Paxman does it again

11 March 2009

Newsnight: Paxman’s Dig at Banking Sector


Twitter: The New Mobile Marketing

10 February 2009

As micro-blogging platform Twitter enters the mainstream and its founders contemplate charging for commercial accounts, marketers should begin to explore its application as a direct response channel.

This blog has been critical in the past of companies and celebrities tripping over themselves – and their virtual tongues – to climb aboard the Twitter bandwagon. Appropriate use of the platform is going to be relevant for some time yet. However, as it moves from the early adopter to early majority group of the technology adoption lifecycle, the Twitter community will become more open and receptive to marketing activities that deliver value to them.

The biggest opportunity might lie with direct response. Much has been made in the past of the benefits of using SMS as a channel for soliciting responses from customers. However, unless SMS is also used to elicit the response, it requires the customer to consciously change their device in order to respond. Call me old-fashioned, but I also believe that consumers are more cautious about sending texts that reveal their phone numbers to anonymous recipients, in part because of a plethora of scare stories and the use of the channel by unscrupulous companies.

Instead, marketers can now experiment with Twitter for direct response. Rather than use a mobile shortcode and keyword, they can invite customers to “D @company keyword” via Twitter, without any of the inbound or outbound SMS costs associated with mobile marketing. Yet like text messaging, the company can begin to build a relationship with the customer via Twitter – and even follow their updates to understand what motivates and interests them.

Now that Twitter is mainstream, how long before we see the first mainstream use of Twitter as a direct response channel?

Twitter losing its cool

03 February 2009

Eli Manning

I’m worried about Twitter. Worried because it’s going mainstream. The celebs have arrived and with them the media in their droves. You can’t turn on the TV or radio or read a newspaper without some presenter or journalist talking or writing about it. And that can only mean one thing…

It’s no longer cool.

The big problem is that it’s now just another channel for “audience interaction”, just like the telephones, texting and blogging before it. A way to “connect” with the ordinary man and woman on the street. Only that’s exactly what these Twitter-loving celebs are not doing.

Take a look at The Times’ list of the top 50 most popular Twitter celebrities. Popularity! Is the biggest number really best?

I don’t think so. In fact, there are only 15 of that 50 who are following more than 10% of the number of people following them. The first, Eli Manning, is unbelievably following more people than are following him. Now that’s humility. I’m calling this the Twitter Reciprocity Index. I think it’s a fair measure of the two-way nature of member interaction. 10% seems like a reasonable average for the normal person. Interesting to see politicians in this list – maybe they can teach the slebs a lesson or two about engaging with the audience. Their rank in The Times’ list is at the end.

  1. Eli Manning (@elimanning) – 43rd
  2. Paulo Coelho (@paulocoelho) – 24th
  3. Karl Rove (@KarlRove) – 23rd
  4. Arnold Schwarzenegger (@schwarzenegger) – 18th
  5. MC Hammer (@MCHammer) – 9th
  6. Yoko Ono (@yokoono) – 42nd
  7. Rick Sanchez (@ricksanchezcnn) – 4th
  8. Will Carling (@willcarling) – 34th
  9. Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) – 1st
  10. Regina Spektor (@reginaspektor) – 44th
  11. Toby Young (@toadmeister) – 50th
  12. Roots Manuva (@rootsmanuva) – 49th
  13. Elijah Wood (@elijahwood) – 38th
  14. Xzibit (@mrxtothaz) – 47th
  15. Jimmy Carr (@jimmycarr) – 19th

The booby prize goes to Alan Carr (@AlanCarr) and London Mayor Boris Johnson (@MayorofLondon) who, despite all their followers (13,552 and 2,796 respectively), haven’t yet lowered themselves enough to follow anyone.

What do you think – does the presence of celebrity and the media furore make you like Twitter more or less?

Obama’s Inauguration Address: How Did You Read It?

21 January 2009

Following on from the time lapse analysis we conducted on the US Airways crash landing yesterday, today we turned our attention to President Obama’s inauguration speech.

