Quick thoughts on the 2015 General Election with relation to social media

The results are in, the pollsters look to have been proven wrong and all across my social media feeds, I'm seeing plenty of posts asking just how the Conservative party are able to get anywhere near a majority.

One lengthy explanation may partly answer this question. Twitter especially has a tendency to be somewhat of an echo chamber, so anybody leaning to the left or the right if unlikely to follow people of a differing political persuasion, so your own opinions become amplified in your impression of the overall influence.

Secondly, the tactics applied by the political parties differed in their approach to targeting. Miliband and Labour went for wide reach with their message (including the Russell Brand interview, which I still think was a good move, even if the impact may not be felt until the next election), while the Conservatives targeted their messaging at their core vote - it may not have resonated beyond those who may have already considered voting Conservative, but it certainly appealed to their audience. Both strategies were risky, but if Labour failed in both their wider comms and core audience, it left them vulnerable to opponents well-targeted messaging.

This meant even though Labour may have taken a greater share of voice on Twitter, analysts fell into the easy trap a lot of marketers make of mistaking social reach for effectiveness. Yes, you may have achieved a large number of impressions, and trended, but that more low-key brand who have targeted their comms and advertising more effectively, have seen more conversions. 

As an aside, it's easy to focus on social comms and forget the effect of offline as well.

Of course, there's more than just social (as has been shown). The collapse of the Lib Dem vote and the success of the SNP is worth exploring in depth (by somebody other than me).

This isn't to say social didn't have a part to play in the election (although judging by the candidates in my constituency, they've still to get to grips with even the basics), but as any good marketer know, placing too much faith in conversation when your goal is conversion is never going to end well.

It's the little things

I now own the latest Cornershop album, Cornershop and the Double O Groove Of. I wasn't necessarily planning on buying it until an unexpected intervention. I'd listened to the album a couple of times on Spotify and thought it really rather lovely. I Tweeted my thoughts on the album and made a mental note to possibly purchase a copy if I saw it for a decent price.

A few hours later, I had a retweet from Tjinder Singh from Cornershop, along with a quick thank you.

We don't follow each other, so he must have been keeping an eye out for mentions of the band. I've never been personally thanked by a relatively well-known musician for complementing their music before, and that kind of tipped me towards buying the album.

As with most things Internet-related, it got me thinking about social media and communities.

One assumption I often come across with managing your online social media areas is that you have to use it to fight PR battles and crises, or to use them to launch whizz-bang promotions that entice new followers.

This isn't to say this is a wrong attitude - these are both very valid and necessary uses for a brand's social media.

But a good community manager also knows the value in the little things that show the large swathes of often silent fans they're appreciated.

All community managers will have a set of vocal fans they'll often interact with. These are often the brand cheerleaders and can be nurtured.

But it never hurts to say thanks to those who'll pop onto Facebook and Twitter once to politely say how much they liked something. These are also relationships worth nurturing.

After all, the person who you say thank you to a couple of times or answer a reasonably easy query could be tomorrow's brand evangelist.

And, yes, the new Cornershop album really is rather good.

Come, laugh at my embarrassing musical taste

One night this week I, for some reason unknown, thought it'd be a good idea to make a playlist of one song off every album that I own. That's a lot of music, by the way.

So, a couple of hours later and this Spotify playlist is the result.

You'll probably have noticed that I've got a slight preference for noodling electronica and female singer-songwriters, with an added dash of blokes with guitars thrown in for good measure. It's nothing if not varied.

A few points to note though:

1. Spotify didn't have every album I owned. Where possible, I'd try and then find a song off that album and include that in the playlist, so don't necessarily think I go owning some of the more random albums on there. In particular, I was surprised at the lack of Underworld albums on Spotify. There's also several obscure folk bands, Roisin Murphy's Ruby Blue and 4 Hero's Two Pages missing, not to be found for love nor money. And the Sneaker Pimps track is off a remix album - the original is nowhere to be found.

2. Compilation albums, thankfully, weren't included in this, although film soundtracks were, hence a few songs from Chicago, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill in there.

3. Yes, there are a lot of greatest hits albums. What of it? I wasn't exactly flushed with cash and best ofs were often a good way to collect a lot of songs I liked in one place. If you're wondering why not so much Blur or Suede in there - I owned their albums on cassette tape, until The Great Gary Clearout of quite a few years ago where a lot of stuff I shouldn't have chucked out got chucked. Including a NES. Boy, do I regret that.

4. Ahem, yes, your eyes do not deceive you. I do own three U2 albums. In mitigation, I only purchased one of them. There are also a lot of albums I own but didn't buy. I don't shoplift, I've just acquired a lot of free stuff over the years.

5. Sadly there's no Echo and the Bunnymen in this list. I do not own any album that has The Killing Moon on it, and this makes me sad.

6. I own more albums by Eliza Carthy than anybody else. This is no bad thing. I probably don't have enough albums by Eliza Carthy, if truth be told. She is excellent and I've seen her more times than any other act, bar the Super Furry Animals.

And that's it. I'm not going to write out the tracklisting as I'd be here for ever. Grab a pair of earphones and have a snigger.

A little bit more on politics and social media

History be damned. You can't get through a Prime Ministerial leadership debate without the urge to make the occasional sarcastic comment, and some cheese straws. Twitter - and social media - can't provide the latter but it made watching the first of the three leadership debates a lot more entertaining than if I was just sat by myself in front of the TV. And pretty much every big media player devoted airspace and column inches to just that.

