Category Archives: Social Media

How can a non-designer approach design work without pretending to be a designer?

First of all, I’m not a designer. So my way of approaching design was to find something that didn’t involve Pantone mugs, Apple Macintosh computing equipment or learning to draw!

photo credit: robhawkes

So here I take a look at some approaches to design work that don’t take the designer as genius, or take a traditional participatory approach, but try and look at the design process from the experience of the people who the design is for.

My boss Pete Wright and his writing partner McCarthy’s (2010) idea of a humanist vision of design was a good guiding light for me when I started thinking about approaching design.  The Malmo Living Lab stance of, “attending to values of agency, democracy, equality, and choice” is both commendable and something I aspire to, although as I have protested on many occasions, the idea of democracy through design remains problematic for me.

So, what is experience-centred design?

Wright & McCarthy suggest:

the excitement in experience-centred design is the impulse to use these developments to give people the chance to have a richer life, to include people who might otherwise feel excluded, to ensure everyone has a chance to have their say especially those who feel voiceless.

This idea of an equality of ideas and social computing enacting the conditions of equality is an area close to my research agenda.

Design as theory

I am warming to the idea of design as theory and sympathise with the notion that “any designed technology embodies assumptions (made by designers) about how the system will be used. In this sense a technology itself is both a theory of and a hypothesis about use. It is a question put to the user by the designer.” Paul Dourish (2001) looks to phenomenology to ground his theory for HCI as embodied interaction. This type of design approach focuses on situated interaction and meaning making. The co-creation of meaning, particularly through dialogic means is a framework for understanding which I feel happily espouses both social computing and HCI, as described as experience-centred design.

‘Beautiful things work better’

Emotion is the cement that holds action together. I believe there is certainly more to design than usability, and we should focus on the experiences of people living with technology rather than just using it. Forlizzi and Batterbee (2004), in order to rationalise this, attempted to distinguish three types of experience: experience, an experience, or co-experience. Alongside this, I understand co-creation of meaning as an experience. As well as experiences that are shared between people, the co-creation of meaning can be constructed as an experience.

If technology is an experience that begins with the idea of sense-making, we reach a problematic juncture where we might try to understand how people make sense of things. How they experience the world, or a situation, or a technology.

Experience as social

Sense making is ‘irreducibly’ social. There is not room here to discuss the myriad psychologists’ and philosophers’ concepts on this, but we should understand that there are many things (other people, media, past) at play which will likely affect the way a person makes sense of the world.

Even when two people co-experience something it is impossible to say if their experiences were alike. Forlizzi and Battarbee (2004) discuss a framework for understanding human experience to inform design. This is useful as long as we understand that human experience cannot be measured. We can categorise types of experience but cannot objectively determine how that experience is felt, even conversation analysis is a process of subjective interpretations that one can only understand through their own experience. Through how they make sense of the world.

References

Dourish, P. (2001). Seeking a foundation for context-aware computing. Human–Computer Interaction, 16(2-4), 229-241.

Forlizzi, J., & Battarbee, K. (2004). Understanding experience in interactive systems. In Proceedings of the 5th conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques (pp. 261-268). ACM.

Wright, P., & McCarthy, J. (2010). Experience-centered design: designers, users, and communities in dialogue. Synthesis Lectures on Human-Centered Informatics, 3(1), 1-123.

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Social computing, trust and social capital

Increasingly, people are looking to each other, rather than corporations, for news, guidance, advice and support. A lack of trust in large organisations, and a general sociological move towards bottom-up networks of support has grown in recent years.

Society and computing technologies have influenced each other, and continue to do so. Social computing: from social informatics to social intelligence by Wang et al (2007), consider a move away from information to intelligence in social computing. Large corporations like Amazon and EBay, among others have moved away from what they recommend for you, to what other people have done. Not, ‘here’s what we think you might like’, but, ‘here’s what other customers bought’.

