How to communicate with the online community: a report from both sides of the wall

As part of Quadriga’s Online Communication 2009 conference, I was invited by the organisers to present some reflections about how to communicate with people online, drawn from both personal and professional experiences, in the form of an after-dinner speech. This was a new experience for me: I’ve never done an after-dinner speech before. Lots of presentations, lectures, debates and panels, but nothing in quite this format before, with no visual aid, nestled in between main course and dessert.

Rather than just post my notes, here’s a fully-written up version of what I said, including links to sources, resources, inspirations and further reading. Forgive the slightly odd formatting, with so many paragraphs – it’s structured this way to reflect the emphasis and pauses and topic sections as I spoke.

If anyone wants it, I was thinking about making an audio version available to download, because this is fairly long (about 25 minutes) – let me know if this would be interesting to you. And if you’re interested in me giving this presentation (or one similar) at an event you’re organising, do get in touch.

When I first told my friends I was coming to Amsterdam to speak to a room full of online communication executives, they asked me why I had to fly to Amsterdam to do that. Why do we all need to get together in one room? Couldn’t I just do it by email, maybe in a newsletter or a series of tweets?

Well, maybe – but if that had been the case, I wouldn’t have got to enjoy such a delicious meal and wouldn’t have met so many of you face to face. So thank you for giving me the opportunity to do that.

Actually, yesterday I asked my Twitter contacts whether there’s anything they’d recommend to a room full of the best and brightest communication professionals in Europe. I got a lot of interesting answers, many of which I’ll draw on later, but I particularly liked this suggestion from a contact who said:

“Just tell them they should promote the juniors for two months and let them run wild over the internet.”

Well, it’s an idea. Not sure it’s the first thing you could do, but still…

When Quadriga were putting together the conference programme, I was asked to present my perspective on online communication from “both sides of the wall” – as a keen online user both personally and professionally.

I’s just like to note that that implies the wall is somehow this insurmountable, divisive thing which is rarely scaled. In fact, the walls are coming down. I think it’s remarkably easy – and getting easier – to hop from one side to the other, and in fact the boundaries are blurring for many of us every day. I count myself as incredibly lucky that my professional life draws on my personal experiences and passions.

As part of that, I have a confession to make.

One in 10:10

Yesterday, a new empowering climate change campaign called 10:10 launched with the aim of encouraging as many people, companies and institutions as possible to sign up to a pledge to cut their personal carbon footprints by 10% during 2010.

Here’s a chunk from one of the articles from yesterday’s Guardian G2:

The 10:10 campaign, which is launched today in partnership with the Guardian, is designed both to answer the call for immediate action, and to offer individuals and organisations a meaningful way of taking it. It is the brainchild of Franny Armstrong, the irrepressible film-maker behind The Age of Stupid, a powerful docudrama about our failure to tackle climate change. The idea is compellingly simple: by signing up, individuals and organisations from multinational companies to schools and hospitals commit to doing their best to cut their emissions by 10% by the end of 2010, precisely the sort of deep, quick cut the scientists say is needed.

You can read much more about the initiative, the launch, the philosophy behind it and the difference that such an apparently small commitment would make here on the Guardian environment site (The Guardian is a supporting partner of 10:10, though this probably earns it a higher place on the IoS’s smuggest Britons list – this year we were included for being “Patronising toffs, taking their revenge on the world after being bullied at school.” Does that mean the IoS are pro-bully? Or just bitter? Most confusing. Anyway, I digress.) or at the official campaign site at

I signed up yesterday:

I signed up

10% is a very achievable reduction for the vast majority of people, and can be made through a small number of very simple (and not too hairshirted) actions (which we should all be doing anyway and which take very little effort)..

I’m inspired to think that a committed movement of people making small, personal but significant actions might be able to make a real difference. What was it Margaret Mead said…?

I hope you will consider signing up, too, and encourage your friends to do likewise, even though I know that many people try to live in an environmentally-sensitive way already, for lots of varying individual reasons.

Proselytizing aside, I went along to the launch event yesterday at the Tate Modern on London’s south bank, and had a few thoughts and experiences there that I wanted to jot down while they were still in my head.

The taste of summer

When I lived in Seville, as late spring turned into early summer, it got hot.

Really hot.

Hot like a fair-skinned person from northern Europe dreams of for a few weeks a year, but fears beyond that.

Hot like holidays.

Hot like lying around barely moving for several hours in the middle of the day.

Hot like siestas suddenly make sense.

Hot like scurrying in a beetlish manner from shadow to shadow along the street whenever you had to go out.

Hot like the only relief was lying barely clothed on the cool marble floor of the living room after a cold shower, metal blinds shut tight and tickled by a light breeze from a lazily swirling ceiling fan.


For most of the day, it was simply too damned hot to eat, but there were two things which became staples during that stifling summer and since.

Tinto de Verano – “summer wine” – is th classic long cool drink, but because it’s made with wine rather than spirits, it’s not so potent, and instead is remarkably refreshing.

You will need:
A tall glass, like a classic coke tumbler
Lots of ice
Red wine – table variety is perfect. In fact, look in your local supermarket for French or Spanish table wine or vin de pays which come in a plastic bottle or carton, like juice. You want something cheap, fruity, not trying too hard.
Schweppes bitter lemon mixer. In Spain they use a kind of lemonade called la casera gaseosa, but bitter lemon is ideal. Fizzy clear lemonade (r whites, etc) is too sweet. At a push you can use fizzy water and lemon juice.

Fill glass with ice.
Add red wine to the 2/3 mark.
Top off with bitter lemon.

Take a long cool sip. You’ve earnt it.

(incidentally, I’ve seen something like this advertised this summer as a branded thing for blossom hill rose. Don’t believe the hype!)

Gazpacho del campo, as made by my friend Javier’s mother in a tiny village in Jaén, is nothing like the chilled, pallid soup you may have met before. In fact, it’s more of a salad.

You will need:

Bread (like from a baguette), torn into rough lumps bigger than croutons but small enough to be speared by a fork and fit in your mouth.
Lots of cucumber & tomato, a little onion, garlic, straight from the fridge and all finely chopped – keep all the juices as you chop.
BIG slug of olive oil.
Decent slug of vinegar (balsamic)
Slug of tomato juice (if your veg isn’t very juicy or if you like it)
Salt and pepper (plenty)

Put the bread in the bottom of a bowl.
Throw on the salad bits and all the juices.
Glug on the oil, vinegar and tomato juice and seasoning and toss well, so everything smooshes together a bit. You’re aiming for a soggy salad.

Nom with a glass of tinto. Deeeeeelish.

The thing is, chilled soup is sometimes a bit meh, because the consistency and the flavour are unexpected and can be quite bland. Having the same ingredients as a wet salad allows all the flavours to emerge and collide in your mouth.