Social Media and The Arts: Focus on content, make the most of USPs, get your stakeholders involved!

This article is intended for smaller arts organisations, but I hope that it will be somewhat useful to arts marketers of all shapes and sizes. A huge thank you to Opera’r Ddraig for agreeing to be featured as an example in this article. You can find more about them (and their upcoming production) on their website.

Can social media be used to sell tickets?

Social is not your personal megaphone - use it wisely, and avoid quick fixes.

Social is not your personal megaphone – use it wisely, and avoid quick fixes.
Photo by tranchis (via Flickr)

The short answer to this question is: no, not directly. Social media is, for the most part, a passive medium; its users consume far more than they contribute, and they will only respond to others’ posts when they feel that have a genuine reason to do so. With this in mind, how can a tweet or Facebook post convince anyone to part with cold hard cash? One tactic (the ‘hard sell’ approach), is to offer large discounts to people who purchase via social media, greatly reducing the purchase barrier. This tactic is often expensive and does a disservice to the audience members that are paying full price. There is, however, another way. Here’s the long answer:

If you want to sell more tickets to your production, social media can help you do this. Achieving results requires considerable planning and time investment (and time = money, as they say), but I promise it will be worth it. Your use of social media should also be as part of a wider marketing strategy, so think carefully about how it fits in with what you’re doing already. Every arts organisation is different, but here are three tips that should help you to make the most of social media:

1. Content is everything.

The most effective way to engage your audience using social media is to give them what they want: photos, videos, previews, interviews, and anything else that will give them an insight into your production(s) and/or your organisation. An endless stream of tweets is pointless if you’ve nothing to talk about, but genuine content will engage, inform and entertain. Even more importantly, posts that include or link to interesting content are much more likely to be shared or reposted by your followers

So, with this in mind, make sure you take the time to create meaningful content that you can share with your audience. If you do a flashmob, film it and upload it to YouTube. Take lots of rehearsal photos, plus some quick vox pops with cast and crew – show the world what they’ll be missing! Social media is also a great place to share content from traditional media such as radio interviews, press coverage and past reviews.

2. Exploit your assets and unique selling points.

Social media is a noisy environment. Everyone wants you to read their blog posts or buy their stuff, so you should stand out among the crowd by demonstrating what makes you different to others. For example, here’s the key assets of Opera’r Ddraig, a Cardiff-based opera company:

  • Youth – There isn’t an established opera company anywhere else in the UK that is run entirely by young people for the benefit of young people. This is appealing to all sorts of groups, from the young opera sceptics through to seasoned opera lovers looking for something fresh.
  • Accessibility – Opera’r Ddraig has always gone out of its way to make established repertoire easy to understand and bang up to date. Their productions are also accessible in the sense that everything is on display: there are no fancy special effects and their instrumentalists and conductor aren’t hidden away in an orchestra pit.
  • Credible – with excellent performance quality and proper staging, an Opera’r Ddraig production is just as good as a multimillion-pound staging but in a more intimate setting and at a fraction of the ticket cost!

If you want your social media activity to have more bite, then work out what your unique selling points (USPs) are, then put these on full display. This strategy can be applied to all your marketing activity, by the way.

3. Get your stakeholders involved

If you’re not familiar with this term, a stakeholder is an individual or group that affects, or is affected by, you and your activities. An arts organization’s stakeholders will include:

  • cast and crew
  • friends and supporters
  • existing audience members
  • your local community
  • other arts organisations
  • business partners

These people are already emotionally (or financially) invested in your production, so it should be much easier to get them on your side. Let them know how they can help you to reach a wider audience. If your production has a hashtag (which it definitely should!), make sure everyone knows what it is and tell them to use it when they tweet about the production. Encourage cast and crew to share rehearsal photos and tidbits of information – these will be much more interesting when they come from real people, and will provide you with even more content to share with your audience. Another good tactic is to encourage audience members to post reviews on social media – yet more genuine content and a powerful persuasive tool.

Summary

I hope that you’ve found this post useful, and that it will help you to promote your next production, big or small. Here’s a final summary:

  1. Focus on content, not the method of delivery.
  2. Make the most of your USPs.
  3. Ask your friends and supporters to help get the word out.

Final Thoughts

For arts organisations, social media is so much more than a marketing tool, or a means to sell tickets. The ultimate purpose of the arts is to enrich the lives of others. This goal is far more important than bums on seats or making a profit, and social media is a great way to achieve this. Not all of your followers will be persuaded to come to your production, but if you can inform, educate or entertain them along the way then your time, and theirs, will have been well spent. Keep this in mind when talking about yourself and your production, and you won’t go far wrong. Good luck!

Advertisements

The Picture of Dorian Gray: The Musical! An interview with Callum Nicholls, Cardiff School of Music composer

This week I’m moving away from my blog’s bread and butter to speak to Callum Nicholls, a talented composer and fellow Cardiff University School of Music graduate. He’s also the composer of The Picture of Dorian Gray: The Musical, a student-led production based on the legendary Oscar Wilde book of the same name. The musical will be premiered in the School of Music on 22nd/23rd February, and you can buy tickets here or on the door (if there’s any left!). But before you buy, here’s my interview with the man himself!

Callum Nicholls, Cardiff School of Music composer and creator of The Picture of Dorian Gray: The Musical

Callum Nicholls, Cardiff School of Music composer and creator of The Picture of Dorian Gray: The Musical.

James: Hi Callum, thanks for humouring the ex-muso! First of all, could you sum up the plot of The Picture of Dorian Gray in one sentence?

Callum: A young man, weakened by vanity, creates a painting that ages instead of him, and his life spirals downwards!

J: What inspired you to compose and produce your own musical? Does the School of Music have a track record for performing student compositions?

C: I have always loved musical theatre, particularly Phantom of the Opera and the darker musicals, and became fascinated with Oscar Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray. A few musical ideas started in my head and after a solid composition period the work came to life.

The School of Music has a good track record of performing student compositions, however this one of two large works (the other being Rambo: The Opera!) that has been done completely under our own steam!

J: What will the musical be like? Can your audience expect all the usual bells and whistles, and will there be anything extra or unusual?

C: Dark is the best way to describe the musical. Nonetheless, it’s chock-a-block with memorable melodies that I hope the audience will be singing in the shower for weeks! All I will say is: don’t expect a happy ending and your stereotypical musical melody lines, there are a few surprises in store!

J: Anyone who has ever put on a production will know that filling seats isn’t easy. How will you be overcoming the challenges of a small marketing budget and no mailing list?

C: Spam is a word that is thrown around lightly… I am contacting everyone I know and their grandmother! Luckily with Facebook and Twitter it’s possible to reach a wide audience. Plus, in the next few weeks an article will be appearing in The Gair Rhydd and Cardiff University will be publishing an article on their website and Facebook page!

J: Finally, what have you enjoyed most about this project so far?

C: It is a labour of love. If I said it was stress free I would be lying, but my cast and orchestra are fantastic. I’m also hugely grateful to Drew Mabey (School of Music Technican) who is helping me deal with the technical side and my costume team from the University of Glamorgan. All profits from the musical will go to charity and I want nothing more than to share this music and the hard work of all of those involved.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Ticket Info

The Picture of Dorian Gray: The Musical

The Picture of Dorian Gray: The Musical – click for more info.

When: Friday 22nd & Saturday 23rd February, 7.00 PM
Where: Cardiff University School of Music
Why: It’s the world’s first musical theatre production* of a modern classic, right on your doorstep.
Tickets: £5 (£3.50 student/concessions) from TicketSource.

*There’s also a 1996 opera, but this is the first musical as far as I’m aware!

How to Write for Business – Part 1

How to Write for Business by RightSaidJamesHere’s a fact:

There’s no quick fixes or magic formula for writing business documents.

Like it or not, your reports, presentations, briefs, proposals, even your emails, will always take longer to write than you want them to.
But is that such a bad thing?

Think about it for a moment. Imagine if your favourite book was written by following, rule-by-rule, a guide called 10 Steps to Writing Success*, and that it was published immediately without any edits, rewrites or changes of any kind.
Would you still want to read it?

