Category: General

Why Twitter is my favourite platform

Twitter usage is dwindling. With so many social media options around these days, it was always going to be difficult to maintain traction on any single one. Instagram continues to gain in popularity – despite being (or perhaps because it is) a largely one-sided platform. Facebook, obviously, doesn’t seem likely to die soon. I’ve still no idea what Pinterest is for, but they made the news recently with some new feature, so I guess they’re doing ok.

For me though, Twitter will always be my default platform. My go to place to interact with the world. I really do think it’s a shame that the site is losing favour. So, in solidarity with the little blue bird, here are a few of the reasons why I’ll continue to stick with it.

Twitter lists & Tweetdeck

A perfectly valid criticism of Twitter is that, as an ‘all things to all people’ space, if you follow different people for different reasons your feed can get incredibly messy. It’s actually the same reason why I dislike Tumblr – in theory it should be awesome, and it is by far and away the easiest platform to share any content. Yet for some reason it doesn’t work unless you a) use it to host your own blog and point people directly to it (rather than, say, Medium, where people can ‘stumble’ onto your content much more easily) or b) you’re looking to fangirl/boy over a specific TV show.

I digress. Twitter lists cut through all of that. I can follow any mix of people, sort them into lists (I used the visually challenging, but nevertheless robust Twitlistmanager) and then use Tweetdeck to follow those lists all from one screen. Tweetdeck also allows me to create columns for specific topics (eg. general themes such as #socent or topical threads such as #juniordoctorsstrike) and keep up to date with the latest information, regardless of who I follow.

Some of the channels I follow using the Tweetdeck platform.

Integrations with other services

Of all the social media platforms, none seem to be as accommodating with their APIs as Twitter (I’m looking at you, LinkedIn…). As a result, there are countless services you can use to get the most out of the platform – whether you’re someone who wants to consume content, share it, or create it.

My personal favourite mix of platforms at the moment is a Feedly -> Pocket -> IFTTT -> Buffer -> Twitter coalition. It sounds horrifically complex, but is actually very simple.

  1. I use Feedly to catch up on the latest headlines
  2. I save anything that catches my eye to Pocket
  3. I’ll read the articles on Pocket, and add any relevant tags to it as I go (#tech, #mentalhealth, #innovation, etc)
  4. If I want to share something, I’ll favourite the Pocket
  5. A preset IFTTT script will periodically pull favourited articles from my Pocket, and add them to a Buffer queue.
  6. Buffer (again, already preset) will periodically tweet those links on my behalf, adding the Pocket tags at the same time. If I want, I can log into my Buffer at any point, and edit the tweet before it’s posted – for example to add a comment of my own.

The good thing about that system is that I can cut in at any point – either Pocket something from another website (maybe a Medium blog post that I like), or even send something straight to Buffer. I’ve linked Buffer with my account, so I can track what people engage with, and adjust my tweeting style based on what my audience interacts with the most. (In theory. I don’t actually do that last bit – but the point is, I could…)

Beyond existing services, if you’re a coder, or know someone who is, you can have all sorts of fun playing around with APIs.

You can converse with anyone

Absolutely no other platform allows you to engage with anyone about any conversation the way Twitter does. Yes, in theory Tumblr should; in reality though I’ve always found you have to really try to get the content that you’re looking for. By my super-scientific method of plucking a number out of thin air, about a third of the funny images you see on the web originated on Tumblr – yet you only ever see them shared on other social platforms. Does that not seem weird to anyone else?

I digress again. Hashtags – since used by other platforms, but pioneered on Twitter – let you dive head first into any conversation. Not only that – you can talk to anyone; whether it’s a fellow Heroes Reborn fan from the other side of the world (despite Tim Kring’s seemingly best efforts, there are some of those still knocking about – I, lamentably, am not one of them. That ship sailed, Tim. That ship sailed…), the CEO of a multinational organisation, or the celebrity host of your current favourite podcast. Because, unlike platforms like Facebook for example, you don’t need to be followed to have your voice heard, Twitter is one of the best ways to interact with people about really specific issues.

