Twitter: Back to Basics

Last month saw Twitter enter into its second decade, and for the 320 million people around the world who use it actively, Twitter is probably one of the better social networks.

However, it can be a bit of a minefield to navigate, understand and use, and the stats back this up.  Of the 1.3 billion Twitter accounts registered worldwide, only 120 million people use it monthly, nearly half of all accounts have never sent a tweet, and about 40% of active accounts haven’t tweeted in the last year.

Here in the UK, there are 13.1 million active users that businesses have the potential to connect with if they know what Titter is, how to use it and why it could be beneficial to them.

To help demystify Twitter, here are 10 Back to Basics tips for using Twitter for your business.

1. What is a Tweet

When looking at the Twitter feed, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of posts streaming in.  You may be wondering what the highlighted words preceded by a # are, or why someone’s name starts with the @ symbol. Perhaps you’re unsure of what the arrows mean below the post. Getting to grips with the way a post looks is paramount to getting started with your own tweets, so here’s our guide to the anatomy of a tweet:

Twitter Basics: Anatomy of a Tweet


2. What does the @ symbol mean?

The @ symbol always precedes an account name.  It’s like our own web address; it’s how people can find us on Twitter and the only way to reference (or mention) another user in your tweet (eg @tuminds). Users are notified when they are @mentioned. It’s how we can speak to one another on Twitter.


3. What is a hashtag?

We explored in-depth what a hashtag is in our blog post: Hashtags: What Are They?  Basically, a hashtag is a word or phrase that help us identify and pull together specific messages and topics of conversation. You can create your own hashtags, use established hashtags and you can monitor hashtags for conversation and information.


4. What are Trends?

Each day you’ll see that Twitter Trends change as a trend refers to a hashtag-driven topic that is most popular at that particular time. In other words, trends are the topics that a lot of people on Twitter are talking about that day.


5. Reply, Retweet, Like, Analytics and More

To comment on a tweet, answer a question or take part in a conversation, you use the first arrow below the tweet – the reply button. When you click on this arrow, Twitter will automatically open up a new post box with the @accountname you want to reply to.

To share a tweet with your own followers, you click on the second set of arrows – this is known as re-tweeting. This lets you share other people’s content that might be of interest to the people who follow you.

If you want to show another Twitter user that you have read and liked their tweet, you click on the ‘heart’ button. This was formerly known as the ‘favourite’ button (once a yellow star), but Twitter changed this to the heart earlier this year.

Reply, RT, Like, Analytics, More Features


Once you build up a certain number of followers, you can view data for each of your tweets to see how far your post has reached across Twitter (impressions), and how many people took an action on your tweet (engagement).

The ‘More’ button is where you can:

  1. Send the person who tweeted a DM (direct message) this is a private 1-2-1 message which appears in Messages.
  2. Copy the web link for the tweet, so you can share this across the web.
  3. Embed the tweet using a code that you can place on your website or in your blog.
  4. Mute, Block and Report Twitter accounts. These features allow you to control any unwanted or abusive tweeters or trolls by muting or blocking them. You won’t see their content and they won’t see yours. Reporting these Twitter account sends a report to Twitter to signal that the post or the account user is breaching community rules.


6. Following People

The best way to make Twitter useful and relevant to you is to find and follow useful and relevant people. When you find someone you like on Twitter, you can follow them easily with just a click of a button.

If you see someone in your newsfeed, for instance, you can hover your mouse over the @accountname and their profile will appear with a little icon of a person in the top right-hand corner with a + sign.  Click on that and you’ll start following that account.

You can also follow people by visiting their profile page and clicking ‘Follow’.

How to follow someone on twitter

7. Moments – The Lightning Bolt

Next to the tab for your home feed, you see the ‘Moments’ tab.  This feature lets you see what Twitter describes as ‘the best of what’s happening on Twitter in an instant.’ Moments is a bit like Trends, but focuses more on the content and conversations that are being shared across the network, and lets you see stories as they unfold. You can find Moments on your Twitter App by clicking on the Lightning Bolt.

Finding Moments


7. Twitter Lists

To help organise your Twitter feed so that it remains useful and relevant to you, you should use Twitter Lists.

When you click on your profile picture in the top right-hand corner of your screen, you’ll see a link to ‘Lists’. Click on this link and you can now start creating and organising lists to add people to.  For example, you could create a list called ‘Local Businesses’ to which you would add the Twitter accounts of businesses in your area, and when you click on this list, your feed will contain only the posts from people on this list.

You can also follow other people’s lists. Do this by finding a relevant Twitter user, visit their profile and click on ‘Lists’ next to where you can see the number of tweets they’ve sent, the number of people they follow and the number of followers they have, then the posts they have liked.  Find a useful list and click on ‘Subscribe’. You can now access this list from your own account.

Twitter Lists

8. Linking Facebook and Twitter?

It’s tempting to link your two accounts together and simply send all your Facebook messages to Twitter. But try to resist the urge.  There are two reasons for this. Firstly, people want to see Twitter messages on Twitter. If they wanted to see a Facebook post, they would be on Facebook. Don’t push them towards another social media platform every time you post.

