Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Getting to know my community

How quickly times change. When I first started doing work experience and then freelancing for assorted journalistic outlets nearly a decade ago, the only thing the newsroom used the web for on any kind of regular basis was Google.

When I took over editorship of our student paper, we had a website but no content. When I left, we had a different website with the building blocks for content. We also had an editorial blog, hosted on a basic Blogger.com template [1]. This was seen as quite novel at the time.

When I did my professional BJTC qualification, I was one of only two people who blogged regularly. One of our regular assignments was to blog about journalism and the stories behind the stories. Many of the course were a little baffled and confused by this. This, they said, wasn’t journalism.

When I was a fully fledged reporter, the web was seen as both a curiosity and vaguely important, but we’d be buggered if we could work out exactly what to do with it. What we did know was when we got it right, we got one hell of a lot of traffic and comments. This didn’t happen often. Meanwhile, I was using Google Alerts, Technorati and other such tools to find stories. This was seen as something of a curiosity.

When I took the decision to move into PR, the debate on whether blogs should be treated the same as other media outlets was in its infancy still. Twitter was something only a couple of us geeks in the corner were spending time on, while everybody else looked on somewhat quizzically.

Now, as I prepare to move into yet another new role, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds and what I’ll be looking back on in a few years time and go “isn’t that funny.”

In just under ten days time I officially become part of the communities team at ITV.com, driving online engagement and facilitating conversations and other such things. I’ll be working with another ex-journo, Ben Ayers.

So what does this have to do with journalism? If you’d described my new role to the 18-year-old me, eagerly applying for work experience with local newspapers and radio stations, I’d have probably looked at you slightly funny before probably telling you this was nothing to do with journalism whatsoever [2]. In fact, I’d probably have had no clue what the hell you were on about.

But times change. Journalists are now bloggers, podcasters, video editors, and more as well as being reporters. And, yes, they’re working within online communities, be it facilitating conversation, engaging in the comments, posting blogged responses to the community and the like.

You could probably argue journalists have always done this, but there’s never been as much of a two way conversation, bar letters to the editor, or the odd chance to accost the journalist on their patch. Communities, though, have always been at the heart of journalism.

And the lines are becoming increasingly blurred. I’ve been addressed in emails as a football journalist, due to my writing for Soccerlens and podcasting for twofootedtackle, both of which are done in my spare time [3]. I’d call myself a football blogger and podcaster, but break it down and it’s very similar to what many traditional media outlets do.

Other boundaries are being broken. Not too long ago I was chatting to Joanna Geary, then of the Birmingham Post now of the Times, about getting the news about, well, the news out there. Journalists, she mentioned, were increasingly doing their own PR on the web to get people reading their stories. That’s not a million miles away from a communities editor.

When I first started in journalism, I did so because I wanted to make a difference. Granted, my career may not have gone the same way as Woodward and Bernstein, but I still repeat and hold onto that. I’d like to think I’m still making a difference these days, just in a different way.

[1] While it would have been nice to have kept this going for posterity, it got deleted the year after due to a small misunderstanding with some cartoons. You may be familiar with this.

[2] Although the web-loving part of me would have probably been reasonably impressed.

[3] I may still be a rarity though – a journalism trained blogger who does this sort of stuff for fun.

It’s not all bad, this interweb thing

Two excellent, interesting, a very different posts that are worth flagging up.

Firstly, Sarah Evans on Mashable on the ten best social media tools for journalists and PRs. It’s a bit US centric but there’s a couple of the list I use from time to time, and I’d especially love to get more people into working with wikis, as there’s so much potential there.

Even if you’re not planning on using any of them, it’s worth a look just to get an idea of the tools and sites that are available.

On a completely and utterly different note, POLIS director Charlie Beckett asks if, in relation to journalism, we can trust the internet. It’s a fascinating read that, if I had more time, I’d have liked to blog a bit further about. There’s small points I disagree with, but his conclusion is one I’d go along with.

