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Internet and social media

    Internet and social media

    Digital World Series event at The Studio

    Last month I attended the Digital World Series event, held as part of the Greater Birmingham Digital Academy series, in conjunction with Digital Birmingham (I know, how many times can I use ‘digital’ in one sentence).

    IMG_5856The event was loosely billed as a way for small/medium businesses to learn from leaders (and experts) to gain a greater understanding of digital technologies. The line up looked impressive, with speakers from internationally recognised digital leaders like Twitter, Facebook and Uber, as well as some local speakers like Simon Jenner, one of the founders of Urban Coffee Company and Justice Williams.  Having been involved in digital communications for a while now, it’s always interesting to hear how other organisations are making the best of the internet, and new emerging trends.

    The day kicked off with an introduction to the day from Raj Mack, head of Digital Birmingham, followed by Neil Morgan from Sage, the accountant software organisation.  He give a frank and interesting presentation about how through acquisition and general enthusiasm, the organisation had ended up with a fragmented approach to social media, and how they aligned the digital strategy to that of the business ones.  Neil spoke about the importance of getting buy-in from the CEO but also from staff to encourage them to share online, and also forming a community of people who follow and engage with your business.

    Next up was Fouzan Ali from Uber, who spoke about his journey on getting to work at Uber and how the organisation works between local teams with local decisions making and accountability, and centralised departments.

    IMG_5867 Video was something which became a bit of a theme, started by Sophie Rayers, director of marketing at Brightcove.  She spoke about the benefits of utilising video, how to make them more engaging, using user generated content and how businesses like clothing companies and financial services are using video differently.  Video was something Paul McCrudden from Twitter also spoke about, talking about the company’s live streaming Periscope app and how its authenticity means it doesn’t need to be glossy, keeping costs down, which is particularly useful for smaller businesses.  He also spoke about linking into social media influencers;

    “Most celebrities are household names; we are handheld names. People take their phones everywhere” – Simone Shepherd.

    One of my favourite talks was from Amy Hobson, partner at Social B.  Amy’s talk was realistic and practical and gave some really good insights for smaller organisations that might not be able to do it all.  She started off explaining how social media relates to and links back to traditional marketing, something which I think is often confusing for people not confident with digital communications.  Asking people what “success looks like for you” she was able to explain simple but effective ways to manage and collect useful information from social media interactions.

    IMG_5874 Simon Jenner, founder of Urban Coffee Company spoke about the evolution of coffee companies in Birmingham but how Urban had experimented with technology to drive forward their business.  He spoke about how they had been prepared to experiment with a number of ideas, some of which worked and some of which didn’t, but the importance of realising that some experiments might seem like a failure but that they might be a case of wrong timing.  He also spoke about how Urban would like to use data to help drive forward the business and whilst a number of the other organisation are large national or international businesses, it was good to hear how smaller businesses could utilise digital communication innovations.  Another local speaker, Justice Williams, also spoke about the importance of authenticity, looking at how a number of women are leveraging digital to create successful businesses that give them the freedom to work for themselves whilst utilising their content and retaining their authenticity.

    IMG_5878Big data is something that seems to be everywhere and another stand out talk of the day was from Ian West, VP Analytics & Information at Cognizant, an international consultancy.  He spoke about the vast amount of data being produced, and the importance of collecting the right sort of data and analysing it to improve the customer experience.  Ian’s talk was funny but informative and gave some important insights into people’s fears of data, but how lots of well known businesses are using it to their advantage.

    The final talk belonged to Greg Russell of Facebook, who nicely managed to knit together a lot of the threads from the other speakers, talking about the increase in photos and video being shared and how competitive everything is, so the importance of personal relevance – and having a mobile strategy.

    And with that the day was done.  There was time for networking afterwards, but my brain was full of the day’s insights and I wanted some time to digest them.  I’d come away fascinated by what some organisations were doing and how well the speakers had done at translating how that could be applicable to other organisations to positively increase their digital footprint.