“Netflix’s recent…competition is one indication of the significance and business value of improving recommendation quality.” (Wang at al, 2007)

Many other websites have adopted platforms ‘for the consumer community to share experiences collectively and influence their purchasing behaviour’; for example Vanish, where consumers swap tips on how which of the product range works best for specific stains.

Vanish-Tip-Exchange-900x600

Social media platforms have changed the dynamic between organisations and consumers forcing companies to adopt. Companies can no longer control the discussion about their brand (see Waddington & Earl, 2012 or this old blog post).

In the public sector ‘people are increasingly connecting with online…communities.’ Newman et al (2011)

I believe that the move to online communities is a symptom of what I describe above. Particularly in health where often people who have lived with an illness become the ‘expert’ on their disease, it really makes sense for them to seek advice and support from each other rather than the medical professional. Particularly, as Newman et al found with “emotional support when dealing with difficult health issues.”

I believe that in both the private and public sector ICT and society have influenced each other to create platforms where people’s opinions are of more value than large corporation (for different reasons). Previously my research has been around using social media to enact civil society for improving communication, participation and engagement between communities of individuals and local governments.

Social computing and innovation; creating or reinventing platforms to empower people to share their opinions, knowledge and advice, is an area where I hope to shape my future research. It was interesting to hear Newman’s perspective on the creation of social capital through online health communities.

References

Newman, M. W., Lauterbach, D., Munson, S. A., Resnick, P., & Morris, M. E. (2011, March). ‘It’s not that i don’t have problems, I’m just not putting them on Facebook: challenges and opportunities in using online social networks for health’. In Proceedings of the ACM 2011 conference on Computer supported cooperative work (pp. 341-350). ACM.

Waddington, S., & Earl, S. (2012). Brand Anarchy: Managing Corporate Reputation. A&C Black.

Wang, F. Y., Carley, K. M., Zeng, D., & Mao, W. (2007). Social computing: From social informatics to social intelligence. Intelligent Systems, IEEE, 22(2), 79-83.

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5 things I’ll miss about local goverment comms

As I come to the last couple of weeks at my role in local goverment I have become, some might say, uncharacteristically reflective. I know it’s the right thing to do for me; now, but there are some things I will really miss. I have many things to take away with me that make me feel as proud as a man who’s grown a giant melon!
Melon

1. It’s fantastically diverse
One can be in a serious case review on Monday, on a boat in the North Sea on Tuesday, having stakeholder relations with protest groups on Facebook on Wednesday, mediating between schools, the media, senior officers and eleceted members on results day on Thursday and running fun competitions and ordering T-shirts for our first free music festival on Friday. Yes, that was my week this week, and delightfully; it is typical.

Boating in Blyth

2. Being forced into creativity by budgets (or lack of)
Most people who come to us come with a solution. We have to get them to rethink this and come with a problem to which we will have a solution. Then you get to the real challenge: ‘so what’s the budget?’ ‘Er, nothing!’

3. Embracing technology (see 2)
I do not mean digital by default to thoughtlessly save money. I mean genuine creative solutions that truly embrace new mediums and new ways of communicating with residnets on their terms in a way that encourages two-way communication and relevant engagement.

4. The scope of personnel
As I touched on in the first point. I cant think of any other job where one deals with elected members, senior officers, managers, front line officers, ordinary people, extraordinary people, animals, royalty, business owners, artists, and more, where you are in control and the voice of authority. It’s a strange situation, speaking knowledge to power, with someone who earns quarter of a million pounds a year, or is the leader of a council, but that’s all part of the job, when it’s done well.

5. The people
Yes I know, its sadly predictable. But it’s true. I’ve had a whale of a time and learned so much from dedicated, passionate, often inspiring people who find creative solutions to problems with moral integrity and enthusiasm in the face of adversity.

And now, the end is near; and so I face the final curtain.

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7 ways to better do corporate social media

Forbes (@Forbes), the famous American business magazine and perennial taxonomists, recently stated: “The strength of your social media presence will directly impact your brand, products and services with respect to their position online.” Everyone can have an account, but getting it right is a different matter. Here is my take on staying clear of the pitfalls, based on my experiences.

