Pirate Party UK: Liberators of free speech or media stirrers?

In April the High Court ruled that Swedish file-sharing website, The Pirate Bay, must be blocked by UK Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This was a result of heavy lobbying by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and has meant internet censorship for all of us. If you try accessing the Pirate Bay today all you will get is “Website Blocked”.

To counter this, minor political group, Pirate Party UK (PPUK) launched a proxy server which allowed users to bypass the ISP block of  the Pirate Bay. The new proxy was praised heavily, touting internet freedom for all. However, this proxy was not to be. Over the last few weeks elected members of PPUKs National Executive Committee, along with their head of IT, received letters from lawyers acting for the BPI threatening them with legal action.

Much legal advice and fundraising later PPUK has decided to shut down the Pirate Bay proxy. As a member of the party I find myself stoic to the email I received which read,

“Dear Member, …it is however with a heavy heard that I write to inform you that the proxy server which the Pirate Party UK initially provided in solidarity with other parties in Europe, but later as an anti-censorship resource for UK users, has now been removed and will stay down until either the law is changes or the orders against the ‘Big 6’ ISPs are removed.”

I never agreed with the Pirate Bay proxy and the whole media uproar surrounding the matter has made me embarrassed to be associated with the party. To think PPUK raised thousands fundraising the Pirate Bay proxy issue whilst hundreds of alternative proxies are available elsewhere.

What was the party thinking? Nuts. The party needs to re-consider their arguments and direction. This all starts with the notion of free speech.

Internet Censorship VS Free Speech
One of the biggest events in internet history happened early 2012 when the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) protests took places. This saw major websites, such as Google, blackout their web services and dozens of more companies wrote letters to key members of the US Senate and House of Representatives saying that SOPA posed a serious risk to innovation and job creation, as well as cyber security.

Essentially SOPA would allow copyright holders to challenge the use of their content in any form on the internet. The outcome of which would certainly end file-sharing websites (such as the Pirate Bay) but could also close social networks due to their high use of shared material.

The enforcement of copyright would inevitably lead to the point of censorship. Something which would certainly end the organic growth of the internet, could lead to online policing and the death of social networks. Scary stuff.

SOPA raised some interesting debates which highlighted a linked but distinct difference between internet censorship and free speech. For ISPs to block the Pirate Bay was a matter of internet censorship but not free speech.

According to the Oxford Dictionary:

Free speech [noun] the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint: it violated the first-amendment guarantee of free speech.

As per this definition I do not believe the blocking of the Pirate Bay poses any risk to our free speech on the internet. It is true that continuous censorship could lead to sites that actively celebrate free speech, such as social networking websites, being blocked but it is an outcome which seems highly unlikely. Not even the BPI has enough power to block sites, such as Facebook, operating in the UK!

PPUK’s first principle in their manifesto states,

“Our society is built upon the sharing of knowledge, ideas and culture. It is furthered by freedom of thought and expression, and protected by the role of law. The Pirate Party exists to ensure the preservation and development of these foundations”.

I know that the Pirate Bay operates by giving users the platform to share files between each other – the majority of which is copyrighted. Anybody who clearly thinks anything other than this has not used P2P file-sharing before. Yes, this material is the outcome of knowledge, ideas and culture but is produced material by large media companies.

The UK is becoming a digital economy and cannot operate at full capacity with material being shared freely – sometimes censorship on the internet is required (although totally ineffective…). Individual users should not be accused of copyright infringement but the platforms which allow sharing should be seriously looked at.

Purchased or Public Domain?
Does a consumer first purchase content or is content made available first in the public domain? This is a chicken or egg argument that industry bodies such as the BPI need to consider seriously. Much content made available in the UK across file sharing websites can be downloaded before the ‘legal’ product hits the shelves. This happens for all sorts of reasons; release timings across different countries or beta versions of software before the full article.

Sharing content is the heart beat of the internet and the BPI needs to consider their marketing tactics rather than accuse file-sharing of the demise of their industry. Have they measured the positive effects of YouTube for artists? Popular artists such as Justin Bieber and Gangnam Style have all come to fame through YouTube.

Social networks helps makes musicians money and can certainly provide fame.

