Is Ed Balls Listening to YouTube Viewers?

I noticed that the Department for Children, Schools & Families has created a great looking channel on YouTube. While obviously welcoming the fact that the government is using YouTube to communicate with voters, it’s a shame that they seem intent on that communication being one way. Most of the videos currently featured on the channel, including the latest on the launch of the new Children’s Plan have had the comments function disabled.

It looks like another missed opportunity to actively engage with the very young people, parents and teachers covered by the Children’s Plan, via a medium they are all increasingly using.

There is the obvious irony of a ‘no comments’ policy while the clip highlights the importance of listening to and consulting voters. It also begs the question whether the DCFS really understands the new rules of communication when using social media channels. Thankfully it seems to be an error that the Lib Dems and the Conservatives have avoided.

My advice – don’t be afraid Mr Balls, turn the comments on, read them and then really engage.


Off Your Facebook

Given this week’s focus on personal data in the public domain, the Information Commissioners Office has been timely in releasing a report today on the potential dangers of the content which young people are leaving online.

David Smith, deputy commissioner for the ICO claims, “Many young people are posting content online without thinking about the electronic footprint they leave behind. The cost to a person’s future can be very high if something undesirable is found by the increasing number of education institutions and employers using the internet as a tool to vet potential students or employees.”

The hazards associated with open profiles on social networks are not new, but the message clearly isn’t getting through. The report found that half of those questioned had little or no restrictions on who could view their profiles. More tellingly 71% of 2,000 14 to 21-year-olds said they would not want colleges or employers to do a web search on them before they had removed some material!

The stat which the social networks will perhaps be most concerned with is that 95% of those surveyed had real concerns about personal details being passed to advertisers and other websites.

Spinning the Discs

I pity the guys over at Computer Weekly. Following yesterday’s security breach by HMRC, they are no doubt being inundated with tenuous news-hijacking pitches from companies however vaguely connected to IT security and consumer data. Sympathies also to the PR folk whose advice not to bother has been ignored. Sometimes a rapid response online ad with a great image can cut through the noise – congrats to the guys at online back-up firm Total Recall for this effort.


Web 2.0 opens the Pandora’s Box of Black PR

Web 2.0 technologies are of course a double edged sword. When it comes to corporate communication the speed and reach of these new mediums can be harnessed just as easily to spread truth as misinformation. However, the growing adoption of social media channels is apparently leading to resurgence in Black PR. For those unfamiliar with the term it refers to individuals and companies with malicious intent using various techniques to attack or attempt to destroy an adversary’s reputation.

At Monday’s CIPR summer party I met Ivana Kalay a PR security expert who filled me in on the new dangers and vulnerabilities that many businesses face. Now Black PR is nothing new and the techniques it deploys are a standard part of the arsenal employed by political hactivists, whether trying to defend animal rights or battling the oil and pharmaceutical industries. What’s changed is that Web 2.0 apps make the implementation of these techniques so much easier and their implications more far reaching.

In her chilling but compelling article for Strumpette, Kalay sets out the main weak points of PR 2.0 – a perfect storm of hacking websites, hijacking news feeds and harnessing the power of search engines. The potential for RSS feeds to be subverted and false messages to be inserted is particularly worrying along with the use of splogging (spam blogging) to rapidly embed Black PR messages in millions of popular blogs. The power behind these attacks is their permanence with the false information virtually impossible to remove from search engines.

So what does this all mean, and how much of a threat does Black PR actually present? Well responsibility for prevention I would argue rests mainly with IT departments ensuring that corporate information channels are secure. However, this potential new threat also underlines the importance of blog and web monitoring – increasingly a PR function. Early detection of attacks will be critical in attempts to reduce their scope and impact. Thankfully attacks of this kind so far have been very rare so no need to panic (yet), but it would be naive to think that the PR implications will not be serious when the first big brand almost inevitably becomes a Black PR victim

PR Agencies Ignore Wikipedia Ban

PR Week is reporting that a number of UK PR agencies have been found to be flouting Wikipedia’s rules banning agencies from editing entries. The WikiScanner has detected that Financial Dynamics, Freuds, Finsbury and H&K have changed entries for clients ranging from Anne Diamond to Pizza Hut.

We will have to wait and see if Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales goes through with the threat he issued earlier this year to ban offending PR agencies from using the site. I still believe it’s unfair to impose a blanket ban on PR agencies from making edits whereas the CIA and the Vatican face no restrictions at all. Surely the point of the Wikipedia is that anything untrue/biased will simply be edited out by somebody else until a consensus is reached? If so why persist with this pointless ban?


Brands2Life for Sale?

