Mind control: The dastardly trick to more social media shares

If you’re anything like me, your response to finding that your social media content has performed well is to lean back in your swivel chair, as your villainous laugh echoes around your secret Oxfordshire volcano base*. Why? Because you know how to use mind control to make your audience share your posts.

Perhaps ‘mind control’ is a little misleading, not to mention sinister. But when it comes to crafting social media content, there is some psychology behind post popularity. And you don’t need to be as malevolent as The Master to understand it.

It doesn’t mean there’s an exact formula for the perfect social media post out there (not that we’ve discovered yet anyway), but there are a few techniques that can inform how you create content.

1. Identity

As individuals, we like to express our identities. For example: we wear clothes to convey the type of person we think we are – whether it’s Jimmy Choos, or a Fat Face hoody (or both); we decorate our homes with splashy modern art, or minimalist elegance (or both). The external representation of our inner selves is important to the large majority of us, and it’s the same on social. If we see a post that we feel reflects our personality, our interests, and our values, we’re much more likely to click that share button.

What might your followers identify with? This will usually be closely tied in with your brand, or the lifestyle that your company promotes.

2. Influence

We love to recommend to our friends the things we think they’ll enjoy. We’ll happily let them know if we reckon they’d love the Kiwanuka album, or The Boys series, or the latest Rivers of London novel. (These are all things I’m currently enjoying btw.) We like to be seen as a positive influence on our social media followers too, so if we notice something we think would interest or entertain them, we’ll tend to share it – especially if we think we’ll get a bit of credit for doing so.

From the funnies to special offers, what might compel your followers to share a post with their own followers?

3. Inclusion

We love being part of a gang. If people see that a post is already popular, they are more likely to engage with it – because if loads of people like it, it must be important or valuable, right? This is called ‘social proof’.

This one’s hard to manufacture, but it helps to explain why certain posts will continue to blow up once they hit a certain level of popularity.

4. Introductions

Many social media users aren’t there just for the craic. They’re there to connect with strangers to build personal or professional networks. Sharable content can include posts that help people to make those connections with like-minded individuals, or peers in our industry.

What unique content might you have that people can engage with to grow their networks? Perhaps you can set up an industry Q&A, or pose questions pertinent to your business area?

5. Inspiration

Scrolling through social media can be exhausting! With a flick of the finger you can see a list of posts that might provoke joy, anger, laughter, disappointment, love, jealousy – all within seconds of each other. We tend to share the content that affects us emotionally, especially if we want other people to feel that way too.

As a business you’ll obviously want to steer away from provoking rage (unless you work for, I don’t know, certain tabloids?). But what content do you have that could be awe-inspiring, hilarious, or moving?

The key thing to remember with all these tips, is that they are based around positivity. And positivity needs to be authentic. So try to make sure every post – whatever dastardly psychological technique it employs – has your brand at its heart.

I love manipulating people creating content for social media.

Need a hand with yours? Get in touch!

*Never spotted a volcano in Oxfordshire? That’s how secret my base is.

Warm employee engagement for the cold, dark days

Autumn is stunning, isn’t it? Blustery walks amid regal reds and golds; a polished conker slipped into a jacket pocket; the murmur of misty-breathed voices, as primal instincts draw communities to blazing bonfires.

It’s also blooming cold and dark.

Back in spring, a few voices dared to predict that life for us all would be somewhat back to normal by now (or whatever counted for ‘normal’, on an already chaotic planet, before Covid-19 entered the fray).

However a second wave now threatens to send an exhausted population into a deeper slump.

And this time, for those working remotely, the sunless cabin fever of a prospective autumn/winter lockdown – along with more economic uncertainty – will only intensify anxiety, especially for those who don’t fare well in isolation.

So what can you, as an employer, do to help?

A good first step will be to help your staff feel motivated in a season that (while undoubtedly beautiful) can often feel a bit gloomy.

Here are some employee engagement ideas to keep the fire burning in the cold, dark days ahead.

  1. Say thank you

For months now, we’ve been reacting to approximately one squillion new challenges in our day to day life. We’ve not just been working from home; we’ve been living in a pandemic, and working as much as we can among stressful situations that lots of people probably haven’t even wanted to talk about with their colleagues. A ‘thank you’ is easy – but if you mean it, it has huge emotional value. The recognition that balancing work with life has been tougher than ever, will help people to feel seen and acknowledged, even if they haven’t articulated their own personal challenges.

  1. Encourage one-to-one catch ups that aren’t about work

There are great benefits to working from home, but some important things do get lost: not least those casual conversations in the corridor, or impromptu team outings for a coffee and a chat. These are the kinds of activities that help to build trust, strengthen relationships, and are so important for good mental health. Empower your staff members to set up informal one-to-ones with each other within work hours, where work is not the focus. Perhaps they could have a video call, or a phone call, or even meet up for a walk or with a flask of coffee on a park bench. It’s so important that colleagues connect, and the positive effect it can have on working relationships is utterly invaluable.

  1. Remind your team of HR benefits

Business-as-usual has gone out the window, scarpered over the fields, and is now barely a dot on the horizon. We’re all a bit befuddled. Now is a good time to: encourage staff to take their holiday days before the year end; promote cycle to work schemes; share resources for training and learning, and wellness programmes; offer guidance on pension plans. As staff feel more physically disconnected from their workplaces, you can help them to still know that they’re part of a company that really wants them around, and wants them to enjoy being part of it.

