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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

The wonderfully mundane world of Twitter

Rain. Broken shoes. Buying Christmas presents. Roads. Train timetables. None of them are particular exciting, bar perhaps Christmas, but all have, in one way or another, shown the value of Twitter and how the microblogging site has become part of our everyday world - even if it's not necessarily the best place to find answers. Two years ago - a lifetime in internet terms - a sustained period of wintery weather threatened to cancel the family Christmas as the roads and transport into and around Devon were particularly impassable in rural areas. It was difficult to get a full picture of what was passable and what wasn't and it was touch and go if I'd be joining my family.

This year, despite some of the heaviest flooding seen in Devon for many decades, there was a much better flow of information. Local radio stations and journalists used Twitter to broadcast any flood alerts and developments on the roads and rail, sharing pictures and information. Followers in the county shared eyewitness knowledge. And, most useful of all, the county council's head of Highways Operations Tweeted any road closure, dangerous roads or re-openings.

Until recently, the latter would have been completely inaccessible to members of the general public. Combined together, with a few well-targeted searches, it was possible to be completely across the travel situation in the county (and Devon is a big county) and feel confident enough not to have to reserve a hotel room in case of being trapped due to the floods.

But it wasn't just about staying informed. A friend who was joining us for New Year had already Tweeted First Great Western about rail replacement buses for her return journey before even arriving at the house. And that aspect of customer service is becoming increasingly important on Twitter - even if it's perhaps not the most effective way of achieving a result.

Recently a pair of boots we'd purchased from Schuh started to fall apart after just a couple of months. My first instinct was to check if Schuh had a Twitter account and Tweet them asking to help. Second instinct was to actually have a quick look on their website and after one easy-to-find number and an incredibly helpful call centre employee later we had replacement boots.

So, yes, not exactly thrilling, but - having spent time manning various corporate Twitter accounts over the years - the level of customer service questions is rising. Sending a Tweet is a lot quicker and easier than spending a bit of time searching for an answer online. Thankfully Schuh's website and customer service has been among the best I've seen recently (and their Twitter account seems equally helpful). A good brand should be able to proactively balance the two.

Contrast this with Debenhams, who were less than helpful when a Christmas present went astray through an error their end and was only resolved after taking to Twitter, largely in desperation at going round in circles with their phone lines, culminating in being told to buy the same gift again way before any prospect of a refund. Even that involved going round in a lot of circles (although eventually had a happy ending).

Twitter isn't - and certainly shouldn't be - the be all and end all for any company, but it certainly helps to know exactly what you're there for. And it's often quite mundane, but then that probably reflects Twitter well.

So followers of a local journalist want to know about news that affects their area, especially any road closures and similar. Local councils can make everybody's lives easier by communicating changes to bin collections.

And for a lot of brands, the intention from the marketing and PR teams may be to get onto Twitter and do something cool and fun, but a lot of their customers will be looking for it as an extension of their customer service department - and will inevitably be disappointed if this fails to live up to expectations. A recent survey from Acquity says 71% of big brands leave customer Tweets unanswered. Having great ideas to use Twitter is one thing - knowing what your audience expert is another thing all together.

How bad are those drunken Facebook photos to your career

The juxtaposition could not have been more perfect. A post on a small, but tight community in a Facebook Group called out for paid help on a project. It wasn't a large job, but the pay was decent and one group member - let's call him Ollie - wanted it. "I'm hardworking and reliable, and would love this opportunity," he commented on the post. He was the second person as well, after the obligatory "sounds cool" comment. There was one small problem for the potential employer. Ollie's Facebook profile picture displayed a young man slightly the worse for wear taking part in a game of human Buckaroo. Click through and status updates varied from discussion of Ollie's assorted hangovers and Ollie's night's out.

I've no idea if Ollie got the role, although I'd assume not. For all we know, Ollie could actually be a contentious, dedicated employee, although you wouldn't know it from his Facebook page.

