Archive for the 'in the loosest sense' Category

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.


Twitter bashing. Or, if you will, twashing

There’s a brand new sport in town. It involves shaping a Twitter-shaped stick and bashing the hell out of whatever purpose that stick’s shape is best for.

Sometimes the target of this is Twitter itself and involves beating the stick repeatedly on the ground. Sometimes the Twitter-shaped cudgel is the right shape for giving something else a good thumping. And occasionally the stick turns into a scattergun.

I imagine that if the rules of this sport were ever to be written, they’d probably be quite similar to Brockian Ultra Cricket.

As with any flavour of the month, people are queuing up to give Twitter a darn good slapping down, whether it’s in the comments about the global Twestival, getting psychologists to make sweeping assumptions about the users, or decry any organisation that dares spend cash on social media that could be better spent on, ooh, let’s say locking up feral children.

To those of us who’ve been on Twitter for quite a while and use the tool as part of our everyday life, these articles can be seen as a bit baffling and tend to provoke an angry response. My Twitter feed on Sunday was full of people getting angry about the Sunday Times piece [1]. Indeed, my Twitter feed is increasingly full of anger about the way Twitter’s portrayed.

But is it really worth getting worked up about any more? Any flavour of the month is prone to Freddie Star Ate My Hamster stories. Facebook had it, MySpace had it, mobile phones had it, mobile internet had it, Friends Reunited had it. Email probably had it, if I could remember that far back.

Twitter’s well and truly entered the mainstream and when that happens you’re inevitably going to get sneering and snide comments, both from people who, for whatever reason, what to have a pop at it, and from media outlets who either don’t want to get it or know that’ll provide a response and get read and passed around [2].

So, is it worth getting worked up about every badly written Twitter article or comment now? Probably not. It’s a good thing the Twestival organisers popped up in the comments to provide a bit of context to those who didn’t like it. And if it directly affects you or your company, then it probably doesn’t hurt to put a quick rebuttal wherever appropriate.

But as for the rest? Meh, I say, and meh again. We know Twitter. We love Twitter. And Twitter is no big enough to stand on its own two feet without us rushing in to defend its honour on a regular basis.

There are plenty of sensible conversations going on outside of the traditional media sphere. The celebrities who are active on Twitter, like Stephen Fry or Phillip Schofield, will attract and probably encourage users into trying out Twitter and, hopefully getting the service.

And if you don’t get it, don’t worry. David Mitchell doesn’t either and is funny and accurate in not quite getting it.

Twitter’s now getting enough coverage both in and out of traditional channels (and often a mixture of the two at the same time). It’s now at the stage where having hoards of angry Twitterers leaping on every badly researched article (and by God, there have been enough and there will be more time come) makes the service look, well, a little bit closed to those who don’t like it. Which couldn’t be further from the truth and we’re a very friendly bunch.

While there’s a certain amount of fun to be had in picking apart the badly-done Twitter pieces, it’s getting to the stage where it’s not worth getting worked up about it.

I know Twitter’s useful in so many ways. And continuing to demonstrate that is probably the best thing that can be done to counteract any negative coverage. You just have to look at the money raised from Twestival or the instant news reporting from the Hudson Crash or Mumbai to show this.

Some have posited that the reason there are so many anti-Twitter stories out there is that the traditional media is worried that it might kill them off. Ok, there may be a slight bit of fear there, but I’d argue it’s just as much that Twitter is news right now so any way of shoehorning it in fits in with the news values. And there’s nothing like giving the flavour of the month a good kicking – it’s something the British media does well.

Twitter is another communication tool. It’s a great backchannel and, integrated into any news site, it complements traditional reporting rather than threatening it. Journalists are starting to understand that Twitter is a great news source. The really good journalists will have probably already written a lot of stories thanks to Twitter.

One thing’s for sure, the likes of Twitter won’t kill traditional media. It’s perfectly capable of committing hari-kari without any help.

Related reading: Shiny Red – The Twitter backlash starts in earnest in old media.

[1] And probably with good cause. It was a somewhat daft piece of space-filling.

