Piracy is not the Answer

Being a student is tough. Further education isn’t just about the pain of reading countless textbooks and spending days in seclusion writing a dissertation. It is learning how to live with very little money – I mean very little. When the student loan comes through and a grant (if you are lucky enough to have one), life becomes a constant deliberation over costs. This blog post is here to say that piracy is not the answer.

For a few days I was pondering over how to obtain Lamb of God’s new album “resolution”.

  • Should I visit a devious torrent site and download the files for free?
  • Should I visit iTunes and pay for the music?

In terms of costs I would have saved myself £9.99 if I downloaded their new album for free. Of course this would mean the band would receive nothing. Yet the question I was battling with was ethical. If I downloaded the album for nothing then it would have been extremely unlikely that I would have been caught or prosecuted. I knew that if I had downloaded for free that I would have a constant itch in the back of my mind that I had the money but decided to withdraw my support from the band, despite loving their music.

The lead screamer for Lamb of God, Randy Blythe, has recently started his own blog. In it he has attached an interview where he went on the record for saying,

“Some bands don’t care if fans illegally download their music and some do, what’s you stance on this?

Except in cases where it is absolutely IMPOSSIBLE to purchase our music, yes, I fucking care. It sucks. It’s my living. Why is this such a hard concept to grasp?”

I’m not in favour of SOPA which I have recently started to publically protest against on Twitter. That doesn’t mean I’m not surprised with how the legislation was born. The internet has become an important business tool but it is also growing at a phenomenal rate which restricts the creative industry from evolving effectively.

  • Not only has our music become free
  • Journalism is also free
  • Films can be free
  • Books have started to appear online for free

This is all due to file sharing. There is one common argument for keeping torrent websites open, ‘These file sharing sites don’t only host copyrighted material but also legitimate content’.

Just look at the famous torrent website mininova.org (won’t link as I don’t want this blog to be “blacklisted” by Google). They lost a Dutch Court case in 2009 that meant they had to remove all copyright infringing material from their website. Now look at their Alexia traffic status.

Quite clearly the majority of users visited the website looking to infringe copyright law. If I had enough evidence then I would argue the only reason they are still receiving traffic is due to users still searching for that very same infringing material.

It is here that I must re-instate my opinion on the matter of file sharing. When I listened to Stephen Fry discuss the subject of pirating in 2009 he drew a moral distinction between downloading content and committing crimes in life. Stealing a handbag is completely different to downloading an episode of 24.

File sharers should not be prosecuted, demonised by the very industries, which further in life they will be a customer of. In many ways it could be said those who download content do so on the merit of the content’s value. I will be the first to concede that something needs to be done about piracy.

So this blog post is not a scream against piracy, instead a request to consider the wider effect of your actions. Part of my mind feels unsettled that I would have even considered downloading Lamb of God’s new album for nothing. Yet this isn’t because I am a criminal, it is because technology has altered my behaviour. Knowing that free options are available does not make them right.

Every creative industry is suffering due to file sharing. As a keen writer I have hopes of writing a book one day but worry that file sharing will make it an impossible hobby to viably maintain in the long run. Creating creative money costs money and the artists need an income to keep creating.

 

Anyway… back to University work.

Discovering the Semantic Web

Over the last few weeks I have found myself on a journey learning about a new concept on the internet; the semantic web. The writer and inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners Lee, began writing about the concept in 1999, much progress has been made since.

The term ‘semantics’ is one of the three branches of ‘semiotics’ which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “the study of signs and symbols in various fields”. Semantics is concerned with the study of meaning; the semantic web is about discovering the meaning behind words and phrases.

In the focus of this post I shall be reviewing what the semantic web means for the public relations industry. To begin with I shall provide a short explanation of what the semantic web is.

What is the Semantic Web?

The internet exists today as a vast collection of data which is all connected through the use of hyperlinks. This is a network of data which has been built from the foundational technologies of HTML, HTTP and URIs. Over the last 6 years we have seen the exponential growth of social networks which has re-invented our relationship with finding information.

