Blogging for the CultureHive Digital Academy

DMA-logo1I’m currently working for a new project run by the Arts Marketing Association called the CultureHive Digital Academy, which is an initiative aiming to innovate in digital learning. It’s run by Carol Jones, recently of Chapter, who also teaches the RWCMD in Cardiff.

The Academy’s model is to encourage its fellows to learn through rapid innovation, experimentation and reflective learning. They are encouraged to develop initiative ideas, implement and evaluate them, then reflect on their experiences through the Academy blog. This participatory education programme consists of online action learning sets and regular sessions with a mentor, and I was asked to be one of those mentors in the summer of 2014.

From September 2014, I’ve been meeting with fellows via Google Hangouts and Skype, helping them to think through the programme and develop their learning from the programme.  So far, I’ve been working with; Amy Rushby, who works in digital marketing for the Royal Shakespeare Company; Ruth Catlow, a digital artist and leader at the digital arts collective Furtherfield in Finsbury Park, London and Jamie Eastman and Jamie Wooldridge, who work at Live at Lica, a University based multi arts venue in Lancaster.

The programme leaders have asked me to reflect on my experience as a mentor through the programme’s blog, and today I published my first post, which is about establishing the purposes for setting up a digital media initiative, and ideation, the process of generating and combining ideas for solutions. You can read my post, Thinking through digital innovation before you start creating initiatives on the CultureHive Digital Academy website.

I’m chuffed to have been asked to continue being a part of this exciting initiative when the next batch of fellows join later in 2015, and I’ll continue blogging about my insights into what the fellows have needed to tackle during their mentoring sessions with me over the next year and as long as I’m involved with the programme. You’ll be able to access an archive of my posts into the future. Enjoy!

The Passion of Port Talbot: Michael Sheen

Michael Sheen multiplatform

It’s nearly a year ago since Michael Sheen’s The Passion of Port Talbot – one of the most acclaimed pieces of large scale participatory theatre in recent history.

The play that transformed the South Wales town of Port Talbot on Easter weekend 2011 was also live blogged to the world across multiple internet platfoms thanks to a project that we ran with a team of volunteers from the town. It’s one of the most exciting multiplatform events we’ve been involved with.

Port-Talbot.com was framed as a local blog within the world of the Passion story… writing as if everything happening in the show was happening for real. During the weeks leading up to the show, we built up the storyworld in the town, spreading news of a missing teacher from the town and a sinister multi national company ICU industries, which was due to arrive at the town soon.

We set in motion a transmedia experience with an alternative reality game (ARG) that took people from codes on graffitit defaced posters in Port Talbot town, to phone numbers, live events and the web, leading to the release of a unique short film with Michael Sheen as the character, The Teacher.

We lived blogged the events that took place in Port Talbot over the weekend, filming the action and editing and uploading it to the web within a couple of hours. The final crucifixion scene was witnessed by twelve thousand people on the streets of Port Talbot and tens of thousands more online from one hundred and twenty countries.

Live blogging has the advantage of bringing an event to the web, enabling people from all over the world (from 120 countries!) to feel involved and connected to events on the ground. With the Passion, we created the blog as a new character in the story – a media outlet that was part of the world in which The Passion took place.

Artist abandons Twitter and Facebook – and explains why

Hugh Macleod is a well known cartoonist who has a blog by the name Gaping Void. Here is an excellent and thought-provoking post from last month:

Earlier today I told everybody on Twitter and Facebook, that I’m leaving Twitter and Facebook.

Why?

Because Facebook and Twitter are too easy. Keeping up a decent blog that people actually want to take the time to read, that’s much harder. And it’s the hard stuff that pays off in the end.

Besides, even if they’re very good at hiding the fact, over on Twitter and Facebook, it’s not your content, it’s their content.

The content on your blog, however, belongs to you, and you alone. People come to your online home, to hear what you have to say, not to hear what everybody else has to say. This sense of personal sovereignty is important.

