Bristol Editor has moved!

August 13, 2010

To here – after an incredible two years, all good things come to an end. Well, in this case, to a new phase. See you there!

No, it’s not one of those ‘Try this e-course and get rich’ blog posts. There aren’t any magic answers or selling systems on the way.

Just a few nuggets of advice for those looking to actually create some cash from the burgeoning social media platforms in 2010.

Here’s what I did.

Back in the Autumn of 2009, I consulted a digital marketing agency up North, setting up and launching a social media services division for them. The idea being to then take this to their key corporate clients, a couple of whom had already been asking for advice and inputs on such areas as generating interest from Twitter and whether a corporate blog would be worthwhile in 2010.

The social media services division included, essentially:

Social media content

Social media monitoring

Online PR

Social media participation

Social media bookmarking

Core services revolving around the basic premise that content must be the driving force for successful social media activities. Within 4 weeks, the division had been launched, following an intensive overhaul of the agency’s social media engagement: this included getting the Team writing articles for online publishing, blogging to a set schedule, tweeting across core sectors and to target audiences, social bookmarking across the main platforms including Friendfeed, and inviting clients to take a closer look.

Weeks 4-12 were essentially about putting together killer presentations, getting pitch dates set and planned in, meeting marketing managers and delivering the ‘hook & hold’ element of the social media services. And the results?

Client 1:

A leading national insurance firm. Inputted on a range of services, including corporate blogging, online PR, social bookmarking, article placement, content development, protecting brand names on Twitter and overview strategic inputs for 2010. The client had contacted the agency directly regarding assistance on social media services. Prices and strategy delivered. First sale.

Client 2:

A global brand supplier of bottled gas to domestic and commercial markets. Pitched on online PR, social bookmarking, developing a range of corporate blogs, social media content, social media monitoring and promotions across Twitter. Integration of content across multiple platforms was a key consideration. Again, the client inquired regarding utilising social media services to win more online attention, drive higher traffic, and deliver greater sales. Prices and strategy delivered. Second sale.

Client 3:

A global brand name in heating solutions and hot water technologies. Required full service solutions, across the entire range of social media, including setting up and running a number of corporate blogs, Twitter promotions, online PR, social media bookmarking, social media monitoring, and production of a colossal amount of social media content during 2010 to engage new audiences during product promotions. The pitch came about from a conversation about blogging. Prices and strategy delivered. Third sale.

So, what’s the message here? How did a senior editorial guy with limited technical expertise manage to engage three very different corporate clients for an agency, to the point where £250,000 sales were returned to the agency within 3 months?

Simple answer.

Passion and belief in the fact that social media represents the best opportunity for companies, individuals, PRs on behalf of clients and anybody who finds online content valuable as a means of communicating key messages, to deliver and keep on delivering into and beyond 2010. Passion and belief that sales will result from killer content across social media platforms.

The days of standard marketing DM pieces to a database-driven audience offline? Gone.

The days of cold-calling new customers using call random centre staff from 6-7pm? Gone.

The days of broadcasting your selling messages in the hope of an ROI at some point? Gone.

Well, not necessarily gone, You can still use these methods of course. Chances are, however, your competitors will be online, in a faster, more cost-effective, engaging and profitable way, utilising the best commercial opportunity in 20 years. Social media, baby. I saw this commercial opportunity back in 2005, when I started managing corporate blogs for UK clients.

Sorry I can’t give you the Agency or corporates’ names – protecting their commercial anonymity is an essential part of the deal. I’d say it is an interesting recent consultancy project example which may well give a few marketers food for thought. Maybe.

This might be one of the trickiest questions to face businesses and individuals getting engaged with social media platforms – after all, although raising profile, increasing online awareness, and positive impacts on Search rankings all come as part of the deal inherently with social media engagement, some tangible ROI (such as an ideal client) via social media activity is a bonus we can all relate to.

Here’s how I look for an ideal client via social media:

It’s all about relevance, and thinking like your customer. Start by looking at which social media platforms you’re engaging on, sharing links, posting blogs, and ask if your ideal client is likely to be exposed to your offerings.

Make sure that you’re posting material which is relevant to them – their sector, niche, industry. Use relevant keywords for their business in your social media content, and connect with key players in their industry.

