It’s Not a Conversation, Stupid

Heads up chaps. While this post is to do with something that’s ongoing here, in the good ‘ol UK of GB’n’NI (although, if anyone’s feeling radical, I’m not horribly possessive about NI and, quite frankly, think it would probably be best if we just quietly gave it back, without much of a fuss, d’you see), there’re bigger issues up for grabs here.

I am, of course, talking about what we might call (and probably will fairly soon) McAlpinegate or Twittergate, which, for those who don’t follow current affairs in the UK, and I suspect there may be a few, is the threat, by lawyers working on behalf of Lord McAlpine, sometime Treasurer of the Tory Party and all-round Big Beast, to hunt down and punish those Twitter users who promoted and furthered certain recent (and unfounded) allegations about aforementioned former Treasurer. (And breathe.)

Be that as it may. It’s a lead in to a couple of issues. The first is one that I’ve posted about before – and I know that linking to oneself is the height of vanity publishing, but, hey, I’m flexible enough – and is the propensity for ostensibly sensible people to go all yoghurt-brained when confronted by social media in all their myriad forms and with all their myriad possibilities, and to start publishing things that are either inappropriate, or offensive, or cringeworthy or simply just cretinous in the extreme. I called it Twitterette’s Syndrome. (Thank you. Yes. I thought it was brilliant also.) It is this, in part, that has lead to certain Twitterers leaving themselves open to a right royal suing for libel. Ouch. Costly.

The second is an issue that is raised in this rather edifying piece from yesterday’s Evening Standard, a widely-read (and quite informative) newspaper, based here in London. The issue is that social media, by their very natures, encourage people – if not into full-blown Twitterette’s, at least into unguarded and unwise commentary. As the author, Sam Leith, rightly points out – social media, through their informality, lead us to believe we’re engaging in conversation.  By dealing in the moment-by-moment, that all is temporary. By being streams of content, that they’re transient.

None of this, of course, is true. If you Tweet something, you are publishing.

And what was it someone once said? ‘Publish and be damned’? How, I sincerely hope, very appropriate.

The Unbearable Lightness of Twitter

By which, blog snorkellers mine (hello everyone, by the way, been a while) I mean that Twitter remains, as I’ve said before, a not terribly effective communications tool. Much of the content, as we know, is at best banal, and at worst ego-driven and self-important.  Unfortunately, it is the lightweight nature of much of the content that denies it the gravitas and – perhaps – respectability that might render it effective as anything more than a rapid response, or a means to provide service updates. That and, of course, the fact that it’s difficult to say anything of meaning in 140 characters or less. I know that there are serious Tweeters – politicians and thinkers etc – but I cannot but believe that they’re there because they feel, somehow, that they should be, not because they genuinely feel there’s value. What you might call ‘down with the kids’ syndrome. (Absolutely no pun intended, for the easily offended.)

(And yes, Alanis, it is ironic that I shall be attempting to augment awareness of this post via Twitter and also – if you, dear reader, stick with me for a little longer – that I shall, from one point of view, be seen to debunk one of my most fondly held beliefs. Ooooooh, but yes.)

Proof, if any were needed, is supplied by a piece on mediabistro.com, a site which, I freely admit, I know nothing about but (I am afraid) sounds like the sort of place that I would sprint over red-hot, barbed-wire-coated scorpions to avoid.  That being said, the article is called Twitter’s 13 All-Time Most Epic Tweets, it does what it says on the tin and you can view it via the usual swish and flick – engorgio!

(No, of course you won’t. Sigh.)

Anyway, read it for yourself, but I think a couple of comments are in order – not least of which is, if these are the ’13 All-Time Most Epic’ (quite a build-up, do you not think) – why are they mostly rubbish? Why would Jack Dorsey’s first tweet (or twt, at the time) count as ‘most epic’? There was no-one there to read it.

Why would the first tweet from space be the ‘most epic’? Is a radio conversation with the space station considered ‘epic’? Not really – but it’s a sackload more informative that 140 characters of badly-spelled randomness.

Twitter helped a bloke get out of jail in Egypt. Great. I’m delighted. But it’s not ‘epic’. It’s a communication device. If bloke had time to tweet and he could use his ‘phone, why didn’t he call someone? More effective, I’d have said.

