Everything I know about Social Media I saw in a British Pub

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Everything I know about Social Media I saw in a British Pub

I recently came back from an extended trip to England, where my wife and I spent some time in Northern England with Mike Grehan. Mike is incredibly passionate about living in Newcastle, and should be knighted as an evangelist for Northeastern England. Visiting Mike’s pub was probably the most enjoyable experience I had. Not in the least of which was the glorious fish ‘n chips and sticky pudding. It was one of the best meals I had that week.newcastlepub

The people are very proud of their city and their way of life, of which I admit a profound jealousy. I think we let life get to busy for us here in America, and we typically feel out of control. We lose touch with those that live across the street, or on our block, and we long for simpler lives, but can’t find the time to make it happen.

The English pub is nothing as it is imagined in the States. Many of my observations about the pub were remarkably similar to the concept of Social Media. Of course, this could just be the nerd in me, contrasting every “real” experience with online behavior.

1. No TV’s, no juke boxes.
The typical distractions are removed. I loved that there were no barstools. As Mike explained, “in the US, I have to get my drink over some guy’s head.”

Observation: You can hear the conversation without the pounding of music or the distraction of sports on the television. It’s focused on developing a relaxed atmosphere for conversation.

2. Focus on conversation
Areas of chairs and table were scattered about, depending on what type of visit you were making (drinking, drinking+ eating, or sitting). However, I immediately noticed that there were no barstools. We got the large over-stuffed chairs next to the fire. We intended to stay for a while and have some great conversation. Later we moved to a larger table for dinner, but the conversation kept going.

Observation: There is more emphasis on leaving the bar and sitting with people. You can still get drunk if you want, but you’ll be having fun with everyone else while you do it.

3. Sense of Ownership
Mike kept saying, “my pub.” Mike’s son, Joe, explained the three priorities in life: “football, the pub, the wife. In that order.” The pub is a local meeting house and is located near your home. Everyone who lives near it calls it “their pub.” What’s interesting is we also passed by his brother’s pub and his mother’s pub. Everyone knows where THEIR pub is.

Observation: Ownership is vital to a sense of community. Unless you feel a sense of pride in what is being built and a sense of participation in the success, then you don’t have a true investment in the community.

4. Sense of Belonging
You belong because you live nearby. Everyone knows each other, and you can meet your neighbors at the pub. Because it’s the pub from your area, you care about it and want to be a part of the success.

Observation: Similar to the sense of ownership, the sense of belonging. It is a vital part of the community and everyone is welcome. Even is you choose to site near the fire and read the newspaper, you still belong. You are still part of the conversation.

5. Sense of Priority
See #3. Even though football is higher than the pub in priority, very few pubs offered televisions. I was surprised that the local football team was in a very important match that night, but they did not have it on television, there were no televisions available. I know it drove Joe nuts, but his friend kept texting him the score.

Observation: Even the priority of football in Newcastle didn’t supersede the priority of the pub. It didn’t replace the conversation of the community pub, even though it was of vital importance. There was a place to go if you wanted to watch the match, but it wasn’t being watched at the pub.

6. Sense of Community
Conversation with your friends is to be valued. If everyone knows who you are, then you are accountable. You have to be friendly. Mike pointed out the history of the pub as coming from the concept of Public Houses, where homes were opened up to the community for socializing. They grew into the pub, where the concept of community and socializing is lived out today.

Observation: If you want to get something out of the community, you have to contribute. Those that contribute the most are rewarded the most.

7. Old stuff is Cool
Sometimes, you don’t need technology. The best times are with people, and technology only keeps us unsatisfied. Taking time away to invest with people, rather than pursuing “what’s next” is very rewarding and fulfilling to one’s soul. We went to the Durham Cathedral, completed in 1096. It’s old. I haven’t felt a sense of awe like that for a very long time… I think we get so caught up in the “new” that we forget that there is still quality to be found in the “old”.

Observation: I was struck that conversation with people is what lasts. Friends that I made on forums ten years ago are still friends today. The forum helped to develop conversations both on a public and private level. Meeting people afterwards in “real life” simply cemented those friendships. You don’t build relationships like that by gaming Digg.

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About the Author:

Matt has taught Google employees how to understand and use Google Analytics, consulted with Experian on how to present data, developed online marketing training for both Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson and presented analytics methodologies to Disney, ABC & ESPN. As founder of SiteLogic, Matt teaches marketers how to create measurable and profitable strategic marketing plans.


