Archive for May, 2009

Total football

When Brian Clough brought the phrase ‘the beautiful game’ into common usage, he would have probably rarely applied it to many Champions League games of recent years. Tense, defensively-minded tactics and meaningless group games have long been the order of the day, but this season has been different, and crowned by one of the most complete displays from a team in a modern major final.

Barcelona perhaps needed a little bit of help from the referee to get to the final, but there was no doubting their class in Rome. Fans are used to leaving games speechless, but rarely because they struggle to find superlatives that do the winning team justice. Tonight, Barcelona turned in one of those performances.

Granted, they needed an early goal to settle their nerves and were helped by poor defending and goalkeeping from United. But what followed them was a masterclass in how to win a game.

The Catalans defence, missing three first-choice players and making do with a holding midfielder at centre-half and a centre-half at right back were imperious, only twice giving United the space to fashion chances, both of which the English side wasted. Puyol, at right-back, was magnificent, keeping both Ronaldo and Rooney quiet and bombing up the wing like a man half his age.

In the centre, Xavi and Iniesta were sublime. Every move, every chance inevitably came through these two. No ball was wasted and no matter how tight the space was, the pass could always be found. Some of the interplay in the centre of the park was a joy to watch and they could well have bettered that goal by Cambiasso for Argentina against Serbia, such was the build up and crispness of the passing.

Up front, Henry rolled back the years, Messi weaved his magic and Eto’o was, well, Eto’o. He scored in a European cup final, he did his job, he’s still not as good as the statistics may suggest this season, but he deserved his medal tonight.

The second goal was a thing of beauty. Yes, the defence went awol, but Xavi’s cross was pinpoint perfect and Messi’s leap and header was exquisite. How a man of 5 foot 7 could leap that high and put that amount of direction on the ball is beyond me.

Then again, Manchester United were poor, with only Rooney and Park trying to make anything of the game. But let’s not dwell on that. Barcelona could have been playing anybody tonight, and I’d be lavishing praise on them (and given they’ve thumped both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich this season, this result isn’t entirely surprising).

It’s rare that I’ll sit down on here and shower superlatives (or otherwise) on a team that isn’t Exeter, but Barcelona blew me away tonight. That they managed such a performance in the Champions League final is even more impressive.

And this post isn’t intended as United bashing. I’m strangely indifferent to the team. They’re the least objectionable of the Big Four, they play nice football and have one of the best players in the world in Wayne Rooney playing for them. And they were ws abject as Barcelona were superb tonight.

Truthfully, anybody could have supplied the opposition tonight and I’d still have been blown away by that performance. I’ve got no interest in poking fun at United (if it were Plymouth…), just in praising Barcelona for one of the greatest team performances I’ve ever witnessed.

I’m not sure if it quite comes close to Exeter City at Oxford United in the Conference play-off final second leg in 2007 though.

Anyway, if you want a bit more football, there’s the twofootedtackle podcast, largely taken up with dissecting Newcastle United’s corpse, plus a bit of chat on the Bundesliga. And there’s more mulling over the Magpies from me at Soccerlens.

I promise I will largely shut up about football on here now. At least for the next two months.

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More Gary stuff elsewhere

You know what? I can be complementary about Exeter’s rivals. Over at Soccerlens, I’ve done a bit of a ‘well done’ to Torquay for getting promotion [1] out of the Blue Square Premier. I’m actually quite happy to see them back in the league, and chuffed for their centre-half, Chris Todd. He’s one of the nicest men in football and has battled back against Leukaemia this year to become a Wembley winner.

Then there’s the twofootedtackle podcast, with myself, Chris Nee and Kate Clarke, where we pick our Premier League team of the year, predict who’ll drop down to the Championship, chat MLS, share tips for poaching eggs, and have a quick chinwag with Bobby Zamora.

And then the longer Pulitzer-winning [2] version of the interview with BZ can be found at Soccerlens.

[1] If this were Argyle it would, naturally, be a slightly different story. Assuming I even bothered to write it.

[2] May be a lie.

12 seconds to sell yourself

Here’s an interesting way to get a rung on the PR ladder – sell yourself in a little over half the time the So Solid Crew spent bigging up themselves.

The deal: getting PR graduates (plus anybody else who fancies a go) to sell themselves in what may possibility the world’s shortest job interview via micro-vlogging site 12Seconds.tv. The prize: a month’s paid PR internship with the Big Yellow Self Storage Company.

Essentially, the candidate has 12 seconds to sell themselves in their job interview and even tough there’s only one internship up for grabs, all the entries will be shown around the industry.

