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Have We Really Learned Absolutely Nothing From Kenneth Cole?

Robin Williams

Robin Williams’ death on Tuesday came as a massive shock. The circumstances of his passing jars hugely with the cheerful, silly and hilarious character we knew and loved from the big screen, from television interviews and from the days when he did stand up comedy.

His 1986 ‘Live at the Met’ performance, which I discovered in my mid teens, remains one of the most brilliant pieces of live comedy I’ve ever seen.

His suicide is deeply saddening.

I touched very briefly on my own struggle with depression in a very recent post, and so, for me personally, Mr Williams’ death is particularly poignant. Which makes some of the things I’ve seen in the last day or two all the more nauseating.

I’m going to leave aside the downright disgusting trolling that caused Mr Williams’ daughter Zelda to quit Twitter and Instagram, as that’s been covered elsewhere. As has the shocking ignorance displayed by others across the media and the web. But what perhaps hasn’t been addressed is the downright opportunism from supposedly intelligent, professional individuals.

On LinkedIn on Tuesday, I saw a blog post entitled: “5 Tips Robin Williams Taught Us About Career Transitioning”.

WTF?! Career transitioning? Are you kidding me?

The author runs an HR and coaching consultancy. The post started in a similar way to this one, expressing shock and sadness at Mr Williams’ passing. But it quickly took a wild left turn into douchebag territory when it listed out five of his most well-known films and proceeded to educate us about what we could learn about our careers from them.

Seriously?!

At best you could argue that it was misguided. But perhaps the worst thing was that, despite a tirade of negative comments, sarcasm and criticism, the author continued to defend the post as a “tribute” and “part of his grieving process” before it was eventually removed many hours later.

A tribute?! Write about Mr Williams’ films for what they were by all means. But don’t attempt to draw some spurious line between that work and your own when it clearly has nothing whatsoever to do with it.

And then yesterday, PR firm Edelman, which you may think would know better, published a blog post entitled ‘Carpe Diem – Seize the Day’.

It states that “we must recognize [the loss of Mr Williams] as an opportunity to engage in a national conversation”. This cold, insensitive and soulless piece of opportunism goes on to explain how “his death created a carpe diem moment for mental health professionals” and how to exploit the news agenda for your own benefit. It advises to watch the news carefully over the coming days to analyse which mental health professionals “had a plan in place”.

I’m not saying PR people haven’t or shouldn’t offer spokespeople and advice on the topic of mental health at this time. Of course they should. But to blog about it in such a tone just one day after Mr Williams died? Sickening. It makes me feel ashamed to work in the PR industry.

The whole thing puts me in mind of fashion designer Kenneth Cole.

In 2011, he tweeted what has become infamous in social media circles and beyond when he suggested that the unrest in Cairo that year was caused by his Spring collection. He even used the #cairo hashtag, which was being used to discuss the Egyptian protests.

kenneth cole cairo tweet

The backlash was immense.

That tweet is replayed over and over again as perhaps the biggest example of how not to newsjack a trending topic. (For the record, Cole has since published two similar tweets that seemed to make light of war, so he either learned nothing from that debacle or simple doesn’t care. Either way, he’s an idiot.)

And yet the message has not apparently sunk in with the ignorant, click-hungry leeches who use tragic news to publish tweets, status updates and blog posts to drive traffic to their social properties.

For anyone who’s ever considered attempting to newsjack bad news, there’s a very simple message here: don’t do it. Ever.

UPDATE 15/08/14: Edelman has now tweeted an apology for its post, saying: “We apologize to anyone we offended with our post. We did not intend to capitalize on the passing of a great actor who contributed so much.”

Posted by Paul Sutton

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A Lesson in Storytelling. From Pink Floyd.

thewallAbout ten years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression.

How I came to be diagnosed is another story for another time, but suffice to say it was a pretty dark time in my life and, as so many who suffer from depression do, I sunk into myself. I sought out solitude and drew a veil over the outside world so that I could carry out my day-to-day life, uphold relationships and build a career without anyone realising anything was wrong with me.

It didn’t really work. Inside me there was a vacuum.

Around the same time as this, I listened to The Wall by Pink Floyd for the first time. It spoke to me. It struck a huge chord and offered me solace when I needed it.

And it has stuck with me ever since as perhaps the greatest example of musical storytelling I’ve ever heard.

For those who’ve not heard it, The Wall tells Roger Waters’ semi-autobiographical story of a character called Pink whose father dies when he is a small boy and who, growing up, is oppressed by his overprotective mother and bullied at school by power-crazed teachers.

He eventually becomes a rock star who is plagued by issues of abandonment and isolation, and for whom the superficiality of stardom is suffocating.

Pink builds an emotional wall to protect himself, further isolating him from the world. Drug use and violent outbursts soon follow as he starts to unravel, and the breakdown of his marriage is the final brick that completes his wall, causing a breakdown and complete isolation from human contact.