The problem with formulas is that they always produce predictable results. It doesn’t matter how good a writer you are, or how many times you’ve written in the same style or for the same purpose: for maximum impact, every new thing you write should be approached with a fresh perspective. You might not know it, but if you write as part of your job, you’re an artist. As an artist, you should give your craft the time and respect it deserves. Of course, sometimes the bare minimum will do just fine, and a copy-paste job might get you the results you need. But what if you could get better results? What difference would that make to your success rate, or your company’s profits? With this in mind, I proudly present:

*drumroll*

The RightSaidJames Guide to Effective Business Writing

But before I go any further, I’d like to say this:

This guide isn’t perfect. It’s not going to suit everyone’s needs, and it almost definitely won’t get me a book deal. I heartily encourage you to tear it apart, throw it away or write your own version instead! All this guide consists of is a clearly defined process for creating a focused, well-written business document. “Should I follow this process every single time?”, I hear you ask. No, of course not; we all have to pick our battles and focus our time on what’s most important, and there’s no shame in reusing or tweaking old content if we’re convinced that it will meet the requirements of the task. With all that said, let’s get started.

1. Define the purpose of the document first.

You should start this whole process by asking yourself a few questions:

  • Who is this document for? i.e. pick a target and stick to it.
    For example: your boss, a potential client, or a wider audience? Your choice of target should dictate your writing style, your tone and the level of prior knowledge that you can assume.
  • What are the key points that you want your reader(s) to know?
    Summarise these core messages into bullet points, then put these at the top of the document or put a Post-it on your monitor. Keep referring to these points throughout the writing process.
    Note: the more messages you have, the less effective each will be. If you need to get across more than a few core messages, write more than one document, not a longer one.
  • What do you want your reader(s) to do as a result of reading this?
    In an ideal world, every sentence or paragraph you write would result in all of its readers making a decision, or taking a specific action (e.g. giving you money), there and then. This probably isn’t the reality, but you should do everything you can to inform, reassure or convince them. Of course, it helps if you tell them what you want them to do. The worst they can do is say no, and in most cases that’s better than them saying nothing.

Key message: a document without a purpose will be poorly written and ineffective. Choose a goal, then stick to it.

2. Abandon the waterfall approach.

If you’re a coder, you’ll probably now what I mean by ‘waterfall approach‘. In software development lingo, this is when a programmer (or team of programmers) will start at the beginning and keep coding until the project is complete. This might sound logical, but in reality it wastes time and will only result in frustration for all involved. A better approach, therefore, is to break the project down into clearly defined parts, estimate the time taken for each part, then distribute your workload based on importance and the order in which each part will be needed. This approach is called Agile methodology, and is perhaps a topic for another blog post.

“But what does this have to do with writing?”

Well, as it happens, writing a document is a lot like writing a computer program. Both require planning, and in each case the end result will be much more than the sum of its parts. This means that starting with a title and introduction, writing the main content, then finishing with a conclusion, isn’t necessarily the best approach.

A common piece of advice given to students writing an essay is to write the introduction and conclusion together, then work on the bulk of the content, before finally tweaking your introduction and conclusion at the end. As a music student I found this approach worked well; I knew what I wanted to say, but not necessarily the fine details, so by writing the intro and conclusion first this would focus my research and ensure that my quotations, paraphrases and analyses that made up the bulk of my essay were strengthening my key messages.

“Do I need to write a plan?”

If you’re anything like me, you probably think that writing a plan is a waste of time. Why spend energy on writing a vague and incomplete document when you could be writing the real thing? Well, here’s the secret:

You can reuse most, if not all, of your plan’s content in the document itself!

My draft of this post (click the image to read it).

Here’s the draft of the post you’re reading now. Click the image if you want to read the whole thing.

Think about it this way: you’ve just had an idea for a blog post, or perhaps your boss wants you to report on a new market trend. Your head is starting to fill with concepts and clever phrases. The best thing to do, therefore, is to get all this goodness down on paper before you forget any of it. Take this blog post, for example: the idea came to me at about 1 am! I obviously wasn’t going to write the whole thing there and then, so click the image on the right to see what I wrote instead.