  1. Become task oriented, not time oriented

This one requires trust – but hopefully after more than six months of home working, you and your team already have that! It involves trusting your staff members to achieve their prioritised tasks before deadlines, without worrying so much about them working their set hours every day. As long as tasks are being accomplished, allowances should be made for flexible working. An hour less in the office on one day due to family commitments can be picked up another day within the week.

  1. Encourage a morning and evening commute

Seriously, yep. But not the commute that involves bleary yawning in solid, smoggy traffic. Instead, if your staff members are working from home, you could suggest that they each schedule in a short walk before and after working hours. It will help to provide structure: delineating home life from work life; and the kitchen table from the work desk (if they are one and the same). Nobody should feel obligated of course – and personal family schedules may not allow for such a luxury as a morning walk. But if time allows, a routine can be reassuring for many people, and set them up for their working day while helping them to get their 10,000 steps in.

Wrap up warm, folks. And wash your hands after picking up conkers.

Contact me for freelance writing, content, and communications, in Oxfordshire and beyond!

Why tone of voice is essential/wonderful/SuPer-CoOl! for your company

If your company’s messaging and branding is inconsistent, or you’re not reaching the kinds of audiences that you’re aiming for, it may be time to change your tone of voice.

Perhaps contrary to the phrase itself, ‘tone of voice’ in branding terms relates not so much to speaking, but to all your written copy: your newsletters, website copy, social media, print and online adverts, the labels and packaging you put on your products – perhaps your internal messaging too.

It’s not the messaging itself – which might be informational, or promotional, or a list of ingredients – it’s the way you convey the messaging.

If you look at products and services around you, you’ll see that tone of voice can vary wildly between brands, depending on how they want to express themselves.

Tone of voice examples

A letter from your pension company probably isn’t going to be bubbly and kooky – otherwise you may not put your trust in them. Instead, it’s likely to be authoritative and reassuring:

“As the UK’s leading pension provider, we will help you to understand which investment is right for you.”

A luxury travel brand is unlikely to use informal chummy language, or corporate jargon – instead it will deploy evocative words and phrases in a way that sounds sophisticated and exciting, and helps a customer to picture themselves on holiday:

“Discover a hidden gem in this emerald-green rainforest: our jungle villa is waiting for you.”

Meanwhile, a start-up make-up manufacturer might take a more off-the-wall tone to appeal to a fun-loving younger crowd, with a guerrilla style campaign of abrasive and confrontational messaging:

“GET it ON yer FAAAAAACE!”

They MIGHT anyway.

And the key thing about a company’s chosen tone of voice? It should be consistent across all channels.

Reasons to set your own company’s tone of voice

Now we’ve looked at what tone of voice is; here’s why it matters:

It gets you the audience you want

Companies are rarely – or rarely should be – trying to reach ‘everyone’. For this blog, I’m going to assume that you’ve already put in the work to identify your target demographic (and if you haven’t, I can help!) Perhaps it’s 63 year-old Dennis from Lincoln who loves a spot of gardening in-between bouts of Dungeons and Dragons with his pals; or it’s 19 year-old Zoe from Oxfordshire who loves to knit cosy scarves for her guinea pigs.

A tone of voice that appeals to your target audience is key to attracting them to your product. By speaking in a way that connects with your customers, you’re demonstrating that you understand what it is they need or want from your company.

It reveals the people that drive the brand

A company is nothing without its people. And people who work for a particular company are likely to have values and interests that align with the company’s brand and vision.

By having a company tone of voice, your audiences can connect more readily to the people behind the brand, meaning transactions will feel more personal.

It helps you to stand out

In a world (and worldwide web) afflicted by information overload and excessive advertising, it can be a real breath of fresh air to read something that actually conveys personality. It shows that thought and passion has been put into the words you’re reading.

And if your company is really similar to another one just down the road, the approach you take to tone of voice could be the thing that brings an audience your way.

What’s your tone of voice going to be?

Working on tone of voice might sound like a complicated task, but it’s a really important one to get right – and it’s honestly fun to do as well!

Essentially, it starts with your customers. And I can help with that:

  • I can help you to build audience profiles and establish a tone of voice that speaks directly to them.
  • I can create your ‘Style Guide’ document to promote consistency in all future written communications across your channels.
  • I can draft blogs and social media posts that use your tone of voice!

Get in touch for a chat/discussion/chinwag….

Succumb to the seven deadly sins of social media marketing

According to the experts there are loads of things you ‘shouldn’t be doing’ on social media as a small to medium business. But let’s be honest: being good is boring.

The truth is, that none of us are perfect all of the time. We’re all complex creatures with vices and virtues. And as much as we might want to be pure, it’s just so gosh darn easy to ssslip every now and again. Being evil is jusssst sssso delicioussss….

So go on. Take a bite of that apple. Give into temptation. Because when it comes to social media marketing, there’s always room for a little wickednessssss.

The Sin of GREED: Or Putting Money Before People

Let’s get this out the way first. Social media is SOCIAL. Imagine stepping into a house party, and announcing to the room that you have an incredible product for an incredible price.

(We’re not talking about paid advertising here, which has its own issues around trust. We’re talking about normal posts in which you focus on selling your wares.)