Ollie's story popped into my head when reading AVG's latest Digital Diaries. Recently, a work-related project has seen me working on advice sessions on ways social media can help your career. The regular monitoring I do in this area has picked up some excellent examples, but also some absolute shockers (I'd love to share, but I don't want to embarrass these people any more than they've already done) and my own experience tallies a lot with the stats AVG's study has returned.

Generally older users of social networkers appear a little more sensible in their use of social media (although not always. Two of the worst examples of an employee making derogatory comments on Twitter about employers have been from 40-year-olds who really should know better), while the 18-25 age group seem a little less circumspect about what they post.

Again, this is a bit of a generalisation, but when 92% of the 4,440 young adults interviewed admit to posting negative comments about former employers online, it suggests there's very much a Tweet in haste, repent in leisure attitude among this age bracket. And given the majority of the 230 HR professionals viewed abusive comments about employers in a similar light to extremist views, that's not necessarily a good thing.

These last 12 months have seen a slight shift in awareness (or lack of) in what's appropriate in a public, online medium. Criminal prosecutions, libel actions, and the like have come to the fore on social media. Most recently, a young reporter lost his job for Tweeting an allegation about a celebrity and sexual abuse.

But I can also see Lianne Froggatt's point about not having an online profile being worse than having a profile with tipsy Facebook pictures - although if your online footprint really is full of Ollie-isms, then you might want to consider locking away some of the worse aspects.

As Lianne writes:

"[T]hat doesn't solely extend to looking for pictures of you passed out after a raucous house party. They're also looking for insightful blog posts discussing your field, interesting and relevant connections and conversations and a general mastering of the digital world as well as your specific area of professional interest.

 

"What does it say about your suitability for work in a world that is ever-increasingly reliant on digital, if you do not appear at all when those HR spooks type in your name on Google? Are you capable of working in a fast-paced digital environment if you do not even take interest in personal online networks?"

Me, I'd be pretty relaxed about somebody having an active social life, providing it didn't impinge on their work - calling in sick after posting a status on Facebook at 2am telling the world how drunk you are is not impressive. Having your boss see your drunken pictures from the weekend isn't a great idea, but at least it's been done in your own time.

And largely, people mature and their online footprint will reflect that. A drunken or idiotic post from four years ago shouldn't count against somebody who is articulate, thoughtful and has a well-connected online presence - and doesn't drunk Tweet.

As with most aspects of online life, it's about context. That said, given that fewer than half of the young adults surveyed had conducted an online audit of their profile, it's probably no bad thing to check your Facebook privacy settings and be a little less hasty with the Tweet button - and that's something that can probably be said for all of us. Especially Ollie.

Longform or shortform? Why sites like the SEO chasing Bleacher Report don't mean the death of journalism

The Bleacher Report may not exactly be the bastion of hard-hitting journalism but it is successful at what it does, and SF Insider's in-depth report into the sport site's tactics is thought-provoking for anybody running a website, especially if the aim is to make money and a lot of page views. An awful lot of page views. Using SEO to drive the editorial agenda is nothing new. Any good news site should at least be taking this into account. Many already do.

Witness the large number of tech blogs that fill up weeks before an Apple announcement with nothing more than speculation, but cleverly designed to hook in the Googlers. Gawker and others employ somebody to look for trending memes and virals with the intention of publishing them on a mainstream site before anyone else.

Then there's the Mail Online, probably the best mainstream media proponent of SEO. For all the "but that's not news" cries, the Mail are incredibly successful in their SEO friendly headline and content and it pays off majorly with page views. Never underestimate the power of a non-story of bikini shots with an SEO-friendly headline.

But does this, as the journalist who originally Tweeted, spell the death of sports journalism? It's easy to see why journalists, especially those with strong notions of what comprises of journalism, might be uneasy with the rise of sites like the Bleacher Report. As for whether it spells the death of journalism. Probably not.

The Bleacher Report does what it does well. It uses techniques that a lot of journalists and bloggers would do well to look at and if the community didn't at least like some part of it, they wouldn't return.

But it doesn't mean that all reportage has to reach the lowest-common denominator SEO-influenced page view chasing articles.

