Chinwag & Our Social Times Facebook Marketing 2012: My thoughts

On Wednesday, I went along to Chinwag and Our Social Times’ Facebook Marketing conference. The main reason for attending was, as you might have guessed, to find out more about Edgerank.

Running Dogs Trust’s Page puts us in quite an enviable position, numbers-wise, given the community has swelled to over 440,000 people entirely organically; it was 1,000-strong when I started at the charity in 2008, as the Page had been there – well ahead of many other UK non-profits – since December 2007. We’ve seen every single iteration of the Pages structure. Numbers are, clearly, not everything, and they certainly don’t guarantee engagement, but they do add a certain amount of serendipity, shall we say, and give us more options for more organic growth than someone starting out now in such a saturated environment.

Still, with Facebook restricting the number of people who see posts, the jig is up. We always aimed to create quality content, but now Facebook is basically throwing down the gauntlet and demanding it. Which, though it’s a cold-shower style reminder that the community of people like you that you and your team helped build doesn’t actually belong to you, is actually a very welcome challenge. Tools are just tools – Facebook is not the objective – but each one has its rules and its culture, and if you’re going to demand attention on a busy, crowded platform, you’d better have a good reason for it.

Beyond getting some tips to improve content – or at least reassurance that we’re starting to think about it in the right kinds of ways – I also wanted to know more about Facebook ads and using them judiciously around certain campaigns or issues.

So, my real stand-outs / takeaways from the day:

  • Hearing directly from Andy Pang of Facebook was excellent. Although he didn’t say anything I couldn’t have guessed, and a lot of it was an understandable sales pitch for the kind of metrics and campaign success Facebook claims to be able to achieve, it was actually really good confirmation that I have the right understanding of where Facebook is going. Sometimes what seems obvious isn’t, and here it’s nice to know that things are exactly as they seem. Facebook is looking to get us to treat our communities with respect, create fantastic content and then to pay them to help properly disseminate it, and that really is all there is to it.
  • Dom Dwight of Yorkshire Tea gave a presentation that was so on-brand it was actually funny: personable, warm, entertaining. More importantly, he was willing to talk about content that does and doesn’t work. We’ve known for a while that video viewers are more demanding and have a shorter attention span than ever, and I think that – like YT – we need to consider better ways to get our video messages across. In common with every other organisation, we’ve had to undertake our own little culture shift internally as new technologies emerge, and we’ve had the absolute privilege of getting a lot of our front-line centre staff on board over the last couple of years. They’re amazing, and we want to do them proud, so we need to give them even more tools and tips to help us help them.
  • We Are Social‘s Tom Ollerton, talking about Heinz, was also great at picking apart a certain level of detail beyond ‘this was really cool’, by bringing up specific errors that helped them through the various iterations of Facebook Campaign (eg always send an email confirmation if you’re giving away a product!).
  • Hearing about the thinking behind Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and their Thanks a Million campaign and getting insight into Richard Ayers work with Manchester City FC and the BFI covered a huge range of interaction, from the conceptually simple (though expensive) to online engagement that comes from building slower offline community relationships. It was nice to see a wide range of community size, reach and budget. In a funny way, it did come across how it’s so much easier to be simple when you have a lot of money to put into it.

And the things I would have liked to see more of:

  • A couple of people I was chatting to agreed that a greater focus on ads and the difference in performance between different kinds of ads would be good. A few people mentioned that social elements got much better click rates and brand recall rates (ie if your friend’s name is in the post, you’re more likely to remember / buy), but perhaps a break-out session on the nitty gritty of sponsored posts vs other forms of advertising would be helpful in the future.
  • There was a LOT going on, and some variation in format beyond presentation and panel would probably help the day become less of a blur towards the end. The “quick-fire” agency case studies were ten-fifteen minutes from each one, and fraction dry  – not a criticism of the speakers at all, just perhaps not the ideal format. I think throwing in a Pecha Kucha type session there, or perhaps splitting up groups into smaller break-outs that allowed more interaction from the audience would be idea.
  • 22 speakers… 6 women (one of whom had a seriously curtailed piece due to timing issues). One speaker with an ethnic background other than White British. All speakers aged 25-45. There are so many interesting and amazing people in this field, that – without taking anything away from the uniformly excellent people we heard from – a little diversity would go an awfully long way

And yes, I did put most of this – praise included – on my feedback form, rather than just waiting to blurt it all out online. Under my real name, too. So there.

All-in-all, I did feel it was worthwhile attending and, on top of the individual tips I took away, I had a mental list and scribbled notes* under the general heading of WAYS TO MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER AND BE GENERALLY BRILLIANT OMG. We all need a little kick up the backside now and then, and seeing the great work that other people are doing online is an excellent way to self-administer it.

