Hellooooooo…..is there anybody out there?

23 02 2013

A few years ago I lectured in public relations / communications. I was seeking some guest speakers from communications in various industries and decided, as an exercise, to make contact wit them via their websites.

Each of the organisations I made contact with was a fairly well known one in the local market, and included not-for-profits, educational, scientific and government organisations, each of whom had a specific communications section and a need to promote themselves.

Their websites we pretty good. They outlined who they were, their mission, what they did, and provided a range of resources and information that was well targeted to their stakeholders and audiences.

I emailed them using their general contact information on the website. And the response rate was around 10%.

So to recap – they were legitimate organisations, they had a need to communicate, they had communication staff and I was offering them an opportunity to come and speak to a group of students who might be potential users / customers / donors or volunteers.

Sometimes communications is about the basics. There is no point in a fancy campaign, social media, mega-dollars for a clever campaign if you don’t ANSWER YOUR EMAILS!





Gatsby is coming!

8 07 2012

I found high-school English to be a scarring experience. I loved reading, I loved books – but I found the deconstruction of books, themes and stories to be soul-destroying, and story-destroying.

Luckily for me, The Great Gatsby was never one of the books on our reading list.

I love Gatsby. I love most of F Scott Fitzgerald’s work, but I particularly love Gatsby. So when I heard it was being made into a movie (again) I was somewhat nervous. Would they destroy it? Would they turn it into a pedestrian work, or a self-conscious “moral of the story” tale of modern morality? Would they try to update it?

Well, I have now seen the trailer and it looks fabulous. All the amazing new-world belle Époque, art deco – it’s all there. One brief trailer and I wished I was there – not just watching the movie, but in the story, in the era. Sigh

Enjoy!





A year in blog-land

7 07 2012

I started blogging approximately a year ago.

I had been intending to blog for some time, and had even started a couple of times on various topics, then abandoned them when I decided that the topics were too self-indulgent and really of no value or interest to anyone other than myself. And even my interest was fleeting.

The decision about topics was problematic for me – I wasn’t intending for it to be a work related blog, it wasn’t to establish my credibility or expertise in a field. But the types of things I was interested in were many and varied and really didn’t hang together very well, except in that they interested me.

Analysis Paralysis.

The answer was: write about what interests you. Once I decided I had permission for this to be about interesting things rather than being constrained by a specific topic, I was off and running – or writing. In the end it doesn’t seem to have mattered that I have several different topics going. Some weeks I blog every day and sometimes have several new posts in a day. Other weeks I can barely get one post up. And occasionally one topic – for instance the leap second – inspires three posts. (Did you sleep well? , Nostradamus and Y2K and Why the moon rules your life)

As well as what I have posted (this is my 301st post), I have about 70 drafts sitting behind the scenes. Some are posts that I started and haven’t finished because the story petered out. Others are where I just made a quick note about a topic for those days we the topics seem hard to come by.

I am loving the stats page, and particularly the maps. I initially thought I was probably writing for my friends (and thank you for visiting, liking and commenting!) But it turns out that people visit from all over the world, even some small islands I didn’t know were separate countries. It’s really quite interesting to ponder what might interest someone in Belize, Venezuela, Jordan, Iceland, or the Russian Republic, and how someone from Trinidad and Tobago, Malta, Qatar, and El Salvador might have ended up reading an Australian blog. Truly international, and always fascinating to see who has been here.

The topics vary quite widely, but I don’t seem to be able to predict what will attract a broad readership. I loved being able to go through my holiday photos and record and relive some of the places we went and the things we saw. I also love pondering news events and recent studies that I have come across, and the occasional joke or cartoon. Social media, psychology, science (particularly weird science or pseudo-science) usually capture my attention and interest long enough for a post to evolve.

Sharing on StumbleUpon has been a surprising and unpredictable event. A posting on Steve Jobs garnered 9,822 viewings, thanks in large part to StumbleUpon. The general page comes second with 7,958, followed distantly by How to Open a Padlocked Suitcase: A lesson in travel safety for us all with 804, and Imagine what you could do if you thought you couldn’t fail at 597 (this posting was on Moira Kelly, the woman who sponsored Krishna and Trishna, conjoined twins from Bangladesh).

