As the late David Bowie once sang: “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strange.”
Almost five decade old lyrics that can help you navigate the ever changing ever evolving landscape of social media.
Facebook announced a change of direction a few days ago. It came in a blog post from Mark Zuckerburg and it has led to a fair degree of fear and uncertainty. It heralds a new direction for how people will consume content on the channel.
More than 50 per cent of the UK population have a Facebook account, Ofcom say, so an announcement on how your audience will use the channel is hugely important to everyone who wants to use the channel to reach them.
One thing is striking about this announcement. It is light on detail. It is vague in places. Frustratingly so. But after reading a stack of takes on the blog and giving this careful thought here’s a few things that public sector people need to know.
I’ll be talking about these points in more depth and coming up with solutions at SKILLS YOU WILL NEED FOR LIVE VIDEO in London on February 2 and at ESSENTIAL DIGITAL SKILLS FOR COMMS on January 26 in London, on February 15 in Leeds and Birmingham on February 27.
Facebook’s focus will be on friends and family not businesses, brands and organisations like the public sector. What your friends post is going to be dropped into your timeline more often. That’s at the expense of content from organisations. You can count the public sector in that.
Your Facebook page will reach fewer people unless your posts are genuinely engaging. As the squeeze on pages kicks in you’ll reach fewer people through organic posts. The broadcast content that ticks a box for someone? It’ll work even less. Reading what Zuckerburg it needs to be genuinely engaging. So, the Sandwell Council discussion on Snow Champions where people share pictures and discuss where salt can be got looks the best bet. This will need a re-think for many people. It’ll also mean you need to engage.
The public sector person who shares work content to their network will cut through. If friends and family are important to Facebook, the shared message from an employee who lives in the patch will be more important. Of course, this is a fraught area and one where HR have had a field day in recent years. Your policy may not be for people to share work content. You may not even let them during work hours. But the email to the 100 librarians about that library content you’ve posted for them on a Facebook page feels like a sensible thing to do.
The internal comms of social media feels more important. If friends and family are more important, internal comms as a discipline overlaps further with social media. Tapping into staff’s networks of friends and family feels like an optional bonus nice to have. It may only reach small numbers per person. But in a 1,000-strong workforce even half bringing 10 each may represent an audience.
Facebook Groups are more and more and more important. In 2018, your strategy for how you map, search and interact with groups will be mainstream if you want to use Facebook sensibly. This is something I’ve written on before and I’ve been carrying out some detailed research in the field. The Facebook group admin in your area are as important as journalists and other influencers. They have been for some time and the Facebook announcement is a klaxon wake-up to this. Make friends with them where you can. Think what content would work for them. Don’t spam them. The 500 members of the New Parents Facebook group are the right audience for new parent content. Join a group yourself and interact directly.
The new approach can be summarised in this short video. Although it is longer than Facebook’s optimum 21 seconds. But that’s fine.
Facebook Live video will be more important. Zuckerburg talks about the explosion of video as being significant and he’s especially keen on live video. Why? Simple. It carries more interactions. An encouraged route to your audience on pages is live video. This could be a Q&A, a behind the scenes tour. The body of experiment and case study is growing. Learn and add to it.
Facebook engagement rates will go down. That’s not just for the public sector, that’s right across Facebook. This is one of Zuckerburg’s clearest predictions. Lerss time but more valuably spent. So, as you see your stats dip remember that you are not alone, okay?
Facebook advertising feels more important. Advertising is not mentioned through the Zuckerburg post. As an organisation that is highly skilled at extracting cash from business, brands and organisation this is notable. The detail will follow, I’m sure, but I can’t imagine that Facebook won’t turn down the chance of allowing brands to beat the changes by advertising. As blogger Jon Loomer has speculated, this may lead to more competition to get into people’s timelines. This may lead to a spike in costs. Or it may not.
Drive your traffic to email. Greenpeace Unearthed sponsored a Facebook post to encourage people to sign-up to their email list as a way of combating the change. That’s a natty approach. Credit to Jo Walters in spotting that.
That’s not the end for your Facebook page. This may be the start of using it more creatively and using it as one element of your overall Facebook strategy that inckudes groups, pages and internal comms and a higher barrier for posting better content.
