30 days of human comms #77 South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s discussion between black firefighters

Normally, I take a dim view of YouTube clips more than three or four minutes… and this one is 19 minutes.

Despite it being far longer than the optimum YouTube length the video works really well.

Really, it’s more of a Facebook Live. It’s a chat between two people about an issue and 20 minutes is the right length for a live video.

In a nutshell, the first black firefighter with South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Trevor Bernard who has just retired talks with a firefighter Aayon with three years service.

It’s also a very honest chat for Black History Month.

The world doesn’t smell of paint.

Trevor is clearly proud of his service but doesn’t shirk the fact that he felt he had to work twice as hard to prove himself. There were people against black firefighters when he started, he says.

The more recent recruit also says that he grew up never seeing a black firefighter.

There’s elements in here that could be seen as tricky.

Some people from the Afro Caribbean community won’t join uniformed services on principle, one of them says.

This is why it’s good human comms… it’s honest.

From a delivery point of view, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue score brownie points by uploading a 16-minute clip to Facebook, upload ther same length clip to YouTube and a 19-second taster for Twitter.

Bravo, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue.

30 Days of human comms #76 Shropshire Council’s weather warning written with wit

It’s been a while since I blogged about human comms and now I’m writing three in a week.

Bravo Shropshire Council not for a human story but for speaking in human.

It’s a recognisable language that you recognise when you see it.

In this case, their Twitter account wanted to warn of inclement weather.

Rather than link to their website in a very 2009 way they built a thread and used a GIF of BBC weather forecaster Michael Fish who famously dismissed what ended up to be a massive night of weather in 1987.

The link is here…

Marvellous work, Shropshire.

FACEBOOK: Data-driven tips for your 2022 Facebook strategy

I was running through some fresh Facebook data and it seems as though the blunting of Facebook pages is even more marked than I thought.

If you’re a Facebook page admin you’ll have seen your organic reach struggle of late, I’m sure.

But data released by Facebook in the ‘Widely Viewed Content Report: What People See on Facebook’ shows just how much the reach of pages in the newsfeed has fallen.

Facebook page reach falls lower than groups and friends and family

According to the numbers, posts from friends and family in the second quarter of 2021 was 57 per cent, groups joined was 19.3 per cent and pages at 14 per cent. Unconnected posts accounts for 8 per cent and other 1.5 per cent.

Now, there is a disclaimers to attach to this. Firstly, these are US stats from earlier in the year. Secondly, the algorithm is ever changing.

But there is enough to take this as a good representative feature on what the UK picture also looks like.

What this teaches us is that your page content organically isn’t doing much.

Make content that encourages meaningful interactions

Take more time on creating better content. For that we can go back to something Mark Zuckerburg in 2018.

“You’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard – it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

Mark Zuckerburg, 2018.

What does meaningful interactiosn mean?

It means a back and forth discussion and replying to questions for a start.

This National Trust post is designed to encourage discussion. The more discussion the more reach when they have something important to say.

Make content to share with Facebook groups

Get to know the Facebook group admins that are likely to share your post.

Sharing details of a new museum exhibition into the local history group is one thing.

Sharing a request for memories or items from the 1960s when the Glass Cone in Stourbridge employed 100 people is even better.

This post from We Love Walsall Leather Museum shows some good interaction between the page and users.

Steer away from links that aren’t to Facebook

The data also confirmed that posts with links don’t do very well.

Posts with links accounted for 12.9 per cent of all content seen leaving the remaining 87.1 per cent posts with no links.

It’s long been no secret that posts with links get scored down by Facebook. Why? Because they don’t want you to leave the site. Why would they want to send you elsewhere? However, the link penalty doesn’t apply if you are sending people tio another corner of Facebook.

So in other words, links to your website are bad but links to other corners of Facebook, like a page post or event are fine.


For some, this may be enough to make them re-think their strategic approach. There has been a clamour driven by business behaviours to quit Facebook. The problem for a public sector communicator is that Facebook is where the audience is. With more than 40 million users, this is the platform that has the potential to reach the most people.

It’s not 2016 anymore.

Have a rethink.

I deliver ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER programme. This is a five-part online training which looks as part of it at ways to create content that gets on the right side of the algorithm. More here.

ABUSE: Reasonable steps to combat the online abuse of public sector people

Reasonable people are shocked at the killing of MP David Amess.

But this shines a wider light on the issue of online hate around the wider process of democracy.

One MP’s constituency manager interviewed on BBC Radio 4 spoke of logging 100 death threats a week.

