Wow man, that is really clever

All sectors are doing really clever and exciting things using social media tools at the moment. I wonder if we should re-name these tools? If they are purely for social communication purposes, then why are businesses and the public sector getting involved.

It seems rather like being in the pub with your mates having a chat, and perhaps even including people around the pub whom you don’t know – when suddenly a disjointed voice joins in the discussion, with well-crafted verse – clearly delivering ‘a message’.

Ed aside: a message is how a person asks for a bribe in Kenya btw 🙂

Or my old bug-bear, having an email discussion with someone and suddenly an extended copy list has been added to the conversation, and you end up having – what is more often than not a disagreement – in front of a sea of faceless people. Weird.

So… my point is that these social media tools are supremely brilliant and simple at enabling conversation and connections in the SOCIAL world. However, they are, or could be, an expensive distraction from problems that are less simple to solve. I hear you cry at the word expensive, these tools are dirt cheap/free (I know) but what I mean is that if organisations start spending time, money and attention on developing clever ways to interact with their customers using Twitter – there is a risk that the knotty, difficult problems will continue to go into the too-hard box. All in the name of quick-wins and fanfare.

For example, I would love to be able to register a change of address or circumstance in one place online, and have all government departments notified.

Wouldn’t it be fabulous if we could do this?

Dog-walk-triggered obnoxious post

Whilst walking my dog tonight – he is a Spoodle, really not very clever but he is very lovely – I started thinking about freedom from information. A concept that has been bugging me ever since the UK government introduced Freedom of Information (FOI) – ironically my tea is currently squatting on an FOI mat thing.

I think that this is where my last post on bills to pay and bills paid, i.e. simplicity, sprang from in the first place.

There is too much information available now, it is creating confusion and chaos.

On said dog walk, I came over all pretentious and wondered what Plato would have said about information – it was his thing really. When I got home I Googled it and got this (amongst other things):

The philosophy of Plato is marked by the usage of dialectic, a method of discussion involving ever more profound insights into the nature of reality, and by cognitive optimism, a belief in the capacity of the human mind to attain the truth and to use this truth for the rational and virtuous ordering of human affairs. Plato believes that conflicting interests of different parts of society can be harmonized. The best, rational and righteous, political order, which he proposes, leads to a harmonious unity of society and allows each of its parts to flourish, but not at the expense of others. (Blatantly copy and pasted from here)

Argh!! The complete opposite of what I had hoped for. He thought that this dialogue would create harmony and unity.

Dare I disagree?

Bills to pay – Bills paid

I have spent the day rather luxuriously sorting out my study, which had become a dumping ground for ironing, stuff we had not unpacked from November 2006 when we moved in… and shoes.

I threw out three bags of rubbish, filed the business stuff that I am legally required to keep (in the shed), and ruthlessly sorted until I found the nirvana that is the study now: a bachelor-esque space, free of clutter… it is heaven (I am so sad).

During this process I recycled another two bags of paper, something my dear Oli has written about today here.

I have to admit to two rather large piles of paper now reclining on the dining table waiting for attention. I need to get them into three piles:

  1. Bills to pay
  2. Bills paid (therefore filing – at some point at the weekend)
  3. HMRC/business stuff that is too important to sit in the shed

It is so simple and I know that I will have done it by midday tomorrow.

This got me thinking… yikes not again

My online working life is so flipping complicated. I run three businesses, am a partner in another two, play in about three business sandpits, mentor two children, willingly throw myself into social media play-pens and fulfil the contracts I am paid to complete. (Bill – both Edwards and Reay – this does not necessarily reflect the order of importance/attention…).

I also over-promise on all sorts of other stuff I want to do voluntarily but really struggle to find the time (Internationale – apologies, I will get there).

The only complication is the online management – I can run it all off-line no problem, but I have no online time left! Notwithstanding the two daughters and husband (parents, friends, Tom) – I warned you this had no particular order.

My online life is a complete mess.

I update:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Flickr

I check:

  • WordPress – for comments and stats (yeah vanity)
  • Gmail
  • Webmail

I write:

  • Justice for Tom
  • Emma Mulqueeny
  • Linkedin

To do all of the above requires more hours in the day than are provided, if you are to also have a family life, fun, and rest. The obvious conclusion is that I need to sort the rest of my working life into a ‘to do’ and ‘done’ category, with an ongoing online/mental tray for ‘stuff’.

So… I need to be as ruthless as I have been in my study.

