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)

Three Twitter Pet Hates

Follow Friday Gone Wrong - Comic

Follow Friday Gone Wrong – taken from The Oatmeal

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll most likely already know how much these things annoy me. But then again, sometimes it’s better to explain these things in full. So, without further ado, here’s three Twitter behaviours that really get my goat.

  1. ‘Inspirational’ Quotes
    These are fine once in a blue moon, and well-chosen quotes can demonstrate to your followers the kind of person/organisation you are, what you believe in and how you think about the world around you. But where quotes become meaningless is when they’re used in place of original content. Your followers are following you, so give them what they want. Focus on what you’re doing, who you’re with and what you think, and introduce them to content (created by you or others) that you think they would find interesting. If a quote helps you to do that then go ahead and tweet it, but if you’re posting lots of unrelated quotes in a short space of time then don’t bother.
  2. Contextless Follow Fridays
    Follow Friday (#ff for short) is an well-established convention, and a welcome excuse to draw attention to the people that you admire. But follow recommendations are only meaningful if placed in context; simply tweeting “#ff @[friend] @[colleague] @[client] @[new lead you’re trying to butter up] etc.” tells us nothing about why you’re recommending them. Recently I received this tweet on my dashboard:

    #FF @UnHijodeMami@adtunes@oyafuso@roberalgelier@LVVKIN @VeroElectronic@RightSaidJames@DemetriusBaines @ELGRANADIWA@zapt1
    — GorgeousPR(@GorgeousPR) July 20, 2012

    As it happens, this account doesn’t even follow me, but that’s an issue for another blog post. Presumably I had tweeted something relevant and PR-related that week, hence making me worthy of inclusion, but how on earth are @GorgeousPR’s followers meant to know this? I might have cat-sitted for their receptionist, for all the difference it makes.

    Instead, how about recommending just the one person, with a lengthy explanation of why they’re worth a follow? You can always send out more than one #ff tweet, or simply wait until next week to feature someone else. Or, if that’s not your style, simply give a brief explanation of who these people are and why you’re recommending them. Here’s a great example of a group #ff (found via Twitter search):

    An early Olympics tennis #FF: @OlympicsTennis, @stu_fraser, @neilharmantimes, @jon_wertheim. Also @christophclarey for tennis + more.
    — Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) July 26, 2012

    By stating that these people tweet about Olympic Tennis, Ben’s followers will instantly know what they will be getting. I know next to nothing about tennis, but I almost want to follow these people now!

    For more on this topic, see this post or, for the visually inclined, this comic.

  3. Following too many people
    I don’t know if anyone else does this, but I regularly prune (i.e. block) followers that follow (and are followed by) thousands of people. I’m sure that they put some thought into who they follow, or have some sort of criteria for making their choice, but to be honest I don’t really think that I have much to offer them if I’m one of 12,000 other people. Furthermore, the chances of them seeing one of my tweets and having enough time to read it before it gets replaced by 100 new ones in 5 seconds time is next to nothing, so there’s really no point in them following me in the first place.

If the above pet hates have anything in common, it’s that they are all the product of a lack of care and attention: tweeting endless quotes, making contextless lists and following too many people are both easy to do and effectively meaningless. Twitter is quite simply the best and most effective way to engage with others online, but by turning everything into a numbers game you’re doing yourself and your personal brand no favours.

What about you? Are there any Twitter behaviours that you consider to be annoying, anti-social or even abusive? Let me know in the comments.

Using Twitter for Business – Interview with Cake Communications (aka @CakeComms)

This is only my second original post on my new blog, so I thought I’d write about something I think I know well: Twitter! However, I’m pleased to say that after having finished this post I definitely know more about the subject than I did before!

Sara Robinson, MD of Cake Communications has kindly agreed to give me (and you) an insight into how her company uses Twitter as part of their business strategy. Here’s the interview in full:


Twitter: @CakeComms
Twitter followers: 1402 (and counting…)

Sara Robinson is Cake Communications’ Managing Director. Cake Communications is a modern PR and creative communications agency based in Cardiff Bay. On their website they state that they have a unique, fresh approach to how they do business and are passionate about communication that delivers tangible results. Sara works with colleagues and clients to design and implement campaigns that meet and exceed objectives. The services they offer include PR, Social Media Training, Copywriting, Public Relations, Graphic design, smartphone app design and blog management. They also have a blog, which is a good read for businesses or individuals interested in social media and other forms of digital communications.

James: Hi Sara, thanks for agreeing to speak to me about your work. Could you start by telling me what place Twitter has within your wider communications strategies and the individual campaigns that Cake Communications designs and implements?

