London needs these entry-level digital roles

There are currently 40,000 technology businesses employing almost 200,000 people in London, which is 3.5% of the capital’s workforce.

To drive digital innovation and futureproof the workforce of London’s businesses, the Mayor of London launched a new £7 million Digital Talent Programme in December that will provide entry-level digital opportunities for young people.

The programme supports 1,500 young Londoners by offering work placements, providing learning opportunities, and matching academic prowess with real-world experience. One of its primary objectives is to provide work opportunities for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and ethnic groups.

To celebrate the launch, the programme has released their “Priorities for entry-level digital skills needs in Greater London” report, a result of a consultation made earlier in 2016, setting out the priority digital needs by companies in London.

I’ve read through the report so you don’t have to, picking out the key pieces of insight. It should be useful reading for anyone interested working in the digital industry as a whole, and sheds some light on the state of digital marketing in London.

Digital priorities are broad

The priority entry-level digital roles in London includes cyber security, which should be embedded across all business areas and has a real need for specialists. Games development is a profitable business area and is considered a priority beyond other software and applications roles. For digital business roles, digital marketing specialists are needed – as we know from the public relations industry, often this may involve introducing digital expertise to traditional companies.

Foundation knowledge for the digital industry

Businesses who responded to the consultation said that irrespective of the entry-level digital role, foundation knowledge in digital should include:

  • An understanding of the digital landscape that means knowing how different digital roles are interconnected with each other, along with how businesses are now using technology
  • Understanding cyber security and the best working practices
  • Entrepreneurial working approach and the ability to respond quickly to change

Shortage of cyber security specialists

Even though the report is aimed at entry-level roles, it admits roles in cyber security need to be more specialist. This means jobs tend to be more focused around operational functions, such as managers, risk analysts and penetration testers (*giggle*). If you want to enter the profession then a basic foundation in cyber security is obviously required, along with a foundation knowledge of coding, law, and ethics.

Software and game developers are needed

The biggest digital priority in London is the need for software and games developers. This covers everything from analysts, design, providing excellence for user-experience and implementing internet solutions. Most common skillsets required are those who can use the Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Flash, After Effects, etc), with knowledge of the languages Unity3D, Unreal and Swift.

IT and Big Data

Alongside the need for straightforward IT support in businesses, are roles that cover the creation and maintenance of databases, plus the analysis of data. In this category knowledge of SQL Server is a must, Microsoft software, and Oracle EBS. Understanding of statistics tools R or SAS are needed for data analysis.

Digital marketing

Digital marketing is the single biggest priority area in business services across London. It includes everything from content creation, search engine optimisation, advertising, community management, email marketing – the list really does go on. There is an opportunity for the public relations industry to help plug many of the digital marketing gaps here, but also a realisation that with growth across online advertising and e-commerce roles, public relations may not be a suitable ‘umbrella’ discipline to futureproof businesses in London.

Lights, camera, action!

Jobs in film production are still the largest sub-sector in all film related employment and visual effects is a significant part of roles in London. A number of roles in these areas have to be filled by overseas work according to the Migration Advisory Committee, so the Mayor’s apprenticeship programme is aimed to plug this gap.

 

If you are currently looking for an entry-level digital role in London, then I encourage you to read the report to discover exactly the types of knowledge and skills that will be expected from you. For example, computer science degrees are still more naturally aligned to roles in the IT sector.

As I read this report, it’s clear that the public relations industry has a need to clearly outline its career journey and look at skills being asked for across other digital industries; such as video production, data analysts, and broader areas of digital marketing.

I fully support the Mayor’s Digital Talent Programme, especially as we’re now living in an age where rigid academic structures struggle to keep up with the pace of digital innovation – leaving real-world ‘hands on’ experience as a priority.

The essential guide for modernising the PR workflow

Last week I had meetings with clients that spanned media relations, SEO projects, online advertising, and website design. Each day it’s becoming clearer that public relations is becoming the umbrella that holds the digital marketing mix. With this being the case, how can agencies build agile teams for the modern PR workflow?

This morning ‘The Essential Guide’ for modernising the PR workflow has launched. If PRstack was about modernising the PR workflow through making sense of the complicated third party tool market, then this new guide is the pitch just before it. Rather than focusing on tools, its five steps for evaluating and improving the workflow of a PR team.

Penned by a man on a mission Frederick Vincx, who is the owner of Prezly and has devoted his career to getting PR professionals out of ‘Excel hell’. His guide isn’t your typical link-bait ‘top 10’ post, it’s challenging and by the way it’s written – clearly coming from a voice of experience.

