Dear brands, please stop trying to be funny on social

I blame Oreo. Insofar as the slightly over-sugared chocolate biscuit can even be blamed for anything, the company's wildly successful piece of photoshop work on Twitter during the Superbowl two years ago was something of a watermark moment for brands on social. The execution was clever, the numbers were high and since then brands have been producing reactive content across social with the purpose of... well, I'm not quite sure actually. The posts often range from the occasional quite clever to the tenuous, lazy and baffling. The birth of Prince George was probably a nadir, as was the announcement of the second royal pregnancy earlier this year (see Chris Applegate's excellent Royally Desperate Tumblr for some of the worst offenders). And still, there's no meme or news event that a brand won't jump on, with Kim Kardashian's #breaktheinternet photos the latest example. Most are awful.

In many respects, this activity is just an extension of the time-honoured tradition of newsjacking - spotting something newsworthy and relevant to the brand and gaining extra coverage off the back of it. Except today, agencies and social media managers have carefully planned calendars noting every potentially notable news event with a photoshopped image or a Vine ready and waiting, plus a few in reserve for moments that may happen (Pepperami, for example, were rather good at this during the World Cup - see below).

There's nothing wrong with this, per se. In fact, those who do it well, do it really well. And when done well, with a bit of planning and strategy behind them, then the brand can really see an uptake in engagement and the rest.

The trouble is, in a lot of occasions, that thought isn't there. As social media has grown and matured, so the nature of brands on social has changed. It's not just enough to have a presence, put out on-brand messaging and do the occasional cool or eye-catching campaign.

Given brands as now as much of the ecosystem on social as anything else, it's natural they want to take this relationship to the next level. Which, in this case, means looking to try and be your friend, do the same thing you'd do, and made witty asides to news stories.

Pizza Express

And here's the fundamental difference. When there's breaking news or a meme I might see what Chris Applegate, for example, is saying. I cannot think of any situation where my first thought would be: "I wonder what Twix or Nissan have to say on the comet landing? I wonder if they've done a funny gif?"

But perhaps my biggest gripe of all is it's not clear what these brands are aiming to achieve. Great, your vaguely amusing riff on Prince Charles' foreign visit got 50 retweets. What does that mean? Is this good? What's the context? Don't just tell me the numbers are good, how does this relate to overall performance? What's the benefit to the brand? How does it fit into the strategy? Are these brands churning out content because they feel they have to be amusing or because it's part of something bigger?

You might well get featured in Mashable or Ad Age in their "brands react to X on social media" roundups, but what's the benefit? You're speaking to other creatives. Great. How will this help build brand affinity or affect purchase consideration. Again, is a photoshopped picture of Kim Kardashian's bum going to encourage me to buy a burger? It may well do. I've no idea.

But there's a huge difference between creating a "funny" and producing content as part of a wider strategy. God alone knows there's a lot of meaningless content created by brands already. It's only going to get worse.

Further down the line, there will be somebody or some agency earning a not insignificant amount of money to produce something with negligible ROI. Yes, social is notoriously difficult to measure against certain metrics, but there is an increasing level of sophistication to it that doesn't mean you can't set goals. Again, is it part of a wider brand affinity conversation? If so, how are you measuring it? How many people can, hand on heart, answer these questions with any degree of conviction?

Not all brands are that bad, of course. You can tell those that know their brand, audience and strategy well for social as it's generally reflected in the quality of their output, and if they are producing something reactive across social, it will usually stand up to a degree of scrutiny and have a purpose behind it.

As consumers get more savvy on social, especially on brand behaviour, it takes something exceptionally good to break through the other noise and make a connection with an audience. And a lazy attempt to hijack something popular just isn't going to cut it. For the love of Zuckerberg, please, brands, stop this now.

The price of football

Today saw the now annual BBC Price of Football report released. It's always an interesting snapshot of where the game is and taps into a wider feeling of the growing expense of football.

Football being football, everyone will find an opportunity to pick holes (mine is that by just focusing on the cheapest and most expensive it's still not entirely representative of ticket prices as a whole), but it's a mammoth job to compile that data and despite the criticisms you can level at it, it feeds into an important debate.

However, where there are substantial holes, in my view, is in some of the analysis, both by the BBC and by commentators elsewhere - and this largely comes down to the simplistic comparisons made.

Take, for example, the headline that tickets to Bristol Rovers are more expensive than Barcelona or you pay less for a Manchester City season ticke than you do at Cheltenham. It's a bit like walking into your local corner shop or cafe and asking why they're not as cheap as Tescos or Wetherspoons.

At one end of the game, the sheer size of TV money alone means, oddly, fans in the stadium aren't quite as important, revenue wise. Yes, it's good to have them, the contribute to the bottom line and the atmosphere but financially some of the richest clubs would still make eye-watering revenue if the stadium was empty.

At the other, you have a Conference or League Two team scrapping for their lives with no TV money or rich benefactor and are seriously dependent on numbers through the gates. Cut the admission too fine and you could be storing up cashflow issues later in the season. Put it too high and you'll alienate the casual fan. It's a hugely difficult decision.