Bear with me whilst I work through this. Essential stuff:

  1. email (gmail and webmail) – comms
  2. justicefortom – soul/friendship
  3. emma mulqueeny – work

I guess the rest is optional. So in order of importance, if I have time, I will attend to the following:

  1. Twitter – people I do not know but respect are here and I have a line to them that I cannot ignore
  2. WordPress – if people are commenting on the posts I write then I will respond and learn)
  3. Facebook and Flickr – worth checking as some good friends and colleagues here who use this as primary comms route
  4. Linkedin – my CV – needs to be up to date

This all looks doable. And sitting in my heavenly study, I am committing to this order of priority.

Of course my family comes first, but right now I am dedicating my days to family, and evenings to ‘work’. You will find no value in me expressing how I juggle my family life, but perhaps this order of service will help some of you in the same position as me.

Good luck everyone! Bet you cannot wait for me to go back to work in May…

Pour coffee into sachet

There is something bothering me about politicians…

Surely not everyone who goes into politics is corrupt – yet that seems to be the general opinion. What happened to the person who was so determined to help the lives of himself/herself and fellow citizens? So much so that they dedicate themselves to public service? I refuse to believe that every one of them fell foul of some  mystical spell that turned each of them into self-serving , corrupt individuals.

We citizens are not stupid; explain what you (politicians) are trying to do, why and how – and we will get it! We may not support every policy as an individual, but if you explain the background – we will be able to compute what you are saying (and argue intelligently if necessary).

This works in international politics as well.

Politicians are not a breed or animal any different to homo sapiens – there is no barrier except one that is perceived or projected.

So why do we find it so hard to communicate? Why are we more content identifying and vilifying the one rotten apple, thereby brushing aside the fact that we need to understand and support the earnest intentions of the rest of those politicians who are determined to make some sense of the management of this country?

The job I choose to do is around enabling this explanation to happen, but I am increasingly frustrated by the reluctance to listen. I can enable communication until your ears bleed, but if there is no willingness to listen then there seems little point.

Democracy relies on the intelligence and candidacy of the community – should we not start taking account of our own actions?

It is too easy to lay blame at the door of corruption – pour sugar into sachet… we need to wake up.

Am back – and been observing!

Africa, well Kenya, was a cathartic exerience in every way.

I was:

  • offline
  • seeing Tom and doing something for someone else
  • getting my Vit B from the sun
  • given an opportunity to spend five peaceful days in great company – should I need it

Primarily the trip was about Tom. I saw him on three separate occasions and am so glad that I made the ‘effort’. It is possibly too soon for me to describe in any detail how the whole thing went – I know, it is frustrating – but it is very emotive to see a friend in prison, especially a high security Kenyan prison. However, I feel better for having seen and hugged him… although it is not so good now being back in a place where I cannot do anything practical to help.

I was not able to see him over the weekend, so was spoiled rotten by his parents and friends… photos on Flickr www.flickr.com/photos/mulquem/

That aside, I did get some peace to consider communication and its variants across the globe. Believe me, being in a country where Internet access is a suspicious luxury is extremely debilitating… yet freeing (discuss!)

On the plane home I believe I had a minor epiphany.

I was standing at the back of the plane and just stretching, avoiding the catatonia of screens and food, when I noticed the diversity of people on the flight. I tell you, the flight back from Nairobi is a wet dream for anthropologists.

Yet every screen was on. Row upon row of people from every background, plugged in to some form of digital entertainment. It was a scary view!

In the seats directly surrounding me, I had two lads, both African – neither had flown before. One sat next to me, the other in front – the one in front was very young, with a nun who was clearly his guardian. Both lads were unsettled throughout the whole flight. Not because of the flight itself, I saw no nerves around take-off or landing – but they were plugged in to a wealth of vision/audio options that they had no real choice but to fiddle about. Neither of them stayed with one channel, audio or visual, for longer than a minute or so… but when they were asked to engage and interact with the screen – then they seemed keen to involve themselves.

I was feeling strangely displaced as – normally – I am the one glued to the computer screen, but I think we need to do more to ensure a balance and ensure that the attraction of digital/social media is managed carefully enough not to make zombies out of all of us.

More when I have had more sleep! And Amy has officially turned six!

The absolution of 140 characters

I changed my mind. Twitter rocks – but only if you use the Internet to communicate: email, Facebook, blogs etc. If you don’t it is as pointless as setting up an email account and not telling anyone about it… nothing will happen. My personal use of Twitter has been to share experiences and validate thoughts. The fact that Twitter does nothing more than allow you to answer one question helps vindicate the uncomfortable thought that you are simply powering the ego…

This is not a considered post at all – wait for the proper one on validation :)

As a working mother of two girls, one cat, a dog and 26 fish (long story) – I write, but sometimes it might not have as much thought as one who does not have quite so many responsibilities – the fish are a ‘mare, they are tropical.

