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    Online stuff

    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/

    Books, Online stuff

    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, Online stuff

    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, Theory

    What happens if a successful candidate in local elections resigns?

    A candidate in the constituency I live is running both for MP of the constituency as well as local councillor in a ward nearby.  Whilst I know this is possible, although I question how one person can do both effectively, I was more shocked to hear one of the candidate’s supporters suggest (how true this is I don’t know) in the event the candidate won both elections they would resign the councillor position.  This sounded like a great waste to me and I needed to understand the implications – could this waste taxpayers money in the event of a by-election or votes if the candidate with the second highest votes was subsequently elected?

    My first stop was Twitter, that being said it wasn’t greatly helpful.  So I called Birmingham City Council’s election line.  The person on the phone asked me who I was and I couldn’t help but answer “a concerned resident of Birmingham” – it had to be done.  According to him at least, I couldn’t be given the information unless I was a candidate.  So I emailed.  A day and a half later I had no response, so I called again.  I was once again told this wasn’t the sort of thing they dealt with as they weren’t in the Back Office (?! I’ve no idea what that means).  I kicked up a bit of a fuss and got put through to the mysterious Back Office where a nice person consulted a colleague and said they thought it would result in a by-election, but to call the Electoral Commission.

    So I did.

    And spoke to a lovely person who was the most helpful person I spoke to during all this.  They mentioned a few things and then said they’d look into it and email me back. Sadly I have a difficult email address so I didn’t get it until I emailed in and checked the spelling of my Irish-variant surname.  At the same time I got a response from Birmingham City Council.

    The email from Birmingham City Council confirmed that if a successful candidate resigned “This would therefore trigger a by election [sic]. There is no provision for the candidate with the second highest number of votes to be elected.”

    This was backed up by the email from the person at the Electoral Commission who said the failure to sign the declaration of acceptance would, according to the Local Government Act 1972, be dealt with in the usual way according to rule 89.  This, after reading it, backs up the comment from Birmingham City Council, thankfully.  You can read it here, if you’d like.

    Oh and the cost of a by-election.  According to the person at Birmingham City Council; “As for the cost of a by election this would be approximately £20,000.”

    NB: I’ve contact the candidate in question a couple of times to check whether they are intending to resign from the councillor position if elected to both, but as of yet I have had no response.

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*

    Online stuff, Theory

    #welovetheNHS – America, the NHS and social media

    In the last two days something special happened on Twitter. Again. Twitter users in their thousands have this time rushed to defend the NHS against American critics of Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms. The Guardian reported that ‘US critics have accused the service of putting an “Orwellian” financial cap on the value on human life, of allowing elderly people to die untreated and, in one case, for driving a despairing dental patient to mend his teeth with superglue’.

    But literally thousands of people on the social networking site, Twitter, have come to the NHS’s defence. Using the hashtag #welovethenhs, which allows messages on a similar topic to be linked, people have been posting their experiences and amazing messages of support.

    What the Hashtag, a site which tracks trends, counted 20,575 tweets (messages) using the #welovethenhs tag, with 10,909 contributors. And that’s just as of 9:30 today – the numbers are going up. I’ve posted five so you can get an idea, but if you get the chance or need some cheering up, take a look at the rest.

    karmadillo I love the NHS because baby Enso (& possibly me) would not have survived labour without them http://bit.ly/zlEOz #welovethenhs
    _garys #welovethenhs When my dad’s heart began to fail we were told he wouldn’t last a week. The NHS gave him an urgent bypass and saved his life.
    benjamincohen: I have to use the NHS every week because of having Multiple Sclerosis. It has its faults but it’s still great #welovethenhs
    deanzielinski: #welovethenhs Without the NHS my uncle would have paralysis to his right leg and be in a wheelchair. He now stands and is a paramedic.
    deanzielinski: #welovethenhs -may not be perfect, but you can rely on it when you are in need, no matter what your financial status is. We are spoiled!

    Social networking sites, like Twitter, get accused of being a pointless waste of time. But to me this highlights one of the great ways they can be used; they hold people to account, they allow ordinary people to speak their mind and counter lies. The stories people have told in 140 characters about the NHS have been genuine messages of support from regular people. It’s been amazing.

    And yes, I work for the NHS, so I may be biased towards thinking it’s something that should be applauded. But it’s nice to see it regardless!

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*