Back to the Proxy

I can understand why PPUK wanted to raise the Pirate Bay proxy; it’s an easy media stunt which provided a massive splash. However, the act also almost killed PPUK of all funds and was essentially pointless as plenty of other proxies already exist on the internet.

Instead PPUK should create lots of little media splashes; commenting on social networking developments and stories that deal with internet privacy. This media hijacking could see PPUKs media coverage to be far more positive and introduce plenty of new members to the party. The public needs to take the party seriously, as technological educators who exist to inform the old boys club of how the digital world works.

This is why when I saw the below confirmation from BPI I smiled.

“BPI has today received signed confirmations from Pirate Party UK executives that they will remove proxy access from their website to the illegal site The Pirate Bay,” they said. “BPI welcomes this development. Provided Pirate Party UK complies with the confirmations, no legal proceedings should be necessary.”

It’s time for PPUK to re-visit their media tactics and get some positive public sentiment on their side.

Relax. We can be offensive again.

It all started in 2010 when a man was found guilty of sending a menacing tweet threatening he was going to blow up Robin Hood Airport. Two years later, thankfully, he was found innocent. The case was the beginning of walking a fine line between what messages on social networks are jokes and which others could be regarded as genuine threats.

The case also raised real concerns over how the transparency of the internet could be threatened by those peering in and not fully understanding the context behind communications. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has now dealt with over 50 cases relating to potential criminal messages posted online. Although how many of these were merely dark jokes and how many others were genuine prosecutable acts? It’s impossible to tell.

Well, fear no more. Today, drunk Twitter and Facebook users who post grossly offensive messages will now be let off the hook if they proudly apologise and delete the offensive messages once they have sobered up. Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, has been doing the media rounds today has said,

“If a message is taken down very swiftly and there is remorse then it may not be proportionate to have a criminal prosecution. It is not a defence that you have sobered up but it is relevant that whatever the material was, it was taken down pretty quickly when the person realised it was inappropriate.”

To help prosecutors the CPS has developed four initial assessment case guidelines. These should hopefully cease repeat cases, such as the Robin Hood Airport incident. The initial assessment is,

1) Communications which may constitute credible threats of violence

2) Communications which may constitute harassment or stalking

3) Communications which may amount to a breach of a court order

4) Communications which do not fall into any of the above categories and fall to be considered separately i.e. those which may be considered grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false.

Any offenses falling within the first three categories will see individuals prosecuted under relevant legislations. Any caught with their pants down holding a big point four will see, probably, no prosecution at all.

Exactly how the CPS decide to measure this, let alone understand if a user was actually drunk at the time of posting an offensive message is beyond me. For a start, who decides if an online message is offensive or not? Distinguishing between a joke, satirical view or controversial opinion isn’t always easy.

Mr Starmer may has well just have been honest and have said, “We have no idea what all this social networking business is. So we have decided to make up some silly guidelines that will help make our case workload a little bit more manageable”.

However, without wishing to seem callous, the matter of offensive online messages is an important one. Often labelled as ‘trolling’, it can devastate people’s lives and should be dealt with harshly.

 

What do you think of the CPS guidelines? Are they fit for purpose?

Ignore your boss. This is where Digital PR is Going.

Your boss may not realise it yet but over the next couple of years the public relations industry is going to face some really serious challenges. In fact, unless your boss is willing to take digital PR seriously then it may be time to switch to an agency who have decided to secure their future.

Clients are talking about digital, are you going to offer them digital solutions?

The ratio between public relations professionals and journalists is becoming unbalanced. With roughly 60,000 PRs working in the UK against a mere 50,000 journalists (Can’t find the reference for this but the ratio is roughly true), traditional media engagement is getting tougher. Journalists are going to face increased time pressure to file their stories and PR Professionals are going to find it harder to have their story heard.

Only a couple of weeks ago did I speak with a journalist concerning a client story, only to be told that it was interesting but couldn’t be covered due to a lack of reporters and a full publication.

Physical publications are thinning and some amateur outlets, such as blogs, are commanding equal or better visitor figures. Just look at our industry’s rag, PR Week, each month featuring slightly fewer pages. Any existing pages are then taken up by advertising. This is a trend occurring across publications of all genres.

