Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Timely and Respectful Reminder

I want to get something off my chest:

Last Friday thirty-eight people lost their lives when a gunman opened fire on tourists in Port El Kantaoui, in Tunisia, just north of Sousse. Over twenty-five British victims have now been confirmed killed in the attack, including 3 from Ireland.

Port El Kantaoui was/is a favourite holiday destination for my family. My parents even owned an apartment there for a while and were regular patrons (some 10 yrs running) of the El Hana Hannibal Palace Hotel. Tunisis is filled with warm, friendly and lovely people.

A national minute's silence will be held to remember victims of the Tunisian beach attack at 12:00 BST on Friday. No one wants your content or opinions or aggregated whatever during this time. All they want is your silence and respect. I humbly suggest - for the sake of courtesy and your companies social credibility - that no scheduled social media posts go out for any of your social channels 15 minutes prior and up to 30 minutes post this event.

This goes for all periods of national or international mourning, be it Armistice Day or whatever. Silence means silence. Thoughtless publishing and scheduling shows a distinct lack of respect, and no one likes it.

Thank you.


Monday, June 29, 2015

How can we use EdgeRank to get our Facebook posts seen?

EdgeRank is the algorithm that Facebook uses to decide whether or not posts from friends or business pages appear in our news feed. If you want to be seen by the average user it’s important to know how this works and what Facebook considers worthy content. This isn't as grey-hat as it sounds, it's just about producing good stuff.

EdgeRank takes several factors into consideration. They are:

Time
How recently was the content posted?
How long did the user spend on content published by this page previously?

Weight
What type of content is being posted. Different types of content have greater or lesser chances of being seen. Facebook looks at this akin to the amount of effort we put into a post. A standard simple comment has very little EdgeRank. A link has a bit more. An image or videos are far more likely to be seen.

Affinity
Has the user engaged with content from our brand before? Have they liked posts, shared articles, clicked through on links, and commented? Did the brand comment back or like their comment? All these factors add affinity.

With this in mind there are things we can do to boost our EdgeRank, however, they do require effort. Creativity is what’s going to differentiate your content. The effort that Facebook wants us to put in to guarantee our content is of good quality and relevance. Let’s take each of the above factors separately to show how, collectively, they can make a difference:

Timing is Important
Posting at prime times, when our audience is there to respond and see our content is critical. Think about when your audience is online. Will they be checking their mobile devices on the tube on the way to work? Will they be sitting back after dinner, around 6:15 and mulling over their feed? Will they take a look over their lunchtime coffee? Naturally every brand is different, but we commonly see an increase of 15 to 20 percent engagement at weekends. Insider knowledge of your brand and audience play a big part here – some testing may be necessary.

timing is important

People need to engage for longer so we have to post content that takes a while to digest. In short, well-written and engaging content is king. The inclusion of animated gifs or embedded video could be a bonus to add ‘stickiness’, but whatever it is it better be awesome. The longer people are engaged the greater it raises the chances of your posts being seen in the future. Strong opinion pieces. Well researched studies. Useful and helpful how-to’s. Whatever it is, it better be good.

Think Content Type
Post images. You’ll probably want to drive traffic via links, but posting good, amusing or entertaining, original images will give it a boost so that when you do post a link you’ve raised affinity (by people seeing them and liking them) and it will help to compensate. There’s plenty of good image banks out there if you can’t capture something new, give CompFight a look. It’s good to think of alternative ways to use images like using them to support quotes if it fits the brand. Behind-the-scenes imagery has the added benefit of allowing you to tag people which gives further exposure to peoples friends and peers. Get creative - try some of these.

If you have video available to you make sure, with Facebooks auto-play feature in mobile, that it’s going to grab people in the first six seconds. Can you repurpose slide presentations? Can you commission industry explainers? Can you showcase your HQ or cover charity events?

