I was recently invited to share my insights on social media at an unusual new event in Leeds.
I say unusual, but in reality Cultural Conversations was just a different format to what I am used to – a format that really reflected the nature of social networks.
This wasn’t an event where I spoke to a captive audience, rather I helped facilitate conversation ‘hubs’ and hopefully shared some useful insights. It was a really refreshing process that I felt not only reflected the structure of social networks, but also provided a really effective way of communicating ideas.
Usually events of this kind are dominated by one or more speakers who either fascinate or bore you silly. The structure of Cultural Conversations, and the great turn out (around 70 people) meant that attendees could gravitate towards conversation groups where issues or topics were discussed for around 30 minutes.
These then fed into a final session with all delegates where topics of interest were developed further. This organic approach, which closely follows the way conversations spread on Twitter (check out this project, called revisit, for a brilliant visual representation of Twitter conversations), was intuitive and engaging.
So why don’t more events adopt this intimate format? It’s often said that the most interesting elements of conferences take place away from the main halls, when delegates get together and talk. In my opinion there’s a lot to be said for flipping the standard event format on its head and enhancing what people feel is most useful. What if break-out sessions were the main focus and not an afterthought?
I’m not an event organiser. I don’t have the skills or energy to put on a major event. But if I were organising any sort of business event I’d think about going back-to-basics and consider how people communicate, both online and offline, and shape the event around that.
Social networks have afforded us considerable insight into human communication (this is a great presentation by a Google usability expert on the topic), so why are we not always harnessing those insights offline?
As a former journalist little gets me more upset than the plight of regional journalism in the UK. Barely a day seems to go by without news of job cuts, strikes and falling circulation numbers.
While I these trends to make me angry I can’t help feeling that media groups missed a trick. They had the opportunity and resources to shape the new media age as they saw fit and change the way we consumed news.
Unfortunately that window of opportunity has now closed and we are daily faced with the spectacle of media companies scrambling to develop online income streams. And that scramble has led to some quite desperate stories of defeat, as was evidenced by Johnston Press’ experiment earlier this year.
But, all may not be as bleak as it seems. Necessity is indeed the mother of all invention, and people do want, or need, to know about what is happening within their local communities. With that in mind ‘hyperlocal’ has been a buzz word amongst journalism circles for the last ten years or so. But what does it mean and how is it changing the game?
Hyperlocal news sources tend to be synonymous with local blogs that only carry news relevant to a very small geographical area. As this article in Time magazine indicates, they gained greater traction in the US as the mainstream media severely contracted during the recession.
In the UK, there are numerous examples of local news sites or blogs emerging as popular resources in their local communities. In Leicester Citizenseye.org now even supplies occasional content to the city’s Leicester Mercury newspaper and in my neck of the woods the Leeds-based The Culture Vulture magazine blog continues to thrive.
While large media organisations continue to worry about content and pay walls, the whole debate has moved on. Whether we like it or not journalism is changing, it’s becoming less of a profession and more of a role that people assume.
Don’t get me wrong, the emergence of citizen journalism does concern me in many ways. But if I were in control of Johnston Press or Trinity Mirror i’d be taking these bloggers under my wing and nurturing them. In return you’d receive access to pockets of engaged local readers – the one thing that national newspapers have lost over the years.
And with that connection re-established they will be able to serve up targeted advertising that suits both advertisers and readers.
As a PR practitioner we rely on a healthy media industry to disseminate information and news about our clients. While the numbers of opportunities to self-publish have never been greater, the third party endorsement and greater cross section of publicity generated by the mainstream media still means that it is vitally important to our industry.
In that sense we have a vested interest in the future of regional media. And if the hyperlocal model works then great, but if it doesn’t i’m not sure what comes next. Specialised sites - such as this brilliant regional business site thebusinessdesk.com and The Culture Vulture as mentioned above - continue to do well, but can general news sites do so well in this environment?
