Thursday, 30 April 2009

Cision discover the perils of comparative blog analysis

Cision have highlighted the perils of comparative blog analysis today. Its 'top 50 bloggers' league table is misleading and unhelpful. There's no need to take my word for it (I am biased after all) so here's Iain Dale's interpretation of the list.

Comparative analysis is misleading


Cision's list is misleading because we know it to be wrong. Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes both publish their monthly statistics online (as do many others).

There are no reliable ways of judging how many people read a blog without accessing the analytics package for each blog. Those that monitor audience figures by sampling (such as Alexa) do so with a very skewed sample. I know this in at least 30 instances because I have been able to compare the Alexa rankings to the statistics. I don't know what methodology Cision used but it's apparently flawed.

Comparative analysis is unhelpful


Why is it useful to know if Guido Fawkes is read by 10,000 more people than Iain Dale (for the sake of argument)? If an article appears about a Cision client on either blog, it's significant. In terms of reputation management, does it matter if something appeared in The Times rather than the Daily Telegraph? Not much - unless there's a specific demographic at play - in which case knowing the readership numbers is of limited use anyway.

The Newscounter method has its weaknesses too, I'm sure. Any single metric that judges a complex environment has its draw backs. But by ranking blogs as critical, high, medium or low, we give a specific enough indication as to whether its an impact on your reputation without producing a tortuous and supposedly precise measure.

If you disagree, do let me know. One of the challenges of measuring PR impact is that so few people agree on the usefulness of one measure over another. Therefore, all measures are approached with a degree of cynicism. A consensus around a smaller number of measures would at least provide the industry a tool to compare apples and pears.

UPDATE: Chris Paul has drawn attention to the methodology used by Cision. It is more complicated than my post suggests although the truth with these league tables is always that no matter how complicated the algorithm, the end result has to make sense. I don't think this league table works intuitively.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Would you join a blogging collective?

Sorry for the blogging silence - it's hypocritical and inexcusable.

I've been working on an idea for a blogging collective. It's not a commercial venture so I've written about it on my personal blog.

I'd be really grateful for suggestions, thoughts and advice:
  • would you join?
  • should it have a theme?
  • do you want like-minded members or very different perspectives?
  • what are the drawbacks?

Monday, 30 March 2009

LFCTV's use of Twitter update

I wrote about LFCTV's emergency on Twitter at the start of March with some praise for what they were doing and some suggestions for how they could improve.

Following Paul Rogers' comment on this blog and my own observations this month, I'd like to update you on how quickly they've developed their use of Twitter and increased the readership.

1. More conversation
I'd previously suggested that the LFCTV team used Twitter to do too much broadcasting and not enough interaction. No more do my @replies go unnoticed though. For example, one of the team tweeted that they were re-writing the managers' profiles on the official website. Alarmed, I replied asking for clarification that Senor Benitez's profile didn't need updating. I got a swift response, killing unwanted specualtion quickly!

2. More personality
They've continued to add personal thoughts and reflections on to Twitter, sometimes even pushing against the official-feel to the website news. For example, the light-hearted banter in the warm-up to the Man United game was realy good and the songs afterwards were even useful for my local pub. The reflection that Adam Pepper's goal should have been higher-up the top 10 list after a vote on the main website was also a nice touch that you can't communicate through a corporate voice.

3, Match news
Done

4. Upcoming programmes
LFCTV had done this much better than I suggested, again with more humour and personality. For example, when two guests were late arriving for a recent show, we read all about it on Twitter, reminding us to go and watch the programme. Great use of multiple platforms.

5. Advertising Twitter
The team have done really well to increase the Twitter audience exponentially thanks to news stories, promotion on the TV channel, ads on the homepage flash screen and a logo at the footer of stories. All this has delivered over 15,000 followers - most of whom are followed back which is more good practice.

Well done LFCTV - innovating across all broadcast platforms. There's an awful lot that others could learn from their style.

And finally, thanks to Paul's complaints abotu leaving a comment on this blog, we've been able to change our moderation policy.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Blogging, Twitter and SEO

There is a raging - and not particularly interesting - debate about the value of Twitter for search engine optimisation. In short, people wonder if Twitter has any value for optimising your website because:
a) it depends on shortened URLs which don't build up link value and
b) Google places 'no follow' tags on Twitter links

The debate is dull because no-one knows how Google works (and those that do won't say) so people are groping in the dark.

However, I can report this:
a) that I have a wordpress plugin that reproduces my Tweet on my blog. I did this because I update Twitter more often than I blog
b) on some occassions, those Tweets have (unintentionally) added keywords to the page. As a result, people have searched for an unexpected combination of words which has revealed my blog at the head of a small part of the long tail.

For example, I recorded my concern about Conservative donations and mentioned large Tory donor Michael Ashcroft. A couple of days later I Twittered about Allen Stanford's arrest. My blog was therefore prominent on the search results for "Michael Ashcroft and Allen Stanford" to satisfy anyone looking for information about the two men.

I can't recommend this as a strategy per se: the volumes are too low to be able to research the keyword frequency. But there are circumstances where Twitter can help your SEO strategy.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Blogs: How can they be authentically provocative?

Rowland Manthorpe has asked:
"I do find it difficult to stimulate comments. I don't want to go all "look at me, I'm being provocative [six exclamation marks]", but at the moment I'm struggling to find an alternative strategy. Any ideas in that direction?"
As per my last post, I don't have all the right answers. But I do have some thoughts and would like some others.

On my own blog I've tried to be provocative in three ways:

1. Not pulling my punches.
If I don't like something, I say so - strongly and probably more strongly than I would in general conversation. So, for example, a dislike of comic relief becomes I hate Comic Relief. Of course the post-proper allows my to nuance the arguments but the point is made more strongly than 'on balance, Comic Relief is a little under-whelming and whilst I like the public effort, I'm disappointed that it doesn't increase charitable donations by more'.

2. Seeking out opposing views
To promote my post on Comic Relief, I found blogs that were talking about Comic Relief most of which were naturally supportive because they were tales of people who had done something positive to raise money. I expected people visiting my blog from those sites to be hostile and they were.

3. The hundred hits rule
I've not ever received a comment on a post with fewer than 100 hits. That's not to say that you need 200 hits to get 2 comments (that's partly because the 2nd comment should always be yours - replying to the first). Or that 300 hits get 3 comments. And blog posts with 1000 hits often have somewhere nearer to 20 comments.

I'm facing two particular challenges at the moment:
  1. Writing things that stimulates other people to write about the issue - critical to making your blog take-off
  2. Being provocative in a positive way. I set up my blog to be positive yet always write from a negative standpoint. More to be done.
However, I do always engage with commenters wherever possible so that when they start out negative, I can at least try to identify common ground and where we really disagree. See, for example, my exchange with Denis Cooper.

I'd be grateful for any other ideas on how to be provocative . . .

Monday, 23 March 2009

Blogging disclaimer

I should reiterate my blogging disclaimer.

I've been free and easy with dispensing "advise" about blogging as if I were some sort of "expert". It isn't - and I'm not. Blogging is a form of writing just like any other with certain attributes. Just like writing a good essay is different from writing a good newspaper article, writing a good blog is different again.

However, social media does not have the longevity of newspaper writing, the science of marketing books or the same rigour to marking essays. Because the medium is changing so quickly, there are no rules. Only things that have worked in the past.

I'm writing my own blog - and blogging about it - to show you what I learn, building on my professional experience of what I've learnt helping others. But the medium is developing so rapidly that no sooner have rules been written than they can be destroyed.

So my disclaimer is that:
a) I know no more than my own experience
b) Rules are only developed from experience. They should be violated in order to innovate and enjoy writing

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Matthew Taylor's blog: what's it all about?

