The “virally launched popstar” as a PR genre piece.

Remember Sandi Thom? She was the punk rocker with flowers in her hair who virally launched with some bedroom concerts via her home broadband that seemed able to support 30,000 instantaneous connections.Well, the soft viral launch myth was back with a bang on my Guardian app this morning.

It’s a shame the police don’t want to chat about my porn problem

Remember how in 24 things would often get kick started by “chatter”? Yeah, chatter – mutterings on the Internet that something is afoot. In espionage drama (and heck, probably real life spying too) the ‘net is monitored for tidbits of this and that which might fall into a sort of a pattern that tells you there’s a problem.

I’ve heard people say (and you can find writings about this on the Internet) that the police could (do?) use social media for intelligence – that’s basically using chatter, looking for stuff that might mean stuff.

Today a small niggly thing happened on my road. Somebody had been up the road in the night and put a page of a pornographic magazine under the windscreen wiper of every car. On both sides of the road.

It’s nothing overly concerning or bad, just a thing that’s a bit weird and might make for some difficult conversations (imagine getting in your car with the kids and being greeted by cocks. That). I’m not sure “putting porn on a car” is a crime beyond littering even. There are a fair few of my local cops on Twitter, so I thought it’d be a good channel to tip them a wink without going to the hassle of phoning them and making a beef out of it.

Well, that’s not allowed. 

That left me a bit flummoxed really. Surely informal chatter like this is one of the best reasons for police to be on Twitter? Little titbits of information, that might someday land in a pattern. Isn’t that what community policing is supposed to be about? 

You see this thing, that isn’t a crime, suggests stuff even on it’s own. Let’s make some rash suggestions and deductions here but if you take circumstantial evidence you have:

1. Start of school holidays
2. A daft practical joke
3. Happened after 10pm (when I parked my car)
4. Porn

Chances are this was the work of teenage boys. That’s a fair assumption.

Now think about what that means:

1. Local shops aren’t controlling age restricted products very well
2. The local teenage boys are already a bit bored and it’s only week 1 of the holidays

It’s meaningless and harmless now, and I honestly thought it was just a silly jape, but what if the chatter suggests other daft little things are happening? And what if those things start to get a bit worse as the summer drags on? And you’ve missed a chance to get in early and do something? Like investing community support time in youth work and working with the councillors to get more things up and running in the ward?

Or do you just tweet to pump out messages?

Cleaning up Twitter data in Excel for analysis

A lot of academic work that draws on tweets as primary data will use hashtag archives as the basis of their study. What’s nice about that is that you can use tools that capture data and present them to you in a usable manner (e.g. a CSV file). If you’re doing something a little different, like reviewing tweets from a group of individuals, that’s a little harder.
I’ve been working with my BCU colleague Inger-Lise Bore on some research into fan fiction written on Twitter (it started with this blog post – we’re presenting it at MeCCSA 2011 tomorrow). There’s no hashtag used to label the tweets we want to study – we were looking instead at the entire output from a few dozen tweets. We found a few web services that promised ways of capturing and archiving this type of Twitter data for us, but they didn’t work. At all. So instead we had to use some pretty unsophisticated means to grab the data.  Continue reading Cleaning up Twitter data in Excel for analysis

Social media listening: dear brands, please stop rewarding me for being a grumpy git


I’m getting worried about social media listening strategies. Not in a paranoid, surveillance society way. I’m worried about social media listening strategies because corporations reward me every time I moan; whinges are the new currency, and companies are incentivising me to be grumpy.

Discounting spammers who @ me on twitter every time I mention Apple, iPad, or x-factor I’ve had three moments where I’ve had a corporate interaction as a result of social media listening and each one has come off the back of a moan.

  • When I moaned that Coffee Lounge’s wifi was unreliable and their coffee pretty poor, Urban Coffee Co tweeted me, luring me over with a free croissant.
  • When I tweeted a whinge that a Virgin Wines / uSwitch freebie case of wine I’d received was pretty poor, Naked Wines contacted me with an offer on a case of much better wine that was pretty hard to refuse.
  • When I fired off a 140 character rant about a shitty coffee in Pret, they @ replied me back asking for an address. On Friday I got a £5 gift card and a handwritten note of apology.

May I be pedantic about “fake memes”?

“is this meme a fake?”

No. If an idea is out in the wild, being reproduced by folk then it’s not a fake meme – it is actually a meme. The given basis for starting the meme could be a total crock, but the meme itself is real. You know that because you can see it: look, there it is!

For a meme to be fake, we’d have to be talking about an activity or idea that wasn’t real, e.g. if we were all tweeting something like

LOL the #fizzwhizzcheesewhizz meme where you make a video of someone snorting spray cheese & popping candy ROFLCOPTER

and there was no shared practice of making those videos, then we’d be talking about a fake meme. Of course, if lots of us started tweeting and blogging and chatting about #fizzwhizzcheeswhizz then referring to the fictional video phenomenon would actually be a meme in it’s own right.

That’s pretty meta right there. I need to lie down.

Owning conversations: the commercial TV back channel for #xfactor

Twitter’s a funny place. The folk I follow on there are passionate champions of free speech one day, insisting that my local councillor can make racist jokes for example, and the next they’re all “this isn’t the place to talk about popular culture – I will unfollow you if you tweet about xfactor you idiot!”.

Now I don’t really like X Factor much but actually the back channel on Twitter is a bit of a laugh. And I have to have the show on the TV as my wife likes it, so why not get involved?

