Nail your content strategy with the marketing funnel

There are many takes on the marketing funnel. They go from simple – Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action, the classic AIDA model – to very complicated. Some people swear by them. Others swear at them. Still others think the funnel is actually banana-shaped. Not really, I just couldn’t resist putting that in.

The idea is that people move from not knowing about you, on a journey that gets closer to investing in you. After becoming aware, if they like what they see then they’re interested. If they’re interested enough, they put you on a shortlist. And if you’re still a candidate, they’ll act – whether actually buying, or just getting in touch.

I quite like it because it makes sense to me and I use that as a litmus test. If I understand it, then my clients probably will too. I like the simplest version, the AIDA model, but I like putting something underneath the funnel for digital marketing in particular: retention.

I also like the funnel because it enables me to do two important things: figure out which kinds of content work for each stage of the funnel; and measure effectiveness.

Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action, Retention. What on earth am I talking about? Read on and, if you disagree, let me know below. No, really, I want to be told I’m wrong because that’s how I learn…

Awareness: I’m looking for X

This is where you need to move from people not knowing about you, to people becoming aware of you. They will be looking for something and will use fairly generic, industry- or sector-wide terms to do this, such as mousetraps, washing machines, digital marketing.

This is mostly the domain of Google. Sure, there are other search engines, but Google is it. So to make sure you’re top of Google, you need to embark on an awareness programme.

My feeling on awareness? Don’t use social media for it. There is no proven link between social and SEO, with the sole exception of Google+ which is plugged into Google’s results. So when people say they want to use social media to raise awareness, they’re using the wrong tool.

Awareness is all about what happens away from your site. You need to spread your tentacles across the web and make sure people are as likely to find you as possible using those generic search terms. So, for awareness, you need to think about getting as much word-of-mouth out there as possible. This is where PR comes in, with placed articles, bylines and advertorials raising awareness offline.

For online awareness, you need to think about establishing a presence on sites other than your own. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Blogs – Comment on influencers who mention you, our your issues, or any of your content. Also consider blog exchange programmes, where you post on influencer blog and they post on yours
  • Twitter: Retweet influencers who mention you
  • LinkedIn: Interact with industry groups
  • Facebook: Like or comment on pages that mention you

Everything here is designed to establish your voice on third-party sites. In other words, to raise awareness.

How do you measure this? Well given that most of this is off-site activity, you’re looking at how much earned conversation you’re stimulating, that is, how much are people talking about you other than yourself. There are ways of doing this, mainly by building dashboards through APIs.

You can also look at your Google Analytics and see how much search engine traffic is coming to your site. This gives you an idea of how successful your content strategy is in grabbing Google’s attention.

Interest: I’ve heard about you and I’d like to know more

So people know about you, because you’ve raised awareness through PR and canny use of third-party sites. Now it’s time to stimulate their interest and this is really where you can start using your social media. Think about how each of your channels can work with each of these types of content:

  • Events – are bread and butter to social media. Blog before, during and after them. Use Twitter, Instagram and Vine during them. Put your video together for more in-depth coverage on YouTube during and after. There’s plenty you can be doing with events that will make people think you’ve got your finger on the pulse.
  • White papers – are something of a dreadnought of communications, but this content can be great for ‘slicing and dicing’, that is, releasing a small amount at a time, linking to a dedicated web page or microsite. Go one step further and ask for people’s email addresses in return for this premium content and you’re right into the retention level.
  • Press releases – should always be on your Twitter feed and LinkedIn company page at the very least. Consider repackaging them for the blog but remember that your blog should on the whole talk about industry issues rather than shouting about yourself.
  • Educational series – are where you show that you know what you’re talking about, so talk about it on your blog. Even if you think something’s obvious, other people won’t.

To measure this, you’re now looking at how engaged people are with your owned channels. How often do people retweet you? How many comments does your YouTube channel have? How many people are talking about your Facebook page? And so on.

