Social media is the real king maker

While there were many factors in the shock election results, for PR professionals, the role of the media and power of social is a game changer.

In 1992, The Sun claimed it was them ‘wot won it’ after John Major upset the odds to keep out Labour’s Neil Kinnock from Number 10.

Sun wot won it.jpgThey are iconic headlines and, while many have played down Kelvin MacKenzie’s bold claim, our national newspapers did held immense political and social power.

And this week, as we approached the snap general election, the headlines could easily have been lifted from the early 90s.


However, these damning front pages failed to stop a Labour party that has spent nearly two years in disarray with deep internal divisions, confounding the pollsters and securing 40% of the popular vote – just 2.4% behind the Conservatives.

It’s clear that social media is now the real king maker.

The power of social

So how is social media changing politics in the UK?

  1. Politics is no longer for the few

If you’re as old as me, you’ll remember how you used to update your Facebook status in the third person… Now it – along with Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and so on – are powerful places to share content, comment on news or events as they happen, give everyone a soapbox or a forum to debate with friends.

My news feed has been alive with political conversations. With people from all parties and perspectives, all walks of life, every bit of the country and demographic. With a smart phone politics is in our hands 24/7, delivered in bit size pieces, in films, in memes, with outrage and humour, shown to us by our friends.

It’s impossible to ignore. It’s much harder to not be part of the moment, not have an opinion , not get out and vote than ever before.

2. Social media is different to media. It’s social.

I know, it sounds obvious, but it’s not enough just to have an account and push out content every now and again.

Comparing Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May’s various platforms immediately shows the different levels of engagement in their personal brands and political message.

In an election that came down to leadership, much like with Trump and Clinton, this personal brand was so important.

Jeremy Corbyn far outweighed Theresa May  in terms of followers. His account appeared to be personal, rather than managed, and his posts received substantially more likes, retweets and shares.

He was able to reach and have a direct conversation with millions more people than Theresa May.

3. Content is the Prime Minister

Adapting the old adage that content is king – this election proved great, compelling and shareable content will beat direct advertising any day of the week.

In 2015, the Conservatives were rightly recognised as the masters of ads and ‘dark posts’ on Facebook as well as promoted ads across social media. Making the most of their focus group insights and voter data, they really honed their message to the individual.

This time, the Labour campaign countered this online attack through something far more powerful – endorsement.

They created content that people liked – actually liked as well as clicking the thumbs up. They connected to the message while enjoying or reacting to the meme, the film and so on.

Then they shared it and said to their friends – I believe in this, you should believe in it too.

4. Your social media says who you are – invest in it

Theresa May received a lot of a negatively because she refused to debate with the other party leaders on TV, her press visits were said to be tightly controlled and any questions from the public carefully managed.

Her social media accounts were equally stage managed and, despite this potential direct connection with millions voters, she failed to get her personality, as much as her message, across.

Theresa May was understandably missing from sofas of the Sunday politics shows, but Jeremy Corbyn was there and he’s on Facebook, on Twitter and Instagram too, sharing and commenting, continuing to build his personal brand.

Who knows if Theresa May will tweet again before she has to update her bio.


Six types of media interview disaster

In a 24/7 news world, there’s an almost unquenchable thirst for people to have their say on almost any subject.

The media therefore provide a fantastic opportunity for an organisation to talk directly to their audiences – whether it’s to promote, or defend, their product or performance. So PR teams spend a lot of time and money trying to help their spokespeople be brilliant ambassadors for the brand.

But it doesn’t always go to plan. Here’s six examples of when a 3-minute interview became a never-ending nightmare.

1. The hospital pass

One of the most painful interviews to watch. In 2012, George Osborne changed his mind on increasing fuel duty. Good news? Not for Chloe Smith, the treasury minister sent out to meet the press calling the then chancellor’s U-turn an ‘omnishambles’.

Lesson: Put forward the right person, even if it’s going to be a tough interview.


2. The robot (or the overprepared)

When the Barbie range was undergoing a facelift, the CEO decided to front the interviews and sell the new-look doll. Unfortunately she seemed to have been pre-programmed with a very limited suite of phrases…

Lesson: Prepare, repeat your key phrases, but it must be authentic and flexible.

3. Panic stations (or the underprepared)

Housing, and in particular affordable ones, is something very close to my heart. During the 2015 election campaign housing was also a big part of the Green party manifesto. Unfortunately, leader Natalie Bennett hit a brick wall when trying to remember the detail on LBC.

Lesson: Know your topic – which is why it’s better to have an expert rather than a ‘spokesperson’ fronting  interviews – and back up your messages with evidence.

