The Independent: where print declines, online soars

The Independent newspaper

Standing in front of keen-eyed sixth form students, I delivered the blow of realism. Your career in public relations will be more digital than you can imagine. After pulling up the print circulation of broadsheet and tabloid newspapers from the past few years, the narrative was clear; most people prefer to read online than pick up a wad of print. It’s a simple behavioural shift, a natural progression for the UK that boasts an 89.8% internet penetration rate. Two days later The Independent announced its “digital chapter” ending 25 years of print, over 100 job loses are expected.

The Independent newspaper

In my view the opportunities from an online only news site far outweighs print counterparts. Publications like The Economist have successfully built from selling words to podcasts, several app editions, maintaining an online community on LinkedIn; the trick is learning to monetise these avenues. Goliath newsrooms who keep 500+ staff tirelessly crafting top-quality journalism are shrinking, expected to be half the size in five years’ time. Even trade publications are becoming less frequent, even a side-project as journalists seek a full-time career elsewhere (it’s not uncommon this side career is in PR).

Five years ago I organised a meet the media event with top tech trade journalists, who piled into a creative space featuring bar and foosball table (standard creative room accessory!). One journalist took a look at the space and said ‘We used to have all of this 20 years ago, now PRs have the money’. I couldn’t help but notice one group by the bar discussing job concerns, talented journalists whose publications were struggling.

Where print declines, online soars. No truer is this when you manage to get an organisation coverage in the Mail Online, which is the most visited English-language newspaper website in the world with a whopping 60+ billion visits a month (see up-to-date stats here). Sod print, give me online. Especially as PR is in the business of managing reputation, a bit of print copy is tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapper – online is immortal.

As a blogger, the importance of online delivery in securing the business model of journalism fascinates me. In 2005 I cast my foot into the waters of blogging for the first time and the wider media described bloggers as disrupters of the traditional news model. Bloggers would lead the march of citizen journalists, common people who would be able to deliver news quickly and efficiently through sharing before newspapers.

This idealistic thinking swelled with the launch of the first iPhone in 2007 as nations became armed photographers seeking the next story. The Guardian eventually launched Guardian Witness to help capture and edit this modern news resource, especially important to understand the unbiased nature of reporting. It’s fair to say this disruption did not come to pass, whilst publications like The Huffington Post have roots in blogging, the real disruption would happen directly to newspapers.

When news exists online it has to play to the same economical rules of the internet; for bloggers and mainstream news organisations. In theory this means my blog could be matched alongside trade publications when it comes to search engine rankings and social media shares. This is essentially what journalist Heidi Blake described when she made the decision to move from The Sunday Times to Buzzfeed. If The Independent properly understands these opportunities by investing in the right talent, then the next year should see some worthwhile developments. Perhaps it should look at The Times and Buzzfeed for a comparison to find inspiration as a modern news organisation.

Far from The Independent being dead, the nation still knows it as The Indie. You won’t be able to buy it in newsagents but you can still access its journalism in seconds from your smartphone or tablet, I even get updates to my Apple Watch. However, its move to the digital space should be marked by all PR practitioners as a sign that media relations alone will not be enough to keep our work afloat over the next five years; reputation is no longer isolated to the barriers of print.

See beyond your age: 26 life lessons at age 26

lonely playground

lonely playground

Last Monday I hit the beginning of my late-twenties and started to think about life lessons.

I find it difficult to comprehend that I was 18 years old eight years ago. Family photos show the quick transition from boyish complection to manhood. Time stops for no man; the years are racing.

For me right now, life is a treasure chest of opportunities. Whether that is translated through my appreciation of philosophy, joy of reading, understanding of the arts (yes, I’ll include heavy metal in this category!). After years of curiosity, I’m even turning my hand to amateur photography for the first time.

Whilst an enthusiast for life, I’ve also experienced some tough life lessons. Losing a close-friend, turmoil of relationships as people transitioned from university, the depression of being stuck in a job that wasn’t right. Sadly, natural parts of life and more to come.

