Review: Top Gun

I’m 31 years old and I haven’t seen Top Gun. There’s even a long-running joke in Flight of the Conchords where one character continually makes references to Top Gun, despite the other insisting he has never seen it. Well today I can officially relate more to Brett than Jermaine.

In fact, watching Top Gun for the first time, unclouded by nostalgia, is a little like rewatching history. Like other ’80s classics, iconic moments viewed through the lens of the final days of 2019 now seem like cheap pastiches. It’s easy to forget that these were the moments that defined the tropes to begin with, such as the raspy bollocking by the commanding officer that now comes across as shallow parody – I need to remind myself that at the time this was relatively fresh: “Don’t screw around with me Maverick. You’re a hell of an instinctive pilot. Maybe too good. I’d like to bust your butt but I can’t”. It’s not cheesy – this was just the original cheese recipe.

Among the most striking of such moments is the silhouetted love scene, in which Tom Cruise’s Maverick finally does the dirty with the film’s love interest – a totally unremarkable nobody that I’ve forgotten the name of already. The bright, colourful backgrounds means you can see all the detail of their open-mouthed and needlessly slobbery kissing. Iconic? Yes. Disgusting? Also yes.

Top Gun is about as ’80s an experience as it is possible to have. Remember when nameless Eastern forces were the bad guys? Remember when Tom Cruise was relatively normal? Remember when you could basically creep and hassle a woman until she submitted to your advances? Let’s make America grea… wait.

All this and more are very much still live and kicking in Top Gun, although you can’t criticize the film for simply existing in a pre-#metoo era – even if there probably was never a time when following a woman into the ladies toilets was a good thing.

It’s funny to discover that Top Gun is actually mostly a romantic movie. I’d always assumed it was a jacked-up military wank festival for American jingoism, mindlessly set to a Kenny Loggins soundtrack. It’s actually, secretly, an overbearingly homoerotic ballad pretending to be a heterosexual love story – and it’s good, light-hearted fun. Heavy gay vibes are felt from start to finish, and not just in the amusingly pointless but highly enjoyable volleyball montage. From the spicy and sexual rivalry with Val Kilmer’s “Ice-man” to the inexplicably glistening wet bodies of every single character from start to finish (someone turn the fucking air conditioning on, please), Top Gun is undoubtedly the work of either a frustrated, closet or subliminally inspired homosexual genius – and it’s all the better for it.

Crank the sound up, discard your cynicism and just enjoy this beautiful window into a simpler, saucier and altogether sillier world of 1980s boyish fantasyland.

Not eating meat: something that makes it even harder

I initially wrote this post in 2013 and decided not to publish it. Well, the world has changed in a subtle but meaningful way in the five years since then, and reading it back has been a reassuring exercise that the perception of vegetarianism has been improving. Anyway, I feel like it’s still a relevant topic, even though I’m pleased to say that I no longer feel it with such strength.

Ah boo hoo. Poor me. I’m a vegetarian. I choose not to eat eat. What a ponce.

Online games and why they’re a reminder of just how terrible people are

There’s a computer game I’ve been playing called Rust. It’s basically this barren island full of harsh rock formations and sparse forests, littered with a few hundred players from around the world.

Each has nothing but a stone and a flaming stick, to see better at night.

Hacking away at trees and caving in the skulls of wildlife (with the stone) give players scant resources to craft together some rudimentary rag clothing and perhaps a couple of primitive tools.

Those willing to invest enough hours will start making places to live, chests to store items in and otherwise make something of a life out of their meagre existence.

As you can imagine, meeting other players is a daunting experience.

A naked man sprinting towards you swinging a large stone at your face is about as alarming as it sounds. Three masked Kevlar-wearing Russians wielding automatic rifles is even worse.

Everyone can communicate to each other, through voice or text, and death means you drop everything you were carrying and will rebirth perhaps many miles away from that location, naked, penniless and alone.

With so much to lose, any human encounter is understandably tense.

In this cruel world, communities can emerge. Yelling ‘friendly!’ upon meeting a stranger usually results in an arrow to the neck, but occasionally you meet other peaceful people.

Working together to find wood, stone, metal and other materials means that building somewhere secure to live and staying alive is far easier.

The stories that play out in this digital post-apocalyptic Lord of the Flies nightmare are a sad reflection of human nature. All too often a polite crossing of paths will result in death, and the majority of Rust’s citizens are out for number one.

Few seem to have any moral battles over blasting a poverty-stricken nude fellow to rob him of his pathetic three bits of cloth and a hunk of raw chicken.

Yet among this heartless Hades exists a sliver of humanity. One player was kind enough to reward my brother – who also plays the game – with a revolver and full set of clothes. He was also welcomed into his well-protected home and was fed.

Four other people were given similar shelter, thankfully proving not everyone is so selfish out there. That they were all kept naked in his basement makes the situation somewhat funnier, but each was well genuinely looked-after.

