Keith Errington

marketing strategy
07860 267155

Social Media is a Joke!

Earlier this year I performed my first stand-up comedy gig – something I always wanted to do, but was frankly, very scared of. Delivering business presentations, speaking at seminars, performing on stage in a sketch – no problem, but on stage, alone, with just your memory and your jokes – now that’s scary.

“When I told people I was going to become a comedian they laughed
– well, they're not laughing now” –  Jimmy Carr.

I’ve been involved in comedy writing for a few years now and I’ve become intrigued with the way jokes work. I’ve also noticed that some of the best social media revolves around humour. A little bit of fun goes a long way to lighten the endless stream of mundane marketing posts, self-promoting articles and unimaginative sales messages. Just look at Compare the Market’s successful social media channels featuring Alexandr – almost every post is a joke or humorous comment of some sort. A post that is funny stands out from the crowd and gets attention – it can also make people stop and think.

So injecting a bit of humour into your social media will help attract and keep more fans and followers. But it’s really not as simple as that. Humour is very subjective and has to be appropriate to your organisation and brand. Telling jokes may be okay for a fun, family business, but not appropriate for a staid financial institution. (Which is a real shame,
because many of them could do with a bit of humour, to be honest).

The skill in telling a joke – it’s all about…

Telling a joke well is a real skill, but knowing when and how to tell an appropriate joke is a very rare talent indeed. Like everything else in marketing, it all comes down to understanding your target audience – what makes them laugh, what they get offended by and what terms of reference they share.

Generally in social media, when it comes to humour, less is more – it is better to be sure about the humour and use it occasionally, than to try and force every post to be humorous.

There are a few rules to stick by with social media humour:
  • Never take the mickey out of anything – customers, competitors, or products. It’s a very negative kind of humour and leads to people questioning your right to pass judgement.
  • Never be smutty, swear or tell a joke that you wouldn’t tell to your children or the boss. Remember most social media is in the public domain where anyone could see it.
  • Never tell a joke about bombing an airport – we all know where that leads.
Of course, you may feel this doesn’t leave much – but word play is always fairly safe, and simple one-liners work well – especially on Twitter. Visual jokes are great on facebook and have a high probability of being shared – one of my favourites is a simple photo of a blackboard posted up during a potential fuel shortage.


A simple humourous Facebook post can encourage sharing and create a great viral effect.
And a humorous video posted to YouTube can get a great deal of attention – just look at
Blendtec’s “Will it Blend” campaign or Hubspot’s music videos.


One last rule that applies to all social media posts – but especially to humour – write the post, think about it for a few minutes – consider all the potential viewers/readers and their possible reactions – then, if you are in any doubt – don’t post. Once you post that bad taste joke it’s out there forever haunting your social media efforts.

Writing this post in which I tell you how to improve your social media efforts and then immediately warn you how difficult it is, I feel a bit like a local vicar – “Let me introduce you to the idea of heaven – it’s great – oh and by the way, it’s really hard to get there.”

I leave you with one of my favourite social media jokes:

A dying grandma tells her grandchild, “I want to leave you my farm. That includes the barn, livestock, the harvest, the tractor, and other equipment, the farmhouse and $24 million in cash.”

The grandchild, absolutely floored and about to become rich says, “Oh grandma, you are SO generous! I didn’t even know you had a farm. Where is it?”

With her last breath, Grandma whispered, “Facebook…”


Influence: the bottom line. It's micro-contextual.

Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. Marketing is about selling things – I know it’s an ugly truth and in these days of social media we all often beat around the bush – but it is the bottom line.

But how do you get people to buy things when advertising isn’t that effective online, when people are reading fewer and fewer newspapers and magazines, and when we are tired and cynical about most other forms of advertising?

Potential prospects are now turning to
blogs, social media and friends for advice on what product to buy, where to buy it (and often when to buy too).

There are two ways to do this. The second, however is usually considered the only option, as the first is seen to be impossibly difficult to achieve, hugely expensive and utterly impractical.

So what is that first impossible way?
Well the best way to get people to buy things is to make a great product that does exactly what is says it is going to do (plus a bit more if appropriate), offer it at a reasonable price and provide excellent customer service.

This is a long term solution that turns everyone who buys and uses the product or service into advocates for the brand – effectively an army of unpaid sales people – who then influence everyone around them, in a multitude of channels.

