Tag: online

Content is king – long live the king!

User generated content has become an increasingly appealing option for businesses, not least because they can share their ideas, thoughts and passions at the touch of a button. In addition user generated content is cost effective and accessible – after all it’s your time that you need to invest.

Whether you have a company blog, or prefer to use social media tools to share your thoughts, there is an international audience just waiting to hear what you have to say.

What to consider

The problem with user generated content is that often once the excitement of uploading your musings wear’s off, businesses are left with websites and social tools that are clearly out of date.

What usually happens is that someone takes responsibility for uploading content, even getting the support of the senior team, only to then find that managing the process is constantly on the bottom of their ever increasing ‘to do’ list.

All this then does is reinforce that marketing and communication is not a priority for the business – whereas user generated content should be used to promote and showcase success and the value that a consistent approach can deliver.

How to manage the process more effectively

Many organisations choose a single person to manage all user generated content, which includes the drafting and uploading of all articles, but a better and more effective approach would be to pick one person from each team to submit an article of their choice.

This will then share the workload and empower those who are asked to contribute to do so on a less frequent basis. So, rather than having one person contributing to a company blog each week, you can share the workload by requesting that each team submits a blog once a month.

What you are also likely to find if you share the management of a company blog is that the content becomes more engaging and it gives people who are genuinely passionate about their job the chance to share their thoughts and have them published.

This will still require one person to chase and ensure that people do submit their copy on time however it makes the process far simpler and less demanding.

How to make it engaging

Some businesses can struggle with finding topics that they feel their visitors, followers, connections or fans will be interested in reading however it’s worth remembering that they have already taken a step to engage with you and without updated user generated content all you are doing is metaphorically turning your back on them – now that’s not friendly when you think about it!

To make things easier all you need to do is add the website, blog and social media to your weekly or monthly meetings. Create a calendar of events, activities, dates, products, services and subjects that are relevant to your business – you can then choose any one of these to expand on and share.

As an example you could be a clothing company and in which case you could consider the following; fashion, materials, manufacture, design or retail. There are lots and lots of things that could be covered.

Top tips

In order to get best value from user generated content, we would recommend that you keep it simple. Consider how you can share updates with your audience that will add some value.

Blogs as an example are a great way to share the personality of those within your organisation. Choose people who you know will want to contribute and who will get a real buzz from seeing their copy online – it will make life much easier than trying to drag content from those who would rather not contribute.

Put together a list of words that can be associated with your business and also the topics that are covered in industry magazines. What’s great about user generated content is that it’s your opportunity to have your say – obviously you need to be mindful that anyone can access your thoughts and there is a fine line between opinion and ranting – but it’s a great way to share your thoughts.

If you draft a simple question and answer document that can be updated in no more than 20 minutes you can send this around to the teams within your organisation and simply use this as a team update or ‘five minutes with’ section to the blog. This is really simple and should provide you with interesting and engaging content to share.

Clients and suppliers are a great resource as well. If you are proud of the work that you do with them then ask that they feature as a guest blog, sharing their thoughts and views with your audience.

There is no doubt that time and resource needs to be invested in generating interesting and engaging user content but once you start to see the value, which can be measured by increased web hits or shares, likes and retweets across social tools, it becomes clear that it can add real value to your business, while also raising your profile and positioning you as an expert within your field.

How often to post

There is no hard and fast rule about how often you should post or update user generated content but as a guide we would recommend that you update your blog once a week to start with. This will give you a realistic target and will encourage visitors to come back to your site or to share your comments more often.

Taking little steps to implement a strategy that you can manage internally is a great way to build on your marketing activities and if you really don’t have the time – you could always ask an agency for support.

At Open Communications we work with businesses to develop a strategy that they can manage. We offer full day sessions with up to 6 people from any one organisation able to get involved.

Getting people excited by user generated content is often the first hurdle to cross and making them understand the value and benefit that can be achieved as a result isn’t always easy. Working with a third party can do this quickly and give you the hints and tips you need to build a strategy that will last and deliver a return on investment.

Better still, if you work with a reputable company they should have examples of other businesses they have worked with who have seen the value and are putting steps in place to create interesting, engaging and up to date content that they share.

Is there any sensitivity when it comes to social media?

As a PR agency we build social media strategies for our clients, which, in the simplest sense, allow them to engage with an online audience. More importantly, using these tools, we are able to gleam some idea of the sentiment a collective audience has towards a brand and business.

