#NewsSonnet 2: KKK, Rochester, NoTW, Brains

News sonnets: current affairs in three  iambic pentameter quatrains of alternating rhyme and a couplet.

The KKK has been Anonymized
Their concealment, by the masked, unconcealed.
So will disguise be, by the disguised
Unmasked? The pointed, burning truth revealed?
Andy Coulson served all five months, is freed.
Hang on. Eighteen into five doesn’t go.
Rebekaaaaaaaaah Brooks meanwhile is to succeed
Robert Thomson as News Corp’s CEO.
Niggle Farridge has a brand new MP.
Flashman vows he will regain the seat.
Milibean sacks turbulent Thornberry
For flags, a white van, and a reckless tweet.
Memory lapses, fainting fits, some pain.
It’s nice and tasty living in a brain.

#NewsSonnet 1: Sainsburys, Miliband, Putin, Federer

News sonnets: current affairs in three  iambic pentameter quatrains of alternating rhyme and a couplet.

So Sainsbury’s is selling fruit and veg
By exploiting World War One. Still, it pays.
What next? It’s just the thin end of the wedge.
The Holocaust to sell us holidays?
Talking of wars it’s getting very cold
As Pooty-poot expands his manly chest.
This posturing is already quite old,
Quick, fetch the ageing premier a vest.
Ed Miliband is hanging out to dry
On a lightweight night-time ITV show.
The mansion tax you see is far too high.
It’s Pure and Simple Ed, you’ve got to go.
Federer could brave such an attack
But can’t because he’s got a dodgy back.

Data, you need

This is a cross-post from Ranieri Communications…

Actual output from one of my dashboards

Have you seen Particle Fever yet? If not, you should. There’s a seminal moment when, on achieving collision, a Cern star states triumphantly: “We have data.” It’s the point at which the theorists craned their necks eager to see what the experimentalists could actually prove. Suddenly, this wasn’t theory any more.

If you’re in any way serious about your social media, you need to make sure you have data. Without data you don’t know what the current situation is, so you can’t measure where you’re heading, so you don’t know whether or not you’ve been successful. You need data to know whether your strategy is working.

What data exactly? Well, that depends on what you want to achieve. Say you want to use social media to improve your SEO. What makes you think you have a problem with SEO in the first place? What needs fixing? Better find out first, because that’s how you’re going to measure success. Or perhaps you want something more qualitative around reputation management. How are you going to quantify this? Where are you going to get the data from?

There are three approaches to getting data depending on how much time, expertise or cash you’ve got: manual, semi-automated, and fully automated. Here’s a quick rundown of each.

Manual: get typing

Everyone loves a spreadsheet. They’re amazing things and you can go a very long way by manually entering data that is publicly available and then drawing insights from it. The key here is to use data that you can compare like-for-like across social media channels to get an idea of how they’re doing. So, while Facebook’s dashboard for example is rich in data, and you should certainly be using it to improve your performance, a lot of the analysis isn’t available for other channels such as Twitter, or Instagram, or your blog.

At the very basic level, you can look at two essential metrics that work across all of social media: audience size and engagement. The audience size is the total potential audience you could reach with your message, so that’s fans of your Facebook page, followers of your Twitter feed and so on. Engagement is when people actually do something in response to reading about you, so they retweet you or they comment on your Facebook page.

Do this for your competitors too, build this up over time and you can start seeing patterns in the data. You’ll see spikes that correspond to activity, and how to develop more advanced metrics off the back of these. How about dividing engagement by reach to get insight into how engaged your audience really is? How about adding frequency so you can start forming an idea of tweet quality? How about requeesting access to the client’s Google Analytics and looking at how social media referrals to the website are behaving? Develop your own charts, stamp them with your logo, and you’ve got a bespoke measurement system. Port this to an online resource such as Google Docs, and you’ve got an online dashboard. Nice.

Semi-automated: learn APIs

If you’ve got an in-house geek (the one you keep in the cage in the corner and occasionally feed with Haribo) then they might like this: you can start getting involved with Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

An API grabs the data directly rather than going through the manual procedures. So, by using the Twitter API you could directly interrogate the Twitter database and get follower figures, retweets, times of tweets and so on delivered direct to your machine rather than having to input it manually. You can also use the APIs of other social search engines such as SocialMentionand Social Searcher that do a lot of the grunt work for you, by searching across multiple social media sources and aggregating them.

