More Digital blog


Nov 2011

Can you run an business via the web? A message from 2021.

Posted in Business tactics, Technology | 1 Comment »

This article has been emailed to us from the future. No, we don’t know how. We’re posting it anyway.


[November 15th, 2021.]

Once upon a time, there were magical places in the centre of cities, called offices. These tall, sturdy buildings were marvels – people sat at “desks” to perform tasks centred around their day jobs, after travelling from home on a journey once known as a “commute”, during which they would read the paper and stare angrily at people who lacked noise-cancelling headphones.

Weirdly, people had the internet back then, and yet they all chose to work in the same room! Even with Skype, and IM, and even Twitter (that 140-character microblog post thing that was popular back then, before FaGoogleBook bought the internet), they were sat there at desks, talking to each other out loud! In person!

The reason I want to talk about this is because back then, running a small business was harder. Back then, you had to rent an office, which made things very expensive, and also really limited your staff choices because of the singular geographical constraint you placed on the roles you offered to potential future employees.

Now, you can start the business from your couch, and win awards – from your couch. All you need is a computer, and you can get started. Doesn’t matter if the trains are delayed, or if the City suffers a blackout, or even if the Olympics are in town (during which all businesses based in the city known as London gave up and went on holiday for a fortnight, causing countless riots across the capital). You’re comfy, you’re working hard, and you can work with a programmer in the States, and a PR whiz in China.

What’s odd is this was doable in 2011, and although some companies find it easier, or prefer to work in offices, for small businesses it’s the best route possible. The risk is low – no moving house, no office investment, no office temperature debates – just the work and the proof of concept. If it doesn’t work, moving on doesn’t take months – it takes a week, if that.

The best part is the fact that everything from education to business deals can be done via the web, but of course, it does tend to turn us into sociopathic recluses feeding off Ocado deliveries and the odd gift-to-self from Amazon. But it’s all in the name of business, right? Right?


[November 15th, 2011.]

It’s something I fully support, for small businesses – once you’re a team of over a hundred people, sticking to your living room isn’t really going to work, as you’ll need the speed and the ability to speak to people quickly in custom groups and give presentations without having to stream it to them over the web. It also means that servers and other technological concerns are, while centralised (if your net is down, everyones is), a little more accessible.

Small businesses have a lot to learn. You don’t need an office. Some of the best websites and companies I know of started in someone’s house, or in the houses of individual staff scattered across the planet. So sprawl out on your couch, get alone, and go people hunting. See it this way: during the Olympics, you’ll be the only companies around, if you’re in London!

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May 2011

The small business value of SEO

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Every so often, it becomes clear that small businesses are taking increasing steps to widen their knowledge of search engine optimisation. The SEO discipline is, when put to good use, a veritable goldmine of consumer attention, increased website traffic, and a boost in the industry’s awareness of your business.

BusinessWeek‘s Karen E. Klein states that SEO is especially important for “small businesses with limited brand recognition.” Promoting the brand should be any small business’s number one goal – without brand awareness, there is no foundation upon which to build a successful company. Encouraging not only awareness, but loyalty can ensure that your business meets its long-term goals in addition to boosting sales of its current product and service range.

Unfortunately, as Klein states, the SEO tutorial network is rife with “bad information.” There are countless so-called “SEO experts” who are nothing more than self-proclaimed industry figureheads whose Twitter follower numbers are unfortunately often only an indication of a large void in which to cast their ideas. SEO agencies, however, are a far more reliable source of guidance and assistance, and will allow you to take advantage of the countless benefits of good SEO whilst negating the risks of bad advice.

SEO is, by and large, a method of turning a search-engine’s algorithms to your advantage. If you find that you rarely appear in the first page or two of results for keywords that describe your what your business offers to the letter, than perhaps an enquiry to an agency may be a wise choice.

Klein recommends SEOMoz and other sites containing beginner’s guides, but it is imperative that you consider the sources of such information. Like the wave of traditional marketing “experts” before them, many SEO magicians can offer little more than parlour tricks, preferring to rely on vague allusions to “community branding” and “generating a positive consumer experience,” minus the useful examples required to put these positive-sounding first steps into practice.

