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The Digital Budget Part 1: Why It’s All About Cider

Never mind the state of the economy, the jobs market or indeed the imminent election — today’s budget online was about cider.

TV producers will be running round preparing evening news bulletins (been there, done that) but are still several hours from going live. It’s more than half a day until morning newspaper readers open print editions to read detailed analysis of today’s budget speech. Meanwhile, online communities have already had their say on the detail. (Of course some of this is on TV and newspaper websites but my point here is that the internet is realtime, rather than on an appointment-to-view basis).

A glance at Twitter shows “White Lightening” (albeit a typo) is now a trending topic. Interesting to see also that Alistair Darling himself is trending — not “budget” or “tax” or “Labour” or anything related, but the man. It’s personal, and the talking points are around the Chancellor and increasing tax on cider.

Looking at conversations across the digital space — from blogs and forums to Facebook, YouTube and beyond — I’ve used Radian 6 to create this word cloud of the hottest topics:

Right now Radian 6 has identified these terms as being at the centre of budget buzz. You can see what’s really driving wider conversation online — it’s cider again, along with discussion around spending (both cuts and increases) and topics connected with housing and business.

Monitoring conversations gives us a realtime view on what’s front of mind, as well as enabling us to identify the most influential players in the discussion. An opportunity here would be for interested parties (be they the Government, the opposition or any other stakeholders) now to look again at their stories and messaging around each of these issues in order to see how they can shape the conversation, using digital tools to facilitate the next stage of the discussion.

Ultimately social networks give online communities a way to examine and talk about every part of the story, however large, however small. Today it’s about cider — and when the election comes you can be sure that internet users, ordinary voters, will examine every detail, regardless of whether the politicians want them to or not.

Social Search

A little bit of geekery today — but don’t go mad! It’s all rather clever stuff from Google in that when you search they’re not only scouring the general internet but potentially also sifting through your friends’ social profiles to find relevant content for you.

Given that the vast majority of people start their internet journeys from a search engine, this  development shows just how important it for brands both to sort out their own websites and crucially create content which people will take away and place on their social profiles.

I’ll leave it to Google to explain how the search bit works:

Gone in 60 seconds

Actually it probably took under 60 seconds for most people to make up their minds about Dominos after they saw this video:

It has been doing the rounds since the start of the week and crossed over into offline breaking news as it topped the “most viral” lists. The stars of the show soon found themselves fired and nicked, and Dominos hastily had to ramp up its online damage-control efforts, one element of which was a video from the boss:

I thought this video was a pretty good response and imagine it has gone a long way to helping repair things. It’s good that they’ve tried to respond using the same medium that ultimately hurt them, and tried to engage on other platforms as well. Just slightly odd that he talks off camera (as if to a reporter) — surely this is a personal address/appeal to customers and should have been straight down the barrel.

Anyway, here are my thoughts:

It doesn’t really matter whether this is a franchise, an isolated incident or an event taking place in the US — the internet is global and this damages the brand globally. Consumers don’t necessarily know or care about the detail. The only thing that matters is you could be sitting 8000 miles away and now never go to Dominos again. Ouch.

A picture paints a thousand words. If ever there were an example of how powerful video can be in terms of a reputation story, this most be high up there.

Popular conscience. A story like this one around food hygiene is the stuff of legend– what people fear could go on inside a kitchen being shown as “true”. Doesn’t really matter if it is a hoax or joke. The perception is that this is what goes on. This kind of stuff inevitably flies online.

The power of one. In the old days it would have been much harder for one person (or I guess two people here) to damage a big brand like Dominos so much and so quickly. Nowadays it takes one person with a video camera who probably thought they were having a laugh. Compare with footage of the cops at the G20 protests.

So what lessons?

  • Monitor the internet proactively to identify issues at an early stage
  • Respond quickly using all means available to push the message out. The video started things here but the conversation quickly spread to Twitter and beyond meaning the company had to engage on other platforms as well.
  • You can’t separate online and offline. This didn’t just happen on the internet, it quickly hit the papers and TV as well.
  • If you are already involved in online conversations then you have a head start on someone who has to build from scratch. Just as in the offline world it takes time to form relationships with people you want to influence.

It can take a tough lesson to show the internet can be make and break. But it’s never too late to start thinking about that digital strategy.

RyanScare? Brandjacking or PR?

“I am not sure we care about people pissing themselves in flight. It is a new revenue stream. Most smell like urine anyway.” Stumbled upon this on Twitter today, purportedly from Ryanair:


First off, is it real or brandjacking? A site called Travelution claims they’ve been told by Ryanair that it’s for real. In my former life as a journo I would have called Ryanair to find out. I’ll leave that for someone else to do on this occasion and we will talk theoretically.

If it’s real (and I simply don’t know at this stage) then is this good digital PR? If this gets people talking and engaging then is it doing its job? Well, the company does have a bit of a reputation for being cheeky and so a controversial approach would be in keeping with that. But if you lay into your customers then are you really doing yourself a favour? So many questions.

I guess at the heart of it is the question of engagement. If they (whoever “they” are) create something that people comment on, interact with (in this case “controversial” tweets) and pass on, then it works. If it loses them business then it backfires. (Of course if this is brandjacking they may want to address it.)

The antihero isn’t a new concept. Maybe it just got an update.

(Of course this could all be a windup and nothing to do with Rynair at all.)

Holy web 2.0

No, that’s not a line from Batman, it’s a reference to the Vatican’s online activities — the latest news is that the Pope is starting up a YouTube channel.

The last Pope was a bit of a digital evangelist, something I learned in the 18 months I spent (on and off) producing his obituary while I was at Sky News. Slightly morbid perhaps but they even have a webcam feed from his tomb.

.Pope Tomb

And there’s an immense amount of religious digital buzz around sites like Facebook with groups of people who become fans of religious figures and saints. There’s even an app with daily prayers.


What I find interesting is the way people are sometimes so surprised to find out all this is going on. I guess religions are about like-minded communities forming bigger communities and spreading the word peer-to-peer. ‘Send-to-a-friend’ is just a modern version of the missionary idea.

Plenty of people are offering opinions about how Obama is using the internet to ‘spread the word’ – it’ll be interesting to see how the Pope grows his digital strategy. Perhaps a Twitter confessional is next on the development list?

[I use this Pope example simply because it’s in the news today and and it made me think about how communities are using the web to communicate. Plenty of other religions/religious communities are using the internet to communicate as well and offer equally interesting examples.]