Online strategy is like five-a-side football

digital strategy

Digital Strategy is like five-a-side football. [Image: Planet Content]

Everyone loves an analogy. When I provide strategic social media training, I articulate online marketing as if it were a five-a-side football team going out to play a match against the customer decision making journey. Neither component can effectively work alone and are totally interdependent. Companies who continue to silo these disciplines limit their own effectiveness and potential, and thus waste budget.

So, let’s take a look at the starting line-up.

Goalkeeper: Search Engine Optimization. In sticks to catch all those relevant search terms – both paid and organic – it’s SEO. Depending on how the user found you the ‘keeper will bowl the ball to either player to build the engagement further.

Public Relations: In defence, we have PR acting as a Beckenbauer-esque libero. PR plays a dual role here: Firstly, to stop or quell any negative buzz around your brand online and secondly, to bring the ball out and create awareness, drawing people to your content, social networks or website (user experience – UX).

Social Media: The luxury player – ever so talked up and hard to make work, social media can deepen the engagement but needs to cover both defence (social CRM) and attack (content outreach and engagement).

Content: The real creator, content has developed a good relationship with SEO, PR and social media to maximise their potential on the pitch and draw people to the website.

User experience: Once the rest of the team has done its job in getting people to the brand’s website by drawing traffic in, it’s UX’s job to drive the conversion (i.e. score). So, is your site a Messi or just a Mess?

On the sub’s bench is the veteran Analytics and Measurement, helping the coach make tactical switches and coming on from time to time to improve things.

It’s a convoluted way of saying digital marketing is a team effort, so all departments should be talking to each other and pulling in the same direction – if they’re not doing so already.  On me ‘ead, son!

If your brand or agency needs help articulating its online strategy, get in touch.

Revisiting the question of online influence

I have acute déjà vu. I have just read about a firm targeting solely social media users with Klout scores of 60 and above as potential investors. This raises the whole question of social media and online influence once again, so I think it’s time I revisited it on this blog.

I last ranted posted about Klout, PeerIndex et al in early 2011 after meeting social media writer Brian Solis and articulated my scepticism of online influence scores as reflecting reality, especially given the credence that many employers were putting on such markers at interview. I was immediately shot down in a post by a keen advocate of PeerIndex (citing a tweet of mine) that people only seem to oppose social media influence scores if theirs is not particularly high – i.e. sour grapes. This is not the case and I’ll give you a case in point as to why.

Social media influence in perspective

When I went back agency-side for a year to co-lead the worldwide roll-out of a global blue chip electronics company’s social media engagement platform my Klout score was more than 50 in the old algorithm, which was then a good score. Now 60 is apparently the equivalent benchmark.

After a year of extremely busy work not just working on agency clients and new business worldwide but also the UK side, I did not tweet as often as previously and my personal blogging dried up. My Klout score was just 33 by the time I returned to freelance content marketing in May 2012. In one metric’s eyes I was therefore not ‘influential’ online.

But wait! During that busy time when my Klout score was falling and I was working agency-side – in the real world beyond my personal Twittersphere – thousands of people worldwide were watching the videos the team had created, were liking the Facebook page, reading our posts, enjoying the apps. I was a cog in this content machine but was part of creating genuine online influence on perception and behaviour, not just gaining a number according to an algorithm because I tweeted a lot about football or something similarly irrelevant to my day job. These elements cannot be factored into online influence metrics, which rely on a user’s personal Twitter or Facebook activity.

Social media influence metrics do have some value

I’m not totally dissing social media influence metrics, they do have some value as part of the wider perspective and context, but employers should not look at a score and dismiss that individual out of hand. Had I applied for an agency job (rather than return to freelancing) with a Klout score of 33 and come across someone who deemed that a major factor in the selection process, another candidate with potentially less experience could have got the job based purely on an algorithm made by a machine, which itself can be influenced, of course.

In short, as with everything, look at the bigger picture when gauging online influence. Here’s another related post on how to measure online influence.

What do you think about online influence measurement? What should we be looking out for in 2013?

My most read digital marketing blog posts 2012

What did Planet Content’s visitors read most this year?