    Interestingly it wasn’t always the big ‘star’ names that were the most inspiring; the more hands-on approaches from Amy at Social B, Simon at Urban Coffee Company and Ian at Cognizant provided practical applications which could easily be implemented, even in smaller teams.  That said, Greg from Facebook and Paul from Twitter presented a really positive outlook to the digital landscape and how businesses, both big and small, could utilise some of these exciting new developments.

    Themes which are mentioned a lot in digital communications…big data, the importance of authenticity and the increasing popularity of video were all touched on and explored.  With a good mix of big names with large internationally recognised brands and smaller more local organisations, on the whole the speakers did a good job of breaking down the big ideas and wins for their organisations into ways that might work, or inspire, some of the smaller businesses in the room to develop their approaches. I’d been a bit wary, given the price of the ticket, but felt that I’d gained some valuable insights into some really exciting businesses and some practical ideas on digital communications.

    The Digital World Series are organising a second event, being held in Birmingham on 27th October and tickets are available at their website;  http://digitalworldseries.com/

    Birmingham, Internet and social media

    Moseley and Kings Heath councillor hustings – April 2015

    Tonight, Kings Health Residents Forum and Moseley Forum organised hustings for the local councillor election which takes place in May.

    Tonight’s event, which took place in the hall at Kings Heath Primary School, was well attended, with a surprisingly few empty chairs.  With six of the seven candidates in attendance (no sign of UKIP’s Rashpal Mondair), it was clear that there was an appetite for community involvement and after a brief three minute introduction by each of the candidates, the rest of the time was given over to questions.

    Candidates in attendance

    • Mike FRIEL – Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
    • Luke HOLLAND – Independent (on Twitter as @lukeeholland)
    • Martin MULLANEY – Liberal Democrats (on Twitter as @mullaney3)
    • Elly STANTON – Green Party
    • Martin STRAKER-WELDS – Labour
    • Owen WILLIAMS – Conservative (on Twitter as @vwozone)

    Questions ranged from issues with cuts to the Library of Birmingham, problems with traffic on Kings Heath High St, green waste bins and council tax rises – oh and I even got in one about the much promised local train station.

    Rather than write up an account of the hustings, I live-tweeted the whole thing instead.  Here’s a link to a Storify, where I’ve pulled together and sorted the tweets to give you a better flavour of the evening: https://storify.com/lauracreaven/moseley-and-kings-heath-hustings-april-2015

    Photo by Community Spaces Fund, used under creative commons.

    Birmingham, Internet and social media, My Thoughts

    Congratulations on the smug political status update

    I’ve wanted to write this for days, but it felt a little improper to do so before polling stations closed and results were read out.

    Pre-election and even on the day, my social media feeds have been full of mockery of political parties, jokes about delayed election days for certain voters and a number of other equally silly things.  I’m sorry, call me a killjoy but I don’t get the joke.

    I like democracy; sure, I think my opinion makes the most sense (otherwise why would I hold it) but I like that democracy is ultimately about the masses deciding.  The right of a political party to exist, no matter how much I agree or disagree with their policies, is part of what makes this a great system.  But a philosopher once told me that you argue against something’s strongest points not its weakest.  It’s why I’ve always been against no platform policies and more recently why I’ve been annoyed at these Facebook statuses and tweets – and I love sarcasm.  Sure, mocking something is kind of arguing against it; but is it really an effective way to changing people’s minds – are you even reaching those people who are genuinely planning on voting for those parties you vehemently dislike so much?  Maybe the question should really be were you even trying to reach them via social media?  Because to me, at least, it just looked like a group of smug self-congratulating updates which spectacularly failed to do anything useful – and the results seem to agree with me.

