COMMSCAMP: Hello, hybrid conference, I think you’re here to stay

Four hundred tickets for the online conference Commscamp Still At Home went in eight minutes but how did the real event go?

The hard stats are that 45 online sessions across six slots were held over two half-days and more than £1,000 was raised for a good cause.

We had a guest appearance from Jackie Weaver described unprompted to me by three different people as ‘Local Government Royalty.’

Rolling attendances went from a high of 130 at anyone time to a low of 90. This would suggested people dipped in and out. Without the commitment of buying a train ticket they were pulled away so their interaction with the event came through email, the Facebook group or the LinkedIn group.

This means what it means to be an attendee has changed just work has changed.

You can experience the event online or by following the debate on Facebook or read the blogs that emerge.

But overall, what I really, really loved was hearing a new attendee enthusing that she had overcome reservations to pitch a session and had loved it. For me, that’s a big reason for helping run commscamp.

Everyone’s experience is going to be different because the options they pick will be different but I hope the inspiration and new ideas are things they took home.

Online v offline

The last two commscamps have been online.

What’s the advantage? We can reach more people from further afield. For the first time, commscamp had a truly global feel with attendees from New Zealand and the USA.

But running the event also made it easier for people across Britain to attend. Take Sweyn from Orkney Council who has run the tech for the past two years. To be there in person would have meant two days travelling along with the time attending. It would have cost him, too. The cheapest flight is £535 and factor in hotels that’s a big ask.

Am I looking forward to running the event again in-person? Of course I am. There is nothing to beat the bumping into people in the corridor or at the coffee stand. For all its reach online doesn’t have that.

I missed going to the pub at the end to debrief.

Just like the office, online events have proven their worth and I don’t think they’re going back into a box.

So, using the idea of working in public, what would that look like?

Previous experiments

In the past, experiments have seen online being grafted onto an in person event. The pitching at an unconference has been streamed live, for example. There’s even been a camera in a corner of a room during the session but the synch between debate online and in the room has never really worked. The nature of a candid discussion doesn’t lend itself to being live streamed where anyone can see.

So, maybe the hybrid event shouldn’t be a mix of the two but instead be two seperate freestanding events. Maybe on separate days. Maybe on the same day. I don’t know.

Working this out will be the interesting thing.

VIDEO VIEW: Using effective TikTok as an NHS Trust

TikTok, isn’t that just teenagers dancing? Not really, no. As Pete Orton shows this is an opportunity for the NHS to reach new audiences.

by Pete Orton

You know TikTok… it’s that dodgy Chinese state-owned video app that’s corrupting our children and stealing our data, right? Well for us at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust it’s our most followed and most watched social media channel.

There are so many myths and misconceptions about TikTok, with many believing the app is somehow worse or more sinister than any of the other social media that we happily use every day. But I simply don’t believe this is true.

Yes, TikTok is used to spread misinformation. Yes, it hosts inappropriate content. And yes, it’s incredibly addictive. But you can’t tell me that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram don’t do all these things and more – and that doesn’t stop us using these as channels for sharing public sector messages and content.

Why some people don’t get TikTok

I think a bigger reason is that many people just don’t fully get it yet, so let me explain.

TikTok is an app for making and sharing videos, displayed as an endless roll of full screen videos in vertical format – therefore taking up all of your attention for that moment, unlike almost all other social media channels.

Users have access to editing tools and filters as well as the ability to add sounds or songs, including an enormous free library of the latest trending or chart music (and some of those old masterpieces too!).

Videos can range from five seconds up to three minutes in length and can either be created within the app or uploaded to the app and amended or timed to something from the comprehensive music library.

Something else different about TikTok is the default homepage view. It’s not necessarily those people that you choose to follow whose videos you are shown, instead you get a personalised “For You” feed.

This feed is created by the true jewel in TikTok’s crown – it’s algorithm. Thanks to the complex and closely-guarded algorithm, the TikTok “For You” feed is the most intuitive and fastest-learning of any social media platform.

Within just a few minutes of joining and choosing to watch, interact with, or scroll past different videos, you start to get served up content that you might be interested in, gradually filtering out the stuff you’re not. The algorithm gets more intuitive the more you consume and engage on the app, allowing you to consistently discover new people and interests.

Accounts with fewer followers are not punished either, content and engagement take primacy over the follower count of the user, in theory giving anyone the equal chance to go viral – given the content is good enough.

But why should we care about TikTok?

Well for starters it’s the fastest growing social media site in the world. And it’s not just another short-term fad, TikTok was the world’s most downloaded app last year.

