Category Archives: Social Media Marketing

Will future PR execs need to be data-scientists?

The Big Data hype is finally at an end, according to analyst firm Gartner, which recently announced that the term has been dropped from its 2015 technology hype cycle. This means that the idea is no longer considered new and shiny, but is now just another part of the general technological landscape.

What does this mean for the PR industry? We’ve been talking about Big Data for a few years now, but it seems as though we’re still not entirely sure about how it fits into what we do. Any significantly sized business will generate a huge amount of data from across its various operations, and the task of finding actionable intelligence hidden inside it all is not to be underestimated.

Some companies are leading the way in showing what value Big Data can deliver, as Sophie Warnes, a data scientist at H+K Strategies explains: “Companies like Amazon and Netflix use data science on a daily basis. They have algorithms to determine whether you’re going to want to buy something, or what films and TV shows you might want to watch next. Giving people brilliant recommendations like this will build affinity and customer loyalty. That’s the kind of insight that could only be brought into those companies by data scientists, and as brands wise up to this, it make sense for PR agencies to pre-empt that need and start offering data science and insights as an additional service for clients.”

So is it reasonable to expect all PR people to add Data Science to their skillset? I don’t think so. Larger businesses and agencies are already investing in specialist resources, building teams that are focused on data science, which demonstrates a growing understanding that it really needs to be treated as a separate skillset.

PR consultants are already expected to master a broad selection of skills, and it seems unrealistic to expect everybody to become instant domain-experts every time there’s a new technological development which impacts the industry.

The good news is that Big Data is gradually becoming more and more accessible to a wider audience, not just data scientists. If you follow the tech press you might have noticed a growing number of stories about things like Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning, technologies which have quietly been making huge leaps in recent years.

The result of these developments will be that we move from tools which help us analyse past events, to those which will assist with predicting future outcomes. For example, today’s tools can track what is being said in social media right now, and to analyse historical data to understand how people reacted to previous campaigns or events.

This is currently where data scientists can be invaluable to PR, using tools such as ours to mine for hidden meaning in the oceans of social media data. But a new generation of tools will use AI to automatically make recommendations for different campaign approaches based on the data, spotting patterns and connecting the dots in ways that humans are simply incapable of.

If this sounds like pie-in-the-sky future gazing, it is not. These technologies are already here, and the marketing-tech industry is working hard to build them into its existing platforms. What this means for the PR industry is that data scientists will be able to offer far more certainty and precision when predicting campaign outcomes. It also means that where there is no access to data science skills, the software will be able to do a lot of the hard work, making it easier for all PR consultants to make sense of big data.

Why Periscope is here to stay

Over recent months a couple of live video streaming apps have shot to stardom; Meerkat and Periscope. Initially a lot of the buzz was focused on Meerkat but, out of the blue, Twitter restricted the app’s access to its platform and announced it had bought rival, Periscope, so the shortest format-war in history was over before it had even begun.

Early reactions from the social media echo chamber have been mixed. With any new app that catches the digerati’s attention a certain amount of hype is always to be expected, but plenty of pundits have wondered aloud whether it’s just another flash in the pan. Are consumers really that interested in streaming live video?

I’m on the fence about how consumers will use Periscope, but I think the app has already won over the all-important business audience, and that’s why it’s here to stay.

The way businesses use video content has changed significantly over the past ten years. Cheaper video cameras and editing software have made production more accessible, and sites like YouTube and Vimeo have simplified online streaming. A lot of businesses have embraced this new capability with gusto, using video content for a wide range of marketing activity, as well as other functions such as customer service.

But live streaming video has remained problematic. The technology required to send out a video stream in real-time has been clunky and expensive for a long time and, critically, there’s been no easy way to ensure that you can get your video in front of the right audience.

Periscope solves both of those problems. Creating a live video stream requires only a mobile device and an internet connection, and the integration with Twitter means that reaching an audience of people who are interested in your business is easy. Whether they’re using a mobile device or desktop PC, they can instantly tune into your stream.

Who’s already using Periscope?

I recently spoke about Periscope with Kevin Reed, who edits trade publications Accountancy Age and Financial Director at Incisive Publications. He told me that while a lot of trade media like his would like to make better use of video, tight budgets and lack of in-house video skills makes it difficult. But recently he’s been experimenting with Periscope for a weekly live discussion from his office’s local pub. This informal Friday afternoon chat provides a nice way of recapping the week’s big news, and the video is captured and hosted on YouTube for future playback.

We’re also seeing mainstream consumer media adopting the platform. Absolute Radio’s Christian O’Connell has begun using Periscope to provide video streams of segments from his popular breakfast show. It’s these kind of endorsements that will help a wider consumer audience understand the value of the app – even if they don’t want to share video themselves, people will begin to see it as a channel for receiving good quality free content.

