Liberate Media blends online PR with offline PR expertise to form a uniquely positioned social media agency.

Archive for 2009

Universities funding cuts a key moment in management of UK decline

December 24th, 2009

Guest blogger Lorraine Warren, who is Director of Postgraduate Education and senior lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the School of Management at the University of Southampton, argues that the Government’s announcement of big cuts in university funding could damage the economy irreversibly

Yesterday’s announcement of spending cuts to universities has aroused widespread concern  with talk of two-year degrees and increased financial strictures on prospective students.

Like Nigel Thrift, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Warwick, I too find a £553M cut to universities a “considerable blow to a sector that is central to economic recovery.”

More than that, I would argue that Mandelson’s attack on universities is a seminal moment for the UK. Right now, there has never been a greater need for universities to play a vital part in taking hold of the Knowledge Economy and driving it forward on the international stage.

Instead, our political leaders seem hell bent on policies of attrition that seem to be driven only by a vision of managing decline. If we don’t reverse these policies, this attack on our skills base will in time be seen as one of the key milestones in the irreversible decline in the status of UK universities worldwide.

As an example, let’s take the kite-flying over two-year degrees. Yes of course it is possible to develop rich two-year learning experiences that cram a lot of contact hours and self-directed learning into two years and for some individuals in the short-term that might seem like a useful way forward. But what is lost?

For students, there is the lost opportunity to reflect on, connect and develop ideas over time, rather than hurtling through superficial assessment of concepts at breakneck speed. There is the lost opportunity to explore other interests and possibilities in life.

So what? Well, from a work point of view, it is here that the foundations of social networks are created that will be essential in developing so-called ‘portfolio careers’ throughout life.

Further, is all our learning to be entirely functional, geared to a credits audit machine? What an impoverished view of the future we are presenting for upcoming generations. For academic staff, there will be the lost space to develop new thinking, new ideas, new connections and new knowledge, as evenings, weekends and (current) student vacation periods fill up with the management and assessment of learning.

Finally, in the globalised world of the 21st century, we cannot afford just to look inwardly. We have to think about how two-year degrees will be seen in the wider world. How will they be perceived by universities and employers overseas – are we in effect confining students to a restricted future with our ‘bargain basement’ approach? That would be a betrayal indeed.

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Should we be predicting the future, or joining the conversation?

December 18th, 2009

It’s that time of year when we’re all looking forward to a Christmas break, and busily trying to finish off our actions to get away on time. It’s also the ‘predictions’ and ‘round-ups’ time of the year, when the great and good of, well everything, look back at the year and offer their pearls of wisdom on what the next 12 months has in store.

Before you click away, and think ‘oh no, not another one’, fear not, I will not be offering you either, well not intentionally, as I tend to sit in the growing camp of people that are very board of these already. Afterall, what do the majority of predictions actually achieve? Other than occasionally making people look very silly, as Danny Sullivan pointed out in his post on Search Engine Land this week; Is SEO Dead? 1997 Prediction, Meet 2009 Reality quoting a great prediction from 1997, which you can read on the post, but the highlight for me was this closing:

‘So in closing, I submit that search engines are dying. In fact, I would say they are dead already and just don’t know it yet – gone the way of the reciprocal link exchange and the “you have a cool page” award as an effective promotional tool. A victim of their own success.’

For those that don’t know, Google launched the following year, enough said…

So other than an easy piece of content to write with mince pie in hand, or something that your audience/clients expect as a regular feature, what purpose do predictions serve? Does anyone actually use them, do they shape the future?

In most cases I don’t think they do, but to some extent – perhaps, so let me give it a go: 2009 wasn’t a great year – but we survived, and actually did better than most – (well done, of course you did) and 2010 will be better, ‘and’ it’ll be the year of…(enter appropriate prediction: social media, mobile, Twitter monetisation, the end of obvious predictions) good, glad we’ve got that out of the way. I’m sure to look back on that in December 2010 and be content with my accuracy and insightfulness.

The other reason many people write predictions, and in fact offer these rather outlandish headlines (see above) is because they tend to attract reaction, debate and drive traffic, which is always a winner for those looking to bolster their readers/subscribers/visitors, etc, and it works, at the cost of reputation and maybe trust.

