Instagram moves to the dark side of advertising


It’s been speculated for months, but it’s now official, Instagram has launched brand advertising in the UK.

A sponsored post from Instagram itself appeared in UK user’s newsfeeds earlier this week launching the platform’s advertising offering.

Sponsored posts will now start appearing from Instagram favourites such as Cadbury, Starbucks, Waitrose and Rimmel London. Users will be targeted with ads using information from the photos and videos they like on Instagram as well as their interests and basic information from Facebook.

Instagram launches sponsored posts in the UK

Similar to Facebook, users will be able to identify adverts that don’t interest them, hide them from their newsfeeds and give feedback for what they do and don’t want to appear.

Although this is music to marketers ears, the response from Instagram users was less then lukewarm, some commenting on the post suggesting the platform had sold out and that they would potentially stop using the image sharing network altogether. However, this seems to be the natural response from users when their so called small independent social network decides to actually make a profit.

From a marketing point of view, it’s Instagram’s time to really prove what value it can add to a brand. However, until the platform allows hyperlinks to drive users from posts back to a brand’s website, I’m unsure how a realistic ROI can be calculated, especially for retail brands.

For now, we’ll all sit back and watch Cadbury and Starbucks ride the wave and eagerly await results on how user’s engaged and responded to the adverts. Only time will tell to see how it rivals its big brother Facebook’s advertising platform.

We’ll wait with bated breath.

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Why the Ice Bucket Challenge leaves me cold

The other day I found myself shaking my head in despair after reading a rather sad statistic: over half of Brits polled said they did not donate to an ALS charity after taking part in an ice bucket challenge.

This solitary fact is possibly the most damning statement I’ve come across in highlighting the increasing self-obsession that has become a culture in its own right in the western world (see my previous blog for more on this). Shame on us, who revel in finding new ways to flaunt ourselves, take ownership of a challenge, be the star of our own show, and lose sight of the purpose: to give to and raise awareness of a charity. It’s narcissism masked as altruism.

Possibly the worst element of the ice bucket challenge is the sentiment that it’s viral, i.e. it is fleeting, and ultimately most peopleare content to pretend that they’re doing good while it’s trendy, rather than look to do good in the long term. Because of course, quietly supporting a charity of your choice is not going to do you any favours on social media, right?

From a PR point of view, the challenge ticks all the boxes: charity, instantly understandable, easy to carry out, personal and yet it translates in every country from America to India, and to every person, from Kanye West to Willoughby’s own Rob Jones. Forbes reported that the challenge has raised $100m for the ALS Association, a 3,500% increase from the $2.8 million that they raised during the same time period last year.

With figures like this and an obvious increase in awareness of the charity, I may look to be ranting for the sake of ranting. But I ask you to look again at the stat referenced earlier – most people that did the challenge didn’t donate, and this is disheartening. Is it possible that social value has eclipsed genuine philanthropic value? Once the ice has melted and the likes been collated, the momentum for doing good melts with it, and this is a pretty sad reflection of our times.

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Does Twitter need to sell itself a little more?

So, last month Twitter announced £86m losses up to Q2 of 2014 – triple their losses for the same period last year, but supposedly there is no cause for panic. CEO Dick Costolo, claimed: “strong financial and operating results for the second quarter show the continued momentum of our business”.

It would appear the old adage; ‘you have to spend money to make money’, is key here. Although it is undeniable that Twitter has become one of the most influential mediums of the 21st century, it has yet to become profitable. The ‘build a hugely popular social network that millions of people across multiple nations use every day – get companies to use it to talk to those people – then start charging them to promote their messages’ business model adopted by Facebook first, has been coming to fruition for over 4 years now for Twitter.

The little blue bird first launched its ads API in April 2010, but in a rather risky move chose to adopt a more elitist approach than Facebook. For several years the rule of thumb was – ‘if you ain’t got £10k to spend in a month then don’t bother calling!’ – Considering Twitter was a completely unproven advertising platform at the time this model was ill-thought-out at best.

Perhaps the justification was that they wanted to test the water with the great few first to make sure it was effective before rolling it out to all and sundry. Fair enough you might say, but why did it take almost 4 more years to open up their advertising products to the wider businesses community?

