#FC15 Call to Action: Let the journey begin

The crowd at FutureComms15

One of the difficulties for an event that’s intended to look at the future of communication is delivering on the promise and expectation established in the description of and communication about the event.

FutureComms15 in London – hashtag #FC15 – that took place on June 18 was a one-day event organized by MyNewsDesk, and described thus:

PR & Comms are evolving. With content marketers taking centre stage in digital, is there a place for PR? Is PR actually dead? Do PR pros need to turn into content marketers? Or will content marketers slowly take on all PR duties?

Following last year’s acclaimed event, FutureComms15 delves into the PR/content divide to unveil the future of communications.

Ah, the “future of communications.” There’s an expectation that is almost impossible to meet unless you really are going to focus beyond the horizon and offer event-goers something that captures their imaginations, that galvanizes their thoughts into actions; something that’s different, that’s beyond what you typically hear at every comms-related event you go to these days that usually has the phrase “The future is digital” mentioned somewhere up front.

I was there, in the audience mostly but also with a stint chairing a 35-minute panel discussion on SEO and PR in the morning. More on that in a minute.

If there’s one thing I took away from #FC15 last week, it’s that it was pretty clear to me that everyone broadly knows what’s needed, and the part they need to play, to create a communication landscape that is close to what many wish to see in the not-too-distant future. They also know there’s no magic wand or bullet but instead quite a lot of work to do to create the landscape to enable organizational communication – whether that’s PR, employee communication, corporate, whatever – to be valued and valuable and to be effective.

This take-away reminds me of a point I make to communicators when speaking about the future of communication or, more fundamentally, what each of us needs to do as part of the journey to that future, best portrayed in this self-explanatory slide:

be

My point is that the future of communication requires each of us to play a role. While there will be paths and maps, the navigators are each of us. That route should start with asking the question “How To Be…” for each of the eight words in the slide above, ie, what is it that each of us must do?

The “How” should feature large in  any discussion about the future of communication where such discussion often (usually) includes credible and valuable opinions on  what needs to change in order to get to that future.

Usually missing, however, is “How.”

At #FC15 last week, I did hear quite a bit of foundational stuff in some significant areas that will make “how” a lot easier to answer. For instance:

Incidentally, Sarah and Stephen are, respectively, current and past presidents of the CIPR, the PR industry body in the UK. No coincidence that.

Circling back now to that morning panel discussion on SEO and PR that I chaired – and which Sarah Hall did a terrific write-up – the discussion was interesting even if we did spend a lot of our time explaining  what SEO is understood to be in the PR business (not the same as what it is) and considering its value in contemporary communication practice. But we did get to the “How” that produced some common views on what each of us needs to do to in order to create that future everyone looks towards.

And here are two simple but powerful calls to action from this SEO panel that apply broadly, not just to the topic:

Lukasz Zelezny got us well focused when he proposed that everyone should learn about something that isn’t within their usual areas of interest or expertise. In the context of SEO, that means things like reading publications that talk about SEO, attending conferences about SEO.

In other words, if you want to really understand the role of something like SEO that has evolved hugely from what the Wikipedia description says, you need to find out about it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And each of us has the power to do that.

Gem Griff made a key point about talking, noting that people in the tech industry constantly have informal get-togethers to share thinking, knowledge and expertise. These gathering are often known as hackathons. You don’t see those in PR really, do you?

Think again – Gem started #PRFuture Hack Day, an informal PR hackathon where anyone can talk about anything with anyone else in an informal setting, the kind of setting that encourages dialogue and connection. There seems to be appetite for PRs to collaborate, Gem says. Who knows where that might lead? (It sounds a lot like The Big Yak unconference that Rachel Miller and others organize for internal communicators.)

In fact, there’s a #PRFuture Hack Day planned for July 23 in London. Why not sign up and come along? That’s part of your “How.”

See, starting the journey to that ‘tomorrow place’ isn’t difficult.

The final word on #FC15 comes from Dan Slee.

Passion is a wonderful thing.