Why every journalist should be using Twitter

It’s always difficult to gauge exactly how widely Twitter has extended outside of the tech and social media crowd (and, to a certain extent, the media). On one hand, I have Twitter on in the background every day at work and find it increasingly useful. On the other hand, I went out to dinner the other night with a couple of friends who I did my journalism training with and neither of them had heard of it.

But just when I learn to the other hand and start to wonder if it generally has a wider application, something like this comes along.

Essentially, The Chicago Tribute has an online Twitter presence who interacts with other users and it was to this profile that other Twitters turned when a few of them started asking about some kind of panic at a local plaza they were hearing about.

Not only did the Tribute’s Twitter feed reply, it got back to them about twenty minutes later with the full story, verified by the paper’s journalists, before crediting the breaking story to the Tweeter who first told him (or her) about it.

Thanks to the retweeting of the story by other users, it turned into one of the most widely read stories on the site. Neither the story nor the subsequent hits would have been as big had it not been for Twitter.

This small event is the perfect example of how new and old media can work together to create great journalism, and it’s the journalism aspect of Twitter that excites me the most.

At it’s most basic, it’s like the pub, where plenty of conversations are taking place [1]. Some of them are meaningless, but some may be interesting to the journalist and make a great story. Older journalists will have done more than their fair share of pub stories, while whenever I was sent to cover a story in an area I didn’t know, I’d usually head down the pub, as this was one of the best places for background and context.

Twitter can be seen as the pub. Or perhaps a trendy, if somewhat dilapidated, wine bar. That has poor acoustics, and the clientele speak in clipped tones. But is up to date with the latest news from the area.

Twitter, then, goes beyond just searching for people on location for a breaking news event – it allows those users to break the news to the journalists, although that only seems to have happened because of interaction. If the Chicago Tribute’s Twitter account didn’t bother to interact with its followers, then it wouldn’t have got the story (or got the story as quickly).

That, for me, perfectly encapsulates what social media is all about, and why it complements journalism rather than threatens it [2]. And why every journalist should at least be aware of how useful Twitter can be for newsgathering.

It may not have as many people signing up as Facebook did, and nor will it probably take off on such a mass scale as Facebook did. But that’s not necessarily the point. As my colleague Ben is fond of saying, it’s who you follow, not how many you follow.

The next question is how many news organisations have a presence of Twitter, Facebook, Bebo, and other sites, and regularly interact with readers? Those who don’t, or haven’t even considered it, are potentially missing a trick.

It’s why it’s important that Twitter users are able to receive SMS messages in the UK and Europe. The site cut this service due to spiraling costs they incurred from mobile providers.

It’s one of the most useful services Twitter offers, and for journalists is a key part of why Twitter is so useful. Paul Bradshaw has started a campaign to get mobile operators to strike a deal with Twitter – the Facebook group is here.

[1] I have a feeling I’ve shamelessly stolen this analogy from Joanna Geary. Sorry Jo – think of it as social media analogy sharing đŸ™‚

[2] Quite whether the same is true, at this current stage, for PR, I’m not so sure. It’s very useful, but nowhere near as useful as journalists are finding it. There’s definitely potential in there though, but as Jaz Cummins said to me at the Shoreditch Twit last week when I mentioned I was using Twitter for PR purposes, a lot of its users are still very much in the London or media-centric bubble and bursting through this bubble is the challenge. At least I think that’s what she was saying. My memory of the night is a tad hazy, but it was along those lines and is a very valid point. It’s certainly a major challenge for PR to work out how best to utilise the potential of Twitter.

Mixwittery

Click.

Hiss.

Fade out.

Click.

 

 

 

Oh bugger, that was longer than 45 minutes.

Creating a mixtape was – and still is – an artform. You had to be quick on the pause and stop buttons and be able to work out if adding that extra Belle and Sebastian track would take you over 45 minutes on side A.

Then there was the hours of agonising over the exact tracklisting and order, as the tape not only showcased your impeccable musical taste but also would be baring your soul to the woman you loved. Mix tapes were nearly always made with seducing a woman in mind. They very rarely succeeded. There are probably a good number of girls from Exeter and the surrounding area who still have a an old C90 complete with a rare Sneaker Pimps remix or a Lewis Taylor B-side kicking about at the back of a drawer.