“The goal is to make your team adaptable for increasingly fast changing communication requirements. This guide will help you improve your PR team workflow so that you stay current and create more value for clients in less time. The result? Better work, happier clients, and more time left to sell to other clients.” – Frederick Vincx

Summarising Frederick’s work on this blog will not do it justice! Do visit his blog for a read and have a look at the infographic below for a visual summary. After a long-read, I’m proud to say that the consultancy I work for went through these modernisation steps a few years ago and structures are successfully navigating the newer digital elements of PR.

Map for moderning the PR Workflow

Geeks rule the PR workflow with #PRstack book, download now

Second PRStack book

Today the second PRstack book is out, the result of the largest crowd-sourced education effort in the history of PR practice. 30 PR professionals have created 44+ practical guides of digital tools that can be used in public relations, content marketing, and search engine optimisation (SEO).

One of those professionals is in fact… me. My chapter (six), on “Using NodeXl and Gephi to map networks and influencers”, is about how to use social media network mapping to identify communities through social network connections. It sounds geeky (because it probably is) but it has practical real-world applications for the delivery of PR programmes.

You can download a free digital version or purchase a printed copy here 

Second PR Stack book

PRstack isn’t just a book or community about how-to guides to make sense of the growing third party tool pool. It is a cultural shift that invites innovation to the workflow of PR in the 21st century. A necessary step forward in a competitive industry where digital practice areas are contested and claimed by a range of agencies; resulting in boardroom budget battles. In the end everything leads back to open-source innovation and community discussion.

As I’m shamelessly blogging about how proud I am of this project, I have to thank Stephen Waddington for letting ‘me in’ on the second book. It’s been a really positive experience, especially as I’ve always seen the first PRstack book as a helpful guide. On the launch of this second book, he explains:

“I’ve always been mildly envious of the cooperative spirit that exists in coding and SEO. Open source communities tackle issues that the industries are facing and aid learning and development.

 They’re typically focussed on a single goal and operate outside existing industry structures. This enables them to move quickly.

 It turns out that the public relations industry can also put aside competitive issues and open source. It’s how PRstack was created.”

Geeks rule the world; this is why I’m proud to be a part of the project. Along with all of these fine contributors: Matt Anderson; Matt Appleby; Stella Bayles; Michael Blowers; Liz Bridgen; Stuart Bruce; Gini Dietrich; Erica Eliasson; Helen Laurence; Rich Leigh; Hannah Lennox; Tim Lloyd; Kevin Lorch; Maria Loupa; Rachel Miller; Lauren Old; Adam Parker; Laura Petrolino; Andy Ross; David Sawyer; Aly Saxe; Laura Sutherland; Max Tatton-Brown; Frederik Tautz; Abha Thakor; Frederik Vincx; Angharad Welsh; Livi Wilkes; and Arianne Williams. Also, thanks to Prezly; the designers and developers that brought the final product to life.

Second PRStack book

If you have any questions about my chapter on social media network mapping, leave a comment below or tweet me (@michaelwhite1).

I am on holiday until Monday 19th October, so do forgive if I’m slow to reply during my much needed digital detox.

 

Is the future of PR in social advertising?

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” – is one of the ‘inspirational’ phrases making the rounds on LinkedIn at the moment. Unlike most memes, this one may have an element of truth. Perhaps that’s why the concluding answer of my interview on Chris Norton’s PR blog made the social headlines:

“We should all be concerned about the growth of the dark web. Social networks such as Snapchat and Whatsapp are locked down and near impossible to measure, at least compared with the openness of Twitter. When Twitter starts to decline, the entire social media industry may need to revaluate how it measures its worth.”

There is no doubt that Twitter is a godsend for those of us who work in public relations due to its approach to data sharing, the very thing that ethically burned the fingers of the charity Samaritans last year. A situation I was completely uninvolved with, but sadly was still trolled online for “being part of the same digital industry”.

The journalist Charles Arthur highlighted in his Guardian article last weekend, “Yet it is Twitter that is so often cited in news stories, TV coverage and even TV adverts, as established media businesses scramble to generate engagement with a tech-savvy mass of viewers, readers and listeners. Twitter is seen as the easy way to do that…  So why is Twitter struggling financially?”

Inevitably there are a multitude of reasons; struggle to monetise through advertising, competition from other social networks, speed of evolving the service, messages being communicated publicly (e.g. how Twitter is relevant in everyday life – sign up!). What isn’t a mystery to me is why Twitter has become famous; being mentioned on the news, by global brands and celebrities. It’s primarily about data.