Picture credit: Trixi Skywalker / Flickr
For the past few years I’ve blogged at the end of the year some predictions. For 2018, here are some more.
The broad trend is one of rapid change and a broad shift to more visual ways to communicate with people… who are consuming more visually, on mobile and on-the-go.
Get Facebook right and you’ll be a long way to cracking your comms. It won’t be the answer to everything but it is so big and so all encompassing for people that it is comfortably the biggest platform, the largest way people get their news and understand what is happening in their friends’ lives.
The Facebook group admins who communicate with your audience have already become as important as journalists. Groups have grown in importance. Get to know them. Join them. Build bridges with the admin. See if you can work with them. As Facebook pages get more money driven their importance rises. They can challenge fake news about you because they are often where it starts.
Technology is outpacing the public sector massively. This worries me. In the mid-1990s mobile phones became a mainstream Christmas present. They became part of how people communicated to become the dominant platform it is today. Today, the best organisations for years have been experimenting with voice recognition, artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality. Amazon Echo and Google Home have led the breakthrough shifting units for Christmas 2017. And where is the public sector with this trend? Nowhere. This very soon will be a comms issue.
Bad video is not good video.‘Can we have a video’ has replaced the request for a Twitter account as the request from those in service areas who think they can do your job. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. ‘What do you want to achieve?’ remains the response to the request for a video. Or a Twitter account.
Go beyond your Facebook page. Far, far, far beyond. If you think posting to a page and leaving it there is reaching your audience you are almost certainly wrong. Navigate across Facebook as your page to visit other pages. Cross post your page update to groups.
Re-balance from broadcasting by being human. After 12-months of social media reviews, the baked-in problem remains treating social media like a broadcast channel to make it work better. Calls to action should be 20 per cent of your content to be most effective.
Specialist generalists. In the NHS and other areas, the specialist or generalist debate continues as teams shrink. The answer is comms people should be specialist generalists. They should be really good at two or three niche things and have some core skills. But no-one should have the monopoly on anything.
Not keeping pace is dangerous for your organisation. The cost of falling behind with how people want to consume media is that your organisation will be at best irrelevant and at worst seen to be actively not caring.
GIFs and threads will become expected. THREAD. How Twitter threads changed. 1. First there was the tweet. 2. Then the tweet got longer. 3. But words are inherently a bit dull. 4. So the animated GIF started to be used more. 5. And the thread which links tweets together. Keep reading, okay? 6. This is all part of a wider trend to move from text to images and video.
Twitter continues to wither. Twitter is a channel to reach PR people and journalists brilliantly. But increasingly not residents. Three years ago, it was the third largest channel in the UK, Ofcom says. In 2017, it has slipped to fifth. Against a background of hate and fake news, this trend with carry on. Good on Twitter? Fine. What else are you good at?
Social media is becoming less social. In part, fueled by the Trump effect but in part by sharing fatigue, social media will become less broadly social and more splintered into places where small groups of like-minded people will exist. No, I’m not sure that’s healthy. But that’s what will happen.
Becoming digital first. If you haven’t already work out how you’ll need to work out how to respond as an organisation to a mis-truth posted in a village Facebook group that is picked up by a newspaper Twitter account. You don’t have 24-hours to get back. You can’t leave that person in a meeting. They need to respond now. But they need to understand why they have to respond, first. That’s best done in peacetime.
Video continues to rise. It’s more than 80 per cent of the internet. This is an easy prediction to make.
Live video continues to rise. The public sector has been left behind by media companies in this field but will continue to catch-up.
360 images and virtual reality grow as part of the landscape. Where short video was once daring, the daring use of virtual reality content will continue to grow.
The need to demonstrate results grows ever more important. Again, an easy prediction to make.
There will be another terrorist outrage and comms teams need to be kind to themselves. London and Manchester suffered in 2017. They showed some of the best public sector communications I’ve ever seen. They also came with lessons from those involved. Yes, accept offers of help from day one. Yes, this will affect the mental health of you and your team.
Brexit will affect everyone. Teams in London are already feeling the effect of EU staff leaving. But the predicted economic effect will hit public sector organisations too. That means comms teams going through more austerity challenge. So, get good. Or get so small you can barely answer the phone.
