re: Dropbox: Making a Video

One for the design process nerds: Dropbox’s Jason Mar penned this insightful interactive article on the making of a 1-minute promo.

Mind you – I’m not sure such a deeply-involved client approach would always be appreciated by a contractor!

re: Social Media Success

I don’t do any form of social media but I recognise some of its positive qualities. In an often solitary occupation it can forge links with other writers and make meaningful connections with readers. If it’s done in a sustained and interesting way I think it clearly has value but having friends and people who want to be friends, telling you that your work is wonderful shouldn’t be mistaken for a meaningful critical sounding board. Done badly the danger of course is that it runs the risk of being not much more than a series of coy selfies…

David Park

Back around the year 2000, my friend Dave and I started up a wrestling e-federation message board. It had its up and downs, but man, we sold the hell out of it. Before Web 2.0 even happened, we managed to spread the word and recruit players from across the globe – true online success. (Eventually, it was taking up too much time – 13 year old me was spending up to ten hours a week “writing” and coding content for the fictional wrassling match-ups involved – and I gave it away. Regrets, I’ve had a few.)

In a lovely Irish Times column, author David Park talks about some advice to younger writers, but in the quote above he plays towards something I’ve been mulling for a long-time: the illusion of certain level of online success.

About six years ago, I produced this video, which gained around 2,500,000 ‘loads’ (as Vimeo referred to them) in the first six months. In theory, that’s 2.5 million pairs of eyeballs passing over the content: a big hit. The speaker, Wilson Miner, delivered probably the greatest presentation I’ve ever witnessed in the flesh (here’s the rave review in Wired as testament to the hype.)

So in my mind, there’s one marker of success. But is that success a result of marketing (or more often, self-marketing)? Or is it because the content is of such outstanding quality?

Perhaps I’m not thinking at the level of big-name YouTubers or Twitter phenoms here. Let’s start again from a different angle.

In my past few jobs, successfully promoting events and content on social media has often been a focus. Hundreds of likes and clicks, thousands of impressions, each milestone celebrated with a certain degree of fervour.

I often feel like I pour cold water on the joy of others when I ask:

‘Ok – but what does this actually mean?’

A clear model of where I’m going here may be the local music industry. Back in the dark ages, success was easily measured in two ways: how many CDs you shifted, and how many people showed up to the gigs. (For the record: quite a few, but not enough.)

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed several musician friends struggling a little as to where social media fits in the business plan. It doesn’t cost much to get a couple of thousand followers, other than time and effort. But whilst, in popular terms, that might feel like success, followers don’t put food on the table.

In their recent, ‘We’re done with this’ announcement, Irish alt-rockers Fight Like Apes summed it up like this:

It’s a deadly time in so many ways to be in a band; you can have so much control over your work if you’re clever; you can release it how and when you like and in our opinion, right now, Ireland is the healthiest it’s ever been in terms of talent and diversity.

But, there are massive challenges for a lot of bands, mostly financial, that make this a tough job and sadly, those obstacles have become too big for us.

I think we all know that we’re going to hear announcements like this more often. A lot of people don’t seem to understand that we can’t keep producing records if you keep not paying for them. Bands are having to sell beautiful albums for €2.99, labels can’t give you as much support since they’re losing income too and our alternative radio stations are practically non existent now, meaning so many wonderful bands will not get a chance to get played on radio as they’ll be competing with huge pop acts.

Please buy your music in independent record stores or directly from the band.

Don’t fool yourself in to thinking that your £10 subscription to Deezer and Spotify helps us at all. It does not. Look how many bands are on there and do the maths.

Please go to gigs. Please buy merch.

FLA were a band I absolutely aspired to as a young musician – festivals, touring with big name acts, a sackful of awards, prominent in the alt rock scene. They accumulated millions of plays on YouTube, and millions of streams across the web.

They’re also a band who had to Kickstarter their last album just to raise the capital, and ultimately gave up because they couldn’t afford not to.

What is social media, really? Because I’ve quite literally had the job title ‘Social Media Assistant’, and I’m damned if I know.