Having said my post this week on my favourite social media campaign of 2012 was my last for the year, I couldn’t resist one last flit…

Firstly, a big thank you to everyone who’s visited the Planet Content blog this year, I feel honoured to be part of such as great group of digitally-savvy people, and peaked at around 45,000-most read website in the UK, which – for a single freelancer – is better than many/most well-staffed PR agencies. Here’s what Planet Content visitors have been reading in 2012:

1.       100 Content Marketing Statistics 2012-2013: Everybody loves a list. I’m delighted this was top – it took forever to compile!

2.       Influencer Relations Best Practice: This post summarised a training session I ran at the inaugural Content Marketing Show in November on building quality and diverse inbound links through good old PR techniques

3.       BrightonSEO Underlines Role of PR and Social Media in High Ranking: Another one from a training session I ran at BrightonSEO (April 2012) and other general observations from the fast-growing event

BrightonSEO 2012 panel

The panel at BrightonSEO (April)

4.       Extreme Remote Working in the UK Tech Media Scene: This post was just a bit of fun but with a serious edge: how tech writers and PRs Jessica Twentyman, Mark Pinsent and I all manage to take advantage of the Internet to continue working to our fullest potential regardless of location

5.       How a Journalist Can Succeed in PR: In response to a scathing Huffington Post piece about hiring journalists to senior positions in PR agencies, I wrote from my own experience on what skills journalists need to succeed on the ‘Dark Side’ – and what to expect!

6.       BrightonSEO Then and Now: I dug up some old photos of the second ever BrightonSEO (I missed the first due to a holiday clash, alas). Boy, has Kelvin Newman done an awesome job growing the event

7.       Can PRs Meet the Demand for SEO Services?: A question that will become ever more pertinent in 2013. If your PR or marketing team needs SEO training drop me a line

Fail hashtag

Another day, another hashtag #FAIL

8.       Hashtag Best Practice: So many brands make the error; in this case it was a US publication and dear old Waitrose. Why do they do it? I explore hashtag best practice

9.       Why All PRs Need to Understand Google Analytics: Believe it or not, a lot of clients still don’t share their website performance data with the very people (PRs) who are trying to influence it. Crazy!

10.   Use Data and Psychology to Succeed in Social Media: What makes people act the way they do in life and especially online? This was discussed at the Brighton Digital Marketing Festival and was fascinating

Have a great Christmas and New Year and wishing you a prosperous 2013.

Why all PRs need to understand Google Analytics

Not enough brands are willing to share their website performance data with their external PR teams, according to the results of a survey I ran and wrote up for Brand Republic’s Wallblog this week. But this is only half the issue, as I go around the UK and Europe training PR agencies on social media best practice and SEO, I find that often only one or two people per agency have even tested Google Analytics, arguably the most easily available website performance tool.

Google Analytics dashboard

The Google Analytics dashboard

Let’s be clear: If you don’t know how visitors are landing on your (or your client’s) site, how they’re finding them, which keywords they used to land there, how long they stayed, what content they interacted, where they clicked through from and other core behavioural statistics, then you’re sailing blind. Any PR professional whether in-house or agency side who doesn’t understand Google Analytics or the website performance tool for their/their client’s site cannot do their job as effectively as they should.

The benefits of Google Analytics for PR

I found that of the 50 senior UK tech PR professionals that I quizzed, 100 per cent agreed that clients should share website performance data, but that only a third currently made it their policy to ask clients for this data.

Exactly half of respondents disclosed that the “minority” of their client base does indeed share their website performance data with them, with just under a third (28 per cent) saying that the “majority” of clients did. A fifth of respondents still do not have access to any of their clients’ website performance data.

There are a number of benefits for clients sharing access to website performance data:

  • Online PR is measurable: Google Analytics and other website analysis tools offer hard data which helps PRs justify their fee. 90 per cent of my research respondents said measurement was their key driver behind wanting access to clients’ website performance data
  • Assessing/reviewing content: With  website data, PRs can review how content is – or isn’t – performing and amend content strategies accordingly
  • Hone target media: What sites are referring traffic to your clients’ site? Who aren’t, almost as importantly, so PRs can better hone their media and blogger targeting
  • Keywords: What terms are people landing on the site with? What keywords/terms aren’t performing and how and how can you change that?
  • Visitor behaviour: What do people do when they arrive at the client site? Which pages or posts attract the most interest? PR can assist marketing in making sure the website performs better to achieve business objectives

Thanks to all who took part in the survey and, to the respondent who said the survey was “silly”, I’m glad they have the privilege of clients who willingly share their data, because many still do not.