At the end of the day does age matter? Not in my eyes. It’s your attitude, thoughts, and actions that really count. In my head is an excited eight-year-old chasing dreams and the surly older man who is told that he thinks beyond his years.

So in a similar style as Stephen Waddington’s wise observations from middle-age, I’ve contributed some of my own life lessons below. Broadly categorised into the main things that matter in life; purpose, relationships, career, learning, approaching life.

Perhaps when I hit middle-age some of my approaches to life will change? I’m still learning. The below shows where some of my thinking currently stands.

Purpose

#1 Live for pleasure

The primary form of intrinsic good in life is pleasure. It’s safe to be directed by a hedonistic lifestyle if it operates within ethical guidelines.

#2 Be lead by convictions

The most turbulent personal years was when I hadn’t formed my own convictions. Be true to what you believe in and put this before everything else.

#3 Freedom of enquiry

Be thankful that you live in a liberal society and don’t be afraid to approach life as a sceptic.

#4 Be inspired by others, but don’t imitate

When it comes to role models, life is full of potentials. Be inspired but don’t try being somebody you’re not. Perfect yourself.

#5 Challenge perceptions of success

Your life is not an advertisement; material gain will not bring you happiness. Your journey through life might be a mess, you will have to work hard.

Relationships

#6 You’re never an expert

I’m certainly not.

#7 You’re not singular

Where possible put yourself before others, act as a couple and contribute to your communities and society. Self-obsession makes life impossible.

#8 Build bridges

Do not burn them. Treat people as you would like to be treated. Don’t let emotion overcome you in difficult situations.

#9 Keep calm. Carry on.

You’ll meet lots of different people through life. Don’t count your friends, value the relationships you have.

Career

#10 Do what you love

This goes back to #1 ‘live for pleasure’. You’ll spend almost ¾ of your life working, make sure you enjoy it (this is the secret to success).

#11 Beyond money

Whilst it’s not always possible, try to think of money as an outcome of enjoying work. This is challenging in the entry-level roles of a career, but I’m certain it makes a difference. Being motivated by money alone is not attractive.

#12 Be prepared to work

Nothing in life comes for free, you have to work for it. Rather than aim for the successes in life, think about what you’re willing to struggle for. Do you want a big salary? Then be prepared to work through late nights for it.

#13 Respect

Everyone is different. Everyone knows something you don’t. Don’t be quick to pass judgement, you have no idea what people are dealing with behind the scenes.

#14 We’re all human

We all face the struggles of life. We’re all naked under our clothes. When things get tough, realise that the world is much bigger than the contained situation you’re dealing with. I find perspective alleviates stress.

Learning

#15 Learn something new each day

Try to learn something new each day. No, Google is cheating. Actually talk to people and leave the confines of the home and office. True learning is through experience.

#16 Never give up

Nothing was worse than struggling with dyslexia as a child, but having a passion for reading and writing. It was frustrating, but I beat it. Today I manage and almost hide my dyslexic traits entirely. How? I can recognise the way I think and know the mistakes I make.

#17 Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

I’m not telling you to mess up a multi-million company merger. Just don’t be afraid to try new things, receive advice from others, and build on your abilities. Learn from your mistakes, create something incredible.

#18 Listen

Stop talking. Listen. You’ll learn a lot.

#19 By guided by passion

In life I’m a child lost in a sweet shop, chasing interests and being guided by curiosity. Let your learning be guided by your passions.

Life lessons

#20 Balance

Technology has merged our careers with personal life, try to keep these separated. Use the off button, otherwise what’s the point in living?

#21 Dealing with hardship

Life can be difficult; some situations are tough to understand. Stay true to yourself and eventually try to use experiences to help others. That’s why I made the decision to contribute this post to CALM last year.

#22 Support

You’re not giving up by letting others support you. Always be willing to support others. The human race is biologically one big family.

