Letter to Facebook: have you lost your mind?

Dear Facebook,

I used to be a big fan, but my love affair is waning very fast. I sheepishly admit that in the early days, I may have even called you 'FaceHook' on occasion. But now, things have changed fast, and I worry you've lost your mind. And here's why:

1. You aren't Twitter. Some say you are trying to Tweet-ify your homepage and jump on the microblogging bandwagon. Note: that's what your newsfeed, which you've unceremoniously killed, used to achieve. This new mishmash of updates/wall conversations/posts is ugly and disorganised. I long for the old newsfeed.

2. There is already a Twitter, and it's doing just fine thanks, given its growth statistics.

3. You used to be an experience site where one could store little pieces of life and show them around to ones' friends. Now, I can't even find pictures, groups, others' profiles or the other little things that made my experience better. Now, you just seem to be a weird cross between an RSS reader, microblogging and mess.

4. "New Facebook" amplifies your worst feature - the one your biggest fans hate - applications that do nonsense things like vampire fighting that annoy and take up space on one's computer.

And here's why I fear losing your mind could result in your death:

1. I no longer recommend that people in my mom & dad's generation will 'get you' and benefit from joining. My mom would have been just about OK on the old Facebook, but the new one? She won't be able to make heads or tails of it. She shops online, so I believe her computer skills are average or above average for the 60-70 years segment. Wasn't that your biggest growth segment previously? You've screwed that one up royally.

2. I will no longer put my pictures on your site and chose Flikr from now on. Once people stop posting their photo albums, you're not even living up to your name "Facebook" anymore.

3. Your users revolted about the new T&C's to the point where you had to retract them. You planted the seed of doubt in users' minds that you are about to infringe on their rights and privacy (bringing me to my next point....)

4. You have apparently been emailing people's non-member friends that they recommend they join. (This happened to me, despite me a. not saying that was OK with me and b. not even wanting the recommendation passed on.) If you carry on infringing on people's online rights, your users will desert you faster than Friendster.

Please, Mark Zuckerberg, I implore you to rethink this strategy. It ain't working, and 94% of your userbase agrees, from the recent vote. If you wanted to create a new service, you should have kept the happy Facebook bubble, named the new thing something else and given users the choice to upgrade, have both, or stay happily where they were.



Talk Straight, Ditch the Jargon

I recently listed the media clich├ęs I despise most on my personal blog. In the interest of balance and fairness, I think it’s time we eliminated some of the worst blights that exist in PR and marketing. It’s something I’ve been vocal on before in PR Week last year, but we really must avoid the below for the sake or our own integrity:

- “Market-leading” – when you’re not. If you’re not Microsoft, Ford, Real Madrid or something similar, you’re NOT a market leader. Don’t lie, just tell the media what you do

- “Solution” – this is a pet hate of mine

- “One-stop shop” – what is this, Saturday morning kids’ TV? I thought this phrase had died out about the same time as the VCR, but I spotted it today

- “We welcome [announcement X from third part Y followed by fawning self-congratulation]…” – as a media alert, this is a false start. Just get on with it, what’s the point you’re trying to make?

- “We’re delighted [that unheard of salesman X has joined anonymous company Y]…” – good, it’d be worrying to think that you’d hired someone you were lukewarm or even reluctant to take on…

I could go on, but I won’t. As an industry we need to eliminate this banality once and for all. If we’re going to flatter ourselves with the title “Creative Industry” then we need to live up to it.


Twitter pitches: erm, what about confidentiality?

Guardian tech editor Charles Arthur has made headlines in the past week by stating that he will no longer use email, and instead, only accept PR pitches via Twitter. This isn't the first PR stunt Charles has staged along these lines; I went to a Full Run talk he gave years ago where he claimed he never reads press releases, so Twitter is just another quicker way of getting news, in Charles' eyes.

