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digital research methods
CC image courtesy of Duncan Hill on Flickr

Since moving back into academia a couple of years ago, I've been thinking about digital marketing research and in particular, digital research methods.  My belief is that the digital age requires a rethink on how we approach and treat data, and that there's a need to develop a new and innovative research methodology.

I advise my dissertation students (of social sciences, digital media, and marketing) to expand their literature search to include grey literature (particularly, reputable industry surveys, research reports, and blog posts). These sources are often more current than academic literature, and complement theories with for example latest social media usage statistics, mobile adoption, changing digital consumer behaviour (such as conversational search) or the effect of Google's and Facebook's algorithm updates on small businesses' ability to compete effectively online.

When it comes to Methodology, I favour an experimental approach largely driven by the nature of the business or research problem. In my PhD (Webfilm Theory), I used a mixture of Actor-Network theory and Discourse Analysis, and the beauty of ANT was that it allows you to pretty much follow any nodes. It's a meta-methodology!

For researching social media communications and online communities, I recommend to my students Kozinet's Netnography as a good starting point. And in terms of methods of data collection, I teach them how to use real-time data (e.g. from Facebook / YouTube analytics, search data, or Google Analytics).

Let's demonstrate this novel approach to research with an example involving the analysis and evaluation of search data!

Digital Research Methods - Search Data

Non-traditional data can be collected from search engines, for example, the terms people use to find information using Google.

This could also involve analysing and evaluating the html markup, content and link profile of other sites, to understand how they perform in the search engines (essential for competitor analysis, if you're a business using digital to sell online).

Below are two methods from search engine marketing that demonstrate why search data can be highly relevant to academic or business research.

1. Customer search analysis


Knowledge of consumer behaviour in relation to online search is essential to developing content and strategy that meets customer needs.

This isn't just relevant for market research - I've recently conducted an analysis into consumer search behaviour around suicide (in a post titled How to Kill Yourself). Try using this type of data instead of a focus group to uncover consumer behaviour around your research topic.

Data type

Primary, e.g. search volumes / related search / auto-complete (Google suggest), etc.


Google Keyword planner, Webmaster Tools, related search / auto-complete,, ubersuggest

Further reading

2. Competitor SEO Analysis


Knowledge of a competitor’s SEO strategy and profile is essential to discovering competitive advantage.

This applies primarily to business and marketing research, not so much social sciences. A while ago, I conducted a (light-hearted) competitor analysis of London's first Cat Cafe vs. the UK's first Cat Cafe (in Totnes) and discovered that the former's success had largely been driven by digital PR / use of social and the resulting earned links.

Of course you could extend the competitor analysis to social and online community research - just supplement the search analysis with Netnography on their Facebook / Twitter / any other social network pages.


Primary, i.e. html / meta data; Domain authority / backlink profile


Screaming Frog SEO spider, Open Site Explorer,  Majestic SEO

Further reading

Digital Research Methodology - Conclusion

CC image courtesy of PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE on Flickr
CC image courtesy of PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE on Flickr

The digital age has resulted in an explosion of 'big data'. Large-scale real-time customer data is now readily available for free, and search and social media data are excellent primary sources to conduct research, both in the social sciences and business and marketing (e.g. consumer behaviour).

For academic researchers at all levels (including student dissertations, PhDs and post-docs), a comprehensive search of sources must increasingly include grey literature and real-time sources such as industry-specific blog posts and other content available in the public domain. The risk of ignoring grey literature is that the resulting research will be at best out of date, and at worst, simply wrong.

Last but not least, a modern digital researcher must have a digitally native mindset. S/he must be able to master digital research and survey tools (such as Google forms / Google apps), collect and evaluate digital and social analytics data (such as Facebook Insights, Google Analytics), and overall be very comfortable with technology.

Above all, s/he must be a citizen of the Internet!


One of my International Marketing Management students, Lex van Lynden, is running the Edinburgh Marathon this year for charity. He's a complete marathon beginner and had asked me for help with creating awareness of his run and raising money for charity using digital and social media.

Why run a Marathon for charity?

amnesty international logoWhen we met up to talk through ideas, I wanted to find out more about his motivations. He is raising money for  Amnesty International - a charity that I myself have supported for a very long time. Lex' main reasons are:

I am passionate about Amnesty because they are helping people around the world and I am raising money for a charity that I believe in. Amnesty International and its 7 million members and supporters help to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated.

guantanamo bay
CC image courtesy of Walt Jabsco on Flickr

In the initial brainstorming, I thought of ideas to connect a marathon run to the Cause. For example, when I think of AI I typically think of torture, or humiliation; in particular, the sickening images of Guatanamo bay come to mind.

I thought one way to bring those two together might be for Lex to humiliate himself and document his humiliation for all the world to see (i.e. through social media). For example, he could promise to run the marathon sporting an 'Benjamin Button style' old man haircut, and upload pictures of himself to social (as well as encouraging others to do so). As a result, a bank of 'humiliating' images of him would live on the internet forever!

