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ten things i’ve learned in a year of freelancing

By on Mar 18, 2016 in public relations, social business, stradigal |

In January 2015, I walked out the door of the global “integrated communications and marketing” agency where I’d held a well paid senior position and into the unknown. I’d long wanted to establish my own collective – a loosely knit collaborative network of experienced professionals from all walks of life – as a sort of antidote to the mediocrity offered by big agencies. That, at least, was the initial plan. In anticipation of taking over the World, or at least earning a living, I bought a domain name, secured the relevant social media handles, registered with Companies House as a Limited Company, and set up a business bank account. Like any proper challenge in life, the past year has had its ups-and-downs. The collective never really got off the ground, but I have survived the year I’ve been an independent consultant. Here’s what I’ve learned from the experience: 1. I have worked for, and still have great relationships with, many leading global brands. I’d expected at least some of them to flock to me when I started my new venture since, afterall, if they were happy to pay my previous agencies as much as £2200 a day for my time, they’d be delighted to hire me directly for a fraction of that rate. Wrong. Big name clients work with Big global agencies for a reason – not because those agencies are better at what they do, but because selecting an agency from a list of “reputable firms” is far less risky than hiring some bloke who works from a co-working space. 2. You might think that the other freelancers and small agencies you have good relationships will bring you in on their accounts. They might if they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, but most of the time they won’t want you in the mix because they’ve spent hard graft, and possibly cash, to secure those clients for themselves. Find your own client, mate. 3. Prospective clients will pigeon-hole you, which is fine (afterall, they want someone who can deliver a specific thing) except that, should you have a greater level of experience than is required, they’ll assume you are “over-qualified” and drop you from the shortlist. 4. The tax regime for freelancers is advantageous, but complying with the regulations isn’t something most people would want to try to do on their own. Like most employees, I’ve always been taxed at source by my employer. Everything I earned was taxable. Now I can pay myself a salary and a dividend. So what? Well, the dividend only attracts a 20% corporation tax rather than the higher rate my income might attract. Result! But get an accountant. 5. You’ll need a hobby. I’ve had weeks where I couldn’t possibly get everything I needed to get done, even if I didn’t bother to eat or sleep. I‘ve had other weeks where I’ve basically had f*ck all to do. Even inbetween those two extremes, you’ll probably find that not having to commute to an office, work specific hours, and sit through unnecessary meetings will provide you with oodles of freetime you don’t know what to do with. If you have a hobby, you can fill your down time, otherwise you’ll probably go a bit stir crazy over-analysing the work lull. 6. Getting to go to your children’s art-week  / school open day / first football match is priceless. Just do it. Even if it costs you £70 in lost fees. 7. If you do start to apply for roles, don’t expect to hear back if you’ve been unsuccessful. I’ve recruited hundreds of people for roles over the years and, I’m quite proud to say, replied to each and every one of them, even if it was to explain why their application hadn’t moved forward. I thought that everyone took that approach but was wrong – most of the time, I’ve not heard a thing. It used to piss me off, but now I recognise it as normal, albeit a bit crap. 8. At some stage your significant other, parent or kid (or all of them) will accuse you of spending all your time galavanting around town, being an idealist, or becoming overly complacent with the whole not having a real job thing. When it started for me, the signs were subtle – my wife started coming home with a beer called Proper Job, which she would open and offer me, label facing towards me, with an irksome smile on her face. All these people are probably right, of course – when you work for yourself you do get to faff about quite a bit. Regardless, I’ve found nerf guns to be quite useful in dealing with the naysayers effectively. 9. Sometimes, opportunities will come your way that you just aren’t suited for. Rather than embracing the cash, try to find someone in your own network that you can pawn the project off on. Save yourselve the pain and your reputation the damage – and get paid for sending an email or two – great. 10. Remain positive. Rejection, uncertainty and economic realities can all take a toll on your self confidence. Thing is, the totality of who you are isn’t just the work you do. Indeed, over the last year, I’ve finally realised that what I do for a living is not the entirety of my identity and, indeed, is far...

