ANGRY NOISE: Racist and other abuse faced by public sector comms is endemic… here’s some steps you can take to fight it

Footballers have been hitting the headlines for a zero tolerance approach to racist abuse.

Swansea City, Birmingham City and Glasgow Rangers have all boycotted social media for a week because of ongoing abuse.

It’s hard to argue against that.

However, in a recent survey of more than 400 public sector communications people I carried out it shows 12 per cent have seen racist abuse.

That’s an increase of half since the first three months of lockdown.

Look at the figure for more general verbal abuse and the figure rises to 19 per cent.

So, can we just boycott social media?

Unlike football clubs, the public sector doesn’t have the luxury of boycotting a platform for a week in the middle of a pandemic. It needs to be where people are so it can talk to people.

But should people just go on regardless?

Of course, not.

Who cares?

We all should care, shouldn’t we?

Well, we should but frankly there’s a load of people who don’rt even know that this is taking place. In very simple terms, if you’re in the trenches answering social media queries every day there’s a good chance you’re getting worn down by it.

If you’re a manager or head of comms, the further you are away from the social media inbox the less idea you have this is going on. There’s a swathe of central government communications people who have literally no idea this is taking place at all.

What can be done?

I’ve blogged before about the need to have a set of social media house rules in plain English that say what you’ll do and what you’ll put up with. Having it spelt out in black and white means you can take action.

I’ve also heard the suggestion that incidents of abuse should be logged as health and safety incidents.

I couldn’t agree more.

The UK Health and Safety Executive classes violence at work as verbal abuse and threats as well as physical attacks. Looking further into it, all workplaces need to be tackling this.

The HSE’s Preventing Workplace Violence and Harassment download sets out the problem well:

Employers are responsible for identifying and managing the risk of
harassment and violence at work. They should provide clear policies
in relation to harassment and violence, detailing their own
responsibilities, as well as those of their workforce, to raise awareness
of related issues among the workforce, and set standards for
workplace behaviour.

But that’s fine in principle. How do you take the first step towards action?

The HSE have some useful advice on this.

Running a poll of employees and then tell people the results is a useful way that line managers can start to discover and recognise the problem.

That’s a useful first step.

How about racist abuse?

The Citizens Advice Bureau has a useful resource that guides you through the problem of racist abuse in the workplace. It also covers abuse around religion.

Employers need to set out what action they’ll take, what support is there and what steps they’ll take if they think the matter is so serious that a criminal case needs to be brought.

Finally, join a union. I’ve been in the NUJ since the mid-1990s.

It’s time that we took this seriously.

GUEST POST: A/B testing Facebook versus Nextdoor

Nextdoor is a US platform with 4 million UK users that signs people up to Facebook group-like communities. Join as council, fire or police under a partnership agreement and you can get your messages sent directly to each member. Interested? But how does it look in action? Lucy Salvage posts the same content to Facebook and Nextdoor and measures the impact in a one-off case study in an area that demands further investigation.

When I first heard about NextDoor, I have to admit I was sceptical.

I was not enamoured with the idea of yet another social media platform consuming so much of my time. So I tried to avoid it for as long as I could. I tried to forget it existed. This strategy worked well, until our neighbouring council’s started using it. They liked it. “Damn them!” I thought.

So with a big inhalation of breath, we signed up. It took a while for us to be set up as a local authority profile by NextDoor itself – they are much more hands-on and customer-servicey in this respect than Facebook. We had a contact and they assisted with the set up which included individual log-ins for our team of three.

That done, all was left to do was add a profile picture and then we could start posting. We have decided to use it for important alerts and public notices rather than it become a duplicate Facebook or Twitter; we are just not resourced for the same level of monitoring and engagement unfortunately.

What’s great about NextDoor is the nature of it’s set up. By using postcode data to build “neighbourhoods”, it allows users to easily send target messages to geographical areas – for free.

Despite my initial scepticism, I was quite taken a back by how many “members” there are using NextDoor in our District. 15,219 to be exact. That’s 9.5 per cent of our population compared with only 3.49 per cent of people who follow our Facebook page; and we haven’t even had to work for years to build that audience.