And as I’ve said many times over the years, Web 2.0 IS ALL ABOUT personal sovereignty. About using media to do something meaningful, WITHOUT someone else giving you permission first, without having to rely on anyone else’s resources, authority and money. Self-sufficiency. Exactly. […]

Read the rest of the post for more of Macleod’s reasoning. It’s interesting to read the various responses around the web to the post.

I admire Macleod’s idealism. In general I’m inclined to agree with his points about Twitter and Facebook. They are companies with their own objectives and although the services are free, we should think about if we should use them – and how. (Incidentally at the time of writing Macleod appears to be back on Twitter but let’s ignore that and focus on the advice.)

I wouldn’t recommend Macleod’s advice for everyone in every case but I would say that it is of particular relevance to artists and creative people who ‘create content’. As always it comes back to the nature of your set-up and what you want to achieve.

National Rural Touring Forum and the quickest way to start blogging #ruraltouring

I’m working with National Rural Touring Forum at the moment. In their words they’re:

the organisation that represents a number of mainly rural touring schemes and rural arts development agencies across England and Wales. Our touring scheme members work with local communities to promote high quality arts events and experiences in local venues.

Just wanted to say a quick word about one aspect of my work which is the new NRTF blog at nrtf.wordpress.com.

Part of my brief was to help the organisation to help its members in the use of digital media when organising gigs and events in villages and rural communities.

While already equipped with a website I thought there was a need for somewhere where we could quickly post news, videos, images and notes from the conference. We also wanted to allow comments and sharing of the posts around the web.

We had to get it online quickly in time for the beginning of the conference. So this time I opted to use wordpress.com.

The blog could have been hosted and accessible from their main domain, in the background running WordPress code from wordpress.org. I am no stranger to installing WordPress code, running completely independently, with all the customisation and design flexibility that brings.

But rather than spend time discussing and planning that and going back and forth with visual design and other issues, I just set the blog up on wordpress.com and added some team members as users so they can post.

I think far too often people agonise over all kinds of comparatively small issues (branding, design tweaks, everything under one domain, what could be possible with the technology) at the expense of the THING which just has to be DONE and available.

In the long run we can still do many things.

Maybe we want to lose ‘wordpress’ from the address to have a more branded name – but make sure any inbound links don’t break. In that case we can use WordPress’ paid service to redirect a subdomain (such as blog.nrtf.org.uk, just an example) to the blog on Automattic’s company servers. Any visitor will not know any differently, other than the neat domain name.

Alternatively, if NRTF build a new website (hopefully using an open source system such as WordPress itself or maybe Drupal) they might decide to include a blog as a section. In that case we can export the content from the posts on the existing WordPress blog and import them on to the new website. Unlike many other web services, WordPress is very good at letting you export your data and move it elsewhere. (Dear web services: if you love someone, please set them free.) We could post one final entry on the existing blog with a link to the new home and a brief explanation.

Or we can just carry on with the blog as it is.

I’m happy that the NRTF team are up and running with a blog, which is probably the quickest way to publish long-form content on the web. They also have freedom, they are not locked into this system, which is important.

The annual gathering of NRTF is about to start in Caerleon, Newport. The hashtag is #ruraltouring. I’m doing three presentations and a social media surgery. So I’ll be pretty busy – but please make sure you say hi to me if you’re attending!

The invisible workload of social media

Recently I’ve noticed how organisations who are starting to use social media are radically underestimating the time investment that such work requires… and often adding this work onto the job description of people who are already pretty busy. This is a bit of a mistake – it’s important to work out exactly what is involved in generating and getting content out successfully into the web community and to your followers.

Talking recently to a photographer, I was struck by how he described his clients’ lack of understanding about what it took to properly publish his work online so that people saw it. Usually basing their own assumptions on their (limited) use of Facebook to share photos, they see it as an easy thing, which doesn’t require much time of special knowledge.

For a modern photographer, taking the photo is just the start of things… then comes processing of RAW files, then into Photoshop for some finishing touches to the post production process. Then resizing the image files and getting the colours right for print or web, depending on their use.