  • Past – the relevancy of information was provided through a one-way communication model. Content can only be viewed, interpreted introspectively and not openly discussed.
  • Present – social networks have provided a way for information to be associated with individuals, brands and events. Content is viewed in context of conversation and information can be openly discussed.

The problem with social networks is their internal design. Any content submitted by users through symmetrical communication is under ownership of the organisation whose network it is. Information submitted to Facebook is theirs, information submitted to Twitter is theirs, so on…

The semantic web is therefore an evolution, a possible amalgamation, between the web of information and the web of social interactivity. It is the concept that the web of information will evolve around a collection of human knowledge. People will be able to add additional information to web content which includes related articles and authors.

  • Hyperlinks create links between data.
  • The semantic web creates relationships between data.

In turn this will mean that information on the internet will be able to exist as a database. With added meaning applied to data relation databases can be built to show a web of information but linked together through particular semantic terms. In doing so semantic search engines can be built for finding data by being created to understand the syntax behind languages.

The semantic web for the Public Relations industry will mean:

  • Understanding key terms behind stakeholder groups
  • Discovering the affected parties of stakeholder groups
  • Learning the terms associated with unique individuals and brands
  • Categorising media releases under particular terms

Perhaps it was optimistic to begin writing what the semantic web will mean for public relations. The list is endless. The semantic web will redefine public relations.

The reason I am interested in the semantic web is due to semantic analytics. I believe this will be a key area for the public relations industry to track ROI. Public relations can only show its value through proving ROI to clients. The semantic web will change everything.

I will write more about the semantic web soon.

 

Further Reading: http://www.w3.org/2001/sw/

A Question over Microsoft’s Perceived Twitter Strategy

Whilst I worked at Microsoft UK I often stared in disbelief how interns were allowed to take full control over official Microsoft Twitter account presences. Most interns had no prior PR knowledge and there was no social media code of conduct which was readily enforced. One meeting I even raised the point of the CIPR’s Social Media Code of Conduct – I doubt any interns bothered reading it.

In my eyes Microsoft does not practice Twitter accounts well, which is a huge risk to their multinational reputation. Just look at how many Twitter accounts they have active for Microsoft UK:

WindowsAAA

Everything Microsoft

Microsoft Windows

Xbox

Windows Phone

Microsoft Advertising

Microsoft adCenter

Microsoft Office

Bing

Bing Travel

Microsoft News

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Channel 9

Microsoft Press

Microsoft Ad Asia

Internet Explorer

Young Britain Works (the intern run account)

That’s 17 official accounts found; it won’t be all of them.

Microsoft has a product focused brand strategy which is why the existence of standalone brands such as Xbox, Windows Phone and Bing probably deserve a unique presence. Yet by Microsoft handling so many accounts I do not believe they are increasing their audience but instead fragmenting it. Interestingly the variation of Microsoft Twitter accounts relates to the actual structure of Microsoft – many individual teams, most with minimal contact, all working towards their own causes. It strikes me however that there was no global Twitter strategy in place, leaving most accounts primarily managing the reputations of individual brands but potentially creating risk for Microsoft on a multinational basis.

The biggest task facing the Microsoft global public relations team should be ensuring the fluid and lucid internal communication between Microsoft teams. In my experience very little of the social media plans by individual teams are strategic considering Microsoft as a global brand. Considering the lack of attention given to official accounts it surprised me when another intern was given control of ensuring individual online reputation as a Microsoft employee.

Not only was part of his job to monitor everything we said online (Creepy much?) but to remind us that any account which labelled us as an employee at Microsoft was actually owned by Microsoft. He may not have realised how controversial this was. Until the outcome of the Phonedog lawsuit we will all discover just how much authority an organisation has over named Twitter accounts. Still, I took the advice at heart as I become involved with a blogging project.

The aim of the project was to promote the Microsoft Internship and Graduate Scheme by blogging our experiences as Microsoft interns. A role I quickly decided to drop after my graduate application failed to be successful (2 marketing roles for over 4000+ candidates. Tough times!). The focus on social media guidelines surrounding individual blogs and Twitter use was intense! On several occasions I was bewildered. Why didn’t Microsoft focus more on their own official accounts?

