Friday, 27 April 2012

Online Social Signals essential to PR…

It seems that page 1 of Google is becoming just as much the bread and butter of good PR as coverage in top print titles these days…

This was my thinking, at least, when I read about the recent survey from Branded3 which found that URLs receive a significant boost in Google rankings when they are shared on Twitter, with those receiving over 7,500 tweets almost always ranking inside the top five results on search engines.

Naturally, being a generally savvy bunch many in the PR industry have already capitalised on digital opportunities and we’ve been blessed with an array of much celebrated integrated campaigns for brands over the past couple of years. However, whilst there’s been plenty of speculation with regards to social media’s SEO impact, I have to say that this is the first piece of research that has provided tangible results that I can relay back to clients when recommending online PR.

The correlation between tweets and search engine rankings is big news for PR professionals. Social media is PR in its most organic form – direct dialogue. If this direct dialogue can now impact the hotly coveted page 1 of Google then surely that’s good news! Particularly if you need to, ahem, push down some of the less attractive search results that appear for some brands when searched. It’s my firm belief that good PR is now essential to all parts of digital marketing – getting people talking about your brand is essential to SEO.

Now what this means for Twitter and its rather fledgling business plan, I’m not sure. I remember thinking earlier in the year than the likes of Snoop Dog tweeting about Toyota’s ‘Swagger Wagons,’ and a host of celebs tweeting about Snickers UK was an opportunity missed for Twitter as third party ad agencies had capitalised on the talent pool and reach that the social network has at its disposal. Perhaps the news from Branded3 will convince more brands to part with the huge budgets required to set up promoted accounts and tweets on Twitter?

Either way, this is big news and confirms what many have been thinking for some time. 

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Phone hacking: despite appearances the centre of gravity has moved West

With the Murdoch’s due to appear at Leveson this week and Labour MP Tom Watson publishing his new book, Dial M for Murdoch, you could be forgiven for thinking that the UK remains at the centre of the phone hacking crisis engulfing the Murdoch media empire.

You’d be wrong.  Almost out of sight is a development which threatens News Corporation in the US, as opposed to News International in the UK and that is very, very significant.  The Dowler family lawyer, Mark Lewis, now claims that he is representing four individuals whose phones were hacked on US soil.  At least one is a US citizen.  Others are, apparently, coming out of the woodwork daily.

According to a Guardian report last week, there is evidence that Fox News, Murdoch’s US cable TV operation is now implicated.  For News Corporation, the holding company, this is a nightmare come true. 

If phone hacking has crossed the Atlantic then senior management at News Corporation could find themselves in the dock.  Federal law states that an individual who violates telecommunications privacy for commercial purposes can face five years in prison with a 10 year tariff for a subsequent offence.   What’s more, civil courts can also offer damages in relation to the profits gained by the violators with punitive damages possible thereafter.

How big a deal is this?  Let’s put it this way.  In the US, News Corporation's cable properties constitute over 60 per cent of operating income for the company.  With News Corporation making circa $1.06bn (£888m) net profit in their last quarterly filing to the SEC it is clear that any implication that Fox has been up to dirty tricks has massive implications.

However, it doesn’t stop there.  The Met Police’s investigation of bribery of public officials also has the potential to cross the Atlantic if it hasn’t already.  The Foreign Corrupt Practises Act offers the opportunity for the SEC to investigate the operations of News International in the UK but prosecute senior officials of News Corporation in the US.

The big question is, where does all this end?  My own view is that a number of very high profile people, some of whom have had access to the very highest levels of UK government (you know who I mean!)  are going to prison.  Probably for perjury, possibly for bribery and possibly for perverting the court of justice. 

Unfortunately James Murdoch, who was recently spirited out of the country to a new position in the US, in an attempt to distance him from phone hacking, may find that New York is uncomfortably close to the SEC headquarters in Washington DC.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

A tale of machine tools, salmon fishing and er … Ewan MacGregor!

What do 5-axis machining centres, salmon fishermen and a certain Scottish actor have in common? I’ll explain. In July of last year I travelled to Tyneside (Team Valley Business Park to be precise) to interview the managing director of a company called Responsive Group for an article on behalf of one of my clients. Responsive are a big user of their machine tools.

I was met by the MD, Peter Bernard, and the chairman of Responsive, Paul Torday. Both, very patiently, led me through the history of Responsive, the company’s approach to manufacturing and their use of some very big and powerful machine tools. As an aside, anyone who thinks British manufacturing is dead in the water needs to get out more and visit companies like Responsive.