None of this stuff is ‘epic’. None of this stuff could not have been done (arguably better) through other forms of communication. It is only seen as ‘epic’ by those who have a vested interest in keeping the service fresh, relevant and – yes – well-used. Normally these people are the ‘social media gurus’ and those who write about social media. I am afraid – dearest blog trotters – the Emperor is still wearing little in the way of clothing.

And finally – and here’s where the lie may be seen to be given to one of my most deeply-held and widely advocated beliefs – to whit – that social media is of no use in selling stuff. Well, on the ‘epic’ list is a tweet from some chap on the top of Everest and – obviously – the first thing he does is get his twat on and namecheck both the service and the brand of mobile device he’s using. Good try, Samsung!

Samsung obviously invested some considerable time and effort and possibly money in this – but my gut tells me that next to no extra devices were shifted on the back of it. I can’t imagine the market for Samsung Galaxys amongst committed mountaineers is that huge.

I am, however, prepared to be wrong. Hell, I would like to be wrong.

I’m not though, am I?

Regulating Social Media

Before we start running headlong at this topic, like participants in the annual Cheese Rolling festival at Cooper’s Hill (with similar consequences), let us first consider definition:

Social media, to my mind, includes the likes of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (owned by Justin Timberlake – who’d have thought it?), Foursquare et al. Linkedin’s a sticky one – business social media, anyone? (It’s like ‘business casual’ – a concept that no-one really understands and no-one gets right. Ever.)

Digital Media – again, to my mind – includes email, instant messaging, blogs and corporate, business or personal websites.

Therefore – social media is a subset of digital media. This is important, because in all the hysteria that’s tsunamied up around social media as the new Jesus, there is a tendency to apply the term ‘social media’ to anything to do with t’internet in or on which some hapless sap is expressing an opinion. A corporate blog is NOT social media. This blog – lovely, bijou and jejeune though it is – is NOT social media. Instant messaging – in its traditional and most basic form – is NOT social media.

One more thought then, before we rush off into the weeds of the regulation of social media debate – is Blackberry Messenger social media (because you CAN form groups, and add statuses – statii? – share pictures etc) or is it, as a glorified instant messenger, digital media and thus a less insidious thing altogether? Simply, you might say, a method of communication – like email, telephone, fax, telegraph, post or a bloke in a loincloth with a piece of parchment in a cleft stick? (Bring back cleft sticks!)

And this is important, because – clearly – what’s driving this post is the recent events in London, and the allegation that riots and looting were organised on Twitter and Blackberry Messenger. Now this is clearly horseshit. As Sophy Silver of Facebook said in a recent PR Week supplement on reputation management – “a house party that gets out of hand is not a ‘Facebook party’ – it is just a house party”. In the same way that riots in London are not Facebook riots or Twitter riots or Blackberry riots – they are simply riots, occasioned by the feral, primitive, selfish urges of the uneducated, immoral, lumpen few. In the not-very-distant past, they’d have used ‘phones to organise their neanderthal, simian rampages – yet no-one would have called for the telephone network to be more stringently regulated.

And now I read that David Cameron is to call representatives of Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry to the House of Commons to discuss “stop(ping) people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality”. What he’s talking about – in the bigger scheme of things – is regulating the internet.

Another voice, advocating roughly the same thing, but for different reasons and from a different viewpoint, is Anthony Hilton, City Commentator on the Evening Standard (London) and writing in PR Week. (Sorry, you’ll have to subscribe to the website to see the article.) In brief, he’s saying that the internet allows for anyone to broadcast what they like, without any sort of filter – the filter that traditional media (journalists) provide.

See, here’s the thing. I actually agree with Cameron and Hilton. I feel there should be regulation of the internet. There’s too much shite that goes on for it to be unregulated. There’s no recourse, d’you see, no comeback. There’s anonymity, which allows any charlatan to charlat about without a care in the world. It’s irresponsible.

But, and here’s another of those things. It’s arguably too late. Someone should have regulated the internet in 1996, when is started to go mainstream. But they didn’t and now – unles you’re the UAE, where your population are used to being told to stop what they’re doing and get in line – you can’t just bring in random firewalls and prohibitions. It’s fine for the boy turd Zuckerberg to say that ‘privacy is no longer the norm’, and it may, in some senses, be true, but it’s not what people want.

