This article appears in Issue 28 | 2016 of the Professional Accountant
Social media has been a buzzword for the past nine years, and has grown up through several phases before becoming what it is now – one of the most powerful ways for businesses to promote products and services and build reputation at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing methods.
Managing the reputation of a business used to be an expensive exercise limited to those with access to big budgets and creative content creators. The digital revolution however disrupted the marketing industry by making it possible for anyone with an internet connection to circumvent the privilege and limitations of traditional mass media.
Business owners now have more control than ever in determining the course and success of marketing efforts, but many are still hesitant to embrace the benefits of social media for business. Technology, potential reputation damage, and a fear of making mistakes on social media appear to be the three main inhibitors to getting started.
Supplementing a website with an active presence on social media has been proven to positively influence purchasing decisions. Having social media accounts is however not sufficient. The accounts need to be updated regularly, be of value to the visitor, and provide proof that a client will be in good hands.
In professional services, word of mouth marketing is the most powerful and successful marketing tool. Social media drives digital word of mouth, and can therefore not be dismissed by professional accountants as a short-lived trend only suitable for personal pursuits.
Choose the right platform and content
It is important to remember that social media is not limited to public platforms. Tools like the broadcast function on WhatsApp also form part of social communication, and can play an great part in reminding clients about deadlines, legislative updates etc. Similarly, an office group on WhatsApp can significantly improve productivity, as long as it is used responsibly and within pre-set limits.
A low-risk way of getting started with public social media platforms is to just lurk around and learn from how others are doing it. This will help to provide information on trends, strategies, and types of content that align to intended results.
Types of social stories that could work well for professional accountants include observations made during events or training attended, comments on new legislation, sharing global industry developments, advice on problems are commonly shared by clients. Content doesn’t always have to be created; balancing original content with finding and sharing content (with proper attribution and credit to the creator) that is relevant to a social audience is perfectly acceptable.
Social media has become largely driven by visual content. It is therefore important to not only rely on text, but to also share short videos with advisory snippets, photos of things that lead to a significant realisation, graphs and infographics that support statements, and even lighthearted images that trigger a desired emotion.
After the learning phase, the best way to get over the fear of participating in social media is to pick up a smart phone, start taking photos and videos with the phone, and posting it on social accounts through the apps downloadable to the phone. The apps have been programmed to take new users through each step with relative ease.
The most popular social platform for pure business is Linkedin, but Facebook has been proven to also drive sales and loyalty due to its more personal nature and easier interface. Twitter is still the most popular for sharing thoughts during events. For those more experienced in social media use, Instagram and SnapChat are predicted to rise in popularity and give the more well known platforms a run for their money.
A simple Google search will deliver a myriad of articles, guides, and videos on the Internet on how to get started – or how to become a more advanced user – of social media tools and how to grow the number of relevant social followers.
Grow the social audience
The mere existence of a social media account won’t attract followers – called a social audience – just because it exists. The relevance and number of followers will grow steadily only if a social account is promoted on platforms that already reach the intended audience.
Including a link to or mention of social media accounts in email signatures, on websites, letterheads, and marketing material makes it easier for potential audience members to connect with a social account.
For those that stumble on a social media account after an Internet search, a great first impression relies heavily on the information contained in the profile section. An official logo or photo as profile picture, combined with comprehensive information in the profile fields is imperative. The profile section is also a great place to set expectations by stating what type of content the audience can expect.
A social media audience will only interact with posts if it is of some value to them. Stories that are entertaining, helpful, or educational to the audience will encourage them to regularly visit and interact with the social account, while posts that just sell a service or promote a product will be a strong deterrent.
The golden rule of responsible social media use is to overthink everything before posting. Make sure it aligns with the SAIPA code of conduct, and the morals and values of the business.
When responsible social content does trigger an unintended response, it is best to be prepared to respond with a link to independent third-party content addressing opposing views and stating facts. If this does not defuse a situation, it might be necessary to contact an offender via direct message as a next step to determine whether a resolution is possible.
In the case of verbal abuse or unrelenting negative comments it best to make use of the privacy settings of a social account to block transgressors from further interaction. A public social account is better than a private social account, but not if it is undeservedly detrimental to the reputation of a business.