4. The walker

I wanted to show ExxonMobil CEO Lawrance Rawl storming off Good Morning America after being interrogated about the Exxon Veldez oil spill – but I couldn’t find a clip online.

So, instead, here’s man of the moment President Donald Trump walking out on CNN in 1990. Looks like his dislike of the channel has been in the making for some time.

Lesson: Be prepared for tough questions, even if you’ve discussed the scope beforehand – and finish the interview.

5. The dodger

An interview with Conservative MP Michael Howard was Jeremy Paxman at his challenging best, repeatedly demanding a yes/no answer to his question.

Lesson: Answer the question.

6. Breaking the fourth wall

Interviews can be hard work, especially if you’ve done a lot and been asked the same question…a lot. But in this clip Quentin Tarantino breaks the ‘fourth wall’, revealing that the interview is really just a marketing strategy.

Lesson: You’ll have your motives for arranging or accepting an interview, to sell a product or manage reputation, but it shouldn’t become the topic of the interview itself.

Did I miss a great example? What’s your favourite interview disaster? Let me know what you think in the comments section.



Does #ukhousing need activism or slacktavism?

My arms hurt. It’s day 7 of my #22pushups challenge, the latest social media craze, where people are posting videos of themselves doing (in my case terrible) push ups.

Here’s my day one video, with a little help from my boy.

It’s got people engaging, sharing and talking about veteran mental health – an issue that doesn’t normally get attention. But is this just ‘slacktivism’? Do people just feel like they’re making a difference with minimal impact?

And is there anything #ukhousing can learn from these crazes?

The #22pushups challenge

The challenge was started by #22KILL, a campaign group based in the US – to honour those who serve and to raise awareness for veteran suicide prevention through education and empowerment.

The ‘22’ bit comes from a survey in 2013, which said 22 veterans commit suicide each day in the US.

Here in the UK, CombatStress, a mental health charity for veterans, is supporting the campaign, seeking donations to help those veterans left battling stress and depression.

But does it DO anything?

It’s a PR dream. Huge celebrity endorsement. Wall to wall media coverage around the world. Social media is stuffed full of people talking about the issue with their friends (for 22 days each!).

The problem is the original message can get lost in translation. It becomes just a challenge, rather than connected to the original cause or issue. And sometimes charities and causes bustle with each other for the online attention – and donations.

As I’ve done the challenge I’ve donated to Combat Stress, something I probably wouldn’t have done unless I’d taken part and gone on to find out more about the issue.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t donate to the last charity that posted something through my door, hassled me in the street or paid for an advert on the TV.

Another success story was the Ice Bucket Challenge. The money raised for ALS has left a lasting impression, as their infographic shows.

InfoGBut, as with all trends, the world moves on, and the issue often remains unsolved. This is never truer than the headlines about the Calais refugee camp running out of food as donations dry up – other issues have crowded it out, for now.

Is activism better?

Junior doctors are proving that activism can get your cause attention with a bit of rebellion. But will it ultimately get them the result they want?

I have an occasional photography blog on Facebook called One Million Lives. It’s a collection of photos and stories.

One incredible person I met was Angie Zelter, a campaigner and founder of a huge number of international pressure groups. She started her activism career chained to the fences of the US base at Greenham Common in the mid 1980s, protesting about the nuclear weapons there.

Angie_4_webThat passion has grown and intensified, and I met her outside one of the AWE (Atomic Weapon Establishment) sites in Berkshire in the summer, where she’d organised a month-long protest.

She was passionate, informed and has dedicated her life to this cause.

But despite this, media coverage was light, her message didn’t carry to the masses. MPs voted heavily in favour of renewing Trident just weeks later.

So what can housing learn?

#Ukhousing has felt that it’s struggled to get its voice heard for many years.

There have been some great campaigns, with lots of engagement – you can never doubt people working in the sector don’t believe in its importance or social purpose.

But we’ve not struck on a moment recently, mixing the activism – to fight for what we feel is right – with a slacktivism hook that gets people talking, engaging and sharing. That gets the housing crisis on the front page of the Daily Mail. That gets politicians clamouring for change.

The last time we had that powerful connection with the public was when Cathy Come Home appeared on our TV screens some 50 years ago.

We could do with another moment, but more than that, we need a movement.

A moment or a movement?

As Ken Loach said of Cathy Come Home, ‘a film isn’t a movement, it’s just a film. A film can agitate a little, illustrate, but it’s part of the process. Unless you organise, nothing much will happen – people turn off the telly or walk out of the cinema and that’s it’.

A moment is not enough for what we need.

