Visiting a local creative communication agency

I was “forced” at home in Italy for a few weeks over Christmas following some serious foot and ankle surgery. This sort of “constrained stay” gave me a chance to discover the local reality in my small native area in North of Italy about how communication and creative agencies work. Now, I know that not only in Brussels, London, New York and Singapore people and businesses need communication campaigns and social media trainings. However, getting to know the guys behind Kreative House, left me very positively impressed for their level of innovation, creativity and down-to-earthness.

CEO and agency founder Cristian Grossi was happy to share his thought about running a communication agency in small town in Italy.

Christian, how did Kreativehouse start?

We started in 2008 as a simple graphic studio. A little naively, we focused mainly on the aesthetic aspects of images and words. Project after project, we learned that emotions are messages that need to be conveyed, that they have their own channel and their own target and need to be treated with extreme attention and care.

To tell you the truth, we promised ourselves we would never do traditional advertising. Classic advertising aims to persuade and to exaggerate the message. I don’t think we could sell irrigation systems or smoked ham.

What are the main challenges about running a creative business in a small town?

The hardest challenge is letting people understand that even if you live in a small town you can provide work of the highest level. We get super excited every time we hear that our fashion line was the season’s top seller with half a million income, or when our campaign for Amnesty International gathered 140,000 signatures in less than one month. But there’s still someone showing up at our door asking us for a brochure or a business card. It’s funny, sometimes we pick up the phone and it’s Gino’s café, and then the next call is from Versace.

How has the communication and creative business evolved in the past few years in your area?

Communication professionals must constantly adapt to new models. Some roles are disappearing. For example, until a few years ago small brands needed a Press Office. Today it’s not essential anymore. You need good content, a Twitter account and a specifically profiled target market.

If on one hand some roles are disappearing, on the other hand, especially on a local level, there is an overload of new professional figures, like social-media-something. Some improvise themselves putting out interesting content into the net without a specific logic. Only a few approach communication as a systemic, deterministic model that guarantees measurable results.

Don’t get me wrong – we strongly believe in the freshness of local creativity (we often joke saying that Milan is “much more provincial-minded than us”). For example, our territorial marketing project «Weloooooveit» focuses on the «proud to be local» idea, on the celebration of homemade tortellini, of the housewife and the shop around the corner. But this doesn’t mean that you can just improvise. We believe that in the field of communication every single action must be planned thoroughly.

Cattura

Tell me something more about your clients’ portfolio? Who are they and what do you think made them choose you to run their campaigns?

We had the luck to start with fundraising campaigns for non-profit organizations (the first were Amnesty International, COOPI, Lipu/Birdlife Italy). It’s a challenging field, because the product is actually an idea, a cause, a live emergency. People offer money when they believe in an ideal and trust you. Believe me, building a strong, trustful relationship through a communication campaign is not an easy task. This is why when we landed in the field of product marketing everything seemed so much easier to us! Unlike non-profit, people get a direct return from art, fashion and cultural events.

giardino-uccelli-birdgarden-lipu

What motivates you to keep innovating your business?

If you think of communication like a project, you have to innovate constantly, it’s almost automatic. In our job, we think as communication designers, as project developers. Design must be planned, shaped, targeted – and plays a crucial role in the conception of the brand visibility vectors (product, communication, environment). In this perspective, design has a strategic function, and its development is deeply rooted in our agency’s core values.

roBOt06 Report from roBOt Festival on Vimeo.

What would you recommend to people who want to start a business in creative communication at the local level?

Be creative, but plan projects. Design is really about solving problems. Think global, and please, be proud to be local.

robot-festival-digital-art

I envy the ESN Ambassadors for the EU at Expo 2015


“I’m jealous of you.” That’s how I started my social media training to the ten ambassadors from the Erasmus Student Network in Italy (ESN) who have been awarded the chance to tour Europe and present the opportunity to volunteer at the EU pavilion at Expo 2015 in Milan. Indeed, since I was an Erasmus student myself (not so long ago) and had the great opportunity to study European integration at the University of Antwerp, I am very envious of these young men and women who will travel Europe on behalf of the EU and Expo 2015.