Maybe David Park’s right:

I think under the radar is not always a bad place to be. You get to keep more of yourself.

re: Practical Idealism

One more semi-West Wing inspired line – and then I’m done, honestly.

Got in to it on Facebook last week with a number of political activists and a local party leader. (By the way: one of the really good things about  politics in Northern Ireland is that I’ve found, generally, that politicians of all stripes and levels are very accessible).

Context of the discussion aside, the point I was trying to get to was this: where is the line between standing immovably for a principle, and reaching out to those on the other side?

I asked how we bring about a change of heart in those who stand against us on an issue.

The party leader said that she felt progress wasn’t progress if the people involved didn’t have a real change of heart: that is, really care for those opposed to them. She also pointed out that my question was predicated on the assumption that everyone is open to a change of heart – and is this really the case?

Wikipedia says ‘Practical idealism‘ is:

a philosophy that holds it to be an ethical imperative to implement ideals of virtue or good. It further holds it to be equally immoral to either refuse to make the compromises necessary to realise high ideals, or to discard ideals in the name of expediency.

The activist who initiated the discussion argued passionately that although we should try and keep debates as positive as possible, he was also tired of constantly giving ground and allowing misinformation to prosper. Unlike me, he wasn’t willing to give any credit to someone who he saw as only changing their views upon realising that an issue might actually affect ‘people like me’.

As I said in reply: I have no idea where the line is between pragmatism and calling people out. But I do believe both voices are needed in the discussion.

 

 

 

re: Definitive History

Opened a whole can of worms with the last post – a can that is incomplete without a large hot beverage, a comfortable seat, and complete immersion in Empire Magazine’s feature website, The Definitive History of the West Wing.

Bring me the finest muffins and bagels in all the land.

re: A Tour of the West Wing

Take a 15-minute tour of the set from the West Wing.

If like me, you’re nearing double figures for complete run-throughs of the greatest TV series ever, there’s so much joy here.

If not, that’s ok – you have time yet to go back and watch again.

Huge thanks to the West Wing Weekly, my favourite podcast of this and the next three or so years.

re: Songwriting

“When it comes to songwriting, for me there needs to be prolonged periods of silence. It’s 80 per cent doing other things – playing pool, making a cup of tea, eating a sandwich, going for a walk.

“Too many people sit down to write and they’ve already got a formulaic idea or a structure in their head.”

Foy Vance

I sense a huge amount of truth in Foy’s words. I get morose sometimes that I don’t seem to be able to create the number of new songs (or other creative content) that I did ten years ago.

I’ve realised that some of this is because ten years ago, I spent large parts of most days effectively doing nothing. The result was perhaps 30-40 songs a year.

By comparison, I’ve ‘finished’ one composition throughout a hectic 2016.

How do we strike the balance between intentionally carving out protected time to think, to ponder, to create, to be – without turning it in to an antithetical pressure cooker?

re: Hillary for America

Whatever else comes out of the aftermath of the recent election across the pond, I think one thing I found particularly interesting was the strength of the Democratic ticket’s brand.

Campaign branding is an interesting, sometimes mind-boggling thing (shout out to Nixon Now). Hillary for America’s symbols illustrated just how far the most scalable, adaptable branding can go. Simplicity seems to be key in allowing the imagery to sit comfortably in almost any context.

…a great brand system is modular and adaptable. It can move and shift to align itself with the requirements of the problem being solved. A great brand system is a playbook that can be referred to over a period of time to build equity.

–  Stewart Scott-Curran

I’m realising the real challenge when involved in curating a brand is not just thinking of all the contexts in which that branding might appear – but anticipating other contexts that we haven’t even thought of yet.

re: Church

I know many ministers who are doing their best, really their best, to be a servant to their congregations, and trying to impart something. But they often feel trapped in all this organisation, with social functions driving them crazy. I have a feeling that the more people come to church as a social centre, the less it becomes a place of worship.

The story of how Dick van Dyke was driven away from organised Christianity – he was once a Sunday School teacher, and later a Presbyterian elder – is a sad one. But I think this line is a fantastic insight – and from a book that is full of them.