Jenny Copland, Communications Lead at the Care Inspectorate, discusses how putting a few simple measures in place before COVID-19 hit enabled her team to share important updates with care professionals when it mattered most.
The Care Inspectorate has always been a trusted source of information for care professionals in Scotland across health and social care, early learning and childcare, social work, children’s services, and adult and older people’s care services. As a scrutiny body it’s our responsibility to hold the sector to a high standard and ensure that those working in social care, or using its services, have access to support and trustworthy information when needed.
Part of this service is providing important news and updates from the sector to our subscribed members. Previously, we distributed a quarterly magazine, Care News, to the care service providers we regulate. However, this was costly to produce, time consuming for our communications team, and it provided us with no concrete method of measuring engagement. We had no way of knowing who was reading it, and readers didn’t have an easy way to interact with us in return.
Finding the right medium
In recent years, we decided to modernise this service and deliver news in a much more digestible and accessible format for our users. We also wanted to expand our reach to communicate directly not just with care service providers, but with anyone who has an interest in care and what we do. We started to look at ways to produce an e-newsletter.
In 2018, we implemented the govDelivery email communication platform from Granicus so that we could reach all our stakeholders directly. This took the place of printing a physical magazine and those cost savings were reinvested into recruiting a new member of staff to our communications team.
With the efficient new platform, we were able to produce Care News monthly rather than quarterly. We were also able to put together other update bulletins, such as vacancies, the Improvement Update and a weekly Twitter digest.
The next step was to drive engagement and we had a marketing push to boost subscriptions. This was successful and we managed to secure a bigger and wider reader base than we had for the magazine, attracting sign ups from care service providers and staff, care professionals and our own staff, people experiencing care and their loved ones, as well as journalists, elected politicians, and interested members of the public.
Foresight becomes a saving grace
When the pandemic began and we entered lockdown in March 2020, we knew our role in providing up-to-date news and guidance to care services was vital. New guidance, practice and policy that care services had to follow were being developed at pace in response to the pandemic; not only by the Care Inspectorate but by other public bodies too. With so much that was new and changing, care services needed a trusted source of accurate and timely information and we needed an immediate way to reach them.
Contacting care services in the usual way through their registration accounts would have taken too long and been over-complicated. We needed a vehicle to communicate up-to-date guidance quickly; we knew creating email bulletins would be the most efficient way to do this.
We could have at this point been hindered by GDPR laws, as we cannot automatically send our subscribers emails more frequently, or on topics they haven’t agreed to without their consent. But when we were first setting up the service, we had included a Provider Update as one of the topics that subscribers could opt into so we were already set to go.
We were able to start targeting those subscribers right away with relevant and meaningful updates – roughly 13,000 of our 20,000 subscribers had opted in for Provider Updates. More importantly though, by importing the email group for the 12,000-plus care services registered with us, we were able to make sure the vital information they needed was landing in their inboxes as soon as it became available during what was a frenetic time.
We were able to provide at least one update every day, sometimes twice a day depending on the volume of new guidance. That direct connection we have with every care service in Scotland enabled us to share correct and trustworthy information from across the health and social care sector.
This experience has really highlighted to us the importance of thinking ahead to what you think you might use new technology for in the future – not just what you need now.
Reflecting on our service
By autumn last year, it felt like the initial challenges around sharing information and guidance were beginning to settle, so we decided to conduct a survey. This was not just to benchmark how we were doing, but also to improve the service for our subscriber base. We wanted to ask if the Provider Update was working and if they were happy with the content and frequency of the updates.
We had 2,000 respondents – surprisingly, many came back wanting to receive even more targeted information. This feedback made us re-think the Provider Update as a single-audience edition and, late last year, we relaunched it as three specialist weekly editions targeted at children and young people’s services, childminders, and adult and older people’s services.
The importance of making sure each edition is relevant to its audience is clear, and including a link to further information in every article is critical.
But, most importantly of all, at a time where confusion and misinformation are hard to combat, the Provider Update became a truly trusted source of information to our community, and this was clear from the excellent engagement it has achieved. Over the first 12 months of the pandemic, the engagement rate averaged out at 72.1% and the updates were regularly in the top five and 10 for engagement across the Granicus client base.
It doesn’t look like any of us will be going back to pre-pandemic life any time soon, and with the Provider Update now firmly established with a highly-engaged readership of nearly 30,000, we have no plans to retire it.
The important role of good communication
Having a flexible solution at a critical time has really enabled us to provide a better standard of service during the pandemic.
Good communication is everyone’s responsibility, and our communications platform was the hidden hero of the pandemic for us. I can’t imagine how we would have been able to react so quickly without govDelivery.