With special guest, Ross Middleham from the Met Office
For episode 3 of the Sharing Social podcast, Base Creative and ContentCal collaborated to interview the Content & Social Lead at the Met Office, Ross Middleham, and discuss using social media effectively and managing a global audience on TikTok.
Ross leads design and video production, and is responsible for the overall visual brand, to ensure the Met Office creates engaging, informative and high-quality communication to its followers. He oversees the day-to-day creation and publishing efforts, joining up ideas and setting the direction for the Met Office social channels, which boast over 1.6 million combined followers!
We’re taking a deep dive into some of the biggest learnings from our interview with Ross, including how a global organisation like the Met Office uses social media effectively.
When did social media start to become a priority for the Met Office?
Social media evolves all the time, and that ties directly into the Met Office’s values. To begin with, the Met Office wanted to make their existing content more engaging. This started with the use of infographics and then progressed into “scrollytelling”.
Did you know?
Scrollytelling is a term used to describe online experiences including animation, video, and sound effects, all triggered by the user scrolling.
This kicked off the start of social media taking a front seat at the Met Office. It works so well because it’s something we all use every day – very convenient when you want to share the latest weather updates!
How do the Met Office’s social media channels rank alongside other digital content channels?
When Ross joined the Met Office 12 years ago, his main focus was the website. Of course, over the past decade, social media has evolved massively, becoming the first place many turn to for information, so the Met Office’s strategy has also evolved to include social media too.
Today, social media ranks highly alongside other digital content channels for the Met Office because it’s such an easy way of accessing their audience.
However, part of the challenge with using social media is learning how people communicate, and how this varies across different channels, so the next step for the Met Office is to work out how they can communicate with their audience, in the same way, to ensure that content is received well and meets the desired objectives.
What’s the distribution of followers across platforms?
The Met Office has 1.6 million combined followers across all social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn and TikTok.
Why are the Met Office on all platforms? Because part of their purpose is to inform everyone on upcoming weather conditions and keep everyone safe. Different channels offer different values to different audiences, so covering all bases here means they’re able to reach a wide audience, who like to consume their content in different ways.
Twitter is currently the Met Office’s biggest platform, as it’s been used by the company for the longest time and now has over 800,000 followers alone. This is used much like a rolling news channel, which suits the ever-changing nature of the weather perfectly!
Here’s a quote from Ross:
We often hark back to the days when just people got their forecast on TV or the radio, particularly if there’s anyone who remembers the infamous 1987 storm and the fact that we didn’t think there was a hurricane coming on as the BBC presenter, Michael Fish, said there wasn’t. If that had been happening now, you’d have had an update 10 minutes later. You could have gone straight to the app, you could have gone to the website, you would have seen all of the uncertainty that surrounded that forecast. And actually, that’s what we’re able to offer, we’re able to offer people an avenue to understand how the weather and climate will impact them around the clock when it matters to them the most.
Did you know you can also tweet the Met Office with a location and you’ll get a reply with the local weather forecast? Pretty cool! Give it a go and tweet @metoffice
How did the Met Office begin a partnership with TikTok?
The Met Office realised during TikTok’s early stages that there was a buzz around the platform, and that it was important to look ahead at what was coming next. The way people communicate changes all the time, so it’s important for organisations to adapt and grow to keep up with this.
At first, the Met Office started experimenting on the platform when it was a low-risk strategy – no one actually knew they were posting there yet.
Some of the initial content hooks in the early days revolved around the current weather, or what the temperature was going to look like in the next few days. However, this wasn’t really getting the traction they wanted.
So, at the start of lockdown, the Met Office started looking at their publishing schedule to work out how they could align themselves with some of the new verticals TikTok was investing in, as one of them was education.
The Met Office quickly discovered that there was an opportunity here, and keeping people up to date and informed aligned closely with their purpose, so the Met Office got in contact with TikTok and the partnership was born!
What’s it like managing a community at such a grand scale?
During the interview, we asked Ross what it’s like having to not only keep on top of all the comments that come through social media, but also what people are saying on social media about the Met Office.
Here’s a snippet from Ross:
We’re working nonstop, this is very reactive, and we’re continually creating output. And so stopping and understanding what’s resonating best with people is tricky and requires specialist skills. For a team of content creators, content producers, that’s not necessarily their background. So this produces a huge opportunity for us in terms of growth over the next six months when we can focus on some of these challenges.
We understand that we’re a trusted name, and that people come to us in times of severe weather, because they know that they’re going to get the most accurate information. And that people are taking action, even on channels like TikTok. So we get people commenting saying that they’ve told their mum that there’s a storm on the way so that they’re going to need to be taken to school in the morning, or that they need to bring the rabbit in because actually, it’s gonna be really rainy overnight, or that they’re going to download a load of Netflix stuff because the power might go out. Like people are taking action based on our advice. So they’re understanding the content and taking the appropriate action. So we’re ticking a big box in that sense.
Listen to the full interview we had with Ross to learn more about the ins and outs of The Met Office’s social media strategy. Including a deep dive on breakthrough formats such as Instagram Reels and YouTube shorts.
