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Creative social storytelling with NHS Digital and Doncaster Council

Join NHS Digital, Comms2Point0 and Doncaster Council for a webinar on how to get social storytelling right in the public sector.

26th October 2021

Two public sector giants prove that creativity and strategy outrank big budgets and brands.

Successful social media campaigns, engagement and even content are often associated with ‘fun’ B2C brands (as per our recent webinars with Monzo, Innocent and Ryanair). But the importance of a strong presence across all social channels (including TikTok) is also essential for B2B and even public sector organizations.

NHS Digital is transforming its communications strategy through storytelling and Doncaster Council has had multiple social posts go viral by not being afraid to take risks, act quickly and tailor content for specific audiences.

ContentCal, in partnership with Comms2point0, had the pleasure of hosting a very lively panel discussion with both of these public sector innovators to understand the strategy, process and creativity behind their success.

Watch the replay here or scroll on for the summary.

Jude Tipper and Andrew Kirby, Chief Storyteller/Senior Business Partner at NHS Digital, and Nick Froman, Digital Communications Manager at Doncaster Council, made up the panel - with Andy Lambert from ContentCal and Darren Caveney from Comm 2Point0 facilitating.

The session was divided into three sections:

  1. Questions for the panel
  2. A deep dive into the tactics and strategy of NHS Digital and Doncaster Council communications teams
  3. Advice from the panel for other organizations

Here’s what we learned:

Section one: questions for the panel

what can be done to unlock more creativity in the public sector and how can senior managers be encouraged to sign off on it?

It’s all about building trust and encouraging transparent communication.

It was quickly established that it’s not a lack of creativity within comms teams that holds this sector back - but a need to educate other stakeholders and departments on the power of social media, creative communications and human to human storytelling.

If you understand what your audience wants to hear and use stats and data to prove the value and reach of what you want to say - it’s much easier to take the wider business on that journey with you.

“If they trust that we understand the platforms, we have more freedom with our content”

Those of us who work in comms like to see it as an art, but other people want to see the science behind it. Being able to present cold hard data is the best way to build trust in the first instance.

However, it is important to ensure people don’t expect to see overnight success from taking a more creative approach to comms strategies. Good things take time.

Nick explained that the Doncaster Council Comms team produces an internal monthly email to summarise its digital output “that kind of gets shoved under the nose of all the leadership, whether they like it or not”. The email helps communicate the value of the team and breeds a willingness within the leadership team to be a little more open to risk as they feel like they understand what’s happening and why.

ContentCal’s approval workflows and visual calendar are a great way to take your wider business on the content journey with you too.

How important is the culture of your organization when it comes to embracing creativity within communications?

“If you enjoy the culture of your work, it shows in the work that you do”

If comms teams don’t enjoy what they do, or don’t believe in the content they put out into the world - why would anyone enjoy reading it? This was very much the overarching thought from the panelists as they explained how culture is intrinsically linked to creativity, communication and content.

The cultural elements of an organization that stand to make the biggest impact on creativity and communications are again focused on trust! Make sure teams feel trusted and valued enough to work quickly and put together content that will be well received. It’s very hard to write and create when you are waiting for your work to be scrutinized and/or go through multiple rounds of approvals before it can be published.

Having a strong communications plan that everyone is brought into and fully understands the strategy behind, that also aligns your external content to your internal values, is a great way to embed your company culture into your communications.

Section two: A deep dive into tactics and strategy

Doncaster Council kicked us off with a look at their digital communications numbers from the last year - and they are pretty impressive:

Screenshot 2021-10-26 at 11.06.53

Nick explained that these numbers are a result of understanding the audience and knowing what information people want on Facebook versus what they want on Twitter, then using the right tone of voice for each channel - avoiding the one size fits all approach.

Nick described the council’s Facebook audience as being:

  • Ultra local
  • 25-55 years old
  • Transactional/focused on day to day information

Which is quite a contrast to their Twitter audience:

  • Majority are not Doncaster residents
  • The transactional, local information doesn’t land with this group
  • The result = more freedom to be experimental

Here’s the proof of just how effective tailoring your content can be:

Screenshot 2021-10-26 at 11.08.04

“Sadly Doncaster has seen the same depressing scenes as other parts of the country, with mountains of litter left in green spaces”

Screenshot 2021-10-26 at 11.08.47

“We’re excited to announce that Doncaster has been chosen as the location for a British remake of Friends. So no one told you life was gonna be this way… your seat’s got mold, you're cold, you’re in an alleywaaaay!”

NHS digital shared with us their formulaic approach to great storytelling, which is the basis for their strategy. It involves taking Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle framework, based on the principle that people don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.

Andrew even went as far as to say that it could be a ‘fireable offence’ not to start any piece of work with ‘why’. All organizations may need a slightly different formula to suit their objectives and their audience, but having the basic rules set out keeps the whole team on the same page and even helps collect content from other people/storytellers in the business.

Screenshot 2021-10-26 at 11.10.00

Screenshot 2021-10-26 at 11.10.22

Layered on top of the Golden Circle is the 27/9/3 messaging framework. The 27/9/3 messaging matrix follows a combination of messaging theories from print and broadcast media.

  • The average print quote is 27 words in length
  • The average broadcast media sound bite can be said in 9 seconds
  • The average amount of messages contained in all quotes is 3

With this model the aim is for each set of key messages to be no more than 27 words, which can be said in nine seconds and contain three messages. Andrew told us that: “This is especially brilliant when you’re having conversations with senior leaders that want to include 27,000 words in every single one”.

Screenshot 2021-10-26 at 11.11.23

Section three: Recommendations for other public sector organizations to start embracing more creative forms of communications

  1. Become the trusted advisor in your organization before trying to be too radical with new ideas or new platforms. Start small using data and strategy to back up what you’re doing and then you can ramp up the risk taking and the creativity as the trust grows.
  2. Embrace diversity and data! The more diverse your team and leadership is, the more open minded they’ll be about ideas and content. But it always has to come back to insight and evaluation.
  3. Don’t try and do it all yourself - trust that others can do things as well. If you are trying to build trust, you need to give trust. The whole team will have their own expertise and experience to offer.
  4. Understand your audience and make sure you know that whatever your campaign is, whatever your key message is, whatever your call to action is - it is going out to the right audience on the right platform.
  5. Don't be afraid to experiment! Try new and different things to see what works and what doesn't. It’s OK if not every piece of content is a massive success because every piece of content is a chance to learn.

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