TROLL HELP: There’s a new download to help combat targeted online abuse and it’s really good


When social media was still quite new I began to train staff on how to use it so they could talk to people direct.

Often there was a latent fear of something going wrong. That’s entirely understandable and if you are training people you need to understand this.

For years, I found this one-page flow chart was a really useful training aid. This is from 2009 and was drawn-up by Birmingham blogger Michael Grimes after he re-purposed a US military blogger engagement chart.



However, times move on.

Things can be a lot more organised and so the Centre for Countering Online Hate have published a really useful guide to combating online trolling. This is a much needed, well thought through lifeline that can sit behind glass in case of emergency.

You can find the report here.

The principle that people feel better if they have a piece of paper is timeless and this download is also really good. If you are helping councillors or senior people communicate you’ll find this really helpful.

What to do if you are trolled

The guide is really useful on what to do if you are trolled. Don’t reply.  Turn off notifications. Don’t complain you are being targeted.

The advice is also to block. I’d differ slightly and suggest that the mute button on Twitter does a similar job without the troll realising that you can’t hear them anymore. 

After the initial attack, report and record. Don’t suffer in silence. If you work for an organisation talk to your legal team.

Don’t confuse legitimate questioning with trolling

If you work for an organisation people will sometimes question what the organisation is doing. Sometimes they won’t always be happy. So long as they stay on the right side of civil I’d suggest that’s part of the deal.

To make a social media account work, you need to put heart and soul into it. Criticism online cuts a lot deeper than a letter of complaint. I know. I’ve been there.

Do have a social media policy

I’ve often talked about the need for a social media policy. That’s a kind of, here’s what we’ll do for you but also ‘here’s what we expect from you in return.’ Asking people not to be abusive, racist or sexist sets a minimum bar. It’s hard to justify blocking someone from your page if you don’t have rules to break. The City of York Council policy is a good one to look at. I’d be tempted to have that as embedded text rather than a pdf. I like this one from Bradford CCG NHS, too. Simple, clear and straightforward. Replicate them on your Facebook page, too.

Picture credit: Daniel Sancho / Flickr and the flowchart Michael Grimes / creative commons license.


YULE LIST: A list of Christmas present ideas for comms, PR or digital people

Fabric texture check plaid seamless pattern

Oh, the weather outside is frightful… and you’re wondering what to get for the PR, communications or social media whizz in your life.

Here are some suggestions for your to buy the comms, PR or digital person in your life or maybe just for spending Amazon vouchers on.

For the mobile phone owner

phonerYou’re at home or work and you need to listen to your phone hands free. This retro TV bluetooth speaker is the one you want. Slide it in and it looks like you’re watching the telly with the sound far louder.

Buy one for about £15.

For the grammar nazi

toss1For £28, Modern Toss two mugs, a notebook, a bookmark and two cards. Marvellous value.

Absolutely perfect for the grammar nazi in your life but beware, you’ll need a parental advisory sticker so maybe think about where you’ll leave them out.

Buy one here for £28.

For the environmentally responsible Thick of It fan

dosacThe fictional government department in the Armando Iannucci satire is the Department of Social Affair and Citizenship – or Dosac. There’s a lot of coffee drunk. Here’s a way to celebrate your favourite comms show while not harming the planet. 

Buy one here for £12.

For the Bulls**t spotter

bullNothing says ‘bulls**t’ like pressing a button that tells the whole room. A flashing buzzer with five different sound effects and light which will be audible by the press of this button.

Buy one here for £7.89.


For the mobile phone owner

wadgeTurn your smartphone into a cinema, kind of, with this mobile phone projector.

Buy one here for £21.95.


For the fan of Jamie McDonald

mimsyMalcolm Tucker has all the attention. But for serious swearing it has to be senior press officer Jamie McDonald. And with this you can have a cup of tea and be reminded of his best lines. Parental advisory.

Buy one here for £12.


For the comms person faced with understanding online communities

buzz‘Buzzing Communities’ by Richard Millington is part autobiography and part data science. He begins his online life running a games forum online and gets the sack for not being able to explain whether or not he’s been a success. He runs an online course for several thousands of pounds and the book is a fine alternative.

Buy one for £15 here.

For the t-shirt and grammar fan

commaYou love spelling and you fancy yourself as a bit of a Lover Lover Man (or Woman) then this t-shirt is for you.

The Comma Sutra t-shirt.

Buy one for £16.99.


For the comms person aiming who is likely to be faced with an online storm

kate Kate Hartley’s book ‘Communicate in a Crisis’ is a handy guide if you may be faced with an online storm. It explains how the internet works, how a mob forms online and gives strategioes for how to cope with it. Tip: read it before you end up getting a kicking online. Otherwise you’ll end up with a icking for reading a book when you should be firefighting.

Buy one for £12.99.

