Social media connects bushfire displaced with temporary accommodation

16 February 2009

An Australian agency has donated a fantastic resource for the Victorian victims of the bushfires that have torn through the state in the past couple of weeks.

The website,, is designed to connect victims looking for accommodation with kind-hearted souls offering space to stay. Needless to say, the resource has set up a Twitter feed and an active Facebook group to help spread the word. Social media is most effective when connecting real people to other real people and this is a fantastic initiative.

You can follow on Twitter here. And on Facebook here.

An emotive study in the self-correcting nature of online conversations

16 February 2009

The world has been watching and sympathising with the victims of the bushfires that have ravaged Victoria over the past couple of weeks

Here in Australia, the coverage has been phenomenal. Traditional and online media as well as social networks have been abuzz with conversations expressing sympathy for the victims and analysing the events.

The entire country seemed to react with rage when it was revealed that some of the fires may have been started deliberately, and more recently, a suspected arsonist believed responsible for lighting a fire that destroyed the town of Churchill in South-Eastern Victoria was named by the media.

A number of Facebook groups naming the man were established, and they initially ran rife with posters condemning the actions of the accused and threatening vigilante action. Valid concerns have been raised about the ability for a jury to be found to hear the trial given the widespread discussion and intense media interest around the case. Furthermore, this analysis in the Sydney Morning Herald raises questions about the responsibility of Facebook and its publishers in the case.

More recently, messages have been posted to the groups suggesting that justice would be better served by shutting down the Facebook groups, in part because of their ability to influence. Given the emotion surrounding this case and the scrutiny it has generated, it’s both interesting and heartening to see the online community self-correcting in the face of such an emotive issue and for voices of reason to be able to cut through the online noise.

Taking a break from the social network carousel

17 December 2008

Fabulous nerdnews site, Slashdot, carried an article back in early 2008 that predicted social network aggregators would be a killer app in 2008. It was suggested that aggregators would come into their own as internet users get drowned in a flood of new social networking sites. Well, the latter part of the prediction is certainly coming true – there are hundreds – if not thousands – of social networks out there and new ones are launched with such regularity that it’s hard to keep up. Sure, there are a few massively popular ones here in Australia, including Twitter, MySpace and Facebook, and there are plenty of aggregators out there to help manage presence on many platforms (including FriendFeed, Gathera, Secondbrain, Spokeo and Youmeo).

Sites like Profilefly promise to help consolidate your online identity, but it’s still a real challenge. As we speed headlong towards Christmas, where many of us will be relying on social networks to keep track of friends and family as they jaunt off on holidays, I am considering pausing my accounts at a number of social media environments simply so I can spend more time holidaying, and less time updating.

If I can update my status and interact with the social media platform from my mobile device, I will keep my membership and involvement going. If not, I’m off. The only question now is how do I tell all my social network friends that I’m ditching them for a while?

Specialised search optimisation and the move back to PR

14 November 2008

OK, so this is anecdotal, but I’d like your help in either confirming or debunking my theory that SEO is moving squarely back into the digital PR fold. I’m not just saying this because I’m a digital PR guy, but based on an observation: I have been having a very busy time of late fielding a lot of questions about SEO and SEM.
In this ultra-competitive time, clients and marketers are looking to boost their search rankings as a way to get a leg-up on their competition, which is nothing new. The whole SEO arena has changed greatly over time: the advertising companies have had a go at getting it right, then search specialists started to pop up and offer advice built on their technical knowledge of how search engines work…
Search and web optimisation is something that I’ve felt for a long time
should draw on the expertise of the PR industry as it
requires detailed knowledge of customer motivations and what people
type into search engines. In order to get your SEO right, you first
have to get yourself into the head of your target audience and
anticipate what they’re going to type into their search queries. If you’re relying on a search-optimisation company, you’re missing the
other key part of the process, which is encouraging people to search
for your terms in the first place.
The real power of SEO comes not just from getting the content right online and building a website correctly, but also driving your consumers and potential customers to use your keywords when they search. The best way to do this is to ensure that all your communications – both online and offline – make extensive use of the terms that you want to “own”. This integrated approach ensures that any time and effort spent on SEO is rewarded through an increase in the number of people searching for the terms you’ve focused on.
Though the basic tenets of SEO are relatively straightforward (to the point that Google has released a guide that talks through the basic procedures and how-to’s), getting the keywords right and making an effort to “own” particular terms requires a bit of forward planning, research and integration with broader messaging. In that respect, natural results and paid search results are remarkably similar – you have to work it into your communications strategy, not your advertising strategy.

