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Who remembers MSN? Four predictions for the future of social media

Social MediaWe’ve come a long way since MSN messenger. Who remembers antagonising their mum by hogging the internet? Rendering the landline useless and delaying that all important phone call?

In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, the internet phenomenon that heralded the age of social media. Fast forward to the present day and there are currently 1.3billion active users on Facebook, with this number set to rise with the world’s population.

The future of social media spurs a string of hypothetical debates the length of my Twitter feed. Here are my top four predictions:

  1. Platforms will diversify and specialise. In a similar way to which Facebook has pages dedicated to particular subjects, smaller specialised platforms will spring up and attract users through exclusivity, which is good news for B2B marketers. Imagine a platform populated purely by Viz fanatics and devoted to the publication’s survival. Dedicated platforms will allow users to post outrageous Viz excerpts without fear of being blackballed by their intelligent, Economist reading peers.
  1. Social media will not only be ubiquitous, but integrated into our lives in ways we cannot yet imagine. Smart technology will connect everything we use regularly to social platforms, and like it or lump it each click will be logged. Apps already track how quickly or sluggishly we run, and this kind of surveillance will continue. As a result, even more data will be gathered in the future and highly personalised content will become expected. When brands get this wrong they’ll be ostracised by the consumers they’ve inaccurately pigeonholed – it still puzzles me that Graze think I’m healthy. When marketers have the ability to make calculated decisions based on astronomical amounts of data, an intensely personal, and consequently powerful user experience will be born.
  1. Developments in broadband speed and bandwidth will enable video and music to be consumed seamlessly on the move. This evolution will allow users to post snippets of video with the same gusto as selfies and static adverts will seem incredibly antiquated and boring – it doesn’t even move!
  1. Social media will transform all aspects of business, from marketing to customer services. S-commerce created a buzz last year as Facebook and Twitter tested buttons that enabled users to make purchases through the platform. S-commerce will eventually succeed and benefit customers through highly targeted offers and businesses through the creation of comprehensive customer profiles. Eventually C-level employees will wake up to the power of social media, not only as an invaluable form of inbound marketing, but also as a cost effective way to conduct customer services. As advertising through social media becomes a larger part of overall advertising budgets, more money will be pumped into establishing the ROI of social media, in terms of £ rather than likes.

In the future, there’ll be a wider variety of social media platforms as the market segments. Currently users easily transverse the big three platforms, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but these platforms will lose favour as people crave content they’re actually interested in. Let’s face it, nobody really cares about your kids, let alone your cats. Greater platform diversity will also make it easier for companies to reach and engage with their target markets. Social media’s importance as a method of communication and advertising will revolutionise society. The revolution will not be televised, but the revolution will be tweeted.

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Coverage Cup round up

Coverage cupThere has been some serious competition among the Spark team for the Coverage Cup over the last two weeks! George Osbourne’s budget pledges around renewable energy were a major talking point for Romonet, who commented on the issue on CBR and ITProPortal (alongside other budget comment from Bell, HCL and Dynatrace). Not to be outdone, Bell Integration has an opinion piece on Information Age, discussing the implications of the Government’s digital tax plans. Next up, research and quotes from Trustmarque feature heavily in a TechRadar Pro article about the future of personal cloud after some successful pitching by the team.  Elsewhere, the Centiro team secured an opinion piece in Internet Retailing looking at the issue of how do retailers cope with a growing number of online returns. Finally, the Guavus team scored a brace with a double hit in the same issue of Capacity Magazine with separate quotes about managing the IoT and vendor partnerships.

Here are the nominations in full from the last couple of weeks:

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Engaging with IT journalists has more benefits than just press coverage

AdviceI noticed a sudden spike in web traffic after Tristan’s recent blog about asking for copy approval. Most of this traffic came via Twitter from other PR agencies, largely because they follow Jess Twentyman, and she had retweeted the link to the blog. 

PRs follow journalists because we want to know what they are writing about and how our clients can help, but we also follow them because we want their advice. We pay close attention to their advice on how to pitch a story, what irritates them and what is helpful to them.

There is one area where a journalist’s advice should be invaluable to PR and marketing departments – content.  If content is king, it pays to listen to the kings of content.  Guy Clapperton recently posted a piece on his blog about how important it is to explain what’s in it for the reader when pitching to him. His decision on whether to engage is based on being convinced that he’ll get content he can turn into a story that his audience genuinely wants to read. 

