Changing Twitter might not be such a bad thing

There’s been a lot written and tweeted about the new direction that Twitter is taking in terms of introducing a more algorithm based timeline rather than its current chronological feed.

Twitter purists aren’t happy about this change and there are those who think it takes the social network down a similar route to Facebook, which as we know picks and chooses which posts you see (or don’t see) and in which order.

Twitter was, or is, my favourite social network. I spent a lot of time chatting on Twitter to other mums around 2009-2012 during the time I had my two youngest daughters.

These days I use it more professionally. I think it’s a fabulous source of information, news, tips and advice from other professionals. For breaking news, or for seeing what others think of the TV programme you’re watching? It can’t be beaten. It’s also a great customer service tool allowing customers to interact with brands, get real time information, provide feedback and get answers to questions (when done properly).

But Twitter does have a problem. It isn’t making enough money and it isn’t attracting enough new users to the site. There tends to be a lot more pushing out of content and a lot less conversation than there used to be. And they’ve even lost Stephen Fry, thanks in part to the rising army of twitter trolls who aren’t using the network for good.

In my job I spend a lot of time advising others on how to most effectively use social media to communicate. When people approach me about using social media, they usually just mean Facebook. I always used to encourage people to think about Twitter too (as well as other social networks), because I loved it and found it so useful. But the other day when somebody asked me about using Twitter and whether it was worthwhile, I found myself hesitating.

For all that I love Twitter, there’s no denying that in my experience it’s nowhere near as effective as Facebook when it comes to the number of interactions you get with posts. The number of hits to our website that comes from Facebook far outweighs those coming from Twitter, and this always disappoints me. Especially when you have to spend a fair bit of time crafting several tweets on one topic to schedule at different times of the day over several days, compared to maybe just one or two on Facebook (if you get the post right).

In that respect, an algorithmic timeline on Twitter might be no bad thing. Craft a really good tweet with some great media and maybe it’ll have that bit more shelf-life, showing up in follower’s timelines for longer than before. If the algorithm got really smart it might even ensure those followers who were particularly relevant for that piece of information still got to see it, even if they didn’t visit Twitter for hours or days after it was posted.

I can also accept that Twitter can be difficult to get into, especially if you’re not sure of the ‘house rules’ and don’t know who to follow. Suggestions like making it easier to mention and reply and to take usernames, links and photos out of the 140 character limit that I read recently make a lot of sense and personally I’d like to see Twitter exploring this before opening up to longer posts. For me, the brevity and the challenge of crafting something meaningful within those 140 characters is part of the appeal of Twitter.

The problem Twitter has is that is knows a lot less about us than Facebook does. It hasn’t spent years gathering as much intelligence on our every move – what we like, where we go, our friends, family, favourite brands, personal interests and relationships – like Facebook has. With much less time than I used to have to spend scrolling through my timeline, as a user I’m open to the idea of something that curates those tweets which I’m most interested in so I don’t miss anything. I’m a fan of Nuzzel, which does exactly that. But I’m not sure Twitter knows me well enough to know which content I’ll value most.

One thing is certain, Twitter has to move with the times and it has to make improvements both to attract new users and to retain the interest of the ones it has. So unlike the purists who want to see Twitter stay the way it was I’m interested to see how it develops and what those changes will mean for me, as a user, and also as a communicator.

As communicators, we shouldn’t be too afraid of an algorithmic approach. What we’ve learnt from Facebook is that we just have to get better at what we do, challenging ourselves to produce higher quality content that people find useful and entertaining – and that’s no bad thing. Maybe a bit of ‘competition’ for timeline space will raise the quality of what we see on Twitter too.

Anyway, I’m up for the challenge and hoping that the changes will help reinvigorate Twitter so that I never have to hesitate when discussing its value again.

 

 

As newspapers prepare for a future online, PR must stay ahead

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This afternoon was the CIPR North West’s event Social Media and the Law, with speakers Tony McDonough, Business Reporter at the Liverpool Echo, and Steve Kuncewicz, a media law specialist.

I like to think I have quite a good grasp of legal issues surrounding social media, but Steve’s talk was really interesting and very informative – especially on issues like NLA copyright and recent legislation like the Right To Be Forgotten and changes to the Defamation law.

Steve also stressed the importance of being aware of a social network’s terms and conditions in relation to hosting competitions (I imagine many marketers fall foul of this) and of being careful with paid brand advocates, who can find themselves breech of Advertising Standards Authority regulations, which apply equally to social media and websites.

