ICE FLOW: Four icebergs that can sink your communications strategy and how to avoid them


I was involved in a conversation about a communications strategy a short while back and it made me think.

Firstly, it made me think that its great for communications to be involved at all.

But it also reminded me of the icebergs that looms when you are involved with communications. Any of the icebergs can rip a large hole in your ship and send you to the bottom of the ocean.

Firstly, what is a communications strategy?

A communications strategy is the big picture for the organisation. It looks at how the organisation is going to talk to people in order to make its business plan work. The business plan is all the things the organisation wants to do. No business plan? You’re in trouble. So is the organisation.

Iceberg #1: vague priorities

Go through the business plan and count the priorities. If you’ve got 100 you’ve got a problem. There’s evidence that too many priorities are bad for you.  Academic and business leader Derek Lidlow points to grading the long list into three areas.




Why these three? Interestingly, Lidlow argues that this approach leads to less in-fighting and demotivation between managers in the organisation.

Why should you know this as a comms person? I used to think that comms people shouldn’t get involved from the start. That was when I was more naive and had more faith in people higher up the organisation. Experience has shown that often the organisation has a loose grasp of which priority is important and can’t quantify it. As this vagueness will land in comms’ lap its important to get involved early and pin it down.

If you don’t have a manageable list of priorities you’ll hit the iceberg and sink.

If you start with 100 priorities and end with 15 that are critical that’s an important first step.

Of course, one way to concentrate people’s minds is to produce a comms strategy for all 100 priorities and for it work out how much time and effort it’ll take to deliver all of them properly. It’s unlikely the 10 extra members of needed for this will be recruited. Which means that you can start a discussion on a focussed list of priorities.

Yes, the public sector needs to be responsive to emergencies as they blow-up. But don’t fall for the last minute email that assures you that ‘it’s an emergency that I need 100 posters for that vanity project for tomorrow.’ That’s not an emergency. That’s rank bad planning.

Iceberg #2: vague evaluation

If you don’t know where you are and you don’t know where you are heading, how do you know when you are there?

Decent evaluation should have numbers in. The difference between: ‘Can we  raise awareness about a concert?’ and ‘Can we we sell 500 tickets in the next six weeks?’ is vast. This second approach with numbers will lead to a better chance of a full concert hall and a great event. You know where you are going.

By the way, to help you, I’m a fan of the Government Communication Service Evaluation Framework 2.0 a useful download that can help you advise on the best way to evaluate. It’s a document you can push back against vagueness with.

Iceberg #3: guessing at tactics

By far the most common iceburg is the  problem of not spending time to think about who you want to talk to.

I’d also add that that work you did a couple of years ago may not be relevant today. The pace of change is constant and how people consume the media can change in a surprisingly short amount of time.

But if you work through your 15 critical priorities you’ll know about who you want to talk and how to which leads to…

Iceberg #4: having enough resource

The last iceberg is what troops on the ground to make this all work you have.

By working through things step-by-step you’ll know where you are heading, you’ll know the critical priorities, what you need to evaluate, what that tactics are to reach the right people and what resources you’ll actually need.  This can be the basis of a conversation about getting extra pairs of hands to make it work. Or at the very least being realistic about what you can do.

If you don’t include this in your strategy you’ll hit an iceberg. Possibly all four. And we know how the film ends. Only this time there may not be a wooden door strategically placed for you as there was in the blockbuster Titanic.

Picture credit: Rodrigo Soldon / Flickr



UK ONLINE STATS: In 2019, video and Facebook dominate but we’re getting more concerned about the internet


The world we live is changing by degrees and its only when you stop and look at the numbers you can make sense of it.

The ‘Online Nation’ report has been published by Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office to map how people are using the internet and what they think. It’s a useful document that helps communicators understand how the UK is changing.

What are the trends that shine through? I’ve taken a look from a public sector communicator’s perspective. The kind findings:

– People in the UK are growing more concerned about the dangers of the internet but we’re using it more. 

– Facebook in the UK continues to dominate.

– Video in the UK continues to grow. 

– Smartphones as a way to use the internet in the UK continues to grow.

– People in the UK are receptive to regulation.

Some key points backed by data

Internet use is rising. On average the UK adult is online for three hours 15 minutes – that’s up 11 minutes.

Social media use remains buoyant. A total of 70 per cent of the population have a social media account and use it regularly. That’s 39 minutes of use a day.

But more people have a concern about the internet. Overall, 78 per cent had a concern about an aspect of the internet. Strikingly, younger people are seeing the downside far more. Compared with 61 per cent of adults having a negative online experience 79 per cent of 12 to 15-year-olds have had a poor experience. That’s everything from an unwanted friend request to bullying or trolling.

