Writing a Social Media Strategy – Part 1 (before you begin) – featuring Rhys Gregory

Rhys Gregory - Digital Marketing Specialist

Rhys Gregory is a Digital Marketing Specialist based in Cardiff, UK. He helps businesses use social media and digital technologies effectively, assisting with planning, strategy and development at every stage of the process. He is also an active blogger and a volunteer with Canton Social Media Surgery. You can visit his website, or connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

This article is the first in a series of posts intended for small businesses (or their employees) who are thinking about using social media as part of their marketing activities. The posts assume a certain amount of basic knowledge of Twitter/Facebook/blogging etc. but you certainly won’t need to be a social media nerd like me to get the most out of it! Please do share these posts with anyone who might find it useful!

As some of you may know, I work for a small software company (LexAble) based in Cardiff as a ‘Marketing and Business Executive’. As the company’s first employee whose primary focus is Marketing, it’s been a fantastic opportunity to really hit the ground running, putting into practice my existing skills and learning new techniques along the way. As part of this I’ve written the company’s first social media strategy, outlining how (and, perhaps more importantly, why), we will use social media. So I thought I’d share a few tips based on my experiences. I’m also grateful to Rhys Gregory for his contributions to this post.

Before you begin

It’s very tempting to dive straight in, outlining in explicit detail the things that you’ll be tweeting about or how to present yourself on Facebook, but before you do it’s a good idea to consider the following:

  • What do you want to achieve?
    First thing’s first: social media is not a direct sales tool, and anyone who tries to use it for this purpose is doomed to fail. Furthermore, it’s often difficult to quantify in simple terms the benefits (financial or otherwise) that it will bring to your business. Therefore, in your social media policy you should outline how you want social media to benefit your business. Example aims could include:

    • Increasing awareness of your business and its activities.
    • Positioning your business as an authority or knowledge-holder in its field.
    • Connecting with new and existing customers.
    • Reducing the time or money that you spend on support and customer service.
    • Organically improving your search engine rankings.
  • Is social media right for your business?
    Unfortunately, not every business will be able to properly benefit from social media. Some factors to consider:

    • Do your customers use social media? If, as a general rule, they don’t, consider why that might be (e.g. age, income, social class, lifestyle). (But you should never just make assumptions – ask them instead!)
    • How about the potential customers that you haven’t reached yet? Think about the markets that you’ve yet to tap into and whether social media would be a good way to break into them.
    • Is social media an appropriate forum to talk about your product? Is there a way that you can create relevant and interesting content that other people will want to share or view?
  • How much time do you want to spend?
    Social media is often thought of as free, but remember that time spent using it is time that you’re not spending on other things. It’s therefore very important to clearly define how much time you and your colleagues will dedicate to it. Another issue with social media is that it’s not always possible to predict when you’ll be using it – you can check for replies and new followers (and respond to them) once a day, once an hour or once every 5 minutes. Pick a schedule that works best for you, and stick with it as much as possible.

To conclude this post, here’s some salient advice from Rhys:

It’s really important to set out objectives before doing anything, that way you can measure its success. You’ll need to consider how much time is involved, the cost, and who’s responsible for what. Do you have the necessary expertise, or do you need to bring in an external training or digital agency to help get you started? Your overall goal might be to increase brand awareness or even increase leads, but you’ll need to know exactly how you want to measure this.

Measurement tips:

  • Make everything trackable – You want to be able to measure the effectiveness of everything that you do. Use a service like Bit.ly to track the number of clicks on the links that you post. What type of content is most popular? Is there a best time to post? Example – http://bit.ly/linkedin-me+
  • Define a lead-process – For those businesses that want to generate leads from social media, and trust me that’s probably all of you, you’ll need to define a nurture-path. When someone clicks on your blog post link, what do they see on that page? Make sure you have clear call-to-actions (CTAs) that take the user to the next step. Whether that be signing up for your newsletter to continue the path, or hitting the contact us button.

This is the first part in a series of posts about developing a Social Media Strategy. If you’d like to be notified when the next post arrives, you can subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter, or leave a comment below so I can notify you manually!

Review: Drupal Gardens by Acquia (managed Drupal hosting)

Drupal Gardens
Drupal Gardens

The Drupal Gardens homepage.

Believe it or not, my current job was gained off the back of a small web development project, which then turned into a full marketing project before I was invited to stay on permanently! My company’s website was originally hand-coded by our graphic designer (the talented Tayler from Blindspot Design), but, as the company had started to grow, my boss was finding it difficult to manually edit and add new pages, so he arranged for a GO Wales participant (me) to migrate the content and design over to a Content Management System. For this, we decided to use Drupal Gardens by Acquia. For those who haven’t heard of it, Drupal Gardens is a managed Drupal hosting service. This post outlines my experiences of using the service to build, launch and manage a medium-sized website.

