‘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.

When the teacher learns from the students – by Aimee Postle

Aimee Postle, Kinetic Communications

Aimee Postle

One of the most important things to do as an employer is to support the dreams and aspirations of those looking to break into your career.  That’s why Kinetic Communications offers a number of work experience placements throughout the year (you can read about some of our interns in past blog posts) as well as guest lecturing with universities in the region.

Simon has recently worked with groups at Wolverhampton University on how to get into PR and digital media in the real world.  He’s also been invited to contribute to conferences on Social Media 2.0 at Birmingham City University.  Likewise, Angela has worked with both universities and I’ve spoken with groups at Birmingham City University on a number of occasions.  We’ve also supported the Old Swinford Hospital School Enterprise Day for the last three years and have sponsored a PR prize at Wolverhampton University.  Finally, Simon has just been filmed for Striding Out on getting into a career in PR!

So, where is all this leading…?

It is all very well giving time for free and feeling smug about yourself for ticking the corporate social responsibility box.  But, have you really been listening, engaging and getting the most from the experience?  It is not just the student who is there to learn.

A lot of organisations treat their CSR policy as something to get out of the way, fill the annual report with pretty pictures and make themselves feel good.  But, a policy which has been thought out for the benefit of the team getting involved as well as the recipient is one which will reap greater rewards in the long-term.

That’s what Birmingham Future is trying to achieve in partnership with bvsc and Thrive – ‘become richer work for nothing‘.  The idea behind this campaign is that individuals and organisations can benefit from their CSR activities by developing personal and professional skills as business advisors, mentors, directors or trustees.  Not just about the end recipient but the learning which is done along the journey.

When we work with PR students, universities, work experience candidates – we are not looking for a finished article.  We are not looking for a photo in the local paper.  And, we are not looking for a feeling of smug satisfaction and then moving on.

We want to hear the voices of the people who will be the future generation of PR professionals, we want to listen, engage and learn from them.  And, we want to help their journey into PR become that little bit smoother by providing them with the extent of our experience and knowledge.

Yesterday’s trip to Birmingham City University was a prime example – a two hour session with just under 40 PR, marketing and business students.  I whisked them through a client case study, digital media in the real world and how to get a job in PR.  But, really, it was about listening to their concerns, answering their questions and learning from their approach.  And hopefully I didn’t bore them too much!

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.

Why you could be vulnerable if you’re not online by Rebecca Sloan

In my last blog we talked about how one man became an overnight sensation and drove traffic to his internet business through an online stunt which went viral. In this blog we’ll be talking about how social media has changed the way in which organisations and individuals interact with each other.

Communication between the two has changed dramatically; long gone are the days of downward one-way communication from corporations to their single mass audience. Through social media, organisations can speak directly with each of its individual publics. This is a move which has enormous benefits to businesses; it gives them the chance to proactively communicate with customers, tailor their message and engage people in critiquing activities which gives the company free, impartial advice.

Despite this, many companies, for whatever reason, still haven’t made the jump to two-way communication. The problem with this is that it leaves companies vulnerable to attacks on their reputation.

Two-thirds of the world’s internet population visits social media sites and blogs, according to research by Nielsen, Global Faces & Networked Places. Many of these people discuss their thoughts on products and services with other people. In fact, a 2009 survey of online consumer behaviour has shown that direct communication with a company is declining while online reviews are increasing.

The use of social media to express thoughts and opinions can be extremely influential on others. 74% of adults say their decisions about whether to deal with a particular company are influenced by the negative comments they read online.

And it’s not just the big branded corporations which are affected by this empowered online public. An increasing number of websites encouraging people to rate their local solicitor or teacher, for example, are popping up.

Engaging in these conversations really is the first step to correcting the damage these posts may have – on a global scale – to your reputation. So if you’re not already out there – shouldn’t you be?

Groom updates Facebook status and becomes overnight sensation by Rebecca Sloan

A man who updated his Facebook status during his own wedding ceremony has caused controversy across the world. For many, the social media ‘prank’ was simply one step too far. But for others, the stunt generated the sort of free publicity many people only dream about.

Dana Hanna, the groom in question, runs internet business NextDayPets.com. Following the stunt, his Twitter feed was widely publicised, no doubt seeing a tremendous increase in traffic. Cunningly, the groom, who tweets under the name TheSoftwareJedi, has been able to make the most of the opportunity to expose his business to a whole new audience. A quick scroll through his recent news stories demonstrates that – he makes comment on several of the news stories which were run on him and also manages to sneak in the occasional ‘shameless plug’ about his business.

It’s an interesting case study in how quickly social media can help get your message into the world. It’s boomed in popularity across the world over recent years – and it’s not just a craze for students.

Nielsen Wire has cited that social media has overtaken porn and email as the number one reason why people go online in the first place. Furthermore Weber Shandwick has found that social media has become the most influential source in helping consumers make product decisions.

So, in many ways, whether the Facebook stunt was tacky or inspired is beside the point. For Dana Hanna, it’s made him, and his business, an overnight sensation.