Was that too harsh? Possibly, and I really do not wish to tar everyone with the same brush, so allow me to clarify by highlighting those predictions that do prove useful and relevant. I’m not going to offer links or examples, just a profile of the people that will write useful predictions.

So who are these people? Well undoubtedly they’ll be the same influencers, call them what you will, that you look for on your tweets, the same RSS feeds you are subscribed to, and the people you would go to an event to meet.

It’s the same people that share useful and either new, or perhaps insightful, information throughout the year, and it’s the same people that you should be listening to and conversing with all year around, and yes it’s the same people that have gained your trust and built a reputation. They are also the same people that you want to emulate and perhaps be more like next year.

These people are those that have taken the time to listen, get involved in the conversation, and build reputation. These people predict, revise and discuss the future all year round, look at case studies of success and failure, and offer a balanced opinion of the issues in their relevant sector, industry, or area of expertise.

These are the people that we can call social communicators, those that ‘get it’ (if that is still a relevant term) those that have experimented, learnt from failings and can offer the benefit of their experience.

So no, not all predictions are space-filling, traffic-seeking, uninspiring deletion magnets, some are interesting, useful, educational and relevant. It’s just that these useful predictions are not a one-off, the great content is there all year round.

Perhaps, that would be the ideal prediction for 2010, that we all become more social in our communications and our approach, and just join in. In fact i think it’s a great resolution, and one that I will be trying to stick to.

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Weekly Social Media sites, tools and posts round up (18-12-2009)

December 18th, 2009

Welcome to another installment of the ‘Weekly Social Media sites, tools and posts round up’

1.First off today is the Collective Christmas Twitter-driven app, a chance to find out if you’ve made Santa’s naughty or nice list. Pay him a visit to see what gift you deserve. (Collective is a client of Liberate Media).

2. Gigya Toolbar. By now you must have seen those fancy toolbars on blogs that hover at the bottom of the page. Gigya Toolbar is one such toolbar, that you can use for your own blog or website.  To learn more about its features click here.

3. Ustat is a free website value calculator but it also gives you additional information, such as; whether your website is indexed in the correct places, social information and a SEO score. Here is how Google shapes up.

4. Twitterfall lets you easily follow trending topics on Twitter, you can also search for key words, a nice touch is the ability to search for Tweets from a particular location. Twitterfall is also highly customisable.

5. Seachzooka lets you create one advanced search for all the different search engines, meaning you don’t have to search through every individual search engine to find what you are looking for.

Social Media post of the week: Top 50 Twitter Tracking and Analytics Tools

Christmas bonus: B2B Social Media Presentations | Social Media B2B,

Social Media Metrics Superlist: Measurement, ROI, & Key Statistics Resources

SEO post of the week: 15 Sites for Learning and Mastering SEO

Have a Happy Christmas and see you all in the New Year

Andy

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How small businesses can profit from online marketing

December 15th, 2009

Julie Stanford is a mover and shaker in the Brighton business community (as well as publisher of the Essential Business Guide) and I was very pleased to sit in on her weekly RadioReverb show “Business as Usual”, along with Jeremy Spiller from White Hat Media. We chewed over the best ways for small businesses to profit from online marketing, and indeed, who might not benefit by engaging with their customers through social media.

Time is a precious commodity for us all and Julie rightly wanted clear views on how people running their own businesses could justify using valuable hours online – and the most profitable ways to connect. We came up with the ‘Welsh LLEGS’ roadmap – Listen, Learn, Engage, Give and Share. Nothing ground-breaking but we all repeated the mantra here: “It’s not rocket science; it’s about having useful conversations”.

We were actually hard-pushed to think of a single business where online marketing would not pay a dividend, as long as that focus did not replace offline strategies and tactics.  Jeremy pointed listeners in the direction of Joel Comm’s Twitter Power book and reminded us how crucial the role of measurement was to any business owner.

Funnily enough, the day after the show was recorded, my Twitter feed delivered this great Mashable link for small business online marketing resources:

The show is being repeated tomorrow afternoon on 97.2FM and online, with the podcast available from Julie’s website as well.

