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


True enough to believe: my ABC of online authenticity


True enough to believe: my ABC of online authenticity

"Well Marge, there's the truth... and then there's the "truth""

"Well Marge, there's the truth... and then there's the "truth""

Mr 13, when he was Mr 6, coined a brilliant phrase that I still use today. Some things are true. Others, in his words, are “true enough to believe.”

In a world where many of us get a lot of our news from social media, True Enough to Believe has become the criteria for whether or not to share a story. But should we be a bit more discerning? How do we tell the truth from the “truth”? It’s easy to just click “share” when all we’ve read is the headline and number of likes. I think we can do a little better than that, though, so here’s what I try to bear in mind before I share a news story:

A is for address. Is the story from, or is it from I’m not saying one is always truthful and the other is always not, but it's a good place to start.

B is for background. If you haven’t heard of the site, what does the “about” say? Is it a satirical site? What are the other stories on the site about?

C is for check it… the two best places to do that are (a dedicated debunking site) and plain old Google. With Google, just copy and paste the entire article into your search window and see what comes up.

And D (bonus!) is for date. Always worth a look before you share that story about the latest outrage or scandal. Wait… that story is from 2009?

A, B, C and D… something to think about before you share that “true enough to believe” story.



5 things I love about Apple’s Watch. And 5 I hate.


5 things I love about Apple’s Watch. And 5 I hate.

Despite its $499AUD price tag, my reasons for buying Apple’s Watch (which, as far as I can tell, they don’t call the Apple Watch and certainly never the iWatch) don’t run particularly deep.

I bought it because I could. Finally.

I first saw a display case full of Watches early this year in the Sydney Apple Store. “Can I buy one?” I asked the chirpy blue-suited Apple-sistant.

“Sure!” she chirped. “You can order one online and it will probably ship to you some time in July. Would you like to make an appointment to view one?”

So when I saw the other week that you could finally, you know, hand over some money in exchange for goods or services, there was no stopping me. Minutes later I was in my nearby hotel room “unboxing” (as the cool kids say) my Watch. (The packaging, you will not be at all surprised to know, is beautiful.)

Three weeks later, here’s my take.

I like how it looks. Seriously. And I only got the cheap “Sports” model (black strap, grey case). The “Chronograph” face (one of 10 or so at the moment) looks high tech and cool. Whether you get the $500 version or the $15,000 one, they work exactly the same. Same screen, same processor, same everything.

I like the alerts. My phone screen isn’t always in front of me and I never have the ringer turned on because this isn’t 1989. A wee buzz buzz on my wrist followed by a message telling me what’s up (or WhatsApp) is a handy thing. Not a $500 handy thing, but useful.

I like messaging. Text messages are made for the Watch. Short, easy to read, instant. Replying is the kicker though. On top of a bunch of stock one-tap replies (yes, no, thanks and so on) the Watch serves up options based on the message you just got. So when my designer asks if I want some work formatted portrait or landscape, “portrait” and “landscape” are there as one-tap reply options. Voice dictate works very very well on the watch too.

I like the fitness app. Don’t get me wrong, I’m already a fit and gorgeous hunk of man-flesh. But we could all do with being more active. Watch monitors movement, heartbeat and how often I’m standing up, lets me know how I’m doing and reminds me if I’m being a couch kumara. And the UI is very nice indeed, even down at tiny icon size.

I like phone calls. Well I sort of do. They’re clear at both ends (no one has ever noticed I’m not using my phone) and it’s easy to answer. It might even be legal while driving (I doubt the law has a clue on this one). The only snag is the first thing I despise….

I hate that I look like a dick. Especially when taking a phone call. I have only found one way to speak into my wrist without looking awkward and that involves casually leaning my elbow on a particular fridge at the radio station I work at. No fridge: look like dick. (Also, everyone can hear both sides of your call.)

I hate not having enough wrists. Share of Wrist is the new tech battleground. No device does everything, so I’m currently double-watching a Watch and a Fitbit Charge HR. For running (and partly for sentimental reasons) I like to wear my Nike Sports Watch. And my Pebble? Sorry Pebble. I am all out of arms.

I hate having to take my phone running. (Speaking of running.) The Watch doesn’t have GPS built in. So if you want to know where you are, where you’ve been, or how to get somewhere, you need to tote your iPhone along. That’s pretty dumb. Might as well just use the iPhone running app, right?

I hate that the apps I love don’t all work. Strava (running and cycling app) is a confusing pain in the arse on Watch. WhatsApp alerts are limited to “you haz message!” but won’t show the message. Facebook Messenger is AWOL. And Twitter won’t show mentions or DMs. My US share portfolio is super easy to track though (as for some reason it always has been on i-stuff). If only I had a US share portfolio.

I hate that this means yet another charger. Yes the magnetic inductive charger button thing is cool but I’m going to lose it. Or go on a trip without it. And that means finding an Apple Store and handing over even more money for yet another special cable that only works with the one thing.

So is it cool? Yep, quite cool. Is it perfect? Not even close. Lots of work needed on the apps and when the WatchG (the rumoured GPS-included model I just invented) comes out I will be a lot happier. Playing nice with Fitbit would be cool too but now I’m dreaming.

Will I still be wearing it in 6 months?

Watch this space.


The company you keep: ads and your brand


The company you keep: ads and your brand

Even though it only lasted two weeks, I learned a lot in my first job in advertising.