Other tales from the world of Rust include a community-built facsimile of Walmart, a Wild West style city of wood, a project to build a 1000ft tower into the sky, a (hilarious) 20-strong gang of ‘penis brothers’ and even a simplistic version of KFC.

In my own experiences, thanks to some real-world friends, I was able to help construct a sizable home, secured with a robust series of metal doors to ward off would-be raiders. Part of the tale of its construction involved a young boy named Billy, or GamingIdiot11 in Rust’s world.

The poor sap needed some support and we were happy to help. Well, in truth, we actually stole the foundations to his house by breaking down the door and rebuilding parts, but when he returned the next day, we ultimately lied to him about what happened and allowed him to live there with us.

Annoyingly he knows all of our codes to different doors in the house, and he often dies and otherwise loses our valuable belongings.

After a few days, his constant pestering for more guns to replace those he lost, which are expensive to produce, made us collectively decide to change the codes to the doors and send him on his way.

But guess what? We couldn’t do it.

We changed the locks and were all set for our parting of ways, but then he logged in and started knocking on the door. ‘Guys? What’s the code? What’s going on?’

Even though it’s just a bloody game, I thought it was too cruel. We told him the new codes and let him continue to be a liability to our existence.

Am I needlessly ethical? Am I overly concerned about others’ welfare? I hope not.

I love seeing people share a can of tuna with a hungry stranger.

I think it’s quite touching when someone altruistically shares their possessions with someone they’ve never met before, or instinctively trusts someone in otherwise perilous circumstances.

This makes it similarly frustrating when I’m axed in the back for no good reason. It’s utterly fucking devastating to lose hours of resource-gathering and crafting when some prick shotguns you to the face while you’re minding your own business.

It’s even worse seeing itemless and poor new players relentlessly slain by those rich with experience and weaponry. The shittest thing of all is being instantly killed by hackers – pathetic players that have played with the code to jump super high, or automatically snipe hapless bods through walls from a mile away.

They’re doing it just for the thrill.

It can be so demoralising, and I think it’s exactly the kind of pointless, heartless, selfish wankstain behaviour that many humans exhibit when given half the chance.

Isn’t it a shame that so many people are opportunistic, self-centered bastards? I was going to write about the parallels to real life, and all about capitalism, corporations and other ‘treat others as you would yourself’ bullshit, but you know it all already, don’t you?

In any capacity, from the meat industry and international conflicts to exploitative businesses and petty crime, plenty of humans – most humans – take what they can whenever they’re given an opportunity to. We do what we want, because we can.

Rust perfectly exemplifies this.

And that’s sad. What a horrible bunch of souls we really are.

The catch 22 of liberalism

You may have heard me trumpet the concept of liberal capitalism before, as someone who possibly lives on the right end of the political spectrum, and also one of the most liberal people you could meet.

In politics, especially in America but also over here, those viewpoints are apparently inequatable. You can’t support gay marriage, secularism and environmentalism as well as refuting socialism, affirmative action and colonial apologism.

Anyway, as someone who exists somewhere around there, I find myself in a never ending loop of liberalism. It goes something like this:

1/ I value everyone’s right to their own opinion

2/ I hear gun-toting idiots support and enact ideas such as religious extremism and racism

3/ I hate them and their ideas

4/ I’m reminded of my liberalism and everyone’s right to an opinion. My opinion has no more value than theirs and I would be wrong to think they’re any less than me

5/ But they don’t feel the same about my opinions, even though mine are inclusive of theirs. Conservatism beats liberalism just by its very nature, and liberalism is too accommodating

6/ The world would be better without them and their crap opinions. I’m right and they’re wrong

7/ By saying this, I’m not liberal any more. Have my opinions become conservative then?

8/ Return to 3/

Would You Give Up Sleeping if You Could? 5 of the Best Hypothetical Questions

I love hypothetical questions. They not only make you think in a critical way that can challenge the very core of who you think you are, but they can also help you uncover facets of other people’s personalities that you may have never known existed.

I’ve got five of my self-made favourites listed below, and I’ve included a poll for each so you can see how your own preferences compare to the common pleb.

Change my mind: transhumanism is a good thing

Plenty of fiction explores the ethics of modifying that template of a body that we receive when we’re born. Yep, we can mess about with it – applying tattoos, piercings, dyes and other alterations –  but ultimately we’re stuck with the genes we’re assigned.

GattacaAeon FluxSoldierDeus Ex; the list of entertainment that analyses the what if? ramifications of genetic manipulation is a long one, and much of it concludes it’s not actually a good thing after all.

Yet, despite having watched and read plenty of these real and fictional assessments of human (and food) modification, I don’t really see the problem.

Modified food

Recent years have seen the rise of a supposedly health-aware civilisation, and an ‘organic or GTFO’ society that no longer wants GM vegetables and insists upon food au naturele. Or so it would have you believe, at least.

