The Sun Won’t Win it

30 09 2009

File:It's The Sun Wot Won It.jpgThe Murdoch owned tabloid came out last night in favour of the Cameron led Conservative party.  It did so whilst trumpeting the claim that it always picks the winner in the UK general election.

There was more than a nod to the headline “It’s The Sun Wot Won It” printed after the 1992 vote when they backed John Major. In the confident proclamations of George Pascoe-Watson, the paper’s political editor, do we detect the hint of a suggestion that Britain’s biggest daily dose of dead wood and ink actually decides the outcome of the poll?

There is no question that Gordon Brown’s popularity is at the lowest of ebbs but there is plenty of evidence around the social networks that the Sun’s decision has actually brought people out in support of Gordon.  National papers simply do not carry the same political influence when the ordinary voter can cry ‘foul’ and then publish their own views.  With the opinion polls so solidly predicting a Conservative coup, Murdoch and his red top flagship might even be accused of bandwagon jumping.

We also now live in an era where the people talk back and are far less likely than ever before to be told by the media how to vote.  Labour’s chances don’t look good but The Sun may have given the divided activists something to rally around.  Former prime minister Harold Wilson said “a week is a long time in politics” and there are still quite a few weeks to go.

Ten Tips for Twitter Fame

28 09 2009

Twitter only really starts to work if you follow a reasonable number of people, I think around fifty is a minimum, but 100+ is better.  For the sake of equity and let’s face it vanity it is also good to have a healthy follower list.

Sometimes it can be difficult to see why some users pile on the followers whilst others stay static. In the light of the hype this weekend about rise to twitter stardom of prime minister’s wife Sarah Brown here are some tips about setting out on the road to recruting followers to your twitter stream. 

1. Be Famous IRL (in real life) 

Offline fame boosts online fame.  Ashton Kutcher, Stephen Fry, Barack Obama and of course Sarah Brown all have considerable profiles in the real world. 

2. Find and Follow 

If you want people to follow you then you should follow people too.  This works in two ways; people will follow back (probably about 25-30% of them and higher if they are people with interests in common with yours).  Secondly when you follow someone it puts you at the top of their followes list and for a time you that makes you first in line when other users trawl their list for people to follow.   Be careful not to spam, check out the twitter rules on this.

3. Follow Back 

For most of the same  reasons as tip 2, but also because if you don’t a proportion of users will unfollow you at a later date (reciprocation is important).

4. Hang out with The Famous

If you engage in online dialogue with people who have a lot of followers it is likely to get noticed.  Their followers will see their at-posts to you for one thing (depending on their settings).  People will also belive that if you are getting attention from a big hitter you must be interesting.  After all it’s who you know not what you know.

5. Be Interesting

OK, it is also what you know.  Provide some insight or a link to something genuinely interesting  and you will start to build an audience.  Talk about what you had for breakfast and watch your followers drift away.

6. Complete Your Profile

It doesn’t take long and your are more likely to be followed if you have a picture, a short biog and a link to your blog, Linkedin page or something relevant.  It stands to reason that people will want to know a little bit a bout you.

7. Pimp your Twitter ID

Make it easy for people to find. Add it to your email signature and make sure it is prominent in other social networks.

8. Get with the Trend

If you have been using twitter for a while you will realise that people follow keywords not just users. That means that if you are talking about hot topics then people who are trend watching. Keep this relevant. Using irrelevant hashtags for example is another form of twitter spam.  Easirer said than done but it is also better to start a trend than to follow one.

9. Engage (and unlock your updates)

Whilst you can tweet too much it is partly about being noticed so you have to converse.  It is also a mistake to protect your updates.  Twitter is about openness and if you want to keep your comments private don’t post them on twitter in the first place – or use direct messaging.  Locked updates put your followers off.

 10. Don’t Get Fixated

…on building follower numbers and don’t subscribe to the products/programmes/schemes that claim to boost your lists.  They are the online equivalent of get rich quick cons.  It isn’t a popularity contest and if you follow the advice here you should see a steady increase.