Video IS becoming the internet. In the UK, 70 per cent of internet use by bandwidth is video. That includes streaming services, video calls and online videos. And 92 per cent of internet users use YouTube monthly with the platform on average being watched 27 minutes a day.

Music video tops the You Tube chart as the most popular use but how-to guides are not far behind. Music video accounts for 62 per cent of use with 57 per cent ‘how to’ with 40 per cent general search.

Home internet and 4G penetration remains high. In the UK, 87 per cent of homes have a broadband connection with 82 per cent broadband and 70 per cent using 4G.

General web communications remains high in the UK. Email remains popular with 74 per cent using them weekly with 49 per cent using messaging apps and 73 per cent using search.

Facebook continues to dominate. Despite a hectic few years the platform remains the giant that bestrides the media stage. Critics would point to the fact that the platform’s penetration amongst internet users is down from 95 per cent to 88 per cent. Supporters would point to the fact that even with this fall the numbers dwarf the competitors.


People in the UK are spending more time on the internet. On average, the UK adult will spend three hours 15 minutes online – up 11 minutes year-on-year.

Smartphones remain the a growing way to use the internet.  The average time online on a phone is two hours 34 minutes.

People spend most time every day on Facebook. If the platform on its own wins the most used prize it also wins the prize for the fact that users use it the most every day.


This breaks down as internet use per day in the UK as:

42 minutes a day for Google sites

38 minutes a day for Facebook sites

27 minutes a day for YouTube**

8 minutes a day for Spotify

5 minutes a day for BBC sites

4 minutes a day for Snapchat, Netflix and Yahoo

Other sites are less than 4 minutes.

Under 13’s are on Facebook in numbers even though they technically shouldn’t be. The platform has a 13-year-old age limit but its really easy to breach it. Research shows that 21 per cent of 10-year-olds, 34 per cent of 11-year-olds and 48 per cent of 12-year-olds are on the site. It’s easy for public sector people’s eyes to light up at this point. But anecdotal evidence of Facebook page insight shows that teenagers are not hooking up with their local council, police, fire or NHS.

Advertising drives social media sites. There is money in them there clicks. But it is being hoovered-up by the big two of Facebook and Google – 61 per cent of ad revenue goes there.

Around one in 10 don’t use the internet and the figure is highest amongst old people. The lowest sector is over 75s with 48 per cent not using it.

Fake news is prevalent. A total of 69 per cent of UK adults have come across it and the most common place to find it is Facebook. But rather than despair this points to the argument that comms people need to use the platform with engaging and correct content.

People are warming to the idea of online regulation. And 70 per cent of UK adults think this wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Conclusion for public sector comms

The numbers change and how people use the web shifts slightly year-on-year.  Like an unwatched pot if you don’t keep tabs on things the pot may boil over. What worked five years ago or even last year doesn’t work in 2019.

All this points to a flexibility of approach, a readiness for adjusting tactics and above all a readiness to explain and educate. The challenge in 2019 is not to argue for web communication but to take account of people who have had bad experiences. Reassurance strategically in the organisation is needed.

If anything, the increased smartphone use looks like catching out the public sector if websites are not compatible.

Strong internet use stats show that people are using the web. But lower take-up amongst older demographics may shine through to decision makers in the public sector who are themselves older and listen to voters – who tend to be older.

To reach an older demographic off-line tools are still needed, the report would say. But for younger people who live by their smartphone a web approach is paramount.

Nothing sums up the challenge to public sector people more than this.

** Frustratingly, Ofcom don’t treat YouTube as a social network and this stat is found elsewhere in the report. 

Picture credit: istock

30 days of human comms #60: Sefton Council’s fostering and adoption video with Josh


It’s not often you see something that borders on greatness but the Sefton Council fostering video does just that.

The 1 minute 13 second video is based on a lad called ‘Josh’ who explains why he is looking for a foster family. His name was changed to protect his identity.

He’d like to feel like he is part of a family again with a Mum, Dad and maybe a dog.

He lives in a children’s home in Manchester and its a long way away from the school he attends. So far, in fact, that he falls asleep.

The video uses the audio of the child but an animation of the child talking so no GDPR and personal data issues

The video is here:

Why borderline greatness?

A quick disclaimer: I helped train Sefton Council along with my colleague Steven Davies on the basics of video.

The video is beautifully human. It’s not stats and its not data. It’s a real human talking a bit about their story. It hits the mark beautifully.

As content it works wonderfully. Posted to Twitter and to Facebook the content is well placed.

To be truly, truly great, it would be useful to first find out how many people asked about being a foster carer and then became one as the result of the video. The second step is to check how much money is saved by recruiting a foster carer. Often this is a five-figure sum.

