Social Media Book Club

Quite a while back now I used to participate in an informal gathering at my University called ‘Creative Industries Book Club‘. It was at a time when I was seconded elsewhere and wasn’t really part of the academic set up so it came as light relief to be discussing ideas rather than business cases.

The club got subsumed into a more general research afternoon but I use the idea of a book club as part of my teaching on the MA Social Media I lead. This blog post isn’t to theorise the pedagogy of the book club but just to note that it seems to work and usefully indicates to students that discussing texts doesn’t have to just happen in the classroom.

Here’s the blurb given to students on their first week with us:
As part of your reading for this course you are being asked to read all of David Gauntlett’s book called ‘Making is Connecting’ (available from Amazon and in most bookshops).

You will need to read it by 9th November 2011 as this is the date on which you are being asked to organise a book club to discuss the book. This entails meeting in a public place such as a coffee shop and discussing the book amongst yourselves and with any interested members of the public who may wish to participate.

  • Choose a venue/time on 9th November that enables others interested in the article to attend (perhaps a lunchtime or late afternoon. There will be no class this week)
  • Create a blog post to advertise the event and identify some initial key questions.
  • This is your event for which you are responsible.

And with that the students are on their own (I don’t even attend the event itself). The results this year were particularly pleasing and below are some links to resources created as a result of the event. I may need to think through how I get my distance learners to participate in the event itself but for this year they created excellent short videos to be shown on the day. Many thanks to David Gauntlett, author of our chosen book, for his engagement throughout the build-up to the event.

Claire’s video response to the book file

Jeff’s video response to the book file
Isaac’s video

Blog posts:
Isaac’s blog post about the book
Dorota’s blog post on the book club

Dorota’s pictures from the book club

A bit more about Teaching Social Media

I’ll try not to go on about it too much but as a follow-up to my previous post (about Teaching Social Media) I thought I’d share a video that one of my distance learning students put together as part of his engagement with the MA Social Media. I share it because it’s a good example of what a distance learning student on the course might be asked to do and I don’t want you to think (based on the last post) that it’s all, y’know, a bit too ‘theory’.

So, here’s Jeff Sage, a full-time distance learner who lives in Canada where he runs a communications consultancy. He’s responding to a task about how/why he might set up a Social Media Surgery in his hometown. It comes on the back of a talk the students had from the fab Nick Booth.

Specifically the task was:

“This week I would like the distance learning students to reflect on the talk by Nick Booth and consider how you might go about setting up a social media surgery in your own town. What would your strategy be? Have a read of Nick Booth’s ‘recipe’ list as a starting point.

Your response should be a short (5-10 mins) video that tells us the following:

  • What’s your town like? – rich? poor? digitally deprived??
  • Is there a way to connect to voluntary groups and community organisations (an umbrella organisation of some sort)?
  • How would you go about connecting to other digitally minded folk to persuade them to help set up a surgery?
  • What’s stopping you doing this?”

Enjoy Jeff’s response about London, Ontario:

(BTW, the other D/L students gave terrific responses as well, about Cologne and Geneva, but it’s Jeff’s manner that particularly makes me smile a lot)

Teaching Social Media

As you may know I lead a Masters Degree in Social Media. Often, some wag will say ‘is that just about learning how to use twitter then?’. I get less of it now than I used to but it’s a tad tiresome nonetheless. So, I thought I’d post up some content to give a glimpse of the kind of thing we do cover.

We have a distance learning version of the course running for the first time this year, the content for which comes through the university’s virtual learning environment (we use Moodle) but also via a podcast channel. So the video below is also an example of the kind of content that distance learners will get. Sometimes it’ll be bite-sized and recorded from Dave’s lounge; other times it’ll be a longer recording of a lecture given in class.

The video I’m sharing is about a couple of tricky readings I had given the students. One was from Joss Hands, the other, Chris Atton. To support the students I created this short video of me going through a mindmap of the readings. In class we’d had talks from Nick Booth and Noha Atef so at times it tries to relate the concepts in the readings to their talks.

But the main reason to share this is to make it clear that we don’t talk about how to use twitter, we talk about marxism, about cultural studies, about becoming ‘scholarly practitioners‘:

As an aside I got a nice tweet back from one the authors, Joss Hands, when I shared the video with him.

“Twatted, which is the past tense of tweet”

Obviously this clip of Stewart Lee is well-watched by now but I put it here for three reasons.

The main one is that I’m curious with BBC embedded videos how long they stay online. I know that sounds a bit doubtful but I instinctively feel that a Youtube embed would always be there (or at least would be there up until the point a copyright owner noticed an infringement and took it down) but the BBC ones I feel might disappear at any moment given how some stuff seems to come and go on iPlayer. So I’ll check back now and again to see if it’s still around. Better than leaving it open in a browser window as it has been for about a month now.

