Pretty much everyone now has the means to report what is going on in the world around them. Even the most basic phone has a camera, and it is simple to post images, video and text to social media sites at the click of a button. Consequently citizen journalists – ordinary people doing the job of trained reporters – are everywhere.
And there are significant benefits to our understanding of the world. Particularly in straitened times, journalists can’t be everywhere at once and often arrive after the news event has actually happened. In many cases, such as during the Arab Spring, journalists can be banned or censored by regimes and individuals that don’t want stories to be reported. So citizen journalists with camera phones can be our sole source of first hand information. Much of this then feeds into the traditional media, with TV news and national newspapers running stories based on reports filed by citizen journalists.
Nearer to home, the closure of many local newspapers has spurred community activists to launch alternative sites and blogs. Many of these aim to hold local councils and elected representatives to account, using the Freedom of Information Act to unearth key facts about how we are governed.
All great stuff and to be praised, but there are three key reasons that we should be wary about what citizen journalists write, publish and upload.
Firstly, bias. As someone that studied history, I know that bias is evident in anything we say, write or do – whether we know it or not. Professional journalists are trained to understand both sides of a story and (as much as possible) divorce bias from what they are writing. It is why the majority of stories have quotes for and against a subject in them, even if the overall tone is slanted to left or right. Citizen journalists don’t have this training and may well have an axe to grind – potentially making their reports unreliable, whether consciously or not.
Second, the law. The laws of libel apply equally to the internet, as many people found out with the Lord McAlpine case. Again, journalists are trained to understand libel law and what can and can’t be said. Reddit’s coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing demonstrated what can happen when citizen journalists are given an unpoliced platform. The site’s Find Boston Bombers thread wrongly accused several people of being involved in the atrocity, leading to harassment of their families and potentially slowing down the police investigation. In today’s instant news cycle, where an unsubstantiated tweet can be front page news in seconds, there’s a real issue with potentially malicious or unthinking reports quickly making it into the mainstream news.
Finally, there’s the area of copyright. Lots of news sites now actively encourage you to upload your pictures, video and text to give added perspective on news and features. The latest, the Guardian’s Witness site, provides the chance to contribute to live news and other content through a smartphone app. Content is vetted before going onto the site, with stories and videos made available to journalists for potentially developing into bigger pieces. All great, except that as soon as you post your prized video, The Guardian gets an unconditional, perpetual and worldwide licence to use it as it sees fit. You may still retain the copyright, but the paper can commercially exploit the content however it wants.
Controlling how news is reported and disseminated is inextricably linked to power. Hence why dictatorships have always censored or removed the free press and run state TV stations with a rod of iron. While much of the western world has moved on from that, media is often controlled by a certain group, making citizen journalism a vital part of the opening up of reporting to everyone. But if it is to truly make a lasting impact for good, citizen journalists need to understand their own responsibilities when it comes to bias, the law and copyright and act accordingly.
- What is citizen journalism? (blm371.wordpress.com)
May 1, 2013 Posted by Chris Measures | Creative, PR | Arab Spring, Boston Marathon, citizen journalism, citizenjournalism, Guardian, Journalism, Journalist, libel, McAlpine, Media, social media | 1 Comment
It is tempting to devote this week’s blog to the passing of Baroness Thatcher and how it has been covered on social media. But essentially this excellent pie chart from @martinbelam sums it up - see any newspaper for stories to prove his point.
Instead I’ll focus on more recent history – the tweets sent by the UK’s first youth Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Paris Brown, which have forced her resignation. At first glance there’s nothing new here – public official says something stupid online, backtracks but overwhelming moral outrage forces them out and leaves their boss (in this case adult Kent PCC Ann Barnes) with egg on their face. It’s pretty similar to all the social media cock-ups made by brands though obviously it has only come to light due to a newspaper investigation.