God, I loved mixtapes. I used to record every new entry off the Top 40 on a religious basis, then make a further tape to discard the songs I didn’t like. It’s a good job I didn’t have access to a large scale CD production factory otherwise the Now That’s What I Call Music series would have been in serious trouble.

But while today’s modern music downloading tools, MySpace music, and iPods are fantastic, there’s still a part of me that hankers after the mixtape compiling. Making a compilation CD just isn’t the same. Drag, drop, set to record and go off and make a cup of tea, or whatever. Dull.

But with the internet, and retro loves, it was inevitable something like MixWit would crop up. Ok, so it’s still a drag and drop into a playlist. And there’s no physical product at the end of it. But you can custom-make your own C60. And when you play it, the cassette reel graphic goes round. What’s not to love?

I may be a little to excited by these kind of things. I may also need to get out more.

The only thing missing is the player behaving genuinely like a C60 and cutting out halfway through a song after 30 minutes.

I’m eternally grateful to Lolly from Blog Til You Drop for Tweeting about the site. My work colleagues, who’ve already been on the receiving end of several Mixwit emails may be less grateful. But it does mean I can introduce them to Los Campesinos! and remind them of what a great track Cake’s The Distance is.

There’s plenty of embeddable and sharing options, so here’s one I created today. The full title is ‘It’s Friday afternoon, I have lots of work to do but I really want the weekend to fast forward by a few hours. In lieu of that, I’ll make a mixtape that has The Pixes in it’.

It’s rather catchy don’t you think? Enjoy!

[mixwit_mixtape wid=”509fb54219286446b918f7b608e06f30″ pid=”842731fc3d9b26aecb51d8df5a26ccb3″ un=”garyllewellynandrews” width=”426″ height=”327″ center=”true”]

PS Apologies, I can’t work out how to get rid of the random bit of code above. It doesn’t appear in my post editor.

PPS The absolute King of Mixtapes (and compilation CDs for that matter) is John Widdop. No matter how bizarre the theme, he can always produce an impeccable set of songs and has a vast, encylopedic knowledge of music. Why he’s not been offered a writing job with a music publication is beyond me.

Gary Elsewhere

Soccerlens: a look at the issues surrounding the points deductions in League 2 for Luton, Bournemouth and Rotherham.

Pitching to bloggers

Closing your eyes and diving into the unknown is a somewhat frightening prospect. It’s a little like how I feel pitching to bloggers.

The lines of communication between traditional media and PR are well established and any combustion is usually smoothed over. With bloggers it’s a bit different. Often there’s no existing relationship, and you have no idea how the blogger will react. Not everybody who blogs will appreciate PR bods butting in on the conversation and they’re under no obligation to write anything about whatever it is you’re pitching. Frankly, most of the time they don’t actually need whatever it is you’re pushing, and can happily carry on their conversation without you.

Worse still, get it wrong and the blogger’s got an immediate platform to (justifiably) complain about your cackhanded methods, which will do nothing for your Google juice. And, if you’re really bad, you could end up on a blacklist.

(And given that there appear to be some people out there who aren’t able to pitch to journalists properly, that’s not an unrealistic scenario.)

It’s understandable than some people in all areas of the media are somewhat cautious, even reluctant at reaching out to bloggers. But it would be a mistake to avoid attempting to make contact with bloggers for fear of getting it wrong. If your content, and pitch, is good enough then hopefully you can work into the start of a good working relationship that can be beneficial to both sides.

Strangely, as I started doing some ‘cold’ pitching to bloggers last week I also got an excellent and unexpected example of a ‘cold’ pitch in my own inbox. An email that contains the phrase “And unfortunately I come with no offers of pies, nor biscuits,” in the opening paragraph will get my attention as it’s clearly that

1. It’s been written by a human.

2. They’ve actually made an effort to read a bit about me.

The pitch, from Hyperlaunch, was concise, explained why I’d been contacted, and was detailed on the product I was being pitched. If I’d received it as a journalist and not a blogger [1] I’d have mentally been sketching out a story or a feature in my head by the final paragraph. That’s a sign of excellent PR, even more so when you consider the product being pitched – music site Muzu – wasn’t something I’d normally have paid much attention to. It was professional, personal and an textbook example, if such a thing is possible, on how to make cold contact.