As Guy points out, you need to find your story interesting or nobody else will, but ultimately it won’t impact levels of engagement. Before organising an event or creating content, you must renew your relationship with the persona that you are trying to reach and define what’s in it for them.  

Journalists are often measured on how many people read their stories, so they know what they are doing when it comes to engaging an audience. Increasingly, companies are employing the skills of journalists to deliver their brand journalism (which reads like editorial but is ‘owned’ instead of ‘earned’ or ‘paid-for’ media) as a way of reaching their audience. The challenge, as this FT story illustrates, is to produce something that is equal to, or better than, what traditional media can deliver.

But it’s not just brand journalism where you can learn from the experts. PR agencies try to apply the rules of journalism to all content; such as by-lined articles, headline-driven research, quotes and press releases. I like to think this is motivated by an instinctive understanding of the interests of our client’s audience, rather than because we know we’ll be shot down if we don’t! We also want to make the journalist’s life a bit easier; they get thousands of pitches a day, so it makes sense to do some of the legwork required to develop a story.

However, taking a journalistic approach should go beyond editorial of all types, whether it is owned, earned or paid. The internet and social media have changed marketing almost beyond recognition, and the rules of journalism that relate to creating compelling content now also apply to marketing materials. Guy’s piece talks about organising meetings with the media at an event, but you could easily replace ‘media’ with ‘prospects’ and the advice would still be spot on. Marketing experts such as Seth Godin or David Meerman Scott aren’t the only valuable resources – ask us if you want some recommendations of journalists to follow. Once you’ve mastered the content, the next step is the technology to manage and measure – but that’s for a book rather than a blog post!

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And the winner is…? Top tips for a successful award entry

award-155595_640Last week I attended the PRmoment Awards, as Spark was shortlisted in the category for best B2B PR Campaign for the work we carried out for iPass around its Wi-Fi Growth Map. Unfortunately we didn’t win, but it did get me thinking about awards more generally and the role they play in PR and marketing.  Working in PR, you sometimes forget that for many clients, winning or even being nominated for an award is very much a badge of honour for the entire company, so it shouldn’t be sniffed at. 

Working in PR for 15 years (yes that long!) I have probably seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to award entries, so here are some top tips for a successful award entry:

  • Read the small print – a lot of time can go into crafting a great award entry, only for it to not meet the award entry criteria. There are a number of basic questions you should always try to answer to avoid falling foul here. Does your entry meet the specified word count? Was your product launched within the stated timeframe? Can vendors make direct entries? Were you aware of the entry fee? These are just a few examples of where entries can fall at the first hurdle before the judges have even considered them, so it definitely pays to read the small print as it will save a lot of wasted time and effort.
  • Demonstrate happy customers – when it comes to project-focused awards, judges always want to hear from the customer rather than the supplier. So always look to write entries from the position of the customer and talk about the benefits they realised, rather than talking about how great you are.  You will sometimes also find that customers will be more prepared to support an award entry rather than full-blown PR, as they can directly see the benefit of being involved.
  • Play the numbers game – in very much the same way that journalists are on the lookout for stories that show ROI, productivity gains, impact on the bottom line etc., award judges (which often include journalists) are also looking for these to come through entries. For instance, in our recent entry for iPass we were able to show tangible outcomes, such as the number of business meetings secured. If you can’t demonstrate tangible success, you should question the merits of entering an award in the first place.
  • Make your entry easy to read – it may sound obvious, but making your award entry easy to read can go a long way. Award judges often have to read hundreds of different entries, so if you can easily signpost facts, figures and customer benefits they will be happy. Make bullet points your friend!
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Coverage Cup round up w/c 2 March 2015

Coverage cupMarch 2nd marked the anniversary of Dr. Seuss’ birthday and so it seemed only appropriate that it was a week when the Spark team got coverage here, there and everywhere! The iPass team kicked off proceedings with a great piece in the Wall Street Journal looking at how easy it is to go Wi-Fi only, which referenced data from iPass’ global Wi-Fi map. Meanwhile the Bit9 team, placing a great byline in Computer Business Review from UK MD David Flower on how  enterprises can handle the security challenges of the Windows Server 2003 reaching end of life. Finally, the Trustmarque team successfully hijacked a REC/KPMG report about IT job growth highlighting how companies must embrace flexible resourcing in today’s market.

Below are the rest of the Coverage Cup nominations from last week.

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