COVID-19 COMMS #47: Reminder: National messages delivered in a local voice can have 800 times more reach

And like that, England is back to earnest COVID-19 communications.

Over the last few days, UK Government announced the need to wear masks in shops in England as part of a range of measures. This follows the spotting of the Omnicrom variant of the virus which is suspected to be more virulent.

The emphasis now falls on the public sector to communicate and enforce the new rules.

So, UK Government led the way with this post…

Intrigued to see how the public sector local to me had communicated it. Looking around online they hadn’t.

There was no re-sharing of the Government content.

That in itself isn’t that bad.

I don’t say that because I think wearing a mask to help stop the spread is an appalling infringement of my civil liberties.

I say that because of some research I did earlier on in the pandemic which showed clearly that national messaging at this stage of the pandemic was failing in England.

The numbers then showed an average of two shares for UK Government or England NHS messaging.

Looking at it objectively, post-Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle trust was never quite the same.

However, what has been more successful in being shared was a local voice delivering a national message.

For example, the A&E staff of Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust were featured in a video asking people to observe the rules. How did that fare? Superbly. The content was shared 800 times.

For me, there were three reasons for this.

Firstly, it was video and this content is proven to do well on Facebook.

Secondly, it was delivered in a human voice and a local accent by people who work in the area.

Thirdly, it was given a power-up by comms teams actively sharing it in Facebook groups in Sandwell and West Birmingham.

You can see the video here.

For me, a local delivery of a national message is essential.

The data shows that more people share a message that’s identifiably local to them.

COVID COMMS #46: Winter is here, ready to go again, public sector comms?

Growing up there was a local newspaper sports reporter nicknamed ‘Dave McCliche’ because of his fondness for the same phrases.

With Dave, the picture caption of two footballers would always read how Player A wins the ball ‘despite the close attentions’ of Player B.

In the first weeks of lockdown we had the same emptiness of phrase. Our experience out-stripped our language. We were left grasping for ‘uncertain times’, ‘the new normal’ or even majestically the written phrase ”all this’ *gestures wildly*.’

So, it’s hard to know what phrases to use at the news that there’s a new COVID-19 variant called Omnicron.

Or that warnings that the NHS is at risk of collapse have been dismissed.

Or that parts of the country literally ran out of ambulances.

Or that 150 people a day are still dying of the first variants at a time when people are talking about being in the ‘post-pandemic’ period.

What if people won’t listen?

Talking to people, there’s not just a serious risk of burn-out, burn out is already amongst us. So is walking off the job for the sake of your sanity.

Numbers say, police comms have had it worst, followed by NHS and local government. Fire comms haven’t been in the epicentre but have been drawn into delivering vaccine.

Comms asked to step up again

With another chapter of crisis now facing the UK the public sector are being asked to step back up again. Or before you ay it, did they ever step down?

What’s interesting to me is that for months COVID-19 messaging has all but evaporated. In the tracker survey I’ve been running 65 per cent of public sector communicators in Autumn 2021 recorded that they’ve been sending out less pandemic messaging over the last three months.

No wonder.

There is no way that the level of messaging could be maintained. The cold bath shock of lockdown 1.0 saw 42 per cent of the UK watch Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s address to the nation. For weeks hands, face and space was the messaging shared and reported. But as we grew used to it the message blunted.

Burn out and risk

In Winter 2021, the important questions facing public sector comms are this.

How do we crank back up the messaging that works about hands, face, space, wear a mask, get a jab or a booster?

How do we do all this without breaking what’s left of the people who are communicating these messages?

Because if we break the people who are doing the communicating, what then?

But if we don’t get the message out what then?

What if people won’t listen?

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons.

NEXTDOOR DATA: How influentual is Nextdoor becoming?


Nextdoor has been quietly making a mark in communities across the UK. Communicators now need to take a long look at this platform. Lucy Salvage has been comparing the Nextdoor v Twitter data.

Forget Twitter. Nextdoor is the social media platform you didn’t know you needed.

Following on from my previous guest blog post on Nextdoor vs Facebook (April 2021) I’ve been doing some further research into how the newer social plaform compares to our old faithfuls.

