Let social media adapt to your behaviour, not the other way around

Facebook StatusIn the modern world, especially in London, we live our lives connected to the internet most of the time. Information gets shared quickly online and our attention spans are used to functioning in an environment that doesn’t often require much consideration. Commutes into the city highlight this the most, when scores of adults are mindlessly flicking through social media sites or playing games such as Candy Crush. As a full-time digital consultant I can hardly condone these behaviours – it’s this very psychology that allows me to make money for a living. However, we do need to be aware of where digital culture could be heading.

I’ve recently finished reading ‘You Are Not a Gadget’ by Jaron Lanier and it’s not for the faint hearted. If you work in digital marketing then prepare yourself for a difficult read because Lanier is not afraid to pull punches against some current social media thinking (I’ll provide a full review on this blog soon). However, one aspect that did catch my attention was his belief that we, as humans, are adapting our behaviours to social media, when actually it should be the other way around. Human creativity is stifled because we are moulding ourselves to the fixed technological structures of social media sites.

In terms of social media, these words by Lanier echo an eerie warning,

“Emphasizing the crowd means deemphasizing individual humans in the design of society, and when you ask people not to be people, they revert to bad moblike behaviours. This leads not only to empowered trolls, but to a generally unfriendly and unconstructive online world.”

Therefore, we should secure the future of digital culture by emphasising individual humans and appreciate that the hive mind of social media can never reach the dizzying heights of true individual creativity, expression and thought. Just try to replicate the intricacies of Oscar Wilde’s wit, Galileo Galilei’s observations or John Stuart Mill’s intelligence.

The first step of securing true digital creativity is to refresh our way of thinking about online. Here are three quick observations of how we could change our behaviours:

The Problem: Bloggers ranking in search engines by quickly writing and publishing posts frequently (at least once a week) and using a mix of content (images, video and text).
The Solution: Take some of the pressure of yourself and be truly creative. Next time spend weeks drafting your next blog post that’s of superior quality and insight – learn about yourself like you’ve never done before.

The Problem: Producing content that’s an accumulation of already existing information, images and videos.
The Solution: Be the game changer by choosing to ignore the current thinking online and instead publicly discuss a topic you have an interest in, without the fear of being factually incorrect or stepping on toes.

The Problem: Purely sharing existing links across the internet.
The Solution: Go beyond sharing links and add your own insight to links. Make an effort to avoid sharing awful content mash-ups (the sort you see on BuzzFeed).

This list could go on forever and are obviously ideals to live by. Hopefully Lanier would understand the sentiment behind these actions, probably going a whole step further! I’m not a Saint but after reading his book I have achieved a higher awareness of the current state of digital culture and how we do need to begin thinking about how to best preserve it for future generations.

Joining in with #WisleyWings 2014

Each year I avidly wait for RHS Wisley’s Butterflies in the Glasshouse to take place; it’s turned into a little birthday treat. It’s one of those moments when my love for nature combines with my love for technology. It’s amazing what a few butterflies, a compact camera and Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom can produce.

This year I noticed that Wisley introduced a hashtag for the occasion, #WisleyWings. I couldn’t resist taking part with my below photos. It reminded me that the best social media activities are the ones which link to real life events.

Trends and Challenges for social media in 2014

Technology has changed a lot in the last 20 years
Technology has changed a lot in the last 20 years

Yesterday I joined fellow digital communicators at the Museum of London to discuss, “What will be the hot social media trend in 2014?”. It was a thought provoking affair which was arranged by Precise, you can read my blog post for Keene Communications here on it. This post follows on from those trends highlighted.

During the discussions there were a couple of trends which I thought were missed and a number of challenges that the communications industry needs to prepare for.

Additional trends for 2014:

1) The Semantic Web
This is by no means a new development for 2014 but as I explained in my article for The Measurement Standard, it is something we need to be prepared for. Social media metrics are mainly numerical, looking at the counts of ‘likes’, ‘followers’ and so on. As was raised by the MD of Social at Ogilvy for EAME (Europe, Africa and Middle East), Marshall Manson, during Precise’s event yesterday – these social media metrics are increasingly concerned with campaign optimisation, rather than hitting business objectives. If you’re a business forget ‘I want 3000 followers’ as a target and instead think along the lines of, ‘I want this many subscribers for my magazine’. The semantic web is an evolution which would measure language rather than numbers and will become an alternative mainstream way to search the internet. Just give it time.

