Helpful Links: March

Recently we have been:

  • Piloting a training programme where we’ve created the content as SCORM files so it can be integrated into our clients own in-house training system. Topics include: inspiration and ideas for using social media for work, the employee social media policy, getting the basics right and a guide to their social media strategy.
  • Helping a regulator to shape a ‘blueprint’ for its corporate social media channels
  • Celebrating five years of Fair Tax Mark status
  • Delivering crisis simulations for a Spanish humanitarian organisation, a US financial services giant and a French luxury beauty brand. Zombies may have featured somewhere in amongst a busy week of scenarios…three zombies
  • Hiring for a Senior Consultant, Americas and freelance associates
  • Sharing a resource for quickly auditing your social media accounts

Our latest round up of Helpful Links follows with news and updates on crisis communications and misinformation, social media developments and some examples of good communications that our team have spotted. 

Crisis Communications and Misinformation

We’ve been taking a look through the Media Manipulation Casebook, a digital research platform from the Harvard Kennedy School linking together theory, methods, and practice for mapping media manipulation and disinformation campaigns: 

Dan Slee’s blogged on handling hostility online, and breaks the challenge down neatly into comment (fair enough), criticism (OK too, especially if taxpayers or customers pay your salary) and abuse (where to draw the line): 

Facebook are trialling a new approach to tackling climate misinformation in the UK.  In Australia they have been involved in a dispute about whether or not they should pay for news content.  They have also shared their latest update on enforcement actions against hate speech and harassment.

Twitter has begun to label personal accounts of heads of state as it expands its policy on government-affiliated accounts.

Social Media News

Sprout Social have a handy guide to image sizes for social media posts.

LinkedIn, which has seen record use over the last year has added some new options for Company pages

Rival IQ have published their latest Social Media Benchmark report

Recent moderation efforts from TikTok are summarised in this Social Media Today article. 

Clubhouse has been growing rapidly, but with some privacy concerns and still restricted to iPhones. Facebook is looking to build a similar audio-only product, and Twitter has just announced they they are opening up their Spaces to Android having previously only made it available to iOS users. 

TikTok’s trends report is a handy guide to the trending topics on the platform across 19 major markets.

Good Communications

Working with online communities is a really good way to engage with key audiences. Outgoing Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield wrote a guest post for Mumsnet recently and answered questions posed by their community. 

During the recent power outages in Texas, energy supplier Oncor, did a really good job of keeping customers up to date via their social media channels, using powerful photos and videos to demonstrate the work they were doing.  

Deborah Lee is a really engaging trusted voice, sharing her work as Chief Executive of Gloucestershire Hospitals. She amplifies the work of her team and also responds to queries. This was a really well worded tweet to acknowledge an issue with her initial tweet. 

We enjoyed listening to this podcast about saying sorry

Sprout Social’s guide to social customer service basics is a good place to start if you’re looking to bring your customer service via social media up to customers’ expectations in 2021.

This New York Times piece explores how the r/Unemployment subreddit became a self-help community, support network and troubleshooting guide for people facing unemployment in the US.

And finally, if you’re looking for an accessible guide to giving your writing a little more pop and zazzle, try Julian Shapiro’s Writing Well handbook. Here’s a great section to dip right into on tone of voice and style.

If you have any questions about any of these links or anything else digital please get in touch, we love to help


Helpful Links: February

Recently we have been:

Chris at work

  • Running security and resilience members of the ASIS network through a data break and cyber scenario
  • Supporting a global client with an offshore spill scenario in the Americas
  • Helping train police incident commanders and communications colleagues in handling the operational and reputational angles to a firearms incident
  • Assisting bereavement support organisation Sudden in their work to help those facing unexpected bereavement:

Our latest round up of Helpful Links follows with another bumper set on: efforts to tackle misinformation, the debate over free speech and deplatforming, plus the latest social media trends.

But first, congratulations to the England & Wales Cricket Board who won a PR Week ‘Best Crisis Comms around Coronavirus’ award last week. Detailed planning made a big difference to their campaign. Here’s their campaign hub around how the wider cricket community has helped local communities though COVID.  We’re proud to have worked with them on #CrisisComms Training ahead of the Cricket World Cup.

Free speech vs deplatforming

This episode of the BBC Sounds Media Show podcast looks at whether de-platforming Trump and his supporters was the right thing to do, among the guests is  the Chief Policy Officer from Parler.

Vox looks at the effectiveness of social media bans at fighting extremism citing studies that show it does have an impact.

All social media channels have stepped up their automated efforts against misinformation and hate speech in recent weeks, but not always without issues.

There has been a new wave of Me Too testimonies in France lately with #MetooInceste and #MeTooGay posts which led an influencial feminist account to post a tweet saying “What do we do to stop men from raping?“. Her account was suspended by Twitter due to this tweet, which led many journalists, influencers, and random users to share the same phrase and see if Twitter would suspend their accounts/ and to create a movement to criticise Twitter for their moderation policies.

