• Act-On Software
    Act-On Software on January 22, 2015

    The Rules of Engagement on Facebook

    If you want to make your content sharable and searchable on Facebook, you need to have a thorough understanding of Facebook principles and the general rules that apply to content and behavior.
  • After many years of negative PR swamping the cruise industry, Carnival Cruise Lines is running a commercial during the Super Bowl. Any tie-in to social media is a huge risk, but could return an even larger reward if done well. Is Carnival ready?

    Carnival Cruise Lines is running a Super Bowl ad this year. Surprised? I was. It’s a big risk. The last three years have not been good news for cruise lines. From Carnival’s infamous poop cruise to Disney’s kicking a baby and family off a ship in the middle of a large family outing, to virus outbreaks and fires,  cruising isn’t exactly at the top of everybody’s bucket list. So what’s a huge cruise conglomerate like Carnival to do? 

    I happened to catch a preview of the spot on the CBS Super Bowl commercial show. The "Cruise Virgin" spot is very creative, well-done, and fits the culture of a Super Bowl spot very well. Carnival is trying to build back positive PR by placing this “fan-picked” ad in the Super Bowl. They allowed fans to vote from four produced commercials and some lucky person will win a cruise-a-year for life. It is a great first step, but it is still a risk. Especially if they promote a Twitter hashtag with the spot.

    Please don’t misunderstand. I am not trying to rain on the Carnival Super Bowl ad parade. I’m sure they have fully capable PR people that have been watching the sentiment surrounding their brand like a hawk and are totally schooled in the cruelty of internet memes. It also should be noted that not every disaster in the last few years has involved a Carnival vessel. But the public is not that discerning. 

    The internet is filled with brands that have been kicked down a notch by angry fans for trying to promote themselves as wonderful at times when fans clearly disagree. The McDonalds #McDStories hashtag debacle comes to mind. There are times when positive PR cannot overcome public sentiment. Companies with a rocky past of customer service or poorly-received products have to be careful when stepping on to such a big stage. Given the real-time social media traction ads will get during the game, and depending on how boring the game is, a commercial can end up being a liability.

    I want to see Carnival recover and move on. My hope is that their PR team has a solid strategy in place of how to deal with negative comments and snarky memes should anything of that nature emerge and go viral. Whether or not the company goes forward could depend on how their social media team responds to the back talk they get as a result of their ad. The best advice at this point might be to sit on your hands and let the conversations play out. If their strategy is to be responsive to fans in real-time social media and the conversation goes south, going silent in midstream may raise another set of problems.  Above all—I hope they are ready. That way if a conversation does go viral, they can rest assured that any response was thought through ahead. Make sure experienced PR people are monitoring and responding. Don't let the emotion of the moment produce a bad decision.

    I will be watching this one closely. It may be that the American people don’t give a damn, especially if the game is entertaining. But I do know one thing…I’d be ready.

    Despite accusations of slacktavism, social networks are usually a hotbed of political activity around election time. A paper from 2013 found that sites such as Facebook were abuzz with political discussions around the 2008 presidential election in America.

    It’s fairly well known that at election time, the population doesn’t tend to share the same voting patterns and behaviors.  Older people, for instance, tend to vote an awful lot more than younger people, which goes some way to explaining why so many policies are aimed at that demographic.

    There have been various attempts to better engage with younger people however.  Last year for instance, a new app was launched called Amy.  Amy is an AI based app that users can message with questions around politics and receive an answer right away.  It was designed to improve political understanding amongst younger people.

    What of social media?

    Despite accusations of slacktavism, social networks are usually a hotbed of political activity around election time.  A paper from 2013 found that sites such as Facebook were abuzz with political discussions around the 2008 presidential election in America.

    What’s more, engaging online wasn’t seen as a replacement for more ‘meaningful’ political engagement.  Engaging politically online was not seen as a replacement for offline political engagement, but rather a new platform for talking about it with others.  Users aren’t under the misapprehension that their online activities are influencing government in any way.

    Social media as a news source

    A recent study by academics at Penn State looked at how influential social media was as a source of soliciting political news.

