CIPR Summer Social: is the PR industry falling behind SEO?

I’ve been very remiss in failing to mention and big up the CIPR’s Summer Social.

The Summer Social is a series of informal meet ups organised through the CIPRs Social Media Advisory Panel (DISC: of which I am a member).

So I'm making amends as of now and urging anyone in the PR, marketing and social media sectors to get along to this week’s event as it tackles an oft-debated and really important issue: where do the lines between SEO and PR blur? When is it right and where does it put your clients at risk?

The event takes place from 5pm – 7pm at the CIPR HQ, 52-53 Russell Square, London, WC1B 4HP. and is hosted by Speed Communications' Stephen Waddington who asks: "Has the PR industry failed to reskill for SEO – and will social media be the next missed opportunity?":



“Search agencies are increasingly packaging planning, content development and analytics, into a payment-by-results model. It’s a compelling proposition for a marketing director that is seeking guaranteed outcomes.



Now search agencies are starting to use PR tactics such as press releases, by-lined content and wire distribution to drive their campaigns prompting the scrutiny of the role of PR versus SEO.



This week’s CIPR’s Social Summer 2010 workshop will ask what the PR industry can do to regain ground on SEO. And whether social media, like SEO before it, will be the next missed opportunity for the PR industry.”

The idea of Summer Socials is to offer PR and marketing professionals the chance to learn and find out more about social media and a host of related topics.

It’s less formal and structured than traditional CIPR events or workshop which is a good thing as for the £10 cost we serve beer and nibbles and you get to quiz experts and fellow practitioners about the emerging media landscape.

Looking forward, future Socials include sessions from Wolfstar MD Stuart Bruce, MD of Tweetdeck, Iain Dodsworth and Julio Romo with guests form Channel 4 and the BBC.

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Battle of the Beanfield: notes on the 25th anniversary of a British atrocity

**WARNING: This post only makes passing reference to the Internet and social media in the context of politics and history**

With the summer solstice occurring earlier this week I wanted to write a post about the 25th anniversary of the Battle of the Beanfield that happened earlier this month.

This is all the more important given the complete lack of coverage the anniversary has received in the mainstream media and the fact that the legacy of what happened on the day can still be felt and in fact set the tone for the type of society in which we now live.

On the 1st June 1985 a convoy of people living on the road and summer festival party goers were making preparations to head to Stonehenge in time to set up the annual Stonehenge Free Festival ahead of the solstice.

As they headed off the road was blocked by Wiltshire Police who tipped three tons of gravel in the way, forcing the convoy into a field of beans.

What unfolded was possibly the worst incident of policy brutality seen in recent times, as some of the shots from the documentary Operation Solstice below shows.

The events of that afternoon was so atrocious that ITN’s Kim Sabido who as at the scene recorded a piece to camera in which he reported:

“What I have seen in the last thirty minutes here in this field has been some of the most brutal police treatment of people that I’ve witnessed in my entire career as a journalist. The number of people who have been hit by policemen, who have been clubbed whilst holding babies in their arms in coaches around this field, is yet to be counted. There must surely be an enquiry after what has happened today.”

Unfortunately Kim’s voice-over was removed on the evening new bulletin along with the worst footage of police violence. The raw footage also went “missing” shortly after broadcast.

This wasn’t a one off either. The Observer’s photographer Ben Gibson was arrested on charges of “obstruction” and removed from the site while freelance photographer Tim Malyon was simply chased from the scene by police.

The negatives of the images Gibson managed to shoot were also “lost” in an office move.


I am still shocked by the events of 25 years ago. Partly by the raw violence of the Police, but also by the reminder of the lengths that the State, working with the government, will go to in order to destroy the lives of marginal groups.
Because let’s get this straight.

This wasn’t just random or opportunistic violence against ‘hippies’. The actions of that afternoon systematically destroyed people’s homes, their livelihood and chances of continuing their existence on they were released from prison or hospital.

The strategy was also to prevent the media from reporting what was happening and silence or smear anyone who dared to speak out against the State’s actions.
Lord Cardigan, who owned land nearby, testified in a court case against the Police brought by 21 travellers for wrongful arrest, criminal damage and assault.

Following his appearance as witness, the UK’s press ran smear stories against him as an unreliable witness – The Times calling him “barking mad”.
Although he took legal action against The Times, The Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror for their attacks on him, and received written apologies and damages from each it was too little too late – especially in an age when the media permanence of Google and linking didn’t exist.

In the end, the defendants won their case but the judge refused to award costs meaning that their victory was Pyrrhic: all defendants had to use their compensation to pay back the court costs.

