ONLINE NOISE: How to deal with comment, criticism and abuse on social media

Back in the early days of social media evangelists like Clay Shirky would say how transformational it would all be.

The emphasis was on the positive and it was a compelling picture. Of course, then came people like Donald Trump came along who turned rage into a money and power machine.

To quote Shirky, we are not good at thinking fast but we are good at feeling fast.

A proud boast, I created one of the first 100 government Twitter accounts anywhere in the world in 2008. When I first posted it the first replies were how cool it was that the council was on Twitter.

For three years I was the council online and was so wrapped up in making it a success I once insisted we paused serving the family Christmas dinner so I could tell people we were out gritting. I can still remember their shiny faces of disbelief.

Press fast forward, and the landscape is different. There is a lot of anger. We are frustrated, stressed, angry and frightened about the pandemic but we can’t control it. What we can control is telling the council how fucking angry we are about their fucking potholes.

When I was drawing up the Essential Comms Skills Booster programme (advertisement: they’re here and very good) I was clear in my mind that one of the five sessions needed to be about dealing with the incoming messages. For me, they divide into comment, criticism and abuse. There’s a big difference between all three.


Comment is when people do exactly that, they comment. ‘Good job,’ ‘the trees in the Arboretum are great,’ ‘does anyone know when the recycling centre is open?’ or ‘can I recycle pizza boxes?’

That’s fine.

Well-run accounts reply because they know that the algorithm in places like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter rewards them for doing so. They also know its polite and good customer service.


Here’s a thing if you’re in the public sector, criticism is fine. The world doesn’t smell of fresh paint and this, basically, is what you signed up for.

Not every decision is the right one. Not every right decision is well communicated.

It’s the job of the public sector social media admin to reflect back the feedback from people to the decision makers.

‘So, the new traffic lights on the roundabout don’t work,’ is fine. Flag it up with someone.

How about this?

‘The new traffic lights on the roundabout don’t work because the people in charge of the council make bad policy decisions.’

That’s fine too. It’s someone objecting to a policy decision.

I’ve sometime heard of pressure to remove comment critical of the policy or the party that made it.

I’m deeply uneasy about that.

In answer to that, I’m going to point you to the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Government Publicity issued by UK Government. This is the Pole Star when it comes to navigating tricky decisions. It covers England. There is a very similar publicity code one for Wales and also for Scotland.

What does that say?

Publicity by local authorities should:-
• be lawful
• be cost effective
• be objective
• be even-handed
• be appropriate
• have regard to equality and diversity
• be issued with care during periods of heightened sensitivity

I’m going to say that the guidelines say its not objective, even-handed or appropriate to delete comments critical of a policy decision or even the party that made them and keep the ones that praise them.

In addition, the code adds:

19. Where local authority publicity addresses matters of political controversy it should seek to present the different positions in relation to the issue in question in a fair manner.

Now, in matters of law its always useful to get the formal views of a legal expert in your organisation if you need to. But for me, the position is pretty clear.

There’s a whole process about dealing with snark and sarcasm that I won’t go into here.


Woah, Neddy!

The line gets drawn when its abuse.

So, when someone posts: “The new traffic lights on the roundabout don’t work because the council’s highways department are all fucking idiots,” that’s not cool.

Imagine what happens when you ring up or go into your bank and start swearing. If you think the fast-track VIP lane will open up you are very much mistaken. Quite right, too.

I have spoken to far too many public sector people ground down by the abuse they suffer without protection.

Social media house rules

So, how can you make a decision on what action to take?

It all points once again to having an effective set of social media house rules to help the account admins know when and how to respond. It also helps elected members, officers and the public know, too.

My new favourite set are Glasgow City Council’s set which you can find here.

They’re as good as any I’ve seen in the past decade.

Comment? Reply.

Criticism? Listen, moniotor and reply if you can.

Abuse? Don’t tolerate it.

You can find out more about the ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER programme here.

Picture credit: Documerica / Flickr

COVID COMMS #39: The man who walks his dogs who is nailing Facebook Live

In years to come, our children will look back and be amazed that we weren’t talking about the pandemic morning, noon and night.

Harold Nicolson’s diary of the Second World War is powerful because the backbench MP would note the day and think through what could come next.

Samuel Pepys is more like it. There’s a few plague references but one day he’s down and the next its all about beating the Dutch off Lowestoft or trying to shag women behind his wife’s back.

Which leads me to a Facebook page Max Out in the Lakes about a bloke who walks his dog that has been my saviour in lockdown.

I don’t really want to watch the news, what I want is to see dogs walking and a bloke called Kerry walk on deserted paths around Keswick in the Lake District.

My late Dad was from Keswick and I still miss him. The running commentary Kerry gives of which hills you can see was the commentary Dad would have given.

Here’s an example with a walk on the side of a picturesque mountain on the side of Derwentwater called Cat Bells.

Why does this work?

It’s around 20-minuites long, just short of the optimum 21-minute length.

It does that Facebook Live thing of providing value by being in that particular spot at that particular time. Keswick in the pandemic is off-limits to people who want to go so it becomes more valuable seeing it live.

Dogs always work because they’re dogs and if you grow tired of the scenery one of the three dogs drifts into view.

Jonah Berger in his book ‘Contagion’ wrote of the six reasons why people share. Firstly, because you’ll look good, he wrote. Because its everyday, because its emotional, because its helpful, because its public and therefore sharable but also because its a piece of story telling.

Kerry’s story is both emotional and a piece of story telling. A man who suffered from depression coaxed out of his house by a dog a few doors away called Max who he then took for a walk and then became owner of.

He ignores the comments as they come in but the low level story telling works brilliantly in his daily live streams. Max has hurt his foot, Paddy has had an operation, the rain is about to fall or they’re exploring a path to see how the trees are. There’s a reason to keep watching.

Yet, Kerry has monetised what he does. He sells Max Out in the Lake District books, souvenirs and coffee from an online store but he ‘sells’ directly to his audience rarely. What he does falls into the 80/20 split with 20 being the call-to-action.

He sells escapism. If we are interested in how to get people to do stuff in the pandemic we need to understand that we want to be distracted from the pandemic. Those times we turn our heads to a selling message, be very careful what you say. Be boring and repetitive and those messages won’t land.

As Max the dog shows, we don’t want rolling news we just want a break from it all.

GUEST POST: Learning how to better communicate with diverse communities during COVID-19

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.

Polly will talk more about Hackney’s approach in a Zoom chat with members of the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group at 1pm on Thursday February 25. Members can sign-up here.

A year ago as Covid-19 crashed into our lives, the comms directive from central to local government was very clear.  Our job was to use our channels to put out the messages that they would provide. Any talk of local nuance or developing local or regional campaigns was met with suspicion, and to a certain extent that was understandable.  After all, the first rule of emergency comms is to control the message tightly. Many of us have worked on major incidents in our careers, and the command and control system of comms is vital, as we seek to forge order out of chaos.  

However, in recent years – and nowhere was this more clearly illustrated than in the dreadful aftermath of the Grenfell fire – the importance of rapid community engagement, of listening to people affected by crisis, and acting on that insight, has become more widely understood.  And Covid isn’t an ‘incident’ in the usual sense, it’s an epoch-making public health crisis that has affected every human being on the planet.  

In the midst of this global crisis, our lives have become intensely local, for many of us our existence shrunk down to our homes, the local park, and the corner shop.  And the recognition of the importance of local comms solutions, based on insight, and tailored to local communities has grown throughout. When we look at the huge disparities in vaccine take up, across ethnic groups and different areas of the UK, it is clear that national ‘one size fits all’ messaging really isn’t working for everyone. 