In the UK alone, it was downloaded 22 million times in 2020 – that’s more than Zoom, Teams or the NHS Covid-19 App – with latest figures showing almost 14 million of those are regular active users (at least monthly). It’s not just young people on there either. Spend a bit of time on the app and you’ll quickly see content aimed at your age group or from likeminded individuals.

In fact, its competitors are so worried about it they’re queueing up to steal the concept. YouTube recently launched YouTube Shorts, Facebook brought Reels to Instagram and is now encouraging users to post short, vertical videos on Facebook itself.

With TikTok recently allowing videos of up to 3 minutes long, (and reportedly even testing video lengths of up to 10 minutes) its dominance and influence of the social media landscape is only increasing.

The time that users spend on the app too is far greater than that of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. It’s safe to say that TikTok is not going away anytime soon.

So how could you use it?

To be clear, TikTok is not the answer to all our public sector comms problems. I don’t believe it’s the place to consistently run awareness campaigns or achieve some of our behaviour-change goals.

But want to tell a compelling or heart-warming story to potentially millions of people? Then TikTok is the perfect place. People go to TikTok to laugh, to learn, to join in and to escape.

The video quality doesn’t even need to be that high, an old iPhone will do – but it’s all about the content. That’s not to say you don’t need to put a lot of thought and effort into it, but it does mean you don’t necessarily need to use the latest high-end equipment to get good results.

One creator called Khaby.lame has amassed 107 million followers without ever saying a word. His brief skits sarcastically pointing out when people needlessly overcomplicate simple tasks frequently receive tens of millions of views.

To put it into some context, your NHS Chief Exec introducing the latest patient safety initiative isn’t going to go viral, but a video of a real person who has been through a treatment journey and is now back doing what they love just might.

Your latest local bin collection scheme won’t turn into a big hit, but a clip of a bin man building a bond with someone on their round might well do.

The point I’m making is, don’t think of TikTok as a local solution to local issues – your video won’t just be shown to people in your area. Think of it as a platform to tell your story to the world in a compelling and succinct way to show off what your organisation is all about.

How have we used it at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust?

We decided to first join TikTok as a Trust back in December 2019 – at the time we were the first NHS organisation we could find on there.

We place a lot of value on our social media content, finding it is now often a much more effective way to reach audiences than more traditional media. We also felt that TikTok was well-suited to engage with audiences using the more relaxed, friendly and sociable ‘tone of voice’ we’d carefully been cultivating across our social channels.

As an NHS Trust caring for hundreds of thousands of people every year, and employing thousands of wonderful, compassionate people, we always have a story to tell. If you strip everything else back, the NHS is really just people caring for people. This notion has huge potential on TikTok.

Whenever we have a message to share, we will always try to tell it with a story, and deliver it in an entertaining or emotionally powerful way – making it as relevant as possible to a particular audience. Sometimes that means trying new things or going to where a new audience might be.

So I wanted to use try using TikTok to share some of these positive or touching human stories, and the channel leant itself perfectly to video creation for this, with moving stories able to be set to emotional or trending music.

I’ve seen TikTok perfectly described as a place where you aim “to get the most ‘ooo’s’, ‘ahh’s’ and ‘ha-ha’s’ per second”. Well so many stories from our hospitals are full of these ‘ooo’ and ‘ahh’ moments, so why not show them off – you might just influence a few attitudes of what we’re really all about.

Our early steps

We posted our first videos in January 2020, initially using content that we’d previously shared on our other channels that I re-edited and repurposed for TikTok. I’m sure every public sector organisation will have some of this type of video already – hard-hitting, emotionally relevant and engaging. Look at what’s already performed well on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and think about how it could be repurposed or re-edited for TikTok.

The first few videos we did performed OK for a new channel, but didn’t initially gain loads of traction. But after coming up with more ideas and covering more stories on the channel, we began to get some real cut-through.

Something I noticed once we’d started posting on TikTok, was how high the engagement rate was, this is something that sets it apart from Facebook and Twitter, etc. We were seeing at least 25 per cent of all those who had seen the post, either liking, commenting or sharing the video. On Facebook this is typically more like 5% – 10% and even lower on Twitter.

I assume this is mainly because of TikTok’s attention grabbing display, with the whole screen of the app showing your video with no other posts poking out directly above or below. Therefore, it’s easy to argue that this means the effort you put into producing your content is more worthwhile.

Getting the hang of it

We then began to get a couple of videos hitting 40 to 50,000 views (which was generally better than we were getting on Facebook or Twitter before Covid), before a couple started breaking the 100,000 views mark. There seemed to be a real appetite for this kind of emotional, positive patient story, as a break from a lot of the more light-hearted content on the channel.

