The 2019 General Election was one marked by a series of trends and Facebook groups was amongst them.
The growing role that Facebook groups has played I’ve blogged about before here.
I’m a member of several Facebook groups across the country and things ranged from the carefully considered to the hugely fighty.
BBC Trending caught the zeitgeist with this post on how the election was playing out.
Once upon a time people may have filed into town halls or village squares to debate the issues of the day. Now modern technology makes it easier for people to engage in political debate, especially in the depths of a British winter.
But social media can also suck in those who never intended to spend their evenings arguing with strangers about politics.
Unlike the village square, on Facebook you can’t look someone in the eye or read the tone of their voice. That distance means people sometimes suspend their usual social niceties. The job of keeping things on track falls to volunteer moderators.
It’s easy for conversations to get hijacked. Those who come for the hedgehog photos may end up getting sweary rants about politics instead.
The full BBC Trending post is here.
It’s the last few days of the 2019 General Election and I’m mapping the trends and techniques of the past few weeks.
Remember the Barack Obama ‘Hope‘ image from 2008? or ‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It‘ frontpage? Or the Saatchi ‘Labour isn’t Working‘ poster of 1979? All winning images that reflect the prevailing influence of the shareable image, the newsstand or the roadside poster ad.
A General Election is a petri dish for comms where ideas are tried out. Successful ones are adopted more widely by the comms profession.
But what of the crop 2019?
In a word: depressing.
There’s enough here to be quietly terrified at the state of democracy and of comms in general.
First, this is an apolitical post looking at techniques and ethics.
Second, not all political comms, PR and digital people indulge in unethical behaviour. Some of this year’s hot trends don’t appear to have come direct from the party political machine. Not every party is blameless.
Thirdly, paid, earned and owned. That’s a mix that plays out online just as it would a comms plan.
Calling out the unethical
Former CIPR President Stephen Waddington has blogged to call out some of the behaviours. He’s right to do so. My great worry in the shake-down of all this is the damage to the profession and the pressure on comms people to knock-up that quick sock puppet account. Stephen is dead right when he says we need to hold the line.
Responsible bodies such as the CIPR, LGComms and the Government Communications Service need to re-state their commitment to ethical comms the day after the election if not before. As a profession, we need resources to help people deflect requests for unethical behaviour. We need to know where the line is so we can hold it.
Techniques during the election
Of course, it’s worth remembering that so much of electioneering in Britain is envelope stuffing, doorstepping and leaflet pushing. In 2019, online campaigning is having a direct influence but so is the army of volunteers pounding pavements.
In 1983, Margaret Thatcher would look for the two TV news cameramen from the BBC and ITV. The 24-hour news cycle hadn’t kicked in and the landscape was dominated by the newspaper frontpage, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and the 1 o’clock, 6 o’clock, 9 o’lock and 10 o’clock news.
That 24-hour news cycle feels more like 24-minutes. Journalists on Twitter break news. But so do the public. The passer-by captures the heckle then posts it online. The journalist rips the video and shares it.
Misinformation? Some say that we all need to get clued-up on how accurate what drops into our timeline is. We probably do. But we won’t. Not if that video chimes with what we think. Besides, its far quicker to share it and move on than to spend five minutes researching provenance.
From a small base, the 2019 election has seen Facebook ads embedded as a campaign tool. According to the Finanacial Times. The Conservative Party launched a staggering 2,600 ads in a single day with spending projected at reaching almost £3 million outspending their rivals with deeper pockets.
But when one campaign group calls ads ‘indecent, dishonest and untruthful‘ we have a problem.
Facebook has prepared and tweaked for the 2019 election but the decision not to take down Facebook ads that lie is baffling.
The days of a single image campaign are over. That’s the double whammy bombshell.
Status: Legal but content is unregulated.
Single issue websites from campaign groups where it’s not immediately clear who the campaign is from
In the week before the election, social media was flooded with tailored content that compared the three main parties’ education spending. What is particular about it is that you can search for your school and find out relative spending plans. So, its’ personalised content.