Build a Relationship
If you are posting links be sure to change the title, body text and image to offer a more enticing click-through opportunity.

building a 'special' relationship between interface and human

Small competitions and sweepstakes can gather great traction. When doing so it’s important to allow space for organic spread (so, run them over a week or more) to give people a chance to engage and to see posts their friends have engaged with. Pinning them the top of the Page for a week will also allow new visitors to engage more easily and will increase sign-up, as well as saying “Hey, we run competitions.”

Ask for opinions and invite commentary. Get your audience to share their own images and encourage engagement. Simple posts offering tips, then asking the audience if they have any further suggestions, can work well.

Boosting posts (by paying for them) to make sure the audience sees them, at least once or twice a month, can offer an added push.

Keeping an eye on our Pages Insights will show us the type of content our audience responds best too, and so what we can publish in the future that will get strong results.

There are a few other things to consider:

Pay for it
It’s also possible to pay-to-be-seen. Simple boosted posts are an excellent way to gather affinity by getting them under people’s noses. I’ve had single posts, boosted for only ten pounds, reach over 56,000 targeted people. This is a great one to combine with like and share competitions or simple give-aways. Consider the expenditure like a highly targeted branding exercise. Don’t forget, if people like a boosted post their friends and followers will be told they’ve done so by Facebook.

Use no Applications
Facebook doesn’t like content posted from applications, which includes the likes of external publishing tools like Hootsuite, Buffer, Sprout Social or whatever. This is to stop the Poker apps and Candy Crush clones of old from spamming our streams. Content must be scheduled via the Facebook platform, or posted immediately. Even auto-posting from other social channels, like Twitter, is a wasted effort. Yes, it’ll post, but experience has shown us that the chances of it being seen are drastically reduced.

In summing up. Good content posted at the right time with good imagery. Accept no substitute, because Facebook doesn’t and no ones going to see Jack or shit if you don't put some effort in - that's just how it is.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why you Should Scrap Your Print Ads

I recently wrote and article on the Tank blog covering six things I think every business should be doing this year, and one of these was "Scrap Your Print Ads". I want to expand on this a bit.

I worked (indirectly) in print for many moons, mostly for the Northcliffe and Daily Mail group. In the late 90's/early '00s we were very much aware that things were changing. Online made viewer figures and click-through entirely measurable while our print ads relied on (some may say speculative) circulation figures. It's now the general belief that circulation figures don't mean Jack.

In addition, sales of physical newspapers and magazines are in a pitiful decline. People paying for print magazines (even specialist magazines like 'Portable Restroom Operator', 'Miniature Donkey Talk' or 'Fashion Doll Quarterly' - no, really) dropped by an average of 12% in the last half of 2014.

Who actually reads ads unless it's in a very specialist publication? - bless the printed version of The Chap for it's plethora of good outlets. Those people spending their marketing budgets want to see the numbers, and justifiably so. Yes, print ads may have some brand awareness potential, but not everyone can afford a full page in The Metro and it's unlikely for most that the entire readership of any publication gives a damn about what they have to offer so a lot of that circulation figure is just going to impact off the surface.

"Print is dead."

Now, I'm damning print ads here but I'm not doing the same for PR. PR works, I've seen it. Indeed, due to valuable links being so important for SEO it's now a vital part of creative online marketing. I work for a PR company - 100% out of choice - because good quality content and strong messaging is something worth sharing (you can't make butter with a tooth pick). Review and recommendation - genuine opinion - has still got a place in print and translates seamlessly to online. Numbers may be down in print, but print is just one part of the PR mix.

So what I'm saying here is ditch your print ads and move your budget into something measurable. Something more targeted that can offer capture potential and drive real punters to your widgets. Basically, invest the same money in social ads.

"We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy."

Social ads are extremely targetable, if done right. It niggles me when I get ads showing up for me in Facebook that are sloppily targeted or clearly too general, that's just lazy work by the person setting up the ads and there's no excuse for it. I believe in the power of the semantic web and keep my data as accurate as possible to get the best out of this - I see viewing targeted ads as a necessary part of any free service. Getting it wrong gives the format a bad name and people blame the platform.

