LG 23" Monitor: Announcing the winner!

Last week, I ran a competition, inviting readers to leave comments and share their best home office or lifehack tip in order to win an LG 23″ monitor. As it turns out, my readers are just as awesomely geeky as I am.

Once the competition ended, I used the Random Number Generator to choose a comment out of the 38 valid comments, with a view that if my own comment came up, I’d draw a number again.

And the winner is… *drum roll* Zoe Rose from Cambridge. LG will be sending Zoe a monitor very soon, and I’m sure Zoe will send us pics of her new home office setup.

As for my views of the LG screen, well…  I think the reality speaks for itself: I’m still using it instead of my 24″ Samsung screen. The main benefit of that switch is the huge difference the brightness sensor has made; it’s been a summer of days that varied wildly from very bright outside to cloudy and dark, yet at no point did I get that searingly bright light feeling. Also, being such a wide screen (1920 x 1080), it fits plenty of my crap on a single screen.

I won’t harp on because I always feel awkward when the schwag is given to me, but all in all, the LG monitor comes pretty highly recommended for its reasonable price (around £150). We spend such long hours in front of a screen, it’s worth getting a good one so as not to go blind by the age of 40!

Since the comments from the readers were so good, I’ll most likely make an entire post summarising them in the near future. In the meantime, go read them for yourself here and, while the competition is obviously over, feel free to add your own tips and tricks.

Corporate Blogging: Why you SHOULD publish press releases on your blog

This morning, I came across the excellent “10 Harsh Truths about Corporate Blogging”, published by Paul Boag on Smashing Magazine. I was nodding emphatically at each point, until I hit the 5th one, which jarred me in the back like a bad pothole in the road when you’re daydreaming on the drive to work.

Funnily enough, a year or two ago, I would have militantly agreed with Paul.

5. Press releases shouldn’t appear on a blog

[…] a press release preforms [sic] a different role to that of corporate blog. As the name implies, a press release is meant for professional journalists. It is designed to encourage journalists to write about your product or service. It is not designed for your customers.

A blog, on the other hand, is meant to be read by prospective and existing customers. It should be engaging, informative and helpful. When writing a blog post, you should always have the end reader in mind. What will they learn? What insight will this give them into who we are? How will it help build our relationship with the reader? You should never simply copy and paste press releases or news stories.

The other problem with press releases is that they are corporate statements. A blog should have a more personal tone.

Here’s why I now disagree; Bloggers are both journalists (in the broad sense of the term at least) and, one can assume, interested customers or prospects. Yet bloggers are journalists who often don’t get paid to deal with PR agencies’ bullshit (eg. embargoes) and don’t necessarily have the research resources that a professional journalist has access to.

Realistically, a corporate blog won’t be read by the vast majority of customers. Even with cool companies like Flickr, 37Signals or Twitter, what percentage of users really care about what’s being said on the corporate blog? [Note: There is a difference between a corporate blog & a blog directed at the end users. On a blog solely directed at end users, press releases are unlikely to have a purpose. This post refers to corporate blogs specifically.]

The beady eyeballs who will find most relevance in a corporate blog will be:

  • Existing and potential investors;
  • Competitors (As Paul says, get over it!);
  • Potential employees;
  • Active developers & geeks who want to use your API;
  • Journalists & Bloggers;
  • The occasional day-to-day user.

Don’t fool yourself, the majority of users will only care when the service goes down. As long as your site/ service/ product is available, they don’t think about what you do as a company an awful lot.*

So why does it still matter so much? The bloggers and the passionate users give a damn. They’re a key player in spreading the word about your business, and when they want to write about you, you should provide all the information you can so that they can feel smart and well informed. Yes, including that nasty old-world press release. Why? Bloggers cannot divinate information. Bloggers find themselves with only a short amount of time to write an entry and will be grateful for the stats you provide or the CEO’s past startup that can be confirmed via the release’s boilerplate.

