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Should You Still Use Hashtags?

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This, just no okay?

Is it too late to stop the relentless march of the hashtag? I think it might be.

Hashtags used to be a useful tool for finding relevant and useful information on Twitter. But we now have better ways of doing this – through social search such as Topsy, Facebook Graph Search, Twitter’s Search engine andTwitter’s ‘Discover’ tab.

Even Facebook has Trending Topics now.

Instead, hashtags have now been a way for brands to clog up my Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds with branded garbage and witty asides.

Take a look at the #BlueMonday hashtag for instance, currently Trending on Twitter. Not one person seems to be addressing the fact that today is the most depressing day of the year (something that, incidentally, gets thoroughly debunked every year.)

No, it is just a way for marketers to prove how ‘plugged in’ they are to the conversation by linking a promotional tweet to a Trending Topic. Way to go guys! #socialstrategy!

Hashtags are proliferating for anything and everything – and, some exceptions aside (I love things like #LeedsHour, and of course #CVoclock), it’s maybe time we gave it a rest.

Anyway, a bad hashtag – or (ugh) a ‘bashtag’ – can be a massive liability. JustAsk British Gas.

Hashtag’s now appear to be hitting the mainstream, but my prediction is that we will one day look back on them as a bygone relic of a time when finding information on social media was hard.

Will 2014 be the year when the hashtag starts to decline? It looks like BuzzFeed agrees with me.

How To Write For Social Media

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about what it means to write for many devices, many audiences, and an audience that is time pressed.

When we’re planning our campaigns, we tend to gravitate towards a picture of our audience in our minds eye that is sat on the sofa, with iPad or daily newspaper, slowly digesting our messaging and its implications.

We wish. In reality, we probably have around thirty seconds of someone’s attention while they’re standing at a bus stop, with a latte in the other hand. And that’s a difficult shift for us to adjust to.

Social media will change how you write – and that’s ok

Writing for social media does mean changing the way we write – nothing less than designing short attention spans into our content. We now spend as much time planning outputs (interactive charts, punchy intros, subheadings, social media links) as we do messaging.

But it also means putting the processes in place that allow great content to happen. O2 is a superb example of this – they have created a ‘triage’ so that senior management understand how customer queries are going to be responded to, but don’t have control over what precisely is said. That is (rightly) the job of the community manager.

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Do you invest appropriate time providing an accompanying image to a post? It’s tempting to think that once you’ve written a post the job is done, but a well-chosen image could increase engagement by over 300%. That could be the difference between a campaign succeeding or not – is it worth your time? With sites like Stocksy around, there really is no excuse.

Beware the Hummingbird

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Within five years, Google Hummingbird will kill off ‘brochureware’ sites with only static pages, however well keyword optimised they are. That’s how big it is.

The rise of mobile search and mobile and voice search platforms such as Google Now and Siri are ushering in a future where very specific search terms are the norm.

It won’t matter where you rank for ‘PR agency London’ as no-one will be searching for it. They’ll be searching for help with brandjacking, social media crisis simulation, media relations for charities, or one of the many other myriad terms. If you don’t have a page for it, you won’t be in the race.

As such, you’ll need to invest now in thorough market research (emphatically not simply keyword research) to find out what it is your audience wants from you, and how you can help meet it. The strategy that is now being pioneered by the likes of gov.uk will become commonplace within the next two years.

Tap into human emotion if you want people to share

People make content go viral. Specifically, it’s people’s emotional reactions to content that make it go viral. You can roll your eyes at BuzzFeed all you want, but they understand this.

It’s very difficult to get anyone to share anything without first asking “what is it about this post that would make people want to share it?”

In the real world, people share information to survive, to express themselves, to form social bonds, to help people and to manage how they are perceived. And that’s more or less it.

If you want to create content that is shared, you need to tap into one of those emotional states. We share feelings, not facts, and we share content that triggers emotions.

A strategy for social sharing

So then, what should your social media content strategy revolve around? It should have a healthy dollop of ‘Library’ content first up – that’s specific content that answers real questions for real people.

It should also have ‘Cafe’ content – short, visual, shareable content for social media that is delivered in packages for different audiences and platforms. Always, of course, created with an awareness of the culture of that particular platform.

But it’s also about what we don’t share. Facebook is incredibly unforgiving of poor content – its EdgeRank algorithm decides whether to display your content on someone’s News Feed based on their engagement with your previous content.

