How to win Foursquare friends and influence people

Foursquare logoUpdate: I spoke about this at the Social Media Cafe Liverpool – presentation below.

Foursquare. It’s the latest hottest thing to blog, tweet and generally foam about.

Unfortunately, over-excited use of Foursquare can often simply annoy your Twitter followers. Who cares if you’ve just checked-in at “Don’s pizzeria” or if you’re Mayor of “[hipsterrific bar]”?

The real value in Foursquare is not just tweeting where you are, or when you’re Mayor or whether you’ve got the badge that says you’ve been out drinking every night for the last five days (maybe you need to check in at your local AA club).

Foursquare is for keeping track of your friends and getting recommendations about good and interesting places to hang out from people you know and trust. When you go to Don’s Pizzeria, tell me why and what you’re doing there. Leave a tip to recommend something (or to remind me to avoid the kebab).

Here’s my top three tips for making Foursquare useful:

(and, influence people, in a sense):

1. Login to your Foursquare account on the web, click Settings and turn-off the default options to send tweets whenever you check-in, become Mayor or unlock a badge.

Don’t worry, you can turn these on per check-in. This will stop you losing Twitter followers, bored of incessant check-ins at home, work and the train station.

2. Check-in and add a note each time you do. What are you doing there? What’s good? Are you available to hang out? Many people will get your live Foursquare check-ins through Twitter too (if they don’t have Push-type notifications on iPhone etc). So tweet these, if they’re useful.

Again, avoid tweeting mundane places unless you’re looking to hang out with people or at an event. Adding a hashtag helps with the latter.

3. Leave tips. Not cash, but those little notes you can add to places from the Foursquare app. When others check-in, one of the tips pops-up which can help someone make a decision about what to do, where to go or what to have.  Ostensibly, tips are positive things, but I have no hesitation in pasting a place if it deserves it.

Saving tips that you find when you check-in and browsing nearby tips also means you build-up a collection of “to do’s” that are worth going through on a boring Sunday afternoon.

Winning over your friends

As you become more active on Foursquare, you’ll begin to add up a list of friends. The more users that join, the easier it becomes to find other people and use Foursquare as a way of organising social activities. In Manchester, for example, I find skimming my Foursquare friends list over lunchtime a good way of finding out where other people are and if they’re available to grab a bite to eat.

Of course, you can always check-in “off the grid” if you want a bit of privacy.

And yes, it is interesting to know who’s the Mayor of a venue. You become a Mayor being by the user to check-in most frequently over the last two months. If a friend is a Mayor, this is a signal to me that he or she goes there lots and, in a sense, endorses it as a venue for whatever goes on there. Checking-in at a venue without actually being there, or really making use of it, is probably somewhat misleading and won’t win me over as your friend.


Foursquare is by no means the only location-based social recommendations app out there. I myself was (and still am) an advocate of others, like Gowalla, that frankly have a sexier design and ask users to crowdsource locations, rather than simply buy up a local directory a starting point.

Unfortunately, there is a degree of critical mass with Foursquare that goes with the relentless adoration lauded on it by Mashable. This means most of my friends and colleagues have naturally gravitated towards it as a network and that, in turn, makes it more useful for me, to find out what’s going on where. There are methods of checking-in on multiple networks, however I have yet to try these out myself.

In conclusion…

Remember, Foursquare is all about recommending local places and things to do. This sort of stuff can add value to what your followers see on your Twitter time line, but if you tweet about it too much, it can really turn people off.

So check it out and, if you know me, add me as a friend.

On the Manchester Digital council

Manchester Digital logoIf you haven’t heard already, I was elected to Manchester Digital council following a vote of the 30 odd members who turned up at the AGM. The full list is available on the Manchester Digital website.

It’s great that we have a mix of new and re-elected council members, meaning that we have a blend of experience and fresh input. My intention is to use the discussion I posted on my blog the week before as a starting point for my actions on the council. In the spirit of openness, collaboration and events, I hope to use this channel to keep members updated as well as come along to a range of digital community meetups to meet people directly.

With that in mind, I’ve been keen to go out and about and fly the flag for MD in my new role. Over the last two weeks I’ve been out with FutureEverything volunteers, at the Creative Times relaunch (featuring  Phil Jeffs) as well as sticking my head into Manchester SEO meetup. This week, we also held the regular Social Media Cafe where regular attendees Tim Dobson and Richard Hudson also made themselves known as council members. It’s been great to keep in touch with what’s going on and introduce myself to people in my new role.

I also set up the @McrDig twitter account (unfortunately, ‘ManchesterDigital’ is too long to be used as an account handle!). We’re using this to engage with the community and share news, in addition to our usual weekly emails (do you get these?). It’s regularly monitored, so just tweet @McrDig to get in touch, ask questions or get something promoted. We’re also using and monitoring the #McrDig hashtag for relevant content.

