Beyond Bill Nye: Science, Media and Pop culture

Professor Brian Cox is a rare egg.  A physicist, educator and presenter who can harness a sense of wide eyed wonder of Attenborough proportions. So when I was sent a link of his appearance on the Joe Rogan experience I was excited to listen to it, despite the worryingly long 3 hour bloc.

This ended up being a sort of gateway episode  to the stream of consciousness set-up that Joe Rogan champions on his show, transforming the listener into a passive conversationalist, making you wonder why internet radio is more of a niche than mass media channel.


Professor Cox is unsurprisingly an advocate for a government-funded broadcast system such as BBC vs the constant cable TV wars across the pond in America motivated by ratings and the value of eyeballs. Here in Asia, where western media is at the mercy of a different sort of licensing war passes the choice of content to the consumer – but given changing, shorter, more snackable appetites across a range of devices, it is fair to question – for how much longer?

Joe Rogan argues that the cable TV paradigm is at its end, with increasingly vapid, sugar-loaded cereal type shows (Here comes Honey Boo Boo anyone?) he believes that personal interest leads to self-curated content with pockets of its own loyal followers. Rogan has an interesting background, the former host of TV’s Fear Factor and self-proclaimed ‘part of the problem’ he is far removed to where he is today, contributing to a micro-economy of content and choice that play into the dynamics of supply and demand across the web.

Professor Cox takes the opposing view, suggesting that viewing on demand could be cannibalizing the exposure to a wider breadth of content such as the sciences which is important to keep relevant at a cultural level.

The strongest case for the Kardashians yet                                                          


It’s by no means a new argument, and they both raise interesting perspectives. Professor Cox comes from a BBC background, an arrangement funded by tax payers to siphon interest in a range of topics. Whilst Rogan asks why wait for the BBC to spoon feed you? Rogen does not believe that this is mutually exclusive – raising a valid point, albeit jokingly, that boredom leads to stimulation. An episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians should in theory send us all kicking and screaming to the history channel.

Professor Cox counters that a programming mix, a ying and yang of public intere – the X-factor aired at primetime deliberately followed by a science programme is an easy way to cast your net wider. He talks about education not being the only place for ideas – for it to have resonance to a newer generation it must be filtered into culture.

It’s a noble enough sentiment, but is leaving the programming strategy to the professionals a mono-device perspective? As beloved as the TV is in the modern household and may never be replaced – we’re all still two-timing it.

The internet is not just an incubator but a sort of lattice-work for ideas. My seven year old watches MineCraft tutorial videos on  YouTube with  gusto, and then uses what he learns in the game. These are positive engagements that trump his experience of passive watching. After all, the idea of introducing science into popular culture should lead to inspiration not inundation. Could it be that interaction or the ability to turn content into utility on the internet, and therefore get more out of it, is why our eyeballs are straying? We can’t definitively say, of course – but it is something to consider certainly when looking at the user behaviour of the  next gen.

A free lunch for whom?              

 Full disclosure – I look at paying to access media online as an open gamble, placing my bets by funding the content I like which plays in a system that would theoretically benefit me in the long run.  Isn’t this the same theory Facebook newsfeed applies with sponsored placements for brands to gain visibility or for users to determine preferences? These content algorithms are beasts at this point, and ads can be a way to control them, provided they are not abused. We are already playing by the rules of a new media economy. Also, here I am listening to a podcast on Stitcher – with seven minutes of advertising before the show starts. So what does this mean?  My hunch is a matrix system of both, the behavioural trend that Rogan touches on – ease of access, content creators across the world working alongside the big guns of the entertainment industry, provided they continue to evolve within a platform agnostic mentality. Let them choose not just what, and when they want to watch it, but how. The customer is still always right.

Getting Meta                                                                                                                

The entire first part of this segment was by fluke something I was interested in, and as a testament to what they were both saying – how science must become a part of culture – of our collective consciousness -I was slowly pulled into their conversation, nudging the elastic band around my interests just that bit further.