This is one such occasion. I want to tie up the iphone story, but it does not sit naturally with my ‘brand’ whatever that may end up being. So I will explain what has happened, with no moral, no value to the story, however perhaps you will be better informed the next time someone says: iphone or N95?

Justin Kerr-Stevens very kindly dug out the number of the Director of Communications for O2, Europe. As soon as I had the details I contacted him, and within minutes received a response. I must admit that I emailed from my FCO account… hmm. Anyway, he responded and by the afternoon I had some chap – sorry Alan Chapman – a very good chap – from O2 customer services, dealing with ‘my case’.

He sorted my iphone, well nearly, it should be working tomorrow sometime (27th March 2008). He sorted the fraud, he accepts that I have not tried to defraud O2. It is all so perfect, well kind of, I am still smarting about the fraud and inconvenience to be honest… and then:

‘Emma, I need to speak to you about your iphone’.

Tentative: ‘Uhuh’

‘I know we have sorted your original complaint of the iphone not working’ … well sort of… ‘ and fraud… ‘um yes, if I were to commit fraud I hope I would be sensible enough to do it to SAVE money…’

‘… well I have just looked at your account and you upgraded two months ago’

Me: ‘Yes, I did, it was due and I made a good saving on the tariff’

‘… thing is, you signed up for 18 months’

Me: ‘Yes I did, it was a good deal and I knew iphone would obviously override that as I was buying one at some point v soon’

‘… thing is, the 18 month tariff you signed up for is now defunct (or equivalent word) because you have chosen an iphone tariff’

Me: ‘Er yes because that is all that was on offer, the one on my Sony was better can I have that one?’

‘… there are three options, and you have chosen the middle one… so we now need you to pay us either – and we are being kind here – the full amount of your original contract… some £400 plus OR… we will be lovely and let you only pay £269’

Me: ‘Right… so the cost of the iphone again?’

‘… yes, because only two months ago we gave you a very expensive phone free, and now you have bought your own’…

Me: ‘Might be an idea to introduce this charge at the point of sale? And you can have the Sony back now…’

‘… did they not tell you? Where did you buy the phone?’

Me: ‘An O2 store, and this telephone call from you is the first I have ever heard about a charge of at least £269 to get my number migrated to my iphone’

‘… I shall go and listen to the recordings of your conversation when you upgraded last’…

Hmmm, OK – do I have to spell it out here? No, you can do the maths… equals me introducing head to wall

I want my iphone… what on earth, and more importantly who on earth do these companies think they are dealing with?

I will blog a far more constructive post about this customer behaviour shortly… but for now? Do NOT buy an iphone unless you are loaded – or want to pay for mine – currently a pile of junk on desk.

I HOPE that by posting here and gathering insight, we will be able to have the iphone and not be fleeced! Hurrah 🙂

Links, libel and law

This has been a week of mixed emotions. I have been very touched by everyone’s comments both on- and off- line about the post on the justicefortom site, and was equally as elated when I found out that I had – finally – been linked to from David Miliband’s blog.

Now, I have to confess that I bullied and nagged to get a link – simply because I harbour a completely unrequited respect for the man (the man not the politics, necessarily).

Within minutes the elation of finally having achieved nirvana was replaced by panic about what his linking to me might mean; not for myself, for him – well for both of us actually – with the death throws of civilserfgate still reverberating around Whitehall. By linking to me, he was seeming to bring my own views and opinions into his own blogosphere and could, perhaps, be seen to be endorsing whatever I say. In light of my post on justicefortom this might not be a good thing for a Foreign Secretary to be doing. Hmm…

I could detail the following 24 hours but it is neither interesting nor relevant – however, I ended up asking someone to remove me from the links on Miliband’s blog, as I was on the point of throwing up if they didn’t!

Of course, they obliged and I felt relieved yet confused.

At lunch the next day I discussed this with a respected colleague and he asked whether by linking to someone are you endorsing all of their views? In the same way as quoting something libellous that someone else has said, in a court of law makes you guilty of libel. Does the same law stand for linking?

By linking to me, was Miliband saying that he endorsed my fight for Tom?

By my linking to anyone, or recommending anyone on this site, does that mean that I endorse every belief they have?

No… but what if it did?

