WORD UP: You can’t ‘use’ a community Facebook group, you connect with it


‘Words are power,’ Yoko Ono once said.

I’m not sure what words describe the artist’s 1967 installation where she invited the audience to hammer a nail into a piece of wood.

In the audience was John Lennon who offered her five imaginary shillings to hammer an imaginary nail into the wood.

But still.

Two years ago I started to research Facebook groups and next month I’m helping deliver workshops that feature them strongly but one word above all always jars with me and I have to force myself to stop using it.

That’s the word USE.

As in the phrase: ‘How to USE Facebook groups’.

Because USE isn’t the right word.

We cannot USE.

USE is a single-use plastic wrapper of a word.

Facebook groups are places where like-minded people form an online community where there are admin to police them but people are largely free to start or contribute to a conversation.

So, you need words like…





While it’s important to use those words its really even more important to adopt the mindset those words mean. If you don’t, no-one gains.

vital facebook skillsI’m running a new workshop to help public sector people understand how to better use Facebook.

I’ll be joined by Sarah Lay for VITAL FACEBOOK SKILLS at a city near you.

You can see more and book here





GOOD TONE: How talking human can put a human face on your organisation


I’m a slightly ambivalent about Twitter takeovers these days.

I’m proud to have been involved in one of the first in the public sector nine years ago but where once they boldly charted new territory they now often feel like tired box-ticking.

I did quite like content posted from lead nurse for recruitment Vicky Jobson on the corporate account of Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead.

The purpose of a takeover is to be human

Some critics of Twitter takeovers complain that there isn’t a call to action to go with them so why bother doing them?

I both get that but disagree. Yes, comms will be judged on what people have done as a result of all that comms activity. How many sign-ups to that thing is critical, for example. But to judge social media activity solely on the bottom line fundamentally misjudges how best to use social media.

I’ve blogged many times before on the need for an 80-20 split between your content with the majority being human over corporate content. It’s the recipe that just seems to work.

So some of the content that shows real people at work really hits the mark.

Consciously or not using a human tone for eight pieces of content will make it easier to land those prompts to become a nurse with the other two. Would 10 posts that start with ‘work for us’ land better? Not on social media, they wouldn’t.

Conversations should sound human

I’m reminded of lines from the Cluetrain Manifesto. This amazing document from 1999 was the result of crowd-sourced discussions between early internet pioneers which sets out what the internet could look like. It described social media before it properly happened.

Included in the manifesto are…

  • Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  • Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
  • We know some people from your company. They’re pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you’re hiding? Can they come out and play?

Essentially, takeovers are reminders that humans work here.

But I genuinely think that these human voices should be the default setting rather than a special occasion.

Sure, you have to break bad news from time-to-time and you need to handle that.

But wouldn’t that formal tone be better coming from an organisation that has already long won people over by being human?

FACE UP: The questions you need to ask yourself to nail your 2019 Facebook strategy


With major changes in direction to Facebook its clear that the public sector needs to drastically re-think their approach to the world’s largest platform.

A shift to privacy and friends and families has been announced by Mark Zuckerburg. That means big changes for public sector communicators.

Facebook is used by more than 40 million UK people and the predictions are that it’ll grow. It’s not going away anytime soon.

But long gone absolutely are the days where a page is all you need.

Facebook’s algorithm and ‘Facebook zero‘ has strangled the routine reach of pages to limit the size of audience.

So what’s left?

Don’t panic.

You need… question, check, adjust.

I’m running a round of workshops with Sarah Lay to help you use Facebook better.

Ahead of them, here’s a steer on the questions you need to ask yourself to be an effective communicator.

‘Is it actually Facebook that I need?’

Facebook it is not a magic cure-all that reaches the parts other platforms cannot reach. So, the lazy email that asks you to post their clip-art poster onto the corporate page for an event for teenagers may well be pointless. Maybe there are other ways to reach teenagers.

Check your insights to see who your audience is and be ruthless about sticking to it.