Behind the wall he spirals towards insanity, eventually placing himself on trial with an imaginary judge who orders him to ‘tear down the wall’.

As someone in the midst of depression, you can see how a story of complete isolation resonated with me at the time.

And therein lies the key to great storytelling.

Focus

The lyrics of The Wall tell the story of Pink concisely and without superfluous detail. They give the listener a flavour of his life and focus on the key points without meaningless detail. A lot of organisations could learn a big lesson from that. To think that anyone cares about the details of your brand’s story as much as you do is folly.

Authenticity

The Wall is also about human frailty. It’s real. What it isn’t is a story that presents an idealistic and polished version of the self. There’s no pretence. Take note, brands: being authentic is about having the courage to be honest and unafraid to admit your failures as well as talking about your successes.

Emotion

And finally, the great thing about The Wall is the way the story evolves. There are twists, surprises and turning points. Pink’s journey into near insanity and the way he tries to deal with this and come out of it take the listener through a variety of emotions. A brand’s story must move us if it is to resonate. It must be much more than simply an ‘anecdote’.

Ironically, I don’t listen to The Wall very often now as I don’t get the time to appreciate its full 80 minutes without the interruption of one or more of my three kids. But it remains a record that has as much meaning to me as Definitely Maybe or The Bends or any of the others that remind me of my prime as a young man.

And that is solely because of powerful storytelling. Marketing, PR and digital communications professionals: listen and learn.

 

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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When Blogger Outreach Gets Weird. Really Weird.

picard facepalmLike most bloggers, I get approached pretty much daily from people interested in having their content featured on my blog. Sometimes the approaches are short and pleasant, with a few details of the potential guest blogger and maybe a couple of ideas for posts.

It’s obvious they’re genuinely looking for somewhere for their writing to be featured, either to boost their personal profile or to promote their own blog. Those I don’t mind so much (although, just for the record, I very rarely feature guest posts from people I haven’t invited).

But sometimes the approaches are poor. I mean really, really poor. They’re transparent SEO attempts ‘disguised’ as offers of ‘help’ for me.

And just occasionally they’re so bad that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

A few weeks back, I received perhaps the worst example of blogger outreach I have ever seen. I’m just guessing here, but I’m not sure English was his first language.

ebin1

It was so, so bad that in a fit of sado-masochism, I was compelled to know more about this ‘unique and quality’ content of which he spoke.

ebin2

I did think that my (obviously?) mocking tone might put him off. But no. To my surprise and/or delight (?) I got a reply a few days later.

ebin3

This was clearly too good an opportunity to miss. I was becoming morbidly curious.

ebin4

At this point, I did think about calling it quits. But that link – the one I’ve blurred out – is for a copywriting company. Let me say that again: a copywriting company. Why would any self-respecting business appoint a company (or person) like this to carry out blogger outreach on its behalf? Let alone a copywriting company! Huh?!

ebin5

I have to admit, I nearly wet myself when I read that dear old Ebin works as ‘a writer’ for this copywriting company. I wanted to have some fun. Which is maybe why I wrote this back to him:

ebin6

I really wasn’t expecting a reply to that. But lo and behold…he must REALLY have wanted that backlink!

ebin7

We clearly had a bond. Something that only two men separated by the Atlantic Ocean can feel for one another. Something truly special. Although I did now feel a bit under pressure about the ‘great support’ he was expecting from me. I decided to explore these feelings that Ebin and I shared a little more.

ebin8

Hmmm. Not a very committed response from someone with whom I had struck up a true friendship. Maybe he just needed to check dates or something?

ebin9

And that was the last I ever heard from Ebin Mathew. He never replied and I never did get the unique and quality content to keep my blog well that he had guaranteed. And I never did get to visit him.

Oh, well. Live and learn. Maybe I’ll have more luck with the next one.

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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5 Corporate Facebook Lessons from an Indie Band [Case Study]

embrace

This week, rock band Embrace’s eponymously-titled new album entered the UK chart at number five. Which is quite an accomplishment for a band that sunk without trace eight years ago and whose last album, ‘This New Day’ released in 2006, really wasn’t that great.

So what on earth does this have to do with PR, communications and social media?

I’ve been following the band’s activity on Facebook for the last few months in the lead up to the new record, and it’s no surprise to me that it should chart so high given the way the band has gone about whipping its fans into a frenzy of anticipation. Me included, I should add.

They may not know it, but Danny McNamara and the boys could teach a lot of brands a thing or two about the power of social communications and advocacy. Here’s how they did it…

The Set Up

It all started back in September 2013 when the Embrace Facebook page sprung into life with a sudden announcement that attracted a lot of attention. Note the number of shares.

embrace september

This set the scene for a seven month-long campaign that drew fans in and generated excitement and expectation the like of which I’ve rarely seen.