Dick Costolo: Twitter unfollows the leader as social milestones are missed

Welcome back, @jack !!

The news yesterday that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is stepping down from that leadership role next month has attracted widespread commentary and opinion, not least on Twitter itself.

There’s credible opinions that Costolo is going because he hasn’t evolved Twitter as many observers and critics expected or believe he should have. Indeed, the stock market greeted yesterday’s announcement with a 10 percent rise in Twitter’s share price at one point.

An analysis in the Guardian today – you can read the full story below – is a pretty good assessment of a real predicament confronting Twitter, not only from an investor’s perspective but also from that of users and marketers.

[…] Twitter accounts for 1.6% of the critical US digital advertising market – a market worth $50.73bn – compared with Facebook’s 7.6%. Twitter accounts for 3.6% of US mobile internet ads to Facebook’s 18.5%. And in mobile display ads Twitter has a 7% market share compared to 36.7% for Facebook, according to eMarketer.

On user numbers alone – Twitter has 302m monthly active users to Facebook’s 1.44bn – the share of ad market doesn’t seem so surprising. Yet it’s the slowing down of growth that has concerned investors: Twitter’s monthly active user numbers have fallen 30% from 2013 to 2015, and by 2019 growth – a critical indicator of future potential revenues – is heading for a slowdown to 6%.

Yet there’s a more fundamental element that needs attention – what is Twitter?

[…] who is Twitter for? How does it distinguish itself against Facebook? And how can it expand its service while remaining simple and accessible?

Those questions aren’t new at all. Even though how Twitter itself talks about what Twitter is has become more clear in the past year or so, is it how users, marketers, etc, see Twitter?

Our mission: To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.

I’m not so sure. As a Twitter user since 2006, I’m often asking that question myself even though I’m more than happy to continue my thinking out loud and occasional engagement with others on the platform. I don’t have massive personal expectations of Twitter beyond the implicit simplicity behind that mission statement (but I have a different view if I put on my marketer’s hat).

Yet maybe Twitter’s not entirely sure about that either – the mission statement is slightly different on Twitter’s investor relations page.

Twitter strives to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.

Maybe change is afoot already: Twitter also announced yesterday that the 140-character limit on direct messages will be changed to a whopping 10,000 characters. Note this is for DMs only – the 140-character limit for regular tweets remains. For now, at least.

While that news will be appealing to many who will relish the opportunity of penning short stories to DM to their friends, I fear it also opens the door to push marketing – whether you like it or not – on a grand scale.

In any case, might Costolo’s departure herald a pivot of sorts in Twitter’s next steps with the (re)appointment of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey as interim CEO while Twitter starts a search for a permanent replacement?

There are all sorts of opinions about that.

[The Guardian report below is published here with permission via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.]


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Dick Costolo: Twitter unfollows the leader as social milestones are missed” was written by Jemima Kiss, for theguardian.com on Friday 12th June 2015 09.41 Europe/London

It says something about the extraordinary scale of social platforms when a technology behemoth with 302m active users every month can be seen as failing to achieve its potential. Yet that is exactly why it appears that Twitter’s chief executive, Dick Costolo, now has to go from the company’s top post.

In after-hours trading following the sudden announcement on Thursday, Twitter stock briefly fluttered up 8% higher. It was a reflection of the uneasy feelings from investors towards a man who fell under their increased and ultimately poisonous scrutiny as he navigated the social networking firm through its public offering in November 2013, having been CEO since he took over from Evan Williams in October 2010.

Despite being a very different product serving a very different audience, Twitter is often compared to Facebook – and often unfavourably. Therein lies an identity crisis of sorts.

For Twitter’s investors the concern was less about user numbers than the growth and aggressiveness of the company’s online advertising. While Costolo was popular with many staffers for bringing structure and co-ordination to a chaotic young company, and took it to a market capitalisation of .4bn, he also oversaw the process of risk and uncertainty in pushing towards a brand new space.

