Friday, 30 January 2009

How companies manage the internet

There's an interesting piece on the BBC looking at how companies manage the internet. It's inspired by Davos and a little bit broad-brush and Twitter-focussed - but it's still a good introduction.

The piece uses snippets of an interview with David Brain (a friend of my chairman Nigel Clarke. He's thoughtful and clever and has a strong grasp on this because not only is Edeleman one of the most internet-enabled PR agencies but it's got a great client roster too.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

12 ingredients of a good blog post

Twitter is valuable for . . . sharing links

Twitter is really valuable for sharing links in real time. It's not the only useful thing about Twitter but the power of sharing links is borne about by Newscounter's research.

We tried sharing a niche interest blog post on three social networking sites: Delicious, Facebook and Twitter. All we did was post the same commentary and the link on our Delicious bookmarks, publish it via RSS on a Facebook profile (and in the status update)and write a short Tweet.

The size of each network was broadly comparable:
The Facebook profile had 169 friends - slightly above average
The Delicious profile is used twice a day
The Twitter account had 106 followers - slightly less than average

The results

The Delicious post didn't result in any traffic
The Facebook update resulted in a ratio of 10% click throughs to friends
Twitter resulted in 30% click through to friends and was RT once and 30 of these were from the key audience.

Moreover, on searching Twitter, we discovered that 4 older links had also been shared

So Twitter is really valuable for sharing links to generate traffic in realtime. We speculate that this is because:

The network is smaller and the information more valuable
The posts are pushed out to you rather than pulled in from Facebook
The links are most trustworthy

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Lessons for setting up a new blog

I've learnt two important lessons in the first 48 hours of having my personal blog.
1. Set it up properly
2. Don't delay setting it up

So I've setup my new blog and - irony of ironies - haven't been able to achieve one of my targets: blogging each day.

I setup the blog and immediately wanted to start writing. The 123-reg free blog system was really good but had a significant drawback: I couldn't change the permalinks. Permalinks are the way that the URL for the post is generated. This is a key part of search engine optimisation. Therefore, I decided to move my blog to wordpress.If I had changed them midway through, it would have caused 404 errors - which no one likes - where links that people clicked on would have produced error pages.

As a result of moving the blog, I was without it for 24 hours 'whilst the DNS propagated' - as the internet still takes some time to catch up and tell all of the world's computers of the new website's position.

My other useful lesson was that there were two posts on other blogs that I had something to contribute to. If I'd set my blog up properly in the first place (or just a couple of days earlier) I would have been able to start building hyperlinks to my site. Because of the problems, I couldn't.

The secret tool to protect your reputation online

There are various ways and tools you can use to protect your personal reputation online. I'm going to tell you the most effective and cheapest tool to ensure that your personal reputation isn't compromised by your biggest fan.

Be careful what you write

It's that obvious. You need to be careful what you write, what photos you post, what videos you take part in. The whole shebang. From forums to comments on blogs to social networks. Even anonymously (particularly on forums) you can't be certain that the forum owner won't reveal your identity (or be forced to).

There's no such thing as off the record

When I was a junior press officer I was always told 'there's no such thing as off the record'. And still I made the mistake of giving an unauthorised quote to a journalist. Which got used. And my then boss was not happy. The same rule is true on the internet. There is no such thing as private.

The newspaper frontpage test

I used to work for someone who said "only write something down if you are comfortable with it appearing on the frontpage of the newspaper". This had its drawbacks (no one could give her honest advice) but did protect her and her own staff from wrecking her reputation.

Why am I telling you this - that you already know?

Even the professionals get it wrong

Take this story of a PR professional who Twittered about being in Memphis. He didn't like Memphis - the home of major client FedEx. FedEx didn't appreciate his views.

Here's the story in all its glory:

And remember, you are never too smart, too experienced or too familiar to ask yourself: does this cast me in a favourable light to someone who I've never met?

Monday, 26 January 2009

My blog lessons - creating a blog

I've started a personal blog, against my better judgement. However, whilst I want to keep the personal and professional as separate as possible, I do want to use the lessons that I learn to help other bloggers. There will be a particular overlap as I try to chronicle my experience of building a platform for my views and then developing a community.

My most important task was registering an obvious domain name. I've registered for two years - costing less than £10. I used 123-reg out of familiarity but may move the domain at a later point.

I then created the blog, pointed to so that I've got space for a personal intro page at at a later point if I need it.

Because I've got a couple of things I want to talk about straight away, I used the 123-reg content management system. It was better than I expected, although it may not be long before I migrate to wordpress because it gives you so much structured freedom.

I've created a meta description for the blog so that the text below the hyperlink will look better in Google.

However, I think that the most interesting lesson will be my battle between privacy, personal and corporate and getting the balance right. For that, you will need to follow my blog.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

News websites and the perils of automation

News websites rely on automation to create lists of stories. Usually, this is a benign and sometimes useful way of navigating readers around the wealth of content. But at other times it can wipe millions off share prices or cause unnecessary suffering. Sky News is, I think, guilty of the latter today.