Now isn’t the time to go into the wider socio-political issues of why the British State and government felt threatened by the alternative ways of life during the late 1970s and 1980s (although a snapshot of events is evoked in a first-hand account here) but what happened in that Beanfield in Wiltshire echoes through the intervening years to resonate in 2010.

Unlike the highly visible and predicted violence and media tactics of the police at the G20 this was a concerted and successful effort to target – or more accurately, “decommission”, to use the police description – a way of life of a significant proportion of the UK’s population.

To drag this issue back to the Internet in a way that isn’t crass or trivialises the enormity of events, a reasonable question is would the state have attempted such a tactic knowing it couldn’t control the creation and distribution of media content in a way seen during the G20?

In short: probably. Despite the notion that citizen journalism can hold power and authority to account the reality is that the exposure of abuses of power depend fundamentally on whether the use of power is deemed an abuse. Or more simply whether what happens is seen as justice, rather than injustice.

This idea was addressed comprehensively and concisely by blogger and author, Cory Doctorow, last year when he explored the abuse of police powers at the 2008 Climate Camp at Kingsnorth Power Station.

Writing candidly, Doctorow argues that the transparency wrought by social media
on its own is nothing more than spectacle: it’s just another season of Big Brother in which all the contestants are revealed, over and over again, as thugs.”

Worse, the ability we now have to shine a spotlight onto the dark corners of power and authority compounds the situation in which we find ourselves.

Transparency on its own,” concludes Doctorow “robs as much hope as it delivers, because transparency without justice is a perennial reminder that the game is rigged and that those in power govern for power’s sake, not for justice.

Daily Mail snoops on people online and steals their content

A few weeks ago the Daily Mail caused a bit of a brouhaha by accusing brands that monitored social media to help identify and solve customer’s problems of “snooping” and “spying”.

I really can’t get anywhere near the level of hysteria generated by the article not even if I attempted a Brasseye-style spoof. Basically you should go and read it, although you actually shouldn’t as it’ll increase their site traffic.

Anyway, while there’s been enough discussion of this particular incident online I wanted to follow-up with another story of the Mail’s disgusting audacity and hypocrisy that happened to a friend.

Now, just imagine if a company was to trawl through the Internet – not unlike those companies that snoop on customers. But imagine if instead of helping people, this company used the Internet to steal things that belong to Members of the Great British Public.

Then imagine that when an aforementioned law-abiding citizen tells the company that it has broken the law and stolen something the company (or a representative of said company) was to deny it and attempt to cover up the crime by offering desultory sums of money to buy the victim off.

Just imagine if that company was none other than the Daily Mail itself!

Yes. That’s right. The sanctimonious Daily Mail was trawling the web on election night for pictures of voters across the UK reacting to polling stations being closed without all voters being able to cast their vote.

Friend and film-maker, Emily James, just happened to be in one of those polling stations and snapped away on her phone, uploading the images to Twitpic.

While other media outlets saw the images, requested permission to use, credited and paid Emily for her work the Mail simply lifted the images then claimed they were in the public domain which meant they could use them with impunity.

Emily, knowing her rights, asserted that Twitpic’s T&Cs copyright remained with the photographer and invoiced the Mail for a reasonable amount.

What followed was a series of exchanges with the Mail’s Pictures Online Picture Editor, Elliot Wagland, and the Mail’s Group Managing Director, Alex Bannister.

I’d urge you to go and read the full saga over at the Just Do It blog as it unfolds and savour in the sheer hypocrisy of the Daily Mail that on the one hand criticises companies for using the Internet to help its customers while on the other hand is happy to steal content from people. Part 1 is here and Part 2 here

Aside from the audacity of the Mail it’s also slightly worrying that its Online Pictures Editor fails to grasp the basics of copyright in relation to key social media platforms.

However, as Martyne Drake observes on his blog about this particular story, although the Mail’s Group Managing Editor  claims this was a one-off

given the number of times I’ve seen them [Daily Mail] attribute copyright wrongly and use pictures from Twitpic and other services (which retain the original copyright of the photographer), it’s not so much an incident that’s happened by accident or carelessness, but downright arrogance.

Enjoy!

Is McKinsey and Nielsen’s social media division a backwards step?

I saw this story earlier in the week and now Drew B's blogged about the announcement that the media metrics people Nielsen have teamed up with the management consultancy McKinsey to launch a social media division.

Drew's rather positive about the venture, called NM Incite, suggesting that it's "good to see [this] type of advisory coming from the bright sparks
at McKinsey
". I'm rather more skeptical and wonder whether they can offer the level of depth and understanding of the social space as social media and even communications consultancies. Of course, that may not be the primary motivation for McKinsey – rather the lure of lucrative contracts.

