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.
More than a fifth of Facebook users have used the new live feature and the numbers are growing.
Back in 1952, the BBC used every camera at their disposal to cover the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Today, it would take one person with a smartphone to start a basic coverage of the occasion.
For the last two years, I’ve helped deliver video skills for comms training. Just lately, we’ve also offered skills and advice on how to use live social media broadcasts. It’s been fascinating to think how this can be used.
1. For election results.
2. For a behind the scenes tour of the art gallery.
3. For an advance view of the new exhibition.
4. For a Q&A on why you should apply for a job here.
5. For a first hand realtime walk through a scenic beauty spot.
6. For a tour of potential redevelopment sites with planning and regeneration sites.
7. For a trip to the top of the bell tower with a local historian.
8. For a public open day where you are demonstrating what you do.
9. For a public meeting with an opportunity to ask a question.
10. For a workshop on how to complete an application for a school place.
11. For consultation with residents in a geographic area where something new may happen.
12. For an explanation of what things you can do as a carer of a loved one who is struggling to get about.
13. For an explanation about what keep fit moves you can do in the comfort of your own home.
14. For a press conference.
15. For a talent competition.
16. In an emergency to keep people updated.
17. For a behind-the-scenes tour of a fire station with some fire safety advice.
19. For the view from the top of a mountain or hill.
20. For an event in a park.
21. For an event in the street.
22. For a street party.
23. For a tour of the museum stores.
24. For a an author visit to a library.
25. For a tour of the farm or urban farm.
26. For a chance to hear what the budget may entail.
26. For a Q&A on what council services a new parent may need.
27. For tips on how to encourage wildlife in your garden
28. For a walk around the town centre with a history expert.
29. For musical performances as part of a talent show.
30. For an explanation about what bin to use for recycling.
31. For a civic celebration.
32. For a tour of the Mayor’s Parlour.
33. For an update on what work has been done to protect a community from flooding.
34. For a tour of a river that’s been improved for wildlife with a wildlife expert.
35. For a chance to meet and ask questions of a senior politician, official or police officer.
Yes, you will have to think about live video on election night
Yet again, the most important night of the year for local government comms is almost upon us… election night.
Get it wrong and the whole world sees.
Get it right you can breathe a deep sigh of relief and the politicians will be impressed.
It’s also a night where you can push the boat out a little and try new things. Facebook made its debut in 2009 as an upstart. Now results on social media is expected. Lately, there’s been experiments with whatsapp and other channels.
If you want to experiment with a channel this is the night to do it.
What you need to know about live video
Live streaming has taken a massive leap forward in recent months. A fifth of Facebook users have used Facebook Live. An audience of 102,000 watched the multi-faith vigil in Manchester in the wake of the city’s bomb attack. More than 200,000 watched while bomb disposal experts worked to explode a 500 lb Second World War bomb. Another 9,000 watched the Birmingham City Council Leader talk about budget proposals. All of those are local government issues.
Anyone can broadcast live. All you need is the Periscope app for Twitter or a Facebook account, a smartphone or a PC with a webcam. This could be a journalist, a political campaigner or a council media officer.
If you’re NOT thinking of live video… others are
One time, a broadcast journalist turned up at the count I was working at as a comms officer. He demanded to take pictures for his website too. Blindsided, the Returning Officer refused and a heated row took place. The journalist was within their rights to ask. The Returning Officer was entitled to point the individual to the spot where he could take the pictures.
The incident taught me that forward planning on election night can be invaluable.
You may not be planning on using a live video. Bet your bottom dollar a journalist will be. Only they’ll turn up on the night and want to start filming.
Here’s what they’ll want to know:
- Where will they be allowed to film?
- Is there a WiFi signal?
- What are the acoustics like?
So, forward plan. Do this ahead of time not on the night. You’ll talking to journalists for accreditation. Talk to the elections team. Check out the venue. Have the answers to the questions. Invite journalists to arrange a test broadcast ahead of time to check a few things out.
If you are thinking of live video…. Plan ahead
We’ve started to offer Live Video skills training with Steven Davies and Sophie Edwards and its got me thinking about how local government can use it.
Don’t make election night the first time you use a live broadcast. Try it out at something vanilla. A library author visit. A guided walk around a beauty spot.
Pick which channel you’ll use. Where are your audience? If you have a massive Twitter following and only a handful on Facebook think about the channel. How can you best reach people?
Get the tech right. You’ll need at least one fully charged smartphone that’s logged into your channel of choice. You’ll need to rely on robust WiFi and I’d be tempted to take your own. A phone hotspot or a MiFi can do the job. Don’t trust the venue WiFi. The world and their dog will be trying to get on it. Take a power bank too just to be on the safe side.
Talk to elections. Where can you physically stand to broadcast yourself? At the back of an echoey hall? Or at the front next to people shouting? Negotiate a place where the sound quality works.
Test it out. Take your phone and your WiFi hotspot and try it out a few days beforehand. Does it work? Is there a data blackspot which kills phone signals? You can broadcast live to yourself. Set the audience you want to reach before you go live.
Sound will make or break it. Poor sound and people will be confused and irritated. Sound is even more important than pictures. See if there’s a place you can sand that can be the best it can be. Next to a speaker? Can you use an audio jack from the venue sound system?
