HIGH NUMBERS: The UK social media and messaging user data you need for 2021

God bless you, Ofcom. God bless your freely available data that helps to make the life of communicators better.

Ofcom’s Adults Media Use and Attitudes report has been published and a rich treasure trove of numbers it is too.

These statistics were gathered during the second and third UK lockdowns of late 2020 so reflect the turbulence of the first year of the pandemic.

TLDR: 2021 in summary

As a country, older people gravitate to Facebook and WhatsApp while younger people can be found on a wider array of platforms.

Messaging platforms like Messenger, WhatsApp and Skype collectively are more popular than social media accounts.

Every age demographic has its distinct preferences.

Surprisingly, 35 to 44 year olds are now narrowly the single biggest users of social media.

TikTok is climbing but hasn’t reached the top four for under 24s with 54 per cent using it.

Most favoured social platforms, source: Ofcom, 2021

What platforms do 16 to 24-year-olds use in the UK?

Instagram tops the list with Snapchat and YouTube following. TikTok hasn’t reached the top four. For messaging, its WhatsApp. A total of 88 per cent use social media and the same number with messaging.

Social media
  1. Instagram 69 per cent
  2. Snapchat 64 per cent
  3. YouTube 63 per cent
  4. Facebook 61 per cent
Messaging
  1. WhatsApp 69 per cent
  2. Messenger 54 per cent
  3. Discord 28 per cent

What platforms do 25 to 34-year-olds use in the UK?

For this age group, Facebook and WhatsApp with 90 per cent messaging use pipping 89 per cent social media.

Social media
  1. Facebook 72 per cent
  2. Instagram 68 per cent
  3. YouTube 48 per cebnt
  4. Snapchat 39 per cent
Messaging
  1. WhatsApp 78 per cent
  2. Messenger 65 per cent
  3. Skype 27 per cent

What platforms do 35 to 45-year-olds use in the UK?

This age group messages the most of all (93 per cent) and also uses social media the most (91 per cent).

Social media
  1. Facebook 75 per cent
  2. Instagram 57 per cent
  3. YouTube 47 per cent
  4. Twitter 37 per cent
Messaging
  1. WhatsApp 83 per cent
  2. Messenger 72 per cent
  3. Skype 31 per cent

What platforms do 46 to 54-year-olds use in the UK?

Facebook is used most by this demographic with 77 per cent.

Social media
  1. Facebook 77 per cent
  2. Instagram 41 per cent
  3. Twitter 33 per cent
  4. YouTube 33 per cent
Messaging
  1. WhatsApp 83 per cent
  2. Messenger 72 per cent
  3. Skype 26 per cent

What platforms do 55 to 64-year-olds use in the UK?

Almost three quarters use social media and messaging apps.

Social media
  1. Facebook 65 per cent
  2. Twitter 23 per cent
  3. Instagram 23 per cent
Messaging
  1. WhatsApp 62 per cent
  2. Messenger 55 per cent
  3. Skype 20 per cent

What platforms do over 65-year-olds use in the UK?

The majority of this age group use social and messaging platforms with 59 per cent and 64 per cent users. Facebook is favourite.

Social media
  1. Facebook 54 per cent
  2. YouTube 16 per cent
  3. Twitter 13 per cent
  4. Instagram 11 per cent
Messaging
  1. WhatsApp 44 per cent
  2. Messenger 43 per cent
  3. Skype 13 per cent

Conclusion

Wise communications and PR people will read this data and reflect on how it affects them day-to-day. This represents a subtle year-on-year shift. Ten years ago, the tide was showing signs digital comms was going to be important.

The tide has washed in the direction of social media but has also brought with it messaging apps which have now overtaken social as a way to keep in touch.

For public sector communicators, this data can be a powerful tool in your armoury.

Picture credit: istock.

POST DOWN: The full league tables on what platform takes down what

I’ve often spoken about the dangers of using a fake platform on Facebook.

It’s close neighbour is the stuff that they take down for breaching terms and conditions.

There’s two ways of looking at this. That companies are really sharp at taking stuff down. Or the glass half full version is that there’s a tsunami of crap out there.

Digital PR agency Reboot have published this league table of who takes down what and the numbers are eye-watering.

