Marshall Sponder – Social Media Analytics [Book Review]

Social Media Analytics by Marshall Sponder
316 pages, McGraw-Hill, 2011

Marshall Sponder has proved himself to be one of the world’s most thought provoking social media practitioner and thinker with the recent publication of his book “Social Media Analytics” (Amazon affiliate link).

Learning exactly how to measure the ROI for a campaign relies upon campaign objectives but a PR professional should be taking a figure-head position in this respect. Sponder discusses in his first chapter on ROI how short term and long term objectives should be recognised. Whilst running an online competition may provide effective long-term results, will it have the potency to drive customer loyalty in the long run? Twitter is adrift with an assembly of self-proclaimed social media ‘experts’ but few have got to grips with how ROI should be measured online.

Sponder is no alien to controversy and independent thought. His book immediately tackles the on-going problem of social listening platforms providing data results to agencies. The rub with such listening dashboards (an example list of them can be found here) is that analysts require business knowledge to gain the correct perspective behind social media metrics. The dilemma reveals itself to be inaccurate ROI calculations in a market which will require hard data to compare against more traditional marketing methods.

Some parts of “Social Media Analytics” will be familiar with many PR professionals who regularly use the inbuilt facilities of social media platforms such as Facebook insights or YouTube insights. Whilst this book is currently relevant I can foresee Sponder’s book quickly becoming out-of-date in this respect due to the fast paced nature of the online domain.

Within the chapter ‘Online Social Intelligence’ Sponder hits upon the subject of machine algorithms which dictate our search results and form the basis of many ROI measurement tools. The trick of these tools is to separate signal from noise to gain a contextual understanding of online mentions which goes far beyond simply detecting the amount of mentions a single campaign receives.

In conclusion Marshall Sponder’s book is not one that should be ignored if you work in the area of social media. It is impossible to sum up the whole contents of the book accurately in a blog post (but I do hope this short review did his book justice). If you have found yourself paying hundreds for social media training courses then save yourself money and learn far more by simply purchasing his £22 book from Amazon. You won’t regret it.


Marshall Sponder also regularly updates his blog at

Averill Gordon – Public Relations [Book Review]

Over the last two weeks I have been discovering the insights, case studies and featured interviews written within Averill Gordon’s first published book simply called “Public Relations” (Amazon link). Now Senior lecturer of Public Relations (PR) of AUT University but was senior lecturer and course leader at the University of Gloucestershire. For this reason I do know Averill from 1st and 2nd year of University and was delighted when she asked me to independently review her book (and bravery on her part to allow me to publish my opinions freely!). This review has been broken into three parts; content, layout and writing style.

The variation of content within “Public Relations” will mean a first year Public Relations student could purchase and the content should still be relevant three years on. It is a textbook which covers every aspect of Public Relations clearly explaining theoretics and offering real world case studies simultaneously which will pleasantly compliment PR undergraduate degree courses. Averill Gordon’s experience within the PR industry gleams throughout the first chapter with examples of PR by professional organisations and historical contexts of PR.

Not only is content theoretically sound but features case studies and interviews with industry professionals (such as UK & European CEO of Weber Shandwick and Co-founder of Threepipe PR) which clearly unites PR course materials with real-life examples. Frequently PR undergraduate courses maintain a high focus of theoretical concepts but lack creative inspiration which every real world PR campaign needs. By using case studies Averill demonstrates how organisations have used PR campaigns to achieve their goals.

Each chapter begins with learning outcomes which conveys to the reader the information they will learn across chapters. For PR students further into their courses this will prove useful to pick and choose relevant chapters but will also aid all students with revision strategies. Content is supported by a variety of different colours, graphics and graphs to ensure readers clearly understand content which will prove ideal for visual learners (as a student with Dyslexia this book is second to none visually).

As a textbook you will not be surprised to read that “Public Relations” has an academic writing style but varies due to featured interviews with industry professionals. The benefit of this writing style is that each sentence counts with no useless waffle to distract from the main learning outcomes driving each chapter. Indeed the references within “Public Relations” construct the only reading list a student will need throughout their University education.

Every PR book written in the 21st Century must include details of Online PR and Averill’s “Public Relations” is no exception to the rule. Key commentators such as David Phillips and Clay Shirky are featured along with the changing media platforms and channels PR professionals should be able to use coherently. In this respect Averill has proved herself to have an in-depth understanding of new media channels and to have offered up her original ideas in the online PR debate such as the need to closely work with legal teams for social media policies, understand a sites’ terms and conditions (When was the last time you paid attention to the T&C’s of Facebook or Twitter before running a PR campaign?) and briefing employees before representing a social media channel on behalf of an organisation.

