Monday, 31 October 2011

The folklore of black dogs in Yorkshire

The problem with Hallowe’en is the Americanisation of an ancient festival.

What we fear nowadays has more to do with Hollywood. Forget the Vampires, the werewolves, Frankenstien’s monster, and the return of the mummy.

The forgotten history of the West Riding holds much more frightening things:

Behold the BLACK DOG – a creature to strike fear into the hearts of anyone – well may be not this one. But for many centuries a large Black Dog with glowing eyes could paralyse anyone with terror.

It can also manifest as a demonic Sheep or an enormous black donkey. The black dogs appears at night seeing it would herald the untimely death of someone nearby.

Throughout European mythology, dogs have been associated with death and guardians of the underworld. This association seems to be due to the scavenging habits of dogs.

Just hearing the Berghest is enough to herald the death of a close relative. Try to stop it, and you will only hasten your own demise rather. The name derived from the same term for other bedtime monsters like bogie men and boggerts, the term Berghest comes from burh-Town and ghest–ghost.

But it seems to have Germanic origins - linked to Odin, the leader of the Wild Hunt a lone hunter tracking down a lady of the forest accompanied only by his two dogs.

In Leeds one term for them is Gabble Retchets, or gabriel’s hounds, from the Old English word “ræcc”, meaning a dog that hunts by scent. Appropriated by the church Gabriel is an angel linked to death who serves as a messenger.

As Mother Shipton's Prophecies "For storms will rage and oceans roar, when Gabriel stands on sea and shore, and as he blows his wondrous horn, old worlds die and new be born.”

In 1879, folklorist William Henderson described them as “monstrous human-headed dogs, who traverse the air, and are often heard although seldom seen.” In the neighbourhood of Leeds the phenomenon is held to be the souls of un-baptised children doomed to flit restlessly around their parents’ home.

A man called Nichols, writing in 1828, sai :-'Leeds has it's distinct Padfoots, distinguishable one from another, for almost every street'.

Padfoot, another name for the black dog, come from Wakefield, Leeds, Pudsey, and Bradford The soft padding of feet is first heard before the clanking of chains. It pads softly behind you and if you look back you’d see a shadowy, half-real creature in the hedgerow. Enough to frighten some to death in an instant.

Although dismissed by some as bean geese, In 1664, Reverend Oliver Heywood wrote: “There is also a strange noise in the air heard of many in these parts this winter, called Gabriel-Ratches), the noise is as if a great number of whelps were barking and howling, and ‘tis observed that if any see them that person dies shortly after.”

Whilst One source from Sheffield informed Henderson that “the sound was exactly like the questing of a dozen beagles and highly suggestive of ideas of the supernatural”.

Story is told of a man, whose way being obstructed by the Padfoot, kicked the thing, and was forthwith dragged along through hedge and ditch to his home, and left under his own window.

A man in Horbury saw a white dog in the hedge. He struck at it, and the stick passed through it. He was so "flayed" that he ran home trembling, went to bed, fell ill and died

But is this just a tale from the past? In 1993, a driver saw a large shaggy beast roaming between Horsforth and Rodley, that left him in dread fear for days.

In 2001 in Leeming bar: A large blackdog with no face and floppy ears ran in front of a car with two women in it. The hound pass through the bonnet untouched. A man that the women spoke to once they reached their destination later killed himself.

In 2009, a large black beast was been spotted on the tracks near Burley Park station by railway workers. In 2011 in Carlton, organisers of a rave heard unearthly growls and snarls that appeared to follow them wherever they went but they couldn’t find the source of the noises.

Take care and don’t have nightmares.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

How good is your Reputation? Let's make a list

I can’t help feeling that the Lists function on Twitter is one of the most underused resources on the social media platform.
The problem is that lists evolved after many started using twitter and the early adopters found it too onerous to populate them.

I feel I underuse them and will often find folk who I’ve not categorised in a key list of mine.

One advantage of lists is you don’t have to follow anyone on them but you can get a feed of tweets.

This means a project at work, news feeds or accounts of mild interest can be separated from your main twitter feed, reducing the useless tweets.

I’ve also used them to follow particular events or conferences. In particular, I use the lists to follow the Tour De France by getting the latest reactions from the leading riders as they send them out shortly after each stage. During the stages, the breakaway updates can be tracked at a glance.

But there is another intriguing way of using lists. It is an easy way to look at someone’s reputation and find more about a person or company. It’s also a way you can register a protest, affecting someone’s reputation without their knowledge or ability to change it when they finally cotton on.

So how am I thought of by the good folk of twitter?

Most associate me with my work with 47% linking me to my core industry sectors or recognising my ability to help their business. Even within this list there are positive phrases that help show my reputation; for example “PRs I Like”. I also personally think “Grow my Business” is another list that shows I’m offering them assistance.

My locality accounts for 16% of the lists made about me. They recognise I’m from Leeds although some add me into Wakefield where I have worked in the past and done a fair amount of business. The global nature of Twitter does also show itself as I am also classed as a British tweeter by one account out of the UK.

