Category Archives: Marketing

14 Feb

Infographics? Infovisuals? Stop and think

buttons-01-150x150

Visual communication is nothing new.

Man has been daubing on walls and scratching into rock for centuries. Whether it’s “5 Ways to Catch and Skin a Deer” or “The River Styx: Everything You Need to Know”, visual representations of information have been the simplest way to pass information from one person to another.

Nowadays, the data explosion has meant there is not only more information to be conveyed, but an increased demand for access and understanding. We want price checks, reviews and evidence before we hand over our money and companies have to work harder to gain our loyalty. There’s also the decrease in trust of power – public organisations have to be transparent, as each member of the public becomes as hungry for facts and proof as the most voracious reporter of the past. Add the internet and especially social media into the mix and you have the perfect transportation method for this information.

Of course, with every shift in human consciousness, there are those who misunderstand, misuse and abuse this shift. The demand for infographics has reached fever pitch and organisations are now jumping on this dangerously overcrowded bandwagon.

If you’re one of those people thinking, “we need to get visual” but aren’t sure how or why – read on.

 

What are you visualising?

buttons-02-150x150I’ve been approached by organisations in the past who want infographics creating, but have no idea what the content will be. They’d simply heard the phrase and wanted a piece of the action.

Your visual communication must be driven by content. Would you write a press release or blog post, with no idea at the start what it’s for? Of course not. An infographic or data visualisation must be part of your overall communication message.

If you’d like to use visuals, take a look at your current projects. What kind of information are you dealing with?

For example, are you dealing with numbers/stats, the most common form of content for visual communication? Charts and data visualisation are tried and tested methods of explaining numbers. Great for showing prices, budget cuts, population counts and user demographics.

Perhaps you have location data. Maps are the most obvious way of communicating geographical data, as we understand how maps work and can instantly put ourselves into the picture – we can see how the data will affect us directly. New store locations, country of origin of products, transportation routes all work well mapped.

timeMany organisations overlook the third type of data: time and dates. Visit a museum and you’ll probably come across a timeline – again, a tool that allows us to put concepts into a visual form for us to understand. If you’re trying to explain the growth of your company, future development plans for an area or a events schedule, a timeline allows the user to access this data in a logical way.

There is another form of data that does not fall into any of these categories, but often requires the most explanation: systems and processes. How your company is structured, how that process works or why that thing happened. Flow diagrams and mindmaps can be useful tools to turn that understanding into something that anyone could follow.

Of course it could be a mix of these – showing stats on a map or the timescale of a process – and this is where infographics and data visualisations get really interesting.

 

Who is Your Audience?

Spending some time considering your audience will help you pick the right tool for the job. No point using an interactive online only tool if you target audience are not computer users. Of course, infographics and data visualisations can work well in print, whether that’s billboards, posters or flyers – it’s just worth thinking who they are before you start designing.

So here are a few questions to ask yourself about your reader

  1. what do they want from your visual? Why are they engaging with it?
  2. How old are they? You’ll use a different visual for young people and adults
  3. where are they? Reading online? In a doctors surgery? Different attention span, different tool – think
  4. What prior knowledge do they have? Avoid confusing them, but also don’t be condescending.
  5. What are their literacy/numeracy levels? Can you rely on text and stats, or does it need to be simpler than that?
  6. What will they think? You’ll use a different approach to announce job cuts than to promote your new product.
  7. What is their starting point? If you’re mapping libraries in your town, what will they use to search – will they necessarily know the library name or their “ward”? Think about how they’ll interact with your information

 

Why are you doing this?

buttons-03

What story are you trying to tell with the information? As with a press release, there is something you are trying to get across. Are you announcing some new plans? Is there budget cut information you need to explain?

Each set of data will contain key information – this has probably sparked the idea for a visual in the first place – so make sure your visual tells that story clearly.

Then there’s the message – it may be that you’re not conveying any opinion or feeling on the data – or perhaps you need to make sure you appear sympathetic about those job cuts, or excited about the new product announcements. Either way, you need to make sure that tone is clear through design decisions and tool choice.

The final consideration is action – specifically, what do you want the reader to do? An anti-littering infographic will have the aim of encouraging them to use the rubbish bins. Perhaps you want them to think less harshly of your organisation, or simply understand the situation a little better. Make sure you keep this intended action at the front of your mind when developing your visuals.

