This is how you build an award winning blog

For just under two years I’ve been working with the team at Keene Communications to deliver world-class digital strategies to clients. So we were delighted to hear the news that our client, St Helena Tourism, has had their blog recognised as one of the top ten travel industry blogs in the UK in the UK Blog Awards 2015. It was shortlisted alongside others such as WWF Holidays, Thomson Blog and Teletext Holidays.

This is a significant achievement. Especially as St Helena has been blogging for less than 2 years. It’s been a real team effort at the agency, with St Helena Tourism and their island community. So we are very excited for their success.

This win is an extraordinary achievement for our client. Why? Just read the quote from St Helena Tourism.

“To have been shortlisted in the UK Blog Awards 2015 is an achievement beyond our wildest dreams. As a remote British overseas territory we launched the St Helena Wirebird blog to give potential travellers a digital experience of the island before they arrived. A feat in itself, as St Helena Island doesn’t have a mobile network or widespread Internet access. Which makes being shortlisted as a top travel industry blog extra special, as the island community who are mostly new to the Internet age is managing the blog.” – Chanelle Marais, Marketing & Communications Manager

So how do you go about building an award winning blog?
The simple answer is apply for awards. But before you do that, you must build a blog that is successful.

We measure success by:

  • Seeing increased visits year-on-year
  • Monitoring who is sharing or recommending posts
  • Having a disciplined publishing schedule

Being shortlisted in the UK Blog Awards 2015 was reliant on blog readers voting for St Helena. Therefore a significant amount of readers were needed to generate enough ‘umph’ to be shortlisted, especially as readers need to ‘give away’ their email addresses.

We worked with St Helena to build an award winning blog in under two years by following these below steps. Perhaps they’ll help you too?

  1. Leverage your existing audience

We all have an existing online audience, whether they are personal or professional contacts. St Helena has an audience of Saints (those who come from St Helena) living in the UK, potential travellers and those who have visited the island. For the St Helena Wirebird travel blog, this was the starting user base.

We then built this audience through creative copywriting and by addressing topics that were directly related to the audience. As St Helena’s PR agency, our overall focus is to increase visitation to the island. Therefore the blog needed to tell potential travellers a story about the island, which is delivered by collaborating with Saints.

You then publish posts, make sure they are shared on social media, and capture as much data as possible. On a blog this is simple: have an email subscribe form.

  1. Have a robust publishing schedule

Blogging is a marathon and not a sprint. To succeed you need a robust publishing schedule that can survive the ups and downs of daily life. Even in stretched weeks, a post must be published. Every post will generate more views; over a period of time a visitor base will grow and eventually you may have a blog that can rival traditional news outlets.

This means planning a content calendar that looks ahead for at least the next three months. Knowing the dates of upcoming events, getting guest bloggers to write their posts in advance, and drafting copy way ahead of deadlines will all help.

  1. Be transparent. Be social.

Online news publications can only survive if they are tapped into social networks. This applies for mainstream news, trade publications, and every blog ever created. Unless people share posts, then it will be extremely difficult building any sort of audience.

Blogging is completely social. This means networking with other bloggers. At Keene we’ve invested huge amounts of time networking with various blogging communities. This has even involved travelling abroad to meet with blogging groups. We treat bloggers as we would journalists, because their craft has just as much influence. Part of owning a blog means commenting on other peoples blogs – get involved in the community.

  1. The most important question is ‘Why?’

St Helena Tourism has a blog to generate tourism for the island. Keene Communications has a blog to show our team’s insight to generate business. I personally run a blog to help make a name for myself in the PR industry. Your blog needs a ‘Why?’ element; no matter if you are an individual or organisation.

This post was also published in the Keene Communications blog.

You’ll need to think like a start-up in 2015

I’m calling it: 2015 will be the year that communications agencies will need to think like a start-up.

This was reinforced earlier this month with the release of new data from accountants Kingston Smith revealing “Profit margins at the top 40 UK PR agencies declined last year to the lowest level for a decade…” There are a number of reasons for this, and Stephen Waddington provides an excellent overview.

