Posts Tagged 'Twitter'

The old ones are the best

Anybody not from Britain looking at the Twitter trending topics today would have probably been baffled to see Mrs Slocombe’s Pussy near the top. Thanks to the British sense of humour, the catchphrase from 70s sitcom Are You Being Served was all over the microblogging site in tribute to the death of comic actress Mollie Sugden [1]. Jonathan Ross was one of those responsible for getting the topic to the top of Twitter charts.

Sure enough, other countries were a bit puzzled by the trend, so much so that both Techcrunch and Mashable wrote stories complaining that Twitter was getting infected with spam again [2]. They were soon put right in the comments.

I’m not an overly big fan of the show, but this little Twitter trend and the reaction does appeal to my sense of humour. You’d like to think that Mollie Sugden would have found it funny as well. It’s a fitting tribute.

But among all this there is a serious point to be made, with regard to the old blogs v journalism arguments. Especially in light of TMZ’s Michael Jackson scoop, there seems to be a general reluctance to trust blogs ahead of traditional media, even if the blogs have a long and trusted record. Sadly, this little snippet gives the journalist a nice easy own goal.

As many comments in both articles have said, a very quick bit of research would have shown that this was a genuine trending topic and not a story, bar one of those ‘aren’t Twitter users funny’ filler pieces. As it was, both writers immediately jumped to the conclusion that they had a Twitter spam story on their hands and published, seemingly without any checks or approach for comment. Plenty of ammunition for the blogging naysayers.

[But then again some newspaper journalism can’t claim to be a great deal better].

On the other hand, there is a lot to be said here for the fact that both writers visibly corrected their copy very quickly after being called to account, and were prepared to brave the comments. And that’s something you cannot imagine the many newspapers doing, period. Plus, it did bring up the small but interesting question of how Twitter blocks certain phrases from trending.

It doesn’t excuse the rather sloppy research (and desire to pull out a quick post) in the first place [3]. But it does show how news can be more democratic and accountable, and quickly corrected, and that’s got to be a good thing.

[1] For anybody not familiar with the sitcom, it was a running joke where Mrs Slocombe, a very prim and proper lady, would constantly refer to her pet cat in a variety of ways laced with innuendo.

[2] Although it’s easy to forget that pussy has much stronger connotations in the US than it does here.

[3] And I’m writing this as both a fan and a regular reader of both blogs. I think they’re better than a lot of traditional news sources. But when they do mess up, it’s a lot more public.

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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.

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.

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.

A note of caution

Twitter has been featuring prominently in my life in the past few weeks, moreso than usual. I’ve been doing a series of presentations and training in the last month on social media and, unsurprisingly, the microblogging site has been a large part of that.

But one common theme that’s emerged as the assorted presentations have been put together is the danger of viewing Twitter as the be-all-end-all-complete-future-of-journalism-and-media.

Twitter is a great communication tool. There are some very cool tools being developed outside of the site, especially Twitterfall. And, because it’s the flavour of the month, absolutely everything appears to be revolving around it at the moment.

On one hand, it’s fantastic journalists and PRs are starting to realise the value in the site IF they handle it correctly. On the other hand, because Twitter is THE internet site of the moment, there’s a danger of being caught up in the hype and using Twitter for the sole reason that you’re on Twitter.

This is the same for all things social media  – it’s not good saying that you blog or have a video on YouTube if nobody reads or watches it. The same’s true of Twitter. Having an account is useful, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve solved that campaign in one fell swoop.

One post I’ve been quoting heavily from in the presentation is Shannon Paul’s advice to stop looking for easy answers:

“Should YOUR company blog? It depends.

Should YOUR company have a Facebook page? It depends.

Should YOUR company be on Twitter? It depends.

If YOUR company IS on Twitter, should it be a person or a brand? It depends.

ANYONE who says they know the answers to these questions without taking a look at your business model, goals and objectives and listening to your customer base should be taken with a very large grain of salt.

There are no easy answers.”

Jemima Kiss and Kevin Anderson from the Guardian say pretty much the same thing. Twitter is a good tool but you’ve got to know what you’re doing with it and even WHY you’re using it:

“She’s [Jemima] spot on when it comes to Twitter. There is a tendency for organisations to rush with the herd to a new social media service or site without thinking about what, editorially, they are trying to achieve. I’ve seen the same thing happen with blogs and Facebook.”

I use Twitter for work on a daily basis. I also use other sites. Facebook, blogs, YouTube, and a host of other social media odds and sods. Often Twitter is a nice addition or afterthought rather than the primary driver.

It’s worth just taking a step back from the hype and considering exactly what it is you want from anything online. Often Twitter isn’t the right tool for it.

Similarly, there’s the danger of putting all your eggs in one basket. You don’t have to be on Twitter, it merely helps. Twitter can be useful in a PR campaign, but it might not necessarily achieve the best results.

Similarly, I genuinely believe any journalist who limits themselves to solely being contacted through Twitter risks missing out. Restricting yourself to one medium is, well, doing just that. I’d rather have my fingers in many pies than focusing on just one pie, no matter how large and tasty it looks.

Sky News have just announced a Twitter correspondent. Again, on one hand a smart move, on the other, it’s a bit of a niche role even within an industry that has plenty of niche roles. But, on the third hand (we’re talking genetic engineering here) if it gets them an exclusive or two, it’ll be worth it.

This may be a bit of a rambling post, but it’s definitely worth repating there is more to online media work than Twitter.

And with that, I’m off for a drink with a bunch of people I first met on Twitter.

[If you want to see the last presentation I did for Porter Novelli’s #pntwit day, the slides are here.]

This really should be the last example of why journalists and media-type people need to at least know how to get the best out of Twitter

This is cool. It’s a picture taken by Marcus Warren from The Telegraph of the paper’s newsroom. That thingy on the left-hand screen of Twitterfall, an application that lets you track topics via a cascade in real time. This makes it invaluable for tracking breaking news stories via Twitter.

For a bit more on Twitterfall, and a quick guide to using this excellent application, Paul Bradshaw has more.

Now, regardless of whether you think Twitter is the second coming or view it as a place for trendy media types to hang out, the fact that the Telegraph has a Twitter app on a big screen in their newsroom suggests that they view it as a part of the newsgathering process (as it has been for a while now).

It’s not just journalists who can make use of this. PR can use it to react in real time to those occasional crises that require an immediate bit of reputation management. It’s also useful for seeing how a story you’ve put out there develops.

Twitter may be the flavour of the month, but when you strip back the hype it is, quite simply, another communication tool – and a very basic one at that. The really exciting stuff comes with third-party apps like Twitterfall and the countless other tools that are being developed.

This small mircoblogging site is now part of the media process, be it news or PR. Get used to it.

EDIT: You’ll note in the title that I’ve said need to know how to get the best out of Twitter. Not necessarily get on Twitter. There’s enough stuff out there that you can quite effectively get a lot out of Twitter without actually being a member. However, I’d still maintain that if you want to get the best out of the site – especially when it comes to engaging online – it’s helpful to give it a go and sign up. You may not get it or, after an initial flurry, decide not to post very often. But at least you have a presence on there if it’s needed.


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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