Observe the conversation, see what’s being discussed in your ideal client’s sector. Add value and expertise into the online comments, highlight how you can help – without selling – and point towards useful content across the web.

Give, give, give. Leave any agendas or hard sell out of the conversation, engage and add value. Consider, for example, connecting your ideal client with contacts in your network who might benefit their business. It’s likely, for example, that you will have at least one contact who could buy services and products from your ideal client. Connect them up, leverage your network.

Have a plan and stick to it. If you’re going to target, for example, IFAs then engage half a dozen with a view to converting one into a paying client.

Remember, the sales cycle via social media is longer than other marketing routes, but it usually provides a lower cost of sale and longer client retention, based on a more personal, trust-based business relationship.

One of the hardest things about finding an ideal client social media is the perception of having to let clients come to you. This is only a perception.

If you’re working your social media platforms with defined strategy, your inputs, comments and networking advice to your targets will draw them to you over time, leading to increased conversations, added value, and that wonderful question ‘So, what could you deliver for my business, then?’ which is the sweet spot of social media engagement for me.

Here are the key facts, in my experience, for finding ideal clients via social media:

  • Forget all traditional marketing thinking and techniques.
  • Don’t use sales-based language, and don’t ever write a proposal.
  • Observe, then engage.
  • Add value, help, network, use Search keywords in your content.
  • Work social media platforms with a defined strategy, not randomness.
  • If you’re looking for a quick win, re-think why you’re using social media.

A great example of finding an ideal client using social media, for me, happened like this:

I wanted to engage a medium-sized, secure, stable PR agency as part of my client base. PR agencies are exposed to clients who require expert consultancy, who listen to the agency’s advice and usually follow through with a purchase.

PR agencies are also ideally placed to utilise social media content services to their clients, thus keeping the cost-of-sale at a low point for me. I white label for the Agency. Simple.

So, how did it pan out?

I observed then engaged with a long-standing PR agency, with a solid client base, covering the entire UK. I offered inputs and advice, pointed the CEO to a few relevant articles, talked about the digital marketing agency I worked with in 2009 (and the £250,000 in social media services revenues I delivered to them via their existing client base within a 12-week period), and offered to provide further content to him.

Nothing pushy, no selling – just advocacy of a mutually-beneficial, profitable business relationship at some point in the future. Zero risk for him, and no lengthy, expensive buying-in of resources, skills, new specialised staff.

No brainer, really.

One of the Agency’s clients enquired about social media platforms a few weeks later. The CEO asked me to prepare materials on their behalf and white label a sale through – which happened within a fortnight.

Agency gains new revenues, at minimal cost, and I deliver the work, on virtually zero cost-of-sale. An ideal client, too, because they have in excess of 18 clients who could all be potential targets this year.

End result? Ideal client sourced and secured with paid work in place within nine weeks, via social media platforms. A definitive ROI from strategic activities.

So, the next time you wonder if social media engagement is really worth it, ask yourself- am I really working it, or just present without a purpose?

Happy trails.

On inspecting the stats for my blog today, I discovered an amazing fact – and one which lays testimony to the power of Google and other search engines in making and breaking the reputations of corporates, businesses and individuals online.

As you may or may not know, 5 weeks ago I wrote about how Kwik Fit delivered potentially life-threatening work on my car. I wrote about this experience here, and gave Kwik Fit customers the opportunity to also comment on their experiences of Kwik Fit.

The comments that followed were a damning condemnation of Kwik Fit, its senior management, and their unsavoury customer service practices. Obviously, I gave Kwik Fit the opportunity to set the record straight and do the right thing. Their response was to try and get their consumer PR to discredit the story with the Press. Needless to say, the story has along way to go before being resolved to my satisfaction.

However, what has come from the whole episode – apart from the book I am drafting currently on reputation – is the surprising results online via search engines such as Google.

On closer inspection of my blog stats today, it appears that nearly 43% of all search engine traffic found the blog by searching the phrase ‘Kwik Fit’ where they would have been taken to the ‘death trap car’ story I posted. Not a good message on their business.

This got me thinking further about corporate reputation online. If you can’t control what is being said about you, your business and your brand on the internet, how do you limit, curtail, and prevent negative comment being widely seen online by potential customers?

Simple answer – treat your customers well, and they’ll treat you well back. And for today’s revelation? Google, I salute you.