Sara: Hi James, thanks for the opportunity! Twitter has become an increasingly important part of the communications mix only in so much that more organisations are waking up to the opportunity that social media presents to communicate more effectively with their audience. Of course, like any opportunity, there are associated threats. Savvy businesses are recognising that there is a risk attached to diving head first into social media without allocating proper resource to it and conducting sound research to establish which channels are right for them.  Sometimes it’s worse to ‘do’ social media badly than not do it at all. We always advise clients to establish which of the traditional business functions they want to use social media for. Is it research? Engagement? It’s surprising how many organisations still think they should be on Twitter ‘because everybody else is’ and don’t give proper thought or consideration to their objectives and how to evaluate the impact.  As a result, from our point of view, we are seeing more and more demand for support with training, strategy development and general hand-holding through the process. I have sat with clients and told them that Twitter isn’t for them because research shows their customer base isn’t using that social space (yet), and another communication method will be more effective for them. There really isn’t one-size-fits-all approach, but it’s certainly more of a buzzword than it was this time two years ago.

J: One problem I find with businesses on Twitter is that their approach to the medium can sometimes be tokenistic, irrelevant or, occasionally, spammy! What can businesses do to prevent this from happening and how can they keep things fresh?

S: I think the old principles of PR and communication are as true as they ever have been even though the technologies are evolving all of the time. Relevance and the quality of the content you can offer are the most crucial things. Of course, the fundamental difference is that whereas the old media models were built on one-way communication, social media is more about engagement and useful interventions in conversations. That’s a cultural shift that many organisations can struggle to adapt to, as we have been used to the ‘broadcast’ model for most of many people’s working lives. As PR professionals, we are well-versed in helping to create meaningful conversations so we are well-placed to guide businesses through the minefield that is Twitter and help them embrace the engagement approach. In terms of keeping content fresh, a blog is always a brilliant resource to establish yourself as thought leader in your field. If you use social media to signpost your followers to genuinely interesting, value-added content then you are using it well.  That of course has the added benefit of boosting your SEO performance for key terms and pulling people into your website. In terms of being relevant, audience research is crucial and it’s important to spend time making sure you are following the right people in order to ensure the relevant potential customers/stakeholders/ambassadors are following you. The best way to make sure you build that following, of course, is making sure you have good quality and relevant content so it’s a bit like a chicken and egg situation.  But the best way to do it well is to invest resource into it and to really think through what you want to get out of it.

J: Do you think Twitter has a measurable value to a business that uses it? Although it costs virtually nothing to use, do you think the man-hours spent using it are worthwhile?

S:  It’s a common belief that social media is free. If you are doing it to meet business objectives, social media demands time and we all know time is money.  For that reason it is obviously important that the time invested in social media is measurable. However, it’s not as easy as being able to prove a direct ROI from social media. Only very few brands have achieved this, and it’s very much the holy grail that all marketers are chasing. I would turn it on its head like this: Have you every tried to calculate the ROI of all of the business cards that you hand out at a networking event? A Twitter follower, like a business card, merely represents potential. And when it comes to brand awareness or positive sentiment about your organisation, many people will be hard pressed to pinpoint WHY they buy a service or feel the way they do about your organisation. Twitter is always part of a wider set of variables.

There are of course things you can measure – engagement, how many people are sharing your content, total number of people reached, increase in traffic to your blog or website and so on. And you absolutely should build in these metrics from the outset.

J: In your opinion, is Twitter activity translatable into measurable economic value and/or earning potential?

S: See my above answer!

J: My opinion is that Twitter is, for the most part, NOT a direct sales tool, and anyone who treats it as such is probably wasting their time; would you agree?

S: In a word, yes. Try and sell on Twitter and you’re already failing. Try and inform, educate, share, participate helpfully, create ‘ambassadors’ for your brand and curate content and you’re onto a winner. For me, it’s the golden rule. Anybody who wants to sell more by being on Twitter is only going to be disappointed.

J: Finally, what can potential clients hope to gain from your social media expertise?

S: We really help people take a step back and think about why they are using social media and what they expect to gain from it. We help with training, content plans and strategy development to help organisations get the most from social media. The one thing I’d say is just because it seems free, it can be an expensive waste of time if you don’t invest in a carefully though-out strategy at the outset and invest the time necessary to do it well. We can help get the ball rolling right through to handling social media on a client’s behalf where they don’t have the internal resource and want to punch above their weight online.

You can find out more about Cake Communications by visiting their website, and you can also keep up with their busy lives on Twitter, Facebook or, if you’re so inclined, via email.