At an event recently social media tools, including twitter, were referenced as the world’s largest and most quickly evolving search engine – an interesting suggestion and one that I am beginning to agree with more and more.

Opinion and online interaction has never been such an integral part of the communications process, which we are all starting to build into our daily lives. Something happens and the first thing that people will do is tweet about it or take an image and share it with their network of contacts online.

I was surprised recently to watch a programme, similar to Police Camera Action, which focused on a car chase and subsequent crash, which seriously injured the driver and passenger. As if this situation wasn’t disturbing enough, with two young people hurt and needing help, the team of police and paramedics weren’t able to dedicate all of their attention to the needs of those that really required it as they were faced with a ‘paparazzi’ of phone users – a crowd of people taking images and videos.

Now I’m all for sharing interesting and relevant information, but a car chase and those injured – come on! Does anyone really need to see that and does having an iPhone really make you a journalist?

When something in the world happens, the press often now request footage from the scene and I can see how life changing events would be of interest but I think we all need to take a step back and determine what is and is not ethically appropriate to share.

I hadn’t really considered the implications of people’s desire to share before but I have to admit that I am now thinking that people have lost all sensitivity when it comes to social media. I always say to clients and the team her at Open Comms that if you wouldn’t stand in a pub and make a comment then you shouldn’t tweet it. Just as importantly if you are going to share someone else’s comment or opinion by retweeting or liking their status make sure you have the facts first – do not regret your actions later.

In many businesses now there is a code of conduct specific to social media, and I think that this should be considered by individuals too. There should be six simple steps to social media:

  1. If you won’t share a comment or opinion with a stranger, then don’t share it socially with the world
  2. Think before you tweet / share, these seconds could make all the difference
  3. Consider what value your comment will add – is it likely to cause unnecessary offence or emotional hurt to another
  4. If you are going to like / retweet or share content from others,  take the time to read it properly first – be aware of what you are putting your name against
  5. With so many social platforms available make sure that you are using them correctly – privacy settings are there for a reason, so use them
  6. Be sensitive, consider why you are filming or photographing something. If your actions mean that a person will die or come to extreme harm because a paramedic is unable to do their job properly, is that content ever going to be worth your conscience.

These are just my thoughts but I’m sure that others will have their own to add. I don’t propose that social as a medium is regulated or ‘policed’, I would like to think that people were intelligent enough to make their own informed decisions but perhaps I’m wrong.

Don’t dismiss the opportunities on your doorstep

As you would expect of a PR agency, we are often asked to recommend media channels for brands and businesses when developing campaigns, events and stunts.

Although many agencies would quickly recommend national media with larger audiences (and not surprisingly commanding bigger budgets) we always think about the objectives of that particular activity and how the message will be communicated by our chosen medium.

It is always surprising when businesses and agencies dismiss regional media whether for advertising or editorial opportunities. We term these titles heartland, as they are usually located at the heart of a community where a brand or business is based.

Although many companies believe that the CEO or Managing Director of a business will only read leading trade and national titles it’s fair to say that in our experience that isn’t true. Many leading senior executives will read regional media to find out what is going on in their local area.

What is most frustrating about this situation is when people are dismissive of regional titles to then get excited when they feature in them – it’s one way or another!

We have long been an advocate of regional media and the opportunities that print and broadcast media offer; promotions, competitions, editorial, features, advertorials and of course standard advertising.

Next time you are considering a campaign think about the businesses that are based in your local area. Are they large or small? Would you send the MD of a multi-million pound business packing because he was local? Unlikely, so perhaps the same thought process should go to working and engaging with regional titles and channels.

The beauty of PR is that you don’t have to be restrictive so if your preferred agency dismisses regional media ask them why. If they say people don’t read the papers, listen to the radio stations or watch the local news take this simple test – ask people you meet in everyday life what the last paper, radio station or TV news programme they engaged with was. I bet there is at least 6 out of 10 who will mention a regional title, station or programme then you have your answer.

The truth is that people do read, listen to and watch regional media and as a result this makes them a valid medium for engagement with prospects and customers. 

If you can’t say something nice…

When I was growing up my Dad always used to quote a phrase from Bambi, the children’s film. He would say ‘Remember what Thumper said’, which was ‘If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say nothing at all’.

Even though the quote is taken from a children’s film the fundamental theory behind the phrase is very relevant and in particular to young people who are growing up with more choice about how they communicate with each other (and the rest of the world) than ever before.

