(Another) new social media metric?

Hot on the heels of Advertising Age’s adoption of the Power150 and Edelman’s Social Media Index, Judy Gombita of PR Conversations has very kindly forwarded me an extremely interesting article about (yet another) New Way To Standardize The Podosphere*:

The newly formed Association for Downloadable Media, based in San Francisco, is setting out to standardize* audience measurement and advertising for media such as podcasts. Fifteen major companies are backing the organization* so far, with interim board reps from companies such as Apple BlogTalkRadio, NPR, Nielsen Online and Porter Novelli. Internal elections will happen in September. The group will also meet at the Podcast and New Media Expo that month.

It seems that everyone is trying to grab the ‘new media measurement’ ground although the ADM’s primary focus is on downloadable media, presumably because it conveniently side-steps the problem of blog measurements – ie a download is a download is a download – and covers greater media content (could this be anticipation of an interactive multimedia Web 3.0?)

* Apologies for the Americana there. Those ‘z’s just seem so harshly angular don’t they? Give me the curvaceous Anglo ‘s’ any time.

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A mischief of mice, a kindle of kittens and an egoplex of bloggers.

A cat, yesterday

Today, collective nouns. There was an interesting debate recently at work. An article was circulated about ‘The Cat of Death‘, featuring a cat called Oscar that apparently has remarkable powers of telepathy: when he curls up near someone at a nursing home, they inevitably curl up and die hours later.

I quote:

Dr. Joan Teno of Brown University, who treats patients at the nursing home and is an expert on care for the terminally ill], was convinced of Oscar’s talent when he made his 13th correct call. While observing one patient, Teno said she noticed the woman was not eating, was breathing with difficulty and that her legs had a bluish tinge, signs that often mean death is near.

His previous 12 ‘successes’ involved several people who weren’t moving, three who had turned green, four who had gone a bit stiff, and two were lying prone on the floor. In one spectacular diagnosis Oscar was found asleep on the face of one resident who only minutes before had fallen out of a cupboard.*

The debate ensued as to whether or not it was still legal to drown kittens at which point I tuned out, but it reminded me of the collective noun for a group of kittens. It’s a kindle. A kindle of kittens. Further investigation brought up this wonderful page which lists just about every collective noun going, and then some. Among my favourites:

  • a mischief of mice
  • a covey of ptarmigans
  • a pomp of Pekingese
  • a horde of hamsters
  • a babble of barbers
  • … and, from the Some That Might Be section, a shower of meteorologists and a jam of tarts. I’d add an egoplex of bloggers to that.

Whoever owns the website clearly has a preoccupation with English As She Is Spoke: this page features a treasure trove of resources for anyone with a passing interest in English and who wants to find out something fascinating about it.

* This paragraph is, of course, not true.

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Youch. Things to do with social media when your ear hurts.

I’ve got bad earache in one ear. Unfortunately I’ve been deaf in the other one since the age of five. The doctor’s quite worried and therefore, so am I. So it’s lots of antiobiotics for me and a possible emergency visit to the Ear Nose and Froat hospital tomorrow. Meanwhile I took the opportunity, while holding my ear with one hand, to update the blog and set up a wiki with the other.

I’ve added some new feeds, something I’ve been planning on doing for a while. They’re all detailed on the Subscribe page but while we’re at it:

  • Podcasts - is a new feed very like the PR, copywriting, journo and tech feeds in that it’s aggregated through Google Reader and squirted out here. I’d like to get my hands on more podcasts: PR Week seems to have loads but they don’t have a feed, and the PR Web site has lots of feeds covering everything it seems except PR, and their actual PR podcast is out of date and doesn’t have a feed either! So we currently have mostly the (excellent) Hobson and Holtz podcast but it would be nice to have more. Perhaps I should do one? I’ll need to be able to hear first.
  • Officially -  is aggregated news items from Yahoo News and Google News covering PR, journalism, copwriting and tech. This is originally what I had in my blogroll before I started to tease out the actual PR/journo/copywriting/tech blogs which are represented by the topmost four feeds on my blog.
  • Unofficially - is as above but aggregated from Google Blog Search, Digg, WordPress Tag Search, Blogcatalog, Bloglines, NewPR and Blogpulse – and therefore representing a largely ‘unofficial’ source of news being mostly from blog reactions. I just thought it would be nice to have two feeds that lump everything together as a ‘call-response’ kind of thing.

