Thank you and thanks for inviting me here today to speak about our Don’t Disconnect Us campaign
Now, the Digital Economy Bill . . . It was the brainchild of this man – Lord Mandelson and rushed through by the last government in the ‘wash-up’ period before the general election. The bill was designed to help protect rightsholders like record labels and film companies in the digital age and to stop illegal filesharing, which the rightsholders said was killing their businesses
So here’s what the bill proposed to do to stop illegal filesharing
Firstly, rightsholders have teams of people looking for illegal downloaders as a matter of courseSo when these teams spot a IP address doing illegal downloading, they would send the details on ISPsAnd it’s important to stress that what the rightsholders are identifying here is the IP address. There could be any number of people living at that addrees using that IP address and when you take wi-fi hacking into consideration, it could be somebody else entirely.
The ISP would then be forced to send a letter to the bill payer associated with that IP address, telling them that illegal filesharing has been detected at their address.
And people would get three chances before suffering a penalty, which could include having their connection throttled or cut off completelySo someone could be disconnected from the internet without having done anything wrong, and without it having been proved in a court of law – overturning the centuries-old principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’
From our point of view, there were some obvious and absolutely unacceptable problems with the bill
First of all, it simply would not stop illegal downloading. As this was the whole aim of the bill, that’s a pretty big problem!
There were and are plenty of ways to share files should you wish – here are just a couple – and these methods would be totally undetectable by the methods in the Digital Economy ActFiles can be shared in secure ways that cannot be spotted online; they can be ripped from sites like YouTube, Spotify or internet radio stations; they can be sent via email, IM or CD; and, of course, people could hijack your connection to download in your name without your knowledge
Secondly, because letters are sent to bill payers – and not necessarily to the people doing the downloading – there’s a very big chance that many people threatened and potentially punished will be entirely innocentThere were already cases of innocent people being accused by rogue law firms acting on behalf of rightsholders before this bill was even going through Parliament, so we knew it was a real risk
And thirdly, the bill asked ISPs like us to write threatening letters to our own customers, and share some of the cost of printing and posting those lettersGiven that we weren’t going to get any benefit from it – and in fact only risk annoying and upsetting our own customers – it seemed entirely illogical and wrong that we should be asked to do the rightsholders’ dirty work for them
So what was our response?We weren’t going to lie down and just let this bill become law without putting up a fightHowever we faced two major challenges
Somehow we had to turn this pretty arcane issue – with lots of technical, political and legal complexities – into a mainstream issue that engaged the man in the street and not just what might be termed, with all due respect, the geeks
And through that pressure we’d have to try to show the government how much opposition there was to their plans and get them to change or delay the billSo what did we do?Our campaign was focused on exploiting the campaigning potential of the internet – its ability to drive links and clicks, form networks of interested groups and develop a momentum of its own
Our first piece of activity was to set up a petition on the No.10 website, asking for the government to abolish the proposed billBy the way, it’s quite interesting that you wouldn’t be able to do this now – the government have scrapped the petitions bit of the site – so maybe they found it more embarrassment than it’s worth!
This took the fight straight to the heart of government and gave us first-mover advantage – our name was on the petition and ensured we were identified as the main ISP fighting on behalf of people against the bill
This was a huge success – we posted the petition in June last year and it quickly racked up over 35,000 signatures, making it the fourth-biggest on the site
But while that was all well and good, we need to create our own content to give the campaign some proper momentumSo we created DontDisconnect.Us – a site that acted as the hub for the campaignThe site carried news about the latest developments in our campaign, explained what the bill was and why we opposed it, and allowed people to lobby their MP, among other thingsIt’s important to note that this is all branded as Don’t Disconnect Us, not TalkTalk, because we wanted to create the sense of a mass movement that wasn’t tied to a specific brand or company – it allowed more people to feel involved
The site allowed us to explain what the bill was all about and what it would mean for our customersIn a way, we were doing the job that we felt the mainstream media should do but might be scared to, because they might think the issue was too complicated for their audience
We were really pleased with the level of engagement on the site – it wasn’t just about raw numbers, it was about the quality of the debateMany of the contributions we had on the website were extremely articulate and knowledgeableOur aim was to provide a home for those people and harness their passion and intelligence
We also set up Twitter and Facebook pages for the campaign, all branded as Don’t Disconnect Us rather than TalkTalkOur PR agency ran the feed to create original tweets and to engage with key influences – the likes of Mike Butcher and others at TechCrunch, the Open Rights Group, MPs like Tom Watson, and so on
Here are a few screengrabs of some of the influential people we had following us – journalists like Tim Bradshaw from the FT and Shane Richmond from the Daily Telegraph, and people who had dedicated followings amongst those interested in technology like Ben Goldacre and Charlie BrookerSo, again, it was about the quality and relevance of the people we were engaging with, just not about auto-following everyone back to get as many followers as possible
And here are some of the tweets we got from celebrities supporting our petition and our competition, including Stephen Fry, Alan Davies, Neil Gaiman (the science fiction author), and tech journalist John Naughton.