Averill Gordon’s book “Public Relations” should be seriously considered by every PR student and PR course leader across the country. Its contents will compliment material conveyed within lectures, not only to provide students with greater depth but for students to discover additional resources beyond traditional reading lists. Personally I will be referencing content within Averill’s book for my final year PR dissertation – it is a valuable and up-to-date resource which exceeds many of the older PR books still being used by students.


You can purchase Averill Gordon’s book “Public Relations from Amazon here.

The Optical Cleaner’s Strategy

The Gloucester market was teaming with activity. From lunch, to jewellery, even strange wooden pendants – everything was available. This is real life shout marketing but the loudest voice doesn’t necessarily win. You need a strategy and this was best exampled by the optical cleaner who stood on the sideline.

His strategy was simple:

1)    Place his stand near the opened doorway of the retail centre

2)    Identify his customers (those wearing glasses)

3)    Lure in his customers through a free test

Guess what, it works.

My dad walked out of the retail centre wearing his glasses (a prime target) and a soft voice came from the corner, “Would you like me to clean your glasses sir?”. The rest relies upon ratios between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses – my Dad said yes.

Standing at his stand the man proceeded to clean my Dad’s glasses whilst explaining the product. He had gained a captive audience, one who would not leave until he had finished his cleaning job. Once the glasses had been cleaned my Dad was impressed, this German cleaner was good and so my mum decided to have her jewellery cleaned.

The experienced ended with the man making two sales equating to £12 for 10 minutes of work. A tough strategy in the long-term but far more personal than the shout marketing efforts of fellow stands. Every product should come with a service, even in the Gloucester markets.

PR as a Community Based Role

For the last couple of weeks I have been working on completing an essay based on Clay Shirky’s book “Cognitive Surplus” (Amazon Affiliate Link) – a rather overcomplicated term which simply means ‘free time’. The book examines how society adapted from the changes caused by postmodernism which eventually became the preconditions for social media. This got me thinking about PR acting as part of an online community.


Community is at the Heart of Social Media
When I started playing around with online community based tools when I was ten years old the internet seemed like a very different place. MySpace didn’t start until 2003, Bebo started in 2005 – most communities existed on forum based systems. Phpbb forums began in 2000 and quickly became the web’s most popular forum system. Communities largely existed from three distinct types of users

–       Normal users (each had a rank based on the amount of posts they had published)

–       Moderators (overseers who enforced community rules, had the ability to change forum layouts and ban users)

–       Admin (Complete authority over the forum)

This was life.

As I entered the Christian stage of my life in 2005 (albeit no longer…) I became involved in a project called “The Virtual Reality”. A forum system set up as part of my local church’s youth group which quickly became popular, spread past the boundaries of the church and became an online resource for Christians around the country. The community existed of the usual users, moderators and admin but also included:

–       Programmers (I was one of the programmers)

–       Ministers

–       Cell group leaders

The forum was a complete community which ran well until late 2006 where three distinct changes happened:

  1. Social Networks such as Bebo and MySpace were growing. People were spending their spare time elsewhere.
  2. The major content producers on the forum stopped posting frequently which left the forum looking out-of-date.
  3. A few individuals in the church began to get wary of many dangerously agnostic and convincing Atheistic viewpoints appearing (One Church leader accused me of deliberately leading new youth group members away from Christianity).

Running an online community is a delicate eco-system. Minor changes can be resolved but major shifts in user behaviour directly impact the health of the forum. Forums only work with a community (which is why starting a forum is so difficult).


What is your PR Campaign’s Motive?
When I was a CIPR Student Representative for 2009 – 2010 I ran a Social Media conference at the University of Gloucestershire. Alex Sass was one of my three speakers and he made a controversial argument that PR was killing SEO. I believe that PR, if not done correctly, will eventually dishearten some of the social media platforms we have come to love. Why? Because most PR departments don’t care about online community.

We have not left the era of ‘shout marketing’, we see it every day on Twitter. Countless organisations who still do not understand the concept of identifying their publics online. Simply posting your tweets is not enough. You must join in with the community which includes sharing, promoting others and replying.

To go one step further unless an organisation is intending to only appear on Twitter as a customer service provider (As Vodafone recently announced) then appearing to only act with extrinsic motivations is impossible. It all starts with the profile picture – we relate on a human level with a face, seeing a brand’s logo provides connotations of a completely different nature.

Early in Google+’s lifecycle it was announced that business profiles would be removed, you had to have a real face and name. Most profiles were deleted but some became their business’ brand (Chris Brogan discusses this phenomena in his blog post “Be the Brand”). Inherently our human nature is to share and discuss; why hide behind a logo? (I can think of many reasons, perhaps this topic could be covered another day.)