‘Is my content the best it can possibly be?’

If you’re sure you’re audience is on Facebook, then knock yourself out and create something. But make it as good as you possibly can. Research show recorded video tops the chart for engagement, followed by a picture followed by a link followed by just plain text.

Check to see if you can make content that’s sharable, is engaging and tells a story.

‘Is this better as a Facebook Live?’

Facebook are pushing Facebook Live like crazy. It’s not hard to see why. The engagement rates are high and the audience who come-by to watch after the event are far greater than the original. It’s a chance to let your audience ask questions and see a behind-the-secenes glimpse.

Check to see if this would work as a live video.

‘Is my audience in a Facebook group?’

You’re promoting a new exhibition at your museum. Is there a heritage Facebook group where people like talking and sharing pictures and stories of days gone by? Or maybe, there’s a serious fire that you need to get a warning out to a village.

Run a search to see if there’s a Facebook group. See if you can join the group as a page. Alternatively, see if you can message the admin from your own account if you are happy to to see if they’d share your content.

‘Is my audience better off in a Facebook group?’

Dorset Council created a community for people looking to live healthier lives. They did this by creating a Facebook group. They set some ground rules and let them share recipes, diet tips and other useful things.

Think if the niche audience you are after world be better served in a Facebook group that you can create and manage.

‘Is there some budget for a boosted post?’

If you’re looking to find the brass band enthusiasts in your patch to market the brass band festival and there isn’t a group maybe a Facebook ad is the way forward.

Facebook is the biggest pile of marketeer-friendly data ever assembled. If you know that your audience likes brass bands and is likely to be aged between 30 and 60 you can tailor an ad just for them.

Look to use that small pot of money to boost your message to the right audience at the right time.

vital facebook skillsI’m delivering the Vital Facebook Skills workshop in London, Manchester, Belfast and Edinburgh. For more information and to book head here. I’d love to see you there. Any questions? Drop me a note: dan@danslee.co.uk.

Picture credit: Documerica / Flickr.

POST NUMBERS: Starting to crack election night comms

It’s now a few days after the local government elections and the dust has started to settle.

Candidates have caught up with lost sleep and so hopefully have council comms people.

I blogged the day after the results at the patchy quality of how the election results were communicated. You can read that here. I love local government. I really do. But the struggle to find out basic information made me despair.

I wanted to know who has won my ward.

I wanted to know who is in control of the council.

Yet, as I glanced around 16 West Midland councils, almost half didn’t mention the election results on their home page, half had no party-by-party results breakdown and none told me which party was actually now in charge.

As an ex-local government person I feel the pain of those trying to get the numbers out. But the truth remains that if councils can’t get the basics like this right, what hope have they got in convincing sceptics they can nail the really difficult things?

I’m encouraged there’s now  a debate on how to improve election comms.

One council caught me eye.

Step forward City of York Council.

They have three comms objectives and measured them

The comms team at City of York Council led by Claire Foale looked to encourage residents to engage in the process through easy-to-share content, they wanted to share up-to-date content in realtime that was also easy for journalists to share.

Evaluation shows they reached 157,000 accounts on Twitter, 2,900 on the live stream and their website had 105,000 views with a peak at 6pm the following day. Five people worked on the project. It’s important to say that this was a daytime count.


Hats off to Claire Foale and their team for drawing-up the plan, delivering it and then measuring it. It’s a really impressive performance.

This shows that yes, this can be measured and that yes, there is an appetite for the information if you create it in a sharable format. If you resource it, the numbers justify it.

I’m also glad they looked at creating content that media could share. The important thing is getting the information out rather than driving traffic.