Matthew Taylor was confronted by a former colleague who suggested that his blog was all "me, me, me". It's true that blogs are inherently self-centered. But Matthew being the sensitive person that he is and his accuser being the sort that's committed to proper examination of the evidence, I thought that I'd do a quick analysis of what hs blog is all about.

I put the last five posts into wordle to produce images of the main words. These are the subjects he's blogged about in the last few days:












Now of course that excludes common words so I repeated the exercise, including common words:


So whilst 'I' figures prominently, it's not that prominent.

The ippr hasn't yet demonstrated its commitment to social media as part of its mission to be at the "forefront of progressive debate" to "build a fairer, more democratic world" so it's not possible to do a comparison.

Thoughts on whether the ippr is well suited to critiquing social media engagement and whether it can fulfil its mission without engaging with people through social media can be made in the comments section below!

Matt Gee appointed Newscounter director

Matt Gee has been appointed as a director of Newscounter.

I'm really pleased that the shareholders have appointed Matt who I've met a few times over the last six months. He is very enthusiastic, very sharp and incredibly driven. He will bring valuable marketing expertise to the group and has significant experience to help us expanding Newscounter overseas.

Matt Gee says:
I have over 15 years’ experience in strategy, marketing and proposition
development roles, both on the client side (Channel 4, Five, Guardian Media
Group) as well as in the role of a consultant.

As a consultant I originally focused on the broadcast, film and telecoms sectors
providing board level advice to a range of clients including Discovery, ITV plc,
Warner Bros, RTE, Groupe Lagardere and UKTV. I have also advised a film finance house that successfully raised over £50m against a portfolio of Warner
Bros films. More recently I have spent increasing amounts of time working with
VCs, investment banks and start-ups.

In October 2008 I established an online business that aims to replicate the
success of moneysupermarket, with a focus on emerging markets.

Monday, 16 March 2009

The importance of news in blogging

A regular reader of this blog emailed me this weekend to ask:

"As Matthew said in his last entry, however, timing is everything. Unfortunately, at at the moment, my work isn't structured to be able to strike while the iron is hot. This makes it difficult to get engaged in a debate and then try to lead it. There do seem to be other "thought leadership" blogs that don't seem to engage in a debate. Are political blogs different I wonder? Anyway, these are some topics that we could pick up when hopefully we get around to meeting.


This is a really familiar challenge that lots of our clients face. I firmly believe, having done it myself and with the benefit of working for lots of others that the following is important:

- if you can't blog frequently, write posts that you have 'in the locker' which you can post (automatically if necessary) when you can see the diary is busy. You can quickly top and tail these to make then topical.
- when you want someone to read your post, you have to sell it to them. An important part of sales is timeliness - why read it now? If you could read it tomorrow, you would then (but end up not doing so). If you want readers, the post has to be timely. Even if it's a personal blog (I had a nice weekend) it should be too late to read it five days later.
- all blogs should engage in a debate. If you're not situated in a community of blogs then the chances are you are either to successful to need it or too unsuccessful to deserve it.

I suppose it is possible to not be in a newsworthy debate with a group of other blogs. But if you're not you need to:
- really understand what interests your audience
- know where they currently congregate and how to attract them to your post
- be able to draw them back to your blog again and again
- give them incentives to tell their friends about your blog

So if you're blogging for your friends or a limited group of people (your staff?) it might not be necessary for your blog to be newsworthy and part of a debate. But if you want to use it to:
- establish your expertise
- retain existing relationships (clients?)
- develop new relationships
- broaden your networks

then I believe our advice is important. Challenge me, if you disagree.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The Pope backs Counterpoint

The popularity of Counterpoint is increasing. Word reaches Newscounter towers that even the Pope understands its significance.

"I hear that it was possible to access various excerpts of the news on the internet and to have got knowledge of the problem," he says.

"I learn from this that we in the Holy See must take notice of these news sources in the future."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7938827.stm

Timing is important for blogging

Over the last week or so, I've learnt just how important it is to blog at the right time.

I've posted twice on my personal blog in response to recent news stories - this in reaction to Tom Harris MP and this on increasing anger in society. Neither post was as successful as it should have been because I didn't post at the right time.

This wasn't as complicated as posting at the right time of day (which people often ask about). Whilst this can be useful (first thing at the morning, as Americans are logging in etc) it's mostly of marginal benefit to really good bloggers. My mistake was to publish over a day late. What that meant was that:
1. Lots of people had already had their say so I had less to say
2. When I promoted my post on other blogs, the comment was lower down so got less click-throughs
3. When I promoted my post, I didn't influence other bloggers because they'd already written about it

If you're going to react to an issue, do so early and amend your post as you go. There will be more opportunities to promote it on other sites the longer the issue continues, but your comments will be more prominent and more influential.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

LFCTV use of Twitter

My favourite TV channel has joined Twitter. I was interested to see what they had to say, over and above the content of the website, TV channel and what I'd pick up through the fans websites. LFCTV is currently using Twitter really well.

I started following the channel the day before the Real Madrid game and it was interesting to read 'behind the scenes' glimpses of the club. It wasn't just that you could follow the flight into Madrid and found out that they drank too much that night - but that there was an insight into the operational side of the channel too.

When news broke of Rick Parry's departure, LFCTV were first to confirm that a statement would appear on the official website.

The good things about the use of Twitter are:
* additional content over and above the day to day
* regular but not over-intense use of the channel
* the variety of content from match news to channel operations
* the personal element which came through strongly in the post match reaction to the Middlesbrough defeat

However, there are a number of areas where they could be still more engaging:
* they recently Tweeted that they were off to interview Rafa Benitez. They could have asked for questions to put to Rafa. The incentive would be seeing your question put to Rafa live on LFCTV - certainly an incentive to pay the subscription
* they have started responding to questions but it is still too much broadcasting and limited interaction
* advertising upcoming programmes. Twitter gets boring if it's just a series of commercials but for particular programmes or interviews on the channel this could help demonstrate the commercial value of Twitter
* match news (rights permitting). Twitter updates from the academy games which aren't shown live would be particularly uesful.

Overall, the Newscounter verdict is: great start, the content, tone and style is great; Now try to interact more with the community and use it to add commercial value.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Dare to Act - website evaluation

Dare to Act is a new website campaign launched by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union. There are lots of strengths in the website that other campaigning organisations can learn from. However there are also some areas where Newscounter would advocate a different approach.

A clear call to action


There are three clear calls to action on the site: get to know the case, dare to act and keep yourself updated. The user can understand completely what to do and how to use the site. The information is informative and entertaining and motivates users to take action.

A range of different actions


The motivated user has a range of different actions - sending an email is easy enough (although would be aided by a single point of contact and the urge to CC the UN secretary general seems a little implausible to be effective. Interestingly, they enable users to send a fax, as well as share the site with friends.

Good integration of multimedia content


The video is neatly embedded in the site and it's easy to navigate between the different sections.

However, there are a number of weaknesses to the site which may hinder the effectiveness of the campaign.

The site isn't well optimised for search engines


The site lacks a meta description or clear page titles and there are few internal links. It is hard to find the site on a search engine unless you have already heard of the campaign.

Content can't be linked


By building the site in flash, each page doesn't have a separate URL which makes it impossible for other websites - and bloggers in particular - to link to relevant parts of the content. Yahoo currently records just 27 websites linking to the domain which is far fewer than you'd expect - particularly given the quality of the website and its content. However, publishing the videos on YouTube was a sensible way of compensating partially for that.

There's no community dialogue


The website won't build a community because it doesn't allow any dialogue between the users.

No capacity for updates


There doesn't appear to be any capacity for regular updates from the campaign (also a missed opportunity for better SEO). A campaign blog, forum or Twitter account would provide a capacity for the campaign to provide regular updates to engage users on the development of the campaign.