The point was: the message of AI needs to be communicated in a simple, easy to understand way. Everyone knows who Amnesty are but I suspect it's mostly a general, fuzzy awareness. The best way to tell their story is to address a very specific issue.

Picking a campaign cause

newborn baby
CC image courtesy of Gates Foundation on Flickr

I invited Lex to present his mission to students of my MSc Digital Marketing, who are currently working as PR agency DX on a live Digital PR campaign (find out more about them on The Digital Scot).

After briefing the agency with Lex' campaign objectives (key goal: raise £450 by his Marathon run, 31/05/15), and giving a few deliverables, they worked on it in a morning sprint presenting their response at lunch time.

The student agency's big idea was to raise awareness of AI and the cause through:

  • telling a specific current AI action / story (Pregnancy Shouldn't Kill)
  • hooking the story in to an upcoming UK / EU calendar event i.e Mother's Day (15 March UK; 10 May 15 Netherlands / Germany)

There were some other strong ideas, including a slogan ('Cheques for Lex', or something along those lines 🙂 ) and a weekly 'PayDay' including call to action, allowing Lex to solicit weekly payments perhaps in return for updates on his progress / photos / other goodies.

Lex (and I) were very impressed with the students' proposal, and he used some of their suggestions to help with his marathon charity run. For instance, he modified his JustGiving page to tell a specific story, and has 'branded' his page and social accounts with the same image - a great photo showing his recent is Edinburgh half marathon success!

Sponsor Edinburgh Marathon Runner Lex

marathon charityLet me finish this post with a CTA (Call to Action):

I want you all to sponsor Lex' marathon run - especially if you're Dutch (support a fellow countryman!), or a mother (ask your sons / daughters to donate to Lex instead of buying a mothers' day gift this year. You'll give other children a greater chance of having a mother).

To end with Lex' words:

...South one of the worst places in the world to become a mother. They need to face issues such as lack of vital healthcare, overstretched nurses, ambulance shortages and general lack of support. Because of all that, many don’t survive.

With Mother’s day coming up, it is important to think about our own experiences and try to imagine how difficult it is to be a mother elsewhere in the world.

Donate to Lex today - and help end human rights abuse in the world.







This week I attended a guest lecture on digital student recruitment by Christian Bremicker, Head of Social Media and Online Marketing at Benedict Education Group in Switzerland - specifically its internationally renowned Business & Hotel Management School (BHMS).

I'm currently teaching a New Media Marketing module to MSc Students of RGU's International Marketing Management, where digital marketing including social media feature prominently.  To give my students a real-life case study of using digital media in student recruitment, I took them along to Christian's talk as part of their afternoon lab session.

Digital student recruitment class

While I can't and won't reveal specific business data or any other secrets from his excellent and persuasive talk, here are some tips and ideas to consider if you're keen on using digital channels, especially in international student recruitment (one of BHMS' key target markets).

Effective student marketing in the digital age

digital marketing funnel
CC image courtesy of Eric delcroix on Flickr

Christian is an experienced marketer working in a commercial environment - BHMS is a private Business School. He treats digital not as an 'add on' but, like any good marketer should, as a key and cost-effective tool in an integrated marketing strategy.  Specifically, he uses digital channels to fill the top of the marketing funnel thus generating leads into the sales pipeline.

BHMS' target audience are international Generation Y, and it goes without saying that student recruitment strategies for this segment must be digital (and mobile) first!

In a nutshell, Christian's digital marketing strategy aims to drive quality traffic (= his international target audience) to the BHMS website, where these leads are captured and nurtured via an online chat (with REAL people, not robots!), on the road to conversion (applying to / studying @ the Business School).

I love it because it's simple and effective, and it focuses on the bottom line. Christian also shared some recent success metrics, which I'm not going to publish here but let's say it's impressive.

Digital student recruitment

digital student recruitment - quote
CC image courtesy of Ken Whytock on Flickr

While the underlying approach (1. get people to site; 2. capture leads through live chat) looks simple, digital student recruitment is in fact hugely complex due to the characteristics, behaviour and most importantly customer needs of a global digital audience in their 20s.

I have previously talked about how to earn the attention of this audience in a post on teaching Generation Y. It follows that student recruitment strategies in the digital age MUST consider the following Gen Y audience characteristics:

  • Short attention span: your website has 3-5 seconds to make an impression
  • Mobile first: mobile features prominently in the customer purchase journey (often first touch point)
  • Audience fragmentation:  'segment of one' marketing

BHMS has tackled these key challenges in a number of ways, including:

Short attention span:

  • Easy, fast user journey (website UX);
  • Multi-touchpoint (e.g. social ads, PPC, organic social);
  • Personalisation (e.g. using data from user website browsing data to inform live chat)

Mobile first:

  • Responsive website;
  • Key conversion tool (live chat) is both mobile and desktop

Audience fragmentation:

  • Hyper-targeted paid advertising;
  • Global - local integration (e.g. leads generated through digital handed to local experts in territory to close)
  • Personalistation (using both digital data and cultural insight to tailor application experience to individual's behavioural, psychological and cultural needs)

There was plenty more meat in his presentation, especially in regard to international student recruitment and the challenge of China - a country that is a key target market for Western and in particular English-language Universities. However, as Christian eloquently pointed out (and which I've explored in a recent talk myself), traditional or even progressive Western digital strategies (both channels and approach) won't work there (e.g. Facebook isn't even allowed across there. One of my past students from China told me that people who get caught using Facebook may get a 'phone call' from an official).