I can understand why we wouldn’t want to use harmful pesticides, especially as all the bees are dying (we really need to think of a plan bee for that). I can also see why people wouldn’t want additives and things in their produce.

But what’s wrong with messing around with safe procedures, such as GM, to increase the yield of crops, the size of fruit and the ability for plants to grow? It won’t be long until there are 10bn humans, so using science to conjure up ways to cope with demand is essential in my book.

There are even comments from thousands of cretins that would be apprehensive about eating synthesised meat! If we can fabricate food that is like meat in every sense other than it doesn’t involve suffering, surely that’s a technology we should embrace?

I just want to get to the bottom of what drives this stubbornness and unwillingness to accept the wonders of human ingenuity at improving things.

Modified humans

I’d bloody love a robot leg so I could run faster. It’d be useful to have webbed feet to swim better. And I’ve often been told I could do with a bigger … nose?

And a bigger dick too please.

I don’t care whether it’s a robotically-augmented spine, a chemically-enhanced mind or genetically-advanced limbs, if it makes me better off, causes no suffering and is socially acceptable, then I want it – and why not?

Why do so many people have issues with this?

Is it because it’s playing God? Because everyone knows that’s not a real argument.

Is it a rich/poor thing? Because that’s a socioeconomic concern and not a core problem with the modification itself necessarily.

Is it because it ostracises some aspects as undesirable? If everyone wants to be big, black, strong, sexy and wise, then so be it. I’m not suggesting the tech should ever be anything other than opt-in.

Using naontechnology, genetic engineering, robotics and a whole suite of other emerging scientific endeavours, humans may soon become smarter, faster and stronger.

Things like disease, fatigue and even blockades to advancement that arise through ignorance (think religion, racism, sexism, homophobia etc.) may well become a thing of the past.

Modification can take us beyond the shitty fleshbags we live inside and allow us to grow and develop at a rate that we can’t even imagine.

Bring on transhumanism. I’ll be the first to sign up, and I’d like someone to tell me why I shouldn’t.

Why is it rude to ask about someone’s political persuasions?

The West is a liberal democracy. The fundamental heart of citizenship in such a country is each man’s right to vote. It’s the blood that pumps through the arteries of society and everyone is fully entitled to their opinions. That’s the system.

If you don’t have an opinion, then fine, but opting out is as much of a statement about your political views as voting for BNP is. Your political vote is as close to a personal worldview summary as you can get.

It’s so central to British society that the impulsion to query someone’s political persuasion is a strong one, and responses tend to reveal more about a person than most questions would. It confirms and contradicts previously-held opinions I had about people once I discover their voting patterns.

I’m fully conscious that answering the question can be something of a misnomer, and an unfair assessment of someone’s character (I myself resent having to caveat voting Green in the last election), however for someone to be offended I’d even ask is ridiculous.

If you’re happy to use your democracy token and throw your weight behind who you want to be in charge – the most powerful and meaningful act you can perform in our society – then why on earth would you be offended if you were asked what that decision was?

I’m all for people concealing their political persuasion for fear of pigeon-holing or social occlusion, but to become offended at even the question is far too sensitive. Likewise, the askers shouldn’t be offended if the responder decides not to answer.

Why stand up for something if you don’t want to be counted?

Brands can and should shape the future of social media

You are a liar. Don’t protest – that’s what you are. We all are.

Anyone who has ever signed up to a service or product has checked the box ‘I have read and agree to the terms and conditions’, when in truth not one of us has done so.

Facebook’s terms are over 18,000 words long. Apple’s are even longer.

This is relevant not just because we might be signing our lives away, but also to brands, vendors and agencies working with social data.

Changing the rules

Social media giants like Facebook and Instagram change their conditions on a regular basis, constantly changing the rules of engagement (if you’ll excuse the pun) for content producers and advertisers, as each network adjusts its functionality in a bid to further monetize the platforms.

Just think how Facebook’s increasingly strict restrictions to public data access have sent ripples throughout the industry this year.

This poses a serious challenge for organizations that invest in social, whether that derives from dedicated headcount for organic community management, or direct media spend through promotions and advertising.

Simply keeping up with the nuances and changes in each network is difficult, but optimizing and preparing your structures to maximize social is a never-ending battle.

Which technology should you implement? What processes need to be put in place? How should the team be organized, and with which criteria should you be hiring? What does best practice look like?

We are in an era where senior social directors continue to struggle to justify budgets in the face of stringent management demands for ROI frameworks and proof that the investment is worth it beyond the likes and follows.

This creates an enormous amount of pressure to deliver return on social spend, and amplifies the frustration whenever there is a change to Pinterest’s API or Facebook’s Edgerank formula.

A look to history

In the 1880s, the Western world underwent something of a media transformation. Advertisers in newspapers had come to realize that text commercials were far less effective than image-based ads.

