An exercise in building brand, engaging customers and creating a community

Brand. Engagement. Conversation. Community. We hear these words all of the time, but for many, making use of them is time consuming and often drags you into unfamiliar territory. So how do we make the transition from company to brand and beyond?

When I walk into my gym, scattered on the reception counter is a collection of flyers and printed pamphlets promoting their various events. They’re on cork boards, stuck to walls, they’re announced over the speaker system, displayed on the flat TV screens in the gym, the changing rooms and the bar area — they’re promoting events everywhere throughout the gym.

Brilliant, eh? Well, nearly. To some extent, the strength of the message is being lost on those that are head-down busy like me; you’ve either got time or you haven’t. Promoting internally will have results, but people are increasingly becoming “ad’ blind”, and just don’t even see adverts. What’s needed is an elective process, one that people subscribe to.

Put your business through its paces

Much has been made of Facebook and many people labour under the impression that it’s is just for kids. Thankfully, that’s not the case. Because if it was, Octane wouldn’t be there.

For a business like Octane, community is a more difficult end goal to build because my offering is different. Blah, Blah! Technology has a very healthy Page, currently heading towards 400 fans. People appear to enjoy not only science, technology and social media.

So, my gym. They have a website, which I doubt is doing them an ounce of good. They have all of these great offers, promotions, give-aways, competitions etc, but the uptake isn’t as good as it could be.

Right now, they have all of these members, most of which elected to give up their email addresses when they joined. This being a private gym, membership isn’t exactly cheap — but the service and the facilities are excellent, I hasten to add! I reckon their demographic has a healthy bulge in the 30-35 year old area. I would say it’s not a great leap of speculation to imagine many of that group of people being on Facebook. And we already know they have a disposable income, so that’s a given.

Run a Page on Facebook

So let’s say my gym got themselves a Page on Facebook. What next? People. Specifically their members.

They’d need do a mail merge and ping out emails to all of their members with an announcement for their Page, with a list of features and benefits. The gym looks pro-active and score points for being in the face of their members.

Advice on Facebook — Creating a Landing Page for Twitter, Facebook.

Brand

Next up, they start a structured campaign of posting links to relevant content and internal promotions, such as:

  1. dietary planning;
  2. local sporting events (football, rugby etc);
  3. competitions / give-aways;
  4. up-coming acts at their very own night club and bar;
  5. healthy eating ideas and recipes;
  6. family events and kids sports days…

… offering up some good, sound advice to their members, for almost zero cost — they’ve usually got 3-4 people downstairs handling calls and shuffle paper around, all of whom could easily take on this task.

This is valuable know-how and advice, with experts on hand (those being the gym staff) to field questions, book one-to-one sessions, join classes etc.

In subtle but measurable ways, the perception of the gym shifts from just a company and to a brand — and from a gym to a place to meet people and build on your social life. The members now value what the gym represents and begin to talk.

Advice on branding — 10 personal branding habits of the professionals, Manage personal brand like a porn star.

Engagement

Pages on Facebook include the option to add Discussions, which are forums for people to discuss different topics. From personal experience, these either work or they don’t. But as a gym, they could post on a wide range of topics (protein supplements, types of pre and post work-out stretches, effects of alcohol, etc) and get people talking, asking questions and engaging.

When a curry night or a horse racing day comes up (among many others), they create an event for their Page, which then shows up on peoples front pages. The members then elect to say whether they’re to attend, not to attend, or say they’re not sure.

Over time, the gym can better gauge uptake for an event (what works, what doesn’t, when and why) and get an idea of how many are likely to attend. Plus, since people can share events with friends, they could invite someone as a guest, who might just turn into a member later on.

Conversation

The events go down a storm, as they usually do. The members and staff who were there took loads photos and recorded the odd video of dads dancing on their mobil phone, and later over the course of the following week post said photos and videos to the Page, tagging staff and other members.

People laugh, share comments, “like” photos, reminisce, strike up friendships and start conversations.

Community

Before long, members are organizing nights out, inviting fellow members and friends to fun runs, races, competitions, hiking trips, the list goes on. We’re no longer just members, nor are we just friends — we’re now a community.

Brand. Engagement. Conversation. Community. They’re all right there, for pennies. All without even breaking a sweat. Well almost. Like anything else that’s good in life, it takes time and effort. But if you invest both, then you invest wisely and be a winner.

If you’d like to know more about how social media and internet marketing can help your business, get in touch right now.


ASA serious about social media. Are you?

If ever proof was needed that social media was a legitimate marketing channel, the Advertising Standards Authority just delivered. Their intention is to regulate social media.

