Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Perhaps Guy's Hospital is unaware that it is offering a homeopathy first aid course

I'm assuming that Guy's Hospital doesn't endorse this homeopathy first aid course and is just letting out a room (in Shepherd's House, on its campus, 10 Dec 2015) to people.

The website of The CPD Group ( says that participants on the homeopathic first aid course will learn "to treat many first aid situations, from childhood fevers, teething troubles, attacks of sickness, ear infections, coughs, flu, diarrhoea etc." - if they are being taught about homeopathy then this is not true as it doesn't treat any of those conditions (or any others).

It's bad enough to suggest that homeopathy can treat a list of conditions but even worse to imply that homeopathy is of any use in a first aid setting and that homeopaths can act as some sort of 'first responder'.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Folk music transcribathon at Cecil Sharp House this Sunday (29th Nov)

Cecil Sharp House (Camden) is having an all day transcribathon in which participants get together with a laptop and headphones and listen and transcribe the words that people sang in some recently collected folk music songs. I asked my friend Alison what was involved and whether or not people need to be able to read music (or be able to listen to music and work out the intervals of notes). Apparently not, it's just the words... but, in her own words:
"We have a transcription guide to help our volunteers, but generally we put the English word, but if it's a dialect word we'd put that with a translation. 

We respect how they sang it when it comes to their variant of a song in terms of what words they use, e.g. there may be printed versions of a song that differ from what they actually sing, but we are capturing their version.

We can't always make out every single word, so have some guidance on educated guesses.

So it's not always as straightforward as you'd think.  But lots of fun!"
Details in the link above or picture below, for ease of copying and pasting the address is

 The Song Collectors website is

More information on collecting songs, and working with different cultures:

Twitter's spam reporting leaves a lot to be desired

I have recently spotted a lot of identical or suspiciously similar tweets on the #homeopathy hashtag coming from 'bots' (automated fake accounts). They are indiscriminately retweeting and favouriting positive and negative tweets about the subject so it's not clear if they're on a particular 'side' or what their purpose is. They are also tweeting more generally about health and weight loss so I would have to assume they exist to tweet a particular link or two and are covering their backs by tweeting other health-related stuff as well, ie hiding in plain sight. It's a popular tactic.

As they deliberately avoid sending spam tweets blocking them 'for' posting spam is not quite right and Twitter's options for reporting them correctly are therefore a bit limited.

The accounts are almost always female (according to their avatar) with digits at the end of their name, eg Jodie123. Their bios look similarly cut and paste with liberal use of dividers like ✦, ✶ or ✪ (I have to admit I use | and / in my bio, or did until I recently changed it).

Examples below
  • TV addict ✦ Professional Speaker ✦ Soccer fanatic ✦ Subtly charming geek ✦ 53 Countries since 2012
  • Social media fan ✶ Author of fantasy books ✶ Travel consultant ✶ Beauty appreciator ✶ Technology lover
  • Advocate for human dignity ✪ Spirituality ninja ✪ Sunglass fan ✪ Detoxification ✪ Nerd 
They are mostly retweeting genuine tweets so their spam-like behaviour is more subtle and probably only noticeable if you are the one whose tweets (or tweets you're mentioned in) are being favourited ('liked') or retweeted - it's not apparent just from looking at their timeline, you have to be aware of several similar accounts to get the full picture.

In other words you can only really see the spam if you're in a position to be able to see the spam!

An example would be that you've tweeted about #homeopathy and a lot of similar-looking accounts retweet it. I suppose it's a tiny bit like #EverydaySexism which is largely invisible unless you're a woman who regularly experiences a range of men making comments at you. Different people moving through an otherwise identical space see and experience it very differently.

I am reporting these accounts as spam though I've not seen many of them being removed (I suspect Twitter just disagrees with my assessment because each account doesn't, individually, look particularly spammy). I'm not sure if Twitter pays attention to my pattern of reporting (ie several similar accounts in a short space of time) but I wish they did because then I think they'd notice the problem.

