Markets are international conversations

This article was first published in the Lansons newsletter, focusing on an international theme.

I’ve often obsessed about the social connections between humans, as if somehow the act of touching one’s hand passes on a secret ingredient. In the first year of University I got to shake hands with Stephen Fry, if only that was required for passing a degree. Imagine all the people who he had met, who in turn had met others.

It was American playwright John Guare who first publicised through his play Six Degrees of Separation that the world may be smaller than we think. The theory is that between you and David Cameron (or your uncomfortable Tinder date) is five other points of contact. Just five people are between you and anybody else in the world. Microsoft provided some meat for this theory in 2008 by analysing 30 billion messages on Microsoft Messenger in 2006 that concluded a 6.6 degree of separation[i].

Now Facebook, arguably one of the most connected and actively used social networks in the world has revealed that we’re just 3.57 degrees away from each other (at least among the 1.59 billion people active on Facebook). Leaving our next question not to dwell on degrees of separation but to think, why did we feel the world is bigger than it is?

You can find out your average distance through your Facebook account here (mine is a lower than average 3.32). No matter where you were born, what your upbringing was like, or what you do for a living, the human race really is one big family; all 7 billion of us are connected with each other. It’s only been in the last 10 years that social media has allowed us to explore the depth of this truth for the first time. Not only as an impact on our social lives, but as a fundamental truth about the internet, it’s international.

It’s also never been more accessible. Across the European Union (EU) the average internet penetration rate stands at 79.3% – that’s 402,937,674 people with internet access. Of all 28 countries only 11 fall below the accumulative average; Romania the lowest at 56%. In a global study of 240 countries 3 billion people were found to use social media, with 2 billion social media accounts detected, 1.6 billion of these used frequently, considered active.

EU Internet penetration rate

Think of it this way, there are now more internet connected devices on the planet than humans. Not surprising considering the average British household owns over 7 internet-connected devices[ii]. An infrastructural challenge recognised in the late 1980s when IP address exhaustion was mentioned for the first time[iii].

Organisations need to adapt

Our ability to quickly access information and express ourselves online has fundamentally reshaped our public, private, and personal lives. The World Economic Forum’s report on Digital Media and Society focused specifically on this aspect of modern living, “Around the world, people now spend more time using laptop computers and smartphones than they do in other daily activities, and our ‘connected time’ is on the rise”[iv]. Increased usage has proliferated into an array of varying internet-connected devices such as laptop and desktop computers, tablets, smartphones, and wearable technology.

Such developments challenge traditional business models across a multitude of industries as peoples’ behaviours and expectations change in an internet-connected age.

In the UK electronic patient records challenge patients to be data literate with their health[v], in financial services banks across the EU will need to soon face the challenge of providing standardised API access[vi], and in media relations web 2.0[vii] has challenged traditional news structures. Only recently The Independent confirmed an end to its print edition, instead working towards a digital future[viii].These advances challenge organisations to make a cultural shift, maintaining an internal infrastructure that is able to join in with online conversations. This is because markets are conversations and consist of humans with interests, not demographic sectors[ix].

Social networks encourage connections, interactions, and relationships between people. They are more than cold channels to push marketing materials, they provide the infrastructural means for social connections to be made between people, regardless of geographical boundaries.

An active international social networking community exists for all organisations, as media relations becomes an optional part of public relations. For highly regulated industries, such as financial services and health, social media can be challenging to adopt and require investment. Regardless of whether this investment happens, online conversations continue globally.

The challenge today is to think beyond publications and digital communication ‘channels’. These are not mindless pipes to broadcast information, but international communities who gather around interests. Whether these are passions, questions to solve, industries – degrees of separation haven’t just shown the world is smaller, but highlights pockets of activity.

#RefugeesWelcome

This can be visually seen when ‘memes’ are shared as shown in the tragic case of Twitter’s most influential moment last year with #RefugeesWelcome. It’s impossible to shift the image of the three year-old Alan Kurdi whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey.

It sparked an international movement, tweets that had the potential to influence foreign policy. Data shows how the first tweet appeared of Alan Kurdi in Turkey, which in 12 hours reached 20 million people around the world[x]. Conversations shifted from ‘migrants’ to ‘refugees’ overnight. #RefugeesWelcome is a sensitive case that examples a significant ability of modern public relations; tracking message changes and influencer connections to the minute.

pulsar

I’ve always obsessed about the social connections between people and organisations, and this has never been more important, especially as international social media usage increases. Social media sites are not cold marketing ‘channels’, they are communities who organisations need to engage with as peoples’ behaviours broaden from traditional media relations.

