Manchester Blogmeet – September 2009, featuring Creative Tourist

Despite blogging on and off since 2001, I don’t think I have ever actually attended a proper “bloggers meetup”. Last night, I finally got the chance to rectify that by attending the Manchester Blogmeet, organised by the excellent Kate Feld of Manchizzle.

It was also my first time at Cord, a venue tucked away in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Heading down the slightly precarious steps to the Basement, I couldn’t help notice the gorgeous tiling that, at first glance, makes you think that you may have accidentally ended up in the toilets; but once the space and soft furnishings sink in, it really is a very cosy space. According to Frankie Roberto who asked the staff on a previous visit, the tiling is because it was formerly used to store fish!

The bar at the event was kindly sponsored by Creative Tourist, a new online magazine dedicated to promoting Manchester’s diverse cultural offer to tourists. In return for my gin and tonic, Susie aka Travels with My Baby said a few short words outlining what the site was about and how we could get involved.

As a ‘new’ Mancunian, the site’s a great place to read about what’s happening in the expansive cultural sphere right on my doorstep. I’m personally passionate about photography so the Photo story section is something I’ll be particularly keeping an eye on. I’ve already decided to go and catch the last weekend of Natalie Curtis at Urbis.

But beyond the (short and sweet) sponsored bit, it was a great opportunity to catch-up with friends and meet people from the blogging scene, including Richard ‘The Asparagus’ and RebeccaWho. I probably didn’t speak to as many people as I would have liked, and I’m hoping the proto-beard isn’t the reason for that! But also, having rushed from work, I was a bit worn out.

The event was really enjoyable and pleasantly relaxed – genuinely a chance to meet new people over a drink, with the shared background of blogging. I look forward to the next one – thanks again to Kate!

The need for video to deliver your online content

I recently wrote a paper for work about the need for video to help communicate our messages and campaigns. I learned some interesting things along the way, and so I thought I would share some of those with a wider audience.

In this post, I’m going to outline why video can be a critical way to deliver key content and share some stats I found along the way. In another post, I’ll share some criteria I worked up for an on demand video delivery system which I think will be a good basis for many organisations considering implementation of video.

A stats-led approach

In any approach to video, I’d start by looking at the stats for your website. When I analysed these for my organisation, I found a 7 per cent drop in average time on site and an increase in bounce rate to over 50 per cent in the last two months. More importantly though, these were not short-term trends that were not just month-on-month, they were year-on-year (on my organisation’s site).

This is not good news. Despite spending time and effort restructuring content, providing more readable content and improving our SEO, there still seems to be a degree of ongoing disengagement with our (primarily text-led) website content.

Therefore, we need to look at how we actually deliver that content. Using on demand video to supplement and replace ‘traditional’ web copy is a natural solution.

Popularity of and access to video in the UK

In the UK, online video is a massively important medium. The use of video sharing sites like YouTube and video-on-demand services like the BBC iPlayer has exploded over the last few years, becoming embedded in the vocabulary of the nation. In the 12 months to March 2009, UK Internet traffic to video sites rose by almost 41 per cent (Hitwise UK Online Video Update, March 2009).

The iPlayer in particular has brought the ease of online video to the consciousness of even new Internet users, but has also raised expectations about the quality of video that can be delivered. This week’s Hitwise dashboard
shows just how much online video dominates the top lists of popular overall websites, entertainment websites and social networking websites.

The current popularity of video on the web is not surprising, considering the level of broadband penetration in the UK:

  • over 95 per cent of Internet connections are broadband connections;
  • over 60 per cent of those are at speeds faster than 2 Mbit/second (Internet connectivity report, December 2008, Office for National Statistics).

Video is mainstream

These stats show that is the right time to consider creation of online video content as a mainstream method for delivering information, and treat it that way within an organisation of any size, large or small.

Video can be used to produce:

  • supporting clips for press releases (relevant staff quotes, Q&As/interviews);
  • short case studies that could support your work;
  • explanations of complicated processes or procedures;
  • key information in British Sign Language, released at the same time as subtitled/English/Welsh versions; and
  • small to medium-sized event coverage.

Of course, this video doesn’t just have to be destined for online, external-facing channels. There’s a compelling case to use it for internal distribution, through an intranet for example or at staff briefings.

Although not everyone can access video, either due to technological restrains or through ability to access that type of information, it is still potentially a far more widely engaging medium than just web copy. This may be particularly true for users who may be new to your work or those who have a single-issue interest.

Benefits of live video

Producing your own video content gives you the ability to deliver your message to your audience direct and unfiltered – not subject to interpretation through the media. ‘Live’ video is a natural extension of this – enabling important announcements to be communicated to any sized audience as they happen, again, without filtering through traditional media outlets. The ability for video to be re-shared and embedded in other websites, including in social media news releases, for example, is key to spreading those messages beyond your own channels.

