This Week’s Best of the Blogs #2

19 06 2009

1. PR MEDIA BLOG – Will Twitter Do the Business?

Upfront PRMB is the Staniforth blog, where I work, but this is a guest post from Phil Jones, the Sales and Marketing Director at Brother (not a client).  It is a really excellent take on the benefits of microblogging to businesses.  It is the first of a two-parter, with the second published today.

2. GODDAMIT I’M MAD – Becoming a Man

Sister Wolf has been mad for a long time…and she’s getting madder.  This is a piece prompted by Chastity Bono’s plan to have a sex change.  The web can be a weird and wonderful place.

3. TED BLOG – Q&A with Clay Shirky on Twitter and Iran

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It began as a conference in 1984 and the brand has grown to cover a range of activities. The NYU professor Clay Shirky reveals how mobiles, the social web, Facebook and Twitter have changed the rules of the game in Iran.

4. ReadWriteWeb – Twitter Censoring Trending Topics

When the crowd decides to talk dirty it seems that twitter doesn’t want us to know.

5 Guardian.co.uk – Investigate Your MPs Expenses

Another piece of crowd sourcing. with the sheer volume of paperwork the Guardian has opened up the 700,000 documents of MPs’ expenses so the the public can identify individual claims, or expenses they think merit further investigation. You can even work through your own MP’s claims for the past four years.





The ‘WherethehellisMatt’ Meme

4 06 2009

Matt Harding is from Connecticut and in his thirties.  He was a computer games developer who quit his job in February 2003, to go travelling.  Several months into a trip through Asia a travel companion gave Matt the idea of performing a peculiar dance, apparently the only dance Matt does, on the streets of Hanoi. The video was posted on line and attracted some attention. Harding repeated the dance in a number of locations and edited together 15 scenes of this dance with the background music Sweet Lullaby (Nature’s Dancing Mix), by Deep Forest that uses lyrics from a dying Solomon Islands language.

It attracted the attention of Cadbury which was launching a new chewing gum range called Stride gum. They offered to pay Matt to do another trip around the world to make a new video.  In 2006, Matt took a 6 month trip through 39 countries on all 7 continents, dancing in all of them.  The Wheretheismatt videos have between them been seen over 100 million times.





Not All Content is King

18 05 2009

As PR communicators we need to be very careful about content.  PR people have a tendency to feel that if something is published then our goals have been achieved.   The ease with which things can now be published undermines that presumption.  The sheer volume of web content means that a lot of the stuff that appears on the net is of little interest to anyone other than the publisher.  That which has no interest will have no impact.

There is simply too much out there and many sites and pages will quite literally never be viewed by anyone other than their originators.  For print media cost is a barrier to entry for organisations wishing to act as publishers;  there needs to be a sufficient audience in order to generate revenue to keep a publication afloat.   What that has meant for PR people is that coverage, even in a niche publication would have some relevance and in almost every case we could quantify the circulation and readership and understand certain things about people who were reading the title.

We must not allow ourselves to be fooled that just because something appear on the web it has an audience.  It is similar to the old argument that it is not sufficient simply to measure column inches.  Fortunately there are a lot of tools at our disposal to measure what is going on on the web and the impact and authority of individual web spaces.  Many are freely available.  It is vital that we use them.





Fact and Fiction on the Web

13 05 2009

We tend to believe that we have a natural instinct for the truth but the web has many inaccuracies that are commonly held to be factual. We can follow the old journalistic principle of getting at least two reliable sources for important pieces of information, but much of the internet is a mash up of other bits of the internet. The resulting multiplicity of sources might suggest a breadth of knowledge but in reality if a factoid is convincing enough it can spread.

Wikipedia is amongst the most reliable of sources because the content is genuinely the result of multiple entries, sometimes hundreds of them.  Even Wikipedia has been guilty of significant errors – often the result of malicious editing.  Prominent US journalist John Seigenthaler  was  incorrectly named as a suspect in the assassinations of both President John F Kennedy and his brother, Robert for example.  The false information was the work of a man called Brian Chase, who said he was trying to trick a colleague at work.

A common error is that of the false obituary.  It has even been know for false obituaries to be published on on separate occasions. Pre-written obituaries of entertainer Bob Hope were accidentally released on news web sites on two occasions and Pope John Paul II was the recipient of three separate reports of his demise. Other widely duplicated falsehoods on the internet include a report that Barack Obama is a muslim and that Bill Gates is giving away his fortune. This sort of widely distributed misconception is not the preserve of the Internet, for example the Great Wall of China Is not in fact nor ever has been, visible from the Moon, but the internet provides a distribution network that spreads these inaccuracies more widely and more quickly.

