Ertblog: 10 years a blogger

TypePad 2005

Ten years ago tonight, I became a blogger. I’ve always loved writing, and on New Year’s Eve 2005 took the plunge with TypePad. Within minutes, I had a blog, which I called Ertblog, and as Big Ben sounded the start of 2006 I published my first post, Welcome to 2006.

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Paris, Facebook and the fight for humanity

Paris 2014

Paris 2014: the city and people we love

Bravo to family and friends who have turned their Facebook profile photos into a tricolour in respect for the victims of Friday’s appalling murders in Paris.

I love France and the French, and grieve for them and everyone else who died in this assault on humanity. But I won’t be changing my profile photo. I feel equally sad for those who have been savagely killed in Beirut, on the Russian airliner, on the beaches of Tunisia and across the Middle East. And those who have perished fleeing the death cults of the Middle East.

I just wish we could find some way to combat such brutal, medieval tribes that wish to defeat those who hold different values. The sad truth is that the western powers will most likely respond in a way that makes things worse, not better.

It’s easy to change your profile photo. That’s not to say that doing so has no meaning. I’m sure it will bring some comfort to the people of France, a country that millions of us love and cherish. But I’d rather see brilliant minds across Europe thinking how we can turn the tide of hatred. The west has a grim record of intervening in the Middle East without thinking or caring about the consequences, from Britain, France and Israel’s 1956 Suez adventure through to the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Please prove me wrong.

#putoutyourbats in tribute to Phillip Hughes

Tribiute to Australian cricketer Philip Hughes

#putoutyourbats for Philip Hughes

People around the world were deeply shocked by the tragic death of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes. He was struck on the neck by a ball on Tuesday and died two days later.

We’ve grown used to seeing batsmen wearing helmets – but Hughes’ helmet didn’t protect him from this freak accident.

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Two years blogging at WordPress.com

Wordpress.com

Moving to WordPress

I’ve been blogging at WordPress.com for two years now. I set up Ertblog 2.0 there after becoming frustrated by Typepad, my blog’s original home. I couldn’t believe that Typepad didn’t have an iPad app. I tried Blogsy but it wasn’t the answer.

In a couple of hours on an April Sunday morning, I bought my domain name and set up Ertblog on it with WordPress.com. I had great fun browsing the huge array of themes, but went for Twenty Eleven as I liked its clean appearance.

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Flickr and Yahoo : why is it so hard to recover your password?

I used to love Flickr. I didn’t use it regularly, but I liked being able to see great photos of my favourite places. And it was nice to share my own photos, although I wasn’t a regular photo sharer.

Then Facebook came along. I gave up on Flickr, and started sharing my photos on Facebook. It shared far more images – after all, most of my family and friends were already there, so sharing photos on Facebook made more sense. Especially when it was so easy to do this on the go on my iPhone and iPad.

But Flickr still has many strengths. As Wired pointed out, Flickr is great for keeping high resolution copies of your photo collection. And with a new Flickr iPhone app, it has finally recognised we’re living mobile lives.

So when I saw the Wired article (via a friend’s Facebook link…), I downloaded the app straight away.

That’s when the problems started. It’s almost two years since I last used Flickr – I couldn’t remember my user name. The app has an account recovery process, but it’s horribly badly thought out. It kept asking for an alternate email address. It rejected my correct secret answer. After finally resetting my password, it rejected it the first time I tried to log in.  Oh, and Yahoo added a new twist to the usual Captcha frustration: on my Mac: the pop up screen was cut off at the edge (below), with no apparent way to resize it.

Yahoo's captcha confusion

Yahoo’s captcha confusion

To be fair, when I got through this frustration, I found the app was excellent. It’s very easy to share and search for photos. It’s much nicer than Facebook’s app for photography. Recommended – but don’t forget your user name or password…

Social Brands: Lego and Chiltern Railways

I love Lego. So it’s no surprise that Lego’s Lars Silberbauer was the star of today’s Brand Republic Social Brands event in London.

Lars started on a high: his business card is a Lego character. But his most compelling message was the way the brand has inspired its fans to share their creations and suggest new products.

Lars showed this brilliant video telling the story of Lego. It’s 17 minutes long, yet it’s been viewed by almost four million people. Over half have watched over 15 minutes, showing its appeal. I watched it with my four year old son Owen tonight, and he was enthralled. It shows the timeless truth: great content is compelling. It’s not a corporate video, but a magical story, beautifully told and animated.

I also enjoyed the story of how Lego rode to the rescue when an 11 year old American boy, James Groccia, found the Lego Emerald Night train set he had saved up for had been withdrawn. Lego sent James the precious set. It’s a great example of how delighting a customer can spread goodwill. (The home video showing his delight has been viewed over 1.6 million times.)

The other highlight of the day for me was meeting Nicola Clark, head of marketing and communications at Chiltern Railways. I’ve blogged many times about Chiltern’s excellent use of social media, so it was nice to hear more at first hand. Nicola said that social allowed Chiltern to become the brand it always wanted to be: human, caring about the customer, with real personality. She explained how the company started its social presence after seeing it as a great way to keep customers informed after the snows of 2009.

As Nicola said, passengers often just want an explanation when things go wrong. Tweeting photos of a line blocked by a tree shows us that there’s a good reason why the 0721 is late. By coincidence, Will McInness from Nixon McInnes made the same point, citing client First Capital Connect getting drivers to take photos of flooded tracks.

