What making radio ads taught me about business

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What making radio ads taught me about business

One of the things I enjoy most in my role as creative director at The Goat Farm is directing radio ads. I guess I’ve done a few hundred over the years, ranging from “bang-em-out” station-produced retail spots to the more considered and carefully produced ads we’re lucky enough to be making these days.

In case you can’t picture just what directing a radio ad entails, imagine this: in the voice booth, behind glass, a voice artist (usually an actor or radio host) stands in front of a very expensive-looking microphone holding a script. She’s wearing headphones, and can hear our feedback from the control room, plus any music and sound effects we want to include.

On our side of the soundproof window, the main feature is the mixing desk and the engineer driving it. The desk takes a feed from the microphone, captures the read digitally and mixes it with the other components of the ad. All the audio components appear as coloured waveforms on the desktop, which can be clipped, moved, stretched and manipulated to make up the final ad. (Once upon a time, this would have involved actual clipping and gluing of tape.)

Also in the room will usually be a client, a suit from the agency, and me. Audio sessions can be long, so we’ll inevitably be sprawled on comfortable couches, snacking on lollies and drinking coffee.

Put that all together, mix for an hour or so, and a radio ad should come out the other end… here’s what I’ve learnt from the good ones (and the not so good):

One voice to listen to. While there are three are four people in the room, all with valid and often different opinions on the way the artist is reading the script, it makes her life much easier to only have one voice to listen to. So while I will always chat with the client, the engineer and the suit, it’s my direction the talent works to.

One thing at a time. Often, especially in the early takes, there might be a bunch of things we’d like changed in the read. As the director, I decide which one to do first. Then, when we’ve nailed that, we move on. So if we’re looking for a quicker, more serious read, with emphasis on the product name, we’d first work on the pace, then the tone, then the emphasis.

Ask for the what, not the how. Let’s say I want the final line to sound friendlier. One way to do that would be to read the line myself in a more friendly way, and ask the voice artist to do it that way. Or I could ask for it to be friendlier and let her draw on her experience and talent to come up with a solution. Guess which way works best?

Be open to change. A script on paper isn’t the same as an ad on the radio. So I try and be open to ad-libs, changes and additions from the voice artist. (Having the client in the room to approve things on the spot helps too.)

Know what it’s like on the other side. My first advertising job was as a radio station copywriter, and as part of that we’d be asked to voice some of our own ads. That experience gave me an understanding of what it’s like to read a script, and what it’s like to be directed.

Give everyone a say. Everyone in the session has given an hour or more of their time to be there, and everyone brings years of experience. So before I approve a take I’ll always ask everyone in the room what they think, and whether they’d change anything. That includes the talent – they’ve seen hundreds of scripts too, so their input is gold.


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Facebook Fake News reporting tool live in New Zealand


Facebook Fake News reporting tool live in New Zealand

"Fake news" has been the big issue on social media in the last six months, and it doesn't seem likely to go away. After years of claiming it's not a news organisation, Facebook has been paying more attention recently to its role as a trusted news source for many of its 1.7 billion users.

Late last year the network launched a "fake news report" feature for US users and reported in January that the feature had also launched in Germany. Now it's here for (at least some) New Zealand users.

So how does it work?

Fundamentally, it's just an extension of the reporting tools already available on the site. Every story in the news feed has a small grey arrow top right, that brings up a menu including "Report post." Click this and you'll see another menu including a checkbox "I think it shouldn't be on Facebook."

Click on this and you'll see the menu in the picture above, now including "Fake News"

In the US and Germany, clicking this submits the story to a team of human fact checkers who assess whether or not the story is genuine. If they assess it, Mythbusters style, to be fake, it will still appear on Facebook, but lower in the news feed. According to Wired Magazine:

"Facebook will the append the questionable content with a notice that reads “Disputed by 3rd Party Fact-Checkers,” with an option to read more about why that specific post was flagged. If users try to share the post anyway, they’ll be met with an interstitial that again reminds them that third-party fact checkers dismissed it, and a further note that reads “Before you share this story, you might want to know that independent fact-checkers disputed its accuracy.”

