Category Archives: Musings

Bowie tribute in Brixton

Rebel Rebel: 5 cool things David Bowie said about the Internet (nearly 20 years ago)

I was never that into David Bowie while he was alive. His music was okay, but then so was that of The Bee Gees and Sister Sledge and a lot of other people. Bowie dressed flamboyantly, but then wasn’t that what all glam rockers did in the 1970s? He sometimes did duets with other middle-aged pop stars. In the nineties he married a supermodel and moved to New York. To be honest, he seemed a set part of the Establishment.

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Passion trumps content strategy


What’s your content strategy?

If you Google it, you’ll find a million articles telling you about optimisation, engagement and discipline. You’ll read how content strategy is as important to social media as UX is to design, or how it makes sense to manage content as an asset, with a quantifiable ROI.

You can look at where your customers are hanging out online and what they’re reading and viewing. You can look at what your competitors were doing and what type of content is working (or not) for them. You can look at trending conversations and upcoming campaigns. You can data scrape everything, set yourself up with monitoring tools and apply your KPIs.

But at the end of all that, if you don’t feel you “own” your tweets, updates, videos and blog posts – if they’re not coming from the heart – you might as well go back to the drawing board…
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Eleven random facts: my Liebster Award (part II)

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A couple of weeks ago I got nominated for a Liebster Award. Cue fireworks – although the picture above has nothing at all to do with me receiving the Liebster Award; it’s just a nice one I found going back through my Flickr – which is a good thing to do as a starting point if you ever get asked to list random facts about yourself.

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From shorthand to live-blogging: my Liebster Award (part I)

That's shorthand for...
Thanks so much to the fabulous Events Northern for nominating me for a Liebster Award. The Liebster award is a peer-to-peer award passed around the blogging community. And there’s nothing like a bit of appreciation from your peers – Events Northern, you rock!

Here’s how the Liebster Award works:

Thank the person that nominated you and link back to their blog
– Display the award “badge” on your blog
– Answer the 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you
– List 11 random facts about yourself
– Nominate up to 11 bloggers and let them know you have nominated them
– Set 11 questions for the bloggers you have nominated
– Post a comment on the blog post of the person that nominated you so they can read the post

So, first off, here are my answers to Events Northern’s questions:

1. When and why did you start blogging? I started blogging in 2005 when I was commissioned to write Monkeys with Typewriters. The thought of writing 80,000 words terrified me so I had the idea of interviewing people and writing up each one in a blog post. The blog posts became the first draft of my book.
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Mad dogs and teleworkers

Walking my dogs
A policeman took my name and address last Wednesday – my dog was barking at his horse, and I was on the phone. Usually I avoid calls when I’m walking the dog, precisely because you can’t concentrate on two things at once, but this was a work-related call, and I’d been trying to get hold of the person concerned, and I just thought I’d take two minutes “out” to deal with it.

So I was sat on a bench, engrossed in my call. I didn’t notice the crowd that had gathered round my formerly “cute” dog. An old lady, a couple of mums with buggies, a few toddlers and children – and the policeman on his horse. My small dog was in the middle, terrified – barking blue murder at the lot of them.

A few years ago I saw a woman in a business suit crossing a tricky road while talking loudly on the phone. She had two small children with her, on scooters – also trying to cross the road. The combination of work + busy road + toddlers wasn’t good – but then she probably didn’t plan it that way.

We have the technology to work where we like – and that flexibility makes work a lot easier. But work and the “real” world don’t necessarily mix – all too often, unconsciously, we rely on strangers to look out for us.

After a while, my policeman softened. There’s been an increase in complaints about the behaviour of dogs in this area, he said – and a lot of dog owners are constantly on their phones. The situation is “out of control”, he said. He seemed genuinely despairing.

As businesses downsize and remote working becomes the norm, who’s really picking up the tab?

Photo: This Year’s Love

Britain’s popular culture goes posh – can social stop the rot?

