Outreach during lockdown

Widespread restrictions on normal societal activities are likely to continue for several months as governments respond to the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

In this context, SAPEA has collected practical and technical advice about how to adapt outreach and communications activities for the foreseeable future.

Rather than reproducing advice from all over the web, we have collected links to what we consider to be the most useful guidance, and added commentary and guidance specific to SAPEA. This page will be updated regularly.

How to organise a webinar or presentation

A webinar is an online meeting or presentation held over the internet in real time.

For SAPEA, these could take the form of online equivalents of in-person events. In a SAPEA webinar, stakeholders could be invited to join a video meeting where our representative presents a topic and then takes questions. These events should be kept short, ideally under an hour.

Don't expect large numbers of people, and certainly not the general public, at these events. Aiming a focused event at an interested audience (strategically invited) could be a very effective way to have impact.

Detailed planning advice

The EU-funded All Aboard Project has published an excellent handbook to hosting a webinar, from planning and advertising through to execution.

You can find more good advice, including a list of staffing requirements, roles and time commitment in this article from SocialBrite.

And writer Piotr Prokopowicz has described his experiences with setting up remote workshops (as well as some practical tips for staying motivated working from home!).

Don't forget to gather participant data, both for SAPEA reporting purposes, and for making future webinars run even better! Most webinar software will provide you with a count of participants, and if you run a separate registration list (as recommended in the guidance linked above) you can also collect the same information about participants as you would about an in-person event.

Finally, the New York Times has some quick hacks on how to look good on camera!

Choosing a platform

There are many different platforms for hosting webinars, and more are springing up all the time. Many of the big platforms are offering expanded free services during the coronavirus outbreak.

Factors to think about:

  • Online or app-based? Many of the services below are browser-based, rather than requiring users to download software or register. Thankfully, the days of everyone needing a Skype account are behind us.
  • Platform requirements? Will everyone be sitting at their computer, or do you need a provider that also works well on tablets or mobiles? Will people need to phone in using landlines?
    • It's worth bearing in mind that many European Commission computers don't allow users to install their own software. The recommended videoconferencing system for Commission staff is WebEx.
  • Cost? Many have a free package for a limited number of participants or limited formats, but you have to sign up if you want to go beyond these limits. In most cases, the cost is paid by the host (organiser), so it's free for participants.
  • Ease of use? Can novice users understand how it works?
  • Privacy? An example of some privacy considerations are discussed in this blog post. Zoom may not be the only platform that faces these issues.
  • Can you change between speakers easily?
  • Can presenters to share their screen, or share slides?
  • Can the organiser record the session?
  • Can participants easily ask questions?

Example platforms

How to record a video from Powerpoint

You can use Microsoft PowerPoint to record a presentation with narration, and then publish it directly as a video.

To do this well, you'll need a good-quality microphone (poor sound quality is an immediate turn-off for viewers). Your computer's built-in mic will not cut it. A headset mic might do, if your computer has good hardware, but give it a test. A standalone USB mic is probably best.

You'll also need a reasonably modern computer, or be prepared for the video conversion step to be rather slow and fragile. You can't do it at all from a tablet or mobile.

Microsoft provides detailed instructions about how to record a slide show with narration, and how to export a slide show as a video. If you plan to share the video on a video-hosting service online, e.g. YouTube, you will want to export as .mp4, .wmv or .mov format, not the proprietary 'slide show' format that Microsoft provides.

See below for some thoughts about where and how to publish and promote your video.

How to publish videos to YouTube

If you have a video, YouTube is the best place to publish it. There are other video-hosting websites, the next-biggest being Vimeo, but YouTube is by far the most widely used. This means not only that your video will be on show to the biggest user base, but also that whatever system you use for your website, social media and so on will already be set up to handle YouTube-hosted videos -- and this might not be the case for other hosting services.