Foreign players and markets

Earlier today, on an Exeter City mailing list I subscribe to (yes, such things exist), Mike Blackstone posed the following question:

“What if the only players who were allowed to play in the Premier and Football  League were to be born in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern ireland  and the Republic of ireland? Would this not make the respective  international teams stronger (eventually) as more home grown players
came through the ranks?”

I started replying, the realised it was turning into an epic consideration of all things foreign, football politics, and quite possibly ill-thought through economics of the sport. So, what the hell, I’ll post it on here.

Normally this would go over onto Soccerlens, but it’s very much a work in progress and I’d be interested for other people to throw their own views in here, as I’ve undoubtedly missed a few things or there’s a stunningly good argument to demolish one, or all, of the points. It might get shaped into some kind of article in coming weeks. Possibly.

Here, in all its unrefined glory (or lack of) is my answer to Mike’s question:


To go back to Mike’s original question, I think it would make more players available for the teams, but may not necessarily make it stronger. Ok, so there may be more players to chose from, but that won’t help if all the players are of a lower standard than the foreign players they replace. It will weaken the league and, in the long run, damage the international teams, no matter how good the short-term measure would be.

Blaming the foreign influx is an easy way to see a solution to the perceived problem, but there are wider underlying issues here that aren’t the fault of foreign players.

1. First of all, foreign players have benefitted the league. Having world class players like Henry, Cantona, Zola, Bergkamp, etc compete in England has made the league more attractive to advertisers and sponsorship and has resulted in more money flowing in. That clubs lower down have not benefitted from this cash is due to the Premier League and the FA, not foreigners.

2. Players such as Henry et al have provided inspiration for youngsters today to take up the game, and have given our game something different. Previously a player such as, say, Matthew Le Tissier, wasn’t fancied at international level despite being one of the nearest things we had to a continetal playmaker like Totti or Cantona. Now there’s much more of an appreciation of the different types of skills and players and such role models can only be good for the British game. Look at the likes of Aaron Ramsey – he could be that type of player in a few years time. Fifteen years ago, he’d have probably been discarded in favour of a workhorse who would put in energy and muscle but not as much skill.

3. The failure to bring through a generation of younger players is, again, down to the FA and the Premier League. By abandoning the idea of a national centre at Burton, there was no focal point and incentive for PL clubs to invest in their own homegrown talent – indeed, PL clubs weren’t overly fond of the FA taking off their brightest young talents on a regular basis. Owen, Joe Cole and others went through the old FA schools. Reviving Burton will give us a better chance at training and indentifying promising youngsters.

As an aside, the whole system of training our children is probably flawed. The emphasis is on putting them into a position as early as possible, stick to it, and win at all costs from a very early age. Other countries encourage children to play on all positions in non-competitive games in their pre-teen years. That way youngsters can enjoy the game without the pressure of having to win, and develop an apprecation of what their colleagues on the pitch can do, as well as enhancing skills they would not have got had they simply played as a striker week in week out.

4. The strength of our economy over recent years has played a part. Foreign players have an incentive to move here because they will often earn more than in their home countires due to the strength of the pound. Their wage demand and cost would be less than British players, so clubs would go for the cheap option. Although, there’s also a part of this whereby clubs have thought with short-term goals, seen the success of Cantona, Zola and Henry (and some of the players to progress through Arsenal’s ranks) and have tried to do the same, albeit on a cut-price level in line with their budgets. They were cheaper than British players to bring through.

5. By the same token, British players, for whatever reason, have been reluctant to move abroad. Part of this is to do with the inflated wealth whereby they can get more for bench-warming in the Premiership than playing football abroad in a country where the currency is weaker. Also, there’s a slightly suspicious attitude of Brits playing abroad, probably scarred by past experiences. Owen Hargreaves was widely assumed to be no good for a long period of time, despite a successful career at one of Germany’s biggest clubs. This also gave him a slightly different footballing education and exposure to a different style of play. Who is to say that, for example, Justin Hoyte, wouldn’t have been better served by going to Hamburg or PSV rather than Middlesbrough? As has been pointed out, we have a large flow of foreigners coming into this league, but very few going in the opposite direction. A more even import-export ratio of players would benefit British teams.

