North Korea, Digital Journalism & The Hitch [Podcast]

Ben Hamilton is a student from the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham. He studies journalism and I study public relations. As close friends we frequently discuss media matters privately but have decided to pin our opinions to the public door of this blog. The combination of our viewpoints strikes a match for thought but I will let you cast the final stone.

[podcast]http://mikewhite.co.uk/Downloads/mikeandben221211.mp3[/podcast]

Michael White & Ben Hamilton (2011)

We discuss the passing of Christopher Hitchens, ponder the possible revolution in North Korea and consider how the internet is negatively affecting journalism. As ever your opinions are welcomed and can be left as a comment on the bottom of this blog post.

What Christmas means to me…

As an ode to the late Christopher Hitchens I have decided to write an article concerning my opinion of religion at this festive time of the year. Between 2005 – 2008 I used to write frequently on the subject of religion, partly because it stimulated debate.

Bertrand Russell’s lecture in 1927 entitled “Why I am not a Christian” immediately evoked debate in a society who had just endured the First World War and was unknowingly close to round 2 of global trepidation. It would be facile to believe that such an interim would indeed appear to be two separate wars rather than one long chaos. Society kept a close relationship with the Church. C.S Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” was a publication formed as a result of radio interviews concerning Christian faith during World War Two. The interviews provided by C.S Lewis were requested by the BBC in order to provide adults with a new meaning to their lives. In stark contrast to Russell’s philosophical stance which were considered blasphemous by The Times just a few years before.

Society has reformed since 2011. Evidence from the 2001 census indicated that the UK is overwhelmingly Christian (a shocking 71.6%). A figure clearly untrue as there are just not enough churches in the UK to fit such a congregation. The census only measures religious affiliation rather than dedication; it would be true to say that the majority of correspondents have only been to church a handful of times. It will be another 10 years until the 2011 census will be released but I doubt it will warrant Cameron’s statement that the UK is a Christian country (for a start there will be many more Jedi).

There is no denying the historical symbolism indicated by ‘Christmas’. For a start the word contains ‘Christ’ (worth adding that Xmas is a valid contraction as ‘X’ in Greek translates to Christ). Using Christopher Hitchens’ comparison would bring us to the wonders of the Parthenon (Stephen Fry recently blogged around this subject).

Whilst the Parthenon is made beautiful by its symmetry, extraordinary architecture and sculpture, we are not required to take an interest in the culture of Pallas Athena or sacrifices on the road from Eleusis. Hitchens notes that we are able to gaze in wonder of its philosophical context but understand such art in its contextual culture in a post-supernatural era.

The feast of the incarnation of God becoming man as celebrated by Christians at Christmas is a supernatural understanding of theological events. What is often coined the true meaning of Christmas, “…not the tinsel, not the giving and receiving, not even the carols. But the humble heart that receives anew the wondrous gift – the Christ” (Frank McKibben) fails to recognise the festivities in a post-supernatural context where family union is symbolised by the sharing of gifts (a profound value).

Just before the beginning of the romantic movement an intellectual force greeted the 18th Century whom went by the name of David Hume. At the latter part of the renaissance he offered a remarkable empirical philosophy which, even today, brings one dilemma to argue against. A little known story about Hume was an event which he explained in a letter to a friend. Whilst walking across a boardwalk between the old and new towns of Edinburgh (to check my sources a Google search led me to this news article which I’m glad to say is a colourful alternative story) he happened to slip into a bog. Being unable to swim Hume was unable to bring himself out onto land and his calling caught the attention of a fisherman’s wife. She recognised Hume for his secular philosophy said that they would only help him if he recited the Lord’s prayer and creed. Without question Hume did so and he was helped out of the water. Hume remarked that the Edinburgh fishwife was a more learned theologian than the entirety of educated clerics he had met.

As a 15 year old the idea of a gentlemen so readily parting with his beliefs for personal gain surprised me. The years have taught me such an action should not be a surprise if we are to consider social Darwinism – to live is enough. A key point, if dragging the point for obtuse means, is that decrying a belief does not undermine it. A Christian should not feel threatened that others do not consider their tale of Christmas. An Agnostic or Atheist should not feel threatened that others do not obtain to their belief. In both cases the message still remains valid but most importantly relevant for all parties. Belief is and should remain personal.