I’ll come to Muzu in another blog post, mainly because I don’t want to head off on a tangent (chance would be a fine thing).

Now contrast this with the only other two pitches I’ve had directed to me-as-blogger. One was a generic press release which was half interesting but I didn’t have time to write about it and there was no sign anybody had made any effort to engage with me. Frankly, if you’re emailing a blogger who runs a one-man site and blogs under his own name, I don’t think it’s asking too much to at least add a hello.

But it was the second pitch that was a classic example in how not to pitch to a blogger. Not only was it something I wasn’t overly interested in, the pitch (now-deleted) went something along the lines of (and I’m condensing and paraphrasing here): “Hello. You’re a blogger. Here’s something we want you to write about. Because you should be grateful we’re bothering with you, please blog this before next week and let us know when you’ve done this.”

This was followed up 18 hours later with a second email along the lines of: “Hello. You’ve not responded to our email. Please indicate if you’re going to blog about it and if you’re lucky we may send you other stuff that we want you to blog about.”

Ok, so I’m being a bit facetious here. But you get the idea. Needless to say, they got a curt ‘no thank you’.

Based on my own experiences, both as a pitcher and a pitchee, it doesn’t seem rocket science to find the correct way to engage with bloggers. To be honest, it’s no different from cold pitching a journalist, and if you can do that, you’re probably not going to hack off the person you want to engage with.

So, for what it’s worth – and these aren’t exhaustive or necessarily to be applied in every situation – a few tips:

  1. Do your research. If you know a bit about the person or blog you’re pitching to it helps. No different from any publication, in that regard.
  2. Don’t assume that because they’re bloggers, they’ll gratefully hoover up any old shite. Group blogs especially will probably exercise a fair bit of editorial control. Much like any newsroom.
  3. Don’t assume that because they’re bloggers, they’re amateurs. Many bloggers are also journalists, or have some experience in these field. Others blog because they know the topic inside out. Or at least better than you do.
  4. Make it relevant. Even if it’s perhaps a bit tenuous, you’ve got to give the blogger a reason why they should be interested in what you’re promoting. Like you would to a journalist.
  5. Be prepared for an open and honest response. A lot of blogs will be happy to build links with PRs, but that doesn’t mean to say if they don’t like what you’re offering, they won’t criticise it. Like journalists should do.
  6. Don’t get offended by an open and honest response. Because since when has screaming down the phone (or email) at anybody ever achieved anything than making you feel better?
  7. Don’t abandon the blogger after they’ve blogged about whatever it is you’re publicising. If they’re favourable to your initial approach, it’s a good opportunity for a long relationship that could be mutually beneficial to both sides. Disappearing after getting what you want leaves the blogger feeling like they’ve just had a less-than-fun one-night stand.
  8. Include a note at the end to say that if the pitch isn’t welcome, then you’re sorry and won’t contact the blogger again. It’s just a nice bit of courtesy at the end of an unsolicited pitch.
For what it’s worth, as a blogger I don’t think it’s worth leaping online and letting rip if you don’t like the approach unless the approach happens to be really bad.
I’ve not blogged about the poor pitch highlighted above because, frankly, up until now it wasn’t worth my time. I’m only mentioning it now because it nicely highlights the point and even then I’d rather not give the company any publicity. If the company repeatedly hassled me, I might consider it. But I’m also willing to accept that it may be a one-off and I’m not going to burn bridges before they’ve been built. Although, writing from a public relations perspective, I’m always likely to say that.
There’s always been the temptation to see bloggers – and other social media tools and sites – in the same light a technophobe may have approached programming the video player for the first time. In fact, programming a video player is a hell of a lot more complicated.
Bloggers don’t usually bite unless you give them a good reason to. And if you treat them as you would any other contact, be it journalist or client, then chances are you’ll get the same respect and courtesy back, even if it’s nothing more than a polite ‘thanks but no thanks’. 

[1] And there’s no reason why these can’t be one and the same.