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1. Don’t ignore people, or give the wrong information. You should be able to be trustworthy and transparent.

Your customer service team, service areas and people on the ground are the real experts. Have a system for being able to contact these people and get the information in a timely manner. If it is not quicker than a phone or post query, there is no point in doing it.

2. Have a policy on when to engage.

I’m not saying you need a social media policy! Liam Barrington-Bush has written a marvellous book (see this blog) about how social media policy is based on a mistrust of adults, and if you cannot trust the employees in your organisation, they shouldn’t have been hired in the first place. However, I will say; responding to every comment is simply not viable. Sometimes a rant is just that; a rant, and people won’t expect a reply. However, if misinformation or misleading information is given, it’s probably best to link to or refer to a source of factual information.

3. Don’t just have one or two people who know how to, or have permission and training to respond with social media.

If you can’t cover holidays, sick days and lunch breaks, you are letting your audience down, and could be undoing the good work that has been done. Anyone who is willing and able to communicate on these channels should be trained and ready to step in or take over.

4. Don’t have everyone doing it, it should be coordinated and on message.

At the same time, don’t just give everyone access without the proper training. Messages should be coordinated and on message, as temping as it seems to create a genuine democracy where all voices are heard, be careful. There haver been some great examples of this working well, such as @sweden (curatorsofsweden.com) but this is not right for all organisations, and may not be right for yours.

5. Use images, video and have a sense of personality.

The most clicked on posts contain images and videos (click here). You should be doing it too, this could be a great opportunity to raise the profile of representatives of your organisation, and give a human face to an organisation. Again, there are several pitfalls to using video but with a bit of care and a decent bit of kit (tripod is essential!), it’s an excellent and cheap form of communication.

6. Let your audience know who is tweeting or posting. Again, this is personal and your audience is more likely to engage, which, after all is the main idea, is it not?

This is simple, and not everyone will agree with me here, but I think it helps create the feeling of a human face to an otherwise faceless organisation. Also, it gives your audience a chance to have an alternative contact if they cannot get a response from the corporate account.

7. Always check that a hashtag is not already used. This could end up being embarrassing, confusing, or illegal.

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This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many times this has gone wrong. Also keep them short and snappy. Don’t need to have #Worldaidsday2014 when #WAD14 would do the same job. Look at this post from earlier this year on comms2point0 by Mike Underwood, communications officer at Charnwood Borough Council. Similarly, although with far less humour, we used a hashtag which was also being used by a big event in America, causing a little confusion for the public, but also playing havoc with our monitoring tools. Also, make sure you have someone with a slightly dirtier mind than you check it. We all know what happened to Susan Boyle’s album party (#susanalbumparty).

Teaching new dogs old tricks: my year as an intern

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This blog first appeared on adaywithoutoj.com, and was written as part of a collection of works looking into the benefits of internships in PR. As I am approaching my the one year anniversary since starting at the council, at the end of this month, I thought I would share.

After finishing my Master’s degree in June, the opportunity to do an internship at Northumberland County Council was presented to me by an attentive lecturer. He told me, based on my interest and enthusiasm for democratic PR and my desire to move into Government communications, it was just the thing for me.

The idea of embarking a new job, in the midst of writing my dissertation, needed some careful consideration. I’d worked part-time as an English teacher during the taught part of my degree, and was fully aware of the pressures of time management, but he was right – this was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

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I’d heard a lot about the communications work at the council, and had studied the Northumberland Alerts Twitter feed during a social media assignment. So I started in June with about seven weeks to dissertation hand in.

It turned out to be a masterstroke (even if I do say so myself). While my classmates were amassing hours of time researching, interviewing and collating data, I had it all at my fingertips! As I stated earlier, my passions and interests centre on government communications and the relationship between democracy and social media. Being at the council gave me access to case studies and all the information I could ever want from the website team, who are way ahead of the game when it comes to analytics.

