How we helped give birth to Vodafone Social, the official blog for Vodafone UK, and nurture it into one of the most powerful tools in company’s communications arsenal.

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The challenge

Vodafone UK needed a place where it could open up and express itself more freely. Somewhere to talk about stuff that previously might’ve been considered out of bounds, or unconventional. An online channel inviting folk to peek behind the red curtain and absorb deeper stories about its technologies, innovations and the real people powering the network. A credible environment for sustained comms, built to last, that could offer increasing value over time by organically cultivating a loyal audience to help raise awareness for its products, services and what it does differently.

Our role? To build, launch and grow a brand new owned editorial channel for comms, with the goal of attracting and engaging our target audience.

Our relationship with Vodafone is more that of a partner than a supplier, and during the process of setting these original goals, we collectively recognised that one of the biggest challenges we’d face would be getting ongoing internal support from across the business, including top brass. This awareness would be key in helping us surface interesting stories, and in demonstrating the value of the channel to key execs, and teams.

What we did and why

1. AUDIENCE As always, we began with the audience. Kick­-starting launch preparations by identifying who we wanted to have a dialogue with. We had two groups we wanted to reach from day one. The first were key online influencer publications in the consumer technology space - by re-telling our stories to their audiences they would help establish Vodafone UK’s credibility as a brand publisher. The second was, and remains, existing Vodafone customers - by creating compelling and discoverable content, they would be more likely to feel inspired to return and share our stories with their peers through social media.

2. BENCHMARK DOCUMENTS Gathering research on their interests and online media consumption habits, we created a set of solid reader profiles and tone of voice documents. This initial process gave us a valuable steer on the sort of content and broad themes that would best resonate with our target readers. Vodafone UK’s competitors weren’t telling stories about their technologies or the real people behind the scenes, so there was a great opportunity to differentiate and become a voice for telling the story of what goes into making a better network. This became a central thread for our content strategy and editorial narrative.

Further research, along with our previous experience in growing engaged audiences for global brands, taught us that daily long-­form written content remains the most trusted and authoritative format, and should form the backbone of our regular content output. From here we started developing our style guides, story themes, benchmark documents for articles, and a content calendar.

3. MOBILE FIRST A WordPress blog was the perfect publishing platform on which to build this new owned editorial channel. Quick, versatile and easy to integrate across Vodafone UK’s online eco system. Our insights had also informed us that our target audience was reading more and more content on their mobile devices, and we wanted to ensure we always delivered our stories to them on their terms. So when we first designed the site we turned things on their head, and with smart use of HTML 5 and CSS3 created a single site (no m. URLs here) that would perform well on even the most basic phone, and gracefully upscale to work brilliantly on smartphones, tablets and desktop. Before it had become commonplace, we were designing mobile­-first for Vodafone.

4. INTERNAL CASE STUDIES Our editorial team continues to work closely with many of the different teams at Vodafone UK to help uncover and create compelling stories to publish on the blog. This support has grown steadily as a result of us regularly sharing case studies, internally showcasing the success of individual stories and the blog as a whole.

Vodafone Social has proved its worth time and time again and is established as a trusted source for media and the customers alike – breaking news, giving the brand a clear voice and telling great stories in the progress

5. BUILDING CREDIBILITY Early articles such as Signals in the Shard, provided a great example to the business of how the blog was becoming a credible source for generating positive news cycles. It demonstrated how this new channel was attracting and engaging our target audience, and how stories of this nature could earn media coverage (such as on Tech Radar and Engadget UK) without any additional PR or paid support. Developing internal advocacy, and even just raising awareness with employees that a public­-facing blog exists, remains a key part of its success. This process helped build confidence in the channel, and has led to greater involvement from teams and individuals across most parts of the business, including the CEO.

6. INTEGRATION Alongside generating engagement and coverage independently, our stories have become increasingly visible across other Vodafone digital platforms, with articles featured in newsletters, mobile apps, on the main Vodafone UK website, and even across partner websites such as Spotify, linking back to our original posts.

7. HUB AND SPOKE Within its first year the blog cemented itself as a home for deeper editorial content from Vodafone UK. This remains the case, and Vodafone Social is now used as a key tool for supporting propositions and ongoing activities, with long­-form articles rarely living in isolation. Instead, we use a hub­-and-­spoke model, with the blog’s richer content sat at the heart of any digital comms efforts - acting as fuel for Vodafone UK’s social media output, as well as being a prime destination for traffic from other owned channels, in order to enable our audience to easily explore a subject in greater depth.

The ongoing roll­-out of 4G is a great example of this. Instead of launching a dedicated, story­rich 4G microsite, the blog serves as the perfect place for readers to explore valuable and up­-to-­date 4G content. It became a lynchpin in a much larger 4G comms piece, with multiple Vodafone channels promoting the editorial, because it offers an authoritative space where we can quickly share news and opinions, answer one­-to-­one questions publicly and in a permanent way, and point folk in the right direction for further 4G info and more nitty-­gritty technical help from the likes of the eForum.

Here’s an example from the early days of Vodafone’s 4G launch, which became home to 113 questions and answers in the comments section. Since then we’ve published a further 54 articles around 4G alone, sustaining interest in the topic with around 800,000 visitors engaging with these original stories to date.

8. BUILT TO LAST Launching an official corporate blog means you’ve got to go into it seeing the long­-game. All credit to Vodafone UK for recognising the opportunity and believing in the possibilities early on, as it’s this sustained commitment to the channel, and close­-working collaboration between our teams, that has been instrumental to its ongoing success. Sure, you might be sat on a diamond mine of great stories with heaps of promise, but it’s only with joint willingness and ambition that the promise becomes reality, and builds into a truly engaged audience for your brand.

Working shoulder-to-shoulder with internal teams provides us with a uniquely privileged and valuable perspective of what’s going on inside the business, which enables us to surface interesting stories from often the most unlikely places.

Republic helps us to maximise Vodafone Social’s potential. For them the blog is a living and breathing thing, not just a platform to fill with content, and that’s really important to us. We treat them as an extension of our team so they’re coming up with loads of ideas, getting really involved with our projects and enabling us to push the reach and impact of the channel further and further. They're great to work with, and get the job done brilliantly.

Dan Bowsher Strategic Lead for Social Media Comms, Vodafone UK @dan_bowsher

Outcome

As of January 2015 the Vodafone UK blog has received 5.5 million page views. Our audience continues to grow, with stories attracting 1.2 million readers in 2014 versus 622,000 the previous year - an 82% increase year-on-year. Our shared goal of continuing to build a truly loyal audience is also being met, thanks to a sustained calendar of high quality long-form editorial that has been made easily discoverable through other key Vodafone channels. The result is an uptick in returning visitors, from 37% in 2013 to 55% in 2014.

5.5mpage views
Awareness
82%year on year
Audience growth
55%returning visitors
Audience loyalty

Dan Bowsher, Strategic Lead for Social Media Comms, Vodafone UK, explains, “Vodafone Social has proved its worth time and time again and is established as a trusted source for media and the customers alike – breaking news, giving the brand a clear voice and telling great stories in the progress”.

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