This podcast also contains one of the most succinct explanation of the Higgs Boson yet ( a new fundamental particle that gives mass to other particles). They talk about infinite possibilities and monkeys on typewriters, life outside of earth, the speed and distances of light, probability,  and how the science of Cosmology is a powerful aid to philosophical thought. That piece particularly struck a chord. We are arguably an indescribably special species, but we’re also kind of doing it all wrong. We manifest this uniqueness in some pretty crappy ways from segregation to destruction.


When we look at what the Higgs Boson has allowed for; from putting a man on the moon, to sliced bread, to Betty White – from electrons to life; a way to ensure survival, propagation and connectivity; it seems like a highly disingenuous way to go about this whole higher intelligent life thing. A thought which I suppose underscores the entire idea behind their talk – we could all benefit from a little bit of perspective. A little more science in our everyday lives.

Social Media : A Piece of Cake

Project: Do Stuff is ticking along nicely and I have reveled in the energy that comes from doing things that fall outside of the day-to-day. It’s also been nice to see how these external projects have actually enhanced my day-to day (Google might be onto something with their 20% rule). So how did two of my favourite things – Social Media, and Cake find themselves as bedfellows? Read on..

So there I was, a month to go before  Adara’s 3rd birthday party, furiously researching cakes and decorating tips that would meet her highness’s discerning standards (in other words purple and pretty) when I came across a whole new world of cake-design on social media. Apart from the fantastic YouTube tutorials and a bazillion links on Pinterest, a productive chunk of Zuckerberg’s 1 billion are obsessively passionate about all things pretty and cake. I was struck with how active these cake pages were, daily posts – daily responses, helpful, passionate and fun.

Their efforts are solid – a mixed bag showcasing stunning creations, sharing tips, tricks, tutorials, theming days,  encouraging opinion, dialogue and conversation. Royal Bakery, Planet Cake, Victorious Cupcakes and Peggy Does Cake have become fast favourites. In terms of numbers, they’re  all in the double-digit thousands which I find impressive given these are home-grown pages, and almost certainly an organically-grown audience. From a social media practitioners POV, it was nice to get up close and personal with an interest group –  observe and be a part of a new kind of conversation.

I was at a SM conference a couple of years ago and it was stressed even then, that the best social media case studies don’t always stem from the wizardry of a 4A’s digital agency. Sometimes you only have to look as far as your local corner shop, at the individuals and businesses with a real understanding of their customers and what it takes to foster brand advocacy. One post in particular, from Royal Bakery stood out for me and I wanted to share from it some terrific home truths and (perhaps inadvertently) some tips to engage users on Social Media. I also love that Royal Bakery has a Monday Moan:

1. “Grow pages by giving visitors a reason to be there, a reason to come back and tell their friends”                                                                                                                   Once a user lands on your page, they should be able to understand at first glance – who you are, what you are doing on Facebook and how you engage with your fans.

2. “..By when she found me, I’d already started writing tutorials and making YouTube videos”                                                                             In other words… content, content, content! Always have a content strategy in place. Whether you’re a media giant or a car repair shop – there’s always something to say, or a story to what you do. Sample your content, ideas, and champion your cause! Try a few things out – unless your post is offensive or spam-my your page will hardly suffer any unlikes for it. Would a behind the scenes look  resonate with your audience? Why not? We know that hard-sell doesn’t work on Social Media, and we know the cost of acquisition (getting a user to like a page) is higher than the cost of retention (keeping them there) so you’re already best placed to find out what works and what doesn’t – they’re already THERE.

3.”The way to grow a page, like any business, is by hard work, finding a niche and trying to be original.” This is a great one –  there are absolutely no shortcuts, the quicker you accept that, the quicker you can get going!

4. “Give a little bit extra” If you can, if it doesn’t take a lot of effort, and is related to your product or content, why not?

5.” Lots of likes does not equal lots of customers” And the number of people ‘talking about this’ also isn’t an accurate message of how engaged your users are either.

6. “I have my Free-for-all Friday so everyone can show off their work once a week”    Welcome user generated content, feature it, celebrate it –  this is content for you, and a way to foster loyalty with your audience.  Everyone wins.