Amongst most people, vaccine hesitancy is just that.  People feel nervous, unsure, and indeed hesitant.  None of our residents talked about 5G…

Polly Cziok, London Borough of Hackney

This is dangerous stuff in the middle of a manufactured, post-Brexit, culture war.  Vaccine hesitancy amongst so-called ‘BAME’ communities (a highly problematic phrase in itself, but especially in the hands of the Daily Mail), is very real, especially amongst Black and South Asian populations.  This needs to be tackled urgently to avoid deepening the health inequalities that Covid has both exposed and exacerbated.  But it needs to be done sensitively, and without stigmatising communities.  And the key to that is insight and proper, active listening.  

We’ve carried out an extensive vaccine insight programme in Hackney, and the learning has shaped all our communications. Amongst most people, vaccine hesitancy is just that.  People feel nervous, unsure, and indeed hesitant.  None of our residents talked about 5G, microchips, nano-technology, Bill Gates, or aliens.  Those who had fears talked about the speed of the vaccine development, potential side effects, worries about the 12 week gap, about how rushed the whole thing seemed to them, how it would react with existing conditions, wanting to wait and see.  Some talked about experiences of medical racism, and lack of trust in government messaging.

In our focus groups we tested a range of messages, developed with our in-house behavioral science specialists, ranging from the fear inducing (‘you will be at risk if you don’t get vaccinated’) to the emotive (‘you could hug your family again’).  We tested the social norming messages (‘everyone else is doing it!’).  We showed a range of sample campaign posters.  The feedback was very clear.  People do not want to feel that they are being persuaded or manipulated. They want to feel informed.  They want their questions answered.They want clear facts from trusted messengers so that they can make their own decisions.  And who are those trusted messengers?  Well, guess what? They’re not social media influencers, celebrities or (dare I say it?) politicians.  They’re not even faith leaders or community peers – although those can be helpful advocates.  The most trusted messengers on vaccination are doctors, nurses, and public health professionals.  Go figure.  

As the vaccine is rolled out across the age groups, this job is going to get tougher.  Our research, and that carried out at a London level, shows that younger age groups are more likely to distrust the vaccine.  That’s why, as part of Keep London Safe (the London boroughs joint Covid comms effort), science teachers in Hackney have developed a set of teaching resources for every school in London (and anywhere else that wants to use it) to make sure young people are informed and can reassure their elders.  We know that people who get their news from social media are more likely to be vaccine sceptics. We know from early insight with our Charedi Jewish community that older people have been keen to take it up, but that some younger people, especially women, have been affected by disinformation about the jab causing infertility.  

So we keep listening, we keep learning, we keep tweaking our messages, creating new content, discovering new channels.  We’ve created an insight toolkit for London boroughs, to help people structure polling, focus groups and message testing.  Anyone is welcome to use it, but in the spirit of sharing, if you do, please share the insight that you gain so we can add it to our collective knowledge.   

I’m really proud of the role we are playing in this work, of my Hackney team (special shout out to Florence Obinna and David Besbrode, our mighty insight and data analysis duo), our public health colleagues, our community partners, and of everyone in local government who is developing and sharing such amazing best practice.   I hope that one of the legacies of Covid – as we move together to tackle some of the factors behind health inequality in the UK – is that local insight will be a key driver, and not an afterthought.


The Hackney Council web resource for schools on COVID-19 vaccine resources aimed at schools.

Polly Cziok is Strategic Director, Engagement, Culture, and Organisational Development at London Borough of Hackney.

Picture credit: istock.

COVID COMMS #38: Why binning box-ticking comms to reach minority groups is a good thing

We’re at a tricky point in the pandemic where we have a tested vaccine but it’ll all fail if people aren’t happy to get the jab.

So how do we crack this problem? Simple. You bin the tired box-ticking communications in favour of something that works.

I spend a lot of time working with teams and looking for best practice. I have to tell you that it makes my heart sing to see so much good work in this critical phase. Bright teams have taken up the baton and are starting to reach hard-to-reach communities.

How to reach minority groups: first talk to them

How? The answer is straight forward. Work out what communities you have. Talk to them. Listen to the answers. Understand what barriers they have to having a vaccine. Ask them what’s the best way to reach them. Do it. Repeat. Then keep repeating.  

