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 http://carphonewarehousehelpblog.wordpress.com. 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.

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Creating a clamour for Yammer

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: http://www.robwrites.com

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.

My three greatest sporting moments

These are the three greatest sporting moments I’ve seen in the flesh. They happened in three different sports, and they are each great for different reasons. But they were the kind of perfect moments where you feel privileged to be there – moments that make all the dross you’ve sat through the rest of the time seem completely worthwhile.

Andrew Flintoff bowls Jacques Kallis

England vs. South Africa at Edgbaston, 31 July 2008

kallisWatch the video

The highest quality sporting contest I’ve seen between the best two all-rounders of their generation. Kallis had looked different class from any other batsmen on show, Pietersen included*, and played the England attack as though he had all the time in the world. When Flintoff came on he’d already made a serene 50-odd.

But Fred bowled like a lunatic. He was lightning quick, nasty and skilful, and Kallis had to work to his utmost just to get near it. After a succession of play and misses and last-second jabs, Kallis was struck on the toe and England celebrated the LBW. But it wasn’t given and Flintoff was fuming.

Undeterred, he stalked back to his mark and unleashed a succession of fearsome deliveries that Kallis hardly saw. Eventually the South African was bowled by an unstoppable yorker that was through him before he could even twitch. Proper test cricket.

*Saying that, Pietersen did get 94 the next day, despite employing the left-handed sweep almost every other ball.

David Friio scores against QPR

Plymouth Argyle 2, QPR 0, Home Park, 24 April 2004

friioWatch the video

This was the kind of game you dream about. We were top, they were second. If we won we went up, almost certainly as champions. If we lost, there was a genuine chance Bristol City could catch us and condemn us to the play offs. What’s more, we’d lost our last two games, and seen our God-like manager Paul Sturrock depart to Southampton.

The game itself was unbearable – the tensest, most nervous, and, thanks to the BNP element of Argyle’s casual support, most vicious atmosphere of any game I’ve been to. Danny Dyer would have loved it.

For 80 minutes the two teams slugged it out until Mickey Evans rose from nowhere to head home a David Norris cross. The crowd went wild for a minute, and then settled back down for more anxious sentry duty. Only the odd terrified shout punctured the silence.

There then followed an absolutely horrific goalmouth scramble which went on for thirty seconds or more, the ball bouncing uncontrollably around our penalty area with at least four QPR players seeming to miss open goals. Eventually, Argyle centre half Graham Coughlan stretched out from the prone position to side-foot the ball into touch from inside his own six yard box. The roar that followed this fluffed clearance was greater than that which greeted Evans’ goal. It was that kind of game.

And then suddenly David Friio was one-on-one with the QPR keeper and he scored and he ran into the Devonport End and we were up. Relief. Elation. The perfect end to an appalling afternoon.

Fred Lewis homers off Scott Feldman

Texas Rangers 4, San Francisco Giants 6, AT&T Park, 19 June 2009

lewisWatch the video

When we went to see the Giants last month, I insisted we get tickets in the bleachers on the off chance we’d see a home run hit into McCovey Cove. I didn’t know much about baseball in San Francisco, but I had seen endless footage of Barry Bonds blasting the ball over the right-field wall and into the Pacific Ocean.

Initially, things went badly. We could only get tickets in left-field, not right-field, and the San Francisco summer was living up to Mark Twain’s scathing review. The situation worsened further when Will, who was accompanying me, looked at the board on the right-field wall and saw 48 balls had already been hit into McCovey Cove that season. The chances of it happening again must be fairly be good, he reasoned. He was less-impressed when I told him that 48 was actually the all-time figure.

Frozen by an icy ocean wind, we headed for more sheltered accommodation and were delighted to find we could stand in the relative warmth of the right-field bleachers. The San Francisco crowd were buoyant, 300 game winner Randy Johnson was pitching solidly, and the Giants were well in the game.

And then Fred Lewis drilled one onto the right field wall, about 15-yards from where we were standing (on the video I’m wearing a grey jumper, at the very bottom of the screen).

Admittedly the ball bounced first, so it doesn’t count in the records as a McCovey Cove home run. But it still went in the ocean, and I still got to see the man in the canoe paddle over to collect the ball, just as I’d planned. And when you’re watching live sport, it’s very rare that a moment comes together as perfectly as you’d hoped it would.

Reach for the stars

Stars

I’ve just added a ratings option to my blog so you can tell me how great I am with one click. I would have done it sooner, but I’ve only just worked out how to turn on. All you need to do is click on the comments section of a post and mark it out of five stars.

Having done this, I thought it would be a good idea to go through what I’ve blogged so far and grade each post myself. Re-reading yourself tends to be pretty sobering, as the gulf between your rose-tinted recollection of your writing and its actual quality usually becomes apparent quite swiftly. Luckily, my own opinion of myself  is so high that there’s a fair bit of leeway.

What it did make me realise is that when it comes to blogging, shorter is almost always better. Nobody wants to read more than sixty seconds of anyone elses witterings. So I’ll stop.

Niche phrases the key to keywords

Key

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 ezinearticles.com.
  • 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.

Simpsons plot Jacko downfall

Sideshow Bob

This is hardly a ground breaking thing to say, but The Simpsons is very good. This evening, Sky showed a particularly prescient episode called Funeral for a Fiend in which Sideshow Bob fakes his own death. The death of the ’10-time attempted murderer’ causes a mass outpouring of grief and leads to a huge celebrity funeral. 

The highlight of the funeral is when Krusty the Clown sits at the piano to sing a song that sounds suspiciously like Candle in the Wind. The chorus goes:

“And it seems to me that your loyal fans
Oughta buy this DVD
Of all your best-loved sketches
From The Krusty Show

I’m not going to discuss the rights and wrongs of cashing in on the Prince of Pop’s death. I’m sure he’d have wanted it this way. But corporate grief is big business these days. And the more TV shows that point out how increasingly engineered it’s becoming, the better.