TikTok is known as a ‘viral’ video app, whereby if a video performs well in the algorithm it can really take off and be shown to huge audiences. We got our first taste of this virality on a couple of videos of some of our cancer patients ringing the ‘end of treatment bell’. These often perform well on our other platforms but on TikTok they were viewed hundreds of thousands of times and received huge engagement, including feedback from local patients.

These successful videos reinforced how different the TikTok algorithm and way of displaying videos to users is. With Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, posts have a very short ‘afterlife’ (the time when posts are actually shown to users in their timeline), but on TikTok if a post begins to prove successful, it can be shown for weeks or even months after it was first posted.

Last summer, after receiving a phone call from the nursing team on a ward to come along and capture a wedding that was taking place on the ward for an end of life patient, I immediately realised we had an incredibly moving story to tell. The couple involved were really keen to share their special moment “as far and as wide as possible” and thanks to TikTok we did just that.

After cutting up the video (which was solely shot on my iPhone) using the Kinemaster app, and storyboarding the clips, we had a video that was pulling at my heart strings. But being able to time the video to a popular, emotional song really gave it something extra. With a few captions added on TikTok, the video was posted and immediately took off.

You can see the video here.

Within 12 hours of posting it, the video had been watched over 1 million times and just kept growing. The video has been seen over 5 million times on our TikTok channel alone, has had over 1 million ‘likes’, received 18,000 comments and been shared more than 30,000 times.

This video showed the true power of TikTok, as this was something we didn’t send a traditional press release out for, but because of the success of the video we ended up receiving international TV and news coverage.

Various viral sharing accounts on TikTok and Instagram contacted us for permission to share the video on their own channels which we allowed with credit. To date across these different accounts, the video has had over 10 million views on TikTok, over 5 million views on Instagram, and over 2 million views on Facebook, as well as appearing on TV news in USA, Australia and beyond.

I understand that not every public sector body has access to this kind of story on a regular basis, but where and how you tell a story is often more important than the actual story itself.

We really struggled to find the time and headspace during the second wave of Covid in our hospitals to create content for TikTok, but we plan to continue using the channel to make the most of our stories. Another positive of TikTok is, it doesn’t seem to hurt your performance by not posting for long periods of time, providing when you do, it’s good content.

What is next for the Trust and TikTok

We now have nearly 45,000 followers on TikTok which is more than our Facebook and Twitter pages combined, proving it’s possible for an NHS Trust to build a reasonable following on the platform.

Every type of interest, hobby or occupation has a place on TikTok. Whether we use TikTok or not, the NHS (or your local area) is being talked about on there. A lot. There are well over 1 billion videos on the app with the hashtag #NHS. And both #ThankYouNHS and #ClapForOurCarers were some of the most popular topics on the app in the UK during the first national lockdown.

Most importantly for comms professionals, it’s about getting the most out of the time and effort you put into producing content in the first place. If you go to an event or come across a great story, if you can repurpose the same content to make it flourish on a number of channels, that’s the best we can hope for.

We don’t all have to love TikTok or use it in a personal capacity, but as Comms professionals I feel we have a duty to understand it in the same way we do with other social media.

If you want to use TikTok for your organisation, my advice would be to get on the app and spend some time on it to properly understand it for yourself. If you want any inspiration you can find us on TikTok (or any social media) @WorcsAcuteNHS

There are plenty of great public sector accounts on TikTok already. I’d definitely recommend checking out Lancashire Police @lancspolice; Liverpool City Council @lpoolcouncil; and the British Army Guards @the_guards.

And of course, if you truly have the capacity to commit resource to it, just see what the Black Country Living Museum have done, whose characters even have their own fanbases!

Thanks for reading and I hope I’ve encouraged some of you to look again at using TikTok for your organisation.

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust can be found across social media on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Pete Orton is Communications and Content Specialist at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust.

LONG READ: STRESS, ABUSE AND LIFESAVING RESULTS. The impact of the pandemic on the UK public sector country-by-country and sector-by-stress

So far across the UK, 130,000 people have died and millions of lives have been affected.

It is a story is still being written and the heroes who will populate the story will include doctors, nurses, police and paramedics.

However, through it all public sector communicators have played a massive role from warning and informing to encouraging 90 per cent of the country’s adults to have the COVID-19 jab.

From June 2020, I’ve been running a tracker survey on how the pandemic has been affecting public sector communicators across the UK.

In this post, I’ve taken the chance to go through 19,920 individual responses from 1,660 communicators over a 12-month period.

