Last week I submitted a bid to be the HuffPost citizen journalist at Copenhagen.  All in all, it was rather a wild ride, beset by obstacles, weird moments, highs and lows…

I didn’t win, but I learnt a lot, very fast, which I think counts as a win overall.

This isn’t sour grapes – the guy that got the gig was so much more deserving of it than I (good luck David Kroodsma!) but knowledge is power, so I wanted to share my ‘key learnings’, (to use a hideous phrase aptly described as “what an ‘opinion’ becomes when spoken by an idiot“).

It’s scary out there.

I’ve often had a tendency to be impatient with consumer-facing companies who are reluctant to dip their toes into the ocean of the social web, taking the view that if as a brand, you’re already being talked about, like it or not, and a decision not to participate means you relinquish not only control but the ability to respond or learn.

However, my experience of effectively putting myself in exactly that position gave me a new appreciation for the fact that giving up control is a scary thing to do. The internet can be a hostile and terrifying place.  I got some negative comments on my Facebook profile, I got hate mail – ok, only one email, but that was one more than I’ve ever got before.  If you put yourself in the public domain and are aligned to a set of values, there is truly a perception that you’re fair game, that you lose your right to complain about and much less control what people think and say about you. And perhaps that’s fair – which is a thought to be explored elsewhere – but it had never really been brought home to me with such clarity before.  I’m a behind-the-camera person – to find myself stage centre, albeit in a very small way, was new territory, and I think it’s given me some insight that will help me do this on behalf of clients with greater sensitivity in the future.

Of course it was far from all bad -I was truly humbled by the volume of support and positivity I received. Thanks people; you’re amazing!

Usability Uber Alles

I heard from a number of people that they found the HuffPo voting process incredibly difficult to use.  You had to sign up an account to be able to register, but that was unclear; the ‘log in with Twitter’ function allowed you to log in but didn’t then count your vote unless you had a pre-existing HuffPo account linked to that Twitter profile; there were seven stages to get to register…in terms of usability it was nightmarish.

I’m inferring that this means hundreds of people who were perhaps less engaged would have fallen out early in the process.  If you like me and still found it a hassle, how much less likely is a stranger to bother completing the journey?

(Although my mum managed to vote, so perhaps we are spoilt and impatient internet people with unreasonable expections..?)

Cheats never prosper

There was a high level of vote spamming, a few contenders sabotaging other entrants’ videos by ranking them poorly and generally a fair bit of the sort of behaviour you’d expect from YouTube trolls rather than people on a mission to save the planet.  I was miffed, but while it certainly damaged my chances of making it to Copenhagen, the people responsible for the nefariousness didn’t win either, so while I’m a loser, I’m a loser with my principles intact.

Content really and truly is king

Australia was late to the Hopenhagen party, so I got my entry in on the day submissions closed and with only two days on the campaign trail before voting closed.

I made a rather hurried video and frankly, it wasn’t much cop. As you can doubtless tell, I’m rather awkward in front of the camera and my editing skills were rusty.  I had some last minute help from some kind and brilliant people but essentially, the film was pretty bad.  The concept was good – it’s an homage to an incredible Argentinian film (link pending) but it fell down at execution. What did that mean?  It meant that there was little or no way it could travel outside my network.  The votes I got were as a result of the goodwill and friendship of people I interact with on a personal level, but the moment the content left my own network, it failed.  Second tier networks relied on that next group’s personal influence, but this influence became weaker and weaker because it wasn’t backed up by something anyone wanted to share.

My asking my friend to vote for me is fine – people probably voted for me without needing to quality check the content – that’s how friendship works. But my friend then asking someone who doesn’t know me to vote is less compelling, and without something amazing to share (on top of the barriers to voting already outlined), there is no possibilty that my friend’s friend is going to pass on the message to their friends.  I forgot to press the ‘go viral’ button, if you will.

Let go

I learnt something I perhaps once knew but had forgotten: the heady, intoxicating joy and power of seizing the day, taking risks and daring to try. I’m a perfectionist by nature, and creating something sub-par and sending it out into the world with my name attached was genuinely painful. But on balance, without trying, I would never have learnt so much, been overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of so many people, and on a more prosaic level, the message about climate change would not have travelled as far and wide as it did.  It was a clever word of mouth / social media campaign by Ogilvy: winning the competition was so much less important than getting people talking, hopefully inspiring them to think about climate change, take action, take back the power.  And in that respect, it was a resounding success.

Now all we need to do is save the planet…

Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it – Goethe

Especial thanks to Natalie, Dermot, Ky, Gavin, Barry and Felix

10 thoughts on “Everyday’s a schoolday: what I learned from Hopenhagen.

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Everyday’s a schoolday: what I learned from Hopenhagen. « a cat in a tree -- Topsy.com

  2. I think the other thing you ran into was some ancient history.

    Couple of years ago, a school girl in South America did a “backmask” video on YouTube about climate change – saying the opposite or negative then reading forward again to a more positive spin. An agency then ripped it off as an Ad, won an award or something and the YouTube/blogosphere was outraged. Since then anything that looks like reverse or backmasking around climate change is treated with suspicion. My memory is poor on details but I do remember how powerful the video affected me and how I got slapped for promoting the Ad one (which I saw first with no context).

    So yeah, you ran into some old wounds without knowing about them.

    PS Y’know Susan Boyle came second in UK Got Talent but I doubt many people remember who came first now. 🙂

  3. @silkcharm – thanks, yeah, that’s exactly the video i was paying tribute to -hadn’t realised it was likely to be received negatively. I can’t seem to find the original- anyone got a link?

  4. Great post. I particularly like the central paragraph of ‘Content is King’ – your description of a weakening spheres of personal influence gave me pause for thought.

    I don’t do this for a living as you do, but I am amazed at the apparent arbitrariness of what messages do go viral. Classically, I think we know what they are when we see them – which makes us better commentators than psychics.

    This is a nicely written very humble piece – I think you’ve come away from your experience with a little glow of saintliness about you.

  5. It takes courage to affirm the positive relation between taking risks and having a go when the outcome wasn’t what you wanted. I admire that.

  6. i think you did well too. i know all about the online voting thing – it’s so dissappointing when you don’t win (but only for a few moments). As you eloquetly put it – the win is in the getting up and trying!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! big hug

  7. I think you did a great job mate. The Huff Post website really put me off though… and I really don’t think we have unreasonable expectations. The Twitter sign in should have been enough. We are busy people!

  8. Pingback: On being a Sydneysider « a cat in a tree

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