In 2012, Twitter announced that selected small businesses could advertise with them in the US, providing they were American Express business customers. Again presumably a phase that would allow them to test the limits of their features with less risk. But this was a restricted set up that gave small businesses little control over what was being promoted from their content.

Finally in November 2013, Twitter announced that its full access, self-serve advertising dashboard was available for all businesses in the UK, Ireland and Canada. Since then they have been developing a host of sophisticated products to get digital marketers drooling – such as mobile conversion tracking, lookalike profiles and lead generation cards. No surprise this launch was announced right around the time Twitter was floated on the stock market. And even less surprising that Twitter’s ad products team seem to have been doing some major overtime since then. Seems like Mr & Mrs Shareholder are cranking up the pressure.

So, it’s taken a long time for Twitter to decide that an inclusive approach to its ad products and giving their customers plenty of control was the way to go, now they just need to spread the word and turn a profit.

You’d think that Twitter would be good at self-promotion, after all they own a medium that has 271 million active monthly users, 49% of which check it every day. Yet as a leading digital and social media agency in the Midlands, after speaking to our peers and clients, we were amazed to discover how few marketers were aware that this service was now available for any British business or organisation to utilise, no matter how small their budget. This of course wasn’t helped by certain global media buying agencies still telling our clients that to run a Twitter ad campaign you need a minimum £7k spend within one month! I can happily reveal that we can manage Twitter advertising campaigns from as little as a few hundred pounds for our clients. The word is out.

So Twitter, if you need some help PRing your new adverts dashboard in the UK, then give us a call or tweet us @wpragency. Alternatively, maybe you should use Promoted Trends to share the news, you’ll probably get a good discount!

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Did you forget how to be kind?

The world woke up yesterday to the gutting news that actor Robin Williams had died.

Suddenly the internet was buzzing with quotes, film clips, pictures and memories. You name it, BuzzFeed has probably already created a gif for it. Hollywood giants tweeted touching words filled with respect and admiration for their talented friend. Fans went out and covered the Good Will Hunting bench in Boston with film quotes. His daughter’s quote from The Little Prince has been retweeted 70,000 times and I saw at least four friends listening to the Aladdin soundtrack on Spotify. People shared content from mental health charities and celebrities encouraged open and stigma-free discussions on depression and the help available.

Most importantly though, all the words were kind.

And then by comparison, a sample of the Red Tops front pages this morning:


Now, yesterday I saw this article shared on Twitter, it’s advice for journalists on how to report suicide and self-harm from Time to Change – England’s biggest programme to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination. Here’s what they say:

Not really advice that’s been adhered to. The language is graphic, behavioural details are given and assumptions are made on causation. It’s profoundly unkind reporting. Times deputy political editor Sam Coates raised the issue during a paper review: “It’s where trying to find out what happens clashes with questions of tone. One of the problems we have is that the American public authorities…spew out really personal details almost immediately, almost always live on air”.

The motive isn’t exactly rocket science; it’s all about selling, selling copies of papers, advertising space. Shocking headlines get clicks and the goal is increased web traffic. Doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fluffy inside? No me neither.

Apart from being just downright disrespectful, there’s a line that’s been crossed where this is just bad journalism, and with print media dying – there is no place for it.

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A Guide to Facebook Life after the Like-Gating Ban

So now you’re finally up to date with Facebook policy – looks like it’s time for another new update.

Facebook has just released Graph API v2.1, an update that includes two changes to the social network’s policy, the most significant of which is a ban on like-gated competitions, apps and social plug-ins as of 5th November 2014.

It’s been a while since social media was viewed as ‘free tool’ but now, in 2014, we can be absolutely agreed that it isn’t. In the wake of the Edgerank algorithm becoming even tighter and fan generation more difficult, using Facebook’s sophisticated advert system is now a requirement rather than an option.

So, use ad spend strategically and employ our tips to ensure that fans keep ‘talking-about’ your content.

1.      Social Plug-ins on Your Website

Make it easy for your customers to access your Facebook page at every possible opportunity – the first point of call being your web page. Position your plug-in right at the top of the page (the primary optical area) where it’s instantly viewable, rather than below the fold where it can be easily missed.