The two important questions this blog post raises is:

  1. How much control should an employee have over official Twitter accounts?
  2. Does an organisation have the right to claim personal accounts as their own?

Ways Microsoft could improve their social media strategy:

  • Employees must announce any new accounts (on any social network) to the internal PR teams. PR teams must then approve or disapprove.
  • An internal social media policy (for official Microsoft accounts) which must be provided by the PR teams and training given.
  • Employees must remember Microsoft as a global brand and follow the global strategies involved placed by global PR teams.
  • Not allowing interns full control over social media presences unless supervised

[UPDATE: Since posted I have been informed that tighter control has now been introduced at Microsoft. This involves passing a digital test. It seems a distinction still exists between local and global strategy. In my eyes social media should be handled by PR, I’m still not sure if this is the case.]

5 Methods for Auditing a Client’s Website

Picture this.

You work for a public relations agency who has secured a new client. Your task, which you have no choice but to accept, is to provide a plan to enhance their online profile. For the sake of this blog post the client has not yet utilised social media platforms but has already got a website.

Before you can offer any tactics you must have a strategy.
Before you can offer a strategy you must research their current online presence.

These are 5 methods which can be used in a wider internet footprint investigation:

Google Search
Every digital public relations campaign starts with a Google search. Why? It is easy. If your client’s website cannot be found on Google then your client’s website does not exist. Without wanting to be patronising I will not instruct you how to do a Google search. What I will say is check the first 10 pages. Can’t find your client? Then you have a lot of work ahead of you!

Google+ has dramatically changed Google’s search algorithm. If you are already a Google+ user then you may find contacts of yours have already recommended your client’s website which will make it appear on the first page of results. The subject of social SEO is for another blog post.

Domain Registration Information
When it comes to websites it is traditional for the client to have absolutely no idea about registration information. It is here that the PR professional must take over. Visit Network Solutions and search for your client’s website domain name. I did this with my own domain below.

mikewhite.co.uk information

Careful attention must be averted to:

  • The Registrant (Your client may not be the owner)
  • Registrant’s Address (Is it visible?)
  • The Registrar
  • Registration Dates
  • Name Servers (This is technical. Is the domain being redirected from another server company?)

Whilst you are on Network Solutions also check the ownership of similar domain names. For instance if I own mikewhite.co.uk who else owns:

  • mikewhite.com
  • mikewhite.org
  • mikewhite.biz

The list of domains is endless and you must register any which are available. Keep control of your client’s brand.

Alexia Website Usage
Search for your client’s domain on Alexia to discover approximate statistics about their websites. In the spirit of this blog post and transparency I did a search for mikewhite.co.uk.

According to Alexia mikewhite.co.uk:

  • Ranks 207,623 in GB
  • Has a 2,152,529 global rank
  • Has 88 sites linking in (which can be displayed)

Along with a variety of others stats…

Play around with Alexia.

Twitter Mentions
We have already established that for this example our new client has not got an official Twitter presence. Despite this you may be surprised about how many people are still mentioning the company despite their lack of presence. A Twitter strategy, in my view, is mostly about management of reputation. Individuals will tweet and a PR professional’s task is to provide direction, messages which will feed into online discussions. Don’t think an official account will provide you with control. An organisation’s presence on Twitter is just another voice which can easily be drowned out by hundreds of other mentions.

Twitter has a built in search function. Type in keywords. These keywords should be highly specific to the company. If we wanted to find the presence of Disney we could type in:

  • ‘Disney’
  • ‘Disney Channel’
  • ‘Disney Games’
  • ‘Disney Music’

Twitter strategies can be vast and the simplicity of a keyword search can also be utilised to find new business.

Blog Post Search
Websites and blogs are measured differently on the internet. Employ the same keyword strategy as above. Whilst you could use Google Blogs to search, Technorati is a much better resource.

It is imperative to evaluate a client’s mentions on blogs because:

  • Blogs measure higher than traditional websites on Google
  • Discover their sentiment levels; are posts largely positive, negative or promotional?
  • Posts can play host to a variety of comments, what are other people saying?
  • For any digital public relations campaigns it is useful to establish relationships with bloggers. You need to identify publishers.

