LONG READ: Why you should have corporate AND non-corporate accounts

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I was reminded of low level civil war happening that pits people in the same organisation against each other.

It’s the comms team against the rest.

In the red corner, the comms people who don’t much like the idea of people outside the team having access to social media. In the blue corner, service areas who glower at comms teams who don’t let them do what they want to.

“The idea,” one senior comms person told me, “Of giving access to social media to anyone outside my team and having a free for all just fills me with horror.”

A free for all would fill me with horror too. But some basic training can reap some really positive results. Let me explain.

Where non-corporate accounts can work well

During training, I often quote the Edelman Trust Barometer. A fine piece of work that points out that people trust 52 per cent of people who are ‘someone like myself.’ That’s significantly higher than the chief executive or any of the suits.

It’s part of the science behind why things like Dave Throup’s Twitter account works so well for the Environment Agency.  You can see day-to-day content like this:

A web page presents tailored content on a topic. You want Baswich library in Stafford? It has its own webpage. You don’t have to sift through lots of irrelevant information. In the same way, a social media profile on a specific topic does the same job. I live in Brierley Hill in Dudley. So the Sergeant that polices the area is more relevant to me:

 

Sergeant Harrison has 1,617 followers and 13,935 people live in Brierley Hill. Even taking into account some of those followers will be fellow officers that’s potentially 11 per cent of the population. That’s compared to 8 per cent of the population – 447,000 – who follow the corporate West Midlands Police account.

Sergeant Harrison’s account works best when he talks about the bread and butter of what is happening in Brierley Hill. To a Brierley Hill audience that’s perfect. Would I sift through the noise of the corporate account looking for Brierley Hill? Probably not. But from the corporate account I want the big messages. And if it kicks off somewhere, I really want the corporate account most of all, please.

Earlier this month I was carrying out a comms review for a fire and rescue service. The community fire station’s page wasn’t engaging. It was rarely updated. But it did have 10 per cent of the population signed-up just waiting to be told things. The decision was taken to carry on but with extra training.

It’s not all plain sailing

Experience of looking after social media policy and delivery for a large council that grew from one to 60 accounts is that things don’t always go well. Over the last few years I’ve reviewed hundreds of social media accounts. Experience shows they fall into three categories. A third are useful and are prosper. A third need a hand and a third you should think about closing down unless they radically improve.

Not every devolved account will be great at sharing the corporate message and somtimes they will frustrate. But for me, it’s about accepting the balance. For me, the third that are doing really well outweigh the downside.

Research that paints a picture of the corporate v non-corporate

My eye was caught by a tweet from Police Oracle with ‘Officers better on Twitter than police PR teams report says: The study analysed almost 1.5 million tweets.’ You can see it here. The tweet prompted several devolved accounts to rail against their comms team. The only trouble was, the research doesn’t show that at all. To her credit one of the authors Miriam Fernandez pointed out in a tweet that it was wrong.

But what does the research say?

Funnily enough, it shows that there is a role for both the corporate and the non-corporate devolved account. They just do different things. If you want to read it you can download it here. Caution: there is a paywall. It is called ‘An Analysis of UK Policing Engagement via Social Media.’ It is by Mriam Fernandez, Tom Dickinson and Harith Alani.

The study looked at 1.5m posts 48 corporate 2,450 non-corporate UK police accounts on Twitter.

The researchers found that corporate accounts got higher engagement – measured as retweets – talking about roads, infrastructures, missing persons and mentioning locations. They got lower engagement on crime updates and advice to stay safe. They were found to broadcast more. The non-corporate accounts were less formal and were more likely to respond to questions.

A quick lesson for better engagement from the research?

  • Have a clear message with a concrete action
  • Know the message but also know the options to act.

What a good corporate account should look like

For me, there are two purposes for the corporate and the devolved non-corporate. The corporate can put out the central messages. It should be a Match of the Day highlights show sharing the best of the rest. It should be human. The comms team can set the direction. It can deliver the training. But the non-corporate team, service area or individual accounts are where the real gold will be found. So have both.


30 days of human comms: #27 Lochaber & Skye Police talk to someone at risk of domestic abuse

A while back a colleague ran a campaign against domestic violence that stays with me. 

They researched how best they could reach women in particular who are at risk and the men – and it is often men – who are the perpetrators.

Their research showed that beer mats were a way of reaching people.

I remembered this when I saw these tweets from Lochaber & Skye Police to someone who was following their account. They are written as a letter and they’re written in a thread.

And then a second tweet.

