Sunday, November 21, 2010

The right messages?

Facebook announced a refresh of their messaging product this week that it was suggested (especially before the announcement) would turn into an email killer.

Having watched the Facebook event video and Mark Zuckerberg’s couch session from the Web 2.0 summit that followed the announcement, it’s made me wonder whether this is the right context to try and frame the new messages product into – as an alternative to email. I think a lot of the commentary has missed what he’s described messages to be.

It is centred around Facebook’s idea of email if it were designed in the social era. They take a look at email as one part of a mix of communications tools and suggest that all we’re actually interested in doing when we send email is communicating with our friends, and that a lot of the other email we receive is less important and therefore needs less of our attention. They also suggest that now we have so many different ways of communicating with our friends, we should communicate across whatever medium is most convenient for us, without it impacting on the receiver.

Their solution is to integrate our main communication tools (email, SMS, instant messaging) into one platform, so that our communications with the same person can be viewed as a continuous flowing conversation irrespective of the channel. And as they have list of all our friends (the social graph or the friend list to me and you), they have the means to do this for us.

The logic is sound but Google Wave was also broadly described as what email would be like if it were designed today and that has been consigned to the scrapheap. An earlier blog post of mine discussed this issue in more detail but in summary I think Google Wave would have had a better chance of surviving if it integrated Gmail (and email in general) into it so our old email habits could work with their new idea.

Facebook have done this by including email as part of the mix of tools that the new messages platform will aggregate. They have done what Google didn’t do with Wave, so in theory it should do what Wave wanted to do and replace email, correct?

Well not necessarily.

Wave tried to re-design email but also added something to it – the real time, conversational aspect. They offered us in line replies, allowed us to have group conversations as well as private conversations within a large group and share documents/media. If you look at the technology it was very clever. It could even be argued that it was too clever and too far ahead of the average user’s requirements.

Facebook messages is a lot more lowest common denominator in terms of its use cases and appeals to the masses (we all use Facebook already after all) but has it actually added anything new? All it’s done is taken our existing conversations and archived them together in one place.

It’s the communications equivalent of housekeeping. It’s a very clever (and useful) filtering algorithm using a sophisticated database but It’s no different in principle to Gmail’s priority inbox function, or a well developed set of email filters. Admittedly it already has the filters developed thanks to the friend list we have on Facebook but it’s not difficult to imagine any other email filtering system or programme getting up to speed pretty quickly.

My other gripe with this idea of Facebook messages replacing email is how reliant we are on email without realising. It’s our primary method of communication with the world outside of our friends. Clients, customers, colleagues…everyone. Not only is it a communication tool, but it is an identity tool. I would argue that 99% of websites requiring a login use email. Either directly as a username or as a means to acquire a username. Even Facebook itself needs your email address to log in to it. Am I really going to go round the internet changing this? No chance.

Facebook’s connect technology that allows you to log in to websites using your Facebook login could solve this, but if you extrapolate this then you, as a user, are using Facebook for pretty much everything you do online. Having such a dependency on one platform, whether it’s Facebook or not, is scary.

In essence, I don’t see how Facebook offering us a place to put all our conversations together will necessarily cause us to abandon any of the tools we use. We’ll still use SMS, we’ll still use email, we’ll still IM. We may do it from one place online, but we’ll still be doing it.

And don’t forget we still need non data dependent platforms to communicate. I may not always have a data connection near me at which point relying on a data service for my communications is a bit useless. And that’s before you consider the people who don’t have smartphones.

Facebook messages will aid communication. It will organise and archive messages. It will be a layer on top of our existing communications. But I just can’t see it killing email in the way commentators are suggesting.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sell the network, not the product

I’m doing some social media work within the recruitment industry at the moment, and it’s interesting hearing some of the viewpoints about how best to implement it. Fortunately for me the company I work for are very understanding about how it can and should be used to good effect, but that’s not the case universally. Then I came across an article that both surprised and wound me up, so I had to comment on it. I should have known better.