Secondly, while you have no character limit on Facebook, you do on Twitter, so not only is it obvious that you’ve linked your accounts when the sentence is broken in half and ends with a link, but you aren’t actually communicating your whole message to this audience. It would be like placing an advert in a newspaper or magazine and only giving the publisher half the advert. Pointless.

Linking Facebook and Twitter

9. Are you using the app?

One of the biggest advantages to Twitter is how easy it is to use on the go. You can craft quick, real-time messages to give your followers an insight into your day or work. The App has all the same functionality as the desktop version but is less cluttered.


10. Can I schedule Tweets?

Yes, you can. You can’t actually do it direct from Twitter, but there are online tools to help you schedule your messages. I use Hootsuite, but there are a number of publishing and scheduling tools you can also use including TweetDeckTwittimer, and Twuffer. Have a search for the scheduling tool you find easiest to use.

Twitter Basics


Using Visuals in your Social Media

Over the last few years, it has become increasingly apparent that using visuals in your social media marketing is far more effective than using text alone. If you want your message to be seen, if you want to encourage interaction and you want to make the most out of your content, using an effective visual is essential.


In my work , I’ve found that using a visual, be it a photograph, a graphic, illustration or video, is much more attention grabbing in people’s newsfeeds.

It’s a form of content that is more likely to be shared; they evoke emotional reactions that text alone cannot, and visuals portray a lot of information quickly and conveniently.

There has been more emphasis on visual marketing in digital than ever before, and if you’re interested in boosting your social media efforts, then considering the types of visuals you use will be key to that.


So how can we use visuals in our social media and what types of visuals should we be creating?


The Product or Lifestyle Shot

People like to shop in real life so they can see items up close and personal, touch them, feel them, weigh them up in our hands. Of course, we can’t replicate that tactile experience on digital (yet), but we can offer tangible visuals of the items we sell. People want to see what they are buying, so show it to them, don’t talk about it.

Lifestyle shots help people to understand how your product or service might fit into their live; it helps them to visualise how what you offer can be of benefit to their lives. When someone can understand better what your item does for them, it tends to increase conversion sooner.

The Team Picture

 The Team Picture

People like to do business with people, and if we can see who is behind the business we are much more likely to trust them, particularly online. Showing off who you are and what your team is like helps to humanise your business in a way that no other form of marketing can achieve.

Behind-the-Scenes Spontaneous Shot

Most of us are interested in how you do what you do. Have you ever watched the show ‘How Stuff Works?’ or wondered why ‘Handmade’ has become more popular recently? They’re successful because people are genuinely interested in how the things they buy and use are actually made, who makes them and what materials are used to make them.

The behind-the-scenes visual also provides exclusivity by enabling you to give your social media audience an experience that they won’t get anywhere else, this builds rapport and community.

The Action Shot

Have you ever thought about showing people how you do what you do when you’re doing it? Because we gravitate more to human faces in visuals, capturing your team in the moment of doing their job provides realism and trust at the same time.

We should try to connect with our social media followers in real time, with real life, as often as we can. An impromptu, candid shot of you or your team while they are working, is far more credible than a posed or staged image.

Social media strategy

The Graphic

A bold, clean and crisp graphic is so much more effective at communicating a message. Graphics are fantastic for your Calls-to-Action and adds variety to your feed. Using colourful graphics increases people’s interest in your content, it draws the eye in, and makes us more likely to share that piece of content.

The How to Image

The rise of the ‘How To’ video, infographic and visuals across platforms like Instagram and Pinterest has been prolific over the last few years. As Jay Baer of Youtility explains, people who think they can do things themselves, usually tend to be a business’s best customer. Don’t think of the ‘How To’ as giving away what you do for free, but giving away inspiration to cultivate customers who will spend money on your professionalism and expertise.

The Collage

The way we upload visuals to our posts has changed across Facebook and Twitter recently to include collages of multiple pictures and videos. These have proven to have a good impact across social media, as they offer variety and tell a more rounded story than a single picture alone can do.

The Selfie

 The Selfie

While the ‘selfie’ is looked upon with disdain from some sections of society, it might be a surprise to learn that the concept of the ‘selfie’ has been around since the late 1800s. As soon as self-portraiture became accessible, affordable and a sign of your social standing in society, people have been recording images of themselves. In the digital age, this is made all the more convenient through smartphones and social media.

But what is important to remember is that people notice human faces first – our eyes are drawn to other people before anything else. A face looking out from a visual makes a direct connection with the person viewing it. It also helps us to guide our gaze, ‘human beings have a natural tendency to follow the gaze of others, and we have been coached since birth to follow arrows directing us to where we should be looking or going’. (Kiss Metrics)


Using Social Media to Attract Tourists

These days, people are more likely to turn to review websites and social media to search for travel inspiration for their next holiday.

As our search behaviour changes, it also highlights how our consumer behaviour has changed. Another advantage of digital technology is that we can see and interpret how people use the web and the types of content they access to build a picture of who they are and how best to attract them to our businesses.

This blog post talks about the lessons we’ve learned; looks at the recent Trends report from the Insight Department at Visit Scotland, and uses data collected by Google on tourism trends and behaviour.