Misinformation and fake news

Fake news encompasses a range of different activities, in this case a Facebook group completely changed direction, exposing members expecting information about land sales to far-right extremism.

Twitter has introduced Birdwatch, a community-based approach to misinformation

Youtube has now removed more than half a million videos spreading coronavirus misinformation.

Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer reveals an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world.

And this University of Oxford report found that social media manipulation by political actors is an industrial scale problem.

Thinking beyond the pandemic about future risks: the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Risk Report is an interesting strategic read.

Social media news

Newswhip has published their latest look at the most engaging content on Facebook from the final quarter of 2020.

Hootsuite have published their thoughts on social media trends for 2021. They have also joined forces again with We Are Social to produce their latest global overview of digital usage Digital 2021.  We Are Social have also published Think Forward 2021 covering how 2020 has changed our relationship with social media and what this means for 2021.

We’re following Hootsuite’s experiments with understanding the engagement with tweets with and without links.

But also feeling old and worried about whether we’re using the right emojis these days.

Nieman Labs has analysed the interplay between social media and news, and the sources US audiences use to get news content.

We enjoyed this from Sue Serna, former Social Media Manager at Cargill, looking at the boundaries to humour in the tone of voice of corporate social media channels:

Facebook have published a new article detailing how their algorithm works to determine what appears in your news feed. Understanding how this works is really important when you are thinking about what to publish on your Facebook page and whether it is likely to reach many people.

Good digital communications

We love the Black Country Museum’s Tiktoks.

The Environment Agency has a fantastic network of trusted voices who represent the organisation on social media. Never are they more valuable than during times of flooding. This is Lee Rawlinson on the scene in Cheshire recently.

How did corporate leaders respond to the attack on the Capitol Building? This article looks at some of those who were quick to respond authentically. (Although a couple weren’t accessible as the statement was included as an image with no link to the text – not something we’d recommend. Try to include the text as a tweet, threaded tweet, or add a link to a text version.)

On a much lighter note the New Zealand Tourist board have been using humour to try to stop New Zealanders from taking photos under the social influence. It’s had huge levels of engagement and global press coverage. It will be really interesting to see if it has an impact on tourism and how they will measure the success of the campaign.

And finally  – are FAQs all bad?

Helpful news and updates

We continue to work from home. We’ve got a really interesting mix of projects and training underway, all being delivered virtually. We do miss Helpful HQ though, and would love to be there making pancakes again this year… but we’re cooking up a plan for virtual pancake-making!

If you have any questions about any of these links or anything else digital please get in touch, we love to help.

Julie and Kate making pancakes


Activities and ideas for building social media advocacy

I’ve been working with a number of teams lately to help them build social media advocacy: non-communications colleagues who want to use social media in a personal, professional capacity.

Social media advocacy is a great move if you want to encourage more networking and ‘working in the open’. It’s also the best long term plan to bring more credibility and add variety to any organisation’s social media activity.

This is a list of the types of activity our team has been involved with. For each I’ve identified some tips, and the type of things that work – and don’t work.

Offline events

Keep the emphasis on learning and doing, not just celebrating social media for the sake of it.

These sorts of events should be about building capability and confidence of your colleagues, not showing off your initiative to the rest of the world.

Keep things focussed on practical skills by setting challenges that get people doing things:

  • Interviewing each other about their job and posting it online
  • Connecting with colleagues on different networks
  • Reviewing different types of social media activity and assessing what people would and wouldn’t click
  • Thinking about upcoming projects and how these might appear on the organisation’s feeds. I’ve had a lot of success using templates like this, to get people sketching ideas in teams:
  • Be prepared to tackle the tricky topics head-on. These might include social media policy or personal privacy.

Also think about bringing in some senior support. If you have a leader in the organisation who uses social media well they can really help assuage people’s fears and legitimise what you’re trying to achieve. Ask them to present something short and snappy on:

  1. Why they use social media
  2. How they got into it
  3. The mistakes they’ve made
  4. The opportunities they’ve had, as a result

I used to be sceptical about this approach but I’ve seen it work well, even in very cautious government departments.

Finally, talk to your local reps for the big social media platforms and see if they will support your event. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn all have in-country reps who would like to do more business with your organisation. Their training resources are usually great, and in my experience they will send you stickers and stationery without necessarily expecting a sales pitch.

Social media surgeries

One-off events can be great, but keeping the momentum is what counts. However, you probably aren’t paid to do full time social media training. The challenge is finding ways to support people that are sustainable with your other commitments.

Social media surgeries should be open to any colleagues in the office building, or on Skype, to speak with you at a fixed time each week. So, rather than handle lots of enquiries on email randomly throughout the week, you can ask people to come and join you, and whomever else turns up, at a fixed time each week.

I ran these for several years in an organisation of 3500 people split across 3 sites. Sometimes no-one would turn up, sometimes a few people, but more often than not there’d be 10-12 different people often with similar questions or ideas.

Pick a day, time and location and stick to it, however slow business might seem at first. Consistency of availability is key, and it builds trust and referrals.

