Social Media and The Arts: Focus on content, make the most of USPs, get your stakeholders involved!

Social is not your personal megaphone - use it wisely, and avoid quick fixes.

This article is intended for smaller arts organisations, but I hope that it will be somewhat useful to arts marketers of all shapes and sizes. A huge thank you to Opera’r Ddraig for agreeing to be featured as an example in this article. You can find more about them (and their upcoming production) on their website.

Can social media be used to sell tickets?

Social is not your personal megaphone - use it wisely, and avoid quick fixes.

Social is not your personal megaphone – use it wisely, and avoid quick fixes.
Photo by tranchis (via Flickr)

The short answer to this question is: no, not directly. Social media is, for the most part, a passive medium; its users consume far more than they contribute, and they will only respond to others’ posts when they feel that have a genuine reason to do so. With this in mind, how can a tweet or Facebook post convince anyone to part with cold hard cash? One tactic (the ‘hard sell’ approach), is to offer large discounts to people who purchase via social media, greatly reducing the purchase barrier. This tactic is often expensive and does a disservice to the audience members that are paying full price. There is, however, another way. Here’s the long answer:

If you want to sell more tickets to your production, social media can help you do this. Achieving results requires considerable planning and time investment (and time = money, as they say), but I promise it will be worth it. Your use of social media should also be as part of a wider marketing strategy, so think carefully about how it fits in with what you’re doing already. Every arts organisation is different, but here are three tips that should help you to make the most of social media:

1. Content is everything.

The most effective way to engage your audience using social media is to give them what they want: photos, videos, previews, interviews, and anything else that will give them an insight into your production(s) and/or your organisation. An endless stream of tweets is pointless if you’ve nothing to talk about, but genuine content will engage, inform and entertain. Even more importantly, posts that include or link to interesting content are much more likely to be shared or reposted by your followers

So, with this in mind, make sure you take the time to create meaningful content that you can share with your audience. If you do a flashmob, film it and upload it to YouTube. Take lots of rehearsal photos, plus some quick vox pops with cast and crew – show the world what they’ll be missing! Social media is also a great place to share content from traditional media such as radio interviews, press coverage and past reviews.

2. Exploit your assets and unique selling points.

Social media is a noisy environment. Everyone wants you to read their blog posts or buy their stuff, so you should stand out among the crowd by demonstrating what makes you different to others. For example, here’s the key assets of Opera’r Ddraig, a Cardiff-based opera company:

  • Youth – There isn’t an established opera company anywhere else in the UK that is run entirely by young people for the benefit of young people. This is appealing to all sorts of groups, from the young opera sceptics through to seasoned opera lovers looking for something fresh.
  • Accessibility – Opera’r Ddraig has always gone out of its way to make established repertoire easy to understand and bang up to date. Their productions are also accessible in the sense that everything is on display: there are no fancy special effects and their instrumentalists and conductor aren’t hidden away in an orchestra pit.
  • Credible – with excellent performance quality and proper staging, an Opera’r Ddraig production is just as good as a multimillion-pound staging but in a more intimate setting and at a fraction of the ticket cost!

If you want your social media activity to have more bite, then work out what your unique selling points (USPs) are, then put these on full display. This strategy can be applied to all your marketing activity, by the way.

3. Get your stakeholders involved

If you’re not familiar with this term, a stakeholder is an individual or group that affects, or is affected by, you and your activities. An arts organization’s stakeholders will include:

  • cast and crew
  • friends and supporters
  • existing audience members
  • your local community
  • other arts organisations
  • business partners

These people are already emotionally (or financially) invested in your production, so it should be much easier to get them on your side. Let them know how they can help you to reach a wider audience. If your production has a hashtag (which it definitely should!), make sure everyone knows what it is and tell them to use it when they tweet about the production. Encourage cast and crew to share rehearsal photos and tidbits of information – these will be much more interesting when they come from real people, and will provide you with even more content to share with your audience. Another good tactic is to encourage audience members to post reviews on social media – yet more genuine content and a powerful persuasive tool.

Summary

I hope that you’ve found this post useful, and that it will help you to promote your next production, big or small. Here’s a final summary:

  1. Focus on content, not the method of delivery.
  2. Make the most of your USPs.
  3. Ask your friends and supporters to help get the word out.

Final Thoughts

For arts organisations, social media is so much more than a marketing tool, or a means to sell tickets. The ultimate purpose of the arts is to enrich the lives of others. This goal is far more important than bums on seats or making a profit, and social media is a great way to achieve this. Not all of your followers will be persuaded to come to your production, but if you can inform, educate or entertain them along the way then your time, and theirs, will have been well spent. Keep this in mind when talking about yourself and your production, and you won’t go far wrong. Good luck!