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Read the full transcript
Iain Scott 0:05
Welcome to Episode Three of the second series of Sharing Social, the monthly show that connects the people behind the hashtags with content, ideas and insights. Starting off as an in person event, moved to social and evolved into the podcast. If you listened to our last episode, you’ll have heard Kelsey Nebbeling, Social Media Senior Manager from Reckitt, the company behind such brands as Dettol, Nurofen, and the famous Barry Scott from Cillit Bang. Kelsey had huge insight into the strategy and management of corporate social media, lots of info, plenty of insight, and some really detailed low level stuff as well. It was genuinely interesting. Becca, what was your biggest takeaway from last month’s episode?
Rebecca Holloway 0:52
I really liked how, often with corporate social media, it can be hard to know what to talk about. But Kelsey covered thinking about, is your business sustainable? Is it responsible? Is it overall kind of a good business? And this can be a really good place to start with your corporate social media.
Iain Scott 1:13
Yeah, 100%. Go on, Andy, what was your biggest one?
Andy Lambert 1:15
Yeah, I was gonna say, yeah, from my side it is, it’s really interesting one to see a cultural shift in a corporate brand starting to get behind social, right, because that shows an increasing interest and investment in the space. But on the counter to that is what Kelsey has to do with such a small team as well, which, for an organisation the size of Reckitt, was quite surprising.
Iain Scott 1:39
You can listen to the last episode on Spotify and on Apple now, or you can head over to sharingsocial.co.uk for all the previous episodes from this and from series one. But series two is a collaboration between digital marketing agency Base Creative and social media platform ContentCal. Each show we’ll be bringing on a very special guest to share their knowledge and their insight too. My name is Iain, I’m founder of Base Creative, and I’m with Becca, who works with me as a Social Media Consultant. And we’ve also got the founder of ContentCal, Andy Lambert, who you’ve just heard on the show, too.
Now, we always have plenty to talk about on this show. But normally, when people run out of things to say, we talk about the weather, not today, we will be talking about the weather, but for completely different reasons. Our very special guest is Ross Middleham, Content and Social Media Lead at the Met Office. They have over 1.6 million followers across all our social channels, including TikTok, where they’ve amassed almost 80,000 followers alone. We’re going to be finding much more about that and how a global organisation like the Met Office uses social media effectively in a couple of minutes. Now, Ross, good morning. Most people use topics around the weather as small talk or filler to pass a time in the beginning of a Zoom call. Maybe it’s a safe subject when we’re unsure what to talk about. But what do people whose profession is to talk about the weather use for small talk at the start of Zoom meetings?
Ross Middleham 3:14
Thank you and it’s a great question. And of course we revert to the weather. The weather is the hot topic on everyone’s lips so we can’t escape it even within the Met Office.
Iain Scott 3:26
Okay, I was hoping you might have a bit more like, “oh the background here”. You know, people who are on the podcast won’t realise or appreciate what’s going on behind Ross, which is an eclectic mix of curios that you’ve amassed over the years. Is that right?
Ross Middleham 3:40
That is right. I am surrounded by a collection of things that inspire me. They don’t have to work. They’re bright, colourful items. Old technology, in what is affectionately known as the party lounge, which has been my Met Office for the past 18 months, quite unexpectedly, obviously.
Iain Scott 4:00
We are really looking forward to today’s show on what you’ve got to say. Our theme is about managing a global audience on TikTok as well as other channels. Andy, let me bring you in here, you are a ray of sunshine to the social media community. Talking about TikTok I still don’t see you there. What’s holding you back?
Andy Lambert 4:21
Oh, you must have missed the memo, amassing all of 10 followers. So yeah, unfortunately we’re having this conversation alongside Ross and he will share with a number of followers I feel a little bit yeah, insubstantial, really in this company. But yes, I’ve made the leap. We’re on TikTok. So, Ross, lovely to meet you. Firstly, and most importantly, as already said on the run up to this, you have won the award for the best background for any guests we’ve had on this show. But let’s dive straight into actually Ross because there’s so much you want to unpack in the next 20 or so minutes. So firstly, you’ve been at the Met Office for 12 odd years now, I think, an interesting journey throughout the Met Office. So give us a sense of like, where you started and how that journey ended up for you being Social and Content Lead at the Met Office?
Ross Middleham 5:18
Definitely. So I started my career, way back in an agency, where I spent five years at a local agency, having done a degree at Bournemouth University, that was new media production, I had no idea what that degree was going to be about when I took it on, to be honest, and I don’t think they did either. And I don’t think that’s disrespectful. It was just basically new technology at the time. What it involved was what you would now call UX design. So it was interactive design, it was design principles, it was designing with an audience in mind. And that, coupled with the experience that I got at the agency, really put people at the heart of everything I did. 12 years I’ve been at the Met Office now, I joined there as a new media designer. And it was a great buzz term at the time. Like I say, not everyone knew what that meant. But I actually joined the organisation to try and improve their communication across digital channels. Essentially, everything I’ve done in the time has all been about making sure that content is engaging, clear. And it takes science to make it as compelling as possible.
Andy Lambert 6:32
Very, very interesting. And we’re going to pick up more about design thinking as we go through this, because I think it’s a really interesting topic. So it’s very close to our hearts here. And what I find kind of particularly fascinating, so 12 years ago, you’re looking at digital channels, like new media, obviously a brand new term, maybe a little bit esoteric, people not really understanding what it means. But what were your digital channels back then, which must have been 2009? I’m guessing if my maths is correct?
