AS IF: the blog

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Can anyone be a Social Media Manager?

04/11/2020

Simona Cotta Ramusino shares her experience and the lessons  learned over the last six years working as a social media manager for several of our FinTech clients.

So many presume because they can happily curate their own personal feeds that the same rules apply when managing a corporate feed. But I have found the skills do not cross over as readily as you might hope.

Social media cannot stand alone

Social media is the mirror of corporate communications. It may be because of my PR background but for me social media has to mirror what the PR machine does: help communicate a clear profile of the company, of what it does and of its people and values; use the same key messages to help present a consistent and constant image of the company; and promote key spokespeople as thought leaders in their industry. I am quite lucky that in my current position I often cover both roles of PR and social media consultant so I am able to reflect the tone and type of language in social media posts. I know what news a client would be interested in amplifying and of course what owned content is coming out that we can repurpose for social media. It is likely that big global firms may have these two roles fulfilled by more than one person. If that’s the case, make sure you are only a desk or a Skype/Zoom/Microsoft Teams message away from the PR manager so that you can work in synergy.

Scheduling is the perfect mix of science and art.

Most scheduling tools provide suggestions on the best times to schedule a post on LinkedIn or twitter. Most of the time these are good and useful suggestions. However, don’t let the robots take over – this is where human intervention can make a difference. Who is the audience for this piece of news? Where are they located? Which channels do they favour? Is it a big piece of insight that may be better to read at the end of the day? Or is it a video that should be watched in your lunch break? Is this a good blog post to read as you sit at your desk in the morning? Where / when is this [virtual] event taking place? That’s at least what I think when scheduling posts: choosing the right time zone to make sure you catch your audience at the right time and picking the right social channels on which to post to make sure you reach the right audience.

Talk the talk of your audience

Using the correct language is key. I mostly cover corporate social media accounts where the audience mainly comprises journalists, analysts, entrepreneurs and financial services senior figures so for me it is paramount the language used by clients on social channels is appropriate to reach this audience. Here are my two key rules when writing posts:

  • Eats, shoots & leaves. Avoiding grammar mistakes and typos is key, particularly I would say on LinkedIn since this is where your peers and your clients’ peers are.
  • Appropriateness of tone. This is a tip you will probably see repeated in every social media guidance document or blog post and it is the most obvious one but…. you will be surprised by how many blunders are made daily, how often a brand (or an individual) has had to backtrack because of a tweet thought of as a joke but instead very offensive – see @PureGym post comparing a hard workout to ’12 Years of Slave’.
  • Apply a common sense filter e.g. when deciding whether a piece of company news is for internal consumption only or whether you should shout about it to all. Does the whole world need to see pictures of the company Christmas party? No. Are you issuing a release about an acquisition? If you are a listed company you may have some time restraints on when to do this so make sure you are aligned with your PR Communications Team.

Different platform, same rules

For me, managing corporate social media channels is like any other role in communications – you need to build your experience and knowledge, learn from your peers and ensure you always follow corporate communications best practices. Maybe not as much fun as you imagined, but very, very effective.

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Finding my Place in the Freelance World

06/10/2020

LaurenLauren Bowden, head of FinTech Content Marketing, reflects on following her heart and landing on her feet…

It is coming up to 18 months since I took the plunge and left full time employment to start freelancing. Unable to mentally and physically continue along the corporate path that I thought I was destined to walk, it almost felt like I was in free-fall when I left. It was weird, scary, and completely alien to me. I have been an employee of a company – whether that’s a dry cleaner, an IT helpdesk, or a multinational corporate – since I was 15.

What the hell was I thinking?

My descent into panic was in full flow. That was until I met up with my first ‘proper’ boss, mentor and all round great mate Sam Howard. Meandering around Regent’s Park with her delightful dog Dill on a lovely early summer’s day. Off-loading my stress, sharing war stories and catching up on RuPaul’s Drag Race (as you do), it emerged that Sam could have a spot for me in her Crowd.

I quickly realised the opportunity. The freedom of a freelance life with the stability of a trusted team handling a stream of sterling clients, and still able to pay the bills? Obviously, I grabbed it with both hands.

Next task was to find out where I fit. My most recent role as content marketer meant that I was five years out of the journo-PR loop, so I was no use there. I touched analyst relations extremely lightly, mainly as cover for a colleague on maternity leave – also roughly five years ago. No good there either.