Afterwards, while Peter was giving me a tour of the production facilities he casually observed, “Paul’s an interesting chap, he just decided on the spur of the moment to write a book a few years ago, it’s been published too!” When I returned to the office I looked the book up on Amazon and added it to my ‘wish list’. However, as the weeks wore on and my bedtime reading suffered due to the sheer exhaustion of having two young children, I never actually bought it.

A few days ago a bus crossed my path on the Hagley Road in Birmingham with an advert on the side for a new film called ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’, starring Ewan MacGregor and Emily Blunt. Where had I heard that title before? And then it occurred to me. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a film based on the book written by Paul Torday, chairman of the Responsive Group. It is, apparently, a romantic contemporary fable about an attempt to introduce salmon into the Yemeni wadis.

Yesterday, I was fortunate to bump into Peter again at MACH 2012, the machine tool expo which is a mecca for anyone turned on by metal cutting. He had hot-footed it down to the NEC straight from the world premiere on Tuesday night. His verdict on the new film? “It’s very good.”

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

That hole, Prime Minister, is a credibility gap!

Troubling times for the Coalition with a series of ‘presentational’ or PR gaffes that have led to the inevitable headlines that the honeymoon is well and truly over. Pasty-gate, charitable giving, jerry cans and the Granny Tax not only provide plenty of headlines, but also give the Eds (Miliband and Balls) an opportunity for a photoshoot at Greggs.

However, it would be wrong to blame the Government’s PR for this (although one suspects the No.10 communication team has had a bit of a roasting recently). The sense I have is that something more strategic is going wrong. Charitable giving appears to cut directly across the Big Society programme. Whacking pensioners threatens the “we are all in this together” reasoning behind the austerity programme (and I suspect threatens to drive a large percentage of those who actually bother to vote into the arms of UKIP).

Next up, I suspect, is the Green Deal. According to the Sunday Telegraph there is currently a battle royal going on between the Treasury and the rest of the Coalition about the Government’s flagship environmental initiative. The Chancellor and a number of other Conservative MPs want it scrapped. The Deputy Prime Minister on the other hand made a major speech last week, which can be read HERE, telling us all that it would revolutionise how we heat our homes. Scrapping it would be rather uncomfortable for a Prime Minister who came into office promising to be the “Greenest Government Ever”.

Now, the Green Deal isn’t perfect and privately many across the building sector (and many MPs) will express deep reservations. I specifically recall one former MP telling me that even a slight move in interest rates in a northward direction will turn the scheme from a ‘Pay As You Save’ scheme into a ‘Pay As You Pay’ scheme.

The point is, this has the potential to be the latest gap between PR and policy, what the American writer Walter Lippmann would have called a ‘credibility gap’ where rhetoric fails to match reality. Whilst I do not expect the Green Deal’s demise to bring down the Coalition, the yawning gaps that keep appearing all have a corrosive effect and can perhaps explain Labour’s current position in the polls.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Inflating the Facebook bubble with Instagram

Yes, I will buy everything...
At the end of last week, Facebook bought Instagram for $1Bn (cash and stock). A fair wedge you’ll agree, but to induce further gobsmacking by way of illustration, that $1Bn could also buy the New York Times (NYT has 44m estimated online readers, many of whom pay for the pleasure – Instagram is free).

The Instagram app itself was launched in October 2010 and allows users to apply 17 filters to their pictures to give them a different feel before they are uploaded. The main result to date has been a plethora of photos shared online consisting of people doing any old crap with a vintage twist – it’s all the rage and the app is a huge mobile player. Clearly Facebook are keen for a slice of the social media a la mode action and, with photo-sharing pivotal to their original success, their latest acquisition is no surprise.

Further to this, the purchase price itself doesn’t really come as a shock. Last week’s deal effectively informed all of Wall Street that Facebook has the metaphorical cojones to pull off staggering seven figure deals. The fact that it comes just in time for next month’s IPO is no coincidence. However, the key question for digital marketing folk and the like (just as it was last year with the acquisition of Gowalla) is more to do with the functional changes that could take place with the take-over; what does this move mean for Instagram users?

Well, despite Facebook Chief Mark Zuckerberg saying on his profile page that Instagram would continue to work with rival social networks and grow independently of Facebook, there has still been a backlash from a rather vocal online community. The main bugbear being that Facebook will more than likely harvest the rich data from Instagram’s many users and sell them to the likes of you and me in the form of advertising - *rubs hands greedily.* 

Certainly this is likely to be the case, and whilst the online vigilantes continue to revolt against the deal with the #instablack hashtag and calls to delete profiles, I doubt this movement is truly reflective of the app’s 25m users – a figure that will no doubt grow significantly after being rolled out for Android last week. One commentator (@alexcwilliams) suggested that “If you delete your Instagram account, because Facebook bought them, you probably have a basement full of canned foods and flashlights.” Rather sweeping, but I feel inclined to agree.

