The Social Web for SMEs & NGOs

Dear SME and NGO’s: The text below was published in October 2009. A newer 2010 article may provide yet further insight: Social Media Elementals.


The following information is not supplied as legal advice or consultancy, it’s quite simply a small offering of my continually developing experience and thought process. If you are a small business owner or third sector employee I hope it proves useful by delivering food for thought.

I am not a Computer Programmer or Web Developer, nor am I a Social Media Consultant, but I do pay them to work alongside me.

I designed and launched this very website 6 months ago but due to time limitations and cashflow its never had all the features I’d ideally like. However, during the past 6 months it has still received over 11,000 visits, equating to over 20,000 page views. In terms of well known blogs or online content resources these statistics are minuscule but I think they may prove to be of interest given some key facts: at no point have I spent any money on marketing or print promotion, nor have I paid for services like Google Adwords or Search Engine Optimization (SEO); but perhaps even more interestingly ‘I deliver services based on experience and ideas, I don’t actually sell any online products’ and I’ve written no more than 22 blog posts (this one now being the 23rd).

I decided to write this blog post for five key reasons:
1) a new client asked me my thoughts on evolving their existing website and content to make it more engaging, measurable and profitable. 2) over recent years many organizations and individuals have approached me to ask similar questions. 3) increasingly I meet traditional marketing folk who now call themselves ‘Social Media Marketeers & Consultants‘ because they’ve recently got a blog and started promoting their clients using Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. 4) on a daily basis I see utterly useless blog posts with titles like: ’20 ways to make money from your website’, ’50 ways to get your website noticed’, ‘Social Media is the new sales model’ and ‘Top 10 Twitter Tips’… but the 5th and most important reason I decided to publish this post is because I’ve seen very few consultancies or marketeers actually practicing and demonstrating what they preach by making public their very own statistics, mistakes and experiences (separate from the rarely released client case study).

Surely people and organizations are defined by what they actually do, not by what they tell others to do.

Social Media is now a trend, and sadly many individuals and organizations have a tendency to follow the crowd without really questioning or understanding if its actually the right direction or medium for them.

Before you read any further I must make it clear that this very site was not cheap to setup, I spent a lot of my own billable time designing the brand aesthetic and planning the scalable site functionality that sits somewhat behind the scenes, and even though I have long-term partnerships with trusted developers it still cost me over £3000 of my own physical cash to implement at the standard I’d expect (I even used a FREE open-source platform called WordPress) – if I’d delivered the same specification and man hours to a client I would have charged them £6,500 minimum.

Now with the above said, and given my day to day experience of clients, its likely you’ll be sat on one side of a dividing line, one side will be of the opinion that £6,500 is far too expensive for ‘a simple website with no payment facilities’, and the others will be sat enthusiastically amongst some large competitors, but still telling themselves and others that they haven’t got enough budget to create the ‘shiniest website with all the trendy features’. I will now attempt to navigate the pro’s and con’s of such a dividing line, but first I offer some context and much needed background:

I was introduced to The Internet and World Wide Web in 1997 (aged 17), by which time I’d already become the family help-desk for programming central heating systems, repairing Microsoft Office macro viruses and fixing Microsoft Windows 3.11 / 95 issues. I was also the sales assistant at Staples who sold ‘the right product, not the most expensive business machine’ to the clueless parent customers who wanted a computer for young Jimmy to do his home-work on. I used plain English and simple explanations instead of jargon terms like Mhz, RAM and Macro Virus.

Before Google was founded in 1998 I’d already designed and hand-coded my first commercial client website compliant with HTML 3.2 and I’d become truly inspired by the potential of digital technologies and shiny things. By early 1999 I’d purchased my first domain name and done enough commercial work to fund my first mobile phone. I purchased my first Apple in 2001 but I’d been using Apple Macintosh’s and Photoshop since Art College in 1996.

