Praise be, my subscriptions have fallen

Easy as cake. Click image for source.

Easy as cake. Click image for source.

Running a blog about social media and PR is a piece of pie. Just start it up and make the right noises, eventually you wind up with several hundred subscribers.

Same with Twitter. What is everyone talking about on Twitter? Mostly social media, it seems to me.

So it’s with a sense of satisfaction that I notice my subscription rate is going down.

Did I say down? Yes, I meant down. Not up.

Because it means the people who were reading me because they thought I was going to wax lyrical about social media are all disappointed now I’m copywriting for a living. It means my audience is changing to copywriting, which is less popular right now. And this is what I want because I need my audience to change. I don’t care if it’s smaller.

I mean, I’ll still occasionally post about social media – and in fact I’m still doing it in a limited capacity for a couple of clients – but it’s not my primary profession any more.

Piece of pie. Click image for source.

Piece of pie. Click image for source.

Some people think I’m mad. They say I should have continued with it. I’m certainly (or at least probably) going to earn quite a lot less as a fusty old freelance copywriter than a rockstar social media dude, but while I’d rather be rich and happy, if I can’t have both, I’ll take happy any day.

So it might sound like the most bizarre communications strategy to tell people to go away, but I’ve never done things in the Normal Way. If you don’t like what I write, then go away. If you do, then subscribe.

It’s easy as cake.

links for 2009-04-29

Everyone needs to think about what they’re doing and saying

Were all in it together. Click image for source.

We're all in it together. Click image for source.

I’ve just listened to a piece on the radio 4 Today programme about the swine flu rapidly spreading across continents. The speaker is a professor with a kindly, reassuring delivery. He sounds like my local postman. But he’s just coined the phrase ‘Armageddon virus’ while considering the impact a combination of swine flu and the HN51 H5N1 (thanks Steve, numbers were never my strong point) virus might have in Asia.

The presenter, Ed Stourton, repeated this a couple of times. He must have been rubbing his hands with glee. It could sit alongside Frankenstein foods as a phrase for our times, and it originated on Today. It could spread, much like the virus itself (and unlike the Today ‘viral’).

Armageddon outta here

However, if I were in any way associated with that professor in a PR capacity I would right now be burying my head in my hands and weeping. It didn’t seem to register with the professor in any way that he shouldn’t have said what he did. I just wonder whether the phrase will be picked up, and what effect it will have on an already slightly nervous public.

Frankenstein foods

He isn’t the first to be ever so slightly irresponsible in his delivery. I’ve already mentioned Frankenstein foods, the label used in the UK to describe GM crops. I’ve tried finding who was ‘patient zero’ for that particular phrase and cannot. However the Frankenstein foods hysteria has been credited with seriously damaging the UK biotech industry.

Curried eggs

Then, again in the UK, there was the junior health minister Edwina Currie who, in 1988, declared that most of Britain’s egg production was infected with salmonella. Egg sales plummeted. She tried to make amends in 1990 with the National Egg Awareness campaign but no one remembers that so it can’t have been too impactful. I remember waiting for someone to coin the phrase ‘Curried eggs’ at the time, but no one did.

Idiots

Finally, this time across the pond, we have a truly breathtaking example of someone not saying, but doing something without thinking of the media consequences. I refer to the idiotic, cretinous, moronic decision to fly Airforce 1 on a long, low flightpath across Manhattan, causing panic among its citizens. What were they thinking? I mean, really?

The job of a copywriter is to put oneself into the audience’s minds, to think like they do, and tell them a story in the way they want to hear it. We think about the effect our words will have on people. I totally understand that a live radio situation can be stressful and people might say the wrong thing, but it only makes it more imperative that those people receive decent media training, to stop them saying or doing daft things that might cause panic.

Because the Armageddon virus may never happen. Curried eggs never killed any one. But the Manhattan flyby – I can only imagine the very genuine fear it provoked.

Unfortunately, you can’t chat with me now

Were not talking. Click image for source.

We're not talking. Click image for source.

There’s a link to the left of this page – or at least, there is at the time of writing – saying “Chat with me now.” It’s a good link. It fires up the Google Chat thingy which means I can have a good, live chat with anyone, providing I’m online.

Problem is, it stopped working.

Now, I’m online a lot of the time, mostly from 9am to 5:30pm while working as a copywriter, and I’ve found this link really useful. I’ve helped people with random queries, passed links on to them, or just said ‘hello’, as you do.

