LONG READ: Where TikTok sits in the media landscape and how the public sector can use it

I’ve lost count of the number of people asking about TikTok.

If middle managers are suggesting TikTok something is clearly happening.

First things first. Cards on the table. I’m slightly sceptical of emerging platforms.

Until they become used by a decent number of people I keep an eye on them. This way, I’ve avoided the hype around Google Buzz, Google Wave and Google Plus.

Just because people suggest it doesn’t always make it a good idea.

But several things make TikTok a real proposition in the public sector.

Here’s your break-down…

The numbers say take TikTok seriously

There are npw 12 million TikTok users in the UK.

Not only that, but they’ve surged to a particular demographic. Ofcom data says almost half UK 16 to 24s use the platform. So, if you need to reach this particular demographic then TikTok is a strong way to do it.

But it’s not just under 24s

While the platform is big with this group it would be wrong to dismiss it as a ghetto for Generation Z.

TikTok are trying really hard to make the platform reach older groups of people too. Watch a Euro 2020 game and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll see TikTok ads around the perimeter as one of the event sponsors.

They’ve also taken out shirt sponsorship of Wrexham FC who are owned by high profile Hollywood duo Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.

Again, these football matches are places where older demographics see the brand name.

Take also the ease to download a TikTok video. If you’ve been scrolling through Facebook or Twitter over the last 12-months the cute dog video you may have seen may well have had the tell-tale TikTok branding.

While other platforms like YouTube guard their content and make it hard to rip them TikTok serves it up on a plate to make it sharable. They really want you to share it in WhatsApp or Facebook.

Me? In the 12-months I’ve been dabbling I’ve ended up following a number of people who don’t do your typical stuff aimed at younger people.

Get over yourself

Firstly, there’s things to be appalled about. There’s a lot of females dancing. Some of them I’m not entirely sure how old they are and I’m entirely sure their parents would have a view of their clothing choice.

I’ve also heard communicators in their 40s be appalled at the rapid edits and K-Pop backing music that can be found on the platform. Wise up, Grandma. Get over yourself. Those videos aren’t aimed at you. The fast edits work on the platform best.

I’ve also heard communicators be appalled at the site of dancing nurses at the start of the pandemic. They may have as point. But I’d argue that setting a tone and direction is important rather than refusing to work with it. There is much more to TikTok than dancing staff if you try.

Then there’s the Information Commissioner’s Office’s questions over the data privacy of children and impending legal action over the topic. Those are things to be aware of.

TikTok is bending over for advertisers

Another factor to take into account is TikTok are making a big push with advertising agencies and businesses. A string of companies are advertising with the platform in the UK and there’s resources to make the process easier.

The big flaw for the public sector however is that advertising can only be localised to the ‘UK’ rather than to say, Dudley in the West Midlands. Or more specifically brass band enthusiasts who are engaged support Stoke City and who live in Dudley. In that department, Facebook platforms still have the edge.

But in the US TikTok are trialling TikTok city-by-city ads.

Broadly, it shows a direction of travel.

The TikTok for Business platform is a good place to have a look at. You’ll find a lot of resources and some data to help you understand the platform.

How to create content?

And this is the $64,000 dollar question.

A load of people have looked at TikTok and scratched their heads. They see the argument and they struggle with exactly how to do it.

There are some filters to think of before going down this path.

More than 70 per cent of people come to TikTok for entertainment. So, if your content is not entertaining it won’t work. If that rules out swathes of what you do that’s fine. It’s worth knowing now.

How to videos work as do place marketing, tourist information, tips and tricks about a place and some good relevant knowledge.

I have to break it to you know that making dull content on a dull subject always fails.

The cunning line from TikTok is ‘Don’t make ads, make TikToks.’

It’s a clever one. They want you to create content that fits into the platform.

So, how can you use it practically?

The corporate channel idea

Places like Liverpool City Council and Lancashire Fire & Rescue have deployed a corporate channel. They’re worth looking at. In particular, Liverpool’s channel catches the eye.

As I understand it, they’re lucky to have a full-time videographer on the payroll with an eye for a shot and a willingness to experiment.

This video from Liverpool, for example, has had 25,000 views and records the progress the city has made from April 2020 to the first dance night test night 12-months later.

Now, if you watch that it doesn’t look like a council product, does it?

That said, I’m not convinced that corporate channels are always the way to go. Good luck to innovators like Liverpool but a one-person comms team will never come near to them.