A tracker survey was run in June and October 2020 and again in January and June 2021. What the data has reveals is a sector that is paying a shocking price for living as a public sector communicator in the biggest pandemic in a hundred years.

Mental and physical health has been damaged by individuals who have gone the extra yard for days, weeks, months and now a timeline that can be measured in years.

Employers, managers and heads of comms should not underestimate the impact of the pandemic on teams. Behind the wall of black windows on a Teams call are people who have performed heroically and some have paid a high price.

This survey hopes to track their successes as well as the prtice they’ve paid.

If you work in the sector scroll down and look sector by sector as well as country by country. While many experiences of working in a pandemic have been shared others have not.

For example, Scotland and Wales have enjoyed a clear sense of direction from their home government. England and Northern Ireland have not.

Police communicators have faced a remorseless barrage of abuse and stress – the highest of any sector.

What is striking is the sense that a sense of working for the common good never collapsed during lockdown 1.0, the summer of eat out to help out, the dark days of lockdown 2.0 and then the easing of measures in Spring and summer 2021.

COUNTRY BY COUNTRY

If the pandemic blighted all parts of the UK it had a different effect for public sector comms in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In England and Northern Ireland there was a marked feeling of a lack of leadership in the home government. In Ulster, this issue never dropped below 71 per cent while in England the rate was about half.

However, in the devolved administrations of Wales and Scotland there was a clear sense of leadership from their governments. By summer of 2021, just 2.2 per cent complained that the Welsh Assembly had no sense of direction compared to 11.1 per cent in Scotland.

fig 1. A lack of leadership from my home government

ENGLAND: the high sense of a lack of leadership from home government

In England, communicators reported the highest rates issues with home schooling – 43.9 per cent had this as a problem in January 2021. Isolation rates also peaked at this time with 48.1 per cent saying they felt more3 isolated.

Comms teams in England also reported the highest sense of being short staffed peaking at four in ten reporting this in Autumn 2020.

However, a sens eof working for the common good has been maintained at around 70 per cent with a sense of working as a team level at around 50 per cent.

Fig 1: A sense of working for the common good, June 2020 to June 2021 sector by sector

England also reported the worst single rate of worse mental health – 69.5 per cent saying it had deteriorated – in Autumn 2020.

Racist abuse was seen by around 10 per cent of people every week. While the abuse of high-profile footballers leads to a well-deserved campaign and a crackdown by police the same abuse elsewhere online thrives.

SCOTLAND: Most stress, spiralling targeted abuse but a strong sense of working for the common good

Despite a clarity of leadership from devolved Government communicators in the country reported the highest rates of stress and isolation.

Eight in ten by summer 2021 felt more stressed and 61.1 felt more isolated.

That these figures come through when the worst of the pandemic death rate is over suggests a long tail for mental health that deserves to be taken seriously.

Physical health has also been worst amongst comms people in Scotland by summer 2021 with 61 per cent reporting it was worse than before the pandemic.

Racist abuse was lowest in Scotland and never higher than 4.1 per cent of people seeing it aimed at their own organisation. However, around four in 10 in Scotland saw general abuse aimed at their organisation every week. Targeted abuse has risen in Scotland from 2.7 per cent reporting it in summer 2020 compared to 30.5 per cent 12-months on.

What has pulled through comms people from north of the border is a clear sense that they are working for the common good. An impressive 83.3 per cent felt this – 14 points up on England.

Home schooling in Scotland was the most complained about in the UK with a peak of 52.7 per cent raising it as an issue in June 2021.

Leadership from home government was strong with as low as one in 20 complaining of a lack of leadership in June 2020 – compared to a consistent one in every two communicators in England.

WALES: Strong teamwork and a clear sense of direction

Communicators in Wales have been hard hit by the pendemic but the physical impact has been less than other parts of the UK.

The surveys show 37.7 per cent report a worse physical condition amongst comms people from the Principality. Home schooling complaints were registered by around a third a shade lower than other parts of the UK.

There has been a strong sense of leadership from the Welsh Assembly and the best rates of leadership in the UK from people’s organisation.

Teams have generally felt well staffed with the lowest sense of being short staffed at less than a fifth early in the pandemic.

Comms teams in Wales had the strongest sense of teamwork across the UK with as many as two thirds buying into this ethos.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Poor national leadership

The worst guidance of any UK home government is reported loud and clear.

Complaints about this lack of stretegic direction shine through with never less than seven in ten complaining about it throughout the four surveys.

This is hardly surprising given that until early 2021 there was no devolved government.

As a result, Ulster public sector communicators had the lowest sense of working as a team with the figure dwindling to less than a third by summer 2021. By the same point in time, almost eight in 10 said that working in the pandemic was harder than before.