The next significant grouping is blogging with 1 in 10 listing me related to my blog posts or in relation to the cultural blogs posting I make on this and other blogs.

But 14% of the lists I’m baffled by. What does IRL stand for in relation to me? Or Honk and Towit? What connection do I have with music promotion and why does someone think I am a shop? Answers on a postcard please.

One person does think that I’m cool, which is erm…. pretty cool. (But Just one? Pah)

Most of the rest know me personally and add me as a known friend with only one person sadly following me because of my hobby rowing. I say sadly as I follow quite a lot of people involved in rowing, and they follow me back. I’d have thought more would have listed me.

So what does your twitter listing say about you? May be its your chance to change your output to make people think of you in a different way.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Do companies really value social media?

Social media is often seen as the panacea, the cheap alternative or that silver bullet to solve a company's problems.

It isn’t any of these things, but a successful social media strategy can make a major impact on the way a company does business.

Because of the transparent and open nature of social media, it can affect a business down to its very core values and change the culture of the staff.

Finding different and effective ways of communicating with customers and stakeholders can turn a good SME into a growing business.

The problem is that some companies see the success of their peers and decide they want a slice of the action.

Social media strategies, particularly among SMEs, are becoming more ‘me too’ and less strategic.
I’ve been involved with projects which owe more to sticking a moist finger in the air than any analysis, benchmarking or realistic targets. 500 followers or likes sounds a good figure to aim at, so that’s the target even if the major competitor with a 2 year old Facebook page only has 125 followers despite a lot of hard graft.

The same goes for the level of investment. Just because a project is “cheap” to set up, labour costs and the intellectual property value of a concept or idea is seriously undervalued. Just because something is cheap to make, doesn’t mean that a fashion brand will charge basement prices.

Look at the adverts for vacancies linked to social media. They often look for someone who can impart a vital board-level vision for the company, deliver campaigns and carry out the day to day management. Sometimes this includes direct reports.

Change the words ‘social media’ for marketing, human resources or accountancy and you’d be looking at a big salary. Yet many firms think they can purchase this strategic knowledge for a wage just above the graduate entry mark.

There are enough examples of companies brought down by poor social media strategy, ignoring customer services, abusive messaging and failing to deal with issues with products despite plenty of people trying to help the business. If Vodaphone can be caught out, then what chance does the local cake shop have?

That said, the local cake shop social media is possibly run by the owner who is sensible, has strategic knowledge and knows their customers inside out. The danger comes when you give the task to a recent graduate because “young folk know about that social media thing.”

There is a massive myth about the capability of twenty somethings with social media. Some understand it, but basing strategic knowledge on keeping in contact with your mates is a very odd concept. They are also good at talking on phones, but does that make them experts on creating voice based information services or a search engine for a mobile based website?

Equally, why does being good at Facebook qualify you for understanding LinkedIn which has a hugely different demographic.

The people who get social media most are thirty to forty year olds. Social media started around 2000 with the growth of forum websites, Friends Reunited, online journals and chat rooms. LinkedIn is over a decade old.

They’ve more need to use technology to keep in contact with school and university friends scattered across the country and the world, rather than a group close to their friends bound by geography.

Equally, the older age group has some commercial experience and acumen. Social media experience is linked to more traditional communications theories and the application of these ideas is complex. Learning how to build a community is an ongoing process, not just a simple process.

And if anyone thinks these are just small companies, its large household names who think that by bringing in a youngster they can transform their business. But even if they were a whizz kid at twenty, if they are adding real value to your business, then paying them a decent wage will retain them for yourself. Do you think the best will stay for £20,000 if someone else values that individual more?

Look at the big brands, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Disney and even B2B firms like Ernst & Young. See how much they invest in social media as a strategic communications tool. They value their campaigns which is why they are happy to spend the money.

So before you join the social media gold rush, stop, think about why you are doing it and check it will be effective for your company. Get advice, benchmark against similar companies inside and outside your industry. Then you need to invest in the right people to manage or create campaigns.

This might be agency or in-house, but really understand what you are asking for versus what you’ll get in return. Remember, if you pay peanuts, you’ll get monkeys!

Monday, 5 September 2011

When Journalism chased the rainbow

Social media has changed journalism for good in a number of ways. Whilst many of the changes have been positive, not all the developments have been positive. On balance, does the positive’s still outweigh the negatives?

Ten years ago when the twin towers fell, social media didn’t really exist but online was suddenly became the most important media for the first time. Twenty four hour rolling news could only cover the pictures and the shock of the images on that day overshadowed the level of factual details of the event.

News of loved ones, details of the initial damage and the need to know what else was happening from billions lead to major news corporations drowning in the additional traffic; Message boards overflowing with comments. It was here that a new breed of internet only websites came to the wider public’s attention.
A few years later, the Hudson plane crash broke as hundreds of New Yorkers saw a plane descending at an unerring height – unsure whether it was a repeat or something else. By the time the plane had landed, the story had been recalled across Twitter countless times and the news stations were struggling to get the story.

