5 Words That Need to Die in PR

die storytelling dieWho fancies a game of Buzzword Bingo? Here are five words to get you started that I’ve noticed being used with increasing regularity inside communications agencies and at industry conferences…


Content marketing is just about the most overused and overhyped phrase in the public relations industry at the present time. In 2015, PR is all about the content. “We’re no longer a PR agency, we’re a creative content agency.” Pur-lease…

The problem is that PR has latched onto content like a Cambodian leech onto an unsuspecting backpacker. PR is using ‘content’ as a solution to its woes when in actual fact it’s still getting to grips with what content marketing actually means and is.

In this context, the word ‘content’ is largely meaningless. If we’re honest, your content editor or head of content or whatever the hell else you’re calling them is all smoke and mirrors, isn’t it?

Die content, die!



“What’s the key objective of your social media programme?”
“We want people to engage with us.”
“Engage about what?”
“Our brand story.” (see ‘storytelling, below)
“And how are you going to measure the success of that?”
“Engagement rates.”
“What will that mean to the business?”
“It will show that we’re a conversational brand that loves to engage our customers. It’s all about the conversation, don’t you know…”

You see how ridiculous this is, right? Engagement is not an objective, or an outcome. It’s just a method of achieving bigger, more important things. If that, even.

Measure it? Absolutely. Talk about it in any other context than a by-product of a proper strategy? Forget it.

Die engagement, die!



When did millennials become ‘a thing’? Because boy, are they a thing. What they think, what they do in their leisure time, what they eat, how they communicate, when they poo…you name it, someone’s written an article about it. Google ‘millennials’ and you get 13.5 million results.

The thing is, Gen Y covers anyone born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Anyone. To say ‘we need to target millennials’ is bullshit. You can’t label everyone born in a single year, or month or even day, let alone an entire generation, with the same characteristics. But PR pros like to do that because it’s “using data and insight”.

Die millennials, die! (Not literally…)



If you and I were sat in a room with one hundred PR people and we asked everyone to write down a definition of ‘storytelling’, we’d get an amazingly diverse set of responses. And not in a good way.

Storytelling has become to PR what a guide dog is to a blind man. Along with ‘content’, it’s a crutch that PR uses to try and explain why it’s so much more beneficial than other forms of marketing. Except that this crutch is made out of marshmallows. (I’m applauding myself silently for excellent use of mixed metaphors.)

“PR has always been great at telling stories”, is something I see written with alarming regularity. But what does that actually mean? Answers on a postcard please. Or drop a comment below just for shits ‘n’ giggles.

Die storytelling, die!



Ah yes, ‘viral’. The holy grail of all public relations and social media marketing. I’d sell one of my kids to have something ‘go viral’ for a client. Seriously. Because that would solve all of my client’s problems and I could retire a happy man. Right?

Here’s the thing: one man’s viral is another man’s ‘meh’. In the past I’ve had a client email me very excitedly to tell me about a piece of ‘content’ (see above. You’ve no idea what that means, have you?!): “we’ve gone viral!” For them, I guess a few tweets was genuinly exciting. For the rest of the world it was at the most hum-drum, at worst a car crash.

Viral has no context and no link to anything meaningful, and anyone using the word outside of a visit to the doctor should be banned from practising in the communications industry.

Die viral, die!


All this said, if you can engage millennials with content that tells a story, you’ll go viral.

And that would be awesome!

FutureComms 15: You Can’t Handle the Truth!

FutureComms15: You Can’t Handle the Truth!Thursday morning in London was rather joyous. As I arrived at The Crystal, the venue for this year’s FutureComms conference, it was a beautiful, warm day with the sun gleaming off the glass angles of the eye-catching, post-modern building. Everything seemed right with the world.

That was at 9am. By 11am, the atmosphere had dropped significantly into something tetchy, fractious and approaching volatile.

It was kicked off by Chief Strategy Officer of the Content Marketing Institute Robert Rose’s assertion in the keynote that “we [marketers] are not in the business of truth; we deliver what ought to be the truth”.

Say that to a room full of communications professionals and you’re going to get a reaction. It did. Hackles rose and two hundred coffee-fuelled PR types lit up the #fc15 hashtag (which is the PR equivalent of writing a rather strongly worded letter to the editor).