Lessons for other campaigns


There are some critical lessons for other campaigns:
* ensure that the structure of a website is usable for different levels of users - those who will just engage but also those who want to participate and lead a campaign
* if you choose to build a website in flash, provide alternative ways to help bloggers and others engage with the campaign
* blog if at all possible to provide regular opportunities for users to engage with the progress of the campaign. Even if the campaign doesn't change regularly, the policy and political context in which you are operating changes weekly and probably daily.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Labourlist: on course to be a top political website

Labourlist has been so successful in its first five weeks that it is on course to be one of the top political sites in the blogosphere. How have they done it?

It has certainly been controversial and site editor Derek Draper's conduct occasionally aggressive and even offensive. But whether you like it or not, it's working.

Building links


Last week I noticed that it had attracted a significant number of links into the site. This was particularly surprising as some of the biggest right wing bloggers have refused to link to labourlist.It isn't yet competing with the biggest sites but is growing at a significant rate and if it continues, won't be far behind its main rivals before long.


Generating traffic


I then noticed how much traffic it generated to some blogs that Newscounter helps. It's not a huge amount of traffic in absolute terms, but far more than I expected for a site of that age and which had attracted that volume of criticism.

There is also some interesting traffic data from Alexa which suggests that its traffic is already in the same ballpark as Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes. At Newscounter we no longer put any faith in Alexa stats because the data samples aren't properly weighted to reflect reality (at least in the UK). However, as the Manchester Evening News blog points out, Labourlist is already out-performing Conservativehome.

It's still early days for Labourlist and it's difficult to compare with other months and other websites because it's only been live for a few weeks. However, people who have seen the stats (and our subsequent analysis) has suggested that in the first five weeks it's already on a similar scale to where the right wing sites were after several years. I predict that if it continues on its likely growth trajectory, it will be one of the biggest political sites in the UK blogosphere.

Using social networking


Although he's still finding his way around Twitter, Labourlist editor @derekdraper has been named as the third most popular political twitterer.

Labourlist key achievements


There are a number of key achievements on Labourlist in its first few weeks:
1. It has set the agenda on bigger blogs. A crude search suggests that Iain Dale's blog has mentioned Draper up to 1900 times whilst Guido Fawkes has referred to Draper on 9000 occasions.

2. It has ignited a chain of conversations on multiple websites - one key criteria for a successful blog - evidence by the rapid growth of sites linking to labourlist.org

Challenges for Labourlist


There are a number of further challenges facing Labourlist, particularly if it is to fulfil Draper's ambitions for a site that speaks to the population rather than the Westminster village.

1. Can it provide unique content sufficiently frequently to keep users and deepen their relationship with the site?

2. Can it provide the mix of content necessary to be controversial enough to get online attention but informative enough to keep users returning?

3. Can its posters provide more provocative and thoughtful articles which increase the number of comments - and demonstrate their authenticity by re-engaging with those comments?

4. Can it be sufficiently generous with its success so that it increases the infrastructure around centre left bloggers, which in turn will lead to the long term success of Labourlist?

I've deliberately left off any measure of electoral impact from Labourlist: even Iain Dale hasn't achieved demonstrated a clear relationship between a good blog and electoral success. When he stood for parliament, the Conservatives actually lost votes on the previous election, bucking the national trend.

As Labour used to say: a lot done, a lot more to do.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Self indulgent blogging must be done in moderation

Self indulgent blogging must be done in moderation. I will continue to repeat that to myself over the next few days. And, out of respect for the people who I advise blogging, I now recognise how hard it is not to indulge now again. But I also recognise how damaging it can be if you over do it.

Let me explain:

As I may have mentioned, I had a good few days on Matthew Cain's blog recently. I increased my blog readership and got lots of visitors, lots of comments and lots of links. And I'm still dining out on that (traffic and comments-wise). I wanted to maintain that momentum. And then I relaxed. Rather than remembering what was good about my first few posts to make an impact, I wrote easy articles that I wanted to write. And not just one but two or three.

I still got an audience for my thoughts on behavioural economics, the challenge of text ads to newspapers' editorial independence and the relevance of political parties. But it wasn't as much as previous posts and although the last couple of days improved, the trend is from a lower base than last week.

I call these self indulgent posts because:
* they were about what I was thinking, not what the wider community was thinking
* nobody had asked my view and I had no expertise to advance this view
* I couldn't initiate a wider online debate about these issues and so my thoughts were in isolation to the rest of the online world

To put it another way, I was like a pub-bore. Yes, there is a place for posts about pet subjects. But not one after another for a week. And not when your audience is fresh and new and still getting to know you.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Increasing blog readership: first steps

Key Lessons
• Write a post about an issue that you know will be of interest to a specific audience
• Leave a short comment on relevant posts with a hyperlink to attract readers
• Reply to comments in a timely fashion to continue the debate
• Write about similar issues to maintain a reader’s interest in your blog

The readership to Matthew Cain’s blog has increased exponentially over the last few days. This wasn’t a coincidence but a direct result or employing some simple, tried and trusted methods to recruit readers.

How I increased readership


Last weekend I received an embargoed copy of a report from the Media Standards Trust regarding the Press Complaints Commission. I’ve a long standing interest in this from running the right to reply service in 2006/07.

When the report launched, I blogged in support of the Trust, with a simple, relevant and obvious headline and a post of around 700 words. I then wrote a couple of lines in the comments section of all of the stories which criticised the report. It was just a simple two line comment, along the lines of: The Trust does not favour government regulation, just a better regulator. It’s a shame the PCC aren’t willing to engage in the debate: http://blog.matthewcain.co.uk/the-press-complaints-commission-must-be-reformed

The next day I noticed a conversation between two people I follow on Twitter: @JTownend who writes for journalism.co.uk and @currybet who blogs at currybet.net. JTownend was asking for ideas of how the PCC should be reformed. I blogged with some ideas for reform and Twittered with a short link to my entry. @JTownend noticed it and kindly included a link to my article from journalism.co.uk – generating over 100 clickthroughs to my blog.

That evening, I had an email from a friend drawing my attention to a email newsletter from Compass. He pointed out an unfortunate proofreading error. I knew that fellow Hackney blogger Luke Akehurst had previously written criticism of Compass so if I was to also criticise Compass, I would need to get his attention. I didn’t think there were too many other bloggers interested.

I wrote a brief post criticising Compass. It was nearer 700 words but I used bullet points to make it easier to read and chose a pithy title. I then put a link to my blog on one of Luke’s old posts – about the direction for New Labour. Luke moderates his comments so I knew that he would read it himself if he had time, but it wasn’t as intrusive as an email to his work address.

I then did a search for Compass using Google blog search and made a similar comment on a couple of other sites, along the lines of: I’m disappointed at the lack of new thinking produced by Compass. If that’s the future, we’re all doomed: http://blog.matthewcain.co.uk/compass-old-ideas-for-new-times/

Luke picked up on my post and wrote a new blog entry. At Newscounter we estimate this happens about every 1 in 20 times you leave a comment on a personal blog (excluding newspaper sites or forums). After Luke wrote about it, premier parliamentary blogger Tom Watson (an offline friend of Luke) saw his post and welcomed me to the blogosphere – the last time I will ever be mentioned in the same breath as Sir Tim Berners Lee and the Queen. I found out that Tom had written about me because his blog appeared in my pingbacks window in wordpress. I then posted on Twitter to express my surprise that Tom had posted about me.

At this point, the blog started to take off. The post currently has 18 comments and has had over 600 views. I replied to each comment as quickly as I could, which not only encouraged most people to post again but actually elicited more considered views from three or four people, which was rewarding.

I kept an eye on my pingbacks box and left a comment on the site of everyone who wrote about me. I tried to be as polite as possible and engage people in the substantive issues.

