Looking at what’s coming down the track in 2019 for public sector comms people Brexit came shining through.
But what’s to do?
Wait for the worst?
Cover your ears and say ‘la, la, la, la?’
Actually, if you’re in public sector comms there’s stacks you need to do.
While I blogged it briefly in my predictions for 2019 here are some detailed things you can do if you are local or central government, blue light or NHS.
Brexit risks for comms people
Government, frontline police and others have warned consistently of the risk of civil disorder, shortages of medicine, through to nursing shortages. In areas such as Kent emergency planning to keep Dover as to close to moving as possible have been set out.
You may get opposition from politicians in your organisation who think this is scaremongering. But it is far wiser plan for the eventuality.
I do think that the biggest headaches of 2019 for the UK public sector will be directly or indirectly Brexit related. From the the hard and direct impact of traffic problems and food shortages all the way through to soft impact recruitment drives as some posts are harder to fill.
As a comms person, you are not there to debate the rights or wrongs of Brexit but to look dispassionately at how it can impact on your organisation.
Much of this is emergency comms but a fair chunk isn’t. It’s day-to-day. As sure as rain, the impact of Brexit will find a way you reach you and shape your workload. So here’s a few things to get in place.
Get the right kit
I’m astounded 15 years on from the launch of Facebook that people don’t have the right equipment. I’ve met central government comms people with iphones that bar apps and Police who can’t use social media on their tablets in an emergency.
Brexit is a critical opportunity to upgrade your kit so you can actually do your job.
The simple question you must answer is this: ‘Can I communicate in realtime away from the office?’
For this your need android or ios devices that can handle your email, create content and post it to social media on the move.
You absolutely categorically don’t need Windows devices or blackberries that can’t help you do all that.
But the business case. If you need to, get your emergency planners to sign-off against the need for kit in black and white. If and when the balloon goes up you don’t want the finger pointed at you.
Have a look in the constitution to see if there are supporting lines about using the right equipment. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find. Trust me.
Have a look at your policies. Cut and paste the policy that says you’re a digital organisation that makes data-led decisions. You know the kind of thing.
You can build a business case by playing back to the organisation what the organisation has previously said.
Then have a look at some of the government warnings.
2. Get the right content creation skills
Know how to shoot video and post it in real-time.
Disclaimer: I’ve been helping to deliver training for the last four years, so I would say this wouldn’t I? But, the thing is video is more trusted than pictures and much, more trusted than text. If you need to get something out, get it out.
Video is more engaging than words by at least a third.
Here’s an example of Periscope from West Midlands Fire Service:
Update from Wednesfield fire https://t.co/XZsdhIYqfp
— West Midlands Fire (@WestMidsFire) January 1, 2019
What does it do? It spells out that there is a fire, that the fire crew are on it and what they are doing. It warns and informs in realtime.
Failing this, an image can help you communicate in realtime.
3. Post to Twitter and Facebook groups
Posting to Twitter has been default since the 2011 riots. You reach people quickly and you reach the journalists and opinion formers.
But my strong advice for 2018 is to look for the relevant Facebook group too. This is from an open Guildford Facebook group hours after the murder of a man in front of his son on a train.
People are where they are on the web not where you want them to be.
4. Build relationships with the right people
Each area has a Local Resilience Forums that helps codify the response on who does what. You can find a list here. The stabbing at Manchester Victoria railway station showed this. In a police-led incident they led the online communications.
I will be doing a statement to the media very shortly in relation to last night’s horrific attack at Manchester Victoria station.
— Chief Constable Ian Hopkins (@CCIanHopkins) January 1, 2019
Get to know people in peacetime so you are able to act when the cars are on fire.
5. Refresh your emergency planning comms plan
All public sector organisations need a document that says how they’ll communicate in an emergency.
Go and re-write yours to make it 2019-proof.
If there’s a major incident there may be a public enquiry and you may well be on the stand being asked to go through your emergency comms plan and explain how you did – or didn’t – deliver it.
6. Test it
It’s been an occasional joy to train local government teams in public workshops and then test them.
It doesn’t have to be me. But you need to stress test. You’ll learn a lot. Believe me.
7. Have a rota
Funny how things rarely kick off between 9am and 5pm. Have cover around the clock. If it can’t be paid set out the risks of failing to have this in black and white for the future.
8. Be strategic
As a comms team you shouldn’t be working in isolation. You should be plugged into the wider organisation to raise the issues early and understand the areas where there’s risks and dangers.
9. Place marketing
If the future is uncertain, being able to sell where you are to a national and international audience will have a role strategically post-Brexit. For local government, being able to tell people good place to live and work will be an asset more than ever. The foundations are good emergency comms. You probably don’t want Google searches being all about riots.
But if Brexit does come to pass there needs to be a narrative about why companies would want to be in your community.
10. Staff shortages
This will depend on where you are in the country. Your team may be fortunate to employ some EU citizens and if you do you’ll be aware of the uncertainty that surrounds. There’s a management issue here about reassuring those in post and recruiting able people in future.
Aside from that, a regular demand on your time in 2019 and beyond may be to retain and recruit the right staff in the right places. Nursing is already right across this.
11. It’s going to get harsher so look after staff and politicians
If you are looking after a Facebook page or a Twitter account don a tin hat. It’s going to get fiesty. If things go wrong, the quality of debate will get nasty. Make sure your staff are rotated and given screen breaks. Don’t have one person checking everything 24/7. That’;s duty of care time.
Remind them when to engage and not engage. Look to mute on Twitter rather than block wuld be my advice.
You need to be aware that officers may be getting it in the neck online as well as politicians as well as people who don’t fit the world view of Tommy Robinson.
12. Be aware of misinformation
Well meaning or malevolent the spread of information will impact on what you are doing. This post from political journalist Robert Peston shows the issue. A warning that gathers Brexit commentary and warns people to act.
A senior politician distances themselves but is the information accurate? Or deliberately stirring? The lack of branding makes it look like it isn’t official. But the blue and white gives an echo of NHS communications.
I put to senior government source whether attached is official NHS advice. This was the reply: “No. This is not an official NHS publication. People should trust advice from official NHS sources. We are confident that if everyone does what they need to do, medicine… pic.twitter.com/NqC7umXaKn
— Robert Peston (@Peston) January 4, 2019
It doesn’t matter what your own beliefs on Brexit are. There is a chance you will be asked or ordered to play things up or down around Brexit.
It’s important for you to have ethics as well as a moral compass.
Tell the truth. Don’t lie. Be responsible.
Do the right thing.
Picture credit: Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916 / Flickr
I’m reading a memoir of a trawlerman at the moment and it’s making me think about public sector comms in 2019.
The skipper remembered how he looked at the boats moored in Peterhead harbour and he felt nagging disquiet that all this was going to change.
So, after carefully thinking through his next steps he moved from targeting cod with heavy quotas to the greener niche catch of langoustines to send to Spain and France. A few years later he looked at the same view and it was different. Those cod trawlers had largely gone and those that were left were struggling.
In 2019, storms are coming.
‘Predictions are very difficult, especially if they are about the future’ – Niels Bohr.
Every year for the past eight I blog some predictions. Last year, I made a series of predictions.
In 2018, here’s what I got right:
- Facebook group admins did grow in importance.
- Technology continued to outpace the public sector.
- There was a need to improve the quality of video.
- The need to use all Facebook has to offer rather than the corporate page grew
- The need for human comms grew as did the need for specialist generalists,
- GIFS and threads became expected.
- Twitter continued to struggle and social media became less social.
- The need for digital first grew.
- Video grew in importance along with the need to demonstrate evaluation.
- Income targets remain a minority pursuit.
In 2019, here’s what I got wrong
- Live video hasn’t caught on in the public sector although it thrives in the metric conscious field of local journalism.
- 360 images and VR haven’t moved into the mainstream yet.
- Internal comms didn’t reach a crisis point.
So, what will happen in 2019?
As each year passes, the gap between the cutting edge of technology and the public sector grows wider.