Meanwhile, Tony McDonough from the Echo gave us a good oversight about how the newspaper landscape is changing. He talked about research by Ross Dawson, who estimated that in the UK, the last print edition of a newspaper will go to the presses in 2017. While Tony didn’t necessarily agree with that timescale, he said he accepted that print newspapers will, at some time, “go off the edge of the cliff” and that their future lies online. He also cited some really interesting stats about how many hits the Liverpool Echo website gets daily – and how much this has grown in the past few years. In 2009, when the Echo’s digital news team launched the website was getting 56m hits a year. Now it achieves that in a little over a month, with around 1.5m hits every day. This has risen as high as 5.5m on key news days such as Ladies Day at Aintree and the recent visit of the Three Queens to the River Mersey.

In contrast to that, however, 70% of the Echo’s revenue is still from print adverts – so it seems that advertisers are slow to recognise the size and potential of the online audience, and the Echo’s challenge is to convince them of that before the print edition does “go off the cliff”.

Tony said the newsdesk ethos has changed from: “What can I put in the paper tomorrow?” to “What can I put online now?”, and that the paper is operating a ‘web first’ policy. But he added that he had never known a time when the newspaper had so few staff and yet so much content to create.

And that, I think, is where public relations can come into its own. Tony said that multimedia is very much part of the consideration when deciding whether a story is a runner or not. He said that, as a bare minimum, a story has to include one high-res landscape image – whether professionally shot or just snapped quickly on a phone. The Echo are also happy to receive video and audio for their online stories. At this point in time their requirements aren’t particularly sophisticated – just a quick grab of video could help you get your story on their website or social feeds – but I guess that in the very near future the requirements of journalists will begin to be more exacting and simple talking heads and video grabs will no longer suffice…. But that’s one for another day!

It was also really interesting to hear the impact that social has on the traffic to the Liverpool Echo’s website. 50% of traffic comes from Facebook but in contrast just 5% from Twitter. It would be really interesting to delve into those numbers and figure out the reasons for that – I wonder if that is a common theme of all news outlets?

But it was clear that press releases are still important to journalists and will remain so for some time. So whilst we, as public relations people, must get better at providing journalists with the multimedia content they need, that will still need to be accompanied with written text in one form or another that can be quickly and easily recycled into a news story by time-pressed journalists.

I’m certain that the need for multimedia content will only grow and grow – as will expectations about its quality. With so much opportunity to work with our journalist colleagues we can’t afford not to move forward to help them create the kind of content Tony said he wants – “interesting, compelling and relevant”. And we need to do it quickly.

Don’t blame the council – blame ITV

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Like many others I tuned in yesterday to watch ITV’s Don’t Blame the Council, billed as a ‘behind the scenes’ look at Wigan Council.

Back in October, when Wigan announced they were going to take part in a BBC documentary, Call The Council, I blogged about it and was hopeful that it would help shine a light on the real challenges faced by local authorities like Wigan. Maybe it would help ‘ordinary’ residents understand what the unprecedented cuts to budgets really mean for the services that many people take for granted.

At the time, Donna Hall, Chief Exec of Wigan Council, wrote a piece for the Guardian Public Leaders Network explaining why Wigan had decided to let the cameras in. She said:

“The last time there was industrial action, in Wigan we had to cancel our household waste collections. That went down like a contaminated bin at a recycling centre. Our social media accounts were inundated with questions from angry members of the public whose bins were not collected. Many asked: “When do I get a refund for the service you’ve not provided?”

This reaction told us one thing – an awful lot of council taxpayers appear to believe all we do is empty their bins.”

And she explained what she hoped the programme would achieve:

“I’d guess most of our residents wouldn’t be able to name more than 10 services we provide. In fact, Wigan council provides more than 700 services to 310,000 residents.

“Call the Council won’t be able to reflect all those services but it is going to show a rich mixture of our work. The film crews have only been with us for a few weeks but they have already followed our officers doing spot checks on taxi drivers, organising an Expo for small businesses, taking food samples from shops, dealing with illegal traveller sites and installing LED street lighting.”

I really admired Wigan Council for taking the brave step of letting the cameras in. Their aim was noble – highlighting the many and varied services that local government provides, and to demonstrate the tough decisions that councils all over the country are having to take.

