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.

Friday, 26 October 2012

why it's time to stop counting your retweets

How easy would it be to write a post ridiculing the practice of assessing the success and relevance of your social media activity by counting the number of retweets, likes, followers or fans you have?

I think we all know it would be quite easy. 

How much value would there be in my doing that?  Well, about as much value as there is in assessing the success and relevance of your social media activity by counting the number of retweets, likes, followers or fans you have.

Did you see what I did there?

I read a blog post today in which someone said they’d tweeted something about the Uberdaddy of record-breaking sky-diving, Felix Baumgartner. That tweet was then retweeted more than 5,000 times, reaching more than 140,000 people’s streams by dint of just two of those RTs.

Woah..! Big numbers.

Big so what, too.

In an exchange on Twitter with a social marketer at one of the world’s premier sports brands, I recently said something that went a little bit like this:

Measuring your online relevance simply by counting how many retweets you get is a bit like driving all the way to the supermarket at the weekend, not actually going in to buy anything, but still considering it to have been a trip to the supermarket.

Technically, that’s a trip to the supermarket.

You don’t have anything to eat though.

One point I (try) to make to the brands I speak to about how they measure social success – and more importantly how they should measure social success – is that surely it has to be better for their business to find 50 people they know are spending money with them than to have 50,000 Facebook likes from people who probably aren’t.

That’s me all over though… I state the obvious.

Social media. Digital communications. Where did it all go wrong? We let it fall under the spell of people with no real experience of what it takes to create genuine interest and actionable desire.

Affecting a sustainable change in people’s perceptions and behaviour is not as hard as it might seem. As for measuring those changes, well OK that is a little bit hard. But it’s not impossible and it gets a good deal easier when you know what it is you’re trying to measure and why.

A former business contact of mine got a job last year as a “social media coordinator.”  I posited that one day, maybe in three-to-five years, there wouldn’t be anyone with the word social in their job title.  It’s all just media.

We need to stop dressing it all up as something it isn’t and get back to the business of crafting great narrative, building compelling brand stories, and measuring the things that really matter.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

the pleb, the whip, his bike and some bother

It’s more than three weeks since Plebgate. For once I feel ok about using the ‘gate’ suffix, as there was actually a gate involved in the story.

First, a quick recap… Andrew Mitchell (millionaire MP and government Chief Whip) was stopped at the gates of Downing Street and asked by a police officer to dismount from his bicycle, whereupon Mr Mitchell may or may not have called the police officer a “fucking pleb”.

This happened less than two days after two police officers were shot dead in the line of duty, prompting a nationwide out-pouring of sympathy and respect for the police.

Initial claims that Mr Mitchell had had a particularly “long and frustrating” day were subsequently found lacking in credibility, when it was revealed he’d had lunch at the Cinnamon Club, which is a very nice and fairly expensive restaurant in Westminster. He’d also spent part of his day at another (even more) exclusive establishment, the Carlton Club in St James’s – one of the oldest and most elite of Conservative clubs, is how it likes to be known.

Three weeks have passed and Mr Mitchell has failed to exorcise the Ghost of Insults Past. His apologies have only gone so far and his steadfast refusal to accept he used the word “pleb” have angered the police force in general, and the Police Federation in particular. Having said that, I think we all know how difficult it is to untangle one of those “he said / she said” arguments. Although it’s a “he said / he said” on this occasion.

On the BBC Radio 4 current affairs discussion programme Any Questions (aired on 12 October and repeated the following day), the government’s Defence Minister, Philip Hammond, described how no one other than those people directly involved actually know the truth over what was said.

This point of view was offered as an explanation as to why Mr Mitchell’s attempts at apology, which have been rejected by many in the police service as inadequate, ought to have been enough and that everyone (IE the media and the police) should now forget the whole thing and move on.

I witnessed something similar only a few days ago. I was on a train going into London that had been held between stations for over an hour. There was a very heated exchange between two male passengers – one accused the other of having upset one of the train staff. Several people saw their heated exchange, which almost came to blows, yet the only people who actually knew what had been said to cause the train employee to become upset, were the people involved.

There are some significant points of difference with Plebgate though, not just that there was a bike involved rather than a train.

Chief among those differences, in my opinion, is that one of the parties involved here is a serving police officer who was on duty at the time.

A police officer’s notes are generally deemed to be admissible in a court of law as evidence. As, indeed, would anyone’s eye-witness account. Yet Mr Mitchell has called on the whole country to ignore the police officer, their account and their notes, and instead to believe him, a man who’d had a long and frustrating day spending time at a nice restaurant and in a swanky club.

Of course, Mr Mitchell is not the first person to claim that a police officer is misrepresenting the truth in their account of an incident. But it’s not often we hear a member of the government claiming the police are playing fast and loose with the facts, being economical with the actualit√©, being less than trustworthy, making shit up… lying.

What sort of example is he setting? I don’t mean that to sound shrill or hysterical – it is (and ought to be) a genuine consideration. After all, his is the party of law and order, the party that announced very recently that it wanted a change in the law so that householders could, if the circumstances presented themselves, batter intruders to death. OK, maybe now I’m being economical with the actualit√©, but hey… it’s what the cool kids (by which I mean government ministers not actual cool kids) are doing these days.

