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black and white zebra stripes

How the zebra earnt its black and white stripes

By | black & white zebra news | No Comments

A question we’re often (ish) asked is; “Why are you called ‘Black & White’ Zebra – aren’t all zebras black and white?”

For now, until we come up with a better answer, the answer to that is “Yes”.

But the more interesting question is, why do zebras have black and white stripes at all?

Researchers from Hungary and Sweden claim to have solved the mystery. According to their report in the Journal of Experimental Biology (something I often find myself reading in my spare time), the black and white stripes were created to keep away blood-sucking flies.

They report that this pattern of narrow stripes makes zebras “unattractive” to the flies as the striped patterns reflect light.

You can read the full report in the Journal of Experimental Biology here and if that makes no sense, see what Aunty Beeb had to say about it here.

It should all be black and white now.

Nice and good

By | black & white zebra news, start-ups | No Comments
[quote]“When we started our agency, we had in mind precisely the kind of people we wanted with us. There were two requirements: You had to be talented and you had to be nice. If you were nice but without talent, we were very sorry, but you just wouldn’t do. We had to ‘make it.’ And only great talent would help us do that. If you were a great talent, but not a nice person, we had no hesitation in saying ‘No.’ Life is too short to sacrifice so much of it, to living with a bastard.”[/quote]

Nice and good are the two criteria we’ll be sticking to when building the team at Black & White Zebra. Bill Bernbach defined these two criteria when defining the kind of people that he needed when starting DDB. They had to be nice, and they had to be good. He recognised that it’s people that make the difference in any organisation – with the right people, the business would be a success, and the journey along the way would be enjoyable. But with the wrong people, not only would you be doomed to fail, but the experience would be a painful one.

In a start-up, it can sometimes feel like a compromise; do you go for talent you can afford, knowing they’re not the best but they’ll make do for now? Or do you go for the best people, knowing that you can’t really afford them?

I would always go for the high risk option that you can’t financially afford! Because you’ll soon realise that you can’t afford to carry dead weight with people who aren’t amongst the best at what they do – jobs will take longer than they should and the quality will always be poor. You’ll end up in a vicious cycle of mediocrity. But by employing the best, you’ll quickly reap the rewards of people who can produce work quickly and surprise you with the quality of their work.

But whilst choosing good people is important. Probably even more so, is the need for them to be nice. Nice people like working with other nice people – it’ll help them produce the best work. And you’ve got to be able to enjoy spending time with the people that you’re going to be with when you’re working long hours. So while good people, or nearly good people, can become even better over time, the extent to which people become nicer over time is less likely to change.

Choose wisely.

Image from the viral 'Shit girls say' on black and white zebra

Language in technicolour

By | social media | No Comments

A challenging debate in social media is the extent to which a brand should censor or empower conversations in which their ‘followers’ express themselves in full technicolour – should people be allowed to use obscenities, swear, incite, or insult on your website?

Profanities: authentic or crude?

It’s a challenging question – should brands allow people to express themselves fully and in so doing potentially offend the sensibilities of someone else and damage their brand; Or should brands cherish authenticity, and freedom of expression, allowing people to use even the most colourful language – and just hope for the best?

Where do you draw the line of acceptability?

There are lots of factors which will influence this; the brand itself, the audience and the domain the conversation is taking place in.  Some of it may be impassioned, human and authentic, but more often than not, it’s not. It can be crude, offensive, and brands would simply rather not associate themselves with it. Brands value user generated content (UGC) but more often than not, rightly or wrongly, it’ll be on their own terms – it’ll need to be ‘clean’ to ensure that no one gets offended and kicks up a fuss.

It’s an interesting debate which we’ll cover off in more detail soon, but for now, we’re going to discuss how you can approach automated pre-moderation and swear filters.

Profanity and obscenity filters

So while there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to censorship, nor a one-size-fits-all solution (other than social media pre moderation), supposing your brand wants to play it safe,  one solution is to implement a profanity or swear filter to hide or rewrite obscenities. A simple blacklist won’t catch enough so to improve on this you can implement a fuzzy string search (also called approximate string matching) which looks at the stem of a word to ascertain whether or not it’s likely to be a profanity.