Internal comms reaches crisis point. We’ve gone as far as we can with 2003-era intranets which have become a repository for pdfs. The public sector keeps its head above water through the good will of staff alone. The organisation that fails to take seriously how it talks to its staff will reap the results. The comms team that spells out the risks and leads a renewal of channels will reap the benefits.
The comms person who stands still won’t get a new job in two years. If you don’t learn you really will get left behind. Who needs a fax-operating press release writing envelope-stuffer in 2018?
Income targets will remain a minority burden on comms teams. But the trend will be slowly upwards bouyed by some success stories.
If you fail to change what you do, your life WILL get harder. This will mean changing how you do things, I know. As a team and as an individual. This will take time. But it is time you need to spend. Change the supertanker. Please. It’s more fun than hitting the rocks.
Predictions for 2017: How did I do last year?
Things I got right
Zombie comms teams did rise. The risk of being leant on by politicians did increase. Teams remain too old and there remains a recruitment gap. Educating the client remains the most important thing to do in a changing world. Post-truth remains an important problem. Facebook groups did become more important.
Things I got half right
Did the rise of dark social leave comms teams flat-footed? Dark social is things like whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. Platforms that link a few people together but can’t be searched. Thing is, I don’t think most teams even realise how large dark social has become to even become flat-footed. Twitter did wither but LinkedIn didn’t charge up the table. Press offices have transformed and changed title at a fast pace.
Things I didn’t get right
Merged comms teams that bring NHS, fire, council and police together haven’t happened. Yet. Although fire and police in some places have joined together.
Have a good 2018 and lets be careful out there.
30 days of human comms: day #16 Queensland Ambulance Service takes a dying patient to see the ocean a final timePosted: November 24, 2017 | |
This is beautiful.
A dying patient asks to see the sea a final time and an ambulance driver takes a small detour.
Anyone who has lost a loved one can feel this.
Anyone who is human can see this as pure gold. Not as a piece of comms but as a gesture to make a dying wish complete.
What makes this that bit more special is that it moved from being an anecdote at the water cooler to a perfectly weighted piece of communications that works beautifully. It works because it is not contrived and not staged.
It reminds me, funnily enough, of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. They were determined to shed their post-Hillsborough disaster bunker mentality by a new approach. It was simply ‘do the right thing’.
As the post says, sometimes you don’t need drugs to do a good job just empathy.
Be more human.
It seems as though the noose is tightening around Facebook pages that are run by a overlooked-until-now dodgy practice.
Many people in the past created a separate work profile. They did this because they wanted to keep work and play separate. Often this second account just had the word ‘work’ added to it.
How this dodgy practice works
So John Smith had his ‘John Smith’ account. He also created ‘John Smith Work’ as a way of logging onto the corporate page. Cunning, yes?
Well, not that cunning at all. Not least because it is obvious even to Inspector Clouseau that this is a second account. And before you dash-off to create thinking a John Brown account is an even safer bet don’t. But Brown, you think. That’s not my name. They’ll never guess. Actually, Facebook are really good at spotting through an algorithm accounts with few friends that just happen to be a page admin.
Why Facebook are doing this
You may have noticed but Facebook and others have been getting it in the neck for their role in ‘fake news’. Governments don’t like them. Nor do users. Accounts that are clearly fake are the first steps to tackle this. The platform have agreed to act. Fake users are first in the queue.
But you’re blue in the face
Of course, the wise people know that they need to change. They’ve even argued for the need to. Many have persuaded people that this is the best course of action.
But even then some people don’t want to change.
The common arguments are:
I don’t want people from work being my friends.
I’d rather keep work and family seperate.
I won’t add my real Facebook profile.
In the olden days, they may have had a point. But no-one can see who is the admin of a page. You don’t have to accept friend requests.
An approach: It’s time to get serious
I’ve noticed a very heated debate on the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group flagging up the issue.
Firstly, tell are admins you want your page not to break Facebook’s terms and conditions. Tell them their access may be removed without warning. This is an issue if you all have fake John Smith Work accounts. Tell people you are moving everyone to Facebook Business Manager. You’ll need a profile. It just makes the day-to-day tasks easier.
If people still say no, you may have to trim down the number of admins who are effectively posing a risk to your page. If some people don’t want to, they may just have to have ‘managing Facebook pages’ off their CV.