As you can see, not everything made the cut and in the end I decided to write two posts instead of one. But the fundamental structure is the same, and I’ve borrowed a few phrases, even whole sentences, from the plan. Would I have written it the same way if I’d jotted down a title and gone straight to bed? Probably not. Was writing a plan worth it? Yes, absolutely!

Key message: focus on the most important things first, and don’t worry about ordering and layout until you have to.

3. Be ruthless: cut what you don’t need.

This is the last point of this blog post, but I’m not finished yet. To read the rest, look out for part 2 soon.

No matter how hard you try, every major document you write will be longer than you want – it’s simply inevitable. English speakers are not known for being concise, and in many cases there simply isn’t an established word or phrase to replace the complex ideas you are communicating. Therefore you need to pick your battles. If a part of your document doesn’t help you achieve the goals you’ve decided upon, or is a repeat of something you’ve written elsewhere, cut it.

It’s very easy to get emotionally invested in inanimate objects that you’ve spent a lot of time with. Cars, for instance, or pairs of shoes. But much like the old banger or the tatty trainers, if something you’ve written provides no benefit, it needs to go. Save it in Evernote if you must but, left where it is, it will probably do more harm than good.

Key message: unnecessary content can prevent or discourage your audience from reading what’s important. Delete it and never look back.

That’s the end of Part 1. In Part 2 I’ll talk about being realistic in your expectations, the importance of presentation and seeking inspiration from others. Tell me what you think so far in the comments below, and please share this if you think it would be useful to people in your network. And, as always, thanks for reading!

*Editor’s Note: I didn’t check before publishing this post if 10 Steps to Writing Success is actually a real book. If it does exist, it may or may not be any good. I’ll leave that to you to decide.

Tips for graduate jobseekers, from a recent graduate

The following post is partly a personal reflection based on my own experiences; a combination of things that worked for me and things I wished I’d known when I was looking for work. I’d welcome your thoughts and contributions, in the comments below or via TwitterI’m also grateful to the wonderful Aimee Bateman of CareerCake for contributing to this blog post!

Getting a job in today’s world is no easy feat. The so-called milk round of our parents’ generation is long gone and will probably never return, and as of July this year the average applicant per graduate job is a whopping 52, 11% more than 2011. We’re constantly told that we have to go the extra mile to stand out from the crowd, but this is often easier said than done when everyone else is given the same advice! So here’s my take on the subject:

  1. Embrace social media
    If there’s one key skill that employers of all shapes and sizes are seeking today, it’s social media savvy. Recent research has found that companies who embrace social media across their organisation (not just in the marketing department) are reaping the benefits. Use this knowledge to your advantage by demonstrating to potential employers that your use of this medium would be an asset to their organisation. If you’re going to do this though, you have to do it properly; populating a LinkedIn page or Twitter bio is one thing, but for it to have an effect you have to use these channels to engage with others and demonstrate your knowledge of the industry (or industries) you are working in. Great places to start include LinkedIn groups and Twitter Chats; both of these will enable you to target relevant industry sectors, engaging with thought leaders and practitioners. Your social media presence should also act as an interactive CV and Cover Letter combined, a personal brand if you will; for more on this topic see my blog post Cultivate your Personal Brand using Social Media. See also this Guardian article for even more practical advice. Of course, this strategy requires a considerable investment of time; don’t expect results overnight.

  2. Find a ‘career sponsor’
    The word ‘sponsor’ has obvious financial connotations, but in this case I’m talking about something completely different. The concept of a career sponsor was first introduced to me live on the air when I appeared as a job-seeking graduate on BBC Radio Walesmorning show. A fellow guest, an HR manager at BT, described a career sponsor as:
    “A person you know who is successful, who you can go to for advice and support whenever you need it, and who will sing your praises to others.”
    This is perhaps the most useful piece of career advice I’ve ever been given. A career sponsor, in other words, should be your rock, someone who knows you well and who understands your unique strengths and limitations. Chances are, you know someone like this already; if so, use them! Of course, it’s just as likely that there are several people who could each fulfil one part of this role. On a personal note, my Dad has always been a great source of inspiration to me, helping me to see the bigger picture and to understand my own abilities and strengths. A Cardiff University School of Music lecturer has been another source of wisdom for me and many other students, so much so that I nominated him for an award! And finally the wonderful Aimee Bateman (as featured in this post – see below) has helped me to re-evaluate my approach to job-seeking and my career and I’m very proud to count her as a friend. Basically, the key message of this bullet point is:don’t go it alone; seek out and make use of a person or persons who will keep you motivated and help to show you the bigger picture.