Keep the sessions informal, only as long as you can afford and consistent: ‘I’ll be in the canteen between 10 and 11 every Wednesday. No question too big or small.’

This approach really helps overcome any perception that no-one’s doing or supporting social. I also found lots of ready-made social media advocates this way, and avoided a few odd or crazy ideas that were brewing in other teams.

Training the trainers

Hopefully you start to build enough momentum that events and surgeries are oversubscribed. Success looks like social activity being planned early on in projects, and your advice being sought at the beginning.

This means your next problem is capacity. Having others volunteer to run events and surgeries could be an answer.

Stick to these rules and you could build yourself a good support network. New trainers must:

  1. Be regular social media users themselves
  2. Be prepared to speak to the experiences they’ve had – good and bad
  3. Listen to the concerns and needs of individuals. They’re not there just to sell social
  4. Not try to be an expert on everything. Vulnerability encourages confidence within others.
  5. Be prepared to continually encourage and support the people they train, online
  6. Keep training practical: get people set up with accounts there and then, take photos, create graphics etc.

Books and reading

For all my obsession with helping people to just get on and press some buttons and share content, I accept that for many, having something to take away and read is really important.

For the purposes of the activity described above, I’ve assumed people need a bit of persuasion or inspiration.

Here are some suggestions, for starters:


The single most important activity is your own, online. I’ve seen companies flounder with social media advocacy because they don’t have a central person or team who is really well connected with staff and demonstrably enthusiastic about social media.

Make sure your colleagues can find you online, and that you are ready and waiting to support them. Your colleagues need to see that you are accessible but also immersed in this world – a source of expertise but also practical help. An advocate for social media in your workplace.

If you’re still lacking inspiration, or would like someone to present at your next surgery or lunch-and-learn, we’d be happy to help.

Get in touch.

What does it take to be a community manager?

7 steps for an effective public safety communication campaign

While I was staying at my parents’ in Northern France during the Christmas break, a letter in the mailbox caught my eye one morning. For the first time in 3 years, they were receiving an awareness guide in case of an industrial emergency in the area.

My parents live near an industrial zone where more than 20 factories are located including chemical plants and refineries. The “Port Jerôme” industrial site is classified as a Seveso site. It means it holds the risk of causing major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances. Several entities on the site are even ranked as high-risk Seveso.

To develop the culture of risk in the region, and following a serious industrial accident in Rouen in September 2019, local authorities have put together these guides.

Here are a few elements of the guide that I found great and that you could re-use for an effective public safety campaign:

Put a major focus on the design

The guide is 6-page long, colourful, and uses catchy visuals that attract the eye. Contrary to what we sometimes picture when it comes to industrial hazard risk awareness, the blue, white, and green colours are soft and reassuring. The whole document is also spaced out well and the font is modern. The result is that it encourages people to read it, instead of throwing it away.

Use visual illustrations

To relay important information and instructions, the designer used graphic elements that facilitate the understanding and are visually appealing.

First, universal symbols (fire, explosion, toxic chemicals) depict each risk. The map and the table also provide a concrete illustration of what’s important for residents. They show where the factories are located and how dangerous they are.

Opt for clear wording and short sentences

There are no unessential words in the guide, and everything is organised in short, sharp paragraphs. The written content of an awareness guide needs to go straight to the point. There shouldn’t be any space for interpretation. For instructions, one word can be enough.

Ex: Do not phone / Take shelter.

Stay transparent

Industrial risks and chemical hazards are sensitive topics, especially for local residents who are sometimes reminded daily of the disadvantages of living near an industrial zone. However, hiding sensitive information from residents won’t help you protect local communities from an industrial incident. A risk-aware, trained crowd is more likely to understand the urgency of following security protocols during an emergency.

In this guide, the table reveals the activities of each plant and the type of risks associated.

Be conscious of your audience’s needs

The local authority also provided a magnetic card summing up the 4 steps to follow during an industrial emergency. That way, all residents can keep it on their fridge and refer to it whenever they need.

Think about the basics

Contingency plans evolve along the years, so don’t forget to date each guide you produce and provide an emergency number that people can reach out to if they have any questions or worries.

Maximise the reach with social media

None of the local authorities posted the guide on social media. However, it would be good to encourage local accounts to posts the guide on their social media page.

For the Port-Jerôme industrial zone, the regional authority regularly posts reminder of the emergency siren test, to keep residents aware of the omnipresence of the risk.

This guide proves us that proactive safety messaging can be impactful and effective. It is also a good reminder that traditional methods have their place still, especially when you need to target a very local audience.

Helpful Links: January

Recently we have:

  • Analysed whether the pandemic changed who UK audiences trust online
  • Completed a second course on video training for press officers
  • Reviewed the social media effectiveness of a client in Germany – we’re working with them on recommendations right now
  • Delivering social media training for NGOs in Papua New Guinea
  • Kicked off a new project on social media governance for a regulator
  • Helped marketing teams across Europe from a pet food brand grow their crisis communication skills in a virtual workshop format
  • Helped a power company move its public engagement work online and get focussed input to its strategy

As always, we’ve been busy reading too, here are a selection of some of the articles we’ve found interesting and wanted to share with you. Firstly look after yourselves, here are five ways to stay positive during lockdown.