Bristol Rovers and Barcelona operate in such different worlds it's pointless to compare them. Arsenal and Spurs can charge such high amounts because their stadiums and season tickets usually sell out. Man City, through a combination of an oil-rich billionaire and a knowledge that they won't always fill their stadium can be a bit more creative with pricing.

Similarly, the "but foreign leagues are cheaper" argument can be a bit misleading. It largely stands up for Germany and the biigger clubs in Spain, say, but once you move beyond the bigger clubs, many of the smaller sides, even in top divisions, rarely sell out meaning their pricing is forced to be a little lower (for an excellent of example of this, and with apologies to Andrew, this conversation between Andrew Gibney and Ryan Keaney highlights the point perfectly).

Finally, one of the biggest issues is the clubs - and the BBC - are asking the wrong question. Yes, Exeter may be more expensive than Dagenham, but a Grecians fan is less likely to decide to switch allegiance to the Daggers based on price. However, fans of either of these two clubs may well lose fans to Sky Sports subscriptions (monthly, the price of two championship games, not including extra purchases like food, drink and travel). Netflix, the cinema, other sports, the internet - there's never been more distractions competing for the leisure pound. Against these expenses , football holds up especially poorly. That's the question cubs have to answer, not how they can be cheaper than the richestt club in England.

Testing out Channel 4's WhatsApp and Snapchat Indyref news delivery experiments

Friday morning, the day after the Scottish independence vote and the first place a select group went to for the news wasn't TV, radio or even Facebook but Whatsapp and Snapchat. The two private messaging platforms were used as an experiment by Channel 4 as an alternative way of delivering news, specifically to an audience who wouldn't usually engage in other channels.

So how was the experience? I signed up to both platforms out of curiosity to see how they compared with my usual daily news diet. It's worth noting most of these updates came through while I was sleeping - prior to the count there was very little of interest.

WhatsApp

Of the two platforms, I much preferred WhatsApp. Waking up, I had a easy, linear narrative in front of me with concise updates and links to relevant content. The real surprise was just how clear the storytelling was.

In the two minutes it took me to scroll through the messages, I had a clear grasp if how the story had unfolded - a bit like Twitter but without having to wade through a lot of excess noise. Also interesting was the way the simple use of facts meant it was easy to see the trends - there was little need to seek out analysis or commentary.

Channel 4's Indyref WhatsApp experimental messages

Snapchat

I'm a very light Snapchat user and probably don't fit within the demographic, but the experience was a little underwhelming - maybe the pie charts with scribbled words on in paint worked better with a different demographic, but it wasn't for me. However, in real time I can imagine they would have been quite useful.

Also, vote counts aren't the most inherently visual stories and it didn't help that those manning the account were in the office than out and about. It'd be fascinating to see how reporting on something like, say, the Commonwealth Games would have worked, given the opportunities for more visual messages.

Conclusions

As a rough and ready experient, Channel 4 did a good job. From a rather inauspicious start of a blurry picture of a dog carrying a Saltaire, once the serious reporting started, it was simply and useful for the end user. I wasn't such a fan of Snapchat but can see how a very different audience (ie one younger and less engaged in current affairs) may get a lot out of it.

WhatsApp was a really simple and enjoyable experience. Having it sent direct to my phone in an application I reguarly use meant there was a low barrier to entry and the concise amount of information was just right. Providing updates on this platform were used sparingly, I'd be very happy to turn this into a daily channel where I receive my news headlines.

Although I get Sky News alerts on my phone, this method felt more intimate and personal and while I haven't interacted, Channel 4 did encourage users to send their feedback - an excellent and immediate method of two-way conversation between user and journalist.

It's no surprise to see news companies move into this space - other brands and programmes have been experimenting with these platforms for a while, with Hollyoaks's Snapchat account an excellent example of how fans can get close to the action.

But it also raises questions about the nature of communication going forward. Private, personal channels will only continue growing (want to post an emotional update, for example. Why post on Facebook when you have Whisper) and that presents a challenge for cutting through to the audience.

For journalists and PRs alike, having a direct conversation is powerful but it also means the content must be relevant and, in the case of PR, having a closed channel makes it very difficult to disseminate the message and requires very a different mindset to the cooler social campaigns. As for brands, marketers will have to be absolutely sure that they have permission to enter into a personal dialogue via WhatsApp or Snapchat.

From a professional perspective, the "dark web" presents a new and difficult challenge to cut through (see this excellent post from Niall Harbison for more - and other trends in 2015).. From a personal perspective, I'd be really happy to continue getting my news via WhatsApp.

New season, new twofootedtackle podcast

Amazingly, we've managed to get a new twofootedtackle podcast out at the start of the season. And even have a schedule to attempt to produce another one in September. Amazing. For this pod, Aberdeen and Dulwich Hamlet fan Mark Penman steps in for the soon-to-be-married Ryan Keaney, so naturally making sense of Scottish football is high on the agenda, while we talk to Jim Keoghan, author of Punk Football, on the future of fan ownership.

On a side note, it's really nice to be back podcasting and after a slightly inconsistent return - largely due to the fact we never seemed to know when we'd record - I think we're hitting an area that we're comfortable in: an extended interview, plus one or two topics in depth and reports from others, if space.