Automated lists of new articles are cheaper and more efficient than getting a journalist to do it. Occasionally the automated lists are useful devices which throw up something interesting.

The BBC News 'most emailed' lists will usually be dominated by human interest stories:

And occasionally, 'most read' stories turns up something interesting, such as a story coming back to life, despite not changing for many months. Witness also the enduring interest in The Times' first hand account of incest.

However, automated lists still need moderation. When humans are cut out completely, the end result can be awful.

In September 2008, United Airlines lost 75 per cent of its share price value when a story which (accurately) reported that the airline had filed for bankruptcy was automatically republished with the latest date. Google News now carried the followig warning at the bottom of its search results - though I don't think that will be enough to completely eradicate a similar mistake happening again.

Today, the Sky News homepage reports the tragic news that a Brazilian model, Mariana Bridi da Costa, had her feet and hands amputated after her blood became infected. Sadly, Miss da Costa died on Saturday.

However, the Sky News story reporting the amputation still appears on its homepage:

This makes Sky News look crass and insensitive but also slightly incompetent. The report of her death also appears on the homepage:

News website owners would do well to remember that their major strength (and their competitive edge over blogs) lies in the skills and expertise of their journalists - not their computers.

Friday, 23 January 2009

If brands get it wrong on social media, they ruin it for everyone

A familiar challenge for corporate communicators is how to present your case in the best way. It's not easy and there's growing criticism of corporate-speak and spokespeople who don't engage with the audience. Social media is often hailed as a more authentic means of communication than the traditional media. It's a place where communication is expected to be more personal, more honest, more rough and ready.

If companies get social media right, the prize is considerable. You can talk directly to customers (without intermediaries getting in the way) in a forum where they're listening and often willing to meet you half way. This should lead to higher sales and stronger advocates for your brand.

Getting social media wrong, not only makes you look ridiculous, however. One of the reasons for the greater authenticity of social media is because it's a space mostly populated by amateurs and friends. If 'officialdom' comes into that space and acts like a tax inspector at a wedding the group of friends will just move away. That's easy to do on social media because there are lots of available platforms and low cost of entry.

There's already evidence of this happening on blogs and social networking sites and even some emerging evidence that people are being more savvy on Twitter because of fears that their space is being invaded.

So if a company gets it wrong on social media (as many self-styled 'social media experts' do on Twitter) then the most important, influential people just shut up shop and move town.

This isn't intended to warn all companies away from using social media to spread your message when it's important, targeted and promoted in the appropriate way. But do something crass and you'll not only become a pariah yourselves but reduce its value for everyone else.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

MySociety success

Following my analysis of the MySociety / MPs expenses campaign, I wanted to post some of the feedback from their email group.

1. According to Francis Irving and there were somewhere between 4000 and 5000 messages sent to MPs from the MySociety site, writetothem.

2. Matt Wardman drew attention to the credibility of the MySociety brand, the use of existing networks and pushing with the grain of public opinion:

"A couple of thoughts as to other key aspects that I think you underemphasise.

Use of existing platforms and profiles. Applies to MySociety, Stephen Fry and also those who posted in advance of MS last week (Guardian, Guido).

I'd suggest the key MS contribution was as a respected non-partisan brand with a track record making a stand on a broadly non-partisan issue. Imho that cleared the way for it to become a mainstream issue.

MS legitimised a specialised groundswell and made it a general groundswell that already and triggered others to get involved who would not from the previous posters"

Citizen Journalism - how to

There's a really thoughtful, practical guide here to how to get started as a citizen journalist.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

MySociety and MPs expenses: how they won

MySociety is claiming victory in their battle over the transparency of Members' of Parliament expenses - rightly so. The Prime Minister declared at PMQs today that the motion to conceal the expenses would be withdrawn - when only hours later journalists thought that Labour MPs would have a three line whip to vote in favour. The campaign took about five days.

What the campaign involved

The campaign had all the essential ingredients of an online campaign: a blog, an email group, a Facebook group, a shared database, easy individual action backed up by some entrepreneurial moves on Twitter and on their own sites. Each of these elements were successful in their own right.

The blog was successful with 1829 links to it and 53 comments - even though there was 2 days before the second comment was posted

The email group was lively - I think I counted more than 100 emails over the last five days, focussed on producing and logging activity but allowing people to post ideas as well.

The Facebook Group recruited over 7000 members

The coverage on Twitter reached over 50,000 people - thanks in part to Stephen Fry's intervention and the core message was re-tweated over 25 times.

Why it was successful

1. There was a clear community of people, used to taking action
The MySociety email group is significant. I've no idea of its size but know that there are more than 30 active contributors and many people on the list are used to taking action as a result of emails they receive.

2. The campaign was timely, with a clear call to action
The campaign only had 6 days to succeed so there was little opportunity for possible activists to think 'I will do that next week'.

3. The call to action was clear
MySociety repeated the three point call to action in all of the communication. It was clear and easy to achieve.

