Andrew Hadfield-Ames is Head of Communications at Hertfordshire County Council. Andrew has developed strategies to use social media to drive real change in the community [2].

They see the benefit of tapping into online communities, to distribute key communications in the county. The work of Andrew and his team at Hertfordshire County Council serves as a useful case study, demonstrating how social media can be embedded into local communication action plans.

The communication agenda of Hertfordshire involves:

  • Broadening the reach of social media campaigns through accessing local and hyper-local online groups
  • Targeting social media posts to directly reach a geographical area and more receptive audiences
  • To identify key insights, using local case studies and demonstrating the outcomes of using positive messaging on social media
  • Infusing messaging on social media with a supportive tone to encourage the community to reach out and respond to communications

The Play Your Part Campaign

In July 2020 the Communications team at Hertfordshire County Council launched the Play Your Part campaign. A key responsibility of the communications team was to promote better public health across the 1.1 million population of Hertfordshire during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Play Your Part Campaign is a public information campaign, and its aim is:

“Reassuring residents that we are taking action locally and asking them to play their part of supporting us (in a positive manner)”

The campaign was distributed via social media channels and prioritised the use of positive messaging to encourage people to wear face masks, wash their hands, social distance, get vaccinated and take rapid tests twice a week.

The campaign evolved by:

  • Starting off with simple/single messaging to tackle the issue of handwashing to protect against Covid-19
  • The handwashing communications evolved so that they were delivered by recognisable community figures such as the Hertfordshire Director of Public Health, as well as teachers and nurses
  • Then, key compliance messages were delivered by Hertfordshire residents so that people could identify with those communicating the public health pleas
  • In final iterations, they broadened the campaign across key preventive behaviours, including keep your distance, wear a face covering, self-isolate/get tested
Tanisha face covering

The campaign posters for Play Your Part were carefully crafted so that the tone was positive and upbeat, aiming to promote a sense of community and support. The main call to action was ‘Let’s protect Hertfordshire’.

As it gained traction the council continued to use the Play Your Part brand to promote better public health across the county. It evolved many times, but the positive tone of the messaging remained consistent.

The Impact of Play Your Part

Play Your Part was distributed across a range of digital channels – some of which had never been used in this way before.

Email updates: 31,158 opens across public accounts in Hertfordshire

Social Media Advertising: All of Hertfordshire: reach of 570,499/Impressions 3,343,629 and ethnically diverse areas: reach of 123,425/Impressions 1,134,832

Text messaging service: 73,000 recipients across Hertfordshire

Paid for advertising: countrywide – Approx. 1million potential reach

Andrew promotes paid for advertising as a tool for getting messages out to residents in a targeted and quick way. On the 14th December 2020, just minutes after the government announcement of movements in the lockdown tier system – the communications team at Hertfordshire County Council shared a post on Facebook to inform residents of the status of their area.

With a single post, boosted by just £50, the council were able to gain reach and engagement figures that were far more than the norm (outside of the pandemic).

On other occasions, the council have needed to take a far more targeted approach to social media activity. They have used paid for advertising to focus on residents in certain geographical areas, as well as targeting demographic groups based on age.

Focus on Young People

Andrew and his team realised that to instil behaviour change in the county, all demographics had to be targeted in the communication campaigns.

Nantervention: In September 2020 they ran their #nantervenetion campaign on TikTok to encourage young people to follow the rules. The digital campaign was developed to reach young people with the aim of reducing transmissions, whilst reminding them of the rules and risks of coronavirus.

Videos were created with a Hertfordshire nan, showing her dancing, whilst promoting Covid-19 safe rules. The videos were shared on social media by the county council, district and borough councils, CCGs and emergency services.

The campaign reached 58,000 people in one week and was covered on 174 news platforms

#Saveoursummer: Videos featuring young people, telling them how easy it is to take tests so that their ‘summer could be saved’ were circulated, targeting young people in the county.

Videos were shared across key digital channels including Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat. Initial results showed 1,102,639 impressions and 49,467 interactions.

The council are now looking at ways of creating similar demographically targeted campaigns to promote Covid-19 vaccinations.

Facebook Groups

In Hertfordshire around 60% of residents use Facebook, therefore it can be extremely effective at reaching a large audience. People are highly engaged in Facebook communities, and they are used for a number of things from finding a new hairdresser to sharing tips on gardening.

The Hidden Heroes campaign was created to be distributed across Facebook groups, calling to action members in the groups to comment and nominate ‘Hidden Heroes’ within their communities.

Andrew and his team targeted around 45 Hertfordshire based Facebook group admins. Most of the groups were local or hyper-local, consisting of communities in villages, towns and cities and had specific audiences such as mums, walkers, and animal owners.

The Hidden Heroes campaign enabled the council to build initial relationships with admins who are leaders of their communities.

There was a fantastic response in terms of engagement, and the campaign gained traction due to people tagging and sharing to other Facebook groups they were members of.

Overall: Lessons Learned

Andrew offers the main things that they learned by launching campaigns over the pandemic, utilising digital spaces and social media:

  • The positive messages and kindness shown in our Play Your Part and Hidden Heroes campaigns really did pay off, as they received excellent feedback
  • A blanket all approach doesn’t always work – targeting specific groups and communities via Facebook group outreach helps to build strong relationships for the future.
  • Paid for advertising functions across social media platforms are effective and good value for money
  • By focusing content on other key demographic data (such as age) it is possible for campaigns to be widely effective.

[1] HM Government. 2021. Build Back Better. Ministerial Foreword

[2] Hadfield-Ames, Andrew. 2021. Head of Communications, Hertfordshire County Council

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Hertfordshire County Council have used several digital channels to promote their public health campaigns over the course of the pandemic. Andrew Hadfield-Ames from Hertfordshire Council shares their successes of using social media to communicate effectively with the public.

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