Trends

Quite simply, some charts that may be of interest. For example, note how Apple is supplanting Microsoft in search volume; that PR may be peeling upwards away from advertising and even marketing; the relative fortunes of Google+, Facebook and Twitter; social media may be levelling off; and, especially heartwarming for me, Star Wars is much more popular than Star Trek (mostly).

All charts are for all regions and years except the politics chart which is just for the UK over the past 12 months (because a lot can happen in 12 months!) Click each chart to go to the Google Trends page for more information, such as the news items that account some spikes (A, B, C etc).

● microsoft ● apple

● ed miliband ● david cameron ● nick clegg ● politics

● hp ● dell ● ibm ● hardware

● advertising ● marketing ● pr ● social media

● social media

● google+ ● facebook ● twitter

● star wars ● star trek

Advertising, PR, sales, marketing: now you see it, now you don’t

People are visual, so it makes sense that they act on what they can see. But that’s not so hot when you need to deal with, um, concepts.

So, people ‘get’ advertising, because they know what an advert is. I don’t know what the figures are for the average number of adverts people are exposed to throughout their lives, but it’s a shockingly huge amount. We see them on broadcast, print and social media, and whether or not we mentally screen them out, we’re aware of them.

But they don’t, on the whole, understand PR. This is because PR is about placing articles or selling in stories in the media on a client’s behalf. If you don’t ‘get’ that then this might help: before I started in PR, I genuinely believed all those pieces with HP’S CEO’s name against them had been written by HP’s CEO. Then, when I discovered the unalloyed joy of writing bylines, and found myself one day writing one for HP’s CEO, I suddenly realised what was going on.

Advertising is bells and whistles, while PR is a sleek, black plane. Or, advertising is ‘look at me’ while PR is ‘look at them’. Or, advertising is Edwina Currie while PR is Peter Mandelson.

Likewise sales and marketing. Again, people get sales because they buy and sell things. In the same way they can ‘see’ adverts, they ‘see’ sales. But they don’t, I’ve found, understand marketing because they can’t see them. Markets might be big, or small. They might not exist at all. But they’re the environment you need to operate in, to sell effectively.

Increasingly, I’m finding that social media is about marketing. It’s about a lot of other things too – not least research, awareness, engagement, all those great things – but what I tend to find myself thinking about now is the market. Who are the client’s competitors? What are they doing? How can we measure ourselves against them? What does success look like? Generally, it looks like something you’ve done that is better than your competitors, from selling more things to getting more attention.

Sales is little regions of activity, while marketing is the tectonic plates that underpin all of this. Leave it too long and you’ll find the plates have shifted. Or, sales is Mount Etna while marketing is Pangea (not, repeat not, Pandora).

So I’m working in a double-blind area. It’s PR (Mandy in a Nighthawk) and marketing (a theoretical ancient unified landmass with a funny name). Would I prefer to work with my eyes wide open, in ‘real’ things such as advertising and sales?

Well, that depends.

What are the hours?

Social media? I wouldn’t bother.

In the 18 months since I went freelance, I’ve spoken to a lot of people and worked with quite a few different companies, including a fair number of PR agencies.

And what have I learned? That the state of social media is pretty much exactly as it was when I first became a social media type, over three years ago. Except it’s worse. So, I’m going to make it all better, right here and now.

When I started there was a vague notion that something called a blog might be quite a useful communications tool. This was before Facebook and Twitter had started to loom quite so large. I told people how useful I thought blogs could be, but no one listened. I made it my job to find out about these developments and eventually moved on to pastures new, where there were tactics a-plenty but no concept of strategy, measurement, value.

