Category Archives: Social media and the web

Once, I too was a blogger…

PenI’ve reached that stage that most bloggers seem to get to. The stage where they realise that writing a new blog every few days is pretty hard work, and give up. 

This lack of self-discipline is pretty disappointing, but I can console myself with the fact that not I’m not the first blogger this has happened to. What I’m planning to do now is to concentrate on quality, not quantity, and write a few decent posts each month, rather than kidding anyone that I’m the kind of blogging king who’s going to be knocking out three posts a day. 

So keep checking back for more thrilling insights into the glamorous world of this hard-living, rule-breaking, self-deluding copywriter. Just don’t check back too often.


Lily Allen, the Ashes, Twitter and the big fight

agnewAmongst all the post-Ashes euphoria, it’s been easy to miss the feud that’s developed between Test Match Special commentator Jonathan Agnew and Observer sports writer Will Buckley. As it all revolves around Lily Allen it’s pretty interesting. What makes it very interesting is how important Twitter has been in fuelling it.

The spat started when Buckley wrote a comment piece about Agnew’s interview with Allen on Saturday. You can read the piece for yourself, but the long and short of it is that Buckley described Agnew’s interview technique as “firmly on the pervy side of things.”

Agnew took offence at being labelled a ‘pervert’ (though strictly speaking that’s not true), and demanded an apology from Buckley. With an apology unforthcoming, he then used Twitter to launch a viral campaign against his tormentor:

“I gave Will Buckley 24 hrs to apologise for calling me a pervert, and he has declined. If you feel moved by this….

“his boss is”

The background to the whole story is that Agnew has spent the summer delivering potted updates from the Ashes on Twitter. When Allen mentioned she was watching the cricket in one of her own Twitter posts, Agnew invited her to appear on A View from the boundary. Her upcoming appearance then became Twitter’s worst kept secret as she Tweeted about the attractiveness of Graham Onions, Stuart Broad and anyone else who owns a thigh-pad.

The interview itself featured Agnew playing up his love-struck schoolboy act and asking lots of questions that weren’t entirely about cricket. It was exactly what you’d expect of an interview between a middle-aged cricket correspondent, and a 24-year-old pop star who had only recently started watching the game.

I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of the interview or of Buckley’s article, but I will say that the interview was entirely harmless and that most people seemed to enjoy it. Buckley then wrote it up using language that was probably more inflammatory than was wise. However, I don’t see Buckley’s article as a personal attack – it was meant to be funny, and it only really exaggerated a persona that Agnew himself had adopted during the interview.

What has been astonishing though is the reaction of the Twitter community to Buckley’s piece. At the last count 235 people had left mostly negative comments on the Observer website, and Agnew’s Twitter feed has been inundated with messages of support.

But interestingly, the article itself isn’t the only thing Buckley has done to cause offence. The Twitter community seems to have taken umbrage with Buckley because he hadn’t bothered to find out the back-story of how Allen and Agnew had regularly sent each other Tweets before the show.

Agnew is on Twitter, and has won the hearts of the community by answering their questions and taking part. As Buckley isn’t on Twitter (as far as anyone knows), there seems to be a general feeling that he shouldn’t be attacking one of Twitter’s best beloved. Here are just a couple of posters on the first page of Buckley’s comments section:

“It’s terrible when a story like this is written when the author doesn’t know or understand the background. Everyone who regularly follows TMS and @aggerscricket would know how Aggers (and Tuffers and David Lloyd) has built up this interview for the last week.”

“As regards Buckley’s piece above, it is a nasty, jealous dig typical of journalists who are scared that Twitter and Web 2.0 will put them out of a job.”

Which just goes to show the power that Twitter has at the moment. If such a groundswell of opinion can be generated by some fairly harmless remarks, imagine what could happen if something serious was to occur. Not being on Twitter to take part in the conversation seems – in some Twitter users’ eyes – to be a serious offence, and one that renders non-participants unworthy of even expressing an opinion.

This is probably because everyone likes to feel part of something, and once they do they’ll angrily pounce on anyone who attacks one of their crew. This is clearly a massive over-reaction from the Twitterati, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

So watch out – Twitter is powerful, and it’s very easily offended.

Blogging for Carphone

Carphone blog

I’ve been very bad at updating this blog recently. This is partly because I’ve been out on the tear quite a bit, but it can also be put down to the fact that I’ve been doing a fair bit of writing for the new help blog we’ve started at Carphone Warehouse.

We’ve been making a big effort to embrace social media at Carphone recently, and a blog has been on our ‘to do’ list for a while. We like the way a blog allows us to talk to our customers less formally than usual, and the way it lets us react to company and technology news within a matter of minutes.

So if you’re missing my posts here (fat chance), check out my contributions at the snappily URLed I wrote a blog today about last night’s Dragons’ Den, and there’s also one about recycling if you’re interested in doing something worthwhile with an old mobile phone.

And I will endeavour to update this blog more often next week. There’s a big investigative journalism piece about kebab shops coming soon, so watch out for that.

Creating a clamour for Yammer

We introduced Yammer at Carphone Warehouse a few months ago. If you’re not familiar with Yammer, it’s a bit like Twitter, but open only to people within a certain company – read more what it does here. We’re hoping it will help people in different parts of the business share knowledge and news more easily, and get them to answer each others’ questions when someone gets stuck.