[note – the BBC changed where they put it on their site and altered the embed code so I had to update this page in March 2016. I think it had been bust for a while before that]

Secondly, it starts with a terrific observation about Facebook user stats.

Thirdly, if you haven’t seen it then it’s funny, as is Stewart Lee. I saw him in Edinburgh last year while he was rehearsing the material for the series this is from and I laughed lots.

Social Media use in the West Midlands: some stats, some caution

A while back I wondered out loud if there was much research about social media use in regions or localities:


It got quite a bit of retweeting by both local goverment workers I know and by social media consultants, so it had a decent enough reach. Despite that I didn’t get a reply other than a couple saying they’d be interested themselves in the data if I found any. Of course that isn’t to say none exists, just people I know didnt have any to hand.

The reason I tweeted was twofold. Firstly I’d been looking at Dan Slee’s presentation that he gave at a national government IT event. Dan quotes quite a few stats around social media use as part of the rationale for using Social Media as part of his professional practice within a local authority. He makes this assertion:



I’m unsure of the source for the figures for facebook but presumably it’s extrapolated from the earlier quoted figure of 26 million facebook users nationally (now at 29.7m). The population of Walsall is 253,499 (2001 census). So whilst a third of the UK population uses Facebook, 88% of people in Walsall seem to use it.

That didn’t seem right.

My second reason for asking for local social media research was because I knew some was about to be completed for the West Midlands. An internal piece of research by Centro was looking at how to plan future media campaigns and how much note they should take of recent digital developments. So the research was to look at the correlation between public transport use and digital technology take-up.

My wife was key in putting the report together and she’s let me have a copy of it (PDF). Before we look at some findings let’s have some caveats although the survey is pretty confident so to speak. 2061 interviews were conducted across the West Midlands, a sample of this size has a margin of error of +/- 2.2% at a 95% confidence level. The data was weighted to each district (of which Walsall was one) so that the same number proportion were surveyed in Walsall as they were in Birmingham. Gender split was even, class split was even (to give it the lingo: ABC1s, well-off folk and C2DEs, poor folk).

  • Caveat 1: when you get to the districts the numbers are fairly low. In Walsall the sample was 207.
  • Caveat 2: Although the survey was to a quota (it tried to ask the same amount of young people as old people), that quota was for the region as a whole. So it may be that in the districts there’s a slight unevenness across age, gender and class.
  • Caveat 3: under 16s weren’t interviewed, they never are in these things.

Oh and you have to see past all the stuff about buses. In summary, young people and old people use buses and in general they are C2DEs. But onward. Here are some findings for the West Midlands Metropolitan County only about Social Media use:

  • Of those surveyed, 41% used Facebook weekly or more often, 21% used YouTube and 6% Twitter, 2% MySpace.
  • Younger respondents were the most regular users of social networking sites especially Facebook (83%, weekly).
  • Few respondents over the age of 44 used social network sites, this was particularly the case for the over 65’s (6%)
  • Men slightly outpaced women in all forms of use of the internet, while ABC1 use was more regular than C2DE
  • Females (42%, weekly) were slightly more regular Facebook users than males (39%, weekly) while male respondents were more likely than females to use Twitter (7%) and YouTube (25%).

But what about Walsall? That 88% figure? Well the ONS tell us that only 77% of West Midlands folk are internet users (Q1 2011 data .xls file, the stat is buried in table 2) compared to a national average of 82.2%. The Centro district info (caveats above) tells us that for Walsall the figure drops to 66% (poor old Sandwell is a mere 62%). Of that 66% (167,309 people), 54% use Facebook more than once a week. The upshot is, 36% of the entire population of Walsall, about 91,000 people, access Facebook more than once a week.

That’s a lot of people. It’s not 222,00 people, it’s less than half of that, but it’s still a lot. Further, they are predominantly young people. Indeed, across the West Midlands 83% of young people who access the internet use Facebook more than once a week.

So here’s my point. The figures stack up. They’re convincing in their own right and suggest that there’s a generation that is at ease with this technology across a range of devices. For Centro it actually creates a dilemma. Bus users are old and young – both ends of the digital divide. What to do? More cool digital stuff to keep the kids happy and attract more ABC1s out of their cars? What about the OAPs, of whom only 27% have internet access?

Centro’s marketing is now fairly informed. The headline figures used by Walsall seem uninformed – they’re over-extrapolated. And I worry about that. I worry that in local government there’s a tendency to want to create solutions ahead of doing the research. Research can be dull (I’m surprised you’re still reading), but it allows for targeted interventions. I wonder how much the sometimes very  cool social media activities produced within local gov (some listed here) amount to anything more than marketing exercises. Typical of me of course but I’d like to seem a more cautionary, better informed approach. Less of the quick wins, less of the gimmicks and more solutions that target the citizens you need to reach.