The NHS has a channel to their credit but this feels like more of a repurposing of existing content than a warm embrace of it. There are others too.

The working with creators idea

TikTok have been pointing large brands down the route of working with established TikTok creators. In other words the people who craft effective video on the platform can make your TikTok with you. You can potentially find them on creator marketplace.

What they mean by this route is to create something that works on the platform and has the spirit of the platform rather than cutting and pasting existing content.

This approach led to this cracking video for M&S Food whereby a singleton creator celebrated the food by making a slightly pastiche video that saw her tucking in alone to a M&S meal deal.

It has all the breathy ‘This isn’t food, this is M&S food’ schtick but the twist is it’s for one.

Take a look:

It’s a cracking video.

It’s clearly on brand but playing with it.

Of course, these formal routes probably aren’t open to most parts of the public sector. But it does raise the really important concept of encouraging others to create content for you either by approaching them or by setting a challenge that people can pile in on.

The joining in with a challenge or creating one idea

Making a video with a hashtag is a good way of getting it in front of people who are scrolling through loads of content with the hashtag.

For example, there’s the #accentchallenge hashtag.

This video by user @ceeceejax is a video in response to one poster by someone from Northern Ireland to say a list of words on your local accent, like ‘baby’, ‘water’ and ‘film’.

The end result shows a celebration of local dialect.

If you were looking to reach a Black Country audience on TikTok, this is one way to start doing that with the right hashtags added.

‘Baby’ ‘water’ ‘film’ and ‘got yer jab, bab?’ would go down a storm in the Black Country.

The venue account idea

For this, the venue is the thing.

Full props to the Black County Living Museum on this who have set a high bar with their fun and educational videos that both embrace the sprit of TikTok but also their mission to educate.

Listening to the architect of their strategy, they make the videos in consultation between the costumed demonstrators and the marketing manager. They will look at TikTok see what trends are working and see if they can make something from that.

They also don’t shy a way from the fact this is work and takes time, planning, shooting and editing. But they get brilliant results with 1.2 million followers which they’ve seen translate into visits to the website.

Interestingly, their Facebook is different and more about celebrating nostalgia. Their TikTok isn’t because it’s a different audience. That’s such a big lesson.

The employee channel idea

The NHS is particularly good at this.

Here, Dr Karan Raj has an account where he gives basic medical tips that he think people will find useful. Why you should not take ibuprofen on an empty stomach, for example.

In this one, its what people need to know about the latest COVID-19 wave.

Other nurses, doctors and paramedics are also on TikTok making content.

That said, most of these NHS channels don’t feel as though they are official. Good, because that’s their strength.

But what makes TikTok different?

I’ve spoken at length about the numbers and the approaches. You may be wondering what that is.

TikTok is a portrait video platform that throws video at you. It starts on the For You screen where TikTok shows you things it thinks you’ll like based on previous viewing.

Click through to ‘Following’ and you’ll see people who you follow.

You can search with ‘discover’ and tap through on the hashtags added to videos you watch.

More than 90 per cent of TikTok users just watch rather than create but if you did want to make things there’s a stack of tools and functionality within the editing functionality.

You can learn more about TikTok and other emerging channels as part of the ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER workshops I run.

30 days of human comms #68: The Mother returns to her children after nine weeks on the COVID-19 frontline

It’s all about love at the end of the day, isn’t it?

Love we make and the love we leave is the footprint of what we did and how we did it.

So to Susie who spent nine weeks apart from her children working in an operating theatre for the NHS.

The video which saw her surprise her children when she returned home is 45-seconds of pure undistilled love.

It’s on Twitter here and there’s a clip here, too:

Watch it first.

Don’t scroll past.

Then count the ways love is expressed in that video. I counted six. At least.

Some of the best and most enduring content is that created not with communications in mind. It is raw, on-the-fly and human. It is one take.

After 10 years of social media being mainstream I still don’t think that comms teams really get that.

What does this prove?

That Mums love their children and are loved back in return.

And that NHS people have sacrificed such a lot to ensure that fewer people die.

Head versus heart?

This couldn’t be more heart.

30 days of human comms: #31 the NHS Trust with a sense of humour

Health people can have a sense of humour too.

The health bible the BMJ kicked things off with an earnest piece about whether or not Peppa Pig was encouraging the waste of GP’s resources. You can read the piece here.