The schoolcuts.org.uk can create content for more than 20,000 schools that delivers a personal message. Who is it from? It’s a site maintained by the Education Union and supported by four other unions. It even awards itself a blue tick.
Status: Legal but hard to verify.
Fake local newspapers delivering a political message
It’s an interesting take on trust that a newspaper is recreated in this approach. Trust has rebounded for newspapers, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer so parties have gravitated towards this technique.
While its on the right side of the law, media companies are unhappy and it feels like this approach has a shelf life.
Status: legal but owned media posing as paid is questionable.
Content is created outside of the party machine
I’d love to see research that shows how much content comes from parties and how much from voters. Like this instagram post.
Real fact checking websites
It comes to something when the truth rather than coming from the media or the politicians themselves now needs to come from a fact checked source.
Fact checking websites such as fullfact.org are running a checking service that seeks to correct mistruths.
While they’re diligent they’re also niche and are unlikely to have a popular reach.
Status: Legal and a higher level of verified trust.
Misleading fact checking websites
Twitter described as ‘misleading’ the Conservative Party rebranding of their main account as a ‘fact checking’ service.
Of course, rather than an independent fact checking service the account was a partisan spin on the Opposition. There is a school of thought that the ploy was a deliberate attempt at controversy in order to get commented upon and shared thereby blocking the light for any debate around opposition policy.
Status: Legal but questionable.
Shit posting for the RTs
Shit posting is the deliberate tactic of posting poor content with a message to get it to stand out.
This New Statesman piece describes the early Conservative campaign strategy of comic sans to spread a message.
It’s also a technique I’ve seen in one or two other places. Harmless. Sometimes fun. But not something everyone can do not least all the time.
Emails to the converted with clear fundraising calls to action
In the 2017 election, Labour were particularly effective at fundraising through targeted emails to supporters but its a technique all parties use.
Governed by GDPR this form of owned political comms is that rare thing… something governed by legislation.
Status: Legal and regulated.
Poster sites now just mock by reminding of past statements
One striking thing in the 2019 election is the almost complete absence of billboard posters. Once a striking feature of a campaign they now seem to have been relegated to the fringes of the toolbox.
By 2019, the art form has been fully subverted by campaign groups like the non-party political Led by Donkeys who play back statements and comments that come to haunt.
As an advert, they are governed by the Advertising Standards Authority.
Status: Legal and regulated.
Heckling by reminding of past statements
Back in the olden days politicians would tour the market towns armed with a soapbox and a megaphone to address the willing and win over the doubters.
In 2019, the big hitters were kept well away from real people. But when they were let out the heckling was curiously fact based. It’s less ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, out, out, out’ and more ‘Where’ve you been? You took your time’ or ‘Racism has gone right up since you’ve been here.’
Status: Legal and traditional.
Complaining about empty chairing
As politicians are more reluctant to submit to scrutiny from journalists the trend of empty chairing has emerged. This strategy is placing an empty chair in a studio where the invited politician would have sat.
As a campaigning tool, complaining about empty chairing has become a strategy.
The intention is to create some noise for the 24-minute news cycle and draw attention from the fact that the politician is ducking answers.
The request for interview feels like its gone from a must-do to a maybe. So when Boris Johnson refused to be grilled by Andrew Neil on the BBC opinion was divided. Some comms people thought he’d lose by appearing to run. Others thought he may put his foot in it.
Status: Legal but there’s a question about transparency.
Shaky video on the hoof
I’ve banged on for the past five years about the emerging trend that’s now mainstream. Your smartphone has a video camera. So, press record and use it.
Jess Phillips here uses selfie mode to say she’s at the Little Explorer’s Nursery in Sheldon, Birmingham with noise and activity in the background. It has a re-elect Jess Phillips logo and is subtitled. Two big ticks.
The death of the set-piece party political broadcast
Ten years ago, the words: ‘There now follows a party political broadcast on behalf of…’ was about as far as most people got. The formal introduction at allotted times pointed out the fact that what was following was propaganda.
The internet has made the formal film dead while the informal social media video is very much alive and well. Take the Conservative’s faux-walk and talk fish and chips or a Sunday roast questioning.