Of course, the process for recruiting a foster carer isn’t straight forward. It involves meetings, persuasion and time for reflection. It’s a mix of comms PLUS fostering and adoption and the evaluation and resulting credit needs to reflect that.


EVALUATION NUMBERS: What the Barcelona Principles are and how they’ll help you evaluate


A short while back a PR person got very animated that people in the industry didn’t know what the Barcelona Principles are.

For the most part I’d be amazed if the majority know what they are.

For the record, they’re a set of principles US and UK private sector PR people drew-up in the Spanish city in 2010. They’re not the be-all and end all but they are an interesting set of rules that stand scrutiny and you can refer to.

For the record they are here:

  • Goal setting and measurement are important
  • Media measurement requires quantity and quality
  • Advertising Value Equivalents (AVE) are not the value of public relations
  • Social media can and should be measured
  • Measuring outcomes is preferred to measuring media results (outputs)
  • Organisational results and outcomes should be measured whenever possible
  • Transparency and replicability are paramount to sound measurement.

A more comprehensive explanation can be found here.

The thing I like most about them and the thing that chimes is the concentration of results and not simply coverage.

AVE – advertising value equivalent – is dead. In other words, it’s not that 100,000 people saw the campaign that attracted £70,000 worth of coverage that’s important. It asks a big ‘so what?’ to that.

What did those people do as a result?

If 10,000 fitted smoke detectors and you’re target was 1,000 then that’s your result right there.

In particular it tackles the question that many traditional PR people throw at social media. How do you measure it?

The answer is that it depends on what you are trying to achieve in the first place.

That concentrates the mind wonderfully.

But there is a danger that applying them to unimaginatively to social media means you are not getting the point.

The point of social media is conversation and to take part in the conversation. Things you can later measure come later.

That’s something really important to remember.

Picture credit: istock

FACE TIPS: Facebook have just posted a ‘how to’ guide to make videos that will get seen and it’s really handy


Tucked away on a corner of Facebook is a newly-published blog post about what makes a decent video on the platform. It’s well worth a look.

Often social platforms will hide and leave it to guess work and experimentation as to what works on the platform. That’s fine if you have the time and resources to test. Not so if you haven’t. You can read the full post here.

What’s absolutely clear…

Three minute videos for Facebook… and with a storyline

Facebook are really keen on you making and posting three minute video. That comes as a surprise after years of pushing really short and snappy 15-second content.

The reason for this is that they’d like to put ads part-way through videos that you’re watching.

As Facebook’s post says:

Make longer videos that engage people and inspire them to watch to the end. Research has shown us that people on Facebook find value in longer videos that have a storyline. We prioritise longer videos (three minutes or more) that inspire people to continue watching. So make sure that you plan your video’s opening, build-up, tension, pacing and payoff in ways that will catch a viewer’s attention and hold it until the end.


This is really interesting. I can see from a business perspective why they’d like to make more money from ads. But aren’t people used to watching short snippets on Facebook and scrolling onto the next? I’d say so. But on YouTube people are happy to be served video after video that are longer. The gamble for Facebook is that will be replicated on their platform, too.

They’ve created a new platform for posting video to Facebook

Facebook Admanager is a really good Facebook platform for creating and managing ads.

By the looks of things Facebook have created a platform for video to allow you to keep better tabs and have better insights on what you are posting.  Facebook Creater Studio is that new tool  to help you understand how long people are watching.

They want your video to be original and not re-posted

Facebook would like original videos, please.

That would appear to have really put the kybosh on stock video libraries where you can download footage. That’s not such a bad idea, to be absolutely honest. Often these stock libraries are as original as a stock image.

They’re also keen on stories, plotline and narrative arcs.

You can help give your Page a better originality signal by sharing videos that you wrote, shot, edited and published yourself or with the support of a production partner. The best way to create the type of original content our distribution system supports is by making sure that your Page is participating as much as possible in the creation of the videos that it posts.

They want you to get people talking and sharing

The post also talks about how they’d like to see video that gets people talking and debating. But they explicitly warn against using click bait terms that encourage people to share or create cliffhangers where there are none.

Videos that do this well will:
  • Inspire people to have meaningful, back and forth, respectful discussion in the comments. This has to happen in a way that is not spammy or gratuitous.

  • Be authentically shared. Shares remain one of Facebook’s most powerful tools for organic distribution.

  • Be engaged with. We also look at likes and reactions to help us determine which content should get distribution priority. These interactions should happen organically and not through engagement bait.

They want you to think of the metadata

The metadata is the information that goes with a video that makes it easier to find. That means tags and also a clear headline to explain what your video is.

That’s actually common sense but its worth while just being reminded of that.

Less is more

One conclusion of these changes is that less surely has to be more.