Again, Google Analytics is important. If you’re hosting in-depth content with serious amounts of investment behind them such as white papers, then you need to know how many people are visiting those pages, and how many are downloading them.

You can also use the dedicated dashboards for each channel but I’m not a fan of them. I like metrics that I can compare across channels and competitors, such as reach and engagement.

Desire: You’re on my shortlist

Having gone from awareness out there on the wild web, to interest from what you’re saying, the customer journey is now about desire. They know about you and they like you, and you’re on their shorlist. Now it’s your job to validate their decision to opt for you.

There are three kinds of content that work really well for this:

  • Case studies – are absolutely what you need to convince people that you know what you’re talking about. Prove to them that you understood the challenge, employed the right tactics, and got results.
  • Third-party articles – by which I mean all mentions of you whether bylines, features, blog posts or news. People want to know that you’re being talked about.
  • Awards – as with the funnel itself, some people love them and others hate them. I think they’re very compelling. Whatever the politics behind them (ie a stunning correlation between the companies that win and the companies that pay sponsorship), I think most people regard them as strong endorsement from the industry.

There’s a fourth kind here which can be controversial: comparison tables. They might work well for FMCG brands – “Hey look, you can wipe your bum much more quickly with our Bum-away toilet roll” – but sometimes slagging your competitors off can reflect poorly on your shiny brands.

To measure this you’re looking at metrics such as specific engagement from known influencers – retweets, replies, comments, subscribers. On your site you should also look for downloads of content and visits to pages that host it.

Action: Where do I sign?

This is It. There’s very little you can do with social media here. People have gone from the outer space of non-awareness, to the atmosphere of interest, and have landed on your planet because they have desire. But you can’t make them sign the dotted line. The best you can do here is make sure you have plenty of calls to action. Make it as easy as possible for people to buy, or to call you, email you, get in touch in any way. Marketing’s job is to get people as far down the funnel as Action. From now on, it’s about converting, and this is where marketing hands over to sales.

For measurement, this is absolutely the domain of the website. You should monitor specific page accesses to ‘hot’ conversion pages such as Contact Us or registration pages. And, of course, if you’re selling directly via your site, you need to monitor conversion rates: how many people pressed the Buy button?

Retention: Welcome to the club

Now you’ve got people on board, it’s time to keep them there. Sure, you’ve got your social media channels chugging away happily but everyone can read them. For people who have invested in you, give some of that investment back. This is where you embark on a client comms programme, giving them the inside track on product development, special offers, invites to events and so on. And to measure this, look at the metrics your email system supports such as numbers of emails opened or unsubscription rates.

And that’s it. That’s my take on the funnel, how to match content to each stage, and how to measure each stage. Please tell me that you disagree below, because I like finding stuff out from smart people.

Time to saddle up again: Brandinnnnnng

Right. So, the past few years has seen a lot of water under a lot of bridges. I’ve been a social media consultant. I’ve been a copywriter. I’ve been a marketing manager, PR manager, social media manager and content creator all at the same time. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. I’ve been undressed by kings and I’ve seen some things that a woman just ain’t s’posed to see. I’ve quoted far too much from films and songs.

And throughout all this, I’ve completely and utterly lost the blog habit. I couldn’t really see the point because I’ve been actually doing all this, so why bother write about it? I’ve decided to take it up again because:

  • It keeps me off the streets. Like Ishmael, it prevents me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off.
  • While things got boring a couple of years back, they’re a bit more interesting and write-worthy now. Mobile has changed a lot of this game, and new platforms such as PInterest, Vine and Instagram are making a real impact.
  • Whereas I thought blogging had died, people like Shel Holtz think I’m wrong. I still think blogging is really only useful when you get comments back, rather than just a load of shares or likes, but I’m prepared to try this again and see if I genuinely do get what I would call ‘engagement’.
  • I probably should do this because I’m back in the self-employed game – or, rather, I contract now, under the guise of SuperCooper Comms. Catchy isn’t it? I thought long and hard before that one, threw away company names that sounded like cures for constipation (actually, nearly all of them were like that strangely enough), and really should get the .co.uk domain pointing to this blog but I can’t be arsed.