Social media for international student recruitment

Finally, let's look at the role of social media in Christian's digital marketing strategy. It's important here to differentiate between organic and non-organic (i.e. paid) social media marketing.

BHMS have a global Facebook page and use both organic and paid social media for student recruitment.

Social advertising (on Facebook) is unsurprisingly Christian's best-performing (most efficient and effective) acquisition channel. This stuff works! I'm not going to go into detail here but paid Facebook advertising when used right is a low cost channel to generate traffic that also convert into leads due to the extremely targeted advertising options. It's a fantastic option for recruiting international students since he can reach most of them here; thus focusing his budget very effectively and efficiently.

In terms of organic social media, Christian uses it mainly for brand building and to help keep BHMS top of mind (he tracks engagement metrics and monitors real-time data and comments from social to continually improve social content and the overall social customer experience of his prospects).

BHMS facebook

Theirs is a global brand page i.e. one vanity URL but different local pages served up and managed in territory (this is only open to brands on application, takes a little while for Facebook to do, and tends to be open to brands with significant and regular paid advertising spend, naturally...).

Key success factors of BHMS' use of social media for student recruitment:


  • Global / local branding - the image of the bell above is the same on all Facebook pages, with the text localised to each language (Welcome / Willkommen / etc.)

Organic channel optimisation

  • Use of Facebook cover photo as marketing real estate (branding, link to site)
  • Integration with website (e.g. live chat app tab)

Acquisition marketing

  • Paid advertising (both to existing global FB community and new prospects i.e. non-likes)
  • Efficient and effective use of Facebook advertising platform to drive target traffic to website at low CPA

Conclusions: Student recruitment in the digital age

international student recruitment
CC image courtesy of Saint Louis University on Flickr

All in all, Christian's talk provided an excellent case study for how to effectively market to digital international students. BHMS' approach to online student recruitment is one that I would fully endorse, and recommend to other Universities keen to reduce their student acquisition cost through the use of digital channels.

This really isn't just about acquisition either, but also about brand-building and engagement. BHMS' focus on customer needs at each stage of the purchase funnel, to make the experience of applying and enrolling as easy and enjoyable as possible.

In conclusion, BHMS have truly taken a modern marketing approach - one that is customer-first and guided by their prospective students' needs at each stage of the decision-making process.

DIT_logocol2013_webThis week I had the pleasure to be an external examiner on  DIT's (the Dublin Institute of Technology) Postgrad Dip in Advertising & Digital Communications. A strong digitally focused part-time course now in its 5th year,  its USP is the close relationship it has with industry - the course was developed by DIT and IAPI (the Industry of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland), and 75% of its lecturers are currently working in advertising in one form or another.

Needless to say this is right up my street - after all, our own MSc Digital Marketing was similarly developed with industry to teach the digital marketing skills employers need, and we too have strong links with practitioners (including guest lecturers, a mentorship programme with DigitasLBi, live client projects, and more).

DIT invited me to be an external examiner late last year, after finding me using Google then checking me out on LinkedIn - Personal Branding (and on-page SEO) FTW!

How to teach digital courses - DIT and RGU

My conviction (and I'm quite obsessed with this) is that you can't teach digital courses from books. I do not use any books in my teaching and instead constantly research and read reputable industry blogs from which I upgrade and refresh my knowledge in real-time, directly putting it into professional practice (both in my teaching as well as when doing digital marketing for this site or side projects / clients).

CC image courtesy of ChowKaiDeng on Flickr

Professional practice is also central to DIT's course (most of the lecturers are practitioners). I was very impressed by their pioneering approach, and it's clearly been a success both for them and industry (employers recruit directly from the course).  And DIT have been doing it for 5 years! Wow!

I observed a fulsome and well-rounded, practice-focused teaching and learning experience when examining the course outputs.

The student course work and types of assessments were wide-ranging - from beautiful creative playbooks to media diaries where students note down all advertising they saw in a week, analysing its perceived effectiveness.

In another assignment (a group work), students worked as an 'agency' creating a real live advertising campaign proposal and pitch focusing on current (and highly relevant) communications issues (NSA / online surveillance and privacy; childhood obesity; PMMA (a highly toxic MDMA-like drug)).

How different is the DIT course from RGU's MSc Digital Marketing?

