#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.

If you don’t want gurus then don’t call them gurus!

A recent post by Mark Ragan reminded me of a post I’ve had swirling around in my brain recently. His post is pretty bang on the money – of course he’s right that, as a general principle, we shouldn’t use jargon. But who’s ‘we’? Who are ‘them’? What are I?

Well apparently I’m a guru. I never told people I was a guru. I don’t walk around wearing a loin cloth. I never held my arm in the air for 50 years until it atrophied. Nor have I sat on a windswept mountain and heard the sound of one hand clapping (actually I did once hear that, but it’s a long story).

So, when I was a web designer, pre-FrontPage and Dreamweaver or even basic HTML editing utilities, I was called an HTML guru. Then I became a designer, and was a design guru, apparently. Then I became a copywriter and I was an apostrophe guru (no, really). Then, when I got into social media, I became – you guessed it – a social media guru. I never called myself that. I was introduced as that. People would say, proudly, “And here is Brendan, our social media guru” as if touring the museum of curiosities. I would smile politely then return to picking nits out of my fur.

So Mark Ragan is right. We need fewer gurus. I agree. I’ve said so too in the past (good grief was that really so long ago?)

But I think there’s another trend I’m seeing this year, which is a bit more pernicious. There seems to be a general movement to ‘kick out the gurus’. This anti-guru movement seems to boil down to the following argument: social media was taken up by early adopters who don’t really know how to ‘do social media properly'; social media is essentially marketing; so now, it’s time to bring in the real marketeers, people who know how to ‘do social media properly’.

Again, I’m all for driving out the snakeoil salesmen – but hang about: who called us gurus in the first place? It wasn’t us!

Think about this. Who did you first employ as a social media specialist? Or who did you first ask to look into social media within your organisation? Were they fully qualified marketing types? Were they measurement addicts, or management specialists? Were they, in short, the kind of people we all seem to be asking to come in and sort out the social media house?

Or were they people who seemed to ‘fit’ naturally into this strange, new, online space, and bring a variety of skills to bear? So, some of you might have hired someone because they used to be a web designer and they’re comfortable with the web; or maybe they were copywriters who can identify stories and carry messages; or possibly they were web-savvy PR people who wanted to see how to port PR across to the web. Or some, or all, or none of the above but something much more exotic and interesting.

And then you called them gurus. And now you want to get rid of them because they’re gurus.

Social media is far from a settled issue. Networks are being born (Quora), growing (Foursquare), or even getting a bit creaky (dare I say Google?). It’s still messy out there. You still need a native curiosity about it, otherwise you’ll just get left behind. Most of the people who I know working in social media today are simply that: curious people, who try their best to make sense of online conversations to the benefit of their organisations or clients. Calling them gurus is doing them a gross disservice.

So before you demote them to the social media helpdesk, having brought in some big shiny new gun who’s going to wrestle it from the gurus and turn social media into dollars, don’t forget: they were the ones who you turned to first, and tried their best to make it work. It would make much more sense to help them succeed rather than kick them down. And to help them do this? Don’t call them gurus.

2011 social media predictions

So while I have my blogging head on – hot off the news that Delicious is disappearing and Facebook has undergone yet another redesign – I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on the state of the social media nation for the coming year. It’s not all good. Here we go…

Confidence will go down

Social media lives in the cloud (or ‘online’ as we used to say). This is good, in that the cloud is a wonderful thing where you can pool computing resources and readily share information. But its fluidity is a problem. I’ve already written about my dislike of the state of ‘permanent beta’ of such services, and with the recent make-over of Facebook, I remain annoyed. The bigger a site gets, the more we depend on it. The more it changes, the less we like it – not just because we have to relearn it, but strategists have to go back to the blueprints, trainers have to re-do all their materials, and so on. And that’s nothing compared to what happens when sites like Delicious just disappear. How can you invest time and effort, how can you plan, when you don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months, let alone the next year?