Perhaps Twitter isn't particularly bothered about these types of accounts. They aren't very harmful, beyond spouting nonsense into the Twittersphere (but let's face it we all do that too), they're not abusive and they're not posting the same tweeted link over and over again. But they don't contribute to the ecosphere.

While we're at it I still hate all those Sumall and tweets that thank a bunch of strangers for tweeting (and do it in such a way that the tweet is visible to ALL of the tweeter's followers, and not just the strangers they're thanking - ugh).

What a depressing thought that future internet archaeologists will be left with the "(insight by" tweets which, by volume alone, must surely be taking up plenty of Twitter's server space. Have a scroll though some of them and despair ;) Drivel.


Things I or colleagues are giving away free this week

A variety of freebies here with things for teachers, children and young people and general members of the public.

For the family - a free magic show powered by hidden computer science with computer scientist professors (Peter and Paul) who are also amateur magicians. This is aimed at secondary school children and their families but it's a big venue so I doubt we'll turn you away if you aren't bringing children with you, just don't steal all the mince pies :) It's taking place at the People's Palace at QMUL.
[More info] [Free tickets]

@MooseAllain is also giving away a free PDF of his colour-in Advent Calendar, more info here - 

For teachers - a free workshop which looks at 'Sorting unplugged' - ways of introducing sorting algorithms into the classroom without actually using computers. From Paul Curzon (who's one of the magicians mentioned above) whose free workshops are perennially popular and good fun. It's taking place at QMUL too.
[More info] [Free tickets]

**NOT FREE** For teachers and others who are interested (£30/£60)
Nicola's my colleague on the Teaching London Computing project and she's a movement artist who uses coding in her projects. She's giving a couple of sessions on Introduction to Arduino. These are aimed at teachers but we've made some spaces available for members of the public who might be interested. There are two sessions running, one on Sat 28th, one on Mon 30th (and for the Monday one you'll need to bring a laptop cos we don't have access to the computer lab that day!). See if you can guess which four-letter-acronymed London university this is taking place at...
[More info] [Tickets - 28th] [Tickets - 30th, remember to bring laptop]

In an effort to clear out my boss's office I'm in the process of giving away some of our stock to the first ten people that fill in a form. Last week I sent out some of our new Ada Lovelace magazines out to 10 people around the UK, this week I'm giving away some of our 'recently older' stock to London folk (I promise to do something less London-centric this time).

  • a flyer for our Christmas magic show
  • A magic book
  • A pack of cards
  • A cs4fn magazine
  • A teleporting robot sheet
  • The robot dot illusion sheet
  • Biology loves Technology mini booklet
  • Hexahexaflexagons booklet and a sheet of hexahexaflexagons for you to cut out, fold, glue together and flex.
[More info, and the form you need to fill in - London only this time though!]

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Communicating Risk in Health Information (London) - Tues 26 Jan 2016

ZOMG this sounds amazing.

Copied and pasted from their event registration website (from which you can buy a ticket, £240 max, cheaper for members):




Communicating Risk in Health Information

We are delighted to announce that bookings are now open for the 'Communicating Risk in Health Information' event on Tuesday 26 January 2016, to be held in London.

Risks and statistics are an essential part of patient information.  What is a person’s risk of developing a particular condition in their lifetime, or of having a certain symptom? What is the chance of a treatment or procedure working? What are the risks of getting different side-effects? And can people change these risk factors?

However, many patients are unable to comprehend basic statistics, never mind navigate their way through the reams of data that may come with health information comparing treatment options. As information and support professionals, our job is to make sure we can guide patients through the minefield of data and figures to help them feel confident in making their own decisions.

This one day event will: look at the challenges many patients experience when trying to understand risk; hear from experts in the field of communicating risk; and share case studies from health information producers who have addressed this in their work.

