social media

Something #old, something #new, something #borrowed, something #blue

According to this article, social networking bride , brides and grooms are getting more social about their big day. I read this last night and thought ‘yes that’s probably true’ but it wasn’t until my walk to the train station this morning that I realised just how true that was. Here’s three things that have happened within the last week amongst my Facebook friends:

1. The proposal: the whole thing documented on Facebook from start to finish – the prep, the venue set-up, the moment he got down on one knee, her reaction, and of course, the ring. Personally, I’m not a fan – there’s very few moments that really belong to just you and the man you love (yes, including that one), and I think a proposal should be one of them. Some things just shouldn’t be #shared.

2. The hen do: Now this one I like – getting all your hens to upload their photos (the good, the bad, and the very drunken) with a hashtag. This particular example was #CazIsGettingMarried. Love it. The photos with the not so attractive stripper should definitely be #shared.

3. The big day: And now this one I love – getting all your guests to upload their photos to an app like WedPics. Standing in your wedding dress on the best day of your life is not really the time to get out your phone and take a selfie. So let your guests do it for you! And then when you wake up a married couple, with a slightly sore head, you can browse hundreds of photos courtesy of your guests and relive every moment of the day. This isn’t just about #sharing, this is about a virtual photo album to keep your memories.

So there you go, weddings are now social. Myself, I’m not engaged or married, so let’s wait and see if I become a social bridezilla.


Moving home: from Facebook to Instagram

Group photo

For seven years now I have been a dedicated Facebook user. And that’s actually a relatively short time for someone my age – I ironically (based on what I do for a living now) had a ‘I’m not joining Facebook’ rebellion. And then I realised all my friends were off to uni and I was missing out on keeping up with their lives.

So having gotten over my rebellion I became an avid Facebook user for seven very social years. Then it all changed. From having Facebook as my social media home, I recently packed up my life (my photos, events, documentation of my every last activity, my relationship, my friendships) and moved house. To Instagram.

So what was the reason for my move? It had a lot to do with the ever changing settings on Facebook that left me totally unconfident in the privacy services it was allegedly offering. It seems that by default Facebook wants to catch you out – defaulting things to public, adding new features without explaining the implications of using them, and making admin rights so complicated that it’s a challenge for people who even work in social media.

One Sunday when I realised the privacy settings on my page were not working as they had been set, I decided my home was no longer Facebook. Faced with the inadequacy of the settings (for example setting all photos to completely private; and then them proceeding to be publicly viewable), I removed all of my photos from my page.

It was in doing that I realised the thing I loved about Facebook. Unintentionally, it had become the documentation of the good times I’ve had over the past seven years – the holidays, the parties, the days out, the festivals, the spontaneous ridiculousnesses with my best friend. Did I really want to lose all of that?

At the same time I was pondering over this point, I read in the Evening Standard magazine an article about social media that really hit home for me. Being a commuter, I usually have the Evening Standard eagerly thrust in my face on a daily basis, but rarely do I pick up the magazine version. So when choosing to accept it on this  particular evening (and being a strong believer in fate), I felt this article was somewhat poignant in my current social media conundrum (also known as a #middleclassproblem – ‘I just don’t know what social media network to use’). Here’s what it said:

“It’s as if we no longer believe that being present is enough – we have to record our experience in order to validate it…”

And with this I realised that I shouldn’t lose all of my documented experiences, I should just move them. It’s now part of our behaviour – we experience something; we document it. I didn’t need to leave home for good like a stroppy teenager that’s had a fight with their parents, I could instead find a new home to document life’s experiences. Consider it like leaving home to go to uni – you have a new house, but that doesn’t mean you lose your home.

Which leads me to stop talking about the negatives of Facebook, and remember what it is good for – there’s things we are all good at, it’s just about learning what those are.

Facebook remains the quickest, most efficient mechanism for getting something out there fast. This very blog being the best example of that – I want people to read and share my blog, and luckily for me, there’s over 500 friends on Facebook who might do just that. But more importantly, the one thing that kept me on Facebook, was the group chat that I’ve had continuously live for over a year now – without the ability to real-time ask my oldest friends if my outfit is ok, what their thoughts are on the film I’ve just watched, or hear their latest relationship developments; I’m pretty sure I’d be lost.

So the intention of this post was to not just rant about Facebook’s flaws and put you all off forever, it was actually to portray that social media is very personal. Too many people talk about the latest trends and over-analyse user demographics. But really, who cares? People will pick and choose their social media behaviour to be reflective of their mood, the stage in their life they are at, and the type of thing they’ve just experienced. And it’s the cleverest brands out there that will realise this. And it’s those brands that will succeed in social media.

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Social media and sub-Saharan Africa. Really?

To continue the #ViewFromThePlane series this post is written by my good friend Pippa. She’s currently on a three-month trip with the United Nations Association International Service to Burkina Faso. Here she gives her #ViewFromThePlane.


The scene out of the window is typical of a sub-Saharan high street; women sell fruit on the side of the road, rogue donkeys wander the streets and there’s dust, everywhere. Here I am in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, a place that couldn’t be further from London both in terms of culture and resources. Burkina has some of the world’s lowest human development indicators in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and income. But it’s not all malnutrition and dirty drinking water. Ouagadougou presents a ‘modern’ West Africa, where businesses function, taxis roam the streets and you can even get wifi (if you’re lucky).

But in a country where many continue to struggle obtaining basic human rights, is there really a place for social media?

Last week I had dinner with a Burkinabe friend. When I asked him what he had had planned for the rest of the evening he responded “I’ll go home and chat to my friends on Facebook”. For him, Facebook is an ideal way to stay in touch with his friends from university who are based all over the country. Like many people in the UK, he uses social media to ‘socialise’ in a virtual realm.

But in reality; computers, smart phones and tablets don’t play a part in the lives of the majority of the people here. Serge, another
Burkinabe friend, estimates that as little as one in twenty own a device capable of using the internet. Serge is an educated 32 year old with a career in finance. After many chats on the subject, he acknowledged the power of social media but commented “it’s for the developed world, here we have other priorities”.

In his experience, a very small demographic use social media: the young, wealthy and educated. Gender inequality is still an issue here and it’s apparent that more men than women have access to the internet, let alone social media. According to the Guardian, in Sub-Saharan Africa, ‘45% fewer women than men have access to the internet’.

So, with so few people using social media in Burkina, how functional can it really be?

A couple of weeks ago around 300,000 people took to the streets, in peaceful demonstrations against potential changes to the constitution that could allow long-time President Compaoré to run for another term. The protests were supposedly the country’s largest in decades, and this time, were accompanied by vivid online activity. Twitter saw tweets from those expressing their opposition to the president and mobile devices were used to tweet pictures of the protests in action.

Meanwhile, groups were created on Facebook in which Burkinabes documented their frustrations and those pro-Campaoré expressed their support for him and anguish at the civil uprising. By Burkinabe standards, social media was buzzing with political conversation.

On the face of it Burkina Faso is a country that is not yet capable of fully functioning social media. When you search Burkina Faso on Google Images you are still faced with images resembling an Oxfam advert, and indeed this is an accurate reflection of life in many parts of the country. That said, economic disparities between different regions of the country are huge and social media seems to be excitedly waiting in the wings, ready to be used by those who have the socio-economic means to do so.

Words of SazJ
So no surprises there about access being restricted to the wealthy and the educated. But, when i asked Pippa if she would write her #ViewFromThePlane, I actually had to question whether there would be anything to write about – was it stupid to assume that every country in the world uses social media?

But alas, it’s there, and it’s in its rawest sense. In the western world we get consumed with thinking how we, as brands, can become part of people’s lives and how we can use social media to do that. But we forget why social networks were first created, and what makes them so powerful. It’s socialising in its most exciting form. And the people of Burkina Faso are embracing social media for just that. Let’s hope we can keep the brands away.

Find more from Pippa on her blog here.

How to work with influencers by Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift Red Tour

Last weekend I was part of the crowd of 20,000 teenage girls seeingTaylor Swift at the O2. I realise I am no longer a teenage girl, but for a few hours I let my hair down and sang along to Love Story like the best of them.

In between the support act (The Vamps) and Taylor herself coming on, they played a video clip up on the big screens. The video talked about the launch of her RED Tour and the promotion around both the album and the tour itself.

Why did this interest you may ask? When did this blog become a review of teenage pop icons? Well actually, not only was I pleasantly surprised with the concert itself (believe it or not), I was also massively interested in the social media activities surrounding the tour and album promotion.

Of course there was the hashtagging before, during and after the concert – nothing new there – but what really interested me was the excellent use of influencer engagement. Before the launch of her RED album, Taylor Swift (or her record label) approached the 13 most active fans from around the world and invited them to follow her around in the run up to her album launch. Those who ‘followed’ her online could quite literally ‘follow’ Taylor Swift during her week long media tour. And the idea? These already very active followers would take to their social media profiles and document the media tour using #TaylorFollowers.

