Archive for the ‘Online PR/Social Media’ Category

Getting social with ASOS

I’m currently out in Austin for SXSWi, the tech conference that looks at what’s new in the digital world.  As always there are the naysayers who snipe that it’s too big, too mainstream and that the truly cutting edge stuff happens elsewhere but the fact remains it’s a completely unique event that attracts some really interesting people, has a fantastic range of workshops and panels and is, well, fun.  You don’t like it? don’t come, stay at home and moan (tellingly my sister-in-law, who has lived in Austin for 20 years, reckons they’ve been saying that stuff about it since the 2nd sxsw).

This year’s SXSW conference kicked off yesterday and among panels and lunch, I met up with James Hart, the eCommerce director for online fashion retailer ASOS.  James is widely credited with being responsible for ASOS’s phenomenally successful use of social media, an approach that has paid concrete dividends. attracts over 6.9 million unique visitors a month, has 2.9 million registered users and is rapidly becoming the leading online fashion retailer.  It has multiple twitter accounts which it uses for promotional activity, community outreach and customer relations, a huge Facebook following and its own community on  Last year they launched ASOS reviews, a site that pulls in quotes from Twitter, classifies them as positive or negative and displays the results; a real-time barometer of customer opinion.  And their most recent initiative is ASOS follows fashion, essentially a site that displays the tweets of other ‘fashion forward’ twitter users.

James was kind enough to answer my questions about how they approach social media, what the benefits have been and what they have planned for the future.

Who is responsible for social media at ASOS?

We don’t consider that social media to ‘sits’ within any one department, it’s about treating the customer in the best way possible and that’s everyone’s responsibility within the business.  Essentially we want to make it easier for customers to communicate with us, to buy from us, to ask us questions and social media provides us with a great way of doing that.

Do you measure ROI of your social media activity?

Not specifically no.  We do track our activity but we don’t impose KPIs onto it because we understand that it has intrinsic value.  So if we see that for example, someone mentions us on facebook, perhaps they’ve had a less than great experience, then we pick up on it, deal with it and that has value but we don’t measure it by number of tweets responded to or whatever, because that’s not what it’s about.

What advice would you have for a company that had never used social media before but wanted to get started?

Always start by thinking about the customer and their experience rather than the department within the business, put yourself in the place of the customer, and map out the processes; how they find you, decide whether or not to buy from you, what do they want out of the buying experience itself? then work out which team is best placed to deliver it.

Of course you need to know whereabouts online your customers are, work this out before you do anything.  And be aware that customers want different things and behave differently depending on the social network.  So for us, Facebook people sound off a fair bit and they’re always looking for discount codes, whereas our Twitter customers tend to interact with the brand more. Having said that, although you need to do some research, you can also get so bogged in strategy that it paralyses you from ever actually doing anything.   To an extend you do need to just get on and do it, it’s a bit like the wild west out there, there aren’t any rules and you need to get on and try it out, if it doesn’t work, you can always just change it and try something new.

Talking to James, it sounds like they have some exciting projects in the pipeline and there’s certainly no doubt that they are set to continue their incredible growth.  Our conversation got me thinking about last year’s SXSW where Tony Heish from Zappos took to the stage to talk about how they always start by putting the customer at the heart of everything they do and their social media activity naturally flows from that.   ASOS sound like they take a very similar ‘customer first’ approach and let’s face it, if they can emulate the success Zappos have had they won’t be in bad shape!

What do your lists say about you?

Ever since they were launched, I’ve liked Twitter lists. When I joined Twitter in 2007 it was actually pretty tricky to find people you might want to follow, it was, at times, like looking for a needle in a haystack. Lists can really help newbies to start getting value from Twitter fairly quickly. Services like Listorious allow you to search for lists by topic. And it’s only taken Twitter nearly four years to sort out their own lists, moving from a much hated ‘suggested users lists‘ to a set of suggestions based on interests. But what I find most interesting about lists is what it says about how people categorise you. Jay Baer came up with a neat little tool that allows you to look at the lists you’re on in one easy to browse list. If you then import this into Wordle, hey presto, you have an instant visual representation of how you are perceived.

In honour of my new site, for anyone who has arrived here without knowing me, I thought I’d do my own. It’s pretty accurate and if nothing else, Wordle always make a lovely picture….

Are we any nearer to the Tipping Point?


Econsultancy launched their Social Media and Online PR report yesterday, providing a comprehensive insight into how businesses are currently approaching social media (or not) in the UK. The headline to fall out of the report is that the overwhelming majority of companies (86%) plan to spend more money on social media in 2010, and a further 13% are planning tokeep the same level of budget.

But I think of equal interest is whether we’ve moved on in the last 12 months: are businesses really embracing social media or is there still more talk about it than actual action.

