Category Archives: Strategy

Analytics: The Signal and the Noise

Every week there’s a conversation about analytics, online and social media monitoring, and more and more, we’re identifying the long list of problems associated with it. Here’s my approach to social media monitoring:

  • Analytics should be about outcomes, not just outputs
  • We’re looking for trends and not absolute values
  • Correlation is a dangerous notion
  • Reasoning and understanding is key

And here’s a man who puts all this better than I ever will.



User experience and engagement

Engagement is not an on/off switch. It’s an experience. Marketers, PR pros, SEO gurus and the humble digital strategist are enterprising the face, voice and touch of brands and campaigns today.

Today isn’t just digital and mobile.  It is a seamless transition through online, offline and everything in between.  Brands need a steward, a navigator – to guide them through something we in the web business were fond of “user experience”.

Everyone knows the marketing landscape has changed, far fewer understand what to do as a result of that change. What holds true is that the customer is at the heart of it all: and their experience is how a brand may be remembered.

Whether is mobile, social or digital: the geeks of yesterday find themselves counted amongst the marketers.  And the best marketers are realizing it’s adapt and live, or stagnate and fade to the background.

This unique combination of skills across communications, digital development, design, customer relationship management and oh yeah, the four P’s of marketing are forcing teams to grow more collaborative.  But collaboration is hard, not necessarily complex, but certainly hard.

When we’re recruiting for digital or for client servicing today, everyone is talking about strategy.  And user experience is a wonderful way to see if they can walk the walk.  It’s not all big picture: it’s about smaller nuances between digital channels, their audiences and the multiple platforms for desktops, tablets and smart-phones.

User experience and user interface designers look at the whole picture and know each piece intimately.  Better still, they understand the human reactions of many audiences – young, old, male or female.

I believe user experience designers will be a pillar for future marketing teams. Even future C-level management.

Look at Apple, Pintrest, Weibo and Nespresso– all designed to be seamless experiences for the user. From a web sign-up right through to content syndication to the four screens.

Furthermore, search engine data, web analytics and the emergence social CRM all provide a plethora of smart data to build intelligent ideas – creative ideas – for those who are nimble enough to change and adapt.

From management to the intern, brands are stewarded by a number of different skill sets that were once deeply divided: digital has connected them together.


Dark Social: Analytics, referrers and why the social web is old news

For anyone who grew up with the web in the 90s, remembered ICQ and the user forums, and who doesn’t buy the must-know bullshit peddled by the ‘engagement patrol’, this is a must read (thanks Gavin):

Here’s a pocket history of the web, according to many people. In the early days, the web was just pages of information linked to each other. Then along came web crawlers that helped you find what you wanted among all that information. Some time around 2003 or maybe 2004, the social web really kicked into gear, and thereafter the web’s users began to connect with each other more and more often. Hence Web 2.0, Wikipedia, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I’m not strawmanning here. This is the dominant history of the web as seen, for example, in this Wikipedia entry on the ‘Social Web.’

But it’s never felt quite right to me. For one, I spent most of the 90s as a teenager in rural Washington and my web was highly, highly social. We had instant messenger and chat rooms and ICQ and USENET forums and email. My whole Internet life involved sharing links with local and Internet friends. How was I supposed to believe that somehow Friendster and Facebook created a social web out of what was previously a lonely journey in cyberspace when I knew that this has not been my experience? True, my web social life used tools that ran parallel to, not on, the web, but it existed nonetheless.
To be honest, this was a very difficult thing to measure. One dirty secret of web analytics is that the information we get is limited. If you want to see how someone came to your site, it’s usually pretty easy. When you follow a link from Facebook to The Atlantic, a little piece of metadata hitches a ride that tells our servers, “Yo, I’m here from” We can then aggregate those numbers and say, “Whoa, a million people came here from Facebook last month,” or whatever.
There are circumstances, however, when there is no referrer data. You show up at our doorstep and we have no idea how you got here. The main situations in which this happens are email programs, instant messages, some mobile applications*, and whenever someone is moving from a secure site (“”) to a non-secure site (

Sick of hearing about authenticity

Authenticity has got to be one of the words I’m sick of hearing, but here’s my take on it.

When we’re talking someone through how to “be authentic”  I don’t mean in it in the bullshit buzzword term of a way about ‘being real’ – I simply mean  be ‘true to brand’.  It’s not about being nice to everyone!  But it is about knowing the voice of the brand: which is why it’s as dangerous to leave editorial in the hands of the CEO as it is to the intern.

