Less is more

Christian Payne aka Documentally is a photographer and journalist now making a bit of a name for himself as a social media guru. When I first met Christian at the Tuttle Club a few weeks ago, everyone told me he was the one person I had to talk to.

We’ve arranged to meet at Tuttle again today…only, Christian’s dog walker can’t make it and he has to stay home to look after his Border Collie, so we’re talking long distance (London – Boondocks) over Skype.

Six years ago Christian ‘downsized’, leaving full-time employment at a newspaper London to live and work in a small village in Northamptonshire.

“The corporate world is designed to make money at the end of the day, not to make people happy. Authenticity and ethical trading doesn’t exist enough. Corporations still believe in the ‘acquisition of more’ when they should be developing the capacity to enjoy ‘less’.”

Christian urges me to read Fritz Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful to get the full take on the way he sees things. Twenty-five years on, it seems a kind of apt title for the niche-obsessed world of social media where, suddenly, the little things matter again.

So what finally drove Christian to follow his values and opt out of the London rat race?

“I spent years working within newspapers and the way we report news nowadays is really very lazy. As a photographer, I always had to go and visit the people behind the stories. Sit with them, chat to them. Find out how they were really feeling. You always get something deeper by sitting there talking to people face to face. I quickly lost faith in the newspaper industry. Journalists never go out to stories any more. They get all the information online, maybe make the odd phonecall. Everything you see in the newspaper is based around advertising. The story will be cut to fit with the ads. A fantastically touching product to begin with can be turned into pulp.”

And Christian has little praise for his old bosses:

“The leadership [in newspapers] is terrible. People sit there shouting like something out of a Spiderman movie. You’ve seen Spiderman, right? Well, the relationship Peter Parker has with his editors, who are always shouting at him – that’s a completely accurate representation. There’s no end of bullying.

“As a result you end up having no respect for either these people or the organisation that employs you. You just want to get back at them in whatever way you can. For example, when it came to expenses at the newspaper, people would calculate expenses to and from the office for every story, even though they would go direct from job to job. They could probably earn another £4K on top of their earnings annually through that. Most people did it, and the newspaper was completely unaware.

“In organisations like [the newspaper where I used to work] you simply don’t have that ‘let’s sit down and talk about this’ attitude that you should have. This is where social media has the chance to make a difference.”

Of course, not all places are bad. Christian tells me that the Open University (one of his clients) has a very progressive attitude. From the sound of it, Ian Roddis, the OU’s Head of Online Services, is more like a favourite, trendy uncle than a boss. Twitter is used as a type of intranet, while Roddis sends short video clips to his staff using Qik.

“The other day Ian sent a Tweet at lunchtime: ‘I’m working from home and having a beer, does that constitute drinking at work?’. The thing is, he’s not just talking to his employees but also to his clients and his sponsors. He’s communicable and being honest. That’s what’s so likeable.”

If an organisation uses Twitter in this way, feels Christian, it’s inevitable that workplace relationships will become more open (and that’s a good thing):

“Twitter is like a massive corporate meeting taking place 24/7 at all levels of management. But it’s a useful meeting. People can see directly what I’m doing at any point – for example, they can see if something’s my idea. That’s good, it gives me ownership. This is the kind of communication we need between people now. It’s almost too much communication. But YOU control your data. You control how much you want to share.

“You can lie, but then you have to make sure you tell the same lie everywhere. You can only really throw truth into that stream.”

Transparency, openness and – ultimately – efficiency. Who can argue with the benefits of that? And, the great thing is, it’s really difficult to SHOUT on the Internet.

7 Responses to “Less is more”


  1. 1 nicholas butler

    I am delighted you have met up with Christian. The no.1 representative of Social Media in the UK today. Ironically the smaller Christians delivery the larger his impact and results theres much to learn from his content. Not to say it should be replicated but to look at how his audience and viewers react.

  2. 2 Mike

    I’ve known Christian for probably less than a year yet it seems like much longer. He’s not only one of the most engaging people I’ve met in social media (and as a regular at the Tuttle I meet a lot!), but also one of the most disarming. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him a couple of times now and seen firsthand how easily he gets people to open up to him. It’s a rare talent.

    It’s great to see him in the spotlight here and I look forward to watching him go from strength to strength in the next 12 months. One of the great things about Christian is that as a true ambassador and evangelist he helps legitimise the relatively young field that we all work in.

    If someone asks me exactly what social media is I just point them in his direction.

  3. 3 Ian Roddis

    Christian is right in all that he says. Though it was of course low alcohol beer.

  4. 4 Ian Shepherd

    I’m pretty new to the idea of using social media professionally, and even more so to Twitter, but I was interested in this comment: “Twitter is used as a type of intranet, while Roddis sends short video clips to his staff using Qik.”. Presumably this is with protected updates, so only people within the organisation get to see the messages ? If not that really IS open and transparent…! Although, I can see positives between sharing a certain amount of internal dialogue with customers and observers. Interesting stuff, I need to re-read “Small Is Beautiful” in light of recent tech…

  5. 5 Chaz

    What can one say about Christian? He’s passionate and he knows his stuff. I met him in NYC at Podcamp. Trying to score a Seesmic shirt off of him, I complimented his Macbook Air and found it surprisingly refreshing when he called it a “Piece of Crap.” (So much for flattery being everything)… But I digress.

    Christian knows Social Media, and that it’s people that matter, not medium.

    He’s also good for photo tips!

  6. 6 Geoffsays

    I’m actually amazed at Christian’s tireless/relentless energy. He’s a person that lives for what he does and enjoys most every second of it (speaking as an observer). I was talking to someone from the BBC last week who happens to know Christian and she called him “utterly dangerous with a camera”… I think that’s the best compliment anyone could hope for.

  7. 7 Steve Clayton

    Intrigued to see Ian Roddis agreeing with Chris’s description of him as honest (and indeed that he is a favourite trendy Uncle – fell of my chair at that one!) The risk of complete openness is that some may challenge or at least question apparrent openness and integrity, and I am quite sure Ian would resist compete openness about his work relationships! With such openness it’s important to look out for that banana skin you left and forgot about, and to keep that ego in check!

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