Drupal Gardens – Key Benefits

The key benefits of Drupal Gardens are:

  • No need to worry about server/database configurations, load balancing or software upgrades – it’s all managed on your behalf.
  • WYSIWYG design editor – simply click on an element, define the properties (colour, background, border, position) and the CSS is written for you.
  • Fully extendable – you can override CSS properties and specify new classes, and plugins such as jQuery, Typekit web fonts and Google Analytics are fully supported.
  • Built-in social sharing tools  – again, you can bring your own if you want to do so.
  • If you ever want to migrate to self-hosted Drupal, you can easily export the site in its entirety and host it elsewhere – free of charge.
  • Fantastic FAQs, documentation and community forums for support and advice.

There are, however, a few important limitations:

  • You have no access (none, zero, zip, zilch) to the backend – so server-side includes, custom header elements and embedded PHP scripts are not supported. Still, there’s plenty of things you can achieve using JavaScript and external plugins, so it it’s not a deal-breaker if your coding needs aren’t too complex.
  • There is also less flexibility on Drupal plugins – many popular ones (and some custom-built options) are available, but requesting additional plugins is a slow process – you’re at the mercy of their to-do-list, which I’m told is rather long!
  • Likewise, the original CSS files for the base theme can’t be edited, which means that you sometimes have to do a bit of hackery if you want to remove/significantly alter the behaviour of a theme.
  • The HTML editor has a rather annoying habit of minifying your code so it isn’t human-readable – to combat this, you should always keep a copy of complex HTML/inline JavaScript for reference purposes and ease of editing.
  • It’s not currently possible to import Drupal themes (even ones created using Drupal Gardens), but they’re working on it.
  • Native e-commerce functionality is still in the pipeline, but alternative solutions include Cashie Commerce and E-junkie (we use the latter because our needs are simple and we’d prefer to pay a monthly fee rather than commission).

Design, Implementation and Launch

The Theme Builder in action

The Theme Builder in action

My brief for LexAble’s website was somewhat unusual; I had to migrate an existing hand-coded site over to Drupal Gardens, preserving both content and design.Often a new website means a complete overhaul, but as I was on a time-limited work experience placement this wasn’t an option. To achieve this migration, I chose a theme that was the best match for what I needed to achieve, then using the in-built WYSIWYG editor I slowly tweaked the colours, layout and functionality until it was nearly identical to the original website. One hurdle that I faced was the fiddliness of selecting the correct element to edit, but this was easily overcome by enabling the ‘power theming‘ option. The images below show the original site, the theme in its unedited state and how the website looks now.

The theme design I started with.

This is the Theme (Kenwood) that I used as a base for my design.

After I had got the appearance sorted, I started the process of migrating the content and functionality. This was for the most part a case of copy & paste, with a few adjustments to the HTML and CSS along the way. The most difficult part was getting the appearance of forms just right, which was made more complex because of existing CSS that was hard to override.

The LexAble website as it looks now.

The LexAble website as it looks now.

In terms of time spent at the design and implementation stage, I would estimate the following:

  • Adjusting base theme to match original design: 6 hours
  • Migrating basic content: 2 hours
  • Tweaking HTML and CSS: 10 hours
  • Migrating site functionality (e-commerce, forms etc.): 8 hours
  • SEO, Google Analytics, Typekit, AddThis etc.: 3 hours
  • Final tweaks and changes to design and content: 6 hours (not including time spent planning/writing)

Total time taken for entire project: 40 hours (again, not including planning, writing and time spent in meetings).

Site Management and Maintenance

Managing a Drupal Gardens site is much like managing any Drupal site, and it will be a familiar experience to anyone who has used WordPressJoomla and other CMS. Adding a new page is as simple as pressing the ‘add content’ button, giving it a name and URL then creating the content. If you pay for a Professional subscription or above, you also get access to SEO tools such as Open Graph, keywords (which are mostly pointless these days) and Google crawler settings, all of which can be edited on a per-page basis. Compared to self-hosted Drupal, there’s a lot less maintenance – small upgrades to security and functionality and the latest stable Drupal release are done automatically. Notice is given before each upgrade, and any downtime is either minimal (2 or 3 minutes) or non-existent. As a marketing professional, the handling of all the backend stuff is money well spent, allowing me to focus on improving the site and its content.

