Professional Comedy Writing 101

Something that I’ve been asked a lot over the years when people see/hear my name come up in the credits for something or ask what I’ve been working on is, “How did you get that?” Of course, having spent 16 years performing as a stand-up comedian, the question is usually from a stand-up and the undertone to it is a definite, “Why you and not me?” Just the same as it is when I ask other people that question!

Anyway, I thought that I’d put together as simple a guide as I can. My ‘Professional Comedy Writing 101’, if you will. Will it help you? That’s hard to say. Talent can be nurtured through practice… but if it’s not there then nothing’s going to improve the situation. However, if you don’t try, you’ll never know.



This is the simplest but most important piece of advice that I can give. If you want to be a comedy writer (or any kind of writer), write! Imagine saying to a taxi driver, “I’d love to get paid to drive a car”, then follow it up with, “Although I don’t actually have a driving licence.” One of the common misconceptions people have is that you start doing something once somebody pays you to do it. Wrong, you do it because you want to, you keep doing it to get better and eventually you build up both your abilities and the body of work that you have behind you to act as a portfolio. Then somebody might pay you to do it.
‘Writing’ can sound very daunting but it doesn’t have to be. I wrote a play script last year (it didn’t get picked up, but hey) and a few years ago that would have seemed like a very daunting prospect to me. However, I looked at it this way.

• Have I written jokes? Yes.
• Have I written sketches? Yes.
• Have I written (on spec) a sitcom script? Yes.
• So could I write something a length up from that – a 50min play script? Yes, why not?

So whether what you have bouncing around in your head to start with is a joke, a limerick, a real story that you want to edit to make sharper and funnier… get it written down. Then the next format up in length that you try to write won’t seem so daunting.

The normal day of a comedy writer. See? I'm already giving you examples of joke writing...

The normal day of a comedy writer. See? I’m already giving you examples of joke writing…

Understand that writing for money will mean writing to a brief other than your own.

Writing for stand-up was simple, I just said what I wanted to say. Of course, I had to take into account the audience’s likely reaction, then the audience’s actual reaction and keep re-shaping things from there. Well… actually, I didn’t always have such a good record on that. It depended on my mood. Anyway, let’s gloss over that part.

If you’re serious about writing professionally then you should be used to writing for pleasure but very few people will be able to go straight to fully realising their own dream in a paid capacity. Or to ever get to do that. Generally, you’ll be writing to briefs laid down by producers for existing or upcoming shows (or to the parameters of a comedians’ style and requirements if you begin writing for comedians).
That’s something that you just have to get your head around and get on with. What you need to consider is, does what I’ve written match the parameters of the –

• Cast
• Broadcaster
• Timeslot
• Format

Generate comedy ideas through perspiration when inspiration isn’t working

This is the other difficult part about writing comedy professionally. If you have a commission, you’ve made an agreement in advance to produce a certain amount of material of a certain quality. Hence, you can’t just write whatever you generate through inspiration alone, send that in and hope for the best. You have to produce at least (and usually more – to allow leeway for the producer’s take on that material) the agreed amount of material.

What are some tips to generate ideas? Well, sometimes, geekily, I think of jokes at their most basic form as being like a chemical reaction. a + b = joke. So perhaps if you were writing for a sketch show, character + setting = funny sketch. You could do something as basic as draw up a list of different types of person/job and a list of different locations and then go down them seeing if the thought of each combination sparks an idea.

Nope? Then try raising the stakes a little. Think about extremes. That list of characters, some of them were perhaps no more than job titles – so who would be the best or the worst person who could have that role? This may help you to come up with a character that can more easily be used to generate comedy in different situations. Equally, you can have a look at that list of locations/settings – who would be the worst person that could be present? Think of the old phrase ‘A bull in a china shop’, it’s used so much because it really paints a vivid and extreme picture. It works. Can you come up with something similar?

How can you create topical humour?

Sometimes, either for a programme or for your own purposes, you’ll want to use topical humour. A simple tip for writing jokes (which you may then be able to extrapolate into longer sketches) is to look at a headline and think, “If this is the set-up, what’s the punchline?”

Tabloids are probably easier to use for this than broadsheets, for two reasons. Their headlines tend to be more succinct and they also tend to be more extreme. So while you might feel a little grubbier (literally, given the way newsprint comes off in your hands) using them, there is a reason behind it. Jokes – certainly one-liner jokes – work best when there’s no flab on them. When every word is crucial to the joke and the excess has been stripped off. That’s the same kind of succinct approach that the tabloids take. With a joke, you need to convey the premise as clearly and succinctly as possible so that everybody understands it… then deliver the punchline.