Working class hero
Apparently, our popular culture is in danger of gentrification.

The most shocking stat in Sean O’Hagan’s recent article, A working class hero is something to be…but not in Britain’s posh culture, was that 60% of current successful rock and pop acts were former public school pupils, compared with just 1% 20 years ago.

The article goes on to state that the paths taken by the many British cultural icons with working class roots – like Julie Walters, Tracey Emin, Dizzee Rascal or Alexander McQueen – simply aren’t available today.

The introduction of university fees, the end of grammar schools and prohibitive inner city rents means it’s tougher than ever for bright children from poorer families to find opportunities to work and develop alongside like-minded people.

Can social media to anything to help level the playing field? Of course, I’m an evangelist, so I’d like to think so. Lauren Luke and Jamal Edwards are just two examples of working class kids who’ve found fame and fortune through talent, hard work and YouTube.

But nothing’s going to happen until they start teaching social media properly in schools, and by the look of things that’s a long way off.

Photo: Dominic Campbell

All I want for Christmas is…a digital high street

London Christmas lights
Last time I visited Lush in Westfield, there was a jug of Moscow Mules by the door and a bowlful of M&Ms to help yourself to. A few shops down, Rigby & Peller were handing out glasses of Prosecco to anyone who fancied a browse.

Now that’s my definition of “social” shopping. But a good few more can be found in From UK High Street to Networked High Street – Eva Pascoe and Niki Gomez’s 2013 response to the Portas Review of 2011. It’s a well-written vision of how technology can improve (save?) our high streets. Here are my takeaways (no pun intended):

1. We’re lucky in the UK to have rich diversity in our high streets: “Each of our High Streets is a mix of different patterns of retail, leisure and services,” write Pascoe and Gomez. “These patterns are like multicolour mosaics, they are very unique, steeped in the history and diverse in demographics.”

Talking to friends who live in smaller, newer cities like Sydney or Tel Aviv, this complex tapestry does not exist everywhere. Things that Londoners take for granted – having access to hundreds of cultural and networking events every week, for example – simply aren’t possible in many other cities. We should make the most of it, and build on that diversity – rather than moaning (as we Brits love to do).

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Why peer recommendation works – my Airbnb experience

Beaching it up in Barcelona
Last month I went to Barcelona with my sisters and a few close girlfriends. The trip was pretty special as I’m about to get married – so this was what you might call a “hen” do. We didn’t want to run around wearing matching pink tracksuits and bunny ears (and I left my “L-plate” and plastic white tiara at home), but we did want to have an amazing time without spending a stupid amount of money.

When it came to sorting a place to stay, Airbnb was the obvious choice. I’ve used the peer-to-peer rental site quite a few times in the past, and they’ve always delivered great places at reasonable cost. So I started carefully sifting through the 400+ apartments (that would accommodate our nine-person party) currently listed on the website. As you can imagine, the whole process took some time so I was thrilled when I finally settled for a place which ticked all the right boxes: central, comfortable single beds for all (no doubles or sofabeds), decent dining area, at least two bathrooms, beautiful decor in traditional Catalan Modernist style.

I paid in full (Airbnb requires full payment in advance to reserve any property), emailed the apartment details to my friends, and started looking forward to a wonderful long weekend in Spain. Imagine how I felt when, the day before we were about to leave, I got an email from the apartment owner offering apologies and saying the apartment had been rendered inhabitable by the previous tenants (aka: trashed).

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#UKsnow “was not easyJet’s finest hour” (UK General Manager, Paul Simmons)

I must admit, I was dreading this day. But possibly not as much as easyJet must dread contact with its disgruntled passengers. Clearly, it avoids this as much as possible. One great way of avoiding contact is to base its headquarters at Luton Airport – let’s face it, tough to get to, and really not a great deal to write home about once you’re there.

Still, that’s what easyJet’s ever-so-friendly customer rep (once I’d finally found the number and then navigated the myriad of automated voices to get through to him) had told me to do. So that’s how I found myself, on an overcast August day, catching the train up to Luton to find easyJet’s offices and sit in reception until somebody managed to bring themselves to see me. 