For the record, the Kwik Fit post has consistently taken 100+ hits per day since first posting on 02 February – which means that up to now, Kwik Fit has lost a potential 3,200 customers who’ve read the blog post.

The issue of online reputation will be fully explored in the forthcoming book – with specific reference to Kwik Fit, of course.

These guys certainly haven’t. Awesome clip on the power of words here.

It’s worth remembering – in these times of throwaway tweets, video-clip-enhanced blogs, multimedia overload, the domination of YouTube and now touchscreen iPads, the one thing which holds it all together and makes it tangible for audiences and advertisers is powerful words.

Think on this:

* When you see a powerful TV advert, it’s the words which often call you to action

* If you read a compelling blog, the words are what stays with you

* When you remember a great movie, it’s the words which flood back to you, years later

* The most powerful tweets usually drive us towards an emotive response via wonderful words: see @paulocoelho

* Even though our attention spans are reducing, media soundbites are still only, in effect, carefully-crafted words

* The rise of podcasts holds much of its success to the spoken word

In the drive for revenue models from online content, have we forgotten the power of words? I wonder. This is a stunning reminder of the reasons why we buy into products, services, companies and individuals. It’s the power of words.

Maybe it’s worth remembering the power of words – make each one count. People always remember powerful words.

No, it’s not one of those ‘Try this e-course and get rich’ blog posts. There aren’t any magic answers or selling systems on the way.

Just a few nuggets of advice for those looking to actually create some cash from the burgeoning social media platforms in 2010.

Here’s what I did.

Back in the Autumn of 2009, I consulted a digital marketing agency up North, setting up and launching a social media services division for them. The idea being to then take this to their key corporate clients, a couple of whom had already been asking for advice and inputs on such areas as generating interest from Twitter and whether a corporate blog would be worthwhile in 2010.

The social media services division included, essentially:

Social media content

Social media monitoring

Online PR

Social media participation

Social media bookmarking

Core services revolving around the basic premise that content must be the driving force for successful social media activities. Within 4 weeks, the division had been launched, following an intensive overhaul of the agency’s social media engagement: this included getting the Team writing articles for online publishing, blogging to a set schedule, tweeting across core sectors and to target audiences, social bookmarking across the main platforms including Friendfeed, and inviting clients to take a closer look.

Weeks 4-12 were essentially about putting together killer presentations, getting pitch dates set and planned in, meeting marketing managers and delivering the ‘hook & hold’ element of the social media services. And the results?

Client 1:

A leading national insurance firm. Inputted on a range of services, including corporate blogging, online PR, social bookmarking, article placement, content development, protecting brand names on Twitter and overview strategic inputs for 2010. The client had contacted the agency directly regarding assistance on social media services. Prices and strategy delivered. First sale.

Client 2:

A global brand supplier of bottled gas to domestic and commercial markets. Pitched on online PR, social bookmarking, developing a range of corporate blogs, social media content, social media monitoring and promotions across Twitter. Integration of content across multiple platforms was a key consideration. Again, the client inquired regarding utilising social media services to win more online attention, drive higher traffic, and deliver greater sales. Prices and strategy delivered. Second sale.

Client 3:

A global brand name in heating solutions and hot water technologies. Required full service solutions, across the entire range of social media, including setting up and running a number of corporate blogs, Twitter promotions, online PR, social media bookmarking, social media monitoring, and production of a colossal amount of social media content during 2010 to engage new audiences during product promotions. The pitch came about from a conversation about blogging. Prices and strategy delivered. Third sale.

So, what’s the message here? How did a senior editorial guy with limited technical expertise manage to engage three very different corporate clients for an agency, to the point where £250,000 sales were returned to the agency within 3 months?

Simple answer.

Passion and belief in the fact that social media represents the best opportunity for companies, individuals, PRs on behalf of clients and anybody who finds online content valuable as a means of communicating key messages, to deliver and keep on delivering into and beyond 2010. Passion and belief that sales will result from killer content across social media platforms.

The days of standard marketing DM pieces to a database-driven audience offline? Gone.

The days of cold-calling new customers using call random centre staff from 6-7pm? Gone.

The days of broadcasting your selling messages in the hope of an ROI at some point? Gone.