Go and tell the person in your organisation who is responsible for information governance of the broader issue. See what they think. They’ll agree with you.
Go and tell the emergency planning team what they think. They’ll agree with you, too.
Take these opinions, this blog and your opinion to your manager, manager’s manager and chief executive if you have to. Set out to them in writing the reasons why ‘fake’ profiles are a danger to your organisation. If you have to, list the people who have fake profiles in your organisation. List the people who don’t. Explain that you need everyone to either have a real profile or be taken off admin to the Facebook page.
You have flagged-up the risk.
You have shared the risk.
When Facebook catch you – note, not ‘if’ but ‘when’ – you have an audit trail without which you’ll be pretty exposed. Who knows. The process may even get some movement.
It sounds drastic, but it’s not as drastic as access to your corporate Facebook page being lost overnight.
Picture credit: Michael Coghlan / Flickr.
Something rather marvellous happened on the train this morning.
Free coffee? WiFi that worked? No, I found that Facebook groups now have insights. Lots of them. And yes, I do know being the grinning man in the carriage sounds a bit sad. But bear with me.
Why is this marvellous? Because it shows that Facebook is taking them more seriously and if you haven’t already it is time to sit up and take notice.
As is reported, Mark Zuckerburg sees groups as central to the future of the platform. Why? They can offer more meaningful interactions. He’s right.
What are Facebook groups and why should you care?
Groups have long been a Cinderella corner of Facebook. Anyone can start a group. They’re a lot more democratic than pages. They are rallying points around a common theme. A village. A town. A football club. They can be big or small. There is a simple guide here.
Importantly, they don’t yet suffer from Facebook zero. You also get to see posts in chronological order.
You should care because they are quietly being used more and more by people. In my experience, an average sized borough of 250,000 can expect to have 2,000 Facebook groups and pages. That’s a serious set of numbers. I’ve blogged on this before.
What do the Facebook group analytics look like?
Data tracks back up to 60 days and logs new members, top contributors, comments, posts and reactions. The Public Sector Facebook Group that I started earlier in the year shows, for example, a staggering 7,500 interactions in the last 28 days.
Sure, they’re not as advanced as pages. You don’t get a age group breakdown. But you do find out what day of the week is busiest. For my group? 9pm on a Wednesday.
What groups are you in?
There’s a good chance you’ll be in a Facebook group. Me? I’m in a number. A Stone Roses fan group, one for the area I live, a Down’s Syndrome support group that my brother runs, a virtual reality video group, a freelance PR ghroup and others.
But what can communicators do with groups?
All this got me thinking. The trajectory of Facebook is projected to carry on rising with 41.3 million UK users by 2021. And with groups playing a key role they need to be taken as seriously as a press release or Facebook advertising.
- Community groups and pages
If you want to reach a sub-set of a community there is now a chance that a Facebook group is the best way to reach them. If you are in Birmingham and want to reach Poles this Facebook group may be part of the solution, for example. Similarly, local history and heritage in Telford have a group with 19,000 members. Those two are not one offs. The country is criss-crossed with groups around sub-areas.
You’re too busy to talk to all of them? Sure. I get that. But if you have content you want to put before one of these communities suddenly they are relevant.
- A support group
The Brain Tumour Charity have three Facebook groups depending on what you need. There’s a general one, one for parents and one for carers. What the organisation are doing is providing a space for people to talk and standing back. They don’t drive the content. People do.
- As a way of connecting the team
Facebook Workplace is coming down the track. This is the platform’s way of creating a company-wide way of talking to each other. For non-profits it is free but at $3 per user per month I’m not sure that the Public Sector can stretch to that. Actually, I am sure. It can’t. But re-creating the groups feature amongst a team on a project or a comms team may be useful.
- As a way of consulting
Sometimes, we need to listen to what people are saying. This may be to better shape a scheme or see what people think about budget cuts. If there is already a forum for this, then use that. If there isn’t, and if it can be updated regularly a group may be a way to keep people informed.
A different mindset
Fundamentally, Facebook groups are people coming together to talk about a common interest. That’s different to the traditional comms method of broadcasting. They’re not recepticles for all your content. They are about building a relationship with the group admin and the people in the group.