Embrace fans have always been pretty ardent and hardcore in their support of the band. Of all of the bands I’ve seen live, Embrace were rivaled perhaps only by Oasis in the fervour at their gigs. Embrace fans LOVE Embrace.

What the band has done so well, whether or not they’re aware of it, is to leverage that zeal through Facebook to generate hundreds (thousands?) of ambassadors who went out to spread the word about their comeback.

Following that initial status update, a series of mysterious secret gigs were teased, announced and reviewed with intriguing imagery over the course of the next three months. Boiler suits, radioactive iconography, graffiti and night vision photography hinted at something new and exciting from a band that, despite having become a little stale and predictable, was much missed.

danny mcnamara

boiler suits

hands

And then, come January this year, the band stepped things up a gear by posting a series of teasing and unexplained tally mark images over consecutive days, culminating with the announcement that all Embrace fans were hoping for.

album announce

The Reveal

13th January was a big day for Embrace. And the band used Facebook to great effect. There followed in quick succession the announcement of a new EP, a video for the ‘Refugees’ single, more secret gigs, and a series of radio interviews. All generating great social engagement to spread news far and wide.

By the start of February and despite there being three months until the release of the new album, Facebook fans were already in a frenzy of anticipation.

At this point you may think Embrace had peaked too early. Community managers everywhere will know that Facebook fans are fickle, and that maintaining a high level of expectation and engagement over twelve weeks is a big challenge. Especially in an age of Facebook Zero.

But thanks to daily updates from the band themselves (no community managers or PR people in obvious sight, by the way) with plenty of exclusive content from gigs, teasers of what was to come and eye-catching imagery, interest was not only maintained but built. Embrace were back.

teaser

gig

album

box sets

The Conversion

On 28th April, the big day arrived. By this point the expectation of the new album was almost palpable. The secret gigs and the singles ‘Refugees’ and ‘Follow You Home’ had whetted fans’ appetites for the new material, but it didn’t stop there.

launch

The following week saw the band up the activity again, engaging fans with multiple updates per day, asking for feedback and comments about the new record, and questioning people about how they’d been spreading the word (thus encouraging them further to do so). All of which was creating overwhelmingly positive flows of information into fans’ Facebook news feeds.

Above anything else, the tone of this activity was spot on. As I’ve already made reference to, the band run this page themselves. There’s little evidence of any pre-planned marketing here; no social media guru guiding them; no overt selling. They sign off their updates personally. They come across as genuinely grateful, warm, authentic and likeable guys. And, as Embrace might say, ‘The Good Will Out’.

personal

The result? An album from a band that could very easily have lost all relevance after an eight year hiatus that sold enough copies in its first week of release to make the top five.

The Lessons

It may, at first glance, seem like a stretch to offer Embrace up as an example of great social communications. After all, Embrace is a band. If you’re reading this you’re probably working for a company or a product or a comms agency. But look beyond the topic and you can learn a lot. The same principles apply. In short:

  • Draw your fans in with activity that piques their interest. Be original, surprising, eye-catching and attention-grabbing.
  • Offer exclusive content they won’t find elsewhere.
  • If you’ve got something to announce, do it with style. Tease and build anticipation.
  • Treat your fans like people. Be personal and make them feel special. They’re not robots and neither should you be.
  • Create reach by encouraging genuine, meaningful engagement.

Adendum: The Album

As an aside (although this isn’t a review post), ‘Embrace’ is a great comeback album. The band has updated its sound to something distinctly 2014 that is still immediately recognisably Embrace. Each of the ten tracks on the record has something to offer, whether it’s a driving baseline, Joshua Tree-era U2-esque guitars, Danny’s soaring vocals, prominent synth riffs or surprising changes of direction mid-track. It’s an interesting listen, and it’s a very welcome return for a very well-loved band. Go buy it!

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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So You’re a Social Media Junkie, Are You?

david brent

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” Bertrand Russell

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been interviewing graduate-level candidates for potential roles at BOTTLE. And pretty much without exception, each of them has announced excitedly that they’re crazy about social media.

They love it! It was the thing on their course that really fired them! They simply can’t get enough of it!

Only, when I question them about how this overwhelming passion manifests itself, it becomes apparent that it means little more to them than spending insane amounts of time farting around on Facebook and Instagram.

They struggle to name social media campaigns that have impressed them. They can’t really tell me about brands they think are utilising social media particularly well or creatively. They don’t read any social communications blogs.

There’s just nothing there beyond over-confident bluster. And yet that unwavering belief that their very veins have social media marketing blood coursing through them is unaffected.

I don’t mean to sound nasty. In an interview situation it pays to show enthusiasm and it’s important to demonstrate that you’re interested in a potential employer’s core business. I get it.

But for God’s sake, back it up with something. Anything!

