Category Archives: social media

General election lessons: watch what you’ve said

This isn’t a political blog so I’m not going to comment on the wisdom or otherwise of calling an election right now (there will be no definitive verdict on that until 9 June, no matter what the pundits say). However, from a communications perspective there is much to learn.

If you’re going to stand up in public often, it’s worth keeping an eye (or ear) on any pronouncements you might have made before.

There will be no 2017 election…

As I type it’s about three and a half hours since prime minister Theresa May announced she was going to try calling a general election on 8 June. Rumours were already circulating so the Independent had already put this piece online, demonstrating just how many times she’d said she was going to do no such thing:

She is far from the only one of course. Inevitably Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters will be calling for loyalty from their party – and will have the fact that he personally rebelled against Labour’s then leadership no fewer than 428 times from the back benches.

This stuff is well known. But does it tell us anything about how you can communicate about your business?

Consistency is everything

Obviously stuff changes, and May will no doubt argue that stuff has definitely changed since she backed the Remain vote less than a year ago. In business things change as well but when they haven’t, your position had better be consistent.

In the 1990s I interviewed a guy from IBM, who had just started running their desktop division. I pointed out that when at Toshiba – then a leader in laptop manufacturing – he’d said the desktop was dead.

He denied having said it and dismissed my comment as a nice journalistic jab but not a reflection of what he’d said. On checking when I got back to the office I found the press release; he’d either said it or authorised it as a comment on his behalf.

Google changes everything

You now don’t have the luxury of waiting until a hack like me gets back to the office, is on deadline and so hasn’t got the time to call you back so the comment doesn’t get into my article. Anyone with a smartphone (and every journalist will have one) can check up on you now.

The way around this is to ensure you’re well briefed, you have a corporate message and you stick to it.

That said, a few years later I saw a guy presenting in his new job, having previously worked for a competitor. One of the audience asked whether he was telling the truth now and had been lying to them previously or the other way around. He spread out his hands, cast his eyes to the heavens and said: “The truth changed!”

He got the biggest round of applause of the day and a lot of laughs. We all know the game, you’re sending messages out because it’s your business and that can change – but try not to contradict yourself, from the same job, in a matter of weeks or even days.

Do you need help with your corporate messaging or preparation for interviews? I can help – email me for details.

Should you shut up if you’re out of step?

I don’t know where you’d have to be living in order to have missed the fact that David Bowie is no longer with us. This isn’t the place for tributes, of which there have been plenty. A couple of people, though, put a contrary view. This can be valid – but I do wonder, is it wise every time?

Your engagement with media, social or traditional, will reinforce your personal reputation. If you’re engaging with the media then people will walk away with some impression of you. So let’s take an example.

Julie Burchill wrote this piece in the Spectator, for example. She makes the valid point that Bowie spent his life making a good living doing stuff he loved, which is entirely to be celebrated. She spends a lot more time, though, criticising other people for writing stuff, going onto social media and pouring out their views on the great man. In her view they have nothing to say. But what’s really going on here?

One element of what’s happening in that article is that Burchill continues to brand herself as a distinctive voice which is out of step with the masses. Fine, that’s how she makes her living. I have no evidence to suggest she is provoking deliberately, I’m sure her reaction is genuine enough, but she has a reputation as a bit of a provocateur to sustain. This piece does the job admirably. Other people have written stuff that might reflect less well.

Beyond Bowie

 

The I newspaper, for example, carried a piece poking fun at people who didn’t know who Bowie was. This was a bit reminiscent of the time Sir Paul McCartney worked with Kanye West and the media became quite sniffy about younger people not knowing Macca. (This story was largely discredited here but it’s the sniffiness, not the accuracy, about which I want to make a point).

What the I and, in the McCartney example, the Daily Mail, seem not to have realised is that they’re not just highlighting people not knowing about music written 30 years before they were born. They’re illustrating their own intolerance of people not knowing “their” stuff. I find that tells me quite a lot about them. Individuals and business owners are taking to social media and making similar declarations about stuff all the time.

You can agree with them or not. The question for business owners and people who value their reputation on social media is whether they want a contrarian comment, sometimes clashing with the vast majority, to influence their reputation for a long time to come. It’s very difficult for social media to forget things.

Personally I prefer to leave my provocative comments to the stuff that really matters to me. If I’m going to put someone off working with me then let it be a gun lobbyist or a racist – I don’t mind annoying them. Putting a provocative view out there that will alienate people is something that needs careful thought before you do it.

Having said which…Jerry Hall to marry Rupert Murdoch? Seriously..?

Image from Flickr: Sarah Stierch

Learnings from Tweetchats

Yesterday I hosted a Tweetchat for a client. The idea is simple: you set aside an hour, adopt a hashtag and talk about your given subject. Ideally you use a platform like crowdchat.net, which automates the hashtag for you. I had three experts on hand and it went well.