Since then it seems that Wigan Council also permitted ITV to film with them for yesterday’s Don’t Blame The Council.

The BBC series is yet to be aired. But ITV’s effort was broadcast last night and left a bit of a sour taste.  Despite all the interesting and varied jobs that their Chief Exec described the BBC filming in the quote above, ITV’s hour long programme focused instead on… you guessed it… BINS.

Their portrayal of council staff was purposely negative – showing a sleeping bin lorry driver (legitimately on the break he is legally required to have maybe?); made the officer in charge of dog fouling and flytipping look over officious (despite the fact she was carrying out a very tough job that most members of the public, in my experience, support); poked fun at the stereotype of council workers always having meetings and generally being inept.

Not what I (or Wigan Council, I imagine) had hoped for.

And a missed opportunity I felt. Lazy, stereotyped fly on the wall nonsense that had no real intention of highlighting the very real issues and challenges facing local councils, but just wanted to follow a few ‘characters’ and have a bit of a laugh at their expense. 

The comments on Twitter were particularly depressing, with lots of ill-informed anti-council hate being posted. Early local media coverage hasn’t been much better. Not exactly what Donna Hall set out to achieve.

I feel for Wigan Council. They were brave enough to take this risk, and it hasn’t worked out as well as it could have. That is ITV’s fault for taking the easy, lazy approach.

A transmission date is yet to be confirmed for the BBC’s Call The Council series. Let’s hope for a more thorough, carefully considered programme from the Beeb. Perhaps they can put ITV to shame. But ITV’s treatment of this subject matter is bound to make other councils think twice about taking part in any future project as a result.

I would love to hear what other local government workers and communicators thought of the show – and I can’t wait to see how differently (hopefully) the BBC approach this issue. 

 

 

Yes, council communicators should think like ‘content marketers’

Chalkboard with "What's Your Story?" written on itWith a background in journalism and now public relations, the concept of content marketing is one that I am really interested in.

I don’t count myself as a ‘marketer’ but for me, content marketing is all about telling stories that are relevant to your brand/organisation, in a way which is useful and interesting to your target audience/stakeholders. That’s very much what I love to do.

Basically, you tell interesting stories, people read them.

Simple!

As council communicators we have a never ending supply of interesting and informative stories to tell which the people we wish to communicate with (our residents, mainly) are likely to find interesting and useful.

If you don’t believe me, or you’re short of inspiration then this list of inspiration for blog posts from Ragan.com can be very much applied to our work as council comms people and should generate more ideas than you could ever possibly hope for!

I like to think that we’ve reached a point where the vast majority of councils are embracing social media, but now it’s time to take that to the next level. It’s not enough just to tweet out links to media releases. We should be thinking like journalists within our organisation and telling our stories in the most compelling, interesting and relevant way we can.

Social media has allowed us to talk directly to the people we want to talk to. So let’s not bore them, nag them or fob them off with council speak or media releases that weren’t written for them. Let’s grab their attention, hold their interest and give them something which is genuinely entertaining and useful. Believe me, it’s the future.

Want to know what digital journalists really want from PRs?

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I think we all realise the world of newspaper journalism has changed almost beyond recognition in the last few years – and will continue to do so in those to come.

Newspaper journalists are increasingly concerned with creating digital content – recording video and audio interviews, breaking news on twitter rather than waiting for the next day’s print edition.

Our main local daily newspaper the Liverpool Echo, is no exception and recently advertised for a number of ‘bloggers’, rather than ‘journalists’.

As PR people we need to keep up too – yes we’re trying to create digital content for our own organisations but we mustn’t forget our mutually  important relationship with our old friends the newspaper journalists.

And if we aren’t paying attention to what they need to help them create compelling content, we won’t be doing our jobs properly.

So, if you are in the North West you may be interested to come along to a really interesting sounding CIPR North West event on Friday, June 26 (12.20-2.30pm) in Liverpool. The guest speaker will be Tony McDonough, the Liverpool Echo’s senior business editor, He will be talking about how he and his colleagues source and promote stories through social media – and give an insight into the type of content he wants for today’s print and online publications.

As well as Tony, the event will also hear from  media law specialist Steve Kuncewicz who will talk about some of the legal considerations for PR people on social media and how to avoid the most common pitfalls.

It promises to be a really interesting and useful event.

If you’d like to go along, tickets are available to buy online now.