Certainly if you want evidence of an electorate engaged and responding to politicians then Twitter and Facebook made tonight's debate hard to ignore. Want to fact check Cameron's use of Bulgarian cancer rates? There's people exchanging info via social networks as soon as he opened his mouth.

In a strange kind of way, responding to the politicians in real time made you feel a lot closer to the action and reaction. Even if the conversation was a bit one-sided (not their fault - the leaders can't Tweet and debate on TV at once), it felt like the electorate having its say.

Certainly, pretty much every news site worth its salt was pulling in from social media. I could only get ITV's worm working briefly, but their social offering was very decent, as were other sites.

The downside is you still get some rather unpleasant partisan bloggers making a lot of noise and generally trying to hijack the area. The Lib Dems got a slapping down for trying to game the Guardian's live poll. Naughty.

Unsurprisingly, since then, each party has claimed the victory. Indeed, when you looked at the party political Tweets it felt like a lot of people shouting among each other rather than many any attempt whatsoever to engage.

In all honesty, political parties are no different from many other big organisations. Many of them like to talk about how engaged they are online but in reality they're either using it to talk at people rather than with them. Politics has always rather easily fallen into that trap anyway, so it's no surprise to see the same online.

***

A few other random bits and pieces that I can't quite be bothered to create a new post for, but here's as good a place as any to put them.

Several weeks ago I wrote to my MP, via 38 Degrees, about the Digital Economy Bill and my concerns. Impressively, my MP wrote back, via post, almost immediately. Since then, they've written to me two more times updating my on their efforts with the bill, their concerns and what they planned to do next.

What they didn't tell me was they didn't turn up for the vote.

Cheers. That's nice to know you're so concerned on my behalf that you don't think voting's necessary.

[In fairness, there may be a good explanation as to why they didn't turn up to vote, but given they're a London-based MP that's pretty poor if there isn't one. I'm trying to find out why but haven't heard yet].

And if you want a really good breakdown of voting on the #debill and why this is yet another reason why politics is broken, Chris Applegate at qwghlm.co.uk is particularly good on this.

When I go forwards you go backwards and somewhere we will meet

And they're off. We're now well and truly into electioneering territory as Hobson's Choice the General Election 2010 rolls well and truly into town. Forget any hope of finding out news that isn't connected to three middle aged men trying to out-quip each other. It's everywhere. Including social media. And as a recovering politics geek who spends more time than is healthy on these places, I find it all completely fascinating. Last election Twitter didn't exist, all the cool kids were flocking to MySpace and, while the political blogosphere was in fairly healthy shape (and, it has to be said, a lot friendlier), the whole area was seen as a niche concern. These days, political news is being discussed on social media before the speech has even finished, while somebody will already be plotting the inevitable Downfall parody. Yes, for General Election 2010, social media matters - both to the media and the politicians. And that's both a good and a bad thing.

The bad covers a range of areas, the most obvious being that politicians and the media will try too hard to woo and give credence to what is, in all honesty,  a small percentage of the voting population by focusing too heavily on what Twitter users and bloggers are saying. That's not to say they shouldn't, but us social media types may not be representative of the areas of society who a change of government will make the biggest differences to.

[Facebook, incidentally, is a completely different proposition and one where there is are genuine possibilities for breaking down barriers between the public and politicians and enhancing democracy like never before.

My feelings on YouTube and politicians, though, generally falls under the same category as the words "let's do a viral."]

There's also the unsightly and rather depressing sight of grown adults indulging in petty point scoring across these networks, and the media breathlessly reporting this like IT MATTERS. It possibly does, but maybe not to the level it gets elevated to. I'm more interested in working out if the sums add up, or there's a commitment to, say, democratic reform of Parliament than seeing a schoolboy-like putdown that serves nothing other than mutual backslapping from that team.

Then there's the gaffes. With social media now firmly entrenched in our lives, it was inevitable that there would be plenty of political gaffes, fails and misunderstandings on how to use it all.

Us social media bods across the media or in brands engaging online have just about got the hang of what works and what doesn't, by and large, although are always learning. We're adaptable to the needs of our audience because we've been listening and engaging with communities for a while now.

Politicians, with some notable exceptions, haven't. There's a reason why companies are prepared to spend thousands on pounds in training their staff on how to use social media. Sure, they can use Facebook and Twitter for personal use, but that's a very different thing to acting as a representative for your brand in a public space, where anything you do can be attributed to your paymasters. The list of companies who've committed brand-damaging social faux pas grows monthly.

Stuart MacLennan could have probably done with some of this training.

And it's why there will probably continue to be many more social media gaffes as the election campaign carries on. If MacLennan is the only political online casualty over the next month, I'll be a very surprised man.

Yet these sort of fails also highlight the good side of social media and politics. For a start, it enables us to get an insight into prospective candidates, many of whom you'll never have heard of, and have at least something to judge their suitability for office on. And if they fall up short, then that helps inform your vote.

This is something that, the few blogging MPs that existed in 2005 aside, simply wasn't available at the last election and anything that brings politicians closer to the public is a good thing, broadly, in my book.

In many ways, this reminds me somewhat of a post I wrote almost a year ago, on the criticism around Gordon Brown's YouTube video, and Hazel Blears' comments that YouTube was no substitute for knocking on doors.

While I was critical of Blears, perhaps I was also a little disingenuous, although probably not in the way she was meaning. Yes, it's good that politicians are experimenting with social media and using it to campaign with, but it's not really a substitute for talking to the electorate. Fortunately social media allows just that.