It's rare that I would recommend a postgraduate digital marketing or communications course other than ours - however the DIT's course is probably one of the best - if not THE best, for anyone looking for professional development in digital advertising on a part-time basis (it is taught evenings with the very occasional weekend).

digital advertising
CC image courtesy of Will Lion on Flickr

The course is also distinct and different enough from RGU's MSc Digital Marketing - we're not really going after the same target audience. The DIT course largely focuses on Advertising, and is aimed at professionals wishing to upskill in this area in a digital context. There is a creative and an executive stream - the exec stream deals with client liaison, media planning / buying and so on, and generally the course content covers the knowledge and skills you need to work agency-side.

In contrast, we only look at advertising (paid media) in a few sessions - our approach is all-encompassing and we teach strategy, organic digital marketing, digital content creation, measurement and evaluation, digital PR / content marketing, etc.  And our aim isn't specifically to produce graduates to work agency-side or indeed in Advertising (though this is an option for them - we do have a lot of 'soft skill' training and they work on live client projects and have agency guest speakers and workshops).

Finally, unlike DIT's course, our MSc Digital Marketing so far has largely attracted business / social science / creative graduates who want to know (and learn!) how to get into digital marketing. Our students are at the start of their careers and we haven't really had any  professionals wishing to transition into digital yet  (though we do offer a part-time study option).

Final words

In conclusion, then, my visit this week has only served to confirm that what we at RGU are doing is absolutely the right approach to teaching digital courses at University.

digital transformation
CC image courtesy of Bryan Mathers on Flickr

Industry engagement and a focus on practice are extremely important to ensure our graduates are equipped  to work in the real world when they leave.

However the academic environment is crucial - our role is to provide quality control, and to teach strong strategic and critical thinking (alongside the more practical 'tools of the trade' and real-life scenarios). After all, data analysis, measurement and evaluation are academia's bread and butter!

An approach to teaching digital that combines strategic critical thinking with the 'tools of the trade' and stuff that matters in the real world (client liaison! soft skills! self-education! How To Google It! GTD!) will ensure that University courses in digital marketing, advertising and communications remain highly relevant to the needs of employers and the marketplace.

Twitter logo
CC image courtesy of info_grrl on Flickr

How should academics use social media? What does a digital academic look like? Do you need to be on social media, if you're a University lecturer?

I have my own view on social media of course (my Twitter tagline is 'own mind, own views' for a reason) and it goes roughly like this:

Social media are communication channels. It pretty much makes sense to be approximately the same person on social that you are in real life. Social isn't you, it's just a channel that you can use to communicate with others (people, brands, people-brands, organisations, etc.) online.

You can use social media for both personal and professional communications, and it's also a useful tool to keep up-to-date with what goes on in your area of expertise (teaching and / or research). For instance, I use it Twitter to keep up with news and research about my subject (digital marketing).

Academics and Social Media

linkedin logo chocolates
CC image courtesy of Nan Palmero on Flickr

As an academic in 2015, you need to be visible online and have a public profile. Not on Linkedin? You don't exist in the eyes of your students (they will google you). Fine (perhaps) if you teach Greek or Maths, but not if you teach media, communications, or PR.

In addition, having a profile means you can be found online and get opportunities coming to you. For instance, I'm an external examiner for the Dublin Institute of Technology and about to produce my first Henry Stewart Talk all on account of this site here ranking for certain search queries in Google.

If you too want to learn how to use social media professionally, the upcoming Google+ hangout by, How to be a Successful Digital Academic to Boost Your Career, looks like a great step to get you started:

You may already be on Twitter and LinkedIn but how can you use these and other tools to enhance your research and widen public engagement? How much time should you be spending on your digital academic profile and what are the risks to your professional image and organisation?

The hangout takes place on Tuesday 27th January 2015, 12 PM GMT and will last one hour.

The event's landing page has more info (including who's on the panel), and the session is bound to give you a few tactics and practical tips that you can implement for yourself in 2015!


DigitasLBi-LogoThis week, our MSc Digital Marketing students were treated to a glimpse into the Future of Marketing at DigitasLBi's Edinburgh office.

DigitasLBi, one of the key partners in the first year of our Masters, have been supportive right from the start. The agency is actively engaged in enhancing and promoting the role of digital in Scotland (I attended their excellent hosted BIMA Edinburgh Breakfast Briefing back in September), and shares our commitment to the digital skills agenda. We want to create a talent pool of digital marketing experts with the right practical and soft skills to hit the ground running!

Our collaboration on the MSc Digital Marketing involves a Mentorship programme, which pairs up students with mentors working at DigitasLBi Edinburgh. Mentors have been providing support and guidance to the students via remote sessions using Skype for the last 3 months -  and this week they finally got to meet them for real!

When we arrived, we were welcomed by a coffee and a quick 'mingle with the mentors', following by a tour of DigitasLBi's cool Edinburgh offices. We then sat down and listened to their Media Innovations Director, Andrew Girdwood's guest lecture on The Future of Marketing.

Andrew's opener challenged the concept of 'The Future'. In marketing,  he argues, 'The future is next week'. So, when we think the future of marketing we need to think very soon - next week, or even tomorrow. 'Agile' is the key term here, and agile thinking needs to be part of our DNA.

Three points in his subsequent talk stood out for me, and resonated with the audience.

