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.
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.
BEING WELL: An excellent new Charity Comms resource on wellbeing works well in the public sector tooPosted: September 20, 2019
Like buses you wait for one download for comms wellbeing and then suddenly two come along all at once.
A few weeks back the CIPR published handy guidance for how to avoid stress and burn-out while still doing an effective job.
Now along has come Charity Comms’ own contribution a well-thought through wellbeing guide collated by Kirstie Marrins. You can find it here.
The subject is worth paying attention to. The last CIPR State of the profession report put 67 per cent of public sector people rating the stress they were under at an average of seven out of 10. That was higher than in-house private sector or not-for-profits.
The whole document is worth a read but here are four things that you could easily apply in the public sector.
Sharing the workload
As part of upskilling, we’re also prepared to get stuck into work that doesn’t naturally fall into our job roles – especially during crisis periods. There have been times where teams have supported each other to ease the workload and pressures of dealing with difficult content. For example, taking shifts to monitor social media channels in order to provide a break for colleagues.
I can recall a period of extreme weather when I worked for a council comms team which resulted in our old friend chaos on the road. The incoming messages about gritting were utterly relentless. On their own they were fine. But the weight of people complaining about their side road just got wearing. Sharing the workload in these circumstances was essential.
Practical task: Factor in training for other people and allow them to monitor and respond to social media during quiet times. Book it in. Don’t wait for it to be quiet.
Having a framework to respond
One good tip when handling tricky incoming queries the guidance suggests is having a framework. In other words, three stages to consider. For them, this is research, respond, review.
So, try and prepare for a tricky campaign by looking into the possible issues. Then before responding count to 10 and respond drawing on this research. The advice of taking a few moments to walk in their shoes is a really good one. Finally, review what you’ve done when things have calmed down.
The 1,200 things local government does makes this tricky but I think the approach can be replicated in the public sector.
When you respond, you’ll need to consider how to balance showing understanding, whilst also giving a response appropriate for your organisation.
You’ll need to balance offering support or information whilst also managing expectations on what you can realistically say. Drawing upon position statements and key messages can be helpful when handling issues, but this will need to avoid sounding too ‘corporate’.
Practical task: what would your framework look like?
Be your own cheerleader
There’s some good tips in the approach about your own resilience. Think about meditating, for example.
We can all be overly critical of ourselves. So the idea of celebrating something you’ve done well strikes a chord.
Be your own cheerleader.
In contrast to listening to your inner critic, being your own cheerleader involves talking to yourself regularly in a positive way. A key resilience building strategy, as identified by Dr Rick Hanson, is to champion yourself the moment after you’ve achieved something great. According to his research, this builds new neural pathways which over time lead to a greater sense of wellbeing and high self-esteem.
Practical task: It wonder what each member of the team’s shining moment would be? And wouldn’t it be great if there was a way of celebrating the really small wins in the team?
Talking about mental health
If there’s one part of the Charity Comms advice that really shines then its in the area of talking about mental health.
There’s been a stack of things written about ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ and the general landscape feels as though it is moving. But how to actually tackle the subject? Here the approach excels. Importantly, the guidance can be deployed by colleagues just as much as line managers. In fact, in some ways there’s probably a greater value in members of the team raising the subject.
Often, it’s easier to talk side by side, rather than face-to-face as it feels more informal. You could suggest going for a walk outside the office so you’re walking side by side. Being in a neutral surrounding could help them to be more open to talking about mental health away from other colleagues.
There’s also advice on how to talk to a colleague returning after a period of mental health. Go look it up.
Picture credit: Jeppestown / Flickr
Here’s a thing to restore your faith in humanity.
The Daily Mail and Times runs a knocking piece on the fact that two per cent of what they spend goes to help save lives across the world.
Just reflect on that. Saving lives of people in poor parts of the world is somehow A BAD IDEA. That’s where we are as a country, it seems.
Tthe RNLI rather than cower in the bunker come out fighting.
They took to Twitter to point out that it’s two per cent of their budget they spend and they’ve never tried to hide the fact.
They also went to their Facebook page.