But it's a two way conversation and those politicians and political parties that get it right may reap the benefits. Lets not forget, 12 votes can be enough to swing a marginal, so engaging online could just be a seat-winner.

That is to say, those who talk with rather to to the electorate will help their case. A politician could just be on Twitter broadcasting his thoughts, on YouTube, blogging away, and encouraging people to become a fan on Facebook, but all this activity, while making the politician appear a bit more switched on, means nothing if said politician doesn't get engage.

The really good ones will chat back and forth and listen over Twitter, respond to comments on their blog, answer questions on their Facebook page, and be an active member of the YouTube community. Now that becomes a bit more likely to get a precious few extra votes. But more than that, it shows the politician is prepared to listen, engage and respond. A bit like a 21st century version of door knocking.

It's also one of the reasons why, in my mind, the whole Cash Gordon debacle wasn't the greatest of ideas. Many of the most effective or notacable online campaigns tap directly into the zeitgeist of that particular moment. Think Trafigura and Jan Moir.

They are a swift, sharp, popular movement that gains traction because people feel strong enough to, at the very least, Tweet about it. The story or campaign then takes on a life of its own from there, and becomes a story in itself.

But trying to tell somebody on a social network what they should be getting angry about is unlikely to go beyond the traditional supporter base unless it touches a nerve, and the Labour / Unite issue wasn't enough to get worked up about. Had the Conservatives done something quick and cheap around the hiking of cider tax or the Digital Economy Bill, then they might have got more widespread support.

Again, this shows the value of listening and responding - and is possibly why having something cheap and ready to go isn't necessarily a bad idea. It's easy enough to spot something developing on Twitter if you know how to listen, and if it ties in with a political party's ideals, then there's certainly possibilities, providing it's not done in a completely top-down manner.

And if the online campaign is very top-down and has an indifferent response, you're much more likely to see the politically agnostic hijack it for a bit of fun (leaving the page open to a very simple barely-even a hack is just stupid. As is claiming it's still a victory. Sometimes it'd be nice if political people were prepared to say they made a mistake).

Those MPs who understand the sensitivities of a social media environment and listen and respond are those who may well benefit. My own MP has gone up in my estimation for a very quick response to my email about the Digital Economy Bill, although it'd be nice to see them on Facebook and Twitter. It's little things like that which can sway where an individuals vote will go.

Social media, as with its relation to most aspects of life, isn't the be all and end all when it comes to politics, but it is an incredibly useful communication channel to get an insight into the person behind the politician, as well as a chance to ask direct questions, something we so rarely get the chance to do.

Come the end of the election, it'll be fascinating to see how the three main parties - and the other parties - have harnessed social media and how well they've done, on both an individual MP level, and a party level.

There will undoubtedly be more mistakes. But there may be triumphs. And with the possibility of a hung parliament very real, that could make a huge difference. Or at least a difference between me actually knowing who I want to vote for in advance of polling day, as opposed to my usual dilemma of not being impressed with any candidate and having to resist the temptation to draw something rather crude on the ballot paper. Not that I've cocked up my vote yet, mind.

DISCLOSURE: I'm not a member of any political party and have no idea who, if anybody, I'll be voting for come May 6th.

People on the internet may also have diseases shocker

Rather glad that Ben Goldacre chose to write about the "Facebook can give you syphilis" non-story from last week. It seems everybody's got it in for Facebook at the moment and while there's a lot you can complain about, some of the ridiculous stories written about the site take bad reporting to a whole new level. When somebody who struggles with most forms of maths and science at the best of times (ie me) can spot huge flaws in the science and maths and correlations, then chances are the facts behind said story are pretty poor.

It takes a huge leap from a public health official stating that social networking sites are making it easier for people to have casual sex, and thereby increase their chances of catching an STI, to saying that Facebook causes syphillis because Sunderland has one of the highest useages of the site. But linking them together requires such a huge leap of faith and doesn't take into account the possibility that you have a random cluster.

What annoys me on this, though, isn't so much the reporting (although bolting on an unrelated report isn't great), it's the press release in the first place. These are PR professionals working with public health professionals. You'd have thought one of them might just pick up that the social networking line would be the one that the media would leap on. Or perhaps they intended it to be that way ("Go on doctor, sex it up a bit. Throw in a reference to social networking. That'll get the buggers biting.").

Either way, you'd have thought some kind of facts to back up the claim, even if the form of a few notes to the editor, backing up or explaining the statement would have been good. Or, if you can't, let the professor throw out the idea in interviews, as his own opinion. At least you're then separating opinion from fact.

As somebody who has, in the past, probably been guilty of spewing out some bad science stories (busy newsroom, no science background, easy press release for a quick bit of copy), it's not helpful when press releases like this are thrown in our direction. If you decide not to run with the social networking angle, your editor sure as hell will.

I've long said that there's no much thing as adding too much information on science and health press releases, even if you do this as notes and let the release itself be eye-catching.

Going from past experience, the best science or health stories I did was when the press release was clear, explicit and assumed you were a science-idiot (which I was; still am) and laid everything out in as simple a way as possible. And were then very good at explaining and expanding, quickly but clearly, when I rang. Those that didn't probably led to misunderstandings and undid any work the press release may have done in the first place.

It's easy to chide journalists for getting science stories badly wrong (and the other stats-bolt on does no favours for this story). But if you're going to throw garbage into the news system, in the form of a poorly-thought through science-related press release then you're inevitably going to get garbage.

