February 21, 2009

Big Day Out Public Relations: Is Silence The Best Response?

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 1:29 pm by Andrew McMillen

A 17-year old girl died from a reported drug overdose at the Perth Big Day Out music festival earlier this month, after taking three ecstasy pills to avoid being caught by police at the gate. This was an unfortunate, but unsurprising occurrence. 

The surprising element is how Big Day Out publicity have marginalised her behaviour by silencing their highly active online community.

A statement published on the BDO site on 2 February 2009 reads:

Perth drug overdose statement

Early yesterday afternoon a 17-year-old girl was taken to hospital after a suspected drug overdose at the Perth Big Day Out. Tragically she died overnight.

While details have yet to be confirmed, it has been reported that the teenager consumed a number of pills outside the event to avoid being detected by police sniffer dogs that were in operation, in this instance with fatal consequences. 

Big Day Out does not condone the use of drugs at the event.  The same laws of the outside world apply inside the event. Over 3 million people have attended the Big Day Out in its 17 year history and this is the first time an incident of this nature has occurred. 

Sniffer dogs are commonly used outside large events like the Big Day Out and are part of the police’s harm minimisation responsibility. 

The investigation is being followed up by the Police. 

To respect the privacy of the family, no further comments will be made.

In contrary to that final statement, there’s also a dedication page on the BDO site, containing a message from the girl’s mother.

While the Big Day Out brand will remain untarnished by this event – it’s arguably stronger than ever – this sad occurrence is now inextricably linked to the event’s brand in the same manner as 16-year old Jessica Michalik‘s death during the 2001 tour.

Where Michalik’s death was the result of inadequate crowd control measures – a mistake rectified from the 2002 tour onwards – Thoms’ drug-related death requires a conversation between Big Day Out publicity and the hundreds of thousands who attend the tour across Australia and New Zealand each year.

Critically, the online community who follow the event have been silenced: the highly active Big Day Out forum was disabled immediately after the news of Thoms’ death broke, and it remains closed almost a month later. 

bdo_closed

http://forum.bigdayout.com/ as of 21 February 2009

Silence isn’t the best response here.

In this case,  Big Day Out publicity invite criticism by refusing to allow a dialogue to occur.

The only publicised offshoot of Thoms’ death is a Western Australian police commissioner agreeing that “amnesty bins” should be installed outside music festivals, to allow punters to deposit their drugs without fear of prosecution. And to minimise the likelihood of festival attendees overdosing in a panic before entering the venue, as in Thoms’ case.

There’s nothing new about youth drug culture. But when an unfortunate event such as an overdose occurs, people start asking questions of the police, of the festival organisers, of each other.

In a time of crisis or confusion, people want to connect with each other. And while an isolated festival overdose isn’t the strongest catalyst for either impulse, it’s still an occasion better met with community encouragement than marginalisation; with noise instead of silence.

I understand that moderating public opinion becomes exponentially more difficult as a greater volume of people converge in one location. The need to consistently and accurately monitor the fine line between opinion and libel is likely at the forefront of the organisers’ swift decision to close the public forum.

Censorship aside, an alternative forum named Small Night In has sprung up following the closure. But many questions remain unanswered:

  • Why silence an established, highly active online community following a drug-related death?
  • Why not encourage a dialogue between festival attendees and festival organisers?
  • Why not partner with an established organisation such as the Australian Drug Information Network (ADIN) and encourage participation – both online and in BDO-sponsored community forums held in capital cities – to gauge youth opinion on drug use, so as to minimise the chances of a repeat e?
  • Most importantly: why not work harder to turn a negative event into a positive by reinforcing a sense of community?

Funnily, I was only provoked into thinking about the BDO organisers’ handling of the Thoms death after I received an email  sent to the BDO user database advertising Lily Allen’s June Australian tour.

Promote a tour; marginalise the voices of Australian youths itching to converge and converse.

Poor form, Big Day Out.

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February 14, 2009

Brand Memory, Addendum

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , , at 7:00 pm by Andrew McMillen

Brand marketing lesson: it’s just as quick and easy to disappoint your fans as it is to satisfy them.

In this case, it’s as quick and easy as an errant article appearing at the top of a news feed.

My previous post discussing RHUM‘s great personal touch is now overshadowed by the first sentence I read upon loading their site today.

Screenshot of RHUM homepage, 14 Feb 2009 (click to enlarge)

Screenshot of RHUM homepage, 14 Feb 2009 (click to enlarge)

See it?