    So here’s my plea – and you may call me idealistic for it.  Next year it’s a general election and if you care so much about whom people vote for, get off your bums and do something useful.  If you’re passionate about a political party then join them and hand out flyers and speak to people to convince them to your party is best.  If you’re passionate about not voting for a certain political party then effectively debate with people who might be tempted to vote that way about why that party’s policies are incorrect and what the alternatives are.  Point out flaws in an argument in a way that will actually engage with people.  Talk to people who feel disengaged, tell them to register their dislike of all the parties by spoiling their ballot so their voice is counted.  Stand for election.  Hell, start your own party if you like.

    But above all, do something that might actually count.

    Books, Internet and social media

    A social media book club (no really)

    Wednesday was an interesting day for me; in the morning I went to a social media book club held by two of the students from Birmingham City University’s MA in social media and in the evening was the Birmingham Skeptics in The Pub discussion by Michael Marshall on How PR came to rule modern journalism (more about the latter in another post I think).  Wow that was a long sentence.

    I pitched up to the Social media book club (or #masocialmedia book club on twitter) after Alina and Grace, the organisers, turned up to my book club last month and invited me along.  Sadly the short notice on getting the book and two trips meant I didn’t get to finish the book, but I made a good way through the book of choice; Making Is Connecting by David Gaunlett.

    I don’t think it would be fair of me to try and explain what the book is about as I didn’t finish it, but the longer version of the title is a good place to start ‘Making is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity, from DIY and Knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0’.  I thought the parts of the book I read were pretty interesting, although very optimistic and could’ve done with being a little more sceptical at times.  I sort of waffled through something about Apple and approving/rejecting apps and some issues it got into trouble with that I read a while back, which in hindsight the MA social media students were probably in a better position to talk about than me!

    Was interesting to see how a non-fiction book club could work.  Seemed everyone (apart from me) read the whole book, with each chapter being given to someone to focus on and lead the discussion, which I think worked superbly and really gave a sense of interaction with everyone.  I’m thinking of nicking the idea for my book club, but I’m not sure they’d be overly keen on homework!

    Birmingham, Books, Internet and social media, My Thoughts

    My thoughts on Library Camp 2011

    I felt a bit of a fraud on Saturday morning turning up to Library Camp, an unconference for librarians, until I realised that I had actually spent some time looking after a library.  And I made cake, which actually seemed to be more of a prerequisite for attendance than a library career.  Thankfully everyone was so utterly delightful that I think as long as you are passionate about libraries and had cake you were greeted with welcomed arms.

    Photo of part of the timetable by smilylibrarian from flikr

    The first part of the unconference was the pitching for sessions, duly written on post-it-notes, groups and organised into sessions.  It’s a shame we could only go to five, but when the disappointing thing is too many interesting sessions you know you’re on to a good thing.  Thankfully lots of people tweeted throughout the day so it was possible to catch up on other discussion and people have subsequently blogged their thoughts on them too (like this one from Jennifer Yellin).

    It’s hard to pick favourites, but I really enjoyed the two on advertising and what libraries can learn from retail, which isn’t surprising given that I work in communications and marketing.  Bums on Seats made some really good notes on these two sessions.  The retail session seemed to focus on a lot of practical things that could be done in libraries – displays and books facing outwards, although the idea of having books in categories seemed to split opinion.  Personally I think opening times are one of the biggest barriers to people using the library – something which I mentioned on twitter and seemed to get some good responses.  The last session on advertising was the one I understood the best, having experience in public sector marketing and it seems that some of the problems the librarians found were similar, if not worse, to those I found in the NHS.  Sadly it sounded like the will to market was there, but with little support from their corporate communications teams (one team has to email tweets to the webmaster which are frequently changed and lose meaning)

    The other notable session I sat in on was one on Shared Reading  A group of about ten of us read a short story about a father and son, paused at relevant places, which provoked some really unexpected and strong emotional reactions.  I’m not entirely sure I can convey how powerful and moving this session was, but when a 45 minute session with a group of strangers nearly brings you to tears you might get the idea.  I’m determined to learn more.

