“It’s called integrity, personality, you know. You’ve got something to say, you just stand up for your ground and say what you think. And that’s that.”

I work a lot with PR agencies, on big, corporate accounts. Together we go through sophisticated strategies, editorial calendars, brainstorming, measurement and so on, and slowly we help these great leviathans become more agile and approachable through communications.

But sometimes I see something and it’s so different from my day-to-day work that it reminds me what great communication is about. It’s about being human.

So today, I received a circular from a local restaurant I visited a while back, called La Chouette. It’s a strange place, based in a tiny village in Bucks, run by a wildly eccentric Belgian called Frédéric. He does have some online information, not least a video that… well, just watch it below, and you’ll get a flavour of the place and, more importantly, the man. (You can skip the bit about the cooking, but make sure you watch the last part. It’s priceless.)

See what I mean? Take your Gordon Ramsays, your Jamie Olivers, your Hugh Fearnley-Zinc-Trumpet-Harrison-Baden-Baden-De-La-Plume-De-Ma-Tente-Whittingstalls, and, as Frédéric says, piss off. He’d eat them for dinner.

When we arrived we were the only people there. It was the kind of situation that could have been excruciatingly embarrassing (for an Englishman anyway, but we’re good at being embarrassed, it’s a national sp0rt). But no. Frédéric helped us choose the wine (he looked a little annoyed that we didn’t know whether to go for red or white), disappeared to rustle up the (delicious) food, then chatted to us – and not just chatted, he expounded, he fl0urished, he shouted and bellowed, laughed and cursed, and waved his arms around a lot.

We liked him, and signed up for his newsletter.

All of which brings me to the real point of this post. I’m looking at the newsletter now. Here are some choice extracts, complete with spelling and grammar hiccups. Imagine them spoken in an uncompromisingly Belgian accent with an undertow of belligerence:

  • “Do not forget Valentine day, this year it fall on Monday the 14 of February, so Gentlemen, DO NOT forget or you will end up in the dog house. It does happen to me every years, I know what I am talking about.”
  • “You should come with that special person for a Romantic Evening… candles, a little light jazz music and abuses from your host, Peeerfect indeed.”
  • “Blues evening, those are getting rarer, I think that I am just getting old.”
  • “Philippe will be back to tell us about another part of France. I have heard that a lot of woman are really found of Philippe, I don’t know why… He is French for Christ sake!”

So, as a professional communicator, spot the mistakes. Not just the spelling and grammar, but references to being abused, xenophobia, and age. Would you do this on behalf of your client?

Of course you wouldn’t. Imagine doing something like this for Cisco, or Shell, or pretty much any client you’d care to name. It’s also – get this – not even online. It’s a photocopied letter, delivered through snail mail. How quaint.

But do you want to go there? Do you think it might be fun to meet this guy? Does he come across as a bland non-entity, or as someone passionate about what he does?

In short, do you respond to him as a human being? I do. And while I don’t tend to ‘do’ valentines – by common consent with my partner – simply by sending me the newsletter he’s reminded me that I’d really like to go back there sometime, maybe on a nice spring day, jump in the Spitfire, rock around to Westlington Green, and be abused.

So look around. ‘Professional’ communications can become boring, and if you’re bored, it shows. Inspiration can be everywhere, and when you find it, it’s wonderfully refreshing.

I cannot improve on Frédéric’s final words in the video:

“It’s called integrity, personality, you know. You’ve got something to say, you just stand up for your ground and say what you think. And that’s that.”

Don’t buy anything from cheapbatteryshop.co.uk or emerald48s because they are scammers

Before you buy, shop around. Not just for the best deal, but for the honest deal. And if you find dishonest deals, by dishonest dealers, then make sure you warn people about it.

I’ve been ‘had’ twice recently.

Cheapbatteryshop.co.uk are scammers

Cheapbatteryshop.co.uk sold me a dud battery (you don’t have to click that link, in fact I don’t recommend it, I’m just doing it to throw bad SEO in their direction).

They make all the right noises: they’re a .co.uk domain; they say they have quality control; they have a UK address. So I was surprised and delighted to find that I could save a few bob if I bought my Dell 1545 laptop battery from them.

It arrived – eventually, late, from Hong Kong – and at first I have to confess my own stupidity: I didn’t think it would fit because it said it was for a Dell 1525 and, being a huge 9-cell battery, it just seemed too large for the battery bay. So I emailed them asking about this. What do you know? No response. Twice. This slightly concerned me.