Some things to bear in mind if you want to do this yourself:

  • I grant you this will sound like vested interests talking, but it really does help to have someone on hand whose sole focus is to keep the thing going, fill in any lulls and ensure people are welcomed. If you’re the subject of the chat, you won’t have time.
  • Preparation is everything. In previous Tweetchats I’ve started off asking the experts to introduce themselves and there was a pause while they typed their responses. It can’t be difficult to type yourself a quick intro so that you can cut and paste it onto Twitter and get the intros out of the way swiftly – and establish some sort of pace for the event.
  • Likewise, send a few questions to the moderator in advance. He/she can cut and paste these to fill any lulls and it will take only a second, maintaining the impetus. Oh and for goodness’ sake read the questions carefully rather than decide on the day that they look peculiar or are difficult to answer. On at least one occasion I’ve managed to stump an expert with a question that they (or more likely their agency) had sent me only the previous week.
  • If you’re sending a question to the moderator in advance, have a cut and paste answer ready rather than allow for another pause. Try to leave the answer open to some debate – your objective is to engage with people and get them talking.
  • You’re likely to be on a conference call with the moderator while the thing is running. Stuff can happen in the background so if you need to have a conversation with someone else, put yourself on mute rather than distract everyone else. Also, listen to what the other people are saying: on more than one occasion I’ve drawn people’s attention to a question, someone has confirmed they’re answering it and a minute later someone else has asked whether anyone has seen the question we’d just spent time discussing…

And if you’re the moderator, remember your job is logistics and being alert to the imperative that everybody has to have their questions answered. The hour will zip past unless there’s a lull – in which case three seconds’ pause will feel like a lifetime…

Do you need help with Tweetchats or any other element of communication? Let’s talk – email me by clicking here.

Charlotte Proudman: what would you have done?

Many people will have seen the story about Charlotte Proudman, the solicitor who received a more than slightly OTT compliment about her LinkedIn picture from Alexander Carter-Silk, a lawyer old enough to be her father. She objected to the sexism, called him out on social media and is now at the centre of a media storm – with people threatening not to instruct her as a solicitor.

This isn’t the place to debate the rights and wrongs of Proudman’s actions, although I’m inclined to agree that Carter-Silk – someone only six years older than I am – took a distinctly creepy tone, no doubt unintentionally. Proudman has ended up at the centre of something of a media storm and has had hate Tweets as well as supportive ones. Leaving aside any personal standpoints on whether he over-egged it, whether he should have said anything about her appearance at all or whether she overreacted, let’s look at it in the abstract.

You receive a response to an attempt to connect on social media. The reply appears a little inappropriate and it’s not the first time. You’re aggrieved. What can you do?

Avoiding the media

Let’s assume that unlike Proudman you do mind being held up as an example in the media, onto which people will project their view without having met you. You do, however, want the issue publicised. Here’s how I’d recommend going about it.

  • Engage with the individual and his employer. Maybe even send the exact response Proudman wrote – but keep it private so that it doesn’t blow up in your face. His own employer might wish to take action.
  • Tell your own employer what you’re doing and why. If you’re aggrieved and have a half-way reasonable case, they should be supportive.

This should, you’d hope, cool his ardour a little (although since he’s apparently referred to his daughter’s picture as “hot” according to today’s reports, I do wonder).

Engaging the public

After this it’s worth looking at how you can raise the issue. This is where my suggestion would be to take Carter-Silk’s name out of it and publish a blog, a book, a magazine article, anything, just state what happened without pulling what might just be a cack-handed correspondent into it.

Approach the Huffington Post, the Independent, Guardian, Times, whoever. Tell the Everyday Sexism Project. Get a head of steam behind it, help publicise other people’s experiences too, but once it’s de-personalised there’s nowhere for the defensive people to go. I may be unrepresentative but if I see a story about a man who’s done something like this I think he’s an idiot; if I read about the issue without a specific individual attached I’m more inclined to ask myself whether I’m ever guilty of the same thing.

I’d be interested in other people’s views. It could be that my approach would generate less publicity – but it might result in less abuse and career damage for someone who just wanted to talk about work rather than her looks.

You’re unlikely to come across anything as extreme as the vitriol poured onto Charlotte Proudman’s head, but do you need help with media engagements? Drop me a line by clicking here and we’ll talk.

Do you need a “hook”?

When I was learning journalism I was always told that a feature, news story or anything else needed a hook. It absolutely had to have something for the reader to hang it on – a reason for them to read on.

Mostly this meant some sort of topicality. Lately this has changed. I still see journalists on various social media platforms complaining that something isn’t timely, it doesn’t seem relevant to anything happening immediately and that it’s otherwise unhelpful.

OK, so far so good – but what’s happening out in the slightly more real world?

Social media

What’s happening is that although people are still reading news they’re also reading a whole load of timeless stuff. Not so much the celebrity interview that purports to be timeless but we all know it’s based on the release of a movie or book, but the genuinely timeless stuff. How many blog entries have you opened recently that consisted of lists? “Five mistakes made by marketers”, “Three ways to attract more followers”, you know the sort of thing. The smart money says the readers love lists, although I have my doubts myself (maybe people are wising up to click-getting titles or maybe I’m just not very good at composing lists).

Or they consist of a title with a question – if you’re reading this blog the chances are that you clicked attracted by just such a question.