After this week’s events at the Capitol Building there will be plenty to digest in next month’s Helpful Links on misinformation and the final days of the Trump presidency.

Recently Twitter have announced their updated plans to combat misinformation around the Covid vaccine.   The UK government is actively monitoring for coronavirus misinformation too.

This is a really interesting podcast on misinformation, including the statistic that people over the age of 65 shared 7x more fake news than people between 18-29. Depressingly this study found that that nearly half of people don’t think the WSJ does do their own reporting, a similar percentage of people do think that Facebook does their own reporting.

Social Media and Digital News

Is Substack the answer to social media fatigue and failing media?

12 things James Whatley learned by taking a year off Instagram

The Government Communications Service looks ahead to future trends in social media and digital comms for 2021.

Pre Covid-19 New Year’s Eve generated Facebook’s biggest spike in messaging, photo uploads and social sharing, in March 2020 this was dwarfed by traffic spikes which continued through the year, in turn this New Year set new records.

Discover which topics are taking hold in conversations across Facebook and Instagram and are on the cusp of going mainstream in the year ahead.

Instagram has shared their Year in Review: How Memes Were the Mood of 2020

Joe Biden will take over the @POTUS Twitter account with zero followers in a break from tradition.

Crisis Communications

F5Bot is a nice free Google Alerts-style tool that pings you an update when your brand or keyword pops up on Reddit or HackerNews, where issues can sometimes bubble up first:

Amazing timeline of links to the unfolding of the Covid crisis in the UK from December 2019, by crisis comms expert Charlie Pownall.

As the massive FireEye and Solarwinds cyber incidents rocked the security world in late 2020, we’ve seen several of our clients take an approach like GoDaddy’s to test-phishing their own people to see how well they stand up to social engineering attacks which could compromise security.

Really insightful thread on Covid Comms and Crisis Comms from Gavin Kelly.  Transparency is key but information also needs to be accessible. Endless slides of data are transparent for some audiences but opaque to others.

Good Digital Communications

Walmart is growing a group of employee Tiktokers:

Good to see a CEO engaging in conversations on Twitter.

Helpful news and updates

We publish our Helpful Links monthly. All previous sets are available via this link.

Get early access to our briefings, updates and product news when you sign up to our emails via this link. You’ll receive a copy of our guide to Twitter’s reply functionality when you register. We’ll only send emails when we have something useful to send you.

Pandemic communications: who do we trust on social media?

What are the best crisis responses of 2020?

There have been no shortage of crises in 2020, but who has responded well? We’ve been analysing a wide variety of organisation and individual crisis responses and picked out some highlights . Here is a shortlist of some of the ones we particularly rate and why. But first:

What makes a good crisis response?

There are many elements to a good crisis response and just as each crisis is different so is the appropriate response. But there are some key elements that unite a good response.

People First

This means both the people affected by the crisis and your own people. Look after them both, keep them at the forefront of any decisions and communication and you are well on your way to a good crisis response.

Timely, Accessible, Targeted Communications

Another aspect that is common to good responses is timely, accessible and targeted communication. This doesn’t always mean diving head first into a response, take your time to gather the information you need while issuing a holding response, make sure your updates are accessible to all, and ensure you are publishing them where your audience is most likely to access them

Keep going

This year, more than ever, good crisis responses haven’t stopped after 24 hours, 48 hours or even a few days or weeks. Cadence is important, be clear about when people can expect your next update and keep communicating throughout the crisis and as things return to normal.


Here are 10 of the Best Crisis Responses of 2020 and what we can learn from them, some Covid related, others not. They aren’t ranked in any particular order, but we would love to know what you think and if there’s others we should add.

  1. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minster, New Zealand

Crisis: Covid 19

Response: Facebook Live after putting her daughter to bed

What we like about it: Relatable, uses lots of her own experience as a parent, informal style matched to the channel, but also full of clear factual information about advice and restrictions likely to resonate with her audience.

2. Welsh Government

Crisis: Covid

Response: Daily Covid Press conference broadcast via Facebook Live

What we like about it: Accessible, they have a sign language interpreter and automatically generated subtitles in real time, on a platform that many people are familiar with to maximise the reach of their information.

3. American Red Cross

Crisis: Covid-19

Response: Launching a new TikTok channel

What we like about it: Created appropriate content for channel, succeeded in reaching a new audience, reinforcing safety messages and also sharing information about how to cope with lockdown for young people.  Scientists working on the Covid 19 vaccine have also used TikTok well under #TeamHalo to explain their work to young people and myth bust.

