Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Media Coach Radio Show pick of the Year

The Media Coach Radio Show pick of 2010 - the best music and interviews of the year - plus the MediaMug and MediaMaster of the year too!

Have a great 2011.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

11 ways to improve your communication in 2011

Great communication is a real business asset. Here are some ways to raise your game in the coming year.

1) Keep your “I”s down

Here’s an exercise. Take any form of communication you have delivered. It could be a speech or an article. Go through it and count all the times you use the word “I”. Then count how many times you use the word “you”. If the former exceeds the latter, you are talking about yourself too much. In fact, the “you” count should be much higher, since communication is all about your audience, and what they are interested in.

2) Tell your story

Use stories that have happened to you, not stories involving others. If you keep a lookout, there will be plenty of incidents you can use to make your point. It’s easier to remember your stories, and they will not have been heard before. Never, ever use a story from someone else and pretend that it happened to you. Remember to tell your story, emphasise the point, and then give a practical example your audience can use.

3) Be original

People are fascinated by originality. Your ideas are unique to you, and though they may have been influenced by others, will be yours alone. That’s what people want to hear - your take on the world. There are no bonus points for plagiarism.

4) Be controversial

Make yourself stand out by going against conventional wisdom, or delivering a rarely-heard point of view. If you agree with everyone else, why communicate at all? There’s no need to be critical of others, but giving solid reasons why you take another view is good copy.

5) Give advice, not instruction

Pay respect to your audience by giving them suggestions about how they might change, not ordering them to do so. If you tell people they must act in a certain way, a likely reaction is that they will decide not to. Of course, you don’t have to take this advice...

6) Provide evidence

Always back up your ideas with evidence, and make sure that you quote the source of the information so that it can be verified. If you can’t find any evidence, you can either fall back on the old phrase “in my long experience” or drop the idea. I’d advise the latter.

7) Get out of the elevator

The “elevator pitch”, a short speech about what you do, used to be a fashionable way of opening a dialogue at a networking event. However, talking to people for up to two minutes without a break is hardly a way to encourage people to warm to you. Instead, try offering a simple, intriguing phrase to start a conversation.

8) Show you care

People love to see passion in communication, If you care about something, share your passion and people will respond. Even if they don’t initially agree with you, they will appreciate your feelings about the subject, and may even be persuaded.

9) Drop the cliché

Using phrases like “It’s not rocket science” or “change is the only constant” won’t have as much impact as normal speech. Alas, some people find it impossible to speak without using a cliché. You should avoid those people like the plague.

10) One message at a time

I know, there are eleven messages here, but it’s a tip sheet, not a speech. SInce your audience will recall only one thing, it makes sense to concentrate on your key message throughout, and repeat it at the end too.

11) Only say it if you really mean it

Authenticity is essential to good communication. If you lack conviction, or worse still, don't believe what you are saying, it will be obvious. Stick to content that you are confident about.

Bonus rule (12) Occasionally, try breaking the rules, as I have done in several instances above...

Good luck in 2011.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

10 low-cost tips for getting more business in 2011

2010 was a tough year for many businesses. However, when you ask a fellow business owner, “How are things?” they will often reply “Good thanks – and you?” It may be true, it may not. It doesn’t really matter. I’ve rarely met a business owner who doesn’t want more work at higher rates. So here are a few tips that you can try immediately. Since they cost little or nothing except a little of your time, why not try a few of them in 2011?

1) Know what you are selling

This seems blindingly obvious. After all, you know what you do, don’t you? In that case, try to explain it to someone who has no idea (members of your immediate family work well as subjects for this one). It’s not what you are; a “leadership coach” or a “motivational speaker”. It’s what you do for people. Once you’ve captured that, it’s much easier to offer yourself to others. The most obvious people to tell you what you do are satisfied customers, so ask them.

2) Ask for referrals

Always, always, ask your best clients to refer you on to someone else. If you have done a good job for them, they will be happy to recommend you, since it makes their judgment look good too. Have an arrangement with your network to cross-refer each other. I’m always being asked to recommend people, but I only do it if they are good, and I know what they offer (see point 1).

3) Use the power of your networks

There are some great networking experts around. Talk to them and buy their books. My best business opportunities come through networking, both online and offline. Of course, the reach of your network goes far beyond your immediate contacts. Ask your network “Who do you know that…?”, and you will find many opportunities. Be respectful of your network too - always give more than you take (see point 10).

4) Make use of free online tools

There are hundreds of online tools that can help you bring in more business, and most of them are free. Google supplies free news alerts (useful for keeping on top of your topic), and can show you trends in markets, so that you can change your offer. There are online communities which offer help and support. There is Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc, etc. Pick one you enjoy using and really learn how to use it.

5) Find out who is buying (and not buying) from you

If you have a website, and don’t analyse your traffic, you are missing a huge opportunity. Google Analytics (free, of course) can be added to your site, and will provide masses of information about where your visitors come from, how long they stay, and what path they take through your site. This intelligence is invaluable in refining your site, and encouraging more visitors to buy from you. Use Google Insights on your videos too.

6) Travel

OK, travel can be expensive, but many of us have to travel to clients. When you travel, make use of your time to meet prospective clients (use networks such as Linkedin to find likely clients where you are going, and contact them to ask for a twenty-minute chat). Use your travel time to read books and become more knowledgeable about your topic or buy something you would not normally read, and use it to stimulate your creativity.

7) Become a broadcaster

Use video, audio and online article to get your message out. Many sites (including YouTube) allow you to create your own TV channel. There are many hosting sites that let you make your own radio station. Blogger and Wordpress allow you to become an online publisher. You need to keep at it, and deliver a regular stream of content, and if you do, you will quickly gain a loyal following of people who will one day do business with you.

8) Listen to your customers

Customer feedback is invaluable, even if it is critical. A customer will only contact you if they care about your product or service. You should take note of what they say, particularly if several customers say the same thing. They may not always be right, but they probably tell you something you need to know.

9) Keep in touch

It’s tough to keep in touch with a huge network of people. But do your best. Even a brief response to an email is better that no response at all. A general “thanks to all” message is the least you can do. One day, that person you met five years ago may offer you a huge piece of work, just because you kept in touch.

10) Be helpful

If there’s only one piece of advice that you use, it should be this one. Help people whenever you can. Don’t expect anything in return. You’ll be amazed at what comes back. Good luck and have a great 2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The seven X Factors of social media

You may not be Matt or Rebecca (or even One DIrection), but you can get the X Factor from your social media activities. Here are a few ideas.

1) eXperiment. Try things out. Look at new social networks, and software tools. Not everything will work, or will suit you, but if you don't try it you will never know.

2) eXcite. Delight your followers and friends with your comments, insights and advice. Let your enthusiasm show through, and it will become infectious.

3) eXpertise. You have a unique set of skills which you can use to help people and demonstrate how you can help others.

4) eXtraordinary. Think what you can post online that will amaze people. That's your comments, not simply links to other's content.

5) eXplain. Answer people's questions and offer to show how to do things that you understand well.

6) eXpand. Increase the size of your network by organic growth, not software robots. Social media is about personal contact.

7) eXpext. Don't expect anything in return for what you give. But do expect to enjoy and benefit from your investment in social media.

I wonder if Simon Cowell knows that?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Media Coach Radio Show 26th November 2010

Hints and tips for media appearances, speaking and social media.

This week: Reality Shows; Thanks from me; Ready Steady Cook; Sarah Palin; Take a Shower; Bite Me; Harry Potter or a Deathly Silence? 5 Social Media Magic Tricks; An interview with Bill Stainton; Music from Jim Boggia

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Harry Potter or a deathly silence? 5 social media magic spells

Sit and listen for a while, and I'll tell you of the five magic spells that will get you noticed on social media. Otherwise there will be just a deathly silence...