I think this is brilliant. A perfect example of online behaviour becoming part of our offline lives – bringing ‘following someone’ to reality (in a non creepy way). So why was this so great? Three key reasons:

  • Number 1: It rewarded fan loyalty. There’s nothing like proving to a fan that they are valued, and this does it in the best way possible for your typical Taylor Swift fan – put them in front of their idol, congratulate their loyalty and give them a platform on which to have a voice in something that they are very passionate about
  • Number 2: Inviting and encouraging user generated content gave an impression of organic promotion. We’ll always be more welcoming to something our peers have told us vs. a brand or company. Combine our peers with our favourite celebrity telling us something, then you have a very powerful promotion machine
  • Number 3: It increased the reach exponentially. Not only was it using the organic reach of the 13 chosen fans (cleverly chosen for that  very reason), it expanded it to a audience that may have previously had very little to do with Taylor swift. Me, for example

There’s no better way to promote a brand (and let’s face it, a successful celebrity is a brand) than through content created by those that rate the brand so much. It’s a classic case of authenticity and trust.

The concept of influence is hotly debated. I believe there is no one definition of influence; more an expression dependant on what you’ trying to achieve. Here Taylor Swift was trying to launch her latest album to the biggest audience possible; one that will be as receptive as possible. And the best way to do that? For her it was engaging her most loyal, socially active, influential fans.

And those are three key principles that could be applied to any brand, activity or indeed, celebrity. Whilst a brand not so exciting or head turning as Taylor Swift may not have the same size of fanbase or reach, there will always be influencers of opinion and those driving for something – be it promotion, change or just wanting to raise awareness. And it’s these people that are your most valuable assets. Get on their wrong side and you’re over; get on their right side, and the only way is up.


It’s time to take social media seriously; and it’s not all fun and games

Safebook - staying safe online

You may read this post title and think ‘oh here she goes again’ but actually today I’m taking a different view on social media. As someone who whole heartedly believes in the benefits of social media, I also whole heartedly believe in the power of social media. And power does not necessarily mean good things.

With a generation of children and young adults who have grown up in an extremely social world, we’re looking at a dynamic outside of the school environment that we’ve never had to deal with before. A world where a small amount of playground teasing turns into a an online world of hatred and constant torment. Where hideous trends like ‘hot or not’ are causing huge amounts of already self-conscious teens to rely on their ‘friends’ to rate their appearance. And where young girls still in their school uniforms are being allowed to behave like 20-somethings flaunting themselves to whoever chooses to engage with them.

There have been so many – too many – instances over the last year alone where we’ve heard about another young person having taken their own life because of constant online torment.

I previously referred to social media and the ‘surround sound effect’. Well here it is in all it’s ugly glory – surround sound bullying.

And in my opinion, those who should be taking responsibility are shying away from what needs to be addressed, immediately. And that’s not through lack of desire, I believe it’s through lack of knowledge of whats really going on; perceived lack of ability to do anything about it (how do you control the whole internet right?), and genuine fear of the repercussions of taking a stand. But, how many cases of online bullying that have ultimately led to a young person feeling that they have no choice but to take their own life, does it take before we stand up and properly do something about it.

So what’s the solution? First we have to really understand the problem. What has led to a culture where this type of activity is able to harbour online seemingly uncontrolled? I believe there are three key issues:

  • Lack of supervision and moderation: We wouldn’t allow our children outside during break time with their fellow classmates, left to do entirely as they choose, without any adult supervision. This is because they don’t necessarily know the dangers that are out there, they often don’t know where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour are, and sometimes they need someone to turn to if they need a helping hand. So why are they left unsupervised online? Lack of supervision and moderation of online conversations means a small amount of ‘harmless’ teasing manifests itself into a daily torrent of abuse that the individual is unable to get away from. This is unacceptable.
  • A culture that says this is ok: This type of activity is only allowed to manifest itself for as long as its being accepted. Until someone really questions it and take a stand, it will continue. Without education, young adults will continue to behave as they currently doing, as they are naive to the longer term repercussions. This is unacceptable.
  • Social networks not taking responsibility: There was once a time not so long ago where Facebook was quick to shut you down if the cover photo on your fan page had text covering greater than 25% of its area. They were quick to spot that. But they don’t seem too quick to spot potentially harmful messages posted between members in the network it created. I understand that policing social networks is a seemingly impossible task – where does the responsibility begin or end? But, doing nothing? This is unacceptable.

So there’s the problem; how do we find a solution? In my opinion three key groups have to stand up and take action: parents, schools and the social networks themselves. Now I am probably in no position to preach about what should or shouldn’t be done – I don’t have children, I’m not a head teacher and I certainly don’t own a social network. But one day I will have children, I have a little sister (although she’d hate for me to call her that) who has grown up in this very social world I’m talking about, I’ve so far spent the majority of my life in a school, and I like to think I know a lot about social networks.