However, Northern Ireland fire, police, local and central government communicators had the lowest sense of isolation amongst comms people with two thirds not reporting it as a problem.

Despite everything, a sense of working for the common good was highest in this country and stands at 85.7 per cent in summer 2021 – 14 per cent ahead of England.

Also a postive, mental health rates were the best in the UK at 57.1 per cent the same as before – almost double that of England and Wales.

SECTOR BY SECTOR

NHS: communicators are most likely to feel they were working for the common good

Communicators in the NHS were the most likely to say they felt they were working from the common good.

From Summer 2020, 81.3 per cent shared this attitude which maintained through the winter before dipping to 73.6 per cent – the highest figures across the public sector.

Fig 1: NHS communicators attitudes through the pandemic

However, stress levels in NHS comms have been the highest in the public sector. In January 2021, 85.3 per cent said they felt more stressed than before the pandemic.

The health sector was also been the most likely to say that it was short staffed. Less than a third felt this at the start and building to almost half of people sharing this view by June 2020.

However, NHS comms people did not report they felt more of a team than other sectors – the level stayed constant at around 50 per cent.

For abuse, the NHS comms team have consistentlty had to deal with the lowest rates of targeted abuse. Never more than seven per cent of staff saw this targeted abuse weekly. They also saw the least racist abuse of the public sector with the peak of 7.8 per cent seeing something weekly coming in January 2021.

Winter saw the toughest time for abuse with 31.2 per cent seeing incoming abuse – the third highest level.

A lack of leadership from the organisation maintained as an issue by around a fifth.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT: communicators were most likely to face abuse

Pity the council comms team as they presented the Public Health face of the pandemic locally.

Theirs has been a thankless task in delivering the messages at a local level and reporting COVID-19 infection rates.

Stress rates have been endemic starting at 67.3 per cent of respondents reporting it in June 2020 before peaking at 85.3 per cent in January the following year.

Isolation has also been reported by nearly half of respondents.

However, the sense of working for the common good has maintained despite it all with around eight out of 10 consistently feeling this sentiment

Fig 2 Local government communicators attitudes during the pandemic

However, abuse has been a problem. The highest rates of abuse were reported in local government during gthe pandemic with around 40 per cent of comms people seeing abuse aimed at the council weekly through the period.

Racist abuse was highest in this sector with a peak of 16.4 per cent seeing such abuse weekly in the autumn of 2020.

CENTRAL GOVERNMENT: comms saw the least racist abuse

Less than one in ten Government communicators saw racist abuse while the sense of working for the common good – at about 60 per cent throughout – was the lowest.

Perhaps, these are unsurprising figures for an organisation which works on more strategic levels.

Fig 2 Central government communicators attitudes during the pandemic

A sense of teamwork was the highest anywhere in the public sector in autumn 2020 with 62.5 per cent agreeing with this sentiment.

However, physical health suffered with around half reporting worse condition and even by summer 2021 60 per cent were still reporting worse mental health.

The worst month for abuse at central government accounts was October 2020 with a spike of 37.5 per cent seeing abuse.

FIRE AND RESCUE: Comms saw the least abuse but stress high

A pandemic has a focus on health which saw fire and rescue comms people stand away from the eye of the storm.

Fire and rescue comms saw the lowest incoming abuse with no reports of abuse aimed at individuals for three surveys. An average of seven per cent of staff saw general abuse aimed at the organisation – an eighth of that facing councils, for example.

Perhaps surprisingly, this sector has seen the worst effect on mental health across 2021 with more than 60 per cent of team members reporting a deterioration.

fig 3: Fire and Rescue comms attitudes during the pandemic

However, this sector did not escape stress. A pandemic affects all parts of society and stress levels were in line with other sectors. Around 60 per cent found their mental health worsening.

POLICE: comms took the brunt during enforcement in stress and abuse

While the NHS may have got the applause in the early months of lockdown 1.0 it fell to police to enforce regulations.

That has proved to be a singularly difficult time to be in law and order.

Police comms have faced the worst abuse online, reported the most stress, felt the most short handed and felt the worst sense of a lack of local leadership from their organisation.

Police also complained of the worst sense of poor leadership from national government with 57.1 agreeing with this sentiment in January 2021.

On top of this they hace the lowest rate of working for the common good – hovering at about 60 per cent through the pandemic.

Almost a third saw abuse weekly – the peak being in January and June 2021 with around 29 per cent seeing it with almost 30 per cent seeing racist abuse weekly from October 2020 to June 2021. That’s four times the amount directed at the NHS.