Firstly, you’ll be best served by giving the anti-vaxx, 5G conspiracy theorists a wide birth. Nothing you can say to them will win the radicalised over. Don’t even engage with them. It saps your time and gives them a platform. It’s proven that running a news piece that says ‘X hits back at claims of Y’ people just remember the Y. So, don’t do it. For example, Glasgow City Council ban conspiracy theorists from their social media channels. Good. That’s not a free speech issue. That’s a stopping people dying issue.

There are so many places doing a really good job where communicators have ripped up the rule book

Some basic principles

Do understand that people have got concerns.

Understand what those concerns are and then look to put the information in front of people in a place where they will see it. Posting a Q&A on your website isn’t doing that. It’s lazy box-ticking. Go to where people are with a spokesperson who they’ll listen to.If that’s a Muslim doctor talking to Muslims then do that. If that’s a footballer talking to the white working class population then do that.

Local content wins every time

We’ve all seen the UK Government ‘Hands, Face, Space’ graphics. We’ve grown bored of seeing it and it no longer lands. A piece of work I did with Black Country showed UK government content getting shared on average once. But the local video of doctors at Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust hit gold. That got shared 800 times. Exactly the same message but with a local accent.

Go to where communities are or build a place for them

Hackney Council have used WhatsApp and a Jewish member of the Jewish volunteer ambulance service Hatzola to front a video to reach observant Jews. Why WhatsApp? Because that’s what the Jewish population use. That’s brilliant. Brent Council have run webinars for the black community and promoted them with black church and community leaders to reach the black community. That’s brilliant. 

Make getting the vaccine normal

In the UK more than 40 million people use Facebook and two thirds are members of Facebook groups. When the vaccine started to be rolled out groups I’m a member of were filled with people saying how their Mums and Dads were getting the jab. Some members talked proudly about how they’d had the jab. Encourage it. Share it.  

Enlist the community’s support with an army of social sharers

In Birmingham, the city council is recruiting 500 people into a team where they can actively like and share public health content across social media. That’s such a bright idea. At the start of all this, more than five million people volunteered to help[ the NHS. For the most part they’ve not ben pressed into service. There’s a big load of people who could be happy to be added to an email list, WhatsApp group or Facebook group to ask them to like and share. We complain about social media companies’ algorithms.Mass liking and sharing is loved by the algorithms. Use it.

Use the channels the community uses

Don’t think the Bangladeshi community will magically head to you website just because you’ve posted something in Bengali. By all means post something to your website or your YouTube channel. But how are you going to get that in front of the Bengali community? Or maybe flyers in Bengali delivered door-to-door by Bengali speakers is the right answer?

It’s not ‘one and done,’ it’s a marathon not a sprint

For me, Brent Council in London is one of the places that’s getting it right. They’ve dumped the box-ticking to work out where their communities are. They have identified communities that are vaccine sceptic and are putting the information in front of them in a way the community want. Importantly, they’re approaching it as a marathon and know this constant chipping away will take time.

“Countering vaccine hesitancy is a marathon, not a sprint. In Brent, to help people make informed choices, we made a conscious decision to avoid a hard sell and instead deliver messages through those most trusted in the community. Our series of webinars has given thousands of residents the chance to ask questions of faith leaders, health professionals and councillors – who offered reassurance by providing facts, not fear.

“Bespoke events like these, combined with the ongoing work of our Community Champions in some of the wards most badly hit by the pandemic, have helped us to get messages out more effectively. The early signs are that confidence in the vaccine is growing in Brent.”

Dr John Licorish, Brent’s Deputy Director of Public Health

There are so many places doing a really good job where communicators have ripped up the rule book and are working shoulder-to-shoulder with public health, councillors, NHS, emergency planning, community and others. There is no magic channel that will reach everyone. What is magic is asking where your communities are. What worries them? How can you get the right information to them in a way that they want?  It’s a simple approach. It’s more time consuming but it’s more effective. With lives at stake this is the most important thing.   

Dan Slee is a digital communications consultant who specialises in the public sector. He is member of the CIPR local public services committee.

