When does PR become astroturfing?

Boundaries are all-but nonexistent in the world of writing today. Brands publish more content than publishers, writers do their own PR, PRs do SEO, and SEOs basically just annoy everybody else. So it’s not surprising that in this omnishambolic world companies are pushing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour to give themselves a leg-up. Two prime examples crossed my desk this week, which highlight the problems at both ends of the writing industry.

The first was the ludicrous conditions imposed by House PR in order for journalists to get accreditation for last night’s BRIT Awards. In order to get a press pass, journos were asked to agree to the following conditions (as per the email published by the Press Gazette):

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Happy 10th Birthday Facebook; you’re dead to me

The media is packed to the gills with swooning coverage of Facebook’s tenth anniversary today, which is lovely; they’ve built a highly successful tech business and deserve all the accolades they receive. However, for small publishers out there it seems Facebook has never been more useless.

More and more Facebook is artificially haemorrhaging audiences across the board, leaving many to up sticks entirely in the face of miniscule post reach, despite huge Page followings. Facebook has indirectly addressed these problems, basically placing the blame on the Page owners for not being engaging enough and regular Facebook users for sharing more stuff and drowning out Page updates.

The real story, of course, is that Facebook wants more people usings its advertising products, and now seems to assume paying to reach people (who have already opted-in to updates from you) forms a normal part of a publishing strategy -

“Page owners should continue using the most effective strategy to reach the right people: a combination of engaging Page posts and advertising to promote your message more broadly. Advertising lets Pages reach the fans they already have and find new customers as well.”

Lest we forget Facebook also advises Pages to use their advertising products to accumulate more Likes – you pay once to get a Like, and you pay again to (maybe) have that person see your update. It just doesn’t work.

Here are Freelance Advisor‘s Likes and Post Reach numbers – as you can see, the problem has become dramatically worse in recent weeks.

Facebook reach


In 2013 an average post reached 18% of our following, so far in 2014 we’re averaging 6% – Facebook has taken away two thirds of the audience they were giving us before, and expect us to pay to get it back.

The Facebook Cart, it seems, is firmly before the Horse. It’s an advertising network now – the social part comes second.

We’re not upping sticks just yet, but we’re damn close.

That summer when Scientology tried to sue me

While having a bit of a clear-out recently, I came across a bundle of old documents I’d saved from an interesting period of my life – when I was involved with, and writing about, a series of worldwide protests against the Church of Scientology.

The protests were organised (and I use that term loosely) by Anonymous, an online collective known for various Internet hijinks, and made headlines for several months both due to their popularity, and because it was one of the first times online chest-puffing had translated into real world action.

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How to check your bank balance by tapping your phone on your wallet

One simple (yet apparently unachievable) thing I’ve always wanted from my bank is an Android widget that displays my current balance. The Lloyds online banking system is an abject horror (as I’ve detailed at length before), and their mobile app is little more than a front end for their equally dire mobile site (as well as a chance for them to sell you shit you don’t need).

I’ve looked everywhere for a solution to this, and have so far come up with nothing. I have come up with a pleasing middle ground though – a way to check your bank balance by tapping your smartphone to your wallet. Now, for this to work you’ll need -

  • An NFC-equipped Android phone
  • An NFC tag

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What are social share buttons really counting?

Every article online these days will sport the web-doohickey du jour,  social sharing buttons. Their purpose, ostensibly, is to let readers share that piece of content easily on their social network of choice – but they’re increasingly used in Internet dick-measuring contests to boast about ‘share counts’. However not all shares are equal.

Each social network has its own features and actions, some of which contribute to share counts, some of which don’t. The share counts for this very article on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn are mostly likely over to the left of this text. Outwardly this would appear to show, quite logically, the number of times this piece has been shared… but it’s not quite that simple. Here are some handy tables explaining which actions on the “big four” networks contribute to each social share count.



