Category Archives: Communication

A dog is for life, not just your strategy day

You can’t move for someone somewhere talking or writing about just how important social media is these days.  The world and his mother are constantly looking at their Facebook timeline (yes, it’s still raining and, yes, your children are still amazing) or checking how many followers they have on Twitter.

A whole host of businesses, from individuals making their own jewellery and small independent cafes to established retailers and huge multinationals, feel the need to have a Facebook page, a presence on Foursquare or a Twitter feed, or to start selling and advertising on social commerce sites, like Groupon.

With all this noise, it’s tempting to think you should jump in immediately, get a presence on a few of these platforms and see how it goes.  But just as you wouldn’t dream of starting a major advertising campaign or outsourcing exercise without doing the homework, you shouldn’t dive into social media without careful planning.

Before going any further, it is worth considering exactly what we mean by social media – it isn’t just Facebook and Twitter.  You probably haven’t even heard of  half of the tools you can use (I haven’t either, although I probably shouldn’t admit that here) and if you have, you almost certainly don’t know what they do.

As well as social networking (Facebook), blogging (WordPress) and microblogging (Twitter) there are collaboration tools (Wikipedia, but not, Wikileaks), virtual worlds (Second Life), location services (Foursquare), video (YouTube) and photo sharing (Flickr), social bookmarks (Pinterest) and social commerce (Groupon).

All of them require some sort of ongoing investment and engagement to make them effective – it is not enough to post odd bits of information about your business as an alternative or complement to banging out a press release.

The real difference between social media and more traditional platforms is that it allows you to create the message by gathering, sharing and commenting on information.  It defeats the object simply to fill a Twitter feed with information about your yearly profits or new CEO and it is not going to win you any friends.

But even once you’ve worked out why you want to engage (higher profile, new business, more customers, better publicity) and how you want to do it, you have to make sure you are going to keep at it.  Blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages are worse than useless without regular updates and new content.

So don’t think of social media as just a plaything, a bolt on you can amuse yourself with when you can’t face doing your tax return.  Just like any pet, it needs to be taken care of and you only get out what you put in.  You can really only adopt the puppy if you can feed him, take him out every day and provide him with continuous amusement, because the last thing your business needs is abandoned puppies blocking the entrance.

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The idiot’s guide to parliamentary campaigning

It has to be said, despite my line of business, that you don’t need a professional to run your campaign. It depends rather on what you are trying to achieve and whether you have the resources at hand to achieve it, bearing in mind that a campaign doesn’t have to be an all-singing, all-dancing, media-blitzing, no-expenses-spared kind of affair.

It is always worth thinking about whether your campaign would be helped by engaging with MPs, however distasteful that might appear at first glance.  While MPs remain universally unpopular, with probably a lower popularity rating than lawyers, journalists, or kitten haters, they can be quite useful.

But before you even think about approaching them, do your homework.  You may have the impression they are a lazy, good-for-nothing, tax-dodging load of hypocrites (I couldn’t possibly comment), but actually most of them work quite hard, juggling their role as a constituency MP, legislator and for some of them, ministerial portfolio .

MPs, unless they don’t want to get re-elected, are most interested in issues affecting their own constituency, so make it local, preferably with a news angle and a photo op so they can get a nice picture of them doing something worthwhile in their patch.

If you want to contact MPs more generally, don’t do a random mail shot to all 650 of them, it will be a waste of your time and money as their researchers will spot a circular and will instantly ‘recycle’ anything of no interest before it even hits the MP’s desk.

Instead, find out which MPs are interested in your issue – do they have a shadow portfolio, are they on a select committee or all party group, did they work in that area before they became an MP?  You can find all this out simply by searching biographies on the parliament.uk website.

While letters and emails will get picked up if your issue resonates (or if you are a constituent), social media is an increasingly useful tool for getting in touch. Follow the MP on Twitter, look at their Facebook page, check out their website or their blog. If you don’t know what any of those are, you’d better drop me a line.

Work out what you actually want your MP to do to help your campaign. Do you want to raise the profile of an issue, get something done, raise money, change the law? It is important that whatever the ask, it is integral to your campaign and not something bolted on because it seemed like a good thing to do.

There are three golden rules when contacting MPs, although I have also invented a fourth (as you do):

• Be brief and direct: almost nothing is so important or complicated it takes an hour to say it or more than two sides of A4 to write it. If you can’t manage this, you’d better drop me a line.
• Be relevant: there is no excuse for not thinking about how your issue fits with their priorities.
• Bring solutions: don’t just present them with a problem but proposals for solving it. If your issue is with government policy, bring them a better option.
• Nurture the relationship: you will get more out of it if you do this, rather than waiting for a crisis and then calling them up.

Don’t forget, for the moment at least, there is also a House of Lords you can target. Peers may have more time and it is likely there is one at least who is interested or even an expert in your issue. They can question ministers, instigate debates and even propose legislation just as MPs can.

That, in a nutshell, is how you do it.  If it all sounds too much,  do get in touch.