The article was about the recruitment industry but it could easily be applied to any industry. It was about how recruiters were trying to use professional networks to find candidates for jobs, and since they were having trouble finding a direct return on investment to warrant the use of social media, they were thinking twice. It was so wrong. It was all focused on generating quantifiable sales, immediately.

Considering LinkedIn and wider professional social networking tools in this way misses their fundamental point. It should be about discovering an audience, being part of a community and communicating with them. Large brands and celebrities have pulling power and are able to define and develop their own audience and communities around themselves but for SME’s listening and discovering what communities already exist needs to come first. BEFORE the business gets involved. This is key. The social networker who creates their profile and starts pushing messages (either sales messages or otherwise) without discovering what audience already exists and what they’re talking about is almost certain to fail.

In looking for return on investment by measuring the number of clients secured these companies are measuring the wrong metric. They are not looking for a return in the right place. These tools are not recruitment tools or sales tools, they are networking tools and need to be measured as such. When a company hosts or attends an offline networking event, how do they judge the effectiveness of going? By analysing the opportunity to meet with clients, raise their profile in the sector and learn from others. Correct?

So why is online networking measured differently?

The return from online networking needs to be measured in terms of how much of an online network it builds up for individuals/companies, how effectively it allows you to communicate with people you normally don’t have the time/opportunity to reach regularly, how much online coverage it can generate and how much it promotes you or your company as a brand. Now if you engage in online ADVERTISING through social networks, then by all means look at direct sales as your measurement metric. But not if you’re networking. At least not initially. It's true that professional networking will ultimately lead to sales, but this is likely to happen through the relationships you develop.

If your LinkedIn profile is the first result on Google when people search for your name is that not powerful? Is that not a return? Does that not promote you and consequently the brand or company you work for?

Those still stuck in the mindset where every action must have a direct, monetary value need to get out of it. An appreciation of qualitative results needs to come in to business alongside quantitative analysis. I’m not suggesting professional networking be entered into with no idea of what it could bring. Of course not. Nor am I suggesting that a return need not be measured.

But measure the right things, and do it for the right reasons. If you’re networking, actually network. Don’t just sell. Build relationships.

The original article appears here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Places to be

So Facebook, who a few months ago dipped their toes into the geo-location waters, this week leapt into them with a full on running jump. In announcing the next stage of development of Facebook Places to include Deals and a simple, cost effective way to monetise a user’s geographical check ins they have shown us what their vision geo-social networking is.

Whereas the 5 million or so geo-location early adopters on Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp etc. have been happy to use it for the game element of getting badges and the enjoyment of seeing where their friends were, there was always the feeling of “it’s cool, clever and fun, but how can it grow/spread?”. I’ve had this discussion with a number of people, and this was always the underlying question.

Well this announcement has shown one way of making it happen.

The idea is simple. Owners of venues encourage footfall and offline traffic by offering deals/incentives to their Facebook fans who check in. For example Gap in the US have offered the first 10,000 customers who check in on Facebook with 3 of their friends free jeans, and 40% off for people who couldn’t make it in the first 10,000. Simple idea to get them in and sell them your products.

The technology is not new but in terms of taking it to the masses it is. Foursquare specials have done the exact same thing for a while but with the idea now exposed to a wider network of businesses that want to take advantage of it, it gives them an easy way of offering their customers rewards. The scale of the Facebook community (500m users, around 7% of the world population) cannot be ignored.

Where does this leave us and the competition?

Part of Facebook’s announcement concerned the read and write API, allowing developers to access user check-ins and feed back to them. This could hold the key to whether the competition sink or swim. Facebook’s scale makes it a big player, and if users adopt the deal model, then the Foursquares, Gowalla’s and Yelps of the world will need to somehow integrate into it. Can the coolness of the foursquare badge collection be sustained long term and will businesses think they’re as cool as users do and pay to sustain them as an independent model? Not so sure.