I agree with Charles in that pitching via Twitter is a wonderful thing, when the information in question is already public and/or has already gone out over the wire. It keeps things concise, to the point, brief. It forces us to keep things simple. But it has a major flaw. What about pitching information that is not yet a part of the public record?

There are some inherent problems with only using Twitter to pitch PR stories:

1. Most good stories worth printing, and therefore worth journalists knowing about, are pitched in advance, when it's still confidential
2. In order to use Twitter for a private conversation you need to be able to DM someone
3. Twitter is absolutely dreadful when it comes to updating DM so even though I have 600 followers, I can only DM about 125 of them. I have chalked this up to a Twitter bug; if anyone knows it is caused by something else, let me know. In a nutshell, Twitter is a game changer but it's not without its (major) service faults
4. If the person doesn't follow you back, and I know Charles doesn't follow most PR people back, the DM process is hopeless, leaving your only option a public Tweet
5. No PR person in his or her right mind would ever pitch an exclusive over a public Tweet. Otherwise it would be called an 'inclusive'

Charles, as well as many other journalists, want to do things quicker, better, easier. But even they can't change the fact that a large part of the PR process is hinged upon client confidentiality and restricted by NDA agreements and this will never change. Most good stories are restricted in terms of timing due to good reason (for instance, because the new service you're pitching hasn't yet gone live). Exclusives are a critical part of the pitching process and if you really only accept Tweets, it pretty much means you don't want exclusives.

Lots of journalists want to change this balance of power, but frankly, companies will always control their own newsflow and 'timing is everything.' If journalists still want the holy grail of exclusives, I don't see how you can ignore email altogether, unless you want PRs to start showing up on your doorstep to tell you about a story in person and hand you a printout or go back to the 70s and start faxing you text. They can Tweet it first: "On my way to Guardian towers!" Giving you just enough time to alert your security staff.

I'm not a stick in the mud, and I'm usually fine with embracing new ways of doing things, but I respect NDAs and confidentiality like a priest respects the Pope, because otherwise, I'd be grossly infringing upon the trust of my clients, not to mention the legal implications of our contracts.

Comments very welcome on this post.


Spying on media spats

Just in this week.... Media People Often Don't Get Along. (The shock, the horror). There has been a lot of sand flinging around the media sandbox over the past few days and Twitter is your best window into the drama, if you follow the right people, that is.

Last week, a UK journalist called a US social media 'guru' and journalist a 'douchebag' for something he said at the SXSW conference. Do I know what he said? No, but I found it interesting that the journalist in question felt so offended by his presentation that he was obliged to bring it up on such a public forum as Twitter. And it was also interesting to see how the US journalist reacted, also on Twitter.

Less than a day later, a 'big' UK tech correspondent publicly complained about his team missing the Google Streetview story in his absence. Again, surprising to see Twitter naming and shaming going on.

And in the final media spat I've witnessed in the past couple of days, ZDnet publicly 'cleared up' some gross misrepresentations of a blog post committed by some (unnamed) US PR agencies. You've got to read this one for yourself.

I purposely haven't linked to these Tweets because my point isn't to call more attention to the spats, most of which were pretty minor anyway. But my point is to raise the issue that Twitter makes the sometimes love-to-hate relationship in the media sector front and centre for all to see. We've always had these spats, it's just that Twitter makes them more open.


Future of the ad industry? My Golden Age argument.

Another Monday, another grim news day for the advertising industry. The media is bent on ensuring it's not a happy day for 'mad men.' One article talked about spending on social networking being impacted by the recession far worse than projected - growth figures cut by at least half. And last week, in an anticipated move, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer closed its print edition due to shrinking ad sales.

From my dealings with Xtract I've become more equipped to vocalise, in a more eloquent fashion, some things I'd already started noticing about what's wrong with ads, from a consumer viewpoint. Funnily enough, the act of getting married last year taught me a LOT about the advertising industry. Everyone wants to target someone with a budget of £20k-odd to slosh around.