    “There seems to be growing concern that young people may be becoming more disengaged, particularly from mainstream media sources, and be more out-of-touch,” the researchers say.

    “However, sharing and discussing news content on social media sites like Facebook can actually drive greater involvement with news and information.”

    The researchers wanted to see just how engaged people were with stories they themselves had shared on Facebook.  The results suggest that the engagement we receive from our friends plays a big part in how engaged we ourselves remain.

    “One of the main findings of this study is that engagement in news stories through social media requires discussion with friends on the site,” the researchers say.

    “Sharing the story does not increase involvement beyond just reading it on the original news website. Increased involvement depends on valuable feedback from friends.”

    They went on to reveal that this feedback has to be substantial.  Simply receiving likes is not enough, but if friends provide interesting commentary then it really helps to engage with the topic more deeply.

    Our personal gatekeepers

    The question then becomes whether, when given more control over the news we consume, we tend to hunt down news that we agree with already, creating a kind of political echo chamber.

    The perception is very much that those holders of extreme political opinions tend to be rather entrenched in their views, but recent research suggests that it is in fact those with moderate beliefs that are actually more susceptible to cognitive bias than their more extreme peers.

    Indeed, another study goes as far as to suggest that those holders of more extreme positions (whether to the left or to the right) are actually smarter than their more moderate peers.

    All of which suggests that those positions aren’t the result of blind heuristics but rather more measured thought and consideration.  Of course, this is not without risk, as studies have also shown that the discussion of politics is one of the main reasons for de-friending someone, but maybe those aren’t the kind of ‘friends’ you’d want anyway?

    Facebook news / shutterstock

    The importance of a well-balanced marketing mix can’t be overstated. Let me give you a brief overview of each of the media types – paid, owned, and earned.

    When it comes to the trio – paid, owned, and earned media, the most frequent question I am asked is: “Can you explain paid vs. owned vs. earned media? Which is ‘the one’ for my business?” While knowledge of all three is critical for digital marketing success, most B2B marketers treat them as individual animals and pursue them as independent marketing streams. So what? They are three different critters, right? Not really. Digital marketing is no longer a single-strategy game. As such, the importance of a well-balanced marketing mix can’t be overstated. Let me give you a brief overview of each – paid, owned, and earned.

    Paid media

    Simply stated, you pay for this type of media – tools like Google AdWords, or different types of search and display advertising, SEO and PPC campaigns, and so on. While this strategy calls for an extremely well-thought out plan and execution, it also needs to have compelling call-to-actions driven largely by customer benefits.

    There used to be time when digital marketing was synonymous with paid media. Not anymore. While paid media has its place, times have changed and people have gone beyond responding to promo pitches and clever commercials. Now they are more interested in building relationships with brands they trust and they are seeking involvement with those brands regularly.

    Owned media

    This is the media channel created by your business – the content that you own, in entirety. Think of it as the content featured on your website: your blog posts, the free whitepapers or eBooks that you offer, and any content that you are giving away in the hopes of winning new leads for your business. It also includes the content that you share on your company’s behalf across various social media sites.

    To nail this part of the game, you need to have a strong content marketing strategy, and an equally strong social strategy to back it up. Typically, good content is a highly misunderstood term among B2B marketers, who are valuing the opinions of peers and industry organizations to judge their content trustworthiness, a recent study from the CMO Council and NetLine  reveals. According to Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council, “Buyers are not happy with vendors. Their content [tends to be] over technical, product-centric, and self-serving.” That’s too bad, considering marketing content is directed at buyers and prospects. Ignoring them altogether is inviting failure.

    Earned media  

    Earned media places customer into your media channel. The need for customer engagement reaches its pinnacle with earned media. It draws the attention of your prospects and customers, turns them into brand advocates and influencers, who will in turn push your brand before the eyes of more customers and potential brand advocates. You can even consider this the return of good-old “word-of-mouth marketing,” albeit with a modern twist.

    Earned media, however, hardly ever works alone. You have to make it a part of your marketing ecosystem along with paid and owned media. The truth is: in today’s digital landscape, they either work together or they don’t work at all.

