Monthly Archives: February 2011

What’s the Story? How Social Media is Changing the Art of Storytelling


This post first appeared as a guest post I wrote for

The art of good story telling is a vital part of your tool kit whether you work in PR, broadcasting, journalism or sales.

But the way we tell our stories is changing. It’s no longer enough to write a press release or a newspaper article with accompanying photo. Things are getting seriously mixed up and a lot more fun, with the introduction of social media and live elements into the way we present stories.

When I started at the BBC, the radio news package was the standard reporting form and it was an exquisite thing. A series of high quality interviews woven together with atmospheric sound and relevant effects, like honking traffic or twittering birds. It could take as many as three engineers to put it together properly. This type of broadcasting looks like a Caravaggio now – beautiful but a thing of past.

Today we have neither the time nor the money to spend days on a mini documentary. We need to get the news out there fast. Getting the key players in a major story on the end of a telephone is probably still the quickest way to broadcast breaking news, but in a social era when we acknowledge that the journalists don’t hold all the cards, we can be more creative than that.

This is why I am very excited by some of the multi-media reporting I have seen lately from people like the BBC and the Guardian.

The BBC provided an excellent service during that weird period after the election last year when the nation seemed to have no government. Using a live news page on the BBC website they were able to pull together the best breaking news facts, blog posts, expert opinion, public comment via their own forums and Twitter, together with rolling live coverage of press conferences and any exciting comings and goings. It felt as though rolling news had come of age.

Over at the Guardian, reporters have been getting their readers thoroughly involved in things like travel pieces by using Twitter – sometimes in real time. Look at this example of a collaborative piece in which the journalist asks readers to recommend their favourite hidden spots in London. He then checks them out, using photos and videos to add that fashionable “homemade” feel.

Increasingly traditional media is getting into story curation, pulling in diverse elements, including the best of what we have to say. And the punters are steadily moving centre stage in all this. There is a new tool being developed called Storify which makes linking together existing content simplicity itself so that anyone can curate stories as they unfold. It is still largely under wraps but some influencers have had a go at it – here are some examples.

and here;

Since last autumn 10,000 Storify stories have been created, attracting 4.5 million views – they recently got a $2million investment boost from Khosla Ventures so I am sure we will be hearing more about them.

Interestingly the company’s co-founder Burt Herman is a former journalist so he knows what he is talking about.

For me it is not about adopting the new for the sake of it, but about looking at which media people are using, how they like to get their information and what they do with it. Then you can start deciding how to use that to make your stories more relevant.

Choose me! How to get picked.

Choice – you’ve got to love it.

But the more choice we get, the more help we need to navigate our way through it. That’s why I’m always jumping online in search of information to help me make those choices.

But when I go looking, if you want one of my choices to be you, then you have to put your stuff out there in an easily findable way or you risk ruling yourself out of the running. What’s more, if that information is poor, then you won’t get chosen.

It’s hopelessly simple and yet apparently quite sane people still ask why they should put their work on Flickr or You Tube or comment on forums or write guest blogs. The simple fact is that the more roads leading back to you the better.

Some people still have very creaky websites which make potential customers flee in horror and that’s why I am writing this post today.

I was recently searching for a holiday cottage with some very specific requirements – it had to be in Dorset, bookable for two nights only and dog friendly. It quickly became apparent that my choices were very limited and I narrowed it down to three.

How do you select from three? At this point I needed as much extra information as possible – great pictures, user reviews, facebook pages full of photos and chat about local pubs, walks and events.

I am sorry to report that none of them really came up with tthe goods. One had detailed pics of each bedroom, kitchen and bathroom – none of it terribly inspiring but there were some charming garden shots.

In the end we took a very random punt on the place with the worst photos and the vaguest website on the grounds that it was the only one on a farm – but we felt we were taking a risk.

Needless to say it was perfect! So WHY are they risking business by underplaying their facilities and putting up awful pictures? No punter needs to feel underinformed these days when there are so many places to lay out your stall.

All I can say is that if you want to rake in your customers rather than wait for them to take a wild punt, then sort out your online presence now. Use photos, video and guest reviews – get as much quality information up there as you can so that nobody ever has to hesitate over choosing you again.

Can You Get the PR You Need Using Only Twitter?

Are you familiar with the social media challenge – where you have to keep up with the news without access to newspapers?

Well how about a PR challenge where you have to get your message out there using nothing but Twitter?

Those of you who are still not plugged into Twitter will be shrinking away in horror – but for many people this is the new reality. Many PRs have already switched over to social media as their main promotion channel and it is not as daft as it looks.

