‘RT to Win’ – the Big Joke

I’ve always baulked at ‘RT to win’ competitions – no bloody imagination, cheap and soulless marketing. They’re lazy, they don’t actively involve the customer (you know, the way we all learned to do at the beginning) and they show a sad absence of any kind of personal touch.

Over on the FP twitterstream, you’d more usually find me doing something stupid (never!). I’d ask a question, and invite – and retweet – the best answers, turn it into a game that everyone could share and play. Yeah, idealism. Got to love it.

They’ve always done quite well – they’ve been fun and they’ve given the FP twitterstream its quirky humour which has always been its strength.

But.

Yesterday, I succumbed. Swamped with catch-up and signings and Gods-know-what, I actually did an ‘RT to win’ – to win this, in fact.

And it went batshit.

Over five hundred retweets, over two hundreds new followers – and ‘Forbidden Planet’ became a city-wide and nation-wide trending topic. Massive Social Media win – look at that, I’ve become some sort of Viral Wizard (sounds itchy).

Viral Wizard or no – I feel like I’ve sold out. There was no creativity involved in that competition, no personal touch other than a couple of humour tweets. It was easy, it completely ran itself and the massive amount of reach was largely due to to the  VERY cool prize (thank you PGW).

Success it may be – huge – but I feel almost like I’ve cheated.

Ah, irony. You’ve almost got to laugh…

Foursquare Day

Hi, my name is Danie and I’m addicted to Foursquare.

Everywhere I go, if I can legitimately claim that I stopped, out comes the iPhone and I have to check in. Have to. No, you don’t understand, I HAVE TO.

People I’m out with roll their eyes and laugh at me – ‘on foursquare again’, but I can’t bloody help it, damn thing has given me OCD. I must add that extra location, that extra point. I must, dammit!!

It’s not like I’ve actually found a use for it – I’ve never had a foursquare bonding moment with a random SocMed stranger, nor gained a free coffee from a local ‘special’. So why the blazes can’t I leave it alone?

Badges. I need those steeeeenking badges. Just like my son at Beaver Scouts, getting a badge gives me a lift (plus I don’t have to sew the bloody things on). That magical ‘unlock’ email – hell, if I could powder that feeling, and sell it in little plastic bags, I’d be rich.

Or in the dock, one or the other.

But my OCD doesn’t stop there.

Foursquare’s points system lures me with a beckoning fingernail – in the earlier incarnation, there were points for adding new places and we rapidly ascended to be Mayors of our houses, workplaces, local supermarkets… (I was very amused when one of my colleagues added Titan House a second time as Titan Publishing – just so he could get those points too). Now, though, that compulsion has been expertly fine-tuned, being Mayor has perk-points, you can gain additional pluses for repeated visits in a week or for returning to a location when you’ve been absent for a while. Dear Gods, I don’t stand a chance, with all those lovely, handy increments so easily available…

MUST… CHECK… INNNNN…

And even worse than THAT – Foursquare now teases and tempts you, coaxes you like the snake in The Jungle Book. The site offers a visible leaderboard; it tells you as you overtake someone, dangles the next person in your sights like a plump and juicy target. That same competitive urge that leads you to compulsively place the last eBay bid just so you can win… yeah, you know the one. That.

Obviously, the practical uses for business are colossal – I’m starting to look at it with a Marketeer’s eye. Honest. (For example, Foursquare is an urban thing; it’s amazing how it hasn’t caught on outside London).

But in the meantime, as those steeeenking badges rack up and the lists of my Mayorships increase, as my friends roll their eyes at my newest addiction, I’m wondering…

Would it be bad form to check in when I roll up outside the Foursquare Rehab Centre..?

Odyssey 2010 – Breaking Into The Future

And so, to the Heathrow Radisson, two years on from my own return to fandom – and with a wash of déjà-vu borne by the wings – and the scent – of the aircraft overhead.

This year, we finally witnessed the fusion of fandom with social media – the Saturday afternoon saw a plethora of panels discussing blogs, soc med platforms and the glory of the #EasterCon hashtag. Saturday membership soared from speculative walk-ins – not fans, just people who’d seen the chat on twitter and wanted to see what was happening.

My own Social Media panel was live-streamed – huge thank you to Nik Butler for the tech spec and to Lee Harris, Del Lakin-Smith and Paul Cornell for their expertise – but the hotel was full of many digital champions. Mark Charan Newton, John Coxon and the ever-blogging Cheryl Morgan only touched the screen-surface – for one glorious moment on the Sunday, the #EasterCon hashtag hit as a world trend.

As ever, I spent much of my time behind the Dealers’ Table – but, with MacBook open, was able to track the Twitter backchannel and attend events by proxy – something that was happening with fans at home, I’m sure. Cheryl’s panel on Virtual Attendees opened this concept wider – a huge potential for people to attend Conventions all over the world, for knowledge and family to be shared. Not only that, but the huge out-spilling ripples caused by the Award announcements each made more noise than the Heathrow runways outside.