4. AirBNB

Crisis: Covid-19

Response: Blog post on the AirBNB site mirroring information sent directly to staff announcing redundancies situation

Screenshot of AirBNB redundancy announcement

What we liked about it: Honest, detailed, compassionate, clear on where to get further information and what the next steps are. It is also good to see internal comms published externally for transparency. 

5. Emmanuel Faber, Danone

Crisis: Covid-19

Response: Usual frequent updates on Twitter and LinkedIn

E Faber of Danone giving crisis response on youtube

What we liked about itDuring COVID-19, he didn’t change his habits and continued to relay the company’s initiatives on his accounts while also responding to stakeholders’ questions as he normally would. He also embodied the company’s response to the crisis when announcing exceptional measures on Danone’s Youtube account.

6. Exxon Mobil Beaumont

Crisis: Covid-19

Response: Stay at Home #STEM, science lessons via Facebook Live

What we liked about it: It shows empathy for those affected by the crisis, supports their local community, fits in with their overall CSR commitment, and they’ve done it consistently throughout the year, making science at home topical and fun for example this puking pumpkin for Halloween! Other organisations have done similar things for example Airbus and #AirbusDiscoverAtHome and the Royal Academy with their #DailyDoodle

7. Bank of America

Issue: Black Lives Matter

Response: Allocating $1bn over 4 years to advance racial equality and economic opportunity

What we liked about it: Clear action, not just talking about a commitment but making one, they have also continued to update their audience on progress.

Other organisations making similar demonstrable commitments include AirBNB with their Project Lighthouse, and Netflix adding a permanent Black Lives Matter genre tab to their platform.

8. Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines

Crisis: Stonehaven Train Derailment


What we liked about it: His statement included the three key elements concern, action, and perspective. He also immediately came home from a family holiday to go to the site. Several senior figures from other organisations have been criticised in the past for not doing this. 

9. Ambassador Leigh Turner

Crisis: Vienna Shootings


Crisis Response tweets after Vienna Shootings

What we liked about it: retweeting official police messages in two languages during the incident, quote tweeting to add emphasis, retweeting key messages from others in his organisation amplifying their updates.

10. Innocent

Problem: Publishing an incorrect phone number


What we liked about it: By far the least serious crisis on our list was handled with the least serious response, and was therefore completely appropriate. Innocent kept their usual company tone of voice to manage the situation well. 

Are there any you think we should add to the list? Tweet us with your suggestions.

If you have been involved in a crisis response this year and want to evaluate how it went, we have some tips here.

If you would like to be prepared for whatever comes your way in 2021 here is our complete guide to Crisis Communications Planning.


Scenario Planning for ‘No Deal’: how the principles of scenario planning apply in a crisis

As the UK and EU inch towards the end of the year without a deal, there’s renewed interest in scenario planning.

Last weekend, Robert Peston of ITV wrote about the Government’s ‘reasonable worst case scenario planning’, in the form of a presentation he’d been passed outlining the potential for food and medical shortages, violent protests and financial collapse of some local councils.

In response to the leak, a spokesperson replied:

As a responsible government we continue to make extensive preparations for a wide range of scenarios, including the reasonable worst case.

This is not a forecast or prediction of what will happen but rather a stretching scenario.

It reflects a responsible government ensuring we are ready for all eventualities.

We focus a lot with teams on exactly this: trying to help them explore consequences and make sensible preparations given limited resources and time – rather than trying to make impossible predictions. But how can you explore consequences and scenarios that are two or three steps ahead of where we are right now?

What’s the purpose of scenario planning?

First and foremost, it’s worth being clear there are different modes of scenario planning. One of the pioneers of the discipline is the multinational energy firm Shell, which has invested in long term strategic scenario planning since the 1960s:

Ultimately, for Shell and others, strategic scenario planning is about stepping back from current business and challenging the assumptions about trends and behaviour that leaders naturally work with. It’s quite a systematic, analytical process of extrapolating future patterns and consequences based on what we can see changing across various axes: politics, technology, society, science, economy, culture and more.

“You are trying to manipulate people into being open-minded.” —Ted Newland, manager of Long-Term Studies 1965–1971; scenario team leader 1980–1981 – HBR “Living in the Futures”

For me, scenario planning boils down to:

  • Broadening thinking: taking the time to check and challenge assumptions you have
  • Stepping back to see trends: what is rising in importance, and what is declining
  • Exploring consequences: asking what happens next, or how one action or trend might influence another
  • Developing shortcuts: using the process of exploring scenarios and consequences to identify the gaps in understanding or preparedness, so you can address them proactively

Scenario planning in a crisis

So in the Shell model, scenario planning is an extended exploration of future trends. But sometimes – as with the Brexit cliff-edge – you don’t have the luxury of time to work through your analysis. So how can scenario planning help prepare for and manage a crisis?

1. Different perspectives

Broadening thinking under pressure is best done with a wide range of perspectives and experience represented. But if you give everyone a seat at the table and simply brainstorm issues, the discussion can quickly get out of hand.

