Slowly going backwards, sideways and upstairs. Rapidly going broke.
Last week I got the chance to visit Guardian Towers – an establishment I’ve long wanted to visit given how much I read the paper – for a Twitter masterclass with Tony Le Mesmer. When I say Tony, I mean David Schneider - a man responsible for many an Alan Partridge line down the years and therefore a thoroughly decent guy in my book.
Whilst I’ve been on twitter some 5 years now, it was a chance to hear how die hard users of the service use it as a tool for growth in respect to business and how to grow an audience of followers. Whilst it strayed away from being a 101 on how to use the tool, it was certainly interesting to hear how Twitter is being used as a tactic for reach.
So what did I take away?
1. Contract & Craft your tweets
With 140 characters to play with you don’t have the space to write an opus. Find ways to truncate your message without losing the impact of delivery. Try writing your tweet in draft, then editing it until it is punchy, to the point and bereft of waffle. Imagine you were being charged for each character you used.
Ensure you address people by their @ handle for maximum impact and use hashtags sparingly but smartly to ride at the very least the crest of a particularly topical wave.
2. Corporates should embrace Twitter in every respect
Yes, we know that most brands now feel they have to have a twitter presence. And that’s great. It’s another form of communication that customers, fans, the aggrieved etc can leverage. What I really took away was that the most successful accounts (where reach, amplification and followers is a yardstick for “success”), are successful when they embrace the spirit of the service. That means everything from being irreverent, funny, informative but mostly human. Not easy when the various company leaders are watching the feed.
There are experts out there now who will run such accounts for companies, which some may scoff at but you can see how employing or at least empowering someone to create a tone of voice for your business on twitter can pay dividends.
— Masterclasses (@guardianclasses) October 21, 2013
3. Turn to Twitter in times of trouble
When IKEA launched their new ad campaign featuring some slightly un-canny valley type dolls, some of their customers freaked. Understandably – they look weird. But the bods behind your flatpacked coffee table, played on this to their advantage. Approaching those that had called them out on Twitter they turned that negative into a positive, reinforcing their brand as something a customer would want to remain loyal to.
@rhianharron well this is awkward.
— IKEA Mandy (@IKEAMandy) August 22, 2013
4. Invest in your profile. It can make or break you
Easy to under estimate, but the twitter profile is your split second chance to convert a reader into a follower. For a medium driven by a character limit of 140 seconds and thousands of tweets per second flying around our devices, your chance to ensnare someone is surprisingly limited. So go back, take a look at your profile and see how you can improve upon it. Some of Schneider’s tips included a focus on brevity, humour and the key themes you will normally be tweeting about and similarly a profile picture that either tells the reader who you are or at the very least the type of personality you present online. Not easy I know – my profile needs radically improving – but an easy one to lazily dimiss. In short treat your bio like you would a piece of SEO copy.
0900 – Early bird catching .Net worm
I’m here at Level 39, Canary Wharf for what is going to be a weekend of hacking on behalf of Cancer Research UK and JustGiving. It’s going to be a fun, energetic and potentially challenging weekend and I’ll be adding notes, thoughts and live updates as we go…
— Cancer Research UK (@CR_UK) September 21, 2013
0945 – Richard Taylor, Executive Director, Cancer Research UK
Energising the room and setting us up for the weekend by giving an inspirational speech on why Cancer Research UK does what it does.
1015 – Dr Tom Powles
A doctor at UCL and Queen Mary College, London bringing to life the research and work that funds raised for Cancer Research UK enable. This is ultimately why we’ve rolled out of bed so early today. To empower experts and life changers like Dr Powles.
1035 – Presentation of the fundraising ideas
The energised bunny that is Daisy from Cancer Research UK is now introducing us to the teams that will pitch the ideas for this weekend’s hack from various Cancer Research UK employees. These are the kernels of an idea that we hope will blossom into something amazing over the weekend and then finally be accepted by Cancer Research’s Innovation Team for further development.
1130 – Brainstorming
We’ve broken into mini teams and are starting to share ideas, early thoughts, concerns and questions.
Hackathon! Hacking to beat cancer for @CR_UK this weekend. Excited.
— SharonAnneKean (@SharonAnneKean) September 21, 2013
1200 – Some bloke talking about JustGiving’s APIs
My turn to pitch the JustGiving platform to the room, highlighting the range of Cancer Research projects we have supported to date from Race For Life and Dryathlon to Stand Up For Cancer. Albeit, mainly technical info, you can see my slides here.
