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.

Social business, your intranet, and you: Collaborate/London

Collaborate/London

If you’d like to know how leading UK retailer The John Lewis Partnership planned, developed and implemented an intranet that employees actually like, and hear insights from those who made it happen, then mark Thursday April 16, 2015, in your calendar and register to be at Collaborate/London.

This morning event is from Igloo Software, the company behind the intranet that enhances internal collaboration, improves employee communication, and provides a central repository for assets and project deliverables. And that’s just the overview (here’s more).

I’ve partnered with Igloo to host this workshop, where my job will be to set the scene for what you’ll hear about John Lewis with an introductory session that explains why “Social business is here to stay”:

Humans have always been social, but businesses aren’t always ready for this level of interaction. Neville Hobson will be leading a workshop to shed light on what it means to have a true IT/business partnership, and how to build and reinforce your company culture.

The key part of the day’s event is what you’ll learn from and about the John Lewis experience:

Kimberly Thomson, of the John Lewis Partnership, will discuss the key drivers for seeking a new solution, and their milestones and measures of success. Karen Hobart of Contexxt, the consultancy engaged by John Lewis, will share her methodology, ideas for establishing a project plan, and tips for vendor evaluation.

In sum, you’ll have the chance to hear lessons learned by Igloo customers and thought leaders as well as best practices for planning, implementing, and maintaining a social intranet.

There’s no cost to attend Collaborate/London, but places are limited – sign up now to secure your place.

I hope you can join us for a morning of listening, learning and sharing. Igloo’s philosophy is encouraging:

Our events will be different.
We know how that sounds, but it’s the only way to put it.
Real people talking, information you can use, goals you can set.
Right now.

It will be a few hours of our time well spent. Note your diary:

  • Thursday April 16, 2015, 9:30am – 1:30pm.
  • St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London NW1 (Google map).
  • Free to attend but places are limited – sign up now.

Collaborate/London is the second event in Igloo’s Collaborate series, the first of which took place in Los Angeles last month. Upcoming Collaborate events are planned for New York on May 14 and Chicago on June 9.

(Igloo Software is a sponsor of For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report, the business podcast I co-present each week with Shel Holtz. I am very pleased to be working on Collaborate/London with Igloo that builds out our existing relationship. Good people! You can try Igloo’s intranet for yourself – and it’s free for up to 10 people. Find out more.)

The richness of WordCamp London 2015

This past weekend, as many as 600 people got together in North London to talk about things WordPress, the content management system that is the platform of choice for more than 75 million websites worldwide, and is in a market-leading position with blogs.

It was WordCamp London 2015, a three-day event comprising a contributor day on Friday, and the two-day conference over the weekend that I attended, with speakers from across the WordPress community, with talks for designers, developers, writers, business-owners, freelancers, anyone who is at all interested in WordPress.

As a blogger whose blogs run on WordPress – and who first experimented with WordPress in 2004 and launched this blog on the platform in 2006 – I took part in the event to listen, learn, meet some interesting folk and generally increase my knowledge of what you can do with WordPress.

It was actually the third WordCamp I’ve attended in the UK, the last time being some while ago in Cardiff in 2009. That one was especially memorable as it included WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg giving a talk.

In any case, I am very pleased with the time I spent at WordCamp London 2015. The event itself was an excellent example of terrific organization, very professional with no obvious gaps in anything that I saw. It illustrates how things have moved on in just a few years where a seamless experience is what you expect even from a community-focused event like this – and that’s precisely what you got.

It included a delight or two, over and above an expectation. The official swag, for instance – not just a t-shirt but also a very nice woollen scarf. That was unexpected and wholly delightful.

I was impressed with the sheer number of people taking part. Men and women, young and old, coding geeks, developers, designers and “regular folk,” WordCamp London 2015 included everyone who represents today’s WordPress community. It’s quite clear to me that WordPress is now part of the mainstream of what makes up the internet, not just the social web. And everyone knows it.

In the early days (pre-2010), it was just a few who really understood how WordPress works, how to make the most of its capability with themes and plugins, and how to create those themes and plugins. Now, such knowledge is widespread. What’s more, as more people learn about, use and become familiar with WordPress, so overall knowledge increases and spreads and becomes widely accessible as the WordPress ecosystem grows. That means getting help for your questions, or sharing your own knowledge and experiences, is so much easier today as the pool of knowledge continues to expand.

A few highlight impressions from some of the sessions I attended on Saturday and Sunday plus other experiences:

I had an opportunity to get some questions answered about a new feature in the Jetpack uber-plugin for WordPress when I encountered the guys from Brute Protect, a company that makes a security plugin that was acquired last year by Automattic, the people behind WordPress.com.

There was a really good presentation by Luke Wheatle and Sophie Plimbley, two of the key individuals behind a huge WordPress presence at News UK, who talked about building a scalable WordPress. Best phrase I heard: “WordPress is great for news, it’s so easy to use.”

SEO expert Jessica Rose led a great talk about search engine optimization in a packed session that ranged from how to optimize a WordPress site for search to the fundamentals of how search engines rank content. Most useful. Best phrase I heard: “Wow, this is the only time anyone has asked me for help with Bing!”

Tibdit, a service to make and receive micropayments or donations on your blog using Bitcoin, was one of the companies presenting their wares in a small exhibition area in one of the venue buildings. It could be an interesting tool for bloggers looking for small-scale monetization. I plan to try it out to see how it works, etc.

Dave Walker had a good perspective on things:

Two standout messages from Jon Buchan in his most refreshing session on content marketing – “How much money is wasted by experts creating crap?” and “It’s not what is given, it’s how it’s given that matters.”