By the time ex-Edelman President Robert Phillips took to the stage to explain/defend (delete as applicable) the assertion in his book that “‘PR is Dead” [for a review, click here] the room was already bristling. Phillips’ somewhat arrogant delivery did little to quell the rising tide of vitriol. This was perhaps illustrated no better than during the Q&A session at the end of a well-conducted interview by MyNewsDesk CMO Jonathon Bean, during which Rachel Miller passionately criticised Phillips for the tone of the book, calling it the most frustrating and irritating book she’d ever read.

Photo via Rachel Miller
Photo via Rachel Miller

There was still time for more, however, and before we even hit the first refreshment break of the day, a panel supposedly put together to discuss the divide (or not) between content and PR was hijacked by panelist and CIPR President Sarah Pinch stating that she was “bored and cross by the conversation” thus far (to that point it had been a tad naval gazing in nature and not really future focused at all) and, in agitated manner, stating how the PR industry has already “got our shit together”. Which was a facepalm moment for me. Really?!

As I say, this was before the first coffee break of the day. It was like being hit around the face repeatedly with a wet tuna before you’ve even settled into your seat.

Breaking the Normal Routine?

So what should we read into this cantankerous opening to the UK’s premiere communications conference? If anything, in fact?

From a personal perspective, I can only say that I’m grateful the panel session  I was asked to take part in (on the subject of the PESO framework) was scheduled for the afternoon! Phew! Side-stepped a firing squad with that one!

Seriously though, two things have stuck with me from those opening three sessions. First, it was fantastic to be at a conference where there was vehement disagreement of opinions, even if it did affect the atmosphere for a while. This tweet summed it up perfectly:

Too many conferences toe the line with safe topics and case study speakers with a corporate agenda. FutureComms is different and, having had an advisory hand in both last and this year’s programmes, I can tell you for a fact that the organisers want this conference to spark conversation and debate with a view to moving the communications industry forward. To my mind, events like this should do exactly that; they should get people thinking and talking.

But second, a couple of hours of debate over whether the industry really is in the ‘truth’ business, whether or not it’s evolving fast enough (or at all) and what we call ourselves (yes, really…) points strongly to the introspective mess that the industry has become.

Despite the best efforts of the likes of former CIPR President Stephen Waddington over the last year, it’s directionless.

Change is happening at snail’s pace and for every progressive, technologically-savvy and data-led PR team or organisation, there are ten who don’t have much of a clue. Hence the arguments.

Essentially, it’s time to step up to the plate. The remainder of the FutureComms agenda pointed to ways in which the industry can embrace a bright new future, and by the time comedian David Schneider had us in stitches with his ‘Is the Internet Making us More Stupider?’, the mood was a lot more positive.

Between you and me though, I can’t help but wonder whether Schneider will have replaced the word ‘us’ with ‘PR’ in his presentation in five years’ time. That’s the ‘truth’ in this.


I will be publishing a more detailed post on the discussion surrounding the PESO framework later this week.

I’ve curated a Twitter list of all of the speakers and participants at FutureComms 15 here if you’d like to subscribe to their thoughts. You can also catch up on all the FutureComms chat through the #fc15 hashtag (note: ignore the odd rogue tweet from a separate conference in the USA!)

Further reading on FutureComms:

7 insights on the future of PR from Future Comms 15 – Stephen Waddington
PESO: Please Evolve Soon OK? – John Brown
Paid: A Must not a Maybe for PR – Danny Whatmough
A tetchy Future Comms moves on from the past – eventually – Rob Smith
Conclusions from FutureComms – Sarah Pinch
FutureComms15 felt like dipping in to a bag of allsorts – Alissia Knight

On a personal level, it was great to meet and to catch up with so many people in person at FutureComms. Thanks for making the time for a quick chat Neville Hobson, Rachel Miller, Danny Whatmough, Jon Bernstein, Stephen Waddington, Stella Bayles, Gary Preston, Jonathon Bean, Adam Cranfield, Jarrod Williams, Gemma Hume, Sara-Jane Brown, Emily Mukalazi, Carole Scott and Emma Duke (sorry if I’ve missed anyone!).

How to Prove ROI with an Actionable SEO PR Strategy

SEO PR1If you work in PR and you do only one thing away from your to-do list this week, make it this: download and read the new ebook from SEO PR consultant Stella Bayles.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post laying out why I feel that SEO is now the single greatest threat to the public relations industry. On the back of that post, I was contacted by Stella to assert that, in her opinion, the opposite is true: PR is the greatest threat to SEO. So confident is she in this, she’s written ‘Public Relations’ Digital Resolution’.

