Author Archive for Mike Evans


Video killed the….majority?

Considering that in the weeks before the election the Liberal Democrat Party were lagging severely behind both the then ruling Labour Party and the Conservative Party, it is almost shocking to discover that they are now sitting alongside the Conservative Party in a coalition government. This is despite the fact that they actually lost seats during this election campaign. Somehow Nick Clegg seems to have wormed his way into the nation’s hearts, but how? The answer, that antiquated form of entertainment…the television.

In the US, televised debates between political leaders before an election have been commonplace for many years, but the idea was only recently adopted in the UK. The reason for this was quite simple, the British people were bored and uninspired with their politics. During the 2005 general election, the public’s interest in politics was at an all time low, with less than half the population even bothering to vote. The situation had to be remedied.

So, to revitalise the general public’s interest in politics and rectify the situation, it was decided that for the 2010 general election three televised debates would be set up, each focussing on a key theme, domestic affairs, foreign affairs and economic affairs. To ensure fairness, they would include all three party leaders and be broadcast across the UK’s three major networks, ITV, Sky and the BBC.

As the person representing the party with the lowest majority, Nick Clegg had nothing to lose and everything to gain. So, where David Cameron and Gordon Brown were hesitant or unclear with their opinions, Nick Clegg took a different route, showing remarkable accessibility. Following the first debate, Clegg’s public profile increased enormously, and the Liberal Democrat’s position in the opinion polls skyrocketed, to the extent that some newspapers were predicting a Liberal Democrat victory.

However, as the other debates would show, support for Clegg would eventually wane as the other leaders arguments became stronger. Following the third and final debate, just a week before the election, it appeared that all three parties were within a hairs breath of each other. It was clear this was going to be down to the wire.

In the end, this resulted in a hung parliament, which resolved itself as the Conservative Party (who won the largest amount of seats) and the Liberal Democrats entered into coalition. The televised debates however, had been a massive success. They had succeeded in providing a platform for all the major parties to put their views across directly to the public. The close result bears testament to the fact that a much larger percentage of the UK’s population came out to vote in 2010. It appears the public’s political flame has been reignited, lets hope that continues.


Expecting fireworks?

The United Kingdom is currently in the grip of what is arguably its most important election for 25 years. The main three parties are a divided bunch. The Labour party, the UK’s current leaders, led by Gordon Brown are currently languishing 3rd in the polls. Then theres the Conservatives the official opposition, led by David Cameron. And finally, last but certainly not least are the dark horse’s of this election, the Liberal Democrats, led by Nick Clegg, and currently leading Labour in the polls, seemingly to the entire countries surprise. 

Now, I could go on about policies, but that is not the aim of this piece. I want to talk about how each party is utilising social media to further the message of their campaigns. Over the past week, I have been following each of the political parties, via their official Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, as well as through the general wider media channels, and it has to be said….nothing has happened.

Im disappointed by this, after all this is the 21st century and what easier way to communicate with the populace at large than by using the power of the 21st centuries greatest tool, the internet. I was expecting vast online debates, political mudslinging and smear campaigns from all sides. But nothing has occurred, at least nothing controversial. Even in the face of Gordon Browns “Bigotgate” not a derogatory word has been uttered from the official party Twitter feeds and Facebook pages.

The televised political debates have overshadowed the web, as all the ‘dirty laundry‘ of the campaigns appears to have been aired live on air, so why bother repeating it online? The public are much more hungry to see a fierce, visceral, verbal and live debate between the party leaders, than just an idle, sniping tweet or comment.

The sad truth of the matter is we were expecting fireworks and have been given a sparkler. The main reason for this is that the election race is currently so close that the main parties are unwilling to compromise the overall scope of their campaigns for the sake of scoring some cheap political points. The risk, and margin for error are just far too high at this late stage.

That said with the final debate due to be broadcast tonight, it will be interesting to see if in the week between the broadcast, and election day, any final shots are hurled online. The internet may yet have a role to play, only time will tell….


“That was a disaster”

Well, it was his words not mine…. Gordon Brown appears to have today been caught in what must surely be the political cock-up of his premiership. Forget the usual parliamentary skullduggery, no this comes down to a simple mistake, a microphone left on.

When Mr Brown awoke this morning I am willing to bet he had no idea that such a bad day lay before him, and frankly the day began well. When Gordon got to Rochdale, he engaged in a ‘friendly chat’ with some local voters, one of whom was 65 year old retiree Gillian Duffy, a lifelong Labour supporter. She grilled the PM, not unfairly it must be added, on issues such as taxes, pensions and immigration – issues that mattered to her. The debate seemed fair and balanced, with both sides putting forward valid arguments. That is until Gordon Brown departed the scene. Upon setting foot inside his Jaguar campaign car, he immediately labeled the exchange a “disaster”, before going on to launch an angry attack on both Gillian Duffy, labeling her a “bigot”; and his staff, for allowing her to speak to him.

What Gordon Brown evidently did not know is that the lapel microphone he was wearing (which incidently his own party had insisted upon) was still on, and broadcasting exactly what he was saying live and direct to Sky News. Matters weren’t exactly helped when about half an hour later he appeared on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show to talk about the incident, only to not know he was also being filmed. Whilst Brown may have been trying to sound optimistic, the visual showed a defeated, tired and broken figure, clearly frustrated by the day’s events.