And how are the users going to adopt it? My Facebook news feed is quite random when it comes to Places. I have over the average number of Facebook friends (which apparently is 160) who seem to check-in quite randomly and in bursts, whereas my Foursquare friends check in pretty much everywhere they go. Train stations, stores, bars, clubs, at the gym, at home. I don’t mind that because that’s all it’s for so I accept it, but I don’t want my Facebook news feed clogged up with almost 300 people checking in to everywhere they’re going. It’ll be Farmville/Mafia/Vampire spam 2.0.

I’m genuinely intrigued by this, and I think the simplicity of it will facilitate businesses both large and small in being able to adopt the technology. When I watched the social network film recently, it put back into focus the simplicity of the idea behind social networks: getting friends together and letting them do what they do, online. They talk to one another about what they’re doing, talk about parties and events they’re going to and look at eachother’s photos – now they do it all online. This Places development takes that offline to online link and brings it back round to the real world again. It could be big.

What are your thoughts, will you now be using Places and do you think it’ll work?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Striking the right note

Why has no one figured out how to “do” music social networking?

It’s an open question, but one I feel is legitimate to ask. To clarify, I don’t actually know why myself. I can offer thoughts in the hope to maybe generate a bit of discussion around what is ultimately my favourite topic of conversation, but I would be sitting with a few intern developers in Silicon Valley if I had all the answers!

At the outset, it’s important to acknowledge what’s out there already. Obviously there’s mySpace, and whilst it was certainly one of the first it died a death for a few years lost in a deluge of spam, an inability to define itself and a desire to become too many things to too many people. YouTube is another obvious example, but is it really a music social network? For sure it’s great for sharing all types of video content of which music is a part, but as anyone who has tried to follow a comments thread on a YouTube video will know, discussion/conversation is impossible.

There are younger pretenders to the throne - Ping!, mflow, we7 & LastFM spring to mind. Each doing their own thing but I don’t think any can claim to have really cracked it universally for various reasons particular to each platform. Spotify is good and their last major update integrated facebook and twitter into their platform, but to really take advantage of the best features (Spotify mobile, ad free music etc), you have to subscribe to Spotify premium. Paying to socially network doesn’t seem right. And there is still very little opportunity for fans to network with artists AND eachother. Surely that’s the basis of social networking?

So I ask the question again, why is it proving so hard to crack? Here are a few of my thoughts and ramblings on the why and the what:

1.    Copyright & content

The biggie in my opinion. The music industry’s (legitimate) battle to preserve the artistic interests of their members and stem the flow of illegal (mainly in digital form) copies of music is at odds with the free sharing of information that is one of the pillars of social networking. The successful music social network site/platform will need to juxtapose the two.

2.    Concept

Well maybe we’re thinking about it all wrong? The assumption is that a music social network has to be where we listen to music. Maybe all we want is a place to talk about it? Maybe a place where artists and fans get together and discuss music is all a music social network needs to be?

3.    Implementation

This follows the concept. Once that has been agreed, what’s the right way of doing it? Is there even a right way? In Ping! Apple have put the onus on the artists to share new content and have users discuss this content rather than share their own content, whereas on the opposite side mySpace is all about member generated and shared content.

And have music fans even decided what they want? Because at the moment, they seem happy to have both.

4.    Social network overload

Yet another social network? Another group of friends/contacts to build up and a new community to develop? Another “thing” to check online? This was one of the complaints with Google Buzz; how it never integrated into email. As time goes on and our social networking behaviour becomes more mature and polarised towards what we already use it’s going to be difficult to make time for another social network. Even one that relates to what for some people is such an important aspect of their lives. Spotify’s integration and importing of friends from Facebook HAS to be the way forward on this…

5.    Monetization

Oh it’s that ugly idea again - how do we make money out of it? Ads? On a web platform it’s easy - stick a column of ads down the side of the page. Done. But splitting an album up with a few ad breaks when you’re caught in the magic of Led Zep, Pink Floyd or Dire Straits isn’t good. So do you then create the network, get the users in and run it at a loss whilst it defines itself and only then aggressively chase the $ (twitter)?