Even now the pressure on rolling news sees them chase the story, often in vain. I’m regularly hearing about stories, particularly from other countries.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that rolling news is getting it wrong trying to catch up. Take the bomb in Sweden where Sky and the Sun were heralding the arrival of Al Qaida based on assumption upon assumption until they had built a constructed news story on speculation. The same people a few hours later were making similar claims about far right extremism.

Weeks later the riots were blamed on social media, despite social media being blameless – again because of speculation, guesswork and a desire to push the news agenda on.
Journalists feel the pressure to get results, but they are sometimes missing the trick of making the most of the medium you are in. When I trained as a journalist, I learnt that there were three stages to a news story:

• The initial breaking news
• The detail of the incident
• The analysis of the ramifications.

Then, this could mean a story lasts three or more days. Nowadays all three phases are covered off almost concurrently. As the news breaks, the details are assumed and the guests are wheeled on to discuss the assumptions without having had any time to gather their own information on the event. Relying on the news source, their views are skewed from the beginning.

Traditional media is never going to beat social media to the next earthquake. But it has the resource to get reporters to the scene with professional VJs (Video Journalists) relying more accurate and objective reports than the partisan mobile phone videos, however intriguing they are.
The death of radio has been exaggerated for so long now, but radio realised the power of the theatre of the mind. Emotions seem rawer with a detached voice and evocative wildtrack. Print cannot be beaten for double page spreads of stats and visual layouts that are tricky even on a computer screen. Yet journalists are chasing the big story while missing some of the more popular quirky stories by days – something online news sources and scraping services have been taking advantage for years.

The world has changed with social media but the basics of journalism are being lost. Attributing sources are becoming vague or non-existent. This week alone I heard a news story begin “according to reports on Facebook” – not quite the trusted news mole in the home office or facts based on cast iron documentation. Reports need to be checked and double checked. Many of the conspiracy theorists on 9/11 basis their entire fiction on the misreporting of a confusing and ever changing events of that day. It are these inaccuracies that distort the truth and perpetuate myths and fears.

The world of 24 hour news needs to slow down, play on its strengths and not rush past the story before its even begun - ensuring all three stages of reporting are played out. If they don't, then it is the viewers who lose out.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Why Google is still up in the clouds

Google is a smart, slick organisation and the launch of Google+ demonstrates they’ve put their nouse together with the lessons learnt from previous Social Media launches.

While Google Buzz and Wave were greeted with expectation, they flattered to deceive and became moribund very quickly.

Many of the criticism of the poor interactivity, the lack of applications, the difficulty of friend finding have been addressed with Google+. It’s closer to what one might have expected the first time when Google Wave was announced as a social media game changer.

But we’re over a year on from that time and social media has continued to develop, entrench their audience and gain mainstream acknowledgement.

The problem with Google is they’re chasing other social media and trying to blend the two. Most social media has been developed independently for purposes which are vastly different to their end use.

Twitter was a way for surf dude friends to check the sea conditions and which beaches people were going to. Facebook was a virtual year book system.

Equally, the rise and fall of social media has been sudden and difficult to predict. The loss of MySpace and Bebo show how fickle the industry can be when they find a new way to interact.

Not content with mashing existing social media, Google have also been looking to control how Google+ is being used. They are ensuring that it is a personal user experience, free from corporate or brand led accounts, which have led to accounts being suspended.

It will be interesting to see how industry gets round Googles rules. The adult industry is often the first to find a way. Will the breakout video rooms by full of young ladies who are desperate for a chat? Or will Google shut them down for being unsuitable.

I just feel that no successful social media can grow through interference and controlling how the users want to use the system.

But Google seem to be looking beyond the current and seem to be creating a platform that will be of importance in three to five years time.

Google+ sits as one of a number of tabs on a personal account page for Google. It has no prominence or priority in the navigation over a whole plethora of applications.

Far from being the big part of the offering, it’s a new service branching off the already heavy portfolio of services.

So why is this the case? What seems to be happening is a move towards cloud computing. Buy a laptop, install Chrome and you can run virtually everything without even muttering the name Microsoft.

Google docs, mail and chrome manage your documents, email and internet browsing. Google+ adds in Skype like connectivity and social media channels, with the ability to link pictures and videos stored on YouTube and Picasa. The data is held remotely along with the software keeping operating speeds high, as long as you’ve got a good broadband connection.

Bearing this in mind, it is odd that they aren’t looking at the SMEs who would love this sort of cheap and easy system. May be they are looking at creating a bundle package for consumers further down the road, ending the ad related business model.

Attracting them in and locking their data into the system could lead to long term loyal customers, like the overdrafts offered to students that are hard to clear once the real bank charges kick in after graduation.

The cloud’s the key, and it’ll be interesting to see how it develops in the future.