The story of social media

An effective web presence is, effectively a good story. It should share all the elements you’d associate from a classically structured narrative.

The Protagonist

Your customer is the protagonist. The hero of the piece. Your protagonist begins the story as a normal person and, throughout the process, is transformed, ultimately ending up profoundly changed by the experience.

The antagonist

You are the antagonist. You present all the impetus for the story to move on. You intervene all the time, making it impossible for the protagonist to remain unmoved. You have a great deal of responsibility, not only because a story can not move on without a protagonist. But because not all stories have a happy ending.

If you are a bad antagonist, your customer’s story arc will be a negative one. They will have bad experiences, make bad choices and will ultimately end up worse off than at the start. We’ve all seen stories like this.

Be a good antagonist. Help your customer to move forward. Help them to make the right choices and the story will have a happy ending.


This is important. It’s a two-way conversation between two or more of the characters. This can be between you and your customer , or between multiple customers. The worst thing you can do is turn your story into a monologue. Always listen and engage with your protagonist.


The theme is the overarching meaning of the piece. Maybe if you’re in customer service, the theme should be Resolving Conflict, or maybe you’re in financial services and your theme is Security and Safety. Make sure you know what yours is because this will inform your tone of voice and the structure of the narrative.

Tone of Voice

Is this a serious story? One which is delivered from a place of authority. That’s OK, the tone of voice would be grown up and considered. But maybe it’s an engaging story and your tone of voice is light and aimed at raising a smile. Get this right and your journey will become much smoother.


Your social media story, like most others, has a 3 act structure:

  • Act IEstablish your characters. Make sure the audience know all about the antagonist and make plenty of room for your protagonist. Once everyone is happy and engaged, it’s time to move on to…
  • Act IIThis is where the action starts. The protagonist and antagonist embark on a relationship whereby the antagonist is, to be blunt, trying to sell something to the protagonist. While the protagonist, to be fair, is trying to avoid this. Remember not to make this negative.
  • Act IIIThe resolution. This is the sale, or the reaching of whatever goal you may have set as the target of your customer relations. The protagonist should be happy and better of as a result of the story.

And remember, this is not the end. There is scope here for any number of spin-off and sequels.

So, what’s your story?


How Do You Sell Social Media?

I had lunch today with an old boss from years ago. it was fun to catch up, he told me stories about where the company is at these days. I told him stories about working in the public sector and how I’m now focussing on social media. I really enjoyed it. And it came just a few hours after a breakfast networking event here in Edinburgh called #EdCM.Return On Investment

I don’t do enough of this. Despite telling you in my previous post that you need to get out there and meet people, I do it too rarely. As with most things, I’m working on it.

The reason that I found these meetings so stimulating is that it makes me aware of how social media is perceived, and, by extension, how I’m perceived.

What’s in it for them?

For the young (and young at heart) of #EdCM, it’s exciting. it’s how we stay connected. it’s a forum for sharing things. It helps us all to grow, and learn and have fun. Social media is the glue which keeps these people together.

For the establishment (and by that I mean people who have been in business, any business for 15ys+), social media is regarded with suspicion. These people are successful in business. They’ve seen innovations and paradigm shifts come and go over the years and they’ve learned not to get excited about it. They are happy not to adopt simply because they realise that there’s no rush, there’ll be another one along in a minute.

That’s on a personal level. On a business level, the establishment are focussed on results. They see social media as a tool and are happy to use it where they can see some ROI. They’ve learned hard lessons about how and where to invest and they have to spend their money wisely.

So that leaves a grey area. Between the geeks and the establishment. This is where business people are open to new ideas and are willing to attempt something for the sole reason that they THINK it might improve their business, if they change the way they interact with customers.

So where does that leave me?

It leaves me in an interesting place. As a social media strategist I need to be able to speak to all of these people, to help them understand the benefits. I need to enthuse about 4Square to the early adopter crowd, preach about listen/engage CRM to the open-minded and nail the cold hard profit for the establishment.

I think I make a decent fist of the first 2 but actually pinning down the financial metrics for social media is hard. There are hundreds of analytical tools which can tell you your reach, penetration, influence, perception or whatever else but the crux of the matter is that you can’t predict a Return On Investment because you just don’t know if the social media landscape is going to be the same by the end of the project.

For instance, if you were banking on third-party advertising on Twitter to make profit until the end of this financial year, think again. That’s a huge deal and it’s the sort of seismic change that is occurring constantly in the social media world.

So, how do I discuss figures with the establishment?