Unattributed false briefings translated into instant news headlines
On the day when Boris Johnson caused a storm when he refused to look at the image of a four-year-old sleeping on the floor of a hospital the health secretary Matt Hancock was despatched to the hospital.
When the visiting politician left protestors gave him a send off. Within minutes the media had been briefed that a Tory aide had been punched in the face. Within hours this was shown to be false by video shot by a bystander.
Whatever the ins and outs of this, false briefings to journalists are a really bad idea.
Status: False briefings are unethical.
Sock puppet accounts
Sock puppet accounts are accounts set-up to share and amplify a point of view.
‘Very interesting,’ the text starts. ‘A good friend of mine is a senior nursing sister at Leeds Hospital – the boy shown on the floor by the media was in fact put there by his mother who then took photos on her mobile phone and uploaded it to media outlets before he climbed back onto his trolley.’
The thread traces the two-hour window where the version was shared unchallenged. Two things are wrong with the post. Firstly. Leeds Hospital is called Leeds General Infirmary and secondly, senior staff had accepted the version of events and apologised.
There is no suggestion these misleading tweets came from a political party.
Status: Unethical and terrifying.
Facebook groups being the new frontline of political campaigning
I’ve blogged before about the reach of Facebook groups in small communities. They are the digital Parish pumps and they play a part in an election.
The four-year-old sleeping on the hospital floor debunking was pushed through Facebook and through groups. The same text was used that started ‘Very interesting. A good friend of mine is a senior nursing sister at Leeds Hospital…’
The contrary message follows some hours later.
Twitchfork mobs of supporters accusing journalists / Jews / People who don’t believe in the project enough
Journalism is said to be the first draft of history so the first tweet is the first doodle in the margin.
Journalist’s Twitter accounts are seen as the new front page. There is a race to break news that sometimes leaves verification behind. If ‘a source’ claims something the reporter posts to Twitter and that something then takes a turn on the news cycle.
There’s something really troubling about the mob in action and in 2019 there’s been plenty of it in the run-up to the campaign and during it.
Laura Keunssberg of the BBC and Robert Peston of ITV come in for fierce criticism, often unwarranted.
Status: Fair debate ranging to the illegal and unethical.
Misleading stories going viral
Liberal Democrat leader was the subject of a misleading piece of information as this detailed BBC piece shows.
The allegation starts on one site, is shared by another and then before you know it is halfway around the globe before the truth has got its pants on. The BBC piece here is well worth the read.
Status: At best unethical.
Microphones are everywhere #1: The Tory MP and the planted door knock
The MP who briefed his friend on what to say had forgotten that he had a microphone on. So, when accompanied by reporter Michael Crick he appeared not quite as straight as he could have.
Microphones are everywhere #2: When you go to be interviewed take your own film crew so you can get your pre-buttal in
When Boris Johnson refused to appear on the Channel 4 Leader’s debate he sent Michael Gove instead. His film crew then filmed the response of Channel 4 staff.
While legal this exerts pressure on the journalist to comply and justify on the spot.
Status: Legal but you’ll probably burn your relationship with the journalist.
The sharable parody
Cassetteboy is an artist who cuts and pastes political interview and speeches into mock pop videos.
In 2019, a parody of ‘You Can’t Touch This‘ attacks Boris Johnson for his perceived lack of trust. It wracked up 260,000 views in five days against 90,000 in 16 hours for the Conservative Party’s own ‘Love Actually’ parody. If they are a parody legally you’re covered.
At a glance, it feels as though ethics have gone through the window at times during the 2019 General Election. It doesn’t matter if you lie because the pace of the internet moves it on and besides, no-one watches the news. We’re also all over the place consuming information in different ways on different channels.
But there will be greater pressure to to bend the rules.
Facebook is one of the central places in the UK where people to spend their time online.
The digital Parish Pump of Facebook groups is where the places people chew the fat, get their local news, gossip, rumour and information.
If a fire breaks out, it’ll be a Facebook group where the news gets broken.
If a pothole breaks out, a road closure happens or a break-in happens its likely to show up in a group.
