SOCIAL CONTENT: Are You Getting the Balance Right?

5434541912_9e55fb3821_b

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for comms planning and having a purpose.

If the aim is to do something then it makes sense to have your comms pointing at that.

The only thing is that social media isn’t like that. It’s social. So, a stream of call-to-action updates just won’t work. It’s as social as a stream of flyers being pushed through your letterbox.

So, what’s the answer?

There needs to be a balance of the social and the stuff you want people to sign up for, buy or do.

Often in training I’ll refer to an 80-20 split. The 80 per cent is conversational and engaging content. The 20 per cent is the things you’d like people to do.

In a fascinating interview on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Bottom Line’ Asda’s social manager puts the balance at 10 to 1.

Dominic Birch, Asda senior director of marketing, innovation and new revenue, said that the social media team has now become part of the wider PR team.

“We didn’t have a budget. So it wasn’t the case of advertising that we were on Facebook. Each time we posted some content we had to rely on even a very small number of people at first liking it for that content to be seen my anyone else otherwise we would be speaking to ourselves.

“We averaged two or three posts a day, every day, so maybe 20 posts a week.

It started to get interesting when they started to get customers to chip in with decisions. Nothing big. Customers chose the design for Christmas tea towels.

“What was really interesting was that 4,500 people went to the bother of asking whether they liked design ‘a’, ‘b’ or ‘c’. Actually, it was that moment that with 18 million customers we understood that if you connect to the right ones they really do care about what you do, what they say and why wouldn’t they? Ultimately, they’re going to come into your shop and choose to buy it.”

Big numbers is not the answer as fewer people see the posts. If the people who like your page are true customers it’ll cost you less effectively to reach them through Facebook ads.

“There is a danger that social media becomes diarrhea. We had a rule of thumb that for every post we wanted to push or sell something to be very blunt about it we had to put 10 other posts in the bank. They are there solely to engage our customers. We have to have done hard work  talking about what the customers wanted to talk about before we have the right or licence to push something out.

“It’s a two-way dialogue social media. It just is. Our starting point is not to sell. It’s to listen. A few years ago we had a Christmas ad that was based on insight that it was Mum who does the heavy lifting, organises the present, gets the tree, cooks the meal and we depicted this advert and were met with a media backlash. Some people thought this was filmed in the 1950s and Fathers for Justice were going to do protests in the turkey aisle but we had three or four thousand comments saying things like ‘I nudged my husband awake when that came on the TV and said:L ‘that’s how it really feels.’ If you’d have gone back two or three years there would have been a high level meeting and the advert would have been pulled.”

That’s useful insight. Are you getting the balance right?

 

Creative commons credit

Balance https://flic.kr/p/9herYu

 


DIGITAL CLASH: Comms and Social: Have we won the War?

272900992_18af4400c3_oA few things have crossed my timeline of late that reminds me that comms and social for all their outward signs are struggling to fit.

Sure, there are still dinosaurs. But they’re dying out and have lost the battle so let’s not bother with them.

Ignorance is being replaced with the realisation that social media can’t be ignored by comms and PR people. Great.

But have we truly won the war? I’m not at all convinced we have.

There is a mindset that sees digital as a one way tick box exercise that exists only to generate likes or calls to action. In other words, it’s an extension of what traditional comms has always tried to be.

I absolutely get the need for comms teams to demonstrate worth. You sit down with the organisation, you listen to how you need to recruit 10 more carers to save £100k. Then you communicate to the right people at the right time in the right place. You record the new carers. Then you report back what you did.

I get that in spades.

I also get enthusiastically the idea that comms is not the size of the audience but what that audience has done as a result of what you’ve done.

I can also get the need to base comms on evidence and business cases to cut out the pointless vanity comms. You know the sort. The sort that needs this doing because we’ve always done it because the Director likes it.

I get that too.

I also get much of Rachel Moss’s post on not slavishly sticking to digital and doing traditional things too. If a poster works, use a poster. There is no earthly point, I’m guessing, for a LinkedIn group aimed at under fives.

I don’t think that comms people have fully realised what social is. It is not driven by likes, sign-ups and results. It is driven by conversation, sharing and stories. The return on investment comes as a spin-off and is all the more powerful for that.