In the news again today there is a startling example of why people need to be very careful about what they share and how they choose to communicate. Kent Youth PCC, Paris Brown, has learnt the hard way that tweets and Facebook updates she is alleged to have shared when she was 14, 15 and 16 have come back to haunt her.

As someone who has taken on a responsible position she should have known better. It goes without saying that some people will think it’s unfair that Paris is being reprimanded in a very public way as a result of comments made years ago however she should have realised that the nature of the comments she was sharing was inappropriate irrelevant of her age.

As is the nature of some social media tools, anyone was able to access her comments about drink and drugs, which then gave her employer the chance to check her twitter feeds and Facebook page to find out just what she had chosen to share with her friends when she felt it appropriate to brag about her antics.

I hope that this sends out a very real warning to anyone who is looking for work. It is common practice to check social media feeds or ‘Google’ a candidate before an interview takes place. How silly to jeopardise your chances at securing a job for the sake of a tweet or inappropriate status update.

Many people use Facebook socially and twitter or LinkedIn for work but it’s worth always keeping in the back of your mind that anyone can search for your comments and opinions and that if you are willing to share your thoughts on social media tools expect that they will be shared by others and possibly accessed by a future employer.

There’s little doubt that Paris will be very conscious of her comments from now on.

PR stands for Press Release

When you work in PR (public relations) there are some days when you wonder what your job description may look like if you were to write down everything you were asked to do. This is no bad thing you understand, as the huge variety of tasks certainly helps to keep things interesting, while raising a few exciting challenges along the way.

This is perhaps why I find it so frustrating when people tell me that they can ‘do PR’ because they have written a press release or had something printed in a newspaper. The purpose of appointing a PR agency shouldn’t be to just write copy – that’s what copy writers are there for and the clue is in the title.

A PR agency is there to manage a brands reputation, to identify opportunities that will extend the messaging of a campaign to take it to a totally new level, or to come up with creative recommendations that will deliver a stunt that will capture the attention of the media, while also educating consumers about what that particular product or brand has to offer.

There’s also the corporate side of things, when an agency may be appointed to manage a stakeholder or internal communications campaign, ensuring that a message is clear and concise, using the right tone of voice and being disseminated in the right way, to the right audience.

Sponsorship often falls under the remit of a PR agency, along with third party associations and event management. Although you may find that copy is required to support these activities, it isn’t the sum of the process and everything from launching to making sure the brand gets the most from an association – which often includes sampling – can be included along the way.

Really the job of a PR has no defined start or finish, as long as you are managing and supporting the reputation of a brand and business, focusing on how it chooses to communicate and engage with its target audiences, then it kind of falls in to our remit.

As we have said in the past there is no point in trying to be all things to all people and that isn’t what I’m suggesting – there are times when we work with other specialist agencies to deliver integrated briefs and this is when you can take one concept or theme and really push it to make as much noise across as many mediums as possible.

At the moment we are working on so many different things that when Friday comes around I feel like my head is spinning with ideas and variations on the campaigns and proposals that we are working on for clients both in business to business and consumer markets.

PR is creative, expressive, exciting and demanding and writing is just one element of what we do on a daily basis to manage the reputation of the brands and businesses we work with. So next time you hear someone say that they can ‘do PR’ because they can draft a press release, please pass on my advice, they can’t! If you think that PR is all about writing a press release then it’s time to take a long hard look at your future career in the business because it won’t last long.

 

Why careful doesn’t mean boring

I’ve worked with lots of creative people throughout my career, many of whom I totally respect for the fantastic work and ideas they have developed, but I can’t help feeling that fairly conclusively there has always been a belief that when you work with large marketing and PR agencies careful has to mean boring.

I disagree. I think in some instances careful should be changed to ‘managed by professionals’.

If I was the owner of a brand and I had hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of pounds to spend I wouldn’t want to let that budget loose on a team that would come up with stunts and ‘creative’ ideas that could be to the detriment of my business longer term.

Here’s the thing – pretty pictures can be very appealing and they can even make what in the cold light of day would be a ludicrous idea seem like a brainwave. I’ve seen it happen many times before and it usually lands on the door of the PR agency to sort it out once the ‘big idea’ hits the media and is found to be the emperor’s new clothes, or worse.

At Open Communications we have always maintained that we would work within a client’s budget to come up with campaigns that first and foremost meet with objectives. I can hear some agencies groan just reading this but it’s true. What’s the point of even employing an agency otherwise?

We could come up with yet another stunt that put yet another over-sized object in Trafalgar Square, we could consider a one off activity that would mean we claimed much of the budget in management and had little to do for the rest of the year and we could chase industry awards with our big ideas but the reality is that we just don’t work like that.

