Thursday, 27 August 2015

The day the laptop died - how to have the most creative and productive afternoon of your life

On Thursday 23rd July 2015, I was asked to get an Ignite Talk at a PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association) event. The topic was 'digital creativity'. We could talk about any aspect of that subject, except we weren't allowed to talk about work. This left me slightly flummoxed, because any time I have ever been asked to give a presentation before , it’s been about something I’m working on, on a subject that I’m an ‘expert’ (?!) in. Luckily for me, just when I’m wondering what to talk about, and watching old Ignite Talks to try to understand the format, my laptop dies. This is lucky because my laptop dying becomes the topic of my talk. Here follows my presentation:

What I’m about to tell you will give you the power to have the most creative and productive afternoon of your life. Disclaimer, this is not guaranteed! First a couple of questions:
  1. How many people here sit in front of a computer screen for much of the day?
  2. How many people here pride themselves on their ability to multi-task?
I’m one of those people who gets into a lift and pushes the close doors button, repeatedly, even if the doors are closing. Actually, that’s an example of impatience, not multi-tasking…  Hmm… Okay, so I’m an impatient multi-tasker.
And this love of multi-tasking means that I always have a LOT going on on my laptop... I used to be a journalist; I used to have access to the wires and was constantly receiving news snaps from PA and AP and AFP.

My screen nowadays buzzes with email alerts, and Twitter alerts, and instant messenger, and GChat. Always open, always on. So, there I am, with my 30 different tabs open, multi-tasking like a good ‘ne when suddenly my computer screen flickers and what looks like the code from the matrix starts scrolling up the screen. So, I do what I always do when something goes wrong, I pick up the phone and dial our IT support team in Hyderabad in India. Except they can’t help me, because the way they work is to logon to your computer remotely to see what the problem is. And my computer by this stage has turned itself off and won’t turn back on again.

Well, says the nice lady woman on the phone in India, I’ll ask local IT to come take a look. Local IT? Local IT? Nearly three years of working for this company and now I find out we have an IT person in the building?!

So, I wait patiently (not a strong point as we’ve already established) and an IT chap turns up at my desk… diagnoses my laptop as ‘broken’ and takes it away. He says I’m to come see him in 20 minutes to see what’s what. He takes my computer away… What on earth am I supposed to do now? I do the only thing that a British person can do in this situation. I go make myself a cup of tea. And after about 10 minutes, did I mention my lack of patience? I go upstairs. It’s not good. My hard drive has failed and I can’t get a replacement laptop until Monday.

So, I am expected to work without a laptop? How? The IT chap says I shouldn’t worry because it’s the last Friday of the month so everyone will be finishing at 5pm for the company drinks. Company drinks? We have an IT team? And now it turns out we have company drinks? Now to be fair to me, I’m not a complete anti-social idiot, these company drinks are organised by a different department, so it’s not like I officially should have been invited. But now, I am being invited, by the chap in IT. And I’m agreeing to go along, because quite frankly I don’t have a laptop, so I don’t have any work to do.

Back at my desk, reeling from the fact that we have an IT team in the building and last Friday of the month company drinks. I suddenly remember I’m supposed to be on a conference call. I jump on the call, and I’m listening and I’m talking, and I’ve got some ideas to share, and then I have some more ideas to share, and I’m listening some more, and it’s brilliant. It’s the best call I’ve been on in years, maybe even ever. I’m on fire, everyone on the call is on fire, and it’s fantastic.

We solve problems; we generate actions, lots of actions. I get off the call and I’m totally pumped, I’m full of energy and I don’t need my usual three O’clock diet coke. And I’m confused… why was that such a good call? I hadn’t been looking forward to that call. We had some tough decisions to make, some awkward conversations to have, and it went really, really well. Suddenly it occurred to me… The difference between that call and all the other calls I ever have? No laptop!

Instead of putting on my headset, putting the phone on mute, and allowing the incoming emails, instant messages and Tweets to distract me. And I hadn’t realised quite how much they were distracting me. I just participated in the call. I focused totally on the call, nothing else.

Call over, I look at my to-do list… and realise I can’t do a single thing on it without my laptop. So, I go get myself some paper and some pens from the stationary cupboard, and I start scribbling: ideas from the call; other ideas not related to the call; things we’d discussed at a strategy meeting months before. Before I know it, it 5 O’clock, time for drinks. And the drinks were great? I meet a bunch of new people, we figure out some cool ways we can work together in the future.

