Category Archives: Social Media

A late entry at the blogging ball (reprise)

BirthdayCake.wallgator.com_.wp-content.uploads.2014.01.Happy_.Birthday.Cupcake.Picture.Wallpape.Free_.Happy_.Birthday.Cake_A small milestone. I wrote my first ever blog post on this date in 2008, admittedly rather grudgingly.  The blog was set up as an assignment for a course I was doing and I had no expectations that it would last beyond the eight weeks-worth of content we needed to produce in order pass the module.  Even in 2008 the imminent demise of blogging was being forecast. Its death has been mourned on a regular basis ever since. But here we still are seven years later and I’m rather proud. So, this post is to mark the date, to thank Richard Bailey who made me set the thing up in the first place (he’s still blogging here), and to say thanks too to all the people who have commented on, followed or shared any of the things I’ve written about.  It’s nice to know you’re there.



Digital by default – mind the generation gap.

I recommend everyone,  from comms strategists and policy wonks to the merely socially curious,  take a look here  for a fascinating overview of British social attitudes in 2012, compiled by Ipsos Mori.

The research was presented at the Government Communications Network  last week and generated a flurry of startling factoids on Twitter – like this one:

more children between the ages of 2 and 5 can use a smartphone than can tie their own shoelaces.

There’s a mass of useful information for planners in the report.  I’ve  gathered together some of the insights revealed during the debate which highlight some important trends and generational differences:

  • On average each UK household owns 3 different types of Internet-enabled devices
  • For the 1st time, over half (52%) of all calls are made via mobile phones
  • Big differences in methods of communications: 16-24s heavily text reliant. Over 65s opposite, voice-based
  • 1/3 of 16-24 year olds live in a mobile-only home. More than double UK average of 15%
  • 8/10 people in UK have Internet access. Figure drops for over 55s
  • Implication is of increased polarisation between young and old. Rise of the smart phone. Texting as a mass medium.  TV remains strong. Young people are switching off the radio. Post is still v important to older people
  • BT and Virgin’s superfast broadband services were available to around 60% of homes by March 2012

It’s clear  that a broad mass of people of all ages are perfectly comfortable in an online world and have multiple means of accessing it.  The generational divide isn’t as clear cut as you might think – here are some more statistics, from the Forster Company’s overview of age in the UK:

  • 47% of 55 – 75 year olds connect to their friends with either Skype or instant messenger services
  • 45% of 55 – 75 year olds spend up to 30 hours on the internet a week
  • 33% of over 55s use social networks
  • The fastest growing group of Facebook users is aged 50+

We’re not all digital natives yet

But it’s  also  clear that while many of the over 55s are fine online,  a significant minority aren’t – yet.  That’s an important issue for policy-makers.  Time will eventually iron out the difference until everyone left standing is a digital native , but we’re not there yet.  This makes the government’s strategy of making public service delivery “digital by default” by 2015 look slightly optimistic.

If people have to access the services they need online, what happens to those (currently 20%+ of the over 55s, according to the Ipsos Mori research)  who don’t have internet access?

If people over the age of 65 are more comfortable with having a conversation than dealing in “text-based communication”, how easy will they find negotiating an online application form for vital services like pensions or social care?

The recent story about the shortcomings of the helpline for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections didn’t inspire confidence:

[A whistleblower]  who is working at an Electoral Commission call centre dealing with queries about the election, told the Guardian that he spoke to hundreds of older people every day who could not access the information online. They were referred to a “very temperamental automated phoneline” at the Home Office, and then were only given a list of names and no real information”

And how long will it take before superfast broadband is available everywhere so that online applications can be done speedily even in remote rural areas?

London 2012 – the tyranny of choice

Olympic Park in simpler times

When I was a student and used to go to the Edinburgh Festival every summer, there was generally a point halfway through when I knew, with absolute certainty, that everyone else in the city had tickets to much better shows than I did – the ones that would win awards but were now sold out.  They were going to cooler parties than I’d been invited to, were having the unforgettable “Edinburgh experience” I craved, while somehow I was trailing behind, too late to join in.I thought I’d grown up and out of that particular anxiety, but I’m starting to get the same feeling about being in London this summer.  Partly this is due to the fact that there’s so damn much going on – most of it within walking distance of my front door.  How can anyone do it all?  How can you even know what’s out there so you can choose the best bits?

But also (I’m rationalising this to myself to find an excuse for being so immature) it’s because every experience I could be having this summer is instantly available to me on my phone.

Via Twitter and Facebook I can see pictures of all the events, hear the music, watch the video and share the reactions of all the people who are out there doing the stuff that I’m not.

This is not making me feel as though I am sharing the experience.  It’s not multiplying the pleasure.  It’s just making me feel uneasy about what I’m missing.  The duty to have an “extraordinary day”, to make the most of this “once in  a lifetime opportunity” – and make sure my children have an unforgettable summer too –  is becoming another chore to fit in along with de-fleaing the cats.

There is a recognised body of academic research into the paradox that having more choice  tends to make people more dissatisfied with their lot.  And there’s a growing number of studies about social media anxiety (this one by Anxiety UK) – though they’re usually focused on the anxiety people feel when cut off from social media, rather than as a result of using it.

For the record I don’t think I have an anxiety disorder, I think I’m just a ludicrously over-competitive person who really needs to calm down a bit.  But as an experiment I’m going to give up on Twitter and Facebook for the duration of the Olympics (or maybe we’ll see how it goes after the opening weekend…)  I managed to resist temptation during last night’s magnificent opening ceremony with nary a twinge. Let’s see if it makes me a more contented Londoner.


Are social networks the best tools for charity PR?

Here’s some fantastic advice for charities (though any small business could use it) about delivering successful PR on a budget.  As you  might expect it focuses solidly on digital channels – Twitter, Facebook, blogging and audioboo.

The low entry costs compared to the potential impact of social media make them obvious channels for organisations without marketing budgets or press officers to command.   An effective social strategy costs in terms of time – those blog posts don’t write themselves, and the price of success on Twitter is eternal vigilance.  But as the example of the Never Seconds blog shows, a simple piece of online communication can  have extraordinary repercussions.

However, nothing is ever simple.  Recent experience suggest it’s worth treading carefully before the evangelising can commence.

Lesson 1: don’t assume that people know what this stuff is or how it works

I did some training recently with a charity whose Chief Exec wanted her staff to understand the role that they could all play in raising profile through the smart use of tools like Twitter.  Explaining the potential of Twitter took second place to explaining what it is and how it works.  A minority of people in the room had accounts and used them enthusiastically.  Most displayed a degree of scepticism.

Lesson 2: don’t assume that people have enough time, technical confidence – or kit.

Most people didn’t feel comfortable about communicating online or able to do it, partly because they lacked equipment – many didn’t have smartphones, for example (today’s figures from Ofcom suggest that only 39% of people do). There was concern about losing time from already busy days to servicing more communication, and about how a small organisation could meet the increased workload that a successful strategy might generate.

Lesson 3: just because you can see opportunities don’t assume others share the view.

My group assumed that Twitter would be time-consuming (“don’t you just get streams of stuff to read and respond to?”); full of trivia (“isn’t it all about what people had for breakfast?”); and slightly creepy (“following people and having them follow you?  It sounds like stalking!”).

Lesson 4: charities may have particular concerns about social channels that PRs should respect

Many felt uneasy about talking about what they do online because they work with vulnerable people in difficult circumstances.  There was a lively discussion about the danger of forfeiting clients’ trust, the limits of what was and was not acceptable and how to raise attention – and funds – without exploiting people.

Eventually we agreed that it was better to make a cautious start with social media than avoid it for fear things might go wrong; that there are plenty of voluntary sector organisations using social media effectively and their experience offers lessons to be learned; that while client confidentiality trumps all other considerations, there is much else that can be discussed online.

But there’s still convincing to be done before some organisations feel confident enough to look for advice on what to put in their multi-media toolkit.


In praise of the unknown unknowns

Flickr: dweekly

I liked Jonathan Freedland’s piece in today’s Guardian about how the internet has changed the way we think.  His list of good outcomes was as you’d expect  – the ability to connect with anyone, anywhere;  access to more information from further away faster than ever before, permitting the spread of ideas at a rate undreamt of by previous generations.

Freedland’s anti-internet arguments ring true too – more information faster can mean less in depth; information that is updated every few seconds can mean shorter attention spans.  He missed, though the thing which is starting to really bug me about the internet  – its tendency to reinforce what I already know without surprising me with things that I don’t.

The classic example of this is  Twitter’s “people like you” list of recommendations for who to follow.  I tweeted, semi-flippantly, the other week that what I need is the ability to build a “people entirely unlike me” list for moments when I’m in need of a good row.  I try to widen the range of voices I listen to on Twitter,  but if you analyse the list of who I follow  it’s still largely metropolitan, left-leaning politically, linked to the industries I work in.   There’s nothing wrong with listening to people you agree with, but it becomes problematic if you forget that there are other shades of opinion out there – it’s like being in the pub before a game and then getting to the match and realising the other side has fans too as someone tweeted about  campaigning at a local council by-election recently.

The sense of only being offered what you already know you like isn’t confined to Twitter.  Anxious to maximise sales, all online retailers  highlight things based on your purchasing history (we have recommendations for you...) and on what people with similar taste have chosen  (customers who viewed  X also viewed Y).  Whatever your interests are you can follow them online as long as you know what to search for. But what happens to all the interests you might have but  haven’t discovered yet?  Search engines only work if you know what you’re looking for – how can I search online for an opinion or a writer or a piece of music to change my life  if I don’t already know that it exists?

I don’t agree with Donald Rumsfeld on much, but in one thing at least he was spot on:

There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

The internet is great at helping with the known knowns and the known unknowns (it’s what Google was invented for).  It’s the unknown unknowns I’m interested in; the serendipitous discoveries you can make in an afternoon’s browsing in a proper bookshop or a library; listening to a radio station rather than trusting the genius recommendations on iTunes; finding an unexpected twist to a news story from the pages of a newspaper rather than just scanning the front page online. So, in the spirit of discovery, here’s a list of 100 things we didn’t know in 2010.


The good stuff for March: social media

I’m aware that this post could be like announcing the invention of the printing press to a convention of librarians.  However,  I’m so far from being expert in the area of social media that I need constant memory-joggers about the useful stuff that’s out there – or stuff that’s useless but fun.  Maybe you do too?  Here’s a random selection of what I unearthed this month…


Saving the world one click at a time

Fllickr: Sean Stayte

I’ve received several requests to sign online petitions to Save the BBC.  The petitioners seem to think that any cut to the BBC is an absolute outrage to be resisted until death – even if it is being proposed by the BBC itself, which does have a vested interest in its own survival.   In classic BBC fashion, they seem to have chosen the wrong things to cut – the good bits that the market isn’t  providing – but I can’t see that it’s wrong to admit that the BBC can’t do everything and scale back.  A pre-emptive strike against cuts being imposed from outside, perhaps? (And personally I hate and rarely use the BBC website, so big, so bland, so smug.  It should have been pruned years ago).

I haven’t signed the petitions, although I love the BBC for all its faults.  It’s the fizzing outrage of the emails that puts me off.  There’s no nuance in the argument, no recognition that there may be more than one side to be considered.  At least one of the organisations that petitions me for support, regularly asks for suggestions as to what I want them to protest about next.  It’s  as though it’s the  act of complaining that’s important,  the opportunity to vent about everything that’s wrong in the world, rather than doing the difficult and often dull work of bringing about real change.   A classic armchair warrior, I’ve clicked yes to petitions for Amnesty, Reprieve and Friends of the Earth,  pro-democracy in Burma, anti-homophobia in Uganda and  lots more that I can’t remember.  What happens to it all?  Is this real democracy in action, or  knee-jerk populism?  And, as one post on the Guardian’s 6Music story remarked, is it just me, or are Facebook and Twitter now running the country?