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.

2021 NUMBERS: Ofcom media & stats for the UK

Portrait

If you look at a glacier while drinking a cup of coffee you’ll think there’s no such thing as global warming.

Compare snapshots of the same ice over time and you’ll see how much has changed.

During the turbulence of 2020 we could all hear the cracks of ice moving below our feet. We knew something was happening but not what. In the media landscape Ofcom are the scientists analysing the data to see what the changes.

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

‘Changed lots.’

But the real value is going to the report and spending time reading it yourself.

Why? Because you’ll find data more relevant to you.

Until you do, here’s bitesize summaries.

The headline figures for UK over 18s

94 per cent are online.

82 per cent use social media.

82 per cent was the increase in food and drink sales online in 2020.

91 per cent of over 65s online use Facebook.

62 per cent play games online.

On average they spend three hours thirty seven minutes online.

On average they spend one hour twenty one minutes watching video on demand sites like Netflix or BBC iplayer.

Zoom soared from 200,000 users peaking at 13.7 million users in March 2020 falling to 10.4 million at the start of 2021.

88 per cent receive or send email.

Age dictates how much time is spent online. For over 55s, this is two hours 46 minutes a day while for 18-to-24-year-olds it rises to four hours 31 minutes a day.

Headlines for children

Gaming and video dominate how under 18s use the internet.

Children spend three hours 48 minutes online a day.

More than 95 per cent of children use video sharing platforms.

55 per cent of under 18s have had a negative experience online.

Boys prefer YouTube for social video.

Girls prefer TikTok for social video.

40 per cent of 13 to 17-year-olds post video content.

Of five to seven-year-olds, 30 per cent use social media, 37 per cent use messaging and 95 per cent watch video

Of eight to 11-year-olds, 44 per cent use social media, 64 per cent messaging and 96 per cent watch video.

For 12 to 15-year-olds 87 per cent use social media, 91 per cent messaging apps and 99 per cent watch video.

Social video

We watch a lot of short videos of 10 minutes or less.

The most popular trends of what to watch in 2020 were music video followed by home exercise with campaigns on hot topics like black lives matter in third place.

31 per cent of over 18s post video.

Social media users

The age demographics show a different pattern of platform use.

Facebook is strong across older age groups while 16 to 24-year-olds like a range of apps from YouTube, TikTok, Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram.

News consumption

More than half of adults go online with news as a reason for switching on their web-enabled devices.

But trust is low for what people read and watch online with just 16 per cent trusting something from social media – almost a third of those who distrust it.

64 per cent look at online headlines weekly.

35 per cent get their news from social media.

News and information sites in the UK

There’s a useful breakdown of news and info sites.

Local news is important with Reach plc – formerly Trinity Mirror – topping the charts.

  1. Reach plc 41.4 million
  2. News UK 40.4 million
  3. Mail online / Daily Mail 37.4 million
  4. BBC 37.0 million
  5. gov.uk 25.9 million
  6. Wikipedia 24.8 million
  7. Independent / London Evening Standard 24.6 million
  8. NHS 23.4 million
  9. USA Today 20.6 million
  10. Immediate Media 20.4 million

Access to online v print

Print remains strong amongst the older generation while it is a minority pursuit for those under 55. However, online news is strong.

Age / Print news consumption / Online news consumption

15 to 24-yers-old / 21 / 61

25 to 24-years-old / 19 / 57

35 to 44-years-old / 22 / 63

45 to 54-years-old / 44 / 56

55 to 64-years-old / 51 / 46

65-years-old / 76 / 26

The post popular UK sites by minutes-a-day

  1. Google 52 minutes
  2. Facebook 29 minutes
  3. TikTok 26 minutes
  4. Netflix 16 minutes
  5. Spotify 15 minutes
  6. Snapchat 8 minutes
  7. Twitter 5 minutes
  8. Roblox 5 minutes
  9. Verizon 5 minutes
  10. Microsoft 4 minutes

The most popular messaging apps by users

  1. WhatsApp 31.4 million
  2. Messenger 21.1 million

Nextdoor makes an appearance

The US-owned firm has started to have cut through in the UK with 3.9 million users declared.