Some Twitter tips for #ElectionsCSU candidates

First thing’s first: social media can (or rather should) only ever be part of a larger campaign strategy; no one is going to get elected simply by endlessly Tweeting, blogging or Facebooking until they’re red in the face. But social media, if used well, can bolster your physical campaign, get you noticed and, hopefully, win you more votes. Of course, every single candidate will have a Facebook group and/or event with hundreds if not thousands of members, clogging up everyone’s News Feeds and contributing to the giant melting pot of noise and spam that is Elections Week on Facebook. But not everyone will be using Twitter, and of those who do not everyone will be using it effectively. With this in mind, I’ve compiled a few tips to help CUSU Elections candidates and their campaign teams to make the most of Twitter:

  • Engage.
    Twitter (or any other form of social media) is a very different ballgame to the real world. Making as much noise as possible simply won’t work unless you’re willing to join the conversation and get involved. Here’s a few things you can do:

    • Search for tweets using the #ElectionsCSU hashtag, and use this hashtag in your own tweets. You should also reply to tweets containing this hashtag, but don’t spam or you’ll end up blocked.
    • Follow and engage with election-related accounts, including the official @DemocracyCSU account, the current sabbatical team and influential commentators such as the brilliant and often hilarious @electwit, who has been providing sardonic yet informative coverage of CUSU Elections since at least 2010.
    • Although this might seem counter-intuitive at first, selectively tweet about other candidates (not necessarily your own rivals!) and their slogans, banners, posters and campaign strategies. It will show that you’re not a complete egomaniac and hopefully they’ll return the favour!
  • Presence is everything.
    How you appear online is just as important as how you appear when campaigning in person. So make the most of the tools available to you:

    • Twitter Bio: Although you’ve only got 160 characters to play with, a good bio can make all the difference. Make it clear who you are, what position you’re running for and what you stand for. If you have any room left, link to your video manifesto (use a link shortener like bit.ly) to reinforce your message.
    • Website: If you have a campaign website, you don’t need me to tell you that it should go here. Otherwise, link to your online manifesto.
    • Profile Picture: If you have a campaign logo, this is the place to put it. Alternatively, use an image that has something to do with your campaign, be that your face, a campaign gimmick or even your poster design.
    • Location: If it’s short enough, this would be a good place to put your campaign slogan.
    • Username: This is a very personal decision, but the best usernames are short and distinctive. If your campaign slogan incorporates your own name then you can probably get away with having your name as your username. Otherwise, this is a good place to use part of your slogan or a campaign gimmick. For those who already have a Twitter username, consider starting a new account or temporarily changing your username for the purposes of the elections, but again this is up to you.
    • Background: Use your campaign poster here. If you don’t have the digital version, email elections at cardiff dot ac dot uk to have it sent to you.
    • Profile Design: For bonus points, make your profile match the colours of your poster/campaign logo.
  • Content, content, content.
    If you want to gain followers and get noticed, you have to catch people’s attention with interesting and varied content. Here are a few ideas:

    • Tweet photos of you, your campaign team, your banner, the lecture hall you’re about to give a shout-out to, the view from the crossroads, whatever you think will add interest.
    • Videos are even better! Share your video manifesto as often as possible, and you can take things further by making your own campaign video and uploading it to YouTube. Other video ideas include flashmobs, lecture shouts and vox-pop style interviews ( “I’m voting for X because …). Whatever you do, use your imagination and don’t be afraid to think outside the box! In terms of what platforms to use, pick YouTube for pre-recorded/edited videos and use your smartphone to send out spontaneous footage whilst out campaigning.
    • Vary your content by retweeting endorsements from friends, and retweet more general tweets from election-related accounts (see the Engage section of this post for where to look for these).
    • Don’t forget to tell people how and where to vote!
  • Don’t go it alone.
    • Ask friends and supporters to tweet about you, retweet you, or preferably both. Do this regularly until voting closes.
    • By all means give your Twitter password to members of your campaign team, but make sure to lay down some basic communications guidelines to keep things consistent.
    • You can boost your exposure by asking local businesses, club promoters, societies, sports clubs to retweet you. However, remember that the election rules state that no external businees or organisation is allowed to provide benefits to one candidate unless they are also willing to offer the same benefit to all other candidates. In other words, if the only reason a club promoter is willing to retweet you is because one of your mates is a club rep, don’t do it. As always, if in doubt ask for clarification by emailing elections at cardiff dot ac dot uk or by speaking to Jemma Mallorie, before you Tweet.
    • If you have any Twitter-obsessed friends, ask them for advice on your campaign. They will be able to tell you if you’re committing any unforgivable faux-pas and suggest more ideas for you to try.
  • Some final tips:
    • Keep it positive: starting a Twitter hate campaign against one of your rivals isn’t going to win you any votes. Quite the opposite, in fact.
    • Have fun: Just like your real-world campaign, don’t take yourself too seriously. If you can make people laugh or smile whilst also telling them to vote for you, then you’re more likely to get noticed, followed, retweeted and talked about.
    • Keep it real: Tweeting into the ether with no one following you is a waste of time. So, if you haven’t already, add your Twitter username to your banner and your Facebook group/event. You could also tell people to follow you on Twitter during lecture shouts and when you talk to individual people and hand out flyers. Shout it from the crossroads if you must!