There has already been some interesting analysis (like this Wordle image), so we dusted down an internal application built to score the readability of news articles and put Obama and some of his recent – and not so recent – predecessors through the mangle.

Here’s Obama’s result:

Let me explain the numbers (note that there may be a slight margin of error so please don’t write in if you get different values).

The Flesch Index is a measure of reading ease. Obama has hit “Plain English” spot on, with his text easily understood by 13-15 year old students at the minimum.

The Fog Index (or rather Gunning fog index) is an indication of the number of years formal education a person requires in order to easily understand a text on the first reading. Assuming you start school aged 4/5, again he hits the 14/15 year old minimum.

So how does he compare with previous Presidents’ inauguration addresses?

Slightly better than the guy he replaces, that’s for sure. George W Bush’s second address scores 58 on the Flesch Index and 11.5 on the Fog Index (his first was actually better: 62 Flesh and 10.1 Fog).

Daddy knows best, though, because George HW Bush’s speech came in with a Flesch score of 75 and a Fog score of 8.2.

Head back in time and you have to say that, considering language was generally more complex, Abe Lincoln did pretty well. His second inaugural address of 1865 gives him a highly respectable 57 on the Flesch scale and 12.8 for its Fog counterpart – only just shy of George W’s oratory.

The nation’s first chief executive, George Washington, set the ball rolling in 1789. I doubt he thought some blogger would turn his historic moment into two numbers 220 years later, but for what it’s worth those numbers are 16 and 23.4!

So there you go Mr President. One Bush behind you, but one still ahead.

Congrats to Ryan Peal

21 January 2009

When people sign up to be part of the Collective Conversation community, we ask them to go through a slightly tongue in cheek self-assessment form. One of the questions is:

Why do you want to blog?

  • Get promoted
  • Get noticed
  • Get fired
  • Get headhunted
  • All of the above
  • None of the above
  • I don’t know

Well – whether it was his intention of not – Ryan Peal in Hill & Knowlton’s Sydney office has certainly achieved the first two. His blog, Creativity in Public Relations , is one of the most active in our community and has helped him get noticed (he’s in the Top 100 Australian Marketing Pioneer Blogs).

And now, he’s just been promoted to become Creative Director for the whole of Hill & Knowlton’s Asia operations. As one of the biggest growth regions in the world, this is a great endorsement of his experience and insight.

I hope his blogging here played some part in his promotion.

Five steps to a successful corporate Twitter presence

08 December 2008

As Twitter gathers pace, we are seeing more use of the micro-blogging community by companies and brands. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but like blogging that went before they will come unstuck if they don’t take the time to understand the platform before just wading in.

First let me state my opinion about companies and brands using Twitter – or any social media for that matter. The “screen name” you use says a lot. On Twitter I see an increasing number of accounts that are identifiable only as a company or brand name, rather than an individual. Personally, I’m not a fan of this. My logic goes something like this:

  • For me, social media is about human interaction.
  • People are human. Brands and companies are not.
  • The people who work for those brands and companies are.
  • I would prefer to interact with real people using their real names than anonymous company or brand names.
  • I would rather someone use their real name and include their brand/company in a profile than the other way round.

I accept that this is a personal point of view. Yours may differ. But companies need to tread carefully.

With this in mind, and appreciating that some companies will want to use brand, company and department names for their Twitter account – my definition of a corporate Twitter account, here is a suggested five steps etiquette guide for them:

  1. Listen. It’s easy to set up and subscribe to a search of your brand or company name.
  2. Add value. Provide useful content for those that choose to follow you.
  3. Only follow when followed or mentioned. Having an anonymous entity follow you is a bit like receiving spam – you don’t know who it is or why you’re getting it. If your following:followers ratio is more than 2:1 then you are probably being a bit desperate.
  4. Reply. Respond to every tweet directed at you.
  5. Use replies rather than direct messages. Be transparent about what you’re saying to others on Twitter.