4. It was high profile but only dependent on their own profile
That's a clumsy way of saying that the message reached thousands of people - thanks also to the popup boxes on the MySociety websites. But that it didn't depend on others (like newspapers) to spread the story. They could do it themselves.

5. They knew their audience - and knew who to motivate
The audience was clear - MPs - and there is already an established community of interest in political blogs that could help spread the message. This would have been hard to build from scratch and impossible in just 6 days. Using well established blogs like Iain Dale's certainly got the message out to a wider group of people.

I hope that people more closely involved in the campaign will also record their thoughts (and we'll keep an index of those) so that critical lessons can be learned by others who also want to run successful campaigns online.

HMRC: thanks for the good service

I often use this blog to criticise companies with poor customer service. It makes me feel better, helps identify if there are customers in a similar position and I like finding out whether companies monitor their online reputation. Today, I hope that HMRC is monitoring its reputation.

I had to speak to the tax office today to reduce the bit of my tax bill on account and to reschedule payment of my last return. Ok, so I was on hold for a bit but that's my fault for leaving it so late. But by the time I got through, my tax bill on account had already been reduced (I filed my return last week). And my proposal for rescheduling payments was accepted with minimal fuss.

The whole process took about 15 minutes, was reasonable, well-explained and not in the least patronising. Thank you, HMRC.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Websites show Obama: not all change is good

Barack Obama's incoming administration has taken the keys of the White House. This package includes the 'nuclear codes' and - of course - the keys to

The speed (and planning) of the transition is underlined by the fact that the redesigned site has gone live within hours of Barack Obama being sworn in. However, not all change is good change.

I found out about the new site because I was searching to find out what George W Bush did in his last few hours of office. I was curious because Clinton's last hours (in my view) diminished his standing - such was the nature of those executive orders. So I searched on Google for Bush executive orders. And Google took me to This is what I found.

So whilst the new site may in the future meet the challenge set out by new media director Macon Phillips, in the short term, the transition has actually reduced the transparency of the office. Not all change is good when the change is online.

Measuring effectiveness not volume

Rohit Bhargava on the excellent Influential Marketing blog advises CEOs to measure effectiveness, not volume. I believe it's sound advice and builds on our theme at the start of the year that value will trump volume in 2009.

So what does that mean for your online reputation?

Don't bother measuring volume

Everyone measures volume. How much coverage am I getting? How does it compare to my competitors? But who cares? So much content - when read - lacks any real value. It doesn't matter if 30 websites have reported your interim results or the launch of a new product. That's not just because they may not be read by many people. It's because what really matters is what impact that's had. Who's blogged about it? What was the response in the comments section? What ideas did it spark elsewhere?

Don't rely on a single metric

If you're measuring value it's an inherently complex calculation. It can't be boiled down to a single algorithm - no matter how elaborate. Why? Because you can't compare comments, pings and trackbacks on a single scale. You can't compare one long thoughtful post from a small blog but an influential person (a Member of Parliament, for example). That's why human judgement is king.

Consider the legacy

A small thing, done well, is a better internet legacy than a big thing done poorly. For example, in six months time using a mass press release distribution service may just still help search engine optimisation (although it's not that likely) but won't have created any long term relationships to which you can return. In contrast, a single well constructed blog post on the right blog can create a long term relationship with far greater authenticity.

I don't underestimate the challenge of defeating the lure of big numbers. These are only some of the ways in which effectiveness beats volume. Any other thoughts?

Friday, 16 January 2009

The perils of 'free' web software

I was always sceptical of those who warned against using 'free' web software. Why would Google, I thought, risk annoying its users by discontinuing a service? Now I'm not so sure.

I read on TechCrunch that Google has decided to withdraw a number of applications. Some of these, like Google video, are obviously redundant. But the list includes Notebook which I use frequently as a firefox plugin.

Apart from my annoyance that this is to be discontinued without consultation or serious thought for existing users' alternatives, it's a very useful and timely warning. I was just wondering about ditching Microsoft Office and migrating to Google Docs. Not any more. Imagine waking up one day and discovering that Google had stopped providing spreadsheets!

Google are perfectly within their rights to do this, of course. But its action make you remember the perils of a free service where you don't have a proper contract with the service provider.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Website review:

Thanks to Emma Mulqueeny, I know that the government has launched a new website to consult and engage with citizens about its white paper on social mobility. It's a really good site which demonstrates a clear understanding of the benefits of social media and how people are using the internet. There are things that it hasn't done - but it's brave and innovative by government (and it's not often that it's possible to say that).

The strengths of

1. All the important information is easily accessible
In our review, we could find everything we needed within one click - and everything else within two clicks.

2. Use of multimedia content
The site uses video to help make its case and personalises this - there's almost no 'man in suit talking to camera'.

3. Sharing
All of the material can be shared using the main social networking tools: Digg, Facebook, Delicious, Reddit and Stumbleupon

4. Content for bloggers
There's a special page of content for bloggers which includes embedable video, case studies, links to external coverage (including challenging coverage) and detailed background information.