This is the last word on customer retention

As a champion of social media I am struggling with the moral dilemma of writing a new post based on the one-to-one conversations I have been having in light of my recent musings. How can I credit you all when you do not want to post your opinions in the comments? Only solution I see is to wrap up my own work and include highlights of what you have all taught me. Everything that you have sent to me has been really useful, thank you. Special thanks to Adam Burr from Logica who has been hugely educational and whom I shall quote extensively.

At the end of my post yesterday, I said that I would tie it all up for you: what I have done so far, benefits measurement and Press Office.

To start with the latter: you need to let them know what is happening, give them lines to take on what you have done with the website.

Benefits measurement: Ben ‘just wikipedia me’ Hammersley (yes I name-dropped, and?…) says that we should be fine with 404 stats. I agree to a point, however, if the technology is OK and we work it well that does not necessarily mean that we have reassured our stakeholders and readers whilst we play online pick-up-sticks. (More on this later).

My suggestion is that you put an error 404 capture on, just to see how you are doing and remedy all 404s as they come in. In addition, you run a customer review on the site, every three to six months. I would use a specialist company to do this. This would enable the e-media team to feel fully confident that the people they are delivering a service for – and the people they are delivering the service to… are happy. Not only feeling confident, they will be able to back it up with real user insight.

How did we get here…

Original post explained the following:

Exec sum – or similar

In researching this subject I spent many hours on the internet looking for the words: keeping your customers when changing url/retention of online customers. Surprisingly, I found nothing that gave any practical advice. Through contacts in Google, in the dark arts of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and in the National Archives, I have found that the answer is:

1. not simple or singular and

2. relies heavily on user input.

The two things that strike fear into the heart of all professional communicators.

In this blog, I have tried to simplify those principles that are imperative to the retention of customers. I have also attempted to provide an action point(ed) list of things to do to complete a diamond, bronze and tin version of customer retention – but would welcome all thoughts… please!

The rest is down to you, your comms team and marketeers.

This blog should also help you avoid time-consuming pitfalls.

Since then I have learned much and have changed my view. The 301 and 410 redirects will do it all for you, but as a business you should reassure your customers through old-fashioned comms. For this you need

  • some kind of reverse linking tool to see who is driving traffic to you
  • analyse that and ensure that the top 150 referrers are well looked after
  • put a page on the site that you can point people to
  • ensure that you are retaining your customers through measures

Now, Ben started an interesting (although offline) argument about the value of being this anal. Adam Burr put it most succinctly:

Why the URLs are changing

The existing URLs are, for the most part, not good at all. They are being changed because they are being improved! Anyone who has been on the fco website and clicked around for even 1 minute will have seen the ugly URLs I am referring to.

Why there should be comms

Because authoritative 3rd party sites such as blahblah.gov.uk are trusted by search engines. If these sites continue to have the old links then they are effectively asserting (with implied authority) that we do indeed have content at that URL. Ben is right that things will work, but an outdated link is still an outdated link. The nuances he is missing are…

  • Some of the outdated links will lead to the “page gone” holding page. This will refer people to site search and TNA, but this is not ideal. It would be better for 3rd party webmasters to provide a link to the next-most-helpful-page on either our website or someone else’s.
  • The 301 redirects shouldn’t be necessary in perpetuity. For one thing, they lead to a slower user experience, particularly if the user in question is in a part of the world that is distant from our servers and not well equipped from a bandwidth point of view. After all this is the FCO site! They also add to the load on the server as the mapping list will be large. It should be possible to monitor the number of 301s being issued and remove the redirects when the frequency of their use reduces to below a set level. The 410s can take up the slack.
  • And finally, it is inelegant and not “joined-up gov” or “partnership” to not inform the third party sites of the redesign and consequently leave the Internet littered with harder to type, harder to remember, non-up-to-date, soon to be obsolete and slower-performing links.

Aside

I accept that partly it depends on one’s philosophy to web URLs. When an organisation publishes a piece of content at a URL, are they really accepting responsibility to respond to requests for that URL in perpetuity? (I accept that PQs are a separate case as Law seems to mandate the answer – but what is the principle that dictates this for every other URL?) I think change is OK as long as there is a good reason and as long as it is properly managed, which is what we are planning to do!

He was not happy with that and continued:

“Gone off on one” a bit trying to understand whether URLs are some kind of perpetual obligation under accepted webmaster etiquette and bet practice

I found this essay which is interesting. It contains an interesting quote:

“Any URL that has ever been exposed to the Internet should live forever: Never let any URL die since doing so means that other sites that link to you will experience linkrot.”

