Archive for the 'Putting your face online' Category

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.

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.

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.

Just *what* do you want?

If, in the future, we’re all going to be sat at our desks blogging, Tweeting, Flickring and whatnot, for the rest of eternity, we’ll probably need e-numbers to get through it.

Whether or not that was one of the reasons behind Skittles taking their home page all social media-like, we’ll never know. But they are one of the more high profile brands to experiment with the various tools online. Whether it’s worked or not is another matter.

To recap: anybody logging into their Twitter last Monday would have probably found a slew of tweets with the hashtag #skittles. These were then fed into the Skittles home page which was updating all mentions of the sweet on Twitter.

After a while people started cottoning onto this and includes tweets about paedophiles and the like to watch them get onto the home page. Social media types are a nice bunch, but we do have a somewhat borderline/evil sense of humour.

Regardless, Skittles were THE trend on Twitter that day, even if it’s difficult to say if this takeover was a good or a bad thing. In the short-term, it definitely worked. The brand was being talked about and I’d imagine there’s a high chance consumption of the rather icky sweet went up among users of the mircoblogging tool.

But there’s still one nagging question here – just what exactly were they hoping to achieve?

Yes, it was a bold move. Yes it was reasonably innovative for such a mainstream brand. Yes, it got them talked about for a short period of time. But, to be blunt, what for? And what now?

Currently their homepage brings up their Wikipedia entry. Which is nice but, um, what precisely are we meant to do with it? Sure, it’s more informative than a garish flash page, but if I wanted to find out about Skittles on Wikipedia I’d, well, go to Wikipedia.

At Econsultancy, Patricio Robles is similarly nonplussed:

“What exactly did Skittles reinforce by turning its homepage into a Twitterstream? That’s the $64,000 question the people in charge of the Skittles brand should be asking themselves because the truth is that buzz doesn’t build, reinvigorate or reinvent brands.

A coherent message does.

I think that’s something marketers need to keep in mind when they experiment with the ever-growing world of social media. If brands see social media as little more than a cheap tool for getting some short-term attention, they might as well stay home. Branding is a long-term game.”

And that is really the problem a lot of brands or companies have with the internet in a nutshell. Most media people have probably been in at least one meeting where somebody asks “Can we get this on the internet / blogs / Twitter?”

Even if it’s the kind of thing that fits well with any given social media site, the ‘what now’ question remains. Skittles have got some great short-term publicity and have shown a lot more social media savvy than a lot of other brands, but now that they’ve got Skittles out there in social media, what do they intend to do with it?

This may well be part of a slow strategy to get Skittles out there bit by bit. If it’s just doing it for the sake of, well, doing it then they’ve got their buzz and then, a few months down the line, everybody will have forgotten about it.

Building a social media presence, be it for your own work, a brand, a personality, a TV show, or whatever isn’t just a case of putting it out into the internet and leaving it.

Sometimes this does work, admitedly, but this usually means you’ve got a simple little thing that users love and start doing their own thing with.

But more often than not, the brand is thrown out in a great blaze of glory and is then sadly neglected when it’s this second step on continual engagement that can yield the greatest benefit in the long run.

And on a slight tangential note, if you want an excellent guide on how to pitch your brand across Twitter, Kai Turner’s post on Mashable is one of the best possible pieces you can read.

Getting social with Nathan Barley

Bobbie Johnson from the Guardian has had it with social media. It’s easy to sympathise.

“Listen. I have blog. I use Twitter. I idly flick through lists of people I’d forgotten I ever knew on Facebook. I’ve even got a MySpace page, although I don’t like to talk about it. They are great ways of connecting people, and they’re very exciting when you start using them, because they allow virtual contact in ways that are analogous to – if not the same as – real life. You know, communicate with people. That old thing.

Nobody talks about people down the pub laughing about Bale’s expletive-laden bullying as a “social drinking sensation”. They don’t call people giggling about it on the phone as a “social telecommunications sensation”. They call it joking, or they call it gossip, because that’s what people do. Whether they do it online or offline, down the pub or on Facebook doesn’t matter. “Social media” is mainstream – we don’t need to claim any more victories for it.”

Quite so. I’m at a point where I roughly agree with Bobbie as well. I’ve probably spent as much time as anybody hyping up ‘social’ media tools. It was a convenient term, much like ‘new media’ was back in the emerging days of the internet.