Monetisation will continue to be a problem

Yahoo owns the biggest bookmarking service around, and it cannot make money off it. Twitter, as far as I’m aware, still doesn’t have a monetisation strategy. I don’t quite understand how Mark Zuckerberg can be so rich off the back of Facebook. Anyone remember the dotcom boom and bust? Social media feels horribly similar, in that I believe the people who make money off social media right now are the ones who get paid to assess its value. It’s very like the old gold rushes – the ones who got rich were the ones who sold the spades to dig for the gold, not the poor fools actually looking for it.

PR still won’t ‘get it’

I still feel my temples throb when I meet up with digital colleagues at PR agencies, who recount phrases they continue to come across such as “Let’s do some blogging stuff” or “Maybe we should send some tweets out.” Social media is still new, but it’s gone from burbling helplessly in the cot to at least toddling. Four-plus years is enough for PR people to have understood the basics, but my anecdotal evidence suggests that PR people, while they are completely brilliant at issues, are unrivalled organisers and demon communicators, are completely at sea when it comes to the high-level strategy and the low-level nuts and bolts of getting through to people online. I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Freelancers will find it an increasingly tough gig

I admit I haven’t found the past year easy by any means. People rightly want the confidence of an agency behind their programmes in case I get run over by a bus. And if/when you do finally get a client who’s prepared to work with you in the longer term, again they quite rightly want to know your ‘secret sauce’ – and then do it for themselves.

Digital agencies will rise

While I find PR people don’t ‘get’ digital, I do find digital ‘gets’ PR. My prediction here is that, far from PR subsuming digital, it will eventually be the other way around. Digital agencies have the heft of a professional outfit, with a proper team structure and a wealth of expertise that, I think, will be the umbrella model for the future.

Social media curves will continue to go up, but results will continue to disappoint

I still find it astonishing that, for example, in 2010 there was more social media traffic than all years combined (trust me, it’s a valid statistic, but I cannot find the source for that right now). At the same time, broadcast and mainstream media just has those huge exposure figures that social media simply cannot compete with. Dan Sabbagh of The Guardian recently showed us this (and this time I do have a link): of the recent Alan Partridge Fosters YouTube videos he says: “The first episode has racked up 492,000 plays on YouTube at the time of writing, and while the latest episode, 5, has dropped to 135,000, [Henry Normal, the man who “minds the shop” at Partridge actor Steve Coogan’s production company Baby Cow] claims the results are a success, even though a new comedy on Channel 4 would expect to be seen by 1.5m to 2m viewers.” OK, so 15-minute YouTube clips are cheaper to disseminate but 135,000 views is NOTHING compared to 2 million viewers – regardless of trendy notions of ‘engagement’, ‘dialogue’ or ‘the network effect’.

Facebook will continue to dominate

Facebook is a juggernaut and it’s not going to slow down any time soon. This is a pity because the web was never meant to be a single-application platform. It was supposed to be a resilient, open resource through which information could freely – which also means anonymously – pass. One day Facebook will break and then we’ll all be sorry.

Dashboarding and curating will grow

I truly believe that every company should be monitoring what people are saying about it, its issues and its competitors, on a daily basis. Even if they don’t then engage, there is simply no excuse for not listening, especially when marvellous sites such as Netvibes make dashboarding easy as cake, a piece of pie. Set up an internal dashboard monitoring your competitors and what people are saying about them. That’s research. And have an external one showcasing what you say and the areas you want to ‘own’. That’s marketing. Where’s the harm in that?