1) Listenium

Take time to find out what is being said about you, your brand and your sector of the market. Set up alerts, monitor chatter, and use software tools such as socialmention to get a feel for what is going on.

2) Engageamus

Get involved. Join the debates, and offer your advice and opinion, without over-marketing yourself. It's all about engagement, and being part of the community.

3) Assisto

Be helpful, without thought or expectation of something in return. Either offer direct advice, or point to somewhere else where good information can be found (not necessarily your website). If you promise to find something out and report back, make sure you keep your promise.

4) Regularius

Visit your favoured social networks often, and become well-known there. If you post blogs, send out ezines or upload podcasts, make a commitment and publish regularly.

5) Expertorum

Become known as an expert in your niche. Do your research, demonstrate the techniques you recommend, and stay ahead of the game by sheer hard work. Find a small niche and own it.

OK, wizard, you can take your wand and go now.

Presenting? Dump the Sandwich.

There's an old adage about speaking: Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them. It's so often used in business presentations, it's sometimes known as the "business sandwich" Some years ago, I used to advocate it as the way a speech should be structured. I don't believe it now, and I say it is time to dump the sandwich.

Whoever came up with the structure in the first place was probably not a storyteller. That's not the way that stories work. Stories are about entertainment, interest and powerful messages that make an impact. Those are all the characteristics of great speeches too.

So what do I recommend as a structure? Here's my take on speeches:

* A stunning opening line - a controversial statement, maybe a question
* Go straight into a personal story that relates to your message
* Reinforce the point of the story, by emphasising the evidence
* Give them a practical example they can use
* Repeat steps 2-4 as necessary
* Engage with your audience as often as possible
* Summarise very briefly
* Deliver your killer closing line
* Take questions
* Deliver your killer closing line again

It sounds simple, because it is. It's not boring, because it mustn't be. One more thing. Every speech should have an unforgettable phrase, moment or story. That's what people take away, regardless of the structure.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

6 steps to corporate video - for under $200

Everyone is producing video these days, but much of it goes unwatched. Dull talking heads, boring messages, long details on company history, etc - all turn-offs. There are some splendid video companies around who will do a professional job for you, but their fees may be outwith the budget of small companies. So here's a six-step guide to making a short video that won't break the bank.

1) Equipment. You'll need three basic items: A video camera, a tripod and a microphone. Most people own or have access to a video camera (if you have to buy one, that's an extra one-off cost of course). Most importantly, it should have an input for an external microphone (most video cameras do not). Your tripod should be stable and have the ability to swivel (pan) smoothly. You should be able to buy a decent one for under $100. The microphone is important. Look for a wireless set-up with both a lapel and hand-held mike. Again, a budget of under $100 should do. Don't forget the batteries.

2) Storyboard. This is a crucial step. Simply draw a series of boxes, and plan the shots that you need to tell your story. The first and last boxes will be title and credits. The second shot is often an external "establishing shot" top show where you are. The others in between can include a mix of pieces to camera, voice-over and interviews. If you are moving around a location, remember to show how you get from one place to another (include shots of leaving one place and arriving at another). Don't touch the camera until the storyboard is agreed.

3. Rehearsal. Walk through each of the clips, on location, to rehearse your dialogue. There's no need to work to a precise script. In fact it's better if you don't, since you will be trying to remember lines and not concentrating on the message. A couple of rehearsals will be enough.

4. Filming. Using your storyboard as a guide, film each of the shots, with each clip being no more than 15 to 20 seconds. Playback the clips in-camera to make sure you are happy with them, and note which clip is the "keeper". This will make it much easier at the edit stage.

5. Editing. For YouTube use, it's perfectly OK to edit with the free software already on your computer (iMovie on the Mac, Windows Movie Maker on the PC). Don't use fancy effects. A simple cut from one clip to the next is fine (just like on the TV news). Overlay clips of people for a few seconds with their name and position, so they don't need to identify themselves. Add a "sting" (a short music clip) to the start and end if you wish. Use a site like to acquire low-cost royalty-free music. If you use music throughout the video, keep the level low when people speak. Save your video and check it thoroughly before uploading, since re-editing is easy, but uploading takes time.

6. Uploading. The obvious place to put your video is YouTube, but there are many other video-sharing sites, most of them free. Use a service like to submit to several sites from one upload. Remember to include plenty of tags and keywords so your video can be found easily.

You'll learn more as you make more videos. It's easy to get started. Here's an example of a video created from scratch by Beverly Babb at the National Speakers Association (NSA) in Tempe, Arizona. The whole process, from buying the kit, to learning how to shoot and edit, to uploading the video, took less than 24 hours.

OK, I'm in it, so I'm biased, but I'm very impressed. Now it's your turn...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

How to make a news item - by the Daily Mail

On a long plane journey from the US to the UK a couple of days ago, I was presented with copies of two newspapers - The Daily Mail and The Independent. I browsed through them, and noticed the same story in each, about the most popular girls and boys names in the UK in the past year.

In the Independent, the story ran under the headline: "Oliver, meet Olivia: poll shows favourite names". The top five boys names were:

1. Oliver
2. Jack
3. Harry
4. Alfie
5. Joshua

In the Daily Mail, there was a different slant, under the headline "Now Mohammed topples Jack as No. 1 boy's name". Their list was:

1. Mohammed
2. Oliver
3. Jack
4. Harry
5. Alfie

Hang on a minute. The list is produced by the Office of National Statistics. How come they sent different lists to The Mail and The Independent? The answer of course, is that they didn't. The official list is the one printed in The Independent. The Daily Mail decided to add several variants of Mohammed together, including Mahamed and Mohmmed. For some reason, they didn't combine variants of John, such as Jon, Johnny and Jonny. They also fail to mention that it's long been a popular custom to give male Muslim children the name of their prophet.

Obviously, the Mail is creating a story by playing around with the figures (Mohammed was actually ranked 16th in the official list). But why? Could it be to feed the prejudices of their readers? I hope not. However, I wonder how many pub conversations are now beginning with the phrase "Do you realise that Mohammed is now the most popular UK name....?"

Monday, October 25, 2010

George Orwell's five rules of blogging

OK, George Orwell was never a blogger. One of the greatest ever writers died just over sixty years ago. However, his rules still hold good today. In his essay, "Politics and the English Language", he defined five rules of writing. Here's my take on them for bloggers everywhere:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Although these phrases are in common usage - "It's not rocket science", "Out of the box thinking" etc, etc., they have lost their impact. Try to be original to make the reader sit up and think, or don't use metaphors at all.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do. This is embedded in the brain of all newspaper sub-editors. It's just as easy (in fact easier) to convey a message in simple words as in complex language.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. People use "filler words" in speech all the time - "Actually", "To be perfectly honest". These words and phrases have no meaning, and no place in your writing.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active. Make your blog as easy to read as possible by helping the reader with simple grammar.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. I see this rule broken most often. English is such a rich language, there is no need to resort to another.

However, George also added a sixth rule:

Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I agree, and think that the bonus rule is most important of all. As the song goes "If you can't say anything real nice, please don't talk at all, that's my advice". That doesn't mean you have to be nicey-nicey all the time, but name-calling and abuse is a poor approach.

Now, having set out the rules, I'm sure I'll break a few of them from time to time. So will you (and so did George). But as guidance for good blogging, I'm signed up to them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Is digital culture killing live events?

Er - no. At least that's my opinion. Of course, I would say that, since I'm currently head of a profession that thrives on speaking to live audiences. But even within the world of professional speaking, the advent of video conferencing, holographic presentations and TED videos have suggested that the era of the live event is drawing to a close.

