Vauxhall helicopter crash and the power of real time news

Radio-5-Live

By the time of reading this the Vauxhall ‘copter crash story will have been extensively told, picked over and commented on.

However, just over an hour and half after it happened, it’s already given a sharp reminder of just how much the media landscape has changed forever.

Yes, plenty of breaking events have showcased the power of Twitter and shown how flat footed traditional media can seem in trying to keep up.

But today I really – no, I mean *really* – witnessed how the media is evolving, so that curation of real-time events via social media actually eclipses what a news outlet’s own journalists can achieve.

Without access to TV pictures, Twitter or online news channels I was still utterly swept up in events and given a compelling real time picture, thanks to the the humble radio.

HYSTERIA

Driving to work, I switched on Radio 5 Live to hear a breathless member of the public telling the breakfast show how he heard an explosion, witnessed huge plumes of smoke and fire in central London.

As a listener, I had no idea what had actually happened, only that the report was a big, breaking story of some sort. As presenter Nicky Campbell questioned his eyewitness, it became clear the Radio 5 news team had seen a Tweet from the man about an incident. He’d also Tweeted a picture.

Presumably, the Radio 5 team managed to contact him via social and arrange the phone link and interview. While he was coherent and clear in his description, the report had a disturbing rawness, because his voice carried that slight tinge of hysteria which suggested shock was still setting in.

In the next few minutes a selection of social media posts and updates were reported by Campbell and co-host Rachel Burden. The aggregate picture was rich, detailed, colourful and informative.

The emerging scene was one of a low flying helicopter which surprised many ordinary people on the ground with its altitude and trajectory. At some point it appeared to have collided with a crane atop a building under construction. The noise it created was mentioned a lot.

HOLLYWOODESQUE

Then the doomed chopper spiralled to the ground, where the many descriptions painted a picture of a Hollywood-esque explosion, sending black smoke and intense flames billowing skyward.

Early reports also suggested at least two cars on the ground had been hit by the helicopter, or caught in the fireball.

The reportage made repeated references to the images being shared by ordinary people from the scene. As of writing, I haven’t seen any of the images – yet the mental picture I have is powerful.

Photographs taken at street level showed burning tendrils of helicopter fuel licking along the tarmac. Others from buildings overlooking the scene showed the burnt out fuselage and the attendant frenzy of emergency service vehicles. Others captured the scale of the oily smoke cloud.

Witnesses told of the eerie moments of silence immediately after the collision.

Of course, the BBC had to caveat its reportage by stressing that many of these points could not yet be reported as fact, as they had not been confirmed by official sources.

STERILE

Contrast this intense few minutes of reporting with what the Radio 5 Live journalist was able to offer when Campbell and Burden cut to him.

I missed the reporter’s name, but the poor guy was left struggling to add anything meaningful. Unlike the many social media commenters, he simply wasn’t at the scene.

All we really learned was that he was having trouble getting through to London Fire Brigade Press office because it was, understandably, dealing with a huge number of calls.

Otherwise, all he was able to tell us was that he had managed to speak with the Met Police press office – and they had confirmed they were attending the scene; that they had many officers involved, but couldn’t confirm exactly how many.

It was a sterile and near pointless contribution. The reporter actually punctuated his dry commentary with repeated references to “as you can see from the pictures on Twitter”.

The net effect was to highlight the impotency of remote commentators. Particularly when set against multiple short updates – even just 140 character long – being knitted together into a vivid, living and dramatic account of breaking events.

FUTURE OF NEWS

The good news is that this isn’t – or shouldn’t be – bad news for traditional media outlets. The Radio 5 live reaction was brilliant.

Presenters Campbell and Burden skilfully let the updates,  punctuated by live links to eyewitnesses, tell the unfolding story in a very powerful and coherent way.

Until now I have heard much talk about ‘curation’ and its emerging place in the news cycle. Today I listened to it first hand – and feel confident the future of journalism and news reporting – deeply enriched by the power of ordinary people’s social media updates – is secure for a very long time to come.

Now, I guess, I should go and read the latest online reports, check the TV coverage and wait and see what tomorrow’s printed newspapers will dig out.

The Art of Scannable QR Codes – A Tale of Abstract Painting, Gay Tours and Weddings Fairs

If you’re looking for a gimmick which divides opinion, look no further than QR Codes.

Critics call the abstract-looking, black and white, scannable codes a complete waste of time, which are largely ignored by the general population.

Fans cite them as a quick, easy and effective way to get information into the hands of smart phone users as and when they want it.

As is so often the case, the reality lies somewhere in between.

