Should PRs learn to code?

Short answer – yes. For the long answer read on.

While listening to the panel at the excellent PRCA Digital event tonight I was struck by the low expectations we have of entry level PR pros.

The panel rightly said digital should be something everyone can do, yet as an audience member pointed out, this isn’t the case at every agency.

This skills gap is especially true when we compare the profession to journalism.

A trainee journalist would be expected to be able to format within a cms, publish and promote an article as a bare minimum. If they want a job, they should also tweet, know how to use InDesign/Photoshop and have a working knowledge of the law.

It also helps if they understand how to sift through data sets and identify flaws. Do any of these skill requests sound familiar?

It’s undeniably a weighty set of demands and yet journalism jobs and courses are overflowing with applicants. So why don’t we expect more of PR grads?

This is especially true of digital. We’re generally grateful if they know how to tweet, while being able to work WordPress is a rare feat and something we cherish.

This is a broad range of skills, so how about specifics?

The question asked time and time again in the media is should journalists code. And it’s one we should be asking too.

For PR people (and comms in general) the answer simply is yes. Doubly so if you’re new to the profession.

We’re expected to give clients advice on what works and what doesn’t. When it comes to the web, how can we do that if we don’t have a clue how it all works?

And if you’re new to PR you’d be foolish not to. The industry is crying out for digital skills and spending 8-10 hours a week for a month learning the basics shows you have the knowledge and more importantly the appetite.

This doesn’t mean we should all be able to design and build micro sites. But a working knowledge or at least an understanding of how sites are built can only help.

Generally other people agreed, though Keith Lewis phrased the counter argument well:

If that’s not reason enough, in the UK we now expect 5 year olds to learn computing. If they can do it, there’s absolutely no reason we can’t too.


Using Twitter ads to promote pictures of animals

What do you do when Twitter gives you $150 free advertising credit for your personal account?

That’s the question I posed to my Twitter followers, following a mix up by Twitter’s ad team.

The best suggestion came from Paul Stollery – tweet an image of an Ocelot. So that’s exactly what I did.

The results, as you’d expect from such a small budget were nothing to shout home about. Lots and lots of clicks (presumably on the image), a few favourites and retweets and a couple of new followers.

What generated far more engagement was my tweet embedding the promoted tweet. This generated a new wave of retweets, reaching a far wider audience than the paid promotion had achieved.

I suspect this was due to the novelty factor, rather than a deep rooted love for ocelots, but who knows.

This hints at one of the issues you need to tackle with Twitter advertising. Do you share the promoted tweet with your existing fan base? It will cost you money for them to share or engage with it and they already know about you.

But, as my experiment showed they already have an interest in you and what you do, meaning they’re more likely to kickstart the sharing process.

It’s an intriguing issue and one which I suspect will vary by campaign and budget. The larger your spend, the less likely you are to need a helping hand from your existing follower base.

The experiment also reminded me of a pet hate about Twitter Advertising. As an ad buyer, I don’t want money going on a user clicking to read my bio or enlarge my image – I want the spend to go on something meaningful.

In fairness to Twitter this is an issue they’re taking steps to resolve with the new objective based spend. But, until this is rolled out globally it’s worth being stingy with your use of hashtags. It’s also essential to keep your call to action focused on driving users towards your end goal.

I’ve been running similar micro ads tests on a range of platforms, with mixed results. I’m hoping to share the findings from this sometime in the next week.

Storytelling and London

How and why we tell stories has always fascinated me. Having lived in London for nearly 2 years, I’ve noticed that it’s not just professional storytellers who spin their experience of London in the form of a narrative. It’s something we all do, whether it’s comparing our social lives or arguing fiercely for our side of the river against the other.

To try and understand why, I wrote a piece for London New Journal, inspired by Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and his conception of two sides of London – London Above and London Below. The article’s title comes from In Capitals by Johnny Foreigner, a song exploring the reasons people are attracted to capitals.

Check out an extract below or head here to preview the article and download the last issue of London New Journal (iOS only) Update: you can now read the article in full here.

” The real life Richard “Dick” Whittington was nowhere near as poor as the fictional version, but still came to London to find his fortune. His 14th century journey is one so many of us have recreated.