Facebook leads the way with 12 billion items, then YouTube with five billion, Instagram with 106 million, TikTok with 104 million and then Twitter on two million.

If anything, its Twitter that looks pretty small beer.

GUEST POST: A critical analysis of the comms of the doomed European Super League

The European Super League idea launched by 12-clubs started with fanfare but within days the six English teams involved quit. Chris Lepkowski who has worked as head of media and content at a Premier League club takes a critical eye at the comms of the sport’s Cuban missile crisis.

It barely lasted 48 hours.

11.11pm, Sunday April 18. “The Super League will open a new chapter for European football,” began the first of many ill-synchronised social media tweets.

By Tuesday 10.55pm, it was game over. Arsenal, one of English football’s gang of six, had stepped out of the confessional with its head bowed: “We made a mistake, and we apologise for it.”

At least they apologised. The others took their time. Liverpool’s John W Henry waited until Wednesday morning to post his 2.27minute mea culpa to ‘LFC’ staff and fans. Too little too late.

On reflection, this will be remembered as the most incredible 48 hours in modern football. This was sport’s Cuban Missile Crisis. It was a showcase of brinkmanship, a complete lack of awareness and of no appreciation for its paying audience. It was a public relations horror show.

The background

But first, the backstory. In short, continental club football in three countries effectively broke up on Sunday night – for a couple of days at least – to create The European Super League. Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs were ready to leave behind English football to join Italian giants Juventus, Inter and AC Milan. Accompanying them would be Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. So far, so good. Sadly for them, their plans were derailed when Germany’s major clubs – including Bayern Munich – and Paris Saint-Germain opted out. Domestically, a furious fans’ back-lash followed.

This was sport’s Cuban Missile Crisis.

By Tuesday night, the English clubs began to opt back out. Manchester United announced their chief executive Ed Woodward would be leaving.

How did the Super League become the biggest PR own-goal since High Street jeweller Gerald Ratner referred to his low-cost silverware as ‘total crap’?

There were several flashing lights. Firstly, the brand. The Super League website looked worse than a Word Press blog. The logo looked like it had been designed using children’s Scratch Art.

Multiple comms teams

And then there was the make-up of the Communications. Clubs from the five countries – also including the aborted entry of the German and French clubs – were each represented by individual media partners. No Com France and No Com Spain represented the interests of their clubs, while Verini & Associati looked after the Italian clubs. B2P Communications were plotting the German PR assault, with iNHouse leading the media messaging on behalf of the English clubs. I should point out, these are all heavyweights of the communications world. We aren’t dealing with a bedroom-based PR wannabes here, but signposting you to major players in the international comms game with award-winning reputations.

Big-hitters signed-up

iNHouse may sound familiar. They should. They are run by former Downing Street advisor Katie Perrior, who was director of communications on Theresa May’s watch. Ms Perrior led the public relations campaign for Boris Johnson’s successful London Mayoral campaign in 2008, and also worked with Theresa May between September 2016 and April 2017.  The nuances of a heavyweight political landscape might be appropriate for swinging public opinion towards or against a faltering government, but football supporters are simplistic souls. We love our sport because of the colour, the sounds and the smells of the matchday experience. We love our club because it shapes our lives, our friendships, our relationships. The club is an extension of our family. We don’t always like our club; but we always love our club. We have no care for financial models or balance sheets. We treat outsiders with suspicion. The onus is on you, the club, to make us feel welcome. Especially during these times. That was totally lost.

English fans were forgotten

Yet iNHouse were immediately pitching the wrong message to the wrong audience – the tone was for a non-English, non-traditional audience. It was about capturing and harvesting new fans in different time zones, far away from football’s heartlands.

Furthermore, the social and digital media output was confused. The implication was the gang of 12 clubs would remain part of their domestic leagues while also contesting the European Super League. Fine, only Premier League rules don’t allow this. Were the clubs even aware they were under Premier League L9 they have to ‘obtain prior written approval of the Board’ before entering another competition? Seemingly not. If you want to play the game, learn the rules.

