The secret to good mash – the Daily Mash at #smc_mcr

Originally posted over at

If you’re reading this, you probably got to it by reading one of our tweets, checking our Facebook page or maybe you’re even subscribed to this blog. All of these channels are just a bit of the way we like to be a part of a larger community with our customers and hear from them – outside of the usual ways like email or phone calls. We don’t really do any marketing per se: rather, we’d just like to have a chat and see if we can help.

Given that, we were interested to hear our customer Paul Stokes of The Daily Mash speak at last week’s #smc_mcr (Social Media Cafe) in Manchester. The Daily Mash is the UK’s “leading satirical news website” and is perhaps not suitable for readers of a nervous disposition. If you’ve heard of The Onion, you could say it’s a sort of British alternative and, by Paul’s own admission, attempts to be as outrageous and extreme as possible when it comes to satire and parody. After all, this, he says, is the key to avoiding litigation; the parody must be obvious to the reasonable person.

And the fact that they pride themselves on being “anti” social media is something of an enigma. But nonetheless, it works perfectly well for them. Despite being users of Twitter and Facebook – which they describe as their “free marketing tool” – The Daily Mash have no interest in engagement or conversation, which by accepted wisdom is seen a key part of any social media strategy.

The fact is though that they win on their content. Despite – or rather, because of – eyebrow-raising content, readers keep coming back day after day, enjoying the stories and sharing it across their networks of their own volition.

I guess this is a really a reminder that content is all important. You can share and engage and chit-chat as much as you want on social media, but if you’re just a lot of hot air, then maintaining those conversations or converting them into your desired outcome (be it sales, or otherwise) will be a challenge.

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)

North West (by North) Digital Communities

The Manchester Mark I - first stored program digital computer (c. 1949). From the University of Manchester, Computer Science Dept

The Manchester Mark I - first stored program digital computer (c. 1949).

It seems I’m spending increasingly more of my free time at that brilliant space known as the Manchester Digital Laboratory. Last Wednesday night, the, erm, Madlab played host to a meeting of North West Digital Communities (NWDC), and I went along to fly the flag for the Social Media Café.

NWDC is a forum that brings together the leaders of digital communities in the north west, with the aim of improve the local digital community by sharing resources and pooling ideas.

These communities are incredibly diverse, representing a wide-range of tech interests; technology users groups; communications and small business. It’s also true to say that there is huge overlap and many people involved in one of the communities will be involved in at least one other. Colleagues from Geekup, Madlab, Manchester Free Software, Manchester BSD group and others were all in attendance. Continue reading

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.


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.


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


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

Update: Julia has posted her presentation on Slideshare:

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


Some upcoming Manchester geek events

There are a few things over the next couple of months that I hope to get along to. No doubt they will lift one’s spirits as Manchester’s traditionally wet August gives way to a wetter Autumn.

(OK, perhaps I’m over-egging the wet thing – but check out some of the events below).

Update: there are loads more events going on than just the few I’ve listed here – but these are the ones I hope to get along to, with a bit of commentary. Check the foot of this post for how to find out about other events!

Manchester Social Media Cafe logoSocial Media Cafe Manchester

After the August hiatus, Manchester’s Social Media Cafe returns on 8 September from 6pm and in a slight change to its usual slot, this is the second Tuesday of the month. It’s being held again at the BBC, complete with subsidised bar which no doubt will help swell the already large crowd of regulars. Sign-up to make sure you don’t get left out.

Anyone can offer to present a session, though the talented guys from Cahoona have already snagged one with an exciting presentation on Umbro Industries, “new initiative from Umbro geared towards giving potential Manchester based innovators the financial backing they need” (not anymore) and there are still three slots open.

I blogged my thoughts in July on the use of the BBC as a venue and it was useful to get Julian’s feedback on the challenges surrounding finding a suitable venue. If anyone has any ideas, leave a comment there, on the wiki or tweet @smc_mcr.

manchester-blog-awards-webManchester Blog Awards 2009

As a (relative) newbie to Manchester, one of the best ways that I’ve found out about things to do and see is by tapping in to Manchester’s extensive network of bloggers. Their first-hand reviews, advice and tips have been invaluable in helping me settle in and find out where to go and what to do.

So, it’s exciting to see their contribution recognised in the community-led Manchester Blog Awards, to be held on 21 October at the curiously-named Band on the Wall venue. At £4 a pop it’s hardly a stretch, so I hope to go along and meet some of the talented writers on whose blogs I lurk quietly.

While ‘most verbose microblog’ isn’t a category (for which I might in with a chance!), they’ve also got updates on Twitter @mcrblogawards.

BarCamp Manchester 2 logoBarCampManchester2

BarCampManchester2 is the second BarCamp to be held in Manchester and will happen in November. I’ve not been to one of these events before, though I did attend BarCampUKGovweb09 in January, aimed at public sector digital types.

The atmosphere at these events is great – everyone is keen to learn and get to know others who could help out with projects of mutual interest. Right now, the event is still in planning stages but it’s looking to be an exciting two-day gathering which means late-night geekery and gaming. Ideal for me, who seems to exist in a perpetually nocturnal timezone to the chagrin of my early-rising colleagues.

It’s not exclusively a techie event (which is great for me) so I hope that a wide-range of people will go along. It’s slated to be held at a weekend in November, though not firmed up yet probably on the weekend 7-8 November, at the Contact Theatre on Oxford Road. Keep on eye on organiser Ian’s twitter account (@cubicgarden) and the Twitter tag #bcman2.

ggdManchester Girl Geek Dinner 4

Quite evidently, I’m not a girl. But I had a great time as Ella‘s date at the previous Manchester Girl Geek Dinner and I’ve signed up to go again. The fourth Girl Geek Dinner is being held from 7pm on 29 October at the ever-accommodating Sweet Mandarin in the Northern Quarter and will celebrate the Manchester Science Festival.

The event has a clear majority of females and guys are only allowed if they have a date who invites them. This gives it a unique atmosphere and the fact that it is a ‘dinner’ is different to the other types of geek networking events I’ve attended (the food was also really good last time).

So if you’re a girl and a geek, go check it out. A fiver gets you a meal and a drink. And if you’re a guy, well, you’ll have to see if a girl geek takes pity on you. You can also follow the event on Twitter @mancggd.

Are you coming along to any of the above? Perhaps I’ll see you there – leave a comment below or tweet me @technicalfault.

Updated: other geek events

A couple of people kindly tweeted me to draw my attention to a few other events. There a whole series of GeekUp events, which come to Manchester on a monthly basis. And if you want an extra dose of BarCamp goodness, check out BarCampBlackpoool on 17 October.

Dominic “The Hodge” Hodgson has setup a really useful calendar of these events, called Where’s the Geeks? which aims to cover geek events UK-wide. This is probably a good starting point for all the other events in Manchester and beyond. There’s also the North West Digital Communities email list, which is quite helpful for keeping tabs on nearby geeky goings-on.