GROUP ONE: It could be easier for organisations to connect with Facebook groups


I don’t tend to blog about tech news as there’s already a whole pile of useful new sites that do that job well.

However, the exception is news from Mashable that could really change how people can connect with Facebook groups.

Facebook is trialing the ability for a page to join a group.

This is potentially huge as it gets over an obstacle where comms people have to use their own Facebook profile on behalf of the organisation to reach groups.

A quick recap: #1 Why Facebook groups are important

I’ve been banging a drum for Facebook groups for some time now.

Research in the district of Braintree shows people there are turning to groups and pages over public sector pages. There are more than 1,000 groups and pages in a population of just over 53,000.

That’s an incredible highly networked number.

A quick recap: #2 Yes, but there are barriers

The barriers that have stopped public sector people getting involved with pages are clear. Maybe comms people don’t want their personal profile to be exposed to criticism or abuse.


A quick recap #3: Current ways around the barrier

There’s two current ways to connect with Facebook groups.

Use your own profile to join a group and contribute directly.

Use your own profile to send a private message to the group admin to introduce yourself and inquire if they’d share content for you.

There is a third. Create a work profile to connect with groups or admin directly. I’m strongly suggesting you don’t do that. It’s against Facebook’s terms and conditions. There’s a slightly messy undertone of fake news and spying, too.

What the changes mean

Firstly, it’s important to stress that these are a trial.

  1. No, this won’t open the whole of Facebook’s wide ecosystem of groups to you. Group admin will have to change settings and then vet your application. Don’t expect to waltz in anywhere.
  2. Yes, a page that joins a group can still be chucked out as if it was a member. So, don’t expect to be a fixture.
  3. But if you are in, you’ll be able to post and comment in groups as the page rather than as yourself. This can give some credibility to your answers or your content. It’ll also re-assure people reluctant to use their own profile.
  4. But you could be a grief magnet. Having a corporate page talking in a group rather than a person may attract more abuse. If you’re a real person the tendency is for there to be less abuse as people mind less shouting at a logo.
  5. But you could unlock a big chunk of audience that you wouldn’t be reaching otherwise. The new Mum who doesn’t read the local paper or listen to the radio could be reached through the New Mum Facebook group she’s joined for support.
  6. But you’ll have to change your mindset. This won’t be one-and-done comms. You will need to search Facebook for the right groups, build a relationship with the admin and maybe target a dozen groups for your targeted content. The New Mum Facebook group will want to hear new parent advice. It won’t want to hear about an exhibition of Old Stafford.
  7. Yes, you’ll need to know about Facebook groups on your patch. A trawl through the towns, villages, estates and communities on your patch will surprise you. You won’t need to know all of them. But you will need to know the process of searching for the right community.

So, the answer is broadly good news for public sector comms people. But it’s also a bit messy. Just slightly less messy than it was before.

I’ve not seen this change in my role as admin of the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group. I’ll keep you posted.

I’ll be talking about how to connect with Facebook groups as part of ESSENTIAL DIGITAL SKILLS FOR COMMS in Birmingham on November 6 and London on November 6.

Drop me a note if those dates don’t work for you 

Thanks to Jamie Baker from the UK Government Cabinet Office for spotting this Facebook development.

Picture credit: Book Catalog / Flickr.




RESEARCH: The huge reach of community Facebook pages and groups and how you can connect with them


If there’s one thing I can tell you it’s that Facebook groups and pages in a local area are huge. Not just a bit huge. A lot huge.

For the last 12-months I’ve vanished into a worm-hole of research looking at the digital footprint of the platform in an area.

Braintree in Essex is the area I’ve been looking at. It has a population of 53,000.

Why that town in particular? A chance conversation. I was talking to someone about the quiet spread of local Facebook groups and pages and how I’d love to carry out research on how big an impact they had, what they were talking about and how much of it was actually accurate.

Look at Braintree, they said. It’s a good mix. It’s partly urban and partly rural.

So, I did.

Researching a community

In September last year I set about counting the Facebook groups and pages in Braintree. But not just the town. Also the villages. Coggeshall, Black Notley, Bocking, Witham and Great Bardfield too.

As a former journalist, it was fascinating. All human life was there. A row about a footpath ploughed up by the farmer. A debate about parking. The latest in the campaign against an incinerator. Stones painted by children left in the churchyard. A Facebook group set-up by two people banned from a pub.

Facebook is not just a global platform. It is the world’s Parish pump, too.