But what’s different here is that Brown is just 17 and the tweets (which are being investigated by the police as potentially racist and homophobic) were posted between the ages of 14 and 16. Brown denies the charges, though admits she boasted about sex, drinking and drug-taking on Twitter. Having once been a teenager in pre-Twitter times, I do remember a lot of patently untrue bragging being par for the course.
There’s two things that make me uneasy here. Firstly, how far back are we going to go to incriminate someone? Obviously these tweets are at best stupid, but she was still legally a minor at the time. I think there’s a big difference between something said while under 16 and the regular indiscretions of those in their early twenties, who really should know better.
The second, and equally worrying point, is what happened in the recruitment process? We’re told that she went through a ‘very tough’ interview process but that Kent Police’s vetting procedures didn’t include a basic social media check for someone on her pay scale. No one did even a cursory search on Twitter or Facebook and she was merely asked if there was anything in her past that could embarrass her or her job. Hardly watertight vetting for a high profile (if low paid) role.
We hear a lot about building your personal brand on social networks when looking for a job, following the right people, commenting on their posts and using the power of Twitter to make yourself memorable, recognisable and employable. In the past this was relatively easy as they could start from scratch at 20 or 21 – they didn’t have a guilty Twitter childhood as the social network only dated from 2006. Now we’re at a stage where everyone coming into the workforce has grown up with Facebook, Twitter and other networks – time for kids to either watch what they say or remember to erase their accounts when they hit 16………..
- Kent police investigate Paris Brown social media messages
- Youth police commissioner warns of dangers of social networks as she resigns over ‘racist’ tweets
April 10, 2013 Posted by Chris Measures | PR, Social Media | Ann Barnes, employment, Facebook, Kent Police, Paris Brown, PCC, Police, Police and Crime Commissioner, social media, Social network, Thatcher, twitter, vetting | Leave a Comment
Rather than covering a range of subjects I could probably write a weekly blog called ‘Which brand has f@cked up on social media’, without running short of material. This week it was Burger King’s turn on Twitter – though to be fair to the fast food giant they believe their account was hacked. After all the background picture was changed to a McDonald’s logo and one tweet claimed the chain had been sold to the Golden Arches.
The tweets stopped after an hour after Burger King asked Twitter to suspend its account (unlike HMV, they knew how to switch social networking off). They even had a supportive tweet from @mcdonalds commiserating with their rivals.
So no real reputational damage done – the online equivalent of breaking into a local Burger King, daubing graffiti on the walls and putting quick drying cement down the toilets. Illegal yes, but once the mess is cleared up, Burger King on Twitter will be back open for business.
But the financial damage could have actually been enormous. Imagine that rather than tweeting an obviously untrue rumour (We just got sold to McDonalds!) the hackers had put out something different and subtler – such as news of finding horsemeat in the company’s burgers (not true I hasten to add). Think of what that would do to the stock price, spooking investors and sparking a sell-off. Financial institutions would have seen company news from a reputable source and acted accordingly. Given Burger King is US-listed I’m sure litigation wouldn’t have been far behind from disgruntled shareholders too. And the problem isn’t just malicious hacking – do companies have corporate policies about what they can and can’t tweet/blog/put on Facebook in case it is share price sensitive? My betting is that many don’t, leaving it to the discretion of whoever is actually running the Twitter feed. Hardly foolproof.
So, at a time when cyber security is top of the agenda, companies need to make sure that they not only know their Twitter logon details, have clear policies in place, protect their passwords and have an instant crisis plan if security is breached. I’d hope that if it wasn’t before Burger King’s investor relations department is now much more involved in social media planning. Handled properly this is another chance for marketing/PR/social media to become more strategically involved in vital financial communication – so marketers should ignore the Burger King experience at their peril.
