Small businesses go social

Recently I hosted  a couple of ‘how to’ seminars for small businesses in Campbeltown, Argyll.Facebook feedback

The attendees were mostly genuine small businesses – one man bands and partnerships who spend their days and nights striving to be a successful enterprise. Their time and marketing budgets are precious so they need to make sure both are targeted to get the maximum return.

They have a head start – many of them have joined together under the Explore Campbeltown banner to help promote the area to the rest of the world. Campbeltown is unique – check out its location on a map and you’ll see it’s a destination for those determined to experience big skies, big surf and a big welcome.

It was Explore Campbeltown who invited me along to present to its members and experience the big welcome for myself. I wanted to show everyone that using social media can generate leads and sales and can act as an effective customer service platform. You can see the slides I used here.

Feedback on the day and afterwards (via Facebook and Twitter) was positive and shows someone was paying attention!

 So what did I learn?

  1.  Small businesses are keen to make the most of social media – if it’s the right thing for them.
  2.  Most of them were comfortable, confident and competent Facebook users. Facebook was the most popular and preferred social media platform.
  3. Twitter is less popular – and perceived to be more difficult – maybe because it’s easier to get ‘likes’ than it is the get ‘followers’.
  4. You Tube is underused as a potential business tool and instead is still viewed (pardon the pun) as a place to watch videos of cats and people falling over. But the groups I spoke to were keen to give it a go as a marketing tool.
  5. There’s not much time for small business owners to train and learn about social media– those who had used social media in a personal capacity found it much easier to make the switch to a business use than others.
  6. Business groups like Explore Campbeltown are in a great position to help each other out using social media. My feeds are now full of group members liking and sharing each other’s posts – increasing the reach of every post and increasing the potential for sales.
  7. The pace of change in social media means there’s always something new to learn. Pretty much everyone – including me – left with a new skill, tip or trick to try.

So if you want to see how small businesses are using social media you could do a lot worse than search Facebook for Campbeltown – and see what the town’s businesses are up to – then come see them all for yourself!


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Learning to fly – solo

Amy Johnson in vintage plane black and white image

Those lovely people at Comms2Point0 persuaded me to guest post again for them – this time about my experiences as a start-up solo PR consultant.

You can read the full post here:

Learning to fly as a solo PR

Picture credit

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In a twist over Twitter?

Always be a unicorn

Always be a unicorn

Are you getting in a twist over Twitter?  If tweeting and hashtags leave you baffled you could be missing out. These top tips can help your small business make the most of Twitter.

  1.     Is Twitter for you?

Twitter can be a great way of interacting with your customers. But before you dive in make sure it’s a medium that will work for you. It may be free to use, but you’ll need to invest time to build your Twitter presence.  Kenny MacDonald, CIPR Scotland Committee member, recommends using Twitter – but cautions:

“Ask yourself, will Twitter actually help reach and engage target audiences and how does this fit the comms plan?” @marcommskenny

2.       Pick a name

Your Twitter name is how your customers will find and address you. It shold reflect your brand or business and may be as simple as your own name. However, with more than 200 million active users your first choice name might already be gone and you’ll need to get creative. Try to keep your name short and memorable. Stephanie Frasco explains why here.

3.       Follow, follow, follow

Once your account is set up find some people to follow. You don’t have to follow anyone – but it defeats the point if you don’t.  Use twitter’s search function to find accounts which tweets about subjects relevant to you. Or look for your competitors.

4.       Encourage people to follow you

There’s no special formula to persuade people to follow you. If your tweets are interesting and engaging then you’ll pick up followers. Try sharing useful advice, ask questions and get involved with discussions. It’s almost like Field of Dreams – if you build it they will come!

5.       Interact

Twitter is all about conversations. Simply broadcasting information isn’t as effective as interacting with other users. So reply to tweets made by other people. Share posts you’ve enjoyed by retweeting them.  Get involved. The more you give, the more you’ll get.

6.       Consider using a platform like Hootsuite

It can be a good idea to have a personal Twitter account and a separate one for your business. If you are managing more than one account you might find it easier to use a social media platform like Hootsuite to help keep all of your accounts in one place.

7.       Go mobile

One of the benefits of social media is its speed. Twitter works really well on mobile phones. You don’t even need to use up your data allowance. You should be able to set up your phone so  you can tweet and receive notifications by text. Download the twitter app, or try another Twitter mobile platform such as Ecofon so you can tweet on the move.

8.       Be yourself – unless you can be a unicorn

It’s the same online as in life – trying to be something you’re not is very difficult. Use appropriate, informative language. “Don’t under sell the business but don’t proclaim it to be something it isn’t”, says @urkypaby. Or take some well used online advice:  Be yourself – unless you can be a unicorn. Then always be a unicorn.

9.       Don’t panic if it goes wrong

Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you deal with them that can make the difference.  Helen Reynolds, digital and social media manager at Monmouthshire Council, suggests there are seven Twitter mistakes you have to make before you can call yourself a pro.

10.   Analyse your results

You need to know if your efforts are worthwhile. Did anyone see your tweets? How do you know? Check out these free analytic tools.

There are loads more Twitter tips – these are just a few. Why not share yours here or even better, tweet them.


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Taking the turf to the streets

We’ve been guest posting again, about horse racing coverage on TV. You can read it here, on PR Examples’ super blog.

ImagePicture from @channel4racing

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You’re hired – if you can nail the interview

Westerly21 Alan Sugar (Image by Westerly21)

It may not feel like it but according to the Office for National Statistics the number of people in work rose during the last three months of 2012.

Unemployment fell by 12,500 to 1.54 million, while the number of people in work rose by 154,000 during the same period.

None of these figures suggest an imminent escape from recession but they suggest the job market is stirring.