Anyone who has eagerly scanned a QR code only to be taken to a non-mobile friendly version of a brand’s standard website is likely to be let down. What’s the point?

Unscannable QR Code on a busy dual carriageway in Edinburgh

Unscannable

Worse, some QR Codes are in the most ridiculous places. Today I spotted this QR code in a totally inaccessible spot – 25ft up on a billboard in the middle of one of the busiest roads in and out of Edinburgh, with no place for drivers to stop.

Simply to take this photograph I had to drive into a bleak industrial estate, hoof it up on to a concrete flyover – and even with camera on maximum zoom could still barely make out the QR Code, let alone actually scan it.

Maybe this could even earn a place in the QR Code Hall of shame – this funny website dedicated to the worst fails involving impossible to scan or utterly pointless examples.

Until recently there’s also been the problem of finding a scanning app and downloading it to your smart phone. Then remembering where it is, opening it and using it, all of which can be problematic if you are in a busy shop or on a cold street wearing gloves.

Increasingly, though, smart phones are shipping with scanning software built in. Indeed, the excellent Nokia 800 Windows phoneI use has a one-touch code scanner which works like lightning. It will happily open the destination URL there and then or just as happily save it for viewing later. Which means I’m regularly scanning codes when I see them – on parked vehicles, magazines, bus shelters etc.

Nokia Lumia 800 Windows Phone

Built in QR Scanner

Once you have the habit of scanning QR codes the true utility becomes apparent. It can be really handy to scan a code and get information you really need or want – like the details of a property for sale or rent when you scan the QR code on a sales board.

Recently spotted a vehicle branded with bodywork for Black Kilt Tours, including a QR code. Since I’ve developed a yen for travelling the Scottish highlands and islands, I scanned it, only to learn it is a service specialising in just such tours – but for gay men.

So while it wasn’t for me, the QR codes still proved useful, sparing me any unnecessary online research, awkward phone calls or the possibility of rather uncomfortable coach trip. Moreover, it stuck in my memory. Brand awareness.

QR Code Art by Trevor Jones

QR Code Artwork

Today I’ve come across what struck me as an excellent use of QR codes, this time in an email newsletter from Edinburgh-based painter, Trevor Jones.  Since he’s a talented, professional artist, his abstract rendition of a QR code is arguably more eye catching than the standard mono square. But it goes further than that.

(* Disclaimer: I don’t know Trevor  Jones, work for him, or in other way represent the artist.)

When I tested whether his artwork was scannable, I was immediately taken to a mobile-optimised landing page, notifying me that to win a unique work of art by Trevor Jones, all I had to do was Like the Trevor Jones Art Facebook page, sign up for his newsletter – or to double the chance of winning, do both.

I duly did both. It was a frictionless process – and an object lesson for anyone else in business looking to build Facebook likes, or even more importantly, to gather qualified email leads.

Mobile optimised QR Code landing page

Mobile optimised

It didn’t stop there though. Jones has deviated from his usual colourful abstracts and there was also an intriguing come on in the original newsletter:

“I’ve just found out my QR code paintings will be on display at the Edinburgh Art Fair 16 – 18 November. I’ll be there over the three days to demonstrate how the paintings work and to answer any questions you may have about them such as, ‘Seriously. Why are you painting QR codes, Trevor? I kinda liked your older work better’.

“Ya, it’s true. I’m getting that but if you stop by the Art Fair I’ll gladly explain what all the fuss is about.  Promise.”

Now, truth be told, I’m a bit of an art pleb. Yet, depending on my diary, I might even look in on that art fair – and if I do, Mr Jones and his QR code will have been directly responsible for influencing my behaviour.

If that’s not enough for you, there’s also a mini site, called Mark of Beauty, dedicated to the artist’s representations of QR codes which he has been painting through 2012.

There he says:

When I began developing this new body of work exploring QR codes as art I realised there would be some who wouldn’t “get it” or who would even question its validity as painting…

“…The general consensus was that this artwork would indeed very likely divide opinions and, as an artist, what more could I ask for? Good art should stimulate debate and I really hope that these paintings encourage this. “

So it’s not only QR codes which divide opinion, but even works of art based on QR codes.

My advice? Don’t write off these little black and white squares as a useless gimmick.  A well-executed example which is of use to the target audience and delivers value, can greatly help them on their customer journey.

Such a campaign  can also make your brand or business memorable (the names Black Kilt Tours and Trevor Jones art are now firmly on my radar).