When I arrive at my desk on Monday morning and a replacement laptop is waiting for me at my desk, I am almost a bit disappointed. Of course, after 5 minutes I had it booted up and 100 different tabs whizzing and whirring. And then I suddenly think, hold on, last Friday I had the most creative and productive afternoon of life.

So, will you humour me, and try something with me on Friday afternoon? At about two thirty, turn off your laptop. You don’t have to break your laptop, although you can if you really want to, instead, just turn it off. Make some phone calls, get some paper and some pens and start thinking about the big picture stuff. Do not do anything on your very tactical to-do list. Go find out if you’ve got an IT team? Are there any drinks? If not, organise some. Stop multi-tasking and rushing and just allow yourself time to think and focus. You might be surprised by what you can achieve without your laptop.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Twitter training

I am fairly regularly called upon to conduct Twitter trainings; whether it's friends informally asking for a demo, leaders I volunteer with a Girlguiding LaSER, or colleagues at work. To be honest, at first, when anyone would ask to 'learn' how to use Twitter, I would think to myself: really? No one taught me how to use it, why can't you just teach yourself, like I did? But that seems rather churlish and unhelpful, particularly when the person asking you to help the senior management team is the CEO!

So, for a Twitter 101 and 102, may I share two videos I created for Girlguiding LaSER. When it comes to getting started, it really doesn't matter whether you're a Brown Owl or a Senior Vice President.

Twitter training Part 1

Twitter training Part 2

I also thought it might be useful to share the notes below. Before I give a presentation, or conduct a training, or do pretty much anything that requires preparation, I like to make a list. Not a neat, numerical list, but a kind of really rubbish storyboard type list (click the image below to expand).

I honestly still believe the best way to learn how to use Twitter is to just open an account and start listening to the conversations going on. But, for those people who like to know what they're doing before they start (this has clearly never been something that bothers me!) then I hope the videos and note above help. 

I have to use Twitter as part of my job, but it's more than that, it has become the main way I find out news and it is a fantastic source of inspiration. So, why not find me on Twitter @CCMart1n and say "hello!"

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Wanted: Hard Working Journalist For Sexy Tech Company

Like all good former journalists, I was interested to read that Snapchat has hired CNN reporter Peter Hamby, as their Head of News. I was interested because, as a former journalist, I like to see where other people go when they become former journalists.

Once I'd waded through the congratulatory messages on Twitter, I came across a tweet promoting this article: Another Social Platform (Snapchat) Hires a Journalist (Good Luck With That), in which Ad Age journalist, Alex Kantrowitz considers previous examples of journalists hired by tech companies. 

Now I do not consider myself to be in the same league as Peter Hamby, or any of the other journalists mentioned in the article, but I did move from journalism (Local radio and then the Press Association, I know, hardly CNN!) to tech (Google).

Why do journalists leave journalism for the bright lights of tech companies? Money? Well, journalists are notoriously badly paid, so this is part of it, but it's also about curiosity. A good journalist is curious, always asking questions, wanting to discover new things, and tech companies offer new things and questions in spades.

Why do tech companies want journalists? Well, I'd like to think that they recognise and value the skills that a journalist can bring to their company. Skills like: enthusiasm, determination, a strong work ethic and a questioning nature. 

Doesn't it just sound like a match made in heaven! Except for those occasions, as Alex highlights in his article, where it doesn't work out. I think there are a few possible reasons for why... 

Tech companies are natural homes for engineers and scientists and even sales people, but are they a good fit for journalists? A lot of journalists are cynical, (no really..?! And sarcastic!) particularly those who have been around the block a few times. It is this cynicism that helps them question when something seems to good to be true. It is this cynicism that allows them to poke their nose into things that other people just accept. But this cynicism doesn't always fit with the sunshine and positivity of Silicon Valley. 

Some Tech companies aren't yet completely convinced of the value of content, despite hiring journalists to create it. They are used to a product that is easily measured and brings a return on investment. I'm not saying content can't be measured or proven to work, but it is harder and requires a longer-term investment. I've seen tech companies 'try' content and then panic when they don't see results, or can't full understand what is and isn't working immediately. 