A Facebook community in numbers

And I counted the numbers.

Back in 2017, there were 301 groups and 279 pages in and around Braintree. All pages are open but around 60 per cent of groups are closed.

Braintree is a town of bargain hunters. There are more than 50 buy and sell groups in Braintree alone. No wonder that the small ads of newspapers have been gutted. What would have been once for sale in the back end of the local paper is now on Facebook.

There’s a village called Coggeshall. It had more than 50 groups and pages. Not bad for a community of less than 5,000.

The pub, the hairdressers, the tattoo parlour, the football team, the community, the year five and six parents all had their corner of Face book.

So, I counted the likes and memberships, too.

There were 498,447. In other words, every man, woman and child in Braintree likes nine local groups or pages.

Events are what people talk about

I tried to classify what they were talking about, too.

The most popular topic – 30 per cent – was events. A fundraising sale. A birthday party. An exhibition. Then at 17 per cent was ‘for sale’. Then at less than five per cent everything else. So, crime, health, the environment, parks and countryside were all niche topics.

Not fake

But is Braintree a hotbed for fake news?

I’d persuaded Essex County Council and Braintree District Council to work with me on this research. They agreed to fact check every reference to local government over a seven day period just to see what was correct and incorrect.

The former local government comms person in me expected swathes of debate about potholes, parking, litter and libraries. The truth was more simple. Overall, 15 per cent of content was local government-related.

Just 16 per cent of council-related conversations held mistruths. So, blaming the district council for gritting the roads in cold weather when it’s actually the county was low level. But a false rumour about a mosque in a park was more serious.

Armed with this research, I’ve been training teams to look more locally when they are communicating. But its not without problems.

How you can plug into groups

If you want to communicate through a group you need to join using your own profile. Lock it down if you like, but it needs to be you. Not a specially set-up work one. That’s against Facebook’s terms and conditions. Some people aren’t happy doing that and that’s fine. A slightly less exposed way is to approach the admin by private message to see if they’d share some content for you. Content posted to the corporate page can work well.

But in training, not everyone wants to do this. That’s fine. The alternative is to spend money through Facebook advertising. But in a time of vanishing budgets that can be a tall order.

Braintree 12-months on

So 12-months on, I went back to Braintree to carry out some research to see what had changed.

The numbers have gone through the roof.

Where in September 2017 there was 579 groups and pages 12-months on this has soared to 1,037. Groups have risen in number by 14 per cent while pages have risen by a staggering 147 per cent.

Likes and memberships of Facebook groups have soared by 57 per cent to just short of 800,000. That’s membership of 14 groups and pages for everyone who lives in Braintree. That’s staggering.

And the village of Coggeshall? There were more than 60 groups and pages last year. In 2018, this was 95.

Public sector and groups

The public sector is starting to get smarter with groups and pages, too.

Across the country, Police are asking admin to post missing person appeals in local groups. Fire services are using groups where there are more women as a recruitment drive for more women. They’re also using groups to reach communities where there is a fire that needs a warning message.

How you can get to grips with groups

Run a search in Facebook for the area you live in. Go and join it. Chip in. You’ll learn something.

Thanks to Jeremy Sharpe for helping with gathering the data.

I’ll be talking about this and how it can work for you at two upcoming workshops. The Essential Digital Skills for Comms workshop in Birmingham on December 6 as well as London on December 9.

Drop me a line






NEW RULES: This what you need to know if you make video, social and web content


Some new regulations have quietly come into force that will have a big impact if you work in public sector comms.

They’re from the people who brought you GDPR but this time with a less snappier title.

The full title is Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.

So, for the purpose of this I’ll just call it the PSBAR, okay?

Nice people at the Government Digital Service have produced a handy explainer here.

I’ve read through them and here’s a few things you’ll need to know. They take EU regulations and enshrine them in UK law.

All public sector comms people need to know about them and how their work is affected.

Why and when they’ve been brought in

They’re being brought in to make content accessible by those who struggle with hearing or sight. It comes from a good place. This came into force on September 23 2018 but don’t panic. This fires the gun on a few things and gives you time to get ready.

What the basic points are

Under PSBAR, your content on the web needs to be ‘percievable, operable, understandable and robust.’

In other words, can a blind or deaf person understand it?

This is seriously bad news for all those misguided people who think uploading a pdf to the web and walking away is a good idea. It isn’t and never has been. Text on pdfs are hard to navigate and are often invisible to search engines.