You can find everything you need for this here.

2.     Keep your crowd happy

Community management remains hugely important. Staying active and engaging with your immediate community is key, not only will it help you build your fan-base but it’ll stop you losing fans.

A proven way of getting new likes through community involvement is to interact with pages which are aligned to your audience’s interests. Obviously we’re not telling the likes of Dyson to start up a conversation with Hoover (although that probably would generate some coverage), but start engaging with complimentary brands or businesses in the same area whose fans are likely to enjoy your social conversations too – think more Yorkshire Tea and Mr Kipling.

3.      Be Truly Interesting

This latest change from Facebook simply illustrates that the platform is focusing on its original mantra; inspiring conversation and keeping the world better connected. The key word there is better – brand pages now have to work harder to gain fans, and this needs to be done through relevant and truly interesting content and conversation (i.e. better!)

Since the latest Facebook algorithm change, on average only 1-2% of your fans will see your content in their news feed, so choose wisely. Posts with images often encourage more interaction, but copy only posts get a higher reach so you need to assess which is more important for each individual post.

The first rule of engaging content is quality vs. quantity. A stream of company updates will quickly turn existing fans off. Winning pages tap into their fans passion points by regularly reviewing post success and trying new things. Variety makes all the difference.

4.      Use Insights

In particular use content engagement and post interaction stats as these are ideal for working out what works and what doesn’t. Analyse your content through these to build on more popular content and remove the messages that didn’t inspire.

5.      Strategic Ad Spend

Finally, investing in ads is the fastest, most sure-fire way to generate new, relevant Page likes. To make sure you’re utilising your spend fully use custom audience targeting and look-a-like audience functions – this will give you maximum relevancy and a solid return.

Facebook now also offer up adverts dependent on your core objectives i.e. gaining likes, generating awareness or driving traffic meaning you can more easily demonstrate how spend achieved campaign targets. It also means that you should start thinking of Facebook as the world’s largest consumer database who can be accurately targeted dependent on your needs.

All in all, this change shouldn’t have a dramatic impact on your brand page as long as great content and well considered advertising is at the core of your strategy.

Our advice? Embrace it. Get to know your audience and give them interesting, engaging content that will organically grow your page.  And finally, don’t worry about generating hordes of new fans as it’s genuine engagement that counts.

You can view the full update here or join the conversation @WPRAgency

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Panda 4.0: The Fall Out.

Last month, Head of Webspam at Google, Matt Cutts confirmed the news every SEO practitioner had been debating for the past 6 months: Google were rolling out their latest algorithm update – Panda 4.0 – and it was going to be a big one.

Even those who aren’t overly-familiar with the practices of SEO are likely to have heard of the critter-themed updates, Penguin and Hummingbird to name two others.  But what is often not clear (except to Mr Cutts maybe), is when these updates will hit, what their aims are, and what the effects will be.

Three weeks after the algorithm update, it is still tricky to assess the damage (or benefits) to websites. However, there are a few theories starting to emerge from the fall out, which all provide food for thought.

Google is attacking press release sites

One outcome that has come to light is that press release sites have been hit hard by Panda 4.0. In his blog for Search Engine Land, Barry Schwartz takes a look at the top PR sites and how their website traffic has changed. What he discovered was alarming – big hitters such as, PR Newswire, Business Newswire and PRlog have all lost significant ranking within Google.

Theories as to why Google has decided target press release sites are being thrown about – from Google updating its link scheme guidelines, which now include ‘links with optimised anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites’.

Chris Crum from also makes a good point that in a recent hangout John Mueller referred to press release sites being used as an SEO tool.

Google is attacking aggregator sites

Another consequence being reported is that aggregator sites have been affected. Sites such as, which have been badly affected, aren’t made up of original content. Rather, they collate content from around the web in one place. Whilst they are still widely considered useful websites, technically they do not stick to Google’s content guidelines.

Does Google have a vendetta against eBay?

