble-rousing headlines on the front – but read the football writers on the back and you’ll find articulate discussion about whether Southgate should go with a back three or opt for back four.

Crucially, the Leveson Inquiry into media practice changed how stories are reported and delivered. The closure of the News Of The World also removed one of the most strident players from the tabloid market. I hazard a guess you’ll struggle to remember the last kiss-and-tell story. They’re literally old news these days.

Arriving at better comms

And so we return to Southgate. How did we reach a point where the England manager and his players were so bloody nice?

Much of it can be put down to mentality. Most elite players will come through the controlled environs of the club academy system – mainly developed as a result of English football’s investment into the Elite Player Performance Plan, a youth system initiated by the Premier League in 2012. Not only are youngsters developing in the very best environment, mentored by elite coaches, but there are high behavioural expectations. They are schooled not only how to kick a ball straight, but how to carry themselves. Clubs offer media training to ensure these youngsters are honed to speak to the media, be it in the white heat of a ‘flash interview’ immediately after a major football final, or in a 40-minute sit-down chat with the local press.

As for Southgate, he consciously wanted to make England more approachable. And the FA got their recruitment spot on. In recent years, they have brought in Communications experts who have worked for media organisations and football clubs. There has been a shift towards changing the relationship between Team England and reporters. Crucially, because of their past working experiences, these practitioners appreciated the demands and wants of journalists. (I know Senior Communications Manager Andy Walker personally – he is a top class operator, who is a huge asset to his employers).

Players are conditioned to deliver interviews, ensuring media are flooded with content – so there can be no complaints about access. Even the language and tone of messaging has been changed. Players no longer ‘face the media’ as they did in the past, immediately removing the notion that England are doing the press a favour by putting up players for interview.

There is now a culture of journalists being asked ‘what do you need?’ aware that putting up a couple of players for interviews removes the pressure for media organisations to dig elsewhere for stories. It’s common sense.

During Euro 2020, players and journalists went head-to-head in a darts league – again, another push towards improving media-footballer relations. These small things don’t appear much, but they add to the trust. Compare this to Italia 90, where a group of senior England players were filmed setting fire to a tabloid newspaper, such was their repulsion at the treatment of manager Bobby Robson. None of that these days.

Also, there is a difference in dynamic between reporting club football and the national team. Premier League footballers are the property of the club – they are huge assets. Clubs are obligated to deliver players and managers to interviews with broadcast partners. These rights holders are effectively the media who pay into the sport. These include Sky, BT, beIN, Canal +, etc. Clubs have no choice but to hold their nose and appease these broadcasters. The ‘written’ media, however, are not generally rights-holders so, while they are able to access press conferences, they will sometimes go months without a sit-down interview with a players. Some clubs are worse than others on this front. Rightly or wrongly, many Premier League clubs see little value in putting up players for interviews with traditional ‘written’ journalists.

At national level, this isn’t the case. The FA have identified there is a sense of public duty for players to speak to a bigger audience. When a player is interviewed by BBC, or talkSPORT, or the Daily Mirror, he is speaking to the country. Quite often those same reporters will have been told by club staff that, say, Jack Grealish or Bukayo Saka are unavailable for interviews. Yet, here they are with England, finding all players are fair game to be interviewed. Again, those privileges are reflected by a softer, warmer level of reporting.

More so, Team England has become the perfect antidote to an increasingly divided country. Gareth Southgate went to great lengths to explain the pre-game genuflect was a gesture against racism – not some Marxist claptrap dreamt up by deluded hard-of-thinking antagonists. By doing this Southgate effectively handed over ownership to the people. Your pick: choose decency, or choose intolerance. But you own it.

This is a group of individuals that has taken on the Government and offered greater opposition than those charged with that particular role. They have pursued empathy and inclusivity, promoting racial equality. This is a team to serve a demographic that has felt increasingly marginalised in the post-Brexit shit-storm of social decay, racial division and national tabloidisation. England’s class of 2021 has given us hope that this country isn’t as bad as we thought it was.

There is a place for decency and tolerance, after all.

Just don’t mention the penalties…

Chris Lepkowski is a sports journalism lecturer at Birmingham City University.

CATCH-UP: My five most clicked on posts and links of 2020 you may have missed

Here you go.

Here’s my five most clicked on posts and five most clicked links from my weekly email.

Clipped: I watched the 100 best TikTok videos to find the optimum length of a post

Here’s a weird one. I couldn’t find a clip talking about optimum video length for TikTok so I did the research myself in early 2020. It’s still generating traffic.

TikTok used to be a maximum of 15 seconds but has increased to 60 seconds.

The results?

The average length of the top 100 was just over 15.6 seconds – rounded up to 16 seconds.

While creators are able to make longer video the optimum length would appear to be shorter.