So go for it, publish that press release. But wait! Don’t publish it alone. Accompany it with a summary in informal tone, some context to help readers understand the relevancy of the PR push, and a bucketload of useful resources (links, images & further information).

If your press release is so officious that you’re embarrassed to publish it on the blog, could it be that you need to rethink your releases altogether? Journalism is changing too, and a fresh, no-bullshit press release will most likely appeal to traditional journalists too. Why not try that for a change?

[* Here’s another tip: If your livelihood is dependent on being available on the web, host your blog elsewhere so that you can still provide status updates when your service goes down.]

Morgan Stanley intern: Why this teen's research paper really matters

Over the past 10 days, Morgan Stanley, an established global financial services provider with offices across the world, saw a 15 year old teen create a lot of noise while interning at the firm’s London office.

Matthew Robson was tasked with the project of writing a report on how teenagers consume media, the kind of job you give the son of a friend who’s asked for a summer internship. “Isn’t the boy sweet? Make sure the office manager offers him a glass of juice, will you?” Anyone who’s worked in an office has had this kind of intern around, kids with an interest in business who’ll gain more insight than you can ever imagine from a few weeks around.

Usually, however, these students leave as quietly as they arrived, having organised a few filing cabinets and tended to a few menial projects.

In this case, Matthew was given the opportunity to write a report on media consumption, which could have very well fallen on deaf ears, but not only have Morgan Stanley paid attention, the Telegraph published the report in full.

If you spend your life bathing in online media as I do, none of the observations in the report are mindblowing. What is remarkable is that, this time, the CEO’s, directors and people in charge of company direction have listened to Matthew’s report.

It’s a chronic problem with management: The higher up you get, the more out of touch you become with the reality of your users, current and future. You think in “audience”, “viewing figures” and other amorphous blobs of numbers, you forget that you’re dealing with people, intelligent and curious and ever-changing people.

This boy’s report highlights some interesting realities.

  • Newspapers: This generation doesn’t want to pay for news. The Sun (20p) will occasionally get picked up but free papers or other means of consumption like the web or TV.
  • Directories: A dying medium, the print directory has never been used. Being Google-savvy means the teens can easily find what they want, again for free.
  • Viral/Outdoor/Guerrilla advertising: Teens welcome these unusual, exciting campaigns, so while they might shun banner ads and conventional TV ads, they enjoy guerrilla marketing, in-game ads and quirky ads that don’t tell the full story.
  • Music: Again, free and digital are preferred. Music that is accessible offline is also preferred, so the streaming model may not be right for them.
  • Mobile: Pay as you go, reasonably priced devices are topping this market. iPhones are nowhere to be seen due to cost and likelihood that the teens will lose them before the contract is up.
  • Games consoles: Surprisingly in this teen’s research, only a third of the teens had games consoles at home, with 50% owning Nintendo’s Wii console, 40% an XBox and a measly 10% with PS3’s, Sony’s prohibitively expensive console.
  • Social networks: Less surprisingly, Facebook is the clear winner in terms of favourite way to spend time online. Twitter doesn’t ring true with these teens, probably due to the time it takes to get to a stage where the service feels gratifying, versus Facebook that excites as soon as a friend or two are added.

For some unknown reason (slow news week?), this report got far beyond the teen’s direct summer manager and was truly acknowledged by City bosses.

While I think many of the observations don’t necessarily reflect the rest of Britain’s teens’ reality, it was a great read: Uninhibited, honest words, without the usual adult filter that causes us to speak in much less absolute terms. I think we should all try to see the world through a 15 year old’s eyes every so often, we’d notice amazing things.

Pepsmedia News: Training Courses on "Blogs & Social Media in Business" in September & October

pepsmedia_workshop_artIn the past year, I’ve been providing in-house training for companies who are approaching blogging and social media with excitement, but need some guidance to ensure they do things right.

