NEW TACK: We’re mad as hell and we’re just not going to take it any more, so we’ll be polite, human and factual… a new approach to online snark


There’s a change in the air with how the public sector is using social media. 

Back in 2008, a public body would get credit for even using the platform.

Over time, that changed. Train companies and others with spot-on online customer services raised the bar.

Trouble is, digital expectations grew just as public sector services were cut through waves of austerity. What the public sector used to do, they sometimes no longer do. That’s a tough message to explain. It’s led to a backlash of frustration, anger and abuse online and often the frontline is the comms officer updating social media. I’ve lost count of the number of people who just switch off in the evening where they used to try and help with customer service questions.

“I get told I’m an idiot 9 to 5 online,” one person who looks after social accounts for a council said. “Why do I want to switch on to get told that in my own time, too?”

My advice for dealing with snark online used to be to play the Uncle Keith card. In short, don’t argue with an idiot. To a passer-by its just two idiots arguing. Swearing? Have a zero tolerance.

But over time I’ve seen a new approach.

It’s a very human approach that draws a clear line in the sand. It calls people out when they are wrong and uses facts and humour.

Importantly, it’s an approach that very often goes down very well with people online. Using the crude measurement of likes and comments, public sympathy can be very often with the human and factual public sector response rather than the troll.

I’ve lost count of the number of times in training when I’ve showed people examples of this approach they’ve practically whooped with joy.

“That’s brilliant.” They say. “I wish we could do that.”

The reality is they can.

Of course, each response needs to be judged on its own merit. But if its factually accurate, polite, professional and maybe a touch witty too then, why not?

Some examples of the new polite, human and firm to snark

Example 1: Bournemouth Council

Take, Bournemouth Council. When they asked people to report potholes they were met with snark. Did they back down? Did they heck!


Example 2: South Somerset Council

South Somerset District Council were sent an FOI demanding to know how their council tax was spent. The response is factual but also calls upon Ancient Rome.


Example 3: Dorset Police

I’ve blogged this before, but it’s such a great example I’m blogging it again. They could have left this inaccurate piece of fake news but it was important to challenge it.


human 3

Thanks to Tina Stokes and Kristian Ward for this.

Picture caption: Flickr / Documerica.

WINTER COMMS part 3: Eight ways to communicate with images in the snow and ice

Hey, remember when listening to the local radio station at 7.40am was how you found out about school closures? Good times. 

Today, things are much more complex. The public sector has the tools to talk to people directly. Information and also counter-argument. It is not enough to tell people with words. In the days of fake news you have to use video or images. I’ve blogged examples of video here.

But how about images?

Well, if a picture can paint a thousand words then use more of them.

An image from the frontline of a rescue

Macclesfield Police were involved in a rescue of a couple who took their baby for a ride and then got stuck in sub-zero temperature. The shot taken on a smartphone shows just what they are up against.

An image from the frontline of road conditions and a closure

A shot posted quickly by a frontline officer to the web can be shared swiftly.

 An image of stills from the traffic cameras

While the best content is outside the office there is a way to stay in the office and get something usable. Images of road conditions taken from traffic cameras acts as a warning. And you get to stay in the warm.

An image of text

For all engaging image can attract attention 80 per cent of people in an emergency just want text. This screenshot does just that and drives traffic.

 An image of conditions to drive traffic to the link

Snow and ice on the ground show the conditions people are up against.

An image of conditions as a warning not to travel

This shot of the North Yorkshire moors to anyone with common sense shows a picture of an impassable road. It works well on Facebook.

A collection of images for reassurance

Shots of ambulance crews facing the odds reminds people that the service is still there and working hard.

 A sharable infographic

The irony of this NHS image is that it is shared on a council website. Which is the intention of making something sharable.