If you’re a prestige brand, then be prestigious  If you’re not. Then stop pretending to be!  This is where marketers fall apart: there is no discipline with tone & style in social media editorial.  Let’s look at true prestige or luxury: Lamborghini don’t bother adding “LOL” to the end of their marketing materials, or their Facebook page. They know to be consistent.

Designers know how to use this discipline to be creative, do the same.

If you really are a fun, light-hearted brand, then that’s fine too. Just don’t turn into some corporate Terminator the second someone makes a slightly negative comments on your Facebook wall.

None of this is hard.

How to build a digital empire

One of the most common questions I’ve come across is when is a brand to build a second website, second Facebook page, or even a new logo to support a new initiative, event or approach. The bigger question I’ve deal with in the past is when to create a new sub-brand.

And my answer is generally: never.

This question comes up really as a silver-bullet way to grab a new audience, new attention or an additional revenue stream by branding up something new.  But think about this: there is no legacy, credibility and certainly no advocates there. Your brand, even your personal brand, is probably full of these – and most of the time, the best approach to continue building your own empire.

For the most part, it’s actually new-er companies that begin to go down this path, and many of the more established agencies and brands have been down this path a couple of times. And sure, sometimes it pays off. But for most, it wasn’t worth the time or the energy.

So, how to build your empire?

Create a legacy: Not just about what you stand for, but what is your brand going to be remembered for.

Be realistic: what do people say about your brand when you’re not in the room?

Let SEO guide you: search engines understand the value of where you fit into networks of influence and authority. Building digital assets that are optimised for search will guide you into how to build a brand at the same time.

Create a death star: if it’s your website, Facebook page or any other digital asset, focus on building on that can serve your priority customers, readers or audience the best.

Be true to your brand. That’s authenticity. Build what you came here to build and focus. Be disciplined and stop talking and start doing.


Creativity and public relations

Social media and issues management: FireBell

Over the past 12 months I’ve been working with Weber Shandwick in Australia to develop a rigorous programme around online issues and crisis management. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some very experienced crisis management professionals and to date, we’ve been using the FireBell program to run live simulations for clients and partners alike.

To underline the work, I recently spoke at a digital advertising conference, and here’s a summary I posted shortly after on Weber Shandwick’s blog.

More and more, we’re seeing social media at risk of destroying the reputation of brands and individuals:

And much, much more!

10 need to know questions for online issues and crises

Why community management isn’t for the interns

When the proverbial hits the fan for the first time, we must remember the top three things that can leave the room when we’re forced to make quick decisions: perspective, foresight and writing ability.

It’s not big mystery why. Stress kicks in, awful things are written across your once beautiful Facebook page, and someone has started a Twitter hashtag asking for your head. What’s a community manager to do? What’s the CEO to do?

I’ve never agreed with varying ‘golden rules’ of social media because, time and time again, they are proven a poor course of action.  The biggest lesson we’ve learned in reputation management (online or offline) is that the right counsel is different for each organisation.

This is where digital strategy meets issues and crisis management.  This is why pure digital specialists can fall down without the counsel of some very experienced bods.

But above all else, here are the top 10 questions we are asked in each and every FireBell Social Media Crisis Simulation:

  1. 1.  One negative comment: Will a response just make it worse?
  2. 2.  Wait and see: How long should we wait until this grows from a single post to an issue, to a full-blown crisis?
  3. 3.  Working in silos: Do we need to talk to another department?
  4. 4.  Rumours and questions: If it’s not true, do you need to respond at all? If we don’t know the answer yet, what do we do?
  5. 5.  Anti-brand hashags:  Is this a storm in a tea-cup? Or is the issue wide-spread?
  6. 6.  Anti-brand Facebook pages: Do you engage at all?
  7. 7.  Parody posts: What do you do about people using your promotions against you?
  8. 8.  Internal comms: When should we tell the boss? When should we tell HQ?
  9. 9.  Traditional media: What do we do when a journalist calls about our Facebook page?
  10. 10. Acknowledging the issue: Do we show sympathy? Are we admitting fault?

Overall, we find our simulations bring to life the fact that in today’s world of online reputation management, social media simply isn’t a marketing or PR tool.  It’s a reputation gateway

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll look at some of the potential answers to these questions. But there will only be one constant: there is no golden rule.

