Helping a small safeguarding charity to build a workable crisis plan

An independent charity responsible for leading research into child sexual abuse were looking to strengthen their crisis communications plan. As a small organization based remotely across the UK, they wanted to build a response process which was easy to follow and adaptable depending on resources.

We worked with the Leadership Team to develop their existing plan by adapting their mobilisation and escalation process, giving them clear checklists to follow, and developing useful crisis templates. We then held an interactive workshop to test the plan against several realistic scenarios. 

This workshop was held remotely with the Crisis Management Team using video conferencing, our innovative Crisis 90 platform, and open-source documents. The workshop helped to expose those parts of the plan which needed adapting for real-life situations and where there were potential gaps in the centre’s procedures. 

Project Outcomes

Following the session, the team left with a tailored and workable crisis plan, actions for tightening up their processes, and the confidence that they could respond effectively to a crisis.

“The use of different platforms and mix of interactive and talking through was really good.”

“Clear research into us as an organisation and the specific issues we face.”

How could we help you?

Talk to us informally about how we approach this kind of work, ballpark budgets and timescales – or just to help you refine your brief: email [email protected]

Mapping online audiences for an energy provider

One of the UK’s largest electricity providers were looking for help mapping their online audiences so they could build a better understanding of their stakeholders and ensure that social media was being integrated into their public engagement work.

Our work focused on identifying relevant stakeholders and helping them to build an understanding of their social media audiences, particularly around key priorities. As part of this work, we used various paid-for and free tools to research their social media channels, analyse how they could develop the breadth of their audience and build a community online. 

Project Outcomes

As a result of our work, the energy provider is working to integrate social media more closely into their stakeholder engagement process as they move more of their engagement work online. Based on our recommendations they have improved their social media monitoring, clarified channels strategies, and connected the social media and stakeholder teams more closely.

How could we help you?

Talk to us informally about how we approach this kind of work, ballpark budgets and timescales – or just to help you refine your brief: email [email protected]

Crisis training with Kew Gardens’ Executive Board

The Royal Botanic Gardens in the UK wanted to test their ability to respond to a cyber incident. We facilitated a half-day simulation for their Executive Board, based on a realistic data breach scenario.

The objectives of the session were to :

  • Rehearse Kew Gardens’ response to a Business Continuity incident in line with their plan 
  • Test the process of mobilising and drawing on support functions identifying gaps in plans and processes
  • Work through the escalation process and management of external stakeholders in a contained scenario environment

Project Outcomes

  • Executive Board have now rehearsed mobilising and coordinating their response
  • Gaps identified in existing processes
  • Kew Gardens have streamlined their escalation process
  • Roles and responsibilities have been more clearly defined

How could we help you?

Talk to us informally about how we approach this kind of work, ballpark budgets and timescales – or just to help you refine your brief: email [email protected]

Innovation and recruitment in national defence

The scale of infrastructure behind military organisations can be hard to comprehend. So it’s really hard for communicators in defence to explain everything they do on social channels, with sensitivity and relevance. 

People will always like and share images of exciting aircraft, ships and tanks. But how can social be put to work; to recruit suppliers, keep people safe or explain what’s happening behind the security fencing?

Our client is a 30-strong communications team based across the UK. They challenged us to:

  • evaluate their existing activity
  • identify an audience and purpose for each channel
  • run user testing with their existing audience
  • benchmark their work against best practice from competing organisations

We had to quickly iterate this project to reflect wider changes to social platforms and changes to internal social media policy. Our evaluation uncovered some hidden gems, including an underutilised blog that does a great job of illustrating their priorities. We compared hard data with user feedback, leading to some challenging conclusions about high performing content. 

(Image provided by licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0)

Project Outcomes

  • challenged assumptions about high performing content and channels
  • brought user needs into social media planning
  • delivered a set of practical recommendations for quickly improving activity


How could we help you?

Talk to us informally about how we approach this kind of work, ballpark budgets and timescales – or just to help you refine your brief: email [email protected]

Providing insight and a strategic roadmap for a government comms office

A large UK Government communications office wanted to make their social media channels more effective with targeted audiences and reduce the volume of correspondence/calls to the public enquiry unit. They also needed an in-depth review of their channels which included recommendations going forward. 