Ross Middleham 7:01
Yes. So we were focusing on the website, and I came in to improve the experience on the website. And actually, at the time, the thinking behind that was to use technologies like Flash, which I trained in. I trained in Flash and Director, which created interactive CD-ROMs. And again, that was all about experience for someone. So whilst, ironically, our website couldn’t handle Flash, I was able to embed myself in the team and start looking at where I could offer the most benefit to the organisation.
Andy Lambert 7:33
Really interesting. So with that, channels have obviously evolved substantially, right, it’s so interesting thinking about, even though 2009 doesn’t feel, at least to me because I’m getting a bit older, doesn’t feel that long ago, right? And it’s interesting, if you spoke about Flash now, you’d be like, “what?!”, and when you move it forward, and of course, when it’s mostly about your website, and now 1.6 million followers across social channels, when did social start to become a thing for the Met Office?
Ross Middleham 8:03
So we keep evolving all the time at the Met Office, that’s one of our values. And it’s never truer than in this space. And it’s never more crucial than in this space. So when we started, my work predominantly was around trying to make our content more engaging. And of course, the rise of infographics was the thing that started to prompt people to think about content in slightly different ways. And so those really long page scrollers that used to be able to create, and that would keep people on the page and keep on scrolling, that would take it away from just pure words into pictures and summarising information in much more engaging ways. That was our kickoff. And of course, we were at the forefront when people joined the different platforms. And it really then, in our understanding and our everyday lives of using social, we’re able to take that into how do we apply this to the Met Office?
Andy Lambert 8:57
And so how do social channels rank alongside your other digital content channels? Do you see social as equal in parity with your other channels as well? Or is social becoming more important as time goes on?
Ross Middleham 9:12
Absolutely, I see it as equally important. It’s all part of the ecosystem, I’m going to call it and I wouldn’t have thought I’d have called it that. But I did. But it’s all the different touch points that an organisation offers and social ranks very highly amongst that. Why does it rank highly amongst that, because loads of people are on social media? So simple. So we’re in that space as well. We as an organisation need to understand how people are consuming information and where they’re consuming that information and work out whether we’re able to communicate with them in the same space as well.
Andy Lambert 9:46
Gotcha. So now at this point, 1.6 million followers across a range of different channels. So can you give us a sense of the distribution of those followers? So what platforms are the biggest for you and where are you?
Yeah, so we’re across all of the platforms. And that’s not because we just think that we should be across all the platforms, it’s because we realise people are on those platforms, and we’ve got a purpose to keep everybody safe and able to thrive. So it’s a very strong purpose. And we know that different channels offer different avenues to different audiences. So Twitter is our biggest audience. That’s the one that we’ve been on longest, no surprise to people. And we’ve got over 800,000 followers there. And we use that as a kind of rolling news channel, much like most people use, but that fits perfectly with the weather and the ever changing nature of the weather to keep people updated. We often hark back to the days when just people got their forecast on TV or the radio, particularly if there’s anyone who remembers the infamous 1987 storm. And the fact that we didn’t think there was a hurricane coming on as Michael Fish, the BBC presenter, said there wasn’t. If that had been happening now, you’d have had an update, 10 minutes later, you could have gone straight to the app, you could have gone to the website, you would have seen all of the uncertainty that surrounded that forecast. And actually, that’s what we’re able to offer, we’re able to offer people an avenue to understand how the weather and climate will impact them around the clock when it matters to them the most.
Andy Lambert 11:22
Yeah, I’m with you. And that you mentioned the word “purpose” a couple of times, I think that it’s a really important point. And we’re gonna go back into those social channels. But I want to take a quick segue. But like, purpose, it sounds like you have a very clearly defined purpose for social as a comms channel for yourself. So is that true? What is? And if so, what is the purpose? Is there? Is there a kind of key sentence that links everything together?
Ross Middleham 11:48
Yeah, we want people to be aware of what’s happening. We want them to understand the science, because the science can often be quite complicated. And what we’re trying to do is put that across in an engaging way, and we want them to act, particularly if they need to act. So if you’ve got a severe weather warning, we want you to take action without putting that warning out for any other reason, then take note, because there may even be a risk of life here. So having a strong purpose is really, really important, particularly when you think about developing your social channels. We could, and we have fallen into the trap in the past, very easily post pictures of dogs in sunglasses, that kind of content. But what is that doing for our purpose and our remit? Not a lot, other than building a kind of audience that likes pictures of dogs in sunglasses. So we need to make sure we’re balancing that information. It can be entertaining. Absolutely. But that cannot be its sole purpose. It needs to be there as informative and engaging content that people will interact with and take notice of.
Andy Lambert 12:52
Gotcha. Yeah, yeah, I really like that. And it’s interesting, having that level of purpose stops you falling into those traps that you mentioned, where it’s quite easy to bait engagement, as we know, but ultimately, if we’re always asking, but harking back to a core purpose, and totally with you, but going back to those channels for a second. So they focus across all of those all organically, or is there some paid activity happening across them as well?
Ross Middleham 13:20
Yes, predominantly organic, we do. The way we work is that we identify what the story is in the morning meeting. And we work out what the consistent messaging is, and how we’re going to tell that in the appropriate way for each channel. And so a lot of it’s organic, but we do in times of severe weather have thresholds that we will use some paid advertising. And what that does is actually make sure that the message gets in front of the right people in the right location, basically. So, if we’ve got a warning for Scotland, there’s no point that’s putting that out across all of our organic posts. We should tailor that and target that to make sure the right people see it, and then take the appropriate action.