After being told by publishers that the printing presses only allowed for three-column text, the brands themselves helped fund the technology to fundamentally change the layout of newspapers forever. It was a compelling case of advertisers driving the medium.

Fast forward to the post-war TV boom, the next major media milestone.

Megabrands like Unilever, Colgate and P&G had worked with market research firms to determine that commercials were more convincing to audiences when programming was viewed as a group.

These advertisers were disappointed that so much of the broadcaster’s schedules were filled with highly targeted content – shows that focus exclusively on one demographic, such as housewives, kids or working men.

Brands needed family programs in order to create the right setting for their commercials to work.

Recognizing this and frustrated with the broadcasters, P&G and the other major CPG businesses actually took to creating the shows they needed themselves. The soap opera was born. And yes, that’s why it’s called a soap opera. To sell more soap.

In fact, P&G funded ‘As The World Turns‘ until 2010.

So what can we learn from this when thinking about the changing landscape on social? Well, put simply, the brands can start changing the rules.

Unilever operates a budget of $9bn for media spend.

P&G spend even more.

In fact, just between the top 10 CPG businesses, well over $50bn is spent in advertising each year. Add automotive and financial services to the equation and we’re fast reaching the hundreds of billions.

Facebook and the other social platforms are reliant on securing a chunk of this cash in order to effectively generate revenue. Yet it’s Facebook that makes the rules.

The networks are the ones dictating the state of play, and the brands are the ones clamoring to react and adjust in the right way.

What now?

So what’s the social soap opera? What is the equivalent of the printing press for 2016?

While vendors may have limited influence in the decisions behind the suite of changes made to social media each year, the combined might of advertisers can have a profound impact on the product roadmap of social networks.

Perhaps it’s time for brands to team up, step up and start innovating – or even demanding – so that that the visibility and direction of future development is steered closer to the needs of those organizations.

They have a bigger seat at the table than they may realize.

How sophisticated is your brand? A proposed model for social media maturity

Like many of the new markets carved open by technology, the social listening space has had trouble forging a strong identity for itself. From early terms like online reputation and buzz tracking to more recent phrases such as social media monitoring, even now vendors struggle to make the language of social intelligence really stick.

It’s no surprise. In an industry as fast paced and slippery as social intelligence, the past half-decade has witnessed a flurry of new use-cases and applications for social data.

What was once a lone marketer keeping track of brand mentions and automated sentiment scores has now become an enterprise-wide operation, with multiple teams, stakeholders and processes extracting an increasing amount of value from online conversation data.

A lot of the things that we do are interdisciplinary. We’re now expanding into different areas like global security, corporate strategy, and scaling a lot of the new technologies that we’ve brought into these areas. There are plenty of valuable new ways of looking at open-source intelligence and various other data streams.


There are still scores of marketing applications for social data, such as reputation tracking, campaign measurement and influencer marketing, but social’s Bright New Future has been celebrated in places as unlikely as legal and security departments.

Consider the case of one of the world’s largest media companies. Having paid an eight-figure sum for exclusive sports broadcast rights, the care-free, share-free ecosystem of the social web represents a potential dilution of those rights.

The publisher set up an intelligent system of alerts to keep track of those uploading sports clips to sites such as YouTube, Instagram and Vine, helping identify possible copyright violations and establishing a tight control on infringements, meaning the brand is able to maximize the value of the package exclusivity.

By locating these bits of content early, the brand is able to work with the networks to remove such posts before they get shared widely, and thus reducing the risk of being negatively perceived as Internet wardens by thousands.

This is not an isolated case either. It represents a wider trend; a movement that is seeing the commoditization of social data inside organizations – a commodity that’s increasingly in demand.

One American bank has its security team monitoring anonymous file sharing sites like PasteBin for potentially damaging cyber attacks. Conspiring fraudsters exchanging credit card information are keenly observed, and hackers’ plans are often foiled at the planning stage. This is the kind of application for social data not even considered in the days of social media monitoring.

It’s clear that brands are actually helping drive product direction because of the clever ways they are using them. Lots of those use-cases weren’t even in the engineers’ minds when they were building the these kinds of tools. The brands themselves have now become a catalyst for innovation.


Operating at the very fringes of the platforms’ capabilities, there are also businesses pushing social data into supply chain management, mapping conversations and insights across logistics networks to improve operations.

There are even businesses attempting to understand the relationship between social data and financial performance – analysts trawling through the numbers to see if there is some kind of meaning behind what people say online, and how the company’s public share price changes. We’re certainly not there yet, but it would be foolish to write the movement off altogether.

This 2015 research from Altimeter underscores this pattern.

More than fifteen departments are now investing in dedicated members of staff for social, or otherwise participating in social business efforts. Just like customer data before it, social data is something taken seriously across the business and with that has come a slew of new use-cases and applications.