Maybe the press/newspaper industry offers a few pointers. The value of their industry has shrunk dramatically over the last few years as content is freely available on the web (Times & Murdoch group excepted). The public now consume news online and don’t need to buy a paper to read it. Industry insiders have had to accept their sector has reduced in value and as hard as it may be for the music industry to accept this, do they now have to?

So where to from here?

Honestly, I don’t think anyone knows. For now, we all carry on as we were. We join the new networks that start up in the hope the next one may be “the one”. We continue to feel unfulfilled by what’s on offer and a few of us continue to think about how to do it in the hope we may come up with the answer.

Does anyone else think about this? Join me here or say hello on twitter, and let’s talk about it. This could be therapy for frustrated music social networkers!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Different States of mind

I’ve just returned from a break in San Francisco – the place that can be considered to be the centre of the tech and social media industry with its proximity to Silicon Valley and the HQ’s of the industry’s biggest players. It was a holiday, but working in and around social media we’re always told “you never really switch off”.

I coincidentally met and spoke to a few industry people whilst out there, mainly in social settings. What struck me was how different their outlook on these technologies is. I’ve lost count of the number of articles, conversations and discussions I’ve read and had in the UK about social media’s value to business, reasons to get involved, measurement…the same issues recycled ad nauseum.

These people I was meeting weren’t having the same conversations. Nor were they concerned with the same issues. They were talking in much more practical terms. Implementation, strategies, methods…the “how” rather than the “why”. They had gotten over our issues and were looking past them.

But if the people I was talking to were true industry insiders they would naturally have gotten past the why and should have been discussing the how. So I sought to find out what conversations other groups where having.

The weekend I was there coincided with a Nike sponsored run. Union Square in San Francisco had a giant marquee as the focal point of the run and the Nike store was a beehive of activity. I mingled with the crowds and discovered Nike were using all sorts of social media channels during the event. Twitter to track activity and comments, Facebook and YouTube to share media and content, Foursquare to track locations, maps to track routes - a truly integrated social media implementation.

What was most impressive about it was the consumer engagement with these channels. It was as if there was an acceptance and a ready expectation that this was the way for it to be done.

At which point the reasons for the differences in outlook between the UK and the US became clear. It was not an issue of acceptance by the business community, it was the acceptance by consumers.

A market oriented business will always gravitate towards its consumers. Their strategy will always be dictated by what their consumers want, where they want it and how they want it delivered. Basic marketing and 3 of the 4P’s of the marketing mix. What I was seeing was that the consumers “got it”. They were switched on and plugged in. They were using these tools freely already, so businesses were less concerned with the why and were dealing with the how.

I checked in to a few locations out there. San Francisco airport, a city with a population of under a million people had over 200 check ins when I flew in. London Heathrow in a city of over 12 million and one of the busiest airports in the world had no more than 20.

Little wonder businesses in the UK are yet to be convinced of the merits of social media when the public aren’t convinced of it themselves.

This is the biggest barrier we face. We can talk to clients until we’re blue in the face about why they need to embrace social media and how it can benefit them. Many of them will appreciate what we’re saying and buy into it. But when we get the consumer population to think the same way, we won’t need to tell clients why; they will already know. We can then collectively move to the next stage – the how.

That is the real battle.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hopes & fears for the new twitter

Twitter announced a refresh of their website tonight, with a number of new features combining with a complete visual re-design aimed at making our twitter streams burst with rich content making us spend even more time on the site. The new website will be deployed in a staggered rollout over the next few weeks, and in advance of getting the new site I’ve listed a few features I’d love to see (and a few I wouldn’t!)

The basics:

One of’s best features is its simplicity, but there are a few rudimentary tools missing from the main website, the absence of which causes some (myself included) to use third party twitter clients. “Reply all” to participate in conversations, traditional (RT @) retweets allowing edits before retweeting, link shortening directly from the site, media uploading. It appears a large number of these will be included, and that’s a good thing.