Headline: “Girls I’ve Had Sex With“.

Great! If I were visiting with Penthouse Confessions in mind, or Tucker Max, or the zillion other smut repositories online.

Awful! If I were visiting the site for some well-written critique on Australian youth culture. You know, music, the arts, film.

That’s why I visited the site. For good, relevant content. Not for the infantile scrawl of some punk who wants to share his sexcapades under a pseudonym.

RHUM is an Australian web publication targeting creative youths. Their mission statement:

RHUM – Rabbit Hole Urban Media – is a non for profit arts-media organisation. RHUM works together with musicians, writers, visual artists and all sorts of other like-minded creatives as well as events, gigs and festivals Australia wide; connecting the peeps with all that is worth a read, ramble and a bit of showing off too.

RHUM, ball = dropped.

Sure, there’s a place for that kind of content within the guidelines stated above (“..a bit of showing off too”).

But – front page?

First item?

Is this the kind of image you want to portray?

February 9, 2009

Content Analysis: admission.com.au

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , , at 10:07 pm by Andrew McMillen

admission_web

  • Why do all of the footer links direct me to email the company?
  • Why can’t I find any details about the company?
  • When they were founded?
  • Who is their managing director?
  • How many comprise their team?
  • Why don’t all of their examples link through to the developed website or live concept?
  • If you can’t link to a real-world example of a concept, then why advertise it?
  • Why can I only click on the tiniest section of the main menu?
  • Why do I feel like leaving the site ten seconds after entering?
  • Why do I feel no connection to a company who presents static images of their work without explanation?

Brand Memory

Posted in Web tagged , , , at 9:36 pm by Andrew McMillen

I received an email newsletter from RHUM events & media, which directed me to their site.

They had some good content that I wanted to follow. But at the time, they didn’t have any RSS subscription feature enabled.

I emailed on December 9 suggesting its inclusion.

A timely personal response:

Yes absolutely, it’s on my mile long to do list don’t you worry. We will send out a subscriber notification and email when this function has been activated.

Kind Regards,

Nick Hutchins
Group Operations Manager
Rabbit Hole Urban Music events & media

And then, on February 4, an unexpected personal response:

Hi Andrew,

Just wanted to let you know that RHUM has now released RSS feed capabilities to http://www.rhum.org.au, facebook.com content applications and Myspace.com content applications.

Sorry about the wait for that and thanks for your patience as we sorted out some technical glitches preventing earlier release.

Kind Regards,

RHUM Admin
Rabbit Hole Urban Music events & media

In an era of diminishing attention spans, brand memory is crucial. If you remember me, I’ll remember you.

Easy, right? So why am I still surprised that a company cared enough to follow-up my cursory feedback, six months later?

The Next MySpace for Musicians

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , , at 9:02 pm by Andrew McMillen

I’ve stopped logging on to MySpace. The only reason I’d continued to check it was to read bulletins posted by bands I enjoy.

But then the noise became deafening.

Too much effort for too little reward.

Processor-intensive Flash ads swarmed my homepage.

And instead of including bulletin pagination, to allow me to view 25 or 50 or 100 bulletins on a page, they kept with the original model of dividing bulletins into groups of 10. Each page yielded a new set of flashing ads. Awesome.

But that’s in the past. Bye, MySpace.

So if you’re a band I listen to or a band who thinks that I might like to listen to you, there’s a question you should be asking yourself. How are you going to connect with me, now?

How are you going to coerce me to join your tribe?

Or, more importantly: where is your tribe going to converge?

I don’t friend bands on Facebook, because Facebook is for human friendships.

I rarely visit band websites, as I’ve discussed.

If I don’t visit your Facebook profile or your website, it’s going to be tough to convince me to join your mailing list. And mailing lists aren’t the ideal method for artists to broadcast from, as it’s one-to-one. Not one-to-many like the sense of community you felt when browsing a band’s MySpace profile.

MySpace succeeded for several years because it provided the tools for musicians to share their craft and assemble a community in a central location.

But if the community is dispersing, where are they going to meet next?

Where is the next MySpace for musicians?

Finding a suitable answer for this question is as important for me, the music fan and critic, as it is for the artists who want me to hear their music.

I want a central hub to connect with hundreds of artists I admire and enjoy. I want to listen, to follow, to gain an insight into their recording process and international tours and personalities.