Over the course of the project, we provided this in a number of ways:

  • An in-depth report where we reviewed the content and analytics from each of their social media channels and provided useful insights into how to increase engagement and avoid reputational damage. 
  • 4 pilot projects to test theories borne out of the review which included content training for media officers, workshops with individual social media and data analysis teams and developing new processes to trial.
  • Examined the siloed ways of working that were in place and suggested ways to together moving forward, cutting down the amount of data reports being produced and increasing the number of people with skills to produce high-quality social media content. 
  • Built confidence in the public enquiry unit to be able to handle enquiries over social media as well as developed new processes to do this effectively.
  • A road-mapping workshop with senior staff members to build an achievable plan over 3,6, 12 and 18 months.

Based on the insights in the report, we developed clear recommendations and processes to take forward. These included long-term structural and strategic recommendations as well as quick wins that would make a noticeable difference within weeks. 

Project Outcomes

  • Increased confidence to create digital content, among press office staff
  • A new process for evaluating social media activity alongside other channels
  • Greater ownership and responsibility for social across the department, including customer service

Here’s what they had to say about our work:

We commissioned Helpful Digital to produce an independent review of social media activity from the Department for Education.
We wanted to understand:
  • the impact of our existing activity
  • opportunities to improve the efficiency of how we used our channels and content to target a wide range of audiences
  • where we needed to build skills and experience
We chose Helpful Digital because they took time to get to know our team and understand the work of this Department.  The Helpful team spent time building relationships with different stakeholders. Helpful also co-produced the recommendations with our communications team. This approach helped everyone buy in to the review and its findings, and feel confident working with Helpful.
The review and subsequent recommendations identified a number of opportunities that covered the breadth of work we do online, including customer engagement. Since the review we’ve made significant changes to the way social media is managed and delivered. Social is now an even greater part of our overall communications effort and we’re proud of the work we deliver.

How could we help you?

Talk to us informally about how we approach this kind of work, ballpark budgets and timescales – or just to help you refine your brief: email [email protected]

Helping global PR and comms graduates put theory into practice

Cardiff University wanted to test the abilities of their MA International Public Relations and Global Comms Management students.

We delivered an annual two-hour workshop for their MA students, which tests their knowledge of communications in an unfolding crisis. Working in small teams, students are tasked with running the corporate communications function of a fictional business.

They are responsible for handling:

  • questions from media
  • fake news
  • customer service enquiries
  • eyewitness reports
  • reputational damage and repair

The training helps students to understand how to communicate to stakeholders in a crisis, how to scenario plan and practise coordinating a response on social media.

The workshop includes best practise and theory on handling a crisis on social media, to help prep students for the next stage in their careers.

Students participate from all over the world using our Crisis90 platform in their browsers.

Project Outcomes

The feedback we received on the workshop included:

“The experience gave me a great insight into a real-life crisis. I think they did a great job in simulating the crisis online. I also think it was actually better to attend the workshop online as the crisis happened online and it gave us the opportunity to adapt to working in a digital team. I would highly recommend taking part in this workshop as a student as it will prepare you for a possible real-life scenario”

“This experience is a great integration of theory and practice. It’s always vital to be able to get into the situational mindset, to help make sense of abstract theories. This simulation connects those dots!”

“I really enjoyed the crisis comms workshop, it was very engaging and provided great insights.”


How could we help you?

Talk to us informally about how we approach this kind of work, ballpark budgets and timescales – or just to help you refine your brief: email [email protected]

Photography and video skills for government media officers

Digital skills are essential for all communicators. Digital skills enable media and press officers to be more responsive and better support announcements and visits.

The media team of a major UK government department were keen to produce more content themselves, but weren’t confident in their ability to produce high-quality photos and video for social.

They also wanted to know how they should be writing for social.

We developed a half-day training workshop for media officers. Armed with their own phones, some London locations and our guidance they:

  • Took photos using their smartphone in different lighting conditions
  • Drafted appropriate and engaging social media copy, reducing press releases down to the most important information 
  • Shot and edited video quickly, easily and on mobile

We also published a ready reference guide for them to take away.

Project Outcomes

  • Media officers have begun to produce visual content 
  • Re-runs of the workshop for more staff 
  • Significant time savings for the digital team, who can now focus on other areas of work 

How could we help you?

Talk to us informally about how we approach this kind of work, ballpark budgets and timescales – or just to help you refine your brief: email [email protected]

Peer-to-peer bitesize video learning for the Metropolitan Police

Some professional skills you learn in training courses or through formal coaching, but most you pick up on-the-job from a colleague at work. In our personal lives, when we want to pick up a practical skill, most of us turn to YouTube for a quick tutorial video. What if learning practical skills at work could be like that?