As I write this, Mr Brown has just emerged from within Gillian Duffy’s house, possibly after being on his knees begging for forgiveness: after all, this is an election campaign.

I am at least slightly impressed that both he and the Labour party in general have managed to turn this incident around from occurrence to personal visit and apology in under four hours.

That said, he really should have known better. The other candidates, and their parties, will no doubt be watching this with great interest for the obvious political benefit it will give them, but also no doubt be breathing a sigh of relief that they didn’t make the same mistake themselves.

PR Lesson No. 1, Mr Brown – the mic is always on. Yes, you thought you were in private, and yes, you’re entitled to your opinion – but the mic was attached (which your probably by now ex-press secretary should have told you). And when it’s attached, it’s always on – especially if you want to call one of your voters a ‘bigot’.


Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Censorship of the Internet in China

With a rapidly growing economy and a population of over 1.3 billion people, you could be forgiven for assuming that China would have embraced the world wide web and all the possibilities that it has to offer. However it is not quite as simple as that. As the world’s only remaining communist superpower, China by its very nature has to maintain some level of isolation, particularly from outside influence. China has a long and notorious history (at least under communist rule) of repressing its population and limiting their access to information.

For the Chinese then, the internet remains an almost constant problem. On the one hand they have a platform that can be easily manipulated, is reasonably accessible and could be used very effectively in spreading the party line. On the other hand, other people’s views, opinions and doctrines can also be easily accessed. So, what to do? The situation is obviously a delicate one, and not only for the Chinese authorities, large multinational sites, particularly social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are finding the situation difficult too. From their viewpoint, China offers an enormous market, but they have to jump through many political hoops in order to reach it.

The difficulty of this situation is that everyone involved is stuck between a rock and a hard place. For their part the Chinese authorities have done the best they can to restrict access to political, sexual and opinion orientated sites by blocking them by means of the so called “Great Firewall of China”. To add further ‘security’, China operates the most comprehensive internet monitoring in the world. They employ an estimated 30,000 people in their online ‘police force’.

However they have had to adapt to certain pressures, just as they had to adapt their form of Communism to incorporate certain capitalist elements to ensure financial gain and counteract trade isolation. They have equally had to accept that, at least in certain instances, their security measures have been breached: the internet is simply too vast for China to be completely impregnable to its influence.

It doesn’t stop them trying though.

To gain access to China as a marketplace many Western websites and suppliers have had to make major compromises. The restrictions on personal web freedom that China enforces would be unacceptable to many of these companies elsewhere. But the size of the market is undeniable. The simple fact of the matter is that China as a nation is unwilling to alter its harsh stance towards the internet, for fear of its citizens accessing ‘morally corrupt’ political and pornographic sites. This in turn forces websites and suppliers alike to compromise.

What the Chinese people want is another matter entirely, although it appears that at least a small proportion are opposed to such rigid legislation of their freedoms. In any case, until the Chinese government is prepared to change its stance, the situation will is unlikely to change.


Social media needs us as much as we need social media

Isn’t it amazing how far we’ve come? I mean, from an objective perspective, considering the many thousands of years that humankind has inhabited the Earth, one hundred years is an incredibly short amount of time. Yet, in the past century, we have moved from traveling by ship, wearing suits made by a local tailor and communicating by mail to traveling by air, wearing t-shirts made in Korea and communicating via the web on a global scale. 

The world has definitely become smaller – and the thanks for this goes not to the jet engine, but to the internet and in particular, to social media. Websites like Facebook, Twitter, and the like have taken communication truly global, to the point where for many people, it would be hard to imagine living without it. The reach of these websites is unprecedented. Never before has a website gone from being just that – a website – to being a way of life.

Proof of this abounds. I know several friends who are seemingly intravenously attached to their Facebook/Twitter/MySpace account be it through a Mac, PC or phone at almost all hours. This alone speaks volumes, but social media has begun to become far more integrated into our lives than anyone could have imagined. For instance, relationships, rather than being a purely physical exercise are now played out over social media, jobs are obtained and lost, financial decisions made, it truly is wondrous how a website has seamlessly become an essential part of daily existence.

But what are the websites themselves gaining from our ‘custom’? After all, the vast majority of sites offer their services for free. The answer is simple, information. It is seemingly human nature to keep personal details close to the chest – if a stranger walked up to you and asked what your name or your phone number was, would you give them it? Almost everybody would not, however it is staggering how much of this type of information is readily available through social media, and how much people are willing to give it away.

However, your information is a big commodity. Sites such as Facebook, Myspace and Google can quite legally collect and pass on this information to other companies, therefore helping them to help you. What this basically means is that it enables the online advertising you see to be tailored to your individual tastes which in turn increase the likelihood that you will get your credit card out and spend some money with the advertiser in question.