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How small businesses can use online marketing effectively

December 14th, 2009

‘How small businesses can make the most of online marketing’ is the topic for the RadioReverb show tomorrow morning (Tuesday 15th) where Business as Usual host Julie Stanford , Jeremy Spiller from White Hat Media and I will be addressing the challenges head-on. This is obviously an area that we are passionate about at Liberate Media and I hope to offer some marketing advice on the issues facing small businesses, which form the foundations of the UK economy.

You can listen between 7-8am on 97.2FM or www.radioreverb.com.

The discussion will also be on Julie’s blog . If any of you do catch it, it would good to hear your views. You can also follow Julie (@juliestanford), me (@timsgreenhalgh) and Jeremy (@jeremyspiller) on Twitter.

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Google searches for ‘perfect search’

December 11th, 2009

Google has been busy recently with a raft of announcements on visual, audio, location-based, social and real-time services. That includes the introduction of audio search via Google Voice, real-time audio language translation, location-based searches, and real-time searches incorporating Twitter and news feeds.

There are a number of big clues to the future for Google within these announcements, and real-time search perhaps caused the biggest reaction. This was a must for Google, and unusually it was behind the curve on this. Google’s overview of the launch was: ‘Now, immediately after conducting a search, you can see live updates from people on popular sites like Twitter and FriendFeed, as well as headlines from news and blog posts published just seconds before. When they are relevant, we’ll rank these latest results to show the freshest information right on the search results page’.

The real issue for real-time search is that it changes the game, and although this is good for the user, for search engines and businesses that rely on them, real-time search offers a challenge in terms of revenue stream, and identifying authority and relevancy of content.

Real-time search works well within a community such as Twitter, as many automatically go to the trusted source that they recognise within the results, but on a much larger scale over Google, this could initially confuse and present a set of new problems, or force a new way of thinking for the user. It’s certainly the right way to go, and will help people to understand how the social web works, but that’s quite a big leap for the average user.

That’s where the ‘other’ engines are trying to get the jump on Google by answering a need that Google does not answer at this point. I sat through a Bing presentation on Wednesday, and this was one of the key points.

I believe Bing is an excellent alternative to Google, and offers functionality Google does not, yet, but when you look at current market share, it’s difficult to see where Bing will be able to make a substantial dent in Google’s lead, as Google can upgrade or add new services pretty quickly. You might argue that even if Bing only has a small share, it’s a massive piece of web real estate, but do we really think Microsoft will settle for second place? They may have to.

So, just how big is Google’s search presence these days? Pretty big, and it’s still growing according to the latest numbers from Hitwise, who noted a one-percent rise in Google’s U.S. market share for November. Google now comprises 71.57 percent of Web searches in the U.S.

Yahoo and Bing, meanwhile, both slipped. Yahoo dipped five percent down to 15.39 percent of the total market, while Bing dropped two percent, down to 9.39 percent of the market.

In the UK, Google is even stronger, with 88.74% of all traffic (again according to Hitwise) with Yahoo on 5.51%, and Bing, with just 2.89%.

So, if Google look set to continue dominating, what’s the vision? Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt has gone on record to say Google wants to create “the perfect search engine” and last month, Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of Search & User Experience, offered an insight on what this ‘prefect search engine’ might contain:
“It would understand speech, questions, phrases, what entities you’re talking about, concepts. It would be able to search all the world’s information, different ideas and concepts, and bring them back to you in a presentation that was really informative and coherent.

“We have two, three, five changes every week that are visible to the end-user in the UI but we don’t publicise ranking changes. We are making changes to our ranking algorithm at the rate of two per day. Some of our competitors haven’t made any changes to their ranking function for some time.”

This vision is supported by updates such as “Google Caffeine“, which is a faster algorithm developed to literally fuel real-time search and faster applications.

The other big announcement from Google this week looks at the other side of the coin, not the search engine itself, but how we search. Google Goggles arguably offers a peak at an even more interesting future, by incorporating both visual and mobile search. Yes, I know, every year has been ‘the’ year mobile will explode for the last five years, but one thing we’re all agreed on (pretty much) is that mobile will happen in a big way – sooner or later.

That’s what makes Goggles so important. Basically it is an application that lets users get search results from pictures taken with their Android smart phones, and supposedly other platforms in the future as well.

