Has social media become more caring during Covid-19?

GUEST POST: Jonny Piper is a digital and creative communications expert, most recently working on the Conservatives General Election Campaign. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

The British pub quiz is one of life’s simple pleasures. Pull together a few friends, pick a team name and enjoy an evening racking your brain; how many moons does Saturn have? Who was the oldest UK Prime Minister to leave office?

And that’s how I spent last Thursday, while enjoying a rather lovely house red. Normally to be avoided, except in this case the house red meant just that – pouring myself a glass while sat at my kitchen table, listening to the – questions at home via WebEx, conferring with friends over Microsoft Teams and clinking glasses with my webcam.

Matt Hancock says coronavirus ‘thrives on social contact’, with social distancing measures a necessary mechanism to slow down the spread of infection. But we too also thrive on social contact, feeding off it to work, learn and grow.  So, it’s no wonder that the ability to continue communicating digitally with friends, family and colleagues has been so crucial and shouldn’t be taken for granted. What on earth would we be doing right now if not for the internet and social media to keep us working, connected, informed and entertained?

I’ve watched this seamless connectivity bring out the best of humanity: caring and compassionate communities that are using digital and social media to bring people together and look out for those in need. Across social media you’ll find businesses innovating and finding new ways of working, an army of digitally co-ordinated volunteers caring for the vulnerable, and individuals channelling their creativity to keep us entertained.

I almost daren’t say it, but I’ve also watched as social media has become more caring. The tone of our conversations is more empathetic. Businesses are abandoning competitive thinking and instead selflessly looking to philanthropy. Party politics and the online vitriol that so often follows has been replaced by a country unified in willing the government to succeed in combatting the virus.

And it’s that spirit which has made this technology so critical; my phone and laptop have become my eyes. WhatsApp and FaceTime have become ears. In isolation, social media has become my integral connection to the world, my lifeline. And in Britain today, the spirit of the Blitz isn’t found while crammed onto an underground station platform as the sirens sound, but instead found in Instagram Stories across the country as the nation pours out its support for our incredible NHS workers with an ocean of applause.

Yet there are constant reminders of the world beyond the screen. Netflix nudges us after a few hours of binge-watching to check that we’re still conscious, and tech companies have added ‘screen time’ features to remind us to step back and look up at the world around us. A digital lockdown, it seems, regularly taunts us of what we’re missing.

We don’t yet know what world we will find ourselves in post-coronavirus. Social media might suggest that we’ll be a more caring and considerate society, and I certainly hope that’s true. But I also hope that we’ll be more digitally aware, learning to switch off more and appreciate IRL contact. I, for one, will be making a meaningful effort to engage with the world around me and not get distracted by a vibrating pocket. Phones off everyone, the quiz is starting!

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This piece was written for our website.

10 considerations for this decade

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector

Last week, I caught-up with Andrew Marshall, vice-chairman of Cognito – a City-based consultancy, which took a chance and gave me my first (paid) PR job over 10 years ago. As I approached their offices I was greeted by one Charlie Morrow, who, in turn, was my first ever hire. Turns out I’m pretty good at spotting talent! It’s great to see them doing so well.

Over coffees, Andrew and I exchanged a couple of stories and ideas. He is entirely to blame for me writing this blog about 10 PR things to consider in 2020 and beyond. I don’t intend for this to be an exhaustive list, rather a download on what’s front of mind. I’m sure other Conservatives in Communications will have their views. So, here goes – in no order:

1. Purposeful communications

What is the point in what you’re saying? We should ask that every time. People receive many communications – too many in fact – so relevance is key to influence.

2. Data-driven

There is an abundance of data out there and PR professionals should tap it to create hyper-focused campaigns that reach specifically targeted audiences. 

3. Digital-savvy

It’s 2020. Get with the programme. If your PR person or agency doesn’t ‘get’ social media, switch them. In addition, social media should be in the mix not an afterthought. 

4. Authentic voice

With the rise of populist politics and digital – think Trump, Boris and Salvini etc. – people expect to hear from others – not firms – about what they’re thinking and in real-time. Try it with your senior executives.

5. Human emotion

With technology playing a bigger role, we must be mindful of retaining that ‘human element’ in all communications.

6. Story telling

Like social media, if your communications people can’t string a sentence together then don’t hire them; they’ll only disappoint you in the long run. 

7. Audio-visual

Where investment should be made is in training communications people to use more audiovisual, including photos or videos, as these are just if not more powerful than the written word.

8. Specialist skills

Those who demonstrate a deep understanding of their clients’ requirements will succeed. For me, it must be boutique firm over big agency every time.

9. Team collaboration

Integrated marketing and communications are essential to deliver results for your stakeholders. It’s bonkers it’s taken this long for some to realise.

10. Top table

PR, like public affairs, is integral to the bottom line. It warrants a seat – and a separate one – at the top table e.g. CMO or Director of Communications.

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Language matters – get Brexit done and dusted

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector.

For some sections of society, politicians and journalists are among the least trusted professions. While my experiences are largely positive, I understand that frustration. I believe that the UK’s decision to leave the EU presents both with the ideal opportunity to repair that trust by delivering and reporting on the popular point of view.

There are exceptions to every rule and US president Donald J. Trump, UK prime minister Boris Johnson and Italian hopeful Matteo Salvini are them. They understand that the populist and what they see as patriotic PoV demands that politicians place stronger emphasis on national security as well as unique culture and identity, including their respective countries’ Christian heritage. By putting America first, returning sovereignty – by delivering on Brexit, and having sought to control immigration from the Mediterranean Sea – Trump, Johnson and Salvini are, and were, seeking to deliver on the ‘will of the people’. 

I highlight Salvini here (despite his very recent and perhaps temporary exit from Government) as I learned more about him while touring Tuscany and Umbria earlier this year. Yes, to want to move forward – beyond our relationship with the EU – doesn’t equate to being anti-European. I am in no doubt that Brits will continue to holiday, live and work in Europe long after October 31st.

These politicians are increasingly leveraging rallies, social media and alternative channels to push out messages and communicate with their electorates. They’re not doing this to simply keep-up with the changing times but because people are losing faith in the mainstream media.

There have been several occasions where the accuracy and impartiality of some reporting has been called into question such as the coverage of the recent Tory leadership contest and this week’s debate in the House of Commons chamber. I very much support press freedom but would encourage journalists to be extra prudent. As Alastair Stewart tweeted: ‘It becomes increasingly difficult for the public to get their heads around what is happening in our politics if supposedly independent TV reporters keep giving us their views rather than the facts.’ Andrew Marr responded with: ‘Analysis fine, hard questions essential, but our views? Not wanted on voyage.’ I agree with both. In short, the momentum wasn’t behind Rory Stewart, and the loony left, including Labour’s John McDonnell, have said much worse.

Looking ahead, perhaps a general election will present another opportunity for both journalists and politicians alike to fix this disconnect and yes, move forward. Let’s get Brexit done and dusted – instead of further debate and delay – and take the fight to Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan.

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This piece was written for Politicalite (September 29, 2019). It was syndicated on BrexitCentral (September 29, 2019).