Open notebook with scribbled notes and blue pen

Introducing my new newsletter: Free Speech

When I sent out my first newsletter in January 2016, I wanted to share useful tips on making Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat work better, and be upbeat and positive about using social media in the first place. I had a simple metric to decide which stories to use – ones that got the most link clicks on Twitter!

Four years on, we’re in a very different place. I’m seeing less interest in social media tips and higher engagement around broader, more political stories. My top tweets from the last 12 months included links to articles on surveillance, child safety, and geopolitics. It felt like I needed a new voice for changing times.

So this month I’m launching a brand new newsletter: Free Speech.

Free Speech will cover the big talking points in social media every month. Taking a look at what’s been popular on my Twitter feed over the last year, here are the types of story I think you’ll see:

1. Keeping social media free

Unlike traditional media, social media have no gatekeepers. Anyone with internet access (60 per cent of the global population) can have a voice and build a network. From young Moroccans talking openly about sexual activity on Facebook (in a country where sex outside marriage is a jailable offence – listen to Leila Slimani on Start The Week) to the spread of movements like #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter and #FridaysForFuture, this free access is a powerful and important thing (see Why social media are still worth saving).

2. Protecting personal freedoms

We may not pay in cash to set up a social media account, but we’re likely to hand over intrinsic rights to the platform owner when we sign the terms and conditions. Data protection and privacy are crucial issues in the future of social media. Organisations like the Open Data Institute, the Open Rights Group, doteveryone and the UK government are doing what they can to hold the big tech platforms to account, but there’s far more work to be done.

3. Speaking out against censorship

Despite “freedom of expression” being protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, democracies in general are seeing a decline in political rights and civil liberties. (See Freedom in the World 2019). Increasingly, national security is cited as a reason to override traditional democratic values like transparency, open debate and press freedom. Meanwhile, individuals are called out and bullied on social media for saying what they think. Women, and particularly BAME women, are disproportionately trolled online.

4. Telling the truth

The corporate tradition of telling lies for self-protection infuriates me. While this may work in the short term, protecting shareholder value and people’s jobs, it’s simply not sustainable in the long run. As well as being about the freedom to express an opinion, free speech is also about being free to speak up, call out and whistle-blow. It’s also about being free to tell the truth about yourself.

5. Celebrating creativity

While the rest of the newsletter may be coming over all socio-cultural-political, I still want to share any work that catches my eye and inspires me. What’s not to like about a great campaign or stunningly imaginative way of using social media? Stuff like the Dorset rap from Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, the £100 Christmas “ad of the year” or Lush UK basing its whole social strategy on a hashtag should still make the cut. And, of course, this isn’t just about speech but creative expression in its broadest form. All social content, from video and podcasts through to private messaging and augmented reality will be covered. The ways we communicate and how they’re changing continue to fascinate me – and you too, I hope!

The first edition of Free Speech is out tomorrow. Sign up here. It’s free 🙂

Pippa Glucklich (left) shares the highs and lows of her experience with Suki Thompson

Let’s talk about leadership and mental health

Yesterday I went to a breakfast event inspired by “Let’s Reset” – a new book by Suki Thompson and Rankin. The book highlights the relationship between mental health and business success. It was created because talking about mental health is still taboo for most of us.

In the book, Suki interviews more than 80 public figures, including Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn and the comedian, Russ Kane (who’s talked openly about his social media addiction). Yesterday, Suki (right in the photo) was joined by former Amplifi CEO Pippa Glucklich (left).

A new normal

Pippa told her personal story, which was about struggling to cope with workplace “normality” following the tragic death of her husband three years ago.

“There I was, turning up to work, compartmentalising myself, playing my usual roles – work Pippa, mum Pippa,” she says. “But I realised I was a completely different person.

“I crashed and burned. I took 3 months off. I felt embarrassed. It wasn’t my story. I was suddenly ‘tragic widow Pippa’. I kept asking myself, how can I have been so obsessed with work and the pitch not to have known that he was struggling?

“The reactions of other people were hard. They look away, don’t say anything, I felt like they were always treading on eggshells around me. It would have been easier if they’d said something to me, even if it was ‘I don’t know what to say’!

“Now I realise, I’m still a leader, I just lead differently.

