Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Google goggles

Lots of ideas spring to mind about how to use this.

Most obviously while out shopping to do price comparisons.


Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Why the Australians are great communicators

Spotted by my colleague Karin Robinson via my ex colleague Mark Pack.

'It's buggered mate' is the name of an Australian version of Fix My Street.

Just the same concept - but even better communicated.



Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Thursday, 5 November 2009

A PR triumph that has gone un-noticed

TfL’s abolition of the Hammersmith & City line.


They’ve merged it with the Circle line - which easily could have been described by opponents as ‘abolishing a tube line’ – which was in fact why it hadn’t been done for decades when it had been considered.


TfL’s confident framing of the debate has meant that almost all the focus has been on the positives.




Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Is email dead?

Not according to this superb email from Duane Raymond on the excellent ECF email list:

Very very very few new technologies have 'killed' an old technology. What new technologies usually do is do part of what one or more old technologies did much better while making old technologies focus on their strengths.


- Print Press vs Books vs Radio vs TV vs Internet vs Mobiles

- Horse and Cart (now used just on some farms) vs Canals (now used for living and pleasure trips) vs Trains (still king for short-medium distances and large loads across land) vs Trucks (smaller loads across loads with end-to-end delivery vs Boats (long distance, slow spoiling loads) vs Planes (passengers and high-value fast spoiling loads)

- Letters vs. Phone Calls vs. Emails vs. IM/Micro blogging

- Film Camera (still used for high-end professional photos) vs Digital Cameras

One of the few times I can think of when one technology replaces another is when it is a direct replacement: data tapes vs floppy disks vs CD-RW vs DVD-RW vs USB/Flash/SD Cards - but even this still has examples of each 'generation' still being used

...and from using Google Wave, there is no way it will replace email any time soon if ever! It is a great collaboration tool, but isn't an email killer. It will likely replace email's mis-use as a collaboration tool which is what it was intended to do.

For anything to replace email, it would need to:

- Non Proprietary which almost all social networks and media is not

- Be a free both to users and in terms of the licensed technology

- Be an open standard which almost all social networks and media is not

- Do all things much better than email. Most alternatives do only a few things better than email.

- Be as easy to use as email. Hard to get easier than 'compose', 'reply', 'forward', 'delete'

- Not dependent on any one provider

- All data is portable

Email is so flexible it allows LOTS of bad practices - but it also allows lots of good practices. Most social network and IM system prevent most practices but also don't allow many good practices. (e.g. think facebook messages from groups: limited recipient size, no html, no tracking, etc)

So email dead? No way! Facebook and Twitter dead: much more likely :-)



Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Friday, 16 October 2009

Jan Moir - advertising is removed

I'm particularly interested in the Jan Moir and Trafigura stories this week - because they nicely illustrate that you don't need vast numbers of people to make a big difference.

My rough estimate is that 30,000 tweets mentioned Trafigura before they backed down.

I wasn't watching as closely with Jan Moir - but the Facebook group only has about 3,500 members. My impression is that the rate of tweets was at a similar rate to Trafigura, ie 100 or so a minute from this morning.

The key to success I think for the Jan Moir campaign is that it turned people's anger into action by getting them to a) complain to the PCC and b) complain directly to advertisers. To do that effectively you don't need many people - but they do need to be willing to pick up the phone or write an email.

Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Jan Moir's homophobia puts her top of Twitter

Jan Moir's nasty article in the Daily Mail today about Stephen Gately's death has put her close to the top of Twitter, with around 100 Tweets a minute currently.

People are being redirected to the Press Complaints Commission to make complaints - it will be interesting to see the rate at which Tweets translate into complaints.

Interesting that some people are posting her article as a Google Doc so that the Mail doesn't benefit from the traffic.


Thanks to my colleague Sarah for pointing this out.

Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Using the internet for basic communications

One of the most basic things you can do online is to send out briefing and comment on a news announcement.

Boris Johnson's announcement of a fare increase yesterday produced the following reactions:

·         1.57pm Lib Dem press release response – scrappy and untidy but fast and with lots of detailed briefing on the back of it. Useful if I was a journalist needing a quick comment or anyone trying to get to grips with the detail.

·         3.53pm I get Progressive London’s (ie Ken Livingstone) response – a well formatted but wordy explanation of everything that’s wrong with Boris. A bit too detailed for a press release, not detailed enough to be a briefing.

·         6.12pm I get Boris Johnson’s explanation from the GLA. This is the best formatted of the lot, basically his Evening Standard article cut & pasted. Well written and comprehensive. Serious rather than his usual jokey tone.


