‘Birmingham – A digital opportunity’

The Digital Revolution

I was recently at a Birmingham Business Breakfast Club event and the guest speaker – Simon Jenner, a technology entrepreneur – gave an inspiring and motivating talk regarding the position of Birmingham as a digital hub.

As we are all becoming increasingly aware, the digital landscape is changing and technology appears to be influencing everything we do.

A great example of this is Uber. Simon explained that within a 4 year period, the company has gone from nowhere to being a $50bn business and the biggest taxi firm in the world. Yet they own no taxis and no taxi drivers – they are a truly digital business.

Brummies Overlooked?

So, where does our great city and the surrounding area fit into the global digital arena? Simon told us that in terms of numbers in employment, digital technology accounts for the 4th largest sector, equalling 40,000 people. The public sector is still by far the biggest employer in Birmingham, with 450,000 people.

However, despite most sectors now being affected by technological advancements and despite 20% of the UK gaming industry being based in nearby Leamington Spa – why is ‘digital’ is still being overlooked?

An Opportunity

Simon is clearly very passionate about his city and technology. The issue from his perspective is that the two have not become aligned as yet, but there’s absolutely no reason why Birmingham cannot become a ‘digital hub’ on a grand scale, rivalling London, Manchester, Edinburgh…

It’s easy to think of this scenario as classic Birmingham – living up to a reputation of a city behind the times. However, it’s thanks to Simon and other visionaries that we should see this as a great opportunity for the city to build a reputation, like any brand, by offering a clear vision and standing out from the crowd.


It’s true that without a ‘champion’ business, such as a Google, it has been difficult to be seen as an industry player, but with lots of smaller individual companies – who knows which one of them could be the next overnight phenomenon?

Success breeds success, and the time is now for Birmingham to join the digital revolution.


Why I think Prezi is better than PowerPoint – by Rebecca Sloan

Rebecca Sloan, Kinetic, WIBA

Rebecca Sloan waxes lyrical about Prezi

With my upcoming presentation on how to measure and manage your reputation in the 21st century coming up next Tuesday to WIBA, it seemed about time to start pulling together the presentation slides. 

Having recently discovered Prezi, a relatively new platform which functions as a zooming presentation editor, my upcoming seminar seemed the perfect opportunity to try out the new platform.

With this in mind, we’d like to let you in on this well-kept secret and give you an insight into this tool which will revolutionise the way in which we deliver presentations. Here’s my review of Prezi in comparison to PowerPoint:


It will take a few minutes to get used to the new functionality of Prezi.  However, once you’ve learned this, designing a presentation is much easier to do and requires far less fuss to make look interesting.  Kiss goodbye to aligning text with grid lines.  Prezi is all about freedom of expression.


Unlike PowerPoint, more than one person can edit a Prezi presentation at a time.  You can even track their movements with neat little cartoon people who wander around the screen mimicking the movements of other users.  Great fun and hugely useful if you need to pull together a last-minute group presentation.


Where PowerPoint encourages a ‘less is more’ approach, Prezi takes a view that ‘more is better fun’. With the ability to zoom, twirl and dive into words and pictures, Prezi enables presentations to function more as a ‘mind-map’ than as a slideshow.

Overall, we think it’s a great piece of software.  Although serious users will need to pay a small licence fee (approximately £37 a year) to keep their presentations private and under-wraps, it is well worth the price if you’re likely to be running regular presentations. Four out of four stars!

Hello Digital 2010 – Alex Hunter steals the show by Simon Partington

a lightning bolt momentFor those who’ve ever wondered what a lightning bolt moment feels like, I can lay testament to having one at this year’s Hello Digital conference.

It came in the middle of a seminar from Alex Hunter, head of digital at Virgin Global.  He spoke passionately on a subject that rarely gets addressed in such a literal way – social media (check out Alex’s blog here). For those that couldn’t make his session, I’ve put a few of his top line thoughts below.  Brands lacking in self awareness and using social media, read on …


  • “The social web isn’t about connecting brands with people, it’s about connecting people with people.”
  • “Why is Steve Jobs so intrinsically linked to Apple in our minds? Because he cares enough about the brand to stick his personal reputation on it.”
  • “Screw consistency (in social media).  If we’re all moving in the same direction, the consistency will come out.”
  • “The brands that are winning (on social media), are the ones keeping it real by being true to what they believe in online.”