Also, if you happen to hear a snippet on the TV or radio that works as a set-up...

Also, if you happen to hear a snippet on the TV or radio that works as a set-up…

The exception to that ‘clear and succinct’ rule would be if you’re watching an after-dinner speaker. Having liberated a joke from its creator, they’re usually keen to take ownership of it by having a lot of faff at the start setting up how this was something that really happened to them, before eventually delivering what should be a relatively simple joke that in fact has nothing to do with them. I think of this as being like the misdirection used by magicians. Anyway.

Another tip for using topicality is to try to work out how you can combine two of the major news stories of the day in one joke to ‘double the impact’ if you like. Again, think of it as a + b = joke.

Relax… then apply stimuli for comedic inspiration

Mind won’t work at all? Take a little bit of time out so that you’re not just staring blankly at a screen or a newspaper. Take 15 or 30 minutes or an hour… or whatever you can. Go away and do something else. Come back to things and try to keep your mind relaxed. Look up ‘random word generators’ on the internet. Have a click on them, look at the words being brought up and see what they make you think of. It’s a good way to quickly run through a lot of possible stimuli try to find something that sparks an idea and gets you back into creative mode.

Showcase yourself AND seek out comedy writing opportunities

You need to be producing content and you need to be getting it out there. The good news is that the latter part has never been easier, thanks to the explosion in social media. My background in comedy gave me some opportunities as my ability to craft a joke was being demonstrated in comedy clubs in front of whoever was coming to watch and also in front of peers who went on to situations in which they required the back-up of writers to produce enough content.

At the same time, you have to pursue things. In 2004 I entered a Channel 4 competition to write a short film / long sketch script. Mine was one of 20 selected to be put through Masterclass workshops and it was then one of 4 eventual winners. Through the process, I met people at The Comedy Unit production company.
They suggested that if any of us wanted to, we could submit sketches for the upcoming series of The Karen Dunbar Show. Determined to get a writing credit under my belt, I sent around 80 sketches and got a few used. They also offered the opportunity of a week’s work experience. I took this working on the football show, Offside, wrote gags for it during my work experience that got broadcast, then continued submitting gags on a paid-if-broadcast basis.

This combination earned me a small writing commission for the Radio Scotland series Watson’s Wind-Up and being able to hit my commitments for that eventually led to me being taken on full-time. I left after a couple of years to go freelance but made sure to still make use of the contacts and connections I’d made, but a new showcase was looming.

Around 2009 I began using Twitter fairly prolifically to showcase my gag-writing abilities and build a following. This led me to some regular paid work writing for somebody. Unfortunately, at this point I took my eye off the ball a little and lost that freelancer’s mentality for a while. I got comfortable. My content went to that one (uncredited) source, I coasted. Then they stopped doing the work that required that content.

Thankfully, since then, a (fear-fuelled) frenzy of activity has seen me re-invigorated and back in gainful employment, making use of both my comedy and acquired social media skills. Being able to write funny content for social media these days is no longer a way to show-off, it’s a way to earn money. Create the opportunity and take the opportunity.

If you’re looking for TV/Radio or similar opportunities then the BBC Writer’s Room is a great place to start. Keep an eye on it for programmes coming up that are looking for material. In the meantime, do your own writing and get it out there (credited) by whatever means you can. It’s your calling card. Make it work for you.

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What Can Slovakia Teach Us about Scottish Independence?

During any visits to my wife’s home country of Slovakia over the past 18 months or so, I’ve been asking about the Slovakian take on Scottish independence. This in itself is flawed. Like any other country, people’s personal experiences are too varied and my sample too small to draw any real conclusions. However, what is a country if not a collection of its people’s stories?

I have, at least, heard contrasting views on things from different members of her family, so hopefully there’s enough in this to make this piece interesting.

The information that I present in here hasn’t been fact-checked. Partly that’s out of (I think, understandable) laziness as I’m on holiday but partly also because I think that in this case what matters is not so much the truth as what the people of a country perceive the truth to be.

I’ve been asked a few times in Scotland about the take of people from the former Czechoslovakia on the Scottish independence question and I also tried (unsuccessfully) to pitch a docu-piece to Radio Scotland about it a year ago. The first thing that’s important to clear up in discussing it would be the differences between the two situations.

The Historical backdrop to Slovak identity

Scotland and England have a history of invasions, counter-invasions and general enmity. This is something that is definitely not the case for Czechs and Slovaks. Instead, they have spent much of their history under the rule of others (most notably the Austro-Hungarian Empire), giving them a sense of kinship; two Slavic peoples under the rule of other groups. In the Austro-Hungarian era, Czechs came under the authority of the Austrians, Slovaks under that of the Hungarians.