Like it or loathe it, social media commentary of popular shows is very on trend right now. The BBC has taken to publicising preferred hashtags for shows (Digital Revolution, Question Time for example) so that we can all engage on Twitter. ITV shows have their own, organic, folksonomic back channels on Twitter and other social networks but ITV has gone to the trouble of setting up a special social space that fans can go to to do the live commentary thing. X-Factor is one of their high profile shows on ITV Live.

A few weeks ago I decided that, in deference to the factor tweet haters, I’d pop over to ITV Live to see what it looks like as a space.

Here are my findings, visualised:


Twitter can be quite rude and raucous, especially when some of the more divisive characters in a show are on screen. ITV live seems a little cosier, less hostile and without the sarcasm and bitchiness. Interestingly usernames are often some sort of fanfom based pun; several members of the community

 add contestants surnames to their own name, so I might become “Jonathan Waissel” while others demonstrate preferences through names like “xxJon4Danixx”.

The space is live moderated, and the moderators lead the conversation, they don’t just police it. Because of this many messages are responses to questions posed by the moderator – that pre-moderates things to some extent by keeping the conversation on rails.

Advertising looms large. The Yeo Valley campaign, which features prominently in the show’s ad breaks, and is apparently the companies entire TV spend for the year, gets cross-platform synergy into this space in the form of banners and sponsored messages in the conversation timeline.

I guess really it’s exactly what I expected: safe, uncontroversial, brand friendly, commercial.

The sad thing about the Compton case: it provides another reason for politicians to fear the Internet

BCU MA Events and Exhibition Management student Sammy Williams is working on a project to encourage Birmingham’s councillors to engage more readily with citizens through social media; the Gareth Compton case is another huge hurdle for her to get over. 

That’s the really sad thing at the heart of this affair: it makes councillors more likely to shy away from what could be a useful tool for civic engagement.

I’d actually suggested to Sammy that she invite Cllr Compton to speak at an event she’s planning to launch her idea. As he’s had problems before with his Twitter persona, I thought he might have some valuable perspective to add to a conversation about social media in local politics. He could have provided a useful dollop of realism in a conversation which all too quickly drifts towards utopian idealism of openness and accountability. 

That ship has probably sailed now: Sammy’s job will be harder but she should still do it, unfortunately with Cllr Compton as a cautionary tale rather than a participant.

Who are the social capitalists?


Regular readers of this blog and interactive cultures will have picked up that I have a preoccupation with social capital. So you won’t be surprised to learn that when I met up with the new intake on the MA Social Media for the first time this year, social capital was the key thing I wanted to discuss with them.

The students had already begun to engage with the topic at A New Currency: Multiplatform storytelling and social capital, and the session gave me a chance to build out from that point to discuss the many definitions of social capital that we can find in academic literature.

We closed with a question which the students have gone off to consider:

Who are the social media capitalists?

If we have such a thing as social capital, is there such a thing as social capitalism? Who would we consider as “social media capitalists”? How useful is social capital to understanding what happens online? Does it change the way we look at online activity?

Dear Microsoft, I fixed your social marketing campaign for you

Last week JJ & I stumbled across the Hamburg leg of the Kinect Tour – a Roadshow to promote the new Xbox motion control games system “Kinect” (formerly Project Natal). We impressed by the tech, but less impressed by Microsoft’s attempt to add social media to the experience.

It actually works


Firstly the bit you probably want to know: it’s a cool toy, and it works really well. We played a Mario Kart style cartoon racer, some weird activity adventure thing and JJ put her Poker Face on to dance to meat wearing mentalist Lady Ga Ga. The system responded well, the avatars mapped to what we were doing pretty instantly… it worked. However, I couldn’t help but feel that everything was a demo still, a proof of concept. The release games are still at the “what does thing do?” stage and nothing we saw or talked about seemed overly immersive. But it is a really, really cool toy.


But the marketing is broken 


The second bit, and the bit that really got to me was that Microsoft dropped the ball on the marketing. All that expense, travelling the world in a special trailer made up like someone’s living room, and right at the end they fluffed it. Here’s why:

LinkedIn has a language problem that is actually meaningless. So get over it.

Folk I know, particularly I’m thinking here of folk best described as “social media types”, are a bit sniffy about LinkedIn (direct link to my profile).

I wonder if it’s stuff like this that puts them off? The capture below is a box I get when adding someone to my network on Linkedin. Before I can add someone to my contacts list, I need to tell Linkedin about how I know them, and this quickly breaks down the process because of the way language is imposed on the activity:

In this example “Kelly” can only be a “colleague”, “classmate”, someone I’ve “done business” with, a “friend” or “other” (if you select “I don’t know Kelly”, Linkedin will tick you off as the network is supposed to be about real relationships*, and not a way of meeting new people).

Do relationships work like that? Not really, people slip between categories (how about a friend who you went to Uni with and now work with? Where do they go? What box do they go into?). For many folk, these categories don’t even make sense because our world doesn’t consist of “doing business”. In my case the people I want to keep in touch with are academics, media professionals, and past, present or future students; my contacts don’t fit well in these boxes. So students become “colleagues” (which is kind of nice, as I prefer to teach in a collaborative rather than an authoritarian mode), and folk I’ve met at conferences are probably people I’ve “done business with”.

My hypothetical “social media types” are used to having more control over their data than this. They’re used to tagging objects in ways that make sense to them, and using multiple tags so that they can retrieve the right data at the right time. LinkedIn doesn’t allow this. It presents itself as  a “social” tool but speaks a language that seems asocial to those who really care about what social media is and does, and how it works.

So does that mean Linkedin isn’t for them?