The old web is dying and I’m not sure I like the new one

BlogPulse has no pulse

So I was playing around with dashboards and the like yesterday  – as one does – and noticed that BlogPulse has disappeared. BlogPulse was not the greatest blog search engine around, but it was the only one offering anything like useable charts. So, given that Technorati charts disappeared years ago (although they still have a page claiming they’ll be back soon), and other solutions such as IceRocket don’t enable you to pass keywords to create live charts, it would appear there is no longer any blog charting widget out there.

Is this the final nail in the coffin of blogging? Are we really so uninterested in blogging activity that charts are no longer considered viable? It would seem that way, and the ‘blogging is dead’ meme is very much alive right now.

Charting generally seems to be suffering

Recently, tweetcloud.com disappeared, without even a whimper. It just vanished. I seemed to be the only person who noticed, but tweetcloud.com was, like BlogPulse, the only solution that did something incredibly useful: it would create a tweetcloud for a search term on the fly. In other words, you typed in what you were looking for, and it created a tweetcloud for that search (not a tweetcloud of your own timeline, which really isn’t that much use but I suspect a lot less processor-intensive). Plus it did it quickly, and there was a widget for it, which enabled you to build dashboards giving an instant overview of the latest terms associated with any topic. It was great. And then it wasn’t. There are sort-of alternatives still such as Visible Tweets, Cloud.li and Twendz, but, while they’re very pretty, you can’t build them into dashboards.

And today, Trendistic, the only (again) solution for live charting of Twitter trends, is down. It was down yesterday too. Look for it on Twitter search and there are just a load of weird Polish references to it (who knows, maybe Trendistic is a Polish pop group). Surely – sssssurely – Trendistic can’t have disappeared too? And surely, again, it can’t just be me who thought it was an absolutely brilliant idea?

RSS is dying

If you’re detecting a pattern here, you’re not alone. It does seem that really great ideas are failing as the web grows bigger and faster. They just cannot keep up, it seems – or, at least, not until/unless they’re snapped up by one of the walled gardens such as Facebook. Free information – as in, really free, readily available, easily manipulated and shared across the entire web – is disappearing.

RSS was supposed to be the great hope of free information. Peel the content away from the format, and hey presto, you can share pretty much anything across any platform. But therein lies the problem: something free is not something you can fence off and charge for. It is free in every sense of the word.

So it seems RSS is suffering too. Google Reader used to be a really nice way to bring feeds together and create a static web page of the results as well as a newly aggregated feed. Not since its recent revamp however. All the sharing features have been ported across to Google+, presumably because Google+ is a neat, walled garden whereas RSS was messy and free. Yahoo Pipes was the ultimate RSS aggregator/mash-up tool but suffered from underinvestment by Yahoo. Even after a supposed major overhaul, it’s flaky and too slow to power a dashboard (unless you’re prepared to wait for a minute or so while the results load up). Another RSS mashup tool, XFruits, died a couple of years back. Do a search for RSS aggregator tools and it’s like a graveyard. The only viable tool that I can see is called FeedRinse which, while it offers aggregation and filtering (the two most useful features of Pipes), also feels a bit overloaded and slow. And, as with TweetCloud and BlogPulse, it’s the only game in town, which leads me to believe it won’t be for much longer.

RSS from search has been abandoned by major players too. Such as the bookmarking platform Delicious. You used to be able to search across the Delicious database and pull an RSS feed from that. Stunningly useful, as it showed you what other people considered important for any topic. Not any longer. Twitter has also demoted RSS from search: you can still do it, but you have to look around to find out how. It’s another candidate for the cull, I believe.

Mash-ups are harder

So where does this leave us if we want to create our own mash-ups or dashboards? Well we can dive into the APIs if we fancy it, and learn a smattering of HTML and javascript. But we still need reliable platforms to base our dashboards on. The familiar theme of ‘only game in town’ is revisited here, in that the only solution offering public dashboards – that is, pages that you can show to anyone without them needing to log in – is Netvibes. And every time I create a dashboard in Netvibes, I find I have to spend quite some time figuring out what works still and what doesn’t. Quite apart from discovering over the past few months that third-party sites have disappeared, I’m finding that third-party widgets in Netvibes are broken, or even that Netvibes itself is cranky. So for example, my attempts to create a dashboard yesterday were frustrated by HTML widgets only displaying the top portions of any image or javascript output, widgets generally not staying in the same place when I refreshed the page, RSS feeds not being imported correctly, and on recourse to their support forum, finding it full of spam.