Here are some lessons that the ad industry appears to still be learning:

1. No one will ever click on a sidebar ad unless it's totally relevant to them. If I'm planning my wedding in Rome and Facebook delivers up an ad for a great DJ in Rome, I'll definitely click on it. If it's about a dress shop in my town, I'll probably click on it. If it's about boxing, a sport I'm not into, I definitely won't.

2. Online ads have their place, and in some cases online ads can kill print ads. (E.g. ads on Gumtree and Craig's List crippled the classified ads market). But there are good reasons behind this evolution and it doesn't mean every digital ad has the ability to kill every print ad. A lot of people make this false assumption. Print ads absolutely have their place - when you are trying to reach a targeted, captive audience, magazine advertising is still brilliant. Newspaper advertising might be more difficult to justify and I don't think anyone has the answer to papers closing down because of this (I sure don't).

3. Mobile presents an even better platform for providing close, personal ads than the web, due to the personal nature in which we use our phones.

4. A lot of people Everyone hates spam.

5. A large proportion of people would be willing to provide small pieces of information about themselves online or via mobile to trusted providers, to ensure the ads that they're targeted with are more relevant. For those who don't want to disclose any information, opt-out clauses are critical and should be legally-enforced.

6. For any of the above themes to work, the ad industry needs to learn to cooperate with the right technologies that can make good things happen.

I could go on, but in a nutshell, if digital means via web and mobile can create personal, relevant ads, and stop the blanket advertising that results in end-scenarios such as junk mail and spam, the ad industry could face its Golden Age - a much nicer, and much different, outcome than death. Now, let's see if ad execs can wrap their heads around this concept. The new generation in advertising agencies 'gets it' - but do their bosses?

Disclaimer: Though I mentioned Xtract in this post, these views are completely my own.


Speedy delivery

Just a quick post to say congratulations to Loewy Group and Speed Communications on today's launch. The new brand is visually-enticing and 'of the times.' We like it. No one will shed a tear over the lost name 'Rainier,' methinks, and as such the rebrand should be a big coup for you. From a couple of former employees, congrats and we're looking forward to seeing more of your snazzy new look! Well done Steve, Wadds and the rest of the team.

Don't Panic! Why PRs should slow down a bit

…I’ve had a couple of shockers this week. I contribute to a new media analysis site, which is great as it enables me to don the journalist cap and see things from the other side of the PR fence. Someone once said if a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing well, and that should be said of all areas of PR, even the dull stuff like features pitching and sending out press releases. Is it time or pressure that leads PROs to make embarrassing mistakes? Whatever it is, don’t panic so much, take all the time you need to deliver quality work, whatever it is, within deadline.

Most entertainingly, today I received a press release dated July 19, 2009. This was for a leading services company from a well-known PR firm. I won’t go into the subject heading typo but that was equally unprofessional. Was the junior executive under so much pressure to get this release out that the date and subject were so out of kilter?

Also this week I used Response Source to help me generate comment for a feature. I was explicit in my instructions thus:

“I’m currently overseas so please send one paragraph comment with name, title and company URL with whom to attribute it and I’ll come back with any further Qs. Please DON’T pitch a phone interview as I’m just after comment.”

Only a third of respondents came back in the format requested – and they came in closer to the deadline, probably because they’d taken more time about it to give me (the journalist in this case) what I needed.

To the multitude that clearly didn’t fully read (or believe) what I wrote and offered a phone interview with spokesperson X from company Y who “has some strong views on this subject” - great, so do I: take your time and deliver as requested or you go straight into the trash box and everyone’s time has been wasted.

It’s all about time, and I know first hand that PRs don’t have a lot of it, but if a job’s worth doing…


What a Twit!: Those Annoying Twitterances

Twitter, while admittedly an invaluable business tool, brings us face-to-screen with both people we know and people we don’t on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis. Like a lot of over-familiarity, it can breed contempt. As we all hit our X-thousandth update it’s inevitable that we’d have been guilty of annoying some people with our Tweeting habits. Here are some we’ve noticed that particular ire, in no particular order. We’ve been guilty of some of these ourselves. What grates you the most on Twitter?

