#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.

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.

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.

The FIR podcast and a foundational decade

FIR episode 1: January 3, 2005

Today is a special day for my podcasting partner, Shel Holtz, and I as we mark a milestone – January 3, 2005 to January 3, 2015 – that is ten years to the day since we started For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report, a business podcast that has grown in ways in which we didn’t imagine back in 2004 when we were planning it.

I’ve talked and mused about FIR – as the show has become known over the years, a moniker coined by Lee Hopkins in Australia – from time to time in this blog, as well as reflect on podcasting itself.

Shel has waxed lyrical and in considerable detail about FIR and its history in a terrific post he published on his blog a few days ago. If you’re interested in the detailed history of FIR, please read it.

What I concisely reflect on today is that milestone of quantity and where it leads. Ten years of podcasting. Ten years of commentary and opinion from two communicators who, as we described ourselves in that first episode a decade ago, “think they have something to say.”

788 episodes – and counting – of a show that we did twice a week for half of its life, settling in to its current weekly schedule in 2010. The expansion of the original show into what I used to describe as “the FIR podcast series” – the interviews we did with newsmakers, influencers and opinion-formers from the online technology and organizational communication worlds, and beyond. The book reviews we did (and much done by Bob LeDrew in Canada). And the podcasting book that came about in 2007, just two years into FIR.

I must mention, too, the occasional podcasts of speeches, keynote addresses, breakout sessions, and other recordings from meetings and conferences. The FIR Cuts: virtual clippings of topics that didn’t make it into a show but would have been a shame to just delete the recordings. And quite a few more shows.

So many people involved in all of that, many of whom Shel mentions in his post. For me, names that form a memorable resonance every time I think of FIR are our sponsors present (Ragan Communications, CustomScoop and Igloo Software) and past (TemboSocial); the “here’s how to reach FIR” voice of Donna Papacosta; and our correspondents – past and present, regular and occasional – that include Lee Hopkins, David Phillips, Dan York, Eric Schwartzman, Michael Netzley, Bernie Goldbach and Harry Hawk.

And then, the listeners and friends of FIR – those of you who download or stream episodes and engage in ongoing discussion in the FIR Podcast Community on Google+ and elsewhere. You have accounted for downloads of more than 2.3 million since that first show ten years ago, according to Libsyn, our file hosting service who we have been with for the whole time.

Without all of you, FIR would not have evolved the way it has. Thank you.

FIR Podcast Network

Just over a year ago, FIR began a new phase, reaching for a new level, as the “FIR podcast series” suddenly became the FIR Podcast Network as new voices joined those of Shel and I to offer their opinions and perspectives on topics about which they are passionate through their own shows that extend the FIR brand.

And so we start our 11th year of podcasting already with a network of shows by a raft of talented people from around the world who selflessly give their time and energy to offer comment, opinion and insights on topics that always find listeners – check out the current network shows from (name links go to the show home pages on the FIR website) Rachel Miller; Chip Griffin; Paul Gillin; Kevin Anselmo; Glenn Gaudet; Joe Thornley, Gini Dietrich and Martin Waxman; Chuck Hester; Andrea Vascellari; Dan York; Mitchell Levy; Ron Shewchuk; Kristine D’Arbelles and Julia Kent.

There are new network members and shows coming soon. And a brand new online presence fit for purpose for a growing podcasting network!

As Shel notes in his post, we have big ideas for the FIR Podcast Network and, in due time, we’ll be sharing what we want and plan to do.

In the meantime, please enjoy any or all the shows we publish, and tune in to the 10th anniversary episode of the anchor show (as The Hobson and Holtz Report is known) on Monday January 5, the usual day we publish the weekly show. We’ll be recording at about 5pm GMT on Monday with the show being posted later that evening GMT.

And if you have a burning topic that you’re passionate about that you think would appeal to a global, influential audience as a podcast, well, let us know, we’d love to discuss your ideas!

Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz
[L-R] Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz in London, October 2014.

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.

Marking eight years of Twitter

Signing up for TwitterI remember when I first started hearing about Twitter, in the summer of 2006 less than six months after the service started earlier that year.

As the year progressed, the name kept popping up in blog posts and comments – what social media was, really, back then – until I decided to see for myself what this thing was all about.

And so, today marks my eighth #Twitterversary – eight years ago on this day, I signed up with the handle of @jangles. My Twitter ID number is 47973. (Did you know every Twitter handle has a corresponding ID number?) I’m still not sure if that number has any significance that makes it generally interesting.

For instance, does it signify that I was the 47,973rd person to sign up on Twitter? It sounds like it could be, given the numbers in 2006, growth since then (especially since 2010) and compare that to today with over 284 million monthly active users worldwide. But I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter.

twitteractives

Incidentally, I often get asked what my Twitter handle means or where it came from. It’s actually the first part of the name of my avatar in the virtual world of Second Life, a place I was spending a lot of time in during 2006.

In any case, over the past eight years, Twitter’s analytics tell me that I’ve created almost 76,000 tweets. In averages, that works out at…

  • 9,500 per year
  • 792 per month
  • 26 per day
  • Just over one per hour (make that 3 per hour if we look at an 8-hour workday)

Are such metrics what Twitter’s about? Isn’t it more about the people you connect with? Well, according to Twitter, I have…

…so I suppose it is about that (assuming at least 50 percent of followers are not bots) as this chart suggests.

Engagements

Yet what is Twitter, really? Is it…

  • A social network
  • A tool for writing very short posts
  • A place to connect and engage with others online and chat
  • A useful means of sharing links to content of mutual interest or potential interest
  • A way to talk out loud and share your thoughts with the world wherever you are at any time
  • A channel for anyone to broadcast messages about anything and everything
  • Another channel for marketers and advertisers to promote their brands
  • A way for people who want to change their society to connect and communicate often more safely than they could otherwise
  • A tool for politicians and activists to spread their words
  • A means of communicating abuse and threatening others online

It’s all of those things, the good and the bad (and the ugly), and much more. If you use Twitter in a way that I’ve not mentioned, then that’s what Twitter is to you.

Twitter is also a mirror on society, reflecting the behaviours and actions of people that really is little different to behaviours in the actual world. There are consequences in what you say in a tweet and Twitter has come of age in this regard where the law is catching up with the wild west.

Twitter also came of age when it became a publicly-listed company on the New York Stock Exchange in September 2013. And naturally, it announced its intention to file an IPO in a tweet.

And so Twitter today is very much part of the mainstream, used in all those different ways by people to express opinions, share interesting things and engage in dialogue with others. I’ve always believed Twitter is what you make of it.

I like to look on the bright side about Twitter and human behaviours. And I can think of no better way to illustrate that sentiment than this terrific video from Twitter on the 2014 World Cup through the collective lenses of millions of tweeters.

One big milestone on the continuing journey.