You’d probably find yourself standing alone in the corner for the rest of the evening, sadly nursing a plastic cup of warm punch.

Advertising infiltrates every corner of our life, and people certainly don’t dip into social media to be exposed to even more.

The ssserpent sssays: That being said… It’s fine in moderation. You’re a business account after all. The 80/20 rule is about right: That’s 80% good content, and 20% marketing. And when you do choose to advertise, focus on the benefits rather than the product itself.

The Sin of GLUTTONY: Or Hungering For Retweets

We all want our content to be shared. It’s disheartening to write the POST OF THE CENTURY and see tumbleweeds where you wanted retweets. It can be tempting to want to ask people to repost within the original post itself. (‘Please RT!’)

We’d suggest you don’t. It can come across as a little desperate, and people don’t always like having an obligation thrust on them – because if they did share it, their own online brand and reputation would be put at stake too. Usually such a request would be reserved for signal-boosting good causes.

It’s far better to post high quality content that people will WANT to share – rather than feeling pressured to do so.

The ssserpent sssays: Oh shush. It’s OK to ask for people to share your posts every now and again. For businesses it’s especially acceptable if you’re posting about an offer or promotion that people might genuinely enjoy or benefit from.

The Sin of ENVY: or Coveting A Competitor’s Account

Social media begets jealousy. We all know about how it creates the illusion that other people are far more productive or successful than us. And it’s for reasons like this that social media can be damaging to our mental health.

When it comes to small and medium businesses, we can find ourselves with green eyes when a competitor appears to be having huge success with their social media engagement. This may even lead to attempts to replicate their social media presence.

This is not a great strategy. You have your own brand, and your unique voice – so try instead to focus on what you do best, instead of imitating others.

The ssserpent sssays: May I disagree for a moment? It is actually an excellent idea to analyse other accounts as part of your competitor research. Rather than copying what they do, try to understand the techniques that they use and assess what gets good engagement. This’ll help you think about how you could apply and adapt the same techniques while retaining your own online personality and individuality.

Go on! Eat up all that tasty knowledge. Yum!

The Sin of PRIDE: Or Making It All About You

Social is not a one-way stream of self-promotion. It’s a conversation. Even if you have a really great company worth shouting about (which you do!) if you’re only ever talking about yourself, then you’re only doing half the job – if that.

Plan time into your social media activity to see what’s happening in your sector on social, and among your followers and the people you follow. Engage with them, and join discussions. Lift up other accounts that you admire. Be generous and supportive. Fairly soon, you should find other people doing the same for you.

The ssserpent sssays: Indulge me for a moment… While constant bragging is not recommended, I don’t see why you shouldn’t highlight your business achievements and recognise your own hard work on occasion. Think about how you can celebrate successes on social media in a way that endorses people you’ve worked with, or provides helpful case studies for the people following you.

The Sin of SLOTH: or Only Ever Reposting Other People’s Content

So you’re interacting with followers and the people you follow. Fantastic. But what content are you putting out? If all you’re doing is reposting and retweeting what other people post, you might come across as disengaged or lazy. Anyone who browses your account might decide not to follow you if all you seem to do is regurgitate content.

Take some time to put together a content plan, so that you’ll always have ideas for original material to post. If you do want to share other contents from other accounts, provide a comment to accompany it that provides context, or gives your own spin on it in your own voice. If you post a news article, add your insight or critiques. Let people in on your valuable perspectives.

The ssserpent sssays: Nonsensssse. It’s fine to repost without comment on occasion: usually when the post itself is completely self-contained and self-explanatory, or it would feel glib or extraneous to add your own comment to it. Posts which are ‘just for fun’ are definitely fine to share as they are.

The Sin Of LUST: Or Wanting All Of The Followers

There are people out there who do it all the time. They follow accounts indiscriminately, in the hope that those accounts will follow them back. And, actually, some of those free and easy people seem to do well out of it.

But it’s filthy, and shameful, and you should not do it. And here’s why. Imagine someone looking at your profile, and seeing that you follow 10,000 accounts, while you have just – say – 10 followers. That ratio is all wrong, and will suggest you have a low-quality account.

Also, when a business account follows you, and you can’t understand how you might ever be interested in their services, it feels cheap, and (probably) damages their reputation in your eyes.

It’s far better to make connections in organic, natural ways through valuable interactions that help to build relationships.

The ssserpent sssays: Sssserioussly? There’s no reason however why you can’t go on a following binge. Just make sure you’re targeting your intended audience. Think about the types of people and sectors you want to engage, and use search parameters to seek out those demongraphics – sorry, I meant demographics. If there’s a clear link between what you offer and their own interests, you’ll increase the chances of them following you back.

The Sin of WRATH: Or Getting Irate in Interactions

Social media = free comment. People can and will say what they want, if the platform allows it. Unfortunately, this means you might hear of a negative review or a complaint about your company.

You may disagree with the review. You may think they’re being unfair. But to respond with anger or sarcasm is the wrong way to go about it. Even if your rage is righteous, your reputation could still take a battering, and other potential clients could be put off ever working with you.

Instead, try to be understanding and diplomatic. Get to the core of their issue, rather than responding with knee-jerk fury. If it looks like the issue can’t be quickly resolved there and then, invite them to take the conversation offline by contacting you directly. This will demonstrate that you take their concern seriously, while preventing further negativity from clouding your feed.

