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On Wednesday 20 September I joined around 150 public sector peers, from across the UK, at The Hippodrome in Birmingham for Orlo’s BIG Social. The weather may have been dismal but excitement levels were high.

The main theme was ‘expect the unexpected’ and the conference opened with just that… a flash mob of singers and performers. It was amazing! Of course they’ve now ruined every other conference I’ll ever go to because I’ll be expecting someone in the audience to start belting out some showtunes.

All the sessions were centred around the themes of demand, trust and engagement. An array of amazing speakers took to the stage, or a breakout room, to share tips, expertise, experience and to inspire.

Here are my top takeaways from Orlo’s BIG Social 2023:

If you’re 70% sure, go for it

In the first session of the day, Helena Langdon, ex-Head of Social at Innocent, shared her tips for customer service and social media. The biggest takeaway for me was Innocent’s ethos of, if you’re 70% sure then just go for it.

That’s how The Big Knit started back in 2003. One of Helena’s colleagues had an idea to put hats on their smoothie bottles and to raise money for charity at the same time. Thousands of people every year knit little hats for the bottles and for each bottle sold, 25p is donated to Age UK. Since it began ten years ago, it’s raised £3 million! And of course it’s brilliant user-generated content for social media.

What a walrus can teach you about being prepared

Andy Carter, former Head of Communications and Marketing at Scarborough Borough Council, had us all in stitches as he shared how his many years of PR and comms experience and expertise was put to the test on New Year’s Eve 2022 when he received a call telling him that there was a walrus, called Thor, in the harbour and that the fireworks needed to be cancelled.

Whilst cancelling the fireworks wasn’t ideal, Thor actually brought a lot of positive PR and news coverage to Scarborough which was great for tourism.

Andy’s top tip is, no matter how much you think you’ve planned for any eventuality, go back and ask yourself, ‘Is this really the worst or most bizarre thing that could happen to us?’ – and then plan again.

How the 80/20 rule can help you manage your social media channels

In the panel discussion, chaired by comms2point0 Founder Darren Caveney, there were lots of interesting tips around strategy. Connar O’Keeffe, Marketing and Campaigns Manager at the Longhurst Group, shared the 80/20 rule by Gary Vaynerchuck (also known as Gary Vee), as a helpful way to prioritise your social media channels – and be innovative.

Essentially you spend 80% of your time on the channels that are performing really well and 20% of your time on channels where you need a presence but are mainly ‘business as usual’. And when a new platform comes along, like Threads for example, that platform should sit in the ‘20% of your time’ whilst you have a play and figure out its nuances and whether it’s going to be a good channel for your organisation.

The power of pause

In the housing breakout session, Connar O’Keeffe, Marketing and Campaigns Manager at Longhurst Group, shared how they are overcoming the negative on social media. Social media platforms (some more than others) can be quite a negative space. Then add to that unhappy customers or clients. Connar shared the strategy they’ve put in place to counteract that negativity.

One of the big takeaways was ‘the power of pause’. If something’s not meeting your expectations, think about pausing it. Ask yourself, ‘Is this adding value?’. Sometimes a pause just means slowing down and making sure that you’re adding value and not just posting content for content’s sake.

Inspiration can be found everywhere

In the local government breakout session, Farid Norat and Miça Quartey of Manchester City Council shared how they’ve created a buzz on social media. One top takeaway for me was when they talked about how inspiration is everywhere – you just need to be open to it and to be curious. For example, one day they were walking down a street and noticed a plaque on the pavement that piqued their interest.

Upon doing some research they discovered that the ice-cream cone was invented by an Italian, Antonio Valvona, in the early 19th century who was living in the Manchester suburb of Ancoats, dubbed Little Italy. They created a whole range of historical and archival content as well as organised coverage of a community event in Ancoats. It was a huge success. And all because they were curious about a plaque and what ice-cream had to do with Manchester.

Finding your golden thread

In the risk of change breakout session, Andrew Turton, Senior Digital Communications Officer at West Midlands Combined Authority shared a very honest account of how they developed their social media strategy and gave authenticity to what was a very corporate tone of voice.

One of his top tips is to develop a golden thread that weaves through all of your content and drives authenticity. Their golden thread is, “We make the West Midlands a better place to live and work.”

Having a golden thread helps give focus to social media content and lifts the quality of the content because staff need to ensure they are showing HOW they are making the West Midlands a better place to work and live and not just saying that they are.

How to win over senior leaders and colleagues

In the last session of the day, Natalie Box, Assistant Digital Officer at Avon and Somerset Police, shared how her team manages the dedicated Glastonbury Police social media channels during the world-famous music festival.

A senior leader coined the phrase ‘no glitter on Twitter’ as he felt that social media should be used as an additional operational tool only. Of course every social media professional knows that without engaging and eye-catching content, there is no audience. Natalie worked hard to convince him that by sharing more light-hearted content, they would gain more followers and have an engaged audience who would be captive when there was an important message or urgent appeal to share.

Police officers themselves were apprehensive to put themselves out there on social media for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. They identified six officers who were already active on social media and, to ease their concerns, Natalie’s team set the permissions on Orlo so that they would need to validate any post before it went out. This gave them the confidence to collect really great content for the central team.

So a top takeaway is to find out what’s holding your colleagues back from getting involved in content creation and then putting processes in place to ease those fears.

Missed Orlo’s BIG Social? Watch all the sessions now on demand!

Kirsty started her career in the finance sector but soon realised it wasn't for her. She moved into the charity sector in 2007 and has never looked back. She's worked in a number of in-house communication roles before going freelance in 2015. As well as specialising in social media, Kirsty is a copywriter and writes regularly for Third Sector and Charity Digital.