Young people are going to be the protagonists of the activities of the EU pavilion, thanks to the collaboration between the European Union and ESN. Social media will help these ambassadors reach wider audiences during their trip and share their experiences with a very personal touch.

The general aim of the “Students 4 Expo S4E” project is, on the one hand, to promote EXPO and, on the other hand, to underline the role of the European Union during the international event which is going to take place in Milan in 2015. Ten students will play the role of “European EXPO Ambassadors” for the whole semester preceding EXPO.

The pavilion of the European Union intends to offer all young Europeans the opportunity to actively participate in a historic event, Expo Milano 2015, contributing to its activities and creating a unique learning and communication experience.

The EU at Expo is looking for over 900 young persons who have a passion for Europe that they would like to share with visitors to the EU Pavilion in their capacity as volunteers. More info on the call for volunteers.

— EU Expo 2015 (@EUExpo2015) January 8, 2015

The specific aim of the project is to increase awareness, in an European academic environment, of the role of the European Union inside EXPO and of the scientific topics at the core of their pavilion. Erasmus Student Network Italia will be responsible for this project and will help the European Union reach students who are not well informed yet about EXPO themes.

Follow #Students4Expo for more info on Twitter.

To Rotate or not to rotate? A question for the EU Council Presidency on Twitter


An intersting point has been raised by Matthias Luefkens for Europe Decides about having a rotating Twitter account for the Presidency of the Council of the EU. Considering the management of these accounts, the piece does raise some interesting point. I have left my contribution in their comments section.

Cattura A problem I could already foresee with Matthias’ solution is “what to do with all tweets?”Meaning that, for instance, tweets from @gr2014EU would now look like they were made by @IT2014EU.
An EU Presidency still remains a very team-based or national-based effort. The accounts that get closed after the term do work as archives of their achievements.

What is your take on this? Share it in the comments section below or joined the conversation on Twitter.

The European Commission’s online communication today and tomorrow

I was happy to participate to “Web, Mobile, Social – The Commission’s online communication today and tomorrow” at the Committee of the Regions

listening to Robert Andrecs, Head of Unit “EUROPA Site”, European Commission, DG Communication and Dana Manescu, Head of the Social Media Sector, European Commission, DG Communication.

The European Commission’s online communication has become a significant component of EU political communication. It aims to reach new audiences and connect with citizens and stakeholders on the platforms they prefer and the devices they use. The Commission’s web presence is undergoing a massive digital transformation programme which aims at putting users’ needs first. The new web presence will be “mobile first” and integrated with social media. Find out more about the Commission’s web and social media communication and its plans for the years ahead.

A question that was raised during the debate was “how can the EU communicate with one voice?” This is indeed a challenging issue for institutional communicators of such a simultaneously diverse, intricate but united organization and I believe a similar challenge is raised for other similar international organizations like the UN. This is was a good opportunity for me to mention the European Union’s presence at Expo 2015, the biggest event of 2015 and the biggest event on nutrition ever organized. The participation of the European Union at Expo 2015 is a project managed by the European Commission (more precisely by a task force of the Joint research Centre) but it is a European Union-branded project. In our communication we always refer to ourselves as European Union. This is a challenging task but it definetely helps EU and institutional communicators get an idea of how communicating on common global goals benefits the overall understanding of a European project.

See my intervention at 56:56

Twiplomacy is the Bible of social media professionals in international organizations


The Twiplomacy report is par excellence the guide book to the use of institutional tweeting or, as they better put it, it is an annual global study looking at the use of Twitter by heads of state and government and ministers of foreign affairs.