Scenario planning for crisis is a role in itself, someone able to step back from the coalface response or people management of the situation, but being fed information and updates from those colleagues. It’s hard for a crisis leader to develop scenarios: they need to be able to direct decision-making, and will often have a strong personality or authority position that can limit the feedback they hear and take on board.

Your scenario planners need the headspace to see the bigger picture, be open to challenge while actively gathering new information, and have the respect of the wider team when they present back analysis of scenarios and consequences to guide the decisions of crisis leaders.

2. Worst and most likely

Under time pressure, focus on the scenarios which present the strongest challenge to your team: the worst case in terms of potential harm (to people, assets, reputation etc) and the case you estimate is most likely.

Whereas in long-term scenario planning, the key is to avoid falling into the trap of attempting to predict the far future, in a crisis you have a clearer picture of what those potential situations and consequences might be. Focus on those two cases and you’ll have a line of thinking which doesn’t underestimate how bad things may get (like those Government no-deal Brexit scenarios), and one which helps you align your resources and planning to what’s most likely to be needed. My colleague Alasdair has shared a template for mapping risks and thinking about mitigations.

3. Plausible rather than probable

That said, when scenario planning for a crisis, try to challenge your assumptions about probability. We sometimes hear teams in cyber exercises saying things ‘can’t happen’ when we all know of processes that are routinely ignored, that multiple parallel systems can fail, or attackers can find vulnerabilities we’re not yet aware of.

There’s a great passage in the Harvard Business Review’s write up of Shell’s scenario planning methodology which describes how ‘memorable but disposable stories’ help teams plausibly imagine future scenarios different from current reality:

Corporations, like human beings, act on the basis of an agreed-upon reality—which is, in essence, a story. Stories of the past and the present can be based on facts, but a story of the future is just a story. The problem is that the stories we most commonly tell about the future simply extrapolate from the present.

Perhaps the greatest power of scenarios, as distinct from forecasts, is that they consciously break this habit. They introduce discontinuities so that conversations about strategy—which lie at the heart of any organization’s capacity to adapt—can encompass something different from the present.

Storytelling is key to making this process work. A story is not a position, so no one has to be for or against it or line up behind the CEO’s opinion. If it’s sufficiently vivid and memorable, it allows executives to discuss difficult issues without having to revisit arguments connected with them: A few words can evoke a world. Charismatic presenters; evocative graphics; memorable phrases, images, and archetypes; illustrative graphs of future outlooks; and the preparation of the audience through interviews, workshops, and other forms of participation all contribute to the storytelling power of Shell’s scenarios.

That picture-painting is where the worlds of scenario planning and crisis simulation come neatly together, and where we often come in. For a training exercise to feel real, it’s important that the environment the participants work within has the ring of authenticity from stakeholders’ emails to the tone of social media comments.

Since they tend to be much shorter and more intense than real-world crisis responses, it’s important that simulations aim to stretch thinking rather than try to recreate the grind of long hours in crisis meetings or avalanche of phone calls, tweets and emails that a real crisis bring. So think about the range of stakeholders, the variety of social media channels and media formats to manage, and the nuances between antagonistic customers, regulators, politicians and staff.

So to wrap up, here’s a little montage of clips from No Deal Brexit scenario work we’ve been supporting different clients with over the last 18 months. Whatever happens the other side of 31 December, hopefully the discipline of thinking through stakeholders and consequences with an open mind has proved useful.

Also published at

Helpful Links: December

Recently we have:

  • Published a full guide to Crisis Communications Planning with a downloadable template to help you to write or update your Crisis Comms Plan
  • Delivered a mix of crisis training, social media skills and LinkedIn training for clients in 15 different countries, including Papua New Guinea, Tunisia, France and Hong Kong
  • Begun testing a new social media training program for 55000 employees in a Fortune 500 company
  • Helped a law firm to put dozens of their clients in Asia through a virtual cyber incident, collaborating live online using our Crisis90 tool
  • Added new functionality to our flagship Social Simulator
  • Shared our tips on Creating an online learning community
  • Created our first reel on Instagram

As always, we’ve been busy reading too, here are a selection of some of the articles we’ve found interesting and wanted to share with you.

Firstly some ideas for coping with the ongoing COVID situation and the helplessness that comes with it:

This is a relatively nonsense free piece on home working (and home IT in general) security.

And here’s a handy guide to keyboard shortcuts.


Facebook tweaked their algorithm after the US election to prioritise mainstream news sources. Twitter has started to warn you before you like a tweet with a fact check label.  

Now the US election finally (we think) has a winner, efforts to tackle misinformation are now being focused on the Covid 19 vaccine.

This is an interesting read on COVID vaccine narratives and misinformation in different language communities, from the excellent First Draft News: 

Ipsos Mori’s recently published Veracity Index 2020 makes for interesting reading and shows what a huge difference there is in the level of trust we have in certain professions – we’d recommend using it to help inform who your spokespeople should be, both day to day and in a crisis. 

Social Media and Digital News

After a few early glitches, Fleets, Twitter’s equivalent of Stories, have rolled out to all users this month. 

It’s also that time of the year when round-ups start.