Somebody said our World Cup preview sounded a bit like something from Radio 4, which I was delighted by, as that's the sort of area we're hoping for. Something intelligent, irreverent and that makes you think rather than confirm what you already know (I'm probably a Reithian at heart with my broadcasting values).

We could have easily gone back to three blokes sitting behind a microphone shooting the breeze about the popular topics of the day, but in all honesty there are a lot of pods that do this far better than we could, plus the format feels a little stale.

There's very little point in aping the excellent and most-definitely-not-stale Football Weekly unless you bring something different to the table, and we certainly don't do that. Hell, I'd hardly even classify myself as a regular Premier League viewer these days.

Not that I'm claiming we're doing anything different or radical - we're really not - but allowing the topics to breathe and getting some different voices is much more relaxing. Trying to know everything about every single topic is exhausting and can be a bit patchy at times. I'd rather research one or two topics in depth than try to cover everything.

On restaurants and smartphones

A fascinating piece of unintentional research from a US restaurant that I think shows a lot about different mindsets to changing user habits, especially their concluding actions.

Essentially, the restaurant compared security tapes from now versus 10 years ago to work out why their service appeared to be slower. Their discovery showed that service times were drastically slowed by the use of smartphones - people playing on them when they first arrived, so taking longer to order, and lots of picture taking, that often necessitated food being reheated.

All of which are great and powerful insights. The restaurant's response? To post their findings on Craigslist and asking all diners to be more considerate of their staff, business and other customers and not to use their phones so often.

To me, that feels like the wrong move (although it also involves the depressing acceptance that we'd rather spend time on our phones than eating or speaking. But that's by the by).

If these phone habits are ingrained in the customer, no amount of pleading - or even measures like banning or confiscating phones - is going to make a difference. Chances are service time will continue to get slower and reviews will get worse, even if the food itself is excellent.

A smarter move would be to see how aspects of the restaurant - from phone bookings to photography could be worked into the overall aspect of the service. Odd as it may seem, having waiters offer to take photos of both the food and the diners, for example, could shave off precious minutes.

Some may call it disruption, I'd probably say it's closer to solving a problem the audience didn't really know existed. Food is such a visual, inherently shareable experience, especially online, that it's a surprise many more restaurants don't attempt to play to these strengths.

Facebook and the story of decreasing page reach

Organic. Generally seen as something good. Often healthy. And generally to be encouraged. Unless, perhaps, you're Facebook. Organic reach of brand pages is a hot topic in social and marketing circles. Whereas once a post on Facebook would reach thousands now it'll reach a fraction of that, unless you pay to boost. That all elusive organic reach is getting harder.

Generally there are two camps here. The first is accompanied by wailing and gnashing of teeth as they realise those hard (or not so hard) earned fans won't see any of their beautiful (or hastily photoshopped) posts.

The second falls somewhere between the smug and schoolteacher-like attitude of "Facebook is still brilliant, there's nothing wrong with my page and you're a bad marketer and need to produce better content."

I paraphrase.

Then there's the message that Facebook is pushing and is slowly seeping in. Very slowly: "It's not about your brand, it's about the people."

All of Facebook's formal and informal communication points to enhancing the news feed for the user, to give them more useful, relevant posts and fewer inane brand messages.

Put bluntly, it's a reminder Facebook was built for people not mid-level marketing managers. Those brands that do well on Facebook recognise that. You want to put your unengaging campaign in front of eyeballs? Pay for it like everyone else.

Does this mean Facebook is the wrong platform for brand now ? Not necessarily.

The main questions they're encouraging brands to ask is "Is it useful to a Facebook user? Will it complement what they already see in their newsfeed?" Just because you publish something that works as a message for your brand doesn't mean it'll be of any interest to the average Facebook user.

It's why content marketing (although it's a rather horrible generic catch-all term) is becoming more important to align with the social strategy (not that it wasn't already). It's why news organisations are doing rather well out of Facebook - often it's content people want to share. It's something a lot of companies and agencies perhaps haven't quite got yet.

And with the Facebook cracking down on the like-baiting posts, there may be quite a few brands doing an abrupt shift in strategy over the coming months, assuming they have one.

 

Recent football work

Sydney FC fans in the Hyundai A LeagueA couple of recent pieces of football-related output from me. First up, as one of When Saturday Comes's semi-regular writers I've contributed to their best and worst moments of 2013, as well as their hopes for football in 2014. Essentially, I'd like to continue to enjoy football as much as I have done in the past few months. Yes, even with Exeter City's dreadful recent form. Secondly, I joined in the Football Central weekly podcast, my first proper appearance on the show, talking all things Hyundai A League and Australian football. If you've never watched the A League, I'd seriously encourage you to give it a try, especially if you have BT Sport, who broadcast most games live. Granted, there's the occasional dud, but when you look at recent games like Melbourne Victory v Western Sydney Wanderers, Brisbane's 5-2 demolition of Sydney (ouch), and the crazy closing moments of Central Coast Marines v Perth Glory, then it's hard not to get pulled in.

Blogger outreach done badly. Again

Luxury watch In some ways it feels like 2008. The last week has seen discussions, articles and guidance on blogger outreach from PR agencies. And while the really good parts of the industry have moved on, there’s still a significant number of conversations that appear to be repeated ad infinitum and are almost exactly the same as five years ago.