The Online Traveller according to Google

At the end of last year, Google provided us with an insight into how travellers use digital technology to plan, make arrangements and engage while on holiday. These were summarised into the ‘5 Stages of Travel’ that every tourism business should tap into to be successful in the digital world.


Every holiday starts with a dream. Whether it’s a location they’ve wanted to visit for years or they’ve been inspired by other people’s travel adventures (documented on their social media), the digital traveller first resides in the dreaming stage.

It’s at this stage that people collect information, make bucket lists and seek out possible adventures. They’re inspired by friends who share photos and videos of their own holidays on their Facebook and Instagram throughout the year, and the digital tourist starts to aspire to have their own experiences.

It’s here that people start to collect articles, visuals, photography, the story of their possible travelling experience and put these into boards on Pinterest, follow new accounts on Twitter and Instagram, and watch videos on YouTube or Vimeo for travel inspiration.


This is when they turn to Google and search for travel blogs, online travel guides, transport, accommodation and activities they can do in these dream locations.

According to Google, people visit an average of 40 websites before they make any bookings, and turn to social media for recommendations from friends and family. Pin Trips is also on the rise, helping to coordinate and organise planning of the holiday.

It’s at this stage when the digital tourist has the most discussion with their social communities.


The third stage is when the credit cards start to come out. People will look to TripAdvisor and other review sites to help make up their minds. The digital traveller is much more likely to make a booking (be it for accommodation, travel or activities) if a tourism business has responded to reviews, questions, and feedback on their social media; including Trip Advisor.

The digital traveller expects to be able to book online or by mobile, they don’t expect to have to pick up the phone. Again this relates to the patterns of our digital and online use, people are much more likely to be looking at making a booking in the late evenings when work is over, dinner has been had and perhaps the children have been put to bed. So it’s not always convenient to pick up the phone at 11pm to make a booking or reservation.

TA Walking Tours Inverness


While on holiday, the digital traveller will continue to stay connected (location and Wi-Fi permitting of course). They’ll be using their smartphones while on the move, to search for the next thing to do, to find a place to stop for a bite to eat, and to make future bookings while they are on their adventure.

It’s this behaviour that makes it crucial that your business is optimised for search engines. You might like to consider what your potential digital tourist might be searching for, while on the go so that you can be there in that moment with your website, your social media or a good piece of helpful content.


It’s at this final stage that the digital tourist creates their Virtual Trail, documenting their adventure to share with (and inspire) their friends and family.

Here’s where all that lovely user-generated content starts happening, with picture and video shares to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, live streaming of experiences on Periscope or Facebook Live, reviews being written on Trip Advisor, Facebook and Yelp and blog posts published to WordPress and Tumblr.

And so, the journey comes full circle, as the story of your digital tourist’s holiday is shared to inspire the dream in the next digital tourist.


Visit Scotland Trends Insights

Throughout the year Visit Scotland’s Insight Department publishes their Trends Report, as the tourism and hospitality sectors are sensitive to consumer trends and economic conditions, it’s important to be aware of how the environment is changing, what trends are remaining in place and which ones are emerging so we can all continue to develop the tourism sector in Scotland.

  1. Be Honest, Be Authentic

We all have different ideas of what authenticity is, and so will our tourists. Therefore, it’s important to have an understanding of who you are wanting to attract and what type of perspective they have of Scotland.

For some, Scotland is tartan, shortbread, and Highland vistas. But for others, it’s the contemporary shopping in Glasgow or arts festivals in the Borders or Islands. Tourists are looking for ‘authentic’ experiences and we need to meet their expectations.

  1. Millennials do travel

Aside from the over 65-year-olds, the 16 to 24-year-old Millennial will travel during the off-season. They not only stay the longest on average in the winter months, but they also have money to spend.

This group is looking for unique experiences, local or ‘glocal’ products, they are environmentally driven and seek quality for good value. It’s not about the cheapest, it’s about the best experience.

  1. Keeping the mystery alive

Tourists, consumers, people searching for travel inspiration still want to be in control of their purchasing decisions and want to seek out those unique experiences for themselves too. Offering your potential tourist other services and products they might like from business outside of your portfolio or even similar businesses, brings back an element of that control.

  1. Micro-Experiences

As tourists seek greater flexibility in their experiences, the adoption of the micro-product has driven more interest in a variety of sectors from accommodation, food and drink to textiles.

Examples of micro products include the micro-breweries (small batch local craft beer/ale), micro-hotels (short stay accommodation), micro-adventures (activities based in escapism that doesn’t require a lot of planning i.e. a walk in the local park) and micro-retail (pop-up shops and unique independent brands).

All of these products are fostering a sense of exclusivity and personalisation.

  1. Visuals, Visuals, Visuals

A picture speaks a thousand words and a video a million. The rise of visual content, created and shared by users, has been phenomenal in the last few years. A picture or video captures the ‘feeling’ and the ‘experience’ of a location, event, activity or experience, more effectively than any other medium.

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest have all become places where people share their images, creating emotional connections with views that can become the motivation for travel to that place pictured, or foster the desire to take a similar photograph in that place for their own social media presence.