Bridge across the Danube between Slovakian Sturovo and Hungarian Esztergom.

Bridge across the Danube between Slovakian Sturovo and Hungarian Esztergom.

If anyone, it is the Hungarians who would come closer to filling the role of the English in the story of the Slovakian people rather than the Czechs. Hungarians ruled the Slovaks and banned the Slovakian language. Even today, there is a large ethnically-Hungarian population in the south of Slovakia… and, more worrying for Slovaks, a right-wing sabre-rattling government in power in Hungary that is keen for chunks of ‘Greater Hungary’ to be returned to it. As well as parts of Slovakia, this would also include swathes of Romania. Hearts fans may remember that their former manager, Csaba Laszlo, was geographically Romanian but ethnically Hungarian.

Rather than a memory of independence being quelled, Czechoslovakia could be remembered as being a period of relative independence for both peoples. No longer under Austro-Hungarian rule, bonded in a Slavic brotherhood, with two similar languages becoming 100% mutually intelligible through shared film, TV, literature and so on. This automatically bilingual nature is something that is still evident in those educated during the Communist era.

I remember watching a TV interview between the Slovak PM and a Czech interviewer and asking my wife which language was being spoken. The Czech was speaking Czech and the Slovak was speaking Slovak, with both sides perfectly happy with the arrangement.

These days, people of the younger Czech generation will still have a large passive grasp of Slovak due to the similarities of the language but that fully bilingual nature has been lost. The larger size of the Czech Republic means that young Slovaks still have a stronger passive understanding of the Czech language than vice versa, due to the greater cultural influences available.

With Scotland and the rest of the UK sharing a majority language, this loss isn’t something that has to be considered. After all, it’s not as if splitting risks losing a proud tradition of Gaels being understood on the streets of London. Or even speakers of dialects like Doric being fully comprehended in the shops of Birmingham.

A country of approx 5.3m people, known for its natural beauty and love of a drink. From that caption, you can choose whether this a photograph of Scotland or Slovakia!

A country of approx 5.3m people, known for it’s natural beauty and love of a drink. From that caption, you can choose whether this a photograph of Scotland or Slovakia!

Even when Czechoslovakia became a communist state, any resentment against authority wouldn’t have found its main focus in anti-Czech sentiment, it would have been found in anti-Soviet sentiment. Though never a part of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia was still one of the Eastern Bloc countries that came under the indirect control of the USSR. Alexander Dubcek, for example, found out that his softened version of communism wasn’t acceptable to Moscow in the 1960s when Soviet tanks hit the streets of Prague and Bratislava to re-assert more hard-line communist power.

The modern context of Slovak statehood

When communism fell across Europe in the late 80s and early 90s, normal people most likely saw it as an opportunity for a free Czechoslovakia, not for a free Czech state and Slovak state. There were two separate parliaments, with a President (Vaclav Havel) acting as the unifying figure for the two.

This is another area in which the situations of Slovakia and Scotland diverge; the people of Slovakia were not given a vote on independence. Instead, independence was carved up between the Czech and Slovak leaders of the time. Independence finally arrived in 1993… though my wife’s family were telling me of anecdotal evidence that separate Czech banknotes were being printed up as early as 1991, before the notion of splitting the Czechoslovakia had even been mooted to the people.

Whatever people in Scotland want to take from the example of Czechoslovakia, the most important factor is that in Scotland we have been given a choice. One of the points most frequently raised by the Yes campaign is allowing people in Scotland to feel fully enfranchised and engaged. The decision in Slovakia was simply another example of a decision being made for people by a political elite. Carrying on a tradition born in the Austro-Hungarian era and carried on through communist times.

Currency is another controversial issue and is one that caused problems in the initial post-independence era for Slovakia. The Czechoslovakian Koruna was effectively split, with the establishment of two separate currencies – the Czech Koruna and Slovak Koruna. Unfortunately for the Slovaks, the relative weakness of their economy compared to that of the Czechs meant that the Slovak Koruna was valued lower than the Czech Koruna. Effectively, prices would have been higher in Slovakia than the Czech Republic (They were two distinct currencies though).

The changeover was managed by people being able to swap currency in banks or shops taking in the old Czechoslovakian currency and giving back change in the new currency. Eventually (start of 2008, I think) the Slovaks opted to become members of the Euro zone. The Euro’s woes of recent years mean that’s not a decision you’ll find great enthusiasm for in Slovakia.