Physical content is becoming secondary to online. Newspapers and magazines won’t die completely but instead a balance will be met with online content.

Increase competition with press relations requires PR Professionals to instead focus on digital strategies. Your boss may not be happy about this. By offering yourself up as a digital genie you may be treading on the toes of past experience and safety.

By the way, if you are looking for safety then the PR industry is not for you. Most agency ships are sinking through safety. Embrace digital or jump ship.

I’ll admit, some of social is a jargonised mess; social activity could be classed as “buzz” or “establishing thought-leadership” but most clients will expect more. The public relations industries biggest competitor is advertising and, as I have said before, this industry has cracked it. They have established their own online measurements and can directly provide clients with sales.

Some agencies have realised the importance of measurement and have established (or are on the way to establish) their own processes. Other agencies will get left behind in the digital measurement scramble. Whether you believe it or not; public relations is now required to impact sales. In my belief this has always been the case, it doesn’t devalue the rest of PRs’ offerings but it will become a growing requirement in this tough economic climate.

The future of PR is now totally dependent on how we decide to measure our online activities. Surviving the ever-changing media landscape is key for PR professionals and, as I have indicated in this post, media evolution goes far beyond social media but instead looks at the meaning behind our activities.

Now, are you ready to tell your boss this?

2013 PR Graduate Schemes

If you haven’t seen it already pop over to Social Web Thing where Ben Cotton has published a list of 2013 PR Graduate Schemes. This annual post always serves Ben’s blog well and in true blogger comradery I have re-published his post below.

If you are a budding future communicator or digital whizz kid then keep Social Web Thing blog added to your list of favourites.

 

 

2013 PR GRADUATE SCHEMES – UPDATED 15 DECEMBER 2012

Blue Rubicon
Open
Closes: 26 January 2013

Burson-Marsteller
Does not run a PR graduate scheme, but is open for internships all year round, many of which lead to permanent positions.

Chime Comms
Open
Closes: 11 January 2013

Diffusion
Open
Closes: 31 January 2013

Edelman
Please note Edelman now run an apprenticeship scheme which welcomes applicants from all backgrounds; both graduates and non-graduates
Open:
Closes: 31 January 2013

Fishburn Hedges
Open
Closes: 21 December 2012 or 28 January 2013 depending on start date.

Fleishman-Hillard
Open
Closes:15 February 2013

Four Communications 
Open
Closes: 1 February 2013

Hill+Knowlton Strategies 
Closed

Hotwire Group
Open
Closes: 28 January 2013

Ketchum Pleon
Open
Closes: 19 April 2013

Lexis
Opens: December 2012

MHP Communications
Open
Closes: 7 January 2013

Octopus Group
Closed

Weber Shandwick
Open
Closes: 18 January 2013

 

Please feel free to publish the list anywhere. But if you do, please link back to Social Web Thing with the anchor text ‘PR Graduate Schemes’. This is for SEO purposes as people are searching for that phrase and it’ll help drive some more traffic to the blog.

Blogger Outreach: “To Be (anonymous) or Not To Be (anonymous)?”

Over the past year or so there has been a shift in practice from traditional link building techniques to link “earning” or link “acquisition” through content marketing and guest blogging – this trend has gradually gained momentum throughout 2012, helped in no small part by Google’s Penguin updates which penalised sites found to be practicing “spammy” link building techniques.

Since Google has always been so big on content, and since it became clear that contextual, content-driven links are particularly powerful, the practice of guest blogging gained in popularity and became the subject of the majority of SEO-related blog posts and videos throughout the year.

The importance of finding authoritative, relevant blogs which are there for user consumption rather than simply to house links became increasingly important.

Authorship
Towards the start of the year, Google introduced authorship markup to enable blog posts to be linked with the author’s Google Plus page, leading to the concept of AuthorRank and the possibility that an article on a relatively low-authority blog could be given more prominence in search if written by someone that is seen to be particularly authoritative elsewhere. It also enabled the author of the post to have their Google Plus picture appear next to the page in Google:

Outreach and Anonymity
Working at a digital marketing agency and acting on behalf of your clients as opposed to working in-house, the question often crops up as to whether it’s best to be up front about who you are and why you are getting in touch with a blogger, or whether to use an alias created specifically for the client you are trying to post on behalf of.