Three pieces are particularly caught the eye. The first is a new guidance note from the Advertising Standards Authority on payment of bloggers. I’ve covered the main points on Ruder Finn’s blog, but it’s still somewhat surprising (or perhaps it shouldn’t be) that some in the industry don’t view payment as stepping over the line into advertising.

That isn’t to say that advertising and advertorial doesn’t have a place, when done well, and sometimes it’s appropriate to raise it with bloggers you’ve developed a good relationship with. But it’s still advertising, and the RF piece deals with why that might not be the best strategy in the long-term.

Equally of interest is Chris Lee’s post on The Guest Ale blog, whose vodcasts I occasionally appear on. Frustrated with the high volume of irrelevant “spray and pray” email pitches, Chris’s post highlights some of the oddest ones he’s received, as well as a few best practice notes.

These aren’t just the words of a frustrated blogger though. Chris has worked in this space for longer than I have. He holds a senior social position at a major agency. He knows what makes a good approach to bloggers.

And I share his frustration. In the last six months, the volume of irrelevant pitches landing in my inbox has soared, even as my output on this blog and elsewhere has declined somewhat. Particular highlights have included:

• Luxury watches • Financial industry reports • Pantomime promotion • Cycling accessories. I don’t own a bike. • An oddly specific pitch that targeted me because “your sister is getting married.” I’m an only child.

Some are funny and get shared with friends (so probably not the outreach they were hoping for). Most get deleted. The rare ones I’ve replied to, with details on what I write about, either elicit no response or a “thanks” followed by a continual stream of irrelevant press releases.

On a similar vein was the discussion at the UK Sports Network’s Digital Sport evening. I was sharing the panel with Lynsey Hooper from The Offside Rule podcast and Karis Buckingham-Jones from Girls Sport Talk. All of us had stories of wildly irrelevant pitches.

Yet we were all in agreement when it comes to those who get their approach right. A good PR can be worth their weight in gold and open up opportunities not always available to bloggers.

After the event, I saw quite a few Tweets indicating that PR got a good bashing. That certainly wasn’t the intention (and neither is this post), especially considering I work for a PR agency.

In truth, the bad and bizarre tend to stand out and stick in the mind, and much of this is born of frustration, especially given the frequency of bad pitches.

And ultimately, bad, misguided pitches and a spray and pray approach benefits nobody. It gives the agencies that use this approach a bad name within the blogging community (and make no mistake, they do talk to each other).

But it also hurts the profession in general. If the time-poor blogger has to wade through plenty of irrelevant emails, there’s a far higher probability those who’ve spent time getting it right will also get tossed into the trash folder.

Any complaint here is born of frustration. Frustration for those who get it right, frustration that bad practices seem to be on the rise and, most of all, frustration that my inbox is piling up yet again with pitches that have no relevance whatsoever to anything I do. Perhaps that’s a sign that bloggers are viewed exactly the same as journalists now. I’m not sure that’s a necessarily good thing.

Update: Short postscript that I forgot to add in last night. There are of course caveats. Sometimes, things need to be done at short notice. Sometimes the client brief is more than a little vague. Sometimes the budget simply isn't there to spend hours researching targets in painstaking detail. I get and understand that. But again, if you're doing it well - and giving the client value - you'll be able to find a way to make it work. And, guess what, this is where the long-term relationships you've built over months and years come in very handy indeed.

CSI Small Heath

Sometimes some of the best ideas are the most simple and West Midlands Police have one of the most simple and effective uses of Instagram I've seen in a long time.

By taking behind-the-scenes shots of their forensic team at work, it gives the public an insight into their work and makes the organisation more approachable. Clever and effective, it's a great example of what can be done with a simple idea.

Netflix and data: the future of TV?

Kevin Spacey in House of Cards

Several years ago, when I still worked at ITV, a colleague in the press office was desperately trying to tell a journalist that a programme he was about to label a flop was actually pretty successful when put in context. The show had held up well on the +1 channel but, what's more, was one of the most successful shows the network had seen on online catch up, pulling in some seriously impressive numbers.

The journalist, however, was unmoved. "Nobody," he informed my colleague, "cares about online numbers."

Netflix, you suspect, would beg to differ.

Even five years ago - an age in digital terms - it was obvious to see what a huge part online, on demand and data would play in the future of TV. The numbers kept going up and the insights led to some rather fascinating discoveries.

Of course, there's always somebody ready to step in and show you how to do things better and recently Netflix has been making a big play about the mechanics behind the site, as it continues its aim to ascend into the same league as the major broadcasters (assuming, by whatever terms its judged, it hasn't already got there).

The online streaming site's recently victory at the Emmys for House Of Cards and the critical acclaim lavished on Orange Is The New Black, both original and expensive commissions from Netflix, suggest that the company is flexing its way into the establishment. But a look behind the commissioning process reveals a more data driven way of thinking.

It seems quite basic to say that because their data told them that Netflix viewers who liked the original BBC House of Cards series also liked David Fincher and Kevin Spacey - the remake's director and star, respectively - the company decided to invest in the new commission.