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust contributed to the debate with this tweet:

Not leaving things there, the medical profession responded:

And the trust responded too:

Why is this good? The debate around Peppa Pig was a slightly tongue-in-cheek discussion on when and when not to use a GP. For an NHS Trust to remind people that they were human too isn’t such a bad idea. There was no significant event that would have overshadowed the jest.

Thanks to Rachael Stray for spotting this.

SOCIAL PROPOSAL: Proposals to Improve Health and Wellbeing Board Social Media… what do you think?

179279964_8e0675c135_oThere’s a new network of key bodies across England that work to improve the health and wellbeing of their local residents and reduce health inequalities.

Known as ‘health and wellbeing boards’, they bring together the local council, clinical commissioning group, Healthwatch and other key local players in a genuine partnership and they do a really important job.

By their own admission they are not always great at using social media and, while there are some good examples, we think some light-touch guidance would encourage people to explore the opportunities of increased or improved digital engagement.

We’re very pleased to say that we have been chosen by the Local Government Association to help them draw up some proposals for this guidance and we’d like to ask what you think of it so we can polish and shape it.

We think better social media can lead to better engagement, better transparency, better communication, better curation and better listening.

Our broad thoughts in six points:

  • Rather than have a one-size fits all set of guidelines we think they should be phased from the entry-level one star right up to the top-of-the-class five star.
  • We think there should be some thought given to the name of whichever social profile is used. It may be that the name ‘health and wellbeing board’ is off-putting to some people.
  • We think there is enough guidance out there for professionals and we’d like to signpost people towards that. Doctors, for example, have the BMA social media guidelines. Elected members have some of their own too. We don’t want to replace these but we do make some suggestions for how social media can be used by the health and wellbeing board as a whole.
  • It’s not just Twitter. There is a range of different platforms. So when slides are shown, for example, they can be posted to a platform like slideshare so people can follow at home.
  • Yes, livestreaming meetings on the internet is a good idea and we’d not only encourage that but we’d ask that space be given for the public to ask questions via a social channel too.
  • We think engagement between meetings is key too. Not just during.

We think there should be some broad principles too:

The Five Be’s of an effective social Health and Wellbeing Board

Be engaging: it should interact wherever possible with users and reflect the debate.

Be timely: it should post information at a time that is most convenient to the audience.

Be jargon-free: it should use language that works on the platform of choice. It should not use jargon and language that people outside the health and wellbeing board would struggle to understand. It should be informal wherever possible.

Be connected: it should look to share content from partners and from across the public or third sector where is relevant. It could work with the partners who make-up the board to collectively focus on an issue to amplify a message and a debate.

Be informative: it should look to inform and to educate.

The five levels of social media

We’d love people to be on the fifth level but we have to be realistic. These proposed five levels give a low barrier to entry on level one and encourage councils to progress.

Level  Requirement
Level One –       Post meeting date and time on one social platform–       Jargon free
Level Two –       Post meeting date and time on one social platform-       Jargon free

–       Cover meeting discussion on one social platform and curate content.

–       Publish slides of presentations given at the meeting and post to a health and wellbeing board page or microsite.

Level Three –       Post meeting date and time on one social platform-       Jargon free

–       Cover meeting discussion on one social platform and curate content.

–       Publish slides of presentations given at the meeting and post to a health and wellbeing board page or microsite.

–       Livestream or allow residents to livestream and curate content.

–       Enable questions to be asked of the meeting from social media

Level Four –       Post meeting date and time on one social platform-       Jargon free

–       Cover meeting discussion on one social platform and curate content.

–       Publish slides of presentations given at the meeting and post to a health and wellbeing board page or microsite.

–       Livestream or allow residents to livestream and curate content.

–       Enable questions to be asked of the meeting from social media

–       Digital engagement through social media between meetings that is fed back into the entire decision making process

Level Five –       Post meeting date and time on one social platform-       Jargon free

–       Cover meeting discussion on one social platform and curate content.

–       Publish slides of presentations given at the meeting and post to a health and wellbeing board page or microsite.

–       Livestream or allow residents to livestream and curate content.

–       Enable questions to be asked of the meeting from social media

–       Digital engagement through social media between meetings that is fed back into the entire decision making process

–       Searchable agendas that used metadata

–       An interactive website that the public can comment on.

–       Members enabled to use one or more platform during and between meetings


So what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? We’d like you to have your say on this.

Please complete our online survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/LGAforHWB.

Visit the LGA website for more information and a Word doc version of the survey.