The ssserpent sssays: …Actually, I can’t think of any situation where getting angry on social is a helpful thing for a business. Even I wouldn’t go there, and I’m basically pure evil.

Know the rules, then break ’em.

So how was that? Feeling good about being able to sin a little? As the above hopefully shows, social media management isn’t just about ‘posting stuff’ – it’s about careful consideration of content sensitivities, ongoing navigation of complexities, ascertaining moods and nuances, and an understanding of when it’s OK to break the rules a little.

In short, it requires a time and commitment. And if that feels like more than you can take on right now, then I would love to help out. I can help to plan your content strategy, or even look after your social accounts.

Get in touch for a chat today – there’s ssso much that we can dissscussssss.

Sharing is caring: seven stonking reasons why small businesses should blog

I’m about to share great, great knowledge about the power of blogging. Come closer. Closer still. No, too close – I can see the crumbs on your face-mask from the doughnut you had for lunch. Back off – that’s it. Just there.

Now. Blogging. This silly word has been around since the late 90’s, when Leo was the King of the World, and the Spice Girls were telling us what they wanted what they really really wanted.

So there’s no excuse not to have heard of it.

But – far from only being the domain of celebrity holistic health brands, foodies waxing lyrical about their unique mac ‘n’ cheese recipe, and backpackers with envy-inducing photos – blogging is an incredibly powerful tool for small businesses.

Sure, it takes time. It demands creativity, concentration and a content plan. But it can also build your brand and reputation, help you to demonstrate your leadership in your sector, and even drive sales.

In fact small businesses with blogs generate 126% more leads according to this infographic. While this article reports that businesses that blog get 55% more website visitors than businesses that don’t.

So put down that box of doughnuts. Or even better, give it to me to look after. Because here are seven stonking reasons why you should consider blogging for your small business – even in the time of COVID-19:

  1. Blogs helps people to find you

Search engines are attracted to fresh, original content. If you can create regular articles that include strong identifying keywords for your sector, business and niche, you’re going to give search engines a very good reason to give you a nudge up the rankings.

Furthermore, if other websites start linking to your posts, search engines will consider you to be an authority, and make you even more visible.

Caution: search engine web crawlers are really clever. If you stuff your content with keywords, they will know, and you’ll be penalised through a drop in rankings. Getting a good balance is tricky, but important.

  1. Blogs help you to establish your credibility

You know that you’re a leader in your industry. Blogs are the perfect way to demonstrate this.

Blogs provide a platform to impart your wisdom and expertise, and useful information about your sector or service. In time, you may find people returning to your articles on a regular basis. And by posting a wealth of content, you’ll improve your chances of being found by prospects doing web searches too.

  1. Blogs let people know that you’re open for business

Websites can be beautiful online ‘shop fronts’. But if people come into your shop and see nobody about, they’re probably not going to stick around long.

It’s really important to show that your company is active. You can do this through regular news pieces, social media and – of course – blogs. And again, those search engines will notice that you’re posting new content, which will work in your favour in those result page rankings.

  1. Blogs allow you to express your personality

For small businesses, the personal touch can help you to compete against bigger ‘faceless’ corporations.

By showing your human side – your thoughts, ideas and enthusiasm – you can connect more readily to potential customers. Blogging helps people to get a good understanding of your vision, values, and the kind of service they can expect when they work with you.

  1. Blogs enable you to advertise without advertising

We can all recognise an ad. We all know when we’re being sold to. But a blog can help convert visitors into customers without having to shove sales text in their faces.

A high-quality post can be the first step to a working relationship – nurturing trust, and gently offering the opportunity to engage further through promotions, or newsletters, or exclusive content.

  1. Blogs build relationships

If you allow people to comment underneath your posts, you’ll be able to answer their questions and address their responses.

This gives you a chance to develop relationships with the people who are truly engaging with your company. They may be existing clients – in which case you can gain valuable audience insights from what they say; or they may be potential customers – in which case you might just be able to win them over with your blogging charm and gravitas.

  1. Blogs provide even more opportunities for sharing

Stuck on what to say on your social media channels? A blog will provide enough content for several social media posts. You can pull out quotes, or interesting statistics, or teasing questions.

If people like what they see, they might share your social posts with others – helping you to broaden the reach of your article.

And what’s better, is that blogs can provide evergreen content: content that will always be relevant. So you can keep going back to older posts and reusing the great stuff you said this time last year. Good eh?

I can write your blogs for you!

Yep, this blog was advertising without advertising. And I hope you found it useful.

If you’d like some help planning and writing your blogs, get in touch. We can discuss what type of content would be good to share, and how regularly you’d like to share it. We can talk about your brand voice, and the industry expertise that you can offer. With the right strategy, we can help to boost your brand, enhance your already-excellent reputation, and attract new clients to your online shop front.

OK, here’s your empty doughnut box back. See? Sharing really is caring, and now we both have crumbs on our face-masks.

After COVID-19: Will your employees still want to work with you?

Picture this: It’s several months from now. Somewhere in the UK* the doors to a laboratory swing open, and a scientist strides forth like the goddess Athena, victorious in battle, holding aloft a verified vaccine. Five minutes later, the image is on Twitter feeds, WhatsApp groups, and iPad news pages within joyful homes worldwide.