As with any new discipline within marketing, however, SEO has often been branded hogwash by those who prefer a more traditional approach, but it is easy to highlight the ignorance of such remarks. Figures from Search Engine Land indicate that as many as eighty-eight billion searches per month were made via Google alone in 2010. Statistics like this are hard to ignore – with the potential to reach as little as 0.1% of these individuals, the traffic drawn to your site would be enough to fund every single aspect of your business model, provided you are capable of generating revenue through advertising.

If your intention is to school yourself in SEO, and there are sound resources that make this possible, consider that it is not a monetary investment, but one of time and effort outside the day-to-day running of your business. Consider if you can justify this against the cost of hiring an SEO agency – after all, if you are capable of spending ten hours a week working on your SEO skills, it is equally justifiable that those hours could have funded a day-long SEO briefing at any number of competent agency offices. The financial benefit of the latter, you will find, more than pays for the cost of a DIY approach.

Soon, the digital age will reach its pinnacle and traditional businesses will have to re-shape their approach to marketing their brand. But until then, those small businesses who choose to take swift advantage of the benefits of search-engine optimisation will find themselves rewarded, and ahead of the game when their competitors finally join the online sphere.

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Apr 2011

Is Amazon trying to manipulate innocent indie developers?

Posted in Business tactics, Technology | 0 Comments

I own an Android phone, and one of the advantages is access to a marketplace that’s extremely easy to use, and has a lot of high-quality content there to try, buy, or download for free that may not meet Apple’s sometimes excessively picky standards. The downside to any good software market is that eventually, someone will come up with the idea that their company can offer the same stuff, but in a different way and in a manner that they can profit from.

Simply, Amazon are slightly dodgy people when it comes to supporting small organisations or businesses, and I think this is becoming increasingly obvious. From their sudden lack of support of WikiLeaks to this latest debacle, the clear message they are sending is that they’re out for number one only. The organisation who brought their failings to light this time around was none other than the International Game Developers Association, who have illustrated in a well-thought-out blog post that Amazon’s contract with developers clearly treats them rather badly in a number of ways.

First of these, and in my opinion one of the worst of all the bizarrely scam-esque clauses in their contract with a developer is the clause in which it is stated that if you, say, generate more sales with a 50% price-slash on Google’s Android Markerplace, you have to slash prices by 50% on Amazon’s market as well. Fine, that’s okay. But when you’re putting prices back to normal after the promotional period is over, you cannot do that on Amazon’s marketplace.

Small businesses get started in a variety of ways, and one of those ways is by being able to offer a lot of content for a small price, then raising the price again once a promotional figure has brought in a sufficient user base. Is it then justifiable to expect them to subsist, as a business that, like any person, requires money to retain a sense of stability, merely by selling their products and services for a lower price than is necessary? Sure, the customer wins, but what does the customer “win” when the business goes bust due to Amazon’s sneaky pricing clauses?

What’s worse is that the IGDA are worried that this may prompt other Android marketplaces to do the same thing, and that’s simply not on. Creating an environment where you can only sell your product at the price you want to and have it fluctuate both high and low, and then putting that next to a thousand similar marketplaces, some of even higher quality, where your product could be sold permanently for less simply drives everyone away from the only fair market for your business.

It’ll be interesting to see how Amazon respond to the IGDA’s comments, but I doubt they will to any informative or even honest degree, much like they did when it came to answering why, exactly, they felt the need to boot WikiLeaks off their servers the moment Cablegate hit the headlines. Interesting insights by an organisation who care about small developers, who are clearly trying to protect individuals who don’t.

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Mar 2011

Protecting your intellectual property as a small business.

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Recently, I’ve played quite a lot of a free game called Desktop Dungeons, by a company called QCF. For those of you not in the know, this type of game is what’s called a “roguelike” – a game similar to Rogue, a roleplaying game where your only graphical interface was comprised completely out of ASCII characters. Walls were | symbols. Empty space was a dash. However, Dungeons reinvented that “hard retro RPG” idea and I’m having a great time.