So here’s what I think needs to be done:

It is the responsibility of a parent to educate, protect and encourage the best from their children. Just as for brands and companies, the birth of social media brought crazy new parameters to communication and a new overwhelming world to which parents had little to no experience in. They didn’t understand it, didn’t know what to tell their children about it, and believed it to be merely another form of communication. Years on, many parents are on these social networks and understand how their children use them – even policing them from afar. But what about those that don’t?

Parents need to take the time to educate their children on what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to engaging in social media. They need to teach them how to feel safe; when to bring an adult into a situation – when to hit that ‘report’ button.

How can we hope for things to change if parents don’t take this first step towards protecting their children?

But it’s not all resting on the shoulders of parents. Some schools are taking action in the area of online safety – and it’s good – but it’s not enough. Talks are being held with both parents and children, but they are not compulsory and they are assuming a certain amount of knowledge of social media to start with.

But it’s not all bad news, Childnet International are a non-profit organisation aiming to make the internet ‘a great and safe place for children’. Aimed at young people, teachers and parents, the organisation aims to do exactly what is needed in this area – educate and provide the necessary tools to keep young people safe online.

Friday saw Safer Internet Day where a number of schools around the country dedicated part of their curriculum to educating their pupils about the potential dangers of the social world, and how to stay safe. This is good – and some of the initiatives were really excellent – but this shouldn’t fall to one day a year. I’d like to see this as a dedicated curriculum piece throughout the year, from a very young age. With 59% of 11-12 year olds having a social media profile, they need to understand what they are doing from that very age.

And it’s not just about learning how to stay safe – that is really just theory. And it also assumes that ‘staying safe’ means being wary of adults posing as peers. But what about peers? Some of the worst stories we’ve heard over the last year have been due to online bullying by classmates. For this, it’s not about learning to be safe, it’s about there being repercussions for those individuals who assume that hiding behind a keyboard makes their behaviour is ok. These repercussions have to fall under the remit of schools when the event is an extension of what is happening in the school environment.

Social networks themselves
And then finally it’s the responsibility of the networks that are hosting and harbouring these activities. There needs to be greater accountability for the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. And steps in the right direction are being made. Following the inquest into the tragic death of Tallulah Wilson who killed herself after extensive activity on self-harm pages on Tumblr, Culture Secretary Maria Miller is this week unveiling at the cabinet meeting a call for social media companies to transform how they police their sites. This call will see representatives from a host of social networks hopefully form consensus about responsibilities in policing and removing offensive, potentially harmful posts.

It is the likes of these individuals who understand the blurred lines where our offline lives meet our online lives – why is what would be considered beyond unacceptable – even illegal – in an offline environment, are we having to accept as ok in a social environment.

So let’s hope that this drives change; let’s hope social networks stand up and take things seriously, and that legislation is brought in to police social networks better and protect those that are most vulnerable within them. Let’s hope that both parents and schools step up to their responsibilities of education and implementing repercussions. Because it’s not one person’s responsibility – none of these things will work in silo – change will only be seen if all three parties step up and take action to change the culture that we seem to have found ourselves in.

As children leave the likes of Facebook because their parents are on there, it’s no longer enough to be there too. You can’t follow them round the internet, but you can make them smarter internet users. Social media will not go away – and I’m glad about that because of the good that it can bring – but this is an area that needs to change.This will change because it has to. No question about it.

Tick tock, tick tock

Time and social media

I haven’t been so hot on the blogging recently (half finished drafts sat in my WordPress app I realise don’t count!) but I vow to get back on the wagon. And the reason for my lack of published posts? Social media! Ironic you may say.

I’m having a pretty exciting time at work – social media has now taken over all that I do, and I couldn’t be more pleased, I LOVE it. But, it has meant a lot of long days and no time for blogging, tweeting or finding the twenty-or-so new social networks that have probably come out since my last post.

And with that, I get to the point of this post (and begin to contradict myself…) – time and its relationship with our online behaviour.

More often than not, we face objections to actually doing social (from our peers, clients, and even that voice inside our head) in the form of one of the following:

  • I don’t have enough time in my day to do social
  • Social media is too instantaneous and real-time; it scares me
  • I won’t be able to respond or engage with the community in the real-time manner that is required by social media
  • I can’t see the ROI on the necessary time I’ll need to invest to make social a success

I could write a blog post on each of these alone, exploring the reasons why, in fact, none of these are valid reasons to not do social (duly noted that I used the first one in my opening paragraph…) However, I think when faced with these oppositions, the best thing to do is flip it on its head. Let’s not think of reasons why we can’t do it; let’s think of reasons why we can’t NOT do it. And that of course is just a confusing way of saying, you have to do it.

