2011 social media predictions

So while I have my blogging head on – hot off the news that Delicious is disappearing and Facebook has undergone yet another redesign – I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on the state of the social media nation for the coming year. It’s not all good. Here we go…

Confidence will go down

Social media lives in the cloud (or ‘online’ as we used to say). This is good, in that the cloud is a wonderful thing where you can pool computing resources and readily share information. But its fluidity is a problem. I’ve already written about my dislike of the state of ‘permanent beta’ of such services, and with the recent make-over of Facebook, I remain annoyed. The bigger a site gets, the more we depend on it. The more it changes, the less we like it – not just because we have to relearn it, but strategists have to go back to the blueprints, trainers have to re-do all their materials, and so on. And that’s nothing compared to what happens when sites like Delicious just disappear. How can you invest time and effort, how can you plan, when you don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months, let alone the next year?

Monetisation will continue to be a problem

Yahoo owns the biggest bookmarking service around, and it cannot make money off it. Twitter, as far as I’m aware, still doesn’t have a monetisation strategy. I don’t quite understand how Mark Zuckerberg can be so rich off the back of Facebook. Anyone remember the dotcom boom and bust? Social media feels horribly similar, in that I believe the people who make money off social media right now are the ones who get paid to assess its value. It’s very like the old gold rushes – the ones who got rich were the ones who sold the spades to dig for the gold, not the poor fools actually looking for it.

PR still won’t ‘get it’

I still feel my temples throb when I meet up with digital colleagues at PR agencies, who recount phrases they continue to come across such as “Let’s do some blogging stuff” or “Maybe we should send some tweets out.” Social media is still new, but it’s gone from burbling helplessly in the cot to at least toddling. Four-plus years is enough for PR people to have understood the basics, but my anecdotal evidence suggests that PR people, while they are completely brilliant at issues, are unrivalled organisers and demon communicators, are completely at sea when it comes to the high-level strategy and the low-level nuts and bolts of getting through to people online. I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Freelancers will find it an increasingly tough gig

I admit I haven’t found the past year easy by any means. People rightly want the confidence of an agency behind their programmes in case I get run over by a bus. And if/when you do finally get a client who’s prepared to work with you in the longer term, again they quite rightly want to know your ‘secret sauce’ – and then do it for themselves.

Digital agencies will rise

While I find PR people don’t ‘get’ digital, I do find digital ‘gets’ PR. My prediction here is that, far from PR subsuming digital, it will eventually be the other way around. Digital agencies have the heft of a professional outfit, with a proper team structure and a wealth of expertise that, I think, will be the umbrella model for the future.

Social media curves will continue to go up, but results will continue to disappoint

I still find it astonishing that, for example, in 2010 there was more social media traffic than all years combined (trust me, it’s a valid statistic, but I cannot find the source for that right now). At the same time, broadcast and mainstream media just has those huge exposure figures that social media simply cannot compete with. Dan Sabbagh of The Guardian recently showed us this (and this time I do have a link): of the recent Alan Partridge Fosters YouTube videos he says: “The first episode has racked up 492,000 plays on YouTube at the time of writing, and while the latest episode, 5, has dropped to 135,000, [Henry Normal, the man who “minds the shop” at Partridge actor Steve Coogan’s production company Baby Cow] claims the results are a success, even though a new comedy on Channel 4 would expect to be seen by 1.5m to 2m viewers.” OK, so 15-minute YouTube clips are cheaper to disseminate but 135,000 views is NOTHING compared to 2 million viewers – regardless of trendy notions of ‘engagement’, ‘dialogue’ or ‘the network effect’.

Facebook will continue to dominate

Facebook is a juggernaut and it’s not going to slow down any time soon. This is a pity because the web was never meant to be a single-application platform. It was supposed to be a resilient, open resource through which information could freely – which also means anonymously – pass. One day Facebook will break and then we’ll all be sorry.

Dashboarding and curating will grow

I truly believe that every company should be monitoring what people are saying about it, its issues and its competitors, on a daily basis. Even if they don’t then engage, there is simply no excuse for not listening, especially when marvellous sites such as Netvibes make dashboarding easy as cake, a piece of pie. Set up an internal dashboard monitoring your competitors and what people are saying about them. That’s research. And have an external one showcasing what you say and the areas you want to ‘own’. That’s marketing. Where’s the harm in that?