Our team worked with a group of grass-roots innovators within the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Commissioner’s 100’ programme who had an existing prototype for bite-sized, peer to peer video learning they had created.

We helped expand and develop this over 18 months into Metflix: a robust, flexible platform to help colleagues follow the right procedures, and share their own expertise, and for central teams in the organisation to push out learning on key skills in video format.

Metflix on mobile devices

Metflix is available to Met Police officers on their phones or larger devices. It’s designed to be ‘public proof’ – i.e. no sensitive content that couldn’t be made public. But these are niche videos that benefit from a more custom environment than YouTube itself.

Not every video is perfect, but the idea is to encourage sharing of practical expertise whatever equipment you have to hand. Metflix lowers the barriers to producing and sharing practical training material with colleagues, so that any officer can make a video of up to 3 minutes’ length, with nothing more than their phone.

We’ve introduced concepts like ratings, video feedback, approved videos (reviewed by subject matter experts), and channels to showcase guidance from different Met teams.

Project Outcomes

From a word of mouth start amongst enthusiastic officers, Metflix has grown to over 12,000 registered Met Police users and over 380 videos, covering topics from safe use of PPE and how to package evidence in a box, to softer skills like supporting witnesses or managing mental health.

Last year, the platform was a core part of the Met’s Learning & Development week, focussed on 6 key skills, with bitesize video content supporting the wider development programme.

How could we help you?

Talk to us informally about how we approach this kind of work, ballpark budgets and timescales – or just to help you refine your brief: email [email protected]

Turning complex guidance into plain English for survivors

The Lambeth Redress Scheme is the first of its kind in the UK to offer compensation to people who suffered abuse in the past at a children’s home.

Lambeth Council, who runs the scheme, had already published information online about the scheme. Its website content catered for many different audiences:

  • abuse survivors
  • people helping survivors with their application (like solicitors, family and friends)
  • others (like journalists) looking for background about the scheme

And while more than 1,000 people had applied to the scheme so far, feedback from survivors was that the information was hard to understand and could be made clearer.

To encourage as many eligible people as possible to apply, Lambeth asked Helpful to review and then improve the website content.

User-centred approach

We began with identifying high-level user needs, writing these in the ‘user story’ format (“As a… I want to… so I can”). We recommended that Lambeth focus on survivors as the primary audience, and move the less critical ‘background’ information to the main Lambeth website.

We analysed the existing content and broke it down into smaller ‘content items’. We then re-ordered it in a more logical, step-by-step approach to meet users’ needs. For each content item, we listed the ‘user acceptance criteria’: the essential pieces of information that the user would need at each step of the application process.

We then validated our content plan. In an ideal world, this would have been with actual or potential applicants. As this wasn’t possible, we checked our content plan with 2 survivor advocates and the client in a card-sorting exercise.

With our iterated and agreed content plan in place, we then re-wrote the content using writing-for-web best principles:

  • plain English
  • no jargon
  • short sentences and paragraphs
  • scannable content (using headings and lists)
  • inverted pyramid structure (most important information at the top of a page)

Feedback and sign-off

Both the survivor advocates and the Redress team commented on the draft using Google Docs. All the stakeholders could also follow and comment on progress using Trello.

At the end of the production process, the agreed text was sent to the Redress Scheme steering group for final sign-off. Thanks to the early and regular involvement of the client, the group approved the content with only minor changes.

The result is clearer copy that will hopefully encourage more people to apply.

Project Outcomes

Our work transformed the content from a single page of 84 FAQs to a more structured and accessible collection of 9 pages. The new content mirrors the overall user journey, from checking if someone can apply through to appealing a decision. The PDF application form is now accessible to WCAG 2.1 AA standard.

How could we help you?

Talk to us informally about how we approach this kind of work, ballpark budgets and timescales – or just to help you refine your brief: email [email protected]

Training NSPCC teams to manage a crisis

Charity NSPCC wanted to train their national and regional communications teams on how to manage and respond to a crisis.

We delivered a series of simulations in which local and national teams managed and responded to an escalating scenario. The scenario was designed to be realistic, test the teams’ processes and ability to respond as a team.

