Got it slightly wrong.

I was just working on some aspects of the PowerPR index – or whatever I’m going to call it cos I don’t like that name any longer – and suddenly had a slightly uncomfortable feeling that my ‘Which metric is the most important’ may not have been strictly correct.

I just added up the figures I posted, and the average for Technorati Authority is not, as I claimed, 9.4. If you simply copy those figures I posted, paste them into a spreadsheet and average out the differences, it comes to 4.81.

It looks like I got everything right up until the very last equation for averaging the differences. This is akin to Deep Thought getting to the very last calculation when figuring out the meaning of life, and screwing up ‘what do you get if you multiply six by nine’ to get 42.

I can only apologise for this. I got a lot of hits on that post and was quite pleased with the analysis.

So the actual variances pan out like this (believe me, I’ve checked and double- and triple-checked these, and then some):

  • Technorati Authority=4.81
  • Technorati Rank=9.51
  • Technorati Inboundlinks=5.37
  • Yahoo Inlinks=10.66
  • Google Hits=9.93
  • Google Blog Hits=8.52
  • Google Blog Hits over a month=9.88
  • Blogpulse Hits=8.91
  • Blogpulse Hits over 180 days=6.85
  • Looking at these figures, they tell me that Technorati Authority is the best predictor of performance as it is the lowest figure. That is, a blog would only change places, on average, around 5 times if I ranked purely according to Technorati Authority. And now, I see that Yahoo Inlinks, far from being the most accurate predictor as originally stated, is in fact the least. Ouch. 

    If none of this means anything to you then I suggest you take a look at the original posting, complete with contrite edits. I felt I needed to clarify my position here because that post actually got the most hits of any post I’ve ever made. Which means I’ve now made a fool of myself in front of a record number of people. At least I’m an honest fool.

    In fact, I’m so honest that if anyone would like to see the calculations I used for these figures then please just ask.

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    Podcasting tips

    podcasting.jpgI keep hearing podcasts that just need some really simple fixes to make a big difference to their audio quality.

    Having been on a crash-course in radio production, and running the Studio 31 facility at Porter Novelli, I know that there are certain standards you must adhere to in radio. This is why you can generally listen to programme after programme without constantly adjusting the volume.

    Not so podcasting. I find I keep having to adjust the volume between podcasts, and some of them are frankly unlistenable. They’re either too harsh, dull, hissy or quiet, especially when listening on the Tube. It’s similar to listening to music compilations from different sources, where you’ll find that different production approaches have yielded different volumes. And, again, I can vouch for this after over six years of home audio production.

    The good news is that some simple measures can help achieve a good, consistent sound quality:

    • Record at the highest bitrate your device can muster. CD quality is 44.1kHz. While you don’t need to go higher than that, never record below 32kHz. This is for two reasons: it gives simply better audio quality; and it helps avoid the distortion you can hear sometimes when the signal gets too hot (also known as ‘clipping’). Distortion is only too easy to introduce to a recording but virtually impossible to remove once it’s there. The downside is that your audio files will be larger but, possibly counterintuitively, it won’t make any difference to the size of the MP3 file that pops out the other end.
    • Record in mono. You don’t need stereo for podcasts. And it saves filespace.
    • Check your levels. The distortion comes when the needles or LEDs hit the red. Ease off a little and give yourself plenty of space between your peak levels and the red line, but don’t make it too quiet because then it becomes hissy. You want a nice hot signal that isn’t sizzling.
    • Be careful with environment. I’ve been caught out so many times by recording something then realising there was a noise in the background – the central heating, the fridge in the kitchen, even a car in the distance that you didn’t realise was there. This is because hearing is different from recording: we actually filter a lot of noise out ourselves, while recording picks everything up indiscriminately. I know the environment is difficult to control but be mindful of it. Ideally you’re looking for a quiet, carpeted room with as many soft furnishings as possible.
    • Get a decent microphone. I use an AKG C1000 for my vocal recordings but I’m sure there will be loads of recommendations out there, particularly as podcasting grows in popularity. There are also interesting variations nowadays such as nice, portable USB mics that you just plug into your laptop/PC/recording device with no other cables or controls to  worry about.
    • Download Audacity and play around with it to see what you can do. Whatever audio software you use, try and read up on compression and equalisation. Compression is where you reduce the dynamic range of a recording so that quieter bits become louder, and loud bits go quieter. This can smooth out volume imbalances. Equalisation filters out or augments different frequencies in the audio spectrum. So, you could filter out low-end rumble if you’re above a tube line, or high-end hiss if you’re near a waterfall. There’s a lot more audio trickery you can do but these two are key.

    Hope this helps!

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    A personal PR disaster

    Virgin Trains needs to think about crisis management. 

