[Miscellany] The Monarch’s symbols, writing for the algorithm vs. your audience, and people that shaped me

On the power of symbols

Queen Elizabeth II died on Thursday, September 8th.

In addition to being a person, Elizabeth II was also an institution, and, in that latter role, she was promptly replaced by her first-born son, Charles. The change in Head of State will be reflected in ceremonial as well as functional objects such as wording of the National Anthem or the name of certain public services (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs Office, for instance), the monarch’s initials in mailboxes, or the monarch’s profile in stamps and coins.

Two post boxes spotted in my runs: one from the time of Queen Elizabeth II and another one from the time King George (presumably, VI)

Regarding this latter change (i.e., the coins), I learned that not only will the face in the profile change, but that the direction of the face will also change. Namely, while Queen Elizabeth II’s profile faced the right, King Charles III’s will face left. Apparently, this is a tradition dating from the 17th century.

It’s a really amusing illustration of how symbols are a non-verbal form of communication, and, as such, of how they have a specific “grammar” which reinforces the intended message. As Pratt and Rafaeli discuss in “Symbols as a language of organizational relationships”: 

“A language is premised on some consensual and meaningful arrangement of individual elements. Verbal languages use acceptable combinations of letters, words, or sentences, utterances and moves. In a similar fashion physical symbols can be decomposed into individual elements. For example, pieces of attire such as shirt, jacket, tie or shoes are individual elements that, when put together properly create an image, or “the sentence,” of a suit. Individual physical symbols alone (e.g. a tie, a shirt, or a ring) can hold meaningful representations similar to elements of verbal speech. Just like verbal symbols, multiple physical symbols can be put together to clarify, bolster, or qualify a point”.

The change in the profile’s direction is an additional element which helps to clearly communicate the message that there is a new ruler. This is because coins last very long and are expensive to replace and, therefore, different versions of the same coin (say, a £1 coin) are likely to be circulating in the economy. Moreover, the fact that one male monarch was usually replaced by another one, could create ambiguity regarding when the coin had been printed. The additional element in this symbol works like, say, punctuation in a sentence (e.g., “I am here!” vs “I am here?”), to help clarify the intended meaning.

Changes in Google’s algorithm

Tim Kourdi kindly shared an article with me, where someone was reflecting on the impact of recent updates of Google’s algorithms on the ranking of blog posts (in the case of the article, the impact on the ranking of hotel blog posts). The writer noted that the algorithm penalises content that is deemed to not be relevant for the specific search query, and posited that, as a consequence, if the reader went on to conduct further searches after reading a hotel’s blog post, that would be interpreted by the algorithm as a sign that the content had failed to answered their questions and, thus, would be deemed as having low relevance for that search query and be penalised.

I suspect that the writer is very much correct about the conclusion that the new algorithm will penalise pages where the reader goes on to conduct further searches rather than take action (e.g., book a ticket). However, that assumes that people read content (blog posts, webpages, news, etc…) because they are looking for specific answers and that, once they find that answer, they will stop looking. However, as per the Uses and Gratifications theory, people consume media for a variety of reasons, including for inspiration. So, in my view, the value of an article for its reader may actually be in that it triggers further (re)search – for instance, which shows are taking place, right?

This made me think of the pitfalls of writing content to feed an algorithm as opposed to content that adds value (be it process, content or social value).

People that I am grateful for / to

On Friday, I participated in the 19th International Colloquium on Arts, Heritage, Non-profit and Social Marketing, which took place at Oxford Brookes University.

Image credit: Sarah-Louise Mitchell

It was a great opportunity to get early feedback on a project that I have been working on with Mariachiara Restuccia and Emmanuel Mogaji. Moreover, it was really nice to bump into three scholars that have made a major contribution to my professional life. They are:

  • Moira Clark wrote a shining reference letter in support of my application to becoming a Professor. She also offered me valuable data collection opportunities, at the “Henley Centre for Customer Management”, which she founded and directs. 
  • Finola Kerrigan always had more faith in me than I do, and encouraged me to reject an earlier job offer because, in her words, it was not at the right level for me. She is also a role model for me in terms of collaborating with others, and pursuing novel directions.
  • Sarah Quinton was a colleague, then a co-author, and now a firm friend. Someone who has “done it” the hard way. She is a role model to me in terms of lifting junior colleagues.

Of course, other people have had an important role in my professional life. But I wanted to take some time, today, to publicly acknowledge the role of these three women, whom I had the pleasure of seeing again, face to face, recently.

What has caught your attention, lately? Who has shaped your professional life?

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