Friday, 11 November 2011

How can you make your events successful?

How can you get people to attend your events, and to stay involved as part of an all year round community?

That's what I tackled this week in a presentation I gave at Internet Week Europe:

I’m here today to talk about how you can turn engaging events into longer term communities based on experiences that you have told me that you want to hear about.

So what I’m not going to tell you to do today is to create a great event - I’m working on the assumption that you’re going to try and do that anyway. You told me that you were trying to do that anyway.

And when I wondered around asking people before this session what they wanted, you told me that you weren’t sure how to turn an event into a community.

So I’m going to try and show how behavioural economics and digital intersect - and what this means for creating a successful event. And the key insight of behavioural economics is that simple small changes can sometimes make huge changes to outcomes.

So here are five areas for discussion about how you can make your event into a community.

Firstly make it incredibly easy to participate. People are getting used to online interfaces which require almost no effort to use. Think of Amazon’s Buy-now-with1click service. Rory Sutherland points out that reducing the number of clicks required to buy a product from 4 to 3 can add 40% to your sales. And Amazon reckon that every 100ms of additional load time for a page reduces their sales by 1%.

Yet most online event services make it unnecessarily difficult to actually register. And often we make it easy to turn up for an event, but don’t capture people’s data and recruit them into our community.

A common mistake is to not take mobile seriously enough. People with smartphones, which is most people who will come to your events, read email heavily on them. And they love crossing things off their to do list - so if you can make it very easy to register on mobile, then many more of them will, and they will sign up to stay involved in the community afterwards.

Secondly use peer pressure. There is vast evidence of the power of peer pressure. And in Facebook, Twitter and other social networks we have built in peer pressure. If you visit an event page and see that a friend is attending, then you are much more likely to attend.

Equally post event the participation of your friends and peers will keep you participating in the community.

At a minimum you should never organise an event without a Like button on the event page.

The easiest way to build peer pressure is to contact a bunch of peers - and try to build momentum among them. So don’t just email your list and update your Facebook page. Also create a feedback loop by actively encouraging your attendees to invite their friends.

Equally during and after the event if you profile a wide series of attendees, even with simple mechanics like vox pops, then you’ll strengthen the peer effect.

Thirdly get people to commit. Ticketing agencies are great at getting people to book with early bird discounts - knowing that they will pay up front, even though many won’t turn up.

You can do this without getting people to pay. So give people exclusive access to something if they book early.

People hate missing out - the idea of all of your friends or peers having a good time without you is horrible.

So set a very low bar for tickets, tell people when the Gold tier is about to sell out. And then when it’s sold out, create the same shortage with a silver tier, bronze tier and so on until you reach the event.

You can use this to build a longer term community, for instance by getting early registrations to input on event content, as well as starting to build your community from earlier. Since time is one of the crucial ingredients to build a community then extending community building to before an event is a good way to strengthen your community.

Fourthly create your own media gathering operation for your event.

My friend and colleague Ryan Davis ran the social media for the X Factor auditions in the USA recently, which was phenomenally successful at creating buzz round the event.

The key to this was having a content gathering team - a couple of young guys who went around photographing and filming wacky contestants, and bringing them back to Ryan, who edited the highlights, tweeted them and interacted with the contestants.

Not rocket science - but there’s an underlying truth here about events. Which is that if you are at event, then you always have a nagging fear that something exciting is happening just round the corner. But if you’re normal height then you can’t see beyond the closest few people to you. And if there’s somebody incredibly high profile, like Mark Zuckerberg speaking, then you’re probably watching them.

But most of the time there are lots of potentially interesting people there - but you don’t know who they are, where they are or what they’re saying. So social media has a huge ability to act as your radar.

Now it’s often assumed that this will happen spontaneously. Actually only a small proportion of people will be creating content at any one time, it’s not necessarily covering the full range of stuff going on or promoting your agenda. So you can easily boost this at low cost. Get some journalism students to work for you for the day for instance.