5. Pointing the user elsewhere
Rather than re-creating conversations that are already happening (or trying and failing) the website clearly points users to some of the main places where social mobility can be discussed - and these are mostly external sites.

6. The social mobility map
A great way of getting personal stories, easily, that (presumably) feed into the consultation.

The weaknesses of

1. The domain name
It's a shame that the main domains are taken. But does little for search optimisation.

2. Too much content on some pages
In particular requires a lot of scrolling.

3. No blogger outreach
I've not seen any evidence of blogger outreach, despite having read over 10 blogs reporting the launch of the white paper. It's great having the material but the days of a 'build it and they will come' strategy are dead. You need to push out the content - particularly when it's this good.

4. Page titles
Another missed SEO opportunity.

5. What are the questions?
Presumably the white paper is consulting on social mobility. But this isn't clearly sign-posted from the website. And there's nothing like controversy to interest online users - but it's a bit general on

6. Where are the other debates?
What an incentive to get involved if you could see (and knew that government was going to look at) newspaper comments sections, Facebook groups etc.

7. How do you motivate users?
The site feels as though the government is trying to build support for social mobility. But there aren't any widgets, Facebook groups, petitions or polls to engage readers (although maybe civil service rules permit this).

There may be more weaknesses of than strengths in our list. But that shouldn't detract from what a massive, innovative and brave step forward this is for government and for that, it should receive significant praise.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

How to buy advertising online

You've created your blog, now you want to promote it. Advertising costs money - but thanks to the internet you can tailor your advertising to your budget.

This guide is intended for a one-off ad campaign on Google. Corporates or large charities will require a more tightly measured and honed ad strategy. However, if you're blogging to complain about a company, get noticed by someone or kick-start a campaign, this will be useful.

There are three ways you can advertise effectively online with a limited budget:
1. buy search engine advertising for particular keywords
This works really well if you want to grab someone's attention - particularly if it's an organisation or individual.

2. buy advertising on relevant websites
If you've got a particular post which is of interest to other websites, you can buy advertising so that your ad will appear in other relevant blogs and websites (only those that accept those particular ads though).

You can advertise on search and relevant websites. Relevant sites will usually ensure your ad appears more often - but with a much lower click-through rate. The search volumes are lower and more expensive, but tend to get a higher click-through rate. Whether you choose one or both should depend on your advertising strategy.

3. target ads according to an internet user's location
This is great if you're a local business or your campaigning for something in a particular area or country.

Buying the advertising

This assumes you already have an account with Google. If not, read this article on how to create a Google account.

Setting up your account

1. Log in to your Google account
2. Click My account in the top right hand corner of
3. Click the AdWords link on the next page
4. Click on sign up now
5. Choose standard edition and click continue
6. Click the button that says you already have a Google account and that you want to use your existing Google account (presuming you do) then click continue
7. Choose your preferred currency and click continue

Creating your campaign

1. Click create your first campaign
2. Choose the language and country(s) you want to target
3. Create your ad, referring to Google's guidelines about trademarks
4. For advice on writing great Google ads, click here
5. The display URL doesn't have to be the actual URL - but don't mislead people entirely
6. Choose the keywords you want to target. Read this for more advice on keyword strategies
7. Set your daily budget
8. Set your maximum budget for each keyword. To get an idea, click on 'View Traffic Estimator' to see what traffic the advert is likely to generate

Targeting your campaign at specific sites

When you start to create your campaign, you can choose to start a new campaign with placements. The system works the same but after creating the ad, you can target subjects or specific URLs to target your campaign.

Alternatively, once you've created the campaign, you can click edit settings and turn on the content option (and/or turn the search option off).

Enter your payment details when requested.

Evaluating your campaign

Next time you login to Google AdWords you can evaluate your campaign. Look to see:
1. What you're paying per click
2. Whether the number of clicks meets your expectations
3. Check your own analytics package to see whether the advertising is having its desired affect

Keep an eye on our blog for examples of effective low-cost advertising campaigns.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Responding to criticism online

We recently looked at company guidelines for managing social media. One of the most important elements of this is when a company is managing criticism of their reputation.

Deciding if and when to respond to criticism online is a key part of a modern corporate communicator's job. It's not a simply judgement and depends on a range of factors. However, there are some key questions that need to be answered methodically before a PRO can make a reasoned judgment.

Today, Newscounter is publishing its guide to responding to criticism online. It won't be equally appropriate for every company - and there will be some vital issues missing for some (investor relations, regulatory restrictions, existing relationships etc). But it should be useful confirmation of existing good practice and thought-provoking for others. Feel free to share and review as necessary.

If you'd like any copies or a bespoke version developed for your company, get in touch.

Benefits and shortcomings of LiveJournal

LiveJournal provides a very different sort of blogging platform. It's based around a social network and so the blog is just a part of a package which includes photo albums, personal pages, music - everything you'd expect of a social network.

Benefits of LiveJournal

1. Immediate access to a community of readers
The social networking features of LiveJournal mean that you have immediate access to a community of readers. Pick a topic (although it needs to be one that interests LiveJournal users) and you can get a few people to read your first post - a bonus on other blogging platforms.