What do I mean by think like a start-up though?

One of the reasons behind struggling profit margins is the challenge of modernisation; meaning everything now involves the big digital question. How is this campaign going to work online?

For the last two years my role at Keene Communications has centred on this question. I was brought in to provide the agency with digital capabilities, drive client results through social media, and beat competition through digital developments.

Even though the agency has a 25-year history, implementing digital approaches has meant thinking like a start-up, even if I didn’t realise it at first.

Quite often the competition reveals itself to be agencies boasting large, often international employee counts. In the spirit of a start-up though, this doesn’t matter. We strive to be at the forefront through developing creative digital ideas that deliver practical results.

And wow, we have developed some fun digital tools as a result. Our cloud server is full of technological toys; many of these experimental tools have already been used to deliver client work.

However, all of these developments over the last two years remain hidden from view. So a new saying has emerged in the office “We’re the best kept secret on Whitehall”; it’s not good. Especially for creativity. The real digital experts lurk in the countless Open Source communities online. For us, for Keene, to properly think like a start-up, we need to be working with our digital partners.

So today we’ve launched Keene Labs, our response to thinking like a start-up in 2015. A project area on our company Wiki where we work with Open Source communities to evaluate and develop promising new technologies that can be applied to our own work.

Keene Labs logo

Because it’s a Wiki, the whole Keene Labs project area is in a constant state of ‘work in progress’! It probably offers a deeper level of intellectual property transparency than most agencies would be comfortable to give away. All the contents covers digital and social media tools we are developing right now. It’s hot stuff.

Do have a look, and if you’re interested in helping develop any of these ideas with us or would like any information, just comment below.

My interview with influential Travel Blogger, Gary Arndt

IMG_0106Think you’re a dedicated blogger? Try selling your business and home to commit your life to blogging, and travelling in this case. Because this is exactly what Travel Blogger, Gary Arndt decided in 2007. 7 years later and he has visited all 7 continents, which is over 170 countries and territories around the world. This includes every US state, 125 US National Park Service sites and over 285 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You can read about his travels on his blog Everything Everywhere.

Last week I attended the World Travel Market in London to hear him talk about St Helena and interview him about his experiences. This was as part of my role at Keene Communications. Gary is an extremely insightful and confident public speaker who clearly absorbs a ton of information about each destination he visits.

You can listen to his talk and interview by clicking play below (audio linked across from the St Helena Wirebird blog).

Gary Arndt is a prime example of why I work in PR but haven’t pitched to a journalist for a year; a relatively controversial blog post of mine that some flacks just can’t hack. His reach rivals many travel magazines, he produces content that most journalists simply do not have the skills for (such as high quality video production). Although remember, the best PR campaigns are integrated – traditional journalism is still relevant.

See you at Social Media Week London 2014

This year Social Media Week London will be BIGGER, BADDER and BETTER. Why? Because Keene Communications is holding, what currently appears to be, the only social media focused public affairs event. If you have questions concerning the role of social media in public affairs, would like to hear opinions from industry professionals and fancy networking with like-minded individuals – then do register to attend our Social Media Week London 2014 event.

Join the debate (#SMWSocialLobbying) that Keene is hosting on Thursday, 25th September at our offices in Whitehall. Please click here to visit our Social Media Week London 2014 page. Do register early, as there will be a high demand for tickets.The event will start at 5.30pm and finish at (approximately) 8.00pm. Refreshments will be provided.

About the speakers

Sarah Anderson (@NoMorePage3)

No More Page 3 is a campaign aimed at stopping The Sun from publishing topless pictures of young women. Since its inception in 2012 its petition has gained 198,000+ signatures and key to its success has been its use of social media. Sarah Anderson is a member of the ‘NMP3 HQ’ team, a group of passionate volunteers that balance full-time jobs with pursuing this campaign.