At the moment it is hard to tell, but one thing is certainly sure: if media groups stop thinking about their own future and start thinking about the industry’s future, I believe they will find salvation.
Image credit: Stylianosm
A story popped up this week that made me think hard about why it is important not to put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to online marketing.
An American-based Facebook fan page owner saw his page and its 47,000 fans disappear overnight. The page, called The Official Real Estate Referral Group, was started over two years ago and was unilaterally removed due to copyright issue surrounding its URL.
While this is an extreme example of how powerless individuals can be when dealing with faceless (excuse the pun) social networks, it is symptomatic of the problems Facebook page owners and developers for the platform come across all the time. Features disappear, functionality is lost and those who make a living out of Facebook are left looking stupid and powerless.
I myself struggled with a bug last week which originated over a month ago and has yet to be fixed. In this instance i’ve found a work around, but the fact that no one at the social network has even deemed it important enough to respond to is part of a worrying trend. A trend that was typified by the temporary disappearance of custom landing tabs for Facebook pages that didn’t spend big on advertising or have hundreds of thousands of fans.
Social marketers are increasingly working in a proprietary environment in which we relinquish some control. As users increasingly experience the internet through social networks, we are increasingly dependent on the platforms we use being stable and reliable. Unfortunately while Twitter continues to break (fail whale anyone?) and Facebook moves the goal posts, that is simply not the case.
So do social networks have a vindictive streak, do they enjoy making those who use them for business struggle? The obvious answer is no, but I would argue that while they benevolently believe they know what is best for users, they can (perhaps unwittingly) have a strongly negative impact.
I think the lesson in all of this is that you shouldn’t rely on one platform or channel too much. However successful your Facebook page or Twitter profile is, be prepared to accept indiscriminate changes to the platform and spasmodic outages. And more importantly, don’t expect an immediate answer to your complaints or messages, in fact, expect to be largely on your own.
But despite my gloomy outlook increased integration of different social networking platforms, and their spread into the wider online ecosystem (e.g. Facebook’s open graph protocol) has improved matters by allowing you to communicate through more than one channel simultaneously.
While things are becoming more linked up, i’d say the old adage involving eggs and baskets still holds true online.
Photo credit: Jronaldlee
I was in Falmouth, Cornwall last week and had the pleasure of visiting my family’s shop, Elephant and Monkey, for the first time.
It is jam packed with fantastic mid-century furniture, paintings and textiles. And also has some of the best contemporary craft Britain has to offer.
If you’re ever in the area it is definitely worth a look. There are also some fab items available online.
Elephant & Monkey
35 Killigrew Street
Elly on the Camel Trail between Wadebridge and Padstow. Me taking wobbly photos on my bike (July ‘10)
One of search engine giant Google’s priorities is to improve user satisfaction by quickly delivering the desired result for every search term entered - for every user, every time.
As part of that it is constantly looking at ways to index the entire internet. At the moment though there is one barrier to Google achieving that goal: Facebook.
Facebook presents a real challenge to Google as the majority of activity by Facebook’s 500 million users stays on the social network’s servers and cannot be indexed. This has the search giant seriously worried, as status updates alone are estimated to amount to more than ten times the number of words written on blogs worldwide (thanks to AllFacebook for this and other excellent reporting on this topic).
The ‘Like’ is released
Google’s concern over this issue runs in parallel to Facebook’s recent launch of the Open Graph Protocol, which extends the ‘Like’ function outside of the network. It allows webmasters to install Like buttons on their sites and lets users share their ‘Like’ (or vote of approval) for content outside of Facebook on the popular network.
Despite Google’s concern about Facebook’s ‘hidden’ data this all seems reasonably inconspicuous. That would be unless external content wasn’t showing up in Facebook search…which it is.
Thanks again to AllFacebook, who reported this was happening earlier in the week for certain TripAdvisor listings:
These results pop-up as ‘Pages’ in Facebook search but are not pages on the network. Instead clicking on the link in results takes you through to the TripAdvisor listing.