#23 Actions

There is a difference between action and intention. Make things happen in life, otherwise you’re just speaking empty words.

#24 Look after yourself

Sadly, we’re not immortal and the decisions we make with our health today may impact the rest of our lives. I’m still trying to look after my body better.

#25 Love

Without love, life is not possible. Nurture love, try not to understand its complexities, but appreciate it.

#26 Age

See beyond your age. Don’t let it sway your approach to life.

Has Google just removed the business purpose of Google+ overnight?

Google+ and Google Local disconnected

As the New Year approaches Google has decided to roll out significant updates to its struggling social network Google+. It’s no secret that Google+ whilst attracting billions of sign-ups has a tiny active user-base, just 9%. Of these hopefuls I would love to see a breakdown of communities of people Vs companies who just pump information out on the network.

When Google announced in November that it was rolling out a new design for Google+, it was really signalling a fundamental change for the network. The focus is now on communities and ‘interest’ collections; technically useful features but only if active users on the network increase and spam limitations are put in place.

It warranted a sort of ‘meh’ response, but then Google sneaked in something big. When Google+ launched it was seen as the central hub of Google online, connecting services such as YouTube and Local; in the same way it disconnected ‘mandatory’ YouTube integration, it’s now completely disconnected Google Local.

This means Google Local business information such as reviews, categories, directions, star ratings, photo uploads, interior photos, maps, hours, and app integrations are no longer seen by people on Google+ business profiles. Not only this, but thousands of unverifiable business accounts (considered spam) were removed without notice.

Has Google just removed the business purpose of Google+ overnight?

The integration between Google Local and Google+ kept businesses tied to the network, knowing that their business profile information would make branded search listings and their activity on Google+ previewed above paid-for AdWord links in search. In some ways, it was the Google authorship (another archaic feature) of business.

It’s worth noting that this is a staged roll out by Google, available when choosing to view the new design of Google+. It will likely go the same way as Google Maps, the old version will be provided as an option but once all fixes have been made, the new version will remain permanent.

What does this mean for businesses?

  • It may no longer be worth maintaining a Google+ page, as business critical ‘local page’ information has been moved across to ‘Google My Business’. None of the information in Google+ will appear high in search and the SEO benefits are now questionable;
  • Google+ is going through a radical redesign; it’s deleted and disconnected a number of features over the last year. As a result, Google+ is an unpredictable network with a low number of active users – expect no engagement and little traffic directed to websites;
  • Word on the cyber street is that businesses should stop investing time into Google+, and focus purely on Google Local. The only exception to this rule may be visual businesses who are able to valuable contribute to community and interest discussions.

If you do run Google+ business pages then you’re likely to either encounter that your page has been removed or its turned into a basic profile without the Google Local information. Either way, think if Google+ is now worth it for business. Unless a business friendly update happens, then the message from Google is that ‘our social network is just for people’.

 

The essential guide for modernising the PR workflow

Last week I had meetings with clients that spanned media relations, SEO projects, online advertising, and website design. Each day it’s becoming clearer that public relations is becoming the umbrella that holds the digital marketing mix. With this being the case, how can agencies build agile teams for the modern PR workflow?

This morning ‘The Essential Guide’ for modernising the PR workflow has launched. If PRstack was about modernising the PR workflow through making sense of the complicated third party tool market, then this new guide is the pitch just before it. Rather than focusing on tools, its five steps for evaluating and improving the workflow of a PR team.

Penned by a man on a mission Frederick Vincx, who is the owner of Prezly and has devoted his career to getting PR professionals out of ‘Excel hell’. His guide isn’t your typical link-bait ‘top 10’ post, it’s challenging and by the way it’s written – clearly coming from a voice of experience.