Cook’s Hierarchy of Social Media Backlash Motives

05 December 2008

been thinking a lot about social media backlash lately – when companies
find themselves on the receiving end of a social media kicking. I
recently asked some colleagues for examples and got a handful of great
references, including Jeremiah Owyang’s excellent chronology of the most high profile hidings.

Jeremiah has attempted to categorize these based on their impact, as follows:

  • Category
    1: Consumer revolt and use social media tools to tell their story, the
    brand doesn’t flinch, and there is no mainstream media coverage.
  • Category
    2: The backlash extends beyond just social media tools, the brand makes
    changes based on consumer feedback, and coverage extends to mainstream
    media and press.
  • Category
    3: Consumers use social media tools to spread backlash and there is
    considerable mentions from mainstream press. the backlash is more
    severe resulting in significant changes from the brand (hiring, firing,
    processes, policies or new teams put in place). This becomes a case
    study for social media books and is often discussed in social media
  • Category
    4: Number three plus short term financial impacts to the brand
    resulting in reduction of sales, revenue, increased costs, or impact to
    stock price less than 30 days.
  • Category
    5: Number three plus brand backlash from social media tools resulting
    in long term financial impacts to the brand including reduction in
    sales, revenue, increased costs, and most importantly, stock price
    lasting over 30 days. In the most extreme cases, it causes closure of
    the business or bankruptcy.

I feel that there’s a missing factor here that needs to be considered, which is the motivation for the backlash. With that in mind, here is my suggested hierarchy of social media backlash motives and the things that companies ought to do to counter them:

is rarely intentional. The Internet makes it easy for people to
repurpose incorrect or out-of-date information that they believe to be
authoritative and accurate. The biggest culprit here is information
posted on Wikipedia.When you come across examples of misuse, you should
offer help by providing the right information or – if you cannot be
impartial – point people to an independent source.

that is left unchallenged often leads to misinformation as more and
more people repurpose the same opinion. Inaccuracy spreads online
faster than accuracy. It can be self-correcting, but that’s by no means
a given.In most cases* misinformation needs correcting, but companies
need to be very careful to use proportionate force.

* There
will be times when the motive behind misinformation is actually
malicious. In these cases, it will never get corrected and could even
fuel a bigger fire. Proceed with caution.

easy to mistake the motive behind mischief for malice, when all people
want to do is ruffle your feathers, teach you a lesson or vent their
frustration over something your company has – or hasn’t – done. In most
cases they want to know that someone from your company is listening and
might even apologize or even solve their problem. In my view this is
the most common motive behind social media backlash.Unless there is
clearly a malicious motive, there is no reason not to respond. Even if
you can’t fix the problem, at least show that you’re listening.*

Hint: in order to show that you’re listening, you have to actually
listen. You can search blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and many other
social media platforms for your company or brands and subscribe to the
results by email or RSS.

backlashes are intended from the outset to do damage. They are few and
far between, but general originate from people who have a real axe to
grind. They could be disgruntled employees or suppliers intent on
hitting you where it really hurts, denting your reputation and worse
still your revenues or profits.Where legal recourse is warranted,
you’ll have no option but to use it, but I suggest it should be the
last resort after all other avenues have been expended. Instead, try to
use the networks of supporters that you have built by participating in
social media (which you have done, right?) to fight your corner for you.

I’m sure there’ll
be disagreement about some – if not all – of this, but I’d love to hear
your thoughts. Does this work for all the examples you can think of,
and could it be used alongside Jeremiah’s impact categories to help
build a profile of the kinds of social media backlash that companies
are experiencing now and in the future?

To block or not to block…

03 December 2008

Since writing my book, the most common question I have been asked during presentations of my research is “should companies block access to Facebook?”. The answer, in my opinion, is not a straightforward yes or no, but usually “it depends”.

However new research from the Chartered Institute of Management suggests otherwise, going as far as to say that “the failure to allow widespread use of technology will hinder UK business in the long-run.”

There is, the organisation argues, a disconnect between employers who view Internet activity as a “massive time-waster” and the enthusiasm for Internet-based applications amongst Generation Y managers aged 35 and under.