Well, not necessarily gone, You can still use these methods of course. Chances are, however, your competitors will be online, in a faster, more cost-effective, engaging and profitable way, utilising the best commercial opportunity in 20 years. Social media, baby. I saw this commercial opportunity back in 2005, when I started managing corporate blogs for UK clients.

Sorry I can’t give you the Agency or corporates’ names – protecting their commercial anonymity is an essential part of the deal. I’d say it is an interesting recent consultancy project example which may well give a few marketers food for thought. Maybe.

The proliferation of online users and accompanying social media networks in the last three years can confuse, bemuse and excite in equal measure.

There are some basic considerations for effective social media engagement. Here’s my Top 10 Commandments for social media:

1. Thou shall not spam

Whatever you do, don’t spam your customers or target markets. They won’t appreciate a barrage of poorly-researched, irrelevant and inbox-clogging spam emails. Spamming inboxes – whether it’s company email addresses, Twitter accounts or Facebook will win zero brownie points and alienate you from any further contact. Once credibility is lost, it’s not coming back anytime soon, if ever.

Hyperlinking and acknowledging external sources on your blog makes common sense.

2. Thou shall not steal

Stealing links to stories, news items, funky new websites and wonderful products from another source and passing them off as your own is a huge social media no-no. For example, on Twitter the re-tweet or RT function is an essential part of Twitequette, whilst hyperlinking and acknowledging external sources on your blog makes common sense. It engages and links you with the world.

3. Thou shall not covet your competitor’s blog

One of the most unattractive and unprofessional social media rules to break is that of taking your competitor’s content, services, products and online offerings – and copying it. And there’s a lot of it about. After all, ideas and innovation do have a commercial value. Advice? Brainstorm and generate new products and services within your own creative Team instead. It’s actually good fun too!

If you sell directly to them via your social media channels, you’ll lose them. Instantly.

4. Thou shall not sell – anything, ever

The whole point of social media is to attract and engage an audience – hopefully a significant one – who will them promote your business on your behalf. Your audience are NOT there to sell to. They are there because they value your content, insights and advice. If you sell directly to them via your social media channels, you’ll lose them. Instantly. Play it smart – give, give, give.
5. Thou shall not kill

Nothing is quite as bad in social media-land as an account which is established and then sits there. Dead. No content. Nothing contributed. Setting up a social media space, such as a Facebook fan page, Twitter feed, or company blog, and then not adding content to it regularly is a sure-fire way of killing your social media credibility in front of a global audience. Add content. Add value. Just add!

6. Thou shall not take the name of social media in vain

Remember that despite the fact social media can seem quite light-hearted, harmless and fun, your inputs on social media networks are on the web for Time Immorium. So be careful what you post. Add value, contribute to the flow of conversation. Think carefully before you post anything, anywhere, anytime, which can be viewed as an attack or negative comment in your industry.

7. Thou shall not commit adultery

Social media adultery can be committed without thinking, but the effect and long-term damage is hard to recover from. Because many social media networks operate on an informality level which standard marketing does not recognise, the rules of engagement are still the same. Remain professional, polite and polished at all times. Remember your social media content is your legacy.

Make sure you cater for your audience’s requirements, needs and wants.

8. Thou shall honour thy audience

Simple really – without an audience, your social media inputs are little more than an exercise in commercial vanity. Without followers, readers, commentators and fans of your social media content, being there is effectively a waste of your marketing budget and time. Make sure you cater for your audience’s requirements, needs and wants. It is, unfortunately, all about them.

9. Thou shall not forget the Sabbath Day

So, you think social media is a Monday to Friday exercise? Afraid not. In our 24/7, always-on, on-demand culture, social media plays an essential part of the online marketing mix, and your inputs need to cover the full seven days of the week. The good news is that you can pre-schedule posts, tweets and social media content using established tools to maintain an ever-present presence.

10. Thou shall not worship any false Gods

What this means, essentially, is that just because an individual or company has oodles of followers or friends on a social media network, it doesn’t make them God. Challenge them, make them think, debate their content, get involved. This adds to your credibility and also hooks you into the audiences of the big players. Think of it as a subtle way of piggy-backing for exposure.

A quote which just about sums up British offline publishing at times for me, from this story over the weekend.