And if it is, then we can expect to see a return in confidence from those who already have jobs as they dust down their CVs and look to make their next move.

Finding a job is hard work. Finding the perfect vacancy takes a degree of dedication, then there’s the effort to tailor your CV, draft a killer letter to go with it or complete the application form. – which can be a fulltime job itself. Check out this communications graduate’s experience of drawing up CVs and filling in application forms.

And that’s before you compile your portfolio.

And even after all the effort the odds are against you getting an interview. Higher numbers are chasing the most surprising jobs – 1700 applied for eight jobs at a Costa Coffee Store.

So if you do get the golden ticket and secure an interview how can you make sure you’re the one that walks away with the job?

Your efforts have already set you aside as one of the most impressive applicants. You’ve potentially beaten off hundreds of others. But at the interview you’re up against the cream of the crop – a group whose talent and experience matches yours – on paper at least. You know you’re the best so how can you convince the interviewers?

Firstly, don’t dread the interview. How many other times in life do you get to sit in a room with people and tell them how fantastic you are? And they have to listen. So you have to make sure you tell them exactly what you want them to hear.

If you’re not confident or have missed out at interview stage on other jobs it might be worth investing in some professional help. Martin Macleod, director at specialist training company Skillstudio believes half a day spent face to face with a skilled coach could pay a quick return on your investment if you get the job.

Tell me about yourself

There are some questions you know will come up – the classic icebreaker is always a variant on “Tell me about yourself”. This isn’t your cue to give your life story but an opportunity to highlight aspects of your experience that set you apart – your major achievements. You know this question is coming so plan it, rehearse it and then deliver it with a smile when they ask you.

Lots of organisations have standard interview questions. Conservative HR culture and the fear of reprisals means many interviews are structured to avoid giving any candidate the chance to complain they were unsuccessful on grounds of being treated differently to other candidates.

But you should still expect the odd curve ball – maybe not as curly as these but there’ll always be one question you haven’t prepared for.

One communications manager asked candidates to name a broadcaster or journalist they admired. There was no right or wrong answer but it meant candidates had to think on their feet, provide an answer to a question they maybe weren’t expecting and demonstrate a tiny bit of knowledge about their chosen field.

Another sales manager asked candidates to recommend a book they’d read or a film they’d seen. There was no trick here to weed out the Bond fans from Booker prize winners. He wanted to know if his potential employees could take a complicated plot, distil it down to a simple message and convince him to read it or see it. Could they sell him the concept?

Prepare for the end

Don’t forget to prepare your ending. Almost all interviews finish with “Is there anything you’d like to ask us.” This isn’t your chance to enquire about the nuts and bolts – negotiating terms and conditions is what you do when they make you a job offer. Instead this is your opportunity to turn the tables on your interviewers and show you’re interested in them, their organisation or their customers.

Ask the interviewer why they are proud to work for their company, or to tell you about the people you’d be working with, a project you’d have to pick up or even ask them about t something they think the company could improve.

If you’re really confident you can always unveil the killer interview question – ask your interviewers if they’ve seen anything of you in the interview which suggests you couldn’t do the job. Explain that if they have any doubts you’d like them to tell you, so you can reassure them you are the best candidate.

And remember to smile as you leave the room. Whatever company manuals tell you about equality and impartiality, interviewers recruit people they’d like to work with.

Make sure you convince them you’re the one.


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Could council budgets be better (presented)?

I’ve been guest posting. Thanks to the lovely people at PSCSF for posting this one:


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If practice makes permanent should you practise something you’re already good at?

ImageI’ve been riding horses for more than 30 years. But at least once a month I pay an instructor to give me a riding lesson. My mates think I’m mad. “You can already ride,” they say. “Why do you need lessons?”

The answer’s simple – I still think there’s something I can learn, something I can improve and I still need help to make it happen.

I always think it’s strange that in the UK you learn how to drive, pass your test and are never required to improve your driving skills ever again. That’s it – you’re done. From 17 to 75, provided you don’t do anything dangerous you’re good to go.

But think about the last time you were out driving – were you annoyed by other drivers’ skills? Did you struggle in the snow or squeezing into a parking space? Would it help if you’d had the chance to practice driving in poor conditions or if the driver in front of you had?

If you had to take your driving test again would you pass it? Possibly – but I bet I’d fail.

With more than 22 years driving under my (seat) belt I’ve developed some seriously bad habits. And with no-one keeping me right they’ve become permanent. Is there a case for refreshing the skills you think you’ve already got?

And can the same apply in your professional life? It’s something  everyone should watch out for.  If you’ve written press releases since you first cut your teeth in PR does it mean you can’t do better? Or if you’ve presented to the board every month for years, does it make you an engaging and charismatic speaker?

Training budgets are tight and are often the first thing to cut when budgets are sliced. There’s a temptation to focus on new skills but there’s value in making sure you’re still doing the basics well.

Top athletes are coached through every aspect of their sport till they are perfect. Then they practise perfection till it becomes permanent. They don’t practise being mediocre or just good enough.  Excellence has to be second nature to them – an automatic response.

So what can comms professionals do to make sure that as well as doing the right thing they’re doing things right – with little or no budget?

The answer as ever has to be get on line. Exploit your networks. Web sites of training companies often contain piles of useful information – as well as course details for those with cash to spend.

The CIPR website has tons of resources for non members  (although here’s a reminder of why all comms people should be members from Robin Fenwick :  )

Comms 2 point 0 collates best practice examples of real-life comms.

Skills Studio  has lots of helpful stuff to improve your presentations.

Or check out PR Examples

I’ll add more links as I track them down.

Meanwhile, I’d best get my boots on – there’s a brutal riding instructor waiting to put me through my paces.

(in the picture: My baby pony, Harris, and me, under the watchful eye of our trainer, John Cameron)


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