    This morning I found an email in my inbox from Virgin Trains, delivered yesterday. On opening it, there was a profuse apology about rail works that had not been completed by the dates I wanted to travel. I could either continue to travel via a seemingly endless loop of replacement buses, or cancel and get a refund. I opted to cancel.

    It seemed so easy: “For a full refund please click here” with a convenient link below it. “Fair enough,” I thought. “I’ll hire a car instead.” It wasn’t, after all, a situation of their making.

    And that’s where the grief started. The link *didn’t* take me to a refund page. It took me to a page that I had to log into, and then find the Refund link (it’s at the bottom). I then had to select the booking I wanted to cancel – twice (there’s only one) – then read through a page of content before I could finally get to the refund page. Then I was advised to print off the web page, attach my tickets, and send them through. Well, guess what? I don’t have a printer at home. And I don’t have access to a work printer now I’m on holiday either.

    So we now have to send the tickets through by mail, with a piece of paper with our transaction number written on it.

    This whole process took about ten minutes, with two of us, both pretty tech-literate, looking for where we should be clicking on the web pages. We were already annoyed that we had to be doing this, but the web experience made it much worse.

    And the answer is so simple. Give people a ‘click here to refund’ link that actually works. This is a specific case, so put specific mechanisms in place to deal with it. Take people directly to their booking, even if they have to log in, and make it all happen instantly, together with an apology in big letters. Just make people’s lives easier because the technology is surely there to do it.

    And, of course, a phone call would have been much better still. The Virgin brand is about championing the consumer (it says here), and delivering a quality product / experience . I don’t feel I’ve been championed, and I have certainly not just had a quality experience.

    But they probably have a bit of a nightmare on their hands right now, given that they’re affecting many people’s travel plans for the New Year. Which is why they’ve sent an email and hidden behind the technology as much as possible. Not clever, and, I would say, the actions of a company without a decent crisis management plan in place, or indeed a joined-up communications strategy that holds brand values dear to its heart.

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    Brendan Cooper: Social media planner!

    If you build it, they will come. That was part of my grand design when starting this blog. And, it worked. In the new year I will no longer be a tech copywriter. I’ll be a social media planner! Leaping from tree to tree as they float down the mighty rivers of British Columbia (see right).

    This will involve me keeping one eye on current best practice while rolling the other, chameleon-like, towards the future to take a view on emergent sites / technologies / practices. And catching flies with my prehensile tongue and changing colour at will. I’ll also be evangelising internally and proselytising externally so I’ll get out and about a bit more.

    It’s a great opportunity for me and I can’t wait to get cracking at it.

    Also, I’ve finally been allowed to say that I still work for the wonderful Porter Novelli. Go and have a gander at the website – it’s my work so you’ll get to see more of what I do. And, as we capitalise on our knowledge and experience, you can expect that to develop too.

     So it’s not so much a move as a redirect, as per when I became brendancooper.com instead of thefriendlyghost.wordpress.com.

    Anyways, this means I’ll get to make lots of interesting, informative and hopefully useful posts as I more fully immerse myself in a hot bath of social media every day, instead of the occasional playful shower. This blog might see some aesthetic changes but I think that’ll be about it. So, business as usual, but more of it, and better!

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    NewPR has done R.U.N.N.O.F.T.

    For quite some time I’ve had a NewPR link in my footer, so that people can submit my posts on the NewPR site. However, I just discovered, the NewPR site doesn’t even exist anymore. Or rather, it does, but it’s been completely reworked, and I don’t like it.

    NewPR used to be quite a neat idea: a Digg-clone, but for the PR community. This made it akin to a vertical search engine, in that it provided a good resource of quality content for a specific topic.

    But it’s changed. Now, instead of seeing a nice, functional page entitled ‘News for the people, by the people’, I get what I would, if I were less educated in such matters, call ‘a load of marketing bollocks’. It looks like Salesforce have taken it over and are trying to convert it into a community-based ‘ideas’ resource.

    Problem is, it looks all wrong. It doesn’t ‘look’ like a Digg, or even a Twitter, or even a del.icio.us – that is, not like a resource that gets you up, running and in the thick of a community and its content asap. It’s packaged too much like an application and has ‘a load of marketing bollocks’ forming a barrier between me and what I want to look at.

    The proposition at the top – ‘Leverage the Power of Community to Bubble the Best Ideas to the Top’ – puts me off right away, not least because I hate the word leverage. And, believe me, I want to blah-blah the power of community blah-blah, and I was once able to on NewPR, but not anymore.

    So, it’s bye-bye NewPR. Pity. It was such a good idea someone else should re-invent it.