How Social Media helped me raise £1900 for charity, by Carol Fry (@CVFry)

Carol Fry after her skydive
Carol and Dale skydiving to raise money for the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal

Carol Fry (with her pilot Kev), Skydiving to raise money for the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal.
Carol was born and raised in Wiltshire but has always loved Wales. In September 2011 she finally realised her dream to come ‘home’. She currently teaches in a primary school in Tremorfa (Cardiff), living near Pontyclun (Bridgend). Carol loves to explore Wales, visiting both new places and those that she knew as a child. She also enjoys baking, concerts, shows, musicals and opera.

This is a guest  post by Carol Fry (@CVFry on Twitter) on the subject of online fundraising. I first found Carol on Twitter through our shared love of classical music and opera, but was quickly amazed and inspired by her ability to harness social media to raise money and awareness for good causes. She was also a key figure in the promotion of a charity single recorded by Mark Llewellyn Evans and the Band of the Welsh Guards. Carol is a personal source of inspiration to me; I think charities and good causes (big and small) could learn a lot from her creativity, enthusiasm and determination.


It’s amazing where a casual remark can land you! On April 1st – I should have known to keep quiet – I was in a car with Mark Llewellyn Evans, a gifted singer who has worked tirelessly to raise funds for our wounded soldiers, recording a CD with the Band of the Welsh Guards for their regimental charity. We were travelling along the M4 towards a sunny (yes, really) Swansea when I mentioned I’d always wanted to do a sky-dive. I don’t really remember how the conversation started but two months later I was tumbling from the sky with a member of the Paratroop Regiment strapped to my back, raising funds for the Welsh Guards Afghan Appeal

Through Mark I met Dale Leach, a former Welsh Guard and one of the most amazing men anyone could wish to know. Dale was seriously injured by an IUD in Afghanistan in 2009. His story made me determined to keep my promise to undertake the sky-dive.  I told him about it and, despite having lost a leg, fractured his spine in 3 places and suffered numerous other injuries, Dale agreed to dive with me. Our friends in the Band suggested using an online giving site and set up a page for us on Virgin Money Giving.

Carol and Dave suited and booted before their skydive.

Carol and Dave suited and booted before their skydive!

Using this site, my Twitter account and through friends promoting our dive through retweets and on Facebook we reached far more people than if we’d just been collecting by word of mouth. I have even made new friends through the collection, as total strangers read Dale’s story and made contact, wanting to help out.

I’m not a particularly confident person and would have found it hard to ask anyone other than very close friends and family to sponsor me. Using Twitter, Facebook and online giving meant that I could put out general appeals without feeling that I was badgering people. I probably drove my followers mad over the month or so before the dive but I have been overwhelmed by the generosity shown by people in their giving.

Using social media also enabled my friends who couldn’t help financially to chip in. They could retweet and post messages on their Facebook walls, spreading the news of what we were doing even though they couldn’t give money.

Using online giving and social media also got some press attention. One newspaper story and 2 radio interviews later, including singing live to Mr Go Compare (the wonderful Wynne Evans) on his radio show, we had picked up sponsors from overseas and parents from my school asked to support the jump.

Carol after her skydive

Carol after her skydive

We did make some money for the Appeal by ‘traditional’ means but I am absolutely certain we would not have raised anywhere near as much without the news grapevine offered by social media.

It was also helpful to tell people regularly how much we had raised. As each little goal approached I could Tweet again, “Can you help us find £51 pounds to get us to our next £100?”. This gave people the chance to give £1 or any amount that they could afford. These small steps towards the final total seemed to prompt many generous, lovely people to donate. I am sure this was more of an incentive than a huge goal. At least one donor said, “I can help you get to a nice round number.”

Dale (and pilot) parachuting back to earth.

Dale (and pilot) parachuting back to earth.

We originally set a goal of £1000. In the end we raised just over £1900 and nearly £1700 of that came from online giving.  My friends and family are spread all over the UK and the site made it really easy for them to give and for us to gather Gift Aid. I am certain it would not have worked without Twitter, Facebook and the kindheartedness of people I have never met face to face.  If you are planning a fund-raising event I’d strongly recommend using social media to help you. Get out there and Tweet – there’s a world filled with generous people who will help your cause however they can.  

Carol and Dale’s fundraiser has now ended, but you can donate to the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal by following the instructions on their website.

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!

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!

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.