By only our third post we have been able to see the benefits of using NextDoor. A post about fly-tipping has surprisingly received only 1,400 fewer impressions than the same post on our Facebook page. Unfortunately, the analytics are not as detailed, and the only stats available seem to be impressions.

A/B testing data

Wealden District Council Facebook vs NextDoor

 FacebookNextDoor
Followers/members5,59415,219
Percentage pop.3.49%9.5% (18% households*)
 Fly-tipping post
Impressions53963,996
Reach5502n/a

*NextDoor is able to give this figure due to sign-up being reliant on postcode data.

What I also like about it, is that there is an option to disable comments on posts. This is really helpful as we intend to primarily use NextDoor as a broadcast platform due to our resource capability.

The Facebook post with 5,396 impressions

The Nextdoor post with 3,996 impressions

As for the fly-tippers, they were identified in a matter of hours, leaving our waste team in awe of the power of socials, and myself convinced that NextDoor might not be that bad a thing afterall.

Lucy Salvage is media and communications officer at Wealden District Council.

NUMBERS: I’ve read the global web index social media report 2021 so you don’t have to

Data is always good to take a look at as it shows an ever changing landscape.

Here, the Global Web Index report gives some useful social media data that’s relevant for 2021. You can download your own copy of the report here.

The impact of the pandemic

When the pandemic started, social media bucked a trend and became more social. People turned from passive consumers back to creating content and talking to each other.

Keeping in touch with loved ones has become the most important reason for using social media.

In the UK, we spend one hour 46 minutes a day on social media.

We don’t always trust them but we rely on them

Social media, the report says, doesn’t have large amounts of trust but we have come to rely on it for news. connecting and entertainment.

But social media causes anxiety

In the UK

Facebook remains the UK’s favourite with 22 per cent naming it as their most favoured platform.

Globally, Instagram is tops with under 24s, Messenger with Millennials (24 to 37-year-olds), WhatsApp with 38 to 56-year-olds who are also known as Generation X with those older favouring Facebook.

Augmented Reality in social media has become a trend

No doubt becaise of the pandemic, but Augmented Reality – AR – has emerged as a comnsistent trend. AR gives people the flavouir of beinbg somewhere else. With people confined to the house for long stretches in 2020 no wonder this has emergeed.

Public sector chums may be looking enviously at Pepsi’s AR marketing where QR codes on bottles unlocked video. But as with all trends they will become affordable and achievable.

Livestreaming has come of age

Interestingly, live feeds have become increasingly important globally with more than 90 per cent of TikTok users live streaming and almost 50 per cent of Facebook users watching a live feed.

Each platform has a purpose

One thing I really liked about the GWI report was the classification of each platform into its purpose. It’s rue. They do different things.

Facebook / Messenger

  1. Messeage friends and family.
  2. Post and share photos and videos.
  3. Keep up to date with news and the world.

Instagram

  1. Post and share photos and video.
  2. Find funny or emntertaining content.
  3. Follow or find infio on brands.

LinkedIn

  1. Keep up to date with news and the world.
  2. Find funny or entertaining content.
  3. Post and share photos or video.

Twitter

  1. Keep up to date with news and the world.
  2. Find funny entertaining content.
  3. Follow or find info about products or brands.

Snapchat

  1. Post or share photos or video.
  2. Find funny or entertaining content.
  3. Message friends and family.

TikTok

  1. Find funny entertaining content.
  2. Post and share photos or video.
  3. Keep up to date with news and the world.

Stories are sticking

Many people I’ve spoken to have scratched their heads with stories. They are the shortlived upright streams tacked onto the main social channels. But the GWI report does show people are engaging with them.

On Snapchat more than 90 per cent use them while on Instagram the figure is above 70 per cent which is marginally ahead of Facebook.

If brands want their audience to know something, they should wrap exciting, memorable content around that something and repeat, repeat, repeat.

GWI Social Media report, 2021

Conclusions

As with all global studies that have a UK element, the data is there to be used not for sharp corrections of direction but like a fishing boat captain an eye on the horizon for sunshine and black clouds.

COVIDCOMMS #40: Can we just stop using committee speak in our comms, please?

