Whilst trying to revamp our social media strategy for 2019 one thing has become clear. That we needed to arrive at a focused list of actionable goals. As soon as we began the research it was obvious that this stage could snowball into a massive project in itself with no defined end or list of recommendations. So, rather than try to solve everything in one foul swoop it made sense to begin testing our main conclusions to then set us up for phase 2...

So what initial conclusions have we swiftly arrived at? During the process of looking at our own social growth last year, and comparing it to competitors, we saw that best practice existed out of sector. We also gained a clear view of which content type and time of day was working. By mapping these content types against parts of the business we immediately came to some quick conclusions:

1. Not all channels were working for us -
this is why we made the decision to retire our Facebook and Instagram accounts. As a B2B business the former was showing no ROI whatsoever in 2018. So why persist with it? With regards to Instagram, this is something we do intend to revisit soon. But, without a clear channel specific strategy it ran the risk of just regurgitating content from other channels. It's a truly visual medium where we need to cultivate a different group of followers and showcase some beautiful photos for it to succeed.

2. Channel specific strategies are essential - By concentrating on fewer channels it means we can address them properly. In some cases we were guilty of using the same content, imagery and tone of voice across all platforms. By looking out of sector I've seen some brilliant examples of how to maximise the use of Twitter in particular. In the next few weeks we'll be putting this to the test as we develop a unique and bold voice with the aim of keeping it simple. We can then quickly evaluate if what our research is showing us is correct.

3. Guidance for contributors - with an increase in employee advocacy we need to be encouraging sharing wherever possible. Sharing good news can be so much more powerful coming from an individual than a company. This is why I've been working on a series of training sessions and documents to help colleagues make the most of their LinkedIn profiles. I'm also deep into writing guidelines for direct contributors to company accounts.

4. Templates for consistency of brand - this guidance document contains lots of good and bad practice examples of tone of voice and emoji usage. I've made a point of referring to the latter as 'iconography' as this should avoid the danger of them being used in a more frivolous manner. We've also identified the top content from the last year which we can signpost with templates to make it visually appealing (e.g. blog posts, awards wins and press releases).

5. Clear objectives and ownership - I've been very careful to ensure that all activity is SMART. With regular review dates in the diary this also means we can get an idea early on if the revised strategy needs adjusting. For each of our channels we have seen the need to appoint local owners who we will support in proving that their account is worth their time and has a clear ROI.

6. Workflow and planning - As a central team we need to govern what is shared whilst still allowing the business to retain this ownership. By setting up tools which allow clear planning posting and approvals we can then oversee the content before it is posted. This helps us educate the business as we go along meaning all of our goals are met.

These are some of the tactics we'll be putting into practice in the next few weeks and we'll be evaluating them as we go. Keeping up to date is essential in any type of marketing so watch this space to see if we find this newly formulated plan has worked or is badly misjudged!
A lot is made in the media of young entrepreneurs who become massively successful in their early twenties. Whether it be social media influencers, or leaders of new tech start-ups, these people are raised up as examples of a vibrant tech-industry. We have a high-profile YouTuber living in our village and his BMW i8 always gets our children's attention when charging on his drive!

I was actually pleasantly surprised on Friday. I spent the morning talking to 120 year nine students at Longsands Academy in St. Neots about my career path. They were generally quite mature and none of them had career aspirations as a YouTuber. This is at odds with the survey published last year saying that 75% of young people wanted to follow this career path. In fact they were all very respectful and many seemed genuinely interested in the subjects they needed to choose to succeed in their careers.

The issue with the media either exaggerating or over-promoting the people at the top of the tech-ladder is that older talent is getting overlooked. This can be particularly true in marketing where 'old' appears to have little value either in the workforce or as consumers. The need to reward and nurture young talent is obvious but we should also be celebrating the career-long achievements of the talent who continues to deliver the creative work that drives this industry.

When it comes to the digital economy, especially, the hard-won experience of those that actually built this industry, is even more vital. It's one of the reasons why there continues to be research pouring out proving that the most successful tech founders aren't actually the startup kids of popular myth but those in their forties and fifties.