This is big news, because not only does this justify the efforts of many businesses like Octane that are banging the big social media drum, but it also helps clarify what is and what is not acceptable, in terms of a marketing messages and adverts. What the ASA is proposing is simply an extension of existing regulations:

“The proposed amendment to the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code — expected to be in force by September — will extend the regulatory framework currently in place for paid online ads to all other online marketing communications. As a result, claims from marketers on their own Web sites and third-party sites like social networks will now be subject to ASA scrutiny, as they are in TV, print, and other forms of online advertising.”

However, the introduction of any new legislation brings with it the specter of ambiguity; do we comply? To some, this will be a challenge, while to others, this will be an opportunity. As a business that sells information, a lot of what I and Octane do is educate people as to the possibilities and the potential of their business on the web.

As a pre-qualifier, if I feel that a prospective client has questionable intentions, I make my polite excuses and leave. I have no intention of ruining my hard-earned 10 year old reputation for a project I’m not happy with.

So how do these planned regulatory powers affect businesses using social media marketing?

Dispelling the social media myth — size isn’t everything

The biggest problem I have when explaining social media to someone is the very thing that makes it such a compelling channel to promote a business — it’s size. Because social media marketing is so relatively new — certainly for the vast majority of businesses out there — the prospect of a free way of marketing their business is just too tempting to pass up on.

There’s so many ways to use social media, and so many different ways to enter it, it can be overwhelming. The myth that social media is mostly free doesn’t help, either. Yes, most of the tools and websites out there are free to use and join, but it’s still your time spent learning these things, which is where the cost comes in. And it’s often an unrecoverable loss of time (and ultimately money) if you can’t make good of your efforts.

Avoid anti-social networking

So if you now overlay social media with the extended laws, enactable by the ASA, and then add in the aforementioned ambiguity of compliance amongst those businesses new to social media who have probably never done any advertising or marketing before, there’s a potential for inadvertent illegality.

Because the web is such an open venue, your business has the potential of reaching out to far more people than any regular marketing channel, such as mail shot, or a telesales campaign. Many of these people will not be native to Britain. So that tongue-in-cheek joke on your home page or a recent blog article could be hugely offensive to some.

I don’t want this to sound like a scare story, or to look like a cattle prod to marshal you, the reader, towards Octane. I just hope that, between now and September, the government and the Advertising Standards Authority do a good enough job of educating businesses.

Limiting your liability

There is always risk. That’s life. As a business owner, I create risk every time I engage in a client project. If I can limit the liability of a client in some way, averting an advertising snafu, or a marketing mishap, that’s a job well done.

Caught on camera

So you want an example? Photography. This is one of the most misunderstood areas in design. Photography can be a machine-like process, such a product photography. But it can also be an art form. It is often in the case of the latter that a photograph is used without permission and without a royalty payment to the copyright owner.

It’s a huge problem, but it’s so huge, people often feel it’s not like breaking a real law. And because it’s such a huge problem, it’s only those who make the mistake of infringing copyright in huge way (like in a TV or magazine advert, a poster campaign, or from September, if in a social media marketing campaign) that get caught.

The advise I give to my clients is simple; buy the photograph that you like. Once they do that, we’re all covered.

Demonstrate your difference

James Good, a design and illustrator uses the slogan: demonstrate your difference. It’s as succinct a question anyone could ask of a business. In this sense, it’s perfectly applicable, because it demands that we demonstrate not just how good we are, but how much trust our clients have in our abilities.

By working within the remit of legislation, and making this clear to my clients, I would be demonstrating a level of knowledge that instills a sense of trust — I would be, in effect, protecting my client (and myself) from possible prosecution.

Of course, I’ve yet to encounter a situation where I was asked to do anything that was offensive or misleading. But a knowledge of the law hints at a greater understanding.

So what do we take away from this new regulatory extension? First of all, we work within those regulations. Secondly, we use our knowledge of not just advertising standards but of any other law that our clients would benefit from. And thirdly, we keep on teaching as good as we learn.


Wayne unwillingly goes wireless for the weekend

As I write, my iPhone is perched on the side of my MacBook Pro, wirelessly tethering me to the world wide web. This isn’t through choice, but as a result of British Telecom having land line problems between themselves and my street, and Orange’s 3G coverage being sufficient to keep me going in the meantime.

British Telecom broadband blues

So how does a guy like me get by without broadband access? Because of where I live, I never had great broadband coverage to begin with — the village where I live is very much at the end of the line, so the potency of the connection has, by this point, dropped off dramatically, and one megabyte is all that can be mustered.

I first noticed a problem with connection on Saturday morning, while trying to check my email over cornflakes. I didn’t have much time because I was due out for an early meet-up with the guys from the gym to go shooting at a local gun club, a first for me.

Anyway, I soon realized there was no connection. I called British Telecom and their automated system confirmed there was a fault and sent me a couple of text messages, one giving an estimated time for when the line would be fixed. In the meantime, I had my iPhone.

