5 quick tips for better crisis comms

1) Be prepared

Now is the time to prepare. Start by mapping out the greatest risks that your organisation faces. Which ones could be the most damaging? Do you have pre-prepared messages for those risks? Do you have pre-prepared graphics stored in an accessible location? Perhaps most importantly: could you respond at 11pm on a Friday in mid-August?

2) Be timely

Online crises move quickly and so should you. It is important that you assert yourself as the point of authority. However don’t hurry into publishing a statement without verifying information. Not sure that you know your misinformation from your disinformation? Have a look at our handy guide to spotting different types of fake news.

3) Be consistent

Your response should be consistent and in line with your values. If your tone of voice can’t get away with a response like KFC’s then don’t do it. Your audience engage with you because of who you are – a crisis is not the time to abandon that. Similarly, don’t abandon any audiences and channels. Don’t post a statement on your website but provide nothing for your Facebook audience.

4) Be audience-focused

Crisis communications is like any other form of communication. Know your stakeholders and where they engage with your organisation. Don’t fall into the same trap as Boeing – you might normally be a B2B company but you still need to know how to communicate with potential customers. Don’t use complicated corporate speak but use the same language as your audience. Their questions and language should be informing your statement.

5) Be reflective

When the dust has settled you should try and recover and learn from a crisis. It is mentally and physically exhausting to be at the frontline. Take the time to recuperate and then adapt your crisis plan in line with what went right and what went wrong.

Find out more about our crisis and customer care training and simulations.


Keeping safe online for #SaferInternetDay

We’ve been really pleased to see the huge reaction on Twitter to #SaferInternetDay 2019. In its 16th year, it’s all about working together for a better internet with advice and tools for keeping us safe online.

Here we’ve rounded up some of the best advice and tools from the day in to a handy list.

Twelve ways to spot a bot

A bot is simply an account run by a piece of software. Bots can be used to make a hashtag trend, but also to harass other users. Bots may be talking to you so they can send you private messages with spam or phishing attempts. While not always malicious, bots can be hard to spot. This post from Medium contains 12 top tips on how to avoid fake social media accounts.

Botometer bot checker

Botometer (formerly BotOrNot) checks the activity of a Twitter account and gives it a score based on how likely the account is to be a bot. The higher the score, the more likely the profile is a bot. The tool can also predict how many followers of a profile has are likely to be bots so you can make a more informed decision on whether the people you are talking to are real.

How to set up 2 factor authentication 

Cyber attacks are becoming commonplace but there are simple steps you can take to keep your personal information more safe. We recommend using two factor authentication (2FA) wherever possible, and ensuring your children are too. A simple example of 2FA is sending a one-time security code by text to a phone number associated with the account as an extra step of security before you can log in. Two Factor Auth (2FA) has a list of common websites with guidance on setting up 2FA.

How to turn on parental controls

The NSPCC has lots of great guidance on staying safe online. This article explains how to turn on parental controls on phones, computers, gaming consoles and more. Parental controls are there to help stop children and teens from viewing adult material or downloading inappropriate content (such as apps they are too young for). You can even set what time of day your child can go online and how long for.

Making your social media accounts as private as possible

When your social media accounts are locked-down people can’t see your pictures or posts without your permission. This is extra important for children and teens. Gizmodo has advice on how to put your social accounts in to private mode, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Guidance from popular social media channels

Reporting abuse on Facebook

Instagram’s advice for parents

Twitter’s safety and security advice

Snapchat’s guidance for parents

Whatsapp safety tips

YouTube safety tools

More social media safety guides from UK Safer Internet Centre.

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

The Apple and the Worm: Stories in an online age

Stories today are shapeless, slippery fellows who slip through the fingers of all those who try to grasp them. To demonstrate this let’s look at the made-up story of the Apple and the Worm.


Charles bought an apple from the Acme Fruit & Veg stall.

Apples by Michael Dorausch, Creative Commons, Flickr

When he got it home he took a bite and found that there was a worm inside.

Angered by this unexpected visitor, he called The Morning Post and told them about it.

A journalist from The Morning Post went to the Acme Fruit & Veg stall to find out more.

Acme Fruit & Veg were very surprised and showed the journalist all their other apples which were fine.

Satisfied, the journalist wrote a small article about the man and the apple which was published on page 13 of their Monday edition. There was no photo and only a few members of the public read the story.

The End.


Charles bought an apple from the Acme Foods superstore.

When he got it home. He took a bite and found that there was a worm inside.

Angered by this unexpected visitor, he took a photo and tweeted about it. A journalist replied and asked him to direct message them. Other people on Twitter and Facebook claimed that they had also found worms in their apples. Thousands of users saw the story.

The journalist contacted Acme Foods and asked for a comment. However, Acme Foods didn’t know about Charles and refused to comment.

