'Who needs customers when you have
friends, fans and followers?!'
It's been a week of imparting knowledge for me as I continue to tour the business to deliver our social media practitioner day course. Last week I had a great time presenting to the new students of our Highways Academy in Wyboston Lakes training centre. What's encouraging is that there is a real appetite from people to learn more and one common theme that is agreed on by all is that for business Social Media is a no-brainer - even if you're only just listening.

However, I have noticed an increasing number of people deciding that on a personal level it is something in which they no longer want to partake. I think that one reason for this may be that the popularity of Social Media grew so fast many people didn't realise the far reaching implications of what they had signed up for. This education of how the internet is still changing our world needs to be emphasised at a young age, and as a father myself, I feel it is my duty to really ensure that my children are discerning enough to correctly understand what Social Media (and the internet in general) is and how it can be used/abused.

Far from simply demonising Social Media education on the subject cannot be underestimated to ensure we are not ignorant of its evils. You would not expect someone to be able to drive a car without extensive training and a certain level of maturity so why should the use of the internet be any different? It is an increasingly large part of our modern world and simple avoidance is just not possible as anyone with a computer, mobile phone and internet connection is vulnerable, either at home or work.

In my training I begin by putting social media into context and stating that I believe we are currently in the biggest period of expressive human capability in history. There have been four significant periods of this in the last few centuries with the invention of:
  1. The printing press
  2. The telegraph/telephone
  3. Recorded media - photography, audio and film
  4. Radio and television 
This is the landscape every one of my generation grew up with and as soon as they were invented there were people using them for good and sadly, as is human nature, abusing them. As the technology increased so did the propensity for evil. What these all have in common are that there are limitations in that the ones that were good at creating conversations (i.e. telephone) were bad at creating groups, and the ones which are good at creating groups (i.e. television) could only address everyone with the same message. The invention of the internet was to take this to another level...

Suddenly this became the mode of carriage for every other media (e.g. eBooks, Skype, YouTube and iPlayer) meaning that all of the above existed right next door to each other. By this occurring the usage and possibilities were quadrupled and so were the dangers.

However, the real change is that each consumer who joins the internet is also a producer - they can write a blog, upload a video, even broadcast live to the world. This is where Social Media comes in as by having a WiFi connection in your home you're allowing ready access to anyone’s opinion to be piped directly in uncensored. It goes without saying that careful monitoring and effective blocks are essential.

It has taken a while for people to wise up to this but essentially the internet is more powerful and dangerous than any communication medium before it. The dangers are many, some of which have been well documented in the form of cyber-bullying, copyright infringement, impersonal communication and screen addiction. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are really just the tip of the iceberg with other channels such as Snapchat, Periscope and Ask.fm potentially being much more sinister propositions.

What I have taken from this is that I want to bring my children up in a way where they fully understand the implications of what they do online and can make intelligent choices on how they decide to engage with it and encourage an open and honest relationship where will can talk about it together. I am massively thankful that some of the immature and stupid things I did when I was young are not documented anywhere! As human beings one of the most powerful and hard ways to learn is through our own mistakes and despite its many uses the internet/social media is a perilous place when used ignorantly and casually.
Kier's Mersey Gateway project as
featured in our 2015 annual report
It's been a particularly busy week for me at Kier as I have been responsible for the online publication of our annual report. As am I yet to be in the job for a year I'm still learning the key milestones and dates for our preliminary results, employee roadshows and reports. I've tried to improve on what has come before and instead of simply publishing a downloadable PDF I've created a bespoke highlights page which pulls out the key points and makes the contents much more readable and SEO friendly. I have big plans for next year too...!

This summer has definitely been my favourite for the last few years as being out of education has meant I didn't have to be forever present for Clearing and could holiday when I wanted! It also meant that I wasn't a slave to Google AdWords and the constant monitoring it has demanded in the past.

At Kier, we've primarily been concentrating on improving our organic reach and as we have historically not had a robust strategy for online, the content we are now seeding is working great. Our brand mentions, following and sentiment are all on a steady rise so until we start to see it plateau advertising in general is not in our strategy. We have the luxury of being one of the biggest names in the sectors in which we operate.

This got me thinking as to the future of paid advertising online. With it becoming increasingly easy to block adverts will we start to see a decline in the revenue it generates? In the past only the tech-savvy people would happily boast of their latest browser plug-in, host file or proxy that would make their browsing advert free. However, with public perception and legislation all now aware of online privacy, consumers are beginning to exercise their options. The app store now offers 'content blockers' which are easy to setup and make most ads disappear from the pages you visit with ease - Hooray!

But how should we feel about this? If someone approached me to advertise on this blog and I was comfortable with their product offer it would definitely be an incentive to post more regularly. However, I am definitely one of those people who gets annoyed with the same advert running before I watch any YouTube video!

On a basic level, without adverts certain apps and websites would not exist. It's how they make their money and by blocking the adverts you could be said to be essentially stealing the content. If I want to play 'Words with Friends' for example, it's reasonable to accept that the developer needs to find a way to monetise my using it. However, in this example the method, format and currency of exchange have been chosen for me.

Another type of consent is demonstrated by the ubiquitous 'we use cookies - opt in/out' warnings we get on most UK websites. Although ridiculous and annoying this highlights that there's no way you would have chosen to consent to the company now tracking, retargeting and sharing this data with others just by visiting their website. By carrying on the floodgates are open and the form the advertising now takes is basically that of someone shouting at you to try and distract you from what you're doing but hopefully in a targeted manner! Hence the increased popularity of ad blockers - advertisers push so we push back. In the end we'll either look somewhere else for our content or further develop our 'ad blindness'.

The main issue is that in my experience ad-serving sites/apps are targeting the users who are looking for only momentary distractions. The content they offer is not unique so the reader goes elsewhere to find what they want without a myriad of annoying popups. These sites are facing a crisis entirely of their own making as they defined their terms of engagement and value right from the start. I've already seen some more agressive tactics coming into play such as blocker-blocking and self-hosted ads.

Hopefully, I won't be diving back into that murky world in the immediate future...
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