Our Blog

By our social web talents, according to their social web needs

Massive corporations have taken control of the internet. It’s time for us to take it back.

Yesterday’s internet was all about impressing computers. Today, the internet is all about impressing people. The social web makes us all the arbiters of taste. We collectively determine success. BigCorp, Inc. cannot compete with the passion and talent that we each possess.

New web, new work

The social web has brought together thousands of interested, motivated people with a desire to make the world a better place. There are loose affiliations of marketeers, designers, FaceBookists, WordPressistas and Twitter-junkies sharing ideas, inspiration and encouragement. We want to pull these people together into a new kind of new media business. A business arranged along the very same lines as the social web itself. A business that aims to wrest control of the social web from Big Corp, Inc. and tired agency models. A social web of social web experts making the social web a better place for everyone.

Freelancers, charge!

The web enables many of us to work flexibly but freelancers only ever see a tiny proportion of a much larger project. By combining talents, freelancers can work flexibly and collaboratively alongside people with other skills, feeding in thoughts at all stages of a project and seeing the whole thing through to completion. And that means greater job satisfaction.

And we certainly won’t be expecting to have anyone work for nothing. We all have bills to pay. But there is no need for an organisation to absorb all of the profits from your hard labours. Our new way of working will see profits split equally between all team members.

Custom customers

Each project is unique. Customers shouldn’t have to shoulder the overheads of retaining designers they don’t need, or change consultants they will never see. Our new way of working relies on self-forming project teams comprising only those with the required skills. Projects can be delivered quickly and cost-effectively. New ideas can flourish. Amazing things will happen.

Join the revolution

If you want to hoist the flag, get in touch. Or leave a comment below.

The irkafirka story

It has been a year since I first challenged illustrator Nick Hilditch to illustrate a tweet every day. He took to the task like a Hercullean jack russel, and now has an extraordinary portfolio of doodles to show for it. But what about me? What have I learned from the process?

Here are the top three things:

People are terrific

Since the first irkafirka, the response has been amazing. We now have 2,300 followers on twitter and 170 ‘fans’ on FaceBook and we get amazing feedback every day. For our first birthday, we chose to give back some love and blithely set ourselves the unreachable target of raising £5,000 for Comic Relief. As expected, we fell well short of our goal, but £1,140 is still a fair chunk of change. And frankly, we’d have settled for £100.

You don’t need to be original to be amazing

We didn’t realise it at the time, but there have been others that have taken tweets as inspiration for illustration. As we’ve said here before, originality is nothing new. irkafirka certainly proves that. Our ‘competitors’ include Twaggies, @BeckIntl, Museum of Modern Tweets and TweetsIllustrated. Even telecoms giant Orange had a bash. But thanks to Nick’s gaudy style and the banter we generate on twitter, we consider ourselves to be twitter’s favourite colourers-in.

No money goes a long way

Business value was the furthest thing from our minds when we started irkafirka. To be honest, it has come no closer to our minds since. But, because of our relationship with Nokia and the sale of the occasional print, we have managed to turn a small profit from our endeavours. Of course, we have very few costs to cover, which helps. And thanks to AppMakr, Layar and Hopalla, even our adventures into mobile apps and augmented reality have been extremely cheap. But if you have a bright idea, irkafirka shows that it is possible to get it off the ground without spending a fortune.


There are three basic lessons companies need to understand about social stuff:

1 – It can not and will not make your company or its products sexy or desirable

2 – It almost certainly will not have any kind of positive effect on your bottom-line

3 – It takes a huge amount of time and you’ll probably get it wrong anyway

Betfairpoker, an online gaming site, seem to understand this. As a result, their unusual twitter persona is really quite popular.

