Five things Brexit can teach you about communication

A newspaper stand with British newspapers, the day before the Brexit referendum.

The repercussions from the UK referendum on leaving the EU are going to run and run for a long time. That’s another discussion, but I’ve found it interesting to see the different conversations on the subject have been taking place in, and about, the media.

There are lessons to be learned – and yes, they include some serious “don’ts” – by anyone who wants to get a message across.

1. Sometimes the best comment is the shortest

Gifs (technically, animated gifs) have always been popular on websites, because they’re small files and supported by most browsers. These days you’re more likely to see them on social media: Facebook began supporting them last year and Twitter even lets you pick items from a gif library. They’re not always worth spending even a limited amount of time on, but sometimes they make the point better than could be done in words.

I liked this gif from the European Post on “Brexit explained”. Bonus: it includes a cat.

2. Sometimes your subject is worth a long read

Years ago, the received wisdom about writing for the web was “keep it short”. These days, many newspaper websites now have a “long reads” section where writers can discuss a subject in depth.

This Guardian article is partly based on the Brexit campaigns but is much broader, making it a must-read for anyone interested in the future of journalism.

3. Don’t forget the basics

A scathing article on LinkedIn argues that the “Remain” campaign lost because they failed to plan their marketing strategy or to even take note of basic “hygiene stuff”: the things you must have in place to have any chance of getting your message across.

4. People want facts

During the Brexit campaign, it was hard to make sense of the competing claims of the two sides. This article from argues that traditional newspaper articles don’t work any more, and “evolving journalism” means more facts, less comment and interactive “choose your own journey” websites.

After the vote, too, many people were hungry for real information on what it would mean. This proved a great opportunity for experts to make themselves known.  This article from Digiday explains what happens when the Financial Times dropped their paywall for  Brexit-related news – and how it paid off.

5. Facts don’t always convince

A researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute has been looking at the impact of social media on the outcome of the EU referendum. He discovered the Leave campaign’s secret: emotionally charged content is more likely to “go viral”. Remain, with their fact-based counter-arguments, couldn’t compete.

He says: “When #CatsAgainstBrexit started trending, we saw a glimmer of hope for Remain, but sadly the whimsical power of Internet cats was not enough to turn around the debate.”

That, I think, is where we came in.

Posted in Journalism, Social media
2 comments on “Five things Brexit can teach you about communication
  1. Being over here in the US, I’m continually fascinated by Brexit. I imagine you guys must be equally fascinated with, or at least entertained by, our politics – #5 is especially true for us now.