Archive for the 'T’interweb' Category

This is the news and this is why we did it

One of the joys of the web is it opens up the thinking process behind news values decisions to, well, everyone.

Take the Birmingham Mail’s exclusive letter from Gareth Barry to Aston Villa fans, for instance. The Mail didn’t post it up until after lunch, despite it being an exclusive and something, I imagine, that would have sent a fair amount of traffic in their direction.

Like Joanna Geary, I would have assumed it was a bit of a missed opportunity for the paper. But then the editor, Steve Dyson, enters into the comments and explains exactly why they held back.

Having read his explanation – and the amount of publicity they got out of the letter – I can see his reasons. And I can’t blame him either. It’s one of the few times you can make a convincing argument for holding back from publishing online. Then again you could also say the increased traffic would have been worth it. But would they have got the credit? It’s a fascinating debate.

But I do like that Steve took the time to enter into the comments and explain the paper’s thought process. Ok, it probably helps that Joanna is an ex-employee, but then her blog is quite widely-read in the industry, so it makes sense to get involved.

The more readers can understand editorial decisions, the closer the bond they have with the paper, and that can only increase if journalists will take a bit of time now and then to chat about it.

Ok, it doesn’t make sense to actively hunt down every comment about every article (although there are probably some journalists who do this), but the odd comment on the odd relevant blog, even if it’s negative, goes a long way. In the old days, the blogger would have probably got a rather stern email instead of a comment.

If traditional media is to survive in these choppy waters, we all need to befollowing Steve’s lead and having conversations like this across the web,

Predicting reality

Here’s an interesting thing. On Saturday I, along with nearly 20 million others in Britain, was watching Britain’s Got Talent (both for work and pleasure). I also, predictably, was on Twitter, and had several trending and tracking tools – Twitscoop, Twitterfall, etc – open (because I’m a geek and I like tracking the conversation, m’kay).

Once all the acts had performed, it was obvious that Diversity were trending stronger than any other act over Twitter. “If,” I thought, “Twitter is anything to go by, Diversity will win.”

Interestingly, Julian Smith, the third place act, wasn’t far behind Susan Boyle in the trending stakes. Twitter seemed slightly shocked Julian made it into the top three. I initially was, but it made sense following the conversation earlier.

Twitter, to be clear, didn’t win it for Diversity (as I’ve seen claimed in some places) but it did provide a surprisingly accurate snapshot into the mindset of the nation.

Mashable have picked up on a similar point when they used Google Analytics to try and predict the result of American Idol. And, of course, Google have been using their tools to predict flu trends.

Twitter’s a fascinating backchannel to popular culture, and there’s unlocked potential to make it even more useful. Somebody, somewhere, one day not too far in the future, I’d imagine, will develop something that enables them to make a lot of money from this.

Our survey says…

… or why you should take Twitter lists with a pinch of salt.

There’s nothing a geek likes more than a good list and as Twitter is full of geeks, there’s nothing us geeks like more than a good list about Twitter. It’s pretty common to see lists of top Twitterers on certain topics or locations.

Of course the lists also can provide a useful guide to who’s who and who’s getting it right, especially where brands are concerned, especially as more and more companies realise it’s worth being on Twitter.

Earlier today Brand Republic released a list of the most mentioned brands on Twitter. It was interesting stuff and looked like a pretty comprehensive list of who was getting Twitter right.

Except it wasn’t. It was a useful snapshot, but shouldn’t be viewed as the be all and end all as there were more than a few flaws.

A quick disclosure at this point, as the following may sound like sour grapes on my part. The company I work for, ITV, wasn’t on the list, whereas the BBC and Channel 4 (3rd and 28th respectively) were.

This struck me as slightly odd. We’ve been on Twitter for over a year now (unlike many of the brands in the list [1]), and have 4,778 followers. This is more than Amazon, Ford and eBay, all of whom appear in the top 15 (of course followers don’t necessarily equal mentions).

What’s more, I know ITV gets between 50-100 mentions on a quiet day because I have assorted Tweet Beep alerts set up. Even allowing for a very quiet few days, I’d comfortably expect us to be above Dulux on 208 mentions.

Again, at the risk of sounding like a sulky teenager who realises there’s a party that they’re not invited to, it does seem there’s some serious flaws in this research. For a start, there’s no sign of Facebook anywhere on the list, which is an even more surprising omission than ITV.

First of all, there’s no word what the methodology is, so it’s difficult to work out how Jam, the agency that carried out the research, came to decide who to monitor and who didn’t. What qualifies as a brand and what doesn’t?