Besides being useful, election night is the comms team’s first chance to impress the newly-elected or re-elected administration

Picture credit: City of York Council

They have a signpost to results on the homepage

Yes, I know a lot of people go via google direct to the Baswich library page to find out the opening hours but there’s something pretty basic about signposting from what is your flagship page the flagship numbers.

york homepage

They list who voted for who ward-by-ward

So, if you’ve voted in the Acomb ward, you can see what difference your vote made.

york individual

They also give an overview of where the parties are

Like a swing-o-meter, this graphic gives a picture of who is on the brink of power. If there’s an observation to be made, I don’t know if this is updated in real time during the night. I hope so.

And for bonus points, I’d like to know what the current situation is. No overall control? Is that a change from 2018? And is there a Full Council meeting where this gets resolved?

york byparty

They also give an overview ward-by-ward

Again, a visually attractive ward-by-ward breakdown. Bonus points if this was updated in realtime.

york by ward.JPG

They ran a video livestream in realtime

They also ran a video link live from a fixed camera position to allow uber-geeks to follow things in realtime. They also managed that rare thing of getting the sound something like alright.

Extra marks for making a note of when each ward announced, so people didn’t have to sit back through nine hours of coverage to see that special moment when the Hull Road ward result was called.

They ran a Twitter that posted results and answered questions

Ten years on from the first time results were posted in social media, the council Twitter fulfilled this role and also responded to queries in realtime.

Of course, the City of York were not the only council that did a good job. But they’ve done an impressive job with the resources they have.

Go them.

NEW CLICKS: You’ll never guess what reporters today are being asked to write stories about… the fifth box made me cry

Like sunshine on magic, a fascinating photograph has been posted that instructs  what London’s Evening Standard reporters are encouraged to write.

The 10-box grid sets out the ingredients that make a story for the web in 2018.

It’s a mix of fear, anger, curiosity, drama, weather and natural disaster.

The internet has responded to it with drama, outrage, anger and resignation.

It is a ‘suicide note for journalism’ one commentator tweeted.

The list of what reporters are encouraged to write about is here


Is it fake? Surely? On balance, surprisingly not. It appears to be real. It even gets carried in The Guardian media pages with a picture credit to the Evening Standard.

The list of things I was encouraged to write about as a reporter

It got me thinking.

News desk requests are nothing new.

My career in journalism is behind me, so I’m not betraying any confidences when I say that the list of things I was encouraged to write about as a reporter probably didn’t bear close public scrutiny.

At various points in my career I was encouraged and discouraged to write about:

  • Yes, to stories about dead kids.
  • Yes, to stories about dog shit.
  • Yes, to stories about ‘happy ill people’.
  • No, to pictures of people in wheelchairs or with tattoos.
  • No, to damp flat stories.
  • No, to stories about three people from our patch held by the US military in Guantanamo Bay.

None of these edicts were ever written down. All were always passed on by word of mouth.  If you think they’re bad, there’s a couple of other passed-down instructions which I’m not publishing because frankly, they’re actionable.

But what is new about the Evening Standard pic is that someone has codified them, printed them and an image has been shared on Twitter. Their grid is driven by web traffic rather than prejudice or that elusive experienced-based judgement call of ‘news sense’. That’s the journo’s sense that people on the patch will be more interested in a campaign to save a hospital than a story about, say, a damp flat.

Without looking at the numbers of what works, newspapers are dead. But what if the numbers don’t point to what could be called journalism?

Good journalism

I’m a huge fan of good journalism. BBC reporter Emma Vardey’s brave, courageous doorstepping of the the Republican Saoradh leadership in the wake of the murder of Lyra McKee is truly magnificent.  There is still some good journalism going on on a local level although newsrooms are smaller places.

But on the other hand, Reach’s Black Country Live‘s 26 Facebook posts over four days have just four updates that could be called local news. Most of what is posted are memes, Black Country dialect and culture jokes and re-nosed national stories. To a former journo who got a bollocking for covering a story 100-yards off the patch that’s a slightly a weird feeling.

Newspapers are on borrowed time. Some are making the shift to digital well. But they risk this shift by setting fire to 100 years of hard-won trust by pimping extreme weather stories in short-term dash for numbers. I’m seeing a backlash against this from newspaper readers on Facebook tired of being conned that three foot of snow is coming.

