Someone told me I should call my blog ‘The Alexis Bailey Daily’ but that would mean having to post every day and I don’t think I can manage that. But I do need to post more than once every four months, so I’ve decided if I’m busy I’ll just keep it simple.
I train people on using social media and this is a question I get asked repeatedly:
What’s the difference between a hashtag and an @mention?
Well they’re both tags but they serve different purposes.
A hashtag is a way of categorising your post. When you add the # symbol in front of a word it becomes a link that people can click on to find other posts with the same hashtag. You might hashtag one or two key words in your post. Those words can be part of a sentence, or just added to the end of the post. For example:
A hashtag can be more than one word, but it mustn’t include spaces or symbols (numbers are fine). Anyone who sees this tweet and wants to find more tweets about Woolwich or Italian food can click on the hashtags. If someone searches for either of those hashtags on Twitter, the tweet will come up in the results.
You might want a unique hashtag for a campaign or event. Something that no one else has used before so that tweets using that hashtag are only relevant to your campaign/event.
You can use hashtags on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, as well as Twitter.
An @mention is a way of drawing someone’s attention to your tweet, or crediting someone. If you use an @mention you’re adding an account’s username to your tweet and the account you’ve mentioned will get a notification about your tweet. People will also be able to click on the @mention to see that account’s profile. For example, I could add an @mention to my tweet above:
You can tag accounts in a similar way on Facebook. You start by typing @ followed by the person’s name or the page username. You can then choose the account you want to tag from the drop-down list that appears.
A final note on hashtags: If you’re joining two words together it’s a good idea to use capital letters for each word. This not only makes it easier to read, it also means screen-reading software can read the hashtag.
Since I became freelance earlier this year, I’ve acquired several clients in the food industry. I work on the digital marketing so they can get on with the catering.
Working with food is more fun than working with government policy. A lot more gorgeous pictures; a lot less trolls. But rather than just posting food pics on social media to temp people to come to events, I wanted to get more in-depth content. I interviewed Marie Soh, the amazing chef behind sohMarie supperclub in Woolwich, to see what makes her tick and what tips she has for aspiring chefs. The full interview is below and it gave me some great content to break down into short posts ideal for social media sharing. The combination of ads and useful content seems to work well.
Interview with Marie Soh
What’s your favourite type of food and why?
My favourite type of food is simple and hearty food. I love strong flavour in my food (as in aroma, taste and texture).
I love love love Italian and Japanese, pasta and ramen of any kind or, should I say, EVERY kind!
When did you first discover you love cooking?
When I watched my first few episodes of Jamie Oliver’s Naked Chef. Something just switched in my head and I started my new adventure; I started reading and learning.
What’s your favourite London restaurant?
I would have to say the family friendly restaurants Buonasera in Clapham Junction and Chelsea. I have had many memories there and I love the simplicity and flavour of the food. Their prices are reasonable and the atmosphere is always buzzing and lively! I love that they top half of their pizza with garlic butter and the other half with tomato sauce.
What tips would you give to someone just starting their career as a chef?
Be open minded: Listen and learn constantly with open heart and mind, without judgement or prejudice. There is always something to learn – from your kitchen porter, veg supplier, waiter – all the way to your head chef
Be a family: You are going to be sharing a lot of your life, life’s experiences and knowledge with each other!
Always grow: In mind, heart and knowledge. This, in turn, will keep your creativity flowing
Last tip is to enjoy the whole adventure!
What’s your favourite kitchen gadget?
The disposable blue jay cloths that are used a lot in commercial kitchens. You can use them to soak up spills, wipe down surfaces as you cook/prep and to stem bleeds when I cut myself!
You can also place freshly fried foods on a brand new cloth to soak up the oil; likewise for poached eggs to soak up excess water before placing them on your plate. You cut them into small pieces to line herbs in containers to keep them fresh, and many more uses!
If that’s not considered a gadget, then I would say my Wusthof Compact Knife Sharpener. It’s small enough to use as a key ring, so it goes everywhere with me, but big enough to be found by my colleagues when I’ve misplaced it for the umpteenth time! It helps me have sharp knives to work with wherever I am!