The consultation closes on 2 July.

 Creative commons credits

Jumping http://www.flickr.com/photos/40645538@N00/179279964/

PROTEST PR: How Comms Should Answer Cuts Questions

8544982977_36a47ac99a_oYou’re a public sector PR person and you’ve got to answer a question from the media about cuts, what do you do?

Forecasts say there will be 40 per cent job losses in some areas of the public sector with £3.3 billion being taken from the voluntary sector over a five year period and £20 billion coming from local government and £15 billion of efficiency savings due in the NHS.

So, what stories are being shaped? If you work in the sector it’s probably long overdue time to think about it.

A)      Apply a positive gloss and insist that yes, efficiencies will be made but frontline services will not be cut.
B)      Tell people that they had their chance to have their say in the budget consultation and they blew it.
C)       Tell people that this is what cuts look like.

All too often people in the public sector have been going for a) to try and minimise panic and upset on the population. But with £20 billion worth of cuts coming down the tracks in local government we need to be above all honest. So, let’s just take a closer look at that, shall we?

What insisting that efficiencies will be made and frontline services will not be cut means

You’ve been cutting millions of pounds from budgets for years. But the frontline hasn’t been affected? Efficiencies? Clearly, you were wasting that money all along so why on earth should I trust you now?

Or, you’re trying to be a bit clever and you know that the frontline will very much be affected but the couple of hours of mobile library visit will somehow make-up for the five-day-a-week building the community used to have. People won’t buy it, or they’ll see through it. So, why should they trust you now?

What telling people that they’ve had their chance means

You’ve pinned up details of a public meeting at the church hall and you paid three times the rate for a display ad in the local paper because it’s a public notice and they’ve got you over a barrel. Twelve people turned up and the Twitter chat you ran reached a fair number but not everyone. In other words, you’ve not done a very good job of this public consultation lark. Why should they trust you now?

What telling people that this is what cuts look like looks like

In Birmingham, this is exactly what Cllr James McKay told the Evening Mail about green bin charges in the City as people were protesting against cuts. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, people won’t like it. But look yourself in the eye. This is the truth. This is going to happen more and more and public sector comms increasingly is going to be about what you don’t do rather than you do.

But at least they’ll trust you more because you are being honest.

A grown-up conversation is needed about communicating cuts and if you work in the area you need to work out which choice you make pretty quick.

Creative commons credit 

Dog protest https://www.flickr.com/photos/16230215@N08/8544982977/

#NHSSM #HWBlearn can you help shape some key social media guidelines?

8437560643_19ffc287a9_oYou may not know this but there’s a corner of local government that’s has a major say in decisions that will affect how your family is treated when they are not well.

They’re called health and wellbeing boards and while they meet at Town Halls they cover the intersection between GPs, local authorities and patients groups.

They also have a say on spending worth £3.8 billion – an eye watering sum in anyone’s book.

The LGA themselves say:

“Health and wellbeing boards (HWBs) are crucial part of the new health landscape, the drivers of local system leadership and will provide an unprecedented opportunity to bring together local government and health services together to improve health and wellbeing outcomes. Local system leadership is required to ensure that the totality of public resources are brought together to address shared priorities for health improvement.”

Okay, so what?

Well, many of them do great work but there’s a growing feeling that they could do better to use social media to really engage with the communities they serve. So we’re helping see how some social media guidelines can help.

Drawing up social media guidelines

We’re a bit excited that the LGA through their health and wellbeing board integrated care and system leadership have asked comms2point0 to take a look at how this could be improved. That’s a real chance to help connect those who are making the decisions with those who are being affected.

So, as part of this review it would be great to crowdsource some ideas and insight from the online community to help shape the guidelines to be the best that they could be.

What questions should we ask?

I’d be keen to understand – particularly from people working with Health and Wellbeing Boards – if social media could play a role?

If it is playing a role already, what that role is and also what success may look like?

Who should we be talking to?

Should we respond?

What could the benefits be?

What are the barriers?

So, how can you help?

If you work in local government, the NHS or have an interest in the NHS I’d welcome your thoughts.

  • There is a #nhssm discussion on Wednesday February 12 from 8pm. Thanks to the brilliant Gemma Finnegan and her colleagues they’re hosting a discussion. Use the hashtag #nhssm to contribute. It would be great if you did.
  • Feel free to comment on this blog post.
  • Ask your council how they are using social media for their health and wellbeing boards.

Thank you!


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