6. In the midst of all this, you have bad decision making, both from the clubs individually and the governing bodies. No matter how many rules and regulations you put in place, you can’t legislate for businesses making mistakes by buying bad players or overspending so they can only afford cheap foreign imports, and nor should you. Plus, nothing can ever account for Steve McClaren.

7.  Supporters too have their part to play in the current state of affairs. By wanting success instantaneously, they’re less willing to see a club spend time on developing and blooding younger players. Take Theo Walcott – wonder boy at 17, written-off at 18 when he hardly played, now seen as a key player to Arsenal and a huge blow when injured. Less single-minded managers than Wenger may not have given Walcott the time and patience he needed to develop. A medium-name foreign signing comes with little baggage and may temporarily appease fans, regardless of his ability.

8. As with most markets, this process is circular. Cycles come and go, and we may well see with the credit crunch, a return to home-grown players. With the pound a lot weaker in recent years, foreign players may find they’re better served with their careers abroad. Some British players may also decide abroad is the best option. Similarly, clubs that have kept faith in their youth acaemdies, such as Exeter and the likes of Villa in the Premiership, are now starting to reap the benefits with their long-term attitude. In this credit crunch era, with less cash available, many clubs may well start to look at those teams that are successfully bringing through young players and see it as the solution to cutting costs (and external pressures, such as the constant debates on foreigners, may convince clubs its politik to have more home-grown players).

Conclusion: Football is a business, like any other (but also one that does spend a lot of time operating outside the parameters of what most reasonable businesses do) and has now moved into a much more globalised world. This has benefitted the quality of football, globally, as a whole and the Premier League as a market leader in this product. Much of the problems with foreign players can be explained by markets – having restrictions on the market in the form of home-grown only players (short-term protectionism) won’t work in the long-term, no matter how attractive a solution it may seem now.

We’re moving onto another cycle of the market in footballers and this should even out over the next 12 months. English football currently appears to have the best available man for the job in the post who brings a different sensibility to the game and, you suspect, wouldn’t dismiss players from his plans if, say, they moved abroad.

I’m actually pretty optimistic about the long-term future of English future in this current climate. And, yes, looking at the current crop of Welsh players emerging, I’m actually quite optimistic about our chances for Euro 2012 as well.

Bad PR: Coming to a Twitter feed near you

Another day, another Twitter application springs up. And while Tweet Manager looks useful, it’s also a somewhat dangerous, especially if used by PR agencies or companies  who know nothing about the web and social media. Or, worse still, think they know about social media.

On one hand, Tweet Manager is useful for the prolific Twitterers to manage their accounts. You can auto-post a Tweet at a pre-set time, set up an autoreply (useful for holidays) and manage multiple accounts.

The latter is especially useful for people who handle several brands or feeds across Twitter – or want to perhaps split their personal and professional Tweeting, while the pre-set Tweeting could be very useful in certain circumstances.

But it’s some of the other services that are, as Steven Davies, who first flagged this up, just asking for it. Namely mass messaging.

This feature enables you to send a message to up to 1,000 users at any one time. Again, there are times when it could possibly be useful (a major announcement perhaps) but it’s essentially the Twitter equivalent of sending out a mass mail press release, and probably much more annoying.

Then there’s auto-follow, where the application will follow anybody who Tweets a specific word.

This is already a pet irritation of mine – I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve followed me (probably after a TweetBeep alert) on the basis that I’ve Tweeted a keyword.

Example in point. Not so long ago I Tweeted that I’d had so many emails in a day, my BlackBerry’s vibrate function had caused the device to throw itself off the table. Almost immediately somebody who offered ‘BlackBerry solutions and training’ started following me. Thanks for that.

So, put them all together and it’s now easier than ever for PR people to start spamming Twitter and giving the rest of us a bad name.

Imagine the pitch – a PR agencies pitches to a brand, with no real knowledge or experience of social media. They tell the brand they can set up an account on the hot new site that the whole media is talking about: Twitter.

Not only that, they can also make sure that they track everybody who talks about their product and then hit them all with targeted info (read: mass message).