- Burger King Twitter account ‘hacked by McDonald’s’
- Burger King Twitter account hacked: name, avatar changed to McDonald’s
February 20, 2013 Posted by Chris Measures | Marketing, PR, Social Media | Burger King, BurgerKing, Facebook, Fast food, Golden Arches, HMV Group, McDonald, McDonalds, Measures Consulting, PR, social media, Starbucks, twitter | 1 Comment
Can’t string together 140 characters? Help is at hand with Twitter’s launch of Vine, its new video sharing service. Essentially Vine lets you take 6 second videos and post them automatically via your Twitter feed. Launched last week, it provides another option for Twitter’s 500 million users to share their lives with their followers and friends.
On the face of it Vine is a nice idea as it capitalises on the power of video and opens up another front in Twitter’s battle to increase usage ahead of its predicted future flotation. And another revenue stream – I can see Twitter using Vine to encourage brands to interact with customers by sharing video content, solving simple customer service queries with how to films and even introducing a paid for service that gives greater control over the length of clips.
But there’s a number of issues that I believe will hold back Vine’s growth. Firstly, it isn’t integrated into Twitter itself but is a separate app, currently only available for Apple devices. This adds a level of complexity to the process – there’s nothing to stop other video services providing competition. And not launching an Android app at the same time as Apple removes a significant part of the market – while Twitter says Android is on its way, it looks slack not to have both issued at once.
Secondly, each clip may be 6 seconds, but it is on a constant loop (like an overlong animated GIF) which can be pretty tedious to watch, even if the content itself is interesting. Think of it as a moving picture, not a YouTube video.
And finally there’s what’s on Vine clips. Twitter boss Dick Costolo launched the service with a film of himself making steak tartare, but given that porn drives most internet innovation, it didn’t take long for more explicit content to arrive. The initial lack of filtering meant that X-rated videos began to fill Vine, culminating in one being chosen as ‘editor’s pick’ on the home screen of the app. All rather embarrassing for Twitter, but surely something that could have been predicted if they’d thought things through. Had they not looked at ChatRoulette?
To be fair to Twitter it has now banned searches for explicit content and deleted some porn, but automatically identifying and filtering pornography is notoriously difficult so it will be kept busy moderating clips for some time to come.
So, will Vine wither or grow? At the moment the jury’s out – it doesn’t have the safeguards to encourage mass market adoption (or the reach with just an iOS app) but if Twitter prunes away the porn it may yet create a new way for consumers and brands to share engaging content.
- Twitter’s Vine Has a Porn Problem, Just Like the Rest of the Internet
- Twitter’s new app Vine becomes porn hub within days – Firstpost
Even before their tax debacle I’ve never been a fan of Starbucks – bland coffee, relentless happiness and demanding my name before deigning to serve me have all driven me elsewhere.
But I was staggered at their ineptitude when it comes to social media. Despite being ranked as the best loved brand on social media in the US, they’ve not quite grasped that not paying millions in tax isn’t going to endear them to people here. Social media popularity fell dramatically when the true story of its tax affairs came out in October and a blog post from chairman, president and CEO, Howard Schultz, defending the company made little difference (a tip Howard – if you want British people to believe you are ‘honoured to serve them’, use the British spelling of the word.)
So what do you do if you’re at the centre of such a firestorm of criticism, particularly via social media? I’d recommend changing behaviour and reaching out to engage with people. Yet, instead the coffee giant decided to run a scheduled Twitter hashtag campaign #spreadthecheer. However, like McDonalds and Waitrose in the past, it failed to see how easily this could be hijacked and as I write #spreadthecheerPRFail is trending on Twitter. The more pleasant tweets push the merits of independent coffee shops, while the most aggressive demand that they ‘Pay your f*cking taxes’. And to make matters even worse the company installed an unmoderated Twitter wall at the Natural History Museum’s ice rink, leading to the automatic projection of abusive messages, allegedly through a malfunction of the profanity filter.
Starbucks has got its marketing, social media and ethical stance very, very wrong. And while it is facing a social media firestorm it has not helped its cause – in fact through #spreadthecheer and Howard Schultz’s blog it has soaked itself in petrol and handed matches to the mob.