A different approach
Cumbria County Council have made friends with the admin of a group with 100,000 members and invite him to post content on their behalf. Tom Gannon has blogged on the subject here. This is brilliant. This is the way to go. A decent number like that has clear scale. But there will be times when you need to reach new mums, residents on an estate or the Polish community.
Nobody expects you to know all the 2,000 groups and pages in your area. But you can start by knowing the big ones and by making a search every time you post content.
I had this amazing moment of revelation just recently really that I want to share with you. It’s about Facebook.
Yes, I know you know about Facebook. But stick with me. Of course you know Facebook’s numbers are big. In the UK, Ofcom say that 38.9 million adults use the site regularly. That’s a lot of cute cat videos and holiday photos.
You know all this and so do I. But what I hadn’t done was fully realise just how Facebook was being used by people until I started to look at my own doorstep.
Facebook in my own community
I live in Quarry Bank, near Stourbridge in the West Midlands. Locals have a strong Black Country accent. It’s known locally as ‘Quarry Bonk’. It’s an overgrown village that merged more than a century ago into its neighbours but has somehow retained a sense of its own identity. There’s a high school, a High Street with three butchers. There’s two curry houses and a Labour and a Conservative club.
There’s a Facebook page called ‘The Only Way is Quarry Bank and Brierley Hill’ with 4,258 people liking it. There is 26,000 people in the two areas it covers which means around more than one in ten who live here have liked this page.
Using Facebook’s own search tools I found 16 pages and 14 groups for Quarry Bank ranging from the history group (225 likes), scouts (148), buy and sell (4,623) and a comprehensive school old school friends 1974 to 1981 (70 likes.)
Community pages are bigger than the community newspaper
It got me thinking. How does that compare with those who have liked the local daily paper the Express & Star? Just counting the four Black Country boroughs with 1.1 million residents the 100,000 likes the newspaper has accounts for slightly less than 10 per cent. So in my area ‘The Only Way is Quarry Bank and Brierley Hill’ is bigger than the newspaper.
And my community isn’t unique
Running a search for Dudley – the borough where I live – found a pile more. In all 102 groups and 42 pages. In the Amblecote ward of Dudley 54 pages and groups and in Gornal 85. In Stourbridge, there are 79 pages and 237 groups These are serious numbers and it all adds up to a conclusion: People are on Facebook in numbers. They are using pages and groups. If you want to talk to them you need to go to the pages and groups.
Every community is hyperlocal
Where I live is typical. Every community has a patchwork of Facebook groups and pages from community pages to clubs, societies, pubs, parks. The village to the estate, the town and the city.
Much work has been done around hyperlocal news sites. People who live in Stone in Staffordshire, for example, have A Little Bit of Stone with a website, Facebook page and Twitter or a blogger like Brownhills Bob. But not every community has people aggregating and writing local news. What they do have are a network of Facebook pages and groups that is hidden in plain site.
You need to take a look for yourself
Don’t believe me? Go to your Facebook profile. Put a ward, village, town or community in the search box. Then click on pages to see the pages. Then do the same with groups. You may be surprised.
What this means for public sector comms people
If people are on Facebook comms people need to talk to them on Facebook. You’ll know you may need a page. But is chucking your content up onto that page as you produce it really the answer?
Some public sector Facebook pages do work. The Isles of Scilly page grew to 57,000 likes driven by Sgt Colin Taylor’s human voice. Sandwell Council’s pagewith 22,000 is a fine example and the DVSA’s page aimed at learner drivers I Can’t Wait To Pass My Driving Test with 57,000 likes also hits the mark. But if you are honest does yours? Does your council’s? Or fire service? Or housing trust?
Public sector organisations have put a toe in the water with Facebook but they’ve not dived in. They are sat on the side waiting for people to swim over to them when there’s usually more fun to be had elsewhere.
What your 2017 Facebook strategy should look like
Yes, you might need your own page. Organisations are encouraged down this path by a trail of sweets provided by insights, the ability to create adds and post on other pages. But with Facebook reducing the reach of your updates suddenly, this isn’t so attractive.
Yes, you might need your own group. The benefit of this is a greater reach, the ability to create closed groups to limit access. The downside is that you post as an individual.
No, you can’t create a work profile for yourself. Facebook’s terms and conditions are clear that you are only allowed one profile.