The current mood in Slovakia

It’s in the Czech authorities handling of the split of Czechoslovakia that you’ll find the greatest division in attitudes across Slovakia (by my own meager studies). Whether it’s backed up by facts or not, the notion exists that the Czech authorities had begun planning for the split in advance and that industries traditionally located in the Slovakian part of Czechoslovakia began to be moved to the Czech part, further strengthening the economy of that area and weakening the future Slovakia. Some Slovaks regard this as a sign that they were always an afterthought for the Czech leaders so independence has been a positive, while others regard the economic inequality at the time of the split and since as being evidence that the position of the Slovak people was stronger as part of a union with Czechoslovakia.

My wife’s relatives quoted to me a few days the starkly contrasting current figures of 6% unemployment in the Czech Republic and 14% in Slovakia. Again, I haven’t checked these figures. I’ve no reason to dispute them but what matters to me is that they are how people perceive and experience their situation.

You can make another case for Slovakia’s experience being different from that of the UK. This isn’t just a case of one side wanting to break away from the other, politicians of both countries were involved in bringing about the split. It’s tempting to assume that it came down to politicians’ ambitions meaning that they wanted to lead one country, not half a country.

Many Slovakians have probably yet to reach a situation where they feel fully served by and engaged by their own politicians. At least in Scotland the debate over independence has fully engaged a nation and allowed them to question, support or oppose plans, models and individuals alike. Engineering the split of Czechs and Slovaks without going to the people didn’t allow the population to engage with either the process or the arguments for or against.

The Slovak attitude towards Scottish independence

In general, the attitude that I’ve encountered towards Scottish independence is a negative one. As I’ve pointed out, however, this is far from a scientific level of survey and the context of the two nations’ experiences is hugely different. Whatever happens in Scotland, it will be a process that the Scottish people have chosen. In Slovakia, it was just another decision imposed upon them by a ruling elite.

Also, Slovakia has been hugely impacted by the global financial crisis, the Euro zone’s particular woes and is now being affected by the Russia/Ukraine situation impacting gas supplies/prices and employment – something I touched upon in my last piece. Slovakian self-confidence had already been ground down by hundreds of years of authoritarian rule and the current situation does not help. Whether Scots feel that we have been adequately represented or not over the centuries, I would argue that our experience has been less traumatic than that of the Slovak people –

Habsburg rule was followed by a brief between-the-wars flourish, then a Slovak puppet-state of the Nazis existed during WWII, then a reunited Czechoslovakia was effectively held at Soviet gunpoint before another brief moment of freedom saw a split being engineered in smoke-filled rooms.

Whatever the result in Scotland’s referendum, we’ve already won something that Slovakia didn’t. The independence to decide on independence.

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Slovakia and the New Cold War

The frontline of Vladimir Putin’s political maneuverings in relation to Ukraine may be a lot closer to home than many of us realise. Being married to a Slovakian woman, I’m one of the fairly small grouping of people from the British Isles who have been educated to use the term “Central Europe” rather than “Eastern Europe” when referring to people from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and, indeed, Poland.

Eastern Europe being used to describe these countries is a hangover from the binary politics of the Cold War era, rather than an accurate geographical reflection of the continent. Five other European countries, for example, border Slovakia. This hardly renders it a nation existing on the peripheries.
While Russia’s current actions in relation to Ukraine and Putin’s previous actions in Georgia have raised fears in former Soviet states like Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and former Soviet satellite states such as Poland alike, the reality is that Russia’s military might is not even required to exert a stranglehold over much of Europe.

I’m typing this while visiting my in-laws in Slovakia. They live in a beautiful village of around 2,000 people. There is a castle, a river running through the village and the forested foothills of the Mala Fatra mountain range complete the image of an enchanted settlement existing in splendid isolation. The problem is – this is 2014; nowhere exists in splendid isolation.

Even in such a beautiful part of Slovakia, the shadow of Russia vs Ukraine is being felt.

Even in such a beautiful part of Slovakia, the shadow of Russia vs Ukraine is being felt.

TV, newspapers and the Internet bring news of the latest political or economic tribulations and, more crucially, gas-powered boilers keep homes that face harsh winters cosy. The source of that gas? Russia. So far, Vladimir Putin’s backlash against EU sanctions over Ukraine has seen the wealthier countries of Germany and Austria hit by a 40% squeeze on the gas making it through the Russian pipelines. Economically weaker Slovakia, to date, has only been hit by a less punitive 10% squeeze.

This is the perfect move by Russia. Only this 10% cut is required to have a genuine and hard-felt effect upon energy prices in the country, while the smaller cut can also be spun as a symbol of relative goodwill born of Slavic brotherhood. The memory of Soviet forces on the streets of both Prague and Bratislava crushing demonstrations during the days of the former Czechoslovakia means the latter aspect is unlikely to be taken at face value.

