BEING WELL: An excellent new Charity Comms resource on wellbeing works well in the public sector too


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  


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.


30 days of human comms: #63 the RNLI bat back The Times and Daily Mail


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.

We are…

Posted by RNLI on Monday, 16 September 2019

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.

Good work.

GROUP WORDS: Here’s a post to keep you up to speed on tweaks to Facebook groups


A quick shout if you’re looking to connect with Facebook groups as there’s going to be some tweaks.

Don’t worry, they’re not bad ones. They’re just tidying up around the edges and changing the terms.

Facebook is the largest UK social media platform and since groups are really hot right now this is something communicators need to know. it’s something I’ve blogged about before.

The names are changing

Secret, closed and public are going and are replaced with new terms. Secret groups are groups that have been set up, closed and can’t be found in a routine Facebook search. You join by invitation. Closed groups can be found but unless you’re a member you can’t see the content. Public groups are exactly that.

Now the change will be…


No doubt using the word ‘private’ emphasises the drive towards privacy that Facebook are trying to promote. The full announcement is here.

But even private groups can be policed

One interesting line from the announcement is a reminder that certain rights holders will be able to have access to closed groups. That would appear to say that Sony BMG music can look to see if knock-off Madonna DVDs are being knocked-out in a for sale group.

It also means that you shouldn’t be featuring Beatles tracks in your content thinking that John and George are dead and Paul and Ringo are busy. The algorithm will get you. Intellectual Property is quite closely policed.

One for trading standards and police?

This does pose the question about trading standards and law enforcement. Will they be able to have access? It would be interesting to see how they can keep a weather eye on the myriad of buy and sell groups that have sprung up.

I help run workshops to help you use Facebook better with groups, pages and advertising. You can find out more here or drop me a line


LONG READ: What we can all learn from the #GrabBag hashtag blow back

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 shortage

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.

And also…


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.

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.

Thanks for reading. You can find me @danslee on Twitter and by email.


SHOT LIST: 8 key lessons on how to make engaging video from

A while back I sat next to a journalist from and the conversation turned to video.

Video was a central plank in how journalists reach an audience and good images made a story, he said.

Crucially, good images at the start of the video were crucial, he added. That’s something that I wholeheartedly agreed with and it was good to hear it from a journalist, too.

This week, I saw a video that really brings strands together. It looks into how a no deal Brexit will affect Northern Ireland. The video is longer than you’d think it would be. It rolls on for more than nine minutes but doesn’t have slack.

It has an audience of 1.6 million on Twitter.

Whoever you are, take inspiration from where you can find it.

News organisations online are giving you a free lesson in how to assemble good content.

Social media video best practice

Put the most arresting clip right at the start

In training, we often talk about putting the exploding helicopter in the first three seconds.

In other words, put a clip of the strongest footage in the first three seconds to grab attention and stop people from scrolling on.

In this clip, the quote from one man: “Ten of my friends were shot beside me.”

That would stop anyone in their tracks. Why? How? When? What happened? Your interest is piqued and you want to carry on watching. While visually not arresting the strong line coming from a kindly-looking old man certainly is.

Leave the office, find the real people and talk to them

Real people can be far more interesting that a politician reciting lines to take or trying to make them up on the spot.

Real people also have more friends on Facebook who are more likely to view and share the content. It also shows that real people are affected by decisions made by politicians.

Add a logo in the corner

Some people are wedded to the idea of having three seconds of logo to act as a kind of MGM Lion roaring into your consciousness.

The problem with this approach is that this doesn’t meet social media’s scrolling and goldfish-lite attention span. The way round that is to add a logo in a corner in the style of Channel Five’s football coverage.

Add a title to each interviewee

So, as each interviewee is introduced, they have their own title to display their name. use black on yellow for titles – in other words people’s names – to introduce them to the viewer. The title sits above the sub-title which is what the person is saying. It puts them into context.

Add sub-titles into the video itself

When you burn the sub-titles into the footage you don’t have to worry about whether or not the viewer has switched settings to allow sub-titles on Facebook.

Subtitles are the text of what the interviewer, interviewee or narrator is saying. By using sub-titles you are reaching a wider audience. Not just by making it accessible to those who have hearing difficulties but also making it accessible to people who are second screening at work, on the bus or while on on the sofa while their partner watching Eastenders.

Use cutaways

Cutaways are shots which add colour and context. They make the video more interesting.

So, shots of road signs, the garage and the countryside show the Northern Irish community that will be affected by a Brexit ‘no deal’. The fact that they look ordinary and every day reinforces the message of concern from those interviewed. This is not Beirut or Kosovo. This looks like many parts of the Brritish Isles and island of Ireland.

Build a story

The video builds a narrative. The story is of a journalist who voted for ‘Leave’ in the EU Referendum in 2016 but is now having misgivings.

He returns to Northern Ireland where he has worked as a journalist before to ask how people there feel. He asks what the town was like during the Troubles from the late 1960s to the large 1990s. The people who lived there were often anxious and there was a large police presence, he is told.

He finds disquiet amongst people that a hard Brexit may see a return to the bad old ways and his final interviewee recalls how he was dragged off a bus with 10 workmates by terrorists who shot them leaving him as the only survivor. That’s a powerful story. But as we’ve seen the stand-out quote has been pulled out to form the first four or five seconds to draw the viewer in.

Put your logo at the end

The Joe logo animates into the screen right at the end. It;s the full stop to the video.

The video shot list

1.Opening shot. Interviewee: “Ten of my friends were shot dead beside me.”

2. Journalist Peter Oborne talks of how he voted remain but he now thinks he didn’t have enough information on how it will affect Northern Ireland where he worked during his career.

3. Cutaways: The Irish countryside and road signs in Bessbrook. Armagh, Northern Ireland.

4. Bessbrook resident Ray Collins: It was scary in The Troubles with a strong Army presence and the risk of murder by the UVF.

5. Bessbook resident Tracey Feehan: Wants the British government to get real.

6. Bessbrook resident Joe McGivern: We’re in limbo here.

7. Bessbrook resident Alan Black: Ten of my friends were shot dead beside me.

8. Journalist Peter Oborne: His reaction to the interviewees.

9. Danny Kennedy, Ulster Unionist Party: When the Referendum was fought there was little attention to how it would affect Northern Ireland.

10. Jarlath Burns, Principal of St Paul’s High School in conversation with Peter Oborne: The Referendum was an English Referendum and English people didn’t fully realise there was a land border, Jarlath says. Peter accepts that.

11. Cutaways: the car journey to Dublin and Dublin landmarks.

12. Journalist Peter Oborne, reacts to his Northern Ireland visit.

13. Senator Neale Richmond, a member of the Irish Dail.  The border issue didn’t arise during the Referendum but it is an issue to the PSNI.

14. Montage of candid clips of interviewees.

15. Journalist Peter Oborne: conclusions.


Overall, the video is an engaging video on what could be a dry topic. The backstop for Irish border arrangements is not the most engaging content on the face of it. They’ve made it interesting by talking to the real people. They’ve made sure it reaches a wider audience by including titles and sub-titles.

I help deliver video skills training. Workshops can be found here and drop me a line on if I can help. 

POWER STICKER: A simple comms lesson from the last chapter of the Yugoslavian civil war



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.