Tag: social media

If a picture paints a thousand words…

If a picture paints a thousand words then what does your LinkedIn profile picture say about you? I have noticed over recent weeks that the pictures that people are using on their LinkedIn profiles are becoming less about professionalism and more about pout!

I am aware, as I should be, that social platforms are used by different people for different purposes and this is what makes them so appealing – but I have yet to find anyone who uses LinkedIn to socialise in the truest sense of the word.

Now call me cynical but this sudden influx of ‘the pout’, which would be better suited to Facebook, could have something to do with the recent changes to the privacy settings on LinkedIn, which now allows teenagers from as young as 13 years old to join the network.

Whereas I have no problem with career minded teenagers wanting to build their networks or to share their knowledge with the world – in fact, far from it – I do feel it is important that they know what they are proposed for.

Also, if schools and colleges are to promote the use of these platforms, as they presumably now will in career studies, the first thing that teachers need to explain is the pit falls – fundamentally, in this case, that LinkedIn is still a professional social tool and not Snapchat.

One suggestion would be that schools and colleges work more closely with agencies who are willing to invest some time in giving talks to students to advise on how to use social media for professional reasons and which platforms could work best, depending on their preferred career choice.

The problems arise because unlike Facebook, which blurs the lines when you consider consumer businesses, I don’t believe that this is the case for LinkedIn and so find it hard to understand why someone would want to display an image of them pouting proudly in their preferred ‘selfie’ but this could just be me.

In a world where we should be ever more aware of the audiences that we are sharing our information with, I find it hard to believe that professional people would really want to promote themselves under the description of potential recruit or business owner while brandishing an oversized glass of wine, an undersized ‘cleavage revealing’ top and a pout that a glamour model would be proud of – and that’s just the men!

As I said, perhaps it’s just me but can we ban the pout and stick with a good old head and shoulders shot – I would certainly be more inclined to do business with someone who takes a professional network like LinkedIn a little more seriously.

Or am I just getting old?

Has social media made brands more honest?

This was one of the questions that was asked this morning at the Yorkshire Business Insider, Digital Economy Breakfast, which was hosted at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Using the hashtag #insideryorksdigital a collective of communication, brand, marketing and digital practitioners came together in a panel led discussion, which asked for questions from the audience that were then answered by four respective experts.

This question in particular really caught my attention as I don’t believe that it has made brands more honest, and in contrast to the feedback given by both panel and the audience, I feel that social media has forced business to be more responsive – not necessarily honest.

What we have to consider is whether factual means honest. I don’t believe that this is always the case and as such businesses are managing their communications better and being more considerate of what they say and where. Again, we need to note that considerate does not mean overtly sensitive, a better description may be controlled.

In a world that is full of people with opinions and comments that they are only too ready to share with the masses, particularly when something goes wrong, it is absolutely essential that brands are ready and willing to converse with their audience, providing feedback and assistance if the matter calls for it.

This sounds far simpler than it is. The nature of the beast means that the larger, and presumably more successful, a company becomes the more resource and budget it has to give to communicating with its ever growing audience.

In a world that has typically cut marketing and PR budgets during difficult times, as opposed to recognising the skills and asset that a communications team brings to a business, we can quickly identify where and why some brands have come a cropper over recent years.

With the good always comes the bad but in order to nurture brand ambassadors, while also assisting those with complaints, the landscape has changed and thankfully larger businesses have had to recognise the true value of PR and marketing communications.

Many of the errors that have been made when it comes to social media and the #epic #fails we all share are down to poor delegation. A junior member of the team is tasked with managing social media because no one else really understands it or has the time; after all they are too busy with the serious stuff.

The problem here is that the serious stuff is presumably the reputation of the company, which is directly driven by the way in which an organisation interacts, engages and communicates with its audiences.

Is it just me or are we stating to see a direct correlation here? Put simply, social = serious.

So, interestingly from this one question we can determine that perhaps social media hasn’t made brands more honest – after all, as organisations become more socially aware, they are also becoming more strategic with the way they engage – they are however more responsive and many of them now realise that you can’t ignore a medium that rightly or wrongly is used by an ever increasing number of consumers and businesses both as a platform for communication and search.

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.

Grass isn’t always greener – in fact it could be Astroturf

What do you do when you want to improve your ranking across search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing, encouraging your prospects and customers to find you when they search for the products and services you offer?

Some companies choose to work with professionals; PR agencies, digital companies and SEO (search engine optimisation) consultants.  Although this seems like a reasonable suggestion there is a definite need for businesses to choose who they work with wisely.

