Sunday, 6 May 2007

Sifting through the bog of blogs

I was reading an interesting post on PR blogger regarding the proliferation of blogs and the question how many of them are actually relevant. Although Technorati are tracking 70 million blogs at the moment, only 15.5 million of these have been touched in the last 3 months. So, first lesson, you can't trust the figures.

The author posits various reasons as to why people DON'T blog, in contrast to the constant speculation we see about why people DO. One major factor (and I think this applies to me) relates to human narcissim. I'm not shy (ask anyone) but I don't think I'm so great that the world will want to read about what I have got up to. To be honest, if I wasn't doing this blog for academic purposes, I probably wouldn't be doing it all (that's not to say I haven't learned anything, or had fun, Derek!). And if I was doing it, it would probably go something like this:

"I went out and got hammered the other night. I left my shoe in the taxi. One of the girls from work met a guy who had a very nice stomach. We couldn't remember his name so we just called him 'Hot Stomach Guy'.
Stayed in last night, had a content analysis to do. Watched a bit of the Mighty Boosh, then fell asleep... etc."
(Disclaimer: These entries are based on fictional events and may not necessarily have happened.)
I mean, WHO WOULD WANT TO READ THAT? It's not that my life isn't fun, I have a great time being me but I have no reason to think that other people feel the same. I guess it's one of those 'you had to be there to appreciate it' situations.

Another problem I've come across is the time factor. Some people (not really me) actually have stuff going on, like careers and family and stuff and just simply would not have the time to sit down and document their thoughts for the world and his missus to read. I don't have a career or a family, just a Masters degree to finish and a social life and even I have struggled to find the spare time to sit down and write something that is actually worthwhile reading (which is still debatable). It all sounded so simple a few months ago, like it would be easy marks for the module. Post once a week? Yeah, that's nae bother. Post something relevent and interesting about PR? Er...

In defence of my blog, I have actually enjoyed maintaining it and it's opened my eyes to an unknown world of conversations, like a blogging Narnia but without the lions and witches and James MacAvoy dressed as a faun. Not only this but it's given me a whole new level of confidence about the techy-side of things. I'm still not great but I'm better than I was.
Summing up then, there is no denying that Web 2.0 has opened up a veritable wardrobe full of exciting new opportunities for the PR industry. But as many, such as Stuart Bruce, have pointed out, what is happening is an evolution, not a revolution. Tools such as blogging have simply facilitated its functions. Activities such as stakeholder engagement, environment scanning and that all-important two way-communications function, are things that PR should always have been practicising; PR 2.0 just makes it that much easier. We should be concentrating efforts on how to best incorporate these tools into daily practice so that they become the norm. So, there is no need to throw up ou hands in despair and start all over again.

Yes, I believe I will look upon my days a blogger (under coercion) with fondness.

More life in PR perils - this time, the Z-list

I recently commented on an interesting post on Believe the Spin regarding the ups and downs of celebrity. I say interesting because, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am tragically obsessed with the cult of celebrity; heat magazine is my Bible (if I can prise it out the hands of my flatmates!) and celebrity is my religion. 'Tis sad but true.

The author was commenting on the demise of the celebrity endorsement, arguing that, since anyone can be a celebrity these days (you can even be famous for not being famous, a la that dumb blonde from 'Celebrity (barrel-scraping) Big Brother'), the public has become entirely disillusioned about what celebrity actually is and no longer trusts what these so called role models have to say.

I entirely agree. The explosion of celebrity was a by-product of the 1980's, when materialism ruled and all we wanted was to be like the rich and famous. In the 21st century, the tactic of celebrity endorsement has been exposed as the cynical ploy that it always was. And it reeks of cheese! There is a much greater awareness in this personality-soaked world of the 'publicity seeker', perhaps a result of Britain opening it's eyes to the culture of spin, so wonderfully brought into the forefront by Blair's excuse for a government.