But consider other trends. There are more large concert venues in the UK than there were 20 years ago. Every band that ever existed seems to have reformed for sell-out tours (driven by the fact that digital downloads have made it difficult to make money from products). Many of the most popular TV shows (X Factor, Britain's got Talent, Michael Macintyre's Comedy Roadshow) feature live audiences. Summer festivals are thriving. West End theatres are full.

That's not to say that the web hasn't had an astonishing impact. What I find fascinating is the way in which the web has created opportunities for performers to generate a following, and drive audiences to live events.

Personally, I think there's nothing to beat the emotion of "being there", whether it's a Take That concert at the 02, a rugby international at the Millennium stadium, or a late-night gig in a comedy club. Long may it continue.

What say you? See it live, or see it digitally?

Friday, September 24, 2010

MediaMaster, MediaMug 24th Sept

Rock legend Sir Paul McCartney is embracing the digital era, having signed a deal with Hewlett Packard (HP) to digitise his lifetime artistic output, including music, artwork, photographs, paintings and videos. The work will be stored in a private "cloud" created by HP and controlled by Sir Paul and his company. Lynn Anderson, vice president of HP's influencer marketing group told BBC News "Sir Paul is a perfect example of how cloud, social media and mobile computing can come together to deliver a unique fan experience". (Now there's a quote that needs work). Anyway, Sir Paul takes the MediaMaster trophy this week. There's a rumour that Mick Jagger may also be planning a private cloud (insert your own song title joke here).

Sometimes broadcasters forget that they are there to serve their audience. It happened to Chris Evans in his last days at Radio 1 some years ago, and it happened to Dave Lee Travis on the same station some time earlier. Maybe it's a Radio 1 syndrome, since the latest culprit is breakfast show host, Chris Moyles. On Wednesday's show, he went into a 30-minute rant about how he hadn't been paid by the BBC since July. OK, that's bad, but it's not something his listeners particularly care about, or want to hear. He's played it down since, but the damage has been done. Apart from being MediaMug of the week, I wonder how long before a replacement is sought by his employers?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Heroes and Villains - a tale of broadband and running shoes

Your reputation is very important. It can make or break your business. Like me, I'm sure you notice good and bad examples, and tell stories of both to your friends. I'm lucky enough to be able to get a message to lots of people, so I hope these two companies are listening - Virgin Media and Runners World. Let's take Virgin Media first. I noticed that my internet access had disappeared, so did all the usual checks, turning everything off and on. No joy. So I phoned the Virgin Media helpline. I won't bore you with the whole 20-minute conversation, but I was told these three things: I have an incompatible router, the fault was undoubtedly in my house (probably with the wiring), and their local infrastructure was fault-free. After 20 minutes of feeling that I was being told off, I put the phone down. As if by magic, 10 minutes later, everything worked. The wireless router was bought from Virgin (and is definitely compatible), my wiring is fine, and on the Virgin website later in the day was an apology for a fault in my area. Hmmm.

Now for a much happier outcome. I visited Runners World in Canary Wharf, London, to buy some new running shoes. I was simply looking to replace a pair, but the assistant asked if I'd like to have my running style checked. I tried several pairs of shoes on the treadmill, and my running was filmed and analysed. The recommendation was for shoes with a little more ankle support, which felt great when I tried them out. They were a make I hadn't worn before, and were described as "specialist running shoes". Price had never been mentioned at any point, and I suspected I would have to pay more for better shoes. In the event, they were ten pounds less than my normal choice. In short, the shop had persuaded me to buy something cheaper, but better suited to my running style. That's great service.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The truth will out - even if you're a rich footballer

There have been more than a few instances recently of premiership footballers trying to prevent information from entering the public domain. Injunctions have been sought and granted, and rumour and speculation about the identity and alleged transgression of the players concerned. Eventually, in almost every case, the player is identified, the injunction is lifted, and the story is written.

So who benefits from this game of cat and mouse? Obviously, the legal team employed to apply for the injunction charge handsomely for their services. The player "enjoys" a brief period of anonymity. We, the public, get to have conversations in pubs and coffee bars about who might have done what to whom.

However, at some point, the "truth" will out. and the player concerned becomes either a figure of fun or sympathy, depending on your moral stance.

But is there a wider point here? In my view, absolutely. In business, if there is something damaging that you think you can keep away from the media, consider confessing immediately. That way, you become the prime source of information, and prevent any speculation, which could be damaging in itself. You get to choose the time and method of release. You have the chance to apologise and explain your position. The sooner the news is out, the sooner it will be forgotten.

So, footballers and business people alike, rather than employing an expensive legal team, why not look at a way to manage the information by releasing it yourself?

Of course, the other option is not to do anything daft in the first place.....

Friday, August 20, 2010

Talking with Technology

Most speakers these days use technology to enhance their presentations. There's an important word in that sentence - enhance..The reason for using technology is to add something to your message, not to overwhelm it. Alas, some people use technology as a life-support (or actually a speech-support) system, fearing that their words alone will not be enough to enlighten and entertain their audience.

You should never allow technology to become the focus of your presentation, unless you are actually speaking about technology. I advise developing the speech first, then looking for places where technology, whether images, videos, audios or props, can add something to your words. Don't forget that you still should be able to deliver your speech if the technology fails.

The most powerful speeches are simply words, delivered with skill and passion, directly to an enraptured audience. As soon as you introduce technology, there is a danger that it will become the "takeaway". For example, I remember a brilliant speech from a fellow professional which concluded with a video from a rock band. The video could easily have been what the audience remembered, but due to the skill of the speaker, the message of the speech came through. You can only get away with that when you are very skilled indeed. (OK, it was Graeme Codrington).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Out of office" messages - are they useful?

I've just been away for a couple of weeks on holiday, with no internet access (from choice). It's been bliss. I haven't set an autoresponder message on my email, nor did I put an "I'm away" message on my voicemail. That's partly because I have other people to check them for me, and send a holding response if necessary. However, even when I was a sole trader, I never set up auto-replies.

There are several reasons why I didn't:

1) The remote possibility of alerting people that my home and office are unattended.
2) The fact that it alerted potential clients that I was a one-person company. That could be off-putting for large corporate clients.
3) I can't see the value of it anyway. If people need a quick response, it doesn't help, and if they can wait a week or two, you can respond on your return.

I've never been aware of any business that I've lost as a result of responding on return from holiday. Normally, our response (usually from my business manager) is very fast. However, it seems to me that clients are perfectly prepared to wait.

Finally, some people are either on holiday for months (lucky them), or forget to turn their autoresponder off. All in all, I can't see the value of "Out of the office".

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Is it fair to have your speaking fee donated to charity?

I've been in conversation with many professional speakers in both the UK and the US over the past two weeks. One topic of conversation has been the increasing number of requests we receive to speak in return for a donation to charity.

The speaking profession, and the members thereof, are the most generous and giving people I've ever come across. Each of us has our own charities and causes that we support, in our own private ways. In addition, many of us offer greatly reduced fees for charity events. Now and again, we speak for free.

For many years, I, along with many other speakers, have received requests to speak for free, from organisations who have limited funds. I don't mind them asking, and I have a policy of accepting a maximum of one such request each month. Many other speakers have similar policies.

Of late, the requests often come in this form. "We'd like you to speak at our event. We recognise that you are a professional, so we are offering a reasonable fee. Would you be free on this date?" Sometimes the fee is specified, sometimes not. If the date is free, I make a provisional booking and pass the details on to my business manager. A couple of days later comes another call. "Alan, all of the other speakers have agreed to donate their fees to charity (always a good cause, such as a hospice, or cancer charity).Would you agree to do that same?". Now I have a problem. I've confirmed that I'm free on the date. I've expressed interest, maybe even agreed a fee. I now have to either appear uncharitable, by insisting on receiving a fee, or decline to speak, citing some excuse. It's an insidious form of blackmail, in my opinion. On one occasion when I did appear under these conditions, I asked to see evidence of the charity donation. The organisers told me it wasn't possible, and that I should show more trust in them.

