Tick tock, tick tock

Time and social media

I haven’t been so hot on the blogging recently (half finished drafts sat in my WordPress app I realise don’t count!) but I vow to get back on the wagon. And the reason for my lack of published posts? Social media! Ironic you may say.

I’m having a pretty exciting time at work – social media has now taken over all that I do, and I couldn’t be more pleased, I LOVE it. But, it has meant a lot of long days and no time for blogging, tweeting or finding the twenty-or-so new social networks that have probably come out since my last post.

And with that, I get to the point of this post (and begin to contradict myself…) – time and its relationship with our online behaviour.

More often than not, we face objections to actually doing social (from our peers, clients, and even that voice inside our head) in the form of one of the following:

  • I don’t have enough time in my day to do social
  • Social media is too instantaneous and real-time; it scares me
  • I won’t be able to respond or engage with the community in the real-time manner that is required by social media
  • I can’t see the ROI on the necessary time I’ll need to invest to make social a success

I could write a blog post on each of these alone, exploring the reasons why, in fact, none of these are valid reasons to not do social (duly noted that I used the first one in my opening paragraph…) However, I think when faced with these oppositions, the best thing to do is flip it on its head. Let’s not think of reasons why we can’t do it; let’s think of reasons why we can’t NOT do it. And that of course is just a confusing way of saying, you have to do it.

It was a few months back now, but something I saw that really said to me who was leading the way in terms of understanding and integratng social into their business, was (perhaps surprisingly) the recruitment initiative run by Pizza Hut, ‘Because I’m Great’. This was a complete 180 on the traditional interview – a live LinkedIn review was conducted right before a 140 second interview took place. No paper CV, no half an hour presentation, just 140 short seconds to demonstrate why you have what it takes to be the head of digital. And the reason? To demonstrate an understanding of the short amount of time we now have to grab people’s attention and convince them to take action. And of course using Twitter’s 140 character limit as a rule of thumb for the time constraint. I personally think it’s brilliant.

So back to my original point. If Pizza Hut get the importance of doing social to such an extent that it even impacts their recruitment process, then so should the rest of us. This initiative also goes to show how time doesn’t have to be a barrier to doing social – if we can now recruit our most senior staff in 140 seconds, we can certainly put out a few tweets.

On to the next point about the instantaneous nature of social and the potential risks involved. I again urge anyway quoting this as a reason, to flip it on its head and understand the value of a instantaneous communications tool. The best way to rationalise this is thinking back a few weeks to the birth of Prince George. If my office were to be used as a representation of the British population as a whole, then all 65 million of us  were glued to @ClarenceHouse awaiting the announcement with baited breath. As soon as they knew, we knew. As soon as we knew, all of our followers knew. And so went the spiral until everyone knew about the arrival of the next King.

This demonstrates how important social media can be from a business perspective – using it as a word of mouth marketing tool, but on steroids. Of course, we have to think of the flip-side of this, when things can go horribly wrong and spread like wildfire through the social space. But that’s where you get a good PR agency, a good social media team and a robust issues management plan (get in touch if you’re interested…!).

So to end, I think this quote from Aaron Lee really sums up both the necessity for using social media, and also the need for consideration of time in all its various meanings:

“These days, social media waits for no one. If you’re late for the party, you’ll probably be covered by all the noise and you might not be able to get your voice across. It could only mean that if you want to be heard by the crowd, you have to be fast; and on social media, that means you have to be REALLY fast.”

So hurry up, the clock’s ticking…

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Anyone can create a Facebook brand page. Or can they?


I’ve learnt over the last few weeks that Facebook do not make lives easy for page managers!!

I have a wish list of things I think Facebook should do – Mark Zuckerberg, if you’re listening, take heed.

Wish number 1 – stop making things so hidden!! What I would like is a list of rules that clearly state: you can do this, you can’t do this, do this and you’ll get closed down, don’t even dream of doing this…you get the point. Credit where credit is due; it is all there, but you have to be some sort of MI5 spy to find it.

Take for example, the cover photo rules. So I know that no more than 20% of my cover photo can be text – easy enough. And I also know that I can’t have a call to action in my cover photo. But, my definition of a call to action and Facebook’s definition could be very different. It’s a term we use a lot in PR to get a community to take action – usually around a disease area or some type of health activity.  My interpretation of what the Facebook rules do not allow is some kind of ridiculously large arrow pointing to the like button…which is fair enough. I would say, two pretty different takes on the term ‘call to action’.