Then there was the timing: why 11pm on a Sunday night? One theory is that the clubs were trying to pre-empt Monday’s UEFA announcement of the revamped Champions League – a competition they were now effectively withdrawing from. Another potential reason was to capture interest in the Asian and American demographics – who were either waking up on Monday morning to news of this breakaway, or able to absorb it for the final few hours of Sunday. In any case, it wasn’t to suit the European audience – strange as it might seem for a European competition. It’s also entirely feasible the media leaks during the day prompted a hasty social media-loaded scattergun disclosure of the club’s intentions. It wasn’t so much coordinated, as shambolic.

But more so the communications became muddled because 12 clubs were being led by strands of strategic messaging in three separate countries – if you exclude the German and French interest, which never materialised. Not only did those strands need to be aligned, but they also needed to run hand-in-hand with the respective departments of each of the dozen clubs. In other words, a lot of different networks needed to be in sync. Is it any wonder the communications was so chaotic? Also, football cultures in England are different to those of Spain, which are not the same as those in Italy. Yet they were delivering in the same tone.

I’ve worked in communications for the private and public sector. I served as head of media for a Premier League football club, was communications manager for a politician and held the same role for a major privately-owned multi-national company. I’m fully aware that trying to keep senior executives and high profile individuals on message can be a major challenge. At best it can be a frustrating exercise in taming egos and calming people who aren’t used to being told ‘no’. At worst, you might as well be trying to herd 10 cats into a phone box. As much as I sympathise with communications managers and press officers, this is a crisis they had to own. They failed.

Above all else, the communications completely missed the target when it came to football’s main stakeholder: the supporters. We haven’t enjoyed the colours, smells or sounds of a football match since March 2020. Senses are heightened. Where we once stood on a terrace, we have now been forced to perch at the end of the laptop or on a handheld device, in the ‘spectator stand’ commonly known as social media. And that’s where the clubs got it badly wrong. The declarations to join the ESL came out and then…nothing. Silence. Between Sunday night and Monday lunchtime, there was barely any official follow-up. In short, they treated the supporter with disdain.

Money will come first

The following day Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp had to answer questions about his employers, rather than the usual soft-touch pre-match interviews. (That Liverpool were party to this announcement just a few days after the Hillsborough anniversary remains beyond comprehension). Pep Guardiola of Manchester City was also put on the media spot. Players were outraged. High profile employees had been hung out to dry. Supporters at Chelsea took to the streets with their own brand of messaging, splashed across home-made banners. By Tuesday night we went to bed wondering if the previous 48 hours had really happened. The European Super League departed as quickly as it arrived. But return it will. Because football will forever put money first.

Football has many lessons to learn from April 18-20, 2021. Likewise so does Comms; not least how it delivers key messaging and how it should target different stakeholders. 

As for this European Super League, as Ratner might say: actually it was ‘total crap’.

Chris Lepkowski is a sports journalism lecturer at Birmingham City University.

Picture credit: Bert Verhoeff / Anefo used under a creative commons licence.

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.

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.

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.

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.

FINAL EDITION: War stories on the demise of the newsroom

So, farewell the newsroom, that place of blood, sweat, tears, joy, despair and stories.

Reach plc has announced it wants to keep reporters working from home retaining a few sites where people can catch-up with people.

What may seem a routine accommodation matter for a national newspaper chain also strikes at something fundamental that public sector comms teams also must grapple.

How can you learn when you’ve no-one to watch and learn?

But that’s for another day.

I wanted to just celebrate the best office I ever worked in, the Sandwell Express & Star district office in Black Lake.

It was built on a West Bromwich rubbish tip underneath towering overhead power cables downwind from the Robinson Brothers’ chemical works that put the identifying smell into the odourless North Sea gas.

Window screen tint was put onto the newsroom windows to reduce the glare on our screens so everyday was mid-February.

Everything about the bricks and mortar was ordinary but it was the people in it and the stories they made that made it special.

Through the reception on the ground floor was sales and production and a corridor led to the aircraft hanger at the back where two newspaper production towers loomed. From them, newspapers were produced in a river of drying ink and warm newsprint that would be sent down to be bundled ready for the waiting dispatching fleet of red Express & Star vans.