I know many professional speakers who have received similar approaches. There's often a rider attached, such as "Of course, we'll be promoting you to our database, and you may meet people who want to purchase your services". The unstated irony is that I am delivering my services effectively for nothing at the event itself. Since I receive most of my income from speaking fees, I am effectively under-valuing my professional expertise by appearing.

I've never met a caterer, a venue hire manager, or a security team, who were asked to donate their event fees to charity. My advice to professional speakers is to be careful of "fee to charity" events. They may be genuine, and you may decide to take them. If you do, be sure that there really is a fee to charity. If you decide to decline the request don't feel guilty about it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The web for knowing, A handshake for closing

There are many, many individuals who, in my opinion, are wasting time, money and effort trying to sell their services online. They include coaches, trainers, consultants and other providers of "soft" services which include a major element of person-to-person contact.

We all know the mantra of find, know, like and trust that is part of the sales cycle. It's true, and has been for thousands of years, that we buy from people we trust. But trust, as we also know, is hard to establish online. It stems most strongly, and most easily, from personal recommendation from another person we trust. In the absence of direct recommendation, trust can be enhanced by testimonials, case studies, and reputation.

So here's my take. I'm happy to buy a commodity online - a music download, a flight, a hotel. I'm more wary of buying a more "risky" product, such as a financial service, but I'm prepared to go with a well-known brand, probably one that I know in the physical world (First Direct being a prime exception to that rule). However, would I buy a service such as business coaching or marketing services from a company I had only encountered on the web? Absolutely not.

I had this discussion with a group of fellow speakers at a convention in Orlando earlier this week. All agreed that they would only buy high-cost person-to-person services from someone who was not only recommended by a friend, but that they had met face-to-face.

So here's my advice. We all need websites and a social media presence. But for many of us, that's not enough. We need to get out there and meet people in the real world. We need to speak and offer help and advice in person. It may sound old-fashioned, but that's still how high-value relationships are created. Fair enough, the initial contact may be online, but the deal will normally be closed in person.

In the past 20 years, I've met a lot of people who are trying to sell person-to-person services solely via websites, SEO, email marketing campaigns and the like. A few are successful, but a lot aren't. The most successful people I know have built a network of strong, real-world relationships with people who trust them and recommend them constantly.

Golfers say "I drive for flash an putt for cash". I say "The web for knowing, A handshake for closing"

Friday, July 23, 2010

Message first, social media second

Some people are so beguiled by a new piece of social media technology that they overlook the message they are using it to deliver. Of course, finding more efficient ways to deliver our points is always a sensible quest, but we must never forget that social media, and social networks, are tools, not an end in themselves.

Permit me to take this a stage further. If you have a powerful, timely message, it will be heard regardless of the methods you employ initially. You may decide to run a YouTube campaign to promote your latest book. People may start talking about it on Facebook, which attracts the attention of broadcast media, such as TV and radio. Before you know it, you have a wider audience using channels you hadn't planned to use that in the media that you had carefully planned for.

That's why, in my opinion, all campaigns should start with the core message, and then seek the best way of delivering it. You should also be prepared to switch your media focus at short notice. It's not about the medium, it's about the message. Maybe that's not the way Marshall McLuhan would have seen it, but it's my take.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Social media; time to get serious

The hype around social media is beginning to die down. Now it's time to get serious. If you are going to make use of social media in your business (and you don't have to), then you need to have a strategy, a plan to measure the results, regular checkpoints, and a willingness to put some resource behind your efforts. Here are a few tips to crank up the volume on your social media campaigns.

* Make sure you can measure your results. If you can't measure, you can't judge how well you are doing. There are plenty of tools available.
* Behave professionally. Don't leave your Twitter feed to the office junior (unless they are very good).
* Get your internal people trained, so they are confident to use social media responsibly.
* Look for niches and special areas where your customers are speaking. You don't need a presence on every social network.
* Don't hide your involvement. It's no longer the time for limited test sites. Go mainstream.

Finally, don't believe what external advisors and consultants tell you without reviewing their evidence. By now, anyone who advises on social media policy should have a track record of success. If you're serious about social media, you need solid professional advice.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Who cares what you say on social media?

Many people accuse users of social media of posting uninteresting trivia about their lives. In some cases, that's a fair criticism. If all you ever hear is the regular daily goings-on of an uneventful existence, it's hard to maintain your interest. On the other hand, a constant stream of "inspirational " quotes is not going to win you many followers, or even keep the ones you have. The answer is not full-on marketing either, since that will turn people away even more quickly than trivia. Worst of all, in my opinion, is the automatic broadcasting of news-related links in a never-ending stream of headlines. It's obvious that it comes from a machine, not from you.

So what is the answer? In my opinion, it's to communicate something useful - a piece of advice, a recommended restaurant, a place to buy great-value products. Think about the conversations you have with your friends. Sometimes you chat about music or sport, sometimes you offer advice, sometimes you may ask for help. That's why people like you. But if your conversation is dull, they will turn away, or look at their watch as they remember an urgent appointment.

Social media is about conversations. It's not about being dull, nor is it one-way. If you join the conversation, you will find that people do care what you say. You may do business with them you may not, but you'll be doing something interesting and useful. People will recommend you too, and business will come your way when you aren't even asking for it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Will England win? Let me cast the Rooneys.

Will England win?

Let me cast the Rooneys.

Take Hart, we're not Green. Every England player is a King. We will not Crouch, we will defeat Defoe, and cause an Upson. Don't Warnock the team, we're well Gerrard, us. Like Coles to Newcastle, we're gonna Lampard the Germans. Like Lennon, we imagine the best. We will not Terry, but our Milner-pound players will deliver a Wright-Phillips. They will Carragher us to victory.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How to have stage presence

Having a good script is one thing. Having presence on stage is another. Some people seem to have natural confidence on stage, others want to hide behind the lectern. Here are a few tips to enhance your presence on the platform:

* Ask for a wireless microphone, so you can move around
* Visit the stage before anyone arrives, to rehearse and become comfortable
* Plan the areas you can move in so as not to throw a shadow on the screen. Mark your boundaries with small pieces of tape
* Learn sections of your speech, especially the open and close
* Look at the audience, not your notes, when speaking
* Use bold gestures from the shoulder
* Don't move all the time. Stand still to speak
* Stay near the front of the stage
* Show your passion

Above all, keep at it. There's an old adage among speakers; "The only way to get good on the platform is to get good on the platform"

Monday, June 14, 2010

Prepare to win, like the Germans

There's a small football tournament going on in South Africa right now. I'm writing this the day after the German team thrashed 10-man Australia 4-0 in probably the best performance from any team so far. In many other games, shots, particularly from free kicks, have been flying high and wide, with players struggling to control the "Jabulani" ball. How did the Germans manage to hit the target so often? Maybe it's because their team, all of whom play in the German Bundesliga, have been using the Jabulani ball for months in matches. Co-incidence? Perhaps.

Now consider a completely different competition - the Eurovision Song Contest. Remember who won? That quirky Lily Allen soundalike, Lena from Germany,with "Satellite". The song entered the competition as a certified platinum single, having been at number one in the German charts for five weeks and charting in the top ten in other European countries. Lena won by a huge margin of 76 points.

What's the connection? Preparation. If you prepare to win, you stand a better chance of winning. Whether or not the German team win the World Cup, they can't say they weren't prepared properly. I bet they've practised penalties too.