It seems the free tools that were once so useful are now decaying or falling apart. I don’t know what ‘Web 2.0′ really meant, but I have a sense of something dying, something that was slower and smaller than the web today, that shared more freely but was doing so with less immediacy and monetary return. Whatever we’re moving towards, if it’s Web 3.0, then it’s becoming more consolidated, monetised, bigger, faster, noisier.

So the ‘roll your own’ approach is going to get harder. The smaller, innovative sites that did one thing, and one thing well, just cannot survive the double onslaught of vastly increased traffic and expectations of real-time delivery unless they can make money from  it.  The old, fluid, free web that comprised many islands of activity is solidifying into separate continents of influence. The game is so much harder now, that it’s only the really big players that can make sense – and money – out of it.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be

Me? I preferred the more innovative, dynamic environment. I liked the way that RSS could be readily shared, and smaller enterprises could create neat tools that let you do things with it, without really needing to be a developer. I guess those days are gone. Nostalgia certainly ain’t what it used to be.

Postscript: … and no sooner do I file this post then I read this Observer piece by John Naughton, entitled “Has the Internet run out of ideas already?”, on the progression of information technologies: “from somebody’s hobby to somebody’s industry; from jury-rigged contraption to slick production marvel; from a freely accessible channel to one strictly controlled by a single corporation or cartel – from open to closed system.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. In fact, I didn’t.

Which are the most important social media metrics? (Hint: they’re nothing to do with social media)

I could write a book on this one. But there’s little point because a) I don’t have time to write a book, and b) other people have already written them.

So, I’ll be brief, not least because this is a blog post and not a book: the most important social media metrics are nothing to do with social media.

I’ve done a LOT of thinking about measurement. There are many, many things you could measure, but most of them are totally worthless. I guess the most frequently used measurements that are worthless are the obvious ones, such as followers on Twitter or fans on Facebook. OK, so they’re not completely worthless because you can gain insight from them, especially if you compare them with competitors. So, you can argue that the number of fans on Facebook is your reach, which is the equivalent of good old circulation, and that by comparing your page with the competition, you get an idea of how many people you potential reach in the ‘marketplace’ of conversation.

You can also do the same with other metrics that represent reach for other platforms, so, followers on Twitter, subscribers on YouTube, and so on.

So maybe not totally worthless. But certainly not unique to social media, and not a viable business KPI either. So let’s look – briefly, again, this is a blog, remember – at both of these.

First up, what can you uniquely measure in social media that you cannot measure anywhere else? Well, that goes to the heart of what social media offers that other media cannot. My take on this is two metrics that, as with all metrics, have plus points and minus points, and they are sentiment (how people  feel) and engagement (how they interact).

Sentiment analysis can hurt. Click image for source.

Sentiment is important because if you find lots of people are talking about you, but they all hate you, then you have a problem. But sentiment is tough to measure. If you leave it to machines, they can do lots of analysis but get it wrong (try getting a sentiment measure for  Black Friday on SocialMention for example – go on, try it, you’ll be surprised). If you leave it to humans, they can do less analysis and on the whole maybe get it more right, but can still differ between individuals (ie the person who just got married, got a pay rise and ran their first 10K the previous weekend might have an overall brighter outlook than the person who just buried the pet rabbit the night before). It’s also a difficult metric to action. How, exactly, do you improve sentiment?

Engagement is important because it’s pretty much what social media is for, that is, the two-way conversation that you just cannot do with any other medium. Here, you really can measure it, not least because Facebook’s new public-facing ‘People talking about this’ metric is measuring almost exactly that, and you can tie this in with, say, Twitter replies, comments on YouTube channels, and comments on blogs. Plus, you can do something about engagement, simply by encouraging people to interact. You could even argue that engagement affects sentiment, in that the most engaged brands tend to have the highest sentiment.

But as soon as you really analyse engagement, you start to see that most brands score dreadfully. And perhaps this is why people don’t measure it!

So sentiment and engagement are key social media metrics, but sentiment is tough, and engagement exposes the weakness of most social media programmes. And they don’t key into what your business is about.

And what is your business about? Well, generally it’s going to be one of three things: raising revenue; cutting costs; or increasing customer awareness. If you can do all three then you’re laughing, but really, everything your organisation does should address at least one of these imperatives. Communications generally, and social media specifically, should not be exempt.

So these really aren’t social media metrics at all. They’re business metrics that you apply to social media.