If that previous content happened to have been a duff Facebook update that a stakeholder had pressured you to put on the Facebook wall because ‘it would be popular with the kids,’ then there is a very real cost to that update.

Indeed, with Facebook now increasing emphasis on Promoted Posts, it may be that you have to pay to get that user back. Food for thought next time you’re asked to post a bad update!

How Google Hummingbird Impacts Creative Businesses

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about the recent “Hummingbird” changes to Google’s algorithm. What does Hummingbird mean for you?On the face of it, it seems like a huge update. It’s the first time that Google’s algorithm (the thing that powers results) has been completely overhauled since 2001. 2001 was the year that Google overtook Altavista for number of internet searches. In digital years, it’s a huge amount of time. The change is said to have impacted 90% of search queries.

Why has Google changed its algorithm?

It’s hard to look beyond mobile as a factor for this. People are making more searches on mobile devices, and Google clearly anticipates that as technologies like Siri, Google Glass and Google Now become more popular, we’re going to be searching using our voices a lot more.

The search landscape has also changed a lot since 2001. In 2001, using a search engine was about finding relevant content. In 2013, there’s no shortage of stuff out there, it’s about finding the right content above the noise. To understand this shift, Google has to get to the heart of what we really mean (who, what, why, how and when), rather than simply matching words against a database.

How is search behaviour changing?

Words like “short tail” and “long tail” sound like jargon, but people who use Google understand that they’re unlikely to find what they’re looking for using generic keywords. So they’ve stopped doing it.

What does Google Hummingbird mean for businesses?

Google will be providing better answers to searches written in the form of a question. Over time, that’s going to change people’s behaviour, and people will start doing these kinds of search more.

This means that keyword searches which are not phrased as a question – ‘PR agency London’ for instance – are on the way out. Optimising a site for search therefore, isn’t about how many keywords you can cram on the same page – but providing the right, meaningful content to answer questions.

What is Google Hummingbird not going to be changing?

Branded searches aren’t going to be changing. People will still search for Apprenticeships, National Careers Service, Claremont and more. If the name of your brand is also your product though (i.e. “How do I apply for an Apprenticeship?”) you’ll want to optimise for that.

What should you take away from Google’s changes?

  • Content – it’s more important than ever before to deliver excellent, regularly updated content, optimise for a breadth of related keywords and make it available across devices.
  • Measurement - The success of an SEO campaign can no longer be defined by ranking on short tail keywords – number of unique entry pages to the site is now a more relevant measure.
  • SEO no longer optional - People will use Google even more than they already do. SEO is no longer optional for you but essential 
  • Authoritative content - Any campaign should consider how we can influence the answers Google gives by providing authoritative and useful content. Consider writing the title of your post in the form of a question.

What I Learned Mentoring At Campaign Bootcamp

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I had the immense privilege of mentoring WordPress at Campaign Bootcamp – a five day residential training session for Britain’s most talented young campaigners, and I wanted to share a few thoughts about my experience.At first, I have to admit, the idea seemed completely bonkers. Thirty young campaigners – the UK’s most promising – holed up in a conference centre for a week, without much sleep, gathering knowledge it took most of us years to accumulate.

Even as a big admirer of the “crash course” approach, I was sceptical. The sheer depth and breadth of the course was astonishing. Campaign strategy, social, SEO, crisis management – there was even a session on relational databases! How much information can one person take in without sleep?

I pitched up on the day I was mentoring not knowing what I would find. Lots of clapping and cheering. An abundance of coffee cups (and indeed, flasks). The sense of organised chaos. A lot of tired-looking young people. It was only day two – how would the band of campaigners bear up?

As the sessions continued, I saw people grow. First lines of HTML were coded – “I made it bold!”. Putative WordPress websites were created by people with no knowledge of the platform mere hours earlier. I began to field questions about optimising the landing pages. I saw quiet people becoming confident.

And then we moved into a campaign scenario. The town of Fakefordshire and the battle to stop the privatisation of the police force came alive. I could see eyes light up and people coming into their element. Suddenly everything became very task focused. Labour was divided quickly and efficiently. My mentoring became minimal prodding toward a conclusion.

And the warmth in the room! The energy! The passion! The glue of any campaign – the camaraderie – had somehow been recreated. No-one gave a second thought to the fact that it was nearing midnight. Still less that the next day would begin at 7. There was a campaign on.

The only question now – how can it be topped next year? I don’t know, but I’m sure Kat, Johnny, Casper, Tom and the crew have a plan…