2. Building better relationships
With most blogs someone reads your post and never comes back. With LiveJournal though, fellow users can become your friends and so it's much easier to enter into a meaningful conversation with them in a way that isn't possible on other blogging platforms - unless you have multiple repeat readers.

3. Cost
Like Blogger, but unlike so many other platforms, there really are no hidden costs to using LiveJournal.

Shortcomings of LiveJournal

1. Publicity through search
Very few LiveJournal blogs emerge through search engines Technorati or Google Blog search. There's no evidence to suggest why - it might be because LvieJournal has a small market share. However, small monitoring services like blogpulse do pick up more LiveJournal content.

2. Flexibility of design
The templates for LiveJournal are the most rigid we have encountered. Whilst the backdrop and some of the key elements can be altered, most users have simply created a less aesthetically pleasing result (think of a teenager's poster-covered bedroom wall).

3. Wider usability
The wider usability of LiveJournal is limited. By this we mean that the URLs of the posts cannot be tailored, you can't use your own URL and more advanced features such as trackbacks and pings (to follow other blogs reporting your site) are not possible. There is also not the wide range of plugins and widgets that are accessible through most of the blogging platforms.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Benefits and shortcomings of Typepad

Typepad is one of the best blogging systems available. However, it comes at a cost. To use it with your own domain you have to pay $8.95 a month currently. The end result looks good and the service offers plenty of flexibility.


1. Excellent designs
The Typepad designs are excellent. They are professional, free of the bugs that we found in blogger templates and allow for a reasonable amount of flexibility. You don't get total flexibility unless you buy business class blogging at $89.95

2. User-friendly interface
The Typepad system is very easy to use for both blog authors and commentators. The only drawback for comments is that the captcha image is displayed on a subsequent page. Typepad is the only system that does this so many comments can be lost by the user navigating away before confirming the comment.

3. Professional support
Typepad is a private enterprise and of the major advantages of this is a professional, accessible support service for all your blogging needs.

4. Flexibility with widgets
The Typepad guys have developed lots of widgets so whatever you want to do with your blog, you can.

Shortcomings of Typepad

1. Cost
It may not surprise you that most of the significant blogs hosted with Typepad are from news organisations or large corporations. It makes sense if you have the funds but for a private individual, Typepad is an expensive option.

2. Proprietary software
Typepad has developed its own proprietary software. This may not mean much to the average user but the end result is that if someone develops a new gadget for wordpress, it gets incorporated. Typepad, though, have to decide or develop it themselves - a deterrent to developers. The end result is that there are fewer excellent widgets and plugins.

3. Comment moderation
I've always had a problem with the comment moderation on Typepad. Try, for example, one of the blogs at After commenting, you get another screen asking you to type in the captcha image. And how often do you forget and navigate away from the page?

Next, we look at the benefits of LiveJournal.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Writing for a blog

Writing for a blog is not like writing in other formats. I was trying to explain this to a blogger earlier today. He writes excellent blog entries, if you have the time to read them. But there's something missing from them.

1. The title is usually slightly obtuse
2. The first sentence is a gradual warmup

He is an experienced writer and occasional newspaper columnist. This is where I think he was going wrong. A blog is not like a newspaper column.

It was then that I realised how to explain blog writing better. Write your blog like a press release.

Here are some key rules:
1. The headline and the first sentence should summarise the story
2. Expect to lose an increasing proportion of your audience with the passing of each sentence
3. Provoke, stimulate or question but don't leave your reader with a sense of fulfilment - it doesn't stimulate the comments section
4. Break all of the rules and write a great post rather than boring, formulaic posts

Any other advice?

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Benefits and shortcomings of Blogger

As part of our series on setting up your own blog, we look at the advantages of free blog services and paid blog services. One popular free blog service is Blogger, owned by Google. We've created lots of blogs using Blogger so here, in a nutshell, are the main benefits and shortcomings of the system.

Benefits of blogger

1. It gets indexed by Google
Your first blog post (and probably the first few) are highly likely to be indexed by Google. This means that they appear in a Google Blogs search, appear in keyword alerts and will rank somewhere on the main search engines. This is rewarding but also particularly useful if you're trying to get noticed by a company, charity or particular person.

2. It requires no other knowledge
You need know knowledge of html. That's broadly true of some other services as well but I don't know any that require as little knowledge as blogger, but give you as many opportunities to edit the html if you wish.

3. It's easy to do everything you need
It's easy to link, to upload photos and video and manage comments.

4. Use your own URL
You can ues your own URL within the blogger system.

5. Comment registration is easy
Lots of people have Google accounts. Which means that you can have comment registration or moderation without putting people off by a registration process.

Weaknesses of blogger

1. The designs are poor
Most of the readily available design template on Blogger are poor in our experience. They look like a template (in the same way that Office templates are very obvious) and they aren't very flexible. Yes you can add plugins, but not with the same ease as wordpress. Moreover, most of the popular designs fail the w3c test.

