Speak for Yourself: So far

The basic idea seems obvious and always has been obvious, for me, but even after six years of ‘social media’ changing everything about the Internet, about how we use our phones and read the news, even about how we watch TV, it still seems to be worth talking about: Speak for Yourself. Talk about what you think and put it out there.

Having a great online presence that reflects who you are, and reaping the results – high Google rankings, more ease and immediacy in dealing with the outside world, better connections within the organisation and ultimately more fun doing what you do – is not difficult, yet there is hardly anyone who does it well. Even worse, the rise of ‘content marketing’ means there are more and more offers of outsourcing this important process. Why would you do that?

When ‘social media’ went mainstream in 2008, I had been part of online communities for more than a decade. I could see that it would become a marketing tool and started trying to get everyone with any voice to help steer against that, because with too much of that, people wouldn’t hang about and the potential for bringing people together would be lost. I remember trying to talk to charities first, thinking that they would balance out commercial interests on these new platforms.

We organised a #media140 event for charities and I became part of the #nfptweetup events. I realised quickly that charities were not the answer.

I then started working with Haringey council’s libraries department and became part of the #localgovcamp network. This was much better, all genuine people who were interested in using new technology to change local democracy. With #ukgovcamp born out of the same network this grew to changing democracy, and finally government. Out of #ukgc came GDS, the multi-award-winning Government Digital Service. Many of the people from the network ended up working here.

Most others with had similar starting points to me, early adopters of social media, people so passionate they came to Tuttle every Friday morning and discussed the great potential of these new platforms, have moved on. Some are now joking about not ‘teaching people how to tweet’ any more, most are doing other things, simply because it’s not an easy business to be in if you like things steady and reliable. Some have joined digital agencies and are now tweeting for businesses in an old-school PR model, others have moved to building software instead of offering advice. I moved back into publishing for a bit and have become a crafter, but I’m still exactly where I was – trying to help -, because there are still a lot of lessons to be taught.

My core idea is not to teach how to tweet, even though being able to use Twitter well definitely helps. The times when this becomes most obvious: 1. you’re at a conference, or were supposed to be at a conference & couldn’t make it, 2. there’s an emergency, and, 3. the Eurovision Song Contest. No, I’m joking. 3. a Twitter chat within a distributed network, with a set time, around a set issue. More about this later.


We know social media platforms are Silicon Valley businesses and they all have their problems. Keep your content somewhere that’s all yours and use the platforms to interact. What platforms will depend on what it is you do, and also on where the people you need to talk to are. More about this, too, later.

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