Many people become journalists because they want to 'make a difference'. I know it sounds cheesy, but I remember interviewing candidates for two different roles on the same day, the first was for a journalist, the second for a sales person. With each potential new journalist recruit, I asked why they had chosen journalism for their career and listened to a string of passionate, fascinating and inspiring reason. When I asked the people interviewing for the sales role the same question, I got confused looks and mumbles about just stumbling into it, or liking the commission. Perhaps, not always, but perhaps they think they can make a difference at the tech company they join, and they're left disappointed. I recently heard that Google now has 55,000 employees, difficult to stand-out and make a difference in that size of an organisation. And perhaps in a small tech company, where management is focused on the product, content ends up as a nice to have. 

I'm not saying it can't work, because there are plenty of real-life examples where it has worked. I don't regret leaving journalism and joining Google for one second. And let's face it, joining a tech company has got to be a better option than the other career choice open to people wanting to leave journalism.. becoming a PR person!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The content princess rebrand

I haven't written this blog in an age. It's not that I've been busy, although I have, or that I've run out of things to say, those of you who know me, know that is never going to happen! I've actually not written anything because I wish to hang up my tiara and stop being the content princess. I need a rebrand. 

I have outgrown the name content princess. I'm too old to be a princess and I don't like the girlie, fluffy images that the name conjures up. It doesn't work for the serious professional business woman I've become, or should I say, the serious professional business woman I aspire to be. Serious, while still being hilariously witty, obviously.

The 'content princess' blog is aimed at people working in content marketing. This encompasses people working on all types of digital content from webpages and dataviz, to white papers and tweets. The idea is to pass on useful tips and things wot I have learnt.

So, I've spent several months, too many months trying to think of a new name... and in the process discovered two important things that I'd like to share:
  1. Your best ideas have already been taken by somebody else
  2. You are not as interesting or talented as you think you are
So there we have it... 

Deflated because unlike Marathons (snickers), Ulay (Oil of Olay) or Starburst (Opal Fruits), nobody cares what I am called. And fed up because all of my original, genius ideas have already been snapped by someone faster, smarter and more genius-y. In the meantime, I think I should stop worrying about the name, carry on blogging and keep wearing the tiara!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Your data story

I recently participated in a trade mission with UKTI - think David Cameron in China, but instead it was Baroness Bohnan Carter in Mexcio. And as part of this GREAT Week, I gave a presentation on how to use data to tell stories. The presentation was to a room full of journalists, social scientists and programmers, who had been brought together, given a bunch of Government data and challenged to visualise it in 24hrs.

It was super exciting for many of the Mexicans in the room (and me!) because this was the first time certain Government departments were making their data freely available and it was good stuff! Data from the Mexico City bike scheme (their equivalent to Boris Bikes); stats from the Government helpline call centre; data from hospitals and air pollution levels.

Before they split into teams and got stuck-in to the data, my job was to provide some context for the day. I started by explaining that making the data available is only the first part. People need help to:

  • Understand why they should trust the data, what is the motivation behind making it public? Who owns the data? Where did it come from? How was it gathered?

  • Interpret what it means to them. How can they use it in their every day life? So we need to make it resonate, by making it relevant.

People don't connect to data, people connect to stories. You need to find the story in your data. Kantar, the company I work for, is the data investment management division of WPP and we have a staggering amount of data. When I first joined, one of my challenges was to get my head round the data we have and I struggled. And the more I learnt about the company, the more I realised it was a struggle that all the spreadsheets in the world weren't going to solve! What helped me was a simple story about how one of our clients used our data to develop their product and ultimately grow their business. And it's these stories that have been helping me ever since.

It comes back to journalism (doesn't it always with me!) 

  • What? (data)

  • Where? (context)

  • And why (why this is happening, so you can learn from it).

When I was a News Editor one of the important lessons I would have to drill into all new journalists was the problem of burying the lead; this can happen surprisingly often when you become embroiled in a story. 

Authors Chip and Dan Heath provide a framework for creating a story in their book 'made to stick' and I find it to be a useful checklist when working with data:

Simple - Data is complicated, but it is your job to make it simple and bring it to life.

Unexpected - get people to pay attention
Concrete - help people understand and remember
Credible - so they can believe and agree
Emotional - so they care
Story - because it spells success?! and because a good story will encourage people to act

So after stealing shamelessly from the Heath brothers, I felt I needed to present the Mexican audience with at least one idea of my own! So I talked them through my five-step process for telling a story from data:
  1. I spend time looking at and playing with data, creating hypothesis and seeing whether they are supported by the data. Is it different for men v women? Do older people respond differently to younger people? Is there a problem with X or Y? I've become a dab-hand at pivot tables!

  2. Pull out the key points, accept that at this stage there may be a dozen, or more, different little nuggets of information. Collate them all and worry about whittling them down to a more succinct story later.

  3. Bring the data to life by interviewing experts and asking their opinion on the most interesting data points you've pulled out. This is your opportunity to sense check the data.

  4. Use the data and these interviews to create a narrative, following the SUCCESs framework.

  5. Then take that story and tell it in a dozen different ways to get the maximum impact and traction: data visualisation, charts, snackable content, short articles, longer pieces, white papers, social media posts, video et al.

I talked again about the 'scrappy or epic' way of working that I learnt at Google. This is something I talked about in my blog post on measurement and it is just as applicable when talking about data stories. You can use data in a scrappy way to tell quick stories, or you can use epic data to tell vast game-changing stories, but if you find your data tells a rather mundane dull story (which you will find on occasion) then my advice would be to stop and do something else instead.

Recommended reading:

'Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck'

Monday, 7 October 2013

Measuring Up - Using Measurement To Make Better Business Decisions

A few weeks ago I went out for coffee with someone and the conversation turned to social media, and in particular the ROI of social media. Ah the ROI of social media, the elephant in the room. Now this particular person explained that his company had measured the ROI of social media, to see whether they could justify hiring a social media manager. They had done the maths for 2012 and calculated that they had made the princely sum of £3,000 from social media. This figure was based on how many people sent a tweet or messaged through Facebook asking about advertising and then went on and advertised. But I think we all recognise that is too simple a measurement, social media is so much more holistic than that.. and it's more important than that. This is about whether you want your business to exist in 5 years time, it's that business critical.

So how should they have been measuring social media? Well, they didn't need to measure to justify a hire, because with everyone in your company embracing the role of social ambassador, you won't need a social media manager. I have heard so many amazing examples recently of companies that do amazing things with social media, just by educating and empowering their wider teams. More on this another time.

The fact is, it is very easy to measure. You can measure everything... Well, not you personally necessarily, because you, like me, will be constrained by processes, resources and technology, but in theory one could measure everything. And the is the part in the blog post when I'm supposed to list all the various, amazing and oftentimes free ways to do that. But actually some of you will already be using these, or something better, and those of you that aren't are a really a bright bunch who can learn how to measure in minutes.

Okay, here are a few I use:

No, I don't want to talk about how to measure... 
What I really want to address is the why? And the what? of measurement.

Measurement is you map and compass
You see without measurement you don't know where you are, where you're going and where you'll end up. Measurement is our map and compass. Measurement will show us how we can best serve our clients, measurement will help us shape the future of our business and measurement helps us make better decisions.

I want to start by looking at my former employer who I never really mention, the plucky little start up: Google. Now actually my obsession with measurement started long before Google. I worked in commercial radio and the RAJAR measurement was the reason I got out of bed to read a 6am bulletin, but didn't have to get up to read one at 5am. But working at Google took my love of measurement to a whole new level. Because like everything Google does, they do measure on a different scale!

Now this story is an oldie but a goodie, and lots of people have told it in far more detail and with more aplomb that me... But here goes... back in the day Google paid search results appeared in blue text, and some bright spark noticed that results were appearing as two different shades of blue, depending on the search type. They wanted to have one consistent shade of blue, but which to choose? Now in lots of companies if you wanted to make a decision like this you'd ask the HIPPO, the highest paid person's opinion! But not at Google, at Google they conducted a 1% experiment and tested 41 different shades of blue. It turns out that there is a type of blue that people are more likely to click on and this particularly clicky blue generated millions of dollars in extra revenue. 

This is a great example of where measurement adds value. Google's business objective (before they got into driverless cars and geek specs) was to make money from advertising (it still is!) How do you do that? Clicks, clicks and more clicks, so conduct experiments to generate more clicks and prove your value.