So take my view of Christmas as an embrace of anti-hypocrisy. I will not be told that my approach to a secular Christmas is something less than what theologically inclined will call purely materialistic whilst I honour the immediate values of family as they will be done. The true spirit of Christmas is for us to all enjoy.

Social Media: Digital ADHD?

Each year we ritually ponder upon our own frailties and answer with a New Year’s Resolution. In 2012 I am going to slow down.

To slow down brings connotations of a great writer bathing in self-gratification of his own success as if to say, “Enough is enough. Today I have achieved everything that I would have hoped for in life and the rewards have been generous in return.” This New Year’s resolution is not about laying pen upon the desk but instead acknowledging the destructive nature of social media.

Without a single hesitation each of us willingly part with small pieces of personal information each day. Just gaze upon your own Facebook timeline – every like, comment, picture or status lines the pocket of an executive somewhere. This is no bias towards Facebook but applies to many other social networks. It is a price many of us have come to recognise for online communication but I am no longer willing to part with time.

The online metric lingo translates to ‘dwell time’, it is a money spender. Television has proved that a captivated audience is a powerful one. Not just for advertising purposes but for assisting entertainment columns with their direction and inspiring chat on sites such as Twitter. Eventually our time is translated into money.

Every lost minute poses the question over the fruitful alternatives that are available for our attention.

With the exception of textbooks I have spent an abysmal amount of time reading in 2011. It takes a lot for me to feel remorse for lost time but in this respect 2011 was ill-spent. Disregarded books lie on my book shelf in placement for aimlessly browsing the internet – social media is a huge waste of time.

As a budding member of the public relations industry it is neither sensible or respectful to publically post such a statement. Dwell time acts as an important metric for this blog so I could seem arrogant to demand your time here but to advise less time on other parts of the digital landscape. It is not my aim to be polite but to steal Al Gore’s phrase, point to the inconvenient truth.

Social media has become a contagious ADHD. Our evolutionary glands are tickled with each flick of a browser tab releasing more endorphins. Our attention has become more focused upon quickly draining content than to seek depth. Content variation keeps our minds in a state of lingo which I believe affects the quality of information we seek.

Members of the media are quick to accuse journalists of churnalism but the crime could be warranted the punishment; the amount of time we spend reading articles is abysmal. What is the purpose of a journalist to spend, already exigent time, to produce an article online? It would only have an average dwell time of 20 seconds (industry standard).

The perpetrator of the crime shouldn’t be the journalist for posting the message but instead for the reader spending such little attention on the article. It is far more natural for a reader to scan the key points of the article than to generously spend their time patiently scrolling downwards to the conclusion.

It is upsetting.

Has quality been sacrificed for speed? In my eyes, yes. Books, magazines and newspapers exist for a person to enjoy with depth. Online exists for quick entertainment, procrastination or researching references. Consumption habits differ between each person though. Which returns me to the subject of this blog post.

My New Year’s resolution is to slow down. To teach myself to weigh time between tasks and to enjoy the comforts of a book. 2012 is set to be an enlightening year.

How Google uses Reputation to enhance its Brand

Google was founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin whilst studying at Stanford University. The company’s mission statement was, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Google has been said to actively inspire creativity within their employees which has resulted in many other Google Projects to appear over the years. The most influential of which are centered on Google becoming a social network with the introduction of Google+, the Google+ button and integrated social features to some of their biggest projects. This has not only affected Google Searches’ algorithms but has sparked controversy surrounding the way Google handles a user’s personal data.

Google is an organisation who handles many different brands additional from Google search, this article shall be focusing on Google’s effort to remain as the search brand, rather than its other products which focus on content creation and creativity (such as YouTube, Google+, Google Documents and Google Picasa).

A result of a consumer survey this year into brand reputation which focused on brand trust, favourability, success, service quality and general standing revealed Google to be named the top UK brand for reputation. In terms of Business to Consumer (B2C) brand reputation Google has many stakeholders to take into consideration, the primary ones being:

  • Consumers
  • Developers
  • Employees (many of their employees are internal developers)
  • Shareholders

Other than Google’s B2C stakeholders their main Business to Business (B2B) stakeholders are Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Facebook but for the objective of this article only B2C stakeholders shall be analysed. Google depends heavily upon its brand reputation due to its positioning within the technology marketplace as a provider of services. For this reason Google feels it necessary to adopt radical transparency in the form of their regularly updated Google Transparency Report.