Andy Lambert 14:03
Got you. So on that basis, and where do you see the channels that have the biggest potential for you moving forward?
Ross Middleham 14:13
Big potential without a doubt, remains YouTube. There’s a huge potential for us on YouTube. We’re quite a unique offering on YouTube, in that we naturally create a lot of content with our presented more traditional forecasts that we post, but we supplement that with that kind of explainer content around why the weather is happening, what the uncertainties are, and our longer format stuff around the kind of looking ahead further. That’s the content that actually we find a lot of people engage with and often get the biggest views. So we’ve got big opportunities there. We very fairly recently reached our 100k subs. Now we’re quickly approaching 150k. It’s growing very quickly. That alongside TikTok is obviously an area we’re seeing huge growth as well.
Andy Lambert 15:05
Very interesting. So, yeah, it’s interesting because YouTube doesn’t often come up that much in conversations about social channels and where people should be. And I’m a huge advocate of it. So it’s great to hear your success with it. But talking about success, actually, I mean, how do you define success?
Ross Middleham 15:23
Yeah, it’s very difficult to measure our purpose. So to keep people safe and able to thrive is a fantastic purpose. But it’s tricky to measure. So we’re not the ROI, we’re not pulling people out to see and able to count and say, Look, we save this many lives. So we have to do things like brand and trust tracker measurements. We also use a lot of social listening to work out what people are saying about us in terms of sentiment, and we rely on people commenting and giving us anecdotal evidence as to where they’ve used our forecast that makes a difference to them and their lives.
Andy Lambert 16:03
Got you. Okay, so lots of different data points and out of interest, what’s the social listening tool that you use? Everyone loves a tool recommendation.
Ross Middleham 16:12
So we’ve been using Falcon as our social management tool, and they’ve now merged with Brandwatch. We’re increasingly using that to start listening. But we also were lucky enough to have what we call the weather desk. And it’s a team of advisors that are listening to customers and people. So you could call up the Met Office now. And you could speak to someone and ask them what the forecast is, you could tweet them @MetOffice, and we’ll reply to you, and that will be done within a certain amount of time. And we’re doing that 24/7 365. So we have got our ear on the ground across those channels, we could do better. But you always paint a great picture when you’re talking to somebody. But we could do that across other channels as well. And that’s something that we’re certainly looking at.
Andy Lambert 17:00
Got you, just take it a bit more high level for a second. Thinking about strategy, because you’ve mentioned your purpose, right? But are there specific people you want to target as part of this strategy? Or is it very broad?
Ross Middleham 17:15
It’s really broad. “People” are a blessing and a curse. “People” is huge. So it’s great, because it gives you lots of opportunities, it means – and weather impacts everything weather and climate impact, absolutely everything – you’ve got lots of different opportunities to explore in terms of content, creation, and opportunities on social. But the danger, the flip side, is you can create quite vanilla content. If you don’t look out, that doesn’t actually appeal to many people. And so we have insights from our different social channels. So we’re able to tailor knowing what demographics are on our channels, which helps. But we also think about it in terms of behaviours and tasks a lot of the time. And we think really hard in our morning meeting about why people will care today. It might be that there’s some other stuff going on in the news, particularly recently, that’s just taking people’s attention. And so there’s no point fighting against that attention, you have to be very aware of what’s happening in the social space.
Andy Lambert 18:18
Very true. And you’ve mentioned this morning meeting a couple of times now. So that kind of leads quite nicely onto like giving us a sense of your process of content, creation ideation through to planning and publishing, I’d love to get a flavour for how the whole process works at the Met Office.
Ross Middleham 18:35
Absolutely. So I’ll go to that meeting again, actually. So we have a morning meeting with our content team at nine o’clock every day, that is to discuss all of the bits of content we create. So whilst we’re in charge of social – that’s one of our big areas – we also do communications for the business, internal communications, and also climate. So we’re a really busy team. So whilst we’re doing that, there’s a meeting going on in parallel, that’s led by the Chief Meteorologist. So that’s the person that’s in charge of everything. And they are briefing anyone that wants to listen. But basically the huge team around the science behind what’s happening, the uncertainties very, very in depth science. We then have a meeting after that, where we pull together experts from around the organisation. Some of them have been at that meeting, of course, and we say, “give us an overview of what’s happening today”. And then we’ve got content producers, presenters, videographers, designers in that meeting that say, “what does an occluded front mean? So what’s that going to do today? Why would people care? Do you mean it’s just going to be raining? Or do you mean it’s going to be warm?” So we ask all those questions that we would expect the public to be asking. And then we work out what that story is. And that really is the important bit that we work out, what are we saying? And how are we saying it’s getting a consistent line, because if we said it was snowing on Instagram, and it was raining on Twitter, then you’re breaking that experience and you’re breaking all that trust and authoritative, and tone of voice the Met Office has. So the consistency and agreeing that in that meeting is really important. We then effectively and I’m doing it like this, because we’ve got columns, whiteboard, right? Now it’s virtually, but we work out how that message is going to flow into those columns. So for anyone that can’t see me, obviously on the podcast, it’s a bit like Connect Four, I’m doing that kind of visual description. So the contents at the top, and we’re slotting it into the channels and working out how we’re going to tell it in the appropriate way.
