Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Engaging Online Communities

A few months ago I went to an event hosted by the Press Association called: Engaging with Online Communities.  One of the most useful things to come out of the event was the panel's thoughts on how to start engaging online, in particular using social media like Twitter.

Whether you're new to social media or a bit of an expert, hopefully you'll find the top tips below useful.  Let me know what you think?  And what you'd add to the list.
  1. Be nice
  2. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to somebody’s face
  3. Try to create a safe space for people to learn that behaviour, an internal wiki or something similar
  4. Never drink and tweet
  5. Support people and review your policies regularly
  6. Talk to people, they will help you
  7. Empower individuals to be individuals within the umbrella of your brand/organisation.
  8. The trick isn’t a trick – be useful, or be helpful or fun. These tools are incredibly powerful, but they are not another way to shout at people.
  9. Talk to people who have already proved themselves as being good at engaging.
  10. Listen and respond
  11. Be honest and be human
  12. Don’t be confrontational
  13. Don’t be scared
  14. Have mechanisms in place so users can flag up any problems.
  15. When dealing with a crisis: listen to what is being said collectively, formalise that into a list of questions and answers, put it online and point people to it.
The panel was made up of Robin Grant from We Are Social, who specialise in helping brands to listen, understand and engage in conversations in social media; Nick Haworth from Yell.com, who looks at new content strategies and how they can aid engagement; Dominic Campbell from FutureGov, who supports the Government's social media and change management strategies; and Chris Condron, Head of Digital Strategy at the Press Association.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Work experience - making it a worth while experience

We have an intern starting today, and lucky thing, he'll be sat opposite me. His imminent arrival has caused a bit of a stir in the office: 

Who is he? Someone's cousin

How long is he going to be here for? 1 month

What is an 'intern'? An American word for work experience?

What jobs that we've been putting off for ages can we get him to do? Loads!

And finally, what does he want to get out of it? Now that is the most important question of them all. You see I have strongly held passionate opinions on work experience, formed over years in commercial radio. If you want to be a broadcast journalist you're going to end up on work experience. It's a compulsory part of the postgraduate qualification, three weeks unpaid towards the end of the course.

Why compulsory? Because you may know how to operate a mini-disk recorder or god forbid a uher (showing my age now!) You may know how to edit a piece of audio, how to read a bulletin (sort of), how to write a script (sort of). But it's not until your work experience, that you understand how all these elements come together and how to do all of these things twice as fast and under pressure. 

Work experience at it's best benefits both the experiencer and the experiencee.  Great work experience lets you try out the dozens of new skills you've learnt at college, it allows you to watch experts, and sometimes if you're really lucky, geniuses at work. It's inspirational, it's fun, it's challenging. It can help you to decide whether the job you think you want, really is the one for you. And sometimes, if you're really gifted and/or really lucky, it results in paid work.

As a news editor I had strict rules about work experience:

They had to be over 18 and they had to demonstrate a real desire to be a broadcast journalist, preference would be given to those on BJTC courses, those volunteering at college/hospital radio. Why? Because we didn't have time to look after school children. But more importantly we wanted passionate people who had specifically chosen our radio station and our profession.

They could join us for three weeks unpaid, but no more. If at the end of those three weeks we wanted them to stay longer, then I would pay them. If at the end of the first week they/or I felt they weren't working out, they would be asked to leave (I only asked someone to leave once in 6 years, and in my defence she was dreadful, we still talk about her!)

They had to have a driving license. By the end of the three weeks a great work experience could be sent all over the county gathering audio. Being able to drive the radio car was essential, especially when I fainted mid-interview and the work experience had to drive me home!?

They had to come in for an interview. We got so many applications for work experience, if they came for an interview it showed commitment and made the first day a lot less scary. I never turned someone down based on an interview, it was just a good way for each of us to understand what we wanted to get out of the experience.

Why did I make them jump through so many hoops?

Because we did work experience so well, we provided such excellent coaching and advice, and spent so much time with our work experience, I had to be sure we weren't wasting our time. That might sound a bit strong, but we really cared and really put time and thought into our work experience programme. Maybe because we all remembered our work experience and knew how significant a good work experience could be.

And a bad work experience?

A bad experience could result in really great people leaving the industry, people without the right skills or attitude doggedly pursuing a career that didn't suit them, and people working for free for far longer than is right or necessary; this is a particular bugbear of mine.  By the end of three weeks a good work experience is another reporter, at some small stations they may even be an additional newsreader. Once they reach that point they must move on to paid work. It is not fair on the individual and it's not fair on freelancers looking to be paid a wage for a days work. As soon as the balance tips and the company is getting more from the work experience than the individual is getting from the experience, you must let them go, or pay them. In radio people would regularly offer to work for free, sometimes for a day, sometimes for a week or even longer. They are desperate to get into the industry and think working for free is a way in. But what they're doing devalues them and their contemporaries. If they are a fully trained, talented broadcast journalist, why would they work for free? They're worth more than that. 

While you're training at college or university get all the quality work experience you can, be clear with the company about what you want to get out of it, as well as what you can offer. But as soon as you're qualified, and it's no longer an experience, you should be paid for the work you're doing.

At the same time we were having this conversation at work, a similar discussion was obviously going on in the offices of Journalism.co.uk.  You can read more about the journalism unpaid intern debate.

What do you think of work experience?  Tell us about work experience that inspired you?  Or your horror stories?

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Thought leadership - what, why and how?