I also post links on Facebook (mudmap) and Twitter (mudmapped) and occasionally on Pinterest, although I have not had much success there. But StumbleUpon has driven the occasional peaks in my stats – a top score of 4,837 views on one day that seems almost impossible to beat and quite bizarre to contemplate. I don’t know how it happened and I can’t replicate it, but it is amusing and rewarding to think that something I wrote “touched a chord” and nearly went viral! (This was some considerable time after the death of Steve Jobs so I didn’t really expect a massive reaction.)

In one year Mudmap has had just under 28,500 viewings (and increasing as we speak). This is a lot more than I probably could have expected if I had written a book – unless I wrote the Da Vinci Code or Fifty Shades of Grey. I know that some of you are repeat readers. Some of you are my friends, family and acquaintances, others are people I will never meet. Some are fellow-bloggers who stop by and encourage, chat and exchange ideas. Thanks you, everyone!

As a frustrated writer, it is gratifying to be able to write something that someone else will read. And on a good day, you might click “like”. And sometimes you might comment. I appreciate each and every one of these.

Here’s to the next year! (Please drop me a line….)





Social media: Just add water….. Instant expert

3 06 2012

In an exercise in sheer bluff and hypocrisy, I am now going to expand my hypothesis (aka brief thought and opinion) on social media encourages us to turn a fleeting thought into an opinion, and an opinion into instant expertise.

Somewhere in medical school, they teach doctors how to sound like they know what they are talking about. Not lie, not guess, but somehow, to convey an air of authority and confidence so that patients feel comfortable undertaking treatments. When you go and see a doctor, you want him or her to tell you the truth, but you also want them to tell you what they think is wrong with you and confidently lay out a treatment plan. You don’t want them umming and aahing about possible diagnoses and treatments and unable to make a decision. You want assurance that they know what they are doing.

Of course there is a down-side to this. When they really don’t know what they are talking about, they still manage to convey an air of authority, as anyone related or in business with a doctor may tell you.

Well, social media has the same effect. Social media wants you to say something. SOMETHING. Anything really, given some of the things we have all seen floating around the internet. But it wants you to have an opinion, pick a side, take a stand. Then we can all agree with you (*like*) or disagree with you (sometimes erupting into flaming). Social media does not want you to be reasonable and rational and tentative. Social media treats such rationality with the withering scorn it deserves. Social media IGNORES such approaches.

So being the attention-seekers that we are (not you and me – other people online) we turn into mini-shock-jocks. We start spouting opinions and, with the nice but false anonymity that sitting behind a screen seems to give us, we become mini-experts on a given subject. And then another, and then another.

And once you have put your opinion out there, you need to defend it.

While in real life we might be reasonable and rational, venturing opinions, gaining feedback and using it to modify our opinions, online we are experts. We have staked out our opinion in black and white and it cannot ever be retracted. Therefore no matter what evidence is presented to us, we must resort to the lowest of low tactics to defend our spot. Attack the messenger. We must dominate.

Present company excepted of course. You and I would never do that. But does it sound like what you have seen online?





Banning Books

31 03 2012

When I started to research this, I had no idea there was actually a Banned Books Week. It appears to occur in September, although there is a bit of confusion between the US Banned Books Week and an International Banned Books Week, promoted by Amnesty.

Anyway, in the spirit absurdity, here are some of the more surprising banned books.

John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Now I have never recovered from reading this at school (hence it is one of my least-liked books) but it is a classic. It has been banned at various times and places in the US for obscenity and the portrayal of the US as seen by migrant workers and those living in extreme poverty. Sometimes the truth hurts.

The Dictionary. Various versions of the Dictionary have been banned for various reasons, often by local schools. For instance, Webster’s 10th Edition was pulled from classroom shelves in Menifee Union School District, California, in Jan 2010, because it include a definition of “oral sex”. Since looking up “dirty” words in the dictionary is a favourite of primary school children, I can only say, what spoil-sports! At least they are reading.

Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, and The Witches. Beloved favourite of children the world-over, these books were banned in the US for obscenity and violence (J&TGP), and sexism and devaluing the life of a child (TW). Maybe they just didn’t get the British sense of humour?

Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. This classic and heart-rending exposition of the life of a young Jewish girl living under Nazi occupation has apparently attracted the wrath of book-banners several times, most recently January 2010 in a Culpeper County, Virginia school for “sexually explicit” and “homosexual” themes. I think they are missing the point.

The Lorax (Dr Seuss). The Lorax is one of many Dr Seuss Books banned at various times for their secret messages corrupting the minds of innocent children. In the case of The Lorax, it is its environmental “save the trees” message that was seen to be anti-big-business. The latest dispute happened in 2012 during the filming of a movie based on the book, but it had previously been banned (the most recent example I could find was in Laytonville, California in 1989 from a local public school).
Mind you, Dr Seuss was asking for it – The Sneetches discusses racism, The Butter Battle Beetle is about the cold war, isolationism took a blast in Horton hears a Who, Christmas in How the Grinch stole Christmas, and the effects of fear-based thinking in Green Eggs and Ham (banned in China between 1965 and 1991 because of its alleged portrayal of Marxism). How he wasn’t blackballed by the McCarthy Commission, I don’t know.

Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland was also banned in a province in China in 1931 for its portrayal of animals speaking, thinking and otherwise behaving like humans.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm is probably a less surprising banned book, giving its explicit political overtones. It was banned in the US in 1945 for being overly-critical of Russia (obviously pre-Cold War). It was also banned in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 because of the talking pig.

Picture book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin Jnr was banned in 1967 in the US when its author was confused with an obscure Marxist theorist…… Bill Martin being such an unusual name… (yes, that was sarcasm you detect). Quite what it was about the book that was considered worth banning is not clear. Perhaps they were just being safe in case there was a hidden message.

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was banned in America under the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act in 1873. Puritans! It was of course for all the tales of sex and debauchery – if you read through the olde Englishe to understand them.

For a map of recent book bans (upheld and overturned) in the US, have a look at this very interesting map. Click on the blue pointers for details. Again, it often seems schools, those places for learning, are the ones doing the banning, often at the instigation of individual parents.

For a selection of books banned in Australia, click here Notable inclusions: The Kama Sutra, a selection by William S Burroughs, Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, and Ian Fleming’s The Spy who Loved Me.

And if this sort of thing amuses you, google it – this list is really only the tip of the iceberg!





Off the cuff

31 03 2012

I had to do some public speaking today. Just a few words to say how thrilled I was about a new library at my children’s school. I had no warning, I thought I was there purely to cut a ribbon when I got handed a microphone to say a few words as well.

And I am thrilled to say it didn’t worry me.

Various surveys over the years have indicated that people are terrified of public speaking – it ranks higher than death in terms of fear.

But as with all of these things, practice and familiarity take the sting off it.

And now, having spoken at conferences, lectured at university, stood on stage in staff forums, and answered questions in council, I can honestly say that providing I know what I am talking about, it truly doesn’t worry me.





Surplus social media

24 03 2012

As an intrepid explorer of social media, I find I am increasingly coming across a number of new social media options. And quite frankly, I’m not sure of their value and I’m not sure if I physically have the time to deal with them. So let me know your opinion.

I’ll start by declaring my social media preferences: I am addicted to Facebook, I love LinkedIn, I am quite active on Twitter (but largely promoting my blogs – true confession). I am somewhat present in Pinterest and Foursquare (although frankly Pinterest’s “ownership” of content makes nervous). I dip into Youtube from time to time but generally I don’t actually have the time to sit through a 3 minute video. True story. And I am obsessed with blogging. If you can count it, it is a competition. Sad but true.

1. Klout. I confess I lost faith in Klout when it nominated me as an expert on London. Why? I have no idea since I have not knowingly written anything about London online (it is too long since I have been there) and only a couple of my English friends live in London. How did Klout decide this was my area of expertise (as opposed to, for instance, the country I live in)?

2. Branchedout. This Facebook app bills itself as the network boasting the most job connections on Facebook. Hmm. Possibly because there isn’t any competition.

3. Aboutme. Point? Niche? I just don’t get it.

4. Peerindex. Seems like a copycat Klout.

Fundamentally these all don’t seem to add any value to my life, they take time and they request and collate my personal and online information into yet another source that I need to manage. Maybe I’d be better off being streamlined – sleek and aerodynamic and dump all the excess baggage.

Of course I could just be grumpy.

Thoughts?