*During Tom’s presentation, I wrote down a quick-fire list of 10 off-the-top-of-my-head, fun, ridiculous, it might never work ideas and everyday “we could do this right now” suggestions and I’ve already brought up three of them in the office. I was actually listening to Tom at the same time. I’m quite impressed by my bit of multitasking there, and recommend that you try the same yourself if you haven’t brainstormed like that recently. Preferably not while someone else is talking, cos that’s just plain rude. I mean, really.

Conferences: Institute of Fundraising South West and Gorkana Sky News Briefing

Thursday and Friday saw two very different kinds of professional exchange about social media. On Thursday around 75 non-profit based delegates came to Bristol’s light and airy Southville Centre to exchange their knowledge. On Friday, a cluster of PRs came to listen to Sky News online editor John Gripton and last-minute no-show ‘Twitter Correspondent’ Ruth Barnett (@ruthbarnett) talk about scanning networks for news. These are my thoughts.

Although Jacqui presented a case study at the IoF’s southwest gathering that’s much the same as the ones we’ve done before, the questions were surprisingly different. As we do the Q&A together, I found myself talking far more about how we decide which networks we break which stories on, the penalties and privileges of running our own network and the cons and – in my opinion non-existent – pros of sending automatic messages on Twitter. Even better, we also got to hear case studies that we haven’t seen listed on the conference circuit thus far.

The most interesting of these was from Comic Relief. Of course as a one-off event every two years (with newer Sport Relief in between), fundraising is far more straightforward for the team than it is for a 365 operation. But interestingly, having harnessed the power of social networks to spread the word, the Comic Relief crew discovered that this obliged them to create a 365 persona: a huge crew of supporters is now waiting to be treated as long-term partners, not brief donors. They also found the online giving through networks was not that high (online giving generally was, but that was the inevitable movement from phone lines to broadband). And though their social media strategy seemed finely honed and planned, a lot of it was ad hoc and working it out as they went along, with help from agencies.

That was thoroughly heartening. For a start it means that even a big organisation that deals in many, many millions at a time doesn’t get everything right first time. But much of what they did was not expensive or complicated, it just required a lot of tenacity and perhaps the clout of a big name. Now they’ve opened the doors – getting mobile networks talking about customisable phone donations, for example – why shouldn’t any other charity with a creative, committed team not benefit? A huge budget is not required, or even desirable. Networks are far more about awareness, marketing and customer service than they are about fundraising, but occasionally the two can come together for the benefit of all concerned.

There was also an opportunity to listen to a talk about The Big Give, an innovative donation-matching scheme pioneered by recruitment don Alec Reed. Matching major donors with projects – not, crucially, charities – it also runs a fundraising drive where the first £1m of donations is matched by The Big Give pot. This, they’ve found in their research, makes supporters (isn’t ‘donors’ a loathesome word? So cold, and almost inaccurate) more generous. This year they’re trying a slightly more complicated scheme where the charities raise a certain amount before the major drive, it’s matched and then there’s the big fundraising event with more to be matched – read about it on the site, it makes sense eventually! Since the last Big Give raised £2m in 45 minutes, it’s definitely one to watch.

Friday’s gathering was very different, and a little disappointing. On the one hand, it was a great opportunity to get an idea of the best way to contact Sky’s online team and get interesting stories to them. On the other hand, much of it was very much common sense e.g. don’t call to ask if someone’s got your email. That’s PR 101 and it’s old-fashioned ‘get on the phones’ bosses that need to be told that, not the jobbing PRs caught in the middle. Also, it was disappointing that there were no specifics about how they scan social networks for news. In a handy pre-recorded interview to make up for her unavoidable absence, Ruth said people should carry on doing their stuff online and she’d see it and decide if it was interesting enough to broadcast. But HOW would she see it? There’s so much out there. I tweeted her afterwards asking which tools, apart from hashtag searches and trending topics she used to search. We use the great Twilert, but are always keen to know of other conversation-tracking tools and would love to know how to get attention in all the noise on Twitter! That was on Friday and she’s not replied yet, but she does have to have weekends off, I guess!

Tools are the big focus for me, going into my second year at Dogs Trust. Tools for conversation-tracking, for influence-tracking (because that shows awareness – being seen as leaders is great and a bonus, but this is about doing our best for our charity). Solid metrics that are not only about the cash but about those sometimes hard to define marketing goals. We can’t fall into the fluffy charity trap. I’m also hoping to do some marketing qualifications and put into formal terms some of those things I already instinctively know, not to mention rack up some new things. It’s an exciting, forward-thinking time, where social media needs to be seen not as discreet, but as another avenue for good marketing and customer service.