All the social media monitoring tools on the market get deeper insight from Twitter in comparison to other sites such as Facebook and Google+. Twitter is a social network that balances organic activities with paid-for options – unlike Facebook where really advertising is the only option to get impact due to the throttling of organic reach. This leads to Twitter achieving global fame, whilst struggling to financially futureproof its existence.

So what happens to digital activities in PR after Twitter? It’s a concern of mine. Other popular social networks such as Facebook, Snapchat and LinkedIn are locked down, commonly referenced as ‘walled garden’ social networks. One of the inventors of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has called such social sites in the past as a threat to the democratic and universal nature of the internet.

Whilst we still have time the PR industry needs to think ahead about this future possibility and start planning for a world without the data comfort blanket of Twitter. It may just be that the future of digital PR may be in social advertising.

I work in PR, but haven’t pitched to a journalist for a year

Somewhere in-between the next coffee and wishing that the morning would end to excuse the monotony of breakfast (an important meal I refuse to appreciate), an email will be delivered.

“Dear Michael,
We’ve been shortlisted for another award!”

DELETE

As the owner of a mildly read blog, my personal email is regularly doorstepped by PR requests. Occasionally so thwart with poor grammar, it can leave a bitter taste of failure – as an industry we just have to be better. If I think that, then one can only imagine the frustration of journalists.

The last time I pitched to a journalist was on a graduate scheme – that was almost 2 years ago. Yet I work in the PR industry. I can even prove it; my MCIPR membership has just been renewed.

This isn’t going to be a post examining the different definitions of PR because that would be tedious. But for argument’s sake, here is the CIPR definition:

“Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”

From this definition I can confirm that I…

  • Look after the reputations of clients through earning understanding, support, and influencing opinion and behaviour;
  • Maintain a mutual understanding between organisations and its publics.

The only difference is, I don’t need a journalist acting as a mediator between my client’s organisation and its publics. That’s partly because I work in digital/social media, and journalist liaison doesn’t blight my to-do list – others do that. It’s mostly because digital alternatives provide a means to get in touch with niche audiences that mainstream publications are unable to target.

Journalists still have enormous value; they know how to frame stories, sell them to their audience, and hold the most influential positions online. In all the social reporting I’ve done, mainstream news outlets command huge engagement rates and sway conversations. Traditional media is very much alive, don’t let anyone tell you different.

Don’t let this deter from the fact that, depending on your clients, PR can be achieved without journalist liaison. Whilst a journalist’s skills should be envied, their media world is no longer exclusive. Only a few weeks ago I was chatting with a blogger who sways a collective influence comparable to the Mail Online.

At the recent Social Media Week event I helped arranged, one member of the audience remarked that bloggers are perfect for communicating with particular niches. They also have time to review products, know how to spread the word across media channels and engage with their audience at an individual level. This is more than most time-strapped journalist can offer, or frankly technically achieve.

Yes, I’ve been around journalists who scream that bloggers are mere amateurs. So what? This is just a typical British cynicism, when really Amateur in French means ‘lover of’. I’m a proud amateur of blogging. It has led to this blog receiving 30,000+ visits this year; it is why I will never demand a penny from those who read my words. It is why an industry PR book review on my blog would gain far more influential coverage in comparison with a mainstream publication, as I attract beautifully niche visitors.

That all-encompassing “little black contacts book” that my lecturer once mentioned contains the names of bloggers, not journalists. It is also a lot smaller, because I’m able to give organisations the ability to publish their own content, to far more specific audiences.

Digital marketing and social media provide other options to fulfil the goals of PR. We all know this, but sometimes it’s worth highlighting as a blog post. Especially as there are some in the industry, who I’ve spoken to, who believe speaking with journalists defines PR as PR.

 

 

 

 

 

Care about the code, not the data

There are a growing number of public relations professionals who are not initiating blogging programmes with the latest technology available, thus stifling the future of the internet. This thought came to me after reading computer scientist, Frédérick Giasson’s blog post, ‘Forcing the Emergence of a New Web Paradigm’. In my view, if PR professionals want to execute digital marketing campaigns that include the creation of websites, blogs and microsites; they need to play by the latest rules of the web.

In this particular blog post of his, Giasson quotes a Search Engine Land post that states,

“More than one-third of Google’s search results incorporate Schema.org rich snippets, but only a tiny fraction of websites are actually using the markup code… That’s according to a new Searchmetrics study out today that examined Google’s U.S. search results in March “for tens of thousands of keywords and over half a million web domains.”

The study found that 36.6 percent of Google’s search results include “at least one snippet with information derived from Schema.org.”

The most common integrations were the Movie and Offer types at 27 percent and 21 percent, respectively. After those two, TVSeries and Product tied for third.”