As the public embrace new technology such as voice to use the internet, the public sector lags behind. Weighed down by legacy systems and legacy attitudes many of those in the ship’s wheelhouse are poorly equipped to meet the dark clouds of 2019. But as much as they may wish the clock was stuck in 2005, the dial moves and the boat chugs forward. This year the sea gets faster.
In 2019, the single greatest gift a comms person can have will be strategic vision. To know what is coming down the track is one thing. Having the time and space to manoeuvre will be a luxury.
One take is that social media has gone from the positive sunny uplands into something darker and negative. Another view is that it has matured and the positive as well as negative sides are in view.
Social media will continue to get more closed. The public comment is being replaced with the walled garden where people feel freer to speak. This explains the rise of Facebook groups, Messenger and WhatsApp and the decline on Twitter. This will continue.
Get ready for strategic Brexit chaos. If you are in the public sector, the impact of Brexit will be profound. The worst case scenario of ‘no deal’ is food shortages, medicine running out and a whole lot else. The best case is short term deep uncertainty. So, expect strategically, get your troops in the right place and expect smaller budgets as the public sector will inevitably take the financial hit.
Get ready for tactical Brexit chaos. The UK public sector is well placed to deal with emergencies as terror attacks have proven. Local Resilience Forums provide the platform for councils, central government, police, fire and NHS organisations to handle emergencies. I’d be recommending polishing up these links as there is a fair chance they’ll be used. Digital comms needs to be at the forefront of any breaking scenario. Good luck, Kent County Council. With Dover on your patch how well you do with this has national significance. This is local government, NHS, fire and police. Not just the Whitehall Department for Leaving the EU.
Get ready to support elected members. As the waters ahead get choppy there is a need to give extra help to elected members and those in comms who deal with day-to-day social media channels. Some of this may be perceived. Some of what will come won’t be.
Spotting and rebutting fake news. As things get thrown up in the air there’ll be plenty of misinformation. Some deliberate from Russian trolls and some accidental by your mate Dave who heard something in the pub. The ability to screen, spot and rebut swiftly is needed in the public sector in 2019. A process that allows swift rebuttal in minutes not days is needed.
Prepare for bankruptcy. Northamptonshire County Council’s financial problems showed that there are problems stacking up in the public sector. Some organisations will fall over in 2019. Re-building will be a specific skills set.
As trust in institutions is hammered, the need to give social media to the frontline grows. I’m returning to the theme of ‘sharing the sweets’ and letting others have access to social media. The need to train and devolve in this most crossroads of years has never been greater. Your librarian can handle telling people about their table top sale. You’ll have other things in your inbox. Trust me.
Hello 5G. The 5G mobile network will start to roll out in 2019. As this explainer shows, this means that people could be able to use a mobile phone out and about to download a film in 10 seconds rather than 10 minutes. This will start in 2019 but will take time to roll out. This will mean a greater use of mobile devices to access websites and video.
Voice. The market for voice to search an activate the internet is growing beyond the tech bubble. What was niche 12-months ago is getting mainstream and will get more so in 2019. Yet, public sector websites risk falling behind this trend. How can people search your website using voice? Can they? Or will they fail?
Subtitle, baby. As video continues to rise, the need to subtitle gets larger. Why? Aside from regulations coming down the track for public sector people most video is watched without sound. So, be creative.
Same as it ever was. Yes, you’ll need to demonstrate your evaluation and as the landscape continues to make tectonic shifts the role of the communicator as educator to the organisation rises. Please fulfill that role. Please.
Facebook won’t go away. The debate about the ethics of Facebook will continue but as a platform there’s no prizes for saying that it will remain the largest single platform consumed by UK people.
Facebook groups will get even more important. For public sector people, the lack of budget means a creative use of the Facebook platform with the ability to search out relevant Facebook groups will become an increasingly key skill.
AI continues to rise. There will be useful tools offered by vendors that use Artificial Intelligence that help make public sector comms people’s lives easier.
Local Democracy Reporters prove their worth. The BBC-funded journalists have fanned out across the country and are intended to fill the gap in local government coverage left by hollowed-out newsrooms. Some bright public sector people have spotted that good relations with them can lead to positive coverage across eight local news titles simultaneously instead of one.
