Arts Professional – Growing audiences at the Mercury Theatre

Arts Professional have covered the growth in audiences and income at the Mercury.

“Adopting a data-led approach to marketing, and using its technology investments to enter new markets, has had a dramatic impact on the theatre’s fortunes”

There is a small inaccuracy in the article – it was my predecessor who opted to install the Spektrix CRM – but the rest is all good.

Twitter raves for The Hired Man

As of 1st May I’m taking up the role of Director of Communications and Audience Services at one of our most vibrant regional theatres, the Mercury Theatre in Colchester. My time there could not have got off to a more exciting start.

Last night was opening night for The Hired Man, and the Colchester debut of the theatre’s new Artistic Director, Daniel Buckroyd. The show was received with a rapturous standing ovation – richly deserved. There was a real buzz on Twitter after the performance, which is thrilling to see. I’ve captured some of the highlights here, plus a short video introduction to the show.

If you can, come and see it! Well worth traveling to see.

So hello Vine, Twitter’s new video service. Say, haven’t we met before?

Vine, the new six-second video service promoted by Twitter, is causing a buzz across the socialmediasphere. What has it got that its predecessors lacked?


Bear with me here. There have been many attempts to update Jerome McCarthy’s ‘Four Ps’ of marketing – product, price, promotion and place.  The Seven C’s compass model is a particular favourite, and not just because it was ‘born’ the same year I was – 1981 – but because it is focused on the consumer rather than the product.

Vine has been making a big splash in the last 48 hours. Using the Vine app you can record a video of up to six seconds in length, which is then published in an instagram-style app timeline, and/or to Facebook and Twitter. It looks set to be a runaway success.

When examining that success, the seventh C is really key – circumstances. These are the uncontrollable external factors which can decide whether or not a product launch is a success.

Using the four points on a compass there are:

  • National and international circumstances
  • Social and cultural circumstances
  • Economic circumstances
  • Weather

It’s only because the compass is pointing due south – to a change in social and cultural circumstances in recent years – that Vine can succeed.

I can say that with some certainty because the idea behind Vine isn’t new, and it isn’t original. There have been at least two services which look and work an awful lot like Vine which have launched and disappeared since 2008.


Launched in 2008, it was billed as the “Twitter of video” – it quickly faded into obscurity after amassing about 20,000 users. Which just goes to show in the world of digital, how quickly a ship with 20,000 passengers can sink.

Perhaps the biggest single lesson of Seesmic is that there was no point being the “Twitter of video”, the only successful strategy was to be the “video in Twitter” – that’s certainly what Vine is banking on. launched in 2008 and was billed as – you guessed it – “Twitter for video”. As you’ve probably guessed, it was a video sharing service for videos up to 12 seconds in length. was a haven for geeks. It saw little growth in the two years of its existence. Interestingly – they tried to break into the twitter ecosystem, but were rebuffed. At the time it folded, its founder said:

“I don’t really see the growth in Twitter that we were seeing. I don’t see it as an explosive growth opportunity right now for a third-party application builder. In any ecosystem, eventually there are going to be winners and losers. I think that’s going to shake out more and more as time goes by”

Due south

Coming back to the compass, neither Seesmic nor had the right social and cultural circumstances in which to launch.

  • Self-shoot video was the preserve of geeks – few people were using the video on their smartphone, if it had one. If, indeed they had a smartphone.
  • Social sharing and content creation was still in its infancy. Facebook, with its ever more complex privacy controls, was extremely well established but it was something of a walled garden and heavily biased towards written status updates and photos.
  • The explosion of twitter, with its alien 140-character limit, was only just beginning. Truncated communication was a novelty, not a norm.
  • Twitter postcards – media embedded in tweets viewable without the need to install any viewer software – hadn’t been invented.

Riding on Twitter’s coattails has already done a lot for Vine, with mainstream media paying immediate attention. The Guardian are already soliciting six-second album reviews. So one of the other C’s will be critical to the success of Vine – convenience. The barrier to entry for viewing is non-existant, so long as you have the latest Twitter app installed or are viewing via the Twitter website. The barrier for creating videos is relatively low, but Vine functionality needs to be integrated directly into the Twitter mobile apps to guarantee uptake.

Once that happens, the age of six-second story-telling will be well and truly upon us.

Will no-one free us of these troublesome ghosts?

One of the truly great things about British politics is the depth and breadth of raw talent which can be found at every level of every party and no party. Unfortunately, tired conventions of political discourse are preventing some of that talent from shining through.

One symptom of that fact is that political debate is, perversely, becoming ever less authentic at a time when distrust of political spin has never been greater.

During my eight years of lowly support of the Liberal Democrats, I often saw the party try to use its own campaigning tactics on itself. Candidates for internal elections would get off to a “flying start” as bar charts intoned that it was a “two horse race.”  Fundraisers would assure campaigners that the candidate of the day had “asked me to call you.” A blue-ink, blue paper envelope would flop on to the mat and transpire not to be a hand-written missive lovingly etched on Basildon Bond, but a mass-produced, low cost, begging note.