You can read the post here.

High numbers: The UK social media and messaging user data you need for 2021

Here’s a round-up of data for communicators in 2021 from the extensive and rather handy Ofcom data.

As a country, older people gravitate to Facebook and WhatsApp while younger people can be found on a wider array of platforms.

Messaging platforms like Messenger, WhatsApp and Skype collectively are more popular than social media accounts.

Every age demographic has its distinct preferences.

You can read the post here.

2021 numbers: Ofcom media & stats for the UK

Another round of data for communicators crunched.

Online Nation published in June 2021 gives a picture of how much has changed. Want a two word summary?

‘Changed lots.’

You can read the post here.

Like practice. How do I practice a Facebook Live without anyone seeing it?

Here’s another that was created several years ago but Google search has pushed it high up the rankings.

I get it. You like the idea of Facebook Live but you just don’t like the idea of looking stupid in front of your friends. Well relax. This is for you.

You can read the post here.

Guest post. Learning how to better communicate with diverse communities during COVID-19

Polly Czoik from Hackney Council’s astonishingly helpful post on reachuing diverse communities.

Each phase of the pandemic has unwrapped new challenges. Now we have a vaccine, why aren’t people coming forward to take it? Polly Cziok talks about the groundbreaking work the London Borough of Hackney have been involved with to map their diverse communities, listen to them, create bespoke content for them and then refine it. People want to be informed not manipulated. It’s an approach that is starting to work.

You can read the post here.

Popular links

Tweets as images of text

Madeline Sugden’s post chimed with people. It maps why social contact can often be inaccessible to a chunk of people.

Now a year on, the issue of inaccessible information in text graphics continues. Over the last few days, we’ve again seen organisations choosing to respond to issues with a statement in a graphic with no other way of reading it. 

We can’t let this be the norm and let it go unchallenged. Social media needs to be a place which is accessible to everyone. We all need to do our bit. Being busy or not thinking about it is not an excuse.

You can read it here.

Only Your Boss Can Cure Your Burnout

Here’s a sign of the times. The Atlantic’s post on overwork was one of the most popular links of the year.

There’s also been burnout creep recently—people might talk about “midlife-crisis burnout” or being “burned out on Pilates.” But at its core, burnout is a work problem. Though wellness influencers might suggest various life hacks to help push through pandemic torpor, actual burnout experts say that tips and tricks are not the best way to treat the condition.

You can read it here.

Facebook advertising in 2021: 6 most valuable tips for beginners

This practical guide proved to be useful.

It’s not 2016 anymore – the era of a relatively easy organic reach is long gone. There have been lots of updates on the Facebook algorithm during the last couple of years. Most important of them being the way posts appear in the feed.

You can read the post here.

How to tell stories with maps

The story of Dr John Snow plotting cholera deaths and working out it was coming from an infected pump is a thing of wonder.

The result was the famous Cholera Map, which proved that infections were concentrated around a specific water pump — which was itself connected to a local cholera-ridden cesspit.

John Snow’s findings transformed how public authorities responded to the disease. They also contributed to the revolution in sanitation infrastructure in London — and other cities around the world — in decades to come.

You can read more here.

Cumbria County Council’s home COOVID-19 test video

Abi, the daughter of a comms person, starred in this video which came at a time when we were trying to work out how testing worked.

Secondary pupils will do regular COVID-19 tests when they go back to school and many are anxious about it. To help, Abi offered to demonstrate what doing a test involves. She was pretty nervous herself but now she knows it’ll be OK. Please share with your children if they are worried and you think it will help.

You can watch it here.

WEB HISTORY: Celebrating England and a late 90s internet creation called Valiantitus

Someone asked why I greet England goals on Twitter in the same way.

Let me explain.

Caution: This is not one of my regular blog posts about communications. If football or the early internet is not your thing skip this. Normal service will be resumed.

Where I learned to spot internet rumours

Everything I learned about the internet came from late 90s internet messageboards.

These places were early social media. You signed up with a pseudonym and then you took part in earnest debates on niche subjects.

With me, it was Stoke City and the Oatcake Messageboard set-up by the editors of the well-established The Oatcake fanzine.

That was the place where I first fell for internet rumours when ‘Lee Trundle seen in Hanley estate agents’ threads circulated. And I realised that you had to take things with a pinch of salt.

It was a community and as such had friends and enemies. You can still find it online. It has 4.9 million posts and represents a tremendous piece of Stoke and internet history.

One related forum was for League One fans. One regular poster was someone called Valiantitus who may or may not be real. He used to give detailed accounts of Port Vale games where goals were always greeted with BOOM! BOOM! BROOKER AWAG! LIQUID FOOTBALL GOAL EXPLOSION!

As a comic creation, this was Alan Partridge meets Fantasy Football.