MySpace is no longer the answer. It’s old tech.

I don’t care about exclusive album streams. I don’t care about digital music store partnerships.

I just want to know when my favourite artists have recorded new music. When they’re touring. What other people think of their music.

Twitter is not the answer. Too shallow. When it comes to musicians, it’s a case of too little data spread too thin. I’ll happily read essays on subjects that I’m interested in.

If you’re a musician, I don’t particularly want to know what you’re doing all day, every day. Just the important stuff. Specific, anticipated, relevant. New music, tours, reviews, videos.

Again, these kinds of periodic updates could be delivered via mailing list. But I’m not going to go around visiting band websites and joining lists.

Like I said, this is as important a question for me, the music fan, as it is for the artists and labels.

Build something remarkable. Something worth sharing. Somewhere worth returning to. And I’ll be there.

November 10, 2008

Effective Tribe Management: 200 Nipples

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , , , , at 7:40 pm by Andrew McMillen

200 Nipples is an online t-shirt store with a twist:

That’s how many nipples we assume will be covered by any single run of our high-quality shirts. (We’ll have the third-nippled buyer in there occasionally, but we didn’t want to count on it when naming the company; this is serious business, after all.) 

One hundred shirts per month, individually numbered. Shirt prices range from US$1 to US$100 inclusive. First in, best dressed.

I’ve had my eye on them for a few months, since they were mentioned on Seth‘s blog. Funnily enough, I can’t find the post where he initially linked to them.

I received notification this morning, Brisbane time, that a new shirt was due to go onsale later that afternoon. I set a reminder in my calendar and went about my business for the rest of the day.

At 4pm, I logged onto the site and found that their 100-item cart showed that no shirts had been bought. Weird. I proceeded to checkout and received order confirmation of my longsleeve shirt, which cost US$11 including postage. Sweet.

Except that their shopping cart and database broke, and 76 users thought they’d snapped up shirts for a dollar or two. Whoops.

This potentially painful ordeal was handled brilliantly by Wade, 200 Nipples’ founder. He replaced the storefront with a temporary ‘out of order’ page and kept hundreds of repeatedly-refreshing users in the loop by updating two blog posts.

A couple of dozen users chatted amongst ourselves in the comments sections until Wade initiated a ‘do over’at 4.30pm. Best of all, Wade defused the fiscal situation by creating and publishing a 33%-off coupon, which was valid for an hour. 

Shirts 1-30 were snapped up in minutes, but I snagged #11 for US$11.

200_nipples_intrusion

This year, Seth’s all about tribes. He posits – bolding mine:

Tribe management is a whole different way of looking at the world.

It starts with permission, the understanding that the real asset most organizations can build isn’t an amorphous brand but is in fact the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.

It adds to that the fact that what people really want is the ability to connect to each other, not to companies. So the permission is used to build a tribe, to build people who want to hear from the company because it helps them connect, it helps them find each other, it gives them a story to tell and something to talk about.

At a guess, Wade’s tribe numbers in the low hundreds right now. His tribe was brought closer together today, by sharing a disruptive experience that was elegantly and openly managed. 

We ended up taking a $150+ hit on the coupon code, but that’s OK. Above all else, we always want to deliver a good experience to you, the users of the site. The overwhelming majority of our customers were very cool about it. Thanks so much for your understanding.

Perfect. This is the kind of experience that gives Wade’s tribe a story to tell and something to talk about. You can bet I’m going to tell this story to everyone who asks about my long-sleeved shirt.. which mightn’t be worn for months, since it’s almost summertime in Australia.

200_nipples_intrusion_guy

Tribes is a great concept and a book that I look forward to reading. 200 Nipples is an example of gathering a tribe around a niche concept – attractive, limited, (potentially) cheap shirts – and today, a great example of masterful tribe management.

June 8, 2008

Always-On

Posted in Web tagged , , , , at 12:30 am by Andrew McMillen

Seth describes a world whose eyes and ears are synchronised via technology:

So, very soon, you will own a cell phone that has a very good camera and knows where you are within ten or fifteen feet. And the web will know who you are and who your friends are…. This is going to happen. The only question is whether you are one of the people who will make it happen. I guess there’s an even bigger question: will we do it right?

Complete connectivity is difficult to imagine. I understand the principles of the notion, but my thoughts remain firmly grounded by its logistics.

Speaking locally, the biggest barrier to overcome when discussing an always-on world is the price of data transmission.

