Public Service Announcement

This, I’m afraid, is one of those moments when I really, really wish I’d written it down. Then I’d have a source and the point would be better made than it’s going to be. Then again, in the interests of mitigating against the possibility of doing a Bercow (Sally, not John) and becoming liable for an enormous sum through having referenced something or someone wot didn’t like it up’ em, maybe it’s better that I don’t have a source.

Anyway, you be the judge on the whole sourcey debate. I’m just going to push through it. There I was, either watching TV or listening to the radio – see why I wish I’d written this down? – and up popped one of what I guess are still called ‘public service announcements’.

The sort of thing that is produced by government, funded by the taxpayer and, in a mostly well-meaning, slightly patronising and broadly ineffective way, attempts to ‘help’ the general population with some tips on how to make things better.

The sort of thing that springs to mind is – and forgive me, for, clunky black plastic device from an early episode of Star Trek(*) that I might be, I am not of this vintage – the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ campaign, later, advice on what to do in the event of a nuclear strike (hide under the table, as I recall), later than that, the Green Cross Code Man (which was quite good AND starred Darth Vader), about the same time, Charley the cat and his advice on any number of issues including strangers and, into this century, The Management (actually, these were excellent) and Gimme Five a Day (not so much).

So this was a public service announcement, probably the work of the DTI, in conjunction with the DEL, quite clearly aimed at small businesses. So far so good – the success of small businesses is central to the success of the economy, to boosting employment, to facilitating training and skills development. The UK needs entrepreneurs. The UK needs to be seen to be business-friendly and open for business. So I’ve been told by my mates Dave, Nick and Ed, anyway. (Not by Nige, mind.)

Unfortunately, this PSA (looky here, I done made a TLA(**)!) centred around – in the first instance – an hairdresser. Whose mates and clients were all on social media. All on social media, apparently, discussing their hairstyles. And therefore, through the voodoo and spooky juju of tinternet, boosting our heroine’s business to the point, we were led to believe, that Vidal Sassoon himself may have thought ‘oi, oi, competition!’

Then, a voiceover which had, quite clearly, been scripted by someone in government and recorded by someone in education and was, therefore not wholly in touch with the subject matter, the audience or the zeitgeist (which, of course, I so am), told us that there are hundreds of people looking for your (the target audience’s) business and unless you’re on the social, they won’t find you.

Where to start, gentle readers, where to start.

First, I don’t think there are hundreds of people looking for your business. Hairdressers in general, maybe, in the same way that people look for toilet roll, but you’ll not build a business on people looking for you. Second, they’re most definitely not looking for you on social. Social media strategy is – once and for all – for the larger business that has the time and resource to waste on it.

Third – if it’s a PSA about new media – why use old media to get it out there? Hmmmm? Is it that social doesn’t have the reach – or is that traditional media carry more weight and are more likely to influence?

And if so, why advocate social to business people who do not have time and whose marketing efforts would be better focused elsewhere?

Nanny state. Makes me cross.

(*) Old communicator

(**) Three Letter Acronym

Yammer, yammer, yammer

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (actually, it was on the outskirts of Luton, but when you work at head office in the City, Luton really does seem far, far away) I was privy to an early dabble in using electronic fora – messageboards, if you will – for internal communication purposes.

I am, as my regular readers will know, an old communicator. (Rather like one of those clunky black plastic devices off of an early episode of Star Trek. Badoom tish. The gag that never stops giving.) So this was many years ago – indeed so much so that my memories are sepia-tinted and stored on five-and-a-quarter-inch floppies – and it was a bit of a groundbreaker.

The idea – of course – was based on the concept (still current today) that you should engage with your employees, give them a voice, listen to what they have to say, encourage them to contribute and get it on with a bit of the old ‘you said….we did’ malarkey. It was also believed that such a forum would encourage sharing of knowledge and experience and – in a corporate context – allow for the dissemination and subsequent passing on of policies, procedures and operating practices.

At this time, being part of an electronic and virtual community, powered by the wonders of the new-fangled interwebosphere, was really rather daring. And – here’s the key bit – no-one had any real experience of how such a thing would function and – most importantly – how the key players (the employees) would interact with it.

Now I just know, at this point, that you – loyal readers – are shaking your heads and averting your eyes because – with the benefit of your years of exposure to social networks (for yes, this is what that was, in essence) – you can predict what comes next.

