Author Archives: mashfield

About mashfield

MA Student @ BCU

To conquer social you must become social…

OK, so it hasn’t quite got the impact of the similar, albeit slightly more famous line from Batman Begins (2005)  but the sentiment that sits behind it is the same. It may be true that social networking probably isn’t of major interest to the lone knight himself (can’t imagine Batman being that keen to encourage ‘likes’ or having a particularly great score on Klout!) but it does continue to be ever more important to the lives of us lesser mortals.

Consequently businesses are flocking to social platforms and often because they think they should be there rather than because it forms part of a strategic plan for brand management, customer engagement or strategic analysis. It’s often the case that companies embark on building a social media presence out of a negative compulsion to manage risk, borne of a fear that they need to control what people are saying about their brand. I recently gained firsthand experience of this with my own business…

My Life | My Choice is a tense urban drama that aims to explore the reality of gangs and weapons

Some time ago my company Lime Social Marketing, Media & Communications produced My Life | My Choice –a short film that explores issues relating to gangs and weapons as part of a structured educational programme delivered in schools. I was therefore surprised when a group of the actors started a campaign to get the film released.

My attention was drawn to the ‘unofficial’ channels being used to promote the film and the difficulties in controlling what was being said. Should we post links and information, try to divert the flow of traffic, intervene? As quickly as these concerns emerged, a calm, more rational thinking took over. Exercising any control over content being spread virally would be about as easy as trying to prevent a tidal wave by standing on the seashore armed with an umbrella. So I did the only thing I could, I ‘liked’ the fan page and endorsed the campaign.

Cast from My Life | My Choice start 'unofficial' campaign to get the film released

The simple fact is that if people want to talk about or share something online they are unlikely to wait for anyone else’s permission or support to do it and once that genie is out of the bottle, there’s nothing you can do to change it, the moment has gone. But then why would you want to? Having people talk about your work is a great way to promote it and actively taking part in the dialogue can bring a whole host of invaluable customer insight and feedback.

Businesses need to let go of their fear, accept this simple reality, but above all not get too hung up about control.With the plethora of social platforms that are already available and the advent of new ones like Google+, if you don’t get on board and ride that wave you’ll simply be swept aside by it.

So perhaps the phrase should actually be “to conquer fear we must become social” –the old adage, if you can’t beat them, join them has never been more apt!


What’s in a #Hashtag?

A friend recently commented on the strange accessory to my tweets –a series of seemingly random symbols, letters and numbers that made no obvious sense.

This was of course a hashtag. I had been using it whilst tweeting from a conference and it occurred to me that hashtags are something often taken for granted by seasoned tweeters but probably quite confusing if you are noticing them for the first time.

So here is a quick overview…

The humble hashtag is a particular favourite at events, conferences or just general conversations about stuff like favourite TV shows. By using a hashtag, subjects can be easily searched and followed. Quite simply it provides a way to catalogue a collection of tweets and bring some order to what might otherwise be a chaotic online space.

For an event this means that even if you are not attending in person, you can set up a search and monitor the whole conversation as it happens without the need to follow every single user that is participating (which would be impossible).

You can therefore take part in conversations based upon themes or topics rather than purely on who you are following. The same applies for your favourite TV shows – you can join realtime discussion as the show is on, so it’s like watching TV with hundreds of friends (often connecting you with new ones).

If enough people make use of the hashtag it’s then more likely to appear as a trending topic and this helps to spread information on Twitter (while also helping to organise it).

Here are a few simple hashtag tips:

1. Don’t overuse them –you risk diluting their usefulness and fragmenting conversations.

2. Search existing hashtags –you can join and add to conversations by looking at what’s already being used. Events, conferences and TV shows will often have their own tag allowing you to join in with an established community.

3. Keep it relevant –if you are commenting on a particular hashtag make sure there is some context. Remember, whatever you write is added to that search string so enrich it by being pertinent.

So to sum up, hashtags are a simple way to organise information, they can extend your reach and help build new connections. Time to start tagging your tweets!

Lessons in Social Media Practice #1

For many, blogging brings a certain amount of fear. Fear of not writing enough, fear of writing too much, fear that no-one will read, fear that people actually will read. So what is it about blogging that paralyses people who are usually so socially capable?