But it's the ability of Netflix to investigate at a "molecular level" that provides the real insight to getting viewers hooked. As this article notes, the site can tell when subscribers fast-forward, binge view or abandon a series and provide, with a degree of confidence, when a series works and what will hook each individual subscriber's attention next. With the right analysts and decisions that's powerful stuff.

Of course all this should be qualified. Firstly, Netflix don't release their data, so it's unclear how many watched House Of Cards, let alone some of the more interesting data from the site.

Secondly, broadcasters have a degree of insight into this. Similar data is available for the iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD and Sky Go, while it's fascinating to see how usage of the BBC Radio Player app breaks down.

But these are just catch-up and live streaming services not live viewing through the TV itself. It will give a reasonable degree of insight but this will naturally be skewed towards the catch up demographic, not necessarily the more traditional TV viewer.

Instead, live TV is, for the moment, reliant on BARB, which relies on a sample of households to estimate viewing figures. In this day and age that's an awful lot of data missing.

It's why I'm quite excited about the next generation of TVs and viewing devices. For broadcasters and advertisers, data around all aspects - from overall numbers to the way people actively engage with programmes is incredibly useful.

Better data should, theoretically, lead to better programmes (although there's also a danger of it leading to common denominator programmes too). It at least should lead to better insight, recommendations and user experience across broadcaster websites (I'm personally a big iPlayer fan).

If - and it's a big if - audiences are happy with broadcasters tracking this sort of data through the living room TV then this has the potential to seriously alter the way broadcasters approach programming. And the journalist who harangued my colleague all those years ago will, you suspect, be asking rather different questions about online numbers in the years to come.

On paywalls and PR

On the work blog for Ruder Finn, I've written a fairly lengthy piece musing on the effect of paywalls in PR. It's aimed at a primarily PR audience, but it's something all working in comms should probably be considering (assuming they're not already). There are some agencies - and companies - who merge the disciplines of PR, SEO and content marketing (or branded journalism, as some like to describe it) very well indeed. Others prefer to silo a bit more.

Fair enough. I'm no SEO specialist and wouldn't pretend to be, but I know enough to understand why it's important (and I've lost count of the number of social media or PR talks I've been to that play down the importance of Google and its core offerings) and what needs to be done about it.

So with more newspapers disappearing behind paywalls, what does this create? Opportunities? Barriers? Communities? A rejection of the social nature of the web? A solid base for the future? All or none of these?

I'm not quite sure I can give a definitive answer to this - after all, while it can be tempting to look at The Sun, say, just in terms of figures, you could also argue that a large reason it's disappeared behind a paywall is to do with the football content its offering.

I still think, personally, that The Sun and The Times will have to work extra hard to make their paywalls a success when it comes to attracting new subscribers in the long-term, partly because they're so general. As for The Telegraph, I've barely noticed the impact of the paywall, despite being a reasonably regular visitor to the site.

The Financial Times (and to a certain extent The Economist), for me, has still got it right when it comes to a paywall strategy. They're about the only two I'd pay for and they understand how Google works and why it's important. Which is more than many others both in journalism and PR.

UPDATE: Just as I write this, the NME announce micropayment charges around specific content. That's another interesting option for publishers. Not sure how this will interact with Google though.

A quick update

Normal service can now resumed. Sort of. If things have been quiet on here that's because the most demanding client project or busiest editorial deadline has nothing on planning a wedding. Wedding planning is certainly not a career I'd choose but happily all went well on an excellent day, the much-needed honeymoon was relaxing and now the attention turns to important things, like buying new shelving units.

And thus ends a rare personal update by means of explanation of why I've barely put finger to keyboard recently.

Arsenal and Manchester United top the follow tables for football clubs using social media. This means nothing

League table of most fans and followers of English football clubs on Twitter and Facebook I'd like to start by apologising to FC Business magazine, who are normally a fairly interesting bunch. They just happened to post one of my pet peeves - the social media ranking table by followers.

So here we have a league table of the Premier League's most liked clubs on Facebook and most followed teams on Twitter. And for good measure, we have the three clubs with the highest Klout rating.

Ah, you may sagely nod, Manchester United are the most liked team on Facebook while Arsenal lead the way on Twitter. But what does this actually mean? Football clubs are using social media? Great. One of the world's biggest clubs has by far the biggest number of fans on Facebook? That doesn't exactly come as a surprise to me.

In fact there's very few surprises here. Perhaps you could say Hull are doing better than expected in the Facebook stakes. Or that Manchester United look off the pace on Twitter. But again, that doesn't really tell you anything.

Hull may have had to work incredibly hard at engagement, or just chucked a lot of advertising budget at social media. And Manchester United have just joined Twitter, hence their poor showing. Not that you'd glean anything from the tables. Nope, it's just a fairly predictable popularity contest.

As for Klout, Chelsea's profile, for example, lists them as being influential about Chelsea, football and soccer. It's a level of insight that even the most banal of pundits may hesitate to offer up on the grounds that it's probably a little too obvious.

In fairness, these complaints could easily be transferred from ranking football clubs to, say, drinks brands, West End theatres, or any grouping you like. The gripe would be the same. We have all this data and that's it?