I think Americans buy into celebrity endorsement to a greater extent than us Brits because their celebrity culture is so different to ours. While our celebrities come and go in the blink of an eye, their A-listers tend to be the ones which have endured the test of time. Think about it. The afore-mentioned Chantelle Houghton was, for a brief time, gathering more column inches than any of your Victoria Beckhams. But in the States, it's the big personalities that people are interested in, and they always will be interested in them.

I'm researching my dissertation just now on the Make Poverty History campaign of 2005, which has raised entirely different issues when it comes to celebrity hi-fives. There was mucho in-fighting at the time about the perceived 'hi-jacking' of the campaign by Bob Geldof, with coalition members becoming concerned that the involvement of high profile celebrities would detract from the main messages of the campaign. So far, it looks like this is what happened. A great deal more column inches were devoted to the who's who of Live8 than to the three main campaign aims. Additionally, the stand alone campaign managed to gather only a smidgen of coverage compared to what exploded after Geldof got involved, even before Live8 was announced. The question is, how many celebrities got involved because they actually cared and how many jumped on the bandwagon to get in the spotlight? Call me cynical, but if they were that worried about Third World poverty, couldn't they have given up two of their annual holidays in Mustique and a small fraction of their weekly cocaine intake and donated the money on the quiet? On the other side of the coin, how many teeny boppers turned up for the gig at Hyde Park becaue they wanted to listen to Nelson Mandela and how many just wanted to see Madonna, Robbie and co living it up in the name of Africa? I know, I'm generalising, I'm sure there were plenty of people there who cared but there are other ways to show support besides just turning up for the party. And I am well aware that there are plenty of celebrities who use their advantageous position in society to gather support for good causes. It's just that they don't have to make a song and dance about it. Doing so, to me anyway, reeks of publicity seeking and opportunism.

On the other hand, some argue that Geldof's involvement gained some much-needed publicity for the campaign, which is correct; as long as the campaign message appeared alongside the list of do-gooders, that was still something wasn't it? It may appear buried somewhere in the middle, but at least it appeared.

So, the perilous trek through the alphabet-coded list of the stars, eh? Looks like a bit of a tightrope. Now give us your f***ing money.

Monday, 30 April 2007

Google manipulation

We have been doing a bit of work recently in class about search engine optimisation. I was interested to read a story on the BBC website which pointed out how easy it can be to manipulate search engines. The writer points to a recent example concerning Google. Until recently (I'm assuming it's been fixed), if you typed in 'miserable failure', the official George Bush page on the White House site was top of the list!

How did it happen? Search engines operate on the premise that relevancy of a particular site is related to how many external links there are to it. An underground blogger movement picked up on this and created a 'link bomb', encouraging people to link to the page and label it 'miserable failure'. The search engines were not at first at liberty to censor any such attempts, so off it went on its merry way. A similar stunt was pulled recently using the term 'liar' and Tony Blair's homepage.

One drawback is the fact the link bombs end up being 'self defeating'; the more successful they become, the more people talk about it on the web and other sites end up become more 'relevant' in search engine terms than the orginial bomb.

Google has since modfied its functions to spot link bombs but other search engines have not yet done so, so you can still get George Bush under the search term 'miserable failure'.

In corporate terms, the report discusses the example of BMW Germany which was blacklisted by Google in February 2006. The site consisted of keywords which could not be seen by customers but could be seen by search engines, purely to bump it up the list. Google has rules to guard against such tactics and dropped it from their search results. The site has since been redesigned. The report refers to this as an 'uneasy truce' between the search engines and the optimisers who are trying to cheat the system to their advantage.

Wikileaks - a natural progression?

Wikileaks is a new wiki which calls itself 'an uncensorable version of Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis', claiming to combine 'the protection and anonymity of cutting-edge cryptographic technologies with the transparency and simplicity of a wiki interface'. It allows people to put documents into the public domain, whether the authors want them to or not.

Creators are pushing for activists and campaigners to publish whatever information they can to stop authoritarian governments and corrupt corporation to continue with any undemocratic actions. However, the site is not yet live and while it claims to be 'impervious to political and legal attacks', there is no evidence that secuirty and anonymity is certain.