We Are What We Tweet event

The We Are What We Tweet Event offered an exploration of social media use in a variety of settings

As a follow-up to the We Are What We Tweet event I recently spent some time discussing the merits of blogging as a mechanism to build an engaged audience. Many people are completely comfortable doing this in face-to-face situations –sharing ideas, thoughts and perspectives or simply chatting is something that comes completely naturally to most.

Blogging really should be the same –a rewarding activity that isn’t too difficult or time-consuming. So partly for my own benefit and partly in response to that discussion, here are a few ideas…

What’s your motivation?

Are you sharing life’s stories, trying to build a brand, documenting or publicising your event or business, or seeking to stimulate thought and debate. It doesn’t matter what it is you want to do but it is worth putting a bit of consideration into it first.

Think about your goal or message –it just might help you to collect your thoughts and get going. It doesn’t matter if you just want an outlet for self-expression or you have a very specific aim but spend a bit of time reflecting on this and it will help to shape your writing.

And don’t be afraid to change your goals. It may be that you are not too interested in building a readership at first but as you gain in popularity you may want to think more about your aims and where to take your audience next.

Understanding who makes up your audience is a valuable step towards writing in a way that attracts them

Who is your audience?

Speaking of audience, imagining who is reading, or who you would like to read your blog can be a good way to develop your writing. It gives you a focus, a direction. You might want to imagine you are talking to a particular person and whilst it’s often the case that your implied or imagined audience can be very different to your actual audience it doesn’t hurt to begin with this approach and refine it as you go. Of course having an audience also brings another consideration…

Can you handle the spotlight?

Part of the initial fear of blogging can be the sudden realisation of putting your thoughts ‘on the record’. What might be fine as a private conversation or comment might not be something you want to have permanently engraved on the web. It’s worth remembering that regardless of your audience, implied or otherwise, blogging leaves an almost indelible mark that people could see, even if you were to subsequently delete your blog.

Finding your voice

It’s worth deciding the tone of your writing. Organisations in particular often opt for a very corporate approach, which is fine if this reflects your reader but it’s also worth considering that whoever your audience, they are still people and therefore the rules of social engagement are the same. People want to hear from other people, with personalities and opinions, so it follows that a friendly humanistic approach is likely to engage an interest.

How often and how much will you write?

Blogging is a bit like marriage (is that the sound of mouse click closing down my blog page?) or any other long-term commitment in that it takes a bit of time, dedication and nurturing to cultivate success. So you should decide how often you are going to talk to your audience in order to build rapport without setting unrealistic expectations.

You should also think about how long your posts will be and set yourself a word count. Many prefer blogs to give bite-sized topic summaries of 500 to 1000 words. You don’t always have to say everything in one post, if you have lots of really interesting stuff break it down into a series of articles. This enables your reader to digest your point and a series of short snappy posts will encourage your readers to come back for more.

Planning, and even writing your posts in advance doesn’t mean you can’t be genuine and spontaneous but it will help you to have a steady stream of content. There are no hard and fast rules but there is a link between frequency and traffic so set a schedule and stick to it.

Clearly defined topics can help to develop your audience

What topics should you choose?

It often helps to write about things that you are knowledgable on and interested in. This helps you to write with authenticity and expertise which will definitely come across in your writing.

Apply that same principle of planning to each individual post and have a checklist. As a starting point you may want to include:

  1. A short, compelling or intriguing headline;
  2. A strong first sentence to “hook” your reader;
  3. Pictures (if you use them) can be great at both illustrating your point and grabbing your reader but if possible try to use ones that are high quality and original;
  4. Breaks in the text. Short paragraphs, numbered lists, bullet points and subheads all help people to read posts quickly and easily.

Remember that online readers often scan first until they find something that “grabs” their attention so it’s worth considering how your blog looks as well as how it reads.

Promote yourself

Chances are you already have a ready-made audience of friends, acquaintances and colleagues on social networking sites. Use your social networks to promote your blog. Paste links and encourage friends to visit. You can also ask them to repost the links on their own pages. Since the people in your network are friends, it’s pretty certain that a significant number will actually help you.

What does success look like?

Just as you’ve considered your goal, it’s also useful to track that goal in order to continually improve your blog and develop your skills. It may be helpful to establish some kind of process for reviewing what is and isn’t working. Things you can easily monitor include, comments and traffic. If you want to dig a little deeper consider web tools like Google Analytics or use simple tools that often feature as part of your blog platform.

Right, having written this I now understand all the things I’m doing wrong so I’m off to take my own advice and build a global audience!