I know, I’ve already fallen at the first blogging hurdle: I’m talking about myself rather than things you want to hear about. That’s because I’m quite rusty.

So, from now on, this blog’s going to be mostly about comms – earned, owned, paid, mobile, desktop, advertising, PR, social, digital – but from time to time I’ll put what I like on it. For example, isn’t the Philae lander an amazing thing? And aren’t otters cute?

Branding: The truth

Anyway, back to comms. Branding. That’s not comms so you could say that having blundered through the first hurdle I’m now staggering through the second. But wait. Branding is the root of comms. It informs what you’re going to talk about, and how you’re going to say it.

I’ve somehow become a branding person too along the way. What happens is, you go further and further upstream, beyond copywriting, up through social media, then messaging, then marketing, then you realised there’s more, so you start looking at branding. It’s a bit like Captain Willard travelling up the Nung River.

The key to branding is figuring out a way to make yourself different from your competitors, and suited to your audiences. It seems deceptively simple, but it’s not easy. Just Google ‘brand positioning’ and you’ll see that everyone has their own take on it, from the big stuff like what a brand is, to the nuts and bolts such as brand values, vision statements, mission statements and the like.

The important thing is that it’s the truth, which can sometimes be harsh. And as we all know, many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. So you need to get a lot of points of view.

The Outside-in view

  1. Choose a handful of key clients, partners and friendly peers.
  2. Ideally call them, not ideally mail them to say something like “We’re doing some thinking about our brand and would really value your input”, arrange a call for, say, 30 minutes or so.
  3. In the call, ask them:
    • What do you think we do well?
    • What do you think we could do better?
    • What three words describe how we work?
    • What do you think you’ll want from us in five years’ time?
  4. Create a quick slidedeck breaking this out into the core (ie what do all of them say), the common (what do most of them say) and the unusual (are there any that stand out for saying something the others don’t).

The Inside-out view

Do this internally too. Make people feel this is something they contributed to so that it becomes ‘real’ and ‘owned’. Also by comparing your responses to the clients, you start to identify gaps.

There is one additional question here too, for the MD or CEO, and maybe your senior leadership team, which is: where do you want to be in five years’ time?

The Industry view

  1. Spend an hour looking for articles that talk about what the future holds for your industry or sector
  2. Pull out the most significant summary points into a slidedeck
  3. Go through them and identify the top three

The Competitor view

  1. Spend an hour going through the websites for your competitiors and figure out:
    • What is their SEO description (if any)? Right-click on their home page where there is white space, and then click ‘View page source’ and search for the text <meta-description>
    • What is their strapline (if any)? If not under their logo, then sometimes they’ll have a sort of strap line on the top of their ‘about’ page.
    • In their ‘About’ page, what are the top three things they talk about, ideally relating to how they work rather than what they do?​
  2. Create a quick slidedeck breaking this out into the core (ie what do all of them say), the common (what do most of them say) and the unusual (are there any that stand out for saying something the others don’t).
  3. Email your team and ask them to give them a score of 1 to 10 where 1 is least and 10 is most, for the following:
    • Impact
    • Sophistication
    • Contemporariness – awful word I know, but what I mean is, how up-to-date do they look?

Web view

Create a ‘taxonomy’, by going through everything you can think of – websites, social media, wikipedia etc – and create a cloud of the most commonly used words in your industry.

Bringing it together

  • The outside-in view is the most important, by far. It’s your opportunity for you to find out, genuinely, what your strengths and weaknesses are.
  • The inside-out view is quite important, so long as you trust your staff not to be too blinkered in their outlook. By comparing this with the outside-in view you get an idea of whether or not you’re deluded.
  • The industry view shows you what the main challenges and opportunities are. Now that you know your strengths and weaknesses you can start developing a position that plays to your strengths, while addressing any potentially disabling weaknesses.
  • The competitor view gives you insight into how to differentiate. Do any of your competitors mention the industry challenges or opportunities? If not, they’re not branded very well, and you don’t need to worry about them too much. If some of them really do have a good position then you need to work out how not to overlap with them.

