Putting together my first youth delegation

collage1At the tender age of 31, I still consider myself a "young person" or "youth", if you will, even though the United Nations uses a pretty strict 15-24 definition. So when I get to work with other young people on things like youth forums and conferences, it feels less like work and more like doing something amazing with a group of friends.

Being a part of the Youth Skills Forum in the Philippines and the Asian Youth Forum in Kazakhstan have definitely been the highlights of my time with Plan International, especially as I got to learn a great deal from colleagues like John Trew, Plan's Youth Employment Specialist in Asia.

Now I have a new challenge: I'm leading a project putting together a delegation of young people who will be part of the upcoming Ministerial Meeting on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS). It's both exciting and daunting at the same time.

I have seven young people from around Asia and two from Germany signed up and raring to go. Everyone has started getting to know each other through Skype, conference calls and a Facebook group. That means they can get comfortable working with each other and start developing their knowledge of the issues.

This group of young people – Team CRVS – will define their own roles at the conference and take ownership of everything they do. Their primary objective is to ensure that youth voices are heard and taken into account when governments think about civil registration and vital statistics. In Asia, this is a big deal as civil registration will be high on the post-2015 agenda.

Team CRVS are going to be involved in a number of activities, first and foremost the Youth Call To Action. This is where they will state their case to highlight the issues affecting unregistered children and young people, and call governments and relevant stakeholders to action. All this will take place at a special youth event during the conference, which will also feature a youth panel discussion led by the UN Secretary General's Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, who the group will get to work closely with.

As if that weren't enough, two members of Plan Germany's Youth Advisory Panel will also be there to present their experiences advocating for greater investment in birth registration. This campaign saw them travel across Germany collecting fingerprints as a kind of petition to present to their governments to call for greater investment in civil registration systems.

Then there will also be all kinds of youth reporter activities (blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, filming, interviewing) that will give the young people the chance to really make their voices heard across Plan's online platforms, as well as the channels of our United Nations partners.

So there's a lot to organise to put everything together. Obviously I'm not doing it entirely on my own and I have the unwavering support of my boss, Nicoleta Panta, the Plan Asia Regional Office (my trusted allies), and a bunch of other people who are helping me out on this journey. But it's hard to escape the feeling that I really don't want to let these young people down.

I'd love to hear from those of you who have worked on similar projects. What are your top tips for ensuring everything goes smoothly?

You can meet the young people we are working with on the Team CRVS portal on the Plan website.

What's the difference between a real Twitter account and a fake one?

So just recently, in my 9 things I hate about Twitter post, I vented about some of the things about my favourite social network that drive me mad. Well, I'm not done. And here's why: I want to follow like-minded professionals — people who work in communications, social media, digital media and those types of things — to expand my network and see what they're working on and what ideas they have. I want to learn from them and share my experiences too. I don't want to see spammy fake accounts or, worse yet, people who act like spammy fake accounts. I'm starting to find it really hard to tell the difference these days.

Case in point: Meet Lara William. She's one of those social media people with a bio like this:

Lara

Now, I came across Lara looking at people my connections already follow. More than 20 of my Twitter contacts follow Lara. So I saw that her tweets were mostly about social media and I thought I'd give her a shot. She had a lot of followers (78,600), although this was somewhat undermined by the ludicrous amount of people she was following (85,500). With hindsight, if I'd look a little more carefully, I'd have seen the red flags, but I don't always look, so I missed them.

Then came the auto-DM:

Thanks for Follow. Please Retweet my Tweet: LINK

No way. F that. So I unfollowed her right away. I then had a closer look at her timeline and saw that she wasn't actually tweeting, only retweeting, and only retweeting from two accounts: @trinityadam and @TerriBauman. Those two accounts were near identical to Lara's in all but the profile pics: ridiculous follower/following ratio, same bio, same tweets, same spammy auto-DM upon following.

You can probably figure out that these aren't real people. But here's the kicker: When you search Lara's name on Twitter (or the name of the other two, for that matter), you see that there there are heaps of people tweeting @ her with the same old shit:

  • Thanks for following!
  • Thank you for following us, Lara! What's your favorite #social network to market your business?
  • #welcomeTweet
  • happy to connect :)
  • Thanks for connecting! We'd love to have you connect with us on FB also!
  • etc

The spammy fake account is getting hit up by people (supposed social media professionals, some of them) who are themselves acting like spammy fake accounts, all in the name of connecting and being social and contributing to this big massive mess that is Twitter. They're forever thanking each other and welcoming each other. These people would basically try and engage a cabbage if they thought other people would see it.