We’ve known for a while now that the Twittersphere isn’t once what it was and the OfCom stats prove it. Twitter is the main social media account for only 5% of 16-24 year olds, and the older folks don’t rate it much either, with only 4% of 65+ year olds tweeting on the regs.

Ofcom Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes report 2020/21

But it’s not just about the newest Salt Bae memes and trending famouses for getting ‘cancelled’. I was surprised when the majority of our council audience told us that they mostly used Twitter for keeping up to date with news. Not that surprising I guess, coming from people who choose to follow their local council on social media (we can’t all be as good as @MyDoncaster, we can only dream).

More interesting than that I discovered, was the engagement and reach the poll received compared to similar polls on Facebook and Nextdoor. A not too shabby 8,154 people made up of residents and businesses follow Wealden District Council on Twitter – yet only a measly 19 of them responded to our poll, with 47.4% of them saying that news was the main reason they used Twitter. The post itself received 428 impressions – slightly above average for one of our Twitter posts.

@wealdendistrict on Twitter

I put the same question to our 6,029 Facebook followers. The post reached a pitiful 398 people, and only TWO people responded (and one of those was a member of staff!). Not even Destiny’s Child era Beyonce could entice them to take part – her penance was to be permately deleted from the GIF library.

@wealden on Facebook

But this is more interesting still…

A similar poll put to our Nextdoor audience attracted the attention of 2,392 residents. Even more surprisingly 127 of them took part in the poll and confirmed what Twitter had already alluded to – that our audience loves themselves a bit of news. I was very pleased to see that 48% used Nextdoor predominately for news and alerts, especially seeing as this has been the focus of our strategy for posts to this platform.

Wealden District Council on Nextdoor

What the data says

I’m not sure why I was so surprised at the power of polling on Nextdoor compared to that of Facebook and Twitter, as I have seen many times before on organic posts how it knocks the socks off of both for achieving higher rates of impressions and engagement – certainly for Wealden anyway.

This could be for a lot of reasons, but scoring highly is the fact that Nextdoor want public sector authorities to use its platform, and so they want you do well and get good results. They are the only social media platform I’m aware of that offers a personal service targeted at local councils, police forces, fire services and the NHS. Their pesky algorithm isn’t trying to thwart you at every turn and bury your very important messages. It scores particularly highly with me that you can target audiences at a granular level for free at the click of a button. This is another reason I think our posts do particularly well on Nextdoor – because they arrive unfiltered and uninterrupted directly to the people who need to see them.

Here’s a comparison of some recent posts to our council Facebook, Twitter, and Nextdoor account. The messages were all identical. The only difference being with the one highlighted, that it was only sent to residents of Crowborough and its surrounding areas on Nextdoor and not our entire following. The same post was also shared with Crowborough Community Group on Facebook as well as our own Facebook page, and yet Nextdoor was still able to achieve 186 per cent more impressions than the same Facebook post.

Data: Nextdoor v Twitter v Facebook
DateSubjectFacebook ImpressionsFacebook ReactionsTwitter ImpressionsTwitter LikesNextdoor ImpressionsNextdoor Reactions
3/11/21Household Support Fund1,041420101,6273
3/11/21Covid mobile testing (Crowborough)1,8113513285,1737
29/10/21Firework safety8231233005,40014
29/10/21WDC reception still closed57552,1371
5/10/21Fly tipping appeal10,28021,3432  
10/9/21Open spaces consultation10,2881538512,0102

Wealden District Council – social media reach and engagement comparison

We had just as well not bothered with Twitter. In fact, when putting this table together and seeing the data side by side for the first time, I did wonder why we bother with Twitter at all when the reach and engagement is so poor. We’ve tried threading, and not including links to other sites to appease Twitter’s algorithm, as well of course being strategic with our use of hashtags, but the numbers just never seem to change.  As you’ll also see from the table, there are instances when I have chosen not to post some stories on Twitter at all, as I know full well it won’t perform anywhere near as well as Facebook and Nextdoor.

One thing I can be certain of, is that our audience loves a good fly-tip and any news relating to the possible development of open spaces in the district. Nextdoor may certainly trump Twitter when it comes to the performance of posts on these topics, but where I’m from, Facebook will always knock it out of the park if so much as a crisp packet or brick is out of place.

