Use data to craft your digital strategy

We are all designers.

This was the main message behind my post last year about the importance of digital desire paths. For those who are new to building a digital strategy, desire paths are an idea to remind us about the affordance of design.

As Wikipedia explains:
An affordance is a quality of an object, or an environment, which allows an individual to perform an action. For example, a knob affords twisting, and perhaps pushing, while a cord affords pulling.

As PR folk we should be constantly focused on affordance, because the strategies we devise on behalf of clients should directly tap into a person’s behavior. We need to stop talking about ‘audience’ and instead recognise the targets of our campaigns as ‘users’. The wordplay is subtle, the latter focuses on individuals, whilst ‘audience’ is a mistaken term – it’s a concept describing a mass of ultra-attentive people who are ready to be zapped with PR messaging. Frankly, ‘audience’ is bullshit.

Online measurement tools prove unreservedly that every user interacts differently with online campaigns, yet many will fall into patterns of behavior as usually directed by design. For example, have a look at the below graphic.

Thought Symposium user behaviour

The graphic is a snapshot view of the traffic this blog currently receives.

  • Numbers represent the unique visits
  • The addresses are individual pages visited
  • Green shows visits
  • Red shows dropped traffic

The whole table is laid out in terms of ‘first visit’, ‘second page visited’, ‘third page visited’… and so on.

In an instant I can see how individual users are interacting with this blog, how the design of my blog is influencing behavior and which content is performing the best.

My topline thoughts so far:

1)     29% of the users who visit this blog leave immediately. Indicating that perhaps this blog was not relevant, looked too confusing or isn’t updated enough.

2)     The majority of people tend to only look at the top performing posts (as shown on the sidebar), rather than reading the newest content. This could potentially be a problem that threatens the future performance of this blog because the ‘top content’ isn’t necessarily the best.

3)     Once someone has visited they tend to interact once, then leave. This means the design of this blog needs to deliver relevant content quickly. In the future any increases in this stat could be a reason to change the design of the blog, to show full posts on the first page.

Of course, there are other factors at play in this diagram that are not showing. For example, I know that I’m receiving a fair amount of search engine traffic for a post about PayPal at the moment. Yes, the traffic spike looks great but actually it’s not a great piece of content based upon search engine queries. People don’t want to read my post ranting about PayPal, they want fraud support, and so the bounce rate on this post is high.

Keep my above graphic in mind and read my post from last year about digital desire paths. This post is a small example for how data can be used to craft digital strategies that perform. If you don’t use data to influence your online designs, then you are building something blindfolded.




Trends and Challenges for social media in 2014

Technology has changed a lot in the last 20 years
Technology has changed a lot in the last 20 years

Yesterday I joined fellow digital communicators at the Museum of London to discuss, “What will be the hot social media trend in 2014?”. It was a thought provoking affair which was arranged by Precise, you can read my blog post for Keene Communications here on it. This post follows on from those trends highlighted.

During the discussions there were a couple of trends which I thought were missed and a number of challenges that the communications industry needs to prepare for.

Additional trends for 2014:

1) The Semantic Web
This is by no means a new development for 2014 but as I explained in my article for The Measurement Standard, it is something we need to be prepared for. Social media metrics are mainly numerical, looking at the counts of ‘likes’, ‘followers’ and so on. As was raised by the MD of Social at Ogilvy for EAME (Europe, Africa and Middle East), Marshall Manson, during Precise’s event yesterday – these social media metrics are increasingly concerned with campaign optimisation, rather than hitting business objectives. If you’re a business forget ‘I want 3000 followers’ as a target and instead think along the lines of, ‘I want this many subscribers for my magazine’. The semantic web is an evolution which would measure language rather than numbers and will become an alternative mainstream way to search the internet. Just give it time.

2) Sexy Data
Increasingly, news publications will seek alternative ways to present their news stories online and will use internet technologies to make previously unusable material, sexy. I believe this will be primarily through interactive visualisations, of which have the potential to completely reinvent what ‘reading the news online’ is. It would be unfair for me to take full advantage of this idea without mentioning my data visualising friend Ben Hamilton. He knows where the industry is going.