This is fascinating stuff and makes Facebook’s future plans a really compelling mystery. In one move it has effectively produced a brilliant way of indexing content. And if they can keep spam under control this could well become the people’s search engine.
Facebook is clunky and so is its search function
While the potential for this is enormous there is a real danger that Facebook is trying to run before it can walk in the search game.
Its current internal search function is truly appalling, with pages regularly disappearing out of search altogether.
More fundamentally, Facebook has to figure out how to describe the search results generated through the Open Graph if it is ever going to meet Google’s ability to satisfy users. What are these results? Are they a product of the people’s search engine I described above? Or simply a popularity contest that is therefore both unreliable and biased?
Links are just one measurement that Google uses to rank content in search results, Facebook needs to identify other ranking factors that will balance out the ‘Like’ and make this form of search credible.
Battle lines are drawn
These questions do need to be answered. But in the meantime we can be in no doubt that Facebook is squaring up to Google and wants ‘Like’ to become the new link.
Another big question is how Facebook will move out into the wider internet over time. It is largely still a closed system. To compete in the search world data from the Open Graph will have to be available and searchable outside of the network.
Alternatively, Facebook may become the homepage of choice (some would argue this is already happening) and form a portal or conduit to the rest of the internet, with the ‘Like’ search engine an integral element of that.
So what should you do?
There is really only one thing to do right now, and it plays perfectly into Facebook’s hands. Any webmaster with a busy site would be stupid not to implement the company’s Open Graph Protocol and to see how things play out.
If you haven’t already, then also definitely create a Facebook page for your organisation or company, as it is likely they will also form part of the ‘like’ search engine in the future.
Other than that, just pull up a chair and watch as two of the internet’s titans go head-to-head in a battle that will shape the way we use the internet.
Photo credit: richkidsunite
South Africa, April 2010.
Had a brilliant time on our honeymoon and here are a few of the pics.
We’re looking for a student intern to work at Tinderbox this summer. Email me - email@example.com of you are interested.
Digital PR Executive
Summer 2010 placement
Deadline for Applications 21 May 2010
Do you know your Twitter from your Tumblr?
Your Wordpress.org from your Wordpress.com?
Tinderbox Media (www.tinderboxmedia.co.uk) is an online and offline PR agency based in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
Small but perfectly formed, we are a young and dynamic agency. We pride ourselves on the production of innovative campaigns and measurable results for local, national and international brands. Our clients are drawn from fields including professional services, e-commerce and online publishing.
We are expanding fast and keen to give a student the opportunity to tackle exciting client work and also improve their knowledge and skills within the industry. The Tinderbox team can offer practical insights into how offline and online PR works and help the successful candidate to gain practical experience of the constantly evolving world of social media marketing. Anyone can schlump in the corner opening post; we’re after an ambitious person who is prepared to learn quickly and add real value to our ongoing client programmes and projects.
We are looking for someone with a strong interest and knowledge of social media and blogging, as well as traditional PR methods. Perhaps you blog, maintain a successful Facebook page, or Digg away. Knowledge of search engine optimisation basics and video editing skills would be a bonus, but are not essential.
Excellent writing skills are a must. The ability to work independently, with creativity and insight, is also an important attribute.
If this sounds like you, then we’d love to hear from you.
All travel and subsistence expenses paid.
Deadline for applications is May 21 2010.
Contact Joel Turner with your CV and a covering email or letter explaining why you’d like to work with us. Post it to Tinderbox Media, Evans Business Centre, Hartwith Way, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, HG3 2XA or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
…since I last posted. I’m married, have been on honeymoon (which sort of explains the gap in postings) and the UK election campaign has been and gone.
We’re now in the grips of hung parliament fever. As a Lib Dem voter i’m pleased at the possibility of the party gaining real power, but also slightly worried. It strikes me as one of those things you wish for but never fully expect to happen - much like winning the lottery. As a result you never think about what would really happen if it came true…
Clay Skirky - It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.