Time to venture Nextdoor

I’ve seen a lot of posts over the last 18 months from social media managers saying that they’re “thinking” about venturing into Nextdoor, but either haven’t gotten around to it yet, or haven’t been brave enough to test the water. As I mentioned in my previous blog on the subject, I was incredibly sceptical about what it could bring to the social media table. Not often am I happy to be proved wrong, but in this case as a long-time lover of Twitter I will happily state on record that in the workplace, if it were Twitter and Nextdoor face to face in the dance off, I’d be voting for Nextdoor to stay and dance another week leaving Twitter to waltz off into the sunset.

Sadly, this is not a paid for ad, and I am not on any commission with Nextdoor although I probably should be. For anyone who has been unsure up until now, I hope that the data speaks for itself and you’re tempted to dive straight in. Your engagement stats will thank you for it.

Lucy Salvage is Media and Communications Officer at Wealden District Council.

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.

LONG READ: Why you should have corporate AND non-corporate accounts


I was reminded of low level civil war happening that pits people in the same organisation against each other.

It’s the comms team against the rest.

In the red corner, the comms people who don’t much like the idea of people outside the team having access to social media. In the blue corner, service areas who glower at comms teams who don’t let them do what they want to.

“The idea,” one senior comms person told me, “Of giving access to social media to anyone outside my team and having a free for all just fills me with horror.”

A free for all would fill me with horror too. But some basic training can reap some really positive results. Let me explain.

Where non-corporate accounts can work well

During training, I often quote the Edelman Trust Barometer. A fine piece of work that points out that people trust 52 per cent of people who are ‘someone like myself.’ That’s significantly higher than the chief executive or any of the suits.

It’s part of the science behind why things like Dave Throup’s Twitter account works so well for the Environment Agency.  You can see day-to-day content like this:

A web page presents tailored content on a topic. You want Baswich library in Stafford? It has its own webpage. You don’t have to sift through lots of irrelevant information. In the same way, a social media profile on a specific topic does the same job. I live in Brierley Hill in Dudley. So the Sergeant that polices the area is more relevant to me:


Sergeant Harrison has 1,617 followers and 13,935 people live in Brierley Hill. Even taking into account some of those followers will be fellow officers that’s potentially 11 per cent of the population. That’s compared to 8 per cent of the population – 447,000 – who follow the corporate West Midlands Police account.

Sergeant Harrison’s account works best when he talks about the bread and butter of what is happening in Brierley Hill. To a Brierley Hill audience that’s perfect. Would I sift through the noise of the corporate account looking for Brierley Hill? Probably not. But from the corporate account I want the big messages. And if it kicks off somewhere, I really want the corporate account most of all, please.

Earlier this month I was carrying out a comms review for a fire and rescue service. The community fire station’s page wasn’t engaging. It was rarely updated. But it did have 10 per cent of the population signed-up just waiting to be told things. The decision was taken to carry on but with extra training.

It’s not all plain sailing

Experience of looking after social media policy and delivery for a large council that grew from one to 60 accounts is that things don’t always go well. Over the last few years I’ve reviewed hundreds of social media accounts. Experience shows they fall into three categories. A third are useful and are prosper. A third need a hand and a third you should think about closing down unless they radically improve.

Not every devolved account will be great at sharing the corporate message and somtimes they will frustrate. But for me, it’s about accepting the balance. For me, the third that are doing really well outweigh the downside.

Research that paints a picture of the corporate v non-corporate

My eye was caught by a tweet from Police Oracle with ‘Officers better on Twitter than police PR teams report says: The study analysed almost 1.5 million tweets.’ You can see it here. The tweet prompted several devolved accounts to rail against their comms team. The only trouble was, the research doesn’t show that at all. To her credit one of the authors Miriam Fernandez pointed out in a tweet that it was wrong.

But what does the research say?

Funnily enough, it shows that there is a role for both the corporate and the non-corporate devolved account. They just do different things. If you want to read it you can download it here. Caution: there is a paywall. It is called ‘An Analysis of UK Policing Engagement via Social Media.’ It is by Mriam Fernandez, Tom Dickinson and Harith Alani.

The study looked at 1.5m posts 48 corporate 2,450 non-corporate UK police accounts on Twitter.