Additionally, supporters have begun to get suspicious. John Young, a highly-respected campaigner for freedom of speech, who runs a public disclosure site, had initially agreed to be involved but pulled out after failing to get reassurance from creators about their motives and capabilities. Recent shifts in the architecture of the Internet have leant towards the increasing retention of long-term storage and user information. Current opinion is centred around the fact that asking people to contribute to the site will risk their freedom, even their lives, if security cannot be guaranteed.

It is also necessary to take account of the fact that, just as with all wikis, not all users are genuine and it is important to consider that some users may have their own agenda about what they are doing and it will be difficult to verify any claims made.

The perils of creative marketing

You may have seen the story regarding the buzz campaign for the new movie '28 weeks later'. The ad company thought they were being clever by littering city streets with graffiti logos of 'rage virus' symbols with only the website as a clue to what was going on. Hilarity ensued when it was realised that they had failed to register the url before unleashing the campaign. One clever guy on b3ta claims to have come across the ad on his lunch break, gone back to work, realised the url was unregistered and bought it himself for £8.99. He claims that the money he was offered in exchange wasn't as much as you'd think, but enough to get himself a 'nice holiday'. Wish I'd though of that.

This comical error highlights the perils of such a strategy; if you're going to be clever, make sure you've covered all the bases, even the most obvious ones. All it takes is one for clever swine and you've got a massive payout. The fact that registering a website is so cheap and easy that, literally, the average man on the street can do it is yet another example of how new technology has transferred power to the little people.

It must be said though, it was a good idea. It tied in with the projection of the logo on the Dover cliffs, pictured above, exactly 28 days before the release of the movie on May 11th. I guess it's got people talking, but not about the right things.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Prepare for the Uprising

This has nothing to do with PR but I just had to comment on an article on the BBC website about pigeons today. You may have noticed in my profile that I like most things except pigeons. This is apparently called 'peristerophobia', th proper name for a fear of pigeons. Now, I wouldn't say I have a phobia but I have been known to let out a blood-curdling scream in the middle of Waverley Station when about a million of them decided to all fly upwards in the direction of my face at the same time.

The story has been prompted by the resurfacing of arguments surrounding the Mayor of London's ban on feeding pigeons. Apparently, there are people out there who actually LIKE pigeons and are affronted that measures should be taken to curb their growth. There are people commenting on the story, arguing that pigeons are good for the environment, because they pick up litter! Yes, they pick up FOOD, which is bio-degradable, and manage to leave behind the stuff that acually does the damage! What will these people be saying when the birds of hell take over the world, then, eh? I hope I'm there to say 'I told you so'.

Apparently, the argument that pigeons spread disease is unfounded, although they are known to be susceptible to things like tuberculosis. Ok, even if they don's spread disease, how can these people possible defend that characteristic inherent in all pigeons, their need to fly randomly in all different directions, but always just inches away from my face?

The article says there are 18 million pigeons in the UK (about half of them are usually in 2 metre radius of where I am standing) and they can breed up to 6 times a year. This is scary. I'm telling you, they are planning a revolution; we are all going to become pigeon-slaves and have to bow to their every whim. The thing is, I can't even move to another country because THEY'RE EVERYWHERE!

The good news is that the government recognises pigeons as a nuisance and legally they can be controlled using humane methods by people who have a licence. I, however, will not be participating since I am too scared of them.

