Boaty McBoatface – sailing in the choppy waters of social media

Never mind the economy, the environment, Europe, or the local elections, Boaty McBoatface stole their  thunder, providing at the very least some solace in otherwise cheerless times.  For those who missed all the fuss, the story was about the naming of the new British Polar Research ship (a ship, not a boat by the way),  which we have just learnt will now be called ‘Sir David Attenborough’ instead.  However, its submersible will be given the vox populi name, though this consolation prize doesn’t seem to have been well received by those who voted for Boaty.

With so much media attention there is no need for me to go into the details.   My question is instead a simple one.   Was this exercise a success or a failure?  I have heard praise and criticism in equal measure.   There are those who say that it has been a PR triumph, raising the profile of science and more, with detractors telling it was a waste of time and money that did nothing for science except trivialising it.   I believe there was a page where you could have learnt more about the vessel and its purpose, but I am afraid I don’t know whether driving traffic to it was the sole objective of the operation.

And here is the nub of the argument.  If the objective was as simple as getting people to land on a page or talk about the ship then I guess this exercise was successful.  But what about raising the profile of NERC and science?  I read very little of scientific concern in the countless online articles I saw.  Did the campaign reach the right audience (which one)?  I wish I knew more about the criteria used to measure its performance, but I have no clue. For this reason my mind – and I suspect that of most other digital communication geeks –  is full of these questions.  In truth, the social media ecosphere is still for many marketers a lesser known galaxy, one with its own quirky rules, where the paradigms of old sit less comfortably with those of today.   Above all, social media is an environment in which the pendulum sways very quickly from triumph to disaster.

I would like to think that SMART criteria were used as these should always define all marketing operations.  But as I have no idea what the objectives were I can’t shed any light on this point.  I sincerely hope that someone at the Research Council or elsewhere could do so soon, not just to satisfy my own idle curiosity, but because regardless of whether this  was a success or a failure there are certainly good lessons to be learnt from it.


Samsung Customer Posts Defective Phone Video, Company Demands Removal – a PR disaster.

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A consumer attempting to get a replacement for a damaged Galaxy S4 smartphone details what he claims is a disturbing response from Samsung.

Maurizio Fantato‘s insight:

One never ceases to be amazed by the crass approach of some organisations to basic customer service matters like these and their uncanny ability to turn minor issues into full blast PR crisis.

In this specific instance a call from a competent and senior manager, plus if warranted a brand new phone in the shortest possible time, might have averted this flood of negative publicity.  The opposite might even have happened, with a media savvy customer like the one in question broadcasting his pleasure at Samsung’s service and therefore generating a heap of positivity which would no doubt have resulted in higher customer satisfaction and sales – all at a cost of a few hundred dollars.  As it happens it’s now become  instead the proverbial David and Goliath’s battle, and we all know that as customers we are instinctively drawn to support all Davids.

We shall never know how much this debacle will end up costing Samsung, but for sure it will cost them a hell of a lot more than if they had thought long and harder about PR in the first instance.

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Don’t write to impress others

“Do not write to impress others. Authors who write to impress people have difficulty remaining true to themselves. A better path is to write what pleases you and pray that there are others like you. Your first and most important reader is you. If you write a book that pleases you, at least you know one person will like it.”

I am opening this blog with this well-known quote by Guy Kawasaki. I believe in the essence of what he is trying to say, especially in relation to online communications.  All too often when agencies are approached by clients to commission content for their online channels (or to set them up if they don’t have any!), the subject of content marketing is broached, and all too often the results can be pretty poor at best.

Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun

Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are of course many reasons for this. Some agencies fail to listen to  clients in order to follow their own agenda.   On the other hand there may be clients who are simply either uncooperative or have an unclear marketing strategy, but very often content is left in the hands of copyeditors whose jobs is merely to churn out an agreed number of words so that the client can be billed accordingly. Aside from the obvious grammar checks and perhaps even SEO ones (long tail phrases to please Hummingbird, keywords, links, etc) not much attention is really paid to the actual engagement value of the piece in question, especially if this is gets published as a blog. Little wonder therefore if much of the stuff which is pushed online is hardly ever read, aside from  authors and a few other diehard individuals.

But what is the point of that? If the writer doesn’t have a real ‘feel’ for the subject in question there is no way that proper value can be transmitted and it’s unlikely therefore that readers would  find the piece engaging. Some of the blogs you read, especially B2B ones, are like re-reading an instruction manual, full of facts and figures, but hardly the sort of stuff you’d want to pass the time with while travelling for example.

Now I am not suggesting that everything should be written in the style of Agatha Christie of course, but passion, and even fun, should always be part of a blog. It is after all about knowing the author as a person too, not just the topic itself. This is why the best and most successful blog channels are also the more controversial ones, because those authors really feel the intensity of emotions (and knowledge) for what they write.