2. The plugins are limited
The plugins and added extras associated with Blogger are ok but not great. There isn't the same volume of support or peer-reviewed added extras.

3. Controlling URLs is harder
Knowing your post name is important. If it contains keywords, it helps users and search engines follow the link. Superficially, this is easier on Google. However, it's harder to ensure search engines don't get confused by keyword tag links and archive post links.

Please use the comments section to add any more advice.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Guidelines for managing social media

Intel has a great set of guidelines for managing social media. I often get asked by corporations how they should guide their employees in the use of social media. Despite overwhelming demand, there is no single generic guide available. This is because it depends entirely on the corporate culture.

Many organisations are still deeply uncomfortable (and nervous of the regulatory implications) of allowing employees to engage with social media. So giving them a really good set of social media guidelines will probably lead to further retrenchment.

However, some companies understand the value of social media and guide their employees to use it in a responsible, constructive manner which adds value to their brand. Intel is one such company. Its social media guidelines are well worth a look and provide as good a template as any for how employee engagement in social media can protect and promote your brand. crisis management - why it matters

We recently examined the problem the England and Wales Cricket Board had with its website keeping up to speed with the departures of Peter Moores and Kevin Pietersen.

This is why it matters.

1. If you search for Kevin Pietersen on Google, the top result is Kevin Pietersen's website. Not a problem whilst he was captain.

2. Search for Kevin Pietersen and ECB on Google and is ranked 15th, with a poorly worded meta description:

The same is true of all of the key search terms related to the affair.

Now, it may be that the ECB has such a good relationship with journalists that it successfully communicated all of its key messages directly to the media online. But even if that was the case, the number of websites that broke the news, the volume of traffic they have and the online influence they carry means that they played a critical part in shaping understanding of the story - before the ECB had communicated any messages.

Finally, the ECB has a significant database of cricket supporters. I pay a subscription to receive information on the England team straight from the ECB - and get access to the ECB TV channel. I haven't yet received an email from the ECB announcing the news. A missed opportunity.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

ECB website fails in crisis management

The ECB has a few problems today. It's lost the team England team coach and captain who was also the best player. In appointing the successor they are turning to someone without the unequivocal support of his colleagues and in splitting the captaincy, going back on their publicly stated preference for the same captain of the Test and one day squads.

This is what the BBC Sport website said:

It's a difficult situation - made worse by their corporate website.

I heard that Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores had left their posts at about 10.30 on News 24. The news was broken by Mihir Bose. It wasn't clear whether they had left or been sacked and whether the captain could be reinstated by the new coach or whether he would continue playing for England.

So I logged onto the website, The homepage had a picture and profile of Kevin Pietersen but no news of anyone leaving:

I thought it might be slow to update so 15 minutes later tried again. This error message came up - I presume due to volume of hits:

Because it wasn't that they were updating it. Now, 6 hours later, the homepage and news page remain unchanged.

Why the corporate website so important

The corporate website is so important because it's the only opportunity you have to put your position - all of it - directly to your core constituency. And as the downtime demonstrated, lots of people look to the original source.

The ECB may have bigger issues to deal with today. But if it can't communicate its position confidently in a crisis, it will lose the support of important stakeholders.

Free blog service or total flexiblity

We’ve been looking this week at how to setup a blog. There’s an interesting debate about whether a free blog service (such as blogspot) should be avoided in favour of total flexibility ( hosted on your own server). Louis Gray advises people to host your blog on your own server. Louis identifies some of the shortcomings of free blogs. I agree – up to a point. It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve with your blog.

When I created a blog to complain about the new kitchen that I was having problems with, I hoped that either the blog would be a very short term measure because it would get the attention of the company’s senior directors (it was because it did) which I could then leave or delete or – if it didn’t – that I could build a community of fellow customers around it and improve the blog when I had the audience to make it worthwhile. If I’d wanted to do this I could have done and moved my blog to another provider. The only mistake I made was that I didn’t buy my own domain so if I had moved it to another provider, it still would have been – a minor inconvenience.

So when deciding how to setup your blog, have your aims clear and try to anticipate what you’re going to want in the future whilst remembering that you can always upgrade when required.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Starting a blog - step one

So you want to start a blog? Your first decisions are:
  1. what it's going to be called and
  2. who is going to provide it
The first decision is important because once you've chosen the name and the domain name, you shouldn't change it unless you absolutely have to (legal reasons, for example). That's because as soon as you've created the blog, other websites will start to link to it. If you then change the name and the URL, you will be losing all of that good work.

In choosing your name, consider whether you want to have a neat, personalised domain ( or whether you are happy to share it with the blog provider ( Click here for more information on choosing and registering a domain.

If you're happy to share it, the next job is to choose the provider. There are lots of different options available to you. Over the next few articles we will assess the pros and cons of:
  • Blogger
  • Typepad
  • Livejournal
  • MySpace

How to register a domain

A website is stored on a computer (or series of computers) each of these has a unique address (like a telephone number) to identify it. Website addresses ( or are a user-friendly way of finding your website. They are called domain names.