With the help of  the web manager and the rest of the team, my dissertation became a willing bed fellow to my practice. They complimented each other and generally just flirted outrageously.

So, I bid farewell to my dissertation at the end of the summer, by which time I felt settled and at home in the communications office. This was no accident either. The team made sure that I could be myself from day one, and the bespoke nature of the internship ensured that I understood exactly what was expected from me, and what I could get from the experience.

I didn’t really know what to expect, having never been an intern before, but the amount of responsibility and workload depends completely on the individual. In my case, and to my surprise, I found myself loving the press side of things – I’d always fancied myself more on the web and social media side of things.
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I got to lead on a few campaigns, including the successful ‘Don’t Stand for It’ campaign, where we created a genuine dialogue with residents, and got them on our side to tackle a community problem that blights the county. The key aims of the campaign was to change residents’ perceptions of the authority, and get people to use our online reporting system, rather than phone the council, or indeed, simply complain to their friends, or even worse, on our social media channels. The campaign increased online reporting by over 200% putting it in the top five things people do on the website, and a survey showed a change in opinion towards the way the authority dealt with the problem.

The experience overall has been invaluable. Friedrich Nietzsche, a really clever German man, once wrote: the doer alone learneth; and my internship has put that theory to the test. As much as I picked up from my time in academia, being in a supportive, friendly, hard-working (and let’s not forget; award-winning) press office has been worth so much more, and I would encourage any organisation, great or small, to seriously consider it. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship and both parties can really learn a lot from one another.

It’s certainly helped me as I take the next step in my career. Onwards.

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Requiem for a vocation

I have a Master’s degree in public relations, a blog which has attracted hundreds of visitors within 6 months, one year experience working in an award-winning in-house communications and press team, a Klout score of 52, oh, and I’m under the age of 30. But what do PR employers value most?

Working in PR, PR jobs

My generation

I reveal my Klout score as an indicator of my social media activity and experience and in the same vein I disclose my age. Both are as unimpressive as they are unimportant;  unless you look at job descriptions for PR jobs.

Social media is innate, almost natal, to generations of people, why then; does it still top essential skills taxonomies within job adverts? I have written before, as a guest blogger for Stephen Waddington (@wadds) (see here) about the essentialism with social media for people who grew up in the 90s and 2000s. I do not consider it a specific public relations skill, and I struggle to see why PR employers do. But they do, so as much as it seems at odds with my perspective, for the meantime at least, I  have no choice but to extol my digital virtues if I put myself forward as an applicant.

image by mkhmarketing, the art of social media

You can read my personal blog here.  I often have my blogs published on the North East CIPR website.

I know how, but I don’t know why

So, the ability to look after the social media channel is an advantage when applying for a job. We are then arguably left with a straight shoot-out between education and experience. Which means the most? My Master’s with Merit (strategy) and continued professional development with the CIPR (learning and development), or my experience of working for one year in an award-winning press office (practice) where I have built professional relationships with journalists and broadcasters (media relations) and developed my writing skills producing press releases, copywriting and producing articles for magazines and corporate blogs (tactics). I have learnt a lot from practical experience, although, with my background in theory, I think I have picked things up quicker, and been able to fit things into the bigger corporate picture more easily.

I feel my academic background has enabled me to  understand the ‘why’, as well as the ‘how’ of public relations.

PR Daily, in an article debating this very matter last year, somehow managed to scribe their views onto the very fence they were perched upon:

“There’s great debate over whether experience or a college degree is more important in a job search. Some argue that experience makes up for the lack of a degree; others say a degree provides something that experience can’t. Is one more valuable than the other?”

I believe that academia and practice need to have a mutual respect. Public relations’ aspiration to be recognised as a profession will only come once academics and practitioners become entwined in a loving embrace and the CIPR make education and professional development become compulsory.

It’s all academic

Is knowing the ups, and indeed downs, of working in a specific sector preferred to being an effective (academic) strategist?