But I’m also sure in local government, elected members are also threatened. 

The LGA have a really useful download on handling intimidation that you can find here that can help people in the public eye. 

Data says that comms people are in the firing line

In the most recentb set from June 2021, of the 400 respondents who work in pubklic sector comms, 30.4 per cent have seen verbal abuse aimed at their organisation, 13.2 per cent have had it aimed at them or a member of staff, 6.3 per cent have revieded threats of violence and 8.3 per cent have seen racist abuse.

That’s all on a weekly basis.

Anecdotally, going back several years people in comms have been stalked online and have taken time off with their mental health. 

To act is to be reasonable

Now, this isn’t on a par with being stabbed in person but this is part of the side wash of the wider problem that should be taken seriously. 

I’ve blogged before on the legal requirement to log threats as health and safety issues. Why? Two reasons. Because the law classifies a threat as violence in the workplace and it’s the law to log them and for the employer to take steps. 

When I cover this in training on how to handle comment, criticism and abuse there’s often surprise. 

Right now, in too many places it’s just seen as a part of the job to just shrug off. 

That’s just not good enough. 

Reasonable managers will be happy to act on this. 

COVID COMMS: What do communicators do when cases are rising but people are getting bored?

Today, 157 people died of COVID-19 and a public sector comms person talked of how we are living in a ‘post-COVID’ world.

If we are truly living in an after the pandemic world then someone also needs to tell the 45,066 people in the UK who tested positive today.

And that’s the problem.

How do we communicate with people on a topic where people appear to have got bored?

Consumption of COVID-19 messaging is dropping

Ofcom data would suggest that our consumption of pandemic-related news has dropped.

In their latest data release, 73 per cent of UK people are looking for coronavirus news every day. That compares with 97 per cent in the first four weeks of the first lockdown.

The places where get our pandemic information have broadly remained the same but the numbers have fallen.

The BBC was the dominant channel for news in the first weeks of lockdown 1.0 with 79 per cent getting information from it and that’s dropped to 63 per cent.

Maybe the only place where the numbers have remained the same have been friends family and neighbours. In the early weeks,. this was around 30 per cent and that’s stayed about the same.

As for councils and local NHS, their COVID-19 messages are getting through to between five and six per cent of people in October 2021.

Across official channels, that’s now at 27 per cent.

Anecdotally, public sector communicators say they are spending less time on the topic than they have been.

Of course, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

We’re tolerating high rates in the UK – for now

Hannah Devlin wrote an engaging piece in The Guardian that looked at the UK’s high rates of infection compared with the rest of the world.

The article quotes Linda Bauld, professor of public health at University of Edinburgh:

“We’ve become used to something that has not gone away. I think there’s been a desensitisation to the mortality.”

The moment where the change kicks in may be when it appears that hospitals may be running out of beds, Devlin ponders.

We are built to react to change, she writes, not deal with a background noise of the same, she says.

So, what do we do? We plan

I’m struck by something that a Commscamp Still At Home attendee said in a session.

Jim Whittington, a communicator who has decades of experience dealing with large scale fires in incident that can last for months, said that one of the key roles is planning. Short and long term can take several hours a day. It’s the only way to stop you from getting out of a reactive mode, he said.

Part of that planning needs to factor in the fact that communicators are often broken, with mental health issues and physical health deteriorating.

Not only that, but Brexit-related shortages are also very much in view.

With winter approaching, it feels like teams and local resilience forums need to get into that planning mode.

VIDEO EDIT: Five video trends for 2022 and what to do about them

As a communicator, I want to talk to people in effective ways and for the last few years this has been increasingly video.

It’s been a while since I blogged specifically about video so with my online video skills training now back up and airborne again I thought it an idea to do some horizon scanning.

The first thing to tell you is the popularity of video as content.

Video is the most popular type of content

Video is the content most people reach for in 2021, according to Animoto.

More than 80 per cent prefer video bearing images (68 per cent), text (31 per cent) and stories (30 per cent).

So, if video is what works, think about what video will work.

AR and video

Tech journalist Kris Kolo tweeted this short clip which made me smile. Watch it and you’ll see why.

Smart glasses download Augmented Reality software to put a smile on the faces of those you go past on your morning commute. How refreshing.

Augmented reality is a preserve of the under 24s with a global survey pointing to 24 per cent of web users from this demographic using AR in the previous month.

Augmented Reality is also something that Facebook are looking at expanding and that’s an indicator of where things will go.

This is a lived video experience rather than a recorded one and is an on-the-horizon trend rather than one that’s essential.