Social media: aren’t we all self-taught?

I spotted this post which I thought a little self-serving: a survey from a social media training company found that 65 per cent of marketers running social media campaigns are self-taught. To a certain degree aren’t we all learning as we go? When I evolved my PR career into a digital media career in the mid-2000s there were only a few people to learn from via their blog posts. Twitter didn’t even exist, Facebook didn’t exist, we all learned as we went. There was no social media training.

And even now when there are people out there (like me) who offer social media training there’s still no substitute for trying the platforms out for yourself.

The post reads: “Being an amateur in any arena causes you to make mistakes you shouldn’t.  In social media, that problem is magnified by the fact that you’re making your miscues in front of the whole world.”

I believe all marketers should have their own digital presence to practice on and make any mistakes there before taking those learnings into a work environment so they don’t repeat any errors.

We’re all still learning, even after running global social media campaigns for blue chip household brands I still love listening to other social media specialists’ podcasts, such as Internet Marketing Podcast, Six Pixels of Separation, the Digital Marketing Podcast and the invaluable daily email from Social Media Examiner, plus untold blogs from marketers at the coal face of digital marketing.  The industry moves so fast we have to be disciplined and learn both from others and from our own experimenting.

Social media expert or social media commentator?

We’re three years on from that Social Media Guru video, but there are probably still a lot of “experts” out there charging for social media services or social media training who don’t have hands-on experience. Before opting for external social media training, which every company and PR agency could benefit from, you should check that the trainer actually has experience either in-agency or in-house and can therefore understand the multi-party dynamics of an integrated social media campaign. They must also have proven expertise in SEO. Everyone seems to say they understand SEO, but very few really do.

Social media: we’re all learning, but there are plenty of mistakes and best practice case studies out there which we could all benefit from. Where do you stand on this issue?

Brands should tailor social media strategies [study]

It’s a hackneyed expression to say that one size doesn’t fit all with social media, but I just ran a study of 1,000 consumers which suggests that brands need to hone their tailored approach right down to a granular level. Not just gender (everyone knows women are far more engaged on social channels – LinkedIn aside, apparently – than men), but they should also consider age, demographic and even the level of education among their audience, which could of course be quite wide-ranging.

I was given a free trial on the new self-service online survey provider Usurv and got my results within three hours, and the stats were fascinating.

Gender and social media

The study unveiled that women are twice as likely as men to refer to their social network contacts, especially Facebook friends, when making purchasing decisions. The recent comScore/Facebook The Power of Like Europe report reaffirmed that women are far more active on Facebook, but my study found that men and women tend to get their purchase decision-making information from different sources.

After online publications, advice and recommendations from Facebook friends is the second most influential factor in the purchasing decision making process, with women (45.5 per cent) more likely (28.5 per cent) than men to refer to friends for consumer advice.

Men (24 per cent) are more likely to refer to YouTube than women (15 per cent). Men (46 per cent) are also more likely to refer to online publications (41 per cent) to get the information they need. This indicates that brands that target men will need to focus on search engine optimisation (SEO), great online content and PR to get their message to a male audience.

Interestingly, neither gender – especially as they aged – was particularly drawn by brand freebies or incentives. Brands whose audience is specifically gender-oriented should tailor their approach accordingly. I’ve seen first-hand how, for the same brand, engagement rates on Facebook can differ wildly between genders. (Continues after graphic…)

Sources for decision making among consumers (Planet Content/Usurv, July 2012)

Brands’ online content

A major positive for brands is that two-thirds (65 per cent) of consumers said they find brands’ current online content either “useful” or “very useful”.

The influence of independent bloggers in the decision making process may need to be reassessed with just over one in ten (13 per cent) consumers referring to independent blogs. However, this figure is twice that refer to brands’ own blogs for advice in the purchasing process (6.5 per cent).

Interestingly, while consumers don’t tend to read company blogs, 14 per cent of consumers will actually refer to brands’ own Facebook pages. This highlights the importance of consumer-facing brands in particular getting their Facebook strategies right. This reference to brands’ own Facebook properties is highest among 18-29 year olds (27 per cent).