Sadly, so was another company by the name of Lazy Peon. Why? Because this one-man outfit, based in San Francisco, decided that it would be a wise idea to take the entire idea, mechanics and even the look of the first game, pretty it up, and release it on the iTunes App Store.

That’s a pretty low blow, but where it gets a tad offensive is when the development team, based in South Africa, were offered an iPod Touch in exchange for holding back their lawsuit. The shockingly arrogant implication being that the nationality of QCF somehow indicated that, as stupid backwoods Africans, they’d rather get a bit of shiny tech. At the same time, it still took Lazy Peon a long time before reality set in and he removed the game from the iTunes store.

The one thing QCF had going for it was the fact the product they were attempting to market was actually extremely good. If it hadn’t got the backing of the press, the community, and even other developers, I don’t think it ever would’ve been able to claw back its intellectual property. It sends an important message to any small team of people working on a new product with one or more USPs (unique selling points) – be very, very careful with how you present your work. If it looks all friendly and open source, people are going to try and nick it.

On the other hand, you’ve got people who can afford to create open source content. The OS I’m using right now is Ubuntu, based on Linux and named after the Southern African philosophy “Ubuntu” – humanity towards others. It was created by Southern African businessman Mark Shuttleworth, an entrepreneur with a self-worth easily high enough to allow him to apply to judge on Dragon’s Den. By taking the approach that the community around an operating system should be able to fix broken parts or grant it new ones spread like wildfire, and as a result, the version of the OS I’m using now could compete with Windows with its eyes closed. If anything, it’s better (though I’m an OSX fan at heart).

Thing is, he doesn’t have to worry about intellectual property rights in terms of the operating system itself. He’s given the open-source community a huge gift, and they’ve reciprocated in gratitude and recognition. But he’s also got millions of pounds – if he didn’t, would people have tried to rip him off?

The issue with taking someone to court, especially over an IP that has as yet generated no revenue whatsoever, is that it’s extremely expensive. So much so that many large companies would take the stance that a smaller company does not have the access to the same financial and legal strength, so can take what it wants. But if you take QCF’s approach and threaten to go after someone no matter the size of the company, with a community of loyal would-be customers and industry cohorts at your back, they just might back down. It sounds like something from Toy Story, but social media means that when the bully comes knocking at your door, your friends can be there for you.

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Dec 2010

Can small businesses cope with the Christmas rush in bad weather?

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It’s not fair. For those of us who ordered our gifts well in advance, knowing an Amazon Marketplace seller is going to fail to get them to us by Christmas Day is rather upsetting. Especially when they assure you they’re doing their best in a personal email – not something Amazon has the capacity to offer. The issue with making connections with your customers on a regular basis is that when the heaviest snowfall in 30 years hits your carriers, those personalised deliveries very quickly sour into personalised failures.

Small businesses have a huge advantage when it comes to social media marketing – not only are they infinitely more believable when it comes to tweeting away about the news and responding to enquiries via the micro-blogging site Twitter, they’re also going to generate a loyal consumer base through doing so. When you’re a small business relying on this bedrock of happy shoppers, you’re undertaking a severe risk – customers losing faith in you because of the unfortunate absence of Christmas presents due to snow could mean a hard-up January.

There are thousands, and I’m not kidding, thousands, of complaints on Amazon discussion boards about deliveries. I have emailed two small businesses to enquire about my missing deliveries, and unfortunately will have to rush around like a headless chicken this evening replacing them. I do it out of love, but not for that company. Why? They emailed me back and didn’t use a form response.

It’s a double-edged blade, isn’t it? I remember not too long ago talking about the wonderful relationship NaNoWriMo’s Office of Letters and Light had with its supportive user base, but at the same time, if they’d lost my Winner’s shirt in the post and repeatedly told me everything was fine, my opinion of their “care in the community” attitude would’ve been tainted, at least temporarily. Don’t connect enough with people as a small business, and you seem arrogant and cocksure. Connect too much, and people begin to expect more of you than anyone else.