The researchers found that corporate accounts got higher engagement – measured as retweets – talking about roads, infrastructures, missing persons and mentioning locations. They got lower engagement on crime updates and advice to stay safe. They were found to broadcast more. The non-corporate accounts were less formal and were more likely to respond to questions.

A quick lesson for better engagement from the research?

  • Have a clear message with a concrete action
  • Know the message but also know the options to act.

What a good corporate account should look like

For me, there are two purposes for the corporate and the devolved non-corporate. The corporate can put out the central messages. It should be a Match of the Day highlights show sharing the best of the rest. It should be human. The comms team can set the direction. It can deliver the training. But the non-corporate team, service area or individual accounts are where the real gold will be found. So have both.

30 days of human comms: #27 Lochaber & Skye Police talk to someone at risk of domestic abuse

A while back a colleague ran a campaign against domestic violence that stays with me. 

They researched how best they could reach women in particular who are at risk and the men – and it is often men – who are the perpetrators.

Their research showed that beer mats were a way of reaching people.

I remembered this when I saw these tweets from Lochaber & Skye Police to someone who was following their account. They are written as a letter and they’re written in a thread.

And then a second tweet.

And a final tweet.

A deeply personal message written in plain English. It’s so beautiful it’s poetry.

Be more human. Like Lochaber & Skye Police.


30 days of human comms #25 the Yorkshire motorway police officer and his wife

A while back someone asked what the point of having more than the corporate account was.

Sure, the corporate account can do much but sharing  the sweets and giving the right tools to people on the frontline can be hugely effective. They can post updates on breaking incidents to help keep the traffic moving.

An example of this is the motorway police officer PC Martin Willis captured holding on Superman-style to a van that was about to topple over and roll down an embankment with the driver trapped inside.

It’s by having the tools for the officer to communicate that that the story could be told.

A beautifully human tweet? The cherry was put on top of the cake by the officer’s wife who spoke of how proud she was.

Often police officers can seem remote when they are human beings doing an often difficult job.

Be more human. Like the motorway police officer and his wife.

Thanks to Ben Proctor for spotting this.

PRINT TALE: What journalism can teach you about where communications should be headed


I remember where I was when the old news media died for me. It happened in a phone call from a journalist.

“Look,” he started off. “When you write something on Twitter could you do me a favour and give me a call, please?”

I said I couldn’t. Not because I was being awkward but because it wouldn’t work.  I suggested he join Twitter himself. This was when Twitter was in its infancy.

Time has passed and the news media is being re-born. Many of the old ways have gone. Digital first has come into play. In other words, not sitting on news until the next edition but publishing it as soon as it breaks and driving traffic to the website.

Time was when all the innovation was happening in local government. There are still bright people doing bright things but as the sector has suffered austerity many have moved on. Newspapers are now working out what the future looks like. They have swapped print dollars for digital dimes. It’s not always pretty to look at for time served journalists. But their need to find an audience to survive teaches lessons for communications people.

One of the best places to see where the cutting edge is is through the Reuters Institute of Journalism.  Based at the University of Oxford the body brings academic rigour and research to the sector. There are lessons for communications people too in their Digital News Report 2017.

Resistance to change will be punished

Newspapers have had 20 years to make sense of the internet and have largely failed, the report says. Who creates the news is less important to people in 2017 than the places where they can get it. Audiences and advertisers have embraced new technology. The brighter news organisations have too. But whether the public sector has or not, I’m really not sure. If the expectation of the public sector is that people will come to them for information because they are the public sector history shows a shock is in store. The audience has moved away from newspapers who thought just that.

News in the UK is consumed mostly online

The art of writing a press release is still part of the mix. But as people move away from print media they are consuming news online. But the content of news online is often sharable content from video, images to infographics. Is your content mirroring this trend?

reuters source of news

People consume the news online but can’t remember where they read it

‘I read that on Facebook,’ is the response. ‘But I don’t remember who told me.’ This is really significant. It means that people are consuming information without looking too closely at the masthead of what delivered it. Reuters Institute research showed that 47 per cent couldn’t remember the people that served the news they’d read. The important thing for me is to have content on Facebook. It is less important where that presence can be found. So, sure, a Facebook page. But it is most important just to get your content out and circulating.