Eventually I figured it out, and thought “Oh well, doesn’t really matter if they didn’t respond, it’s all ok now.” Except it wasn’t. The battery would fully charge, then work for an hour, then suddenly the charge would plummet. The machine would switch off. No slow release or warning from the battery indicator.

So I emailed them again, and again, and again. No response.

I’ve since found this: “Cheapbatteryshop.co.uk is a fake site,they are identity thieves.They do not answer e mails and paypal is recognized this site as a fake web site.never confirmed order,and I as a fool give credit card number trough fake paypal site.” Illiterate, but informative.

And this page tells a sad story of people either not receiving the goods from cheapbatteryshop.co.uk or, like me, receiving shoddy goods.

I’m prepared to accept that I should have known better, but when someone says “We do cherish every customer and have been trying hard to provide the best service for all our customers.You may contact us at any time if you have any enquiries or complaints” you believe them. Right up to the point you realise it was a lie.

I gave up on cheapbatteryshop.co.uk and put it down to experience.

Emerald48s (Daniel Sesay) on eBay is a scammer

I obviously didn’t let that experience count. I’ve just had the displeasure of dealing with someone through eBay selling fake USB sticks, who goes by the name of emerald48s, or Daniel Sesay, in Kent (again, don’t bother clicking the link, I’m just hoping that if someone searches against these details, they’ll see this post).

Again, all the right noises. He says: “The item has been used and tested and is no longer in packaging. It is however pretty new with no signs of damage. It has been tested and works perfectly.”

When it arrived – again, late – it looked fine, albeit a bit weird being just in an envelope with no invoice or documents of any kind. It wouldn’t format in NTFS which was strange. It apparently formatted in exFAT, so again I just shrugged and got on with it. I started trying to copy to it, but it kept stopping.

So I looked around and found a utility called H2Testw which fills a USB stick with files and checks them for integrity. The result? 59GB corrupted, of a supposed 64GB stick.

How does that square with “it has been tested and works perfectly”?

And then I found a page showing how to check for counterfeit goods. Yep, mine checked out, even as far as the paint coming off on my fingers.

So I got in touch with emerald48s. He suggested I return it. I asked for a return address. He said I should just file a Paypal claim, which I did. And he has at least honoured that, so at least, unlike with cheapbatteryshop.co.uk, I got my money back.

So I now feel much more comfortable about warning people about him. It seems emerald48s has form. Fightflashfraud warns us: “You can bet your bottom dollar that any flash drive sold on ebay by emerald48s will be a fake capacity counterfeit.

And, best of all, emerald48s has popped up on Fake Memory.com. In fact, right now, there’s an active thread all about emerald48s with choice phrases such as “What a load of BS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and “Scammer!” Unfortunately emerald48s isn’t doing himself any favours by calling people “… Stupid. I never said I won’t refund if they did not work, secondly how could you say it is fake if you have not seen it, thirdly you post me on a forum to fight fakes with a false allegation, so I will register and respond, you are an idiot. I sent you that email to say I got from a friend and no very little about Kingston do I look like an expert in USB’s? Get a life.”

How does this square with “If you are unsure or have any questions, please ask. No question is silly. It is better than assuming. I will always answer to the best of my abilities.”

?

Daniel is also not really helping his cause in his communications with me either. When he said he was busy, I suggested it would make life easier for him not to sell fake USB sticks. His response: “my product description is clear”. Hmmm. All apart from the bit about it being fake, that is.

Then I found the web pages I mentioned above, and forwarded them to him suggesting he was famous. And this time: “I love being famous. Stop harassing me. Get a job. You will doing this for a long time. I don’t do USB’s anymore so your blog will out date. Thanks.”

Was I hassling him? Or was I just pointing out to him that other sites were saying negative things about him? Am I hassling him now? I do hope so. He did, after all, say he loved being famous.

I’d love to think Daniel Sesay, emerald48s won’t be selling any more fake USB sticks any more, but somehow I doubt it. He sold at least 60 of the units he sold me.

And unfortunately it seems cheapbatteryshop.co.uk is still in business, scamming people.

So what does this tell us? Well, for me, I’ve learned something I probably should have known beforehand: if it seems too good to be true, it often always is.

But I’ve also learned that these people can present themselves very credibly which is, I guess, the whole point of a con trick. And I think I’ve also learned that you need to do your research first. Just type the vendor’s name into Google and see what comes out (go ahead, click that link, the results are interesting). You’ll find things out that eBay can’t tell you. Emerald48s has a pretty good eBay record, for example. I do not know how.