ZOOM: When Jackie Weaver and Handforth Parish Council went internet famous

In the middle of a pandemic normally I’m blogging on pandemic comms this week a change.

Step forward Handforth Parish Council and their Zoom recording of a fractious council meeting which saw swearing, passive aggression and the birth of a new local government hero Jackie Weaver.

Jackie chaired the meeting armed with the rule book and dispensed righteous Zoom justice by banning people. It has led to a welcome explosion of memes, video and other content.


So, this week this is what I’m blogging about because we all need some welcome distraction.

Original source

Now, I’m not going into what feels like a Byzantine backstory of village politics. All you need to know is people aren’t seeing eye-to-eye.

The short highlights clip is here…

And chaos is indeed the word.

It is glorious. If you’ve ever spent time in council meetings you’ll recognise the characters. If this was the Wild West there would be a clear-the-air gunfight and Boot Hill’s undertaker would be sizing up some pinewood overcoats.

It’s not. It’s Cheshire.

So, what we have is uncontained passive aggression bubbling up into a shouted debate on the parish council’s standing orders.

What’s been fascinating is the response from public sector Twitter and beyond. The clip was cited on BBC Radio 1, BBC Breakfast News and a whole range of news outlets.


And Radio One…

And local media…

If the patriarchy felt threatened…

Then to others Jackie Weaver was a feminist hero…

Or as daytime TV soap opera…

Or as cinema trailer…

Or musical…

Or indie band…

And the memes…

Oh, the memes…

I had to remix a dubstep version…

Or sea shanty…

The local news angle…

Of course, public sector Twitter was entranced…

The full 18-minute version is well worth it…

Crucially, some of the finest legal brains put their mind to working out an answer to the question: ‘did Jackie have the authority?’ Spoiler: It turns out on balance, yes she did.

A new sub-genre was born…

But this saga, as with all in local government has a built-in sequel.

For the full story check this piece from The Guardian. It’s a story of a two-hour meeting that was spotted by a local government nerd and then trimmed to 18-minutes and then re-trimmed to less than two minutes.

Of course, the communications person in me has some reflections, too. What are the lessons of this? That all mics are live. That videos can be recorded and shared. That the internet is powerful.

Clearly, elected members need some social media training and *cough* I do a really good session based on 10 years of experience. But fundamentally, comms people advise and if the elected member doesn’t pay heed… that’s democracy.

COVID COMMS #37 Recruiting an army of local social sharers to drown out the false news

Bravo, Birmingham, they’ve just done something I’ve been waiting for months to see in the fight against COVID-19 misinformation.

Director of Public Health Justin Varney has asked for volunteers to help like and share the city’s public health content online.


Data shows the size of the problem. False news on Twitter is 70 per cent more likely to spread, 63 per cent of UK people are concerned about false news with Ofcom data showing 40 per cent of people in the UK are finding it hard to know what was true or false.

There’s a stack of data that shows the size of the problem but little practical advice about what can be done especially locally.

An effective vaccine is the route out of the pandemic but disinformation can convince people not to have the jab, as Scotland’s chief medical officer Gregor Smith has said.

You may have seen the rumours. 5G is behind COVID-19, vaccines use pork so Muslims can’t use ikt or beef so Hindus can’t. Or they have microchips so Bill Gates can control your brain. All false.

Some of the bad spreaders are villains and anti-vaxxers who deny basic science. Some of them have got the wrong end of the stick.

But who can fight this war?

It’s not the task of an over-stretched and over-worked comms team to fight the false news tsunami on their own. They can help create the content but I’ve long argued the five million Britons who volunteered to help in the pandemic have a massive role to play in this.

Asking those volunteers – and staff – to like and share something feels like a pretty basic ask. It spreads the message but it also helps Facebook’s algorithm to have a load of people jumping on the post quickly.

For the volunteer army of social sharers idea to work work it needs to be them liking local content in their local area so the content spreads to local networks.

All this makes Birmingham City Council’s idea of recruiting Brummies to help them share content such an on-the-money idea.