It’s worth touching upon my thoughts about the AGM itself. The formal report, drawn up by last year’s council, is available on the website. In the future, however, I will be aiming to arrange for the meeting to be live-blogged and more accessible ‘outside the room’. There was a fair bit of chat on Twitter and it would be great to be able to include some of the feedback from that in future plans as well as allow the meeting to be engaged with, erm, digitally.

This also means getting the paperwork out ahead of the meeting and putting any resolutions out for comment beforehand, like I tried to do with the Google Wave for the joint statement to the new coalition government. To aid with this sort of approach, Phil has set us up a Basecamp account so the council can more easily keep in touch.

I’d also ultimately like to see MD move towards a model of electronic voting, but this carries a number of questions that are worth exploring with the community. I’ve had experience of implementing this at a previous charity but it was not without its flaws and the process must be subject to scrutiny. Still, it is not impossible nor uncommon and I think it’s an ideal way to let more members help set the direction for the organisation.

All of this, I hope, will add up to a more inclusive approach to our main democratic meeting of the year. It will build on the themes of openness, collaborate and better events, but I hope people see the digital engagement elements as additional to attending the meeting in person. There’s a lot to be said for coming along, meeting other members and questioning the council and chair in person. I hope that by promoting it well in advance and engaging people with the content, we’ll be able to make it a more useful event for the membership to turn up to.

Our first council meeting is now set for the start of July and I hope we can put together a calendar of our events over the coming year. If you have any ideas, get in touch. We’re already working to identify the range of groups across Manchester and the north-west that we should be talking to, in addition to those with whom we already have a relationship. I also hope that we’ll look at what we can offer by way of support in order to focus on our core aim of making Manchester and the north west an even better place for digital business.

I’m running for council – Manchester Digital council

Update: my nomination has been accepted. I found it pretty difficult to cut down this blog and all the feedback into 100 words, but you can see what I submitted on their website.

Update 2: one of the items on tonight’s (unannounced) agenda is a memorandum to government by Manchester Digital. Here’s the proposed spiel. If you want to discuss it before the meeting, check out this public Google Wave I’ve set up.

Update 3: I’ve been elected! Here’s the full list.

Next week, I’ll be making a bid for the Manchester Digital council, the 12-member governing body for the Manchester Digital Association.

But how many of you have actually heard of – or from – Manchester Digital?

In their own words, Manchester Digital “is the independent trade association for the thriving digital sector in the North West of England”.

I believe it is essential to have a strong, representative and campaigning trade association that is relevant to everyone in the “digital sector”. That includes big digital business, SMEs, microbusinesses and freelancers. But it also includes the network of digital user groups and interest groups that are a vast, but often hidden part of the north west digital community.

So far, it seems that Manchester Digital has not been successful in representing the full diversity of digital sector which has evolved in Manchester.

If Manchester Digital does truly seek to represent the rapidly changing digital sector then it must change with it. If I’m elected to the council, I will work to massively improve Manchester Digital’s external communications and bring about a more collaborative approach to its work.

It’s important for Manchester Digital to better represent everyone because of their unique relationship with bodies like the Manchester Digital Development Agency, local and regional authorities and because of their national representative role. These bodies help set policy on digital business in the north west and are sources of potential funding for digital activities and it’s essential that they get to hear about everything that goes on in the diverse digital sector.

Electing me will bring lessons I’ve learned from helping organise the successful Social Media Café events to Manchester Digital. The events are free, run entirely by volunteers and are now the lynchpin of a network with over 550 members. To me, this suggests that successful networks don’t require paid-for staff to run them.

Previous relevant experience includes being elected a trustee for three years of a large membership-led charity with a turnover of £5 million, including serving as chair of trustees for a year. Since then, I’ve worked in digital communications, primarily in the public sector in both technical and non-technical roles.

I believe opening up Manchester Digital’s communications, connecting with existing digital communities in the north west and building a series of free events are the keys to expanding membership, promoting collaboration and, most importantly, making Manchester Digital more relevant to all of the digital sector it seeks to represent.

In that spirit, I’m opening up my manifesto to you.

Your thoughts and comments on this blog post will help shape what I put forward in my meagre 100-word statement for election. More importantly, I hope it will start a discussion around the role and the future of Manchester Digital which, if elected, I will take forward as my agenda for you on the council.

I want your advice and suggestions around the following themes. I have thoughts of my own around each, which I will be happy to discuss in the comments.


  • How can we improve Manchester Digital’s communications?
  • Do you have a clear idea of who Manchester Digital are, and who they’re for?
  • What are the benefits of Manchester Digital to members and the wider digital community?


  • Do you feel part of a Manchester Digital community?
  • What communities could Manchester Digital plug-in to, support or help create with its influence?
  • Should Manchester Digital represent you?