Why would you not hire people who have the experience, the understanding, the success (and the failures of the past) to make the company better? They are mentors to youngsters, wise heads to steer business thinking, and talent that adds benefit to the bottom line.

Reliving his youth
I quite often hear 'I'm too old' as an excuse of why an individual is not happy adopting a new way of working or a new software program. This doesn't help this cause at all. Especially as in my experience my generation is not growing up! All of my friends, acquaintances and work colleagues are in many ways acting the same as they did in their twenties and thirties, spending time and money on the things they have always enjoyed. Many still playing video games and listening to the same genre of music they did in the 90's.

The danger here is that the desperate cult of youth means makerters also don't see this demographic as a viable target. Instead we continue to court the millennial generation at all costs. Of course, brands need to try and win the lifetime loyalty of their future customers but the incredible behavioural shifts we've witnessed over the past decades seem to be ignored by a marketing industry that prides itself on a forensic understanding of human behaviour.

While 78% of over 50s are in charge of their household spending, with the age group accounting for half of all consumer spending in the UK, brands continue to ignore them or peddle a desperately out of date, cliched view of the generation. The view of over-50s is that brands aren't interested in them unless they're selling anti-wrinkle cream or Saga holidays.

My father used to call me 'Peter Pan' due to my apparently childish hobbies and fear of commitment. I can safely say I've moved on a bit now I'm mortgaged up to the hilt with four children. But I still enjoy spending my spare time on the same activities I did when I was younger. It's time for the marketing industry to begin maturing itself to see the benefits of targeting the older generation both with their products and their most influential jobs.
In my role I'm frequently expected to be up to date with all of the latest digital tools and tips. I've actually started to make a point of this in the last few weeks with my '#factfriday' posts on Microsoft Teams. Every Friday I post a new tip (i.e. my latest is a little workaround to extract images/videos from PowerPoint presentations) to try to make the lives of my team easier!

This means I'm often the first person tasked with trying out and testing new tools. For me though, it's as much about how something works as why we may need to use it. Yes - there may be a great new cloud document management platform that IT are supporting but unless there is buy in from the whole team it won't take off at all.

I remember an old colleague telling me that when email was first introduced nobody saw the benefit. Work was getting completed just fine with the methods already in existence. So, to force everyone's hand it became the only way meeting appointments and minutes were communicated. Everyone had no choice but to check it regularly, or risk being completely out of the loop. Fast forward a few years and we exist in a world where many people's inboxes, still are, an overflowing nightmare! Now my goal is to disown email where possible with tools like MS Teams and Slack being preferable. 

But, as above, all it takes is for one person to not be invested in changing their working habits to cause complications. Again, I remember an old senior manager of mine printing out all his emails on a Friday. He then put them in his briefcase to read over the weekend, draft responses and give to his PA to type up and send. That's added admin and slow response times for all involved!

The subtext behind being told you need to train everyone on a new piece of software can be one of two things:
  1. "This new thing is so bizarrely new that no adult Earthling could possibly figure it out without formal training" OR
  2. “This new thing is a pain in my neck and I don’t know how to introduce it. I’ll have someone in the team train everyone and call it a day"
Either way, the expectation is that you to unleash an avalanche of 'training' on innocent people who would rather just do their jobs. Before training commences it actually makes more sense to give the new software to a few people who would benefit most and watch them figure it out. Their struggles (or lack of struggle) will show what support they really need. A help screen or short reference is likely to be enough “training” in this case.

When introducing Trello as a tool, a number of years a ago, we set clear goals as to what we wanted to achieve. These weren't simply to mandate an in depth training session for everyone. Instead we set measurable goals such as eliminating handover meetings, reducing emails by 20%, allowing more remote working and reducing the reliance on flaky shared drives.

These goals didn’t assume that training is the answer, and they justified the expense of the project in terms the organization cares about. It also left room for many solutions, including job aids.

