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A more perfect digital democracy

A hotbed for digital innovation

A hotbed for digital innovation

I was inspired by an event on the Digital Democracy (#digidemocracyuk ) last week. It was the Digital Leaders Annual Lecture and it was dedicated to discussing /debating recommendations put forward by The Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy.

The 4 things that made it different…and a bit inspiring:

1. Ambition and belief

There is a genuine ambition for making the democratic method work better in the UK with the help of digital. You can find details here: Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy. In sum, the recommendations are about making Parliament more accessible and generate more engagement between politicians and the people they represent. Eventually, lead to changes in voting by securing online voting for people in Britain.

This had a “West Wing” like inspirational effect. When was the last time you heard politicians concerned – - in a genuine fashion – - about representation and engagement rather than referencing digital in order to make the other guy look bad? There is a clear and absolute dedication by the Digital Democracy team to drive positive change.

2. Open about a lack of certainty and perfection

The Digital Democracy team were not certain that they had everything right but they were not going to let that stop ‘em This was brought into sharp focus by a question from the floor re: how they were planning for technologies that have existed for 3 years rather than projecting forward for technologies that will exist in 5 years. Good question. They didn’t adopt a defensive position. Rather, they agreed and indicated that they are working with what they know. They explained that they have to get the basics working better. Because it is better to get something achieved than keep projecting forward without delivering anything. Then, they welcomed others to be part of the movement to help them consider forward planning. Refreshing to hear such an approach from Westminster representatives.

3. Understanding how it works – - online and offline

Helen Milner, a key team member (not a politician) who appeared to be a key driver behind a lot of the work talked about the impressive blend of online and offline methods that were used to understand what is needed as well as what stood the best chance of working. There appears to be a genuine understanding of how digital information distribution works with offline word of mouth. This is a key insight given that 80% of word of mouth taking place face-to-face and 10% of the UK still without access to the internet. Helen also shared some sobering anecdotes about how disconnected people are with the political process, e.g. a significant segment of the population vote regularly for TV shows (e.g. X Factor) but are not registered to vote in an election.

There was a realistic understanding that slapping some share buttons on the Parliament website and making sure that politicians are tweeting regularly is not enough. The digital tools need to be put in place and then at least as much effort put into stimulating engagement/regular usage – - even if it means we give a voice to thousands of Jeremy Clarkson’s. A joke that Chloe Smith put right by noting that representation is the point even though we may not always agree with what is being voiced.

It was inspiring to hear politicians concerned with actual behaviour change – - potentially from individuals who will not vote for them – - rather than hunting for a headline statistic that sounds like progress.

4. It is coming; this is not a prediction

Application of digital is already changing political structures around the world: crowd sourced constitution in Iceland, a political party representing 22,000 votes only on the internet in Argentina, and online voting in Estonia.

These are profound innovations.

What if we re-engage the 35% of the UK population not currently turning out for general elections or the 65% not turning out for European elections? What if individuals become more aware of key issues being considered in committee, then storm in with opinions and evidence – - across Parliament platforms as well as independent platforms that Parliament learns from?


My only question to John Bercow and his excellent team is how can the digital industry help?

The Parliament site encourages me to contact my MP, submit evidence for a bill, become a fan of Parliament on Facebook, etc. These invitations to engage are not ambitious enough.

Why not put challenges to the digital industry to develop an app that answers a specific user case, figure out how to stimulate online/offline engagement with communities or create some new online voting solutions that no one has thought of before?

We are keen to help. We might even admit to a sense of duty. It is amazing what a bit of selfless innovation brings on.

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5 practical hints and tips for delivering a content marketing programme

If you don’t have six figures of budget to buy in consultants and software to help you develop your content marketing programme or you simply need a solution faster, then there are less expensive solutions.

The following are 5 hints and tips born of practical, boots on the ground experience from developing content marketing programmes in the UK and around the globe.

1. Be a detective on Google to assess your target audience needs

It is critically important to understand what your target audience are interested in, where they go for that content and how they ‘consume’ it – - rather than what you want them to engage with – - because you need to work within their user journey if you are going to succeed.

Be a detective on Google.  Drill down into the words and phrases that your customers use to express questions about your products and services.  If you have an idea of the most popular search words and phrases for your category, that’s a good place to start.  Then, follow your searches to see what content comes up in natural search findings and paid advertising.  Keep an eye on the search results # at the top of the page, “About 364,000,000 results (0.38 seconds)”.  Click and follow findings.  Repeat.  Repeat.  After a while, you’ll get a picture of what your audience engages with most often and where they are finding that content.

An offline technique that is worth considering is to call 10 customers and ask them c. five questions: where they go for information (online & offline)?, what do they find most engaging?, who do they turn to for advice on the topic?…and the most important final question, would you please recommend 2 or 3 people whose opinions you value that I could call?  Repeat your telephone interview with the 20+ recommended people.  Repeat.  By the 2nd or 3rd generation of this exercise, you will learn fascinating things about where your customers go for their content needs.  NOTE: remain open minded as you go.

2.Hang around the ‘watering holes’ to learn about how they engage

There is an important difference between two types of content: that which is posted frequently and generates little engagement (think: digital press release by a company about a new product) and that which is posted less often and generates high levels of engagement (think: customer post about product experience).  Both are good.  They serve different roles in terms of awareness and engagement.

I am not going to focus on a tip for learning more about digital press release best practice.  There is plenty of that around.  This tip is about getting closer to the content that drives deeper engagement.

