The most stationary of all stationery items, scissors hate to be hurried. I learned this as a child. You did too, probably. Don't run with scissors. A clear and simple instruction. Pencils, glue, staples... no problem. For them, like us, it's a finite existence. Time is short so don't dilly dally. But don't run with scissors.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

the google+ iphone app: who's the biggest loser?

I read on twitter earlier today that the iPhone is the third most popular smartphone in the UK at the moment, behind BlackBerry and Android-based devices (second and first respectively).

I can’t remember the original source of that stat, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Or not – the choice is yours.

Coupled with all the brouhaha about the lack of an iPhone app for GooglePlus, this got me thinking. Who has the most to lose from the lack of such an app?

I’ve seen a lot of comments on GooglePlus (and again, this is – I’m afraid – anecdotal) saying that Google needs to pull its finger out and get an iPhone app sorted out… and fast.

I’m not sure that’s a perspective I share.

The success of the smartphone phenomenon is down to the ability to use apps and other data-dependent services on the go. If those apps and services weren’t appealing, didn’t offer any value to the user, would the smartphone be as ubiquitous as it has become? I, for one, think not.

It is still too early to say whether GooglePlus will be a long-lasting success or just another flash in the social media pan. So far though, I think all the indications are pretty positive.

The lack of an iPhone app isn’t going to impede the success of GooglePlus. Some of the most active people I know on it are also iPhone users. They’re using it because it gives them value. Not because it is associated with one device or another.

The same might not be so true in reverse.

If Apple’s loyal iPhone customer base begin to see there are other smartphones that offer a better all-round data experience they may start to consider jumping ship rather than upgrading to a new iPhone next time their contract is up for renewal.

Apple risks, therefore, experiencing some of the same disintermediation that blights the network operators. In the UK Orange, Vodafone and O2 used to enjoy significant brand loyalty among their customers. Not any more. They are the plumbing that allows the cool stuff to flow. Nothing more.

If Apple finds GooglePlus (or anything for that matter) starts to come between the iPhone brand and its customers it will be the one who loses out ultimately.

The onus therefore, in my opinion, has to be on Apple to redouble its efforts in being more open, something where it still has much to prove.

Monday, 11 July 2011

did social media bring down the news of the world?

On Friday night I found myself watching BBC2’s Newsnight programme (a topical news analysis programme). Unsurprisingly, the closure of the News of the World was still dominating the news agenda.

A number of discussions took place into various angles of this issue.

I was struck by remarks made by Justine Roberts the co-founder and CEO of Mumsnet. Essentially, one of her opening remarks was that News International was forced to close the News of the World because of social media.

Great, I thought, now the angry mob has bigger pitchforks, more flaming torches and a megaphone.

One would have to be implausibly na├»ve to truly believe News International had bowed to Consumer Pressure 2.0 – of course that isn’t how it happened.

Did social media amplify people’s voices? Well, if it didn’t something would have gone terribly wrong with one of the cornerstones of the new social order.

Do big brands kowtow to such amplification?

No. Of course not. This industry (by which I mean all things smedia and digital) is still very much in its infancy. Any business that is serious about listening to its customers, understanding and delighting them, ought to be using social media.

There is a clear three-pronged strategy most businesses have adopted (or ought to adopt) where social media is concerned – listen, analyse, engage.

But the hard facts are, very few brands have got this right.

If there’s one sector that ought to be fearful, suspicious and maybe even hostile in the face of social media it would be the newspaper industry. They’ve seen circulation and advertising revenues go the way of all flesh in the aftermath of mass adoption of the internet.

Within a few days of some appalling revelations about phone hacking and related activities,  there was indeed a huge outcry on twitter and Facebook, not to mention countless blog posts. Some advertisers pulled out of the News of the World, but not all of them.

News International’s decision to pull the plug on the News of the World was, of course, a damage limitation strategy (albeit one of the worst I can remember in its execution).

Its roots are in an organisation where journalists, editors and their managers felt they had a right to break the law and access the private lives of well-known and the everyday people. Its branches extended into police corruption. It has blossomed into a tangle of compromised politicians, journalists-turned-PRs, and private investigators receiving six-figure sums from more than one source in the newspaper world.

If I was the person ultimately responsible for sorting this mess out, God knows I’d want to bury it all in a deep dark hole too. And as quickly as possible.

But I might, just might, be tempted to bury those who had created the mess at the same time. Which hasn’t happened here. Maybe it’s the residue of my journalistic spider senses that makes me want to know why not.

William Cobbett, the English essayist and reformer of the 18th and 19th Century, once said: “I defy you to agitate a fellow with a full stomach.”

When people are hungry – in a literal or figurative sense – they are more likely to rise up. Do something about that hunger and you can pacify them. Often without giving into all their demands.

News International wants to buy the whole of BSkyB - the UK satellite TV company it already owns a chunk of.