Working with TikTok creators

The daunting learning cliff that TikTok poses is that it has a language all of its own.

‘Don’t make an ad, make a TikTok’ is the platforms advice. Or in other words, make something bespoke for the platform. Don’t shoehorn in something from somewhere else.

Photomyne is an app that allows people to use their phone to scan old photographs and convert them to a digital file.

Instead of making their own videos they worked with TikTok creators through the platform’s own clearing house to make 12 organic posts with creators. The best performing ones they then turned into Spark Ads.

This led to a 27 per cent conversion rate for app installs – which is what they were after.

While this exact route isn’t open to everyone the idea of working with creators absolutely is.

This is one creator’s story of converting her brother Mohammed’s only picture into a digital file.

Instagram will be a video platform

Instagram’s change of direction needs repeating.

They want to see themselves as a video platform and not just a picture platform.

You can use this as more evidence on the onward march of video and how all social media is including video in what they do.

Adam Mosseri put the cat amongst the pigeons in this video which talking through the change of direction.

On Facebook, video still performs powerfully

Earlier in the year, I blogged on how Mark Zuckerburg spoke of how half of all time spent on Facebook is spent watching video.

That trend continues with Facebook revealing the majority of top performing posts including either a picture or video. If you don’t have one or the other the clear signal is that you are going to struggle.

If LinkedIn are getting involved with live video it must be a thing

Live has been a feature of the video landscape for a number of years.

Facebook has been at it for some time and have been joined by others including Instagram, YouTube and also… LinkedIn.

The format can work really well. Behind the scenes tours, Q&As and interviews are all content that perform well.

But the fact that LinkedIn now has gone down the path of live again shows a direction of travel.

At the moment, this is for approved members but you can see the tool being rolled out.

I help deliver ESSENTIAL VIDEO SKILLS REBOOTED online training. You can find out more and book a place here.

GUEST POST: Four tips for better social media imagery

It’s rare to have guest posts from outside of the public sector but this advice from Emeka Ikechi of London-based photography consultants Vanity Studios works whatever the sector.

Strategies for reaching and engaging customers/followers via social media have grown and evolved rapidly. While this is great news for those businesses and influencers doing social media well, for those failing to grow their audience, increase site traffic or convert followers into sales, it is hard to know what’s going wrong. 

One area that is always worth looking at is imagery. Instagram now boasts more than 500 million daily active users, demonstrating the importance of imagery to your social strategy.

Additionally, 72 per cent of US teenagers now use Instagram. As this demographic ages, they will gain spending power, so it is important to be engaging with them now to develop a strong customer base in the future. 

Keep it fresh

Even if you don’t have a huge budget to dedicate to your social media imagery, you can improve the impact of your images by following these four tips: Keep it fresh

While it is fine to reuse and repurpose images, they can quickly feel stale, especially if you reuse them a lot. This is true whether you are talking about a product shot or a headshot. Switching up your imagery regularly keeps people interested and engaged.

When it comes to headshots, it is important to give people a clear impression of who you are. If they meet you in person for a pitch, for example, then it helps if your headshot matches reality. That means updating your headshot when you change your style as well as generally as you get older. If you’ve changed your hair, update your image. Got a new pair of glasses? Take a new snap.

When it comes to things like product shots, it helps to have them in the appropriate setting. That means not using a sunny beach shot in the middle of winter…unless you are advertising in the southern hemisphere. If you’re pushing your product as a Christmas gift – add some festive elements to the image. In fact, making your product shots seasonal can be fun and engaging while demonstrating how your product stays relevant year-round.

Maintain high quality

Creating great images in a high-quality format helps you appear professional and high-quality yourself. Great images start with great composition and setting. Having either lots of negative space or lots of clutter can seriously impact the quality of the image. Including engaging visual elements, such as people’s faces or cute animals, on the other hand, can help attract positive attention.

When considering the quality of the image format, more pixels isn’t always better. Every social media site has a strict size limit and specific resolution at which they will display images. Smaller images will be scaled up, which can look incredibly grainy and low-quality. However, larger images will be scaled down, which can also make them look very grainy. While the effect often isn’t as pronounced, the more the image is scaled up or down, the grainier it will look. 

As such, it is best to aim for images that are the exact size and resolution the site will display them at to avoid scaling. This can vary between social media platforms and image placement. Facebook Ads images are a different size to Facebook Feed images, for example, so do your research first.