For a third-party writer therefore it may be quite difficult to feel passionate about a small gadget they don’t own or have made. A good PR and Marketing Communication agency should always evaluate whether a blog is indeed the most appropriate channel for this kind of conversation and whether there may be other ways instead. High search engine ranking isn’t just achieved by churning out masses of text, but by a variety of other factors which would be too long to enumerate here.

Ultimately, it boils down to creativity, honesty and credibility, adjectives that are at times in short supply in the world of communication. So back to blogging – do it, but with passion, for you first and not to impress others, not even your boss. If you are passionate about what you say you can’t go very wrong and in time you may even be able to create a loyal audience. And isn’t brand loyalty the key ingredient of success in all aspects of marketing? But perhaps more on this topic in another blog…

(first published in on October 22, 2013)

SEO basics every PR pro should know

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Instead of trying to win the battle for dominance, pros in the public relations and search engine optimization fields should be learning from one another.

Maurizio Fantato‘s insight:

As this article quite rightly states in its opening line, the  recent algorithm change by Google has ruffled a few feathers, especially in PR circles.  Much of it is speculation, more so as very few know what Google is really up to and how the next upgrade might even change the goalposts yet again (I speculate that more emphasis will be placed on cross platform and mobile integration).

What surprises me is all this talk about ‘quality’ as this was an attribute that had just been discovered and not something everyone should have been concerned with from day one.   It was always known, for example, which were the most coveted links; just as we always knew that if we provided really informative, engaging  and easily accessible content there was a much higher chance of it to be ranked highly by Google.

So what Google has done is to root out some of the bad practices. Some of these included rebroadcasting the same news item across many channels, in the hope it would make it to the top of the first search engine page, regardless of whether it was really newsworthy. This is now history, and good riddance too – it was just spam under a different guise.

We are all agreed that quality content is king.  Yet producing truly original content requires a professional approach, in depth understanding of the product or service on offer, the target audience and of all other related marketing issues.  It is an inherently expensive process, but then this is what quality is all about – ultimately only quality customers and quality agencies/consultants will survive.

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Microsoft’s Concept Videos From 2000 Were Spot-On. So Why Didn’t Ballmer Build Any of It?

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On June 22, 2000, a few months after Steve Ballmer took over as CEO of Microsoft, the company summoned several hundred reporters and analysts to a conference center at its headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Ballmer, under pressure from a U.S. antitrust case and super-hot dot-com rivals, was set to unveil his company’s vision for the future of computing.

Maurizio Fantato‘s insight:

I bet this hasn’t just happened at Microsoft.  There is a disconnect in many large corporations between the ‘seers’ and the ‘administrators’.  I am afraid to say that all too often it’s the risk averse executives who win the day (the beancounters); but while they may win in the short term, they inevitably fail in the long one, as this article cogently explains.  Think of Nokia too, for example.  In the fast moving, global market of the 21st century there is no more room for lack of innovation, your customers expect you to reinvent yourself continuously, preferably taking into account their views too.

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How Google Authorship Will Impact Search and Content Marketing – Jeffbullas’s Blog

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Google authorship is seen as a way for authors to verify content they’ve created and become authorities. This will impact search and content marketing.

Maurizio Fantato‘s insight:

Authorship markup has been around for a while, but it could be a tricky one to implement and as the article highlights there are also several concerns to bear in mind, not least a forthcoming enhanced Google facial recognition… beware those of you round there who are lending their names under different identities for example!  Ultimately Google is after real content, from real people, quite how agencies and businesses will adapt to this is sometihng we do not yet know.

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Journalist Secrets for PR

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We have a hard time keeping up with e-mail. This isn’t an earth-shattering secret. I’m sure PR pros have a hard time keeping up with e-mail, too.

Maurizio Fantato‘s insight:

I don’t know about you, but these days I feel the number of articles on how to deal with journalists is on the increase.  This is one of several, though this time written by an insider.

In my many years in marketing, communications and PR I have come across countless journalists. For my sins I have even raised one up.  So I am somewhat closer to the profession, if anyone can ever be because one of the key things I have learnt about this body of people is that it’s made up of fiercely independent individuals.  You can approach them in any way you like, provided it’s their favourite one (email, phone, fax, postcard…  it doesn’t matter, they each like something different).   Their individuality may also explain their innate dislike of press releases.  They may publicly, gritting their teeth, admit to their usefulness (seldom that they like them), while always nitpicking about ideal formats.   In reality they loathe them, as they prefer scouting for news themselves and like all boyscouts they’d rather eat their own burnt sausages, than buy ready made ones.

Finally, I think many communication experts live in awe of journalists.  This may be because some of them may have always longed to be a journo themselves, but I may be wrong of course.  In any event this tumultuous love/hate relationship is a complex one and for these reasons this topic will continue to generate many more articles.

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