“Now I say, you never know what’s happening to people on the inside. Others would have looked at us and said, ‘there’s a happy family’. But you never know what’s going on with people’s lives.

“I realise that for people to thrive at work they need to feel psychologically safe”.

It’s good to talk

Suki backed Pippa’s story up with evidence, citing examples of companies seeing a positive return on investment for giving better mental health support to employees.

She mentioned a report from PwC and Vitality which found that companies’ performance improves if they focus on building social resilience – creating a sense of connection and belonging for people at work. (Need to check with Suki but I think it’s this one).

I noted down something about every one of us gaining back 21 days (a year? a lifetime?) if our leadership style is open and communication is good – again, I’ll have to double check.

“Enjoy turning your back on things, not immediately answering everything,” says Suki. “Enjoy being creative. Take time to breathe. And bring your whole self to work. We need to get used to talking about the challenges we have as well as the successes.”

Finding help

Pippa recommends Upping your Elvis – a great company that runs workshops for teams and leaders to help them get rid of bad habits and be more open, collaborative and energetic. She also loves the advice in How to Go to Work – a new book by Lucy Clayton and Stephen Haines.

On a broader level, Suki recommends following KPMG’s Rise of the Humans series, which addresses mental health as part of the emerging relationship between people and artificial intelligence (AI) and urges business leaders “to conduct conversations for a higher purpose: to identify the dilemmas, challenges and key considerations that will shape the future workforce”.

(Aka, if we’re going to be competing / collaborating with bots, we need to get our sh*t together!)

Next generation

But it’s not just about celebrities and people in the public eye, it’s about how we protect and look after the next generation. From Caroline Flack last week to Molly Russell last year to Pippa’s husband three years ago, no-one should need to suffer emotional stress in silence, or feel they’re completely alone.

It’s ironic that today, with all our social media networks and 2.5 billion people logging into Facebook, people can feel more isolated than ever. We need to empathise more and judge less, and use the tools at our disposal better.

Yesterday I asked Pippa what her best advice was for today’s teenagers. Amidst everything else they have to deal with, how can we help them to not repeat the same mistakes when they start work in a few years time?

She said “Let them know it’s ok not to be ok”.

Be honest

Pippa’s advice reminded me of the GDS poster about workplace culture, it’s ok to say what’s ok. And also the value of leaders creating their own open and honest “user guides to me” (if you’re interested, try Cassie Robinson’s great template).

We need to be as truthful as we can about our vulnerabilities – as much with ourselves as with others – to create a truly collaborative culture.

Thanks so much to Pippa for her story, to Suki for creating Let’s Reset, and to Drew and Andrew at LikeMinds for yesterday’s event.

Woman taking a selfie by Johann Ebend

Goodbye 2010s: the decade of selfies, fake news and data abuse

Ten years ago this month I published a book on social media called Monkeys with Typewriters. It was all about how brilliant the world was going to be once people had the chance to connect. Better communication would lead to an improved, more understanding society. We would share more ideas, be more innovative, more collaborative.

At the book launch, we talked about whether or not social tools should be allowed at work. We discussed how super-injunctions could no longer stop stories (Carter Ruck had tried and failed to cover up a damaging report on Trafigura) and if social media was simply a “time waster”.

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Appearing on BBC Worklife last week with Sally Bundock and James Reynolds

Reviewing the papers on BBC Worklife

I used to love What The Papers Say when I was growing up. Today, I’m happy to catch the press panel on Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, or even Emily Maitlis saying “let’s whizz through tomorrow’s papers” on Newsnight.

Now that we have rolling news and can access any story any time, it seems quaint that broadcast programmes still run slots reviewing the papers, or that journalists even talk about tomorrow’s headlines. But they do – and shows still hinge around them.

Early birds

The papers review slot in BBC Worklife comes right in the middle of the running order, with business interviews and international reports on either side.

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Cleaner using cleaning spray marked "Honest"

Never trust a brand that’s not on social media

It is 10.18 and I’m waiting for my new cleaner.

Estela* looked amazing on Helpling. She had a 4.8 star rating and a dozen glowing reviews. Even better, she was available to start the day and time I’d asked for. Yay!