Showcase your business, personal brand or products

As the old adage goes: show, don’t tell. If you can demonstrate how your product or service is used to improve your customers’ lives, you will create an image and idea in customers’ minds. They will imagine enjoying themselves on your holiday, eating your delicious food or looking stylish wearing your watch, for example.

The key is to make the images relatable. This is why images with people in them work well ─ the customer will substitute themselves into the image, gaining an instant sense of what it might be like. Once that image has been imagined, it is hard to shake off.

So, rather than a swanky shot of your new jewellery against a plain background, perhaps try showing an image of someone aspirational wearing the jewellery at a trendy party. And instead of simply showing a beach hut against the azure blue sea, show people walking, swimming and laughing as well.

The same rules apply if you are simply selling your own personal brand. Whether it’s images of you or products you are reviewing or recommending, create images that are more than just a picture of you, or a flat picture of the product. Instead, show you/it in action. Show how buying the product will solve a follower’s problems, why engaging with you will make their life better. 

Experiment with colour

Bright, colourful images may be eye-catching but that doesn’t mean black and white images should be disregarded. Opting for a monochrome image can be an excellent way to stand out in a sea of brightly coloured pictures, especially on sites like Instagram where people endlessly scroll through swathes of visually similar photographs.

Again, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to using colour vs black and white. You should test both types of image and see which works best for you. However, a good rule of thumb is that the more luxurious and product-focused the image, the more likely it is to work in black and white. Watches, jewellery and cars, for example, often stand out in black and white. For experiences, such as holidays or trips, colour can flesh out the imagination and make it appear more real.

The best approach is to get a copy of the same image in both colour and monochrome, testing both out and gathering results. You will then have a better sense of what works for you and your brand, whether you are sharing a product, experience or headshot.

Imagery, whether it is a photo of a product or your face, is essential to creating a strong brand. Pictures help customers imagine what it is like to work with you or use your product, making an abstract idea feel a lot more real.

Social media platforms are a great place to showcase your visual assets and build your personal brand, but to really stand out in an endless sea of images, you need to produce consistently high-quality, regularly updated visuals. When you can, invest in help from professionals.

Emeka Ikechi is director of Vanity Studios in London and can be found on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

FACEBOOK CHANGE: There are plans to allow people to be a page admin without linking their personal profile

Rejoice people, rejoice… Facebook is looking at ways to let you be an admin of a page without linking your personal account.

Facebook’s terms and conditions have long insisted that you link your personal profile to the back end of the page you are an admin of.

It’s a way that Facebook can keep tabs on who is being an admin and cut down on fake accounts spamming or spreading misinformation.

However, one of the results of this is that people who set up ‘work’ accounts to admin a page risk losing access entirely to an established page when – not if – Facebook’s algorithm spots them and deletes the false profile.

I’ve had more than a few conversations with a distraught comms person who thought that running a profile called ‘Council Comms’ or ‘John Smith Work’ was harmless and has had the profiler deleted and wiuth it access to a page.

But wait.

Help is at hand.

Will Lodge, comms manager at Tendring Council, has spotted that Facebook are trialling ways for people to access a page without linking their own profile.

In a blog post here it seems as though Facebook are trialling this tool which could be widely available in 2022.

According to the site:

We know you hate having to give access to personal accounts in order to run your business, and undoubtedly as you grow more and more people will need access to the platforms you trade and advertise on. Now, Facebook will offer access to business products with separate credentials from their personal Facebook account.

Tamebay.com September, 2021

Hunting round there’s not too much on this announcement.

But there is a page on the Facebook business site that’s empty but ready for an update on work accounts.

But the blurb on Google shows that something is afoot.

The text reads:

Facebook Work Accounts are a way for business employees to access Business Manager and Business Console without using their personal Facebook accounts.

What’s likely to happen is that if Facebook go ahead with this it’ll get rolled out over a period of time. There’ll be some frustrations I’m sure with those at the end of the queue.

If the predictions are accurate and its 12-months before the change takes place it’s worth maintaining the line that linking a personal profile is still the way to go. Long term this may change.

When there’s more on this I’ll blog it.

COMMSCAMP: Hello, hybrid conference, I think you’re here to stay

Four hundred tickets for the online conference Commscamp Still At Home went in eight minutes but how did the real event go?

The hard stats are that 45 online sessions across six slots were held over two half-days and more than £1,000 was raised for a good cause.

We had a guest appearance from Jackie Weaver described unprompted to me by three different people as ‘Local Government Royalty.’