Schema org visualisation

Firstly, from a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) perspective it is useful to note that 36.6% of Google’s search results contain at least one snippet derived from schema.org, even though only 0.3% of domains are using the markup code. Clearly there is a huge advantage for web owners to learn and implement schema.org snippets into their website for better web traffic from search engines. We need more web owners to start implementing future technologies into their websites, to make search better and so that better monitoring tools can be created.

Secondly, the research from Searchmetrics (as referenced by Giasson) shows how we are entering an era where structured data is being published to the internet. 0.3% domains sounds like a small about but in reality this is 150,000 websites (of 50 million analysed!). Structured data is becoming a big deal but the barrier to implementation is generally a lack of knowledge. I don’t think it would be outlandish for me to say that a lack of technological knowledge is holding back the PR industry. However, we’re not the only ones to blame – unless a good Content Management System (CMS) is revealed that can process schema.org snippets, then that 0.3% isn’t going to rise much.

Why is this a problem?
Using futuristic semantic web technologies is going to be a real difficulty unless web owners start to insert tags into their websites, assisting computers to understand the content of a web page, not just the coded structure. Although from a usability point of view, schema is insanely useful for quickly getting information across in search engines. Moz explains this very well through screenshots in this post.

I’ll focus on the real benefit of schema.org in a later blog post. Today though, this post is just one big juicy rant!

Spin Sucks by Gini Dietrich [Book Review]

In an intensely chatty style that will keep readers craving for more, Spin Sucks is set to be my 2014 public relations book of the year. It will scare “old hats” in the industry with its strong emphasis on digital communication, and that is just one of the reasons I like it. Written by Gini Dietrich, this fresh new industry book takes its name from her intensely popular blog and can be purchased on Amazon now.

Spin Sucks book

When I first started studying PR in 2008, I had no idea of the unfolding digital revolution and how my own geeky skills could tie into the industry. If I could have read Spin Sucks back then, most of the questions in my head could have been solved. Each chapter has a heavy focus on digital, showing how blurred the boundary between digital marketing and public relations have become. Although some practitioners don’t want to admit it, digital is (in my view) now the only way meaningful relationships can be developed in a communications programme. Spin Sucks is a power advocate for this; Gini shows through personal stories and industry case studies just how important digital is. Although don’t underestimate the book, reading it is like chatting with an old friend, frankly sharing tips and tricks to get a PR programme flying.

The start of the book begins by plainly telling the reader how much the PR industry has changed; it’s becoming a lot more rocky. We need to accept that our carefully crafted media messages are not immune to being destroyed through a single 140 character tweet. In its most extreme form, this is something called radical transparency among industry theorists. Spin Sucks isn’t all doom and gloom though, the book identifies the challenges in the industry (such as ongoing content creation online) and quickly provides direction around the subject. It’s in this way that Gini should gain the trust of readers, solving problems and using her knowledge to rectify dilemmas in a reader’s head.

Some PR books and blogs would have you believe that social media plans are mostly constructed by a mixture of different platforms; Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Quora, etc. Indeed, that is the way I’ve seen many communications programmes planned, by the platform. It is also one of the main reasons why clients tend to reach out for agency help ‘We have all these social media channels but no idea how to use them or how they plug into a wider strategy’. A good strategy is often needed, that focusses on the right business objectives, with the right optimisations made to performance metrics (‘likes’, ‘followers’, ‘visits’, etc).

(c) Spin Sucks.com, Gini
(c) Spin Sucks.com, Gini

Spin Sucks doesn’t just focus on platforms, it tells stories of how a strategy could be built, which just goes to show how much Gini understands about online behaviours. The internet is full of these weird characters called trolls, of activities involving content scraping and search optimisation. No matter which internet stone you want to turnover to explore, Gini has probably covered it in Spin Sucks. The book provides a peek through the digital curtain (look or die).

Over the years I’ve attended plenty of training sessions with journalists describing what makes the perfect story in a bid to provide an even better service for clients. The one risk about digital PR books is that they can became too digital, losing what makes the PR industry tick. I’m pleased to say Spin Sucks does not fall into this trap.

At the very beginning of the book Gini reminds us that yes, sex does sell! We love it, in the media it could be characterised as being loud and relentless. Messages hammer away at our brains each day but we all know that a successful relationship cannot be built on sex alone, you need trust. It’s the same for organisations, you need trust. Build a communications strategy that tells a story people just want to learn more about, don’t spin it and be quick. Online commentary moves so quickly now that we can no longer plan a story for 4 days – it needs jumping on. In the way Spin Sucks takes what is needed about building a compelling story and thrusts it into the 21st Century. For some of us these parts of the book will act as a solid reminder to continue being brilliant, other practitioners may realise why they’re gradually shedding clients.