Stella has spent over a decade split between PR and SEO and, unlike me, she believes that PR is in a great place. This is because, essentially, it already has the skills and the talents that SEO needs; those of relationship building, communications and editorial content expertise.

She counters this by clarifying that, to take advantage of this, PR has to start to realise the wider impact of its work on search rankings, website traffic and sales/leads. “We’ve been underselling ourselves for years!”, she asserts, citing a lack of clarity from inside the industry on the true impact of work and a lack of awareness of what the rest of digital marketing is doing and reporting on.

And I agree wholeheartedly with all of this.

PR_Digital _Resolution

Desire and Ability to Change

Where perhaps we differ is in our belief that the industry is capable of change. At least, in a suitably timely fashion. You see, maybe I’ve become jaded by it, but as I stated in my previous post, the industry’s failure to adapt to data and technology will take a generation to work through, whereas SEO companies are looking at it right now.

“We may need to re-train our brains and unpick the way we were taught through the ranks of our PR agencies in order to take action”, says Stella. And she’s right. But the issue with many, many PR people (not all, but many) is that this is way too much effort. And as a result, SEO companies hold the cards when it comes to online marketing.

Let me take an example from Stella’s book.

She cites the example of Inteflora, which was famously removed from all search results by Google as a result of contravening its policy on paid links in 2013. About a year after this occurred, the company I was working for at the time (a PR agency) was contracted to provide Interflora with ‘conventional’ public relations; raising awareness through media coverage.

Working alongside Interflora’s new SEO agency, which was on a mission to rebuild the Interflora link profile and domain authority, was a complete nightmare. Lists of influential bloggers were written and rewritten and scrapped and rewritten, backlinks from sites were altered or removed altogether so as to appear more ‘natural’; the whole thing turned into a mess.

The ironic thing is that both the PR agency and the SEO agency were trying to do the same thing, and yet coming at it from completely different angles and strategies. I don’t believe this was the fault of either party, specifically. But I do believe that the only evidence I’ve seen in the last six months of one party attempting to properly understand the other is from the SEO side of the fence.

Is All Lost for PR?

So given all this, why do I recommend reading ‘PRs’ Digital Resolution’ so highly? Because in my heart I haven’t given up hope, and because this is a fantastic call to arms. Let me state right here, right now that I will help any company or individual get ahead when it comes to this. Please just ask.

The book focuses not only on outcomes beyond awareness and on pressing the case for complete digital integration, but it explains why. It provides actionable tips that any SEO PR person can employ immediately. It suggests free tools that will help you do so. Chapter Four goes as far as outlining a framework that you can adopt today to help you to start proving proper value right now.

Consider this example. Ever wondered why the Mail Online’s infamous right hand column is packed full of celebrity gossip that really should not be making news? You’ve probably assumed it’s just poor editorial standards, right? Far from it, as Stella explains:

“Every month there are approximately 2,000,000 global searches for ‘David Beckham’. When the Mail Online publishes content on [David Beckham or other] topics or celebrity figures with enormous search volume quicker than [its] competitors, [it] stands a chance of that huge crowd arriving on [its] site. The Mail Online is giving the public what they want.”

That’s SEO PR in action. So does that imply that you need to start writing content about Rhianna? No. But it does illustrate that you need to take things like search trends into account and be developing a search-centric PR strategy if you truly want to impact your clients’ business results. On the topic of print coverage, Stella says:

The Need for SEO PR Curiosity

Stella talks in the book, quite rightly, about ‘curiosity’ and it’s importance to PR people. You may not think you have time to be curious. You may feel uncomfortable stepping out of your public relations mindset and into SEO territory. But you must develop this curiosity and desire to learn, to fail, to try again and to do things better in future.

Does this book change my mind about the prospects for PR? No. I still feel that SEO is more of a threat than an opportunity to the PR industry.

But does that mean you can’t do anything about it? Not at all. You can start working to combat that threat and to grow your business right now. And you can do far worse than use ‘PRs’ Digital Resolution’ as a start point.

You can download Public Relations’ Digital Resolution here. It’s a quick and easy read. Do it!

Why Bad Headline Writers Need Lots of Pants

effective headline writingI have a confession to make. Although if you’re a regular visitor to this blog, it may not come as much of a surprise to you. The fact is, I’m an awful headline writer and I don’t have a clue what to do about it.