These thoughts are interesting, particularly number two.  In the PR industry, we strive to find brand advocates within a business that truly care – not just on the social media front, but across communications in general.  Finding enlightened individuals to speak up on behalf of a business adds more weight to their offering – in short, it’s better to have substance before showmanship.

Cases rarely come as perfect as the likes of Apple or Digg (the online social bookmarking service). In the real world, harnessing the power of a corporate brand through an individual takes guts. It’s something that, if communicated correctly, can give true meaning to a corporate entity.  We’ve all heard the adage that ‘people buy from people’, but in the case of social media, it really rings true.

The second point that opened my eyes was the one about consistency, or the need for a less rigid approach to it.  In PR, we talk a lot about consistency.  An awful lot.  In reality, if we’re having to plumb consistency into a brand before it ventures out into the social world, then in many cases, it will come across as lacking in credibility.  Bad for you. Bad for the client.  Just generally bad.

For communications online to come across as credible, it needs a balanced approach – a loose set of guidelines is fine, but for people to have proper conversations, they need to have a personality.  Just remember Groove Armada’s track from the 90s – ‘if everybody looked the same, we’d get tired of looking at each other’.

It all comes back to the ‘Steve Jobs model’ – throw your weight behind a brand and people might just love you for it.  Fake it, and risk being found out!

Social CRM, the way forward? By Simon Partington

The phrase ‘listening to your customers needs’ sounds like such a 1980s business cliché, albeit one that still rings true for any business. Keeping up with what your customers needs are, however, can be a tricky thing to do, especially in the digital world where information, attitudes and demands are carried so quickly via the web.

Historically, tried and tested methods such as surveys, focus groups and product testing panels were a great way of gauging customer sentiment towards your product or service. Unfortunately, these methods are also quite time consuming. Now I’m hesitant to suggest Social Media as a cure for all ills, but listening to what your customers might be saying about your brand on the social web is cheaper, far less time consuming and above all, deadly accurate.

It’s a generally accepted rule, for example, that twitter users should praise in public and rant in private. Look across the twittersphere and you’ll find many instances that break this rule, but in a lot of cases, it holds true. Ergo, if one of your customers is ranting about a bad encounter with your brand on twitter, they must be rather riled in the first place. Consider the information you now possess: you know the name of the customer, with contact details, the nature of their problem, perhaps when and where it occurred, and the perfect medium in which to engage with them, in many cases in near real time. Which other medium would give you this opportunity? To directly interact with your customers and turn brand aggressors into brand advocates on the head of a coin?

With traditional market research techniques, by the time you have found the dissatisfied customer, they’ve already made up their mind about your operation and told, on average, four others about their experience. Although a tweet goes much further than four people, so does your response: there’s nothing I like more than to see the walls broken down between a company and a consumer, and a problem resolved for all too see.
If you haven’t yet ventured on to the social web, what are you waiting for? Take a look at my previous post on social monitoring tools and start listening, you could revolutionise your CRM strategy…

On good authority … by Simon Partington

For those Social Mediaites that don’t already know, there’s a war going on, and its a sticky one between the public sector and the web. I was fortunate enough to find this out at a recent event, excellently organised by the Social Media students at Birmingham City University, called Authority 2.0.

The conference did a great job of wrestling the true nature of the problems faced by local police forces to the ground. The conference was full of well intentioned members of various police forces from across the Midlands, all of whom wanted to engage with local communities via social media to make what is a very difficult job slightly easier – diagnosing criminal problems at a local, rather than regional level.