Businesses need to consider how they are using visuals to communicate to their market; are they taking advantage of the photogenic hotspots in their area, are they considering wildlife, the built environment, and rural locations as a way to signal to potential tourists the fantastic photographic potential of visiting your area.


Sian’s Insight

Over the years of advising and training tourism and hospitality businesses in using social media to attract and retain tourists to their business, I’ve found the following 5 tips very useful:

  1. Keep it simple and commit to it

    If you’re going to use social media then pick a platform you like to use, keep it easy by planning your social media posts in advance and be consistent.

  2. Use visuals and helpful information

    If you can’t create your own, then share other people’s helpful content or inspiring pictures. It’s there to be shared.

  3. Know who you want to attract 

    A family and their dog will be looking for a very different experience than the lone traveller, for instance, so don’t be tempted to think you can use the same marketing message for both for a quick win.

  4. Experiment with social advertising 

    If you want to increase your reach or exposure, then consider spending a small amount on a well-placed and targeted social advert.

  5. Tell your story 

    If people are interested in the ‘real’ Scotland and authentic experiences, then why not start with yourself.  

Social Networks

Navigating Social Media

Social media is a hot topic for businesses around the globe and has been for the last few years. It enables us connect in more interactive ways with our customers, clients, colleagues and of course our family and friends, in ways unlike traditional online media such as email and websites. Its fundamentally changed the way that we all engage with online content, letting us comment, share and interact, and this has been reflective in the ways that we now view our online presence and marketing.

Social media appears in many different guises, as blogs, micro-blogs, forums, message boards, social networks, wikis, virtual worlds, social bookmarking, tagging, digital storytelling, scrapbooking, data, content, image and video sharing, podcasts and collective intelligence. The most well-known sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, Youtube, Flickr, WordPress, Blogger and Wikipedia have all enhanced our online experience and have become influential social forces in both the online and offline world. With people now using Facebook and Youtube as a search engines, some digital marketer’s argue that without a social presence your business reputation will suffer, as increasingly more people are looking for your business on Facebook or Twitter before they visit your website.

It was back in 1971 when the first ever email was sent, and seven years later two Chicago computer hobbyists invented the bulletin board system (BBS) to inform friends of meetings, make announcements and share information through postings, this can be seen as the rudimentary beginnings of virtual communities. But it wasn’t until 1997 that blogging first began and AOL Instant Messenger hit the screens letting users from around the globe chat with one another. In the following two years Google opened as a major internet search engine and index and Friends Reunited was founded in the UK. In the early Noughties (2002) Friendster, probably the first social networking site, was opened to the US public and in its first three months attracted 3 million users. The following year saw the birth of MySpace and LinkedIn set up as a professional social networking site. At this time there were about 3 million web pages indexed on the world wide web.

It wasn’t until 2004 that Facebook made its debut on the web, started by Mark Zuckerberg while studying at Harvard College, initially it was designed to be a closed college network, and we all know where it went from there. From then on there has been a proliferation of social media sites, with YouTube storing and retrieving its first videos in 2005, and Bebo (an acronym for Blog Early, Blog Often) was started as a rival to Facebook. At this time there were now 8 billion web pages. When Twitter launched in 2006 as a microblogging site  Google indexed 25 billion web pages and 400 million queries (or searches) a day.

Now in 2013, only 9 years after the launch of Facebook at Harvard, the site has 1.11 billion users, and if it were a country it would be the third largest in the world, behind China and India. It overtook the US three years ago.  YouTube topped the one billion monthly user mark and 4 billion views per day this year. Twitter has 500 million registered users with more than 200 million active users. LinkedIn has grown to amass 225 million accounts, while MySpace somewhat dawdles with 25 million users. Pinterest, one of the newest sites to hit the scene as a social scrapbooking network has approximately 49 million users, while WordPress now accounts for 16% of the worlds top websites with 74 million hosted blogs. Social media has become such an ingrained part of our daily lives that even Astronauts aboard the International Space Station regularly tweeted and posted videos to Youtube live from space!

Mobile is now playing a massive role in how we check up on our favourite social networks, with more than half of us regularly accessing Facebook and Twitter from our smart phones while on the move. People living in cities spend the most time on social media, and women tend to spend about 10% more time on social networking sites than men.

In the UK 33 million of us are on Facebook, this is up 3 million on the last year, that’s over half of the entire population, in fact proportionally there are more people using Facebook in the UK than in the US. Overall the highest proportion of users are between the ages of 25 and 34 (26%), with 18 to 24 years old’s the next largest group (23%), but the demographic for people over the age of 55 using social media has grown significantly in the last year.

As for Twitter, its estimated that around 34 million of us have live accounts in the UK, which is a huge jump from last years estimate of 26 million. It’s suggested that the heavy coverage and discussions around big events like the Olympics and Jubilee may have been the driver in recruiting new Twitter users. Twitter seems to attract a slightly older grouping of people with 60% being aged between 25 and 54 years old.

Then there’s LinkedIn, the total number of UK users passed the 10 million mark back in 2012, it is now around 11 million. This is about 11% of the population, for a niche networking site this is pretty astounding. Pinterest, although it’s one of the most talked about social networks this year there is only an estimated 200,000 of us using Pinterest here in the UK, and most of these are women.