  • Have you attended any Manchester Digital or MD-supported events?
  • What sort of events could Manchester Digital put on, or support through other networks?
  • Would a regular Manchester Digital meetup add to, or detract from/conflict with other types of meetup that already exist?
  • Are you aware that the Big Chip awards are run by Manchester Digital?

Feedback and comment on any other aspect of Manchester Digital that you feel should be in my manifesto would be more than welcome.

The deadline for nominations is 5pm, 13 May so get posting and tell me what you think needs to change so that Manchester Digital can represent everyone it should.

Ning to end free networks

Cross-posted from Social Media Manchester

Many of you may have heard the news that Ning, the providers of this community’s social network, is intending to phase out their ‘free’ service, in favour of paid-for options. Jason Rosenthal, their newly appointed Chief Executive, said, in a staff memo:

“We are going to change our strategy to devote 100% of our resources to building the winning product to capture this big opportunity” — i.e being the premium service, not the one supported by advertising. (Guardian)

Twitter users agree: Democracy sucks (according to an automatic opinion survey)

I recently started following @AmplicateTL after it invaded a hashtag I was watching. It turns out that it’s an automated tracker from a service called Amplicate. Amplicate seeks to:

“collect similar opinions in one place making them more likely to be found by people and companies”.

It seems to do this primarily by browsing Twitter and picking up on feelings and emotions expressed about a whole range of topics. This is interesting, as it can flag up when positives or negatives are expressed about a brand, service or individual, making monitoring easier and identifying trends. Unfortunately, it’s well-known that people are more likely to express a negative opinion than a positive one, so whether Amplicate accounts for this is unclear.

The service also appears to pick up and tweet positive or negative trends automatically – which is why this afternoon, it had picked up on the trend that people “hate democracy“. Along with this sentiment, the service generates a landing page (screengrab) that offers the option of agreeing with this statement and even automatically generating badges for blogs and website with an “I hate democracy” motif. Continue reading

BBC fail to attribute photo of their own building licensed under Creative Commons

The BBC launched a new site to promote their jobs in the North today. As someone working in the digital communications industry in Manchester, it’s not surprising that I visited the new website, to see what sort of things the BBC were going to be offering when they finally make their move up north.

The website links to a page describing the teams at the BBC’s existing facility in Manchester, New Broadcasting House on Oxford Road. It’s illustrated by a small thumbnail of the building at night, with the BBC sign lit-up. I couldn’t help but think I’d seen that picture before.

Not surprisingly, I had – because I’d taken the photo. Continue reading

Broadcast and record live video on your iPhone 3G with

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.4152696&w=425&h=350&fv=autoplay%3Dfalse]
After almost a year of waiting, the online broadcasting network has released a native iPhone app that lets your broadcast live over 3G.

For many, the ability to record video was one of the key elements missing from the iPhone 3G when it launched in July 2008 and something that Apple only rectified with the iPhone 3GS. Even though iPhone OS 3.0 supports recording and sharing video, it was a feature only available to iPhone 3G users if they had a jailbroken device. Furthermore, broadcasting iPhone 3GS video live was also impossible without a jailbreak.

This offering from Ustream seems to answer both these concerns.

I took the app for a quick test drive around Manchester’s Exchange Square, using the O2 3G network. After fiddling with setting up a specific channel for mobile live video on Ustream, I squirted out about ten minutes of 320×240, ‘slightly blurry’ video with ‘clear voice‘.

I’d love to share that video with you myself, but in classic iPhone style, the app chose the moment where I wanted to save the video to inform me that it couldn’t save the video and promptly lost the data.

Anyway, I’ve shoved up a short clip of my desk to give you an idea of the kind of quality that the service can pump out over a vanilla iPhone 3G (not 3GS) It’s not great, and might actually be worse on a live broadcast – but it seems acceptable for the moment.

Screengrab of my lunch being streamed live on Ustream via iPhone

However, you have to ask the question – with O2’s over-stressed data network, will they exert pressure to remove this app, like AT&T have done in the past? Talk of a data ‘crisis’ is now hitting mainstream media, something that intensive users of O2 will have felt for some time.

Still, the iPhone is now available on Orange who boast the widest 3G coverage – and soon on Tesco Mobile (although this is a virtual network running on top of O2). This release of this app does mean that the iPhone can now compete with other video smartphones and provide a degree of live coverage in snap situations where no other technology is to hand.

More details over at TechCrunch.

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.


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.


The Spectator | Status Anxiety | Toby Young

I would like to take this opportunity to apologise unreservedly to Twitter. Like many of my colleagues, I unfairly characterised it as a vacuous expression of our narcissistic age. In fact, it turns out to be the most effective tool for advancing freedom and democracy since the invention of the internet.

Perhaps over-egging it slightly, but you get the picture.


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