But in case you’ve not arrived at the ugly conclusion (for such it is) yet, let me tell you that the users of this proto-social medium, this ur-twitter, were many thousands of employees, scattered around the country in small teams, manning what can best be described as lower-end retail outlets.

As I recall, it took less than a week for the sheer quantity of ridiculousness and the myriad examples of internet Tourette’s to warrant the beginning of a damage limitation process that – in fairly short order – saw the tool shut down. No – it didn’t work as expected – no-one was really into sharing knowledge and best practice, no-one was into disseminating corporate updates.

No – they were in to insulting each other across the country, excoriating management, getting all sweary and generally getting their inappropriate on in a jungle stylee. This was, I have to say, something of a surprise at the time – I don’t think anyone saw it coming – as we simply didn’t equate giving people a voice with them using it.

I think we believed in some happy nirvana where people took responsibility, used their common sense and where ‘selfies’ did not, and never would, exist. Today, of course, with Zuckerberg-tinted hindsight, we recognise the awful truth of what we’ve done (and what, I’m afraid, cannot be undone).

Give people a voice and they will use it, as if it is a right. They will use it despite the fact they have nothing to say. They will use it to settle grievances, even scores, wash dirty laundry, put hearts on sleeves, bare souls and share the unthinkable. And probably try to unscrew the inscrutable. Given half the chance.

Which is why I’ve never had much time for Yammer – the so-called ‘enterprise social network’. As Spinal Tap said ‘there’s such a fine line between stupid and clever’ and – from experience – I think it is too much to ask of your employees to have to tread it.

Facebook are, apparently, contemplating a similar tool – if this is so, I think that the line is getting finer and finer by the minute.

The Emperor’s New Wearable Tech

Just to be quite clear, this is one from the vaults – what I laughingly refer to as an ‘archive’. A back-catalogue, if you will. Which means it’s a little out of date, because normally, in these infrequent nusings, you’ll find me chuntering on about stuff that I’ve either been (metaphorically) hit over the head with, or have gleaned from rapid perusal of the news media. And news has always been quick to become ‘olds’, and doubly so in today’s age of instant-gratification citizen journalism, so it would be – I’m sure you’d agree – pretty much inevitable that anything I write on the topic of news is likely to be out of date fairly soon. (Is it just me or is this all a bit, well, prolix? Get on with it Jeremy, spit it out, man!)

However. The musing that I post below, while news related, actually centres around tech and the development of. What makes it interesting – and, I think, indicative of where we, as a society are headed, increasingly rapidly – is that it was written in October last year. October 2014. We’re now in April 2015 – six months on. In that time, Google Glass – for it is this tech that I’m writing about – has been introduced, has been the subject of a myriad failed attempts at assimilation by a myriad of businesses, large and small, has been deemed a failure by Google itself and has been pulled. Talk about a week being a long time in technology.

As an aside, I’m reading a book at present called ‘Twelve Tomorrows’ – twelve science fiction stories based on actual articles from the MIT Journal. All the stories were written in 2014, almost all contain some element of wearable tech. There’ll be another twelve published this year – and I wonder what shiny object du jour they’ll all incorporate.

So, a quick show of hands. Who here is getting involved with Google Glass, or any other bit of wearable tech, in a business context? Now, clearly, I can’t see how many of you have your hands up at this point, but when Google Glass is purported to be owned by 8% of the total population of South Korea, I am betting it’s quite a few of you.

The problem, of course, is that Google Glass – and indeed any form of wearable tech – suffers from the same issue that social media did and, despite its ubiquity and billions of users, still does. Shiny Object Syndrome or, in what I believe to be the current vernacular, FOMO.

In other words, the desperate and rather unseemly desire of brands, businesses and organisations to try and shoehorn wearable tech into their operational practices, in order to be seen to be surfing the next wave – in order that someone else doesn’t get there first.

And, much like social media, we’re starting to see the growth of an industry around wearable tech. The Google Glass Gurus will soon be here, the Smart Watch Swamis and the entire rag, tag and bobtail who will very soon be plugged in to your operational, marketing and customer service budgets, providing essential advice on how best to revolutionise your business with wearable tech.

And, as usual, the only people who will actually see an upside from incorporating wearable tech into sales, marketing or CRM will be the very same snake-oil salesmen who convinced you to do exactly that in the first place.