How might that work on Facebook?

The Birmingham Live piece which reports the idea doesn’t go into detail but it would be pretty easy. Build an email list via a web form or something like Google Forms. Explain how you’ll use the data to send them links by email that they can like and share.

How might that work on WhatsApp?

Just as with email, build a list via a web form or something like Google Forms. Then message a video or a slab of text to send people with a clear call to action to share it to their own WhatsApp networks.

If you’re really clever you can collect some more detailed data on ethnic diversity. Why? Because WhatsApp has been reported as a prime place where misinformartion and disnformation spreads amongst communities.

You’ll need WhatsApp for Business to do this corporately. This app is the same as ordinary WhatsApp but allows you to build broadcast messages where people won’t be able to see others’ names and contact details. So, its GDPR-friendly.

So, a WhatsApp message with a video to the Muslim community with a Muslim doctor from Birmingham saying that rumours that the vaccines use pork elements will land better than the public health official who may not be Muslim.

What about taking on anti-vaxxers directly?

There’s a clear case that ordinary Facebook groups can be fighting grounds and I’ve blogged before about how the Facebook pages’ comments of newspapers – particularly Reach news titles – can be fettid swamps where anti-vaxx comments go unchallenged.

I don’t think its the job of public health social volunteers to take on these debates. Just liking and sharing is contribution enough.

Bravo Birmingham.

You can do the same.

Picture credit: istock

COVID COMMS #36: How people in the UK are getting their COVID-19 info in 2021

Tucked away on the Ofcom website is a frequently updated data set which is solid gold for communicators.

Across 8,400 lines of data a picture is built on how people are finding out about the pandemic, what channels they trust and what they think.

Reader, I’ve read it so you don’t have to.

This will help focus what you do.

Read on.

People are still heeding the advice

You may not believe it if you scroll through your timeline, but people say they are still observing the rules.

Ofcom’s survey shows 97 per cent saying they were staying at home as much as possible and are social distancing and mask wearing.

People trust the public sector

Good news, local government people.

Your content is the most trusted across the UK with 82 per cent putting their faith in it.

Perhaps surprisingly, NHS comes second with 81 per cent with UK Government in third.

Devolved nations fare well. In Scotland, there is 97 per cent trust of Scottish Government, 91 per cent of Wales Government and 72 per cent in Northern Ireland.

But before Champagne is cracked open, the survey also shows that most people don’t go to public sector channels. Three per cent use local government channels and seven per cent their local NHS. One in five uses national government or NHS sites.

So, how to reach people?

We’ve all seen the rants about the ‘lame-stream media’ online but the survey shows they remain a widely trusted channel for COVID-19 information with 58 per cent trusting news brands. These brands also do consistently well as being the place where people get their pandemic data.

People are trusting the jabs

In the summer, 50 per cent said they’d get inoculated. In January 2021, that’s risen to 74 per cent.

Good work.

Dis and misinformation

Don’t give up just yet.

A third of people saw ‘true’ claims that 5G was behind the pandemic and a third didn’t know if they were true or not. Other debunked claims get seen by one in ten people, the Ofcom data says.

Make sure your content works on a smartphone

If you’re creating content, the smartphone is where it’ll be most often seen with 80 per cent of people viewing.

Laptops are next with 66 per cent.

Public sector pages won’t reach most people

Slaving away on your NHS, council or government channel? You won’t reach most people that way.

Less than 10 per cent will get their news from local NHS or council channel and that’s half who go to UK and home nation Government and national NHS sites.

But don’t worry, your media relations people can reach people by creating content for journalists.

Traditional media is winning the infowar

If you want to reach people with pandemic news it’s the traditional media you really want to concentrate on.

That’s where 86 per cent get their news and that’s the case across all ranges, too. It’s also trusted by 42 per cent – three times as many as may see things on Facebook.

It’s a daily hit

Despite 24-hour news and social media, the majority of people will make a daily trip for news on COVID-19.

