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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.