Indeed, if there's a race to the bottom, it means there's a space at the top of the market - and when there's a space, someone will eventually fill it. That may be a current website or media organisation, or it may be a site that doesn't exist yet.

The Bleacher Report is more like a shot of cheap espresso, while long-form journalism is more like a good quality coffee to be savoured. Granted, it may not shift as many units as a quick fix, but it will always have a market for what it does. But then the popularity of the Blizzard and blogs such as twohundredpercent show that there is a market for longform or alternative commentary that doesn't just regurgitate the more mainstream publications.

There's a large part of me that feels that at some point in the future we're going to see a slight split between platforms for short-form SEO friendly content and longform journalism and reportage (the type that costs, or at least is time consuming to produce). And I suspect tablets - be they iPads, Samsung Galaxys or Kindles - will play a large part in this.

Research from Pew already suggests that tablet owners are reading more longform content and spending significant amounts of time doing so. Unless you want to better (if that's the right word) or replicate the Bleacher Report's methods, then there's no reason why the two can't live happily side-side-by-side, with one mastering the web and the other the tablet.

Facbook's algorithm will lead to more meaningless cute animal pictures

One of my favourite pages on Facebook is the Condescending Corporate Brand Page, which reposts and ridicules the slightly more cringeworthy attempts by brands to generate engagement among their followers. It's a good page for any social media manager to follow, as it provides a nice little reality check.

While it's fun to poke fun at a brand page that asks a question of "What do you prefer, autumn leaves or puppies?" on a page that has nothing to do with leaves or puppies, it also highlights a frustrating and slightly concerning trend with Facebook pages.

Facebook's new algorithm is currently causing a lot of consternation among companies with Facebook presences and social media alike. Reach of posts on Facebook, as well as referrals, have dropped by around 50% for some pages.

The principle behind delivering more targeted news to relevant people is, in theory, sound. In practice, it feels an awful lot if Facebook are pushing companies, especially smaller ones, into paying to promote their status to a wider audience, even if that may not necessarily be the case. In trying to solve one problem regarding users, Facebook feel like they've swung too much in the other direction and have created another potentially bigger ones for brands.

The obvious answer for those who don't want to pay is to try and create posts with more engaging posts - after all, the more interactions a post receives, the greater its virality (Facebook word choice, not mine) and the better chance it has of being seen by a wider audience. This, in theory, means brands need to work harder in attracting engagement.

Robin Grant from We Are Social says in his analysis: "Facebook’s changes mean brands need to shift to creating social content that is “as engaging as the posts you see from friends and family” and supplement this with a sophisticated paid promotion strategy."

This may be true, to an extent, but it also overlooks the very quick, easy way for a site to boost engagement. Namely the incongruous, often irrelevant pictures scattered throughout brand pages. The new Facebook news feed (especially on mobile) gives a lot of weight to images and, as most pages managers can tell you, even with a quick glance at their Insights, is that image posts tend to do a lot better than other content.

Links, video, status updates and the rest rarely attract as many likes as a picture. No matter how irrelevant that picture may be. And that's the worry. That in an effort to go "Look boss, we've got 200 likes per post" on Facebook, brands are just posting Likebait rather than anything meaningfully engaging. Need to boost your engagement? Just post a cute animal picture with no relevance to your brand.

Incidentally, if you want a good example of posting a cute animal picture done well, this post from Radio 4 is funny, clever, personable and relevant (even if most people end up talking about the rug in the background).

In a roundabout way you could argue that posts that just act as Likebait (I'm sorry, I know that's a wanky word) do have an overall effect of boosting awareness, likes and a greater chance of more relevant content being seen. But equally Robin Grant isn't wrong when he says that brands have to work harder to produce more engaging posts on Facebook.

If you're a small business with a previously successful Facebook page suddenly struggling to keep up the same level of engagement and referrals because of the changes then it's a lot of hard work. I've heard plenty of rumbling behind the scenes from bigger brands and well-respected PR / marketing / social media professionals who are giving Facebook a long hard look at the moment given the changes. They too will have to work harder.