There is little of his writing left on the web.

This is the Valiantitus match report when England reached the 2002 World Cup.

It’s why in homage I greet goals the same way.

Valiantitus’s England match report England v Greece

it was BECKHAM pure magic dream free kick dipping goal explosion crowd explosion england pubs explosion birches head explosion all over the country AWAG EXPLOSION as England make the world cup somewhere next year

“it is was and a game of greatness of important happenings with so much to go from and places to go i it was england vs greece and it was but not as many people thought it would turn out it did the way that it went but Old trafford sixty thosand people together as one though some say it could of been more but it they came out always a strange tunnel in the corner but boom god save the queen faithful and triumfant victorious long and faithful god save the queen they sung even beckham and then it kicked off and once again we watched it in the living room no problems no touch of frost this time to hold things back but it was saturday not wednesday night like last time and a day time kick off as nothing is on tv saturday afternoons maybe war films with soldiers but it was england match of the day me carl and step dad all around the table and monopoly but all eyes on england and eyes on motson who could not be seen but focused and kick off and it was ready

it was england but it was like them but it was not right not like germany and carl said maybe it was a one off then but it was england struggling like at newcastle it was hard and greek were fast and strong and going totally awag with outfield football ability and made england look like chesterfield but it was they were on top which is never right and never good to watch england playing like chesterfield all over the place and greece throwing everything chance after chance england no answer and no attacks scholes and gerrard going awag in a bad way in the middle of the park which is never a good sign we started with the Monopoly again from last night but the game was still left to be played and i am the tophat carl is the car and my step dad the boat and i own the gas works but it was harry selars for greek bang boom cross shot well struck greece goal explosion go directly to jail land on park lane at the same time which carl then bought but it was england madness and the bull fighters had taken the lead and then nothing better from england it was half time not looking good as i went for a ghost poo not using any paper to wipe which was lucky

then the second half happened they came out attacking a goal surrounded by england fans but it was the same as before only a different direction but it was all england behind both goals the greeks i do not now maybe well hidden we had chicken and chips to eat in between but no gravey then both England and monopoly kicked off again move past go two hundred fake pounds please as barmby went off who was poor on the left wing first half but on came cole who is rubbish at times but good but can be poor but did well and got the defence of the greeks in a muddle and cole behind power shot well saved but still mixed from england and all playing badly but appart from beckham who is he was is everywhere doing everyones job but only him and martin in goals are doing us proud then it happened on comes sheringham on he comes as sub off goes someone maybe fowler i cant remeber as i was buying hotels on regent street at the time but then corner ball down the left beckham crosses sheringham power bounce header boom bang goal england score and it was is 1-1 sheringham only on the pitch 2 seconds maybe less but first touch england are level immense old trafford ground explosion and i buy a house on old kent road

it is it now england are back and are looking to destroy the bull fighters but then with the crowd building up in to an awag volume exposion it was greeks again the minute later keown or ferdanand falls over slip slide gentle placement goal in to the corner 1-2 and carl throws the momopoly comunity chest across the room in temper cards go everywhere so much is shattered what now england let slip no way back but just like vale always hope and germany still being held by finland at home stay like this and england do go out but it will not happen more subs made macamanaman on for ash cole going all attack now and a couple of good chances but now only 5 minutes left of normal ref time greek goalkeeping man having total blinder nothing goes in just like goodlad when on form but it keeps going and england need it bad injury time added four minutes as carl wins monopoly building hotels on the gas works does not count but it is england moving forward 2 minutes left attacks more foiled again last minute of injury time arrives sheringham wins free kick 30 yards out but who to take beckham or gerrard but it is beckham had so many free kicks that after noon all not good but this one he can do it needs something special like brammer or mills about him from a dead ball situation steps up englands last hope smack bang boom curl bending goal dipping power goal explosion top corner AWAG not BROOKER but BECKHAM 2-2 as Old Trafford rose as one last minute and it is ultimate awag at its best and it is germany draw held no goals at home to finland or poland can not remember all a blur but it was BECKHAM pure magic dream free kick dipping goal explosion crowd explosion england pubs explosion birches head explosion all over the country AWAG EXPLOSION as England make the world cup somewhere next year and we had some tea to celebrate and will play monopoly again later

England Player ratings
Player ratings

Nigel Martin 8 (Englands best player who played in goal today for
england and made some good saves to stop nasty bad things happening and becoming real)

Gary Neville 6 (it was neville he is not great but can be good in a
good way but today he did get forward but not at his best which is
rare anyway but he was there is no one better which is a shame at right back)

Ashley Cole 6 (not special but it he i mean is a good one for future
events is ok but could of done better but let people get in behind
which is never good)

