What should I do about my unloved Facebook and Twitter presences?

Yellow footsteps on sidewalk towards Follow Me message

Social media sometimes feels like the be-all-and-end-all of marketing and communications nowadays, but really it’s still in its infancy. In my last post I talked about the immaturity of society’s relationship with social media, and recently I’ve been thinking more specifically about our professional obsession with it. People often talk about Facebook and Twitter in particular as something you ‘have to do’, especially to get a new business off the ground. I have a great example in mind for this – myself!

When I set up Start Talking last Christmas I (of course) set up Facebook and Twitter accounts to accompany my sparkly new website. The idea: connect with potential clients; drive traffic to my website; make interesting, informative posts to build a community around my business; showcase my awesome communications skills. Very nice.

Except that really I haven’t had much engagement on these two channels at all. I had a good go in the spring – I sourced links to blogs and articles, I created a free consultation offer, I pointed out interesting bits of my website, and I posted on local community pages and business forums. I kept up a regular stream of posts and I put as much effort in as I could afford to spend.

Between Christmas and early summer, I saw no more than a handful of likes, and all from my personal friends.

Inevitably, I stopped investing my time in Facebook and Twitter and directed it instead to my website and to LinkedIn. Lo and behold, these two channels have secured me business and potential client connections, both through former professional contacts and organically. Since early summer, I’ve had next to no activity on Facebook and Twitter, and I’ve seen no resultant slowdown in business or engagement. The conclusion? My audience is not on Facebook and Twitter. That’s not how they want to find my services.

So, what should we do when Facebook and Twitter aren’t working for us? People expect to see a presence on these two channels so it seems a pity to close the accounts down, especially as they’re up and running, and double-especially given the nature of my business. On the other hand it serves no one to have two dead accounts, out of date and contributing nothing, cluttering up the Twittersphere (and the Facebooksphere). They make me look bad as a Communications Consultant (!) but as a small business owner I can’t justify spending the time on something that’s not paying me back. That’s what I would tell a client and it’s what I’m telling myself.

The solution? I’m not sure yet. Over the next few weeks I’m going to work on building a Facebook presence that’s worthwhile and interesting and drives traffic to my website if anyone should happen upon it, but that doesn’t require any maintenance from me! If I get anywhere with this I’ll let you know. Meanwhile I’d love to hear your ideas via the comments box below. Never let it be said that there’s nothing left to learn!

 

Web 2.0 hits maturity: hope for a de-social-media-ification of the web

Web 2.0 is one of those terms that everyone uses but no one like to define. It’s been around for a long time (in popular use since 2004) and it’s time we understood that it’s not just one kind internet conceptof use for the web: it is the web.

Web 2.0 is the web made by us, the ordinary user, as opposed to being a repository of static information placed online by an organisation or authority. Wikipedia, blogs, eBay, YouTube – if this is the kind of place where you usually go to find information, entertainment and services online then Web 2.0 is your web.

Writing on the news and information website Lifewire, Daniel Nations sums up his broad definition of Web 2.0 as follows:

Most people generally have some idea that Web 2.0 is an interactive and social web facilitating collaboration between people.

This is distinct from the early, original state of the web (Web 1.0) which was a static information dump where people read websites but rarely interacted with them.

It’s hard to think of pure ‘Web 1.0’ sites nowadays. Small businesses with a very small online presence might still have a simple, non-interactive web page giving information and offline contact details, but they won’t be getting much business from that: if you want to attract custom online you need to involve existing and potential customers in the fabric of the purchase. I just bought my daughter a £2.50 t-shirt from the Marks and Spencer website and there are 40 reviews telling me how it fits, how it washes, and how the price compares to other retailers. Even the simplest business websites (like mine!) can incorporate user-generated comment, reviews and information online by including their Facebook or Twitter feeds.

This brings us on to social media in general – the behemoth of Web 2.0. Facebook and Twitter in particular have played, in my mind, the biggest role in revolutionising our relationship with the web and in making user-generated content central to how we operate online. This is because they are based on conversation – words, rather than visual media, were their original backbone, which gives them depth and diversity of use for different audiences and purposes (I’ll come back to YouTube and company later).

Online news sites show how integral this conversation has become. A quick look at the BBC news homepage today reveals a high proportion of front page stories born entirely from online conversations. These range from traditional reporting of old problems with a modern context (“Facebook ‘failed to remove sexualised images of children’“) to very modern stories being reported in the news but which have already unfolded entirely on social media (“Celine’s depression: ‘My selfies tell a story’“, “‘Say My Name’: The Chinese students fighting racism“).

Even more interesting is the story about Emma’s Watson’s controversial Vanity Fair cover, “Is Emma Watson anti-feminist for exposing her breasts?“. This is an article about a debate which was born on social media – a debate which would never have arisen without social media’s facilitation. The journalist picks up the issue and gives it academic analysis with comment by feminism researchers, but many of the quotes are still drawn from Twitter and the article finishes by asking for comment: “Are you a feminist? Has someone challenged whether you are a feminist because of something you’ve said, done or worn? Tell us about your experiences.” The user creates, then reads, then creates some more.