It even helped Steve Waddington a while back. The notification came through that someone wanted to chat, and blow me darn wiv a fevver, if it wasn’t Wadds himself. Turned out he liked the chat link too, so I showed him my secret sauce and he included the feature on his newly revamped blog.

So I was a little dismayed to find out, purely by accident, that it doesn’t work any more. It says I’m offline when I’m online. If/when it does say I’m online, clicking the link gives a 404 Page Not Found error. This is Bad.

I’ve tried fixing it by disabling the old button and creating a new one, but no joy. I’ve done some searching around and it seems other people have the same problem, but there’s not a peep from Google support that I can see.

So I pinged – yes, pinged, that’s the new catch-all phrase for emailing, so I’ve heard – Wadds to ask if he was having the same problem. Yes, he is. And he also thinks this is Bad.

What is going on? It surely can’t be that something has borked – yes, borked, that’s what technical things do – without Google knowing?

So now I’m on Skype, as cooperbrendan, if you want to chat. I’ll put a nice button on the blog so you can click that instead. But it’s not as good as Google Chat because you need to be on Skype. And while a lot of people are on Skype, it’s not the same as being able to chat to anyone.

It just goes to show, you really can have everything set up just so but someone, somewhere, will screw things up. Yes, screw things up.

Words are ideas too

Words can be ideas too. Click image for source.

Words can be ideas too. Click image for source.

Over the past few weeks since going freelance I’ve noticed the value clients place on ideas.

As a copywriter there’s a temptation to think that your writing is the end product. It is, but that all starts with ideas. You can’t just sit down with a client and start penning words, but you can sit down and go through ideas with them.

It’s at this stage that the chemistry is so important. Sit down with the client and within minutes you can come up with something that you both think will work.

To take an example, I’m working with a client right now who wants to impress on their customers the need to make a website work – as in, really work, as in, actually bring business in and make money. This is something big business cottoned onto years ago and yet it’s amazing how many smaller enterprises haven’t done this yet.

For example, I’ve seen at least three sites recently that look like flashbacks to the mid-nineties. They have horrible mouse-over buttons at the top and flashing stars in the background (remember them?). More to the point, as a copywriter, I see about ten different messages splashed all over the show, none of them truly expressing a benefit for prospective clients, and certainly none of them saying what is different about the company. It’s as if Unique Selling Points never existed.

So, we can do two things, straight away. Isolate what makes the clients unique, and why that benefits their customers. We’re in the business of behaviour change here, so we want to stop people doing something they’d rather not be doing, or start them doing something they can’t do right now.

The actual reasons will vary between clients but just a quick convo can reveal so much. It could be that the client has been in business for thirty years and has oodles of experience. This is a great point to push when the client’s customers want a safe pair of hands. Or maybe the client already has a whole string of events already planned. Great – let’s get some nice, conversational copy out there and push them to a Facebook community.

Then we can build in some great SEO keywords that will get them listed on Google. Provided we’re canny, we can even get them listed above the competition. The result? The client’s phone starts ringing and everyone’s happy.

The point I’m making is that a copywriter doesn’t just write copy. A copywriter also needs to help with ideas. And so often, the ideas come when you sit down with clients, and listen to what they have to say, and understand not only what makes their businesses tick, but what makes them tick too.

So, PR account directors and managers everywhere, hear my plea: let your copywriters out of the engine room. They’re not just black boxes that you can feed briefs into and get copy out. If they’re good, they’ll be full of ideas and your clients might just love them for it.

And if you want to tweet that, tweet this:
Let your copywriters out of the engine room. They’ll be full of ideas and your clients will love them for it. http://bit.ly/zojJe

I probably definitely should… ah sod it.

Over the past year or so I’ve noticed that people have tended to react to me as a social media type in one of two distinct ways.

One is the school of thought which thinks that, because I run a blog and have worked in social media, they know nothing about it and I know everything. This is not true. They probably do know something, and I definitely don’t know everything.

The other is of the belief that, because they have pet tools or techniques that they like to use, and which I might not know about, this means I’m at fault because I didn’t know about them. The truth is usually that I do know of other tools, just not those particular tools. In other words, they definitely know something about social media, but I probably know more than them.

The unfortunate corollary (love that word) is:

“I don’t know everything, but I know more than you.”

This is understandably a bit pointed, and while it’s most likely true, no one really likes to hear it. I know, because I’ve said it, to decidedly black looks. Let’s temper it a little:

“I don’t know everything, but I probably know more than you.”

This repositions the statement, allowing for the possibility that you’re more of an oddball than me.