Over to Flickr, there’s uploading and creating (good) titles, descriptions, tags, geo-tags and other meta-data. Then there’s the option of doing a bit of research on Flickr to find appropriate groups to put the photos on. Then beyond Flickr, there are the other online places you might want to embed or publicise the content. Facebook, Twitter, client’s websites, niche networks etc.

Only then can he really consider his job ‘done’… and it takes at least as long as he used to spend in the dark room in the old days of film, when clients could appreciate that it took a good deal of time, art and experience to create a photographic object.

The same is true of text content (edits, re-edits, checking sources, writing for web and search, adding metadata, double checking, publishing,  pushing the content out to other networks etc). And the same with video – shooting, editing, captioning, converting into the right format, uploading (sometimes to multiple sites), embedding, publicising on other networks etc…

Often, a brand is also running a presence on Facebook – which needs its own attention, then there’s responding to incoming communications, monitoring online activity etc. All in all, it can be time consuming if you’re planning to attend to your online activity meaningfully.

So when we’re talking to companies who are looking at working seriously in the real time web environment, we’re pretty eager to hear how they plan to provide enough people time to resource it. Who will be doing the actual work, and how will it fit into their job? I do hear too many saying that they’ll just ‘add it onto’ someone’s existing role – and it’s a bit of a red flag.

The cost of online technology has come crashing down in recent years – but the requirement to provide some real human time paying attention to online activity has increased. Rather than just see this as an opportunity to save money from the technology budget, companies should be re-investing those savings in human time to pay for all the work that is actually involved in running a successful online presence.

It’s great the brands are now able to run their own online media presence, but it takes time and human effort – and that is what generates the value – people. So if your thinking of investing in this space, think in terms of time, rather than money.

Why comments suck (via Xark)

This blog post Why comments suck (and ideas on un-sucking them) has good advice among the hard talk. Sample:

One last thing: Stop making excuses. I know none of this is easy, but you really should have only one choice — either have comments and do them properly, or don’t offer comments at all. And if you’re offering them solely to increase page traffic to boost revenues, give up. Just quit. You’re hopeless.

It’s aimed at newspapers – who are still getting accustomed to the people formerly known as “the audience” – but you can apply it to any blog or community on the web.

Building an online reputation? Slow process. Having it destroyed? Much quicker process.

Matt Cutts of Google receives a lot of requests to remove pages from the search engine’s index. This is his standard response. In short, Google don’t remove pages from their index unless there are extremely good reasons.

What he didn’t mention this time (although he obviously does know it) is that it’s vital to maintain your own web presence to overcome any negative or defamatory treatment you might be getting online.

This means monitoring and responding to people’s grievances in a timely fashion on various networks and platforms. Twitter is just one (read the Motrin story from last year for just one example).

It also means having your own site or blog which you regularly update. There are many benefits to this – idea development, more “content” to pull people in, maybe a dash of promotion and a nice, recent “last posted” date to reassure new visitors you’re still on the case. Plus you will probably get a better search ranking from a frequently updated site.

But the benefits for reputation are what I’ll focus on here. With your own blog, you can respond instantly to any trend of opinion that might be emerging – highlighting the good stuff and rebutting the bad stuff.

It’s possible to nip something at an early stage and make your stance clear. Ideally each blog post would have its own permalink so people can use it to respond in turn and – if you deserve it – support you. Here’s the permalink to this post.

Depending on the situation you might need to take it on the chin and admit a mistake, the earlier the better. Most organisations can expect a sensitive and potentially reputation-damaging event at some point. You can’t “bury bad news” in this space, sorry!

Here’s this week’s good example – Spotify’s honest admission of a security breach. Spotify are a tech company and they seem to know about this stuff. But it’s just as applicable in other industries. And will become more so.

Building an online reputation is a slow process.

Having it destroyed is a much quicker process.

Make sure you’re prepared.

If you want another angle, I’m also reminded of a seminal blog post from Anil Dash of Six Apart – about privacy and identity control, an oldie but a goodie.