  3. Success is found in unexpected places
    This is perhaps the most abstract piece of advice in this post, but bear with me; when it comes to finding a job, imagination is just as important as determination. It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut, or to think that there really aren’t any jobs that you’re suitable for, but more often than not you just need to change tack. Apply for work experience (if you live in Wales, GO Wales is a great resource for this), even short-term placements, and don’t be afraid to go after opportunities in different sectors. As a music graduate I gained my current job (Marketing Executive for LexAble, a software company) through a 2 week work experience placement. Part of this was being in the right place at the right time, but it was my transferable skills (namely IT proficiency, a working knowledge of web design and the ability to write well) that got me the job! Another important message that I would share is to never overlook small businesses; when I started my placement I never thought that my now boss would have any need for a permanent employee, but I was quickly proven wrong! After months of applying for advertised jobs in the arts sector with well-established and much larger organisations, it was in a completely different sector, with the smallest possible company and in a role that was yet to exist where I found my first big career break! In brief: be creative in your job search, don’t be afraid to look outside your sector, and ignore the ‘little guys’ at your peril!

To finish off this post, I asked career guru Aimee Bateman what the most important thing graduate job-seekers should be doing to ensure their success. Here’s her reply:

“Make it personal and adapt your cover letters and applications to each employer. Don’t ever make an employer feel like they are just one of many companies you are contacting (even if they are). If you want an employer to be genuinely interested in you, then you must show you are genuinely interested in them”

For more advice, check out the videos on her site or the CareerCake YouTube channel.

What about you? Are there any job-seeking strategies that worked well for you? What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given? Let me know in the comments.

How Social Media helped me raise £1900 for charity, by Carol Fry (@CVFry)

Carol and Dale skydiving to raise money for the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal

Carol Fry (with her pilot Kev), Skydiving to raise money for the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal.
Carol was born and raised in Wiltshire but has always loved Wales. In September 2011 she finally realised her dream to come ‘home’. She currently teaches in a primary school in Tremorfa (Cardiff), living near Pontyclun (Bridgend). Carol loves to explore Wales, visiting both new places and those that she knew as a child. She also enjoys baking, concerts, shows, musicals and opera.

This is a guest  post by Carol Fry (@CVFry on Twitter) on the subject of online fundraising. I first found Carol on Twitter through our shared love of classical music and opera, but was quickly amazed and inspired by her ability to harness social media to raise money and awareness for good causes. She was also a key figure in the promotion of a charity single recorded by Mark Llewellyn Evans and the Band of the Welsh Guards. Carol is a personal source of inspiration to me; I think charities and good causes (big and small) could learn a lot from her creativity, enthusiasm and determination.


It’s amazing where a casual remark can land you! On April 1st – I should have known to keep quiet – I was in a car with Mark Llewellyn Evans, a gifted singer who has worked tirelessly to raise funds for our wounded soldiers, recording a CD with the Band of the Welsh Guards for their regimental charity. We were travelling along the M4 towards a sunny (yes, really) Swansea when I mentioned I’d always wanted to do a sky-dive. I don’t really remember how the conversation started but two months later I was tumbling from the sky with a member of the Paratroop Regiment strapped to my back, raising funds for the Welsh Guards Afghan Appeal

Through Mark I met Dale Leach, a former Welsh Guard and one of the most amazing men anyone could wish to know. Dale was seriously injured by an IUD in Afghanistan in 2009. His story made me determined to keep my promise to undertake the sky-dive.  I told him about it and, despite having lost a leg, fractured his spine in 3 places and suffered numerous other injuries, Dale agreed to dive with me. Our friends in the Band suggested using an online giving site and set up a page for us on Virgin Money Giving.

Carol and Dave suited and booted before their skydive.

Carol and Dave suited and booted before their skydive!

