Helping Croydon Council build a digital strategy in a digital way

7 tips for freshening up your comms

You’re a digital communications manager returning to your desk after the festive break. You open your inbox to a stream of apparently ‘urgent’ emails, you can’t remember the Twitter password and your monitoring software provider calls to say they’ve increased your annual subscription fees.

It might not feel like it at the time but this is a great opportunity to tidy up your communications. Not sure where to start? Well, here are seven points to kick you off:

1) Audit your accounts

  • Check your social media accounts. Are they still up-to-date or do you need to update your bios, avatars and cover photos?
  • Review your follower counts and evaluate how that number increased over 2018.
  • Ask yourself: does the channel continue to serve its purpose? Should you think about concentrating your resources elsewhere?
  • ?Top Tool – Try this handy Helpful blog post on making your twitter profile “pop”

2) Audit other accounts

  • Check for any imposter (fake or parody) accounts.
  • Review your list of partners and set up a private Twitter list to keep track of them.
  • Check who runs the social media accounts of your partners and make sure you have the correct contact details.
  • ?Top Tool – Want to know more about who follows you? Try Followerwonk.

3) Get on top of those graphics

  • Review any graphics you used last year and check if they can be reused in 2019.
  • Tidy up your folders to make your graphics easier to find.
  • Review who has the logins to your graphic-making software. Make sure you know who else has access.
  • Create templates to ensure that other designers stay “on brand”.
  • Invest in some training for staff beyond the immediate comms team to learn about communicating with visuals.
  • ?Top Tool – if you’re not making graphics already then Canva or Piktochart are great tools to start with.

4) Secure your passwords

  • Check who has access to the passwords for your social media accounts.
  • Check your passwords are secure enough and consider implementing two-factor authentication.
  • Review how are your passwords stored and if there’s a central document make sure it is up-to-date.
  • ?Top ToolLastPass is handy for securing your passwords and setting-up two-factor authentication

5) Update your website

6) Monitoring

Do more with your monitoring:

  • Check you are monitoring the correct keywords.
  • Review what are you doing with those monitoring reports. Ask yourself: how are you going to turn the data into effective insights for colleagues?
  • ?Top Tool – Need a quick tool to monitor real time use of hashtags? Try Twitter Fall.

7) Messaging

Share your messaging:

  • Check which key messages were used last year and review whether they can be be reused in 2019.
  • Review the process for approving social media messaging.
  • ?Top Tool – if you don’t already have one, then here’s a great example of a response flowchart

Empowering prisons to engage online

Open government is a driver for the way we deliver a lot of our work at Helpful. The challenge with open government is that it’s often difficult to see the impact of changes to laws and processes, on the citizen. Prison reform is a case in point, which is why we chose to work with Involve on a project with Tees and Wear Prisons.

Simon Burrall wrote an overview of the project last year, which summed up the importance of prison reform:

While prisons may not feature often in the thoughts of the majority of the public, they loom large (both metaphorically and physically) in the minds of the families of prisoners, the communities in which their crimes were committed, the victims of their crimes and the communities that play host to the prison itself.

The role of social media

The Tees and Wear project set out 6 aims. Our belief is that social media has a role to play in at least 3 of those:

  • developing more open and accountable forms of decision making
  • supporting prison staff to be more confident in listening actively
  • engaging the local business community to identify opportunities

Researching conversations about Tees and Wear online revealed very little about their work, and less still that was critical. Perhaps that should be expected. However, we quickly became familiar with a large community of bloggers writing about the justice system, life in prison and reform. Most of these bloggers are ex-offenders, others were anonymous prison staff. Posts and conversations are generally constructive and insightful, lending weight to the need for more open engagement.

In addition, it was clear from posts on Facebook that the public services offered by one prison, such as a car wash and cafe, were appreciated by local residents and tourists.

Overcoming prison challenges

Working on digital projects in prisons presents challenges, such as training in an environment where an internet connection is not always available.

While staff working at the prison were enthusiastic and accommodating, there were some reservations about the impact of social media on their work. We quickly realised this project was as much about building confidence, and clarifying risks and opportunities.

A senior trailblazer is often key to success in projects such as these. We were pleased that Ian Blakeman, Director of Tees & Wear Reform Prisons, took up the baton and joined twitter. This feels like the right channel to encourage conversation with as broad an audience as possible. Twitter isn’t the natural home of local conversations (although we struggled to find better examples of community discussion on Facebook or elsewhere) but it does mean that the barrier to talking with Ian is low, unlike say, a Facebook group or forum where people would need to register and be approved. We also considered blogging, but felt this wouldn’t encourage as much discussion, without having a twitter account as well.