But also quotes the World Wide Web Consortiums standard that a server may return a 410 in which case the requester should remove their link or a 301 in which case they should amend it. So clearly, there is some room for debate as to where the burden of responsibility actually lies or perhaps how it should be shared.

I think that the practical reality is that no-one wants to maintain forever all the 301 redirects for any page that they have ever had on their domain. I feel that there needs to be a statute of limitations whereby once honour has been satisfied they can be withdrawn.

I am afraid that I cannot be any more explicit than this – it is an interesting discussion (for anal people like me). Would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Social media and democracy – Part 2 (in light of civilserfgate)

Resistance is futile, I was really trying not to say anything about all of the media reports on the civil serf blogger, and the news in the Timesonline today that Sir Gus O’Donnell (aka Sir GO’D) is about to (finally) release the guidelines for civil servants on engaging in the social media space. However, the charming Simon McManus linked to my social media and democracy post, was himself linked to from the Guardian and so I thought it would be churlish not to say anything.

I will not repeat my misgivings about how social media will affect democracy in countries where autocracy rules, you can read that on the other post 🙂 but I will have a little muse about it in the context of civil servants, living in a democracy, under the auspices of the civil service code.

Aside: our civil service is highly respected, and the civil service code of conduct is key to this – I fundamentally believe that it should not be written off or ignored. Nor is it complicated, you can view it in all formats here: http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/iam/codes/cscode/index.asp

There are some misconceptions in the Press about who exactly civil servants work for. Here is a good definition of a civil servant, for those not wanting to leave my prose the explanation is as follows:

Civil Servants are those who are employed by the Crown, excluding those employed by the Monarch herself. The Civil Service therefore excludes those who are employed by Parliament and those employed by other public bodies.

It may remain confusing, but basically, civil servants are employed by the Crown, the Crown’s executive powers are exercised by government, therefore, civil servants must do as they are told by the governing party – but they remain loyal to the Crown as their ultimate employer. (This explains why a rather brilliantly painted picture of the royal family en flagrante on the balcony of Buckingham Palace was refused in horror by a colleague in HMRC!)

So, to our very own Belle du Jour – the civil serf. She is a civil servant, therefore is required to do the bidding of the Labour Government Ministers, whilst remaining in the employ of the Crown. She will have signed up to the Civil Service code and therefore will be required to stick to the rules of the game. On reflection, (OK printing and scribbling) I believe that the following bits of the civil service code are salient here:

The code is broken down into four simple sections: integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality, so taking these areas and looking at what they require, I am just going to highlight those guidelines that should have given any blogging civil servant pause for thought…

Integrity

You must always act in a way that is professional and that deserves and retains the confidence of all those with whom you have dealings

You must not misuse your official position, for example by using information acquired in the course of your official duties to further your private interest or those of others (NB I am intrigued by what the last four words imply)

You must not disclose official information without authority. This duty continues to apply after you leave the Civil Service

Honesty

You must set out the facts and relevant issues truthfully, and correct any errors as soon as possible

You must not deceive or knowingly mislead Ministers, Parliament or others

Political impartiality

You must serve the government, whatever its political persuasion, to the best of your ability in a way which maintains political impartiality and is in line with the requirements of the Code, no matter what your own political beliefs are

You must act in a way which deserves and retains the confidences of Ministers, while at the same time ensuring that you will be able to establish the same relationship with those whom you may be required to serve in some future Government

My take on it all

As with any mediation, we need to remain true to the facts… however entertaining it has been to read the riotous posts about what it is like in whichever department this lass works for, what damage is it doing to her colleagues? Employers? People working for her? Citizens of this country? Has she broken a contract that she signed up to when taking on her job in the civil service?

My position is that she had a right to write down her thoughts, but she went too far.

I am far more reassured by the only other blogging civil servant I know – Jeremy Gould – I hope that he is still able to talk about his thoughts and experiences, in his own way. I may unduly promote his blog, but with reason – it is all the things we want from the civil serf without the sensationalism.

Update 11th March: Yikes, thank you David Briggs for having the grace not to point out that you too are a blogging civil servant! I shall unduly promote your blog forthwith! Oops and Paul Canning… I am not doing well here am I?

I should make a public curtsey to Tom Watson MP who is not a civil servant, rather a rather precocious politician – however, he does seem to have some empathy with what we are trying to achieve. Many bloggers have spoken about him today far better than I can… go read: up-to-date bloggers on Google