Ambassadors Are They Spoiling Us? Well, No Actually.

As a blogger who has been reviewing and the like since 2009 (in fact January marks the 5th anniversary of Family Panel’s launch, which is crazy), I’ve been part of lots of different schemes and brand link ups.

Some have been great, others, not so much.

In the beginning when brands and PRs first started to engage with the very small amount of us there were back then, we all learned how it could work together. It was easy back then to say what we liked and what we didn’t like, how often we expected to engage with a brand and its programme and likewise PR’s and Brands could tell us what they wanted to see in return.

Now, Ambassador programmes are everywhere, run by brands and, in some cases, third party groups who have sprung up offering blogger engagement and signing up as many bloggers as they can find to bump up their virtual address book.

In this third party and Brand race to sign up interested bloggers though, we have, all of us, created an issue with the quality of engagement and the ability to be mutually beneficial. This has left some feeling programmes are no longer for them, and are run from a one sided viewpoint weighing heavily towards only the Brands benefit.

I’m not going to name and shame here, and anyone reading this who blogs and reviews probably has a good idea of who they feel offer worthwhile engagement and who to avoid.

Blogger groups from Facebook and beyond offer the ideal place for writers to vent- and vent they do with gusto, telling each other who not to be bothered with and who is the most coveted to become involved with if your name gets passed to them.

Of course, what works for the vast amount of bloggers may not work for others.
On venting about one such third party group, I received a mixed response, with just as many agreeing with me as disagreeing.

Its true that as with anything in life, what works well for some will be a complete waste of time for others. Third Party Ambassador programmes are great for new bloggers or for bloggers just getting started in brand engagement. To more established bloggers, more used to doing things for themselves and not waiting in line to be contacted, they can be nothing more than a click through ad nuisance which takes up blog space which could be sold off for a real advert.

That’s another problem with certain programmes. The “I’m a Member” badge.

Some programmes only ask you nicely to display the badge, but don’t count you out for not. Others make it part of your sign up to display the badge and wont put you forward for opportunities if you refuse.

Which is fine, but what happens if you display this badge, offering an advert that you endorse this site (and which could normally be sold for Affiliate or direct marketing) and then receive nothing in return?

The same group I vented about asks that bloggers involved display the badge. Yet despite doing so for a year plus, I have not actually received anything in return for space which could have earned me actual cash. In fact, the first I knew the programme had actually started was during a chat about the wait for anything to happen with another blogger!

It turns out this third party, who made massive promises and who wanted me to join as they felt my being involved as a well known blogger would be great and persuade others to join too, have had days out, parties and adverts running through other blogs for months, not to mention reviews and brand engagement.

What have I had? One email. Nothing else.

What its worth remembering with third party groups is that the more of us that sign up, the better they look. It can be lucrative for those who are happy to set up a cheap website, and pretty easy to make cash doing so. The more of us they get to sign up, which is as simple as sending out a #BloggerRequest on Twitter for free, the better the return when it’s time to contact brands who will pay to let someone take out the hassle of blogger engagement. Who wants to spend hours scouring the net for bloggers, rake through dead sites, or input lots of web addresses into a Page Rank checker when they can pay these third parties to do it for them (who, in turn, have already gained this info for free from the blogger on them signing up).

On contacting the Third Party to ask what gives, and why I have not got so much as a tweet from them,  did they apologise or offer to look into it? You’d think after the email I got from them asking me to get involved with them they would bend over backwards right?

Nope. They blamed me, saying my blog obviously wasn’t quality enough for their clients and my stats are clearly rubbish.

It was pretty much a standard email too- saying I needed to bring my Page Rank up from low (mine is 3, which is pretty much great for a blog, and the average for bloggers who covert a decent number).

To me, I laughed and ditched the badge. But if it’s not bad enough to swallow up as many bloggers as they can find, when they fail to come good on their promise to work with us all in equal measure they blame the blogger! And to some newer bloggers, this can, of course, make them wonder why they bother.

With many schemes, even those not run by a third party, many feel they grow tired of seeing the same old faces working with the brand and being lavished with gifts as promised to all  and grow disillusioned.