Brand goes away convinced they’ve cracked the internet. PR then spams the hell out of people who just happen to have mentioned the word, regardless of it they have any interest in the brand or not. You can see where this is going, can’t you?

Just *being* on Twitter is not social media. Autoposting and not engaging is not a social media strategy. They’re fine for news feeds (which in themselves are quite a useful thing to have on Twitter) but not for a genuine Web 2.0 strategy. And mass messaging definitely isn’t a social media strategy.

The sad thing is, there’ll probably be a few PR people and.or brands who genuinely think that they’ve now cracked Web 2.0 because they’re posting stuff on Twitter. And then there’ll be those who know they’re not but will do it anyway.

Ok, this isn’t a Demya-type service – and I’ve no doubt that Tweet Manager was built with the best intentions in mind (and they ask users to use the service responsibly), and it does have some useful features. But we’ve already got enough problems working out how to fix email and PR. Let’s not have to do the same with Twitter.

Instant reporting indeed

This may well be a first (and hopefully not too common an occurrence). Via Jeff Jarvis, a passenger who was in a plane crash in Denver literally Twitters from the scene as soon as he gets out.

Surely cynical hack X can’t still now say Twitter isn’t useful to journalists. There you go, a perfect eyewitness for a pretty major story (although it probably helps to be on Twitter so you can introduce yourself before leaping in for an interview request).

The other argument I often hear against using Twitter, from a journalism (or PR) point of view is that it’s impossible to find news like this because they don’t how to follow and it’s such a vast space that its impossible to stumble across anybody Tweeting breaking news.

Well, yes. And then no. Stumbling across a breaking news Twitter feed by chance would be pretty unlikely. But knowing how to target possible breaking news is another.

It’s as simple as this: first set up a TweetBeep alert for stuff specific to you. Second, start using Twitscoop, which shows you a cloud of hot keywords being Tweeted. I’ve integrated the widget into my Netvibes, which I’m rarely off, so can pick up if something’s got the site a-Twitter.

Finally, if news breaks, just use Twitter search to see who’s tweeting about what. So, in this example, looking for plane crash, plane or even Denver would probably return a few relevant hits. Or, even better, if there’s a hashtag, you’ve got all the content you need right there.

Once you’ve got this set up and into the mindset, you can probably have all the relevant information on Twitter in just a few minutes. I’ve even seen a journalist friend of mine Twitter that he’s “grateful to TweetpBeep for giving him a story”.

It’s things like this that show why Twitter is so useful for breaking news and is not just some form of bastard child of the Facebook status.

The report of blogging’s death is an exaggeration

The weblog is dead, long live the blog. Or, if you’re Paul Boutin, who wrote an obituary for blogging at Wired magazine the other day, blogging is just dead and we should bury it now:

“Thinking about starting your own blog? Here’s some friendly advice: Don’t. And if you’ve already got one, pull the plug.”

Blimey, that’s a cheerful start to the day, and the prognosis just gets worse:

“Writing a weblog today isn’t the bright idea it was four years ago. The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.”

The article has caused quite a stir both on and offline and it looks as if BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones will be doing a piece on this on Radio 4’s Today programme tomorrow, asking if blogging is dead.

But the question itself seems somewhat tautologous. A blog post about blogging has got other blogs and non-blogs talking about the death of blogging. For a medium that, last time I checked, definitely wasn’t six feet under, it’s doing a remarkably good job of still getting itself noticed.

As the old saying goes, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, and nobody’s stopped talking about it yet, so writing epitaphs seems a trifle premature.

The cynic in me suspects the post was written largely to get a reaction (and has succeeded), but rather than taking it to the extreme of death, it’s worth asking what’s different between blogging in 2008 than blogging, say, four years ago when citizen journalism was the new buzzword.

It’s certainly true that there are more professional blogs, corporate blogs and group blogs than there were back then. Indeed, it seems like you’re not a proper web 2.0-ed up company unless you’ve got yourself a company blog and are down with the proverbial kids.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? Far from it. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s a positively encouraging one, as it shows the evolution and maturing of blogging.