The influence of social networks

Referrals to friends on Facebook decreases as education levels improve. 37 per cent of high school-level educated consumers will refer to Facebook friends for consumer advice, a figure which drops to 27 per cent for degree level and 24.5 per cent for those with higher qualifications. Similarly, referrals to friends decrease as income increases. While brands might not have access to a complete data spec on their audience’s education, they should think about a broad range of Facebook content to please all parties.

What consumers want from brands online

I mentioned that freebies and giveaways were not the key draw for most consumers when it came to making purchasing decisions. A third (32 per cent) instead wants user-generated content – such as reviews or comments – plus factual material (32 per cent).

For brands this means the old adage about transparency on social media becomes even more relevant. They must be open and enable people to comment on their products, engage with them and take on board feedback to make improvements. The conversation is happening whether brands like it or not, so brands need to get involved. Many are, but too many are stuck in the ostrich mindset.

There is more info on a post I wrote on the survey for Brand Republic’s Wallblog, but in short, the key learnings for brands are:

  • Tailor your online content, digital and social media strategy according to demographic (gender, age, education etc.) and platform. The same tactic won’t please all the people all the time
  • Bloggers are important but don’t overplay it. They’re great for links and reviews but online magazines are still way more influential so utilise old school PR outreach
  • Brands’ own blogs are failing to draw in the punters. Why? Are they too sales-oriented? Is there a trust issue? Is the content up to scratch and how’s your outreach strategy performing? These are questions brands should ask
  • People want video. Make some!
  • Gimmicks and giveaways don’t wash. People want informative content and they want the opportunity to talk about brands and with brands

Brand Anarchy: A business book worth reading

Last Monday I was invited to the launch of “Brand Anarchy”, a book about corporate reputation in the era of the Social Web, at the famous Fleet Street hang-out Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. There are a whole raft of books out there about managing reputations online and how brands should engage on social media, but there are a few reasons why Brand Anarchy is more relevant than most.

Firstly, it’s written by two guys who have been not only on both the journalist and PR side of the media fence, but secondly the authors – Stephen Waddington and Steve Earl of Speed Communications – have been at the coal face of social media campaigns and are extremely well connected in the online PR scene.

I’m extremely selective on social media business books. Many are written by passive observers – e.g. journalists – who have never actually run a social media campaign and therefore dealt with the client aspects and audience engagement issues directly. Many others are written by theorists who, again, may have lost touch of the day-to-day minutiae of social media campaign management. That’s why reading books about social media best practice written by agency owners or campaign managers are the most relevant.

The book is very much a handbook. The main premise being that brands have never truly owned their reputations, less so now than ever, so what can they actually do about it?

I quizzed co-author Steve Earl for an upcoming feature I’m writing on the book for New Media Knowledge about why – despite us being in 2012 and this subject of brands failing to get to grips with social media not being a new one – it is still relevant.

“Brands haven’t had to face this level of scrutiny because while it may have felt uncomfortable at times, the established media largely kept the audience at arm’s length,” he told me. “So communicators have grown comfortable with the process of managing communication rather than having to stand up and be counted more frequently. But it’s good that we’re talking about it, as without that things will never change. What matters now is not the talk, it’s the action.”

Indeed many brands are still trapped in inertia on social media and engagement. Those brands should read Brand Anarchy and act upon their learnings.

PR, SEO and Facebook Timeline: Podcast with Site Visibility

On 12 April at Brighton SEO I’ll be running a workshop on how SEOs can benefit from PR. I preview the workshop, plus talk about Facebook’s timeline update, in this podcast with Kelvin Newman of Site Visibility, the organiser of Brighton SEO.


Social media predictions for 2012

2011 had some impressive highlights for digital media. Most notable for me were the launch of Google Plus and Google’s Panda update, which put the emphasis on quality content, and video once again stole the show with both created virals (e.g. The T-Mobile Royal Wedding) and right place/right time pieces (e.g. Fenton) taking centre stage.

So what will 2012 bring?

A recent joint survey from Booz Allen and Buddy Media found that almost two thirds (57 per cent) of businesses surveyed will up their social media spend in 2012, while 38 percent of CEOs say they view social media as a high priority.

I’ll say a few obvious things up front: tumblr will continue to grow in numbers and bloggers will continue to become more important for brands, although they should always properly verify the authority of those bloggers to derive true value from building relations with them. Bloggers know what cards they hold.

