Content, strategy and creating value in a digital world

Lady Gaga is dead. So what?

On the 1st of December, World Aids Day, a raft of celebrities from Lady Gaga to Usher, to Serena Williams “died” on Twitter, with the promise that they would only return to life once their fans had pledged $1m. The response so far tells us a fair amount about how much people actually value celebrity tweeting.

So what happened? Well, the celebs fell silent. And the world kept turning. And five days on, less than a third of the money has been raised.

Setting aside the very worthy cause, the arrogance of the proposition is something to behold. As a fan, I may be willing to part with some cash to buy a piece of content that you have spent time crafting (your latest album, say) but paying simply to hear what you had for breakfast? No thanks.

So what lessons are there for prospective celebrity endorsements?

1. Dead? Really?

Put simply, life is too noisy, too full of other distractions. The celeb silence has been filled, and our dearly departed celebs appear to have dug themselves an early grave.

2. They aren’t really dead!

Obvious, I know, but the thing is that there are plenty of other ways to keep abreast of your favourite celebrity. In the past week there have been over 14,000 news stories written about Lady Gaga, and that’s just on google news approved sources. The amount of traffic on fan sites, forums and smaller blogs mean that there is plenty to keep Gaga-istas engaged without a few days worth of tweets from the Lady herself. Put simply: silence is rarely engaging, unless it is total.

3. Silence gets filled

The majority of active Twitter users follow on average 400 people. Do I notice when one of my favourites doesn’t tweet for a few days? Usually not. Mostly, I might simply attribute that to the way that I browse Twitter – read the most recent tweets, then move onto something else. Celebrity silence simply gets lost in the Twittersphere.

4. Payment and value models have changed

The rise of branded and celebrity-endorsed content mean that I am effectively paying for the content by giving it my attention, and I believe that most web users understand that. By following a celebrity we are effectively saying “I am willing to receive some promotional messages in exchange for exclusive content” The concept of actually stumping up for the privilege of being sold to is an anathema

5. How much is 140 characters really worth?

Putting aside those people who are moved to donate by the worthiness of the cause, the content of celebrity tweets is simply not valuable enough to pay for. Twitter remains for most people a distraction. We did other things before we followed Lady Gaga, and we’re probably doing them now.

So what next? Well, one option would be for the celebrities to ressurect themselves. After all, when your tweets are worth tens of thousands of dollars a pop, surely the noble thing to do would be to open your pockets, before opening your mouth.

PostScript I – Astonishingly, it seems some celebs are more wedded to the cause than others: Usher may have died on the 1st of December, but 4 days later he’s reappeared, despite the target being missed.

Postscript II – As of today, 07 December, the $1m target has officially been reached, which means that $700,000 has been raised overnight. An astonishing fundraising feat. Unbelievable, some might say…


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Mobile Facebook and Twitter usage rockets

New figures out from comscore today confirm what most of us already knew – smartphone usage is growing, and that in turn is driving users away from PC internet, and onto the mobile web.

That said, the rate of growth really is quite something…

The survey found that over 30 percent of smartphone users accessed social networking sites via their mobile browser last month – that’s up by almost a third on the same period last year.

This comes on the back of Facebook’s announcement last year that 100m of their 400m users regularly access the site via their mobile phones.

It stands to reason that social media should be driving mobile internet usage, since they are all about communicating and connecting with friends – a utility already engrained in mobile use.

What’s going to be interesting is to see how much those services start to ramp up their offering in location-based services – utilising the unique strengths of mobile over PC.

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Corporate Twitter: a simple, sad lesson from Europcar

This is a story about how I tried to spend £100 with a car hire company and failed, thanks to an unhelpful customer service department, compounded by spectacularly poor use of the official company Twitter account.

It started well enough with an online booking, followed by a phone call from the branch to confirm the exact car I needed.

The wheels fell off when I tried to pick the car up. Despite being assured by the man on the phone that I didn’t need to take along the company credit card to pick up the car, when I arrived without it, I was stonewalled.

Nope. Sorry. No can do.

Did I have recourse?

“You can call customer services”

And so started my customer service odyssey, an epic that involved being referred between departments, then back to a self-service website that denied any knowledge of me.

What did I want? To reschedule a booking, pay for it with a company credit card and then pick up the car using a different card for the deposit.

The short answer from Europcar: “Computer says no”

And then I noticed the Twitter link on the Europcar homepage, offering me “Daily Driving Inspiration”

So in desperation I messaged them:

@carhiregetaways experiencing terrible customer service with Europcar – what do you recommend I do to get help?