Costolo and Jack Dorsey, who now takes over as interim CEO, have both insisted that the move was not connected to Twitter’s recent financial results – which saw those user numbers grow just 4.86% – so much as a decision made purely by Costolo himself, as a capstone to discussions that had been going on since last autumn.

Right now Twitter is in danger of becoming a niche product: it is beloved by journalists (guilty) and marketers, yet viewed with confusion by mainstream consumers.

Where the selective friendship groups of Facebook make sense (to varying degrees), Twitter’s public face can be more intimidating. On the other hand, the 140-character simplicity of Twitter’s platform and the potential to be the “civic square” of popular debate offers just as much value and, usually, less flatulent conversations.

In an era of endless feeds and the digital burden of email and obligatory posts from friends, Twitter’s brevity and ambience is a welcome change; what you miss is just missed – not mourned, nor added to a tedious, ever-increasing pile like email.

But in focusing its business Twitter has made some strategic decisions, such as closing off access to selected third parties – Instagram at one point, Meerkat at another, and earlier to a wider stream of third-party developers. Twitter was under pressure to protect its valuable audience and its scale, and in doing so cut off the community that helped it grow.

All of which left many users and especially those investors wondering: who is Twitter for? How does it distinguish itself against Facebook? And how can it expand its service while remaining simple and accessible?

Twitter accounts for 1.6% of the critical US digital advertising market – a market worth .73bn – compared with Facebook’s 7.6%. Twitter accounts for 3.6% of US mobile internet ads to Facebook’s 18.5%. And in mobile display ads Twitter has a 7% market share compared to 36.7% for Facebook, according to eMarketer.

On user numbers alone – Twitter has 302m monthly active users to Facebook’s 1.44bn – the share of ad market doesn’t seem so surprising. Yet it’s the slowing down of growth that has concerned investors: Twitter’s monthly active user numbers have fallen 30% from 2013 to 2015, and by 2019 growth – a critical indicator of future potential revenues – is heading for a slowdown to 6%.

For a young public company those numbers are sounding more and more like a death knell. For investors, Twitter’s plans – and Costolo carried the can for this – have not confidently set out its future. Chris Sacca, a major investor, wrote an insightful essay on the company’s challenges: “Twitter has failed to meet its own stated user growth expectations and has not been able to take advantage of the massive number of users who have signed up for accounts and then not come back. Shortcomings in the direct response advertising category have resulted in the company coming in below the financial community’s quarterly estimates.

“In the wake of this Twitter’s efforts to convince the investing community of the opportunity ahead fell flat. Consequently the stock is trading near a six-month low, well below its IPO closing day price, and the company is suffering through a seemingly endless negative press cycle.”

But he says Twitter “has boldness in its bones” and that it can improve by making the service easier for new users, more supportive for users intimidated by the site, and by making it feel less lonely.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Talking tech on live radio

Share RadioFor the past six months, I’ve been taking part in a live radio show every other Tuesday as a guest contributor to a morning show on Share Radio UK, a start-up digital radio station broadcasting in London and online.

It’s huge fun discussing myriad topical stories related to technology with Georgie Frost, presenter of the daily Consuming Issues show, in the segment called #FutureTech.

For about 20-25 minutes, Georgie and I talk about issues and topics that matter to consumers, sharing our thinking about those issues and topics that we think will interest, help or otherwise engage those consumers who listen on DAB or online.

You can get a great sense of what our discussions are like with yesterday’s episode: topics included two of Apple’s announcements on June 8 (Apple Pay in the UK and music streaming), the end of voicemail (perhaps), drones in China that check for student exam cheats, a new app designed to help human rights activists document and store photographs and films that can be shown in court, and wearable tech for wellness in the workplace (a favourite topic of ours). Phew!

Take a listen:

So every other Tuesday morning, I’ve been going to the Share Radio UK studio in Pimlico in London to have a chat about topics that are great stimuli for engaging conversation between two people who really are interested in those topics. Definitely the right foundation for listenable content.

As a podcaster, I’ve experienced one of the major and obvious differences between recording a podcast and doing live radio – with live radio, there is no editing scalpel. Plus, a radio station typically has a production team and researchers, a luxury Shel and I don’t have with our podcasts. Not yet anyway.