Last position:

Twitter now have their own mobile apps/clients and a web interface. If these could all remember where you’re up to in your twitter stream, syncing together with a filter that shows you only unread tweets since your last log on from whichever platform you’re using (like some other 3rd party clients do), that’d be REALLY helpful.


Twitter has started to hire a number of advertising sales and business development staff recently, hinting at moves to increase revenue from advertising, whilst eagle eyed users will have noted promoted tweets in the trending column. All well and good as long as they remain unobtrusive. The new design offers a lot more screen real estate for twitter to sell to advertisers. Whether they do remains to be seen.

The #fail whale: goes down. Often. At these times we get the infamous twitter whale telling us the site is overcapacity as the twittersphere’s inhabitants feel their blood pressure and stress levels rise at an inability to tweet. One can only hope twitter have addressed these issues that will only be compounded by a website with increased complexity and bandwidth requirements. Of course, they could always put the 3% of their servers that currently handle Justin Bieber related traffic to better use, but that’s just my opinion obviously!

In the meantime, has anyone out there got access to the new site? Or are you, like me, waiting and wondering what’s in store. Drop a comment below of what you would (or wouldn’t) like to see on the new site, and let’s compare what we get with what we hope we get!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pinging in...and right back out

For those who don’t know, Ping! is Apple’s new music social networking service. Having observed the power, spread and potential of social networking, they appear to have decided they want a piece of it. Makes sense to a huge corporation like Apple.

They appear to have searched for where they had a mass of users together (iTunes) and have decided to leverage that power and try and link them all together. They marketed it as twitter and facebook meets iTunes (sic Steve Jobs). They namechecked the two biggest social networks and linked it to their own. That also makes sense. It all sounded so good!

For those who haven’t tried it yet, Ping! allows us to follow our favourite artists and receive updates from them in a twitter/facebook style update stream. These artists can post photos, videos and gig listings, and we can comment on them. We can also like and rate our favourite music (through iTunes), and the friends we are connected to can comment on our activity. Simple concept.

I’ve tried it and I’ve read a lot about it. And I don’t like it. A large amount of the time I spend on social networks involves talking about music so I feel I should like it. But I don’t. And here’s why:

I can’t find my friends

If Apple want me to talk to my friends about music, why have they made it so hard for me to connect to them? I have an iPhone, yet I can’t sync Ping! with my contacts to find friends. I use a Mac and have all my contacts in the Mac address book, yetI can’t sync Ping! with it. Nor can I find my friends from Gmail, facebook or twitter, which is where they all are already. Instead I have to send lame messages to my friends on these networks to ask them if they’re using Ping! and to follow me. Contrast with GetGlue that is a similar activity liking based social network I signed up to this week. It found my facebook, twitter and email friends for me. THAT’s social networking: making it easy to be social.

I can’t follow all my favourite music

I am a huge musicphile. I like a lot of bands and artists, some of whom are very popular and mainstream. Ping! allows me to follow them as long as they have a Ping! profile (which more major artists are starting to create). That sounds fine.

But I often find out about these artists before they’re huge. Often when they’re unsigned, and when only a few people know about them. Small artists don’t always sell their music through iTunes, and so don’t have Ping! profiles. Ping! lets me follow my favourite artists, but it doesn’t let me discover my NEXT favourite artist.

I can’t talk about anything outside iTunes

Let’s for a moment assume every artist I like, follow and listen to is on iTunes (even though they aren’t), allowing me to follow them. I also often discover bootleg live footage on YouTube, mySpace and vimeo that I like to share with my friends. I can’t do this on Ping! because this content didn’t come from iTunes. Apple have assumed that everything to do with music is already on iTunes, and it isn’t. Ping! doesn’t let me post any content to share with others. Apple are a lot of things, but they are not the music industry, and they never will be. They are just a part of it.