It is not just facts that are manipulated and distorted, the prevalence of powerful image manipulation tools means that photographs can not necessarily be trusted either. Even the celebrated news agency Reuters came under fire for this when in 2006 it published doctored images of an Israeli air strike in Beirut.

This entry is adapted from ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ available from Amazon.





Swine Flu Pandemic & Web Viral Panic

27 04 2009

Whether or not the current outbreak of swine flu translates into a world pandemic, we are already seeing information and and data spreading around the web at a staggering pace. 

The speed at which information travels brings opportunities and threats and we need to treat information we see on line with caution and respect.  The social web will deliver information on which we can rely and data which will deceive. 

Many news organisations around the world today are linking to a Google map showing almost live data on reported cases. Whilst this may be a very useful tool, what few of the news organisations report is that it appears to have been created by Henry Niman, a biomedical researcher with a history of using the internet to forecast doom. Niman has claimed global pandemics were under way several times before.

The spread of disinformation does not mean that there is no risk.   The truth is at this point we just don’t know the scale of the threat.   A much better source of information may come from Google.  ‘Google Flu trends’ which I wrote about in PR Media Blog  last November, uses search terms to predict how many people in a particular area are searching for relevant information about flu.  There is a high correlation between the searches and numbers of actual cases of flu and they can show incidence faster official channels like the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).   Google believes it can accurately estimate flu levels one to two weeks faster than published CDC reports.

The problem at the moment is that the data covers just the US and is only updated weekly.  If Google were able to update faster and use the technology to cover the whole planet we would have a much better picture of what is actually happening.





Why I’m a Bit Sick of Viral Marketing

31 03 2009

 

Viral marketing is the idea that you can harness social networks or other communications channels to produce increases in brand awareness or to achieve product sales using a ‘viral ‘ process  that mimics the spread of infection.  The origins of the idea are probably linked to the concept of computer viruses that spread from machine to machine seemingly unaided.

As digital PR specialists we will be asked by clients to assist them with on line viral marketing.  It is a mistake to enter into a campaign with viral marketing as the central feature.  That is not to say it is impossible to deliver, but it is exceptionally difficult.  To imply that a piece of content such as an image or a video clip will achieve viral status at the outset of a campaign is a bit like guaranteeing that the campaign will be of national award winning quality before you have even come up with the ideas. 

In any case I prefer the idea of internet memes to the ‘viral’ concept.  It is a better description and it carries more explanation which gives as a better chance of providing clients with clear explanation and managing expectations.  

Richard Dawkins, the author of the ‘God Delusion’ originally came up with the term ‘meme’ in a book published in the mid seventies called ‘The Selfish Gene’.  It was coined to describe how Darwinian principles could explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena like fashion, music, catch-phrases, architectural styles and even beliefs.  Dawkins argued that memes propagate themselves in societies in a way that is similar to the behaviour of a gene or virus.  The meme is cultural unit or idea that spreads rapidly.  The term has gained greater currency with the growth of the internet.  

Although we can’t eliminate the human element in propogating the spread we can’t control or guarantee it.  We therefore should not claim we can deliver it in any quantifiable sense.

This article is adapted from a more in depth piece in the book ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ published this week and available  from Amazon.





SlySpace, Fakebook and Twimposters

26 02 2009

The term cybersquatting was coined when websites first became publicy available.  People would buy domain names using company or brand names or the names of celebrities and then try to flog them back at inflated prices.  A similar thing is now happening in social networks but potentially the outcomes are far more damaging.

Individuals are signing up on facebook, twitter and across the web to the identities of celebrities, and sometimes brands too.  It costs them nothing and they are not selling the online persona back to their ‘rightful’ owners they are using them to impersonate.   For many the intentions have been harmless but not for all.  The fake Facebook account for Kate Winslett in which she apparently called her screen rival and fellow Oscar nominee Angelie  Jolie , a “fat-lipped crazy cow” amused Kate apparently but that might not always be the case.  A blog called Valebrity has taken on the task of validating celebrities on line and Jonathan Ross has appointed himself as twitter ‘star’ czar.

The act of impersonating others on twitter is also being used for political ends.  John Ransford the Chief Executive of the Local Government Association has a ‘Twimposter’ who has been actively defaming him for weeks and the leading light of the Labour new media movement Derek Draper has pointed people in the direction of a fake David Cameron.

Companies and brands should be cautious too, with the growth of the social web and the velocity at which content spreads, charlatans of  the social web may be ot there doing real harm to their business.








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