My work-mate Mat commented ‘you know everybody’ and it did feel like that – an odd two-year jump from ‘08 where I sat scared on the Thursday evening knowing one name from the 1,000 plus in attendance. This year, I could stroll the semi-marble oddities of the Radisson, from the Corner of the Damned (Smoker’s Terrace) to the Atrium Bar, and there would always be someone to chat to – and always something to chat about. Reading, writing, gaming, fighting, costume-making, publishing, tech spec and social media – whatever your part in it, the SF/F industry is a strong community; it embraces its own and no amount of hashtagging can equal a Con’s strong feeling of extended family.


‘I like Cons’ I overheard one fan said to another ‘It’s okay to be weird’.

In the Venn diagram of real and virtual, this was an EasterCon that occupied the centre – where we watched as the two things met and overlapped and enhanced each other, working on dual level to share information within the Con itself and to broadcast that information to the outside world.

I know ‘everybody’ because of Forbidden Planet – but also because of Twitter – and because of the way I’ve woven them together. Watching this happen on a bigger scale, on a Worldwide Trending Topic scale, was astounding.

Fandom’s gone digital. And high time!
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SF/F and Social Media and – Join Us Live at EasterCon


At EasterCon this year, on Saturday 3rd April at 3:00pm (BST), UStreaming live from Odyssey 2010, we will be merging industry and Social Media to debate – and real-time demonstrate – this question: –

Just how far has the SF/F industry really embraced Social Media?

We know that writers are all over Twitter; they’re everywhere. Promoted by publishers, orbited by bloggers and followed by fans, they meet one another through the #amwriting hashtag or join David Rozansky’s #scifichat. Competitions and give-aways abound freely (please RT), circling like little bluebirds over the head of a dazed man.

But, in the grand scheme of things, how much impact does this have? In a world where only the top 15% of books published sell more than 5,000 copies… can we do more with Social Media to ensure that the industry accepts change and allows itself to grow?

The Twitter support community is great – on one level, we’ve embraced the ideal of completely. People help each other – no, I mean it. But socially, the industry is insular – despite the ‘New Age of Geek Chic’ and all of that gubbins, are people reluctant to reach beyond their safety zone?


Are we going round in circles, preaching our love of SF to the already converted?

And it goes beyond Twitter. Twitter is the foyer; there are many other rooms to peek into. The David Gemmell Legend Awards can be found on Ning; video promotions for book titles are becoming quite the thing, dahling – and more and more authors follow the free-download example set by Accelerando.

Is good Social Media an effective long-term investment – or is its short-focus immediacy just a smart way to give out a quick dozen books? Will it, as Jim C Hines mused, eventually prove to be the end of the book signing?

And, of course, the very nature of those books is changing under our hands – not only their format, but how they’re sold – that was one trip up the Amazon we all remember. How far can Social Media promote the awareness and acceptance of those changes – professional, legal and personal – and help ensure that they’re beneficial in the right places?

To find out – and to chip in – come to #LiveCon.

Track the #EasterCon and #LiveCon hashtags at UStream TV, or on the BSFA website – or join us on Twitter – use the #LiveCon hashtag to ask my panel a real-time question.

Join author Paul Cornell and Angry Robot Books’ editor Lee Harris as they match their industry wits with Social Media experts Nik Butler and Del Lakin-Smith – and follow all of us live on Twitter for commentary, not only from #LiveCon, but from the whole weekend.

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20/08 Hindsight: A Social Media Year

Okay, you got me red-handed: I didn’t mean to do this.
Not real Social Media.
I get retail marketing – even emarketing – but a year down a line of friends, followers, forays and fuck-ups and I’ve tripped over the truth without even meaning to.
What do I mean? Well…

For example: –

In the pub after Amplified08, @Yellowpark commented that he’d not heard of Forbidden Planet until Twitter – iconising how the openness of Social Media brings niche Brands like FP onto the ‘High Street’ of the web. For us, successful marketing isn’t selling SF to fanboys – it’s throwing the doors wide and saying ‘everyone can come here’. And that ‘everyone’ is bigger than we could’ve imagined.

For example: –

This year has seen the FP Megastore become a satellite Hub for London’s Twitterers. They’re at every signing; at big events, they add their own skills and insights to the on-web coverage. Social Media becomes its own beacon – the more they enthuse, the more enthusiasm is generated and the more it broadcasts – and the more it feeds back, and so on.

Believe in what you do – and Social Media becomes the field that surrounds your magnet. All you need is passion, conviction and sincerity.

For example: –

There’s always talk about the ‘human face on the Brand’, about ‘accessibility’– for a retailer, it’s the web version of standing on the shop floor. It’s a calculated gamble – on the one hand, you’re the first target when the e-mud starts flying; on the other, you reach friends, customers, guests and clients personally. And these are the people that will come back – to the store, to the site. Social Media is about hands-on Customer Service – and it matters.

For example: –

The failure of The Headless Bartman at SxSW created the MonQee, a classic example of out-of-the-box marketeering that caught the web’s imagination and went rapidly Viral. Social Media Marketing, coupled with genuine creativity, thrashes the pants off any amount of ordinary advertising.