On Sunday I noticed remarks by David Cameron about the funding of political parties, published on ConservativeHome, which appeared on the PoliticsHome ticker. Given that this is my specialist subject, I wrote a quick post urging Cameron to do the right thing and left a comment on the ConservativeHome article, something like ‘Cameron will regret it if he fails to reform party funding: http://blog.matthewcain.co.uk/cameron-mistaken-on-party-funding-reform/

This post attracted over 500 readers, 17 comments and a few returning commenters from the previous post.

The challenge now is: how to sustain the readers through this week.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Internet psychology

Thanks to @rodsloane I have come across the internet psychologist: Graham Jones.

Take a look at his site. He has some really interesting stuff.

http://www.grahamjones.co.uk

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Improving my blog using plugins

The content management system I use for Matthew Cain's blog is wordpress - my favourite blog provider. Having now generated some traffic, started to get some comments and got a few blogs linking to mine, I now want to improve the blog itself. I'm going to try using a few plugins - optional extras provided by the wordpress community.

1. Managing spam


I've installed the Akismet plugin to deal with spam. It's free, has a good algorithm which (apparently) also learns from all the other users so when spammers develop a new method, the system updates quickly to correctly flag new spam. It's not actually yet identified spam - a signal that my blog isn't getting particularly wide attention!

2. Using a site map


Lots of SEO experts say that you should have a site map. Apparently a site map helps search engines crawl through all your pages (rather than just the homepage) and it can even tell the search engine how frequently each page is updated. So I downloaded the Google sitemap generator (it works as well for other search engines) to create a site map.

Currently Google has indexed 57 pages on my blog - which appears to be all of them. I've posted 29 times and together with the tags and about pages, it adds up to around 57.

Google last visited my site at 15.30 yesterday - shortly after I published my last post. So it's visiting often enough.

I've got 10% of my traffic from search engines, thanks to people searching for my name (Hi Dad).

I'll be looking closely at these figures to see if there's any positive change as a result of the plugin.

RSS


I've added an RSS subscription widget. RSS isn't well used proportionately but heavily used be techies. What it does is take your blog posts and publishes them in the user's chosen interface - a bit like their own newspaper page. It's an easier way of monitoring updates on your favourite blogs than visiting each through your bookmarks. And it's a way of keeping readers who visit once.

I'm starting with a base of 0 so we'll see if my blog is popular through RSS subscriptions.

SEO


I've installed a search engine optimisation tool. My URLs and headers are already optimised for search engines, because I do that when writing them. However, this tool allows me to define the meta content description. I won't bother with the keyword tags as it doesn't make any difference any more.

New content feeds


I'm experimenting with 2 plugins which generate new content. One will take all my Newscounter Tweets from Twitter and publish them - ensuring 2 or 3 new pieces of content in between blog posts. The second, postalicious, takes feed from my bookmarking site. So every time I save a bookmark in Delicious, I can produce an aggregated bit for my blog - passing on articles that I find interesting. Currybet does this particularly well with his recent links feature.

Increasing interactivity


I'm trying a meet your commenters tool. This plugin displays web pages and profiles of those users in the dashboard, so you can add them as friends if you are in the same social network. I don't know how well it will work, frankly. But because I'm trying to build a community, hopefully this will involve people more closely in my blog.

Monitoring loadtimes


I'm going to be keeping a close eye on the site load times. This is what they are currently:


And I need to make sure that it doesn't get too slow. I want my blog to be accessible to people with a dial-up modem. After all, if you want to build a community you need to be inclusive.

I will report back on progress shortly.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Blogging in pictures for the RSA

Matthew Taylor of the RSA (a Newscounter client)has developed the notion of a framework to judge the credibility of an apology. It's particularly appropriate, given the apology of senior bankers to the treasury select committee.

We've developed it into a graphic for him, so that it can stand alone as a reference point for judging future apologies. Matthew's already done media interviews on the art of the political apology so hopefully it will further reinforce his insight in this area.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

My blog lessons - generating an audience

I've been developing a Matthew Cain blog. As I wrote recently, it started with a wave of excitement and frustration that I had so much to say but hadn't setup the blog so far.

Post every day


I then stopped posting each day. Of course, there's no search engine reason to post every day. But I still tell people to do it because if they don't they will stop posting. It's just what happened to me.

Getting the posting habit


I started to talk about the snow in Stoke Newington. After the initial post, I needed to follow it up and did several days later. But then I found something else on my internet travels that I wanted to talk about. I'm one of the UK's few experts on political party funding.

Building an audience


I made a comment on Labour List about party funding. It didn't generate any interest. But now that I started, I got the bug. The more I post the more I want to write. So I wrote about the T-Mobile inspired flash mob. I followed my own advice and put links on 4 other sites, which generated a couple of comments - to which I replied (of course).

Generating comments


Then today, I made a quick post for the sake of putting up something new. But then I was thinking about blogging. So I posted twice more. Suddenly, I'd convinced myself that my view on George Monbiot was really important.

To build an audience, I:
1. put into Google Blog search Monbiot AND Blears
2. Clicked on the top 12 results
3. Re-wrote my headline to make it more provactive
4. Left a comment on 10 of them - 9 were anti Blears
5. Started replying to the comments

I now have 12 comments and have added those commentators blogs to my blogroll.

Key lessons
1. It's difficult to get into the habit of writing unless you do often
2. Being an active commentator on a live web issue does generate traffic and comments
3. The issue has to be of interest to a number of sites
4. Respond to the comments to open up further discussion, not close it down
5. Find ways to build the relationship with the commentator further
6. Have your analytics package configured. I didn't have - so can't measure the success of this!

I'm not trying to suggest this is best practice - but it's my experience and I'll record how I build on this.

The story of Counterpoint

Monday, 9 February 2009

Expensive printers

Newscounter has recently changed its printing suppliers. It will no longer be using Matbaa in Stoke Newington for emergency jobs because they are just too expensive and the charging policy is unfair and not transparent.

From now on, we recommend Hanway Print in Islington.

This is the full details in Matbaa is too expensive.

British Bankers Association engages with blogs

Well done to the British Bankers' Association for engaging with blogs. I came across this article on A View from Middle England.

The BBA has left a comment clarifying its position and informing readers what it really thinks. The way they've done this is to be applauded:

1. The BBA has been monitoring its online reputation
2. The comment is clear, concise and the contributor transparent
3. There's a link to more information for readers who want it
4. The BBA has engaged in the content of the article, accepting where it went wrong but putting the blogger straight

The only other suggestions we'd make are:
1. The username could like to an identifiable person at the BBA. This would help users (and particularly the blog owner) check the authenticity of the comment
2. If they provided a link to a specially created landing page, they could track the clickthroughs and thus learn more about the site and the views of its readers. This would help develop the BBA's blogging strategy further.

Otherwise, a good effort from which others can learn.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Professionalism: the minmum standard

Until now, I was pleased with myself for overseeing the production of a very professional piece of marketing. It's certainly the most professional thing we've produced this year.

Then I read Seth Godin's thoughts on professionalism. He argues that professionalism is really the minimum acceptable standard. That smaller startups like us, need to reach that level of professionalism to be accepted - then argue for our niche. Not excuse our lack of professionalism as a tradeoff with our niche.

It's well worth reading.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Printer Charing Cross - Don't

I won't be using the services of Printer Charing Cross. The company is not in Charing Cross and is not called Printer Charing Cross.

Instead, they appear to have stuffed Google as a misleading search engine optimisation attempt.

I wanted a printer in Charing Cross. I'm currently sat in Charing Cross. So I googled printer Charing Cross. I clicked on the first link and went to call them. Then I noticed they are based in Basingstoke.

I'm not impressed. The first three results in Google all link to this company which is called Branded Print in Basingstoke. But claims an unethical association with Charing Cross.