A PR campaign must not just convey messages but should give back to the community. You must enlighten and entertain – think of this as online based CSR.



I am a #socialstudent leader

Last Friday PR Student Magazine, Behind the Spin, released their #socialstudent leaders. Devised by the editor, Richard Bailey, the ranking assess the highest aggregated scores from Klout and Peer Index to determine the top 10 online footprints made by PR Students studying in the UK. I managed to get No.1 spot.

It is an honour to have made No.1 spot in the Behind the Spin ranking list, a genuine surprise. Despite dedicating part of my soul to the online world during my PR Course at the University of Gloucestershire I have never once taken an active interest in Klout or Peer Index. In fact since the #socialstudent ranking was released I have decided to join Peer Index so it gets a better understanding of my score (35 seems fairly low).

Why haven’t I taken an interest in measurement tools? Personally I find myself get distracted from the real reason to why I use social media, simply because I enjoy it. There are three aspects behind Web 2.0 which makes it valuable:

  1. You can freely publish (without the need for a traditional publishing house)
  2. You can share anything
  3. You can become an active part in a community

These three points determine why I enjoy blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, Stumbling, etc. Whilst I stand as No.1 of a top 10 list, this is no time to feel safe. Measurement scores are partly assembled from community conversations in certain topics, sharing information and volume. All of this can only be achieved by working as part of a community with everybody else online. Social media is not selfish (although you already knew that).

I achieved No.1 spot for the 4th November #socialstudent list but this will change. New PR students on Twitter are being found, scores are changing and if updated regularly the top 10 list may see dramatic movements every month. For a start since the list was aggregated my Klout score has dropped by 1 point and my Peer Index score may rise due to my registration last Friday (it takes a week for Peer Index to adjust score once a user has registered).

So whilst I am thankful for achieving No.1 spot I am making a promise to myself to not keep checking how my scores have changed. The most important thing is that I continue to publish, share and join in with the community. Everything else is a bonus, reaching No.1 on Behind the Spin’s list is a bonus of which I am thankful for!

There are also two special mentions I must make. Congratulations to Jazz Chappell, a first year PR Student from Leeds Met who has managed to gain No.2 place. Another mention to Lauren Hockey, a classmate of mine at the University of Gloucestershire – since the PR course was stopped at the University (a misinformed decision) getting two Gloucestershire places in the #socialstudent list is brilliant.

How to Plan an effective Publicity Stunt

This blog post identifies some of the key decisions and research which constructs a publicity stunt. It is not the only approach but it a step-by-step guide which I find useful.

Homer & the giant of Cerne Abbas

Understand your brand’s values
Every brand can be examined for the values it entails. In the case of a publicity stunts this may surround a new service or product. Both the brand and the product/service must be equally weighed up to understand if their values align. It may be that public opinion of a certain brand may wish to be altered as a result of a new product/service. For instance the Land Rover brand may not be seen as widely environmentally friendly but a new vehicle may feature certain environmentally friendly qualities. Map out what this publicity stunt is aimed to change about a brand’s values.

Identify Publics
Once the values behind both brand and product/service have been identified it is time to identify the relevant publics which you wish this message to hit. By default stunts tend to be noticed by everyone but in the case of launching a new Land Rover it may be that consumers will be the main target. In my eyes this would be arranged through primary and secondary stakeholders. Primary stakeholders will be the ones directly impacted by the stunt. Secondary stakeholders (such as employees & shareholders) will witness the consequences. The mix of stakeholder relevancy will depend upon the communication channels used which brings us onto the next point…

Landscape Communication Channels
Not all stunts are conducted in the ‘real world’, some could be based purely online – nevertheless communication channels all converge. The communication channels chosen by a PR professional must align with communicating with primary stakeholders (in this case the consumers) and entail the possibilities to virally spread online. Why? Relying on pitching an idea to a Journalist is nonsensical in an age where much information is already sourced online by Journalists. If a stunt is successful, is spoken about online, then Journalists will automatically notice online discussions and may feature. Clearly Journalists are still an important mediator to publics and so should not be ignored but PR professionals should no longer worry about a Journalist’s personal news preferences when much of the news agenda is already sourced from online discussions.

Brainstorm your ideas
You already have a list of relevant stakeholders, the communication channels have been landscaped and values behind both brand and product/service have been identified. It is time to brainstorm the publicity stunts which would be relevant to raise awareness. This requires a creative edge which is impossible to academically assess. Just avoid value conflicts with your brand (eg, avoid pictures of your Land Rover being filled at a fuel station!). The best ideas are a result of many different opinions, creative genius and value understanding.


Would you add anything else?

Do you agree with this approach?