The other thing to consider is the name that's going to appear as the title of the site. The closer the domain name is to the title of your site, the better you should rank on search engines. For exampple, the domain name of this site is and the title of the site is BacAtU.

Once you've decided on a preferred domain for your website, you need to register it. You'd probably prefer .com but settle for If you are from an organisation, you'd probably prefer However, that all depends on what hasn't yet been registered.

1. Check the availability

To check whether you can buy your preferred domain (without paying excessive amounts) we recommend using Nominet for .uk domains and and Whois for .com. Just type your preferred domain into the search boxes as indicated below:



2. Purchase the domain

There are lots of places you can buy a domain. If you are buying hosting as well (space on a computer to put your blog) then some companies will offer you a package. There's more information on that later in this series.

However, if you just want the domain we have experience of using the following companies though we've not seen any major difference in price:

3. Confirm payment details

Complete the form and confirm payment. When deciding how long you want to register for, think about the length of your project before entering into a long term commitment. However, also remember that if you don't renew it - someone will snap it away from you when it expires.

Therefore, make sure you have an address or email that you'll still be using when the domain comes close to expiry.

Now you are up and running. You'll need to store your login details somewhere safe because you'll need to access the account to point your domain (web address) to the computer that .

4. Next steps

Our next articles will show you:
  • How to choose which blog
  • How to create it
  • How to point your domain to the blog
  • How to promote your site

Monday, 5 January 2009

Should you respond to online attacks?

There's no single answer to whether you should respond to an attack about you (your brand, product or reputation) online. It depends on the circumstances, the nature of the attack, what you have to say in return, how the story might develop - and more. It's a specialist job.

However, there are some basic rules that can get you through the day to day. Thanks to Mark Pack, I've found this decision making tree from the US Air Force on the Webinknow blog. If it's useful, we'll publish our own tree later this week. It's broadly similar but relies more on analysing the site that's attacking the reputation.

Incidentally (and let's see if this works) Webinknow's author David Meerman Scott has a wikipedia entry. It's a good entry although it carries the warning that much of the data is unverifiable. The entry's history shows that it's been modified bya number of different sources - but none have strengthened the entry by adding sources. A pity, therefore, that it apparently doesn't follow the excellent advice of the USAF!

Sharing knowledge for local government

We've recently been able to publish our introduction to using social media for local authorities. 

It's a summary of a bigger training session we completed for a client in the sector and we'd like to open it up to peer review. 

Please use the comments section to suggest, amend or criticise.

Managing your risk register

Lots of company's have risk registers. However, in a way that would make Nassim Nicholas Taleb, many of the omit high impact but unlikely events that actually do occur.

Take, for example, this story about JournalSpace. I expect they did have a risk register. And that it contained dealing with disgruntled employees. But it didn't include backing up their critical database - or the likelihood that a disgruntled employee would wipe all of their users data. The event has made the company apparently worthless.

But if you are going to manage risk, what are you doing about reputation risks online? Do you monitor your reputation? Manage the consequences? Take actions to mitigate the risks you face? Or just set aside some cash each year to manage the consequences of things going wrong (like Taleb)?

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Where are the cricket experts?

I'm becoming increasingly frustrated by the silence of cricket experts on the Pietersen v Moores rift in the England team.

The coverage in the newspapers so far has been led by journalists. That's fine - I'm sure they are good reporters. And it's the prerogative of editors to determine who writes about what.

But most of the top cricket journalists are former players. And given the intimacy of cricket tours (and the way that cricketers tend to stay together after retirement) many of them really do know the ins and outs of the dressing room dynamics. Therefore, I really want to hear from Michael Atherton, Derek Pringle, Nasser Hussain or (even) Sir Ian Botham. I can't find a word written by any of them on the affair.

I think blogging has played a part in shaping my expectations in this way. It's unusual to look to the by-line of a news article to see who's written it unless you are an insider. In this story, I know which sort of reporter is closest to the players and I want to hear from them. Now. Unfortunately the limited blogs from cricket journalists are really just reporting with comments on the BBC. They're not really blogs at all, or they could dominate the share of voice in this unfolding story.

Using Fixmystreet to get media coverage

There's an interesting story from the Western Mail about someone who used Fixmystreet in conjunction with a local campaign.

Local residents found that HGVs were regularly driving up a narrow street which was on a key route provided by sat nav systems. Local campaigner Mrs Clark said: "The police were called and expressed their ‘concern’ that after two years the problem remained unsolved. I am appalled by the attitude of Denbighshire County Council.”

It looks like the complaint on Fixmystreet helped create the news hook for the Western Mail article and the pressure of the two was enough to get the council to act accordingly.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Value over volume - more thoughts

Guido made an important comment on my thesis that value will trump volume. He argues that he gets a wider attention for his blog because it is read by so many people. That's undoubtedly true. Clearly if it was read by 25 people, journalists would ignore it. But what if the 25 people were all members of the Cabinet? That's why the Progress magazine (where I used to intern) was significant.

