Tuesday, 31 March 2009

MA in social media, new course offered by Birmingham Uni

The Guardian reported on a new course being offered by Birmingham University - a Masters in social media.

I'm not sure quite how I feel about this to be honest. It's a £4,000, one year full time course. In social media. How on earth are you going to spend a whole academic year studying this stuff? And why are you going to spend £4K doing so? Add on your loss of earnings, and it comes out at a pretty expensive way to play with Twitter.

And you really need to ask what the real benefits of this course are going to be? They struggle even on the Birmingham Uni website, with the first thing they suggest you can do is "become a social media consultant". Which is just what the world needs, natch. Other suggestions include
"develop innovative and alternative media projects", or how about "contribute to the development of the social media industry". You can hear the straws being clutched...

And I'd like to see the field visits that they intend to make ("oh look everyone, here's someone updating their Facebook status in their bedroom").

Having said that, compared to some of the other (rather weird) courses on offer by other academic institutions, this seems almost mainstream. And who am I to tell someone how to spend their time and money.

So good luck to Birmingham for jumping on the gravy train as quickly as they did. Hope it works out for you.

Thursday, 5 March 2009


For those of us in the UK, undoubtedly one of the most irritating ads on telly at the moment is one for a car insurance comparison website, called CompareTheMarket.com It's fronted by a meerkat with a Russian accent, who complains about people getting confused with his site, CompareTheMeerkat.com.

"Meerkat, market, they are different things, no? Simples."

But it's a really clever use of social media tools - now our little Russian meerkat front man (who is called Aleksandr Orlov) now has his own Facebook page, (with >250K fans!) and is happily Twittering away. In broken English. To 6,880 followers, all of whom get a personal message when they join, and who appear to be in avid conversation with him on a fairly constant basis...

"Have a very happy birthday! Maybe celebrate with a piece of cake or a new cravat?"

...is a good example of his work - the tone and engagement with his followers is really spot on, and a good learning experience for anyone who want's to really get involved in this space, particularly on a b2c brand like this.

The agency behind this is VCCP, digital strategy by Amelia Torode, and details of their campaign can be found on their site here.


  1. use appropriate channels. Facebook and Twitter are great in a situation like this - they create an interaction that invites people into the brand and creates loyalty (not easy in the overcrammed somewhat scuzzy world of car insurance comparison sites!)
  2. use appropriate tone of voice. Anthropomorphosising car insurance into a Russian meerkat (now there's a sentence I'd never thought I would write!) allows soft selling of the product into a warm, receptive audience. Compare that with the Churchill or Admiral insurance products in the UK where they have tried something similar and just ended up being irritating!
  3. update your content as appropriate. There are only 2 TV ads at the moment - yet the Twitter channel gets attention daily, as does the Facebook page, to keep the audience engaged. Facebook seems to be updating itself at the moment, with fan videos and over 700 photos uploaded.
  4. don't be afraid to be a bit weird, and take risks. Facebook and Twitter can be risky, but your audience is much more forgiving - as with many social media environments they appreciate that it's a bit more informal, and you can get away with a lot more than you might otherwise do on your product/corporate website.


Wednesday, 4 March 2009

More on Ryanair and social media reputation comes from this post by Joanna Higgins on bnet.com.

As well as her take on the whole blogging response from the world's rudest airline, she reports on the Kaizo Advocacy Index, latest version released for Winter. They review online reputation, and measure 20 brands across 4 sectors - food, airline, software and mobile - against how they fair in social media platforms. Lots of talk here of the influence of both Twitter and Facebook (although I'm pretty sceptical about both to be honest).

There's an overview presentation below:

Useful reading before you buy a phone or travel on an airline. Or buy ERP software for millions (I wish our IS&T teams had read this....!)

This is similar to the work we do here at Rio Tinto on a monthly basis (service provided by the guys at Market Sentinel), and it's a useful weathervane on how the world is perceiving your communications efforts.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Ryanair and social media

Ah, Ryanair... donchya lovem?

First of all last week, there was the story about charging a pound to use their inflight toilets. Next, I came across this posting, from a web developer called Jason Roe. He posted on his blog about a bug he'd found in the Ryanair booking system. He then had the joy and pleasure of someone calling themselves "Ryanair staff" posting comments:

"...You didn’t actually discover a bug on bookryanair.You changed some numbers on your own screen tricking yourself into thinking that you could get a free flight, without actually succeeding.

Well known for years, and many others have tried it, ending up paying the full price for the flights after all.All good income for Ryanair..."

and my personal favorite:

"...If you would work in your pathetic life on a such big project in a such busy environment with so little resources, you would know that the most important is to have usual user behavior scenarios working rather than spending time on improbable and harmless things.

We very well know about these anomalies and unless it is not critical we are not going to sacrifice time to this.If you would be a serious programmer you would know these things and would not post any of this on the web if you would think it can cause us troubles, but you would report to us directly.Even you did not discover anything major you are still trying to benefit from this.

If I would be you I would think of consequences this can have..."

Now, apart from the really obvious things that are wrong (threatening a potential customer, being personal and vindictive etc etc), all of this pails into insignificance when it comes their official response to the issue:


"Stephen McNamara from Ryanair said:"Ryanair can confirm that a Ryanair staff member did engage in a blog discussion."It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won't be happening again."Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel".

I think those prophetic words of wisdom will come back to haunt, both Mr McNamara, and Ryanair's infamous cavalier attitude to the flying public.