Andy Lambert 20:49
And the columns are the channels here of Facebook, Twitter, etc. right? Okay. So there’s a slightly different spin, you’re taking on the story for each of those channels to tailor it to that different demographic.
Ross Middleham 21:00
Yeah, that’s exactly right. Yeah. So essentially, it’s the same message, but we’re telling it in different ways. So we know that on Twitter, the way that people engage with it the most is to see weather graphics, so we create little clips of weather graphics. On YouTube, the presented forecast is something that people engage with the most. On TikTok, we know that we’re treating it in a totally different way. Again, following that meeting, though, we then my role really, is to orchestrate, make sure that stuff is being done and going out the door is looking great. I join up plans, ideas across the team and across the organisation. A bit like a detective is how I describe my role. And I never imagined describing myself like that. But that’s how I describe my role. And then we obviously do the planning. So what’s coming up that we’re trying to work towards?
Andy Lambert 21:55
Because I was going to ask, it sounds very reactive, right? Every morning figuring out what’s happening, how are you going to tell your story, but there is some element of planning that goes into this as well, some forward thinking of what’s happening next month or quarter?
Ross Middleham 22:07
Yeah, absolutely. Yep. So that’s done in a variety of different ways. Obviously, with the weather, we know there’s certain touch points as the only word that’s coming to mind, but in touch points, where there’ll be more interest. So will it be a white Christmas? Is it going to rain at Glastonbury? We know that there are key moments in people’s calendars where the weather matters the most to them. And that’s where we focus our planning in terms of content production.
Andy Lambert 22:33
So it’s around those key moments, ultimately. So the planning, whereas most organisations planning might well be like, they’ll map out their content for the next month. Really, you’re just thinking from a very high level perspective, what are the key events that are potentially happening in this month that we could hook the Met Office into ultimately?
Ross Middleham 22:55
Absolutely. We also work with a wider marketing communications team in terms of what other messages are important to us to tell people. And so it’s getting that balance, right in terms of what people would like to receive from you and what you would also like to tell them in some aspects. So obviously, we have certain science papers that we’re working on or partnerships we’re doing that we’re keen that people are aware of. And all those things help to tick the box of us being the authoritative source, the trusted source of weather, employment information,
Andy Lambert 23:26
I love that. Absolutely love that, and Becca, who is on the podcast, as well, gave a talk on TikTok at Social Day recently. And considering what you’ve done with TikTok, we really want to dig into that specifically a little bit more. So Becca, I’m going to hand it over to you at this point.
Rebecca Holloway 23:45
Thanks, Andy. Yes, Ross, I was lucky enough to see your talk at Social Day and loved it. And I’m a passionate user of TikTok myself. So I’d love to hear a little bit more about how the Met Office started using TikTok and I know that you’ve had a partnership so spill the tea on that, please.
Ross Middleham 24:05
Okay, well do and thank you for coming to listen to Social Day. I loved it on stage. That stage was huge as well. So we started by experimenting on TikTok. Why did we do that? Because loads of people were on TikTok, we knew the buzz was there a couple of years ago, and we’re doing what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to look at what’s coming next. The world will not stay as it is now. And the way we communicate with people going forward will change and is changing all the time. So the Met Office, as an organisation needs to recognise that and that’s part of my role. So we were experimenting, and at that point, we weren’t telling anyone that we were doing it. We were just trying, we were just seeing what, what could we make on this channel. It’s absolutely low risk at that stage to the organisation. Because no one would expect us to be on there in the first place, particularly and the stuff we’re doing. Of course, we manage our own reputation. So we’re not doing anything silly. The way we did that to start with was around trying to look at trends, what trends were performing well, and whether we could link in some of our content to that. So there was one around the flexibility test where we tried to do a flexibility test, with one of the presenters, to look at what the temperature was going to be like over the next few days, which is laughable. It’s worth a look, actually, it’s a good bit of content. But we found that actually thinking about a publishing schedule in terms of how it would fit into that morning meeting I talked about how we can begin to get some of those core messages in, it didn’t fit. But we saw an opportunity, and lockdown weirdly presented us with that opportunity. What happened in lockdown is that TikTok released the fact that they were going to start investing in different verticals. So things like cooking, fashion, learning, and suddenly we saw an opportunity, which aligned with our purpose. So informing people, keeping people up to date with things, educating them absolutely aligned with our purpose. So we proactively got in contact with TikTok and said, “Let’s chat.”
Rebecca Holloway 26:18
And what happened next? Was you shifting your content while this was happening? Or I mean, how regularly were you posting at that stage?
Ross Middleham 26:27
So at that stage, we were still posting. We’re posting once every couple of weeks, I would say, it was very limited. We were focused on other channels. We have been growing our Instagram channel, and had great success. But in line with everyone else, we’re not kidding ourselves that everyone’s Instagram channel didn’t grow at the same time, much like TikTok, of course. But we had some great success there. And we were focused there, but playing with TikTok still. So what we did was we went to TikTok and said, “Let’s talk” and that’s kind of the way I like to approach many things. So it all starts with a conversation. You don’t know the art of the possible until you start working out whether there’s any mutual interest between the two parties. And we said what we do, we said who we are. And we talked about the fact that we could support them with their new initiative. And they were very keen for us to continue talking. So what we did, we quickly pulled together a partnership proposal. In terms of this is the type of content we want to create and like to create and think your audience will like, this is how regularly we would do it. And this is where we would start evolving and kind of going forward and how it fits in with our other plans. And they liked what they heard, which is great, the conversations went really well. And we were taken on board as an official hashtag alone on TikTok Partner. So great news, it gave us a great springboard to start thinking really sensibly about the sort of thing that we were going to do on a more regular basis.