The departure of Greg Hadfield, head of digital at Telegraph Media Group marks another nail in the coffin for the mainstream Press in the UK, but also highlights ongoing issues for offline content producers and distributors as a whole in this country.

The fact that Hadfield is off to join a cool, funky, contemporary agency and partner with some of the top Brands in delivering new and innovative content-based digital solutions also proves that journalism and entrepreneurship can co-exist. Or they should.

Let’s face it, if you’re a content producer – whether that’s a Hack, commercial copywriter, business editor, newly-qualified journalist or similar – and your offline medium is being continually cut to pieces to extinction, what would you do? Stay on board until the last editorial liferaft has set sail for digital safety, or re-invent yourself, learn new skills, get online and secure a career?

No brainer, really. And the future does actually look bright for agencies and individuals which are embracing digital  and getting online. Pretty simple business concept: go where your customers are. Give them what they want, when and where.

Hadfield went onto say:

“The future is much more diverse. There’s not a dichotomy between being a journalist and an entrepreneur – the future is the individual journalist, not big media. The challenge is for big, monolithic media to recognise that being entrepreneurial is corporate ethos, to reflect in the structure to leverage the skills of the individual within the organisation.”

Here’s a guy I respect and admire – aswell as the agency he’s left the Telegraph Media Group for. Interesting times, indeed.

…on a number of levels.

Cutting right into the Haiti earthquake coverage, as discussed here, it’s been clear over the last 24 hours that the impact and reach of social media tools – where standard journalism techniques have failed  – is proving further to uncover the power of social media in our lives.

Not just for chat. Not just for networking. Not just for promoting products and services. But for reporting on events, for being a window to the world on the horror of another natural disaster. We’ve seen social media platforms transformed in the last year on more than one occasion, and in doing so, our eyes have been opened to another level of possibilities.

So, when one of your clients, friends, or the hardened Hack sitting next to you in the newsroom says “What a waste of time” the whole social media world is, maybe it might be worthwhile to remind them of today’s inherent value given via social media.

Here’s an example of connecting online at the very deepest human level. Bravo.

…and it’s incredibly simple.

The dying newspapers. The faltering magazines. The waning blogs. The unfollowed tweeters. What are they all in need of?

Effective content. Killer copywriting. Blisteringly-attractive writing. Compelling words. This is what attracts an audience and keeps them coming back. This is what advertisers see when they are impressed by readership numbers and decide to part with cash.

And delivering it to your audiences isn’t rocket science, either. In fact, there is 1 secret to effective content production.

Ready? Here it is: Hook & Hold.

Short, simple and sweet. What exactly does ‘hook & hold’ mean though?

Returning to the main exponents of effective content, the journalists, helps us to understand the impact and reasoning for ‘hook & hold’ in contemporary content production.

Back in the days when journalists were paid per word, hook & hold had real meaning.  To get paid and earn a living, the journalist had to master the art of hook & hold. In essence, draw the reader in – and keep them there.

Let’s face it, if you start reading a newspaper article, online news item, magazine advertising copy, billboard poster on a tube station elevator wall, or anything which contains words designed to engage and convince or deliver a call to action, if the words aren’t effective, engaging with the ability to hook (and hold) the reader, they have lost the very reason they’re placed there. Game over.

Engaging the reader.

Engaging the reader meant hooking them in, holding their attention, and ensuring they stayed on board until the end of the copy.  Job done.

Moving forward, and in modern times, the plethora of content avenues available to consumers, readers and ‘buying’ audiences means that your content has less and less time to be engaging, appealing, and to deliver the actual call to action. If you don’t engage them, you’ve lost the sale opportunity.

Cynical? Not really – words are used to sell products, services, ideas and for want of a better word, ‘stuff’ from companies, associations, institutions and governments. When the reader buys into it, the copy has been effective.

Simple strategy.

So, if you’re looking to deliver truly effective content in any medium – online or offline, remember this one simple strategy: make sure you obey the ‘hook & hold’ rule.

Your hit rates for online copy will surge, your call to action responses will increase, your content will lead to bigger and better campaigns across more mediums and – most importantly – your sales will rise. I don’t care what the sales departments say – without compelling content, there is in reality nothing to sell. No audience attraction. No advertiser interest. Game over.

Are you obeying the ‘hook & hold’ rule for effective audience attraction? Try it today and see.