The platform is overwhelmingly used by older users with 54 per cent of users over 54-years-old. Just two per cent are aged 18 to 24.

Audio is starting to make a mark

Clubhouse has pioneered audio chat on social media but has failed to make a lasting mark.

Just 130,000 people use the invite-only is app with Twitter launching ‘Spaces’ and Facebook experimenting with their equivalent ‘hotline.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are on mute.” – Mark Chapman.

“Relentless change and challenges.” – Suzie Evans

“What a fucking rollercoaster,” – Sarah Tidy.

“I am not thriving,” – Kelly Harrison.

“Hardest of my life.” – Lucy Salvage.

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

“Legacy hand?” – Jon Phillips

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

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

“I’m ok with change.” – Joy Hale.

“Keep swimming through currents.” – Kirstin Catriona Thomson

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

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

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

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

“I absolutely love homeworking.” – Clare Parker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Grandmother’s funeral.” – Andrew Clayton.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homeworking? Back to the office? Or a mix?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Homeworking is finally acceptable.” – Brioney Hirst.

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

This is their truth, tell me yours.

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

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

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

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

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

Here are three examples.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There may be other stories that you can tell.

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

COVID COMMS #36: How people in the UK are getting their COVID-19 info in 2021

Tucked away on the Ofcom website is a frequently updated data set which is solid gold for communicators.

Across 8,400 lines of data a picture is built on how people are finding out about the pandemic, what channels they trust and what they think.

Reader, I’ve read it so you don’t have to.

This will help focus what you do.

Read on.

People are still heeding the advice

You may not believe it if you scroll through your timeline, but people say they are still observing the rules.

Ofcom’s survey shows 97 per cent saying they were staying at home as much as possible and are social distancing and mask wearing.

People trust the public sector

Good news, local government people.

Your content is the most trusted across the UK with 82 per cent putting their faith in it.

Perhaps surprisingly, NHS comes second with 81 per cent with UK Government in third.

Devolved nations fare well. In Scotland, there is 97 per cent trust of Scottish Government, 91 per cent of Wales Government and 72 per cent in Northern Ireland.

But before Champagne is cracked open, the survey also shows that most people don’t go to public sector channels. Three per cent use local government channels and seven per cent their local NHS. One in five uses national government or NHS sites.

So, how to reach people?

We’ve all seen the rants about the ‘lame-stream media’ online but the survey shows they remain a widely trusted channel for COVID-19 information with 58 per cent trusting news brands. These brands also do consistently well as being the place where people get their pandemic data.

People are trusting the jabs

In the summer, 50 per cent said they’d get inoculated. In January 2021, that’s risen to 74 per cent.

Good work.

Dis and misinformation

Don’t give up just yet.

A third of people saw ‘true’ claims that 5G was behind the pandemic and a third didn’t know if they were true or not. Other debunked claims get seen by one in ten people, the Ofcom data says.

Make sure your content works on a smartphone

If you’re creating content, the smartphone is where it’ll be most often seen with 80 per cent of people viewing.

Laptops are next with 66 per cent.

Public sector pages won’t reach most people

Slaving away on your NHS, council or government channel? You won’t reach most people that way.

Less than 10 per cent will get their news from local NHS or council channel and that’s half who go to UK and home nation Government and national NHS sites.

But don’t worry, your media relations people can reach people by creating content for journalists.

Traditional media is winning the infowar

If you want to reach people with pandemic news it’s the traditional media you really want to concentrate on.

That’s where 86 per cent get their news and that’s the case across all ranges, too. It’s also trusted by 42 per cent – three times as many as may see things on Facebook.

It’s a daily hit

Despite 24-hour news and social media, the majority of people will make a daily trip for news on COVID-19.

Nine out of 10 make that single news gathering exercise and that figure is consistent throughout all age demographics

Overall, two per cent of the population never ever check.

Age groups are not an amorphous blob… sometimes

One of the really interesting challenges for 2021 is the fact that different age ranges consume media in different ways. But sometimes they do.

As we shall see.

A breakdown of COVID-19 news sources by age

16-24 year-olds: always on social media consumers with a taste for traditional news, friends and family

If you want to reach this age range, know first that they are big daily consumers of social media.