Using this site, my Twitter account and through friends promoting our dive through retweets and on Facebook we reached far more people than if we’d just been collecting by word of mouth. I have even made new friends through the collection, as total strangers read Dale’s story and made contact, wanting to help out.

I’m not a particularly confident person and would have found it hard to ask anyone other than very close friends and family to sponsor me. Using Twitter, Facebook and online giving meant that I could put out general appeals without feeling that I was badgering people. I probably drove my followers mad over the month or so before the dive but I have been overwhelmed by the generosity shown by people in their giving.

Using social media also enabled my friends who couldn’t help financially to chip in. They could retweet and post messages on their Facebook walls, spreading the news of what we were doing even though they couldn’t give money.

Using online giving and social media also got some press attention. One newspaper story and 2 radio interviews later, including singing live to Mr Go Compare (the wonderful Wynne Evans) on his radio show, we had picked up sponsors from overseas and parents from my school asked to support the jump.

Carol after her skydive

Carol after her skydive

We did make some money for the Appeal by ‘traditional’ means but I am absolutely certain we would not have raised anywhere near as much without the news grapevine offered by social media.

It was also helpful to tell people regularly how much we had raised. As each little goal approached I could Tweet again, “Can you help us find £51 pounds to get us to our next £100?”. This gave people the chance to give £1 or any amount that they could afford. These small steps towards the final total seemed to prompt many generous, lovely people to donate. I am sure this was more of an incentive than a huge goal. At least one donor said, “I can help you get to a nice round number.”

Dale (and pilot) parachuting back to earth.

Dale (and pilot) parachuting back to earth.

We originally set a goal of £1000. In the end we raised just over £1900 and nearly £1700 of that came from online giving.  My friends and family are spread all over the UK and the site made it really easy for them to give and for us to gather Gift Aid. I am certain it would not have worked without Twitter, Facebook and the kindheartedness of people I have never met face to face.  If you are planning a fund-raising event I’d strongly recommend using social media to help you. Get out there and Tweet – there’s a world filled with generous people who will help your cause however they can.  

Carol and Dale’s fundraiser has now ended, but you can donate to the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal by following the instructions on their website.

Writing a Social Media Strategy – Part 1 (before you begin) – featuring Rhys Gregory

Rhys Gregory - Digital Marketing Specialist

Rhys Gregory is a Digital Marketing Specialist based in Cardiff, UK. He helps businesses use social media and digital technologies effectively, assisting with planning, strategy and development at every stage of the process. He is also an active blogger and a volunteer with Canton Social Media Surgery. You can visit his website, or connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

This article is the first in a series of posts intended for small businesses (or their employees) who are thinking about using social media as part of their marketing activities. The posts assume a certain amount of basic knowledge of Twitter/Facebook/blogging etc. but you certainly won’t need to be a social media nerd like me to get the most out of it! Please do share these posts with anyone who might find it useful!

As some of you may know, I work for a small software company (LexAble) based in Cardiff as a ‘Marketing and Business Executive’. As the company’s first employee whose primary focus is Marketing, it’s been a fantastic opportunity to really hit the ground running, putting into practice my existing skills and learning new techniques along the way. As part of this I’ve written the company’s first social media strategy, outlining how (and, perhaps more importantly, why), we will use social media. So I thought I’d share a few tips based on my experiences. I’m also grateful to Rhys Gregory for his contributions to this post.

Before you begin

It’s very tempting to dive straight in, outlining in explicit detail the things that you’ll be tweeting about or how to present yourself on Facebook, but before you do it’s a good idea to consider the following:

  • What do you want to achieve?
    First thing’s first: social media is not a direct sales tool, and anyone who tries to use it for this purpose is doomed to fail. Furthermore, it’s often difficult to quantify in simple terms the benefits (financial or otherwise) that it will bring to your business. Therefore, in your social media policy you should outline how you want social media to benefit your business. Example aims could include:

    • Increasing awareness of your business and its activities.
    • Positioning your business as an authority or knowledge-holder in its field.
    • Connecting with new and existing customers.
    • Reducing the time or money that you spend on support and customer service.
    • Organically improving your search engine rankings.
  • Is social media right for your business?
    Unfortunately, not every business will be able to properly benefit from social media. Some factors to consider:

    • Do your customers use social media? If, as a general rule, they don’t, consider why that might be (e.g. age, income, social class, lifestyle). (But you should never just make assumptions – ask them instead!)
    • How about the potential customers that you haven’t reached yet? Think about the markets that you’ve yet to tap into and whether social media would be a good way to break into them.
    • Is social media an appropriate forum to talk about your product? Is there a way that you can create relevant and interesting content that other people will want to share or view?
  • How much time do you want to spend?
    Social media is often thought of as free, but remember that time spent using it is time that you’re not spending on other things. It’s therefore very important to clearly define how much time you and your colleagues will dedicate to it. Another issue with social media is that it’s not always possible to predict when you’ll be using it – you can check for replies and new followers (and respond to them) once a day, once an hour or once every 5 minutes. Pick a schedule that works best for you, and stick with it as much as possible.

To conclude this post, here’s some salient advice from Rhys:

It’s really important to set out objectives before doing anything, that way you can measure its success. You’ll need to consider how much time is involved, the cost, and who’s responsible for what. Do you have the necessary expertise, or do you need to bring in an external training or digital agency to help get you started? Your overall goal might be to increase brand awareness or even increase leads, but you’ll need to know exactly how you want to measure this.

Measurement tips:

  • Make everything trackable – You want to be able to measure the effectiveness of everything that you do. Use a service like Bit.ly to track the number of clicks on the links that you post. What type of content is most popular? Is there a best time to post? Example – http://bit.ly/linkedin-me+
  • Define a lead-process – For those businesses that want to generate leads from social media, and trust me that’s probably all of you, you’ll need to define a nurture-path. When someone clicks on your blog post link, what do they see on that page? Make sure you have clear call-to-actions (CTAs) that take the user to the next step. Whether that be signing up for your newsletter to continue the path, or hitting the contact us button.

This is the first part in a series of posts about developing a Social Media Strategy. If you’d like to be notified when the next post arrives, you can subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter, or leave a comment below so I can notify you manually!

Review: Drupal Gardens by Acquia (managed Drupal hosting)

Drupal Gardens

The Drupal Gardens homepage.

Believe it or not, my current job was gained off the back of a small web development project, which then turned into a full marketing project before I was invited to stay on permanently! My company’s website was originally hand-coded by our graphic designer (the talented Tayler from Blindspot Design), but, as the company had started to grow, my boss was finding it difficult to manually edit and add new pages, so he arranged for a GO Wales participant (me) to migrate the content and design over to a Content Management System. For this, we decided to use Drupal Gardens by Acquia. For those who haven’t heard of it, Drupal Gardens is a managed Drupal hosting service. This post outlines my experiences of using the service to build, launch and manage a medium-sized website.

The key benefits of Drupal Gardens are:

  • No need to worry about server/database configurations, load balancing or software upgrades – it’s all managed on your behalf.
  • WYSIWYG design editor – simply click on an element, define the properties (colour, background, border, position) and the CSS is written for you.
  • Fully extendable – you can override CSS properties and specify new classes, and plugins such as jQuery, Typekit web fonts and Google Analytics are fully supported.
  • Built-in social sharing tools  – again, you can bring your own if you want to do so.
  • If you ever want to migrate to self-hosted Drupal, you can easily export the site in its entirety and host it elsewhere – free of charge.
  • Fantastic FAQs, documentation and community forums for support and advice.

There are, however, a few important limitations:

  • You have no access (none, zero, zip, zilch) to the backend – so server-side includes, custom header elements and embedded PHP scripts are not supported. Still, there’s plenty of things you can achieve using JavaScript and external plugins, so it it’s not a deal-breaker if your coding needs aren’t too complex.
  • There is also less flexibility on Drupal plugins – many popular ones (and some custom-built options) are available, but requesting additional plugins is a slow process – you’re at the mercy of their to-do-list, which I’m told is rather long!
  • Likewise, the original CSS files for the base theme can’t be edited, which means that you sometimes have to do a bit of hackery if you want to remove/significantly alter the behaviour of a theme.
  • The HTML editor has a rather annoying habit of minifying your code so it isn’t human-readable – to combat this, you should always keep a copy of complex HTML/inline JavaScript for reference purposes and ease of editing.
  • It’s not currently possible to import Drupal themes (even ones created using Drupal Gardens), but they’re working on it.
  • Native e-commerce functionality is still in the pipeline, but alternative solutions include Cashie Commerce and E-junkie (we use the latter because our needs are simple and we’d prefer to pay a monthly fee rather than commission).