Again what creates a great event also strengthens the longer term community, by making it a better event, by creating content that people will return to and my making a wider range of event heroes.

Finally understand why people come to events.

And this is an interesting question to ask in Internet Week.

Why, in fact, are Internet Week events face to face?

Well it turns out that we quite like meeting other people. In fact the main point of these events is to meet other people - presentations like mine are really just an excuse to mingle over coffee.

So the most valuable things you can do are to make it easy for people to find each other and to create and maintain links to each other.

The simplest, and one of the best, examples of this I know is the E-Campaigning Forum conference that happens annually in Oxford. A couple of hundred NGO campaigners come together and then stay together over the year through an email list.

So my challenge to everyone here is to create something for their conference that replicates our two most successful professional social networking apps.

LinkedIn has overcome our British aversion to becoming friends with people we don’t know.

And Grindr has been phenomenally successful at adding location and real time to internet dating.

If you combine the two, which is reasonably easy to do, then you have a locational app which allows you to find people at an event, connect with them after the event and share content while at the event. There are already numerous apps that do this, like Gruppio.

Or if you want to do something simpler, simply create lots of content during the event and email it to people afterwards.

So my final question for everyone here is who has already done this and how has it worked?

Monday, 26 September 2011

I've got a new job

I'm extremely pleased to announce that I'll be Managing Director of Blue State Digital in London, starting on 12th October.

Here's the press release announcing it:

Blue State Digital London Appoints Rob Blackie as Managing Director

London – Blue State Digital, Inc. (BSD) has appointed Rob Blackie as Managing Director of their London office. In his new role, Blackie will be providing leadership to the agency’s growing UK-based operations and assume responsibility for BSD’s continued expansion in the European markets.

Blue State Digital, which was acquired by WPP Digital in 2010, is known best for its work on U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Founded in 2004, the firm has achieved strong growth by successfully applying digital organising and advocacy strategies to the commercial, NGO and public sectors.

BSD’s client roster includes American Express, Ford Motor Company, Microsoft, Recylebank, and dozens of the world’s leading non-profits including the Red Cross, United Way Worldwide, and the Sundance Institute. The firm also works with political candidates and parties around the world.

Commenting on his appointment, Rob Blackie said:

“BSD-London does brilliant work with clients like the Tate, Hope Not Hate and the music matters campaign for the BPI, among many others. There’s great potential for BSD to gain recognition for this work, and to grow our client base across non-profits, government and corporates.”

Blackie comes to BSD from Blue Rubicon, which he joined in 2005 with a background in traditional media relations, and was Blue Rubicon’s founding Head of Digital from 2007.

Blue Rubicon’s digital work now covers almost all client accounts, from Facebook’s multi-award winning Democracy UK campaign to McDonald’s. Under Blackie’s guidance, Blue Rubicon was shortlisted for 13 digital awards in the past year alone.

BSD Managing Partner Thomas Gensemer said:

“Rob will be an incredible asset for Blue State Digital. We’ve seen his proven ability to introduce online communications for a broad spectrum of clients, and we’re excited to bring his knowledge, and tremendous business intuition into the fold. We know his experience will be instrumental in BSD’s continued success in Europe.”

About Rob Blackie 
Prior to joining BSD, Rob Blackie was Head of Digital at Blue Rubicon. He has a background in traditional media relations and has headed Blue Rubicon’s digital team since its formation in 2007. He advised a wide range of corporate and public clients—from large-scale government campaigns to Facebook and McDonald's —on integrating online and offline communications. Prior to joining Blue Rubicon, Rob played a large role in advising the central government Directors of Communications on the integration of digital into press office communications, and trained more than 500 government communicators on how best to implement these practices.

About Blue State Digital

Blue State Digital (BSD) is a full-service agency that provides integrated digital marketing strategy as well as a Web-based licensed software platform to help organizations drive concrete results by building communities online. BSD provides clients with a variety of strategic services, including program development and management, mass email strategy and execution, website design, content development, video and motion graphics, offline PR and social media outreach, analytics and online advertising. In addition, the BSD Online Tools, the company’s licensed software toolset, offers organizations of any size a core CRM/CMS technology platform for community-building and other advocacy initiatives. BSD has offices in New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Boston and London.