 

Caroline Beavon is a freelance infographic and data visualisation designer. She has worked with local authorities and charities offering information design solutions to comms teams across the UK.

07 Feb

The Oldest Intern In Town

20130207-103838.jpgRecently I took the decision to become an intern.

I spotted brand agency Orb were on the hunt for a creative copywriter intern, and thought it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Now, I’m not your run-of-the-mill intern. I’m 37 years old, for starters. I’ve been working as a journalist since 2000 and now specialise in information design and social media/online content.

So, why be an intern? – I hear you ask.

Good question.

Despite my experience in journalism, I have no formal experience in working for a design agency – and as most of my work nowadays is infographic/information design, I thought I’d gain a lot from seeing how the big boys do it.

Specifically, I believe I need to boost my skills in
1. understanding a brief quickly
2. presenting ideas to a client (without spending hours on completed designs in the early stages)
3. monitoring time / pricing structure

I’ll spend one day a week in the Orb studio copywriting – but as it’s a small office, and the whole team are involved in the project process, I can see how work develops every step of the way.

Some of you may think I’m taking the opportunity away from someone younger, who needs a start in this business – I say, I’m starting out in a new industry, my need is as great as theirs.

Some of you may have a major beef with the internship process – that it’s slave labour and exploitation. You may know my thoughts on this. In this case, I’m being paid for my time (a basic wage, but fantastic considering the opportunity).

Has anyone else done an internship later in life? How did it work out?

30 May

Got an online community? Here’s how to work with Facebook and Twitter

Are you in the lucky position of having a very active online community on your own website? A busy comments section, or a chatty forum?

Bravo – in today’s world of Facebook and Twitter fever, it’s often hard to get a dedicated community involved in a discussion on your own site. It’s a powerful thing: the discussion is likely to be focussed and relevant to your user and all the discussions go on under YOUR brand’s name. The user knows where they are, who you are and what you stand for. There are also obvious benefits to your on-site advertising revenue as well!

However, a forum on a specialist website, or post comments, can easily become a walled garden. Your community is active, but may not be growing. Despite the increase in sharing tools (eg ShareThis) members rarely flag up their activity off-site so potential new users may not even know you exist.

If you want to maintain the rich discussion on your site, whilst also promoting it to the outside world, you could try setting up accounts with the big boys – Facebook and Twitter.

Graphic showing comment symbols(Note: several of these ideas may not be relevant if your forum runs on a membership-only basis, or deals with particularly sensitive or private issues.  In these cases I would suggest setting up a friendly, simple introductory page explaining who you are, the purpose of the site and the forum and why members get involved and linking to this as opposed to particular discussions). 

 

 

Keep Branding Consistent

Marketing 101 this, I know, but you’ll be amazed how many companies do not have consistent branding across all of their accounts. Use your regular logo/images and use descriptions (or edited version) from your website so people know the site is genuine. If you are not already on these networks, chances are someone else has set up an unofficial page  – make sure your new account stands out as the official one. (If someone has set up a fan or unofficial site – make contact with them, they may be happy to promote your arrival!)

Be Open

Don’t be tempted to match a members-only environment on your site with one on Facebook or Twitter. You are not trying to replicate your on-site community – this is a tool for promoting the discussion and you want it to be as visible and discoverable as possible. 

Don’t Cross-Post Everything

Graphic showing comment and Facebook symbolsThe benefit of the larger social networks is that they’re SO easy to access via phones, tablets and of course, computers. If you replicate all the discussions on Facebook, you are giving your customers an excuse NOT to visit your site.  

Keep your unique selling point – the fact that all the conversation happens on YOUR site. By selecting occasional content to flag up on FB or Twitter, you are saying “here’s what you’re missing, get involved”.

Be smart with your messages

Don’t just cross post the title. Instead, draw new audiences in to your community with phrases like “Great discussion going on about England’s chances LINK” or “Dave reckons England are doomed – what do you think? LINK“. 

Deep link

Make sure the link in your social media message links directly to the content – none of this “front page, find it yourself” nonsense. The user won’t do this: they’ll get fed up and probably won’t return or click on one of your links again. 

NOTE: If your site runs on a members only basis, deep linking will not be relevant here as the user will immediately be faced with a login screen. Send them to a friendly introductory page instead, or use the link to promote your community on a general level, instead of a specific discussion. 