Twitter Conversation Archetypes and What They Mean for Your Brand

By on Mar 12, 2015 in academic studies, online community, public relations, social business, social software |

Back in the mid-to-late 1990’s, I was one of what seemed like a small handful of social scientists investigating the structures of conversation and community in online spaces. Fast-forward nearly twenty years and I’m fairly certain social media is now one of the most popular areas of study amongst sociologists. Last year, Pew Research Center, in collaboration with the Social Media Research Foundation, used Network Analysis to develop six archetypes of conversations on twitter. It strikes me that insight from the research would be particularly useful to brand managers and their social media teams as they develop a channel strategy for their brand, so I’ve posted what I hope to be a helpful guide to understanding the connection between your brand and the archetypes of twitter...

news feed algorithm changes not a problem for brands with an engagement focused strategy

By on Nov 20, 2014 in fleishmanhillard, online community, public relations, social business |

[Note: A slightly reworked version of this post now appears on LinkedIn] A new research report by a Forrester analyst, suggesting that brands are wasting their money on Facebook and Twitter, has generated lots of interest this week. The report itself is behind a pay wall, but has been covered on the Wall Street Journal CMO blog. “You don’t really have a social relationship with your customers,” analyst Nate Elliott wrote in a new report titled “Social relationship Strategies That Work.” According to Mr. Elliott, top brands’ Facebook and Twitter posts only reach around 2% of their fans and followers, and less than 0.1% of fans and followers actually interact with each post on average. What’s more, Facebook announced last week that another tweak to its news feed algorithm will soon make it even less likely brands’ unpaid posts will actually be seen by users. As a result, marketers hoping to interact with consumers online  might be better off investing in social features that exist on their own websites, or in smaller, more niche social networks, Mr. Elliott said. I couldn’t agree more with the view that many brands are indeed throwing their money at social media programmes that don’t generate measurable progress towards strategic outcomes, but it’s the lack of strategy, rather than the platforms themselves, that’s primarily to blame for this. It doesn’t matter if .01%, 2% or 80% of a brand’s fans and followers see a post if having done so doesn’t boost awareness, improve perception, give the consideration process a nudge, drive a lead, generate a purpose, or tighten the embrace of an advocate. The shift that Elliott speaks of, from the larger social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter towards more niche platforms and functionality provided by a brand’s owned web properties isn’t just about seeking refuge from news feed algorithms. It’s about ownership and control over users and their data and also enhances the ability of brands to establish and nurture smaller, better, more focused communities connected to business outcomes. A collection of fans and followers on a branded Facebook page is not a community because there is little shared sense of belonging or intention of those fans and followers to work together with the brand towards a common goal. This can only happen within a smaller community where stakeholders can be brought closer together, and closer to a brand, through the creation of meaningful participatory frameworks. It’s not the fault of changing algorithms that brands find it difficult or impossible to build genuinely meaningful “social relationships” with customers. The approach of most large brands on social media has been to apply a broadcast model on a medium that demands something more direct, personal and engaging. If the strategy is broadcast, then changes to news feed algorithms will diminish the potential for brands to succeed in social, but if the strategy is to engage in ways that are meaningful for customers, and generate outcomes important for the business, the algorithms are much less likely to impact whether brands succeed or...