Perhaps the most talked about result to come from Panda 4.0 was the huge effect it had on eBay. Or so we first thought. It was reported that eBay suffered a 78% loss in search visibility following the roll out, which many assumed was an effect of the update. However, Re/Code reported afterwards that eBay had in fact been hit by a manual penalty from Google as punishment for bad SEO practices. As neither party have confirmed nor denied this, it is difficult to determine exactly why eBay was hit so hard. If it was a Panda penalty that was responsible for their loss in visibility, similar websites are sure to be biting their nails right about now.

It is going to take a bit more time before we can be sure of the effects of Panda 4.0. One thing is clear though, Google is making life increasingly difficult for those practicing black hat SEO, even those who had previously evaded penalty. As with everything though, there is a flip side to this, and I’d like to leave you with an interesting concept from Tim Worstall, featuring on comparing SEO with evolution. This theory debates whether as quick as Google is developing its defences against bad practice, these ‘parasites’ are evolving at just as quick a speed, meaning the search engine and practitioners are engaged in a never ending game of cat and mouse.

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For Christ’s sake Ed, put your hands in your pockets like everyone else!

I’ve had enough. I’ve tried to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I’ve tried to place policy above superficial appearance. I’ve tried to take solace in the fact that he’s got some of the big calls right – phone hacking, bankers, the Daily Mail.

I even had some sympathy with the whole bacon butty cock-up. And I have to say, if asked, I wouldn’t know how much we spend at Chez Leatherbarrow on our weekly shop either.

But what I cannot forgive is Ed Miliband’s hand gestures, they are driving me to distraction. Who speaks to a member of the public, teacher or nurse with their finger-tips pressed together like they’re thinking through the Theory of Relativity?

Oh and the voice coaching and believe you me there has been voice coaching. The average speaking rate is somewhere around 125 words per minute. By my reckoning Ed is down somewhere around 70-80 and all it does is make everything he says sound intensely patronising.

Meanwhile, Nigel “Man of the People” Farage is on a celebratory pub crawl through every watering hole in Southern England. Nigel is the very epitome of a man at ease with himself. No forced hand gestures here, mind you he can’t as he usually has a pint in one hand and a fag in the other.

And then there’s the one liners, they’re the best bit. My favourite was the one after the Eastleigh By-Election, “We’d have won but the Conservatives split our vote”. Even my Dad, who is a Pro-European, wine-loving, baguette-eating Francophile, currently residing in the Limousin, thought that one was funny.

Nigel’s legacy may well be something like that of the 1950s French politician, Pierre Poujade, whose populism coined the phrase, ‘Poujadism’, which is still used today whenever a politician blatantly courts public opinion. Expect ‘Faragism’ to take a similar place in the UK’s political dictionary.

Mind you, Ed has tried populism as well with his Fuel Price Freeze, fat lot of good it did him. Perhaps if he just put his hands in his pockets?

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In Defence of Yaya Touré

Am I the only person that feels a little bit sorry for Yaya Touré?

The Manchester City football star made the headlines this week after claiming that his club failed to wish him happy birthday. His agent said that Touré was “very upset” after the club’s owners failed to acknowledge him personally, and says he may leave following their lack of respect.

What followed was a predictable and unrepentant storm from the media and football industry: Touré was dubbed a spoilt brat by the Mail Online, sent a birthday cake by Yeovil Town, and roundly mocked by the Twittersphere.

Though it is easy to poke fun at a footballer who earns £250,000 a week, I’ve always somewhat pitied the rich and famous, whose context is so skewed compared to the rest of us, and whose sense of proportion can never be truly balanced. When you have it all, how can you appreciate small triumphs? What value does interaction with fellow humans possess if most people measure you purely on the merit of your right foot?

Our ‘celebs’ are largely stripped of any personality and human emotion (which is why, incidentally, actions such as Brazilian footballer Neymar’s hugging a young rival fan are so widely praised.) So Touré’s desire for a heartfelt celebration of his birthday, whilst appearing petulant, could in fact be indicative of a wider need for validation, a sense of his being appreciated.

Of course, it could also be a sly ploy to coax a bigger salary out of Manchester City, or to signal the talented footballer’s availability to other clubs – or perhaps even to enhance his reputation by appealing as vulnerable as the rest of us. Either way, who can blame him? If it is genuine then aren’t we all guilty of a little attention-seeking self-indulgence from time to time?

