What I learned from Time to Talk Day

5 tips on preparing content for a national day of action

Thursday 1 February was Time to Talk Day: a national day to generate as many conversations as possible about mental health. The idea behind Time to Talk Day is this: many people with mental health problems say that the shame and isolation that surrounds their illness is worse than the symptoms, so let’s encourage everyone — whether or not they have a mental health problem — to talk and bring it into the light.

Of course, social media plays a big part in the day: we have more than 500,000 followers across our platforms, and many of them rely on social media to have conversations about mental health year round, especially if their friends, family or colleagues aren’t open to talking about it. Just for the day itself, our team planned, commissioned and created over 40 unique pieces of content across different social channels — on Twitter, we had every 15 minutes accounted for between 7.30am and 10pm.

So, how do you go about planning social media content for a national day of action?

1. Reuse & Recycle

Often, pre-existing content, or content that’s being planned for elsewhere, can be easily and effectively repurposed for social media.

Because Time to Talk Day is about helping people to open up to conversations about mental health, we thought that instructive ‘how to’ content should be a cornerstone of our content plan. Within the team, we brainstormed five tips to help people start a conversation — finding quotes from our trove of personal stories to support them — and drafted it into a web page. In turn, we adapted this into a series of five tweets that we posted throughout the day, which were among the best-performing in terms of engagement.

And are there things your colleagues are working on that you can repurpose into social content? My colleagues in the PR team had been working on a press release that involved Stephen Fry and Fearne Cotton — the theme this year was talking about mental health “wherever you are”, and they’d got some photos of Fearne & Stephen talking in a cinema. All we had to do was wait until after the embargo to post it!

We used this approach in a similar way with Kat’s audio clip (below): one of our colleagues was going to use it in a pack of resources for her workplace stakeholders, and all we had to do was spend 20 minutes editing it into a static video format.

2. Mix it up

As hard as we might try, not every piece of content is going to resonate with everybody, so getting a good mix of content is important to sustaining engagement throughout the day. It can help to think about the content mix in two different ways:

  • Format: that is, getting a mix of video, text, image, (graphic, photography or illustration). Some of this content cost money to make, like the short animations we featured, or this series of illustrations — but a lot of the assets were made in house, or made by our supporters.
  • Purpose: thinking about it slightly differently, what is each piece of content designed to do? Is it to introduce people to the concept? Is it to teach them something new? Is it to inspire emotion in them, or provoke a sense of empathy?

It’s tough to keep your audience engaged with a single issue over the course of a day — it’s tougher if you’re showing them the same type of content, and if you’re asking them to think about it in the same way.

3. Put your supporters at the centre

Because this is the fifth iteration, and we have a lot of engaged and passionate supporters, Time to Talk Day attracts a lot of participation online. Harnessing that enthusiasm and funnelling it into good content can make your job a lot easier.

There are two ways we can do this. The first is by getting supporters to create content for our channels — this is a big part of our regular social media strategy anyway, but becomes even more important at key moments like Time to Talk Day. As well as Kat's audio clip above, in the week including Time to Talk Day, we had 3 personal story blogs that were converted into social media posts, and 6 short videos created by our supporters showing them talking about mental health in unusual places, including a golf course, a toilet, and on the London Underground (hey, I’m in that last one!)

Secondly, you can push out other people’s content, especially on a medium like Twitter that makes sharing easier. On our content plan for Twitter, we had 56 15-minute slots between 8.00 and 22.00, and half of them were marked ‘amplification’, meaning we could choose something appropriate to retweet. For some of these slots we retweeted celebrities, partner organisations or news articles — but we kept some reserved to amplify the voices of regular supporters.

4. Keep your eyes on the (message) prize

It was easy (and fun) to get distracted by the theme we chose for this year’s Time to Talk Day, which was based around the idea that “wherever you are” you can talk about mental health. There’s a lot of merit to choosing a different theme each year, as it provides us with a new perspective that we can use to generate creative ideas for PR, social media and other comms, and it stops us from repeating the same stale messages to our most engaged supporters.

That said, it’s important not to stray too far from your key messages. Creative hooks are helpful for drawing in new audiences, but your social media followers are there for a reason: they care about the cause. Our most shared posts from the day were the ones that got back to basics, explaining what the day was about and why talking about mental health is important.

5. Stay flexible

We started gathering some of our social media content a good few months before the day: that’s unavoidable, especially when you’re dealing with external suppliers like illustrators or animators. But being agile is a real advantage, especially when you are dealing with lots of moving parts, so I recommend leaving room for flexibility in your planning process. Senior stakeholders may want to see plans early, but if you’re working with supporters to create content, they’re unlikely to have the same sense of urgency. And you want to leave room for late-blooming ideas and quick wins that originate from colleagues in other teams (see point 1!)

So you might not know exactly what content you have, and which bits are stronger or weaker, until the day before. A few points on how we juggled this challenge:

  • We showed senior stakeholders outlines rather than detailed plans. The outlines show the key messages and objectives, and include the different types of content we planned to post. We could then leave the circulation of a detailed plan until closer to the day.
  • We used a Trello board to map all the content, who was responsible for each piece, and what stage in production it was at — (ready, in progress, or blocked). We reviewed this every week, and could take an informed decision on what the mix looked like and whether there were any content pieces we wanted to jettison.
  • We even left some space in our Facebook & Instagram schedule until the day itself, so that we could make an informed decision on what to post based on both what was performing well, and whether we had any new bits of content that we weren’t expecting. This meant we could slot in a picture of George Shelley and Lorraine Kelly on Instagram that was taken that morning!