A valuable social media event

I spent an educational day yesterday at The Social Customer, a one day conference on social media – how customers are using it, and how businesses are reacting to it. The speakers were all from larger companies, or from those assisting larger organisations with their social media.  

I’ll probably dissect what I learned in more detail, later. But the key messages I took away were: 

* just get stuck in – there’s no manual for this stuff, and big or small, no amount of planning will prevent mistakes. So get on and make them

* working out your return on investment is difficult – you have to commit, and see what return you get down the line

* ignoring social media is about as sensible as thinking the internet won’t affect your business

* if you’re a small organisation, social media is easier – yes, really. Big companies may be able to put dedicated staff onto the job, BUT they have to deal with technologically ignorant bosses, bureaucracy, silo mentalities or interdepartmental infighting, and daft rules such as those that prevent staff accessing the internet at work! 

The event was well organised, the speakers disarmingly candid, and the link to Frank Eliason live from the USA worked well too (even if the sound did make my ears bleed, a bit). Well done to Luke Brynley-Jones for his hard work. 


Whatever happened to rallying?

I’m just reading a biography of Bernie Ecclestone. Whether you love him or not, the guy transformed Formula One from a rag-tag bunch of cash-strapped racing engineers, to a global sporting phenomenon.

Sure, he’s done very well out of it. But in the manner of every really successful person, he’s helped many hundreds, maybe thousands, of other people to be more successful and better off along the way; his moves have always looked to have been for the benefit of the sport first, himself second. And Formula One really is a massive global sport, with countries and cities vying to be part of it.

Which got me thinking, whatever happened to the World Rally Championship? The contrast between top level rallying’s decline, and Formula One’s increasing appeal, could not be more marked. A decade ago, I was briefly connected with it, helping the Ford rally team with weather reporting from mid-stage, to help them select the best tyres for the cars. Citroen, Ford, Peugeot, Skoda and Subaru all fielded factory-supported teams, and in the UK we had heroes in Colin McRae and Richard Burns. There were rally reports on TV, and real-time results freely accessible on the web.

Fast forward to today, and just Ford and Citroen are fielding factory-supported teams, alongside a tentative entry from Mini, muscling it out with sponsored privateers. Is it on TV, somewhere among the satellite channels? And who are the drivers? I guess rallying never found its own Bernie Ecclestone.

Have we become a nation of softies?

The collapse of footballer Fabrice Muamba during a televised soccer match on Saturday was shocking, not least because it was unusual. Very rarely do we see anyone given the kiss of life (or CPR as it is officially known) live on TV, or in front of an audience of thousands.

Thankfully, there are plenty of people around who should be able to respond positively and help anyone who collapses suddenly, as Muamba did. I was taught the lifesaving technique at school, aged 10, and recent advertisements on the TV starring Vinnie Jones should help to encourage others to find out what they need to do, to help anyone who stops breathing.

But was it right to abandon the football match? I expect some to respond that it was the only course of action, as all the fellow players and referee were “traumatised”. Come on – surely, a decade ago, the natural reaction of everyone would have been to carry on with the game, once the poor guy was in the best possible hands and safely on his way to hospital. The more we allow such incidents to interrupt our lives, the weaker as a nation we become.

It’s only human for us all to wish Muamba well, to pray he makes a full recovery and that the medics and football trainers can learn something positive from his collapse.

Heart attacks can strike at any time, and Muamba is at least fighting for his life. Australian medics could not save 34 year old Gary Cornell, who died on Saturday of an apparent heart attack, while performing on stage.

The shortest referral letter ever?

I was chatting with my local GP at his surgery, and discovered he is something of an evangelist for clarity in written communication. As practice scribe, he works tirelessly to tidy up sloppy writing from colleagues and within the NHS, in a bid to get messages across clearly and succinctly. 

He lays claim to having written the shortest referral letter ever to a consultant. Referring a patient (male, as you will discover) to a consultant who was well-known for getting to the point, he penned thus: 

“Dear XXXX, 

re: Mr Smith


The reply beat even that: 

“Dear XXXX, 

re: Mr Smith


PS his handwriting is still an indecipherable scribble, though.



Direct Line was just too direct

A recent experience with Direct Line insurance illustrates a salutory tale for any business – there’s little point spending a fortune getting new business leads, if you don’t handle them appropriately.

I called up for a car insurance quotation. I was put through to a lady in India – no problem with that, happy to speak with a customer service representative anywhere in the world, so long as I can understand them, and they take note of what I say. I asked for a quote, went through personal details, vehicle details and answered some other questions. She provided me with a quotation, rattling through the terms and conditions, which included a large variety of differing “excess” amounts for different types of claims: from memory, they were between £100 and £400, depending on whether it was a claim for theft, non-fault damage, malicious damage etc.

I asked her if she could send me the details, maybe by email, so I could review them. “No, we don’t do that, we are a strictly over the telephone operation,” she said. I hardly felt in the mood to ask her to repeat them, so that I could write all the details down, as she then immediately proceeded to a hard sell, telling me that their price would be better because they didn’t pay brokers, pushing me to close the sale there and then. Feeling uncomfortable, I refused – so she then proceeded to book a time later that afternoon for her to call back.

Getting off the phone, and somewhat flustered, I found the number for the helpful brokers I used for my home insurance. The guy on the end of the phone was friendly, helpful and not at all pushy. So when I’d reviewed his quote at leisure – which included a simple £100 excess on everything, for a premium that was within £5 of the Direct Line quote, I called back and arranged the insurance with him.

Direct Line did call back later – but I hadn’t changed my mind.

Simple lesson – listen to your prospect, and if you can, provide them with what they ask. If you develop an inflexible sales method, you will be guaranteed to lose some potentially valuable prospects.

What do I blog about?

This week, I was taken aside by a business colleague, who then said to me: “I know I should be blogging, I’m in marketing after all, and I tell my clients I should do, but what should I write about?”

My suggestion was to consider three pointers:

1) ongoing issues in your sector

Make a list of the key issues facing your business sector at the moment – things that will continue to be issues, and you could probably write about them in a year from now without them having moved out of date. As an example, if you are in the motor industry, it might be electric cars.

These are issues you can proactively plan and write about. Your blog entries don’t need to be tied to an event or a date, so you could potentially write them at your leisure and post them in due course.

2) what have you been up to lately?

We’re all busy people, often doing things that we think are entirely common sense, but to an outsider might be clever, interesting, or helpful. So, without embarrassing the client for whom you may be working (unless they and you will mutually benefit from mentioning them, and they’ve said they are happy to be mentioned), go ahead and write about how you helped them recently.

3) what’s your take?

Blogs are meant to give the reader an insight into your views and your passions. So keep an eye on news happenings in your sector, and comment on them. This has to be reactive, but you probably keep regularly abreast of activities in your sector anyway. They could be items in the national press, or specific niche items that appear in your trade media. Always be sure to reference the source of the information to legitimise it, before adding your take.

Time to tidy up my blog

So here is it, with a fresh new look and an increased focus on my main, daily activities mainly involving the world of copy, communications and modern ways of working.

I’m continuing to write about property and about planning, but comments on that topic will be hived off in future, to my new blog here.