“The goal is to make your team adaptable for increasingly fast changing communication requirements. This guide will help you improve your PR team workflow so that you stay current and create more value for clients in less time. The result? Better work, happier clients, and more time left to sell to other clients.” – Frederick Vincx

Summarising Frederick’s work on this blog will not do it justice! Do visit his blog for a read and have a look at the infographic below for a visual summary. After a long-read, I’m proud to say that the consultancy I work for went through these modernisation steps a few years ago and structures are successfully navigating the newer digital elements of PR.

Map for moderning the PR Workflow

Managing reputation by detecting fake information on social media

Carpetright_store_Tottenham_riots

I first published this post on the Lansons blog.

In the USA, Dow Jones plunged 140 points after a rumour spread on Twitter from Associated Press’ Twitter account. The estimated temporary loss of market cap in the S&P 500 totalled $136.5 billion.

When hackers took over Associated Press’ Twitter profile in 2013

This isn’t the only example of misinformation spread via social media that has had cataclysmic real-world consequences; the England Riots spread violence, false information around the Ebola outbreak caused increased deaths (salt water does not prevent or cure Ebola), and the Boston marathon blasts identified the wrong suspects.

The spread of information via social media can have real-world consequences and the notion of ‘influence’ may spell the downfall or uprising of an organisation. This is why appropriately detecting, tracking, and engaging with false information on social media is critical for managing reputation online.

In a new paper published by Aditi Gupta from the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology Delhi, social media reputation management techniques are explored in detail. Over 25 global events are analysed between 2011 – 2014 that involved the spread of fake images, rumours, and untrustworthy content.

“Online social media has the capability of playing the role of, either a life saver or that of a daemon during the times of crisis. In this research work, we highlighted one of the malicious intended usage of Twitter during a real-world event, i.e. spreading fake images. We analyzed the activity on the online social networking website Twitter, during Hurricane Sandy (2012) that spread fake images. We identified 10,350 unique tweets containing fake images that were circulated on Twitter, during Hurricane Sandy.

We performed a characterization analysis, to understand the temporal, social reputation and influence patterns of the spread of these fake images. We found that 86% tweets spreading the fake images were retweets, hence very few were original tweets by users. Also, our results showed that top 30 users (0.3% of the users) resulted in 90% of retweets of the fake image.”

Rumour tweets posted during the England riots of 2011

The research concluded that after analysing some of the top disasters over the last four years, only automated techniques were able to successfully identify credible updates and categorise. Of course, this was the only option as manually sifting through 5.6 TeraBytes of tweets would take a lifetime! At Lansons we use our own reputation management tools.

When managing online reputation you should watch out for:

  • The creation of fake social media profiles that are designed to look real but instead spread fake information;
  • Fake content, then engage, before it’s spread widely on social media;
  • Online communities that build around disasters that could be considered the ‘core’ group that drive wider conversations.

The research is a valuable contribution to managing online reputation, it allows practitioners (such as myself) to refine and improve our techniques. Whilst the focus of the paper was on Twitter, we know reputation management applies to all social media – even more prominently in Google Search. Make sure you have the right procedures in place.

The importance of Google Knowledge Graph for online reputation

Google Android garden

Even if you haven’t heard of Google Knowledge Graph, you’ve probably seen it. Google updated its search algorithm in May 2012 to present a box on the right of search to show people, places, and things. So when you search for well-known or popular subjects, you’ll be delivered top-line information immediately.

Google Knowledge Graph, Bank of England

Just where does Google source its facts and figures for this box? This is a critical question if you’re tasked with managing the reputation of a person or an organisation because it’s the first thing people see. What’s more, Google Knowledge Graph appears above Google Business information (also known as the Google Maps listing).

A new paper published by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) entitled “Semantic Cities: Coded Geopolitics and the Rise of the Semantic Web” reveals all; Google Knowledge Graph sources from Wikipedia as part of the Google funded Wikidata project.

This isn’t surprising, Wikipedia has steadily grown a reputation over the years for improved reliability and ever-increasing scale. It’s not just an online encyclopaedia; it is an online community of 25 million users who have created 5 million articles in the UK. The crowd-sourced element of Wikipedia keeps data fresh on the most important subjects.