 

Which other methods would you use for an online audit?

Deciding my Dissertation Title

Interest sparked in the metrics behind the field of digital public relations after witnessing the trend of organisations using 3rd party reporting tools such as Brandwatch, Radian6 and Sysomos offering ‘listen, measure, understand and engage’ self-services. After a conversation with one of my brothers who is studying in the field of psychology he provided an insightful perspective into the matter of metrics, remarking “correlation of data does not serve as factual evidence”.

At this moment it became apparent to me that digital public relations has moved towards an era of reaction based communication. This is unlike network advertising which operates from a principle of action based marketing – their communication adjusts according to a user’s behaviour. In a recent CIPR interview with Dr Jon White he announced his definition of PR as a social psychology. This resulted in a number of draft dissertation titles which includes:

–       What would the value of using network advertising metrics bring to a social media campaign?

–       Social media vs Network advertising

–       How to effectively measure social media

–       Online Metrics and Analytics

–       Discovering the metric behind influence

–       Digital PR: Decision making based upon analytics?

All these titles could serve as individual dissertations in their own right, even blog posts (which I may cover in the future). Each title would feature a variety of different research methods to undercover the use of online metrics as a tool for digital public relations campaigns. Yet I needed a title that would accurately allow me to get my points across:

–       Very few digital public relations campaign utilise all available online metrics

–       The PR industry is in danger of relying upon 3rd parties to provide them statistics

–       Sentiment is a key trend but should not be the only key metric

In the past I have been criticised by an employee of a FTSE 100 company of playing word games in order to enforce points. Though achieving the correct wording for this dissertation is a key challenge to correctly communicate my perspectives on this matter. The use of jargon such as statistics, analytics and correlation must be fully understood – currently the words are used by some without notice of their appropriate definitions.

Writing this dissertation has three main goals:

  1. I want organisations to read my dissertation and understand how to gain better ROI for their online PR campaigns
  2. To show how the legacy of network advertising could be implemented into digital public relations campaigns
  3. I want an amazing grade to show organisations that they should be providing reasons to me for why I should work for them (nothing wrong with a little bit of teleological arrogance…)

As a student who has full control over their dissertation I eventually settled with the dissertation title of, “How Digital Public Relations will outperform Online Advertising”. An attention grabbing title which will only succeed with an audacious reputation if practitioners take the content seriously.

I have already begun drafting the dissertation and have managed my time so that:

–       The first draft is finished by the end of February (10,000 words)

–       Second draft is finished by mid-march

–       Third draft will be reviewed by multiple persons (at least 6) for the end of March

–       Final copy will be finished by the beginning of April for the hand in.

Writing publicly about this dissertation has the odd result of me living up to a reputation which I have set myself. I am not worried. I have been actively involved with websites, blogging and social media since the late 90s. This dissertation is a chance for me to prove that over the last 10+ years that I have the ability to take my knowledge and shape for business means.

Now time to get back to writing…

Walking into the Red: Visiting Occupy London

Chalked onto a piece of rough wood is a message which reads, “Welcome to the world’s longest occupation! 88 days since last eviction!”. Next to it another sign states despite misconceptions in the news these tents are occupied by army veterans, healers, members of the NHS, office workers – people like me and you.

It didn’t cover the fact that most of the tents were probably not active at all – everything seemed quite quiet. This truly is a peaceful protest. The message proceeded to disprove the current system of cuts the UK has experienced, asking for a fairer system (“just and proportionate”) re-imaging Cameron’s words, “We are the real big society”. They believe change is coming. Is it?

The infamous mask (not captured at Occupy London)

As I gradually made my way to the front of the cathedral warm acoustic notes could be heard from a tent nearby. The guitar first raised my suspicions of the characters lurking beneath the canvas. These members of the Occupy Movement were not Guy Fawkes mask wearing protagonists. Ideologically inclined members of the public may even struggle to describe many members of the movement as comrades. Rather than play Robin Hood from big corporations’ protestors were relying on hand-outs from the public.