Then there’s all the different default settings – not letting other people share on your timeline, the notifications settings, the positioning of images…to name a few. All things you need to think carefully about – but first of all you need to know that these exist!

Wish number 2 – have insights on posts that others share to the timeline.  Whilst insights is amazing, and almost a bit freaky in terms of the data it pulls, I really would like to know how posts by others are fairing. But hey, maybe I’ve become data spoilt!

However, on the plus side, once you’ve done it once, you’ve gone through so many different scenarios, you’re a pro!

And actually, whilst there is a bit of leg work in terms of getting to grips with the settings, there are some really nice features that work so well for the kind of work we’re doing. Timeline lends itself so nicely to telling a story –  you can go right back to when you launched and call out any key milestones, share historical content and generally get your positioning out there. Who said we couldn’t rewrite history?!

Then there’s the posts themselves and all the different features – back dating, post dating, location tagging, people tagging, pinning, marking as a milestone…the list goes on. What you want your community to see, they’ll see.

And then there’s the satisfaction of hitting ‘publish’ on the page. After the blood, sweat and tears that goes into deciphering Facebook’s Ts and Cs you get to sit back and watch the notifications rack up.

If you ever need ratification of the power of social media, it gets displayed right there in front of you: content sharing, organic engagement and likes without begging for them!

So I think my conclusion is page managers need a check list as reassurance before hitting publish. And just in case Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t follow my blog,  I’m going to make one. Stay tuned! 

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The four T’s: Spokespeople in the social space


Something I’m working on at the moment is how to work with spokespeople in the social space. This can sometimes be a bit of a grey area, so I thought it would be helpful to share some learnings for all of you out there who may be nervous or just plain confused.

When being socially active on behalf of a company, there are four key things to remember. I like to call this the four T’s:

  • Transparency
  • Trust
  • Training
  • Time

The key thing to consider both as a spokesperson and as a company asking someone to be your spokesperson, is transparency. It is important that as a spokesperson, whatever you say in the social space is supported with documentation of who you work for. And for this, I like to refer to our offline world. In traditional PR, any spokesperson would openly declare that they are paid by, or a consultant to, X company. This is in the interest of not wanting to mislead, and to be honest with the fact that you are representing a third party. And also, let’s not forget, in the world of healthcare it’s because the ABPI tells you to!

The purpose of this is not to undermine the authenticity of what is being said, it’s purely to maintain honesty and transparency in an industry that often faces criticism. No one likes to be deceived. So in the social space we just need to apply the same principles. Whether it’s in your twitter bio, your ‘about me’ on your blog, or even just a mention on relevant blog posts, a simple ‘consultant of the pharmaceutical industry’ is usually sufficient. But of course, whenever doing anything like this, it is vital to check internal social media policies, as these often vary by company.

The next T is trust and for me this is two-fold. Do you as a company trust a potential spokesperson, and are they as individuals trusted in their communities?

So by that I mean do you trust them to stay on message, be an advocate for your brand, know how to behave in the social space both courteously and credibly, and not to engage in negative conversations? On the other hand we have to consider their level of credibility within their audience – are they trusted? It is only if this is true that they will be able to influence opinion and shape conversations in the way that you desire.

Next we have training and I believe that this is very important. Not only do you need to educate your spokesperson on the rules and regulations, the tone and messages of your campaign, and the expectations, you also don’t want them to feel unsupported and perhaps apprehensive to actively engage in conversations. Again, we can look back to our offline lives – you would never ask activity of a spokesperson before media training them, so don’t do it in the social world!

An important part of this will be an issues management-type session, whereby you walk through a pre-approved protocol of exactly what to do in worst-case scenarios. I like to do this in a simple flow chart – ‘if this happens, I follow the flow chart and do this.’ Easy!

As an aside, it’s also important to note here that you should never ask someone to be a social spokesperson unless they are already active, comfortable and present in the social space. Nothing screams ‘I’ve been paid to do this’ more than a tweet going out from a handle that has had no activity for 3 months. It also means that the individual likely feels pretty comfortable with engaging online and understands common courtesies and expectations.

Then finally we have time. For success, you need agreement from your spokesperson that they have the time to make the commitment that social can sometimes be. We can’t let comments or questions go without response. And of course us as PR agencies can support in this by real-time monitoring of any engagement, and implementation of a process of notification and action.