Think of it in postal terms. It’s the difference between junk mail asking you to buy, buy, buy and the handwritten postcard addressed to you on your door mat.

I think of the police officer I spoke to early in my career who was one of the first to embrace Twitter. A senior officer he had a face that looked as though it had been in a few scraps in its time. I would not argue with that face if he asked me to move my car.

He used Twitter, the policeman told me, in exactly the same way as he would use conversation as if he walked down a parade of shops on his beat. He’d say good morning. He’d pass the time of day. He’d share a joke. He’d then ask someone once the ice was broken to remember to shut their windows when they went out in warm weather. Simple. And human.

The real return on investment for that officer comes in an emergency where there is a pre-built network of people willing to share their message.

Police officers get that you need to be human on the social web to be listened to. I’m not sure if comms people look at .

I think of the brands who tried to ‘leverage’ their audience with 9/11 tweets. I think of Pete Ashton one of the first people in Birmingham to use this thing called Twitter and work out what the social web was all about. I think of the chat I had with him on how he had consciously divorced himself from the growing social as numbers professionalisation of social media.

I think of the Best by WM survey that shows that digital comms in the West Midlands social has stalled at Twitter and Facebook and the new channels are not being explored.

It all points to this as a conclusion: social media and digital communications is one set of tools in the mix.

Use them if you think they’ll work but don’t be a channel fascist.

Share, inform, entertain and engage.

Be timely.

Measure if you like. But don’t let the tape measure drive you.

Explore with it. Experiment. Learn. There is so much wide open space to be experimented with.

Always, always, always be human with it.

If a police officer with a broken nose can get this, why can’t more comms people?


POST CRISIS: Being an informal whistleblower should be part of the job description

11138377833_1aeb483ec6_b

So now ‘Rotherham’ is doomed to enter the lexican of towns long shadowed by failure.

It is a town where 1,400 girls were abused between 1997 and 2013 and where a report pointed the finger of blame for failing to do enough to stop the attacks at Rotherham Borough Council and South Yorkshire Police.

Times journalist Andrew Norfolk who helped expose the story welcomed the council’s recent openness but warned the council’s successors not to be ‘tempted to chase leaks rather than act on their failings.’

This warning isn’t small town politics. It should be taken seriously.

It should echo through the corridors of town halls, police stations and hospitals across the land and the first people to stop and listen should be public sector communicators.

There will always be more bad news to emerge from somewhere in the public sector. It could be a council, a police force or a hospital. That’s life.

Let’s not forget every day lives are saved and changed by the public sector but when things go wrong the public sector is often damned more loudly than the perpetrators of the crime.

So what should public sector PR people do? Two things. First, the strategy.

In the past the default comms strategy was about painting the best picture possible. At worst this was ‘spin’ and at best it was telling the positive stories residents would often not be told of. There were stories of success to tell and investment. There still are in some cases. But after eight years of working in a local government comms team I’m convinced there needs to be a realism and honesty in public sector communications. There needs to be the ‘sorry, we won’t be able to do that anymore and here are the reasons.’

There also needs to be the ‘actually, there’s a problem here and we want to take a look at it. Will you bear with us and help us fix it?’

The feeling is that Rotherham Borough Council by ordering the report and by the resignation of the Leader is now starting to acknowledge the problem.

The strategy for public sector communications should be to listen, to be human and to accept when things go wrong. Do this and you won’t be chasing leaks and you’ll be acting upon failings.

One story from my own life illustrates the culture shift of what is needed. I’m from Stafford. Stafford is where the Mid-Staffs Hospital scandal was centred where hundreds of people suffered because of poor care. When the news broke my Facebook timeline was filled by personal stories shared by people I grew up with that floored me. The mother who had died in pain. The grandfather who was wrongly sent home and never recovered.

A few weeks later I heard two NHS comms people from another area talk dismissively about ‘whinging patients.’ ‘It would have been better,’ I challenged them ‘if some of the whinging patients at Stafford had been listened to. Some of them may still be alive.’