However, you WILL need an accessibility statement from September 23 2019 for all new websites and also from September 23 2020 for existing ones, too. So, if you look after a website you’ve been advised to pull together a full review of your public sector website to make a plan to make it all accessible and help you meet those deadlines. That means going through your site page-by-page and making a plan to make them accessible.

In other words, goodbye bad pdf.

Some aren’t covered

Schools, nurseries are not covered. So are charities unless they particularly serve the disabled community.  The rest of the public sector is.

How your video content is affected

First, the important news for video creating comms people. You won’t be forced to go back and subtitle thousands of hours of old videos and council meetings.

This is a really important point.


Because there are a set of exemptions.

  • If you are a public sector broadcaster.
  • If you make live video.
  • If your content is up before September 2020.
  • If you have heritage content.

So, the live stream from the council meeting or the Facebook Live behind-the-scenes before the opening of the new museum exhibition are not covered and nor will they be in future.


Hold on.

Basically, what the future will look like after September 23 2020

You’ve also got until September 2020 to adjust to the new way of working by having your content work as both audio-only and sight-only.

For the public sector, apart from schools and nurseries and charities if they particularly serve disabled people:

  • Your live video won’t need subtitles.
  • Your existing video won’t need audio description and subtitles.
  • Your new video after September 23 2020 will need subtitles and a version that gets the information across as audio-only.
  • You’ll still be able to carry on using social media sites. Third party apps like this if you haven’t paid for their development are exempt.

In effect, this may mean you create one video that works for blind and deaf people OR that you create two edits with one having an additional audio track reading out text.

But don’t sit back

While PSBAR doesn’t make you subtitle before September 23 20202, I’d argue that the expectation has been raised. You want to reach as big an audience as possible, right? And let’s not forget that 85 per cent watch video with the sound off. So having some text on the screen will reach more people as will making the key points audio-only, too.

You may want to plan your video differently.


Well, a style of short content making that some news broadcasters excel at can tell the story with text, images and talking heads. This may be something for you to look at.

Website and apps are covered

Check the GDS link that talks you through how this covers intranets and websites for the full nine yards.

Of course, this blog doesn’t constitute formal legal advice. Go talk to your legal team too just to make sure you are all on the same page.

If you are interested in how you can stay ahead and use video yourself or in your team take a look at upcoming workshops in Exeter, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh and London. Or if those dates don’t suit give me a shout 

Picture credit: Wayan Vota / Flickr



30 days of human comms #53 Davis Community face down a hurricane on Facebook

Always when you know human comms when you see it and it can be in unexpected places.

Hurricane Florence caused $38 billion in damage when it swept across the US leaving high rainfall and flooding.

Advice was to evacuate but some places just couldn’t get out.

The Davis Community is a nursing, retirement and care home in Wilmington, North Carolina. The patients and residents couldn’t just jump into a truck and drive off so they battened down the hatches and stayed.

The units kept in touch with the outside world through a number of means but Facebook was a prime way of telling the wider world what was happening.

They did it with professionalism, care, love, humour and a human face. Even when some staff’s homes flooded they stayed with residents. That’s amazing.

Just so you know how we fared during the storm here are a few candid shots of where we stayed and what we did.

Posted by The Davis Community on Sunday, September 16, 2018

Of course, the pictures show staff at work and all hands on deck.

At other times there simply wasn’t the time to photograph what was going on so a basic update did the job.

What was striking was the messages from the family of residents who felt reassured at the care their loved ones were getting.


Big thanks Ben Proctor for spotting this.

VIDEO TALES: Eight videos that show eight ways to make effective comms video


If a picture is 1,000 words then a 60-second video is worth an astounding 1.8 million.

That was the number some research from James McQuivey threw-up.

A thousand words a frame? 30 frames a second? You can see how the digits soon add up.

As a comms person in 2018, I’m fascinated by how this works. I’m always impressed by new approaches.

Here are some that caught my eye.

1. Enlisting a child who wrote a letter

Good feedback is all around. The thank you card on the noticeboard or the letter.

When Wigan Council had a letter from five-year-old Ember they realised they had a star on their hands and made her the star.

Why this works: A five-year-old can tell you something a 45-year-old council officer can’t. Besides, her family mobbed the finished Facebook video when it was posted to like and share it. That’s an army of defacto press officers right there. 

2. A thank you in their own words

As part of a recruitment campaign, Manchester City Council social care staff read a thank you card with a list of nice things people had to say.