Having already made the biggest leap in my career so far, I decided to stick with that approach and dive head-first into wherever I could be of use. That turned out to be as a writer. Who knew? Well, me, a bit. I have always enjoyed writing. And there was obviously plenty of writing throughout both my PR and Marketing jobs. But to be positioned as ‘the writer’ was a little daunting, to say the least.

Confidence with my new moniker started to build soon enough. Compliments from discerning clients, minimal edits from some of the best writers I have ever worked with. And then the clincher.

A psychometric test from Comms Crowd client Capp revealed, from assessment of strengths, skills, preferences, cognitive ability, personality, values and experience and using 100m+ data points, revealed that out 60 potential ‘types’, top of the list was, yep you guessed it…a writer.

Specifically, it told me that:

“You enjoy writing, finding a deep fulfilment in writing things for others to read. You have a natural ability to communicate through writing. The act of writing helps you to clarify your thoughts, so you write clearly and easily. Use wisely – you are likely to get pleasure from all types of writing – even emails!”

Overall, I would say that has been my experience over the last year and a half. Obviously, I have had my fair share of writer’s block, and I have come down to the wire with deadlines more than once. Luckily, I have also been extremely privileged to have interesting clients and incredible proof-readers/sub-editors to help me through it.

It’s also not all been writing. I have continued to create ‘content’ as part of the Crowd and my own clients. Yes, the other C-word that may as well be a swear word these days. I stand with friend-of-the-Crowd Ian Truscott’s view on this, as outlined in his excellent blog: “If you are managing a content process, it’s no different if the piece of content is a PDF datasheet, a YouTube “how-to” video, a set of instructions, or a blog post. It’s a unit of content traveling along a content supply chain from creator to consumer that should be optimised.”

Of course, I can’t be as involved in the strategic plans as I was client-side, but I have been able to use that experience to advise on content marketing pieces across all phases of the sales cycle. And I’ve loved it.

What I have figured out is whatever label we attach to what we do – whether it’s the written word in a thought leadership piece, audio in a podcast, visuals in an infographic – what it comes down to is good story telling delivered in the right place at the right time. That is what the Crowd do best. And I am thrilled to be a part of it.

 

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Five ways to get your dream job in the era of artificial intelligence

28/08/2020

Asah Adolphe joined us for the month of July 2020 as an intern, and many of the team were involved in giving her some experience of different aspects of our work. Peter Springett, our senior editor, volunteered to guide Asah through writing and editing a blog. Below you can read the result.

Could a machine really determine whether you get the job or not? Most likely yes, but here are some tips on how to improve your chances.

Applying for your dream job is a daunting process. What makes it even more nerve-wracking is the influence that technology has on the interviewing process.

A lot of importance has been placed on artificial intelligence in particular, as many companies use it to identify the best candidates for the job.

Being interviewed by an algorithm may be the new norm. However traditional face-to-face interviews are still prominent. Whatever interview process you may be facing, just follow these simple steps. You got this!

1. Search for a job listing

First, you need to devote your time to the job-hunting process by using a variety of resources. Be proactive by handing out your CV, e-mailing companies, looking through job advertisements by using apps such as LinkedIn. Treat your job search as a full-time responsibility. Maximise your options!

When looking for job vacancies you should consider all your skills and experiences. Your achievements will determine what jobs you will apply for.

2. Modify your CV

Now that you have seen job posts that have interested you it is time to revamp your CV, if you have not started one yet then writing one is a must. Remember that this is an important document as the focal point is to sell yourself. Master the art of selling yourself by demonstrating your achievements and explaining what lessons you have learned – it would also be helpful to include what you can offer a company if they choose to hire you.

3. Practice typical interview questions

Next, browse the internet for typical interview questions to make sure you are prepared so you have concise yet detailed answers that show you are a suitable candidate. As a suggestion (to maximise confidence), you could ask a friend or family member to test you on some interview questions so they can give you some advice or feedback on your interview technique. However, if they are unavailable, practicing in front of a mirror will do.

Practice! Practice! Practice! As the saying goes practice makes perfect!

4. Presentable/smart clothing

Whether you are being interviewed in person or your interview is going to be conducted by AI, appropriate clothing is essential as your aim should be to make a good first impression. Remember, first impressions count!