In my recent experience the only larger business that are really embedding social media into their business are either a) those with someone at board level who understands it or b) younger businesses without a pre-existing company culture to stifle it. The report bears this out citing lack of knowledge (50%), lack of senior buy-in (33%), lack of resource (32%) and company culture (28%) as the main barriers preventing clients from engaging in social media activity.

It’s also interesting that smaller organisations (turnover less than £1m) are significantly more likely to be heavily involved in social media.Makes perfect sense, it’s much easier to change direction if you’re a nippy speed boat than a lumbering cruise liner.

I was genuinely surprised that when asked what people viewed as the main benefits of social media, “increased direct traffic to website” was only viewed as a “major benefit” by 56% of respondents. I mean what? Brand awareness, customer engagement, reputation management are all vital but perhapsnot understanding how being able to demonstrate ROI by measuring the effect of activity on brand owned spaces, is why we’re not, as an industry, winning the battle of trying to convince clients why they should bother in the first place.
The first three are lovely and what we know to be valuable but on which we can’t as yet put a price tag, the last one can make it easier to open the door to the sceptic at the top table.

Overall it seems thereis still along way to go before social media engagement (is it just me or isn’t digital engagement starting to sound like a better term?) is anywhere nearbeing an accepted part of business operations. As an industry, education and best practice not quick wins, will be the only way to move this on.

That Tipping Point is a way off yet.

Image by Nicora

Are Maclaren losing the online reputation battle?

Pushchair manufacturer Maclaren announced yesterday that it was recalling some of its models in the US over fears of little fingers getting trapped and injured in the hinges.  Potentially hugely damaging to its reputation: it's one of the most important purchases a parent makes, as of this morning, it's looking like Maclaren are struggling to win the PR battle.  Firstly they're only recalling products in the US which has led to comments like this one popping up all over the internet:



It may well be that there is a valid reason for it (they vaguely try to answer it in the guardian piece) but if so, they're not getting the message across.

Secondly their PR response appears to be woefully inadequate. There is an overlay on the home page of the site explaining the recall and a 'click here for more information' but you are then taken to a general news page (below) rather than straight to the information, meaning you have to click again to see details.  That page does have a FAQ but again it's a bit woolly about why they are recalling in the US and not the UK.


Thirdly it's hard to see them doing much proactive outreach.  The twitterverse is full of chatter about the recall and yet their own twitter feed appears to be broken? Oh dear Maclaren, come on.  You've got to move now, not in 2 hours or 12 hours or 24 hours.  The clock is ticking…..

Twitter fail

Where does PR sit with social media?


Often I find debates curated on twitter fairly dull. Lots of posts all about the same thing flooding your twitter stream and adding nothing but the other day there was a really interesting one set up by hashtagsocialmediaTodd Defren moderated a conversation about the role of PRs within social media.  He covered topics such as where does social media belong within a corporate environment,what should a PR plan integrated with social media look like plus the relationship between PR, social media and SEO.

Many people suggest that the PR team within an organisation are not the right people to look after social  media because PR = spin whereas social media = transparency.  I'd completely disagree with that.  Having worked with digital agencies, SEO agencies and PR agencies, I'd say that PR people are the most natural to look after social media because they are familiar with building relationships, generating that 'talkability' factor and starting conversations.  The irony is however that at the moment PR agencies are the least well equipped to be able to handle social media effectively since, with a few notable exceptions, they're lagging behind in their understanding of the online environment.  They need to change that…and quickly.

You can see some of the twitter responses to Todd Defren's questions on the righthand side of the page here (although this page may well change in the future).

The learning curve

It was interesting to read Will McInnes' latest post Social Media Market Hots Up – these guys are better placed than most to ponder on how the market has changed over the last few years.

For me it reminds me of web development 15 or so years ago.  Clients were largely unsophisticated in their buying of digital.  There was no such thing as a web strategy, very few digital marketing professionals and a big rush to get a website with no understanding of why, what it was for, or how it would help the business.  Fast forward and they are much clearer in their briefing, sophisticated in their understanding and therefore their expectation are quite rightly greater.

In social media land clients seem to be falling into one of three camps:

  1. Those who are ignoring it all in the hope it just goes away.
  2. Those who believe they should be 'doing' social media but who don't
    want to know that it's anything other than a Facebook
    page (the rest of it is too messy, tricky, hard to put in a box)
  3. Those who understand that social media is fundamentally changing what
    customers expect from and have taken steps to ensure that
    this feeds into all areas of their business (either because they are a young flexible company or because someone at
    board level actually gets it).

Right now I'd say that most are in camp 2 but give it a couple of years and, like web development, they will have moved up that curve and that will be a good thing for everyone.

In the meantime, this great post from Mike Arauz kind of sums up where I'm at.