As social media tools become a viable source of information for those who want a review or recommendation, more companies are recognising the value of this for businesses and in particular those working in industries such as hospitality, leisure and of course food.

With the simple click of a button, an opinion can be formed based on the feedback given relating to the experience of a single individual. We all have bad days and sometimes things go wrong and this is where posts and comments can have a real impact on the success of a company.

As an invaluable platform for some people with sites such as Trip Advisor being considered the fountain of all knowledge when it comes to holidays, these are no longer sites that brands are able to avoid. If there is a bad comment then the first thing we suggest is that a response is given from the brand and if necessary a meeting is arranged or an explanation is given.

With social media the simple fact of the matter is that ignorance is certainly not bliss!

But it’s not all about the comments that people post, which provide a genuine insight into the experience that they have had.  Things are much, much worse than that. You see not all agencies or consultants are quite what they seem.  Although the grass can look very green when a company is securing permanently positive references and five star ratings, what you are actually looking at is Astroturf.

This isn’t the stuff that bloody knees are made of – oh no. Astroturf is another term for ‘fake reviews’. As many of these tools rely on ‘grass routes’ feedback, the term Astroturf is used for false recommendations or criticism. Basically those who claim to be ‘experts’ are actually paying freelancers or individuals that they know to post reviews without necessarily having ever experienced the brand or purchased products from the business.

Not only does this give a distorted view of a particular company but it is very dangerous. An example of how this can go horribly wrong featured recently on the BBC website. The Local Attorney General’s Office created a completely fictitious yogurt shop.

They then asked a selection of companies offering SEO services to support the brand. As a result 19 companies have now been fined £218,470 after creating false profiles and posting inaccurate and libellous comments about the yogurt shop, which didn’t exist.

What’s even worse is that the individuals that were encouraged to post their reviews of the shop, in some instances, didn’t even live in the same country!

Like anything else, SEO companies should have credentials that they can share to prove that they know what they are doing. If you really want to pay someone to support you with SEO services then make sure you have done your checks and that the content that is being created is delivering a return on investment and adding value to your brand and business.

Unfortunately as the internet is so vast and collates information from so many different sources, SEO is absolutely essential for some businesses. All we would recommend as an agency is that if a brand is considering working with a consultant or team that offers SEO’s services, is that they ensure that all content is real, which in turn makes it credible. To do anything else won’t just be creating an inaccurate picture but it could just come back to give you a nasty shock that will hurt far more than a couple of bloody knees!

Are you giving your business the right tweetment?

When we are putting together a PR strategy for a client or discussing how a brand can communicate with its many different audiences, we always consider social media; after all it’s a platform and growing point of reference for consumers of all ages and demographics.

I have never really understood agencies that focus purely on social media, as although I feel it is a mistake to ignore online tools, in my opinion they should form part of a wider strategy. The internet has created new ways of communicating but the process is the same; you need to create a plan that supports a year round campaign and then a series of messaging that allows a company to share its stories, which in turn will raise its profile and understanding of the product and services it offers.

Needless to say PR always sounds far simpler than it actually is but essentially the fundamental purpose has never changed, our main objective is always to manage the reputation of the brands we work with. We want to share stories that lead others to talk about a company. In doing this we generate word of mouth, which is still the most valuable medium for creating credibility, recommendation and in turn sales.

I attended a networking session last night which focused specifically on twitter. In celebration of Leeds Business Week, Leeds Tweet Meet brought together a panel of communications professionals to discuss how to effectively use twitter for the purpose of business.

It was an interesting session but the main theme throughout was to have a plan and keep it simple. What was a very valuable suggestion was to recognise that twitter is now used as a real time resource by the consumer. No longer is twitter all about engagement or two way communication, there is a large audience using it to search for up-to-date news, views, comments and opinions.

For the first time twitter is actually competing with search engines, due to the speed in which information can be shared.

We always advise that clients take the time to review twitter and analyse what competitors are doing before they consider social media channels as a route to market. We believe that it is important to understand how people within a given industry are engaging with their audiences, as this can change significantly from one sector to another. It is also essential that legalities are considered, as there are some instances where information cannot be shared on an ‘open platform’.

What people sometimes forget is that twitter is a global and immediate channel to market. Once a tweet is out there it can be difficult to amend or delete. In order for any social media tool to work as well as it should, a client needs to be comfortable and confident before sharing their stories with the masses and that doesn’t just relate to using the tool but also to the content that a company proposes to share.

