Is there a graduate skills gap? Technically, yes.

This piece was originally created for and published by The CommsCo.
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If employability is such an issue, why aren’t universities teaching students to be employable?

The current focus for many universities is embedding employability in the curriculum. I myself was an Employability Ambassador at Southampton Solent University, where we taught key transferable skills to students. Solent’s teaching style focuses heavily on employability and ensuring students secure the best opportunities possible.

But not all programmes are created equal, and while many good universities are focused on teaching students how to pitch for business and how to tie a tie alongside other basic business skills, what seems to be missing is the teaching of technical skills. It’s these key skills, the ones which graduates, particularly in media and communications, are guaranteed to use every day.

Take Social Media Management or PR – is it just about writing, policy or good ideas and strategies? Or is it now just as much about scheduling content in Hootsuite, measuring results in Google Analytics, identifying key influencers via data analytics tools, or using Photoshop to edit images and shots or client spokespeople?

This is the absolute basic skill set which almost any entry level employee needs, especially in the age of digital communication. It’s the technical skills like these which set applicants apart and have created a skills gap which many universities have failed to notice.

From a personal standpoint, this skills gap is great! I was taught to use Hootsuite during my first internship and the knowledge of this skill has come into play in my two work placements since.

When I graduate, I plan to go into the marketing & PR industry, where the ability to write and create is vital. However, without the ability to edit a WordPress page, manipulate an image or manage a corporate Twitter page, it becomes much harder for a graduate to look like an attractive prospect for an employer.

By 2020, customers will manage 85% of their business to customer relationships without talking to a human (Gartner, 2014). We live and work in a world where the ability to get along with technology is just as important the ability to get along with people. So why are universities only teaching students the latter?


Understanding engaged customers is the holy grail.

A smart person once said, “Understanding your customers is the holy grail”.

I disagree.

Understanding engaged customers is the holy grail.

In today’s environment, customers can usually be fitted into one of two categories; passive customers who buy the product but are externally silent and active customers, the ones who may not necessarily buy a lot, but when they do, they rave about it.

Active customers are ones who write reviews on your site, informing others about the product.

“81% of consumers use reviews when shopping online, a YouGov survey revealed last year and they can have a big impact on sales. Richard Anson, chief executive at review site Reevoo, claims its retail partners see an average sales lift of 18% as a result of conversion rate improvement, higher average order value and better visitor returns.” (Retail Week, What are the the benefits of customer reviews?)

Active customers tend to have large social networks and often able to influence others.

Active customers are the ones who are engaged with your brand.

So how do you identify an active customer?

The easiest way to find your active customer base is digitally, by utilising social listening tools such as Radian6, it is possible to see what people are digitally saying about products.

If you find a person who seems particularly keen, monitor the quality and frequency of their blog posts, hunt them down in forum discussions; find reviews they have written about other products.

Once you have identified your active customers, treat them well; make sure they know that you want them to be happy.

After all, these are the people who can make or break your brand.

Image from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Retail Week Article:

Using Twitter to land that job interview.

Twitter is a great social platform, a lot of people don’t think of it as a tool to help find that dream job. But if you know how to use it correctly, you may land yourself an interview before you have time to retweet that Space Cat.

So how does one use Twitter to succeed in business? Follow these four simple steps.

1. Create a professional profile and lock down your personal account

It’s embarrassing when a tweet you wrote two months ago, just so happens to be bad mouthing that company you have an interview with. It may seem a bit weird, but they really do check. If you really need to tweet that controversial opinion that’s been bugging you for hours, make sure it is where a potential employer can’t find it.

2. Get involved

Follow the industry you enjoy and are interested in, if you see a large discussion, join in. It’s okay to step outside your comfort zone.

Begin to build your network before you need it, it’s much easier to engage with prospective employers if you already have a framework of other professionals who can give you credibility.

3. Use Twitter as a jumping point to your more detailed profiles

Don’t just retweet what other people say, if you’ve written a great piece on your blog, share it with your ever growing professional network of tweeters! You’ll be surprised how many are interested to read what others create. Become the next thought leader in your industry.