A lot of businesses, especially smaller ones hoping to grow through the use of well-targeted social media marketing, are having issues with allocating the right amount of resources to that particular goal. If you tweet half an hour on Monday, you’ll need to do it on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday too – no slacking off. Time is your most important resource with a small number of staff, and you need to keep on your toes and productive if you’re going to perform well in the foreseeable future.

But how can you balance it all? Social media, customer service, arguments with ParcelForce – it’s not fair, and I do feel for you. But, taking another example from this year’s Xmas shopping debacle, I was told USPS (United States Postal Service) were the carrier for my order. Not only was this misleading, as the public seem unsure as to who fulfils these orders in the UK – ParcelForce or the Royal Mail – my tracking number didn’t work, either, and not just on the USPS site.

I’ve emailed several times, and I know the company probably don’t have a Twitter – they’re a small model shop and they’re probably swamped with orders for the most popular product they sell – the one I’ve actually paid for, now. But with the post up the spout and Post Office employees sitting on Amazon telling an enraged public that the Royal Mail give lowest priority to those who can’t afford first-class or expedited delivery this Christmas, it’s going to be a sad day for those who wanted to save money.

The internet is a brave, bold new frontier for those who have an online shop and want to do well, but people need their heads screwed on properly, sometimes. If you’re going to offer year-round, high-quality service, do so. I’m missing two awesome gifts, both for amazing people, and the lack of communication makes me angry. The sad thing is, tons of communication would help, in this case, as I’m not a loyal, long-time customer of theirs. I don’t think I ever will be, but I think this year has proven once again that the UK has no idea how to cope with snow, rather ironic for a country that’s not really that warm to start with. Best of luck to small businesses in the next few days – get your deliveries in and let the faceless big fellows take the hits if you must.

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Dec 2010

How can small businesses reach those who don’t use social media in 2011?

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There are many people out there who have either rejected, chosen not to use, or missed out on the phenomenon that is social media. For some people, anathema truly is Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter, amongst many others. They prefer to keep themselves to themselves, and use the phone when they want to hit someone up for information or a friendly chat. It’s a perfectly acceptable course of action, really, in a world where most of the time we’d prefer to be less exposed when the crowd are ever the more hungry for secrets, gossip and the criticism of perceived pseudo-vanity.

But for a small business who finds new clients or customers through their Twitter, or their Facebook, knowing that a significant target market (for example, the elderly) may not be on any of these networks poses serious problems. Catalogues and snail-mailing lists are a thing of the past in the age of the tweet, and have also therefore become an unnecessary expense. But if that’s the case, then how do you get in touch with a demographic who’ve seen the rise of the photo-tagging craze, and said “no”?

First of all, to quote the legendary Douglas Adams, don’t panic. Take a step back, and realise that just because they’re not constantly updating their status doesn’t mean they’re not at the computer. A lot of the individuals who’ve more recently come into the elderly demographic do use the internet, and as time progresses that will only become more common. Even we’ll get old, someday. Consider how you’re presenting yourself to them – are you advertising in the right places?

Of course, it’s fine to call “unfair” on that one, as the elderly aren’t likely to hit up obscure forums or websites, probably the more likely places small businesses can afford to advertise on. Even being listed in a sponsors section of a big website is going to run into the thousands of dollars per year, if not per month. So you’re going to need to get out there and get in touch with them. Promote yourself in the communities they do frequent, whether you’re hunting them down via a forum about a retirement holiday resort or you’re placing ads on the Reader’s Digest website, you’re going to have to revert to more digitised versions of traditional advertising.

I know, I know. It’s frustrating to have to take a step back for those you don’t view as moving forward, but take it from me, you’ll find the more savvy, loyal shoppers are sometimes just as likely to be those who’ve turned their back on, aren’t interested in or aren’t even aware of social networking. If anything, these people have more spare time to procrastinate and enjoy themselves on your website, rather than Mark Zuckerberg’s. One-nil to you, small business.

