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April 2011

Journalism in a Social Media World #journoconf

I was perhaps a bit surprised to see just half the people raise their hands when Martin Thomas, author of Loose and co-author of Crowd Surfing – and chair of the Journalism in a Social Media World Conference – asked a room filled with 150 (ish) journalists who’s on Twitter. I don’t have anything to compare this to but I was expecting more hands to hit the air.

The conference, held last week in the trendy Broadgate Tower in London (one chap said: “I work in Canary Whaf and this place makes it look like an old barn”) was organised by the Social Media Academy and proved enjoyable, informative and inspiring. A good range of competent and interesting speakers filling half-hour slots worked well for my limited attention span and Martin Thomas got full marks for chairing – asking informed questions on behalf of the audience and encouraging intelligent discussion. I also followed – and contributed – to the conference’s Twitter commentary too – check out #journoconf if you’re interested (here’s a preview…)

Okay, so here’s the science… a round of up of what I learned and in no particular order…

“Turn your readers into collaborators… involve them with your research and trends. How to survive in a social media world? Be loose… trust your employees.”                                                              Martin Thomas

Twitter is the fastest place to get breaking news – but is it all true?

“If you want to be a good journalist you need to start using Google properly,” says Matthew Elthringham, Assistant Editor, Interactivity and Social Media Development, BBC.  We all start nodding our heads – of course we use Google properly! Or so we thought.

“Who uses Google?” Hands launch into the air, as expected. “Who uses Google realtime or Google advanced search?” A few hands go up, watched by lots of blank faces. “Then you really need to be using Google properly,” he adds.

Google advanced search and realtime are invaluable research tools, incredible useful and worthwhile, as are blog search and Google reader. “Journalists who can’t use Google properly are missing a big trick,” he adds, as most of our cheeks (those of us at the conference, that is) turn red. How could so many of us have missed this?

Journalism doesn’t change! The platforms do, but don’t lose sight of the journalism. What’s important is making sure a story is accurate before you go telling the world about it. And how many hacks get so excited by a story they forget to check it’s true? Classic examples – the polar bear on Bude beach and the Daily Mail iPhone recall story. Says Matt: “If there’s no truth in what you’re saying, what are you giving your followers?” Er… nowt?

Twitter is the fastest place to get breaking news and is superb for gathering intelligence but don’t forget the basic journalism. Twitter is a source, just like another other, and info needs authenticating. Just because it’s on Twitter doesn’t mean it’s true.

“The principles of journalism remain the same, it’s just a different landscape now,” he adds.

Matt’s top tips:

  • Engagement, comment and opinion is key
  • Check out Netvibes – a sharing source, pulling info into one place that you can share with others. Handy for my media relations colleagues me thinks
  • Check your facts and check them twice – it’s great to break news but even better to get it right

Blurred lines between personal and professional lives

What about the personal versus private thing in social media? While, as a rule, Facebook tends to be kept out of work, Twitter is very much a part of it. “I don’t bring the BBC into disrepute in my tweets. Would I say it on air? If I would then I’ll tweet it,” says Matt from the BBC.

Some BBC bods have corporate Twitter accounts – you’ll spot them as they’ll have BBC before their names, eg BBCjoebloggs, but others combine the two – personal and work tweeting – but with a careful eye on what they’re prepared to say in a public forum.

Charlote Dingle, Editor of G3 magazine, is heavily involved in the lives of her readers and has them as Facebook friends and Twitter followers. “I haven’t had a problem with it so far. I work for a community magazine, I love my job so it’s a part of what I do and I think it’s essential.”

To engage best with the community in a work capacity, do/should the lines blur?

Granualarity – what a great word

Joel Gunter, of, introduces us to the word “granularity” – a trait of social media, the ability to pull in coverage/information/pictures etc from different sources and paint a full picture; it’s a great curating/aggregating tool. He says Twitter is a superb customer service tool – engaging with and helping the users in your community, it gives them added value and lets people know your organisation is working to help them.