Some of the most spectacular #fails have come about as a result of brands jumping in or not taking the time to think before updating a status. Although it takes seconds to put up a post, it can take months to manage the damage that this could cause. We always ask if a person would shout their tweet in a street – if the answer is no, then it may be worth considering if the content is necessary and appropriate.

Although content is more important than ever before, it is worth asking what value your updates will give the recipient. If the content that you share is of no use to those that follow you, then consider how you can change it so that people can join in a conversation with you or use your content to their benefit.

As an example rather than telling people you are taking your dog for a walk, make recommendations on how consumers can get best value from your product or how your service differs from competitors. Twitter is also a great tool for sharing recommendations and testimonials, you can re-tweet positive comments and thank those that make them, which only strengthens those relationships, while sharing your success with a mass audience.

A suggestion from Leeds Tweet Meet was for businesses to develop a social media code of conduct, which in many organisations would provide guidelines for employees about what can and cannot be shared on business specific social media channels.

As a starting point for any business our top ten tips for twitter are as follows:

  1. Decide what your objective is – what do you aim to achieve through twitter
  2. Identify key individuals in the business who will manage the account
  3. Research what others within the market are doing (in particular competitors)
  4. Ask your customers if they would like to engage with you on twitter
  5. Create a code of conduct for employees to follow
  6. Do some scenario planning – what’s the worst that could happen
  7. Put together a simple schedule of tweets; build up a bank of topics / themes to consider
  8. Register an account with a relevant design
  9. Search for people that you would like to follow
  10. Build social media into your communications strategy

Twitter is certainly a good tool for business and has a growing number of followers. For those who ‘have better things to do with their time’ I would question what your customers and more importantly prospects would think.

As an immediate medium twitter can be invaluable to business and gives a brand a voice and personality. As a measure of success all you need to do is search for your favourite brands – the majority of which will now have an active twitter feed.

For those who are still in two minds then speak to a PR agency, they should be able to give you the guidance that you need to build twitter and other social tools into your wider communications strategy.

Bringing together the old and the new

New technologies are great, they allow people to do things quicker and faster, to communicate with people at the other side of the world for free, to explore, investigate and research. As human beings we have access to more information than ever before and as a result our expectations have changed irreversibly – we want something and we want it now!

When we read about new technologies it is usually the announcement of a new gadget, most recently the latest iPhone(s), but what is often missing from these reports is the benefit to these tools. What do they do? What can they achieve? How do they impact on the everyday life of the person using them?

As PR professionals we can get lost in the business of these technologies. How can they be used for brands, how will they add value to a campaign and what return on investment will they deliver for the client? Will they go viral, be shared and raise the profile of a product? Will they result in an award winning stunt that will hit the headlines for all the right reasons?

Whilst having a conversation with a colleague who works with the Girl Guiding Association in Warwickshire, we got onto the subject of new technologies and social media forums and how they impact on young people. We were simply discussing the immediacy of everything and the need for people to think before they commit to communicating with the world.

We then digressed and started to discuss our own hobbies and what we like doing. In a complete contrast to anything that would have appealed to the ‘teenage me’ I mentioned that I had taken up knitting and crochet. Now before you fall over yourself laughing I will explain. I find it very hard to switch off – my brain doesn’t have an off button and my mind is constantly active. I think about new business ideas, plans for campaigns, what I need to do next week, what I have to discuss tomorrow, how many weeks it is until Christmas (*groan*) and so forth, it’s a never ending cycle and I don’t mind admitting it’s tiring.

I decided therefore to give crochet and knitting a go. I used to knit when I was really young and haven’t considered or really thought about it since. My colleague Emma then mentioned a group at The Ridings Shopping Centre who have a Knit and Natter session – what an amazing idea!

Although I don’t have chance to go to the group, I did think that there must be something in the idea of taking some time out and creating a scarf, some gloves, a tea cosy or simply just weaving together row upon row of beautiful coloured yarn. And so I tried it and I’m hooked!

Getting back to the conversation, I was explaining to the lady in question that I had started knitting and doing crochet and she asked me if I had learnt from a relative or if I was self taught. It then struck me that new technologies aren’t all about young people, they aren’t all about communicating in real time and they aren’t all about immediacy – you see I am using YouTube to learn crochet and it’s great.

By simply logging on to the many, many sites that exist, I am able to follow the instructions and see exactly what is going on. I find the steps difficult to follow in books as I can’t see exactly what is happening but using YouTube I can literally follow and ‘rewind’, follow and ‘rewind’.