Online Marketing and Media ’08: What I did on my day at the conference

If there was one overarching theme from the first day of the Online Marketing and Media ’08 Conference it was creativity. Creativity and engagement. Creativity, engagement and communities. Creativity, engagement, communities and conversation. And nice red uniforms. I’ll start again shall I?

Ok, there wasn’t one underlying theme but the Spanish Inquisition aside, the four elements listed above were repeated regularly throughout all sessions I was at and some of the workshops. The message is clear. The level of conversation has changed and if you’re not engaging with communities who connect with your brand on whatever level then you’re at best losing out and, at worst, leaving the door open to some serious damage online.

Respond. Engage. Listen

New Media Age’s editor-in-chief Michael Nutley set the tone with his keynote overview of the industry. In many respects much of what was said shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anybody in the room, yet it pulled many different strands together neatly. For traditional media it was both exciting and terrifying. Exciting because of the possibilities and terrifying because it was clear how easy it would be to get left behind.

Trends, said Nutley, were here to stay. Nobody wants to go back to 56k after experiencing broadband. And while Facebook et al may be slightly less indispensible than broadband, the social media landscape and conversation has cemented itself into far enough into our culture to have profoundly changed how we get our information and engage with brands.

But it wasn’t just Facebook, MySpace and Bebo that were regularly brought up as social media conversation-enablers. YouTube, lastfm, Flickr, del.icio.us, WAYN, moneysupermarket.com, Top Table, Lego enthusiast communities and many more even more niche sites were mentioned throughout the day.

The message here is clear. These conversation about lego, travel, food, pictures, video, music and brands are happening online and if PR and marketing professionals want to be part of this they need to be prepared to enter the conversation and, occasionally, get their fingers burnt.

The dialogue is never ending either. Nutwell gave the example of Nike, who’d built such a successful social social community for runners surrounding the launch of their new trainer that when the marketers wanted to move onto focus on a different area they found the community had grown organically to such a stage that it couldn’t realistically be abandoned. But Nike also had a valuable commodity on their hands  a direct line to consumers who were prepared to enthusiastically engage with the brand.

Then there was the example of the wine company who did their research on forums and blogs and sent out cases of wine to the most influential of these. They were rewarded with a large spike in sales, but when other companies tried to copy the tactic, the success was a lot more muted.

Yet engaging with the online community – especially leading opinion makers, with samples of good occasionally – is necessary. Sally Cowdry from O2 told the audience of a similar success with the Cocoon handset, again by offering free samples.

Yet their were notes of caution here. One aspect which will terrify some CEOs, marketeers and PR professionals is once the brand or product is thrown out into the wilds of the internet there’s no control of what may come back.

As Cowdry emphasised, you’ve got to be prepared to offer yourself up to criticism, so if you’re engaging with the communities you’ve got to really believe in whatever issue or product you’re having the conversation around. Because if you get it wrong, then one of the first things anybody could see if they type the keywords into Google is a long post or forum thread tearing strips off the product you were hoping to promote.

To that end, any engagement has to be done transparently. All communities, be it clubbers, students, people discussing travel arrangements, or Lego enthusiasts, will react badly if they discover you’re covertly setting up ‘clean’ blogs or user profiles to promote a product or defend a brand without making it clear it’s affiliated to whatever the brand, product or topic is. Again, that’s likely to have a seriously negative impact on your Google rankings.

But starting the conversation is very different and if you hit the right note with the right campaign, piece of PR, or just the right post on the right community, then that conversation will organically grow with your brand at the centre of it.

To that end, Leo Ryan from Ryan MacMillian produced some fascinating data from the London Elections. Using various social media analyzing tools – like Technorati, Facebook Leixcon, Google Trends, Clusty, del.icio.us tagclouds and others – for the London Mayor election, the stats showed Boris had better buzzmetrics than Ken on just about everything bar blogs, where Ken was slightly more talked about it. In particular, the Boris-related chatter on Facebook was nearly three times that of Ken.