Recently there have been a number of examples of businesses who have succumbed to the blandishments of the tech gurus – a healthy sense of self-preservation and a desire not to incriminate myself prevents me from naming names – however, this time round, and unlike the unstoppable rise of social media as a marketing tool, the businesses involved have left themselves what you might call ‘wiggle room’.

I’m an old communicator. Like one of those clunky black plastic devices out of an early episode of Star Trek. When I started out (with nothing, and I still have most of it left) there weren’t social media. Actually, there wasn’t email. We used to communicate over distance using flags. (Just kidding. We used to shout.) What we did do a lot of, however, was spinning yarns – using research, and innovation and, let’s face it, stuff that, on a nice day, with a fair wind, might possibly come true, to create stories and generate media coverage.

In many cases, the wares that we hawked up and down Fleet Street came with clear ‘caveat emptor’ signs – we were ‘trialling’ this and ‘testing’ that – we had conducted a ‘limited roll-out’ and whatever it was became available in ‘selected outlets’. And this is what we’re seeing with wearable tech – the businesses I’ve mentioned are all very much ‘trialling’ the usage of the kit in their operations, they’re ‘evaluating’ its potential.

Which leaves me some hope that, sooner or later, our collective hive memory will recall the fate of the Bluetooth headset, once the darling of the thrusting young exec, now the accessory of choice of a certain type of minicab driver.

And recalling the fate of the Bluetooth headset, we’ll look anew at Google Glass and see it for what it is – a stepping stone. You see, I don’t dispute the potential of the tech. It’s widely agreed that smartphone design has evolved as far as it can – it cannot get much thinner, or much larger or much simpler to interact with.

But the future’s not wearable tech. Nope – in the future the bloke who was recently reported as addicted to Google Glass won’t have to take it off ever again. Because it’ll be implanted in his skull and hardwired into his brain.

And, obviously, available in selected stores, for a trial period only.

What’s In A Name?

Sometimes, I feel that all this was made up just for my benefit. My older readers will remember a movie called The Truman Show, in which manic comedian Jim Carrey discovers that his whole life is a reality TV show played out for the entertainment of the masses. It’s the little things that, eventually, give it away.

For me, it’s names. Striking and wonderful names which, somehow, give pause for thought. Quite clearly, it is a game being played by those who are running my personal show – seeing how just how far they can take it before I have to stand up and say ‘c’mon guys – really?’

It started quite innocuously. President Canaan Banana. Rugby player Austin Healy. Emma Dale. The news reporter, Julia Caesar. Recently, however, it’s become quite serious. Obviously, the directors of my show – confronted, I imagine, by collapsing ratings befitting a programme probably entitled ‘The Not Very Inspiring Life and Times of the Rather Humdrum Jeremy Probert’ – need to provoke me to some sort of reaction.

So they’ve thrown me into contact with Hubertus Funke, Elly Button and – I kid you not – Ting Ting Dong. (Never mind the spurned mistress of billionaire Samuel Tak Lee, who tried to blackmail him for £3m – take a bow, the entirely-appropriately-named Fuk Wu.) But it’s not just amazingly named people that are the cause of my disquiet.

Toward the end of 2013, The Wall Street Journal (I have to say, I think Big Brother could have done better with that one) published a list of companies entitled ‘The Billion-Dollar Start Up Club’. These are startup companies that are valued at $1bn plus by venture capital firms. Running down the list, we see included Jingdong, Zalando, Houzz, Jasper, Deem and – oh, yes – MongoDB.

Now, the so-called ‘Wall Street Journal’ (I’m on to your game, sonny) has a back-story for each of them – quite convincing as it turns out – but even then, there are the little clues, the in-jokes, the oh-so-arch references that give it away. Take Palantir. Valued at $9.3bn in the last quarter of 2013, its data mining software is used by ‘the CIA and the FBI to distil large amounts of information’.

Of course, everyone here will know that a Palantir is a creation of JRR Tolkien in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. An artefact of great power, of Elvish creation, it was an early form of mobile communication device (although the largest of the Palantiri suffered from the same design flaw as the Motorola DynaTAC in 1973 – it was the size of a small room) combining some of the features of Cisco’s TelePresence. More germane to my argument, however, is that fact that when we see a Palantir in action – so to speak – in The Lord of The Rings, it’s being used by Sauron, the Dark Lord.

And, arguably, he’s using it to ‘distil large amounts of information’. Coincidence? I think not. (Yes, I realise that it is possible that the founders of Palantir decided to use the name for EXACTLY THE REASONS I HAVE OUTLINED HERE. But they can’t have – because that would be the conclusive proof I’ve been looking for. Wouldn’t it?)

Another unmistakeable hole in the fabric of what I will laughingly call my ‘reality’ is, of course, the frankly silly numbers that are being attached to these startups. In the WSJ’s list, Snapchat’s there with a value of $2bn. (Twice the value of Mogujie, as it turns out. See? See what I mean?) Today, and following a judicious investment of $20m from the VCs, it’s got a valuation of $10bn. Not bad, Messrs Murphy and Spiegel, for a few months work on something that doesn’t actually generate any revenues (no surprises there, then).

Frankly, with all of this going on, you cannot expect me to believe I’m living in a sane and rational ‘real world’. I’ve been Jeremy Probert. Thank you for watching.

Never Trust a Hippie

This got me into a bit of trouble. Here’s the unexpurgated version for thos amongst you who don’t hold with no new-fangled expurgation and likes to call a spade a spade. Or in this case a ‘pikey’.

What? Are you still here? I have to say, what with the yawning abyss of time between this issue and the last, I’d have thought you might’ve got bored and ambled off in a slightly distracted (but wholly benevolent) manner. Found something else to watch. And on the subject of watching, which I am (serendipitously enough), let’s talk about hippies and social media – ideal bedfellows, perhaps, at first glance.

Well, yes, in one way. Like a hippie, social is all about freedom of expression and speech, it’s all about participation and equality, it’s about everyone having a voice and being able to use it, it’s all about a lack of rules and regulation, about immediacy and instantaneous sharing.

Oooooh, it makes cold shivers run down my spine. As John Lydon once said ‘never trust a hippie’ and social media are a breeding ground for them and their woolly, ill-informed (if well-intentioned) thinking. It’s a mire of mung beans, a lake of llamas, a whole load of hessian and the usual of yurts. If I think about it – if social had a colour it would be pastel and tie-dyed, if it had a sound it would be pan pipes and if it had an odour it would (of course) be patchouli. Its metaphorical smell would (equally of course) be fishy. Because I don’t trust it.

(I find writing quite therapeutic. Like Timothy Leary and his LSD (he was a hippie), and the South American Indians and their ayahuasca (they’re all hippies), and the publisher of this very magazine and his habit of going to festivals (I suspect he’s a hippie) – I find writing is a path to higher consciousness. For example, I have just now had the revelation that my loathing of social media stems directly from my mistrust of hippies. In the same way that my inability to countenance camping is related to my horror of pikeys.)

(That’s probably an indie band, and if it isn’t it should be, ‘The Horror of Pikeys’.)

Is there any point to this? Sorry, that’s not a metaphorical question, it’s more a summation of what I imagine you’re thinking. And the answer is yes – yes, there is. You see I recently had a run in with some hippies which only served to reinforce many of my beliefs about social media and why they are – in a business communications context – so badly contaminated as to be dangerous.

Exploring that for a moment. I know that social media, like traditional media, have many aspects – a gamut of seriousness and usefulness, from the gravitas of the FT to the fluffery of OK Magazine. Where there is a difference is that there are only two social media and this entire gamut is contained within each one. You can’t choose to opt out, in the same way that I can choose not to buy Grazia.

Did you know, for example, that Shakira (whose hips, clearly, do not lie) is the most liked thing on Facebook, after Facebook itself and its ‘phone app? That’s a Grazia piece of news that I didn’t need, but I couldn’t choose to avoid. I even know what a ‘Jennifer Aniston’ is. Yes. I do.

Getting back to my friends, the hippies, or, more accurately, the ‘brave young protestors’ of The Future (see what I mean?) – they recently caused me no little irritation, not by what they did, which was more performance art than protest, but by making unsubstantiated claims on social media. This translated into blogs and citizen journalism and suddenly something completely without foundation or substance might as well be hard fact.

Not-So-Private Lives

Ah! There you are. Come in, come in – do close the door, there’s a good reader. Now, I imagine you’ve been wondering why I sent for you. You see, something is troubling me and – unsurprisingly – it’s a something not wholly unrelated to Big Social. It’s message control, reader mine, and how one manages to maintain it.