I took part in a panel discussion with Simon Nicholson from Honda and event chair Andrew Smith, co-author of Share This. I explained how PayPal is growing its social presence and how the company’s president, David Marcus, instinctively understands social as a way of engaging with customers and learning from their feedback. I added that the debate about who ‘owns’ social – PR, marketing or customer service – is meaningless. It should be a partnership with the needs of the audience centre stage. ‘Don’t ask what the customer can do for you. Ask what you can do for the customer.”

I’ll end with a personal story about Chiltern Railways. On Tuesday morning, I told Owen about the famous Pontcysyllte canal aqueduct in North Wales. I added that there was a railway locomotive named after it. I showed him photos from the internet of the aqueduct and the engine. That morning, I saw the engine racing through Gerrards Cross as I waited for my train. When I got to Marylebone, I took a photo (below) to show Owen later. We agreed we’d go on a train pulled by the engine one day…

Pont Cysyllte at Marylebone

Dyfrbont Pontcysyllte at Marylebone

Disclosure: I am Head of PR & Social Media for PayPal UK

Ertblog: 2012 in review

I was intrigued to get an email from WordPress with a 2012 annual report for this blog. It was fun to find which posts had got the most reaction. (Although I guessed as much.)

You can find a link to the report below.

Tonight marks the seventh anniversary of the start of my blogging ‘career’. On New Year’s Eve 2005, I wrote this brief post on the original Typepad Ertblog. It refers to a remarkable and poignant letter home from one of my ancestors from the Australian goldrush of the 1880s.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 7,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 12 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

How social media can win your brand friends for life

Companies around the world are waking up to the power of social media. They’re looking for the magic sauce that turns customers into fans. So it was no surprise that today’s Social Media for Results conference in London revealed some great examples of the best of social media practice.

I spoke about how organisations can use social media to help their customers, especially when things go wrong. I quoted an amazing finding from the United States: 47 percent of social media users had turned to social for help (this rises to 59% of people aged 18-24). And 71 percent of people who have had a positive experience will recommend that brand, compared with 19 percent who got no response. [Source: NM Incite: State of Social Customer Service 2012.] Incidentally, the figures are remarkably similar for men and women. In short, handling complaints well on social could turn an unhappy customer into a friend for life.

I spoke of my own experience as a Vodafone customer: how I enjoyed outstanding customer service after the social customer service team contacted me after I blogged and tweeted about my unhappy experiences. I also cited the example of Vodafone’s rival, O2, which did a great job keeping people informed with humour (and allowing critical comments) on its social channels after service interruptions recently.

My favourite experience however was Chiltern Railways. Last year, I got on the wrong train at London’s Marylebone. I tweeted about my stupidity. Within minutes, Chiltern’s excellent social team tweeted back the best train to return home on. Experiences like this make you feel special.

My other point today was that it’s so important to ask what’s in it for the customer (or council tax payer…) when you’re developing a social media presence. So many companies think: we need a Facebook page. Yet they don’t ask what value it will give. What content will you share? Are you simply going to churn out sales messages and dull news releases? Or do you have something interesting and relevant to say?

I also repeated my favourite subject at any communications conference: the need to use simple, compelling language. I quoted RIM’s apology (during the 2011 service failure) to customers in ‘EMEA’. As the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones mocked, ‘Where on earth is that?’ It doesn’t exist, except on corporate organisation charts.

Finally, a plug for an excellent book raising money for a very worthy cause. Behind the Sofa, compiled by Steve Berry, is a collection of celebrity memories of Doctor Who. All profits from the book will go to Alzheimer’s Research UK. I called Steve after we at PayPal had let him down. I was keen to find out how we could put things right and learn from the experience. Seven months later, I was delighted to read the book. Well done Steve!

[Disclosures: I am Head of PR & Social Media at PayPal UK. Steve Berry kindly gave his permission for me to mention his experience.]

Twitter: powerful, but not yet stronger than mainstream media

John Prescott’s Guardian article about Twitter this week caused a stir.

The former deputy prime minister seized on the fact Twitter now had 10 million UK users to claim that Twitter was now more influential than the mainstream media. He pointed out that just nine million buy a national newspaper.

Now I’m the first to accept that Twitter is influential. It is now a news source, noticeboard and echo chamber. It is richly entertaining. I will link to this post from my @robskinner account. But its influence is closely linked with the mainstream media. Britain’s top media groups and their journalists are prominent on Twitter. Many of the most popular links from Twitter content are to the mainstream media. After all, 140 characters leads you wanting more information about a big story.

Prescott argues that Twitter takes power away from the mainstream media. Here he’s on stronger ground. There’s little doubt that social media gives an important counterbalance to the rich and powerful. Prescott cites the backlash against Jan Moir’s poisonous article about Stephen Gately‘s death as an example. But it’s ironic that a politician at the heart of a government notorious for spin and control freaks should see himself as a champion of the battle against bias:

“It’s given me a voice and a connection to millions of people that the distorted prism of the mainstream media denied.”

Prescott is well on the way to national treasure status. And Twitter is largely responsible for that.

In praise of Vodafone’s social customer service

I blogged my frustration about Vodafone’s phone and data signal last week. I was so impressed by the company’s response on Twitter and on my blog that I thought it only fair to blog about it.

Jenny from Vodafone UK posted a reply to my post sympathising and offering to help. She also replied to my tweet. Her colleagues tried repeatedly to call me (last week was a busy one at work) and when we finally spoke the customer service team sent me a free Vodafone Sure Signal device to solve the very poor signal at home. It won’t solve the problem of poor data coverage on the go – but it will mean we won’t miss a call here.

This is a great example of how companies can use social media to help customers and improve their reputation. Well done to Jenny and the team.

Below: the Sure Signal device in action.

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