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That Modern Media Parable [Aug. 21st, 2009|03:20 pm]
Mark Hanson

I blogged on Sunday about the row that blew up via Twitter about the announcement of Labour's new 'Twitter Tsar, Kerry McCarthy MP. The story was given to the national press embargoed for Monday with aim being to brief Labour bloggers on Sunday evening so that they didn't hear out it via the press.

Problem was that the political journalist who wrote it up for the Guardian filed into the newspaper box but her bosses snatched it and put it online.....leading over 50 congratulatory tweets for Kerry in the 20 minutes it took to get the Guardian to take it down.

There was a fair bit of Twitter debate about this on Sunday. Why should the Guardian 'break the embargo'? Their journalistic competitors were particularly annoyed. Social media mavens were decrying the use of embargoes full stop - the news should be set free not managed!

I have sympathy with both points but feel that while the newspapers and traditional media are so important, which they are, we need to have some agreement between PR folk and print journalists over publishing timings to make the process work. NOT to prevent citizens finding things out but to co-ordinate the timing.

However my eyebrow was raised when I saw this piece on the Twitter Tsar by Times pol-ed, Philip Webster. Nothing wrong with the piece but it was published a full TWO DAYS after everyone else?!
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Pickles is Prescott-Lite (not light) [Aug. 18th, 2009|06:53 pm]
Mark Hanson
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There's quite a bit of discussion pinging around this afternoon about Eric Pickles, Tory Party Chairman and his foray into YouTube. It seems he does a video each month aimed at talking direct to ordinary members.

I had a look at this month's and couldn't help feel he sounded familiar but just couldn't place where I'd seen a full-bodied, plain-speaking, Northern politician talking to the grassroots via YouTube before?!

I like Pickles on here though. For those of you that don't know, I'm a Labour Party member, so I'm not his target audience, but this is a really good effort.

You know there's a BUT coming........


.....but it's a tad rehearsed still (hangover from WebCameron) when this kind of video should engender immediacy and a feeling that it's natural, but all politicians are feeling their way. My main beef is that although I think its good for members to see a little more of what's going on at HQ, even if its literally just actually seeing inside HQ, what I saw was that the Tory staffers all re-enforced the stereotype - unlike Pickles they're all reeaaally posh!
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Media Future - Audience Calls Out Churnalism [Aug. 18th, 2009|05:48 pm]
Mark Hanson
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Sky News have made great strides in embracing social media and their 'Twitter correspondent', Ruth Barnett, obviously gets it and the way that Sky are using her to listen out for stories, angles and making contacts for the newsroom via Twitter is an innovative move. Many journalists are doing this in some capacity but this formalises the role.

But something really interesting happened today that was a strong test for this new approach. The Sky News website, whose business model is to churn wire copy and re-hashed press releases to draw in traffic via Google, posted a flimsy research story by a private health insurer with the story that a third of people felt that politicians couldn't be trusted to run the NHS properly. This comes fresh on the back of a momentous few days and the Twitter-based outpouring of support for the NHS.

This is bad timing but also focused attention on the amount of stories generated in my profession (PR) that are based on dodgy samples, by research companies you've never heard of and end up saying what the company who commissioned the survey has a vested interest in trying to sell.

This one was spotted and provoked a backlash from the people following them. This was a significant test. Mainstream media is making a big play of adapting to the new world by allowing comments, producing multi-media content etc. but they also have to listen to their audience and respond appropriately.

Ten out of ten to Sky who responded brilliantly by  pulling the story and explaining what they'd done. This is a great example of the new world in practice. The internet far from eroding journalistic values is actually ensuring journalism raises its game. Biased reporting, smear stories with dodgy sources and lazy 'churnalism' are easy to spot. People genuinely are watching and now they can talk-back.
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Announcement of Labour's Twitter Tsar - New Media Meets Old [Aug. 16th, 2009|08:51 pm]
Mark Hanson
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You weren't supposed to see that Kerry McCarthy has been appointed as Labour's new media campaign figurehead until tomorrow. A handful of the newspapers were given the story under embargo for tomorrow, Labour bloggers were to be briefed on it tonight as its very, very important that those people hear it first, rather than finding out about it in the press. Labourlist, one of the largest Labour blog sites would run a very detailed 2,000 word Q&A with McCarthy tonight.