I am actually part of a Twitter only PR campaign right now after busy clients asked me to look after the micro blogging side of things for them. With a restriction on the number of hours I am allowed to spend and only Twitter at my disposal (there is a great Facebook page but marketing do that) I have been forced to think hard about how you achieve your goals using only one tool.

Here are some of my thoughts:-

  • Set goals and choose people to follow based on achieving them i.e. are you selling a product to a niche or raising awareness or hoping to build relationships with other professionals?
  • While you shouldn’t get sucked into the numbers game following new people steadily, does seem to generate attention so keep it going.
  • Look at other people’s followers – sometimes you will find one person with a brilliant list,all of whom seem to fit the profile of your customers. These people are like gold dust – follow their followers and nurture them.
  • Twitter is great for getting direct access to your audience but you might want to follow some journalists as well – they may not follow you back but at least you can see if they are appealing for information on stories you can help them with. You could also use hash tags on your tweets like #pr or #journorequest which many PRs and journos now use in the hunt for stories and contributors.
  • Be friendly and unafraid to chat about trivial stuff. I hear corporates say they don’t want to talk about nappies with a bunch of women – well I am happy to actually – and the school play and what’s for tea. Think of it like this, if you want to reach blokes who like tinkering with cars then you are going to have to talk about car parts.
  • Getting to know people is fun and should include random acts of generosity but if you are going to ReTweet or say how great someone’s site is, make sure you mean it. I suspect sometimes that people don’t always read the blog posts they Retweet and that is not on.  You may see a great headline and Retweet it to your followers in a hurry but if the content doesn’t live up to the billing then you are the one who looks silly for passing it on.
  • Go for synergy with brands and products that your target audience will like. If they are into fashion and cosmetics then re-tweet news from Mac and Bobby Brown but don’t forget to look out for smaller companies too that you can help by exposing their brand to your audience.
  • People should help you back – over time – if they don’t and you feel they owe you a favour, just ask.
  • If you are going to promote a particular offer via Twitter you are going to need to direct them somewhere. Is there a web page that gives customers all the information they need and a clear set of instructions for getting it?
  • If you are appealing directly to journalists you may still need a press release of sorts, ready to go, that you can e-mail when asked for more info.
  • Use Twitter to get people to do something – whether that is respond to a simple question, open a link, read your blog or visit your Facebook page.The more time you spend together the better!

There you are – my initial thoughts on a Twitter only PR campaign – do you have any direct experience or ideas you can share?

Let Social Media Heal the Pain in the Trip Advisor Wars

I’m going on a really exciting holiday with my family in a few weeks time and I can’t wait. I have taken to spending hours, when I should be working, looking for information and pictures of our destination online. I once put a webcam feed of the Corfu beach we were heading to on my front page.

This behaviour is not uncommon! It is what drives millions of us onto Trip Advisor both before and after we’ve booked to feed that information hunger. But sadly there has been a lot of bad blood generated around the site recently.

Dragon Duncan Bannatyne is the latest hotel owner to talk about suing over a bad user review and according to the Guardian newspaper;

As many as 700 owners of guesthouses, B&Bs and hotels are joining forces over what they see as unfair reports

And on the website, Hotels Against Trip Advisor ;

The internet is alive with horror stories of hotel clients using TripAdvisor for blackmail (&), of rivals destroying their competitors reputations.

Bad blood indeed. But if it has taught us anything, the tide of publicity around the site has made us aware of the pitfalls of an otherwise very useful resource. So long as you don’t take Ida from Idaho as your benchmark for quality you will be ok.

My concern is for the honest hoteliers who get very upset by their critics – they get hugely frustrated and feel that there is nothing they can do. My advice?

Deploy The Social Media Shield.

I have written about it before and everything here still holds true. If you build a solid community through your chosen social media; Twitter, Facebook, your blog, or all 3, then your supporters are there, in a row (like ducks) when you need them.

I was reading just today in New Media Travel about some innkeepers in Vermont who were using social media to look after their guests from the moment they first connected, pre-booking, to long after they had left. Imagine the benefit of managing expectation from your visitors?

You won’t feel like complaining to Trip Advisor if you know exactly what you are getting – what’s included and exactly what the hotel can provide. It is clear that a dialogue beforehand, even on the phone or by e-mail, can reduce cause for complaint and if they get to like you as well – then half the battle is won!

The Social Media Shield does have to be built before time though. You can’t suddenly conjure one up from thin air when trouble hits. I must disclose at this point that my work involves some social media for the hospitality industry and it is work that needs to be done each day. Little by little you meet new people, create relationships and you put that shield in place, because one day you might have to use it.