The question is: how do you measure them? Actually, I’m going to stop here and leave this as a question. I have some ideas, but I’d like to know: how do you measure whether you’ve improved revenue streams? How do you know if your social media has cut costs at all? And whereas raising awareness is probably social media’s natural home, how have you measured this?

If you don’t know, then you’re not really measuring properly. For every objective that you set in social media, comms or any other aspect of your work, you need to ask yourself which of these three imperatives you’re addressing. If none of them, then stop. Which is what I’ll do now.

New Delicious – sweet eye candy but a bitter aftertaste

As if by magic, Delicious has relaunched. I had that sinking feeling when I powered up my laptop this morning and noticed that the Delicious add-on that I use to navigate the web wasn’t loading properly.

It didn’t take long to figure out that there are some fairly radical changes going on. Superficially it looks like a more user-friendly site, but I think there are deep changes afoot that mean they’ve switched off some of the most useful features. Here’s my take on the changes.

They’ve made Delicious much more of a front-end. I said this a while back, on this very blog: that Delicious kind of had a similar problem to Twitter, in that a lot of it worked in the background without any screen estate to hand over to advertising or social networking. So Twitter is finding ways to fix this, including acquiring Tweetdeck. It might seem strange that Twitter buys a client-side application (ie not a cloud-based app such as Hootsuite) but I’m thinking this could be a smart move designed to keep the strain off its servers. Delicious probably doesn’t have the massive bandwidth demands of Twitter, so it’s opted for its own web-based front end (note: this is just my theory). It looks nice, and you can see a good summary of these Delicious changes over at GigaOM which, at the time of writing, seems to be one of the first posts about new Delicious.

They’ve switched off some of the back-end features and broken others. This probably doesn’t bother most people, and I do appreciate that they need to address the fat end of the long tail and concentrate on core features, but I just spent all morning doing the following:

  • Rebuilding my local bookmarks because the add-on no longer works. I used the add-on Bundles view to access my work-related pages, resource pages, and so on. It was great because if I changed something on one machine or browser, I could just work on any of my others and see those changes reflected. Now, I have to store them all manually, per-browser, per-machine. What a pain.
  • Figuring out that RSS no longer works. This was, for me, the single most useful feature of Delicious after bookmarking. You could pull an RSS feed off a tag, or off a tag search. Today, you cannot. So this means I can’t pump this RSS feed out to, say, Google Reader for aggregating, or Netvibes for aggregating and displaying, or Feedburner for daily email delivery of feeds. In other words, I’ve suddenly lost a lot of flexibility and power. So could it be that Delicious is joining the effort to kill RSS because it’s so useful but earns them no money? Seems that way right now.
  • Logging in several times. The bookmarklet still works – praise be – but I, and several of my clients, have had to log in several times to get this to work.
  • Noticing strange anomalies with tags. If I look at my Delicious home page, I see that the counts are missing next to tags, so I don’t know which are the most popular. Whenever I bookmark something now, the tag does not auto-complete so I’m going to start getting inconsistent with them. Sometimes I know I’ve only saved a bookmark once, but it says ’2 saves’ next to it, which gives me no confidence. And I’m pretty much certain that when I list some tags, all I’m seeing is the first page of them without any ‘next’ or ‘previous’ pagination, so now I can’t actually get to see the vast majority of my bookmarks any more. Unless, of course, they’ve been deleted?
  • Noticing other random stuff. No more bundles, now we have stacks. Why change the name? And bundles were really useful, so why remove them? If they’re going to change the name, why not just change the name but keep the functionality instead of replacing it with something that seems virtually identical but doesn’t use the same mechanism? Also, we need to call these things ‘Links’ now, rather than bookmarks. And we follow people now, rather than have them in our community. Links and follows – sounds very like Likes and, well, followers, right?
  • Advising clients on the changes. I have clients who love Delicious too, and I’ve had to flag this to them. Facebook is annoying enough when it changes on the spur of the moment, and Delicious has done the same.

It does seem to me that whenever something becomes massively useful, it disappears. Yahoo Pipes is a similar case in point, supposedly recently fixed but within minutes it broke again in its old inimitable way, so I just forgot all about it once more.

Could it be that Avos, the new proprietors of Delicious, are joining in the effort to kill the freedom of information that Tim Berners-Lee held so dear?

I said, years ago, that the social web would change radically when big money moved in. If it’s freedom out, money in, then that would account for a lot of these changes.

Of course, it could also be that Avos plan to reintroduce these features as they roll out a wonderful new solution that everyone loves. Problem is, we already loved it.

Whither Social Mention?