Unskilled & Unaware

The process has put me in mind of a psychological phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This is a theory which states that inept individuals are under the mistaken belief that their level of aptitude is much higher than it actually is. Their lack of awareness of their own incompetence robs them of the ability to be able to critically analyse their performance, leading to them significantly overestimating themselves.

Or, to put it more harshly, they’re too stupid to realise that they’re stupid.

dunning kruger effect

I’d have a far greater opinion of someone I interviewed who said that they have a genuine interest in social communications but who recognised that they wanted or needed to learn, than someone who’s a self-proclaimed “social media junkie”.

Imposter Syndrome

Personally speaking, I’m learning all the time. I read a LOT of articles and blog posts on the broad topic of digital marketing every single day. I hate being called an ‘expert’ by my colleagues. I’m not an expert. Not by a long shot. I’m just prepared to work at doing my job well and understanding my industry as best I can.

I’ve written before about constantly doubting my own ability and feeling like I’m about to be ‘found out’. As it turns out, this is what’s referred to as ‘Imposter Syndrome’, whereby competent people tend to underestimate their ability compared to others.

It’s hypothesised that actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others must have an equivalent understanding. And it’s the inverse of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Self-esteem is important. A strong ego and confidence in oneself enables us to produce our best work. There’s a Woody Allen joke about a guy who has such low self-esteem that when he is drowning, another person’s life flashes before his eyes.

But there’s a fine line in an interview situation between demonstrating confidence and enthusiasm and making unsubstantiated claims about your love for an industry, a job role or a topic. After all, the last impression you want to make is that you’re cocky or ignorant to your own limitations.

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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[ebook] Addressing Facebook Zero: a new era for Facebook marketing

Addressing Facebook Zero

Over the last couple of months there has been an increasing sense of frustration and, recently, desperation with Facebook as a marketing channel. It’s long been understood by Page administrators that they could expect to reach a maximum of only 16% of their fans with any given status update. But Facebook threw the cat among the pigeons in December 2013 when it confirmed a “leaked” update to the newsfeed algorithm resulting in that figure falling dramatically to between 3% and 6%.

In the last couple of weeks, rumours have started to circulate that a further update will reduce organic reach still further to just 1% to 2% in the very near future.

Facebook Zero, the point where organic reach is at, or very close to nil, is imminent.

This has spawned a million and one blog posts in the last couple of months with titles such as ‘9 Ways to Game the Facebook News Feed’ and ’15 Free Facebook Marketing Tips’ that promise much but deliver very little. So rather than simply adding my own perspective, I decided to ask a number of highly respected Facebook marketers and community managers within my network for their opinions on the future of Facebook marketing. I also asked them to share their own experiences and thoughts on tackling dwindling organic reach.

The result is the ebook you see before you.

Addressing Facebook Zero is available on a number of platforms:

Addressing Facebook Zero contains varied viewpoints, perhaps illustrating that there is no simple answer. There is advice on advertising, content generation, analytics and community management, from those advanced in their use of the network on both sides of the Atlantic. Each contributor has provided a unique and valuable outlook, the combination of which makes fascinating reading. I recommend you connect with each of them.

Many thanks to Brian Carter, Emeric Ernoult, Danny Whatmough, Eb Adeyeri, Luke Williams and Alex Pearmain for their input.

The days of free Facebook marketing are over. Facebook Zero, a term coined by Social@Ogilvy, is a reality.

I hope this ebook helps you to make effective long-term decisions about content strategy, audience targeting and advertising strategy to make the most of Facebook going forward.

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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10 Steps to Nailing a Killer Career in PR

public relations

PR is changing. Gone (for the most part) are the days of endless media relations and measurement using AVEs. So far, so obvious.

And so whether you’ve been in the industry for five years or you’re looking for your first role, you need to adapt your skill set and the way you position yourself if you want to forge a successful, long-term career in the industry. When I recruit new people, there are certain things I look for that go way beyond education or previous experience or even attitude. Those things are still important, but they’re balanced by less ‘obvious’ factors.

I was interested in whether my own recruitment preferences are reflected elsewhere. So I asked a friend of mine, Steve Ward from CloudNine Social & Digital Media Talent, what he’s commonly asked for by PR agencies. Below are our combined thoughts on what you must do if you want to be successful in the ‘new world of PR’.

PAUL:

Learn the Basics of SEO and Mobile

The worlds of PR, SEO and digital marketing are colliding more and more with every passing week. Which means that the role of a PR consultant is only going to become increasingly digital in the future. At the moment you can just about get by in PR without understanding SEO or the impact of mobile, but it won’t be like that for much longer. Make an effort to get to grips with how Google works and to understand how to optimise content for the web and for mobile, and you’ll stand out from those who don’t.