A lot of it comes from aims and strategy. If a company if serious about using Facebook as the cornerstone of their social strategy and has a drawn out plan and realistic KPIs then I suspect they'll adapt and find a way.

Others may decide - or get pressure from above - that it's easier to chase Likes with a few lazy pictures rather than working harder to really promote deeper engagement and brand awareness. And that really won't do anybody any favours in the long run.

Measuring Twitter

Barely a day goes past in social media without another survey or statistics being thrown around. 47% of Instagram users have taken a picture of their pet. Just 14% of tried to engage with a QR code on TV. And so on. There's so much of this stuff flying around - much of it interesting, or a good starting point for discussion - and easy to digest that it's difficult to sort the relevant from the noise. And yes, I'm equally guilty of Tweeting out links with links to these surveys.

Which is why the BBC College Of Journalism's post on How To Sell A Tweet is so refreshing. It looks at the numbers and asks questions that any ood journalist should be asking (but sometimes get lost among the churn of social media news and research).

It's worth asking questions about data and engagement surveys rather than just accept the results blindly. So 47% of people behave this way with social media - what about the other 53%? And, fine, only seven per cent of people may engage with a social advert - but seven per cent of what?

For example, I've seen the stat about weekends being the best time to Tweet. Yes, but as Charles Miller says, has anybody asked if this is due to an under-populated area.

Whether you’re a journalist or a brand, to get attention you’re trying to find an under-served audience. If your competitors all start tweeting at the weekend, attention per tweet will inevitably fall.

And if you schedule some Tweets for the weekend, that may not take into account other events such as (don't laugh) the weather, big news stories, events that will invariably catch the imagination of Twitter, and definitely big sporting events (although this also shows that you should have a good understanding of the demographic you're aiming to reach with your Tweet).

In some respects this is no different from traditional PR and event planning, just with a slightly different mindset. Journalists and news organisations, as Adam Tinworth and others have noticed, need to start thinking more in the mindset of individual marketeers and acting as their own PR. Or, at the very least, learning more from content aggregators.

My day job involves communicating to several different groups, the majority of whom who tend not to be online overly early in the morning and are more active in the evening, as well as a smaller influential grouping, who are often (but not always) more active during the day. Even just having an idea of who I'm trying to reach at any given time helps.

Currently, I use SocialBro for analysis of the best times to tweet around these very different yet equally important groups who we want to reach, although there are other tools out there.

But getting a picture of when the majority of followers are online is invaluable. Four months ago, it was 2pm on a Thursday afternoon. Now it's 5pm on a Friday. Next analysis may well show a different time altogether (weekends have never featured prominently though).

Again, it comes down to knowing and profiling your audience and acting accordingly. If, say, you're targeting sports fans, you may see that many of them are online during the weekend.

But if you Tweet at the weekend, you're probably catching them when they're watching a match and their attention is elsewhere. It may seem like common sense, but research and planning into social campaigns and when to roll them out are essential.

Just turning up with statistics from one piece of research that says "Weekends are the best time to Tweet," is an interesting starting point but not to be followed blindly. Drilling down into this data is likely to produce far more useful results (and may, indeed, indicate that for your professional accounts, you need to do the opposite), if you're prepared to spend a bit of time on more detailed analysis.

Which, in all honesty, is largely true for most data and statistics in any walk of life.

The etiquette of a RT

Last week the comedian Richard Herring tweeted a firm but polite message to his followers about requests for retweets and why he doesn’t retweet many links people ask him to. “I am afraid I get asked to RT so much stuff for charity or whatever that I have to refuse all requests or my timeline'd be nothing but,” he said, before adding, “Also if all charity stuff gets RT then it would have no impact. Like to save it up for causes I am involved with.”

A fair enough explanation, it seems, although judging by the exchanges that followed, not all of his followers agreed.

Requests for retweets is something I’ve noticed a rise in lately, whether it’s retweets from people I follow with a message such as “Hi @celebrityorkeyinfluencer, I’m running this race in memory of my mum, please RT,” or “Hi @writerorjournalist, I’ve written a piece o the history of Eintracht Frankfurt. Any chance of a RT?”