I’ve checked and Labour officially don’t seem to have responded to the increase in London (e.g. their London website) – except from via the media. 

Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Will the #Trafigura injunction hold?

In the couple of minutes since I searched for #trafigura on Twitter there have been an additional 61 tweets on it. So that's thousands per hour, before the peak internet use time of the day.

Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Monday, 12 October 2009

Castrol's mass personalisation

Great example from my former neighbour Alex here of Castrol automatically recommending the right engine oil for your car:

Castrol is combining speed camera technology with digital roadside billboards to tell around 200,000 drivers what the best oil for their vehicle is in a new ad campaign.

Ogilvy Advertising conceived the idea, which is an innovative recasting of Castrol's pre-existing 'Right Oil Right Car' service.

This allows anyone to find out what is the best Castrol oil product for their car by telling Castrol what their registration plate number is via mobile or online.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Astoundingly stupid advertising

GE try to make coal seem more modern, environmentally friendly and sexy by using models.

100,000 views of this video - but not necessarily in the way they want.

Back at work

So if you're trying to contact me I'm around now.

However I've got close to 2,000 emails to wade through so if it's anything urgent it's probably best to phone me.

Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Bo Blackie born this morning at 11

After a suitably dramatic birth both Tam and Bo are healthy, happy and beautiful.

Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Ten email tips

Keep it really short. Aim for less than 150 words.

Focus on the subject and first lines– which are the only things people will see if they are using Outlook. This is often where emails get pruned.

Incorporate email collection into everything you do – petitions, events, anything you can think of. Building a good email database is difficult – but the payoffs are great.

Ask people to do you a favour. People read their emails because they are interested in what you’re doing. They will actually do you a favour without incentives.

Don’t create a ‘newsletter’ that’s just a bunch of stuff. Have a single purpose in each email that you’re trying to drive people to do – such as signing friends up to a petition.

Use a good email programme to track who opens your emails and what they click. You can then send follow ups to your most enthusiastic supporters.

Test your emails before sending them – what looks nice on screen can look horrible in somebody’s Gmail or on their Blackberry.

Pictures aren’t always necessary. But a good photo in the right place potentially serves the same function as in a newspaper, that is to sum up the story in an emotional and human way.

Relentlessly interrogate whether your email is relevant to your audience. It might be a serious, long email. But if it’s relevant people will read it.

Never, ever spam people. At best you’ll drive away people who you’ve carefully recruited. At worst you’re creating a nasty reputational (and possibly legal) problem for yourself.

Credit due to Blue State Digital’s guide, numerous emails on the E-Campaigning Forum and MailChimp’s guides. Also inspired by great emails by Avaaz, Amnesty, Obama and advice from my colleagues on the Lib Dem Hearts & Minds sub group of the Technology Board.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Two I prepared earlier

One benefit of having worked with the media for over a decade is that I see some stories reappearing that I started some years ago.

Here are two stories from years ago that are still regularly appearing.

Tax manuals getting longer

After a conversation with a tax specialist back in 2000 who said that ‘tax manuals just get thicker each year’ I came up with the idea of simply measuring how many pages the main Tolleys tax manuals had. It started as a small diary piece in the FT, but is now an annual media staple, reported on the front page of the Telegraph’s business section this morning.

Crack squirrels

After seeing a squirrel in my Brixton front garden I wrote an obviously tongue in cheek piece on the Urban75 website about what would happen if it got addicted to crack. The ‘if’ rapidly got lost and was picked by first by the South London Press, and then by virtually the whole national media. I’m particularly proud that it cropped up in a ‘Saxondale’ section by Steve Coogan. It still crops up occasionally, such as in this Londonist interview with Mike Slocombe recently.

You can see the full story develop here on Urban75.

Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Useful website of the week

Mapspread - which is extremely helpful at uploading data from a spreadsheet and plotting it on a Google map. It then gives you a bit of code that you can use to embed the map.

There's a simple example here where Tam (my partner) has used it to show local residents in the Crofton Park / Honor Oak Park area what problems she has recently reported to the council.

Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Thursday, 30 July 2009

I want to be Dennis Thatcher

Actually not the Conservative bit. Or the golfing.

But I would love Tam to be Prime Minister.

And the first step towards that is getting Tam elected as an MP.

I'm very proud to say that last night Tam got selected as the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for Lewisham Deptford.

Tam is determined not to just win more votes for the Liberal Democrats in Lewisham - but to also make Lewisham a fairer, freer and safer, place while doing it.