Weeks later, sunbeams wash over children playing tag in school playgrounds; while friends and neighbours embrace over drained teapots and lemon cake crumbs.

Meanwhile, in office kitchens worldwide, workers shake hands and slap backs.

“To work!” they cry as one. “Let us unite once again in a collaborative, mission-focused frenzy of productivity in the physical work environment!”

Then a lone voice calls out amid the cheers: “Hold up; where’s Vicky?”

“Vicky?” replies another. “She went to that big company round the corner.”

“What about Mo?” asks another. “I need his help with these overdue invoices.”

“Ah, Mo got used to the working from home thing. Set up his own ouzo-importing business.”

“TAJINDER’S OFFICE IS EMPTY WHAT THE DEUCE IS OCCURRING?!”

“Yeah – I heard he just got fed up with vague and unhelpful corporate communication, so now he’s leading the Sales team for our primary competitor.”

Solemnity descends. Workers disperse. The office becomes abuzz with the clicking of keys.

Over in California, a Google analyst notices a web traffic spike for the words “jobs near me”.

The truth, as we all know, is that returning to work is going to be a struggle for many. Workers across the nation will have much to think about from childcare, to prioritising their workload, to figuring out where their company now sits in a dramatically altered landscape.

And it’s going to be much harder if businesses find that so much of the knowledgeable talent that they need – and may even be relying on – to help get a company back on its feet quickly and efficiently, has gone elsewhere.

Why might staff leave your company after COVID-19?

Many businesses can – to an extent – be fairly certain of their employees’ loyalty right now. The reasons for this aren’t exactly ideal: employment is hard to find, and job security is gold-dust. The employee-employer relationship may be more of a mutually-beneficial deal at the moment, rather than being based on trust and engagement.

It’s not that employees don’t value their place of work, or that they don’t appreciate the challenges that coronavirus presents to businesses. But there is a real risk that if companies don’t keep staff engaged and informed now, they might lose them when the lockdown is completely lifted.

Communications must work harder

Many of the intangible benefits of being in an office are irreplaceable: the all-staff Town Halls; the coffee meetings; the chance corridor chats with colleagues in different teams. These conversations and grapevines help to break down silos, improve knowledge-sharing, and help colleagues to feel connected and part of a community.

However , at present, businesses are finding out the hard way just how effective their official communications channels – such as email updates and newsletters – actually are. In most cases, sharing strategic updates over one-way communications channels will not keep staff engaged.

Because telling employees only what they need to hear is not enough. Companies must also have a good understanding of what their employees want to hear, especially in light of coronavirus.

Staff are scared, frustrated, and worried about the future. Even if they know they have a job to go back to, they have no idea what situation they or their company will be in one month, six months or one year from now.

Unfortunately, CEOs and managers can’t necessarily answer that right now either. But there are things they can cover in their communications to help:

·       Give feedback: About a quarter of employees feel that being undervalued is the highest barrier to engagement. Constructive and positive feedback from managers can help staff know that their hard work has been truly recognised, and also encourages them to understand how to improve their work – aiding professional and personal development

·       Address mental health: Sure, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week – but the conversation cannot end on Sunday. Companies must offer resources and help for staff who might be struggling with mental health in the other 51 weeks of the year. The aftershocks of the pandemic will not be short-lived.

·       Advise on benefits and assistance: People are organising their lives and juggling tasks in ways they never dreamt they’d need to before 2020. Many of us need help – with financial planning; with flexible working arrangements. Are you making it clear what you can offer your employees, and what they are eligible to receive – whether from the company, or the government?

·       Consider working arrangements: Just because an office reopens, it doesn’t mean that workers are going to be ready to cheerfully skip back through the doors – no matter how much some CEOs and economy-focused Governmental leaders might hope they are. People will still be nervous about being physically near other people, using public transport, and so on. Could you update working from home policies and arrangements to allow for more flexible transitions?

·       Be mindful of legal considerations: There’s also a possibility that employees might take legal action if they don’t feel that their employer has gone far enough to protect them. It’s really important to be clear on what steps you are taking to reassure workers that their health and safety is a key priority for you.

Nobody knows what the future will bring. But as long as companies communicate authentically, empathetically, and transparently, they will give themselves the best chance of holding onto staff when the dust clears and the office doors reopen.

If you’d like some help with crafting employee communications, get in touch!

*Or the rest of the world. It’s not a competition. But being Oxford-based I have particular hopes for the University of Oxford research!

Five fun ways to reach your audiences during COVID-19 lockdowns

The business landscape has changed. It’s currently quieter for many, sometimes a bit lonely, and full of cups of tea and pyjama days and interruptions from the kids, dog, or tamed blackbird that has now become one of your best friends. (His name is Chupachup if you must know, and he likes singing, caring for his lady-friend, and staring at plant pots.)

But just because you may not necessarily have a company rule book for this kind of situation, it doesn’t mean that light-hearted communication with your customers and staff members needs to stop completely, in order to make way for all the necessary serious and important stuff.

In fact this could be just the right time to think creatively about how you can communicate with people – and show the resilience and adaptability of your brand.

