Thursday, August 21, 2008


It is quite often the case that people feel isolated when they have a problem with a company or organisation.

Many people may not be aware of the powerful search tools that can help them find out more about an organisation's reputation than you will get from their official websites or the often PR-led mainstream media.

Google blog search
and Twitter search, which recently incorporated Summize, are both becoming increasingly stronger tools as more people express their views online. Because you can skim through snippets, you can get a quick overall picture of positive or negative comments and also delve deeper into stories that might show national trends. It adds greatly to our ability to hold organisations accountable as they increasingly try to build big walls around themselves.

It adds to the usefulness of main Google which, as I've blogged before, will often get you to answers that are missing from corporate websites. This week I tried to visit Stikipad and just got a holding page, suggesting it would be up and running soon. Later, a Google search took me along the same track as many more people to a blog post that revealed the site had actually been down for several months and showed no signs of revival. What started out as one person's frustrated blogspost became a focal point and the link rose further up Google as more people linked to it. The post became a bubbling, collaborative space to the extent that once personal phone numbers and details went up the original author asked everyone to leave when the party looked like turning nasty (or rather, libellous).

It highlights two important points. First of all, if you're having a frustrating time with a company it is worth documenting your experience online somewhere, if you feel ready to, because it should get picked up by others, possibly including a quick-witted person from the organisation. Second, it is a reminder that most forums, and Twitter, are public and if you're working for clients you might think twice before slagging them off online in any place that can be traced back to you. You don't know whose desktop it might pop up on...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The social reporter

I like David Wilcox’s definition of the social reporter. It sounds friendlier than the two rather ugly words citizen journalist, although that name might be too far developed (in good ways) to change now.
It defines very nicely the work I’ve been doing over the last 18 months. It wasn’t until I had to take stock for a funding application that I realised that my team would have had around 35,000 exchanges on the streets of Northern Stoke in a year. None of us were working in the area before, so that is 35,000 connections that would not have happened otherwise. I always felt that the conversations were as important as the newspaper, both reinforcing networks and provoking action. We supported networks and new projects, we passed on information and we countered rumours if we were able to.
Before call-centre journalism became normal, journalists were community-based (at least in the realms of power) and conversation-based. How would journalists operate if it went back to that, with the addition of technology? Less of the smash-and-grab vox pop to get some bland quotes from different ‘sides’ and perhaps a recognition that the reporter, as the person who is speaking to both those in power and those without, can support a dialogue between them instead of exacerbating a conflict.
Perhaps they would give a bit more thought to the other bits of information people tend to tell you as you’re gathering a story (that is if you give them enough time). Someone got a broken fence? Why not give them the number of someone to report it to instead of filing it away until all the fences in the street have been broken by a serial vandal, the point at which it might actually become a story in the eyes of your news editor. If some people have specific questions that they want asked, let them know about the freedom of information act. Find small, quick ways (Twitter) to report small things that might be of interest to other people and encourage the people you meet to use email and Twitter to let you know anything they want to, you don’t know what might lead to a story.
I know this approach doesn’t necessarily lead to the productivity that the current mainstream media is looking for. But the way things are going, more journalists are going to struggle to find work anyway. Perhaps while we are looking for other ways of making a living, we can use our skills and instinct to report for the good of our communities?
On the other hand, I remain sure that the only way to stem the decline of the newspaper industry is for the big powers to stop centralising everything and put the same investment into community-based reporters whose remit would be to produce rich, stimulating content that is vital to its audience. All the investment in technology will be for nothing if you lose the connection with people altogether - an important point, I think, for both the media and government.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The new business diet

This week marks one year since I started my own business. A year since the last pay-cheque dropped into my bank account and I feasted every weekday on a Krispy Kreme donut for breakfast and a healthy, balanced, two course meal in a subsidised work restaurant for lunch. Oh, happy days.

But I have to admit looking over my Facebook albums, I was putting on a little weight in those last few weeks in London. Since then, I’m getting towards a second dress-size down from when I left. How do I know this? Well, obviously, I haven’t been able to afford new jeans since.

So while the life of a startup entrepreneur may be hard, it has its upsides. With these tips I explain how you too can lose weight in the quest to gain pounds. Or, er, dollars.

Network to eat
In the world of new business, you should find yourself invited to all sorts of free networking events designed to help you learn the mysteries of making your first million. And what’s the best thing about these? The buffets, of course. Be sure to exercise a bit of subtlety. While standing by the buffet table don't just wolf down your plate like some orphan waif, it'll make people suspicious about the viability of your business.

Assume an ‘open networking’ position and make connections as people join you to get food with some smalltalk about how there’s never enough wine at these things, haha. Talking more means eating less so be sure to ask the person standing with you lots of questions. While he’ll think you’re fascinated by what he’s doing and like you more, you’ll can eat enough to keep you going all day.

Location, location, location
In the modern world, most businesses can operate anywhere with a broadband connection. So why spend all your money on an office in a swish city when you can find some pre-regeneration area where the rent is cheap and the people interesting? It you pick the right sort of town where coffee culture hasn’t quite taken off yet, you can save money and lose weight merely by skipping lunch – by the time you get hungry at 3, all the cafes will be closed. If you're missing the high life, just watch an episode of The Apprentice and you'll soon be reminded of why you wanted to get out of corporate life in the first place.

Shop smart
If there’s one thing that will make you appreciate the life of a small trader, it’s being one yourself. No more casual handing over of the plastic in an impersonal supermarket, if you’ve got a few pounds in your pocket, be sure to make sure they benefit the people who might end up giving you some business in turn. And since you’re not sure when the next payday will be, it makes a lot of sense to eat all the food in your house before buying anything else.

Pound those streets
Cashflow forecast says you’ll have a sales manager by month three? Yah, right. Once you’ve found that the only person willing to work on commission is yourself and that sending emails all day results in no response, you’ll be doing the sales calls before you know it. While you’re at it, maybe you don’t really need to plough your cash into a car anyway, you can get by perfectly well on foot. All great for the waistline!

Clare-Marie White runs a social enterprise in Stoke-on-Trent, UK. All approaches by investors or people willing to buy her a cake are most welcome.
This article was originally published on Knewsroom in May and I was a bit slow getting it onto here...