And let's not forget that this approach is still very much out there….


A Slice of the Social Media Pie

There is so much chatter about who should deliver social media for their clients.  Pretty much every day I speak to agencies who are battling a landgrab and clients who are, well, frankly just confused. 

Econsultancy's online PR Industry Benchmarking report completed at the end of last year demonstrated that clients are unsure where this part of their comms strategy sits within their agency roster (and internally, but that's another blog post). 

51% of clients reported using a PR agency to deliver social media, while 29% used their search marketing agencies and 22% their web development agencies. 

This debate shows no sign of being resolved any time soon. If anything the waters are becoming more muddied.  Having worked as a freelancer with all three of these different types of agency, my honest response would be that PR agencies (or 'pure' social media agencies) are best placed to deliver social media engagement, they already inhabit a world of stories and conversations.  They understand about connecting with influencers and developing ideas designed to initiate debate.  They're also already plugged into the client with this remit. 

BUT the biggest irony is that, while PR agencies might be the most natural people to deliver social (with a few great exceptions) they are currently the least well equipped to deal with it.  Lots are catching up but an equal number are living in blissful ignorance.


Photo by Daniel Greene

What’s makes a social media expert?

’nuff said.

5 ways to jump into online PR

Quite a few times over the last month I've been asked about how you 'do' online PR, or how you make a start.  There are many people much more qualified than me to do justice to that question but for now, here are my 5 starter tips.

  1. Set up google alerts for relevant terms (your own and client specific).
  2. Get into the habit of checking these and when you find a blog of particular interest, subscribe via an RSS reader.  I use Feedly but there are many others.
  3. If you're not already, get onto Twitter; important for three reasons, firstly because you need to use it to be able to explain to clients how it works, secondly because it's a great way to pick up on the latest developments in the world of online PR and thirdly because many journalists use it as a way to find stories.
  4. Set aside time to research the online environment for each of your clients because it will be different depending on sector.
  5. Play around with some of the free online monitoring tools, set up profiles for each of your clients.

But most importantly don't get so carried away with the great technology and tools that you forget about objectives.  Just because it's online, doesn't mean you should lose sight of what you're trying to achieve.

Who’s Tweeting?

Yesterday I asked a question on Twitter about whether people felt it was right for PRs to ghost tweet for their clients. 


Becky McMichael captured and commented on some of the initial responses and 24 hours later I'm finally getting round to blogging my own thoughts on the matter.

The reason I asked the question in the first place was because I'd heard about an agency that had just set up and is planning to run, seven separate Twitter accounts on behalf of a client.  I won't go into the specific circumstances here but it set off alarm bells ringing in my head.  Client is (apparently) happy as they have been able to tick a box – Twitter – check.  PR agency happy – revenue stream, foot through the social media door for this particular client but I can't help but wonder what the outcome will be.  To be fair I don't know whether they have carefully considered all the implications, whether they've set up a strategy to deal with potential customer service issues, thought about how they will deal with specific questions, whether they will be overt that it's them and not company employees tweeting etc (truth is I suspect they've probably half considered some of this stuff and then just thought they'd do it anyway).

So here's my view.  I don't think it's categorically wrong for people other than the client themselves to Tweet but I do have some specific concerns. 

1. I think it's probably fairly straightforward with a smaller client who won't attract customer service issues and about who there wouldn't necessarily be an expectation that they have the resources to do it in house but for a larger brand or B2C business – the potential for getting into a sticky mess is far greater.
2. When the account is new and doesn't have a large number of followers, I'm sure it's feasible to say we'll tweet 3 times a day on each account (yes in the example above they are apparently being that specific) but it's nonsense to think you can be that prescriptive with Twitter.  Irony is that if they want it to be successful they're going to have to enter into conversations, be interesting, respond, engage.  But in doing so, they could easily get out of their depth.  Yet if they keep it bland it's not worth doing in the first place.
3. Quite a few responses on Twitter suggested that it's no different to writing other material for clients, releases, marketing copy etc.  But on this I disagree, that kind of communication is very different to Twitter which is about a conversation between two or more people,  it's not about pushing a prescribed message out there (even if from time to time brand info, special offers or whatever, are – transparently- shared).
4. If we believe that social media engagement can have real benefits for clients then shouldn't we be helping clients to learn how to do it themselves? Of course it's not always realistic to expect them to go from having never used Twitter to running seven separate accounts and they might have resource issues but they're never going to fully embrace social media if we don't help them to make a start on the journey.  It's like never teaching your child how to feed themselves because it's easier, faster and less messy just to do it for them.

I think that everyone accepts that pretending to be the client is wrong, but this issue is about much more than that and while some PR agencies understand all the implications completely, I fear that many more don't and the consequences of that will reflect on the industry as a whole.


Twitter bird