The problem still lies however in that it’s a bit negative, on the behalf of both subject (me) and object (you). It’s the social media equivalent of the dreadful ‘Back to Basics’ line of the Conservatives circa mid-1990. Here’s an attempt at a more positive spin:

“You probably know more than you realise, and I’d like to know more about it.”

This places emphasis on you – that is, it’s not quite as egotistical/neurotic on my behalf, and implies some sort of process of learning. It definitely doesn’t mean that I probably do know more than you, and it probably means that you definitely might know something, while implicitly acknowledging that I definitely don’t know everything and you possibly know less than me. It also echoes Barack Obama’s sentiment of wanting to listen, and I’d choose Obama over Major any day (or even Sir Humphrey).

It’s also infuriatingly close to something a psychotherapist might say while leaning forward unnecessarily close so you can see his (or her) nasal hair.

However, there is another way. You can sit still, listen to that little voice deep within you, that wisdom that seems to come to you from the movements of the planets around you and the race memory of ages gone by, and, as I did, come up with the alternative:

“Sod this, I’m going to be a copywriter instead.”

This is what is known as the Cooper Shimmy and if you find working in social media starts to mess with your mind, you might want to consider something similar. But not copywriting, obviously, because the fewer competitors I have the better.

And if you want to tweet that, tweet this:
Brendan Cooper on what he probably definitely does, and does not, know. Probably. http://bit.ly/uWbjh

A rebrand can be a crisis – or an opportunity

If you need to say it, say it in Lego. Click image for source.

If you need to say it, say it in Lego. Click image for source.

Sometimes the value of the network becomes most apparent, when you most need it.

Last week, I announced my freelance copywriting status. It was a big step for me. But before I’d done anything ‘formally’, I updated my LinkedIn. Within half an hour I had three queries, one of which has turned out to be a hot lead. This surprised me.

I then posted about it on my blog. Through the magic of Twitterfeed, it appeared on Twitter. I then announced the change more directly on Twitter, as a more tailored Tweet. This did not result in new business but stimulated a lot of interest. On the back of it I’m hoping to meet up with several contacts next week.

However, my direct emails did bring in business. That is, the emails to the people I actually happen to know, who I’ve worked with in the past and treated well, and for whom I’ve produced good copy, resulted in several more leads.

As a result of which I already have good, solid business lined up and suddenly, the pipeline is hot. This is A Good Thing.

It may sound strange that I’m telling you this – as someone who has worked in social media professionally – but sometimes the proof can be astonishingly strong when you use it yourself, for yourself.

Basically I’ve rebranded, and whereas there is risk in this, you can come away with valuable new insights. Specifically:

  • Your blog is your base. Use it to explain what you’re doing, and why. I’ll be posting much more about social media and how it can help people, but also about the art and craft of copywriting. Hopefully, if you’ll keep reading me, you’ll see how the two can fit together nicely.
  • Your blog can also be a platform for other people. My new testimonials page is already growing, and while it’s an advert, it’s one put together with the help of people I’ve worked with in the past. In return, they get exposure and, where they’ve consented, links.
  • Twitter is your advert. It’s a soundbite. Put it out there for your quick fix. The effects are short term, but it’s a broadcast announcement and even just one or two returns can be worthwhile, providing you’ve been careful about the people you follow.
  • Twitter is also your moral support. I had a lot of great, positive feedback from my tweet, and even though it didn’t result in sustained interest, it helped. Does this affect the bottom line? Is it business sense? I’d argue that good morale always translates into a healthy balance sheet, even indirectly.
  • LinkedIn is your professional saviour. It’s strange how people dismiss it – I’ve heard so many people complain that they set it up then forget about it, so what’s the point? This is true, but the same could be said of that fire escape door you can see in the corner of the office. When you need it, you really do need it. I was frankly amazed at how useful I found it, and continue to find it even today.
  • Facebook feedback was much more along the lines of ‘very interesting, let’s meet up.’ Not direct business, but socialising. Networking. The sort of thing that leads to business, even among friends.

So you can cultivate your network, simply by staying in touch, not only proving your worth as a professional but even just sharing information, insights, even the occasional joke (yes, I have shared jokes in the past). In so doing, when you really need it, your network is there, ready to help.

If I were a company, I’d feel better knowing I had a supportive network. Hang about, I am a company now. Or am I a brand? Or a real person? Help!

And if you want to tweet anything, tweet this:
A rebrand can be a crisis – or an opportunity. Brendan Cooper on the power of the network when changing direction:  http://bit.ly/dc6Oz