The story has remained so popular throughout the centuries because it reflects a journey that so many of us embark on. We come from around the country to London to seek our fortune, believing it to be the place we can forge a career and make a story of our own. “

Does Location Matter

A post I wrote for Ubelly (The unofficial official Microsoft blog for developers who love the web)

Here at Ubelly we care passionately about what our community thinks and we’re always considering ways we can hear more from all of you. Recently we’ve been debating whether it matters where comments and feedback are shared.

Traditionally, blogs and websites have looked to drive engagement towards the comment boxes below articles or to their own forums where they can manage and if necessary edit discussion. But, with the rise of social media, we increasingly see people discussing content off-site. This has caused a lot of head scratching as people across the web have tried to figure out if this is a good thing.

Comments below articles are great for two main reasons – everyone can read them without having to put any extra effort in and it gives readers a sense of how everyone else reacted to the piece they just read.

Traditionally these comment systems required registration – which isn’t great, as it creates an extra barrier between the user and them doing what they want. Lately, we’ve seen more and more blogs implement a system which allows users to sign in with their Twitter or Facebook accounts – but if they’re using these platforms as their main source of conversation why should we expect them to come to us? If you build it they will come is a phrase the web design community should be running away from, not towards.

On one level it’s an ego boost – we all like to see a string of comments below our article. On another level it’s sheer laziness, if all the comments are on our blog, we don’t need to spend time looking around for them. There’s also some evidence to suggest comments help boost your SEO ranking – though with Google’s recent changes, it’s hard to tell if this is still the case.

But, none of these are compelling enough reasons to prioritise comments on our own sites. Ultimately, if our content is compelling and worthy of discussion users will join that discussion, regardless of the platform it takes place on.

And if we really want to show off how popular our article is on Twitter, we can always compile the tweets in a Storify so everyone can read them.

As we thought more about this it led us to look at ways to integrate discussion on social media onto the site and that’s why we’ve installed LiveFyre, a comment system which incorporates discussion from Twitter into the comments thread. Is this something you’d like to see more sites do? And how have you handled the comments challenge for projects you’ve been working on?

Leveson & The Digital Grey Area

The Leveson report is due out on Thursday and amidst the shouting matches about the future of the printed press and whether they’ll be given one final chance to prove they can effectively self-regulate, one crucial question has been largely ignored.

What happens to internet news sites and blogs? Will the post-Leveson world see the Huffington Post, Politics home, etc treated in the same way as the Guardian and the Independent? They can already join the political lobby, so there is a precedent for treating them in the same way. But is this enough, or will they continue to exist in a grey area?

No one seems to know and even more puzzlingly, no one really seems to care. While article after article has been written on the merits of self vs. statutory regulation (neither is perfect, but the former is preferable) almost nothing has been written on whether the average blogger will be regulated in the same way.

Currently the Press Complaints Commission only covers organisations who have signed up to be part of it and it’s hard to imagine any of the previously mentioned sites signing up for membership. We don’t know whether the Leveson Inquiry will recommend a mechanism that compels media organisations to sign up – but if he does it would be surprising if this applied purely to the printed press.

But if it does apply to online publications, where does it end? At what point does society draw the line and say your site is too small to require regulation? 10,000 page views a month? 20,000? Or are we going to say that every site, no matter how small, which posts topical news and comment pieces will be expected to sign up. The latter is obviously an unworkable option, but such is the lack of debate around the issue that we simply don’t know what will happen.

Even if in the short term, Lord Justice Leveson decides to only recommend changes to the system governing the printed process, this is an issue which will not go away. It’s only a matter of time till The Guardian goes digital only and other papers will surely follow. Does a switch to digital only mean they are suddenly exempt from regulation? And if not, will we have to undergo this whole process again as the government scrambles to figure out how to regulate the online press.

This is not to underplay how fast misinformation and rumour can spread on the internet and how vital it is that people can correct false articles or rogue websites. But that doesn’t mean we should be comfortable with the idea of the government being able to regulate material published on UK based sites.

This post was originally published on the 33-Digital blog