So, by downloading the results of API calls, you build up a store of data that you can then aggregate and analyse, again in Excel. With a canny combination of download managers, batch files and macros, you can do this all with just a couple of keystrokes.

The difference here is in quantity and types of data and therefore insight: you can accrue literally thousands of data points detailing who said what, and when, and you can start understanding who your influencers are, and what your issues might be – plus those of the competition and therefore the industry at large. At this point you really do start understanding the landscape.

If you have a smattering of statistical knowledge you can also start charting the ebb and flow of debate. Moving averages show the underlying trends. Crossovers of moving averages are highly significant. And so on.

Fully automated: bring in the Big Guns

If fully manual requires investment in time and semi automated needs investment in expertise, then fully automated is the money play. Here, we’re talking systems such as BrandWatch andSentiment Metrics who have millions of sites categorised, crunching huge amounts of data using dedicated server farms. It’s the rocket science approach and while this is mostly the domain of large companies that provide consumer services such as telecoms companies, there’s also a strong argument to be made that smaller agencies can use them profitably by sharing the cost across several accounts.

Hands, APIS, BFGs: Which one’s right for you?

If you’re not storing and analysing any data currently, then you need to start, right now.

At the very least start storing reach and engagement, ideally alongside competitors. It’s a useful exercise as of itself because you really start to understand cause and effect, and get to grips with the concepts.

When you get the hang of that, and you’d like to dive deeper, see if you have a geek in your organisation, or a latent geek, or know someone who keeps one. They might be able to ramp you up to the semi-automated solution and then you become something of a social media data guru.

And when you’re finally seeing the shiny green numbers coursing through the very fabric of the Matrix itself, and you’ve landed that major social media account – or you’re a postdoc working at Cern – it’s time to hoover up as much data as you can possibly get your hands on. Even if you don’t uncover the secrets of life, the universe and everything, you’ll know what drives conversation, and that’s a decent second.

Time to saddle up again: Brandinnnnnng

Right. So, the past few years has seen a lot of water under a lot of bridges. I’ve been a social media consultant. I’ve been a copywriter. I’ve been a marketing manager, PR manager, social media manager and content creator all at the same time. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. I’ve been undressed by kings and I’ve seen some things that a woman just ain’t s’posed to see. I’ve quoted far too much from films and songs.

And throughout all this, I’ve completely and utterly lost the blog habit. I couldn’t really see the point because I’ve been actually doing all this, so why bother write about it? I’ve decided to take it up again because:

  • It keeps me off the streets. Like Ishmael, it prevents me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off.
  • While things got boring a couple of years back, they’re a bit more interesting and write-worthy now. Mobile has changed a lot of this game, and new platforms such as PInterest, Vine and Instagram are making a real impact.
  • Whereas I thought blogging had died, people like Shel Holtz think I’m wrong. I still think blogging is really only useful when you get comments back, rather than just a load of shares or likes, but I’m prepared to try this again and see if I genuinely do get what I would call ‘engagement’.
  • I probably should do this because I’m back in the self-employed game – or, rather, I contract now, under the guise of SuperCooper Comms. Catchy isn’t it? I thought long and hard before that one, threw away company names that sounded like cures for constipation (actually, nearly all of them were like that strangely enough), and really should get the .co.uk domain pointing to this blog but I can’t be arsed.

I know, I’ve already fallen at the first blogging hurdle: I’m talking about myself rather than things you want to hear about. That’s because I’m quite rusty.

So, from now on, this blog’s going to be mostly about comms – earned, owned, paid, mobile, desktop, advertising, PR, social, digital – but from time to time I’ll put what I like on it. For example, isn’t the Philae lander an amazing thing? And aren’t otters cute?

Branding: The truth

Anyway, back to comms. Branding. That’s not comms so you could say that having blundered through the first hurdle I’m now staggering through the second. But wait. Branding is the root of comms. It informs what you’re going to talk about, and how you’re going to say it.