Where do you like to go on holiday and what’s the food like there?
I haven’t been on a proper holiday in years! I would ask locals where they would go and follow the queues!
Do you have a favourite wine? What does it go well with?
I love sweet wine and my fav is Tokaji. It’s from the Tokaj wine region. People regard it as a dessert wine but I learnt recently that in Slovakia, it is served as an aperitif! For me, it goes with everything. I like to have it with ice, which makes it very refreshing! Sometimes I get creative and mix it with ice-cold sparkling water and sliced ginger.
What do you like most and least about your job?
Most: Being able to welcome people into a space of warmth and nurture, and share my passion and love for simple, delicious heartwarming food with them.
Least: Loading and unloading the dishwasher!
If you were talking to a group of students who were considering a career in catering what would you say to encourage them?
Go for it! You have nothing to lose. You can always walk away with your knowledge and experience, and apply it to something else!
What has been your worst cooking disaster and what did you learn from it?
When hot oil bubbled over the pan onto the stove! It is a humbling experience as my mistake could harm lives or cause damage to property. Never get cocky because nature (as in fires) is always unpredictable.
I learnt to think fast, switch off the gas and move the pan. Always half fill a pan and don’t put more than three pieces of food in to fry! Invest in an electric fryer.
How do you stay calm under pressure?
I consciously slow down my breathing, shut down my emotions, break things down to tasks and then get on and just do it.
I condition my mind to do what it takes to make that event a success. It may not be perfect but it is always a success: for me, for the team, for my guests and clients.
Where does your inspiration come from?
It comes from the word ‘family’. It’s my desire to create a family through sharing my love for feeding people and my passion for cooking.
I get my ideas from books, memories (mine or other people’s) visuals, nature, anything really.
What made you decide to start supperclub?
It was at the end of 2015, I was in a place of great uncertainty and change. I knew I had to do something more in 2016. I had toyed with the idea for a while but didn’t take any action because I believed I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t have the capital, I didn’t know of any venues etc.
It was the strength and tenacity of my boyfriend (who saw more than what I saw in myself) that encouraged me to take the first step. He is always there when I start to wobble – reminding me that this is only the first step, to build my self confidence, amongst other things, and that will eventually lead me to opening my dream space.
So I wrote to owners of cafés to enquire about renting their space in the evenings. I wanted somewhere within walking distance from home, that had a ready kitchen in a local community. Julia’s (at The Cornerstone Café) reply and subsequent continued support has helped me to open the supperclub, and this is where I am now 🙂
I left government at the end of March. My plan was to take a month off and then find another job in digital comms, maybe in the private sector. My month off turned into three months – I was having such a lovely break sunbathing, exploring London, doing DIY and catching up with all the things I’ve never had time for (eg making a will!).
Then Brexit happened and everything changed. The number of jobs being advertised plummeted. After such a carefree few weeks I was suddenly worried about the future. I decided to go freelance. It was a scary decision at first.
The hard bit was trying to register with HMRC. After clicking round in circles on gov.uk for an annoyingly long time, I finally found the correct online form. (It’s called CWF1 v1.2. Before you start you need to know whether you’re a sole trainer or a new business, and what Class 2 National Insurance is. Sole trader and self-employed are the same thing – I’ve just saved you half an hour of confusion).
I got my first three clients through word of mouth: a chef, a life coach and a designer. I’m helping them with digital comms and social media marketing so that they can concentrate on doing what they do best. So far I’m really enjoying being a self-employed sole trader. So much so that I’ve made a list of the perks:
I can work in my pyjamas. If I do feel like getting dressed, the dress code is very relaxed
I avoid the rush hour commute – it’s a four second walk to work
I get to start when I want to (10am! I’m not a morning person)
I have the world’s best boss – I’m flexible, accommodating and generous with the tea and biscuits
All my stationery is pink
No fire drills
Peace and quiet
I’m popular with my neighbours because I can take their deliveries
There’s no firewall on my laptop. If you’ve ever worked for government you’ll understand what a joy this is
The best bit is that I’m working with people who are passionate about what they do and really want to succeed. I enjoyed the work I did in government but, as with any large organisation, I came across undynamic people who were there because it pays the bills, not because they have any interest in what they’re doing. It’s energising to be around people who’ve chosen a career they love.