Random inane tweets: I’ve got X number of X, need to fix that [e.g. “666 followers – spooky – might just do another to get off it!]

Anonymous and inane tweets that say something without saying anything [I just did something that someone felt was weird, but someone else felt something different. Strange huh?]

People who celebrate and offer incentives to get increased numbers of followers, even if half of them are BigTracey187 and LuvYooLongTime69 [Come on Tweeple!!! 498!!! Help me get to 500! Retweet this!!]

People who demand (not ask) to be retweeted on purely self-congratulatory items [see above]

Non-responding egos – they never respond to tweets (probably because they get too many)

Martyrs: I’ve got 400 emails to work through! My inbox might die under the weight of all this PR mail! [Mainly freelance journalists who once, back in 1999, wrote a 500 word piece for The God-ian]

Sympathy seekers: ambiguously written tweets on how bad someone’s day/life/relationship is at that moment in time [God, this day’s gone from worse, I must have a dark cloud following me today] who tweet something like that *every* day

Professionals who put sexually-charged images on of themselves or ‘anonymous’ male Tweeters who put up sexy glamour shots of females they have clearly never met as a way of attracting new followers

The cliques…. [see previous blog post]

Twittering mainly/only about how popular/important Twitter is

People who think Twitter is Facebook and either only update once a day/few days or start with “is thinking that…”

Integrating Facebook updates with Twitter updates [They’re different applications, people. Some get away with it, but in most cases it’s kinda annoying]

Could eBayers kill the Twitter star?

Twitter seems bullet-proof. It rose to glory so quickly. So many people are living and working their daily lives out on Twitter. It brought a great concept, micro-blogging, to the masses - to those who don't have or would never want their own blog. In a nutshell, Twitter seems resilient, and it's hard to think about what could take it down, especially now when it's still on its way up.

But at the heart of Twitter is openness. 'Mainstream' (non-techie) users often seem to be attracted by the chance to follow celebrities, and the very attraction is that the celebrity's thoughts and feelings are there for all to see - no PR team has spun John Mayer's tweets about falling asleep with a guitar on his chest.

Openness is what makes Twitter so great but my assertion is that it's also its greatest weakness, because if perverse forces take that openness away, Twitter is done for.

And here's how that can happen - the Ebay crowd moving to Twitter and selling stuff like virtual vultures. Without regulation, Twitter could easily become the worst mix of a virtual souk and those horrific banking phishing scam emails that are actually trying to commit fraud against you. If the Twitter execs aren't savvy, this could easily happen.

Here's a specific example of how it starts. I usually tweet about work. On the odd occasion I will tweet something like 'Cadbury Mini Eggs are the fruits of the devil' or 'my hair dryer got so much use this winter, it's blown itself to bits.' Then, immediately after these Tweets, I get ten new followers of which two are: 'ChocoHolicDreamStore' and 'HairdryersAreUs.'

There goes openness - that's the last time I'll tweet about consumer goods. How quickly it happened.

Sure, you can then block these spammers, but what if you get 25 at once, it takes awhile and you might not have time to do it properly. People only have so much tolerance for this. Can Twitter block them for being blocked? What if a lawsuit was brought against Twitter for that? As Twitter becomes more and more mainstream, I fear they will really struggle to weed these types of users out and keep honest users free from this kind of perversion. If I am wrong and these measures are already in place, feel free to leave a comment.


Are we politicians, or are we PRs?

This entire blog post (which I fear will drag on) can be summed up with one observation: my, I have noticed a lot of nepotism in PR lately. I am wondering whether Twitter has increased nepotism in our industry, by giving us the ability to create virtual cliques. We roam in packs, we do. Or it could be that Twitter just makes those packs easier to identify.