Nine out of 10 make that single news gathering exercise and that figure is consistent throughout all age demographics

Overall, two per cent of the population never ever check.

Age groups are not an amorphous blob… sometimes

One of the really interesting challenges for 2021 is the fact that different age ranges consume media in different ways. But sometimes they do.

As we shall see.

A breakdown of COVID-19 news sources by age

16-24 year-olds: always on social media consumers with a taste for traditional news, friends and family

If you want to reach this age range, know first that they are big daily consumers of social media.

They’re most likely to find COVID-19 updates from BBC TV (47 per cent), BBC online (29 per cent) and Twitter (32 per cent).

They’re the most likeliest to check their news from official scientists (25 per cent) and they’re the most likely to get news from friends and family (30 per cent).

Try and reach them through a public sector channel direct and you’ll fail. Less than one in ten will see it.

Spread your information around traditional media and 78 per cent will see some as they watch, read and scroll.

Influenxcers? Six per cent of this group trust them on the pandemic.

Too young for this? Don’t believe it. This age group has the lowest number of people (4 per cent) who never check for rona lowdown.

25 to 34 year-olds favour traditional news

This demographic were no more than 11 when Oasis released ‘Whats the Story Morning Glory?’ but they grew-up with the internet.

They’re not far behind teenagers with social media consumption with 92 per cent checking social media once a day and one in ten checking more than 20 times a day.

Half will find their pandemic news this way.

They’re the most likely of everyone to go to Facebook for the latest (35 per cent) with Instagram on 25 per cent and WhatsApp on 12 per cent.

But they’re favourite individual channel for coronavirus info is the BBC (58 per cent) with eight out of 10 citing traditional media as the broad route for the skinny.

35 to 44-year-olds love the BBC but have the highest number of news avoiders

This age range who grew up in the 1980s will get their virus updates from traditional media (77 per cent) with BBC TV their favourite source (43 per cent).

Facebook for them comes second (31 per cent) and then BBC online (28 per cent), Sky and then ITV (24 per cent).

They’re the NHS website’s biggest demographic but still only two in ten will see things posted there.

This age range has the biggest number of COVID-19 avoiders. Just over one in ten never check.

45 to 54-year-olds watch the TV

It’s all about the BBC with this group, too.

Overall, 55 per cent will get their pandemic latest from Auntie Beeb.

ITV comes next on 30 per cent with family and friends dropping to less than a quarter.

BBC Online has a solid chunk of audience here with 26 per cent while Facebook drops sharply to a fifth of this demographic.

Channel 4 is biggest with this group with 14 per cent.

55 to 64-year-olds go to traditional channels

They may be thinking about retiring but their daily trip for the big picture is to one of the BBC telly bulletins. George Alagiah and Huw Edwards have their ear.

Don’t rule social media out as a past time with 68 per cent checking their profiles once a day but only a quarter say they see COVID-19 headlines compared to traditional media’s 95 per cent.

Over 65-year-olds watch the TV

If 60-year-olds were all about the TV news then this sector take that to another level.

This sector is the most at-risk from death and are most likely to check the news with 94 per cent checking in daily.

BBC News (77 per cent) is their favourite destination and the single biggest place where people get info of any age group or any channel.

Newspapers do well with over 65s with 42 per cent getting updates.

ITV is next with 42 per cent, BBC Radio third with 30 per cent, family and friends 25 per cent with BBC online on 20 per cent and NHS websites 17 per cent.

This age group is lowest for using social media for news with one in five using this route.

Eighty three per cent watch news bulletins from the BBC with newspapers (42 per cent) making an impact on this group. Overall, 95 per cent say they get their ourbreak info from traditional media.

30 days of human comms #73: Giving dignity in death in Stoke-on-Trent

At the start of the pandemic there was the central message.

Then came the local message.

Then came messages from the frontline from the staff themselves.

This tweet caught my eye.

But then there was the story as it was covered on the Reach title Stoke-on-Trent Live and this comment:

There is something far more powerful in hearing the story unpolished from frontline staff. This may worry NHS comms colleagues on some levels but as a recipient of the tweet it lands every time.