Yes, there is value because of the number of people that read something. But I'm arguing that there is greater value from a smaller, but more significant audience who (and this is the critical piont) can be mobilised to take action.

A small, committed group of people will always have more value than a large group of passive readers. That's why the participation of Guido's blog is sometimes so much more valuable than the participation of readers of, say, the Daily Mail.

PS. Incidentally, I'm much more pleased that of the 250 people that have read my post one of them was Guido rather than 2500 people who I've never heard of!

Fixmystreet - further validation

Following my post on Fixmystreet, I found another great post showing how it works. reported that the service led to the council fixing a streetlight within a week of the problem being reported.

This report
is of a user reporting surprise at receiving a courtesy call from their local authority (Tower Hamlets)

The message is clear: if you want to report a problem to your local council, Fixmystreet is the best way to get the job done.

Pachelbel's rant

I love this because it could be me (in fact, I've probably had just this rant) apart from my non-existent guitar abilities and the fact that I'm not funny. Otherwise, it could be me!

Friday, 2 January 2009

Fixmystreet - it works!

I always thought that Fixmystreet was a great idea. I think I was one of an early group to use it BITD when it was called something else. But I worried that the inflexibility of local authorities would mean that it would only work where the council was flexible enough to handle enquiries that came outside of their own systems.

I recently reported a problem in my local community and had a call back from my council within 24 hours. The problem was sorted by the end of the week. My council, Hackney, isn't famed for being at the forefront of public service innovation.

The site is so great because it provides a complete solution to an individual, without needing mass participation to succeed. That is, if Fixmystreet was like Digg, I would need to make thousands of people support my complaint for the local authority to notice it. That would be undemocratic, particularly in areas of low broadband penetration. Instead, Fixmystreet works beautifully. Give it a go next time you're unhappy with your local council and tell someone else about it.

Why is this so important? Because:
  • so many new startups are dependent on building a mass audience to deliver a good user experience. And that's getting harder and more costly.
  • it shows the internet doesn't have to be trendy or catchy or need marketing expertise to deliver social benefits. In short, value over volume
  • the many to one relationship of Fixmystreet means that lots of people can put pressure on a single organisation which (may) have to change or act accordingly - whereas a many to one relationship (think, local petition) would be a classic excuse for inertia.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Why value will beat volume online in 2009

In 2009 the value of your audience will trump the volume of your audience. In some ways this isn't new but 2009 will see the triumph of small, highly motivated campaigns online over mass audience sites. Let me explain.

Volume advertising is dying

For some time, the usefulness of running a very large website has been questioned. Yes, it's nice for the BBC, Guardian or Telegraph to have millions of visitors a day (even if the absolute number of visitors is much less). But it's not useful for them - and means little to the reader. We know this because advertising is sold increasingly on a pay per click basis rather than as a unit of number of page impressions.

Volume leads to diminishing returns

Blogs have tended to only receive significant wider attention if they have a large audience. The leading UK bloggers have all built their audiences thanks to interactions with the mainstream media. However, as Guido Fawkes recently reported the greater his audience, the less worthwhile the comments. In a similar theme, Martin Clarke who is response for the Daily Mail online told the Society of Editors that global unique web figures are a waste of time and unhelpful to advertising purchasers (though presumably he needed to say this because his main competitors still use them and they work and they're better than his).

Good value can build volume

One of the most effective and most socially entreprenuerial groups in British web development, MySociety, have recognised the importance of value over volume. One of their core principles is that their websites should be useful for one person - that they don't depend on volume to deliver a successful outcome for a single user (unlike an online petition site, for example). Their sites show that delivering great value for one person can build volume - but volume can't build value.

Aim for value over volume in 2009

The challenge for bloggers and website owners is to aim for value over volume in 2009. We all know the ways that we can get lots of clickthroughs to articles that will help our end of month statistics. But we need to kick the habit. Instead, try to use the internet to build meaningful relationships that you can influence. So when you blog you can motivate people to act, not just click.

I'll be giving some thought to what this all means over the next few weeks on my blog. There's plenty of advice for how to build a large audience. Let's have some more on how to build a valuable audience.

Paying to protect your online reputation

There's an interesting story on The Consumerist which struck a chord with me. Apparently, Ritz Camera offered a small financial incentive ($20) to an unhappy consumer if she withdrew her complaint against the store.

Harvey Jones were always diligent in ensuring that I removed traces of my story with them. (Incidentally, I'm sure they monitor their reputation so diligently that they've read this).

My challenge to organisations is this: no customer expects 100% satisfaction. Wouldn't it be better to show how you've converted a detractor into a promoter?

Things go wrong. The more successful the company, the more opportunities that something will go wrong. What we do expect is that when it does, we get treated well and our complaint is handled satisfactorily. And a customer who wasn't happy but now is, is a much more convincing story than a string of reviews which are only positive.

That's hard for old-style organisations to get their heads around. But that level of authenticity is what makes the great standout from the good online.
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