Google uses a range of online communication tools to communicate with stakeholders:

Google Blog (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/)
The official Google Blog is regularly updated on a daily basis and is hosted by their own BlogSpot network. Posts are varied and range from service announcements, new releases, product updates, media coverage, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) topics and competitions. Interestingly the Google Blog does not adopt a symmetrical communication model as comments have been disabled but all of the posts have been shared by users. It is likely that the main function of the official Google blog is to provide a news feed for businesses, consumers and secondary news sources (such as Mashable, TechCrunch and Gizmodo).

Google Twitter Feed (https://twitter.com/google)
Google’s Twitter feed boasts over 3.8 million followers but shows no sign of active engagement with the Twitter community. Much of the content from the Official Google Blog can be found linked on their Twitter feed.

Google Facebook Page (http://www.facebook.com/Google)
Facebook seems to be the only social media platform where Google seems to encourage active engagement with the community. It is facinating to see how Google uses a fierce competitor’s platform in order to raise their own brand reputation. Futhermore Facebook does not allow online advertisments on their system to promote a competitor’s network and so Google’s approach in Facebook seems like an effective way to generate engagement away from the risk of being banned from Facebook’s advertisement system.

Google maintains a social presence online but mainly relies upon 3rd party sources for their brand reputation. Popular blogs such as Mashable, TechCrunch and GizModo regularly feature Google related stories (some of which may have been regurgitated from the Official Google blog). However Google rarely shows active stakeholder engagement which indicates a lack of effort into their digital Public Relations despite being one of the market leaders for online communication platforms. Over the years many Google projects have been discontinued due to not achieving the critical mass and user interactions necessary for projects to be successful. The question is not so much the purpose of the tools Google create but instead the digital Public Relations strategies behind promotions. Lack of PR has seen the death of Google Lively, Google Answers, Orkut, Google Health and Google Buzz.

The Google I/O conference is one of the company’s main Public Relations events which shows engagement with their development community and innovative users – these conferences are handled by outside Public Relations agencies which explains the sharp increase in media coverage prior to these events. Google, as a global brand, do protect their brand reputation in event of crisis management. As their transparency report indicates the company adopts radical transparency and will locally run Public Relations campaigns to lobby governments to protect their activities in each country. An example of this would be in 2009 when Google’s dominance in the market place was being questioned by authors, advertisers, website owners and politicians. The crisis invoked Google to target the relevant stakeholders and to directly discuss matters with advertisers, reporters, academics and lawmakers. This indicates that Google will manage their brand reputation but only when that reputation is being questioned.

 

Recommendations

1. Adopt symmetrical communication across owned social media platforms
The findings indicated that whilst Google do manage their own social media presence they do not adopt the symmetrical communication model (other than their Facebook Page). Comments should be opened up on the Official Google blog and a consumer service should be provided on their Twitter feed to further strengthen their brand reputation as a product and service provider.

2. Run a yearly Google event which focuses on advertisers
The annual and growing success of the Google I/O conferences is an indication that further conferences should be arranged to target other stakeholders, other than developers. Advertising is still Google’s main source of income and whilst the company does make regular appearances at expositions such as AdSpace and PPC Summit it does not run their own branded advertising event. Holding their own branded conference would reinforce the values of Google advertising to keep their dominance within the marketplace.

3. Define a clear brand strategy aligned to each Google product
Google is no longer only a search brand, its reputation relies upon many different Google products which operate separately from each other. Each product must have their own brand strategy which will clearly define the objectives of each product and the tactics, thus leading to long term direction and scope. It is clear that one of Google’s challenges within the marketplace is communicating with each one of their stakeholders. Breaking brand strategy down by product will allow Google to only focus upon relevant stakeholders and in turn increase awareness; an awareness which may have saved past Google products such as Google Buzz and Google Wave.  