I think its safe for me to call myself an early adopter (some might say Geek), but its also clear that I didn’t and couldn’t envisage the Digital World in which we live today, nor could I imagine that I’d now be recognized by the leading technology brand that built my first mobile handset or be facilitating thinking at the UK’s largest specialist Social Media Agency.

With the above outlined I will say again: I am not a Computer Programmer or Web Developer, nor am I a Social Media Consultant. I am a Creative Midwife™ and Joiner-of-Dots; I deliver ‘What Can Be’ by joining dots between ideas, people and technologies.

I must also make clear that my mind and enthusiasm for technology has never been driven by consumerism or the latest materialistic fashion. I am driven by possibility and I believe: 1) if something is not broken then there is no need to fix it. 2) form follows function. 3) if you plan and choose well you buy few. 4) if you opt for the cheapest option it will undoubtedly prove to be the most expensive in the long-term. 5) an author can’t engage everyone by telling a single inspirational story, but if they choose to release a range of short stories amongst a group, at least one is likely to be shared (amongst or beyond the group) to inspire more engagement with their works.

As an insight to belief number three: the 1st Generation iPhone (2G) I purchased in 2007 is still my chosen mobile phone handset today (its only my third mobile phone in over ten years). Sure I use almost every feature it has to offer but I see no real ‘sustainable’ benefit in upgrading it to the latest iPhone 3GS (or any other device currently on the market). My first mobile phone was a Nokia 6110 purchased in 1999, in 2003 I purchased a Sony CMD Z7 which I used for four years until my iPhone purchase (its also worth noting that I gave my Sony CMD Z7 to my dad and although he doesn’t use the Email or Mobile Internet functionality for which I bought it, he does still use it today).

Likewise to my iPhone, neither of the early devices were the cheapest but because I understood exactly what I needed them to do and how my requirements for them might evolve I managed to make each investment last 4 years (which in terms of technology is a very long time indeed). Yes there is now a newer version of the iPhone available but its not that much quicker than the one I bought two years ago, and even though the new release has video capability, the camera quality still isn’t good enough for me to do with it what I’d like. Even now, probably a year before such a device is released, I can say that my next handset will allow me to create both low and high-quality image/video content at different resolutions at the flick of a switch, the camera lens will swivel 360° and have zoom functionality, it will allow me to live-stream video to the internet without a need for a permanent WiFi connection, as well as be equipped with the existing Mac compatible syncing and web-based feature-set I require for my work (including all the online conversation and application integration I already use on a daily basis). You might also be interested to know that I did in fact type-up, upload and edit parts of this blog post via an iPhone WordPress application; I also have an iPhone application that enables me to view the real-time Google Analytics for this very site.

During recent years my career and enthusiasm has left me privileged enough to play with the latest gadgets and Nokia prototypes, I’ve embraced social networking head-on (I started using twitter.com on 16 December 2007, at least a year after I’d joined Facebook), and before most people had even heard the term ‘Social Media’ I was employing the talents of ‘now widely recognized professionals’ such as Social Media Journalist Christian Payne (@Documentally) and Social & Learning Technologist Josie Fraser (@JosieFraser). More recently I find myself pioneering video conversation platforms like Phreadz and exploring the potential of live-streamed video direct to (and from) a mobile device.

When I purchased my first mobile phone in 1999 I perceived its function as being ‘a central point of contact for me to make and receive phonecalls and txts whilst mobile, so I could keep in touch with and be contacted by others’. In hindsight I now believe the role of the mobile device has evolved to be much broader (some might say its always needed a broader description).

I now suggest it is a device to ‘manage and enhance communication, connection, expression, education and inspiration’ that helps deliver ‘mobile conversation, interaction and content to not only my fingertips and senses but those of my community, wherever we are’ – thus making engaging media increasingly accessible and more ‘digitally social’.

And being bold I suggest that such a description should be the leading thought amongst anyone building or commissioning websites or online marketing from this day forward.