However the Guardian inadvertently published their story, written by political journalist, Allegra Stratton, for tomorrow's paper, online. As soon as it appeared many of Kerry's huge band of Twitter followers saw the news and immediately starting congratulating her and Retweeting the Guardian link. There were 50 Tweets in about 10 minutes. Amazing!

Of course this hacks off the hacks who are dutifully observing the embargo, including the Inde's Michael Savage, so Allegra Stratton was tracked down to A&E where she was awaiting treatment on crippling back pain and was horrified to find her news desk has slipped the story onto the website. She immediately emailed her news ed, Stephen Kahn, who took the story down.

As Allegra herself said: ''this is a very modern parable - new media meets old media''.

Tweetminster creator, Alberto Nardelli made a good point via Twitter....

-@kerrymp should have just made the announcement, and all the media would have picked it up anyway :)

and the last word should go to Kerry....

Just got back from a pleasant two hours at @wshed to discover everyone on Twitter knows what it's the papers ahead of me!
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Observer Closure: An Inside Leak [Aug. 5th, 2009|10:07 am]
Mark Hanson
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I'm a PR person by trade, so it's been rather unusual wearing my media blogging hat and interviewing my journalistic contacts at the Observer to try and cut through the noise on the 'Observer to close' story, but here's what I've got.

- Huge anger at the Obs being seen to pay the price for bad strategic decisions taking by Rusbridger et al. Particularly the £60m sunk into bespoke printing presses that no one else is able to share. This kind of capital investment is always a drag on resources for news groups, which is why they often choose to partner with or lease the facilities to a competitor group. Not so with the Guardian's unique Berlinner kit. It seems even more foolhardy from an organisation that feels its future is digital.

There's also a feeling that the Observer could've gone tabloid to trump the Independent on Sunday' plans and effectively take them out of the game.

- Hopes are resting on the shoulders of the main Observer champions on the Scott Trust board; Will Hutton, columnist and former editor, and Larry Elliott. They are in a minority but are formidable. Significantly, the Guardian and Observer chapels merged the week before last and both voted to fight to protect the Observer.

- However, management has been clever in its restructuring. Roger Alton, weakened politically over the paper's support for Iraq, was forced to leave and replaced by John Mulholland, an altogether different level of player. He has a solid reputation as a newspaper technician but his nickname is Dougal after the wide-eyed and compliant Father Ted character. The main authority now rests with the 'Pod Heads' i.e. those people running the subject areas that cover all editions and multi-media. They are appointed by Rusbridger and they are empowered to make cuts, which often involves making cuts to Observer output and staff.

The recently axed Simon Caulkin column and the TV guide received a flood of email protest (over 100 in the case of Caulkin) from readers but Mulholland felt powerless to act.

The speculation about the Observer closing has been knocking around for a few weeks now but has only just hit the mainstream media. It could be this is a strategic leak so that when a less nuclear option is announced everyone feels relieved. It feels likely that the Observer will continue but be subject to death by a thousand cuts. 
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Buy The Politics You Deserve [Aug. 5th, 2009|09:09 am]
Mark Hanson
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Politics in the UK (and everywhere else) has been blighted by, amongst other things, the suspicion that politicians are in the grip of vested interests, many of whom are donors to political campaigns, and that trumps their duty to represent 'the people'.

The beauty of the internet is that it reasserts the power of 'the people' by enabling us to act as a group. This has profound implications for politics in this country and could reverse the reliance on a small elite band of lobby groups or rich and powerful individuals in favour of being relevant to something that feels more like democracy.

Trying to fund parties through small donations feels like such hard work compared to getting a cheque from a hedge fund manager over lunch in the Groucho but if you structure your message in the right way and provide the right 'ask' the signs are there that it can work here.