I can’t. No-one can. I can analyse the results of a campaign and point towards profit/loss by applying other metrics, but I can’t predict the success of any campaign. What do I do when they ask? Well, I show them case studies. Case studies are great because it allows you to show a profit, and they way it was achieved. It’s tangible evidence of success and it works. I ‘ve got some crackers, with graphs and everything. I’ve still got to be honest though, I tell them that I may not stay the charted course to get to the end goal. If I see something now working, or a new bit of kit pops up that I think will allow me to do it better, I’ll be changing direction. Focus on the goal. 9 times out of 10 we’ll get there.

And if we don’t, well, at least we can apply what we’ve learned to the next project.

*OK, so there are some good resources out there regarding ROI in social media, I’m not just coming at this cold. For your consideration:

What Brian Solis says
What Chris Brogan says

There are more, Google it.

Getting to know your network, really

When you get to know someone via social networks it pays to remember that you are not getting to know the real them. You’re getting to know the very best of themselves (as they see it), the bits of themselves that they have deemed fit to broadcast to the world.

This is important, particularly on sites like LinkedIn, where people are trying to convince you of their good character.

What’s key to remember is that this applies to you as well. The harder you try, the more removed your online persona gets from the real life you.

So here’s a tip. Wherever you can, try and take your social networks into the real world. Arrange some tweetups, go to some networking events. Maybe a conference or two (if you can afford it!). It’ll cement those relationships on social networks as well as presenting you with a massive canvas for meeting new people. It’s fun too, usually.

A couple of networking events I know about:

Edinburgh Coffee Morning (#EdCM)

There’ll be hundreds more. Explore your network. Ask some questions. And if you can’t find one, organise your own.

10 tips for email marketing

Given that this claims to be a Digital Communications blog, I should really be giving advice on more than just social media, so here is another in an occasional series of Stuff I Have Published Elsewhere. Enjoy:

Email marketing seems like a simple idea. You have something you want to say to your customers, you have their email address and you know how to write an email. Couldn’t be simpler right?

Well, on one level it really is that simple but there are some other things that you should consider:

How will you know who has opened it or read it?

Who’s going to respond to all the feedback you get if it’s a success?

Were your customers happy to receive it?

Were you operating within the law?

It may seem simple but when it comes down to it there are few things more stressful in online marketing than sending out an email to your customers. No, I can’t make it any less stressful but I can offer you some tips so that you know what you are letting yourself in for.

1/ Get permission
You may have a list from your sales guy of leads, or maybe you’ve archived emails of customers who have been in touch but that’s not enough. If you send people marketing email without their consent, not only is it annoying. It’s illegal. Whether you buy a list or make your own, everyone on it must have opted in.

2/ Belt and Braces
It’s lovely to be sending out image rich HTML emails, they are on brand and make you look sophisticated but the bottom line is that not everyone is capable of receiving them. There are a lot of different email applications out there on different platforms so make sure you offer a text alternative to whatever you send.

3/ Use e-marketing software
It’s vital that you are able to track basic stats such as how many customers opened the mail, how many addresses bounced and who wants to unsubscribe. There are a number of companies offering web-based services, just Google “e-marketing software” and pick one that you think looks good.

4/ Call to action
There is no reason for you not to encourage your customers to do something on receipt of your message. Make sure the copy and the structure leads them towards clicking that link back to your site or calling that number.

5/…and track them
And when they have been called to action. Make sure you know that they did it after reading that carefully constructed email you sent them. You can do this on your website by checking your logs for referral information. If you don’t know what that is, find someone who does.

6/ Test different creatives
The real beauty of direct marketing is that you can get to the bottom of what works very quickly. Use different approaches to the same message to send out 2 or even 3 different versions to different people on your list. Then use the analytics to work out which one was the most successful.

7/ Look after your list
You will waste a lot of money sending out messages if you don’t keep on removing those email addresses which consistently bounce, if it fails to deliver 3 times then bin it. Also, make sure your unsubscribes are definitely gone before you send out your next one.

8/ If you can, segment your list
Find out as much information as you can about your customers. It’s a good idea to use surveys to do this. Then, with this data you can send different messages depending on what you have learned. For instance, there’s not point in sending Vegas clubbing deals to your ‘more mature’ customers.

9/ Think about when you send it
Studies have shown that the best time to send your marketing email is midweek. Tuesday and Wednesday constantly show the best open and click through rates. This has been proven through research, don’t let that little voice which says “they might want to read it on the weekend” change your mind.

10/ Get the tone right
Similarly to when you are writing website copy; writing email copy requires a delicate approach to tone. Keep it friendly, remember you’re invading their in-box and they are giving up precious seconds of their own time to read it. Don’t bully then and never try to sell them anything.

And there you have it. Once you’ve sent a few the stress will start to dissipate. Much of the worry comes from knowing that when you press that little green button there’s no way to bring it back, it’s gone. Make sure you’ve checked the spelling, and when it’s checked, check it again. Then do the same with all the links. There really is no room for error. Get into the habit and your stress levels will soon drop from red to amber. Just don’t get complacent.