This is something that politicians have long been accused of. Nepotism is the easy road – hire those you know, and you know what to expect. But is it in the interests of your constituents? Obama was practically elected on the back of taking the anti-nepotism high road. His book The Audacity of Hope took me about three hours to read, I was so hungry for someone that ‘got this’ after Bush - who recognised the damage and wanted to reverse it. And he's no hypocrite; by appointing Hillary Clinton he let a valuable lesson sink in.

In PR, we tend to give exclusives to journalists we’re friends with. We are more likely to pitch ‘good’ stories to journalists we’re friendly, even chummy with. Increasingly, as journalists cross over to the ‘dark side’ of PR, and as PRs try to make a name for themselves as, ahem, ‘social media experts’, we are not just chums, we’re also business partners.

Is this making nepotism even more prevalent in our industry? What's the real impact? For some, I think it limits the ability to meet our real objective: raising visibility amongst new influencers for our clients.

I raise a specific example: creating a new 'award', and then giving it to yourself. People in other industries would probably find that incredible, but in PR it seems the norm.

Awards aside, editorial is far more important. Yes, PR is all about personal relationships and retaining professional connections. It's more important in some countries than others; the UK being high on this list. But if a PR agency simply gives stories to its business partner journalists, and the journalists tell people in the market this PR agency is the best at what it does, is that PR agency really achieving anything other than slapping itself on its own back? What do the clients get out of this situation?

When you ask people in the media scene their views on ‘key influencers’ the list is sometimes so nepotistic, it makes me feel queasy.

PR gurus – do you have a formula for avoiding this? How do you ensure your pitching is democratic enough? There are plenty of agencies out there that aren’t guilty of being overly-nepotistic. How do you ensure you’re not, as social media blurs the lines between PR and journalism?

I appreciate any thoughts on this matter and I’m not pretending I have all the answers. I just try to always meet new people to pitch and I try to spread the love of exclusives around as best I can. My first priority with granting exclusives is the audience of the publication, not who I know and like, because after all, serving my clients has to be my first priority. Is there another way?


The Final Solution

There are reputedly around 600,000 words in the English language so, with so many to choose from, why is the technology marketing industry so fixated with using just one of them ad nauseum, ad infinitum? This word, of course, is “solution”.

What is a “solution”, anyway? Food is a solution to hunger, but do you ask your colleagues if they’d like to step out at lunchtime for a good, old-fashioned solution?

During my journalist days years back with IT Week magazine I’d be confronted by this word on a daily – no, hourly - basis and rebut it with the same question: “so, what does it do?” The number of times I received blank looks from sales people when I asked them to do anything other than allow them to tell me it “solved” a problem (which often didn’t exist anyhow) was astounding. From what I still see on the circuit this nasty habit still continues unabated.

I randomly guestimate that 80 per cent of press releases generated by PR people in our sector include that over-used and hopelessly inadequate word to describe a product or service, and it’s time for a change, it really is.

I know that some (i.e. good) PR professionals will seek to counsel their clients against the use of the word, even if their valiant endeavours ultimately end in defeat at the hands of the client’s ego. But really, people, it’s a tired format and there are 600,000 words to chose from so grab a dictionary and let’s inject some imagination back into our industry.


Saved from dire non-custom design!

A huge thanks to @Yuri_Bacas for sorting out re:medial blog's design in a mere few minutes. We previously looked like a bag of shite and now we have a customised look and feel. I highly recommend Yuri's design capabilities (she wears many hats; this is one; female internet heroine and co-founder of CityAmigo is another). She's a rockstar. She also did Hatch PR's website. Thanks a million Yuri!

PS Yuri has a real name, too. It's not as if Twitter names have become our 'real names', huh? Bad, bad, Twitteraholic. Yuri Bacas Hosaka, you will find she's called.....