Social ads can capture an audience. They're not a one hit wonder. They offer a direct link to a point of engagement/sale or to a company Page where you can develop a relationship with future customers and turn casual browsers into advocates.

In LinkedIn we can target specific industries or people in specific companies in specific roles. Twitter can push single tweets or profiles to locations, search results, or specific profile keywords. Facebook targeting is (virtually) limitless.

Ads are so targetable it's frankly a wee bit scary. The good lady wife asked me recently (having received a £50 of free ads thing from Facebook) could I target "Women who are getting married in 2015 who might want unusual or coloured wedding dresses".

Yes, yes we can - "Women > 21-55 > engaged > into Steampunk, Gothic Music, Emilie Autumn, Cosplay, blah, blah..." See what I mean? Simples.

"This is a newspaper story, what are they doing with it?"

They can also dovetail nicely with real-word activities like adverting, PR, or marketing efforts. Think a little outside the box here. Here's a couple of examples of (arguably cunning) things I've done for clients:

A branding goal: Imagine being a hosting company using LinkedIn ads as a one month branding exercise prior to your sales team rocking up at a trade show? Hell, they don't even have to click through, just display the ad and make sure the person has heard the company name before you make contact. The cost could be buttons. Better than standing there with everyone else, handing out flyers at the entrance.

Getting folks involved: We wanted people to vote online on a political campaign so, at almost the last minute, we targeted people in a certain geographic area and pushed them to a link to "Vote in the next hour or loose your chance to change Nottingham". We timed this as people were commuting home and between 6:30 and 8pm (prime times for after dinner surfers). Engaging local people at a local level. They clicked-through in droves.

Increasing a following: One of my clients had advertising hoardings at football games across the UK. They are a debt management company and wanted to do something targeted to back up the ads. We did a campaign in two stages - mimic the ads and wish followers of the home teams good luck on match day and to commiserate or cheer after the game. People at matches are logging in to Facebook to post pics etc., and bosh, the personal touch they can relate to a company they instantly form a relationship with. Better than an ad in the match day programme.


For the same expenditure your spending on print, divert it into social ads. They're a bargain. For Facebook we charge a one off set-up fee then 15% of any ongoing spend to tweak them - which seems to be about the going rate across the business. You only pay what you can afford - if you've only got £400 then that's what you spend and you get the same targeting as if you spent £5000.

Well worth a small test, right?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What Does a Social Media Strategist Do?

Most of my friends, hell, even my wife, have no real clue what I do for a living. “It’s something to do with Facebook, right?” I’m not surprised. Social media is a disciple with a crop of specific roles with specialist responsibilities, and a lot of ‘made-up-titles’. From now on, this is the post I’ll be referring people to when they ask.

There’s a difference between being a Social Media Manager, an Assistant, a Social Media Executive/Coordinator/Editor or whatever, and a Social Media Strategist.  I’m basically the latter, though my work does also spill into other areas like content marketing and campaign management.


"Here's the plan."

Ninjas, Divas, Gurus, Rockstars, Wizards and other made-up titles be damned. I’m talking about the real job. Real qualifications, responsibilities and experience.

In the trenches, day-to-day, talking in the channels and being the brand, this tends to be the job of the Social Media Manager. These are the people who follow the strategy, monitor what’s going on, and stimulate the conversation. Often they build the accounts, and sometimes they set-up the apps and do the graphics etc. They make custom content and liaise with clients on a daily basis. They often conduct in-house training. They collate reports, based on whatever’s required for measurement. It’s hard work, because there’s no room for error when you’re the voice of someone’s company. It needs great writing skills and a good eye for an opportunity. You need to be a customer-services rep, a salesman, an obsessive, and it needs a degree of accuracy and of flexibility bordering on insanity. On the whole it’s paid pretty well, but don’t expect a lot of time off.

Social Media Executive/Coordinator/Editor are titles that are oftern found in larger teams and may have specific responsibilities from the list above, but are usually just aspects of Social Media Manager with another title.