As an example, I recently produced a webcast at short notice for a press conference. With simply a tweet on the morning of the conference, we got 21 viewers. Subsequent views raised that to over 600. For the first time, people interested in my organisation’s work have been able to watch complete announcements in our own words. Overall, these are small numbers perhaps, but it shows what you can do even with short notice events and provides a solid platform for growth.

I have already written a lengthy blog post about webcasting and doing it cheaply. Which brings me to…

Falling costs

The falling cost of producing high-quality video brings in-house production within anyone’s grasp. At my organisation, we have already produced a number of video clips in-house, but given the right equipment, staff resource and training, any organisation can expand their video production capabilities to service wider organisational needs. And the bottom line is that if you can reach and engage more people directly with your messages and campaigns, that has a high value of its own.

Conclusions

Producing video to support your messages and campaigns is a mainstream method for delivering online content. The widespread access to broadband connections, familiarity with services like YouTube and the iPlayer, all mean that users are switched on more than ever to watching video online. Now is the time to take advantage of that and switch on your organisation to the importance of video – it will be a worthy investment.

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Social Media Cafe Manchester September 2009 – session previews

Manchester Social Media Cafe logoAs I wrote earlier today, the September 2009 meeting of Manchester’s Social Media Cafe is tomorrow (Update: is tonight! But it was tomorrow, when I wrote this). Slightly later than planned, I’ve written previews of the upcoming sessions, so if you’re still not sure which of the sessions you’d like to go to, or just want to find out more, then I hope that the below ‘preview’ blog posts are helpful.

I welcome feedback on all of the above. Perhaps I will keep doing this in the future, a bit earlier too depending on when the sessions are filled!

See y’all tomorrow.

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Social Media Cafe Manchester session preview – “SEO/social media debate”

Manchester Social Media Cafe logoA topic that’s been floating around for a while is the ongoing debate about how social media and search engine optimisation can interact. To that end, regular social media caffeine-addict David Edmundson-Bird has proposed a debate: “This house believes that social media represents the end of search”.

This is a prescient debate.

SEO has been built on the premise that, despite secretive protocols for ranking pages and the dominance of a single search engine superpower, content can be engineered to score highly in search results for the chosen keywords – while keeping it largely readable.

However, the emergence of user-generated content that is searchable, but where the results cannot be easily optimised, arguably represents a great challenge to the search engine optimisation industry. Now, we have masses of fresh content, often generated in real-time and linked to local, national or global events, which can be instantly indexed and queried for the thoughts of the human hive-mind.

And this content is eminently rich in context, in opinion, in thought and often in multimedia, notably with the rise of smartphones such as the iPhone. It represents a treasure trove of information valuable to marketers, such as opinions on brands, people, places – all the sort of thing you would want to access and to influence in order to promote your clients’ messages.

Until recently, applying well-understood search engine optimisation techniques was a key method for influencing that opinion. Getting your search results high up on Google – on the first page, in fact – was seen as key to put your business or messages on the map for users to click-through to. But influencing search engines can take time, is potentially expensive and very rarely instant.

Now, you can tweet, have that picked up by Tweetmeme, Mashable or Stephen Fry and find that you’ve generated hundreds of thousands of page views for your latest product or campaign within hours.

How’s that for return on investment?

Or as one junior SEO executive recently said, is it the case that investing in social media is like investing in astrology rather than astronomy?

Debate: This house believes that social media represents the end of search – David Edmundson-Bird @groovegenerator

I caught up with David over email. He currently holds the position of Director of Executive Programmes (Digital & Creative) at MMU Business School and Course and Director for the Econsultancy Suite of Masters Programmes. He’s also a council member at Manchester Digital.

The debate is now being held after the other two sessions, so “anyone who is interested in hearing the debate between “traditional” search approach and the newer social media led approach to information discovery” can now take part. Considering many of the attendees are marketers, this should be of “particular interest [to them]…whether traditional, digital or social”, he says.

I think the debate format itself could be particularly interesting. While I have recently become far more used to an informal style of discussion, I’m interested to see how ‘140 Second House rules‘ plays out. David explains:

“Using the 140s House Rules, each speaker has 140 seconds to put his or her point across. At the end of both sides speaking, the chair will open up the debate to the floor with questions – these can only be 140 seconds long, and responses from each side can only be 140 seconds long. After questions, one person from each side makes concluding remarks lasting 140 seconds.”

We’ll then vote on who has ‘won’ the debate.

I have to admit, I initially felt the 140 second rule to be a touch ‘faddy’. However, I remember now that school debates only allowed 180 seconds for responses and comments and, when I chaired my student union debates, I’m sure I allocated much less – and we managed, just about!