Social media needs us as much as we need social media. The reasons for this are simple, social media websites would not function without advertising as it drives their revenue, however the advertisers use the information from the social media platforms to enhance their chance of making a sale. Conversely, we the public have become so reliant on social media to communicate that we simply have to use it in almost all cases daily, therefore meaning we have to also view the adverts placed there.


Banning your spokespeople from direct engagement: What football needs to learn

Manchester United, the world’s largest and most financially successful football club, has come under fire in recent weeks for tightening its public relations policy, particularly in regard to direct player/media relations. In real-world terms, this basically means that as a club, Manchester United are restricting, or completely eradicating their players’ social media activity.

Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher all had high profile and regularly active Twitter accounts, and whilst nothing particularly revelatory was gleaned from these by the worlds media, they were nevertheless shut down.

Manchester United even went as far as drafting a statement that simply read:

 “The club wishes to make it clear that no Manchester United players maintain personal profiles on social networking websites. Fans encountering any web pages purporting to be written by United players should treat them with extreme scepticism.”

This only added to the suspicion that the club itself had acted to restrict its own players freewill. Of course, at this point it must be asked – What spooked Manchester United enough to carry out this rather extreme action?

The answer to that lies with Sunderland United and England Striker, Darren Bent. In July 2009, Bent was negotiating a transfer from his then-club Tottenham Hotspur to Sunderland United. During these negotiations, Bent used his Twitter account to criticise Tottenham’s chairman. Daniel Levy for delaying the process, as well as openly tweeting to his followers the exact details of the negotiations. Bent eventually signed for £10million.

Larger clubs, however, took note. Manchester United’s management chose to take the action of effectively gagging all of its players, by insisting that they delete their various official Twitter and Facebook profiles so that it could handle effectively control its PR message.

But maybe they’ve missed a trick here. From a business perspective the club may have done the right thing, rather than let an individual potentially (even unwittingly) reveal the clubs inner workings and secrets. They have taken the matter into their own hands. To the outside world, this move appears like an overreaction and seems intrusive, as it is taking away an individuals’ right to express their opinion by denying them access to that platform. The club should have instead taken over and maintained these accounts, or simply vetted them. That way to, the outside world, their presence is maintained, but it is managed internally.

Some would say that this could be seen as misleading, but I would say that it is simply good business. If anything, the recent events surrounding Chelsea and England defender John Terry have shown that football and indeed all high profile sports teams now more than ever need to manage the PR presence of their stars, because letting them manage their own affairs, could seriously damage their own reputation.


Are eReaders the new MP3’s?

How DRM can guarantee a short term windfall at the cost of a long term business model

The first ten years of the 21st century have given birth to some truly remarkable technological advances for the home: the iPod, hybrid and electronic vehicles, and…the eReader?

The eReader sits in a very odd place. Not quite a computer, not quite an iPod/MP3 player, it also completely divides the opinion of the buying public. Worldwide the reception has been muted, but in America the public have taken to it in droves. On the whole, however, sales figures continue to rise. 

The issue of DRM (Digital Rights Management) becomes key here. Digital Rights Management is a company’s attempt to control a market place through ‘locking down’ the opportunities afforded on its platform. The best example of this is Apple’s use of the iTunes during the iPod’s rise to prominence.

Originally any music downloaded from the iTunes store could only be played on / transferred to an Apple iPod. That basically meant that you could only use an iPod if you had a copy of iTunes, and likewise, music bought through iTunes would not work with any other MP3 player.

This, of course, throws up many issues, particularly regarding certain rights and freedoms. However, for the manufacturer it is time to cash in the cheque. For a limited amount of time, before public pressure amounts to a point where they have to allow a free movement of information, they can basically hold the public to ransom over the use of their product.

This played into the hands of Apple upon the release of the iPod, but more recently has played directly into the hands of an unlikely source…

Best known for their über-successful online book/films/music store, in recent years has branched out into producing an eReader, the Kindle, which has preceded to dominate the market since it was first released in November 2007.

From the beginning, Amazon employed DRM policies on this product, making it impossible for the buying public to utilise the product with anything other than, thus making the absolute maximum amount of revenue from the product. eBooks bought through the Kindle cannot be transferred to another mobile device.

Digital Rights Management, originally used to tackle piracy, has now evolved into a platform that maximises on customer buy-in to a single product. That problematic fact remains that it limits the freedom a consumer enjoys with a product they have paid for.

The Kindle is an unfortunate example of how all of this can go wrong: Amazon withdrew copies of the George Orwell’s classic, ‘1984’, from their customer’s Kindles. What’s more, they did this remotely. Amazon did refund the purchase, but the item was removed without the user’s consent. How very Orwellian.

Cases like the Kindle and iPod clearly show the advantage of utilising DRM policies over a product upon release. It guarantees revenue, and does not break any competition laws all whilst simultaneously giving the manufacturer a clear advantage over their rivals. Provided, that is, that the product is a strong seller. However the public remain to be convinced, particularly in light of Amazon’s use of DRM policies.

As for the Kindle? Well, time will tell as to how ultimately successful Amazon’s product is, the initial uptake has been slow, but is steadily rising. However, employing DRM as they do can only last for a limited time, and Amazon’s time to recoup their development costs is, with the product already on the market for over two years, rapidly running out. 

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