Aimee Hudson
28th November 2018 - 8 mins read
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ritish Gas, Seaworld, JP Morgan and author EL James are among those who, to put it politely, have seen their social media chats trend for the wrong reasons.

So, what can we learn from these social media disasters? How can you do it right?

 

Timing

Timing is a key component for social media Q&A success. Holding an interactive session when you are already creating headlines in the traditional media for the wrong reasons is a recipe for disaster.

British Gas was the victim of one of the more memorable scheduling disasters, opting to give customers the opportunity to ask Customer Services Director Bert Piljls questions on the day it announced a 9.2 per cent price hike.


The #AskBG hashtag was used by thousands of customers airing their grievances and those who took the opportunity to poke fun at the energy giant.

The lesson here is clear - these social media sessions should be restricted to when you either have good news to tell or when you are not in the news at all.

 

Right person

In the same way you need the right person for media interviews, you must think carefully about who you are going to put forward for question and answer sessions.

You need someone who is senior enough to make decisions so that bland, generic responses can be avoided.

And some natural humour can be helpful.

But you also need someone who you can trust and who will need little moderation.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary is no stranger to controversy and a Twitter question and answer session a few years ago predictably created plenty of headlines.

Most controversial was his comment of ‘nice pic. Phwoaaarr’ to a question from a female customer, which led to allegations (and headlines) of sexism.

 

Memorable hashtag

Memorable hashtags can promote and create a buzz about your question and answer session. Ideally you want something short but still descriptive.

You should also check the hashtag is not being used for anything else.

And perhaps most importantly of all, make sure it can’t be misread – a lesson the promoters of singer Susan Boyle could have done with before they opted for #Susanalbumparty.

 

Show some self-awareness

Not every post you receive in these sessions is going to be on the subjects you want and some may mock what you are trying to achieve.

The key is to not take yourself too seriously and to respond with similar humour.

Although not strictly a question and answer session, Waitrose responded cleverly when its #WaitroseReasons hashtag was hijacked by posters making fun of its upper class reputation. It said it had found the tweets ‘funny’ and had ‘enjoyed reading most of them’. 

 

Prepare for the negatives

As with media interviews it is important to spend time considering the negative issues which could arise during the question and answer session.

Prepare lines to take which can be given in response and consider creating a page on your website which you can link through to for answers needing more than 140 characters.

 

Wider issues

As well as possible negative topics, it is also worth considering the wider issues which could arise during the question and answer session. These could be issues affecting the wider sector or perhaps some new Government policy which could have an impact on the industry. Currently, you could face questions about the impact Brexit or Donald Trump might have on the sector. Prepare some lines to take for these wider issues.

 

Not suitable for everyone

While a question and answer session may seem like a great way to boost engagement and get positive messages out, it is not a format that is suitable for everyone.

If your brand or area of work is divisive, the session will act like a magnet for critics and keyboard warriors.

When 50 Shades of Grey author E.L James held a Twitter Q&A it is fair to say it did not go to plan. As well as plenty of users taking advantage of the opportunity to question her writing ability, the author was also faced with more serious questions about her books promoting an abusive relationship.

Similarly, when SeaWorld held a #AskSeaWorld session it backfired massively, with people taking the opportunity to bring up animal welfare concerns and ask when the park would be closing down.

 

Promote

You need to promote your question and answer session ahead of the event. Begin posting about it a few days in advance using the hashtag you have opted for - this has the added benefit of enabling you to see any questions which come in early.

Also use your email lists and other social media networks to raise awareness of the sessions and encourage your employees to tell their friends.

 

Don’t be afraid to walk away

About the only thing JP Morgan got right about its infamous Twitter Q&A session was deciding to abandon the idea 24 hours before it was scheduled to take place.

The company found itself inundated with negative posts when it promoted a live chat with one of its executives, which was intended to be about leadership and careers advice.

 

With questions including ‘did you have a specific number of people’s lives you needed to ruin before you considered your business model a success?’ it was clear it had completely lost control of the hashtag.

Sensibly it took the decision to prevent further damage by returning to the drawing board.

 

Crisis plan

If your question and answer session does go ahead and goes horribly wrong, make sure you have a crisis plan in place to limit the damage, including how you will manage the media if it sparks their interest. 



We realise that these examples of social media Q&As could put you off holding one of your own. But that is not the aim. The idea is to make you aware of risks so that you can prepare for them and avoid making similar errors.

We firmly believe Q&As can generate highly productive conversations which can develop excitement around your brand and products. It just needs considered planning to avoid the pitfalls.

Mark Mars, Managing Director of Thirty Seven, said: “Just like an in-person press conference or an open discussion, Twitter Q&As provide a way for the audience to ask questions and hear responses directly from the host. But, all you need is Twitter. And anyone can do it.

"A Twitter Q&A is a great way to engage with your audience as it allows them the opportunity to talk to you in real-time conversation, in a more human way.

"Twitter Q&As are a great opportunity to get insightful feedback and for your audience to know you are taking their views seriously."