Meanwhile the hashtag #BoycottAcmeFoods had started trending.

The journalist published an online article. It contained lots of accounts from people who claimed they had found various animals in their fruit. One man had found a spider in his banana. The article was shared widely online.

Acme Foods finally issued a statement online but it was lost in all the negative coverage.

This was not The End. The story continued to rumble on.

An alternative 2017

Charles bought an apple from the Acme Foods superstore.

When he got it home. He took a bite and found that there was a worm inside.

Angered by this unexpected visitor, he took a photo and tweeted about it.

Apple and Worm by Adam Langager, Creative Commons, Flickr

Jane, an employee at Acme Foods who was monitoring all online mentions of @AcmeFoods as well as associated keywords (“Acme” AND “apple”) saw this tweet and alerted her boss. Her boss asked Jane to contact Charles to find out more.

A journalist also contacted Charles and asked him to direct message them. Other people on Twitter and Facebook claimed that they had also found worms in their apples.

Jane alerted her boss that the situation had worsened. They prepared a statement which they tweeted from their account.

They spoke to Charles on the phone and offered him their sincerest apologies and a shopping voucher. They also posted a message on a Food Safety forum where #BoycottAcmeFoods had started trending.

Charles tweeted that he was happy with Acme Foods’ speedy response.

Other people, however, demanded compensation. Acme Foods sent a tweet reassuring customers of the freshness and safety of their produce and asked that all enquiries be directed to their hotline.

Acme Foods issued a short subtitled video from their Head of Quality Control. They also put a statement on their website and paid some money so that their statement would appear at the top of searches.

An online media article was published containing both sides. It was shared on social media channels but several major food companies and bloggers spoke up in support of Acme Foods’ response. The social media noise quietened down.

This was still not The End. Jane continued to monitor social media channels for any future references to apples and worms.

The rise of online media has fundamentally altered how stories are made. Previously organisations played a pivotal role in shaping the narrative of a story. Now they are an afterthought.

However, it is not all bad news. As our third story shows, there is still a small window of opportunity for organisations to influence a story by:

  • monitoring smaller channels such as Facebook groups and online forums
  • monitoring associated keywords as well as mentions of your organisation
  • building online relationships with stakeholders who can support you in a crisis
  • finding trusted voices within your organisation to be spokespeople during a crisis
  • ensuring that you have the right processes (e.g. permissions/budget) in place to reply quickly and efficiently

Online stories will carry on with or without you. By implementing some of these tips you can ensure that you are helping to create the stories rather than just reading them.

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.

How to avoid mistakes when scheduling social media posts

Good social media is engaging, timely, and visually appealing. The pace of change and expectations for good quality content are ever increasing. For example more and more channels offer live video streaming.

However, scheduling still has its place and done well can make your life a lot easier.

Do try different tools

There are a wide range of tools you can try. Test a few and see what is going to work well for you, your organisation and the accounts you operate. If you are only managing Facebook Pages then use their in-built scheduling option. Tweetdeck is a very good option if you manage multiple Twitter accounts. Instagram users can try Later.

If you are managing accounts across different channels, Hootsuite or Buffer have free options with a range of paid-for upgrades depending on how many accounts you need to schedule to, and how many people need to be able to access the account.

Don’t auto post from one channel to another without checking how it appears

It is possible to link your social media channels and update one channel and set rules for those posts to appear on other channels. But check how it looks to the user.  Auto posting can save time but is always a compromise on how the content appears.

If you auto post to Twitter from Instagram or Facebook the image doesn’t appear with the text, and you either lose some of the text because of Twitter’s character limits or you have to post very short updates to Facebook or Instagram.  Recipes set up in If This Then That work better but you still need to be careful about the length of your post.  Auto posting from Instagram to Facebook does include the image, but beware of having too many hashtags in a Facebook post.

Do try different times of day and days of the week

Once you’ve decided on the material for your scheduled posts, think about the best time of day and the best day of the week for your audience to read them.  Try to be timely with your content for maximum impact. Scheduling is a good opportunity to test different versions of similar content and comparative effectiveness.

Don’t schedule and then forget about your posts

There were probably lots of posts scheduled to go out in the last 24 hours about Christmas markets. Perhaps friendly reminders to visit them and enjoy the build up to Christmas. In the light of what happened in Berlin, many of these may not have been appropriate or would have needed editing.  It is really important to remember what is scheduled, when it is going out, and to make sure someone has access to your accounts at all times in case they need to delete, amend or reschedule posts.

Do get your timing right

You don’t want your social media accounts making the news for the wrong reasons. Nottingham Castle were just one organisation that tweeted at 00:01 on 31 December 2015 instead of 1 January 2016, generating press coverage.