It has now crossed into the mainstream. That, I think, we can safely say. But, as Bobbie points out, having Christian Bale’ s rant pinged around Twitter doesn’t act as proof that it’s taking over the world (such proof, for what it’s worth, is pretty easy to accumulate elsewhere).

Wadds wrote last week about the change that was coming in Twitter and other forms of social media (I’m still using the term as it’s convenient) and I think we’re seeing it now.

Now, unless I’ve completely misread his column, I don’t think Bobbie’s calling for the death of social media; rather that he wishes social media people would stop banging on about how great social media is on social media sites.

Christ, I feel incestuous just writing that last sentence.

There reaches a point where, in any technology or movement or whatever you want to call social media, where it edges onto the mainstream and suddenly everybody is an expert on it.

And, as ever, with any kind of new, erm, thing (sorry, I’m casting about for words here and can’t find the right one) there is a lot of bullshit. And a lot of people who get involved for little discernible purposes other than to self-promote their usually overhyped wares.

We’re probably at this stage now.

Now, this isn’t a post where I run screaming at Twitter yelling “YOU’VE CHANGED AND I DON’T LIKE IT” on my part either. But the site – and many other bits have become a mite trying at times. Largely because of the jargon and the self-promotion and the self-satisfaction and God alone knows what. [Insert your own examples here. I’m tired, ok].

Let’s take a step back for a moment. Social media is still important. It is, and will continue to, make an impact on our lives – how we view, consume and engage with both the media and the world in general.

But the likes of Twitter et al are also communication tools. And just as we all use our mobile phones to communicate in different ways, the same could be said for these assorted sites. They are a way of communication. No more, no less. How you choose to use them is up to you.

So, with that in mind, it’s not a surprise that PR (and journalism and the like) is naturally drawn to Twitter. After all, PR is a communications industry.

And, just with any new development, there will always be people in an industry who cotton onto it quicker than others. I guess you could call these people experts.

Whatever title you give them, these will be the people leading the way in training, enthusing and helping their colleagues or industry get the best out of the new technologies.

What’s quite interesting is some of the best people I know in this area have gone quite quiet over various social media outlets (God, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I can’t stop writing the term. I’ll stop it soon, I promise). And that’s probably as good an indication as any that social media’s moved into the mainstream.

It means that they no longer need to shout from the rooftops and are probably getting stuck into work and training and other such things. They’ve not moved on, they’ve just got more on their plates as every area tries to get a piece of the action. And this is a good thing, probably.

No doubt there will now be a slew of blog posts in the coming months claiming social media is dead (we’ve already had this with blogging). It’s not. It’s evolving.

Those who start proclaiming the death of social media are probably either trying to get attention or acting like the cool kid at school who spends ages raving about a band only to disown said band when everybody else realised how good they are. This isn’t the same as fatigue or frustration, which is what Bobbie appears to have.

I still love many aspects of social media. It’s integral to a lot of what I do. Twitter is increasingly useful for work, del.icio.us is a daily essential, I’m using wikis a hell of a lot more and I’ve only just realised how useful Tumblr can be.

But this does not mean I need to run around letting the whole world know I’ve just created a new wiki (although I’m as guilty as anybody of pimping my blog over the assorted networks).

This probably comes across as quite a jumbled post, but I think that’s a reflection of where things are at currently.

Social media tools are being absorbed into the mainstream but the principles guiding them are not new. Gossip is gossip, news is news, no matter how it becomes so. And talking about these wonderful new tools is easy. Doing something with them is considerably harder.

Twitter – and other sites you can lump under the SM umbrella – is useful, fun and interesting. Going around declaring yourself an expert in this probably isn’t. I removed the phrase social media enthusiast from my profile a week or so ago because I realised it made me sound like an utter wanker. And, frankly, I don’t need any extra help in that department.

I’ll finish by lifting Kat Hannaford’s comment from Bobbie’s piece, because it’s delightfully ranty, and pretty much spot on. And she’s one of my favourite, funniest Tweeters:

“Twitter and all the assorted other social networking brainfuckery has sapped the joy right out of the internet in recent months, and it’s taking all my willpower not to tell people to sod off, stop embarrassing themselves, and crawl back to the nook at Shoreditch House that they crawled out of.

Now if you excuse me, I’m going to go look at pictures of cats to reinstall a glimmer of hope within me about the benefits of the internet.”

Amen to that. Pictures of cats will still be popular no matter what stage of the web we’re in 🙂

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.


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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