Rebecca Holloway 28:05
And how has that helped you? Have you felt like this learning aspect has made it easier for you to produce content? Has any of that kind of followed through across other channels? I’m thinking as well like, how does this tie in with Instagram releasing Reels? Is there crossover there for you?
Ross Middleham 28:23
Yeah, there is definitely a crossover in the type of content we create. So we have one of our YouTube channels to learn about weather. And if you’ve not seen it, definitely go and have a look and subscribe. Shameless wasn’t that? On there, we create daily and weekly content around what’s going on. So we base it on search terms a lot of the time so some of our early videos were based on people searching, Why is the sky blue, and knowing that that volume of search meant that there was a gap there to fill? Well, we’re scientists, we’ve got world leading experts at the Met Office, we know why the sky is blue. I don’t. I’ve probably not watched a video yet. But there are people that do know that and that’s the important thing. And so some of that content was going on to YouTube and it was natural actually to be telling it in other ways. And the collaboration with TikTok and the partnership with TikTok meant that we could actually really focus on what we’re producing on that channel. In terms of Instagram reels, absolutely another opportunity as well. We, there’s a big dangerous fall to fall into really in terms of just using your TikTok on Instagram reels. And of course, we fall into that trap. And sometimes it’s appropriate, but I would recommend creating bespoke Instagram reels wherever you can. When you look at the resources needed to create things and the acceptance in production quality, particularly since lockdown, then entry level is much easier to get stuff out the door.
Rebecca Holloway 30:01
And on the subject of short form video, you’ve mentioned YouTube as well, do you? Have you experimented with any YouTube Shorts? I know that started to come up like the last few months especially.
Ross Middleham 30:13
Yes, we have so far with limited success on defining in terms of eyes on content, actually, and going with the vanity stats. We found that we’ve been trying to tease bits of content, we’ve been using it in that way. And it’s early days, to be honest, we think a regularity of publishing would help. So people knowing that there’s going to be one at a certain time, or we do it around a certain thing. So maybe we take a moment in the week, weekend weather. And in fact, we only tell it on YouTube Shorts. Very, very tricky to get the balance right between working out what you repurpose across your channel channels, and what’s exclusive to channels. So that’s what we’re looking at learning at second.
Rebecca Holloway 31:02
Sounds great. I wanted to ask as well, because the Met Office has such a large audience across all of your channels. What’s it like managing the replies? And the comments that you get through? I know, you’ve mentioned the weather desk earlier, but have you? You know, what’s your process for that? And what kind of things do you get apart from? Is it going to be rainy tomorrow?
Ross Middleham 31:27
Yeah, it’s very tricky. We are very reliant on the weather desk to take a big bulk of that work for us. And we’re also very lucky, like I say, to have them as part of the extended team. The team themselves are also obsessed with social media. So we all have access to be able to look at what’s working, what comments and questions are coming in. We’re not all trained. We’re not all trained meteorologists. It might surprise you to know, I’m not a trained meteorologist. But I think that comes in my favour for the role that I do. But so we don’t all comment and reply, but we identify the areas that we think will have the most benefit or the most impact.
Rebecca Holloway 32:10
The other thing, which I found particularly interesting in your talk at Social Day, was when you spoke about having to enforce two factor authentication across all of your accounts, which gave me the fear. I was like, Oh, no, I know what that’s like having to enforce that. So what was that like?
Ross Middleham 32:35
It was an absolute nightmare. So I’m a designer, creative by heart. So that’s my background. So the minute I had an email saying, are all your accounts two-factor authenticated? I assume they are, because they have to be in line with the Cabinet Office cybersecurity standards. My heart sank. So on one hand, I was busy trying to lead our relationship with TikTok, which I was loving, and looking at the content that the team were coming up with and guiding that direction. And then on the other hand, I was suddenly having to think, well, okay, the foundations of this are incredibly rocky, we need to get on top of it.
Rebecca Holloway 33:20
Did you have any nightmares about that?
Ross Middleham 33:23
Yeah, not anymore. Fortunately, I think we’re in a good place. So shall I talk a little bit about how we got there, maybe?
Rebecca Holloway 33:30
Yeah, I think because this is the kind of thing that we all know that we need to do. But it often gets pushed back, which is not right.