A Social Media Strategist does all of the above, though doing so is more common in agencies or small departments. It’s good practice to stay hands-on, but it depends on the size of the team or how many people are needed to support a specific brand and it's efforts.

The Strategist is the one who creates a road map for a client, based on their goals and objective, and decides how those objectives will be measured to prove ROI and to show what’s working and what's not. We research the market, the competition, the brand, the ‘target demographic’ etc. and rationalise the best place for the brand to engage with it’s target audience.

We create sample messaging for each proposed channel and set standards, based on brands traits and identity. We also create editorial calendars for writers or artists to produce synchronised content. We identify who the audience is, and what they want from a brand in order to hang around and to get the most out of the experience. We identify the stories. We do all of this on time, within resources, and under budget.

We develop campaigns, competitions, and work out what other media needs to tie in to raise awareness – from packaging placement and web, to social ads or raising in-house knowledge. We write a lot of documentation to make all of this clear – sometimes with graphical mock-ups, brand personas if they don’t already exist, mood boards, or whatever it takes. It's advantageous to have a broad knowledge of everything from video production to brand journalism, and from web development to PPC - the wider your experience the more ammunition you have to draw on, obviously. I'm lucky, I've been doing this nearly 20 years. Even still I spend a lot of time keeping abreast of what’s new, current, and experimenting to achieve maximum reach and maximum effect.

We review measurement, and tweak the overall approach to achieve the core objectives. We keep an eye on things and, in my case, Social Media Managers report to me and we revisit strategy weekly to make sure things are working and that the road map still holds true. Any problems, we fix them tactically. Any room for improvement, we do so strategically.


there's worse jobs, and trust me I've done my share

I also train and lecture. Usually to corporate board members, to my own staff to foster best practices, or to staff in other agencies where specialist knowledge is what they're paying for.

Social Strategists, in an agency environment, are far more involved with the pitching process. We listen to the client from day one and we’re part of the overall PR mix. It’s a management position, mixed with the work of the Social Media Manager.

So there you are. If you asked, now you know. That’s what I do, for the agency I work for and for brands large and small.

It’s a living, and I'm lucky. I enjoy it, and it's never boring. If you fancy stepping up and giving the job ago I'll save my advice on how to start for another post ;)


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Why Social Media Managers Need to be Content Creators

You’ve set up your LinkedIn Business Profile and your Twitter account, and your ready to engage with the world. What’s next?

Here’s the part where, without strategy, many companies end up staring at their monitors like a dog that’s been shown a card trick. Social media is an avenue of communications where you can tell your story, but you still need a story to tell. You also need to present that story in an accessible way suitable for your audience.

Different people are at different stages of the purchase process. They all want different things. Different information, presented in different ways.

This may been in-depth white papers to highlight your brands thought leadership credentials. It might be animated videos to explain core concepts. It could be rich and visual infographics, to share and to make your data more digestible. It could be photographs of events and special occasions, or even products. It may be SEO friendly blog content answering their frequently asked questions. The list goes on.

All this needs to be gathered within the daily constraints of time and resources, and with a creative eye and sympathy towards the brand identity and how the company is seen by their audience. If all your going to do is be an aggregator of content, well that’s fine, but your not going to push many people back to your website, make any great relationships, or be seen as anything other than a content aggregator. You need to be producing your own creative content and using social media as a tool to place that under the right peoples noses.

Being a Jack of all Trades is awesome, but not as good as being a Brisco County, Jr.

Nowadays a social media manager needs to be a polymath and have skills in photography and Photoshop, research, creative writing, video scripting and production, branding, roleplaying, even basic coding and audio production. They also need to know the tools and how to get insight through measurement.

Above all, a social media manager needs to have an eye for an opportunity to generate content, in what ever form that takes.

