Oi! Facebook! No!

It is hard to type, blog snorkellers mine, with your head in your hands and your eyes clouded by roiling waves of despair.

What gives, the more solicitous of you (I am sure) will want to know. Well, since you asked, it’s this. ‘This’, for those of you who have an issue wid da clickety-boo and don’t want their screen cluttered up with too many windows (oooo – we might lose track of what’s open and be surprised later and that would NEVER do), is a link to Metro, a UK-based free morning paper. A bit gossipy, a bit sensational, maybe even a little lightweight – but influential, no doubt. I don’t know what the circulation is (and if you’re that interested, you can go find out for yourselves) but it’s a lot. No-one turns down a free paper.

(Apart from fusty old codgers who insist on paying for The Thunderer. Oh, and social workers who couldn’t live without their morning lean-to-the-left from The Guardian. And, of course, Middle England, which wouldn’t be Middle England without being constantly whipped into a frenzy of mindless bigotry, casual racism and general outrage by the super, soaraway Daily Mail. Apart from them.)

Anyway – and the link to Metro’s website doesn’t do any sort of justice to the full horror of this – this morning’s front page feature was all about Facebook reaching 500m users. And lots of little ‘factoids’ (26m users in Britain – that’s a third of the population!) and some mealy-mouthed motherhood statements from the boy-demon, Mark Zuckerberg.

C’mon, bloggy people – what’s wrong with this picture?

  • It’s not news – it merely provides a seal of approval for people’s grubby obsession wid da ‘book
  • OK, it could be argued that it IS news – populist, describing a global phenomenon, huge numbers, societal step-change etc etc – but I always thought there had to be two sides to news. Where’s the counter-argument? The nearest we get to it is a nod to the fact that Facebook doesn’t make a profit, and that Azrael Zuckerberg may have to give a slice of his horrible action to some guy he had a contract with some time ago. (And you wouldnae want to read the small print on THAT contract, mark my words)
  • Where does the data come from? Oooooh, ooooh, oooooh! Let me guess! Facebook?
  • Not even a nod to the fact that only a proportion of those registered Facebookians are actually active
  • No nod to the trend for people to create Facebook accounts for their pets
  • No nod to the exceptionally poor nature of the bulk of the content
  • And certainly no recognition of the possibility that serious Facebookists (most likely, I wouldn’t want to be quoted on this) have serious issues of a rather disturbing nature

If you don’t believe me – or if you simply want to marvel at the random fuckwittery that is the bulk of Facebook, have a quick shufti at this. This is Failbook. Mostly shit, occasionally jaw-droppingly, buttock-clenchingly awful.

Anyway, the good news is that this undoubtedly heralds the start of the silly season. Yes, dear communications specialists everywhere, it is time to kick back, dust off the really stupid ideas that wouldn’t stand a chance at any other time of the year, and get filling those empty column inches!

Good luck to you all!

Social Media – Careful What You Twit For

There was an article by Duncan Bannantyne (one of those TV entrepreneurs) in the Telegraph recently, dealing with Twitter and how it had got him into trouble. The article started thus:

“Does Gordon Ramsay always eat in one of his restaurants? Does Tiger Woods only wear Nike clothing?

 I suspect not.

 Yet when I had the audacity to spend some time at my French villa in between filming for a forthcoming TV show on great British seaside towns, I was called a “hypocrite” by sections of the national media.”

(You can read the whole thing by doing clickety-doos here.)

Unfortunately, Mr Bannantyne is labouring under the impression that the media hate him because he was filming a programme on British seaside towns, and spending time at his villa in France. I’d hazard a guess that really, that’s not the problem. The problem is that he’s got a villa in France and he’s Twittering about it. And about having glasses of wine. At his villa in France.

It’s a very fine line, obviously. He’s a successful man (I believe) and therefore he has the trappings of success. And quite right too. Thing is, people don’t really want to know about it. What they want to know from Mr Bannantyne is how to ape his success – they want from him pearls of wisdom in terms of entrepreneurship, growing businesses – making cash.

So, three things. (And, in fairness, Mr Bannantyne asks the questions and recognises the issues.)

