Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

Archive for the ‘blogging’ Category

Commission for a Sustainable London 2012

Posted by Mona on October 10, 2008

The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 is the watchdog overseeing the promise that the London 2012 Olympic Games will be the most sustainable ever staged. It independently advises the Olympic Board and reports to the public on sustainable development across the entire Games programme.

The Chair of the Commission, Shaun McCarthy, recently attended the Beijing Games as part of the Observer Programme. During this period we worked with the Commissioner to help him communicate a range of views on the key learnings London could gain from the Beijing Games.

Due to the role of the Commission and the media protocols that must be observed it was important that all communications should be very controlled. We recommended that the Commissioner supply information to a series of prominent on-line news sites and blogs. We directly targeted the top three publications of choice: BBC London Online, to reach a large and varied audience of Londoners and beyond; GreenBang, to tap into the environmental and business communities; and Building, to inform decision-makers in the built environment sector. Shaun provided a series of blogs for all three, penning 10 despatches in total.

Bird's Nest Stadium

Because the constituencies of each publication differ so widely, the Commissioner was able to cover an extraordinary range of topics. From a serious analysis of London’s air quality to anecdotes about cockroach kebabs, from the debate on ethical souvenirs to the science of embodied energy, Shaun reported back on it all! Armed with a top-of-the-range camera (with lots of mega-pixies, as Shaun confidently assured us), we were able to accompany the dispatches with wonderful images from the front line.

By cherry-picking the most relevant publications, and tailoring the content to specifically appeal to each readership demographic, these blogs have proven a high profile means of communicating the Commission’s aspirations for the London Games to those who really matter: the public. It is hoped that more people than ever now share its expectation for the 2012 Olympics to be iconic in its sustainability.

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A handy acronym for social strategies

Posted by Graham Hayday on January 22, 2008

Forrester Research unleashed a new acronym on the marketing world late last year: POST.

POST stands for People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology and is designed to help companies form effective social media strategies.

I’ve been meaning to blog about this since the end of last year when Forrester’s Josh Bernoff sent me (and lots of other bloggers who asked for one) a copy of a short report introducing the POST methodology.

I’m not normally a fan of acronyms, but this one is actually useful. Josh explains POST in more detail here, but in summary (and to quote from the report) it breaks down like this. (My comments in italics.)

1. People: Review the Social Technographic Profile of your customers.

Social Technographic Profile is Forrester’s own audience segmentation tool which, of course, they would love you to buy from them. I’d argue that it’s not strictly necessary to do so. For many companies, all you need ask is such questions as: ‘Who are my customers? Who am I trying to reach? How likely is it that they’ll use social media?’ The more ruthless the focus on the audience the better, and the more you know about them the better.

2. Objectives: Decide what your goals are.

Can’t argue with that one. When talking about this with our clients, we tend to put objectives first, and audience second. But OPST isn’t an especially good acronym…

3. Strategy: Determine how your objectives will change your relationship with customers.

I like the use of the word ‘change’ here. A new relationship with customers is not something many companies are prepared for when plunging into the world of web 2.0.

4. Technology: Choose the appropriate technologies to deploy.

As Josh points out, the choice of technology should be the last thing you think about. It’s no good starting a discussion about social media by saying: ‘How can we use Facebook to reach our customers?’

As this report was sent out a couple of months ago, I’m not the first person to comment on it. There’s some constructive criticism here and here as well as some positive feedback.

The one thing I particularly liked about the report was the recognition that, of all the social media implementations that fail, most do so through a lack of defined objecives. Another reason for failure is what Forrester calls ‘strategic timidity’. The report reads:

“Unwillingness to assess and address the way that social technologies change customer relationships dooms many a project. Companies that go only half way to letting go of control, primarily because of internal political battles, are most likely to suffer from this problem. By recruiting a strong executive champion to back your efforts, you can make sure your company doesn’t fall into this strategic trap.”

Letting go of control… having an executive champion… these are indeed critical success factors.  

The POST approach will feature in an upcoming book from Forrester called Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social  Technologies, which will be published in April. You can pre-order a copy here on Amazon.com.

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The art of conversation

Posted by Graham Hayday on January 9, 2008

I read with interest a post by Steve Rubel earlier this week, bemoaning the laziness of tech bloggers.

While this isn’t strictly speaking a tech blog, his pointed remarks still struck a nerve. Why? Well, for a start I’ve not updated Digital Pebbles since early December (blame a pre- and post-Christmas rush of client-related activity).

But that’s not really the kind of laziness he’s referring to. His major beef is with those bloggers who tend to publish posts on a topical topic (if you’ll excuse the tautology) when they don’t have much to contribute to the debate. To quote Steve:

“Somewhere circa 2006 the tech blogger mindset shifted – at least among the majority. People who used to work hard creating and spreading big ideas resorted to simply regurgitating the same old news over and over again, often with very little value add. It’s almost like we stopped the real work of reading, thinking and writing in favor of going all herd, all the time.”

It’s very easy to fall into this particular trap (indeed, I have on more than one occasion. And if you need a recent example from the blogosphere at large, look no further than the Scoble/Facebook brouhaha. Too many posts, not enough originality). Every blogger wants to be more popular; we all analyse our stats and think about the best ways of increasing traffic. Jumping on a blogging bandwagon is one way of doing so.

If I wanted to I could now tag this post with the words ‘scoble’ and ‘facebook’ and may get some traffic as a result. But I won’t, because it is lazy. We should indeed keep our fingers to ourselves until we have something new to say.

This provides a challenge to the nervous corporate blogger of course. What if Mr Smith, the CEO of Widget Inc, wants to launch a blog – but fears he will run out of original things to say after a month?

I’d still advise him to go ahead with it. If the first month goes well, he’ll end up having conversations with his audience, and these will generate ideas for future blog posts.

The second thing I’d say is to remember that one sentence can make a good post. You don’t need to spend hours and hours every week on your blog.

My third recommendation would be to get others involved in the blog. The more people you have blogging, the less each individual has to contribute.

Which brings me nicely onto a little change here at the CMP blog. I’ve rather dominated proceedings up until now, but you’ll begin to hear from more of my colleagues from now on.

This isn’t because I’ve run out of things to say though (honest) or have fallen under the spell of Twitter, even if the conversations going on about the US elections there have finally convinced me that it’s a marvellous thing. To digress slightly, this site (which is built on the Twitter API) is fantastic. An explanation of how it works is here. I’m also looking forward to seeing how the World Economic Forum in Davos fares on Twitter later this month. You can subscribe to the official feed here.

Back to my point. The real reason things will change here is that my colleagues really, really want to get blogging. The chances are that there are people in your organisation who want the same thing, whether or not you already have a blog.

Why stop them joining – or starting – the conversation? If nothing else, it’ll decrease the likelihood of you ending up in Steve Rubel’s ‘lazysphere’.

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And the number of FTSE 100 companies with a corporate blog is…

Posted by Graham Hayday on November 26, 2007

… Zero. Yep, that’s a bit fat nothing.

I should point out that my definition of a corporate blog is strict.

I’m talking about one that is written either by a CEO or by a company’s employees; one that represents the voice of the corporate entity, rather than its various sub-brands; one that is about ongoing activities rather than one-off events; and one that is updated regularly.

By these strict criteria, Carphone Warehouse gets closest to achieving a score. CEO Charles Dunstone is a well-known blogger, but given how long it’s been since he bothered to put virtual pen to paper – his last post was in April 2007 – I’m not sure we can say his blog is live.

Some others that get close include:

  • Aviva. It has set up blogs for discrete projects, such as a solar car race it sponsored, but there’s no ongoing effort to engage the blogosphere.
  • Intercontinental Hotels. It has a blog called Travelogue, but it consists of travel reviews. You don’t find out much about the company itself.
  • Reuters. It publishes a lot of blogs – but they’re written by journalists, and have nothing to do with Reuters itself. I believe ITV also uses blogs, but only to support its programme brands.
  • Scottish and Newcastle. It has a blog – but no comments are allowed, we don’t know when the posts appeared, there’s no personality to be seen and it’s only about one topic – responsible drinking.
  • Shell. It too has one – but weirdly enough it’s written by its ‘artist in residence’. And it’s got a grand total of four entries, none of which are date-stamped.
  • Vodafone. The mobile phone giant deserves some credit for its very ‘bloggy’ R&D resource, even if there’s no blog there as such.
  • Cadbury Schweppes and HSBC should be commended for giving some of their recent graduates a blogging platform. Recruitment is one potential benefit of a blog, and these two organisations clearly recognise that. Again, though, these aren’t true corporate blogs.

The big question is, does this matter? The FTSE 100 companies are all highly successful and are hardly stupid. Maybe they’ve all considered blogging and decided it would be a waste of time.

The counter-arguments to that are well-rehearsed, so I won’t go into them here. But one thing I will say is this: I spent a couple of hours of my weekend doing this research, and by the end I was crying out to hear a human voice. I wanted someone, anyone to reach out to me and say ‘hello’. A video address from the CEO about the latest financials simply doesn’t cut it.

Notes: I should point out that I’m not the first person daft enough to carry out this exercise – a company called Iconcertina Creative undertook a similar study in April, and came to the same conclusion.

Chris Anderson and Ross Mayfield have set up a wiki to complile the numbers for the Fortune 500. That suggests that there are 40 of them blogging – that’s 8% of the total.

I should also admit that I may have made mistakes in my rather haphazard survey. Please do let me know if that is the case. I visited the corporate home pages of the FTSE 100 and, if there was no link to a blog, used the sites’ search engines (where available) to search on the word ‘blog’. When and if that came up with a blank, I did a Google search on ‘company name + blog’ for most, but not all, of them, just in case they were blogging on another platform. They weren’t…

I will also go back and add links to the blogs mentioned in this post at some point – I didn’t keep a record of them while I was doing the research (silly me), and wanted to get this post up while things were fresh in my mind. I shall now go and have a lie down in a darkened room…

Posted in blogging, business | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The ‘hyperconnected’ world

Posted by Graham Hayday on October 19, 2007

This blog’s been a bit quiet this week, largely because I’ve been busy working at an event for one of our clients – we do the PR for Imago, the organisers of IP’07 (et al).

For this event I donned my web 2.0 hat for them and set up an IP’07 Facebook group, Twitter feed and blog. Indeed I blogged some of the conference sessions live, which was an interesting experience. It’s not something I’d ever done before, even in my former journalist days.

I was a little nervous about doing this beforehand, as my position as a paid hand meant I wouldn’t be able to be at all critical of any of the conference speakers. As it turned out, I didn’t need to be. They were all pretty good (honestly), and the client was brave/foolish enough to give me a free hand. They didn’t vet anything I wrote.

True, the blog is a little ‘unbloggy’ (it doesn’t have my name on it so sounds very impersonal, and isn’t exactly a link-fest), but I still reckon it worked. It certainly attracted a surprising amount of traffic during the two days of the conference and generated no rude comments. Has anyone else done this sort of thing for a client? I’d be interested in hearing your take on it if so.

But I’m not here to write about that. Having spent so much time recently learning about, and experimenting with, the potential of web 2.0 as a communications platform, and having read so many blogs extolling the virtues of all the new gadgets and gizmos we have at our disposal these days (yes, I really want an iPhone – how dare O2 refuse to offer it on our business tarrif until March 2008 at the earliest?), it was interesting to hear from the people who are plumbing all this stuff together – the telcos, mobile operators and network equipment manufacturers of this world.

Nortel (which falls into the latter camp) kept mentioning the concept of ‘hyperconnectivity’ throughout the show. It can envisage a time, not far into the future, where billions, if not trillions, of devices are connected to ‘the network’.

Mobile phone penetration is running at 103% in the UK. Pretty much every desktop PC is online. Most laptops are. The new breed of games machine is networked. Fridges soon will be. Nike is embedding microchips into its trainers so runners can log their performance. Cars will soon be communicating with garages wirelessly. The list goes on.

This is putting the Nortels of the world under increasing pressure to come up with ever better ways of transporting all this data, in a wireless and wired world. There are standards battles raging as a result.

One thing Nortel said at the show really brought home the potential problems that lie ahead. It believes that if only 5% to 10% of existing mobile phone users in the UK got serious about using their handsets for video, the whole 3G network would collapse.

So unless ‘4G’ comes along pretty soon, the vision of a world where we’re all ‘citizen journalists’ and uploading loads of video to BBC News Online, or sharing clips of our babies and pets with each other via our mobiles, will remain just that – a vision.

It’s good to get a reaity check from time to time from the people who make ‘the network’ work. They may have a reputation for being a bit nerdy and dull, but these people are kind of important.

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Should you ghost-write a blog?

Posted by Graham Hayday on October 12, 2007

The short answer to that question is ‘no’. But the long answer is a little more complex.

I was spurred into thinking about the topic again while reading this article earlier in the week.

I’ve long argued that the Guardian’s Comment Is Free isn’t a blog in the true sense of the word. It’s just a place where opinion pieces are published and people can comment on them.

(For fear of blowing my former employers’ trumpet, silicon.com started allowing readers to post comments on every piece of news and opinion content back in the late 90s, if memory serves. We didn’t call it blogging.)

Nevertheless, the Guardian piece does open up the debate about whether a blog (in the Jeff Jarvis sense of the word) should ever be ghost-written.

He would certainly say ‘no’. Most hard-core bloggers would. I therefore got some nasty stares when I suggested otherwise at an event we held recently.

But I think different rules apply when you’re talking about corporate blogging, whether you like it or not.

B2B magazines (and national newspapers for that matter, especially the letters pages) often feature ghost-written submissions, and no one really questions their authenticity, or minds that they may not be written by the person whose name’s attached to them.

So why do bloggers get so precious about this? Who wrote the commandment that reads ‘thou shalt not compose a ghost-written blog?’

I agree that such blogs tend not to be as effective as the ‘pure’ ones, but they still can be highly readable (and to put my PR hat on, can work as part of a company’s communications strategy).

I also admit that they go against the ‘ethics’ of blogging – one reason why blogs have become so popular is dissatisfaction among readers/viewers with mainstream media’s tendency to indulge in deception and to have hidden agendas.

It would be a shame if the world of the blog got dragged into the same murky waters in which the mainstream media find themselves floundering these days. Transparency is one of the blogosphere’s watchwords.

But ghost-written blogs are a reality, and are here to stay. We may as well get used to it.

Posted in B2B, blogging, business, PR, trust | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Of cultural barriers and corporate blogs

Posted by Graham Hayday on October 5, 2007

I was doing some preparation for a web 2.0 presentation the other day, and came across the blog of American airline South West Airlines.

At the time, this post was at the top.

It’s titled, ‘The freedom to luv my job’.

What follows is a tribute to the joys of working for South West, written by someone called Shelley. She’s had three jobs in her time at the company, and has loved (sorry, ‘luved’) every one of them.

To me, the post smacks of everything that’s wrong with some corporate blogs. It looks about as authentic as Pete Burns’ lips.

I simply didn’t believe someone would spontaneously write something like this. She was either coerced into it by someone in HR or PR, or – worse – had the post written for her by someone in PR, I thought.

Her message to the world even contains this gem of a sentence: “Needless to say, I learned a lot during my tenure in Compensation, and I grew to LOVE Excel spreadsheets!”

Surely no one LOVES spreadsheets enough to write the word in capitals? Do they? Not unless they’re desperate for a promotion they don’t.

But when I went back to the post today to get the URL I noticed that there are around 25 comments, all from South West employees, all of which are similarly ‘on message’.

There’s not one criticism of Samantha’s rampant enthusiasm. Many thank her for sharing her inspiring experiences.

Maybe, sitting here as a cynical Englishman, I underestimated cultural difference. After all, America is a country in which a giant Mickey Mouse wishes visitors to Disneyland a “magical day” and no one feels moved to vomit into the nearest paper bag.

What happened at the web 2.0 presentation itself got me musing on the same theme. At the end of the talk this morning, in which I’d criticised poor Samantha, I was asked by our client – which has offices all around the world and, crucially, isn’t headquartered in either the UK or America – about the problems of cultural difference.