Think about how you can prepare to win, and give yourself a better chance in business.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Social Media is just a con trick

Social media is a con trick. In fact it's at least three cons; Conversation, Content and Consistency.

Conversation - You need to get involved. It's no use simply posting messages saying how wonderful your company is, or what an interesting blog you have just written. You need to respond to questions, add to debates, and offer a point of view on issues. That's what engages people. Don't be scared of getting into a debate and then leaving it again, since it may run for days or weeks. Simply add to the debate while you are there.

Content - You need to offer something useful and of interest. This may seem contrary to what I said above (I'm even debating with myself here), but if you post an interesting and valuable article, other people will publicise it for you. Your comments on other people's blogs may also offer useful content, so don't simply say "I agree" or "This is rubbish".

Consistency - you need to make regular appearances. That does not mean every day, and certainly not every hour. However, if you only appear once or twice a month, post a ton of material and then disappear again, you won't attract many friends. Small, regular postings seem to be much more effective than rare long ones. Little and often - that's the way.

Of course, there is also Connecting, Confidence, Consideration, Congratulating, etc.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Calm down Dear, it's only social media

I've been at a number of event in the past year when that Socialnomics video was shown. Almost without exception, people were astonished and impressed by the statistics, with many worrying that they are already way behind all their competitors in social media usage. The combination of a pulsing Fatboy Slim beat, dazzling graphics and amazing numbers is a heady cocktail.

But hang on a minute. The old maxim about statistics (you know the one I mean) still has some validity. Many of the numbers in the video are somewhat misleading. For example, use of email is included as "use of social media". US statistics for certain age groups are presented without saying so, inferring they apply globally to all ages.

It would be perfectly possible to supply ststistics that show quite a different picture. Such as:

- 74% of the world's population have never used the Internet (Source:
- Twitter has reached 75 million users, but growth is now less than 8% a month (source (
- Only 20% of Twitter users are "active" - defined as sending more than 5 tweets ever (source:
- If all active Twitter users in the entire world formed a city, it would be smaller than New York (
- Only 10.6% of online time is spent on social media sites (source:Experian hitwise)

See what I mean? Depending on the statistics you choose, the perception can be very different.

OK, I can hear you thinking "Come on Alan, you're just an old hack who doesn't get social media". Actually, that's far from the truth. I've written a book about it, I use social media heavily, and I regularly give talks and seminars on the topic. I'm delivering a keynote speech at tthe Social Media in Business conference in London this Friday, for example.

My point is that social media is very important, and hugely significant. However, it can be over-hyped. I see that as a danger. If predictions fail to materialise, people lose interest and become cynical. I'm merely seeking a realistic approach.

When you're in a wood, everything is a tree. We can get so caught up in the world of social media that we think everyone else is, or soon will be. That may not be so, despite neat videos. A sense of proportion may be a handy thing to hang on to.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

From X Factor to Deal or No Deal?: The General Election and TV

There's been a lot of chat about the impact of television on the outcome of the UK general election. In the event, the four-week campaign seems to have had little impact on each party's share of the vote.

The initial leadership debate appeared to have turned the tide in Nick Clegg's favour, like a Susan Boyle audition. Sadly for him and his party, there was no immediate text vote, and his opponents consulted their media advisers to outflank him in subsequent debates.

Then there was the election coverage itself, with various pundits leaping around in front of green screens, conjuring graphics to illustrate swings, both real and imagined. I felt sorry for Jeremy Vine, who by the end of the marathon coverage, was clearly suffering from ascending and descending the virtual staircase of number 10.

Now we have the TV appeals from the party leaders. Timed to avoid clashes, and delivered to potential partners in power, as well as to the country as a whole, they are fascinating vignettes of tactical byplay. It's interesting to note that the phrase "in the best interests of the country" is used often, though a cynic might note that the phrase really means "in my party's best interests".

Some argue that future elections may be fought online. That may be so. There is bound to be more emphasis on using a medium as ubiquitous as the web. In my opinion, video, whether viewed online or on HDTV (the distinction is disappearing rapidly) will remain an important way of delivering a message. There's a popular mythology that Barack Obama won the US presidency by making heavy use of social media. To my way of thinking, it was a small but important element of his overall campaign, which relied more heavily on TV appearances and text messaging.

For a 75-year-old medium, TV still plays a huge role in politics, and I suspect it will continue to do so for a long time to come.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Winston and Sylvia - why voting is important

A ten-minute walk from where I live in East London, there are two monuments. One is large and impressive, and a well-known local landmark. The other is small and hidden, known only to a few locals, historians and researchers.

The large monument is a statue of the former local MP, Winston Churchill. He was the head of a wartime coalition government which turned the course of the second world war. He is rightly celebrated, and once stated "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

A short distance down the hill is a small triangular wooded patch of land opposite the tube station. This morning, a few straggly bluebells are blooming there in the watery sun. A small brass plaque shows that the copse was named Pankhurst Green in 1990, in honour of the sufragette Sylvia Pankhurst, who lived in a house nearby from 1932 to 1956. In fighting for the deocratic rights of women, she was imprisoned and force-fed many times before eventually achieving her objective in 1928, when all women, regardless of income or status, were finally allowed to vote.

Winston and Sylvia clashed many times in the village local village halls and the columns of the local paper. Winston was elected as both a Liberal and a Conservative MP, whereas Sylvia was at various times, a member of the Labour, Conservative and Communist parties. They disagreed on many things. However, there was one issue on which they were in full agreement; the importance of every citizen having a vote.

I know that many people are disillusioned with politics and politicians. 'Twas ever thus. Democracy is not a perfect system, and the likelihood is that this is the last general election without any element of proportional representation. However, voting is a right that we should cherish. I will be voting, as always, on election day. I remember Sylvia Pankhurst, who fought to give everyone that right, and Winston Churchill, who fought to let us keep it.

Please take just a few minutes on May 6th to use your vote.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gordon Brown and the MediaCoach Law of Microphones

The MediaCoach Law of MIcrophones states "Any microphone, at any time, is live, and will pick up an unguarded remark".

Alas, Gordon Brown forgot The Law today in Rochdale. After a five-minute discussion with a local resident, Gillian Duffy, he turned to get into his car, saying "It was nice to meet you".

However, once he thought he was out of earshot of all but his closest aides, he was recorded as saying "That was a disaster. You should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that?"

An aide responded "What did she say?"

Mr Brown replied: "Oh, everything, she's just a sort of bigoted woman who said she used to vote Labour."

The conversation was recorded and reported by Sky News. It's probably the biggest gaffe of the campaign so far. The Prime Minister has since apologised, when interviewed by Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2, after listening to a recording of his remarks.

The Tories have siezed on the issue to make political capital. Nick Clegg, the LibDem leader has declined to comment - wisely in my view.

The incident is an embarrassment. However, it's hardly surprising, given the stress of the campaign. I know that in their suppsed "private" moments, members of all parties express frustration with people. I've heard many of them say things (as we all do at times) that we wouldn't want recorded and broadcast. Unfortunately for Labour, it adds to the perception of an out-of-touch Government past its sell-by date.

John Major had a moment in a TV studio when he referred to three cabinet colleagues as "b**tards". During his 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush called New York Times reporter Adam Clymer a "major league a**hole" just before a speech, but not far enough away from a mike.

So remember, the mike is always on. The camera is always rolling, and there's always someone in earshot

Monday, April 26, 2010

Advice to Gordon, David and Nick - How to perform well in a debate.

Debates are obviously in the news because of the UK election, and the novelty of having three party leaders live on stage. It may be the impact of the X Factor generation, but nevertheless, I believe that it has some merit. In the US elections, the head-to-head debates produced some fascinating tussles between Barack Obama and John McCain (and some dreadfully dull moments too). If you find yourself in a debate, here are some tips that may help you to come out on top.