I’ve since tried finding out why telephony access is down for my entire street on the British Telecom website, but they only provide a bland and vague statement, which asks that I contact (a presumably automated system on) a telephone number for more details, which is sadly ironic, given I was on their business support website at the time.

Things look brighter with Orange

On my return later in the day, the line was still dead, so I decided to contact Orange, the mobile service provider for my iPhone, to see what tethering packages they had. In fairness to them, it wasn’t entirely their fault that I spent the best part of fifteen minutes trying to find the right number, both in the printed documentation I got with the iPhone and on their website. That said, the website should be much clearer in that regard.

Eventually, I got through to a guy called Steve and I paid five pounds for the 500 megabyte tethering add-on for my account, and qualified for a 10% discount for being a long-standing customer (for several years), although there was some initial confusion about this because their system showed that a 10% discount already existed on my account, which apparently shouldn’t have. After a quick squint at my last two bills from Orange, I couldn’t find anything about that.

Moments after the call ended, I got a text message from Orange, telling me to turn my iPhone off and then on again and I would have tethering access.

At the end of my tether?

I suspected there were some issues with tethering an iPhone to my version of OS X (10.4.11 and not the most recent). I was right. I would have preferred to connect my iPhone physically, via the USB cable, but my MacBook Pro wasn’t having any of that.

A very mild case of Bluetooth ache

So I had to use Bluetooth, which didn’t exactly fill me with joy. However, the connection is brisk and reliable, aided by the fact that the 3G coverage by Orange is, over all, very good.

Aside from the USB issue, connecting my MacBook Pro to my iPhone was straightforward. I wouldn’t say it was simple because it’s not a core everyday activity, so it’s a bunch of options inside Settings on the iPhone and several more on the MacBook Pro. So even by Apple’s much vaunted standards in simplicity, I can see people easily coming unstuck here. However, I must allow for mitigating circumstances; those being me not using the most up-to-date version of OS X.

Of course, this being Bluetooth, proximity is everything — the closer the two coupled (or “paired”) devices are, the faster the connection. So my iPhone is delicately balanced on several cables protruding out of the side of my MacBook Pro.

Going 100% wireless, even if just for a short while

Is it possible for a web designer and developer to go 100% wireless? For now, yes. However, this is the weekend and I’ve not needed to shunt large files around. As a designer and a programmer, my needs can vary dramatically. Only this last week or so, I’ve been:

  1. creating videos for an up-coming WordPress ebook, which I’ve uploaded to Octane’s own Channel on YouTube;
  2. working on some designs for a client website, sending emails containing design drafts created in Adobe Photoshop;
  3. making changes to the Octane website, some of which use data from BrightKite, a location-based photo sharing and messaging service;
  4. while yesterday, I was uploading the videos and photos I’d taken at the shooting club onto Facebook, via my iPhone.

While we’re on the subject, join Octane on Facebook and get all of the latest business tips and advice, and become part of a growing community.

So that gives you some idea how diverse my activities can be, all of which are doable on a one megabyte connection, some of which doable on the 3G connection I have right now.

To be perfectly honest, I’d be screwed / lost without my iPhone. I can genuinely run certain aspects of my business while on the move. This really comes into play when I’m mobile and my clients need things then and there.

Recently, I’ve been toying with the idea of getting rid of the business telephone number and just using my mobile number instead, or even using other messaging services. But that’s a long-term plan.

Speaking of the long-term, mobile broadband will become much more commonplace and, to some extent, nudge out the need for a physical connection, allowing people to become even more mobile. However, costs are an issue right now, even in connections speeds aren’t.

For myself right now, any connection will do.


Add multiple searchable content areas in WordPress with custom fields (video tutorial)

WordPress is more than just blogging software. It’s now a genuine, simple and cost effective way for teams of people to manage content. WordPress isn’t perfect — you only get the one content area, which isn’t ideal. Here I’ll explain a work around that’s both simple and effective.

In lieu of the WordPress ebook I’m working on (which is close to going live, by the way), here’s an advanced topic for the power WordPress users amongst you. If you’re not a power user, but understand the benefits of what this article discusses, let me know and I can certainly help out.

Here I am, re-working the Octane website from scratch. I have all these design ideas, but they all break when I take into account how WordPress 2.9 doesn’t allow for multiple content areas, which is a real shame.

A few months previously, I’d been playing around with custom fields for a client website — I’d used them to store information for the main navigation on the website, such as a shorter name for each Page to use in the navigation, and a value to tell the Plugin which Pages to include and exclude. So this got me thinking.

Can I use custom fields as content areas?

And the answer is a big fat yes! That said, anyone who’s used custom fields will know that you don’t get a fancy editor for your content; all you have is this plain text box. That itself could be the cue for a Plugin, but right then and there, it wasn’t an issue.

So that we know where all of this is going, I’ll explain what I was doing. I wanted to add blocks of text (containing headers, regular paragraph text and lists) to my Pages and then be able to add graphical devices in between.