If it's not their fault, I encourage them to give up the domain names, relocate or make clear on their homepage that they are based in Basingstoke. In the meantime, I encourage bloggers to make clear that they are not based in Charing Cross.

Monday, 2 February 2009

How to write a blogging strategy

Is it worth having a strategy for your blog? Maybe. First, here's the limitations of a blogging strategy:

Blogs must be flexible


You've got to be able to write about the issues, people and events that are in your radar at any point. If a blog strategy gives you reason to pause before writing, then it's getting in the way. A successful blog must reflect the issues you really care about.

Blog traffic can be unpredictable


It's the posts that you think no one will want to read which will by amongst your most popular ever. Those that you thought too niche, too specialist, or too quirky will find an audience that you never knew existed. If a blog strategy prevents you writing these, then it's getting in the way.

A blog is part of a conversation. Conversations can't be planned


Planned conversations (you know the ones: 'we need to talk') are always uncomfortable. That's as true on a blog as in real life. The critical factor of a blog is its authenticity. If a strategy prevents your blog being 'authentically you', it's getting in the way.

All this isn't much help if your boss has asked you to write a blog strategy. So what might that strategy note include?

Analyse your audience


It can be instructive to analyse your audience. What are the issues I most care about? Where is the conversation happening currently? What do blogs currently write about? Do I have a niche? Understanding your audience and its market place is sensible research and can make the job of building your blog that much easier.

Audience recruitment


An extension of the previous rule really. If there's a blog, person or company you want to read your blog, write a post specifically designed to recruit them. I've done this a couple of times and it's always worked.

Posting for a rainy day


If you have a strategy, it might make it easier to post on a day of bloggers-block. For example, if I know that once a week I have to review a book I've read, at least I know what to write about.

Understand your analytics


A blog strategy can be a useful device to ensure you are understanding your web analytics. If a post gets lots of traffic or a good number of comments or links, analyse why. Then write another post like it. If that succeeds, you came to the right conclusions.

Good blogging takes three to six months


It takes between three and six months to get to where you want with a blog. If a strategy would help give you focus, then give it a go.

Ensure that you've tried every technique to promote your blog


If your strategy helps keep your focus on utilising every technique to promote your blog, it's doing you a service. But retain the ability to abandon one technique in favour of another if you see it's not working.

This all notwithstanding, I usually recommend clients have a weekly menu and structure to their posts rather than a strategy per-se. That ensures flexibility whilst building on what works.

Any other tips, criticism or peer review gratefully accepted.

Friday, 30 January 2009

How companies manage the internet

There's an interesting piece on the BBC looking at how companies manage the internet. It's inspired by Davos and a little bit broad-brush and Twitter-focussed - but it's still a good introduction.

The piece uses snippets of an interview with David Brain (a friend of my chairman Nigel Clarke. He's thoughtful and clever and has a strong grasp on this because not only is Edeleman one of the most internet-enabled PR agencies but it's got a great client roster too.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

12 ingredients of a good blog post

Twitter is valuable for . . . sharing links

Twitter is really valuable for sharing links in real time. It's not the only useful thing about Twitter but the power of sharing links is borne about by Newscounter's research.

We tried sharing a niche interest blog post on three social networking sites: Delicious, Facebook and Twitter. All we did was post the same commentary and the link on our Delicious bookmarks, publish it via RSS on a Facebook profile (and in the status update)and write a short Tweet.

The size of each network was broadly comparable:
The Facebook profile had 169 friends - slightly above average
The Delicious profile is used twice a day
The Twitter account had 106 followers - slightly less than average

The results


The Delicious post didn't result in any traffic
The Facebook update resulted in a ratio of 10% click throughs to friends
Twitter resulted in 30% click through to friends and was RT once and 30 of these were from the key audience.

Moreover, on searching Twitter, we discovered that 4 older links had also been shared

So Twitter is really valuable for sharing links to generate traffic in realtime. We speculate that this is because:

The network is smaller and the information more valuable
The posts are pushed out to you rather than pulled in from Facebook
The links are most trustworthy

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Lessons for setting up a new blog

I've learnt two important lessons in the first 48 hours of having my personal blog.
1. Set it up properly
2. Don't delay setting it up

So I've setup my new blog and - irony of ironies - haven't been able to achieve one of my targets: blogging each day.

I setup the blog and immediately wanted to start writing. The 123-reg free blog system was really good but had a significant drawback: I couldn't change the permalinks. Permalinks are the way that the URL for the post is generated. This is a key part of search engine optimisation. Therefore, I decided to move my blog to wordpress.If I had changed them midway through, it would have caused 404 errors - which no one likes - where links that people clicked on would have produced error pages.

As a result of moving the blog, I was without it for 24 hours 'whilst the DNS propagated' - as the internet still takes some time to catch up and tell all of the world's computers of the new website's position.

My other useful lesson was that there were two posts on other blogs that I had something to contribute to. If I'd set my blog up properly in the first place (or just a couple of days earlier) I would have been able to start building hyperlinks to my site. Because of the problems, I couldn't.

The secret tool to protect your reputation online

There are various ways and tools you can use to protect your personal reputation online. I'm going to tell you the most effective and cheapest tool to ensure that your personal reputation isn't compromised by your biggest fan.

Be careful what you write


It's that obvious. You need to be careful what you write, what photos you post, what videos you take part in. The whole shebang. From forums to comments on blogs to social networks. Even anonymously (particularly on forums) you can't be certain that the forum owner won't reveal your identity (or be forced to).

There's no such thing as off the record


When I was a junior press officer I was always told 'there's no such thing as off the record'. And still I made the mistake of giving an unauthorised quote to a journalist. Which got used. And my then boss was not happy. The same rule is true on the internet. There is no such thing as private.

The newspaper frontpage test


I used to work for someone who said "only write something down if you are comfortable with it appearing on the frontpage of the newspaper". This had its drawbacks (no one could give her honest advice) but did protect her and her own staff from wrecking her reputation.

Why am I telling you this - that you already know?

Even the professionals get it wrong


Take this story of a PR professional who Twittered about being in Memphis. He didn't like Memphis - the home of major client FedEx. FedEx didn't appreciate his views.

Here's the story in all its glory: http://shankman.com/be-careful-what-you-post/

And remember, you are never too smart, too experienced or too familiar to ask yourself: does this cast me in a favourable light to someone who I've never met?

Monday, 26 January 2009

My blog lessons - creating a blog

I've started a personal blog, against my better judgement. However, whilst I want to keep the personal and professional as separate as possible, I do want to use the lessons that I learn to help other bloggers. There will be a particular overlap as I try to chronicle my experience of building a platform for my views and then developing a community.

My most important task was registering an obvious domain name. I've registered www.matthewcain.co.uk for two years - costing less than £10. I used 123-reg out of familiarity but may move the domain at a later point.

I then created the blog, pointed to http://blog.matthewcain.co.uk so that I've got space for a personal intro page at matthewcain.co.uk at a later point if I need it.

Because I've got a couple of things I want to talk about straight away, I used the 123-reg content management system. It was better than I expected, although it may not be long before I migrate to wordpress because it gives you so much structured freedom.

I've created a meta description for the blog so that the text below the hyperlink will look better in Google.

However, I think that the most interesting lesson will be my battle between privacy, personal and corporate and getting the balance right. For that, you will need to follow my blog.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

News websites and the perils of automation

News websites rely on automation to create lists of stories. Usually, this is a benign and sometimes useful way of navigating readers around the wealth of content. But at other times it can wipe millions off share prices or cause unnecessary suffering. Sky News is, I think, guilty of the latter today.

Automated lists of new articles are cheaper and more efficient than getting a journalist to do it. Occasionally the automated lists are useful devices which throw up something interesting.