Now, on one hand you could scream ‘reality TV gimmick’, but I think it’s quite a fun way of getting yourself known and, for the Big Yellow Self Storage Company, a good way to boost their profile in the social media sphere, especially when you consider that they’re not perhaps the most natural fit for social media.

For the candidates, it’s a good lesson in being concise. One problem that virtually every journalist and PR suffers from, usually early in their career, is excess verbosity, so anything that encourages applicants to edit down to only the absolutely necessary will stand them in good stead. Plus it also gives the applicant a chance to show they ‘get’ social media.

Also, I can see more companies asking candidates to upload videos to YouTube, Seesmic, 12seconds.tv and the like in the future. But that’s by the by. But The Big Yellow are certainly ahead of the game in that regard.

It’s a nice, fun way to give newcomers a chance to get into the industry, and ticks several social media boxes, so hats off to the person who thought this one up.

Anyway, if you’ve happened to stumble across here, happen to be looking for something like a paid internship and want something that’s more useful than my musings, head to 12seconds.tv/campaign/bigyellowselfstorage, register, and link your Twitter and Facebook account to your 12 Seconds account.

Once you’ve done that, record your 12 second video on your mobile phone, webcam or video camera and upload it to12seconds.tv/campaign/bigyellowselfstorage, along with a copy of your CV. You’ve got until June 13th, so plenty of time to get creative between now and then.

Gary elsewhere x3

Not one, not two, but three pieces of football odds and sods from me today.

First off, Soccerlens, where I have a brief look at the crisis clubs of the summer, namely Southampton, Darlington, and Stockport.

I won’t be including Fisher Athletic in the list as they were wound up today. There’s a quick obituary from me at twofootedtackle.

On a more cheerful note, Guardian scribe Will Dean joined Chris and I in the studio for a very entertaining twofootedtackle podcast. Among the topics discussed were: The most intelligent discussion you’re hear all year concerning Manchester City, the Champions League, UEFA Cup, the Premier League, MLS, Boca Junior ultras and why Whitley Bay has some of the nicest toilets in Britain.

And another bit on why Twitter is so essential to my life

In the old days, a train delay on the morning commute would leave me sitting in the carriage like a lemon wondering whether or not to chance it on the buses. Today, when the train was halted at Clapham Junction due to a ‘major security alert’ my first thought was to get my BlackBerry out and leap on Twitter.

It’s perhaps understandable to be a little concerned and jumpy when you get announcements like that. Then you also start mentally working out how the hell you’re going to make it into work and which other routes were crowded.

One quick look at my Twitter stream told me there were plenty of police and sirens around Waterloo, so that place was best avoided. A quick search for both Waterloo and Vauxhall (using dabr’s search) told me there were plenty of other people stuck on trains and a bit confused as to what was going on.

But there were a few people Twittering that the trains to Victoria were still working, so I immediately changed platforms and hopped on a Victoria-bound train.

Keeping Twitter open, and continuing to search, it became clear that the alert was due to a suspicious vehicle or package near the Queenstown Road station that had caused the shutdown.

I was also Tweeting what I could find out and to let people know that buses were a nightmare but there was no delay on Victoria-bound trains. I also sent an email to everybody in my office – many of them catch trains into Waterloo so would have been hit by the delay or would be just starting their journeys.

Pretty soon, Tweets were coming through to say the package was a false alarm and trains were moving again, but very slowly. Plenty of others were, it seemed, also Tweeting their journey and the info they’d gathered.

By keeping an eye on Twitter it was relatively easy to keep on top of the situation and work out where was best avoided. Result: I was late into work but not as delayed as I’d have been without Twitter.

What’s more a couple of colleagues saw my email and took a different route into work, while other colleagues stuck on trains at least had a reasonable idea of how late they were likely to be and could plan accordingly.

So what, you may say. Well, here’s what. This may have been a non-event in the end, but to Londoners on their morning commute it was a big deal (Waterloo was a trending topic for a short while).

Now, in terms of news, it may just make a NiB in the evening freesheets. Possibly one of the rolling news channels or news websites may have got something on it quickly. But Twitter was more helpful than their of these at 9am this morning. It was also a lot more helpful than the train station staff who knew very little other than they’d been told to hold all trains.

And there’s the rub. It helped manage and ressaure during a slightly confusing real-time breaking (non-)news story. I’m guessing anybody else travelling into work through Waterloo this morning who happened to be on Twitter had a much better idea of what was going on and where to go than their colleagues. Should any journalist have wanted to piece together what was going on this morning, all they’d have to do would be to search for Waterloo on Twitter.

All thanks to a bunch of people typing 140 characters about how their journey to work was disrupted. Without them, I’d probably be wandering lost around the roads of Clapham and Battersea.

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.

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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