Happy blogging…

Nowt so Queer as Folk…

…As they say in Yorkshire and today that seemed to be irrefutably proven as (and at the risk of sounding all Fleet Street) the preparation for our forthcoming social media event took a dramatic and unexpected turn!

Tensions have clearly been building in the team. I think this was more the result of a clash of personalities that has intensified in the context of

a. working within a small group; and

b. having a reasonably short deadline for delivery.

However today it became clear that this combination had taken its toll and sadly tensions boiled over…

In my role as chair of the group and as a sincere attempt to head off this very situation I had suggested an informal chat over coffee for anyone with concerns about how the project was progressing. The idea was to get any differences of opinion out in the open so that they could be discussed rationally. Having spent my entire working life in fairy high pressured environments I honestly thought today would be pretty straightforward. After all, we all have the same goal.

However, the ‘out in the open’ part of my plan, as it turned out, was the only thing that worked and my idea of a ‘friendly chat between like-minded individuals’ descended into a slanging match that would have made Jeremy Kyle blush. I can honestly say (now at the risk of sounding like my parents!) that in all my years I have never seen anything like this (apart from that one time that I did accidentally see an episode of the Jeremy Kyle show).

I’ve organised numerous events during various roles throughout my career, and for thousands of people, with all kinds of unknown variables and risks – technology failure, people not showing, guests disappearing when they were due on stage and even one time where I launched a new service for a very high-profile client, whilst at the same time as fighting off a hostile takeover of the business where the buyers planned to asset strip the company (now there’s a story!). In all that time I have never known the thing to go wrong, the weak link in the chain, to be the people whose responsibility it was to make something a success. I guess, looking back, I’ve always been lucky to work alongside committed people able to put aside any personal differences they might have had for the good of the team and to just get on with the job at hand.

So today has been a valuable lesson and the first serious test in my short leadership of this particular project.

Once again I’ve been fortunate –the team response has been fantastic and whilst today has left a big hole in terms of what, at the moment appears to be the loss of a team-member and their own unique perspective, and therefore an increased workload for everyone, I think events have galvanised us and given everyone a renewed sense of purpose. What is it they say, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…

I guess you could say, all in all, it’s turned out nice again, hasn’t it?

Vorsprung durch Technik…

…as they say in Germany, but as our MA Social Media group met today for the second time to discuss the planning around our forthcoming event it was less ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ and more ‘Vorsprung durch Kaffee, Kuchen und Unterhaltung’ (advancement through good, old-fashioned coffee, cake and chat).

Having been nominated to chair the group (an honour or a poisoned chalice? –the jury’s out) I felt we generally needed a bit more urgency in decision-making. We’ve had a tendency to get stuck in circular discussions which has sometimes felt a bit like herding cats and today really could have gone either way.

However, I am pleasantly surprised at the progress we seem to be making. Our brief is fairly simple – put on a social media event, decide a format, promote it, run it and then report back on it – but when you consider that between our group we represent seven countries and a fairly broad age and experience range, all of a sudden the task isn’t quite as straightforward.

After some initial revisiting of previous decisions followed by a spot of ‘speed-democracy decision-making’ we now have a format – the event will feature a series of keynotes followed by smaller discussion groups around the themes of:

  • We Tweet – I Tweet – an exploration of how Twitter can be useful in a wide variety of situations from mobilising a community to marketing a product;
  • Our Stories, Our Lives, Our Truths – a look at the role of storytelling and the relationships between mainstream and social media.

Just need a venue and some key speakers to attract the punters, a bit of publicity and we’re there!

There really is no substitution for getting round a table, chewing the fat and making some decisions. Ironic really, considering the event will be all around the use of digital tools but then again it does underline the symbiotic relationship between on and offline working.

If things continue to go this well I may consider offering my services to the UN…

Begin with the End in Mind

For anyone that is familiar with Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, habit two suggests “Begin with the End in Mind.” This is particularly pertinent to an effective social media strategy as well as planning a social media event.

Along with my fellow MA Social Media students, one of our current tasks is to put on such an event and build a strategy that promotes it. In both cases the end could refer to the end-user or in simpler terms, the audience. Yet we are already in danger of becoming fixated on a theme for the event without considering who the audience for any given theme could potentially be.