Social Mention is a pretty good social media aggregator. Think Google, but for social media.

When I say ‘pretty good’, I mean it’s not without its faults. It doesn’t do real phrasal searches – that is, a search for “Brendan Cooper” in quotes will give results with just “Brendan” and “Cooper” in them, which is a bit naughty really – and it also has a tendency to be a bit slow.

It does have some quite cool features though. You can get RSS feeds off searches (which you can’t do with Google but you can with Bing and Yahoo). You can get alerts (which you can also get from Google, but not exclusively for social media). You can download results as CSV files, which you can then open in Excel and start analysing. You can start to get an insight into where people are talking about topics, who they are, what words they’re using and who is the most active for a given topic. And Social Mention even gives you some metrics around sentiment, engagement and so on, and if you keep the salt cellar handy while using these figures, and apply liberally, you might find them useful.

But wait. There’s something wrong with this post. It’s all in the present tense.

Because, as of around two days ago, Social Mention vanished. It reappeared briefly, but has disappeared again. Not a peep from the @socialmention Twitter account, or from @jonnyjon who created it.

So change all the ‘is’ to ‘was’ and the ‘does’ to ‘did’.

This is causing quite a lot of consternation in the Twitterverse. Social Mention is/was pretty much the only game in town when it came to a free, full-on social media aggregator/search, especially one so well featured. Which should tell us all something, I suppose. If something is free, and it’s the only one, then there’s a reason for that. Meaning, it’s really bad, or really really good, or it’s unsustainable. I do hope it’s not the latter in this case.

So what is to be done? Apart from wringing our hair,  pulling our teeth and gnashing our hands? Stephen Dale has come to the rescue with a list of alternatives but you still need to be canny to work out how to replace the unreplaceable.

Solution #1. Do all the searches separately and aggregate them yourself. So, do a Google Blog search, get the RSS off that, aggregate it with an IceRocket search maybe, a Twitter search (if you can find out how to get RSS off Twitter searches nowadays – fortunately I made a note of how to do this before they removed it from visibility), a Google News search, etc etc. Aggregate these in Google Reader or Netvibes some such thing. Good luck with Facebook, fingers crossed Twitter doesn’t remove RSS altogether, enjoy the vaguaries of how YouTube, Flickr etc handle search queries, and so on. And, of course, you don’t get the metrics or the other coooool stuff.

Solution #2. Roll your own solution with Yahoo Pipes. I put a lot of work into Pipes quite some time ago. I built myself a completely modular social media aggregator, so you could change keywords and all the searches reflected it, or change the engine and all the results reflected that. Then I realised I’d just built my own version of Social Mention. But things kept changing and breaking, so I realised that Social Mention was doing the job for me, and instead of driving myself nuts keeping up with these changes, decided to use that instead. Guess what though? Yahoo Pipes stopped being reliable enough to use, and remains so despite a recent relaunch of the v2 engine. And guess what again though again? It’s the only solution out there that does what Yahoo Pipes does, for free. Sound familiar? Which heavily implies solution #3…

Solution #3. Accept that singularly useful, free services are an anomaly of the early years of social media, bite the bullet, and go to a pay-for service. There seems to be a new one every time I look, and I’m sure one of them will do what you want it to do. Check out the PDF report on Stephen’s page, it’s a good summary of them.

So, that’s my take on it. Solution #4 is, of course, to wait and see what happens to Social Mention. I really really really really hope this is not The End because I had plans for it. Same thing nearly happened with Delicious, which survived. But if this really is It, well, it was fun while it lasted.

Models for working with social media: what works, what sort of works, and what really doesn’t

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how best to work with clients. It strikes me that this is a process that should, at the end, have a client who knows about social media, and can talk about it and use it with confidence. This is important: clients can smell fear at a hundred paces, and if you start talking social media with your own clients, without knowing what you’re talking about, they’ll sniff you out. I know. I’ve been sniffed a-plenty.

But if you get this process wrong, the opposite can happen. Instead of growing, the client loses confidence, and social media becomes the stuff of nightmares. I’ve had enough midnight fears to know this, but I think I’ve slowly dragged myself up to the point where I know what works and what doesn’t, and I’d like to help clients avoid palpitations too.

So here’s my take on what really doesn’t work, what sort of works, and my recommendation for what really works. Naturally, my recommendation is what I actually do for a living, but this is my blog and I can say what I like on it.

Really doesn’t work: Getting someone in to do everything

If you really don’t know a thing about social media, then pretty much the worst thing you can do is get someone in to take over the entire operation. And this is me talking as a social media consultant.