So, why do some programmes find it so hard to work with bloggers fairly? Have they got too big? And what would you like to see to bring them back to a fair for all, small scheme?

What programmes work for you and which don’t? Or do you refuse to work with any at all? Let me know in the comments.


Is It Just Me: Thinking the 50,000 Missing Immigrants Could Be Found Easily by the Parking Fine Enforcement Posse?

If you’ve just woken up, this is the latest round in “inept Immigration teams against sneaky would be immigrants” reported in the papers.

Apparently, if it’s not enough there is already a backlog from 2007 onwards of at least 300,000 cases waiting to be dealt with, they have somehow, “lost” or “misplaced” 50,000 others who were turned down and scheduled to leave.

Now, 50 would be careless. 5,000 would be shockingly poor. But 50,000? How the bloody hell do you manage that? And how do we sort that out now? Bar ending up with UKIP no doubt just bumping off anyone who looks a little bit foreign whilst Mike Reid sings his Calypso in the background.

That, obviously, is not the solution. Unless you are Nick Griffin. So what do we do? How do we find these people without costing the taxpayers (you know, us who are actually British and have to pay for these monumental fuck ups?) huge amounts of cash, which no doubt will end with Smugron declaring there was nothing that could be done and they can now stay, like last time?

I think, readers, I have a cheap solution. One which is already in force in this country and filled with the type of rabid ner’ do wells who enjoy making people who are in anyway wrong in their eyes life miserable.

I give you, the humble, much maligned, Parking Fine Enforcement teams found in every local council building from here to Scotland and back again.

These types, along with their friends from the TV License Enforcement posse, will leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of your cash, should you stay in a parking spot for two minutes longer than you’ve paid for. They will send letters, they will take you to court, they would, no doubt, if they could, hang you by your ankles and shake your pockets out of every last penny in the name of government protocol.

They are primed and ready, so why not give them the task of cleaning up where other’s have failed?

They will shop their own Grannies if it means doing the will of the Prime Minister.

I say, let them put down their parking fine paperwork, and give them the files of these snide firm, they are bound to find them in at least 2 hours, and then the Immigration process they went through can be completed without fear of them running off again due to the fear of these lot after them with their rules and rubber stamps, as well as driving them insane with rhetoric.

If you can think of a better way, I’d love to hear it, and no doubt, so would the Tories!

All jokes aside, if we can’t even trust a department tasked with looking after the countries interests, how can we go about monitoring the kind of undesirables who want to create chaos via terrorism, or keep track of possible sources of Ebola?

50,000 people can’t simply disappear, they must be earning a living and paying to live somewhere?

Lets hope the Government does actually fulfill one election promise, before we can’t move for people in a country already bursting at the seams.

Don’t Mention the C Word (Yet)

Why people?

Why is my sodding Facebook feed and my supermarket walk filled with the dreaded Christmas already?

I swear if the supermarkets get any earlier, we’ll get the run up to Christmas type adverts from January 1st onwards.

I say dreaded about Christmas, but I do enjoy it, I just enjoy it from the correct time in December.

I don’t even start thinking about presents until mid November. Yes I know there will be those of you who have already done all their shopping, and had it wrapped, and their cards written, probably since July. That isn’t what Christmas is about.

 Christmas wouldn’t be fun in our house if I hadn’t left it up until the last minute every year since records began. The only year I was ahead was last year, and it felt weird having everything sorted so early on (by early on I mean mid October).

It should be a law in this country that, until after firework night (another custom hijacked so now you get 3 months of fireworks rather than one night as it should be), no shop is allowed to display anything containing the words “tis the season” or ” ho ho ho”, or hang anything remotely tinsel related, anywhere.

As soon as Mini brought home an Operation Christmas Child leaflet from school, she came home and stuck her Christmas list to the fridge. It brought me out in a rash. That and my purse hid in trepidation. I don’t think she quite got that the child she was meant to sort out for Christmas was many countries away, not in her house.

Every advert break is met with choruses of “I want that” about every multi-coloured plastic tat that the toy companies chose to display. And you just know that, if you do give in and buy a selection of the tat, by Boxing Day most will be chucked in the toy box, and the choruses of “I want that” will begin all over again.

