Codebreakers and Golden Hares: Finding The Feeling In Social Media

In insecure times, codes and codebreakers matter more than ever. So military and intelligence services worldwide face a problem – how to recruit people with the very specialist skills and interests required to become cryptologists and break high-level codes? In 2014 the US Navy launched Project Architeuthis, its innovative stab at cracking this particular conundrum.

Architeuthis was a recruiting program with a difference. It centred on an augmented reality game, where players, alone or in teams, followed a trail of clues around the web to solve extremely hard cryptology puzzles. The prize was an unusual one – encouragement to apply to become a Navy cryptologist.

The game was a massive success. Fuelled by a bubble of media attention from Mashable to the Daily Telegraph, wannabe code-crackers from around the world took part, and the US Navy found enough people to fill its recruiting quota.

Project Architeuthis won enormous acclaim among marketers and the media for its sheer cleverness and its elegant solution to a tough recruiting challenge. It carried off the WARC Social Strategy prize this year, and it’s a deserved winner.

But the very things that make it such a great project also point to one of the biggest challenges for using social media effectively as a marketer. How do you get lightning to strike, not just twice, but repeatedly? Continue reading

Big Data And The Power Of N=1

Since the birth of the teenager, what teens do has been a source of shock, worry and voyeuristic fascination for adults. Every adult was once a teen, which means the focus of their concern isn’t, deep down, the behaviour, but the specific cultural clothes it’s dressed up in. Fashion, politics, music, videogames, and nightlife have all fallen under the judgemental spotlight, assessed with a mix of disdain, bafflement, and barely disguised envy.

Nowadays, of course, the point of interest is social media. “How teens use social media” is the subject that launched a thousand posts. Infographics scream about a handful of percentiles difference in teen activity across sites. Newspaper thinkpieces peer, smelling salts in hand, at teenage hookup apps. Marketers oil up and wrestle each other in pits for the right to name the Generation after Y and map its digital life.


Most research reports feel as authentic as this photo.

And pieces like this one get read, a lot. “I’m 17 And It’s All About Brand Me”, writes Carmin Chappell about her highly mediated, presentational, digitally-enabled life. It’s a very good piece – self-aware and full of good examples. It deserves its 1400 tweets and 800 Facebook mentions – a whole lot more than any blog post by me, or by any other researcher I can think of. (Yes, it’s on Mashable, so it automatically has a bigger audience – but Mashable knows what its readers want.)

But as a researcher, it made me feel bad. The thing is, making information exciting and shareable is our job as researchers – or ought to be. Continue reading

What’s In A Number?

It seems my LinkedIn profile is one of the 5% most viewed in the world. Yours might be, too, since it seems an awful lot of people I know have been mentioning and tweeting this apparent honour – helpfully provided to us by LinkedIn itself.

What’s going on here? My first thought – since I only really use the service intermittently – was “Wow, LinkedIn must have a lot of junk accounts”. Then I clicked on the email they’d sent me – and it turns out the idea is to celebrate the service hitting 200 million members.

Woo hoo!

So their angle is that they want their established members to keep using it, to understand they’re an important part of LinkedIn, and to generally feel valued, perhaps valued enough to upgrade to LinkedIn Premium, where you can get all the details on those tasty views.

Behaviourally speaking, they’ve ticked a few boxes here. Continue reading