You should publish your videos on YouTube, even if you intend to mostly share them via social media or on your website. This is because videos are usually fairly large files for you to host and quite server-intensive for users to stream. You can offload all that work to YouTube, which isn't going to run out of server space or bandwidth anytime soon. Then you can embed the YouTube-hosted video on webpages, tweets, facebook posts and all the rest of it.

Technical advice

The technical side of uploading a video to YouTube includes a large number of steps, but it's relatively easy to do. WikiHow has an excellent and up-to-date guide.

You may also want to add subtitles (in multiple languages?). Again, using YouTube's built-in subtitles ensures maximum functionality and compatibility -- users can switch them on and off, or their operating system can choose the appropriate language for them. Instructions are here.

Beware that a video that's a few monutes long will take a few minutes to upload, even on fast broadband, and then another few minutes after that for YouTube to process and publish it before it's available. If your video is significantly longer, say an hour or more, or the file size is bigger (HD), it could take an hour or more to upload and then up to 48 hours for YouTube to process and publish it.

Marketing advice

Once your video is on YouTube, don't expect anyone to find it by themselves. They won't. The best way to get eyeballs on your video is to share it yourself.

Of course, the single best piece of advice for marketing your video is to identify your target audience. Who do you think will be interested in watching the video? The more carefully focused your content is on the audience, the more successful it will be.

Then:

  • Paste the YouTube link into a tweet or Facebook post and the system will automatically display it in a user-friendly way.
  • Publish it on your website or blog, as a news item and on whatever content page is relevant. The way to make this look pretty will depend on the system you use.
  • Add it to your email newsletter.

If you really want to get serious about marketing your YouTube videos, the first piece of advice is to make sure your YouTube channel (account) has at least several videos on it -- don't try and market a half-empty channel. Then, this article has some great and up-to-date advice.

How to publish shareable graphics on social media

It's always been the case that social media posts that contain images are often more attractive and successful than those which are pure text. This is true for Facebook, Twitter as well as for image-driven platforms like Instagram.

However, you should never just share a graphic. Your post also needs accompanying text to make it easily searchable by humans, and easily indexed by search engines, as well as keeping it accessible for users with screen readers or other technological adaptations.

Ideas of content to share

  • A punchy key line from your report, accompanied by a nice photo, or even just laid out nicely on corporate colours with your logo
  • A quote from someone saying something relevant -- with a photo of the person who said it
  • A striking graph, figure or diagram from your report
  • An infographic, generated using key facts and figures
  • The front cover of your publication
  • A simple illustrative photo to accompany your text

Resources for creating graphics

Graphic artists, designers and social media specialists are used to making social media graphics. If you don't have access to this kind of expertise, there are loads of quite nice online services for generating these. More are springing up all the time, so a Google search is your friend here, but here are some quick tips:

Tips for sharing images

  • The message of your image should be immediately clear to someone who glances at it. Assume an attention span of about 3 seconds.
  • Include your logo or simple web address, in case the image gets separated from the tweet when someone shares it.

Things to avoid

  • Boring photos of people in meetings
  • Obviously posed photos of document handovers etc
  • Photos where the detail is too small or fiddly: remember people will be looking at these things on their phones, so you need a single clear subject
  • Too much text in the image — a sentence is enough, at most
  • Long URLs -- it's fine to include a web address in an image but remember that people will have to type it out manually, so keep it short and digestible

How to communicate with the media

The general question of how to communicate effectively with the media is much broader than can be covered here. The UK's National Centre for Coordinating Public Engagement has some excellent advice if you are just getting started.

At the time of writing, with coronavirus all over the news, blanket press releases on most topics are even less likely to have an impact than they used to. However, there are already signs that this is changing, as both readers and editors start to tire of endless news about disease and death, and are starting to diversify a bit in what's published.