Society’s fondness for self-expression via a plethora of social media encourages us to share our emotions, and it’s easy to forget that famous people are human too. Money doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness, and even the loaded need to feel loved – was a birthday card really too much to ask?

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Would FRIENDS Have Been Successful in the Digital Age

“The one with the retweet…”
It’s hard to believe a decade has passed since the last episode of FRIENDS aired. Fans of the show held finale parties and over 60 million viewers watched as Monica and Chandler brought home their new-born twins and Rachel ‘got off the plane’ (sorry, spoiler alert).

But, after reading Cosmo’s thoughts on what Rachel Green’s Facebook profile might look like, I wonder if such a cult show could be as successful in today’s digital landscape.

The characters would most likely be the same, a group of friends with varying professions – a chef, a woman in fashion, a professor, a masseuse (probably a yoga instructor now), a struggling actor, and… well, whatever it was that Chandler did.

Yes, the characters would be the same but the way they interact would be entirely different. No hanging out in the coffee shop, chats over breakfast, or running across the hall to tell that “BRAND NEW INFORMATION!” Today, the group of six would share their news with each other via social media. Rachel could update her Facebook status “I’m pregnant” and tag Ross in the scan pic… “And you’re the father”; Chandler might seduce Monica via Snapchat “I’m still on London time, does that count?”; Joey would hook up with girls on Tinder; and maybe Phoebe would have stayed with David if they could’ve Skyped from Manhattan to Minsk (poor Mike).

Personally, this doesn’t have the same appeal. I watched FRIENDS (and still do) because it was a realistic aspiration – a great group of friends who were literally there for you, on your doorstep all day, every day with a witty remark, a friendly insult or a shoulder to cry on.

If FRIENDS was set in the here and now, face-to-face time and talking would be replaced with FaceTime and Tweeting – this isn’t how we want to interact with the people we love, it’s a necessity forced upon us by an increasingly busy lifestyle. Do you think Chandler and Joey would be best buds if they only spoke via the occasional text or tweet? And can you imagine Ross and Rachel’s ups and downs played out via Facebook “Relationship status: on a break” – then finally realising after 10 long years she is in fact his lobster after all?! No, nor can I. It just doesn’t work.

So much of what is great about FRIENDS, as with most comedy, is based on the tiny nuances of human social behaviour that cannot translate into digital interactions.

Then comes the issue of evolving social media platforms, as there seems to be a new one every day. Would the writers have to acknowledge this with a new digital phenomenon every season – Monica creating a Pinterest board for ribbons or Ross writing a ‘Geology Rocks’ blog? The possibilities are endless, yet really rather dull.

Selfie, A new series commissioned by America’s ABC, is about a social media addict who becomes famous after an embarrassing video of her goes viral. Call me a cynic, but I can’t see this getting past the second series – it’s just a bit too faddy. Yes, selfies are big now but so was planking a few years ago. The beauty of FRIENDS is that its lack of social and political identifiers render it forever timeless. Even though there are references to cellphones and computers but they don’t ever become influential to the plot.

To ignore social media altogether now though, would be branded ‘irrelevant’, considering its huge presence in everyday life. The creators of The Big Bang Theory have a good balance of referring to Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare without it becoming a central focus. The difference here, however, is that we’re laughing at the Big Bang characters not with them as in the case in FRIENDS. It’s just not ‘cool’ to admit your life revolves around the online (even though in reality it does).

Since FRIENDS ended, there hasn’t been another sitcom to come close to its level of success and I doubt there ever will be as our lives continue to gravitate online. FRIENDS played to our most simple desires to have friends who are there for us every day – in person – to share a laugh (and the occasional cry) and to meet for a coffee without it being a ‘thing’ scheduled in our iPhone calendar.

Let’s face it, things were simpler back then. A comedy about six friends simply living in New York was aspirational but also relatable, to all ages in all countries, and always will be – regardless of what viral is doing the rounds in the office.

So, let us raise a Flat White to the finest Sitcom to ever grace our screens – and proceed to share this blog on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr…

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The most sociable elephant in the room

ROI (return on investment) is completely misunderstood when it comes to social media marketing. This whole thought process started when I read this quote from Justin Rees at Econsultancy, which sums up the issue nicely:

“While there are already many companies doing great things with social media around customer service and analytics, the elephant in the room is still whether social can generate material ROI in the form of leads and sales.”