This kind of use of social media isn’t the problem – however important you think Emma Watson’s cleavage is (or isn’t), it’s an amazing thing that we can be so enmeshed with cultural debate, if we choose to be. The problem is that we mainly use social media for much more trivial purposes – for chats and arguments and logistical arrangements that should be conducted in private, whether online or in our living rooms.

Social media is no longer an add-on to what’s happening online. It is what’s happening. We need to realise that our online conversations are part of the great public conversation, and take our public chatting out of that. Where we engage in debate, we should do so knowing that we are contributing to public information on the topic – whether it be a product review, a comment on a news article, or this blog post!

I am no enemy of social media, but what I hate is the fact that it’s seen as a separate entity, rather than just a part of our online lives. As its integration into retail, news and everything else becomes cemented, my hope is that social media will lose the glamour of novelty, separate itself from our obsession with self-publication and become a channel for real public conversation once more.

This is happening to some extent. Snapchat, the channel of choice amongst young adults, doesn’t store information – it’s just for private chatting. I don’t use it – I’m far too old and uncool – but I like its immediacy and so do teenagers, who generally care less about posterity than they do about this Saturday night. YouTube and Flickr, meanwhile, are the grandparents of Snapchat – the old guard of Web 2.0. No one really uses them for conversation any more and that’s fine by me, because they have instead become directories, encyclopaedias of media.

Can we even use social media as an umbrella term any more? I’m not sure it’s useful when the purposes and potentials of these channels are so different.

Anyway, I hope the rise of Snapchat points the way we’re going, with personal and private conversation taken out of the public arena, leaving user-generated content in its rightful place – informing us and giving us access to free media and rich, diverse content. As Web 2.0 reaches maturity maybe we can all grow up too, and small talk can stay where it should have been all along – in private.

‘Social media’ is (I hope) dead – long live Web 2.0.

 

 

 

What’s the difference between communications and marketing?

I really hate the term ‘marcomms’. I’m not even sure about ‘marketing communications’. Of course they go hand in hand for much of the time but I like there to be a little ‘and’ in the middle of those words, and this is why – while there are many points of intersection, I don’t think ‘marketing’ as a concept has any space for genuine disinterestedness, while ‘communications’ does.

Message Word with Speech Bubble

Marketing is about working out how to sell your product or service. You need to figure out who might want to buy it, how much they would be willing pay, and how to present both the product and your company really well to those people, in order to persuade them to do so. Words like audience and brand and targets and  product development start flying about and making small business owners quake in their boots. Marketing is a pretty technical thing – it follows set principles and firm ideas which anybody can follow but which can seem impenetrable and mired in jargon.

Implementing a marketing plan then involves good communications – deploying well-written copy and engaging images and/or design, maintaining a website and social media channels that provide interesting and useful content, and so on depending on your business type. Communications is about presenting your product in the way that your marketing planning suggests will be fruitful, and a good communications strategy is about working out how best to do this.

Marketing strategy must run in parallel with communications implementation in order for a marketing strategy to be effective – we have to communicate with our market. But I think this is the crux of the problem – a ‘market’ fundamentally implies commerce and therefore ‘marketing’ does too (it is, according to the OED, “The action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising“). Communications doesn’t imply that: it is “The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium“. These differences are subtle but I think they make the ‘marcomms’ portmanteau a little uncomfortable.

In the past year I have managed three Facebook pages on behalf of organisations that have no ‘selling’ intention at all – both (as well as the organisations behind them) have a pure communications function, simply to let people know what’s happening and tell them how they can be involved in a community. They have an information market but not a commercial one. The desire is there to build an audience and build conversations, but for genuinely altruistic reasons – education, community interaction, fitness – and the hard business of marketing isn’t necessary as they operate within contained communities. I think they demonstrate that good communications without marketing is possible, while marketing without good communications is pointless.

Communications can be pure and without self-interest. It can be motivated by the simple desire to talk and to get in touch. Of course I am in no way anti-marketing – even the smallest businesses depend upon the guidance of marketing principles to make much progress – but the creative, human side of what we term ‘communications’ is the bit I enjoy. It’s the bit where you forget that you’re trying to sell something and enjoy the process of exchanging and informing – the process, via whatever medium, of talking.

 

Live tweeting an event: creating a content narrative

One of my clients has a really cool event happening next week and when I met him today he was wondering how to maximise its coverage on social media. I suggested that we live tweet the event, and I was excited to have the opportunity because, to me, live tweeting epitomises the best things about social media as a tool to show your work in action and to connect people around a common experience.

If you’re not sure what live tweeting is, let’s start with the Oxford English Dictionary which defines it as:

VERB (WITH OBJECT): Post comments about (an event) on Twitter while the event is taking place.