Ross Middleham 33:39
So I think I’ve changed in this process slightly. And I’m gonna say I’ve changed for the better. It got to be for the better. So this is not the sort of thing I would have thought much about before. I was aware, when the email came through, we probably haven’t changed our password for a little while on Twitter. When I started digging around, the enormity of the situation was jaw dropping. And like I say, you often present the great bits. But this is a chance to kind of reveal that it’s not all great. And things need sorting. So we haven’t changed passwords in years. Some of those passwords were simple words. We had people that had access across the organisation, we had people that had left the organisation that still had access to those passwords. You name it, it was the most vulnerable we could be in that sense. We’ve made some big improvements in that time and a lot of it came down to trial and error. So identifying what needed to be done first and when, and we had some great help from our auditing team within the Met Office and our cybersecurity team within the Met Office, to rather than say “you’ve got to do this” is to actually work with us and understand why it was so difficult. It is really easy to turn on MFA on any social account. If you’ve got one person using it. If you’ve got 100 people using 30 plus accounts, simultaneously at times around the clock, all working different working patterns and shifts, it becomes very difficult. So what we’ve done, and like I say, a lot of trial and error, a lot of patience. And we’ve got to the point where it’s a combination of keypass, so secure kind of databases that hold passwords and login details, SharePoint permissions for people, so the right people are accessing, but most importantly, we’ve now got a list of all our accounts. We’ve got dates and audited when their passwords have been changed and who’s got access to them. And we have a joiners, movers, leavers monthly meeting where we say, right, who’s joined, who needs training, who needs access, who’s moved, who doesn’t need access anymore, who’s more importantly, who’s left so that we actually trigger a whole different series of events. And the boring bit in all of this is that I’ve then gone on and done my own social accounts as well. But I absolutely couldn’t recommend enough that if you’ve not done it, start looking at it now. It’s boring, but within boringness, there can be creativity that’s needed to solve those problems.
Rebecca Holloway 36:32
Yeah, definitely. Thank you for sharing that Ross.
Iain Scott 36:37
Brilliant, genuinely insightful. Again, thanks for that. Ross, I appreciate that, actually listening to you, the content that you’re publishing on social media is genuinely life changing in hearing you say that I can appreciate the responsibility that you have, and how much you know, your audience relies on it. What also pricked my ears is how intelligently you’re using paid media, certainly in terms of location-based targeting for some weather warnings. And also, something else that resonated with me. You mentioned about your team getting together every morning to understand this story. What is the story? What do people care about today? While the story told is the same, how it is told changes, depending on the channels, I love that. You also mentioned social listening tools. I’m interested in what social listening tool that you use, what have you discovered about what people are saying about the Met Office? What have you gleaned through that social listening?
Ross Middleham 37:43
So it’s worth me caveating this with another area that we need some vast improvement. So as you kind of mentioned earlier we’re working nonstop, this is very reactive, and we’re continually creating output. And so stopping and understanding what’s resonating the best with people is tricky and requires specialist skills. And for a team of content creators, content producers, that’s not necessarily their background. So this produces a huge opportunity for us in terms of growth over the next six months, when we can focus on some of these challenges. Let’s go back to your question. This sort of thing, we understand that we’re a trusted name, that people come to us in times of severe weather, because they know that they’re going to get the most accurate information. And that people are taking action, even on channels like TikTok. So we get people commenting saying that they’ve they’ve told their mum that there’s a storm on the way so that they’re going to need to be taken to school in the morning, or that they need to bring the rabbit in, because actually, it’s gonna be really rainy overnight, or that they’re going to download a load of Netflix stuff, because the power might go out, like people are taking action based on our advice. So they’re understanding the content and taking the appropriate action. So we’re ticking a big box in that sense.
Iain Scott 39:07
Yeah, you absolutely are. We’ve got some more questions, questions that we’ve been curating up until today’s show. Becca, what have we got?
Rebecca Holloway 39:17
Has anything ever gone wrong? So any trolling? Have you ever accidentally posted to the wrong location if there’s a storm coming or anything like that? Any kind of accidents that happened?
Ross Middleham 39:31
Yeah, you’d be surprised the amount of trolling we get, particularly on our climate change content is very high, not as high as it used to be – a lot of denial. But of course, the science is clear. And we’ve been saying that for years in that sense, so it’s much harder to deny it now. But in terms of stuff that’s gone out incorrectly, yeah. I’m a culprit without a doubt. I went into work one day early. It was really nice and sunny. It was following the winter, it was the start of spring. I thought, “Ah, it’s a light morning, beautiful”. And I was like, “it’s the Equilux today”. I was sure it was the Equilux. The nuance between what an Equilux is and what an Equinox is still escapes me now. But I famously thought, I’m going to grab the bull by the horns. I’m going to tweet that the Equilux is today, because that’s what I have noted down, and what positivity this brings to us on this beautiful day. And I bet it had lots of attraction. People were like, this is lovely, this post, until suddenly, I realised most of the scientists then and meteorologists were marching towards me 20 minutes later saying this is not the Equilux, you’re bringing our reputation into disrepute. So I quickly had to backtrack and say, “Hey, sorry, everyone. Let’s keep it positive, but it’s not in fact the Equilux today.” Anyway, that’s so often people remind me, particularly because it’s a recurring event, that’s one of my big flaws.
Iain Scott 41:10
Would you mind, for the benefit of telling me, what is the difference between the two?
Ross Middleham 41:16
I don’t know. The main thing I know is that I should not think about putting content out without referring to that morning meeting and having that understanding and agreement across the team.
Iain Scott 41:30
You probably have a post-it note posted somewhere on your screen to remind you about doing some research. Just to get back to one of your previous comments as well about climate change and Becca asking about trolling, how do you or do you at all respond to that?