The issue

Here is the issue – social media creates a bit of a minefield when it comes to calculating ROI, and according to a study, brands are starting to move away from it anyway.

Realistically, we can’t know how organic social posts and community management affects buying decisions. For example, someone like Cadbury can’t attach a particular tweet on a particular day to the fact I bought a flake at lunchtime, there are too many confounding variables that might have contributed to my decision to purchase.

For me it’s a fundamentally mathematical issue; if clients want to see a traditional ROI report, based on monetary values of investment and return, you’re not going to get that with social media. Even with social metrics that are measurable, you can’t attribute a monetary figure to a RT, a like, a share, a pin, a favourite, etc. Obviously these are all essential for any good evaluation, but there’s a difference between that and demonstrating ROI.

For example, let’s take a fake social campaign which ran just on Facebook. Your client spent £500 on Facebook sponsored stories, they acquired 7,000 new fans (and what an amiable cost per like that would be), had 2,500 competition entries and reached 500K people.

So what ROI have we got here? The client wants a ratio result, so £500:7,000 fans? ROI is 1300%? 1:13?

Well no…if you can’t attribute a monetary figure to these things, you can’t use traditional methods of calculating ROI. For one, the maths itself requires both variables (the R and the I) to be of the same unit. You’re just comparing apples and oranges.

So what’s been said already?

Googling ‘social media ROI’ brings up a fair array of articles and links on the matter. Apart from a few good reads like this and this, most of it fails to make any argument or offer up an adaption of the ROI formula.

My issue with a lot of the current literature – there’s a lot of talk of goals, appropriate social platforms, a couple of funnels (what is the obsession with funnels?!), all padded out with bright infographics. Okay we’ve got all that, but this is all sounding like a big blag that might come from this guy…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting any of the above isn’t important to an overall social strategy, of course it is, but we haven’t actually had an answer to the ROI maths have we?

Not just social media is afflicted

Even something robustly measureable like PPC isn’t always exempt either.

Take my wonderful, but entirely fictitious, client WeLoveTools Ltd. They make high-spec spanners which can be bought directly through their website, and would like to do some PPC activity. The results:

  • £500 spend, 200K impressions, CTR 1.5%, 3K clicks, 2% conversion rate, 60 spanners bought at £40 each

ROI = ([40*60]-500)/500)*100 = 380%

Amazing stuff, take that to the marketing director. But it’s only all fine and dandy if you have a client with an e-commerce set up, but what about if WeLoveTools decides to sell their spanners solely through distributors? Again we run £500 worth of PPC advertising, with the goal of driving brochure downloads. Great, so let’s work out the ROI by the same method:

  • £500 spend, 200K impressions, CTR 1.5%, 3K clicks, 2% conversion rate, 60 brochures downloaded

ROI = ([???]-500)/500)*100 = ???

…and that’s where it stops, no more maths today (some might rejoice). What can you do? Get each distributor to ask customers; “Oh I see you’re purchasing a WeLoveTools spanner. Is that because you googled ‘spanner’, clicked on a WeLoveTools ad, downloaded the brochure and then decided to come into store to complete your purchasing journey?” Good luck with that one.

Ah, I hear you say, but it’s also about lead generation. Yes, completely agree, social media and PPC are both fantastic for lead generation, and getting 60 brochures downloaded is excellent, but that’s still not an ROI. You can’t argue you generated £50 worth of leads, you can have £50 worth of sales, but you can’t have £50 worth of leads. Leads are invaluable, but monetarily worthless.


A couple, and by no means exhaustive, of exemptions.

1)       Facebook offers, let’s say for a restaurant, offering Facebook fans 20% food and drink. Downloaded vouchers with specific bar codes and amount spent attributed purely to these vouchers, and thus back to Facebook. Your cost is any ad spend, return is the till receipts. (Although, there is further argument to say you’d have to control for any guests who would have gone to the restaurant that night regardless, and include the profit loss on the meal into the costs, but only someone ridiculously pedantic would say that…)

2)      The Heinz Get Well Soon Soup campaign always stands out as a great ROI example.  A brilliant social campaign where you could buy and send someone a personalised can of soup. The operative word being buy – because through the Facebook app you could purchase one of these for £1.99. The number of cans sold directly through Facebook multiplied £1.99 is their return figure. Perfect.