But I’m not surprised, as that was the hospital where my own Dad died.

COVID COMMS #35: Marking 100,000 dead and reaching the point to say: ‘enough’

There is a moment in the history of the First World War that never ceases to hit me for six.

It comes not on in a muddy trench but in Whitehall in 1920. A mother has brought her son on a long journey from Scotland with flowers picked at home to lay on the Cenotaph. This memorial was thronged with people from across Britain on a similar trip. Their grief also had no body to focus on.

A newspaper account tells the story.

The boy and his Mum surveyed the field of flowers that surrounded the Cenotaph all left by grieving families who had made the same pilgrimage.

“Oh mummy,” the boy says to her Mum, “doesn’t Daddy have so many flowers in his garden?”

And a strapping Police Sergeant who was shepherding the crowds past the monument overhears, turns away and covers his face with a handkerchief. It broke him in grief. And the innocence of the boy’s comment always gets to me, too.

The Cenotaph was only supposed to be temporary but the overwhelming public response made it permanent.

Nearby, at Westminster Abbey lies the body of an unknown soldier. This corpse was selected at random from three bodies brought from three British sectors. One was chosen at random. It was carried home by gun carriage and by battleship and was given the status in burial of a King. He was buried with a sword from the Royal collection that Henry V had used and thevact of ceremony caught the nation’s mood. It still does. After every Royal wedding since the bride leaves her bouquet on the grave. It is Holy ground.

Marking grief

This week in the UK, we passed the sombre landmark of 100,000 dead in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Psychotherapist Julia Samuel, whose area is grief, spoke about the need for a national marking of these deaths on the BBC Newscast podcast.

“There is a very individual and collective shock and trauma.

“We find it difficult to think let alone talk about death. We want to turn away yet we can’t. The circumstances of the death have an enormous impact of your ability to grieve without complexity.”

But people have not had space to grieve, she said.

“The underbelly of the corona pandemic is the mental health pandemic and this bereavement aspect is a very sign aspect and they’ve travelled alongside each other,” she added.

Once this is over, ritual is badly needed to mark the country’s significant loss, she said.

Every village after the Great War marked death with memorials and we remember those on November 11. But what of the death from the Spanish Flu pandemic? Not a single memorial got built to the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or grandparents who died.


History shows that we would rather put pandemics behind us and move forward with our lives. That’s what we did in Shakespeare’s time and what we did in the 20th century. It’s likely what we’ll do this time, too.

In the First World War we applauded people off to the dangers of the front just as we clapped the carers in the first weeks of lockdown. But then when those men came back from the war how quickly we forgot them.

I hope we don’t.

Each death grieves nine

For each of the 100,000 dead there are an average of nine people whose lives have been affected who can’t grieve. Across the country there are people often in low paid jobs facing risk every day who are unable to pull near to the ones they love. Some are carers and some are not.

Yet there is absolutely a need for a national day of mourning where we can properly grieve and there’s a need for something like a cenotaph, too.

The doctors and nurses on the frontline and those who have lost loved ones deserve all the memorials and recognition in the world. It’s quite right that they get this.

The ‘we’re fine’ myth

But behind this are public sector communications people who can count the extra distance they’ve travelled not by extra yards but in the thousands of extra miles.

The mental health pandemic runs parallel with the disease. But its not just grief that causes strain. Working under stress for months does that too.

Outwardly, people say they’re fine but inwardly they’re not. A survey I’m running shows more than 70 per cent of public sector comms people talking about deteriorating mental health. That worries me sick.

It feels as though in this chapter of the pandemic people need to say ‘enough’ if enough has been reached. If and when they do they won’t be alone in that. One regular poster on the Public Sector Comms Headspace made such an admission. There was a lot of recognition in the room for it.

I don’t have much advice in this blog, I’m sorry.

Just don’t be afraid to say ‘enough’ if you feel that point has been reached in yourself or with a colleague.

I don’t know what else to say.

The NHS Every Mind Matters page can be found here.

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