Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's called "Social Media" for a reason

There's a clue in the name "Social Media" (no, not "media"). You will have much greater success if you tell people your views, get involved in debates, and offer opinions on current topics. Many people fear that if they express an opinion, they might offend someone, and lose a potential customer. The reverse is true. Nobody buys "bland". Your clients and customers want to know how you think, and why you are saying things. Naturally, there will be some people who disagree with you, but there will also be people who love you.

If you try to remain "safe" by simply posting links to news sites, saying "well done", or re-sending other people's opinions, you will struggle to build up your own following. Being seen as boring is only one step from being ignored. OK, you can go too far the other way, and disagree with people just for the sake of it, or express very controversial views. You don't need to go that far.

Simply state your case, back it up with reasons, and see how people respond. You'll find that you become the person that others recommend, and your influence and reputation will grow.

Sometimes you should just give up

"Never give up" is a phrase I hear a lot. It's intended to be encouraging, and spurring you on to your goal.

"You can achieve whatever you can dream" is another phrase, which though well-meant, is in my view potentially even more damaging. For example, I dream of scoring the winning goal for Fulham in the FA Cup Final against Man Utd. It's never going to happen. I dream of walking on Mars. That's not going to happen either. OK, maybe these are ridiculous examples, but I receive a stream of messages from people who have a dream that involves TV or radio, and want me to help them achieve it. The most popular one is "I want to be a Blue Peter presenter". I say that's fine, and ask which elements of the dream most appeal. We then look at a way that those can be achieved, without reaching an unattainable (for all but one or two) objective. My first bit of advice is usually "Find a local hospital radio station and offer to make the tea". In other words, learn the trade, work hard and look for opportunities.

In my role travelling the world as a professional speaker, I have become friends with some remarkable people, who have achieved amazing things, and now earn a good living as speakers. I count W Mitchell (who suffered 65% burns and paralysis ), Alvin Law (who was born without arms) and Nigel Vardy (who climbs volcanoes after losing most of his fingers) as friends who I admire enormously. They all agree on one thing: there are some things they now can't do, but thousands that they can.

My point is that encouraging people to pursue a dream that they can't possibly achieve is unfair. We can all achieve astonishing things, but we can't do the impossible. Sometimes the best approach is to shrug, give up, and find another dream.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why social media needs Simon Cowell

Watching the X Factor tonight, I was struck by a couple of things; Simon Cowell was right on the money with all his comments; the crowd booed whenever he made a critical comment. To my mind, the acts needed to hear his comments, so that they knew what to do to improve. By contrast, the other judges, Dannii Minogue and Cheryl Cole, found it difficult to say anything other than "you were brilliant".

What's the link to social media? It's to do with feedback. In my opinion, far too many comments about blogs or articles fall into the Minogue/Cole category, telling the author "you are so clever" or "I agree with everything you have said". That's polite, but not helpful to the original poster, or subsequent readers.

Of course, there's no need to be rude, or to resort to personal abuse. Simon never does that. Instead, say why you disagree, and don't be afraid to be critical. That's what good honest debate is about. Though it's nice to get people telling you how great you are, it doesn't help you to improve one bit.

So take a leaf out of Simon Cowell's book. Be direct, be honest, and tell people how they can improve.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Jan Moir's 15 minutes of fame

Earlier today, few people knew who Jan Moir was. I did, but then I'm a part-time journalist. However, after her article in The Daily Mail about the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, Ms Moir has become well known in Warholian style.

As I write this, over 1,000 complaints about her piece have been received by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). It's all down to Twitter and Facebook, both of which have been buzzing with the news. That's close to a record number of complaints, and shows the immense power of social media to shape opinion in an instant.

I've read Ms Moir's piece (I'm not sure that all the complainants have), in which she says that Gately's death struck a blow to the "happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships". She also says "Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this".

Strong words. That's what columnists are paid for. They are obviously causing offence to many people. I don't agree with her either. However, having read the piece a couple of times, I'm not convinced that she's said anything which is actionable.

Time, and the PCC will tell. But it's interesting to see that because of Twitter, Andy Warhol may have been right after all.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Ten people you meet in the Media

Last night, I was sitting in the newsroom at Al Jazeera's studios in Kensington, waiting to go live on the 10 o'clock news to talk about the Evening Standard going free. It occurred to me that although I spend half my life in studios (or so it seems), many people will visit a TV or radio studio much less often. So I thought I'd make a few notes about who does what.