Of course, they accepted that. But back in their office surrounded by the culture of fear and blame I have to ask myself, would they? I’m convinced that it is the role of comms – especially in the public sector- to challenge and be the grit in the oyster. Being an informal whistleblower should be part of the job description in theory. It in practice, though, I know of at least a couple of people whose careers were blighted by objecting too strongly.

One was asked to leave when concerns were raised about an appointment. Another fell foul of their chief executive and had to leave. This all points to the age old concern of public sector communicators to be near the ‘top table.’ In other words close to those making the decisions. A comms professional close to the top table may get sight of the problem earlier and can advise. They also find their words carry more weight.

Of course, it’s fine to challenge if the PR officer is in a position to know what is going on at all times. There are 700 services provided by local government alone. There is no way a comms team can be across all of these areas. Often, when I worked in local government comms office door would fly open after 5pm with an 11th hour request for some help on an issue that was about to hit the papers. My worry is that at this point it is too late.

To learn the lesson of Rotherham public sector communicators should be mindful that glossing away the problem won’t solve the problem. Honesty and openness may be a start.

Creative commns credit 

Rotherham magistrates court sign.


 


THE HORROR: The Four Stages of Comms Facepalm

We’ve all been there working in comms, marketing, web and PR… the ridiculous request that gets made of you that is dafter than a box of frogs.Ahhhhhhh

A request or a comment so ludicrous, so inane and so lacking in common sense that it takes all your considerable being to stop yourself from tipping over the desk and shouting loudly: “But that’s just… STOOPID!”

But you don’t. You nod sagely and then think of a diplomatic answer while in your head you’ve tipped over the table.

For my part I was really good at the diplomacy. Probably too good. But after many years in PR teams I’ve come to realise there are phases.

Often this cycle starts at ten past five of a Friday afternoon which as we all know is the true witching hour for ‘interesting’ requests.

Stage One: The Silly Request

This is where it starts. Someone has asked you to do something impractical, stupid, immoral or ridiculous. This may involve clip art. It may involve the suggestion of putting someone really inappropriate up for interview with a really silly title. Like the time in my career when the cutting edge art gallery bod wanted to see if the Sunday tabloid would come and do a feature on their metallic vibrator that was on display because they wanted to stimulate a balanced debate on art.

Hey you there with the scissors. Put them down, can you?

Stage Two: The Response to the Silly Request

This next phase is the dangerous phase. How do you respond? A former colleague of mine had this down pat. A response ‘Well, that’s one view,’ indicated that they thought that was the most ridiculous thing they’d ever heard in their entire life and nobody sane could even countenance thinking that never mind articulating it.

The next step up from that, of course, was the occasionally heard ‘Well, that’s certainly one view…’

The alternative school of thought is to tip over the table and roar like a madman. Believe me, I’ve been inches away from it.

Stage Three: The Scuffle

You’ve reached an impasse. They want that back of bus ad campaign. They need it. They don’t know why. They have no evidence. They just NEED it and YOU are the unreasonable one.

Usually this is the point where things get escalated and this is where those personal relationships come in handy. Some you win and some you lose.

Stage Four: The War Story

Your battle with the box of frogs now becomes the stuff of legend that gets repeated in places where former colleagues or comms people gather. Often yours are madder than anyone else’s. But it is important to share these to get a sense check. No, it was them. It wasn’t you.

So here’s where this post can come in. We’ve written this post so you can share – anonymously if needs be – and you can release a primal scream of inner angst and share the pain with your colleagues in the industry.

Here are SIX of my favourites

Got asked to a meeting to discuss the comms around the signing of a major, major contract.Politician wanted CNN, Sky TV and the world’s media. Director nods sagely. Politician leaves safe in the knowledge that his instructions are very clear. Director then leans across the table and opens with: “I want none of that. If we have a press conference and no-one turns up that will be a major success…”

Got told they want to spend around six grand on an insert in the local paper. Why? Because they’ve always done it and a next door neighbour is doing it. Besides, they get it converted into a glossy brochure we can give away and we’ll get 500 copies for free. No, they have no evaluation. No, there is no purpose. Result? Six months later 497 copies of the horribly dated brochure remained in the corner of the office gathering dust. As predicted.