I learned quite a lot in Bruce Lawson‘s session on responsive images, starting with that very phrase, “responsive images.” He is a good story-teller and his entertaining session was highly popular and pretty full in the largest presentation room. Best phrase I heard: “Safari, the North Korea of browsers.”

A thought-provoking session on user experience in WordPress was led by UX expert Sara Cannon who also shared her knowledge and experience of some really terrific-looking plugins, all of which I will check out:

And she shared her presentation deck.

It’s also worth highlighting a feature of just about any event these days where everyone and everything is so connected. Good friend Christopher Carfi in California noticed that I was at WordCamp London and tweeted to me and his colleague, Mendel Kurland, suggesting we ought to connect.

And so we did…

That’s what I call serendipity!

Check the hashtag #wcldn for all the Twitter chat and for news on other posts, picture uploads, etc, that undoubtedly will come from others in the coming days.

Social marketing and social PR: never the twain shall meet?

Webinar

Earlier this month, I took part in a one-hour interview about social media marketing and social PR for a webinar organized by Cision UK and Vocus UK (both, incidentally, now part of the same enterprise).

The event was promoted as “The Big Christmas Grudge Match: Social Media Marketing vs Social PR” although I saw it very much as comparing and contrasting the two elements that, in many respects, are different sides of the same coin.

Whatever you call it, I thought it was a terrific discussion. Moderator Paul Miller, head of digital at Cision UK, did a great great job at leading the conversation along a clear path to address five key specific points:

  1. Can social PR ever be more than outreach to journalists/bloggers/etc conducted by social media?
  2. Are there particular channels which are better suited to marketing or PR?
  3. What about PR and customer service – and to what extent does that make social PR “a cost of doing business”?
  4. What are the consequences for social marketing/PR of the recent issues around display inventory? What about the Oreo product placement ruling from the ASA?
  5. Public relations (more than) suggests engagement with the public, but traditionally any engagement was filtered through third-parties (eg, journalists, analysts). To what extent does social technology allow PRs to go direct to their publics, and (to what extent) is the technology still acting as a filter?

I prepared some talking points for the five questions, mainly to help me stay focused on those questions in order to address them fully. You can read them in the embed below, or download a copy from Scribd.

Cision Vocus Webinar 9 Dec 14: Talking Points by Neville Hobson

The interview was conducted live as a webinar, in which I gather well over 150 people listened in, with a further few hundred registered and who will hear the recording, now available.

As we concluded our discussion, Paul asked me which would I pick as key, if I had to choose between social marketing and social PR. You can listen to the recording to learn the answer :)

Thanks again, Cision and Vocus, for a worthwhile discussion on a broad topic that does attract lots of different views. We had quite a few questions in the live event – some of which were tweeted via the event hashtag #SocialPR – and quite a few more that I will be commenting on that Cision and Vocus will publish.

Where does social marketing end and social PR begin?

Social media webinar

Can you really separate out social marketing and social PR? Or are they just two sides of the same coin? And are there actually start and end points?

I’ve partnered with Cision and Vocus to address these elements of a big topic in a free webinar we’re presenting on December 9 that will help you bring a clear focus to your social communications planning and execution in 2015.

Here’s the heart of what we’ll be doing:

Discover the communications strategies, tactics, and channels used by marketers and PRs to identify the best – and worst – practices. Along the way, we’ll be asking the big questions, like:

  • When should PR and marketing work together?
  • Where is one more effective than the other?
  • Can they and should they be separate at all?

Save your spot at the webinar to make sure your social communications are ready for 2015.

Some big expectations! But I’m confident you’ll get some insights that will help you.

Join us on Tuesday December 9 at 14:00 UK time for 60 minutes of great discussion. It’s free, so sign up now.

Save My Spot

[Update December 21:] My thoughts about the webinar: Social marketing and social PR: never the twain shall meet? Cision and Vocus have posted the webinar recording.

FT conference bots to star at #FTInnovate

I bought a robot...

I’m looking forward to being at FT Innovate 2014 that takes place in London on November 19-20.

This latest edition of the Financial Times’ annual tech-focused business conference will concentrate on the digital “big bang” – and the digital natives, digital pioneers, digital technologies and digital practices it is spawning – and how it’s transforming the way businesses innovate.

The speaker line-up is impressive, and the agenda for the two days looks pretty compelling.

And here’s a nice bit of innovation that may appeal to you if you’d like to be there but can’t physically go – drive one of the FT’s “conference bots.”

Here’s what’s happening in London as outlined in an email from the event organizer:

Attendees at this year’s FT Innovate conference will notice a few unusual delegates mingling amongst them.

For the first time, 3 robots will be roaming the conference, listening to our expert panel of speakers, participating in the interactive roundtable discussions and connecting with the senior innovation managers who will be attending during the networking breaks.

The FT Innovate team are offering 3 lucky winners the chance to remotely control one of our robots from their own home or office. The conference takes place on 19-20 November 2014 so you’ll just need to be available on these dates and have access to a laptop/tablet with a video camera and high speed internet connection.

If you would like the chance to control one of our FT Innovate robots, enter our draw today by completing this short form. The closing date for entries is midnight on Thursday 13 November and 3 winners will be selected at random and notified by Friday 14 November 2014.

Of course, we think it’s even better to be there in person, and a limited number of delegate tickets are still available. To register, and for more information on the programme and speakers, visit www.ftinnovate.com.

Looks a lot more fun than just following a Twitter hashtag. Which you can do, of course: #FTInnovate.

See you there!