Here are five ways to meaningfully connect with your audience when in lockdown:

  1. Nifty newsletters: Do you have a newsletter? They’re a brilliant way of directly reaching out to your audiences. And despite the name, they don’t even have to be full of news… You could try sending out a funny quiz, interviews with your staff members, or share some great articles that you’ve read. As long as they are on brand, GDPR-compliant, and that you don’t send them too frequently, then the newsletter world is your oyster.
  2. Boredom-destroying blogs: I’m a fan of blogs, as you might have gathered from my website. If you have expertise in a particular area, then blogs are a fantastic way to inform, advise, and even entertain your audiences. If you drop them onto your website, then people might find them through a Google search of their own professional interests or personal hobbies. Consider using blogs to share how your company is still working towards its mission even in these challenging times – but make sure it’s content that people will want to read.
  3. Sassy social media: There are a lot of people at home scrolling through their feeds right now. And a lot of the news being shared is dismal. Think about brightening up people’s days by starting conversations, polls or even competitions on Twitter. If your company has great visual content at its fingertips, consider setting up an Instagram feed. Social Media also provides a great window into the concerns and needs that are top of people’s minds right now – and this might help you to think about your business strategy. (Just don’t use the channels exclusively to sell. Nobody appreciates that!)
  4. Vivacious videos: Are you less of a writer, and more of a talker? Why not set up a video blog? All you need is a smartphone and a place in your home that has decent light and is free of distracting backgrounds. People are craving a human connection right now, and a video from you could help with that. If you oversee a team, then your staff members might also appreciate a warm and friendly video update over yet another email.
  5. Perspicacious podcasts: These days it seems like every man and his blackbird has a podcast. But creating accessible audio content can be a fulfilling use of time, and a great way of reaching audiences with engaging news, stories and information. If you think you have content related to your business that people would be interested in, then why not think up a podcast content plan? Podcasts are great for reaching employees too.

What new creative thing will you do to connect with your audience? We’d love to know.

If you’d like help thinking about any of the above, we can write blogs, social media posts and scripts, or help create your campaign plan. Get in touch!

Internal podcasts: Build a bridge to employees during COVID-19

COVID-19 is scattering employees far and wide. This makes it harder for companies to reach them all at the same time with the messaging and updates that matter. Meanwhile, podcasts are providing listeners with accessible, engaging content that they can enjoy on their own terms. So why not build a bridge to your employees with your very own internal podcast?

I love podcasts! That’s not just a subjective statement from me personally; it’s playfully become a stock catchphrase of millennials, Gen X, Gen Y or whatever other silly name we’re supposed to use to refer to a generation who – basically – can’t recall a life before technology.

From gripping True Crime documentary to episode-by-episode analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there really is something for everyone out there. (The latter is for me.)

So if people love podcasts; and if businesses need to communicate with their people; why not build a bridge in your company with a regular internal podcast?

The Coronavirus lockdown: a blocker to meaningful messaging

A significant challenge facing companies right now is how to communicate meaningfully with a self-isolating workforce.

All-staff ‘Town Halls’ and morning stand-ups are great for sharing corporate updates. And thanks to online platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, these can – relatively easily – be carried out virtually. However current flexible working implications – such as the need to look after for vulnerable relations or fit work around childcare – mean that standard regular team meetings, where everybody is present, may be less achievable.

Emails are an obvious solution. They can be drafted anytime, and picked up at any time. However long info-packed messages are not particularly appealing or engaging to the average employee, and may be sent straight to a growing ‘to read later’ pile. Also, with departments and teams being further disconnected from each other, there can be a tendency to encounter multiple disparate emails with no sense of ‘air traffic control’. This can be overwhelming for employees. 

Finally, by working from home, many of us are unable to congregate at that fabled meeting-place for ideas and connections – the office ‘water-cooler’. Without passing interactions in the kitchen, or lunch trips, or chance meetings in the corridor, or posters above the kettle, so much organisational messaging is in danger of being lost. And not just the critical stuff either – but the softer values-based communications too, which contribute enormously to staff satisfaction.

Five benefits of an internal podcast

An employee podcast can help with the problems above in so many ways. Creative, innovative, and hugely popular, podcasts are also much easier to set up than you might think.

Here are five benefits that an internal podcast could bring your company – both during self-isolation, and beyond.

  1. You can reach all your employees

No matter where they are in the world, as long as they have an internet connection, your people can listen to your podcast.

  1. Your people can listen when it suits them

Podcasts avoid the difficulty of being tied to a scheduled meetings – which an employee may have to forego if their kid falls off the trampoline, or if they have a near-mythological supermarket delivery booked in. Instead, the podcast can be accessed while they’re eating their cornflakes, doing the hoovering, or enjoying a soak in the bath.

  1. You can bring all the important messages together

Different departments can easily contribute important updates, by recording their own content, and sharing it with a podcast coordinator, who can then stitch it together. This means that everything employees need to know will be kept in one place.

  1. You don’t need much technical know-how

Fully-fledged public podcasts mean signing up to a host, paying subscriptions, and (for most people) being under pressure to meet certain standards of quality. For internal company podcasts, a far simpler approach can be taken. At the very least, all you need is a laptop mic, editing software (some are available online for free, like Audacity) and a place to put the file – such as an intranet.