Also, there are thousands of brands out there, so it would be useful to know the scope of research and monitoring. Were they just given 100 brands to monitor? 200? What were the parameters? There’s a wide and varied range of companies on the list, so it’s safe to assume the scope was pretty wide.

Then there’s the way the brands were monitored – over three days in April this year. This is also problematic. The short timescale and lack of repetition increases the likelihood of a fluctuation in Twitter mentions for a brand that could be regarded as an anomaly in the Top 100.

For example, at the height of the Swine Flu panic, you’d expect Tamiflu to pick up quite a few mentions. If you’re including Chelsea FC as a brand (which I would), they’d trend very highly this week. When Woolworths went into administration, mentions alone would probably have placed it in the top ten.

The research doesn’t allow for rinsing out these random results. If the timescale were longer – say three months rather than days – you’d probably get a more accurate picture of which brands were mentioned the most. Or you could repeat the three day monitoring over, say, three weeks and see which brands consistently trended higher. The point in, a brand that finds itself in the news – unexpectedly or otherwise – will probably make it onto this list.

These are the main flaws, but – and although this probably goes byond that rather narrow parameters of the research commissioned – the list itself is probably more useful to the brands not on Twitter than those who already are. But mentions themselves don’t tell much about how the brand engages on Twitter.

Sure, they may get plenty of mentions, but is the brand passive or active? Also, it’s impossible to tell if the mentions are good or bad. For example, GMail had a brief hiccup early today. It would probably have made a significant spike in mentions of Google, which would a) as likely be negative and b) beyond Google’s control on Twitter.

Again, I’m well aware this sounds like moaning – and, yes, this does somewhat influence it. But it ties into a more general problem I have with these kind of lists.

Brand Republic’s Top 100 is useful as a snapshot, providing we accept the flaws. It also may provide the catalyst for some slightly sounder, more detailed research. But it’s also slightly misleading.

The list itself doesn’t mention the three-day limit until right at the end, and below an advert. It would be easy enough for people to look at the list, see ITV aren’t on there and assume we’re doing nothing on Twitter, in comparison to the BBC and Channel 4, which then gives the online reputation a bit of a dent.

There’s nothing wrong with these type of lists – they’re interesting, useful and generate a good amount of discussion both within and outside the brand. But if there’s no preamble to place it in context, there’s a danger they could be taken in the wrong way.

It also comes into the fringes of a pet grumble of mine – badly designed surveys and data collection. I’m a bit of a stats geek and number cruncher and have a firmly held belief that if you’re going to do research then you should at least open up your methodology and let the rest of us poke around for holes and flaws.

Ok, so it’s not exactly hard science, but there’s still science in there and if you give the research a good going over, you can either make it stronger or disprove it.

Which is somewhat of a lengthy way of saying there’s potential for some significant objective research of brands on Twitter (which would be tricky, but there’s no reason, with the right design, why it couldn’t be done). As opposed to a list like this which is interesting but not very useful as a piece of research.

[1] And even then I’m convinced I’ve seen Twitter accounts for a few of the brands on the list who aren’t meant to have a Twitter presence.

Social media and the soapbox

Gosh, there’s nothing like a few well placed words for kicking off a party political crisis. Or, rather, there’s nothing like a slightly weird video that presents the Prime Minister of this country looking like a strange gurning alien for kicking off a party political crisis.

Earlier this week, Hazel Blears, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, wrote in the Observer:

“YouTube if you want to. But it’s no substitute for knocking on doors or setting up a stall in the town centre.”

It’s pretty obvious what her target was here: the YouTube video where Gordon Brown announced plans to reform MPs expenses without telling Parliament first. It also contained a few somewhat frightening impromptu smiles that didn’t help his image one jot.

Sadly, this kerfuffle has somewhat shown British politics in a somewhat unfortunate light again when it comes to social media. You’d think when you’ve got Barack Obama and his supporters embracing the web, that politicians in the UK from all parties could learn from this.

But, no. We’re still on either dismissing tools like YouTube out of hand or, worse still, condemning any attempt to engage online as a waste of taxpayers money. 

Take this rather ignorant post from Conservative MP Nadine Dorries on her attitude to Twitter.

In some respects it’s no different from what you’d hear from others who don’t get or don’t want to get Twitter. But to hear it from an elected representative is somewhat disappointing.

It essentially implies that she’s quite simply not going to bother engaging in a growing platform that provides an excellent way to directly connect with voters. As Chris at Clicking and Screaming says:

“I see little difference between the banal comments of the Twittersphere about ‘In the Loop’ and the banal opinions of a Member of Parliament on anything outside her remit. If it’s interesting to you, follow it. If not, don’t. But don’t lash out at those who do.