Eschewing the usual corporate social media strategies of yelling about how great you are, leaking offers, and driving clicks (which could be legally ruinous in Betfair’s line of business), their success comes from a unique and engaging brand of silliness. Here are some recent examples:

Of course, it’s not just a stream of situationist one-liners. There is a fair amount of chat and banter as well. And the occasional nod to the fact that some people like to gamble. But does it make you want to sign up for Betfair’s services and throw all your hard-earned cash against a mountain of unbeatable odds? Me neither. However, if I was in the market for an online gaming service, I know where I’d go. I’d go to the company that is clearly setting itself apart from the crowd. One that isn’t afraid of being different. One that, on the surface at least, doesn’t seem to be blinkered in its pursuit* of profit at all costs.

Betfair are clearly playing the long game* here. I’m sure that the red-tape surrounding the gaming industry is at least partly responsible for the sideways approach. But it is the only corporate account that is worth following.

A final note of caution before you remodel your tweet-stream in a like manner. The charm and guile of the Betfair account appears to come from a single voice. Quite what will happen when that voice leaves to write the first social media sitcom for BBC3 is unclear.

*Two gambling related metaphors. This stuff doesn’t just crawl from under the hall carpet, you know…

The French have a saying; “There is no such thing as a quite-good omelette”.

The French, of course, are very proud of their omelettes. It is a staple of life in a French kitchen and the first thing that cooks are taught to make. And they are ridiculously simple – a couple of eggs, a knob of butter and a searingly hot pan are all that is needed.

If the French Academy still allows the creation of new sayings, I’m sure they would also say, “There is no such thing as a quite-good PowerPoint presentation”. And I would have to agree.

The same rules apply to omelettes and PowerPoint. You need fresh ingredients. You need an awful lot of energy. You need speed and efficiency. And above all, ridiculous simplicity.

I offer here the notes I made when putting together my talk for Interesting North.

“Interesting North talk idea

Nothing of what follows is true. Unless you want it to be.

In 2000, I was talking at an analyst event in London that had been convened to discuss the future of mobile technologies. A guy from Nokia was on stage before me and showed the sales projections that Nokia had built it’s handset business on. The graph was a typical corporate hockey-stick.

“We thought that by now (2000), there would be 5 million mobile phones in use world wide.” He declared it an “upside miss”, meaning that sales had massively overshot projections. This massive overshoot, which caught all the manufacturers and network operators by surprise was caused by millions of kids discovering that they could keep in touch with each other by sending texts. The companies were anticipating voice traffic and had largely forgotten that SMS existed at all.

Kids leapt on SMS because it was a blank canvas. They weren’t being told what to do with it. They weren’t even told that it existed, except by their friends who had stumbled on it by chance.

Just imagine for a second. Imagine being the first kid to discover that you could text your mates. There must have been one. One single kid who just happened on this ‘Text Message’ function in his new phone and thought, what the hell does this do? Then typed a message and clicked ‘Send’. Imagine how cool that kid must be? There’s a children’s book in this – ‘The boy who clicked Send’. That one kid started a revolution. And we’ll never know who he is. And, worse, we’ll never know how the first recipient felt. Of course, we can be pretty certain that he also discovered the ‘Text Message’ feature pretty quickly. And he must have typed something like “What the hell is this? Who the hell are you?”, otherwise texting would never have taken off like it has.

Now imagine what would have happened if that second kid had looked at that first text message and just thought, “Wow! That’s odd”. DELETE. The first kid would have gone to school the next day, told his friends of his discovery and everyone would have just thought that he was making it all up.

“Hey! I sent a text message last night!”

“Yes, of course you did. Wierdo!”

It’s simple acts like this – clicking ‘reply’ to your first text message – that change the world.

Fast forward twenty years.

We all know Twitter. Most of us are only here because we heard about this on Twitter. I can assume that you’re all pretty Twitter-literate. So let’s fast forward 20 year to San Francisco – California. 14th of September 2010.

Twitter announces a whole load of new services, brands the updates New Twitter and describes itself as “A News Service”.

At home, just outside Sheffield, keeping up with the event via Twitter’s old service I laugh out loud. Not ‘lol’. I didn’t ‘lol’. In fact, I never ‘lol’. I’m not of that vintage. No, I actually real-world laughed out loud.

“It’s happening again”, I thought. “The service owners are so close to what they are doing and so busy looking for ways to make money that they are missing the point!” However, the message from Twitter Towers remained consistent. “Twitter is a news service”.