It's not clear who the third party fact checkers are in New Zealand (say hi if it's you!) and the system will of course depend on their judgement and users knowing about it. You can do your part, of course, by sharing this story.

(Just make sure you check that it isn't fake...)

Update: Facebook's NZ PR people advise that the "Fake News" feature we're seeing here is not the same as the identically named feature available in the US... if you keep clicking through there are no options for submitting a story for fact checking. You can however report it to the news site that posted it – and that's something!


Bank to the future: five things New Zealand banks could do today to make sure they have a tomorrow


Bank to the future: five things New Zealand banks could do today to make sure they have a tomorrow

New Zealand’s big banks have a money problem, and if they don’t do something about it, it’s going to kill them.

It’s not the money their customers pay in fees and interest (although I’ll touch on that further down).

It’s not the money they ship off to their overseas owners, despite what Winston Peters and his talkback tribe would have you believe. It’s important for banks to be profitable. I buy that, and I’m not fussed who owns those profits. (If you are, buy shares.)

It’s not even the money they lose in $60 million chunks when New Zealand retailers go under, taking their obligations with them (cough, Pumpkin Patch).

It’s the money that’s piped in under the front door of each bank’s headquarters 24/7, day after day, year after year. A high-pressure torrent of billions of dollars, theirs by right for being the portals through which, for the last 150 years, all commerce must pass. That’s what’s going to kill our banks unless they do something about it.

It’s seductive and it’s dangerous. When your business model is to sit at the mouth of a river of gold and watch the lake fill itself, taking risks is hardly ever a good idea. Because there’s so much money coming in, it makes sense to pay people well. And who’d want to take a risk that could lose you a very well paid job?

Banks aren’t alone in this. The recording industry, newspaper classified advertising, telcos and many others have all had their own rivers of gold and one by one have lost them to technological or cultural disruption.

So far, the disruption in banking has been in dribs and drabs. A bit of crowdfunding. A trickle of peer to peer lending. Phone manufacturers acting as payment gateways. But when the real disruption hits; banking’s Uber, Air BNB, Spotify, Amazon Prime or whatever; the river’s going to run dry, and run dry in a heartbeat. When that happens, it will be too late for innovation, reinvention or pivoting.

The best time for New Zealand banks to reinvent themselves was yesterday.

If I were them, though, I’d start today, and start with these five things:

Hold your own funeral

 Taxis will die. Mid-range hotels will die. What’s left of recorded music will die. Media will die. They might be rebuilt in some other form, but they will die.

Why should banking be immortal?

So imagine a future where banks – big companies with thousands of people, beautiful head offices, hundreds of branches and rivers of profit – simply don’t exist. What does that future look like? How do people exchange value? How are they paid? How do they buy houses? How do they travel overseas or get stuff online?

Imagine yourself at your bank’s funeral. (Hopefully there was a little money left for some decent booze.)

What happened? What did we miss? What was the last straw and could we have seen it coming?

It’s likely that the answers to all those questions are happening now, just not everywhere. As science fiction author William Gibson said, “the future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” So find those processes and technologies people are already using to sidestep banks and imagine a world where that’s ubiquitous. Ask whether your current offering has any advantages over them. Find ways to incorporate them into how you do business. Or plan for the managed death of those parts of your operation that just don’t have a future.

Don’t settle for spinnovation

 I like gadgets. Love them! Enough to schlep over to TV3 every fortnight to talk about them on the Paul Henry Show when that was a thing. But it’s easy and wrong to confuse producing a gadget with real systemic innovation. Smart phone card readers, cashless moneyboxes and a reskinned local version of this or that phone payment technology are all cool. But do they challenge the fundamental way your bank does business? If someone overseas had invented the gadget you just launched, would you be calling a sweaty-palmed crisis meeting and wondering how you’d deal with it? If not, maybe what you’re doing – as awesome as it is – is more spinnovation than innovation. Good press (and ad agency award) fodder and a shiny new thing to point at when someone asks what you’re doing about disruption, but that’s about it. Spinnovate, by all means – but don’t let it slake your thirst for real change.