Eventually I decided to go freelance so I could do things more how I felt they should be done. I’ve since developed what I would call fairly nifty ways of monitoring, measuring results, developing strategies. But time and time again I come up against the old problems:

  • You develop a strategy that considers all the angles – the people, the message, the brand, ownerships – maps it onto what a business does, sets targets. You’re sure it will work. It’s beautiful. There is a lot of excited waving of hands. And that’s it. Six months down the line, it’s dead in the water. Why? Because, I think, people are too busy to be bothered with it. They got along fine before it, they’ll get along fine after it. They don’t really need it.
  • Clients make unreasonable demands of social media because they’ve heard of it. They want you to do things with it, right here, right now. You want to explain to them that it’s not a tap you just turn on. But they’re too busy to care. So you get unsatisfactory results because you’ve been using the wrong solution for the wrong problem.
  • You find yourself siloed because people don’t want to know. Part of your social media strategy is that people all look after different parts of it. But they don’t because they’re too busy. You just cannot sustain this position because social media is content-driven and you cannot be the expert on everyone else’s content.

Can you see the thread here? People are too busy. They’ve got their heads down working and social media is something they’re prepared to pay lip service to, but no more. It’s nothing malicious. They’re just too busy.

I have a very clever friend who once looked after the marketing for a prominent occupational psychology firm. When I met him recently I asked how things were going. He replied sadly “No one listens to me.” Of course they don’t. They’re too busy for marketing. So it goes, they’re too busy for social media too, it would seem.

But get this: things are worse now because a lot of people have sorta kinda heard about social media. So now they feel extremely smug when they say they’re not sure about it because they don’t know how it generates ROI.

ROI? Gimme a break! How many companies know the ROI of anything they do, let alone comms?

For example:

  • What’s the ROI of your website? How much did it cost you to put together, and how much have you made from it? If you don’t know, then why did you put one together in the first place? What would be the effect of taking it down?
  • What’s the ROI of your PR or advertising? How many leads did you make out of it? What was the value of those leads? If you just increased brand awareness/value/sentiment, how do you quantify this?
  • What’s the ROI of your intranet? Has it reduced development time? Has it reduced time to market? Has it helped retain knowledge? If so, how much do you think you’ve saved on the cost of recruiting and training new staff?

Etc

The real problem here is that people have no idea of how their online efforts are doing because a) they don’t measure them and/or b) they never measured them so they have no benchmark. And c) they’re too busy to worry about this anyway.

So, my advice?

I once saw a programme about some men who spent time in a monastery. After several weeks one of them had what he classed as a spiritual experience. He went a bit ‘funny’ and couldn’t quite explain what was going on. The monk he told this to just said, in a very calm, soothing voice: “I wouldn’t bother.”

It felt nice. Nice and reassuring. Calming, some might say. Absolving, even.

So, if you’re worrying about social media, I wouldn’t bother. You’re too busy. It sounds cooooool but really, if I put a strategy together for you, you won’t follow it because you’re too busy.  So I wouldn’t bother. If you want it to do something for you, here, now, then that won’t work because that’s not how it works, so I wouldn’t bother. And if you’re suddenly overly concerned about ROI – which you never were in the past – then, again I wouldn’t bother because if you didn’t measure anything before, you won’t do it now.

There now. Doesn’t that feel better?

Guest Post: Steve Meleka of Noble Meleka on SEO

That's what I think anyway. Do you agree? Click image for source.

That's what Steve thinks anyway. Do you agree? Click image for source.

Preamble: Last week I posted my thoughts on SEO, after receiving a stream of great comments on Twitter that I thought were worth sharing. In turn, I’d posted because I was working on a project with a long-term colleague and friend, Steve Meleka. I worked with him at Imagination Technologies at the time we won the Sega Dreamcast contract, where I was the technical writer and Steve was the web designer. Now that I’m freelance, and Steve has his own web development company, we continue to collaborate on cool and interesting new projects.

Following from my post last week, and the resulting tweets, it struck me that Steve has a lot to say on the subject – as someone who works on the ground, day in day out, getting results for clients. While there’s a tendency in the social media world for people to think they’re the latest and greatest, we need to be reminded that community and content are not everything. We need to remember the basics. So here’s Steve’s take on this…

Good, effective copy is what sells a product or service to a real person. But, and it’s and extremely important ‘but’, the people who you succeed in selling to will always be a subset of the people who find you in the first place.