The small 'Most talked about' section is the closest we get to any nugget of insight - Liverpool generate more conversation than Arsenal on Facebook. Nothing more, but it's a start.

What's really needed to make any kind of ranking system in any way useful is the data and story behind these accounts - we're talking both qualitative and quantitative here.

Do the accounts actually engage with the fans? How open are their walls? What's their retweet percentage like? Is anybody actually listening? What particular benchmarks are you measuring them against?

It's perfectly conceivable that a club like, say Rochdale, could lag behind Premier League teams but still have a more engaged fanbase on social media than, say, West Brom. They probably don't, but it's certainly worth seeing if any lower league clubs are particularly effective at using social media.

And what about other networks? A while back, I circled most of the Premier League clubs on Google+ for research purposes. QPR might not have one of the biggest followings but their G+ content is seriously impressive. Manchester United, on the other hand, don't even have a page. And so on.

(In fairness, FC Business do mention G+ as a trend for the new season, although plenty of clubs are pretty well established on there).

It's a lazy trap that social media far too often falls into. Yes, follower numbers are important, but that almost goes without saying. What really counts is the action behind these often large numbers. A social media account with a large follower count that gets no engagement is ultimately an account that gets no engagement. And no league table can gloss over that, no matter how big the initial number is.

Australian A League: Harry Kewell at the Melbourne Heart

A small piece from me on Harry Kewell's arrival at Melbourne Heart for When Saturday Comes. The Australian A League - and soccer in general in the country - is in an absolutely fascinating place right now. To me, it feel a little like MLS did about 4-5 years ago - a market still finding its way, still establishing its identity but with no doubt that there are enough fanatics of the game to make it viable.

What's slightly different is the status of the national team. Australia's previous golden generation of Kewell, Cahill, Neill, et al are coming towards the end of the career - or have already retired - while the a crop of promising youngsters such as Tom Rogic, Tomi Juric and Mitchell Duke still have some way to go, despite the obvious talent. And all this means there are a lot of places up for grabs for the Brazil 2014 World Cup squad.

I've been following the A League since its inception and got properly hooked after a trip down under earlier this year. It's a decent league with a lot of great stories and one I've been following even closer in the past 12 months (awkward kick-off times notwithstanding).

Melbourne Heart are a club that have fascinated me for a long time. There's undoubtedly room for a second soccer club in Melbourne, but whether Heart are it is another question entirely.

Melbourne Victory's five year exclusivity deal for A League soccer in the city has part of the market sewn up, but the right club could really create a rivalry and movement if done correctly (case in point: Western Sydney Wanderers).

But it's hard to know what Heart really stand for, or who their core supporter base is, beyond disgruntled ex-Victory fans. Which is why the Harry Kewell signing is a gamble for both club and player - who is clearly still eyeing a World Cup squad spot.

Anyway, that's really a bit of pre-amble as to how and why this current piece came about. Have a read. There'll definitely be more to follow in a variety of places.

Look after this podcast. See that some harm comes to it

Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the Oddjob Pod James Bond podcast Anybody would think Ernst Stavro Blofeld himself had been tinkering with this post - every time I attempt to write or publish something crashes or goes wrong.

Maybe SMERSH want to keep the news that a couple of weeks ago, Terry Duffelen, Graham Sibley and I recorded a new Oddjob Podcast on James Bond villains.

We all have our favourites, of course, and those we dislike. For instance, I'm not a fan of Hugo Drax, although Terry and Graham think very differently. I suspect my dislike of Moonraker somewhat clouds my judgement on this - perhaps it's time to rewatch and reappraise Michael Lonsdale's performance.

And then I quite like Elliott Carver as a villain - and I've found very few people who feel the same way about Tomorrow Never Dies and Jonathan Pryce's performance in general.

One thing we're all agreed on: Blofeld is not the best Bond villain, and there's only one definitive portrayal of the follically-challenged evil one. To find out which one, you'll just have to tune in, of course.

Longform: A non-fiction addiction

One of my favourite communities online is Stuart Waterman's Non-Fiction Addiction community on Google+. Dedicate to long and engaging content, it's a delight of discovery. As long as you have a web connection, there's enough reading material to keep you occupied over a train journey. Longform content isn't exactly trendy though. Sites such as Buzzfeed and Us Vs Th3m are leading the way when it comes to espresso hits of quick, shareable content. The fact that plenty of sites seem fit to ape them (especially the former, the latter hasn't been around quite long enough for copycats) shows that many sites are pointing towards the quick, easily digestable amusing visual content (and generally not doing it anywhere near as well as the leaders in the field).

But for all that, it's been fascinating to chat to several friends who work within the newspaper industry or for online publications who have all mentioned the same stat: namely that longform articles tend to do rather well on tablet devices at certain times of the day.

Joshua Lachkovic picks up the theme of longform at Hotwire's blog. In a lengthy post he discusses how the likes of Longreads and The Magazine are quietly building a significant reader base.

It's worth noting the discussion around Kindle publishing in Lachkovic's piece. Kindles may not exactly be seen as sexy in the digital sphere but they're certainly effective. Again, more than one editorial conversation I've had has spent a fair bit of time exploring the benefits of Kindle publishing for longform.