A Lot of Hot Air

I received a backlash from a couple of senior PR pros this afternoon when I denounced Ryanair’s latest publicity stunt on Twitter. The budget airline says that its recent announcement that the company would consider charging passengers for using the toilets on its flights was just “very cheap PR”, which I said was ‘a crap stunt’.

I stand by that. My critics said it was a good stunt because it got the company being talked about, reminding everyone that they deal in cheap flights. At a superficial level, yes, it succeeded in getting Ryanair some airtime, but what about the quality of perception of that toilet charging message?

For Existing Customers: Oh no, another fee. Can I hold it in for an hour to Charleroi given how long we might be stuck on the tarmac at dreary Stansted? I might just check out easyJet’s rates to Brussels…

For Potential Customers: Wow, that’s tight of Ryanair. I must remember not to have a curry the night before I fly, just in case. And you can only take on 16kgs of luggage. Hmm, I might just look elsewhere.

OK, I must admit that personally Ryanair is my last resort after a five-hour wait at Cork while extra passengers were bussed in from Knock and having to wear three layers of clothes in a sweltering Porto just to drop below the weight limit. But I still don’t think that charging for something as humanly necessary as a comfort break is ever going to win favour, anywhere or anywhen. It smells of back-tracking to me.


Podcasts cash in on time poverty

Finally, a news story about a media that's on the rise - podcasting.

In 2009 we are time-poor, cash-poor, constantly on the move and looking for escapism. Podcasting emerges as the brilliant solution to all this. iTunes will download your podcasts automatically while you are doing other things, which is pure genius. It also offers one of the most exciting new advertising platforms for advertisers looking to reach very targeted, very relevant audiences. You don't go to the trouble to download a podcast unless you're really interested in the content it contains. This level of relevancy has clear opportunities for flailing advertising markets.

AdWeek says that by 2013, 17 per cent of US web users will download a podcast at least once a month. I reckon that number could jump considerably if some 'big,' popular content took off in the mainstream.

At this point in the face of so much negative news, especially about media (such as today's ITV layoffs story) I am gripping onto positive media stories like a fat boy on cake. It's a crass expression, but it does the job.


The day Skittles made Twitter choke

Here's how everyday at Hatch PR starts:
1. Make coffee
2. Start computer, open work email
3. Turn on news (BBC, Sky and CNN in constant rotation)
4. Check Twitter
5. Check online news

Yes, that's right. Twitter has trumped online news in that order. That's mainly because Twitter has become a big source of my online news feeds. But in this regular ordering, rarely do sugary candies enter into the day until, perhaps, at slot 337, after lunch.

However, Skittles factored high on the list on Monday because when I got to number four, everyone on Twitter was talking about the new social media marketing strategy Skittles was using. In essence, Skittles turned its web page into a mini social media portal linking straight to a Twitter search on the brand. The rest of the website is a little dashboard sitting high on your screen linking to Skittles on Facebook and other sites.

Genius, I thought! I love it! No one would ever really have a reason to look at www.skittles.com, right? But now they've got the entire online media geekdom talking about them. And still talking. And still talking.

So much so, that Twitter then became borked later in the day and presumably it had choked on Skittles. When European Twitterers are still at work, and American Twitterers start waking up and logging on, it's high Twitter time - around 15:00 GMT everyday. Precisely when the choking incident happened.

But the other choking incident was when social media pundits started trashing Skittles. Lots of sarky, negative feedback was there to be heard. Apparently, it would appear that some social media people don't like taking a spoonful of their own medicine. I guess they don't like it when they talk all day long about how tech brands are most innovative and playful online, and then a candy company storms right into their party and outwits them all in the social media stakes.

I'd hereby like to distance myself from the naysayers and salute Skittles. It's sad that in the tech industry, very few brands would have the cahunas to disable their precious websites for one day and take a social media marketing strategy head-on like Skittles has. It worked absolute wonders for this candy brand and other companies should take note of the risks and rewards it entailed.