I’ve somehow become a branding person too along the way. What happens is, you go further and further upstream, beyond copywriting, up through social media, then messaging, then marketing, then you realised there’s more, so you start looking at branding. It’s a bit like Captain Willard travelling up the Nung River.

The key to branding is figuring out a way to make yourself different from your competitors, and suited to your audiences. It seems deceptively simple, but it’s not easy. Just Google ‘brand positioning’ and you’ll see that everyone has their own take on it, from the big stuff like what a brand is, to the nuts and bolts such as brand values, vision statements, mission statements and the like.

The important thing is that it’s the truth, which can sometimes be harsh. And as we all know, many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. So you need to get a lot of points of view.

The Outside-in view

  1. Choose a handful of key clients, partners and friendly peers.
  2. Ideally call them, not ideally mail them to say something like “We’re doing some thinking about our brand and would really value your input”, arrange a call for, say, 30 minutes or so.
  3. In the call, ask them:
    • What do you think we do well?
    • What do you think we could do better?
    • What three words describe how we work?
    • What do you think you’ll want from us in five years’ time?
  4. Create a quick slidedeck breaking this out into the core (ie what do all of them say), the common (what do most of them say) and the unusual (are there any that stand out for saying something the others don’t).

The Inside-out view

Do this internally too. Make people feel this is something they contributed to so that it becomes ‘real’ and ‘owned’. Also by comparing your responses to the clients, you start to identify gaps.

There is one additional question here too, for the MD or CEO, and maybe your senior leadership team, which is: where do you want to be in five years’ time?

The Industry view

  1. Spend an hour looking for articles that talk about what the future holds for your industry or sector
  2. Pull out the most significant summary points into a slidedeck
  3. Go through them and identify the top three

The Competitor view

  1. Spend an hour going through the websites for your competitiors and figure out:
    • What is their SEO description (if any)? Right-click on their home page where there is white space, and then click ‘View page source’ and search for the text <meta-description>
    • What is their strapline (if any)? If not under their logo, then sometimes they’ll have a sort of strap line on the top of their ‘about’ page.
    • In their ‘About’ page, what are the top three things they talk about, ideally relating to how they work rather than what they do?​
  2. Create a quick slidedeck breaking this out into the core (ie what do all of them say), the common (what do most of them say) and the unusual (are there any that stand out for saying something the others don’t).
  3. Email your team and ask them to give them a score of 1 to 10 where 1 is least and 10 is most, for the following:
    • Impact
    • Sophistication
    • Contemporariness – awful word I know, but what I mean is, how up-to-date do they look?

Web view

Create a ‘taxonomy’, by going through everything you can think of – websites, social media, wikipedia etc – and create a cloud of the most commonly used words in your industry.

Bringing it together

  • The outside-in view is the most important, by far. It’s your opportunity for you to find out, genuinely, what your strengths and weaknesses are.
  • The inside-out view is quite important, so long as you trust your staff not to be too blinkered in their outlook. By comparing this with the outside-in view you get an idea of whether or not you’re deluded.
  • The industry view shows you what the main challenges and opportunities are. Now that you know your strengths and weaknesses you can start developing a position that plays to your strengths, while addressing any potentially disabling weaknesses.
  • The competitor view gives you insight into how to differentiate. Do any of your competitors mention the industry challenges or opportunities? If not, they’re not branded very well, and you don’t need to worry about them too much. If some of them really do have a good position then you need to work out how not to overlap with them.

Now, you have three bubbles: your culture (the three words that describe how you work); the industry issues and opportunities they present; and your strengths. You need to find a common position that works at the intersection of those three bubbles, and doesn’t impinge too much on a competitor.

See? It’s all about bubbles. And it isn’t easy. That moment of insight can take quite some time. As is often the case, the process involves leg-work, but the insight means being in the right place at the right time, usually with a G&T on the go.

Finally, the web view gives you an idea of the kind of words you should use when you come to express all of this. You can be a maverick, and that’s fine, but you also need to make sure the words you use, are the words people are looking for.

So it’s about words too.

Good luck, and hopefully it won’t be three years before I post again…

What will happen come Twittergeddon?