Furthermore, that influence is appropriate, customised and precision targeted. If you take this route, you will find that bloggers and journalists will magically give the product good reviews, social media will be buzzing positively and review forums will be awash with glowing tributes to your brand.

Now, of course, that’s not possible right? Far too difficult. And besides, you can’t trust the public to sell your brand – they won’t understand how good it is, or what it does, or that it really is value for money. (Too cynical you think?)

So the second route is for the marketeer to try and identify those bloggers, twitter users and other online sources who are influencing the new generation of customers. To cultivate them, pander to them and persuade them to push the brand. Unfortunately, many marketeers have yet to realise that this is just as hard, if not harder than the first route.

But how do we tackle this?
Surely that’s simple? Devise a measurement system to tell us who the influencers are and then target them.

But too often in marketing we are guilty of looking at things from a marketeer’s point of view – especially when thinking about strategy. What we should really be doing is remembering that we are also customers, potential prospects, part of a someone’s target audience – ordinary people in other words.

Rather than approaching this problem with ‘old school’ marketing thinking – 'Let’s devise a system to locate and measure these people, then we can target them with advertising and special offers' – we should be thinking how does influence work in my life? How am I, as a potential prospect influenced when I buy something?

And if we did that, just thought for a moment, how we came to buy something – make a purchasing decision, we would straight away understand that influence is fairly intangible, contextual and governed by a multitude of factors.

It is the contextual nature of influence that is the biggest issue when trying to identify particular individuals/blogs/websites that influence a buying decision.

I might be influenced by
Jeremy Clarkson for example, when it comes to buying a car, but I certainly wouldn’t be influenced by him if I was buying a birthday present for my niece. (Unless she was a car enthusiast of course). So Jeremy will only be influential about certain topics – and it is this contextual nature of influence that makes it impossible to produce one universal measure.

Many of the current systems attempting to measure influence do recognise this and therefore attach topics to influencers – although often not altogether accurately. I may talk about the weather during a very rainy week and have a high level of engagement, but this doesn’t mean I actually have influence over the weather, or more seriously, over umbrella buying.

The micro-contextual nature of influence
But it is deeper that that – influence is micro-contextual. Jeremy Clarkson may be influential over fast, sporty cars, but I wouldn’t take his advice over a family car or a people carrier. He hates particular brands for no particularly logical reason, so I wouldn’t take his advice on those either. And if I am looking for a car with a particular feature – like one with a seven year warranty – he may not have anything to say about that at all.

If a new model of vehicle comes out, then there will likely be a delay before Jeremy Clarkson reviews it, or even mentions it and if a car has been totally overhauled and improved, then his views will be out of date. So influence can be based on a time context too.

There are so many product and service areas that have a deep level of variation and complexity, and are fast changing, that identifying an influencer using a single system is simply not possible – because influence is micro-contextual.

Giving a single number for influence as some systems do, is simply nonsensical in the extreme. And using such a number to make decisions is ludicrous.

Furthermore, your product or service may be quite different to anything that went before, it may be reaching an entirely new market, or it may be crossing over different product/service categories. Existing topics may or may not be appropriate – you may need to look at identifying new topics and new areas – for which there will be no current measure in place.

Bottom line
The only way to truly identify influencers that are:
  • appropriate to your product or service
  • in your market
  • at this time

is to actually do the research.

Nobody else’s system will be right for your particular marketing problem.

There is no short cut.



Hi, My name is Keith and I'm NOT a Tweeterholic

The other day I was an extra on The IT Crowd (thanks to Twitter - @ITCrowdSupport) – yes the fabulously funny Channel 4 sitcom written by Graham Linehan (@Glinner) of Father Ted and Black Books fame which stars Richard Ayoade as Moss, Chris O’Dowd (@BigBoyler) as Roy and Katherine Parkinson as Jen.

If you’ve ever spent time on a TV or film set you will know that the vast majority of the day is spent waiting around, mostly in silence, followed by short periods of manic activity on set, or ‘hurry up and wait’ as it’s known in the business. So I spent a fair bit of time waiting on the unlit dance floor of a dubious basement night club where the filming was taking place – along with around forty other extras. As we were all playing Geeks – with no acting required – we all wanted desperately to tweet about the experience. It was whilst I was waiting around that I realised that we all had a serious problem...