What this means for comms people

It means, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

The local newspaper that prints verbatim every cough and spit and is widely read is a thing of the past.

Some remaining print titles rely on a stressed junior reporter cutting and pasting your press releases. But here’s a warning. Impressive print cuttings from those hollowed-out shadow titles is not a long term strategy.  It’s not even medium-term. If you’re spending five days on signing off a press release without thinking about it, I’d say you’re wasting your time.

It all points to the point that you need to educate the client. In this case, it’s the organisation and quite possibly yourself.

To paraphrase the Evening Standard grid, if your content doesn’t tick those boxes chances are you shouldn’t be targeting the newspaper.

Credit to David Grindlay for sharing the Evening Standard image. 

POLL CLOSED: Why is it so hard to find out election results?


It’s the morning after local government elections.

I’ve voted.

I want to know who has won my ward.

I want to know who is in control of the council.

So why is it so very hard to find out these two basic pieces of information?

I live in the West Midlands but I’m interested in the results in a number of places across the country. The trek to track down the information has proved to range from difficult to the almost impossible.

Councils with no mention of results on their homepage.

Or mention of the results on their elections page.

Or mention that the votes are actually getting counted later in the day.

Or sodding pdfs that won’t download.

Election night is graft, I know

All in all, I’ve covered election night counts for 20 years and I get the hard work that goes into them. They can see 20-hour days from people who try really hard to do the best they can with outdated websites and patchy wifi. This is absolutely not a dig at any one council in particular but rather a sector-wide complaint. Anyone who worked last night deserves a medal.

But I mean all this with love. If we struggle to get people out to vote we’re not helping ourselves if we make it really hard for people to follow the results or catch-up in the morning.

Social media is great in realtime, but…

I’ve been an advocate for posting results in realtime on social media. That’s great. But ward results very quickly get lost in the timeline. They’re part of the answer. Not all the answer.

But if we can’t tell people the results, no wonder turn-out ain’t great

So, I ran a quick survey of the 16 councils that are closest to me. I could have gone on but it was too depressing.

45 per cent had no mention of election results on their homepage

50 per cent had no overall party-by-party breakdown.

Not one told me which party was in charge. Not one.

If local government can’t master something so simple as telling people who is in charge then what confidence can when they tell people they’ll crack this smart speakers and 5G lark?

Pic credit: Wikimedia Commons.

FRIENDS, FAMILY, GROUPS: What are the Facebook changes and what do they mean for public sector comms people?


Every year Facebook set out where they’re heading over the next few years and every year there’s a few surprises.

So, I’ve watched Mark Zuckerburg’s F8 address which sets out where Facebook is headed so you don’t have to.

What did it make me think? That one constant with being a communicator is change and being able to adapt to change.

Research shows the best content is video, then pictures, then a link and then text. More on that here.

This announcement is about what’s next. Here’s some thoughts on how it impacts public sector comms.

Direction of travel: privacy and private messagers

It’s clear that Facebook have been stung by misuse and criticism. It’s also clear that the old Facebook of pages, news feed and the blue and white branding are on their way out.

The focus from Facebook will be privacy.

For the future, people want a privacy-focussed social platform.

  • Mark Zuckerburg, F8, 2019

Tools for business to buy and sell on WhatsApp will follow and there’s a lot of talk about Facebook Messenger being the safest, securest and quickest private messenger service.

Key message: Private messaging apps Facebook own like Messenger and WhatsApp will get more important as will messaging through Instagram.

Friends and family… and communities in groups

It would be wrong to translate the shift to privacy to more private messages.

It means a focus on smaller groups. Your friends and your family are that.

Two years ago, Mark Zuckerburg caused major upheaval by declaring an end to click-bait. How? He switched focus from naked clicks on pages to friend and family. The shift overnight undermined the business model of many media companies.

This year he reinforced the direction of travel to keep it towards friends and family.

