Keith Errington

marketing strategy
07860 267155

Starting Conversations

As someone who spends a fair amount of time monitoring the Internet on behalf of organisations and brands – one of the recurring issues clients face is not so much 'What are people saying about us?' but 'Why isn't anyone saying anything at all about us?'

I occasionally have to explain to quite large organisations, that unfortunately have an obscure product, that nobody will be talking about them, as nobody in their right mind actually starts a conversation with – 'I bought the most amazing bit of insurance last week' or 'That radiator valve I bought at Wickes is really very good'. People simply do not have conversations about such things and listening to the Internet will be fruitless.

And even established brands with exciting products often have problems building a fan base or getting a share of the great social conversation.

So here are some suggestions for ways of starting a conversation:

Ask questions
On Facebook, in your blog or on Twitter, ask your fans/followers a question – get their opinion about an existing product or a future development of a service or a proposed product.  By asking a direct question you are not only more likely to elicit a response over a passive post, but you are involving your customers and making them feel like their opinion is valued.

If your product or service is not that interesting (now be honest here) ask a question about the market or about their usage of the product or service.

Start a competition
From your Facebook page or web site – start a competition and blog and tweet about it. Good competitions with a relevant and valued prize (relevant to and valued by your audience – not you) can build a fan base quickly and generate interest in the media too. Try and be as inclusive as possible – give everyone a reasonable chance of winning – this will make the most impact.

Make sure you get the maximum amount of benefit when you have a winner (or winners) – engage your PR machine and again, blog and tweet about it.

Be controversial
If you say something controversial in a blog or a tweet – that is likely to get you talked about. Of course you need to be very careful with this approach as you don't want to alienate your audience or make them think you are fools. But you could put forward a controversial point of view and then discuss its validity in a reasoned manner.

Another key way of getting noticed and talked about is to sponsor a sport, a challenge or a set of awards. Questions, polls and updates, can all be used to sustain interest.

Organise a conference or seminar
This is a great way to create ripples in the social river – think of a subject or topic area that your target audience is interested in or keen to know all about and set up an event around that. Make sure your brand name or organisation name is part of the title of the event. Arrange for someone to blog throughout the event and also someone – or several people – to tweet about it as it happens.

Again, utilise your PR machine and contacts to make the maximum impact in conventional media as well as news websites and key bloggers.

If you do not have the manpower or resources to organise an event yourselves, then sponsor one.

One of the oldest ways of boosting sales is promotion – and this works for social media too. Run a promotion on your product or service and then make sure you publicise this across all channels. If the product is not suitable for this – try offering a free item – make it unusual and relevant to your target market.

General rules
Make any of these initiatives as unusual and unique as possible – the more strange and individual the initiative, the more likely it is to be talked about in the social stream and the more likely it is to be picked up by the conventional media. On the other hand, you could try making it as useful as possible – whereupon it is more likely to be talked about in social media.

Getting people to talk about your product or service – especially if it is boring, mundane or unexciting is difficult, but not necessarily impossible. Try some of these techniques – and let me know how you get on, okay? 
(Right, now, did you see what I did there?).

Overcoming the Social Media Hamsters

Social media is very addictive, it’s very easy to… hang on… just received a direct message… oh… ha… LOL… Now where was I? Oh yes, social media is very addictive and can dominate your working life if you’re not careful. You can also find yourself interacting with the same set of people every day. Whilst spending lots of time on social media with your friends is not necessarily a problem, if you are using social media for business then it’s definitely an issue.

Have you ever watched hamsters? Some hamsters will spend a few minutes a day on their wheel, happily getting some exercise and stopping after a while. Less happier hamsters will get on their wheel with a determined look on their furry face, a glint in their eye and with gritted incisors. And they won’t get off the wheel till they are exhausted, or the darn thing breaks.

This is like some social media users – they spend hours on Twitter or Facebook, conversing with the same few people, often about the same few things. We all know people like that – or are you someone like that, a social media hamster? Again, this is no great problem if you have plenty of free time, but if you are using social media for business, then you will need to deal with this behaviour.

Before you send for Freddie Starr, there are a few simple steps you can take. Set limits for the amount of time you spend on social media – time is money, and the more time you spend in the social media world, the more it costs you – so look at the results you are getting for the time you spend. What would be the effect of halving your time on Twitter, Facebook etc? Make sure you are getting a return on your time investment, or you are not a social media professional, but a social media fan.

And widen your contacts – don’t get trapped in the wheel. Set yourself a target to make contact with a number of new people every day. Re-tweet, like, quote, and comment. Follow new people every day. Talk to people from outside your industry, not always to your peers.