Have someone covering your back. As this politician found out to their cost, an organised group of trolls who each complained there was no sound scuppered a Periscope broadcast. Have someone trusted watching to give you the thumbs up. Or let you know if your thumb is over the lense.
Be clear on what you’ll do and won’t do. If you go for it, brilliant. But set out ahead of time what you’ll do and won’t do. Yes, you’ll live broadcast the result and acceptance speeches. No, you won’t be doing one-to-one interviews with candidates who can use the platform to take down / praise the Government. Set this out ahead of time. In writing. Plan for this.
One long broadcast or individual ones? At a General Election its straight forward. There’s often just the one result. But local elections are more complicated. Me? I’d be interested in the ward where I live. Other wards? Less so. Multiple clips would work for me. What do your residents think?
Tell people you are going live. One tip from Facebook and Twitter is to tell people and big-up the broadcast. Tricky in an election when there’s a third recount. But see if you can give a broad estimated window. Check our Facebook from 2am onwards is fine.
Think safety and security. The BBC have guidelines for live broadcasts which takes account the safety of its staff and security. Here, may you face the risk of an uninvited person going on an unscheduled tirade at your camera? It’s possible. Would having a colleague with you as you film help? Be prepared to stop the broadcast if you are cornered.
Live lives after you’ve been live. Once you’ve finished, promote the heck out of it in the morning to catch those people not awake. The audience after the event is often bigger than watching it live.
Live is going to be an important part of how election results are communicated. The technology is there. The audience too. It’s worth learning the lessons early.
A few weeks ago I blogged about press releases and asked people to educate themselves as to how effective they now are.
In a digital landscape, the 300-word missive in crisp journalese is now one arrow in a stuffed quiver, was the thrust of the piece. Often, it is demanded. But I’m convinced that your job as a comms person is to see how effective they are.
The response? Marked. Indignant people spoke in its defence. It remains the cornerstone, they said. Others, saw that other tools were often more effective and it was no longer the ‘go to.’ The Model T Ford of the comms armoury.
But in 2017, how are people using it? A quick un-scientific surveymonkey showed that people were keen to have a say… almost 250 took part.
Press releases remain… for the significant things
It’s clear that for the big set-piece announcements a press release is still part of the furniture. The survey said that 97 per cent issued such a text for something significant. In itself, that’s significant.
But press releases are phasing out for the less significant
Asked whether they are being used more, less or the same, the answers showed a clear path.
Half – 52 per cent – are using press releases in the same number but 44 per cent are using them less and a trend-bucking four per cent are using more of them.
They remain part of the comms mix
Almost averyone thinks that they should remain as one the parts of the comms mix with 95 per cent agreeing and three per cent disagreeing.
I don’t disagree with that. It is no longer the only show in town. As ever, the right channel in the right place for the right audience.
That’s where we are, how are people consuming the media?
Of course, a snapshot of where PR people are is only part of the picture. Where are people? Research from Ofcom shows that people spend around eight hours a day consuming the media. How much time is spent consuming newspapers print and web? Fifteen minutes. I’ve blogged that newspapers – or should I say media organisations – have a future. But the 15 minutes figure is striking.
What was also encouraging was talk of new uses of technology. The Saturday night sports paper the Sports Argus folded 11-years ago. The pre-internet queues I recall in newsagents for their delivery are now a memory for people aged over 40. But as the broadcast pointed out, the last edition of the Argus couldn’t carry that night’s FA Cup Final score. So a podcast, video content and sports coverage that is more fan-centric is now the order.
Data is being used more and more to look at the stories that people like, the broadcast said.
A story that’s big on a Trinity Mirror title in Newcastle, for example, can be be a pointer for what could be big in Birmingham too.
And yet, older newspaper people will turn in their graves at complaints made in the broadcast about spelling mistakes slipping into content. They’ll be even more dismayed at the level of trolling that can sometimes pollute comment boxes and Facebook threads. This is a bigger issue than many people realise. This is an issue not just for newspapers but for civic life as well.
Video is the driver for engaging newspaper content.
What did strike me was the use of video by newspapers.
Ben Hurst, Post & Mail news editor responsible for video content, in the Facebook Live broadcast said something telling:
About 12 months ago we were barely doing any video. The rise of the smartphone means that if someone is on the scene they won’t just take a still pic. They’ll take footage. It’s completely changed everything operates.
But not just recorded video is playing a part. Live broadcasts on social channels are becoming increasingly part of the media company’s armoury. Reporters are rarely first on the scene with a smartphone to shoot footage but people are. Ben was open about the fact that they are open to use people’s content.
What does this means for comms people?
It means that newspapers are still in the game. Only they’re not newspapers anymore. They are media companies. They’re not the only game in town anymore either. But they are starting to re-invent themselves.
What do you do if you are comms and PR?
It means taking a look at the content you generate. A press release with text is less effective in a landscape where newsrooms want footage and images. Text at news stands shaped by an editor’s news sense once sold newspapers. Today, content refined by data and often driven by video drives the money-creating job sustaining traffic for media companies.
As newspapers adapt so should comms people.
Picture credit: Michael Coghlan / Flickr.