Historically SEO’s have been known to be very careful about whether or not to work under their own name, and it seemed to be common practice to work under a fake name or even a fake Gmail account to carry out any link building activities. I have no doubt that the reason for this practice was to cover the tracks of shady link building tactics, and I can understand why (in the past) some SEO’s would have worked this way… this is not what I am questioning.

Imagine I have client that sells gardening equipment, and I find a really high quality gardening blog – it’s updated on a regular basis, carries a strong domain authority and is clearly maintained by a community of avid gardeners. They accept guest posts, and I decide to get in touch to find out whether they’d be interested in publishing an article on the subject of “air pruning”.

Now, do I get in touch from my work email address, my personal Gmail address, or from a Gmail address I have created for my client ([email protected])?

Personally, I would always opt for the upfront and honest approach from my work email address… something along the lines of:

“Hi there.

I just came across your blog and I notice that you accept guest posts. I work on behalf of (client) who are a (leading UK supplier of ‘X’, for example) – I look after their online marketing and I wondered whether you may be interested in a post on the subject of ‘X’?

All the best, and I’ll look forward to hearing from you”

I have a pretty good success rate with this sort of email (enough to continue using it at least!), but I wonder whether I would have more chance of a response or more chance of having my article taken seriously if I had led the blog owner to believe that I was an expert in the field, or an employee of the company itself.

I have had a number of responses from bloggers saying that because I am working on behalf of a client, they consider the article/post to be “advertorial” and they would therefore charge (and I assume if they were following protocol, nofollow the link!). Could I have avoided this problem by emailing from a fake Gmail account and presenting myself differently? I know the article is going to be of a high standard and of high value to their users regardless of who the blogger thinks I am, but by being honest with them, am I creating an unnecessary barrier between myself and the blogger?

Author Bio’s
When sifting through the hundreds of low-quality blogs that exist within any given niche for the genuinely high-quality quality blogs, one of the features that I always find to be a good indicator of quality is if posts are accompanied by an author bio or snippet (these are often linked to the author’s Google Plus page via the authorship markup) – some blogs will even insist that you supply an author bio along with your post.

The issue of anonymity arises here as well, but in a slightly different way… Do I post as myself? Anyone that reads this article giving advice on gardening will soon learn that I’m not an expert gardener if they click on my Google Plus link or if they search for my name, so the post will lose it’s authority.

So how about posting as the client? I could do this, but Google’s authorship markup doesn’t allow for brands to use the rel=”author” tag (the author must be an individual), so it would need to be an individual member of staff that works for the client – but what if they leave the company to join a competitor, and then use their Google Plus page to promote their new company over their old company? Perhaps I create an alias for use only by that particular client – give them administrative access and use that alias for all guest posts I arrange for the client… but that contravenes my ‘up front and honest’ approach.

In Summary
I think that if you’re working agency-side, the issue of whether or not to stay anonymous is a complex one, and it may in fact be that it should depend on the situation, who you’re contacting and who the client is (and whether they have a preference).

For me, using an alias or a fake email account feels shady, regardless of whether it’s being done for genuine reasons, and from a moral standpoint I would be hesitant to take that approach. I’d be interested to know what approach other agency workers take. Please leave a comment below.

The Bloggers Guide to SEO

As an SEO’er I love working on sites where the client is an active blogger. It makes life much easier for us because there’s already some momentum there. By this I mean there is existing content and connections that can be leveraged and utilised for SEO.

Here are some of my favourite SEO tips for bloggers…

Publish Great Content

Sometimes the best way to SEO a blog post is not to SEO it. I know this sounds strange, particularly  because it’s coming from an SEO professional but the point I’m trying to make however is that the quality of the content itself is far more important than how well optimised the post is.

Writing interesting, original and engaging content should be your number one priority. The benefits of publishing great content on your blog go without saying but there are specific benefits for SEO too:

  1. Great content encourages people to link to and share your content. This in turn improves your blog’s link popularity and authority.
  2. Unique, original content will rank better because there aren’t 103,746,002,987 other pages competing with it!
  3. User engagement is a ranking factor – Why wouldn’t Google use all the data it has on how users interact with your blog?