Landscape

It’s a few days after lockdown restrictions have been eased in England and people have taken to the parks in numbers.

They’ve met-up with friends and family and they’ve drunk a few cans and eaten a few barbeques.

The aftermath has been piles of rubbish.

On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Monday morning a guest from a national charity spoke how this scene was ‘unacceptable’ and it got me thinking – yet again – about how we settle for euphemisms.

They are ‘concerned.’

They are ‘worried.’

The action is ‘regrettable.’

Football managers are ‘delighted’.

Strikers are ‘gutted’ to miss the penalty.

In a committee, these words are code that soften the blow of fierce criticism. In public they are dreadful words that pull punches.

When I was a reporter I used to be asked by a news editor what I meant when I wrote a particularly wordy paragraph. When I translated it into plain English I was then asked to write that instead.

It’s long since time we worked out what we actually mean and then write that instead.

OPEN UP: What steps to make Facebook public groups more open will mean for public sector comms

When Mark Zuckerburg stood up seven months ago and promised nice new shiny toys for Facebook groups people paid attention.

One of the biggest shiniest toys is about to drop and its worth being on your radar

You probably know you can have two basic types of Facebook groups. Closed and open.

You have to be a member of a closed groups to see what people are talking about and be able to post in them yourself. Eighty per cent of community groups are closed,

Then you’ve got open groups where anyone can see what’s being debated.

As part of the change, groups that are open will allow people aren’t members of the group to comment and take part. How will they find them? You’ll see in your own timeline content from groups you aren’t a member of.

How?

Because the algorithm will point things your way based on the things you talk about and like.

So, if you talk about the Boothen End at Stoke City there’s a chance you’ll see something from an open Stoke City Facebook group where people are talking about how great the Boothen End was.

This video explains it…

You may have heard me banging on about the importance of local community Facebook groups.

Giving open Facebook groups even more reach makes them even more influential in the community. It makes them even more attractive places to post content.

That’s important.

SURVEY: Stress and a tsunami of mental health explodes the ‘days off’ working from home myth

There were more than a few who raised an eyebrow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s claim that people working from home in a pandemic were having ‘days off.’

If you’ve been working in public sector communications since the pandemic started you’ll be especially disapproving and data would support you.

A bumper 78 per cent of people said they were more stressed working since pre-COVID days in the latest tracker survey I ran in January and February.

Often, people will be working from home with a managed return to the office still some distance away.

But what other numbers shine through?

Stress is levelling off. Almost eight out of 10 reported feeling more stress working as public sector communicators than before the start of the first lockdown. That’s the same figure as October.

Mental health is suffering. In the survey, 73 per cent said their mental health had deteriorated since the start of the pandemic – a decline of eight per cent since the question was asked in October.

Isolation is increasing. In the first two months of the year, 55 per cent reported feeling more isolated compared to 34 per cent in the summer.

Physical health is suffering. Restrictions on exercise and team sport were the backdrop to 57 per cent of public sector comms people saying this was their experience – seven per cent worse than the last round of the survey in October.

Verbal and racial abuse is easing but significant. A total of 12 per cent saw racist abuse down by four points while verbal abuse has eased two points to 19 per cent.

A feeling of working for the common good remains. Encouragingly, 76 per cent still feel as though they were working for a higher purpose which is almost unchanged since the summer and autumn surveys.

Feeling part of history remains. In the first weeks of the first lockdown there was a sense of the momentous and this has stayed the course unchanged at 36 per cent.

What do these figures say?

It’s clear that the pandemic has been the opposite of ‘days off’ to public sector communicators near the sharp end. They may not be working directly on COVID wards but they have not had an easy ride.

Less visible than nurses and carers, NHS, local government, central government, police and fire communicators have fought a spare room frontline working in conditions less than ideal.

They deserve credit not being dismissed.

More than 400 people took part in the third round of an online tracker survey of public sector communicators in January and February. Earlier iterations had taken place in June and July and September and October. The next round of polling will take place in April.

NO COMMENT: Facebook may allow you to ban comments on posts… but is this a good idea?

