NEW FRIENDS: What big changes to Facebook mean for public sector communications

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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.

You can find me @danslee on Twitter and by email dan@comms2point0.co.uk.

Picture credit: Trixi Skywalker / Flickr


6 pieces of content from #ourday I liked

A day a year local government shouts about what it does.

I raise my hat to everyone who took part in the day and created content.

Seven years ago, this was purely a Twitter thing when it started as #walsall24. Over the years the Local Government Association has got involved to support it.

But now that Twitter is the 4th most popular social platform should it just be Twitter? I’m not so sure. If it is true to its aim of reaching people to tell the story of what local government does it needs to find the best platform. Probably, this is an array of platforms.

An additional worry in a discussion on the Public Sector Facebook group is that people struggle to create the time to make #ourday really work. But anecdotally, this does work as internal comms. It also works to encourage service areas to share their stories.

Here are five pieces of content that caught my eye

Radio DJ Nick Grimshaw posting about council gritters on instagram

Nick Grimshaw has 1.3 million followers. He is from Oldham. The winner of their name-a-gritter competition was ‘Nick Grit-shaw’. So, as an Oldham boy made good he shared it with his followers attracting 30,000 likes.

Why is this good? This isn’t the council talking about what they do, it’s a Radio One DJ. That’s far cooler.  

keeping your streets ice-free…. “Nick Grit-Shaw” I’ve made it 😂👋🏼

A post shared by nicholasgrimshaw (@nicholasgrimshaw) on

An interactive be-a-council-officer game

There used to be a cartoon strip called You Are the Ref where you were given a scenario and had to choose the correct outcome. Doncaster Council used Twitter to create a similar scenario only being faced with the challenge a council officer would face. It gave a taste of the difficulty council staff face.

Why is this good? It’s not saying ‘here’s what we do.’ It asks: ‘what would you do?’

A poem set to video

There are 1,200 services that local government does. It’s hard to cover them all. But a video of just over a minute covers much of the ground. Well done Bath & North East Somerset Council.

Why is this good? It uses video so autoplays in your timeline. It covers a range of things in a short space of time.

Hello doggy

The most popular Facebook update wasn’t a council service as such but a lost dog. Of course it was. It was never going to be an engineer filling in a pothole, was it? You can see it here.

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Hello, regular people

One of the benefits of #ourday is putting faces to names and to be able to tell people what they do, as this Derbyshire Dales Council tweet shows.

Why is this good? Because it tells you who those familiar faces are and what they do.

A Periscope broadcast to explain a guided walk

South Cambridgeshire has many attractive places and guided walks encourage older people to step out. Here the council used Twitter’s live streaming app Periscope for a council worker to talk about what the scheme is.

A clip-on mic helps to improve the sound.

Why is this good? Because it is getting out of an office and experimenting with technology.


SHOW, TELL: Great ideas are likely to die if they’re not well communicated

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The earlier you involve your comms team in a new project the more chance it has of being a success.

There’s some stats behind this, too.

If comms are involved in the early planning stage its an 82 per cent chance of success.

If they are involved after the scheme has been approved its 68 per cent.

If comms are called in just before launch its 40 per cent.

If its after launch its 26 per cent.

If its not at all its 15 per cent.

These statistics emerged from a survey from the #commsforchange event I was involved with a while back in the early days of comms2point0. It’s a figure In keep referring back to.

It was a figure that came into my head when I saw the stream from localgovcamp in Bristol last weekend. Loads of great ideas were being kicked around by bright people in local government. Yet, there was very little talk of who to communicate with. That’s not a criticism of the event or the ideas. Far from it. It’s an event that’s very dear to my heart and has shaped what I do today.

But something nagged at me. The landscape is littered with great ideas badly communicated.

And if you want the idea to succeed you need to tell the right people at the right time in the right way.


TRUSTING ME: A quick guide to who, what and how to deliver a better message

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When you’ve got a difficult message to deliver don’t just send out the next cab on the rank. Instead, use a bit of research to send out the best one.

Who is delivering the message is just as important as what they are actually saying.

But when time and effort gets spent on the the words very little gets spent on thinking through who will say them.

Who will say it? And what will they say? Here is a couple of pieces of research that should help guide who will say what for you.

A case study with trees and angry people

Back when I was in the public sector, an issue blew up with trees being cut down on common land. The simple equation was this:

Trees are good, so cutting them down is bad.