They’re most likely to find COVID-19 updates from BBC TV (47 per cent), BBC online (29 per cent) and Twitter (32 per cent).

They’re the most likeliest to check their news from official scientists (25 per cent) and they’re the most likely to get news from friends and family (30 per cent).

Try and reach them through a public sector channel direct and you’ll fail. Less than one in ten will see it.

Spread your information around traditional media and 78 per cent will see some as they watch, read and scroll.

Influenxcers? Six per cent of this group trust them on the pandemic.

Too young for this? Don’t believe it. This age group has the lowest number of people (4 per cent) who never check for rona lowdown.

25 to 34 year-olds favour traditional news

This demographic were no more than 11 when Oasis released ‘Whats the Story Morning Glory?’ but they grew-up with the internet.

They’re not far behind teenagers with social media consumption with 92 per cent checking social media once a day and one in ten checking more than 20 times a day.

Half will find their pandemic news this way.

They’re the most likely of everyone to go to Facebook for the latest (35 per cent) with Instagram on 25 per cent and WhatsApp on 12 per cent.

But they’re favourite individual channel for coronavirus info is the BBC (58 per cent) with eight out of 10 citing traditional media as the broad route for the skinny.

35 to 44-year-olds love the BBC but have the highest number of news avoiders

This age range who grew up in the 1980s will get their virus updates from traditional media (77 per cent) with BBC TV their favourite source (43 per cent).

Facebook for them comes second (31 per cent) and then BBC online (28 per cent), Sky and then ITV (24 per cent).

They’re the NHS website’s biggest demographic but still only two in ten will see things posted there.

This age range has the biggest number of COVID-19 avoiders. Just over one in ten never check.

45 to 54-year-olds watch the TV

It’s all about the BBC with this group, too.

Overall, 55 per cent will get their pandemic latest from Auntie Beeb.

ITV comes next on 30 per cent with family and friends dropping to less than a quarter.

BBC Online has a solid chunk of audience here with 26 per cent while Facebook drops sharply to a fifth of this demographic.

Channel 4 is biggest with this group with 14 per cent.

55 to 64-year-olds go to traditional channels

They may be thinking about retiring but their daily trip for the big picture is to one of the BBC telly bulletins. George Alagiah and Huw Edwards have their ear.

Don’t rule social media out as a past time with 68 per cent checking their profiles once a day but only a quarter say they see COVID-19 headlines compared to traditional media’s 95 per cent.

Over 65-year-olds watch the TV

If 60-year-olds were all about the TV news then this sector take that to another level.

This sector is the most at-risk from death and are most likely to check the news with 94 per cent checking in daily.

BBC News (77 per cent) is their favourite destination and the single biggest place where people get info of any age group or any channel.

Newspapers do well with over 65s with 42 per cent getting updates.

ITV is next with 42 per cent, BBC Radio third with 30 per cent, family and friends 25 per cent with BBC online on 20 per cent and NHS websites 17 per cent.

This age group is lowest for using social media for news with one in five using this route.

Eighty three per cent watch news bulletins from the BBC with newspapers (42 per cent) making an impact on this group. Overall, 95 per cent say they get their ourbreak info from traditional media.

SURVEY NUMBERS: As the pandemic drags on public sector comms mental health is suffering

If you’re working in public sector communications seven months into the COVID-19 outbreak your mental health is suffering, a survey shows.

Almost seven in ten of government, fire, police, NHS and local government communicators say their mental health is worse now than before the pandemic struck.

The data from a survey of almost 300 communicators carried out in October and November 2020 show the long term effects of working under pressure is starting to tell.

However, almost eight out of 10 reported that they still feel as though they are working for the common good – an increase of three per cent compared to June 2020.

In truth, the results are alarming.

But the hidden downsides to the work are increasing. Feeling isolated are 47 per cent of respondants – up from 34 per cent in June.

In addition, 53 per cent said their physical health was worse compared to before the pandemic.

Feedback given anonymously in the survey is also disturbing.

“I do find that I feel anxious about work. I feel stressed constantly looking at everything as a task and feeling failure if not done quickly.”

“My line manager hardly checks in to see if I am ok, the workload has increased and I can’t see an end to it currently.”