    Build your marketing ecosystem with paid, owned, and earned

    While earned media can be a great tool for marketing campaigns, or even for laying out an overall marketing strategy, I recommend that you focus on creating a holistic strategy comprised of all three.  Create engaging, customer-oriented, and problem-solving content through owned media, with paid efforts, get that content strategically placed where it can be spotted by your target audience, and finally, earn the audience’s trust and support and turn them into your brand advocates.

    Where should you be spending your dollars?  Spend them on creating an ecosystem of paid, owned, and earned media.  

    This article was first featured on Forbes and can be found here.

    Image: Creative Commons  


    Countries and cities across the world are busily trying to build tech clusters. In an era where technology is radically changing how we work, play and live, high value tech companies are always going to be prized. But how do you build a tech cluster?

    Countries and cities across the world are busily trying to build tech clusters. Partly this is due to the sexiness of tech (expect the UK election to feature plenty of photo opportunities of candidates with startups), partly down to the fact that it seems easy to do, and a lot to do with the benefits it delivers to a local economy. In an era where technology is radically changing how we work, play and live, high value tech companies are always going to be prized.

    But how do you build a tech cluster? It may seem easy to do on the outside – set up some co-working spaces, provide some money and sit back and wait for the ideas to flourish, but it is actually incredibly difficult. This is demonstrated by the diverging fortunes of the locations of England’s oldest universities – Oxford and Cambridge. As a recent piece in The Economist explains, over the last few years Cambridge has added more well-paid jobs, highly educated residents and workers in general than its rival. This prompted a visit last October to the city from an Oxford delegation, with the leader of Oxford City Council admitting that “Cambridge is at least 20 years ahead of us.”

    Given the longstanding competition between the two cities, it is easy for people in Cambridge to sit back smugly, pat each other on the back and congratulate themselves on a job well done. However, a better course of action is to take a look at what is behind Cambridge’s success, and see what can be done to improve things. After all, there are startup and tech clusters around the world – competition is global – so there’s nothing to stop entrepreneurs setting up in Silicon Valley, Munich, Paris or London rather than Cambridge.

    I see five factors underpinning the success of any tech cluster:

    1. Ideas and skills

    The first thing you need to build any business is obviously a good idea. Universities, particularly those involved in scientific research such as Oxford and Cambridge have plenty of these. But you need a specific type of person to be involved with the research – with a mindset that goes beyond academia and understands how a breakthrough idea can be turned into a viable business. You then need to be able to access the right skills to develop the idea technically, whether through commercial research or programming.

    2. Support infrastructure

    This is where Cambridge scores highly in being able to commercialise discoveries, through a long-established support infrastructure. The Cambridge Science Park opened in the 1970s, while the University has put in place teams to help researchers turn their ideas into businesses. Research-led consultancies, such as Cambridge Consultants, provide another outlet to develop ideas, as well as helping to keep bright graduates in the city. There is also a full range of experienced lawyers, PR people, accountants and other key support businesses to help companies form and grow.

    3. Money

    Obviously without money no idea is going to make it off the drawing board. Cambridge has attracted investment from local and international venture capital, and has a thriving group of angel investors, who can share their experiences as well as their funding. Due to the length of time Silicon Fen has been operating, investment has been recycled, with successful exits fuelling new startups that then have the opportunity to grow.

    4. Space to expand

    Cambridge is a small city, and the combination of its green belt, lack of post-industrial brownfield sites and an historic centre owned by colleges, puts a huge pressure on housing stocks. As anyone that lives in Cambridge knows, house prices are not far shy of London – but spare a thought for Oxford residents. In 2014 an Oxford home costs 11.3 times average local earnings, nearly double the British norm of 5.8 times. Additionally, as The Economist points out, there is space outside the Cambridge greenbelt for people to build on, with South Cambridgeshire Council, which surrounds the city, understanding the importance of helping the local economy. In contrast, Oxford has four different district councils, and a powerful lobby of wealthy residents who want to keep their countryside pristine, hampering housing development. That’s not to say that Cambridge is perfect, far from it. More can be done to improve transport links to reduce commuting time and to spread the benefits of Cambridge’s economic success.