Martin Keown 6 (old now but still has a brain in his head inside his
skull which is in his head but he is old now)

Rio Ferdanand 6 (lots of talent a bit like michael walsh at vale but ferdanad is to cocky)

Steven Gerrard 5 (poor and not good i said before alcohol plays havoc with my tail maybe it was him drinking in mid week that affected his preformance i just do not now but he was poor)

David BECKHAM 10 (all were poor today outfield but BECKHAM was there doing things like a combination of Bridge Wilkinson Brammer and Naylor everywhere doing so much made a goal scored a goal)

Paul Scholes 5 (not he was not good he was bad had a volley well saved in the box but not good a passanger and kept not finding players in england shirts with his short passes)

Robbie Fowler 5 (did not go and do what it was it what the people said and score goals does things but is a poacher not enough hard work and things but a bit of an anigmer if truth be told)

Emile Heskey 6 (does things and is strong can be good but is not good at other times needs to do better more often like germany)

Nick Barnby 5 (not good but he can be but yet another who did not do well and did not link up i do not now)

Teddy Sheringham 8 (sent the crowd in to pre awag moment of joy with a goal but was cut short but did well other wise)

Steve Macamanaman 6 (not much to make an impact but did not make as many mistake as in the last game for England at Newcastle)”

The end

LONG READ: Where TikTok sits in the media landscape and how the public sector can use it

I’ve lost count of the number of people asking about TikTok.

If middle managers are suggesting TikTok something is clearly happening.

First things first. Cards on the table. I’m slightly sceptical of emerging platforms.

Until they become used by a decent number of people I keep an eye on them. This way, I’ve avoided the hype around Google Buzz, Google Wave and Google Plus.

Just because people suggest it doesn’t always make it a good idea.

But several things make TikTok a real proposition in the public sector.

Here’s your break-down…

The numbers say take TikTok seriously

There are npw 12 million TikTok users in the UK.

Not only that, but they’ve surged to a particular demographic. Ofcom data says almost half UK 16 to 24s use the platform. So, if you need to reach this particular demographic then TikTok is a strong way to do it.

But it’s not just under 24s

While the platform is big with this group it would be wrong to dismiss it as a ghetto for Generation Z.

TikTok are trying really hard to make the platform reach older groups of people too. Watch a Euro 2020 game and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll see TikTok ads around the perimeter as one of the event sponsors.

They’ve also taken out shirt sponsorship of Wrexham FC who are owned by high profile Hollywood duo Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.

Again, these football matches are places where older demographics see the brand name.

Take also the ease to download a TikTok video. If you’ve been scrolling through Facebook or Twitter over the last 12-months the cute dog video you may have seen may well have had the tell-tale TikTok branding.

While other platforms like YouTube guard their content and make it hard to rip them TikTok serves it up on a plate to make it sharable. They really want you to share it in WhatsApp or Facebook.

Me? In the 12-months I’ve been dabbling I’ve ended up following a number of people who don’t do your typical stuff aimed at younger people.

Get over yourself

Firstly, there’s things to be appalled about. There’s a lot of females dancing. Some of them I’m not entirely sure how old they are and I’m entirely sure their parents would have a view of their clothing choice.

I’ve also heard communicators in their 40s be appalled at the rapid edits and K-Pop backing music that can be found on the platform. Wise up, Grandma. Get over yourself. Those videos aren’t aimed at you. The fast edits work on the platform best.

I’ve also heard communicators be appalled at the site of dancing nurses at the start of the pandemic. They may have as point. But I’d argue that setting a tone and direction is important rather than refusing to work with it. There is much more to TikTok than dancing staff if you try.

Then there’s the Information Commissioner’s Office’s questions over the data privacy of children and impending legal action over the topic. Those are things to be aware of.

TikTok is bending over for advertisers

Another factor to take into account is TikTok are making a big push with advertising agencies and businesses. A string of companies are advertising with the platform in the UK and there’s resources to make the process easier.

The big flaw for the public sector however is that advertising can only be localised to the ‘UK’ rather than to say, Dudley in the West Midlands. Or more specifically brass band enthusiasts who are engaged support Stoke City and who live in Dudley. In that department, Facebook platforms still have the edge.

But in the US TikTok are trialling TikTok city-by-city ads.

Broadly, it shows a direction of travel.

The TikTok for Business platform is a good place to have a look at. You’ll find a lot of resources and some data to help you understand the platform.

How to create content?

And this is the $64,000 dollar question.

A load of people have looked at TikTok and scratched their heads. They see the argument and they struggle with exactly how to do it.

There are some filters to think of before going down this path.

More than 70 per cent of people come to TikTok for entertainment. So, if your content is not entertaining it won’t work. If that rules out swathes of what you do that’s fine. It’s worth knowing now.