This isn't to say that longform will overtake shortform. The two can co-exist quite happily, and the world would be a poorer place without Buzzfeed and Us Vs Th3m. But has tablet usage especially increases, sites or apps who manage longform particularly well are in a good place when readers decide they want something a little longer on their morning commute.

One word of warning though. Slate's "You Won't Finish This Article" gives plenty of reasons  not to bank on longform, at least not via a browser, not least that the majority of people will have stopped reading a long time before the end. Worth keeping in mind next time you're minded to churn out a 5,000 word essay.

Internet naming and shaming

I'm not a great fan of public spats online. Well, obviously they're entertaining from a point of view of pulling up a seat and fetching some popcorn, but after everything blows over, what's been achieved? Other than a lack of dignity. Earlier this week, I was quoted in Chris Lee's NMK Forum piece on the consequences of social media shaming from a PR reputation management perspective. It hit the headlines after one woman publicly shaming a developer at PyCon (a programming conference) for alleged sexist remarks ended with both losing their jobs and a whole host of other fallout that could have easily been avoided.

The whole episode made me recall an incident from three years ago when I somehow got onto a PR mailing list and got bombarded with emails every day. A polite request to be removed was ignored and a follow up resulted in some sarcastic comments on this blog, which I subsequently traced back to the offices of the same PR company (Golden rule of the Internet. You write it, somebody can probably find you. Just ask Curtis Woodhouse).

I sat for a while deciding whether to name and shame before the journalist in me thought it best to at least get their side of the story and speak to somebody at the company. I'm glad I did. I had a good chat with somebody senior, made a contact and considered the whole thing closed (I've no idea what happened to the individual concerned - it's not my place to conduct another company's HR).

Although I never really followed up the contact, I'm still glad I didn't name and shame. Other than perhaps a five second burst of Internet infamy, I'd rather my name wasn't circulated in circles for the wrong reasons. Ultimately, I'd rather resolve things by talking rather than leaping on Twitter to denounce all and sundry.

As I said on Chris's post, there a lot that can be achieved behind the scenes before resorting to naming and shaming.

Not that it doesn't have a place. One particular utility company drove me to absolutely despair to the point shouting about the problem on Twitter, which was more cathartic than anything else (I have no idea how useful my frustrated rant was). And working on several Twitter accounts, I've seen how often turn to Twitter as the first port of call rather than call or email, which fascinates me from a professional perspective.

I'm still hopeful there'll never be a time when I resort, if that's the right word, to naming and shaming on Twitter or elsewhere. For a start, I've no wish to be the focus of an article rather than a person quoted on it.

A bit of writing elsewhere and a change in focus for the blog

A slight change of direction will be coming up on this blog, I suspect, certainly regarding the social media posts. Anything social-related will probably go on the Ruder Finn Dot Comms blog. Anything else will probably be here (yes, the dregs. Sorry about that). And here's the first post: an analysis of when brands should and shouldn't piggyback on an internet meme, with specific reference to the Harlem Shake.

And I'm still doing the football writing, when time allows. Here's me at The Two Unfortunates imagining what if Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale had landed the Swansea City job.

Oh mama, I wanna go surfing...

“You get stuck in a rip and fight against it, you’ll eat shit. You try and stand incorrectly, you’ll eat shit. You don’t keep your concentration, you’ll eat shit.” Erik, our Norwegian surfing instructor, is nothing if not to the point.Ten minutes into my first ever surfing lesson, and it appears there are many ways you can eat shit. Given my complete lack of balance and co-ordination, this could be a very painful two hours that involves a lot of shit eating.

I am not a natural beach person, as my pale complexion probably immediately makes clear. As a child at the seaside, I was always happier exploring rock pools before going for a quick paddle and maybe a game of beach cricket. That’s not changed much. I emphatically had no interest in surfing and this lack of interest has continued all my adult life. Yet, here I am on Bondi Beach, about to embarrass myself in front of the Australian beach going community.

This wasn’t my idea, but I was told by my other half that if we were visiting Australia, I should experience the local culture and the surf lesson was duly booked. For me, not for her, obviously. Friends in England found this hilarious. “Pasty Brit on a surfboard on Bondi Beach. This will be brilliant,” was the general consensus.

As it turns out, the surf class is full of pasty Brits and one pasty Canadian, all of whom inhabit various degrees of hopelessness from complete novice to falling over a lot. Erik is very thorough though and has the patience of a saint as he guides us through the movements on dry land. “You might want to stand further back down the board, or you’ll wipe out,” he says, looking at my jerk movement from horizontal to standing up.

Me, in a rare moment standing up

Twenty minutes in, and it’s time to head into the water, waddling like penguins in our wetsuits. Erik talks us through how to prepare for a wave, before pushing us each off, much like a parent does to a child on a bike with stabilisers.

On my first attempt, I’m far too terrified to attempt to stand and tentatively attempt a movement towards the end of the wave. Predictably I fall over. “You need to be more decisive, stand up in one quick movement,” says Erik.

The next few attempts follow a similar pattern before I finally attempt to stand up quickly - and, crucially, without thinking - and, to my astonishment find myself standing on the board and the wave pushes me in to shore. This lasts about 10 seconds before I fall over.