I hope that you’ve found these tips useful and informative. If nothing else, I hope that it convinces you to embrace Twitter as part of your campaign. Campaigning in CUSU Elections will be one of the most challenging and exhausting experiences in your life (after marriage, kids and actually performing the role to which you’ve been elected, of course), and to win you need to exploit every single opportunity available to you. Leave no stone unturned, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

Finally, if you’d like any more advice from me* then post a comment here or send me a Tweet. I’d be delighted to help in any way I can 🙂

*For the benefit of any election monitors who might be reading this post, I am offering this service for free and to any candidate who asks for it, as long as they ask nicely!

Why Twitter could be the next form of Ministry (originally posted on @bigbible)

This post was originally posted on Big Bible, and you can view it here.

Twitter is an amazingly versatile tool; the ways in which it can be used is limited only by human imagination. One of my favourite, and one of the earliest, examples of Twitter innovation is a bakery in London which used Twitter to tell potential customers when fresh goods were ready:

https://twitter.com/#!/AlbionsOven/media/grid

The system, named Baker Tweet, uses a control panel next to the oven. As bakers remove hot food, they turn a dial to select the product and press a switch. A twitter update – or “tweet” -is sent.

Londoners can follow what is happening via the Twitter name albionsoven, and more than 300 people have signed up already. “We’ve been amazed by the response. It has made a big difference to sales,” said Mr Prescott. “We generally update once a day as we don’t want to overwhelm people, but we’re now thinking of offering updates at unusual times – for instance, as we’re in Shoreditch, offering fresh bread later at night – or running special offers.”

The service was developed by Andrew Zolty at marketing firm Poke. He said: “Our office is opposite the bakery, and the idea started as an office joke – we thought it would be great to get food as soon as it comes out of the oven.”

You don’t have to look long and hard to find other interesting ways that Twitter has been used; as a cat flap monitor, to report when a baby kicks and as a crowd-sourced weather map! Those last three examples could arguably dismissed as being gimmicky/pointless, but what they do have in common is that they require creative thinking. After all, Twitter is just a tool; without our imagination then its potential cannot be realised!

On November 9th 2011, it was my passion for Twitter and social media that led me to found the first Twitter Remembrance Service. My initial thought was ‘why hasn’t this (or something similar) been done before?’ It seemed like such a simple, obvious idea to me. Yet the more I thought about it, the more developed the idea became. So our hymns were sourced from YouTube, sermons and prayers were divided into 140 character chunks, a 2 minute silence would be observed, and the names of loved ones were provided, on the fly, by our followers. Another unique element of the service was that that it was planned by people from around the UK, using nothing more than a closed Facebook group, a few emails and the occasional phone call. And the result, if I may say so myself, was astounding. On Friday morning, before the start of the service, we had over 1300 followers, which grew during the service. In total, we reached approximately 4000 people. The stream of people naming loved ones was so great that at its peak we were Reposting/Retweeting about one tweet per second! As you can probably imagine, the whole thing was very emotionally moving.

This was quite possibly the first time that Twitter had been used like this, with a significant amount of people focusing all their attention on one account in such a short space of time. Furthermore, by bringing a traditional service of Remembrance to a new audience, using a digital medium, we changed the experience of worship completely. Yet once we’d worked out the finer details, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

The reason I’m telling you all this is because I think that more churches, organisations and individuals should be using Twitter, or other forms of social media, to expand their reach and to bring their gifts to a new audience. This could be as simple as providing a Twitter summary of the weekly sermon, or delivering an entire pre-planned service. And if you, or someone you know, has the skills to implement this, why not? I will close by giving you a few hints and starting points:

  • Think about what your church, your organisation or you can offer to the world. Is it the power of your message, the diversity of opinions represented by your community, or a fresh look on real-world problems? Whatever it is, decide how this could be communicated using social media.
  • Look at other ways that Christianity is represented on social media. Two good starting points are Natwivity and Online Carols, but also see what churches and organisations are doing on a daily basis.
  • ‘Branding’ is very important. Make it very clear to potential followers who you are and what you’re about.
  • Finally, if you think that your idea has potential, or you’ve found a gap that needs filling, go for it! You’ll be amazed what you can achieve!