That’s a perfectly understandable response. The thing was, it was more complicated than that. IKt boiled down to:

Trees are good but they’re damaging rare heathland.

The offending trees themselves were self-set. In other words, birds had eaten berries and the seeds had ended up germinating where they fell. Trouble is the heath land they had germinated on needs protecting as there isn’t much of it. Sounds technical? It was. Luckily, we had a named countryside ranger who was using social media for the organisation.  So, she was better able to communicate what was happening.

Why? Because she was a trusted individual and an expert in her field. She had also built a relationship with people. What was the alternative? A politician who wouldn’t have had the same clout.

Who will say it? Trust and shooting the messenger

Our reaction depends a great deal on who is sent out of the door to deliver the message.  If we don’t really believe whoever has been sent out we won’t believe what they say. The 2016 Edelman Trust barometer sets out through extensive polling what people think of people with different job titles. See the board of directors on the right? They’re least trusted. Your employee? Markedly more trusted and the person like yourself even more so.

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Who will say it? Trust in politicians is low

Data from Ipsos Mori was posted on Twitter earlier today by Ben Page. If you don’t already do follow him. He’s often insightful. The research shows that politicians are trusted by 15 per cent of the population and nurses and doctors at more than 90 per cent are the most trusted. The research is here:

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The data is useful if you are in the public sector. While many of us would like politicians to be more trusted the hard reality is that they are not. Seeing as that’s the landscape we’re faced with, I’d argue that we need to be more thoughful in the way we deliver messages. The trusted member of staff is likely to be more effective. This also has the spin-off of making the approval process that bit quicker.

Of course, black is not white and there are occasions when a politician fronting up a message is the best route. This is where the small ‘p’ nouse of a comms officer is important.

Who will say it? Content is king

Of course, there’s a chance the message may be better delivered not by an individual but by a piece of content.  The sharable infographic, the video or the image may be the best way to deliver the message. Especially if it is financial data that frankly, is a bit dull. Make the telephone directory come alive in other ways.

What will you say?: Honest communications, please

One last set of data to check before you respond also comes from the UK edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer. It’s about honesty. The research breaks down the population into the informed public and mass. In other words, college educated and high media cosumers and the rest. The stats here are so striking they can’t be avoided. We all want honest communications. My own take on this is that this is messages that are straight and don’t try and pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.

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So, if that message is honest, straight and comes from people who are likely to be trusted, you’ve got a chance.

If you call cuts cuts and not efficiencies you are more likely to cut through. Especially if they are delivered from someone people can trust.

I’m dan@comms2point0.co.uk and @danslee. Shout if I can help. I’ll be co-delivering a workshop on How to Communicate in a Digital World in Edinburgh on December 9, Birmingham on January 24 and Manchester on February 16. More info here.  

Picture credit: Exile on Ontario Street / Flickr 

 

 

 


#OURDAY: One day a year like this to see you right

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It’s the annual local government Twitter event today and it got me thinking.

Five years ago I was part of a team at the first local authority to tweet what they were doing across 24-hours.

We won an award for it. But it wasn’t until 10 minutes before the 7am start time that I really thought it would work when I posted a tweet from the corporate account to say that environmental health officers were investigating a noisey cockerel on a deprived housing estate.

In following years the LGA picked up on it as a model and have run sector-wide events.

I’ve had high hopes for the model to help tell the day-to-day story of all the 1,200 activities that local government does. I’m not at all sure that it has managed to do everything it can. It’s not collectively banged a call-to-action drum for social care, for example. Or for people to join libraries or some other service task.

As Twitter slips from third to 5th most popular social media platform maybe the time is right to expand it in future to other platforms. However that may look. Evolve, adapt, learn, iterate.

But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe its enough purely a chance for local government people to be bold, stand tall, be proud of what they do and celebrate all the day-to-day things that build a bigger picture.

If for one day a year local government people can be proud of themselves and each other then that’s no bad thing. If you’ve taken part, well done. If you’ve persuaded someone else to too, even bigger well done.

Or ‘One day like this a year will see me right,’ as Elbow singer Guy Garvey once sang.

Picture credit: raql / flickr


MEDIA TODAY: ‘We are not in a 24/7 news cycle. We are in a 360-degree, 3D news cycle.’