Intriguing rumours and news flying about today regarding the potential future direction and ownership of Brands2Life. I have been doing some quick back of a fag packet calculations. Whether using the old formula of the average of the previous three years revenues with a multiple of 3 to 4 or the Loewy method of 5 or 6 times pre-tax profit (assuming a healthy 25% margin) the agency would be worth around the £10m mark on available figures. Now Brands2Life has just hired Livingstone Partners who apparently specialise in company sales, acquisitions and private equity transactions with deals ranging from…. £10m to £100m plus’. Giles Fraser is remaining tight-lipped claiming, ‘We’re a hot company. Sometimes we’re looking for buyers, and sometimes we’re looking to buy.’ Interesting he used the word ‘Hot’.

Having passed the seven year mark it wouldn’t be unusual for Fraser and Scales to look at their options and consider the sale of a strong fast growing agency with an excellent reputation and enviable client list. What I’m debating is whether such a move if it does happen, is a signal similar to the recent sale of Foxtons that like the housing market the tech pr bubble could be about to burst. Or, as with Loewy’s acquisition of Mantra, that the prospects for the sector are in fact broadly positive?

Boris: London Mayor 2.0?

For anyone who’s watched Gordon Brown’s recent performances at PMQs its obvious that charisma is in short supply in British politics these days, so being invited to join the “I’m Backing Boris’ group on Facebook put a smile on my face. In the space of a week the group is up to 800 members and growing and yesterday afternoon somebody created the inevitable ” I’m Backing Boris” application which basically sticks this delightful poster on your profile. The introduction of applications has transformed the Facebook experience, I know they’ve not been universally welcomed – if anyone else tries to turn me into a Zombie I may well have to go on a crazed killing spree through the streets of West Hampstead!

It will be interesting to see how brands look to take advantage of the Facebook Platform and how the sites community reacts to the covert/overt commercialisation applications represent. I was sent a great link a few weeks ago to a keynote delivered by Mark Zuckerberg to over 800 developers talking about his vision for the Facebook Platform. There is a perhaps unsurprisingly a whiff of global domination in Zuckerberg’s presentation (albeit from a CEO wearing what looks like a hoodie), but his plans for creating new advertising platforms and a Facebook payments system is certainly going to be exciting. As for Boris, I think we’ll have to wait ’til Monday to see if he’s going to take on Ken!

Nothing compares to you…

“It’s been seven hours and fifteen days, since you took your love away” sang the much under-rated Sinead O’ Connor and it’s been about the same time since I left Hotwire with a leaving do which will be forever remembered for the gratuitous exchanges of bodily fluids (you guys know who you are…). The feeling of being unemployed is one that is really taking some time to get used to. I think it comes down to the conditioning and routine of agency life, being greeted by 20 new emails as your BlackBerry wakes you up in the morning, the constant calls and deadlines, all the office politics, creates a level hyper-stimulation which, despite their best efforts, Phil and Fern simply can’t match. Hopefully booking some more holidays (flights to Las Vegas are very cheap at the mo – fyi) will use up some of that energy and writing this blog will use up some of the rest. I think it’s going to be quite fun being un-muzzled and hopefully my musings on this blog will bring an interesting perspective on the wonderful world of tech PR….“since you been gone I can do whatever I want…”

Oxford Uni Facebook Crackdown

One of the few promises I’ve made to myself and managed to keep is never sitting another exam ever again. Anyone who has gone through Finals at Oxford will be more than happy to tell you why. The whole process has its strange traditions which seem quite cute at the time, from dressing up in subfusc to wearing different coloured carnations depending on which exam your sitting.

The most enjoyable is of course finishing your final exam, walking out of the Exam Schools and being greeted by your mates who proceed to shower you with a mixture of flour, eggs and cheap champagne. Now the University has never liked this particular tradition and I can remember writing stories for the student paper on the dire warnings issued by the proctors (Oxford Uni’s very own police force) to any student caught having fun in public.

So I was slightly surprised to read on the BBC today that such an anarchic institution has been using Facebook to pursue students apparently flouting the rules. The Student Union has issued a warning that the authorities are actively searching students profiles for photographic evidence of people engaging in post-exam ‘trashings’. My first response is surely the proctors must have something better to do but this is yet another in a long line of warnings of the dangers of having a public Facebook profile.

I can think of few benefits for opting for this level of openness so can only presume that even the country’s brightest students are not thinking about the consequences of lax privacy settings. The greater danger is of course from identity theft and Sophos’ recent jumping on this issue has been impressive. I think there is a strong and growing case for Facebook to make its privacy options much more explicit when people sign-up to the service and to proactively warn its members of the security implications of an open and public profile. Taking this voluntary step would avoid the negative press and potential loss of confidence which would result from the site being forced to take these measures as a result of government pressure!