There is no need to break the bank and go above and beyond to buy expensive clothes, after all the most important thing is sophistication and professionalism. Even with AI interviews you could still be penalised if you are wearing inappropriate clothing, as a human will look at your interview at some point.

5. Be aware of who you are and what your story is

Have realistic expectations! Be mindful of your skills and experiences as this determines how far this will get you, although be open to new opportunities to expand your horizons. Do not be deterred by lack of experiences. Nevertheless, if your fortunate enough to get your dream job be conscious that any job has its highs and lows, there will be parts of it that you will enjoy and parts of it that you may dislike.

And finally, be mindful that employers are looking for employees who are enthusiastic so keep that passion and drive!

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Profiling Sam Howard, Career Ready mentor and founder of The Comms Crowd

24/08/2020

Asah Adolphe joined us for the month of July 2020 as an intern, and many of the team were involved in giving her some experience of different aspects of our work. Sandra Vogel, head of tech content and working journalist, volunteered to guide Asah through conducting and writing up an interview. This involves several different skills, including researching your subject, working out interview questions that will get you the results you think you need, and crafting an article out of what you learn. Below you can read the result – Asah’s interview with our founder Sam Howard.

It has been eight years since Sam Howard started The Comms Crowd, and it has never been more of a success than it is today. She discloses all in this interview from her favourite procrastination habits to her greatest career achievements and even admits how it was never her initial career plan to work in PR.

Earlier on in Sam’s professional journey she did not consider that PR would be her future career path and even resented the suggestion when her boss recommended it to her. Nevertheless, we can now understand that the software CEO had the right idea as his encouragement led her into the right direction, as she is now the head of a thriving comms agency.

As the creator of a ‘new breed of communications agency’, Sam’s main responsibilities are to ensure that the company is healthy, financially balanced and that that their clients are happy as she emphasises, ‘good enough is never ever good enough.’ Her determined mindset filtrated through every response she made to the questions I asked and accentuated why not only the company but her professional career has been such a triumph.

When asked about the key to developing an efficient team she explained that it is vital that each member is articulate, maintains a technical understanding and exhibits an interest in their role as this all contributes to the smooth sailing of the business. After all, an enthusiastic team builds the foundation for a successful, prosperous organisation.

In any professional field every individual is guaranteed to face hurdles and experience failure, Sam even acknowledged that to fail ‘is how you learn to become better at what you do’ and I could not agree more. When I queried the award-winning writer on the topic of failure, she confessed that she had failed on numerous occasions, which is understandable when you have twenty plus years’ experience in B2B tech PR. She recalled one ‘unpleasant’ experience which happened to be when she was relatively new to the industry and was approached with a new role in the city that she was not prepared for at that point in her career. She expressed it was an honour to be chosen for the job, so she completely ignored the skill level it actually required and ended up ‘leaping in’ and being devastatingly inadequate. Although, she added that headhunting is common in the industry, so it is all too tempting to take a role that you are not yet qualified to do.

It is fair to say that failure can open the door to many successes, Sam’s professional experiences reinforce this as she has accomplished a lot within her time in the industry. However, her greatest achievement she claimed was her having the incentive to start the Comms Crowd. In 2012 traditional work environments made it mandatory for employees to work in offices for long hours, and even getting a 4-day week or working one day a week from home was still frowned upon. Sam decided to go against this model entirely and set up a fully virtual agency with no office at all (and none of the overheads so no extortionate agency rates). Now in the midst of a pandemic, the model is finally recognised as the way to go, but Sam has been making it a success as she has ‘pulled-off’ managing a dynamic, efficient, and professional team that operates from various locations across the country.

The determination and passion that built this tech comms agency stemmed from Sam’s desire to collaborate and work with people she respected. She recognised from early on that it was unfair of the PR industry to have impractical expectations of its mainly female work force, therefore her aim was to embrace these expectations and create a flexible supportive environment, as she stresses that ‘your personal life and your children and your family and your dogs are as important as work and anyone who acts as if they’re not is kidding themselves.’ Clearly, staying true to these values is what stimulates and inspires her drive.