Dan Slee asked Twitter this week what were the three main challenges facing the sector. It was a good list. Lack of money, lack of houses, welfare reform and so on.

As well as needing a long-term, non-political plan to meet the broad housing needs of the country, the main problem, in my view, is that housing’s stakeholder map encompasses everyone.

Whether you’re a politician, a landlord, a developer or a labourer. Whether you’re a renter, a homeowner, a landowner… or none of the above.

Everyone has a stake in the game.

As the sector comes under greater and greater pressure, housing communicators have a vital role to play in bringing people together through a shared cause.

This means getting the story right, absolutely. But this also means focusing on fostering the right relationships – strengthening some, rebooting others. With so much change politically this year, if anything now is the right time to take stock and rethink how those with a role in housing can make it work for everyone.

Yes, we need to agitate, to create a moment that connects people with housing – but it’s only through true, new and progressive relationships that we’ll build the homes our communities need, at prices they can afford.

Right, I’m off to film my first #HomeRun challenge.

Write with authenticity

The recent return of the MP expenses scandals, and the following, almost unbelievable graphic from @ConradHackett (which I stumbled across via @JoeSarling), got me thinking about authenticity in politics.

First of all, that incredible graphic.

Falsehead face-off

Without doubt, there can be no authenticity in politics if the spin doesn’t tally with the truth. And voters remember if you’re seen to go back on your word, just look at Nick Clegg.

While we should absolutely run this lie detector test on our own political leaders, I want to focus on how they say what they say, rather than what they’re saying.

Having worked in both journalism and PR for a while now, I’ve both received and written my fair share of corporate quotes. But what’s the trick in making them feel real? How do you make a connection with your audience?

Here are some quotes from three politicians. You may recognise some of them, but do they feel authentic?

“When Donald Trump says there are parts of London that are ‘no go’ areas, I think he’s betraying a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him frankly unfit to hold the office of President of the United States.”

“Extending the grant in a sustainable way ensures more than 100,000 people will benefit from financial support when purchasing these cheap-to-run and green cars. We are determined to keep Britain at the forefront of the technology, increasing our support for plug-in vehicles to £600 million over the next 5 years to cut emissions, create jobs and support our cutting-edge industries.”

“Treat people with respect, treat people as you would wish to be treated yourself. Listen to their views, agree or disagree but have that debate. Cut out the personal abuse, cut out the cyber-bullying and especially the misogynistic abuse online and let’s get on bringing real values back into politics.”

I’m obviously being a bit unfair here, comparing two big characters with strong voices to a quote from a government press release, but you can see the stark difference.

Writing authentically is so important – whether in the political, B2B or B2C arena. It can build or erode trust, it can win or lose votes or sales.

So, whether you’re writing for a politician, a CEO or a housing officer, here are my five tips to create authentic quotes:

1. What are you trying to achieve?

Whatever else you do, be clear on your objectives from the start. What is the main message you want people to take away? What are you hoping people will feel, think or do having read your piece?

2. Know yourself (or the client)

We can’t, and shouldn’t, all talk like Boris Johnson. But you can hear him saying his quote. And if you’ve read something that doesn’t sound like him, it immediately feels false, undermining the message. Know your (or your client’s) stylistic flourishes, use them, sparingly, to make it feel like personal and real. And always read your quotes out loud, do they sound authentic?

3. What’s the point?

It’s pretty standard practice to weave the main messages, facts and figures into the quote; simply because the journalist can’t mess around with that bit. But trust the journalist to do their job and write a decent, balanced story. They will, rightly, chop out anything that’s not useful or interesting to their audience.

And don’t overload the quote with facts and figures, don’t try and chuck everything in. While the eye is naturally drawn to numbers within copy, which can be a useful trick, be ruthless about what makes the cut.

Just include the best figure, one that supports your story the strongest – otherwise people will just drift over the quote and not take anything away at all.

4. Know the customer

Remember the old saying that you can never please all of the people all of the time. So be really clear about who you are writing for, what do you want this person to think, feel or do? What tone and language resonates with them?

5. It’s a conversation – what are people saying back?

In the modern, digital world, feedback is pretty immediate. One-way communication is over.

So don’t just evaluate the reach of the message, evaluate the impact. This is easier of course if it’s linked to sales uplift or potential leads, but don’t forget to look at the tone of the article. Take a deep breath and go ‘below the line’, see what the reaction is like in the comments section.

Check out what people are saying on social media, they’ll soon tell you if you or your client are not being authentic.


Answers: In case you weren’t sure the quotes were from Boris Johnson, Andrew Jones and Jeremy Corbyn.