Verdict

For LexAble, Drupal Gardens is ideal. It takes away 90% of the hassle involved in managing a Drupal site, but there is great potential for customisation and extending functionality. For someone like me, who has excellent HTML/CSS skills but struggles with MySQL databases and server configuration, it’s ideal. At every stage of the process I felt able to do things my own way, and I was constantly surprised by all the extra touches that the Drupal Gardens team had added in. Another great benefit is that it’s always being improved – for instance they’ve recently added the ability to make your site’s design responsive, which is a must for every website these days.

There are a few drawbacks and quirks to Drupal Gardens, but none that can’t be overcome or worked around. And when I did get stuck, the Drupal Gardens team were only too happy to help!

All in all, I would highly recommend Drupal Gardens to individuals or small businesses who want a professional, modern website but don’t have the time, resources or ability to manage the backend stuff. Their prices are probably a little higher than your current web host, but the customer service and behind the scenes stuff is worth paying for.

Have you used Drupal Gardens, or a similar solution? What are the positives and negatives of this approach? Let me know in the comments.

Disclaimer: I have not received any tangible reward, financial or otherwise, from Drupal Gardens, Acqiua or anyone else for writing this post. Although if they’re reading this, I do quite like chocolate!

By 2023, most people will be too young to remember the Berlin Wall!

When will we forget? (Based on US Census Bureau National Population Projections)

Comic courtesy of XKCD

The title of this post is a very strange thought indeed. I was born literally 10 days after the Berlin Wall fell, yet in just over 10 years time the majority of the population won’t be able to remember the wall itself or the repression that it represented. A few other historical milestones in this comic particularly strike me: Princess Diana will be mostly consigned to the history books by 2036, and only 4 years later the same thing will happen to 9/11. Of course, by 2036 I’ll be well into my 40s, and it won’t be too long before I’m educating my own grandchildren about communism, mass terrorism and other important parts of our heritage and culture (some if which are yet to happen, of course). Nonetheless, it’s impossible for me to imagine what that will be like. How about you? Is there anything else in the table opposite that strikes a chord with you?

There is one bright side, however: it’s only 28 years until Crazy Frog, Proper Crimbo and My Humps are erased from living memory! And not a day too soon.

How can you tell if people are actually reading your tweets? (Including helpful infographic)

Retweets and Replies - Twitter Conversation Statistics

Infographic courtesy of Sysomos (via Mashable)

A common complaint made by Twitter newbies is that they feel tweeting is pointless: hardly anyone replies to them, no one retweets their stuff and therefore (based on those signposts alone) they feel that no one is reading what they’ve posted. Other complaints made by new Twitter users include ‘I don’t really get this hashtag thing’, ‘why does this half-naked girl want me to follow her?’ and ‘But Twitter is just full of people saying they’ve just put the kettle on‘*. Those are all topics for another blog post.

However, it’s fair to say that all Twitter users experience the feeling that no one is listening, at one point or another. It’s not surprising really: statistically, only 29% of tweets generate a reaction, as the above infographic demonstrates. So what can you do to counteract the feeling that you’re tweeting aimlessly into cyberspace?

The short answer is that a certain amount of faith and guesswork is required: if 1 in 10 of your tweets gets some sort of interaction then chances are at least some of other 9 were read and given some thought, even if no one retweeted or replied. Another obvious benchmark is your number of followers; providing you’re not part of some crackpot ‘gain followers fast’ ponzi scheme then it’s a fair assumption that people follow you over an extended period because they find what you tweet to be interesting, amusing or helpful. Nonetheless, here’s a few things you can do to tame that sense of paranoia, massage your ego and validate time spent using Twitter:

  1. Ask questions.
    It may be the case that the things you tweet about are worthwhile statements of fact or opinion that are perfectly valid and interesting, but which don’t require a reply. However, you’ll probably get a lot more out of Twitter if you invite others to pitch in with their views and experiences. Why not tag on ‘What do others think?’ to a particularly interesting tweet? Asking a question, even a basic request for opinions, will give your followers a subtle prompt, and often that’s all that is needed to get them to engage with you. Or why not be explicit in your desire to start a conversation by devoting entire tweets to asking questions? Instead of starting with a definitive statement, you can invite your followers to help you to shape your views.
  2. Use hashtags (sparingly).
    It’s not too much of a generalisation to say that it’s mostly just businesses and power users who use Twitter’s Search function to find and reply to tweets using generic hashtags. The obvious exception to this rule is event-based hashtags, such as TV programs, conferences and sporting events. However, inviting experts to reply to your tweets by including a topic-based hashtag can often be a good thing. Furthermore, using relevant hashtags increases the reach of your tweets and can help you to gain new followers. You can find hashtags that are relevant to your interests by exploring sites such as Hashtags.org or Twubs. However, it’s important not to overdo it: using #hashtags indiscriminately is #pointless#, #difficulttoread and #annoying (see what I mean?).
  3. Track your links!
    If you really want to know how many people are paying attention to what you post, then create an account on Bit.ly and use that to shorten the links to blog posts and articles that you share. By doing so, you can use their dashboard (or simply add ‘+’ to the end of a shortened URL) to see how many people clicked your links, what country they live in and other relevant metrics. The drawback of this approach is that, by bypassing Twitter’s hidden link shortener, your followers won’t know exactly where the link is taking them, making them less likely to click in the first place. So use sparingly and with caution, and ensure that you tell people what they can expect in the body of your tweet.
    This tip is probably just for power users, or people tweeting for business purposes – if you’re not directly benefiting from your Twitter activities (or rather, hoping to) then shortening your links merely for curiousity purposes is probably too much hassle. An alternative approach, if you’re sharing posts from your own website, is to create descriptive but short URLs for use on Twitter (e.g. http://yoursite.com/brief-description-of-page), redirect these to an actual page on your site, then use a tool such as Google Analytics to track the number of clicks that used those specific URLs. For bonus points, make the redirects point to URLs that include custom campaign variables.

For more on this topic and related issues, see the following posts (found via Google):
My Social Agency – Why People Don’t Retweet your Tweets
Alex Czartoryski – Use Hashtags to Increase the Reach of your Tweets
Kevin Kelly – #Don’t #Use #Too #Many #Hashtags

*This statement is one of my Dad’s favourite sayings, although the chances of him joining Twitter are pretty much zero!

Cultivate your Personal Brand using Social Media

Personal Branding

Personal BrandingRemember the Noughties, when Facebook was a relatively new phenomenon? Before Twitter had exploded, before Pinterest and Instagram even existed? Back in the ‘dark ages’, the newspapers and the rumour mill were rife with stories of people being sacked or rejected because of drunken exploits posted to their Facebook profile. While the importance of shielding your boss from the image of you half-naked with your head down a toilet can never be overstated, the role of social media in defining who you are has since changed for the better. Now, instead of hiding our social lives and interests from our colleagues and potential employers, we put them online for all to see. Clearly, this strategy is paying off: more and more people are using social media to obtain a job (or a better job), and recent studies have found that up to 82% of recruiters have hired employees via LinkedIn. While this is far less true of other social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, in my opinion it’s only a matter of time.

So, how can you make the most of social media, demonstrating your skills, qualities and  to colleagues, potential employers and the world? The answer is to dive head first into as many channels as possible, whilst unifying your content in the form of a consistent personal brand. This post outlines ways that you can make the most of the tools available to present your social media activity as a united front.

  1. Keep it consistent.
    Make it easy for others to find you by using the same username for everything. This is worthwhile not only because it makes it easy to tell if a profile belongs to you, but if your username is relatively unique then it’s also good for SEO, enabling others to use Google to find a cross-section of your social media activity. Another consideration is whether you use the same photo everywhere – you might want a professional headshot for LinkedIn, for example – but, even if you choose different photos to match each site’s tone, make sure that they are all recognisable as you.
  2. Embrace multiple platforms.
    These days it’s not enough to use just one or two social platforms; the more sites you use, the better. It’s good to be aware of the limitations of each platform; there’s only so much you can say in 140 characters or less, and LinkedIn pages tend to be rather dull, so mix it up a bit with multimedia content and full-length writing. Additional networks to consider include Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and even Foursquare. If you have a flair for writing, then a WordPress/Blogger blog is always a worthwhile investment. Basically, try as many as you can and see what works best for you.
  3. Break down boundaries.
    Using multiple platforms is all well and good, but you can get maximum benefit by cross-promoting your activities between sites. Obvious examples include sharing blog posts to Twitter, posting Instagram photos to your Facebook Timeline and (before it was killed off), auto-posting your Tweets to LinkedIn. But don’t be afraid to think outside the box: if you think a recent blog post is relevant to your LinkedIn contacts, make sure you’re sharing it there too. The same might be true of photos from a recent conference, or a particularly insightful Pinterest pin.
  4. Be wary of auto-sharing.
    While it’s important to take people from one platform to another as much as possible, don’t overdo it. As a general rule, don’t enable auto-sharing functionality. A prominent example of this particular faux pas is the automatic sharing of truncated Facebook posts to Twitter: a lot of Facebook content is simply too long-winded to be posted on Twitter, and users will be reluctant to click a link simply to read the end of a sentence. The key thing here is to give people a strong reason to follow you in more than one place, and you can do this by manually varying what you do and don’t share between networks. In other words, use your common sense; ask yourself whether a post on one site will transfer well to another, and weigh up the chances of your followers seeing the same thing twice before deciding to share it elsewhere.
  5. Don’t be an egomaniac.
    This one’s perhaps rather obvious, but make sure not to talk about yourself all the time. Sharing content created by others is a good way of demonstrating what ideals you aspire to, and in any case social media is about connecting with others and the discovery of new ideas. It’s very tempting to shout from the rooftops about your own skills and achievements, but you should never forget your place in the world.
  6. Content is everything.
    The final thing I want to note in this post is the importance of quality over quantity. Never post just for the sake of it, and always consider what you’re contributing to the conversation before you decide to share. In the eyes of a recruiter it’s much more advantageous to have fewer posts that are highly relevant than to have too many posts that have been made indiscriminately or without much thought.