People want privacy, they want anonymity – mainly because it’s a right and because it allows them to live their lives the way they want to without being put under a spotlight and sold insurance and instant whip via cold calls and doordrops – but also so they can hide behind it when they are phishing, spamming and trolling.

I want privacy and anonymity.

Luckily, real, effective regulation of the internet is probably an impossibility. That being said, I was talking to an Enterprise Risk professional the other day – and one of his major concerns in terms of threats facing business today was the ease with which rumour, falsehood and propaganda can be spread via the internet (social media especially) and the potentially enormous audiences that are available for this rumour, falsehood and propaganda.

His solution? A type of global identity card. If you want to use the internet, you will have one identity and one identity only. Every time you launch your browser, you will be greeted by a pop-up screen – let’s call it Global Authentication Portal (get into the GAP!) – into which you will have to type your identity and password.  (Probably a one-time password to prevent identity theft.) From then on, everything you do on the internet will be recorded (not monitored necessarily – but recorded) and should you be a rioter organising a riot, and you are caught, this internet record would be used to bring you to justice. As an alternative scenario – if you are a nasty troll, persecuting someone on Facebook, and you persecute them to death, again your internet record will show your responsibility.

And as I listened to this, I thought – what a marvellous idea. And then I realised that some form of authority would have to run the GAP, and that, undoubtedly that authority would not be able to resist using the internet records of all the world’s internet users for its own ends.

You see, regulation of the internet is a laudable goal. But it will take away privacy and anonymity and will bring us one step further towards Orwell’s 1984. (Which, obviously, was 27 years ago.)

And just imagine the Facebook riots that would take place when the GAP was announced.

Journalists Prefer Traditional Comms – Pope Has Balcony Etc Etc

From the hallowed pages of PR Week (issue dated July 22, cover price £57.32) comes this story – and story it is, for no – disbelievers all – the Week has not made it up, oh no, they let Broadgate Mainland(*) make it up for them – t’Week has simply reported it. They’ll make journalists yet.

(* Meisters of Financial Spin of the parish of Old London Town.)

Anyway, before I got so wildly carried away, I meant, bloggy snorkellers mine, to post the link. No, of course you won’t. You’ll simply see if you can make head or tail of the post without going anywhere near the colourful linkey of doom. Wet, is what you are. That being said, maybe there is an Arthurian trotter amongst you and for that brave Templar I provide this – the Holy Link of Har Megiddo. Carefully now – swish and click – obliviate!

(Warning. I am sorry, faithful followers, but in an almost Murdockian stylee, PR Week will wish you to subscribe before you read the article. You may not wish for PR Week to be your horcrux, however, at least, not while there are still pesky kids around.)

So, the article. In brief, it says that while UK corporates are doing more social, a survey of financial journalists (and I think we can take that to mean journalists, period) reveals traditional comms channels remain the more important media relations tools. That’s what it says – ‘more important tools’. With 81% of the 100 surveyed saying that they prefer to receive stories via email, I’d say ‘most important tools’, wouldn’t you?

In other bears-defecating-in-the-woods- type revelations, only 11% thought Facebook was an appropriate corporate comms channel and 97% researched companies via their corporate websites. (Incidentally, a truly spiffing photocaption for the article’s illustration of Zuckerberg’s monster – “‘Inappropriate’ Facebook”.)

So, it’s official. Journalists prefer to get their stories off real people, in real time, via targetted communication. Unsurprisingly.

Other stats in the article included the 38% of FTSE100 companies signing up to Facebook (up from 25% six months ago) and the 56% running a corporate Twitter account (up from 40% in December). And we know why they’re doing this. Mostly peer pressure and a misguided desire to be ‘down with the kids’ and to have their very own shiny object. And, as I’ve said before – if you’re an airline, then Twitter is useful for updating your customers. If you’re a firm of management consultants it is wholly inappropriate (like Facebook). In the case of most of the FTSE100, it is wholly inappropriate.

Just sayin’.

Social Media Measurement – And The Point Is?

As I was dancing on the outer edges of the internet (to the sounds of popular American beat combo, My Chemical Romance, since you ask) I nearly did myself a mischief as this loomed out of the webspace and into my face. It’s a piece from a splendid site called O’Leary Analytics, which is run by one Stephen O’Leary, out in Ireland, and it is an analysis of social media activity around Oxegene, a yearly festival of young people’s music (probably all bippidy and boppidy and incomprehensible – no tunes these days, d’you see) that took place at Punchestown Racecourse in Co Kildare earlier this month.