Interesting case studies/people:

Joel says Quora – the next big social media thang maybe? – is a really useful question and answers tool. But that’s about as far as he got with his talk. The poor chap ran out of time and both he and we were gutted not to hear the rest of his talk – an excellent speaker and I’d like to hear more from him.

If content is king, context is key

I’ve heard Meg Pickard, Head of Digital Engagement, Guardian News and Media, speak before, at the Guardian Media Summit a few years back and she repeated a line from her talk back then – and it’s one I now use regularly: “Do what you do best and link to the rest.” There’s no point recreating the wheel, if it’s already out there, link to it and spend your time on another angle.

A great speaker, Meg is not a journalist but confesses to blogging “since the word began with a w” and she knows her stuff when it comes to communities. And it’s communities we’re all trying to reach after all, with our products, our services and our journalism.

Communities have been engaging with newspapers since they first started rolling off the presses, when readers penned letters to the editor. Today is no different, says Meg, except that the landscape is changing and opens up more ways for the community to interact and engage with media outlets; there are so many more platforms. It’s all too easy for us to sit back and think “hey, wake up community, why aren’t you engaging with us?” even when the content is top notch.

Meg says communities need a helping hand. We need to ask what are the communities doing, what do they want and how can we help them? Creating is hard for many people, even if they do want to engage, so user-generated-content  – a phrase Megs hates for the robotic image it conjures up – can be sparse. We need to help people engage, encourage them to get involved and make it easier for them to do so – see the audit your own MP campaign. Is this getting the people to do your work for you? Yes. But does it matter when the content’s interesting and generated by the masses? Not one bit.

“Social media isn’t always social,” says Meg. It’s about leveraging other people’s experience to create a better experience for yourself… and it’s about engagement and visitor loyalty, not about page views and unique visitors.”

Meg’s top tips:

  • Reward positive users, don’t give too much attention to the naughty ones
  • Moderation – a journalist commenting within the first 25 comments can change the tone of the debate significantly
  • Community needs to take collective responsibility. What’s the point in moaning that a post has taken ages to remove when they didn’t report it themselves
  • Content used to be king, but now it’s all about context

More than just words

I’m not a stats gal, I’m more about the words than the numbers, but I’m really interested in finding out who reads what and the impact we have when we put our news stories out there. What’s the use in shouting about it if no one is listening?

Alberto Nardelli, Co-Founder of Tweetminster says it’s all about share of attention; lots of people reporting the same story in different ways, but which angle works best? Twitter’s great for finding out. He’s given me lots of inspiration to create more social media projects for work which involve easily tracking and documenting feedback – pouring data into Google maps, for example, is simples.

Handy hints include putting a + after any bit-ly URL to see the data behind it – a timeline of click throughs, where they came from, how many shares, Facebook likes and retweets. Clever!

He sings the praises of using hashtags and encouraging people to tweet information which can be piled into a Google map, for example, just like the campaign to help map the #UKvote

Influence was mentioned too, but what is influence? Stephen Fry on Twitter has a bigger following that all our national newspapers put together. That’s a huge audience. But, as Paul Bradshaw points out in a tweet…

How to check influence? Well, it all depends how and who you want influencing but check out Listorious – it’s not so much about followers these days than lists. If you’re listed, that’s a good thing.

Words of advice on Twitter? Don’t just share yourt own content, says Alberto, but share others’ too. Share stuff you think your followers will be interested in, build an audience so you have a bigger network when you do want to share your own messages. Grow your network!

Blogging, citizen journalism, whatever you want to call it

Apart from thinking, gosh, she’s young and I wouldn’t mind her borrowing her uber trendy wardrobe, I was interested to hear the views of Jess Markwood, Editorial Director of Aigua Media, on the slowing down in the growth of blogs. Is the blog dead? Hell no! Jess attributes it to the number of hobby bloggers realising it’s a time consuming activity – blogs need to be updated regularly with interesting content to attract and retain readers. Hear hear.