And a final tweet.

A deeply personal message written in plain English. It’s so beautiful it’s poetry.

Be more human. Like Lochaber & Skye Police.

 


30 days of human comms #25 the Yorkshire motorway police officer and his wife

A while back someone asked what the point of having more than the corporate account was.

Sure, the corporate account can do much but sharing  the sweets and giving the right tools to people on the frontline can be hugely effective. They can post updates on breaking incidents to help keep the traffic moving.

An example of this is the motorway police officer PC Martin Willis captured holding on Superman-style to a van that was about to topple over and roll down an embankment with the driver trapped inside.

It’s by having the tools for the officer to communicate that that the story could be told.

A beautifully human tweet? The cherry was put on top of the cake by the officer’s wife who spoke of how proud she was.

Often police officers can seem remote when they are human beings doing an often difficult job.

Be more human. Like the motorway police officer and his wife.

Thanks to Ben Proctor for spotting this.


PRINT TALE: What journalism can teach you about where communications should be headed

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I remember where I was when the old news media died for me. It happened in a phone call from a journalist.

“Look,” he started off. “When you write something on Twitter could you do me a favour and give me a call, please?”

I said I couldn’t. Not because I was being awkward but because it wouldn’t work.  I suggested he join Twitter himself. This was when Twitter was in its infancy.

Time has passed and the news media is being re-born. Many of the old ways have gone. Digital first has come into play. In other words, not sitting on news until the next edition but publishing it as soon as it breaks and driving traffic to the website.

Time was when all the innovation was happening in local government. There are still bright people doing bright things but as the sector has suffered austerity many have moved on. Newspapers are now working out what the future looks like. They have swapped print dollars for digital dimes. It’s not always pretty to look at for time served journalists. But their need to find an audience to survive teaches lessons for communications people.

One of the best places to see where the cutting edge is is through the Reuters Institute of Journalism.  Based at the University of Oxford the body brings academic rigour and research to the sector. There are lessons for communications people too in their Digital News Report 2017.

Resistance to change will be punished

Newspapers have had 20 years to make sense of the internet and have largely failed, the report says. Who creates the news is less important to people in 2017 than the places where they can get it. Audiences and advertisers have embraced new technology. The brighter news organisations have too. But whether the public sector has or not, I’m really not sure. If the expectation of the public sector is that people will come to them for information because they are the public sector history shows a shock is in store. The audience has moved away from newspapers who thought just that.

News in the UK is consumed mostly online

The art of writing a press release is still part of the mix. But as people move away from print media they are consuming news online. But the content of news online is often sharable content from video, images to infographics. Is your content mirroring this trend?

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People consume the news online but can’t remember where they read it

‘I read that on Facebook,’ is the response. ‘But I don’t remember who told me.’ This is really significant. It means that people are consuming information without looking too closely at the masthead of what delivered it. Reuters Institute research showed that 47 per cent couldn’t remember the people that served the news they’d read. The important thing for me is to have content on Facebook. It is less important where that presence can be found. So, sure, a Facebook page. But it is most important just to get your content out and circulating.

Whats App as a channel for news is important

We can’t see it so we can’t measure it. But 40 per cent in the UK use Whats App for news and 36 per cent use Facebook messenger. The Guardian, for example, deliver a daily message through Facebook Messenger. If that can be done for news, why not for public sector news?

People prefer an algorithm to serve their news more than an editor

More than half prefer an algorithm setting their news agenda as opposed to 44 preferring an editor, the Digital News Report says. For under 35s the algorithm figure rises to 64 per cent.

So, if people are happy to have their news served to them doesn’t it make sense for your news and messages to be in the places that are going to be hoovered up? This points to Google News and Facebook. There is no direct footprint a public sector organisation can have in Google News but there is in Facebook.

In summary

If you work in communications and PR look outside the sector too for clues on how to communicate better. Newspapers, or rather media companies, are evolving as well as dying. Their business model is based around reaching an audience. There are things they are doing which can teach us all. Often I’ll talk about public sector communications. There can be an inherent laziness sometimes about reaching an audience because there is no bottom line or sales target. But that’s not good enough.


PATHWAY: We are alone together

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You need good boots and a wise head to walk the Appalachian Trail. It is 2,190 miles long and cuts through the lonely American wilderness.

Almost 3,000 people walk it’s daunting dark length from end-to-end every year and from time-to-time people go missing.

Risks faced by the traveller include the American black bear, mosquitos, yellowjackets, poison ivy, biting flies and dangerous streams.