Rolling attendances went from a high of 130 at anyone time to a low of 90. This would suggested people dipped in and out. Without the commitment of buying a train ticket they were pulled away so their interaction with the event came through email, the Facebook group or the LinkedIn group.

This means what it means to be an attendee has changed just work has changed.

You can experience the event online or by following the debate on Facebook or read the blogs that emerge.

But overall, what I really, really loved was hearing a new attendee enthusing that she had overcome reservations to pitch a session and had loved it. For me, that’s a big reason for helping run commscamp.

Everyone’s experience is going to be different because the options they pick will be different but I hope the inspiration and new ideas are things they took home.

Online v offline

The last two commscamps have been online.

What’s the advantage? We can reach more people from further afield. For the first time, commscamp had a truly global feel with attendees from New Zealand and the USA.

But running the event also made it easier for people across Britain to attend. Take Sweyn from Orkney Council who has run the tech for the past two years. To be there in person would have meant two days travelling along with the time attending. It would have cost him, too. The cheapest flight is £535 and factor in hotels that’s a big ask.

Am I looking forward to running the event again in-person? Of course I am. There is nothing to beat the bumping into people in the corridor or at the coffee stand. For all its reach online doesn’t have that.

I missed going to the pub at the end to debrief.

Just like the office, online events have proven their worth and I don’t think they’re going back into a box.

So, using the idea of working in public, what would that look like?

Previous experiments

In the past, experiments have seen online being grafted onto an in person event. The pitching at an unconference has been streamed live, for example. There’s even been a camera in a corner of a room during the session but the synch between debate online and in the room has never really worked. The nature of a candid discussion doesn’t lend itself to being live streamed where anyone can see.

So, maybe the hybrid event shouldn’t be a mix of the two but instead be two seperate freestanding events. Maybe on separate days. Maybe on the same day. I don’t know.

Working this out will be the interesting thing.

GUEST POST: How to run an effective corporate public sector LinkedIn page

When one organisation looked at LinkedIn they went back to the drawing board to plan their approach. Creative content aimed tailored for their audience was key as communications and web team leader at Cheltenham Borough Council Katie Sandey shows.

A creative challenge is where it began. As a comms team, we love a creative challenge. Who can come up with the best idea, or achieve the most Facebook likes, or come with the most witty headline. Only this one was a bit bigger.

We needed to create one of the best performing council LinkedIn accounts, with the highest amount of followers possible. We were pretty much starting from scratch with, to be honest, not much knowledge about the platform and very little understanding across the organisation of the benefits it could bring with targeted use. We’re a small team with even smaller budgets.  

Work out your priorities

So in true, post-it note on the wall fashion, we developed some priorities – and got them narrowed down to three. Simply, we wanted to: grow the council’s sector profile in support of high level ambitions with inward investment opportunities; improve our recruitment process to attract the best talent pool; and use the platform to complement the council’s business to business efforts.

We set these aims against a (what seemed like ambitious) objective of growing our followers by 50 per month, through engaging, innovative, creative content – or content that’s not too ‘council-y’ as the team put it.

Work our the right content

So what did we do? We changed our approach entirely. We found ways to tell our story and share our successes through creative, directly uploaded videos and timelapses. We shared photos and infographics. We designed documents using page flipping software, rather than PDFs, improving the user experience. We visually advertised council services and training opportunities. We shared award successes and human interest stories and positioned the council firmly as an employer of choice.

Then measure

All the way along, we measured. We used conversion rate optimisation principles to help improve content engagement and to attract more followers by using different approaches to see how effective they were at increasing engagement.  It was trial and error and the team adapted content when some ideas worked better than others.

We applied these principles to all of our social media platforms and saw a marked increase in our organic reach.  We developed our own skills sets, we brought other internal teams on board, with individuals and teams now showcasing their work and experiences and sharing this with the sector.  

Our results

So was it all worth it? Well, in the space of two years, we grew our LinkedIn following by 89 per cent. Our target was to increase by 50 followers per month but we have consistently exceeded this target and have actually grown organically by an average of 121 followers per month.  According to the Local Government Association, there are 181 district councils in the UK and of these Cheltenham now has the second highest number of LinkedIn followers for its company page, which is a staggering achievement given our initial limited experience with the platform.  

Importantly we connected. With people, communities, businesses and employees. And this for us was one of our biggest successes.

Oh and did we mention, we won GOLD? In the 2021 IESE transformation awards ceremony, our little comms team took home gold – in recognition of our LinkedIn success.  

Why not connect with us?

Katie Sandey is communications and web team leader at Cheltenham Borough Council.

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