You may have read some misleading reports in the Mail and Times over the weekend about our international work.
They also went proactive to thank supporters for their positive comments.
But while that was good the cherry on top of the cake was the #rnli_disgrace hashtag that turned into an ironic British thing that echoed the exact opposite of what you may think the hashtag was saying.
See? That’s exactly why sentiment trackers for British Twitter is utterly pointless and why we are – just – smarter than machines and Daily Mail and Times journalists.
Most human comms just shines a light on what the organisation does. This shows that the response to criticism can be pretty human, too.
Credit to them for thinking the same message across multi-platforms, too.
Credit also for mapping the rise in online donations in the light of the piece and swiftly communicating it.
In late 2019, we live in interesting times.
So far this year we’ve had flooding, extreme heat and dams that almost collapse.
In the rest of the year we have the prospect of snow, ice and the impact of a possible ‘no deal’ Brexit with government modelling of food shortages, medicine shortages
Trust is low with around a third of us trusting government officials and journalists with politicians generally trusted by a fifth of the population.
So, how do you get across the need to prepare for possible future emergency?
With great difficulty it seems.
A tweet from Police Scotland appeared to set off a mix of alarm and mirth with the #GrabBag hashtag trending and BBC News picking up the baton online and in broadcast.
A number of police and councils have also used the hashtag along with #30days30ways to ask people to get ready in peacetime ahead of any emergencies ahead.
The aim is positive but in an atmosphere of mistrust, it can very easily go off target.
With some possible alarming days ahead its worth taking a pause to reflect on how we can pull this stuff off. It’s long been a frustration of mine that emergency planning is always 9th on the ‘to do’ list, never rises above that and gets ignored until its too late.
The #GrabBag content
Here’s a quick look at the content in and around the #GrabBag hashtag.
Well this is random and a bit scary, still, I’m taking bets.
— Paul (@fudpucker74) September 8, 2019
I think if police stations up and down the country are going to start simultaneously suggesting we pack a #GrabBag they should at least hint as to why. A zombie apocalypse is going to need a very different packing strategy to an AI takeover, for example.
— Amanda Jennings (@MandaJJennings) September 9, 2019
WTF is #GrabBag all about.
Why would we have to leave our homes ?
Monsoon? Forest fire? Hurricane?
I notice that the police and councils up and down the country haven’t said WHY we might need to evacuate quickly. I have never know a campaign like this and it is fucking scary.
— jen wood #My blouse is not big 😀 (@unojen_wood) September 8, 2019
But any good analysis should look at the data, too.
The #Grabbag numbers
Using Ritetag analysis, the hashtag had reached large numbers with almost 4,000 tweets.
The hashtag had also spiked impressively in the analysis.
However, the big problem with hashtag analysis is drilling down into sentiment. The US-based algorithm is incapable as yet of spotting sarcasm leading to a manual analysis of what people were really saying.
It’s safe to say the hashtag didn’t really perform as intended.
Sarcasm, worry and brand jacking emerged, the analysis suggests, and the original purpose of the hashtag was obscured.
The #Grabbag key words
The most frequently used positive terms were fine…
The most frequently used negative ones less so…
But what were the trends to a UK audience? I went through and counted a cross-section of around 150 to give a snapshot of the underlying sentiment.
The #Grabbag sentiment
Counting through the content, the sentiment was overwhelmingly parody with supportive tweets being outscored four to one.
The original tweets with the original purpose had been swamped by people who were either pouring scorn or were entertained by the idea of a #grabbag full of gin. Hey! Big LOLs! There’s an argument that any publicity is good publicity. I’m not convinced by that argument.
But there was also a more worrying undertow, too. Did the Police know something they didn’t? Shouldn’t people be more responsible? Who was responsible for all this? This is 2019, we’re talking about. There was even a flavour of newsjacking with big brands trying to cash-in.
So, armed with all this, what does it tell you?
Well, first up, I’m not going to suggest anything stupid like stopping tweeting. Police and local government people who tweet have my undying admiration. I used to be one. Whoever launched the hashtag should be applauded for trying to tackle a serious issue. But the episode does provide some teachable moments that we can learn from.