If the content of your page generates 500 visits in its ‘un-optimised’ state, and you manage a 5% conversion rate then you’ve got yourself 25 sales. Give yourself a big hand.

But, if you increase your traffic two or three times using SEO techniques while managing to retain your conversion rate you could manage 50 or 75 sales. If you’re selling large individual units – combine harvesters or something – that’s a fat wad of cash. Any don’t kid yourself for a moment tat the combine harvester outfit down the road aren’t trying to beat you to the top of the search results, because they are.

Appearing at the top and even getting more visits is only half the story though. The saying goes we should work smarter, not harder, and SEO probably falls mostly into the ‘harder’ category. The smart money is in converting visits into sales, which means writing compelling sales copy for people, not search ranking algorithms.

Tell me though, what use is one approach without the other? Pretty much a big fat zero. Like I said at the start, those people you manage to convert will always be a subset of those you manage to attract in the first place.

I know very well that quality content is going to get linked to from many other places than just search engines, but most small business people don’t consider themselves ‘experts’ and many consider giving advice dangerous since it could give their competitors an edge. So in the end, at this end of the market it’s not the norm for clients to generate (or even commission, sadly) enough new content to generate interest.

So what do I see the web doing for small & medium businesses now? Well, people said back in the 90s that the web was going to democratise business, and create a level playing field where Mom and Pop could compete with the conglomerates. In some cases that’s true, but only if Mom and Pop deploy their more limited resources in a new or novel way (see Mashable’s Small Business Success Stories to see what I mean).

The reality is that the web has just turned into another tool in the marketing box, and often a bigger budget will win out. Want more visits? Publish more content. Looking for more conversions? Test more high quality a/b tested content. More, more, more. In the end, more costs more. (Guess this page will rank better for ‘more’ than anything else.)

So at the coal face, working with small and medium sized companies, a strategy I’ve found to work is apply SEO in a palatable fashion to generate traffic into the site. At the same time, and ideally within the same content that ranks well in the first place, make the offer or suggest the solution to the problem the customer has and aim to convert them.

It’s a tall order, I know, and it’s not one I can manage alone. That’s why I hire a kick-ass copywriter like Brendan to fuse the two together for me. It won’t always work first time, but hey, this is marketing, we should be endlessly rinsing and repeating anyway, just like we did with direct response print ads back in the day.

Post-amble (is that even a word?): What do you think? Do we need to work harder, or smarter, or both? Is SEO dead, or live and kicking? Let me know.

Everyone needs to get out more

Estimated reading time: 2.5 minutes

So today is Wednesday which means I write about… hang on, let me look it up… tum te tum te tum… ah yes, here it is. Social media!

Right.

Over the past month, in the UK, we’ve been subjected to the constant advances of politicians throughout the election. Thankfully it’s all stopped,  but at the time I did notice a phenomenon that I keep seeing around me and that I think is significant.

Which is: when you’re inside something, when that something is your world, there’s a tendency to think it’s the same for everyone else too. And the reality is, that it isn’t.

To take the political example, I have a strong feeling that Cameron, Clegg and Brown woke up every morning thinking that the world is a world of politics. They would meet their aides, shake people’s hands, look interested when being shown lathes, and generally be in that world till they fell asleep and night and dreamed of kittens.

But for someone like me, it isn’t a world of politics. I’ve never even met a politician, that I’m aware. I’ve never been to a political event. I voted, sure, but I count myself among the people who think that politics is pretty irrelevant to their lives. It all seems so pragmatic, so ineffectual when considered against seemingly overwhelming global forces.

Enough of the politics. What I’m trying to say is that there’s a tendency to believe that what you’re doing is treated with equal significance as everyone else, even when it’s something as (supposedly) important as politics.

And I see this in social media too.

The people I follow on Twitter, tweet about it. The bloggers I read, blog about it. So there’s a real possibility that, working in social media, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a world of social media.