Brands, companies and traditional media are starting to move to the same level as bloggers – interacting, acknowledging and treating some of them as they would any other source. That news can be broken almost instantaneously via the web, and that spurious claims can be easily disproved, should continue to excite.

It also continues to highlight the power of the web or, more accurately, the power of Google. Get negative comments on your service and this will have a significant impact on your brand name’s Google juice – the last thing any company wants to see is the front page of results all criticising the product.

But get it right and a quick Google will produce pages of praise, which is as valuable to a brand’s reputation as any offline campaign. By placing blogging at the heart of this, it further increases the democratisation of the web. Again, this can only be a good thing.

I’ve said before that I see blogging as a medium that fits neatly into Habermas’ ideal of the public sphere. You have discussion about current events and those blogs that are the best informed, best written, or most entertaining will rise to the top. Those that sit ranting badly written rants will continue to attract just a small portion of readers. It is a free market in the currency of opinion.

A quick word about the negativity and vitriol Paul Boutin highlights in his article. This has been around since, really, day one of the internet and won’t change. Trolls won’t go away and there’ll always be that slightly odd group of people who take a perverse delight in sitting in the comments spewing hatred.

But we can live with that. What they most crave is attention, so by ignoring them they’re not getting the reaction they desire. And, if anything, the net seems to have increased in politeness.

Bloggers – and brands, companies and the like – are more willing to go into the comments and forums and politely put forward their point of view while there’s an informal online etiquette that is still evolving. People are getting more willing to engage, and the nuttier online element can be ignored.

Although the Technorati State of the Blogosphere 2008 noted a fall in the number of blogs, this doesn’t necessarily mean we’re seeing the death of blogging. There are, perhaps, a few explanations for this:

  1. Many of the original bloggers are getting older, so are moving to more high-powered positions of responsibility in the real world and have less time to blog, but this doesn’t mean they’re any less committed or enthusiastic to using blogs outside of a personal setting.
  2. A few of the really good bloggers – in whatever field – have been snapped up by bigger companies and have started blogging there instead, be it for traditional media sites, or overseeing company blogs.
  3. Many of the niche bloggers have pooled resources. Why have five blogs about a topic when you can come together in a group blog, where there’s less chance of lack of posting time and content, and a greater range of debates. Ultimately, every blogger wants to be read and joining forces to improve the Google juice increases the likelihood of this.

But Paul’s certainly got a point when he alludes to Twitter, Facebook and Flickr being the future. However, it’s worth pointing out that these aren’t blogging and blogging isn’t Twitter, Flickr or Facebook. Blogging is well-established enough not to be a passing fad.

Yes, all three offer a more concise immediacy that blogging, perhaps, can’t offer. But while Flickr could be described as photoblogging, it’s still different from blogging with words. They’re too very difficult entities. Nobody said the rise of photography led to the death of journalism.

Facebook is, again, different from blogging in so many ways. Sure, you can publish your blog to Facebook, but it seems to have settled into a niche as a networking, email exchange and event organiser. If people blog in there, they’re doing it for a specific audience.

And, more importantly, they’re still engaging in blogging, even if it’s in a more locked-out audience specific environment. But then, you could argue, this is just a more grown up version of Live Journal.

Finally, Twitter, which is the closest thing to blogging. It’s even described as microblogging, to which it is. But it’s still fundamentally different.

Twitter has probably been responsible for a decline in brief, one line blog posts. But take a look at the links being shared on Twitter, and then look at how many of them are, in fact, sharing ideas via blogs. Blogging and Twitter is symbiotic.

All of the above contributes to the conversation, and blogging is still very much a part of it. So the early adopters may not blog. So there are more personal blogs than ever before, and it may well be difficult to get your voice heard. That still doesn’t mean it’s a dying medium. Far from it.

This final snapshot may not be entirely reflective of the health of the blogosphere, but it, I think, provides a decent enough conclusion: in both a work and personal environment, I estimate I must get about half a dozen queries a week about blogging – how to set up a blog, what’s best blog practice, how to pitch to a blog, how to write a blog, and the rest.

That, to me, shows a medium that’s in rude health.

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December 2022

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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