Whats App as a channel for news is important

We can’t see it so we can’t measure it. But 40 per cent in the UK use Whats App for news and 36 per cent use Facebook messenger. The Guardian, for example, deliver a daily message through Facebook Messenger. If that can be done for news, why not for public sector news?

People prefer an algorithm to serve their news more than an editor

More than half prefer an algorithm setting their news agenda as opposed to 44 preferring an editor, the Digital News Report says. For under 35s the algorithm figure rises to 64 per cent.

So, if people are happy to have their news served to them doesn’t it make sense for your news and messages to be in the places that are going to be hoovered up? This points to Google News and Facebook. There is no direct footprint a public sector organisation can have in Google News but there is in Facebook.

In summary

If you work in communications and PR look outside the sector too for clues on how to communicate better. Newspapers, or rather media companies, are evolving as well as dying. Their business model is based around reaching an audience. There are things they are doing which can teach us all. Often I’ll talk about public sector communications. There can be an inherent laziness sometimes about reaching an audience because there is no bottom line or sales target. But that’s not good enough.

PATHWAY: We are alone together


You need good boots and a wise head to walk the Appalachian Trail. It is 2,190 miles long and cuts through the lonely American wilderness.

Almost 3,000 people walk it’s daunting dark length from end-to-end every year and from time-to-time people go missing.

Risks faced by the traveller include the American black bear, mosquitos, yellowjackets, poison ivy, biting flies and dangerous streams.

The trail is linked by camping points a day’s walk apart. Sometimes they are just clearings but they are places walkers pitch a tent, meet and swap trail stories. Knowing there is a ford ahead can make the next day safer.

Five years ago we launched commscamp on a clear blue sky excited about the power and possibility of exploring the green empty space of the internet.

This year, there was the sense that things have evolved. There was a feeling more people used the event as safety trail camp. New things to learn? Yes. But most of all a sanity check.

The world has changed and we are trying to all change with it. Fractured channels. New audiences. New demands on time. Income targets. Bad intranets. Bad comms plans. Bad managers. Not enough time. Time taken over by an emergency. Not enough budget.

Not enough regard for what we do.

There are still people looking to innovate and get good at new things. But there are less people wide-eyed at the possibility. The militant optimists from the early years have moved on. I miss them. Those that remain on the trail are quieter somehow but more determined. They know that they are still travelling through uncharted forests. Through the trees they can sometimes hear the crunch of nearby footsteps of fellow travellers. We are alone together. We know this path will take years to complete.

It’s things like Commscamp, the Public Sector Headspace Facebook group and other places that are the safe camping points to rest.

Knowing you are not alone is just as important today as it was five years ago.

Picture credit: VinceTraveller / Flickr

CAFE SOCIETY: How the secret of coffee and cake can network your organisation’s comms


For five years I worked in the public sector trying to embed digital communications across the organisation and in that time we found two secrets.

We won an award and we managed to get people on the frontline keen and engaged.

But what ingredients made this happen?

Two things. An open social media policy that allowed people from across the organisation to use it after some training. But a piece of paper only goes far. It opens the door but it won’t send everyone charging past and into the warm water. Here’s what really did. A regular meet-up where everyone who used social media was invited. We had three topics. No slides. We would try and meet off-site too to encourage creative thinking. A cafe was best.

The sessions were deliberately open and we encouraged people who were trying new things to talk about what they had learned.

Why involve people from across the organisation?

To share the sweets, of course. It’s something I’ve blogged about before. Social media shouldn’t be a communications thing. It should be an every service area thing. And sometimes we need our enthusiasm re-fired and a lesson shared to re-charge our batteries.

And one of the biggest challenges in all of this is for this not to be a comms’ own meeting. This shouldn’t be the head of comms lecturing everyone how it should be. It should be people from across the organisation working it out together. But more than that. Open it up to partners too. And anyone who is interested from the public. Widen the circle.

Here’s a secret. Two actually

Very often organisations can have more than 100 channels. Often they work seperately from each other and there can be painfully little collaboration.

That’s where the cake and coffee come in. Here’s the thing: if you talk to each other you’ll share ideas and very often work better. The customer services person, the librarian and the media officer. None of them have a monopoly on good ideas.

Try it. Let me know how it goes.

Shout if I can help. I’m and @danslee.

Picture credit: Susanne Nilsson / Flickr 



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