BSD is part of the WPP plc, one of the world's largest communications services organizations (NASDAQ: WPPGY, For more information, and

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Help. I've become a swear word

I have a slightly unusual surname. Not wildly so, but Blackie isn't like Smith. Our numbers are in the thousands though.

And like everyone else I occasionally have my emails go into people's junk mail folders.

Well I'm mildly distressed to see that my name is considered a profanity by a leading provider of online moderation tools.

This means that if I comment on Facebook pages or some websites and mention my surname then I'll be automatically put into a moderation queue, and disappear from websites. And it might explain some of my emails disappearing.

This feels like the first step on the slippery slope to being airbrushed out of history.

Still as my colleague Karin Robinson points out, Olympic gold medal gymnast Mitch Gaylord must have it much worse.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

August round up - Facebook, QR codes and more

Here are a few great little articles that we’ve seen recently that you might find interesting.

A guide to the Facebook Edgerank algorithm

The Edgerank algorithm is used by Facebook to decide which content to display in your news feed and when you search for content. It, for instance, shows me Diet Coke rather than Coke when I search for Coke on Facebook, because more of my friends are fans of Diet Coke than Coke.

This guide is the best explanation of Edgerank I’ve seen.

How connected are you?

We’re proud of this app we produced for Western Union, that shows you how globally connected you are compared to your friends. I’m currently ranked 138,084th out of 225,000 app users.

What does mobile mean for marketing?

Rory Sutherland’s talk at Google’s Think Mobile conference is characteristically entertaining and insightful on how mobile’s ability to provide contextual relevance can be influential for marketers

Misuse of QR codes by Crowne Plaza

Crowne Plaza’s recent advertising campaign that uses QR codes is nicely analysed here, explaining why a much simpler mechanic would probably have been successful.

When online PR goes wrong

This write up of a PR paid blogger trip to Magaluf is a great example of how badly executed blogger relations can go horribly wrong. [Warning – not for the faint hearted].

Friday, 26 August 2011

Google Plus round up

A lot has been written about Google Plus. While I’m a fan of its functionality, I’m not convinced that it’s taking off in the UK. With a relatively digital set of friends and colleagues I’ve only seen one update in my G+ stream in the last few days.

Here are two views that are worth reading:

  • ‘What Google Plus is really about’ – a view that it’s mainly about moving paid services to the cloud
  • Is social in Google’s DNA’ – a comparison of Google’s algorithmic approach to Facebook’s more behavioural approach to relevance by Tom Anderson, the founder of MySpace

Monday, 22 August 2011

Data use by Tesco, Capital One and dating websites

McKinsey’s recent report on ten major trends includes a number of trends driven by data, including product testing and data mining by corporates such as Tesco, Capital One and Ford, and crime mapping to identify problem areas.

On a similar note, Marketing Week’s feature on the use of data by online dating companies has a variety of useful insights.’s use of behavioural data with people’s stated preferences is interesting in that it’s a the centre of their business model, not just in their marketing:

Lovestruck has two types of algorithm. When users first join the site, they will be matched with potential partners using Lovestruck’s in-house algorithm based on interests, what they are looking for, age, location and so on.

But when they start to use the site, that data is overridden by an IntroAnalytics matching algorithm which learns from the user’s behaviour.

Monday, 4 July 2011

What is Google Plus?

Google Plus attempts to capture ‘social’ from Facebook*. In other words it tries to mix Google’s successful search, mobile (Android) and Gmail businesses with Facebook’s successful social business.

Why is Google doing this?

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, once said that everything is better if it’s social. By this he means that we are interested in what our friends do about almost anything, whether it’s a film they watch, their job or a restaurant they visit. Market research and data show that people are far more likely to buy a product, and to pay a premium for it, if a friend recommends it.

