Upmarket magazine column #2

My 2nd monthly column for US-based online magazine ‘Upmarket‘ titled ‘Stop Tweeting and Start Making!‘ was published on Thursday 1st March.

Stop Tweeting and Start Making!

Read the column in full at: http://upmarket.squidoo.com/2012/03/01/stop-tweeting-and-start-making/

‘Social Media for Business’ lecture @ The University of Leeds

Slides from the 1hr ‘Social Media for Business‘ lecture I gave to around 50 students at The University of Leeds yesterday (21st February 2012).

Topics include:

  • how technology has changed in the 14yrs since I graduated from Leeds in 1998
  • how these developments have affected my career and personal life
  • how I use a wide range of free Social Media tools in business, with a particular focus on the Shell LiveWIRE programme
  • how people can use Social Media in their personal life to take control of their career and create opportunities for themselves

Please feel free to share this presentation with anyone you feel would be interested. If you’d like me to deliver a similar presentation for your business, organisation or event give me a call on +44(0)7734 722716 or email plandigital@live.co.uk

Stop Tweeting and Start Making!

Anyone who knows me well will vouch that I’m a huge advocate of Social Media as a tool for encouraging greater collaboration and sharing and have been using both for business for just over 3yrs with great success. However, I’m also aware that Twitter and Facebook can be a massive time suck which can actually make you LESS productive at work!

In particular, I’m concerned that start-ups (including new projects within existing organisations) are seeing Twitter and Facebook as a great panacea which will bring them more customers and riches, simply by being on it all day every day and picking up as many new ‘Followers’ (on Twitter) and ‘Fans’ (on Facebook) as possible.

In my line of work, my Twitter Timeline is filled with people who Tweet a lot but say very little. Of course, the majority of people I Follow are interesting individuals doing interesting work but you wouldn’t necessarily know this from some of the things that they share. Perhaps it’s just the type of people I am Following but if you’re a sole trader or small start-up of say 1 or 2 people, I would question how much ‘real work’ you are doing if you are on Twitter all day. You are either not doing the work, or are working ridiculous hours (late nights and weekends) just trying to keep up with all the work that is going undone whilst you are on Twitter and Facebook.

Yes, I understand the attraction of Twitter and Facebook. It’s free, but not really. There’s always a cost to you or your business in terms of time and effort it takes to build up a Following or Fanbase and to respond to all the @mentions and DM’s that come through. Also, it doesn’t really feel like work does it? It’s quite fun being on Twitter and Facebook and so very easy to kid yourself that you are doing extremely important work that will develop your online brand and business. This may be true of course, but you need to think long and hard about how much time you can realistically devote to ‘doing Social Media properly’ and what this will look like for you and your business.

In general, this is how I use Twitter and Facebook for work which you may find helpful to know:

  • First thing in the morning – I travel to work by bus and metro and use some of this time to catch up on latest news via various blogs, Twitter and Facebook. If there’s anything that I feel is of interest to our Followers on Twitter I will Retweet it along with posting my own Tweets about our latest news. Research including that by Dan Zarrella suggests that before 9am is a good time to share links to your own articles and blog posts as this is when professional bloggers, journalists and web editors are looking for stories they can feature on their own site. It’s also when other ’general readers’ are getting ready for and travelling to work so there’s some dead time here during which they are consuming information. I’ve been doing this in recent months and it does seem to be paying off with an increased number of Retweets and shares of things I post in the morning, between 8am-9am. I’m also finding that evenings, after 5pm and weekends are a good time to engage with Followers and Fans (or users/clients/customers).
  • Get into the habit of only posting things on Twitter and Facebook when you actually have something NEW and interesting to talk about! There are so many people just blabbering on about the same old stuff, day in day out. If people aren’t clicking on the links to products and services you are talking about, perhaps there’s a very good reason? Maybe your Followers and Fans simply don’t want what you are offering? Either that or the things you are saying are coming across as too boring, salesy or spammy! However, unless you are actually measuring clickthroughs via free analytical tools like Bit.ly, Google Analytics or Facebook Page Insights then you really won’t have a clue if the work you are doing is having any meaningful impact or if it’s just a massive waste of your time. This goes back to my original point that if you’re not actually creating anything new then you will quickly run out of things to say. It will just be empty marketing for marketing’s sake.

So, my advice would be tread carefully with Social Media and don’t get sucked into believing that it’s the solution to all your marketing and sales problems. If the products and services you are offering in the first place aren’t very good (or not what your customers want), then no amount of blogging, Tweeting or Facebook updates is really going to help. It sounds obvious but you’ve also got to remember that a Follow on Twitter or a ‘Like’ on Facebook isn’t the same as an actual sale. At the end of the day, it’s only really actual sales and happy customers that matter in business.