Even I get a fair few requests for both charity and article retweets and I really wouldn’t consider myself particularly influential (indeed, if you go by my Klout score I sit somewhere between the invisible man and a chocolate kettle in terms of usefulness).

Given the amount I get, I can only imagine the volume of requests fired at celebrities or well-known tweeters and, in the politest possible way, it’s probably a bit of a drag to go through them all.

I’ll make an effort, generally, to read most pieces or requests fired at me, but I won’t always retweet, often because I don’t feel it’s appropriate or I don’t find it interesting enough. It’s my feed and, sympathetic as I am to a lot of the requests, I also like to maintain some form of quality or brand control (although those of you who follow me may disagree given some of the rather random stuff I tweet).

But what of those requesting the RT? It’s clearly important to them, but is replying to a large number of celebrities or influencers the best way to go about it?

In the real world, if somebody kept running up to you and constantly asking you to tell others about their views on a topic or ask for money for charity, you’d probably get fed up quite quickly or tell them to sod off.

Kate Bevan, who has written an excellent summing up of why she doesn’t retweet, says some of these requests can amount to little more than chugging.

For those who follow the habitual retweet requester as well, it can get a bit irritating, especially if you follow the same people. It’s a horribly delicate balance – on one hand, you want as many people as possible to see your link.

On the other, it’s a bit irritating for your followers and for the person you’re asking for a RT from, even a bit rude, especially if it’s something they don’t want to tweet but feel uncomfortable not doing so.

One of Twitter’s strong points is the lack of rules. Everybody uses the service in a slightly different way and gets something different back out of it. But, gradually, accepted etiquette has developed. And in terms of general politeness, I’d say that continually pestering for a RT goes against this (even if it’s really not my place to say).

But it is, as mentioned, a balancing act, especially when it comes to flagging your content to the right people. I will @ or Direct Message selected people if, and only if, I think they may find it interesting. And I'll certainly never ask for a RT - if they think the link is good enough, chances are they'll RT without being asked.

That said, if you're just after hits and traffic, then the scattergun approach will probably increase your page views, but in the longer term, how many of those who've retweeted will continue to do so?

I'd argue that rather than adopt a scattergun approach with key influencers and celebrities asking for RTs, it's worth taking time to build relationships with them, replying and interacting to their other Tweets.

That way, any occasional request comes across less mercenary ("oh, you're famous or influential, you'll send me traffic) and more friendly and meaningful ("I know we've chatted a fair bit on here in the past, so I thought you might be interested in this link."). It may not work every time, but building up a relationship is a lot better than an unsolicited request.

Ultimately, somebody's Twitter feed is, as much as anything, a reflection of themselves and their own personal brand. And just as a news website wouldn't post an unverified story that's been sent in by a reader, so it's up to an individual Tweeter to curate content for their own individual feeds, and some of the RT requests just won't fit.

As Richard Herring said, retweeting every charity-related request will diminish the impact of the causes he puts a lot of effort into - and that's just one example of a tweet request not fitting a specific brand.

That's not to say there aren't times and places for asking for a retweet but they are, I think, few and far between.

Now, if you could all retweet this post, I'd be very grateful.

 

Last week the comedian Richard Herring Tweeted a firm but polite message to his followers about requests for retweets and why he doesn’t retweet many links people ask him to.

 

“I am afraid I get asked to RT so much stuff for charity or whatever that I have to refuse all requests or my timeline'd be nothing but,” he said, before adding, “Also if all charity stuff gets RT then it would have no impact. Like to save it up for causes I am involved with.”

 

A fair enough explanation, it seems, although judging by the exchanges that followed, not all of his followers agreed.

 

Requests for retweets is something I’ve noticed a rise in lately, whether it’s retweets from people I follow with a message such as “Hi @celebrityorkeyinfluencer, I’m running this race in memory of my mum, please RT,” or “Hi @writerorjournalist, I’ve written a piece o the history of Eintracht Frankfurt. Any chance of a RT?”