Also on this point: because Twitter is such an open and transparent platform, it’s also the best way to get in front of brands and public figures for whatever means you see fit. Few things make big companies more nervous than bad social media, so if you have an issue with your broadband, your train service, or even your local MP, ping them a tweet and watch as they fall over themselves (sometimes) to make sure you’re happy.

(This doesn’t always work… One time I was a little too sarcastic to a certain Railway company that services my area – the Western region of this Great country – and had my sarcasm well and truly put in its place. I maintain it’s always worth a go though.)

You only have 140 characters to make your point

This, probably more than anything else, is the sticking point for many users. I myself fall in and out of love with this aspect of Twitter at least 8 times a day. Overall though, I think the pros of the character limit by far outweigh the cons.

Firstly, it means that I can consume a lot of content in a short amount of time. I’m super lazy, and the character limit puts the onus on the other party to make sure that, if they want me to engage with them, they are doing all the work. Yes, it has meant that ‘clickbait’ has made its way into our lives – both as a hideous piece of terminology, and as an actual thing we have to deal with. But I think that is a small price to pay to be able to scroll through dozens of tweets a minute and only engage with the things that I want to.

The other reason I like it (and hate it, but this is a positive piece), is I genuinely think it makes me more creative as a sharer of content. Yes I fall into the trap of creating poor clickbait now and again, but other times I enjoy trying to condense my thoughts into such a restrictive format. If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you’ll know I can be a little superfluous in the illustrative language I use to instantiate my points; tweeting forces that out of me and makes sure I get to the heart of my message.

Bonus point: Tweeting during events

I’ve experimented with Liveblogging once or twice – and I like it as a method of keeping things for posterity. In the event though, I haven’t found a platform (or at least a free one…) that is as easy, accessable, and – crucially – as social, as tweeting (see also: hashtagging above).

As a platform, its definitely not for everyone. For me though, Twitter ticks a lot of boxes. Interestingly, they have just recategorised themselves out of the ‘social networking’ bracket in the iOS App Store, in favour of being a news app. It makes sense – having a list set up with your favourite news sources would give it a very Feedly-like appeal. We shall see whether that is enough to boost their numbers.


On the prevalence of motivational quotes

“It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.”

— Plato

I love a good quote as much as the next guy, but something about using these sorts of sayings – particularly in a business context – bugs me. My personal favourite one to hate at the moment is the whole “fall down 7 times, get up 8” thing, mostly because if you fall down 7 times you have to get up 7 times. Getting up 8 times after only falling down 7 times is impossible.

Quotes in business are so prevalent that it has become incredibly difficult to find anyone’s actual opinion of them. Put the terms ‘inspiration’, ‘business’ and/or ‘quote’ anywhere near a Google search and you’ll get anywhere between 3 and 7 hundred million hits (I have a penchant for hyperbole, but in this case that number is accurate). And most of them are just pointing you at the Top 10/11/37/other random number quotes about business. Other than the odd preamble about how a good quote maketh the man (or, presumably, woman), no one seems to want to talk about them.

I find it interesting that we all just seem to accept this as a good thing. I’m also fully aware that I’m part of the same flock here, with my personal landing page spitting out a random quote every time you visit.

I suppose my problem comes when people substitute in quotes from the likes of Aristotle and Branson in favour of actual advice. I’ve even seen it done regardless of the contextual relevance of the quote – the point, presumably, being to make the writer/presenter seem more wise. I think that’s perhaps what I dislike the most – quotes as a shortcut to trust. If Person X is quoting the likes of Plato, and I understand that Plato was a pretty clever guy, then Person X must also be clever. Did any of you know that it wasn’t actually Plato who said the quote at the top of this piece, but Confucius? I don’t suppose it matters much either way to the overall message – Confucius was also wise, as Plato was wise…

Perhaps I’m being overly critical. In the words of another incredibly famous person “It takes less courage to criticise the decisions of others than to stand by your own.” Those seem like sage words. Should it bother me that they came from Attila the Hun, who is more famous for his slaughter of pretty much anyone who got in his way that he is for advice?