For a long time now I’ve had the sense that my blog post titles aren’t doing me any favours. I know the theory inside and out. I’ve read and experimented with all of the tips over the last few years. I’ve even taught people how to write great headlines and (enviously) watched them succeed. Give me an hour and I could teach you!

But when it comes to writing blog headlines of my own, I struggle. I mean, really struggle. There are times I’d rather castrate myself with a blunt, rusty knife than write another post title.

You’d think that someone who’s been blogging regularly for six years would have the art of headline writing down by now, wouldn’t you? Be a master at drawing their audience in with just the right balance of intrigue without over-promising? Well, not me.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve published posts thinking “no-one’s going to read this with that headline” but been unable to come up with anything better. In fact, it’s rare that I’m happy with a blog post title.

And this paranoia has now got to the point where I wet my pants every time it comes to putting the headline to a post I’ve written. It’s costing me a fortune in trousers.

Take my last post about the threat to the PR industry from SEO companies, for example. For that post I tried about ten different headlines…and I still dislike the one I ended up using.

The Power of Headlines

The thing is, headlines are vital. Your title is probably the most important part of your entire post or article.

Research shows that, on average, 8 out of 10 people will read the headline, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest of the copy. Or, to put it another way, 80% of readers will never make it past your title.

When you consider that two million blog posts are published every single day, it’s not really surprising that this is the case, or that a really good headline can spike traffic by up to 500%.

So listen, I want your help.

First, let me know below how you find headline writing. Does it come easy to you, or do you struggle with it as much as I do?

And second, I have a post sitting in my drafts covering advice on writing great headlines (yes, I know it’s ironic. Shhhh…). I want you to title it.

I could call it ‘How to write great headlines’ or ‘5 top tips for writing great headlines’ but, you know: yaaaaawn! Drop a comment below if you’ve got a better idea, I’ll pick the one I like most, credit you and we’ll see how it does.

Why SEO Companies May Seriously Damage PR Agencies

SEO PRDigital media has long been both an opportunity and a threat to the public relations industry. For a long time it was touted that digital marketers were going to steal PR’s lunch. But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that it is, in fact, SEO agencies that are nicking food from PR’s plate while it’s looking the other way.

It should come as no surprise whatsoever to anyone working in marketing communications that PR and SEO are converging. It’s been happening at least since Google introduced the Panda search algorithm update in 2011, realistically since long before then.

Panda was four years ago. So why hasn’t the public relations industry taken the threat from SEO seriously? And could it be costly?

I’ve recently been speaking to a couple of very successful SEO agencies with regard to helping them integrate social media and PR more effectively into their technical teams. And it’s my firm belief that the SEO industry is now the single greatest threat to public relations.

PR needs to wake up and see this for the battle it is or suffer the consequences. Let’s consider why.

Why SEO is diversifying into PR

Around the time that Google introduced the Penguin update in 2012, old SEO tactics stopped working. Penguin penalises websites that use ‘black hat’ techniques to artificially increase the ranking of a webpage by manipulating the number of links pointing to the page. When Penguin hit, the SEO industry had to adapt. Fast.

And adapt it did. Or at least, adapt the good agencies did. And if you follow the breadcrumbs it’s not difficult to see why they set their sights on PR.

A couple of years ago, SEO switched its focus from high volumes of low quality links to high quality links relevant to specific search terms. But high quality links are much harder to achieve. They typically come from sites that feature high quality content. High quality content means editorial. And editorial means PR.

The SEO companies I’ve spoken to are making a conscious and determined effort to diversify away from traditional ‘technical SEO’ in the same way that PR agencies are moving away from traditional ‘media relations’ (or should be). The two are colliding in the area of content marketing and ‘storytelling’.

SEOs have realised what PRs have known for a long time; that the ability to tell a great story is extremely powerful. So they’re embracing the concept of gaining quality links by developing and pitching stories to the media and to influencers. And they’re approaching this in a far more methodic and process-driven manner than I’ve witnessed in any PR agency.

To call it clinical may be too harsh, but an SEO’s approach to identifying potential targets is much more rigorous than a PR’s. SEOs are used to using technology to do their jobs and more readily adopt and utilise software tools to help them with things like influencer outreach. PRs, well…don’t (in my experience).

Can PR offer anything that SEO can’t?