The main memory I will have of putting these together – aside from the painful lughole – is how looooong it took. It took me ages to get my head around Feedburner because sometimes new feeds just wouldn’t work, there seems to be an age of caching before it actually reacts to your changes, and I hate the ‘thisburner’ and ‘thatburner’ approach. For example, just to change the ‘A message from this feed’s publisher’ content took me several minutes before I remembered it’s hidden in the ‘Browserfriendly’ section, not the ‘Title/Description burner’ section. Google Reader is also horrendously slow, taking at least a minute to subscribe to each feed. And the WordPress widget section is also snail-like. All in all not a terribly satisfying session.

I also put together a Wiki. This was in response to Cyberjournalist.net’s initiative to set one up for journalists. I’m always on the lookout for good ideas to copy be inspired by, so I set one up for PR Blogs. It’s here, although I haven’t really done much to it yet. I realise that newer, trendier solutions such as Myspace or Facebook might do the job better but I wanted to do it just out of curiosity. I haven’t really publicised it or anything yet because I’m just playing around with it. Feel free to have a play, none of it is locked. I chose Wikispaces cos it gets good reviews, is easy to use, and has a feed. If people like it I might do something similar for copywriting (I imagine there are plenty of tech wikis out there…)

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What is Twitter for? Part II

I had some really interesting feedback to my recent Twitter post, and in my PR feed comes more today.

My take on Twitter was that 140 characters really isn’t enough to get across any meaningful message. However, JargonMaster is using it as a ‘taster’ for more content. This is like using Twitter as a portal to the ‘bigger’ content. The analogy with blogging is that you see a headline in an RSS reader and click it to read the full piece. Separation of headline and body. Perhaps that’s the true definition of micro-blogging. It’s a neat analogy with the head and tail of a long tail, in which the head is the (literal) headline and the content is the tail.

I like the way that you can give people tech and they think of innovative ways in which to use it. This is why I think Web 2.0 is not just about the changes in social behaviour, it’s this strange interplay between tech and social change. You go from the seed drill to the iron plough to subjucation of women. You go from Watt’s initial observation of steam from a kettle (although that’s apparently just PR propaganda), to steam-powered ships, railways, the internal combustion engine and electrical power generation. Meanwhile this precipitates urbanisation, Luddites and child labour. These things happened: they exposed more questions we had to ask of ourselves. More often than not – and I may be an idealist here – they came up with liberating ideas such as equality, democracy and accountability.

The Internet began with ARPANET, from which it takes its resilience, X.25 packet switching enabling content to be dissembled and reassembled around a network, and UUCP, a standard protocol for sharing content . On this network infrastucture Tim Berners-Lee overlaid his world-wide web open standard. Now we can see these heady concoctions changing everything: as Kraftwerk said, while I was piddling around on my ZX81, “Interpol and Deutsche Bank, FBI and Scotland Yard, Business, Numbers, Money, People.” At the time I had insuffient RAM even to fill a screen with characters. But my God, they were right.

Now we’ve gone from computer science, to information technology, to social media. Entire industries are shifting and realigning because of this. PR may benefit – it has always been about conversations so the more they are, the better – and advertising may not (who clicks a banner ad anymore?). Or it could be the other way around. Who can tell? Which futurologist predicted that texting would become so popular? Which one can accurately predict the future of social media enterprises we hadn’t heard of until months previously?

So, here’s the most interesting reaction to my post about Twitter. It’s so forward-looking and innovative that I’ll reproduce it in full, and point you towards its originator, Kyle from Engage in PR, who combines incisive comments on both tech and people and PR – essentially, the Holy Grail:

I’ve seen Twitter used to announce products, build WOM campaigns, help a CEO communicate with his customer-base and general brand building. All of these are direct to people who have chosen to listen (not always a liberty we in the PR world can realize).

Additionally we’ve also started using Twitter for ‘micropitching’ editors and it’s been effective, particularly with business pubs. Journalists have always asked for less from us PR types…Twitter kind of forces that point and teaches us all to be more concise.

Kyle even mentions the ideal of being concise. And as a copywriter, I fully endorse that.

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Good writing uses good arguments

Today I gave feedback on an article written by a company director which apparently the clients loved. However, the account manager wasn’t sure and passed it my way. Good job too. It was dreadful.

It was a stark illustration of why the world needs copywriters. I’m sure the person who wrote it knew what they were talking about but the thoughts were all jumbled up. The language was lazy and imprecise. It used a lot of clichés and kept shifting tenses and voices. But the main problem was that it didn’t pursue or build an argument.

It was interesting to see how not to do it. The article was supposed to be about how seemingly disparate societal events and technological developments can come together to provide powerful contemporary solutions. However, the writer had decided to adopt a similarly fragmented and unrelated approach to illustrate this. It could have been on purpose, but instead of building an argument it became a list.