It was a fill-in gig, writing ads at Auckland radio station More FM. In those days it was a stand-alone station, and it was everything the TV series WKRP had led me to expect.

The first lesson was how many seconds went into a 30-second ad.

The second was a bit less obvious. It was that the ads you run play just as important a part in people’s perception of your media brand as the content does. More FM was (and is) a mainstream music station – you could hear the same songs it played in lots of other places. Its ads, though, were mostly unique. Most of them only played on More FM and had a big impact on what people thought of the station.

I was thinking of that the other day when I saw the banner ad I’ve placed at the top of this post.

It does Trade Me no favours at all, and for every dollar the advertiser is paying for it to be there, it’s taking $10 off the value of the Trade Me brand (figures approximate, but you get my point).

Advertising like that might bring in a few bucks, but it cheapens Trade Me and, critically, harms the trustworthiness it’s spent over a decade building. Does that ad look like it comes from a trusted company? Does it seem 100% legitimate? Would you click on it?

(It may well be all those things, but we’re talking perception here, which is WAY more important than reality.)

Trade Me doesn’t care. I asked them. They’re OK with it (although they agree that the ad is “unglamorous”).

Z Energy (who are not associated with the ad at all) says there’s nothing they can do about the advertiser using their brand in that way. (I doubt that though.)

There’s been a bit of media chat about this happening in the opposite sense: Google AdSense placing brands’ display ads on sites and blogs that, had they known, they’d rather not be on.

But it works both ways. Site visitors don’t care that some of your website is yours and some is delivered by advertisers. Together they form a picture. And if a big, ugly, lurid part of that picture doesn’t feel worth trusting then you’ve thrown away the most valuable thing you own.


Graham Norton and Invivo… and some goaty goodness


Graham Norton and Invivo… and some goaty goodness

This is what we’ve been up to lately. Awesome New Zealand wine company Invivo (who we did these billboards for last year) are a bit of a dream client.

It just so happens that megastar Graham Norton is a fan of their Sauvignon Blanc, and has served it on his show for a couple of years. Tim and Rob at Invivo were pretty chuffed about that, but wanted to take things to the next level.

Designing a cool label for a special bottling was an obvious way to go, so we did that and it looks awesome (says me!). You can catch a glimpse of it at the end of the video.

But then we thought, what if we got Graham to actually help us make his own wine?

So that’s what we did. If you didn’t see the Campbell Live piece on 24 April, here’s our movie. Cheers Invivo!

Thanks to: Tim and Rob at Invivo. Jonathan and team at Design Dairy, Daryl, Candace and Quentin at Spoon, Nigel at Sale St, Marise and team at Campbell Live and in London Glen Williams and Red Banana.


A Private Word

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A Private Word

I was at an event recently – I can’t really say what it was, and certainly won’t mention who was there – where the topic of confidentiality came up. It became clear in the course of the day that there was less than perfect agreement on the concept. While many of us here on the Internet pretty much have “information wants to be free” tattooed on the back of our mouse hand, confidentiality has its place. People knowing that their opinions, their identity, or both will remain secret will probably speak freely and share information in a way they might not if they knew it would be made public.

The trick, I have concluded after thinking about this unnamed event, is for everyone to understand and agree on the rules up front. Confidentiality comes in more than one flavour. Here’s my take on some of the most popular ones.

Chatham House Rule

The first rule of the Chatham House Rule: there’s only one Rule. Calling it “Rules” loses you expert points.

The second rule of the Chatham House Rule: it’s not Fight Club. Don’t confuse the two.

The Chatham House Rule was written in 1927 by the London-based organisation whose name it bears. It’s been revised a couple of times since, most recently in 2002. The best place to learn about the rule is, naturally, here.

The purpose of the Rule is to encourage free sharing of information during discussions, and to allow the ideas discussed to be used afterwards. Here’s the rule itself:

“When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

A couple of things interest me about this. Firstly, the point of the rule is to encourage the sharing of ideas both within and beyond the discussion. The protect-identities part is a means to that end. Secondly, the Rule is not the same as “within these four walls.”

Finally, here’s an interesting and relevant snippet from the Chatham House Website:

Q. Can I ‘tweet’ while at an event under the Chatham House Rule?

A. The Rule can be used effectively on social media sites such as Twitter as long as the person tweeting or messaging reports only what was said at an event and does not identify – directly or indirectly – the speaker or another participant. This consideration should always guide the way in which event information is disseminated – online as well as offline.

Off the record

You’d need an actual journalist to provide a completely trustworthy opinion on this one, and many would probably say that nothing is ever really “off the record.”

My reading and chats with journalists though tell me that when a person says something is “off the record” they’re saying, “this information is true, you may use it as the basis for further investigation but you may not publish it.”

These Four Walls / Vegas Rules

This is pretty straightforward and is sometime what people think Chatham House Rule means (it isn’t).

Nothing that is discussed under this rule may be mentioned to anyone not present, ever.

Interestingly, “Vegas Rules” is apparently the actual name used for this rule by at least one big company. I think that’s pretty cool and is unlikely to leave anyone in any doubt about what it means.

Don’t Be A Dick

This is my favourite rule of all. If you’re having a private discussion, you’ve chosen to include some people in the discussion and exclude others. So this rule simply trusts the people you’ve chosen to invite to respect that, respect each other, and don’t do or say anything to breach that trust. It’s an online rule, mainly, and if Russell Brown didn’t coin it he certainly talks about it a lot. Be nice, respect each other and don’t be a dick.

Works for me.

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