It was a few months back now, but something I saw that really said to me who was leading the way in terms of understanding and integratng social into their business, was (perhaps surprisingly) the recruitment initiative run by Pizza Hut, ‘Because I’m Great’. This was a complete 180 on the traditional interview – a live LinkedIn review was conducted right before a 140 second interview took place. No paper CV, no half an hour presentation, just 140 short seconds to demonstrate why you have what it takes to be the head of digital. And the reason? To demonstrate an understanding of the short amount of time we now have to grab people’s attention and convince them to take action. And of course using Twitter’s 140 character limit as a rule of thumb for the time constraint. I personally think it’s brilliant.

So back to my original point. If Pizza Hut get the importance of doing social to such an extent that it even impacts their recruitment process, then so should the rest of us. This initiative also goes to show how time doesn’t have to be a barrier to doing social – if we can now recruit our most senior staff in 140 seconds, we can certainly put out a few tweets.

On to the next point about the instantaneous nature of social and the potential risks involved. I again urge anyway quoting this as a reason, to flip it on its head and understand the value of a instantaneous communications tool. The best way to rationalise this is thinking back a few weeks to the birth of Prince George. If my office were to be used as a representation of the British population as a whole, then all 65 million of us  were glued to @ClarenceHouse awaiting the announcement with baited breath. As soon as they knew, we knew. As soon as we knew, all of our followers knew. And so went the spiral until everyone knew about the arrival of the next King.

This demonstrates how important social media can be from a business perspective – using it as a word of mouth marketing tool, but on steroids. Of course, we have to think of the flip-side of this, when things can go horribly wrong and spread like wildfire through the social space. But that’s where you get a good PR agency, a good social media team and a robust issues management plan (get in touch if you’re interested…!).

So to end, I think this quote from Aaron Lee really sums up both the necessity for using social media, and also the need for consideration of time in all its various meanings:

“These days, social media waits for no one. If you’re late for the party, you’ll probably be covered by all the noise and you might not be able to get your voice across. It could only mean that if you want to be heard by the crowd, you have to be fast; and on social media, that means you have to be REALLY fast.”

So hurry up, the clock’s ticking…

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Ever heard of social petworking?

boo the dog

Social petworking – believe it or not it’s a real thing. Not only is it real, it’s growing at a phenomenal rate.

If this is as new a topic as it was to me a few months ago, then let me introduce you to some of the sites leading the way.

First of all we have My Social Petwork – the Instagram of the animal world if you like. This network is based on our love for those cute doggy snaps and the videos of kittens doing crazy things that we just can’t take our eyes off of. Users rate photos and videos of people’s pets (and there really is a whole array – giant snails feature on the home page…) with the aim to become the highest rated photo or video of the day. If we look at the activity all over our Facebook feeds, it is quite clear there’s an audience for this type of community. And I’m just talking about the owners – thats not including the 1 in 10 social profiles that are actually for pets themselves. If you’re not familiar with it, take a look at Boo’s profile – the most popular dog on the planet, or so the 7.3 million likes would suggest.

Then we have the interestingly named Yummy Pets – the self proclaimed Facebook for pets. This takes it up a level – owners are no longer owners but indeed ‘pet parents’. I think there’s a lot to be improved on the branding (‘click here to discover yummy pets’ seems a somewhat strange invitation), but with 150,000 members, there’s no arguing its popularity. The community is very much built around what we are used to seeing on the ‘human side’ of social – profiles, status updates, photos, and lists of friends and fans. Having started life in France and launching this year in the UK, it’s certainly a booming business.

Now I’m no huge animal lover, but I do love social media, and I get where this adds value. There’s clearly a lot of pet owners with a whole lot of time on their hands, and that’s no bad thing for the petworking community, but where the value is really added is when these communities can be used as a resource for improving pet care. As examples, the sponsored ads within Yummy Pets take people to practical pet services, the blog provides helpful updates on keeping your pet healthy and of course the VIPets section – it’s always vital to keep up to date with celeb pets…

So my conclusion on the trend that I was initially pretty skeptical about is that it makes complete sense. As a generation we love social media, as a global population we love our pets, ergo we love social petworking. And if you’re still not sold – take a look at this infographic on the top social networking stars (the numbers are a little outdated, but they are still very much stars). Engagement numbers we could only ever dream of!

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