 

Even I get a fair few requests for both charity and article retweets and I really wouldn’t consider myself particularly influential (indeed, if you go by my Klout score I sit somewhere between the invisible man and a chocolate kettle in terms of usefulness). Given the amount I get, I can only imagine the volume of requests fired at celebrities or well-known tweeters and, in the politest possible way, it’s probably a bit of a drag to go through them all.

 

I’ll make an effort, generally, to read most pieces or requests fired at me, but I won’t always retweet, often because I don’t feel it’s appropriate or I don’t find it interesting enough. It’s my feed and, sympathetic as I am to a lot of the requests, I also like to maintain some form of quality or brand control (although those of you who follow me may disagree given some of the rather random stuff I tweet).

 

But what of those requesting the RT? It’s clearly important to them, but is replying to a large number of celebrities or influencers the best way to go about it?

 

In the real world, if somebody kept running up to you and constantly asking you to tell others about their views on a topic or ask for money for charity, you’d probably get fed up quite quickly or tell them to sod off. Kate Bevan, who has written an excellent summing up of why she doesn’t retweet, says some of these requests can amount to little more than chugging.

 

For those who follow the habitual retweet requester as well, it can get a bit irritating, especially if you follow the same people. It’s a horribly delicate balance – on one hand, you want as many people as possible to see your link.

 

On the other, it’s a bit irritating for your followers and for the person you’re asking for a RT from, even a bit rude, especially if it’s something they don’t want to tweet but feel uncomfortable not doing so.

 

One of Twitter’s strong points is the lack of rules. Everybody uses the service in a slightly different way and gets something different back out of it. But, gradually, accepted etiquette has developed. And in terms of general politeness, I’d say that continually pestering for a RT goes against this (even if it’s really not my place to say).

How to do social media marketing so very very badly

I absolutely love Stewart Lee. His Comedy Vehicle on BBC Two is one of the funniest things on TV. He's also excellent at neatly skewing any particular area he turns his attention to. And his piece one online marketing bod trying to make the Stewart Lee brand more in-tune with social media is hilarious. Having sat through several meetings and pitches that have gone along similar lines, I'm tempted just to whip out this video rather than spend half an hour explaining why certain social strategies won't work.

Genius.

Breaking the Bin Laden news, social media style

Nearly ten years ago, the way I first knew about the 9/11 attacks was when I received a text from a friend telling me to turn on the TV. Today, I logged onto Facebook when I woke up, after a push notification to my phone, and saw my news feed filled up with statuses bout the death of Osama bin Laden. Same device, a very different way of receiving the news. Not that seeing breaking news spread virally on social networks is in any way new these days, but the news of bin Laden's death shows, beyond doubt, of how integrated Twitter and other networks have become for breaking news and are the best places to head to for updates, if you can work out how to cut through the chatter.

What was interesting about this story, from a news and social media perspective, was the timing and nature of the news. Many big breaking news stories tend to be naturally chaotic as journalists scramble for facts and people Tweet without any knowledge of what's going on - the on-the-scene Tweets tend to be fairly jumbled and it takes a bit of time to sift and verify, even if it gives you a general picture of what's going on.

In this case, the news broke late into the evening in America and during the night in Britain, while the actual event happened in Pakistan. Without being awake during this time, I'd hazard this probably made it slightly easier to track, given there would be less people online (slightly).

Secondly, this was an unusual breaking news story insofar as although there were updates on social media from the scene and then from elsewhere as the news leaked out, it was still more of a controlled story than many big breaking news stories.

In this case, journalists were on a surer footing from the off (and probably had several articles prepared), which probably explains why the majority of articles and Tweets I've seen shared this morning have been from news organisations such as the Guardian and New York Times, rather than blogs or Twitter users - although Mashable, as ever, features very highly in articles I've seen shared.

But despite this, Twitter and other social media has shown itself to be the place to track the news. Sohaib Athar, aka @ReallyVirtual on Twitter, inadvertently liveblogged the US operation against bin Laden, while @Pauliemyers' Twitpic shows the earliest mentions of the operation via Google Realtime (an increasingly useful search engine).