 

Originally this blog post existed as a short business report which was graded as 1:1 at University. Now that it has been graded it has been posted here. I hope that you think the grade was warranted or was deservedly quipped by the lecturer. 

Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011: The Best Teacher I Had

Popular writer, journalist and public speaker, Christopher Hitchens, died yesterday at the age of 62 at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He was being treated by Francis Collins, an American physician and genealogist, for oesophageal cancer which he was diagnosed with in June 2010. In a memoriam published by Vanity Fair it was noted he died in the presence of friends.

Throughout his life Christopher Hitchens was known for his fierce intellect, quick wit, charm and controversial arguments. The publication of “God Is Not Great” in 2007 fervently introduced Christopher Hitchens into the public arena alongside Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris (duly labelled ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’). Media appearances over the last four years have acknowledged his firm secular stance in an opacity who could almost forget his political involvements which began at Oxford University.

There is no denying that Christopher Hitchens’ lifestyle made himself a candidate for cancer. As noted by the journalist, Graydon Carter, “Pre-lunch canisters of scotch were followed by a couple of glasses of wine during the meal and a similar quantity of post-meal cognac. That was just his intake. After stumbling back to the office, we set him up at a rickety table and with an old Olivetti, and in a symphony of clacking he produced a 1,000-word column of near perfection in under half an hour.” Excessive drinking and smoking throughout Hitchen’s career even had him admit that he had been burning the candle at both ends, but he noted it did give off a lovely light. Despite undergoing intensive chemotherapy treatment Christopher Hitchens was still producing articles, giving talk and partaking in debates. To hear of the fog which blights those who battle cancer with chemotherapy perhaps suggests the intensity and determination of the man.

His admiration of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and George Orwell provided a welcomed intellectual oasis for my fifteen year old mind when only C.S Lewis, Nicky Campbell or self-help religious books provided anything near to stimulating. Therefore I consider the rectitude of my intellectual interest not only delayed but only forthcoming thanks to Christopher Hitchens. Knowledge is not a requirement for dusty professors and do not necessarily require a tweed jacket. They stand alone, often far away from secondary education and greet you when the time is right. When one’s mind awakes a world can change and in my case Christopher Hitchens was the catalyst. To this very day a copy of his book “Letters to a young Contrarian” lies on my desk as a bible for not what TO think but instead HOW to think. The book is constructed from a series of letters in 2000 between Christopher Hitchens and among his students in New School, New York. Distilling the letters into chapters has created the illusion of a one-to-one conversation which has Christopher Hitchens pitch himself against some of the ideologies through the ages to ensume a generation of “radicals, gadflies, mavericks, rebels and angry young (wo)men”. It is one of many books which has constructed a small part of who I am today, you should read it.

Which follows to a confession which could easily be presumed from the title of this memoriam; I did not know Christopher Hitchens personally. His closest friends consisted of Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, James Fenton and Julian Barnes; some of the greatest literature minds of the 21st Century. There is no doubt that apart from Hitchen’s intellectual porosity he was indeed a great friend to those near him. This morning Salman Rushdie tweeted, “Goodbye, my beloved friend. A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops”. As I write this many others are adding their words of love and loss to the passing of this great man.

As I reach the end of this article I can’t help but notice a single tear forming in my left eye. Inside the fifteen year old boy who first fell in love with this literacy genius has lost a dear teacher. As the Greek oracle proclaimed the supreme wisdom of the age, “Nothing too much” – that is how I will remember Christopher Hitchens. His writings will live on but what I will never forget is how he shaped me. What I will always regret is that I never managed to write that letter to him.

Apple ignore onslaught of angry iPhone 4S Owners over “invalid sim” error

Thousands of iPhone 4S owners are experiencing “invalid sim” errors. Users report that after a few hours of their devices being switched on an error message appears showing “invalid sim” which results in the phone dropping their phone signal. The only temporary fix is to switch the iPhone 4S off and on again.

Over 71,000 people have viewed the ‘Sim Card Failure No Sim with iPhone 4S Anyone Else?’ topic on the Apple forum. Posts date from 15th October 2011 with many begging Apple for a response but none has been given to date.

It is not uncommon for mobile operators to have faulty sim cards but it strikes unusual that all these “invalid sim” errors are coming from iPhone 4S users who have the latest version of iOS installed.