Why this works: Reading anonymous feedback gets around GDPR and it shows the team is diverse, varied and make a difference. They’ll also be more inclined to like and share.

3. Celebrating an area

Sefton in the North West is often overshadowed by neighbouring Liverpool. Yet in the urban spread of Bootle and the seaside of Southport there are people and places to be proud about.

Why this works: Using frontline staff gives a human face for the organisation.

4. Going behind the scenes

The US Air Force used to spend 70 per cent on TV ads but has flipped the number to 70 per cent online after experimenting with sixty 15-second and 6-second videos. They know the audience they are after and will serve them a series of ads to build rapport. This led to a 16 per cent rise in people likely to apply.

Why this works: Snackable content served in bite size chunks slowly builds a picture that helps deliver evaluated results.

5. A human story of people whose lives have been helped

Charities have become wary of what has been tagged ‘poverty porn’. You may have seen it. The emaciated child next to the appeal for money. Also out of favour is the white man going to Africa being moved by their plight to solve all their problems.

It’s been a Comic Relief staple for years but is falling out of favour with those who work in the sector.

Charity: Water have taken a different approach and have a maried couple chatting about how fresh water has helped.

Why this works: It feels natural. It feels human. It could be a married couple from Dudley talking about something and above all it comes across as a bit of a love story. There they are Lijale and Alemtsehy. They’re a bit soppy about each other.


6. Focus on the real people to show how the grant has been spent

The Mayor of London’s office used instagram to show how Hackney Wick FC have used money from the Young Londoners Fund. Money has been handed over. But this is far from a cheque presentation picture at City Hall.

Why this works: By showing the players excited faces you can see how the money has made a difference. By over-laying text it reinforces the story. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan  is a supporting actor. Which means he comes across more naturally. And those in the video will like and share.

At City Hall we’re supporting youth projects which bring young people together, and give them fun and safe activities to do over the summer. If you work with a youth organisation, click the link in our bio to use our free toolkit to inspire young Londoners to fulfil their potential.

A post shared by Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan (@mayorofldn) on


7. Stock image to make a warning stand-out

In the run-up to Storm Ali, Coast Guards wanted to warn people not to go near the water. Using pre-shot footage of a Lego character made it stand out.

Why it works: A warning message can come unexpectedly but having stock footage to hand makes it stand out as you scroll through your timeline.

8. A political message with a twist

The attack ad is a staple of the US landscape but this one really stands out.

Why it works: To an audience that puts family at the heart of what they do this makes an impact. Watch it to the end.

Full disclosure: I’ve trained Manchester City Council. Wigan Council and Sefton Council comms staff. Big thanks to Luke Waterfield for spotting the attack ad.

Picture credit: Austin Community College / Flickr.

If you are interested in how you can stay ahead and use video yourself or in your team take a look at upcoming workshops in Exeter, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh and London. Or if those dates don’t suit give me a shout 

LOCAL DIGITAL: Don’t let bright digital ideas be killed by poor comms


It was good to see localgovcamp in its spiritual home Birmingham and with it a surprise. 

Nine years ago at the first, in the first flush of my social media romance it changed how I think and do things. I wasn’t alone. A third of the 28 local government attendees that year quit their job within a few years and set-up their own company.

Reader, I was one of them.

In 2018, much has changed and not just the faces of the attendees.

One big improvement?

A nice surprise

The best surprise of all was that central government has money to reward digital projects. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on the Friday of the two-day event announced how councils could get their hands on £7.5 million.  This is great news and the local digital team from the Ministry are keen this goes to good projects. It was a coup for the event organisers to have a short video with local government minister Rishi Sunak encouraging people at the event to get their thinking cap on.

But one thing does worry me and in the spirit of working in public it is this.

Bad comms kills bright ideas

Anecdotally, new projects fail not because they are not great ideas but because the right people aren’t told about them in the right place at the right time. We’ve all been there and we’ve all seen it.

The new way of registering for a scheme is buried on a 5,000-page website.

The new approach to decision making that fails to tell staff.

We’ve all been there.

Just last week, I was reflecting on how a small thing can make or break a project. It can even be quite analogue.

Good comms can save bright ideas

It doesn’t have to be something big. It can be something small.

The cancer campaign aimed at Afro-Caribbean men which got back on track by targeting their barbers.

The NHS Trust that recruited a Roma-speaker to reach the Roma community. 