In twenty years, you won’t have this problem. But unfortunately, surviving until that time rolls around is your priority. Email campaigns are also a good idea. If you’ve got a newsletter and you can get that thing forwarded to other people who’ll also sign up, then that’s going to help you reap the benefits when the time rolls around to take a look at your sales chart for the year. 2011 is the year of the new-wave smartphone, social media hitting society in ways it hasn’t before (The Social Network springs to mind) and the generation who were web-curious are now the older generation who are rapidly becoming web-savvy.

Don’t knock a granny with a laptop – she may not be tagging herself in photos at the club, but she’s got a browser and in that browser should be your adverts and your representatives offering her goods that she might have missed out on. You never know – the people who opt out may have something to offer after all.

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Dec 2010

Will creating open-source software hurt a small business?

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Sometimes you’ll run into the odd company who’ll just strike you as some of the most selfless people on the planet. I’m not talking about charities, businesses with a single philanthropist at the top, or contractors building schools in Africa, though all of those quality as selfless. I’m talking about the people who create some of the most important high-quality software on the planet, and then give it away for free for people to customise, re-use and send to their friends for all eternity.

So why do this, you ask? Why give away software when you can sell it? From a business perspective, it seems like suicide, and I’d be inclined to agree with you if there weren’t so many success stories. In fact, I’m using one of them right now. My computer at work runs on Ubuntu, an OS based on GNU/Linux. It’s fast, it’s customisable and most importantly, it’s completely free. I’d honestly argue that, if Mac OSX had never come into existence, I’d be using this over Windows without a second thought.

At first, I was sceptical. “A free operating system? God, this is going to be horrid,” I mused to myself. Within a day I was blown away by the thousands of programs available, the speed, and the fact that the taskbar was made by one team of people, and the clock was made by another. A patchwork creation brought to life by a community of people determined to give back to a community who, through Linux and other projects, had already given them so much.

Back in 1991, when computers weren’t generally something you turned phones into and Wi-Fi sounded about as capable and reliable as Scotch mist (not much has changed, then), a Finnish student by the name of Linus Torvalds began to create an operating system. He then uploaded an early version, stating that it was a free project and anyone could use it or contribute to it. Many people did, and it evolved into the IT community’s love-child. Had he sold it for a smaller price than Windows once it reached a saleable level of quality, he’d be a millionaire, at the very least. But he stuck to his community-shaped guns and went for broke, quite literally.

If you’re a small business and you make software for niche purposes – perhaps an archive system with a USP – then you could be attracting a community around your product. There are many advantages to this, most notably a hold on that particular market, and high traffic levels to your website if the niche is becoming ever more popular (remember micro-blogging before Twitter exploded? No, nor do I, but to say it never existed before then is ridiculous conjecture, at best).

Try this. Make the software open source, and offer the community the chance to do some of the work with you – they’re probably already suggesting fixes or even hacks to fix things you either weren’t aware were broken or that you don’t have the time or the resources to fix yourself. I say with, and not for, because they’re not your employees, and in most cases, programmers who take the time out of their own days to help yours are just as much a part of the team, though the phrase becomes ever more ephemeral as a result.

It’s a risk, but you’d be surprised at how popular you become once you give people the chance to download it free from your site. Not only does it render piracy of your software completely redundant (who would you rather download from? A random dodgy site, or the company itself?), it also makes for some impressive advertising revenue. Not forgetting donations, of course, and you’d be surprised at how many people do actually donate to keep something they love going.

The open source community are not those evil little [expletive deleted] who pirate software packages. They’re valuable members of the online community who contribute their personal resources – time being one of them, in addition to money – to making your software better. No one’s taking your rights to the software away, and no one is legally allowed to sell the distribution itself, so you’re safe there. Combine that with a bit of social networking to build your community into an army of little open-hearted archivers, and you’ve got a philanthropic business that still makes a good amount of money.

Huzzah – it’s not suicide, it’s just smart and forward thinking. Look at Android, and free Apps, and tell me there’s more people downloading the paid versions. Can’t? Exactly.