Social media will only provably work for big companies that have stuff to sell

This is possibly the most controversial point here. Social media only works when it scales up. If you don’t have enough followers/members/contacts, it won’t work. People are the fuel that drives the social media engine. So smaller companies that genuinely want to engage will not see the benefit. However, larger companies that can command a large amount of interest online will see the benefit – and that will primarily be through selling. Take Dell, for example. It has sales that have grown, year on year, from 1 million dollars, to 3, to 6, to 18 million. That’s a steep curve, and whereas it’s peanuts for a company that size, I can see that they can totally point to an ROI that means they will continue to invest in it. Meanwhile your smaller enterprises will give up. This is a real pity because, in the same way the web isn’t meant to be one big application (see my Facebook point above), social media was supposed to give the little man a voice. Again, terms like ‘engagement’ and ‘dialogue’ are nice, but only if you can afford to invest in them without necessarily pointing to an ROI. ‘Selling’, on the other hand, is what the CEO is interested in, and will shell out money for, and you can only do this effectively if you’re big.

So, there you go. What will I do next year? Don’t know really. Maybe I’ll continue ploughing my furrow and see what transpires. Maybe I’ll close shop and go and work for a digital agency. Maybe I’ll set my own up. Maybe I’ll get out of social media altogether (again) and focus on something nice and comfortable, like copywriting.

And you? What will you do? Here’s my advice if you’re thinking about using social media next year:

  • Make sure you’re doing other forms of marketing too. Social media on its own will not cut it.
  • Make sure whoever you work with in social media knows what a strategy is. If they say “We’re all about tactics”, walk away.
  • Really think about monitoring. It doesn’t take long to set up and you will be amazed at what you find out.
  • Be prepared to work in the dark to an extent – you may never really know how much money you make off the back of your investment.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for changes and closures. No social media site/channel/platform is too big to go under.

That about wraps it up for 2010. I’m going to finish my cup of tea and then work on thawing my toes out, then I’m going to sit by the log fire and stare into the distance for the next two weeks. Toodle pip.

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?

It’s been an interesting year

The year, if you're a pagan. Click image for source.

The year, if you're a pagan. Click image for source.

So it’s a year almost to the day that I went freelance. I only realised when I attended a local country fair, comprising ferret races, dogs herding geese, and cut-price sales of smocks (I only lied about one of those), which I went to the day after deciding I had to go freelance last year or go utterly insane.

It’s probably the best thing I ever did. I’ve since learned how to cut those apron strings, stop shouting “Mother” in a George Formby-type way whenever anything went wrong, stand on my own two feet, and be a Real Man.

It’s not all been plain sailing however. It’s been good, but also, at times, bad. So, for those of you who still read blogs – which, by my declining stats, is about three – here’s what I’ve found:

Money

I’m not particularly ‘fiscal’ by nature, or at least I wasn’t. The pound gave me palpitations. I dreaded dollars. The Malaysian Ringgit made me Moan Relentlessly. Now, I track everything to the penny and found I’m not bad at it. I’ve got a funky spreadsheet that tells me exactly who, when, where, why, and for how much. This is just as well because…

Money again

I didn’t earn as much as I thought I could. This was down to two factors: it took a while to get going; and Christmas was utterly dead. Dead as a dodo. It was an ex-Yuletide. Since February however, the famine has become feast, so next year, note to self: go on a nice wintersun holiday around December time. Maybe extend it to November and January.

Work

It’s lumpy. So Christmas was bad but I’ve also had a few weekend stints and at the time of writing am looking to perform another. However, the main thing is, at least I’m getting paid. I pity the poor gangrel creatures who work at agencies and are expected to work late and/or weekends for free.

Time

Has become increasingly flexible. I’ve given up trying to work before 11am because it just doesn’t suit me. I tend to do my own stuff before then – tidying up the UK Election Social Media Dashboard for example, checking my email, seeing where the world is at. Then I’ll get cracking until around 7 or 8pm, at about which time my lovely girlfriend comes home. Then I put on the Barry White, obviously.

People

There are some weirdos out there. Honestly. I’m starting to develop a knack for detecting the tyre-kickers in particular. Unfortunately, most of them come to me via this blog. Emails such as “Can you contact us re copywritting” [sic] are a dead giveaway. All I’ve decided is that you have to treat everyone equally and, when you’ve chased once, twice, thrice, you just have to leave it and accept that it’s not personal.

On the other hand there are some really nice people out there. Just when I start losing faith in humanity, I find one. Or even two. They really help. I’d say on the whole I’m finding that, when you get out of the paranoid world of the agency, people are much less hung up and desperate. I think I tend to reflect what’s going on around me so I was getting hung up and desperate working in agencies. Really, in the real world, it’s not like that, simply because it doesn’t have to be. Fact.