The compulsive need of those not involved to discuss it at length shows a fear of the unknown which, for a politician (and I generally have more respect for politicians than most do), is short-sighted.”

Let’s come back to Blears’ comments that You Tube is no substitute for door-to-door canvassing or taking the soapbox on tour. Again, it’s dismissing a wide-reaching social media tool used by a lot of the voting and non-voting public. It sounds a lot like one of those people back in the day who thought email would never catch on.

Local electioneering still has its place but YouTube has the potential to reach millions – many more than the town centre soapbox [1].

A few MPs even have their own YouTube channel, including Blears’ colleague Sadiq Khan [2]. But even then, this reveals a whole new set of problems. The most popular video on Khan’s channel has 227 views. The rest average somewhere between seven and about 150. Still, it’s a start.

The problem, to me, is one that’s all too common in any business or organisation or industry. You have some people who get social media and want to engage. You have some that know that they should probably be on these sites in some way, shape or form but aren’t sure how, and you have those who just don’t want to know.

Politicians, largely, are in the second and third groups. Brown’s office is probably in the second – they’re making the right moves but aren’t really utilising it properly.

So, for Brown’s YouTube videos, it has a feeling of somebody suggesting it as a good idea but with no real strategy behind it or a proper feeling for how YouTube works.

It feels somewhat like The Thick Of It special where the opposition MP’s advisor starts a blog, while the politician himself doesn’t really care.

In all honesty, it probably wouldn’t take a lot of work to join together all the aspects. There’s no reason why, say, Brown couldn’t have announced the expenses measure to the chamber and then had a YouTube video posted immediately after the announcement (sans gurning, you’d hope) and then followed it up with, ooh, a blog post and the like.

Then, on the other side, perhaps Labour (or perhaps an apolitical body) could pull together all the politician YouTube videos, and Twitter accounts, in one place so it’s easy for constituents to find and engage with their MP (which is, after all, one of the main reasons why they were elected, right?).

And there’s no harm in giving the Twitter feed or YouTube channels a plug. I only stumbled across Sadiq Khan’s feed when I was looking for something else – in 18 months living in Tooting, I’d never had information offline that he had a web presence and it wasn’t top of my agenda to look. Many other voters probably have similar mindsets.

As The Register points out, moderating comments isn’t that difficult (and it doesn’t seem as if Downing Street had even thought of it) and there’s so much untapped potential for politicians in this country to get involved in social media, engage and perhaps win back some of the trust that they seem so keen to squander on a regular basis.

But instead Labour (and, via Dorries, the Conservatives as well) have managed to get social media, their strategy and response so spectacularly wrong. Which leads to another spat. Which turns voters off even further.

Add to this the smeargate emails, and the media’s obsession that Iain Dale, Gudio Fawkes and the unlamented Derek Draper, are the only web-politics that matter, well, it just doesn’t want to make you get involved online.

In the US, Obama used social media and the web to bring about a positive movement that engaged the average voter in politics. In the UK, all we can do is sling political mud at each other online. How very depressing.

[1] It’s worth saying that the soapbox offers politicians a direct way to engage and spend time talking to constituents, but there’s no guarantee that the constituents want to engage. With social media – You Tube, Facebook, Twitter et al – you can measure the level of success much more effectively AND engage in conversation.

[2] The only reason I’ve chosen Sadiq Khan is he used to be my local MP so I’m slightly more familiar with his online presence (he has a Twitter feed as well) rather than any particular like of dislike of the politician.

jfffffffI see little difference between the banal comments of the Twittersphere about ‘In the Loop’ and the banal opinions of a Member of Parliament on anything outside her remit. If it’s interesting to you, follow it. If not, don’t. But don’t lash out at those who do.
The compulsive need of those not involved to discuss it at length shows a fear of the unknown which, for a politician (and I generally have more respect for politicians than most do), is short-sighted.

Who wags who?

Martin Moore’s discussion around the death of Ian Tomlinson and the subsequent investigation and unearthing of footage by the Guardian raises some interesting points about the place ‘old media (for want of a better phrase) have today:

“Would the ‘truth’ surrounding Mr Tomlinson’s death have come to light had it not been sought out by journalists, and then published as the lead story in the Guardian? Perhaps, but I don’t think so.”

Then there’s the Damian McBride email scandal that may have broken in the blogosphere but still needed the traditional media to completely take it into the scandal it has now become. Would McBride have resigned if the accusations had just appeared on Guido Fawkes’ blog and nowhere else [1]?

