social networks

Keeping Social Networks Social

Thought I would share an article I recently wrote for BQ Magazine on keeping social networks social… click me below…



Twitter. Revolutionary or revolutionary?

At 4:29 am on December 5th, 2008, Malcolm Gladwell of Blink and Tipping Point fame posted his first tweet. It read, “Nice to join this jungle.” One year later in October 2009 he tweeted his last. It was a failed experiment. It hadn’t been that nice after all. He hadn’t seen the wood for the trees. Gladwell, it would seem, wasn’t impressed! “What?” I hear you ask… after all, Twitter has brought down governments and brought MC Hammer closer to over 2 million of his followers!

Over a year later, and in an article in the New Yorker, Gladwell attacked Twitter’s revolutionary credentials. He suggested that there is a limited application of social networking tools to activism in the “real world”. The Twitter Revolution in Moldova hadn’t really happened. The social network that Ahmadinejad banned at the height of the 2009 troubles had in fact had no effect on the streets of Tehran. Facebook hadn’t lead to the downfall of Ben Ali in Tunisia or indeed Mubarak’s flight from Egypt.

I have to say… I agree and disagree.

Gladwell it has to be said has a propensity to simplify, but as my mother always says – and she really is wise – “Things are never black and white. They are always grey.” It is as ignorant to say that Twitter caused a revolution as it is to suggest that Twitter, or indeed Facebook, had no effect whatsoever. Such events are multi-layered and multi-faceted. Hell, I would even agree with Julian Assange when he took part credit for the events in Tunisia and Egypt because of his Wikileaks revelations.

There is no doubt that social media was used as a communications tool inside and outside of these events, allowing leaders to influence and spread news. There is no doubt that it influenced global mass media, and in doing so influenced politicians. However, the likes of Twitter and Facebook are just tools. They aren’t revolutionaries in their own rights. They are used by revolutionaries who may or may not be that skilled at influencing, organising and toppling as the next cyber-Chez. And they are used alongside muffled coffee shop conversations, discrete text messaging and incendiary leaflets disseminated around the corner from the local Mosque.

When we think of ‘leaders’ I think we have to remember that with the democritisation of the web through the social networks, ‘leaders’ has come to mean ‘you’ and ‘I’. We all communicate and influence. Social change may have traditionally been seen to be hierarchical, but that does not mean it is the case or that it will always continue to be so. Social networks give people this voice and magnify it. I find it odd that Gladwell seems to have missed this. Isn’t that what Tipping Point was all about?

Of course it will always be easier to get somebody to ‘like’, ‘poke’, ‘retweet’, ‘follow’ or ‘share’ but that has more to do with the energy behind their revolution than it does anything else. The social networks are a tool, amongst many, but powerful tools to be leveraged by those with an axe to grind.

Will the Social Networks Work with my Brand?

Listening to Radio 4 this morning there was a discussion about whether charities can reach people through blogging.

This seemed like rather a strange discussion to have in 2010, since blogs have been with us since the late 90s.  Blogger for Save the Children Eva Keogan and Louise Richards of the Institute of Fundraising talked about how this “new form of communication” was a great way of engaging people with a cause.  I appreciate that this may be a “new development” in communication for fundraising charities but it directly relates to a question I am often asked.  “Will the social networks work with my brand?”

The answer is two-fold, but simple nonetheless.

The first is that the social networks are about conversation.  The web promotes a read-write relationship.  After all, shouldn’t you be relating within relationships?  If you want to talk with people and have people talk about you then the social networks allows that to happen very effectively.  I would think that this covers most organisations.

The second has to do with the culture of your brand, which is also a relatively simple matter.  Can you handle people talking about you in good and bad?  Many organisations can’t cope with this idea and immediately shy away from relating with clients.  It needs to be on their terms and tightly controlled by them so that no negativity is ever communicated.  However, doesn’t that sound rather negative in itself?

Who do you respect more?  A company that admits they have made a mistake and is willing to put things right, and even goes that step further to engage with its clients and users and allow them to help it achieve this, or the company that pretends it is perfect?  How many perfect individuals or companies do you know?   Surely all we wish is that they try to be perfect.  It’s a fact that these conversations will happen on the social networks anyway.  If you screw up they will talk about you.  Isn’t it better to be involved in these conversations?  As I say, which do you respect more?  Which do you warm to more?


I have developed strategies for a number of viral campaigns over the years, and it never ceases to amaze me what aura they seem to posess when discussing them with people.  In fact I had a chat about the ingredients of a viral campaign a couple of days ago, and thought I would post an outline of what a viral is… and what makes the perfect viral… the holy grail!