Yes, good social media people are bloody hard to recruit. Yes, this raises capacity issues. Social media manager is a job in it’s own right. It’s not part of another job any more. Or it is, should I say, if you want to get the results and do it right. It’s strategic, creative, pro-active, and the social platforms move the goal-posts on you weekly to keep you guessing and on your toes (mostly on the morning before I’ve got new social media managers booked in for a training, I’ve found).

For me, having the back-up of an agency is pure fried gold. I have a broad range of experience, but the guys at Tank PR in Nottingham write better than I do and have kick-ass research skills. They can all handle a camera and think outside the box. They all understand how to talk in a brand voice. I fill in some specialist areas - like audio, training, strategy, video, etc. - and it lets us handle multiple brands, based on a clear social plan (we don’t take on new clients without). They see opportunities, and act accordingly. They help me help clients to see the possibilities. This is why the larger companies have teams to do this, and use people like me to train them. This isn't about being a Jack-of-all-Trades and master of none, it's about being a master of social media.

I’ve said it before, but I genuinely believe that PR and social are the closest match. Digital agencies, on the whole, just don’t generate the quality of content needed to make a brand stand out from the herd and rarely see beyond SEO. Creative agencies, while invariably masters of the infographic, haven't the kahoonas for strategy and keeping pace with all the techniques for exposure.

If you're an SME and your social team don’t have the skills (or access to the skills) to be generating regular fresh content then you’re going to stagnate and your channels will die. Sorry, but that's how it is. The algorithms of some channels will devalue your content if people don’t engage. People won't engage if you don't have a variety of insightful, creative, entertaining, on-brand content.

Unless you’re a content creator, as well as a social media manager, it’s just not going to work.

Find a polymath with brand skills, or hire an agency. It's the only way. I'm sorry, but that's just how it is.

It also helps if you're an ambidextrous insomniac, but that's for another post...

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Why is Facebook Organic Reach Dying off?

In case you’ve not noticed Facebook seems to have bottlenecked organic traffic of late, to our precious Business Pages. Rumours are rife that Facebook wants our ad money so it’s stopping our possible customers from getting to see what we’re putting out there. This is actually pretty unjust and the facts are a lot less sinister, but just as troubling for those of us relying on our customers finding our content through the platform. It’s a simple case of numbers and algorithms.

doesn't seem fair - but appearances can be deceptive

There isn’t space for everything in our newsfeeds, so Facebook uses an algorithm called EdgeRank to try to calculate what we want to see most. This mostly works, though does make for a bit of an insular experience that, long term, rather stifles what we see and who we see it from. Ever noticed how some friends disappear out of your feed if you don’t keep chatting to them? The same is true when it comes to people engaging with brands, and unless you’re publishing something pretty kick-ass or got a dedicated niche following than that’s invariably the case. The important basics are like this:

Time: Was it posted recently? The fresher the better.

Weight: Different things have a higher ‘value’, so the likes of ‘images’ and ‘video’ seem to rank better than just links or simple comments. It seems the more effort you put in, the better the content ranks.

Affinity: What’s the relationship between the ‘edge’ and the user? Has the user commented on, liked, shared, or whatever, things from the brand page before? The more the better and different actions have different values. Probably.

The problem is simple. If people don’t interact then they don’t get to see your content further down the line. Interest drops, and it’s hard to rekindle once it’s gone.

try something different

Obviously this makes the likes of Facebook promoted posts more valuable. If you post good strong content, asking poignant questions or with details of small sweepstakes or competitions, this can rekindle a flagging follower-ship. If you do, remember consistency is key and you’re going to need to commit to your Page to get the community active again. It won’t do it by itself and you’ll need to get them sharing and liking again by giving them creative, humorous, and edgy content suitable for doing so. Something for your followers to get their teeth into.

In many ways I approve of this, at least for now. It encourages good quality content and creativity. It does raise the question, however, of how long Facebook can support using this system? In many ways this is leading to the stagnation of the platform if we just see content from the same people, and may even lead to it’s eventual downfall.

Regardless, for now this is just how it is. Let’s work it the best we can.

One decent solar flare and we’re all out of a job anyway.