How the McCain are running their blogger briefings

As an addendum to PR Week’s news last week that John McCain is reaching out to right-wing UK bloggers, Staniforth and LabourHome blogger, Mark Hanson reveals that the McCain camp is currently briefing US bloggers via conference call.

Hanson writes that the briefings for the US Republican presidential hopeful are:

"hosted by Liz Mair, McCain’s Head of Comms. They are done by conference
call and carry a briefing from staffers followed by open Q’s from
bloggers who have dialled in."

Inviting bloggers onto conference calls is fairly standard practice for smart blogger relations in the US IMHO but continues to reiterate that bloggers are now seen as just a relevant media stakeholders as journalists.

Mark’s blog post doesn’t reveal whether the bloggers conference call is held jointly with journalists but he does provide a link to a taped briefing which may well answer that particular question.

Technorati tags: PR Week, John McCain, Mark Hanson, blogger relations

Thoughts on Havas Media Lab’s The New Economics of Consumption: User Generated Context

I downloaded Havas Media Lab’s latest strategy paper, The New Economics of Consumption: User Generated Context, a few weeks back but only got around to reading it last night.

And what a nice little strategy paper it is too. It’s fair to say it is more of a thought starter than a fully fleshed out document which tells businesses and investors how they can adapt to the ‘new economics of consumption’ – but that’s what Havas’ clients pay for I suppose.

The authors’ (I presume Umair Haque must be in there somewhere) argument is that business models based in user-generated content are failing. This failure is based on the idea that value doesn’t reside within user-generated content, but in fact within user-generated context.

To illustrate the point, Havas suggests:

The vast majority of blog posts are context for newspaper articles. Connected consumers on MySpace spend much of their time discussing and connecting with bands … consumers aren’t creating content: they’re creating content for goods.

Furthermore:

it’s by letting connected consumers contextualise content that tsunamis of new value can be unlocked (just ask Google)

In conclusion, Havas pulls out three general observations that reinforce how context is very different from content.

  1. Context is not really ‘generated’ in the sense of simple creation, but evolves in a more complex way, often linked to specific cultural references that can often make no sense to outside audiences.
  2. Context is not produced by single users, but only emerges when the views and information produced by users is aggregated.
  3. The production of context does not open up direct competition with existing content producers – e.g. the advertising industry

I really like the paper and its challenge to conventional thought about socal media and UG content, however I think we need to put some its ideas into a wider framework.

For example, based on an analysis of Techmeme Havas argues that the most talked about and viewed content online is produced by professional content producers e.g. Techcrunch, CNET, New York Times, while amateur users produce context.

While I absolutely agree with their overall argument, the strategy paper does seem to ignore the fact that non-professional content producers exist… and produce compelling content.

And if we accept that there is professional and less professional content being produced online how does this fit into the idea that connected consumers produce solely context, rather than content?

Technorati tags: Havas Media Lab, Umair Haque, user generated context, digital strategy

Berocca’s Blogger Relief – #PRFail?

Berocca

Last month all round pick-me-up product Berocca generated a nice bit of online buzz among bloggers by giving away ‘Blogger Relief Packs’.

The packs contained a tube Berocca and other neat giveaways and to get one you had to register by entering a set of personal details. But as Stephen Davies pointed out at the time:

"it seems there are no guarantees of receiving one [pack] and reading
the Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) they’re only giving the pack away
to the first 50 applications. Another caveat in the T&Cs is that
they may use my details for future marketing activity and potentially
share them with third parties in relation to Bayer plc, the company behind Berocca."

Standard T&Cs perhaps or a underhand way to spam bloggers? Either way I signed up for a pack.

But a month on and no pack. I Twittered to see if others received their packs and Clashcityrocker she had indeed received her pack.

Now, I get that there were limited packs available, but why not a short email from Berocca to say they have run out and I’ve not been lucky. The whole affair seems a bit short-sighted, lazy blogger relations and a #PRFail if you ask me.