The visual search concept, which Google also call “computer vision” and “search by sight” is not a new idea, but the practical application could change the way we search. Fundamentally all the user needs to do is use a mobile phone with a camera to identify objects (products, places of interest, vehicles, etc) and match them to search results or online databases, such as maps or e-commerce sites to compare prices, venues, alternatives, whatever.

We’re working towards a future where perfect search engines allow for perfect search; i.e. the user asks a structured question and receives a complete answer. These changes won’t enable perfect search quickly, but they are another stepping stone towards it, and we could see our first perfect searches in five years time.

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Weekly Social Media sites, tools and posts round up (11-12-2009)

December 11th, 2009

Welcome to another installment of the ‘Weekly Social Media sites, tools and posts round up’

1. KnowEm is a slick tool that checks for the use of your brand, product, personal name or username instantly on over 350 popular and emerging social media websites.

2. List Monkey allows you to receive email updates if your keywords are mentioned on a twitter list or via a username and you don’t even have to sign up!

3. Trendjoy is a neat little idea, basically it takes trending words on Google and allows you to buy the domain name via 1and1.

4. Effect Games, is an online tool that allows you to create your own game browser by uploading and customising your own environment. For more in-depth information go to the website, I will definitely be trying this one out!

5. Silentale looks interesting, currently only in private beta. It allows you to keep track of who you communicate with over various platforms. So, for example, start a conversation via email and finish it off via Twitter.

Social Media post of the week: Christmas Tweets is micro site examing the meaning of Christmas, with a very nice visual interface.

SEO post of the week: 10 SEO Blogs Accepting Guest Posts : Promote Yourself

More of the same next week.

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Phil McKinney and the digital future in 3D

December 10th, 2009

Information in 3 dimensions

I’ve just been listening again to Phil McKinney’s views (Guardian Tech Weekly podcast) on the future of everything digital – just to remind myself of how much we’ve got to look forward to in the next decade.

Phil is the global CTO of Hewlett Packard as well as the presenter of the influential Killer Innovation podcast and has the knack of turning the technical mountains into the flatlands of speed and opportunity.

In the Guardian podcast, he races through the future of print media, the need for slate computers that fill the need for 4.5–10-inch screens, what’s in the way of cloud computing (the network infrastructure) and data mobility transforming third-world lives.

But for me, the most interesting focus was on the future of 3D. Phil believes that 3D is how we will be accessing a lot of rich information and the reasons, he says, are simple – 2D means that you are throwing information away.

Anyone viewing 3D makes better decisions and for business that means greater productivity because the information presented is more in tune with how people see things in the real world. The challenge is to present 3D without the funny glasses.

I think the expressions of 3D over the next few years will include the full range, from virtual reality through to 3D interactive virtual worlds, accessible anytime, anywhere. Right now, there is an explosion of 3D environments, tools and services that push the boundaries of knowledge delivery.

As Phil concludes: “3D will fundamentally change how we see, view and experience content.”

How we will find relevant information is another challenge – for the search engines.

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Social Media Snakes and Ladders, the Board Game

December 10th, 2009

At Liberate Media towers we have been playing around with an old favourite over the last few days and come up with this; Social Media snakes and ladders. Why waste time on that? You might ask. To which I answer; it’s a little bit of xmas fun, something the Liberate Media team feel should be a part of social media. It also might give you something to do over the Christmas break instead of watching another movie repeat.

Social media snakes and ladders image

The game consists of an interactive downloadable pdf including the snakes and ladders board, and the counters (players) who we refer to as social media tutors. Pick your tutor and let him/her lead you around the board climbing up the well known social media platforms (ladders) or falling down the slippery snakes (maybe next time the snakes should be social media marketing mistakes) to become the winner. The board and its contents are A4 in size and can be easily cut out via the guideline.

The social media tutors that we have selected are the well known industry figures of Charlene Li, Todd Defren, Chris Brogan, Scott Monty, Jeremiah Owyang, Guy Kawasaki, Brian Solis or David Armano. Maybe the next version will have a European focus.

The only thing to add is that if you don’t have a dice hand, don’t worry, we have thought of that too, you can use the virtual dice included in the interactive PDF, which also has links to the the Twitter profiles of the social media tutor and each social media platform on the board.

Enjoy, share and as always – your feedback is welcome.