I’m talking from a corporate viewpoint, obviously – as far as personal use of social goes, well, how you present yourself is unfortunately up to the individual selfing, trolling, lolling halfwit. I sometimes feel there should be a Ministry of Social, to protect – by force if necessary – the limp-brained feeble buffoons who believe it a good idea to share pictures of themselves sleeping in a nice pool of sick – however recruits to the Ministry would likely be deeply into sharing content and unnorming privacy and it’s jackboots we need, not Crocs.

Recently, I drew up a corporate Use of Social Media policy (bear with me – sounds dull, is important) not because I wish to stop people using social media (actually, I do, but that’s just me) but because I wanted to highlight the possible pitfalls of confusing professional and personal, provide some examples of good and bad practice and spell out potential consequences. One could just block Facebook and Twitter at work (and some do) but a) it seems a bit Draconian (I’m getting soft in my dotage) b) hands up who’s got a smartphone? and c) just wait ‘til they get home.

There’ll be some, I know, who will be outraged at the lack of trust this displays and others who will maintain that employees should be actively encouraged to use social media to promote their companies, organisations and brands.

Thing is – like it or not – social media are communications tools. As already stated – how the individual manages the communication of their personal brand is no business of mine. (The Ministry of Social – like Robocop. But with an attitude.) But communication of corporate brand messages is best left to the professionals. It is not by chance that people make a living out of being professional communicators, nor is the old belief that ‘anyone can do PR’ actually true. In fact, even in the PR industry itself, there is a high number of people who can’t do PR. Why would you put the fate of your business in the hands of an amateur?

Unfortunately, this is exactly what a lot of organisations seem to be doing. I do not have time, or the will, to go into the differences in attitude between public and private sector – suffice it to say that not so long ago I was exposed to a woeful display of social media usage that seemed wholly predicated on the argument ‘I can, so therefore I will’. When questioned further, the answer became ‘people have a right know’. No. Actually – and close your ears those of delicate disposition – people do not always have a right to know. Ask the CIA.

So back to my policy. It went down fine. Most people seemed to understand what it was trying to do. I wasn’t chased down the street with flaming torches and spades. But then I get an email – from an IT security consultant, strangely enough – enquiring whether I’d taken the Human Rights Act of 1998 into account, specifically regarding a right to privacy.

Ooooh, Alanis. (For you, my young reader, that’s Alanis Nadine Morissette, Canadian songstrel.) So, privacy is no longer the norm (according to the Zuckerberg) and anyone can, and does, post anything. Social media are free and all but unregulated – and that freedom is defended vigorously.

But try and establish some right of redress should an employee bring your organisation into disrepute via social and – oh yes – you could be breaching their human right to privacy. A right which the social media world gives away freely, every single day.

On the subject of social……..

It’s another one from the vaults, dearest blog snorkellers mine. I know, I know – when am I going to stop recycling old ramblings and post something written especially for you, my loyal followers. If you’ll come a bit closer….that’s it…….now listen. No-one reads this stuff. So, if you’ve chanced upon it, rest assured that this was, in effect, written especially for you. It has been sullied by a number of eyeballs that’s in the single digits – that’s single digit pairs of eyeballs, obviously, unless I have readers who a) have only a single eye (never mind a single digit) or have mastered the art of reading with one. Eye. Not digit. Clearly. Anyway – this is new! Fresh! Splendid original thought to inform yours! Opinion-shaping and opinion-leading! Ah – who am I kidding.

Normal service will be resumed at some point in the future and, in the meantime, stop your whining and bask in my genius. Enjoy.

Take the case of Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which crash-landed at San Francisco airport on July 6 2013. Within a matter of minutes, one of the surviving passengers – and nearly all of them did survive – was tweeting about it. (Which puts me in mind of the sign in Twitter’s UK HQ – ‘In case of fire, exit building before tweeting about it’.) No-one appeared to have tweeted from Malaysian Airlines MH370, or updated their Facebook status. Which struck me as being a rather bad sign.

Moving on – and apologies, gentle reader, for that was something of what I believe they call a ‘downer’ – there’s been loads of stuff going down in Social Town this month.(I can’t believe I just wrote that.)

In no particular order, the world wide web is 25 years old and when you think about the damage it’s wrought, the amount of less-than-functional geeks that are now worth billions and the amount of TED-derived drivel that one is forced to listen to every day, it’s a wonder that Sir Tim Berners-Lee hasn’t been chased through the streets and pitchforked to death.