What PR people have always been great at, and still are, is building beneficial long-term relationships with journalists and bloggers. In line with their process-driven mindset, SEOs tend to take a short-term view of outreach: get the editorial and link, and move on to the next ‘target’.

This rather cold approach only goes so far, and SEO agencies are finding outreach tougher as bloggers and influencers wise up to understanding their own value and expect recompense for their time, effort and influence.

PRs know how to frame a story and how to pitch that story to a journalist in such a way that the chance of it being picked up is greater than if an SEO were to do the same job. And the relationships they’ve built over time play a major role in that.

That said, however, SEO companies are starting to address this weakness too.

Some are employing communications specialists and social media professionals, or contracting people like me, to help them evolve into more rounded service providers.

And here’s what makes the SEO threat so compelling: it’s easier for an SEO agency to extend its services into social media and communications than it is for a PR agency to extend into technical SEO and digital content creation.

Why is public relations so reticent about SEO?

SEO scares PR people. Fact.

It involves coding and analytics and things like domain authority and meta-data and other things that PR people just don’t understand. And as a result, the bosses of PR agencies don’t know where to turn and so bury their heads in the sand about it.

How many of the top 150 PR consultancies do you think employ at least one technical specialist, or are planning on doing so in the next six months? My guess would be about 10%. Probably fewer.

And yet, if they haven’t already, SEO agencies are making moves to bring in communications specialists right now.

PR is resistant to change. We know that already. But when you consider that SEO is an industry built on change, even before the likes of Panda and Penguin, the threat is all the more serious.

PR’s failure to adapt to data and technology isn’t news. SEO’s systematic and targeted methodology to take a large slice of the PR pie is.

The threat is real and it is now. React or die.

5 Compelling Reasons I Ditched Spotify and You Should Too

spotify v google play musicI love Spotify. I’ve been a huge fan and a big user since it launched in the UK way back in 2009. I thought the updates the service made in late 2013 saw it take a big leap forward in terms of usability, and brought it closer to being a true music library. And yet…it’s not.

A couple of months back I finally took the plunge to digitise my entire CD library. But after many hours spent ripping 400 albums, I needed a home for them; a place where that music wouldn’t just sit idly on a hard drive in the way it had sat idly in boxes for the last few years.

I wanted to rediscover my music collection.

Spotify, for all its streaming beauty, doesn’t enable that. iTunes does, but it doesn’t cater for those who like streaming their music (yet). So I set about looking for a solution that would not only allow me to store and listen to my old stuff, but to discover and stream new stuff. All in one place. If something like that actually existed.

As it turns out, Google Play Music does it all and more. And after a free 30 day trial, I had no hesitation whatsoever in closing my Spotify Premium account in favour of the Google option. Here’s why:

1. Stream, upload, buy and discover

The major benefit of Google Play over Spotify is that you can upload your own music. So if you own a big (or small) library that you’ve collected over the years that you don’t want to just throw away, it provides a space not only to store that music, (it’ll store up to an amazing 50,000 songs in the Cloud) but also to play it from using any device (the mobile app is excellent, and you can play music offline if there’s no internet connection in the same way that you can with Spotify Premium).

But added to that, you can stream music (Play and Spotify both have approximately 30 million songs available), buy music (just like iTunes), discover new songs and artists, get recommendations personalised to your taste, create playlists and listen to ‘radio stations’ formed around artists you like.

Google Play does everything you can do with Spotify and iTunes, but all in one place.

2. User interface

If there’s one thing Google does well, it’s UX. Play has Google stamped all over it, as you’d expect, with a crisp, uncluttered, simple and easy to use interface. Take a look at the screenshots below (taken from the android mobile apps).

spotify v google play artists

When Spotify (left) first introduced it’s new redesign, I really liked it. I still do, to an extent. But it pales in comparison to the Google Play design (right), which is not only easier on the eye and better to navigate on a mobile device, but which also makes scanning through artists, albums or songs much, much quicker.

Which works better for you?

3. True library

Take a look at this screenshot of albums from the desktop version of Google Play. Can you see which of these I’ve uploaded from my CD collection, which I’ve purchased as a download and which I don’t own but have saved as a streaming file? (Click the image to see it larger.)

Google Play Music albums

No? Precisely. When I scan through my music collection, I don’t care what the source file is, I just want to listen to those songs.

The idea of integrating every type of file quite simply works superbly.