I was delighted when the Government Communication Service asked me to work with them on a new apprenticeship scheme. The project involved two things I feel passionately about.
Firstly the scheme aims to recruit applicants from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, and from working class backgrounds, because these groups are underrepresented in government. Being mixed race and working class myself, it’s impossible not to notice the lack of diversity in the Civil Service, especially in more senior roles.
Coming from an arts marketing background, it’s not the first time I’ve worked in an industry that struggles to recruit and retain BAME and working-class employees. According to the 2011 census, over half the people in London are from BAME backgrounds. The Great British Class survey found that nearly half of the British population identify with being working class. So why is government full of pale, stale males?
A bit of research told me that people see government as intimidating and bureaucratic. People who don’t conform to the white, male Oxbridge stereotype can’t see themselves fitting in. Lots of people still think apprenticeships are low paid and only for manual work.
The second thing that attracted me to working on the project is that it involves digital communications – right up my street.
We agreed a strategy to:
be open about the lack of diversity in government, and the need to address it. We want our communications staff to reflect, and understand, the audiences we’re communicating with
highlight the exciting range of issues that government communicators work on – from fire safety to superfast broadband to getting more girls interested in engineering – and the opportunity to contribute new ideas
avoid the bland, formal language often used in government and make our communications accessible to everyone
let people know it’s about working and training, and the salary’s actually pretty good
We found young BAME and working-class civil servants to talk about their work in the hope that they would inspire young people from similar backgrounds to want to follow in their footsteps.
Although it’s too early to apply, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to plug our scheme during National Apprenticeships Week so we launched our web page and spread our content far and wide on social media using #NAW2016.
It hasn’t been easy finding people and organisations with links to the groups that we want to reach. It made me realise what a long, slow process networking can be. It’s worth the effort because once you find someone who has the kind of network you need you can save so much time by getting them to help spread the word instead of starting from scratch by yourself. I was lucky enough to meet the directors of Creative Access, who have placed 500 BAME interns in the creative industry. Their tips and contacts were really helpful.
I’m looking forward to finding out whether we succeed in attracting a wide range of people from different backgrounds to the scheme when it opens next month. It won’t change the lack of diversity in government overnight, but it could be a good place to start.
Working on the Great British High Street competition was fun. Exhausting but exciting too. The competition grew last year, and while I’m delighted it was so successful, there was a point where I feared it was spiralling out of control!
The competition is about driving footfall to high streets; encouraging people to shop locally and use local services so the money you spend benefits your local economy.
In 2014 a panel of judges chose the winning high street. In 2015 a public vote helped decide and this was a game changer. We set ourselves targets, based on past experience, for the number of entries, number of website page views, number of votes and number of mentions of our hashtag #GBHighSt. We wanted 200 high streets to enter; we got 230. Not bad. We estimated 25,000 hashtag mentions; we got 29,000. Pretty good. We hoped to get 20,000 votes; we got nearly 200,000. We were very happy with that. We expected around 30,000 page views for our website; we got 800,000. We were stunned.
It wasn’t all plain sailing and I learnt a few things along the way which I want to share.
Public voting was open for six weeks. This was too long. It was exciting for us to watch the vote count going up but the entrants started to run out of steam and found it hard to motivate their local communities to keep voting.
Social media makes a difference. One poor high street didn’t send a single tweet or Facebook post, didn’t Instagram any images or put a video on YouTube. They got about 700 votes. Their competitors went all out on social media to rally local support. They got about 15,000 votes. The majority of traffic to the website came via social media.
Facebook advertising is complicated. I was excited to have a small budget to spend on Facebook ads. Little did I know how confusing the process would be. Facebook operates a bidding system for advertising space. If someone outbids you, your ad gets knocked off by theirs. You have no way of knowing if you’ve been outbid until after it happens. I thought our ads would keep going until the budget ran out, but they disappeared much more quickly than expected. Still, the ads increase web traffic by 285% and there were 60,000 clicks from Facebook to the website.