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Oct 2010

Keeping it social

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In a world driven by social media where nearly half a billion people use those networks to stay connected, it is becoming increasingly important to keep abreast of trends and developments. In particular for those of you who are small business owners, understanding the direction of social media will help you get one step closer to understanding your customer.

Two important pieces of research emerged in the last week, both of which are highly relevant for business owners. The first is a rather surprising one. Facebook and social media seem to be a great current obsession, second only to the obsession with celebrity. You might have thought that celebrities would be the most popular thing on social media, especially as we are always hearing how many people follow Stephen Fry and Lady GaGa on Twitter.

Gaga's twitter page today

Gaga's twitter page today

But no. According to a study carried out by The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), 20.3 % of people follow or ‘like’ a brand, whichever social network they use. That’s compared to just 13.4 who do the same for celebrities.

But what do they do with the rest of their time spent on social networks? The study says that the most common use for social networks is to view photographs. A staggering 55.9% of our time is spent doing just that. After that, we spend 34.8% of our time making social plans or finding out about events.

So, this is good news for brands. It shows that people are indeed interested in finding out about them via social networks. This should stand as a lesson for all social media Doubting Thomases, who wonder whether using social media actually works business. Knowing that people will like or follow you should provide encouragement to join a social network, if you have not already, or provide an incentive to keep providing great tweets or status updates.

It has been proven that people really do enjoy the social part of social networks, so perhaps the next step is to try and introduce a more sociable way for your customer to interact with you. The opportunity to upload your own photos, with the added incentive of a prize to a social event, such as a gig, keeps your customer happy and in communication with you.

A great example is the relatively small Fair Trade cola company Ubuntu, who ran a competition via their Facebook page to win tickets to the Lovebox weekend music festival. All the customer had to do was take a picture of themselves with a can of Ubtunu cola and upload it to the page. The best picture won the tickets. This has all the elements of great social media, the pictures, the interaction and the reward.

The Ubuntu cola facebook page

The Ubuntu cola facebook page

The second interesting thing discovered in the survey is that although people are following or liking brands, they are not necessarily connecting with them. Just over 12% asked, had given feedback and only 7% had made a complaint via social networks.

What this tells us isn’t clear. We know that not everyone will make complaints anyway or give their feedback on something offline, so they are unlikely to start doing it online. However, there are always hardcore complainers, who will find fault with most things and moan to whoever will listen.

The problem with social media is that you can’t help but listen, if you see someone’s status being rude about a brand, you see it. You can’t just pretend you haven’t. When someone makes a complaint on Facebook or Twitter, it isn’t just seen by one person but hundreds, thousands and even millions sometimes.

The study also revealed that out of those who had complained via social networks, only 40% had received a quick response. Small businesses need to learn a lesson from this. If you are putting time and money into your social networks, you have to make sure it is working with military precision and you can spend the right amount of time spent on it. If a complaint is responded to quickly, the damage to the name of your brand can be spared – even improved upon. Leave it a while and you could be ruined by the rumblings on social networks.

So, to round up, keep your social networks social, even if they aren’t communicating with you yet, people are watching. And be quick to the mark and respond to any complaints, don’t leave your customer stewing, show them what they can get from their social network interaction with you.

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Oct 2010

What small businesses can learn from Greater Manchester Police

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As police forces prepare to face budget cuts in the government’s Spending Review on 20th October, Greater Manchester Police turned to the world of social media in order to emphasise their need for continued funding.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) is one of the UK’s largest police forces, yet they felt that much of their work went unnoticed as it was “not recognised in league tables and measurements“. In a move aimed at making both the government and the public more aware of their extensive workload, GMP have set up a Twitter account.

Actually, they set up four: @gmp24_1, @gmp24_2, @gmp24_3 and @gmp_4, due to Twitter limits. Altogether, the social media experiment involved tweeting some 3,205 incidents dealt with by officers over a 24 hour period, which resulted in a total of 341 arrests across Greater Manchester.