A psychologist comments that one possible reason that us peristerophobes are scared of pigeons is down to human evolution. In the days of early man, birds were huge, were a real threat (Oh My GOD!) and were to be avoided at all costs and this survival instinct still persists in us today. But I'm not scared of birds, just pigeons. And sometimes seagulls because they can be quite vicious, you know.
To finish, I think you will agree that this is hilarious. Mike Tyson is a self-confessed 'pigeon lover' (see picture above of Mike Tyson getting off with a pigeon). Now that is scarier than any pigeon with a random flight-path.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Sex sells (even to eight year olds)

I have Take That on the brain at the moment. Having only just recovered from the sheer joy of managing to get tickets to see them in December, courtsey of Debz's amazing persistency (albeit in London - road trip!) I wake up this morning to find out that E4 are running a special Easter Monday Take That Day, where it's 'Nothing But Take That'. This is tragic. I have an essay to hand in tomorrow and the sight of the nicest boys in pop prancing about in black leather and silver codpieces, getting jelly rubbed all over their bodies, has left me weak. The best part is the fact that I failed to notice how extremely homoerotic it all was at the time. Then again, in 1991, I was only seven.

Of course, they don't get up to that kind of nonsense now, they're all respectable family men (with the exception of Jason, of course). But they can still make grown women weak at the knees. And they can definitely still dance (with the exception of Gary, of course).

This morning's marathon has been coupled with the recent speculation that Robbie may be re-united with his former bandmates. Now, I was a mega Robbie fan at the time; I thought I was going to marry him, along with about a million other little girls. Well he wasn't that much older than me; when I was nine, he was like, what, seventeen? Obviously, that never happened, or I'm sure you would all know about it. Despite my early love for Robbie, the news that he wants to re-join Take That left a sour taste in my mouth. He has been nothing but arrogant towards them in the last year or so, since they decided to reform. But now, what with his latest album being pants and his recent stint in rehab being dismissed as a publicity stunt, I can just imagine his PR person sitting across the desk going " Right, Robbie, you were the once the golden boy of British pop but now everyone hates you. You're going to have to swallow your pride and rejoin Take That. They're back for good and everyone loves it." The thing is though, they're doing fine without him. Their singles and album have all charted straight in a number one and their upcoming tour sold out in minutes, just like their reunion tour a year ago. So, if I was Take That, I'd say 'no thanks, Robbie'. But then, they are the 'nicest guys in pop' so who knows?

You may be wondering, as I am starting to, how I am going to link this to PR. Well, the implications of Robbie's rehab visit (timed nicely to coincide with Take That's appearance at this year's Brit Awards) and the recent revelations that he may rejoin them, to me, reek of publicity seeking. But this is not what I'm talking about. What struck me this morning, as I was watching thier raunchy dance routines and nearly-naked bodies on my telly-box, was the outright sexualisation of the pre-pubescent market. The first time I saw these videos, I wasn't even ten years old. Indeed, I was subjected to the afore-mentioned jelly-rubbing shenanigans when I was only seven. I recounted a tale of woe to my flatmates, who I think were only pretending to listen, being boys. When I was about nine, Take That performed a stunt on one of their tours where they ripped off their trousers and stood with their backs to the audience, with the words 'Take That' written on their lovely bum cheeks. I had a large poster of this incident on my bedroom ceiling (my walls were full). My dad, a relatively liberal-minded parent, had a fit and ripped it off. I was devastated. Only now can I see why he was so affronted - I was nine for crying out loud!

This set me to thinking about my expriences as a little girl, coming across the first boys I fancied, ie. Take That (but not Jason, he was too old; funnily, now he's scrummy!) and I joked about doing my dissertation on 'The Impact of Take That on the Sexualisation of Young Girls in the Early 1990's'. But the more I think about it, the more it seems like a real issue. How does PR use sex to sell a target market of pre-pubescent girls? Because they undoubtably do. It's all related to the adultification of our children, the covert sexualisation of little girls barely out of nappies. It's not just in the music industry. Think about Barbie, she's being doing it for decades. My youngest sister, despite the best efforts of my parents, virtually idolises the 'Bratz', a fictional group of friends who wear make-up, mini-skirts and flash their midriffs, while discussing boys and fashion. What's scary is that she's only four. This is obviously a major issue but is it one we can really do anything about?

On a lighter note, I am now sitting wondering how my love of Take That in my younger years has influenced my taste in men in my adult life. I hope it hasn't, those codpieces were bloody awful!