Whenever a blogger releases a book it’s always tempting to mentally tell yourself that you could save cash by just subscribing to the author’s blog. Just don’t. The book is such a useful and clear read that you would miss out by not having it. It’s a beautifully designed tangible product that the PR industry should be thankful to have.

Before you forget, do order your copy of Spin Sucks on Amazon. If you order it before Saturday 5th April 2014, email Gini a copy of your receipt and she’ll send you $200 worth of free webinars.

I was one of a selected bunch of bloggers by Spin Sucks to become a brand ambassador for Gini’s new book. This means I got to review the book in advance of its publication and help support its launch through social media. The words in this review are my honest opinion, not tampered in any way. 

 

Social media gets exciting when you can perform network analysis. I just did.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 20.47.24It’s peculiar that the majority of mainstream social media tools tend to focus more on the content shared across social media, rather than how accounts are connected with each other. There are various ways to conduct social media research but my favourite way is to perform network analysis. Over the last couple of years there have been astounding developments in these sorts of tools.

Twitter is a network which lends itself to be ideal for network analysis because of its non-mutual relationships between accounts (e.g. I can follow @stephenfry but he doesn’t have to follow back) and it’s fairly open data sharing policy. Even without official access to the Twitter Firehose, I am able to scrape enough data in a few seconds which can be visualised beautifully.

The image below is a link to an interactive Twitter map that displays the last 915 tweets from the #NeedForSpeed promotional Twitter campaign that ran yesterday (Thurs 13th March 2014). Be assured, this isn’t data from a client campaign and is only fuelled by publicly available data. If anything, this makes the insights even more incredible because a simple geek can quickly draw conclusions about this social media advertising campaign without actually having access to the advertiser’s dashboard.

Do click through and visually navigate your way across the Twitter map, investigate how Twitter users are connected with each other and decide what conclusions you can draw from this campaign (Do comment your conclusions, would be interesting to read).

Twitter Network Analysis
Click this image to visit interactive map

Here’s a guide to the interactive map:

  • Colours represent organic communities (AKA. value groups)
  • Lines indicate follow/followed relationships
  • Node size refers to influence (bigger the better), as calculate by the number of connections

It’s these sorts of visualisations that empower the theoretical side of the PR industry and why some aspects can only be understood from that angle. Do take a deep breath and dive into this post written by David Phillips in November 2012. In the post Phillips talks candidly about his struggle to devise a concept that would bring PR theory in line with what we know about the internet. He had a brainwave…

“It goes back to some work I did on tokens and values in which we identify people and organisation as the nexus of values; the work of Bruno Amaral who showed that people cluster round commonly held values (an empirical study); Thoughts about wealth being based on relationships… In an era of mass-media dilution, communication has a higher and growing dependency on network communication as a mechanism to introduce individuals to the story of the hour. It is this development that is the evolving and critical element that PR theory has to address most urgently. We need to see why and how values (some of them being no more than a hyperlink) spread in networks and how this is different to mass media ‘communication’.”

From 2012 there have been a number of studies to attempt showing the network effect of social media communication but the challenge was to devise a method of instantly tracking network changes, based upon content being shared. At the centre of this, is the foundational understanding that people will congregate around values online (in actual fact the rabbit hole goes much deeper on this issue, but this is a matter for another blog post).

These network graphs highlight another important observation about how we use social media. Even with freedom of expression and ability to link in non-mutual relationships, as a species we are still bound by our very nature. Something that anthropologists may refer to as Dunbar’s number, we tend to communicate in an average group size of 150 people. Any more than this and we are unable to maintain stable social relationships. Different industries need to be aware of this limitation as previous research as shown me that:

  • The PR industry (PRCA & CIPR practitioners) tend to fall into a network pickle. We broadcast content, share and reach agreement as an internal community, rather than engaging with practitioners outside of our digital social circles. Therefore, for most of us, social media is simply a massive echo chamber for internal debate. When, in reality, it’s probably our clients that would benefit from most the materials we create.
  • We aren’t the only ones to fall into this trap, previous research has shown me that the travel blogging community is similar. With some of the top bloggers creating engagement between themselves rather than reaching out to the ‘general public’. It’s too be expected, social media may eventually influence our natural behaviours but for the moment we’re still only humans!

These sorts of visualisations start to get really interesting when applied to other social networks, such as LinkedIn or Quora. Thanks to the research capabilities at Keene Communications and Social Media Research Foundation, I’m getting closer each day.