Now, you have three bubbles: your culture (the three words that describe how you work); the industry issues and opportunities they present; and your strengths. You need to find a common position that works at the intersection of those three bubbles, and doesn’t impinge too much on a competitor.

See? It’s all about bubbles. And it isn’t easy. That moment of insight can take quite some time. As is often the case, the process involves leg-work, but the insight means being in the right place at the right time, usually with a G&T on the go.

Finally, the web view gives you an idea of the kind of words you should use when you come to express all of this. You can be a maverick, and that’s fine, but you also need to make sure the words you use, are the words people are looking for.

So it’s about words too.

Good luck, and hopefully it won’t be three years before I post again…

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?

Want PR? Been Penalized by Google? Then lead a campaign.

Campaigns are an often-overlooked weapon in the PR arsenal. And, when conducted properly, social media can really, really help – which is what I’m hoping will happen with the ‘Have I Been Penalized’ campaign.

I spent some of my most creative, exciting and formative years working with Dr. Marc Pinter-Krainer on the Sharepages.com website and then for its parent company, KTS. Marc went into boardrooms and blew people away with the tech (cloud computing to deliver financial information before ‘cloud computing’ had been invented), while I wrote and designed everything, online and offline, that people saw or read.

Since then, I’ve found my niche in online comms. Marc has forged a new business, One News Page, which aggregates news feeds in a cleverly direct, sophisticated and simple way. With one catch: for nine months, his site was penalized by Google, and his web traffic dropped off a cliff. I remember searching for it and not being able to find it at the time, and thinking that was, well, weird.

Now that One News Page is back on Google’s results, Marc is leading a campaign to raise awareness of the penalties, and consequences, for pretty much any business out there. Of course, it hurts more for a purely online enterprise such as One News Page, but it’s a fair bet that any company would suffer if its web traffic dropped significantly.

And Marc’s point is this: that, given the essence of running a business is balancing risk, and you’re not even aware that there’s a risk you will be penalized, then this becomes a major problem. Especially so when the channels for redress from Google are so limited, comprising just one query page that only ever seems to return an automated response.

So I’ve done a bit of Marc’s publicity for him here by writing this post. But what I really mean to say is that campaigns are such a good way to get good PR. If you’ve got the balls to do it, arm yourself with facts, figure out your campaign strategy, then stick your head over the parapet and let rip. Next thing you know you’re seen as a true leader, with a strong brand, and plenty of online copy (and, I expect in Marc’s case, offline too).

It’s the essence of PR. Don’t talk about yourself. People don’t necessarily want to hear you talk about how great your products and people and services are. But they do want to know how issues will affect them. If you can position yourself as a leader in these mission-critical areas, the doors to publicity open wide.

And social media? Well, never has the phrase ‘disintermediation of the web’ rung more true. Create a video, and a site, and maybe a Twitter account, and you can address your audience directly, in a compelling way, engaging in the debate and spreading the word. And campaigns are all about debate, right?

I’ll sign off with a bit more free publicity for Marc. Watch the ‘Have I Been Penalized?’ video to find out what the true risk of Google penalties means for you, visit the ‘Have I Been Penalized?’ website to sign up for the campaign email list, or follow the campaign’s progress to address Google penalties on Twitter. I’m watching it with interest, and it could pan out to be a fascinating case study.

Oh, and a final disclaimer: I’m not part of Marc’s campaign. Besides, he seems to be doing fine himself…

“It’s called integrity, personality, you know. You’ve got something to say, you just stand up for your ground and say what you think. And that’s that.”