And it’s not just the number of use-cases that has evolved in recent social intelligence history. Even the initial use-cases with their cringe-inducing names (think buzz monitoring) have morphed to become something far more nuanced and sophisticated than envisaged in the past.

Identifying and classifying those use-cases remains tricky, and there is yet to be a unifying consensus. Broadly, however, the primary purposes for social data can be bucketed into 13 distinct areas.

Influencer marketing
Identifying and building relationships with influencers and brand advocates.
Crisis detection and management
The means of measuring the ongoing perception of a brand, and remaining instantly alert to any potentially negative developments
Campaign intelligence
Understanding the performance of a marketing initiative
Consumer insights
Gaining deeper knowledge of a brand’s existing and potential customers
Reputation and brand management
The means of measuring the ongoing perception of a brand, and remaining instantly alert to any potentially negative developments
Competitor & market intelligence
Gathering information on the activities of competitors and thoughts of their customers, as well as the wider marketplace
Product strategy
Using the comments of existing and potential consumers to inform future product development
Social selling
Taking advantage of segmentation and other means to identify and sell to potential customers on social media
Content strategy
Listening to audience behaviour to optimise content strategy, including SEO research and social media campaigns
Social media command center
Installation of visually engaging space to conduct campaigns and perform work in the presence of realtime data
Customer service
Monitoring for customer queries and complaints online, and intelligently responding to them (via partners)
Employee recruitment, compliance and activation
Allowing businesses to manage the processes around staff using social media internally and externally


Clearly this list can by no means be exhaustive (indeed, it doesn’t include the earlier examples). It doesn’t come close to representing the full suite of applications for social data, but it does help frame the key ways in which businesses are moving towards enterprise-wide uses.

So, can organizations view this table as a kind of checklist for becoming a socially intelligent business? Well, yes and no. It would be crude to suggest that simply establishing a program against each of these 13 uses would equate to added business value, especially when seen against the context of how each use-case might be employed.

There is a raft of theory and best practice published on each one, and there are varying degrees of investment a firm can make as they approach, say, social customer service. Undoubtedly, It’s not a binary process.

What can be done then, to help provide enterprises with a framework for understanding their maturity with social data? It’s an important marker when viewed in the light of research by McKinsey that revealed for every initiative adopting marketing analytics technology, there is a meaningful 0.39% increase in profitability.

One model that’s gaining traction among marketers and other evangelists of social data is a more in-depth look at each use-case, mapped against four stages of sophistication.

A foundation level represents a brand’s early forays into a particular program, perhaps with a small amount of budget and direction.

Intermediate can be used to demonstrate a much more serious approach, meaning an increased amount of resource allocation with it.

Few brands stretch beyond this step, but some are confidently operating at the advanced level, particularly in North America and the UK. This level of maturity reflects an industry-leading implementation, with dedicated investment and backed by real business results.

Finally, the pioneering phase refers to those pushing the limits of what’s possible for each use-case, exploring the future of social data and genuinely innovating in the space.

These stages can be used to map any of the 13 core use-cases. The nuances in each area may differ from company to company, but the principles are universal.

Influencer marketing
Paid endorsements and other primitive promotional activity around major influencers online Isolation of industry specific influencers and tailored nurturing of key individuals Cross-channel, continuous influencer programme spanning online and offline with measurement in place CRM-enabled brand advocacy campaign integrated with online and offline influencer programme
Crisis detection & management
Active monitoring for negative mentions with no systems in place for responding to crises. Implementation of smart & custom alerts to understand changes in data that indicate potential crises. Disaster communications protocol in place. Intelligent monitoring for potential crises by product category, with releavant alerting. Cross-team disaster protocol in place. Full tracking of sentiment and category data with sophisticated workflow of alerts and escalation protocols. Regular simulation of disasters.
Campaign intelligence
Tracking brand mention counts during and after campaigns, perhaps also in relation to specific hashtags and campaigns Pre-launch research informing campaign material. Social data benchmarked against previous campaigns Purchase intent or similar implemented into campaign measurement. Social data blended with web analytics and others to understand deeper campaign performance with some ROI comprehension Comprehensive ROI of campaign understood, amalgamated from multiple datasets and real business objectives. Campaigns adjusted in realtime in response to data

Organizations may wish to develop their own models to adjust to vertical-specific characteristics, but fundamentally firms should be able to reflect upon their own level of maturity in line with the wider marketplace.

It’s accurate to say then, that it’s not volume of use-cases adopted alone – and nor is it sophistication of use-cases already implemented – but rather a blend of both depth and breadth of social data maximization inside an organization.

Inherent within this model is the concept of a rising number of teams and departments accessing insights from social data; an artefact in line with many industry observers.

Successful social business requires more than a Facebook page and hiring a community manager; it requires a new model with an integrated approach across all functions of the company.


Mapping the whole enterprise against social data maturity therefore is also possible. Again, although each business may differ in the specific delivery and structure of social data programs, most will be able to chart their own progress against a common benchmark.