Use this example in your own business. When working out what to measure look at your business objectives. What are the priorities for your CEO, CFO and/or board of directors? Set up a number of experiments based on those objectives/priorities. Measure those experiments and importantly, fail quickly. Be scrappy or epic, but don't do something in between. If you're going to make an album, make Thriller!

Make the biggest selling album of all time
Then use these experiments and the results as your invitation to the top table. The HiPPOs want to make informed decisions and you can help them.
  • Measurement helps us tell great stories.
  • Measurement helps us make decisions - scrappy or epic
  • Measurement makes us useful and valuable
How: use a tool, many of which are free, and ask for help.
Why: to make better decisions and get a seat at the top table
What: Align your measurement experiments to the business objectives, make it scrappy and fail fast, or make Thriller!

Do you have any example of great measurement tools I should be using? Or examples of where measurement has provided you with a really interesting insight or an invite to the top table?

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Google+ - not so evil after all?

Just recently I have noticed an increasing number of friends, colleagues and former colleagues asking me about Google+. Usually with a sigh of resignation they say something like: "you'll have to show me how to use Google+" or perhaps: "I've created a Google+ page for X any tips?"

Now this increase could be down to a number of factors:
  • While I was working at Google nobody wanted to talk shop with me, but now I've left they think I'm more likely to tell them "the answer". Please note: there is no answer, not even if you Google it!
  • People are starting to wake up to Google+. They are noticing more people talking about it and more activity on it and they want in.
  • The fear of being left behind is now greater than the fear of wasting time on "another platform"/something new. 
  • People have read the blog post where Google denied killing a donkey with a street view car and they've decided Google isn't evil after all.
Whatever the reason, it has promoted me to put together a blog post (my first in an age). So when the next person asks for Google+ help, I can point them in this direction and save repeating myself.

I suppose I should add a disclaimer to say, these answers are my own thoughts (for what they are worth) and although I recently stopped working at Google, the tips and tricks below are certainly not: "the answer" because, as I've already mentioned, there isn't one.

What is Google+

Google figured out a while ago that what would make search better is social. When you search for "best place for brunch in Covent Garden" it would be great to get back some results from the cool people you know, raving about the Eggs Benedict in a cute little diner just off Long Acre. The problem was, Google didn't have access to this information, and it was not about to ask Mark Zuckerberg for help! And so they set about trying to invent a social layer for search, and Google+ is the latest iteration of that idea. It is not actually intended to be a social platform. It is intended to "socialise" the whole web.

Okay, I get why Google wants us to use Google+, but why should I?

As an individual, there are a few reasons why you might want to use Google+

  • If you already login to use Google, then Google+ will enhance your search experience, by showing you which search results your friends have recommended (+1).
  • If you have friends or colleagues who regularly use Google+ then it is a great way to keep in touch. In particular, hangouts (the free video chat facility, which allows a whole bunch of people to talk and share content) can be a great way to catch up and share.
  • If you are particularly interested in a brand/TV show or celebrity then Google+ can be a great way of keeping up to date with the latest news. Some celebrities and brands are very active and on Google+ and offer exclusive opportunities and content.
  • If you have a niche hobby and would like to meet like minded people. Google+ (obviously) has an excellent search facility, so however weird and wonderful your interests, chances are there is someone on Google+ who shares your passion.
  • If you're interested in photography. Google+ is an excellent way to share photographs and there are a large number of photography groups and galleries to interactive with.

What should my brand be doing on Google+? I'm already busy on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn et al. Why should I use Google+? I set up a page, but I don't see much interaction?

If you are using Google+ on behalf of a big brand, which (crucially) spends money on AdWords, then your AdWords account manager is a great place to start. All of the Google sales people get brownie points for supporting brands on Google+. You may be able to convince them to help filming hangouts for you, setting up pages, attracting followers etc.

Google may also provide one-to-one help if your community/brand interest them/would be of value on Google+. For example, in the UK the Google+ team have spent time helping mums groups, such as the NCT and MumsNet. 

If you can’t get direct support from Google, then their forums are the next best thing:
Google+ itself is a good way to get advice on Google+ - check out:
There are also a whole bunch of case studies that you might find useful:
If you have any comments/questions or top tips of your own, please don't hesitate to add your two-pence worth below.