In an echo of a previous column, a passenger on a train alerted the train operating company to sinister banging and scraping noises beneath his seat through the medium of Twitter, rather than through the eminently more sensible – to my mind – ‘run down the train shouting until you find a person in authority’ method. What’s really astounding about this is not that he did what he did, but that he considered Twitter the best way of communicating what could have been imminent disaster.

Advertising on Twitter is getting cheaper – good news for all those of you who are considering placing Twatverts, but not a terribly good reflection of the value of Twitter’s promotional real estate. I thought the trick was – ideally – to create a sense of worth around your ad space (through audience profiling) and thus stabilise or increase price while (and here’s the clever bit) increasing quantity of space for sale. Doesn’t seem to have worked in this case, which has to cast doubts on the overall market valuation of Twitter.

Elsewhere, someone finally noticed that LinkedIn requires an entirely different approach to, say, Facebook or Twitter – one that, arguably, removes it from the ‘social media’ space and places it firmly in business networking. And then there were two. A respected American fund manager saw fit to question the values ascribed to these two (and their recent purchases) and mentioned the ‘b’(*) word. And I don’t mean ‘b*ll*cks’, although it would be equally appropriate.

Facebook decided that what Africa really needs, right, is – erm – access to Facebook and invested a sizeable sum in a manufacturer of drone aircraft, which it intends to use as satellites, off of which to bounce t’internet. This will enable people in some of the poorest countries in the world to join the increasing numbers of people offering to sell their organs (quickly) on the social network. It could be the end of payday loans. Until you run out of organs.

David Cameron pledged a £45m investment into research around the Internet of Things – or M2M communications. Given that this won’t buy you a half-decent app these days, it’s a farcically small amount of money to throw at such a big (and important) topic, one that might – possibly – not just be seen as the Next Big Thing, but (unlike social) actually have some of the qualities of bigness, nextness and thingness. But, better little than never.

Apparently, hackers are now targeting internet-enabled devices. This could, of course, mean that when your fridge contacts your smartphone, prompting you to buy milk, you’ll get home to find that you didn’t need any. What really worries me, of course, is that the fridge won’t bother to tip me off about the milk situation because it’s too busy updating its Facebook status.

(*) Bubble

There Is No Secret Ingredient…………..

Those of you who – like me – thought ‘kids – how difficult can it be?’ and then went and got yourself a handful, will most likely be familiar with the film classic ‘Kung Fu Panda’ (2008). And I’m not kidding – it is a classic. Those of you who haven’t got kids, and haven’t seen it – stop what you’re doing right now, hie thee to Netflix with alacrity, sit back and enjoy.

So, having just done you a big favour (no worries, you can – as the Americans would have it – get me back later) I am going to reveal a big truth that will benefit us all. (Yes, it’s in Kung Fu Panda. I’ve not gone all Barry Norman on your collective ass not to make a point.)

It comes when Po (the eponymous panda) is running away from his destiny because he doesn’t understand the scroll of the Dragon Warrior. (See? I told you. Brilliant.) His adoptive father is a duck called Mr Ping, a noodle chef, who shares with him the secret of his famous Secret Ingredient Soup.

“The secret ingredient is…..nothing!……There is no secret ingredient.” At which point Po has an epiphany, which is explained, for an audience that is probably quite young and still slightly hard of thinking, when Mr Ping continues “to make something special, you just have to believe it’s special”.

Which brings me to my point. I don’t for one moment believe social media is special, but I am realising that there is no secret ingredient. And, of course, this has been the problem all along – why otherwise sane companies have chucked endless resource at social media (talking to an airline recently – 130 people on their social media team – think about that for a second or two), why organisations with no revenue-generation model are suddenly worth billions and why social media gurus are the rock stars des nos jours. (Probably a bit of an exaggeration, but you know what I mean.)

A mass breakout of Shiny Object Syndrome caused – and still causes – many to believe that social media are special in some way. And as Mr Ping said, the belief is enough to gloss over the inherent non-specialness. Worse, like Mr Ping’s Secret lngredient Soup – only were I to use a food-based metaphor for social media, it would be Secret Ingredient Tripe ‘n’ Onions – it has been assumed that there is, in fact, a secret ingredient. Something that’s not unakin to the philosopher’s stone of ‘virality’.

And, clearly, while these assumptions still hold sway, you average social media guru can get away with charging over £400 for – I kid you not – a Pinterest Marketing Masterclass. (I’m talking about you, Social Media Advance, of London EC2.)