Outgoing communications filters

08 October 2008

We all know that the connectedness of the modern world means it’s all too easy to communicate with others when we really shouldn’t. A late night at the pub and you suddenly decide it’s a great idea to send an SMS to a friend telling them exactly what you think of them for not returning the book you loaned them two years back. Or what you thought of your manager in your last job… Or an ex…You get the picture, but clearly the potential to wake up the following morning with e-regret is all too real. 
Google has now come up with a solution for its GMail service called Mail Goggles.
When you write an email and click “send”, Google will present a dialogue box and give you 60 seconds to solve a series of mathematical problems. Solve the problems in the allotted time, and the email will be sent. Fail and the email won’t.
The feature can be set to operate between certain hours on particular days of the week and you can set the difficulty of the problems. In other words, those that are bad at maths still have a chance of sending messages, while the boffins have less chance of outwitting the system when not firing on all mental cylinders. (Click here for a screenshot).
We’ve long had filters and aggregators to manipulate and help prioritise the information that we receive from other sources, but now we’ve got filters on our outgoing communications as well.
While this is undeniably a gimmicky feature (of potential use to some more than others), it made me wonder what might be on the horizon in terms of tools that filter our interaction with others. After all, if we’ve got to build tools to stop us sending unwanted emails at all hours of the day and night, what’s next?
Personally, I’d like to see filters that convert any SMS shorthand in an email back to real text. Or a tool that allows me to type what I want into a Twitter tweet that automatically adjusts my comment to fit the 140 character limit without losing the meaning. Or something that prevents me from selecting “Reply to All” when I mean to hit “Forward”. 
But then again, perhaps there is no substitute for common sense.

Google begins commoditisation of web marketing?

28 August 2008

Google has launched an interesting tool called to help small to medium businesses develop an online marketing plan (thanks go to James Tuckerman for alerting me to this). The tool is built around a 10-step process to help users identify opportunities for their business and culminates in producing an automatically-generated marketing plan.

After spending a fair bit of time playing with the tool over the past couple of days, I’ve concluded that it’s designed to encourage businesses to sign up for Google AdWords. The tool focuses on stepping the user through how search marketing works and helps select keywords. The final output is a slick, 12-page PDF document that can be taken to managers to feed into a broader marketing plan. It’s elegant, and does a good job of demystifying the world of paid search and measurement (though one negative point is the potential for a user to think that AdWords is the be-all and end-all of “online marketing”).

This news comes as Red Herring today reports that Google has changes planned for AdWords that could boost the number of paid ads delivered per search.

Google’s advertising delivers the majority of its revenue (US$16.4 billion in 2007), so driving awareness and adoption is an obvious strategy for growing business and revenue.

From a digital PR perspective, the timing is perfect. If used properly, Google’s tool will help grow awareness of the opportunities surrounding digital marketing and break down some barriers to adoption. This should help open the door to conversations around what opportunities exist above and beyond Google AdWords, while reinforcing the measurability of online PR. Great work, Google!

Back in the hot seat

26 August 2008

I’ve just returned to the office following a ski trip to New Zealand’s South Island. I don’t write this to gloat, but rather to ask your opinion on an observation I made while overseas. (OK, I am gloating a little!)