Elsewhere, the New York Times has detailed how the news and confirmation of bin Laden's death starting leaking on Twitter, primarily from Donald Rumsfeld's chief of staff, Keith Urbahn. Interestingly, and showing the importance of a trusted source, although Urbahn wasn't the first to Tweet the news, his credibility as a source meant that he was credited with breaking the news pr, at the very least, the primary Twitter source being cited.

As the news spread, other aspects of social media came forward. On Facebook, as well as news feeds filling up with the news, the Osama bin Laden is dead group, originally set up as more of a conspiracy theory group, became a focal point for collating updates. Google Maps updated to pinpoint the area where bin Laden was killed, while users of Storify, rapidly becoming an incredibly useful curation tool, started pulling together the strands of the story.

And, as a breaking news story, this has moved quicker than usual from social media to traditional media. The story is no longer breaking, and the analysis from experts begins, as tends to be the case. But, as ever, social media is definitely not something you can view as separate from the story. As the journalists Tweet and collate the information, it's become a complete part of the fabric of newsgathering and news viewing.

[h/t to @SueLlewellyn, who has Tweeted many of these links I've listed above.]

It's the little things

I now own the latest Cornershop album, Cornershop and the Double O Groove Of. I wasn't necessarily planning on buying it until an unexpected intervention. I'd listened to the album a couple of times on Spotify and thought it really rather lovely. I Tweeted my thoughts on the album and made a mental note to possibly purchase a copy if I saw it for a decent price.

A few hours later, I had a retweet from Tjinder Singh from Cornershop, along with a quick thank you.

We don't follow each other, so he must have been keeping an eye out for mentions of the band. I've never been personally thanked by a relatively well-known musician for complementing their music before, and that kind of tipped me towards buying the album.

As with most things Internet-related, it got me thinking about social media and communities.

One assumption I often come across with managing your online social media areas is that you have to use it to fight PR battles and crises, or to use them to launch whizz-bang promotions that entice new followers.

This isn't to say this is a wrong attitude - these are both very valid and necessary uses for a brand's social media.

But a good community manager also knows the value in the little things that show the large swathes of often silent fans they're appreciated.

All community managers will have a set of vocal fans they'll often interact with. These are often the brand cheerleaders and can be nurtured.

But it never hurts to say thanks to those who'll pop onto Facebook and Twitter once to politely say how much they liked something. These are also relationships worth nurturing.

After all, the person who you say thank you to a couple of times or answer a reasonably easy query could be tomorrow's brand evangelist.

And, yes, the new Cornershop album really is rather good.

Twitter is five and changed my life in the process

That today is Twitter's fifth birthday is an indication of exactly how fast time can seem to move in the world of social networking. About three and a half years ago, promoted by Ben Ayers, I signed up to Twitter. I don't think either of us quite knew how influential Twitter would become (even if we never stopped banging on about its importance at work). I don't think it's an exaggeration (albeit one with no intentional hyperbole behind it) to say that Twitter has changed my life.

Twitter had been across my radar for six months before that. I'd even started looking into how it could be used with the website and reporting of the local commercial station I was working for at the time, before I moved to the bright lights of London.

At first, I think I confined myself to people I knew. Then started branching out to people they knew, or followed people who followed me and it kind of took off from there, as I gradually moved from having virtual conversations with people to meeting them in real life.

I still remember the first proper Twitterer I met in real life who I'd previously only spoken to on Twitter beforehand. Darika Ahrens came into my then workplace to pitch for some business - and DMed me the day before to say hello. It seemed like a novelty at the time, exciting even.

Now, I'd think nothing of saying hi to a random Twitter person I'd been following for a while. And Darika's become a brilliant friend, not to mention being the first person I'd go to if I wanted to sound out an idea about social media.

I remember the first Twestival I went to. Colleagues at work thought it was slightly strange that I was going to party with a bunch of people, many of whom had never met each other before. Now, a Twitter meetup seems normal. Of course, I've dragged friends along to assorted Twitter events. We all use the service in a different way, which is one of the joys of Twitter.

