Archive for January, 2009

Twhere do we go from here

Twitter, it’s fair to say, has seen its profile soar in the UK media in the last couple of weeks, thanks, in no small part, to a growing band of celebrities who’ve joined the site.

Now, if you’re a celeb, you’re no one if you’re not on Twitter (ok, not quite. Don’t take this statement literally). Jamie Oliver swung by today. Phil Schofield has been Tweeting away from the set of This Morning [1]. The Daily Mail has started republishing assorted celebrity Tweets as articles. And swathes of new users have started signing up to the site, prompted by the celebrity Twitterers and the media coverage.

All of which is great. After us early adopters banging on for God knows how long, journalists are starting to pick up on its usage and PR and marketing are starting to realise there’s a lot of potential for transparently run Twitter accounts that engage with other users (as opposed to just having a twitterfeed account set up).

Twitter has always been a site that had the potential to tip towards the mainstream and it finally appears to have done so (or at least taking huge strides towards getting there).

But while the attention and new users are great, it’s left the old users – the early adopters – a little confused and, in some cases, uncomfortable.

At the ever-excellent London Bloggers Meetup last night, I was chatting to Steven Waddington (@Wadds) about this. As he’s republished on his blog, my analogy was that Twitter now is a bit like your favourite hidden gem of a pub that’s suddenly become ridiculously popular. All of a sudden, your secret boozer, where you know the names and faces of most people, has become filled with all kinds.

At this point, it all becomes a bit unsettling. Some of the early adopters are now considering whether to stay propping up the bar, or try and find another pub to drink in. Or find a corner of the current pub and ignore the new drinkers. It’s an understandable reaction. Who wouldn’t feel a little put out that their favourite pub that they’ve been raving about to everyone has suddenly become popular.

It’s a balancing act that any new Twitter-related PR activity has to be mindful of. On one hand, the more followers you have, the more you can spread the word of your brand. On the other hand, it’s still many of the early adopters who have the influence, not to mention the ability, to help push, or kill, whatever it is your PR-ing.

In other words, it’s a fine line between making the most of Twitter’s newly found fans and not getting up the noses of those who are already on there.

One thing is certain though: Twitter has now reached the point where it is starting to change (not that it was particularly easy to define in the first place – and it’s even harder now). The slew of celebrities and new users means that the nature of the site and its usage is starting to become a bit different. That isn’t a good or a bad thing. It’s just a difference.

From a work point of view, the emergence of Twitter is very helpful for my area and department. We’ve already used Twitter a bit for campaigns – it’s now going to be a lot more fun, and a lot more easier, to ask celebs and shows to get a Twitter presence.

From a personal point of view, it is a bit strange to see the site explode in popularity. And, yes, it does take a little bit of adjusting to. I guess this must be what Facebook was like when suddenly the floodgates opened and everybody you knew appeared to be joining. And MySpace before that. And so on.

As Wadds says, it’ll be interesting to see what happens once this initial flurry of activity following all the coverage dies down a bit (if, indeed, it dies down at all). It will be interesting to see how many use it as a fad and how many stick with it.

It’s not inconceivable that Twitter becomes a key part of everyday use in the UK. It’s also not inconceivable [2] that everybody will give up on it in a few months. We shall see.

What is does mean is that companies and PRs – both the early adopters and the new wave – will have to adjust their thinking on their use of the microblogging site. Those who tap into the right aspect at the right time will do well. And will probably be followed by a host of imitators who’ll do it not so well.

The next few months will be fascinating. Twitter will be different and we need to embrace this. Let’s grab ourselves a table, pull another beer, and get chatting to the newcomers into our virtual pub. Just as long as they don’t hog the quiz machine all night long.

[1] And is a brilliant example of somebody who ‘gets’ the site. If you were going to pick a perfect Twitter user, @Schofe would be it. 

[2] This has nothing to do with Twitter. I just realised I typed inconceivable twice. And now I’ve got that scene from The Princess Bride stuck in my head.


Gary has been busy but he’s still found time to be elsewhere

He’ll also stop talking about himself in the third person now.

Over at Soccerlens I wax lyrical about the 10 greatest ever drawn FA Cup ties and the subsequent replays.

The words “You’re a bit of a sad geek, aren’t you” may be used in conjunction with this article. You’d probably be right.

I’ve also managed to irritate Manchester United fans. Makes a change from having Manchester City fans chasing after me with pitchforks. I’ve actually got nothing much against either club. They both do things well and not so well. And things are never dull with either of them…

I have got other stuff I’d like to write on here, but I’ve not had the time as I’m insanely busy. And I don’t commission myself to write a weekly piece. If I did, I’d have sacked myself by now.

Gary Elsewhere

Over at Soccerlens, I lament the current state of football and try to give a few reasons why it’s gone a bit, well, wrong.

I’d also like to point out this was written before I went to Dagenham to watch Exeter play last night, which was one of those games that reminds you just why you love football.

Nonetheless, the sentiment of the article stands. I’m probably going to be chased from city to city with burning pitchforks, mind, as I’ve criticised most Premier League clubs. It’s not that I have anything against the clubs per se, it’s just part of a wider malaise.

Note to aspiring media people: learn the workings behind t’interweb

Charles Arthur’s one piece of advice to aspiring journalists: learn to code. To which I’d say “Oh, God. Yes. Do.”

Ok, there are probably other pieces of advice that are equally as useful. But in the current climate, it’s as good a place to start as any.

There are many reasons why this makes sense. Like it or not, the media is increasingly looking for jack-of-all trades. Like it or not, there won’t be as many journalists around to do the work required of them. If you can work across as many platforms as possible (I’d also advise journalists to learn TV production techniques as well) then you have an advantage.