Trying to keep on top of Twitter is a full time job. With 29,000 mentions of our hashtag to track, a similar number of @mentions, and queries coming in by direct message, there were times when I was checking Twitter from 7am when I woke up to midnight when I went to bed. Anticipate every question in advance and make sure the answer is online already to reduce the volume of Twitter queries you have to deal with.
Live tweeting doesn’t always go to plan. I love the idea of tweeting about events as they happen. It’s live, spontaneous, original content. Unfortunately, at the awards ceremony people were so excited about receiving their awards they didn’t notice that they were standing with their backs to me. They didn’t think to move away from the window so they weren’t just a dark shadow in my photo. They didn’t politely pause and turn and smile whilst shaking hands with the minister so I could get a good picture. They rushed off at the end to tell the world they’d won and didn’t hang about to give me a quote. Live tweeting works well in some situations, but semi-live tweeting, where you draft your tweets and get some nice pics in advance, is less stressful.
The 2014 winners told us that the competition had increased footfall, boosted tourism, helped the local economy and attracted investment. It’s good to know that the competition achieved what we set out to do.
I got a letter from High Streets Minister Marcus Jones praising my work. (Okay I’m just showing off now but if you knew how rare praise from above was in the Civil Service you wouldn’t blame me!)
Last week I went to a masterclass on the digital landscape run by the Oxford Internet Institute. The focus was on how people will use digital to communicate with government in the future. They gave us some interesting stats and made some fascinating predictions:
78% of people used the internet in UK in 2013. 61% of those used social networks
Digital exclusion is not as widespread as some people may think. Most people who don’t have internet access know someone who can go online for them. Less than 10% of people don’t have any way of accessing the internet
There will never be a time when 100% of people use the internet. There will always be people who just aren’t interested even if they have access
In the future government will be perceived as its online presence, a bit like Amazon is. In other words, people will see gov.uk as the government
Government will abandon surveys in favour of social media monitoring and engagement
Political movements won’t have leaders because they’ll be organised on social media and will take off without needing a person or group to lead them. This could be a good thing because more people can get involved in creating change, but a bad thing because once that change has happened there’s no one there to work out the details
However, 99% of gov.uk petitions fail to get 100,000 signatures. This is the number needed for the petition to be eligible to be debated in the House of Commons. If a petition hasn’t made it in 10 hours it’ll probably fail. So although the internet gives us tools to help mobilise a community around an issue, it doesn’t necessarily make it easy
What do you think of the predictions? I like the idea of government making better use of social media for engagement rather than just broadcast. I’m not so sure about government being seen as a big website, like Amazon!
Recently I was describing my role as Head of Digital Engagement to a friend who works in another government department and he responded: “Government has realised it needs to talk the talk when it comes to digital but no one gives a **** about doing it properly”. I replied indignantly that my colleagues and I are doing it properly, and doing it well, thank you very much! But did he have a point?
Although there’s a lot of enthusiasm from some of my colleagues who are embracing digital and social media, I still get the same three responses from too many people:
“I don’t have time for social media”
“I don’t want to encourage negative comments”
“My teenagers use social media but it’s not for me”
I try to gently coax people into giving social media a try: with examples of where it has saved time; screenshots of happy, grateful comments; and stories of successful digital campaigns. But the resistance is still there, so maybe these are just excuses and what they’re really saying is:
Maybe it’s time I was more blunt. It’s not about you and your comfort zone, it’s about who you’re talking to and what they want. If you don’t try different ways of reaching people you’re limiting your audience.
Social media isn’t new anymore, it’s an essential part of government communications. And I don’t mean pumping out agreed lines or pasting content from a press release. I’m talking about engagement, where you talk to people, answer their questions, build relationships, and show an interest in what they’ve got to say not just what you want to tell them.
If you’re nervous, start small – comment on a blog, reply to a tweet, share an update on LinkedIn. Set aside five minutes every day to find something online that’s relevant to your work and share it on social media.