No, no, no, no, no, no, NO!

During the ‘New Twitter’ announcement, I was reminded of a vignette on William Burroughs’ Dead City Radio album from 1990 called ‘Apocalypse’. I’d like to read an extract. I won’t do the voice.

“Consider an apocalyptic statement. “Nothing is true, everything is permitted”. Hassan-I-Sabbah, tho Old Man of the Mountain. Not to be interpreted as an invitation to all manner of unrestrained and destructive behaviour; that would be a minor incident that would run it’s course. Everything is permitted BECAUSE nothing is true. It is all make-believe, illusion, dream, art.”

Let’s not forget, Twitter was built on SMS – a blank canvas. The original aim, as I understand it, was to cludge together a kind of ‘reply-all’ function for texts sent to a group of people. Twitter is a blank canvas that was built on top of another blank canvas. It’s not a news service – it’s whatever we want it to be. It’s make-believe, illusion, dream, art.

There used to be rules about what you could do with a blank canvas. It used to be that you were only allowed to paint religious scenes on them. Then you were allowed to depict powerful people – kings, queens, lords and ladies – as well. Then the landscapers came along, and the romantics, and the modernists, and the post-modernists, and the cubists, Dadaists, surrealists and the Saatchi-ists. And now you can do pretty much whatever the hell you like with a blank canvas. Blank canvases are incredibly powerful things. Blank canvases change the world.

When I first started using Twitter, about three years ago, there were rules. Lots of rules. Not official rules, but rules that were made up by people trying to come to terms with the enormous blank canvas that Twitter offered. The rules were made by people claiming themselves ‘experts’ in a thing that nobody understood. These people quickly gathered thousands of followers and adherents to the ‘Twenty-five rules for using Social Media’ school of tweeting.

These people are the same who, 500 years ago would have happily issued an edict about what art could depict. Personally, I struggle to come to terms with it, but we’ve all seen the drivel they espouse.

They love verbless sentences and banal calls-to-action. “75 stunning examples of typography”, and similar drab nonsense, which makes up an alarming percentage of the 100 million daily updates. Dullardry of the worst water. And the weird thing is that those doling out this lethargic drivel often have 10,000 followers and more.

But let’s not be too harsh. Blank canvases are scary.  We need to fill the void – it’s a basic human need. Present anyone with a blank canvas and they’ll feel the need to smear paint over the whole thing. Literally AND figuratively. But don’t worry too much. The world being what it is, the rate of progress is enormous. I believe we’re already through the ‘religious’ phase – all the Social Media guru’s are now busy locking themselves away in conference rooms around the world, charging each other higher and higher speaking fees to trot out their hack-kneed nonsense. “It’s a bubble, guys! A bubble! And it’s going to burst any second now!”

We’ve also seen the rise of ‘the depiction of the powerful’. Celebrities on Twitter with millions of followers. Now, real celebrities seem to be departing Twitter in their droves. Dead and fake celebrities are in the ascendant. And, frankly, they can’t last long. Yes, some of them are funny, but it’s a fad.

What’s coming next will be a terrific splintering in the way Twitter works. Just as the art world shattered into dozens of modernist groups with distinct and dogmatic ideas about what it meant to be an artist.

The way Twitter works now, following someone isn’t as important as it used to be. Because of the ReTweet, trends, real-time search and the enormous number of users, if someone says something interesting there’s an incredibly good chance you’re going to find out about it.

But what’s interesting to you may not be interesting to me. The important thing is that we all get to find out the interesting stuff regardless of who we follow. One of the interesting things that came out of Twitter at the New Twitter launch is that Twitter is useful even if you don’t follow anybody. That’s ground-breaking. It’s permission to do anything.

There’ll be no need for ‘opinion formers’ building great, burning stars in the Twitterverse. Stars of course have powerful gravitational fields. But as they fade and die, people will be drawn together into small, self-forming galaxies of mutual interest. Interesting things, you see, also have a gravitational field. Look around at any party or social gathering – people will naturally be drawn together by their interests; political, philosophical or sexual. And the strongest manifestation of “interesting gravity” appears in our use of language. Everyone is drawn to a storyteller just as the swearing, drunken hobo in the corner repels them.