As a personal footnote, 2008 has seen me return (at last!) to my ‘real’ job – to being back at the core of things, to taking full responsibility for promotion and event organisation at Forbidden Planet. From re-entering the SF fan scene at Orbital to my growing contacts lists on FaceBook and LinkedIN, to my recent interview with Tony at StarShipSofa… as this year comes to a close, I’ve realised something: –

Y’know what? I get it.
Y’know something else? It never was rocket science.

The big secret to Social Media Marketing? It’s common bloody sense – sling in a little humanity and a little respect (and a big ol’ bag o’comics) and there: Twitter’s your Uncle.

Honestly: how hard was that?

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Adapt or Die? SF and New Media

So why, for the love of whatever God you choose, is the science fiction community so reluctant to embrace new forms of expression?

While the comics industry surges off the page and onto the iphone, the science fiction profession has progressed as far as the Real Ale bar. Steeped in the traditional – novels, short stories, radio, television – they reluctantly protest that they like books, they like to have paper under their hands, something they can read without getting glare-ache from the screen.

And yes, I guess there’s a bit of that in all of us.

But.

It’s a strong time for Geek Chic – literary uber-agent John Jarrold quoted that sf and fantasy count for up to 11% of total UK book sales… and that figure would be impressive had I not walked past Zavvi this morning. The rise in new ways to access non-format literature, music and film is driving major labels out of business. Adapt or die. That ‘11%’ is a lot less convincing when the overall total starts to plummet.

Dave Hutchinson rather wisely said that it isn’t ‘a future of literature, more a future of delivery’. Writers need to move into new mediums, adapt their skills to different platforms. They’re at last appearing on twitter; they’re venturing into audiocasting or writing plots for major game releases. Maybe it’s time to add a new award to the Hugo and Nebula – one for innovation, for successfully breaking new ground.

And why stop with the professionals. From the letters page of the fanzine to today’s LiveJournal, fans won’t just be told what they can read. They like to take control of the characters they love and put them in new situations. Fan-fiction, both on the web and off, has become huge and very successful, writers gaining sizeable credibility in their own right. In the greater world of social media, the potential for author/reader collaboration is blown wide-open – why tell a story when you can create a world?

Who writer Paul Cornell stood to champion sf and new media. Arguing my beliefs for me, he talked about web visibility, versatility, mass appeal and the importance of viral marketing. He gets a round of applause for the immortal line, “There will always be the novel, but that novel may not always be a book.”

For the moment, then, the new and the old complement each other – a presence on the web will boost visibility of a book – and vice versa. But in ten years? When the CosPlayers, the X-Box generation, are in their thirties, are they going to be sitting in a corner with a pint of Theakstons and a paperback?

I don’t think so.

My thanks to the NewCon panel for the inspiration. Entitled ‘Does the Future of SF lie in Media other than Traditional Literature’, it featured Uma McCormack, John Jarrold, Steve Longworth, Dave Hutchinson and Paul Cornell.
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So.Me, So.You, So What?

So. What were you doing, the Night Before The Net?

I was in the pub. I was round my mates’. I was running round with a sword in all weathers. I was singing round bonfires and waking up, sweating under canvas, still young enough to be hangover free.

My mates were the most important things in the world – and we moved mountains.

Cue a post that’s been stewing for weeks.

It started the evening I saw ‘City of Men’ (appropriately a very human and empathic film); it’s spanned a couple of Friday mornings at the Tuttle and got pissed at the MOO Party. It’s had lunch in Hyde Park with @markmedia and @iankath and it’s hit crystallisation upon realising that @annohio, always Champion of the Social, has moved her blog.

Whatever sites, platforms, methods of online communication we choose – they’re just the framework.

The framework for the people.

Somehow, I had lost this.

Attending the Tuttle has been a slow sartori. Friday mornings at the Coach and Horses offer coffee, croissant and conversation – and a range of people who cover every angle, business and level of experience. It’s encouraging and encompassing and there’s always someone with an answer.

London, then, has a very strong Social Media community – precisely because ‘hub’ events like the MOO Party bring us all together, face-to-face; they reinforce existing bonds, forge new ones and provide a riverhead for ideas and motion.

It’s common sense, isn’t it?

So: how did I lose sight of the First Rule?

If you follow my Tweets, you probably know I can’t get to many of these events. In the great arena of ‘be noticed: be seen!’ I rattle my tin mug up and down The Bars of SAHM and rely on Friday avatars to make up my social shortfall.

My web community has kept me sane, given me focus, helped my business and occasionally got me into mischief…

…but somehow, like a bad retail manager, I’d lost touch with the shop floor – the basics I instinctively understood in my fighting-Viking twenties.

Thanks to a little freedom, I finally have them back.

The ‘social’ in Social Media means ‘people’ – it means being sat in the pub, talking it up after your second pint. It means meeting-up with those in your city and tweeting-up with those stopping by; it means getting off your geeky arse and getting out from behind your screen.

I remember now.

This isn’t So.Me – this is So.Cial.

I can be a right fucking idiot, sometimes.