Yet there’s even more. Maybe you could use a QR code in an imaginitive way to help collect email addresses or to help spread your monthly newsletter? Somewhere along the line you might just help influence the behaviour of possible clients too.

This may not have painted a picture quite as eye catching as those by Trevor Jones. So here are a few more links to really clever and creative use of QR codes:

http://holtz.com/blog/marketing/qr-code-case-studies/3691/

http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/9777-six-qr-code-campaigns-that-actually-worked

http://www.nevillehobson.com/2011/06/24/tesco-connects-busy-shoppers-with-qr-codes/

 

There’s Nothing New Under the Sun – Or On Twitter

Media Frenzy

Social Media Kerfuffle Is a Carbon, A Clone and a Copy

Wise old newspaper hacks will tell you there’s nothing new under the sun. Every story has been told before.

In the accelerated, amped-up world of Twitter, this has been amplified and exaggerated to rather ridiculous extremes.

If you’ve picked up a newspaper or surfed the news blogs today, chances are you’ve come across the latest social media firestorm, involving schoolgirl magnet Claire’s Accessories and the trendy jewellery designer Tatty Devine.

It all kicked off when the social media savvy folks at Tatty Devine blogged on Wednesday asking ‘Can you spot the difference?‘ – and laid out a series of their clever jewellery designs alongside, er, remarkably similar-looking trinkets being flogged by Claire’s.

When the design team at Tatty Devine came up with necklaces that looked like the contents of Top Cat’s trashcan (fish bones, half-peeled bananas and curly, comedy moustaches), they probably didn’t expect they’d be calling Officer Dibble to investigate allegations of intellectual property theft.

To the casual observer, it seems a pretty cut and dried case of the big, faceless corporation ripping off the edgier and way cooler small business to cash in – and that’s why the social media world has lit up with this story. Everybody loves an underdog, especially when the ‘wee guy’ comes out fighting against a villain of pantomime proportions.

In fact, Tatty Devine’s latest blog post yesterday (Thu) confirmed the company intends to take legal action, while offering thanks to its army of social media supporters:

We want to say a big thank you to everyone who commented, and for all the support on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest too. We are truly heartened and impressed by the amazing response on this issue.

Here’s the thing though. If you’ve been around in social media for a while, this whole stramash (that’s Scottish for ‘kerfuffle’) might sound remarkably familiar.

That’s because it is almost a year since one-women jewellery designer Stevie Koerner took to social media to highlight how faceless fashion giant Urban Outfitters had magically come up with silver trinkets which looked exactly like hers.

Indeed, in May last year I pulled together this wee zooming, video thingy (check it out, it’s on Prezi, which is waaaay cool!) to show how the whole thing turned into a massive PR disaster for Urban Outfitters.

you can view it here: http://bit.ly/xmM3AU (last I looked it had been viewed 2116 times).

Last year’s case in America was driven by Twitter, Tumblr and Etsy. The Tatty Devine brouhaha (I think that’s French for ‘kerfuffle’) has been fuelled by Twitter, Facebook and … Pinterest. That in itself is very telling indeed.

Pinterest is the scorchio , shiny new social media darling – and what it tells is that the media team at Tatty Devine are no slouches, especially since the insanely fast-growing site is still ‘in Beta’ and accessible by invitation only.

Tatty Devine on Pinterest

And the point is? Just a whimsical thought that copying jewellery designs is a very naughty no-no that will get you a nasty knuckle-rapping. But copying (and let’s face it, this really is a carbon, copycat, clone) a social media guerrilla strategy against a bigger rival is … well, PR genius.

Congratulations to the very smart social media team at Tatty Devine on a public relations success story.

They’ve managed to give a bigger rival a reputational bloody nose for shameless imitation, while pulling the same trick themselves yet somehow passing it off as the sincerest form of flattery.

Leak, Leaking, Leakey – Toilet Talk Can Leave Businesses Scared of Twitter

Twitter Logo

Twitter Leaks

I’m amused by a couple of Twitter stories today. But aside from raising a couple of wry smiles, these stories also raise a couple of business points.
First up this yarn from The Scotsman about tennis star Andy Murray’s mum leaving Black Rod infuriated:
Black Rod is a parliamentary official whose position has existed since 1350. And the current holder of that title was none too pleased when Judy Murray Tweeted out a picture from inside Parliament.
It seems the officious Black Rod considered this an inappropriate leak from inside the Mother of Parliaments.
Even funnier when you consider the offending photo was of a toilet door sign which read: “Women Peers”. In other words, the place where the mightiest women in the land go to, er, take a leak (women pee-ers?)
What trumped it for me though was the real name of Black Rod, a former military man known to his nearest and dearest as, Lieutenant-General David Leakey.