FireBell is Weber Shandwick’s interactive community management training tool that allows companies to understand the issues and crisis environment online, develop effective communications and social media plans to prepare for an issue, and train in a live real-time crisis environment through our simulation tool. Contact Jye for details.

TED Talk | Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity

What took me a few hours to write about CrossFit and Innovation, Ken Robinson sums up quite quickly at a very old TED Talk on creativity, fear of failure and education.

Tactics: Be a better strategist

Almost every one I meet wants to do strategy, be a strategist or marry Mark Pollard.  But why? Imagine this, you’re a solider in a war, a general even, and the enemy has broken through, and it is hand to hand combat.

Where the fuck is your strategy now?

Another analogy: if you were a painter – how would you paint if it weren’t for your brush tips and hands? The very tactile nature of the process is actually what creates the beautiful image.

Tactics, implementation, the nuts & bolts and getting shit done is one of the areas that agencies truly under value.  Planners, creatives and strategists look like drunken generals when the plan goes to shit. And we all cry ‘well if you’d followed my fluffy power point we wouldn’t be in this mess and millions of people would Like your page, download your app and Tweet all over your face’.

Stop. Just stop. And go back to basics.  Then maybe you’ll be a better strategist, story-teller, and visionary. Or whatever you want to be.

Be a better strategist

  1. Learn to write. Learn to edit. Learn to seek criticism (not praise). Read a book. Read a book on writing. And pick up a pencil.
  2. Learn to design. Just a little bit. Whether its photoshop, video editing, or mastering PowerPoint.  Visual representations of your ideas will help.
  3. Learn to build graphs. Yes, Andy Jamieson, I know – you were right. There I said it. Graphs, data analysis and excel open up insights, realities and worlds quicker than anything else.  And learn to write for business while you’re there.
  4. Learn a few more words. Thesaurus. Then learn how not to use even more words. Then start using as few as you can.
  5. Learn to listen. Shut up. Please – until someone else has stopped talking and you’re sure you’ve collected your thoughts. You will sound a lot smart the less you talk.

Stop and think next time you’re about to launch into a pitch or consultation. Think before you grab your minions, ask them to write your next presentation, make it beautiful and get it back to you with some lovely video.  Listen and learn from the next CEO who gives you 10,000 points of data and wants your point of view.  And stop thinking about agency land for a few days.

Strategy could get you killed.

Photo credit: Dunechaser

Creatives, strategists and music

Sonixtrip - Jye Smith

A photo of the guys and I from a time where all there was, and was going to be, was music. I miss that.

Myth of creative

Recently, Weber Shandwick held our global digital summit in NYC.  We learned heaps.  Not only from our own digital leaders, but also from the likes of Gary Vanyerchuck.  We also met our new Chief Creative Officer, Josh Rose.  He exposed us to a world of the creative. What they do, what they’re perceived to do, and of course, what they don’t. 

One of the biggest take aways, is that yes, your job may require you to be creative, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a creative. Something that I toyed with years ago during my first Vibewire FastBREAK presentation on the challenges of innovation and creativity.  And then I looked around: and quickly it became apparent how many people had bastardised the term to describe their job function.

This leads to misperception which, in turn, leads to structural and operational problems. Especially around ‘the creative process’ and exactly how creativity can reach its potential, and more importantly, how it is valued.

What did I learn? Creatives are ACCOUNTABLE for their ideas and creativity. Once you draw that line in the sand, clarity is achieved.

Before joining the PR machine, I knew little about them – but creative, and to an extent the role of the planner – isn’t well defined.  PR agencies are generally structured by practice (tech, lifestyle, corporate etc) like a law firm. That’s all changing.

The bane of strategists

Julian Cole recently had a couple of great posts that changed the way I look at both digital creatives - and also the role of the strategist. And for the most part, that’s where I sit. Julian makes a great point that as strategists, we tend to try and work out why shit doesn’t work – rather than why it would.  I think it is something we learn to do, because its considering intelligent or decisive. But I really agreed with how it can kill creativity.

While I’m giving JC a heap of link love, I think I also readily took for granted the coding, design and development skills I’d already developed.  The ability to craft exactly what I wanted online.  Digital creatives, it seems, also benefited from their other crafts. Which in my corner of the world is with my music and the music I’ve created with others.

So what did I learn?

As a strategist, I need to open up and.  The way I can do that, is probably the same way that every song generally starts with a few piano keys, or a few words on the page, and I look at every single possibility to make it resonate.

My strategy behind my music is clear. And perhaps now, my creativity behind my music is clear.