Thought leadership is a phrase I have heard with increasingly regularity in my job over the past year or so. My job involves working in the new media bit of an old media company, and I have a client facing role.  This means I listen to, discuss with, and am occasionally praised by or moaned at by lots of different corporates and government departments.  And the phrase thought leadership seems to be the buzz word of the moment.

What is thought leadership?

Thought leadership is about being the authority in your field, or being seen as the authority. It is about raising the profile of a brand (be that a company or an individual). It is about ideas, about information, about staying ahead of the curve.

Why is it important?

The web is competitive and noisy, getting your voice heard and ultimately selling your product can be a challenge. Brands recognise that having a transactional/destination website, which people visit once a year to renew their car insurance, may no longer be enough. Instead brands increasingly understand the importance of building a relationship. If your potential customer views you as trusted, as respected, as a thought leader, they may be more likely to buy something from you.

What are thought leaders doing?

Providing information - whether that is in the form of news, blogs, enewsletters, tweets. Being useful/helpful is a great way to establish your brand as a thought leader. If people know they can come to you for the latest developments in their industry/area of interest and that the information is accurate, perhaps they'll also trust your products?

Listening/engaging - thought leaders listen (it's how they know so much!) and encourage people to get involved. By listening to what clients want, and don't want, thought leaders can innovate and stay ahead of the curve. Rather than broadcasting or preaching, if a brand engages with the public, they may establish a sense of shared ownership from clients.

Some thought leaders, you might be interested in following on Twitter (or reading their blogs):
I'll keep adding to this list... and you can add your own thought leaders below...

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Redundant? Not me, I'm off to change the world!

"Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now. And it's because they sat there that they were able to do it." Ryan Bingham - Up In The Air 2009.

Yes, it is possibly the most dreadful film I've ever had the misfortune to sit through... but I've been thinking a lot about that quote from Up In The Air recently, where George Clooney's character Ryan makes people redundant.  What the film is about and the inner workings of the character George Clooney plays doesn't matter, as I said: possibly.the.worst.film.ever.  However, that quote has been haunting me, as so many of my colleagues and friends have been made redundant in the past few weeks.

In general, how are they coping?  Most days, remarkably well.

The stages of redundancy:
  • The bit where you feel really hurt and shocked.  This is the first stage and usually manifests itself in tears and a passionate hatred of management and an often even more intense hatred of human resources.
  • The bit where you feel really hurt and rejected.  What did you do to deserve this? (NB: nothing at all, bad stuff sometimes happens to good people)  Why you specifically?  Why not that moron in human resources?
  • The bit where you feel really hurt and scared.  You're afraid you won't be able to pay your mortgage, credit card bills, or ever eat out again.  You're gob-smacked at how little money you're entitled to.
  • The bit where you feel really hurt and angry.  You were too good for that awful company anyway.  You've always hated your job.  You've always hated your boss.  You've always hated those idiots in human resources.
  • The bit where you stop feeling quite so hurt, shocked, rejected, scared and angry... and realise that this could be the best thing that has ever happened to you.
Years ago a company I worked for underwent a restructuring, code name: double-whamy (why? why? why?) On the day lots and lots of people were made redundant, I caught a colleague crying in the toilet.  "oh god" I said "have they made you redundant too?"
"No" she sobbed "they want me to stay!"

Because sometimes, not always but sometimes, being made redundant isn't the worst thing.  Being asked to stay in a company you don't recognise, minus most of your friends and colleagues, to do a job which has quadrupled in size... sometimes that is the worst thing.

I'm not trying to belittle the stress, the pain and the heartache that redundancy causes.  It is horrible and I would not wish it on anyone.  BUT......

"Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now. And it's because they sat there that they were able to do it."  Everyone I know who has been made redundant, now has that opportunity to change the world.  They might not, they might get another job not dissimilar to the one they were previously doing.  But some of them, most of them, look set to go on to bigger and better things and to quote one of my friends: "redundancy might just be the kick up the bum I need."

If you've been made redundant: the government's website Direct.gov.uk has some useful information about your redundancy rights and even a redundancy calculator.

My redundancy tips:
  • Ask for time-out and ask for support.  You will have lots of meetings with your manager and human resources and it is a lot to take in.  Make sure you ask for plenty of time to consider everything that is being said to you.  And if possible take a supportive colleague (not from your immediate department) or friend (not someone emotionally involved) to the meetings with you; they shouldn't say anything, they are just there to listen and make notes.  Once you've been made redundant ask for support with your CV, with the job hunt, with networking - this is the time where your true friends will show their worth.
  • Don't burn bridges.  It's tempting to tell ex-colleagues and management exactly what you think of them (especially those patronising spanners in human resources) but you may need these people for a reference and I even know people who've been made redundant and then ended up working back at their old company as a freelancer or consultant.
  • Don't take it personally.  Must easier said than done, but try to remember that your role was made redundant and not you personally.  Often these decisions are made on high and your direct line manager won't have wanted to make you redundant at all.  
  • Keep busy.  It's a cliché, but it can make a huge difference.  Make lots of plans: networking events, lunch with friends, exercise, trips to the local internet cafe/library.
  • And don't whatever you do watch any of the following films:
    • Up In The Air - it's about redundancy and it's just as painful.
    • Billy Elliott - lots of miners being made redundant, it might make you cry
    • Watership Down - lots of rabbits dying, it will make you cry
Have you been made redundant?  What is your advice?  Post your top tips below.

Have you watched Up In The Air?  Are you one of the many people who actually liked it?  Can you please explain why below.