This man is in government, by most people’s reckoning he enjoys a privileged position in life, a position of authority and responsibility, and yet his view is that the account of the police officer is not to be trusted.

Setting aside any opportunistic jibes I may have made, there are some very serious points here.

Only those with poor memories will have already forgotten the MPs’ expenses scandal, where our lords and masters were caught with their collective fingers in the till, trousering great handfuls of cash; sometimes out of greed and ignorance, sometimes out of a premeditated willingness to lie about where they lived or who owned the homes they paid rent on.

They were, en masse, deemed to have been acting as though they were above the law. Our Prime Minister pledged it was time for MPs to clean up their collective act.

Yet here we have the government Chief Whip and the Defence Minister both espousing the point of view that one ought not to trust the police. Their belief, one might come to believe, is that Mr Mitchell is not subject to the same laws as the rest of us.

Not every millionaire former public schoolboy is arrogant, obnoxious and self-important. But we seem to have a few of them currently ruining running the country.

So much for David Cameron’s hollow notion that we are somehow all in this together, and that we must all adopt a big society mentality.

Of course the police aren’t perfect. But they do a job that, by and large, most of us would not and could not cope with.

I wrote last year that we get the press we deserve. I think we get the police we deserve too. Accepting the fallibilities and frailties that are part of the human package, if we want a police force we can trust we surely – at some point – have to stop regarding them as untrustworthy. And if our politicians want to be believed and trusted surely it’s about time they started acting like they want to earn that trust.

Footnote: a big thank you to Brent Martin, aka @ZeitgeistLondon (“Be-wigged defence Counsel, working in the City of London in criminal law”) who, despite being on holiday, was kind enough to answer a quick legal question for me when I was writing this piece.

Today’s Independent carries this piece

The Guardian produced a handy timeline to the first few days of Plebgate

Alternatively, stick ‘plebgate’ in your preferred search engine and read what has been said elsewhere.

You can click here for more on
 Sean Fleming.

Friday, 5 October 2012

I come from England, I grew up there

In 1992, I went to Canada and the USA.  I spent three or so weeks travelling around, on my own, visiting friends and family.

It was the first time I’d flown.

Before we’d even taken off things started to get interesting.

The plane was delayed and while we were all sat there, on the tarmac of Manchester Airport, waiting for clearance, the pilot made an announcement to tell us all that it shouldn’t be too much longer before we were on our way.

He kept on talking, but not to us. For several minutes we could hear him chatting with the co-pilot, and whoever else was there, but it was conversation not intended for us to hear. Mostly it was incomprehensible technical stuff, and some of it was inaudible. Then the mic was cut.

A minute later, he came back over the speakers to apologise for having left the mic on while he was chatting to his colleagues and said “there are a lot of switches up here and it sometimes gets confusing.”

A lot of us exchanged quizzical looks. Had he really just said that..? Yes, he had.

Four hours later, a little more than halfway to Toronto – where I’d get to hear about Mrs Aqua for the first time   the guy across the aisle from me collapsed.

At this point I was beginning to wonder why they bothered putting movies on for us to watch – the flight itself was providing far more entertainment and distraction than I’d bargained for.

We landed, in one piece. The collapsed man was OK too.

My passport photo, taken in 1992
At the immigration queue the guy in front of me got instantly deported… into a holding cell and put on the first plane back to Manchester.

Three days later I saw two guys from the Ku Klux Klan being deported from Canada, at Fort Erie, and sent back to the USA.

By this point I couldn’t tell if I was still suffering from jet lag, or whether I was simply over-stimulated from everything that was going on around me. But one thing was for sure, I was wired.

One of my abiding memories from that trip is of something that happened at Penn Station in New York.

I was waiting for a train to take me to Fayetteville, North Carolina. All the trains were delayed. As any fellow Brits will know, this is a situation we have all become accustomed to. And so it was that I found myself hanging around at Penn Station with lots of other delayed travellers, one of whom struck up a conversation with me.

He was a couple of years younger than me, was well dressed, wore a broad smile and had a couple of suitcases. He introduced himself by saying something about the delay being annoying and that he was on his way home from college.

It was 20 years ago, so what follows is not an actual word-for-word account of what happened next. But the main thrust of it is here…

  • Me: “what are you doing at college?”
  • Him: “liberal arts.”
  • Him: “how about yourself?”
  • Me: “I’m travelling round for a few weeks, I’ve got some friends in Maine and North Carolina, and my brother lives in Michigan. Last week I was in Toronto for a few days.”
  • Him: “may I just say, you speak really good English.”
  • My actual voice: “Er, I’m English.” (note: I’m not, I’m an Irishman who grew up in England, but that’s a tale for another occasion)
  • Him: “Sure, but how come you speak such good English?” (the ‘such’ and the ‘good’ were over emphasized)
  • Voice in Sean’s head: “THIS IS HOW IT ENDS…!”
  • My actual voice: “Well, I come from England. I grew up there. It’s what we speak. I really ought to find a telephone. It’s been great meeting you.”

On that same trip a lot of very weird and funny stuff happened. But the “how come you speak such good English guy” was a real stand-out moment.