2) Sexy Data
Increasingly, news publications will seek alternative ways to present their news stories online and will use internet technologies to make previously unusable material, sexy. I believe this will be primarily through interactive visualisations, of which have the potential to completely reinvent what ‘reading the news online’ is. It would be unfair for me to take full advantage of this idea without mentioning my data visualising friend Ben Hamilton. He knows where the industry is going.


I don’t often gaze into the crystal ball and clearly some trends may turn out to be complete flops, but it’s good to think. During the event’s discussions there were some clear challenges that the communications industry will face if certain social trends continued to grow:

How do you infiltrate a walled garden?
Social media sites, such as Snapchat, pose a huge challenge to communicators because they are private. They are out of reach from measurement tools because none of the data is made public. Plus, all of the content shared on Snapchat is disposable which means no saving or sharing for later. Unless such sites provide API access for brands then they remain an almost impossible channel to use in social media campaigns. If private social networks continue to grow then the digital marketing industry may begin to struggle.

Walled Garden

Realistic social media strategies
Occasionally I feel that digital marketing events could be likened to evangelical church services. Everyone is proud to praise the power of social, the intelligence of cloud services and the measurement opportunities in the hive mind. Yet we hear very little of tangible social media case studies where there has been direct delivery to business objectives, in particular sales. This is a challenge for social media strategies and a mindset change for most PR agencies – sales matter. We need to understand what needs measuring and only use social media metrics, such as ‘likes’, for campaign optimisation purposes only. It’s better to judge an advert for its conversions rather than for its clicks. Same applies to social.


Accepting the digital philosophy
A company offering only social media services is not enough, they need to live and breathe digital. Internal social networks points to an age when business is more than delivering to contracted hours but a timelessly connected affair. We are humans before employees; we desire to be connected with each other. Part of accepting the digital philosophy is to understand that physical location no longer matters and commuting all the time is positively Victorian. We are all remote workers, social through our devices and companies need policies to manage this, not block it.




How to get your blog on the Amazon Kindle Store

Over the last few days I’ve been familiarising myself with my shiny new Kindle Paperwhite. For years I’ve been fairly sceptical about e-readers; not their function or purpose but rather if they are a decent replacement for good old fashioned dead trees. It just so happens that Kindle is a lot more than just books. You can also subscribe to newspapers, magazines and… blogs!

Amazon launched their Kindle Publishing for Blogs programme publicly in 2009. For publishers this means you can get your blog listed on the Amazon store so that it can be synced to thousands of Kindles across the world – providing you have that many subscribers! You can see that I’ve listed Thought Symposium on the Amazon store here.

Kindle Edition of Thought Symposium
Kindle Edition of Thought Symposium

At this stage it seems publishers can only list their blogs for a monthly subscription price of £0.99, of which we receive 30%, Amazon gets the rest. I’m okay with that, if I get 218 subscriptions then my blog would become self-sufficient. In reality, some users may be difficult to persuade as all the content is free anyway. Yet, income is not a dirty word.

You have nothing to lose by joining Kindle Publishing for Blogs, just follow these steps:

  1. Visit Kindle Publishing for Blogs and sign up. You won’t be able to use your existing Amazon password so you’ll need to think up a new one.
  2. Once you’ve selected the ‘Your Blogs’ menu, navigate your cursor to add new blog.
  3. Enter in your author information, blog information and upload the relevant images. I found image uploading pretty painful at times, for some reason the uploading functionality doesn’t always work correctly.
  4.  Save your details and hit publish. Everything will be okay providing Amazon approve. My blog only took a couple of hours to arrive on Amazon.

That’s it! Free and easy.

If you want to see what the Thought Symposium blog looks like on your Amazon Kindle then sign up for your free 2 week trial here. As long as you remember to cancel your trial before the 2 weeks is up, you won’t be charged a penny. 

Graduate PR Schemes 2014

flickr-4647211575-hdAre you looking to get into the PR industry? Then for the fifth consecutive year running Ben Cotton has compiled a list of some of the best PR graduate schemes in the UK. Lots of the deadlines are for the end of January; so start applying if you haven’t yet! Each year is a race for talent from fellow communication graduates and others from more diverse backgrounds.