The real de facto point for marketing and digital media pros to take note of is that Facebook has acquired an excellent application; images are essential to social media and this recent deal will only enrich the results that creative campaigns such as Tiffany’s True Love in Pictures and Levi’s casting ad campaign have already enjoyed.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Friends Reunited, reignited?

So Friends Reunited is making a comeback, promising ‘something different’ in the hope of reclaiming its position as the no.1 UK fronted social networking site. The new angle is all based around nostalgia, allowing members to create ‘memory boxes’ of things they remember from years gone by.

After reading the BBC Online view I was immediately unconvinced by the re-emergence of a site that was crippled by Facebook (like many others) in the late noughties. ITV had shelled out a cool £175m for it in 2005 but were forced to offload it for one seventh of that figure just four years later!

The memory box, or to use Friends Reunited’s full description ‘virtual memory shoebox’ concept also initially failed to excite me as it sounded remarkably similar to the latest social fad, Pinterest. But after having a little play around for myself, I was pleasantly surprised by the new features. Clearly a lot of work has gone into creating an extensive digital library of memories that will strike a chord with Brits. A link up with the Press Association and the British Library means site owner Brightsolid has an enormous array of images, newspaper cuttings and resources to offers its members.

The layout of the memory search offers a simple navigation and has categorised content into sections which evoke emotional attachments, such as ‘What We Wore’ which holds a host of galleries from 80s clothing catalogues, to fashion icons of years gone by. My personal favourite is the ‘Our Sporting Life’ category, which allows members to search classic kits from their club’s past and view FA Cup Final match programmes going all the way back to 1923.

But alas, as much as I enjoyed having a dabble, I couldn’t really see anything that would keep people coming back for more on a regular basis. I was also surprised to see that rather than the memory box concept becoming part of the social network’s offering, giving members a reason to chat with their ‘reunited friends’, it appears as though it has become the whole site, meaning all the forum, instant messaging and friend finding elements seem to have gone, which means a. surely it’s not ‘Friends Reunited’ anymore, and b. it’s not all that social. Sure, you can share your memory box on other networks like, wait for it, Facebook, but it feels more like a nice application people play with a couple of times and then move on to the new edition of Angry Birds. Perhaps Brightsolid are hoping Mr. Zuckerberg’s UK team love it so much that they recommend Facebook buy the software from them (ideally for at least one seventh of £175m).

How brands should try and mirror the success of Young Turks News

I read last week that for every minute that passes, 60 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube; it receives 4,000,000,000 page views a day (around a trillion a year) and it has around 800,000,000 users (similar to Facebook) who watch 3,000,000,000 hours of video a month. 

After digesting these staggering numbers I came to the conclusion that anyone reading this will have at some point fallen victim themselves to the procrastination inducing powers of videos titled “LOLZ - this is totes amazeballs…” or at least something similar, and probably wonder how an earth YouTube has become such a media phenomenon wherein randomness reigns supreme!

Both YouTube’s size and its ability to distract are a result of its most important feature – that it allows anyone to become a broadcaster. Because of this strategy, and the digital media revolution in general, there has been a shift in how we all consume media over the past few years. For example, with regards to broadcast media, CNN has 61,000 subscribers on YouTube, yet the otherwise unknown Young Turks news channel (the bombastic, longest standing all online American politics show), with a fraction of CNN’s resources, has gathered 340,000. If online news channels such as the Young Turks can attract nearly six times as many online viewers as a global news company then surely there are wider implications for broadcast media’s biggest brands?

Almost as a reaction to this though is that I do sometimes wonder whether in the land of viral video and social media consumption it is possible for the likes of “Baby monkey riding backwards on a pig,” and “Credit Suisse AG Videos” to peacefully coexist? Certainly we have to celebrate the diversity YouTube has on offer and Credit Suisse’s collated views are impressive, but with regards to success, one breaks the viral fresh-hold and one doesn’t. Then again this is dependent on the audience and their consumption habits; there will always be the niche following and YouTube does work excellently as a resource - think ‘how to’ guides for specialist products.

Whilst not every brand can create an Old Spice Guy or taste the rainbow like Skittles, there are considerable opportunities on YouTube for brands to be different. The online landscape is a much more level playing field and many brands who have always dominated traditional media end up playing like amateurs on YouTube, whilst the real amateurs play like the international brands. YouTube in this sense gives real power to the people, and brands big and small (although it is worth noting that Young Turks are firmly established these days).