How to videos work as do place marketing, tourist information, tips and tricks about a place and some good relevant knowledge.

I have to break it to you know that making dull content on a dull subject always fails.

The cunning line from TikTok is ‘Don’t make ads, make TikToks.’

It’s a clever one. They want you to create content that fits into the platform.

So, how can you use it practically?

The corporate channel idea

Places like Liverpool City Council and Lancashire Fire & Rescue have deployed a corporate channel. They’re worth looking at. In particular, Liverpool’s channel catches the eye.

As I understand it, they’re lucky to have a full-time videographer on the payroll with an eye for a shot and a willingness to experiment.

This video from Liverpool, for example, has had 25,000 views and records the progress the city has made from April 2020 to the first dance night test night 12-months later.

Now, if you watch that it doesn’t look like a council product, does it?

That said, I’m not convinced that corporate channels are always the way to go. Good luck to innovators like Liverpool but a one-person comms team will never come near to them.

The NHS has a channel to their credit but this feels like more of a repurposing of existing content than a warm embrace of it. There are others too.

The working with creators idea

TikTok have been pointing large brands down the route of working with established TikTok creators. In other words the people who craft effective video on the platform can make your TikTok with you. You can potentially find them on creator marketplace.

What they mean by this route is to create something that works on the platform and has the spirit of the platform rather than cutting and pasting existing content.

This approach led to this cracking video for M&S Food whereby a singleton creator celebrated the food by making a slightly pastiche video that saw her tucking in alone to a M&S meal deal.

It has all the breathy ‘This isn’t food, this is M&S food’ schtick but the twist is it’s for one.

Take a look:

It’s a cracking video.

It’s clearly on brand but playing with it.

Of course, these formal routes probably aren’t open to most parts of the public sector. But it does raise the really important concept of encouraging others to create content for you either by approaching them or by setting a challenge that people can pile in on.

The joining in with a challenge or creating one idea

Making a video with a hashtag is a good way of getting it in front of people who are scrolling through loads of content with the hashtag.

For example, there’s the #accentchallenge hashtag.

This video by user @ceeceejax is a video in response to one poster by someone from Northern Ireland to say a list of words on your local accent, like ‘baby’, ‘water’ and ‘film’.

The end result shows a celebration of local dialect.

If you were looking to reach a Black Country audience on TikTok, this is one way to start doing that with the right hashtags added.

‘Baby’ ‘water’ ‘film’ and ‘got yer jab, bab?’ would go down a storm in the Black Country.

The venue account idea

For this, the venue is the thing.

Full props to the Black County Living Museum on this who have set a high bar with their fun and educational videos that both embrace the sprit of TikTok but also their mission to educate.

Listening to the architect of their strategy, they make the videos in consultation between the costumed demonstrators and the marketing manager. They will look at TikTok see what trends are working and see if they can make something from that.

They also don’t shy a way from the fact this is work and takes time, planning, shooting and editing. But they get brilliant results with 1.2 million followers which they’ve seen translate into visits to the website.

Interestingly, their Facebook is different and more about celebrating nostalgia. Their TikTok isn’t because it’s a different audience. That’s such a big lesson.

The employee channel idea

The NHS is particularly good at this.

Here, Dr Karan Raj has an account where he gives basic medical tips that he think people will find useful. Why you should not take ibuprofen on an empty stomach, for example.

In this one, its what people need to know about the latest COVID-19 wave.

Other nurses, doctors and paramedics are also on TikTok making content.

That said, most of these NHS channels don’t feel as though they are official. Good, because that’s their strength.

But what makes TikTok different?

I’ve spoken at length about the numbers and the approaches. You may be wondering what that is.

TikTok is a portrait video platform that throws video at you. It starts on the For You screen where TikTok shows you things it thinks you’ll like based on previous viewing.

Click through to ‘Following’ and you’ll see people who you follow.

You can search with ‘discover’ and tap through on the hashtags added to videos you watch.

More than 90 per cent of TikTok users just watch rather than create but if you did want to make things there’s a stack of tools and functionality within the editing functionality.

You can learn more about TikTok and other emerging channels as part of the ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER workshops I run.

PRESENT TIP: The universal truth of Mums, Dads and Aunts and Uncles and good sharable content

Let me tell you a secret.

The single truth that works just as well today as it did on my first day in a newsroom is this…

‘News is people.’

Back then, I was told to put people in photographs that would appear in the paper so Mums, Dads and aunts and uncles would buy extra copies of the paper and maybe a photographic print.

Today, I want people in the social content because they’ll share it online and so will Mums, dads and aunts and uncles.

Put people in your content.

I train communications people to be better communicators. You can find out more here.

WATCH LEARN: A dozen TikToks that say Footballs Coming Home

If you are looking to make sense of TikTok then the European Championships of 2020 are a perfect time to do it.