If it was done on purpose then it gets to the heart of one of my bugbears: that people seem to think form and content need to reflect each other. For example, a rebrand a while back used turgid legalese where a simple copywriting job could have planted it firmly in the 21st Century rather than the 19th. As I said (and yes, I am citing myself here):

Just because something’s complicated and legal doesn’t mean you have to make it sound complicated and legal.

(On a sidenote you could probably add Waiting for Godot to this: a play about futility that makes one question the futility of having wasted two hours watching it.) 

My advice on how to improve the piece could probably be applied to any form of communication anywhere, but basically it was this:

  • First, sit down and think about your argument. Work out the ‘stepping stones’ from one area of logic to the next. Make it clear how the reader gets from one to the next. If you don’t understand your argument, no one else will. To take another analogy, imagine your logic steps are the bones of your argument – you need connective tissue to hold it together otherwise it just collapses and becomes a jumble (hey, I quite like that, I’ll have to use it again sometime).
  • Make your heading entertaining, witty, compelling, but above all make it relevant to what you’re going to talk about. Readers will only read it if they have interest in the subject matter. If you have problems with this, try blogging – it’s the best way to realise the importance of getting attention when you’re just one post on an entire Google Reader page. If you still have problems then write the piece and come back to the headline at the end (that’s actually what I do, and what I’ll end up doing with the title of this post).
  • In your introduction, tell people what you’re going to tell them. This is very like giving a presentation, the old adage being “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” You don’t have to go to the nth degree with this but you do need to give readers a context. Present your argument but leave it open-ended because it’s going to be your job to close it.
  • Throughout the piece make sure you follow the structure of your argument as worked out before you even started writing it. A good formula can be ‘for every opinion, give a proof point.’ I actually use this in my copy brief: when I ask clients to tell me what the points are that they want to make, I ask them to give me proof for each one. If they don’t have proof then they don’t have a point.
  • Finally, tie the ends up in your conclusion. But note, you didn’t wait until the conclusion to do this: you indicated what you were going to talk about in the introduction. You didn’t give it all away in the intro either, you merely gave a taster.
  • There are tricks and techniques you can use along the way. For example in the intro you can leave a question hanging in the air before going into the piece, so you can say “some people think it’s A, other people think it’s B, but what is the truth?” Or you can start with an illustration or analogy or case study to kick off with. In the conclusion it can be nice, as ever, to say “the truth probably lies somewhere in between”, so that you’re giving credence to both positions but bringing your third alternative in with a flourish at the end. And overall, as I’ve said before, try going through it in your head as if you were telling a friend about it in the pub. In fact, take the golden opportunity to go to the pub anyway.

I’m not pretending I could run a company, but equally, if I could, I wouldn’t pretend I could write. Although thinking about it, perhaps that’s why I don’t run a company.

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The Power150 goes from strength to strength

adage.jpg

Todd Andrlik’s Power150 ranking of top marketing blogs is joining forces with Advertising Age, the world’s leading marketing and media publication.

It looks like his metrics will be used as the editorial benchmark when referencing bloggers in print and online (quite literally looks like it – that’s what the pullquote graphic says).

Todd’s inspired a plethora of other tables, including my own PowerPR index which stepped on his toes a bit, although I’ve moved away from his metrics somewhat. I could never replicate his bloglines figures nor did I really take to his subjective ‘Todd And’ rating which I don’t think has a place in any objective index. Perhaps that will now be removed, or formalised more. Perhaps, like me, Todd will start to bring in more metrics such as Google Blog mentions which I think are valid counterparts to Yahoo Links. I’d also like to see more ongoing stats showing risers, fallers, and perhaps the weekly highest risers and fallers and most active blogs. Not that this is trading, you understand, but a snapshot of the state of the PR blogosphere. Not so much an index as a weather forecast, perhaps.

What does this mean for my own lowly attempts to create my own index? It was never intended to compete with the Power150 – nor could it, because his is totally automated and updated daily whereas mine has been compiled manually although I’m working on a rudimentary form of automation right now. I think I can still get value from what I’m doing (so long as the software I’m using holds up – it already looks like it might not be up to the job), not least for myself personally to gain an insight into the idea of influence vs popularity which is what I set out to do in the first place. If I find it becomes too onerous a task – and part of me suspects this is why Todd’s getting backing for his index – I can always switch to compiling a smaller copywriting index of my very own instead.

But mostly I hope the Power150 does become a benchmark. We need one. And if Advertising Age endorses his, then I hope we all will. It might settle some arguments about how exactly to measure this strange blogosphere of ours and whereas I have recently sunk from 255 to 267 on the ‘honourable mentions‘ list, at least it’s honourable.

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PR, and my feet

I’ve been away to a music festival in Wales – called Sheep Music – for the past three days.  The day before that, we had our office party. So, I’m a bit tired and emotional today.