If you need some help understanding Social Media and how you can realistically make use of it based on the time, money and resources at your disposal, email me at plandigital@live.co.uk or call me on +44 (0)7734 722716, Paul @lordlancaster

Develop for the customer, not for yourself

I’ve recently taken on the role of ‘Technology Ambassador’ for the CIM North East of England Regional Board – a voluntary role to represent the interests of the tech community at a regional and national level whilst helping to increase membership of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

The CIM celebrated its 100th anniversary last year which is a fantastic achievement and testament to its ability to adapt and evolve as an organisation. Having been a member since 2006, I’ve always been thoroughly impressed by the quality and range of their events and training courses, particularly the one day workshops which use industry experts, not just trainers, to deliver sessions on the latest trends in digital marketing. Their free member magazine, ‘The Marketer’ magazine for members is also a must-read for me and a great source of ideas and inspiration for the work that I do.

Apart from the training and qualifications it provides, the CIM also provides its members with a solid grounding in the founding principles of marketing and promotion which I think are relevant to every type of business, not just tech. Some people still think of marketing as selling things to people that they don’t really want, but really it’s about satisfying customer needs by presenting them with products and services that are going to make their lives easier, happier and more fulfilling. To this end, the greatest marketer of recent years has got to be Steve Jobs who not only turned around the fortunes of Apple, but revolutionised the computer (Mac/iPad), phone (iPhone), music (iPod/iTunes) and film (Pixar) industries too!

Where I see organisations like the CIM playing a vital role, is by encouraging more businesses and individuals to adopt a truly customer-centric approach to the development of new products and services. Far too much time, money and effort is wasted on developing things that no-one really wants just because the team behind it thinks it is cool or clever without involving real-life users in the design process.

A customer-focused mindset is absolutely fundamental to the principles laid out in the fantastic book ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries which I recommend that you read. (You can also listen to a 25min telephone interview I did with Eric on 31st Jan 2012 below:

With its foundations in the 50yr old Toyota Production System, San Franciscan entrepreneur and author Eric is a leading figure in a global movement of ‘Lean thinking’ which is all about minimising waste and maximising value for both the customer and business. If you’ve ever worked on a project or in a business that failed, you should read this book and think about how the ideas can be used in your work. Companies like Facebook and Amazon have already built ‘lean’ into their business so if they can do it why can’t you?

If you’d like to know more about CIM membership or training and how it can help you or your business, email me at plandigital@live.co.uk or call 07734722716.

Are Facebook and Twitter overrated for business?

If you listen to what all the ‘experts’ have to say, then you’ll know you need to Tweet, Like, share and blog about your business if it’s to have any chance of success these days. That’s a given, right?

Well, after 14 years in a variety of IT/web/marketing roles and 3 years using Social Media for business I’m starting to question just how essential it really is.

Of course it all depends on the type of business you run and who your target audience is but I’d like to share with you some insights on why I think Facebook and Twitter could be a little overrated. This from someone who has had years of practical hands-on experience running websites rather than just a Social Media guru or consultant who has only ever advised rather than implemented long-term.

My day job is to manage ‘the UK’s biggest online community for young entrepreneurs aged 16-30′ and so it’s important for us to engage with our users on the Social Media platforms they use. Having read all the books and immersed myself in the ‘Social Web’, I’ve totally bought into the idea of giving users choice about when and how they can interact with our service. I agree that the old way of expecting people to come to your site and passively consuming the information you present them with is no longer sufficient, especially if you provide a service like ours.

In addition to a wide range of free articles, videos and how-to guides, our site includes a popular discussion forum where members can get free information and advice on starting a business and a social network which acts like a shop window to their business. We also use Twitter to share all our latest news and to signpost people to other useful business resources, a Facebook Page to do the same and a YouTube Channel to highlight all our latest videos which can then be embedded back into pages on our site or of others. Users can bookmark, share and comment on all content within the site and we have a LinkedIn group for former award winners too. We are indeed ‘truly social’ and our members regularly tell us how much they love this fact.

The downside is that as a small team (4.5 people) covering the whole of the country, our strategy of embracing Social Media the way we have has given us a lot more work to do. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been worthwhile. It’s certainly helped us reach new people, communicate with and nurture our existing online community, and provide even better (and faster) customer service to our users, partners, stakeholders and the media. It’s also brought increased traffic to our site through referrals, recommendations, Tweets and ‘Likes’.