But Starbucks isn’t the only brand to completely underestimate that if pushed far enough people will complain – and with social media complaints can reach critical mass very quickly and turn into a comprehensive campaign against an organisation.
This means it is time for brands (particularly ones that claim to be ethical and friendly) to re-adjust their marketing. The time of one way marketing to passive users is over. As my erstwhile colleagues Steve Earl and Stephen Waddington pointed out in their book Brand Anarchy, “Reputation is not just under siege, the ramparts have been utterly breached.” A chilling threat to some companies but also a wake up call to marketers and brands – now you need to listen, learn and engage with customers, not refuse to serve them if they won’t give you their name.
December 19, 2012 Posted by Chris Measures | Marketing, PR, Social Media | Brand Anarchy, Howard Schultz, marketing fail, McDonalds, social media, spreadthecheer, Starbucks, Stephen Waddington, Steve Earl, tax, tax avoidance, Waitrose | 1 Comment
As the excitement of this week’s Police Commissioner elections galvanises the nation and sparks heated debate, I thought it would be worth looking at the role of Twitter in the gripping contest.
After all, looking back at the US election we saw a huge online turnout with voters from coast to coast giving their views and the Obama victory photo becoming the most liked and retweeted post ever. Social media was seen as a critical bellwether to who was going to win, with online sentiment analysis adding to exit polls in the data available to the candidates and media. And after the event voters made their feelings known (or were perhaps just fickle), with Mitt Romney’s Facebook page losing fans at the rate of 847 per hour. Go on, click on http://www.facebook.com/mittromney and see the fan count fall.
However when it comes to the Police Commissioner elections, at least in Suffolk, social media isn’t really centre stage. Of four candidates, one (Bill Mountford of UKIP) isn’t on Twitter and the Conservative and Independent candidates boast 242 followers between them. While they are both posting regular updates, only Labour candidate Jane Basham seems to have really been embraced by the medium, with 773 followers and a whopping 2,576 tweets. And the #suffolkpcc hashtag is generating on average 7-8 tweets a day, with none over the weekend. A quick look across the border at Cambridgeshire reveals similar levels of tweeting, so I’m not living in an isolated pocket of disinterest.
Of course comparing a local police election to the US Presidential contest is unfair. But what depresses me are two things. Firstly, we’re continually being told that social media is handing power back to the people, giving us the opportunity to communicate with our elected representatives and get our points across. And politicians have embraced Twitter, even if many just use it as a chance to retweet party propaganda and show off their own importance. But, equally importantly, I believe that the Police Commissioner elections should be about independent candidates as much as those backed by the party machines – social media levels the playing field as it is cheap, accessible and available to all. Everyone should have a view on law and order and, whatever it is, now is the time to get it across to those that will lead your police force in the coming years. Don’t just vote, tweet!
All Twitter figures correct as of 9pm, 13 November 2012
November 14, 2012 Posted by Chris Measures | Cambridge, Social Media | Barack Obama, Facebook, Labour, Mitt Romney, Obama, Police Commissioner Elections, social media, twitter, United States presidential election | 1 Comment
This week sees a momentous step in the march to an all-digital world, with the final switch off of the analogue TV signal in the UK. Retro lovers are already mourning the end of Ceefax’s blocky graphics and the need to replace portable TV aerials with coat hangers when they went walkabout.
However for me the fact that everyone now has access to a huge array of digital TV channels is more interesting in what it does to society. In a pre-satellite/cable era there were a very limited number of channels (three when I was a boy, rising to the dizzy heights of five with the launch of the imaginatively named Channel 5). Essentially this means that when you went into work, school or the pub the next day there was a good chance that you’d have watched the same programmes as your mates/colleagues the night before. So you had a plentiful source of conversation, aside from the weather and football, to bind you together into a community. ‘Must watch TV’ was exactly that, otherwise you’d be left out of the water cooler banter.