For the stressed comms person

mindDeveloping a mindful lifestyle takes practise, time and patience. Old habits must be softened and replaced with new ways of thinking. So, this jar of tasks can help.

Buy one for £13.95.


For the comms person who likes notebooks

leuchFirstly, lets get something out of the way. Moleskine are lovely. But they’re over priced and they’re a rubbish size.

Wheras Leutchtterm are A4 and more practical. Fill your boots.

Buy one for £16.50


For the PR person who has to put a lipstick on a pig

praaThese stickers are handy. They fit in a discreet place on your keyboard and remind you of what you do with the message: ‘Public Relations: Because Someone Has to Make You Look Good.’ Silent win.

Buy one for £1.69


For the comms person who likes typography

fontsMany people take typefaces for granted. Good typography often gets taken for granted. It does its job effectively. Bad type choices really stand out and not always in a positive way.

‘Why Fonts Matter’ by Sarah Hyndman tells you why.

Buy one for  £11.77.

For the data geek

dataaaaLet’s face it data has a bad wrap. So why not celebrate your interest in numbers with a poster that lets you revel in it.

Buy one for £11.38.


For the comms curious

scienceWe are hard wired to respond to stories. Story telling has been an art for thousands of years. Will Storr’s book on ‘The Science of Storytelling’ is readable and credible. Based in science but able to spin a yarn.

Buy one for £8.81.





OK COMPUTER: A three little pigs warning about AI in PR that you need to pay attention to


Everyone knows the story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf and the huffing and puffing.

One little pig had the straw house and the wolf blew it away and ate the pig up.

The second little had a house made of wood and suffered the same fate.

The third little pig was prepared and built a house made out of bricks and was fine.

This children’s story is an allegory whose hidden meaning is to be prepared for future events.

There’s a warning to comms people not to suffer the same fate and be the unprepared pig that gets gobbled-up.

The message is from the CIPR Artificial Intelligence in PR – or AI in PR – group. These are the people who are horizon scanning in the area of artificial intelligence in public relations.

Translation: Artificial intelligence is the theory and practice that computer systems are able to perform tasks that normally require humans. So, that’s translation, analysis and some basic decision-making. 

There’s some fine people involved so when the CIPR AI in PR group issue a warning it’s worth paying attention to:

The #AIinPR panel has issue a stark call to PR practitioners to ‘upskill or risk getting left behind and harming the future of our profession’ as global research clearly shows public relations is not ready for artificial intelligence.

The call comes following an intensive 12-month global research project carried out by the CIPR Artificial Intelligence in Public Relations panel, which has been looking at serious literature on artificial intelligence and its impact on the professions.

After looking at close to 200 global publications on artificial intelligence in the professions (to date) in detail, the AIinPR global panel has drawn some pretty painful conclusions about our own readiness for the AI world as a profession.

In short, we are not ready for artificial intelligence and we’ve hardly begun.

Anne Gregory, renowned PR academic and AIinPR panel member, who has lead the research project said: “Public relations is significantly behind the curve – in fact we are sleep walking into AI.

“Other professions have already done major work on the shape of their future workforce, reviewing education and training, looking at their future role in organisations and society and at the ethics of AI. We need to get cracking, and get on with some serious work in all these areas.”

So what can you do?

The broad warning is the need to develop better skills in data, artificial intelligence and machine learning in your own role as well as advising business and organisations on AI.

It sounds science fiction, doesn’t it?

You’ve probably got your hands full with plenty of other things but this is pretty serious.

Thankfully, the nice CIPR AI in PR group have published a list of useful links and reading on their page you can find here. There’s also a pretty mammoth updated Google sheet orepository of links.

The AIinPR panel would like communicators, across the globe, to add to this huge piece of work by letting the AIinPR panel know about any other serious literature that talks about AI and the professions. We’re especially looking for material on the public relations profession.

There’s also an AI YouTube explainer from Hubspot here:

Can you help?

The AI in PR group are also looking for contributions to their repository of learning. That may be an academic abstract, a post or another piece of work. All you need to do is add a description – 50 words tops – and add it to the Google document here.

This final AIinPR repository will be launched at The Turing Institute on 16 January where they and the Government Office for AI are set to join the conversation on AIinPR’s call to the PR profession.

We will also launch the AIinPR 2020 plan, at the event, which will include new AIinPR panel members from the AI and tech industries to help drive the PR and communication industry further forward.

It’s interesting to see Kerry Sheehan take over the Chair of the AIinPR Panel from Stephen Waddington. They’re two people I rate highly.

Picture credit: istock.


30 days of human comms: #64 Fallin Primary school children and their respect video



The basics of human comms is having real people talking in a way that feels real.

Step forward Fallin Primary school in Stirling who have made a delightful video on the subject of respect.