Speaking about the 2014 social business report, conducted by the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, associate professor Jerry Kane believes that the only worthwhile measure of the maturity of a social business project is understanding the complexity and adopted across the business, ‘requiring greater sophistication across multiple digital domains’.

While this report showed that businesses were beginning to derive value from social business initiatives, this value was directly tied to the company’s social business maturity. The single biggest driver of social business maturity, however, was whether and how the company used and analyzed data … in other words, the key to social business success was not necessarily something related to social business directly but involved how companies used data and analytics.


Maturity Stage

Informal Formal Integrated Embedded
One department or multiple disconnected departments 2-3 departments 4 or more Enterprise wide access
Metrics are volume based, with no benchmarks Social metrics mapped to business outcomes, with some internal benchmarks Social metrics viewed in the context of wider business, and mostly benchmarked internally and externally All social metrics mapped to business outcomes with all relevant benchmarking
Social data only Social data only Social data and other marketing data viewed in tandem Social data combined with enterprise data for business insights
Social management
Limited central controls. Social management possibly outsourced Centralized control Co-ordinated control with decentralized access Managed control with enterprise wide empowerment, including training and code of conduct
Use Cases
1-2 foundation use-cases 2-5 use cases, mostly intermediate 5-10 use cases, mostly advanced Wide variety of use cases with pioneering levels of maturity

The model required for understanding maturity across the enterprise must rest upon the volume and complexity of use-case adoption, but other factors emerge as relevant to this concept.

How social data is understood, for example, depends upon how it is benchmarked and which other datasets it is combined with. How wide the reach of, and access to, social data extends across the business is also a worthwhile indicator of maturity.

The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.


Like sport, it’s an even playing field. But like all competitive sports, some are much better than others. As some brands explore and flourish, particularly those in CPG, media, retail and financial service sectors, others are left behind.

As any other historical technology disruption will show, the rules of this game dictate that standing still and watching what happens is the most dangerous tactic possible.

The old techniques will deliver increasingly marginal returns, and the bold and the brilliant will continue to widen the gap as value from social data grows into a real and powerful competitive advantage.

Brands, memes and Twitch plays Pokémon

The word ‘meme’ has been widely misused over the past couple of years, specifically internet memes, as the term has filtered into the mainstream.

Its semantic understanding has shifted from obscure phrases and shared, contrived cultural references on sites like 4chan and 9GAG to the more widely recognised advice animals and other infinitely evolving image macros of today.

Though many will associate memes with the latter, it actually should refer as something closer to the former.

If you’re a plugged-in type of person, you’ll be aware of the latest ‘viral’ ‘meme’ to be captivating the minds of millions at the moment: Twitch plays Pokémon.

In case you have no idea what that means and are about to click away, here’s some context.

  • Twitch is a leading streaming service, designed to accommodate the increasingly popular practice of broadcasting videogame play to interested observers.
  • Pokémon is a piece of IP based on a world devoted to catching strange wild beasts known as Pokémon, which spans media like anime, figurines, toys and of course, videogames.

Twitch Plays Pokémon

The two came together almost a week ago, when a Twitch user devised a way to use the comments side panel on Twitch to power the control inputs of a digitally-administered playthrough of the 1996 Game Boy classic, Pokémon Red.

As all internet stories of this kind soon turn to, the stream was swamped by thousands within hours.

Last night I witnessed over 90,000 people attempting to play the game simultaneously. To see what tens of thousands of people trying to play a game all at the same time looks like, you can watch it live here.

The sporadic, not-quite-random behaviour of the central character is entirely at the whim of the mob.

This haphazard concoction of ingredients has meant that the game has played out in manic, chaotic and often hilarious ways, including the tragic accidental release of two of the crew’s most favoured Pokémon – lovingly named Abby and Jay Leno, or more accurately ABBBBBBK ( and JLVWNNOOOO – and the constant assessment of a currently useless item known as the Helix Fossil.

The progress so far, which has taken hundreds of hours longer than it would have done with a solo player, has been humorous and dramatic in equal measure, and has more recently spawned a fiercely-contested, ongoing philosophical debate on the merits of an anarchic or democratic way of operating the input.

With no clear way to document the process or communicate among themselves, players have created ad hoc, real-time communities around the phenomenon.

And this is where it gets interesting.

Finding and Tracking the Phenomenon

From Reddit to Google Drive, people have been sharing their experiences and developing shared meta-narratives around the game, with literally hundreds of thousands of comments, fan-art, images, memes, tales, tactics and other information posted online, making an isolated gaming experience into something much more.

Communication among humans on this planet has changed fundamentally and permanently, in the biggest marked shift since the invention of writing.

Savvy brands must adapt to this change, and those with their finger on the pulse attempting to tap into the lifeblood of the story, and within a few days the likes of the BBCBuzzfeedWired and others had also provided coverage of it, which itself manifested as a weird race to see which publication would spot and write about it first.