I work a lot with PR agencies, on big, corporate accounts. Together we go through sophisticated strategies, editorial calendars, brainstorming, measurement and so on, and slowly we help these great leviathans become more agile and approachable through communications.

But sometimes I see something and it’s so different from my day-to-day work that it reminds me what great communication is about. It’s about being human.

So today, I received a circular from a local restaurant I visited a while back, called La Chouette. It’s a strange place, based in a tiny village in Bucks, run by a wildly eccentric Belgian called Frédéric. He does have some online information, not least a video that… well, just watch it below, and you’ll get a flavour of the place and, more importantly, the man. (You can skip the bit about the cooking, but make sure you watch the last part. It’s priceless.)

See what I mean? Take your Gordon Ramsays, your Jamie Olivers, your Hugh Fearnley-Zinc-Trumpet-Harrison-Baden-Baden-De-La-Plume-De-Ma-Tente-Whittingstalls, and, as Frédéric says, piss off. He’d eat them for dinner.

When we arrived we were the only people there. It was the kind of situation that could have been excruciatingly embarrassing (for an Englishman anyway, but we’re good at being embarrassed, it’s a national sp0rt). But no. Frédéric helped us choose the wine (he looked a little annoyed that we didn’t know whether to go for red or white), disappeared to rustle up the (delicious) food, then chatted to us – and not just chatted, he expounded, he fl0urished, he shouted and bellowed, laughed and cursed, and waved his arms around a lot.

We liked him, and signed up for his newsletter.

All of which brings me to the real point of this post. I’m looking at the newsletter now. Here are some choice extracts, complete with spelling and grammar hiccups. Imagine them spoken in an uncompromisingly Belgian accent with an undertow of belligerence:

  • “Do not forget Valentine day, this year it fall on Monday the 14 of February, so Gentlemen, DO NOT forget or you will end up in the dog house. It does happen to me every years, I know what I am talking about.”
  • “You should come with that special person for a Romantic Evening… candles, a little light jazz music and abuses from your host, Peeerfect indeed.”
  • “Blues evening, those are getting rarer, I think that I am just getting old.”
  • “Philippe will be back to tell us about another part of France. I have heard that a lot of woman are really found of Philippe, I don’t know why… He is French for Christ sake!”

So, as a professional communicator, spot the mistakes. Not just the spelling and grammar, but references to being abused, xenophobia, and age. Would you do this on behalf of your client?

Of course you wouldn’t. Imagine doing something like this for Cisco, or Shell, or pretty much any client you’d care to name. It’s also – get this – not even online. It’s a photocopied letter, delivered through snail mail. How quaint.

But do you want to go there? Do you think it might be fun to meet this guy? Does he come across as a bland non-entity, or as someone passionate about what he does?

In short, do you respond to him as a human being? I do. And while I don’t tend to ‘do’ valentines – by common consent with my partner – simply by sending me the newsletter he’s reminded me that I’d really like to go back there sometime, maybe on a nice spring day, jump in the Spitfire, rock around to Westlington Green, and be abused.

So look around. ‘Professional’ communications can become boring, and if you’re bored, it shows. Inspiration can be everywhere, and when you find it, it’s wonderfully refreshing.

I cannot improve on Frédéric’s final words in the video:

“It’s called integrity, personality, you know. You’ve got something to say, you just stand up for your ground and say what you think. And that’s that.”

Aggregated predictions: what really will happen with social media in 2011

Around Christmas-time I was foolish enough to list my social media predictions. They were a combination of ‘more of this, less of that, same of the other’, and you can still read it if you’re foolish enough to base an entire year that hasn’t happened on the ramblings of one poor gangrel creature.

Fortunately I wasn’t the only one. There are plenty of other gangrel creatures out there, with their own predictions, so I thought it would be interesting to see what other people have said, aggregate them all, and see if we have any agreements. While there are plenty of one-offs (for example I think I’m the only person who predicts the rise and rise of digital agencies at the cost of PR agencies) there are, amazingly, congruencies between people.