I understand theory beyond buzzwords and have some ideas of how the theory should be applied and inform practice, but surely with my experience I need only apply for positions which ask for media relations and time spent in a press office? At the entry end of the job market it is difficult to find evidence of employers valuing academic qualifications, when in fact, my MA PR offered me many experiences in crisis management situations, media training and experience of writing integrated campaigns and working on and pitching heterogeneous briefs. Moreover, my degree taught me the importance of professional standards and forced me to establish my ethical and moral orientation.

Jose Mourinho translator

In sports and in schools (to name two fields with which I have some experience)  there is a growing tendency to put people at the helm of an organisation or team sans-coalface experience; head teachers from a business background, behaviour managers from the armed forces and police, or football managers who learned their trade translating to foreign footballers for their touchline-prowling forefathers.

I know what you’re going to say.  A bit of all of these things; each in equal measure; two-thirds of one and one of the other;  10% inspiration and 90% perspiration! Okay, I am well aware that there is not just one element needed to be successful in PR, and that different roles, sectors, employers and situations demand a variety of skills.

Stephen Waddington, in an address as CIPR president to a @CIPR_NorthEast gang, predicted what the most important things for PR practice this year would be.  There was a heavy emphasis on learning, education and being able to see the bigger picture (I will discuss my take on this in more detail about this in my next blog entry).

A posteriori

Social media skills are important, but not just for PR, they’re important if you want to have a conversation to a whole generation of people; age should not be important, but what young people lack in experience of working in PR they make up for in intrinsic social media fluency. Without writing off experience altogether, I feel there should be a greater emphasis put on education, even as a starting point.

So, if I look worried in a job interview, at least now you’ll understand a bit of why.

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The medium is the message; or, the machines are taking over.

As figures for online news consumption soar, and newspaper circulations dwindle, I consider the idea that social media acted as the catalyst to get the masses involved with reading online news.

1960s popular culture Image by Nesster

1960s popular culture
Image by Nesster

In 1964 there was a growing fear in the western world. The atom bomb? L.S.D? JFK? Maybe; but in particular, perhaps echoed in the other suggestions, there was an anxiety about machines taking over and making humans redundant, at least in employment terms, although, a night spent watching 1960’s movies would suggest unemployment was the least of their worries.

The relevance of Marshall McLuhan’s well-worn enigmatic paradox of smart-arsery is arguably (in the sense that I will put the argument to anyone that will listen) more poignant now than it ever was in the days of free-love. The medium is the message, just like Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’ has flattered many a media studies student, in the name of deceit; but I feel it goes a long way to describing the current state we find ourselves in.

It is the train journey that is important here, not the destination. Just like the automation McLuhan and his peers feared, could have ‘turned out cornflakes or Cadillacs’ it is not the social media platform itself, but the way humans use it. To use McLuhan’s idea; the machines, or the media or technology, are the extensions of man. That is; they only have meaning when they are understood as part of the human desire to give and receive messages – to communicate.

Image by vitalyzator

It’s about the train journey, not the platform. Social media is the transport not the destination. Image by vitalyzator

Social media has altered our relation with one another and to ourselves. It has changed the velocity, dynamics and scale of human interactions; and that is its message. ‘For the message of any medium is the change in scale or pace or pattern it introduces into human affairs.’ Just like McLuhan’s railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheels into human society, yet managed to accelerate and enlarge the scale of previous human functions and, in turn create new kinds of cities for people to live and work in; social media has not introduced anything new into human society.

Social media did not introduce digital communication, but changed the pace and scale of human interaction, and as such, quite independently of what it was created to do, dissolved the need for printed information, and in turn, lubricated the demise of the traditional press.

I know that online news was around before the rise of social media, and that newspaper circulations were dropping too; but it was when the content started to fit around the way humans were consuming information that it really took off.  Sharing news through Twitter and Facebook has become easy to do – and we do it, a lot.