I don’t often gaze into the crystal ball and clearly some trends may turn out to be complete flops, but it’s good to think. During the event’s discussions there were some clear challenges that the communications industry will face if certain social trends continued to grow:

How do you infiltrate a walled garden?
Social media sites, such as Snapchat, pose a huge challenge to communicators because they are private. They are out of reach from measurement tools because none of the data is made public. Plus, all of the content shared on Snapchat is disposable which means no saving or sharing for later. Unless such sites provide API access for brands then they remain an almost impossible channel to use in social media campaigns. If private social networks continue to grow then the digital marketing industry may begin to struggle.

Walled Garden

Realistic social media strategies
Occasionally I feel that digital marketing events could be likened to evangelical church services. Everyone is proud to praise the power of social, the intelligence of cloud services and the measurement opportunities in the hive mind. Yet we hear very little of tangible social media case studies where there has been direct delivery to business objectives, in particular sales. This is a challenge for social media strategies and a mindset change for most PR agencies – sales matter. We need to understand what needs measuring and only use social media metrics, such as ‘likes’, for campaign optimisation purposes only. It’s better to judge an advert for its conversions rather than for its clicks. Same applies to social.


Accepting the digital philosophy
A company offering only social media services is not enough, they need to live and breathe digital. Internal social networks points to an age when business is more than delivering to contracted hours but a timelessly connected affair. We are humans before employees; we desire to be connected with each other. Part of accepting the digital philosophy is to understand that physical location no longer matters and commuting all the time is positively Victorian. We are all remote workers, social through our devices and companies need policies to manage this, not block it.




EC=MC, Generation Y is the answer

As observed in a blog by David Phillips, there is a massive shortage of digital skills available to the PR industry. This is a worry. The industry needs to protect its budgets, especially from online advertising which can promise much but delivers questionably. Organisations who have remained traditional have felt the heat of digital approach them. Online campaigns, social media monitoring and online publishing are all common place – the PR industry must be ready.

The transformative question is… EC=MC

(Every Company is a Media Company)

The phrase was coined by Tom Foremski and describes how companies are publishing content to its stakeholders, meaning that companies must have an understanding of the publishing tools available. The phase never really caught on in the UK but its effects are being felt across the profession.

PR agencies are publishing an increasingly large amount of content online but still write in a fashion which most would deem unsuitable for the internet age. Digital platforms are not designed for dull press releases but rich, dynamic and engaging content. Therefore, agencies not only need to have an understanding of how to use digital tools but also those who understand the correct tone for the digital age. Essentially, agencies need to understand content curation (and this is another blog post altogether!)

In most cases (only in my experience), the right people are not always the more senior. Instead we should avert our eyes to generation Y. Only they can solve the EC=MC equation.

In 2004, whilst most upcoming seniors were still writing press releases, generation Y were already engaging with digital tools. In most cases these were:

        • PHP Forums
        • Instant Chat (such as IRC)
        • Growing blogging platforms (such as WordPress)
        • Building websites from nothing (pure HTML goodness)

MySpace was VERY popular whilst I was growing up and to make any sort of design changes required rather in-depth HTML knowledge. Am I saying PR people should have a knowledge of programming? Yes I am.

The online landscape is as diverse as the cultures living in a student’s dorm. It is more than just social media, far more complicated than “social media gurus” can comprehend. The subtitle of this blog is “Marketing, Advertising, Public Relations and Stuff” because digital has blurred all disciplines and there is even stuff which cannot be categorised.

PR agencies need a helping hand and, in most cases, generation Y is the answer. So go on, give a student a job!


My thanks to Neville Hobson who highlighted EC=MC at his #CIPRsm session last week, “How social do you want your PR?”. To see a full list of other sessions taking place visit the CIPR Social Summer page.