The best precaution against potential social media risks is proactively training, rather than reactively monitoring, anyone that will be managing social media accounts. Managing social media accounts should not be relegated to the youngest employee based on an assumption that they are more comfortable with using social technology. Business owners should take responsibility for stay on top of social activity by actively participating, even if the responsibility for social activity has been assigned to someone else.
There are only so many hours in every day, and making time for marketing is usually on the bottom of the list for many SME owners. And when they do find time for marketing, or a lack of sales demands attention to marketing, many make the mistake of thinking that all marketing activities are expensive and can only be done by experts.
I have good news! The most difficult part about marketing truly is making time for it every single day. The rest is quite easy once you get started.
Once you've made a commitment to steadily growing your business through ongoing marketing activities, finding time will never be a problem again.
If you need help creating a marketing plan, or figuring out what this marketing thing actually is, let us know.
If they don't know what you have to sell, they won't know that they can buy. Realise the importance and value of marketing - the link between your products/services and you customers.
Read about marketing. The more you know, the easier it will get. Subscribe to marketing newsletters, follow marketing feeds on social media. You don't have to read (or do) everything, but it will be a regular reminder to make time for marketing.
Invest time and thought into an annual plan, and then just work the plan, rather than thinking from scratch everytime you remember to make time for marketing.
It is always quicker to work according to an existing plan, rather than having to figure out what to do every time you remember to do marketing.
Create monthly, weekly, and daily routines that are realistic and easy to stick to. Don't try to do too much at the start; give yourself time to get used to making time for marketing first.
Remember your marketing plan wherever you are. You can find content, stories, photo and video inspiration, recommendations and other wonderful content everywhere - you just need to remember to look, listen, and ask.
Corporate partnerships, event sponsorships, patron members, and research project clients are sometimes the income staple of industry associations. While these affiliations bode well for the budget, the associated reputational risks sometimes outweigh the financial benefit.
Reputation isn’t based on internal intentions, but rather on perceptions formed by outsiders. These perceptions are guided in part by both factual and anecdotal information, and influenced further by each individual’s convictions and experiences.
As people habitually make decisions based on subjective perceptions rather than objective truth, the reputation of one brand is easily transferred to an affiliated party. This transference of reputation might hold great danger for the lesser-known brand – usually the association.
Few realise the immense reputational influence of affiliations on industry associations. In our experience assisting associations with their PR and reputation management, we’ve identified two major reputation dangers that associations must actively manage:
DANGER 1: The association is siding with wrongdoers
During a recent national crisis an association was accused by mass media of protecting a public sector agency. This accusation was based merely on the membership status of the agency (as listed on the website of the association). Even though there was no truth to substantiate the accusation, the reputation of the association was still called into question.
There are also numerous reports on social media and review sites such as HelloPeter.com that link associations with members accused of less desirable conduct. Most readers of those sites will immediately form a perception of the association as a whole. This perception will not be based on the actions of the association, but simply on the mention of the connection between the accused member and the association.
There is no need for associations to hide the affiliation with members or sponsors that do not have a sterling reputation. It is however of crucial importance that the terms of the relationship be available immediately and in language that clarifies the position of the association. Merely stating the benefits a member or sponsor is entitled to isn’t enough. It needs to be clear that awarding membership or affiliation status does not imply or award any form of endorsement of products, services, or conduct. In addition, contact details for information requests placed on the same page as the membership listing, can be very helpful in providing information to guide perceptions.
DANGER 2: The association is influenced by a specific corporate brand
The active and ongoing participation of a small number of corporate brands might seem like a dream come true for associations that depend on sponsorships as an integral revenue stream. The danger arises when one brand finds it easier to participate more often, and on a larger scale than others.
Seeing a specific corporate logo displayed every year across a variety of material or events produced by an association can create a perception that the association is co-branded, and therefore co-managed.
These assumptions are usually raised when least expected, and – contrary to popular belief – responding with the facts might not make much difference to the assumption. It is more effective to proactively steer clear from fueling assumptions by allowing feedback and insight from various viewpoints to highlight potential areas of risk and guide decisions.
The best longterm strategy to manage this particular danger is to ensure that the team promoting sponsorship has a substantial database to promote to, rather than relying on the recurring involvement of only a few. While repetitive support is the easiest to secure, the reputational risk might end up costing more.