Age doth become me, and age doth become the internet

Last year, this post almost certainly wouldn't have got written. I'd have probably been busy running around, bottle of beer in hand peering at people's nametags and having mutually agreeable conversations that what we were doing was the future. Today, this post nearly didn't get written because I got distracted by The Big Lebowski on TV. Somewhere along the line, I've morphed from Riggs into Murtaugh.

It's not that I didn't want to go to Twestival tonight. I even had a ticket and had every intention of going. But it clashed with podcast recording night, and we were running a bit late, and the studios were across the other side of London, and I had lots to do and didn't want to be tired at work, and home is back the other side of town, and so on and so on. And so the sensible, but boring, decision was taken to head home rather than party into the night.

(And in many respects I'm rather gutted I didn't make it. The Twestival team have done a fantastic job from turning it into a small one-off in a bar near Trafalgar Square into a global phenomenon. I'm always slightly humbled whenever I see what they've achieved).

Gone are the days where I'd run across London, make three social media parties in a night, and still come in bright and cheerful the next morning.

But it's also interesting as I don't think I'm the only one. When it comes to partying or cracking on and doing something, the latter is often the default setting.

Perhaps its because social media has been around for long enough that it's no longer new, it's not a phenomenon, any people have stopped going "Ooh, isn't this cool," and moved towards "Right, how can we use this better." Or, put more crudely, "How can I make money from this?" [1]

It's not that in social media that people have now met all the useful people. But we've got a better idea of who we need to contact and how to get hold of them. And while partying was, you know, fun, websites don't just built themselves, and Twitter doesn't update itself, and money doesn't just magically appear in your bank account, and willyalookatthateverybodysdoingsocialmediathesedaysholyshitwebetterupourgame.

And the thing is, we generally get it now. Not all of it. That implies there's no more to get. But now social media is more commonplace and even if not everybody in any given is immersed in social media, they know it's important and they're prepared to create new jobs for people to show them how to do social media and these people have stopped going "Well, there's a lot to learn<' and instead are saying "It's not that hard. Look, I'll show you. And, actually, we can do something VERY cool with this."

So, yes, doing things. That's what we're largely doing now. Burying ourselves in work - and this isn't necessary dull, because a lot of it is putting the VERY cool things into practice rather than just talking about them. There's less of a need to jump around and drink lots and generally tell people how cool the projects are you're doing. We know. We're probably working on something similar.

But that doesn't mean we can't party from time to time, right? And every last person at Twestival well deserves every drop of beer drunk tonight because they're all contributing to something amazing and making a huge difference to people's lives in places where debates over Foursquare are, frankly, insignificant. And this wouldn't have been possible without social media.

And tomorrow we'll get our heads down to working again, either with hangovers or tinges of regret about not being able to make it. And we'll enjoy it.

I'm getting old. I'm also working hard with VERY cool things. And while I'm careering slowly towards not being able to name the majority of artists in the Top 40, I'm still loving every minute of it. Social media isn't the future any more, it's part of the future, and I'm bloody glad I'm part of that part.

PS The podcast tonight was so much fun, I'd happily have missed most things to record it. It'll be up at the usual places tomorrow and should be sounding fantastic.

[1] Not that I necessary subscribe to the latter viewpoint. It may surprise people, but I make precisely zero from the podcast. It's currently done solely for the love of podcasting and football.

Blog networks not so shiny

Earlier this week online blog network Shiny Media went into administration, which led to Techcrunch to declare the UK's experiment with blog networks were over. That's probably going a bit far, but for all the growth and proliferation of blogging, it's probably never been harder to set up and keep a blog network afloat in this day and age.

A few years back, when The World had generally decided that citizen journalism was definitely going to kill the mainstream media and blogs were the future, somewhere, somehow the misconception arose that blogging was the place to make money.

It was so easy; all you needed were a few clicks of a mouse a nice lick of virtual paint and, hey presto, your blog was up and ready to go, challenge the established order and make money.

Quite.

That really isn't the case, you know. Some blogs do make money, but they're often those who happened to be in the online space first, and were better than their competitors at the time. These blogs have had time to build traction, work on the USP and establish a loyal readership. These blogs didn't just become success stories overnight.

The majority of bloggers I've met largely do what they do for fun, and in their spare time (and a few very professionally done blogs have really surprised me, given the resources they have behind them). A few make a bit of money from blogging, but generally not enough to give up the day job.

One comment on the Paid Content article from Robyn Wilder, one of the brains behind the Domestic Sluttery blog, sums this up neatly:

"Domestic Sluttery was largely set up by the editors as a work of love, and the writers joined in the same spirit. No one is relying on it to provide an income; we may get paid one day but that’s not why we’re doing it."

Domestic Sluttery (while definitely not aiming at me as a target audience) is one of those blogs that could one day make money. It looks good, is well-written, and has a growing readership. But it's definitely not going to provide a living for the editors and writers. Yet. One day, it might be worth a bit, though.

As for making money from blogging, the rates generally tend by be lower than the mainstream press when you compare wordcount, etc.  Certainly a lot less than the NUJ's suggested freelance rate, although that's sometimes not the point. I've taken on some blogging jobs for sheer enjoyment. That said, if I was completely freelance and didn't have a day job, I would be a lot more money-orientated.

But that doesn't mean that a blog network can't be profitable, and I'd tend to agree with Katie Lee - one of Shiny's co-founders (who left the company in February) - that Shiny could (or indeed should) have still been going strong and had the potential to be profitable.