1. Owned paid earned media

Andrew made us question the distinction of owned vs. earned vs. paid media. He argued that brands didn't actually own their Facebook pages - their customers did, and Facebook own the customers (their data). In fact, brands may not even own themselves any more.
Who owns your brandIn the age of the customer, you are who your customers say your are (not who you say you are).

Andrew also took the mantra 'Brands are Publishers' to its logical conclusion - 'Customers are Publishers' (ever tweeted? You're a publisher!).  I agree there is a significant merging of all functions and roles (random fact: I researched the 'prosumer' - the digital consumer who is also a producer - for my PhD thesis 7 years ago - the term 'social media' didn't exist back then).

Nowadays, consumers are publishers are advertisers are producers...  for example, some Instagram users are consumer-publishers, getting paid a dollar each like, YouTube stars sell 'native' advertising without disclosing it, and the average Joe or Jane can no longer tell the difference between organic media / news and its paid equivalent (i.e. advertising masking as fact).

I think it's still important to keep owned, paid and earned media as separate concepts, if only for practical reasons such as allocating marketing budgets. In addition, what hasn't changed is that fundamentally modern marketing is about attracting customers to your website or store, and buy from you (or whatever 'buy' means for your business). Repeatedly.

2. Privacy

We had a lively discussion with some questions around privacy. Everyone agreed that privacy would be an important issue for digital marketing in 2015, and when Andrew asked who of us had concerns about their online privacy, probably two thirds raised their hands.

I also shared my story of zooming out of Streetview recently and discovering that Germany is one of the last beacons of non-surveillance in Europe.

Google streetview germany


What I'm not so sure about is how important privacy issues are for 'digital natives' (born 2000 onwards). The generation arguably never had any privacy to begin with, so this may not be something they value or care about.

I'll ask my future students of the MSc Digital Marketing (2020 applicants and beyond) i.e. the digital natives, themselves. I'll report my findings then..

3. Retargeting ads destroy Christmas

christmas cat meme Andrew related a funny observation that stuck with me - this Christmas, many kids will already know their presents because they are being retargeted by display ads for products that their parents have already purchased for them 😀  - retargeting setup #FAIL (But are kids smart enough to understand this? I bet they are).

My guess is that this isn't just the case for parents and kids though - I'd be interested in finding out how many  Christmas present surprises retargeting is ruining this year - and it's the same for search too 😛 .

Top tip: Don't share a browser with your loved one in the run up to Christmas (or at any time, really!) as otherwise you'll probably know half of the presents you're getting each other.

Final Words

All in all, The Future of Marketing @DigitasLBi was a great success. Andrew's guest lecture taught each of us something new, and the subsequent dinner with the mentors rounded off a productive and valuable day out for everyone involved.

And here are some student comments:

DigitasLBi session tweets

Importantly, the agency visit has also deepened the desire of some of the students to work agency-side when they graduate next year (yay!).

This year has seen quite a few changes on Facebook, which has seen my perception of what Facebook is altered a fair bit.

I used to believe in social media as an excellent 'free' organic marketing tool - if you were good (i.e. your content engaging), then you had a half decent chance to build a community around your brand and generate advocacy - that's exactly what I did when building VisitScotland's Facebook brand! Those were the days when a picture could get over a thousand shares, even if your community was only 50,000 or so.

My first point of call to find out what Facebook is was to ask Google.

what is facebook
Google search 'What is Facebook', Dec 14.

Google thinks Facebook is a verb.

Anyway, free social media. It feels like the golden (pioneer) days are over. I wrote about Facebook annihilating organic reach in my 2014 prediction of  the end of free marketing. Facebook has indeed turned the tap off and reduced organic reach by 50% this year, which means, essentially, no one's going to see your stuff in their news feed.

With that in mind, what is Facebook in 2015? Is it just an ad platform that you should use, like Google AdWords? A digital media 'publisher', perhaps, selling adspace?

With the end of 2014 in sight, these are good question to ask.

What is Facebook (in 2015)?

1) Facebook is an Ad Platform

Use for: Acquisition marketing

The most obvious one. Facebook reduced organic reach by 50%, and in 2015 there will be even greater reduction of organic visibility - (Hootsuite provide tips on Facebook marketing in 2015, given these changes). Smart brands in 2015 (as well as, and especially, SMEs!) should learn how to use Facebook Ads Manager  (and bigger ones need to be aware of  Facebook Atlas).

The big thing for marketers is that managing Facebook is turning into a multi-skilled role. You now don't just need community management and organic and content optimsation skills, but also how and why to use Facebook as an advertising platform. A bit like a Search Manager who'd look after both SEO and PPC.

The challenge for SMEs is that they will have to pay for their content to be seen - certainly there is little ROI in spending plenty of time creating content and posting updates that most of your audience will never see (and unlike in email marketing, you don't even own your customers' data!).

Is Facebook worth it? I'd say yes. If you're already using AdWords, test a bit of your budget on Facebook Ads instead (to drive customers to conversion on your mobile-optimised landing page 😛 ). And don't use offline / print etc. - it costs too much, and you can't measure it.