Yes, I know, I ripped-off the title from a best-selling book I've never actually read. That's the journalist in me. Anyway, I thought I'd try to present a summary of ten important media roles that can confuse people, so here goes:

* The editor's decision is final. Go to them if you want something done, or seek redress.
* The leader writer is often anonymous, and seeks to summarise a newspaper's views.
* The specialist correspondent is your friend, so find out their interests and talk to them.
* The staff reporter is a fixture - be nice to them too, and remember their name
* The researcher may be a reporter or editor one day. Never patronise them.
* presenters are not usually experts, but don't underestimate them.
* technicians will help you if you are nice to them
* producers are on the way to becoming editors, and have a lot of power over how you appear
* The floor manager must be obeyed at all times.
* As a last resort, keep in touch with a good lawyer.

So, in summary, my advice is "be nice", whether you're dealing with media folk or not.

Friday, October 09, 2009

"Old School" or racist?

Once again, Auntie Beeb has got her knickers in a twist over an alleged "racist" comment, this time on "Strictly Come Dancing". Celebrity hoofer Anton du Beke made a remark to Laila Rouass, his dance partner on the show, during rehearsals. Noticing that she had been a bit heavy-handed with the fake tan (hardly unusual in the world of sequins and mambos), he referred to her as a "looking like a Paki". He has since apologised - and said he was speaking "in jest". The BBC appears to have accepted his apology, despite hundreds of complaints from viewers. A statement said: "The BBC does not condone offensive language in the workplace. Anton Du Beke has apologised unreservedly to Laila Rouass who has accepted his apology."

However, earlier this year, Carol Thatcher was sacked by the BBC for making an off-air remark in the green room, to her colleagues from BBC1's "The One Show". Ms Thatcher apparently referred to a tennis player as "looking like a golliwog", because of their bushy hairstyle. She apologised, but the corporation said it considered any language of a racist nature "wholly unacceptable", and removed her from her presenting position, saying "her position on The One Show is no longer tenable"

OK, so it appears that one racist term can get you sacked, whereas another can be apologised for? Could there be any link with the fact that Ms Thatcher had a minor role in a show, whereas Mr du Beke is a popular character on "Strictly" and also now presents the dire prime-time Saturday night game show "Hole in the Wall"?

It's hard to tell. To make matters more complicated, Bruce Forsyth, presenter of Strictly, appeared on Talk Sport radio playing down the row, and saying the du Beke spoke "in jest". Forsyth has since offered a clarification, saying that racist language is "never acceptable". His showbiz pal, Kenny Lynch, spoke on Radio 5 Live this morning calling the language "Old school" and "not offensive unless it's used in an angry way".

What a mess. Either the BBC has to show consistency, and sack du Beke, or be seen to be condoning a remark which certainly appears racist to me. I expect Mr du Beke will spend this weekend hoping his phone doesn't ring.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

David Cameron's Conference Speech Analysed

And so to the final set-piece party leader's speech before the election. After a 15 minute delay and a video message from Bono (yes, Bono - looking to support a potential winner), David Cameron appeared.

He started in sombre mood, almost like a wartime speech. There was a strong emphasis on war for the first few minutes - praise for Liam Fox, and a "War Cabinet". He thanked his shadow cabinet colleagues, and made a poignant reference to the son he lost.

The speech continued in serious mode, with Cameron talking about the "gravity of the situation". The applause was muted as the sombre tone continued with the tough medicine being administered early.

As for a theme, he used the phrase "big Government" over and over again, in order to attack it (and therefore Labour). He received great applause for a line about "96 per cent tax rates for the poor", and referred t Labour as "arrogant".

There were plenty of mentions of policy, and which shadow cabinet member would take which role. He had some nice sound bites "We must stop treating adults like children and children like adults"

Of all the three leaders' speeches, this one had the most obvious theme, and also the most serious tone. Although the audience were less enthusiastic than at previous Tory conferences, I'd judge this to be a better than average leader's speech.

It wasn't a barnstorming speech, by any means - that's not his style. He stated his disagreement with "Big Government" and his approval of "Family, Community, Country".