Fight Facebook, not fires

Fire drills are a part of everyday life when you work at a bank. Less frequent but just as important are crisis simulations… what if an earthquake took out the data centre? What if online banking failed for a week?

More likely and more cataclysmic, in my view, would be a global player such as Facebook deciding to enter the game. Selling ads to put in front of those 1.6 billion users works well for them now, but financial services could be an insanely profitable regional or global play (and yes, they’re dabbling in that already).

So a very smart thing for a bank to do this year would be to assign a team not to consider responses to an imagined Facebook bank, but to invent one. Pretend you are Facebook, right down to the hoodies, hackathons and free lunches. With all your resources, all your customers, all the trust billions of people place in you, how could you turn that into a financial services company? What would you sell? What boring and unprofitable things would you leave to the old-fashioned banks to provide?  

Then, once you’ve invented it, consider how you’ll deal with it once Facebook makes it come true. Or, better still, do it before they do. (Laugh if you like, but Trade Me kept eBay out by being firstest with the moistest – at least in this corner of the world.)

Simplicate and add lightness

 Military aircraft design fans will know this mantra from American engineer Ed Heinemann, which led to the remarkably small, light, simple and successful A-4 Skyhawk. While this is perhaps a contrary direction for a bank to take, it’s a position that’s wide open in the New Zealand market and would connect with a lot of consumers.

It’s all about limiting the menu, doing things simply and doing them well. It works for In ‘n’ Out Burger, and it would work for a bank.

One cheque account

One savings account

One term deposit

One credit card

One mortgage (available in fixed or floating flavours)

That’s five products… maybe seven or eight if you give some term options for the mortgages and deposits. If people want anything more complicated (and expensive) then maybe you’re not the bank for them.

Oh, and branding wise… just call them what they are.

Consider free

 No really. What if you challenged a team of your best people to invent a banking business model where your customers paid nothing to bank? No account fees. No transaction fees. No credit card fees. No credit card interest. No mortgage interest.

How attractive would that be to customers?

What kind of business would you have to build?

Who else would you need to partner with? A telco? Government? A social network?

How would a business like this even make money? Could it have employees? Premises?

New Zealanders have always been able to watch television and listen to the radio for free. Spotify, Pandora and Lightbox deliver music and TV shows for free. Libraries, museums and art galleries are largely free. Wikipedia, YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are free. Telco commodities like texts, that used to cost 20 cents a pop, are so cheap they might as well be free.

Why not banking?

Pay peanuts, get funky

 Oh, and here’s a sixth idea for free: pay people less. Get some young people in: clever thinkers, artists, tinkerers, people as diverse as the customers you serve – people who absolutely do not want a 20-year career in banking. Pay them enough to be happy but not so much they can’t take your job and shove it. Then give them a place where they can experiment and break stuff, throw some thorny problems at them, lay on some free lunches and sodas and see what they come up with. Launch the good ones. Kill the duds. Repeat.



I have seen the future and it works for $150 a week


I have seen the future and it works for $150 a week

Note: this was originally published in 2009 but I was reminded of it when discussing the homogeneity of the advertising industry with The Spinoff yesterday...

I blame the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. And the advertising schools. And me. And every other creative director in town.

  Each of us is responsible, a bit, for a change that on one hand has given our international awards tally a handy boost, but on the other has gone through our creative departments like a petrol powered weedeater, stripping an entire level of paid jobs out of the bottom end of the industry and replacing them with what an uncharitable person might describe as a generation of homogenous gong-hungry clones.