Quotes are great things. They are a shortcut to a particular feeling, or expression – and, yes, sometimes trust. They can be a way of quickly showing a reader, or a customer, or someone you are training that your views align with theirs. I’m certainly not saying that we should all stop quoting other people. But I do think that we should be a little more careful sometimes about how we use them. It is a very fine line between showing someone you’re on the same page, and convincing them that you are.

Quotes can be powerful things, and in the words of the late, great Benjamin Parker: “with great power, comes great responsibility.”


Yes, Ebola is still a thing (or: On how sometimes big stories slip our minds)

There was fantastic news yesterday. A new Ebola vaccine has been trialled in Guinea with a 100% success rate.

I’m fairly sure though that a large number of people read that headline and (after saying ‘Great news!’) went, ‘Wait, we’re still worried about Ebola?’. Yes, we are. Just hours after the news (selectively) broke, two more cases of the virus were confirmed in Sierra Leone – not that you’d know it from reading the mainstream news.

I’m not judging, and I could be wrong – I hope I am. But it wouldn’t be the first once-global news story that has been relegated to the back of our mind. SARS is still something to be scared of, we still don’t know what officially happened to flight MH17, and we still haven’t caught Joseph Kony.

I’m not trying to be glib. We are, after all, busy people with many many things pulling at our attention. We can’t always concern ourselves with things happening 1000s of miles away. Can we? Should we?

News coverage is a fickle beast, but it’s not the only thing to blame (many moons ago I made a similar point about the media and terrorism). If every newspaper continually ran headlines about Ebola we’d stop buying them. The onus is on us as individuals to look into the things that interest us – just as a decade ago the onus was on us to buy the paper that most closely aligned with our views (and so would likely report on the things that we would want to read).

Yet even in the age of the information superhighway – where pretty much any piece of information in existence is a few clicks away, we still pay so little attention to what is going on in the world. Publications like Espresso from the Economist exist exactly because even people well-read enough to subscribe to a relatively high-brow publication still can’t be bothered to actually read it. The i paper from the Independent exists for pretty much the same reason. This despite the fact that there are plenty of incentives for us to read more. Countless studies equate how widely read an individual is to their intelligence (obviously), their open-mindedness to other viewpoints, and even their ability to empathise with other people.

For me, I try to read as widely as possible because I feel like I should; I don’t like being out of the loop with things. I don’t really watch sports, and when I’m down the pub and the chat switches to the Premier League I zone out. I’m ok with that, for the most part. But I can’t imagine feeling like that about everything.

It is difficult though. All this preaching from me, and even I hadn’t thought about Ebola for a while (also, there’s a reason that I know there are people out there who subscribe to the Economist and sometimes don’t read it). But how do I try and combat that? Well, I’m attracted to new shiny things and/or routine. A while back I had a job working at a tech festival, and I would spend an couple of hours every morning finding out about the latest advancements in the sector. It was a win-win for me, because I could a) read on the job and it count as being productive, and b) learned about a load of cool things. Even after that job, I try as much as I can to keep up to date with technology despite the tech festival gig being an unlikely repeat job for me.

To do this, I used to use Google Reader – its untimely death was a blow (I was a huge fan of RSS, and never really got into Digg or Reddit). Now though, I have adapted my own – admittedly convoluted – system. First thing in the morning I open up tabs of my usual news haunts and sources; everything from the BBC’s website, to Wired, to whatever Twitter hashtag I’m feeling at the time. An extension like Morning Coffee on Firefox, or Loadr on Chrome makes this very simple. I then go through and save headlines that catch my eye straight to Pocket without reading them. This stops me from falling down the rabbit hole of one particular topic at the expense of others, and also means that no matter what I’m doing I can read my news list on Pocket wherever I end up going that morning (I know we’re in the 21st Century, but I still swear by a service that syncs to my phone and lets me read things offline). Once I reckon I’ve combed every news source I’m likely to search, I close all the tabs and either reopen the Pocket application on my laptop, switch to a tablet and grab a cup of tea, or start reading on my mobile during my commute.

