From fan clubs to supporting refugees

The November Building Online Communities MeetUp guest speaker was Shelley Taylor, who has been doing exciting things in tech for 20 years. In her own words an earlier venture of hers, a digital entertainment platform, was “both a huge success but also a failure” (the success part was 300,000 users). Very Silicon Valley!

A few years ago Shelley started thinking about old-fashioned fan clubs, which have of course been around for ages. Originally using magazines and letters in the post to communicate, it would be easy to think that Facebook and Twitter had completely destroyed the idea of fan clubs. But as is becoming more and more obvious, social media has fallen prey to its own success: artists, record labels, athletes, brands, can’t actually reach their audience on social media any more. This is largely due to the changing business models of the platforms – they rely on advertising for their revenue, so anyone wanting to reach people on them will now have to pay for the privilege (you can read articles with titles such as “What I learned spending $2 Million on Facebook Ads”). In plain terms, the Facebook algorithm will not show your update on your followers’ feed for free. And there are other pitfalls too. There are in the region of 60 Rihanna apps available. Sadly, they all fall under the umbrella of “unauthorized” – the artist has nothing to do with them.


So it might not be an exaggeration to conclude that social media marketing is mostly a waste of time and money. What is needed instead is direct contact and communication with your audience. Face to face, phone, email, can still reach people. Apps may also work better (if you get people to download them first!), as push notifications do get noticed. More old-fashioned, and more hard work, but probably also deeper and better quality communication as well?

This is where Shelley’s Digital Fan Clubs idea comes in. An artist can set up their own branded app, provide content through it, and actually reach their fans who can download the app for free. And it’s not just pop stars that can use the template. Anyone who needs to communicate with specific groups of people can use the same idea. And other organisations have seen the potential benefits, especially those with local information to share (such as a student housing provider).

intro_screenAn interesting and timely application of the idea is Shelley’s prototype refugee support app. Any organisation providing help and support for refugees can app information about their services to the app database, and refugees can then easily find local sources of support, whether legal support or information, food, shelter, or medical help (see image). By the way, it sounded like the biggest issue with this app was collating the data from all the aid agencies into a usable format. That does not surprise me at all…


Two views on behaviour change

I was at the Food Matters Live exhibition again today. We tasted lots of drinks for Club Soda’s dry January programme The MOB, which will again have non-alcoholic drink reviews/suggestions for every day of the month. Our tastings included camel’s milk (disappointingly very similar to cow’s milk), half a dozen tree sap drinks (varying quality), and a countless number of “healthy” fruit juice drinks (healthy to very varying degree I would say…). We also tried an “oxygen” drink, which is basically a fruit juice that has been foamed. Rather heroic health benefits were made for this concoction as well. I do get that oxygen is very good for you, but I’m not sure eating/drinking it is the best way of absorbing the goodness.

A panel discussion on food and behaviour change had Ben Goldacre and Richard Wiseman on it. BG’s opening was a very good brief statement on how most of the misleading media stories on food and health actually come from academia (in particular press releases). He noted that clean, good quality information is the first thing that is needed by consumers if they want to eat a healthier diet. And that requires good evidence-based quidance from the experts.

RW talked a bit about health information and messaging as well. “Keep it simple, keep it positive” was his summary. We as humans like simplicity and positivity. So far so not controversial.

Where things got more interesting was around the “what is to be done” question. BG was quite adamant that the main issues are top-down: society and culture need to change so that people can more easily make healthier choices. RW on the other hand insisted that there are still small choices everyone can make, despite the social pressure for fatty and sugary treats (this difference came about while discussing children, and children’s parties’ catering in particular).

Hmm. I will now make a horrible generalisation, and probably libel many good people (including BG who I have a lot of time for). But there is probably something here, between a stereotypical doctor and a humble psychologist. An “I will tell you what is best for you and you will do exactly so” versus an “I will try to help you to make better (but not perfect) decisions for yourself”? I would take the latter any day myself.