The most critical time in any battle, Craig D. Lounsbrough once wrote, is not when you’re fatigued, it’s when you no longer care.
Fatigue is certainly something familiar to public sector communicators but no-one can accuse them of not caring.
If anything, I think those in NHS, local and central government, police and fire care a little too much.
Here is a list of predictions for 2022 after two years of pandemic.
Predictions I got right for 2021
It’s going to be a tough year. Up there with death and taxes this is the most obvious thing to get right.
There has also been an avalanche of mental health problems. Almost two thirds of public sector comms people have reported their mental health deteriorating.
Disinformation and misinformation has been vital. It’s a battle that against anti-vaxxers has been won. On Facebook, bright teams across the UK did start to recruit an army of volunteers. Locally-made content did in the end prove more effective than the generic national message.
Equality in PR did fail to improve. Social media teams did face the brunt of online abuse. The age of comms teams did continue to age without there beinga flow of new younger talent.
Media relations did become more important as people looked to traditional news for pandemic updates.
Predictions I didn’t get right
Given the numbers, I thought they’d be more WhatsApp for Business use to tackle disinformation. Deepfakes remains a fringe issue not mainstream as the tech improves. The knowledge gap with AI and PR in the public sector didn’t close despite best efforts. Issues surrounding Brexit remained local or regional as the pandemic took priority.
PREDICTIONS FOR 2022
- Yes, it will be harder still. Sorry.
- Health and Safety. Communicators will wise-up and realise that Health and Safety legislation around online abuse covers them too. This represents a final maturing of the field. The risk of not taking these steps for the organisation will be an expensive lesson through litigation.
- Gap months to recharge will be more common. Buoyed by a low unemployment and burnt out by two years of pandemic public sector comms people will increasingly feel able to walk off the job, recharge with gap months away safe in the knowledge they’ll likely find work on their return.
- A dip in political authority. In England, the weaker grip on authority shown by Boris Johnson will make this a tougher year. Communicators will be asked to communicate messages that more will push back on. They will need to localise the message. This will be most pronounced in England but with trust in politicians taking a battering Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland PR need also to take account of this.
- Brexit again. As the full implications of withdrawal from Europe come into force this will cause problems for public sector communicators.
- Staffing the rota. It will be harder to keep the wheels turning as staff numbers suffer from retention problems, COVID-19 outbreaks in the team and growing expectations on what the team can do. You think you can do business and usual as well as COVID comms for a third year? Things and people WILL be falling over.
- Decision making across the board will be poorer. In the US, firefighters have a bank of learning from incidents that last months. Chief amongst this is proper rest. Why? Because decision making suffers without time to recharge. The UK hasn’t grasped this strategically, at government level or tactically. This will roll downhill to the comms team.
- Diversity continues to be overlooked. We’re aware of the problems posed by having a middle aged white workforce in PR. Doing something about it is another thing.
- The AI gap grows. Some great work has been done by the CIPR in this field to encourage communicators to learn about how Artificial Intelligence can affect their jobs. The pressure of the inbox means a lack of strategic thinking to properly embrace this.
- TikTok. This will be the year when this platform continues to breakthrough and becomes a solid way to reach all ages and not just under 24s. This will open up if you love the platform or hate it. I’m not convinced the public sector realises this.
- Organic Facebook continues to wither. Just chucking your content onto a corporate page will continue to be, as the kids say, a dick move. It won’t be reaching many people. An ad strategy or a strategy for connecting with groups continues to be vital.
- Video continues to soar. No surprises to hear me talk about this. It’s a continuing trend. 5G will make it easier as will social media’s obsession with copying TikTok.
- Upright and wide video. Videographers will need to get used to shooting in two formats and in different styles depending on the platform.
- Hello, Nextdoor. This is the year when the community platform continues to thrive. Its audience is over 55s in a geographic area and a public sector agreement means you can reach every member. This is more compelling in 2022.
- One size fits all comms continues to fail. If you’re making the same content and stuffing it across a range of channels you will fail even bigger in 2022 than you have done in 2021.
- Think granular comms. The one-size-fits-all broadcast message continues to fail and more observant people will be aware of this. Personalised messages for sub-communities will be the most effective use of time. This could be content posted to a Facebook group or £50 spent to reach a specific community.
- WhatsApp continues. Half the country use WhatsApp. The public sector has been slow to adapt or innovate. It needs to. There may be movement later in the year as tools and functionality emerge.
- Algorithmic upheaval. This is the year to pay attention to how your content performs week-by-week and month-by-month. Tried and tested ways of doing things will stop working more than they have for a decade. Will you notice? This will acutely be felt in Instagram as they react to TikTok but others will change how they perform, too. Pay attention.
- Educate your client. Comms teams used to leaving out copies of the local papers for visitors are long a thing of the past. So too will be teams just reporting broad numbers. With effective comms evolving to granular personalised messages the leadership need to be educated more than ever. They may be used to seeing a breakdown of headlines in the local paper. They’ll need to know that U24’s got this message on TikTok. You didn’t post it to Facebook because that’s not where they are, for example. Those who you report to need to be brought along with you or tghey won’t understand what you’re doing.
- New skills. After two years in the trenches refining skills and plugging the gaps is essential. Come up for air. Your brightest people have a broad set of skills. Bright people will take those skills elsewhere if they don’t feel valued. Never truer than in 2022.
- Online harms bill. This is likely to have an impact in 2022. It will ask organisations to be more aware of abusive content and ask them for plans for dealing with it when they see it. You’ll need to record keep and show other steps. This is a work in progress.
- GDPR Lite. The UK Government announced changes to GDPR seeing as we’re no longer in the EU. This is a work in progress you’ll need to keep up with.
- Virtual reality and augmented reality. Keep an eye on this space. It won’t be truly mainstream in 2022 but people will properly be experimenting with it as the tech in their hands improves.