It isn’t.

I know it isn’t, not just because there are trees, birds and sky out there, but because during the election, despite sky-high ratings for Clegg, he just didn’t cut it in the real world. If it were a world of social media, he’d have won hands down.

Is this post making sense? I know what I’m trying to say, but I’m not sure it’s coming across. Basically, as communicators – whether politicians, PR people or social media types – we need, often, to break out of our little world and see it from someone else’s point of view. That way, we start to appreciate what’s really going on, rather than what we think is going on.

I’m lucky. I do something else too – that is, I write. OK, so I write about social media, but I like to think that I can do this from the outside in, as well as the inside, um, in. So should all communicators. It’s not a world of PR, or of advertising, or of social media. We need to get out more.

Measurement Camp, the BBC, and The Next Big Thing

So last Wednesday I was at Measurement Camp, this time in the swanky offices of Dare Digital.

The format is still evolving under the laid-back yet effective stewardship of Will McInnes (check out his survey, it’s hilarious), so this time we had a couple of presentations from past projects, then some quicker breakouts in which we focussed on individual problems.

Obviously I cannot reveal the details of any of the cases we discussed but here are my overall impressions:

  • QDOS was mentioned as a measurement tool. I had seen it before and thought ‘meh’, but Beth Granter pointed out how it could be used, and backed this up with bullet points explaining exactly what they do measure, and how. I like this creative approach, finding innovative new ways of using existing tools. The same went for Twitter Grader where she made it plain that it could be a very useful metric (and in fact I am already using it).
  • Facebook Ads seemed to loom quite large in several conversations. There was no denying the sharp increase in fanbase as a reaction to ads – I’ve seen it happen myself – but I would like to see how this continues. As with my post on the BBC so-called viral (which has, I just noticed, been quoted on the BBC site but without a link back – nice one, guys) I’d like to see whether ads – and let’s face it, these are adverts, not PR or word-of-mouth – create a long-lasting effect. But then again clients love to see numbers and charts going upward, so where’s the harm? Perhaps you really do need both.
  • While we were being debriefed by Will – a uniquely pleasurable experience – I was standing up (it’s easier that way), and had a quick look around. I noticed that the usual PR demographics were completely reversed, so we had mostly guys, a lot fewer girls. I think this is unfortunate. I’ve said before that, as a slightly geeky guy (I’m not really that geeky, I do have social skills) I wonder whether someone like me is best placed to evangelise about social media. People think that you need to be technical to ‘get it’. You don’t. I mean, what’s technical about typing a web address into a browser and having a quick look at what’s being said? Hopefully this will change, but for now it does seem that social media measurement at least is still quite butch.

Finally, towards the end I had one of those funny little insights that crawl up the inside of my trouser leg and give me a tickle in a private little boy’s place. Someone mentioned Second Life – remember that? – and how, just because it’s dropped off the radar recently, this might not always be the case.

It got me to thinking how brilliant a fully immersive online game could be, with no installs, downloads or upgrades, especially if we could in some way measure activity within it. And that made me wonder whether The Next Big Thing is going to be multimedia apps delivered over the web.

My reasoning? We’re just getting to the stage whereby the web is fast, big and reliable enough to deliver applications as well as data, and this is essentially what cloud computing is about. But the applications themselves are fairly limited. Google Docs does not make anyone’s jaw drop. So, when I cast my mind back to my Salford Uni days, the parallel is that we had computers with word processors, spreadsheets etc crunching the data in a very boring, decidely non-multimedia kind of way. Then multimedia-capable machines came along, and everything changed.

So, it seems reasonable to suggest that, now we have applications running online, the next logical step will be multimedia applications running online. We’re talking graphics, video and audio here. Someone, somewhere, build me a thin-end Cubase client that I can run in the cloud, and I’ll buy that for a dollar.

The Greatest Viral Ever – and other assorted examples

What makes a great viral?