Sam was certainly not reluctant in shedding some light on the challenges she has come across in her career. She revealed, that when working in PR ‘it is vital to learn how to adapt as every client is unique and getting it spot-on with a client can always be tricky’. However, this does not seem to deter Sam and her team from reaching their goal and ultimately impressing their clients. In her view the most rewarding element in her role is witnessing her team blossom and seeing how her team manages to have such a positive impact on their clients.

The Chief Storytelling Officer went on to describe her typical day, and I have to admit it is very productive considering she works from home but it happens to be a routine that she has evolved over the eight years of running The Crowd. Intriguingly she gets to pick her own working hours which begins at 1pm in the afternoon until 7:30pm in the evening and she clarified that between those hours ‘she is in deep concentration.’ However, she promptly starts her day at 8:30am when most people are commuting to work so she can get an early start on her domestic tasks, then she goes outdoors to take her dogs for a walk and after that she would normally get in some exercise, such as Pilates swimming or cycling; as a result of COVID-19 her exercise routine has undergone some changes, unfortunately as we have all experienced this pandemic has affected our lives in many ways. Nevertheless, this has not deterred Sam as her routine remains proactive.

Maintaining a productive and successful work-life along with a satisfying balanced personal life can be stressful, especially when being the executive of a company, but Sam has the perfect yet quirky coping mechanism that helps her which she shares as ‘very calming.’ *Drum roll* it is…creating spreadsheets! Yes! colourful, bright, multicoloured spreadsheets is what relaxes her from a demanding day at work. After all, everyone needs a stress reliever.

I realised prior to conducting this interview that Sam is very ardent and committed in encouraging the next generation of talent. I asked her for any advice she could offer any young person considering a career in the field of PR or the media industry in general. She responded that individuals that wished to undertake a career path into Media and PR must have a ‘strong work ethic’ along with determination and an understanding that the industry is fast paced, she also stated that the person must take into consideration their skills and mindset; as the industry ‘ is competitive and changes like the landscape’. This interview with Sam Howard has been enlightening and informative with a hue of humour. Sam has shared inner and concise mental abilities it takes to be successful in the Media and PR world. She has shown us what it takes to be a part of the industry and the positive yet resilient, tenacious attitude one must have to succeed.

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Be careful what you wish for – on how the media can make you and break you

16/08/2020

Asah Adolphe joined us for the month of July 2020 as an intern, and many of the team were involved in giving her some experience of different aspects of our work. Debbie Smith, head of tech PR, volunteered to guide Asah through exploring how different media report a story. Below you can read the result, which reminds us that we all need to read the media with a healthy dose of cynicism. 

“I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.” The Duke of Sussex discloses that his wife has been a target in the UK media.

When Meghan Markle became the Duchess of Sussex on the 19th May 2018, she resembled a progressive, fresh addition to the royal family. However, despite the Duke and Duchess of Sussex choosing to step out of the limelight since, the media has definitely not passed on the opportunity to keep tabs on the couple, especially the duchess. But why has the majority of the British press chosen to take an opposing stance against her?

Meghan has unfortunately faced significant media invasion ever since Kensington Palace released a public statement back in 2016 where Megan was referred to as ‘Harry’s girlfriend’ for the first time. This is where the international press had a field day and the negative media attention began.

To explain the scrutiny that she was experiencing in an ITV documentary interview screened in October 2019, she admitted that “it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes…” During this interview it was clear from Megan’s facial expression that she was struggling under the constant media attention and her actual words clarified this to the public. Evidently the attention had been a strain on the couple. Prince Harry expressed that this has been a familiar situation for him as he had watched his late mother experience the same pressure from the media. He claims: “Every time I hear a flash it takes me straight back – it’s the worst reminder.”

Different sources have taken sides on how to sell their viewpoint of the couple, but this has been considered more than just harassment. The couple have taken legal action in the past to sue the Mail on Sunday newspaper as they stressed that ‘This behaviour destroys lives.’ The treatment towards Meghan was and still remains malicious and they would go as far as to describe it as ‘bullying’.

Newspapers like The Sun seem to have chosen to focus on negative aspects of the couple’s lives ever since they stepped back from their royal duties; almost as though they are trying to create the narrative that since they are no longer ‘a part’ of the royal family everything has gone downhill for them. This is prevalent as they construct headlines like ‘Amazon slashes the price of Meghan and Harry’s book before it’s even released’. They have even accumulated the phrase ‘Megxit’ as a reaction to the pair choosing to leave the royal family for financial and personal independence. Even the words that they implement in their articles and headlines imply that Meghan is the dominant partner in their marriage by using harsh, negative language when writing about her.