YouTube have announced 2020’s top-trending videos and creators on their platform.

TikTok have revealed their top 100 of 2020. This was the most popular video!

On a smaller scale but of note are posts under #TeamHalo and accounts like Dr Anna Blakney working to combat misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines. 

LinkedIn have published their Top Voices of 2020.

Our friends at Empower have put together this list of free social media monitoring tools.

We also like this useful tool to help you check your social media previews when your content is shared to social platforms and understand how to fix problems. 

Crisis Communications 

We’ve used the Gatwick drone crisis as an example in some of our training courses, highlighting some of the things the airport did well in their crisis response. With any crisis once the initial peak is over there will be times when attention comes back to what happened; this recent Guardian article goes through the incident in full. 

Good Digital Communications

Good work by the Office of Rail and Road announcing station usage statistics, including a departure board style top 10. 


A well made video from Bristol Zoo Gardens to announce major changes

Helpful news and updates

Our London office is open again, the Christmas tree is up, but we’re being very careful about how many people are in the office at any one time and working from home where we can.  Our team catch ups are still via Google Hangouts and Zoom and we’ve organised a virtual Christmas party – Mibo looks like it would be fun to try too. 

Get early access to our briefings, updates and product news when you sign up to our emails via this link. You’ll receive a copy of our guide to Twitter’s new reply functionality when you register. We’ll only send emails when we have something useful to send you.

How to create an online learning community on zero budget

2020 has revolutionised the way we work and learn. Our homes became our offices with many of us having to adapt to working completely online and disconnecting from in-person coffees, conferences and commutes. The impacts of the pandemic may have resulted in learning and development budgets being reduced for some, but the silver lining of the remote working ‘new normal’ is that there is a greater opportunity to learn from each other in real time.

During the summer of 2020 I worked with the team at NHS England to, among other initiatives, develop an online community where social media officers from around the country share and support each other in their work. During one of the most challenging times for our health service, it has never been a more important time to share learnings and skills between one team and another.

Using a group space in Microsoft Teams and members committing to a 30-minute sharing and collaboration session once a month, the community keeps giving back to members at no cost to an L&D budget, aside from the time commitment from individuals. At each session a different community member prepares a guest presentation about a recent learning or project, which also duals as a networking experience and developmental opportunity for public speaking practice. Outside of sessions, members can ask questions on the forum section of Microsoft Teams to help each other find solutions and offer advice.

Reflecting on the community so far, our senior client manager at NHS England said:



So, how can you create an online community for your team? Here’s five pieces of advice to keep in mind when getting started:

1. Create an ‘online first’ community

An online community means that everyone, no matter where they are located, can equally contribute. When the world returns back to office-based working in the future, it’s important to keep the discussions and events primarily online to preserve inclusion and momentum between members who are not co-located. Remember; it’s the varied and diverse experiences of the community which allows everyone a greater shared-learning opportunity.

Ideally, select a hosting platform that community members already have access to and use regularly. As a starting point, consider platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack or Yammer. The platform should have a space where members can post and comment on threads, upload documents, and have video call functionality for collaboration sessions.

2. Keep events regular and consistent

When starting your community, first survey members to understand the level of commitment members can offer. Weekly collaboration sessions are likely to be too much, so a recommendation would be to plan for fortnightly or monthly sessions, with discussion threads on the community space to keep conversations going in-between. To maintain momentum, book sessions in diaries in advance and try to select the same day and time for sessions to help members remember and regularly commit to attending.

If you find attendance numbers begin to dwindle, evaluate why and look for a solution. Perhaps the time or day of the week is challenging, or the regularity of sessions is too much and needs to be reduced to monthly instead of fortnightly. It can take time to build a community so always aim to try a new solution before cancelling sessions completely.

3. Make sure to have an agenda

The easiest way to plan for sessions and keep them to time is by preparing a simple agenda. To get started, download my Community Agenda template which allows you to sketch out timings, speakers and considerations. If sessions regularly run over time it may discourage members from attending in future, so having a well-planned agenda is vital. Creating an agenda will also allow moderators to let guest speakers know how long they have to complete their presentation, which will help them to prepare.

4. Encourage professional development

Aim to keep the topics and speakers at events varied and encourage members to shape the agenda of collaboration sessions. An inclusive way of doing this is to have a different community member give a guest presentation at each session. Topic ideas could include; evaluation techniques, review of social media channels, campaign insights, or learnings from a recent incident response. Encourage speakers to be from a range of levels to make the most of this developmental opportunity.

Remember public speaking can be a daunting or new experience for some members. For the team at NHS England, I developed a ‘guest speaker information guide’ which advised on presentation timings, recommended number of slides, accessibility and structure. A few tips can help someone who is nervous or less experienced at preparing a presentation feel a lot more in control.

5. Keep it community-led

As a community moderator, take notes of questions asked in collaboration sessions and monitor the regular themes discussed on threads in the online space. What topics are people talking about? What subject attracts interest or questions? Often these themes are a great starting place for future guest presentations.