communications is key in the evolution of business models

By on Jul 31, 2014 in fleishmanhillard, public relations, social business |

Most Communications professionals spend their time focusing on tactical executions – crafting outputs and pushing them out hoping that that they’ll create outcomes in the form of events or, if they’re lucky, events that generate patterns. I’ve long argued that the role of Communicators can and should be more strategic. To do that, we need to get involved in the development of structures and new organisational mental models. Findings from FleishmanHillard’s proprietary research on Authenticity identified 9 key drivers of brand authenticity. Only one of those drivers, Credible Communications, is directly under control of the PR and Marketing function. The rest, which include Innovation, Consistent Performance, Better Value, Customer Care, Care of the Environment, Employee Care, etc are mostly the sort of things that are determined at the Structural or Mental Model levels of the business, long before the PR team find out about it. So how does this reinforce my argument that Communications can and should play a more central, strategic role in business? Because we’re the best placed to connect up the dots between what stakeholders want and expect from a brand – through it’s offering but also through it’s behaviour in the World –  and what the brand stands for and communicates about itself. Business models are shifting and approaches that put Communications at the heart of efforts to understand and address that change are the most likely to succeed. The evidence for this is all around us, from crowd-funding to public-private partnerships to the Internet of Things. Here’s what Harvard Business Review recently had to say: “As the Internet of Things (IoT) spreads, the implications for business model innovation are huge. Filling out well-known frameworks and streamlining established business models won’t be enough. To take advantage of new, cloud-based opportunities, today’s companies will need to fundamentally rethink their orthodoxies about value creation and value capture. Value creation, which involves performing activities that increase the value of a company’s offering and encourage customer willingness to pay, is the heart of any business model. In traditional product companies, creating value meant identifying enduring customer needs and manufacturing well-engineered solutions. Competition was largely feature-versus-feature warfare. And when feature innovation eventually proved to be too incremental, price competition would ensue, and products would become obsolete. Two hundred and fifty years after the start of the Industrial Revolution, this pattern of activity plays out every day, at your local big box electronics retailer or department store. But in a connected world, products are no longer one-and-done. Thanks to over-the-air updates, new features and functionality can be pushed to the customer on a regular basis. The ability to track products in use makes it possible to respond to customer behavior. And of course, products can now be connected with other products, leading to new analytics and new services for more effective forecasting, process optimization, and customer service experiences. A variety of consumer products and services, from Nest thermostats to Philips Hue lightbulbs to If This Then That (IFTTT), highlight these new possibilities for IoT-based value creation.” Value creation isn’t just about clever engineering anymore. It’s about creating evidence-based, insights-driven, creatively-led and socially-optimised experiences that are authentic. To do this, brands need to understand audiences, to engage them directly with opportunities to generate shared value, to monitor and react to customer experiences in the real world and in real time. Brands that get this right – brands that realise Communications is the strategic heart of the business of the near future – are likely to...

more on the death and rebirth of “communications”

By on Feb 26, 2014 in fleishmanhillard, public relations, social business |

On Thursday and Friday of this week I’ll be representing FleishmanHillard at the Global PR Trends Conference in Istanbul. I’ve based my presentation, or at least the 80% of it that will be done before I arrive at the hotel and find a wifi connection, on the post I wrote a few weeks ago on how social business offers an approach for communicators to break out of their functional silo to be at the centre of coordinated, cross-functional collaboration that leads to better results internally and externally. I’m calling the presentation “Communications is Dead. Long Live Communication.” In a nutshell, here’s my argument: Communications (PR) as it has historically been perceived – a stand alone, siloed business function – is dead. This is supported (my personal interpretation rather than an official one) by FleishmanHillard’s award winning Authenticity Gap research, which describes the 9 fundamental drivers of reputation (pdf). Guess what? Most of those factors fall outside the usual responsibilities of PR… but absolutely should be of interest to the reputation builders and guardians of our industry. Communication, the human behaviour, is thankfully for us, essential to the entire human experience, including in business. As we shift from mass production towards mass bespoke (3d printing, Firestarter crowd funding, etc) as a new business model, not to mention the more familiar (for us) broadcast model to direct engagement as a communications approach, we – communicators – are well positioned to become the essential connective tissue, conversation starters, and conduit of organisational ebbs and flows of information due to our well honed skills doing exactly that over the past 50-75 years we’ve existed as a proper profession. To seize this opportunity, created more by the shifting landscape around us rather than any deliberate act, we have to think broadly, and boldly, about our future position within the clients we serve. If you think like me, there’s a strong future for our industry indeed. I’ll post my slides when I have the final version done. See (some of) you in Istanbul where, by the way, we have an a great affiliate. [As always, this blog posts contains my personal views which are not necessarily shared by my...