Here’s what I’ve found below, but you can see the Google doc I used to compile this, together with the links to the bloggers I read. I got as far as halfway through page 4 of the Google results before I started to lose the will to live, and I might even pick this one up again, but for now, this is where we’re at.

Mobile

There were various takes on this, ranging from the increased importance of check-in sites such as Foursquare, through to the influence of technologies such as the iPad. I bunched them all under mobile, and this is the most important popular prediction, with 11 mentions from Socialnomics, ReadWriteWeb, Fred Meek, 4TM Guide, Lockergnome, Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Trevanian Legg, Ron Medlin, Social Media B2B, and Concepts Marketing.

Alignment with business goals

The gurus are being expunged, dormanted, deleted. Next most popular was the prediction that 2011 will see people really tying social media to business results, with 8 mentions from Conversational Currency, Socialnomics, OneForty, ReadWriteWeb, KnowledgeBlog, Social Media Examiner, Infusionblog, Trevanian Legg, and me. I went on to say that these would yield disappointing results, and I’m happy (or sad, or despondent, or maybe a little morose) to say that KnowledgeBlog and Social Media B2B think so too.

The rise of Facebook

I said that I don’t see Facebook declining any time soon – unlike, say, Google, and who’d have thought that eh? – and I’ve been joined by Fred Meek, Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Hausman Marketing Research Letter, Ron Medlin, Likeable Media and Contently Managed – that is, 7 other thinkers who also think Facebook will continue to dominate, whether through expansion, flotation, collaboration, monetisation, or something else ending in ion.

Amusingly enough, 4 commentators think Facebook will decline in influence, mainly through the rise of niche networks. They are Forrester, ReadWriteWeb, Trevanian Legg and MSL Group. They are, of course, wrong.

More group buying, particularly Groupon

In total 5 commentators think that social or group buying, particularly that exemplified by Groupon (or, in fact, actually Groupon since its valuation last year north of one billion dollars) will be significant over the coming year. They are Socialnomics, KnowledgeBlog, The Next Web, Social Media B2B, and MSL Group.

More content-driven programmes

All social media should be driven by content, but Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Infusionblog, Social Media B2B and Contently Managed think this will happen more in 2011, with tools to help marketeers do this, or to enable their audiences to do it for them.

More consolidation among the large networks

This is something I didn’t mention but I do agree with. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn are irresistible and I don’t think the likes of Diaspora (the open-source so-called Facebook killer) et al are going to make a single dent. So I agree with Socialnomics, KnowledgeBlog, 4TM Guide, Social Media Examiner and Contently Managed on this one.

Again however, there are dissenters. Social Media B2B and GigaOm think there will be a rise of importance from niche sites at the ‘big’ systems’ expense. Silly sausages.

Anonymity and vetting

This is something I really hadn’t considered but does make sense. One of the primary concerns I noted while training at the Social Media Academy last year was that of privacy, that is, how much should I let people know, and how can I tell if people are genuine online? Four commentators mention privacy/vetting issues, and they are Conversational Currency, Socialnomics, ReadWriteWeb and GigaOm.

Video

This one surprises me, I have to say. ReadWriteWeb, Tim Ferriss, Concepts Marketing and Contently Managed all mention the ascendancy of video to some degree. I guess this ties in with the ascendancy of mobile in that we’ll all be glued to our displays watching video while we accidentally fall into water features.

That’ll do pig

I don’t want to give the impression I’m being a bit hasty here but I really need to crack on. Take a look at the Google Docs spreadsheet for the full picture. I might add to it as I go along, but really, go and take a look to see what else people comment on. Of the remaining topics that are mentioned by at least three sources we have metrics (which I guess ties into business goals), advertising, more social search (and less social search!), more workplace acceptance, continued importance placed on social media, the culling of so-called social media gurus (using a blunt instrument I presume), the intriguing and some would say tautological concept of Social Google, more Quora (of quorse – sorry), and more Twitter - again, counterbalanced by some who say less Twitter. Nothing more thrilling than when people disagree.