Technorati tags: Berocca, blogger relations

“Terror outrage: BRITNEY, ANGELINA and OBAMA all unaffected as hundreds die in SEXY agony”

The story I blogged last week – and followed up by Shane Richmond – about UK newspapers using SEO to boost their online readerships continues to rumble on.

The Guardian‘s Neil McIntosh adds his perspective to the debate and links to the most amazing piece by Guardian columnist, Charlie Brooker, who highlights the inanity in what is, to most of us digital types, common sense. It also contains possible my favourote non-headline of all time as used in the title of this post (hopefully it’ll bring me some extra traffic too).

Brooker’s piece also neatly provides the tail to this story. What began life in the once-acerbic satirical magazine, Private Eye, has now itself become satirised by one of the UK’s leading satirists after one-time collaborator, Chris Morris.

Technorati tags: SEO, Daily Telegraph, Charlie Brooker

Sneaky snaps of new Downing Street website on Flickr

The digital comms team at No 10 Downing Street are currently on fire doing all the right things in the online space.

Not only have they started using Twitter in a way that should be a case study for other government departments and administrations around the world they are using their Flickr photostream to give people a sneaky look at the new Downing Street website.

Downingst

I won’t go into too much detail about the site and its features, as Simon Dickson (who’s company, Puffbox, has been involved in the development) gives a thorough overview on his blog.

However, expect lots of social media-type functionality as the new site has been built using WordPress!

Via Neville Hobson / Simon Dickson

Technorati tags: Downing Street, Gordon Brown, WordPress

Telegraph.co.uk’s SEO – Shane Richmond responds

I posted earlier this week about a story in  Private Eye about Telegraph.co.uk ensuring their news stories are chock full of realtime SEO key word goodness.

Well, I asked the Telegraph’s Communities Editor, Shane Richmond, if he could enlighten us any further and he has kindly posted his response on his Telegraph blog.

What Shane says makes total sense and (perhaps unlike the ultra traditional Eye) I see no reason why media outlets shouldn’t optimise their content.

In keeping with this idea, Shane provides a great insight into what other UK newspapers are doing – or reportedly doing. Shane writes:

"we’re [Telegraph.co.uk] far from unusual. As far as I know, staff at the Times get an email telling them what search terms are bringing people to their site, the Guardian, it’s rumoured, has begun training staff on SEO and the Mail has recently hired an SEO manager."

Intersting times indeed.

Technorati tags: Telegraph.co.uk, Shane Richmond, SEO, Newspapers

Telegraph’s web traffic chasing secrets revealed by Private Eye

One of the few paper publications I still buy (jndeed subscribe to) is Private Eye, the UK’s only satirical magazine.

In this fortnight’s ‘Street of Shame’ (the section exposing the often shallow hypocrisy of the media) there’s an interesting insight into how the Daily Telegraph achieves such high online traffic:

According to Eye:

"news hacks are sent a memo three or four times a day from the website boffins listing the top subjects being searched in the last few hours on Google. They are then exepected to write stories accordingly and/or get as many of those key words into the first par of their story."

Of course, most Private Eye material needs to be taken with a pinch of salt and to the ultra-traditional Eye journalists basing stores on digital consumer demand is a terrible thing. It is also the cause of the Telegraph’s growing obsession with celebrity and news-lite entertainment stories.

But that’s unfair, as the Telegraph has made some significant and well-thought out investments in the digital space under editor, Will Lewis. For example it was the first UK newspaper to reorganise its enwsroom to recognise the primacy of the web in the news cycle.

I wonder if the Telegraph’s blogger Shane Richmond has anything to add to the Eye’s story. Shane?

Why MPs Will Be Redundant in 10 Years Time – A Mini-Essay

This blog post is intended to provocative; I hope it will succeed.

It is prompted by last week’s decision by UK politicians to keep their second home allowance of £24,000. It is on a theme about which I have been ruminating for several months – and will no doubt continue to refine in the future.

That theme is: the increasing redundancy of Parliament, parliamentary process and MPs. Consider this post a first articulation of my argument for a – perhaps naïve – return to participatory democracy and towards an Internet-enabled anarchism.