“COVID has been my introduction to anxiety. And its getting worse as the months go on, and the professional pressure keeps rising.”

fig 1. How is your mental health compared to working before the pandemic?

Positives remain

However, data collected in October and November do point to a communicators believing in what they were doing. There has been a three per cent increase to 77 per cent of people who feel they are working for the common good.

In addition, 45 per cent of communicators felt as though they were working as part of a team.

So, what does this mean?

When I first surveyed public sector communicators in June it was as a one-off but this has now developed into a tracker survey to plot the progress as the panedmic goes on.

In truth, the results are alarming.

On the surface, people often get through their day and their tasks but this is coming at a price.

I’m no expert, but if you are feeling stressed then ask for help.

If you are a manager, a head of communications or a director of communications this needs to be something you look at. Your staff believe in what they are doing but they are suffering.

If you’re public sector do me a favour. The NHS has a good web page with resources here. Take a look and do something. You are not alone. The survey shows this and the chances are there are people in your team feeling the same.

You could also contact Samaritanscall: 116 123 or email: jo@samaritans.org if you need someone to talk to.

If you are public sector and want to take part in the January iteration of the survey click here.

GUEST POST: How and why the ‘Don’t be a Dick’ public health campaign was created

It’s always good to hear the story behind amazing campaigns. As public health fight tooth and nail to get their message across the more direct route was adopted by Lincolnshire Resilience Forum. SHAUN GIBBONS communications manager of South Holland District Council explains how it emerged.

Hello, how are you?
Let’s be honest: framing a public health messaging campaign around calling someone out for acting a dick comes with a fair amount of risk. Calculated risk… but risk, nevertheless.

In these heightened, sensitive ‘age of panic’ times the ability for people to find offence in anything that they’ve seen or read online is a headache for anyone working in communications.

This becomes even more relevant when communicators are searching for new ways to say the same thing. Just how many ways are there to say, “Stay at home”, “Wash your hands”? (It must be noted here that UK Government really need to develop the “how” and “when” messaging and consider employing more of the “why” …something they’ve been criticised for in the past).

It’s aimed at those younger, thumb-activated and more risk-relaxed individuals

who have turned away from the stayed messaging that often gets little online traction.


So why the dick?

Cutting through the social media noise and the ‘vanilla’ messaging (a colleague’s phrase, not mine) was Dick’s primary objective. And with nearly half a million views in the first few days of the campaign, this spiky little individual did just that.

Remember the why? Well, we wanted to root this campaign in a particular (give it some bollocks, you might say). Dick represents, according to a UK Government’s Behavioural Insights Team survey, 8 per cent of people who are thought to be responsible for 60 per cent of the total transmission risk.

Put bluntly, Dick is a dick and his actions – and the inherent risks to everyone associated with him – need to be called out. And I believe that was done with a fair dose of humour which seemed to be appreciated by the vast majority who’ve shared and commenting on the campaign’s first
introductory post. Some are suggesting Channel 4’s The Last Leg parodied the campaign on its show last night.


Will this campaign change Dick’s behaviours?

Maybe, maybe not. Is Dick aware that his actions have consequences? Almost certainly. But does Dick know to what extent? I don’t think so, no. And if this campaign does nothing else it highlights the butterfly effect that even the smallest of behaviours can have a large affect.
But that’s enough about Dick.

What about Tom and Harriet?

These two heart-warming individuals represent those who continue to play their part in keeping the virus under control. These two need a voice and need to be championed for the sacrifices they’ve made. These are the majority who quietly go about their lives making a positive contribution to their communities. We need to hear more about the Tom and Harriet’s of this world. (Again, it’s worth noting that behavioural messaging lands much better when they are framed in a more positive sense rather than negative. Again, something the UK Government has been criticised for).

How did you manage to get this signed off?

Working in a multi-agency organisation with a number of instinctively command and control structures is often difficult and demanding, I won’t lie. As is the political dimension. But there’s three reasons why this campaign got off the ground.


Number 1: having a flexible communications strategy that said to partners: “Hey, if you don’t want to share our content, then that’s cool. We’re down with that. We understand you have your parameters and own audiences to consider. It’s all gravy.” All good content will stand on its own two feet.