The evidence is overwhelming. If you want to talk to people, they’re on Facebook. If you want to talk to them about local matters you need to find them in a group.
Three years ago, I started research to see how Facebook groups and pages were being used. Crunching the 2019 data, the headlines are that pages have declined and groups have surged.
Two years ago Mark Zuckerburg talked about the shift towards friends, family and community as being where Facebook was heading. That’s playing out in your timeline with people seeing fewer updates from pages as they scroll. On mobile now have their own dedicated newsfeed.
If you are a communicator looking to reach a local audience in 2020, knowing your Facebook admins is as important as knowing your beat reporters was twenty years ago.
The basic Facebook landscape
Facebook took a hit earlier in 2019 in the wake of Cambridge Analytica and other scandals. In Statista data shows the UK numbers dipped from 40 million regular users to 36 million. That’s now recovered and upwards trend has resumed on 36.3 million.
Over the past three years I’ve researched Facebook groups and pages in Braintree in Essex. Why Braintree? It’s a mix of urban and rural. It has 151,000 residents with a new town and a surrounding network of almost 20 smaller towns and villages from the hamlet of Ashen to the town of Wishen.
Facebook groups v pages
You can join up to 6,000 Facebook groups. You can join a group as an individual or if the group admin allow it through your page. Overall user numbers are hard to come by with unverified figures rate it at 1.5 billion group users – or more than 60 per cent of the overall number of users. Businesses are encouraged towards pages where owners can advertise. Groups are more democratic. You can see who the admin is.
What the data says: Facebook groups are surging
Since 2017, the data is clear. Facebook groups across Braintree have increased by 121 per cent in number from 301 to 667. They’ve now overtaken pages entirely. There’s now more groups in Braintree than there are pages.
Year on year the number of memberships of groups is up 86 per cent.
There’s also more people a member of a group than there are people who like pages. On average, every member of the population is a member of four community Facebook groups.
Types of groups vary. They can be a community noticeboard for a major town of more than 40,000 like Braintree. A group that serves this purpose is Braintree (Essex, England) with more than 6,000 members. Or for a smaller town of 1,000, Castle Hedingham, all village, street and community matters with more than 600 members.
Or groups can also fill a niche. Such as, the Friends of Black Notley Hospital group (400 members), Braintree Selling (16,000 members) Witham Writers (25 members) or Great Notley Park Run (37 members).
Facebook groups are filling the void left by declining news rooms. But they’ve also caused their demise. They’re simple to set-up, have a strong local following and are cheaper. Why take out a small ad in the paper for £5 to sell your child’s bike when you can post an ad on a selling group for free?
What the data says: Facebook pages are losing ground
The Facebook page remains a cornerstone of the landscape but they are declining.
In Braintree there are fewer pages and fewer people like them.
Facebook pages have long been hobbled by Facebook Zero has all but obliterated their effectiveness in reaching a broad audience. Post something to your page and it reaches one per cent of your audience. If it performs well with them it could go to more. But without a hefty advertising budget your content needs to be rip-roaringly tip-top to stand a chance of breaking out.
In Braintree, overall Facebook page numbers have declined by 11 per cent in 12-months to just over 600 in the district. In addition, there is a five per cent drop in the overall number liking them. Counting every page in and around the district, there are almost 490,000 likes. That’s still a hefty number.
Don’t have just one Facebook page to rule them all
In the public sector, people are more inclined overall to like places provided by the council than the council itself with Essex County Council’s Great Notley Country Park with 8,000 likes, and Cressing Temple‘s 7,000 likes. That’s against the 8,000 who like the Braintree District Council page or the one per cent of the population who like Essex County Council’s page.
Brands and businesses dominate pages. So, Cineworld Braintree has almost 6,000 likes and almost 20,000 like the Braintree Village shopping centre page or small business like Bocking DogTails (94 likes) or The White part pub in Great Yeldham with almost 2,000 likes.
I help run workshops to help you use Facebook better with better pages content,how to connect with Facebook groups and how to create better Facebook ads. For more information on workshops with Sarah Lay click here and to ask about in-house advice drop me a note email@example.com.