2) Facebook is a Shop Window

Use for: Branding / WOM

shop window
CC image courtesy of Anguskirk on Flickr

This of course depends on your business objective. I was speaking to someone at the Aberdeen Business networking event at RGU a couple of weeks ago, and for his school, Facebook is a 'shop window' to the experience his students might have.

They can't get that experience from their website, he thinks (which either means the site is **** - I haven't seen it - , or that community is especially important in this industry - i.e. WOM, recommendation, seeing what other people think). Education, according to marketing theory, is a service (not a product) and needs to be 'sold' through existing and past customers' experience of the service. Hence it's about marketing the experience, and I think this is where review and rating sites come in too (e.g. TripAdvisor in the Tourism industry).

Generally, there's no harm in using Facebook as a Shop Window, if you have the time. It's part of your overall brand ecosystem (which includes social brand channels) and can help your online visibility. The trick is to integrate it (and social on the whole) with your other digital channels (e.g. website, email), so that your customers have one coherent experience with your brand, no matter what channel they're in.

3) Facebook is a Customer Service Channel

Use for: Customer service

This is especially true for large brands. This is a reputational issue, and that is why social more than anything has made customer service an integral part of your marketing strategy. Managing reputation through effective social customer service should now be part of the PR department's remit.

customer service marketing
CC image courtesy of Mark Smiciklas on Flickr

What this means for your Facebook strategy 2015 is that you could simply use it as a customer service channel. After all, 'social media' are communication channels first and foremost (albeit more democratic ones). You can use them for anything - they're just the transmitter.

You could save yourself the hassle (time and money) of posting engaging content (that is essentially just an underhand sales message anyway) and instead give your Facebook page over to your social customer service agents, who help your customers in real time. This probably wouldn't work in all industries but in service-based ones this makes sense.

If you do it well, then it'll also positively affect your brand image and the overall 'Shop Window' (see point 2) looks good. A win-win.

Is Facebook worth it for your business (in 2015)?

facebook mobile
CC image courtesy of Maria Elena on Flickr

It depends. I'm a great believer that not every business needs a Facebook page. Think of B2B for example, or indeed countries such as China where there's not much point in having one!

I also believe that it's hard to measure the general / organic value of Facebook (similar to TV), though of course you can measure it very well if you use it as a social ad platform.

Big global brands will probably need to be on Facebook (most of them also still have ads on TV), and they will have the resource, budget and strategy to decide exactly what to use the channel for.

Another (important) point to consider is that Facebook and other social media channels are largely accessed from mobile devices - so your content etc. has to be optimised for a mobile audience's needs.

For SMEs, my general advice would be this:  think about your business objectives first, and see if / how you could use the communication channel of Facebook towards them. If you haven't acquired a single customer via your Facebook page in the last 3 years, then chances are you won't in the next  3 years either - unless you change how you use it (see points 1-3).





Rather quietly, it seems, scot domain registration opened up to the general public almost 2 months ago (23rd September).

.scot domain from Easyspace
.scot domain from Easyspace

I had been aware that it was coming, but it was more a fuzzy background awareness. I had no need to buy any domains (quite happy with  😉 ) and generally find gTLDs (such as *.biz, *.info and what not) neither attractive nor all that trustworthy.

Then something happened. A strategy and plan of action that I'd been working on for a good few months unexpectedly hit a dead end, through external circumstances over which I had no control. The sort of stuff that happens all the time!

Anyway. I LOVE difficulties, obstacles and failure, as it gives me something to conquer, and it keeps the old brain agile. The solution to the above problem was to find a new digital space that I could fully control. And out of nowhere, I remembered about the new scot domain registration process.

What is a scot domain?

.scot, also called dot scot, is a new TLD (top level domain) that was agreed in January this year and officially launched on 15 July 2014. When it opened for public registration on 23 September, over 4,000 businesses registered a domain within an hour!

How to register .scot

Check for a list of approved registrars. The site has more info on the evolution of .scot.

 Why register a scot domain?

Mainly, because you can still get the name that you want! It's first come, first serve, and therefore plenty of opportunity to secure that exact match domain (EMD) that you've always wanted but had no chance of ever getting, because someone registered your ideal business name 10 years ago. It's cheap too (I paid around £60 for mine, I think).

Google logo
CC image courtesy of keso s on Flickr

Secondly, the Scottish Government fully support .scot - for example, they're just now developing a central digital place for public services, at (currently in alpha).

Thirdly, for SEO reasons. I might be wrong here, but my hunch is that Google will probably rank a regional TLD (such as .scot) over other generic TLDs (e.g. .biz, .info) for the same exact match domain (EMD). And yes, I am aware of the discussion around whether or not EMD is still a good SEO tactic.

I for one am happy to take a punt. Who knows, in future versions of its never-disclosed algorithm, Google may well decide to rank .scot higher in Scotland over e.g. or .com.