Download a swear list

So it’s all very well creating a fuzzy string search, but what should you search against? Well, being the sharing, caring types, we’ve pulled together a list from various sources of more than 2000 profanities so that you don’t have to! Obviously, whilst this list is extensive, it doesn’t guarantee that someone won’t find a new way to creatively express themselves in a linguistically ‘innovative’ way so unless you’re using a ‘fuzzy’ search as outlined above, you won’t be able to mitigate against the use and display of any word other than those defined in this list.

[box type=”download” size=”large” border=”full”]Download Black & White Zebra’s profanity list 2011[/box]

What have we missed?

I expect there may be a few words we missed – help us develop this resource to be even more useful by contributing below!

Practice failing more

By | start-ups | No Comments

Fear of failure has been the death of so many great dreams. But what if you could remove fear from your pursuit of happiness? What would be the one thing you would change about your life? Would you do it?

I was inspired watching ‘Failure Club‘, a documentary series following people pursuing their dreams in the full knowledge that by any common yardstick, they were doomed to fail. The Failure Club is all about embracing that failure and pursuing seemingly impossible goals regardless, for the journey’s sake. From the outset, failure is not only a highly probable outcome, it is the desired outcome. It’s all about recognising that actually failure isn’t all that bad. Only through embracing the reality of failure can its’ societal stigmas be stripped away and replaced with an inspirational alternative.

The Failure Club process reconstructs conventional ‘failure’ as acceptable and even fun and helps people realise that life’s limitations are arbitrary, self-imposed, and based on fear. And when we overcome that fear, we blow away our self-inflicted limits, and we will each achieve results that appear miraculous.

It’s interesting stuff and a great challenge to all of us – check it out on Yahoo Screen.

Building site authority

By | search engine optimisation, social media | No Comments

Website authority is essentially how a website is predicted to perform in search engine rankings. It’s important because ‘Authority Sites’ rank more highly in search engine results pages (serps). Search engines take into account the number of quality inbound links, the age of the domain, the time visitors spend on the site, and hundreds of other factors. For more on these, check out SEOMoz has done a great job of testing, analyzing, and figuring out what authority factors exist – and best practices surrounding site authority.

One important part of building authority, is paying attention to and influencing social metrics by building your website’s authority with social media. Here are a few tips from Search Engine Watch to help you along the way.

Know Your Audience

Seemingly simple, the task of figuring out your target demographic often isn’t easy. Conduct social listening research, send out customer surveys (try Survey Monkey for a great free option) and conduct additional research. Use this information to help you understand how to craft your messaging through social media for maximum impact.

Also use the information to help you find “niche” social sites, forums and blogs. Niche social networks often create more meaningful interaction as reported. So look for sites that cater to your demographic and engage with them appropriately.

Share and Share-alike

Use the notion of share and share alike. This growing trend creates the belief that information should be free, readily available, and users should have the ability to share it/use it however they choose.

How does this apply to you? Don’t keep all that industry trade information to yourself. Start developing content and sharing ideas through social channels that address industry insider knowledge, answer industry questions, provides research data, and anything that showcases you and your brand as experts.

Participation is Key

Just because you might tweet out a few posts, have your content shared on Facebook, and get a few +1’s doesn’t mean you’re automatically seen as an expert or building up authority. Developing your brand’s own authority on a specific social networking platform is mandatory. This often involves being recognized by other authoritative users on the platform, having a lot of followers/friends/circle-ers/etc., high engagement levels, and regular interactions.

Eric Enge’s recent Search Engine Watch post, “Social Signals & SEO: Focus on Authority,” discusses the importance of having an authoritative person in your space share your content and also the importance of building your own authority at the social network level.

Grow Your Network

Make an effort to network with others in your industry in an attempt to build your site authority. Interact with them through social media by retweeting their status messages, adding them to Twitter lists, engaging on their Facebook Pages, adding them to your circles on Google+, bookmarking some of their blog posts, and commenting on a few posts too.

It’s tit for tat; as you do it, you’ll slowly see them do the same for your content and messages.


It may seem tempting to send out 40 tweets in a day and 10 Facebook status updates a week, but quality over quantity is always best – think carefully about how your brand will be perceived when you’re tweeting tweet, post, write, comment or even Like on Facebook. Everything you do communicates.