While some heads of state and government continue to amass large followings, foreign ministers have established a virtual diplomatic network by following each other on the social media platform. Here is the executive summary from this great work put up by Matthias Lüfkens and Marek Zaremba-Pike together at Burston Marsteller. I had the pleasure to meet Matthias and Marek at their presentation of the report at BM’s offices in Brussels last July (See video below and my short intervention at 40:57)

For many diplomats Twitter has become a powerful channel for digital diplomacy and 21st century statecraft and not all Twitter exchanges are diplomatic, real world differences are spilling over reflected on Twitter and sometimes end up in hashtag wars.

“I am a firm believer in the power of technology and social media to communicate with people across the world,” India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote in his inaugural message on his new website. Within weeks of his election in May 2014, the @NarendraModi account has moved into the top four most followed Twitter accounts of world leaders with close to five million followers.

More than half of the world’s foreign ministers and their institutions are active on the social networking site. Twitter has become an indispensable diplomatic networking and communication tool. As Finnish Prime Minister @AlexStubb wrote in a tweet in March 2014: “Most people who criticize Twitter are often not on it. I love this place. Best source of info. Great way to stay tuned and communicate.”

As of 25 June 2014, the vast majority (83 percent) of the 193 UN member countries have a presence on Twitter. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of all heads of state and heads of government have personal accounts on the social network.

Most Followed World Leaders

Since his election in late May 2014, India’s new Prime Minister @NarendraModi has skyrocketed into fourth place, surpassing the the @WhiteHouse on 25 June 2014 and dropping Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül (@cbabdullahgul) and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RT_Erdogan) into sixth and seventh place with more than 4 million followers each.

Modi still has a ways to go to best U.S. President @BarackObama, who tops the world-leader list with a colossal 43.7 million followers, with Pope Francis @Pontifex) with 14 million followers on his nine different language accounts and Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono @SBYudhoyono, who has more than five million followers and surpassed President Obama’s official administration account @WhiteHouse on 13 February 2014.

In Latin America Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the President of Argentina @CFKArgentina is slightly ahead of Colombia’s President @JuanManSantos with 2,894,864 and 2,885,752 followers respectively. Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto @EPN, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff @dilmabr and Venezuela’s @NicolasMaduro complete the Latin American top five, with more than two million followers each.

Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta @UKenyatta is Africa’s most followed president with 457,307 followers, ahead of Rwanda’s @PaulKagame (407,515

followers) and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma (@SAPresident) (325,876 followers).

Turkey’s @Ahmet_Davutoglu is the most followed foreign minister with 1,511,772 followers, ahead of India’s @SushmaSwaraj (1,274,704 followers) and the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates @ABZayed (1,201,364 followers) Continue reading “Twiplomacy is the Bible of social media professionals in international organizations”

A few lessons from #Engagorday


This article was also published on the European Commission’s Digital Team Blog

Engagor Day is an event for all Engagor users and partners which took place in Ghent on May 8th, 2014 at the Eskimofabriek. The goal is to keep them updated on the latest feature additions and everything that is coming up. In other words, the Engagor Roadmap. Moreover, active Engagor users, such as NMBS/SNCB and Thomas Cook UK, presented practical business cases to inspire and inform their fellow users.

Capture

Among the introductory presentations and case studies that were discussed, I particularly enjoyed the contribution from NMBS/SNCB. Jean-Marie Hoffelinck (Advisor Online Communications) and Kim Castro (Community Manager) shared the story about the launch of their public transport company on social in 2013 and how they executed this exciting challenge. NMBS/SNCB is the Belgian national railway operator and autonomous government company formed in 1926. Like all public transport companies, NMBS relies heavily on customer care servicing around 850,000 daily travelers and dealing with a whopping 10,000 tweets per month.

WHAT TRIGGERED NMBS/SNCB TO GO ‘SOCIAL’?

Being one of the first customers of Engagor, NMBS started monitoring back in 2011 to get a better grip on how, when, and where people were talking about the company on social. The volume and type of questions were especially important to get a better sense of the social media landscape. To support their launch in 2013, they realized they had to put a great amount of effort into finding the right team and company ambassadors to fall back on.