  1. Podcasts create human connections

Part of the popularity of podcasts may be down to our need to hear a human voice. It’s the reason radio has endured for so long. Tone of voice can convey emotion and warmth in a way that emails will never be able to achieve. And especially in this time of self-isolation, we need these human connections more than ever. Even just by encouraging your CEO to say a few words of thanks, you can help your employees to feel more valued and engaged with your mission.

Convinced to begin building your bridge?

There’s so much more we can talk about with internal podcasts – so look out for more posts in the coming weeks about planning and setting up a podcast, as well as practical tips and pitfalls.

If you need some help scripting podcasts, or planning a podcast content calendar for your internal communications, get in touch.

P.S. I’m the writer and showrunner of the critically acclaimed comedy podcast Oblivity, so – yes – I really do love podcasts!

Love in the time of COVID-19: How empathy can strengthen a business

Alongside the devastating human health impacts of COVID-19, people are contending with threats to the very businesses they rely on for their livelihoods. In the UK, we face evolving Governmental measures; workforces being asked to work from home, and huge economic uncertainty. Amid all this anxiety, companies are having to make tough decisions about how to successfully negotiate the next few months. But amid the studying of balance sheets and impacts on the market, there’s an important tool for employee engagement that must not be forgotten: empathy.

Often derided as being of little tangible value, with the very term ‘soft skill’ being viewed as laughable, empathy is not always considered vital to business activity.

But in reality, empathy packs a punch that few might expect, and can actually help to strengthen a business.

it’s just about nodding at the right times, isn’t it?

It’s hard to quantify empathy. I mocked my wife for being emotionally invested in a 30 second Mr. Kipling advert; and yet I bawled at the end of Paddington 2.

Because the thing about empathy is that it is different for everyone: shaped throughout our lives by our own values, experiences, cultures, influences, ambitions and more. (Though to be clear, I am not a Peruvian bear.)

And while some people appear to convey it more than others; there are people who don’t appear to have it at all. (Bet somebody just popped into your head…)

But nevertheless, we all understand more or less what empathy is: the ability to relate to (or even actively experience in some cases) the thoughts and feelings of others.

Sounds lovely. But it’s not business-critical, right?

Here’s the problem: at first glance, empathy appears to have no place on the tangible chess board of business. You don’t see the queen looking concerned for the welfare of a pawn when it’s taken; instead, she fights back.

Empathy often carries a stigma in the workplace: as if the very term ‘to act professionally’ means removing all emotion wholesale, and becoming a productive automaton instead. And it’s true that there are some circumstances where ‘high’ emotions can become obstructive to agreeable outcomes.

But when it comes to the crunch, genuine demonstrations of empathy can help to strengthen businesses in real-world ways – particularly when it comes to things like staff productivity and motivation.

The Businessolver 2019 “State of Workplace Empathy” report, for instance, found that 78 percent of surveyed employees would work longer hours for a more empathetic employer. Meanwhile, 93 percent said they were more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. So in terms of staff retention and satisfaction, empathy is vital. In fact 82% of employees said they would consider leaving their job for a more empathetic organisation.

Empathy is essential for day to-day business transactions . It can help us to understand the needs of customers better; to help colleagues to feel valued; to recognise why a colleague might be behaving or performing the way they are if they are under stress; or to be able to see where a business partner is coming from during negotiations.

What’s COVID got to do with it?

COVID-19 is impacting almost everyone in the world, and it is causing great fear. And fear can be a driver of irrational behaviour; knee-jerk reactions; and stress.

As leadership work on their action plans, and share them with colleagues, it can be easy to focus on delivering the facts and figures – which will be stark and challenging for many.

So now is also the time for leaders to truly demonstrate empathy for their colleagues. Compassion and understanding can help put employees at ease; enable them to think more clearly; and motivate them to want to work through challenges instead of shying away from them.

It’s especially important in a time when so many people are working remotely, and conducting meetings over the wires. Hunched over the desk in the spare room/kitchen/garage, we miss out on those visual cues, the nuances in the voice, and all the human connections that we forge by being physically near someone.

Self-isolation can also have a significant impact on wellbeing and motivation. Businesses therefore need to be compassionate when it comes to performance expectations, and perhaps even be prepared to compromise on these in order to focus on the priorities.

When isolated from humans, we urgently need humanity to shine through.

How business leaders can demonstrate empathy

Think about the diversity of your organisation. Whether you work in a local, small business; or in an international business; a workforce anywhere can encompass a smorgasbord of backgrounds, cultures, views and values.

Leaders, then, need to be able to see and understand the range of perspectives of their teams, and to be able to convey empathy effectively.

Here are a few quick tips that leaders can do to demonstrate empathy in a way that will reward them, their teams, and their businesses.

  • Remember empathy in corporate messaging: When sharing challenging updates with the organisation or your team, don’t forget to incorporate language that is compassionate or values-based. Thoughtful language goes a long way.
  • Remember you are a role model: What you do as a leader shapes what is seen as acceptable among your team. You could consider small changes – such as not sending emails out-of-hours, so that your team doesn’t feel pressured to work at the weekends.
  • Listen actively: Show that you understand the person sharing concerns with you, by asking questions, and summarising their concerns to ensure you understand properly. This is especially important when meeting online or on the phone when visual cues are scarce.
  • Reflect on your own experiences: If you’ve felt overwhelmed or anxious about being in a certain position, you’ll have a better idea of what a colleague must be going through emotionally when they’re in a similar position
  • Have a wellbeing strategy: create opportunities for employees to discuss their mental health and wellbeing with others in a safe space, and promote wellbeing tips across your platforms. And don’t undermine this by then imposing unrealistic deadlines and expectations on staff.
  • Celebrate: Empathy is not just about understanding the worrying stuff. It’s also about sharing in joy during successes and good news. Recognise your colleagues when they perform well, and show your happiness for them.