The South Island of New Zealand is a pretty quiet place with a population of a little over a million. Agriculture, mining and tourism are among the larger industries across the island. The entire South Island is peppered with ski fields and the area sees visitors from all over the globe come down to spend a southern winter skiing or snowboarding. We’ve been making semi-regular ski pilgrimages to the South Island since 1986 and the place has changed markedly in the past 20-odd years.
One development that blew me away is how South Islanders have embraced broadband. When we were last there in 2006, it was relatively difficult to find internet cafes or wireless broadband in many of the smaller towns across the island. Most hotels offering ‘internet access’ meant guests could disconnect room phones from the wall to plug in dial-up modems.

Not so this time! Motels in the smallest towns across the island proudly boasted inexpensive wireless broadband, and we even found a camping ground in Fairlie (population: ~750) offering free wireless access to visitors. Even the local publicans in Methven (population: ~1300) were sporting T-shirts advertising the pub’s frequently-updated web site.

Walking through internet cafes in Wanaka and Geraldine, I was struck by the number of tourists logged into social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Flickr, uploading photos and video of their holidays to keep friends and family at home updated.

As social media has grown in popularity, the South Island’s tourism operators have stepped up and made broadband ubiquitous. The observation got me thinking: has social media helped accelerate broadband penetration across rural but touristy areas around the world? Or has the proliferation of broadband access encouraged people to spend more time on social networking sites while on holiday? What do you think: chicken or egg?

Future of Media

11 July 2008

Ross Dawson has just published the Future of Media Report for July 2008. The report is available as a PDF download and is an interesting read. In it, the Future Exploration Network predicts the global media industry will be worth US$5.7 trillion in 2024 and discusses how businesses will have to gear up to address this. There are a couple of great points in the document, but Apple is singled out as a business that has handled market and consumption shifts particularly well:

“Apple has proved very effective at repositioning itself across the flow economy. Most prominently, it has used its strong positioning in Interfaces (e.g. iPod, Mac) to shift to Content (iTunes). It has also built direct Relationships with its iTunes customers whereas before distributors held all customer relationships. Apple’s adoption AAC as the default music encoding Standard on iTunes provided some lock-in as it was a less common though still open standard. For iPhone it has selected and generated revenue from selected partners for Connectivity (AT&T in the US), and is now taking part of the Service revenue for iPhone apps provided by a broader developer community.”

It just so happens that I read this on the day the iPhone went on sale in Australia, prompting a sight we’re becoming familiar with: people lining up overnight in the winter cold to be among the first to purchase a new Apple gadget. The first official Australian customer allegedly queued up for eleven hours to buy his new phone, but claims he’s not a fanatic (I’d dispute that point, but perhaps that’s a topic for another blog). In an emerging world where content and relationships with consumers are becoming critical, Apple’s managing pretty well.

As an unrelated side note, another wonderful stat that was re-introduced to me by the report is the notion that, according to the Daily Telegraph, “in 2007 YouTube consumed as much bandwidth as the entire Internet in 2000″. Wow.

It’s official – ICANN approves recommendation to expand top level domains

30 June 2008

In my previous post, I mentioned that ICANN was looking to broaden the availability of top level domains… Well, it’s official. ICANN has approved a recommendation to expand the list of top level domains beyond the current number of 21 (.net, .com, .org, .info, etc). The internet’s peak body responsible for global co-ordination of domain names is also to expand domain name registration to include non-Roman alphabets.

The next step in the process involves the body drafting up a final version of an implementation plan, which is due early in 2009. From there, the body could be ready to accept applications for new top level domains as early as the second quarter of 2009.

Marketers, watch this space.

Web expanding…

25 June 2008

The web is set to get a lot bigger… if a vote at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)’s 32nd international public meeting goes as expected this week.

According to an article published on the Sydney Morning Herald site, it’s expected that the 1,500 delegates from around the globe will back a new address system, IPv6, to add billions of new internet addresses and open up the possibility of domain registration in non-Latin alphabets.

Businesses would be able to register their own top level domains… So, in a few years time, we could all be blogging from blogs.h&k.

This represents a massive change for the web and should have online communicators salivating at the possibilities in years to come.