[i] http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2008/aug/03/internet.email
[ii] http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/apr/09/online-all-the-time-average-british-household-owns-74-internet-devices
[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPv4_address_exhaustion
[iv] http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEFUSA_DigitalMediaAndSociety_Report2016.pdf
[v] http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/thenhs/records/healthrecords/Pages/overview.aspx
[vi] https://www.finextra.com/news/fullstory.aspx?newsitemid=27327
[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2.0
[viii] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/12153947/The-Independent-newspaper-confirms-an-end-to-print-production.html
[ix] http://www.cluetrain.com/
[x] http://www.pulsarplatform.com/blog/2015/the-iconic-image-on-social-media-a-rapid-research-response-to-the-death-of-aylan-kurdi/

Ofcom, protect tenants by introducing flexible broadband contracts

We’re moving home, the time of digging out utility contracts and organising switches. Water bill was instant, TV licence was instant, moving Council Tax took 5 minutes, transferring energy took 11 minutes, and the broadband is another story altogether. It’s 2016, isn’t it time that broadband services should be treated like any other utility provider?

With the rise of ‘generation rent’ as home ownership becomes an unaffordable luxury only achieved by those whose wealthy relatives kicked the bucket, surely Ofcom should protect tenants by introducing flexible contracts? The issue is most tenants face extortionate contract exit charges because their broadband contract doesn’t align with their tenancy agreement. Sometimes lining up dates can be beyond tenants’ control as landlords have the ability to serve notice early.

In the past a broadband contract may have been a luxury, unlike energy bills that are a necessity. Times have changed though. With at least 7 internet-connected devices in British homes, some of which only functional through constant connection, broadband has become just as crucial as utility contracts; it is a utility.

BT trouble getting on the internet

So with our BT broadband contract we had two choices:

  • Let the contract reach the end, risking being liable for phone charges by new tenants moving into the property;
  • Or, cancel the contract 13 days early.

As the BT adviser said on the phone, ‘You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. If you don’t cancel then you will be liable for charges when the new tenants move in.’ The problem is that cancelling the contract costs £71, something we found crazy as the usual monthly payment is £35 – turns out an extra charge was put in to cover “equipment cost”.

I’ll admit that contractually BT are in the green, there should be exit charges and they have the right to make these ridiculous to keep customers locked in. The problem is applying these traditional contracts to the rental market, where it’s impossible foreseeing changes in the tenancy agreement. We would have stayed in our rental property but have had to move due to structural issues.

We’re luckier than most, whilst £71 is still a lot of money (especially when we’re getting nothing for it), it won’t break the bank. In our eyes we paid it to escape the contract in case the new tenants made us liable for £££s worth of calls abroad. I feel sorry for BT customers who are financially struggling, a quick search online shows people in tough situations where BT is fuelling its £2.6bn profits (2015) from unjust exit charges to tenants.

Something should be done to make broadband contracts as flexible as energy providers or switching current accounts. As long as the current system remains, tenants will continue to be charged giant exit fees, usually for no fault of their own. It’s 2016, let’s make internet access flexible and affordable.

For PR success, have a rest

I feel on top of the world! Out of breath, struggling up a boggy slope. That’s exactly what an office lifestyle will do to you if not balanced with some honest exercise. It was worth it for the view, the Lake District really is god’s country. I took the below photos, it was effortless for the camera.

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Why is it that the most beautiful places in the world don’t have mobile signal? It’s either a coincidence or a reason why they are beautiful. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then my eyes require less internet connected fodder. At times I still found myself mindlessly scrolling through social media updates, an unhealthy habit that only teaches me that 90% of the social media shares are nonsense, irrelevant or worse, uncalled for.

Before going to the Lake District I popped over to one of my favourite travel bloggers, Adventurous Kate. I had the privilege of meeting her face-to-face in Rotterdam at a travel blogging conference in 2013. A lot (I gather in both of our lives) has changed since then, but I still make an active effort to keep on top of her posts. Funnily enough, she published about her trip to the Lake District in January. Having returned from my holiday, I can picture some of the spots where she may have captured those landscapes. After a long weekend staying in a quaint cottage sitting by a fire, only a week would have been long enough!

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The point of this blog post is this; sometimes to be professionally successful, you need to disconnect. This is especially true in the PR industry where we tend to be tied to emails, contractually responsible for social media, and (if agency side) constantly changing subject and sector topics in the mind. It’s demanding but rewarding, but will take its toll on the body unless you take the opportunity to disconnect. Unwind by admiring the rolling hills of the English countryside?

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