With journalism increasingly online (vague description, but as the media still hasn’t quite worked out where it’s going, it’ll do), it helps to have a knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes [1]. It’s not vital, it just helps.

Secondly, and this will sound a little woolly, assuming you company’s website is easy enough to tinker around with, it’ll enable you to do some seriously cool journalism-related stuff very quickly, without having to get somebody from IT to help.

Charles uses maps mashups as a good example. There’ll undoubtedly be blogs or other sites producing these; people will find them useful, they’ll search for them. It makes sense to have them available as quickly as possible.

Most importantly, Charles talks about how coding can save you enormous amount of time on assorted amount of journalism jobs – subbing, formatting, pulling in data, and the like. This comment neatly explains why setting up assorted coded bits and pieces can be so useful. Anything that saves time without cutting quality in the media these days is beyond useful.

I’d expand what Charles says to anybody in the media. With a work hat on (PR) I’m often asked about assorted bits and bobs that are web-centric and would be very cool indeed if we’re able to pull them off. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t.

And it’s at these times I wish I knew more about coding and had made an effort  to learn when I had more free time.

I can understand HTML, if not exactly to the extent that I’m confident enough to build stuff with it. I have a VERY basic understanding of CSS. And, er, that’s about it. A lot of what Charles is talking about on there has gone over my head, I’m afraid.

Yet this has given me enough freedom to tinker about and makes some neat and useful tweaks when needed. If I knew more, I’d happily sit away coding to produce cool bits and pieces.

Even if coding isn’t something you’re going to use on a regular basis, it’s still a piece of knowledge that could be (and is becoming increasingly) useful.

The downside: you’re regularly cited as an authority on anything technical. And try as I might, fixing a photocopier using any other method than kicking it, is, sadly, beyond me.

[1] So many print journalists I know have a fairly in-depth knowledge of their production process, which I find fascinating. And radio journalists have to get up to speed on basic broadcast engineering pretty quickly – because that desk or playout system will always fail at 5am in the morning and NEVER when the IT department have a quiet moment.

This may actually be the point I finally shut up about Twitter and journalism

A point, I think, has been reached. Quite where this point sites and what exactly it signifies is perhaps not quite the  issue. But it is a point that has been reached nonetheless.

That point is, as Adam Tinworth says is moving “from something that is used by the social media cognoscenti amongst journalists, to something that is rapidly spreading amongst the more web aware hack.”

Although Twitter’s use as a breaking news source isn’t exactly a new thing [1], with a growing number of users and an increasing number of both journalists and users all over the globe, it’s now reached the point where it’s the first place people are looking when something breaks.

And it’s also now become the norm that newspapers are reporting about the immediacy of breaking news on Twitter, as opposed to treating it as an interesting sideshow. Witness the Telegraph’s very good write up of yesterday’s New York plane crash.

That crash, along with the Mumbai attacks, seems to have convinced sceptical journalists to at least give the service a go. And once journalists try out something new, they’ll write about it, even if only a limited number of people are using it. That’ll then bump up the number of people who give it a go [2].

In the past few days, I’ve seen a serious rise in the number of people I personally know joining Twitter, while the number of people following me has also risen dramatically (I think they’ve nearly doubled already this month), as has our corporate accounts at work.

Having a slew of famous names join as well has also given it credibility. Never mind the sneering articles written about these (although, and I may be along in this, I thought Bryony Gordon’s piece was quite funny), the fact you have such a diverse range of celebs on there shows there’s an appeal across a range of personalities.

Stephen Fry, Robert Llewellyn, Will Carling, and Andy Murray have all helped. And then there’s Jonathan Ross, courting controversy with a few comments, but also quickly becoming the Twitterer’s favourite celebrity.

Ross, will his huge contacts book, has been verifying celebrities as they join Twitter (or don’t), and last night posted photos of him introducing the service to Danny Wallace and Eddie Izzard.

Phillip Schofield, who I think is the first ITV celeb to join, got Tweeting on Monday and has lept straight in, and is already being inundated with plenty of Twitter love. He’s already proving to be a great role model on how to use the service [3].

So, Twitter is finally moving into the mainstream now that it’s moved beyond a curiosity and into a genuinely useful communication tool (not that it wasn’t already). Quite where it goes from here, and how it goes, I have no idea. But it’s going to be fascinating to see how the site develops in the next few months.

And it also means I can probably stop banging on about how and why journalists should use it, because they’re now doing just that. Which will probably come as a relief to everybody.

[1] See the Exeter bomb blast last year.

[2] See also: The Wire. Until a few months ago, the only people I knew who’d actually watched this were Guardian journalists and people who knew Guardian journalists. That sentence hasn’t even been written for comic effect.

[3] And, about half an hour ago, gave me advice on the best organic veg box company to use in London.

Moldovans that don’t exist

At Soccerlens, Fredorrachi unravels the story of Masal Bugduv, a Moldovan teenage football sensation who was linked with a move to Arsenal and listed in The Times’ top 50 young footballers to watch. And who doesn’t actually exist.

Ok, so this one is quite amusing (and not on the same level as a lot of the poorly-written science stories). But it does show how good the net is at picking up and correcting these sort of things. And the importance of a good sub-editor. Although, in fairness, this was a pretty well put together hoax.

Mind you, football fans can be quite cruel. I can think of at least two occasions when Exeter City fans have started rumours about players that don’t exist on the unofficial message boards and the then manager(s) have been forced to deny in the local that they’re interested in signing said player.

It’s still nowhere near as funny as the time that Graeme Souness gave a debut to Ali “I’m George Weah’s cousin, honest” Dia at Southampton though.

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January 2009

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com