Social media will only provably work for big companies that have stuff to sell

This is possibly the most controversial point here. Social media only works when it scales up. If you don’t have enough followers/members/contacts, it won’t work. People are the fuel that drives the social media engine. So smaller companies that genuinely want to engage will not see the benefit. However, larger companies that can command a large amount of interest online will see the benefit – and that will primarily be through selling. Take Dell, for example. It has sales that have grown, year on year, from 1 million dollars, to 3, to 6, to 18 million. That’s a steep curve, and whereas it’s peanuts for a company that size, I can see that they can totally point to an ROI that means they will continue to invest in it. Meanwhile your smaller enterprises will give up. This is a real pity because, in the same way the web isn’t meant to be one big application (see my Facebook point above), social media was supposed to give the little man a voice. Again, terms like ‘engagement’ and ‘dialogue’ are nice, but only if you can afford to invest in them without necessarily pointing to an ROI. ‘Selling’, on the other hand, is what the CEO is interested in, and will shell out money for, and you can only do this effectively if you’re big.

So, there you go. What will I do next year? Don’t know really. Maybe I’ll continue ploughing my furrow and see what transpires. Maybe I’ll close shop and go and work for a digital agency. Maybe I’ll set my own up. Maybe I’ll get out of social media altogether (again) and focus on something nice and comfortable, like copywriting.

And you? What will you do? Here’s my advice if you’re thinking about using social media next year:

  • Make sure you’re doing other forms of marketing too. Social media on its own will not cut it.
  • Make sure whoever you work with in social media knows what a strategy is. If they say “We’re all about tactics”, walk away.
  • Really think about monitoring. It doesn’t take long to set up and you will be amazed at what you find out.
  • Be prepared to work in the dark to an extent – you may never really know how much money you make off the back of your investment.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for changes and closures. No social media site/channel/platform is too big to go under.

That about wraps it up for 2010. I’m going to finish my cup of tea and then work on thawing my toes out, then I’m going to sit by the log fire and stare into the distance for the next two weeks. Toodle pip.

The Universal Process™. Or: the Gartner Hype Cycle of Life

Life. Work. Birth. Death. And everything in between. Read on.

I wrote some time ago about the process of writing. Unless I’m writing for myself – that is, when I had time for ‘recreational writing’, or even blogging for that matter – I tend to procrastinate. I sit in front of the monitor surrounded by swathes of research, I huff and I puff, I put my head in my hands, I wander off, stroke the cats, make a cup of tea, sit in the garden staring at a bush. I repeat this a few times, then, after the first paragraph or two, it’s there, in my head. I totally know where it’s going and what I’m doing and before I know it, the piece is written.

But then it needs redrafting, often several times, off my own bat and following feedback. In the end I’m heartily sick of it and I’m happy to dispatch it, but everyone seems happy with it. Then, some time later, I go through my own stuff and think “That’s pretty good. Did I really write that? I must have been intelligent back then. Perhaps I’m destroying my brain with too much TV/Guinness/social media.”

This hasn’t changed, and it’s telling me that it’s an essential part of the process. You need that time to fulminate. To ruminate. To think. People don’t pay you to think, but it is necessary. Then you become so familiar with something you just want rid of it. Then you look back on it a few weeks or months or years later, and you’re pretty pleased with what you did. It was all worth it in the end.

The more I work in other fields, the more I think this is a universal process. I’m going to call it the UP™.

An example: I used to be into home-based music production. It was a phase, albeit a fairly long one (about 8 years – you can hear the results here). The same would happen. I’d noodle a fair amount, then suddenly latch onto it and off I went. Then I would spend a very, very long time with the production. In the end, same thing: I had enough. But it had to be finished. So I would end up finishing it without really knowing if it was finished. And sometimes I listen to it even now and I quite like it. Does that make sense?

Another example: today, I put together a Facebook page for a client. I’ve done this before, but every client is different, and you pretty much find yourself starting from scratch every time. At first I was fairly overwhelmed. There were so many wrong ways to go about it, and I had to find the right way. So I looked through all the content I had – several times – then did some research about best practice, looked at what other people had done, etc etc. There was huffing and there was puffing, there was head in hands. There were cats stroked. Bushes were looked at. Tea was drunk.