Many successful people have famously hailed reputation as their greatest asset. It is however one of the hardest things for associations to manage as it takes a single minded focus on weighing up financial gains with potential reputational damage. It is for this reason that the reputation management of an association can not be left solely to the marketing department, but needs to be driven by strategic leadership.
Getting started with promoting your business on social media is similar to starting on the journey to a healthy lifestyle.
You might be tempted to follow any number of quick-start plans and silver bullets that promise great results with little to no work. The only way to meaningful change is however through continued focused work and accepting that results might be slower than you hoped.
The good news for those willing to let go of comfortable habits is that once you get started, you’ll find that it’s really not that hard to stick to your resolutions.
Start with what you have
One of the most common mistakes when getting started is to focus too much on research and treatments and quick fixes, and not enough time doing the work needed. Waiting for a special date to start – like New Year or a product launch – and placing your trust in special tools only delays the inevitable. Starting with what you have and know, and learning as you progress is a much better idea.
Create a plan based on what you experience
It is not enough to just “do something” if you want to achieve long term results. While doing something is better than doing nothing, a comprehensive longer term plan will keep your efforts on track.
Start with a simple plan that specifies what you want to achieve, the tools and help you have available, and how often you can spend time on it. Keep in mind that regular, smaller activities have been shown to be more successful and easier to keep up.
Put in what you want to get out
To form new habits you need to take the change seriously. In the beginning you will need to think about it all the time so that nothing to distracts you from your goals. As new habits replace old ones it will become easier to add more challenging goals to your plan. Progress is completely up to you; what you put in will reflect in what you get out.
Choose your support system carefully
It will be a lot easier to achieve your goals if the people that surround you are positive and encouraging. Build a support system that allows you to ask questions and get experienced answers or sensible dialogue. If you decide to get someone dedicated to help you, make sure that the person really wants to help, and is not just doing it because it’s their job.
It’s easy to do something new when your enthusiasm is still high but old habits usually threaten to take over. When this happens, don’t give up. The process of change might be slow in the beginning, but it gets easier and quicker as you continue.
Together with your overall goal, set smaller short term goals, and celebrate those goals once you’ve achieved them. These small celebrations will for a long way in motivating you and those around to keep up the good work.
Don’t let go of your vision just because of a few (or a lot) of apparent failures. Remember that any progress towards your goals is building a solid foundation for a successful future.
If you’ve read anything about content marketing over the past two years, you would’ve noticed that the role and conversion success of video have increased exponentially.
A few of the most important statistics:
Producing a video for your business used to be an expensive affair involving numerous experts. These days, with digital developments and changed customer expectations, having a few relatively inexpensive tools can quickly set you on your way to joining the video revolution.
In exploring how to create videos that meet the expectations of our clients, and myself, I’ve learned that while the equipment isn’t as expensive anymore, there are still a few tips and tricks to keep in mind. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
When recording a face-to-camera message, make sure the interviewee has received and rehearsed the script well before the interview. Don’t rely on a teleprompter, cue cards or a rushed rehearsal on the day. A teleprompter or cue cards can help them remember the message, but viewers always notice when the message seems unfamiliar to the person delivering it on camera. Reading from a document with only a few glances at the recording equipment is of course a huge no-no.
Before you get started, explain the recording process to the interviewee. Warn them against habitual movements or expressions that could be distracting to viewers. Wringing hands, bouncing legs, saying “um” before every answer, or even sniffing, are a few examples. If the interviewee does fall into these habitual traps during the recording, allow them to finish their answer, then remind them of the habit, and redo the question and answer. It might be uncomfortable to point it out, but leaving it in the recording will result in viewers getting distracted, rather than focusing on the core message.
The interviewer has to brief spokesperson on how long final clip will be. This will help the interviewer to decide which pieces of information to relay, and which to leave out for the purpose of including the strongest message in the final clip.
Recording time will generally be much longer than clip, as the interviewee needs a chance to place information in context, and the interviewer needs to obtain enough information to be able to create a concise but fully representative story. Allow up to 60 minutes recording time for a final clip of 5 minutes.
If the interviewee is traveling to the recording space, he/she must add 30-40 minutes to their regular traveling time to allow for contigencies, finding the recording space, freshening up, getting their heart rate and breath back to normal, and having audio set up and tested.