In comparison, newspapers such as The Guardian publish a variety of articles that depict them in an impartial way and tend to stick to the facts of the event that occurred. Different news outlets seem to report the same story but lean towards one side or another in order to sell their narrative. After all, controversial topics and sarcastic phrases do sell.

Evidently the UK news sources have chosen their viewpoint on the couple, but it makes me wonder: if she were white, would they continue to portray her in a controversial way? If she were less opinionated, would they persist in treating her like this?

In the past it has been inferred that the press does not appreciate opinionated women. A prime example would be Gina Miller, as she stood up for parliamentary democracy by fighting against the government. Despite twice leading legal challenges against the government and winning she has had to pay the price with constant media attention and even suffered online abuse and death threats against her and her family. As we can see, there seems to be a pattern of behaviour in terms of how the media treats opinionated women.

As the couple have left their royal duties, are their lives still newsworthy?

Recently, articles are being circulated about Meghan as it seems that most of the British tabloids aim to keep up with the Sussexes, especially their little bundle of joy Archie. The pair made their own lifestyle choice to have independence from royal obligations with the approval from the Queen, but there seems to be a continuous cycle of pointless headlines. For example, The Mirror published a piece with the headline ‘Meghan Markle left beloved dog in Canada as he didn’t like Prince Harry’. In my view this is not a significant topic that the public needs to know about. It is more of a personal experience that is not required to be shared publicly.

Therefore, I believe that it is imperative to remember that news sources are very influential and possess the power to manipulate the public into thinking in particular ways, whether implicitly or consciously. It can affect an individual’s life both positively and negatively, but in Meghan’s case negatively.

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Social media: why employee advocacy is more important than ever

24/07/2020

The past few months have forced us all to re-evaluate our lives at home, at work and beyond. We’re spending more time on video calls, sharing more on social media and taking greater advantage of online learning to expand our skills. So it’s no surprise that we’ve seen a big uptick in messages from clients wanting to boost their online presence, not least on social media. Requests vary, but most want to elevate their corporate accounts, especially the number of followers and engagement levels on Twitter and LinkedIn. 

Our social media strategist Peter Springett shares his findings from recent audits he’s conducted.

Corporate accounts

  • Profile page: most look professional, but solidly corporate. Profile photos and header images are often in line with the overall brand but show little of the ‘softer edge’ you need to stand out on social media.
  • Followers: somewhere between 100 and 500 (it tends to be a little higher on LinkedIn).
  • Posting frequency: about twice per day (maybe twice a week on LinkedIn).
  • Tone of voice/personality: varies, but in many cases this is inconsistent or non-existent.

Personal accounts

During the audit we also look at the personal profiles of the leadership team. That’s when my jaw often hits the ground. A typical CEO has thousands of followers. Thousands! Even when their profile is incomplete. Some even lack a portrait photograph. Impressive? Yes, except that most organisations fail to take advantage of the opportunity. The skill is to turn these passive LinkedIn connections into active networks that promote the business, its offering and the people who make it possible.

With a little more time I usually find at least half-a-dozen employees (at all levels) who are active on social media in a professional capacity. They post and engage regularly, sometimes about their employer, more often about what fascinates them in their industry. Bringing these people into the mix is vital too. By the way, I’m not arguing against having stand-out corporate social media accounts. They matter enormously for the credibility of your business.

The trick is to combine both personal and corporate networks in a virtuous circle that boosts followers, engagement and inbound enquiries.

With one client we assembled and trained an employee advocacy team of 50 people, including the CEO, who were active on LinkedIn and Twitter. Some had thousands of followers, some had hundreds. But with the right training, they became enthusiastic participants, with some even reaching ‘influencer’ status in their industry. At the same time, the number of corporate account followers on Twitter grew from 800 to 7,000 and on LinkedIn from 12,000 to 75,000. The engagement uptick was equally positive. This growth was entirely organic, by the way. We didn’t pay a penny to advertise for followers or sponsor external influencers.

This doesn’t happen overnight.