Got told they have got some children to design us a new logo and there it is in all its stretched logo glory…

Got asked to ‘make it look ‘whizzy’ by a person who admits they don’t know what whizzy looks like. Yes, really.

Got told that unless I say ‘yes’ to this homemade poster with clip art and a logo that’s been stretched your event that’s happening in three days will be a failure and it’ll all be my fault. No, really.

Got asked to put a piece in the residents’ magazine by one of the people who cut it just two weeks ago. No, really.

Now, here’s where you can come in.

Can you share your facepalm war stories?

Anonymously?

Or in person? 

And how you deal with them? 

You may just save a colleague from being tipped over the edge.

Thank you.

Creative commons credit

Lego scream https://www.flickr.com/photos/99472898@N00/4678498113/


COMMS TIP: Why You Need to Challenge Like a Three-Year-Old

P1030315I’ve blogged about the need to be the grit in the oyster in comms and PR and to the need challenge.

That scheme the chief executive has? It’s going to fail and you need to diplomatically warn them.

That elected member who demands a press release? It’s down to you to tell them that won’t work.

Unless you do you are nothing more than a glorified shorthand typist.

Here’s one way you can challenge… by be an annoying three-year-old.

Or rather, adopt the questioning strategy of a small child who is asking questions because they are just plain nosey.

If you are a parent you’ve been there. Picture the scene in a super market right now somewhere in the world.

‘What’s that?’

‘It’s a tin of beans, Jimmy.’

‘Why do we have tins of beans?’

‘So the food doesn’t go off.’

‘What’s ‘off’…?’

And there we have an explanation to Jimmy of food storage, freshness and the degrading process that makes food dangerous to eat.

Small children have got a brilliant quality of cutting through the crap.

A couple of times recently in a training session I’ve thought of the two-year-old interrogation strategy.

We’re doing a ‘thing’. It’s great.

Why?

Because it’s a good idea.

Why?

Because if we give people some basic information it reduces the chance of them coming back with an even worse problem.

Will that cost you money?

Yes, lots, about £10,000 a time.

How many could we stop coming back with a worse problem?

So, the ‘thing’ moves from being a good thing to a thing that is going to tangibly improve lives… and tangibly save money.

That’s win and win.

It’s also the beginnings of your evaluation because as we know, it’s not the column inches or the tweets but what people have done as a result.

‘Hey, chief executive, we’ve just communicated to a load of people and 100 have gone away with information that could stop them costing us £10,000 each.’

Does that sound better?

So, shouldn’t you be more of a three-year-old?

Picture credit

My daughter.


COMMS ADVICE: Be Bold, Be the bit of Grit in the Oyster

3875021320_445f89a757_b (1)If there is one piece of advice I came to late in my career that I value  it is this… the role of comms is sometimes to be the bit of grit in the oyster.

It was Paul Willis of Leeds Metropolitan University who I first hear use the phrase.

Really?

What the heck does this mean?

My take on it is that sometimes, the role of the comms person is to politely stand your ground and to challenge and to point out where things won’t work.

The chief exec of the water company blamed for water shortage taking questions with a clean bottle of water, British Gas staging a Twitter Q&A on the day of a price hike or senior officer hellbent on back of bus ads… because that’s the way they’ve always done it.

I was reminded of the need for this a short while back in a comms planning workshop where one attendee mentioned the pressure she was under to come up with evaluation weeks after the launch of a campaign to encourage people to sign-up to volunteer for a specific task.

“It’s really difficult,” she said. “I’m getting pressure to show if the campaign is a success but we know it takes six months for it to work.

“It’s been a month and the thing is, it’s really difficult, because it’s a senior person who is asking.”

Of course, in an ideal world that senior person would immediately see the folly of asking how many cars the Forth Bridge had carried after just a week into its construction.

But life is not like that.

So, if tact and diplomacy don’t work, sometimes your role as a comms person is to be the person to draw a line in the sand and point out where something, in your professional opinion, doesn’t work.

When I worked as part of a comms team I’d often find it useful instead of directly rubbishing an idea directly just spelling out the logical sequence of events that decision would bring.

