Friday, 24 December 2010

Why Social Media predictions are pointless

I’m sure that you all realise that it’s that time of year where all of the great and good in the world of technology, sports, music and everything else in the world, start making predictions about what the next year will hold in store for their relative fields?

Me? Frankly, I can’t be bothered. I’ve given up trying to make predictions, as I’d rather focus on the present and just work with what I have, not a hypothetical social toolkit that chances are may not exist in 12 months time.

And besides, at this time of year, I think we should be taking stock and counting our blessings above all else. I live in a developed country. I spend my time worrying about online communities, rather than worrying about where my next meal is coming from. I have clothes on my back, and it’s all because I work in a job that, if we’re talking about predictions here, back when I started my education, DIDN’T EVEN EXIST.

Back in 1987, online communities were barely even seeds. The social media evolution of the past six or seven years hadn’t even happened yet. Nobody I knew, or my parents knew, had a mobile phone. Things are a bit different now, aren’t they? Well, a bit. Some people were predicting that we’d be living on the moon by now.

There are two types of people in this world when it comes to technology. Those who predict, and those who just do it; who disrupt the apparent order that enables us to make secure predictions. who aim to change the way we do things not by hypothesising, but by showing us the change and taking us with them.

Don’t play it safe by making a link-baiting predictions list - use your time more constructively. Make an impact socially, implement a new project, just get out there.

Ghandi said it best: Be the change that you want to see in the world.

So, today when I sat down in front of my laptop to try and bash out a 'this is what I think will happen in 2011' blog post, I accidentally received a really cool gift - the gift of perspective.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Why the UK will always lag behind in social media

As you may know, I’m a bit into the idea of online and social communities. It’s kinda my job, you see. And I love it.

The thrill of creating a campfire, a room or a garden online and filling it with like-minded people, and sharing relevant information with them gives me a real buzz. And I don’t think that will ever wear off. social media levels the playing field with regards to platform, and with a few tweaks and a lot of hard work, you can grow a quality fan base that will provide you with as much of a lifetime value as some of the big brands.

But at the moment, living in the UK, I still don’t believe that we really ‘get’ social media.

Why is this? Well, there are a number of reasons, although firstly, I want to dismiss the straw man argument that it’s down to scale. In social media, as in life, size is not as important as quality.

One of the key reasons is that if you think about it, does the UK economy, heavily based on service and manufacturing, really value technological innovation, or even really understand it, or the people that do?

The worst thing about this is that I feel that as a nation, the UK is heading backwards. We never had much money when I was growing up (cue Hovis music), but I remember the first computer I ever owned was a good old, Alan Sugar-approved Amstrad CPC 464. It had British-bas developers. British-based games. It seemed homegrown. There was a refreshing lack of uniformity about the technology, and although it was hardly state-of-the-art, it was ours, and it was brilliant.

Ok, so were hardly pioneers, but we had a decent start-up offering us good home computers at a good price, which allowed programmers to publish public domain games that helped to not only influence a generation of geeks, but also a generation of popular culture too (Charlie Brooker has been weaned on this stuff, don’t forget).

Fast forward nearly thirty years however, and what do we have now? We live in the age of the internet. Not only our we actively engaging online, our kids are, and our grandparents are some of the speediest adopters around. And yet, when it comes to technological innovation, we are lagging so far behind the states it’s scary.

I love AudioBoo, and Mark Rock has done a great job with this start-up, gaining some pretty key advocates along the way (Stephen Fry, The BBC, *ahem* me...), but is it really going to be all down to him and a few key associates to drag Britain kicking and screaming into the digital age? It shouldn’t be. BTW, keep up the good work, Mark.

I don’t think adoption is the problem. I think that it’s funding more than anything else.

Why do you think that Pete Cashmore left Scotland when Mashable started getting succesful? Why is every single great social website or idea seemingly based in either California or Colorado? It’s not because of the weather (looking at you, Boulder). It’s the fact that there are investors over there who seem to understand that the true financial power of the internet is based upon disruption. And that’s where you will make your money.

Social Media has disrupted business whether we like it or not. It is not a fundamental change in the way we communicate. Telepathy is a fundamental change in the way we communicate. What it has done is forced companies to listen to their audience, and respond to positive or negative feedback, sometimes publicly.