Without being able to comment in-depth on McKinsey's reputation at management consultancy I am  suspicious about management consultancies offering genuine communications consultancy. Only last month I was chatting with a senior PR consultant who was lamenting a 'brand strategy' put together by the client's management consultancy.

What I find particularly fascinating about this move is that NM Incite appears to be offering products *as well as* solutions. According to the 'Offerings' section on their website they can provide:

  • Customisable dashboards
  • APIs
  • Tracker reports and alerts

Interesting that as 'social media' becomes more about strategic business consultancy to socialise organisations, the traditional management consultancies are turning to selling widgets rather than knowledge.

It just goes to show that not even the bastions of the global business management empire are immune from disintermediation.

Coalition Government to introduce epetitions that will influence parliamentary debate

It's been a short while since my last post, and in that time we've acquired a new Conservative-Lib Dem government.  So what better way to get back back to blogging than drawing attention to an interesting piece of Conservative policy that offers a major opportunity for campaigners (especially digitally active ones) to get their issue on the the government's agenda – and potentially have a real impact on legislation.

The policy in question is referenced in the Coalition's final Programme for Government in the section on Political Reform where it sets out the following commitment:

"We will ensure that any petition that secures 100,000 signatures will be
eligible for formal debate in Parliament. The petition with the most
signatures will enable members of the public to table a bill eligible to
be voted on in Parliament."

Pretty radical?

In essence it seems the government is committing to ensure that any petition over the magical 100,000 number will eligable for debate in Parliament.

Even more interesting is the secondary commitment to allow public petitions with the "most signatures" to also table bills. Now this second point is rather vague but I'm sure that I remember reading in Conservative policy documents during the election campaign outlined petitions with 1m signatures or more would be tabled as bills.

Two immediate thoughts spring to mind here.

The first, prompted by a Glen Tarman on the ecampaigning forum, covers the implications for campaigning groups – especially those effective at online mobilisation.

Glen argues that a "high-visibility impactful campaign is not always [...] correlative to the numbers game" and of course he's right. But he also points to recent examples where significant numbers of people have 'signed-up' to social change causes far in excess of the benchmark of 100,000 set by the current policy:

  • Jubilee 2000 petition – 2,960,262 UK signatures
  • Make Poverty History – 500,000 petition signatures (90% of signatures were online)
  • Trade Justice Movement – 750,000 signatures
  • Downing Street Road Tax epetition – 1.8m online signatures

And that's what I find interesting with the 100,000 (and possibly 1m) signatures benchmark. In the age of email, social media and social networking it really isn't too difficult (although it's not *easy* either) to mobilise significant volumes of people around an important issue.

As the list above shows, even less-mainstream aid issues can generate enough signatures to secure a parliamentary debate. Compare this with the infamous road tax epetition example or this England/World Cup Facebook Page which has generated 140,000+ Fans in 48 hours.

So what are the implications for professional campaigners? One the one hand the policy taps into our digitally networked age where online sign-ups and 'Likes' lower the barriers to taking part in social change movements and campaigns.

Conversely, it can be argued that this will enshrine a culture of 'slacktivism' in our political system which in turn may lead to a de-incentivising and disenfranchising of real-life action and its corollary, an increase in disproportionate policing and political prosecutions

While I'm not suggesting this is definitively the intention of the policy, it is – in my mind at least – a possible outcome. Of course, this may also have the opposite effect. Who can say yet.

The other implication of the policy worth considering is whether a distinction will be made between public petitions and NGO-driven petitions?

As well as the likelihood of generating different petition topics (e.g. international trade justice vs domestic road pricing) it's arguable that NGOs or professional campaigns are likely to consistently mobilise 100,000 signatories on 'progressive issues', as opposed to the weirder – or 'self-interested' as Glen more appropriately puts it – ones.

Any decisions around implementing the policy will need to factor in these issues if the initiative is to be seen as credibie – especially to a traditionally hostile media when it comes to anything remotely disintermediating and web-based.

It will be fascinating to see how this policy issue will develop and play out as it's clearly an integral part of the Conservative's plans for parliamentary reform that aims to put citizen
empowerment at its core, e.g. the web-based Public
Reading Stage
for new laws.

Add to this EU plans to introduce a similar petition policy and we could start see a radical political agenda that involves and enfranchises citizens at the core of democracy. But then that might open another debate as to who and how criteria for citizenship are constructed. But I'll save that for another blog post.