But now there is hope. Last week John Prescott put out a Facebook appeal to raise £2,000 to cover recent expenses incurred by his organisation, Go Fourth, to undertake successful campaigns like the 'Ban The Bankers Bonuses'. The message that each campaign they run is dependent on funding and that if you like their particular focus then you need to contribute was massively successful. They broke their target in a matter of hours from people giving in £10, £15 and £20 denominations.

Compass, the left-wing pressure group decided to campaign for a windfall tax on the energy companies and they published a shopping list of tactics e.g. some MORI research to create news coverage, along with the cost. By making it clear how every pound donated linked clearly to each action and its benefit people were motivated to donate thousands in a matter of days.

And guess what? Labour is seeing the benefits. They ran an appeal for funds to pay for campaign materials directly linked to the seats where the BNP posed a special threat in the recent Euro election. They raised over £12,000 in 12 hours. The most the party has ever raised in a day's fundraising.

From small acorns.....
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Twitter Interview: Richard Baker, Virgin Trains [Aug. 4th, 2009|01:54 pm]
Mark Hanson
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This afternoon I did a Live Q&A with Richard Baker, the head of Customer Services for Virgin Trains.

I was keen to do this as I use the trains sooo much and always have. I use Virgin almost weekly at the moment and must have traveled between London and the North West almost 300 times in the last 10 years.

Richard 'gets' social media i.e. that used properly it can:

- help you improve your product/service (not all the experts on a company's product actually work for the company!)

- it increases customer satisfaction as people feel listened to, which is one of a human being's most basic needs

- it increases that sought after but elusive peer recommendation

We decided to do a Q&A via Twitter as it's his social media tool of choice at the moment and because I'm experimenting a lot with Twitter and how it be used for so many different purposes.

We trailed this well in advance via our own Twitter alerts, offering people the chance to join in. It was Retweeted over 50 times!

Below is a rough transcript of my Q&A with Richard but there were some excellent Qs from other Tweeters who were watching the feed via the hashtag #virgintrains:

@helenlambert: Do you get much abuse (yet!) on Twitter from angry customers or do you tend to keep your head down?

@richard_baker: Ha! @Helen_Lambert No I don't keep my head down! It's my job to listen to customers. People value what I do generally :-) #virgintrains

@lucympowell: do you keep records of how many faulty loos on pendolinos - always seems to be a long walk on Manc/London train

@richard_baker: Thanks @LucyMPowell yes we do! We are ramping up our maintenance programme creating new jobs in Edgehill which will help

For the full exchange use Twitter search #virgintrains.

Here's my formal bit:


How did you take the decision to start tweeting?

I was promoted to a new role in Virgin Trains in a region I wasn't familiar with and wanted to build relationships with customers and stakeholders

What was your objective?

To understand what is important to my customers and stake holders and to support the delivery of customer service in my region

Did you have any idea what success would look like?

I hoped I would connect with people in the region and build effective relationships with them

Are you authorised to answer ANY question or do you have to get sign-off on certain topics?

I am trusted by the senior team to answer most questions. Any tricky questions or if I don’t know the answer I ask for help!

What kind of response do you get to tweets?

I have had an amazing response. Tweeters have been amazingly supportive, friendly and understanding.

Do you analyse the usefulness of various tweets?

I track the click through rate of any external links I tweet. The most popular are the ones where I refer to great value fares!!

How quickly did your follower rate take-off?

Quite slow at first but then I got some support from some tweeters with lots of followers which has helped boost numbers

What was the reaction internally to your tweeting?

People struggled to see the benefit initially. Luckily I had the support of our Comms Director, On Board Director and my team

How much more interested are people now?

Very. I have been able to demonstrate the power of this kind of communication.

How have you evolved as you've gone along?

I think I have relaxed a bit and have some fun with customers. After all we are Virgin!

Have your objectives changed?

