Forget bad hair days, I’ve had a bad tech week

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Sometimes, nothing seems to work properly.

This week I had a sudden flash of inspiration: how about importing an RSS feed into a Google Spreadsheet, creating a chart from it, then publishing that chart as an image? You could then produce your own charts for RSS feeds. Wonderful.

A quick test showed that yes, you can publish an image. Fab. Further research showed that the importfeed function was what I needed to bring in an RSS feed. I kind of knew that because I'd used importxml and importhtml in the past. Only one snag: it didn't work. Whatever I tried, it just returned 'N/A''.

Since then I've looked around and found blog posts that illustrate how importfeed works, and they show the same error. Even the Google Help shows this error. I haven't had a response from Google Forums and I've emailed the people running those blogs, but no response so far. Which leads me to conclude that a fantastically useful function, which I'd really really really like to use, doesn't work any more.

Second this week: Netvibes. I had an opportunity to put a dashboard together for a premium client, on the back of a major press release. Initially everything was fine, but slowly it started to misbehave. Eventually I'd put the thing together but needed to delete an extraneous widget. So I deleted it, everything fine. An hour later I looked, and the widget had returned. "Weird", I thought, and deleted it again, and tweaked another. An hour later, it was back again, and the tweak had disappeared. So I moved it, and archived it. This time, an hour later, there were two widgets instead: that is, two widgets I didn't want there, which a client could see.

Now I know Netvibes isn't a professional solution and I couldn't really honour any kind of SLA with it, but it was pretty frustrating that I couldn't get this to work. It works now, fine. But it didn't then, when I needed it to.

Finally, over the week I've noticed that Backtype has stopped producing RSS feeds for searches. I found Backtype incredibly useful as a monitoring tool to see comments – that is, key indicators of engagement. This time I did get support: Backtype responded to my tweets asking what was going on. Unfortunately they've confirmed what I thought. You can't just specify a search and get an RSS off it, that I can see. You can only monitor comments to specific posts. My problem is that I need to know what those specific posts are first, in order to monitor them! I'd much rather have something that guides me to the posts I need to monitor. That is, I'd rather it worked the way it used to.

Unfortunately at the time of posting the entire service seems to have keeled over. It just gives a 502: Gateway error right now, which I don't think I've ever seen before so it must be bad. I'm guessing they've decided to stop the RSS-from-search because their servers were in danger of melting, but it looks to me like the changes they've implemented are experiencing teething troubles. What a pity.

And that's it. That's been my week. Three very useful things that haven't worked properly for me. Sometimes, I do wonder whether it's better to go back to paper and pencil. Or maybe just banging the rocks together.

Posted via email from Brendan Cooper – your friendly social media-savvy freelance copywriter and social media consultant.

links for 2010-02-27

What are people saying about… PR?

This is another in a series of posts in which I set up dashboards to get an overview of what people are saying, and where they’re saying it.

This time: PR. Public Relations. The art and science of spin, persuasion, influence. Whatever you want to call it, the chances are that today, you read, watched, saw or listened to something that had a PR agency behind it, and you didn’t even know it. More importantly, the likelihood is that somewhere down the line – not today, not tomorrow, but sometime, to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart – you will make a choice that was influenced by that ‘thing’ you read/watched/saw/heard. You may not like this idea, but it’s true. That’s why the entire industry – plus advertising, plus marketing – exists.

Anyway, click here to see the dashboard, or click the image below (if Posterous will let me include the image this time, that is):

I initially set out with this dashboard to throw in EVERYTHING – that is, social video, photo, comments, networks, news, the whole kit and caboodle. After a day or so of watching the results come in I started to tweak the keywords. At first it seemed fairly obvious: it’s just ‘PR’ or ‘Public Relations’, innit? Sadly, no. Here are some of the keywords you need to exclude:

  • Phrases for which ‘PR’ is short-hand. To wit: “Project Reality”, “proportional representation”, “page rank”, “power ranger” and not forgetting the world-famous “Pakatan Rakyat”.
  • Words that PR agencies tended to use to promote themselves, such as ‘sizzle’ (as in ‘sizzle reel’). I wasn’t interested in what PR agencies said about themselves. I wanted to know what people were saying about them.
  • Weird stuff. ‘Hockey’. ‘Football’. And ‘Run of the Cat’. No, really. Check it out on YouTube (don’t worry, it’s not rude).