So, ideally, people from your organisation should be using their own profile to join groups and pages and add content as themselves. This is a step which some may be reluctant to make. I get this.
But the benefits of using Facebook as yourself is that you become a human being again not a job title and by doing so you can talk to far more people. Back in the day Al Smith pioneered this approach when he was at Newcastle City Council and Tim Lloyd did something similar when he was working in government digital comms. This isn’t new.
Turn off the firehose, turn on your brain
You shouldn’t turn the firehose of your content into spamming pages and groups with your content. Nor should you just chase numbers, either. If a local history group has 50 members with many who all look over 40 they may not object to being told about a flu jab, if that’s your task. Similarly, a community group with 1,000 people may want to know about a plan to change the road layout.
Tips to put this into practice
Make it routine that you make a search on Facebook when you are looking to communicate. Something to say about cycling? Look for a cycling group. Changes to a community? Look for the groups and pages from that community.
Run a review of pages in the area you serve. Log a cross section to show colleagues.
Try and trial posting content as yourself to groups and pages.
None of this is straight forward. It’s messy and it may not work if an admin from a group or page doesn’t want you there. But that’s fine.
But by diving into Facebook and going to where people are you may be surprised.
Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.
How much difference does it make to add a picture to a Facebook update? Lots. Or to be more precise 147 per cent.
That was the figure when we posted two updates within minutes on a broadly similar subject.
The first celebrated a Britain in Bloom win for towns in Walsall Council’s boundaries with a picture of flowers in Aldridge drew 37 shares, 88 likes and an audience of 3,,508 on the authority’s Facebook page. I’d be the first to admit that this image isn’t the most arresting in the world. But it says both place and colour and that’s enough.
The second posted without a picture a few minutes later celebrated recognition in the same competition for a school and nine pubs. That drew four shares and 12 likes with a reach of 1,415.
Okay, the subject matter is slightly different: towns compared with school children and popular pubs. But there’s enough there to draw some conclusions.
It’s an approach that the ECB takes when the England Test team are playing. It’s something I’ve written about before. Rather than just posting a text score update they post an image of the man of the moment with text too.
If you can, adding text through a simple picture editing tool is a great idea. A phone number or a message works. For that you can use Google’s own Picasa3 software.
What do the numbers teach us?
Firstly, sharable content is important on Facebook and in this case so is a celebratory upbeat message.
Secondly, people are really keen to share messages. Obvious. But it’s important to remember this.
Thirdly, having a stack of pictures available to you is helpful.
But where do you source pictures?
This is potentially a bit of a minefield. No, you can’t go to Google images right click and save. Copyright applies to images online just as much as they do online and people have ended up in hot water. Google also allows people to search for a specific image online so if you think you’ll be safe hiding in the fire hose of information that is the web think again.
Your image library?
The basic fact under the 1988 Copyright and Designs Act is that when someone takes a picture they retain copyright. Even if you have paid them. If you’ve, say, commissioned a freelance photographer to take some shots of a night market you are buying a licence to use them for a specific purpose. That can be as broad as marketing and promotion on your website, in print and with the local paper. It may not include social media and you’ll need to check this with the photographer. This NUJ link on copyright and photography is helpful.
And by your own I mean one that you’ve taken yourself with your smartphone or camera. Handy if you have time and ability. Not so good if you need an image of flowers in a town centre at a moment’s notice.
One of the great things about the social web is the ability to share. Creative Commons licences are licences which a photographer – amateur or professional – can attach to an image when they post it onto an image library. They’re basically saying that they’re happy for their image to be re-used under certain laid out conditions. The US government, for example, releases virtually all images with a creative commons licence.
So where do I go for creative commons images?
Without doubt the best place on the web is compfight.com. This is a site which works with Flickr’s API to search for key phrases and words. It also searches through a variety of filters from the non-creative commons to the creative commons to the most liberal of all – commercial creative commons which allows a broader re-use.
It’s not great for specific locations, I admit. There’s a handful of images creative commons for Walsall, for example. But it comes into its own when you need a stocjk pic, like boxing gloves, a coffee cup or clouds in a sky.
It’s a brilliant site. But please, don’t forget to attribute and share where the picture has come from. It’s what makes the social web work.
Legal disclaimer: Always, if you need specific legal advice go and see a lawyer rather than base it on this or any other online advice.