Get on Twitter

The news breaks on Twitter. Fact. If you’re still getting your news fix from the TV or (lord forbid) the newspapers, you’re way behind the curve. To be really successful in PR you need more than a simple working knowledge of ‘how to tweet’. If I’m going to hire you I want to be sure that you know how to use Twitter to track topics, brands, conversations and influential people. I want to see that you know how to build a network. And if you’ve already got an engaged network of industry professionals, journalists and bloggers, you’ve got a head start on those who haven’t.

Read, Read, Read

The worlds of PR and social communications move very fast. Developments and campaigns come and go in the blink of an eye, and the only way to keep up with them is to be an avid reader by subscribing to blogs and news sites. If I ask you what your favourite story is from the last couple of weeks and you either can’t tell me or you recite back the Oreo Super Bowl tweet from 2013, I’m not going to be impressed. Although, not as unimpressed as if you don’t even know what the Oreo Super Bowl tweet was…

Get Up-to-Date on your Tech

Given that PR is evolving and social media moves so fast, you have to enable your career as best you can. The good news is that there are plenty of technological solutions to the problems you’re facing in the form of online and mobile apps. For example, feedly is a brilliant RSS reader for blogs; zite and flipboard deliver the latest news straight to your mobile; current.ly tracks trending conversations on Twitter. But there’s other tech you may need to know about in PR. Self-publishing tools such as WordPress, Mynewsdesk and Releas’d (for example) are becoming the way PR is done, so at least being aware of them and what they can do is important.

Write a Blog

When I interview someone and they’ve never written or contributed to a blog, I die a little inside. Blogging illustrates to a potential employer not only that you can write, but also that you can have an opinion on something. It can help to illustrate each of my previous four points: you understand the basics of the web, you can use Twitter to promote yourself, you read enough to be able to write on topical matters, and that you use tech. It can also help you to understand the mindset of the blogosphere, which is something that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Yes it’s challenging, and yes it’s time consuming, and yes it does mean you have to spend your own time reading and researching and writing and tweeting. But running a blog speaks volumes about your attitude and desire to have a killer career in PR.

STEVE:

Research the Employer Well

It’s important to understand the company you are applying to and their style of communication and sector differentials. Mirror their style in your own communications, covering letter and approach. And be sure to be aware of their clients, work, blogs, the type of output they are responsible for and how they measure success. Businesses appreciate greatly the time and attention given to research and knowledge of them.

Connect and Integrate

The journey of applying for a role in the current media age is one the goes beyond the application letter, CV and interview. Good practice is to engage with the company on social media and through their blog, thus demonstrating an interest and relevance to their company. As part of the research process, this helps you to gain a better understanding of who it is you are applying to.

Use LinkedIn Effectively

Despite its many drawbacks, LinkedIn is still the primary zone for a professional profile online. Use it well to demonstrate the depth of your expertise, your experience and the potency of your connections in the industry. It’s a place where you can attach presentations and documents to emphasise your work, projects and skills. Make sure you are a member of groups which are essential to your profession, and demonstrate your integration and learning in the industry goings-on.

Stand Out

Wow. Here’s one. If you are going to be an effective PR professional you need to have something of the X Factor. That doesn’t mean ranting on Twitter like ‘actual’ X Factor winner James Arthur – that’s not really the X Factor! It’s about how prominent, creative and inventive you can be to say: “I’m the one”. It’s something to take a lot of care about: are you on YouTube? Are you a mixer, mover and shaker? Do you make people turn heads with your content, opinion and your personality in online communications? Do you ignite conversation? Stand out PRs in my experience have that X Factor without the exhibitionism (which is very different). You draw people to you, not push them away from you.

Clear and Concise Communication

Writing is a heck of a skill. Make sure your communications in applying for a role are potent, concise and to the point. Demonstrate the quality and efficiency of your writing from point one in the way you write your CV and covering letter. Your CV should be well thought out in content, emphasis and prioritisation of information. The font you use matters and the layout too. And in a covering note, keep it sharp, short and to the point. Don’t waffle about things that make no difference in the decision process; point directly to the redeeming reasons for applying and why you are suited. It’s often your first impression. It’s your press release to your forthcoming employer. Make it count.

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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SEO, PR or Advertising Agency: Which is Best for Social Media?

confusedIf you’re a brand with a social media requirement and you’re looking to hire agency support, you have several options open to you. Pretty much every marketing agency now offers social communications as a service: you could go down the PR route, the advertising route or the SEO route.

But what’s the difference? What can you expect from each of these agency types? And how will the type of agency you select influence the type of social media programme you will implement?

Over the last couple of years I’ve had exposure to the approaches of all three. And they differ significantly not only in their goals and what they deliver, but also in terms of how they bill clients. Here’s what I’ve learned to expect.