Aside from being one of the event sponsors the platform is also a hub of creativity.

One of the ways you can be creative is to use a particular licensed track. Adding a hashtag to it means your video can be thrown into a huge pool of videos all with the same hashtag.

If you liked one then you can binge watch as many as you like.

Buoyed by England beating Germany the morning after I downloaded a dozen different videos with the same track and hashtag to show you.

There’s a TikTok from England player Jack Grealish using match action footage, a gardening project, family watching the game and celebrating, an old folk’s home, jubilant friends, a fan park, a female supporter, a baby and an American girlfriend recording her boyfriend as he watched the game.

Dig in.

A few words about the concept of singing ‘Football is Coming Home’.

When Stoke fans sing ‘We’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen’ they’re dreaming.

When England fans sing the Baddiel & Skinner song they’re generally doing the same.

Yes, there are of course idiots.

Hope that clears that up.

LONG READ: What can the Commscamp unconference achieve in 2021?

The first two releases of tickets for the newest iteration of commscamp have seen 300 tickets snapped-up in seven minutes.

That’s an incredible set of figures that the attendees themselves can take pride in.

Commscamp Still At Home will be online across three days from September 21 with between 40 and 50 45-minute slots for sessions.

Eight years after the first event was staged in Birmingham it has both evolved and stayed the same.

It’s always the same

John Peel used to describe his favourite band The Fall as ‘always the same, always different,’ and that’s something I can recognise in Commscamp.

There is a core to the event that hasn’t changed.

It’s free for in-house public sector comms people.

It’s run by volunteers.

We book space, then tell people about it and ask them to come and they do.

The agenda is decided on the day by attendees with no slides and, lets not beat about the bush, no rooms of people being kept hostage with no opportunity to chip in.

On the day, the event is run on open space principles.

  • Whoever comes are the right people.
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
  • Whenever it starts is the right time.
  • Whenever it’s over, it’s over.
  • Wherever it happens is the right place.

There’s also one law, the law of two feet which means you can get up from a session at any time and find another one. Or just go and grab a cup of coffee.

As an organiser, once the sessions have been chosen at the start of the day our work is done. One year, I’m just to go home at this point because the day just looks after itself. Me being there is not essential.

Always different

Every yea each Commscamp event has had a different feeling and spirit.

The very first in Birmingjham in 2013 was about the excitement of new and emerging channels and how we could use them. In other years, there has been a feeling of group therapy and the need to come together to share experience.

In 2020, Commscamp Stays Home was our first foray online and there was a sense of shared experience five months into the pandemic.

This is fine.


I’ve promoted events that are both paid for and free. It’s liberating having an event that almost markets itself.

We don’t have to spend six months of the year pushing the dates and flogging tickets because the tickets go through reputation and word-of-mouth.

That said, good luck to paid for events which are hugely profitable for those that run them but I think there is something pure about a free event so people can share their knowledge.


For me, the difference between the actual unconference and one with a pre-approved agenda, speakers and slides is clear.

The real unconference gives space to tackle the issues facing everyone that day the traditional event tackles what faced one individual six months ago.

There is a place for the traditional, but I strongly think that the unconference route where you can tap into the hive mind makes for stronger solutions.

Coming together to solve a problem gives safety in numbers, reassurance, confidence and a network.

The traditional event has a handful of slots in a day which speak to the majority of the room. The unconference can give dozens of slots to tackle issues so its fine for people to find a sub-genre or niche that’s troubling them.

One of my favourite moments at a Commscamp was a time when someone pitched a session where only three people wanted to go.

Those three people were overjoyed to know that there were others also vexed by this pet niche. They had found their soulmates in the crowd. I remember speaking to one of them afterwards.

How did it go? I asked.

“Absolutely brilliant. There were two people who didn’t think I was weird and I think we’ve got something that can make it work and we’re going to stay in touch.”



It’s worth mentioning the sponsors because without sponsors the event wouldn’t happen.

Kirstie at Touch Design and John Paul at Council Advertising Network are examples of people I love to work with. They get the event and their session pitches add value. It’s no wonder why people want to work with them in the months to come.

We’re very lucky to have had some good sponsors who buy into the ethos of the day. It’s not about a 20-minute slide deck to the room or hard sell. It is hearing the hot topics, the kudos of chipping in with ideas and your research and development.

One year, a social media management platform came along to start to pitch their wares to the public sector. They were told their product was lovely but way overpriced. Oh dear, I thought. Far from it. The sponsors left happy. It would have taken them six months and tens of thousands of pounds to have reached this conclusion.

The unagenda

The reality is that I don’t know what the agenda is going to look like. We do always encourage discussion ahead of time but sometimes things which have flown on Facebook ahead of the event don’t get mentioned. That’s fine.