Short link

Use a tool like Bitly. Not only does this help with analytics (Bitly can tell you the number of clicks the link has received) it also makes the messages look tidier and easier to retweet/forward. 

Monitor

(this goes for all social media usage)

Make sure you have at least one eye on comments and postings referring to your brand. Use a desktop tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, and have searches running for the various iterations of your name including abbreviations and nicknames. This means you can respond to any feedback swiftly (and in private if necessary)

Point Back

If someone asks a question that is answered in a forum post, send them the link to a relevant discussion (or introductory page if members-only) and encourage them to get involved. If it is not already covered on your site, either create some content or start the discussion yourself, and point them to that. 

Hashtag

Graphic showing hashtag and comment symbolsYes, on Twitter hashtags are sometimes overused (or used inappropriately), but they can be useful for engaging with a whole new audience.

Keep an eye on trending hashtags and, avoiding spamming, get involved in the debate. Similarly, keep an eye on relevant events or discussions happening and make sure you your brand is in the mix.  if there is a genuine link i.e. “Great to see #internships in the headlines: one of our hot topics this week LINK” or “We’ve been having this very debate recently LINK #internships”

Engage with Other Accounts

There are likely to be a host of organisations similar to your own, or working in the same field, already on these social networks. Find them and connect with them. Chances are they’ll help promote your work by retweets your messages or mentioning you in Facebook posts. All this helps drive users to your site. Also don’t forget to return the favour – start talking about what they are doing too – share and share alike!

 

Twitter and Facebook are still great ways to promote your brand – due to the sheer numbers of users and the diversity of interests. Handled well, you could generate a lot of interest for your on-site discussions.

 

16 May

How long should online content be?

Graphic showing glyph images relating to content length How long should online content be?

According to this Writinghood article, the perfect length is between 500-800 words; other people say shorter is better; but surely there’s more to it than that?

For personal/fun blogging I say do whatever you like, but for something more structured and professional , here are a few things you might want to think about: (feel free to add your tips/thoughts in the comments below).

  1. What is the content? For example, is it an introduction, a product description, a technical report or an opinion blog post? Each of these has a different purpose and require different treatment.  Thanks to @theaardvark  (via Twitter) who said that posts explaining complex issues (in his case VAT) need to be lengthy in order to achieve their purpose.
  2. What are you hoping to achieve? Do you want to impress the reader with your literary prowess, or prove that you are a snappy, swift communicator who cuts to the chase?  If you are selling something, which will convince the reader/customer?
  3. How much have you got to say? Are you getting stuck into a big topic, or making a short comment? A great rule of thumb from several people via Twitter, including @pigsonthewing “I stop writing when I’ve said what I have to say”
  4. What is the subject area? Some interesting research here into the average length of articles from some of the larger specialist sites. Tech stories tend to be shorter, politics and financial tend to be longer.
  5. Just text? Have you created a block of text, or will you break it up with bullet points, images, diagrams, video or audio? Additional content will keep the reader’s attention and make the article easier to read. @hainsworth tweeted: “Can it be read in three minutes, or can it be bulleted or paginated to more than one post? 300 words is usually enough”
  6. Page layout – How much room do you have? Do you want to go “below the fold” (will the user have to scroll down to continue reading?). Look at the page layout, font size – how will it look when it’s published?
  7. How long is the other content on the site – what works, what is the reader expecting? Are certain length articles more popular than others on the site? (Check analytics). (If this is a new site, see 8.)
  8. What are other people in your field / the competition doing? Are they right? Is it working? Are they getting shared/commented upon? Do you want to be different? Could you use the length of your articles to compete/make a point of difference?
  9. How often are you posting? Are you writing daily, weekly or monthly? It may be impractical to deliver 10-page articles every day, and your reader may struggle to keep up.
  10. Mobile – with the increase in mobile browsing, we cannot ignore the necessity for even shorter posts. They are prepared to scroll, but not endlessly. How many users visit your site from mobile devices? Is it worth tailoring content for them?
Do you have anything else you would consider, when writing online?
Further Reading:
You might like my article on > Top 10 Crimes of Online Writing
15 May

SEO Copywriter – a move to the dark side?