Design, Implementation and Launch

The Theme Builder in action

The Theme Builder in action

My brief for LexAble’s website was somewhat unusual; I had to migrate an existing hand-coded site over to Drupal Gardens, preserving both content and design.Often a new website means a complete overhaul, but as I was on a time-limited work experience placement this wasn’t an option. To achieve this migration, I chose a theme that was the best match for what I needed to achieve, then using the in-built WYSIWYG editor I slowly tweaked the colours, layout and functionality until it was nearly identical to the original website. One hurdle that I faced was the fiddliness of selecting the correct element to edit, but this was easily overcome by enabling the ‘power theming‘ option. The images below show the original site, the theme in its unedited state and how the website looks now.

The theme design I started with.

This is the Theme (Kenwood) that I used as a base for my design.

After I had got the appearance sorted, I started the process of migrating the content and functionality. This was for the most part a case of copy & paste, with a few adjustments to the HTML and CSS along the way. The most difficult part was getting the appearance of forms just right, which was made more complex because of existing CSS that was hard to override.

The LexAble website as it looks now.

The LexAble website as it looks now.

In terms of time spent at the design and implementation stage, I would estimate the following:

  • Adjusting base theme to match original design: 6 hours
  • Migrating basic content: 2 hours
  • Tweaking HTML and CSS: 10 hours
  • Migrating site functionality (e-commerce, forms etc.): 8 hours
  • SEO, Google Analytics, Typekit, AddThis etc.: 3 hours
  • Final tweaks and changes to design and content: 6 hours (not including time spent planning/writing)

Total time taken for entire project: 40 hours (again, not including planning, writing and time spent in meetings).

Site Management and Maintenance

Managing a Drupal Gardens site is much like managing any Drupal site, and it will be a familiar experience to anyone who has used WordPressJoomla and other CMS. Adding a new page is as simple as pressing the ‘add content’ button, giving it a name and URL then creating the content. If you pay for a Professional subscription or above, you also get access to SEO tools such as Open Graph, keywords (which are mostly pointless these days) and Google crawler settings, all of which can be edited on a per-page basis. Compared to self-hosted Drupal, there’s a lot less maintenance – small upgrades to security and functionality and the latest stable Drupal release are done automatically. Notice is given before each upgrade, and any downtime is either minimal (2 or 3 minutes) or non-existent. As a marketing professional, the handling of all the backend stuff is money well spent, allowing me to focus on improving the site and its content.

Verdict

For LexAble, Drupal Gardens is ideal. It takes away 90% of the hassle involved in managing a Drupal site, but there is great potential for customisation and extending functionality. For someone like me, who has excellent HTML/CSS skills but struggles with MySQL databases and server configuration, it’s ideal. At every stage of the process I felt able to do things my own way, and I was constantly surprised by all the extra touches that the Drupal Gardens team had added in. Another great benefit is that it’s always being improved – for instance they’ve recently added the ability to make your site’s design responsive, which is a must for every website these days.

There are a few drawbacks and quirks to Drupal Gardens, but none that can’t be overcome or worked around. And when I did get stuck, the Drupal Gardens team were only too happy to help!

All in all, I would highly recommend Drupal Gardens to individuals or small businesses who want a professional, modern website but don’t have the time, resources or ability to manage the backend stuff. Their prices are probably a little higher than your current web host, but the customer service and behind the scenes stuff is worth paying for.

Have you used Drupal Gardens, or a similar solution? What are the positives and negatives of this approach? Let me know in the comments.

Disclaimer: I have not received any tangible reward, financial or otherwise, from Drupal Gardens, Acqiua or anyone else for writing this post. Although if they’re reading this, I do quite like chocolate!