The second part of this time element is to ask yourselves ‘can you as a company commit to putting the time in for monitoring, ongoing support to your spokespeople and adaptation as the campaign and objectives evolve?’ And fingers crossed the answer is yes!

There’s no denying that the social world needs different considerations and in some cases a bigger time commitment, but as with many areas of social, we can look to our traditional PR practices that we know so well and take reference. And remember, your spokespeople aren’t necessarily your biggest influencers, but they are the face of your brand: preparing them for the social world is worth the investment.

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The language of conversation

It seems that some are still questioning why social media strategy sits with PR agencies as opposed to a digital or creative agency, or indeed any agency at all. For me, the answer is simple – nobody understands messaging, engagement and overall language better than PR experts. This is something we’ve been doing since the term ‘public relations’ was first coined, and in this new world – although on the whole I refuse to call it ‘new’ anymore – of digital PR, the power of language is more evident than ever.

‘Who cares about language?’ some may ask – just give me a branded Facebook page and a couple of videos on YouTube and I’ve ticked the social media box. No, no, no! This is where some brands are still falling down at the first hurdle. In fact, they aren’t really even reaching the first hurdle. To achieve brand longevity and a sustainable social media presence, it is vital to use language that is audience specific, ignites conversation (in a positive way!) and gives you a social identity. If you can achieve these things, then you are on the way to reaching those people – be it patients, carers, families or medical professionals – that are looking for support.

If you’re a patient, perhaps recently diagnosed, chances are you are feeling apprehensive, concerned and more than likely curious to find out more. When you turn to the big G, the last thing you want to see is brand and company messages shoved in your face in a completely unnatural and downright intrusive manner. What’s really going to make you click on one of the results out of hundreds of pages of search results (SEO aside) is something engaging, meaningful and organic. Something that resonates with you and your current emotions. And the power of language choices as a brand is not to be underestimated here.

Then of course there’s language in the native-tongue sense – a big consideration in global social media campaigns. As I’ve been researching and thinking about this post, I’ve started to wonder if really there can be a truly global campaign at all. Today we have to consider language variations, cultural sensitivities and platform reach, but can we really do this via one campaign?

The social media space in India is showing a nice trend that addresses some of these challenges. In a country with a whole variety of languages and dialects within one set of geographical parameters, we are seeing unexpected popularity in image sharing platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook for their abilities to share and communicate in a universally understandable way.

So I suppose in a way, my two points here could be contradictory: words and language are fundamental, yet image sharing is the global solution. I, however, think that the two can in fact be complimentary and work hand in hand. And that goes back to my original thought; know your audience, know your objectives and know why. As the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words.

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Blog facebookStart with a blank canvas, visualise Facebook friendships. 

So, what do you do?

blog pic 2

My first post, and what better way to start than to answer that question that I think every single one of my friends and family has asked at some point over the last few years, “so what do you actually do?” I started explaining this to my best friend a few months ago, and after a number of minutes of my rambling and chucking in the odd PR-y word (of course) she stopped me and asked, “What do you mean by social media?”

This surprised me. I assumed it was a given. Common knowledge. But alas not! And so I started thinking about what social media means in my life and how it affects the work we do in our world of PR. In the healthcare world specifically, social media is about people with a common interest – be it a recent personal diagnosis, caring for a family member, or living with a condition – coming together to share concerns, share advice and share experiences. And that, to me, is the point right there – share.

No one likes to suffer in silence; everyone sometimes needs some anonymity. Social media allows people to ask questions without judgement, talk about what it’s like to feel defined by a disease, share treatment experiences and feel informed to make the right choices.

So, what do I do?  I take social media beyond the ‘like’ and ‘follow’ – because let’s face it those are just vanity metrics (thanks to Steven Shattuck for that nice little phrase!) – and create a platform for meaningful discussion; give patients a voice and a reason to be heard.

Then of course not forgetting the other person in this relationship – the medical professional. If one half of the relationship is clued up from all angles, so too must the other. And this is where we see the healthcare professional communities like and the BMJ’s doc2doc, come in. Patients connect to understand, healthcare professional connect to be able to provide context. What was once wading through volume after volume of medical journal, can now be a ‘whip out the iPad, ask a question, get a peer’s perspective and view some case notes.’ Et voila, all parties have a means to connect in their respective communities.

And that is the beauty of a social media ecosystem.  A ‘surround sound’ of current, relevant, insightful and engaging content that is platform independent, yet audience specific.  And this is where we, as PR and social media pros, work our magic.

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