In short, bad communications will kill a good idea stone dead and good will save it.

The data says to communicate

In the spirit of insight and data driven decisions here’s some numbers from some work I did a few years ago.

15 per cent of projects succeed with no comms.

82 per cent of projects succeed if comms is thought about at the very start.

The local digital project has an element of training in it but doesn’t have basic communications skills training yet.

Sure, I’d love to help deliver that. It’s what I do. I left local government after eight years to do more in local government.

But most of all, I’d love to see people’s bright ideas not wasted.

Pic credit: Lee Harkis / Twitter

VIDEO LIST: 30 things I know after helping train more than 2,000 people on how to plan, shoot, edit and post effective video

People filming a concert

If you are lucky, there’s a handful of things in your career that you’re really proud of.

I’m lucky. I’m proud of several. I bet you are, too. But one of the things I’m most proud of is helping to develop a workshop to make better use of video that has helped comms, PR, digital, internal comms and frontline people.

It came about through a beautiful mix of data, serendipity and experimenting about three years ago.

I’d been looking at the data at how people in the UK were using video far more but that the quality had lagged.  People had the tech in their pockets with a smartphone but didn’t know how to use it. So, bumping into filmmaker Steven Davies who was talking how to shoot video with a smartphone it made sense. I come at things as a former journalist and comms person. Steve comes at it with a filmmaker’s eye. So we developed the session and we’ve continued to adapt it.

Our sessions give people baby steps and set them on a path. One of our delights is to see someone grow in confidence and do amazing things.

Here are 30 things we’ve learned in training comms people:

  1. You don’t have to be Steven Speilberg. In fact, if the only video you’ve ever shot is by accident, that’s fine.
  2. You need to know the data to help understand why video is important. 80 per cent of the internet will be video by bandwidth by 2019. 78 per cent of the UK population have a smartphone. And 54 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds watch short-form video once a day or more.
  3. You need to know that its not a golden bullet. If the answer is a poster, use a poster.
  4. You need to be able to argue just as effectively against using video as for to be a truly useful comms person.
  5. You need to know where your audience is before you decide to make video. What platform they dictates how long the video should be. The optimum length for Facebook is 15 seconds and for YouTube it is just over three minutes.
  6. You need to know that mobile phones sold in 2018 shoot broadcast quality footage.
  7. You need to know that people watch shaky footage online all the time. If you make content with a few rough edges and you are public or third sector people are unlikely to shout.
  8. You absolutely need to know that video should be one of the core skills that any comms person should have in 208. How to use it and how to make it.
  9. You need to know when you are editing to put your best content at the start. It keeps people watching.
  10. You need to know not to use copyrighted music unless you have permission.
  11. You need to know where to find royalty free music. Here are more than a dozen sites.
  12. You need to read the licence before you use royalty-free music to check what your end of the bargain is. It may be as simple as crediting the author.
  13. You need to know that 85 per cent of video is watched without sound.
  14. You need to know its okay to be creative with video.
  15. You need to know that a man in a suit talking against a wall is more than a million times less interesting that baby ducks on a waterslide.
  16. You need to know how to film using the smartphone in your pocket.
  17. You need to give frontline people the skills so they can shoot when they are out and about with the right training.
  18. You need to know that GDPR affects video, too. You’ll need permission.
  19. You need to relax a little.
  20. You need to practice making video in a risk free environment. So, your cats, your dogs, the view from your commute can all be chopped and edited.
  21. You need to know that snapchat and Instagram stories video is upright and the rest is broadly wide.
  22. You need to know that a video of a GP giving earache advice led to 100 fewer parents bringing their children for an appointment at a single practice.
  23. You need to know that including real people in your video will see more people watch, like and share to their network and friends.
  24. You need to take your video and put it in front of people. Go find the local Facebook group about local history for the video of the new exhibition at your museum.
  25. You need to know that a 35-year-old parent talking about why school gate parking is a bad idea while standing outside a school will cut through to parents far better than someone in a suit in an office.
  26. Your best content is outside an office.
  27. You don’t need a new expensive video camera. You need a smartphone that is ios or android.
  28. You need to know that sound can be a struggle without a microphone. Steve recommends this clip-on one for around £60.
  29. Social video clips are a quite different thing to live video where a different set of rules apply.
  30. You need to relax a little.

If you are interested in how you can stay ahead and use video yourself or in your team take a look at upcoming workshops in Exeter, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh and London. Or if those dates don’t suit give me a shout