* When you are speaking, you are in control. Make sure that you finish your point strongly.
* Keep your points brief, with rehearsed phrases emphasised
* Know in advance of the debate what impression you wish to create
* Never lose your temper. If your opponents do, stay even calmer
* Ask for the right to reply to false accusations
* Allow yourself to be interrupted only on your strongest points
* Short, concise points can be deadly. Use them well
* Stand tall, and look at the audience
* Have a short, strong, well-prepared closing statement

It's all about calmness, confidence and getting a clear message across. That's what wins debates.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bird Flu, Swine Flu and Nobody Flew

It's a relief that planes are flying in the UK skies again, unless of course, you live under a flight path. But was it really necessary to institute a six-day blanket ban on airlines, causing massive disruption and financial loss? I imagine there will be an enquiry in due course (post-election, of course). I'm no vulcanologist, nor am I an aviation expert, so I rely on others to make the right decisions regarding air safety. Only yesterday, I was listening to a "Professor of Geoclimatology" (try saying that when you're eating a cream cracker) on BBC Radio 5 Live. He was explaining that any plane flying through the ash cloud would have its windscreen "etched black" and the "engines would fill with molten glass in seconds". He argued that the ban would need to be in place for "weeks at least". Less than 24 hours later, the ban was lifted, with Dame Deirdre Hutton, of the Civil Aviation Authority saying "Manufacturers have now agreed increased tolerance levels in low ash density areas." In other words, it wasn't as big a problem as people thought.

Now, I'm all in favour of keeping people safe. A few years ago, we heard dire warnings that Avian Flu (or Bird Flu, as the tabloids called it) was about to sweep across the world, killing millions of people. Although millions of birds have become infected with the virus since its discovery, 262 humans have died from the H5N1 virus in twelve countries according to World Health Organisation (WHO) data as of August 31, 2009. Maybe we were lucky, or have been so far.

But hang on a minute. Swine Flu was the next pandemic (a word that we've learned is like an epidemic, only much much worse - at least in theory). Countries around the world stockpiled millions of pounds worth of vaccines, making a tidy sum for pharmaceutical companies in the process. A recent report by the Council of Europe's health committee has criticised the WHO for its reaction to swine flu. Labour MP Paul Flynn, vice chair of the council's health committee, said "In the United Kingdom, the Department of Health initially announced that around 65,000 deaths were to be expected. In the meantime, by the start of 2010, this estimate was downgraded to only 1,000 fatalities. By January 2010, fewer than 5,000 persons had been registered as having caught the disease and about 360 deaths had been noted"

Of course, no-one wants to be caught unawares by disease or natural disaster. But the problem now seems to be that the scare tactics are making people more suspicious of the predictions. The next time a pandemic is predicted, some people will regard it as simply a "scare", and not bother to get vaccinated or take precautions. The next time there's a dire weather warning, people may think "it wasn't that bad last time, and ignore advice to stay indoors or avoid travel.

It's always going to be a tough call, but would it be too much to ask for a realistic assessment of risk, rather than a vision of doom and disaster that turns out to be a damp squib?

(By the way, thanks to Andy Headworth for the inspiration for this headline)

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Power of Speech

I've refrained from blogging on the UK Party Leaders' debate (until now). There was so much post-debate discussion it seemed churlish to add to the chatter. However, now that I've had some time to reflect, I would like to offer a perspective that I haven't seen discussed a great deal.

While we live in a digital age, with social media burgeoning, the debate was judged largely on what the leaders said, and how they performed live on stage. It was similar, though clearly not the same, as the two-handed US presidential debates between Barack Obama and John McCain. A three-way debate operates differently, but there is still no teleprompter, no editing, and no hiding place.

Great speeches have always been part of politics and both global and national events. For a while, it seemed that rhetoric was being outshone by digital noise. Maybe the tide has turned a little.

It remains to be seen how much impact the debates will have on the real ballot on May 6th. In the US, it seems that the effect of the debates was minimal, and they were more about damage limitation than establishing leadership. Here in the UK, the initial debate has boosted the ratings of the LibDems, and given Nick Clegg more airtime as a result.

Personally, as President-Elect of the Global Speakers Federation (the 7,000-strong global body of qualified professional speakers), I'm delighted that the spoken word is having an impact on political debate. Long may it continue.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Frankie Boyle: Comedy Hero or Villain?

For the third time in recent months, Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle has provoked a storm of protest. His comments in a stage show, to a mother of a child with Downs syndrome, have been widely condemned as "going too far".

But how far is "too far" in comedy? We already have laws that ban racist and (to some extent) religious jokes. Jokes against women, or mothers-in-law, have become unpopular, unfashionable and unliked.

Back in 1978, stand-up comedian George Carlin (one of my all-time comedy heroes) performed a monologue called "The seven words you can't say on TV". I won't repeat them here, obviously. You can google them if you wish. For my money, it remains an act of sheer genius, even though it offended many, and led to arrest and a court appearance for George. The Supreme Court eventually cleared him, citing the "right to free speech".

Recently, Jimmy Carr and Billy Connolly have both suffered protests and public anger about gags in their acts. The late Bill Hicks (another hero of mine) often had police in his audience making notes, after public complaints about his material.

In my opinion, the point of comedy is to rattle the cage, occasionally shock and question the status quo. Sometimes people will be offended. However, unlike the racist or the bigot, the comedian is not motivated by hate, but by the need to challenge and question everything - a kind of ultimate cynicism.

Personally, I'm not a great fan of Frankie Boyle, and I wouldn't pay to go and see his show. But if he stays within the law, and people know what to expect, I believe he has a right to make jokes about anything. I realise may be in the minority in that view. I wonder what others make of it?

Friday, April 09, 2010

May I make my point!

When you are being interviewed, you need to get your point across. You need to do it with politeness and clarity. You should never lose your temper, complain or raise your voice. If you do, you have already lost the argument. Sometimes you may be in a panel debate, or with another interviewee who dominates the discussion, leaving you unable to deliver your message.

If you find yourself in a debate, here are some tips that should help you to get attention.

* Always have a pen and paper handy to jot down points you wish to respond to
* Treat each answer as a "mini-speech" with an opening, closing and one strong point
* Develop an "informal conversational" style
* If there is an audience, feel free to play to them and react to them
* Never interrupt. If you are interrupted, pause and then say "If I may continue"
* Never insult another panel member, but argue with their stance if you wish
* Have a prepared final statement ready

Maybe I should send this to Clegg, Cameron and Brown

Monday, April 05, 2010

Tiger's Pre-Masters Press Conference

Tiger Woods has just made his third appearance in front of the "media" (a ticket-only audience) since his night drive in Florida five months ago. How did he do this time? Here's my assessment:

He looked and sounded a little more relaxed than in his previous two appearances. He referred to his pals on the course in affectionate terms, and was clearly glad to be back in golf. He constantly referred to the fans, and how he needed to acknowledge them, which he admitted he had "under-appreciated in the past".

He had some prepared phrases "I did everything to the letter of the law", and was clearly well-rehearsed. He complained of "constant harassment" to his family, and said it was "hard to heal".

The questioning was not exactly tough, and it appeared as though Tiger may have known some of the topics in advance (hardly difficult to guess).

Asked how he lived a "secret life", he responded by saying it was "terrible to his family", and that winning golf tournaments was "irrelevant compared to the damage he caused". Not exactly an answer to the question.

Tiger denied ever taking any illegal drug, but admitted that he had "PRP injections of plasma" into injury sites to help them heal. He also revealed that he had treatments in hyperbaric chambers.