Here’s an example of last year…

The imperfect imperfections and the ones to leave

With any event there are things that work and things that don’t.

Some sessions work and some don’t.

You can’t be in two places at once for competing sessions you’d love to see.

Someone wise once said that if you have 100 people coming to an unconference then 10 won’t get it but 90 will.

Those 90 love it but just wonder if we could just tweak it slightly. Like, sort the agenda out in advance, maybe. The advice I’ve always followed is that keep it simple and trust the process.

Some things I do think we need to look at. How do you help new people settle in? How do you make it inclusive? How do you make it not feel like a place for in-jokes and an in-crowd?

This is always a danger for something long running.

How can a subsersive event stay cutting edge?

The unconference movement in the UK public sector started in 2007 when UK government people were fed-up at having to pay a supplier thousands of pounds to make a change to a government website.

Their ideas helped lead to revolutionary things like gov.uk and the Cameron government’s embrace of open data. In local government, they helped speed-up the ideas around using social media.

The challenge to be radical and well-established is a difficult one.

How can we get the ideas we talk about into effect? is one that still needs working on.

I’d love it if the model for an unconference was used by others. There’s no copyright on them. Come and then run one yourself. It’s not hard.

What Commscamp can do in 2021

All this leads to what Commscamp Still At Home can do this year.

For me, it can be online and accessible, a safe space, about technology but the right technology, about human beings, about sharing ideas and knowing you are not alone.

It can be whatever attendees decide it to be.

The perfect mix

I’ve always thought that the mix for an event was the veteran who knows the ropes and the novice who is prepared to put their hand up and chip into a discussion.

The head of comms sat next to a marketing assistant with equal weight to both their ideas.

I was that novice in 2009 at localgovcamp and it utterly changed how I work, think and do things.

I’d love more than anything for there to be people who do the same.

The first two ticket releases have taken place for Commscamp Still At Home with 300 tickets distributed. There will be 444 tickets distributed overall across the two days. Add yourself to the waitlist for a chance of a ticket. You can do this by finding the eventbrite for each day here.

Commscamp Still At Home runs from September 21 to 23.

The organising group includes Bridget Aherne, Kate Bentham, Josephine Graham, David Grindlay, Leanne Hughes, Sweyn Hunter, Emma Rodgers and Lucy Salvage.

SURVEY: The looming iceburg that’s facing public sector comms

Last week I blogged the data from 12-months of the pandemic on how public sector comms people have faced the pandemic.

No question that they have saved lives and there have been many positives. Working as a team scored well, for example.

But once I’d finished blogging the numbers one underlying trend remained.

Alarming rates of stress, mental health and physical health remain as a hangover from those months of hard work when people pushed themselves to the limit.

Almost 60 per cent say their mental health is worse and 52 per cent say physical health has suffered. These figures aren’t bouncing back. Why should they? People are not made of elastic.

Yet, mostly this looming iceburg has not cropped up with many organisations.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard of a ‘three month push to get ourselves back on track.’ People want business as usual on top of pandemic comms.

I’m hearing we’re past the point where something has got to break. Something is breaking and for some something has already broken.

I’ve distrusted mental health week since I heard the truth about the story of the organisation’s glowing case study. The manager praised in the puff piece actually acted against advice when he helped his team member.

This is a time for heads of comms to act, managers to act, chief executives to act and the CIPR and NUJ to show leadership.

I don’t know what the answer is because I’m not an expert in the field but it feels like meaningful support and understanding would be nice.

It’s time to put high sounding words about mental health you signed off into action.

SURVEY: How public sector comms people have fared working through the pandemic part 1: the big picture

When the story of the first 12-months of the COVID-19 pandemic is written it will record more than 100,000 dead.

It will also record Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ‘Stay home, save lives, protect the NHS’ address to the nation.

Nothing will record profound sense of shock and alarm in those first few days in what was the beginning of a long trudge to try and find normality.

Without question the death rate would have been far higher but for public sector communicators who were enlisted into the biggest crisis since World War Two.

But what impact has it had on them?

The price paid

Stress, longer hours, a retreat to working from home and a loss of face-to-face office connections have been what fire, police, NHS, local and central government comms teams have faced.

In July 2020, I started a survey of fire, police, NHS, central and local government communicators which has turned into a rolling tracker that’s captured some of the ebb ands flow.

It reveals the secret price paid by those asked to support those on the frontline.

In many places there is no off switch and burn-out is present. In others, the changes have been welcomed.

Worryingly, it’s a price paid with a tsunami of mental health problems, deteriorating physical health, increased isolation and stress often in the face of a lack of leadership, information and resources.

In this blog post I run through 12-months of figures that are likely to throw a long shadow across the lives of those involved.