But there is no secret ingredient. The same stuff that has always counted, still counts. There are still about five elements that will make your narrative a story. A picture will still do its business with a thousand words. The difference is that if the social audience like what they’ve seen, they’ll share it virtually, rather than really chatting to their mates about it down the pub.

But that’s it. You don’t need content prepared especially for social, on the basis that it’s somehow different. You don’t need distinct strategies. You don’t need gurus. You don’t need hundreds of people. You do need great customer service and unique product proposition – ‘twas ever thus – and, if you’re going to take part, you should be readily available to respond.

There is, of course, one secret thing about social.

It’s a new class of data called “social data” which are data that people create when they use social platforms like Facebook, Pinterest or LinkedIn – their likes, pins, favourites, retweets, status messages, the content of those messages and the people we are friends with.

Needless to say, I doubt you’ve given anyone permission to gather this data – but they’re mining it anyway.

The Next Big Thing Has Been Cancelled

Thing about these pre-prepared bits of writing is that a) I have to think of a title (which – and if you’ve any experience of writing you’ll know this – needs to at least nod in the direction of the content, otherewise you’d be guilty of mis-selling and no-one wants to be the blogly equivalent of payment protection insurance, no we don’t) and b) I have to think of a preamble, because they’re actually a bit out of time. Which is not the same as ‘past their sell-by’, no it isn’t. Anyway, this piece is a little bit about the fact that, despite many an effort by the gurus and the evangelisers, there actually aren’t any new social media. There’s two – Twitter and Facebook – two is the number, and the number is two. Never shall it be three, although it might become one. Wasn’t that a terrible song – ‘two become one’? Anyhoo, The Next Big Thing keeps being touted but, actually, under scrutiny, none of it ever stacks up, and the dawning realisation is that there are no NBTs, nor never will be. Here I have a look at Anomo and What? (I hear you ask.) Nope. Me neither.

(Also in this piece is a brief diversion into my favourite topic of not-words, with a sighting of ‘tunnelised’. Apparently, there was uproar and outrage in the good ol’ US and A a few days ago when they heard two Popes had been canonised. Seems they think lethal injection is far more humane. (Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week.)

I know, I know. I’m an old Luddite, who’d rather be carefully inscribing illuminated script on a wax tablet, to be wrapped in a piece of fine Irish linen, sealed with the reddest of wax, imprinted with a seal (if the seal will hold still, if not, skip this step) and carried in the cleftiest of sticks by the fleetest of footmen, to the office of the Town Crier, in time for its contents to be oh-yea’d all over town. (Life was somehow simpler then.) Which is probably why I’ve only just come across Anomo and

Once again, I find myself short of time, patience and wordage – talking of words, as I wasn’t, I heard a perfectly acceptable English person utter the not-word ‘declarate’ just the other day, and read an article by Boris Johnson (Mayor of London) in which he maintained that the M25 would have to be ‘tunnelised’, I despair, truly I do – and I’m not going to bother with source material of references. Believe it, readers mine, or move on.

Anyway, Anomo and are the two ‘next big things’ in social media. They already have a joint worth estimated to be in the brazillions. (OK, this isn’t true – but then again, I’m writing this now and you’ll be reading it then, and, well, who knows?)

So I thought I could be an early adopter. Finally, my chance to be in at the beginning of something! Sadly, however, it is quite clear that either I am genuinely incapable of grasping the subtle nuance of these two things, the refined essence that lifts them above so much of the mundane clatter that deafens our lives and obfuscates our vision or – and it’s a big one, folks – they’re both further extensions of the relentless ego-driven nonsense that characterises so much of the social space. Guess which I think it is?

So for those who don’t know – and such is my luck that by the time you read this, Anomo will be the médium sociale de choix of Barry, Dave and Helle, and will have renamed itself SHOUT.grrr – Anomo allows you to interact with others in a similar space without revealing yourself, like Tinder for stalkers, and, is a forum for selfies with the selfist’s thought written on them.

I’ll give you an example at random: “When I broke up with my ex, she decided to be a whore to try and get me jealous. Honestly I think its (sic) hilarious and I hope she gets an STD.” This charming sentiment attracts responses from like-minded individuals, who in turn, post a picture with their ‘thought’ on it. Eg “Same exact thing happened with me….” Someone shoot me.

Two things spring to mind immediately, one horrifying, one vaguely reassuring. The horror comes from the certain knowledge that it can only be a matter of time before the gurus start claiming that Anomo and should be key pillars of your marketing strategy.