Due to concerns of media plurality (NI owns a lot of UK newspapers) the deal has to be given the green light by the UK regulators. The last thing Rupert Murdoch needed right now is a high profile scandal concerning elements of his media empire breaking the law and offending common decency.

Throwing the News of the World to the wolves is perhaps the least worst option for him. Under these circumstances I expect it wasn't a difficult call to make.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

news of the world: goodbye and thanks for all the fish

Faced with a dilemma, many people (generally christians, admittedly) would pose the question: what would Jesus do?

What wouldn't Jesus do, is perhaps a better question.

But I'm not here to talk about Jesus.

I've written about the News of the World and the phone hacking scandal before. I've touched on the allegations of police collusion, which have now been linked in the public domain to the payment - by the newspaper and its owners of more than £100,000 to serving police officers.  I've voiced my take on the illegal and immoral accessing of people's mobile phone voicemails and the distress it has caused.

I've posed the question do we have the press we deserve?

When, just a few days ago, it became clear that the underbelly of the News of the World's phone hacking scandal was seedier than at first imagined.

I saw someone on twitter ask what could be done to dig the paper out of its hole.  What, I wondered, would Rupert Murdoch do?

Now we know. Holed below the water-line, the News of the World is to be closed down. The final edition will be published on 10 July.

But that's far from being the end of it. The image of British tabloid journalism is unlike to walk away from this episode pestilence-free.

Friends and colleagues in the US and Australia have talked to me about the News of the World in recent days and have all expressed surprise that a mainstream national newspaper could ever have behaved in this way.

But this is not an isolated incident, an aberration. This is a systemic disregard for the law, for privacy and for standards of common decency.

So what if on 17 July the News of the World is no longer available in your local newsagent. Do you think the people behind the decisions that led to the recent appalling incident will cease to exist? Of course not.

The list of innocent casualties in this sordid affair goes on and on, and now includes (potentially at least) an as-yet-unknown number of News International employees who were nowhere near this scandal but who have become collateral damage.

Unless the government and the police (preferably an arm of the police service that doesn't have grubby hands and sticky fingers) instigate a thorough and unexpurgated investigation the reputation of British tabloid journalism may never recover.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

klout, klout, let it all out

Influence comes in many guises. As a child you will have been influenced by those that raise you – parents, guardians, teachers and so on. When you grow a little older your friends become the biggest influence on you, and in later life influence can come from your colleagues, the people you manage, your partner. The list goes well beyond that, of course.

By and large, we all know who we are influenced by and to what extent. At least in the realm of the personal.

But identifying who wields influence has lately become a hot topic of considerable proportions in marketing, PR and comms teams the world over. As with most things in life, where there is demand there will surely be supply, and consequently there’s no shortage of people who want to appear to have influence and a growing trade in tools to tell you who has it.

The art critic and columnist Brian Sewell, when asked to comment on class and the English preoccupation with it, said: “You can acquire the trappings, but you can’t buy it.”

Can the same be said of influence? Well, yes and no.

The thing about being influential is that in the main either you are or you’re not. People will read what you write, listen to what you say and click the links you post because they trust you. This is influence.

There’s a whole chapter of a reference book that could be written on paid-for influence, but that’s not what I am concerning myself with here.

If people don’t respond in any of those ways, then – by definition – you lack influence.

However, there are plenty of things you can do to influence the way in which your own influence (can you see what I did there..?) is measured and scored by the likes of Klout, PeerIndex and TweetGrader. Most of these services will even give you tips on how to do it, with some of my favourites coming from PeerIndex who, essentially, advise you to be a person of influence if you want to have a higher rating on PeerIndex. Hard to argue with that logic.

But if you’re after shortcuts to a higher ranking there are a few quick and simple steps you can take. Here are three things you could consider.

  • Take a look at who you are following on Twitter, and have a bit of a clear out. Get rid of dormant accounts, bots, spammers and the like. While your follower numbers will go toward the score you achieve, the quality of those followers and your level of engagement with them is actually far more important.
  • If you are genuinely trying to cultivate an image as an influencer, have some focus. Decide what it is you are trying to be perceived as an expert in and cut your cloth accordingly in terms of the content you create and share as well the kinds of people you share it with. But don’t fall into the trap of creating a social media walled garden. If your tweets, and other content, are only picked up by your colleagues you will never achieve any meaningful amplification and your social media echo will be exactly that – just an echo.
  • Tweet often, but not too often. Sorry, you’re on your own as far as working out what on earth that might mean in terms of actual frequency. But clearly spamming the Bejebus out of everyone is more likely to cost you followers in the longer term, while letting the cobwebs settle won’t help your cause much either.

Having seen my own Klout score leap by almost 20 points since early June I feel pretty confident that some of this works. Even if I’m not entirely sure I know what I mean by “works” in this context.

I’m not advocating any kind of obsession with one’s online influence score. But the issue of who wields influence online isn’t likely to go away soon, so why not take an interest in the factors that determine the way in which others perceive how influential you are, and the part you can play in it.