  Temuera Morrison wasn’t behind this clone army, though. The NZQA was, armed with not just an oversized novelty cheque, but an entire oversized novelty chequebook (and possibly a very big pen). It’s not just an advertising issue. Ever wonder why every other office building on Queen Street is home to at least one hairdressing academy? It’s not because people are hairier these days. It’s because if you can fill a class with wannabe hairdressers and train them to a certain standard, out come the oversized novelty cheques.

  And the size and number of the cheques, whether you’re running a hairdressing academy, an air hostess college or an advertising school, come down to how many students sign up for your course.

  It’s supply and demand. Kids demand a course that sounds like more fun than tax accounting (which, OK, is any course at all), so the hairdressing academies and ad schools supply them.

  Turn it round though, and look at it from the ad industry perspective, and the supply and demand start to appear a little out of whack. Between them, the ad schools turn out up to 60 eager, talented graduates a year. That’s a lot of grads. Count up every creative position in every decent agency in the country – not just the juniors – and you’d be lucky to hit 200.

  So where do all those graduates go? They’re not all flipping burgers or wishing they’d done hairdressing. A good number of them are working long hours in creative departments, for less each week than some of us could spend on a feed at Prego. They’re winning awards, and they’re turning out the work.

  But they’re also turning out the workers. Rather than serving as a poorly compensated step on the way to a proper job, the placement teams have become the replacement teams – doing the work junior teams once did, but for a fraction of the cost.

  The impact on the number of paid jobs is just one problem though – and if you’re into market forces, you could say it’s just tough titties. What’s hurting us more – and this is where creative directors have to take a hit – is that going to an ad school has become almost the only way into the game.

  It hasn’t always been this way. There used to be a time, the ex-art director who cleans our kitchen at work told me, when people who wanted to work in advertising would get a book together, knock on a lot of doors, land an interview or two, then maybe get a job. What they didn’t know when they turned up they’d learn as they went along.

  Since there was no such thing as an advertising graduate back then, all sorts of people would turn up and try their luck. Policemen, firewood contractors and – God help us all – military pilots came knocking and some of them even got hired.

  Sure, not all of them could tell you the nine times in the last three decades that ads featuring gerbils had won international awards, but they got by. They came up with ads based on their life experiences – which they could do because they’d actually had some. Insights weren’t just something that came from the planner’s crystal ball. They were what you got from spilling beer on a big guy’s shoes in a pub, riding the bus 200 times to a shit job, having kids and changing their nappies, falling in love, buying a house, crashing your car, having your cat die and painting a roof.

  The result, on a good day, was advertising that connected with all sorts of people, because it was made by all sorts of people.

  Of course, it makes perfect sense for some professions to be staffed by an annual crop of bright eyed graduates, all products of the same rigorous system, all trained to the same high standard. It seems to make sense for lawyers, and I’m pretty sure it makes sense for doctors – when the folks at the ad schools mail me a bomb tomorrow I want someone who knows what they’re doing stitching my hands back on.

  But I’m not sure it makes so much sense for advertising. 


How I learned to stop worrying and love the Lion: some thoughts on Cannes


How I learned to stop worrying and love the Lion: some thoughts on Cannes

If you’ve noticed that your favourite swanky Auckland restaurant has been a bit light on advertising lovelies this week (especially middle aged male creative directors), there’s a good reason for it. This week marks the annual celebration of advertising creativity at Cannes, in the South of France. Each year, thousands of ad folk (and thousands more trying to sell them stuff) get together to first judge, then award each other’s work, drink themselves silly and stay in some of the most expensive hotels you’ll find anywhere.

Cannes is a hoot, and the one time I was invited to judge, my bag was packed before I’d put down the phone.

It’s also a bit flawed. This year, the unofficial theme has been sexism, with first Kiwi James Hurman then wine and social media industry darling Gary Vaynerchuck called out by #changetheratio crusader Cindy Gallop. (Both have since apologised, as covered off in the links.)