I know what it’s like getting into the media industry and if you would like any advice then do get in touch. Before you start applying you might be interested to read one of my posts from last year:

With permission from Ben I’ve published the latest updated list below. However do visit his blog to check for updates or new openings.

[UPDATE 13 FEBRUARY 2014: Keene is offering graduates the chance to experience life in a busy public affairs consultancy. More information here.]


Babel PR
Closes: 28 February 2014

Blue Rubicon
Closes: 31 January 2014

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

Chime Comms
Closes: 31 January 2014

Citigate Dewe Rogerson
Closes: 7 January 2014

Closes: 7 January 2014

Closes: 13 January 2014

Fishburn Hedges
Open: TBC
Closes: TBC

Closes: 28 February 2014

Four Communications
Closes: 31 January 2014

Hill+Knowlton Strategies
Open: TBC
Closes: TBC

Hotwire Group
Closes: 27 January 2014

Ketchum Pleon

Open: TBC
Closes: TBC

MHP Communications

Octopus Group
Open: TBC
Closes: TBC

Closes: 15 February 2014

Weber Shandwick
Closes: 31 January 2014


Goodreads’ live or die decision to be purchased by Amazon

Otis and Elizabeth Chandler
Otis and Elizabeth Chandler

On March 29th 2013 Amazon announced their purchase of Goodreads, a social network of book worms that has grown to an incredible 16million user base since 2007. Not bad for a network launched in the living room of founders Otis and Elizabeth Chandler. When the acquisition news was announced my first reaction was delight – it seemed logical for the network to tie into Amazon’s sales and review system. I’ve grown cynical over the years though.

Not for a moment do I believe that Goodreads reinvented the reading experience, but rather facilitated the human need to share our knowledge and experiences. This drove organic growth for  the network, which was supercharged through investment and the acquisition of Discoverreads (an algorithm to drive book recommendations) in March 2011. Then in 2012 when Goodreads was peaking at its highest and had 11 million users, competition raised its ugly head.

Goodreads made the decision to drop Amazon’s API as the means of retrieving book information, which included Kindle titles, instead opting for another book database system. This caused uproar for Goodreads’ user base because members of the network would risk losing data. Books would disappear along with the corresponding reviews; years’ worth of activity could vanish. It’s easy to speculate three good reasons why Goodreads may have made this decision:

  1. By using Amazon’s database as the foundation for providing book information, Goodreads had handed a lot of control over to Amazon. What’s more, Goodreads was probably paying for this privilege! If Amazon decided to pull the plug, then the whole network would crash and burn.
  2. The next logical business step for Goodreads could have been to become an online book seller, by devising their own systems or through partnering with a competitor of Amazon’s. Clearly if this happened then Amazon would have 100% pulled the plug on Goodread’s data source.
  3. With 11 million users in 2012 Goodreads had become a valuable book worm database in its own right. It owned data that other online retailers wanted and could use for sales information; this was being driven in part by Amazon’s database. In effect, Amazon was drafting its own death warrant.

Therefore, Amazon’s purchase of Goodreads was inevitable – the network either could be enhanced through Amazon’s systems or killed off by Amazon (with data retrieved). At the time Otis Chandler penned a rather romantic view of the Amazon acquisition,

“Our team gets out of bed every day motivated by the belief that the right book in the right hands can change the world. Now Goodreads can help make that happen in an even bigger and more meaningful way thanks to joining the Amazon family.”

In reality, the founders of Goodreads had very little choice. It was a live or die decision because they did not have ownership of the book information needed to drive their network forward. To this very day hard-core Goodreads users complain over Amazon’s acquisition of the social network because they had “sold out” or “given into the killer of independent book shops”. Yet, it was these very users who ignored that the publishing industry had changed and millions of people on Goodreads were now reading Kindle format titles, data only available from Amazon. To remain current Goodreads had to be taken over by Amazon; otherwise the network would gradually shed users because of book title information decline.

Amazon and Goodreads

Thankfully Amazon hasn’t killed off Goodreads. Over the last year Amazon has been quietly working in the background integrating Goodreads services into their Kindle software. The latest news has been the integration of Goodreads in second generation Kindle Paperwhite (sadly not for the UK yet). Personally it would have been nice for Amazon to rollout Goodreads integration faster but I know how slow multinational companies can move.