I had an interesting conversation with our legal counsel at the party. Turns out when he started, he didn’t have a clue what PR was about either. People would ask him “So, what exactly is PR anyway?” and he would blather about ‘influencing the media’ without really knowing what he meant. Over time he has a clearer idea but his experience very much echoes mine.

I think the problem with PR is that it’s invisible. One can picture ‘an advert’, which I guess you could call the atom of the advertising industry. So, one can imagine that it’s quantifiable (how many adverts, where are they, how many people saw them etc) and people ‘get it’. But PR is almost the exact opposite. It’s only after time in the industry that you start being able to spot what looks like PR-originated material – the polls, the research results, generally the ‘soft’ news.

So given that PR is invisible, and that I class good communication as invisible, does this mean PR is good communication?

Let’s get back to basics. Some things are much easier to understand. My feet, for example. I want this blog to be professionally edifying and stimulating but I just couldn’t resist posting these pictures. One is of my feet on Offa’s Dyke circa 2002. The other is of my feet circa July 21 2007. Given recent weather conditions, see if you can guess which is which. And I know I’d like to preserve my anonymity so if you can identify me by my feet, well I guess that’s a risk I have to take.

 foot2.jpg foot1.jpg

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What is Twitter for, exactly?

I was discussing Twitter with a colleague the other day and we came to the conclusion that really, we don’t know what it’s for. Neither do a lot of other people.

Even The Guardian is perplexed. It mentions that futurist Warren Ellis uses Twitter. Well, that’s just great for him, but with things moving so fast and in such unpredictable ways, can futurists get this stuff right any more? These new social media sites seem to come from nowhere then everyone is talking about them. Had you heard of Twitter, Facebook or even Second Life more than, say, six months ago? And could anyone really have foreseen that texting would become the force it now is?

It could be that its success is down to doing just one thing well and its seeming readiness to be taken into other platforms. It could also be that it’s a form of micro-blogging. However, it seems to me that whereas blogging is about sharing content, Twitter is absolutely about building communities. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it’s the cheapest way to amass a community and monetise it. The actual 140 character message is largely irrelevant. It’s just a way of forming massively valuable data about social groups without just asking people to link for the hell of it.

I have to say that frankly I cannot think of a good, solid PR use for it. Nor any other use come to that.

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Are PR bloggers declining or rising?

The World’s Leading has posted an excellent piece of research on the apparently declining frequency of UK PR blogging. It fair caught my eye, not least because of the title (“UK PR bloggers giving up the ghost..?”) given the name of this blog.

He’s had a hunch that the frequency of blogging overall has been declining, but has taken that crucial extra step of actually finding out whether this is the case. And, by Jove, he’s right!

After what must have taken a month of Sundays to compile, he’s totalled the number of posts made by nine prominent bloggers, and the chart looks like this:

slide12.jpg

Can you see what I see? Yes, there is a definite downward trend here – although it could just be me but it seems to have a slight recovery towards the end.

For someone who loves compiling sets of figures this is great stuff. I’m currently setting about crudely automating my data gathering for the PowerPR index – which is why it hasn’t been updated for a while – and as part of this it had occurred to me that I could, just as an interesting exercise, add up the totals across all blogs, both for individual metrics (eg total Technorati Authority) and for the whole lot. This would give a similar indication not necessarily as to the number of posts or frequency, but as to the size of the PR blogosphere (or, rather, the size of my little PR blogosphere according to my PR blogroll – more a sort of PR blogalaxy in the blogverse, or a little fluffy PR blogcloud in the blogosphere perhaps).

There are several comments on the TWL post trying to account for this pattern. My take on it is that you would need to look at the age of the blogs to get a true picture of what’s going on. New blogs will probably start with a post a day, then tail off as the blogger sets a routine. So perhaps the declining number of posts is just an indicator of a growing maturity in the PR blogs measured, in which case one would hope this reflects a greater quality of posting. I could be wrong – I could be very wrong in fact – but my gut feeling, as with TWL’s initial gut feeling, is that I tend to post a bit less but that I’ve found my blog ‘voice’ and have crystallised some of my views and themes since starting. Thing is, how do you measure this? As with the copywriter’s lot in a PR agency, it’s hard to tell. I just have to hope that the metrics I use in the PowerPR index indicate that I’m doing something right. 

But wait! Do you really have to post every day? I read a piece in a blog the other day – and I wish I could find it, but cannot – which put forward the idea that really, although it’s good practice to do so, you don’t have to. How often do you notice whether a blogger has taken a bit of time off from day to day? So this goes back to my original thinking: perhaps the chart reveals a maturity in posting rather than a decline.

Great stuff by TWL though, and a genuine contribution to understanding the current state of PR blogging.

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