The good news is that we were in second place at the last General Election in 2005, the local Labour party are complacent, and people are increasingly voting against Labour locally.

The bad news is that Lewisham Deptford is a Liberal Democrat constituency that has very little money, while Labour party locally still receives thousands of pounds from big unions to help fight elections.

So I'm writing to you to ask if you could donate some money or some time to help Tam get elected.

£25 would pay for printing and delivering 500 leaflets campaigning for things like better schools in Lewisham and effective action to cut crime. If you can donate now we can immediately get going in the next few days.

Simply click below to donate money, or reply to this email with offers of help.


Thank you very much in advance,


Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

How has the Prime Minister got almost a million Twitter followers?


No.10 Downing Street, much less noticed than Stephen Fry's following on Twitter, has amassed almost a million followers on Twitter.

This must count as by far and away the biggest, and least noticed, success of Downing Street's digital team.

I take my hat off to them for this. Why on earth aren't they crowing about it more though?

Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Using the internet for better public consultation

Steph Gray's blog has a great presentation that he gave yesterday on the future of public consultations, and how the internet can help engage a wider range of people, improve the quality of ideas generated and significantly change the policy process.

I particularly like the Simply Understand blog which translates official policy speak into readable English.

Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Wednesday, 1 July 2009


I’m very impressed.

I can email post@posterous.com and it automatically creates a blog for me. And my first blog posting.

It then, after a quick set up, cross posts this to my Blogger blog.

Posted via email from Rob's posterous

Friday, 26 June 2009

Who is least trusted?

Well according to this MORI poll I've dug up from late 2008 it's journalists, with a net rating of -55%.

'Politicians' come in at -52%.

So is it entirely rational for politicians to use the other least trusted people, journalists, to try and change their reputation?

Thursday, 18 June 2009

How are the political parties doing campaigning online

There's a feature in PR Week this week examining this.

It's fairly straightforward, with this conclusion on the Lib Dems:

The verdict
Outside contenders. Good tools for local activists are let down by terrible design and weak integration. Bloggers fare better, especially at a local level, and overall understanding of social media is impressive. Pack’s departure leaves some very big shoes to fill.

You can find it here.

Seeing people not stereotypes

I'm continually amazed at how much we all fall into stereotyping old people, rather than recognising them as being just like everybody else.

As pensioners gradually choose to go online this seems to be changing to me as pensioners are refusing to stick in their designated areas, and are out their challenging our prejudices.

This posting, from my amazing great uncle, makes the point brilliantly:

From schooling (what there was of it) I became a pilot. And when the war ended I started in medicine (scotched by TB), stage designer, landscape artist, traveller and illustrator, sculptor, writer of books and articles, and back to being a painter – with lots of little bits in between.
And all along I have brought up children, run gardens, run houses, cooked for all and sundry, as well as creating two small, experimental vineyards.

You can read the full post here.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Minor internet trend of the week

These have been around for a while, but I'm still amused by 'literal video’ versions of music videos.

In other words re-singing a music video so that the words fit the images.

The current major hit is a reversioning of Total Eclipse of the Heart:

My favourite so far is Take on Me

Monday, 8 June 2009

TFL's great use of text

Very simple this.

TFL allow you to sign up for travel updates by text.

I've just got one alerting me of a tube strike tomorrow night.

And directs me to the website for more information.

Extremely simple but in its own way perfect.

The elections online

The different strengths and weaknesses of different media channels were very obvious watching the election results over the last few days.

The traditional media did a good job of comprehensive analysis both online and offline, but hours after the events, so was usually my last port of call.

The legal constraints and lack of imagination of councils mean that while they run the whole process they are very poor at communicating the results quickly or interestingly.


Twitter wins hands down for being the fastest way to find new information about counts around the country. For instance a Twitter search on ‘Bristol’ directed me to a good source of results on Bristol council’s count on Thursday night.

For the really targeted stuff, like who won the local council by election in my backyard, text messages were faster than anything the councils did, or indeed any other medium succeeded in doing.


Facebook’s status updates worked well at telling me results relevant to my Facebook friends. So I found out, for instance, about the Conservative to Lib Dem swing in Sutton courtesy of Tom Brake’s Facebook update.


The BBC worked well at giving me answers to questions like ‘What percentage of the vote did the Liberal Democrats get compared to 2004?’

However the BBC didn’t bother with sub regional results online, even though nobody really cares about regional results until they are finally announced. So for questions like ‘Who has done best in the European results in Burnley?’ discussion forums were a far better source of results.