About two hours later I was absolutely heading in the right direction. And now I’m really getting into it. And I thoroughly expect that, after we launch and promote it (and keep promoting it for the next few months) I will have had enough of it, and want to do something else instead. But I’m hoping the client will like it. And I’m hoping I’ll look back on it and like it too.

Copywriting, music, social media (and, for that matter, design and code, which is what I’m doing with the FB page). They all follow this pattern. Even research. I hate starting a social media audit. I love it when the figures come out. I hate having to keep plugging away and updating it. I love it when I look back and think I did a good job.

This process needs a model.

I like the Gartner Hype Cycle. I like its categories: the Trigger, the Peak of Inflated Expectations, the Trough of Disillusionment, the Slope of Enlightenment and finally the Plateau of Productivity. See below.

I think that applies to work, too, but with a different shape. My new categories? The Commission, the Trough of Despond, the upward Slope of Encouragement, the Peak of Productivity, the downward Slope of Dudgeon and finally, the Plateau of Reality. It’s the UP™. See below.

Let’s be philosophical. I wonder if life is like this? In which case The Commission is when mummy and daddy got friendly, the Trough of Despond is when you realise you’re probably not going to get that Ferrari (or in my case a Morgan, although my Spitfire is seeing me alright), the Upward Slope of Encouragement is when you think “Well, that’s ok, let’s focus on what’s important”, the Peak of Productivity is after you climb up (or my case, up a bit, across a bit, down a bit) the career ladder and start really enjoying life, the Downward Slope of Dudgeon is when you start confusing your grandchildren’s names with the cats and hoovering the garden, and the Plateau of Reality is… well, I don’t think I’m there yet. I’ll post you when I am.

Meet Concorde the Tortoise

If you’ve been following my Twitterfeed recently, you’ll know I’ve welcomed the pattering of tiny feet into my home.

Tiny, clawed, scaly feet. Four of them. And a nicely mottled carapace.

And a beak.

This is because my partner bought me a tortoise for my birthday. A tortoise!

I’ve always wanted one, mainly because they live for donkey’s tortoise’s years and so you get very good value out of them. I still think a tortoise is the best christening present you could ever give a baby. It’s a present for life!

So while this blog really should be about copywriting and social media, for once I’m going to allow a bit of personal stuff in. This isn’t purely self-indulgent either: several people asked how Concorde was getting on at the Jackenhacks recently, so I thought I’d let you know.

He’s doing fine! And here he is:

conc6

What a beaut. Although he’s a bit out of focus because he was struggling at the time I took the photo. They do that, you know, tortoises. They do tend to struggle. Well, don’t we all?

When I say ‘he’ I’m not sure if he’s a he or she’s a she. I’m not sure how you tell without getting unnecessarily intimate. The shell must be there for a reason, and I say that reason is to hide a tortoise’s modesty. Besides, the name Concorde works either way. It expresses elegance and finesse well, don’t you think?

A story: when the delivery man turned up he looked a bit nonplussed.

“It says ‘Live Reptiles’ on ‘ere”, he said, pointing at the large label saying ‘Live Reptiles’ on the box.

“I know”, I replied. “It says ‘Live Reptiles’ on the box.”

Then he dropped the box.

“But I don’t think they’re ‘live’ any more” quipped I. My, how we laughed.

He picked up the box. “I fink it’s a tortoise”, he said. And dropped it again.

At least now we were more informed. He didn’t have live reptiles, he had dead ones, specifically one dead tortoise.

Eventually when I’d rescued the animal from Royal Mail I took him (for the sake of argument) out of his little box. He thrashed about a bit – well, you would, wouldn’t you, especially if you’d been dropped twice in one morning – but eventually we managed to contemplate each other.

I admired his colouring and his scales, while he blinked and hissed at me. Then he hissed and blinked at Milligan the cat, who just sat there wondering if he would taste nice.

conc5So that was a couple of weeks ago. Since then I’ve set up his little tortoisery complete with heatlamp (see left).

