“But what do I say?” – How your business can use social media to engage audiences.

Thank you to all who have listened to my Social Media talk at various events over the last year. That includes The Mill Breakfast Club on 4 September 2014 and various BOLD Group Business Network breakfasts and workshops around Norfolk. It was a pleasure to meet you and I hope you found the discussions interesting and useful.

This post is based on those talks. However, I have expanded it to look at how effective engagement can help you communicate your corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. Please join the conversation by commenting below.

How to use social media to support your community and build your brand

The following idea, on how you can use social media to build your reputation as a good corporate citizen, applies to every business no matter what its size (here corporate doesn’t just mean big). At the same time, it will give you something interesting and useful to say on social media – rather than saying nothing (or worse yet, saying something boring). This idea encapsulates my belief that engaging conversations build strong communities by uniting people around shared values and interests.

Huw Sayer - social media advisor.

Norfolk Magazine – January 2013 @HuwSayer – “A great Norfolk online ambassador.”

Social media is a huge subject but I want to focus on what to say and how to engage your audiences, which is what really matters. However, before I start, I am going to make three assumptions about you and your business:

  1. You use social media for business to find and engage with your audiences
  2. You want to be seen to be socially responsible (not irresponsible or indifferent)
  3. You understand you have a brand (even as a sole trader) and that building its credibility (familiarity and favourability) with your audiences takes time and care.

A quick aside:

Your social responsibility might be your next big opportunity

With those assumptions in mind, I just want to say a brief word about what I mean by good CSR. Being socially responsible doesn’t simply mean complying with laws governing the social aspects of businesses, such as working conditions, health and safety, or waste disposal. A good CSR strategy goes beyond compliance and looks for ways to turn each socially desirable action into a competitive advantage – one that creates marketing or, better still, real business opportunities.

For instance (purely hypothetical), you have a legal responsibility to comply with the WEEE Directive on the disposal of electronic goods. A marketing opportunity might involve reconditioning old computers and donating them to local schools. A business opportunity might involve developing a low margin, high volume line of cheap recycled computers for sale to individuals and communities.

Listening is the key to understanding

To know what those marketing and business opportunities might be, it pays to know your audiences both internal and external extremely well. Social media platforms not only can help you engage but also can help you listen to those audiences. Good listening is the key to productive conversations.
End of aside.

What do you say after you say hello?

There are plenty of good resources explaining the why and how of setting up and managing social media accounts for business. However, they tend to deal with the mechanics: what to say in your profile, how to analyse your RTs, when’s the best time to post, how best to use lists. Few really get down to the essential ‘What’ of social media, which is to engage and influence by listening, responding, reciprocating and sharing.

The three most important things to remember about social media:

  1. The clue to using social media is in the name – it is social (and sociable) not broadcast – and good social discourse (particularly in the public domain) thrives on engaging conversations
  2. People value authenticity and relevance both in others and in their conversations – they want a mix of interesting, useful, entertaining and shareable information – and they prefer to get it from people who share their values
  3. Constantly selling yourself (or your service) is boring – some might even say it is arrogant or vain – either way, it is a one-sided conversation that turns people off and undermines your brand’s credibility.

So how do you turn these three guiding principles into good conversations? My advice is to remember the 80/20 rule of social media:

  • Avoid the mistake of point 3 by making sure no more than 20% of what you say is directly sales related (and even then it needs to be subtle – we might deal with that in a later post).
  • Use the remaining 80% of your posts to build brand familiarity and favourability by giving your audiences what they value (see point 2) – authentic conversations.

Even if you don’t buy into this idea of using social media for CSR activity, the 80/20 rule can still help you create an effective social media strategy. However, since you are spending time on social media, you may as well use it wisely to do some good and build brand favourability in the process.  If you can’t be a financial philanthropist, you can at least be a time philanthropist by dedicating much of your 80% activity to supporting your local community or promoting socially responsible activities.

What socially responsible activities might resonate with your audience?

I’d suggest the same things that resonate with most people: things that benefit them, their families, their friends, their businesses and their communities. And to understand what those things are, you have to think local – by which I mean local to your audiences (and to understand what your audience thinks of as ‘local’ or ‘community’ you will need to listen to them – see my earlier point).

Using your 80% wisely

Here are four suggestions for what you might talk about or even champion for 80% of your social media time – think of these as themes and look for specifics within your own business.

  1. Things your team does to make your audience’s community better, safer, cleaner, happier, friendlier or more prosperous. Particularly if it involves working collaboratively with the community – since people tend to like team players. For instance, organising a mass litter pick, learning first aid (life skills that save lives), or fund raising for a local school or charity.
  2. Social or cultural events going on in the community – charity runs, free events at public libraries, new exhibitions at local public galleries and museums, village fêtes, county-wide public consultations.
  3. Things you have done in your business or personal life to become environmentally friendly – such as reducing waste, increasing recycling, planting wild flowers, planting trees to offset carbon emissions, or supporting a cycle to work scheme.
  4. Social causes that matter to both you and your audience (remember, this has to be authentic – so choose carefully don’t just leap on a bandwagon and hope it makes you look good). These could range from committing to buy local and fair trade products and services, to taking on apprentices, offering flexible working, paying a living wage rather than just the minimum wage, or supporting diversity and opportunity for all in business and society.