Spot the symptoms
...the symptoms were telling – small clusters of people huddled over – just outside the doorway, discussions about how many you do a day, along with a slight twitching and nervousness when we were downstairs and unable to feed our needs.

Realising that the only place to feed our habit was outside the club, we went up when we could, produced our little pocket packets and satisfied our addiction. Some of us were doing twenty to thirty a day – myself – I was, and still am, on around five or six.

Yes, I suddenly realised Tweeting is the new smoking, and whilst it is a fair bit healthier and a lot cheaper (until the governments find a way to tax it – as I am sure they will), it does share some of the dangerous habits and social stigma associated with cigarettes.

Socially Unacceptable
Try explaining to your girlfriend or mother why you have to tweet in the middle of dinner or just before dessert, or watch theatre and cinema goers scowl at you as you tweet trivia about the performance you are watching, and don’t even try and justify tweeting whilst driving or operating heavy machinery.

How long before we get non-tweeting sections in restaurants and on trains? How long before we see seven step programmes designed to deal with this addiction? And how long before we can only tweet in the privacy of our own homes?

Okay, so I am about to break the analogy that I’ve already stretched further than a malicious kid with a new Stretch Armstrong toy – but like many new social media habits, tweeting can take a serious hold over you if you suffer from an addictive personality.

How many is too many?
Research shows that people dislike receiving too many tweets from one person – twenty to thirty a day most people find annoying. (In fact, there are many people out there – myself included – that find the new location apps FourSquare and Gowalla intensely irritating for their constant automatic tweets about what someone is up to) – so if you are tweeting for business, then less is definitely more.

If you can’t go a single day without tweeting and get panic attacks when your phone or wifi loses signal, then maybe, just maybe, you should consider some professional help.

Right, gotta go, I’ve just finished my tenth cup of espresso and I need to get m m m more.

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Is Facebook determined to fail?

I want to share some family photos – on the beach with the kids, you know, images to show their Gran - I want to let my friends know I’m okay when I am off work, I want to send messages to ex girlfriends, support a charity and join an active political group.

I want to do all this online – where can I go?

Of course – I'll use Facebook – the network that was set up precisely to make it easy to do all these things.

I want to share these activities without publicising them to the world – I don’t want everyone seeing pictures of my kids, I don’t want my boss to know that I am not totally incapacitated and therefore able to drag myself into work, I don’t want my wife to know I am talking to an old ex of mine, I don’t want charities to see I am a soft touch for donations and I don’t want the government or work to know I’m supporting Greenpeace.

Note that none of these activities are illegal, or even particularly anti-social, but they all require a level of privacy that Facebook was originally designed for.

Now the owner of Facebook – Mark Zuckerberg – has declared that privacy is old fashioned and total openness is the new norm. This reminds me of Gerald Ratner – he ran a cut price jewellery business in the UK which was very successful until he publicly described the products as rubbish (well, actually he used a stronger word than that) and the company nearly collapsed.

But where does that leave Facebook? Surely its one unique selling point is its privacy? Without that it’s just a web publisher. Without that, there is no compelling reason to use Facebook – in fact there is every reason to leave Facebook.

There is now a huge opportunity out there for a social network that does what Facebook used to do. The first major player to offer that combination of sharing and privacy will become phenomenally successful – after all, that’s exactly how Facebook became the size it is.

And anyone will be able to create a Facebook killer – since there will be nothing unique about it anymore.

But don’t you have to be on Facebook because everyone else is? Well, that’s only true whilst Facebook is a closed network – once it opens everything up there is no great need to actually be on it anymore. Your’ll be able to connect and find Facebook users from any search engine or piece of software.

And in the past year Facebook has also strived to be more like Twitter – a service built around a simple capability and which is no competitor to Facebook in terms of functionality or numbers. Why would Facebook do that? It is never going to beat Twitter at what it does unless it matches its simplicity. It’s as if Ford decided that cycles were a serious competitor and started removing the engines, the body work and half the wheels from its cars.

So Facebook is gradually throwing out all the features and capabilities that made it so attractive and unique. What kind of business plan is that?

There’s an old saying ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and whilst in the online world that can be a dangerous recipe for complacency – here it applies perfectly to Facebook – why change a winning formula?

Whether Facebook succeeds by selling its users information to the highest bidder is debatable – but without a unique selling point Facebook will fail.

Anyone know of a social network that works like Facebook used to and has privacy as a core value?

Let me know...

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