Number 2: Gaining the trust of your team and those around you and being able to influence those you need to quickly, quietly and efficiently was key. I work with a fantastic group of individuals who know I’ve got their back and I know they’ve got mine. So, if you’re going to tiptoe around a minefield be sure-footed and know where the bombs are buried.

Number 3: Trust your own instincts and hold the line. As I said earlier, it was a calculated risk. But my instincts told me there was a very good chance this would land well with the audience it was intended for. Yes, of course there was pressure for me to take it down and stop the campaign – and I respect those individuals and the organisations they represent who asked for that to happen. But I kept telling colleagues hold the line and it worked out.

So what’s next?

Let’s face it: this campaign won’t appeal to every Tom, Dick and Harry…the curtain twitchers from number 7 down the road probably WILL find it either offensive or downmarket. But this campaign isn’t aimed at those. It’s aimed at those younger, thumb-activated and more risk-relaxed individuals
who have turned away from the stayed messaging that often gets little online traction.


Stay safe and thanks for reading.

Shaun Gibbons is communications manager at South Holland District Council.

DODGING HIPPOS: How to say ‘no’ to the highest paid person in the room without actually saying ‘no’

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Its been a busy few months. One of the good things about it is travelling to places and hearing new ideas. Often when I’m training I come back with a few pearls of wisdom.

I heard about HIPPOs when I was in Devon.

Not the large irratable African animals that can block and then flatten your car. Oh, no. The HIPPO is the Highest Pail Person’s Opinion. The HIPPO in the room can flatten your idea simply because they are the ones with the large salary and the job title.

There was a smile of recognition in the room at the description. I smiled too.

Problems HIPPOs pose

Bright leaders know they don’t have all the answers and surround themselves with people who are expert in their field. Bright leaders listen. Less bright – lets call them heroic leaders – think they have to have the answers and stand on top of the tank and point heroically.

It’s where the ‘the executive director would like a poster’ line comes from.

The problem with this is they are rarely right.

Convincing HIPPOs they are wrong

Of course, once the HIPPO has spoken you are in trouble.  It’s then you against the senior person and it can be very tricky for you to turn the column of tanks around. But you need to. If you don’t give your professional advice there is little between you and a shorthand typist.

But the problem can be is that it can appear as though it is you folding your arms and saying ‘no’ because you are just being difficult.

The way round it is by adopting a process to find the best idea.

Data driven communications

One slide I very often point to is from the Edelman Trust Barometer. This research was started the best part of 20 years ago after the Battle in Seattle when anti-globalisation protesters clashed with police. ‘Why do people hate us?,’ the cry went up and the research helped map trust.

edelman

The useful thing about this is that tells you that the person like your self with 53 per cent is more trusted than the director who has 38 per cent. So, if the issue is around children playing on railway lines,  then children and maybe parents are the best people to deliver that message.

Need another example? The acclaimed NHS #thisgirlcan campaign used the word ‘girl’ rather than woman or female because the data said that the word ‘girl’ would cut through to most people. So data won and helped the campaign fly.

Data driven communications is a really good idea.

It’s not you that’s saying ‘no’. It’s letting the data points to the right answer and that just takes the sting and the personality out of it.

And that can be brilliant for getting past HIPPOs.

Picture credit: Daniel Jureno / Flickr

 

WINTER COMMS part 2: Using a Twitter thread to communicate a complex point

It’s the winter and of course the council never treated the roads. Ever.

Only thing is, yes, they do. But icy blasts can see things deteriorate quickly.

Perth & Kinros Council made that very point using a Twitter thread. This is the convention of linking a series of tweets. For me, this functionality is a gamechanger as it moves things from 140 characters to as many characters as you like.

They used two shots from a traffic camera. One to show you the road conditions shortly after the gritter passed and then a new shot 45-minutes later. They used GIFs in addition to sugar the pill and reinforce their points.

So far so good. Now the first image. The road that’s just been cleared.

Then a GIF that illustrates snow.

Now the second picture of the same scene less than hour later.

Now the two of them side by side.

And a round of applause for those doing the hard work.

A complex point simply executed. Bravo Perth & Kinross Council. Well done their comms officer Lisa Potter.

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