Firstly, let’s be clear: viral is an effect. I’ve been asked to ‘do something viral’ in the past, and in explaining this I’ve had to say that really, anything and everything we do should be viral. That is, it should be a powerful enough message that impels sufficient people to spread it.

Problem is, you’re at the mercy of opposing dynamics: on the one hand people will only forward something that is important enough to them or their immediate contacts to do so; while on the other you need to hit enough buttons for the thing to pick up critical mass. In other words, you need to satisfy most of the people most of the time.

However, it is possible to identify certain characteristics of material that tends to ‘go viral’. It’s usually short enough for people to enjoy without getting bored. It’s usually video. It’s usually something they can build on then pass along (making it truly viral in that it changes). But these are all ‘usually’, and there are exceptions.

In the past I’ve said that viral is (usually) interactive, funny, useful, controversial, clever or cool. I would love to be able to turn this into a snappy acronym but all I get is ifuccc which is simple to remember but I would never say in front of clients.

Of course, all of these categories are subjective – as I said earlier, that’s the problem with viral. What is controversial for me might not be for you. What makes you laugh might pass me by. I would also say that often viral is only effective when it isn’t harnessed to some big brand. People like to be ‘in on the secret’ and a secret is rarely web-wide.

I’m fairly confident that most of you will agree that the Obama CNNBC video is the greatest viral ever. It ticks all the boxes I’m about to list, and then some. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we look back after the event and class this as a viral that actually helped Obama to win.

(I can’t actually embed this video on my WordPress.com-hosted blog – which is perhaps its only viral failing – so just click below to see it. And if you think I’m being a bit narcissistic showcasing the version with my own name in it, then, when you’ve watched it, simply edit it to put yours in. It’s so cool.):

The Greatest Viral Of All Time, Ever

The Greatest Viral Of All Time, Ever (click to see it)

Way to go Obama.

Here are some more examples that I think fit these categories. Some might span multiple categories, and others, I fully accept, aren’t really designed to push a message at all, they’re just things that have gone viral – but that still means we can learn something off them, right?

Interactive. Games are interactive, and games across social networks are particularly so. Scrabulous is (or was) probably your object lesson in an interactive viral that simply spread across Facebook like wildfire. It’s also a case study in how not to handle intellectual copyright infringement. Mattel and Hasbro threatened the makers of Scrabulous with Chinese burns and deadlegs if they failed to cease and desist – that is, to extinguish a MASSIVE userbase that it could quite easily have worked with instead – and released its own version that by some accounts was, well, crap. Meanwhile the makers of Scrabulous have simply released a version that is different enough from Scrabble to remain legal, and which is doing very nicely thank you.

Funny. I still think Beardyman is one of the funniest videos I’ve ever seen. If only someone could harness that talent and use it to help a brand.

The closest you could probably come to this is ‘Will it blend?‘, the series put together for Blendtec. Wikipedia tells the Blendtec story well. Suffice to say, the company never looked back and continues to blend. ‘Will It Blend?’ is all over YouTube but here is my favourite – with the iPod.

Useful. We all like to ‘discover’ tools, utilities and widgets. For some time I really liked the ‘How much is your blog worth’ page, and I’m sure the ‘blogworth’ page has done Dane Carlson absolutely no harm whatsoever in terms of his web visibility. It’s debateable how useful my PR Friendly Index is – I certainly haven’t had time to update it for a while anyway – but it has been by far my most successful post series, and I think this is perhaps because people find it useful to have this repository of PR blogs.