I asked what David thought participants – and we as a community – would take away from the debate:

“Hopefully, [participants can take away] an informed view from both sides of an argument. Search and Social are often polarised and people may not be exposed to the argument from both perspectives. There are vested interests in both, but it will be a first opportunity for any to see arguments put head-to-head.”

He admits that it will be “a fairly pro-social crowd, but the Social Media Cafe has been seeing a lot of interest from the marketing industry”. Judging by the attendance list, he’s not wrong.

I’m really pleased that the debate has been moved to after the sessions, giving everyone the opportunity to listen in and potentially pose questions. I, for one, am still mulling it over and I look forward to a really exciting debate that will happen live and on the backchannel tomorrow evening.

David tweets @groovegenerator and blogs at FaceBookCreep.

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Social Media Cafe Manchester session preview – “Digital Games and/as Social Media”

Manchester Social Media Cafe logoGiven my background in student activism, I’m always excited to see leaders from higher education attend and present at events like the Social Media Cafe Manchester. Continuing this mini-series of blog posts, I caught up with another presenter who will be at tomorrow’s meeting.

Digital Games and/as Social Media –Professor Ben Light @doggyb

Prof Light (or Ben, if I may!) is Professor of Digital Media at the School of Media, Music and Performance, University of Salford. Which is a pretty cool title. Personally, I’m excited that lecturers (professors, no less) are using social media, let alone lecturing in the subject. In my days at university (not that long ago!), the concept of an electronic presentation was still alien to some of the lecturers who taught me.

Ben will be looking at media convergence: how it happens, why, and some of the implications arising for users and designers. Since March 2006, Ben has been engaged in programme of research that has focused upon how users and designers are making digital games and social media work for them on an everyday basis.

This might sound a tad daunting, but he says, “the session won’t be technical”:

“You don’t need to understand the nuts and bolts – it’s suitable for anyone who has an interest in social media and digital gaming.”

…which sounds like a lot of the people I know who go to SMC. I certainly have been enjoying my Wii of late.

Talking of games consoles, Ben’s bringing an exciting twist to the meeting: SingStar on PS3! He’ll be using it as part of his presentation, which will include a lot of photography and video. I wondered why he was bringing along the popular karaoke game for the PS3:

“SingStar is one of the games I have been studying.”…”I’m bringing it along to demonstrate it and the online community [associated with it] ‘live’.”

I hope the BBC wifi holds out and I have no doubt that we have some secret SingStar fans in the crowd (ahem @realfreshtv!)

I know Ben’s putting his final touches on his session this evening, but I asked him what he hoped participants would get out of the session:

It’s very much about knowledge: how are people using social media, how it’s linked with games. Who are the developers in social media/gaming environments and who are the users – it’s not as obvious as it sounds.

“What ethical issues arise in such spaces? For example, I could talk about ‘grief play’, identity work and social inclusion/exclusion.”

Intriguing. It sounds like Ben will be covering a new area for the Social Media Cafe meetups and doing it in a novel and engaging way. I, for one, can’t wait to get involved.

Professor Light tweets @doggyb and his personal blog is at benlight.org.

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Social Media Cafe Manchester session preview – “SocMed Actually”

Manchester Social Media Cafe logoThe September 2009 meeting of Manchester’s Social Media Cafe is tomorrow. Slightly later than planned, I thought I’d write previews of the upcoming sessions, so I caught up with those running the sessions by email. If you’re still not sure which of the sessions you’d like to go to, hopefully the next few ‘preview’ blog posts will help you decide.

SocMed Actually – 1 – Julia Shuvalova @mundusvivendi

Julia, pen name, Julie Delvaux, is planning to run an intriguing series of sessions entitled ‘SocMed Actually’. The aim of the series is to help illustrate which different social media channels are being used and are successful in various different sectors of industry.

“By day”, Julia heads up a social media department and devises social media strategies. Her background is as a writer and poet, translator, historian, with wide-ranging experience in media and digital marketing.

Julia’s sessions are aimed at a wide audience: “everyone interested in the return on investment (ROI) of social media, as well as everyone interested in how to use social media/online PR to generate the maximum effect.”

Julia will be making a presentation to introduce the topic followed by a discussion. There are some key things that she hopes participants will take away:

“Although Social Media is free, the ‘Susan Boyle effects’ don’t always happen out of nothing. You need to promote what you’ve created; so we need to take the minimal costs into account and dance from there.”

“My session is going to talk about both those measurable and immeasurable values [and help illustrate them] with some calculations.”

Social Media can be measured and the ROI can be leveraged!”.

The session should be particularly interesting, as it’s followed by a debate on social media vs search, at which one of the key topics will no doubt be the ability (or otherwise) to measure the impact of social media.

Julia tweets @mundusvivendi and her personal website is at Avidadollars.com.

Update: Julia has posted her presentation on Slideshare:

Her background is Writer and poet, translator, historian, with experience in Media and Digital Marketing

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