Most protestors just seemed, well, homeless. Camping in front of St Paul’s probably allowed them to exist as part of a community united by a common goal – the global Occupy Movement. Their tents pitched for commodity rather than for an argument with capitalism. Had the jobless and homeless joined the movement for a bone to grind or to secure their next meal? Whilst I didn’t feel threatened by the peaceful tent goers, I was wary of being pestered for money. As I moved I could feel watchful eyes monitoring my ever step. Three protestors sat on the floor playing cards, it looked like rummy, and the game seemed ironic considering their choice of scene. A large tent had been erected along the side of St Paul’s selling second hand books, all profits go towards the movement – a homeless movement.

People call this an Occupy Movement but I’m not convinced. As I walked around each of the 100+ tents a variety of signs could be seen painted, strung, chalked and boarded. Messages yearning for a pacifist state, others revealed the corporate injustice of being a carnivore in an effort to promote veganism.

Yes, so-called communist sentiments were present but no sign disproved of a serious current issue. Their argument is with policy makers but knowing exactly which policies they wish to see changed is impossible. Which message is part of the Occupy Movement? Clearly some members wanted to share their own ideas. One tent even featured a web address promoting a zeitgeist movement… whatever that is supposed to mean.

The ‘Big Cats’ were mentioned but the range of messages around St Paul’s Cathedral makes for a confusing protest and one which is looked upon with uncertainty by the public. If the Occupy Movement is wanted to be taken seriously then they should question the members who stand in their ranks. Everyone was unshaven (even one of the women), a guy walked past me supporting the distinct smell of dogs and some eyes met mine with a questioning gaze.

The Occupy Movement in London seems to be a storm in a tea cup. The frequent argument by St Paul’s Cathedral of limited access is fabricated. You could have fitted several trucks between the front door and the nearest tent. Church authorities are probably more concerned with being shown to publically endorse such a movement. A sentiment which I consider hypocritical as I know most messages would be endorsed by a few passionate church goers.

Media coverage has certainly lessened since tents were pitched three months ago. A judge was expected to reach a decision yesterday over the future of Occupy London but still no verdict has been dealt. Just how many more days will the Occupy Movement remain outside St Paul’s Cathedral? No matter the duration their message has certainly reached saturation point.

We all know what is happening. I daresay that I agree with the initial anger which sparked the sales of tents for this very cause. The Western Free Market economy has failed many families across the world. Some cuts are unjustified, the government lending had Karl Max rolling in his grave but we have avoided a more serious depression.

Go vegan this holiday?

I’m not an economist. I’m a blogger. I’m also a free thinker. I had just left a meeting with ex-Microsoft colleagues and decided to see the Occupy Movement through my own eyes. Even at 21 years of age (soon to be 22) I have benefited, in a small way, from one of the largest technology corporations which exist. Whilst the media take the Occupy Movement as a possible threat I couldn’t help but feel that the whole affair is harmless. A mass of tents will not change anything, even as a symbol the protest is frankly laughable – many members were positively homeless and hardly had the energy to lift the plastic bag containing their newspaper.

A serious debate is needed over the western market economy and economists should be wary of the recent history surrounding the credit crunch. No intellectual debate will be found through the ranks of the homeless and hippies. The Occupy Movement therefore doesn’t have my support.

To some readers of this blog this view may not be of any surprise considering my frequent avocation for the conservative view. I don’t have an editor to impress by writing this blog; it is a place of free thought.  I spent money travelling to the Occupy Protest and approached it as a sceptic. Unfortunately they didn’t convince me and their prolonged occupation will end once the tricky situation regarding laws of the land has been resolved. In the spirit of free speech they should be allowed to protest but currently the only thing they demand are your hand outs.

Are you tempted to pitch up your tent?

Most Stressful Jobs of 2012: PR is No.7!

In a poll it has been announced that PR is the No.7 most stressful job you can get. This is a stark improvement from PR’s 2011 No.2 ranking debut.

University students are often accompanied by connotations of avoiding work but this poll examples how PR students are in a different league. Whilst PR courses may be lighter compared to other heavily weighted academic courses, each student is preparing themselves from the stress of the working world. Often this involves gaining as much work experience as possible – we just thrive from that stress!