Offer Your Help

Monitor all the areas where your brand can offer up help to people asking questions or seeking information. Track long tail search terms that are frequently asked questions in your industry – use Google Alerts, Twitter Search, and

Have FAQs sent to a team e-mail address and respond to them as applicable. You’ll find that many online users will ask questions or ask for help through social media. Be there to help answer their questions and you’ll find that your perceived expertise and authority will only grow over time.


Building your website’s authority requires a well-rounded approach and having a feel for what you should do within the social realm is important. The above tips can help you realize the path you should head down in your journey to becoming an authority online.

Don’t forget the other areas required to build authority. All efforts together create a working model for how you can succeed in the authority building game.

Niche social networks – to join or not to join?

By | social media | No Comments

New social networks are popping up on a regular basis, and the fact that these specialized communities don’t have Facebook’s 800 million users doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t great places for brands to be. In many cases, brands are adopting niche social networks based on the quality of interactions as opposed to broad-based reach – and are reaping the benefits.

Some of the rising social networks include Pinterest, Houzz, Tumblr, Instagram, GetGlue, IntoNow, and PlayUp. Each of these networks courts a different demographic and audience, and each offers unique ways to share content like photos, links, and comments.

But brands shouldn’t rush to create pages or advertise on every social network, even if the audience seems like a perfect fit. Having an outpost on myriad niche networks is great for SEO and making a web “land grab”, but to take full advantage of focused social networks, it pays to create specific engagement programs for each community.

Before taking the plunge on smaller social networks, brand marketers should ask five key questions.

1. Are members of at least one of our target audiences there?

Do a bit of research and make sure your target audiences are represented on the social network. When your goal is to engage with potential and current customers, the quality and focus of the social network’s members are critical.

2. How much time and resources will we direct toward this new community?

Think about how much time you’ll need to engage with a new community. Remember that connecting with a new community means building out your brand’s page/presence, as well as daily community management tasks.

Estimate that it’ll take between 10-12 hours to create new assets, craft messaging specific to the channel, and deploy the new presence. Ongoing community management will vary depending on how active you want to be on the new network.

3. How will we use this new channel?

Will you use your presence on a new social network to promote one aspect of your business? Maybe one product? Will the network be a place where you ask for product feedback or for consumers to take part in the product development cycle?

Instead, maybe you’ll use the new social channel to build your brand reach in a global way. With broad-based communities like Pinterest, brands are simply showcasing their brand voice through images and ideas – bringing users closer to the brand.

4. What does success look like for us in this channel?

Setting specific engagement goals for each social network is critical. By setting short-term, growth-related goals at the onset, you can more easily manage for success.

Remember, these are new communities and you likely won’t see huge brand or sales impact right away. As the community grows and matures, so should your metrics and goals. Map out specific goals for engagement, user actions, sharing metrics, etc.

5. Where will this channel be in two years?

There are plenty of social media futurists out there, but no one knows for sure if a social network will stick around in consumer’s hearts and minds for the long haul.

Take the time to map out which features you hope the channel will add in the next two years, such as new functionalities, enhancements to usability, and new marketing and advertising methods just for brands. The communities may never deliver these, but a “wish list” will help you assess whether the network is delivering the features that matter to your brand now and down the line.


The newest social networks always look shiny and new, but the real goal for brands is to participate in niche communities to reach specific, engaged audiences. By asking these few key questions before you engage with a new network, you can bring a little strategy and structure to your social marketing strategy.

Facebook bares all at f8 developer conference – live streaming

By | social media | No Comments

Today, September 22nd, Facebook will be holding the Annual f8 Developer Conference, which brings together the developers, entrepreneurs and innovators who are building a more social web through the platform. It is typically packed with new product innovations and a real peek into the future of our platform.  FB suggested to us a few weeks ago this will feature an overhaul of the liking functionality, and their focus is currently on helping brands reach friends of friends, so there should be some interesting developments.

They  will be live streaming the event beginning at 9:30am PDT/4.30 GMT at All content from the conference will be streamed, including the keynotes and session tracks. Why not take a peek into the future later on today?