I’ve also been feeding him rose petals and spinach with a calcium supplement, giving him a little bath once a week (apparently you need to do this to help them hydrate properly, plus I don’t really want a dirty tortoise as a pet, I want a nice, clean one), and letting him gallop around the room for an hour or so at lunch.

conc3I can’t really tell if he likes his bath – he just sits there looking a bit glum – but he does seem to perk up when he’s running around (see right). OK, crawling. To give him his due he can crawl quite quickly, like some sort of Mars explorer running off solar energy.

But then I can’t really tell what’s going on in his head at any time. I can’t tell if he’s happy or sad, or bored, or delirious. Let’s face it, I can’t even tell if he’s male or female.

conc4But it doesn’t matter. He’s a tortoise. Actually, he’s a mathematical tortoise. Count the plates on his shell (see left).

Do you see what I see? Three plates at the top, then six each side on the next row, then 12 on each side along the bottom. Clever little tortoise! If I find any more evidence of fractal design in him, I’ll let you know.

So, there you go. I might put some more pictures up as he grows – he’s only a hatchling, two years old, about the size of my fist, bless – and there may be videos to come if you’re interested. CarapaceCam? TortoiseTube? You decide!

Just about wraps it up for the Jackenhacks

So the Jackenhacks came and went. I met lots of nice people, notably Giles from Realwire who lives just down the road from me, and who I bumped into at the train station. I met Melanie from Fake Plastic Noodles who was very lovely and chatty, the inimitable Wadds, Michael Litman (colleague of my ex-colleague Paul Borge) who won the Twitter Twat of the Year – don’t knock it Michael, it’s an award and that’s what matters –  and the gang of reprobates from Porter Novelli. And several other nice people. Lovely people. Nice, lovely, drunk people.

I did actually manage to have some half-sensible conversations. One of them was with an editor and we talked about the influence of social media on journalism. I think we kind of agreed that a possible direction for journalism is one in which they’re measured by the number of followers they have online. So, while offline journalism is all well and good, at some point we could envisage a time when online metrics come into the equation. As in: so you want to work for The Guardian? Only if you have X,000 subscribers.

This is something Technorati is  already doing with its bloggers, and given that it recently revamped to become much more media-friendly, perhaps Technorati’s ambitions lie in that direction too.

Of course, most of the conversations were very loud and nonsensical, but still enjoyable nevertheless.

In fact, it wasn’t until I was testing my social media search engine enhancements today that I found Mel’s post on Fake Plastic Noodles, featuring this photograph of me (I’m the one underneath – visible in khaki from the neck down):

I dont really understand how this situation came about. Click image for source.

I don't really understand how this situation came about. Click image for source.

Now, I actually don’t remember this happening. And despite what Mel says in her post, the guy on top of me isn’t Tim Hoang – Tim is the one standing up laughing. I don’t know who is on top of me. So I don’t really understand how this situation came about. Too much drink perhaps? Or maybe not enough…

As for the event/venue, well they did suffer the old problem of the PA system not being loud enough again, but it has to be said that everyone does chatter on when they should be listening. Not sure what they can do about that.

Anyway, off we all went to a karaoke bar, at which point I found myself wearing someone’s cycle helmet with biros sticking out of it. Then I missed the last train home but managed to get near enough that I could blag a taxi the rest of the way.

The next day I was fresh as a little daisy, and ready to attend Epoch’s Hothouse lunch. And I managed not to faint or throw up.

Oh, the life of a PR rock star…

Once upon a time…

… I was a copywriter.

Then I became a social media planner. Then I became a digital PR senior account manager. Then I was a social media strategist. Then I decided to jack it all in and become a copywriter again.

Now, I’m finding I’m sort of all of those at the same time. Confusing, isn’t it?

Copywriting

One the one hand, I’m most definitely a content creator. I write stuff. I can’t help it. I’ve always written stuff.

There’s a typewriter next to me in my office which was owned by my grandfather, and I used to type stuff on it when I was young. Anything. Everthing. Mostly ridiculous poems.