For the moment that seems to be working for me. Obviously there is still an element of self-selection that happens, but I like to think I’ve got a good list of news sources. For me, having some sort of system in place I think is important – though I recognise mine is perhaps unnecessarily complex. Though Google Reader is no more, there are other RSS readers around, and services such as Flipboard do a great job of displaying content.

Whatever method you use though, I think everyone should keep up not only with things that interest them – that’s the easy part – but also push yourself to pay attention to things you don’t necessarily relate to. Obviously one person can’t know everything that is happening at once, and nobody has the time to try. But you might surprise yourself how relevant a seemingly innocuous piece of information might become to you.


On what I’ve learned from conferences

As part of both my interests and my job, I spend a lot of my time going to social enterprise conferences. As a result, I thought it would be a good time to share a handful of the more common lessons I hear again and again. And what better way than in a listicle?

Anyway. To business:

This is the most fertile/opportunistic time to start an enterprise

This is something that comes up all the time, but I heard it in spades at a panel talk I went to at the British Library during Global Entrepreneurship week. Amongst the panel were Anya Hindmarch and Sir Charles Dunstone, who both stressed this independently of each other. The numbers don’t lie either. A study by Barclays showed that in the first half of 2014 small businesses grew by 4%. This might not seem like much, but firstly consider that UK growth in 2014 hovering at just over 2.5%, and secondly that small businesses are traditionally in a sector of the market that doesn’t actually grow.

Your venture needs to address a need

This one, I’ll flatter myself, I knew already. But my background is in social enterprise so that’s not particularly surprising. What I did find interesting was that this was a recurring theme in the more ‘enterprise’ talks. This should form a core part of the business plan – answer the question of what you are doing. Why do you exist as an organisation? To put it in business spiel, what is your value proposition?

This goes further than just knowing that your business/product/service has to exist for a reason – that much should at least be clear to everyone. The important thing here is that whatever you do doesn’t just have to satisfy an idle want, it has to firstly and foremostly address a need.

Hire smarter than you

This one’s said so much now it basically a cliche; but for that reason its also a good point to make. In fact, Sir Tim Smit (of Eden Project fame) gave a closing keynote at the RISE conference in Bristol and was very scathing of people who are too afraid to do so.

It is so very tempting as the leader of an organisation to worry about hiring better than you. But if you think about it logically, why would you do anything else? The focus here shouldn’t be about battling insecurities, but rather looking at the skill set you have, and trying to fill in the gaps. Think of ‘smarter’ in this context as people who know different things to you – people who’s skills are different (and complimentary) to your own.

Entrepreneurship should be about creating an environment, not about being in the limelight

Anya Hindmarch put this very eloquently: “There is too much talk about the celebrity, not about the craftsmanship”. And on a panel that included the founder of the Carphone Warehouse, the CEO of the MOBOs, and an Apprentice winner, this was strong.

Being a good entrepreneur – and a good leader (the two are similar, though not the same) is as much about taking people on the journey with you as it is about being a trailblazer. No matter how good you are at what you do, nobody can make it big on their own.

So that’s just a snapshot of the common themes I’ve taken away from a number of conferences and panels. One thing I would say though is that you can’t learn any better than by actually being there – in fact, I would go so far as to say that if you are interested in being a part of the social enterprise sector – a good conference is the best place to start. So next time you see a conference, or a panel show, or anything that looks vaguely interesting – give it a go!


What IE taught me about entrepreneurship

So it seems the days of the (in)famous Internet Explorer are numbered. While it’s obvious that Microsoft won’t bow out of the internet browser war completely, IE as we know it will apparently be retired in favour of ‘Project Spartan‘ (if nothing else, Microsoft need to be commended on the confident naming of their new product).

There are some things, however, that we can all learn from Internet Explorer – and specifically its relaunch a few years ago with IE10. For those who don’t remember, they launched a campaign to try to breathe new life into the dwindling user base which you can watch here:

In doing so Microsoft took a different tack with promoting it and, in my mind, was one that all entrepreneurs can learn from. I originally wrote the below for another site just after the launch of IE10, and now seemed an appropriate time to revisit it.