Add the content into the custom fields

First things first, you need to add your content.

  1. Either edit or add a new Page or Post.
  2. Scroll down to the “Custom Fields” box.
  3. Under the “Name” label, either choose from a previous custom field from the drop-down / pop-up, or click the “Enter new” link button beneath it and type the name.
  4. Under the “Value” label, either type in or paste you content.
  5. Now click the “Add Custom Field” button.
  6. If this is a new Page or Post, be sure to either save draft or publish. If it’s a previous Page or Post, you don’t even need to update.

Add the custom field data to your theme

Now that you have your content added into custom fields, the next thing is to get that content into your theme. I don’t know where you’re placing any of this, so all I can do is explain how you pull your custom field content in.

  1. Select the place in your Page or Post theme file where you want your custom field data to appear.
  2. Paste the code below into that area.
  3. Swap out where it says: “features” with the name of your custom field.
<?php $block = get_post_meta($post->ID, 'name_of_custom_field'); if (!empty($block)) { foreach(($block) as $blocks) { echo $blocks; } } ?>

Keep in mind, you can call custom field meta data from outside of The Loop — which is to say, you don’t need to be inside the loop that WordPress uses to summon up data about a particular Post or Page.

Making your custom fields conditional

This code runs a check to make sure there’s data in the custom field. So, for example, you could invoke a layer in your Page or Post only if there’s content present:

<?php $block = get_post_meta($post->ID, 'name_of_custom_field');
if (!empty($block)) { ?>
<div class="name_of_division_class">
<?php
foreach(($block) as $blocks) { echo $blocks; }
?></div><?php
} ?>

But are custom fields searchable?

By default, no they’re not. So if you’re using them to store lots of content — such as product data, for example — people searching your WordPress-driven website won’t find any of the carefully curated content you’ve added into your custom fields. Dilemma.

However, there’s a fix for this, all thanks to John Hoff, who’s written a script that extends the scope of the WordPress search engine to grab custom field data, too — which you can download here.

I’ve taken his code (which was a Plugin in all but name) and turned it into an actual Plugin you can install into your copy of WordPress. Once installed, you’ll need to edit line 37, which includes the names of the custom fields you want searched:

$customs = Array('additional', 'benefits', 'features');

So, within the Array() item, just change names of the items within the single quotes.

Editing the name values of the custom fields array

To add a new custom field:

  1. add a comma after the last single quote;
  2. followed by a single quote;
  3. then the name of the custom field;
  4. followed by a closing single quote.

To remove a custom field:

  1. select comma before its name;
  2. and the last single quote after its name.

You’ve now learned how to turn WordPress into a more featured content management system, hopefully without breaking too much of a sweat. As always, if you get stuck, leave a comment and I’ll see if I can help out.


The all-new Octane website

What with all of the new projects (landing pages, websites, print design etc), things have been moving quickly around here. So quick, in fact, I’ve had to totally re-think and re-design the entire Octane website from scratch. So, what do you think?

Octane’s new website

And the reason for all of this furious industry is, well, you! The writing side of things is gradually (there are often consequential lead times for certain publications) picking up, thanks to Emily Cagle Communications, but the previous website and blog just wasn’t cutting it — if I want to appeal to the publications, I have to make it worth their while pointing their readers to me.

More emphasis has been placed on simplicity, speed of navigation and clarity. So when you’re reading an article, you’re not being distracted by links and buttons left and right. Instead, you just read down through the article, and when you’re done, you have the option to share the article on a bunch of popular social networks, or contact Octane for more information.

The wonders of WordPress

All of which is neatly squeezed into the ever accommodating WordPress — fast becoming less weblog and more content management system. I’ve been able to kid and cajole it into doing things you won’t be able to do with your common-or-garden variety installation of WordPress. Oh no. Much of what you see here is WordPress after being given the Octane treatment.

The knowledge

So what’s changed? Apart from everything, there’s a new home page, which is essentially the blog aspect, now called Knowledge. By pulling all of the content to the front of the website, all of the knowledge I’m pouring into Octane is right at your fingertips from the moment you step through the door.

And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, use the search tool. Or use the category browser further down the page.

Media — in the press

Then there’s the Media section further down the home page, which is where all of my publication materials can be found. Each article is an excerpt taken from the publication itself, accompanied by a link to the PDF, ready for download.

Community

Further down the home page is the Community panel. Here’s where you can hook up with Octane and me, Wayne Smallman, on either Twitter or Octane’s very own Page over on Facebook.

Designed for the future

Or as close as is feasible. You see, things just keep changing. Which is fine, assuming you’re ready for change. I am. There’s still more stuff I want to do and the new Octane website has the potential to meet those needs head-on.

If you’d like to know more about using WordPress to manage your website, or you’re interested in my web design services, let me know.