1230 – Obligatory sticky note time!
1335 – Refuelling
We’ve even having our thirst quenched on brand, and there are rumours that the Red Bull has arrived.
1545 – So who wants to be team lead?
Daisy has just announced its 45 minutes until teams have to demonstrate their first round of concepts. Cue lots of panicking and rehashing of paper prototypes.
1625 – Coding, coding, coding…
1655 – First round demos
The three teams are running through their first round of pitches. Sharing progress to date, hurdles and asking for suggestions of help or advice. Interesting idea of awarding virtual beers based upon effort to date. Some will be drunk, some will be going thirsty.
1800 – Beer powered coding
The beer trolley has done the rounds (thanks Ed) and ideas are slowly starting to emerge on screen. It’s not quite The Matrix, but lines of code are starting to be committed. Meanwhile here are 5 nice fundamental tips for running a great hack.
— Mark Gibaud (@markgibaud) September 21, 2013
2112 – Coding to the beat
The music is on full blast but the hard work continues. A few look set to pull an all nighter. The APIs never sleep…
0915 – The morning after the night before…
The energy levels may be a little low but the enthusiasm remains and if anything yesterday’s ideas are starting to now become a little more tangible. I can see sketches turning into mock ups, and databases being scaffolded.
It was only a matter of time. Get Lucky by Daft Punk is streaming on the @CR_UK hackathon playlist.
— JustGiving Hackers (@jghackers) September 22, 2013
1649 – The judges arrive!
No limos, no pomp and ceremony but they are here! And we’re just 45 minutes from the 3 hacks being presented to the room.
1702 – A timely reminder of why we are here
1713 – A survivor’s tale
Davina, a cancer survivor talks to the audience, highlighting the ongoing battle we’re all here to tackle. Her family has been blighted by cancer and it’s truly inspiring to hear of how she has come through this battle thanks to research.
1730 – Pitch time
And at last we reach the final leg. The three teams are now presenting their final work. This is when we enter the scary and exciting realm of the live demo! Good luck to all!
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Dr. Suess
After months of trying to move home, it came down to the most stressful 24 hour period of my life (for so many reasons!) but Dr Seuss is right. Smile – we did it!
Interesting…oh very interesting! Just look at his face!
Banging one in at the home of Watford FC, in front of an almost empty Rookery End stand!
You can watch the full video of our WIFC Yellows v WIFC Reds below, complete with Alan Patridge co-commentary.
Any Product Manager worth their salt will at least have heard of the principles of Agile development and Kanban. Whilst this is not a post on the merits of either, it is interesting how elements of these disciplines are starting to creep into other parts of my life. As I’ve mentioned before I like organisation. Everything in its place. Everything clearly tagged. It may drive some folk mad, but it’s how I operate and in a sea of increasing information I find it one way to at least stem the tide, if you’ll forgive the ocean-faring pun.
So when two weeks ago our offer on a house in Watford was accepted, my organisational radar started to bleep. Quite loudly. After just one day, emails and then paperwork, started to build up. Forms to fill in, documents to counter sign. You know the drill. Now whilst delegation remains a skill that I’m pretty crap at, I knew that I needed to share the work load and quickly so I turned to an online Kanban board that I have played around in the past – Trello. As a piece of software it visually represents objects (or in this case tasks) moving through a process. And it is proving to be invaluable!
So why does Trello fit the bill?
- It is simple and easy to use. Create a ticket, add some details, drag and drop. Easy peasy.
- It’s free. When you’re negotiating over thousands of pounds its nice to have something that doesn’t threaten to eat into your finances.
- It’s mobile. There is an app that notifies you when cards have been updated and it is easy to update. This has proved really valuable when on long drawn out conversations with mortgage lenders and you need to recall some small statistical detail such as your National Insurance number or the email of your estate agent.
- When you think of a new task that needs to be done it’s easy to add to the board in seconds and then fill in later. No more scraps of paper that you may lose or forget, which could prove costly.
- I feel in control. Whereas in the past on previous moves I have taken a reactive role, Trello is allowing me to at least enjoy the sense of being in control. In a flash I can see what is required of me or others, I can delegate tasks and I can rank them. It saves time and reduces anxiety.