Blandness

I’m quickly coming to the conclusion that the problem isn’t actually topicality and perhaps it never was. The problem is that some people send out press releases, blogs, social media entries or whatever they’re writing, with no regard to whether they’re all that interesting. There have always been elements of this, even before the online world. It’s blandness, not whether or not something is relevant right now, that’s the enemy of good content. You still need a hook to get the reader interested, but it doesn’t have to be something desperately current any more. Interesting and relevant will do.

So how many of your efforts lately have fulfilled that criteria – and have any of them been fillers just because you thought you ought to send something out, maybe even with a news story vaguely tied in?

Do you need to sharpen your writing skills up? I can help – contact me by clicking here.

Where do your targets hang out?

I’ve seen a couple of discussions on social media and which network is right for a particular purpose just lately. It’s getting confusing, I agree – there are so many.

The first query came from a colleague in a start-up in which I’m involved. We use Yammer to communicate internally and he was asking why we didn’t just use email. There are loads of reasons; fully searchable communication that becomes a full-blown knowledge base over time is powerful for me and is also a reason to use Slack, Convo, Podio, Jive and any of the rest. It also encourages openness – yes you can send direct messages but the environment nudges you towards sharing.

For clients

Another colleague had a different dilemma. His client wanted some sort of engagement with their end users. The guy thought about a closed Facebook group or a closed LinkedIn group and all of the options listed above, but in the end he decided on Facebook.

This was probably a good option simply because he’d done the research and found that his targets were already on Facebook. They weren’t on LinkedIn. The number of people I’ve seen who decide they’ll start a particular group somewhere and then find it dies because the users just won’t decamp there is stunning. Always, always go where the market actually is and don’t assume they’ll follow you elsewhere.

Caution

This does come with a caveat, though. A few years ago LinkedIn had something called LinkedIn Events. You could publicise an event to all of your contacts, free of charge, and a number of event companies sprung up doing just that. No doubt the events themselves were excellent.

Over time, LinkedIn realised this wasn’t going to make any money and simply represented a cost. So the company announced it would be discontinued.

The uproar was as loud as it was predictable. LinkedIn, said one user, is deliberately destroying my business. This, said another, is what the social media networks are really like.

Well, yes. They’re like businesses, and if a part of the business is neither profitable nor likely to support another profitable area, it’s probably going to be axed. The lesson to learn here, whether you’re starting your own group on Facebook or setting up a Yammer group for someone else, is that you’re in someone else’s playground and you’re probably not paying for it. It’s their territory. Logically, if they want to change the rules, if they want to turf you out, if they want to make it a payable service, they have every right.

Maybe my colleague shouldn’t simply have decided “Facebook” – maybe “Facebook and here’s my plan B” would be better.

Speaking out loud

Today I’ve been having fun. It started when I picked up a copy of the Times and checked the supplement on collaboration, published by Raconteur. I have two articles in this, and although I’ve been a journalist for 25 years I still get a kick out of that. Look, stop staring.

The other fun thing has been a video shoot. Video shoots are becoming increasingly popular because the hard copy newspaper and magazine is no longer the dominant form – or it won’t be soon. And once you’re on a phone, tablet or computer, you’re no longer wedded to the written word only.

So I’ve recorded six brief pieces to camera for Computer Business Review, for which I’ve been given the title “Contributing Editor” for the New Style of IT hub, sponsored by HP. They’re little more than video blogs, drawing from recent news items. I’ve also done video interviews for them – a screen grab is above. I’ll be in shot initially on the new vids, then fade to voiceover.

Some stuff I’ve learned about video work is:

  • I get up in the morning, think I look terrible if I’m supposed to be filming, I apply more moisturiser, still think I look dreadful, and nobody notices. This must mean I look like this all the time.
  • I don’t do stereotypes but it’s always the woman in the room who notices my tie isn’t straight.
  • If you decide to do “tieless” (see above) you run the risk of undoing one button too many and looking like a faded 1980s rock star but without the glittering career behind you.

More seriously there are some practical points:

  • If you’re doing a set of videos for uploading at different times, remember to take subtle changes of outfits – nothing major, your hair won’t change length so anyone who wants to check whether they were all filmed at the same time can do so. Today I recorded six videos using two jackets and three ties, for example – just enough so they don’t look too identikit.
  • Always use a professional crew when you can. Today I was working with 7 Storey Media, the video on my journalism page was shot by Jeremy Nicholas (and for what it’s worth the photo at the header of my pages is from Will White). Each has been a pleasure and I’d recommend them without hesitation. They know the bits I don’t about pictures and composition.
  • Upload the videos to a place that’s good for sharing. Professional Outsourcing Magazine uses Vimeo, and you can see I’ve shared a video from this on my journalism page. Computer Business Review uses something else and in spite of entering my WordPress username and password constantly, it won’t let me do any more than share a still as I’ve done at the top of this post.

Do you use video on your website or publication? If you don’t, it’s probably about time to start thinking about it. If I can help you as a presenter, voiceover or with scripting for videos, do drop me a note by clicking here and I’ll look forward to working with you. If you’d rather leave your details below, feel free to use the form.