Thursday, 27 September 2012

Authenticity: Brands, Charities and the true power of sharing

man with megaphone

I was having a discussion with a good friend of mine yesterday whilst the idea of this blog was germinating in my head, and he raised a very interesting way of illustrating this point - how authenticity and honesty can sometimes be misconstrued by others as rudeness or ignorance.

Celebrities and brands are asked a fair bit by fans and companies to support their charitable cause by sharing it on Facebook or retweeting it on Twitter. You'd take a look at the cost to the user to share a charitable message and think - 'well, it costs me nothing to send it, I'm raising money for charity, which is a good thing, therefore they SHOULD share it'. If not, you assume that either they didn't see it, or don't like the cause. 'How can they not like the cause? It's my cause? I care about it deeply and everybody else should too. I'm not buying any of their products/albums/etc. anymore'.

WAIT! STOP! TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND DON'T TAKE OFFENSE. Nine times out of ten there is a very simple reason why, and in a way it could end up benefiting the charity you are trying to raise funds for.

When you try and explain this, you have to be very careful, because the slightest misstep can end up with you coming across as a massive, swinging dick. But I'm going to do my best to give it a go.

Simply put, it’s impossible to share every charitable request that you get as an individual or a brand. It’s not possible to make a snap value judgement on every charity, and to endorse every charitable event.That is why most influential people and businesses nominate key charities to work with, and set out to raise as much money as possible for those causes.

Most celebrities, brands and media organisations do the same, and it does make the work that these individuals and organisations do for charity more impactful and worthwhile.

If you dedicate yourself to a small selection of charities, you can make a concentrated effort, and use your social influence to get a response. The results can be impressive. If you become known as the brand or company that retweets every single 10k, every single 24 hour sing-athon, every single request for a retweet, your cache in this field drops rapidly - the value of your retweet is actually pretty low if it's retweeted by a serial retweeter. Your link will not get much attention from your intended audience, and it will just become, as Dave Gorman thoughtfully labelled it, 'wallpaper'. It benefits nobody in the equation, especially the person you are trying to help by sharing the appeal.

Being truly honest and authentic on social media is about saying ‘no thank you’ almost as often as you say yes. In fact, it could be argued that the more you say no, the more valuable your positive responses become.

If a brand that you follow or a celebrity that you know doesn’t retweet your cause, please do not be offended. The chances are that they either didn’t see your request, or have chosen for very valid reasons not to share. It’s not because they ‘don’t give a shit’, they’re not ‘uncaring arseholes’. Think about it - quite simply you cannot support every charitable cause out there. I certainly don’t. I can't. It's just not possible.

Want to get real results? Think about it. Plan your campaign socially. Try calling the company directly, or sending an email. Be creative. Stand out. Look at the ways that charities market themselves and emulate them. Also, read The Dragonfly Effect by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith. It contains lots of valuable, insightful and actionable advice on how to use social media to change the world for the better. If you don’t have the moolah for that now, go and visit The Dragonfly Effect’s website - it’s packed with interesting information, advice and downloads.

If you’d like to know more about the charity that I do support in my personal (non-working) life, CALM, then please visit their website, as I think you’ll find it interesting.

If not, then find the charity that means something to you, your friends or your family, and dig deep for that. Use the Dragonfly effect. Be a social charity master.

But more importantly, don't just shout into space, or into people's faces, and don't get mad if you don't get a response. Find your niche, find your powerful allies. Fundraise on Twitter in an authentic, honest and smart way. 

I guarantee it'll get you the results you need.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Authenticity: Are we actually ready for honesty on social media?

Abraham Lincoln

'Be yourself' and 'be authentic' are two of the most frequent pieces of advice I hear when I go to social media conferences. In fact, besides engagement, they are two terms that seem to pepper every single presentation I see given to businesses of all sizes. I mean, I even use these phrases myself. But have we actually all stopped to think about what true authenticity is on social media, and if we can even really handle it?

I read a great article on Soshable yesterday from the editor in which he 'outed' himself as a conservative christian working in the tech sphere.

Although I'm sure that he is not alone, I was particularly impressed with how candid he was. Religious folk in general seem to get a particularly bad rap on social media, and are attacked for being stupid, anti-gay or murderous (in the case of Islam), so to come out and be honest within our traditionally liberal/libertarian niche is a bold move. We are poles apart politically and religiously, but I still really respect his honesty.

He was being himself, and being authentic. Two things that we seem to preach in the church of social media. Yet every time somebody comes out with a viewpoint that is different from the majority viewpoint, makes a well-intentioned misstep, or (Heaven forbid) disagrees with a customer, client or rival brand, the internet seems to EXPLODE with pious indignation.

But are we in fact getting what we want and what we deserve when brands and individuals open up on social platforms in this way (or choose to remain silent on causes)?

I'm going to be writing about authenticity, and what it really means in our industry over the next two weeks. The four specific fields I'm going to tackle are:

1/ Brands and charities

2/ Our social media expectations vs. reality (from both sides of the coin)

3/ Sportsmen and women on social media - role models

4/ On being real and being condescending

I'm going to call it the 'authenticity quadrilogy', because it needs a big, pretentious name.

It's going to start tomorrow, and I hope you can join me - subscribe by email or RSS me up to make sure you don't miss out.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Torches of Freedom and The Ultimate Internet Hoax Busting Kit

As I said in my previous post, myths, legends and stories have been around in our culture since the dawn of time. Story-telling, at it’s very core, is the way that we pass information down through the generations. Whether it’s around a camp fire, a dinner table or on Facebook and Twitter, the strongest stories, rightly or wrongly, stick around because they play on our fears and insecurities. Or, on another level, they add credence to our views. 

Politicians on both sides of the spectrum recognise the power of storytelling. Freud recognised the power of the ego, and the repressed thoughts and desires that we have within us as humans. Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, took this concept and created the machinations of modern PR - promotion of products, beliefs or services through news, and not advertising.

An idea, a concept, resonates - Bernays knew this, and used it to the advantage of his employers - firstly, during the First World War, where he was enlisted to help the war effort in the USA, and then later in Lucky Strike’s noble campaign to try and get women to smoke by linking it to a sense of liberation - ‘Torches of Freedom’ to be precise.

Lucky Strike - Torches of Freedom

Bernays believed that you, the public, were generally pretty stupid. He believed that the masses were "fundamentally irrational people... who could not be trusted."

And that’s how we got to the point we are today. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction in what people that influence us, whether it’s friends, family, politicians or our news outlets tell us.

And now to social. Now, more than ever, we have more access to information, and the world around us than ever before. Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus give us a chance to share our views and opinions with the world around us to varying degrees. It also give us an easy opportunity to share our opinions with others by-proxy. Hence the spread of memes online - images, videos or status updates that express a certain view of the world that the person making the update subscribes to.

Here’s an example of one from last year - ‘RIP Broken Britain’

RIP Broken Britain MEME

As you can see, it’s easy for these memes to spread, but harder to see where they come from.

The fact that so many of these updates are made is frightening. Maybe it does show how easily manipulated we are. Was Bernays right all along?

I hope not. I think it’s time that we started fighting back against malicious hoaxes and memes spread through social media.

It’s a war we won’t win. But I think it’s one worth fighting. Which is why I’ve put together this Internet Hoax busting kit.

You can use this as your crucifix against the soul-sucking tide of bullshit that you sometimes see on social networks. From the updates about Facebook becoming a paid-for service, to copy and paste political memes, to circulars about the ‘friendly terrorist’ - we need to be vigilant.

It might not be sexy to burst somebody’s bubble, but we have to remember what the famous newspaper editor C.P Scott once said:

"comment is free, but facts are sacred".

Don’t be afraid to call bullshit on people that present their opinions as fact.

Here’s the kit. Keep it close-by. And let me know if you think there’s anything I should add to it. I hope it's helpful!

Thanks for reading - share this with your friends if you are serious about fighting the good fight in the war against social media bullshit.

Monday, 10 September 2012

I'm not racist, but...

Social Media Bullshit Patch

Everybody loves a good story. Myths, urban legends and memes have been around in society for as long as we have. Storytelling is a way of passing on information, of building cohesion within a group, and even forming groups. 

The campfire effect that social media engenders means it’s the perfect platform for these ideas to take hold and become contagious - it’s built to complement and mirror our offline society, and is fundamentally centred around emotive content.

Social Media Campfire

Hoax stories have always existed in some form. From legends about good and evil told to keep villagers on the straight and narrow, to modern ones about our Coca-Cola being infected by terrorists, it’s a way of expressing our own fears and opinions by proxy.