Next up is the story about a Twitter fuss which blew up when it appeared that Pulitzer Prize-winning author and playwright Cormac McCarthy had set aside his legendary distaste for modern technology and deigned to grace Twitter with his presence.
However, it turned out all to have been a hoax, perpetrated by none other than an aspiring (but as yet unpublished) author from Renfrewshire:
It’s a shame really. The lean, spare, yet beautiful prose which typifies McCarthy’s work means he’d be a must follow in 140 characters. And I bet there wouldn’t be a “just ate a tuna sandwich for lunch” Tweet anywhere to be found in his stream.

On a serious note, these are the kind of stories which show that the mainstream world is fully waking up to Twitter.
Yet they are also the kind of stories which may still prevent some businesses from using the new social media tools to extract the undoubted value they offer.

Do you remember a time there were similar stories about Facebook, YouTube – and before that email (yep, believe it or not, there was a time when email was viewed with suspicion as a threat to business).
Not to mention the days when the very internet and world wide web themselves were a cause for concern and frowny faces (real frowning expressions, as opposed to digital emoticons) among serious business people.
Later there were media stories galore about the risks of shopping online (my mum still won’t use a credit or debit card over the internet).
Hell, perm it back further and it’s easy to find historical reference to the time when the credible voices of the day were fearful and suspicious of telephones.

Now, try to imagine business world without websites or e-commerce. And no matter how full your inbox is, consider trying to do business without email.
Then consider the two stories above. It may take longer than a year, but at some point in the not-too-distant future Twitter usage will be so commonplace it’ll no longer merit stories like these.

If you work in a business which is still suspicious about Twitter – or other social media – then give us a call at Holyrood PR. We’ll be happy to show how it can work in your favour and help prepare you for that point when it is every bit as important to your product or service as a website, an online shopping cart or an email address.

Ours is info@holyroodpr.co.uk.
Or if you’re a bit more old school, you can get us on 0131 561 2244.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can get me on @scottgdouglas or the Holyrood PR team @holyroodpr.
However you choose to contact us, we’d love to hear from you.

How to slice and dice the media to fit the categories in Facebook Groups

 

Facebook

Facebook

 

There’s never been more amazing time to be involved in the media – but how would you categorise what we do?

Facebook has a pretty clear idea of where we all fit in. And since Mark Zuckerberg’s social network is the biggest of the new kids on the block, I suppose we’d better be paying attention.

If you haven’t already heard, Facebook has set the  social media digerati abuzz this week, with the launch of its new Groups function.

Twitter, techsites and the blogosphere have all been positively oscillating as commentators trip over one another to froth or fume at the networking giant’s latest announcement.

Never one to miss a bandwagon I thought I’d jump on by testing out Facebook Groups for myself.

Since the idea seems to be to engage likeminded people, I planned setting up a Facebook group for those who listen to Quiet News Day (www.quietnewsday.co.uk), the weekly media podcast I put together with co-host Shaun Milne.

With his background in journalism, mine in public relations and a joint interest in social media those are three subjects we talk about regularly – while also touching on tech, search, marketing and even advertising.

But when I tried to find a niche for a Quiet News Day Group, I was totally outfoxed by Facebook’s categorisation system.

While, it’s a fairly broad church, I was pretty sure there would be a “media” category. Nope. Here is the rundown of how Facebook has decided to segment those of us in the media game: Continue reading

Why Having 5 More Friends Than a Chimp Could Help Google Defeat Facebook

How Many Friend's Does One Person Need?

Professor Dunbar's Book

It’s rare to meet someone who has a number named after them.

This week I briefly met and spoke with Professor Robin Dunbar, the charming Oxford University anthropologist who enjoys exactly that accolade.

Five years ago ‘the Dunbar number‘ might have remained an esoteric concept: talked about in rarefied academic circles, but barely pricking the consciousness of the wider public.

The unstoppable rise of social networking changed all that.

With the advent of Facebook, Twitter and the peer-to-peer internet phenomenon which has enveloped us in just 60 months, the Dunbar number has become a bona fide mathematical rarity – a numerical concept which transcends academia to become part of popular culture.

Okay, I might be stretching it to suggest it has gone mainstream. But anyone who dips a toe into the ‘science’ of social media will pretty soon come up against the Dunbar number.

If you have any interest in understanding the behind-the-scenes workings,the foundations or the likely social consequences of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (as opposed to just using them), then you probably want to know something about the good Professor’s work. Continue reading