And these are just the UK stats, when you begin to look at the global usage of social media, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine your message will be seen at all. Which is why it is becoming increasingly more important to really think about what you want your social media to do for you, who you want to be talking to, and how you want them to interact with you. As a marketer it comes relatively easy to me to talk about strategy planning, implementation and monitoring, but for people running small or medium businesses, when you have everything to consider from creating your products or services to running the financial and administration sides of your business, you’d be forgiven for not thinking too strategically about your use of social media. But as more and more people start to look to social networks, blogs and microblogs not only to talk to their friends and family but to get advice or seek out products and services they want and need, we have to think somewhat realistically about how social media fits into our overall marketing and promotion.

It was said to me a few years back that if a business didn’t have a Facebook or a Twitter account (or if they did and there were no postings or interaction on the profiles) that potential customers would be turned off the business all together. Although I can’t prove how accurate that statement is for every customer out there, it did make me think that I do prefer to see a business with a social side (whether done well or not) then none at all. Ultimately social media has helped put ‘people’ and ‘customer service’ back into business. So what are you doing to put the ‘social’ into your business?

And here’s a little something which makes me smile, and probably encapsulates why I genuinely do love how Social Media is changing the world;

Sian provides Social Media training, consultancy and strategy development for businesses across the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. If you’re interested in finding out what she can do for you then please get in touch with her via;

Facebook LinkedIn Twitter

The fantastic online sources used to inform this piece:

Inverness Castle and Ness River

New Beginnings

As of June HI-Arts, the cultural development agency for the Highlands and Islands, closed its doors after 20 years of providing support to the cultural and creative sectors of the Highlands, Islands, North East and beyond. I was privileged enough to work there for four years, where I was able to hone my skills, develop my knowledge and work with a talented group of individuals across Scotland.

This month I have set out on my own, as a freelancer based in Inverness, I aim to continue to work with the cultural and creative sector, as well as the tourism sector and with small businesses or all persuasions. My focus will be on marketing, promotion and audience (or customer) development, and after working so closely with numerous small businesses in the creative field on making the most of the digital and online world, there will be a slant towards taking advantage of the world wide web.

I’ve since started a 9 month contract with Strathpeffer Pavilion, a beautiful 19th century spa building in the lovely little village of Strathepeffer, about 30 minutes away from Inverness. The Pavilion is the UK’s most northerly Spa and now runs as a multi-purpose venue for the community, the Ross and Cromarty area, Inverness and beyond. The Pavilion puts on live music events, theatre, classical concerts, craft and food, arts and photography fairs, weddings and conferences. In the last couple of months it has doubled it’s staff members and has an eye to becoming the provider of choice for all types of entertainment and events in the Highlands.

I’ve been brought on board with Kris Reid to assist the team in developing and improving their branding, marketing and promotion, press and media relations, programming, sales and income generation, audience development, sponsorship and friends schemes – so quite a bit to do.

I’ll also be continuing to work with Pamela Conacher and Avril Souter on their crafts development programme, which has now joined with Peter Urpeth’s writing programme to form a new organisation; emergents. I am delighted to be able to continue to provide marketing and development support and advice to the many makers on the Making Progress and Made to Measure schemes over the next year.

To top all this off, I’m going to continue to work with HIE on their IT Engagement Programme, as a specialist advisor and trainer, specifically in social media. In the last year I’ve delivered workshops in Dornoch, Orkney, Oban and Caithness.

Over the next couple of months I’m also working on setting up a social media marketing  business – so watch this space!

If anyone is interested in finding out more about the services I can offer please do get in touch

How to Use Twitter

To follow on from ‘How to Use Facebook’ check out these excellent videos for using Twitter.

Twitter in Plain English

Getting Started with Twitter

Twitter Lists in a Nutshell

Twitter Tools Explained

How to Create an Attractive Profile

Finding Followers

How to Tweet from your Phone

How to use Twitter for your Business

How to Use Facebook

I think that most of us now recognise the value of being on a social network like facebook. The interaction with audiences or customers, the instant feedback, the ability to promote events or activities to your core supporters, and having a more ‘social’ side to your organisation has opened up a whole new dimension of being able to promote what you do, while engaging your audiences on a whole new level.

But that doesn’t mean that we all instantly know how to use facebook. So I’ve scoured the medium of You Tube to find some good examples of facebook tutorials. If you find these useful, or not at all, do let me know. I’d like to produce our own set of online video tutorials, but if these do the job already then do let me know!

How to Register and Join Facebook

Singing Up and Explore the Home Page

Facebook Basics: How to Use Facebook

How to Find, Invite and Add Friends on Facebook

Create a Page on Facebook

How to use Facebook Events to Promote Your Business (Part 1 of 2)

How to use Facebook Events to Promote Your Business (Part 2 of 2)

Facebook Privacy

Click Through to Facebook to See there Video on Using Facebook Privacy Settings.