Erik, who has probably been sighing inwardly at my timidity on the board is impressed. “Not bad, you’ve a good motion. You just need to concentrate and focus when you’re standing up and you won’t fall over.”

Concentration, it appears, is my major downfall. I stand stand but find it impossible to focus on anything in the distance, not helped by the fact I’ve not wearing glasses or contacts. After two relatively successful stands, I become too cocky and promptly spend the next three attempts falling off the board relatively rapidly. Still, I’m feeling good about my progress until Erik tells the group we’re moving into deeper water to try and catch a series of waves to take us to the shore.

Lying on the board attempting to paddle further out, I feel like a slightly backwards dog. There’s a lot of splashing around but I’m not really going anywhere. Even more embarrassing is the point where everybody stops and sits on their board. It appears I’m incapable of balancing without falling off.

Erik pushes us off again as we aim for shore, except this time if you fall off, which I inevitably do, there’s a long way back to the beach and it’s quite clear that without the initial shove, I’m incapable of being able to push off, let alone gain enough momentum to stand up. My only consolation is the rest of the class appear to be equally inept and it’s not an uncommon sight to see them flying through the air minus the surf board.

After the fourth capsize in as many seconds a nearby Australia swims across to me. “You’re not very good at this are you,” he says in typical blunt Aussie style. “First-timer?”

With a mouthful of seawater, I’m unable to speak so just nod instead. “You’ll get better at it,” he says, “although you’re probably best to stick to practising in the indoor pool.” With that, he turns his attention to his five-year-old son, who is gliding through the water with the ease of someone who has spent their life on the surfboard. I start paddling towards shore, catch a wave, attempt to stand up and wipe out badly, landing on my jaw (who knew this was even possible?).

Despite the pain - my back is also starting to ache badly - and the fact I'm still a good three or four wipe outs from shore, I grin. This surfing lark is quite fun, providing it's done closish to the shore. And I have lots of help. And as long as it's done on a sunny day on Bondi. Really, don't expect to find me doing this on a cold November in Cornwall. I'm willing to attempt local culture, but not so willing to take it home with me.

I went surfing with Let's Go Surfing. Despite my ineptitude on the board, they're actually very good and I had a blast. Can definitely recommend them if you fancy attempting to catch some waves for the first time.

RIP HMV: Not a eulogy

Plenty of people have been sharing their memories of HMV on Twitter following the news the troubled music retailer is set to call in the administrators, so here's one of my own, albeit more recent than most. About six months ago, I nipped into London Trocadero branch on the off-chance of finding the fourth series of a well-known American drama on DVD, as well as to see if I could find a couple of other DVDs I was considering buying for presents.

After much searching, and on the verge of giving up, I asked a shop assistant if they had the fourth season of Dexter. "Never heard of it, mate," came the reply. Did they know where it might be found? "Not sure, sorry." Was there any possibility of ordering it in or that it may arrive in the next few days. "Doubt it." It was a similar story with the other items on the list.

Then there was a similar experience this Christmas, when I may the last-minute decision to add a DVD into a Christmas present. The store was packed, but the DVD was nowhere to be found. Both quite frustrating.

Whether my story was a common occurrence or just bad luck, I've no idea. It does hint at a reason why HMV have been so troubled. If the staff seem indifferent to their products or to helping customers - and it's virtually impossible to find what you're looking for, it's no wonder people are turning to the easy-to-navigate Amazon.

Amazon, supermarkets and the digital world in general will naturally be blamed, but equally the company itself can take plenty of blame for the long-standing debts it finds itself saddled with. The over-expansion over the late nineties and early noughties, combined with somewhat questionable acquisitions such as Fopp and Ottakar's, played as much of a part as Amazon's growth.

HMV never did quite sort out the online side of its business either, with the browsing experience often as frustrating as trying to find an item in the store itself. That's hardly Amazon or Sainsbury's fault if a major retailer can't get one of the more basic requirements right and was too late to realise the need to enter a major market.

But while the nostalgia for HMV is perhaps a little disingenuous - If you really love a shop that much, try to step foot in in more than one a year - it's certainly not misplaced. As a teenager, HMV always had that perfect balance between the mainstream pop and the more niche (if not obscure) music, while their foreign film collection was a joy for a cinema obsessive from Devon. Their staff were always passionate, friendly and only too willing to help, which is what makes their demise even sadder at the missed opportunities.

Brands can't live on nostalgia alone though, and as journalist Dave Lee and Newsbeat reporter Greg Cochrane have noted, hardly anybody under the age of 26 seems particularly bothered about the retailer's demise.

With over 4,000 jobs at risk, there should be no pleasure to be taken for gloating and saying I told you so or using it to champion the brilliance of the digital age. The issues, as I've touched on early, weren't solely down to the likes of Amazon, while it's no fun to see another set of high street shops go empty. And for those who still have resisted Amazon and the internet's charms (and, yes, such people do exist), it leaves a difficult hole to replace.

Still, as Robert Peston writes, it's probably best the "zombie" company was put out of its misery, given it had been flatlining for two years. You can even make an argument it should have done earlier. And who knows, I'm no retail expert, but perhaps a new company with a much more sensible approach to online/offline might even arise and make HMV nostalgia just that - a thing of the past.