The danger revealed by the OII is that we can take this ‘linked data’ online information economy of the internet for granted, potentially not questioning the facts and figures presented. If Google Knowledge Graph sources information from Wikipedia, then what happens when that information is wrong? Furthermore, what if that information is politically sensitive?

The focus of OII paper was on the political status of Jerusalem,

“The fact box is titled ‘Jerusalem’ followed by the statement ‘Capital of Israel’. The fact box contains a paragraph about the city, followed by a list of facts about the area size and population of Jerusalem that is cited to UNData.

The political status of Jerusalem has been widely debated in the media and by multiple stakeholder groups. This is because the city is claimed as capital by both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine. The city’s borders and governance have changed significantly over the years, most recently after the 1967 (Six Day) war between Israel and the neighbouring states of Egypt, Jordan and Syria when Israel annexed East Jerusalem from Jordan. Despite vehement disagreements by governments in the region, however, there is no widespread international recognition for Jerusalem (as composed of both East and West parts) as the capital of either Israel or Palestine.”

You can read a synopsis of the topic on the OII’s blog.

jerusalem political status

In terms of managing online reputation, the paper by the OII is important for three reasons:

  • It highlights the step between user-generated content to the unchangeable (fixed) content hosted by Google (You can flag inaccuracies but the process is not transparent, immediate or potentially successful)
  • It understands that information isn’t just structured data, some information has an emotive underpinning that requires Google’s ‘deep learning’ to appreciate not all information presented in reputable crowd-sourced sites are factual. There may still be ongoing debates.
  • It reminds us that behind every smart algorithm is essentially a need for a bin of knowledge (The knowledge graph was only possible because of Wikipedia’s extensive database)

Whilst the OII research was based on a location, familiar territory for me due to my experience in managing the reputation of tourism boards, it applies to people and corporations too. Google is attempting to reach a place where it doesn’t necessarily need to drive people to separate websites, links in search. Instead it’s much more convenient to host all the content directly in Google Search; saving valuable user clicks and generating even more juicy page views for advertising.

It’s inescapable that a monotonous challenge of managing online reputation today is attempting to find ways to tell Google that their information is wrong or damaging. Perhaps the development of Google’s Deep Learning software will improve Google Knowledge Graph next year? I hope so.

What’s it like being a blogger?

Writing table

On a blogger panel last week, I admitted my number one pet hate – bad Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) agencies. You know, the ones who constantly peddle meaningless backlinks in return for cold cash. If you blog, then it’s common to receive poorly targeted emails from such agencies.

It’s one aspect that comes with the territory of ‘being a blogger’ and on a panel discussion at Lansons I explained what’s it like being a blogger for the last 9 years. Despite all working in completely different sectors, Gourmet Mum, Lifestyle Maven, Luisa Porritt, and I all had similar experiences.

A proper write-up of the panel discussion is due on the Lansons blog soon, below were some of the answers I supplied. It’s incredibly honest and I hope not too narcissistic to repeat them here.

How did you become a blogger?

Whilst my current blog has an archive dating back to 2009, my first blogging steps happened in 2005 when I set up an atheism based blog called ‘A Superfluous Ramble’. This quickly got me involved with numerous online atheism/humanist/philosophy communities and even angered a few churches! Receiving invitations to church services or choir practices was not uncommon.

As I have dyslexia, blogging allowed me to perfect my writing style – a deeply personal achievement as I wouldn’t be able to live without writing (paraphrasing the words of the late Christopher Hitchens). Today I’m known as a PR blogger, which only began after one of my lecturers at University recommended I start a PR based blog in 2008.

The blog has had a few reiterations but today stands as thoughtsymposium.com (crap name); audience tends to tread a line between seasoned practitioners and students. In reality though, the growth of the blog was a complete accident and exists merely as a hobby. My income comes from full-time PR consultancy.