You need to put a plan and a consistent resource in place to generate momentum on social media. Put it another way: there are no shortcuts, but there is a direct route to social engagement and leads, and we can show you where it lies.

If you’d like to find out more about how we can support your corporate and employee advocacy social media networks, get in touch with me: peter@commscrowd.com

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Thought leadership, it’s a mindset

12/06/2020

Tech PR Katrin Naefe suggests taking a step back before embarking on a thought leadership comms programme.

So you’ve got news …

Yes, which PR consultant hasn’t heard this one before: “Our new [insert latest product name here] is the best/biggest/most efficient/etc. …” If it really is: congratulations. You will be able to leave your mark on your industry and be remembered for this innovation. If it isn’t: you will still be able to contribute to the market with a product or service that your customers will appreciate and which will, in all likelihood, enhance and complement your and the market’s existing product offering.

Now the new product is finally ready, you’ll want to give it all the support possible to get sales off the ground quickly. You have done your research and know exactly which products you are competing with and who your target audience is. Now all you need to do is advertise your product and issue a press release. Can it really be that simple? It rarely is.

New technology products and services are being launched every day. Marketing messages promising all kinds of benefits flood your target audience on all channels. How can you make sure that your message is heard and noticed over and above the general chatter? By leveraging your position as an industry expert and thought leader.

Thought leadership is not created overnight. Take some of the most eminent experts in your field of specialism. What are they known for? How long have you been aware of them as industry experts? Where have you heard about them? Do you know them in connection with one specific product? Probably not.

True thought leadership is based on industry expertise, not just product knowledge. You know your market and how your product range fits. You are probably very aware of a number of vertical sectors in which your product is being specified and their particular issues. Take advantage of this knowledge and you take the first step on the road to thought leadership.

It is extremely important to be honest with yourself and your communications team about whether your product is a true first and really unique in the market or not. It will harm your thought leadership standing if advertised as such when it really isn’t. If it isn’t unique, concentrate your messaging on other important features and how it fits with existing technology and improves it.

Take a mental step back from your product and the sales target figures it is supposed to achieve soon after launch. Consider the wider industry and the impact your technology can make on this environment. Perhaps there are solutions in development that will make a difference in a few months or years? Are you aware of the latest relevant scientific research?

Preparing the ground by establishing thought leadership takes time and effort. But, once a reputation is established, it is much easier to maintain it with regular communication and information and will benefit you and your team in the long run.

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Analysts, Influencers and The Matrix

29/05/2020

Eria Odhuba, Head of AR, goes deep into the influencer mix.

Remember this line from Morpheus: “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

In the good old days when I started off in the tech industry, we’d just begun to move away from floppy discs, computers booted up really slowly (at least mine did), mobile phones multi-tasked as house bricks, social media didn’t exist, and organisations that wanted to get an idea of what technology to buy read industry analyst reports – sometimes, very long reports. I should know, because I wrote a few of them.

The role of analysts as THE primary third-party influencers was clear, and they really played an excellent role guiding organisations through complex decision-making processes regarding IT.

Fast forward to today, and while industry analysts still play a major role, they are not the only party in town. At the end of last year I went to an event at which industry analysts were joined by technology journalists (as expected), management consultants, bloggers, storytellers and academics driving student meet-ups.

All these influencers play a huge role in testing messages, driving conversations and amplifying what is great about a vendor’s technology. And they do this across multiple platforms – check out this blog post by our very own Marc Duke on the science of influencer marketing on how to deal with this complexity.

So how do you drive analyst relations programmes given the different influencers making their mark in the industry?

Well, fundamentally, how you view industry analysts should not change (see my white paper on how organisations can ensure AR delivers to the bottom line). Analysts are not irrelevant or losing their influence (just look at their increasing revenues). It is just that AR programmes need to take account of wider influencer relations activities, and organisations just have to be very clear what they want to get out of their engagements with analysts versus the other types of influencers.

So analysts still produce reports for those that want them, but even they have changed the way they get information out to a wider audiences (i.e. those that don’t have subscription seats). Analysts write their own blogs, interact with other industry bloggers, host webinars (many of them free), and speak at or run their own events. And, as I saw at the event, they pretty much know all the relevant journalists in their research areas and happily have drinks with them.