Interested in demonstrating more empathy in your business? We can help you think about your internal communications and messaging. Get in touch with us here.

Brands and behavioural change: learning from UK coronavirus communication

Panic buying. BBQ parties. Crowding in parks. Why have so many people not heeded the UK Government’s guidance? The answer may lie in the approaches taken to behavioural change – something that brands must also be conscious of – as social norms undergo a dramatic paradigm shift.

The UK Government has faced many criticisms around how it’s handled COVID-19 strategies and communication. Nobody could pretend it would ever be an easy task, and we are all prone to mistakes – it’s just in this case, mistakes could have distressing real-world impacts, ultimately contributing to rises in mortality rates.

Where communications have been concerned, from my perspective, there’s been an unhelpful wooliness to much of the messaging. As the government balanced national health considerations against economic concerns and a respect for democratic rights, the guidance unwittingly became just that: guidance. It came across as optional, and spoke to the sorts of undesirables (we all know ‘em) who think that rules only apply to ‘other people’.

And a lack of specificity breeds uncertainty, which breeds more anxiety. Time and time again we were told to ‘only buy what we needed’: but what does that actually mean? What we need for a normal grocery shop? For two weeks of self-isolation? Or for a potential three-month lockdown?

Perhaps we would have seen (and continue to see) more effective results, if there had been more clear direction for people from the outset – backed up by a real understanding of what actually drives behavioural change.

A nudge in the right direction

Our news headlines are crammed with facts and figures: some are unnerving; some frightening; some numbers have almost too many zeroes on the end to be properly comprehensible to the average mind.

And when something is too big or complicated to think about, we put up psychological defences: it’s the same behaviour at play when we hear about the devastating effects of climate change and – counterproductively – decide that it’s too big to think about right now.

The ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ mantra – while charmingly British and reassuring at a surface level – is all too easily distorted, engendering an insidious and dangerous attitude of apathy. A call to inaction. Keep calm, sure. But carry on? Nuh–uh. ‘Keep calm and change your lives’ is more appropriate for the current war we’re fighting.

Unfortunately, human beings tend to only worry about something when it’s on their doorstep. A man-eating tiger three villages away is news. A man-eating tiger in our own village is a crisis.

The World Health Organisation knows that changing human behaviour is essential for managing pandemics and reducing the spread of an outbreak – by as much as 80%.

And of the methods used in behavioural change, the “nudge” technique is one of the most prevalent. As social animals, we tend to change our own behaviours when we see that our peers are doing it. So if you can demonstrate that many other people are doing something, this has a good chance of ‘nudging’ us to change our own behaviour and – therefore – of fostering compliance.

The heart of the matter

Appealing to our compassionate natures (which at most of us hopefully have) is another great way to change behaviour.

With COVID-19, a predominant message has been that most people ‘will only suffer mild symptoms’ – which, while intended to be reassuring, may also unintentionally give people leeway to ignore the fluffy guidance.

A recent survey, for instance, found that that 85% of US residents washed their hands more often in the previous seven days: an act to protect one’s self. However just 61% had self-isolated: an act that protects other people too.

So perhaps the message needed to be more empathetic: By demonstrating how high-risk groups in our society are vulnerable and need us to act differently to protect them, experts can give us a better understanding of why the measures being taken across the country are so critical

What brands can learn about behavioural change

Marketing exists to change people’s behaviour. It demands your attention to show you a product; it explains why you need that product; and it shows how you can get the product.

But in a time of great upheaval, when the norms of social behaviours are evolving by the day, and people are living their lives by different decisions, how can brands get their own messages across?

Here are a few ideas.

  1. Complement facts with values: Facts and figures are important. They demonstrate credibility. But while they engage the brain, they’re not so good at appealing to the heart. Your brand should have demonstrable values that come out in your messaging and help your audience to care.
  2. Identify your influencers: In times of uncertainty, people listen to the people that they respect.  Who is on your social media channels? A faceless logo, or real people with opinions and ideas? Remember Dr. Jack? For many people, coronavirus was still an abstract until a voice from the front-line spoke up revealing harsh realities and making a desperate plea that people change their own lives to save those of other people.
  3. Have stories: Stories are what help people to understand the fluid state of the world that we live in. Case studies of real-life successes, and indications of what peers are doing, can ‘nudge’ us to better understand how your business can offer the support that we might need.
  4. Be positive motivators: People are spending much, much more time at home. How can your brand help people to impose productive structures in their daily life? How can you help your audience to feel positive about the way they are spending their time?
  5. Be creative: Now is the time to explore new ways of engaging with audiences. The usual methods do not all apply right now. By showing agility, leadership, and empathy through creative approaches to business, you’ll be in a good position to gain your audience’s attention, and drive changes in their own behaviour.

If your business is thinking about how to drive positive behavioural change among your audience in this time of large-scale disruption, get in touch to chat about how we can work with you on your brand and your messaging.