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.

The Universal Process™. Or: the Gartner Hype Cycle of Life

Life. Work. Birth. Death. And everything in between. Read on.

I wrote some time ago about the process of writing. Unless I’m writing for myself – that is, when I had time for ‘recreational writing’, or even blogging for that matter – I tend to procrastinate. I sit in front of the monitor surrounded by swathes of research, I huff and I puff, I put my head in my hands, I wander off, stroke the cats, make a cup of tea, sit in the garden staring at a bush. I repeat this a few times, then, after the first paragraph or two, it’s there, in my head. I totally know where it’s going and what I’m doing and before I know it, the piece is written.

But then it needs redrafting, often several times, off my own bat and following feedback. In the end I’m heartily sick of it and I’m happy to dispatch it, but everyone seems happy with it. Then, some time later, I go through my own stuff and think “That’s pretty good. Did I really write that? I must have been intelligent back then. Perhaps I’m destroying my brain with too much TV/Guinness/social media.”

This hasn’t changed, and it’s telling me that it’s an essential part of the process. You need that time to fulminate. To ruminate. To think. People don’t pay you to think, but it is necessary. Then you become so familiar with something you just want rid of it. Then you look back on it a few weeks or months or years later, and you’re pretty pleased with what you did. It was all worth it in the end.

The more I work in other fields, the more I think this is a universal process. I’m going to call it the UP™.

An example: I used to be into home-based music production. It was a phase, albeit a fairly long one (about 8 years – you can hear the results here). The same would happen. I’d noodle a fair amount, then suddenly latch onto it and off I went. Then I would spend a very, very long time with the production. In the end, same thing: I had enough. But it had to be finished. So I would end up finishing it without really knowing if it was finished. And sometimes I listen to it even now and I quite like it. Does that make sense?

Another example: today, I put together a Facebook page for a client. I’ve done this before, but every client is different, and you pretty much find yourself starting from scratch every time. At first I was fairly overwhelmed. There were so many wrong ways to go about it, and I had to find the right way. So I looked through all the content I had – several times – then did some research about best practice, looked at what other people had done, etc etc. There was huffing and there was puffing, there was head in hands. There were cats stroked. Bushes were looked at. Tea was drunk.

About two hours later I was absolutely heading in the right direction. And now I’m really getting into it. And I thoroughly expect that, after we launch and promote it (and keep promoting it for the next few months) I will have had enough of it, and want to do something else instead. But I’m hoping the client will like it. And I’m hoping I’ll look back on it and like it too.

Copywriting, music, social media (and, for that matter, design and code, which is what I’m doing with the FB page). They all follow this pattern. Even research. I hate starting a social media audit. I love it when the figures come out. I hate having to keep plugging away and updating it. I love it when I look back and think I did a good job.

This process needs a model.

I like the Gartner Hype Cycle. I like its categories: the Trigger, the Peak of Inflated Expectations, the Trough of Disillusionment, the Slope of Enlightenment and finally the Plateau of Productivity. See below.

I think that applies to work, too, but with a different shape. My new categories? The Commission, the Trough of Despond, the upward Slope of Encouragement, the Peak of Productivity, the downward Slope of Dudgeon and finally, the Plateau of Reality. It’s the UP™. See below.

Let’s be philosophical. I wonder if life is like this? In which case The Commission is when mummy and daddy got friendly, the Trough of Despond is when you realise you’re probably not going to get that Ferrari (or in my case a Morgan, although my Spitfire is seeing me alright), the Upward Slope of Encouragement is when you think “Well, that’s ok, let’s focus on what’s important”, the Peak of Productivity is after you climb up (or my case, up a bit, across a bit, down a bit) the career ladder and start really enjoying life, the Downward Slope of Dudgeon is when you start confusing your grandchildren’s names with the cats and hoovering the garden, and the Plateau of Reality is… well, I don’t think I’m there yet. I’ll post you when I am.