Basically, at the end of the day, it’s caveat emptor – because the scammers are out there, and it’s up to you to stop yourself being scammed.

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!

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

Does Google return 651,000,000 hits for Microsoft – or just 414?

Do this:

  1. Go to Google (whichever flavour you can access – annoyingly I can only see google.co.uk)
  2. Search for microsoft (or just click here)
  3. Take a look at the ‘Results’ figure, towards the top right of the page. It should say something like ‘Results 1 – 10 of about 650,000,000′. That’s quite a few results, right? That’s pretty impressive. And all in a fraction of a second. See below.
  4. Now scroll to the bottom of the page, where you can page to the next set of results. Click ‘2’, to get to page 2.
  5. Take a look at the address generated in the address field. It should say something like ‘http://www.google.com/search?q=microsoft&hl=en&start=10&sa=N‘ (my bold added). Like below.The interesting bit here is ‘start=10′. This means it’s showing you the ten results starting at result number 10. You can edit this manually. Edit ‘start=10′ to say ‘start=30′ and it’ll show you the ten results starting at result number 30. You can jump straight to the 100th result by edit it to say ‘start=100′.
  6. Now, Google will only return 1,000 results. So, let’s take a look at the last ten results, in a sort of ‘End of the universe’ kind of way. So, edit this to say ‘start=990′. As below. Or, again, just click here.

What do you see in the results count? Do you still see 651,000,000?

Or do you, like me, see, um, 414? Like below?In other words, in the previous 90-odd pages of results, which, let’s face it, nobody is likely to look at, Google insists there is an astronomical number of results. But on the very last page, this comes down to something much more mundane. I only chose Microsoft because it gives a lot of results. Try it with any other term that would return many hits and you’ll find the same.

Does anyone have a clue as to what is going on here? I didn’t discover this myself, but when someone showed it me last week, my jaw dropped. I felt like the time someone showed me the flight simulator hidden in the middle of Excel.

Please, someone, tell me what’s happening here. I feel there is something deeply wrong with the universe, even more so than usual. See below.

Yahoo Pipe to filter for British English

Why are there so many Americans online?

It’s probably not that much of a puzzler. There’s a lot of them around anyway, and they’re often several years ahead of Old Europe technologically. And they do like to talk.

But that doesn’t help people like me when I need to monitor UK traffic. Sure, you can use IP addresses to find UK websites, but anyone who blogs on WordPress, Blogger or a number of other platforms is, by definition, American. So distinguishing between UK and US bloggers is very much a case of looking at their bios – or their language.

So, I’ve tried to put together a pipe that filters out the Americanisms in an RSS feed, in the hope that what comes out the other end is mostly British English. For example, if there’s mention of ‘ize’ in a post – very American, British English would use ‘ise’ – it’s filtered out, unless it contains the word ‘size’. Other word roots are filtered out such as ‘gram ‘ (note the space there), ‘anemi’ (British retains the latin ‘a’ for ‘anaemi’, for example ‘anaemia’, as it does for quite a few other word roots), ‘ior’ (‘behavior’ vs ‘behavior’), and there are give-away words such as ‘color’, ‘center’, ‘gray’ and ‘jewelry’.

It’s an unsophisticated approach but then again you could say filtering out keywords is just as sophisticated as keyword matching, which services such as Twendz (probably) do.

I’ve used it in the past and I think it works. So, I’m making it available in case anyone else fancies using it. I would really appreciate it if anyone thinks of a cool way to improve it. And it would be nice if, when you do use it, you cite me.

I Am Nostradamus. Am I Nostradamus? I, Nostradamus, am.

Tell me it aint true...

Can I quote myself? Just this once? Please?

I was just going through some housekeeping and read a post written nearly nine months ago in which I looked at how theories about the social media world around us were falling like packs of cards, and offered decidedly tongue-in-cheek predictions of which would be next to go.

Here’s one of those predictions:

Wikinomics. Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams posit that if we can all just be open and honest and work together in perfect harmony the world will be a better place. A prominent pyschologist puts this to the test and discovers that, while some of us can be open and honest all the time, and all of us can be open and honest some of the time, most of us are basically untrustworthy, dishonest and unhealthily introspective. A global market recession closely follows.

Yikes! I didn’t really mean it! I was joking…!