Here’s our Facebook page – where people could engage, share links and show their supportWe found that this was much more of a mass-engagement channel – we got over 5,000 fans pretty quickly – compared to our own Don’t Disconnect Us site or our Twitter feedPeople used the different channels to express their feelings in different ways, and each channel attracted a slightly different type of audience too
But one of my favourite things was the competition we ran. One of the thrusts of the rightsholders’ argument was that, without the Digital Economy Bill, creative people and the creative industries would be in serious perilWell we wanted to show that creativity is alive and well, so we encouraged our supporters to create their own piece of content to explain why we were opposed to the billThis song was our winner – a punk rock song called Only Idiots Assume which pointed out the risks of assuming people were illegal filesharing just because they were heavy downloadersWe asked Stephen Fry to be the competition judge as we knew he disagreed with the bill, which was a real coup and helped drive media interest in itThat helped us get almost 10,000 views of the video
After running a competition to encourage people to create content, we decided to produce something ourselvesWe thought it was worth underlining just how silly the rightsholders’ complaints wereSome of the older members of the audience may remember the old ‘Home Taping Is Killing Music’ campaign of the 1980s, when record labels told us that recording music onto cassettes off the radio would put them out of businessWe thought the complaints about filesharing had a similar ring – instead of adapting to new technologies and creating new business models, they were simply trying to protect old ways of doing thingsSo we produced a spoof, retro song for that campaign with updated lyrics to show how silly it isAnd we seeded the video online and got nearly 95,000 views!
We also blogged very frequently about the campaign, either to highlight things we were doing or to provide comment on the legal and political developments as the bill went through ParliamentHere you can see two posts from our head of regulation, Andrew Heaney, who became a bit of a star in his own right during the campaign. His posts were frequently picked up online by news sites and blogs, and we had mainstream journalists coming to us for comments from him tooWe also had our CEO, Charles Dunstone, blogging occasionally on the campaign too, as you can see in the left-hand post hereBut our campaign wasn’t purely online – we made sure it was integrated with other things we were doing to raise awareness of the problems with the bill and persuade people to support usAnd on the right-hand side you can see some pictures from an event we held in early 2010 in Westminster, inviting along politicians like Jeremy Hunt (who at that time was the shadow culture secretary) and musicians like Billy Bragg (who was outspoken in support of our argument that the music industry needed to change and adapt, not simply sue its customers into bankruptcy).
This event gave us a chance to speak to people directly affected by the bill’s proposals – for instance innocent customers who’d already received threatening letters from lawyers about alleged downloading – and get these people to meet some of the influencers who would ultimately decide the bill’s fateAnd as you can see in the bottom right corner, the comedian Mark Thomas also came along to our event – he was there to interview Andrew Heaney for BBC2’s Culture Show
So after all of that activity, what happened next?
Well, the general election had been called and the Digital Economy Bill was one of the pieces of legislation pushed through during the wash-up before Parliament was dissolved
As you can see, the Commons wasn’t exactly a hive of activity during this debate – this was actually one of the busier moments . . .The bill was passed, but as a compromise some of the most controversial sections were delayed
So the outcome was a bill that was technically passed into law but which had very few real powersOfcom was asked to consult on the details of how the letter writing process would work and who would pay for it, ensuring the system would not come into force for at least a year and raising the possibility that a new government would scrap the whole thing
And then we decided to challenge the legality of the legislation in the courts, on the basis that it was pushed through Parliament without proper scrutiny, and that being cut off from the internet was a disproportionate punishment for the offence of filesharing illegallyYou may have heard that we recently lost our Judicial Review on most grounds – however we’ve now applied to take this to the Court of Appeal so the process is still not over. Its a year on from the election and the passage of the Digital Economy Act, the system is still not in force.