It’s probably worth noting that one of the first major publishers that reported on the story, IB Times, has enjoyed better-than-usual success for its article, indicating the advantage of prompt coverage.

How Can Organisations Adapt to This Change?

It’s been widely agreed that for brands to take full advantage of social media, they need to be agile, relevant and human.

Furthermore, publications seeking to establish and maintain a credible reputation for fast, accurate and pertinent news need to ensure they identify these stories from the moment they generate significant momentum.

This means brands and media outlets need a way of tracking stories, trends and topics in the reliable and instant manner that the pace of information sharing on the web demands. It’s a world where finding something even 6 hours after an event like this is far too late to take advantage of it.

Like Sky News Arabia, British Red Cross or a variety of financial brands, what I’m encouraging here is for organisations to monitor beyond just their brand name and competitors, and beyond just the major sites and networks that dominate most monthly social media reports.

I think institutions in the media sector, or marketers seeking to establish their brands as breathtakingly relevant and plugged-in to the social media ecosystem, need to be engaging in this kind of topic tracking, and need to be supported by a robust technology package to enable them to do so.

I’d love to hear any brand examples you know of that relate to this story, or indeed if you have any comments on how social media monitoring’s capacity to facilitate such nimble marketing/reporting.

Interview: Dr Jerry Kane from MIT

I’ve been speaking with Dr. Jerry Kane, an Associate Professor of Information Systems at Boston College and one of the world’s foremost thinkers the topic of social business.

Academics are usually quick to get upset about misuse of terms like ‘disruptive’ and ‘social business’, but Kane is polite and forgiving of anyone trying to bring about change in business.

The main thing that frustrates him in fact, is the slow pace of change he’s seen in the industry in general.

“I’ve been studying social business since 2006. I’ve actually been surprised at how slowly enterprise has caught up.”

Enterprise can mean many things, and transforming the ways that businesses work can be difficult. Kane offers what he thinks have been the most forward-thinking businesses of recent years.

“Facebook, I’m convinced, is truly forward thinking. Amazon, I’m convinced is truly forward thinking.

Most traditional enterprises, however are just playing catch up and most of them, I think, are just getting started and getting started slowly.

It will be interesting to see. I haven’t quite figured out how it’s going to play out in, are the big players going to be able to catch up and change fast enough?

Or are they all going to be swallowed by smaller, nimbler start-ups like the Bloombergs, like the Airbnbs?”

Sweeping tides of change

Of course, these shifts are not about social media presences or policies that firms can put in place.

They represent broad, sweeping changes in philosophies and a willingness to adapt as swiftly as consumer markets can.

“I was talking with Chief Human Relations Officers at a large entertainment company.

He noted that the only company that their employees couldn’t order food to their desks via mobile app was their own internal cafeteria.

And it was a lot easier to apply for a job to another company, through their software, than it was to apply within, to stay within the company, through the internal software.

He said, “what does that mean when we have built a company by which it’s easier for employees to leave than it is to stay and work with us?” We needed to fix that.”

Kane’s view is that transforming business is not the responsibility of marketing, and that many problems firms face is because this is where they start, on the basis that it feels closest to the technologies and customers that seem central to it all.

Inherently, too many businesses are exclusively seeing it as a chance to make more money or get ahead of competitors, which is an outlook Kane warns is incredibly naive.

“If you’re great at interacting with your customers, you’re better at interacting with your customers than you are with your employees.

And if your competitor does the same thing but better, then everybody is going to go to the competitor. A large number, around 75 to 95%, say technology’s an opportunity.

But a shockingly small 25% say it’s a threat, which makes no logical sense.

If your competitor has it as an opportunity, it’s by definition a threat to you. And people look at digital and it’s this rosy opportunity and chance to do some cool stuff.

But it’s also going to be a threat to your business and I think that’s what companies have not yet come to grips with the fact.”

The focus of value

So what then, if anything, can companies do to wake up to this threat? For Kane, there’s a reason that companies are finding it so hard, and that’s down to the risks involved with long term thinking.

“I think it’s a double edged sword and I think it’s worse for public companies because with shareholder pressure they are sort of forced to focus on the short term.

Ones that say, ‘look we are focused on long-term value and we’re willing to sacrifice some short-term gains to make sure we are poised for a digital future’ are the ones that will succeed.

And I think it really does take bold leadership to do that, so it’s very hard to do.

Whenever you try to transform your business to a digital future, it’s going to always have bumps in the road. It’s not going to be a painless process and when you’re avoiding short-term pain – well, that’s the surest way to long-term death.”

The scariest part about these sacrifices is that there is no sure way to success, and for many, it can be tricky to prove that new digital initiatives are yielding measurable, important results.

It’s a classic example, but Kane points to aviation for some of the more obvious ways successful firms have transitioned into the digital age, citing cases such as how Cathay Pacific have approached social.