We should first seek to understand the audience we are looking to target, how/if we can reach them and after considering all that, whether they can be persuaded to come along and participate. By starting with this in mind and working backwards, the strategy should at least ensure that we are not setting ourselves up to fail.

To use one of our potential themes as an example…

Current events in Egypt and the role of social media.

The difficulty of a theme like this is that, as an object of study it is extremely broad. For the context of what we need to achieve it needs to be framed within a much more specific focus. For example, is the perspective democratic change, public order or government control (or lack of it), all of which may have a slightly different appeal to a variety of audiences.

And what of those audiences? Who is likely to attend an event on these subjects? For instance, democratic change could be a subject that would interest a broad range of people from political activists to local government personnel but should the event use the Egyptian example to illustrate the point rather than it being the point in itself?

For me there needs to be a consideration of a specific aspect of such a theme linked to a strategy for appealing to a particular (and accessible) audience.

There is, of course, a wider question or indeed a different ‘end’ that we should consider, and that is the academic assessment that will follow. Ultimately this is the goal and one argument is that success or failure of the event is irrelevant providing there is the opportunity for an academic analysis of it.

For this reason I think we need to be a bit more focussed, even ruthless in terms of choosing something specific enough to allow that sharp focus. We should set out to clearly define an audience that is accessible and plan how we can best engage them. Whilst a big global issue would undoubtedly make for an interesting study, does it also lend itself to achieving our academic and professional goals? If we can solve the audience question, agree what the ‘end’ is, only then will we be in a position to answer that.

Digital Relationships in the ‘MySpace’ Generation: Results from a Qualitative Study – a review

This week we have been looking at a range of journal articles that examine social media. Here is my review of Catherine Dwyer’s paper, “Digital Relationships in the ‘MySpace’ Generation: Results from a Qualitative Study


The paper considers how social networking and instant messaging are used to manage relationships as well as the ways in which communication technology arbitrate behaviours in the management of those relationships.

It is a qualitative study that makes use of semi-structured interviews and aims to explore concepts of self-presentation and impression management; which aspects of the technologies work and which don’t; how prevalent the systems are with users; and whether users actually find the technologies helpful in forming new relationships particularly in light of attitudes towards privacy

In total, 19 respondents took part in the study, all similarly aged (average 22.2 years), which was conducted by 6 undergraduate students trained in semi-structured interview techniques. Results were analysed for common themes using qualitative research software (QSR NVivo).


The study concludes that there is substantial use within the respondents of communication technologies.  This occurs through multiple channels based upon convenience, ease of access, low-cost and enjoyment.

It suggests that online profiles are carefully managed with authenticity playing a key role in that process although accepts that constructing an online identity was generally considered to be an enjoyable entertainment activity.

In terms of privacy, respondents articulated broad indifference to the way this affects their activity within these sites, citing it as a natural and acceptable trade-off for access to such free sites.

Critical Analysis

Whilst it may be said that the research is somewhat flawed both in terms of the number of respondents that participated and their similar demographic profile  (80% male and 50% white all within a similar age bracket) it does raise some interesting points.

Goffman (1959) depicts identity generally as a continual performance whereby individuals present a ‘frontstage’, where their social role, behaviours and audience expectations are brought together with the aim of a ‘controlled performance’; and a ‘backstage’ where deviant or atypical values and actions are hidden and only presented in public to legitimise the individual’s social role and confirm faith with the embracing social framework.

The research within this study would appear to bear this out in terms of a) carefully managing the information exchanged in a social interaction conducted online and b) the huge importance of our social networks, the information that they present to us and how this reaffirms or affects our own identity.

The author accepts that there may be limitations in terms of generalising findings due to the sample size not being significant but offers a preliminary examination of ‘the attitudes and technology features that influence interpersonal relationship management’, indicating that further study is warranted.

My own view is that online behaviours around impression management and identity formation are closely linked to the same behaviours offline. It is not digital tools that drive us to carefully present a version of ourselves to the world but a psychological drive for social acceptance within a chosen group.

As Carl Rogers (1980) wrote:

When a person realises he has been deeply heard, his eyes moisten. I think in some real sense, he is weeping for joy. It is as though he were saying, “Thank God somebody heard me. Someone knows what it’s like to be me.”


Dwyer, C. (2007) ‘Digital Relationships in the “MySpace” Generation: Results from a Qualitative Study’ Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences VOL 1, pages 317-326

Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday

Rogers, C. (1980). A Way of Being, Boston: Houghton Mifflin