I predict that in 2012 the smart PR firms will continue to encroach on the territory currently occupied mostly by search marketing firms and offer optimised content services to clients. This is something which I know search marketers fear – PR controlling SEO (search engine optimisation) – possibly because they could do it better.

Video will continue to be the key content pull. Text and photos are good, but online video improves sales. Fact. It’s not even expensive to create and seed video any more, plus video is great for SEO, so why aren’t more brands – particularly those whose products need more explanation – using video more?

Geotargeting will continue to slowly pick up but better offers are required if brands expect to get significant value from Foursquare and the like.

People will continue to disagree over how to measure ‘influence’. Klout serves a purpose but often surprises users on what subjects it claims they are influential on, plus some of us are too busy actually DOING strategic social media campaigns that we don’t have time to piss about on Twitter, thus not helping our own ‘influencer’ status, however much real change we’re affecting to our online communities and beyond. Rant over.

Quora's traffic 2010-11 ( site Quora still fails to excite me and, judging by its traffic (see graph, source this year it has stabilised and found its niche.

My big question for 2012 is whether Facebook finally reaches its tipping point. With all its changes and uncertainty over privacy, plus older adopters appearing to drift away or at least use it less, could there be a gradual migration towards the more segregated world of Google Plus? Time will tell.

What are your predictions for 2012?


Blogger relations best practice: Reality bites

I was reading PR man Phil Szomszor’s blog recently on how PRs are apparently neglecting bloggers as part of their media outreach and got thinking about some recent learnings of my own. Phil lead with the very positive headline “92% of PRs use Twitter to find bloggers for outreach”, while my cynical eye was drawn towards the evidence that suggested a third of PRs (33 per cent) said they “rarely” contact bloggers and 15 per cent said they are “never” in touch with the blogging community.

Firstly, I guess we need to establish WHY brands should engage with bloggers. Let’s face it, some are genuinely well-read in their field – Pete Brown in beer, or What I Wore Today in fashion, for example – but then again the great majority of blogs are barely read at all, so why bother engaging them? Well, you don’t. Simple answer. Identify those that matter and target them, but keep an eye on the others so see if they start evolving and building momentum. Those with real reach give you both an audience and the potential for a strong link back to your website.

As a blogger myself – I launched a beer blog and real ale reviews site this spring called The Guest Ale – I am seeing first hand which breweries and PR teams are targeting bloggers and responding/retweeting my reviews of their beer and those which aren’t. Naturally, I’m more inclined towards trying out the beers of those that DO assist over those that don’t.

Some bloggers, while enjoying a small but targeted audience, when put collectively can create a very vocal block, such as the mummy blogger community in the UK, something I posted about recently when I attended Cybermummy.

How to target bloggers

Bloggers are often amateurs, coming from the Latin verb amare – to love, so they have far more free reign to write about something that they’re passionate about and are potentially more trusted by the general public as a result. I was disturbed by Szomszor’s finding that 53 per cent of PRs send bloggers press releases – that kind of impersonal touch DOES NOT WORK.

Really target your pitch and then approach your blogger by email or Twitter. A blogger will typically not welcome a phone call. Prepare as you would for a journalist – is there anything they’ve written on recently that you could segue into your pitch? Why would that blogger’s audience be interested? What have you got to offer? Really personalise it – more than you would for a journalist.

You only have one chance to make a good first impression, so make the blogger feel special. So don’t spam them with press releases – you’re likely get blocked; be transparent; don’t try to bribe them; offer to guest blog – some bloggers love free content; if you’re focused on a particular geographical location, why not organise an event just for bloggers?

How to identify bloggers that matter

How do you identify those key bloggers in your sphere? Check out free blog listing sites such Wikio, Technorati or Google Blog Search, then double check their traffic rates on sites such as Compete or Alexa to see how many visitors they’re getting or how their site ranks globally. Paid-for services include CisionPoint or Gorkana and will come with most of the information you need already.

Check the site out, look at the about page, follow their Twitter feed, really clue yourself up on them, their likes and pet hates before you pitch to them.

Whatever you do, don’t get into a spat – especially a public one – with a blogger. They’re a tight-knit group so your brand or agency could suffer as a result. Bloggers can be great advocates for your brand, so have that in mind and at the core of everything you do with blogger relations. Play the long game. They might be a blogger today, they could be a journalist tomorrow.

What has your experience been when approaching bloggers? What’s worked – and failed – for you?

Next Page »