I’ve already established that Slovakia is not geographically isolated… and nor is it politically isolated. This nation of around 5.3m people (roughly the same as that of Scotland) is a member of the EU, the Eurozone and NATO. In theory, it has a whole gang of big brothers who should be able to stand up to the playground bully on its behalf. In European terms, the issue is that the playground bully is bigger than the brothers. In NATO terms, the issue is that may be possible to stand up to the bully… but at the cost of destroying the playground.

In the old days, what you need to defend yourself was a castle. These days? Who knows.

In the old days, what you need to defend yourself was a castle. These days? Who knows.

The fighting analogy only goes so far though, because, as I’ve said, Vladimir Putin doesn’t need to roll tanks back into the streets of the former Czechoslovakia to make a point or to bring a country to heel. He just needs to turn off the taps. You don’t have to subject your own army to a freezing Central European winter to win… when you can subject the people you’re trying to exert influence over to it instead.

That’s only to mention imports from Russia, not exports to Russia. A nearby car manufacturing plant and its sub-contractor are the key local employers but around 100 people have already been laid off due to a combination of the sanctions imposed against Russia and the tit-for-tat nature of Russia’s reaction.

There is precious little support for Putin or his actions in this part of the world but there is genuine fear of them. The problem is that negotiations and stances will be led by Western Europe and America…while the people suffering in the front line will be the populations of Central and Eastern Europe.

As someone from Western Europe it can be sobering to visit museums or exhibitions telling the story of Central and Eastern Europe during WWII. We have a fairly clear picture of events. The Nazis were bad… but we defeated them and everybody lived happily ever after. A fuller picture would be that the Nazis were bad, we teamed up with Stalin to defeat them, he engineered things to leave the Soviets occupying or influencing half of Europe and lived out his days to a (probably) natural end, by which point he’d killed more people than Hitler.

The history of Central and Eastern Europe is that of being trapped between the power of Western Europe and Russia. They’re always the afterthought, always the negotiating pawn. If being married to a woman from a former Communist country has taught me anything (She would say it seems to have taught me nothing, I would say it’s taught me many things; for the sake of this example I’m going to say it’s taught me one thing.) it’s that you judge strength by the situation of the weakest, not that of the strongest.

When the Iron Curtain crumbled, the people of Central and Eastern Europe were sold a dream of Western life. Democracy would solve all and any issues would be dealt with by the protective powers of the countries attached to the lucrative open market. If that is to be the reality, it’s time to start protecting the vulnerable. Don’t sit back and imagine that Ukraine is a distant situation that doesn’t affect or that the countries it borders are pawns that can be used for our own moral negotiation.

World War II was a horrific chapter in world history. Let’s not make it retrospectively worse by failing to learn from it.

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Writing to Reach You

I started performing on stand-up comedy stages in 1998, moved into writing for TV & Radio in 2004 and this year (2014) I retired from live comedy to focus on working in copywriting and social media. I’ve recently been appointed as Content Account Manager at Caliber Marketing, with responsibilities across social media, copywriting and interactive marketing projects. Moving from comedy writing and performing into these areas may seem like a strange move but to me it’s not really. In both areas, I’ve had to pose and answer the same questions.

Who are the audience that you’re trying to reach?

It’s amazing how difficult this question can sometimes be for individuals and companies or organisations alike. The temptation is always to say “everyone”. However, trying to achieve this will only lead to producing something so impersonal and untailored that it instead connects with nobody. If you have a niche who form your core audience (or market) then don’t be afraid to reach out to them. If anything, be afraid not to.

OK, so this may be stretching dress-down Friday a little bit...

OK, so this may be stretching dress-down Friday a little bit…

How do that audience think and speak?

You wouldn’t write for an English-speaking audience in French, that’s the most obvious and broad-stroked example I can come up with. The more nuanced version would be to take into account that people’s language, tone and frame of reference are shaped by a number of things; age, gender, geographical location, income and so on. Just as not all comedy material will work with all audiences, nor will all web or social content.

You don’t want to take the risk of sounding patronising or inauthentic in your attempts to ‘speak the same language’ (a bank advertising accounts to teenagers would hardly elicit a positive response by starting an advert with “Yo!”) but at the same time there’s no harm in being aware of your audience and taking the time to find a way to reach them that remains authentic to the client (or in the case of comedy, the performer).

What platform is it for?

Again, there’s a big overlap between my past in comedy and my present line of work. There’d be no point in me writing or editing a script that has been commissioned for TV only to cram it full of ideas which can only be exploited to their full potential on radio or vice versa. Equally, if charged with coming up with the correct tone and content to suit Twitter, there’s no point in presenting a campaign that would work on LinkedIn but is doomed to failure on the intended platform.