The numbers are hard reading.

A total of 1,660 responses to surveys in June and October 2020 and January and June 2021 shape the results of this analysis. The study will be continued for as long as the pandemic lasts.

VIEW VIDEO: What the Ofcom’s stats on booming video means for public sector comms

You’ll not be surprised that video consumption boomed during the pandemic but the data behind the headline does surprise.

Overall, video consumption soared by 47 minutes a day for adults in 2020 reaching a rather significant five hours 40 minutes of screentime.

However, the headline figures only take you through part of the story. What’s particularly interesting is the demographic breakdown of age groups.

As a communicator, its hugely important to know the age of your audience as this may significantly skew the way you need to think about reaching them.

Because I love you, I’ve gone through the Ofcom Media Nations 2021 report to look at age ranges for the UK. If you are from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland there are supporting reports with a bit more local colour.

Glancing through all of them, there aren’t huge difference between the Home nations.

Here’s how people spent that five hours 40 minutes a day.

Live TV (162 minutes) accounted for most with streaming video sites like Netflix (65 minutes) and YouTube (41 minutes) supporting.

Trends are accelerating

Things are getting faster and video is hoovering up people’s time.

“The pandemic caused an acceleration of existing viewing trends as people spent more time watching on-demand services.”

– Ofcom Media Nations, 2021

Aside from the overall boom, subscription TV services are now used by 60 per cent of all UK households adding just over an hour to the telly. Terrestrial telly has proved resilient in 2020.

Half of UK households now use a smart speaker daily with two thirds using it to listen to streaming services and 39 per cent carrying out voice search.

Radio also remains resilient with live radio on a DAB device the most popular use (63 per cent) with podcasts flat at 15 per cent.

The boom in social video remains vibrant with 82 per cent of online adults – that’s almost nine out of 10 people who are web-connected – watching it at some point in the last 12-months.

Video booms amongst all age groups

Delving into the data, video is no longer the preserve of the young. While 97 per cent of under 24s watched some kind of social video in the last 12-months that’s to be expected.

More surprising is the older 24 to 34 group were only two per cent behind and ratcheting through the age groups almost three quarters of 55 to 64-year-olds watch. Just short of half of over 65s also have watched short video in the last 12-months.

But video has been consistently high performing over the past five years.

It’s something I’ve been flagging for a good five years.

Social audio

The hot topic of social audio is also showing up in the data.

The Clubhouse app which introduced the concept hasn’t cut through with only 0.3 per cent of the population using it by March 2021.

The report flags up audio for Twitter and Facebook as something to watch. That’s fine. I’ll wait to see them become a measurable thing.

What the public sector needs to know

Toto, we’re not in 1998 anymore.

The pace of change is ever changing and it’s never going to be this slow again. The trick is to evaluate the data before flying headlong into new trends but be across those trends.

Video remains increasingly important.

Telly and radio are in a slight decline but they remain a significant chunk of how people consume the media. For the most part, what’s happening on Netflix is irrelevant as far as the public sector is concerned. But radio, that Cinderella platform, remains a thing.

I help train communications people in how to plan, shoot, edit and post effective video. You can see more here.

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

We’ve reached the point where it is more of a risk NOT using WhatsApp as a comms tool than use it.

That’s the firm conclusion I’ve reached sifting through the evidence, data and research.

I’ll take you through all that and then I’ll talk about how you can negotiate the pitfalls and risk.

The data low-down on WhatsApp

Firstly, what is WhatsApp? It’s a US-based Facebook-owned messaging service founded in 2009 to connect mobile phone numbers to the internet by sending messages, video, calls and location. You can also use it on the web so long as your mobile device is switched on and connected to the internet.

In the UK, Ofcom say that 30.7 million people use it. That’s around half the population. It’s the most popular app in the UK in 2019 and 2020, according to Audience Insights. And all ages use it. It’s as close to being the all demographic magic bullet.

The numbers are incredible. Ofcom say that between seven and eight out of 10 of ALL under 54s use it and almost half over 65s. They are astounding numbers.

Why communicators are hesitant

There’s a few reasons why comms people are not charging full tilt at using it. Firstly, they’ve got plenty on already using the channels they are.

Secondly, buried in WhatsApp’s terms and conditions is the news that you are not supposed to use WhatsApp as a business tool. You’re supposed to use WhatsApp for Business which is their gateway for business to reach the 1.2 billion global users. If you’re a private company this could mean using the WhatsApp API as companies like KLM have done. Anecdotally, this route isn’t open to the public sector in the UK.

The evidence in favour of using WhatsApp is overwhelming.

So, what can you do?