Once the crown jewel of the Microsoft Windows experience, Internet Explorer has long fallen out of favour with many internet users. It has often been put down as ‘slow’, ‘unsafe’, and ‘only really good for downloading Netscape/Firefox/Chrome (depending on the decade in question)’. While there are still more people using IE than any other browser (estimates are 50% share for IE, compared with only 15% second-place Google Chrome), it’s undeniable that IE is seen by many as the Beelzebub of the browser world.

But in 2012 IE fought back with its 10th incarnation, in a way that all entrepreneurs – aspiring, starting, or established – could learn a thing or two from.

Lesson 1 – Know that you can never please everyone…

No one knows this like Microsoft. As a company they have their fingers in a lot of pies, and so have to deal with competition on several fronts.

As with any form of competition there will be disputes. And when you’re designing your product or service it will be impossible to make it appeal to everyone. Microsoft found this out the hard way through IE when another browser came along and advertised itself as fast, better, and more secure. Whilst Netscape was arguably all of these things, IE’s only real flaw, up until then, was that it didn’t have any competition. It’s important to remember that however good your company is, you can’t create something that will be universally liked – you could mass produce kittens that never age, staying small and adorable for all eternity, but there will still be those who are allergic to cat hair.

Lesson 2 – …but one raindrop raises the sea.

OK, so I stole that one from Dinotopia, but bear with me. Of course there is no such thing as the perfect product – but that certainly shouldn’t stop you aspiring to make it. And while you’re on your journey, make sure you grab every success you can.

While it was done in a tongue-in-cheek way, the IE10 advert does make a very good point. Their apparent aim was to make just a little progress – “IE sucks… less.” Microsoft know that their advert isn’t going to convince everyone using Chrome to switch overnight. But companies spend millions trying to claw back one or two percent market-share here and there. With an estimated 2 billion people on the planet connected to the net, an extra one percent of people using IE equates to 2 million additional users for Microsoft.

In business – as in life in general – every day is made up of little challenges. But getting one more person to buy your product, getting that one letter of thanks from a client, convincing one person that your internet browser isn’t quite as rubbish as they thought it was, all of these things should encourage you and make you want to keep doing what you do.

Lesson 3 – Think carefully about your marketing

It’s pretty obvious, but if you want to get your product or service out there you need to yell about it. People are, by their nature, pretty set in their ways. If they’re using Chrome or Firefox as their web browser, and are perfectly happy with the way it runs, why would they take the effort to switch? Well, for the same reason that they moved away from IE in the first place – someone told them it would be a good idea.

Advertising is tricky though. With some products being stung by the media (and even Trading Standards) for making big claims, which are only supported by stipulations in tiny writing next to an asterisk, consumers are becoming jaded (“Of course Microsoft are going to say IE is good – they keep trying to trick us with that gem”). Microsoft realised that simply saying the new IE is ‘faster’ and ‘more innovative’ wasn’t going to cut it. They’ve had to go one step further, and by admitting previous flaws they were trying to win back trust.

The way in which you advertise your product defines you as a company, and will directly influence who buys it. As an interesting side note, how many of you noticed that in the entire 90 second advert, you don’t actually see Internet Explorer once?

Also, Lesson 3b – Self depreciative humour is a good thing.

Lesson 4 – Have a clear message for your company

In 2012 and 2013 Microsoft underwent a complete rebrand. Alongside IE10 they released Windows 8 across a plethora of devices, in addition to refreshing the look of their ubiquitous Office suite. The message, across the Microsoft range, was that they were appealing to people’s unique preferences. In the IE10 advert, they do this by homing in on our friendly neighbourhood IE-hater’s love of karaoke.

But when you’re starting out with your venture, make sure that it’s not just your customers who understand your company’s message. Particularly in start-ups, but also across all businesses, the importance of making sure your employees and colleagues understand the company’s core values can not be overstated. Communication is key. As a real world example, how many times have you called a customer service department with an issue, and been bounced from pillar to post to get it sorted. How infuriating as a customer is it to feel like the different departments seem to have no concept of what the others do?

So there you have it – whatever your thought about Microsoft as a company, and Internet Explorer as a browser, we could learn a thing or two from them about business. Who’d have thought it?