Ross Middleham 41:46
Yeah, we do. So whereas things like that in the past, over the last sort of three or four years, would be blocked, there is less of that blocking now. And in fact, platforms like TikTok have enabled us to tackle some of that head on interest in ways that you might not expect from the Met Office. And in ways we probably didn’t expect ourselves. So we’ve been lucky enough that the partnership with TikTok has identified opportunities for things like Lives. We’ve gone live with Max at the Ministry of Science before. And if you again, if you don’t follow him, definitely go and have a look as he’s a really engaging, interesting guy with great content. But actually, we were going live, and he was talking to us about the science of Meteorology, and those bits and bobs and climate change, and he was able to do the calling out for us. He was picking names out and saying, “you’re denying climate change a thing, you’re being ridiculous, the science is here.” And we were partnering with someone that was able to do that in a better position to do that. But actually, it was a refreshing thing, because he was then able to come back to us and we could give the science and the kind of correct perspective on things. So it’s brought different opportunities. Definitely.
Rebecca Holloway 43:01
And I know earlier as well, we were talking about the social listening tool, but are there any other tools that you use, particularly when it comes to scheduling or creating content itself that you would recommend?
Ross Middleham 43:15
So you can imagine, as a team of designers, we use the Creative Suite heavily. In my own time, we use other things, kind of the quicker creation tools as well. And I think there’s definite opportunities for that kind of thing. Within day-to-day content, it doesn’t have to be the kind of professional tools and professionally trained designers to do it. I think other kinds of tools that we’ve that we major on, I’m just trying to think. Bear with me, bear with me, I’ve gone totally blank, maybe ask another question, and we’ll come back.
Rebecca Holloway 44:01
I was gonna ask about when you’re actually creating, particularly video content, so TikToks. You’ve talked about how at the beginning of lockdown, that’s when it kind of really started to take off? Was it easier for you locked down creating that content? Like creating it from home? And what’s it looking like going forward as people are starting to go back into the office? Is that a challenge? Or is it you’re gonna keep creating content like at home?
Ross Middleham 44:28
Perfect. So this is gonna be like one of those weird games now where I actually answer the question before. So what tools do we use? Of course I wanted to go on to say that we have got broadcast quality cameras, and broadcast quality sets that we use for our commercial contracts for TV. And often we use that kind of kit to create video content. But at the same time, it’s very, very easy as we saw at events like Social Day to get some really, really good content. It’s very affordable to create bits of video content very, very quickly and edit them in packages that come with your Mac, your PC, and get things out the door. And I think there’s real merit to doing that. Also using the tools on the phone, I mean, we use all sorts of different apps to help us throughout the day, whether it’s things like Padlet to kind of share ideas and brainstorm things through to the in-app kind of tools around Instagram. So rather than actually making a story, you might use the Type tool to create something and then screengrab it, and then that becomes your bit of content.
So to answer the lockdown question, though things were definitely tricky for everybody, but in some ways, you had to look to the positives without a doubt. And the positive for us was that actually, we were able to meet more regularly as a team to focus our efforts as a team. So we made sure that we put in touch points, not just for content creation, and to understand that better, but obviously, for things like wellbeing, and to make sure that we’re all okay in those circumstances. But what it did was actually mean that we had moments where we had meetings with no agendas, that actually enabled us to brainstorm ideas naturally, without forcing things and talk about things that were either bothering us, so we thought we could do better. And those things become a real feature as we go back to the office as to how we retain those kinds of meetings when we all get split up very quickly throughout the day if we’re together. And the challenge in terms of still making sure that we delivered our commercial contracts was really how do we deliver broadcast quality stuff from home without being able to get into the studio, and what we had to do is upskill very, very quickly in terms of both technology and training to make that happen.
Rebecca Holloway 46:59
Thank you, Ross. They are all of my extra questions.
Iain Scott 47:03
Brilliant. A quick recap on what we’ve heard today, with a real understanding, a deep level insight into how global organisation manages the engagement and the comments with a social media audience over 1.6 million. And we’ve learned a bit more about the amazing partnership between the Met Office and TikTok. And also, let’s face it, some brilliant insights about how the Met Office – as I put it earlier – are saving lives with social.
You can get involved and ask questions for the next show. And also keep an eye out for the next topic. On our social channels is Twitter @ShareSocialLDN, and on Instagram @SharingSocialLondon. A big thank you again to Ross from the Met Office for being on today’s show and Ross for sharing your insights. Quick reminder, how can people get in touch with you on social?
Ross Middleham 47:56
Just search for “Met Office” on any of the channels and you’ll find us you’re following us already no doubt.
Iain Scott 48:04
Interestingly, when this interview was going on I tweeted the Met Office. I thought surely they don’t respond to those kinds of requests. I said, “Hi, could I have a weather update for the next hour in Canary Wharf please?” and I got a response. I would say literally about 15 minutes later, it says, “Hi Iain, looks cloudy, possible showers in the next hour, many sunny intervals later on.” Brilliant, and where I can find a link where I can find more information. And that shoutout goes to Maddie from the social media team at the Met Office. So that’s brilliant. And also Andy, I looked you up on TikTok. You are, in fact – no, I take that back – you have amassed seven followers so far.
Andy Lambert 48:51
There you go.
Iain Scott 48:54
Although hundreds of views of your videos. You must be a TikTok star in the making. For our listeners, that’s Andy R Lambert if you want to go on to TikTok. You’re spotted right there in his brilliant blue t-shirt, although there is one video he looks like the man for the Milk Tray. So if you go on there, follow Andy on TikTok.
That is a wrap for our third episode of Sharing Social. We’ll be back next month. Next month will be our last episode in this series before we take a break for Christmas and I cannot wait. So for myself Becca, Andy and Ross, thank you for tuning in. Thank you for listening, and we’ll see you next month.