Outside of the media, businesses are already making use of Periscope. The British Museum recently set up a live video tour with historian, Dan Snow, presenting from its Greek art exhibit, and the BBC recently reported on an estate agent using the technology to provide remote property viewings.

In terms of big-brand adoption, it’s still early days, but we’ve already seen Heineken South Africa making use of Periscope as part of its EUFA Champions League sponsorship activity. The opportunities for both consumer and B2B marketing are practically limitless, with the ability to extend the value of all kinds of activity by adding in a low-cost live-video stream to reach a much wider audience.

As a digital specialist who’s been around the block a few times, I tend to be sceptical when people start trumpeting the next big thing in social media because most of the time, it isn’t. I think Periscope is different. There’s a real opportunity here for Twitter to significantly change the way people, and brands, use live video and, with tighter integration, to potentially transform the future of Twitter itself.

(Image credit: Steve Hanna)


Cargo-cult brands in social media marketing

During WWI, islanders living in undeveloped communities in the Pacific were plunged into the middle of a conflict between advanced, industrialised nations they had never previously encountered. They saw troops arriving on their islands and, as the newcomers established their military bases, supplies were brought by air and sea.

When the war was over and the troops left, the supplies stopped, so the islanders, believing the goods were gifts from the gods, tried to emulate what they saw as the rituals the soldiers had used to win the god’s favours. They dressed in mock military uniforms, made fake rifles, marched around, built replicas of air-base control towers and airplanes, waved landing signals, all in the futile hope that this would encourage the gods to start sending supplies again.

These “cargo cults” have mostly faded away (although one still exists that worships Prince Philip as a living god) but we see a lot of the same thinking in the way some brands approach social media.

People read social media case studies, or blog posts in the digital marketing press, or they just look at what other brands are doing, and assume that if they just blindly copy what others are doing they will enjoy the same success. Some examples of this kind of thinking are:

  • “I read an article that says 3pm is the best time to post tweets for maximum engagement”
  • “All of our blog posts should be listicles, it works really well for [BRAND THAT IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT TO OURS]”
  • “We need lots of infographics and visual content – I read that’s what people share the most”

Of course, all of these ideas completely ignore context. 3pm might well be the best time to post tweets for the brand that wrote the case study, but that’s likely to be very specific to that brand’s audience and market. There’s absolutely no reason to think that the same thing will work for your brand, you need to experiment and find out what works best for your own audience.

Equally, because a specific type of content has performed well for one company, you simply cannot assume that you’ll benefit from doing the same thing.

The problem is that social and digital media is complex – much more complex than a lot of marketers are used to dealing with. To get it right, you need to invest time and resources into research and experimentation, and you need to have the stomach for a lot of trial and error, which in turn means having to get your head around tricky stuff like analytics. When you’re looking at a bunch of platforms, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, blogs and whatever else, there’s a lot of different stuff to learn, and you need to work out how it all fits together.

It’s no surprise that a lot of businesses take the easy way out. Instead of treating case studies as sources of inspiration, they misinterpret them as best-practice bibles to be copied precisely in order to ensure digital success. Obviously, this path leads to failure for a lot of businesses. Like the Pacific island cargo cults, they’re left scratching their heads and wondering why, when they did all the right things, they didn’t get the results they expected.

The truth is that in social media you simply can’t rely on anybody else to show you how it’s done. You can take inspiration from what others have achieved and certainly try out their ideas, but the only way to make it work for your business is to keep experimenting and learning until you figure out the best approach for your own unique situation.

The ultimate guide to editing Wikipedia pages for PR execs

PR editing wikipediaDon’t do it, don’t do it, for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t do it.

Wikipedia is not a place for  brand messages, it is a fact-based encyclopedia. PR has no business messing with it.

But, I just wanted to…

No! No! No! What the hell is wrong with you? Just leave Wikipedia alone – write a blog post or something instead.


NO! Wikipedia has very clear guidelines about this – as a PR person you have a conflict of interest, you are not allowed to edit pages on behalf of a client. Even if you’re smart enough to do it in secret and mask your IP behind a proxy server (which, let’s face it, you’re not) you still shouldn’t be doing it – there are plenty of channels for you to pimp your client’s brand, but Wikipedia is not one of them.

Not even if…

Look, the rules are very clear. You are allowed to correct factual errors and to provide links to reputable independent sources which support the facts presented in a page, but let’s be honest, you can’t do that because you’ve been indoctrinated into the PR machine and it’s now impossible for you to objectively write anything that isn’t on message,  you just can’t help putting a spin on things.


Yes, oh. Your best bet, if you really, really truly believe that you’ve got an objective, salient fact that will genuinely improve the quality of a particular Wikipedia page (and we all know you haven’t, but let’s just roll with this for the sake of argument) is to create an account and add a comment to the ‘talk page’ of the article – be transparent about who you are and lay the facts out with supporting citations. If the Wikipedia things you have a good point, an independent editor will eventually update the page. But probably not, because you’re really just looking for an excuse to add a link to that positive piece of coverage you got.