The hubris of Twitter – why would you post from an airport terminal when you’ve time to spare? No-one – apart from your close friends and family (and not many of them) – cares whether you’ve got time on your hands in an airport terminal.

The content you post to Twitter – if you’re a celebrity, if people expect stuff from you, if you’re an expert on something, then recognise your responsibility. There’s things people want to know and things they don’t.

The ubiquity and immediacy of Twitter – once it’s posted, assume it’s everywhere.

Anyone who follows this blog (the blog that nobody reads) will know how I feel about social media and the dangers to corporate reputation that it represents. I think this is a great case in point – Mr Bannatyne is his own body corporate. He has a reputation to uphold – a reputation that he trades on. His off-the-cuff Tweets did some damage.

He’s a serious businessman. He probably understands the ins and outs of communication. Imagine the damage that could be done by someone posting to social media, on behalf of a brand or organisation, that doesn’t have an understanding of communication.

Public Relations – Worthy of the Term ‘Profession’?

Sorry. I’ve been reading PR Week again.

I know I shouldn’t, and there’s nothing to be gained, and that if I continue to do it, I’ll end up as a bearded, wild-eyed, string-shoelaced, shambling apparition, destined to ride on the Circle Line forever, muttering ‘buggrit, buggrem, I told ’em it weren’t right, ‘advertising value equivalent’, they says to me, buggrit, what, says I, I do, it means nothing, shrimp and spanners, buggrem’.

Probably.

Anyway, PR Week. It makes me cross. Sometimes it makes me REALLY cross. It is distinctly possible that I shouldn’t take it so seriously. It is even possible that the magazine is staffed by a bunch of post-modern ironists who are so clever, so sharp, that what, on the surface, can appear inane drivel is, in fact, the most telling commentary and satire, but so finely-honed that its real message is hidden from all but an enlightened few. Right.

This week, the thing that’s made me cross is one of the biggest issues facing our industry. I’m assuming I’m right in saying this because it’s certainly something that better minds that mine have been discussing since I first sat in a chair and made a weak attempt at trying to interest a journalist in the ‘news’ of a revolutionary hair removal system. (Don’t ask.)

It’s the issue of why isn’t PR taken seriously? Why doesn’t PR have (very often) a seat at the top table? Why, when PR is described as a ‘profession’ is there always an echoing of sniggering in the background? (Even when there’s no-one there.) Why is PR described as ‘lightweight’ and ‘fluffy’ – and why do people believe that it is? Why is PR not seen as a ‘proper job’? Why is it, at worst, ignored and at best, barely tolerated?

(And before anyone starts, you know this is, in the main, true. Yes, there are some organisations where PR is given the respect it should command – but they are few and far between.)

There are many possible answers – and maybe I’ll come back to them. Today, let’s concentrate on one of the biggest culprits – in fact a load of the biggest culprits – us – the industry itself. How is anyone going to take PR seriously if we persist in perpetuating the myths and prancing around like a bunch of knobs.

Yes, we don’t all do it. In fact, I’d imagine, very few of us do it. But. But. And this is why PR Week makes me cross this week. You see, according to the rules of communication, it only takes one incident to ruin the reputation of the industry. Especially if that incident is kindly emblazoned in the pages of what purports to be the voice of the industry. So, this week, step foward Deborah Clark Associates ‘celebrating the launch of the ‘Cornwall Twestival” – what were you thinking of?

I’m not going to link to the picture here. Suffice it say it smacks of ill-conceived sixth-form amateur dramatics. It was lightweight AND it was fluffy. But, ignoring for the moment the obvious question of what possessed these people to do this in the first place, the other obvious question is what in the name of all that’s holy were PR Week thinking of when they decided to print it?

It’s tough times for PR. We all know that. But with friends like PR Week, who needs enemies?

Social media: Preposterous before…er…Posterous came along?

Apparently sane person is asked what they consider to be the ‘next big thing’ in social media. (Actually, scratch that ‘apparently sane’ bit – anyone who’s in a position to be asked what they consider to be the blah blah blah is obviously several tweets short of the full nest.) And this person named three potentials – Foursquare, Brightkite and Posterous and another one the name of which I simply couldn’t be arsed to remember which wasn’t, after all, a ‘social medium’ in the true sense, more a CMS. Which, therefore, doesn’t really make it eligible to be the new Twitter. Even I know that.