This tendency of all the parties to recycle their external tactics in their internal machinations is no more clearly evident than on the party ‘home’ sites (one of which I used to run) where ghost writing is rife. Take three examples:

If any one of those pieces was written by its supposed author, I will eat a copy of Who’s Who?

Ghost writing debases these sites which are intended for authentic public debate as well as party communications.

It’s understandable why the sites allow it – to a shallow degree it gives them credibility. You’ve probably seen at least one local newspaper culpably splash “PM WRITES EXCLUSIVELY FOR CHIPPING GAZETTE” around election time, on receipt of an article ghost-written by the regional press officer.  Yes it’s a bit seedy, yes they know the PM has never been near it, but sales are sales and this puts Chipping’s own rag right up there with the Daily Telegraph. Yawn.

It is almost possible to explain away this practice in mass media platforms, where it is deeply ingrained, but on sites written by party supporters for party supporters ghost writing is  simply wrong. Here are three of the big problems:

In an age of direct, authentic communication – where seemingly every journalist, politico, or even footballer is on Twitter – this audience know when they are being fed bullshit, and most simply disengage when it happens. Political ghost writing is a practice which is often transparently false, and thus inherently pointless.

It’s a missed opportunity to promote talent. The people writing these articles are often the researchers, aides, and wonks who have great influence but little profile. They are the future leaders of their parties, living in the shadows of today’s top brass. Their contributions would be no less valid if they were given an honest byline, and most party supporters would welcome the authenticity.

Far from lending the sites credibility, often ghost writing cheapens the subsequent debate. If they bother to respond at all, party hacks and politicos argue their case in a comments thread which is rarely graced by the supposed author, who often receives only the condensed gist of the replies third-hand, if indeed they receive anything at all.

It is impossible to transform political debate overnight, but that shouldn’t prevent a small step in the right direction.  The sites can find a way forward which is right for them individually – perhaps they could keep their big name bylines, but credit the true author with ‘additional reporting’ in the footer. Is it too radical to hope they could simply refuse to accept another ghost written piece ever again?

For the sake of everyone who could be engaged in politics, but who is turned off by blatantly phoney and incredible articles, I can only hope someone decides to change their approach soon.

The Incredible Lord Credo

Last weekend the Twitter user Lord Credo, the self-proclaimed Westminster insider, former Downing Street press officer, even right-hand man to David Cameron, deleted his Twitter account. So far, so dull.

The creator of the account had been outed as an imposter by Suffolk blogger Peter Ede in this blog post. Credo also stood accused of theft, deceit, and living under multiple false names. So far, so marginally less dull.

Credo had taken in the Huffington Post, the broadcaster Jeremy Vine, and the Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow to name but a few. Several leading journalists were among those who voted for Credo to receive a Twitter award. This gets more interesting – in the eyes of political figures, and some journalists in the mainstream media, Credo was credible.

I had my doubts. As we met for lazy lunches by the Ipswich waterfront Peter Ede and I would idly dissect this curious character over calzone.

Six years ago I was briefly a staffer in Lib Dem HQ. When Credo first joined Twitter he told me he’d met me, and knew me, but couldn’t possibly reveal his secret identity. This was the sort of intrigue he deployed to titillate and attract people in to his fantasy world – it worked on a great many, and I don’t blame them. I, on the other hand, called him a “dick” and unfollowed him. My approach to networking has always been distinctive, impatient, and given that I’m not currently Prime Minister – ineffectual.

After a few months, Credo consented to meet Peter and some of his friends. From Peter’s description of Credo, he evidently wanted to be both the envied insider as well as the anonymous maverick. So it was odd that this man, apparently the holder of a parliamentary pass which allowed him to escort visitors in to the relatively quiet bars and cafes of the Palace, only ever met in public bars and restaurants. He was never seen going in to or out of Downing Street or parliament. A show-off, who couldn’t show-off.

The existence of the press office at Downing Street is not a state secret, and the identities of those who work there are well known to those who follow politics –and even to people like me who enjoy flicking through PR Week. Based on what was in the public domain, I couldn’t reconcile the description of Credo to any of Cameron or Clegg’s team.

Then, there was the sheer volume of tweets – sometimes hundreds of messages a day. I’m sure some government press officers wish they had endless hours to dispense their finely crafted pearls of PR liberally across the web. They don’t.

It was also incredible that a self-declared member of the Downing Street press office could repeatedly libel a Conservative backbencher, behind the thinnest veil of anonymity. Credo’s tirades against Nadine Dorries took place during work hours and, if sent via the government computer network, could easily have been traced back to him.

Next came Credo’s tendency to pass off early breaking news as insider revelations.  He claimed to have been the first to tweet news of Andy Coulson’s departure. In fact, by the time he put fingers to tweet, the Westminster rumour mill was so much in overdrive that even I – no longer even the lowest of algae in the Westminster pond – had picked it up.

While drinking in a Whitehall boozer, Credo was ‘called’ by Sally Bercow – of course, ensuring that Peter and friends could see the name on the phone. Credo had also, so he said, spent long hours at the weekend on the phone to the Prime Minister. He was bosom pals with the political editor of a Sunday paper. It struck me that the ‘insider’ connections were always the political backroom A-list – always Coulson, Bercow, Hilton. There was never a Bertin, Field, Oates, or Grey to be seen.