Opting for Twitter to establish an extensive social media presence was an obvious choice:

  • NMBS relies heavily on real-time communication. At NMBS, it’s all about context. In public transport, a tweet is often only relevant for 30 minutes.In terms of crisis management, NMBS dedicates all of their efforts to replying in a timely manner and proactively updating travelers with relevant information.
  • NMBS needs to solve travelers’ problems within an instant. For example, when someone tweets, “My train looks rather dirty today,” it’s in their best interest to act on it immediately.
  • NMBS wants to continuously improve customer care and give an accurate explanation as to why things went right/ wrong.

One of the most important starting points was a Belgian crisis which affirmed the importance of real-time communication. In 2011, the @stationschefBMO account was created after disaster struck at the Belgian Pukkelpop festival during a severe thunderstorm. This incident proved Twitter was the perfect medium to inform people when all other means of communication (calling, text messages, etc.) were being cut off.

CaptureMobile, and more importantly, social are great means to provide support in real-time. From that point onwards, they really started noticing the significant success of @stationschefBMO (a personal account belonging to one of their employees). It caught their attention because of the positive impact it had on their image spreading some positive vibes for their company in the social sphere.

Due to snowy weather on March 12th, 2013, train traffic was completely down in Belgium leaving hundreds of people stranded in trains and all the other travelers without any means to get to their destination. The country was plunged into a state of complete chaos, and thousands of tweets flooded the Twitter account of NMBS in just one day.

After the disaster, they realized that “it really takes a challenging crisis before you can solve something” and knew they needed to properly utilize tools to better serve customer complaints, feedback, and sentiment. This was another really important factor that forced them to take action and be prepared for any scenario.

In their presentation, the guys from NMBS presented 5 main recommendations from their experience:

1. Be active where your audience is
Before jumping into social media, determine when your audience wants your brand to be active. This way the community managers of NMBS are available in the right time frame, from 6 am to 10 pm, to provide customer care. During that time period, two people (Dutch & French speaking) are responsible for all the replying.

2. Operate with single points of contact (SPOCS) and detailed procedures
One really important thing NMBS learned is to find and involve internal specialists (or ambassadors) before the launch. What can you learn from them? How will they benefit your social media strategy? The next step is to create internal procedures for following up on a multitude of different questions, complaints, situations, etc. (FAQ’s). Refer your customers to your own existing channels. It’s crucial to direct them to your web pages, applications, etc. with links to cater for short, yet smooth replies.

3. Strive for simplicity in handling mentions
NMBS uses only one SPOC and handles every mention on this account. NMBS really stresses on the fact that you shouldn’t look at how your company and team is organized internally when structuring your social profiles. Creating accounts is striving for simplicity, and if necessary, create only one single account or SPOC.

4. Understand and learn the language of your customers
The monitoring phase of NMBS in 2011 was crucial to help them better understand the type of questions they would encounter, and more in detail, understand/learn the language of their customers. Knowing what the customer expects from you is necessary to translate your own internal, and often complex, jargon into a language customers can easily grasp.

5. Great people make up for great social agents
At NMBS, it’s all about identifying the strengths of the company. No company is perfect and there’s no point in covering up your mistakes. Train your social media team to always reply as a human first. NMBS used a specific training phrase for their social media agents to fall back on: “I’m a person at the NMBS/SNCB and I’m going to help you the best I can”. This motto makes it clear to continuously act as human beings, unafraid to acknowledge that you don’t always have access to the right answers immediately. However, you will do the best you can to ensure smooth replies.

A review of the European Commission’s social media presence in 2013


Co-written with @AmyJColgan, @PabloPerezA. Published on Waltzing Matilda Blog

Assessing our performances is key to understanding how we can improve. In this post we want to share with our readers about how the European Commission’s central social media accounts have developed – in terms of followership, engagement and the volume of conversation we are now having across our social media platforms.

European_Commission_Social_MediaFollower numbers
Let’s have a look at what the European Commission achieved in 2013 in terms of social media followership of their central accounts.