So, your mates and you brother will be seen more as you scroll through your Facebook.

Our friends and family are always going to be the core of our social lives.

– Mark Zuckerburg, F8, 2019.


Key message: Not PMs but you’ll see more from your mates and your Mum and Dad.

Direction of travel: Groups, groups, groups

Facebook groups are going to be big, big, big.

I’ve been a keen observer of the role Facebook groups have played for a couple of years. They’re going to play an even bigger role. Why? They give a sense of community and there’s a bit of walled garden from the nasty wider internet.

I could not be happier about this.

In a world where people are joining fewer physical communities and there is less social cohesion its more important than ever to be part of comunities that are meaningful to us.

There are already more than 400 million members of Facebook groups that are meaningful to them.

We believe there is a community for everyone so we’re building on a major evolution to redesign the Facebook app to make communities as central as friends.

Overall, we’ve made it a lot easier to find and connect to groups with much better suggestions  and search.

It all adds up to the feeling that groups are at the heart of the experience just as much as friends and family.

– Mark Zuckerburg, F8, 2019

This is huge, huge, huge.

If you’ve been a member of the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group you’ll have seen the benefits for some time. A walled garden of shared interest it has engagement rates that dwarf any pages I know. You can find it here.

But it does mean that public sector comms people need to massively switch-up their overall Facebook game. The idea of chucking something onto a page and forgetting about it has become as pointless as pinning an announcement to a lamp post.

Extra tools have been announced to clamp-down on misinformation or harmful content in Facebook groups.

Message: Communication on Facebook will increasingly be through groups.


Direction of travel: Seriously bad news for pages

Here’s the bad news for the public sector. Your page on its own is pointless. It’s something I’ve been saying for some time and has been hugely reinforced.

What’s interesting is not just what Zuckerburg said but what he didn’t.

The biggest loser in this announcement are pages. There was nothing of note said about them. When you bear in mind that the public sector pages real estate is huge and extensive this is really, really important.

The direction of travel for Facebook is clear: friends, family and communities through groups. Pages don’t feature in that at all.

Message: Stop putting all your eggs into the Facebook page basket.

Direction of travel: Facebook are keen on stories

Facebook are really keen on you making more stories with your content.

These are upright filmstrips that can be created with text, video, stickers and emojis.

I’m not a huge fan but if the direction of travel is towards rewarding them this is something that needs to be worked on if you want to reach people.

Message: Look afresh at stories.


Direction of travel: Instagram is not just for pictures it’s for buying and donating

Instagram has been a platform of growth for years.

The big changes announced here will delight charity comms people. A button to help people donate to a cause close to their heart has been announced. Aside from that, a shopping channel has been launched and Facebook are looking at ways to allow business to use the platform.

So, ‘merch link in bio’ will become a thing of the past. That means ticketing for events suddenly opens up as a viable strategy.

They’re also improving Instagram stories, improving private interactions and making the camera better.

Key message: Instagram has just got a lot more interesting to communicators and marketers looking to sell stuff.

Direction of travel: they’re having a re-brand and trying to win your trust back

The blue and white logo will go and will be ‘modernised.’ You won’t hardly see blue on the app and website from sneak peaks of the new platform.

So, white backgrounds. That’s the colour of purity, right?

They’re also stressing a new approach based on the principles of private interactions, encription and safety. They also talk of ‘interoperability’. That means how Facebook brands like WhatsApp, Messenger and the main platform can navigate to each other. On top of that, secure data storage is more important. So is ‘reducing permanence’ (translation: In other words, they don’t want you do be frightened that something you say as a kid will be dug-up to blight your future.)

Key message: Facebook are staging the largest re-brand in corporate history.

In summary: Big changes will require some big thinking from public sector people and a new use for some old furniture.

vital facebook skillsI’m running a new workshop to help public sector people understand how to better use Facebook.

I’ll be joined by Sarah Lay for VITAL FACEBOOK SKILLS at a city near you.

You can see more and book here