Gig economy comms teams. Bringing people in with specialist skills for one-off projects will be default.
The best ideas will come from journalism. For the last 10 years journalism has been on the ropes. Like the boxer who has taken too many blows the betting was how quick it would fall. While there will be fewer titles in 2019, the best ideas of how to use digital channels will come from journalism and not the public sector. They have the resource – just – but they also have the existential business case.
Do we talk to young people or don’t we? The public sector needs to ask itself if actually wants to talk with young people in the places where it hangs out. As the media landscape continues to fracture, this will involve experimenting in new places. The alternative is to be honest and tell people that you’re not interested in talking to them.
So, that’s it. There’s storm clouds ahead. But there have been storms before. Prepare. Look ahead. You’ll get there.
Shout if you need a hand. I’m firstname.lastname@example.org and @danslee on Twitter.
Pic credit: Darren Flinders / Flickr
Video will play a huge part in the success of your communications strategy in 2019.
When to use video and when not to is just as important as knowing how to shoot video for any effective communicator.
Key video insight for 2019
Smartphone use in the UK will pass 92 per cent by 2025 – source: Deloitte, 2018.
Those aged 16 to 24 in the UK spend on average an hour a day watching YouTube – source: Google, 2018.
Video will account for 82 per cent of web traffic by 2020 – source: Google, 2018.
There are more than twice as many people watching video on YouTube in the third quarter of 2018 at 1.2 trillion than 510 million on Facebook – source: Tubular Labs.
A majority of UK over 55s own a smartphone – source: Ofcom, 2018.
58 per cent of UK people with a mobile phone watch video once a week, Deloite, 2017.
The optimum length of a YouTube clip is almost three minutes compared to 15 seconds on Facebook – source: Google / Facebook.
Sport recieved 1.8 billion views in the UK in first six months of 2018 – source: Tubular Labs.
There are 25 million unique viewers a month of the Daily Telegraph Snapchat channel – source: Daily Telegraph.
ESSENTIAL VIDEO SKILLS FOR COMMS workshops 2019
As video is what your audience is likely to be consuming your video strategy will help you deliver a successful communications strategy.
To help you achieve this, I’m running workshops in 2019. Delivered along with cameraman, filmmaker and academic Steven Davies the sessions will help you plan, shoot, edit and post engaging comms video. We’ll make sure you are safe and legal, GDPR, copyright law and PSBAR compliant.
We’ve had four years of experience and have delivered training for more than 2,000 people across more than 300 organisations.
6.2.19 Friends House, Euston Road, London. For more information and to book click here.
7.2.19 Bond Company, Fazeley Street, Digbeth, Birmingham. For more information and to book click here.
13.2.19 Leeds, Carriageworks, Millennium Square, Leeds. For more information and to book click here.
If those dates don’t work or you’d like in-house training drop me a line email@example.com or @danslee on Twitter.
I’ve written before about the trend for drawing a line in the sand on social media.
It’s something I’m in favour at he right time and right place.
Normally, I’ve featured things that are pretty defensible. The police Facebook comment pointing out that the reason we have speed cameras is death on the road, for example.
This tweet from the University of Reading either is just the right side of things or oversteps the mark.
We’ve had feedback over the last week that some people are unhappy with our plan to offer up to 14 scholarships to refugees living in the local area. To these people, we would like to say: Tough. Jog on. https://t.co/ioDLPp5crw
— Uni of Reading (@UniofReading) July 2, 2018
Personally, I get it.
On the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group, there was dissenting voices between those who liked and those who think this is helping to coarsen debate.
There is no one size fits all with content. This may work in some organisations but not in others.
Using an unscientific yardstick, there are more than 5,000 likes and of the replies there was mix of comments.
So you are indifferent to the criticism or the opinion of those criticizing you, you feel no need to explain yourselves – interesting 🤣
— David S (@DAS19XX) July 2, 2018
As an alumnus who donates to the University every month, and has done for years, I believe this is my money you are spending on scholarships.