The training helped teams to work through their crisis response plan, practice coordinating a response on social media and identify any gaps in existing processes. During the simulation, the teams stayed calm, listened to each other, and effectively managed a variety of stakeholders and channels.

Project Outcomes

Following the training, NSPCC committed to aligning digital and press teams more closely, designing a clearer social media engagement guide and ensuring that roles and responsibilities are more clearly defined.

“We were thoroughly impressed by the Social Simulator team at every stage of the process from initial scoping of our crisis scenario through to delivery on the day and post-event feedback.  They completely understood our brief, and their flexible and adaptable approach meant that our team benefitted from an exercise that was as realistic as could be, illustrating the impact of each decision and action in real-time.  It tested the team’s performance under pressure, their specialist knowledge and their teamwork skills.  The simulator platform was easy to use and really made the exercise come alive.”

Linda Toft, National Media Relations Manager, NSPCC

How could we help you?

Talk to us informally about how we approach this kind of work, ballpark budgets and timescales – or just to help you refine your brief: email [email protected]

Stress-testing international corporate affairs teams for Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce approached us to test its global corporate affairs teams as part of a wider exercise testing its global crisis management structure and processes in response to a serious product issue.

Given the real-time nature of the modern media landscape, integrating social media into the wider communications response enables companies to:

  • Receive early warning of any issues impacting their products via proactive monitoring
  • Issue instant posts and updates to reassure investors and staff
  • Provide executives with flexibility in terms of how they communicate with key stakeholders

We used our Simulator platform to challenge teams across three different markets by delivering real-time Twitter and Facebook-style feeds including witness imagery and accounts, as well as live on-scene reporting by journalists and media outlets. We also tested how responders managed misinformation emerging on social media channels.

Authentic news-style videos were used to bring the exercise to life and maximise impact. Our on-site interview team conducted media training with company executives during the exercise using a mixture of different styles and formats.

Our showreel gives an idea of the kind of news videos we produce for these kinds of exercises:

Key findings highlighted during the exercise informed updates to its global crisis management structure and processes.

Project Outcomes

“We engaged with The Social Simulator to support us with the delivery of a Group-wide crisis management exercise.

The team worked with us to build an interactive social media and media environment that our exercise participants could observe and interact with in real-time during the exercise.

All the media feeds were extremely realistic and they helped to add the pace and complexity that we would expect from the modern news environment.

The exercise helped us to clarify our future training needs, as well as helping to highlight a number of required updates to our crisis response protocols.

The training that products like The Social Simulator allow – with a real-time and adaptive pseudo media element – help to take continuity training to the next level and ensure that it remains in step with the wider technological and social developments impacting the field.

The Social Simulator team were a pleasure to work with; they really helped to bring our exercise to life.”

Andy Marshall, Business Continuity and Crisis Management Lead, Rolls-Royce plc

How could we help you?

Talk to us informally about how we approach this kind of work, ballpark budgets and timescales – or just to help you refine your brief: email [email protected]

Crisis exercises to build digital triage and engagement skills for Vancouver Airport Authority

YVR approached us to provide a genuine stress test for digital responders belonging to its own team and those of key airport stakeholders as part of a biennial exercise to test the response to a serious aircraft incident.

Given the array of audiences present in any airport, effective digital triage and engagement has a critical role to play in:

  • Enabling airlines and airport agencies to share real-time updates with passengers and staff in terminals
  • Allowing emergency responders to establish situational awareness in relation to the situation (e.g. location of casualties, nature and scale of incident)
  • Providing ‘line of sight’ with the communications output of other agencies for a coordinated response

Using our Simulator platform we engaged and challenged different airport agencies by delivering real-time Twitter and Facebook-style feeds including passenger queries, witness imagery and accounts, as well as live on-scene reporting by journalists and media outlets. We also tested how responders managed misinformation emerging on social media channels.

Our live writer developed real-time media articles to bring the scenario to life and a team of telephone role-players put airport media handlers through their paces.

Findings highlighted during the training have led to updates being made to YVR’s incident communications protocol.

Project Outcomes

In feedback, the team commented: “Thank you and for all your flexibility today, that was fantastic! We and our partners were all super impressed with the tool and its capabilities. Great to see the use of it with media stories too and having you play as media with calls/emails. I have been impressed with the work we have done together.”

How could we help you?

Talk to us informally about how we approach this kind of work, ballpark budgets and timescales – or just to help you refine your brief: email [email protected]