The BBC News 'most emailed' lists will usually be dominated by human interest stories:


And occasionally, 'most read' stories turns up something interesting, such as a story coming back to life, despite not changing for many months. Witness also the enduring interest in The Times' first hand account of incest.

However, automated lists still need moderation. When humans are cut out completely, the end result can be awful.

In September 2008, United Airlines lost 75 per cent of its share price value when a story which (accurately) reported that the airline had filed for bankruptcy was automatically republished with the latest date. Google News now carried the followig warning at the bottom of its search results - though I don't think that will be enough to completely eradicate a similar mistake happening again.


Today, the Sky News homepage reports the tragic news that a Brazilian model, Mariana Bridi da Costa, had her feet and hands amputated after her blood became infected. Sadly, Miss da Costa died on Saturday.

However, the Sky News story reporting the amputation still appears on its homepage:


This makes Sky News look crass and insensitive but also slightly incompetent. The report of her death also appears on the homepage:


News website owners would do well to remember that their major strength (and their competitive edge over blogs) lies in the skills and expertise of their journalists - not their computers.

Friday, 23 January 2009

If brands get it wrong on social media, they ruin it for everyone

A familiar challenge for corporate communicators is how to present your case in the best way. It's not easy and there's growing criticism of corporate-speak and spokespeople who don't engage with the audience. Social media is often hailed as a more authentic means of communication than the traditional media. It's a place where communication is expected to be more personal, more honest, more rough and ready.

If companies get social media right, the prize is considerable. You can talk directly to customers (without intermediaries getting in the way) in a forum where they're listening and often willing to meet you half way. This should lead to higher sales and stronger advocates for your brand.

Getting social media wrong, not only makes you look ridiculous, however. One of the reasons for the greater authenticity of social media is because it's a space mostly populated by amateurs and friends. If 'officialdom' comes into that space and acts like a tax inspector at a wedding the group of friends will just move away. That's easy to do on social media because there are lots of available platforms and low cost of entry.

There's already evidence of this happening on blogs and social networking sites and even some emerging evidence that people are being more savvy on Twitter because of fears that their space is being invaded.

So if a company gets it wrong on social media (as many self-styled 'social media experts' do on Twitter) then the most important, influential people just shut up shop and move town.

This isn't intended to warn all companies away from using social media to spread your message when it's important, targeted and promoted in the appropriate way. But do something crass and you'll not only become a pariah yourselves but reduce its value for everyone else.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

MySociety success

Following my analysis of the MySociety / MPs expenses campaign, I wanted to post some of the feedback from their email group.

1. According to Francis Irving and there were somewhere between 4000 and 5000 messages sent to MPs from the MySociety site, writetothem.

2. Matt Wardman drew attention to the credibility of the MySociety brand, the use of existing networks and pushing with the grain of public opinion:

"A couple of thoughts as to other key aspects that I think you underemphasise.

Use of existing platforms and profiles. Applies to MySociety, Stephen Fry and also those who posted in advance of MS last week (Guardian, Guido).

I'd suggest the key MS contribution was as a respected non-partisan brand with a track record making a stand on a broadly non-partisan issue. Imho that cleared the way for it to become a mainstream issue.

MS legitimised a specialised groundswell and made it a general groundswell that already and triggered others to get involved who would not from the previous posters"

Citizen Journalism - how to

There's a really thoughtful, practical guide here to how to get started as a citizen journalist.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

MySociety and MPs expenses: how they won

MySociety is claiming victory in their battle over the transparency of Members' of Parliament expenses - rightly so. The Prime Minister declared at PMQs today that the motion to conceal the expenses would be withdrawn - when only hours later journalists thought that Labour MPs would have a three line whip to vote in favour. The campaign took about five days.

What the campaign involved


The campaign had all the essential ingredients of an online campaign: a blog, an email group, a Facebook group, a shared database, easy individual action backed up by some entrepreneurial moves on Twitter and on their own sites. Each of these elements were successful in their own right.

The blog was successful with 1829 links to it and 53 comments - even though there was 2 days before the second comment was posted

The email group was lively - I think I counted more than 100 emails over the last five days, focussed on producing and logging activity but allowing people to post ideas as well.

The Facebook Group recruited over 7000 members

The coverage on Twitter reached over 50,000 people - thanks in part to Stephen Fry's intervention and the core message was re-tweated over 25 times.

Why it was successful


1. There was a clear community of people, used to taking action
The MySociety email group is significant. I've no idea of its size but know that there are more than 30 active contributors and many people on the list are used to taking action as a result of emails they receive.

2. The campaign was timely, with a clear call to action
The campaign only had 6 days to succeed so there was little opportunity for possible activists to think 'I will do that next week'.

3. The call to action was clear
MySociety repeated the three point call to action in all of the communication. It was clear and easy to achieve.

4. It was high profile but only dependent on their own profile
That's a clumsy way of saying that the message reached thousands of people - thanks also to the popup boxes on the MySociety websites. But that it didn't depend on others (like newspapers) to spread the story. They could do it themselves.

5. They knew their audience - and knew who to motivate
The audience was clear - MPs - and there is already an established community of interest in political blogs that could help spread the message. This would have been hard to build from scratch and impossible in just 6 days. Using well established blogs like Iain Dale's certainly got the message out to a wider group of people.

I hope that people more closely involved in the campaign will also record their thoughts (and we'll keep an index of those) so that critical lessons can be learned by others who also want to run successful campaigns online.

HMRC: thanks for the good service

I often use this blog to criticise companies with poor customer service. It makes me feel better, helps identify if there are customers in a similar position and I like finding out whether companies monitor their online reputation. Today, I hope that HMRC is monitoring its reputation.

I had to speak to the tax office today to reduce the bit of my tax bill on account and to reschedule payment of my last return. Ok, so I was on hold for a bit but that's my fault for leaving it so late. But by the time I got through, my tax bill on account had already been reduced (I filed my return last week). And my proposal for rescheduling payments was accepted with minimal fuss.

The whole process took about 15 minutes, was reasonable, well-explained and not in the least patronising. Thank you, HMRC.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Websites show Obama: not all change is good

Barack Obama's incoming administration has taken the keys of the White House. This package includes the 'nuclear codes' and - of course - the keys to whitehouse.gov.

The speed (and planning) of the transition is underlined by the fact that the redesigned site has gone live within hours of Barack Obama being sworn in. However, not all change is good change.

I found out about the new site because I was searching to find out what George W Bush did in his last few hours of office. I was curious because Clinton's last hours (in my view) diminished his standing - such was the nature of those executive orders. So I searched on Google for Bush executive orders. And Google took me to whitehouse.gov. This is what I found.

So whilst the new site may in the future meet the challenge set out by new media director Macon Phillips, in the short term, the transition has actually reduced the transparency of the office. Not all change is good when the change is online.

Measuring effectiveness not volume

Rohit Bhargava on the excellent Influential Marketing blog advises CEOs to measure effectiveness, not volume. I believe it's sound advice and builds on our theme at the start of the year that value will trump volume in 2009.

So what does that mean for your online reputation?

Don't bother measuring volume


Everyone measures volume. How much coverage am I getting? How does it compare to my competitors? But who cares? So much content - when read - lacks any real value. It doesn't matter if 30 websites have reported your interim results or the launch of a new product. That's not just because they may not be read by many people. It's because what really matters is what impact that's had. Who's blogged about it? What was the response in the comments section? What ideas did it spark elsewhere?

Don't rely on a single metric


If you're measuring value it's an inherently complex calculation. It can't be boiled down to a single algorithm - no matter how elaborate. Why? Because you can't compare comments, pings and trackbacks on a single scale. You can't compare one long thoughtful post from a small blog but an influential person (a Member of Parliament, for example). That's why human judgement is king.