But, by the same token, these stories wouldn’t have become as big had it not been for the work of social media, with videos of Tomlinson and alleged police brutality at the G20 protests circulating around the internet. And in the midst of this, the Guardian showed how a mainstream media’s website spread this using social media tactics.

Then, on a lighter news story, Pete Cashmore muses at Mashable on Ashton Kutcher’s passing of the 1 million Twitter followers mark:

“And yet this assumes that social media needs mainstream media to justify its existence: that without its blessing social media is not confirmed. But mainstream media is increasingly becoming an echo of social media, allowing YouTube’s masses to define what matters (Susan Boyle, the Domino’s Pizza scandal) and mirroring that public sentiment.

For now, Twitter needs mainstream media more than mainstream media needs Twitter. But Ashton has an audience of 1 million at his fingertips: how much longer will the talent need its mainstream middleman?”

Is this a case of the tail wagging the dog or the dog wagging the tail? Or just a case of having a double-headed, double-tailed canine?

Chris Applegate makes an interesting comparion between the coverage of Hillsborough twenty years ago and the coverage of the G20.

Back in the 1980s, it was much easier for the police (with a little help from The Sun) to get out their version, deflecting blame and smearing the innocent. Today, the police’s account of the G20 was quickly contradicted by the wealth of material available. One wonders if the families of the 96 would still be campaigning for justice if Hillsborough had happened today.

At the moment, both social media and traditional media are probably wagging each other. The footage of Ian Tomlinson would probably have gained traction without the Guardian, but the newspaper’s work meant it was disseminated much quicker. McBride’s emails may well have just stuck to the Westminster gossip blogs  if the papers hadn’t run with it [2].

Certainly with significant news stories that originate in niche communities, then it probably does require a helping hand from the traditional press to take it that step further. But the lines are getting increasingly narrow between the two.

If you have an interest in an area, mainstream or niche, you’ll probably hear the news before it makes it to the mainstream media, but it’s also never been easier for journalists to keep tabs on what’s getting the internet buzzing – and if that’s beyond the usual geek or early adopter buzz, there’s a good chance it’s a story that more people will be interested in.

And then you’ve got somebody like Susan Boyle, who was on a primetime show like Britain’s Got Talent and got the traditional media and the social media talking, and social media helped turn Susan Boyle into a global superstar, which, in turn, became a story for traditional media.

My brain hurts.

Both sides still need each other still, but it remains to be seen for how much longer. Journalists are still gatekeepers, sorting the wheat from the chaff in the internet world, albeit with no small amount of help from places like Twitter. And when they do manage to come together, like the Guardian’s excellent work with the Ian Tomlinson story, then it can really take off.

And one final note that’s probably significant in some small way. When news broke that Tomlinson didn’t die of a heart attack, as was originally though, thenews was all over Twitter. But the most retweeted user on this was Krishnan Guru-Murthy, the Channel 4 News anchor.

Like I say, both sides still need each other.

[1] Ok, this is being very simplistic. No blog is an island and that’s one of the joys of the web. If people like what’s blogged or Tweeted, it soon finds its way onto other blogs.

[2] It’s worth remembering that while the likes of Gudio and Iain Dale are seen as influential within Westminster, once you leave this behind, recognition of their names probably diminishes. You can be interested in politics without having heard of either, especially if you don’t spend a great deal of time reading blogs. There is a world beyond the blogs.

If you’re a (radio) journalist, Audioboo is dead exciting

Occasionally a service pops onto the internet that’s just brimming with potential for journalism (and the rest of the media). It doesn’t need any complicated explanations – you just plug and go and start having a lot of fun. Audioboo is one of those services.

Ostensibly it’s a very simple app for the iPhone that allows you to record a ‘boo’, which gets sent to the Audioboo website, where there are also the standard social networking functions. You can also embed it into your own website. This boo can literally be anything, but it’s normally short and snappy – rarely over two minutes. It’s a bit like an aural version of Seesmic or Twitter, although that’s not entirely accurate.

The Guardian used this to good effect on their liveblog during their coverage of the G20 summit and the accompanying protests. Mix with text and video, it gave you short, snappy reports from journalists on the ground.

This, to me, is exciting.

Let’s backtrack to when I was a radio reporter. It’s not a million miles away from what I would be doing for assorted news stories – often standing near a breaking news story (usually in a cold and/or wet place. Big news stories always seem to break when the elements are at their worst, just to torment news reporters) with a microphone in hand, describing what was going on for the benefit of our listeners.