If a friend of yours clicks ‘Like’ on the new Transformers film, then you are more likely to watch it. If you see a Transformers advert, showing you that your friend John has ‘Liked’ Transformers, then you are hugely more likely to click on the advert and to actually watch the film. This means that social advertising is massively more effective, and lucrative, than simple Google advertising that is based on what you search for or the words that appear in your emails.

How does it work?

Beneath it all Google and Facebook have created two similar systems:

· A stream of content that your friends have posted up. So your sister posts up a video of your nephew, and you can see it.

· Email, messaging, video and phone chat and other communications tools are integrated, so that all of your history of communication with a friend is captured. So if you’ve emailed a friend, shared a photo with them and organised a BBQ that you invited them to, this is all obvious to you.

· When you ‘Like’ or ‘+1’ a piece of content (e.g. the new Transformers film) your friends are told, and this preference appears in their search results.

· Social tools, so that, for instance you can see who your mutual friends with people are.

So what’s the difference between Google Plus and Facebook?

The key difference is how friends are treated. In Facebook the default choice you make is between a piece of content (e.g. your holiday photos) being public or restricted to your friends. More sophisticated settings exist, but people usually just share things with their friends.

The problem with Facebook’s default[1] is that most people have very different groups of friends. So their work friends and friends from university may be very different. And many people have had a mildly embarrassing situation when these two groups have seen the same content. For instance their work friends see photos of them at Glastonbury, or an ex-boyfriend sees your holiday photos.

Google Plus’s approach is to force you to create ‘Circles’ of different friends, so that you can share content with specific groups of people. By doing this they hope to get people to use Circles to share more information, and to spend more time on Google sites.

On top of that Google Plus has many of the useful functions that Facebook has, as well as a few additional ones. In particular, for Android users of Google Plus, any photos taken on your phone will be automatically uploaded to a private website, ready to share with your ‘Circles’.

Who will win?

Both Facebook and Google have huge audiences, lots of experience at creating usable products and very sophisticated strategies. But even if its strategy seems right, at the moment Google Plus feels a bit dead and is not terribly intuitive.

If we had to bet, we’d go with Facebook, but the chances are that both will flourish in time.

Comparison of features between Google Plus & Facebook




Show that you like content

+1 button

Like button

See what your friends are doing

Streams showing what friends are doing, split by circles

Home page showing your friends, and brand, updates

Messaging tools

Email, IM. Unlimited size IM groups via Huddle function

Messaging includes email, IM and Facebook messages


Google search shows you what your friends have +1’d

Bing search shows you what your friends have ‘Liked’

Mobile & location

Integrated with Google’s Android operating system for mobiles. Check In system is very similar to Facebook, using the popular Google Maps service

Facebook Places shows you where your friends are

Voice and video

Multiple video conferencing

Skype partnership


Photos from Android phones are automatically uploaded to your Google Plus account – encouraging you to share them.

Tagging of friends encourages sharing

Recommended content

In home feed, as with Facebook, as well as the ‘Sparks’ feed which caters for things you are interested in, but that come from strangers.

Just appears in your home feed, though you can review content from fan pages and groups later if you missed it.

*Facebook is a BR client. However I’ve tried to be as dispassionate as possible in writing this.

[1] A problem explicitly addressed by Mark Zuckerberg when launching their new groups function.

Digital campaigning

You can find some great views on what great digital campaigns looks like in the PR Week / Blue Rubicon Digital campaigning supplement, which you can find here.

Articles include:
  • Aviva on the YouAreTheBigPicture campaign
  • GiffGaff on their innovative use of members to provide customer services
  • Facebook on social

Monday, 25 April 2011

When should you send emails?

Emails are slightly more likely to be opened when people are at work, particularly on their lunchbreak. This is changing though as people get more access to the internet on their mobiles, so are more prone to open their emails on the way to work or while at home (often while watching TV).