So it’s been a very long time since I blogged. The main reason is that I’ve been getting to grips with mobile advertising for the past nine months – long enough to have a baby, or two-fifths of a baby elephant – and aligning Adfonic’s communications channels.

One key project has involved ‘classic’ social media: identifying our influencers, ranking them, and setting up mechanisms to monitor them. This just simply helps us to gain insights into the main industry issues, from the people who matter, and engage with them on a very human level.

The only stumbling block is: Twitter. Lists are great. But that’s just the ‘who’ part. To know what they’re saying, about a specific topic (ie mobile advertising) you need to be able to filter these lists. And that’s causing me headaches.

For example Hootsuite, while providing filters, does not do this persistently. When you add a filter, then select a different stream or tab, the filters disappear. Not good.

Tweetdeck used to have great filtering in the classic ‘Yellow’ version. But then it was revamped after being bought out by Twitter, and lost most of the features that made it useful in the process, including filtering.

So what is to be done? I’ve been running the old Tweetdeck as a backup solution, and it does a brilliant job. Every Twitter list, filtered for an extra smooth taste, gives me an instant overview of what our most influential Tweeters are saying about mobile advertising. It enables us to be informed across all our influencers, and agile in our response.

But I have a bad feeling. Come 5th March, Twitter will deprecate its old API, and at that point, I do wonder what’s going to happen with the old Tweetdeck. I expect it will just stop working, and I’m back to Hootsuite, or investigating more sophisticated – and expensive – tools that will do this very important job.

I know change is inevitable – George Harrison kind of said the same. But why on earth Twitter won’t enable filtering for lists, I do not know. Perhaps they think their servers will melt. Possibly they just want us to return to the ‘needle in a haystack’ approach of old. Or maybe – just maybe – someone somewhere will figure out a cool way to do this. And then charge us through the nose for it.

The old web is dying and I’m not sure I like the new one

BlogPulse has no pulse

So I was playing around with dashboards and the like yesterday  – as one does – and noticed that BlogPulse has disappeared. BlogPulse was not the greatest blog search engine around, but it was the only one offering anything like useable charts. So, given that Technorati charts disappeared years ago (although they still have a page claiming they’ll be back soon), and other solutions such as IceRocket don’t enable you to pass keywords to create live charts, it would appear there is no longer any blog charting widget out there.

Is this the final nail in the coffin of blogging? Are we really so uninterested in blogging activity that charts are no longer considered viable? It would seem that way, and the ‘blogging is dead’ meme is very much alive right now.

Charting generally seems to be suffering

Recently, tweetcloud.com disappeared, without even a whimper. It just vanished. I seemed to be the only person who noticed, but tweetcloud.com was, like BlogPulse, the only solution that did something incredibly useful: it would create a tweetcloud for a search term on the fly. In other words, you typed in what you were looking for, and it created a tweetcloud for that search (not a tweetcloud of your own timeline, which really isn’t that much use but I suspect a lot less processor-intensive). Plus it did it quickly, and there was a widget for it, which enabled you to build dashboards giving an instant overview of the latest terms associated with any topic. It was great. And then it wasn’t. There are sort-of alternatives still such as Visible Tweets, Cloud.li and Twendz, but, while they’re very pretty, you can’t build them into dashboards.

And today, Trendistic, the only (again) solution for live charting of Twitter trends, is down. It was down yesterday too. Look for it on Twitter search and there are just a load of weird Polish references to it (who knows, maybe Trendistic is a Polish pop group). Surely – sssssurely – Trendistic can’t have disappeared too? And surely, again, it can’t just be me who thought it was an absolutely brilliant idea?

RSS is dying

If you’re detecting a pattern here, you’re not alone. It does seem that really great ideas are failing as the web grows bigger and faster. They just cannot keep up, it seems – or, at least, not until/unless they’re snapped up by one of the walled gardens such as Facebook. Free information – as in, really free, readily available, easily manipulated and shared across the entire web – is disappearing.

RSS was supposed to be the great hope of free information. Peel the content away from the format, and hey presto, you can share pretty much anything across any platform. But therein lies the problem: something free is not something you can fence off and charge for. It is free in every sense of the word.