Target Long Tail Keywords

A long-tail keyword phrase is a specific query about 3 to 5 words in length. Long tail keyword phrases are easier to rank for and convert better than short-tail keyword phrases.

For instance ‘seo for wordpress bloggers’ is an example of a long-tail keyword phrase whereas ‘seo’ is a short-tail phrase.

20% of all search queries have never been searched before. Don’t just rely on search volume figures when choosing keywords to target. Use the Autosuggest and Related Searches for keyword research and never just rely on The Google Adwords Keyword Tool. Search Volume is not the only thing to keep in mind when it comes to choosing your keywords.

Write About Things That Are Happening Now

What’s happening in your industry at the moment? It is easier to rank for keywords about topics that are relatively new and people are more likely to engage with content that is fresh and relevant.

Look at Google Trends and perform searches on Technorati, Google Blogs and Google News to find out what’s topical.

Get Involved

Blogging is a social activity and the blogophere is a community and social network. Publishing great content is only half the battle and promoting it is the other half. The most effective way to promote your content is through social networks and online communities including blogs and forums.

By commenting on, sharing and linking to other people’s content you will build relationships with people naturally. In time as you become established within a community, others will begin to comment on, share and link to your content too.

The end goal here isn’t to build links to your blog. This is just a helpful by-product of contributing to and engaging with a community.

Get the On-Page Stuff Right

Use your keywords throughout your article but use your common sense and don’t ‘keyword stuff’. Important places to include keywords are:

  • The Page Title
  • URL
  • H1 Heading
  • Meta Description
  • Sub-headings
  • The First Paragraph

Depending on what CMS or blogging platform you are using there should be plugins available to allow you to manually add page titles and meta descriptions. For instance Yoast or All In One SEO Pack are 2 good ones that are available for WordPress.

Linking

Add links to other relevant posts throughout your content. Don’t just limit this to your own blog but link out and share some love. Remember that you get what give here.

‘Popular post’ plugins are a great way to automatically link to popular posts on your blog and to harness their popularity even more. Likewise, ‘related posts’ have a similar effect.

You Get What You Give

I can’t reiterate enough that the most important thing you can do as a blogger to help your SEO efforts is to be active within your online community. This is the most powerful tool in your arsenal and one you need to utilise. You don’t even have to have technical skills in order to do so. If you only implement one piece of advice this should be it.

Achieve ROI with Adobe Social

Adobe recently released its digital marketing tool Adobe Social. It is a product that has been refined over the last 12 months through a series of substantial investments in social media including some key acquisitions. It is designed quite simply to allow the creation, monitoring and measurement of social interactions. These can then be easily integrated into wider marketing activities.

As mentioned in my last blog post, today social media is more than just online. It is about creating a campaign that understands the worth of both digital and traditional marketing values. Adobe Social makes this possible by allowing to track how online behaviour translates to offline.

For a long time I have been banging the analytics drum (along with some professional PRs) to engage the PR community to be better at tracking. On the whole the industry has understood online strategy and tactics but when it comes to measurement and tracking a whole variety of methods are used. Adobe Social helps streamline tracking by allowing tracking to be easily integrated into online campaigns.

This means that instead of simply relying on a service such as Klout to gain perspective of influence, you can actually see how people are interacting outside of individual networks. For instance you could set up a call to action for someone to purchase a book. Adobe Social will allow you to measure the impact on Twitter of that particular tweet and then see how many people converted on the buy page of the online store.

In a wider perspective this may be the dawn of the age where Digital PR can finally include sales as a metric. Although it is important to not confuse PR with social advertising (although there are some overlaps).

Adobe Social is a new digital marketing management tool in the marketplace worthy for your consideration. For those new to measuring ROI in the social media space this tool could be a solid foundation to your campaign. Give it a try.

 

 

It is true. As most of you know Adobe UK is one of the many clients I assist with managing at Red Consultancy but as a new user of the tool it does have my recommendation.

Is it time to ditch the “blood-sucking” social media gurus?