In any case, I enjoy these regular every-other-Tuesday live treats on the digital airwaves. Thanks to Georgie and Annie Weston, a great producer, plus the whole team at Share Radio UK.

There’s more of Georgie and me here:

Check out Share Radio UK (try the Android or iOS app). Some great programming and presenters. And take a look at the station’s plans for expansion. Huge potential.

FIR Interview: Leila Janah and The Future of Work

FIR InterviewsThe expansion of the global internet population will continue to have a profound impact on infrastructure, education, finance, commerce, and healthcare, among other industries worldwide.

That was a major theme of The Next Billion London, a one-day conference on May 19, 2015, presented by Quartz magazine.

At the Quartz event, FIR co-host Neville Hobson had the opportunity to record a conversation with Leila Janah, founder and CEO of Sama Group and an award-winning social entrepreneur who uses technology and lean business methods to promote social justice.

A wide-ranging conversation focused on the future of work which was how Quartz titled her conference session, very much in the midst of the profound impact the Quartz conference addressed. A thought-provoking segment in the latter part of the discussion concerns the role of governments as enablers of positive change through specific actions that include taxation and rebuilding trust with citizens.

The interview began with Janah introducing her business model.

Listen Now

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About Our Conversation Partner

leilajanah110Leila Janah is the Founder and CEO of Sama Group and an award-winning social entrepreneur.

Prior to Sama Group, Leila was a Visiting Scholar with the Stanford Program on Global Justice and Australian National University’s Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics. She was a founding Director of Incentives for Global Health, an initiative to increase R&D spending on diseases of the poor, and a management consultant at Katzenbach Partners (now Booz & Co). She has also worked at the World Bank and as a travel writer for Let’s Go in Mozambique, Brazil, and Borneo.

Leila is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, a Director of CARE USA, a 2012 TechFellow, recipient of the inaugural Club de Madrid Young Leadership Award, and the youngest person to win a Heinz Award in 2014.

She received a BA from Harvard and lives in San Francisco.

  • Connect with Leila on Twitter: @leila_c.

FIR Community on Google+Share your comments or questions about this podcast, or suggestions for future podcasts, in the online FIR Podcast Community on Google+.

You can also send us instant voicemail via SpeakPipe, right from the FIR website. Or, call the Comment Line at +1 415 895 2971 (North America), +44 20 3239 9082 (Europe), or Skype: fircomments. You can tweet us: @FIRpodcast. And you can email us at fircomments@gmail.com. If you wish, you can email your comments, questions and suggestions as MP3 file attachments (max. 3 minutes / 5Mb attachment, please!). We’ll be happy to see how we can include your audio contribution in a show.

Check the website for information about other FIR podcasts. To receive all podcasts in the FIR Podcast Network, subscribe to the “everything” RSS feed.

Podsafe music – On A Podcast Instrumental Mix (MP3, 5Mb) by Cruisebox.

(Cross-posted from the FIR Podcast Network blog.)

A new platform for a new network: the FIR Podcast Network is live

FIR Podcast Network

When we introduced For Immediate Release on January 3, 2005, we had no idea we’d still be podcasting more than a decade later. We didn’t know what the state of podcasting would be, that the scope of FIR would expand, or that podcast networks would be a thing.

When we started, we just needed a website for show notes and a home for our audio files.

Ten years later, we’re still here, with exactly the same website we started with. While our website hasn’t changed, though, everything else has. FIR is evolving into a podcast network, already home to The Hobson & Holtz Report along with the five podcasts we have spun off: Interviews, Book Reviews, FIR Live, FIR Cuts, and Speakers & Speeches.

We are also already the home to 13 other communications-focused podcasts. We have shows that report on communication disciplines (such as FIR B2B and All Things IC), skills (like TV, FIR On Strategy and FIR On Technology), channels (like Linked Conversations and TV@Work) and verticals (like Higher Education).