After all, Google's mission is to

organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Hence, if the site content on the .scot domain is not just high quality but also geographically more relevant and therefore more useful to the searcher, it would make perfect sense for the algorithm to reward it with a high(er) rank.

Should I buy a .scot domain?

While some of the above is speculative - there may not be any SEO benefit, and scot domains may never find widespread adoption - there could nevertheless be an advantage for early adopters.

Domain names
CC image courtesy of Widjaya Ivan on Flickr

The risk is small (the domains are cheap!), and the benefit, especially for businesses with a physical location or service specific to Scotland, could be considerable.

My recommendation is this: Don't rush and get a .scot domain if you've got a site that is well established and has good search engine visibility. And definitely don't do it if your customers are global and you want to be found globally.

However, if you're just starting out, don't have a website yet, AND your business is mainly regional to Scotland - i.e. your customers largely live in Scotland - then absolutely do think about registering a scot domain.

And that's because could give your business a greater chance at getting found online (due to the SEO value of EMDs combined with the regional extension). Moreover, you'd be able to get the name in the URL that you've always wanted -  and a brandable domain name, in my opinion, is surely worth investing in.

Getting a dot scot might just be the smartest thing you could do!



When working with agency partners as part of our MSc Digital Marketing, the subject of soft skills comes up quite frequently. But what are they, and why are they so important to employers?

Soft skills - definition

A quick google search brings up the following definition of soft skills:

Soft skills definition

I would say that's quite a broad and general definition and actually sounds near impossible, seeing that it appears to imply that you have to interact harmoniously with anyone and everyone. What if the person is just really unpleasant, mean, or nasty? Can you be 'harmonious' then?

Actually, I think we need to be more specific, and look at it from an employer's angle.

Soft skills in the workplace

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) talks about five core skills that are key to working in today's world.

social skills - feedback
CC image courtesy of Tanja Föhr on Flickr

The website states that

Employers have identified these skills as those that are most likely to be needed in any work environment.

The five Core Skills are: Communication, Numeracy, Information and Communication Technology, Problem Solving and Working with Others.

Out of those 5, Communication (written and oral) and Working with Others are social and therefore soft skills. Let's look at some examples to understand why they are relevant in a professional environment.

Soft skills examples

Examples of soft skills in the workplace could be:

  • giving effective presentations (public speaking, oral communication, confidence, etc.)
  • writing clear emails (succinct, persuasive)
  • cooperating with others (putting aside differences in the interest of a common, greater goal)
  • adapting oral / written communications to needs of others / audience (e.g. more formal / less formal)
  • listening to others' viewpoints and being respectful even in disagreement (it's ok to disagree)
  • anything else focused on relationship building with others - the emotional side (Wikipedia associates soft skills with EQ - Emotional Intelligence)
innovators need empathy
CC image courtesy of Tanja Föhr on Flickr

This list is by no means complete - what all examples share is that these skills can be learned, and improved upon. Since they are social, you must learn them not through theory but through practice  - when interacting and communicating with other people in a professional environment.

It's hard (impossible ?) to teach this stuff from a book, but you can create an environment that allows social skills to develop (e.g. supportive, encouraging autonomy and 'self-management').

But this blog post started with a question: Why are soft skills important in the digital marketing industry?

We already know that digital marketers need broad and vertical skills - what Rand Fishkin of Moz calls T-shaped, that is, having broad knowledge across many disciplines, with 1-2 areas of deep knowledge (e.g. search and social). But soft skills, as it transpires, are equally as important.


Modern Marketers and soft skills

Our agency partners aren't the only ones emphasising soft skills as a key requirement for digital marketers. Earlier in the year, econsultancy published a list of 15 essential skills for modern marketers. The data is based on a survey of senior level marketers, and an unexpected outcome was the emphasis respondents placed on 5 soft skills:

essential skills for marketers


It appears that you can't just have an idea, you also need to be able to sell your idea:

So in addition to the usual broad knowledge areas and vertical skills areas, marketers need the right soft skills to be able to work across the organisation. The best ideas will founder without buy-in across the organisation and support from multiple teams.

It's all about persuasive communication, and being able to relate to people - to ensure you get heard.

Another observation from the report was an emphasis on self-motivated learning. That's not surprising, given the incredible pace of change in digital.

CC image courtesy of Anthony Easton on Flickr

But is there really a soft skills revolution? I think it's about a balanced approach- you can't just have soft skills without subject knowledge; equally, hard skills without soft skills will only get you so far.

As for digital marketing education, we can teach broad and vertical skills. And soft skills need to be embedded in the learning environment (see my post on teaching digital marketing for further exploration of the topic).

Finally, I think that soft skills can improve through passion. If you have passion, or love for a subject, then you're more likely to want to connect with people who too are passionate, which makes communication and relating to people much easier, and more effective.





Your digital marketing strategy should start with your website. You need to understand if / how your site currently performs towards your business objective, and following this audit, optimise and improve your site with your target customers in mind.

website marketing tips - SEO
CC image courtesy of Hong Xing on Flickr

When you start out in digital marketing, especially as a small business with little experience, it's easy to get lost in the overwhelming amount of information and conflicting advice about what digital marketing channel (e.g. website, social media, etc.) you should focus on!