Discussion forums such as Vote2007 and the comments threads on ConservativeHome, LabourHome, Lib Dem Voice and Political Betting were excellent for gathering together softer gossip and the feel of counts as they went on.

This is exactly the sort of thing that CNN’s panellists gather up superbly during American elections. But British forecasters seem to be comfortable with pundits who have never run an election campaign, so have very few links into the grassroots campaigns.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The brilliance of Boris Johnson

His emails break every email marketing rule around.

But unlike virtually every other marketing email I get they are well written, funny and engaging.

So despite my political opposition to him I can't help but smile and marvel at the quality of the writing.

And of course by doing so he effectively reduces his risk of being attacked on the big issues.

Here's a great example from recently.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Why don't organisations really care about communicating with their staff?

I'm continually astounded about how few organisations really care about communicating with their staff.

When communications campaigns are put up for marketing awards it's almost as if internal communications doesn't exist as an objective for anyone.

For most organisations their staff are potentially thousands of people (or in the case of the NHS over a million) who, every day, have the opportunity to market their organisation - not just to customers but to their friends, neighbours and acquaintances.

Within major organisations there's usually a communications hierarchy where the press office is closest to the board, marketing is somewhere in the middle and internal communications is often left to the human resources department.

All the exceptions I've come across either result from an organisation that genuinely believes that staff are the future of it (e.g. the John Lewis partnership) or where the Chief Executive realises the value of it (e.g. Allan Leighton's internal Ask Allan blog at Royal Mail).

Anyway this is a convoluted way of saying that there's a great blog post on this at Hill & Knowlton's Collective Conversation blog here.

Friday, 3 April 2009

The incredible rise of free council newspapers

My local free newspaper from Lambeth council has an audited ABC of 115,000 copies per issue (one copy every two weeks).

The Independent, across the whole of the UK, has an audited ABC of 200,000 copies per issue (daily).

Add together free newspaper circulations across the UK and they must be in the millions.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Tam's pregnancy - part II

What happens if you announce some interesting (to friends & family) news via various online channels?

1. Twitter - nothing at all - reflecting the fact that I only have one follower.

2. Blog - roughly 25 visitors found the news out that way, and a few said congratulations in the comments. This seems to be a combination of my regular visitors plus a few people who noticed it on LibDemBlogs.

3. Facebook - at least 25 people noticed, with lots of wall comments and messages. This included quite a few people at my work - and gradually they've told other people at work. Cumulatively I reckon half my company (ie 50 people) now know indirectly this way.

I'll sweep up by email at some point in a few days - but it's an interesting reminder of quite how un-viral even interesting news can be.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Tam is pregnant

Interesting experiment this.

A week or so ago we told a few friends / family. And it didn't leak (apart from my Dad being over enthusiastic).

Friday I announced it on Twitter.

And now I'm announcing it here.

After here I'll do Facebook.

And eventually I'll send an email to everyone else.

My guess is that Facebook will be the bursting of the dam...

Monday, 23 March 2009

Jon Stewart on Twitter

Spot on and funny.

It's no wonder that young people love it.

According to reports about young people by middle aged people.


Thursday, 19 March 2009

Local news websites mapped

A great map showing independent local news websites on Justin Williams' blog can be found here:

Blackie's first rule of the internet

Almost all whizzy websites fail to get any significant audience. Almost all pages on big websites such as Facebook or Youtube get a tiny audience.

Closely related to this there are plenty of simple websites, such as Iain Dale's successful blog, that are simply well designed blogs using technologies such as Wordpress.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Howard Dean at the Lib Dem Spring Conference

Howard Dean's speech at the Lib Dem Spring Conference this weekend in Harrogate was interesting even if he didn’t say anything particularly revolutionary. The six key points he made that were interesting were:

1. Build relationships first with the existing communities – you have to reach out to people who care about an issue that you've got common ground with. Implication – start by listening to what people are saying about your issues

2. You can potentially get the community to then adopt your messages (and discipline) – once they’re bought into your victory. Implication – see message discipline by the public as the sign of a successful campaign rather than the (unachievable) cause of one pure message that you direct

3. Messages trump everything else – most internet political campaigns fail. This isn’t just technical failings to use the tools well, it’s mainly a failure to have a motivating message. Implication – a crap message and a good website is pointless

4. Taking the states seriously, even when they were unwinnable at Presidential level, was incredibly powerful. These states then started having a real political debate again, raising the morale of supporters and so meaning that when the Republicans messed up (e.g. a Governor is indicted) the Democrats can reap the rewards. Implication - take the training / support to regional / local staff seriously so that they become more effective campaigners for us.