I'm pretty much self taught on most of the software I use. Some of it I'm better at than others, but I like to think that I've made a point of learning those features which are most beneficial to my job. I probably only use about 60% of the features of most of these and I always start with a task I'm looking to achieve before selecting the best way to do it. This can be asking a colleague, watching a video or clicking about hoping not to break something!
For five years I've always kept a keen eye on how this blog is performing. This is partly to inform future content, probably partly to feed my ego and most importantly to see if it's still a good use of my time! However, over the past 6 months or so, I've noticed a decline in visits which is now an all time low readership of less than 800 people.

Initially this surprised me. Especially as we're supposed to be experiencing a digital skills gap so more people should be thirsty for knowledge than ever. I came to the conclusion that it's probably because we've reached peak saturation for marketing blogs (and internet published content in general!)

When I started out I was one of the few around blogging consistently on this topic. Now, there's a massive upturn in people posting longer posts on social media. In fact, when I started in my current role I was the most prolific employee on LinkedIn by just by posting a link to my latest post every fortnight! Now  the percentage of people posting regularly has increased massively.

I even read a lot less marketing blogs myself now. The sheer amount in existence means that the majority are either regurgitated, boring or uninspiring (all things I could sometimes be accused of too!) Either that or they're click bait focused with snappy headlines with not much substance. It takes so much effort to find good stuff I rarely bother now aside from reading more general business/creative thinking content. After all, good marketing is about keeping it simple and being creative.

This situation means the much publicised digital skills gap is likely to suffer as a result. Where do people who are just starting out go to get quality insight and advice nowadays?

It was with this in mind that I recently decided to check out the 'Google Digital Garage' in Manchester. This was put on my radar by a colleague and I felt compelled to check it out. Essentially, Google offer free local coaching on a massive amount of subjects in high street training centres in Edinburgh, Manchester (and sometimes) London.

So, last week we went along to a session on 'How to write a Social Media strategy'. On arrival we were very impressed with the facilities. For anyone starting up a business I'd almost say it's essential to go along yourself. Especially as they offer courses on writing a digital marketing plan, answering questions with data and getting your business seen on Google (among many others).

Our course lasted an hour and half and was excellently structured. I wouldn't say I learnt a lot, having written strategies in the past, but it was reassuring to know what I did was still up to date and relevant. I did get some great tips on presentation layout and a list of new tools to try though. I would have liked to sign up for a whole day of their courses (they also offer one to one coaching) to test against my own skills and see how other people teach digital marketing!

Farewell Google+ - we'd forgotten you were still alive!
Given this is all totally free to attend it got me thinking about the business model. The facilities were great and the staff very knowledgeable so how does this pay for itself? My guess is that it helps Google increase their own brand loyalty and corporate responsibility score. They also need businesses who value the internet so by upskilling them it helps them grow their platform (and collect more data on us!) Finally, it helps plug the gap in digital skills for their potential future recruits to create more quality apps like Google Maps and less like Google+...

I was inspired to almost go away and start to set up my own digital skills training academy in my local area. Only a fool or a hero would dare take on the might of Google though. Especially when they're offering quality courses for free!
Lately I've been feeling a bit out of touch with the latest tools that digital marketing has to offer. A combination of massive home and work projects has left little time for reading and researching.

I've also been a bit shaken by the recent news regarding Blippar going into administration. This tool in particular was a great addition to our 'Shaping Your World' campaign in that it allowed cheap and fast self service augmented reality. I even enjoyed the live demos we gave to clients and seeing their amazed faces when our host avatars popped out of the plaques.

This latest casualty shows the transitory nature of some of the latest tools and why solid processes and strategies are more important than the latest shiny trend. Maybe it's time that I shed my prejudices and re-embraced the ugly world of QR codes given the native camera on the iPhone supports them.

To help me get back up to speed it's around this time of year that everyone publishes their 'top digital marketing tools of 2019' lists. So I spent the last week of the holidays going through as many of these as I could. I then have combined some of my favourites with other tools I've been recommended/seen on Twitter for a top ten list of tools to try. Some of these are particularly pertinent given the projects I'll be tackling in 2019, some I've used already, but all of them deserve further investigation:

1. Squoosh

This nice little free web app from Google easily lets Non-Photoshop drag and drop an image to 'squoosh' and choose the compression standards. A small slider lets you quickly adjust the level of compression and you'll see a running total of how large the resulting file is expected to be.

2. Remove.bg

Removing backgrounds from photos can be pretty time consuming - even if you know what you're doing! Simply select a photo from your computer (or enter its URL on the Web). Remove.bg then processes the photo and lets you download it as a PNG image with a transparent background in seconds. 

3. Uptime Robot

Another free tool for monitoring when your website goes offline. You also get handy response times so that you can see if those complaints that your website is slow is either a legitimate or local issue.

4. Brand24

A social media monitoring where you can set up your projects, get alerts, and monitor results. With social listening, you can both react to potential crisis situations and positive messages that are spread about your brand in real time.

5. Google Primer

Finding time to keep up with the latest developments in digital marketing is really tough. This app has hundreds of 5min lessons on every digital marketing topic you can think of. On completion you get personalized next steps after each lesson, so you can put your new skills to work right away.

6. Kontentino

This is marketed as 'The most intuitive social media planning and approval tool'. With a calendar and plenty of handy features like live post preview, topic tags, boost budget planning, post version history or easy content translation for international pages.

7. Crello

Many of us have used Canva which still remains the market leader but this looks like a powered up alternative. Crello is an amazing tool for creating graphics for social media. One of its features can help you go places: animated posts and super-duper templates that will help you stand out of the crowd.

8. Exactitudes

When undertaking work on marketing personas it can really help having images that aren't obvious stock photos. This project from a Dutch photographer profiles real people in a series of photos to make much more believable portraits.

9. Paste

WeTransfer is a tool many of us use on a weekly basis and this is their solution which allows you to make presentations, pitches, offers, or anything you simply want to call slides. If you are tired of Prezi or Google Slides templates, this tool is for you.

10. Lead Forensics

To my mind this is the most powerful B2B website monitoring tool there is. The potential to monitor who visits our websites and quantify leads in many different ways is massive (e.g. by sector and region). After getting up and running late last year 2019 will see us properly using it to it's full potential.
"This page doesn't work on my computer". Quite often this is type of email I get from users trying to view a newly published page on our website. But of course, what I need to understand is the operating system and browser. Otherwise, how can I effectively diagnose the issue? And of course, then there's the added complications of the user's own browser settings. It's like trying to diagnose a patient without them in front of you.

There are loads of tools out there to assist with this and one which I've found particularly useful as a Chrome user is the 'Browserling' plugin. This is particularly useful when testing website compatibility with the dreaded Microsoft Edge! In fact, we're currently approaching a situation where there are likely to be less browser choices than ever given Microsoft's announcement that Edge is to soon be discontinued.

After 3 years Edge was doomed to failure. Despite being championed by a company who still have the desktop market share it's used by only about 2% of the internet community. This is chiefly down to it not adequately replacing Internet Explorer. I've never liked IE myself - it's caused me more problems than solutions but it's impossible to deny that for many people the 'Blue E' IS the Internet. It's the icon you click to go online but Microsoft themselves never gave any guidance about how to transition.

Then for users who are more aware of what a web browser is there was no sales pitch on why it might be better than Firefox or Chrome. If your current browser works for your needs why would you bother going to the effort of switching? Some people may not even know that Edge was even a thing! And finally, and as referenced above, for us web professionals it was just another mouth to feed - another browser in which your website rendered differently and demanded fixing...

With mobile devices now being the main way that people consume the internet, a browser that only worked on desktop could never compete with the mighty Google Chrome. By default if you purchase an Android phone or a Chromebook you've already made your browser choice. Google own the world's most important web services (whereas Microsoft own none). Search, Home, Maps, YouTube are all so good they ensure you use their interfaces in as many ways as possible. I'm writing this on my trusty Chromebook now. They push you towards their products at every opportunity meaning Edge was always doomed to failure.

So what does this leave us with? As well as Internet Explorer and Chrome there are a few other significant players such as Safari or Opera. But my old favourite was trusty Firefox. I always saw this as the most robust and reliable and it had the best logo and developer tools (like Firebug).