I’m now opening up the “Intro to Blogs & Social Media in Business” training course to the public, with a few dates in September and October:

  • Cambridge: 8th September and 20th October
  • London: 22nd September and 21st October

Some details about the training course:

This one-day introductory course will offer insight into the emerging social media channels:

  • Blogs
  • Social Networks: Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr
  • Microblogging: Twitter, Plurk, Tumblr
  • Podcasting, Videocasting
  • Wikis, mashups, community events and more…

We are confident that the above wonʼt sound like a foreign language any longer at the end of the day.

This course aims to explore each channel’s potential in terms of getting brand exposure, building feedback channels and integrating within traditional marketing campaigns. We will look at case studies of the best and worst uses of social media by marketers from businesses ranging from 1-man-shows to multinationals.

It will help you understand how you can join the conversation that is undoubtedly already happening about your company, your product and your brand on the web. You will discover the tools and techniques used for creatively communicating your message, building quality relationships with users & making your social media campaigns a success.

I suppose that coming from a family of teachers, I was bound to end up providing training. Seeing attendees leave the session feeling energised, with bucketloads of ideas for their own campaigns and having shed the fear of this social science is the greatest reward for me.

Interested? Download the course details here or register for the course right away to secure a space in one of the next few sessions!

Torchwood Writer Gets Online Abuse: Where social media stops being fun

A few days ago, I wrote about the Torchwood 5-day mini series which ended on Friday. During that same evening, it’s with great amusement that I also discovered that James Moran, writer for Severance, and episodes of Doctor Who, Torchwood, Primeval, Spooks, and Crusoe, was on Twitter.

In many ways, I enjoy seeing these backstage celebs on Twitter. By backstage celebs, I mean people who aren’t Britney, MC Hammer or Stephen Fry. Those people can be on Twitter all they like, but they’re already in the limelight. Seeing those who usually don’t get the limelight finally interact with the public through more than their scripts, stories or stage direction is more exciting, as we don’t usually get to hear them speak other than through their characters.

However, this evening, I came across a post by James which allowed me to realise just how seriously some people take television. He received many positive and praising messages, but was also highly criticised for a storyline that even upset me. Yes, I did have a tear in my eye when Rhys held the camera for Gwen to record her final words as “the world ended”.

Some have been spewing insults and passive aggressive nonsense. Accusing me of deliberately trying to mislead, lie, and hurt people. Telling me I hate the fans, that I’m laughing at them, that I used them, that I’m slapping people in the face, that I’ve “killed” the show, that I’m a homophobe, that I want to turn the fanbase away and court new, “cooler” viewers, even that I’m hurting depressed people with dark storylines. Asking me to pass on vitriolic, hateful messages to people I love and respect.

Not cool.

As James says, this just isn’t cool.

I love letting a story envelope me and take me away from work, home, the fact that the kitchen’s still not tidy and the stairs need hoovering. I love a story that lets me get a tiny little crush on one of the characters and picture travelling the stars with them. [Hell, I named my cats after Jack Harkness and Rose Tyler!] And yes, sometimes I want to shout at the TV and disagree with their stupid actions. “Don’t go in there alone and DO NOT put your gun down, you idiot!”

But people, all of you people who’ve given James abuse, get. a. fucking. grip.

“Hurting depressed people with dark storylines”? Please, get some real help. And I’m not saying this intending to offend, but with a true concern that if a TV show is enough to make you cross that line, it’s time to look at getting real help.

And if this isn’t your situation, then please go outside and get some perspective. This is television, and for a change, hey, it’s good enough to make people feel strongly about it by choosing a path less travelled. If the writers had taken the usual path, the same people would have clamoured that the ending was cheesy and predictable!

So have some respect for people and their trade. If a writer can’t join Twitter and enjoy it for what it is – a totally open means of communication with the audience – then writers, actors, authors and other backstage celebs will pull back and let their PR agencies do the talking. And that’s not what we want, is it!?

Here’s 50p, go buy yourself an ice cream and some perspective.