Ian and his colleagues have been great at recognising the importance of authenticity on social media – it really is Ian behind this account – and the importance of listening. Actively searching, following and talking to relevant people, rather than just showcasing the work of the prison.

As well as starting the first in hopefully a series of prison staff on social media, we also developed a digital blueprint for Tees and Wear. We avoid writing strategies because they sound intimidating to the rest of the organisation and in our experience are rarely implemented in full. A blueprint is more succinct. A short, sharp vision of the opportunity, SWOT analysis and a roadmap of practical activities and evaluation designed to build momentum.

We’re excited to see reform prisons starting a journey towards greater understanding and accountability through social media, and proud to be playing a small part in a very important institution.

A rogue Digital Jedi

Bias effects everything. From what we wear to how we design websites. And I am as guilty as everyone else. I think I know what an audience will react to. I think I know what will look good. I think I know what channels certain audiences will use.

But I don’t.

I found this out the hard way on a recent trip to a Uganda where I helped a local children’s charity to develop their communications.

One of the charity’s objectives was to help students find skilled employment. To help them do this we organised several workshops on CVs and interview skills. The challenge was ensuring that the students attended these events.

Easy. I thought.

  • I drafted a short and simple email and sent it to all participants.
  • I designed some clear graphics on Piktochart for Twitter.
  • I posted about the event on our Facebook page.

Except nothing happened. Nobody responded or reacted.

That is when I returned to basics. This was a different audience and my assumptions were no use here. I looked into statistics and quizzed students. I looked on Ugandan Facebook pages at what was being shared and liked. And I realised two things:

  • I was using the wrong channels
  • I was using the wrong content

Very few people in Uganda use email as a primary source of communication. I discovered later only 10% of our students checked their email once a week. Contrary to the UK, Twitter usage in the country was also extremely low. Instead the primary channels of communication for under 25s were WhatsApp and Facebook. However, this was not always the case and very few people had access to data or – if they did – had a very limited amount.

Therefore I devised a new plan which would incorporate WhatsApp, Facebook and some good old-fashioned offline telephone calls.

I also noticed that the graphics which gained the most traction online were inspirational quotes. In my opinion, these were poorly designed and not very user friendly. Often the text blended into a garish sunset or letters overlapped each other. But the important thing was that – despite my opinion – this approach seemed to work.

I had to let go of my precious design instincts to engage people. I had to go against my very training like a rogue digital Jedi. But it worked. By using these channels and this content, 90% of our students attended the event and the key communications outcome was achieved.

Bias will always exist. But you can fight it by listening to audiences and understanding that a Jedi doesn’t always know best.

Are hyperlocals part of your engagement strategy?

Hyperlocal channels including blogs, twitter accounts, Facebook pages and groups, vary in size, scale and value. Finding the right ones to engage with could make a real difference to the success of your organisation’s communications strategy.

For press teams used to dealing with more traditional media, the usefulness of hyperlocals can sometimes be overlooked.

We’ve just finished a fascinating piece of work for a Essex County Council evaluating their existing social media channels and seeking out influencers and hyperlocals for them to engage with.

Thanks to an enjoyable half day of research we found well written community websites, passionate local bloggers, niche Twitter accounts, and thriving Facebook pages. All potentially of value for the council to work with, either because of their geographical coverage or interest area. Interestingly some of the older websites were now being updated less and less often with more regular posts and sharing of local news on the linked Facebook page. But one site we found had 31.5 million hits in its  8 years of operation. Many of the channels we found weren’t ones the council were aware of, let alone working with.

Finding the accounts is only half of the work, engagement is key. But it needn’t be scary. Just like working with traditional media, research and relevancy are all important. Being careful to only get in touch with stories that are directly of interest through geography or subject matter is key. Spend some time reading through recent posts so you can make a good pitch.

We were delighted to receive feedback from Essex County Council who had successfully contacted one of the bloggers we’d identified, received a very positive response and had quickly had an article published on the blog. One of the accounts they engaged with was traditionally quite anti-Council, but a well researched and personal approach paid off.

With local papers and radio stations working with reduced budgets and staffing levels and often reaching less people as a result, hyperlocals in their various forms are an increasingly important way to make sure your organisation reaches key audiences.

We loved working on this project and hope the positive results keep coming in.