Overall it is helping to relieve the stress associated with moving house. A place for everything and everything in it’s place…until moving day.
For the last two months I’ve been tracking my daily activities with the help of a FitBit. It’s one of these Internet of Things, that is garnering a lot of positive press right now. In short, its like a pedometer that you wear which then tracks your daily steps, sleep, weight loss and a few other more bespoke indicies. It’s also as cute as a button and synchs to your iPhone so you can carry your data around with you.
It’s too early to tell if my overall health is improving as a result but I’m certainly a lot more aware now of the cycles my body goes through. Being able to record my sleep patterns has already seen me focus more effort on getting what I would term a good night’s sleep. I’ve also worn it when playing football and it’s interesting to see how much ground one covers (especially when chasing after pacey forwards).
One of the metrics it tracks is Floors. Each day it will tell me how many floors I have ascended and descended thanks to the inbuilt altimeter. Add up all those stairs you go up and down each day. It soon stacks up and by gamifying the experience they have already made me more likely to turn down the work lift or the easy option of the Bakerloo Line escalators. I walk them instead.
Most days I seem to do the equivalent of around 30 floors (they count a floor as a 10 foot rise or fall) so I thought why not turn this into an even steeper challenge – Climb Everest!
The maths is simple to work out. Mount Everest is recored as being 29,029 feet high. That’s therefore the equivalent of 2,903 floors to climb or descend. At an average of 30 a day, that should be achieved in 97 days. So here’s my personal challenge. Starting February 1st I will attempt to climb the equivalent of Everest by 30th April, 2013.
Ok so the results are in and David Bowie, aka The Thin White Duke, aka Ziggy Stardust, aka David Jones, aka That Bloke From Labyrinth won out with 21% of the vote.
So from starting February 1st I plan to listen to the following albums.
- David Bowie
- Space Oddity
- The Man Who Sold the World
- Hunky Dory
- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
- Aladdin Sane
- Pin Ups
- Diamond Dogs
- Young Americans
- Station to Station
I reckon that takes me from Croydon, onto America and then finally east to Berlin – which cover what most critics seem to suggest were his best years. I’ll report back what I think.
Remember the days when you used to drive to an actual physical video shop and walk about the corridors of said shop trying to settle on which movie to watch that evening?
You seen that one with with that guy from Cocktail? Not Cruise, the Aussi bloke…
What about that one with Steve Martin where he’s on a horse?
Parenthood or The Three Amigos?
In my year out I needed to scrabble together some dough to go travelling. I needed around a grand and half. My take on it was therefore that if I was going to work all the hours god sends I was determind to make sure it was somewhere enjoyable, or where there were at least some perks that came with the position. As an 18 year old getting into movies there was a small Blockbusters Express in my home time but they weren’t hiring. So I went to the town next door, Hemel Hempstead, where by luck they were. This was the type of store with endless aisles stacked high with 2 inch thick video cassette boxes. It even had it’s own foreign section!
So one afternoon later I was being interviewed for the Customer Service Representative (CSR) position. It went something like this:
Q. Have you ever served people before?
A. Yes. I’ve been Mr Fruit & Veg at Waitrose for the last 12 months
Q. Can you answer these 10 movie questions?
A. Can I ever!
10 mins later I had the job. I was told that I got one question wrong. Ben Hur – my now boss informed me had won 10 Oscars not 11. I challenged this and my rapidly becoming ex-boss gave me a funny look. He got up, walked to the “Classics” aisle and came back with a copy of the VHS complete with cover sticker proclaiming the film that “Won a record 11 Oscar Awards!” Ok, so no one likes a smart arse but at least I got the job on merit and I was determined to enjoy it. Beisdes I was (a) young, (b) desperate and (c) a budding movie geek.
In the end and over the course of three university interuptted years I ended up working at both the Hemel branch as well as later managing my hometown branch in Berkhamsted. I opened up and closed up shops in Wycombe, Tring and Chesham, did a mad 15 hour Boxing Day shift in Aylesbury (who rents videos on Boxing Day you ask – weird, lonely people), and generally crammed in all the shifts I could. So I have to admit to being a little saddened when the news of the company’s decline into administration hit the headlines this week. It’s been coming for some years and Blockbuster v Internet battle is well documented. Pure and simple it’s a business that failed to evolve to the changing times, but I was 18 so what did I really learn?