This means that by far the best way to engage with the media is to make direct contact with one or two friendly journalists who are important to you. Do your research to find out who's the right person, then use Twitter or their professional email accounts to open a direct conversation. Keep your messages short, simple and helpful, offering more info if they are interested. A simple personal approach will do much better than just sending round a press release to a thousand outlets, as you get the chance to sound out what angle they are interested in and how you can fit your news in around what they're working on.

The basic rule is: treat the journalist as a stakeholder or a colleague, not just an 'audience', and have a conversation with them about how you can best collaborate.

How to livestream on social media

Several big social media platforms offer the ability to broadcast live video to your followers and those people who follow them. In the right circumstances, these can be quite effective, especially if you are trying to reach a broad audience like the general public or a whole community (rather than a very specific set of professional stakeholders). Facebook, Twitter and Instagram not only support live broadcasts, but actively promote them, meaning that your video will appear prominently on users' news feeds while it's going on.

Live broadcasts require no technical expertise (and very little gear). And the threshold of 'professionalism' is quite low: these things are supposed to look a bit wobbly and you don't need studio-quality video or sound. But they do require some practice, a bit of preparation, and a clear idea of what you want to talk about before you start!

Livestreaming on Facebook

Facebook's video streaming feature is called Facebook Live. It allows you to broadcast a live video out to your audience through your company page or personal profile. This feature can be used to create one-off videos or series of recurring videos. It can be used to answer questions in real-time, to showcase an event to people who couldn't attend, or to share updates on particular topic.

While you're streaming, your video has a high chance of appearing in the news feeds of people who follow you. Once the stream has finished, a recording stays on your page or profile, meaning that people can still view it (and it might still appear on their news feed).

Livestreaming on Twitter

Twitter also allows live streaming of audio or videos. It works similarly to Facebook, though you are supposed to use a dedicated app called Periscope (also published by Twitter) instead of the Twitter app itself.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter allows you to invite up to three guests to the broadcasted videos. Guests add their own video streams to yours, and can be heard by everyone.

How to host a Twitter chat or Q&A

A Twitter chat is where a group of Twitter users meet at a predetermined time to discuss a certain topic, using a designated #hashtag on each tweet. A host or moderator will pose questions (usually writing 'Q1', 'Q2'…) to prompt responses from participants ('A1', 'A2'…) and encourage interaction among the group. Chats typically last an hour.

Twitter chats can generate a lot of social engagement, increase your following and maybe even propel you into the role of being a trend-setting thought leader within your stakeholders.

Advice and guidance

How to engage with individual stakeholders

For science and research outreach, now more than ever is the time to switch your focus from big events and press releases to liaising with individual stakeholders.

Whom to target

The first step is to identify key people who might be interested in what you've got to tell them. You will know best who these people should be, but here are some categories to jog your interest:

  • individuals who have already worked with you
  • individuals who have engaged on Twitter with tweets relevant to your topic
  • representatives of industries linked to your work
  • academies (hey! SAPEA knows a few of those)
  • NGOs and charities whose areas of interest overlap with your own
  • science-for-policy and science communication organisations
  • journalists who write about this topic (see also our advice about communicating with the media)
  • researchers in think-tanks, both political and non-political, and political foundations
  • press offices in universities and research institutes where you have a connection
  • prominent academics whose work overlaps with yours
  • relevant politicians, or more likely their office staff
  • policy officers and researchers in political parties and groups
  • policy officers and researchers in national civil services and the European Commission

In larger organisations, the person to contact (if you don't already have a personal connection) is likely to be someone on either the policy team or the communications team. In smaller organisations, you will be able to guess at the right person from their website -- often it'll be the director, general secretary or CEO.

In normal times, the best way to contact someone like this was by picking up the phone. With lockdown, you're lucky if you can find their phone number. An email can work, but a DM (or public @-message) on Twitter is another good way -- it bridges the divide between professional and personal in quite a handy way. If you're lucky, some of the people you talk to will be as desperate for some "normal" work to come their way as you are to get your message out there!

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