Here in the UK, we do not reward disruption and innovation. We try to stamp on it. We have experts appear on TV talking about ‘Internet Service Protocol’ and ‘Broadcom licenses’. We pass a digital rights bill that pretty much prevents the hackers (Zuckerberg’s) of tomorrow fulfill their potential. Basically, if it’s not a shop or a fucking money-printing machine, you’ll get laughed out of any Dragon’s Den in the country. And that was before the recession. Even Channel four don’t believe in it

Even in Facebook marketing, most of our digital companies are being knocked into a cocked hat by Fox News! Regardless of what you think of their politics (I’m no fan), they know their audience, and they’re funding social initiatives, sharing stories with, and investing in their social spaces. You only have to look at that, and then look at how boring and staid our pages look to realise our attitudes towards social differ from across the pond.

FOX is what we should be aspiring to socially. PEPSI is what we should be aspiring to socially.

The US tech industry wants to disrupt. We want to contain. And we don’t even know enought to do that properly in places.

It would be great if we could start breeding tecnological, social innovators in this country. After all, we are the masters of the pub converstation, the terrace chant, and the mass phone vote. I would just like to see the innovators of tomorrow being given a chance, and being given some money by our short-sighted government(s).

Whether we like it or not, digital and social are the next battleground that we have to face as an economy. And at the moment, the best we can offer has been largely (wrongly) ignored.

So my wish for Christmas and New Year is for more money to be pumped into affordable tech education and new start-ups. And not just from the government.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Thank you for joining my campfire!

CHEERS EVERYBODY! The beer is alcohol-free, by the way. Photo by Laura Somers.

One of the happiest days of my working life was this Friday, when I found out that one of my favourite sites, Social Media Today, had chosen to syndicate one of my articles.

I wrote my post, ‘The Campfire Effect in Social Media’ on the number 111 bus back from Manchester Piccadilly Gardens on my trusty, battered-up Blackberry, and emailed it to myself to finish when I got home. The funny thing was, I didn’t edit it that much, which is unusual, given that I am usually pretty anal about these things, being a former pro copywriter.

The social campfire seems to be an analogy that has gone down really well, and it started me thinking why this was.

Ultimately, as I’ve said quite a few times before, social media is a campfire that we all gather around to share stories. If you have a certain expertise, something you believe is useful that you can bring to the conversation, you should definitely be on there.

Many companies simply rush onto there, blindly chasing profits, when they shouldn’t be chasing anything at all. The recession may have made you desperate, but that’s not how you want to come across to your potential fans and followers. Give them calm, reasoned and useful content.

Around a campfire, this would be a great anecdote, joke, or observation. Your perspective and experience are invaluable, and are taken at face value if you communicate effectively initially. In other words, first impressions count.

The campfire feels warm, and feels welcoming. It's what we should all be aiming for 

Thank you all for following my blog, and for following me on Social Media Today.

As a token of my appreciation, I have three Rockmelt invites to give away.

Rockmelt is a cracking social browser, built onto Google Chrome API. It’s sleek, sexy and quick. I’ve been using it a couple of days, and it already seems intuitive to me. Try it now, but be quick!

Happy surfing everybody, and I hope you have all had a great weekend. 

Tell me what you'd bring to the campfire - leave me a comment!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The Campfire Effect in Social Media

Picture Credit: Ian Patterson

I've been a very busy boy over the past couple of months. I'm currently working for a great company, in what is the biggest and most enjoyable work challenge of my life.

I often say to people that in order to be in contact with your audience, you need to inhabit the same spaces they do. Create a 'campfire', where people can feel comfortable having a conversation with you. But what happens if your campfire spawns another campfire? What happens then if somebody else from the same fire then breaks off and starts another? And so it continues, until you have a festival's worth of campfires, all discussing roughly the same thing.

What happens then? Where was the original fire? Can I get from one side of the campsite to the other? Why can't I interact with everybody?

Once you have a festival full of similar campfires, it can be very difficult to find your way again.

I was hired to be put in the middle of that festival, and told to help people find their way. To join all of the campfires. And that's what I am hoping to do.

If your company sounds like it's approaching the festival campsite scenario, you need to refine. I can't stress that enough. If you offer millions of choices, make sure there is a single concrete purpose behind those choices. If not? Consolidate. Marry content. Don't separate it. One campfire, multiple conversations. It's the way life works. We don't walk into a different room every time we talk about something different.

The logs are your company, and the fire is the passion you put into your social media strategy.

That's possibly the silliest thing I've ever said, but I think (hope) I've got a point.

Comment below if you think I don't, or you want to make a good point!

And if you have to read one book this week, make it this one.