He looked decidedly uncomfortable when questioned about his wife, who will not be joining him at the tournament. He was also clearly annoyed about a question about his state of mind at the time of the accident, and simply said "I was fined 166 dollars, case closed"

Overall, we saw more of the "real" Tiger Woods, but this was hardly a grilling. He referred to most of the journalists by their first name (a mistake in my view), and there was rarely a supplementary question. Once more, this press interaction was tightly controlled and stage managed. Many of the questions were easy shots, and he was never in a tough position. As part of his rehabilitation, it was another step on the road. As far as answering any of the questions about why he did it, or what happened on that night in Florida, the world is none the wiser. The man remains an enigma.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ask the Chancellors - who won?

If you missed the C4 debate between George Osborne, Vince Cable and Alastair Darling, you can watch the highlights on the C4 website later on.

According to the poll conducted by C4, Cable was the winner with 36% of the votes, with Darling and Osborne on 32% each. Other rating systems mirrored the same findings, as did the anecdotal reports. The only outlier was The Times online poll, which made Osborne a clear winner with 44%, which may say more about Times online visitors than actual performance in the TV debate.

My take was that Vince Cable put up the best showing, with Darling getting somewhat flustered (though having the best hair), and Osborne underperforming. While Cable dodged the party bickering and called for an all-party approach to solve the economic crisis, Osborne and Darling traded party insults.

I suspect that the least happy bunnies tonight will be in the Tory party HQ. Vince Cable will no doubt get a pat on the back from Nick Clegg. I'd be interested to hear what others thought

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to demonstrate you know FA about management

The Football Association (FA) is looking for their seventh chief executive in eleven years, following the departure of Ian Watmore over the weekend. It was clear from the manner of his leaving that all is not well at the FA. Mr Watmore was only in post for nine months. Apparently the last straw was a row over a leaked internal briefing paper.On his departure, he fired off a furious email to fellow board members, including this threat "I don't know which sad person thought to brief yesterday but we know it had to be from this list as you are the only people who received it....If I ever find the person who leaked the briefing then I will ensure that that person's reputation is damaged beyond repair. This is the last time I share any information in advance."

It is no secret that the FA has been riven by bickering and personality clashes for years. But this public display of pique does no-one any favours. It certainly does not help the FA, who have now had to appoint an acting director. It does not help Ian Watmore, since presumably he will be looking for gainful employment at some stage in the future. Nor does it reflect well on the board as individuals, and the way the FA is managed.

Whoever gets the permanent post next time had better be a diplomat, and a good communicator, and a very capable CEO. Oh yes, and a knowledge of football may help.

Rumours that the FA Board is thinking of running a whelk stall have been denied.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Five tests to verify a social media expert

Back in December 2009, a search by B L Ochman found almost 16,000 self-proclaimed social media experts on Twitter. That's a lot of (apparent) expertise. If you needed social media expertise for your business, how on earth could you choose? I believe there are some very simple checks you can do to give you the best chance of finding a genuine "expert". Here are five tests that I hope will help you.

1) Evidence of success.

Rather than explaining what they might be able to do for you, any genuine expert should be able to "show and tell" a number of examples where their work has been of benefit to clients. Ideally, they should be able to quote examples of similar work to that you are asking for, and provide proof of their success. Look for numbers and financial value. If they say that their value is "impossible to quantify", be very wary.

2) Referrals from happy clients

This is similar to the one above, but your potential expert should also be able to provide contact details of past clients who will vouch for them. Ideally, they should allow you to select several clients from a list, and then provide you contact details so that you can take up references. If your expert claims that all of their work is "confidential", or "too early to tell", this should give you cause for concern.

3) Referrals from other experts

This one is a bit more tricky. In my opinion, people who are very good at what they do become known by other experts in their field. There are a number of universally acknowledged expert in social media, such as Robert Scoble, Guy Kawasaki, Amy Jo Martin, Chris Brogan and Joel Comm (yes, and some others - make up your own list). I think it is reasonable to ask your "expert", which of these people knows them and could vouch for them.

4) Online presence

Real social media experts use social media a lot. That's why they get good. It's not just about the number of followers they have (though that is significant), but it's also about whether they post regularly, engage with their connections and appear to know what they are doing. If you their Twitter profile and find they are following 2,000 people, but have only a few hundred followers, run away quickly.

5) Published expertise

Have they written a book (yes I know, very 20th century), blogs or wikis that you can look at? Do they speak often at large events? Real experts publish their knowledge widely, and are often asked to speak. It's not a guarantee of expertise, but it's another sign.

This list is not exhaustive, and nor does it mean that if they don't tick every box, you should not engage their services. But if they only meet one or two of the above criteria, are you sure they are a real expert? If you're putting your money out there, you need to be confident. Take care.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Have a break, have a social media disaster

Oh dear, oh dear. Nestle have put an enormous, chocolate-covered foot in it. They've discovered Facebook, but not how to use it. Here's a message that greeted visitors to their Facebook fan page:

“This page is for fans of Nestlé. Linkspamming, abuse etc will be removed, and repeat offenders will be excluded. Posts that have been recently removed have either been abusive or been linkspamming (or both).”

Well that seems clear, if not exactly in the spirit of social media. But it got worse. Whoever runs the page has now started bleating about the way in which visitors are using the Nestle logo. They are also offering advice on spelling and grammar.

Here's what the administrator said "We welcome your comments, but please don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic – they will be deleted.”

So far, so disastrous. There are now over 90,000 "fans", many of them posting comments very critical of Nestle. Personally, I'd like to thank whoever runs the Nestle fan page for a social media strategy that is so wrong, it makes a great case study.

Why not go and see it yourself?

Friday, February 26, 2010

What's social media for?

I'm spending more and more time with clients working on their social media strategies (but without abandoning traditional media of course). To those who are new to social media, there's a phase where they need to be convinced of the business benefits before taking the plunge. That's fair enough. Alas, there are way too many "instant social media experts" who will over-sell the rewards, without understanding a basic principle of marketing - you have to sell to the people who are buying.

A recent Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) survey of 80 brand managers found that over half of them were using social media to find out what customers were saying about their brand, and three-quarters were "actively engaging" with customers on Twitter and Facebook. It doesn't require a lot of effort to use social media in this way. In fact, I suggest that before you embark on any sort of campaign, you need to start by monitoring your brand in social media, and talking to your customers.

It's often said that you need to use social media in a way that engages with people, offers them help, and doesn't market overtly. All that is true. However, companies like Dell (via Dell outlet), Ford (via the FIesta Movement) and Asda (through their YouTube channel) have used social media to directly boost sales. There's nothing wrong with that. We all need to put bread on our family's table.

There's also an argument that if you connect with enough people, the business will come to you. That may be so, and I'm not short on connections myself. However, the majority of my business still comes via referral and face-to-face meetings that may have begun via social media, but are rarely concluded through it.

Rather than wasting time and money, shrewd use of social media can help you to save it, by preventing costly marketing mistakes. It can also help you to test out new ideas for products and services without commissioning expensive research. It can also help you react quickly to deal with any issues that arise (now that can really save you money). So what's social media for? A whole load of things. But if you use it to save or make money, that can't be bad, can it?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Eyes of the Tiger - did Woods convince?

The eagerly-awaited "news conference" from Tiger Woods took place today. Actually it wasn't a news conference at all, it was a 14-minute scripted statement. There were few reporters present, and no questions.

Tiger was clearly emotional, which is understandable. It's been close to 100 days since his drive hit a tree in Florida. His mother sat in the front row, but his wife, Elin, was absent. I think that was probably the right decision, since to have Elin at his side (like a wife who "stands by" an errant husband) may have been too stage-managed. They clearly still have a lot to discuss.

In terms of Tiger's handling of his media and personal crisis, I am only qualified to comment on the former. His personal life, as he said, is only a matter for him and his close family.