“Feel like I’m “Living at work” rather than “working from home” – no boundaries between working day and down time.”

 “I have gained a lot from the pandemic so this outweighs the hard times.”

Most say it’s getting easier

At last, in summer 2021 the indicators finally show that working in the pandemic is getting easier. More than 40 per cent gave this positive feedback in the survey. That’s a figure that’s double those who think it is getting harder.

Q: Is working in the pandemic getting easier or harder?

But health continues to suffer

Across the pandemic, mental health and physical health among public sector people has taken a battering.

Worryingly, this isn’t improving.

With physical health, 52 per cent say it has worsened in the most recent survey in April and May 2021. Mental health has also taken a beating with 58 per cent of public sector people reporting deteriorating mental health.

This is the canary in the coalmine for the sector.

Q: Is your mental health getting better or worse?


“Working from home gave me more time to exercise at the start and end of the working day.”

With a real national push to care for our wellbeing I have actually worked out more and more consistently since the start of the pandemic than before.

“Less time and motivation to exercise, higher stress.”

“I’ve had a couple of emergency hospital visits due to stress related symptoms. Found myself crying with anxiety and work overload and no real support.”

The positives still hold

Across the pandemic, a consistent three out of four have reported they have felt as though they are working for the common good.

Around half have felt through the last 12-months as though they are part of a team.

Feeling as though you are part of an organisation that has felt valued has been more problematic. In June 2020, 41 per cent reported this but it slipped to a quarter through the remainder of the year rallying again to 40 per cent in May and June 2021.


 “Had a couple of serious wobbles, but learnt better how to deal with them.”

The negatives remain

The darker side of the coin in working through the pandemic has been the impact on home.

A third have consistently experienced problems with home schooling and a tenth with looking after a loved one.

Stress as spring 2021 turned into summer remains an endemic issue with 74 per cent reporting it as an issue – a four per cent improvement on January 2021.

However, lack of direction has also been a problem.

In April and May 2020, 40 per cent reported this with UK Government and a third reporting the same issue with home governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A lack of leadership from the comms person’s own organisation has improved by five points to 25 per cent.


“Lack of support at work and unappreciated in my job, became more apparent during covid. Felt like comms was seen as disposable as we weren’t physically seen as often.”

A lack of resources is biting

Enough tools and staff to do the job has remained a consistent problem with 23 per cent reporting a lack of staff sliding to 36 per cent in the most recent study. This was mirrored by a lack of resources to do the job surging from 24 per cent in 2020 to 38 per cent in April and May 2021.


“Working in a comms team means you’re often on your own working with services, and not being in the office means you often feel very isolated from the rest of your team. My manager has been absent and I’m struggling to fight to get things taken seriously by upper management and having to stand up to lots of people within the service… and failing to win the arguments a lot of the time. This is one of the biggest impacts on my mental health – but there are so many others.”

Winter was the hardest period

Each period of the pandemic has had its own challenges and problems. The survey showed winter with lockdown 2.0 was the hardest for 45 per cent of public sector comms people. That beat lockdown 1.0 with 26 per cent. Regional lockdowns in the autumn (11 per cent) was third toughest with just four per cent saying the opening months of 2021 were hardest.


“It worsened during the winter 2020/21 but improved as restrictions lifted.”

Q: Which period of the pandemic was hardest?

The working from home dilemma

It’s clear that working from home has been Marmite. Some love some don’t. As we look at how we go back to the office heads of comms and managers need to know that they’ll have people keen on the idea and those who hate it.


“Working from home is less stressful and tiring than travelling to the office every day. Prefer the peace and quiet to think.”

“Home has merged into office and the boundaries of the working day have disappeared- I feel like the usual 9-5 mon to drive has been replaced with 24/7 and after a year, my mind, body and, dare I say it, passion has wilted away.”

Abuse is rampant

More than 12-months into the pandemic and abuse is worsening.

Those seeing abuse aimed at their fire, council, police, council or government department has risen from 27 per cent seen weekly to 31 per cent. Verbal abuse aimed at individuals has almost doubled from seven to 13 per cent as a weekly incident.

Racist abuse is seen daily by 16 per cent of respondents – that’s up from nine per cent last summer.

The back to business-as-usual mistake

The figures are alarming and they paint a picture which can often be toxic for those enduring it. There is a health penalty to be paid and how to respond to support staff is one of the challenges facing people.

There is anecdotal talk of a big push to normality when there’s nothing to give.


My mental health has taken an absolute battering, mainly down to the workload. Not we’re coming through the other side of the pandemic all I want to do is rest and reset, but business as usual has kicked back in and the chief is talking about three months of hard work to get the organisation back on track. We haven’t got any more to give.”

In part two, I’ll look at the data country-by-country and also sector by sector.

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