It’s a worry. What used to worry me even more, though, was that the ads that won at Cannes were almost never anything like the ads most clients bought and ran to help promote their products and services. A big chunk of them existed more to win awards than to, you know, sell stuff. It’s not surprising. Advertising people don’t usually get promoted on whether their ads work. They get promoted on whether their ads win awards. (I think it’s what economists call a perverse incentive.)

A good example this year was an app out of multinational Grey’s Singapore office. It uses crowd-sourced image analysis to help find refugee boats in the Mediterranean. It’s a cool idea. It won A Gold Lion at Cannes. The only problem is it’s a fake and doesn’t actually work. (Soz, drowned refugee children!)

Stuff like this used to irk me. Over time, though, I’ve changed my position. I still think chasing awards for their own sake is at best a waste of agency time and at worst a betrayal of the clients who pay our wages. The award-winning work, though, serves a handy purpose. For me, it’s like high-end catwalk fashion. It doesn’t have to be commercially viable. It doesn’t matter if no one other than Lady Gaga will ever wear your dress made from meat, or your 15 inch heels or whatever. But when you push those boundaries, try new things, maybe tell some lies about how real your client or brief or media placement was, you break new ground. And next year in Glasson’s you see echoes of that catwalk craziness from Paris, or New York. And the world is a more interesting place for it.

Two great examples awarded at Cannes this year have been The Swedish Number – a super simple but powerful campaign that allows anyone in the world to call a Swede (seriously) and Y&R New Zealand’s McWhopper. Will they drive more tourism or sell more burgers? The jury is out. Do they challenge marketers to think differently and do better work? You bet.

I don’t know if I’ll enter or attend Cannes again (both start looking super expensive when it’s your own money). But I’ll read the blogs, follow the scandals and admire the work – and try not to worry too much about what’s real and what’s just inspiring.


He swings! He misses! Lonergan v The Streamers


He swings! He misses! Lonergan v The Streamers

I didn't watch the Joseph Parker fight last night, and it doesn't look like a lot of my friends did either (yay, social media filter bubble!). Plenty of people did, though. Many via $50 a pop Sky TV pay per view, and a smaller but newsworthy number via various unpaid online streams.

Promoter Dean Lonergan didn't think much of this, and according to media reports has threatened – Taken style – to find the offending streamers and kill them. Wait, I mean sue them.

I'm not going to tell Mr Lonergan how to run his business, and I'm certainly not going to be rude about it (hell, he hangs out with people who hit people for money). But here's another way to look at what happened. "Wow, not only are there people keen enough and / or dumb enough to pay $50 via dear old Sky TV to see my fight, it looks like there are thousands more who I could possibly sell some sort of cheap ticket to as well."

That's not a threat, that's an opportunity. Turn it into a social-friendly channel idea and you're heading for a knockout. 



100 TED speakers: 3 simple tips

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100 TED speakers: 3 simple tips

The other week marked the end of a year of speaker selection, content development and coaching for TEDxAuckland. (It also marked the beginning of another year of speaker selection, content development and coaching!). I've been lucky enough to work as content director for this event for five years now. It's one of the world's biggest, and every year we welcome up to 30 speakers and performers and up to 2500 attendees to spend a day or two experiencing some "ideas worth spreading."

I've learned a lot in those years but the most portable one – my idea worth spreading – is our formula for choosing a talk. It's an idea worth spreading because it doesn't just apply to TED... it's true for any situation where you're asking yourself, "will anyone listen?"

I believe to give a great talk (or write a great song, or make a great film) you need just three things.

1. An idea. Not five ideas, and certainly not zero (although plenty of TED talks turn out to have none). Evolution is an idea. Don't worry be happy is an idea. 