There are significant gaps in the online market still in certain areas. Fill these and you've at least got an audience, although monetising them is another problem.

Firstly, the advertising market was tough enough before the recession. Now, it's trying to climb the cliff it fell off a few months ago, and it's as tough for the mainstream media as it is for online offerings. Bottom line, any blog network today should have an alternative stream of revenue to advertising. Build your business model on advertising and you may as well stick up a For Sale sign over your network.

Running a blog network also takes time, effort and, if you're intending it to be a commercial venture, money. And the more blogs you have, the more time, effort and money it will take up (although I don't know the ins and outs, my suspicion is this is one of the areas where Shiny fell down somewhat). Again, if you're determined to pay your freelancers, the cash has to be coming in from somewhere. Otherwise, it's low rates, or no payment at all.

There will be successes. There will always be successes. But these successes are exceptions to the rule, rather than the rule itself. And for all the supposed last rites of the media industry, mainstream and commercial publications are in a much stronger position than independent networks. And, as the Devil's Kitchen points out, many blogs are dependent on such places for their content.

Come the end of the recession, it will be interesting to see what shape both the traditional and online media companies will be in. I suspect a few more from both will go to the wall, some of them high profile. At the end of it, some blog networks may survive, but these will probably be the ones with very clever sources of income.

It's a shame Shiny Media has ended up where it has today. For a time being, it looked as if it might have been able to hold its own and even surpass traditional media in some areas. But for a variety of reasons, and a few bad decisions, it hasn't.

Hopefully some of it can be salvaged. Some of the individual blogs still lead their field, and will as likely be worth a decent sum. It would be a shame to see the likes of Catwalk Queen and Shiny Shiny disappear completely.

And for all the problems that beset Shiny, it had some damn fine writers working for it, many of whom are now out of work, and that's one of the saddest aspects. So if you happen to be reading this and have any space, please take pity on the ex-Shinies and give them some work.

[Disclosure: I've got to know many of the Shiny editors and writers, past and present, on a professional and personal level, and some are now good friends. Even many of the ex-employees have been caught in the crossfire on this. Hopefully it'll all work out for those affected who I know well.]

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.

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.

This is the news and this is why we did it

One of the joys of the web is it opens up the thinking process behind news values decisions to, well, everyone. Take the Birmingham Mail's exclusive letter from Gareth Barry to Aston Villa fans, for instance. The Mail didn't post it up until after lunch, despite it being an exclusive and something, I imagine, that would have sent a fair amount of traffic in their direction.

Like Joanna Geary, I would have assumed it was a bit of a missed opportunity for the paper. But then the editor, Steve Dyson, enters into the comments and explains exactly why they held back.

Having read his explanation - and the amount of publicity they got out of the letter - I can see his reasons. And I can't blame him either. It's one of the few times you can make a convincing argument for holding back from publishing online. Then again you could also say the increased traffic would have been worth it. But would they have got the credit? It's a fascinating debate.

But I do like that Steve took the time to enter into the comments and explain the paper's thought process. Ok, it probably helps that Joanna is an ex-employee, but then her blog is quite widely-read in the industry, so it makes sense to get involved.

The more readers can understand editorial decisions, the closer the bond they have with the paper, and that can only increase if journalists will take a bit of time now and then to chat about it.

Ok, it doesn't make sense to actively hunt down every comment about every article (although there are probably some journalists who do this), but the odd comment on the odd relevant blog, even if it's negative, goes a long way. In the old days, the blogger would have probably got a rather stern email instead of a comment.

If traditional media is to survive in these choppy waters, we all need to befollowing Steve's lead and having conversations like this across the web,

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.

How to snare me into writing about Valentine's Day

Damn those French. Lolly clearly knows I can't resist the opportunity to make a playlist, so tagged me in a Valentine's Day playlist meme using the We7 site. Now, let's get one thing clear from the start here. I'm not a particularly big fan of Valentine's Day. Usually I try and ignore it or, failing that, despise it. If I'm feeling particularly perky, I'll head out and play singleton's bingo.

The rules are thus. Go to a godawful nightclub that will have no shortage of desperate single people. Take a friend. Get a drink and a good vantage point. Survey the romantic apocalypse about to be unleashed below and match up exactly which people will end up with the most inappropriate partners by the end of the night.

It's quite fun, largely because you realise that no matter how lonely, and probably pointless, your existence is on this particular day, at least you're not one of those below, desperately trying to cop off with somebody, anybody, in an effort to validate your own attractiveness for the night.

Really, it'll be easier for all concerned if they just locked all single people in separate rooms with some porn and a box of kleenex for the night on February 14th. At least you wouldn't have to spend as much to achieve the sense of shame and inadequacy going out on Valentine's is guaranteed to bring.

So, having established my feelings towards this coming Saturday, the choice of tracks for my playlist are perhaps somewhat unsurprising.

Here's the playlist.

And because I am, essentially, a walking High Fidelity cliche, here's a running commentary with the tracklisting.

 

1. Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau - Aled Jones

I started off in a surprisingly positive frame of mind. Casting for a link to start the playlist was obvious: Wales play England in the Six Nations on Valentine's Day and hopefully we'll give Martin Johnson's men a damn good hiding. The Welsh national anthem, then, was a given. However, they didn't have any proper versions, just a piss poor attempt by Aled Jones. This somewhat sets the tone for the rest of the playlist - something you love utterly bastardised.

2. International Velvet - Catatonia

I'm still on the loving Wales theme at this stage. Every day when I wake up, I thank the lord I'm Welsh. Very self-absorbed. Very Valentine's Day.