Can it be true…? Facebook look as though they are bringing in the ability to ban comments on updates to pages.

The widely reported move looks as though it is being introduced after a court ruling in Australia which found that page admins were legally responsible for comments.

Understandably, some admins will be responding with glee at this news.

It must be tough to switch on the laptop at 8am and we faced with a wall of crap from anti-vaxxers. people complaining about potholes, too many bins, not enough bins and a load of other things beside.

So, switch off comments as default?

Some will undoubtedbly say ‘yes please!’ to this news.

But it got me thinking to how this may impact on the delivery of your message.

Blocking comments will undoubtedly see less interactions with a post. There’ll be no too-ing and frow-ing of conversation and debate either in support or against.

So what?

Well, trouble is, comments and discussion scores really well with the Facebook algorithm that enables your post to float higher organically into more people’s timelines. No comments? No algorythmic brownie points.

There’s the argument, and I’ve some time for that, that says that organic reach is so blunted these days anyway it probably won’t make loads of difference.

You’ve also got the additional issue is the accusation that your organisation are acting against he spirit of democracy. Look, everyone! It’s cancel culture! You bunch of snowflakes! There may be something in this but this kind of shouting sort of underlines the need to remove comments in the first place.

Besides, Twitter did something like this recently when they gave the ability to limit who replies to posts and the sky didn’t fall in.

Besu

Besides from organic reach you do have two other ways to boost your reach. You have boosted posts that involve you spending money and you also have the steps you take to drop the post into a Facebook group, too.

The bottom, line in all of this is that blocking comments isn’t without impact on your communications.

You’ll need to balance that on a case-by-case basis before you post.

NO ZOOM: A decision to return to in-person town hall meetings is bad for democracy

When the pandemic forced us to re-think how we do things some people fell into the trap of thinking this is how they’d always be.

Clearly, the argument went, people will see how better new ways are and people won’t want to go back.

I wasn’t one of them.

In 1789, the French revolutionaries were met by counter-revolutionaries who wanted to turn the tide of history back. This is always the case with any social change.

One of the good ideas was using video conferencing like Zoom to run meetings. The step allowed for people to log on at home to follow the proceedings. In the case of Handforth Parish Council it also showed how badly democracy was performing.

More public and more accountability were the spin-offs of Zoom meetings.

The counter-revolution

This sense of progress has come to a halt with a letter from local government minister Luke Hall MP to English councils where he points to updated guidance here that recommends meetings return to in-person delivery.

Rules for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland councils are issued by their home government.

The key passage is here:

A good day for bad councillors

There’s no data to accompany this to suggest the decision will make local government more open and accountable.

Heaven knows if this will bring more people into seeing what their council was doing.

Indeed, it’s hard to see the binning of Zoom and a return to dusty council chambers attended by elderly men and women and one man and a guide dog in the public gallery is a positive step in 2021.

A Zoom meeting with no face-to-face contact is inherently safer than a public meeting even with some space between seats and a bottle of hand gel by the door.

It’s also worth noting that Parliament will continue online meetings until the summer at least.

Mind, it’ll be good for councillors who don’t like transparency and accountability.

History tells us that sensible decisions taken in a crisis won’t mean they stay. If you work in central government you may recall the mid-pandemic request for staff to go to the office to save town and city centres. All of a sudden it was about saving the coffee shops when in reality it was about the big pension funds who have vast assets lying empty.

What’s next?

Of course the office isn’t dead, it’s just waiting for the counter-revolution.

EDIT: Speak of the devil.

TALES OF COVID: Public sector communication: How was your COVID-19? Tell us, so we can record the stories, content and recollections.

We are launching an independent project for public sector communicators to record their stories and experiences of working to communicate COVID-19. The independent ‘Tales of Covid’ project is being launched to record memories, highs, lows and content during a tough chapter of all our lives. You can contribute.  Kerry Sheehan, UK Government Communication Service, CIPR Board Director and Public Services Group Chair and Dan Slee, digital communications consultant explain how.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the biggest global story in generations.

A year ago, as UK national lockdown restrictions were being put on us all, public sector communicators did not know how it would unfold.