  1. debra mastaler March 5, 2008 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    Excellent article Matt, you have a keen sense of observation. It’s good to slow down, sip beer, talk to friends and be happy with yourself. And I couldn’t agree more about old forum friends 😉

  2. Rachel Phillips March 5, 2008 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    It’s nice to hear you talk about kicking back and relaxing a bit. I love the metaphor; you did a great job drawing out your observations. I must confess to being a little jealous myself. 🙂 And I absolutely agree that it’s the PEOPLE in life that make it all worthwhile!

  3. Barry Welford March 6, 2008 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    Great post, Matt. As another Northeasterner (ex Hartlepool) I could not fail to add my complete support for your thesis. It’s exactly the same sense of belonging. At my own on-site ‘Local’, Cre8asite Forums, I’ve often expressed exactly the same sentiments.

  4. Manish Pandey March 6, 2008 at 11:32 am - Reply

    Great to see you Matt. Lessons from a pub thats some creativity! 🙂

  5. Adrienne March 6, 2008 at 11:52 am - Reply

    I will begin with a “cheers to that!” I was in Ireland a year ago speaking with a fellow at a pub. He called it his “local.” This conversation reminded me of your point #3. Community, sense of ownership and belonging is so important because when you build real relationships you build loyalty. The most “popular” people I know are genuine and the most successful social media is too.

  6. Neil Matthews March 6, 2008 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    I live in Newcastle, and a pub without a “telly” for the football would not be my pub, that’s for sure.

    I think you are over generalizing a little about Newcastle, but the core of your story is true, I’m glad you enjoyed your stay.

  7. Matt Bailey March 6, 2008 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the comments! I can say that I wish i were back there now instead of having my Guiness from a can.

    Neil, yes, I did generalize a bit. I’m a tourist. I wasn’t a football fan before I went to England, but I have to admit, I wanted to watch the game that night and see what happened. There are times when football does have to take priority! Especially when it is Ohio State v Michigan.

    By the way – we had the Arsenal v Milan game on in the office yesterday. What a great game!

  8. Farhad March 7, 2008 at 7:25 am - Reply

    Don’t you mean they kept saying “my local”? Few people refer to the local pub as “my pub”. But I’m not a Geordie, so hey, I might be wrong!

  9. CarlosX March 8, 2008 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    Certain coffee houses work the same way. You meet with friends and spend hours talking. I am glad that you can relax and feel at home without being told to leave after you finish eating.

  10. Harry Hoover April 23, 2008 at 10:24 am - Reply

    Excellent observations. We get so caught up in the digital that we tend to forget about where life really happens. So, right now, step away from your computer and go speak live to a person. It will do you both good.

  11. One Year Millionaire June 30, 2008 at 9:29 pm - Reply

    Taking it back to the simple life and this is where social media begins… great post buddy!

  12. jivaldi August 31, 2008 at 4:11 pm - Reply

    One point stood out in particular to me in your analogy. That is, the people in the pubs are ‘true’ members. And this I think is going to be a key to the success of using social media as an effective means of marketing for businesses. It’s one thing to walk in the pub and buy a round of drinks for the regulars at the bar – to get yourself noticed. It might work in the short term, but it’s another thing to meet the same people consistently over time so you do in fact become a member of the network.

    There is a lot of negativity surrounding social media (and perhaps there should be). But if companies really want to engage in real conversations beyond the confines of their website, it really does benefit them to become a true member of a community. This will foster acceptance and later trust.

    In the end, I think that’s what consumers are really after – is a voice or community they can trust – versus the constant sales speak that so many consumers simply ignore. Less corporate speak and sales tactics, and more *real* conversations = good thing for businesses.

  13. Alicia - Name May 27, 2009 at 7:50 am - Reply

    Never thought that british pubs may lead a person to such deep ponderings 🙂 A very classy statement on a difficult topic. From my perspective, you are quite correct with respect to the need for strong competition being for the betterment of all. Well, that was my 2 cents

  14. save my marriage today June 28, 2009 at 8:09 am - Reply

    I love the metaphor, and the lessons to be learned make a lot of sense. Funny how the settings of a small pub can expose a roadmap to success. Grate article.

  15. Social Media December 3, 2009 at 5:29 pm - Reply

    Haha – I guess you were lucky finding a british pub where you could actually substain a conversation!

    Magnus // Sweden

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