Nowadays this simply doesn’t happen. We’ve all got potentially hundreds of TV channels to be watching – and that’s before you add in catchup services, YouTube, cable and satellite. So the chances of bonding with someone due to a shared experience of watching an obscure German documentary on BBC2 are incredibly slight – in fact nowadays you probably didn’t even know it was on.
However after tearing us apart, technology is now providing the ability to bring us back together. We still have ‘must see’ TV but now we’re discussing it in real time through social media on our iPads while we watch. Disagree with the judges on Strictly or bemused by the choice of topics covered on Have I Got News for You, then you can comment as it happens. In many cases the Twitter commentary is better than the programme itself. This is great, as far as it goes, but it is an instant reaction as things happen. And as behavioural economics show, it is likely to help us form our opinions before we’ve actually had chance to think them through independently. Which can’t be good if we go into work the next day parroting other people’s thoughts.
And in case people think this is trivial, just replace Strictly Come Dancing with a Prime Ministerial Election Debate and see what I mean. So what we need is a way of mixing the instant and the reasoned, otherwise we’ll make snap judgements with potentially calamitous results (and I don’t mean voting for the wrong person on The X Factor). Time to encourage more longer term, analogue thinking rather than instant digital responses.
Yesterday’s Another Marketing Conferencesaw a number of illuminating and involving presentations, designed to provide ideas and guidance for marketers of all types. Held in Cambridge, it had some great speakers, slick (but not too slick) organisation and a wide range of delegates.
One presentation that stood out for me was Mark Earls (aka @herdmeister) talking about how marketers are essentially failing to understand their customers. We treat consumers as rational, thinking beings, when essentially we’re dominated by a desire to avoid thought and follow the herd. As Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahnemann put it: “We are to thinking as cats are to swimming. We can do it if we have to, but we don’t particularly like it.”
Mark outlined four handy principles:
- People do first and think later – they might post-rationalise their decisions and believe they acted logically, but that’s after the fact.
- We’re far more like Captain Kirk rather than Dr Spock, so you need to make it easy for people to make decisions, rather than thinking.
- People aren’t looking for the best, they are looking for ‘good enough’. We’re living in a universe of too much stuff, the vast majority of which doesn’t involve life or death choices. So we’ll generally go with what satisfies the need rather than spend days searching for the best possible option.
- People harmonise with other people automatically. In an uncertain decision landscape we’re most likely to choose what our peers are choosing rather than listen to marketing around us. We learn by copying others.
What I think is really interesting is how this plays out in social media and online. We tend to Like what our friends Like, we want to follow people that our friends follow and watch the videos that they do. So once something gets momentum behind it (think Psy’s Gangnam Style) it just grows and grows.
You can see this as depressing, as essentially it explains mob behaviour, but as marketers we need to understand how customers operate if we’re going to successfully engage with them. What decisions are independent and what are herd led? Structure campaigns accordingly and you can change behaviour and ensure your message gets across.
There’s more on this in the new book Mark has co-written “I’ll have what she’s having“ which was handily included in the goodie bag from the conference and has moved to the top of my reading list. Watch this space for a fuller review.
October 19, 2012 Posted by Chris Measures | Cambridge, Creative, Marketing, Social Media | Another Marketing Conference, Cambridge, Herd: How to Change Mass Behaviour by Harnessing Our True Nature, Herdmeister, I'll have what she's having, James T. Kirk, Mark Earls, marketing, social media, Spock | 2 Comments
Why Revolutionary Measures?
Marketing is undergoing a revolution. The advent of social media provides the opportunity for one-to-one communication for the first time since the move to an industrial society. This blog will look at what this means for B2B PR and marketing, incorporating my own thoughts/rants and interests. Do let me know your feedback!
About meI'm Chris Measures and I've spent the last 18 years creating and implementing PR and marketing campaigns for technology companies. I've worked with everyone from large quoted companies to fast growth start-ups, giving me unrivalled experience and ideas. I'm now director of Measures Consulting, an agency that uses this expertise to deliver PR and marketing success for technology businesses.
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