3. Hermann Loves Pauline - Super Furry Animals

So, now we're still with the Welsh, but crossing into a genuine love story here - the love story of Einstein's parents. Includes lines about Marie Curie dying from radiation. Perfect wooing material.

4. You're The One For Me Fatty - Morrissey

As if I need an excuse to put Morrissey in this playlist. Still with the slightly dubious kind of life.

5. Your Mother's Got a Penis - Goldie Lookin' Chain

And with this we move from the dubious to the very wrong kind of love. And we're back with the Welsh as well.

6. Ladies of the World - Flight of the Conchords

Continuing the transsexual theme here, this moves beyond Wales and takes the love out to the whole world. It doesn't matter what type of woman you are, Brett and Jermaine just want to give you loving. Us men aren't fussy like that.

7. When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You - Marvin Gaye

At this stage I was torn between going into a genuine love playlist with Let's Get It On, or go for a more miserable angle with the above track. A no brainer in the end - this is probably the most bitter, yet seductive, break-up song ever written.

8. Caught Out There - Kelis

Where bitterness gives way to pure anger. Nobody wins.

9. There's a Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis - Kirsty MacColl

I wanted to put England 2 Columbia 0 in here but We7 didn't have it and it wasn't on my computer either, so I'll have to settle for "he's a liar and I'm not sure about you." The next track would have been Ian Dury, but they didn't have any of that either.

10. Babies - Pulp

A lovely little tale about sleeping with a girl's sister, only to discover you fancy the other one all along. Deceit moves into just plain male uselessness.

11. Where The Wild Roses Grow - Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue

And all that pent out anger has to come out somewhere. Namely murder. Obviously, by this stage, Nick Cave had to feature somewhere and this was the lazy, yet appropriate, choice.

12. Valentine - Richard Hawley

I mellowed by this stage and put a genuinely nice track in. Other than the fact that Richard doesn't need any Valentine or roses, but a cuddle. Which suits me just fine. See, Richard Hawley's music can turn even an hardened cynic a little bit slushy.

13. Vincent - Don Maclean

All good things must come to an end, and what better way to finish this play list than with this tragic tale from Don? Reminds me somewhat of Romeo and Juliet, and I know plenty of people who've told me that play is the best love story ever written. I never like to point out at that stage that exactly how it ends.

If you missed the earlier link to this playlist, it's here.

Right, let's tag a few people. Chris, Matthew, Geordie, Jaz, Chris N and Kerry can do their worst.

Going viral

Let's get this straight. Virals are NOT just sticking a video up on YouTube or on the internet in general and then wondering why people aren't watching them. Chris and Tom will tesitfy to that in their respective lists. In a buzz-filed world, any brand can chuck out the idea "we need a viral" but very few actually get it right. A standard advert is not likely to be a viral, and neither is just a small bit of arbitrary footage.

There's no telling what makes a good viral, but a good litmus test is the pub conversation. If it's something you want to share with your friends down the pub, or during a dull day at work, then chances are its got potential.

Last week's Voscar awards at Curzon's Mayfair theatre emphasised just what makes a good viral, insofar as its ever possible to say such a thing.

Nominally set up in support of Virgin Mobile's rather cute new 30 peas campaign,  it asked several leading bloggers and social media people for their favourite viral of the year.

After sitting and watching all 30 videos, we then voted for our favourites and the results were totted up.

My favourite was, perhaps surprisingly, the TFL look out for cyclists campaign.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTv4yD6BKlA&hl=en&fs=1]

It's an advert that ticks most of the boxes - it surprises you the first time you watch it, it's clever, it's entertaining and it's something you may well send onto a friend.

Of course, viral doesn't necessarily need to be something that supports a brand. Sometimes these things just take a life of their own. Or are just funny. Much like the overall winner of the night, the wonderfully titled Jizz In My Pants.

Which just goes to prove what I always thought. When in doubt, resort to knob and wanking jokes. Preferably set to dodgy europop.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pXfHLUlZf4&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

Here's the rather cute 30 peas video from Virgin Mobile. It's quite fun, even if there are no crude knob and sex jokes in it. That's probably a good thing.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_E21KVL9Ew0&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

Take Jane

Normally politics makes me depressed and / or angry. And ID cards moreso than most other political gubbins. But this viral that No2ID have produced is powerful, frightening and so easily close to being a reality. It makes its point well without resorting to going over the top, and neatly counters the "if you've done nothing wrong then you've nothing to fear" argument.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1JqlvnZANA&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

ID cards scare me, especially given the government's record in data retention and civil liberties. And the public discourse around them has been rubbish, frankly. Hopefully one day MPs will realise that Minority Report and 1984 were meant to be fictional visions of a dystopian future, not a training manual.

I don't hold out much hope.

*scurries back to t'interweb to talk more about blogging and Twitter and journalism*

Quick, probably not very well-thought out post about law and teh interweb

Putting to one side the majority of the unpleasantness surrounding the Baby P case, one of the interesting aspects - from a media point of view - has been the problem of the online world and any court orders relating to reporting. Without having delved too far into the story, it's obvious that there's some form of court order in play here, otherwise we'd have had Baby P's name by now, along with the names of two of the accused [1].

The crime led to an outpouring of rage on assorted sources on the internet - blogs, forums, and Facebook groups, among other places.

Because of the way the internet is - huge swathes of information all quite easy to retrieve - it's not exactly hard to find out the names of those involved, hence the naming and shaming that followed in the aftermath of the court case.