The interviewer must guide the interviewee to give short, concise sound bytes summarising his/her point(s), rather than long statements including superfluous information. Interviewees tend to focus on formulating the best answer from the vast amount of knowledge they have. Interviewers should ensure that the most pertinent information can be included in short clips that can be used in a variety of video formats specified by the various social media platforms.
Have a glass of water available for the interviewee. Being on camera is stressful for most people, and they might experience an unusually dry mouth as a result.
Do not rely on overhead fixtures to provide lighting for the recording. Not only will it cast unflattering shadows on the interviewee’s face, but overhead lights rarely provide the amount of light needed for high quality video. If you don't have standalone video lights, find a large window (without blinds, curtains or burglar bars in front of it) and place the interviewee diagonally in front of it. Natural daylight filtered through a window is some of the best lighting for video.
In the setup used for TV interviews the camera and interviewee is positioned facing each other, with the interviewer seated to the side of camera. The interviewee doesn't look at the camera, but rather at the interviewer. For more direct messages, facing the camera is absolutely fine, but avoid the “boring talking head” syndrome.
Don’t stop and restart the camera after errors. Shoot continuously and edit the recording afterwards. If the interviewing pair needs to redo a bit, just let them pause for a view seconds before starting again; this will give the video editor enough room to edit out the flubs.
Record 5 second pauses between questions and answers, rather than having the interviewee answer the moment the question has been asked. During these pauses the interviewee needs to remain absolutely quiet and as still as possible. This will help the video editing process go a lot quicker and smoother.
Remind the interviewee to stay calm and speak slowly.
Avoid recording distracting background noises by warning everyone in the vicinity of the recording space that you are busy with a recording. Even through a closed door regular day-to-day activities like conversations in a hallway or cupboard doors closing can get picked up by microphones. Typing on a keyboard during an interview can also be picked up by microphones and create sound disturbances in the recording. If you need to take notes, try to do so the old fashioned way … with pen and paper.
Switch cellphones to airplane mode to ensure there are no electronic sound disturbances from either ringtones or signals on any wireless audio equipment.
Don't allow unnecessary people in the recording space as they might be a visual distraction to the person speaking.
If you’re interested in starting to create videos for your business, this blog post by The Visual Cube has an overview of the types of businesses that benefit the most from video marketing, and things to keep in mind when you get started.
If you need help with creating a short, sharp message to get your key points across, chat to us to see how we can help.
We'd like to help journalists, producers and editors find the information they need to provide news stories that can make a difference.
As publications face rapidly declining advertising revenue and threats of free social networks satisfying the need for immediate access to information, news consumers feel the effects of declining newsroom staff under more pressure to produce more content faster for platforms they are unfamiliar with.
The need for trusted sources that can provide reliable and objective information is greater than ever as South African citizens itch to play an active part in the restoration of systems and services that have failed to deliver on promises.
Industry associations have links to experts well-versed on a variety of topics, and can assist with speeding up the search for relevant, informative, and helpful comment on breaking news stories.
That's where we come in.
Our clients are all industry associations or professional bodies; we therefore understand how their structures work and how to gain quick access to the right source of information.
When we receive a request for information we try our best to find a relevant source through one of the industry associations and, with their approval, send their contact details to the requesting journalist/producer.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.
Generating publicity is quite easy.
If the stories you have to share are worthy of space in publications and programmes that have easy access to more content than ever; are up-to-the-second new; are easy to understand for those that have no knowledge of technical background of the story; can make a difference in average people's lives; easily forms part of the news cycle; and is supported by trusted relationships with journalists and editors, then generating publicity is easy.
So let me restate the first line ... generating publicity is quite easy ... if you have the time to spend on it.
Generating publicity, or making sure you take care of the earned media part of your integrated marketing plan, is however still one of the best ways to spread the word about your organisation, its products, services and activities. A steady stream of great editorial content published on platforms read and listened to by your potential customers helps immensely in shortening your sales cycle.
Here are a few tips to help you get started without breaking the bank:
Don't set your expectations sky-high; rather aim for one great piece published in a publication, or one fantastic conversation on a broadcast programme that you know reaches your target audience.
Do your homework
One of the easiest ways to do this is to read the publication or listen to the programme yourself. This sounds quite obvious, but it is the number one oversight.