The response? Silence. Until 11pm that night, when I received this direct message:

Thanks for following us… Get 10% off your next UK car hire at http://www.europcar.co.uk with our exclusive Twitter offer! http://bit.ly/GeHOn

To make it worse, they hadn’t even followed me back, so I was unable to DM them back. Did anyone read my message? Did I sound like I was in the mood to make another booking with Europcar? Is there anyone actually there?

If you thought there was nothing worse than callcentre staff who refuse to veer off script to help a customer, may I suggest this: a company using a bot to broadcast Tweets into cyberspace in the belief that it amounts to engaging with customers.

I’m a customer, I have a unique problem, I have apparently fallen through the cracks of your carefully-written customer service scripts. What I want is a real person (with some initiative) to address my problem. What I got was an automated message that was irrelevant at best, infuriating at worst.

So Europcar, if you’re reading this, perhaps I could give you a few simple tips to improve your Twitter presence (you could easily apply them to any of your social media channels), the rewards will be great, I promise:

  • If someone follows you, follow them back
  • Welcome messages are fine, so long as they are appropriate to the situation.
  • Social Media is about conversation, not broadcasting. If a customer reaches out to you with a problem, make sure you respond. It’s probably going to be the difference between retaining a customer and creating an advocate for your competitors.
  • Customers who do engage with you via Twitter are more than likely to be higher income, highly engaged,and willing to book online – ie your dream customer. Treat them well and they will sing your praises to all of their high income, highly-engaged friends. Treat them badly and the damage will stretch much further than just one lost sale.
  • Do a quick inventory of your followers – How many look like your target market? Of your 115 followers, the majority are other car hire companies and travel guides. Now ask yourself: Why are my customers not listening to me? Should I change my messaging, my engagement strategy or both to attract more of the right kinds of followers?
  • If it’s your official Twitter account, make sure it features your corporate logo. The Europcar page links back to the official site and has links from the official site, but the page itself bears no branding at all.
  • And finally (suggestion: do this first) @europcar is unclaimed and available. Go and grab it, before someone less sympathetic takes it first.

So did I finally get to drive that car? Yes I did. With Europecar’s direct competitor.

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Witness tweets shark attack as it happens

Just been watching an unbelievable Twitter stream from @skabenga – an eyewitness account of a shark attack at Fish Hoek, a beach town near Cape Town.

Gripping, frightening, visceral stuff. Here’s a snapshot:

Holy shit, we just saw a GIGANTIC shark eat what looked like a person right in front of our house in fishhoek. Unbelievable.

skabenga   Jan 12   1:40 pm

Emergency services just arrived. It must have been a person. The shark breached it’s head out the water no remains http://yfrog.com/1dronnpj

skabenga   Jan 12   1:44 pm

We are dumbstruck, that was so surreal. That shark was HUGE. Like dinosaur huge. #sharkattack #fishhoek

skabenga   Jan 12   1:47 pm

Helicopters are out and looking for any trace of the remains. Shark headed off Clovelly way #fishoek #sharkattack

skabenga   Jan 12   2:06 pm

Emergency boats also out crisscrossing the area. We have seen sharks in the bay before but that one was enormous. #fishoek #sharkattack

skabenga   Jan 12   2:11 pm

@igitur At first it could have been a seal pup but then the object it pulled under had some color visible before it disappeared

skabenga   Jan 12   2:19 pm

RT: @joyanne: spoke to allan from whale watchers-he said they’ve found half a body and the person was swimming off the catwalk

skabenga   Jan 12   2:41 pm

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Doth the web protest too much?

Really like this comment piece from Nick Cohen – Beware the instant online anger of the Hobnob mob – that worries about how easy the web has made it to protest.

Compared to the pre-internet days when staging a protest required serious commitment a couple of books of stamps; these days you can go from a throwaway remark on TV to a Twitter trendning topic and tens of thousands of outraged  Facebook group members in a couple of hours.

The speed and the numbers might combine to make editors and politcians jumpy, but where does this all lead us.

It reminds me of that benighted precursor to campaigning Facebook groups – the email petition.

Remember those? There was a time when I’d a get a couple a week, from people wanting my name against anything from rape to puppy killing (yes, seriously).