Tour of Scotland: Shetland

This part of the tour has taken me the farthest North I have been in Scotland and to a place I have always longed to visit; Shetland. To make the most out of the trip I decided to take 5 days to explore the island and deliver two workshops, one in Lerwick and one in Unst. However, travelling this far north has meant that having a regular internet connetion (even with my fabby dongle) has been very limited. When I did find a free connection I was blocked from accessing wordpress, hence the full five days documented here for this single post. 

Lerwick, Shetland

Welcome to Shetland

Friday: I set off first thing on Friday morning, heading out to the Inverness Airport to hopefully catch my flight to Sumburgh. News reports of the second Volcanic Ash cloud and temporary No Flight Zones across the North and West coasts of Scotland had me worried, but thankfully the airport was open and I was checked in and ready to go. It was a tiny plane, not what I was used to when travelling back and forward from Hong Kong to Scotland when I was younger in jumbo jets, this jet was three seats wide and you could pretty much see the cockpit, I should definately travel like this more often. As we sat waiting for the plane to take off we were introduced to the Captain, who regrettably had to inform us of a delay in our departure, the ash had struck again! We were however comforted with the news that at the height we would be flying the ash would have no affect on us whatsoever, the delay was due to the fact that air traffic control was too busy sorting out the flight paths of the ‘Big Boys’ (as the Captain explained) and their delays and reschedules. So we waited on the tarmac for about 45 minutes before finally recieveing the ‘Go Ahead’ we’d been waiting for. 

In a sense this flight was more like an aero-bus, stopping off in Kirkwall to drop some travellers off and to pick up a couple along the way. This stop over in Kirkwall however meant that we were grounded and needed air traffic control once again to give us a time to take off – and surprise, surprise, they were too busy to deal with our plane. So we sat on the tarmac once again, this time for about an hour, before the Captain took the executive decision to fly across to Sumbrugh anyway. It wasn’t until we were about 5 minutes into the journey that I realised what that meant; it meant flying at 2000 feet above sea level. What an incredible way to fly, a beautiful sunny day, the waves crashing below and a clear path to Sumburgh, hurrah! 

I arrived in Sumburgh about 2 hours later then planned, and unfortunately the lad who was greeting me to drive me out to where I could collect the car I’d hired, had had to wait around for an extra hour in the airport! But he wasn’t bothered, he liked being around planes, and was saving up enough money to pay is his way through Flight School in the States. On collecting the car, I drove around a little, getting lost, no surprise there. But I eventually found the sign posts marked ‘Lerwick’ and set off along the winding and mountainous cliff tops towards Shetlands main town. 

Lerwick grew out of the fishing trade and still has a functioning harbour port. I decided to take a stroll along Commercial Street to take in the atmosphere, and found a fantastic crafty shop along the main drag called the Peerie Shop. A peek in there and I saw a decidedly inviting cafe, that promised a hot cup of tea and a bite to eat. I was due to meet with the lovely people at Shetland Arts at 3pm so a fresh Shetland salmon bagel and cream cheese would tie me over until then. 

Bonhoga Gallery

Bonhoga Gallery - Image from Shetland Arts

I went to meet with Mary Smith, who I found out was the founder of the Bonhoga Gallery, and gave me a fascinating insight into the world of arts and culture in Shetland as well as invaluable local insight on where to visit and what to see while I was here. Most exciting is the Arts Centre that is currently being built down by the Shetland Museum, to be called The Mareel – Shetland Arts’ New Venue and opening in 2011, this will be a cinema, music and education venue, looking out over Lerwicks waterfront. I picked up a map with a representation of what the venue will look like, and I have to say I am really jealous, it will be a fabulous complex for locals and visitors alike, and once again reaffirm Shetland’s place within the Arts and Cultural sector, not that it really needs a boost. (It also begs another trip to Shetland – perhaps one that falls during the Tall Ship races next spring!) 

After my meeting with Shetland Arts I took myself off to find the B&B I’d booked, and lucky me, it was so central, Commercial Street was literally within a stones throw away. After dropping off a bag heavier then myself, I decide to take a stroll through Lerwick, dropped into the Islesburgh Community Centre, where I was doing the workshop the next day, and then found somewhere for a bite to eat. I have to say though, I was a little disappointed with the choice, or rather lack of choice, of somewhere to eat, Chinese, Chinese or extortionate prices. Eventually settled on an Italian bistro, had my fill and headed back to get some rest before the first workshop on Saturday. 

Saturday: Up early and along to the Islesburgh Community Centre to set up for the workshop. Had a great big room with a fab projector (I really am such a geek!), and just waited for everyone to arrive. The Lerwick workshop had been fully booked, and thankfully one person had contacted me earlier to say they couldn’t attend so I was able to accommodate for a late booking on Thursday afternoon. But as always I had lost some people along the way, so eventually we had a good size group of 18 people. 

What is great about these sessions is the variety of people who attend; we had jewelry designers, crafty sorts, someone from a heritage group and a photographer, just to name a few. The conversation got a little excited over the values of Social Media, and I am beginning to realise that I might be fighting a ‘social’ battle here, but I was able to explain the true value of using platforms like Facebook and Twitter, reminding people to have their professional, rather then personal, hats on when thinking about how social media can benefit and expand your potential audience. While my  Chewbacca example might not have gone down well, the brilliant Peakcock Visual Arts facebook page told a different story, demonstrating not only the best way to be using facebook to promote what you do, but how to engage people, and give them a voice, not only within the organisation itself, but over the controversial Union Square debate. 