Anyway, given that I’ve already had a look at Brightkite some time ago and felt that it really had very little to offer (well, it didn’t, go and look for yourself), I thus had two to choose from and I chose Posterous.

Now. If something had been touted to you as the next big thing in social media, you’d expect it to be a bit special, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you? Or is it just me? Yes, of course you would. Well, here it is:

http://posterous.com/

And no, don’t bother, because it isn’t.

Maybe it is me. Maybe I’m missing something. I read another post this morning about the wonderful world and uses of Twitter and how big companies like Dell and Pepsi and Coke…………………hold on a cotton-picking moment. Aren’t they the same three companies that are ALWAYS mentioned whenever someone wants to demonstrate how social media has been used to corporate advantage? Are there no other examples?

I can only draw one conclusion. And it’s the same one. Social media and social media marketing are another minor royal with no clothes on. Not even an Emperor, more a Duke of somewhere not-terribly-important. Posterous – and the acqusition of Friendfeed by Facebook are nothing more than the desperate attempts of those who are making a living from the chimaera to string that living out for a little longer.

Tell me I’m wrong.

Over-Confidence or The Dawn of a New Era?

I’m really not clever enough for this, but here we go anyway:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/aug/10/peter-mandelson-interview-decca-aitkenhead

Massive mistake? Brilliant piece of rehab PR? Signal to the country (or those who think about it, anyway) that there’s a new prime minister in town?  Advance warning to the lefty faithful?

What was this all about? Mr Mandelson comes across as a pantomime villain (or pantomime dame). The references to his ‘aides’ and the notes and glances passed between them could be directly from an airport novel, or an American drama (series 2, episode 12). What were they/he/who thinking on this one?

Peter Mandelson is running the country, people. Unelected, unlooked-for and unasked-for. He is the most powerful man in the country, and – as far as I can see, to show us all how easy it’s been and how established his powerbase is – he gives an interview in which he comes across as camper than the Childcatcher outta Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It’s Paul O’Grady, but more sinister.

And the real worry about all of this? The fact that a ‘serious’ paper like Teh Grauniad publishes speculation that Pete might end up as Prime Minister. He’s a spin doctor, for God’s sake. He’s one of us. He’s a communications practitioner.

Actually, that’s not the real worry. The real worry, for me anyway, is that I’ve spent my career believing that things would be run better if comms practitioners were at the top table – and possibly, maybe, in charge. Now, it appears that a comms practitioner might achieve that goal – and might, actually, be in charge.

And guess what – I think it might be a good thing – but as I said at the beginning – I’m not really clever enough for this.

‘Tis The Season to be Silly

Just a reminder to all that the Silly Season is here and – if you’re not already carping the diem – it’s time to dust off all those rubbish stories that would never make the cut in a million years normally, and get them out there! There’s acres of  gaping media void to be filled and we, the few, have a duty to fill it.

This morning – and OK, it was one of those terrible free papers (but somehow so much closer to the zeitgeist than your average broadsheet, d’you not think?) – there was a story (‘story’) about someone on holiday in Great Yarmouth (I think, could have been Skegness – it doesn’t matter – seaside town anyway) sending a postcard to someone at home in the West Country. On looking at the photo, a view of the seafront, taken over a decade ago, the recipient discovered it included images of her and her daughters, sat on a park bench! What are the chances! Cue much mumbling in astonishment and small-world commentary.

(The fact that the person sending the card sent it because they knew the recipient was a fan of the seaside town, and had visited, at peak season, many years on the trot, and that she and her daughters often sat on the same bench, does actually reduce the chances considerably, but never let logic get in the way of a good story.)

Yes – the silly season’s here. I even read a story about some guy – Peter, I think – who’s managed to become the most powerful man in the country, without going through the boring rigmarole of being elected, or with any form of public consent or (indeed) knowledge at all!

Amazing the old nonsense that gets printed.