4. Search by genre

You know when you’re on Spotify and you’re not sure what you want to listen to? Frustrating isn’t it? 30 million songs; nothing to listen to.

Google Play has addressed this very effectively with ‘genre search’. Aligned with the more effective user interface, you can scan your entire library by genre and select an album or song(s) from within that.

If I’m in the mood for a bit of indie, I just click on genres, select ‘indie’, and I can then listen to any album within that genre or play a random selection of all of the songs within it on shuffle.

Google Play makes music discovery easy, and that is a huge plus point.

5. Customisation

So you’ve uploaded all your old music, you’ve imported all the music you’ve downloaded and you’ve saved other stuff that you’re going to stream into your library. Wouldn’t it be great if you could organise the entire library how you liked, not with the tags that the publisher insists upon? Oh wait…you can.

Maybe it’s just me, but I hate the way that genre tagging works when you download (or upload) any music. I want the music in my library to be easily accessible according to a dozen genres that make sense to me, not fifty bizarre sub-genres each with only five albums in (1970s folk alternative jazz blues rock, anyone?).

In Google Play you can customise everything. You can change the genre an album or song is listed under, you can alter the name of the album (if it’s preset with ‘2014 Deluxe Edition featuring 2 new songs’, or something equally annoying) and you change the album cover from the one the download says it should be to the one you recognise.

This is an awesome feature, believe me. Below is the way I’ve organised my library.

Google Play Music genre search

Twelve genres some of which I’ve made up, like ‘Mainstream’ (which to me means stuff like U2 and Crowded House that’s not ‘pop’ but nor is it what I’d call ‘rock’) and ‘Recent’ (which is stuff that I’ve added recently and so might be listening to more at the moment).

So there you go. Five pretty solid reasons why I’ve given Spotify the elbow despite loving it.

Give Google Play Music a try and you’ll do the same. It’s free for 30 days (and then the same price as Spotify Premium) so you’ve got nothing to lose really. Let me know how you get on.

Lessons on Best Practice Facebook Post Boosting

Lessons on Best Practice Facebook Post BoostingFacebook post boosting is considered to be good value, but if you’re looking for tips on how best to utilise it from your peers, you might be out of luck.

That seems to be the conclusion from recent research I carried out.

A couple of weeks ago, I published a survey among my networks to try and benchmark how Page administrators are utilising post boosting with the intention of defining some guidelines for best practice.

Prompted by consultancy work I’ve been doing recently with different communications agencies, the topic of post boosting is one that I had an instinct that very few, if any, yet have a fully defined strategy for.

Most (all?) seem to work on gut feel and their own beliefs, and I had a hunch that this has led to two distinct approaches: posting frequently to social channels with minimal paid media spend behind any individual piece of content, or posting infrequently with a heavy spend behind each piece of content.

In turns out, if the results of this research are to be believed, that I was right. And that I was wrong. Let me explain.

Spend on Facebook Post Boosting

The first questions I asked the 87 people who responded were how much they spend per month on Facebook post boosting, and how many times they post per month on average.

The vast majority of Page administrators spend less than £250/$380 per month in total. However, nearly one in five spends between £500/$760 and £1000/$1520 per month. This points, in part at least, to the divergent approaches I have previously talked about, with some using small levels of paid media and others large.

average facebook post boosting spendThe average Page manager is posting 24 times per month, with very few posting less than 20 times per month or more than 30 times per month.

I then asked what percentage of those posts people boosted every month, and there is a very clear split between those who boost less than one in four posts and those who boost virtually all of their posts.

This is more evidence of the differing mindsets that have emerged when it comes to Page management. Some are relying heavily on organic reach generated through engagement, while others are boosting heavily to gain reach.

Facebook post boosting frequency

If I stop here, my theory stands up. A little more analysis of the results tells a different story.

Boosting Variance

When I worked out how much individuals are spending per post on average, the variance is huge and there is no identifiable correlation between average post spend and how often an individual posts, which was the crux of my hunch.

Nearly two in three people typically spend less than £15/$24 on any given post boost, with many closer to £5/$8. Indeed, only 14% of people typically spend more than £50/$80 on any given boost.

What is revealing is that how much an individual typically spends on a single post boost bears no relation whatsoever to how many times a Page posts or what percentage of those posts are boosted.

And it’s that which blows my ‘post frequently with minimal boost or post infrequently but boost heavily’ hunch out of the water.