Effect on share count

Tweet a link +1
Manually Retweet a link +1
Retweet a link +1
Favourite a link 0
Reply to a link 0
Favourite a reply to a link 0
Retweet a reply to a link 0



Effect on share count

Share a link +1
Like a link +1
Reply to a link +1
Like a reply to a link 0
Recommend a link +1
Reshare a link +1
Reply to a reshared link +1
Like a reshared link +1
Like a reply to a reshared link 0
Share a link in a private message *see below +1

Updated 3/1/14 to add in details of private message sharing – apparently Facebook use that in their counts too (although I’ve not tested it myself).



Effect on share count

+1 +1 (obviously)
Share a link +1
+1 a shared link +1
Reshare a link +1
+1 a reshared link +1 (Unless already +1′d)
Comment on a shared link +1 (Limited to once per user)
+1 a comment 0



Effect on share count

Share a link +1
Like a link 0
Reply to a shared link 0
Reshare a link +1
Like a reshared link 0

Disclaimer: This is all based on my own testing – let me know if you’re seeing different counts.

You can see from these tables that Facebook has the most laissez faire policy when it comes to boosting share counts, while LinkedIn is the strictest.

An important quirk to consider is that on all networks, a single user can contribute multiple points to the share count.

This is especially troublesome on Facebook, where a user can share their content privately (using the “Only me” option), and add comments ad infinitum to artificially inflate their count. Twitter counts multiple tweets from the same user – although given how content is promoted on Twitter this makes perfect sense. Google+’s policy of capping an individual’s ability juice their +1s seems a sensible policy. LinkedIn’s is perhaps the most puritanical approach – you get a point for a share, and nothing more (although you can still share your stuff multiple times).


The main problem with this system, as I see it, is that Facebook mixes both the most freewheeling counting method with an emotive call to action (“Like”) – controversial articles will often pick up large Like counts from people commenting on sharing activity, many of whom will most likely not agree with the content at all. These users are commenting to express negative sentiment, but are inadvertently contributing to the popularity implied by a large Like count.

A Facebook argument between two people that runs and runs could add 50, or even 100 Likes to an article’s count, even though those two users may be the only people to ever read it.

So next time you see a controversial article with a Like count in the tens of thousands, just remember there’s a good likelihood that a large proportion of that number actually don’t “Like” it at all.

The problem with the Internet

Obviously this is adorable.

Dinosaurs larking about

“The answers to all the world’s questions are a web-search away”


Busted, quirky parents.

My Content Marketing Show slides

Last week I was lucky enough to speak at the Content Marketing Show, a free bi-annual event in London for people working in content marketing / PR / social media / editorial (and anywhere in the fuzzy middle ground between them all). I spoke about the editorial planning process we use at Crunch, and how we’ve moved away from software back to some pen-and-paper planning methods.

My slides are below -

And you can see the video of the talk here -

Meanwhile, a stock photographer finds his niche…

…and fucking runs with it.






Incidentally – why no little girls with jetpacks?

Smoking solder at the Brighton Mini Maker Faire

Despite being rather involved with the Brighton Digital Festival this year, the entire first week of September went by without me attending a single event. At the weekend, finally with some free time on my hands, I attended the Mini Maker Faire.

Now three years old, the Mini Maker Faire is an eclectic mix of old-timey craftsmanship and bleeding-edge technology. The only condition you must satisfy in order to exhibit is that you must be a “maker” – i.e. someone who makes something. Due to this gloriously broad brief, there are all kinds of projects on display. Everything from finger-painting to 3D printing was on the agenda this year.

A tiny model of BBC journalist Bill Thompson is slowly printed

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More whining about SEOs and link building strategies

A favourite sport of mine is to watch the continual twists and turns of the SEO industry. An interesting phenomenon I’ve encountered recently amongst fellow publishers is a fantastical weariness of the SEO industry chasing links, especially in “high value” publications.

I think it’s always good practice to link to a company when you mention them by name – it gives the reader the opportunity to gain a little more context. If I’m writing about a company which has released some research or done something newsworthy I’ll almost always link to them, unless it’s a company that have done something to annoy me in the past. I’m childish and fickle like that, and I think a lot of other writers are too.

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