Achieve ROI with Adobe Social

Adobe recently released its digital marketing tool Adobe Social. It is a product that has been refined over the last 12 months through a series of substantial investments in social media including some key acquisitions. It is designed quite simply to allow the creation, monitoring and measurement of social interactions. These can then be easily integrated into wider marketing activities.

As mentioned in my last blog post, today social media is more than just online. It is about creating a campaign that understands the worth of both digital and traditional marketing values. Adobe Social makes this possible by allowing to track how online behaviour translates to offline.

For a long time I have been banging the analytics drum (along with some professional PRs) to engage the PR community to be better at tracking. On the whole the industry has understood online strategy and tactics but when it comes to measurement and tracking a whole variety of methods are used. Adobe Social helps streamline tracking by allowing tracking to be easily integrated into online campaigns.

This means that instead of simply relying on a service such as Klout to gain perspective of influence, you can actually see how people are interacting outside of individual networks. For instance you could set up a call to action for someone to purchase a book. Adobe Social will allow you to measure the impact on Twitter of that particular tweet and then see how many people converted on the buy page of the online store.

In a wider perspective this may be the dawn of the age where Digital PR can finally include sales as a metric. Although it is important to not confuse PR with social advertising (although there are some overlaps).

Adobe Social is a new digital marketing management tool in the marketplace worthy for your consideration. For those new to measuring ROI in the social media space this tool could be a solid foundation to your campaign. Give it a try.



It is true. As most of you know Adobe UK is one of the many clients I assist with managing at Red Consultancy but as a new user of the tool it does have my recommendation.

Dealing with Social Media Crisis Management

Guess what? Social media isn’t new anymore. We all know how to use the tools and I still stand by my blog post from June that social media ‘experts’ are not qualified to do their role. The shift into 2012 will see more organisations seek to have their social media strategies merged into the wider marketing mix. Online communication channels have proved in 2011 to hold the integrity of a brand.

Last August Altimeter Group, a research based advisory firm, released a social business version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Those familiar with Maslow will recognise that there are close interlinks between social psychology and social business needs.

Social Business Hierarchy of Needs

It is in my belief that social media crisis management is not a case of post-examination but instead the culmination of research in order to prepare for potential crisis. Whilst planning will not settle every eventuality it does provide a clear set of communication guidelines to remain calm, organised and quick. Make no mistake – you do not have to sacrifice speed for quality. Whilst “The Social Business Hierarchy of Needs” diagram shows an ideal decisions in the enlightenment stage will be made on real time data to make real time decisions. Just how this will work in practice for an international organisation is questionable (simply due to the complex internal aspects of communication and management).

Infamous instances such as Nestlé’s management of their Facebook presence in 2010 when Greenpeace launched a campaign against the company due to their approach to acquire palm oil at the cost of endangered Orang-utan triggered a series of events PR professionals should not forget.

It proved that there are certain aspects of user generated content which should be taken into consideration:


Take into consideration (using Altimeter Group’s research) just how to plan for a social media crisis. Maintain a strict guidelines over content control that will clearly feedback into how the crisis will be handled through traditional media channels. This will prove particularly useful in the instance of a coordinated attack (such as Greenpeace’s).


It is so easy to publish content to social media channels but in the event of a crisis take more care with listening to what the public are saying. This will allow you to clearly post narratives which will be relevant and will not cause communication clutter. The narrative must remain simple for it to make sense.


Any messages posted should be in response to the larger public response. Why? As I suggested in a recent blog post it is just not practical to respond individually to each user online. Your communication will remain two-way asymmetrical but you will still be responding to transpiring events.


Take into consideration the sentiment of the messages you are receiving, all of this should be recorded for post-examination. With today’s tools data can be recorded in real-time but remember to keep a copy. Mistakes are made, having a record of social media activity will allow you to perfect online crisis management.

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. A Branding Overview

As a small side project as part of my Public Relations course at the University of Gloucestershire it is necessary to put together a short branding guide. For this task I decided to focus on how I have gone about branding this blog over the last 3 years.

If you have any questions please leave a comment below. If you would like to know how I have technically achieved any of this then I can cover this in future blog posts.