I can’t see this barrier being lowered in the near future. It’s unfortunate. Australia has always been behind in terms of broadband cost and speed. ISP policy has traditionally placed harsh restrictions on bandwidth, too.

The effect that these data limitations have had on Australia’s web economy are obvious. It’s frustrating to read about US-based technological advancements while using an internet infrastructure that’s at least five years behind.

Phone-streaming services like Qik are financially unfeasible in the current data climate. My recent research into internet plans for a phone upgrade confirms this. Until the price of data transmission lowers, there’s little point in such an investment. The always-on notion is admirable, but out of Australian grasp for the foreseeable future.

June 7, 2008

Openness

Posted in Web tagged , , , at 10:15 pm by Andrew McMillen

While writing about the new architecture of news, I came across Upendra Shardanand’s blog.

I found his writing on the subject enlightening and enjoyable. I went to subscribe, but there was no subscribe link.

I went to email him about this omission, but there was no content in his about section.

His blog linked to his Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, though. The latter reveals that he’s worked for AOL Time Warner and Microsoft. He’s the founder and CEO of Daylife.

My initial goal was to subscribe to his blog. Though he didn’t assist with this process, my goal was easily achieved through manual entry into my reader. That’s not my point.

If you’ve got a captive and willing audience, why make them jump through a bunch of hoops to achieve their desired outcome?

Conversation and interaction are achieved through making these two outcomes easily achievable by your audience. I desire both, which is why my contact details and subscription link are immediately visible to visitors.

Of course, Upendra might have chosen to omit these outcomes. If that’s the case, I’d like to know why he’s opposed to openness.

The New Architecture Of News

Posted in Web tagged , , at 9:41 pm by Andrew McMillen

Jeff Jarvis writes about the idea of link layers within news stories, based upon blog etiquette:

…a new Golden Rule of Links in journalism — link unto others’ good stuff as you would have them link unto your good stuff.

I check ABC News often, wherever I am online. I consider their reporting the most credible and objective of the mainstream Australian news media. They tend to cut the bullshit and get to the heart of the matter succinctly. Few words are wasted.

It’s foolish to imagine that all of their reporters investigate and write original copy, though.

The only barriers between the present situation and superior navigation to news are habit and an unwillingness to adapt.

I’d happily embrace in-text linking to external sources. If news companies think that this would look tacky, they’re wrong. A link would save me the inevitable ctrl+T; ctrl+E; enter query. Furthermore, it’d show respect for their news-consuming audience.

To pretend that your news organisation is the sole carrier of a story is more than deceptive – it’s disrespectful to the intelligence of web users. The goal of web-based news services isn’t – well, shouldn’t be – to keep the user on their site. Initial content should provide a brief overview of the news story. Links should propel the user further down the rabbit hole of knowledge, if they so desire.

In an attention economy, taking my attention is stealing my money. That message, taken from a Bubblegeneration comment, is worth remembering.

When discussing online news, Jarvis is authoritative:

Cover what you do best. Link to the rest.

June 1, 2008

What don’t you know?

Posted in Web tagged , , , at 11:19 pm by Andrew McMillen

While chatting with a friend using MSN Messenger, I found myself about to ask a simple, specific question about an upcoming event. I stopped myself, because I realised that the answer was almost right in front of me.

All that I had to do was alt-tab; ctrl+E; enter query.

I’m embarrassed that I only just noticed this tendency of denying myself instant knowledge. Of relying on others to supply information that’s easily within my grasp. While I regularly use Google to define unfamiliar terms when reading, I’ve never consciously acknowledged this selfish habit when interacting with others.

This is less about creating an all-knowing facade than it is about about a desire to save time. By taking the initiative and informing myself of an unfamiliar term, I’m saving my friend the time it’d take them to explain. It’s futile to wish for this desire to be mutual: I’ve already realised that you should never hold others to your own standards.

This discussion presents an interesting dichotomy: increasingly, the question is changing from “what do you know?“, to “what don’t you know?”.

In an economy where information is free and search engine algorithms are constantly being refined, knowledge barriers are almost non-existent. This means that age is no longer an issue. It’s entirely possible that a dedicated 15 year-old – hell, a 12 year-old – could become one of the most knowledgeable individuals in the world in a particular topic; though, this notion has limitations in fields that require practical experience.

It’s heartening to see that some are realising the value of encouraging students to engage with social media. True world-changers are already engaging.

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