When you get lots and lots of interesting people saying lots and lots of interesting things, they will naturally be drawn together. So the next phase of Twitter’s development will be dominated by language. Think about that when you’re posting your next update. Don’t be afraid to use vibrant language. Allow yourself to play around with metaphor, adjectives and made up nouns and verbs. Remember, nothing is true. Everything is permitted. It is all make-believe, illusion, dream, art.

irkafirka, my pet project and the reason I’m here, is a celebration of language. We exist solely to celebrate people’s vivid use of the written word. And it’s not just Twitter that will be dominated by language. The entire web is moving away from trying to impress a machine (notably Google’s search engine) and towards impressing each other.

But then, none of this is true either.”

I offer this with no commentary, simply as an example of how customer service can work on Twitter.

Posted via email from plainadvice’s posterous


The one constant word in the buzz around the web’s emerging technologies and techniques is ‘Social’. Whether web, media, networks, enterprise, capital, currency or bookmarks, everything is social.


When you meet somebody in the real world, whether at a party, a networking event, a conference, or in a bar, do you try to build an ROI case first? Do you stay at home or in the office, eschewing all human contact until you can be sure that bumping into people and starting (or joining in) a conversation is worth your while? Do you ask people how much cash they’re carrying before you talk to them?

Looking to exploit social situations for your own personal benefit is a sure sign of psychopathy. Until businesses fully understand and accept that sometimes it’s just good to share, converse and communicate they will always make a mess of the whole social thing. Going into this looking for ROI will just leave you lost, alone and frustrated.

So, those of you wanting to build and prove an ROI case from the social web can go ahead and try. For my own safety, I will give you all a wide berth.


Posted via email from plainadvice’s posterous

Here’s the thing.

Business communication is like a pop song. Trust me about this.

In any given lifetime, your audience will grant you two minutes and  thirty seven seconds in which to acheive two (2) things:

First – sing your song

Second – get everyone else singing your song, too.

For this to happen, your song has to be individual enough to be worth remebering. But it also has to fit within a style that is easy to recognise and accept.

Unfortunately, singing takes a lot of talent and a lot more guts. Not everyone can do it. Which is why most business communication comes over as a terrible dirge of confused ideas and lame cliches.

Applying the principles of pop to your business communications is not easy, but it works.

To start off with, you need a hook – a neat little riff or idea that is easy to grasp and even easier to repeat. Then you need to back this up with three other elements – a verse, a chorus and a middle-eight. Verses should be short and sweet but provide background, depth and colour to your hook. Maybe a handful of web-pages, maybe some of your staff tweeting around a theme, perhaps a revamped set of business cards with individual designs. The verse should lead into the chorus – this is where you can let rip. Your chorus should get you, your staff, customers, partners, the press and everyone else in the world screaming your virtues at the top of their voices. A simple statement that sums up the true value of you and your company. I’m going to repeat three words from that last sentence: simple, true, value. Simple. True. Value. That’s your chorus.

The middle-eight links your verses with your chorus. This may be the look-and-feel, or the tone of voice. The style of delivery, or the medium for delivery. A key point here is that nobody every listens to a song because it has a great middle-eight, but plenty of songs are left mediocre and forgotten because they had a weak middle-eight.

Of course, pop music has been constantly evolving, from Muddy Waters picking up an electric guitar to the Beatles harmonising with a string quartet, from Brian Eno’s synthesised noodlings to acid fuelled raves and warehouse parties, from Iggy Pop’s flailing nudity to Jay-Z’s tailored suits. So once you have your song down pat, you have to drop it and come up with something new. That’s why we’re here and why we keep coming back.

All together now, after 4…

Now part of the ‘There’s an App for That’ TV campaign, this app was developed by my good friends at Monetise.

Click here to download:

video.mov (3172 KB)

Posted via email from plainadvice’s posterous