US Flu Cases Head Off the Scale

24 09 2009

In April when the media went into overdrive about swine flu, I posted that there was scant evidence that the pandemic had taken hold in the US.  The situation was unclear but there was evidence that the media frenzy had actually got ahead of the spread of the H1N1 virus.

Pandemic back on the map

I had placed my trust in ‘Google Flu Trends’.  Google has found that certain search terms are indicators of the early stages of flu.  They use aggregated search data to estimate the incidence of flu cases.  The results provide information around two weeks faster than traditional systems because neither the sufferers nor the medical practitioners have to report the data – it’s instantaneous.

Texas flu trendFlu cases head upwards

As the chart above show the search terms started to lurch upwards three weeks ago and the latest data suggests that in Texas, where the results are highest,  in the past week enquiries were nearly 10x normal levels for the time of year.  The heat map for the whole of the US shows a 397% increase on normal levels.  If Google is right then the official channels should be getting the data about now.  Media alerts won’t be far behind.    

H1N1 set to rise in UK  

Google flu trends doesn’t extend to the UK, but evidence in April suggested that the UK was exposed early in the cycle and we are entering the high risk autumn/winter period.  Anecdotal and sporadic reports from schools and colleges suggest a high current level of absenteeism.  It looks like the pandemic will be right back on the media agenda soon, but this time with much more substance.

Google Says No Need to Tag Along

23 09 2009

It seems that meta tags are no longer worth the paper they are printed on.  Google does not actually use the tags that we add to our posts for search.  

At a recent event (the video is included below)  Matt Cutts who works as a software engineer specialising in search engine optimisation (SEO) at the Search Quality Group in Google, gave this somewhat startling information in response to a question.  He said that Google “disregards keyword meta tags completely. They simply don’t have any effect in our search ranking at present”.  The reason being that they had been abused so extensively is the past.  Essentially this means that Google regards tagging as ‘black hat’ (or unethical SEO) irrespective of how responsibly the tagging is done. 

Google does however use the meta description (essentially the short summary tag) in some cases to offer a description of the page in the search results but they still don’t use this in the ranking.  So as far as Google is concerned the content is what matters (and the headline or the H1 tag as it is known in SEO circles).  So for the very first time I am going to add a blog post without meta tags…and hold my breath.

Google’s Matt Cutts

Twitter Profile Picture Gets the Bird

18 09 2009


Twitter has replaced the default avatar, the image that appears in your twitter profile or feed if you haven’t uploaded a profile picture.

They have ditched the slightly enigmatic emoticon o_O ( it’s supposed to represent a raised left eyebrow) with a little bird which appears in one of six delightful colours.

A nice tweak you might imagine, however thousands of users have had their pictures accidentally removed and replaced with the new default bird.  They are not happy.

The twitter status blog claims that the problem has been identified and a solution is on the way but at the moment the only thing disgruntled users can do is manually change their profile picture back.  Some users experience further problems when they did this, @astiir lost his custom background.  It is not yet clear whether the fix will automatically restore your original picture or just stop the problem happening with other users.


Twitter Default o_O Avatar The old emoticon based default avatar.

Default Avatar 5 One of the new colourful twitter birds.

Derren Brown’s Lottery Slips

12 09 2009

It was the TV PR event of the year, accurately predicting the lottery on Wednesday night and then two days later, telling the nation how he’d done it.  Well he didn’t; either predict the result or tell us how it was done.

It was a split screen camera trick that has been very well explained here, though there have been some laughable theories in the national press even suggesting he might have had something up his sleeve.  The screen on the left hand side showing the balls was frozen during the result and on the right Derren and the TV were live.  A digital effect was used to make the fixed camera position appear to wobble as if it were a hand held camera (it is nigh on impossible to use split screen tricks without a fixed camera position).

An assistant put the balls in place whilst the screen was frozen.  The screen was unfrozen just before Darren walked across to reveal the numbers on the balls.  So how did he give the game away?