But what was interesting was this conversation was taking place around Boris’s announcements and NOT the debate between Ken and Boris. When Boris put out a new release or a new policy, traffic and chatter would spike, unlike when Ken tried to debate Boris’s policies. In some respects, it’s not unreasonable to assume that part of Ken’s strategy was blunted because he was simply repeating the online conversation rather than starting it.

Whether the chatter for Boris was positive or negative isn’t so easy to ascertain and, unlike using the free services, more powerful paid-for tools were needed here.

But Leo Ryan’s talk, the most illuminating of the lot, showed it was easy to track your social media footprint (in the above case, Boris and Ken’s footprint) using readily available free tools. The results wouldn’t produce perfect results every time and would have to go through several levels of cleaning or analysing.

So that means checking results against each other, finding the key phrases, refining them and playing the results of the tools off against each other, rinsing out aspects that may skew the results (for example, an unrelated term cropping up on a regular basis in the tools).

Taken together the tools – Technorati, Summize, Clusty, Google’s assorted services, Twing, Blogpulse and others – offer a way to spot who’s talking about you, what they’re saying and, perhaps just as important, what they’re not saying. It’s a great way to gauge the level of feedback and can be done in a morning.

Conclusions (but by no means the end of it all)

In truth, most of the conclusions that I drew from the day were already mentioned in the first paragraph, bar the nice red uniforms (and I’d prefer white stripes with mine anyway).

Firsty, this social media malarky isn’t difficult. Yes, some of today may have, in my case, been preaching to the converted but it really does emphasise how easy it is to start engaging with communities and track results. Anybody who gets scared by these tools shouldn’t be. They’re not necessarily the be all or end all but neither are they like a piece of tricky technology that only a select few can master. Anybody can get involved and engage if they want to. And chances are they already do, be it fan forums, review sites and research before purchasing a product, exchanging travel tips, sharing YouTube videos and the like.

And it’s never been easier to find and share this content, be it through social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us and Digg, music sites like Lastfm, networking places like Facebook and LinkedIn, even the reviews section of Amazon. It’s all out there.

Secondly, the nature of the conversation has changed significantly from a few years ago and will continue to evolve. Traditional advertising models still have a place but are no longer as effective. Given the controversy over Facebook’s Beacon project, and the fact that it’s becoming easier than even to skip adverts on TV, be it watching online, using Sky+ or other recorders, communities don’t want people talking at them. They want to be engaged with, to have their say, to get responses. Conversation is a two-way process, but many companies treat it as if there’s only one person with anything to say or worth saying. That attitude’s a surefire way to the deadpool.

But, above all, it’s worth trying new things. It’s worth being creative. Not every potential viral will be shared around offices by bored workers on a Thursday afternoon. Not every attempt to engage with bloggers, forums and other sites will be a success. But it still doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. Starting the conversation in an open, transparent and prepared-to-engage way stands a good chance of getting whatever is being promoted talked about online. It’s not the same or in place of traditional media outlets but its still just as valuable.

Hey, journalists, I’ve not forgotten you!

While the above all sounds very marketeer-like, the journalist in me can easily see how these tools and insights into the social media conversation (sorry, I’m doing it again. I’ll try and stop that) could be useful. Using the right tools – again Technorati, Google Alerts, del.icio.us, Digg, Summize, etc – it should be possible for the modern Web 2.0-literate journalist to have a handle on a story or their patch either through an hour’s work online or, better still, waiting for them in their inbox each morning.

I’ve already shown how useful tools like Twitter, Google, Technorati and forums are when you’re tracking a breaking news story, and that’s only going to increase as more users adopt assorted social media.

If the conversation is happening online, then that, in a way, is no different from the conversation down the pub. In my time I’ve been taught by assorted journalists that firstly the pub is a great source of news stories and, secondly, is a good benchmark of if your story is relevant to your audience – ie can you imagine people talking about it down the pub.

Well, now you’ve got your virtual ‘pub’ in so many locations Blogs, Facebook Groups, Google Groups, Twitter, feedback sites, the lot. Not only are these a great way of getting stories, but also to build contacts for the future by listening and engaging in the conversation with communities.

See, I’m doing it again. Journalists, publicists and marketeers may be after different ends but the means can be the same.


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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