What are your tips for creating a unified personal brand? Do you have any innovative ways of working across social media platforms? Let me know in the comments, or as always you can send me a Tweet!

Unbelievable Special Offer for Oi! Conference Attendees

If you’ve not yet heard of the Oi! (Online Influence) Conference, it’s Wales’ first Social Media Conference, which will be held on the 20th September at Celtic Manor, near Newport. While the (cheaper) early bird deadline has passed, for a measly £25 extra you will also gain access to an exclusive workshop with Mark Schaefer, the keynote speaker, the day before! Check out the details of the offer over at Tony’s blog post, then follow the links to find out more about the conference itself.

The Pros and Cons of Introversion: a Personal Reflection

Introversion

People who have never met me in person will probably never realise this (because I’m such a loudmouth online), but I’m actually an incredibly shy personIn fact some people who have met me may not realise this at first, because I do my best to hide it, forcing myself to start conversations and ask questions.

I’ve learnt the hard way that forcing myself out of my comfort zone is the only way I’ll ever get noticed, and before coming to university I experienced first hand the consequences of not doing so; namely loneliness, isolation and, ultimately, bullying. My university experience and my embracement of social media has truly changed my life for the better, but deep down I’m still cripplingly self-conscious.

This blog post outlines the perceived positives and negatives of my introverted nature. I’ve written this blog post partly for the purposes of personal reflection (getting things down on paper, as it were), but also for the benefits of any fellow introverts who might stumble upon it, in the hope that they may take some wisdom from my thoughts or think about themselves in a different way. The post tackles cons first and pros second, in the hope of ending on a positive note!

The negatives of introversion:

  • I often worry that people, even my own best friends, don’t like me or don’t want to spend time with me.
  • I’m reluctant to speak about my own achievements, anxious of being seen as arrogant or boastful.
  • A fear of confrontation makes it difficult for me to be assertive or hold people to account. This is particularly problematic when dealing with external business partners on behalf of my company.
  • My self-awareness regarding the above issues often causes me to overcompensate, to embarrassing/disastrous effect.
  • I could never work in sales; I’d spend every waking moment worrying about causing my client even the slightest amount of disruption or inconvenience!
  • Sometimes I will avoid doing things simply because they involve some kind of social contact.

It’s not all bad, however: 

The positives of introversion:

  • My crushing self-awareness has given me a high level of emotional intelligence: knowing what to say and how to say it, no matter what the medium or context, is something that comes naturally to me. This is an obvious blessing not only in social situations but also as a marketer.
  • I consider myself fortunate to be able to do things by myself, giving myself space to think. People who spend every waking moment in the company of others are missing out on valuable thinking time, in my opinion.
  • My slight tendency to avoid social contact makes me appreciate spending time with friends and family all the more.
  • As a teenager, spending more time than was normal in front of a computer and not out on the streets is definitely a contributory factor to my relative success with social media and web technologies. My first and only MySpace layout, for instance, was built completely from scratch using pure CSS/HTML, made to look like iTunes, and it was how I learned to code. I would love to show you what it looked like but sadly it hasn’t been preserved in the archives 🙁 Anyway, back to the point: I probably wouldn’t have the job I have today if I hadn’t been such a web nerd from an early age!
  • Finally, I think social media is much easier to get right if you’re an introvert: sharing the ideas and content of others (something I’ve always done without thinking) is the best way to use this medium, and social media is a great way to have focused discussions with like-minded individuals. Perhaps the hardest bit (on a personal level) is successfully making the jump from online to offline by drawing upon the connections you make.

To summarise, I think introversion plays a large part in shaping who I am as a person and how I think about the world. To any fellow introverts who stumble upon this post: I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section below, or via Twitter!
(Extraverts are also welcome)