“You’ve got companies like KLM Airlines, who are doing really interesting things from an operations perspective. Some airlines find out faster about flight disruptions through Twitter than they do through their own internal systems because if I’m a customer, what do I do first, before I even find out why my flight’s delayed?

Ten minutes beforehand, I know we’re going to be late and I start tweeting my discontent. Well they can tap into that, they can manage things better.”

While travel, retail and other industries have felt the full force of digital, this stumbling block appears to be even more apparent in industries where digital has been felt softest. Kane is adamant that no one can escape the need to transform.

“Let’s take, for instance, the furniture company Steelcase. I go into some of these interviews and I say, ‘what can these companies possibly tell me about digital that’s going to be interesting?’.’ Steelcase make office furniture. It’d be easy for them to avoid thinking about digital, but they see it as imperative to their survival.

What does the workplace of a digital future look like? It’s not just adding smart devices in your office chair or whatever. It’s how do we create more flexible spaces?

How do we create spaces that work for increasingly on-demand workers? They’re working with university computer science departments to try and get a handle on this digital future.”

It’s with this kind of attitude in mind that Kane believes the future of business could be mapped out.

It doesn’t have to be such a negative force of reacting to an unknown and amorphous trend, and he recognises that the issue can still be something powerful and positive for leaders.

“For all of my pessimism, you have some really interesting use cases.

A lot of companies are waking up and saying, ‘this gives us the opportunity to do business differently.’ And that’s the question I think that executives need to be asking, is how do digital channels enable us to think about our business, our mission, differently?

And unfortunately many execs don’t have a lot of sort of knowledge about digital, and so they need to get themselves up to speed.”

For all those with concerns that the metrics just don’t support full-fledged digital investment and fear that the results from large-scale reorganization around social business do not merit the costs, Kane concludes with a word of warning.

“You know it’s going to happen. You know it’s coming and if you’re waiting until you start to see it in the bottom line financial numbers – well, that’s like I’m going to wait for a cancer diagnosis until I’m coughing up blood or something like that.

You may be sick before that and you need to do some early tests and recognize that you need to take action now.

Because it’s a lot easier to take action now, get out ahead of this because you’re going to fail at three out of the four ways you attempt to harness this.”

Millennials and Marketing: Why Brands are Getting it So, So Wrong

Millennials. As a marketer, it’s a term I see every single day. In fact, I started to get so sick of it, I made use of the Millennials-to-Snake-People Chrome plugin, which is about as hilarious as it sounds.

I often hear brands state that they are trying to target Millennials, as if that’s some grand strategy designed to reach a whole new group of consumers.

The hype is huge, and everyone from insurance firms to wine manufacturers wants a piece of the action.

Infographics aren’t dead, they’re just lazy

Marketers have a tendency to move from one shiny new tactic or strategy to the next. Although new tech, such as Periscope, might have been the flavour of 2015, the infographic is certainly not dead, even now.

Three years ago people started talking about infographic fatigue. However, reaching a saturation point does not have to mean the end of one form of content. It just highlights the need for a filter on quality and in turn makes the context and messaging important again. At the dawn of the infographic, you could get away with anything.

It seemed that any words turned into pictures, even with no additional meaning, could go viral as long as they looked pretty. The idea was seen as disruptive and different. Now an infographic has to have two things: meaning and an audience who cares.

If your messaging doesn’t have these two ingredients, simply transforming it into an infographic will not solve your problems. The continued unprecedented rise of Instagram tells us that in the ADD world of the internet, the thirst for information in image format is still there. So what are the essentials for a great infographic in 2015?

Great insights. Make sure you have something interesting to say and make sure your story is something that is better delivered in pictures than words. Turning data into images will always make it more digestible, often your justification for an infographic.

Keep it simple. Don’t baffle the viewer with complex diagrams and irrelevant images.

Structure. Think about how to build your story and make it compelling to keep readers’ interest through to the conclusion.

Use an image hierarchy. This will guide your audience through the information in the right order. Use size, weight and colour but limit yourself. Make sure readers can immediately understand the meaning without making it hard work.

Learn when to say no. The most exciting part of content marketing today is the sheer choice of medium we have at our fingertips to convey our messaging. Make sure what you’re trying to get across is best served by an infographic in the first place. 

Tracking the success of your infographic can sometimes be a challenge so it is generally best practice to embed the image into your website. With clever tagging and an introductory paragraph, you can overcome the poor SEO quality caused when words are embedded into the image. Allowing others to embed it (with all the link credentials included) could also do wonders for your link equity.

Using a hashtag for your campaign can help track it and can make it more visible. Look at RTs, shares and also numbers of impressions (the sum of the followers of the people who have shared it).

The infographic is not dead, in fact, through years of refinement it has become a more punchy and relevant tool than before – just think strategically rather than thinking it will be a success just because it’s visually engaging.