What are the client’s wishes and requirements?

The one who pays the piper picks the tune. That’s a reasonable sentiment to bear in mind, though not slavishly so. If the client felt able to put everything together themselves then they wouldn’t be turning to you for assistance – whether that client is a comedy production company or self-storage firm. You have a responsibility to factor in the tone, image and intention that suits them and to work within those parameters…but you also have a responsibility to advise them on any tweaks to those parameters that could/should be made to get them the best results.

In comedy terms, if I write a script with a tone that suits Channel 4 at 10pm but I’ve been commissioned to write something for BBC1 Scotland pre-watershed – I haven’t met the client’s requirements, however artistically satisfying or not the piece may be. However, if I put together something that’s more on the borderline of acceptability, I should be prepared to put together a logical argument explaining the relevance/importance of getting so close to the line. It may yet come back to be altered once more but it’s still shown more of an effort on behalf of the client than always taking the path of least resistance.

What’s the most important thing?

To get it done.

I have to ask the questions that I’ve listed above and get as much information to answer them with as possible… but no amount of ‘showing working’ is going to get you off the hook in the real world if you don’t come up with the end result. I’ve worked to deadlines throughout my comedy career, whether for TV or Radio programmes or just to avoid the embarrassment of dying on my a*se in front of a Fringe audience with a show that hasn’t yet been fully put together.

What does all this tell us?

Looking for somebody to handle your company’s web presence? Start hanging around comedy clubs and TV production companies… 😉

(Jester image from Johnny Automatic used under Creative Commons agreement)

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An Authored Company Twitter Account? | Ross “Teddy” Craig

You know that company Twitter account that you love? The one with the funny and topical tweets that seem to manage to capture the mood of Twitter and, hence, your customer base? The one that seems in tune with the trending topics without actually trying to ride them in an aggressive and misplaced way? Deep down, you know that the company CEO isn’t sitting with his smartphone knocking out those tweets during breaks between meetings. Even deeper down, you probably realise that it’s not even the in-house PR or Marketing team who are responsible.

Social Media is a relatively new phenomenon. Companies still aren’t sure who the responsibility for dealing with it should lie with. Is it the IT dept? Is it the PR dept? Is it whatever kind of front-of-house staff they may have? This confusion means that more and more companies are turning to 3rd-parties to manage or at least advise upon their social media presence.

So who is qualified to deal with your company’s Twitter account?

The same as with every role. The person qualified to do it isn’t the one with the fancy title or diploma…it’s the person who can demonstrate that they already do it and do it well. That’s why so many companies are turning to people who just ‘get’ Twitter. People who have been able to build a following, tap in to the consciousness of the moment and gain a level of social media authority.

Seize the social media initiative with an openly authored Twitter account

Finding those people and employing them to work on your Twitter account is a great idea! But what do companies do once they’ve engaged the right people though? They hide them. They pay those contributors but don’t credit them. Consider the whole ethos of social media. It’s about building relationships and showing a spirit of sharing and reciprocity. Why haven’t more (any?) companies taken the bold step of not only admitting that their tweets are authored but actually openly crediting the writer on their account. Why on earth would they do that you ask? Well, let me explain my thinking on it.

Patronage. Companies frequently act as patrons of the arts and are keen to highlight this. If a company commissions a popular or critically acclaimed artist to create an installation for their offices… they clearly credit, and in many cases overtly publicise, the name of the artist.

Reputation is currency. Look at the way in which Google Authorship works, Google has put more emphasis than ever before on the authority of individuals within their own field. The people who your company employs, directly or indirectly, reflect the standing of the company itself. If you’re using the services of somebody skilled in social media – why would you hide that?

Social spirit. As I’ve mentioned, the spirit of social media is one of sharing, acknowledgement, and mutually beneficial relationships. This is entirely in-tune with that ethos.

Buying into an existing audience. People who already have a sizeable following on social media can talk to that audience whichever account they’re doing it from. They’ll also be able to reach and connect with an audience that your company company may not be able to without their services. Even using their services in an uncredited capacity will lose some of their reach, due to many people being turned off by the feeling that they’re interacting with a faceless corporate identity.

You’ll save money. It makes sense, doesn’t it? You’re on social media to increase the awareness of your company or organisation… and anybody working with you on your social media will be keen to do the same. It’s hard for social media professionals to fully capitalise on the clients they work with when their efforts are clouded in secrecy. Their fees have to be higher to reflect the fact that the work may not be helping them to build towards the future. On the other hand, by openly crediting them…you’re advertising them and amplifying their visibility. That reciprocal benefit gives room for financial negotiation.

Have I captured your attention?