He built to a strong finish, but I was left with the impression that the audience in the hall were a bit bemused. Of the three party leaders, I'd give Clegg first place, Cameron second and Brown third in terms of speaking expertise.

But Cameron did enough.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

British Airways introduces "Tall Traveller Tax"

From today, people like me, who are over six feet tall, will have to pay British Airways an extra fifty pounds a flight to sit in emergency exit seats. (OK, so will everyone else, but this charge is discriminatory) Since these are the only seats in economy class that tall people can fit in without suffering great discomfort (and probable increased risk of DVT), this amounts to nothing less than a tax for being tall.

I fly a great deal on business. Sometimes my client will pay for me to fly business class, but this is increasingly rare in these tough times. In the past, I've turned up at check-in and requested a seat with extra leg room, because of my height. Provided I arrive early enough, I'm generally successful. Sometimes check-in staff offer it unasked as I arrive at the counter.

But with BA, that's now all gone, and it will cost me an extra 100 pounds on each return trip. In terms of taxes and levies, that's an outrageous percentage. On short-haul flights I can just about cope with the discomfort, although it's getting worse as the seat pitch is reduced and more seats are squeezed in. On long-haul flights, I will just have to pay up.

So, I'm starting a campaign to have this discrimination outlawed. Tall people will be standing up for their rights (and you will not miss us). BA be warned. The Tall Travellers are not happy.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The art of social notworking

Back in 1994, I was asked to lead a team to create a content-rich Internet Service Provider for the Consumers' Association. The service - Which? Online - was launched in time, within budget on 4th November 1996.

One of the most important aspects of the service was a way for consumers to link up with each other, share consumer tips, and join together to form "buying groups" to buy in bulk (even cars) and negotiate better deals. Somewhat to our surprise, it worked. Looking back on it 13 years later, it's clear we had created a rudimentary social network.

What made it work? People taking action. That's the only thing that ever works, in my opinion.

Alas, far too many people just "get involved" in social networks. They build up huge lists of followers and contacts. They then start promoting their products and services like mad. Then something amazing happens: nothing. That's because they were social notworking.

Trying to sell to people who don't know you, taking before you give, or sitting back thinking abundant thoughts won't work. That's social notworking.

No-one will pay for your expertise unless you demonstrate it. You have to build a reputation before you can sell anything. You have to give more than you expect to receive. You have to offer your own help, thoughts and advice. That's social networking.

So, are you a social networker or a social notworker?

Monday, October 05, 2009

It's behind you! X Factor panto season is under way

The pantomime season has begun early this year. In fact, it's started already, as the X Factor acts vie with each other for places in our hearts (or on our text votes).

All your favourite panto characters are there. Cinderella - a girl who goes from rags to riches (Stacey Solomon), The Ugly Sisters - who argue with everyone, including each other, and can't really sing (John and Edward), The Handsome Prince - who wins the hearts of all the girls (Danyl Johnson), The Dame - who has outrageous hair and costumes (Jamie Archer) etc, etc....

Even the judges get in on the act with Baron Hardup (Simon Cowell), The Wicked Queen (Danii Minogue), Sleeping Beauty (Cheryl Cole) and Peter Pan (Louis Walsh).

It's all good fun, though not exactly a talent contest. Altogether now - "Oh yes it is..."

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Crisis lessons from Letterman

David Letterman exposed a potential blackmailer by admitting, live on his TV, show, that he had been involved in affairs with some female staff.The alleged blackmailer had already been arrested by police, after Letterman went to them and explained the threats against him.

The audience were clearly stunned as he made the announcements, in his trademark laconic style, raising a few laughs on the way. It must have been a tough time for him, and not least for his wife and young family. Did he do the right thing? Under the circumstances, yes. Once you have made a mistake, the best thing to do is to come out with your hands up.

Letterman will no doubt have to repair some relationships, but he's saved his career, in my opinion.

Basic rules for managing a media crisis:
1) Recognise that you have a crisis (the most broken rule)
2) Be seen and heard doing the right things
3) Talk to the media as quickly as possible
4) Focus on your feelings about the situation
5) Explain how it won't happen again
6) Become the main source of information
7) Monitor media coverage, responding to any criticism quickly