Consider the legacy


A small thing, done well, is a better internet legacy than a big thing done poorly. For example, in six months time using a mass press release distribution service may just still help search engine optimisation (although it's not that likely) but won't have created any long term relationships to which you can return. In contrast, a single well constructed blog post on the right blog can create a long term relationship with far greater authenticity.

I don't underestimate the challenge of defeating the lure of big numbers. These are only some of the ways in which effectiveness beats volume. Any other thoughts?

Friday, 16 January 2009

The perils of 'free' web software

I was always sceptical of those who warned against using 'free' web software. Why would Google, I thought, risk annoying its users by discontinuing a service? Now I'm not so sure.

I read on TechCrunch that Google has decided to withdraw a number of applications. Some of these, like Google video, are obviously redundant. But the list includes Notebook which I use frequently as a firefox plugin.

Apart from my annoyance that this is to be discontinued without consultation or serious thought for existing users' alternatives, it's a very useful and timely warning. I was just wondering about ditching Microsoft Office and migrating to Google Docs. Not any more. Imagine waking up one day and discovering that Google had stopped providing spreadsheets!

Google are perfectly within their rights to do this, of course. But its action make you remember the perils of a free service where you don't have a proper contract with the service provider.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Website review: hmg.gov.uk

Thanks to Emma Mulqueeny, I know that the government has launched a new website to consult and engage with citizens about its white paper on social mobility. It's a really good site which demonstrates a clear understanding of the benefits of social media and how people are using the internet. There are things that it hasn't done - but it's brave and innovative by government (and it's not often that it's possible to say that).

The strengths of hmg.gov.uk


1. All the important information is easily accessible
In our review, we could find everything we needed within one click - and everything else within two clicks.

2. Use of multimedia content
The site uses video to help make its case and personalises this - there's almost no 'man in suit talking to camera'.

3. Sharing
All of the material can be shared using the main social networking tools: Digg, Facebook, Delicious, Reddit and Stumbleupon

4. Content for bloggers
There's a special page of content for bloggers which includes embedable video, case studies, links to external coverage (including challenging coverage) and detailed background information.

5. Pointing the user elsewhere
Rather than re-creating conversations that are already happening (or trying and failing) the website clearly points users to some of the main places where social mobility can be discussed - and these are mostly external sites.

6. The social mobility map
A great way of getting personal stories, easily, that (presumably) feed into the consultation.

The weaknesses of hmg.gov.uk


1. The domain name
It's a shame that the main domains are taken. But hmg.gov.uk does little for search optimisation.

2. Too much content on some pages
In particular http://www.hmg.gov.uk/newopportunities/bloggers.aspx requires a lot of scrolling.

3. No blogger outreach
I've not seen any evidence of blogger outreach, despite having read over 10 blogs reporting the launch of the white paper. It's great having the material but the days of a 'build it and they will come' strategy are dead. You need to push out the content - particularly when it's this good.

4. Page titles
Another missed SEO opportunity.

5. What are the questions?
Presumably the white paper is consulting on social mobility. But this isn't clearly sign-posted from the website. And there's nothing like controversy to interest online users - but it's a bit general on hmg.gov.uk

6. Where are the other debates?
What an incentive to get involved if you could see (and knew that government was going to look at) newspaper comments sections, Facebook groups etc.

7. How do you motivate users?
The site feels as though the government is trying to build support for social mobility. But there aren't any widgets, Facebook groups, petitions or polls to engage readers (although maybe civil service rules permit this).

There may be more weaknesses of hmg.gov.uk than strengths in our list. But that shouldn't detract from what a massive, innovative and brave step forward this is for government and for that, it should receive significant praise.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

How to buy advertising online

You've created your blog, now you want to promote it. Advertising costs money - but thanks to the internet you can tailor your advertising to your budget.

This guide is intended for a one-off ad campaign on Google. Corporates or large charities will require a more tightly measured and honed ad strategy. However, if you're blogging to complain about a company, get noticed by someone or kick-start a campaign, this will be useful.

There are three ways you can advertise effectively online with a limited budget:
1. buy search engine advertising for particular keywords
This works really well if you want to grab someone's attention - particularly if it's an organisation or individual.

2. buy advertising on relevant websites
If you've got a particular post which is of interest to other websites, you can buy advertising so that your ad will appear in other relevant blogs and websites (only those that accept those particular ads though).

You can advertise on search and relevant websites. Relevant sites will usually ensure your ad appears more often - but with a much lower click-through rate. The search volumes are lower and more expensive, but tend to get a higher click-through rate. Whether you choose one or both should depend on your advertising strategy.

3. target ads according to an internet user's location
This is great if you're a local business or your campaigning for something in a particular area or country.

Buying the advertising


This assumes you already have an account with Google. If not, read this article on how to create a Google account.

Setting up your account


1. Log in to your Google account
2. Click My account in the top right hand corner of google.com
3. Click the AdWords link on the next page
4. Click on sign up now
5. Choose standard edition and click continue
6. Click the button that says you already have a Google account and that you want to use your existing Google account (presuming you do) then click continue
7. Choose your preferred currency and click continue

Creating your campaign


1. Click create your first campaign
2. Choose the language and country(s) you want to target
3. Create your ad, referring to Google's guidelines about trademarks
4. For advice on writing great Google ads, click here
5. The display URL doesn't have to be the actual URL - but don't mislead people entirely
6. Choose the keywords you want to target. Read this for more advice on keyword strategies
7. Set your daily budget
8. Set your maximum budget for each keyword. To get an idea, click on 'View Traffic Estimator' to see what traffic the advert is likely to generate

Targeting your campaign at specific sites


When you start to create your campaign, you can choose to start a new campaign with placements. The system works the same but after creating the ad, you can target subjects or specific URLs to target your campaign.

Alternatively, once you've created the campaign, you can click edit settings and turn on the content option (and/or turn the search option off).

Enter your payment details when requested.

Evaluating your campaign


Next time you login to Google AdWords you can evaluate your campaign. Look to see:
1. What you're paying per click
2. Whether the number of clicks meets your expectations
3. Check your own analytics package to see whether the advertising is having its desired affect

Keep an eye on our blog for examples of effective low-cost advertising campaigns.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Responding to criticism online

We recently looked at company guidelines for managing social media. One of the most important elements of this is when a company is managing criticism of their reputation.

Deciding if and when to respond to criticism online is a key part of a modern corporate communicator's job. It's not a simply judgement and depends on a range of factors. However, there are some key questions that need to be answered methodically before a PRO can make a reasoned judgment.

Today, Newscounter is publishing its guide to responding to criticism online. It won't be equally appropriate for every company - and there will be some vital issues missing for some (investor relations, regulatory restrictions, existing relationships etc). But it should be useful confirmation of existing good practice and thought-provoking for others. Feel free to share and review as necessary.

If you'd like any copies or a bespoke version developed for your company, get in touch.

Benefits and shortcomings of LiveJournal

LiveJournal provides a very different sort of blogging platform. It's based around a social network and so the blog is just a part of a package which includes photo albums, personal pages, music - everything you'd expect of a social network.

Benefits of LiveJournal


1. Immediate access to a community of readers
The social networking features of LiveJournal mean that you have immediate access to a community of readers. Pick a topic (although it needs to be one that interests LiveJournal users) and you can get a few people to read your first post - a bonus on other blogging platforms.

2. Building better relationships
With most blogs someone reads your post and never comes back. With LiveJournal though, fellow users can become your friends and so it's much easier to enter into a meaningful conversation with them in a way that isn't possible on other blogging platforms - unless you have multiple repeat readers.