“We can have a back of bus advert by all means,” it’s better to say, “but do we know if the Primary school children we’re trying to get through to drive? And how many signed up for that course last year as a result of it? Could we talk to some parents and teachers to see what the best route may be, too?”

Be professional, be polite but never be afraid be the grit in the oyster. It will almost always be the harder path but if you take it you will almost always win respect. Involve your boss if needs be. Or their boss.

If you don’t are you sure you aren’t just being a glorified shorthand typist?


#BESTBYWM 2014: Good But We Dare Not Stand Still

14606509774_102b1412ab_kNo question I’m really proud of being involved for a second year with IEWM’s Best by West Midlands initiative.

From Herefordshire in the south to Stoke-on-Trent in the north the region and across the Brum and Black Country conurbation continues to blaze a trail for how local government best uses social media channels.

Last year the Best by West Midlands whitepaper and survey gave a snapshot of where authorities were.

This year, the 2014 survey has done the same and have we moved on? Of course we have. You can read the round-up post here.

But a couple of things really stood out and I’ll blog them in the coming weeks. Not least the statistic that comms teams are comfortable with the established platforms like Twitter and Facebook but new channels like Snapchat and WhatsApp? Not at all. Of the 18 channels used – three up from last year the results paint a picture.

Most Used Channels

Twitter 100 per cent

Facebook 96 per cent

YouTube 81 per cent

Flickr 65 per cent

….

Whats App 4 per cent

Snapchat 0 per cent

Source: Best by West Midlands IEWM July 2014

The findings formed part of a session at commscamp last week and it turns out this blindspot for new channels is not something unique to the West Midlands.

You need a digital comms expert in your team.

It’s something I’ve been banging on about for some time now. The world is changing. You need to keep pace. Unless you have someone horizon scanning you’ll be missing the bigger picture. Sales pitch: that’s a service comms2point0 provides but really as a comms person you need to have a voracious inquisitiveness about how the web is changing your job.

But what is Snapchat?

The low down is that this is a picture messaging service beloved of young people. It’s picture led and is meant to disappear from the web in 24-hours. The sender can opt to save a pic and the the recipient can take a screenshot. There’s a useful parents guide that Snapchat themselves have produced.

Some brands have started to use it like McDonalds who are telling people about changes to the menu and offers, the Philadelphia Reds baseball team giving behind-the-scenes access and the World Wildlife Fund who used a Snapchat-inspired campaign and this short YouTube clip showing endangered species at risk and asking if the images would be their #lastselfie.

You can watch the YouTube clip here:

The stats are that Snapchat is growing although the detail is hard to piece together. A survey suggests 25 per cent of smartphone users in the UK have Snapchat and 70 per cent of users are female.

 What is whats app?

It’s SMS without the spiralling charges. You send and receive something that looks like SMS but without the individual charges. As of April 2014, there is 500 million users and the company which was bought for $19 billion by Facebook says it has only just started.

It’s fair to say that marketing and comms people are baffled by what impact this will have on them with predictions of zero impact although others have been creative to engage with it. Like the Israeli chocolate company who created a game for users to play and the Bollywood cinema who created a competition to promote a new film.

But is this something that comms let alone public sector comms has got their teeth into? Not at all.

Your two big challenges

Firstly, you need to know where do they fit in the landscape and secondly, we need to think how we go about getting the skills.

Screen-Shot-2014-02-25-at-1.22.19-PM.png (288×435) - Google Chrome 13072014 111604The re-assuring thing in debating this at commscamp is that this feels no different to Twitter in 2007. Those that work in comms and PR at first thought it would go away and then we gradually worked out how to use it. That’s a journey we’ve already been on so shouldn’t be too worried.

It’s fine for us grown-ups to work out what these platforms are so you don’t appear like the magistrate who famously asked: ‘Who are The Beatles?’

The old rules stand true. Go onto a platform as yourself for a bit to understand the language and what works. Then think about using it yourself.

I’ve argued before that there needs to be space to experiment away from the bustle of the day job and campaign evaluation. This is one of those times.

Creative comms credit

Grid: Ann Kempster https://www.flickr.com/photos/annkempster/sets/72157645172301580/


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 837 other followers