I was going to talk about twitter but it’s pretty much a minority activity  (of the 207 people surveyed in Walsall only 23 used and it’s very much for young, male, ABC1s). Also tweetathons and their benefits or otherwise are discussed elsewhere.

Thanks to Mrs H for access to the stats and for making sure I made clear the confidence level of the research but also its caveats – she rocks.

Birmingham Post column – sporting data

Sometimes the column I write for the Birmingham Post materialises online – other times it doesn’t. When it doesn’t (not sure why it doesn’t) I’ll reproduce here (although newspaper columns are such a different tone to posts on blogs).

This one was a version of the presentation I gave at wxwm2 the other week:

‘Mileage data to Inspire’
Published Monday 6th July (hey, that was my birthday!).

“Years that end in odd numbers usually make for dull sporting summers as the Olympics and the major footballing tournaments only occupy the even numbered years. However, as well as annual tournaments such as Wimbledon we do have a World Athletics Championship and The Ashes to look forward to this summer.

But given how concerned the government are with obesity levels it’ll take more than the sight of a group of blokes throwing balls at each other to persuade a nation of sport-loving couch potatoes to do something about their own health and wellbeing

All the data tells us we’re fat and we’re getting fatter. In fact not only are we fat but our kids are fat and even our pets are fat. Given the state of the economy the only thing that isn’t fat is our wallets. So what’s the approach taken to deal with this? It’s simple – an advertising campaign to remind us how fat we are that goes out of its way to blame computer games and television as the main culprits.

I’m not denying that the Change for Life campaign hasn’t persuaded some people to get off their backside but there’s so much already happening that we could celebrate rather than just play a familiar blame game. Take running for example. On any random weekend there are about 50 organised amateur races happening around the UK with about 50,000 – 100,000 runners taking part. In total that’s up to a million kilometres covered. And that doesn’t even include all the people just running by themselves for training or those running around Sunday league football pitches.

Many runners use GPS watches or other devices to track routes and record mileage. Now imagine all that mileage data gathered on a single map – a map that instead of sending a dour message about our laziness would celebrate ordinary citizens’ everyday sporting activity. What a powerful message that would be that might inspire others to join in.

We’ve got an Olympics coming up in 2012 and so far the only mass participation angle seems to be focused around the Cultural Olympiad. Nothing wrong with that but amateur sport is something that gets overlooked too often. It’s a shame as it’s got the mass participation thing down to a tee in a way the arts can only dream about.

So why not badge up Sunday morning football games as ‘inspired by 2012’. Have every jogger blog, tweet or map their runs as part of a national celebration of sporting engagement leading up to 2012. A digital campaign that visualises mass participation could inspire us all to get off our backsides.”

Towards a Centre for Excellence in Digital Participation

So I tweeted an idea when I got to this part of the Digital Britain report on ‘Getting Britain Online’:

“[it will] will require provision of appropriate support including outreach, skills training, and demonstration of how people can get the most out of the digital revolution, delivered through tailored, local, community-based programmes building on existing networks”

And I thought that’s something I’m always being told Birmingham is ahead of the game at. Take a read of Be Vocal – there you’ll find plenty of examples of tailored, local, community-based. Why doesn’t Birmingham take a lead here, put a marker down? Not to presume a superiority and show everyone how it’s done but, just like the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice does (to which I have a connection and think is fab), provide a resource point for excellence to be nurtured, developed and made useful. That’s why it’s a centre FOR, rather than OF.

Now if you read Digital Britain it talks about Digital Participation in quite a specific way (and in doing so casts aside the much used term ‘media literacy‘). Participation would in effect be the responsibility of an organisation doing the equivalent job of Digital TV switchover and be charged with: “coordination and a clear and co-ordinated series of messages about the benefits [for being online]”. I’m thinking it’s gonna be a bit trickier than Digital TV switch-off which has an extremely compelling offer at its heart (“you won’t be able to watch TV as we’re going to switch off the analogue signal you know and love”). 

So the ‘Centre’ wouldn’t be interested in leading any ad campaigns for getting online. Rather, it’s about thinking through that participation bit. Participate in what? with whom? to what end? I think it would do the following:

  • Identify best practice
  • Nurture digital champions
  • R & D new engagement tools
  • Outline useful strategies for engagement
  • Show how this stuff works on the ground

It would be one way in which those charged with the participation stuff as Digital Britain describes it knew what good stuff looked like. It would give them insight, new tools, compelling stories.