North Rock Gallery

North Rock Gallery

It was a beautiful day outside, and everyone had their own Saturday afternoon things to do. So I took the opportunity to drop into the North Rock Gallery. The North Rock has become a bit infamous in the HI-Arts office, as my colleagues and I love their facebook page and all the beautiful arty items that they sell. So I popped into have an actual look for myself. The gallery itself sells all sorts of local craft and art, and luckily while I was there I not only got to see the incredible photography of Mark Sinclair I also got to meet him too. Mark and his wife set up the North Rock Gallery about a year ago, and it really is a family affair, with his sister working there at weekends and window dressing the downstairs shop. I tried to convince the both of them to set up a North Rock in Inverness, but what with a small family, Mark didn’t seem convinced! 

After pottering around the gallery for a while I then headed out to the Shetland Museum and Archive. What a beautifully designed and set out museum this is, I highly recommend this as a visit if you are ever in Lerwick. Aside from its setting against the waterfront and harbour, there is a real life boat yard within the building and a fascinating and interactive tour through the ages of Shetland. 

Shetland Museum - Voices of Shetland

Shetland Museum - Voices of Shetland

I also stumbled upon their latest exhibition from the artists Frances Pelly and John Cumming; Da Gadderie. Both studied at Scottish Art Colleges in the 1960s and focused their attention on sculpture and ceramics at a time when the discipline of drawing dominated most art students timetables. Both were interested in island culture and traditional craftmanship, which led to this joint exhibition, which has been on show at the Pier Arts Centre in Orkney and the Bonhoga Gallery here in Shetland. The exhibition itself comprised of figurative and abstract sculptures, relief panels of clay, stone, plaster, wood and paper, and are clearly influenced by the natural environment from which Cumming originated (Burra, Shetland) and Pelly’s influences from Orkney, Aberdeen and Norway. The overall exhibition was one of retrospection, to give the viewer a sense of their achievements in the contemporary world of sculpture, a beautifully curated exhibition, it was a great introduction into what I could expect while exploring the island of Shetland. 



The Coastal Walk

The Coastal Walk


Sunday was spent exploring Lerwick. First thing I set off, after a hefty Scottish breakfast, along the coast walk through Lerwick. It was a fabulous day and a pleasant walk, I even got to see my first wild seals, and sat to watch them sun bathe on the rocks, if only I could join them! I then hopped into the car and drove off south to see the famous St. Ninians Isle. Stopping for a well deserved cuppa and scone in the St. Ninians Cafe/Gallery, the other customers and I were regaled with stories of ghostly Alsatian dogs (best go there yourself to get the full story – and it’s definitely worth the punch line). The drive down to the Isle itself was spectacular, and when it opened up to reveal this beautiful natural sand causeway, I was in awe. 

Sunday in Shetland

Sunday in Shetland

I also made a new friend, who after sniffing my shoes and following me across the Isle I decided to call her Ninian. The black collie followed me all the way across the causeway and over the hill on the other side before abandoning me for her owners (animals are so fickle). Up until I started to make my way back across the causeway the weather had been great, sunny but not particularly warm, now it was cold, windy and hailing! I have come to realise that Shetland weather most definitely suffers from Split Personality Syndrome. Cheeks rosy and eyes streaming I managed to fight the gale back to the comfort of the car. I then took off back towards Lerwick, but not before stopping in Hoswick for a cup of tea at the local tourist centre, and then stopping, albeit very briefly to see the Scalloway Castle. Scalloway was the ancient capital of Shetland, and sits further south then Lerwick does, right along the west coast.  By this time it was absolutely piddling it down, and getting windier and colder by the minute. It is an interesting experience when you have to be constantly steering slightly to the left when driving just to counter the wind and stay driving straight along the road. It was fast approaching dinner time, had a bite to eat in Lerwick, once again slightly disappointed, and then much needed zzz’s. 

Monday: Up super early this morning to travel up to Unst, the farthest Northern inhabited island in Scotland. Two ferries and a 2 hour drive, I’d hoped to stop in at the Bonhoga Gallery, if it hadn’t been for the fact that it closes on a Monday. But I was lucky enough to meet Andy Ross of the Centre for the Creative Industries in Yell, at the Wind Dog Cafe

Welcome to Unst

Welcome to Unst

After a couple cups of tea (this trip is quickly shaping up to be a Tea tour of Shetland), I then boarded the second ferry of the day to Unst. Unst not only has the farthest Northern post office in the UK, it is also home to the farthest Northern operational lighthouse in the UK. Both of which I got to see, the second requiring me to take a trip up a very steep mountain, ignore the big NO Trespasser’s signs from the MOD (although they no longer have 

Muckle Flugga

Muckle Flugga

operations here there is still all the signage and most of the homes and military buildings), and traverse across the bog (converse trainers, wet, boggy, grass, sheep and scary looking birds – not the best idea I’ve had) but well worth it, for the views out towards Muckle Flugga and across Unst were incredible! 