2. A personal connection. You don't have to have come up with the idea yourself (although hearing Isaac Newton talk about gravity would be cool). But it does need to have changed you, or you changed it. Test: if you could hand your notes to someone else and they could give your talk, you don't really have a strong enough personal connection. This should be a talk only you can give.

3. The skill to tell it well. This is the part speaker coaches often focus on. To be honest, though, nail the first two and we can take care of this. After coaching almost 100 speakers I've learnt that the most important speaking technique is to have a great idea, then don't let your talk get in its way.

Videos from TEDxAuckland 2016 will be online in June and I'll update this post to include a link.

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Up close with the future of energy

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Up close with the future of energy

It's not often in advertising you get to come eye to eye with the outcome of your work in the way we did today. Rongomai School in Otara hosted us, along with Energy Minister Simon Bridges and representatives from Vector, the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust and Tesla Energy to turn on New Zealand's first Powerwall Battery.

The school won the unit through our Future of Energy campaign and theirs is the first of 130 (30 schools and 100 households and community groups) that Vector is installing around Auckland.

While it was great to see the unit light up and store energy from the school's solar panel array (also courtesy of Vector) the real future of energy we saw today was in the kids: excited, happy, welcoming and overall awesome. We do some late nights and long weekends in this business. Today made it all worthwhile.

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Facts are junk


Facts are junk

As luck would have it. I’ve found myself in a few discussions about the media recently. Some were about the media business, others about what makes good radio content and others about what people will pay to watch, read and listen to.

 One thought kept bubbling to the top. Facts are junk.

 You can get facts anywhere. Google gives them away for free. Wikipedia does too (remember your parents paying thousands for out of date encyclopaedias?).

 The last thing I’m going to pay for, then, as a listener, reader or watcher are facts. Even if a media platform delivers them first, would I pay for a 30-second scoop on the competition (unless perhaps I was something horrific like a day trader)? Nope, nope and nope.

 So what does that leave? This is the good news. It leaves what every single one of us – everyone with a voice, a keyboard, a camera – has.

 An opinion. A point of view. Insights. Analysis. A life story no one else has.

 I’ll watch that, listen to that and read that. Hell, I’d even pay for it.






Totes McGoats! (And T Shirts...)


Totes McGoats! (And T Shirts...)

TGF clients and friends will know that T Shirts have been a tradition since the early days... and now we've rolled out our first-ever tote! Who can resist a pun like that? The tote is the same charcoal grey as our 2015 T Shirt and features the same Dairy-Designed "Goat among the sheep" design.

These are clients-and-friends only at the moment, but stand by for a "Store" function here on the site so even complete strangers can swag it like a Goat. 



Making design invisible

One of the things I do is serve on the council of Unitec Institute of Technology, and last night I as privileged to be asked to speak at Gradfest – our annual celebration of great work and achievement by design and creative arts students. 

Thank you for inviting me to say a few words, share in your success and drink the beer your hard work and the hard work of your teachers has earned tonight

I’ve been thinking for a while about what to say tonight… about what design and creativity mean, why it matters, what it is

I was at a talk last night at another tertiary institution, given by one of the most clever people in the world… and he has a Nobel Prize to prove it. That’s pretty clever.

He talked about his work using lasers to cool caesium gas, slow down its atoms and make its movement easier to measure, which makes it possible to make incredibly accurate atomic clocks… the best of which are now accurate to within one second over the entire life of the universe

It was an impressive talk. There were demonstrations, stories, lots of liquid nitrogen and even prizes

But all I could think about was the design of his first slide

It literally stopped me in my tracks. Derailed me. I don’t even know where the train went

Bad design can do that

I shouldn’t have remembered his slide…. For bad reasons but not for good ones either

I think in a way good design should be a bit invisible. Good design doesn’t get in the way of the story, or the purpose, or the idea

A great chair isn’t one that people look at and go wow, that’s a great chair. It’s one they sit in for three hours watching a Peter Jackson movie without getting a sore bum