1. Don’t leave trap door open
Customers can fall through it and into the cellar below. It hurts when a customer lands on your head with a copy of True Lies in their now shaking hand.
2. No one respects The Oscars
The day of the 1995 Oscars I dusted down one of the shelving units, slung aside some slow moving stock and laid out my own Oscar section (albeit from a limited selection). Rain Man, The French Connection, The Godfather (Part II was missing), Ghandi, Annie Hall and many more worthy winners. Roll up, roll up. Manager walks in, takes one look and says “Get rid of that, we’ve got 50 copies of Ace Ventura coming in.”
3. Customers will return the wrong tapes
And occassionally it will be a copy of last night’s Eastenders and occassionally it will be a copy of them having sex with their wife.
4. Simon Bates can get on your nerves
When ever you rented or bought a video in the nineties there is a good chance you were greeted with this annoyingly drawn out message on the perils of video piracy. It didn’t work.
5. Acting in Crime Watch
One of staff was once attacked on the way home. In the end she was okay but for some reason Crime Watch got a sniff and wanted to reconstruct the drama of it all. So one night, several of us got our chance to be actors for the day. I was “Browsing Customer #3″ hastily dressed in some one else’s t-shirt. In the end, the whole scene ended up on the BBC cutting room floor and they just cut to a shot of her stand in leaving the store. I wonder if there was ever a director’s cut?
6. Geri Halliwell won’t rent Spice Girls: The Movie
Right at the height of Spice Mania, the ginger haired one once walked in when I was running the store and asked me what was worth renting. Funnily enough she declined her own recently released film, and plumped instead for my left field recommendation of The Last Seduction. Wonder if that’s how she snared Chris Evans?
7. A £2.99 pricing model pleases no one
Especially the newsagent next door given at least once a week I would go round pleading for more coppers for my cash till. Still he got free rentals in return.
8. Drunks make poor film critics
Generally from around 1030 on a Friday, the steady stream of customers would turn into a steady stream of drunks that could be split into roughly two personality types:
Type 1: A kebab carrying neanderthal who wants to know which movie carries the most violence
Type 2: Amorous drunks asking what selection of movies we have “under the counter mate”
9. The computer never forgets
Understandably no guy is going to admit in front of his partner that he once hired Animal Instincts 3, but there was always the opportunity to publicly announce this information when he annoyingly challenged the late fees on his account.
10. There are a lot of films out there
Looking back, the biggest thing I learnt from my time there wasn’t the art of customer service, but more the detail and delight of movie making. The free access to thousands of films that ranged from the good to the bad from the silly to the sublime, was amazing and has singularly shaped my love of the medium more than anything else has. Nostalgia is a terribly self indulgent thing but I’ve started to log these films at iCheckMovies.com which is pretty much the best movie list maker I can find out there. I’m up to 653 so far.
I leave you with this. Wow what a difference indeed!
So I’ve pretty much given up on discovering new music. I think last year there was one new album I got introduced to (M83) which I quite liked. The rest I don’t remember. Time is one factor – I just don’t have enough time. Podcasts is another. Quite frankly I’d rather, at times, listen to the Football Ramble or a TedTalk. And then there’s Spotify which seems to me to encourage nostalgia better than it does discovery.
So with that in mind, and because I’m a bit bored of my current playlist, I thought I’d challenge myself to delve into an artist’s back catalog. And I would like to invite you to make that selection for me. Below is a poll – click on the artist you recommend I discover and I’ll share my thoughts back on here later next month.
Firstly some caveats:
- The poll below was garnered by asking friends and followers.
- Yes, I know they are all old artists. That’s the point. A new present day artist won’t have a back catalog (although are One Direction on their fifth studio album yet?)
- Some I may have the odd album of. In a Best of The Beatles type way. But that shouldn’t matter. It’s the singles, the early albums, the B-sides I aim to listen to.
Whose back catalog should I try?
- Bruce Springsteen (14%, 4 Votes)
- Cream / Eric Clapton (11%, 3 Votes)
- David Bowie (21%, 6 Votes)
- Elton John (11%, 3 Votes)
- Joy Division / New Order (14%, 4 Votes)
- Public Enemy (11%, 3 Votes)
- The Rolling Stones (14%, 4 Votes)
- The Who (4%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 28