In March this year, I had phoned easyJet customer services to find out why my claim for a refund had been inadvertently “closed”. The claim dated back to January when myself, my boyfriend and our 3 year old daughter had been stranded in Budapest for three nights due to severe weather (snow) in the UK. Due to the complete lack of customer service from easyJet at Budapest Airport, we had sorted out our own accommodation and food, assured by easyJet’s representatives at Budapest Airport (an outsourced customer services company called Menzies) that if we kept all relevant receipts, we’d be entitled to a refund.

According to European legislation, if a flight is cancelled or delayed for any reason, the airline is responsible for feeding and accommodating its customers. Once we got back to the UK, I scanned all our receipts and applied online for a refund of £526.70, which did not seem too excessive considering it covered accommodation and food for three people for three nights (we booked the hotel on Lastminute and ate from cheap cafes and supermarkets).

But instead of a straight reply, I had a flurry of automated emails from easyJet: asking for the same information, asking for further information, asking me to complete a customer services questionnaire etc. The final email told me that “as we have not heard from you…we have changed the status of your question to solved”. 

It seemed that easyJet’s strategy was clear: frustrate customers to the point of apathy!

So, back to today, and I had a lot of questions for easyJet, such as:

What actually was its refund policy?

Did it actually have a policy?

If so, why be so obtuse and ambigious about it?

Surely the majority of easyJet’s customers are normal, reasonable people, why not be straight with us, rather then lead us to expect full refunds when we aren’t actually entitled?

If easyJet didn’t agree with EU legislation, then why wasn’t it running a public campaign to change it?

And so on…

Turns out, I was pleasantly surprised: I’d only been waiting forty minutes or so when Paul Simmons (above) – easyJet’s general manager for the UK – came out and introduced himself. He did all the right things: took us off into a quiet corner, offered me a comfy chair and a cup of coffee, listened for 15 minutes or so while I said my piece, looked sympathetic.

Paul’s side of the story is this: While apologising for what had happened and admitting that #uksnow “wasn’t our finest hour”, he said that easyJet had at least learned some lessons. When the #ashcloud descended on Europe in April, easyJet had, apparently, been much better equipped to deal with the delays and cancellations (apparently all the #ashcloud claims are sorted now so if you have one that hasn’t, please let me know and I’ll pass it on).

Paul said that two main things had happened since January:

1. EasyJet appointed Graeme Macleod, former head of ground operations, to lead the customer experience team: this meant that someone who knows exactly how things work on the ground is now in charge of dealing with stranded passengers.

2. It has set up a partnership with international procurement company, BSI. This means that wherever, whenever and however delays occur, easyJet should be able to offer accommodation and meals to customers on the spot. The fact that these are offered through an established, partnership network means that variable costs are controlled.

With regard to easyJet’s refund policy, Paul assured me that the airline wishes to abide by European Law so its strategy is to reimburse customers where necessary. He did admit that easyJet was lobbying behind the scenes in Brussels to change existing legislation.

Actually, I quite agree with easyJet on this because the current legislation is vague and really does, given the current physical and economic climate, seem unfairly draconian towards airlines: I’m not saying airlines shouldn’t be penalised for certain things: environmental damage, for example, but being forced to pay 100 per cent expenses to some customers who are simply having an extended holiday with their families, is quite another.

Finally, Paul assured me that I did, in all probability, have a case for a refund. He’s taken away my receipts, and I’ve got his mobile number. Hopefully I won’t have to call.

Postscript (15/9/10): Within a week of my meeting with Paul, I had a phone call from one of his team; within two weeks a cheque for my full claim arrived in the post. Goes to show that personal contact can work wonders, but a shame that that transparency/ openness couldn’t be replicated across the board and available to all disgruntled customers. I guess a deluge of refund claims creates what you might call a social media “bottleneck”.