A number of children, police, teachers and school meals staff tell the camera what respect means to them. There’s subtitles and some delightful children. The school children aren’t from central casting. They’ve got broad Stirling accents.

The video was posted to the internet which means that I presume that the makers got permissions and GDPR all boxed off.

The power of this is that the family of those featured will be quick to share giving the video a greater reach.

Sub-titled it means the video can reach 80 per cent of the audience who watch video without sound.

While copmmissioned by an external company the fundamental video could be replicated with a smartphone, clip-on Rode microphone and some basic editing software.

The video can be seen here:

A thank you to Lisa Potter for spotting this.

POLL COMMS: The seven ways to communicate an election result and what you’ll need to do to do it



There’s an election coming but how can you communicate the result?

The future of the United Kingdom hangs by a thread and how we vote for the 650 MPs will have huge bearing.

The results of each poll have tremendous importance and its down to local government people to help communicate them.

Sure, there’s battalions of journalists covering the story. But the very fact there is underlines the need to have one clear voice that communicates the result on the night in real time. A voice that can cut through the national noise and answer the question: How did my vote do?

There’s SEVEN ways to communicate an election result

Pinning the handwritten results to the noticeboard

The original and best. The result written on paper and pinned to the public noticeboard. This is a legal requirement and is the first way. What you’ll need: drawing pins, a piece of paper, a pen and a noticeboard.


Helping journalists get the result out

Much of the local government comms team’s time on election night is helping service the needs of journalists at the count.  With a lot of deadtime until the result its a chance to put faces to names. There’s clear election law about what can and can’t be done. What you’ll need: An up-to-date copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists and a good working relationship with journalists and also the elections team.

Post to your website

The basic result with the basic numbers. Promptly. In real time. Not at 9.20am the next day when the webteam land and have a cup of coffee. What you’ll need: A website and someone with access to publish on it on the night.

Post to Twitter 

The basic result with the basic numbers. Add whatever the national – or local – election hashtag is. Feel free to add a video of the basic announcement too. But not the acceptance speech. Leave that to the journalists. What you’ll need: Access to the corporate Twitter account and accuracy.

Post to Facebook 

The basic result with the basic numbers. Feel free to add a video of the basic announcement too. But not the acceptance speech. Leave that to the journalists. What you’ll need: Access to the corporate Facebook account and accuracy.

Broadcast a Facebook Live

Tell people that you’ll make the broadcast and roughly what time the broadcast is expected. Keep people in the picture if that changes. A smartphone is fine. But make sure its fully charged. Take a MiFi too or run it off someone’s WiFi hotspot. Don’t rely on the venue’s public WiFi as everyone will be piling on. Run a test broadcast before you decide to do the realthink just to make sure there’s not a data blackhole. One big note of caution: the sound you’re trying to record will be lousy.  Plug into the PA system for the sound or stand close to a loudspeaker. What you’ll need: A mifi, a fully charged smartphone, a charger to make sure that happens, a power bank you can plug into to ensure that happens.

Issue an email

Lastly, there’s time in the weeks ahead of election to create an email list to post out the result in real time. Councils who experimented with this during local government elections reported strong open rates. An email to wake-up to means you don’t have to go trawling through websites and through social media to try and find the result you’re after. What you’ll need: A mailing list where people have given you their consent they’d like to be emailed.

Lastly, don’t put all your hopes of communicating into one basket. You’ll need more that that. But whatever you do make sure its properly resourced.

Picture credit: istock.


POLL TRUTH: When is a mistakenly cut video not mistakenly cut?


When is a mistakenly cut video not a mistakenly edited video? That was the question posed by the BBC.

With the General Election of 2019 days old the Conservative party tweeted a video of an ITV interview with Labour shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer.

On the BBC Radio 4 6 O’Clock News bulletin, Amol Rajan reported that Starmer in the edited clip appeared to hesitate with the words ‘Labour has no plan for Brexit’ added to the screen. In the original interview, he alleges, he didn’t.

When the difference was challenged on Twitter by a BBC reporter, Rajan, said the Conservative Party doubled down on the attacks.

The BBC Media editor in the bulletin added:

This is how modern media strategy works. First doctor a video. Then when you’re called out for it publish fresh attacks. What matters on social media is the noise you create, the cut through rather than accuracy.

Of course, that creates a problem for journalists. By highlighting fake news you draw fresh attention to a falsehood so ensuring that a falsehood is seen by countless more.

The Conservative Party may therefore have grounds for chalking up the doctored video as a win.

The video in numbers

The original clip was posted just before noon.

Fact checking website Full Fact challenged the video at 6.29pm – some six hours later.

By 8pm, on the day it was posted the video which hadn’t been deleted had been viewed more than 400,000 times.

You can listen to Rajan’s piece on the BBC Radio 4 Six O’Clock News here from 13’37”.