Those three accounts are all cross-posting and spam sharing links to affiliate sites, like one for a Linkedin product by Lewis Howes, who's another one of these social media gurus (or rather, a "lifestyle entrepreneur") with a fancy scrolling website full of buzz words and web 2.0 and blah blah blah.

You know what, Twitter is FULL of people, real and fake, like Lara and Trinity and Terri, so much so that when it comes to social media professionals, too often there is practically no difference between the spammy fake accounts and the real ones. What am I getting at here? I guess the message is: STOP ACTING LIKE BLOODY ROBOTS!

9 things I hate about Twitter

Jesus facepalm

Remember when everyone first got on MySpace and you started adding people (oftentimes with no real purpose) and someone would write on your wall "Thanks for the add"? And then before you knew it, you had a wall full of people thanking you for those adds? That was pretty bloody stupid and annoying, right? Yet it still happens, just it's on Twitter now and people are thanking each other for the "follows" rather than the "adds". I still hate it. You don't need to thank me for following. Just tweet useful/interesting/amusing things for me to enjoy. If you really want to thank me, send me an Amazon gift card.

This got me thinking about all the things I hate about Twitter. Don't get me wrong, though. Twitter is an extremely useful tool and I love it, but there are these little habits people have that make me want to frown intensely and write a list-based blog post to vent my frustration. I'm not even talking about people posting pictures of their lunch and things like that. To me, this a list of things I consider bad practice, especially for those whose jobs are at least partly focussed on social media.

Disclaimer: I'm a cranky British guy who works in social media/comms.

1. Thanking everyone for everything

I get it. You're pleased that someone followed you or retweeted one of your tweets, but you don't need to thank them every time it happens. It just looks desperate. Save that gratitude for the times when you are actually grateful, like if you had an important message you wanted to get out or you became Twitter friends with Bill Gates or something.

2. Sneaky retweets

Some people just refuse to hit the "retweet" button and let it do its thing. Instead, they do the quote tweet, effectively claiming the tweet as their own and then getting the bulk of the credit when it gets shared on. I understand why people do it and I have done it myself before, but that quote function should be reserved for when you actually have something useful to add to the tweet. I'm still undecided on the people who reply to tweets but deliberately move the handle of the person they are replying to to the end of the tweet.

3. Auto DMs

God. Are we in 2014 or what? Why do people still insist on sending an automatic DM to new followers? If I get an auto DM from someone, that is going to make me seriously question why I followed that person (or worse, brand) in the first place. I know you didn't write that message just for me. I know it's part of a plan to want to appear like you give a shit. But it's just sad. And if there's a question in your DM that I then can't reply to because you don't follow me, that is going to make me hate you even more.

4a. Excessive chirpiness

You see this a lot with people who work in social media, especially Americans, for whatever reason. These folks just ooze happiness in the most cringeworthy, impersonal, disingenuous way. They grin like maniacs in their avatars and their tweets are littered with "Have a great day!" and "To your success!" I'm not annoyed with these people because they're happy, I'm annoyed with them because that "happiness" is part of their brand.

4b. No opinions

If you're afraid to really have an opinion and be outspoken, then you may as well be a tweeting doormat. You can't be forever afraid of rocking the boat. It's impossible to please everyone, so take a chance and say something interesting.

5. Cookie cutters

There are so many how-to guides to social media now that you get these people on Twitter who tweet like they're following a step-by-step process written for them by a high school student. They've taken all the tips on board and applied them to their accounts, but somewhere along the way, they've forgotten their personalities.

6. Stealing

This happens all the time. One day, you'll see a great picture on someone's Twitter feed. Then the next day, someone has tweeted the exact same pic, as if they were the source. And so on. People just take content and pass it on as their own. Whether it's an inspirational quote or a picture or whatever, you're going to look silly if you're forever borrowing and recycling.

7. #teamfollowback

If you're one of those people who automatically follows everyone back, you are going to end up following heaps of people you aren't really interested in. What's the point in that? There's something to be said for quality over quantity here. All too often we become infatuated by the big numbers, when the truth is that there is more value to be had engaging a smaller number of the right people than a bigger number of the wrong ones.

8. Vanity affairs

Give me a break. You don't need to retweet every @ and mention that comes your way. It does not make you look more important. Nobody wants to see that.

9. Lifeless avatars

I like it when people have interesting avatars. All right, you've got a nice headshot and you're wearing a sharp suit and tie, but save that for Linkedin. Put up something with a little bit of character. It makes you look human rather than like the cookie cutters I mentioned before.

Follow me on Twitter so you can keep tabs on how many of my own rules I end up breaking.

Stop saying your social media accounts got "hacked"

Readers beware: there is an elite group of mischievous hackers forcing their way into the social media accounts of unsuspecting victims and posting dumb shit on their behalf in order to whip the media into a frenzy and do lasting reputational damage. These hackers must be stopped.

One of them recently got into the Twitter account of The Dignity Project, a Scottish charity working in Africa with orphans and vulnerable children. The dastardly devil managed to cross-post an extremely rude tweet from a Facebook status update about beloved author of wizard books, JK Rowling.

Dignity Project Tweet scandal

Oh the horror! This prompted an outcry from the public and a very serious investigation was launched by very serious charity regulators. The good folks at The Dignity Project quickly put out a curiously worded statement to clear the air and explain to the world what had gone on.

The Dignity Project has had it's Twitter account hacked
We are not responsible for any tweets that have been sent.
As a charity we  do not take any political stance and our opinion is people are free to donate to whoever they choose.
To the people who hacked our account if helping African children to thrive and survive including single mums is bad thing that is their problem. 

Think of the single mums! Astonishingly, the bastard hacker has managed to keep the tweet up for TWO FULL DAYS at the time of writing. Yup, it's still there. Why oh why has this happened to good people saving orphans?!

OK let's get real for a minute. Nobody hacked The Dignity Project's severely neglected Twitter account. It was, until just a day or so ago, linked directly to the Facebook account of William McDonald-Wood, one of the founders of The Dignity Project. If you clicked on the links on the Twitter feed, they'd take you straight to the corresponding posts on his Facebook page. Once the world had gone mad jumping to the defence of lovely JK, that Facebook account was deleted. Notice the FB link in the bitch tweet. Despite going AWOL from Facebook, the said chap does, however, still have his own personal neglected Twitter feed up, although it's not much to look at.

Here's what happened: William set up the Dignity Project Twitter account back in 2009 and he didn't really know what to do with it, so he just followed a few people, linked it to his Facebook account and then forgot about it/lost access to it. Everything went up there, including the books he and his wife were trying to flog on eBay.

Months and then years passed without anything earth-shattering happening. He did call David Cameron an asshole, but there was surprisingly no fallout from that tweet.

Dignity Project Tweet scandal

Oh, and he also had a problem with Maria Miller…

Dignity Project Tweet scandal

…the Lib Dems…

Dignity Project Tweet scandal

…David Cameron again…

Dignity Project Tweet scandal

…and the list goes on. They've also been "hacked" before!

Dignity Project Tweet scandal

There are a few things we can all learn from this debacle:

  • Linked FB/Twitter accounts are the work of the devil
  • If you're not going to do social media well, don't do it all
  • Don't set up social media accounts if you aren't going to use them effectively
  • Have a purpose to your social media; don't just do it for the sake of it
  • Have a crisis comms plan in place in case things do go wrong
  • Don't blame "hackers" when you stuff up
  • Be honest about your mistakes and don't make things worse by lying

Dignity Project Tweet scandal

What's it like to visit Kazakhstan?

"I'll have the T-bone horse steak," I said.

The waiter looked at me, a little confused.

"Foreigners don't normally oder that. Are you sure?"

"Quite sure," I replied.

Twenty minutes later I did indeed have a T-bone horse steak before me.

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By all accounts, this was not a typical Kazakh dish. Sure, they eat a lot of horse there, but normally in a form a little more traditional than a T-bone steak. Still, it tasted pretty good, like a cross between liver and beef. The meat also had a peculiar smell that seemed to fill the room. I received a satisfied nod of approval from the waiter after I'd finished my meal.

Welcome to Kazakhstan, I thought.

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I was in Astana, capital of Kazakstan, for a work trip. The Asian Development Bank was holding its Annual Meeting there and I was helping out with the youth engagement part of all that, working with a group of young people who had come from around the region to be part of a youth forum and a Civil Society Program.

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This was probably the first time I'd been to a country and not really known a single thing about it. What struck me immediately upon arrival was the people. Many of them really epitomised this kind of meeting of Russia and Asia in everything from how they looked to how they spoke. I just didn't expect to hear these thick, Russian/Kazakh accents coming out of the mouths of people whom my ignorant mind was trying to place in East Asia.

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Fickle observations were about as far as I got with the people. I spent a lot of time walking around and exploring Astana and was generally viewed with indifference everywhere I went. Saying hello to people was usually met with looks of confusion and mild panic, even in the hotel where I was staying. So I didn't exactly make a great deal of friends among the locals. Nobody speaks a lick of English, which makes even the most basic communication difficult.

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The closest I got to making friends was when a colleague and I hitched a ride across town with a young chainsmoking couple who insisted on showing us pictures of a car they were trying to either restore or sell to us, I'm unsure which. When I say "hitched a ride" I actually mean "caught a taxi". There are real taxis in Astana, but you rarely see them. Instead, you just hitch a ride with anyone who happens to be going in the same direction and give them a couple of bucks for their troubles. I don't know how this figures into safety briefings and whatnot, but that's the only way to get around unless you plan walking everywhere, which I did from time to time.

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Walking around was great for two reasons: the climate and the scenery. The climate is out of this world. It's cold — like, really cold — but the air is so crisp and fresh that you don't really mind. There's none of this miserable wind and rain that makes the British cold so uncomfortable. It was actually a pleasure to go out and to feel weather.

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Then there was the scenery. Astana is the most peculiar place I think I've ever been. It's a largely empty city with very few people. But there are these enormous, remarkable structures everywhere. You cannot go from one street to another without seeing a building that takes your breath away. The architecture is incredible. I can't imagine the amount of oil money that has been put into making Astana look like this. By the end of the week, it kind of dawned on me that I'd only really been taking pictures of buildings. Nothing else.

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That's the thing about Astana. All these buildings are recent developments, a result of the capital city being moved there in 1997. At that time, the place was virtually empty. Now, it looks like something from a sci-fi movie. As soon as you get to the outskirts of the city, however, you see that there's just nothing else around. Visitors to the capital are in awe of the magnificence of everything they see, but it's not really a reflection of the country as a whole, so in this way it's a little misleading. I'm not sure if I really got to visit Kazakhstan, as such, or more, a weird futuristic gateway.

This was reflected in the kind of activities that were organised for us. We saw a ballet in this remarkable, extravagant opera house, the likes of which I'd never seen. We were treated to fine food and wine. We saw stunning performances of opera, ballet and music. It all felt strangely inauthentic though.

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There are only about 800,000 people in Astana, while the whole country is home to about 18 million. The country is massive though, so on average you only have about 6 people per square kilometre, making it one of the least densely populated places on earth. You can't escape this emptiness, even in Astana.

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Kazakhstan gets most of its money from oil and gas reserves. The energy sector is huge. In 2012, exports were close to $87 billion, 59% of that were oil and oil products. So there are a lot of people getting rich in the country. Despite that, the services sector is the biggest employer, followed by agriculture. Corruption is an issue that remains a problem.

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Then there's the politics, or lack of it. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been the leader of the country since 1991, when the country became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He's a dictator. There's no other way to put it. And with that come limits to freedom of speech, political freedom, corruption and more. Yet the country is stable and per capita GDP has increased twelvefold since 1994. Life is generally pretty good for a lot of people and it doesn't look like there's much in the way of an anti-Nazarbayev movement in the country.

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Kazakhstan, or the bits of it I've seen, is an interesting, diverse country, but I would not say it's an obvious choice for a holiday, despite curiosities like military parades and missiles being driven through the streets. I would love to go back and spend a little more time travelling around the country, but it's not the kind of place where you can just rock up with a backpack and expect to get around.

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