Presentations will include:
  • Health literacy and numeracy in the UK (Community Health & Leaning Foundation)
  • How can we clearly communicate risk information? (David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory, Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge)
  • Factors influencing the perception of side-effect risk information (Peter Gardner, Head of School of Psychology, University of Leeds)
  • TBC Shared decision making and risk communication (Richard Thompson, Professor of Epidemiology & Public Health, Newcastle University)
  • Best practice for clearly communicating risk (PiF, based on PiF Toolkit best practice)
  • Using data visualisation to explain risks (Eluned Hughes, Breast Cancer Now)
The event will close with a practical group session that allows delegates to discuss the key challenges they face and how they can apply the findings or recommendations from the presentations in their work.
A full agenda is being developed and will be available here soon.

Through attending the event we hope delegates will develop:
  • Increased awareness of numeracy and health literacy issues, and their impact on individuals’ everyday life
  • Increased awareness of risk communication issues and impacts on individuals’ health and experiences of care
  • Increased understanding of how to communicate risk clearly in health information
  • Increased awareness of how other health information professionals and organisations approach communicating risk
This one day event costs £125+VAT to attend for PIF members (please login to the website before making your booking to receive the members rate), and £200+VAT for non-members.

We hope you can join us!

If you have any queries about this event please contact

The PIF Team

Worked example: redirecting some pages on the work website

Edit 18 November 2015: this worked

I am fiddling about with the work website - and we've moved some bits and pieces around so that the architecture makes sense.

Some of our older links of course now don't work but I still want them to as they're listed on other people's websies already and I want it to be easy / seamless without people having to update their URLs.

According to this website I am to create a file in the relevant folder and call it .htacess and then add the line

Redirect  /path-of-file-to-be-redirected  URL-of-page-to-go-to

That's all very well if it's just one page but I have several, as follows.

Redirect /research/infusionpumps/index.php
Redirect /research/infusionpumps/architecture/index.php
Redirect /research/infusionpumps/hazardanalysis/index.php
Redirect /research/infusionpumps/hcihumanfactors/index.php
Redirect /research/infusionpumps/modelbaseddesign/index.php
Redirect /research/infusionpumps/verification/index.php
Redirect /research/infusionpumps/dataloggers/index.php

I don't know if I should add them all in the single .htaccess file, or make an individual file for each page and number them .htaccess1 etc (not even sure if that would work).

Going to find out though...

This is what I'm after

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Echofon is (sort of) a hacker-tool for Twitter

Echofon is a third party Twitter app which I use, as the free ad-supported version, on an iPhone. I also (primarily) use desktop Twitter on Firefox. Over the years of using both concurrently I've drawn a few conclusions about the differences between the two, which boil down to.

1. Tells you what app or platform someone's used to send a tweet
2. Lets you see the tweets of someone who's blocked you
3. Lets you see the (previously public) tweets of someone who's recently (within 5 days or so) made their account private - I think they might have now fixed this but haven't tested much (8 Dec 2015)

I daresay other apps will let you do these too.

1. What app?
In the tweets below you can see that one says sent 'via Twitter Web Client' which means I sent it from my computer and the other 'via Echofon' which means I sent the tweet from my phone's app.

There probably aren't many times you'd need this information but I have used it in a vaguely 'forensic' sense to help someone strongly indicate that someone else sent a tweet themselves and that it wasn't automated. A big caveat is that the 'via Twitter Web Client' would also appear if I had used the Chrome browser app on my iPhone to send a tweet.

2. See tweets if blocked
I had been blocked by a homeopathy enthusiast for some time, without realising it, because their tweets showed up on the #homeopathy hashtag which I occasionally entertain myself with on desktop Twitter. If I click on their username on desktop it tells me I'm blocked but if I click on their name on Echofon it just shows me all their tweets, followers / following etc. Echofon doesn't appear to distinguish accounts blocking me from accounts not blocking me - I can't favourite or retweet a tweet, but otherwise if I was using only Echofon I'd probably not realise.

On any app or platform (possibly with the exception of Twitter for Android) you can simply search the person's username to see alll of their tweets (and replies. To see only their tweets use from:name). Or log out, of course.

3. See newly locked accounts
This was a new one to me and I only noticed it today. Via Echofon I've spotted a tweet sent 17 hours earlier and another one sent within 48 hours that both showed up in search results, from accounts that have since locked their accounts and which I don't follow. Clicking on the account's name in both cases tells me that I can't see their tweets and that their accounts are private. However searching for from:username brings up what I think are all the tweets they sent before locking their account.

This is probably shortlived and I expect in a few hours or days I won't be able to do this for either of those accounts, assuming that there's some time-restricted window that, once passed, means I won't be able to see any of their tweets (public tweets are also cached by Google so may still be visible until Google re-indexes them, and finds that it can't and removes them). I can't see who they follow or are followed by though.

I can see (on 14 Nov) the tweets sent by someone on 10 Nov before they made their account private. From tweets sent in reply to them later it seems their later tweets don't show up.

Twitter's information about public / private tweets

Free ad-supported Echofon is also very annoying in that it regularly and frequently auto-opens the App Store on the iPhone in an attempt to get you to buy in-app purchases. It did it 7 times in 45s once but that's unusual, it goes through phases of not doing it for ages and then does it once every 20 seconds for a short while. On an iphone quickly double-tap the home button at the bottom to minimise all apps then swipe upwards on the trying-to-open-itself App store. 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

[London] Free Magic of {Christmas} Computer Science show for secondary school children 2 Dec

The magic of Christmas Computer Science

The Magic of {Christmas} Computer Science

I love blogging about events and here's one that my colleagues are organising on 2 December (I'm helping with a bit of background admin).

Click image to enlarge it

My awesome bosses Profs Paul Curzon and Peter McOwan (OK he's more of a colleague than a boss but he's the VP for Public Engagement and Student Enterprise so pretty boss, he was also kind enough to do a talk about robots for me when I screened Forbidden Planet) are doing the IET's Christmas Children's Lecture at QMUL (where I work).

This event is FREE and aimed at secondary school-aged children (and their mums, dads, guardians, teachers, brothers, sisters, grandparents etc) and it will be a lot of FUN. I suspect there'll be a bit of (voluntary!) audience participation. 

Paul and Peter are both computer scientists and I've worked with both of them on the CHI+MED project which was an EPSRC funded piece of research looking at ways of making interactive medical devices safer. A couple of colleagues on the project worked closely with the FDA and they (FDA) are making use or our research, which is quite exciting.

Both are also amateur magicians who have been using magic in their talks and events for years - both are frequently invited to be keynote speakers at things and through work I get lots of lovely emails and tweets from people telling me that people have really enjoyed and been inspired by their talks.

So if you have secondary-school aged children and teenagers (typically 11-16 year olds) then they might like this...

The magic of Christmas Computer Science

The Magic of {Christmas} Computer Science - click for a free ticket
Peter McOwan and Paul Curzon
The Great Hall at The People's Palace, QMUL, Mile End Road (bus stop D, short walk from Stepney Green tube station)
Doors 5pm, lecture starts at 5.30, mince-pies available afterwards
[More information] [Event flyer] [Free tickets]

Thanks to the IET for their support :-)

About this event

Maths and computer science are behind today’s technological wizardry! The speakers will guide you to the secret magical mystery world where science meets conjuring. See some unusual magic and sneak behind the presentation to explore the maths and computing behind it.

About the Speakers

Professor Peter McOwan QMUL Vice-Principal (Public Engagement and Student Enterprise) and Professor Paul Curzon. Peter McOwan and Paul Curzon are Professors of Computer Science in the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science at Queen Mary College University of london. As researchers and academics they apply their ‘magic’ to everything from robotics and artificial intelligence to the software of medical devices. Their infectious enthusiasm for exploring the endless possibilities of computer science has led them both to be elected as National Teaching Fellows. They work closely with the 'Computing at Schools' network, Peter was a founding member.  Paul also runs 'Teaching London Computing', which creates inspiring activities for teachers to use in class.

The speakers also run ‘Computer Science for Fun’, a magazine about the fun side of computing. They have been giving linked computing magic shows for over 10 years


17:00     Registration
17:15     Seating
17:30     Start of Lecture
18:30     Reception
19:15     Close

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Things about cows that have amused me

This is a stub...

This was never intended to be thematic (see my equipedia 'Things about horses that have amused me') but while searching my own tweets for an article I read on cows in Switzerland I realise I've tweeted or retweeted enough entertaining articles on cows to create a post for them.

What do cows think about? (~November 2013)
Tim Zweber's answer is delightful. A later answer also included the video embedded below.

Cows might fly: what Swiss flying cows tell us about the environmental future (17 December 2013)
"When the land is all filled up, it’s time to get creative with it, as small countries like Switzerland already know"
Due to changes in Swiss agricultural policy affecting payments that could be made to farmers the Government tried a different tactic and instead paid farmers for their guardianship of the land and cows.

"[They are] paid for, among other things, keeping the mountain pastures clear of trees, keeping the forests clear of the cows, and keeping the water clean. They would be paid for keeping land in agriculture, for treating their animals well, and for maintaining the social structure in rural areas. It is a way of thinking about the use of the land that environmental scholars and policymakers call ‘payments for ecosystem services’. In essence, the Swiss government rewards farmers for the maintenance of the landscape — both environmental and cultural."

Ninety flatulent cows start fire at dairy farm in Germany (28 January 2014)

Cows chasing a small radio-controlled car

How not to get killed by a cow (2 February 2016) Inkfish
"Murderous cattle are an understudied phenomenon" so the authors of a scientific study had a look at newspaper reports of walkers killed or injured by cows over a 22 year period (1993 to 2015) to see what patterns might emerge, and they also looked for information on "best practice for walking among cattle". Cows, particularly those with young calves, can feel threatened by humans but particularly by dogs. If your dog spooks cattle and they start charging don't pick your dog up or they'll attack you, let go of the dog's leash and let it run away.

Cow walks on wild side with Polish bison (24 January 2018) BBC News
A cow ups and leaves her own herd and heads off with some bison, in Poland.

Related post
Things about horses that have amused me

Unrelated post
How to search across all tabs in an Excel workbook spreadsheet


Memo to self on how to set up a page redirect on a website

Couldn't get the bit of HTML code that goes before and after another bit of HTML code, that you want to be visible without running as HTML code, to work on Blogger, so a screenshot will have to do. Here's the file with the text below in it for actual copying and pasting purposes. This is really just a blog post for me, to remind me how I did a small thing on the work website in case I want to do it again.

It works perfectly so if you've got neater ways of doing it... alas, I don't care :)
While we're at it, I can never remember where the local image folder is, it's here
C:\Jo Brodie QM\shared-local-site\images

Saturday, 7 November 2015

How to watch #Elf in London in December 2015

Elf, best Christmas film ever. Rarely seen on regular UK terrestrial television now, due to Sky buying the rights to it (or at least that's what I heard). Fortunately it is in plentiful supply in cinemas and there are many screenings in London over the next few weeks.

Backyard Cinema - Winterville, Stratford: Victora Park
The Gaucho - Fitzrovia / Goodge St: 60A Charlotte Street,W1T 2NU
Nomad Cinema - Victoria: Ecclestone Place Courtyard, Victoria
Pop Up Screens - Notting Hill: 20th Century Theatre, 291 Westbourne Grove London W11 2QA
Prince Charles Cinema - Leicester Square
Rooftop Film Club - Kensington Roof Gardens
Underground Film Club - Vaults, Lower Marsh, Waterloo

Here are some that I know about - 
  • Sunday 29 November - Backyard Cinema - 2pm [tickets]
  • Thursday 3 December - Backyard Cinema - 8pm [tickets]
  • Saturday 5 December - Gaucho Charlotte Street - 12pm [tickets, £55 + film-related meal]
  • Sunday 6 December - Prince Charles Cinema - 3pm [tickets], Quote Along
  • Monday 7 December - Prince Charles Cinema - 9pm [tickets]
  • Tuesday 8 December - Backyard Cinema - 8pm [tickets] link is for TimeOut generic offer
  • Wednesday 9 December - Prince Charles Cinema - 9pm [tickets
    • and Underground Film Club - 8pm [tickets]
  • Thursday 10 December - Nomad Cinema, Ecclestone Place Courtyard - 6.15pm [tickets]
  • Friday 11 December - Notting Hill (Pop Up Screens) - film 8.30, doors 7.30pm [tickets]
  • Sunday 13 December - Prince Charles Cinema - 1.30pm [tickets
    • AND Prince Charles Cinema - 3.30pm [tickets
  • Monday 14 December - Rooftop Film Club - 7pm [tickets]
  • Tuesday 15 December - Notting Hill (Pop Up Screens) - film 8.30, doors 7.30pm [tickets]
  • Wednesday 16 December - Prince Charles Cinema - 6.10pm [tickets]
  • Thursday 17 December - Prince Charles Cinema - 9pm [tickets]
  • Friday 18 December - Prince Charles Cinema - 3.25pm [tickets
    • AND Prince Charles Cinema - 8.45pm [tickets]
  • Saturday 19 December - Prince Charles Cinema - 6.15pm [tickets], Quote Along
    • and Underground Film Club - 5pm [tickets]
  • Sunday 20 December - Notting Hill (Pop Up Screens) - film 5.00, doors 4.00pm [tickets]
    • and Prince Charles Cinema - 9pm [tickets], Quote Along
    • and Underground Film Club - 2pm [tickets]
  • Monday 21 December - Prince Charles Cinema - 6.15pm [tickets]  
    • AND Prince Charles Cinema - 9pm [tickets], Quote Along
  • Tuesday 22 December - Prince Charles Cinema - 6.25pm [tickets], Quote Along
  • Wednesday 23 December - Prince Charles Cinema - 6.15pm [tickets
    • AND Prince Charles Cinema - 9pm [tickets], Quote Along
    • and Notting Hill (Pop Up Screens) - film 8.30, doors 7.30pm [tickets]
  • Saturday 26 December - Prince Charles Cinema - 3.45pm [tickets]
Based on a previous post: How to watch #Elf in London in December 2013

A quick post for @colmsmyth about what you can see when someone blocks you

For the last 11 months I've kept a search open for people talking about the block on Twitter and if they say anything indicating that someone you've blocked can't see your tweets then I generally tweet back and point out, politely, that this isn't quite the case. I'm sure I am the most annoying person in the world (and occasionally people tell me to thrrppp, but mostly it's indifference and sometimes people are pleased to know about it and make their accounts private if they've been experiencing abuse from someone monitoring their tweets) but it bothers me a lot that Twitter's clarity on what happens when you block someone is so... turbid.

What you can or can't see when someone blocks you depends a great deal on what platform or software you're using. It seems that Twitter for Android behaves differently from Twitter for iPhone, and on Echofon for iPhone not only can you see all their tweets but you can see their profile too (but not on Twitter for iPhone). On desktop Twitter (Mac, Firefox) you can't see their profile page but you can see all their tweets by searching for their username (their hashtagged tweets would also show up if you happened to be looking at the hashtag search results).

Colm Smyth has also found a trick using an IFTTT (IF This Then That) script that sends all tweets from a blocked account to you. I was intrigued to discover that he doesn't see all tweets when searching their username though.

So we tried it out and he's blocked me for half an hour while I take some screenshots, so that I can show him what I see when I look at his profile and search for his tweets, while blocked. First I logged out and refreshed the page.

Here's me logged out...

Here's me logged in again and unable to see his profile when I go to his page...

Here's me searching for his tweets. I've typed from:colmsmyth into the search bar. If I type just colmsmyth then I see only my tweets until I click the 'Live' link. The 'Top' link is shown first by default, underlined in blue in the picture below, just above the avatar in the first of his tweets I can see. I'd just see more tweets (and in their correct order) by clicking the Live option.

It is quite possible that his system shows something else entirely. Twitter has given users inconsistent and incomplete information about how the block works.