So how do we evaluate the success of our campaign?To some extent this is unrelated to the political outcome – our measurement is whether we managed to engage current and potential TalkTalk customers, and show them that TalkTalk was on their side
Perhaps not surprisingly, Stephen Fry’s involvement in our competition drove a huge number of people through Twitter
There was a huge amount of online chatter about the campaign and its various off-shoots
And our monitoring showed that positive buzz about TalkTalk increased significantly over the few months of the campaign
This was the first time we’d done a campaign of this kind, where we used social media to drive an integrated campaign that also involved traditional media relations and lobbyingSo what lessons did we learn?
What these sorts of campaigns are called is crucial – in “Don’t Disconnect Us” we had a great strapline that worked as an emotive name and a call to action, and it allowed people to rally to us without feeling it was overtly commercialisedBut equally, we never hid that this was a campaign devised and driven by TalkTalk, even if we were working with partners like ORG
A key learning was the value of the Don’t Disconnect Us site, away from the TalkTalk homepage, to act as a hub for the campaignIt gave unity to everything we did and provided it with a natural momentum that could driven across various social media platforms over the course of several months
It was also fascinating to see just how different channels were naturally suited to different types of activity and appealed to different peopleFacebook generated a big group of fans pretty quickly, while Twitter gave us a smaller but arguably more influential audienceAnd YouTube was a chance to create and share rather more light-hearted contentMeanwhile, our own site and blog garnered some pretty impressive and intelligent comments
One of the big lessons was the value of having a willing, articulate spokesman who was readily available at short notice to talk to media outlets of all kinds – from the BBC to the FT, to consumer technology magazines and blogsAndrew Heaney was a real star for us and became the face of our campaign, which helped give a human feel to what otherwise could have been a technical and impersonal subject
And, finally, a powerful lesson for us was that there really is an appetite for what might be considered complex issuesWe were unsure, when we began this campaign, whether we’d really manage to get through to the average personNow the Digital Economy Bill may not have been keeping people awake at night, but I hope I’ve shown how our campaign managed to generate buzz that really shifted people’s attitudes about TalkTalk and got them engaged with the complexities of the subject
Mark Schmid_How to influence the regulators_SMCC2011
Don’t Disconnect UsMark Schmid, TalkTalk<br />
About TalkTalk<br />Launched in 2003 as part of Carphone Warehouse<br />Pioneered free broadband in 2006<br />Acquired AOL in 2007 and Tiscali in 2009<br />De-merged as a separate, FTSE-250 listed company in 2009<br />4.2m broadband and phone customers<br />
What the Digital Economy Bill proposed<br />Rightsholders identify IP addresses allegedly responsible for illegal downloading<br />
What the Digital Economy Bill proposed<br />Rightsholders identify IP addresses allegedly responsible for illegal downloading<br />They then force ISPs to write threatening letters to customers matching these IP addresses<br />
What the Digital Economy Bill proposed<br />Rightsholders identify IP addresses allegedly responsible for illegal downloading<br />They then force ISPs to write threatening letters to customers matching these IP addresses<br />Customers get ‘three strikes’ to comply before potential disconnection<br />
Statistics<br />14,037 clicks following Stephen Fry’s tweet after Sing Our Petition competition<br />
Statistics<br />14,037 clicks following Stephen Fry’s tweet after Sing Our Petition competition<br />40,000+ posts on websites, consumer forums, blogs and message boards<br />
Statistics<br />14,037 clicks following Stephen Fry’s tweet after Sing Our Petition competition<br />40,000+ posts on websites, consumer forums, blogs and message boards<br />Improved online sentiment towards TalkTalk – increased number of positive mentions and recommendations<br />
What we learnt<br />Branding is important – but so it transparency<br />
What we learnt<br />Branding is important – but so it transparency<br />Online hubs help give coherence and direction to a campaign<br />
What we learnt<br />Branding is important – but so is transparency<br />Online hubs help give coherence and direction to a campaign<br />Different channels do different things<br />
What we learnt<br />Branding is important – but so it transparency<br />Online hubs help give coherence and direction to a campaign<br />Different channels do different things<br />Your lead spokesperson is your flag-bearer<br />
What we learnt<br />Branding is important – but so it transparency<br />Online hubs help give coherence and direction to a campaign<br />Different channels do different things<br />Your lead spokesperson is your flag-bearer<br />Don’t under-estimate people’s interest in complex debates<br />