7. “If I like a page and want to see its posts on my newsfeed — then I’ll like the page” …and there we have it, a truth that hasn’t changed from day one. We’re at the tail end of 2012, and I’ve seen some conversations floating around on LinkedIn on the value of a ‘like’ in 2012. What’s a like worth? What it’s always been worth. There is a small window from the minute a like button is clicked and the first few of your posts appearing on a user’s newsfeed. Whether you stay visible on that newsfeed relies on you. I’m afraid you can’t really have any ‘off’ days.  Does your brand consistently offer value to your audience and initiate meaningful conversation?

So thank you, Royal Bakery for this delicious post and of course, for the fabulous and inspiring cake updates. Birthday party season (Oct – Dec)  is also my annual excuse to load up on baking love like piping nozzles (‘HONEY, There is ONLY one grass tip. How pedestrian do you want this cake to look?’)  Arcane gel colours I won’t ever use, specialty cake pans and more fiddly bits and pieces.  And if you’re wondering.. here’s the cake I made on Sunday for Adara’s 3rd Birthday Princesses and Knights party. It passed the 3 year old approval process with flying colours (she wanted to dip a finger into it as soon as she saw it) although she was a bit fixated on cutting the doll’s hair off. Last year of goes..


Social Media: Is Talk Cheap?

It’s a question that’s being asked much less of now than a few years ago; and the debates have evolved over time from ‘what’s the value of social media?’ to ‘how do we best quantify this value?’

There are of course, a host of other hotly debated topics within the realm of social media marketing – does it make sense for your business to be platform led (reach) or content led (engagement)?  Who should be at the helm of your social efforts? Arguments following this range from flitting dangerously close to ageism to mixed feelings about outsourcing a brand’s voice. And outside of the structural and budgetary considerations (as we all know, build it and they will come does not always apply to the virtual World) there’s the delicate matter of balancing your objectives with your consumers’ interest – the magical bridge between the astounding audience on social media, and a conversation that adds value to your brand – which also happens to resonate with your audience.

Speak to me, Human.

Let’s also not forget that social media can be somewhat of a dystopia – with eyeballs come blinkers; in the case of Facebook: the right hand side ad column.  Every few weeks another round of Digital doomsdayers predicting the rise and fall of social platforms; after-all the law of diminishing returns still applies in most other cases  (save maybe Google and Apple). The next big thing can come along any day and usurp all our efforts and fragment our audience on the many platforms we’re already  playing in.

Frankly, I think this completely misses the point.

A social web ENABLED virality. It’s not just a platform change that gave us the rather terribly dubbed ‘web 2.0’. It’s a behavioural shift that came to be well before Mark Zuckerburg ever entered Harvard, or Myspace Tom was everybody’s first friend. We’ve come a long way from the wail of the dial-up modem, pop-up ads, to the worrying overpopulation of the Trolls of today, (of course my spam inbox’s wish that I become a well endowed millionaire, by the grace of a Nigerian prince, with a green card has remained unchanged) there’s a human layer that’s been growing on the web for years and with it, a conversation happening about virtually everything.

Personally, these are the conversations that influence everything from the products I buy, to the services I use, the place I go, and the things I do. And now brands have a voice too – and we’re all in the same playground or supermarket, whichever way you look at it.

These are the conversations happening, whether or not you are a part of them.

This should not scare marketers. If your product, content, or service is that good – you have the opportunity to lose the gimmick and focus on the product. If there’s room for improvement, you will know – hard and fast – and there will be plenty of people that will tell you.

The term ‘social currency’ gets thrown around a lot. But this is not anything new. So going back to the ROI of social media? I decided to flip it on its head, using myself as a guinea pig. Take a look at what I put together below. These are brands and services that I have advocated on public forums and social media platforms over the past five years. ALL of them have led to a direct action – ranging from a clickthrough, to an enquiry to a sale.


And to end, a pretty cool video that’s been going around this week. Prophetic 5th graders about the internet – circa 1995: