GUEST POST: How to create a growing Instagram account

Instagram is a platform going through changes. Clodagh Pickavance is Marketing and Communications Manager at Runnymede Borough Council. She also produces a career focused podcast called Comms Hun, which you can listen to here. In this post she talks through what she did to build an Instagram account.

Six tips and tricks for growing your Instagram following

Beautiful bloggers, luxurious locations, inspiring interiors, delicious dishes and pampered pooches. Just a few of the things that spring to mind when thinking about Instagram.

In fact, since its creation in 2010, Instagram has evolved rapidly from a simple photo sharing app (where we may all be guilty of sharing daily dinner snaps back in the day) to its latest incarnation, where video rules. Whether it’s Reels and Stories, the choices are endless, users can even shop in the app.

It’s evident that this social channel has a clear connection to big brands, but what about your local council? How do us comms folks make food waste sexy? Perhaps we can PR our pothole projects here, surely a nice filter should do the trick?

Align your audience with the right channels

I am sure it will come as no surprise when I say there is a time and a place for certain messages. In fact, I am incredibly confident that my fellow marketing maestros will always start off by identifying the best channels to reach the desired target audience.

It might mean adapting our copy and content depending on the channel we are using – or not using certain platforms at all!

That last point is important. Very important – and leads rather nicely into my next point

Think beautiful

How do you personally use Instagram?

I use it to browse and save images of clothes, nail art inspo, dream house interiors, and of course, funny dog videos.

And, if I’m posting myself, you’ll get the best bits. My highlights reel, so to speak; holidays, festivals, birthdays, weddings – and if you’re lucky – pictures of my ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ French Bulldog, Rex.

Largely, Instagram is for escapism. Users want to see beautiful pictures and they want the content to inspire them, whether it’s with a family activity, next stylish staycation, or a new fitness class.

So my first ‘rule’ for Instagram is ‘beautiful content only’. It was the first channel specific rule I implemented when joining Wokingham Borough Council in 2019 and one that thankfully, my then colleagues were on board with.

During the two plus years that I was there the channel grew from 400 followers to more than 3,000. Something that I am incredibly proud to have played an integral part in and which is a real testament to the team’s approach.

This rule will help you to say no to content that doesn’t work for this channel. Government Covid-19 graphics which feature lots of text and unrelatable stock imagery? No, thank you. 

In fact, the vast majority of Covid-19 messaging went out on other platforms such as Facebook or Twitter and if posting or on Instagram, sat predominantly on stories and highlights. And, that’s not to say Covid messaging didn’t reach the grid, but when it did, it was localised, it was visual, and it told a story that resonated with our audience.

What story am I trying to tell? 

There’s a known adage that says “a picture is worth a thousand words”. This is a key mantra when managing an Instagram channel, in fact, this ethos could, and often does supersede the beautiful images only ‘rule’ that I just waxed lyrical about.

However, rules are meant to be broken and for what better reason than if you have a visually interesting story. Since joining my new job at Runnymede Borough Council, I’ve recently taken over running Magna Square’s Instagram page.

Magna Square forms part of a £90m redevelopment project for the Council, transforming the centre of historic Egham, with brand-new residential apartments, shops, restaurants, and more.

As the development is literally being built, I’ve had to get creative with my content. This includes sharing pictures of cranes, an in-situ building site and CGI images. I have pretty much burned my ‘beautiful pictures’ only rule, but, do you know what? We’ve seen a steady increase in followers.

In fact, over four months we’ve jumped from 30 followers to 139! So, what exactly am I trying to tell you? Use your pictures and videos to tell a story. Residents want live updates and behind the scenes insights, as long as what you’re sharing is visually interesting, people will follow along.

Reels, reels, reels

It will come as no surprise when I say Reels are king. Much as stories were introduced to challenge Snapchat, the introduction of Reels challenges social newcomer TikTok.

There’s much internet chatter that says the Instagram algorithm favours Reels over static posts, meaning your audience is much more likely to engage with this medium. I’d be inclined to agree, especially if my own stats are anything to go by.

We recently opened our ultra-modern student accommodation, Parish Hall, at Magna Square. I decided to pull together a quick Reel to showcase the new building. Within hours, the video had clocked up 100 likes and currently sits at 12.5k views. For a seven second video, it was certainly worth the effort.

Cross channel promotion

This is a trick which is easily overlooked, but with some forward planning can drive traffic for your page.

Use your other social media channels to encourage existing followers to join you over on Instagram. Chances are your Facebook followers also use this channel and it’s another chance to catch their attention if they are signed up to your pages on multiple platforms.

Newsletters are also a great way to promote your Instagram page, or any of your social media accounts for that matter.

What to avoid

Graphics with text

I mentioned this briefly earlier, but I personally don’t love text graphics on Instagram. I will sometimes use them if we don’t have a picture that works, but often I find the engagement is lower.

If you must use a graphic which features text, make sure you get the right ratios (1080 x 1080 px). I often remind people to think of the grid as a whole, yes Instagram now has a nifty scaling button, but if you use a wide landscape graphic with text, it’s going to cut the text off in the grid view – and that my friends looks naff.

Hashtag ambiguity

Get specific with your hashtags. If you’re promoting a family friendly activity and simply put #FamilyFun you’ll soon find it’s too wide reaching (with 10.1m tags). You need to hone in on things that your audience might actually search – in my case #SurreyFamily is much more niche with 3.1k tags. 

In addition, it was thought that 10 to 15 hashtags was optimum for increasing your posts reach, but now recent updates from Instagram suggest three to five will do the trick. Make sure you include hashtags in the body of your post.

Slow and steady wins the race

Another piece of advice is don’t get pulled into posting everyday. If you follow the rule of beautiful photos only or visually interesting content you might not have something to post everyday. And that’s ok. If you’re running a public sector account, chances are your content ebbs and flows depending on project timelines and activities taking place. You are better to showcase your best bits, that post substandard items, just for the sake of posting.

Overall…

My main advice when using Instagram is to think of the channel for good news stories. It’s where people go to escape or discover new things, be that your brand-new leisure centre opening or a sunset snap at a local park.

Ultimately, people want to feel proud of where they live and connected to the community. Tell stories, use real people and show off interesting locations.

Clodagh Pickavance is Marketing and Communications Manager at Runnymede Borough Council.

NEXTDOOR DATA: How influentual is Nextdoor becoming?

Landscape

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

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

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

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

Ofcom Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes report 2020/21

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

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

@wealdendistrict on Twitter

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

@wealden on Facebook

But this is more interesting still…

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

Wealden District Council on Nextdoor

What the data says

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

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

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

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

Wealden District Council – social media reach and engagement comparison

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

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

Time to venture Nextdoor

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

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

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

FACEBOOK DATA: How important are Facebook groups? Membership is booming and there’s new tools

People are joining Facebook groups more in 2021 with an astonishing 79 per cent surge in memberships.

That’s the headline stat of a rolling data project I’ve carried out over the past years to look at how one district is embracing the platform.

In October 2021, in Braintree, Essex there are almost 940,000 individual memberships of Facebook groups in the district – up from 521,000 the year before.

In the week where Mark Zuckerburg announced a raft of new tools for Facebook groups this is further evidence of the vitality and importance of groups on then platform.

What is a Facebook group?

A Facebook group is an online community where people with a shared interest can connect. They can be communities of interest that have come together or they can be geographic communities building themselves a space online. Here, a village, town or housing estate can build their own Facebook group.

The trend for groups mirrors an established trend away from the open market of discussion and towards more private walled gardens.

Facebook’s own data from 2020 would suggest that two thirds of all Facebook users use Facebook groups. That figure is likely to have increased.

Admins of Facebook groups are responsible for content and good order and have long been more influential in their community than the local patch newspaper reporter.

What does the data say?

The trend is upwards as the data shows there are more memberships of groups.

For the past five years I’ve collected data from Braintree in Essex a district of 150,000 39 miles from London. Braintree is a new town largely built in the 1960s top house the overspill from the capital. It has the same problems that face other urban areas.

Surrounding the town is a rural district of small towns and villages with the mix of urban and rural making it an ideal mix to study.

Memberships boom in Braintree

In Braintree, Facebook group membership is booming with the 940,000 memberships set against a backdrop of a population of 147,000. That works out as 6.3 memberships per head of population.

Back in 2017, the number of Facebook group memberships was almost half the current number on just less than half a million.

Groups in Braintree can range from the parish noticeboard of the small village group of Little Bardfield Online with 271 members to the 13,000 who belong to the Braintree Hub.

They can also reflect existing networks such as Steeple Bumstead Badminton Club (47 members) or Rayne Neighbourhood Watch (585 members).

They can be self-organised protest groups, such as the Hatfield Peverel Delay and Repay group set-up with 86 frustrated commuters or Parishes Against Incinerator with more than 5,000 members.

Elsewhere, you don’t have to go far to understand the demise of local newspaper small ads. Braintree Sales (4,400 members) is one of dozens of selling sites where people can sell unwanted bikes, pushchairs or guitars. Jobs in Braintree Essex has more than 5,000 members.

Overall, in 2021 the number of groups also rose – by 219 per cent – to 721 across the district.

Pages rise but find it harder to cut through

The study also found that the number of pages had also risen but the 14 per cent increase to 1,128 lags in pace behind groups in the same area.

Facebook data also shows that less page content is being shown in people’s timelines than groups or updates from friends and family. Just 14.3 per cent of your timeline is from pages while 19.3 per cent is from groups and 57 per cent from friends and family.

In short, there are more pages chasing fewer organic slots.

New tools and Facebook groups in the metaverse

A further indication of Facebook’s love affair with groups are the increased number of tools being created for the platform.

Over the past 12-months, the creep of groups has increased as content from groups you don’t follow is being slipped into your timeline if it’s relevant to you and if the group is public.

When I post in the Old Football Grounds group I’m in I end up with related content from other groups.

Facebook announced more tools at the Facebook Communities summit in 2021.

Fundraisers, sponsorship, shops, paid sub-groups and other transactional things have been announced.

But beyond that, groups are also part of the metaverse idea. In a nutshell, this is using technology to share experiences.

“Groups and communities are going to be an important part of the [metaverse] vision. When we can’t be together the metaverse will get us closer.”

Mark Zuckerburg, Facebook Communities Summit 2021

Now, what he metaverse is trying to be and could be is up for discussion but again its a sign of direction of travel that groups are part of the plan.

For me, I can see the functionality making it easier to run events online.

To learn how to better engage with Facebook groups sign-up for the ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER programme that shows you this and other skills. More here.

GUEST POST: Social media content: how to plan in advance

Doncaster Council have won admiration for their wit and style on social media. But how do they manage the clamour for content? NICK FROMONT their digital communications manager explains how.

Planning. It’s always a vital part of any comms campaign.

Many of my colleagues successfully create and execute plans that look ahead days, weeks, even months in advance. But when you’re working in the world of digital comms it’s not quite as easy.

How do you plan in the fast moving, immediate world of social media, where successful content can still be engaging days after clicking ‘post’ and your reaction to relevant trending topics can boost your campaign in ways you were neve expecting days before?

The wonder of Trello

One thing we’ve found vital at Doncaster Council to help us plan our social media output is Trello. For those that don’t know Trello, it’s a free web application which allows you to work and manage projects collaboratively – and it includes a calendar feature! Here’s how a blank one looks:

 But why do we like it so much? Well…

  • We’ve got our own social media content calendar board which all the members of our team have access to. That means they have easy access to see what’s planned to go out when – particularly useful in the last 18 months when we’ve all been working remotely.
  • You can create separate cards for each piece of content, and provide further information when you click into it if needed.
  • You can assign separate card to team members so others know who’s working on it.
  • You can label each card with lovely colour coded labels – we use ours to label the platforms we plan to post on to, here they are in all their glory.
  • It’s really easy to move cards around and change dates if needed – as we know, social media planning can be really fluid, so this makes having a rethink when needed much easier.

Here’s an example of one of our days content showing the contents and labels:

Don’t plan too far ahead

So we’ve got the platform to plan our content, but how do we actually use it? Well first of all, we try not to plan too far ahead. We’re aware of longer-term landmarks, council projects and key dates that we pencil into the diary, but on the whole, we find short term content planning works best. Social media is such an immediate and ever-changing landscape that getting bogged down in longer term planning just wouldn’t be useful or effective. As a rule, we work on a week-to-week basis.

Work out when and where

Every Monday morning, it’s about sorting the content for the week – what do we have on the list to go out? From there it’s about deciding which platforms will be best to reach the target audience for each message and labelling them up. Then we’ll then work out when each message should be posted to give each post the best change possible of successfully engaging. For instance, post too many messages on Facebook on the same day and some of them will simply get lost in the algorithm, as it pushes the best performing posts up people’s timelines. With that in mind we try and space out where and when to post messages on each day.

Leave a bit of space – you never know what might crop up

Most importantly, we’ll always keep room in our schedule for any last minute stories and content changes. We’ve all been there. The last minute desperate calls about a vital story that needs to go out that afternoon – if you haven’t got the space to move things around to fit it in then you might be in trouble!

Another reason we leave space is just in case something starts trending on social media – and we think there’s an opportunity for us to jump on the trend. Obviously there’s no way of knowing what’s going to be trending from one day to the next, so we always need to be prepared to spot something and move quickly to try and engage with our own messages within a trending topic.

At Doncaster Council, we’ve had plenty of examples of this over the years, whether it’s using a trending hashtag or repurposing a successful meme, but these posts ALWAYS need to be timely. A perfect example was a post we did on the European Super League. There was no way this could have been planned beforehand, the story broke on the Sunday afternoon and by Monday this post had gone out and ‘gone viral’.

Make sure everyone’s happy

As a management team we’ll then meet and go through the board to make sure everyone’s happy, we’ve got all the information we need and everything’s covered. This meeting also provides a chance to discuss the approach for posts, what we might still need from the service and any last minutes changes that might crop up.

Time to get to work

Then it’s just about prepping and posting the content, and being prepared for the next big trending topic that we can somehow change to a message about fly-tipping or bin collections!

And don’t worry, no matter how much planning you do, there always be that last minute bit of content that needs tweeting straight away, but we’ve found that following these little tips have really helped our messages be as successful as possible across all of our social media channels

Nick Fromont is digital communications manager at Doncaster Council.

YOUNG DATA: What Beatfreaks’ The 2nd Dose youth insights can teach communicators

A marketing manager who has clocked-up 21 million likes on TikTok was asked why her organisation – a museum – were using TikTok.

‘Because we want to reach under 24s, don’t you’, was her answer.

The answer in pretty much all organisations should be that yes, the under 24s are pretty important. But I suspect there reemains a block amongst communicators.

I get why. Time is limited. People who are commissioning your work may not see that age group as important. Properly reaching them means learning a new set of skills with a new set of channels and that’s an extra task in a busy day.

Part of the block is also not understanding the age group. This is where Beatfreeks’ The 2nd Dose youth trends research comes in really handy. With a younger audience, I’ve long advocated talking with them to work out what’s important and how best to reach them.

I’m a bloke in my 40s. I don’t know from lived experience what this demographic think. I’d head to insight and I’d ask them which is what the report does,

Why is this research handy? It’s UK-based. Its data collection is also late 2021 and mid-pandemic.

Here’s what public sector people need to know

First, the brass tacks.

What’s Generation Z?

Generation Z are people who were born from the late 1990s to 2010. That means they’re aged 11 to to around 24. For the purpose of the Beatfreaks report its 16 to 24.

They’re the group who succeeded Millennials who are born from 1981 to 1996. In 2021, these are aged 25 to 40.

What the report says

89 per cent of Gen Z think of themselves as creative people

In other words, people who are used to making, selecting, clicking and dreaming have a set of skills where creating is the norm.

I’ve often spoken to someone whose aim is to make video as good as their son or daughter. This quantifies it.

A crucial factor is that there are simply more outlets and opportunities to exercise creativity than ever before. First, the (sometimes) democratising internet has rendered it’s users curators of their own museums and galleries, stockers of their own newsstands, DJs on their own stations, window dressers of their own arcades. We’re all now faced with an almost endless number of options for content, our feeds becoming more and more personal, where we can pick what to consume and when we want to consume it.

Beatfreeks 2nd Dose Report

But anxiety is widespread and empathy is valued

37 per cent anxious at big events, the report says. The long shadow of COVID-19 hasn’t gone.

Mental health problems which were prevalent amongst Gen Z before lockdown haven’t gone.

Anxiety is changing how people think. The report says that this was the case pre-COVID-19 and the pandemic has accelerated that. Those with teenagers at home can relate to this.

Five children in a classroom of 30 are likely to have a mental health problem, they quote the Childrens Society as saying.

Empathy is highly valued, their research says.

They believe in equality and want to shape the future

This is a group who know they have years ahead of them and want to change the world they live in, the report says.

Black Lives Matter, climate emergency and other campaigns have left a mark. They believe in equality and they want to change in work and out of it.