It’s not uncommon to discover sheer loathing and distrust for so-called “social media gurus”. A whole leviathan of social media style agencies and marketing types are often appalled that a qualification-less individual can self title him or herself a role and earn money through it. The social media industry is a piece of string that isn’t only difficult to define (which campaign doesn’t use social media today?) but also has no standards. In the past the journalist, Milo Yiannopoulos, has seen fit to attack these self-gratifying creatures in a Telegraph blog entitled, “Time to ditch the blood-sucking social media gurus”.

It’s a dated post, expressing a similar sentiment of my own, yet it requires a question.

How have times changed since the post’s publication in 2010?

Providing advice as a freelance social media consultant does not warrant the title of “expert” of any variant thereof. To provide social media advice became a free-for-all industry a few years ago and only now are we starting to witness real change.

Social media is now unable to act effectively as a standalone. With many of the larger brands stepping up to the social media mark it is increasingly clear that individual freelance “gurus” are unable to tackle the workload set by many of large organisations. Advice may have been provided in the past but now with many agencies boasting social media divisions, budgets can be easily registered to existing 3rd parties. These 3rd parties are often PR agencies.

It could be time to ditch the blood sucking social media gurus but not necessarily because of their worth but rather because of the media landscape itself. Social media (aka Digital PR) needs to be considered as part of a wider campaign which also uses traditional communication methods. The age of the press office is not dead, in my experience it is still very much effective and social media should always be considered as part of any strategy.

I’ve hunted social media gurus before. It was during the winter of 2010 that @holpols and I decided to descend upon a social media guru gathering in the centre of London. It was a chilly night aboard a boat on the Southbank.

That night I met a whole range of social media experts; none of which could show a qualification in their honour but instead could only boast about their own online activity. Some attempted to inspire interest by claiming to be “members of an organisation who infiltrate governments using social media” when realistically, this probably just met simple online searches, logging and ranting. Don’t overestimate the complexity of social media. Anyone can use it and these platforms can certainly not be used for illegal activities (unless referring to the type of content being posted).

Some people have religion, others have social media.

One lady boasted to me that she has been using social media since the early 90’s, claiming to be the ‘first social media professional’. According to her she spent most of her days simply using social media in fancy bars and restaurants. An ideal job but she was rather thin so I doubted her claims (I’m currently paying the heavy price of this lifestyle). Fair enough, she may have counted IRC chat or bulletin boards as “social media” but with such a vague term to describe a whole industry it’s difficult to evaluate her claims.

As the night went on it soon became clear that being a social media guru would be an easy job. Just self title yourself on an online profile and you’re set to make your thousands. However some gurus did have professional backgrounds.

In particular, one of the individuals I met that fateful but eventful evening was @Mazi. An incredibly open individual who invited my friend and I without second thought. He was well known among his friends/colleagues for his past at Sky and for his expertise. I felt like I should have recognised this celebrity being a keen Twitter user myself but the noise fell rather deafly. Thanks to Milo Yiannopoulos’ link on the Telegraph article heading this now rather lengthy post, it seems @Mazi had a secret past.

In a 2009 Telegraph article entitled, “Sky TV’s Head of Social Media and the sexing up of Twitter accounts”, @Mazi is targeted rather avidly by a journalist called Will Heaven. I’m not sure why @Mazi received the beating but he did. Primarily for his social media methods which included rapid following and unfollowing to artificially increase numbers (this was in the days before Twitter put blocks in place which is why most hard-core older users will boast higher follower numbers). Despite being cosher at the time, gaming, as it is called, is no longer acceptable.

Often outsiders to Twitter are far too quick to credit follower counts for influence, engagement is the true key. A voiceless conversation has no value and social media is designed for one-to-one discussion. It is just a shame so many attempt to use it purely as a broadcast only platform.

I can’t say the social media gurus I met are “blood sucking” but I would certainly be interested to meet some of them again to see how their methods have changed in 2012. We now live in the era of intergrated campaigns – the merging of traditional and digital communication methods to create whole campaigns. Have most social media gurus been left by the wayside or have they simply focused their attention on smaller fry; namely SMBs and NGOs?

Who knows? One thing is for certain, I hold a distrust for a social media freelancers who don’t have a background in PR.