The Ipsos Mori Veracity index has been published and once again nurses and politicians bookend the charts.
At the top with nurses are doctors and then teachers and dentists.
Sliding down to the bottom are politicians with a deficit of 68 per cent of people they don’t tell the truth.
Local councillors fare better with just a -13 per cent rating.
Most important of all are the average man or woman in the street with a score of +35.
The full data is here.
I’m grateful to Ross Wigham for retweeting the findings this afternoon as I often use the findings in training.
Because having data to hand can take the heat out of things.
You may not think that lining the politician up is the best way forward but its tricky to say ‘no’.
But if you use data it’s not you saying ‘no’ to the idea of the cabinet member starring in your video aimed at new parents.
Having that data means you can advise on more than just gut feeling.
Yes, it is more work.
Yes, it is more effective.
Picture caption: US National Archive / Flickr
Here’s a confession… I spent most of the 1980s really hating Liverpool Football Club.
Entitled, arrogant and always getting the rub of the green they were everything I disliked about football.
Then in the 1990s Manchester United picked up the baton and were even more entitled, even more arrogant and got even more rub of the green.
So, I start watching with a degree of scepticism this video of Liverpool FC defender Virgil van Dyke who surprised Ian as he worked as a trolley collector and drove him to a surprise trip to Melwood training ground.
His brother David had written to the club asking to see if they could do something special for his brother because as he didn’t have a partner or his own family Liverpool FC was his world.
.@VirgilvDijk surprises a lifelong Red, who has had some challenges in his life. A day David will never, ever forget ❤️
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 26, 2019
It’s a five minute video and it flashes past. It’s just the most beautiful thing.
“I’ll see you Wednesday, mate,” says Ian to Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp as he heads to the door of the club’s training ground to go home.
I often talk about the need for there to be an 80 to 20 per cent split in content on social media. The majority human, interesting and engaging. That buys you the right for the rest of the time to issue your calls to action.
This video is purely human. It’s a multi-layered love story. A love by a man of his brother. His brother’s love of his football team and the football team’s love reciprocated.
It works because the players, too, are human and interact with Ian in a very down-to-earth way.
From a video perspective, it does the trick of opening with the best shot and then cutting back to the start. So you see the Liverpool player surprise Ian in Asda car park.
I’ll never stop being a Stoke City supporter but I won’t mind too much if Liverpool win the league this year.
ONE: South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s post flood video
Torrential rain saw flooding across South Yorkshire with 2,500 calls to the control room across five days. Fire crew were pushed to the limit with 300 people rescued from flooded properties.
Several weeks after the incident was scaled down South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue used footage shot by crews along with photographs to put together a 1’55” video that captured the response.
You can see it here:
We’re incredibly proud of staff from right across our service for the work they did to respond to recent flooding across South Yorkshire.
This short video captures the story of our response- plus some of the amazing feedback we’ve had from the public.
Thank you💛 pic.twitter.com/OQh3O6xUCG
— South Yorkshire Fire (@SYFR) November 25, 2019
The purpose of the video was to inform people what the service did in a time of crisis. The feedback was positive with more than 160 engagements.
Why is this good? Rather than sitting on their laurels South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue had a positive story to tell and did so using existing footage and images. The video also works without sound with text to tell the story. It’s something approaching gold standard film making.
TWO: Havant Borough Council’s leaf blower slow motion video
On Twitter, there is an #ourday initiative where councils are encouraged to post day-to-day tasks. It’s an opportunity during the course of 24-hours to show the unglamorous jobs that rarely get the spotlight.
With Autumn now in full swing, our Norse Sputh East teams are collecting mountains of leaves from across the borough every day. 🍂
— Havant Borough Council (@HavantBorough) November 19, 2019
Why is this good? It takes a task that is uncelebrated but quite visual and captures it with video. There’s a range of slow motion apps that are available on android or ios. This is an imaginative way to capture visual content.
THREE: Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue’s explanation of what an on call firefighter does and what a turn-out time is
An on-call firefighter is someone from the community who is trained and is on call for maybe 60 hours a week. Once they get an alarm through a pager they must drop everything and head to the fire station.