After a while I started to get closer to what I was really after. I wanted specifically to know what people thought or felt about PR, not just what they were saying about it. So I started feeding phrases such as “I think PR”, “I feel PR”, “I don’t know if PR”, and so on. This was quite successful in giving an overview not of what people were saying about PR, but how they were affected by it.

Then, again, I realised it would be much more interesting to distil even further. So let’s look at a ‘Blair binary’. Let’s look at people who love PR, and people who hate PR. This is #PRLove and #PRWin, directly compared.

So, that’s what I’ve done. I’ve pared this right down so you can see the phrases ‘I love PR’ and ‘I love Public Relations’ compared directly with their counterparts ‘I hate PR’ and ‘I hate Public Relations’.

And you know what? Many more people seem to love it than hate it. This surprised me – a lot.

Way back in time Jonathan Hopkins created the #PRFail Tumblr blog so that people could generally whinge and moan about the state of the PR nation. In reaction, I created #PRWin to balance the books. #PRFail won, by quite some distance, and this told me that there was a vast, fetid, pus-filled ocean of ire and resentment reserved especially for the PR specialists.

But this dashboard tells me something different. Go and take a look. There are more tweets that love PR than hate it. There are so few ‘hate PR’ tweets that at the time of writing, no one has actually issued a tweet containing the phrase ‘I hate PR’ or ‘I hate Public Relations’. Ah, there we go – ok, some people have, but not many.

So, there you have it. Love and hate, the two basic drivers of human instinct, all neatly packaged into one dashboard. It might be interesting to extend this to advertising and marketing, just to see how we’re all faring relative to each other. And I’m working on a way to display stacked charts showing numbers of mentions for each platform in near real-time. All that needs to happen to make that possible is for Google to fix its importfeed function. Then we’ll be laughing. Ha ha.

Posted via email from Brendan Cooper – your friendly social media-savvy freelance copywriter and social media consultant.

links for 2010-02-23

Online outreach needs to be more touchy-feely, less reachy-outy


There are plenty of posts out there about how bad some email pitches can be. I generally don’t like to accentuate the negative but today I received two pitches that both ably demonstrated one poor aspect of pitching: personalisation.

The first pitch of the day came into my inbox pretty much demanding that I look at something. It was very direct, which I suppose is good for call to action but by the time I’d read it I felt like the greased, naked woman having a glove shoved into her face on the Spinal Tap album cover. I usually do actually respond to these pitches offering advice on how to improve them but on this occasion, because the emailer’s last line was “Go and see it”, I just replied ‘No’. I’m never at my most accommodating early in the morning.

The second just came through. It was nicely set out, reasonably polite but… never mentioned me or my blog, not even my name at the top.

And this is the problem. When I’ve pitched journalists by phone I’ve made sure I know who the journo is, what they’re up to, and why they might be interested in what I have to sell them.

Online outreach should be exactly the same. I’m not implying you need to read the blogger for weeks beforehand – it’s impossible and doesn’t scale – but you could very easily spend five minutes to find ONE thing that they’ve posted, even on their first page, that relates to the subject in hand. Then mention it. Say something like “I really like what you wrote about this” or “Your take on that is very interesting.”

That’s all it takes. Just one thing that tells me you really have looked and that it really would be in my interest to take it up. Otherwise I just feel like I’ve been ‘reached’ and not ‘touched’.

And always, always try and put the blogger’s name at the top. Mine is in big letters at the top of my blog. It’s even in my URL. So use it!