SEO Agencies

SEO agencies’ mindset is ultimately to increase a client’s position in Google with the aim of delivering increases in website traffic. They know that Google is trying its best to produce natural search results and bypass the effects of SEO completely, and that with the likes of Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird, it’s making significant inroads into this. So they are naturally turning to more creative digital executions delivered via social networks to create the natural backlinks and social share signals that Google is placing ever increasing emphasis on.

However, in my experience SEO agencies may struggle with the concept of any social media activity that doesn’t positively affect search engine rankings. They view social communications as one or a series of discrete initiatives in owned media, each of which requires a separate approach, a separate creative execution and a separate budget. They tend to bill clients with a small monthly fee topped up by separate projects. So while creative ideas are often good as each project needs to be ‘sold in’ to the client, the executions may be costly or not always quite live up to what is pitched. Blogger relations, for example, can be somewhat clumsy.

Good for: short-term social media campaigns that impact search
Bad for: ongoing results and strategic brand building
Most likely to measure: click-through and backlinks

PR Agencies

PR agencies focus on managing reputations. PR people are experts at creating and maintaining beneficial long-term relationships, so when it comes to social media they are naturally drawn to building online communities and serving those communities with content that engages them on an ongoing basis. They want to see their communities, whether bloggers or on Facebook or Twitter or elsewhere, commenting, liking and sharing their content, and their focus is normally on earned media.

PR agencies take a long-term view of social media, and produce lots of content intended to start conversations. They bill using flat monthly fees based upon an agreed number of hours’ work and you normally sign up for a minimum of six months. The long-term view has benefits in that messages and content are usually devised to reinforce brand positioning over time and repeated exposure, but content may lack the ‘wow’ creativity of SEO agencies or the executional quality of advertising agencies.

Good for: building beneficial, personal online communities that gain repeated exposure to key brand messages over time
Bad for: instant wins and one off creative projects
Most likely to measure: engagement metrics

Disclosure: I work for BOTTLE, a PR and social communications agency

Advertising Agencies

Advertising agencies’ background lies in mass media that sells products and services. Accordingly, they tend to view social media as a one-to-many medium through which to broadcast key brand messages. As such, they are naturally drawn to paid media and are used to coming up with the ‘big idea’, and billing against creative commissions and media spend.

This approach can result in highly creative and extremely well-executed campaigns that may grab big short-term attention. However, it may lack the benefit of ongoing relationship building, with bloggers or social networks viewed as transient and a means to an end rather than as opportunities to create lasting, strategic dialogues.

Good for: the big idea and one-off, high impact campaigns
Bad for: long-term brand building, engagement and community advocacy
Most likely to measure: reach, impressions and fan/follower growth

These summaries should not be viewed as a rule for all agencies, but generally speaking each agency type has its own benefits and drawbacks. It’s important to be aware of the variations in implementation and billing structure when considering your options, and matching the agencies you talk to with your specific objectives.

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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3 Steps That Will Completely Transform the Way You Use Facebook

d3e68cf1e59a3122b075260a010d612adc1dade0904b9bbef42f5cf80eacab8dOver the Christmas holiday I had something of a social media-related epiphany. With space and time to observe Facebook from a distance, it hit me just how overrun my newsfeed had become with irrelevant nonsense, and how many of the people and Pages I really wanted to hear from simply weren’t showing up at all.

For every intelligent, interesting or useful conversation or genuinely funny status update, there were 50 bits of inane rubbish from friends of friends and people I hardly knew. I started to question what the point is of investing time into a platform where you have little personal control over what appears in your own newsfeed.

A week ago I was so disillusioned that I was seriously, seriously considering ditching Facebook in favour of Google+. The one thing that stopped me switching was that there are some people I’m in touch with through Facebook and nowhere else.

And then I had a thought: what if there was a way of bypassing Facebook’s increasingly annoying algorithm and the newsfeed entirely?

The great news is that, as it turns out, there is. After a bit of lateral thinking I came up with something that’s extremely counter-intuitive as it involves removing pretty much everyone and everything from your newsfeed in order to actually see more of them. And it also takes time and thought to set up initially.

But within a matter of just hours of trying what I did think at the time was a last ditch attempt at making Facebook useful again, I was seeing the value I’d been missing. Facebook is now completely revitalised for me and a new place to spend time. I haven’t looked back since.

With a bit of effort you CAN beat Facebook at its own game. Here’s how…

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STEP ONE: PREPARATION

What we’re going to do here is to strip out your newsfeed so that it ONLY shows you the people and things you highly value. You’ll still be able to see everyone and everything else, but you’ll access it via a click on the menu rather than in your newsfeed.

The first step is to sit down with a pen and paper and spend some time carving up ALL of the people and Pages you follow into lists. (Note: you can do this just with people if you wish.) Keep your lists fairly generic and limit their number to as few as makes sense (I’d suggest no more than half a dozen). This is important due to the way you’re going to use Facebook in future; you don’t want to have to be accessing many lists.