There is no discernible pattern in how Page admins are using post boosting. It definitely seems to be the case that there are two camps of people, one which uses post boosting more heavily in terms of volume.

But your guess is as good as mine when it comes to best practice in how much to spend per post. There is little, if any correlation between how many times a Page posts and boosts, and how much they are spending per boost.

The Value of Facebook Post Boosting

The final questions I asked were who people are boosting to, whether they feel their spend is likely to increase or decrease, and whether they feel post boosting is good value.

When it comes to audiences, 92% of Page administrators use the option to use custom targeting, pointing to a strategic use of demographics and interests. Interesting, only 4% boost to current fans only, suggesting that most see this option as ineffective in gaining engagement or community growth.

Facebook post boosting targeting

In the next 12 months, nearly two in three Page administrators expect their spending on post boosting to increase, with only 12% expecting it to decrease. Those 12% are all among the top spenders, however, so this would seem a reasonable conclusion for them to have come to.

So do Page administrators see post boosting on Facebook as good value?

The answer is a definite ‘yes’, but with a number of reservations.

“If your content is great, it can be great value”, says Viki Coppin, my former protege and now Digital Account Director at Cirkle. “But I’m a little concerned with how competitive the market will become with so many brands getting the need to boost content now; great for ensuring we’re all producing high quality content but I can see the budgets creeping up year on year.”

Danny Brown is concerned not so much by the value, but by the way Facebook goes about business, and (as usual) doesn’t hold back: “Post boosting is good value, but only for audience/page growth. Facebook as a business tool sucks. They’re happy to take your money for ads, but then won’t let you organically reach the audience you’ve paid for. I can’t think of another business model that’s so shitty.”

Others, however, disagree.

“Facebook gives you a targeted response that is far superior to Google AdWords”, says Rich Hikins from IRepairTech. “My conversion is far better on Facebook. And not only that but I can get rated by the customer. They share, I share and I get more business.”

And, in a blog post that stemmed from my initial query and a resulting conversation, Gini Dietrich says that she’s “a big believer in organic anything – media, content, search engine optimisation – but there also comes a time when throwing a few dollars at your efforts amplifies it in ways you just can’t get with elbow grease alone.”

What do you make of this research? Is Facebook post boosting good value? And have you identified any best practice tips you’d like to share?

When is a Social Media Crisis Not a Social Media Crisis?

1millionLittle-known company Protein World has become the brand that everyone loves to hate over the last couple of weeks.

An extensive advertising campaign on the London Underground sparked a minor riot on social media when it went up in mid April, with the Twitterati up in arms about its ‘body-shaming’ approach to flogging diet supplements. It has been branded as sexist and insulting and a whole lot more less repeatable adjectives. As social media crises go, it’s a pretty big deal.

protein world advert

And yet…does it or should it even care?

In an excellent analysis of the storm, news website Breitbart reports that the ad campaign has resulted in 20,000 new customers and revenue in excess of £1 million in less than a week. Which is a rather astounding return on a £250,000 investment.

All the social justice campaigners and trolls have done by voicing their anger and sharing the Protein World ad over and over and over again is to create more reach and more sales for the company.

Doesn’t sound much like a crisis to me.

As someone who’s been watching the furore from a distance, I can say that the way Protein World has handled the situation has been at times jaw-droppingly awful and at times, arguably at least, admirable.

Where Protein World Went Wrong

As tends to happen, the original Twitter storm didn’t take long to hit the mainstream media, and a Google search for “protein world” now returns nearly 1.4 million results.

What Protein World did very wrong when it started to receive negativity was to ignore it. It was happy to amplify the good stuff, but just blatantly ignored anyone criticising the ad and continued to talk as if nothing was happening. This had the effect of winding people up further.

And then it went a step further and started to actually delete comments from its Facebook Page, reply to sarcastic tweets with generic sales messages and block critical users on Twitter. CEO Arjun Seth took to Twitter in defence of its approach calling people “terrorists” and coming across as nothing more than smug and arrogant in a series of now-deleted messages.

protein world arjun seth

At this stage, this was a great case study in exactly how not to handle a social media crisis. This week I’ve been working with Polpeo, running some crisis workshops at PR Week’s PR360 conference using its superb social media crisis simulation software. Pretty much everything we told the delegates not to do, Protein World did.