But 92 per cent thought that the pandemic was a chance to make positive changes.

To respect a brand, the report says, it needs to be making an improvement in the world.

One of things which has been made clear throughout by this group, as well as many others, is that matters of equality, diversity and inclusion, are not going to go away. Pressure has mounted in the mainstream over the past two years.

Diversity cannot just sit across marketing and HR but rather needs to be embedded in all parts of corporate strategy.


Working with Gen Z on their vision of the future is the most effective way to sustain organisations and build the Institutions of the Future. In understanding, learning from and working with young people to
forge culture, to change narratives, and to challenge norms, organisations will slowly begin to change today, so that they’re still around tomorrow.

Beatfreeks The 2nd Dose report

This optimism is good to see but it needs to be tapped into by those who can tap into it.

Social media is positively embedded in Gen Z

For good and for ill social media is something that is part of the life of a 16 to 24-year-old.

The report says that 99 per cent of this demographic use at least one platform but how they use it can be different to how older people use it. That chimes with Ofcom data.

We’re told that young people are slaves to their tablets and are missing out. The data says that’s not broadly true.

Social media is seen by the majority as a positive with 60 per cent said it brightened their day – four times as many as had a negative view.

We need, and rely on, these platforms to connect, for escape, for belonging.

Whilst there is little debate about the evolution of our use of social media, we still often settle for the dated and aged view that social media = anxiety.

Beatfreeks The 2nd Dose report

Interestingly, there are a range of reasons why young people use social media. Education, for friends and for entertainment were amongst the most popular.

Older people may use it to check football scores or keep in touch with family. Young people’s use is far more broad than that. It’s a cornerstone of their life.

What content works best? Visual story telling.

Career isn’t important but doing something they love is

A further trend is that career isn’t really something that’s a strong motivator.

More than half say they feel burnt out with salary, work life balance and good people to work with important.

Perhaps surprisingly, they aren’t bothered about working exclusively remotely. Just eight per cent want this – that’s a third of the rest of the population.

Conclusion

For public sector communicators, the Generation Z demographic who fit into the 16 to 24 age group are a demographic at home with social media whose lives are improved by it.

They want to improve the world they live in and value empathy and equality.

They are an audience of their own and what’s also clear is that they should be treated as an audience in their own right. If you want to reach them you need to understand them and create content that’s pitched to them.

It’s tempting to think that the Facebook page post will reach everyone. It won’t and this is further evidence.

GUEST POST: How we re-thought our diversity and inclusion communications

Following a discussion at a CommsCamp session on diversity and inclusion, Ian Curwen has written this blog about his own organisation’s changing approach to inclusion communications.

How often do you review the way you do something? Really review it? 

I’ve been involved with diversity and inclusion communications for five years. Over that time, we’ve done some great things, some award-winning things. Despite this, in recent months, I’ve had a growing, nagging doubt that something wasn’t right. That the approach wasn’t working as it should. 

This is why we’ve reviewed our inclusion communications approach to reach a decision that we’re going to do less, to achieve more.

Like many organisations, our diversity and inclusion journey is a relatively recent one. At least in terms of a structured, coordinated approach. It was 2016 when we decided to take a more focused route, through a series of communications campaigns and awareness events and days.

This approach has undoubtedly raised awareness of issues we’d never spoken about before and it showed a commitment to changing our organisation. We know they got employees talking and that the discussion – good or bad – was a positive thing. 

However over time, it started to feel a little tokenistic. 

The trouble with awareness days is that they come around every year. Of course, that’s not a bad thing, but each year should be different. To stick with the journey analogy, each year should mark another step from awareness to advocacy.

I’m not sure that was always the case. Yes, we were able to share some new content, from a new angle, but was it just a different way of saying the same thing?

Awareness-raising only gets you so far.

Growth and reach

We have seen results from our diversity and inclusion approach. We’ve now got more than a dozen employee networks, and more than 1000 of our 10,000 strong workforce are considered advocates and ambassadors in this field. 

So, now we’re focused on reaching the other 9,000. We want to become a truly diverse organisation, where people are respected, included and able to perform at their best.

To achieve this, we have to go beyond news stories and case studies. We have to change behaviours. 

Re-think your content priority

This means, from a communications point of view, we are prioritising content which:

  1. Helps show how we’re making improvements and changes that contribute to us achieving our diversity & inclusion strategy aims and objectives
  2. Has a clear link to our diversity and inclusion narrative and identified priorities
  3. Is relevant and relatable to our employee audience, focusing on simple messaging through accessible channels

Good communications are those which show the impact of the changes we’re making on the diversity of our workforce.

So, we’re no longer simply telling people it’s International Women’s Day. We’re talking about the things we’re doing to reduce the gender pay gap and promote female role models. We’re asking employees to consider their own behaviour and unconscious biases.

We’re talking about the challenges our employees have experienced – because of their sexuality, race, religion or nationality. 

We’re making it clear what acceptable and unacceptable behaviour looks like and we’re and we’re asking people to call the latter out – and providing them with the tools, support and empowerment to do so.

Building on what’s worked

However, please don’t think we’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We’re keeping what has worked well, and we’re building on it. 

At the same time as we sharpen our corporate communications, we’re also supporting our employee networks to produce their own communications. We’re ensuring they have the skills to produce materials which meet our corporate standards and expectations – even if some might consider them a little ‘wonky’. We know this adds authenticity. 

By doing this, these groups can communicate more easily with their target audiences – current and potential members. 

While they do this, we’re using their experiences and their initiatives to showcase the changes we’re making. We’re continuing to prioritise people-led stories as the way of putting a face to what can be an emotive and challenging change journey. 

This is a shift but is one we have buy-in to. 

We have this because we’ve shown the value of the approach. We’ve done it through considered communications campaigns, supported by research and data. 

The evidence shows that these are the communications that spark the most discussion, that teams wish to explore in more detail. They’re the ones that lead to suggestion from our workforce, and to the creation of new support networks. They’re the ones that encourage connections and help people to perform at their best. 

Ian Curwen works in diversity and inclusion communications in the public sector.

FACEBOOK: Data-driven tips for your 2022 Facebook strategy

I was running through some fresh Facebook data and it seems as though the blunting of Facebook pages is even more marked than I thought.

If you’re a Facebook page admin you’ll have seen your organic reach struggle of late, I’m sure.

But data released by Facebook in the ‘Widely Viewed Content Report: What People See on Facebook’ shows just how much the reach of pages in the newsfeed has fallen.

Facebook page reach falls lower than groups and friends and family

According to the numbers, posts from friends and family in the second quarter of 2021 was 57 per cent, groups joined was 19.3 per cent and pages at 14 per cent. Unconnected posts accounts for 8 per cent and other 1.5 per cent.

Now, there is a disclaimers to attach to this. Firstly, these are US stats from earlier in the year. Secondly, the algorithm is ever changing.

But there is enough to take this as a good representative feature on what the UK picture also looks like.

What this teaches us is that your page content organically isn’t doing much.

Make content that encourages meaningful interactions

Take more time on creating better content. For that we can go back to something Mark Zuckerburg in 2018.

“You’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard – it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

Mark Zuckerburg, 2018.

What does meaningful interactiosn mean?

It means a back and forth discussion and replying to questions for a start.

This National Trust post is designed to encourage discussion. The more discussion the more reach when they have something important to say.

Make content to share with Facebook groups

Get to know the Facebook group admins that are likely to share your post.

Sharing details of a new museum exhibition into the local history group is one thing.

Sharing a request for memories or items from the 1960s when the Glass Cone in Stourbridge employed 100 people is even better.

This post from We Love Walsall Leather Museum shows some good interaction between the page and users.

Steer away from links that aren’t to Facebook

The data also confirmed that posts with links don’t do very well.

Posts with links accounted for 12.9 per cent of all content seen leaving the remaining 87.1 per cent posts with no links.

It’s long been no secret that posts with links get scored down by Facebook. Why? Because they don’t want you to leave the site. Why would they want to send you elsewhere? However, the link penalty doesn’t apply if you are sending people tio another corner of Facebook.

So in other words, links to your website are bad but links to other corners of Facebook, like a page post or event are fine.

Rethink

For some, this may be enough to make them re-think their strategic approach. There has been a clamour driven by business behaviours to quit Facebook. The problem for a public sector communicator is that Facebook is where the audience is. With more than 40 million users, this is the platform that has the potential to reach the most people.

It’s not 2016 anymore.

Have a rethink.

I deliver ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER programme. This is a five-part online training which looks as part of it at ways to create content that gets on the right side of the algorithm. More here.

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.

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