Sometimes, I used to go down to the press hall to catch an early copy if there was a particular story I’d been working on and wanted to see how it was used. When the towers were running the building would hum and shake and you could only talk by shouting. Journalists can be as cynical as chip paper but let me tell you I was as deeply impressed by that towering newspaper production line on my last day just as much as I was on my first.

The newsroom

But it was the newsroom that really mattered.

Walking through the door, on the right were a large bank of tables with chunky apple terminals, chairs and on each desk the detritus of Firkin sandwich bags, old newspapers, committee papers and letters.

To the left was the darkroom, a table for photographers and over in the far corner by the fire exit a desk for the Birmingham edition reporters. That was the fire exit Dave dragged Paul the chief photographer mid-row.

“That’s enough,” Dave said. “I’ve had enough. I’m going to throw you off the top of the fire escape.”

And he meant it.

“Don’t throw me off,” Paul begged. “Anyway, you’ll get the sack.”

“Yes,” Dave fired back, “but I’ll get the biggest leaving present in history.”

When I started on the Express & Star in the late 90s the internet was still finding its feet. The print edition was what counted. There were 14 reporters and three photographers in the office. First edition had a deadline of around 9.30am and our edition – the Sandwell edition – was the last of 10 editions at around 2pm.

The whole reason the print works was built in West Bromwich was so that we could be as late as possible producing the evening paper so there was a golden couple of hours when news breaking could be ours alone. In that way the competitive advantage was retained.

But it was the people in the newsroom that made the newsroom.

I became a better reporter because I watched and learned and when I was stuck would ask. We were led by Ken, a sage bearded man in his 50s who had been there since 1968. There was no crisis that Ken could not think through a solution for.

Each strategic crisis was measured in what Ken was eating. A minor crisis was met with Ken going to the canteen where he would plot his way through company politics.

But a trip to McDonald’s signified a much deeper crisis to plot through that only a Big Mac meal could provide the answers to.

His deputy was Dave who had joined in 1976. Dave hated gardening while Ken was gardening correspondent. Dave knew the borough backwards but was all at sea four miles down the road in Dudley.

Dave cracked the same repertoire of jokes that had long since stopped being original. The laughter came from eye-rolling disbelief that Dave was still cracking them.

These jokes were for an occasion.

A fire engine with lights and sirens?

“They’ll never sell any ice creams going at that speed.”

A murder?

“Smaller turkey in their house this Christmas.”

The mention of Dudley?

“I had a very sheltered life. I though the third commandment was ‘Thou Shalt Not Commute to Dudley.'”

Dave’s age was a constant source of mystery only solved when he died years later.

Not always good

When things were good on the Express & Star they were the best and when they were bad they were indescribably bad. A Victorian family-owned company they had retained working practices back then that should have stayed Victorian. The photographers who walked off the job because they had had enough, for example. The lack of brown faces in the print edition was another. This was no Garden of Eden but in Sandwell we worked hard to make it so.

When the internal phone rang it was the news desk and your heart skipped a beat in case you fucked up or they demanded more. It was your job to make more happen. Sometimes in 10 minutes.

Once, we’d printed the wrong picture of the road traffic accident victim so we had two lots of family on the war path.

There are so many stories I could tell you, but to really get them you’d have to know the office. That’s how good offices work.

I left Sandwell office, the Express & Star and journalism in 2005 to go to Walsall Council’s press office. After 12-years as a journalist I didn’t want to go to London or go to the Express & Star head office. There was a baby in the house and I needed regular hours and more money.

A few months back in lockdown, we had a leaving do on Zoom for a Sandwell colleague who had retired through ill health. Getting the band back together would be strange, I thought.

Black Lake was long closed and the printing was moved to Shropshire. The internet had done for it.

On the Zoom re-union, we laughed, remembered Dave’s jokes, the time Ken was stalked by a gent with a stained duvet, when Marion went out for the Evening Mail and was so shocked to see a story she’d missed she left her battered Datson with the engine running outside the paper shop. She returned hours later the car unstolen. Not even the criminals of the Black Country were tempted by it.

We remembered the annual bun fight over who was arranging the Christmas party, how Anne never went to the canteen, Ken would cover-up for people with white lies and how we’d repay his loyalty in spades.