Depending on what equipment was available on the day you’d either get a radio quality OB unit (although this would inevitably decide not to work or be in use when big stories broke), a mobile phone, or you’d just end up doing an ‘as live’ report into your recording equipment.

This is why Audioboo excites me. The quality, as far as I can tell, is decent – certainly better than using a mobile. Sure, it has limitations – you can’t do a two-way, for example. But the principle of just sending a quick report of where you are and what you’re doing… hell, that’s no different from standard radio journalism and opens up a wealth of possibilities.

If I were still in radio, I’d be getting onto our technical and website bods to make sure we could send Boos direct to the newsroom. How liberating would it be if you can send an immediate report back in decent quality without having to do a pre-record or even take up precious time from the journalist at the other end who’ll be recording your call.

And if a radio journalist found themselves somewhere without any recording equipment (maybe during off-duty time), it’d be easy to get a report back to the office.

But Audioboo goes way beyond that. Citizen journalism is usually, these days, a fairly vague term that’s just used to lump ‘the internet’ together but in this case it suits Audioboo perfectly. If newsrooms encourage listeners to send in their ‘boos’ from news stories, there’s a whole wealth of material that can be collected freeing up precious time for the journalist (and please God, meaning that we have to do less vox pops. I’ve yet to met a journalist who enjoys vox popping. That said, there is a time and a place and they do make for good radio).

Then there’s the radio shows themselves. Audioboo can add another easy, interactive aspect to any DJ’s show, or any podcast as well (it’s certainly something I’d like to play with in the future for the twofootedtackle podcast when I get a moment). Given how simple it is, there are so many possibilities.

Of course, it’s not just radio journalists this can be useful for. It should be reasonably easy to work them into TV news (I’d imagine), and the Guardian have already shown how any news website can work them into coverage. Again, any newspaper – be it national, regional or local – should be looking to work this into their site.

Inviting ‘boos’ from the public is essentially opening up audio is the same way camera phones and the like did for pictures, and that’s now a staple part of any news coverage.

The only downside. I don’t yet have an iPhone so can’t Audioboo myself. But it’s a concept that really excites me and it’s been a long time since I’ve said that about any web service, no matter how much I love or use them.

Employing your own twit

Literally, ooh, dozens, perhaps handfuls, of people may have gone into shock at the revelation that 50 Cent isn’t keeping it real and has a web person writing his Twitter updates for him.

It does raise an interesting issue though. Many celebs and others – brands, CEOs, etc – are rushing to get onto Twitter (largely, I suspect, because it’s the flavour of the month). It’s a fair bet that more than a few aren’t actually Tweeting themselves but employ somebody to do it.

Does this actually matter? On one hand you could argue that as long as the message is getting out then, then possibly not. It also makes it easier, from a PR point of view, to control said message.

However, I’m not a fan of ghosted Twitter accounts. With brands, it’s a bit easier as you’re speaking as said brand, but it gets trickier when you get into the realms of real people.

If you’re replying as, say, 50 Cent then you’re opening yourself up to having your celebrity misquoted – or rather having words put into their mouth. It also does a disservice to those who follow the official account only to find out it isn’t their hero.

Stephen Fry, Jonathan Ross, Phillip Schofield and many many other celebrities seem to have no problem being themselves on Twitter. If anything, the way they use the service has enhanced their personal brand.

Ultimately, if a celebrity isn’t that keen on the idea of Twitter or doesn’t want to Tweet, it’ll probably do more harm than good if they just pass it over to somebody else. I’d certainly feel uncomfortable in working on a ghosted Twitter account.

As for corporate ‘important people’ Twitter accounts (eg council bosses, company CEOs) ghosted accounts, I’d say, are even more of a no-no. It implies your brand or head honcho or whoever is on Twitter for the sake of being on there and can’t really be bothered.

It’s much like those corporate blogs where the head of the organisation or somebody else in a position of importance either decides they want to blog or get told they should blog. What follows is usually about two posts before they lose interest and make no attempt at engagement. It’s easy to see that being translated onto Twitter.

The only way that this may be acceptable is if the account was set up in the person’s name but it was made clear from the beginning that this was an account for the person’s ‘brand’ rather than the individual themselves.

Transparency, as ever, is the key aspect when you’re dealing with social media.

Ultimately, if whoever it is isn’t into Twittering or blogging or whatever you can’t make them, and it may do more harm to the individual’s brand in the long term that the brief 30 seconds of kudos they’ll get from the online community.

EDIT: Read Write Web ask a similar question.


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