The poll primarily focused on the media side of the role explaining how PR Executives have to converse with hostile members of the media, speak to large audiences, give presentations and keep to tight deadlines. Relieved that University has provided some insight and training into each of these aspects I remain confident to enter the PR industry to gain even more practical experience.

Not that PR obtaining No.7 place as a stressful job is a worthy achievement. Let’s face it, stress is a killer. Despite this I am eager to get started in the PR industry.

Bell Pottinger Group were not to Blame

On the 5th December 2011 a video emerged from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism showing Bell Pottinger Group offering reputation management to the despotic regime of Uzbekistan. Countless human rights groups protest due to the country’s use of child labour, torture and media control. Dozens of journalists and activists are systematically tortured in the country’s jails each day. Leader, Islam Karimov, keeps oppression fresh by tolerating no opposition.

Bureau journalists contacted the Bell Pottinger posing as members of Azimov Group stating that the government of Uzbekistan was committed to real change would like to promote good relations with the UK. Bell Pottinger, feeling that this tyranny could do with a spot of reputation management, accepted to meet.

Uzbekistan's Controversial Cotton Fields

Managing Director of Bell Pottinger public affairs, David Wilson, checked after the first meeting that the Uzbekistan government was indeed willing to change their approaches which included child labour, human rights and democracy. The fake Azimov Group agreed.

The key arguments that Bell Pottinger Group will drive for the Uzbekistan presentation (as can be viewed here) are:

–       Uzbekistan is changing. A strong programme of reform is correcting past problems.

–       Uzbekistan is important. Its co-operation with the West has greatly helped US and UK forces in Afghanistan.

–       Uzbekistan can be an excellent trading partner. Its exports are valued and valuable. Its people are becoming more prosperous. The UK should not allow others to get ahead of it in trade with Uzbekistan.

Their Digital PR recommendations were:

–       Drown out negative content

–       Push our messaging to the top of global search engines

–       Direct journalists and internet users to key websites and content

–       Shape the online conversation and debate regarding Uzbenistan’s cotton trade and issues concerning child labour and help to redress the balance in reporting.

I have to reiterate that David Wilson had only agreed to any of this only if the Uzbekistan government was willing to

David Wilson

change. As an expert in public affairs it is rather unusual how David Wilson had not noticed the long history of Uzbekistan not allowing reporters to observe their progress (let alone the jail sentences and torture).

During meetings Bell Pottinger’s close relationship with PM, David Cameron, became apparent. Yet a quick statement by Cameron’s spokesperson denied that lobbying companies influence the government. Clearly not the case, as it did become apparent that Bell Pottinger’s past client, Dyson, had caused the PM to discuss copyright issues with the Chinese PM. Whilst it is true that business matters would be discussed when considering the running of states, it seems unlikely that such a discussion would have materialised from luck.

Bell Pottinger Group were not to Blame
Despite the evidence brought forward from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism I do not believe Bell Pottinger is to blame from the criticisms brought forward by the media since. It strikes unfair how suddenly journalists became outraged by the lobbying industry when their own influence is dubious. I concede that the management exampled by Bell Pottinger on this occasion was not righteous – in places it seemed ignorant considering the extensive history of Uzbekistan.

Instead the investigation raised more questions surrounding the integrity of the lobbying industry, occasionally referred to as ‘the dark arts’. Anybody with an inclination towards politics will know the influence of businesses and states when decision making is in progress. Why shouldn’t lobbyists be transparent and argue for the concerns of the client?

The key point of this investigation was when the bureau said the government of Uzbekistan was seeking real change. Only once this has been announced was the rest of the investigation possible but it was based upon a lie told by journalists. Yes, it provided transparency but under the wrong circumstances. If the Bureau had announced that Uzbeckistan was not seeking changes then I believe Bell Pottinger would have dropped proceedings with pitching the campaign.

Broader education is required publically of the lobbying industry. It starts with providing proper regulation of the industry in the UK. In America a measure of statuary transparency exists which requires companies to disclose client contracts and announce their contact with politicians. A requirement such as this may be the right path to take to ensure integrity remains at the centre of this, at times, questionable industry.