My own personal Twitter account has 2700+ followers, while the Scottish football-based account @ScotComFC that I set up has 6100+ followers (as a comparison, that’s more than the sports Twitter account of The Daily Record, Scotland’s 2nd biggest selling newspaper). I do around 95% of the tweets for this account (the other tweeters being @Owen_McGuire & @Michael Park).

At present, I manage a number of social media accounts for companies or organisations, three of which involve me generating comedic/entertaining content. In the past, I have also written material tweeted by high profile comedians. Did I mention that I was named Best Comedian at the 2010 Scottish Variety Awards and have twice been runner-up in Scottish Comedian of the Year Finals? As well as writing for or script-editing numerous television and radio shows across the BBC and Channel 4? I didn’t? Well, now I have.

Would authored tweeting be right for your company or organisation’s Twitter account?

Openly authored tweeting won’t suit every presence, it will depend on your company or organisation’s audience, message, and aims. Whichever type of social media presence is most appropriate though, it will still be crucial to ensure that it’s properly managed. I can help to ensure that your social media accounts utilise the right engagement strategies to maximise their impact.

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Ukraine – Attempting a Summary | Ross “Teddy” Craig

Hello and welcome to my first blog on my new website. I’m sorry that it’s taken so long but it’s been as a result of a positive – I’ve been very busy. Recently, like many people, I’ve been following the worrying developments in Ukraine. Over the years, I’ve taken a bit more interest than most people in the UK, due to a combination of a fascination with the country stemming from my appreciation of the skills of the former Rangers player, Alexei Mikhailitchenko (apologies if that version of the English transliteration of his name offends any readers – more on that later), writing my dissertation (MA History hons from Edinburgh Uni) on Britain’s role in the development of the Cold War, and having visited Kyiv (Ukrainian transliteration of the name this time) in 2009. From following things on Twitter, I can see that the context of the situation is very confusing for people, so I thought that it may be helpful to put together an explanatory guide.

I’ve tried to make this fairly neutral, but I’m sure it will still manage to offend people who are among the affected parties in the situation, for that I apologise in advance.

Ukraine and Russia – the Early Historical Context

The origins of Russian (and Ukrainian and Belarusian) culture actually lie within Ukraine, stemming from the creation of the Kyivan Rus, in the late 9th century. Kyiv (Note: Kyiv is transliterated from the Ukrainian language version of the name – the official one. Kiev is more common to us, but comes from the Russian version of the name, which would have been more commonly seen in the West during Soviet times.) was the centre of this coalition of tribes which grew in power, until power and influence gradually transferred to Novgorod and then eventually to Moscow.

The Modern Context of Russian and Ukrainian Relations

We are all aware in the West of the horrors of the Holocaust conducted against the Jewish people by the Nazis, and many of us also have some awareness of the Armenian Holocaust, suffered by the Armenian people at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Less well known in the West is the Ukrainian Holodomor, in which millions of Ukrainians starved to death at the hands of Stalin’s programme of collectivisation. At the start of the 20th century, Ukraine’s huge swathes of agricultural land meant that it was known as ‘the bread basket of Europe’. Stalin was determined that agricultural production should be taken out of the hands of individual kulak producers and all produce should be going to the state to be redistributed as the state saw fit.

Production fell, local producers weren’t allowed to keep their own produce and those trying to do so were under orders to be shot by Soviet troops to serve as an example to others. The result was the death of millions. An insight into how grim this period of the early 1930s was is that it was the only aspect of Sovietisation that Stalin ever conceded to Churchill had been difficult. From a man used to portraying a glorious image to the Western capitalists he had such distaste for, this is significant.

This memory of ‘Russian’ rule remains within the consciousness of the Ukrainian people and has to be taken into account when assessing the reaction of many Ukrainians towards Russia. On the other hand, much of the Ukrainian population are either ethnically Russian or Russian-leaning in their world outlook.

Crimea – Why is it a Special Case?

Crimea represents a complex part of the current tensions between Russia and the Ukraine. Historically, Crimea has been Russian or within the Russian sphere of influence. It’s strategically hugely important to Russia because it provides a Black Sea port for their navy. Geographically, it is cut off from the main land mass of Russia by Ukraine. During the Soviet era, the administration of Crimea was given over to the Ukrainian section of the USSR. When Ukraine became independent, Crimea remained part of it, angering some Russians.

Russia has remained eager to retain its access to Crimea as a naval base and has negotiated agreements to this effect since Ukraine’s independence. However, the Western-leaning Viktor Yuschenko, who emerged as Ukrainian President following the Orange Revolution, was keen to see Ukraine taken out of Russia’s sphere of influence and moved into the EU’s sphere of influence – with a view to eventually becoming a member state. He announced that he would not be renewing Russia’s naval access to Crimea when the agreement ran out.