Later that very same night I was catching up with some old school friends that I hadn’t seen for years on Facebook and noticed that someone I used to go to college with had uploaded an image of a crochet scarf – a very good one I have to admit. I commented and ‘liked’ her work, sharing on my feed. Her response; “I’ve only just started to crochet – I’m learning everything I can from YouTube.”

The moral of this story – new mediums aren’t just for business, they can be for pleasure too. For those of you, who like me, often think about how a social tool can be used to best practice for a brand, perhaps it’s time we thought more about the user experience – what would we want to get out of a technology?

Not everything is about speed. Sometimes we need to take a step back and think about how something can add value, even in the strangest of circumstances. If someone had told me three years ago that I would be using YouTube for crochet I would have laughed but I now have a relaxing hobby that I love and I don’t mind admitting my next tutorial is for a flower with layered petals!

What is PR?

We get asked this question all of the time and the answer is relatively simple; PR is the principle of managing the reputation of a brand or business through the implementation of an effective communications strategy, whether that be online, in print or broadcast.

The very nature of PR means that this top line explanation is woolly at best. It doesn’t really tell you much about what it is that we do – it’s just a sentence that you might find in a book. I’m not a huge fan of jargon or textbook speak so to give you a peek into the life of a PR agency here’s a round-up of what I have been getting up to this week.

An early start on Monday with an email from our international client asking for an update on activity completed. It’s not impossible to work with clients from abroad when you manage a PR agency (even when they are at the other side of the world), as ‘new’ technologies allow you to speak face-to-face making it simpler to communicate as and when required. Unfortunately you can’t change time zones and therefore you have to be awake pretty early to pick up these calls but a little planning solves any potential problems.

The week’s planned activity then starts with the launch of the Bondholder, the Diamond Scheme, an initiative supported by public and private sector organisations in Wakefield, which are hoping to generate a fund that will be used to implement a marketing and communications campaign that will promote the district to local, regional and national audiences.

As we are a trade as well as consumer PR agency, it was then on to some feature writing for a client working within the print sector. They have invested in machinery and therefore we are putting some press materials together that will be sent to trade journalists. Raising the clients profile in trade media means that they are able to shout about their successes and let customers and prospective employees know that they are still a major player within their market.

It’s then down to some social media planning. Like many agencies we manage the social media platforms for some of our clients and this means updating schedules, creating new and exciting ideas and being as creative as we can be with imagery. As imagery is a big driver of social engagement it’s no longer just about the words so we get our heads together and come up with some quirky recipe ideas that will support this particular client during a key seasonal activity we have planned.

Updating the social feeds on twitter and Facebook is a daily task for us and so we manage these accounts, check to make sure all responses have been sent and that the feeds are updated. If necessary we will like, share, retweet or favourite comments and take down any posts which are inappropriate and offensive – thankfully we don’t get too much of this.

We then have a visitor to the office, following the recommendation of another client at Open Communications we have a new business meeting. We are always very humbled (and of course chuffed to bits!) when our clients  recommend us to their contacts. We chat for a good hour and explain how PR works and how it could add value to this particular business. As one size does not fit all in PR some thought has to go in to the audience, media and messaging. We agree to put a proposal together, which will give the contact all of the detail that they need, before we arrange a follow up meeting.

Now, on to something completely different.

We have a full schedule of activity for Pom-Bear, the potato based snack brand, this year and as the consumer PR agency are working hard to make sure the business gets best value from the recommendations we have made in relation to events and sponsorships.

As the brand has just launched a new Zoo themed snack we are touring the country to sample more than 50,000 bags at Wildlife Centres and animal attractions including Dudley Zoo, Marwell Park and Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm.

Lots of planning has gone into each event and we have a programme of activities which run back-to-back. As the lead on this account it’s up to me to manage each event and ensure that everything is running as it should be. As an agency that takes huge pride it the clients that we work with, we prefer to be at the events that we plan. There is nothing worse than leaving things to chance and that simply isn’t the way that we work at Open Communications.

So, it’s off to Dudley. The weather has held off and our gazebo, banners, flags and signs are attracting the crowds in the hundreds. Pom-Bear is on great form and has the children dancing, singing and of course sampling his snacks.

As the events on Wednesday and Thursday are during the morning to early afternoon this means that I have chance to catch up on emails and draft some more copy for a series of clients before starting some research on a project we are looking in to.

Regular calls to the office mean that I don’t miss the team too much, although I’m sure they would prefer that I only call if there’s an emergency – I must work on that!

Media relations is the focus for now. We are managing a press event and launch in a couple of weeks so we need to know how many journalists to expect. I will be calling each to find out if they are available and updating the team accordingly. This is a business based story so means that regional, national, print and broadcast journalists are all invited – it’s a big list!