For why? Well, for a start you won’t know what you’re selling in to the client, and as the client continues to ask questions, and you continue not to know the answer, the panic, fear and intimidation you feel now will multiply tenfold.

Secondly, you won’t understand what the social media person is talking about. You’ll feel like having a little cry because it’ll all seem so foreign. You’ll lose confidence because you’ll continue not to understand, because you haven’t invested time in finding out for yourself, or being trained.

Thirdly, the social media person will also want to have a little cry because he or she has to explain everything, all the time, over and over and over and over and over again.

Finally, the pressure on the social media person is immense. He or she has to become the content expert in everything you do, as well as actually do it, and explain everything, and manage everything. Eventually you’ll find you’re actually getting in the way of managing your own account, and you’ll want to have another little cry.

Basically, no one really learns anything and everyone wants to have a little cry.

Sort of works: Learning on the job

‘Owning’ social media in-house is your ultimate objective and if you already have someone who knows about social media – that is, someone who has used it in a professional communications or marketing context rather than someone with a Facebook account – then you’re lucky. Cultivate that person, and make sure they spread the knowledge far and wide across your organisation.

But often, just fumbling through is the surefire way to reinvent the wheel, and we all know how painful it can be, for example figuring out what shape that should be or indeed what colour. So you really will learn about social media, warts and all, but with pain.

Really works: Training and counsel to achieve in-house expertise

I know, I know, I know, this is a blatant sell, but I really think this is the best model. I’m helping several clients through training them in a series of small sessions. Then I’m helping them put into practice what I’ve told them and then, finally, they get to do it for themselves, just asking me occasionally when they get stuck.

This comes after thinking that, by working with clients, they would learn by a process of example or osmosis. They didn’t, because then they think “Brendan does the social media”, and that’s the “Hand it all to someone else” model described above.

But in this model, everyone gains: the client gets clued up and confident without the pain; the social media person feels he or she is actually getting somewhere because they can discuss social media without explaining the basics over and over again; and the client can manage their own accounts in their own way, taking their clients through the options and winning their confidence. No more sniffing.

So, that’s my take on it. Imagine curves going up, or down. Model one, everything goes downhill. Model two, sort of up a bit, down a bit, but you get there eventually. Model three, you grow up, I push you out of the nest, you plummet momentarily then ascend like a magnificent golden eagle. I know which I’d rather have.

Trends

Quite simply, some charts that may be of interest. For example, note how Apple is supplanting Microsoft in search volume; that PR may be peeling upwards away from advertising and even marketing; the relative fortunes of Google+, Facebook and Twitter; social media may be levelling off; and, especially heartwarming for me, Star Wars is much more popular than Star Trek (mostly).

All charts are for all regions and years except the politics chart which is just for the UK over the past 12 months (because a lot can happen in 12 months!) Click each chart to go to the Google Trends page for more information, such as the news items that account some spikes (A, B, C etc).

● microsoft ● apple

● ed miliband ● david cameron ● nick clegg ● politics

● hp ● dell ● ibm ● hardware

● advertising ● marketing ● pr ● social media

● social media

● google+ ● facebook ● twitter

● star wars ● star trek

Podcasts pay

So, I’m falling in love with my HTC Wildfire, not least because it’s re-opened the world of podcasts. My old PC is now downloading them and wirelessly throwing them across to the phone, as well as downloading web intelligence for clients, and helping to cure cancer and find aliens via distributed computing. Fab.

Anyway, what I really meant to say is: I used to listen to For Immediate Release which is a one-hour long weekly podcast run by Shel Holz and Neville Hobson who between them have run comms at the highest levels for major corporations. You’d expect to pay handsomely for their consultancy time but you can download their podcast for free. It’s by quite some distance the best marketing/PR/comms podcast out there with the accent on social media and today I happened to listen to their 600th episode. What an achievement.

Now I’m back in the podcasting habit, I’d forgotten how useful it is. Every time I listen to it I get ideas. For example: you never know, a client might one day want to stay up to date but not have time to read stuff, in which case how about creating a podcast specifically for that client, which quite literally involves reading web pages/articles that might be of interest? It’s just this off-the-wall idea that sometimes clients really value: that is, you’ve shown that you’re soaking up best practice as well as creative ideas and that’s what the client pays for. And you can only get those ideas if you open your eyes and ears, in work and out of it.

So, if you’re a commuter and you like sitting staring into space you could do much, much worse than spend a bit of time listening to it during your commute. Just to go http://www.forimmediaterelease.biz/ or find it on iTunes.