Not really, just grown! I would like to build an internal network that supports Customer Relations

What are the hot buttons for getting buy-in internally?

Be lucky enough to have people in your org who are prepared to take risks, and to use twitter to demonstrate support for wider objectives

How long do you spend 'tweeting' and responding each week?

It varies! I tweet more in the evening. About 30 minutes a day at the moment but more when our TV ads are running.
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Darren Bent: Twitter Guru or Tw*t? [Aug. 1st, 2009|06:11 pm]
Mark Hanson
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Don't be alarmed by the language used in the headline. Politicians are saying it and I'm just following the example of their moral leadership.

Anyway, Darren Bent has used his Twitter account to register his frustration at his transfer to Sunderland making slow progress. Among his posts the striker wrote: 'Do I wanna go Hull City NO. Do I wanna go Stoke NO do I wanna go Sunderland YES so stop f***ing around levy.'

Levy i.e. Daniel Levy, the Spurs Chairman has slapped a two week fine on the petulant Bent and you might dismiss this another spoilt footballer spitting his dummy out of his pram. I actually think this is significant and could take the People's Game back in the direction of the people.

We all know football has been captured by the prawn sandwich brigade. It's not totally bad. The huge sums of money have overall given us a better quality game and viewing experience. But the players are definitely far more distant from the fans. Remember Carlos Tevez being unveiled by Man City, proudly signing autographs whilst surrounded by FBI look-a-like bodyguards? So many of the media interviews that are granted are done so under condition the player can plug his latest commercial endorsement and his agent can have copy-approval.

The players that the fans have the most affiliation with are the ones that feel real. United fans loved Keane more than Beckham, Liverpool fans worshiped Fowler but never took to Owen. It's asking too much for today's players to start getting the bus to the game with the fans - even the fans don't get the bus to the game anymore! It's also a fact of life that just going for a pint exposes stars to a whole lot of mither, potential honey-traps, abuse from rival/jealous fans.

But there are other genuine ways of showing fans you care or just giving your point of view or reflections on a game in an unfiltered way that sound real. I don't know whether Darren Bent responds to comments via Twitter but any player that grasps that one will 'connect' in so many ways. In doing so he'll boost his personal brand, enhance his place in the team and probably secure more commercial endorsements - all on the back of being the fans favourite.
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Developments in the Afghan Web War [Jul. 19th, 2009|07:03 pm]
Mark Hanson
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I posted last week on the Afghan presidential challenger who is using US/UK-style web tactics to target Afghan expats and local influencers within Afghanistan itself. However, news reaches us that the incumbent, President Hamid Karzai has used government levers to jam local access to four Web sites with President Hamid Karzai’s name in the address that are critical of the Afghan leader or have links to sites advertising locally taboo subjects such as online dating and mail order brides.

 

The Orwellian sounding Information Ministry ordered the country’s 25 Internet service providers to shut down access to four Web sites bearing Karzai’s name and one with the name of an Afghan Cabinet minister, the director of the Afghan Telecom Regulatory Authority

Coverage of the presidential race has been dominated by Karzai, while his 40 opponents complain they’ve received scant attention in state-run media, forcing them to campaign in person or on the Internet in a country where daily travel can be deadly and few have home computers.

The poll is due on August 20th.

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Is Twitter Behaving Like An Old Media Proprietor? [Jul. 16th, 2009|01:00 pm]
Mark Hanson
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If you're a social media anorak like me you'll be au fait with the notion of networks. The concept that audiences can't be broadcast at with one-way, top-down messages anymore.

In the old world the channel owners (Murdoch, BBC, Tony O'Reilly) were the kings. In the new world audiences coalesce in networks according to their interest. You'll be connected to many different networks and enjoy varying levels of interest in each.

The darlings of the new world were the super networks e.g. Facebook and Twitter. They would provide the platform for the masses to share, link and form relationships but facilitate would be the theme, NOT control. That was old world!

Well perhaps we've jumped the gun on that one, as this case shows, influence is there to wielded:)
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