I’m raising a cup of tea to the newsroom. That place of joy, laughter, graft, panic, ego, fun, terror and swearing where people learned how to do their jobs by seeing how the best did it sat next to them.

That’s a problem for comms teams, too.

Looking back, I was lucky.

Thank you Ken, Dave, Marion, Jo, Nina, Anne, James, Joe, Anuji, Wynn, Kath, Louise, Paul F, Paul P, Tony, Sunny, Chris, Marie, Phil, Tim, Viv, Katie, Irena, Eileen, Bob and others I’ve missed out.

To quote Paul the miserable photographer: “Things is mate, I made the mistake of joining this place when it was a proper newspaper.”

A YEAR? How public sector comms people look back at 12-months of COVID-19

‘This is my truth,’ NHS founder Aneurin Bevan’s widow recalled him saying to people, ‘tell me yours.

Truth is, there is no universal truth of the first 12-months of the pandemic. Our experience differs. For some, a welcome break working from home. For others, grief or a fight for health.

It got me thinking. How have public sector comms people fared? I asked members of the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group for their thoughts.

On March 23 2020, the UK Prime Minister announced the widest set of restrictions on personal freedom in living memory. It’s hard to recreate the shock of it and since then things changed.

Can you sum-up the last 12-months in four words?

“You are on mute.” – Mark Chapman.

“Relentless change and challenges.” – Suzie Evans

“What a fucking rollercoaster,” – Sarah Tidy.

“I am not thriving,” – Kelly Harrison.

“Hardest of my life.” – Lucy Salvage.

“Frustration, exhaustion, revelation, gratitude.” Lucy Hartley

“Legacy hand?” – Jon Phillips

“Emotional, frustrating, proud, enlightening.” – Laura Broster

“Bleak, tiring, uphill, love.” – Angela Maher.

“I’m ok with change.” – Joy Hale.

“Keep swimming through currents.” – Kirstin Catriona Thomson

“Relentless. Exhausting. Camaraderie and Gratitude (and quizzes!)” – Emma Russell.

What was a personal positive moment of the last 12-months?

“Having a warm, loving household.” – Suzie Evans

“No commute, absolutely brilliant.” – Stephen Wilkinson.

“I absolutely love homeworking.” – Clare Parker.

“Incredible commitment, resilience and talent of countywide partners working together to do great things in comms and elsewhere.” – Thom Burn.

“Volunteering at the Vacc Centre seeing happy, dancing Octogenarians.” – Marie Lewis.

“Learning to sew and play piano.” – Carolyne Mitchell

“Getting much closer with my partner, being home together more could have been rocky, and I know others haven’t been so lucky, but I’m so thankful we had each other through the highs and lows.” – Jennifer Ann Bracegirdle.

“Getting to spend time at home with my teenage daughter and the birth of my niece.” – Ghazala Begum.

“Seeing my dad get a vaccine.” – David Grindlay.

“Joining my family for the first time in months for a BBQ on the beach. Feeling the warmth on our faces and remembering what it felt like to be in their company and how much we had missed. And now I remember that, and that it will happen again.” – Emma Russell.

“Getting a promotion and having that first hug off my niece when we were allowed.” – Ceri Doyle.

“How much I’ve valued and love my partner and my two girls.” – Nicola Fulton.

“Hugging my Dad for the first time when we were finally allowed to form bubbles. And getting our puppy.” – Jennifer Kightley

What was a personal bleak moment of the last 12-months?

“Grandmother’s funeral.” – Andrew Clayton.

“Not seeing my dad for a year and him missing kids birthdays and Xmas.” – Leanne Hughes.

“My grandad passing away at what felt like the most stressful point in my memory, end of March 2020, however it did make me stop for a weekend and step back to process everything around me.” – Jennifer Ann Bracegirdle.

“Watching my child break down because everything is ‘weird and feels bad,'” – Kelly Harrison

“Not seeing a single person I knew face to face for 6 weeks something others won’t even be able to imagine but reality for those of us wfh who live alone.” – Ceri Doyle

“Losing one of this group to COVID. It really affected my patience – for a few days there I lost any ability to tolerate deniers/rule breakers and the ‘but they were old/already sick’ brigade, grrrrr…..” – Beck McAuliffe

“Worry about the long term impact on my daughters mental health, wellbeing and education.” – Ghazala Begum.