Do you make money from your blog?

I would argue that the peak of this blog existed at University when I had spare time! It was then that agencies were willing to pay me between £100 – £150 to publish sponsored posts on this blog. Often these posts were completely unrelated to the topics I was writing about, as a result this paid content probably lost me a few visitors. Still, being a student meant money was tight.

As well as accepting sponsored posts I was involved with a couple of affiliated marketing programmes, receiving small amounts of commission for referral links. Whilst I’ve always had some form of advertising on the blog, this has typically been a low money earner – many bloggers can’t generate enough page views to keep blogging as a full-time occupation.

Today I’m less focused about monetising the traffic on my blog, it’s much better for me to use my content as a hook for new business and building personal profile.

What is your experience like of working with businesses/agencies?

Bad email pitches come with the territory of blogging; I suppose I should be thankful that people want to pitch in the first place! On the day of the blogger panel I read out a few of the terrible pitches I’ve received and the agency who sent it – I’ll be kind online and not mention by name.

The best pitches have all been book review based ones. For instance, a new book surprising me at my work address by post and a note from a publisher/author requesting that I review it on my blog. These sorts of pitches feel good and I always review the book in detail (I’m a relatively fast reader). Once I was invited to a mansion for a blogger party – it’s amazing what this little blog has done for me.

How do you find the time to blog?

I’m currently writing this post very late at night! This tends to be a trend, writing at the unsociable hours of the day – perhaps that’s because I can be completely focused on the task. However, balancing a demanding full-time job with keeping a blog going is difficult.

This month alone I’ve had 10 day publishing gaps which is not good enough to maintain high levels of web traffic. The sad truth about blogging is that we’re technically in competition with news sites for Google Search positions; for one person to rival professional industry publications is not possible (for most).

Give us your final tip about blogging

The best tip is start a blog! It’s amazing how many PR professionals don’t blog.

What’s it like being a blogger?

Busy. It’s a commitment for some of the reasons I’ve outlined above, but incredibly rewarding. Blogging over the last 9 years has allowed me to experiment with different writing styles and experiment with web hosting.

The Sun scraps newspaper paywall

I wonder if Rebekah Brooks’ announcement to staff that The Sun’s paywall would be coming down on 30th November was received by cheers or worried silence. The decision by News UK was inevitable as The Sun has been losing web traffic. During the election this happened at the same time their free-to-access political site SunNation flourished. Also, their purchase of video ad company Unruly was a hint the paywall would be lowered; otherwise how could The Sun generate enough pageviews to fuel advertising revenue?

“I recently shared with you the future priorities for the company and am excited today to tell you more about our plans for the first of these: growing the Sun’s audience. This will mean setting the Sun predominantly free in the digital world from 30 November. By happy coincidence, this is also Cyber Monday, one of the best-performing days of the year for online retail.” – part of Brooks’ email to staff

Now that the paywall will be lowered The Sun will be able to benefit from higher traffic from internet search engines and social media. Both crucial components of running any sort of website. As I reported in my blog post from Social Media Week in September, leaving The Times due to its social media limited paywall was a key component in Heidi Blake’s move to Buzzfeed.

The U-turn by The Sun is an awkward reminder that whilst the importance of digital marketing is widespread in the media industry, finding a business model that delivers is still trial and error. eConsultancy tells the story behind The Sun’s decision through statistics; the estimate for lost digital revenue is eye-opening.

The Sun, predicted digital revenue

The truth is paywalls are too simplistic as revenue drivers, blocking search engines, drastically limiting social media sharing; therefore, lowering the effectiveness of online advertising. If a reader hits a paywall then they’ll visit a competitor media outlet. An already difficult situation to contend with considering BBC News’ publicly funded reporting tends to snatch 40 million unique visitors a week.

Now the wait is on… how long before The Times scraps their paywall? It seems News UK are not ruling anything out at this stage.