As I’ve said before, communities are stronger when they work together. Look around you – identify your audiences and your shared communities of geography or interest. Then work out how you can use your social media time to support and improve those communities – it’s not just good business sense, you’ll find it personally rewarding too.

If you want to discuss these ideas further, please contact me today.

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please help a grieving child by donating £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

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Thank you for reading

This is one in an occasional series of posts about social media and business communications. If you find them interesting or useful, please give them a star or five and share with others. I hope you will join the conversation by adding your views below or contacting me on twitter or Google+

Kind regards

Huw 

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

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Fabulous #food #science research with @IFRScience in Norwich – finding out more for #NFDF2014.

If you read my earlier #NFDF2014 post about the Norwich Research Park, you will know Norfolk is home to an internationally respected cluster of bioscience institutes. One of these is the Institute of Food Research (IFR), which specialises in exploring the relationship between food and health. This includes researching the importance of gut bacteria to good health, preventing food related illnesses and developing healthier, more sustainable foods (including ways to reduce and reuse food waste).

IFR on Norwich Research Park

IFR on Norwich Research Park

In early June, I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Tim Brocklehurst to find out a bit more about IFR’s research, including its work with commercial businesses. Tim started by explaining the basic difference between the John Innes Centre (JIC) and the IFR. “JIC’s focus in on how to grow more crops (pre-farm gate products). Whereas the IFR is looking at how we convert primary production into safe, nutritious, food (post-farm gate products) for the consumer.”

“So while JIC is concerned with, say, increasing wheat yields, we want to know if it is the right wheat for people’s health needs and how we can improve it. This might mean looking at how to change the level of long-chain sugar molecules (amylopectin and amylose) in wheat, which can influence diabetes, or exploring the way gut bacteria breaks down wheat starch and the effect this has on a person’s calorie intake. We are also interested in the way gut bacteria signals to the brain that we are full – the ‘satiety’ response.”

You are what you eat – possibly

The role of gut bacteria (or gut flora, if you prefer) in human health is pretty amazing – as are the number of different bacteria in our stomach. As some scientists like to point out, from the bacteria’s point of view we are just a giant bacteria hotel. There are more bacteria cells in our body (some 10 to the power of 13) than there are mammalian cells – and there are over 3,000 different species of bacteria in our gut. These micro-organisms control how we process food, absorb calories and vitamins, and even how we feel.

Image of gut bacteria - somewhat enlarged - courtesy of IFR.

Image of gut bacteria – somewhat enlarged – courtesy of IFR.

“There is increasing evidence of a link between the state of our gut flora and health problems such as inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis),” says Tim, “as well as our mood swings. And there is some evidence that re-balancing the flora (using faecal transplants) might help reduce the symptoms of some of these ailments. However, this is a hugely complex area – we have to be careful about how we interpret the evidence and related claims, which is why we need to conduct more research to gather sufficient data.”

Growing capabilities

That is one of the many reasons why a proposed new Centre for Food and Health (CFH) will be so important not just for the Norwich Research Park but for food science in this country.

“The CFH will effectively be an ‘IFR Plus’,” explains Tim, “integrating our expertise with the skills of colleagues at JIC, The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), and the University Hospital. The presence of TGAC is particularly important because its high-speed gene sequencing capabilities enable us to conduct meta-genomic analysis on a scale we could only have dreamt of 10 years ago. We can now ask very detailed questions about what happens at the genetic level and the way diet might affect the genetic expression of proteins.”

Such genetic analysis may in time lead to the development of personalised nutrition, as well as personalised treatment for a range of diet related ailments. This is very exciting for the scientists but also creates significant business opportunities, which is why IFR is heading up a bid for European Union funding to set up a Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) specialising in food innovation. “The idea is to start with the scientific research and then partner with the business community to create new products, new jobs and economic growth to fund further research.”

From Farmer to Pharma

According to a recent independent report, every £1 invested the IFR already returns over £8 to the UK economy through the commercialisation of its research and its support for businesses. It does this through a number of routes, including the Food and Health Network, which Tim heads up. “The Network is our knowledge exchange for colleagues in the food, drink and health related industries.”

The IFR has also set up IFR Extra to work with companies on new product development, product enhancement and product safety. IFR Extra is also looking at ways to lower manufacturing costs by saving energy and water and reducing food waste, including working with partners on The Biorefinery Centre (also located on the Research Park) to convert waste into fuel.

Talented IFR scientists doing ground breaking research.

Talented IFR scientists doing ground breaking research.