PS Apologies for all those of you who received this post with some weird brackets in them. I’m still getting the hang of Posterous…

Posted via email from Brendan Cooper – your friendly social media-savvy freelance copywriter and social media consultant.

links for 2010-02-22

PR on The Bottom Line with Evan Davis

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I like podcasts. I like the way you can listen to them, often absent-mindedly, staring into the distance, instead of actually concentrating on anything. I like the way you can listen to them wherever you are on – on the tube, in the car, in the bath – without necessarily having access to the web because they've already been downloaded.

But most of all I like the way you get to know the podcasters. Text is terrible for personality; audio is much better. Audio/video is probably best – actually, in person is best – but audio's good. If you like listening to your radio, you'll like podcasts.

I like social media and business podcasts, and I really like Evan Davis's The  Bottom Line podcast. Evan doesn't lack personality and it comes across well. You can often hear him having a little giggle in the background. In particular, you can hear him giggle in the latest podcast, which talks about PR.

The typical format for The Bottom Line is that they get in three experts, and this week they have Julia Hobsbawm (Chief Executive of Editorial Intelligence), Tim Bell (Chairman of Chime Communications) and Robert Phillips (Chief Executive of Edelman UK). You can find out more about them, with links, at The Bottom Line webpage.

Together, they discuss PR. It's fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. Fascinating because it's interesting to hear their takes on the subject, and frustrating because a lot of what I heard was quite, well, bollocksy. I have a real problem with the way PR presents itself. PR people seem to have difficulty getting across exactly what it is they do without lapsing into mention of engagement, dialogue, leveraging and so on. Evan Davis expresses this frustration himself.

Tim Bell offered the classical definition of third-party endorsement and didn't seem to want to budge from that even though social media is turning things on their head. Robert Phillips was keen to talk about how great Edelman were. And Julia Hobsbawn seemed surprised to be on the show at all given she isn't in PR any more, and I got the distinct impression she wasn't in PR for the same reasons I get frustrated with it. On a few occasions they were both nicely wound up by Tim Bell who seems to enjoy playing devil's advocate. I guess it helps when you have the urbane demeanour of a Lord.

For me the most interesting part was their discussion about Toyota, how they'd done everything wrong and they're in deep doo-doo. But I won't be prescriptive: listen to it yourself and make your own mind up.

I might even send this link to my parents who still don't quite get what it is I do. Maybe I can't explain myself either.

Btw, I'm hoping my posts are getting a bit better. I've got the hang of links and I even ventured to put a picture in this time, and some tags. I'm still sticking with Posterous and finding that GMail's interface is quite limited. Maybe that's the point?

Are Eurostar finally ‘getting it’?

So I just noticed in my Twitter feed that someone called eurostarcomms has asked me to take a look at the Eurostar reaction to the Independent report.

The microsite's pretty good – go and take a look at http://independentreview.eurostar.com/.

Main thing is, however, that on it I notice they have been doing outreach to other people too. This is even better. It implies that they've taken the time to see who talked about them, and are now taking even more time to tell them what they're up to. This is much, much, much better than an organisation that didn't even have its own Twitter ID (which is presumably why they're using eurostarcomms, because 'eurostar' had been hijacked). As a result they get coverage from people like me who like this sort of thing.

A brief recap: all Eurostar's trains stopped working just before Christmas. I posted about it with a dashboard – see http://brendancooper.com/2009/12/23/what-are-people-saying-about-eurostar/ – and so I guess that's why they've tweeted me.

A final thought: if Eurostar was to rail travel was T5 was to air travel, what about Toyota? It's probably a bit late to put together a similar 'crisis management' dashboard for the stricken company, but it's shaping up to be the Eurostar – or T5 – of road travel.

And one final final thought: I'm still trying to get Posterous to behave. I am now putting double hard returns between paras to see if it looks any better. And I still don't know how to use tags (someone said I need to put them in brackets in the title?). And Thunderbird posts to the wrong place, so I have to continue using GMail. But GMail doesn't support images. Bum.

Posted via email from Brendan Cooper – your friendly social media-savvy freelance copywriter and social media consultant.