    Discussions at lunch about further education libraries, children’s development and a whole raft of bookish talk were really interesting.  Plus I was given a free book by the lovely @JennySarahJones which I found out about thanks to the power of twitter!

    So what did I learn

    • Library folk are some of the nicest people ever and really like their cake.
    • Following a hashtag (#libcampuk11) on tweetdeck when its updated fairly regularly is rubbish, the twitter app was a lot more useful.
    • The cola cupcakes recipe from Hummingbird Bakery book was actually a hit – people even tweeted me to say so!
    • If the people at libcampUK11 are anything to go by, so long as the current government doesn’t completely chop the library budget to shreds, the future of libraries are in good hands.

    Initially I wasn’t sure how interesting I’d find the day or how useful I’d be, but in the end I left Library Camp inspired and hopeful – and determined to use the library more.  A big thanks to those that organised the event and to those in attendance for providing me with some really interesting ideas.

    Birmingham, Internet and social media

    Co-working venues: Costa Coffee, High St, Kings Heath

    So after a bit of a break in our co-working, Liz and I thought we’d try the newest kid on the block – Costa Coffee which opened fairly recently. One of Liz’s friends had said that Costa was a good place to work from, so it seemed like a good enough endorsement to check it out.

    Costa Coffee, High St, Kings Heath

    Opening recently in the site of the old Clarks shop store, which has moved a few doors down, Costa is the first real chain coffee shop on Kings Heath High St in amongst all the little independents.  Kings Heath was once the barometer by which the recession was supposedly being measured, if the flurry of national interest was to be believed, so the fact that we’ve now got a chain coffee shop (although we’ve had a chain pub for a while, good ol’ Wetherspoons) surely means something, but who knows what.

    Internet
    Well this is going to be a short section. We initially thought there was internet. After all if the little coffee-shops up and down the High St can manage it, surely a national brand like Costa would consider it akin to offering milk with your tea. Apparently not. Which is a great shame, as Costa is by far the best venue we’ve found for plug sockets and had plenty of tables that looked perfect for a laptop and mug of coffee.

    And anyone that knows me know that I tend to want to know why something isn’t as it should. So I checked the internet on my phone (thank goodness for 3G), the internet was a bit unsure whether Costa offered wi-fi….their website certainly didn’t say. However it did lead me to the number of their PR manager. Hey, I was writing a blog on Costa and I couldn’t find a lot of contact info on the rest of the site, so maybe their PR manager might like to comment. Except they were on holiday – what if I found a rat in my tea?! Yup this is utterly ridiculous but it seems kinda odd way to run a press office to me. Still, I know that Kings Heath Costa doesn’t have wifi, but I still don’t know what the official position is on the matter. And seriously, it’s 2011 and if both Mc Donalds and the little indie cafes on the High St can manage wifi why on earth can’t Costa. Bad Costa, bad.

    Food and drink
    Costa is probably my favourite coffee shop of the big coffee-shop chains. When I had to cut caffeine and dairy out of my diet for a while one of the Costa chains were really accommodating and that’s the kind of thing you remember. And they actually manage to make reasonably decent tea, even if it is just a tea bag, but it comes in a tea pot so win for them. Oh and they do skimmed milk, which makes Liz happy.

    Food wise I didn’t partake this time round. I’ve always found the food on offer a bit typical of coffee-shops and honestly, trying it would be a bit like reviewing Mc Donald’s – it’s going to be the same wherever you go. Except its sandwiches and cakes and stuff and all perfectly pleasant, but I just find them a little uninspiring. But the same goes for Starbucks, Costa, Nero and whatever other coffee shops I’m missing. Nice, but nothing new and exciting and also feels a bit pricey when over the road I can sit in and have a baguette, crisps and can of drink for about the same price as their sandwich or a freshly made sandwich from one of the indie cafes.