The trail is linked by camping points a day’s walk apart. Sometimes they are just clearings but they are places walkers pitch a tent, meet and swap trail stories. Knowing there is a ford ahead can make the next day safer.

Five years ago we launched commscamp on a clear blue sky excited about the power and possibility of exploring the green empty space of the internet.

This year, there was the sense that things have evolved. There was a feeling more people used the event as safety trail camp. New things to learn? Yes. But most of all a sanity check.

The world has changed and we are trying to all change with it. Fractured channels. New audiences. New demands on time. Income targets. Bad intranets. Bad comms plans. Bad managers. Not enough time. Time taken over by an emergency. Not enough budget.

Not enough regard for what we do.

There are still people looking to innovate and get good at new things. But there are less people wide-eyed at the possibility. The militant optimists from the early years have moved on. I miss them. Those that remain on the trail are quieter somehow but more determined. They know that they are still travelling through uncharted forests. Through the trees they can sometimes hear the crunch of nearby footsteps of fellow travellers. We are alone together. We know this path will take years to complete.

It’s things like Commscamp, the Public Sector Headspace Facebook group and other places that are the safe camping points to rest.

Knowing you are not alone is just as important today as it was five years ago.

Picture credit: VinceTraveller / Flickr


CAFE SOCIETY: How the secret of coffee and cake can network your organisation’s comms

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For five years I worked in the public sector trying to embed digital communications across the organisation and in that time we found two secrets.

We won an award and we managed to get people on the frontline keen and engaged.

But what ingredients made this happen?

Two things. An open social media policy that allowed people from across the organisation to use it after some training. But a piece of paper only goes far. It opens the door but it won’t send everyone charging past and into the warm water. Here’s what really did. A regular meet-up where everyone who used social media was invited. We had three topics. No slides. We would try and meet off-site too to encourage creative thinking. A cafe was best.

The sessions were deliberately open and we encouraged people who were trying new things to talk about what they had learned.

Why involve people from across the organisation?

To share the sweets, of course. It’s something I’ve blogged about before. Social media shouldn’t be a communications thing. It should be an every service area thing. And sometimes we need our enthusiasm re-fired and a lesson shared to re-charge our batteries.

And one of the biggest challenges in all of this is for this not to be a comms’ own meeting. This shouldn’t be the head of comms lecturing everyone how it should be. It should be people from across the organisation working it out together. But more than that. Open it up to partners too. And anyone who is interested from the public. Widen the circle.

Here’s a secret. Two actually

Very often organisations can have more than 100 channels. Often they work seperately from each other and there can be painfully little collaboration.

That’s where the cake and coffee come in. Here’s the thing: if you talk to each other you’ll share ideas and very often work better. The customer services person, the librarian and the media officer. None of them have a monopoly on good ideas.

Try it. Let me know how it goes.

Shout if I can help. I’m dan@comms2point0.co.uk and @danslee.

Picture credit: Susanne Nilsson / Flickr 

 

 


COMMS CHANGE: You need to re-think what post-truth comms looks like too

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Reading through the post-Trump and post-Brexit assessment of where we are one passage stood out.

It’s from David Simas, Barack Obama’s political director, in a lengthy New Yorker piece you can read here.

It’s touches upon Facebook fake news and echo chambers:

“Until recently, religious institutions, academia, and media set out the parameters of acceptable discourse, and it ranged from the unthinkable to the radical to the acceptable to policy,” Simas said.

“The continuum has changed. Had Donald Trump said the things he said during the campaign eight years ago—about banning Muslims, about Mexicans, about the disabled, about women—his Republican opponents, faith leaders, academia would have denounced him and there would be no way around those voices. Now, through Facebook and Twitter, you can get around them. There is social permission for this kind of discourse. Plus, through the same social media, you can find people who agree with you, who validate these thoughts and opinions. This creates a whole new permission structure, a sense of social affirmation for what was once thought unthinkable. This is a foundational change.”

And I read this in former CIPR President Stephen Waddington’s Facebook timeline.

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It’s public so I’m not betraying confidences. You can see it here.

I don’t have immediate answers to what post-truth comms needs to look like. But it feels like UK diplomat Tom Fletcher’s words about communicating like an insurgent form part of it.  I’m heartened there are people looking for the answers. But I’d say that that’s not enough. You can’t outsource it. It cuts straight to trust, audience and effectiveness. If you are working in the field of communications in the public sector this is something you need to tackle too.

Picture credit: Duncan Parkes / Flickr