How you organise your other lists is up to you, but there are two that you MUST make.

The first is your ‘Value List’: the people you really, truly value for their insight or humour; the people whose status updates you look forward to; the people you’d really miss if you left Facebook. It’s important to be candid: no-one’s going to see this, so if your best friend posts too much nonsense and doesn’t make the cut, then don’t include them. Remember, you will still be able to see everyone’s updates, just not in the main newsfeed. Add to this list the Pages you follow that you definitely want to see a lot from.

If you’re honest, this list will probably be pretty short. And that’s a good thing as you’re trying to extract value from your Facebook connections. Mine, for example, contains only 17 of my 200 Facebook friends.

The second is your ‘Meh List’: people whose status updates you’re not bothered about seeing but don’t want to unfriend. Maybe they post too much. Maybe they post dross. Maybe they’re not that interesting. Maybe you’re just not that close (think ‘old school friends’). You’ll probably find that, if you’re truthful, this list is fairly long.

After trial and error, I opted for five lists in total:

  1. My Value List
  2. People I see often in real life (hence not necessarily needing to see their status updates)
  3. People I know professionally who I want to maintain friendly relationships with
  4. Pages not on my Value List that I’d like to see sometimes
  5. My Meh List

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STEP TWO: ORGANISATION

You’re now going to transfer your paper plan into Facebook.

First, create and name the lists you’ve identified. Note that you do NOT need to create and name your Value and Meh Lists. This is because you’ll still view your Value List in the newsfeed and you won’t see the Meh List at all unless you actually visit those people’s profiles.

The quickest way to do this is to choose someone from each of those lists, visit their profile and click on ‘Add to another list’ in the Friends dropdown. You can then click on ‘+New List’.

new list

Having done this, complete your created lists in Facebook. Visit each person on those lists and on their profile do two things. First, add them to the appropriate list within the Friends dropdown as above, and second, Unfollow them by unclicking the ‘Following’ button. This second action is very important as it cleans up your newsfeed to just the people and Pages you really value (identified in your Value List).

following

Next, visit each of the people in your Value List and add them as ‘Close Friends’, a pre-determined list in the dropdowns. Unless you want a Facebook notification every time they post something, make sure you unclick Get Notifications. DO NOT Unfollow them.

close

Now visit each of the people in your Meh List and simply Unfollow them. And finally, visit any Pages that aren’t in your Value List and Unfollow them too (you can add them to an Interest List of your choosing so that you can easily find them again).

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STEP THREE: ACTION

You’ve now done all the hard work. The final step is to edit your Facebook ‘Favourites’ menu on the left hand side of your newsfeed.

Under the Friends section of the menu, click on the edit button of each of your created lists in turn and ‘Add to favourites’. Do the same under the Interests section if you created a list of Pages.

Once you’ve done this, click on the edit button on one of your lists under the Favourites menu and on ‘Rearrange’. Then just drag lists into the order you want (I recommend putting your lists directly under the newsfeed as they’re easy to find, especially on a mobile).

lists

That’s it. You’ll probably want to tweak people over the next few days as you may have missed some or want to move them, and you need to remember to add new people and Pages to lists as you go, but essentially, you’re done.

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NOW WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN?

When you use Facebook now, all that will appear in your newsfeed is updates from the people and Pages you have identified as truly valuable. So the newsfeed is still your first port of call. If you’ve been strict, you’ll be amazed how much more you see of these people and Pages as they’re no longer competing with all of the other stuff that was clogging your newsfeed.

What you’ll also do now though when you use Facebook is visit the lists you created to check in on others. And here’s the kicker: EVERYTHING from those people will appear in your lists as Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm doesn’t filter these. You can adjust the level of detail you see using the ‘Manage list/Choose update types’ function, which you can’t do in the newsfeed. But you’ll probably find, as I have, that after a week or so you visit these lists less as, if you’ve done your filtering well, all the valuable stuff should be in your newsfeed.

Using this method, you’re by and large side-stepping Edgerank and taking back control of your own profile from Facebook. You’re telling it what you want to see, rather than letting it show you what it guesses you want to see.

It’s early days for me using this method, and it will undoubtedly necessitate honing as I go, but I can honestly say that mass Unfollowing and using Lists instead has saved Facebook for me. It’s like an entirely new platform that I have complete control over, and I’d thoroughly recommend investing a couple of hours of your life to make this work for you.

Let me know what you think below. Will you be trying this? Any questions on the process? 

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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The Future of Communications: Women?

femalesymbolIt pains me a little to write this.

I’m a bloke who works in an office with three other men and over 20 women. It’s not unusual in the PR industry for guys to be outnumbered five to one. Nor is it an issue.