20564510232_d7215a736d_b“I love newspapers,” legendary Sunday Times editor Harold Evans once said, “But I’m intoxicated by the power and possibility of the internet.”

I get that.

It’s hard not to be a participant or a watcher in the media landscape in 2016 without being fascinated at how fast it evolves.

There was an excellent interview by Alex Spence on political website politico with the outgoing director of communications at the Prime Minister’s Office. Craig Oliver spent six years in the post. Leave politics aside, he has some really useful observations. You can read full post here. Here are a few highlights:

On the changing political media: “The reality is that we are not in a 24/7 news cycle. We are in a 360-degree, 3D news cycle, when news is coming at you all the time, constantly, and the next headline is not the top of the next hour on a 24-hour news station, but in the time it takes for somebody to type out a tweet.”

On which media — TV, radio, newspapers, digital, social — now has most influence on political news: “You’re saying, ‘Is the TV news the most important thing?’, and actually that feels slightly dated as a question. Yes it’s massively important but I still think, what are we saying to the newspapers, what are we saying to the broadcasters, what are we saying to social media, I treat each of those quite equally. They all bleed into each other. Increasingly you have news organisations that do websites, podcasts, vodcasts, you know, essentially mini-TV programs, little videos, little audio bites, it’s all merging together. It’s how are you impacting traditional newspapers, how are you impacting the traditional broadcasters, how are you having an effect on social media and that kind of digital world. It is starting to mesh and move but you still do have to think in each of those three ways about each story.”

On the enduring influence of the newspapers: “Anybody who did this job who didn’t think that newspapers had a very powerful influence on the political debate in this country would not be understanding the situation properly.”

These are points that any comms, PR or social media person needs to understand. It echoes something I’ve been saying for a while. Know your landscape. Know your stats. Don’t be a channel fascist and close things out entirely. Use the best channel. Not the sexiest.

Picture credit: Hakan Dahlstrom / Flickr

 


WATER HERO: Why tweeting from the riverbank frontline works

12253595404_a7240a9652_bSo this, ladies and gentleman, is what I’ve been banging on for years. You give a smartphone and social media access to a frontline worker who ‘gets it’ and gets out of the office and then you sit back.

For the past six weeks swathes of England has been under water with the wettest January for more than 200 years deluging rivers and forcing them to burst their banks.  Platoons of soldiers have been deployed as local government, fire, the Environment Agency and others have battled .

Through it all an army of public sector people have worked on in damp, wet and miserable conditions often without credit or recognition.

One of those is Dave Throup, an Environment Agency manager for Herefordshire and Worcestershire. When the radio need an update it is Dave who is the voice of the agency giving up-to-date updates on river levels, flood risks and advice.

He also uses Twitter to post real time updates that are hyperlocal and county wide. The state of flood barriers in Bewdley, business as usual messages in Ironbridge and advise not to drive through floods. Often they are basic mobile phone pictures like this one:

He’s using basic technology to post real time information at a time when people need it most. He also shares other people’s tweets and blogs here. He posts to Flickr too.

Why is this brilliant?

If you want the science, the Edelman Trust barometer talks of how staff lower down an organisation are trusted more than those at the top. People who are just like you are trusted even more. For communications people, this changes the game and turns on its head everything. To put it simply, the chief executive may not be the best person to front an interview or a campaign. The officer with the smartphone may well be. I say this repeatedly when I’m training people: it’s not enough to do a good job in the public sector in 2014. You need to tell people too. That’s why the people like Morgan Bowers the Walsall Council countryside ranger works really well on social. It’s a real person talking to a real person.

Why is Dave even more brilliant?

Public sector people get a shabby Press. Why? Because it’s always our fault. Often judged by people who proclaim to know the value of everything and the value of nothing and yet far, far more good is done by the public sector than bad. Dave is brilliant because he cares. People get that too. And yet there are so many people in the sector like him but for some reason he’s struck a chord with the folk who have come to rely on the information that he gives.

He’s also got a fan club:

So, here’s to Dave. And everyone in the public sector who does a vital job and that state of mind that elite public sector workers attain to.

Just think about what an army of people like Dave can do for the organisation they work in. Or what they could do for yours.

Creative commons credit

River Severn in flood http://www.flickr.com/photos/davethroup/12253595404/sizes/l/