You can see the original tweet challenged by BBC’s Daniel Sandford here.

So what does this mean?

I don’t normally blog about political comms and do so here on professional lines as it touches upon comms ethics and tactics.

This story touches on academic research Stuart Bruce that shows when you rebut a falsehood people only remember the original falsehood.

It also poses a series of questions.

When the original online content contains a falsehood what then? 

When its based around video which is more trusted than plain text what then?

What come back is there?

The Advertising Standards Authority stopped regulating political ads in 1997. Twitter announced they would refuse to allow political ads. But this isn’t an ad.

We’re supposed to get more cynical at challenging things but most people simply aren’t going to track down the original interview and compare the clip against delivery.

So what then?

In 2019, the news cycle moves so fast that minutes count and as hours pass attention switches. The allegation of ‘fake news’ is left in the wake of the original.

It’s not for me to say if the approach breaches the CIPR Code of Conduct here.

Even it it was, what difference would it make?

Picture credit: Documerica / Flickr.





SOUND ADVICE: A timely recap on Purdah advice


There’s an election swinging into view so I’m writing this quick signposting blog to two useful resources.

Purdah is the period that governs what you can and can’t publish as a council officer.

The idea is that the comms team cannot be the mouthpiece of a politician running for election.

There’s two links I’m pointing to you towards. Firstly, the Local Government Association guidance and secondly, a blog I’ve posted about advice for social media.

The LGA advice you can find here.

This guidance provides advice on the publicity restrictions that should be observed during the purdah period. It should be read in conjunction with any guidance produced by your own returning officer or monitoring officer, which provides specific advice depending on your local circumstances.

The social media Purdah advice I’ve blogged is here.

There’s this funny period in the run-up to an election which sees local government comms team change behaviour.

Gone are the press releases from politicians and in comes quotes from officers. Why? To ensure that the council cannot be accused of political bias in the run up to polling day.

The pre-election advice for the NHS can be found here.

This briefing sets out considerations for NHS foundation trusts and trusts in the period of time known as the pre-election period, or ‘purdah’, leading up to the 2019 UK general election on 12 December. It highlights the practical implications around provider activities.

The Civil Service advice you’ll find on this link here.

The basic principle for civil servants is not to undertake any activity that could call into question their political impartiality or that could give rise to criticism that public resources are being used for party political purposes.

As ever, check against delivery and with your legal team.

Picture credit: istock.

FACEBOOK COMMENTS: Here’s the advice you need if you’re a public sector Facebook page admin wondering how to reply to a comment


A famous Greek bloke once said that he couldn’t teach anybody anything but he could make them think.

Seeing people think is one of the delights of the Vital Facebook Skills workshop I deliver with Sarah Lay.

We’ve both had long experience of running corporate pages so we can deliver advice on how to create better content that’s on the right side of the algorithm. I’ve researched groups and Sarah works with Facebook ads. That’s wonderful theory based on practice but one thing I’m really keen on is to get people thinking about when to engage and not to engage when people comment.

To misquote Mike Tyson, you can have the best plan in the world until someone punches you in the face.

So, when to engage and when not to engage.

For the most part, days go by with routine comments but every now and then there’s something more challenging.

In the training, I have some real life scenarios and throw them open to people. The aim is to get them to think.

The scenarios are the kind of thing that gets posted to a public sector page or a community group every day.

One thing really does shine through in this exercise. That’s that there is very little black and white on how to handle things but a lot of grey.

Each comment you’ll read as an admin is slightly different but some basic rules do apply which I’ve never really written down in one place.

  1. Don’t argue with an idiot. It’s something I’ve blogged about before. Don’t have a slanging match with someone.
  2. It’s fine to draw a line in the sand. If someone is off-target with their opinions its fine to respond if you’re factual and polite.
  3. Don’t punch down. The BBC Press Office do this really well. Don’t beat someone up who is smaller than you are. It doesn’t look good.
  4. Count to 10. Don’t respond by shooting from the hip. Reflect.
  5. Take it offline. That involved discussion? Take it offline. Particularly if there is personal data being discussed.
  6. Run it past a colleague before you post it. You’ve written something as a response you’re not sure about. What does your colleague think?
  7. Add a name to it. People will shout at logos and will shout less if they think there’s a human. At the end of the day we all just want to be listened to. ^ Dan.
  8. Let people be angry about policy. The world doesn’t smell of fresh paint. It’s not your job to censor debate if you’re in the public sector. It’s fine for people to disagree.
  9. Have some house rules. A social media policy in plain English that says what behaviour you’re okay with and what you’re not is essential.

You’ll need thinkers to be the admin of a Facebook page. I hope this list helps you to think.

You can find out about Vital Facebook Skills workshops here.

Picture credit: Flickr / Sharon M Leon.