However, despite daily, day-long Social Media activity, the referrals from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube are still tiny compared to visits from Google. In fact, over the past 3 years, organic search on Google has resulted in almost 20 times as many referrals as Facebook, almost 50 times as many as Twitter, over 350 times as many as LinkedIn and a whopping 1800 times as many as YouTube! Furthermore, 53% of visits to the site have been via search engines with Google way ahead of all the others (33 times more effective than number two search engine Yahoo). Another 26% of visits were from direct traffic (those who clicked on a bookmarked link or typed the web address into a browser) and the remaining 21% were from referrals.

So, rather than see Facebook and Twitter as the great panacea, I’m here to tell you that in my experience they are merely another (great) way to raise your profile, encourage and facilitate online conversations about you and your brand, and provide great customer service. But these are all intangible benefits which are difficult to measure when it comes to the bottom line. Therefore, I think you should think long and hard about whether you realistically have the time and resources to manage a Social Media presence effectively and whether it’s really necessary for the business you are in. For the time being and for the foreseeable future, great content on your site that is useful and highly relevant to your target audience is still the key to success and so don’t for one second think that it’s no longer important or that Social Media will give you a shortcut to success!

We need more Leaders not Followers

In the past few years we’ve become a little obsessed with getting more ‘Followers’ on Twitter and ‘Fans’ on Facebook. This is back to front thinking.

If we’re completely honest with ourselves and each other, it’s unlikely that every little thing that we do is really that remarkable and worthy of a ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’.

I often hear people say things like, “If only we had more Facebook Fans or Twitter Followers we could sell more of XYZ” or “When we get more, we can then start spending more time improving our product/service”.

The problem with constantly striving for MORE is that you can never have enough. You’ll never be satisfied until your numbers are higher than everyone else. Also, just because someone is a ‘Fan’ on Facebook doesn’t mean they are an actual, paying customer. It just means they have the potential to become one now your Status Updates appear on their News Feed.

A much better and healthier attitude in business is to do everything in your power to make your product/service the best it can be (and then some). If you are offering something truly remarkable then your loyal Fans and Followers will appear and not necessarily online.

We need more inspiration and delight in the world. We need more Leaders not Followers!

How influential are you?

Influence is a powerful currency in society, but it’s always been difficult to quantify and measure in a meaningful way. However, sites like Klout and PeerIndex are doing their very best to provide us with scores that demonstrate how influential we are online through our personal social networks.

My Klout Score increased to 50 for the first time today; the mid-way point in a measure from 1-100 (apparently the average score is 20). But what does this actually mean? Well, to me it suggests that the work I do is having the desired effect, encouraging others to:

Klout Profile

Ok, but what other purpose does Klout serve? Klout’s business model is to offer a free service to users and obtain payment/sponsorship from businesses that wish to offer Klout ‘Perks’ to people with a certain level of influence. So, I may well start to be sent more promotions from now on but unfortunately at the moment they all seem to be aimed at US-based consumers.

Of more interest to me is the way that I (and others have already started doing) can use my Klout Score to demonstrate to my employer, potential clients and business partners that I have a higher than average ‘social influence’ which they can benefit from in return.

One downside to this is the fact that very few businesses understand what the Klout Score actually is. Another is that Klout is still in Beta phase which means that changes and improvements to their algorithm can sometimes result in a temporary reduction of some people’s score. However, Klout is a cool tool and I can only see it’s importance grow in the coming year as more people start to use it and recognise it as a way to validate someone’s influence, particularly those who work in digital marketing / social media (like myself).

One caveat. There are many people whose Klout Score is very low, but you know in real life they are hugely influential, just not online in social networks. A personal example of this would be my uncle, a local councillor who is extremely well-connected and influential, making good things happen for his community each and every day – yet he isn’t on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or any other type of social network. He made a very valid point to me over Christmas when he said that our family gathering was the greatest type of ‘social network’ known to man. Very true and worth remembering when you start using tools like Klout. Nothing ever beats meaningful, face-to-face, human interaction.

Normal rules no longer apply

If you run a customer-focused website, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that you need to be posting updates to Twitter and Facebook during off-peak times, i.e. 

  • first thing in the morning (before 9am)
  • evenings (after 5pm)
  • weekends

See this infographic from Dan Zarrella for a handy summary http://danzarrella.com/infographic-how-to-use-contra-competitive-timing-for-more-retweets-likes-comments-and-clicks.html

I’ve been doing this a lot more through my smartphone in recent weeks (i.e. on the bus/metro into work or occasional updates whilst watching TV at the weekend) and it does seem to be paying off with a higher number of referrals, shares and Retweets. 

Sadly, this means that the normal 9-5 rules no longer apply. Really, a website is a 24hr operation so in an ideal world you should have a team of people working shifts throughout the day/night. Either that, or you consider changing your working hours accordingly.