The changing nature of communications

Rebecca Gray has been Director of Communications and Information at The King's Fund since 2009. During this time, the communications landscape has undergone huge change, with social media channels like Twitter now very much part of our daily lives. We talk to Rebecca about what this has meant for the Fund and why we feel there's no longer any need for a Friends' scheme.

What has been the biggest change in how The King's Fund communicates?

The biggest change is in the diversity and number of different communications channels we use. A few years ago, we might have publicised a new report with an email to our stakeholders, a page on the website and some work with the media. Now, such a report will be promoted through multiple channels. This might include audio or video web content; discussions about the report on social media – such as Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook; online discussions jointly with partners like Guardian Healthcare Network or Health Service Journal; a blog; infographics and more – all on top of more traditional communications.

Has the health communication landscape changed?

It has, and social media is core to that. The speed with which matters arise and news breaks has accelerated; issues move into – and often out of – the conversation very quickly. Social media changes the tone and nature of the communication – we're able to generate conversation and facilitate debate, rather than just transmitting content.

There's informality in social media too; conversations cross organisational boundaries and hierarchies – you might debate an issue on Twitter with someone in a completely different sector, level of seniority or who has a very different perspective from you. I think social media can facilitate a very different conversation between policy-makers, clinicians, patients, health leaders than other environments. It's exciting and unpredictable – this means it can be harder to communicate messages in a planned way, but the overall impact is a positive one.

The structural shifts in the health and social care sector have had an impact too: while there's a very complex array of ever-changing organisations and roles that we're trying to communicate with, it's easier now to keep in touch with individuals when they change role or organisation. People can opt in to our communications based on their particular interests, rather than us sending them information based on their job title alone. They can tailor the content we send them by signing up to different alerts, newsletters, bulletins and social media. This means that we're engaging with people who have made a positive choice that they want to hear from us, rather than sending something out and hoping it reaches someone in the right role. And they will keep in touch as they move from role to role.

Do people consume information in a different way?

Yes definitely. More people use tablets and mobile devices and they are more comfortable flicking between different formats like video and audio; this means we can be more creative in how we present our content. 

People can share content through the press of a virtual button, whether that might be a report, blog or data chart. The ripple effect that is created by this means many more people will see what we are doing. Our alternative guide to the NHS animation is a fantastic example of how our visual and 'sense-making' content works lends itself to sharing; this whistle-stop – 6 ½ minute – tour of the new NHS and how it works has been shared extensively and viewed more than 114,000 times. This informal peer-to-peer sharing helps us reach across sector boundaries too; we've had lots of feedback from people working outside health, such as social workers, about how the animation helped them understand the NHS in its current form.

Has anything stayed the same?

The basic rules of good communication stay the same regardless of the format. Our content has to be high quality, relevant, up to date, accurate, and meet our high editorial and design standards.

Relationships remain crucial. Part of our influence is building relationships, whether that is with journalists, policy officials, politicians, or the people we are working with on a day-to-day basis on our leadership development or policy projects. Face-to-face communication is easily as important for the Fund as the written word.

Where next for The King's Fund communications?

We want to build on what works well for our varied audiences, learning from data and direct feedback and responding to how communication methods have changed. The Friends of the Fund scheme has been a very helpful way to engage with people who are interested in our work. Now that it's far easier for people to engage with the Fund in so many different ways and tailor the communications they receive to their own specific interests, we will be putting more of our energy and resource into the other ways of engaging with Friends. Here are some suggestions of ways Friends might like to keep in touch in the future: