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|1 Comment|

Heal’s; the good, the bad and the very beautiful

So, one of the things I like to do (other than starting paragraphs with ‘so,..’) is to look at lovely things in lovely shops. Since the sad demise of Habitat I’d been on the lookout for a replacement and thought I’d give Heal’s a try. Heal’s is a chain of six shops selling furniture, home things and gifts which I used to browse as a teenager (I was a pretentious teenager with expensive tastes!)

These are some of my favourite Heal’s things (well it’s nearly Christmas and I thought my friends, family and/or loyal readers might be feeling generous…)

Storage jarKnitted storage basketEames lounger

After lusting after pretty much everything in their shop I thought I’d check out their website. Their website is beautiful and fairly easy to navigate but then I started social media stalking them and decided they were missing out in a few areas.

Being a social media nerd (and after a good excuse not be writing the 15,000 word report for my MBA) I put together this list of tips for Heal’s;


Heals Facebook page screenshot1. Turn on your Facebook wall

If people can’t easily talk to you by posting on your Facebook wall then you’re just using Facebook to talk at people rather than with people. Not very social use of social media is it?

I’d recommend allowing people to post on your wall to show you’re happy to hear from your customers and fans.

2. Integrate sales

Why not sell things through your Facebook page? People might not spend £1250 on a bed but they might buy some Christmas gifts. Social Media Today have some other tips for integrating Facebook with online retail such as exclusive offers for your Facebook fans or encouraging customers to share their purchases online.

3. Ask questions, start conversations

At the moment, your wall is pretty much all press releasey promotional stuff and whilst it is good to draw attention to new and exciting things you’re being the Facebook equivalent of someone standing in the corner at a party droning on about themself.

Ask questions and encourage people to respond and interact with your content. Tag your favourite in this collage of products. Which area of your house would you most like to redecorate? Which is your favourite from our new collection? What will you treat yourself to this Christmas? Share your photos of Heal’s products in your home…

Ask people to share your content, like it or comment. This all helps show your fans that you’re interested in what they say and you might gain some useful customer insights and feedback

4. Use Facebook to capture customer data

The problem with Facebook is that its run by Facebook. If they change the rules there isn’t much you can do about it. Use Facebook to capture information about your fans so it is your data and you’re in control.

Heal’s have an email newsletter so why not set up a tab for people to subscribe or regularly post links to your subscription page?

5. Link your offline activities to your online things (and vice versa)

Encourage people to ‘check in’ at your shops, you could reward people with a special discount or offer. Put your Facebook details in your shops, on till receipts and promotional items.

6. Differentiate yourself with some personality

With only six shops and a long history of furniture-making and design you could make your brand stand out by adding some personal touches. Tell us about your staff, show us photos of special occasions, share stories of your staff and customers. This helps fans connect with your brand and builds affinity.


I totally love that you have an email newsletter (I’m a mega fan of newsletters since our Freshers Week success story) but subscribing is a little weird; you add your email address on one page then have to fill it in again on another. I imagine some people might not bother with the second stage so you might be losing subscribers. This is the first impression you’re giving people about your newsletter so you don’t want to confuse them or make them work too hard – they might remember this when considering buying from your website.

The free shipping code once you sign up is a nice little touch but have you experimented with telling people about it before they subscribe to encourage them to sign up? Presumably some free shipping on a few more orders is worth the extra subscribers with whom you can then build up a relationship and generate more orders in future.


Heals blogAgain, mega bonus points for having this, blogging = good but (again) I think you’re missing out.

Your blog is a bit too salesy and looks a tad like it was just written to squeeze in some good keywords and use some lovely photography rather than to genuinely engage with your customers (and potential customers)

Try dialing down the sales pitch and make your customers and their interests the focal point rather than your latest pretty shiny thing.

You could try inviting guest posts from design bloggers; maybe they could style a room, pick their favourite products or respond to a challenge such as furnishing a bedroom for a particular budget.

Showcase other products and things, not just yours. You don’t need to point out your competitors but why not include complementary products your market might love like handmade stationery (surrounded by Heal’s office bits maybe) or gorgeous recipes (served on Heal’s plates). You can still show off your stuff but it makes your blog sound less like a sales pitch and more like an interesting and inspiring design resource (confession; I am totally addicted to design blogs at the moment, I’ll try to put together a post with some of my favourites).

You could photograph and show off your customers’ homes to demonstrate how beautiful your products look in use and give people ideas for how they could style them and fit them into their homes (by the way you’re more than welcome to give me loads of free stuff to do this with!)

You could offer tutorials that incorporate your products or styling tips; ‘5 ways to style this bed’, ‘how to prepare for unexpected guests’

You could use your blog to focus on the areas local to your shops; highlight local events, retailers and people to connect with local customers and get links from other local companies. I’d be happy to recommend some excellent cake and/or ice cream shops in the Brighton area for instance (I might just start on some pre-emptive research on that one…)

For bonus marks…

Experiment with other tools like Pinterest (seriously, it’s an amazing site though terribly easy to lose hours on just staring at all the lovely things). You can use it to curate collections that others can then ‘repin’ (share with their friends) and encourage your customers to add photos of their Heal’s things in use. Pinterest is a very design-focused, visual community so ideal for your market.

Would video be a useful tool? YouTube is apparently the second most used search tool after Google and ‘how do I…’ is their most common search term. Could you provide video demonstrations of products, 360o product views (both of which can be used on your product information pages to help drive sales) or follow some of the blogging principles above. For Christmas how about the best way to lay and decorate a table?

November 28th, 2011|Digital|0 Comments|

Freshers newsletter campaign

In one of those great ‘two birds, one stone’ scenarios a project I was working on fitted the brief for part of my course. It has also led to much smugness so I’ve decided to up the smug factor by sharing the project with you, the people of the internet.

Essentially, the Students’ Union wanted to launch a newsletter for new students (‘freshers’) to capture incoming students’ email addresses, get them interested in the Students’ Union and its Freshers Week events and start building a relationship between students and their Union.

This is the presentation I gave for my course outlining the project (which features some early drafts of the newsletter itself). It uses Prezi, a super cool online presentation tool which instantly makes your presentation infinitely more interesting than if you use PowerPoint (you might have to wait a mo for it to load), just use the back and forward buttons at the bottom right to move around or click and drag to move around. You can also view it full screen if you’d rather.

[prezi width=’640′ height=’486′][/prezi]

Permission MarketingI created a series of autoresponder emails which subscribers will receive over the summer in the run-up to the start of Freshers Week. Each email features one of the Union’s elected officers with tips and information relating to their area of responsibility and Freshers Week.

It builds on some of the principles of Seth Godin’s ‘Permission Marketing‘ which I recommend (though some of the examples now seem a little dated – it was written 10 years ago when Amazon looked like a promising little online bookseller…). The idea is that we get people’s permission to contact them via email by offering them something useful in return (in this case, exclusive news and content about Freshers Week). According to Godin (and common sense) they are then more likely to pay attention when we communicate with them than if we just put ads everywhere or thrust flyers into their hands.

Putting theory into practice

The newsletter is now live and is picking up between 10 and 20 new subscribers per day. We expect the subscriber rate to increase much faster once most students’ places are confirmed on 18th August. I’m using Aweber to manage subscriptions and send out emails and I thoroughly recommend it, it is really easy to use and their customer service is great. It also gives you lots of graphs and numbers to play with which makes me very happy!

So far the messages are getting very good open rates, much higher than our typical term-time emails. I attribute this principally to the niche content of the newsletter (whereas the term-time emails cover a wide range of topics) and new students’ enthusiasm for news about Freshers Week (and the well-crafted newsletter campaign obviously…). We’re hoping to transfer this high level of interaction to our term-time newsletter and other campaigns in future.

Unique opens Unique clicks
per open
1 – Hi [first name], welcome to our Freshers newsletter 68% 0.60
2 – [Sussex Freshers] Our top tips for settling in from Indi, Welfare Officer 58% 0.99
3 – [Sussex Freshers] top 5 Freshers things to get excited about from James, Activities Officer 68% 0.70
4 – [Sussex Freshers] How to find out what’s going on from Ariel, Communications Officer 47% 0.36
5 – [Sussex Freshers] A guide to the Sussex campus by Becca, Operations Officer 65% 0.67
6 – [Sussex Freshers] Tips for getting the most from your studies from Poppy, Education Officer 59% 0.26
7 – [Sussex Freshers] A look at the year ahead at Sussex from David, Students’ Union President 66% 0.44

I’ll keep this updated as the newsletter progresses, if nothing else it’ll encourage some friendly rivalry between the officers over who is the most ‘popular’! The table above was last updated on 22nd August, the first emails were sent on 27th June with follow up emails every four days.

I tagged the links in the emails so I can use Google Analytics to see how people browse our site by following links from the newsletter. A quick glance the other day suggested that these are driving people deeper into our site than normal which suggests the targeted nature of the emails is working.

After Freshers Week I’ll post some examples of the emails we’re using, I can’t do them earlier as they’re ‘exclusive content’ for subscribers only! If you’re super keen you can head over to and sign up yourself!


August 2nd, 2011|Digital|5 Comments|