Serendipity

You never know what’s around the corner. That’s what makes the tyre-kickers of the world annoying. Some of them seem so promising. Then you get a random query and the next thing you know, they’re a retained client. Retainerships are wonderful. You can plan with them, as can they. And they can still make a profit off you cos you’re a poxy freelancer while they’re a big butch agency and can still hold healthy margins.

Experience

I’d say I’ve learned more in the past year than I did in the previous five. I spent too long expecting someone to give me the answers, and I kept finding that no one really knew what they were. So I decided to look for myself. Now I have the tools and techniques that mean I can address a client’s situation in a logical, replicable, objective way (creativity was never a problem). So I might come up with the same solution they’d have thought of themselves. Fine. Difference is, with real reasoning and solid strategy behind them, they know why they’re doing it. More to the point, they can tell their bosses why they’re doing it. It’s important.

Solitude

This is the one thing that surprised me. I do get lonely working on my own. I travel quite a lot to see clients in London Town, and the cats are amusing in their own way. I also grew up spending endless hours playing by myself and it didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I used to think how lovely it would be to work on my own without being bothered by pesky people. Now, while I do value my own time, I find I can have too much of it. Balance in all things I guess. I need more retainers. So, on that note, if you want to retain a social media copywriter, let me know.

Tortoises

I’ve been able to spend more time with Concorde the Tortoise, showing him flashcards to stimulate him, teaching him his times tables, helping him hone his polevaulting technique etc. He’s learning French this year. I’m thinking of sending him to one of the better public schools, maybe Eton or Harrow. Definitely not Winchester.

And that’s it. I expect it’s what a lot of freelancers will tell you from any discipline. Main thing is I’m certainly much happier and more confident since doing this. Sometimes you have to listen to that little voice inside you and just go for it. I’m glad I did.

It’s all swings and roundabouts


… as my grandad used to say.

I’ll be honest with you: business stank in December, January and February. I don’t know what happened. It just disappeared. I spent the time productively, developing my own tools for measuring and monitoring, chasing leads and – heaven forfend – indulging in online advertising, but it was quite disheartening. I could understand December because people are generally too knackered or too busy (or both) to start new projects off. Other freelancers I spoke to said they experienced the same thing so, note to self: go for a nice wintersun holiday in December from now on.

Still, January didn’t improve and neither did February. I was starting to get worried. Was I losing my mojo? Because I did have some, once. Or perhaps I was just stunningly lucky when I started off freelance.

However, there are certain shall we say ‘practices’ which don’t help freelancers. They generally fall into these categories, in ascending order of irritation:

  • A prospective client asks for a quote. I send the client a quote. The client doesn’t reply. I chase three more times. The client doesn’t reply. I give up. This is fair enough – this is all prospective and there are no obligations on either side. But it’s a bit, well, rude.
  • A prospective client asks for a quote. I send the client a quote. The client says they’re going to consider it. That’s fine. They responded, but deep down I kind of know it’s not going to happen. They get a ‘5’ score on my little spreadsheet. If you want to know whether it’s good or bad, I’ll tell you that it automatically gets shaded in black.
  • A client says “Yes, let’s do it.” We all wave our arms in the air. They move up to a ‘2’ on my spreadsheet which is a nice shade of orange. Then they realise they might actually have to do something such as review content or supply material. And they disappear. Again.
  • An existing client disappears. That is, you thought you were working together, and the client keeps coming up with excuses, usually “I’m ill” or “I’m busy”. Fine, I wait until they’re better or less busy. The client doesn’t reply. I chase three more times. The client doesn’t reply. I give up. This is, in my opinion, not fair enough. At all. It’s about as rude as it gets, short of giving you the finger.

What I really don’t like about these scenarios is that people think it makes life easier just to disappear. What’s wrong with being honest? I mean, why not just say “We don’t need what you offer” or “You’re too expensive” or “We think you smell”? I’d rather have this than radio silence. Besides, if they tell me I might be able to do something about it. Particularly the smell.

But I’ve noticed things suddenly pick up. I haven’t been doing anything different. I’ve just had people who understand the value of relationships, who kept in contact, and who now have work for me. They’re all at ‘number one’, which is red hot. Hurray.

I don’t want this to be a gripe because I seem to have been doing that a lot recently, but here’s the lesson: it might be easy to ignore a freelancer, and you obviously think it’s just you doing it and no one else, and I’ll play by the rules and leave you alone, but don’t forget that freelancers work with all sorts of clients on a daily basis. Inevitably we chew the fat with people who hire us. And whereas we’re discreet – or at least I am – and never bad-mouth a client, we will also talk glowingly about people we like and just not mention ‘the disappeared’ at all.