The crucial thing is that the core messages you deliver to industry analysts should be consistent to other influencers and across all the platforms (sure, you may give analysts some information under NDA). Ultimately the intermingling of various influencer types means it is easier to get caught out if your strategy or messages have holes in them.

Mapping this matrix of influencers, messages and engagement takes time and, more importantly, needs executive sponsorship. Board-level buy-in is necessary to develop the consistency in messaging to all influencers despite the engagement models with each, and it also means more employees are willing to take ownership of contributing to the developments of great relationships with influencers – including industry analysts.

Considerations for balancing AR programmes with wider influencer marketing or PR strategies:

  • Focus on the core messages you want to deliver to ALL influencers, but tailor the delivery to match the different types of influencer;
  • Point analysts to great work that other influencers may have produced (e.g. academics may have some data that would be useful to analysts as they build a picture of market trends and technology barriers/uptake);
  • Identify the analysts relevant to you that use social media:
    • read their blog posts and contribute to discussions they have started (sometimes, the exchanges are worth more than a 60 minute briefing);
    • follow them on Twitter and comment on their posts etc;
    • If you’ve connected with an analyst, make sure you also connect on LinkedIn and follow their posts – opportunities to commend them, comment or refer to others then become possible – just don’t use this as a platform to sell!
    • THEN – use the picture you have built of analysts on social media to plan for and engage with them as part of the briefing / consultative process – bring all the various strands together but remain focused on the consistent message you are trying to deliver to them;
  • Think about the conversations you have had with industry analysts – how can the information shared be used to drive engagements with other influencers? If you’ve used an analyst for message-testing, get that message out to customers and drive conversations with other influencers so they can amplify or provide feedback from an even wider audience.

Your plan should be to get industry analysts, technology journalists, management consultants, bloggers, storytellers and academics all telling your story – the way you want it.

So, why reference to the movie, The Matrix?

Blue pill = you have a very narrow view of industry analysts – just brief them, see them as people who simply churn out reports or pay expensive subscriptions to access reports which, while valuable, may not be balanced with output from the wider influencer audience.

Red pill = you start to do all the above and realise you are just beginning a journey that will spin faster and faster. This requires a new way of managing the various influencers and measuring the impact each has on sales or market perception, and figuring out how AR can drive engagements with analysts so that the final output is a consistent message that resonates in the market – and across all the influencers.

Which pill do you want to take?

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Where did those nine years go….?

05/05/2020

Debbie Smith looks back on nine years as a freelance, including five years as a member of the Comms Crowd.

It seems like only yesterday that I was weighing up what felt like a massive decision. Should I swap my senior role in a national PR agency, with too much travel and time away from home but a guaranteed salary at the end of every month, for the life of a freelance? As I swam lengths in the hotel pool in Turkey on our autumn break, I calculated the sums in my head. If I charged £x per hour, how much work did I need every month to pay the mortgage and bills?

With the encouragement of my partner and my friends I decided to go for it! Nine years on, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I work with interesting clients and encouraging colleagues (who knew that being freelance didn’t mean working alone?) and have discovered a wonderful and supportive small business community in Cheltenham that I never knew existed when I was commuting around the UK.

Here are three unexpected things I’ve learned which have been key to going from zero business to happy freelancer.

1. I really enjoy networking!!

Everyone talks about networking as though it’s incredibly daunting – and sometimes it can be. But when you work from home, it’s important for your mental well-being to get out and about regularly. You also need to keep improving your skills and knowledge, and what could be better than a networking meeting with a speaker on a topic that interests you? If you treat networking as an opportunity to meet like-minded people and learn something new, rather than a hard sell, it immediately becomes something to look forward to. Of course networking groups vary massively; it’s important to be selective and pick the ones that are right for you, but there are plenty to choose from.

I also discovered Local ‘Laptop Friday’ co-working sessions. These continue to provide a weekly opportunity to chat to other freelancers and small business people and bounce ideas around, all for the price of a good coffee.

2. Be bold and reach out to strangers – many of them will help you

When I first started freelancing, I took a deep breath and contacted everyone I thought might be able to help me. One former client put me in touch with two freelancers he used, as he thought they were part of a network I could join. The one I knew wished me luck; the one I’d never met referred me to someone who ran a communications consultancy. Before long I was meeting her for an informal chat, which swiftly led to a fascinating and lucrative project for an international bank.