So to return to my starting point: I heard one MP on BBC Radio 4 explaining his decision to support taxpayer-funded second home allowances tell the interviewer: “Without the allowance I wouldn’t be able to afford to be an MP.”

I choose this as my starting point for two important reasons that have relevance to the argument against Parliament.

Firstly, it is a great example of how wrong MPs are getting the reputational relationship between Parliament and the electorate. As Weber Shandwick’s UK CEO, Colin Byrne, rightly points out: this kind of excuse won’t wash with the electorate and will only draw attention to the fact they appear to be feathering their nest at a time when the rest of the country is battening down its hatches in the face of economy turmoil.

Secondly, the MP’s comment highlights that fact that he sees being an MP as akin to employment. That is, it is something you choose to do that has to earn you a living. This nicely forgets that the true role of an MP is to act as a democratically elected representative to act on the behalf of their constituents. While I totally accept that as part of this process there has to be a financial incentive to encourage people to become MPs, it can be argued that this relationship between democracy and financeial reward has passed into a purely transactional relationship that has rather forgotten the roots of the role.

Both of these points underline the growing – and widely accepted – distrust in Parliament and MPs. If anything this trend continues to grow and grow.

At the same time the internet use continues to increase and with this increase comes a growing empowerment of individuals to think and act for themselves.

The significance of this shift in power from organisations and institutions cannot be under-estimated. Harvard academic, Yochai Benkler, in his book Wealth of Networks argues that the Internet has transferred information production away from centrally organised bodies (commercial or otherwise) and put it in the hands of individuals.

Specifically, Benkler argues that “The declining price of computation, communication and storage have, as a practical matter, placed the material means of information and cultural production in the hands of a significant fraction of the world’s population.” As a result, “The networked information economy improves the practical capacities of individuals along three dimensions.” Two of which are particularly relevant to the argument here:

  1. [the networked information economy] improves their capacity to do more for and by themselves
  2. it enhances their capacity to do more in loose commonality with others, without being constrained to organise …in traditional hierarchical models of social or economic organisation

To draw specifically political conclusions from Benkler’s arguments, the Internet gives people the opportunity to make more (and better) informed political choices, find others that share their political views and co-ordinate political action that previously would have been the responsibility of political organisations or parties.

In short, the Internet encourages and empowers people to participate in politics and by extension, the democratic process.

All of this is great, of course. But what implications does this growing political self-determination have for democratic engagement and Parliamentary process?

To answer this question, let’s switch to a bit political philosophy. At a very crude level, two kinds of democracy exist: participatory democracy – whereby the public actively take part in the selection and agreement of legislation – and representative democracy – where the electorate select individuals to represent their interests. This is currently in place in the UK and most Western, liberal democracies.

From a hypothetical perspective, participating in the democratic process is the most desirable option. As Jonathan Wolff writes in his Introduction to Political Philosophy:

“Theorists of participatory politics claim that only active, democratic involvement in all matters of concern can achieve freedom and equality for all. Only when we are involved in making decisions which structure our lives in all spheres are we really free”

So why then, do we elect MPs to represent our political interests? This is a particularly pertinent question given MPs tendency to represent a minority of the their direct electorate at any given point in time, to have their representation determined purely by ultimately) arbitrary geographical boundaries and to seem to demand, even expect, unreasonable financial compensation in return for their duty.

The reason is representative democracy has been the best compromise available to those concerned with establishing democratic processes. Truly participatory democracy has simply been too impractical to be considered an option – until now at least. 

If we now return to Benkler’s argument and replace “cultural production” with “political prodcutioin” we can recognise that “The declining price of computation, communication and storage have, as a practical matter, placed the material means of information and political production in the hands of a significant fraction of the world’s population.

With the participatory web comes the ability of citizens to be empowered, enact political will for themselves and participate in the democratic process. As Internet penetration grows it becomes much more likely for people disenfranchised with the existing political and democratic process – calcified by process-creep and stagnant from institutional corruption – to take political and democratic decisions away from the bureaucratic official channels of parliament and into their own hands.

As this activity gathers pace and shifts from low level, local examples it will begin to challenge the entrenched and inefficient processes of parliament which are already fighting to catch-up with contemporary society.

Smart politicians, civil servants and technocrats will realise this before it is too late and understand that to regain public trust in politics and the UK’s political and democratic processes political parties and the state must adapt to empower the public to make and shape their own democracy. However, this is unlikely given the atrophied environment in which modern British politics and democracy operates.

What is likely instead is a ceding of control from traditionally organised institutions to the public over time without anyone acknolweding this gradual shift and the political status quo being maintained in the short term and historians picking over *exactly* what happened to British political democracy during the early 21st century in the longer term.

What may possibly happen is that the political classes may become scared by the inevitable loss of control over political and democratic power and attempt to regulate the use of the Internet, social web tools and participatory websites. If this happens then expect to see another 5th November – this time powered by the Internet.

Technorati tags: politics, Internet, Anarchism

Spot the difference: academic theory or marketing concept?

Ian Delaney has a great quotation from Lincoln University’s Dr Brian Winston from the MediaFutures08 conference the other week:

"We are in a condition where we conveniently forget the years of discovery, exploration and mistakes that lead to whatever is in today’s headlines. We’re also conditioned into accepting the rhetoric of marketing as fact. Web 2.0 favourite theories like ‘the wisdom of crowds’, ‘the hype cycle’ and ‘crossing the chasm’ are actually commercial products, not independent academic studies."

This is something that a lot of digital, marketing, PR and advertising types should really take into account – and I mean *really*.

We all need a reality check from time to time and this is the best I’ve read for long time.

The significant point here is that we are all quick to grasp concepts that shore up our prespective on the marketing and communications industry, but how often do we check to see whether what we evangelising is 100% proven.

I’m not suggesting that there is no truth behind the Wisdom of Crowds or The Long Tail. However, I am saying that empirical evidence can easily be misunderstood or misrepresented to make an argument. This situation is compunded where there is a financial or commercial imperative for specific results or results that support a particular world view.

UPDATE: On looking up the Wikipedia entry on Wisodm of Crowds I discovcered the following Wiki-warning:

"This article is written like an advertisement. Please help rewrite this article from a neutral point of view."

Which seems to me a clear enough reminder – if one was needed – of the theory’s commercial purpose.

Technorati tags: Ian Delaney, Dr Brian Winston, marketing theory, PR, Wisdom of Crowds, The Long Tail

10 immutable laws for measuring conversation

Er… so it seems Edelman held an academic social media conference the other week in Chicago.

There is a good round up of some of the topics discussed at the conference live blog, but I like this post from one of the delegates, Karen Miller Russell, who teaches at the University of Georgia, about measuring social media.

Readers of this blog will know that I haven’t brought myself fully into the ‘how we measure’ social media debate because I haven’t yet decided why we need to measure social media (apart from the usual "so we can justify our existence to the client" which is the one reason not to use to develop metrics, IMHO).

However, the following list of "10 somewhat immutable laws of measuring conversations" from Sean Moffitt helps get us a step closer to defining why we measure social media:

  • REACH—how far does it go?
  • RELEVANCE—does it support your intended direction?
  • INFLUENCE—who shares and with who? How many generations of
    impact?
  • AUTHORITY—how trusted is the source?
  • ENGAGEMENT—how involved do they get?
  • INTERACTION—did they do anything with it?
  • VELOCITY—how fast does it travel (viral)
  • ATTENTION—how much time do they spend?
  • SENTIMENT—how positive are they?
  • NET PROMOTER—are they recommending you to others?
    Would you
    recommend Brand X to a friend or colleague? (On a scale of 1-10, the
    formula is "People who say 9-10 (extremely)" minus "those who answer
    1-6" = your score). And this is what really matters
    most.

Hat Tip Karen Miller Russell

Technorati tags: Edelman, social media measurement