That's why I've compiled a few website marketing tips, because I really believe you should look at your existing website as the first and highest priority:  Your website is your primary and most important piece of owned media.

Think of it as your digital real estate.  You can control it, measure it and improve it - and it's owned by you, not a third party site (such as Facebook).

Your Website ~ Your 'store front' online

A good way to think of your website is to imagine it was a physical store. My view is that the fundamentals of marketing haven't really changed - the trick is to approach your website in the same way you would a store or presence in the real world (= digital real estate) . Believe it or not, it's mostly common sense! And it starts with the customer and her or his needs, and satisfying them profitably. It's not about selling them your products or services - that's sales.

Website Marketing Tips

CC image courtesy of Dave Wilson on Flickr

In what follows, I'll be outlining 7  key marketing considerations or objectives for a physical store, and then suggest what the equivalent factors could be your website. I hope these tips will help you start thinking about your website strategy, and demonstrate why effective website marketing should be the central pillar to your digital marketing strategy.

My starting point is a standard marketing framework for a business. I'll look at seven typical consideration or objectives and how they affect a physical store, followed by the digital equivalent (i.e. your website). Caveat: This list is by no means complete - it's just a collection of website marketing tips that I think are important consider - especially for small businesses. Last but not least, these are factors that you can influence and action on your own site, and they don't cost anything (other than time, self-education, and effort).

1. Objective: Awareness (Visibility)

Why? Be seen by your target customers

Real world (physical store)

  • Location of physical store (e.g. select high footfall areas or areas your target audience lives or shops in)

Digital (website)

  • On-page SEO (be findable – match search demand for your target audience’s key search terms)
  •  Local SEO (optimise for local search queries; get on Google Maps if your business has a physical location – see Google My Business for more info)
  •  Technical SEO
  • (Inbound Marketing / Link earning)

2. Objective: Branding

Why? Generate positive associations with your brand (excitement, happiness) - the ultimate goal is 'brand love'

Real world (physical store)

  • Look and Design of physical store (window dressing, furnishings, displays etc. - the 'Physical Evidence' P in Marketing speak)

Digital (website)

  • Web design (this includes visuals, images, 'look and feel')

3. Objective: Customer / User experience (UX)


  • Provide smooth customer journey – remove obstacles
  •  Make it easy and pleasurable to buy / convert now and in the future
  •  Generate trust

Real world (physical store)

  • Store layout, arrangement of products, easy to navigate, well-placed support facilities (such as toilets)
  • Efficient payment check-out (length of queues, operators)
  • Friendly sales staff

Digital (website)

  • Site navigation, Load times, page errors, mobile optimised, relevant, useful, and fast
  • Easy to find key information
  • Addresses and matches the site visitor’s needs

4. Objective: Customer service and support


  • Nourish and retain customer relationships (retention) - increase life time value
  • Generate positive WOM and Advocacy

Real world (physical store)

  • Customer service desk
  • Easy to change / return items
  • after-sales care

Digital (website)

  • Easy to find support / contact function, FAQs, HowTos, etc.
  • If ecommerce,  good change / returns policy
  • Relevant social media channels (priority for big brands; for SMEs only if able to resource otherwise little ROI)

5. Objective: Measuring success - Quantity

Why? To answer the question: How many customers did I attract?

Real world (physical store)

  • Physical footfall

Digital (website)

  • Digital footfall - Google Analytics data (e.g. sessions, page views)

6. Objective: Measuring success - Quality

Why? To answer the question: Did I attract the right customers? (This is REALLY important!)

Quality measures of success could also be reputational / PR

Real world (physical store)

  • Time spent in store, no. of items browsed, facilities used (does anyone actually measure this in a physical store?)
  • Demographics of customers
  • No. of items returned
  • PR: Positive media and / or social media coverage

Digital (website)

  • Page views / time on page for key landing pages
  • Bounce rates (careful with benchmarks – always consider context)
  • PR: High-quality referrals (i.e. links to your site); Positive media and / or social media coverage

7. Objective: Measuring success - Conversions

Why? To answer the question: Is my business presence able to generate leads and sales? Does it make me money?

Real world (physical store)

  • Sales (volume / value)
  • Conversion rates (does anyone actually measure this in a physical store?)

Digital (website)

For website marketing, how you measure conversions can vary hugely and depends on what you consider a conversion for your website, i.e. the action you’d like your site visitors to take. Very difficult to have a 'one size fits all' answer, but this may be a contact enquiry, booking, PDF download, etc. etc.

  • Sales
  • Enquiries / Leads
  • Goal completions
  • Conversion rate
  • etc.


There you have it! My 7 tips to help you get started on your website marketing. Just start with your most important objectives, and then use the framework above to optimise your digital real estate.

This won't just get your business in front of the right customers, but crucially, will make it easy and pleasurable for them to buy from you, again and again!