Want PR? Been Penalized by Google? Then lead a campaign.

Campaigns are an often-overlooked weapon in the PR arsenal. And, when conducted properly, social media can really, really help – which is what I’m hoping will happen with the ‘Have I Been Penalized’ campaign.

I spent some of my most creative, exciting and formative years working with Dr. Marc Pinter-Krainer on the Sharepages.com website and then for its parent company, KTS. Marc went into boardrooms and blew people away with the tech (cloud computing to deliver financial information before ‘cloud computing’ had been invented), while I wrote and designed everything, online and offline, that people saw or read.

Since then, I’ve found my niche in online comms. Marc has forged a new business, One News Page, which aggregates news feeds in a cleverly direct, sophisticated and simple way. With one catch: for nine months, his site was penalized by Google, and his web traffic dropped off a cliff. I remember searching for it and not being able to find it at the time, and thinking that was, well, weird.

Now that One News Page is back on Google’s results, Marc is leading a campaign to raise awareness of the penalties, and consequences, for pretty much any business out there. Of course, it hurts more for a purely online enterprise such as One News Page, but it’s a fair bet that any company would suffer if its web traffic dropped significantly.

And Marc’s point is this: that, given the essence of running a business is balancing risk, and you’re not even aware that there’s a risk you will be penalized, then this becomes a major problem. Especially so when the channels for redress from Google are so limited, comprising just one query page that only ever seems to return an automated response.

So I’ve done a bit of Marc’s publicity for him here by writing this post. But what I really mean to say is that campaigns are such a good way to get good PR. If you’ve got the balls to do it, arm yourself with facts, figure out your campaign strategy, then stick your head over the parapet and let rip. Next thing you know you’re seen as a true leader, with a strong brand, and plenty of online copy (and, I expect in Marc’s case, offline too).

It’s the essence of PR. Don’t talk about yourself. People don’t necessarily want to hear you talk about how great your products and people and services are. But they do want to know how issues will affect them. If you can position yourself as a leader in these mission-critical areas, the doors to publicity open wide.

And social media? Well, never has the phrase ‘disintermediation of the web’ rung more true. Create a video, and a site, and maybe a Twitter account, and you can address your audience directly, in a compelling way, engaging in the debate and spreading the word. And campaigns are all about debate, right?

I’ll sign off with a bit more free publicity for Marc. Watch the ‘Have I Been Penalized?’ video to find out what the true risk of Google penalties means for you, visit the ‘Have I Been Penalized?’ website to sign up for the campaign email list, or follow the campaign’s progress to address Google penalties on Twitter. I’m watching it with interest, and it could pan out to be a fascinating case study.

Oh, and a final disclaimer: I’m not part of Marc’s campaign. Besides, he seems to be doing fine himself…

What do subscribe, like and follow have in common?

They’re all ways of linking, true.

They’re all different words for linking on blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and so on. Also true.

But they all mean the same thing. And that thing is?

“I find what you have to say interesting, and I’d like to know more.”

This probably strikes you as blindingly obvious, but it does make you realise: what’s the point of starting any social media programme unless you’ve got something to say? Why should people be interested if you don’t have anything unique or interesting to say? And why should they come back if you stop saying it?

And this cuts to the heart of communications in so many ways, whether offline or online.

Imagine you’re setting up a radio station. You’ve erected the mast, bought a cool studio, installed your microphone and unnecessarily huge mixing desk. You smoked 20 Woodbine a day for the past year to give your voice that gravelly texture. Everything’s in place. You flick the switch. You’re on air. Everyone’s waiting. But you suddenly realise you don’t have anything to say or play. It’s just a big empty speech bubble.

Would this ever happen? I’d like to think not. In so-called ‘traditional’ media you think about what content you’re going to produce, whether in print or broadcast, who it’s going to be for, what are their needs and wants, and so on. PR people do the same, just on the other side of the media mirror. And we do the same in ‘new’ media, if you can imagine such a thing as a three-way mirror.

The point I’m making is that so much of what we do in social media relies on exactly the same processes traditional media would go through. We don’t wave a magic wand. It’s not weird science or a black art. Messaging, content, audiences, everything you’d think about in a ‘traditional’ comms programme, you need to think about with social media too. But most of all, it’s about content. Actually having something to say, and saying it in an engaging, interesting, relevant way.

It doesn’t matter what you call it. Subscribe, Like and follow all mean: we’re listening, so talk!