By @SimonCocking

07-Humpback Whale West Cork

Interview with Calvin Jones, @WriterCJ, social media guru, top tweeted blogger from Congregation 2014 & wildlife enthusiast.

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Your background? How did you move into social media based writing?

Writing has always been there, and I’ve been a natural early adopter of technology as long as I can remember. I’ve always been mad about wildlife, and my educational background in Marine Biology and Zoology, and my current “passion project” Ireland’s Wildlife, reflects that lifelong interest.

On the work front I’ve done lots of things, in lots of different places: from marine research on Ireland’s rocky shores; to running a taco stand in central Mexico, (San Luis Potosi); to leading large, web-based software development projects and writing bestselling books on digital marketing. I like to mix things up a bit; it keeps life interesting!

Social media was a natural progression for me. I’ve always been fascinated by the way technology breaks down traditional barriers and facilitates communication and collaboration. I’ve also always been a keen advocate of the power of compelling, useful content to engage and retain an audience, build authority and, ultimately generate business value. What people now call “content marketing”.

Why did you move to West Cork?

Because its the best place in the world… naturally!

I first came to West Cork in the spring of 1993 as a volunteer biologist at Sherkin Island Marine Station. Little did I know how profoundly answering a postage-stamp sized ad in New Scientist magazine would change my life. I left West Cork at the end of the summer, but I don’t think West Cork ever left me. It’s that kind of place.

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How does Wales compare (you’re from there, with the Red Dragon logo)?

I’m from the North Wales coast, and there are certainly similarities, but there are also some stark differences. Both have a lot going for them, like stunning scenery, fabulous wildlife, and plenty of opportunity to make the most of the great outdoors. Wales has the edge in terms of infrastructure and convenience. Roads, public transport and services are better… but West Cork wins hands down on the charm front.

I love both places, but forced to choose I’d pick West Cork in a heartbeat. It’s no contest.

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Pro’s of living in West Cork?

West Cork for me offers the perfect balance: I live in an old schoolhouse in the middle of the countryside, five minutes from fabulous beaches and stunning coastal vistas, yet we’re only ten minutes from Skibbereen, and about the same distance from Clonakilty. Cork city is just an hour up the road… although to be honest we rarely venture up to the city if we can help it.

One of the best things about West Cork is that its an almost idyllic place to bring up children. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather them spend their formative years.

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How is the broadband there?

Challenging. When we first moved I struggled with a 128kb/sec ISDN connection. Eventually we got ADSL, but the local exchange is STILL only enabled for 2Mb/sec… and we were lucky to get 1.5 Mb/sec at the house. It was a real challenge, given my line of work, but it’s amazing what you can cope with if you try hard enough.

Just last year I managed to get a relayed signal from a local wireless internet provider giving me a whopping 5mb/sec — which means we now have Netflix… yay!

Seriously though, rural broadband has been woeful in Ireland for far too long, and while things are improving slowly it something that I think should be prioritised more. What use a digital economy if half of the population can’t actively participate?

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Does it impact on your ability to do business?

Yes and no. Day-to-day I get on fine for most tasks. Has it held my business back? I believe that it has in terms of my ability to develop and deliver strategic online content and training to a potentially global audience. But that’s a cost of choosing to live where I live. Is it worth it? Absolutely, no question.

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You were recently in Asia were you were able to work there – the whole laptop on the beach idea?

Yes… among other places. We were travelling for four months all told in Australia and Southeast Asia, so yes, I was working while we were away. I had my ancient netbook with me for work, and the irony is that I almost always had access to a faster WiFi connection tan I do at home throughout the trip.

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Cong – well done on your article being RT’d so many times. Can we conclude that sex still sells? (I’ll include a link to the piece). What are your thoughts? 

I’d like to think it was the quality of the content rather than the provocative headline that drove the popularity of the Congregation post… but perhaps I’m deluding myself ;-).

Does sex still sell? On one level, undoubtedly… or at least it grabs people’s attention, and attention, as we all know, is the currency of online business today. Getting attention is one thing though, retaining it and doing something productive with it is something else entirely. That’s down to crafting effective content, and is, I believe, the biggest challenge for businesses today.

You’ve just published a new fantasy book. Is this a new area you’re moving into?

Writing fiction has been an ambition of mine for years, and fantasy is the genre I enjoy reading and writing most. I wrote Empire 15 years ago… on a Psion series 3 palmtop while travelling around the world the first time around. It has been sitting on my hard drive gathering dust ever since. I’d always planned to publish it… but somehow life, work, kids happened and it went on the back burner. It was my daughters who were the catalyst to me dusting it off and publishing via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform.

It’s phenomenal how low the barriers to entry are now for independent authors to get their work out there. Is there more to come? Undoubtedly, both fiction and nonfiction in the digital and wildlife & nature space.

What’s your strategy for the future, a mixture of social media, fantasy, nature?

In a nutshell, yes! Most of my focus over the last few years has gone into building Ireland’s Wildlife into the biggest independent online wildlife and nature platform in Ireland. I want to build on that foundation with more “real world” Discover Wildlife Experiences — stuff that let’s me get out in the wilds of West Cork with a pair of binoculars and legitimately say that I’m working.

That said I also have plans to do more in the digital space… helping business owners and entrepreneurs to harness the power of great content to deliver lasting business value through online training and support material.

And there will be writing? There is always writing!

Social media changes a lot but perhaps stays the same? The platforms rise and fall, but there is a value in communicating well wherever you are putting out your content. What are you thoughts?

There is always value in communicating well. Social media, whatever the platform, doesn’t change that. Rather it augments and amplifies it. Effective communication, at its core, is a two way process… a dialogue, a conversation.  Social media facilitates that conversation… and yet the thought of listening to and responding to their customers still scares most businesses silly. It’s bizarre.

The best content depends on the dialogue, builds on it and encourages ongoing interaction and engagement. Content that truly resonates with people is rarely a spontaneous creation… rather it is born of understanding a need and responding to it in a way that adds value. Social media helps businesses to both foster that understanding, and amplify reach through social sharing. Its powerful mix — but one that can be tricky to balance. A lot of people still get it wrong.

Success? How do you define it?

To be honest I try not to.

I see far too many people striving to reach patently artificial goals that, when push comes to shove, don’t really matter. As long as I can pay the bills, my wife and children are happy and healthy, and I  have the flexibility to get out of the office when I want to without having to ask anyone’s permission that’s good enough for me.

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You are heavily involved in nature & social media, does it mix well / mutually useful?

Yes it does… but then I think you could choose any topic and the answer would be the same. Wooden boat building, puppetry, quantum physics… there are communities of people interested in practically every topic imaginable… and they’re talking about those topics online. You just have to go where they are and join the conversation.

Philanthropy. If you become fantastically rich, what would your approach be to business and the planet. From the look of it, it is something you’re trying to balance at the moment.

My main focus would be the same — to encourage more people, especially children to get out and engage with the world around them. There’s a staggering disconnect between children today and the natural world around them. It’s a worrying trend that’s both unhealthy and potentially catastrophic. That sounds melodramatic, but if the future custodians of the environment we all depend on grow up with a complete lack of empathy for the world around them I believe it will be that serious.

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Your top tech toys that make your life easier?

Apart from the obvious smartphone and tablet I’d have to say my most prized “gadgets” probably don’t count as “tech toys” in the usual sense of the word. They are my Swarovski Optik SLC HD binoculars, my Meopta S2 spotting scope, my Paramo rain gear and my Aigle Parcours II Outlast wellies… quite possibly the best wellies in the world! 🙂

Here is his personal blog.

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