I don’t mind planning the food, I don’t even mind the hit my bank account takes.

But please, lets be sensible, and celebrate Christmas when it should be celebrated.

Look Out! There are Kids in the Kitchen with Betta Living

Way back at the start of the summer, the Brats were intrigued by a big red box which turned up at our home.

Inside, was a challenge set by Betta Living Kitchens to entertain those most picky of kids without spending hundreds of pounds in the holidays.

They put together a list of 20 fun things to do throughout the house and garden, everything from rainy day cooking kits and crafts to sunny day planting activities and games, and asked us to have a go at some of the ideas for ourselves.

One thing the kids absolutely loved were the Muppets
face masks, Mini loves The Muppets and immediately decided to twin Miss Piggy with various items from her dressing up box. Littlest decided to show off his Kermit mask to our neighbour’s child, which set off quite the fashion show.

The great thing about the activities is they are simple, and pretty easy to set up. So, if you want to get on with some housework and entertain the kids at the same time, it was nice to open the backdoor and give the children a set of kid friendly ten pin bowls which kept them amused for hours.  After the housework was taken care of, it was great fun getting into the kitchen and helping the children to learn how dough works to make pizza (as well as getting to eat something you’ve made afterwards), as well as reigniting a love of making and sticking with felt animals and shapes.

Littlest, being a fan of noise, thoroughly enjoyed using wooden spoons to create a noisy racket with pots and pans (otherwise described by him as “being like David Bowie and drumming and singing loud”), and Mini liked the quiet enjoyment of decorating paper dolls in bright colours.

It can be easy to spend lots of money on the children at any given time of the year, rather than looking back to my own childhood which was spent making and gluing and acting out games in the garden and beyond. I recall many happy days with a book which had a whole heap of ideas called “101 Fun Things for Kids” which included a whole chapter of ideas to send SAEs to different people like the RSPB and be sent a load of things to colour in and birds to spot- all for the price of two stamps. Of course, its now easier and cheaper to do as we can use their websites for the much the same thing!

I was impressed with how simple and cheap the activities were and how they engaged the children for hours- rather than hearing them loaf around watching TV and asking for the occasional sweetie, they were laughing and joking and in many cases, learning new skills too.

I would definitely recommend a return to old school ways of putting the fun back into weekends without breaking into your savings!

*We received a box of goodies to try out from Betta Living to compile this post*

#Sweepyface, Twitter and the "Blurred Line" Between Trolling and Freedom of Speech Online

On this blog, I have often said that freedom of speech and opinion is one of my most important beliefs in society. Something that should be promoted and protected.

Being able to form an opinion of your own- even if its completely opposite to what everyone around you thinks- is something I promote with my children and always will. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking “argument for arguments sake”. I’m of the opinion that if you feel you can justify having an opposing opinion, then you have every right to voice it, and spark debate through it.

The problem is, modern etiquette. Social media, encompassing blogs, Vlogs, Twitter, and the rest, however big or small, are read only devices. I have fallen foul of this on several occasions. By design I’m sarcastic, but sarcasm can be taken completely the wrong way when tone is absent down to it being on a screen.

In the last few days, the tag of Troll has very much come front and centre and whether having an opinion, and tweeting it, constitutes freedom to voice an opinion over being a troll. If you simply tweet about a person or situation, but not @ them in this tweet (or, in the case of Sweepyface, tweet opinions about someone who does not use Twitter), does this still make you a troll?

To my mind, a Troll is the kind of person who threatens to hurt someone in a violent way, such as what Stella Creasey experienced last year. Or someone who I have encountered who just goes all out to cause utter distress directly to the person they decide they don’t like (or even to go as far as to cause me personal issues by pretending they are me on forums I was never a member of). These people don’t bother me very much anymore as most are snide enough to be abusive, but not so brave as to put their name to it.

However, with Sweepyface, I feel strongly that the tag of “Troll” is being used as the situation she was voicing an opinion of is one that many people online have an opinion of but which is felt it cannot be voiced.

I have always maintained in my own social circles that I believe that, whilst the McCann’s never foresaw what happened to their daughter, they were negligent and lax to have left her. I am aware that most people will be shocked at my voicing this. But I can’t help thinking that, had they have been from a council estate and claiming benefits, they would have been vilified and arrested for neglect. Instead, they are posh, well to do, Doctor and wife, so we all use soothing voices.