Witch Burning

Image courtesy of Mullica

In the next few days I have an interview for an SEO Copywriter position – which has prompted a very unexpected reaction from my friends and colleagues.

My background: broadcast journalism – 10 years of writing news scripts and documentaries. More recently I have “gone digital”, completed an MA in Online Journalism and worked with clients on social media strategy, content and data visualizations. 

It is not a huge leap for me to consider roles which require some technical understanding of the internet, search and content.

So, WHY has there been such a dismissive reaction to this particular role?

Three letters – SEO.

The ones who know what SEO stands for (Search Engine Optimization, for those who do not) are what I call the “good” people of the internet. They are journalists and hyper-local bloggers, trainers working with not-for-profit organizations and university lecturers.

They do worthwhile work. They are good people.

To them, anyone who actively goes after search engine ranking via SEO is, as one put it, “creating all that crap online”.

You Give SEO a Bad Name

Yes, there are some very unscrupulous activities online – web marketing is a big business and naturally companies will be tempted to take the fast-easy route. Various black-hat techniques, link baiting, hidden text, cloaking an, of course, spamming, are a blight.

However, as Google improves its crawling techniques, and its spiders evolve more “human” sentiment, so the cracks will show in traditional “black hat” techniques. It was interesting to see that content was a particular focus of Google’s latest update (nicknamed Panda) and sites that were using article spinning, anchor text and paid links saw their rankings hit.

Google process of judging a website’s content as a reader would, has the potential to drive content quality UP, instead of down.

It’s just a shame that this does not necessarily mean the end of link-farms and poorly-written, keyword stuffed articles. Google is not the only search engine, and some companies get enough business from the less-fickle Yahoo and MSN to not worry about quality content.

The Prisoner

Reader or Crawler?

I find the worst web content has been written for a crawler – to generate a high page ranking.

However, with the increase in popularity of social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), and bookmarking tools (e.g. Delicious, Instapaper) the reader now plays a much more active role in the process.

They are now much more than just a number, boosting impression rates. They now have the potential to share, recommend, link to and blog about content they like, whether that is to their friends, or to a niche, specialist circle.

An interesting piece of copy with the relevant material highlighted, tagged and organized will keep the crawlers, and your readers, happy.

 

See also: Buying Social Media Followers > quality V quantity

30 Apr

Should you buy social media followers?

Can you buy friendship?

It’s an interesting question and one even more relevant today as friendships now exist online as well as in the real world

I recently got into a (mini)debate about this subject over on LinkedIn, where a fellow user posted an article, offering a service of buying Twitter followers.

(See discussion on LinkedIn comments  – note: exists within a group – membership required)

To summarise  – the poster was offering to get followers for your brand / product via click-sites like TwiendsYou Like HitsAdd Me Fast. These are a simple, fast way of getting a lot of followers.

However, I wonder – what is the VALUE of those followers?

You may find a small handful who are interested in what you have to offer but the vast majority won’t be. You are doing the equivalent of the junk-mailout, hoping enough will stick to make it worth your while.

With a mailout, you are hoping the recipient doesn’t throw your letter in the bin and acts upon it.

With a mass-follower approach, you are hoping they follow you back, and act.

But act on what?

Are they going to follow you back – because you followed them? Some may. Others will look at your tweets at ask “what’s in this for me?”. If your Twitter stream is full of sales messages, or even worse, nothing at all, it is unlikely that they will let you into their circle. (and even if they do follow you back – an unfollow is likely if you bombard them with sales pitches)

Are they going to buy your product after a simple Twitter follow? Are they going to be so impressed that you’re found them, that they’ll immediately switch to your brand?

You are not generating any form of loyalty by engaging in mass following.

Social Media is “social”

get twitter folowers

My advice to any client is to treat social media in the same way you treat making friends/contacts. You do not walk into a dinner party, hand out a load of flyers with your phone number, and walk out again. In reality you have conversations, engage and entertain.

With social media you need to literally “make friends” with your followers. You need to nurture those friendships, avoid upsetting them and keep the conversation going.

Ironically, one of the Twitter follower websites mentioned by our friend in the original article, seems to actively promote this “quality over quantity” approach. (See infographic left – click for original)

There is some excellent advice here – which all point to the social element of social media

It’s a shame that clients are falling for this “mass clicking” approach, when – in the long run – it won’t benefit them at all.