12-months later, the public sector communication profession in the UK has been a key component, continually showing its value to the ongoing national, local and regional response day, in, day out.

Communicators undertook the most important and biggest reaching work of their professional lives. The profession further elevated its value and status with decision makers.

To mark the enormous contribution public sector communicators have made to the UK’s national response, nationally, regionally, locally, across government, local government, health, emergency services and agencies – supporting to fight the pandemic on the ground – we would like to put together a collection of anecdotes and stories from UK public service communicators.

The collection, Tales of COVID, will form a commemorative book to mark the year of those first national lockdown restrictions, which would catapult our profession into the front line like never before. A time when there wasn’t a playbook and a time when our profession came together as collaborative partners like never before.

Tales of COVID will also serve as an historic record on the vital part public sector communicators have all played in the UK’s national response.

We truly believe it is important to document our experiences as communicators, those who threw all their mite behind fighting the virus whilst the world was brought to a standstill.

Furthermore, it is also important for the PR profession to have an historical record of one of the biggest crisis communication undertakings we have seen.

The book will also enable the profession to reflect on the momentous, tough, turbulent year it has been for our own, truly a year like no other.

The collection will be shaped by the contributions we receive, so it is by the public sector communication profession for the profession.

If you would like to feature, please send us your 250-word summaries of anything you would like us to consider for inclusion. Items can include your reflections, memories, something you had to overcome at pace, new ways of working, any tough situations, and how you felt as the enormity of the pandemic took over our work and our lives.

You can contribute to Tales of Covid through this Google Form here.

We would like this to be an account of how it actually was for our public sector communicators rather than glossing over the not so good and really tough parts.

It is your lived history, it is what you did, how you felt, how you coped – or didn’t – what you were proud of or what your lowest point was. It is part content guide, part social history and part honest reflection while the campaign is still ongoing.

Please do not contribute anything deemed officially sensitive. We would like this collection to be a raw account about how you, as public sector communicators, have got through working on the pandemic at continued pace for the past 12 months with many twists and turns along the way.

You may also have some funny anecdotes you’d like to submit or some nice stories of how you pulled together as a team, citing ‘you’re on mute’ and waving at colleagues through the screen. We’d like to tell COVID as it has been for our profession.

Once we have a good selection of summaries, from all four UK nations, we’ll put in place a Tales of Covid Editorial Group. We will put out a call for this at a later date and members will support going through submissions. We may then come back to you for a longer piece.

We would also like to include a roll call of all UK public sector communicators who have worked on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, no matter how big or small to recognise your amazing contribution.

At a later date, we plan to hold a series of Tales of COVID launch events – either virtually or who knows one day in person – across the UK where we hope public sector communicators will drop in to so we can say ‘thank you’ and reflect together on an historic time for our profession and how we all became the best collaborative partners we’ve ever been.

If you would like to be included in Tales of COVID, please submit a 250-word summary account with your name, job title and organisation by Friday April 30.

Alternatively, you can just submit your name, job title and organisation to be included in the roll call of UK public sector communicators who supported to fight COVID-19.

Kerry Sheehan, UK Government Communication Service, CIPR Board Director and Public Services Group Chair and Dan Slee is a digital communications consultant. The project is independent of any communications group or body.

YEAR NOTES: My COVID year

Today is March 20, my COVID-19 anniversary where three days before lockdown it gradually dawned on me that I may have caught the virus.

I’ve always admired the #weeknotes style of blogging. This is a dispassionate jotting down at the end of he week honest reflection.

So, inspired by them, some honest reflections.