We try to create long term strategies that we can implement over time to ensure that our clients engage across all channels and with all audiences. We use online, in print, digital, outdoor and sponsorship. We don’t profess to be all things to all people but one of the things that I am most proud of is that we are good at what we do – and that’s PR, traditional and online.

So for all those who think that careful is boring just consider how you would manage your project or brief if you were playing with your own money.

 

It’s all in the timing

Social media, content marketing, engagement, push, viral, digital… need I go on? These are all words that are used frequently in the world of marketing, PR and communications and they all lead back to one thing – attracting attention and sharing a message.

What I’ve noticed is that brands who have got it right, in my opinion, are those that are able to turn things around quickly. Take Bodyform as a classic, or Specsavers as another, then there’s Richard Branson and his stunt announcing the BA couldn’t get it up and Paddy Power’s ambush of the Ryder Cup.

The way that these brands have been in a position to turn around their campaigns so quickly, never mind come up with them in the first place, is fantastic. Not only are they creative and quirky they capture attention and get their message across. At the end of the day, most brands use PR and marketing in the first instance to raise the profile of their business and in these cases they do exactly that.

The problem of course is that it is often impossible to get approval to turn something around in such limited timescales however the more that brands become aware of the benefits to ‘almost real time’ engagement the better.

It seems to me that the future is all about the timing and that means reacting within hours as opposed to days. Let’s hope that more brands see the benefit in putting PR at the top of their list of priorities because this is simply the best way to shout about your brand which subsequently puts your products in front of the consumer.

Finally, PR takes it seat at the boardroom table

I’ve just finished reading an excellent article in Management Today magazine. The piece focuses on the changing face of PR – and I don’t mean one shade of designer lipstick to another – no, finally it would appear that the industry is getting the recognition that it deserves and is taking a seat around the boardroom table.

Having worked in the PR industry for more than a decade and with a BA (Hons) degree in the specialism, I have long been an advocate of the merits of PR when it is practiced correctly and professionally.

As I see it there are problems with the PR industry in the same way that there are problems with any other; you have the good and you have the bad and it can be difficult to decide which is which. One will wine and dine you in fancy restaurants, while the other tells you the harsh truth and what to do about it – far less appealing than a good lunch but undoubtedly more beneficial in the long run.

The truth of the matter is that PR has always been about reputation – that has never changed and be it online or in print, what is said in the street or down the pub, it all goes back to the same thing; if you don’t know what people are saying about you, there is nothing you can do about it.

Businesses are thankfully coming around to the understanding that during any situation, good or bad, the first point of call is to make sure that you are communicating effectively with your audiences. In order to do this an organisation requires an advisor, a specialist, someone to rely on with their plans, aspirations and concerns.

The piece in Management Today very much focuses on the changes to PR based on the use of social media but I think there is more to it than that.

Tim Bell comments: “If you want to live in a transparent world then someone has to give the information about you. If you don’t want someone else to, you have to do it yourself. That’s what PR people do.”

Sure, social media and a desire by the consumer to share their thoughts and opinions with the world – plus having the ability to do so quickly and easily across a multitude of platforms – has meant that PR professionals have more to do but that is simply good practice and the evolution of an industry which spans hundreds of years.

The real change I think has come in a shift of mind set. People working in PR have thankfully taken a long, hard look at the industry and realised that as a discipline we were losing out. We weren’t taken seriously in our tottering high heels and we needed to toughen up and take our seat around the boardroom table.

Those who were serious about a career started to showcase their skills in the situations that deliver harsh recognition; a crisis without a communications professional who is experienced, able and capable of dealing with it can bring a business literally crashing to its knees.

In Management Today Jeremy Hazlehurst comments:

“PR the profession has changed beyond recognition in the past decade. Although media relations activities have burgeoned, involving the paper press, online publications, television and bloggers, it is only a small part of the job now. Press offices have been swallowed up by communications departments that deal with investor relations, analysts, shareholders, regulators and government. All are the guardians of the most precious and difficult to measure of assets – corporate reputation.”

I’ve never been ‘typically PR’ and have always felt that the discipline should be considered a necessity as opposed as a nice to have, not just because I work in the industry but because I see every day the benefits that it delivers, which are often measured less by coverage and more by ‘real life’ results and the situations which are in some cases avoided.