Nottinghamshire fire and rescue used this video to explain a little about what this involved. Firstly, there was a piece to camera with an on-call fire fighter. Then the film knits together CCTV footage from the on-call firefighter’s home and then the station to show the response.
Why is this good? Aside from a short introduction voiced by the firefighter the clip uses CCTV footage that probably would have been shot anyway. There was no expensive film crews used and the editing was straight forward. It’s a dynamic film that shows some action and when posted to a station Facebook page was accompanied with a chance to ask questions. This is really good community engagement.
FOUR: Stoke on Trent City Council’s exhibition behind the scenes tour video
While other examples in this post need a bit of prep and editing this one is great because it doesn’t.
The Frontline Arts festival was a disability arts festival with a strong pitch towards discovery and kids.
One piece – The Spine – that went on display people were encouraged to walk through so a video shot showing what you see when you walk through is visual and engaging. Posted to Instagram it aims at younger people who are likely to be using the platform.
View this post on Instagram
Have you been inside ‘Spine’ @potteriesmuseum ? The kids will love it! It’s part of the FRONTLINE Arts Festival in #StokeOnTrent – the first disability arts festival of its kind in the area. Events going on across the city. Info: https://frontlineartsfestival.co.uk/ #SOTFAF #MyStokeStory #Staffordshire #visitstoke #enjoystaffs @visit_stoke @sotculture #disabilityarts
Why is this good? Something visual and easy to edit. The content is eyecatching and flags up an event which is promoted in the accompanying text.
FIVE: Basingstoke and Dean Council’s video of Keith who works in cemeteries
Sometimes less glamorous subjects need to be communicated.
So, Keith who started off as a grave digger and now runs the council’s cemeteries features in this video where he explains how in the past babies were buried in unmarked graves. Now, they have created a memorial which can act as a focal point for reflection and remembrance.
We manage our burial and cemetery service from Worting Road Cemetery office. Meet, Keith our cemetery officer. Keith oversees the running of our public cemeteries and records and registers all burials within them #OurDay #CouncilsCan pic.twitter.com/FsEkqcKzqq
— Basingstoke Council (@BasingstokeGov) November 19, 2019
Why is this post good? It’s a basic piece of story telling shot and edited on a smartphone with subtitles and cutaways. It could be more polished but Keith tells the basic story and the supporting footage supports what he has to say.
SIX: World Economic Forum’s video on why cycling is good for the environment
Take inspiration where you can find it.
This video from the World Economic Forum seeks to explain the economic benefits of cycling. It uses what looks like lots of stock footage of cycling to support the story which is being told by the text on the screen.
Why is this good? There’s something tremendous about seeing a potentially dry topic come alive. The footage here holds your interest while the words supply the argument. Interestingly, the text is in very plain English.
Full disclosure: I’ve carried out work for South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, Basingstoke and Dean Council and Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue.
I help train people in how to use smartphones and tablets to plan, shoot, edit and post effective video. You can see workshop dates here. If they don’t work drop me a line firstname.lastname@example.org.
A quick shout to say that there’s two dates up in the New Year for video skills training.
More than 3,000 people have been trained over the past five years by myself and the supremely gifted film maker and academic Stephen Davies.
It’s a session we are both proud of and it always pleases us both to see people go and make use of the skills to do great things.
In a nutshell, it gives the skills to create effective video using your smartphone or tablet.
The session is aimed at people with no experience of creating video content or to those who have got loads of experience and are keen to explore how the organisation can tap into smartphone shooting… as the BBC have for example.
What we’ll look at
Plan, shoot, edit and post content that may have basic edits, cutaways, titles, sub-titles, filters, accessibility legislation, GDPR as well as adding music while staying on the right side of copyright laws.
New dates: Essential Video Skills for Comms
London 31.1.20. For more info or to book click here.
Birmingham 7.2.20. For more info or to book click here.
For both there’s a reduced money saving EARLY BIRD RATE until December 7.
Run the session in-house
If you’d like the session delivered in-house drop a line to me email@example.com.