    Twitter maintenance: the official and unofficial stories

    So Twitter is ‘performing maintenance’. It’s still down at the time of writing. They’ve been very transparent and, so the reasoning goes, credible in their dealings, giving regular updates on their blog as they go along.

    Thing is, I’ve worked in enough environments where software is provided as a service to get an insight into what’s really happening behind the scenes.

    It starts off innocently enough:

    We announced on Friday that we were going to be doing some maintenance on Twitter all day today. It turns out we were able to do most of the work without taking Twitter offline. It may have been better referred to as a “maintenance window” but we wanted to make sure you were aware just the same.

    … but then, in the words of Jeff Goldblum, “aah, that’s how it always starts, and then later the running and screaming…”

    Officially… But unofficially…

    Update (12/17 12a): We ran into a minor glitch and will be taking 1 more hour of down-time. Thank you for your patience!

    It’s a bit screwed. Our chief developer just got that horrible sinking feeling when she pressed the big red button. The analysts are blaming the programmers, the programmers are blaming the testers. The project manager is hiding in the toilet.

    Update (12/17 3a): We’re slowly bringing services back up. You’ll probably see some slowness for a while. We hope to be back up to speed before your finish your bagel and coffee, NYC.

    We rolled back to where we began. Now, we’re going back through the deployment, module by module, to find what’s broken, and running diagnostics. We hope to be back up to speed by the time someone has bought us bagels and coffee.

    Update (12/17 5a): We’re still working on fixing some issues causing massive slowness site-wide. We’re on it.

    It’s totally screwed. Something’s gone badly wrong. We don’t know what it is. Remember that scene in Scanners when that dude’s head explodes?

    Update (12/17 6a): We’re waiting on a fix to our network switch which we’ve determined is causing the slowness we’re seeing. More soon.

    It’s not our fault. We can all blame it on the network switch. Phew! Now, where are those bagels…?

    This is, of course, all totally fictitious and not remotely intended to be a true reflection of Twitter the organisation, corporate entity or service, or any of its employees…

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    New social media feed and OPML file

    In a moment (ok, couple of hours) of idleness I just assembled a social media feed. You can see it to the right of this blog, busily churning out social-media-related items. I also channel this into my ‘officially’ and ‘unofficially’ feeds, which give overviews of blogging and news respectively from the tech, copywriting, journalist, PR and now social media worlds.

    I should add that I didn’t compile the social media list myself. Oh no. I came across a fantastic page which lists and describes the top 100 social media sites. There’s no explanation of why they’re ‘top’, that is, no metrics, but for once I don’t care. It’s a tremendous effort, but sadly the page itself currently seems to be down (it’s at http://www.virtualhosting.com/blog/2007/top-100-social-media-and-social-networking-blogs/ and it’s currently returning a server error). So I used the cached version instead. I don’t know how long that will stick around so I’ve even saved it locally and I swear, if it does disappear, I’ll host it here.

    Meantime, after assembling the feeds, I realised I had a nice clean OPML file that I could share. This is mainly because Google Reader slowed down so much that I used an old account instead, cleared out the subscriptions, and built it all up from scratch. The file has most of the blogs on that page, although some don’t appear to have feeds. It also conveniently pigeonholes them all into their categories as per that page too. I’m not sure I agree with all the categorisation, but it’s a starting point.

    So, feel free to:

    • Subscribe to the Social Media feed - just click here, or on the feed to the right, or take a look at my subscribe page for more details
    • Download the OPML file for the social media blogs. To do this, right-click here and save the file, then import it into your news aggregator. I’m seriously considering doing this for the blogs on the PowerPR list too now so watch this space…

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    Ye Gods, that’s awful

    The Tube PR chief has been given the boot for a possibly ill-informed jibe.

    Backstory: a few weeks ago voice-over artist Emma Clarke produced some spoof announcements. Given that she’s ‘the voice’ of the Tube, eloquently asking people to Mind the gap, they’re really quite funny. However, London Underground had a serious sense of humour failure and sacked her. It’s possibly unsurprising. I would certainly think twice or even thrice before publicly lampooning any client.

    However, Dan Hodge, PR boss for LUL, went a bit doolally in his response, saying Ms Clarke might suffer ‘severe delays’ in receiving further commissions from the organisation. It looks like he has now also been fired. Her reaction is the title of this blog.

    I have to admit that, on reading about it at the time, a little tiny part of me (that is, my brain) thought it was possibly a bit flippant. Especially so considering the controversy centered around damage to LUL’s brand by shining a light on its (manifold and manifest) shortcomings. He fought fire with fire rather than a large bucket of icy water.

    So, does humour belong in PR? I think the answer is probably ‘yes, a bit, but not at your client’s expense.’

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