Except, no. She’s now 20 minutes late. I check back through my emails from Helpling. All very straightforward and nice:

  • “Thank you for your booking”
  • “Your new cleaner is Estela Santos”
  • “Get to know your new cleaner Estela Santos now”
  • “Reminder! You have a booking with Estela tomorrow at 10:00”

I go to the website to see if Estela has left a message for me there. Not only is there no message, there’s NO RECORD of my booking, nor the welcome message I’d sent to Estela.

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Thrift shop truck

Are you getting the traffic you deserve?

Are you getting the traffic you deserve? You may have built the best-looking site money can buy, and filled it with great products and services, but if your digital marketing is shabby, you’ll never get a decent number of visitors.

Every online business needs a good digital marketing strategy. This strategy needs several elements. These might include having an email database so you can directly contact loyal customers (try the free version of Airtable for a great powered-up spreadsheet), or sending out a regular newsletter (my fave tool for this is Mailchimp). You might want to invest in an app so your customers can interact in a more meaningful way (if you do, ask an established developer like Milo Creative). 

Having a strong social media presence is essential, and you can use web analytics to track the effectiveness of your content. You’ll also need to think about whether or not you want to pay for Google Ads (formerly AdWords) or any other form of digital advertising. 

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

5 ways to build social media engagement

Why are we obsessed with vanity metrics? Like Love Island, we know they’re bad for us, but we keep coming back for more. There’s a guilty pleasure in notching up followers, or clocking more likes on a post. But measurements that involve sheer numbers, such as follower counts and likes, don’t actually prove very much. They aren’t particularly good indicators of how well you’re really engaging your audience.

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PRWeek Crisis Comms panel

How to deal with a PR crisis

If you’re a small business owner like me, it’s hard to imagine a time when one corporate mis-step might generate headlines. But a PR crisis can affect anyone, whatever the size of your organisation. It’s good to at least be aware of potential threats. What risks are you exposed to? What things could possibly go wrong? And how would you handle it if they did?

PRWeek’s Crisis Communications event on Wednesday (above) was a sharp reminder that none of us can ever take goodwill for granted.

Kirsten Walkom from Save the Children talked about how charities are currently struggling with the halo effect – presuming public trust in them will be higher than it actually is. This perception gap isn’t helping as the charity world faces an unprecedented series of crises: from Save The Children suffering legal action for rescuing migrants at sea to Amnesty International mistreating and bullying staff to the grim ongoing allegations against Oxfam.

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Selfie photo by Julian Gentilezza

Snapchat’s sociologist defends the selfie – but it’s not for the reasons you’d think

In 2010, Nathan Jurgenson was holed up at home in Washington DC writing his PhD thesis when he noticed something strange was happening. Two big snowstorms had hit the city, there had been nearly a metre of snow and DC was in shutdown.

“Everyone was posting these photos of the snow on Facebook. They were using this Hipstermatic app. It made the photos look like they were from the 1960s…full vintage photos.”

Back then Instagram had just launched, Snapchat hadn’t been invented and Hipstermatic was the cool new thing. Phone cameras were basic and the new filters were a great way to enhance images. But Jurgenson wasn’t interested so much in the photography as in the use of nostalgia:

“Why particularly vintage? Out of all the things you could do with a photo?”

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Open book by Social Cut on Unsplash

Create a social media plan you love in 8 easy steps

Social media is not about hard sell, or building up fan numbers. It’s about you and the relationship you have with your audience. Like all good relationships, it’s about building trust, having meaningful conversations and connecting with the people that matter.

Don’t get stuck on vanity metrics (numbers which look good on paper but actually don’t help your business goals). Try to do what you enjoy. Not only will you be more successful on social media but you’ll also have more fun. And if you’re having fun and being genuine, you’ll get a better response from your audience. It’s a win-win.

Having a strategy – and sticking to it – is essential to build engagement. It’s worth putting aside a couple of hours to make a quick, high level social media plan. Two hours invested now will mean you reap rewards later: set out your intentions so you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

The Social Media Reboot is a mini version of my Social Media Launch Pack. It’s 4 pages of templates for freelancers, sole traders and micro businesses (where you’re likely to be managing your own social media – and you’ll find it easier if your online voice reflects you).

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