I laid out, pizza by pizza, these concerns to Peter who, to give him the credit he deserves, was never wholly taken in by the good Lord.

One day, Credo resigned after a ‘bust-up’ with the PM. A man who was supposedly one of the Prime Minister’s closest aides left his employ, after a major row, without a word appearing in any corner of the press. When I was told of this development weeks later I explained how this eventuality was patently ludicrous.

The developments became ever more fantastic, and I didn’t even know about the homelessness, the cancer, the suicides, the deaths, and the host of other stories. I didn’t know about the – very real – mislead and (allegedly) financially robbed girlfriend.

Peter took my cynicism, mixed it up with some available evidence, put in hours of effort and ultimately outed Credo, who promptly exited Twitter stage far-right.

So what is the purpose of this post? Hooray for me? Hooray, hooray, I told you so? No. Twitter has incredible potency as a hub for conversation, and as a place to coordinate action. It is a networkers dream, and has opened up corners of the Lobby to us outsiders – both to listen in, and to be heard. For all of these things, it is a blessing.

Twitter also has the power to drive mainstream news and – more insidiously – to help mainstream journalists form their angle on a story. One, poisonous, voice can be amplified to extraordinary levels. The Credo episode must remind journalists of what they already know – even in the world of 24 hour news it pays to thoroughly check out your sources. All of us who use Twitter in our professional lives would be wise to do the same.

Telling a story from the other side of the world with Storify

We hold a huge, global, annual competition each year at CIMA called the Global Business Challenge. There are several rounds of the competition, culminating in country finals, and then the global final. A lot of social content is created in a short period of time.

This year’s global final is in Chengdu, China. Our team on the ground have been providing a constant stream of social media updates, which my team in London have been gathering, editing, and adding to over the weekend in a Cover it Live embedded on our website and on Facebook.Continue reading

Putting Croydon Minster on the web

Croydon Minster are a lovely community, and it’s always fun to work with those who are passionate about the organisation they belong to and support, so I was pleased to launch with their support earlier this month.


I particularly enjoyed filming the two-hour long Minster Making service, though condensing it down to a 15 minute highlights video was tricky! Here’s that video:

Technical gubbins

The site runs on a Drupal 7 core, and is a departure from the Parish Church’s site, which was more static. I’ve tried to take across the concise copy and really good navigation from the old site in to the new, while adding new features like online ticket sales, fundraising, and an integrated CRM (CiviCRM).

In its first two weeks the site raised £106 in event ticket sales, which is great for a small site, and has offset the hosting charges (£19 per month VPS from For the first time the Minster has a Twitter feed, YouTube channel and Audioboo channel, and their established Facebook page is being used more actively. We’re also using Posterous to make things like uploading the weekly newsletter as easy as sending an email.

Moving to Drupal 7 has not been without some pain – important CiviCRM modules like GiftAid and the Theme switching module aren’t yet Drupal 7 compatible. But it’s good to be very future proof at the earliest stage.

Next steps

The Minster community have been involved in supplying ideas and content, and the next step is to hand it back to the community to own it and run it themselves.

All in all it’s been a great project to work on, and there’s one last challenge to overcome – because the VPS is based in the US, it’s natural SEO for UK searchers isn’t strong. So it’s no coincidence you find me blogging about Croydon Minster, yes, that’s Croydon Minster, at

Installing MySource Matrix on Amazon EC2

This is a rough but hopefully comprehensive guide to getting the enterprise open source Content Management System Mysource Matrix up and running on an Amazon EC2 Cloud virtual computer instance.

The bulk of this guide consists of a  list of commands to be executed in order. Comments appear in red.

It may turn out that not all of these commands are necessary, some may even contradict each other. But they do work, which is more than can be said for some other MySource Matrix installation guides!  Grateful thanks to Squiz and Matrix Stuff for providing all the key instructions necessary to get up and running on EC2.Continue reading

What #Trafigura can teach political parties and others

It comes round so regularly you could set an incredibly slow clock by it – the question “will the next election be the Internet election?

It’s impossible to answer that question without first defining what an “Internet election” is. Traditionally to my mind there have been two possible definitions:

  1. An election where a stasticically significant number of seats, ten or more, change hands either as the direct result of online campaigns by political parties candidates, or because positive online campaigning was a critical factor.
  2. An election where any number of MPs, as low as a single MP, is undeniably ousted from their seat by a negative campaign either by political opponents or independent critics, mustered online.

But a third possibility is emerging.

My belief is that when we look back on the General Election of 2010, for all the effort poured in to them the defining story will not come from My Conservatives, or the Liberal Democrats’ soon to be launched competitor, Act.

It could come from a signature pre-planned campaign. If, for example, the TaxPayer’s Alliance aren’t working right now on a postcode searchable system in which voters can see what their sitting MP has claimed on expenses, and what their opponents have said their approach to expenses will be, then they need to sack the person responsible for their digital effort and re-hire quickly.

More likely, the defining online moment of GE2010 will come from Twitter.  Watch this short video before you go any further:

Continue reading