All this made it clear to us that the website we launched 10 years ago to host one podcast was woefully inadequate. For well over a year now, we’ve been working to develop a new site. Our goals were simple enough: Offer a site that reflects the current state of podcasting and that makes it easy for people to find, subscribe to, and engage with any of FIR’s shows, on whatever device they use; and provide our podcasters with a powerful platform that’s easy for them to use and publish their shows.

Thanks to the hard work of some highly valued and talented volunteers, we have a new site that delivers on those goals. (We would be remiss if we didn’t point out that these volunteers are also part of the FIR listener community.) Sallie Goetsch (rhymes with “sketch”) – a knowledgeable and skilled WordPress developer through her WP FanGirl business – performed the lion’s share of the work required to create the site, while the good folks at Effective Edge Communications handled the design of the artwork for the FIR Podcast Network’s identity, along with all the great cover art associated with each show.

The new site at our new domain, www.firpodcastnetwork.com, should make it easier for you to find, follow, and interact with the podcasts that interest you. You’ll also have an easier time learning about show hosts as well as our sponsors. (If you’re in search of older episodes, you can still access the old FIR site at its new URL, www.firpodcastarchives.com.)

We’re launching the new site on the WordPress platform, recognizing the compelling advantages of a content management system that powers more than 60 million websites worldwide.

The new site is just the first step in a series of evolutionary changes to FIR. We’ll announce each of these when we’re ready; but we can anticipate at least one of your questions, and yes, we will have more new podcasts joining the network.

In the meantime, please enjoy all the great content the FIR Podcast Network has to offer you. Your participation as a member of the FIR community means the world to us, and we plan to do everything we can to deliver consistently high-quality content that entertains you, excites you, inspires you, and helps you stay on top of the ever-shifting sands of the communication environment.

We welcome your feedback and comments.

(Cross-posted from the FIR Podcast Network blog.)

Fixing a polling system that’s out of sync

Latest Voting Intention

Reading the various reports, narratives and commentaries this weekend about the results of the UK general election that took place on May 7, the overall perspective I’ve formed on all of that is how could the expert commentators, opinion-formers and outcome-predictors have got it all so wrong?

The election result produced a clear win for the Conservatives with a slender majority in the House of Commons (12 seats), and the virtual annihilation of the primary opposition political parties – the leaders of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Ukip have all quit – that confounded every single opinion poll in the months, weeks and days leading up to May 7, which had all predicted a hung Parliament as the best outcome anyone could expect.

So another coalition government looked a likely election outcome according to those polls – followed perhaps by another election in six months or so – and many column inches and pixels have been spent in offering what-if? scenarios of who might be able to form a government with whom, etc (the BBC’s interactive tool was especially good), much of it based on those opinion poll results.

About the only thing the pollsters did get right was the surging Scottish Nationalist Party which triumphed in Scotland in almost a clean sweep, winning 56 of 59 Scottish seats at Westminster.

Having been in America since May 3 with hardly a moment spare to look at the TV never mind online news, I had been shielded from any mainstream reporting and commentary back home in the run-up to election day last Thursday (our election was unquestionably not a big news item in the US mainstream media). What I did see, though, was plenty of comment and opinion on social media channels, notably Twitter, that presented a view of Labour being well ahead as the likely voting preference of a majority, and reinforced much of the mainstream feeling about a close-run election and a hung Parliament.

Socialist Media - Economist.com

And so I flew back to the UK on Thursday night US time arriving here on Friday morning UK time to the news that took me by surprise as much as it apparently did all those experts I mentioned – not a close-run thing at all but a pretty decisive Conservative victory, nothing like a hung Parliament, and a political landscape that no longer looked familiar with the downfall of the traditional political opposition.

With the nationalists rampant in Scotland and the Conservatives resurgent just about everywhere else outside the large urban centres in England, the former looks alarmingly like a one-party state with the latter arguably close to that territory. Indeed, it doesn’t look like a very United Kingdom at the moment.

But analysis on comment like that is for more knowledgeable subject-matter experts to ponder over.