With social media, the rise of Slacktivism, and the ease at which we can spread stories, it’s becoming easier and easier to spread these stories at the click of a button. Elements existing on the Left and Right wing of politics know this very well - hence the attention paid to the social media element of a campaign.

We are emotional creatures. That’s how we operate, and hoaxes and stories are often designed to play on our subconscious fears and desires. That’s where a lot of ‘I’m not racist, but...’ opinions come from. It’s how the phrases such as ‘squeezed middle’ and the phrase ‘Broken Britain’ took hold. Ditto for the phrase ‘hard-working families’ too. If you hear any of these phrases in a Facebook update, Tweet or blog comment from somebody, you can safely assume that it’s somebody trying to manipulate you. Especially if they are a politician!

I’ve seen it take root in my own community, in Reddish, just outside greater Manchester. A former pub (now a builders yard) called The Bull’s Head had a planning application submitted for a mosque.

Cue lots of outrage. But funnily enough, whilst parking was cited as the main issue, lots of comments appeared in the news feed alluding to 4am prayer calls, the ‘Islamification of Britain’, and how they are opposing it to ‘[make] a stand for freedom against evil and slavery not to mention murder and pedophillia (sic)’. All bollocks. Especially the call to prayer bit - having lived in London and Southampton, places with a significant Muslim population, I’ve never once heard a call to prayer. To paraphrase one of the commenters, we live in England, not Afghanistan - therefore it would fall foul of environmental health law.

So, many of these comments and statements are, in short, horseshit. You cannot link sexual violence and murder to a specific established religious movement. It’s like saying all Christians hate gay people - it’s simply not true. It’s the God Complex in full effect - taking a fact that may be true in one sense, and applying it to a whole section of society.

Perhaps the least surprising part of this campaign was that there was a political/protest movement behind this - The EDL (English Defence League). They assisted the campaign, stirred up anger amongst the local residents, and even had admin rights to post on the page. When this was finally revealed, many people in the area felt cheated - they had unwittingly been used as mouthpieces for an organisation that has a patchy record on violence, intimidation and illegal activities.

Let me get this straight - I think that if you don’t want a mosque or place of worship on your doorstep for parking reasons, or if it will significantly affect your quality of life, then by all means you have a right to oppose a planning application. But please, please, please read look into what you are getting involved with, and the people you are siding with - it’s not always clear who is pulling the strings.

Reddish Bulls Head Facebook

But, most importantly don’t feel too upset or angry with yourself - even a local councillor got sucked in.

Regarding the stereotypes, I often experience some cases of lazy generalisations first-hand. As somebody of Romany descent, I often hear people bringing up the usual ‘dog-stealing, tax-dodging, drive-tarmacking, bare-knuckle fighting, bad-dress-wearing’ stereotypes. It’s almost as if people genuinely believe all Gypsies (Irish and Romany) and travellers are of this ilk. It's archaic, and seeing it on Twitter just makes me realise how far we've still got to go before we become a more tolerant society.

It makes me angry, but I know that the worst way that you can tackle bullshit on social platforms is to respond with more anger. When people are emotionally invested in a subject, it takes a great deal of effort to try and reason with them.

In my opinion, the best way to try and counter emotional status updates, or manipulative bullshit, is with solid, provable facts. Which is why this Thursday (9pm GMT) I’m going to be unveiling my very own Internet Myth-Busting Toolkit.

What will it contain? Just lots of links to popular sources that you can use to check questionable status updates or claims. Information, in my opinion, is the best and only way that you can battle untruths online. It’s not about posting under a real or assumed name - it’s about countering fiction and fabrication with solid evidence.

It may not help you to win a battle, or even a war. But it will help you to keep yourself, and the people around you honest and grounded. Check your facts, separate fact from fiction, and just stay honest, which is harder than ever in the day and age that we live in.

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Wednesday, 5 September 2012

RoboCopyright: How The Copyright Police are ruining the internet


It never fails to amaze me what lengths some companies will go to when protecting their copyright.

Before I get all of my author and musician friends jumping down my throat about copyright protection, and how important it is to get paid a certain rate for what you produce, I just want to say - I agree with you. Nobody should have their work stolen outright. If it can be proved, and it has been stolen, then I have no sympathy for infringers.

But two things happened this week that bothered me regarding copyright, and the role it plays in protecting people's rights in the digital age on both sides of the debate.