Creating and maintaining a community takes time and dedication, but the reward of people learning and gaining professional skills from each other is well worth the investment. After all, during this time of challenge and great change, the need to learn has never been more important.


Updating Social Simulator to make our virtual crisis simulation exercises even more immersive

We’ve been spending much of 2020 working alongside our clients to re-imagine how we deliver crisis training and validation exercises together.

A core component of that is our life-like exercising platform, Social Simulator. It’s a hands-on, private digital experience that enables realistic, interactive simulations of social media and corporate channels in a challenging scenario or crisis. It gives your team a practical ‘stress test’ of your processes and plans, to improve your preparedness.

With corporate life adapting to the changes wrought by COVID-19 on all of us, most of our clients have opted to move to virtual deliveries of crisis simulations and training to reduce the risk of transporting teams to one location, and enable them to test how effectively they can mobilize their teams and manage a crisis response remotely.

Pandemic or no pandemic, the chances are the first stages of a crisis will be managed remotely rather than conveniently around a conference table. So, your ability to work as a virtual team in a crisis is a core skill now, and one that is worth rehearsing.

We’ve run virtual exercises for several years now, and the savings in time and cost are a big benefit over traditional exercise facilitation methods. But as teams adopt new tools and work in new ways in their organisations, we’ve been working hard on new features and improvements to our flagship product, to make virtual exercising even smoother.

Integrating collaboration tools into exercises

For a recent emergency exercise, our client integrated our Overview Dashboard right into the Teams instance they set up for the drill.

Our platform uses native web technologies without any special plugins or installs needed, so it slotted straight into the tool the team was using and helped those in strategic and management roles to keep tabs on the key developments in the scenario, while their PIO (Public Information Officer) colleagues had full access to publish statements to replicas of their website, Twitter and Facebook.

Social Simulator embedded within Teams

Improving remote facilitation

Facilitating and observing a virtual exercise is an acquired skill. Listening in to team conversations in multiple virtual breakout rooms can be a challenge, especially while also trying to keep track of what’s going on in the exercise scenario and direct the roleplay.

Our new Facilitator Dashboard brings the key events in the exercise timeline, the simulated social media feed, and the email traffic between all participants into a single, private view. Our clients are giving us great feedback about the visibility this gives them of what’s happening across the exercise without needing to switch between modules.

We’ve also added a system-wide newsflash, so it’s easier to send a prominent alert to all participants. We’ve had clients use this to indicate scenario time jumps or ask participants to complete post-exercise feedback surveys to feed into virtual debriefs.

Supporting global teams better

A key strength of our platform is that we take a global view of crisis communication channels and social media – for example, while Twitter is a key channel in Europe and North America, it’s much less salient in parts of Africa and Asia.

We’ve expanded our template library to over 1,000 lifelike media brands covering local, national and international media organisations, blogs, forums and communities. We’ve recently added replicas for emerging channels such as the alt-right Parler and growing communities such as NextDoor where local issues can blow up quickly.

I’ve written more about how important we see Facebook Groups as being to an organisation’s digital communications – in peacetime or crisis. We’ve introduced Groups and timelines into our virtual exercises, and clients have been using them actively to simulate the additional challenge of engaging in these ‘earned reputation’ spaces.

Facebook group simulation

Our roleplay features now have a wider range of local character profile names, from French to North African, Singaporean to Vietnamese.

Making social media more lifelike

A big focus for us has been keeping pace with the richer forms and norms of social media content being posted now – applying learnings from some of big events of 2020 including Black Lives Matter, the US Election and of course, the misinformation around COVID-19.

We’ve added and refined our social media roleplay features to:

  • Better simulate the scale of reaction to posts going viral, with simulated counts of likes and retweets which roleplayers can update during the exercise as a post gains traction by editing published tweets
  • Integrate GIF reactions with access to the GIPHY library to add to posts on Twupdates or Friendbook
    Greater use of video, with easier upload and playback of video by participants and roleplayers, to Twupdates or Instantgram – simulating video posts, or simple Stories
  • Rework our Autopilot: our auto-tweeting functionality now handles up to five parallel streams of tweets on different topics and from different categories of Twupdates characters, simulating the mix of business-as-usual, customer and wider general public reaction to an incident, and how that changes over the course of a crisis
  • Make exercise preparation smoother, with pre-drafted and editable tweets
  • Make the internal comms challenge more lifelike: adding a social intranet/chat module simulating Yammer, Teams or Slack, which participants can use to post, share files or comment on roleplayed posts as they manage the situation together

Simulator features


All in all, the challenge of running almost all of our work in a virtual format has pushed us to enhance our core product and work closely with clients to ensure it gives them the feedback they need to manage exercises effectively.

It’s been incredible to see virtual teams taking on scenarios ranging from cyber attacks to COVID outbreaks, influencer allegations of racism to environmental activism – and really learning as they collaborate virtually to manage the crisis, so when the real thing happens, they’re better placed to respond.