A response to Derek Muller on “the problem with Facebook”


I have watched yesterday the video The Problem With Facebook by Derek Muller published on Devour. Although I found the video interesting, I must point out there a quite a few inaccuracies about what Derek presents and that I find his theory lacking some basic solid evidence.

Let’s watch the video and go through some points in common, things I disagree with and questions I prepared for Derek.

1) “People you disagree with will vanish from your news-feed.” I find this statement incorrect. The correct sentence should be “people you don’t engage with will vanish from your news-feed.” In fact, Facebook is also used to express disagreement over published content and I find it inaccurate to label Facebook’s algorithm as an attempt to create an echo chamber of self affirming views.

2) I don’t find it weird to have to “like” or “share” a post to express interest in a piece of content. How would Facebook then be able to adapt your timeline according to your preferences?

2) “The problem is Facebook is using is filtering power to make money” Isn’t that the technique used by any information system or media outlet? Why is it evil if this is done by a social network whose target is to become the best tailor-made newspaper?

3) The push-to-buy-advertisement point is true. Facebook is indeed restricting the reach of fan pages’ posts in order to encourage fan pages’ managers to buy  advertisement. Now, the question is “Is this practice fair?” In my opinion yes, with constraints. If a business or a public figure like Veritasium is benefitting from a service that Facebook provides, why shouldn’t Facebook, or any other social network, try to monetize these efforts?

The problem that these raises is the differentiation between what I call “genuine” and “non-genuine” social profiles. This problem also applies to Twitter and those who buy followers to gain visibility within their community. Certainly, pushing pages’ owners to buy advertisement increases this problem to the final user of the product (the regular people) for which a solid solution has indeed not been provided by Facebook.

4) The viewer-creator-advertiser triangle sounds like an interesting theory but lacks evidence. It is not true that viewers are advertisers simply because most viewers (like in YouTube) are not creator. In making this point Derek completely overlooks the differentiation between profiles, pages and groups that Facebook provides. Not all profiles are content creators and can’t then be advertisers. Although, that does apply to fan pages which are by definition content creators and, in a very far-fetching way, advertisers but only if they become non-genuine pages. Continue reading “A response to Derek Muller on “the problem with Facebook””

Google+ growth: is the sky its limit?


It’s been a while since Google Plus became an indispensable tool in community management of a number of businesses and institutions. The infographic below provides an overview of the impressive evolution that both G+ and YouTube have witnessed in recent times.

Although Europe is still lagging behind in terms of exploiting the potentials of Google Plus there are some institutions like the European Commission that are making the best out of this platform and reaching skyrocketing levels of plusses, circles and engagement.

Google Social Revolution Continue reading “Google+ growth: is the sky its limit?”

What the hell is a social media guru?


A few times I have had to provide trainings about social media best practices, monitoring tools, reporting techniques etc…Well, it is simply my job. I am a social media analyst and I am simply expected to know how to work in my field and know the tools that allow me to work. More and more, I get labelled as a “social media guru”, which is not an adjective I like particularly. If my car breaks and I go to a mechanic nearby, I won’t tell the man “Hey, fine job fixing my engine. You are a total cars guru.” They guy would probably not understand what I’m saying and he’d firmly invite me to leave the premises by threateningly swinging a spanner over my head.

What I know as a social media analyst is that I have still an awful lot to learn and that I am bound to keep myself in the loop in order to keep providing valid recommendations and understand how the digital world evolves. There is no shortcut in this learning process.

Anyway, why are social media or digital experts called “gurus”?

Guru  is a Sanskrit term for “teacher” or “master”, especially in Indian religions. The Hindu guru-shishya tradition is the oral tradition or religious doctrine or experiential wisdom transmitted from teacher to student. Mainly in the United States, but now also in all the Western world, the word guru is a marketing term used by ad agencies and the meaning of “guru” has been used to cover anyone who acquires followers.

How do these self-appointed social media gurus stay so up to date on not just Facebook’s algorithm, but also all those up and coming platforms in China that we haven’t yet heard of? ” Continue reading “What the hell is a social media guru?”