I don’t believe they “deserved” what happened. I don’t believe that they don’t probably beat themselves up about it day in and out. But, fundamentally, the person I feel sorry for in this instance is Maddie. Pure and simple.

I’m not one for tweeting that as its the “opinion that dares not speak its name”. However, Sweepyface- along with quite a number of others- did.

Did she deserve, before a Police Officer even came to her home, or any legal action was taken, to be doorstepped by a Sky News Journo? No. She didn’t.

Sky acted in an appalling manner when they did that, and surely, if there had of been a Police Investigation into her Tweets, and subsequent case against her, it was detrimental to any case for them to taken that action. And why just Sweepyface? Why not doorstep a few of the apparent hundreds of people online who use the #Mccann hashtag and forums full of conspiracy theories to voice a negative opinion of the parents?

Now, a woman is dead.

And yet, still agencies refer to her as a troll.

It leaves an unwelcome taste in my mouth.

There is an ever increasing blurred line between freedom of speech and troll behavior.

Clearly, as times change and more and more is spoken about online, there needs to be very strong guidelines about what constitutes bullying or offensive use of social media.

Or Sweepyface will be the start of a dark period for social media and and its place in the voicing of opinions.

…And Next I Decided, Actually, Let’s Fight Back

We’ve now somewhat, only just, settled into life as a half home Ed half usual school family. Its been very hard at times to get Littlest to adapt to working at home or, in the local park, or library.

The biggest hurdle we have come across is the size of our little house, which I was previously ecstatic about, is now creating dilemmas we could not have forseen.

Like my lovely through lounge diner.

It’s light, airy, easy to keep tidy, and cosy warm. What it isn’t, however, is separated from the rest of the house. Thus, its not a happy situation as of course a small room on its own would be much better as it could be turned over to home schooling. All we have is the through lounge and a big cupboard, which was previously going to house the overspill of Elder and my records (omg, Amazon for records, what new heaven is this? I love it) and the Decks. Its now the “School Cupboard” as Mini has christened it.

I kept thinking about the appeal though. Surely, surely there was a loop hole? Surely there was some way to show that it wasn’t fair, that they had already made their mind up other than the shockingly small amount of time it took for us to get a full three page write up with the decision on it?

Music Lesson-with a twist

I googled the Appeal Code I had used before about timescales. Maybe it could shed light on something or anything I may have missed?

It did.

There, in black and white, on their own Appeal Code page on the Diocese website, it said that, should new information be submitted by any party without first being seen prior to the hearing, the hearing should be closed and rearranged.

Yet, the Head did indeed use new information, from 3 different bodies in the appeal hearing, which she simply waved in the air n the form of paper with emails allegedly on it, without anyone seeing them beforehand.

I have since asked, several times, to see these emails, as we contacted those who she quoted, and found she was hardly honest about what they told her. Surprise surprise, we never have gotten to see them. Nor have the appeal authority.

No one adjourned the hearing. No one mentioned she had broken the rules. In fact, on looking through the code, there were  at least three sections where they have broken the rules.

So, I thought, fuck it, I’ll contact them at the Diocese, see what they have to say.

Basically, in Orgasms for Jesus language, they told me to naff off.

How polite.

They told me to go tell it to the Ombudsman. So I am going to. In fact, I collated all the facts, all the information, and put it to the Ombudsman.

Yes, they may say there’s little to do now. They may suggest a rehearing. But I hope that no matter what the outcome, the Diocese, and their attitude towards non Church members daring to want both kids at the same school is dealt with.

Finding things for our Autumn project

I have no great issue Home Educating Littlest, of course I don’t. The problem is its no fun for Littlest, he has made only one friend since we moved, he misses Mini all day and he would rather be in school. Its not something we decided to do as a family, we felt pushed to. And Mini is dreadfully jealous of her bro being at home with Mummy all day, something she’d love to do as she seems to think he sits around, does one worksheet and then watches TV or plays in the park the rest of the time.

Fingers crossed this all gets sorted out soon.