“My cousin hung himself in April 2020.” – Anonymous.

“Missing the birth of my second son when there was a flight ban at the start of the pandemic and not seeing my mum for a year now.” – Mark Templeton.

“Losing my voice through stress for four months.” – Joanne Cooke.

“Personal tragedy aside, having to concede defeat and take time off from work for my mental health.” – Lucy Salvage

“Realising that although day-by-day, hour-by-hour I feel absolutely fine, just below the surface the isolation, the pressure, the long hours, the dark nights, the missing family and friends, the worry, the constant covid- anxiety, the funerals we couldn’t attend, the weddings cancelled, the hospital appointments done alone, the elderly relatives giving up because their life has stopped… well it really does take its toll, that and the daily annoyance that still my job is referred to as ‘making pretty things and jazzing stuff up’.” – Emma Russell.

“My husband’s friend died of Covid leaving a widow and young child.” – Angela Maher.

“My Mum’s tears at not seeing her grandchildren for months.” – Marie Lewis.

Homeworking? Back to the office? Or a mix?

“Discovered working from home suits me, but I need to go to the office too ~ 70:30?” – Lucy Hartley.

“Both – and the trust to be able to chose which works best for me, my job and my team at that given time. But I really do miss seeing my wonderful colleagues.” – Emma Russell.

“Homeworking, with some friends house working and the odd office touch-down.” – Carolyne Mitchell.

“Keep me home working. Love it.” – Clare Parker.

“Definitely a mix, I miss homeworking days when I needed time out from meets to focus and I miss office times with colleagues to be creative and group think through the troublesome, sticky issues properly.” – Laura Broster.

“Mix but more at home to hang out with bandit-dawg.” – Leanne Hughes.

“Working from a very quiet office is better for me than being at home.” Nicola Fulton

“Homeworking is finally acceptable.” – Brioney Hirst.

Thank you to contributors Andrew Clayton, Mark Chapman, Suzie Evans, Thom Burn, Sarah Tidy, Kelly Harrison, Ghazala Begum, Lucy Salvage, Jon Phillips, Stephen Wilkinson, Emma Russell, Marie Lewis, Carolyne Mitchell, David Grindlay, Laura Broster, Angela Maher, Leanne Hughes, Jennifer Ann Bracegirdle, Beck McAuliffe, Clare Parker, Joanne Cooke, Ceri Doyle, Nicola Fulton, Brioney Hirst, Jenny Kightley, Kirstin Catriona Thomson, Amanda Rose, Charlotte Parker, Mark Templeton and Joy Hale.

This is their truth, tell me yours.

30 days of human comms #75: The human Facebook page that tells the NHS story

You may have seen the excellent Humans of New York Facebook page and its mix of story telling and pictures.

The man behind it takes pictures of people with their permission but he then sits with them and asks a series of questions.

All of the captions are in the words of the subject. There is no journalese. It’s just you and the subject.

It’s a technique I’ve seen used in a few places but nothing so effective as in the Humans of COVID-19 Facebook page which uses the technique to allow NHS staff to tell their story.

Here are three examples.

Pick one in one sitting then maybe comeback to the others. When you read them you’ll see why.

I’ll give you a trigger warning, too. It’s a tough read.

Here Leigh talks about sitting with a patient in an ambulance as she dies so she is not alone.

In this post Alfred talks about the stress of being an ICU nurse who has been forced to take time off for his mental health.

Stephen talks about being a physiotherapist redeployed to end of life care.

I don’t know what to say about the content other than it’s important we read it.

The page is run by unnamed people in the NHS in London. The subjects only have a first name. Their stories, I suspect, are universal but their relative anonymity gives a licence they may not otherwise have.

There is no personal data given and there’s no clue as to where these stories happened.

This may be too strong for a corporate Facebook page, I don’t know. But there is something disarming and powerful in reading something in someone’s voice and seeing their picture.

There may be other stories that you can tell.

If you allow people to tell them in their own voice and their own picture you will cut through to people in a way that you may struggle to through a poster or a tweet.

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