So it seems RSS is suffering too. Google Reader used to be a really nice way to bring feeds together and create a static web page of the results as well as a newly aggregated feed. Not since its recent revamp however. All the sharing features have been ported across to Google+, presumably because Google+ is a neat, walled garden whereas RSS was messy and free. Yahoo Pipes was the ultimate RSS aggregator/mash-up tool but suffered from underinvestment by Yahoo. Even after a supposed major overhaul, it’s flaky and too slow to power a dashboard (unless you’re prepared to wait for a minute or so while the results load up). Another RSS mashup tool, XFruits, died a couple of years back. Do a search for RSS aggregator tools and it’s like a graveyard. The only viable tool that I can see is called FeedRinse which, while it offers aggregation and filtering (the two most useful features of Pipes), also feels a bit overloaded and slow. And, as with TweetCloud and BlogPulse, it’s the only game in town, which leads me to believe it won’t be for much longer.

RSS from search has been abandoned by major players too. Such as the bookmarking platform Delicious. You used to be able to search across the Delicious database and pull an RSS feed from that. Stunningly useful, as it showed you what other people considered important for any topic. Not any longer. Twitter has also demoted RSS from search: you can still do it, but you have to look around to find out how. It’s another candidate for the cull, I believe.

Mash-ups are harder

So where does this leave us if we want to create our own mash-ups or dashboards? Well we can dive into the APIs if we fancy it, and learn a smattering of HTML and javascript. But we still need reliable platforms to base our dashboards on. The familiar theme of ‘only game in town’ is revisited here, in that the only solution offering public dashboards – that is, pages that you can show to anyone without them needing to log in – is Netvibes. And every time I create a dashboard in Netvibes, I find I have to spend quite some time figuring out what works still and what doesn’t. Quite apart from discovering over the past few months that third-party sites have disappeared, I’m finding that third-party widgets in Netvibes are broken, or even that Netvibes itself is cranky. So for example, my attempts to create a dashboard yesterday were frustrated by HTML widgets only displaying the top portions of any image or javascript output, widgets generally not staying in the same place when I refreshed the page, RSS feeds not being imported correctly, and on recourse to their support forum, finding it full of spam.

It seems the free tools that were once so useful are now decaying or falling apart. I don’t know what ‘Web 2.0′ really meant, but I have a sense of something dying, something that was slower and smaller than the web today, that shared more freely but was doing so with less immediacy and monetary return. Whatever we’re moving towards, if it’s Web 3.0, then it’s becoming more consolidated, monetised, bigger, faster, noisier.

So the ‘roll your own’ approach is going to get harder. The smaller, innovative sites that did one thing, and one thing well, just cannot survive the double onslaught of vastly increased traffic and expectations of real-time delivery unless they can make money from  it.  The old, fluid, free web that comprised many islands of activity is solidifying into separate continents of influence. The game is so much harder now, that it’s only the really big players that can make sense – and money – out of it.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be

Me? I preferred the more innovative, dynamic environment. I liked the way that RSS could be readily shared, and smaller enterprises could create neat tools that let you do things with it, without really needing to be a developer. I guess those days are gone. Nostalgia certainly ain’t what it used to be.

Postscript: … and no sooner do I file this post then I read this Observer piece by John Naughton, entitled “Has the Internet run out of ideas already?”, on the progression of information technologies: “from somebody’s hobby to somebody’s industry; from jury-rigged contraption to slick production marvel; from a freely accessible channel to one strictly controlled by a single corporation or cartel – from open to closed system.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. In fact, I didn’t.

Me, Friends Reunited, and Radio 4

So out of the blue I got a call from BBC Radio 4 to go in and talk about the recent relaunch of Friends Reunited on the You and Yours programme.

“Friends Reunited has relaunched?” thought I. Fortunately I managed to pull enough from my dusty memory banks sufficiently quickly to convince the assistant producer I was their man.

Two days later and I was outside Broadcasting House, having fairly thoroughly researched the topic. That was fortunate, because the questions they asked me – live, on air, in front of millions of listeners – weren’t actually the questions they told me they were going to ask.