The tweets ranged from the slightly humorous “reports of four foot doll or robot on Princess Parkway near M56″, to more serious calls detailing various assaults. But, as GMP stressed, it was important to remember that each of the tweets was a genuine call which they had received, which was costing them time and money to deal with.

As with many topics, social media can provide a brilliant platform for making a stand, as well as gaining public support and nationwide recognition. The GMP Twitter profile went from having 3,000 followers to well over 14,000 during the 24 hour period, partly as a result of the media attention the campaign received.

The experiment also went further, in that it exposed the astounding number of calls received on a daily basis from either people who have accidentally dialled 999, or children calling the police unintentionally whilst playing with phones.

GMP Chief Constable Peter Fahy believes police performance needs to be measured in a different way, calling for revaluation of how police forces are funded ahead of the Spending Review. While we’ll have to wait until the 20th October to find out if, and how, this social media experiment might have affected outcome of the Review, it’s certainly worth considering what the impact of this campaign signifies.

Whilst GMP might not exactly be a small business, they are an organisation that many take for granted. The social media platform of Twitter has not only succeeded in bringing them into the public eye, but the many replies sent to GMP also indicated that the public (and hopefully the government) were somewhat surprised by the extent of their service. In this sense, the campaign has already had a positive effect, and one that small businesses can certainly learn from.

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Oct 2010

Take a leaf out of my book: how to use social media like an author

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Literary folk were always going to love social media networks. It gives them the change to promote their work, engage with readers and even find inspiration – something which they often miss out on as most authors are not in the public eye in the same way that actors and musicians are. In fact, it seems that many members of the literary world have got so good at using social media that most small businesses could stand to learn a thing or two from their techniques.

One of the best, so it would seem, at utilising social networking platform Twitter, is Canadian author Margaret Atwood. Atwood has written a number of successful novels, such as The Edible Woman and The Handmaid’s Tale, but lately she’s turned her hand to a spot of artwork. After speaking with two of her followers (@DrSnit and @kidney-boy) on Twitter about US comic book convention ComicCon, she designed them their very own avatars (pictured), featuring each follower as a superhero.

The fans were said to be thrilled at being given the designs by such a renowned author, and will no doubt remain lifelong fans. But aside from these two lucky Tweeters, the events have drawn significant attention to Atwood and, of course, drawn in a whole host of new fans and followers.

While many may feel that the worlds of literary fiction and social media are a million mile apart, others have been see quick to see the potential for merging the two together. Last year, Twitter users began tweeting tongue-in-cheek plot summaries of classic novels. These included:

Great Expectations – charlesdickens: Orphan given £££ by secret follower. He thinks it’s @misshavisham but it turns out to be @magwitch


Bridget Jones’s Diary – helenfielding: RT @janeausten Woman meets man called Darcy who seems horrible. He turns out to be nice really. They get together.

‘Hashtagging’ allows for such trends to gain publicity worldwide, and one Tweeter, Tim Collins, has even published a collection of his own plot summaries into a book: The Little Book of Twitter – a business venture all on its own.

In a sense, authors are their very own business venture. Like most businesses, they known the importance of networking, and the opportunities that social media platforms provides to them for connecting with others in the same field. Re-tweeting useful or humorous comments made by other authors can be seen as a nod of approval, helping them gain more followers and offering the opportunity to engage. As well as writers, Twitter is also used by a number of literary agents and other members of the publishing industry, who it can also be great for authors to communicate with.

However, as mentioned before, authors are also keen to connect with the general public. Lists provide the perfect opportunity for writers to connect with their target audience. For example, an author who is looking to write a book about a fashion designer in London could follow lists based on London living, fashion designing or even more specific lists for fans of other works of fiction on a similar topic. Of course, there are now many lists of authors writing in a particular style or genre, which will also serve to benefit the authors in question.

The message that the literary world seems to give out about using social media is that it is very much a two-way street. Not only can it be an essential form of engaging with potential customers, but it is also a very effective way of enhancing your end product, and making sure that your work meets its full potential. The value of networking with both industry professionals and your target demographic is, of course, something small businesses need to make the most of.

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