Ryanair’s Cheap Shot – I’m Not Taking The Bait…

There’s lots of blog bustle about this Ryanair story. (In summary, a blogger wrote about a minor glitch he’d experienced in Ryanair’s online ticket booking system. Ryanair employees responded in his blog comments calling him an “idiot and a liar” and berating his choice of the WordPress blogging platform. Ryanair compound the fury by releasing an official statement saying “It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy in corresponding with idiot bloggers…”).

Customer service now happens on a stage… Customers are networked. I’ve visited these themes before, with Chrysler and Ford. Read the seminal and prophetic book Cluetrain Manifesto for more of this wonderful stuff.

But rather than take the bait, I think this is completely in keeping with Ryanair’s PR policy and possibly everything they’ve done before this point.

This may well fall into the so-bad-it’s-good category. Undoubtedly, it’s a cheap shot response – in keeping with the airline’s established reputation for cheapness.

(As a staunch advocate of WordPress, I’m sure they can only be kidding…)

After the blog post, Travolution covered this and later Guardian, Telegraph, The Times and other news outlets. What’s the value of all that exposure – in exchange for some blog comments and a quick statement?

While I’m on it, did you know Ryanair don’t hire outside agencies for their advertising?

The Times had a feature about Ryanair’s advertising in December 2004, containing this gem from Paul Fitzsimmons, their then head of communications:

“We have a Wal-Mart approach to business: stack ’em high and sell in bulk,” said Fitzsimmons. “We are driven by price and we don’t need a bunch of ponytails in some ad agency to tell us how to build our brand.”

Then later:

Fitzsimmons admits the Ryanair ads are designed to spark controversy on the basis that “any negative perception of an ad is a publicity opportunity”.

So why should their online PR be any different? Talk about an integrated communications policy! It’s risky, for sure. For fans of the Cluetrain Manifesto, it certainly corresponds to the “authentic human voice”. But I can imagine it backfiring if their amiable tomfoolery does not translate across countries. For instance, now that CNN have covered it, will USA and other international readers appreciate the jokes?

Carsonified – A Model of a Good Company Blog

I subscribe to quite a lot of blogs.

But I don’t subscribe to many company blogs.

By “company blog” I mean a blog which is an adjunct to a company’s ordinary business. I just haven’t found many that are worth following. In order to get my attention, the blog needs a human voice and needs to tell me something useful, relevant or interesting.

Usually, companies either don’t do it or they do it wrongly. I know you want me to buy your goods and services. But to keep me coming back to your website you need to give me more than a pitch.

One exception to this is the blog of Carsonified, a software development company based in Bath, UK, who specialise in web-based applications and related conferences. Please bear with me, even if that’s not your area of interest.

To be sure, they have plenty of work to be getting on with besides writing blog posts. But something about the industry insights of co-founder Ryan Carson in particular has kept me coming back, plus his eagerness to blog honestly about their company activities.

Building and launching a successful web app is a fraught and turbulent business, which adds to the fascination for me. It reminds me of artist development in the music industry, especially music managers I’ve met – not least in the fact there is an abundance of people making a play and only a few who will win. Even by their own definitions of success.

As if to undermine part of what I’ve just said (!), Ryan Carson sometimes gets it wrong, as he admits in this new video, Blogging Tips for Downturn 2.0 (don’t let the title put you off).

After laying off three employees in December 2008, Carson (with their permission) decided to blog about it. That wasn’t the problem. Yes, layoffs are embarrassing but the news will travel anyway. So you may as well set the tone. And you’ll probably do the former employees a favour by highlighting their availability.

His mistake, in his view, was to combine the news with some advice about how to be a “good” employee. In effect, he combined two blog posts into one which gave out an impression that he was admonishing them, which wasn’t his intention. You can still read the original post about the redundancies.

Those who don’t blog may ask: was all this worth the effort for Carson? Well, I for one am reading his blog and checking out his products and have also mentioned the company to a few people as a result, including you now. So make up your own mind.