Facebook’s newsfeed is becoming a bore

Much has been made by Facebook lately about making sure user’s newsfeeds are full of interesting, relevant content. It’s been the reasoning behind many of the algorithm changes that have penalised Pages’ content in favour of content from ‘real’ people that you are friends with on the network.

But lately my newsfeed has been jam packed with irrelevant stuff – not from brands – but from the friends of my friends, people I don’t know at all.

A quick glance through my Facebook newsfeed tonight reveals plenty of stories like “Random Person Changed their Profile Picture” (I’m seeing that because one of my connections likes it – I have no idea who these people are). Or “Somebody You Know Commented on the Status of Somebody You Don’t Know”.

To be honest, it’s a real turnoff and I’ve not really felt the need to check my Facebook newsfeed much lately while it’s full of this stuff. I have to wade through tonnes of it to get to anything really interesting. And the only reason why I stick with it is the ‘fear’ of missing something important from an actual friend.

I realise I am biased, because I manage Facebook Pages for organisations, but if anything one of the more useful and relevant things about my Facbeook newsfeed is when it brings up news and events from Pages that I’ve specifically chosen  to ‘like’.  For example, my family recently joined the National Trust and I would certainly be interested to see more of their posts with ideas about family outings, things to do in my area and so on. I haven’t seen a post from my local council for a while, or from the local residents group that posts usually quite interesting stuff about my neighbourhood. Whilst, admittedly, not everything they share is relevant to me, it is probably more interesting that hearing what somebody I vaguely know from outside the school gates thought of a complete stranger’s new haircut.

Basically, I have chosen to like the pages I’ve liked for a reason. I’m happy to see their content. It’s up to them to make that content relevant and interesting. If I decide it isn’t, I will ‘unlike’ them.

And of course, I’m interested in seeing what my (actual) friends are posting about themselves – I don’t want to miss big announcements like babies or weddings, that kind of thing. But sadly if one of my real friends spends a lot of time liking or commenting on other people’s statuses then all that is just becoming like a load of spam in my newsfeed.

It would be great if you could choose to see ‘more’ of the posts you like from pages you are interested in , and less of the inane updates about what Random Strangers are eating for dinner. But Facebook is such a control freak that it would much rather decide this stuff for you. However, it isn’t going to do anything for their stated objective of making the newsfeed more relevant and engaging for users. Certainly not this user, anyway.

Is anyone else having this issue, or is it just me?

Let’s use social media for good, not evil

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Social media gets such a bad press at times.

It’s no wonder when there are so many trolls relishing in the ability to make nasty, vindictive comments; a seemingly uncontrollable rumour-mill in which the unwitting victims are guilty until proven innocent and a tendency for people to unleash their angry side if something irritates or inconveniences them.

Managing social media accounts for an organisation you see on a day to day basis the willingness of people to take to Twitter or Facebook and have a right good whinge. And I am the first to admit that I have done the same on occasion (EE will certainly have felt my wrath a couple of times…)

Some of those moans are rightly justified (workmen carrying out noisy, non-urgent works outside your house at 5am), others a little more pedantic (person held up for one minute while bins are emptied) But either way, complaining via social media is quick, easy and popular.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m an advocate of using social media to contact organisations and let them know what’s going wrong. But also what’s going right too – and that’s where I think we could all help to spread a little more ‘love’ on social media.

For example, today we took our kids to get shoes in Clarks. We were served by a very pleasant and professional lady called Lindsey. She took the time to remember the kids’ names, and was very thorough in making sure we got what we came for and that the shoes were a really good fit for them. We left thinking less about how much we’d just spent on shoes (clue: a small fortune, Clarks ain’t cheap), but more about the good customer experience we’d had.

Customer service is a major ‘thing’ of mine, and its sadly a much rarer breed than it should be.

So I took to twitter to give a little praise where praise was due:

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It really didn’t take me any time at all, hopefully the message does get passed back and that Clarks employee – a great company ambassador – will get to feel that the effort she goes to to give great customer service is valued and has been appreciated. She’ll feel good and I feel good, because I had good service and because I’ve given a little something back.

As somebody who manages accounts for an organisation, it is always lovely to get some positive feedback, especially when it relates to a specific service or individual. And it’s nice to be able to pass that feedback back to that person (and their manager).

It’s easy to take to Twitter or Facebook when you’re angry and dissatisfied. And that’s fine. But let’s also remember to do the same when things go right, it might just make the world a slightly happier place, even if only for a little while.

 

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