On the whole I’m delighted that Goodreads joined Amazon last year but I do share some of the concerns by the social networks’ user base. To Amazon all of our individual thoughts and reading experiences are just data, now Amazon owns all of that. Goodreads, the social network born out of passion in the Chandler’s living room, is now a conglomerates play toy.

You know what? I would not be surprised if Amazon attempted to build a social network of their own around Goodreads’ data. Let’s see what the next two years hold.


Excuse me? What’s the story here?

There is no real point to this article. Yup, that’s right. I just read a good book and it got me thinking about storytelling.

bookimageThe Collector by John Fowles is one of the most enchanting dark stories that I’ve read for a long time. It pillars on two central characters; an endearing man who lusts over a teenager and the teenager who is leading a life a class above her secret admirer. At first glance the story sounds beautiful, right up to the point that the man eventually abducts the teen and holds her hostage.

The emotions and thoughts conveyed throughout the book are told from each individual character’s point of view. It’s clear that the man’s evil acts derive from his fears and insecurities. He trapped the girl because he was insecure and needed constant verification by her – the first half of the book will probably make you side with the protagonist. Then you reach the last half of the book which tackles the girl’s perspective through a series of diary posts. Each one covering past activities of the man and providing even more colour and perspective to the situation. Usually revealing how the teenage hostage is living in fear each day and is using his insecurities against him. John Fowles takes the reader on a thought provoking journey, which ultimately is best described us a misunderstood love story. For a much better review of the book then visit Kate of Mind’s blog here.

What a brilliant piece of storytelling! It’s stories like this that every practitioner in the communications industry should be aspiring towards. Forget the technology, go back to the basics. In-between all the communications industry’s how-to guides and social media master classes is an often under-communicated fact. Public relations is all about storytelling; a critical learning device woven into our species from the very beginning.

Just in the same way that Tom Standage’s book Writing on the Wall explores historical forms of social media, it’s possible to see how other communications methods have quite literally evolved over the years. Wikipedia says that the oldest cave paintings derive from at least 40,800 years ago which coincides with the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens living in Europe. Those cave dwellers were using a clever marketing tactics; using the power of semiotics in order to convey the key messages behind their story!

Sometimes you can take this PR business a little bit too far…

The whole point of this post is that sometimes, just sometimes, a brilliant story can engross you in such a way to leave you distracted from other woes of life. Despite all of the technology that surrounds us I still find that the most emotional stories I ever read are communicated through paper. This isn’t to say that the only captivating stories on the planet are in books – merely that I find that social media today is more about the speed of a story rather than its depth.

Sometimes it’s easy to focus entirely on the tools of digital marketing and forget on the other content based elements. How are you going to tell your story?


My PayPal account has been hacked

paypal_logoLast night someone accessed my PayPal account, setup a payment and did an instant bank transfer. It’s only once there has been a security breach, do we start to think about online safety.

I was fast asleep when the email came through. When I glanced at it in the morning I thought it was *just* another phishing email using PayPal branding. This isn’t a good first response to an email from PayPal! Thank goodness I checked my account because this was a real payment. The amount stolen was under £20, probably disguised to fit in with other recent payments.

As a geek who knows too much about online security I couldn’t help but feel some admiration of the skill it would have taken for someone to crack my account. On top of this whoever stole the money probably identified a strategy to only transfer small payments, intended to get lost between regular transactions. However, in-between all of these feelings were a sense of worry and frustration that somebody somewhere discovered my account details. Then a real sense of anger that PayPal had permission to just withdraw money from one of my bank accounts without any validation process – it just did it.

Immediately I wondered if somehow my details had been leaked in larger security breach, if a keylogger malware was on my computer or if I had somehow been careless with my details. The fact is I’ve checked all these details and know that I haven’t been careless. No system is impenetrable and a security flaw on PayPal must have been discovered. At this stage I hope it has only been my account affected in a single incident, rather than a mass security leak.

If you have a PayPal account then I recommend you:

1)      Change your password

2)      Change your security questions

3)      Review your recent transactions

I raised the breach with PayPal in the last hour. Depending on the response, I’m tempted to close my PayPal account. I’ll keep this post updated with any details.