4. Don’t be overly professional

Yes, I know. It’s your professional twitter account! But at the end of the day, it’s not LinkedIn. Professionals like to talk about their interests too; Twitter is a great place to showcase your personality. You never know, that influential CEO you’ve wanted to network with forever, might also share a love of Space Cats.

I originally wrote this piece during my time working for the Employability and Enterprise service at Southampton Solent University, to the see the original post click here.

Empowering your employees as your social media superstars.

When companies wish to empower their employees and social media brand advocates, certain regulations must be laid down in order to protect both the employee and the brand itself.

These regulations must include a watertight social media policy to prevent PR mishaps leading to a negative impression of the company. By providing training in conjunction with your social media policy, you can create a self-governing mindset among staff where they adhere to guidelines without senior management authority.

In the current digital environment, companies come under a large amount of scrutiny. If a company or a representative of a company writes something controversial it is often picked up my news agencies within minutes. Supplementary training must be given to all employees to ensure the company is not shown in a negative light.

Social media training should be given to employees to teach them how social online platforms can be used effectively, safely and securely. By combining offline assets such as employees and training resources, companies can benefit online on a much larger scale. Training employees to communicate effectively online will also lead to stronger relationships between the customer and the company.

Social media training is provided by a plethora of sources. In order to benefit from effective training, the company must provide a course which provides in depth information whilst also remaining engaging.

The 3Ms resources – men (Or women!), money, and minutes

  • To effectively run a digital campaign in which employees are empowered as brand ambassadors, at least 10% of staff should be involved. This will ensure at least a minimal level of engagement from external consumers.
  • Running a campaign via social media is free, but media monitoring tools will have to be purchased. Although once these tools are purchased some can be used indefinitely, by sinking costs into media monitoring software, companies can cover the cost of the tools of a long period of time. Other media monitoring tools such as Radian 6 are available via subscription, which may lead to a better value for money.
  • Effectively executing this strategy will take time, it cannot be seen as a one minute fixmanoeuvre. Appropriate social media monitoring and training is a full-time task and it best to have at least one member of your marketing team who is experienced in social media marketing.

Executing this strategy.

The first part of planning is to run an in-house audit. What is currently happening in your business? Are you prepared to market on social platforms? How much marketing collateral can be recycled online?

Next comes strategy planning, deciding what approach to take. Most usually companies choose to lead with content marketing, this can be a potent mix with empowered employees as they can share the content much faster than it would be shared organically. Therefore increase the potential for your content to go viral.

Thirdly comes, employee preparation. This will be the most time consuming part as employees require social media training, in addition, policies will now need to be drafted in order to set guidelines about what employees can and can’t say about the company.

Finally, ENCOURAGE PARTICIPATION! Lead by example, when people feel like part of a team or part of a collaborative goal. They will be more inclined to take part. If necessary, offer incentives or competitions to get your workforce online!

Utilising your staff to supercharge your online presence.

The key aim of this article is highlight how empowering your staff as social media advocates can increase the interaction and dialogue between an organisation and it’s customers, improving the rate of engagement between the two parties.

When considering a strategy, a company must be aware of the basic fundamentals which lead to successful marketing. All marketing strategies should incorporate factors from the STOP acronym, this stands for; segmentation, targeting, objectives and positioning.

When focusing on segmentation and targeting, the online audience must be considered.

There are several different methods which can be used to break the audience into segments is one area which must be looked at; for example by separating the audience into activators and non-activators, it becomes clear which segment of the audience must be targeted. There are other methods which can be used to aid segmentation and each method will be beneficial to a different type of companies and a different approach.

Objectives should be held in consideration at all stages of planning as these are what signpost the company towards its future goals.

Positioning is a vital part of strategy planning, how a company is positioned directs how consumers will perceive the company at a later date.

It must be considered that all marketing campaigns, even those by an online company must include an offline element. A digital campaign will only reach digitally able customers, balance between the offline and online platforms is vital to provoke full participation within a community.