The survey of 862 Institute members (which is apparently “almost 1,000″ according to the press release) found that 65 per cent of their employers block “inappropriate” websites and 18 per cent impose curfews that dictate when the Internet can be used at work. The study also claims that 65 per cent monitor employee Internet access, although I suspect that is considerably understated.

Whilst some of the other findings are somewhat dubious (relying yet again on respondents’ recollection of what they have done online in the last three months) and trying – and failing – to jump the Enterprise 2.0 bandwagon (“web-casting” is apparently a “new Internet (Web 2.0) technology”), this is further fuel to the argument that senior executives need to start boning up on what their future managers are going to expect – and demand – from them.

Corporate Twitter Accounts and Online Reputation

12 November 2008

As with blogs that went before, the question of whether companies should use “corporate” Twitter accounts still polarises opinion. There are those who believe that “social” media should be exactly that, and others who think it is fine for companies to use any channel as a marketing channel.

This polarisation generally results in criticism rather than praise, as the former is much easier to do. The only corporate uses of Twitter that have been widely praised so far are when consumer-facing companies use it for proactive customer service (i.e. monitoring for mention of product issues and making contact in order to help solve the problem), and even those have also been criticised.

Within this context, the concern of anyone charged with promoting and protecting a company’s online reputation globally should be to minimise any critcism which could damage the brand as a result of using social media in this way. The first question to ask therefore is not whether to do it, but how. If you’re considering creating a corporate Twitter account to promote your company, ask yourself these questions first:

  • Should there be a dedicated Twitterer, a group of people, a rota?
  • Who decides what is appropriate/relevant?
  • How can you ensure regional/functional parity, given that Twitter is global?
  • If you already have a cohort of active Twitterers, why not just aggregate their tweets?
  • Should the corporate account follow other Twitterers or not?
  • What happens when a corporate Twitterer leaves the company – how do you protect the account?
  • How do you respond to tweets that ask questions you don’t want to – or can’t – answer?
  • Are other social media more appropriate for what you want to do?
  • Can you make an anonymous corporate account authentic, personal, spontaneous and natural?
  • Will anyone want to follow your corporate Twitter profile (search for your company/brand name at to see the kinds of people who might want to tweet you)?

If you don’t have good answers to all these questions within 24 hours, I’d recommend you steer clear of using a corporate Twitter account for the time being.

Obama’s Technology Commitments

05 November 2008

As I write, it appears that Barack Obama will become the first black American President in history – but aside from the colour of his skin, what impact is he likely to have on marketing technology?

Well according to Hill & Knowlton’s experts on the other side of the Atlantic who have been up all night preparing a full report to clients (link to follow), President-elect Obama has already identified three key areas of technology policy that he intends to focus on:

“Open” internet and media
Obama supports network neutrality and will encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media. He favours parental controls over what children see on the Internet and tough penalties for those who abuse it. He also aims to strengthen privacy protections, holding “government and business accountable for violations of personal privacy”. ISPs and online media take note.

Modern communications infrastructure
Obama wants to bring “true broadband” to every community in America, planning to better use the nation’s wireless spectrum and promote next-generation facilities, technologies and applications. This is sure to present opportunities for technology hardware, software and service companies.

Technology in government
Obama has stated a commitment to creating a transparent and connected democracy, using technology to “reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens”. To deliver this, he will appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer, who is sure to have a substantial budget and need help from technology providers and e-government consultants.

Will we see the promised change any time soon? I very much doubt that. The biggest change is likely to be fewer blog and Twitter posts talking about the election!

But if Obama is to be believed, technology is going to play a key role in his administration and marketers in all sectors – and technology companies in particular – need to pay close attention to his every move.

If you’d like to receive a copy of the full report produced by our team, please drop me a note with your name, job title, company and email and I’ll pass your details on to them.

UPDATE 6 November: Duncan Burns has written a more in-depth analysis on the new Tech & The District Collective Conversation blog.