My work with The Comms Crowd began in a similar way. After reading an interview with Sam, I cheekily emailed her suggesting a coffee. She politely replied to this stranger saying “not yet”, but a year later decided the time was right to meet. As I hobbled into London recovering from a broken toe, I wondered what on earth I was doing, but we immediately hit it off and the rest, as they say, is history!

3. To enjoy media relations, you just need the right clients

Media relations has never been my favourite aspect of PR. It’s partly based on being forced to do the dreaded ‘ring-round’ when I first started and didn’t know any better. And if you’ve worked for an international agency, you’ll know the stomach-churning moment when you’re told that a US executive from a client is coming to the UK in three days’ time and wants you to arrange for him/her to meet key journalists, including national press, even though s/he has no news whatsoever.

However, it’s a completely different situation when you’re pitching thought leadership for clients who are experts in their field and have something interesting to say. You also have the freedom to decide which organisations to work with. If it’s not your area of expertise, or they want the impossible, you can politely say No (and ideally suggest a better approach).

So as I move into year ten, I’m still enjoying media relations and still reaching out to strangers, including those I’ve met when networking – most recently the IP expert I sat next to at a cyber event in early March who turned out to be the ideal person to help a new client in April.

Of course I’m looking forward to when I can actually meet people for coffee again, even though no doubt it will be at a 2m distance!

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Influencer Marketing – why should you consider peer review sites?

27/03/2020

Marc Duke, head of Influencer Engagement, takes an in-depth look at why even in B2B circles peer review sites matter.

Influencer Marketing, as the name suggests, is about influencing the various people, groups and organisations that are trusted by the buyer or decision maker when making a decision to purchase products or services. One such group are Peer Review websites, where customers leave reviews of recent purchases, and their importance is growing all of the time.

A couple of statistics to back this up:

While you may have read a tale or two about fake Amazon reviews and getting friends and family to write about a holiday chalet on TripAdvisor, when it comes to B2B peer review sites things are  much more regulated and the process of working with influencer sites is a lot clearer.

To give some context here, peer review sites are most relevant to software providers that are targeting businesses. For example, the adoption of cloud software has increased beyond all recognition in last decade. The Software as Service (or SaaS) market has become mainstream and with it the importance of reading and relying upon peer reviews to inform purchasing decisions has also risen. The reason for this is simple; it’s great to get a free trial of a piece of software but even better if you can read about the experiences (positive and negative) of your peers.

So what peer reviews sites are we actually talking about? Four major sites are:

Before you start to target peer review sites, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • What categories do they cover?
  • Are my competitors listed?
  • Are my markets covered?
  • Do the sites just generate traffic or also provide leads?
  • Do I have the resources to create accurate product and company profiles?
  • Do I have the resources to handle negative reviews?
  • Does my marketing process enable me to maximise positive reviews/endorsements?

Assuming you can answer all of these questions, you are then in a position to look at working with Peer Review sites. The first thing that needs to be done is create a profile of your company and product/s, which doesn’t cost a penny. Once you have a company and product profile the next step is sourcing customer reviews. If you have happy customers it’s a case of asking them to provide a review of your product in much the same way you would ask a connection to endorse you on LinkedIn. If you don’t have a large bank of customers, you might find that some users will discover your profile.

You also have the option of contacting the account management staff at these sites who will be happy to discuss how to run a reviews programme (how to get reviews on your product page) and ways in which to generate branded collateral with reviews left by your customers to help with your sales process. You will need budget for this, so you have to weigh up the benefits compared to the costs. Just remember that all of these sites want to cover every vendor in the market. so Getting set up will just cost you some time and information so even a start-up should consider peer review sites.

The main benefits of working with peer review sites include:

  • Traffic – people can click from the review page to your site or landing page
  • Endorsement – some reviewers are happy to be referenced and to be used in customer reference programmes
  • Leads – some sites offer ‘click to trial’ so a prospect reading a review can request a demo
  • Insight – there is a lot you can learn about your competition.

One thing is for certain – businesses can’t ignore peer review sites as they are increasingly becoming a decision making tool of choice for some customers, and a positive review can help move a prospect from the top of funnel to the bottom. However you look to engage with peer review sites, they are certainly worth considering as part of your marketing strategy.

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