I read an article recently in which some plank called Gerry Underchuk (or similar) claimed that Snapchat was his main marketing tool right now. (Head in hands, people, head in hands.) The reassurance comes from the almost certain knowledge that these two simply cannot be revenue delivering. (Can they?)

Talking of delivering revenue – and value – I note that nice Mr Zuckerberg (when he’s not selling $1.4bn of shares to pay a tax bill) (or is he?) (maybe he’s simply saying that to cover the fact that he’s taking an enormous amount of money out of the company before it all turns into a rat’s arse?) is developing video advertising for Facebook, because that’s where the money is. Actually Facebook is not the best medium for video, because of the way it’s used, but hey – video works on TV, why not on social?

Hear that click? That’s the sound of something coming full circle.

Another dotcom bubble?

It’s another one from the vaults. I wrote this in November 2013. Shocking, actually, to see how – in the intervening five months – so many things have changed and moved on. What has stuck – and grown, if you like – is the feeling that Twitter and WhatsApp and the rest simply aren’t worth the stupid sums being paid for them. We’ll see.

$11.2bn. As much as $30bn. As I write, now around $20bn. Oh, yes, dear reader, you know what I’m talking about. And still it doesn’t make a profit. Meanwhile, in what was quite clearly an attempt to start making a profit, I receive a promoted tweet from @BMWUSA asking me to show my support for Team USA, as we approach the winter Olympics.

Erm, an’ thank you most kindly, but why, exactly, would a Welshman with English overtones, resident in London, wish to express support for Team Merca? I’m sure they’re all lovely, with their splendid muscles and super hair and dazzling teeth, but – and it’s a small one, I know – nit-picky almost – they’re from a completely different country to which I have no links whatsoever, unless you count my ancestors’ compatriots’ vain efforts to shape it up a little.

So, a poorly targeted promotional tweet – well, I’m not the target market for much of the TV advertising I sit through (too lazy to reach for the clicker, d’you see), and this is simply the socially medieval equivalent.

But, of course, it isn’t. Because social ain’t TV – there’s no Strictly Come Tumblring or I’m a Celebrity Follower, Unfriend Me! – and promotional tweets aren’t big budget, glossy items, with soundtracks and celebrities and (this is most important, pay attention) paid for in advance.

(When I make this point, I’m thinking about the Louis Vuitton ‘L’Invitation au Voyage’ ad with David Bowie (or is it Tilda Swinton) and Arizona Muse. Not the Cillit Bang ‘Barry Scott in a big purple fighter jet’ ad with Barry Scott.)

No. Promoted tweets are cheap as chips for the tweet promoter. As long as I, the recipient of the promotweet, do not click ‘pon said spamulous item, nor neither follow the issuer of same, then the spamuliser pays nowt. Not a brass farthing. Which, clearly, means that targeting simply isn’t an issue, and is why I’m happy to call this stuff spam.

So now Twitter’s under increasing pressure to demonstrate its revenue model and to show some sign that it could, in future, turn a profit and reward the enormous valuation that’s been put on it.

This means, I’m afraid, considerably more of these poorly-targeted promoted tweets. Is it just me, or can anyone else see a flaw in a business plan that relies on the social equivalent of the Nigerian email scam for revenue generation?

Facebook saw an immediate 16% dip in its share price when ‘senior executives’ revealed that young people were leaving the site – in fairness to it, however, its share price recovered once it was realised that the audience hole was being backfilled with the young people’s parents and grandparents.

But the point remains made – young people, the valuable Holy Grail audience, trendsetters, early adopters, rainmakers – don’t like being sold to through channels they consider they ‘discovered’ or ‘invented’.

They don’t like their feeds being abominated with spamulous commercial messages. They – making a little leap here – don’t like promotweets. Which is, arguably, why the current valuations of various social media are a wee smidge on the high side.

Now we hear about £8bn for Dropbox (actually, I can see why Dropbox might be worth something) and Pinterest securing funding that would value the enterprise at £3.8bn, despite the fact that it has only recently begun to clarify its business model.

I think it’s clear that I don’t think much of social media as marketing or promotional tools. There are too many gurus telling you how to do, and not enough do. The Emperor is risking risqué with his lack of vestements.

But what is increasingly scary is that no-one seems to remember the rush of the lemmings into the tech bubble of the late nineties and what happened in March 2000.