And she mentioned a great blogging success story – that of following the shutting down of

But it’s not about a single destination anymore; to send your messages you need to be using multiple platforms and collaborate,” says Jess. Aigua Media owns and runs several fashion blogs and websites – here’s one of them – and makes its money through advertising as well as utilising Twitter and Facebook as communication tools.

I don’t agree with Jess’s comment that good blogs are updated five or six times a day, that’s just not possible if you’re not a full time blogger and – shocker – there sometimes just aren’t that many things of interest to blog about. But I do agree that content is king, blogging style needs to be punchier than formal news reporting and the best blogs work because the bloggers’ personalities are injected into them.

How inflentual are bloggers? Jess pulls out a picture of a 13-year-old fashion blogger sitting next to the New York editor of Vogue Magazine at a catwalk show. Pretty influential, huh?

But is there a code of ethics for bloggers as there is for journalists? Hmmm, not really. Should there be?

Okay folks, my brain hurts with all that info. Some of it brand new to me, other stuff I knew but needed a reminder of and some stuff I’m trying and testing at work and home. Hope this post proves useful. A post on how my own work ties into all this social media gubbins may well follow…

Five for Friday – cool stuff

I’ve been a proper slacker of late and not kept up with my Five for Fridays. So here’s one, on cool stuff I’ve found online. Maybe you’ve seen these, maybe you haven’t, but I find them more than mildly entertaining.

1) Pleasure hunt

A gaming meets virtual world meets web browser meets marketing campaign type thingy – beyond brilliant and highly entertaining. Go Magnum!

2) The Tipp-Ex Experience

Make the bear do fun stuff! A very clever marketing campaign.

3) 12 worst Photoshop mistakes ever

Oh, how I chortled.

4) 117 funniest creative job and recruitment ads

Clever combined with humour. I likey.

5) 21 accents

I have an amazingly short attention span for this video malarkey but this gal somehow managed to hold my attention with her different accents.


What makes good customer service?

Waitress taking an order in a restaurant

Is customer service dead?

Do we have a right to whinge and moan when the service we’re paying for is substandard? Is good customer service a thing of the past as more organisations move to cost-saving national call centres to deal with enquiries? And what makes us return time and again to our favourite brands? Lauren Hardy guest blogs…

A recent series of experiences at a local café has made me question exactly what constitutes good customer service in the eyes of the consumer. Is it simply service with a smile? Watching your Ps and Qs? Exceeding expectations?

We have a couple of in-house cafes at work, designed to provide food, refreshments and meeting places for staff. Poor customer service is blighting one of the cafes and gaining it a reputation which is making me, for one, avoid it like the plague.

As a paying customer, I don’t appreciate being ignored in favour of a gossip or having the price of my order barked at me with no sign of a please or thank you. I similarly don’t like having someone huffing when I ask to have a jacket potato that doesn’t resemble a dried up turd or when I request the juicy slice of bacon instead of the shrivelled piece of leather they’re about to put in my sandwich.

As a customer parting with money, should I not have the right to choose what I spend it on? And as part of the service industry, is it not the role of staff to offer a pleasant and friendly service to their paying customers?

This got me thinking about why these particular elements of the encounters I’ve had with the café staff make the experience bad, and thus thinking about instances of good customer service and what it was that made these good.

The examples are limited, to be honest, but the ones that exist go all the way to making me feel like a valued customer and a customer who will return to that retailer/restaurant/service again and again and recommend them to people I know.

My first candidate is Starbucks; some love it, many hate it. I am a big fan, it has to be said, purely because I like the coffee and the staff are always friendly, ready to serve and offer suggestions on new things to try. That alone is enough to make me happy. But recently when they got my order wrong they apologised, corrected it and gave me a voucher for a free coffee on my next visit. This may seem insignificant, and perhaps an apology and correction would have sufficed, but this made my shopping experience with Starbucks pleasant. And the way in which they went above and beyond what I expected made me feel like my customer experience really mattered. I’ll continue to shop there because I feel they deserve my money and loyalty.