    General atmosphere
    I’ve always preferred Costa over the over coffee-shop chains, so I’m glad that if we had to have one on the High St this would be it. And it seems like other people like it too. Even though we were in early afternoon on a weekday it was pretty busy with lots of different people, but nicely busy which is probably helped by the fact it’s got a good sized floor space. There are some comfy sofas for heart-to-hearts which are a bit rubbish to work from if you have a laptop, but thankfully there are plenty of normal tables and chairs for that. But only if you’re writing a novel or something that doesn’t require the internet (I know, broken record, but come on this is 2011 every coffee shop should have wifi by now). It’s got that kind of cosy coffee shop atmosphere and isn’t too noisy, even with a good number of people inside.

    So, to sum up; it’s your usual chain coffee shop, but one of the better ones. Co-working wise it would be good for a meeting, but the lack of internet really lets it down. Everything else, is fine.

    Check out what Liz thought here.

    Birmingham, Cooking and Eating, Internet and social media

    Co-working venues: Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath

    On the back of the success of the first co-working venue review that I did alongside my friend Liz – and inspired others to do the same, we thought we’d chance a second.  We ended up picking another venue quite close to the other one, more out of ease for us, but at some point we will venture further a’field.

    Kitchen Garden Cafe, York Road, Kings Heath


    The KGC can pretty much be summed up as a hidden oasis off a busy High St.  Part garden shop, party cafe it’s really got this quaint, magical quality to it.  Artwork for sale adorning the walls, a programme of live folk and craft in the evenings, a play area for children and an environment of quirky it’s really very cute and a bit of a hidden gem – though thankfully fairly well known amongst locals.

    I met Liz there around 11am, who bumped into a friend who was already working there.  The cafe has a reasonable number of tables, but does get very busy.  We sat in the back of the cafe, in order to find a plug for charging the laptops (note to anyone thinking about co-working anywhere, generally it’s wise to charge up before you go) and there were plenty.  Unfortunately this is also the area with the toys for children.

    Internet

    Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath

    Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath

    Kinda hard to judge this one as I’ve been a few times and so my computer picked up the net no problem.  Then again, even if you’ve not been before they usually have little slips of paper with the internet password freely available.  And it’s your standard way of finding the network, enter the password and away you go.  No complaints from me.

    Food and drink
    Food wise, the KGC is a little pricer than your usual cafe, but then again this is because the food is freshly made on site (from the counter you can just about see into the kitchen) and where possible they use seasonal, fairly-traded, local and/or organic food.  And there’s a notable level of quality to the food because of it.

    A while ago they removed sausage sandwiches from the all day menu and I never really forgave them for it (though they are on the breakfast menu served to midday), so I couldn’t tell you what breakfast or dinner at the KGC is like, but lunch wise its pretty good.  This time I had the Home-made Haddock Fish Finger Sandwich which at £5.95 is pretty pricey for a sandwich, but the fresh battered fish is delicious and in all fairness I rarely feel it needs another side – although I have ordered a side of chips with it before.  It’s the kind of sandwich which is just so delightful that I never really mind the fact that its £6, it kinda feels worth it.

    General atmosphere
    The KGC really is a delightful place.  Unfortunately it isn’t great for co-working.  Why?  Easy answer is children.  It’s an incredibly child-friendly place, which is fine if you’re there for food and a catch up, but if you’re planning on working there it can be problematic (particularly when kids are crying for periods of time, but cafe etiquette is another blogpost).  Generally I can work through most noise, but if you plan on taking any calls it just won’t work.  I had to go outside to call anyone and whilst I could leave my laptop with Liz, it was a pain and whilst there’s a very safe, comfortably atmosphere to the KGC its not exactly recommend behaviour leaving your stuff.  The music is a little louder than it needs to be too.

    I love the KGC for lazy lunches, tea and cake, folk on a Sunday and somewhere to show off when friends come to visit the city.  But for co-working, it just doesn’t really feel like its really up to it.

    Check out what Liz thought here.