It doesn't take a genius the piece together the information in the press reports, crossed referenced with a bit of smart Googling. Some of the older articles with names are in assorted caches.

Much of the ire seems to be focused on the fact that that the media hasn't named the couple who were jailed over Baby P's death, but as Judith Townsend at Journalism.co.uk points out, naming Baby P isn't about any notion of justice (whatever that may be), or about the Facebook campaign. It's about confronting the reality of an online world.

Everybody who joined the Facebook group or named them online is in contempt of court. But they're not to know the ins and outs of contempt law. Why should they? Even journalists can be a bit fuzzy on some of the laws, unless they regularly work on court reporting or in a specific field.

Most laws relating to contempt were created to ensure a fair trial; to ensure that no matter how horrific the crime, no matter how apparent the guilt, the defendant gets a fair, unprejudiced trial.

Much of the law (I'd imagine) around the Baby P case are to protect other children involved in the case, not the accused or the guilty. The law is surprisingly clear on this.

That was fine when print and broadcast were the only ways of getting your news. The judge made the order, the journalists would sometimes contest it, but if they failed then the information didn't get printed or broadcast. Simple.

Today, it's never been easier to join the jots, the access cache, and to publish the names (or other relevant information online). And the orders don't apply to non-UK websites.

As the law stands, there's been a lot of Contempt of Court committed around the Baby P case. But who should be served with any action? Facebook? Blogger? Wordpress? Google? Forum administrators? Individual bloggers? Individual posters? All of the above? None of the above?

Libel and the internet may not be perfect, but in this regard the law is streets ahead of Contempt of Court and the internet. The Baby P case has demonstrated that it's virtually impossible to enforce Contempt laws in an online world (although I wouldn't go as far as saying its impossible to get a fair trial).

Clearly, the laws surrounding Contempt and a fair trial need an urgent and serious overhaul. Quite what that should involve will take a far better legal brain than I, and probably about 99% of the country, have.

[1] It's (thankfully) been a VERY long time since I've had to deal with child cases and courts, my immediate guess was a Section 39, although as that doesn't apply to dead children, it might be a different court order. Section 11? I'll have to pick up my copy of McNae's again here as I think I need to reacquaint myself with the assorted orders to do with children and young people.

Assorted drinking and meetups in London

Because, it's just, you know, so interesting reading people blogging about their social life... :P Sarcasm aside, this week saw the November Bloggers' Meetup in Aldgate. This event is growing every month (it was full up the afternoon it was announced), and is one of the friendliest meetups you could wish to meet.

As more than one first-timer commented to me on the night: "I was expecting it to be very formal, but people just walk up to and start chatting." It's definitely one of the most social of the social media meets, and you get to meet a very interesting and wide-ranging group.

This event didn't quite have the lure of a personalised cocktail, but had an interesting talk from Fake Plastic Noodles' Melanie Seasons on the difference between blogging in the UK and the USA. What's fascinating is how much more of a community there is between bloggers in this country than there is in the States.

Despite being a bit nervous (and even though it's a friendly crowd, I'd defy anybody not to feel a bit nervy about going up in front of a group of 80 strangers), she gave some food for thought for everybody there - and hopefully got many drinks brought for her as she deserved it.

And while I'm on the subject of drinking with interweb people, we've announced a date for the Dirty South Twit - Monday 8th December in an as-yet-to-be-announced venue is Clapham Junction. Go on, sign up and raise a glass. It'd be rude not to.

Going south of the river...

Or look what we've gone and done. For a culture, that spends a fair bit of its life working online, social media types are, well, pretty sociable in the real world. For one thing, they throw great parties and hold regular meetups. One of the nicest things about Twitter and blogging meetups, is you can turn up and not know anybody and people will still, likely as not, know who you are. Even if not, you'll at least have a topic of conversation to get you started, which is ideal for people such as myself who aren't natural minglers.

One of my favourite meetups is Lewis Webb's Shoreditch Twit, an informal gathering in Shoreditch for people on Twitter. There's nothing much to it - Twitter (geeks) meet down the pub, often with some kind of theme (the last involved free games of table football. I rule at table football). The only downside is Shoreditch is in east London and is a bit of a trek to get home, south of the river.

Via a Facebook conversation with Lolly, I mentioned I was thinking of doing a South of the River Tweet up (sorry, that sounds a bit wanky doesn't it). A couple of Tweets and emails later, and with Rich also offering his services, the Dirty South Tweet was born, for us Southern types who don't want to have such a long journey home. It is, if you will, the Shoreditch Twit on tour. Or something.

Of course, it's not just South Londoners who are invited - any Twitterer, be it north, south, east or west or even, God forbid, outside of London (what do you mean there's a world outside the capital?) are more than welcome to join us to, well, drink. And chat. And that's about it.

We're still in the process of sorting out there whens and wheres, but should have something concrete very very soon. In the meantime, there's the blog and the Twitter stream - show them both some love by Tweeting or linking :)

Any excuse for a drink, really....

What's really fantastic about this is the idea came from one quick musing on a Facebook post and has already started to take shape just 48 hours later - and the Dirty South Tweet blog is already doing over double the traffic this place does on a good day.

What's even more fantastic, is just a few years ago, this bunch of people probably would have only known each other in passing, maybe meeting at the occasional event, but rarely making the effort to contact each other via email to say: "Hey, let's get a group of us together and head out to the pub for a drink."