Having mentioned Yuschenko, I should go back and mention The Orange Revolution. In late 2004, Viktor Yanukovych (the recently deposed President) was announced as the winner of the 2004 elections. There was a perception of electoral fraud, resulting in Ukrainians taking to the streets to protest against the result. The Ukrainian Supreme Court ordered the election to be run again and this time Yuschenko took 52% of the vote to Yanukovych’s 44% and was elected President. It’s also worth noting that during the initial election campaign, Yuschenko was confirmed as having suffered poisoning with the substance Dioxin, which caused him disfigurement.

The protests leading to the 2nd election became known as ‘The Orange Revolution’ and the key figures in it were Yuschenko and his then ally, Yulia Tymoshenko. The linguistic/ethnic/political tensions within Ukraine can be seen in some of the rivalries. Yanukovych is from the generally Russian-speaking and leaning East of Ukraine, a powerbase that sometimes hears him being referred to as part of the ‘Donetsk Mafia’. This isn’t intended to be taken literally, it’s a reference to the business and political interests from that area that back him.

Anyway, back to Crimea. Though Crimea probably has around 50% – 60% of the population speaking Russian and politically aligning themselves with Russia, the rest of the population is mainly made up of either people considering themselves ethnically Ukrainian…or people considering themselves to be Tatars. The Tatars were another group of people persecuted by Stalin, seeing their populations moved en masse to the furthest reaches of the USSR. As such, the thought of once more coming under Russian rule, or even influence, is alarming for the Tatar population of Crimea.

There is a current precedent for Russia having a sea port that is geographically cut off from the rest of the Russian land mass. Kaliningrad is located between the EU states of Poland and Lithuania and was historically the Prussian state of Koenigsberg (Immanuel Kant is buried in the Cathedral there), it’s now a Baltic port for the Russian navy.

What’s Happening Now?

The current situation (VERY roughly) is that the Ukrainian nationalist / Ukrainian speaking / Western leaning people of the West of Ukraine have forced Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country and an interim government has been declared. This came about because they were unhappy at Yanukovych appearing to ditch plans for closer EU ties in favour of being part of a customs union with Russia.

The aim of Kyiv’s interim government will likely be to form closer ties with the EU. In the Russian speaking / Russian leaning East of the country (eg Kharkiv and Donetsk), people have taken to the streets to protest at the toppling of Yanukovych and to take over local political offices. The complication is in assessing the identity that they have chosen for themselves. Many are waving Russian flags…but this may not be an expression of Russian nationality, so much as an expression that they believe that Russia is more aligned with their interests than the EU-leaning Ukrainians taking power in Kyiv. Industrial areas like Donetsk have strong trade links with Russia, so fear losing them if Ukraine focuses on the EU at the expense of Russia.

In Crimea, Russian forces (officially or unofficially) are on the ground and securing local political offices and transport links (such as Simferopol airport). The precedent for this kind of action comes from Russia’s intervention in Georgia a few years ago. VERY roughly, what happened was that Georgian troops clashed with separatist South Ossetian troops. South Ossetia is/was within the borders of the modern territory of Georgia and the rebel troops tended to be Russian speaking / Russian leaning. The Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili mounted an attack on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali…which led to the intervention of Russian troops. Russian forces drove back the Georgian Army and proceeded through South Ossetia in the direction of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

The Russians used the justification that they had a right to intervene as the people they were protecting had strong Russian connections. Russian forces eventually withdrew from their proximity to Tbilisi, but not from South Ossetia, which is now a Russian-recognised separate territory. This status is not recognised by many other countries. The presence of Russian forces in Crimea – and President Putin having secured the Russian Parliament’s approval to deploy troops anywhere in Ukraine – has raised fears that Ukraine will end up being split, with Russian military influence being used to secure a separation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine from the rest of the country.

The deposed President Viktor Yanukovych is now in Russia, but continues to enjoy support in his home city of Donetsk, as well as in Kharkiv. The capital, Kyiv, is under the control of Western-leaning Ukrainians. However, to say ‘under the control of’ is an over-simplification, due to the diverse groups involved in the overthrow of Yanukovych. Some extreme right-wing elements have been identified as being involved and how much control they are actually under is open to question.

Basically, the situation is volatile internally – with different ethnic, linguistic, and political interests in conflict – but also externally, now that a foreign power (Russia) has deployed troops to a sovereign state.

I hope that gives people a rough overview of what’s currently happening and at least gives a platform from which to further research and understand the nuances I haven’t been able to properly expand upon here.

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