However a major study by Mailchimp shows that people are more likely to take an action resulting from an email if they receive the email over the weekend. This is probably because they have more time to consider the email and take action over it, particularly if it involves an action that requires typing (trickier on mobiles than on laptops/desktops) such as paying for something, booking tickets or signing a petition.

Takeaway for me:
  • Weekdays - best for informational / brand building emails that don't require an action
  • Weekends - best if you want people to buy something or do something

Friday, 15 April 2011

How to stop your email list from dying

It's common for organisations to build up an email database or a Facebook page, which they then forget for a while and abandon. At Blue Rubicon we've been doing some comparisons of how people react when you start using the database again, and there are some interesting common patterns:

  • Response rates are significantly lower than they were previously. One email list we're reviving had a 35% average open rate in summer 2010 - which has fallen to 25% in the first few emails we've sent to it.
  • Unsubscribe rates rise significantly compared to previously
  • Bounce rates increase - because people have moved job or changed email address for another reason
When we've investigated these, they are unsurprising. People have forgotten who we were, so didn't bother opening our emails, or, worse, unsubscribed. And if they moved job they forgot to tell us that they'd moved, because they hadn't heard from us for a while.

The best advice to keep email lists and Facebook pages alive is to regularly (i.e. at least monthly) contact them. This helps by:
  • Reminding people how wonderful you are so that even if they don't open the email, they remember that you are there. So they don't unsubscribe, and they'll occasionally engage.
  • Reminding people to tell you when they move email address.
If you have let a list go some months without being emailed, then the best ways to revive it are:
  • Start with content that reminds people of why they are subscribed. So if they subscribed for local news, start with an exciting bit of local news
  • Make sure that the emails come from somebody they know
  • Take it easy - if they haven't heard from you in months then only email them once every few weeks at first, otherwise it will feel like a shock

Monday, 28 March 2011

Best email I've seen in a while

Very simply formatted, but a brilliantly told story from the Obama campaign.

Joe Biden email on healthcare

Monday, 14 March 2011

It's time for a no-fly zone

In 1984 a young aeronautical engineer called Al-Sadek Hamed Al-Shuwehdy,an opponent of Muammar Gaddafi, was hanged in a basketball stadium in Benghazi. As he hung from the rope dying, he was grabbed round his legs and dragged down until he stopped moving by a brutal young woman called Huda Ben Amer. Ben Amer was appointed Mayor of Benghazi, and went on to terrorise the people Benghazi for the decades since. She escaped the Benghazi uprising, and is waiting to return if the Libyan army retake control in the next few days.

Al-Sadek’s story matters, not just because of the horror of his death.

In the next few days Britain will have to decide whether to lead efforts to create a no-fly zone in Libya. No liberal can deny that the rebels are preferable to Gaddafi’s tyranny. But a few people are still questioning whether we have a right in international law to intervene if the UN Security Council refuses to authorise a no-fly zone.

In fact international law, as used in Kosovo, allows unilateral intervention if it is going to prevent an imminent humanitarian catastrophe. In Libya this week we can reasonably judge that there is an imminent humanitarian catastrophe. Thousands of people have already died - and with Gaddafi’s murderers like Huda Ben Amer waiting, we can be sure that thousands more will die if they win.

We need a no-fly zone as soon as possible - and as liberals we should be proud to support one.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Fundraising metrics

I've just done a fundraising campaign for my run up Tower 42 next week, and I've used it to do some basic analytics of how reach turns into donations.

My rough estimates, gleaned from links and Mailchimp, are that the click rates for this campaign are:

· Mailchimp emails – 7%

· Ordinary emails – 4.9%

· Facebook – 0.3%

· Twitter – 0.25%

Mailchimp is unsurprisingly high – people have opted in to these emails, know me and the emails are well formatted and likely to actually get delivered into people’s inboxes because of Mailchimp’s reputation. Plus I actually tested them.

Ordinary emails I assume to be a bit lower mainly because there are some people in there who won’t have heard from me for a while, and who may have abandoned their email addresses or only check their secondary email occasionally.