I may have, in the past, been known to post the odd tongue-in-cheek #workingwithwomen sarcastic tweet. I may find the high-pitched and emotionally-charged environment when something exciting happens a little overwhelming at times. And the topics of conversation I’m exposed to…oh, the topics of conversation!

But, for the most part, I like working with the laydeez.

Yesterday was the FutureComms14 event in London. It totally rocked. Seriously. Check out the #futurecomms14 hashtag on Twitter for a taste of what people had to say.

But one of the many things that struck me about the day was the major impact that the female participants had on the event.

Keynote speaker Deirdre Breakenridge

Keynote speaker Deirdre Breakenridge

There were 20 speakers on the day, 7 of whom were women. And, for me, it was they who stood out. Keynote speaker Deirdre Breakenridge and panelists Emma Hart, Vikki Morgan and Betony Kelly all spoke with great authority and intelligence. They were concise, articulate and succinct. There was no waffle, no bluster, no buzzwords and no egos.

Don’t get me wrong; Tom Foremski and Jon Morter were interesting, thought provoking and entertaining characters. And the likes of Neville Hobson, Danny Whatmough and Jon Bernstein proved why they’re so highly respected with valuable insights and inputs.

But it was the girls who stood out. Which is maybe a worry if you’re a man working in comms?

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Video: The Future of Communications

FutureComms14

Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking part in a live Google+ Hangout on the subject of the future of communications. Featuring no less than PR industry sage Deirdre Breakenridge, highly respected technologist Neville Hobson and PRCA Digital Group head Danny Whatmough, it was a teaser for the highly anticipated FutureComms14 event, organised by Mynewsdesk.

Moderated by Adam Cranfield, it proved to be a fantastic taster of what’s to come on June 18th in London. If you have an interest in the future of the communications industry (and if you’re reading this I have to assume you must do) then the recording below is well worth 50 minutes of your time. We discussed a number of topics related to the integration of marketing, PR and social media roles; the relative merits and value for money of large and small agencies; and the development of in-house communications teams: themes that will be addressed in more detail at FutureComms14.

Full details on the speaker line up for the main event are available here. And if you use the special discount code Sutton-VIP you’ll get 20% off the ticket price! But be quick as the event is selling out fast.

To whet your appetite before you watch the video below, a few choice quotes:

“Our processes have to change due to connected media and the connected consumer” – Deirdre

“We shouldn’t be scared of the changes, but we need to be brave” – Neville

“Clients want a creative solution to their problems, and the agencies that best provide this will be the ones that succeed” – Danny

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Two PR & Comms Events Not to Miss!

FutureComms14It’s not often I get excited about industry events. So many comms events; so much duplication; so little forward-thinking.

So it is with a great sense of anticipation and excitement that I can report that not one but two events have been announced in the last week or two that should blow the socks off the UK PR and marketing communications industry in 2014. There will be no naval gazing introspection with these two!

FutureComms14

The first is an event that focuses its crosshairs squarely on how PR and communications are evolving and at what professionals need to do to adapt. With modern marketing communications being real-time, multimedia and multichannel, we face a real challenge to master new and emerging technologies, and to learn new skills. FutureComms14 aims to address exactly those challenges.

With a wide-ranging yet focused agenda covering topics including the psychology of why people share stories online, the skills of modern communicators and the future of the media, the event is gathering together the collective knowledge of those at the forefront of the industry. Notable speakers include the likes of Tom Foremski, Robert Philips, Alex Singleton, Stuart Bruce and Neville Hobson.

Personally speaking, I’m delighted that Deirdre Breakenridge is making her first trip to the UK from the USA to keynote the event. Deirdre is someone whose books I’ve read and whose opinions on PR I’ve taken note of for a long time, so to have her speak at FutureComms14 is a real coup for organiser Mynewsdesk.

FutureComms14 takes place on June 18th at The Crystal in London. The full agenda and speaker list is currently being finalised, but there’s a lot more information and ticket details here. Go look. Now!
You can also follow a list of the contributors on Twitter here.

Disclosure: I am assisting Mynewsdesk with formulating the agenda and speaker line up for FutureComms14. However, although the event shares a name with this blog, it is a Mynewsdesk initiative.

Social TV Conference

On a very different but complimentary tack, the second event I’m looking forward to follows the success of its fledgling appearance in January 2013. This year’s Social TV Conference, organised by CloudNine, is anticipated to be a must-attend for anyone interested in how broadcasting, advertising and audience outreach are embracing technology and social media culture.

Last year at Soho Theatre, MTV, Ogilvy, Telescope, Orange, and the now Twitter-owned SecondSync graced the event with their insights, as well most notably the ‘Social TV Godfather’ Matt Locke. This year, the venue moves up a notch to none other than BAFTA, reflecting perhaps that social TV as a concept is now even bigger.

Social TV Conference takes place on 29th September. News as it develops, together with ticket details, can be found here.

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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