Please note I use the term ‘digitally social’ as a precautionary phrase because I don’t want anyone to think that I see digital ‘virtual-world’ communication as a superior replacement to actual face-to-face ‘real-world’ interaction when in fact I don’t believe anything will ever be better than a conversation in a ‘real-world’ café over coffee or a Guinness.

The main point I’m trying to make here is that ‘socially engaging communication’ does not take the form of a traditionally published press release or one-directional article on a static website or homepage. It does in fact arrive in various distributable *multi-directional* shapes and sizes which can be shared across and added to all manner of other websites, devices and applications, and accessed everywhere and anywhere, through monitor, touchscreen, keypad or API, and more often than not without any need for a user login. Most importantly, because different people communicate in different ways and like to be communicated to in different ways, conversational and engaging content is multi-channel, it takes the form of videos, images, text, audio, links and any other expressive medium you care to think up.

Back in 1997, whilst I was hand-coding my first websites, I watched businesses discover the Internet trend, they very quickly went from spending £6,500 on the design and print of 8,000 brochures, to having expectations of ‘spending less’ but instantly having more than 8,000 potential customers on their website. Just like many others at the time, I perceived a business website as an online version of a business brochure (with a few interactive bits thrown in to enhance engagement) but for at least the past four years I’ve understood, created and interacted with websites, brands and online content in a completely different way. But I suggest that many key folk still haven’t noticed this fundamental evolutionary shift.

It appears that a difference in perception now forms a fundamental barrier in brand communication, social engagement and most importantly ‘positive social change’ – and I can’t help but feel that many businesses and NGOs (who are potentially key ‘content producers’ and ‘citizen journalists’ for social good) haven’t yet grasped a simple related fact:

Online communication is no longer about having a web-based brochure containing one-directional promotional spiel supported by some retouched photos, a list of positive testimonials and a contact form; nor is it about setting up your own ‘walled and branded’ social network or forum. It is actually about *being ready and prepared* to connect with people on their terms, where they like to hangout, without giving them a sales pitch or trying to distract them with an advertising banner, but by providing them with some useful, thought provoking and inspirational content of actual substance (something that they want to share or engage with). Having a website is in fact only a small part of a much larger network of communication activity (both online and offline), where engaging content, personal inspiration and useful community connection actually rises above the noise – to an inter-connected and open domain; a platform for people to promote your message, support your values and inspire others to engage with you directly – welcome to the social web!

The Web Trend Map below may help put your business website into perspective (please remember that this image is only a small section of a much bigger picture).

ai-web-trend-map

Image: http://informationarchitects.jp : Web Trend Map 3 Original image uploaded and licensed under creative commons by Evitc

Now I’ll try to explain how I followed my outlined principles to float above the noise and deliver over 20,000 page views within 6 months; only publishing 22 blog posts and without spending anything on marketing or promotion (or generating any SPAM or eNewsletters).
I’ll also explain what I believe to be my return on investment [ROI], plus the additional social return on investment [SROI].

I intend to explore how I implemented WordPress.Org as both a Content Management System (CMS) and Blogging Platform to develop a scalable and adaptable website with a life expectancy of at least two years (hopefully four years). I’ll cover both my WordPress Statistics, Google Analytics, Bit.ly URL Monitoring, Comments and Trackbacks. I’ll cover my use of Social Media and what value and time I give to it (in addition to my continuous client deliverables, real-world networking, event attending and presentation commitments). I will also cover the value a well executed design instantly added to my site in regards to Google Rankings and FREE Third Party Promotion. I’ll explain why I haven’t yet paid for Google Adwords or Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I’ll close by trying to explain my current Google Ranking and so called ‘strategy’ for the next 6 months.

To be continued… this document is constantly evolving, now replaced by this.

1 Comment

Ben Walker

about 5 years ago

Loving this so far, Carl. I'm intrigued and fascinated by the way you're approaching the whole thing, and pleasantly surprised that we're both 1980 kids. ;)

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