The Fight Back

But then something changed. Protein World took a stand against what Head of Global Marketing Strategy Richard Stavely called “this bullshit”. With the confidence that its campaign was producing results, it decided to stand up to the trolls and to defend itself. Which is a dangerous and brave but, I think, admirable thing to do. “What’s the point in pulling a campaign when you know you’re in the right?”, questions Staveley.

Whether you think Protein World is ‘in the right’ is a different issue. And with the ASA having today banned the ad and launched a probe into social responsibility after numerous complaints, it’s very hard to agree with that particular point.

But there’s little doubt that the social media crisis has been fuelled as much by mindless herd mentality and trolling as by intelligent, reasoned argument. Other brands have even got in on the action with their own responses.

dove protein world response

carlsberg protein world response

I’d have to question how many of the 65,000 people who signed a change.org petition to get the ad banned are genuinely, truly emotionally upset by an image of a slender model in a yellow bikini? And how many are just jumping on the latest bandwagon and will have forgotten it within a week?

The way this issue has been playing out on social media is fairly typical. There is no doubt whatsoever that Protein World could have handled it a lot better than it has, or that as an organisation it seems to be pretty reprehensible. But at the same time, among all the vitriol, negative publicity and ASA involvement, I can’t help but look at that figure of £1 million revenue.

Social media crisis? What social media crisis?

Paid v Organic: What’s Your Social Media Marketing Philosophy?

social media marketing philosophyThere are two schools of thought starting to emerge around how best to implement social media marketing now that paid media has become pivotal to running a successful Facebook Page. And the increasing acceptance of promoted tweets and the advent of sponsored posts on Instagram are reinforcing this emerging split.

Each philosophy has its own merits, and each can achieve good results depending on how well it is executed.

Social Media Marketing Philosophy One

This involves posting frequently to any given platform (once a day to Facebook, a couple of times a day to Instagram, multiple times a day to Twitter) with minimal paid media spend behind any piece of content in order to encourage interaction and create reach organically.

It relies on the frequent generation of creative content that is interesting, informative and/or entertaining, but relies less on hitting the mark every single time as there is more room for error. This has always been my approach and it has served me extremely well.

Social Media Marketing Philosophy Two

This involves dropping the post frequency significantly (every few days on Facebook or Instagram, one or two tweets per day) but amplifying each piece of content more using paid media to generate reach.

It removes the demands of having to create good content on a daily basis but, arguably, necessitates content being spot on every single time; something that is very difficult to achieve.


With both approaches, content quality is paramount. No amount of paid media or post frequency will achieve results with poor content. Equally, philosophy two does not necessarily mean putting less money into paid social; it’s simply the case that the budget is utilised in a different way.

Philosophy one seeks to create ongoing, frequent interactions among its communities. Philosophy two seeks to generate short, sharp bursts of interactions. But the sum of those interactions, and the reach, may well be equal to one another.

social media marketing strategies

Personally, I would argue that philosophy one is inherently more social. It’s more about galvanising a community, about loyalty and about advocacy. But it also has limitations where short-term campaigns are concerned, when it’s important to generate large reach quickly.

To be absolutely clear, I’m not saying one philosophy is right and one is wrong. And which you choose can depend on your objectives, your resources and your audience.

But broadly speaking, where do you stand on this? Does your head and your heart tell you organic or paid?

UPDATE: On the back of this post I carried out some research into how Page administrators are using Facebook post boosting. You can read about the results of that research here.

Don’t Be a Dick

ACTIONSWhen it all boils down to it, life is pretty simple.

If you do good things, good things happen to you.
If you do bad things, bad things happen to you.

I know this is a generalisation and that very bad things do happen to very good people. I have a friend who was involved in a nasty accident that wasn’t her fault. I have a six-year-old nephew who has just had to undergo a bone marrow transplant, which he had no control over.

But as a general life rule, if you treat others with respect, kindness and generosity, life will repay you.

I’ve been through some difficult times in my 40+ years, but I’ve also done some pretty stupid and irrational stuff. And when I look back, the former is usually a direct result of the latter.

What I’ve learned is that all of your actions have consequences. It’s a form of Buddhist karma (if not the reincarnation part); if you behave like a dick, life will treat you like a dick. (I don’t think the Dalai Lama uses those exact words.)

So whatever you apply it to – building a business, creating networks of influential acquaintances, social media communications, customer service, internal policies – there are four words that I would tell my teenage self if I could travel back through time:

Make the right choices.