A great painting isn’t one that just demonstrates amazing technique, or understanding of colour and composition. Although it could and it might.  It’s one that makes people cry, or turn to God, or look out the window at their own landscape in a completely new way

A great beer bottle isn’t for looking at; it’s for drinking out of

Good design isn’t done for its own sake

I should point out here that while I’m a creative director…. Which I sometimes sum up as taking a good idea and adding that final 95%... I’m not a designer, I’m a writer

I’m a writer, when I think design I often think about typography. For some designers, type is the stuff that if you squint your eyes in just the right way it makes pleasing blocks of grey on the page. For the reader, though, it’s the point.

One of my heroes in type design is a guy called Denis Glover. He was a New Zealand poet, war hero, alcoholic, boxer, publisher and typographer Your parents may know his poem The Magpies. Here’s what Denis said about typography, and I like to think it applies to design in general. After five (beautifully designed pages) discussing at length the choices a designer can make when it comes to type faces and how they are displayed on the page he ended with this one thought:

The best type is the type that is never noticed

The best type is the type that is never noticed

The best design, the best creativity, the best art is the stuff people never even see as design, creativity or art. It does a job. It makes life better. It gets an idea across.

This isn’t decoration, or arts and crafts, it’s essential and important. Design, creativity, art… help people live better lives, make ideas move faster, make machines work better. They make money, they save lives, they change the world.

Anything else is just colouring in

But you know that better than I do. You’ve spent years of your lives studying this, doing this, working with New Zealand’s best teachers, having your thinking challenged and challenging them back. That’s an awesome commitment and you should be proud

Your parents and whanau should be proud too… because you’re not going to spend your lives just working in this city or this country or this world; you’re going to spend your lives changing it, improving it, making it work better, making an impact that might not be noticed but will be felt

And maybe if you have an eye for typesetting you might want to give my Nobel Prize winning physicist a call before he leaves the country

Thank you again and congratulations. Enjoy tonight and enjoy Gradfest. Then go out and change the world

(Also, if you're reading this William D Phillips... you have a Nobel Prize. Your PowerPoint can be as shitty as you like! Loved the lecture, thank you.)






Rule of SUM: my tips for creating hard-working hashtags

Susan never threw another album party again...

Susan never threw another album party again...

Hashtags are a great way to aggregate content on social media. They make it easy to search stories about a particular topic, such as #parisattacks, spread games and memes like #movieswithgoats or just add an ironic touch to our tweets (#irony #duh).

Hashtags started on Twitter and, like most things there, they were invented not by the platform but by users. They soon spread to other platforms and are now a feature of Instagram (quite successfully) and Facebook (not quite so much).

Fun fact: hashtags can include emojis as well as alphanumeric characters… hence the popularity (and subsequent banning) of the eggplant emoji as an Instagram hashtag (because it looks a bit like a purple you-know-what).

Like anything online, you can use hashtags well and badly. I was asked the other day by a conference organiser if I had any guidelines for creating a hashtag. I’d never really thought about it, but after a bit of reflection here’s what I told her:

The rule of SUM: my three tips for creating a great hashtag

 S is for Short: Twitter only allows 140 characters. Using 15 of those for a hashtag will mean users will ignore it and create their own shorter version. #TGFparty will always beat #TheGoatFarmChristmasParty

U is for Unique: making a short hashtag might mean the catchy initials you chose also stand for something else, somewhere else in the online world. #FridayDrinks is probably already taken…

M is for Memorable or possibly Meaningful. When a hashtag appears in someone’s timeline, making sure it’s meaningful makes it more likely someone will be attracted to your content.. and you want that, right? So while #NZGIC might be a short way to tag the New Zealand Giant Insects Conference (if there was one), #GiantBugsNZ would pull more traffic for only a few more characters.

Oh, and once you’ve created your short, unique and meaningful hashtag, take a moment to read it through fresh eyes… like Susan Boyle’s people didn’t. #embarrassing