As far as I can tell, from Twitter's point of view when you block someone you no longer have to see their tweets (they cannot contact you through that account). Given there are so many ways / workarounds for the blockee to see your tweets I have to assume that preventing that from happening was never really a 'thing'. Of course you can always log out of your account and view any public account. You might think 'everyone knows that' but I can assure you, from 11 months of chatting to strangers about it, that it's not actually obvious or intuitive to everyone until they considered it or had it pointed out to them. Of course once they realise, it's perfectly obvious.

Many people form their mental model of the way Twitter's block works from the system that they use to implement a block or experience a block (and this is perfectly reasonable). It is not obvious that the way a block works on 'your Twitter' does not transfer to 'other people's Twitter' though, where blocks may be much leakier on different apps.

I've no objection to the block being leaky (there is actually no technological solution to this given that Twitter is public by default and there is no need to log in to view content), just the fact that Twitter implies that it isn't. It is.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Marketing: why venues don't promote their own events has always baffled me

As an event-goer my main reasons for wanting to go to an event are that I like the work of the performer(s) or am friends or colleagues with them, that the event sounds interesting even if I don't know anyone involved, that I simply want to go and see an interesting or as yet unvisited venue (that's a reason isn't it?!) or that I've been cheerfully dragged along by a friend.

I rarely give much thought to who the promoter of the event is but apparently this factor can make a big difference to how a venue advertises or promotes an event. Learning this has surprised me a lot and I'm not sure I can really make sense of it, to the point where I think that my perspective must be missing something and perhaps I'm just wrong (if you know, tell me).

Clearly the event promoter can pay for newspaper advertising as that shouldn't fall to the venue but I'm mostly talking about social media (Twitter / Facebook) and email. Things that cost time and effort rather than money.

When I'm at an event I don't know if it's been produced by the venue or a promoter and don't really care that much about the difference between the two which, for the purposes of event-attending, is irrelevant.

Here's why I think venues should tweet or blog or post to Facebook about any event that's taking place on their premises, even if they're not the ones producing or promoting it.

a) Offer event-advertising as a perk to the event organiser 
"For an extra £x00 we'll promote your concert a bit extra for you" - seems like an easy enough thing to upsell if a venue has lots of Twitter followers or Facebook people. A discussion could be had about the timing, content and frequency of tweets (10 am on a Tuesday morning might reach more people than 7pm on a Friday night etc). Or a budget option might be retweeting one or two tweets that mention the event and the venue.

Caveat 1: there can be a bit of red tape in sending a tweet or Facebook post particularly if you have more than one person managing the account. Some organisations have different sign-off procedures but I can't see very many problems with retweeting a simple 'this is happening, there' tweet or liking a Facebook post that someone's tagged the venue with.

Caveat 2: to ensure fairness in terms of not tweeting loads about one event to the exclusion of another it's very very simple to search from:CoolVenue EventName to see how many tweets have previously been sent about it. This does take a bit of extra work. But not very much.

Obviously this has to be balanced for a large venue that has a lot of events, otherwise followers will just be swamped by information. One way round this might be to send out a tweet with a picture that shows several events at once, and a link going to a page where the individual events are linked. Incidentally the BFI are very good at this and create a tweeted picture with all the films they're showing that day.

b) It might get more people in your venue, eating your food, seeing your flyers
Presumably the more people you get into your venue the more likely they are to see your flyers for your future events, or eat your food and drink while they're there. 

c) Helping your audience to experience your venue at its best
Perhaps having more people present increases audience enjoyment slightly as they get to see a whole load of other people filling up your venue and having a good time. More people in the audience could also mean more audience tweeting and instagramming about how great the event and venue are, which you can then show off to people as evidence of awesomeness.

All marketing emails should include subscribing information
Email, unless it is sent to several people who all know each other, isn't particularly sociable and venue emails tend to be broadcast only. These emails often include unsubscribe instructions but only occasionally remember to include subscribing instructions (I often forward emails to friends, why not make it easy for my friends to subscribe?).

Perhaps this is all too difficult
Given that the things suggested above aren't routinely done... is it because I've underestimated how much effort is involved in putting on events? All my events are fairly small - 20-25 people, pretty easy - or are there other good reasons why this isn't done very much? Or is it done loads and I'm failing to spot it?!