It will then be a follow up on the recent launch of a new product, which should have consumer journalists munching on some tasty samples from Penn State, the classic American snack brand. I will follow up and find out what they think before updating the team and sending further samples to those that have ‘got lost in the post’.

It will then be on to the next Pom-Bear event, which takes place from 6pm – 10.30pm. It’s more Pom-Bear fun, with competitions, dancing, games and more tasty samples.  Unlike some jobs it’s unlikely when you work in PR that you will have a 9am – 5pm role and I’m no different.

On Saturday it’s off to Gillwell Park for a Beaver Scouts Fun Day. It should be a great event and with more than 6,000 eager young members of the Scouting Association in attendance I’m expecting it’s going to be a busy one.  As sponsor of the Adventure Activity Badge for the Scouts, Pom-Bear will make an appearance and will also host a special trail with prizes to be won.

It’s a varied life when you work in PR and that’s why I enjoy my job so much. Whether we are managing the launch of a business, drafting copy for emailers and website, managing the trade and consumer PR activity for leading brands or engaging with journalists and bloggers no two days are ever the same.

I’m very fortunate to have a supportive (and calming) business partner at Open Comms and for those of you who know Emma you will understand what I mean. Someone once said to me that PR was like spinning plates and at the time I didn’t know what they mean. More than 10 years later I couldn’t agree more but when there are two of you working together it makes life so much easier.

Obviously at Open Communications we also have the wider (and growing) team to call upon and this again means that we have the capacity to manage the PR for leading household brands and smaller local businesses – variety is after all the spice of life.

PR is certainly not for the light-hearted but for those of you who didn’t know what it involves I hope you now have some idea of what it is that we do. Now, I’m off to get some work done – there’s no rest for the wicked you know!

One size doesn’t fit all

When you work in PR you quickly recognise that one size does not fit all when it comes to campaign planning. For a start the audience for every client will differ slightly – you can always use less defined targets such as men, women, geographical location or demographic but being more specific means that we are able to meet with the objectives set by the brands we work with.

What is also important is the medium that we choose to engage with. Not every campaign will rely on all channels and I’ve seen a few frightening examples recently where agencies have mismatched the campaign and the medium. Sometimes it’s best to do one thing really well than lots of things badly.

There is a strange attitude within the industry at the moment with some agencies believing that everything needs to be shared across social media channels and I simply don’t agree. There are some campaigns that sit better on radio, or within printed media – not everything has to feature on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest or YouTube to get results and engagement.

It seems to me that agencies are pitching social media as a sexy alternative to other mediums and rather than tailoring a campaign around a preferred medium, ideas are being shoe-horned to fit social channels.
I think it’s time that we all took a step back and went back to basics.

When we work with brands at Open Communications we look at the following; audience, media consumption, ideas, strongest recommendations. Ok, so it’s not brain surgery but if you use the same process you are likely to get a campaign that is fit for purpose and delivers a return on investment, which at the end of the day is what you pay an agency for!

A tragedy played out on twitter

 

While following some business hashtags on twitter on Monday evening, I quickly realised that I had inadvertently stumbled across a global disaster – the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Showing in real time the updates, imagery and videos I was shocked to see and hear what was happening at the other side of the world.

I can’t recall a similar instance where announcements on the news were following updates across social media sites. Some of the posts were raw with the terror from those involved and it was awful to know that people were in that position and there was little that could be done to help them.

Twitter quickly came into its own during this event for the good of the situation with the Boston Marathon online registrations and finishing times being used by relatives to find out if they had completed the race. Google quickly developed a ‘person finder’ to help relatives to locate their missing relatives – an ingenius and inspired idea.

The Boston Globe, the local newspaper in the Boston area, quickly started to report from the scene posting regularly across twitter. As the news unfolded the posts came in thick and fast. There’s no doubt that social media can lead to speculation or presumption but in this instance people seemed content to share updates as they were received and to send messages of genuine concern.

What caught my attention most was the response from the media to find out who was posting the images and videos and request that they have permission to use them across their own mediums. Again, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a good example of amateur footage being used across the global news channels.

A piece which appeared in the Drum yesterday gives a good review of how the news updates were posted and shared across social media. It’s almost scary to see how quickly the situation was reported as a result of real time feeds.

Needless to say my heart absolutely goes out to those who were involved and particularly those who lost their lives. This was an event that would once have been a national disaster – yet thanks, in part, to social media it has become a global tragedy and I think I speak for the majority when I say that we are all collective in our grief for what has happened however it was reported.