Comms by the Coast 2015

A few weeks ago I hosted our annual students’ union communication people gathering in Brighton – Comms by the Coast.

I wish I had more time to write about the things I learned and the ideas it sparked for me but the run-up to new students arriving is more hectic than ever!

After everyone had grabbed a pastry Suki and Aisling from LSE SU and Arts SU talked about how they’ve used calls to action in their email marketing and reflected on their experience working between two different unions.

>> View Suki & Aisling’s presentation

Eleanor from Ofgem talked about how they’ve shared their ‘Be An Energy Shopper‘ campaign on a limited budget.

>> View Eleanor’s presentation

Jess and Heather from the Open University Students Association showed us how they’ve been engaging their 200,000 distance learners.

>> View Jess & Heather’s presentation

Christine from Musterpoint talked about engaging with the media and the public.

>> View Christine’s presentation

Chris from The Student Room showcased some of their insight into students.

>> View Chris’s presentation

After a sunny lunch, Tom from Bristol, Emil from UEA (now at Goldsmiths) and Lucy from Sussex talked about their rebranding projects. It was really interesting to hear about three different approaches and see their final looks.

>> View Tom’s presentation

>> View Emil’s presentation

>> View Lucy’s presentation

Finally, Jamie from Swansea talked about his experience of working for a students’ union and a university.

It was so nice to see everyone and pick their brains. The discussion session the afternoon before the main event was sooooo useful and I came away with loads of ideas.

A massive thank you to everyone who came along and to everyone who contributed.

You can see presentations from Comms by the Coast 2014  on my blog too.


August 21st, 2015|Communications|0 Comments|

Students’ Unions 2014 – my communications sessions

I’m speaking at Students’ Unions 2014, a conference for students’ union staff and officers.

This year it is in glamorous Bolton and I’ll be talking about content marketing and communications tools.

My presentations are linked below but I plan to blog about the themes raised and tools suggested in more detail. To be notified when I update my blog with more details you can subscribe to my sporadic email updates.

Content marketing: let’s do it better

Content marketing presentation

Since going to the Content Marketing Show, run by my friend Kelvin Newman (who was recently voted as having had the most impact on the digital marketing industry over the past year!) a few years ago I’ve been learning more and more about content marketing.

It’s one of those things that is actually fairly obvious – people don’t like being ‘sold’ at so aim to be useful and friendly so they’ll come to you when they need you. My freshers newsletter campaign is an example of content marketing, offering people something useful – in this case information about our events and learning about being a student – in return for permission to communicate with them so you can build a relationship with them.

The point of my presentation is that it is often easier not to bother and just to spam people with messages focused around yourself. Instead, I think we should be focusing on what students want and how we can help with that.

I should point out that this presentation looks beautiful because I made it with Canva, my new favourite tool which makes it super easy to design amazing looking things.

>> View presentation

101ish free & cheap tools for communications people

101ish free or cheap tools for marketing and communications people presentationI initially pitched this session by plucking the number 101 from the air as it sounded more interesting than 74 and more impressive than 14 not expecting the session to be chosen. Turns out it was and that 101 is a lot of tools to find and list!

My original session time was halved to 30 minutes which gave me a good excuse to aim for 50 tools instead as well as an opportunity to crowdsource an extra 50 to hit my original target.

If you have any other tools I should add to my list please let me know – – or leave a comment below.

>> View presentation

If you go, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Students’ Unions 2014. I’m always happy to publish guest posts so feel free to send over something to add to my blog



July 2nd, 2014|Speaking|2 Comments|

‘Reading the internet’ – some of my favourite blogs

I was recently asked what my hobbies are and answered ‘reading the internet’. It is how I spend a lot of my free time and I love filling my brain up with new things to ponder (as well as the less highbrow stuff I read!) so I thought I’d share some of my favourite blogs and ask you for your suggestions of other blogs to try.

I read my blogs via an RSS reader which brings everything into one place so I don’t have to remember to visit lots of websites. I use Feedly as it has lots of keyboard shortcuts so I can blitz through my feeds on my computer and a great iPhone app so I can read anywhere. I sort most of these into categories (including one helpfully called ‘blogs’) to help me find particular things or focus on particular topics.

These are just some of the blogs I read regularly. Feedly makes it easy to skip through the headlines of my ridiculously large blog collection so I don’t read every post from every blog but I pretty much read the ones below from cover to cover (there doesn’t seem to be a digital equivalent for that term!)

Why so many blogs? Why so much reading? When I run training sessions about writing for the web I tell people one of the best ways to write better is to read a lot. Reading good (and bad!) stuff online has taught me so much about how to structure my writing, what makes something compelling and the importance of having a clear and consistent voice.

I also love reading and learning new things. Growing up I’d read a book a day (and still can if I have enough time) and would turn the cereal box round on the table so I had something to read while I ate breakfast.

What else should I be reading? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments or on Twitter where I’m @jowalters

Content marketing blogs

Copyblogger@copyblogger – “Solutions for smarter content marketing – Since January 2006, Copyblogger has been teaching people how to create killer online content. Not bland corporate crap created to fill up a company webpage.Valuable information that attracts attention, drives traffic, and builds your business.” – A good focus on the writing side of communications.

Econsultancy@econsultancy – Do you know what is a good idea if your business is about selling content marketing services? Doing content marketing. These guys do it really well with lots of really useful stuff including posts by and featuring my good friend Kelvin Newman.

Email Marketing Tips@aweber – Another example of people who sell stuff for content marketers (in this case, a newsletter system which I’ve blogged about using) using content marketing to sell their stuff. They’ve also featured a post written by me (lucky them!)

The Guardian: Blogging – This feed picks out all Guardian articles tagged with ‘blogging’ so it is a good mix of techie geek stuff and current affairs.

HubSpot’s Inbound Hub@hubspot – Practising what they preach these guys post all the time so you have to sift through to find the stuff that is relevant to you but their posts are really useful, use a mix of formats and are really easy to read (as you’d expect when you describe yourselves as pioneers of inbound marketing!)

Men With Pens@menwithpens – “World class websites and copywriting – Enjoy 1,000+ articles geared to your content-marketing, writing, freelancing or small business endeavors” – More writing stuff including writing books.

ProBlogger@problogger – “Blog Tips to Help You Make Money Blogging – In 2002 I stumbled upon an article about ‘Blogging’. I didn’t know it at the time but that moment changed my life.” Frequent posts on a variety of blogging topics focused on making money from blogging. My favourite posts are by site founder, Darren.

Unmarketing@unmarketing – “Scott Stratten is the President of Un-Marketing. He is an expert in Viral, Social, and Authentic Marketing which he calls Un-Marketing. It’s all about positioning yourself as a trusted expert in front of your target market, so when they have the need, they choose you.” – Sometimes snarky, always useful. I’ve blogged previously about his book of the same name which I totally love.

Charity communications blogs

Charity Chap@charitychap – “I help charities use the internet to change the world through social media coaching and training, digital campaigning, and writing inspiring words”

comms2point0@comms2point0 – “comms2point0 is a free online resource for creative communicators in public, private, third sector and HE comms & PR” – Focuses on local government stuff but is really transferable to charities and students’ unions. Definitely worth following on Twitter as they share lots of good stuff from around the web. Also use fabulous vintage images to illustrate their posts.

The Democratic Society@demsoc – “The Democratic Society is an independent membership organisation. We promote democracy and new forms of governance through citizen participation, debate and building bridges between those who ‘know’ and those who ‘do’” – Whilst not directly relevant for every charity (though definitely useful for people working in students’ unions) there are some interesting themes relating to engagement and participation which are broadly transferable.

Higher Education Network: The Guardian – @@GdnHigherEd – “Ideas, insight and debate from the global higher education community” – Obviously this one is for a fairly specific sector but the Guardian’s networks highlight the benefits of having a clearly identified niche and of pulling together lots of different contributors.

The Non-Profit Marketing Blog@Network4Good – “The Nonprofit Marketing Blog is managed by the nonprofit marketing and advisory teams at Network for Good. Our goal is to bring you the best in nonprofit marketing trends, fundraising techniques, technology developments and amazing nonprofit examples to help, encourage and inspire the do-gooders of the world. We’re here to help you effectively engage your communities and win hearts and minds—and donations.”

Voluntary Sector Network: The Guardian – @GdnVoluntary – “Insight, advice and best practice from the community”

Feminist blogs

Feministe@Feministe – “In defense of the sanctimonious women’s studies set – Feministe is one of the oldest feminist blogs online designed by and run by women from the ground up.”

Feministing@Feministing – “Young feminists blogging, organising, kicking ass”

Jezebel@Jezebel – “Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing” – Definitely one of my favourite sites due to the range of topics they cover and high sarcasm content (and the fact they talked about the random bus thing I was involved in). Their headlines are some of my favourite on the internet. They also post cute animal pics which scores points with me.

Lifestyle & interiors blogs

Apartment Therapy@AptTherapy‎ – “Helping people make their homes more beautiful, organized and healthy by connecting them to a wealth of resources, ideas and community online”  – Beautiful beautiful houses, DIY and design things.

Carolina Charm – @C_Marcellino – Christina blogs about her life, house, dog, family, parties and holidays.

House*Tweaking@housetweaking – “Because home doesn’t happen overnight” – One of my top three not work-related blogs (along with Young House Love & Manhattan Nest). Dana writes about doing up her house, blogging and her super cute family.

Manhattan Nest@danielkanter – Daniel blogs (amongst other things) about doing up his newly purchased old house and his dogs with a healthy dose of friendly sarcasm. Essentially the trifecta for my recreational blog-reading.

The Planned Adventure@ruthlgarner – my friend Ruth writes about her adventures and beautiful things.

RedneckModern – “a mid-century modern restoration resource” – I love mid-century modern style and these guys share some amazing houses, interiors and furniture.

Young House Love@younghouselove – “Wut up. We’re Sherry & John. Just your average married couple with a lively three year old, a moody chihuahua, and a love of all things home. Here’s where we chat about transforming our house, living in it, and all the random bits in between.” – YHL ooooooozes Sherry & John. I’ve never met them but feel like I know them as their site has such a consistent and distinct tone that feels completely authentic. They also share family stuff at Young House Life.

Productivity blogs

The first blogs I really got into were about productivity stuff, largely Getting Things Done, but these days they are just part of my sprawling feed collection.

Lifehacker@lifehacker‎ – “Tips, tricks, and downloads for getting things done” – I love Lifehacker’s mix of topics which ranges from DIY to tech stuff and their concise writing style. A tip I emailed in even featured in one of their round-ups. Basically a productivity expert.

Unclutterer@unclutterer – “Unclutterer is the blog about getting and staying organized. A place for everything, and everything in its place is our gospel” – Appeals to my organising/list-making side.

Other blogs

Various Google blogs including Google Analytics, Gmail, Google for non-profits for updates on the Google things I use. I also read blogs for other tools I use including Remember the Milk.

Mind Your Language@guardianstyle – The blog of the Guardian’s style guide editors. A must for grammar and writing nerds and particularly great on Twitter

The Obvious by Euan Semple@euan – “I called it The Obvious? when I wrote anonymously and chose the name to reflect the fact I have to overcome my inhibitions about stating the obvious!” – One of the most recent additions to my collection after reading Euan’s great book, ‘Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do‘. Euan writes about the power of digital and social tools for people and organisations.

This column will change your life – @oliverburkeman– “Oliver Burkeman investigates routes to mental wellbeing” – Interesting and funny insights into psychology and lifestyle theories.

I’ve also subscribed to the Guardian feeds for David Mitchell, Laurie Penny, Charlie Brooker, Rebecca Front and Mark Thomas as they write funny and/or interesting and/or thought-provoking stuff.

Silly blogs

Some of the more random stuff I follow…

ANIMALS TALKING IN ALL CAPS – “It’s just what it sounds like” – Yes it is.

BuzzFeed@BuzzFeed – I pretend I read this so I can be up to date on youth culture and internet trends for work purposes. Really I just like lists of animal gifs. Actually though I’ve been experimenting with Buzzfeed style ‘list posts’ in my writing for Sussex Students’ Union which seem to be going down well.

Clients From Hell@clientsfh – “A collection of anonymously contributed client horror stories from designers”

What have I missed out?

Don’t forget to let me know what else I should be reading online in the comments or on Twitter – @jowalters


Data-driven decision-making

Ashamed of having to write ‘blogs sporadically at’ in a few profiles recently I am determined to blog more regularly about the thoughts floating around my head.

This is a somewhat cop-out blog post however as it is just pointing to a conference session I ran at Students’ Unions 2013 – a national conference for students’ union staff and officers.

I pitched several sessions (never shy about waffling on in front of a room of strangers who are bound by social norms to stay until the end then clap) and was asked to talk about how we can use data to help with communications decision-making. You can view slides from the presentation on SlideShare though my presentation style means they’re quite light on text and heavy on random images!

I will endeavour to write a more lengthy post including my thoughts on some of the topics I covered but for now just enjoy the colourful pictures and imagine how long it took me to find them all on Flickr…



July 3rd, 2013|Digital|1 Comment|

Clandon Wood – branching out into digital marketing

Clandon Wood is a 31 acre area of new native woodland, wildflower meadows, lake and wetland in Surrey due to open in May 2012. It will be planted and landscaped to attract wildlife, accommodate natural burials and provide new habitats for people to explore. They aim to appeal to nature lovers, school groups, people looking for natural burials and people who just want to enjoy the beautiful woodland.

As a relatively new project, Clandon Wood are keen to learn how they could use social media to attract and involve people. With lots of planning and action required to develop the site and their services, they are after some quick, easy and effective solutions that won’t take any more than 30 minutes per day.

These are some of my suggestions for them to consider. They’re super brief at the moment to give them some ideas about what they want to focus on…


Their temporary website is online now at and a new one is on the way.

It’ll need to contain relevant keywords to help people find it via search engines. These should cover all of the aspects of the project – burials, nature, woodland – as well as local keywords such as Clandon, Guildford and Surrey.

They should follow basic SEO principles such as getting links from relevant, quality sites and producing regular effective content. They might want to use a blog format to update visitors on the development of the site and day to day activities once it is up and running.

They can integrate Facebook & Twitter to their site, either through clickable icons or with embedded content featuring their latest posts.

They could make use of a free Adwords voucher which are available from time to time. This would allow them to experiment with Google’s paid search to see if they should continue to use it in the future to drive visitors to their website.


If they’re looking to build a community of like-minded and/or local people, Clandon Wood should consider setting up an email newsletter. This could be segmented to allow people to subscribe to different aspects of the business or follow the development of the site.


Clandon Wood are already on Twitter – @clandonwood – and chatting to people but a quick look over some Twitter basics might be useful to get to grips with how mentions work (where you put someone else’s username first in a message mostly to them to avoid clogging up people’s feed with conversations). They could also change the name on the profile from an individual staff member to the organisation’s name.

They can search for relevant people to follow based on the different areas of what they do. This could include local organisations, nature organisations and those related to death and burials. This will also help by finding useful and interesting information to retweet from others to add variety to their Twitter output.

They could set up searches for keywords on Twitter to find people talking about relevant topics and local issues. This can be easily done using software such as Tweetdeck. There are plenty of apps for smartphones too which allow you to keep an eye on things on the go and easily respond.


I’d suggest Clandon Wood set up a Facebook page which is the best format for businesses (rather than Facebook groups or personal profiles). This can be used to post updates and photos and gather people interested in what they’re doing.

I always recommend not auto-posting between Facebook and Twitter if possible as posting separately allows you to make the most of each format, e.g. posting photos directly to Facebook and keeping within Twitter’s character limit.

Other ideas

Clandon Wood could think about using Pinterest to share beautiful images of the woodland and collate images that are relevant to what they do. More and more brands are experimenting with Pinterest (and I personally spend faaaaar too much time looking at beautiful images there)

They can set up Google Alerts to keep an eye on people talking about them (with a [Clandon Woods] search) and other relevant search terms if they want to stay updated on other relevant topics too.

They should set up a Google Places entry to help people find them via location-based searching.

It sounds like video and photos could be used to showcase the location and services on offer.


In terms of a routine for Clandon Wood, this is what I’d suggest initially;


  • Check Facebook & Twitter for people requiring a response (and respond!)

A few times per week

  • Post interesting, relevant information to Facebook & Twitter
  • Keep an eye on Google Alerts and saved Twitter searches for mentions of Clandon Wood/related topics


  • Post a blog update

Final thoughts

Clandon Wood’s plan will depend on their objectives and the amount of time they have available to sustain their digital marketing activities.

Once their activities are more developed they can branch out (no woodland pun intended!) and measure the impact of their activities to test what is working best and where to focus their efforts.

January 24th, 2012|Digital|0 Comments|
  • Reading UnMarketing
    Permalink Reading UnMarketingGallery

    ‘Unmarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging’ ~ I love this book

‘Unmarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging’ ~ I love this book

Marketing is not a task.
Marketing is not a department.
Marketing is not a job.
Marketing happens every time you engage (or not) with your past, present, and potential customers

So, recently I’ve been reading UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging. by Scott Stratten and I thought I’d share some of the bits that made me go ‘oooooo yes I should definitely change how I do that’. Problem with that is that most of the book made me do that so here are the top best bits (as well as two pictures featuring my knees…)

UnMarketing notesThe book talks about the importance of building relationships with your customers and gives lots of examples of how this has been done well and badly by various organisations (the bad examples are my favourite!)

Scott emphasis the need to be authentic and real and not be tempted by automation where it kills personal contact.

He has a fancy diagram (who doesn’t love a diagram?) that shows that the best customers are those who have a relationship with you based on trust.

He describes the ‘trust gap‘ – “the amount of trust you have to earn before your potential customer will consider buying from you” and the ‘experience gap‘ – “the space between the best services, often what a new customer receives and the worst experience”. You need to work out how to bridge the former and minimise the latter.

The book is full of easy to read case studies and examples. The chapters are short and snappy which makes it perfect park reading material…

Reading UnMarketing

Scott definitely practises what he preaches, I tweeted this picture and mentioned @unmarketing

[blackbirdpie url=”!/jowalters/status/57139057960030208″]

… and swiftly got this reply 🙂

[blackbirdpie url=”!/unmarketing/status/57151603144273920″]

You should buy the book and go have a wander through the UnMarketing website –


Viral cats (not cats with viruses)

“I had never heard of Cravendale milk until Bertrum Thumbcat came along… I bought my first carton today and it’s quite tasty! Yes, I am a slave to advertising … and to thumbed cats.”


What would happen if cats had thumbs? This is one of the questions we’ve all asked ourselves (or is that just me?). Cravendale milk have decided to answer this for us with a great example of viral marketing.


Bertrum ThumbcatThe ad appears to be aimed at a tech-savvy audience with its twitter, facebook and web channels highlighted at the end of the ad. This seems to have paid off as Bertrum Thumbcat (the feline star of the ad) attracting more than 15,000 fans on Facebook and almost 2,500 followers on Twitter (an interesting imbalance, maybe Bertrum is more fun in the media-rich and community-centric world of Facebook). The YouTube video itself has had over 1.5m views.

Milk isn’t a sexy product to market, we pour it on cornflakes and put it in tea. Also, one pint of milk is pretty much the same as any other so differentiating your brand is a bigger challenge than with many other products. Cravendale have previously differentiated their product by highlighting the fact it is filtered and therefore purer though their previous ads didn’t stand out so much (one of their previous ads has a fraction of the views on YouTube).

Whilst the ad itself is very funny and people may share it amongst their friends, that in itself is not necessarily the mark of a successful viral marketing campaign. The transition to measurable tools such as the Facebook page allows the brand to subtly build a relationship with the consumer and continue the ad’s success beyond its initial TV airing. The enthusiasm of the page’s users suggest that Cravendale have made their brand of milk stand out to consumers.

March 10th, 2011|Digital|0 Comments|