As a grassroots campaign conceived in the social media era, No More Page 3 offers an insight into the future of public affairs campaigning.

Tim Lloyd (@timolloyd)

Tim has worked for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Health. In that time, he has helped co-facilitate the NHS social media community: #nhssm and led several digital communications teams in other public sector organisations. Tim has a background in journalism, business and customer publishing.

Tim provides an informed (and first hand) view on the government’s own social media agenda.

Boni Sones OBE

In 2008, Public Policy Magazine voted Boni Sones: “One of the most influential women in Britain”. In 2009 she was awarded an OBE for ‘Services to Broadcasting and PR’.  She has published a number of books, one of which, ‘Women in Parliament: The New Suffragettes’, led to a nomination for the Orwell Prize in journalism. Boni also helped set up BBC News 24.

Boni therefore provides a highly informed perspective about how traditional media is adapting to social media.

Jake Rigg (@jake_rigg)

As Managing Director at Keene Communications, Jake advises numerous clients on their government relations strategies both in the UK and the EU. In his spare time, Jake is a visiting Fellow at Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford and a Trustee of Philanthropy Impact.

Under Jake’s leadership, Keene has embedded social media strategies into all the programmes offered to its public affairs clients.

Toe the ethical line

Before entering the public relations profession the more philosophical of my confrères had doubts that my ethical persuasions would handle the reality of service delivery. It’s always been a possible grievance and in the past (before my present position) I’ve faced ethical dilemmas. How fortunate to be involved in a role where the job’s scope affords such self-masturbatory question of principles.

When it comes to social media I’ve made it very clear in the past of my outright support of individual liberty and the importance of sharing knowledge. So I’m absolutely delighted that the agency I work for, Keene Communications, has agreed to pledge ethical allegiance to Wikipedia. In my role as digital consultant I had the pleasure to announce the news, after board-level discussions.

It’s important that we, as Keene, serve the needs of our clients but also respect the process of Wikipedia. Our content will ultimately shape Wikipedia and people’s judgment of the free encyclopedia. We are always willing to have open and honest relationships with Editors, as well as challenge them on key topics of debates that are central to client campaigns.

Wikipedia launched 13 years ago and swiftly gained respect for accuracy and reliability. This feisty non-profit relies on donations and is an example in its own right of why internet access should be considered a fundamental human right.

With the  joint statement of ethics for communications firms on Wikipedia, PR agencies no longer have to worry in isolation about any Conflict of Interests (CoI) and know exactly how to interact with this valuable online resource. I personally look forward to publicly debating with editors over client issues and adding to Wikipedia for the greater good.

Data drives discussion

The title of my last post ‘Care about the code, not the data’ ruffled a few feathers amongst my comrades in PR. Big budgets are being spent on advertising campaigns pushing the concept of big data to businesses and frequently social talks from bandwagon PR practitioners touch on this jargon too. In the context of creating blogs, websites and microsites – caring about the code also means caring about data.

The title aims to show the intrinsic link between code and data. Unless the code is right then you can forget about reliable, readable or relevant data.

Data drives discussion

  • In politics, all election campaigns are driven by data and Obama’s election campaign serves as a unique example of this. He properly utilised ‘big data’, cross matching social media data with other relevant sources. Whilst ultimately people won the campaign, the entire process was driven by software managing datasets. Project Houdini would have revolutionised the Election Day ground game, although it failed on the day. Good data drives discussions around political issues, if you have the right tools for the job.
  • As exampled in previous social media network analysis posts, data can be used to map stakeholders online. This frames the context behind conversations and revolutionises how communication campaigns can be structured. It is here I must add that I was only able to undertake this research thanks to the support of my employer, Keene Communications.
  • Semantic analysis software exists and assists with the automatic detection of sentiment, topicality and key words of conversations. This is by the process of a computer breaking down syntactic structures to understand the language dependent meanings of phrases. It is a significant part of data capture as it attributes values to qualitative data, something once only a computer could do. Indeed, my last post focusing on Schema.org is a foundational coding requirement for the future of the semantic web to be secured.