“This is a very exciting time to be a food scientist,” says Tim. “Not only is food the UK’s largest manufacturing sector but also globally we face huge challenges in producing enough safe and healthy food to feed a rapidly growing population, and doing so sustainably. This means there are numerous opportunities in both research and business to make a real difference to public health.

“Whether you want to do primary research to inform public policy (on say the level of sugar in food), work on improving foods or develop new medical treatments, this is the field to be in. The Norwich Research Park is already one of Europe’s largest single-site concentrations of research in Food, Health and Environmental Sciences – and it is set to grow rapidly over the next few years. So if you are a keen student or graduate, you should definitely look at the opportunities to work here.”

Thank you for your time Tim and a fascinating morning’s discussion.

Dates for your diary

If you want to find out more about the work of the IFR or the other bioscience institutes at the Norwich Research Park, please follow the links in this blog. Also, if you work in the food industry or the agri-food chain, you should take a look at the Total Food 2014 event, which takes place 11-13 November in the John Innes Conference Centre.

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About this post

This is one in a series of #NFDF2014 tagged posts about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 and related stories – I hope you enjoy them. If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply.

Thank you for reading – best wishes – Huw.

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

Norwich [thou] art fair – the shaping of an idea 2012-2015

<<Update 30 July 2015>>

Since my original blog in 2012, I’m delighted to say that Norwich has had some big wins on the art front. In 2014, the Sainsbury Centre hosted the wonderful Masters exhibition. Houghton Hall also showcased some of the finest classical pictures from the Hermitage art museum in St Petersburg. We’ve also seen successful cultural events like the Hostery Festival, Holt Festival and Voewood Festival.

In 2015, the Sainsbury Centre had a major show called Bacon and the Masters – and the Castle Museum hosted the only exhibition of Jeff Koons work in the UK this year. More importantly (although perhaps less widely noticed), Will Teather and Friends ran the first Art Fair East – which in many ways felt like the art fair I imagined three years ago. I hope it was enough of a success to return and grow.

As a result, I am expanding the focus of the @NorwichArtFair twitter account. Rather than concentrating exclusively on Art, I’m going to support the wider creative community – including Digital Creative and Business Innovation. Instead of thinking of Norwich Art Fair as an event – think of it as a statement: Norwich [thou] art fair.

<<UPDATE 6 March 2014>>

I wrote the original version of this post in July 2012. Plenty of you offered to support but (like me) no one had the time or resources to turn the idea into reality. (As you will see when you read the original below, I anticipated this.)

However, there are still masses of excellent cultural events in Norwich and Norfolk – and they are growing in scope and stature all the time. This post sparked blogs from Rosie Winn and others, which in turn helped unite local artists and art lovers on twitter and other social media platforms.

We still run the @NorwichArtFair twitter account. We hope you continue to support the ambition of building Norwich’s international reputation as a great place to experience wonderful art.

Thank you

@HuwSayer

The original Norwich Art Fair idea from July 2012:

Written in haste (other stuff pressing)…

Thank you to @Rosie_Winn who posted this on her blog http://rosiewinnart.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/ideas-from-the-norwich-art-fair-meet-up/. It lists all the ideas (many and varied) for an international art fair in Norwich and Norfolk, which came up at our first tweetup (at @SirGarnetPub) last Thursday.

Thank you to everyone who came along and contributed their time and enthusiasm – particularly those who volunteered to help build, design and write a new Norwich Art Fair website. I really appreciate your support – particularly since there is no reward, save our gratitude.

It’s important to stress, these are early days. At the moment I’m just looking to see who might get behind this idea. Exploring ways we might mobilise forces in Norfolk to support what we already have (from the glorious productions of #NNFest to your local art gallery’s open day) and help build on it. Our ambition is to establish Norwich and Norfolk on the international art scene as a centre for creativity and talent.

You can join my list of interested tweeters (here https://twitter.com/HuwSayer/norwich-art-fair/members) simply by sending me a tweet asking to join #NorwichArtFair list.

You might who want to tell me this won’t, can’t, hasn’t or shouldn’t happen – but, quite frankly, I’m not interested in why nots. Instead I want to hear from people who want to help raise the profile of Norwich and Norfolk. If you think you are already doing this or something like it, then please let me know because I’d would love to support you.

Realising these ideas may be a dream. It might take years to attract enough sponsors and artists to stage a world class event. Even the shape of that event is not clear.

I hope it might be both high brow and inclusive. Drawing big crowds and big money but supporting local artists and encouraging more people to become involved in the arts too. But now the most important thing we can do is start the conversation.

At the very least, I hope we can build a network of people on social media who will support art events in Norwich and Norfolk – and share that support with the world. We need to convince people who love art and culture to #VisitNorwich and #VisitNorfolk.

Elsewhere, I have talked about the power of the Norfolk and Norwich Twitter Network (jokingly referred to as #NaNTwiNk). If that network supports the exciting cultural events going on in our community (from the smallest to the largest) it will benefit all who live and work in the region.

Thank you for your continued help and support.

@HuwSayer – July 2012