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Marketing

Writing skills you can steal from journalists

Adam Fisher 14th January 2019 — 6 mins read
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ut it is not just those in content marketing who face the pressure of having to write quality content on demand.

Journalists have to create attention grabbing-content every day.

So what skills can we steal from them to make our content better?

 

Keep it simple

One of the lessons I learned as a young journalist which really stuck with me was the need to keep my writing simple.

Good newspaper articles are concise, contain simple language and use basic sentence structures.

The simpler an article is to read the more people will be able to understand what it is saying. The average reading age of the UK population is generally considered to be around nine years.

And this is pertinent to content marketing.

All too often organisations inadvertently opt for content which creates barriers to comprehension and detracts from the message.

Let’s take something I saw from Lloyds Banks just before I settled down to write this blog. It was a quote in a document from chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio.

It said: “Our differentiated, customer focussed business model continues to deliver with our multi brand, multi-channel approach, cost leadership, low risk positioning, investment capacity and execution capabilities positioning us well for sustainable success in a digital world.”

There is so much about that sentence I don’t like. But the key issue is that no matter how often I read it, it does not make sense. And that is a real problem. If people don’t understand the content you produce they won’t stick with it.

So lose the big words, keep the sentences tight.

 

Write how you talk

This follows on quite nicely from the importance of keeping writing simple, because one of the best ways to do that is to focus on using the same language you use when you speak.

If I’m struggling to write something I think about how I would say it.

The other benefit of this approach is that it creates a chatty, informal style and natural flow – something journalists strive for in their stories.

To help achieve this, grammar rules sometimes go out of the window. For example, sentences can often start with ‘and’.

 

Research

In many cases, for journalists, the writing is actually the shortest part of the process of putting a story together.

Reporters spend lots of time gathering, looking at and assessing the validity of information in search of a story. This could be sourcing facts and figures, studying data and interviewing experts.

The more research you put into your content the more it will tell your readers things they don’t already know.

And that is a crucial way of ensuring it will stand out from all the other content which is available. 

 

Interview

Here’s a question. How many blogs do you see which include comments from a real person? How many newspaper stories do you see that don’t feature people?

One of the key differences between content and newspaper stories is that the stories always feature people.

And people are predominantly brought into stories through interviews.

Whether it is people in your own organisation or key influencers in the sector, getting the views, opinions and personalities of other people into your content can offer your readers something strong and different, as well as breathe life and add fresh impetus into existing content ideas.

A journalist’s contacts book is something they rely on heavily. Look through your contacts and consider who you could interview for your content.

You can find out more about using interviews in your content in this earlier blog.

 

Human

The way we consume stories and content has changed. Newspaper sales are in decline and people increasingly rely on social media and the internet to find out what is going on in the world.

But despite this evolution there is a constant – people still want stories about other people.

Human interest stories remain as powerful as ever, which is why ‘how does this affect people?’ is still the phrase you will hear most often in a newsroom.

And it is a key in producing content which draws in readers and keeps them engaged.

 

Inverted pyramid

The inverted pyramid is a writing model used by journalists to show how stories should be structured so that they get the most attention.

Essentially it shows that the most newsworthy part should be at the beginning. So; who, what, where, when, why and how are the questions journalists will look to answer in their opening paragraphs.

The next stage of the inverted pyramid structure is the important details and supporting information, including quotes and statistics. And the pyramid base is the general and background information.

The beauty of this structure is its simplicity which ensures stories are easy to follow for readers. If people can’t follow what you are writing then they quickly lose interest.

The only change to this structure for a content marketing point of view is that the last part of the pyramid should include some form of a call to action.

 

Focus on what’s new

If you consider what makes something newsworthy, then timeliness or topicality would be one of the crucial components.

We want to know the latest news and the latest trends. We are not interested in a rehash of something we already know.

So, look to bring your readers something new. Perhaps some new insight or a new way of looking at things. Or look to use topics that people are currently talking about to show how your product or service could have made a difference.

 

Thesaurus

A thesaurus can be a valuable tool for a journalist, but it’s one that comes with a note of caution.

A good reporter will use it to avoid annoying repetition in their writing, by finding alternative words.

But it is crucial it is not used to find more complicated words to make your writing appear more intelligent.

As a content marketer you are writing to inform and generate interest. But that will not happen if the audience does not understand the words you use.

 

Edit

Always ask yourself whether you could say the same thing in your writing without using as many words.

Journalists look to make their copy as tight as possible and similarly, you should look to edit your own content without fear.

This doesn’t mean you should always produce short-form content. It is about ensuring the words you use are the most effective. For example, the word ‘very’ often isn’t needed. ‘Many’ is tighter than ‘a lot of’.

I don’t think I have ever seen a journalist read their writing aloud in the newsroom, but if you can find somewhere quiet this is a good tip. If you find yourself falling over your words and struggling for breath then you need to simplify and rework your sentences. 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is a podcast or email marketing.

Emily Stonham
11th January 2019 - 9 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.