Forget your marketing, PR and whatnot for a while. Twitter, Facebook and blogging have made it easier for like-minded people to get together down the pub, without having to utter the words "I'm meeting somebody from the internet," and having to explain it's nothing to do with sex.

It's one of the reasons I love social media. It's not called social for nothing.

Who's a-tweeting

If you're categorising Twitter users by their professions, chances are PR and journalism would come out quite high in the list (probably after social media or technology people). Chances are, though, that quite a few useful would-be contacts on both sides don't even know that a useful PR or journalist is lurking on the microblogging site. A bit like the hopeless romantic's belief that there's a perfect partner out there for everybody, just not as sickly. But one of the great things about social media is that solutions can quickly be created and then expanded on, and Stephen Davies of the excellent PRBlogger.com blog has done just that by putting together a list of UK journalists on Twitter.

It's simple, effective and very useful indeed and he should, in the next couple of days, be producing a similar list but for UK PR People. Hopefully both will soon be expanded into a wiki.

Twitter's a great tool for enhancing communication, especially because it's so instantaneous. Send a quick Twitter message to me, and chances are I'll get back to you reasonably quickly - and it certainly won't get lost in the email inbox.

Plus, there's a good chance that the journalist/PR will be Tweeting on what they're currently working on or looking to work on, making it easier to target more effectively. And if somebody becomes a pain, just unfollow and block them. Simple.

If you're a UK journalist or PR bod and on Twitter, do read as Steve's lists could be invaluable.

UPDATE: And, as Steve promised, here's his (ever growing) list of UK PR people on Twitter.

Hopefully he'll follow through with his idea to expand these lists into a wiki, as it'd be interesting to know who handles what account for PR people, and which area the journalist works in, especially freelancers. Although, on second thoughts, if you're a PR person pitching to these journalists you should probably have done your research on them in the first place...

How to win friends and influence people

Or, as this could so easily be called, how to perfectly get a bunch of bloggers on your side. Sometimes, you head off to an event that's so well organised, managed and presented you just want to go up to the organisers, shake their hands and buy them a drink.

This wasn't possible last night, due to the amount of free cocktails the organisers kept pushing into my hands.

(A reader interjects: Oh God. This isn't going to be another London party blog, is it? We expected better from you Gary. You've changed. You used to write pithy stories about beard-angst, rage at grammar errors and spending your life visiting towns we didn't know had football teams. Now you're blogging about parties. I bet you're only a short step away from getting thick-rimmed glasses. And a cardigan.)

A small bit of context as to why people kept giving me cocktails. At Smirnoff's HQ no less.

A while back, Andy Bargery had the idea of organising a (mostly) monthly meetup for bloggers in London. You didn't have to blog about anything in particular, just as long as you had blogged.

The blogger meetups attracted a wide and varying range of people, from photographers, to local government officials, to PRs (ok, there's a lot of these), to writers to people who just blog about whatever took their fancy. Put simply, it was a great way to meet new people, and at least you'd be guaranteed to have one topic of conversation.

This month, Smirnoff sponsored the blog meetup and offered use of the bar at parent company Diageo's HQ, just off Oxford Street. What followed was a masterclass in PR and blogger outreach, thanks to Splendid Communications, the firm representing Smirnoff.

The level of detail was quite astounding. Before the event, Splendid had researched every attendee's blog and passed on the overriding themes of each blog to the mixologists, who created a unique cocktail designed to reflect the overall spirit of the blog. Mine contained apples (the Westcountry connection), ginger beer and cinnamon (in reference to the beard-angst), and vodka. It tasted a bit like an alcoholic apple crumble.

The hospitality was first class as well. There was free food and drink, and the people from Splendid and Diageo were friendly and welcoming, without pushing themselves - or any kind of product. It was, quite simply, a laid-back venue where everybody could kick back, relax, and socialise, without having a brand pushed in your face at every opportunity, other than the drinks, which nobody's was going to complain about.

It might be easy to be cynical: why should a brand reach out to bloggers unless they want something. Well, they've already achieved it, judging by the number of complementary blog posts doing the round this morning.

Smirnoff didn't have to go to the level they did, but by adding that personal, fun touch and giving the blog meetup a relaxed venue to chat in, the brand's suddenly generating a large amount of buzz among some very well read blogs, and ones with ten readers such as this.

What's more, those present from Splendid and Diageo were genuinely keen and ethusiastic about blogging, helped in no small part by Rax from Splendid, who knew about the blog meetup and had been meaning to attend for several events.

It goes to show the value of having somebody on your team who, if they don't blog, at least reads and engages with them. It would have been easy for a company to just throw a few freebies at the group and go "Look, bloggers, we are generous. Be nice to us."

Us bloggers who attended last night ranged from the reasonably influential in their field to a few recent starters who blogged about nothing in particular, and we were all treated the same. I've seriously not been so impressed by a corporate event for a long time.

Social media isn't called social media for nothing. The whole event was a joy from start to finish, with many different topics covered and many fantastic people to keep in touch with on both a business and personal front, all of whom came away with a lovely glow from the night.

And a quick hello to some of the great people (and blogs), some the usual suspects, some first-timers, who were there last night: Melaine Seasons, Annie Mole, Flashboy, Rachel, the TV encyclopedia that is Miss Geeky, pun-loving Hayley, fellow last-to-leave digital marketing extraordinaire Lolly, Sandrine, the lovely Jaz, The Argyle-supporting Lewis Webb, Julius, the brilliant My Chemical Toilet blog, and probably one or two others who I've forgotten. Sorry about that.