It’s fairly easy to be… oh… that’s funny… must reply to that… oh, good one! So, as I was saying it’s fairly easy to get stuck on the wheel – make sure you overcome you inner hamster.
(*I misread a tweet and found the perfect title for a blog)

The birth of Meerketing

I’d like to propose a new term for the dictionary‘Meerketing’ – and no, that’s not a South African advertising agency term, but a brand new word.

So what is the definition of meerketing? It’s the ability to plan, develop and implement a flawless and integrated campaign across a number forms of media – not only conventional media but social networking, twitter and the web. Providing a high return on investment and breaking a market sector wide open. As in “Well, it’s a good campaign, but it’s hardly meerketing is it?”

Meerketing is an art, not a science, but the results can be seen in solid numbers. This is not social marketing, but meerketing – where the new hyped media is just a part of a cunning plan to dominate the meerkat, sorry, market.

And, like the animal it’s named after, it may have a high visibility above ground, but there is an awful lot of work that goes on underneath – planning and building – creating links and connections – laying the groundwork for the animals to pop-up all over the manor.

Once the animal has captured our hearts with its playful attitude and cute looks, we respond – working on the animal’s behalf and boosting its popularity.

Although it’s natural habitat is the Web site, TV advert or viral YouTube video, the meerketeer is equally at home with radio, Facebook page, twitter feed, blog, point of sale or poster - in short, whatever is the most appropriate medium for the brand message at the time.

In order to survive in it’s harsh competitive environment, the meerketeer needs to constantly evolve, to react to changing consumer reactions, to respond to customer sentiment and remain flexible – able to generate communications that are on message and promote brand values, no matter the challenge, place or time.

Adaptability within an overall campaign plan is the way the meerketeer successfully colonises the media space.

So lets all vote meerketing into the dictionary – I too wish to beat Sergei at Scrabble.

For all those meerkat fans out there here’s an incomplete list of links:

Aleksandr Orlov - wikipedia entry
The agency behind Compare the Meerkat
Interview with Passion Pictures - the company behind the TV Ads
Daily Telegraph on meerkat success
Mail Online on meerkat success
The Sun meets TV Meerkat
Simon Greenall - the voice behind Aleksandr
Adopt a meerkat -London Zoo
Adopt a meerkat - Chester Zoo
Adopt a meerkat Blackpool Zoo
Meerkat Manor - Animal Planet

(And no, I’m not connected with the campaign - I am using it as a case study of a successful campaign in my Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Business course).

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The High Priest of Twitter

OVER the past year or so, Twitter has risen like a new religion – to grip the masses and the media. Embraced by geeks, celebs, and seemingly, everyone else.

It requires daily worship from the faithful and only devoted followers seem to reap the full spiritual rewards this new movement promises.

It’s a great leveler, requiring no temples, no uniforms, no 14 step plan, no live sacrifices, just a few words amounting to no more than the 140 sacred characters. (141 thou shalt not write).

Like any other religion it has its priests and its prophets,  it acolytes and its heretics, but unlike some religions, there is no clear leader, no guiding hand, no messenger of God.

What it does have, is Stephen Fry, who, especially as far as the Brits are concerned, seems to have become the High Priest of Twitter. Sure there are other Brits with a larger following, but they rarely impart any level of mystic revelation or spiritual advice.

How many priests have had the fact that they were stuck in a lift for a few hours reported by national newspapers? Or whose word instantly crashes websites? Just a tweet from Fry’s fingers can make or break a product or service.

So how did he reach this appointment and develop this level of power? Well, in common with so many other endeavors, it’s been through sheer hard work – although like so many things that this man does, he never makes it look like hard work.

He tweets regularly, and with a passion. And although many of his tweets are simply about his life, that life is not the one that the rest of us lead – it’s the life of a celeb, an intellectual genius and a traveler. And he imparts those tweets with a character – his own. This character of his being sufficiently elevated above you or I, to be interesting – it’s a bit like reading the diary of a friendly alien.

Across the sea, the American branch of the Twitter Church has it’s fundamentalists, its lay preachers, and its own high priests – the likes of Oprah, Martha Stewart, and Wil Wheaton, – all of whom update regularly and offer us their philosophical insights on life. (But then they also have The Onion, Weird Al and Brent Spiner – I’ll just mention these to balance things out).

The thing about Twitter is that its a terribly democratic religion – anyone can join and start preaching – just be sure to be entertaining, hold mass regularly and don’t overdo the fire and brimstone (or tweet too often).

And one day my son, you may rise up the blessed twitterholic rankings, be the head of an huge and influential flock of followers and achieve high priesthood.

(There – wrote the whole post without mentioning Ashton Kutcher once – oh, rats!)

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