I knew all about its history (set up by Julie and Steve Pankhurst in 2000, 3,000 users after one year, 2.5 million after two, 15 million by 2005 then sold to ITV for blah blah blah). I’d even figured out why some networks succeed and others fail (combination of luck and basically just being better), and why some major acquisitions hadn’t worked out (mostly the same reasons). This is because the assistant producer told me that’s what they were going to ask me.

Imagine, then, my surprise when Julian Worricker turned to me and asked my opinion of the site having played around with it. Fortunately, I had played around with it, for about an hour, without actually getting anywhere with it. Unfortunately, I had to be frank and say so, sitting right next to Chris van der Kuyl, CEO of BrightSolid, the company behind the Friends Reunited relaunch. He didn’t seem to mind: he was very well media trained and put up a good fight, I thought. For what it’s worth I thought he was an extremely nice chap and we had a very good chat before the programme.

Julian also asked my take on the name. Again, I wasn’t entirely positive. But I tried to get some conciliatory stuff in, such as Friends Reunited’s brand recognition and the way that focusing on nostalgia is potentially effective (although, I fear, in reality, not very).

Anyway, you can listen to the clip here. I’m probably not supposed to host it but heck, I pay my license fee and if the BBC wants me to take it down, I will. I was frankly surprised when a BBC radio journo friend of mine asked whether they were going to taxi me in. “No”, I replied, “But I’m interested to find out that’s the kind of thing my license fee is paying for.”

If they do use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, then I will graciously crack, in which case you can (at the time of writing) listen to the programme here.

So, I’ve had my fifteen minutes of fame. I just wish it hadn’t started with me coughing and saying ‘Excuse me’. How terribly British of me.

I really am not one of the most influential PR bloggers in the UK. Honestly, I’m not.

So it was with considerable mirth that I read Gorkana’s latest blockbusting news – that someone has, schlock horror, discovered who the most influential PR bloggers are in the UK! Wow! That was quick of them! The Ad Age Power150 has only been around for, what, at least five years. Apparently it’s news to Gorkana however.

And I’m 7th on the list. Sorry, 8th. Sorry, 9th already. They’re popping out of the woodwork as I type.

A quick backstory to the Ad Age Power150 (as far as my memory serves). It was originally Todd Andrlik‘s Power150, which I came across quite a while ago and thought it was a neat way to ‘measure’ blogs. Take of the publicly available metrics such as Technorati Authority (remember that?), normalise them out of ten, add them up, and you get a list of influencers. So I took that, applied it to the list of 100 PR bloggers that I followed at the time, and created my own list.

Naturally Todd wasn’t too happy that I’d copied his idea, so I put an attribution at the bottom, and in later versions of what became the PR Friendly Index I adapted a more graphical approach (that would appear to be broken on this new template), without normalising, which gave me something of a USP.

Along the way Sally Whittle also asked me for some help with her top secret project, which begat the Tots 100, and Jonny Bentwood also started his list of analysts along similar lines.

The PR Friendly Index got me a lot of attention and in fact I’d say it’s the main reason I appear on lists nowadays. Many people linked to me, not least because I provided little badges for them complete with code that included the links. But it just became too tedious to maintain – which, in a neat circular kind of way, is what Todd found, which is why he gave it, or sold it (I know not which) to Ad Age.

So it’s probably fitting that it all comes back to Ad Age, which is where the Gorkana list comes from (actually it’s a list from 10 Yetis, but Gorkana are shouting and pointing at it, as if it’s news which, just to be clear, it is not).

However, Ad Age really is just bean counting. Which brings me to the title of this post: I’m not influential. Look, Drew Benvie is below me. Drew is UK MD of the group that includes Hotwire, Skywrite and 33 Digital. Steve Waddington co-runs Speed, which I visited the other week. Metrica is an entire company of measurement professionals (whose competition entries I wrote two years back so I know them quite well too). These people are all much more influential than I am. It just happens to be that I got more scores via various metrics once upon a time because I had some good ideas occasionally. Honestly.

So I really wouldn’t go by the figures. I don’t really think Andy Barr, head of 10 Yetis, has had a very inspirational idea in peeling out the UK PR people from the Ad Age Power150 (it’s been done before). I’d find out who these people are first, and then take a punt.