Oh, did I mention that in between the spells of sunshine I was blasted with rain, hail and snow! Yes, snow, in the middle of May. While having a bite to eat in the ‘Last Checkout’ shop and cafe (loved the name all the more for knowing that it is in fact the last checkout if your traveling further north), the locals were all explaining how this time last year it was sun, sun, sun, and were not impressed with the snow and hail showers we were all being pummeled with. But then I guess that’s the kind of weather you have to expect when you are an island so exposed to the Atlantic and North Seas. 

While exploring Unst I was practically jumping up and down when I came across the Unst Bus Shetler, the most luxurious bus stop ever. Covered in bright orange, the computer might be uber retro, the phone might not be plugged in anywhere, but the inviting Sheeps wool cover, Irn Bru posters and dainty orange and yellow flowers definitely makes this the most welcoming and beautiful bus stop I’ve ever seen. It’s taken many different guises since local schoolboy Bobby Maculay started to add bits a bobs to make the shelter a little more inviting. The Shetler has been featured in numerous magazines, newspapers and radio, and was voted the best bus shelter in Britian by Buses Magazine. What was equally endearing was the small memorial plaque just infront of the bus shelters traffic  island…(see the photo below).   

Unst Bus Shelter

Unst Bus Shelter

Memorial to John Peel

Memorial to John Peel

While I am in Unst I’ll be delivering a second workshop at Saxa Vord, and old military compound that has been turned into self-catering chalets and a hostel. Although basic, the people here are amazing, had a great chat this afternoon with Rose, the housekeeper, who on finding out I hadn’t any tea bags disappeared and returned with a whole cup full of them and some milk for me, ‘least I catch cold this evening’! 

Tuesday: Up early this morning to help set up the dining room for the workshop today. Unfortunately I’d had a  number of cancellations, but as I had no internet access I wasn’t to know this until later in the morning, when people started to arrive. It definitely made me realise just how reliant I am on the internet and my mobile phone, and while it was liberating not being contactable or able to contact anyone, there were still the downsides. (I was told later that day that if I walked around the back of the building down towards the bus shelter on the other side of the hill, and stood behind this with the phone pointing towards the South, I would in fact receive O2 signal.)  So we were a smallish group this morning and it was a more relaxed affair. Again the conversation only really got going when social media was introduced into the mix, this time concerns over privacy was most prevalent on people’s minds. There appear to be a lot of concerns over using social media, and the access that these platforms seem to have into our personal lives, but remember the Facebook’s, Twitter’s and Bebo’s of this world only hold the information you give it, they can’t read your inner thoughts and secrets, don’t share what you don’t want people to know. But again it’s incredibly important to know what level of privacy these platforms offer, and I will be investigating further the privacy issues surrounding social media in a later blog post. 

After the workshop was finished and I’d bought some Unst Bus Station fudge (vanilla and orange – yum), I then had the long journey back to Lerwick, and then onto my last B&B in Levenwick. 


On Wednesday morning I was up and out by 6.45am to be at the airport for my flight back to Inverness. I had an excellent week in Shetland and feel I have been granted a privilege of working with the local artists, makers and practitioners of the arts and cultural sector here. It is an amazing array of Islands, with an enterprising, independent and self-reliant community, a group of people in which we can all learn from when it comes to getting things done. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay, and all the wonderful people I met along the way. A couple of things really struck me on my return to the mainland, firstly that there were no tress anywhere in Shetland, it really is a rocky and barren island, although there are some fantastic sites, cliff tops, natural causeways, mountains and lochs, it really is the richness and diversity of the local communities which make Shetland a fantastic place to visit. I was also overwhelmed with the sense of distance, especially when I was in Unst, I felt really far away, it felt isolating and remote, even though I have visited remote communities across the Highlands, here in Unst, with a plane journey, drive up to the top of ‘mainland Shetland’, two ferries and a further drive all the way across the Island of Unst, you have a physical sense of the distance between you and your home, but also the distance between you and anyone else. Standing atop of Saxa Vord looking down and out over Unst, I really then began to appreciate and respect the communities and individuals who have made their lives here and welcome travelers and visitors as if they were one of their own.   

Looking out over Unst

Looking out over Unst

Tour of Scotland: Shetland

Take Off

Take Off

I am off (finger’s crossed) to Shetland first thing tomorrow morning. Despite the panic casued by the Volcano it would appear all flights in and out of Inverness are still running as normal!

This will be my first visit to Shetland and I am spending a grand total of 5 days there. I’ll be spending time in Lerwick traveling through Yell to Unst and then back down again.

Its apparently a beautiful part of the world so I can’t wait to get up there and explore. Of course I’ll be there to deliver 2 workshops this time, one this Saturday and one the following Tuesday. I’m looking forward to expanding this new community of arty types and bringing them onboard to the way of the web.

As in Orkney, I’ll be keeping social whenever I have internet access. Let me know if you have any places to recommend to go, eat, visit in Shetland or any experiences you’ve had there. Comment here or post onto the HIArts Audience Development facebook page.

Now I’m off to sort out luggage and make sure I know where I am going when I get to Sumburgh Airport tomorrow morning.