In addition to the aforementioned strategies, companies should take advantage of their internal powerhouse and work to empower their employees as social media advocates. By playing down commerciality and focusing on the social side, the company can build brand authenticity. (Financial services forum, 2013)

By using employees to promote online, the company is taking advantage of several factors.

  • Employees are already active online.
  • Many are already talking about the brand on a personal level.
  • The consumer can empathise with employees since they are seen as a fellow consumer.
  • Most importantly, they are already engaged with the company.
  • Employees have 10x more followers vs. corporate accounts.(, 2013)
  • Plus only 2% of the employee’s audience overlaps with the audience of the corporate accounts. (, 2013)
  • Employees share 29% more URLs about the company vs. corporate accounts(, 2013)
  • Employees URL reach is 2x vs. corporate accounts (, 2013)

As companies begin to embrace the step change from corporate mass communication to an era of consumer mass communication, they should take advantage of using employees as both brand ambassador whom which the common consumer can relate to and trust.


How can you improve your B2B social marketing online?

In the last few months, I have attended several marketing conferences and exhibitions. At each seminar, I have sat at the front and absorbed their knowledge like a marketing sponge. I am always trying to learn new things; I would like to share my newly gained knowledge with you.

Targeted marketing is best done inside online communities and forums; these are safe areas away from the fast moving social traffic where you can gain immediate feedback from inside forums. In addition, there is a much higher level of engagement as almost everyone sees your content.

Pause before you post. Stop and ask yourself; would you speak to somebody this way? Online, people expect to be address to by people. Ditch the corporate persona and adopt a more personal approach.

This leads onto the next point, people would rather speak to an individual from a company than the company page. It is important to have the company page as this acts as a landing point and a great platform for announcements, however be sure to also create personal accounts for staff.

For example, on twitter, we have @XceedGroup as our company page but in addition, I also run my personal Xceed account, @albertxceed.

Empowering your employees as digital advocates is one of the most powerful strategies at your disposal, however executing it well can be complex.


Executing your social media strategy. Don’t dive in straight away, take a back seat and monitor the topics people talk about. Try to work a content marketing strategy round the wants and needs of your target audience.

Stay with it, marketing is similar to fishing, just because you don’t get a bite right away, it doesn’t mean aren’t doing it right. The key is figuring out the difference between when the fish aren’t near you and when they’re just not biting.

Embrace the negative feedback; somebody is upset with your product or service. Don’t respond immediately, take a step back and look at what went wrong and offer a fix. More likely than not, by providing a fix and showing the customer you care, you can turn your negative feedback into a great piece of positive feedback. This is basic customer service however it is surprising how many companies just apologise and don’t make any changes.

Everyone is an influencer. A great deal of companies forget this. Joe Bloggs may have a small online following to judge him by, but you never know he may be the best connected person offline. Treat everyone like they could be your next biggest buyer and you’ll find yourself getting a more positive press from ordinary people.

To summarise:

-Speak normally
-Person not company
-Embrace the negative
-Create positive feedback
-Influencers are everywhere.

As I have said in previous posts, I am always welcome to suggestions on how to expand this list and improve it. Feel free to leave any suggestions in the comments and I will add them in and give you credit when I re-write the article!

Happy Marketing!

How to effectively market a webinar.

In June 2014, Xceed Group began to host it’s first webinars. Being part of the team at this time has been an enlightening experience. It turns out, unless you are a massive company with thousands of followers, it is very hard to effectively market a webinar.

However, I have picked up a few ideas and few tips from my more experienced peers which have really helped me learn the ropes…

Tips for effective marketing and running of a webinar.

1. Super – precise targeting is key.

Key questions: Why are we doing it? Who’s the audience and What do they get out of it?

Ensure you know your audience. Talk to your experts hosting the webinar, what people would they expect to attend? What job titles and industries are you aiming at?

Once you have a target profile, you can scour LinkedIn for potential attendees, you can target your company updates and join the correct groups to further spread the message.