Health

  • On March 19 at 6pm, out of nowhere I started sweating and shaking after feeling something was not right. An hour later it passed. A call to NHS 111 assured me as I didn’t tick the box of temperature, fever and coughing I was fine. So, Joe went to his High School for his programmed last day to say goodbye to his friends.
  • A day later at 6pm, the same thing happened. That was it. We weren’t going to leave the house. With bare cupboards we planned to batten down the hatches and made do with what we could while outside people panic bought. Take a deep breath.
  • So began the chapter with mild COVID-19. Tiredness, fatigue, dread and a cotton wool head. Our house isn’t big enough. We need to sort a will while we can. What happens if me and Clare are hospitalised? Questions but few answers. While the country open mouthed listened to Boris Johnson telling people to stay home, save lives and save the NHS I disengaged into a world of calmness, optimism, podcasts and looking outside at the garden. I had no capacity for anything but thinking that age was on myside and there was a bigger chance I’d get over this. Take a deep breath.
  • Advice on how to avoid it was plentiful but there was nothing if you weren’t bad enough for hospital.
  • Saying goodbye to my wife as paramedics loaded her into a ambulance was not fun. Fourteen hours later she was back home. They were long hours but I know I’m lucky – and so is she. Take a deep breath.
  • The first food delivery was amazing. After two weeks of making do with what we’d got as there was no-one available to do our shopping or delivery slots available I found a greengrocers that would deliver. Man, that fresh produce.
  • The pattern of mild COVID-19 was weird. A good day then a bad day then a day good enough to exercise with Joe on YouTube then a bad day. Tiredness endured. It wasn’t until September that I was able to work a full day.
  • Friends were being affected. Two friends parents died of COVID-19 and a friend’s wife was taken to hospital seriously ill. Any grousing I have is such small beer. I’m lucky.

Work

  • Work disappeared overnight. Fixed points in the calendar vanished. Training in person as a concept ended. As 80 per cent of what I did was this, this was a problem. But I was too tired and concentrating on my health to give it much thought.
  • The #viewfrommyworkingwindow tweets disappeared overnight. I used to travel a lot and take a pic out of the window. Gone.
  • Travel also went. In 2019, the last full year of work, I was away from home 97 days out of 365 from Cornwall to Belfast to London to Aberdeen. Sometimes in the same week. That year I spend £8,500 on trains and around £7,000 on hotels. Gone.
  • A chum cajoled me into helping with a COVID-19 related project which drew on the things I was teaching in workshops. It made sense to do practical things while I waited for training to come back. I’m so grateful to them for that.
  • #commscampstayshome was a focus. I enjoyed working out how to run an in-person event online.
  • The Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group was a help. A community now of heading for 6,000 the connection of Facebook showed each other the mountains they were facing.
  • Long overdue, I formally resigned as director from comms2 point0 the company I’d set up with a former colleague. It had been years since we had worked together and it was a deeply liberating release.
  • In October with health returning I thought through what online training would look like. I started a course that was the distillation of 20 years work and I’ve got more out of that than anything else I’ve done as a freelancer. I’m busier in the first three months of 2021 than I was in the previous year.
  • I’ve worked alone or collaboratively for seven years. I miss being able to read the room while training but not the journeys. I see footage of crowds and now instinctively shrink away from them.
  • I miss commscamp. I miss the in-person greeting of people and giving friends a hug, sharing cake and conversation. I miss that badly.

Home

  • Your mind plays tricks on you. If you look back you remember the good stuff. My good stuff was using the OS app to find obscure footpaths across Shropshire and Worcestershire with the family away from the crowds. I hope growing up that’s what my children remember.
  • Homeworking. In lockdown 1.0 I worked at home in bursts and then slept when I could. As things eased, I returned to the office I rent in a converted factory 20 minutes walk away.
  • With travel gone, I saw more of my wife and children. We played board games and darts. Looking back, it has been hard on all of us in different ways. I think about my son taking GCSEs and studying for A levels unable to mark these chapters with his friends.
  • I’m using the the more limited cycle of travel and being home. I’m not sure if I’ll go back to full pre-lockdown patterns.
  • I miss my brothers and I miss seeing my in-laws. I miss my children and how they are with the in-laws. They live nearby but shouting through the window isn’t the same.
  • Spotify reminded me my bleakest moment in all this was in October when I played ‘Isolation’ by Joy Division on repeat. Thanks, Spotify.

Sometimes, I wondered why Samuel Pepys did’t write more about the plague in his diaries. This year has shown that everyday life is filled with everyday things even when big events blow you onto a different life path.

Of course, Pepys spent a plague year talking about what he had for dinner and what he was wearing because that’s what make life.

This last year has made me realise that my default setting is optimism and sometimes that can be a problem.

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