What interests me mostly now is those opinion polls I mentioned earlier – how could they have got it so wrong?

You can choose from a great deal of opinion on that question, to which I add my two-pence-worth to suggest a combination of factors such as:

1. Reliance on an opinion-polling system that, largely, behaves the same as 50 years ago when few-to-many was the only communication model: the few controlled the news and methods of communication (the mainstream media companies); the many (the great British public) formed opinion based on what they read in the newspapers or heard on the radio (TV was still in its infancy) – their only reliable sources of news and information; and the pollsters formed their predictions based on what the public told them in answer to narrow questions where you read what the newspapers said to help you form opinions.

That’s totally not the picture today where the mainstream media is but one element in an immersive crowded information and communication landscape that enables anyone with an opinion and an internet connection to become a content-creator, news broadcaster and opinion-former.

Anyone with an opinion...

2. Lack of trust in, and engagement by, the political process and politicians themselves: let’s start with the Edelman Trust Barometer 2015 published in January that shows a continuing trend line for lack of trust in governments and politicians on a worldwide level, not only in the UK.

3. Public tiredness and disenchantment with politics in general and this election process in particular: so much partisan opinion and commentary – yes, I do call it propaganda – where it has been tough to filter signal from relentless noise and focus on what you think is credible and trustworthy to warrant your attention and your willingness to believe.

A case in point for me was the Leaders’ Debate on BBC’s Question Time programme on April 30. Debate? Hardly. Prepared sound-bite responses by each leader individually to questions from a carefully-controlled audience. The inauthenticity of it was breath-taking.

(Of course, I should point out that some analysts are saying that this TV event was instrumental in helping many voters decide who to vote for. If that’s true, then I’ll stick to my day job.)

4. The remoteness of much of it: so much stuff by people you don’t know, with hashtags on social media like #GE2015 that are tsunamis of opinions you don’t trust because much of it is so clearly partisan; and politicians who sound so patronising with their so-sincere-sounding and constant over-use of phrases like “hard-working families” and “working people” that you eventually tune it all out.

Some or all of this probably contributed to the huge number of “Don’t know” responses when people were asked by pollsters for their voting intentions – 25 percent of voters said they didn’t know who they’d vote for on the day, according to one report I saw.

That meant that the polling organizations, pundits and others were left to predict outcomes based on incomplete data from which to glean credible insights, along with that imperfect methodology for a contemporary society – are those the major factors that let it all be so wrong?

I read of one poll where the organizers predicted the actual election outcome with some clarity (and accuracy as it turned out) but who said they didn’t publish it for fear of being ridiculed: their poll was so totally different to all the others that were predicting a neck-and-neck close race, hung Parliament, etc.

And what was their methodology? Actually talking to voters: ringing them up on the phone and directly asking them relevant questions that they would want to answer.

YouGov’s Antony Wells summarized what he thought of the polling debacle:

[…] there is something genuinely wrong here. For several months before the election the polls were consistently showing Labour and Conservative roughly neck-and-neck. Individual polls exist that showed larger Conservative or Labour leads and some companies tended to show a small Labour lead or small Conservative lead, but no company consistently showed anything even approaching a seven point Conservative lead. The difference between the polls and the result was not just random sample error, something was wrong.

It’s worth taking a look at the 700+ comments to Well’s blog post.

So the current polling system used in this kind of significant national event has suffered a severe setback in how it is regarded from accuracy, trust and credibility perspectives. This has clearly rung a loud alarm bell as the British Polling Council, the trade body for the polling industry, has announced with some understatement that it’s setting up a public enquiry into what went wrong:

The final opinion polls before the election were clearly not as accurate as we would like, and the fact that all the pollsters underestimated the Conservative lead over Labour suggests that the methods that were used should be subject to careful, independent investigation.

The British Polling Council, supported by the Market Research Society, is therefore setting up an independent enquiry to look into the possible causes of this apparent bias, and to make recommendations for future polling.

The focus of the enquiry will be on polling methodology, according to the announcement.

Looking forward to learning what those recommendations are.