In terms of the media, I believe that his appearance today was well-planned, but ultimately counter-productive. He did not offer many answers. There was no date to return to golf and no clear information about he intends to do in future. He apologised to many people, but he could and should have done that a lot sooner.

I suspect that all he has done today is to prolong media interest in his story, which is probably the opposite of his intent.

I'll be saying more about Tiger's performance on Talk Sport radio this evening at around 11.20 pm. Feel free to ring in and comment.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The secret shared by Smokey and Keith.

Smokey Robinson knew the trick. So did Keith Richards. They know how to grab an audience in a couple of seconds. People of a certain age (actually, people of many ages) only have to hear Keith's first two fuzzy notes of "Satisfaction", or the six bell-clear notes from Marv Taplin's guitar on "Tracks of my Tears" and they're hooked.

OK, some of the emotion when you hear a song now comes from the familiarity, and memories it evokes. But there are some openings so good that the first time you hear them, you want to hear more. That's not only the secret to a great song, it's also the secret to a great speech.

If you can evoke a strong emotion in the first few seconds, your audience will be with you for the rest of your delivery. However, if you stumble to the mike, slightly embarrassed at your introduction, and begin with a phrase like "I'll do my best to tell you something of interest", then you may as well forget it and walk off again.

You need to seize the opportunity, make a promise of great things to come, and then launch into the melody. Still don't believe me? Then watch this -

Saturday, February 13, 2010

FIve reasons Twitter is like jazz

Twitter is like jazz. I’m approaching three years as a Twitter user, and my experience has been like a musician moving from following all the notes on the score to having fun with the melody. Here’s my take on why Twitter is the jazz club of the social media world:

1. You need to have a theme. It’s no good just playing random notes. People need to know who you are, and what your expertise is. Having established that, you can start to play around a bit, but if you don’t have a “core theme”, people won’t follow you.

2. You don’t have to play the same notes as everyone else. If you simply follow the crowd, and retweet others messages, or post only motivational quotes, others will lose interest. You should develop your own unique style, making your tweets unmissable.

3. Small groups develop their own style. Even though you may have thousands of followers, you will benefit from chatting to small groups regularly, since you will get to know each other, and build a close relationship that can lead to mutual benefit.

4. Some people don’t get it. Twitter is not for everyone. It’s much smaller than Facebook, Linkedin and many other social platforms. But the people who love it, love it. That’s fine. Some love classical music, some only listen to R&B.

5. It keeps evolving. I keep seeing innovative uses of Twitter, and unexpected ways to make it work for businesses. Keep experimenting, and see what you like.

I’m off to put on my shades and grab my saxophone. Twitter? It’s terminally hep.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bill Shankly and Guacamole

I know, it's an unlikely pairing. No doubt the old growler would more likely have rubbed guacamole on Tommy Smith's bruised legs than eaten it for lunch. So what's the link? Prospective parliamentary candidates.

Up in Liverpool Wavertree, all is not well. The candidate selected to fight the safe-ish Labour seat is Luciana Berger. She's not local, but there have been plenty of candidates who have moved to their constituencies, and become excellent MPs. However, a measure of local knowledge is handy. Ms Berger was quizzed by the Liverpool Echo, to determine how much she knew about her prospective parliamentary seat. She knew that Liverpool's airport was named after John Lennon, and that there were "at least two" Mersey tunnels. However, she had never heard of legendary Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly, and had no idea who sang "Ferry Cross the Mersey". Ms Berger is 28, so she was being asked about things before her time. But a modicum of local knowledge would be expected, especially in Liverpool, where for at least half the city, Bill Shankly is a hero. Former sofa-dwelling actor Ricky Tomlinson is so incensed, he's thinking of standing against her. Of course, Ms Berger may never have heard of him either.

It put me in mind of an apocryphal story attributed to then Labour candidate Peter Mandelson, when he was canvassing in Hartlepool. The story was that he mistook mushy peas in a local chip shop for guacamole. In fact, the story stemmed from an American political reporter who made the mistake while covering an election in (guess where?) Liverpool in 1986. Rather than waste a good line, Tory activists quickly started the rumour that Mandelson had made the error.

True or not, these stories of political foot-in-mouth can be extremely damaging. The point is, whatever you do, in politics or business, you need to be properly briefed. You need to do your research. And you need to check that are fully prepared before you talk to prospective voters or customers.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

I'm going to sue!

What do you do if you spot a story about you in the press which you regard as damaging? Your first reaction might be to sue the author, and the media outlet, which is understandable. However, it may not be the right thing to do. It's easier than ever these days to monitor the media. Google Alerts can send an email to your desktop as soon as your name or company is mentioned anywhere on the web.

I received one such alert last week, which pointed me to a blog where I was described in less than glowing terms after a BBC interview that I'd recently appeared in. Naturally, I was annoyed, but in the end I took no action. It was one person's view, and to respond would only have made the story bigger.

Here's a check-list of things to consider if you have been criticised in the media:

* Monitor your reputation at all times
* Quick, simple actions can defuse bigger problems
* Talk it over with colleagues - never act alone
* Consider how much damage has been done
* If you decide to comment, address all the issues
* Don't use the "not many people affected" defence
* If compensation is due, pay it quickly
* Get as much coverage as possible for any remedial action
* A call to the editor may be better than a formal complaint
* If you do complain, be prepared for more scrutiny

In short, decide if any action at all is required, and if it is, be quick, decisive and honest.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Toyota's crisis management hits the brakes

Watch out if the car in front is a Toyota, or worse still if you're in it. The problems for the company seem to be growing by the day, as a technical problem transforms into a massive recall and thence to a PR disaster. The last thing a car company wants these days is a drop in public confidence in its products, so they all work hard (or should do) at reputation management. However, in my opinion, Toyota has so far handled the media crisis with all the skill of a world-class golfer alleged to have multiple affairs (in other words with not much skill at all).

The problems with sticking accelerator pedals were first reported in 2007. However, in an echo of a similar problem reported with Audi cars 20 years ago (which caused a sales drop of 83% in the US, and took 15 years to recover from), Toyota has been slow to act. Rather than dealing with all known issues, Toyota have reacted to each problem separately, causing them even further embarrassment with the latest revelations about problems with the Prius braking system. It's been a double whammy.

What should Toyota have done better? Here's my check-list

1) Acted as quickly as possible to take responsibility for the problems
2) Show concern for all owners affected by the problem
3) Put up a high-level spokesperson - ideally the CEO - to make a statement
4) Explain how they will put things right

I suspect that many Toyota owners will think twice when heading out to buy their next car. That's Toyota's real problem. If they had crisis media experts available, then either they didn't consult them, or they ignored their advice. Dealing with a crisis is not complicated. It's been done well (and badly) by many big corporations in recent years. But as George Santayana said; "Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them."

Every business should have at least two things in place to deal with reputation issues:

1) Knowledge of its current reputation, and regular monitoring
2) A crisis management plan, with a process, a team and trained spokespeople

How does your company stack up?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What, exactly, is "News"?

A journalist pal said to me the other day "If only people who wrote press releases understood what news is, we'd all have a much easier life". I know what she meant. I've seen thousands of press releases that contained no news whatsoever, despite (or perhaps because of) being carefully constructed and edited by PR companies and their clients. No disrespect to PR professionals by the way, I've been a member of the Chartered Institute of PR for years)

So, here's my "what is news" check-list. If your PR material doesn't contain most of these, don't bother sending it out.

* Interest, especially human interest
* Current. Is it happening now?
* Local. Is it happening here?
* Scale. Does it have an impact on many people?
* High profile. Are there some big names, whether companies or people, involved?
* Conflict. Are there opposing forces or opinions?
* Drama. Is it compelling, such as a disaster or overcoming the odds?

That's news.