The public sector should still tackle the big issues
The temptation after adverse publicity is to go into a bunker and maybe delete your account. ‘No,’ and ‘no’ to that. There is a need to communicate in the places where people are. Besides, its a legal obligation for the public sector to warn and inform.
When things go awry I think Cadbury’s and Easter
Every year the meme re-surfaces that Cadbury’s have banned the word ‘Easter’ from their Easter eggs. It spreads across the internet like wildfire. It’s political correctness gone mad. Angry people bombard Cadbury’s with messages to say how outraged they are.
The only thing is that Cadbury’s haven’t banned Easter at all.
The chocolate manufacturer when this first happened where faced with a choice. Either ignore it or talk back. They chose talk back. Like a giant version of whack-a-mole their team mans the ramparts to try and tweet back to people who complain online.
@geordieron40 There’s no policy to remove ‘Easter’, it’s mentioned on the back! As a seasonal treat they’ll always be linked with Easter
— Cadbury UK (@CadburyUK) March 25, 2016
Active rebuttal in the manner of Cadbury’s when things have gone a bit awry is something to deploy. If the message out there is that the police want you to pack your bags because… something BAD is about to happen that feels like something to address.
Equally, it wouldn’t go amiss to respond to some of the parody tweets with a degree of wit and humour.
Yes, this means more resources.
Yes, it helps to direct people towards your message.
Get by with a little help from your friends
The public sector is great but often vital campaigns are launched in a corner of the internet. With #GrabBag, I didn’t see the combined might of the public sector combining. It would have been good to see partners, friends and the rest of the organisation come to the fore to amplify any explainer tweets.
Tapping into your internal comms and companies
If we don’t trust government officials, who do we trust?
Well, it turns out we trust our employers far more. Perhaps surprisingly, even those who think the system is failing them put their trust in their employers. The Edelman Trust Barometer puts 69 per cent of those with a cynical outlook as still trusting their employer.
That’s a massively powerful figure and one that invites a real re-calibration your message. Have a loudhailer. But add companies’ internal comms channels to your loudhailer. It’s also enlisting your own internal comms too for public sector organisations are not just big employers but they’re big local employers.
It’s always amazing where you can find inspiration but I never thought it would be the last stages of Yugoslavia’s civil war.
I found the lesson in ‘Shadowplay’ by Tim Marshall a memoir of his reporting for Sky News in the former Yugoslavia.
By 1997, Slobodan Milosevic remained impregnable as President of Serbia after presiding over four lost wars and tens of thousands of deaths.
A NATO bombing campaign helped avert bloodshed in Kosovo but only cemented his position as the traditional wagons of Serbian society circled in support against foreign aggression.
It became clear that where bombs failed something else was needed.
The book talks of how there was no Serbian Vaclav Havel or Nelson Mandela ready to press for power. But there was a grassroots Serbian called ‘Otpor’ meaning resistance in Serbian.
As the British and Americans informally met the group it became clear that what was needed was something that would burst the balloon of popular feeling that Milosevic would never be removed from power.
The answer was simple.
The resistance slogan ‘Gotov je’ or ‘He’s finished’ emerged as the simple message.
If that could be painted or stuck across Serbia it would chip away at the castle.
So, the British and Americans simply helped smuggle the tools to spread this slogan on walls and buildings and on t-shirts. A radio station was funded and other tools bought and smuggled into Serbia.
“Each time a sticker, poster or spray-painted ‘Gotov je’ was seen another grain of sand fell away from Milosevic’s sandcastle. Almost three million stickers were produced.”
As the tide was turned, attention could be turned on who could be swept to power by the popular campaign of street protest unimaginable before the ‘Gotov je’ campaign.
The lesson is this. For good communications, it is not always remote power that is the answer but listening to people on the ground. Here, it was the subtle wit of a sticker that helped turn the impossible to the inevitable.
Tim Marshall’s ‘Shadowplay: The Inside Story of Europe’s Last War’ is available on amazon here and from bookshops.
Picture credit: PetarM – Own work, CC BY 4.0.