GUEST POST: How we re-thought our diversity and inclusion communications

Following a discussion at a CommsCamp session on diversity and inclusion, Ian Curwen has written this blog about his own organisation’s changing approach to inclusion communications.

How often do you review the way you do something? Really review it? 

I’ve been involved with diversity and inclusion communications for five years. Over that time, we’ve done some great things, some award-winning things. Despite this, in recent months, I’ve had a growing, nagging doubt that something wasn’t right. That the approach wasn’t working as it should. 

This is why we’ve reviewed our inclusion communications approach to reach a decision that we’re going to do less, to achieve more.

Like many organisations, our diversity and inclusion journey is a relatively recent one. At least in terms of a structured, coordinated approach. It was 2016 when we decided to take a more focused route, through a series of communications campaigns and awareness events and days.

This approach has undoubtedly raised awareness of issues we’d never spoken about before and it showed a commitment to changing our organisation. We know they got employees talking and that the discussion – good or bad – was a positive thing. 

However over time, it started to feel a little tokenistic. 

The trouble with awareness days is that they come around every year. Of course, that’s not a bad thing, but each year should be different. To stick with the journey analogy, each year should mark another step from awareness to advocacy.

I’m not sure that was always the case. Yes, we were able to share some new content, from a new angle, but was it just a different way of saying the same thing?

Awareness-raising only gets you so far.

Growth and reach

We have seen results from our diversity and inclusion approach. We’ve now got more than a dozen employee networks, and more than 1000 of our 10,000 strong workforce are considered advocates and ambassadors in this field. 

So, now we’re focused on reaching the other 9,000. We want to become a truly diverse organisation, where people are respected, included and able to perform at their best.

To achieve this, we have to go beyond news stories and case studies. We have to change behaviours. 

Re-think your content priority

This means, from a communications point of view, we are prioritising content which:

  1. Helps show how we’re making improvements and changes that contribute to us achieving our diversity & inclusion strategy aims and objectives
  2. Has a clear link to our diversity and inclusion narrative and identified priorities
  3. Is relevant and relatable to our employee audience, focusing on simple messaging through accessible channels

Good communications are those which show the impact of the changes we’re making on the diversity of our workforce.

So, we’re no longer simply telling people it’s International Women’s Day. We’re talking about the things we’re doing to reduce the gender pay gap and promote female role models. We’re asking employees to consider their own behaviour and unconscious biases.

We’re talking about the challenges our employees have experienced – because of their sexuality, race, religion or nationality. 

We’re making it clear what acceptable and unacceptable behaviour looks like and we’re and we’re asking people to call the latter out – and providing them with the tools, support and empowerment to do so.

Building on what’s worked

However, please don’t think we’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We’re keeping what has worked well, and we’re building on it. 

At the same time as we sharpen our corporate communications, we’re also supporting our employee networks to produce their own communications. We’re ensuring they have the skills to produce materials which meet our corporate standards and expectations – even if some might consider them a little ‘wonky’. We know this adds authenticity. 

By doing this, these groups can communicate more easily with their target audiences – current and potential members. 

While they do this, we’re using their experiences and their initiatives to showcase the changes we’re making. We’re continuing to prioritise people-led stories as the way of putting a face to what can be an emotive and challenging change journey. 

This is a shift but is one we have buy-in to. 

We have this because we’ve shown the value of the approach. We’ve done it through considered communications campaigns, supported by research and data. 

The evidence shows that these are the communications that spark the most discussion, that teams wish to explore in more detail. They’re the ones that lead to suggestion from our workforce, and to the creation of new support networks. They’re the ones that encourage connections and help people to perform at their best. 

Ian Curwen works in diversity and inclusion communications in the public sector.

30 days of human comms #79 The A&E matron tired of abuse from patients

We are in a difficult stage of the pandemic with tempers fraying.

NHS staff are feeling the brunt and the days of clapping for carers for many feel long gone.

“I think we generally feel that people don’t see us as humans.” Rachel Heeley, A&E Matron at Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital, talks about the barrage of verbal and physical abuse staff at her hospital are experiencing on a daily basis.

The power of this is hearing directly from a nurse.

These are her words.

It shows that human comms comes from the heart and without side or spin. They can’t be polished. That these words have gone through the medium of media interview gives an extra layer of acrutiny.

Bravo, Rachel and bravo Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital.

30 days of human comms #78 The Dad whose daughter was killed

‘Drivers, look out for cyclists.

It’s a simple message but statistics show that not all of them do.

In 2020, 140 were killed.

In 2012, someone I knew was one of them not far from the Olympic Park.

But numbers only become stories when there is a human face on them.

In this case, two faces. That of Josephine Gilbert and her Dad Bobby.

Here, Bobby does the talking because two years earlier his daughter was killed by a man banned from driving.

A 10-minute film is long for Facebook but the power of the story carries it.

Well done, Derbyshire Constabulary.

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.

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