I support it 100% and will increase my giving forthwith.
Anyone who doesn’t like it. Tough. Jog on.
— Is anybody there? (@gudnameztaken) July 2, 2018
I’m @danslee on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org. If you hate missing out on the good stuff subscribe to my weekly email here.
It’s a fascinating time to be a comms person… new tactics emerge and old ones fall away.
But like anything, your decisions should be driven less by the shiny and what will get you results.
So, Facebook Live. It’s something I’ve been fascinating by for some time.
The idea is quite simple. You post to Facebook and you have the option to create a live broadcast from your device’s camera as simply as posting some words.
But where does it fit into the landscape?
It’ll help you beat the Facebook algorithm
Being admin of a page used to be such fun. You posted something and your audience saw it, liked it, commented on it and shared it. You sat back and took the applause. But since Facebook Zero and Mark Zuckerburg’s announcement earlier this year that you’ll see less from pages and more from friends and family that’s long gone.
Right now though, use a Facebook Live broadcast and you’ll be reaching more people.
But what do we do?
Here’s where it gets interesting because you are really not hemmed in right now by convention. We’re all learning but please, for heaven’s sake, look outside your sector to see how others are doing it.
Sure, think calls to action. But also see your broadcast as educational, fun and interesting that will build your audience for a time when you really want them to do something. A social channel that’s just one long call to action isn’t fun.
Broadcast because the value is to be in the right place at the right time
English Heritage look after Stonehenge. This collection of Neolithic stone tablets has fascinated people for thousands of years. At the moment of winter and also summer solstice the sun shines perfectly at an angle. It is a special place to be. So a live broadcast of the moment and the build up to it makes sense.
Broadcast because you’ve got something visually interesting
National Rail celebrated the longest day of the year with a live broadcast from a GoPro in the train driver’s cab of the Aberdeen to Plymouth service. This is the longest in Britain and runs through some stunning scenery.
It says that the country is amazing, that as a feat of engineering its incredible and also that National Rail understand how the internet works.
Some kickbacks emerged when it was admitted that the video was not as live but the playing of a video recording. But I get that. But then again, what would a livestreamed suicide do for anyone? Or for the organisation’s reputation if the train broke down?
Broadcast because you are commenting on breaking news
Look at what newspapers are doing. They don’t call themselves newspapers anymore. They’re media companies that happen to produce some print.
When the football fixtures were published my team Stoke City’s local media company ran a Facebook Live to run through them. Leeds away is first up. They incorporated comments from readers – or should I see viewers – too.
The camera work wasn’t amazing. It doesn’t have to be.
Broadcast for a Q&A
Over in the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group I’m admin of, we ran a Q&A ahead of GDPR on how they may affect websites.
From the more than 2,000 members of the group we had more than 900 views and more than 50 questions and comments which was fine with us. We’re a niche but highly active forum.
If you’re a member you can see the broadcast here. But as the stream went into a closed group we can’t embed it elsewhere on the internet.
The topics you can live broadcast are pretty wide and vast. I’ve blogged more than 30 of them here.
So, if that’s the topic, how do I do it?
I co-deliver workshops on live video skills that goes into the planning and the delivery using some handy BBC principles.
Before you go live, run a test broadcast where you broadcast only to yourself. You can select ‘only you’ from the settings before you hit post. This allows you to see if your device can be help landscape or has to be held in upright portrait mode. At a big set-piece event like an election count you’ll need to be aware that media companies will more than likely be broadcasting.
But what if my audience isn’t on Facebook?
Then don’t use Facebook, you big silly. With Twitter, Periscope is the live app of choice and instagram and YouTube have their own functionality. But the numbers behind Facebook make it important.
I’ve heard it said that people are leaving Facebook. The stats don’t support that globally although I’ve heard of people leaving the platform in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica saga. That’s fine. I get it. But until there is a better way of sharing cat videos the mass audience isn’t leaving Facebook anytime soon.
I’m @danslee on Twitter and dan@comms2point0. If you hate missing out on the good stuff subscribe to my weekly email here.