Social Media Snakes And Ladders (pdf)

Creative Commons License

Social Media Snakes and Ladders by Liberate Media / Andy Merchant is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 3.0 Unported License.

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Google, News Corp and a bit of advice for restaurants

December 4th, 2009

The Google – News Corp debate has been raging this week, and while at first I made the decision not to add to the many, many, many opinions on this issue, after a debate with a colleague earlier today, I realised I couldn’t resist. So Tim, I blame you.

Some of the comments made this week by both Murdoch and Google have been quite telling in my opinion, and it’s much more than just the two big boys of media jousting for position. The Guardian has provided excellent commentary all week.

To recap, Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation addressed the US media regulators’ workshop in Washington this week, where he made a speech punctuated by his comment that internet users will pay for content, saying they would be happy to shell out for “information they need to rise in society”, before going on to attack internet news aggregation as “theft”, claiming that advertising-only business models were dead.

“From the beginning on, newspapers have prospered for one reason: giving readers the news that they want…If we fail, we fail like a restaurant that makes meals that no one wants to eat.”

Murdoch offered some points that made absolute sense, i.e. the restaurant example, and a few that didn’t, such as the ‘theft’, and ‘rise in society’ points above.

I think that simply suggesting Murdoch is blaming Google for the demise of national media is a bit of an over-simplification, although I don’t think he would be too upset if that was the general assumption. However, I think he has missed one key point, which is that Newspapers are so late to the content revolution that it’s nearly destroyed them, and that now they are realising the scale of the issue, their only response is to place traditional media monetisation rules on a medium which not only doesn’t accept these rules, but has also been enjoying their content free for years.

Why would you pay for a service that hasn’t changed or evolved at all from the service that you’ve been getting for free for years? Is news from newspaper sources more valuable to the user than news from other sources? Are people that loyal to a newspaper brand to pay for online content that has no added value and is no more useful than news form other sources? Not in my opinion.

So what about Google’s response to this? Well, both Matt Brittin, the director of Google UK, and Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive have made interesting comments in return. Schmidt’s was in Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, which many will point to as a success in terms of paid-for content.

But I was especially interested in Brittin’s comments, who was speaking in UK Parliament to the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, as he worked as director of strategy and digital at Daily Mirror publisher Trinity Mirror before joining Google in 2007, so he should understand the issue.

My favourite quotes from Brittin were:
“We do not steal content. If you look at Google search and Google News what you will find is snippets, a little line that will take you through to the original websites…

“That’s accepted as in line with copyright law worldwide, seen as like a newspaper article quoting lines from a book in a book review. We defend copyright owners’ rights and it’s wrong to paint us as stealing content. We are like a virtual newsagent…

“Publishers have control, they choose to make content available for free online. They have control now and have always had control to allow them to opt out. They can say, ‘I don’t want to appear in Google search or in Google News or in one and not the other.

“They choose to stay and have content discoverable because they find it helpful to have huge numbers of people coming through to their content.”

That pretty much says it all in my opinion. Google and other search engines are driving many thousands of readers to these websites, if the publishers wish to opt out they can do, and this is something Murdoch has threatened and I believe would do if pushed.

However, as we all now know, this week Google has also made a concession by allowing publishers of paid for content to limit the amount of free access users have to their websites from Google News.

This means publishers can limit Google News users to no more than five pages of content a day without registering or subscribing. In affect, Google is still driving traffic to the content, but the publishers get their fee if the user wishes to continue looking or get more content.

I think this is Google’s way of settling the publishers down. Google has the upper hand in the long term, and whether this decision was affected by political forces I guess we’ll never know, but by giving a little Google gets a lot in the long term, and I feel the outcome will still be the same.

In reality most users will look at other sources for their news once the free clicks have gone from major publishers, or learn that it becomes a nuisance navigating away from publisher’s sites after the free clicks, so stop visiting them in the first place. That is unless, you’ve guessed it, there is more useful and relevant content on offer to warrant a charge.

In many ways this is similar to a restaurant that makes meals that no one wants to eat, as Murdoch said, or more precisely a restaurant that charges today for exactly the same meal that it offered free yesterday.

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"I found a higher degree of contacts and enthusiasm and then something far more interesting. They listened, challenged and questioned with a focus and knowledge that I've never experienced before."