What NOT to do on Twitter

Apologies for the negativity, but some things have been annoying me of late. Mostly on Twitter. I’ve been following a lot of new people, which is great. It means I learn new things, expand my network and get a bit of extra traffic to here.

What’s been annoying me has stemmed from this. Here’s a wee list:

  • Auto DMs
  • Quotes
  • “I follow back”
  • SocialOomph (This is a service whereby you pay, on a monthly basis for things like Auto DMs and mass following based on keyword searches (amongst other things))

These are all things which I’ve seen recommended elsewhere. In some quarters it’s considered to be good Twitter practice. I’d like to set you straight people. It’s not.

Auto DMs are completely impersonal and amount to nothing more effective than spam email. It won’t open up a relationship with your follower because there’s nothing there to build that relationship on. Any links you put in there may generate traffic but they sure as hell won’t generate any business given that they have clicked it with zero intent. Please don’t do this. If you want to talk to new followers check out their profile, read a few of their tweets, then reply to them in the public stream. use their real name if they’ve supplied it for an added wow factor.

Quotes just wind me up. As I say, I’ve seen them mentioned as a way to generate content to tweet. But why? What’s the point of this regurgitated nonsense? Who gets benefit from it? People might enjoy reading it every now and again but if that’s all your providing then you’ve got to question what your purpose is for being on Twitter at all.

The follow back thing is big because people like to gather a big following. And, hey, I’m not dissing that. Regardless of what some luminaries think, there’s no getting away from the fact that a bigger following means a bigger audience for your wisdom. The problem is, if you’re building your following based on nothing more than helping people to build their following then you’re not going to have much scope for interacting with people. As your follow lists fills up with people with whom you share zero common ground, your experience on Twitter will simply become a boring sequence of keypresses as you follow people back all day.

Now, with SocialOomph I realise I may be picking on one of many similar services, so apologies for that. But it’s the worst culprit in terms of creating a soulless presence on Twitter. It runs in the background, growing your follower list and tweeting links so it looks like you’re doing stuff. BUT YOU’RE NOT. What you’re doing with these kinds of service is creating a Twitter Avatar who looks like you, sounds like you and even claims to be you but ultimately it’s not.

I appreciate that a service like SocialOomph is generating income from Twitter, so they’re clearly doing something right. I also appreciate that if you’re sole aim is to generate a bit following and drive a bit of traffic then it’ll work for you. I just think that you’re missing the point. If you’ve read much of my posts here I’m always banging on about listening and engaging on social media. It’s how you win trust and how you build relationships. You can’t do that with an automated service so ultimately, you lose. And one of your competitors, as soon as they’ve worked this out, will win. It really is that simple.


1 tip for turning followers into advocates

Here’s a wee tip to all you big companies or big personalities with a lot of followers on Twitter or fans on Facebook: reach out to your audience.

By that I mean you need to take the time to actually talk to them. I know that I’ve been telling you that you need to listen and engage, and you probably think that means you have to be selective with who you reply to. But you’re wrong. Us mortals like nothing more, when we have taken the time to start absorbing your wisdom, than you actually speaking to us. Seriously. It doesn’t have to be a telling insight, or something that makes our lives easier. It just needs to come from you, to us and we melt a little.

I appreciate that it is time consuming, but it’s so worth it. Those followers will feel that little bit closer to you. They’ll be 10 times more likely*  to retweet your content or visit your site. Just think what that’s worth. With one simple little tweet you’ve created an advocate.

*This is a made up statistic

Social media commitment

With half of all marketers still not up to speed with social media it pays to remember that, before you embark on any activity in this field, you need to do your research.

The resources are out there, I share a lot here (see Carving out your social media niche), you can also get great advice from the big players like Chris Brogan or from up and coming blogs like The Social Penguin.

Do this for yourself to get a picture of what’s involved in an effective social media presence. The key, as ever is engagement. It’s not a broadcast medium (unless you have hundreds of thousands of friends/followers) it’s a conversation medium and half of a good conversation is about listening.


Once you’ve done your research there’s one important thing that you need to grasp, and this goes for pretty much any business decision: you have to commit.

Without commitment you’re going off half-cocked. Don’t just dip your toes in the water by setting up a Twitter account or Facebook fan page and putting your news on there, it won’t work, it won’t grow. You need to set aside the resources, whether that be people in your office with the time to do it or money for a consultant. Use these resources to do it properly. Listen and engage.

With this commitment you will be able to ride out the bumps. You won’t stall the first time you receive some negative feedback, and you will be well placed to tackle all of the challenges that come with operating in such a new and ever-changing field.