Essentially it’s a way of reporting an event in snippets – you turn up armed with your smartphone, and you tweet about what’s happening at very regular intervals either throughout the event or for a defined period of time. Each time something interesting happens, someone says something noteworthy, or you take a great picture, you tweet it. You retweet what others are posting too – speakers, event Smart Phone with Blank Screenparticipants, audience members. You ask and answer questions. All those tweets – both yours and those posted by others – are connected together by a hashtag which you’ve predetermined, so you and everybody else can easily find the conversation and join in.

The most obvious example is a conference. Let’s say it’s about rabbits (I love bunnies). We’ll call it Rabbits International 2017. All your publicity material in advance includes the conference hashtag, #RabbitConf2017, and your delegates’ packs include a flyer asking them to tweet comments and questions using the hashtag, before, during and after the event. Then you might choose to live tweet the opening talk by a world rabbit expert, with photos of him speaking, quotes, and lots of retweets of others’ comments. You would definitely live tweet the talk where they bring out all the adorable bunnies, because, yes, photos of cute animals really do rule the internet. I’d be really surprised if a strategy like this didn’t generate some good conversations that wouldn’t otherwise have taken place or, more significantly, that would have taken place without your involvement in them.

Here’s a less obvious example. You’re a hotel and you’re holding a wedding fair. You write in advance to all the businesses attending and ask them to use your hashtag, and you include it on a flyer in the pack you’ll hand out to couples who attend the fair. With luck and encouragement some of the businesses attending might tweet about their preparations for the event and post their own photos of their stalls, while you post your own preparations at the hotel. On the day itself, you go along and take photos (with their consent!) of couples visiting the fair, telling their lovely engagement stories and getting their wedding ideas. You tweet about the stalls on offer and mention the Twitter handles of any of the attending businesses, especially the ones making use of your hashtag! You include useful wedding planning tips (and you can schedule these in advance). Of course you make sure there are lots of photos of your lovely hotel.

Both these examples show how intensive use of Twitter over a short period can enrich your event by spreading its message to those who couldn’t come, and making it linger in the memories of those were there. But there’s a more important reason to go to the extra effort of live tweeting: it creates rich, unique content, a content narrative, which you can repurpose when the event itself is long over. It’s easy to compile your tweets into a blog post, or a Storify story (although this depends on consistent hashtag use so don’t neglect publicising your hashtag!). You turn the photos into a gallery on Facebook. You edit the video snippets and put them on your YouTube channel. Real people are involved in the story of your business. This content shows your business in action rather than in its ‘marketing’ mode.

Live tweeting allows you to be your own journalist. Not every event is important enough to attract the ‘real’ press, but we can use Twitter to recreate the same effect and make a story out of the day-to-day. To me, Twitter has its natural home in journalism and using it in this context unleashes its most valuable powers.

Social media doesn’t have to be crackers

Here is a photo that spoilt my day recently. It’s a picture of the side of a box of nice crackers I bought, made by a well-known company. The crackers were really unusual, healthy and very tasty. crackersBut have a read of the text on the box!

There are so many things about this box of crackers that make me want to cry. Let’s start with the things that bother me as a person who loves food. Why do I have to have my nice cracker with weird things like kimchi that no one actually likes? Why can’t I have it with something normal like cheese? Then there are the missed opportunities for some nice writing. Why are my nose and eyes mentioned but not my taste buds – and if we’re going down the ‘all five senses’ road why am I not being told about the cracker’s satisfying crunchy sound and nice rough texture?

But those problems are overshadowed by the fact that I am being told how to ‘style’ my cracker for extra Instagram likes. I don’t hate food styling – I do like my meals to look nice and I recognise that the way food looks is part of the experience. If it was telling me how to make the cracker look really appealing on a plate I might be OK with that. But instead it’s telling me how best to take a photo of my cracker for Instagram! Not for my enjoyment or my family’s enjoyment, for my health or to make it really tasty. Not even to win a free box of crackers. Nope – just so I can supposedly get some more people to press ‘like’ on my photo of my lunch.

The thing which really annoys me about this is social media can be so great for actually talking to stakeholders directly – whether customers or your community or whoever else you want to reach. It’s a wonderful way of sharing your activities and how you operate. Instead, the cracker box is social media as a tick box exercise. They could have done so much better: “Inspire your fellow cracker fans – show us your favourite toppings on Instagram” plus a useful hashtag. Or: “Visit us on Instagram @XXX to see our trendiest cracker combinations”. Those are both pretty cheesy but then we are talking about crackers. The point is, they could have used this huge bit of cracker-box real estate to try to get people talking about these genuinely nice crackers and how they like to eat them. It might even have worked if they had someone on board who could think about crackers in a really creative way.

It’s just really lazy – the social media equivalent of namedropping (“Hey – we’ve heard of Instagram!”). They don’t even give their Instagram handle on the box so even if you do want to send them a photo of your cracker you have to hunt them out.

There’s a conclusion to this rant. If you’re going to use social media do it because you really want to share things with your community. Of course you want them to buy your products or sign up for your activity, but if you use social media honestly and helpfully, they will see why they should put their trust in you. Otherwise they’ll just think you’re, well, crackers.