A good place to start is with media critic Douglas Rushkoff who it would seem was the first to write about the media ‘virus’ in 1994.  He talked about a ‘susceptible’ user becoming ‘infected’ and going on to ‘infect’ others.  The actual term was popularised in 1997 by Draper and Jurvetson to describe Hotmail’s practise of appending advertising for/to itself (“get your free, private e-mail at”), but at its root is the claim that… ‘a dissatisfied customer tells an average of 11 people and a satisfied customer tells an average of 3 people.’  Let’s concentrate on the 3.  Viral marketing is based on this natural human behaviour… passing on from peer to peer that which has engaged with them on an emotional level.  Makes sense doesn’t it?

The ’emotional’ bit is key here.  You want to ‘connect’ in a real way with your target audience.  Viral marketing is a phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message ‘voluntarily’.  Viral marketing is maybe best described as ‘word-of-mouth’ but it is truly enhanced by the network effects of the World Wide Web (lots of inverted commas going on here – bear with me).  It refers to marketing techniques that use pre-existing social networks to increase awareness through a self-replicating viral process; generation to generation.   

This online promotion can take any form really, from video clips, advergames, ebooks, images to the written word etc.  A successful campaign aims itself at a subset of individuals within your target audience identified as having a high social networking potential (SNP).  Below is a link to a small word-of-mouth campaign I did for This is Durham…

This is Durham

This is Durham

Let’s use this as a quick example.  Games are one of the most effective viral forms.   Why?  Well, these virals are enjoyable and fun, and they should always be easy to use.  They attract an emotional response from the user.  When you mix this with other elements such as:

  • a bit of branding
  • a campaign message

we have a good start.  And then we spice things up with:

  • competition (to ensure people challenge their friends and colleagues)
  • data capture (refer-a-friend, newsletter, request a quote or call-back)
  • a call to action (do this or we will kill you – or worse you won’t get into our free prize draw for £1k) 
  • seeding to individuals with SNP (paid placement to get things started)
  • facilitate easy pass-on through social networks and referral links

…and you are on to something!

Given that you’ve ticked all of these boxes you need the final ingredient. What is the secret of a good viral campaign?  The holy grail?


And, as Shakespeare would have it, “ay, there’s the rub”.  Even with all the secret ingredients above, viral campaigns are a bit of a lottery.  The problem with the spread of a viral campaign is that it is very unpredictable… a bit like a virus I suppose.   Your typical media buyer will reduce this to an argument over effective seeding, and whilst effective first generation seeding is important to get things off to a good start, the whole point of a viral campaign is free pass-on.  At this point it is no longer a media buying activity.  The viral campaign is a creative response. Controversial but true.

It is more realistic, and likely to provide more predictable results if you plan how to grow your online following steadily by engaging with the right people, on the right platforms, with well-considered content which adds value to your audience.  The holy grail is having a strategy which concentrates on the strategy and not on the platform. Forget the aura.  Viral campaigns are great but, as always, only if it fits within the strategy of the overall marketing campaign.

2… it’s Joe!

Originaly posted 21st December 2009

Some may argue that X-Factor Joe McElderry’s cover of “The Climb” for Christmas no. 1 2009 was always going to be an “uphill struggle”, and it proved to be the case. The organic grass-roots campaign was launched by Jon and Tracy Morter on Facebook after becoming bored of the X-Factor winner topping the charts every Christmas for the last 4 years.

No doubt the results will send ITV, X-Factor producers, and more to the point Simon Cowell, into crisis talks. Why? Because even although Joe sold more singles than any other X-Factor debutant, the Facebook campaign shows a determined and gritty fight back by a sizeable group (over a million) specifically against what is perceived to be “the machine”. This is another example of bad online PR not being managed properly and spilling over into “real life”. You see, the power of the social networks is not in the technology but in its users. These users are not some strange group of freaks on the fringe but are you and me, and if they aren’t you then they will inevitable be your friend, partner, offspring or neighbour. The point is that the social networks are “real life”.

So in summary, the latest in a long line of social network phenomena chose this year’s number 1, raised over £78k for the charity Shelter (still rising with RATM also donating revenue from sales to them and another teen music charity), managed a free gig by Rage against the Machine sometime in 2010 to celebrate, lost the bookies £1 million, and broke 2 records: biggest download single ever and only Christmas no. 1 by download ever!

The only thing left now is Facebook’s choice for no. 1 in 2010…