The Guardian Crowdsources the MPs Expense Investigation: Giving Idle Hands Direction

I’m fascinated by today’s effort by The Guardian to crowdsource investigation of the MPs expenses.

My interest isn’t in the topic investigated, really. While I agree that MPs need to be brought down from that Lala land where they can expense duck houses for our hard earned tax money to pay, I do feel that it has somewhat turned into a witch hunt. The time and energy spent by auditors and journalists to establish who should be burnt at the stake first could have been used in much better ways.

mp_expenses_guardian_smallSo The Guardian came up with a solution; use those idle hours we spent faffing around on the web when we should be working and crowdsource the investigation. Built by Simon Willison and a few others, it is a giant repository of the scanned expenses documents for us to browse.

The process is simple:

  1. Visit the “Investigate your MP’s expenses” site
  2. Hit “Start Reviewing” to see the first expense document (Bonus, they provide a progress bar telling us how many pages we’ve looked at)
  3. Decide what kind of document it is and whether it’s interesting
  4. Make observations to help the journalists investigate the right entries

So how did The Guardian manage to make it such that we have collectively crunched through 20,000 pages in the past four hours, when we procrastinate for weeks before doing our own 12 receipts worth of expenses at work? By rewarding us and feeding our voyeuristic streak.

Rewarding us

The rewards are simple; we get satisfaction in knowing we’re taking part in “justice” being made. So far, I’ve marked two items as “Investigate this!” and I feel like a mini Sherlock Holmes.

In addition to this, the use of a big fat progress bar makes us feel the power of the crowd by showing us how quickly it’s progressing. At one point, I refreshed every 60 seconds to see over 100 documents knocked off every minute. For a generation used to racing games’ lap times and Flight Control high scores, it’s just another little buzz.

mp_expenses_progress_bar-1

Feeding our voyeuristic streak

Admit it, you’ve always wondered what these people spend their allowances. Being able to snoop around feeds that urge. Well… somewhat does. There’s enough black tape redacting out claim details to hold together the hockey sticks of an entire team for a couple of seasons, but we can make out enough to shake a finger and tut at our MPs.

How crowdsourcing could (and should) be used

This kind of manual work that cannot be handled by a computer is already widespread on the web.

Spammers use a clever tactic through which they republish a captcha they want to solve from any given site to a porn site, let an “innocent” porn site visitor solve the captcha by telling them they must fill it in to access the site. Use the solution to access the first site. The poor porn site visitor has not only killed kittens, but also helped a spammer fulfill its dirty deed.

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is also using the power of crowds by enabling companies to outsource manual tasks to workers at a lesser cost than hiring staff to do colour comparisons or other tasks computers struggle with.

However, the potential for this type of crowdsourcing is amazing. Thousands of people, passionate to get something done, can achieve seemingly impossible tasks when shown a way to direct their efforts.

It makes me wonder how we can unleash our own communities’ potential; beta testing, idea shaping and customer cross-support… The possibilities stretch forever.

Spring brings change to Pepsmedia.com

With many years of moonlighting and now nearly a year under my belt working full time for Pepsmedia, we felt lately that it was time to refresh our site to reflect the shift in what we’ve been doing for our clients.

The new Pepsmedia siteMuch of my time this year has been focused on strategic planning for blog & social media campaigns, in-house coaching and brand monitoring, interspersed with some gorgeous blog and website designs. So far, it’s been both the most enjoyable and the most challenging experience I’ve ever faced.

Many people ask me whether I regret choosing this economic climate to jump into self-employment, and I always answer that I don’t have an ounce of regret. Sure, I’ve had a few sleepless nights and my squeezy stressball is due for some therapy, but it’s been worth it every step of the way.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with great clients to date, and every new meeting excites me because it keeps getting better. Great projects, great experiences and best of all, I didn’t have to eat beans on toast for too long. (Phew, I hate beans on toast…)

So over the past few weeks, we spent some time brewing a new design for pepsmedia.com and finally launched it this week. Let me know what you think of it!