So if you want a mention, even if you don’t want my work, then be honest with me. If you just disappear, you’ll disappear.

Posted via email from Brendan Cooper – your friendly social media-savvy freelance copywriter and social media consultant.

Good grief, I’m one of the smartest people in social media!

This is according to Smarter Social Media.

They’ve been through lots of people and apparently I’m one of the top 100. I find this astonishing, particularly as I’ve pretty much stopped blogging recently.

As is often the case, they’ve been a bit coy about their criteria. Is it bean-counting? Is it ubiquity? Or do they just like my avatar? If so, why did they publish the wrong photo of me?

Nevermind. One thing I do think they’re getting right is listing the people, not the blogs. This was one of the reasons I stopped publishing my PR Friendly Index of blogs. It’s about bloggers, not blogs, and in fact more than that it’s about presences on Twitter, Facebook, and a whole raft of other social media platforms. And across all of them it’s about what they say and how they contribute.

So perhaps people think I’ve contributed, which is nice.

I have to say, after a fairly trying time working in social media I had decided to get completely out of the scene and concentrate on copywriting instead. But I keep getting drawn back into it, so perhaps this is coming at the right time.

In fact, maybe those three prospective clients who all postponed their projects last week might think about starting them up again…? Or perhaps I should take advantage of some slack time and post about how great other people think I am.

Five top tips for flagging freelancers

Are you flagging? Click image for source.

Are you flagging? Click image for source.

Do you flag? I do sometimes. Here are some suggested fixes…

Working freelance, you get to work from home. It’s nice. No commutes. No annoying people. Peace. Control.

I work in an annexe – a fully functional, separate building from my house, complete with shower, toilet and storage space – so on a good day I can spend all day there, without ‘going home’. Even when I worked in a study within a house I was largely able to confine myself to one half of the house and keep out of the lounge. It’s important. You need that imaginary line to separate work from domesticity.

But there can come times when your willpower flags. I’m finding this happens after lunchtime particularly. You know how you feel a bit tired around 2:30pm, and wish you could have a nap? Well the same thing happens to me, at home. You wish you could have a little lie down? Well imagine how much more tempting that sounds when your nice, soft bed is a staircase away!

So here are my tips for rallying yourself when you can’t go and annoy other people at work instead:

  • Change your work environment. I work on a PC but I also have a laptop, so I just transfer work to that and carry on somewhere else. This can be the house or, rarely given this year’s summer, the garden. It’s amazing the difference it makes – you just perk up and get on with it. There are various ways you can do this. Copy the work to a USB stick and physically transfer it. Mail it to yourself as an attachment on GMail or some such thing then download it to the laptop. Or, work in a cloud environment such as Google Docs and carry on as if nothing happened.
  • Go for a walk. Again, the change is astonishing. Even just round the corner or, if you’re lucky like me and live in the country, out into the fields. Sometimes it might seem like a bind to get the boots on and get out, but when you do, within a minute or so you feel great. Again, you get back, you feel up for it.
  • Work on something else instead. Copywriting is especially hard when you reach a block – not necessarily a writer’s block, but you can sometimes just feel so into something that you can’t get out of it. So get out of it. If you have other work, and you’re not pressed for deadlines, it can free you up and you feel better for it. If, like me, you’re enamoured of anything digital, give that a go because it uses the flipside of your brain. I find Yahoo Pipes perfect for that. But don’t get too involved in it because, as King Lear himself said, that way madness lies.
  • Give up. This is where being a freelancer really means free. If it’s just not happening, clock off. Work earlier the next day, or later that day, or both. Practice that golf swing instead. Fix up the house (my less preferred option). Or just stare out of the window absent-mindedly stroking the cat (my preferred option).
  • Longer term fixes could include hiring a hotdesk, so you’re working in people’s company and can annoy them instead of getting on with stuff. The Hot Office has some attractive locations and fees, so check them out. You could also consider popping down to your local coffee house and make use of their wifi (comes under the ‘change your work location’ I guess), or, if you can, maybe think about working on-site for a client if there’s a full day or two of work from them.

You can probably add to that: “write a blog post about it”, which is what I just did. But there are mitigating circumstances: I’m off to the Jackenhacks (née Flackenhacks) in about 30 minutes so I’m getting excited about it. I may post about it tomorrow. With pictures. And video. So watch it.