If they set up a blog or used a social networking site such as Facebook, would they need to have versions in English, Italian, Spanish, etc? If they agreed to use English as the lingua franca, would that in itself create cultural issues in, say, Latin America?

These are good questions, and I’m not sure I have the answers. What I have learnt is not to underestimate Americans’ propensity to act as unironic cheerleaders for their employer – and that American/UK companies sometimes take the use of English for granted.

Time to get the thinking cap on.

[Update: In light of Brian’s comment, I think I need to stress that I changed my mind about Shelley’s post. That was my point, but maybe I didn’t make it clearly enough. I did come to believe that her comments were genuine, and that there was no arm twisting involved. I was trying to poke fun at myself for being blinded by my ‘European cycnicism’, not Shelley for demsontrating her enthusiasm for the job. I’d say she’s a lucky soul to have a job she loves so much.] 

Posted in B2B, blogging, business, comms, PR, socialmedia | 3 Comments »

Social media vs MSM (it’s 1-0 at half time)

Posted by Graham Hayday on September 12, 2007

FT.com has just covered a report that compares the news agendas of the so-called mainstream media (MSM) with the sorts of story that rise to the top of the rankings on social media sites such as Digg, Del.icio.us and Reddit.

The report (which was carried out in the US by the Project for Excellence in Journalism) makes for an interesting read, as it finds that there is little overlap between the content of the two.

To quote the FT’s piece:

“For example, in the week in question the biggest story for traditional news providers was a debate in Congress about reforms to immigration policies, accounting for 10 per cent of all news stories. It appeared just once as a top-10 story on Reddit, and not at all on Digg and Del.icio.us, the study found.

Mainstream media sites also tended to focus on a handful of big issues, while user sites rarely returned to stories.

In addition, the analysis showed that coverage on the user-generated news sites focused more on domestic US events and less on news from abroad.”

The next sentence is crucial. It reads: “Technology and science stories were the most common on the user sites.”

That’s no surprise – the early and most enthusiastic adopters of services such as Digg tend to be geeks (and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. Some of my best friends are geeks). The communities that these sites attract are therefore disproportionately interested in science and technology.

The most interesting thing to consider is what happens when or if these sites go mainstream (and it almost certainly is when). The penultimate paragraph of the FT.com story reads:

“The findings will fuel concerns about the situation of the mainstream media, especially as more people switch attention to the web and as advertising spending follows.”

I hope the writer of the article doesn’t mean that MSM should start covering more science and technology stories. It’s the geeks who really dig Digg at the moment, so as far as subject matter goes there’s no desperate need for MSM to change what they’re doing. They’re serving a different audience. The analysis also assumes that the users of Digg have reduced their consumption of other media. They probably have, but I’d like to see the numbers.

Regardless of that particular debate, the crucial point is whether MSM truly understand why these user-driven sites are so appealing. Power has been put in the hands of the people. We like being in control. The wisdom of the crowds should not be underestimated. And a lot of people don’t trust MSM.

Science and technology stories are attracting most of the attention on social media sites today, but next year it could be science and technology and the environment, then it’ll be science and technology and the environment and politics, then it’ll be science and technology and the environment and politics and sport, and so on, until MSM have no audiences left.

If they are to survive (and I think some of them will), the ‘old school’ crowd will have to let readers/viewers shape the news agenda. Channel 4 News has started along this route by becoming more transparent and blogging its news meetings, so at least we can find out why certain stories were covered and why certain angles were taken. That’s a bold and laudable move.

But the Project for Excellence in Journalism study suggests that even that may not be enough in the future. We need to be allowed to get even closer to, and shape, the decision-making process itself.

What does this mean for the PR community then? I’ve rambled on long enough for one post so won’t pontificate about that in depth right now, but it may be that we end up spending more time communicating directly with the ultimate consumer, and less time schmoozing journalists.

* UPDATE (13 Sept, 12:05pm): Roy Greenslade has just posted his thoughts on this report. Not entirely sure I agree with his analysis.  

Posted in blogging, comms, journalism, MSM, PR, socialmedia, web2.0 | Leave a Comment »