It’s as if the legitimacy of the press has been revitalised through the new ways we share and use it. Alistair Campbell wrote this last week:

“Here is the thing. People do not trust politicians like they used to. They don’t trust the media to tell the truth like they used to. They don’t trust banks or brands. So who do we trust? We trust each other.”

And that is my point. If we all value each others’ opinion more than the media, then the stories from the media will gain cultural value as they pass through us, as conduits for the traditional news story.

Is second hand news more valuable to us than stories direct from the news conglomerates?

Maybe, we trust each other to act as filters to hold back anything biased or challenging to our view of the world.

Lets take The Sun. As I write this the latest ABC figures show that, although their daily circulation remains at a healthy 2.2 million, its year-on-year change is down 13% compared to the online figure of +16%; The Guardian has almost 83 million monthly browsers, a 37% rise year-on-year. The Daily Mail‘s circulation is 1,787,577, down7.5%, where the Mail online attracts an average of 8.2 million daily browsers at a +47% year-on-year change; I could go on.

We do find it humorous to think of our silly descendants; so scared of technology and ignorant of change that they thought machines would take over their jobs. But maybe we should learn to take heed.

McLuhan warned us that it was the medium that was the message. He told us that the message was how a medium affects humans, and social media has affected the ways we choose to consume news. Social media has dissolved traditional journalism – machines have taken over after all!

 

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G-Force: Or, what goes up must come down

Every social network site has a life cycle. Some last longer than others but there will always be something bigger, better, faster, stronger waiting in the wings. Have a listen to this delightful song as you read my take on it all.  My delve into the brave new world of Google+.

Everyone, at some time in their lives goes through a stage when they realise they are set in their ways; stuck in a routine (comfortable). It can happen when you’re in a relationship; you can plan out the week by what you’re having for dinner, or what television programmes you’ll sit and eat it in front of (I know, but we all do it, the table has got the ironing pile on and the laptop is charging). It happens with the places you go too.

BocaDorada

“would you like your usual?”
Image courtesy of BocaDorada

When you’re young you go to every bar, cafe and club you can. You have an appetite for new experiences and a hunger to meet new and exciting people. But then something happens and you get comfortable again. You find yourself frequenting the same bars, and the same cafes (clubbing is simply out of the question; too many young people making loud noises).

What if the same thing has happened to your social media life as has to your social life? Well let me tell you, it has! We all quite happily discarded the passé charms of MySpace without a second thought when we realised the ‘in’ crowd were hanging out on Facebook in their droves, and we were quite happy, after a few complimentary words from our most cutting edge of friends, to spend a little of our time in that new place where everyone was twitting or tweeting or something like that. Yes, we all give it a go and learned how to fit in and order what we wanted, but that’s when it started to go a bit stale.

Sure, your networking friends started to dabble with LinkedIn, and you go to show you’re face every now and then, just to make sure you’re not missing out on anything. But we’ve been hanging around the same places for so long we seem to have settled. Have we really though? Are we prepared to accept that this is it for us now? (Why not, I hear you say; we haven’t listened to any new music produced after 2002!) If we open our eyes, and remember our bygone wanderlust we may get a pleasant surprise.

googleplus

Does Google+ have the potential to overtake Facebook?

Ok, the new place looks pretty good. It seems to have all the best bits of the regular places with a few really cool new bits, but is it worth the hassle of signing up for something new? Is Google+ really worth all the stress of learning how to get around somewhere new and signing up to be a member of yet another new club? Well, that’s up to you to decide. I for one am prepared to be one of the first to give it a go. Yes I know, it’s full of young people and strange men who know the difference between a cloud and a klout, but that’s what we thought about Twitter back in 2007. I’m prepared to uproot and rebuild my life in a new place, safe in the knowledge that you will all join me in a couple of years (if that!).

Google+ faces an impossible task trying to convince people to leave the people and places they have grown to love (if only through familiarity). They must rely on the early adopters, and the advocates to spread the word. Admittedly so, I left it too long to be able to call myself an early adopter, but I’m doing it now and I implore you all to follow suit.

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