As I learnt more about them as a company I wanted to support them even more. They are a truly independent browser with superior, human values compared to the rest. But things are not looking good for them either largely because of similar reasons to the above. For example, as anyone reading this ever used Firefox on a mobile device? I haven't except to emulate it for browser testing. Mobile usage is essential for any browser to properly survive.

Even it's market share on desktop is now dropping off. Ever since I bought a Chromebook there's no longer a reason for me to use it. The amount of plugins in Chrome now dwarf those of Firefox. With our new website Firefox was at the bottom of the pile when we undertook our internal browser testing. This would never have happened 5 years ago, it would have been too risky, but now no-one cares.

If Firefox goes the same way as Edge it will be a real shame. They're trying to go down fighting (by making many technical improvements and championing privacy) but ultimately what people care about most is convenience. So, if your device comes with a decent browser pre-installed why would you go searching for another one.

So despite this grim outlook it does mean potentially an easier workflow of testing for people who build for the web. The web has always evolved so there's no reason why any of these browsers may not resurface at some point. It's tough at the top. I'd love to see my old friend Netscape Navigator from the late 1990's return rejuvenated to take Chrome's crown!
As part of our commitment to our ongoing 'Shaping Your World' campaign we have instigated the 1% pledge. What this means is than 1% of our workforce of 20,000 colleagues are committed to visiting one school each a year. We have provided the resources for this such as videos, presentations, promo goods and careers guides. We're proud to have smashed our target too with over 360 colleagues going into schools to educate them about the built environment.

As one of the main driving forces behind the whole campaign there was no way I was going to escape unscathed for long! So a few weeks ago we visited Ernulf Academy in St. Neots to talk to Year 8 students. Having worked in a school for 5 years I knew what to expect as we approached the school gates. This was organised by the Skills Service as part of their 'Meet the Professionals' school outreach.

The basic format was that we would answer questions from small groups of 5 students for 3 hours! I really enjoyed finding out about their career aspirations and was surprised how mature some of them were (only one wanted to be a YouTuber!) One question was 'would you rather be poor and doing a job you love or rich and doing a job you hate?' - food for thought! My personal highlight was the boy who wanted to be just like his Dad and be a handyman - a very heartwarming and sincere answer.

Some of the questions that were fired at us really got me thinking. Especially the one about advice I wish I'd had at school before embarking on a career. Here were some of my answers:

Try lots of different things

When you first start out in a career it's your chance to try lots of different career paths. You are all potentially going to be working for the majority of your life (I am old and still have potentially 25 years of work left) so make sure you've chosen the right path. As your career progresses it will get increasingly harder to switch jobs as you become reliant on a certain salary to pay the mortgage and feed the kids!

Say yes to anything

Look how enthusiastic I look!
The first thing I look for when interviewing people is enthusiasm. This is because it's impossible to teach someone how to care about what they do. If you're willing to learn at every opportunity this will really pay off in later life. I found that by being happy to undertake lots of seemingly 'menial' jobs it gave me a great grounding to be seen as a really useful asset to the team. As you progress at work you don't have the luxury of learning for yourself basic digital marketing techniques so pick these up as early as you can.

Pay attention in maths lessons

I hated maths at school. In fact I retook my GCSE after only getting a 'D' first time round as I thought it might hamper me in later life. All the pain was worth it when I got a 'B' and vowed never to try any complex calculations again! But working in digital marketing has taught me that no matter how hard you try you always end up using a calculator!

Whether it be working out the percentage difference in bounce rate or budget management on a complex website redevelopment all roads lead back to it. Even in my home life it's essential to ensure bills get paid and mortgage payments met!

Be present

It's important that you present your own brand to show you're passionate about what you do and that you can increase your company's visibility. I'm doing it right now by writing this blog! I also enjoy the opportunity to get out and network or speak at industry events. If you're not keeping up to date with the latest innovations you'll soon find you're not adding value to the business where you need to.

I really enjoyed going back out and engaging with schools. It made me look at my own career in a new light. I'm thankful that so far I've been able to enjoy what I do - even if my career path wasn't quite as well planned out as perhaps I portrayed it!
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