3. Cost
Like Blogger, but unlike so many other platforms, there really are no hidden costs to using LiveJournal.

Shortcomings of LiveJournal



1. Publicity through search
Very few LiveJournal blogs emerge through search engines Technorati or Google Blog search. There's no evidence to suggest why - it might be because LvieJournal has a small market share. However, small monitoring services like blogpulse do pick up more LiveJournal content.

2. Flexibility of design
The templates for LiveJournal are the most rigid we have encountered. Whilst the backdrop and some of the key elements can be altered, most users have simply created a less aesthetically pleasing result (think of a teenager's poster-covered bedroom wall).

3. Wider usability
The wider usability of LiveJournal is limited. By this we mean that the URLs of the posts cannot be tailored, you can't use your own URL and more advanced features such as trackbacks and pings (to follow other blogs reporting your site) are not possible. There is also not the wide range of plugins and widgets that are accessible through most of the blogging platforms.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Benefits and shortcomings of Typepad

Typepad is one of the best blogging systems available. However, it comes at a cost. To use it with your own domain you have to pay $8.95 a month currently. The end result looks good and the service offers plenty of flexibility.

Benefits


1. Excellent designs
The Typepad designs are excellent. They are professional, free of the bugs that we found in blogger templates and allow for a reasonable amount of flexibility. You don't get total flexibility unless you buy business class blogging at $89.95

2. User-friendly interface
The Typepad system is very easy to use for both blog authors and commentators. The only drawback for comments is that the captcha image is displayed on a subsequent page. Typepad is the only system that does this so many comments can be lost by the user navigating away before confirming the comment.

3. Professional support
Typepad is a private enterprise and of the major advantages of this is a professional, accessible support service for all your blogging needs.

4. Flexibility with widgets
The Typepad guys have developed lots of widgets so whatever you want to do with your blog, you can.

Shortcomings of Typepad


1. Cost
It may not surprise you that most of the significant blogs hosted with Typepad are from news organisations or large corporations. It makes sense if you have the funds but for a private individual, Typepad is an expensive option.

2. Proprietary software
Typepad has developed its own proprietary software. This may not mean much to the average user but the end result is that if someone develops a new gadget for wordpress, it gets incorporated. Typepad, though, have to decide or develop it themselves - a deterrent to developers. The end result is that there are fewer excellent widgets and plugins.

3. Comment moderation
I've always had a problem with the comment moderation on Typepad. Try, for example, one of the blogs at http://www.timesonline.co.uk. After commenting, you get another screen asking you to type in the captcha image. And how often do you forget and navigate away from the page?

Next, we look at the benefits of LiveJournal.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Writing for a blog

Writing for a blog is not like writing in other formats. I was trying to explain this to a blogger earlier today. He writes excellent blog entries, if you have the time to read them. But there's something missing from them.

1. The title is usually slightly obtuse
2. The first sentence is a gradual warmup

He is an experienced writer and occasional newspaper columnist. This is where I think he was going wrong. A blog is not like a newspaper column.

It was then that I realised how to explain blog writing better. Write your blog like a press release.

Here are some key rules:
1. The headline and the first sentence should summarise the story
2. Expect to lose an increasing proportion of your audience with the passing of each sentence
3. Provoke, stimulate or question but don't leave your reader with a sense of fulfilment - it doesn't stimulate the comments section
4. Break all of the rules and write a great post rather than boring, formulaic posts

Any other advice?

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Benefits and shortcomings of Blogger

As part of our series on setting up your own blog, we look at the advantages of free blog services and paid blog services. One popular free blog service is Blogger, owned by Google. We've created lots of blogs using Blogger so here, in a nutshell, are the main benefits and shortcomings of the system.

Benefits of blogger


1. It gets indexed by Google
Your first blog post (and probably the first few) are highly likely to be indexed by Google. This means that they appear in a Google Blogs search, appear in keyword alerts and will rank somewhere on the main search engines. This is rewarding but also particularly useful if you're trying to get noticed by a company, charity or particular person.

2. It requires no other knowledge
You need know knowledge of html. That's broadly true of some other services as well but I don't know any that require as little knowledge as blogger, but give you as many opportunities to edit the html if you wish.

3. It's easy to do everything you need
It's easy to link, to upload photos and video and manage comments.

4. Use your own URL
You can ues your own URL within the blogger system.

5. Comment registration is easy
Lots of people have Google accounts. Which means that you can have comment registration or moderation without putting people off by a registration process.

Weaknesses of blogger



1. The designs are poor
Most of the readily available design template on Blogger are poor in our experience. They look like a template (in the same way that Office templates are very obvious) and they aren't very flexible. Yes you can add plugins, but not with the same ease as wordpress. Moreover, most of the popular designs fail the w3c test.

2. The plugins are limited
The plugins and added extras associated with Blogger are ok but not great. There isn't the same volume of support or peer-reviewed added extras.

3. Controlling URLs is harder
Knowing your post name is important. If it contains keywords, it helps users and search engines follow the link. Superficially, this is easier on Google. However, it's harder to ensure search engines don't get confused by keyword tag links and archive post links.

Please use the comments section to add any more advice.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Guidelines for managing social media

Intel has a great set of guidelines for managing social media. I often get asked by corporations how they should guide their employees in the use of social media. Despite overwhelming demand, there is no single generic guide available. This is because it depends entirely on the corporate culture.

Many organisations are still deeply uncomfortable (and nervous of the regulatory implications) of allowing employees to engage with social media. So giving them a really good set of social media guidelines will probably lead to further retrenchment.

However, some companies understand the value of social media and guide their employees to use it in a responsible, constructive manner which adds value to their brand. Intel is one such company. Its social media guidelines are well worth a look and provide as good a template as any for how employee engagement in social media can protect and promote your brand.

ecb.co.uk crisis management - why it matters

We recently examined the problem the England and Wales Cricket Board had with its website keeping up to speed with the departures of Peter Moores and Kevin Pietersen.

This is why it matters.

1. If you search for Kevin Pietersen on Google, the top result is Kevin Pietersen's website. Not a problem whilst he was captain.

2. Search for Kevin Pietersen and ECB on Google and ecb.co.uk is ranked 15th, with a poorly worded meta description:


The same is true of all of the key search terms related to the affair.

Now, it may be that the ECB has such a good relationship with journalists that it successfully communicated all of its key messages directly to the media online. But even if that was the case, the number of websites that broke the news, the volume of traffic they have and the online influence they carry means that they played a critical part in shaping understanding of the story - before the ECB had communicated any messages.

Finally, the ECB has a significant database of cricket supporters. I pay a subscription to receive information on the England team straight from the ECB - and get access to the ECB TV channel. I haven't yet received an email from the ECB announcing the news. A missed opportunity.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

ECB website fails in crisis management


The ECB has a few problems today. It's lost the team England team coach and captain who was also the best player. In appointing the successor they are turning to someone without the unequivocal support of his colleagues and in splitting the captaincy, going back on their publicly stated preference for the same captain of the Test and one day squads.

This is what the BBC Sport website said:


It's a difficult situation - made worse by their corporate website.

I heard that Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores had left their posts at about 10.30 on News 24. The news was broken by Mihir Bose. It wasn't clear whether they had left or been sacked and whether the captain could be reinstated by the new coach or whether he would continue playing for England.

So I logged onto the website, ecb.co.uk. The homepage had a picture and profile of Kevin Pietersen but no news of anyone leaving:


I thought it might be slow to update so 15 minutes later tried again. This error message came up - I presume due to volume of hits:


Because it wasn't that they were updating it. Now, 6 hours later, the homepage and news page remain unchanged.

Why the corporate website so important


The corporate website is so important because it's the only opportunity you have to put your position - all of it - directly to your core constituency. And as the downtime demonstrated, lots of people look to the original source.

The ECB may have bigger issues to deal with today. But if it can't communicate its position confidently in a crisis, it will lose the support of important stakeholders.
 
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