I've made other friends through social media too. Without Twitter, it's doubtful there would have ever been a twofootedtackle podcast, or at least not one with so many different guests (some of whom have become great friends as well). I've met some amazing people, and been afforded some amazing opportunities as a result.

Five years ago, the job I currently do wouldn't have existed. Nor the job before that. I work with Twitter on a daily basis (it's not the only thing I do, I hasten to add).  It continues to fascinate, entertain and challenge me. Without Twitter, I certainly wouldn't have my current job.

Then there's the way Twitter has evolved and continues to evolve. Sure, you'll get people (myself included a vast amount of the time) wittering away about everyday mundanities - although I've rarely had such a large amount of replies as when I asked about the best way to remove mould from my bathroom.

But more than that, you'll get people who use it to share information and use it for their profession, be it journalism, PR or celebrity (or other).

The rise of celebrities on Twitter added another dimension to the site. It felt a bit weird when the big names, complete with all their new followers, invaded Twitter (I still maintain Phillip Schofield had a bigger effect than any other celebrity in the UK when he first joined).

Then there's the newsgathering aspects, and even using it to challenge governments or coordinate aid efforts, as we've seen in Egypt and Japan recently.

When, in 2008, I blogged about tracking a breaking news story (in this case, the attempted suicide bombing in Exeter) using Twitter and other social media, it was a slightly unusual way of treating the newsgathering process. Today, I suspect any journalist covering a breaking story would immediately head onto Twitter and start searching.

Twitter has given me a lot of laughs, contacts, career help, new friends, helped create a podcast, fuelled my love of football and, at times, been a source of comfort, especially when I ended up in hospital, alone and scared with no idea what was wrong with me.

Like it or not, and for better or for worse, Twitter has changed the way we see the world. And, I suspect, as new users join and start using the service in different ways, it will continue to evolve.

Now, who wants to know what I had for lunch?

 

 

Social media in disaster zones

For the last week, like many people I suspect, I've been semi-permanently watching the ongoing situation in Japan, from the early hours of the earthquake and tsunami, through to the current nuclear and humanitarian crisis. It's hard not to get through an edition of the news without a lump in the throat many evenings at the moment. From a grimly professional point of view, though, I found it fascinating that during the earthquake, the immediate response of some people was to grab a video camera and start filming, before posting the footage to YouTube or other social media sites.

There was a time that most sensible people would run away, while the journalists would be the only ones running towards the disaster with cameras rolling. Yet now recording seems second nature. Perhaps you could go as far as to say citizen journalism as a phrase should be discarded if that's one of the first instincts. All of us on social media are becoming citizen journalists.

What hasn't changed, fundamentally, though, is the way the narrative is told. Social media makes it clearer in the initial phase, through the use of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, but once the often shocking initial footage clears and the basic facts are in place, then the storytellers, the journalists, thread the whole thing together (for better or for worse). As Richard Sambrook Tweeted, the need for foreign correspondents is still there.

This isn't to say the sources aren't different or more immediate, especially in the case of Twitter. And social media is also becoming, naturally, the quickest way to reach friends, families and loved ones.

Do users of social media, as Mashable asks, have a responsibility with what they post during times of disaster and crisis? Perhaps this isn't the first thing on their mind in a situation like Japan or Libya. Although it's also very easy for rumours and misinformation to spread like wildfire via Twitter. Again, this is where fact checkers are never a bad thing to have.

One final tangental thought. A friend remarked that there appear to be more disasters and the like occurring around the world today. I wonder if it's more than these worldwide disasters were always there, always happened, but we didn't hear about them, or at least didn't hear about them so quickly.

Twenty-four hour global news had already made the world small. Social media has made it even smaller, so we're now more aware of bad things happening quicker, to put it crudely. And, oddly, you can almost see the same news values an editor might pick, being played out on a more global scale. Bad things attract more attention, generally because they're so unusual.

Doesn't mean they're not heartbreaking though. Thousands of lives lost are still thousands of lives lost, whether we hear about them within five hours, fives days, or five weeks of the event.