More than 350 people from across the business have now signed up. Most of them work in our contact centres, but there’s also a healthy representation from our stores, operations teams, and senior management. The problem we’ve found is that while getting people to join is easy, getting them to actually log on and chat is more complicated. Ours is not a captive audience, and people are only going to get involved in conversations if they’re sure it will save them time and help solve their problems.

So recently we’ve been trying to demonstrate the usefulness of Yammer and encourage people to take the plunge and get involved. Here’s what we’ve done create a clamour for Yammer so far:

Word of mouth

This has been by far the most effective way of getting users on board. Initially we didn’t communicate the existence of Yammer through official channels at all – we just told a few people and let the message spread organically. No one likes to feel left out of something new, and a small but enthusiastic community was quickly built up.

Answering people’s questions

We’re selling Yammer as a place where people can find an answer quickly, which makes it important that someone responds when people do come on to ask something. Luckily our team (the Knowledge Management team) has good contacts throughout the business who can help provide these answers.

So we’ve made a big effort to have a constant presence on Yammer, pointing people in the right direction and generally keeping the conversation going. Though we don’t want this to be a permanent situation (Yammer is supposed to save time!) it’s been vital in kicking things off and selling the concept to sceptical first-timers.

Promoting the benefits

We’ve introduced a ‘Question (and answer) of the week’ section to the weekly newsletter we send out around the business. This shows people that Yammer can be useful, and encourages them to come on to post their own query. It’s been amazing how many new questions we get just after the newsletter goes out on a Wednesday afternoon!

Out-and-out bribery

Despite having a budget of nothing, we’ve also had success with organising silly competitions to get people involved. Our first competition encouraged people to post ‘interesting’ profile pictures to win an ‘interesting’ prize. Uploading a profile picture forces people to log on and look around, helps give a personality to a lot of faceless names, and removed the pressure for people to join a conversation right away.

Even though the first prize was just a Frisbee I found at the bottom of my desk, lots of people entered and more than 500 voted for their favourite picture. I’m not sure what our next competition will be yet, though the good people at @yammer have agreed to send us a prize. If you’ve got any ideas, please let me know.

Rob writes

Untitled-2 copyAs the eagle-eyed may have spotted, my blog has a new address:

It kind of sums up the stuff that goes on on here, and it was only £9 for a year.

So from now on, Rob’s blog will be known as Rob writes. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you to add it to your favourites.

The site will hopefully get a bit of a makeover in the not-too-distant future as well, so watch out for that. Exciting times indeed.

Niche phrases the key to keywords


Regular readers may recall that a couple of months ago I was experimenting with techniques to improve my blog’s position in Google search results. It’s a process called search engine optimisation, for those of you who aren’t one of the internet’s 4.5 billion SEO ‘experts’.

To recap, my efforts amounted to:

  • Posting articles with links to my blog on affiliate sites like
  • Getting my site indexed so Google knew I existed.
  • Stuffing articles full of ‘search keywords’ that I’d arbitrarily selected during 30-second fits of whimsy.

Early results weren’t promising. In fact I’d say my first month’s work was about as futile as the time I was told the way to any girl’s heart was the chat up line: ‘What’s your middle name? Mine’s Wesley, it can’t be any worse than that.’

Eventually the internet’s version of the desperate minger threw me a bone, as I rather over-excitedly revealed in this post. My blog about playing football at school had caught the attention of the search engines, and the search term ‘what are the rules of middle school football’ brought me a visitor.

At the time I attributed the success to finally getting my site indexed by Google, and results since then seem to back this up. Since this formative victory, traffic from search engines has gradually increased, to the point where I now get about a dozen visitors a day from Google and its less celebrated colleagues.

What is interesting is the type of searches that are bringing me visitors. As a copywriter, I had tried putting lots of copywriting ‘keywords’ into some posts – words people would type when looking for this website like ‘copywriter,’ ‘writer,’ ‘words’ etc.

But these had absolutely no effect – they’re already taken by bigger and more established websites. As an experiment I tagged the post below this one with Michael Jackson, to see if his posthumous popularity would bring me any readers. It didn’t – though people are searching for MJ, they’re being sent to far more popular sites than this one.

What has been successful is the unusual phrases I’d unwittingly included in my blogs. Here’s just a few of the subjects Google considers me an expert in:

  • ‘Libertie, egalitie, fraternity’ – included here
  • ‘Most boring tweets’ – included here
  • ‘Cockney baiting’ – included here
  • ‘Internet paedophiles’ – this was a worry. But the phrase is in this post about the worst date ever

So what have I learnt? I guess the main thing is that if you’re looking to increase traffic to a site, you need to find yourself a niche you can make your own. I’ve also learnt that the niche you end up getting is often not the one you thought you would. Finally, I’ve learnt that SEO is a strange mistress, and that if you are looking for a mistress, you’re probably better off sticking to the ladies. Just don’t tell them your middle name is Wesley.

What a difference a word makes


Copywriting is all in the detail. On the homepage we have a link that takes customers to our help section. Deciding what to call this link didn’t seem like a particularly big deal – we talked about ‘Help’ and ‘Help and Support’ but eventually settled on the former because we thought it was cleaner and more to the point.

As an experiment, we switched it to ‘Help and Support’ last week to see if it would encourage more people to click. It shouldn’t have made much of a difference, but in fact clicks on that link have tripled.

Whether this is because the new link takes up more space and is easier to find, or whether people associate ‘Help and Support’ with a website’s help section more readily is debatable. It’s probably a bit of both. But it does show the difference that one word can make.