Spend some time at the ‘watering holes’ that you will find as a result of step #1.  These are places that people gravitate to in order to find information about products and services, away from the cacophony of branded content.  and are examples of two such popular ‘watering holes.’

Follow the forum discussions, read the reviews…engage in some discussions.  Very quickly, you will get a sense for what your customers are interested in engaging with more deeply and you may also get some valuable directional insight into what they think about your brand.

3. You have more content than you thought you had

After you’ve completed your low cost detective work, you’ll have a good idea of what content you need to use.  The next key step is to find those valuable, relevant content assets.  A top tip is to give your own corporate files (electronic and paper) a good search or audit before you produce new content or buy in content from a third party.

Companies, especially Fortune 500 businesses, generate an enormous amount of excellent content on a regular basis for events, press announcements, analyst sessions, etc.  Auditing content in a methodical fashion across organisation silos results in a surprising find of valuable content.   Everyone is so busy doing their tasks that valuable content is often treated as by-product that gets stored and forgotten.  It’s there.  In cupboards.  Buried five pages deep in the corporate website.  Sitting unwatched on YouTube.  Viewing this through the lens of customer need frees you up to see and use this content in new ways.

4. Whatever the question is, the answer is probably video content

It is in the numbers.  People spend x2.5 more time watching short, relevant video.  Watching a video increases conversion rates by 40% to 300%.  SEO performance lifts by 50% to 500% when using video content.

When you think about it, it makes sense.  You don’t want to feel stupid asking the same question about “how a pension works” for the 5th time.  But you don’t have any problem watching the video a 5th or 6th time.  Plus, a video is more engaging than words on a screen and, when a person is included in the video, a good proxy for our preferred method of communication: face-to-face.

The key thing is to view video content as an opportunity to replace words on an email, copy on a website, a brief to a journalist on key points in the next quarterly financial announcement, etc.  It is no longer just about producing one, 7 minute case history with Hollywood production values per year at a cost of £100,000.   You should be thinking about producing and distributing 20 videos per month with lengths of 30” to 60” for around £100 per video.

5. Focus on content that will be shared

We turn to our friends and colleagues for information about new products and services about 5 times more often than advertising.  Around 80% of advocacy is transferred face-to-face.  So, the most likely scenario is that your content will be discovered online by a relatively small audience and then discussed face-to-face among a wider audience.

To be clear, this does not devalue the role of online content or social media sharing.  The opposite.  It underlines the value of viewing online content as the springboard for offline conversations.

So, one of the most important questions that you need to ask when planning your content strategy is: “what is the information that I need to distribute online in order to generate a conversation where my brand will be mentioned – - hopefully endorsed – - offline?

We don’t tend to repeat product announcements in our everyday conversations.  In fact, one of the scenarios where people advocate product and services most often is in a cynical advice based story.  For example, “you are travelling to France for the term break…great news…be careful about taking cash out of machines in France because you get charged large fees on your credit card…my credit card is X, I use it because they don’t charge me for these transactions…”

Think about the content that will get talked about and find a way to insert these content assets in the places where your customers’ discover nuggets to share with their friends.

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Keep video content for the web under 60 seconds

Analysing video content viewing provides clear direction: keep it short!  Under 60 seconds if possible.

The video content that is viewed most often and most completely tends to be short (under 60 seconds) and addresses the specific question that the viewer is interested in within the first 7 seconds.

I summed all this up in a video: Optimum length for video content  A short video!

Barton optimum length video grab

Barton consulting in HSBC Newsletter

Steve is quoted in a recent HSBC newsletter, that goes out to SME Companies. Steve talks about the importance of word of mouth marketing, how vital it is to marketing and how to encourage it by working alongside social media.

Debating the role of a CFO at the House of Commons

Chris Arnold and I will take on Hugh Bishop and Ben Felton at the House of Commons on 28th Oct #dma #debate Motion: Customer experience is now the responsibility of the CFO, not just the CMO

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Speaking at a webinar on December 8th

Steve Barton will be speaking at The Economist webinar on “How to mean something” on December 8th.  The focus will be on how to remain relevant to customers in today’s multi-channel marketing environment.

It’s free! Register via this site:


Finally doing it.  Writing a book about direct marketing that I would pick up and read.  Shedding light on the behavioural insights behind some of the more hackneyed direct marketing concepts, e.g. offer, and then linking this to today’s marketing innovations.  Here’s a sample chapter.  What do you think?  Would you buy it….read it?Chapter 5 DRAFT 18 nov 2011

Debating the right stuff for websites

Left side navigation versus top navigation?  Number of drop down options…?  Feature driven debate that lifts us comfortably away from what makes for a successful user journey.  I tip my hat to Krug for his book: Don’t make me think!  Should be made mandatory reading before anyone meets to discuss websites.

Thinking about Warhol and research bots

Been thinking a lot about my conversation with @john.griffiths7 re research bots.  These are automated twitter accounts, for example, that collect tweets on selected topics (e.g. London, word of mouth markting, innovative) and then creates tweets based on what it collects.   What started out as a very innovative online research technic is fast becoming a way to cheat the online system.  Thinking seriously about pulling a ‘Warhol’ stunt to create a bot about marketing – - one who attends events, even – - and then use this to show what is happening out there.  Then I started thinking about the professional and ethical implications.  Any other views about whether gaming the system…even if for a ‘Warhol’ like purpose….is right or wrong?  @WOMMAUK