  • SILENCE IS GOLDEN – Derren says nothing during the draw.  That is because the studio mike was switched off to allow the accomplice to do the job without the mike picking up sounds of his movement.
  • VITAL SIGNS – Brown gives the signal for the screen to be frozen and unfrozen.  He drops his arm holding the card on which he will write the numbers to give the first sign for the left part of the screen to be frozen.  It is at 4:36 on the Yotube video of the stunt (below).  He uses the card again, this time switching hands (5:31) to give the signal for the screen to be unfrozen.  A few seconds earlier you can see him suppress a chuckle when his assistant moves out of the camera line, ready for the left side of the picture to go live with the balls now in place.
  • BALLS UP – It is actually a few seconds later that the screen unfreezes.  You can tell because the ball on the far left appears to move fractionally up on its own. This is because the assistant has placed it differently from the original blank ball.  You need a big screen high quality recording to see this happen but you can see that the ball is raised (far right now that we are looking at the numbers) from 5:56 on the Youtube clip.
  • AND FINALLY – You would think that if Derren knew the numbers they would be fixed in his head – he’d be unlikely to forget…unless of course he had only heard the result seconds before like the rest of us.  At the end of the recording (6:13) he struggles momentarily to remember the final ball, number 39.

Great PR stunt but there’s many a slip…

Trusting the Telegraph

9 09 2009

TelegraphThere is a lot of debate about ‘old media’ versus new.  I prefer to think of conventional media as ‘trusted media’ rather than old media.  It doesn’t however help the case for the trusted media when they get their facts so spectacularly wrong that it questions the whole notion of journalistic enquiry.  The waters are made even more murky when the story is about new media technology.

A piece appeared on the Telegraph website yesterday that announced that “Debenhams has become the first retailer in Britain to use Twitter, the social networking website.”  What were they thinking? Did they entirely miss the Habitat scandal when they used trending topics (like Iraq elections) to try to sell lampshades? It  goes on, this “is a significant change for Twitter as its primary use until now has simply been as a source of gossip and blogging”.  What twaddle.

I am a proponent of PR but what comes next is pure puffery “Rather than finding out the latest celebrity tittle-tattle we’re going to use Twitter to provide customers with instant customer service, ” said Debenhams spokesman Ed Watson. “Our Megaday sale on Wednesday (September 9) is one of the busiest times, so using Twitter in this way will be the equivalent of having a dedicated shop assistant with you for the entire time you are in our store”.  This is baffling beyond belief and it shows a basic misunderstanding of how twitter works and what proportion of the public are actively using it.

It wouldn’t have been hard for the Telegraph to check its facts as there are quite a few retailers in the UK using twitter many of them very well; Asda, The Conran Shop, Dixons, Littlewoods, Tie Warehouse, Waterstones, need I go on?

Upcoming Events

8 09 2009

This blog is a companion to my book ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ , so if you are reading this you probably have some interest in the subject and might like to know about some events that I will be speaking at in the next few weeks. 

On the 16 September I will be talking about ‘The Cutting Edge of Digital PR’  at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations(CIPR) in London. It is a freshly squeezed breakfast briefing. 

Then on 6 October I will be running a session on Social Media in Leeds for the CIPR Northern Conference.  The one day conference has a great line up Alistair Campbell, former press secretary to Tony Blair, topping the bill.  Also in the line up are Yasmin Diamond, Director of Communication at the Home Office; Heather McGregor, Columnist for the Financial Times. 

There will also be masterclasses from Stuart Bruce, MD of Wolfstar; Sarah Knight, Engagement and PR Director at BJL; the eponymous Andy Green of Green Communications; Paul Willis, Director of the Centre for Public Relations Studies at Leeds Business School (LMU) and Robin Wilson Director of Digital PR and Social Media at McCann Erickson; plus more besides.

Then on the 30 October I will be speaking at the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) Summit at Merchant Taylors Hall, Threadneedle Street, London.

Update: Spotify on iPhone

7 09 2009

After all the hype, hysteria and hubbub Spotify is now available from the Apple iPhone app store.   Premium Spotify subscribers now have music to go available from the huge (though not entirely exhaustive) online catalogue.  Cost (for now) is £9.99 per month for Spotify Premium.

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