Now you are lazy and reticent blog snorkellers so and ye are, but ye will not be understanding the thrust of my post, if you do not and read the analysis on the original internet. So, wands out – swish and click – engorgio!

So, anyway, I’m not going through this with a fine-tooth comb – you can do that for yourselves – but there are a few things that I’d say. Firstly, as a piece of work, it’s efficient and workmanlike and goes to show that it’s not all about the quality of the conversation, it’s also about hard numbers, mentions, tweets and re-tweets.

Unfortunately – while this is all well and good – it is brought up badly short on three fronts. Firstly – erm, so what? 391 comments on a Facebook post! Great! But what did people actually DO with the information they got? Anything? Or were they just prime examples of what I believe is called the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory?

I’m guessing we’ll never know.

Second – well, putting it bluntly, as a serious sponsor, do we think that Vodafone will be happy with 338 (total) mentions? No. But they actually won’t give a flying leprechaun’s shillelagh, because they won’t have been focused on social – they’ll have been focused on making their sponsorship work for them in real time. Social will have been nothing more than something to monitor for potential issues (see Greater Internet F*ckwad Theory, above). 

Third and here’s the thing. Oxegene Facebook page – 200,000 fans. 114 posts by page administrators. Each one with an average 31 comments and 117 likes. Roughly 3,500 comments, roughly 11,000 ‘likes’ (how lazy, can’t be bothered to write anything so press the ‘like’ button in a half-arsed apathetic sort of a way). So where were the other 185,000 fans while all this was going on? Eh?

What I’d really like to know is, of the people who bought tickets for Oxegene, how many of them were prompted to do so by social media. Or, as I suspect, were the ticket buyers drawn to it by the fact that it was live and outside and face-to-face, while the Facebook fanboys and girls were kept away by the fact that it was – erm – live and outside and face-to-face.

Social – it doesn’t deliver anything, really. Does it?

Social Media vs Investor Relations

This post (from IR WebReport – thanks to them, looks like a good site) just underlines for me everything that’s so, so wrong about the use of social media for commercial purposes.

It’s basically an examination of companies with Twitter feeds (or streams or whatever you call them) and how they use them to communicate results announcements. The author expresses some surprise and irritation that some of these benighted corporates fail to announce their results on Twitter at the same time as they do through other (dare I say it) more traditional media.

To which I have two reactions:

  • Of course they’re not using Twitter in the same way that they’re using other, more traditional, channels. Twitter is a gimmick. Oh – and 140 characters doesn’t leave much room for the Chairman’s statement
  • No serious analyst is relying on Twitter as his/her sole source of information about the companies on his/her beat. Those that are, I would suggest, are not looking at glittering careers

Twitter. Useless. Get over it.

Oh. And stop trying to shoehorn Twitter (or any social medium) into areas where it simply a) doesn’t work and b) isn’t relevant.

Thanks!

Paddling in Twitter

Why am I paddling in Twitter, dear blog snorkellers? Because it is irredeemably shallow, that’s why. Why is it irredeemably shallow, then? Because you cannot express anything of any value in 140 characters.

The fundamental truth of this is beautifully illustrated by the current horoscopes featured on satirical British website thedailymash.co.uk, which you can find here. For the hard of clicking, I reproduce the entry under ‘Leo’:

“Leo (23 JUL-22 AUG)
It’s a shame Twitter restricts me to 140 characters, because that’s not even close to being enough for me to truly express how much of a cu”

So I thought about this, and stuck a couple of pins in t’interweb. What follows are some musings of great men, as they would have been if the poor blokes had had to communicate through da Tweet.

“To be, or not to be – that is the question: whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take”

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. Fi”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it”

“Load up on guns Bring your friends It’s fun to lose and to pretend She’s overborne and self-assured Oh no, I know a dirty word Hello, hello,”

Is it any wonder that despite Tweet-ups and Tweet-ins, Tweet-mobs and Tweet -nights, the service remains little more than the 21st century equivalent of “hello? hello! Yeah! I’m on the train!”

Rubbish.