Already this evening I have experienced this error on my iPhone 4S five times. Vodafone have indicated that it may be a faulty sim card but my research shows that this issue clearly lies with Apple’s latest iOS update. As an Apple customer, a consumer who has parted with a generous amount of money for their mobile device I expect a response and a fix for this error.

Apple… are you going to ignore me too?

Dealing with Social Media Crisis Management

Guess what? Social media isn’t new anymore. We all know how to use the tools and I still stand by my blog post from June that social media ‘experts’ are not qualified to do their role. The shift into 2012 will see more organisations seek to have their social media strategies merged into the wider marketing mix. Online communication channels have proved in 2011 to hold the integrity of a brand.

Last August Altimeter Group, a research based advisory firm, released a social business version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Those familiar with Maslow will recognise that there are close interlinks between social psychology and social business needs.

Social Business Hierarchy of Needs

It is in my belief that social media crisis management is not a case of post-examination but instead the culmination of research in order to prepare for potential crisis. Whilst planning will not settle every eventuality it does provide a clear set of communication guidelines to remain calm, organised and quick. Make no mistake – you do not have to sacrifice speed for quality. Whilst “The Social Business Hierarchy of Needs” diagram shows an ideal decisions in the enlightenment stage will be made on real time data to make real time decisions. Just how this will work in practice for an international organisation is questionable (simply due to the complex internal aspects of communication and management).

Infamous instances such as Nestlé’s management of their Facebook presence in 2010 when Greenpeace launched a campaign against the company due to their approach to acquire palm oil at the cost of endangered Orang-utan triggered a series of events PR professionals should not forget.

It proved that there are certain aspects of user generated content which should be taken into consideration:

 

Plan!
Take into consideration (using Altimeter Group’s research) just how to plan for a social media crisis. Maintain a strict guidelines over content control that will clearly feedback into how the crisis will be handled through traditional media channels. This will prove particularly useful in the instance of a coordinated attack (such as Greenpeace’s).

 

Listen
It is so easy to publish content to social media channels but in the event of a crisis take more care with listening to what the public are saying. This will allow you to clearly post narratives which will be relevant and will not cause communication clutter. The narrative must remain simple for it to make sense.

 

Converse
Any messages posted should be in response to the larger public response. Why? As I suggested in a recent blog post it is just not practical to respond individually to each user online. Your communication will remain two-way asymmetrical but you will still be responding to transpiring events.

 

Record
Take into consideration the sentiment of the messages you are receiving, all of this should be recorded for post-examination. With today’s tools data can be recorded in real-time but remember to keep a copy. Mistakes are made, having a record of social media activity will allow you to perfect online crisis management.

3 Blogs I Love (and you will love too)

Each day I read a variety of different blogs and the three listed below are my favourites. We should all take the below authors as examples to improve our own blogging and spend time appreciating the work they produce. Perhaps follow their blogs online and leave them a comment.

 

Nightmare Pixel
Kyle Mullan tells stories designed to provoke, push social boundaries and to enchant readers down a path few dare to tread. It is unclear whether the stories he tells are based from personal experiences, even metaphors for aspects of life many of us choose to ignore. A “gonzo-journalistic style” surrounds his writings. Kyle Mullan is an accurate amalgamation of Charles Bukowski, Chuck Palahniuk and George Orwell – I love the result. He has recently started telling his stories on YouTube.

 

Mostly Harmless – the good news blog
Nobody can ignore the theme of negativity which underlines our top news stories. Ben Hamilton’s newly started “Mostly Harmless” blog reveals to readers the hidden agendas behind news stories to show the world isn’t that bad. Coupled with the usual flare of a columnist Ben Hamilton observes the wider context of stories to gain transparency which assists readers to understand the real meaning of a news item. Support this blog project, it has only just begun.

 

Social Web Thing
Ben Cotton works for the Edelman Digital PR team and his blog has become a useful resource for PR students and practitioners alike. Whether you need to know about 2012 PR Graduate Schemes or you want to know his observations of the PR industry, he offers it all. Indeed his blog has become so useful that he has been nominated in the highly acclaimed and cheekily titled CRAPPs awards – his blog deserves your vote.