It’s no secret that I almost left the PR industry altogether before launching Open Communications with my business partner Emma because of the way in which some agencies work. I didn’t want to go to lunch or out to parties, I didn’t want to charge by the hour working on campaigns I knew were over-priced and wouldn’t deliver and I didn’t want to feel like I was doing the clients I was working with a disservice by not going that extra mile.

What I did want was to work with journalists so that my clients would hit the headlines, I wanted to use communication to generate business, really get to the heart of the companies I was working for and be a part of their success. I wanted to advise them in the best way possible and explain in no uncertain terms that as a direct result of my actions their business was stronger and that was down to reputation, which was driven by PR and communications.

Thankfully I can now do all of these things. I have always been a champion of ‘real PR’ but I am pleased that others are now recognising the merits to working with agencies and practitioners.

Cynical or otherwise when you look at the organisations that have failed over recent years in many instances arguably the banks have been at fault but it is also interesting to note that many of them were lacking in direction, their customers and prospects weren’t aware of exactly what they offered and this was down to poor communication. As a result they weren’t selling and in turn ceased to exist.

I hope that this new attitude to PR continues and that businesses recognise the value of the services that practitioners and agencies offer.  The truth of the matter is that PR should be at the heart of any business model and in order to get it right you need to rely on a professional.

 

And finally…

The phrase ‘And finally…’ was often used by national and regional broadcast news channels to feature a positive story at the end of a programme. More often than not it was intended that this heart-warming feature would leave people with a smile, after the more serious updates from the day.

It would appear that this practice is less common than it used to be, possibly because there seems to be more bad news to report than good, leaving little chance for producers to include a light hearted piece to end on.

So why are we all so keen to hear bad news? Is it absolutely necessary that we surround ourselves with the disasters that face our daily lives? Is it not just as important to share in the good news and to keep our spirits up? And isn’t that what a balanced news agenda is all about – not necessarily just two sides of one story but some good and some bad?

Today there are some really positive stories hitting the headlines not least the announcement from Cancer Research UK reporting that deaths from certain cancers will fall by 17% by 2030. This is a great achievement and I’m pleased to note that it has ‘hit’ many national titles, as well as broadcast media.

Other good news today is the announcement of a new publication that has been launched called ‘The Positive’, which plans to only share good news. What a great idea – but the question remains, will it work?

I have to admit to being cynical about its chances of success because the simple fact of the matter is that people are more inclined to search for bad news than good. I remember a couple of years ago there was a paper which launched in Wakefield called the Wakefield Guardian and the idea was that it would share good news from the district.

Needless to say that the paper didn’t last and closed around 18 months after launching, which was a real shame.  I only hope that The Positive will have better fortune and that people will take the time to share good news. Sometimes I think we all need a good up lifting story to get us all going in the morning – and I intend to read The Positive and will tweet the best story from the day to share it with those who follow me.  In fact I might just add a hashtag #andfinally – who else is going to get behind the publication and join in?

An unusual approach to news

PR isn’t the simplest of industries to understand, especially when you don’t work within the media or creative sectors. I have often had to explain time and time again what it is that I do for a living and people (my closest family and friends included) still get it wrong.

My Dad spent the first 6 years of my career telling people I was a PA and my friends just leave it as you work with the media. Of course there is a lot more to my job than that – in fact a staggering amount when I take the time to think about it – but in a nut shell it will do as a top line explanation.

Things are changing so quickly within the media, with many titles choosing to go online and in some cases media launching with no print versions. Take the Business Desk as an example, launched by David Parkin formerly Business Editor of the Yorkshire Post. Great idea. Worked well. You can’t fault them for wanting to do something that at the time was a little different.

BDaily is another title which took a very similar approach. Based in the North East this news website, for want of a simple term, provides an update on what is going on in the business world in the North East. The concept is simple and it works well.

What BDaily have done which is completely unique to my understanding is that they have named the people who write the stories under the headline. So if they receive a story from a PR agency, they actually attribute the article to that company.

This is often why people find it so difficult to understand what we do. You see, we will draft a press release for a client and then send it on to the media. Often the copy can be literally pasted with an image as a completed article but rather than saying that it was written by us, the article is attributed to the journalist who places it.

This is very common practice and is what we have become used to but when I noticed what BDaily were doing it made me think. Is this the future? Will more online publications start to attribute copy to PR agencies and will the line become less blurred between what we do and don’t do?

I’m interested to see what other people think. I have no real desire to be labelled as the author of anything and I always take it as a compliment if articles appear unchanged but I wonder what the PR industry at large think of this?

Any comments, thoughts or opinions please do share them.