In my mind it has a front door with a receptionist and long opening hours. I’m prepared to be swayed on that one but I’m not sure it should be tucked away on a campus (but I do think universities have a role here – at least one thinks this area worthy of study). Birmingham needs a big front door to digital participation or it does up until the point we’ve got everyone online and participating.

So I’ve had enough people now say, yeah, sounds interesting, let’s talk about it. I now plan to continue talking about it in a way that suggests everybody else has already agreed to it and it’ll be here before you know it. If you see me in the street I might mention it.

Oh and funding – not a clue at present but we’ll see….


My Dad is definitely not on Twitter

About a year ago I was talking to some work colleagues about an event that was taking place about social media. “It’ll be full of the usual suspects,” I said. “But Dave,” they responded, “you are a usual suspect.”

I suspect that’s how I’m viewed – a usual suspect. Truth is I don’t actually attend that many events. Birmingham Social Media Cafe maybe from time to time but little else. In the last few weeks though I’m aware that I seem to be all over the place. I pitched up at West by West Midlands 2, I chaired a debate about cinema exhibition and most recently I’ve been explaining why my poor dead Dad (30 years gone this year) isn’t on twitter.

You can read elsewhere about the mindmap idea behind the event ‘My Dad’s on Twitter but he doesn’t know why’ at Fazeley Studios in Digbeth. I think I gave a rather dour speech about how Twitter seems to come with a whole set of unwritten rules that puts newcomers off and can be intimidating for organisations. Tolerance towards people’s mistakes was my request. Some useful points were made from the audience. One of them took me to task about my argument that digital doesn’t archive as well as analogue. Digital captures conversation, was his response and what a rich seam to mine that would prove to future historians.

The second half of my talk touched on the Internet of Things. No-one really picked up on this despite my fab example of GusandPenny, the tweeting cat flap. My argument here is simple. Once Twitter gets filled up with objects, rather than people, we’ll realise how dull we are in comparison and how our unwritten rules were naive at best. A Twitter of Things is coming I declared – I’m not sure anyone believed me.

An enjoyable evening overall, some sharp questions from an engaged audience and some drawing to boot.

Fazeley Studios Digital Festival continues throughout next week.

Fine but show me how the web can solve ‘real’ issues.

There’s a great story over at Pete Ashton’s blog about how his post on the use of street advertising by the Birmingham Rep got a response from the senior staff involved (of both the Rep and the advertising company) and resulted in a solution, an apology and even a donation to charity.

Now the title of this blog post is more to bait comment than suggest that the defacing of a work of art isn’t a ‘real’ issue but I think it might be less of an issue than the systematic decay of the streets where my Mom lives in Alum Rock. I did three things to try to get some movement on this. I wrote to the local councillors for the constituency, I made a request through and I blogged about it. The letter got a response to say it was being looked at, the request got acknowledged by very quickly but with no progress two months later and the blog post got a single comment.

So what’s going on here? How do I work the web in such a way that produces the kind of swift action we saw over the Rep’s adverts?

wxwm2 – half a review

It’s only half a review of West by West Midlands 2 (hosted in the excellent Spotted Dog in Digbeth/Highgate) as I ducked out at about 9pm. But going by what I saw in the first half it gladdens my heart that Birmingham is fast developing a knack for these self-organising, quick and dirty events that help develop a strong bond amongst those with an interest in social media and its applications.

It’s appropriate that the only pic I could find of my contribution to the evening is the above blurry shot by Jon Bounds. For a start I’d rather not see a clearer picture of me wearing a running headband, singlet and, as you can see, my special running pants. Secondly, the evening was by its nature hazy and meandering, in fact that was its strength. The image captures the spirit then, and leaves the detail to linger in the memory.

But enough of the semiotic deconstruction. I pitched in with an idea for a Birmingham Un-marathon to celebrate mass sporting participation but not before instructing the crowd through some pre-race warm-up exercises. Went down well I think. Next up was Jon Hickman who reflected on the reactions to his MA Social Media proposed at the last wxwm but then expanded to discuss his worries over the relative cosiness of Birmingham’s social media scene. A randomly chosen question from the audience about the visibility of women in the social media scene produced a lively discussion which suggested that we shouldn’t get too wound up by the fact that men and women may talk about different things online but the underlying issues of equality and representation still need to be addressed.

The final talk I saw was from Dynamic Arts in relation to their future plans for Rhubarb Radio (who were covering the whole evening live). Some exciting developments there it seems, particularly around mobile applications and an expansion to FM.

There I left it, hopefully someone else will review part two. I had a blast but my non-social media life beckoned and I had to go water the cabbages on the allotment. Thanks for having me.