It’s got huge, black, bakelite keys that you can really punch down, and when you do the hammers hit the paper and don’t so much type as emboss.

When you get to the end of a line the whole carriage whacks across and nearly carries the typewriter across the room with it.

It’s got a fantastic bell that, if you recorded it and slowed it down, would probably give Big Ben a run for its money.

And, best of all, it has a large stain across the front, probably caused by some correction fluid. Now my grandfather liked things to be ‘just so’. He cleaned records thoroughly before he put them on ‘the gram’. He would spend hours cleaning his pipe. He did 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzles. So I cannot imagine the brouhaha that ensued when he spilled all that over his typewriter. The air must have been blue. He probably went out to shoot some rabbits just to get it out of his system. Fantastic.

Digital

It started with a ZX81 and went on from there.

People think I’m a geek, or a techy, but I’m not really. I just like dicking around with these things. Mostly I like them for the creativity they facilitate nowadays.

I have a home studio based around an old PC and it’s great fun. I should add that it’s the third PC I’ve used for this, because I trod on my first one and cracked the motherboard, then I blew the second one up about a week ago. I have a tragic combination of curiosity and technical ineptitude.

Social media

I’ll never forget when I first posted on this blog, subscribed to it to see what would happen, and then a few minutes later saw it appear on Google Reader. I was hooked. Have been ever since.

Now, as a freelancer, talking to people who really need to get themselves seen and heard (and read and talked about), I’m really starting to appreciate what social media can do, from the large corporations right through to single-person enterprises.

So I’m back in the trade, so to speak.

Yesterday I described Facebook as a TV studio with Twitter as the satellite dish beaming out the updates. Today I’ve been figuring out how best to get my Yahoo Pipes Social Media Search Engine sorted so that I can package that as a service. Tomorrow I’m working on a blog strategy for a management consultancy.

Brings me back to my grandfather. I once tried to explain to him what the ZX81 was about. “Eeeh, it’s beyond my ken”, he sighed. Then probably went out to shoot more rabbits.

So, imagine a Venn diagram with those three things around it, and me in the intersection. It seems that, whenever I try to move out into one or other of the bubbles, some strange gravitational pull draws me back into the middle.

That’s all. I should really talk about social media issues and news etc, but sometimes I just write… stuff.

Click image for source

Click image for source

Accountants are part of the brand too

Mistakes have repercussions. Don't get a fly in your brand.

Mistakes have repercussions. Don't get a fly in your brand.

So today, for the third time, I find myself chasing major companies for money after the 30-day period on my invoice has expired.

I do wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t kept my records in order. Would I ever have been paid? Or would the invoice be expedited/dormanted/deleted, or lost behind a filing cabinet, as per Brazil?

This is about more than money. It’s about brand.

People sometimes talk about brands as if they’re something mysterious or difficult to grasp. They talk about brand equity and brand values. They mention brand advocates and – yuk – leveraging brands. Or brand synergies. Arghh.

For me, it’s simple. A brand is the person as company – quite literally, the corporate. Some companies are nice, others are nasty. Remember how PR is essentially about what people say about you when you leave the room? Well brands are the same. You’ll do business with them and if you continue to love them you’ll tell people how great they are. If they don’t pay you in time – after 30 days, for chrissakes – you’ll smile and be nice to them in future, but slag them off to your friends. Like I’m doing now.

Of course, culprits shall not be named – even the ones that were 40 days late, or the ones who failed to pay me on time twice – but suffice to say, they should be big enough, and grown up enough, to know better.

Because when I first met them I thought they were great. But poxy accountants, working in the engine room, thinking that their efforts have no impact on the brand, have now made me very wary of working with them again. Their brand is damaged.

So, it’s an object lesson. Brands work outside the company, and inside. They permeate the company. If the company wants to be associated with great client service, then each and every member of the company needs to know this and work with it in mind. Even the accountants. Good Lord, even the copywriters come to that.