The timing of the clicks on indicates that some people who received both a Mailchimp email and a email were prompted into action by the ordinary email, which came a few days later.

Facebook feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, but the figures may be slightly underestimated since I’ve put in a few non-tracked links to the site.

Twitter also looks like a low engagement channel from my colleague Josh’s metrics on the same campaign too. My instinct is that it’s quite hard to get much emotional engagement from a Tweet.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

A basic online campaigning guide - Part 5a - Local campaigns

Once you know what to say, what are easy ways to tell your audiences if you are running a local campaign?

1. Email newsletters
Local newspapers are slowly dying, and their quality has been falling for years, while council freesheets tend to be full of uniformly positive propaganda.

This leaves a large gap in the market for local news - both political and non-political. Here's an example of a basic newsletter for residents of the Crofton Park area of Lewisham.

A newsletter once or twice a month will strike the right balance of being fresh, but not too often.

2. Breaking news
Local news is rarely local enough for most people. So if you email people with breaking news, then they are usually very grateful.

Here's a good example that Tom Brake, MP for Carshalton & Wallington, did during the early 2010 snows.

3. Post it to your website
Email newsletters usually translate to good news items on websites, where they will continue to get a trickle of traffic for years afterwards.

4. Tweet the headlines
Tweet the headlines in your email out to your followers over a few days, linking to the email text on your website.

5. Publicise through your Facebook page
As with the Tweets simply split out each story from the email into a series of stories that you release over a few days (or weeks).

Hootsuite is a useful tool that allows you to schedule Tweets and Facebook updates simultaneously, so you can set up several weeks of tweeting and Facebook in one go.

6. Email supporters of a specific campaign
Quite a lot of people will only want updates on specific local campaigns you are running, but will happily receive an email newsletter than contains these updates. This can be a good way to encourage them to convert from being a supporter on a specific local issue to receiving your general email newsletters.

7. Publicise your news in offline materials
Reference and cross-promote your email newsletter in your leaflets, local visits and meetings. At worst you'll get credit for being hardworking, at best you'll get extra subscribers.

Tom Brake Snow email

Friday, 21 January 2011

Blue Rubicon's digital inspiration for January

And here it is - feel free to drop us a line if you want to find out more about any of it.

Slides - Jan 2011

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Inside stats on a Sarah Palin viral sensation

My colleague on Blue Rubicon's digital team Karin Robinson also writes the excellent Obama London blog.

On Sunday night she found herself at the centre of a viral sensation when she spotted that Sarah Palin's Facebook page moderators were deleting anti-Palin comments, but not a comment that implied that it had been right to kill a 9 year old girl.

The post rapidly circulated on Twitter - from where the Huffington Post picked it up. It rapidly became the most re-tweeted item globally, generating over 400,000 views of her post in the following two days, and over 9,000 comments on Facebook, as well as extensive pick up in traditional media.

Karin's given a brief explanation of what happened on the Blue Rubicon website. But she's also kindly given me the Google Analytics for her blog in the last few days, which I've put below.

This is a good example of the value of building websites on platforms such as Blogger. Most hosting services would not be able to cope with such a huge surge of traffic, while, as far as I'm aware, Blogger didn't wobble once.

Karin Robinson Blue Rubicon Digital viral success

Friday, 7 January 2011

What would World War I blogs have read like?

My great-uncle has recently written up his father's letters, written while fighting in World War I in Iraq.

The interesting thing for me is quite how factual, dry and stiff-upper lip they are. After describing his injury and subsequent carriage to a hospital, he signs off, as if nothing terribly serious has happened.

My great uncle has added a note below the letter, describing what really happened:
My father doesn't mention the blood loss, pain, being left for dead among the dead, building a coffin of mud around him for protection and the rain filling this coffin with bloody water, twice falling off the stretcher, or the unsprung cart that transported his wounded body to the river Tigris.

I wonder how it would have been written if it was in 2011?