Clever. Was Cheddarvision clever? At first I wasn’t sure. It didn’t quite seem to make sense just to stream a video of cheese maturing online. But the more I thought about it, the cleverer I thought it was. Also, the more I thought about it, the higher the viewing numbers went. By late March 2007 Cheddarvision viewing figures were over half a million. It ended with over 1.5 million views. At the time I said, “It’s a brilliant, brilliant PR move. This isn’t just cheese, it is now Famous Cheese, and everyone will want a bite. They’ll do for West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers what Wallace and Gromit did for Wensleydale”, and it inspired me to dream up my own viral equivalent which, of course, never saw light of day. Cheddarvision eventually won that year’s PR Week award for best consumer marketing communications campaign. Here you can see a  time-lapse of it maturing over 12 months:

Controversial. I have to admit that, for this category, I did have to do some searching because I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head that I’d seen. The first hit for ‘controversial viral campaign’ is Virgin Media’s Mangina movie. Doesn’t look so controversial to me:

Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that simply by labelling something ‘controversial’, you get attention. I also find it strange that it no longer appears on the originator’s site. Is this part of the controversy? Whatever, I know that controversial works because I tried it myself when I posted about ghost blogging. I also know that you need to be careful because it can damage your brand. In many ways, I wished I hadn’t written the ghostblogging post even though it did get a lot of attention. And I’m sure Quechup wished they hadn’t confused viral with spam.

Cool. The coolest thing I’ve seen for quite some time has been, and continues to be, Photosynth. I’m convinced this is an absolutely prime candidate for someone to use in a cool way to promote a product. The drawback is, I guess, that you need to download client software.

You certainly didn’t for the Experience Wii advert I saw on YouTube recently. It was a jaw-droppingly cool idea and one I definitely forwarded to a number of people. The idea was that the screen actually shook and disintegrated before your eyes, and slotted beautifully into the Wii ‘experience’ concept. So it’s incredibly frustrating to me that it no longer seems to be online. Why do people do this? Why do they remove things that could continue to get them great publicity simply by leaving them online? Why? The Experience Wii page did exist – really it did. I’m sure I didn’t dream it.

I also really like the Connected Ventures Flagpole Sitta video. It’s the greatest promotional video ever, and not just because amandalynferri is cute. The story goes that they just threw this together in an idle moment, it leaked onto the web, and now they have talent knocking at the door to be let in. I’m not so sure of the truth behind the provenance here, but I can certainly believe the result. When I saw the video, I wanted to work there. Come to think of it, I still do:

If social networking influences PR, the revenues will show it

And, according to Sir Martin Sorrell,  head of advertising group WPP, they already do.

He says that revenues from PR are growing strongly and…

“… the reasoning behind it is to do with social networking and the web… Social networking is really recommendation between people about the things that they are interested in and they like… this has stimulated people’s attention in terms of the importance of PR.”

Put bluntly, social media isn’t just an adjunct of PR: it is PR, or will be before long. (For an illuminating and amusing look to the future of digital media, check out Seamus McCauley’s post from 2020…)

If, in turn, buzz can be converted into revenue, then a fleet-footed agency will be able to capitalise on a chart that looks like this:

(key: facebook, myspace, bebo)

And if you thought the ‘Exploding Colour’ Sony Bravia ad was cool…

… check this out (first seen over the weekend):

Here’s some background to it:

“A team of 40 animators spent three weeks choreographing the models to create the 100,000 still images required to produce the 60-second ad.”

Yes, that really is clay-mation. It’s by Fallon, they of the other Sony Bravia ads, Cake Skoda and Cadbury’s Gorilla. The Sony ads are particularly interesting from a PR point of view because they are totally open to the public during filming and in fact that is integral to this advert. People take photos, show interest, and blog about the ad’s creation before it even hits the screens (which means I’m probably dreadfully late to this). Then the video that comes out of this process is perfect for viral YouTube-type treatments.

So is this PR, or advertising, or both? 

Add to GoogleAdd to BloglinesAdd to TechnoratiShare on FacebookSubscribe by RSSSubscribe by email

BlinkList | Blogmarks | Digg | Del.icio.us | Ekstreme Socializer | Feedmarker | Furl | Google Bookmarks | ma.gnolia | Netvouz | New PR | RawSugar | Reddit | Scuttle | Shadows | Simpy | Spurl | Technorati | Unalog | Wink | Yahoo MyWeb2