Another brand I find always excels in customer service is the old faithful John Lewis. In-store staff are always attentive, ready to help and importantly are knowledgeable about what they’re selling. They approach you to offer their assistance, will order an item if it’s not in-stock and do this all with a smile; very important. And having recently experienced their wedding list service I can honestly say that through-and-through John Lewis is a brand that has a polished and efficient customer service regime. My personal contacts at the store dealt with all my queries and requests efficiently and, although a national company, I was always able to reach someone in the wedding list service at my local store; so these were people I had met, knew me and my fiancé, and who saw to our every need personally. Completely the reverse of other department stores which have cut costs by providing one central call centre with none of the warmth or familiarity of talking to a named person at a local branch.

This leads me on to call centres, which are a big bug bear of mine. If I can do anything face-to-face with a company, I will. I hate having to ring someone I’ve never spoken to before and explain time and time again what the query or issue is, never to speak to that same person again. So another of my pleasant experiences has been with Trailfinders – the tailor-made travel agency.

A national company with agencies across the UK, Trailfinders’ website encourages you to contact your LOCAL branch, where you will be able to deal with a named person from start to finish. A named person who, if you go to your local branch in person, you can meet face-to-face. Great. And they have a simple service which recognises your number when you call them so, as a customer, you’re greeted by someone who knows your name and background, can see who you’ve previously dealt with, and can put you through to that person or get them to call you back so you can continue to liaise with someone who is familiar with you and your needs as a customer.

These are only my personal opinions of what has felt like good customer service. What’s important to you as a customer?

Posted: April 2010

A Bude-iful staycation

I’ve been a shite blogger of late, sozzles for that. But I have discovered a new talent – scoffing Cornish cream teas and clotted cream rum and raisin ice cream. Yum yum!

I’m just back from a four-day staycation in Bude, Cornwall, where the sun shone, the sand got stuck between my toes, the wind whipped my face and my mouth fell open at the stunning scenery.

I always think a holiday isn’t a proper holiday unless you use a plane to get there and have to speak a foreign language. Not so. Four days in Cornwall was relaxing, interesting and fun and I hereby pledge to have more staycations in the future.

Best bits of the hols included a trip to Tintagel Castle, down the coast from Bude, and one of the most romantic places in the country, apparently. It also has links o King Arthur and we were able to venture into Merlin’s Cave, underneath the coastal cliffs and castle ruins above us. The sea was a fresh blue colour, to match the sky, and we could see for miles. A Cornish pasty, cream tea and rum and raisin ice cream also added to the experience. We stopped at Crackington Haven on the way home and watched the sun setting on a sandy beach. Nice.


View from Tintagel Castle

We also did a canal walk from Breakwater Road, Bude, which meets the sea, and was home to Wharfinger, the cottage we stayed in. We took another cream tea at the canal’s end and then came back via the coastal path just north of Widemouth Bay, taking in yet more stunning scenery and while I ate a fair lot of my own hair (mega windy!) it was worth it to see waves crash against rock and birds hovering above us as they eyed up their prey.

And of course we dipped our toes in the sea, played fetch on the sand and clambered in and out of rock pools. This was Ralphie’s (11-month-old Cocker Spaniel) first official holiday too and he lapped it up. Needless to say he slept the whole of the five-hour journey home, recovering from all those walkies – and a few icecream cones, chips and pasty pastry. Yes, I’m a bad dog owner, but he deserved spoiling on his holidays too.

Crackington Haven

Crackington Haven

I was chuffed at how dog friendly Cornwall is too; every pub is kitted out with doggy water bowls and four-legged friends are encouraged onto the beaches, on leads over the summer, and there are plenty of restaurants that don’t mind your doggies joining you for dinner. And this was important to me; I get a lot of pleasure out of Ralphie and enjoy it even more if he can holiday with us.

Ralphie's on a holiday high

Ralphie's on a holiday high

Definitely more staycations to come! (And thanks to mum for coughing up for a lovely holiday cottage in a perfect location and for booking four days of solid sunshine.)

Oh, and maybe you can help settle a family debate over the holiday. Cream teas – jam or cream first on your scones?

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