    5. Champions

    Ultimately tech clusters are judged by the success of the companies they produce. And Cambridge, partly due to the longevity of the cluster, has created multiple billion dollar businesses, from ARM to Cambridge Silicon Radio. This not only puts the area on the map for investors, but attracts entrepreneurs who want to tap into talent and spawns new businesses as staff move on and set up on their own. You therefore see sub-clusters in particular areas of tech develop as specialists use their knowledge to solve different problems. This then further strengthens the ecosystem.

    Tech clusters are slow to build and can’t be simply willed into existence by governments opening their wallets. They need patience, a full range of skills and co-operation across the ecosystem if they are to grow and flourish – as the relative fortunes of Cambridge and Oxford show.

    Content marketing is all about creating quality content that builds authority and provides value to potential and existing customers. Content must be on-brand and should of course represent your business well. With this in mind then, I find it utterly baffling that even now, business owners continue to outsource content creation to the lowest bidder, ending up with low quality content that reflect poorly on them.

    Content marketing is all about creating quality content that builds authority and provides value to potential and existing customers. Content must be on-brand and should of course represent your business well. With this in mind then, I find it utterly baffling that even now, business owners continue to outsource content creation to the lowest bidder, ending up with low quality content that reflect poorly on them.

    Would you let a toddler design your business cards or your shop sign? Of course not, so why show a compelte lack of disregard when it comes to your website copy and blog articles?

    What Happens When You Scrimp On Content?

    In my opinion bad content is even worse than no content. If you don't have something interesting or valuable to say, don't bother saying it. You're not just wasting your time, but by allowing rubbish to be published in your name, you are actively damaging your businesses reputation making it less, rather than more likely that you will attract new customers.

    If you are currently outsourcing content, don't ever just leave an agency or freelancer to it. Insist on proofing every article, have an approval process, or at the very least, make sure you are regularly reading what is being published for you.

    Let's look at a recent example. It's shocking because it is so recent, dated January 2015. With such high levels of general awareness regarding content marketing, and with SEO being all about quality content, there are no excuses.

    The odd typo or misuse of grammar is forgivable, and I am the first to admit that i'm far from perfect, but when content is written by someone who doesn't understand English, you end up with something like the snippet below.

    Bad content example

    The heading immediately struck me as strange, as the picture used in the article depicted a couple moving, yet the language used ('transfer') was odd. It is clear that this article was not written by someone whose first language is English, but just look at the authors name “Mark Smith”. It is pretty obvious that the writer is trying to make out that he is English – alarm bells ringing yet?

    If you take a moment to read through any of the above, you'll see that it is factually incorrect (it's called 'moving' not 'transferring') and in many parts, it's just complete gibberish.

    Quality Content Isn't Quick or Cheap To Produce

    A well researched, well written 800 word blog article can take anything up to 3 or 4 hours to write. Add another hour for image sourcing, the creation of a custom graphic and editing the article. Add to that another half an hour to put the article live and then promote it across your various social networks.

    A strong blog article, designed to increase your authority in the eyes of search engines and to instil trust into potential customers (if your content doesn't achieve either of those things, what's the purpose of it?), can easily take half a day to produce; and like it or not, that's time you should be prepared to pay for.

    Never sacrifice the quality of your content for quantity. A single well written article published each month, will be more beneficial to you than any number of cheaply produced bad ones.

    How To Avoid Low Quality Content

    • Always look at past articles or website content written by the agency or freelancer you intend to use before making your decision
    • Have final authorisation over new content that is published on your website, blog or on your behalf on third party websites
    • Google is increasingly able to spot low quality, spammy content and your website or blog will drop down the search results if your content is consistently bad, or even dropped from search results all together
    • Regularly check the content that is being produced, to ensure that quality and relevance remains high
    • Outsourcing for the lowest cost possible will likely result in poor quality content that provides no benefit
    • Outsourcing work to an agency in another country is fine, as long as the writer who will be creating your content is fluent, and writes well in English
    • Never allow content to be published for the sake of it. Every article should serve a purpose and meet a clear objective