You need to put more thought into what you are posting to create something that’s three minutes long and worthwhile. So, if in the past there were maybe a fistful of 15 to 30-second videos the future surely is one longer video that’s well made.

The challenge is to make something really worthwhile than a blizzard of content.

Create for the platform

For the last couple of years I’ve mapped the research to create a optimum video length post. Last year, it was three minutes is best for YouTube, 45 seconds for Twitter and 15 seconds for Facebook.

That’s now simplified to three minutes for YouTube and Facebook but don’t be tempted to chuck the three minute video up onto Twitter too. I’d argue that making a shorter edit for Twitter, Instagram or your favoured platform. That still makes sense.

Picture credit: istock.

Retro old TV set on the vintage background.I deliver the Essential Video Skills for Comms workshop with Steven Davies For more information and to book head here. I’d love to see you there. Any questions? Drop me a note:






VOTE: It’s official! Here are the top 10 most irritating phrases as voted by comms people

Democracy is a wonderful thing.
So is hearing common sense talked but unfortunately as comms people we can’t always have both.
So, on the rather amazing Public Sector Comms Headspace group we ran a poll to find out the most irritating phrase heard.
You’d have thought that phrase was ‘can I have a press release.’
But no.
The public has spoken and as the returning officer I hearby announce…

The most irritating phrases heard by comms people


1. “It’s been signed off already…”

We’ve all been there. The email requesting a clip art poster be sent as an all-staff ewmail to 4,000 people. The press release with spelling mistakes and Too Many Capital Letters.
Take a bow rank pullers. And do one.

cameras-composition-data-1483937 2. “Weave your magic…”

In other words, I really don’t know what I want. I don’t know what you do. But can you do it, whatever you do.
But I reserve the right to say: ‘That’s not what I actually wanted.’

3. “Can you comms it up?”

Quite what this means, I’ll never know. Never in a million years.
But I think the correct response needs to be: “Let’s have a talk. A frank one.”

adult-blur-businessman-20728994. “Can’t you just put it on the internet?”

Ah, the magic internet. It’s an information superhighway, you know. You place something onto the internet and it magically reaches everyone you want it to reach… and you want to stop me from doing this?

adult-background-casual-9416935. “Sprinkle your fairy dust.”

Or, in other words, ‘I don’t know what you do, I don’t know what I want, but I do remember Paul Daniels on the telly when I was a kid.’
The wand doesn’t feel magical when its hit over your head.
Very FFS.

active-activity-beach-408156. “We need a poster.”

The common request of someone who isn’t that great at their own job but knows fine well exactly how to do yours. Why? They’ve been making this quest since 1977.
Ever since in fact someone important told them that was how to do it.
Closely followed by: ‘But its our budget.’
adult-african-award-1153215 (1)

7. “Tell them its not a story.”

Journalists are great but that question they’ve asked which is a but awkward is a bit inconvenient, tbqfh. If only you would tell them that its not a story it would all go away.


8. “Can you make it look pretty?”

Again, this is a variation of not knowing what you do or what they want. What can this possibly mean? Do you know? No, nor me.
But I do know that whatever you do won’t be the right thing.
One to have a conversation with.

9. ‘Can you make it go viral?’

What? The picture of two 45-year-old men? In suits? In a room? That’s low res? That has them staring into space? You want the kids to see? And you think I can make it go viral?
No, I don’t think I can. Not even backed with all the resources of the Allies on D-Day.


10. “Make it whizzy”

It’s a little known fact but the This Girl Can Sport England was 7.95 whizzy whereas the person who asked for it to be copied for tomorrow morning is actually -6.51 on the whizzy spectrum.
So, now you know.
Thank you.

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WORD UP: You can’t ‘use’ a community Facebook group, you connect with it


‘Words are power,’ Yoko Ono once said.

I’m not sure what words describe the artist’s 1967 installation where she invited the audience to hammer a nail into a piece of wood.

In the audience was John Lennon who offered her five imaginary shillings to hammer an imaginary nail into the wood.

But still.

Two years ago I started to research Facebook groups and next month I’m helping deliver workshops that feature them strongly but one word above all always jars with me and I have to force myself to stop using it.

That’s the word USE.

As in the phrase: ‘How to USE Facebook groups’.

Because USE isn’t the right word.

We cannot USE.

USE is a single-use plastic wrapper of a word.

Facebook groups are places where like-minded people form an online community where there are admin to police them but people are largely free to start or contribute to a conversation.

So, you need words like…





While it’s important to use those words its really even more important to adopt the mindset those words mean. If you don’t, no-one gains.

vital facebook skillsI’m running a new workshop to help public sector people understand how to better use Facebook.

I’ll be joined by Sarah Lay for VITAL FACEBOOK SKILLS at a city near you.

You can see more and book here