Now setting aside the fact that you’d find it hard to find anyone who WOULDN’T oppose those phenomena, what bugged me was the element of electronic consicence-easing that email petitions seemed to epitomise. As if by a few keystrokeds and a rummage through your address book you;’d doen your bit for global warming, poverty or whatever the current cause du’jour.

And while there’s no doubt that the web has had a measurably good impact in campaigning, organising and raising awareness (just ask Barack Obama, for one), I just hope that those in positions of responsibility are able to judge the righteousness in the anger of what sometimes seems like  a critical mass of Social Media outrage.

Because to use the vocabulary of Twitter, they may find that it is just that – a trending topic.

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How Twitter is changing the face of sport

It started with the government, now sports bodies are issuing social media guidelines to players. It’s a demonstration of how Twitter in particular is reshaping channels of communications and the traditional media environment.


According to The Telegraph, The Tennis Integrity unit has sent a warning to all players about Twitter use, with particular reference to the fact that in tweeting, players could fall foul of the sports’ anti-corruption rules.

With so much money being wagered on every aspect of big games (not just the final result), any inside information can become valuable. How a player is feeling, how they think the surface is playing, what they think about their opponent – it’s all information that could make someone a packet.

Over in the States, the NFL has also laid out guidelines for teams, officials and players. And for officials it’s particularly punitive: “The use of social media by NFL game officials and officiating department personnel is prohibited at any time.”

Really? Is this legal, or even enforceable? Sounds a bit like banning cellphones or watching TV.

Players and coaches, meanwhile can use only social media or networking sites up to 90 minutes before kickoff and following post-game media interviews.

Of course, with every innovation comes challenges and new regulation, but it’s enough to make you nostalgic for the good old days, when matchfixing invovled such high tech skulduggery as a couple of phone calls and free leather jacket.

Five sports stars who tweet

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Twitter is rubbish, say teens (kind of)

Much media excitement today about a report published by Morgan Stanley into how teenagers consume media. It’s already hit the front page of the FT, and guardian.co.uk.


Well, mainly because it contains a verbatim report written by a 15-year-old intern.

Given the level of interest, you’d think that this was the first time the industry has been offered some cogent insights from a teenager.

Or perhaps they’re giving it so much airtime because he’s apparently sounding the death knell of traditional media.

Either way, one has to wonder at the value of it, given that it is qualitative research from a single viewpoint. Let’s not burn the presses just yet, eh?

That said, there are a couple of interesting insights:

1. Teenagers do not use Twitter
“Most have signed up to the service, but then just leave it as they release [sic] that they are not going to update it.”

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how Twitter is shaping up.

It’s rapidly emerging as a means of direct broadcasting by celebrities, rather than as a way to update friend networks (which is what Facebook is used for).

This is being driven by the media increasingly quoting celebrity Twitter feeds in lieu of comment (see how Liz Taylor used it to comment on her absence at Jacko’s funeral?).

Very soon teenagers will use Twitter as a means of receiving, not broadcasting information, skipping out the traditional media.

2. Teenagers do not read newspapers because they do not have the time and can’t be bothered to read pages and pages of text
Now these are two very different reasons. And at the risk of sounding a decade older than I am, let me just say “A teenager with no time? I doubt it.”

Nevertheless a not unexpected, but quite depressing outloook for the intelligent press.

Then again, how many of today’s serious newspaper readers were reading pages and pages of text in their teenage years?

I don’t believe that the content is the problem. I think that teenagers are not the core market of these publications. But what old media should be worried about, is how they are to attract today’s teenagers to their content when they become the serious newspaper readers of tomorrow.

Clearly it’s about digital, but perhaps it’s also about presenting curated or aggregated content and comment.

3. Gaming is starting to replace phones as a means of voice and text conversation.
This is interesting, worth watching and bearing this in mind for a couple of clients.

You can read the full report here: http://media.ft.com/cms/c3852b2e-6f9a-11de-bfc5-00144feabdc0.pdf

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Tweetbricks – Tetris meets Twitter

The race to paint everything a shade of twitter continues apace with this Tetris-based twitter game.

Some fun interactivity here though, like the ability to play with your friends, @replies and more. Plus the ability to tweet scores or blame the offending tweet when you lose.

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Twitian a guardian-Twitter mashup

I’m a huge fan of the way the guardian picks up and reinterprets new technologies.

Twitian is the latest – essentially the guardian expressed through Twitter – their staff, followers and favourite tweets.

Neat interface and IA, backed up by great content. We’d expect nothing less from the Graun.

Kudos to developer Paul Carvill.

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