Well, you can’t have two WhatsApp accounts on the same phone. This basically means buying a cheap mobile phone to download WhatsApp for Business account. So long as this is charged up and connectged tyo the internet you can download a dashboard top your laptop.

The next problem is our old p[al GDPR. You can’t just shovel phone numbers into your new WhatsApp for Business account and crack on. You can sign people up through your Facebook page if its linked to your WhatsApp for Business or you can point people to the QR code or URL. If you put some terms of use when people sign-up you should be fine for GDPR.

On top of all this, the analytics for WhatsApp right now are poor. Your message disappears into WhatsApp and you don’t see how much engagement there is. It’s a Facebook platform so this will change, I’m sure but there’s examples of people changing behaviour in part influenced by WhatsApp.

What does a WhatsApp for Business broadcast list do?

The place you want people to sign-up to is the WhatsApp for Business broadcast list.

What does this mean?

Basically, this means you can send one-way broadcast messages to up to 256 contacts and those contacts don’t see everyone else’s phone numbers and names as they would do in a WhatsApp group. You also don’t have the conversation hijacked by someone looking to undermine your message. So, Coke messages would not be diluted by someone sharing a Pepsi promotion. Or a vaccine message wouldn’t be undone by a 5G conspiracy theorist.

But the 256-contact limit is less of a sticking point than you’d think.

The 256-limit is a red herring

Of course, it would be great if WhatsApp was  a kind of mailchimp substitute where you hoovered-up phone numbers and blasted them messages. The fact it isn’t makes it virgin territory for marketeers and if you can get your messages onto the network there’s more chance of it landing.

The best use of WhatsApp I’ve seen has come from a political pressure group who asked recipients to sign-up advised who to vote for in internal elections and then – this is the killer – asked them to forward the message onto other Party members.

So, in other words, if you get 10 people signed-up and they forward them onto another 10 you can get to 100 very easily.

Of course, it depends on the message that you are sending but the truth is you don’t need big numbers to start to reach people. Think of it as a Ponzi scheme for social good. You get a message and you pass it on.

It’s how Hackney Council used WhatsApp in the first weeks of lockdown to reach the observant Jewish population who didn’t use the internet. They listened to the Jewish community and understood that WhatsApp was the preferred method of keeping in touch. So they created content with WhatsApp in mind and people in the community did the rest.

Why WhatsApp is so powerful

Aside from the numbers, there’s another reason why WhatsApp is so powerful. It’s called ‘social normative theory’.

This basically means that you are more likely to be receptive to a message from your peers. Oner NHS person during a training session where we were looking at WhatsApp complained that she’d feel as though a message from the NHS on WhatsApp would be intrusive. She’s right. It would be. But that’s just it. Social normative theory means that it’s a message not from the NHS but from your brother Andy, your Mum or Dad or maybe Joanne who you work with. It flies under the radar and it’s beautiful.

Research shows that there is more misinformation on messenger platforms that across the open web. When it comes to something COVID-19 that means you can’t not be there.

Ways to use WhatsApp

There’s a range of ways to use WhatsApp. If I was working in the public sector the first thing I’d do is create a WhatsApp broadcast list for that town, city or borough’s COVID-19 news. I’d ask people in the organisation to sign-up then I’d extend it to community leaders and anyone who fancied signing up. Then I’d send them messages.

Or, it maybe that you are looking carefully at the data and you spot that the Yemeni population aren’t responding to Public Health messages and they tell you that WhatsApp is a favoured channel. At this point, it makes sense to buy a cheap £20 mobile phone to send a message to this group. You’d spend more on a display ad in the local paper or a boosted Facebook ad.

One thing to note is that if you are looking to send a video or picture plus words you need to send two separate messages.

The difference WhatsApp makes

In Singapore, the Government WhatsApp channel for COVID-19 gives out official information in four different languages. You can pick which one you’d like.

Such is the reach of the channel that around 10 per cent of the population have signed-up. Chances are those one-in-ten are forwarding the messages on to others in the population.

Researchers Liv & Tong in their research p[aper ‘Demographic data influencing the Impact of coronavirus-related misinformation on WhatsApp’ showed that severe mental health incidents were reduced by 7.9 per cent. At a time when health services are being stretched to breaking point this has real value.

This is why, dear reader, that it is more risk NOT using it than using it.

Research I carried out in May 2021 showed that just six per cent of communicators were using WhatsAopp as a communications channel. Of those that weren’t, 26 per cent said they were likely to use to use it and 26 per cent were unlikely. Almost half were undecided.

There is a small but growing user base of communicators who are experimenting with the platform. The innovators include Public Health Wales, Hackney Council, Watford Council and Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust.