Don’t forget about engagement

Social media shouldn’t be a purely broadcast tool, engagement is really important too.  When you’re scheduling think about what will happen if people reply. Is it clear when you will and won’t respond?
It’s good practice to have availability information linked to your accounts.  People don’t always go looking for this information though and have high expectations of a quick response when they engage on social media. Some tools to help with this include auto-replies in Facebook Messenger and activating Twitter support to set the hours you are available to interact.  Doncaster Council used this approach last year with mixed reactions:

Doncaster Council had a lot of replies and unfortunately the website wasn’t working properly so people got error messages when they were trying to check the details.

So do think about your audience. If you were in their place, what sort of response time would you want and expect? Are there alternative channels you can direct people to if they need urgent help? Are those channels reliable?

Scheduling is a good way to make sure regular content is posted on your accounts and there are lots of different tools to make your life easier.  But for the best results think about what you schedule, when you schedule it for, have a plan to edit or delete if necessary, and make sure engagement is part of your strategy.

Helping Essex Council launch customer service on social

Essex County Council have been early adopters of social media channels for sharing important messages and promoting their services.

In Summer 2016, the Council began to respond to individual comments and questions directed at their two main social media channels on Twitter and Facebook. Taking this step is no mean feat: Essex is one of the largest counties in England by number of residents, with a diverse population, infrastructure and different layers of local and county-wide administration and responsibility.

This is important because it means inbound questions to the Council’s Customer Service Team cover all manner of topics, from weather, schools or roads, to care services and libraries.

The front-line Customer Service Team have accrued a huge bank of corporate knowledge, and when they don’t have a ready answer, they’re quick to find one. This meant they were well placed to take on the role of engaging with residents on social media. The Council took the enlightened step of sharing responsibility for these channels with the Customer Service Team, who embraced the challenge despite having to factor this work into their existing team.

We helped the team to build their confidence and skills online, by running a one day workshop to explore the different situations they may encounter and discuss options for responding.

Using our Crisis90 platform we took the team through a real-time, phased crisis scenario. This gave them the opportunity to rehearse monitoring, planning and live Twitter responses to online characters who were tweeting questions at them, all within a private online environment.

Each member of the team also took away a Digital Action Plan: six goals for each of them to complete online in the two months following the workshop. The aim of this was to consolidate their confidence after the workshop had finished, during the period in which they launched online customer service. Each goal is accompanied by a task to test an individual’s learning and encourage them to get hands-on with a tool or technique.

Confidence and experience among the team were mixed when we first met them. However, it’s clear that with some guidance, support and encouragement (not least of which from the digital team at ECC) they are the best team for the job.

Empowering a team in this way helps them to develop a new set of skills, and reveals an additional level of passion for their work.

heir social media feeds are testament to the pride they take in helping residents. Most days you can see responses to questions or comments that would have gone unanswered, online, a year ago. We’re especially pleased that the team choose to sign-on with their first names at the beginning and end of their Twitter and Facebook shifts.

Happy Thanksgiving – Don’t burn your house down

A good example here from the States about the power of video.

Here are two pieces of content that are part of campaign to encourage people to cook their turkey responsibly (without setting fire to the house!) at Thanksgiving. We don’t all have access to content quite as dramatic as this.

But compare this tweet (image, caption, handful of retweets and favourites):

with this video:

and you’ll understand why coverage of the video has been huge in the UK, let alone the US.

The true success of the campaign will be a reduction in the number of fires this Thanksgiving. It will be interesting to see what impact this video has on people’s behaviour.


Election news bot cuts through the chatter

Like many people, I was amazed to wake up to the news that Donald Trump was close to winning the US Presidential election. As the day has gone on the final result is gradually sinking in.  I’m a big fan of Hillary Clinton and wrote my dissertation on her transformation of the role of First Lady, so I was particularly disappointed by the result.

Not least because one of my main sources of US election news the New York Times Facebook Messenger bot, had updated me daily with the chances of Hillary Clinton winning, and not once did it drop below an 84% chance she would be victorious.


However you’ve kept up to date with election news – in print, online, or via new technology – the polls were largely wrong.  I think the model the New York Times has used to reach people is really interesting. Social media has changed the way we consume news, it’s a long time since people favoured one paper, bought a daily copy, and read it from cover to cover.  These days we get our news from multiple sources and in a variety of ways.

Twitter was a key channel on election night, with millions of tweets sent as the results came in. But it is becoming increasingly hard for publishers to make their content stand out among all the noise on social media.  The use of Facebook Messenger is one way to overcome this.  By signing up for the New York Times bot, I received daily updates with notifications. Had I liked their Facebook page I would only have seen a fraction of the content I did.

I liked the fact that I only got updates on a particular subject area.  I think we’ll see far more of this type of publishing in future, tailored to our individual interests, and in this way news organisations can reach more of their potential audience.  Sadly for me, it can’t change the election result for this year.