Firstly, I was lucky enough once again to be asked to oversee and implement the social media elements of Blackpool's Illuminations this year. It's always a great event, and an ideal opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and converse with people in real time whilst they're enjoying a show. Or keep them occupied between songs. One of the two.

We had a really successful Smooth Radio event on Liverpool docks a couple of months ago, and we had enlisted the support of Google+ to help promote and facilitate a live concert broadcast as a hangout on air. They were fantastic, and the stream of the concert was really successful, barring a couple of issues with the sound streaming quality. 'Lesson learnt, we'll correct that for next time,' we thought.

So we did. We hired a wicked doo-dad-thing that beefs up the sound quality of our streams, and started testing it, only to find when we test streamed old live performances, we were getting copyright warnings from Youtube left, right and centre. So I contacted Google+ regarding this, and, to my surprise, they recommended that even though we had agreements in place from the artists to perform on the night and for it to be broadcast, we should proceed at our own risk, as our account could be closed down at any time.

Not wanting to take any risks, and having already invested money in getting our streaming technology up to scratch, we decided to try another service - Ustream.

So we stumped up, and the live streaming went ahead - hundreds of people unable to make the event were able to not only listen to it on our radio stations, but also watch the event online on our sites. 'Great work Ustream' everybody at our radio group shouted. Little did we know...

The Next Day - Spongebob Squarepants

Later that weekend, I saw a story in my Twitter feed regarding the copyright infringement issues that marred the Hugo Awards over in the USA, and the subsequent fallout in the tech press. Chastened by the story, I thanked my lucky stars that our plucky Development Manager, Dan Cryer, had insisted in upgrading our stream to a premium, ad-free service after the show started. Apparently, this 'white-lists' us against any shonky DRM issues.

An unauthorised content takedown by an event which artists agreed to perform at, and provide content (their songs) for, would have been a disaster for us from a digital point of view. And I really feel for the guys that run the Hugo awards. Content that they were given permission to use, such as clips for Doctor Who, were flagged as unauthorised content. This is baloney, and is frustrating and wrong on so many levels.

Firstly - it's a timely reminder to all of us out there, whether we're an individual, brand or business, that the copyright robots out there mean business. In fact, they represent business.

A quick glance at the site of Vobile, the company responsible for this action, shows that they help major media providers to prevent their content from being streamed or distributed illegally online. To represent this, they've got lots of very descriptive pictures of padlocks, DNA strands and the Hollywood hills, and using China's policing of coverage of the 2012 Olympics as a case study.

Vobile Landing page

So not creepy and authoritarian in the slightest, then.

I don't have a problem with companies like this existing. I think it's important that people are protected when it comes to copyright. But it seems to me that the whole furore about the Hugo awards and Ustream seems to point to the fact that somewhere along the line Vobile are fucking things up.

The way that they are going about things seems to be so arbitrary. Sweeping video content online via algorithmic robots may seem like a great idea for a copyright holder that's too busy to manage their copyright issues, but at it's best the execution is poor, so they're pissing their potential customers off, and wasting their money on a service that doesn't really understand what it's pursuing. As we know, copyright is a fairly nuanced concept, and what may be fair use for one person, may seem like infringement to others. A robot, or a spider crawling the information, doesn't get nuance in the same way as we do, or a judge in a court of law.

And the platforms like Youtube, Vimeo and Ustream need to be cool with it or they will get sued by all of the big movie companies. The very fact that the people at Youtube couldn't guarantee our stream wouldn't be shut down proves the fact that in many ways, as a platform grows and needs to work with bigger media providers more, the only people that benefit from this are the copyright holders and the platforms. They control the content, and even if you have the permission to use the content, they can shut you down.

So essentially, on these sites, you are guilty until proven innocent. Your content will be shut down before you even have the chance to contest it. No flagging - just rough, arbitrary justice that sometimes, especially in the case of the Hugo Awards, gets it staggeringly wrong.

In fact, Vobile's behaviour and protection methods strike me as aggressive, and unhelpful to both their clients and the people that willingly use online video platforms.

In fact, their heavy-handed 'protection' tactics put me in mind of this nightmare scene from my childhood - or is it a glimpse into the future of copyright enforcement online?

Vobile, I hope you're taking notes. Let's not make the digital equivalent of this a reality for all concerned. It's not merely 'a glitch' - it needs to be fixed for the good of copyright holders, and the people that respect them.

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