For the small room it was hosted in, the team at BCU did a fantastic job of drawing all of the right people into what turned out to be a great discussion. The conference opened with Paul Hadley from BCU, who spoke about some of the things forces are currently doing, and some ways in which they could improve. A particularly nice example was a live blogging project implemented by Derbyshire Constabulary, which managed to communicate with Derby residents at a community level straight away. Paul’s opening remarks set the tone for the rest of the conference – if you want to engage through social media, you need to dive in and be prepared for some elements to fail.

Second up was Will Perrin, a man who’s managed to achieve a great deal through his hyperlocal community site kingscrossenvironment.com. Kings Cross is an area that sees above average crime, and particularly murder, levels for the UK. By using his blog to pull together crime information and data, sometimes before local police even know about it, he’s providing an invaluable local resource to bring people together and educate the community about how to counter crime.

Will’s talk also raised an interesting issue that stuck in my mind. A youth in his area (I won’t mention his name), known throughout for committing a string of petty crimes, is understandably name checked a few times on the site. After a Google search on his name, Will’s website came top, which, being someone who believes in rehabilitation, gives him a rather tricky moral dilemma.

This has played on my mind ever since. There’s clearly two forces for good at odds with each other here, and its difficult to know which one should prevail. If anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d be interested to know your standpoint.

I’m only half way through the mass of interesting topics raised at this conference, so in the interests of getting it all out of my head, I’m going to spread it across two posts!

More to come soon …

BCU, Social Media and lots of Tea by Simon Partington

I was lucky enough to be invited to a great social media workshop recently hosted by a talented bunch of social media students at Birmingham City University. After an engaging talk from Birmingham blogger and Created in Birmingham proprietor Pete Ashton, we split into two groups and talked around the benefits social media offers to communities and organisations – allowing time for eager thumbs to live tweet, of course. Nicky Getgood, Alison Smith, Kate Huges, Pete Ashton and I worked with the groups for the afternoon.

Pete spoke about social media as ‘performance conversation’, an interesting comparison between social media and busy corridors and the way in which they connect people, and Twitter as a precursor for small talk at networking events. Most interestingly though, he touched on what it means to be interesting online. The secret, perhaps unsurprisingly, is to be interested in others. By showing your enthusiasm for something, your followers see where your interests lie and will be drawn to you, hence the significance of the humble retweet.

The hashtag for the day was #MTBworkshop, publicised solely though Twitter, with plenty of nice commenting and digital back patting going on there as a result. Looking through the #MTBworkshop tweet stream, I realised just how useful hashtags are.

The internet is a big place, and even though twitter is only a microcosm within the internet, it’s still incredibly easy to get lost among the deluge of tweets, links, images and audioboos. The beauty of hashtagging is that it helps to organise this information and give it relevance by placing it together in context, ironically in much the same way the internet itself brings together information. By bringing information together, hashtags are helping to make sense of twitter for many people that are new to the phenomenon.

All in all, the event got me thinking more deeply about the ever changing face of social media, and the way in which features such as hashtagging and retweeting are becoming the unsaid nuances in digital conversation. Much like face to face conversation, the trick is learning to use them properly.

Demos Kratos & power to the people by Simon Partington

I read an interesting article in today’s Times from Ali Campbell on election poster campaigns and was refreshingly surprised at his level of insight. ‘Here’s a seasoned political communicator with a handle on two way comms’, I thought, as I read his views on social networking and the power of digital conversation.

If ever there’s an example of socio-political chatter, it remains to be seen each Thursday night at around 10pm with the deluge of comment surrounding BBC’s Question Time. Even without following the #bbcqt hashtag, the sheer volume of people publicly airing their thoughts on Twitter in real time is astonishing, and doesn’t seem to let up week on week. People make up their minds about a person or notion very quickly, and a medium like Twitter offers the perfect arena to share this, whether good or bad.
If you still need convincing that social media has the power to influence, I heard a profound speech from an executive producer at Sky News recently, where he categorically said that his newsroom spends more time in Tweetdeck than on the newswires. Essentially, if you have a story to tell, Twitter could be your direct dial to the national news network and a captive audience.

Given this, party political campaigns would do well to embrace social media with open arms. As Ali Campbell so adequately put it, by the time people have climbed ladders to deface a political poster, people have already made up their minds online.