The evidence for using WhatsApp is overwhelming.

What you waiting for?

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

CATCH-UP: My five most clicked on posts and links of 2020 you may have missed

Here you go.

Here’s my five most clicked on posts and five most clicked links from my weekly email.

Clipped: I watched the 100 best TikTok videos to find the optimum length of a post

Here’s a weird one. I couldn’t find a clip talking about optimum video length for TikTok so I did the research myself in early 2020. It’s still generating traffic.

TikTok used to be a maximum of 15 seconds but has increased to 60 seconds.

The results?

The average length of the top 100 was just over 15.6 seconds – rounded up to 16 seconds.

While creators are able to make longer video the optimum length would appear to be shorter.

You can read the post here.

High numbers: The UK social media and messaging user data you need for 2021

Here’s a round-up of data for communicators in 2021 from the extensive and rather handy Ofcom data.

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.

You can read the post here.

2021 numbers: Ofcom media & stats for the UK

Another round of data for communicators crunched.

Online Nation published in June 2021 gives a picture of how much has changed. Want a two word summary?

‘Changed lots.’

You can read the post here.

Like practice. How do I practice a Facebook Live without anyone seeing it?

Here’s another that was created several years ago but Google search has pushed it high up the rankings.

I get it. You like the idea of Facebook Live but you just don’t like the idea of looking stupid in front of your friends. Well relax. This is for you.

You can read the post here.

Guest post. Learning how to better communicate with diverse communities during COVID-19

Polly Czoik from Hackney Council’s astonishingly helpful post on reachuing diverse communities.

Each phase of the pandemic has unwrapped new challenges. Now we have a vaccine, why aren’t people coming forward to take it? Polly Cziok talks about the groundbreaking work the London Borough of Hackney have been involved with to map their diverse communities, listen to them, create bespoke content for them and then refine it. People want to be informed not manipulated. It’s an approach that is starting to work.

You can read the post here.

Popular links

Tweets as images of text

Madeline Sugden’s post chimed with people. It maps why social contact can often be inaccessible to a chunk of people.

Now a year on, the issue of inaccessible information in text graphics continues. Over the last few days, we’ve again seen organisations choosing to respond to issues with a statement in a graphic with no other way of reading it. 

We can’t let this be the norm and let it go unchallenged. Social media needs to be a place which is accessible to everyone. We all need to do our bit. Being busy or not thinking about it is not an excuse.

You can read it here.

Only Your Boss Can Cure Your Burnout

Here’s a sign of the times. The Atlantic’s post on overwork was one of the most popular links of the year.

There’s also been burnout creep recently—people might talk about “midlife-crisis burnout” or being “burned out on Pilates.” But at its core, burnout is a work problem. Though wellness influencers might suggest various life hacks to help push through pandemic torpor, actual burnout experts say that tips and tricks are not the best way to treat the condition.

You can read it here.

Facebook advertising in 2021: 6 most valuable tips for beginners

This practical guide proved to be useful.

It’s not 2016 anymore – the era of a relatively easy organic reach is long gone. There have been lots of updates on the Facebook algorithm during the last couple of years. Most important of them being the way posts appear in the feed.

You can read the post here.

How to tell stories with maps

The story of Dr John Snow plotting cholera deaths and working out it was coming from an infected pump is a thing of wonder.

The result was the famous Cholera Map, which proved that infections were concentrated around a specific water pump — which was itself connected to a local cholera-ridden cesspit.

John Snow’s findings transformed how public authorities responded to the disease. They also contributed to the revolution in sanitation infrastructure in London — and other cities around the world — in decades to come.

You can read more here.

Cumbria County Council’s home COOVID-19 test video

Abi, the daughter of a comms person, starred in this video which came at a time when we were trying to work out how testing worked.

Secondary pupils will do regular COVID-19 tests when they go back to school and many are anxious about it. To help, Abi offered to demonstrate what doing a test involves. She was pretty nervous herself but now she knows it’ll be OK. Please share with your children if they are worried and you think it will help.

You can watch it here.

PRESENT TIP: The universal truth of Mums, Dads and Aunts and Uncles and good sharable content

Let me tell you a secret.

The single truth that works just as well today as it did on my first day in a newsroom is this…

‘News is people.’

Back then, I was told to put people in photographs that would appear in the paper so Mums, Dads and aunts and uncles would buy extra copies of the paper and maybe a photographic print.

Today, I want people in the social content because they’ll share it online and so will Mums, dads and aunts and uncles.

Put people in your content.

I train communications people to be better communicators. You can find out more here.

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.

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