5. Reaching out to evangelicals didn’t get many to vote Democrat despite stressing the issues that evangelicals and the Democrats share. But it massively reduced their hatred of Democrats – so they were much less enthusiastically campaigning for the Republicans. Implication - keep talking to your opponents so that you can at least reduce their anger at you.

6. Personal relationships between activists and voters really matter, so the same person will knock on the same door year after year to build a long term relationship. Implications - find ways to get your staff to build relationships and be enthusiastic for you.

Saturday, 21 February 2009


If you want an insight into how the internet is eroding personal privacy then search for yourself on pipl.com.

It searches the deep web (ie it puts your name into databases and sees what comes out) to find far more than Google would - reminding us of what a trail we leave online as we live our lives now.

Hat tip: Mark Pack.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Guardian interview with Thomas Gensemer

I'm trying to avoid posting too much about the Obama campaign. But failing because of interesting interviews like this one in today's Guardian.

Monday, 16 February 2009


There's a thoughtful post by Jack Thurston (an ex Special Adviser at DEFRA) here on what LabourList is getting wrong, and more broadly what Labour is getting wrong. There's a nice quote towards the end which I think is quite powerful:

What really matters is something altogether less glamorous. And that is a really coherent and responsive email-driven supporter mobilisation strategy. Even at 30 per cent in the polls, Labour does have tens of millions of supporters it should be communicating with, many of whom have email. It’s not about technology. John McCain had all the same e-mobilisation tools as Barack Obama he just didn’t use them nearly so well. If the next general election is close (and looking at the polls, that’s a big IF) this could turn out to be an important difference between the parties.

Saturday, 7 February 2009


Youmashtube is a great website for entertainment.

It takes feeds off Youtube and creates a custom video channel for you - so you can simply listen / watch lots of videos in a row.

Particularly useful for your own custom music channel or watching long speeches in one go.

Currently I'm using it to catch up on the music of Betty Davis, an under appreciated musical genius. If you haven't heard of her she introduced Miles Davis (her husband) to Jimi Hendrix.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Hazel Blears on campaigning

Quite a good bit of advice on campaigning by Hazel Blears on the Progress website:

Make campaigning fun. Campaigning is like sex – if you’re not enjoying it, you’re not doing it right. It should never be a drudge. Make sure there’s plenty of meals, drinks, social events, and a campaign HQ with plenty of tea and biscuits. Tap into the enthusiasm of young people with blitzing and street stalls. High energy, high impact, low cost.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Always say thank you, part II

The PR Media Blog has a short piece by Thomas Gensemer of Blue State Digital, Obama's web company:

... it had a simple strategy behind it all - find your support, recruit them, give them something to do and then say thank you. And by repeating these steps, changing the calls to action, and monitoring how each user responds, the campaign quickly built an organization of unpredicted scale and commitment to Barack Obama.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Always remember to say thank you

Obama is aware that one of the first things you should do after a campaign is to thank your friends. So he through a ball for party staff - with Jay Z performing I've got 99 problems but a Bush ain't one.

Nate Silverman's description of what it means to be a volunteer member of staff is superb:

Young people generally perform paid campaign work, because the hours are absurd and the pay is marginal. For the vast majority, no job sits waiting at the end of the rainbow. Only the few make it through multiple “cycles,” the term for a campaign period. It is grueling on the body. Other areas of life are suspended or simply dropped. A campaign becomes all-encompassing. From the day you start until at least Election Day, it’s an all-day, every-day job. The sacrifices are sometimes hidden and private, little things you did that only you or maybe one or two who were right there will ever know or appreciate. And it all happens with the possibility that you won’t ultimately win.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Vodcast in PR Week on Obama's campaigning

I've been interviewed for PR Week this week on what Barack Obama's campaigning means for the British government.

The interview can be found here.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

My Society

My Society are the most inspiring bunch of internet geeks you could hope to come across.

They sum it up rather neatly:

200,000 people have written to their MP for the first time, over 8,000 potholes and other broken things have been fixed, nearly 9,000,000 signatures have been left on petitions to the Prime Minister...

, one of their best projects, is simple and effective. You leave your complaint, the council deals with it, and MySociety logs their success (or failure). I can, for instance, see that 100 metres from my front door somebody has reported a badly lit alley, and the council has promised to fix it.