On the whole, ROI is rarely an appropriate performance indicator for social media. Specifically planned campaigns, e-commerce sites and any direct financial responses aside, we all need to stop expecting we can always demonstrate a monetary ROI on social media. Brands are right to move away from it.

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A bit more (not less) PR might yet save the Green Deal!

I’m not sure whether it comes as a result of the infamous Malcolm Tucker, the concept of ‘spin’, or Siobhan, the desperately embarrassing PR girl from the BBC satire W1A, but all too often the public relations industry seems to be falsely cast as the villain of the piece.

One of the more recent cases of PR (or rather, PR spend) being unfairly stigmatised, has come with the Government’s management of its flagship Green Deal energy saving scheme. Now, there are a number of reasons why the Green Deal is yet to set the world alight, yet any reports of the scheme’s return on investment always seem to go hand-in-hand with a totting-up of just how much has been spent – or wasted, as seems to be the assumption – on PR.

The irony is, here we have a scheme which, to quote a colleague of mine, “is like nothing this country has ever seen before”. Surely PR is the perfect vehicle to communicate just how the Green Deal could transform the UK’s inefficient housing stock? After all, how can UK homeowners be expected to take advantage of the finance on offer to improve their properties without having the scheme explained to them? A well-planned PR strategy should be the perfect fit for the Green Deal, yet to the contrary, it’s being used as a stick to beat the scheme’s administrators over the head with.

The point here is, there can be any number of reasons why a product or service fails before we even look at PR. In this case, we can take our pick from the red tape preventing the UK’s heating engineers from becoming suitably accredited, to the fact that renewable technologies are simply too expensive to install in this country. But none of these real issues are perceived by the media as being anything close to as alarming as the Government’s spend on PR. Instead we’re forced to read reports of how the Government has wasted over £100k on PR advisors. That’s a whopping 0.3 per cent of the total spend, by the way.

Will the PR industry ever shake off this misplaced assumption that a communication strategy is nothing other than an overpriced luxury? Credibility is one of PR’s main assets and credit should be given where it’s due from time to time.

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New Troubleshooter is a welcome antidote to The Apprentice

At last a watchable programme about business.

Last night’s New Troubleshooter with Lord Digby Jones shooting from the hip was the best bit of business TV since … umm … well the last Troubleshooter series in the mid-1980s probably!

Now admittedly the standard isn’t high. Leader of the pack in recent years has been The Apprentice which portrays business as some sort of primeval, dog eat dog, survival of the fittest examination, involving haring round London in Black Cabs and performing idiotic tasks at Waterloo Station.

If these people are, to use the late David Halberstam’s phrase coined for the whizz-kids of the Kennedy Administration, the ‘Best and the Brightest’, then we really are in trouble.

Instead, last night, we had talk of balance sheets, cash statements and working capital. Sounds boring? Well actually, it was quite compelling.

When His Lordship asked the young Finance Controller for the cash flow implications of increasing the stock levels in the business and the poor chap had to admit that he didn’t have a clue, my wife shifted uncomfortably in her seat. The attempts at convincing the MD of the need for some demand forecasting had me rolling my eyes.

I’m old enough to remember the original Troubleshooter with the late Sir John Harvey Jones, former CEO of ICI. He too proved that business can make good television.

I vividly remember him walking into the stockroom of a small brewery which was jammed to the rafters with bottles of beer.

“What’s going on?” he asked. The MD looked to the floor. “We’ve not been able to sell it at current prices,” he admitted.

Sir John turned to him and said: “Sell it for whatever you can get. You need to turn this lot into cash. When I next come in here I want to see this place empty.” That’s where I first learned that lack of cash can pull a business under just as quickly as lack of sales.

Last night wasn’t perfect. I’d liked to have found out whether the company did ever produce a forecast and the results of their intellectual property application in regard to their new branding.

But, it was a much-needed start. Let’s hope the BBC sees fit to commission a second series.

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