Listen and learn
Identify the type of stories that are published on the chosen platforms, and figure out which of your stories are the best fit. Another way to go about it is to contact the journalist or presenter and ask them what type of stories they prefer to publish.
Create valuable content
Newsrooms are incredibly busy, and prefer to receive content that conforms to their requirements. This means content submitted for editorial consideration should be written with facts as the focal point, and should not contain your marketing or sales messages.
Remember, journalists are tasked with informing the general public on issues that have an impact on their lives; your content should reflect and understanding of this.
Also keep in mind that photos submitted must be high resolution, and that you should obtain approval from every person quoted in the content before you send it to the media.
Journalists are people, and they like dealing with people, not representatives. They are however very pressured for time, so will not necessarily want to attend a lengthy introduction meeting or event. Communicate with journalists with the aim of helping them, not selling to them.
Know the difference between important and newsworthy
Many people find it difficult to distinguish the difference between news that is important to those already familiar with the organisation, and news that is worthy of editorial publicity. Make sure that the content you send to a journalist is current, relevant, and can make a difference to the lives of readers/listeners.
Don't worry, you can still use your important news to build your reputation by publishing it via your paid, shared or owned platforms.
Keep your ear on the ground
Make sure that you find out whether your content was used. Journalists are usually too pressured to help you with this, so try to use tools like Google Alerts, paid-for media monitoring tools, or even just by reading and listening to the publications you submitted your content to.
If you need more guidance, or simply don't have the time to follow all of these steps on a regular basis, give us a shout to see if we can help.
Continuous improvement poses a huge problem for perfectionists because it means admitting and accepting imperfections.
It is however only with accepting that perfection is an illusion, that it becomes easier to shift the focus from perfection to progress.
Continuous improvement also waves red flags for those uncomfortable with change as it demands adaptation in the name of desired advances.
There is some comfort when the word "continuous" is swapped for "continual" which, according to the ever-clever Wikipedia is more technically accurate.
"In English-language linguistic prescription there is a common piece of usage advice that the word "continuous" should be used for things that are continuous in a way literally or figuratively equal to the mathematical sense of the word, whereas the word "continual" should be used for things that continue in discrete jumps (that is, quantum-wise). When this distinction is enforced, it is more accurate to speak of "continual improvement" and "continual improvement processes" than of "continuous improvement" or "continuous improvement processes"."
My understanding of this distinction is that never-ending improvement attempts result in intermittent improvement results. From a change perspective there is therefore some time to get used to an improved result, but not much, as the concept of continuous improvement implies an implicit discomfort with the status quo, which is usually a trait shared by perfectionists.
Call it a drive for perfection, or striving for continual improvement is a matter of semantics. What matters is that the energy invested in shaping up areas of improvement is focused on areas that will return tangible results.
For us, these areas are grouped under the four principles of our methodology:
We've recently changed news monitoring service providers for various reasons, one of which was an integration of social media results with traditional media results and a larger spread of online platforms that is monitored.
We also make a concerted effort to keep our ears to the ground for news relevant to our clients' focus areas, as well as the industries they serve.
Through listening we learn an incredible amount, and part of the learning is taking the information that is available and translating it into terms that can be easily understood by those that are unfamiliar with the more technical concepts of the subject matter.
We also continuously learn about our own industry and craft, and recently attended a fantastic writing workshop which highlighted a number of areas of improvement relating to the content we create.
We will also be attending the Integrated Marketing Conference in November to enable us to determine which skills we should add to our toolbox. According to what we've learned so far, video will surpass text in the very near future, while producing mobile-friendly content is already of extreme importance.
More information clutter, more PR practitioners, and less eyes available to receive and read content contributions demand that any messages created by brands for distribution to media stick very closely to individual newsroom guidelines and requirements.
Content that delivers lightning-fast, in-depth comment on current affairs remain popular, followed by easy-to-read pieces offering practical advice on issues that impact readers and listeners on a regular basis.
Thought leadership pieces are still used, but are reserved for specific features and editions, and therefore do not generate a large amount of publicity ... except of course when on a very controversial issue.
Distribution tactics for each of these type of pieces vary quite a bit, and we're pleased to report that we are seeing success from changes we've recently implemented in both our creation and distribution focus areas.