Why do people follow brands in social media? INFOGRAPHIC

Following our earlier research into what consumers dislike about brands in social media, we wanted to find out what people actually want from a brand’s social media channels. We asked 1,000 UK consumers a simple question: What would be most likely to make you want to follow a brand in a social media channel like Facebook or Twitter? We’ve compiled the survey results into the infographic below:

An infographic showing survey results on why people follow brands in social media

Unsurprisingly in these austere times, most people chose Special Offers & Discounts as the number one thing that would make them follow a brand on Facebook or Twitter, with Funny or Entertaining Posts/Content coming in second. Interestingly, women were significantly more likely to choose discounts, and they were also marginally more keen on entertaining content than men. This became much more pronounced when we focused in on the over 55 age group – women in that category were far more likely to want discounts and special offers than any of the other gender/age groups.

It was also noteworthy that young women in the 18-24 group had noticeably different priorities than all of the other groups – they were the only ones who picked funny and entertaining content as their most important incentive to follow a brand, whereas everybody else chose discounts. Girls really do just wanna have fun, at least when it comes to social media, it seems.

What surprised us is that the ability to give brands feedback consistently came out as the least important for all demographic groups. So often in social media we talk about how important it is for brands to use these channels to listen to their customers and engage them in dialogue, but this survey suggests that perhaps consumers aren’t quite as interested in talking to brands as we thought. Or, at least, they certainly don’t rate it as important as getting discounts and being entertained.


The ultimate B2B social media guide

The case for social media marketing to consumers is relatively easy to make, but B2B marketers still grapple with the problem of how to justify investing resources in these channels. In this article I’ll outline why and how B2B brands should be using social media for marketing, and I promise I’ll avoid techno-babble and agency guff as much as possible to get right to the important points.

That said, this is still quite a lengthy article, because there’s a lot to cover. You can download an easy to print PDF version of this article from here, and if you’d prefer to jump straight to the practical stuff, you should skip to section five using the contents menu below.

Continue reading The ultimate B2B social media guide

Is Southern Rail getting Twitter wrong?

southern rail twitterI do not envy the poor souls who man Southern Rail’s Twitter account. The company runs commuter rail services in and out of London and, as a lot of regular passengers will tell you, the service is not without its problems.

You can imagine the situation, tens of thousands of frustrated commuters are running late for work, can’t get home on time, or are crammed into hot, overcrowded carriages, so a lot of them will turn to Twitter to vent their anger. (Personally I owe Southern Rail a debt of gratitude because I found the service so unreliable that I chose to cycle for two hours a day rather than using the train, and I’ve never been fitter.)

Southern Rail uses Twitter to provide service updates and respond to customer enquiries, which it does in a chatty, informal tone. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t really see much wrong with this, but the problem is that the account has to field a high volume of negative comments from people who are, quite understandably, extremely annoyed about the quality of service they receive. I can understand how people might find the chirpy tone of the account somewhat grating in the face of all that.

Sometimes the discussions get a little heated, as in this example from this morning, and it feels like Southern Rail’s approach isn’t really conducive to making customers feel better about the situation. The tone doesn’t really seem right for dealing with what is essentially a comms crisis, and the frequently poor use of English only exacerbates things.

Widespread dissatisfaction with the company and its Twitter account has been given voice through a popular parody account, which appears right next to the official account in the search engine rankings.

So what’s the answer? I think to a certain extent Southern Rail’s comms team is doing the best it can under the circumstances (i.e. they have to be the public face of an essential service that a lot of people feel is failing them) and at least they do take the trouble to engage frustrated customers on Twitter. But when you’re managing a Twitter account that’s almost permanently operating in crisis comms mode, I think it’s probably worth thinking carefully about the tone and type of language you use.  You have to earn your customers’ goodwill before you can play matey with them.

What customers hate about your social media channels

We recently carried out some research into what brand behaviour annoys people in social media. Surveying a total of 1,003 UK consumers, we asked what would be most likely to damage their opinion of a brand in social media.

Most people flagged up poor spelling and grammar as their number one turn-off. This is interesting because so often in social media we see brands being much less formal and even using heavily abbreviated txt speak, perhaps in an effort to appear more laid back and human. The survey findings show that this could actually be counter-productive and is more likely to annoy people than win their trust.

Broadly speaking the results were very similar across all age groups and between the different genders, with one notable exception. When we drilled down into the 18-24 age group, we found their biggest complaint was brands not updating frequently enough, which happened to be at the very bottom of the list for all other age groups.

Here’s an infographic we made to illustrate the survey results.