These are just three examples of data driving discussion. There are plenty more.

The point with the above examples is that they are driven by code. Without geeky brainpower and programming in the early hours of the morning, none of these technologies would exist. We wouldn’t have the data to analyse.

This is why code matters. This is why if you want to be in PR, you need to know the basics of coding. Still think caring about code is controversial? Then online PR or Public Affairs isn’t for you.

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.

 

This is one of the rarest coffees in the world, and I drank it

“Write what you know about” advised Jeffery Archer one Cheltenham Literary Festival. “Take in your surroundings and use them to form your story, don’t try to make things up – there is no need too.” This was some of the best writing advice I ever received because believe it or not, all of us live unique lives that tell a story. So naturally I’m going to abandon that handy advice and write about something I know next to nothing about.

Coffee.

Ignore the reams of business ‘self-help’ books because London just would not tick without its coffee. Behind George Osborne’s economic policy is the missed fact that the big smoke only functions because coffee is drunk in droves. Everyone has their favourite coffee places, Baristas are gods commanding eternal elixir (especially at the time I leave for work) and we all melt at the smell of freshly ground coffee beans. If you have ever travelled on the train between Dorking and London Waterloo you will know that fateful spot where the smell of roasting coffee fills the carriages. Even after over two years of working in London, I haven’t managed to spot the source of this awakening aroma – I suspect a Café Nero factory but may be wrong. Coffee is what keeps everybody sane in the city and I suspect it’s the same globally and historically.

There is one coffee in London which you won’t find. It’s grown on St Helena. Located approximately 1,200 miles North West of Cape Town, St Helena is little known. This tiny British Outpost (just 47-square miles) remains one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands – five days at sea from Cape Town! The reason some people may have heard of the island is because Napoleon was banished to St Helena after his defeat at the battle of Waterloo and arguably he put this remote island on the map.

782px-ascension_island_location2

St Helena’s coffee is something special. London’s coffee merchants WM Burnie & Co described St Helena’s coffee as being of “very superior quality and flavour”. Apparently, even Napoleon whilst incarcerated on the island during the early 19th Century praised the quality of St Helena’s coffee. Today St Helena’s coffee lives on thanks to Rosemary Gate Coffee Estate, which is a family run business founded in 1994 by Bill and Jill Bolton. They grow the green tipped Bourbon Arabica coffee, which was introduced to St Helena from Yemen in 1732. Years of growing and perfecting the recipe has resulted in St Helena’s coffee being one of the finest in the world market.

St Helena CoffeeIt is also one of the rarest and most expensive coffees in the world. In 2016 St Helena is going to get its first airport but until then, very little product is exported from the island. Besides, the island is so small that inevitably there will always be a struggle to keep up with global demand. There is only so much space where coffee can be grown. Then last week, for the first time ever, I got the chance to taste St Helena’s famous coffee. For over a year I’ve wondered what this coffee would taste like, focused on how amazing it would be to enjoy product grown thousands of miles away. Holding the 125g packet, I couldn’t wait to put it into the coffee machine.

Now, I’ve never professionally tasted coffee before – nor know the language associated with it. What I will say is that the coffee tasted pure, it isn’t blended with anything else. It is also advisable to try drinking it without milk first. When you drink coffee black you get a real sense of all the flavours, milk tends to water flavours down.

It was earthy, almost floral and slightly nutty. Very different to the coffee around London, although my only comparison would be to the coffee chains.

What I also focused on whilst drinking the coffee is that this is what Napoleon would have tasted. The coffee physically hasn’t changed one bit so I really was tasting three centuries of St Helena’s history. To then write about that experience on this 21st Century blog is something.

St Helena Tourism is a client of Keene Communications. As Keene’s digital bod I assist to plan client digital strategies and was thankful to taste the island’s coffee. To learn more about St Helena then visit the Wirebird Blog.