 

27 Jun

6 tips for good blogging (and social networking)

Recently I began writing a blog and looking after the social interaction for a music venue.
Here are a few things I have learnt along the way (NOTE: this is a work in progress and will be updated – feel free to comment with any suggestions below):

* Polls work. People love them. Asking people for their opinion on something gets them excited.

Image representing PollDaddy as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

A recent poll asking simply “Which band are you most looking forward to seeing” not only attracted a lot of visits, but also a lot of click-throughs to the ticket selling page. (I’d put links for all the shows below the link to the poll).

* Talk / reply / comment – responding to people’s comments is a sure fire way to drum up interest in what you are doing. Even a simple acknowledgement of their response it better than nothing

* Horses for Courses: Different bands draw traffic from different social networks. All blog links are placed on Facebook, Twitter and Myspace (which never delivers). The header is also fed onto the venues ticketing website.

Facebook and Twitter do pull in readers, but it entirely depends on the band. Almost 100% of the traffic to a Carl Barat story came from Twitter, whereas the bands Exit Calm and Band of Horses pulled in traffic from Facebook. Older bands seem to generate the majority of traffic from the ticketing website onto the blog, not vice versa.

I always tag the bands in the post  – LIKE them on facebook, befriend them on Twitter – then use an @ to link to their page.

* Buzzwords are great – think, what will people be searching for on a particular day? Events that are going on, celebrities? Without unnecessary shoehorning, a post about the World Cup  or Glastonbury festival can be very effective.

* Double tag: working for a venue, it is quite easy to “double tag” a post – i.e. talk about 2 different bands in one post. A review of last nights show, doubled with a review of this evenings works well.

* Multiple tag: a new format of post I am experimenting with is the “news roundup”. By following all the bands due to play the venue over the next few months, I put together a “Road to Wolves” post with smal tidbits, links etc about those bands. One post in, and it has proved popular.

WHAT NOT TO DO

* false promises: it seem to be clever to write the headline “Meet s0-and-so’s support band” – for an introductory piece about the smaller bands on the bill. With a lot of visits I pressumed people were generally interested in finding out more about the support band. Unfortunately a high bounce rate and a glance at the search words (Meet so-and so”) proved that people wanted to know how to meet the headliners. The post was offering something it could not deliver.

10 May

Corporate blogging: your thoughts

I am currently looking into the controversial world of corporate blogging as part of my MA Online Journalism at BCU

I have found a massive anti-campaign towards “ghost” or “proxy”  blogging, i.e. writing a blog under someone else’s name.  This is often seen as deception and goes against the transparent ethic of blogging.  However it seems to be big business with more companies realizing they need to be online but don’t have the skills or the time to do it.

What about corporate blogging on behalf of a company? Is this equally deceptive?

There is another issue: editorial integrity.

If you are being paid to blog you are simply a copywriter, right? You are not being paid to criticise the company or the brand – you must toe the line.

Are any companies embracing transparency to the point where they are happy to see their own company blog attack them?

I’d love your thoughts. Thank you.

26 Apr

Do they want you, or your contacts? (updated)

We’ve all heard the phrase – it’s not what you know, but who you know.

But: if your job involves promotion/marketing – where do you draw the line between your friends, and your contacts?

In this social-networking world we find we have more contacts than ever before. Many are perhaps real-life friends from school or university, but others may be people you met briefly at a party back in 2007 or, perhaps, you’ve never met them.

For PR professionals, a wide circle of influence is vital: being able to pull celebrities to an event, get column-inches in the right magazines and make sure the song is played on every radio station. Social networks  increase that circle even further, but unless you run a strict friends/work division online, your friends soon become your professional audience.

I am seeing more and more examples of people being expected to use using their personal social network accounts to promote the product. Are companies employing people because of the size of their friends list? And more’s the point – SHOULD we be expected to use our friends, for our employer?

I admit I am guilty of using my personal social networks to promote my DJing work, but I feel this is acceptable to a point as it is “ME” doing it .. but recently I was asked to promote an 3rd party event through my own accounts. I balked slightly, reluctant to thrust this event onto my friends, relatives and acquaintances.

By the very nature that some people will use their friends as social (and business) currency, does it prove the point that contacts ain’t what they used to be?

All content (c) Caroline Beavon 2020