2. Know your audience.

Sit in on the rehearsals, knowing the content the webinar is one thing, but actually knowing the subject well really benefits when convincing others to attend.

This comes from personal experience, until this month, I had no idea about the benefits of Smart Data in the Finance Industry. In fact, I had no idea about Smart Data in general. I joined groups on LinkedIn to promote our webinar and I was sat at the computer thinking “how do I communicate with these guys?”

After learning about the topic, I felt a lot more comfortable discussing the event and the content with others.

3. Fake it till you make it. Test it, practice it and listen to yourself.

Don’t let on that you are not a pro at the webinar game, put in loads of preparation and you’ll give off the impression that you are an expert.

If you’re low on numbers on the day, don’t go begging for registrations, make others believe they want to be there. “Only 3 hours left to register, limited places left”

4. Get advice.

Talk to others who are experienced with webinars. If you think you’ll need help, ask for it. It is incredible how many small issues may come up on the day and having somebody in there who has dealt with issues before to advise on how to iron them out makes all the difference.

5. Send multiple reminders to your invitees.

Many people may register for a webinar, but then not remember on the day. Remember to send an email on the morning of the event, gently reminding your invitees that your webinar is today along with the joining instructions.

Below is an outline of how often you should email your invitees.

  1. 1 email 2 weeks before to promote
  2. 1 email 1 week before to remind
  3. 1 email on the day to increase number of attendees

A big thank you to Cindy Berichon for the assistance writing this article.

If you have any more suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments! As I run more webinars, I will document the new things I learn here in addition to any of your suggestions.

Good Luck!

How to make your email marketing go further.

Email marketing is often a debated area, some people say it is a dying art, other state it is bigger than ever.

No matter what you believe, it is still an important channel for marketing communication and will stay that way until something amazing comes along and blows it out of the water.

In today’s business environment, email marketing is a lot more vital in the B2B role than B2C.

Within B2C, there are many other ways to communicate with your target customer on an everyday timescale however in the B2B area, email marketing is the go-to method for reaching potential clients.

In the last few months, I have attended several marketing conferences and exhibitions. At each one, there is always at least one speaker ready to teach the audience how to make your email marketing more effective.

At each seminar, I have sat at the front and absorbed their knowledge like a marketing sponge.

Tips for more effective email marketing.

1. Get rid of those sidebars.

Sidebars detract from the core message of your email. If you’re effectively targeting your audience, why do you need a sidebar to display more information?

Introduce your customer to the key topics in the email and plant the seed of curiosity. Let them discover your company for themselves, not only does this make the customer feel less pressured into purchasing, when you find a customer who has taken the journey from email to purchase, you know they are committed to your brand. Keep aiming your marketing at people like them.

2. Retargeting should be your best friend.

When you send an email campaign, you should always remember to monitor it. Check the analytics, look at your open and click-through rates. Who opened it? What do they do? This will give you an insight into who is interested in your brand and help with refining that future targeting.

Send a follow up email to those who you know opened the first, and send a different email to those who know did not open it. Try to figure out why they didn’t open it, could you try re-wording the subject line?

The key to conversion is nurturing an email relationship. It may be a one-sided relationship to begin with, in fact 90% of them may even unsubscribe! But the 10% you are left with, they are your dedicated brand advocates.

3. Stay on top of technology.

Have you seen that tab on Gmail called “Promotions”? When was the last time you checked it to see what companies had sent you? Because that’s where most of your emails will probably end up.

Those clever people at Spiceworks have discovered that , 22% of users have Gmail accounts, so that is almost a quarter of your potential business lost. The key is to inform your audience rather than promote a product, this will lead to your email finding its way to the correct inbox you are aiming for.

If you are finding low open rates coming from your Gmail addressees, I would suggest creating a personal Gmail account and experimenting by sending content to yourself until you find an approach that works for you.

I will most likely update this list as time goes on and I learn more. If you would suggest any other tips, feel free to leave them in the comments. I hope this helps…

Happy emailing!