The size decline, juniorisation and resource sharing of newsrooms has forced us to move away from traditionally accepted mass distribution tactics. Exclusive pieces, personal relationships with a large number of journalists and producers, and availability that nears the 24/7 range are the areas that currently deliver the most success.
Despite the advances in technology (or maybe because of it) the PR cycle has slowed down a bit, as more time has to be spent on the human side of content distribution, rather than the technology side as has been the norm over the past decade.
An integrated Paid-Earned-Shared-Owned (PESO) distribution strategy is sure to produce the best outcomes aligned with business objectives, rather than creating and distributing content solely for the sake of for example media only. Content marketing and repurposing keeps content alive for longer, and allows your customers to find it on a platform they feel most comfortable with.
One of the greatest fears of professional bodies and industry associations is the threat social media holds for their continued existence.
These organisations typically offer a value proposition that includes a mix of common ingredients: discounted rates for training and event registrations, access to particular types of information, and networking opportunities with like-minded professionals in the relevant sector. While membership to some of the organisations is voluntary and aimed at improving product and service quality, there are several professional bodies that participate in the regulation of relevant sectors by awarding professional desigations to qualifying members.
Although the professional bodies have enforced regulation on their side to offer some measure of guaranteed existence, the challenge of member retention and growing the membership base year-on-year remains. These challenges have become harder than ever over the past three years with the rapid rise of social media as replacement to everything membership organisations traditionally had in their arsenal to attract and retain loyal members.
The days of these organisations are however far from numbered ... but only if their executive and leadership teams are willing to let go of business as usual and a habit of using past information to inform future actions.
Membership organisations, whether voluntary or regulatory, must stop trying to create their value proposition around the benefits social media now offers at a fraction of the time and cost to members. Yes, that means throwing away the vision and mission statement that took 12 people three days to write five years ago. Yes, it means explaining to the board and members why the recent significant investment into developing online communication platforms has become outdated. Yes, it means recreating an entirely new business model, based on little more than guts, intuition and innovative thinking. And, most importantly, it means giving a controlling amount of strategic direction of the organisation to its members.
The new business model for membership based organisations needs to be centered around the things social media CAN'T offer i.e. in-depth individual relationships. Algorithms and data-driven marketing has the scoop on personalisation, so a few tweaks to CRM software to include Dear <<FIRST NAME>> in mass emails isn't nearly enough.
When members interact with their organisation, they must experience the benefits of an authentic relationship with another human being. A relationship that has developed over the course of time and through a variety of intricate interactions, not merely through a few fleeting social posts with a half-life of a couple of hours. A relationship that isn't damaged irreversably with the latest app update, but one that can stand the test of time. A relationship with conversations that start with an honestly caring "how are you?" and isn't limited to an SEO optimised 140 characters.
Social media fans and followers are ranked and rewarded according to skewed popularity.
In membership organisations the focus of the strategic direction, operational imperatives, and choice of tactics should focus on building closer, more authentic relationships with members as individuals, rather than activity- and account-based groupings. As individual member intelligence increases, so will trust from members increase. Since people buy from people and brands they trust, the business model of the revamped membership organisation therefore lies in monetising areas of need informed by member intelligence not merely gathered from individuals, but willingly provided by individuals.
Customer loyalty is at the root of success for any lasting business. And when that loyalty turns into passionate advocacy, a "superfan" is born. For brands, these dedicated followers can help transform a satisfactory business into a sensational one. The obvious question for brands is: How do you create superfans?
Dear (or rather, not-so-dear) PR industry, you're doing it wrong!
That was the takeaway from pretty much every conversation I had with journalists and editors at the recent Menell Media Exchange.
What newsrooms hate:
- media releases, especially unsolicited and poorly written media releases
- disrespect for the editorial independence journalists are tasked with
- information that they can only access by jumping through a series of time consuming hoops
What newsrooms need:
- information instead of content
- relationships with trusted sources instead of being on an ill-considered media list
- non-branded broadcast-ready multimedia content instead of text
What brand communicators can do:
- spend time and effort on building relationships, rather than just creating content (journalists are expert content creators, don't try to battle them on their own turf)
- client education to change the expectations they have of results from communication activities (contrary to client perceptions and expectations, the media does not exist to push the products and services of brands)
Can this work? Can the PR industry change its focus and habit without sacrificing profits?