So, to recap, Apple have created a music based social network which makes it difficult to find my friends, follow all my favourite artists or talk about all the music I’m finding from all over the Internet.
All of a sudden it doesn’t sound so great.

I would however like to hear other users experiences. Perhaps I am using Ping! incorrectly, or expecting too much? Or perhaps I’ve misinterpreted what Ping! is meant to be?

Feel free to comment below or tweet me @mazherabidi to carry on the conversation…

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Struggling to communicate

I've been really appreciative of all the kind comments, feedback and suggestions I've been getting from this blog. It has exceeded my expectations, and has really given me the spur to keep it going.

Subscribers will notice a lack of activity recently. My thesis has unfortunately been taking up pretty much all my time recently, and will be doing for at least the next week.

However, the world has not stopped communicating in my absence. And I've been keeping tabs on it even though I haven't been blogging about it.

That will soon change.

Upcoming posts will include:

Still not sure about whether Social Media is worth it? Let me give you EVEN more examples
Apple's Ping! Myspace killer? Music industry saviour? Or basically nothing at all?

And more!

Keep connected.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The real value of online communities

I recently came across an academic piece that offers an interesting framework for gurus/experts/consultants/practitioners/geeks/students (delete as appropriate) to think about as an analytical and/or planning tool for online strategies.

I know there is no one size fits all approach – and clearly in this ever changing world we live in (anyone spot the music reference there?) flexibility and constant learning is key. That said, I see a lot of the headline arguments from this article holding true, and it has made me want to share it on this blog.

The article focuses on the Internet as a tool that is increasingly being used to foster sizeable virtual communities. The writers argue that these virtual communities can be grouped into four main categories:

Communities of transaction facilitating the buying and selling of products and services and delivering information related to those transactions (eg Amazon reviews).

Communities of interest where participants gather to discuss common interests, not necessarily related to a transaction, but related to a product, service or activity (eg Facebook fan pages).

Communities of fantasy where individuals create a persona for themselves and become immersed into a world that may or may not be strictly real-life (eg online gaming).

Communities of relationships based on the sharing of life experiences and developing real life relationships from them (eg online dating).

Now, it stands to reason that communities displaying all four elements are likely to be the largest and most vibrant. The authors use the example of a travel company using a travel forum (interest) to advertise a competition or game where the winners receive a discounted holiday (fantasy). The winners then consult other community members on how to best use their prize (transaction) and then look for others who they can share their experience with (relationships).

Once a critical mass of community members has been reached, there are four principle ways to create an economic return. These are based around usage or membership fees (self explanatory), content fees (such as premium services), advertising (self explanatory) and cross linkages with other parts of the business (essentially cross selling or affiliate programs).

These four methods all hinge on ensuring that the community is in place, and the participants are sufficiently engaged in your community (whatever that may be) so that they can then be targeted and ultimately monetized.

A key paragraph from the article states that “by creating strong on-line communities, businesses will be able to build customer loyalty to a degree that today's marketers can only dream of and, in turn, generate strong economic returns.”

Note the buzz words…critical mass, engagement, community, monetization, economic return. Sound familiar? Yep, social media & comms 101.

Now, here's my take on all of this:

I see a lot of chat questioning how to monetize online communities, and wonder whether the reason we find it so hard is because the communities we’re building aren’t being constructed and defined effectively? I think this framework offers an interesting starting point.

What intrigued me most about the article is that it was not written this year. Or last year. It was not written in the early-mid 2000’s when Facebook, Twitter and YouTube came about.

This article is from way before the advent of social media. Way before web 2.0.

This article was published in 1996. In the age of dial up net access and the crossover from Windows 3.1 to 95.

Far ahead of its time.

I found it eye opening and fascinating that these principles we talk about today as some sort of mysterious craft have been talked about for years, just under a different guise.

What do you think? Is this too theoretical, too academic? Or too simplistic? Or just plain incorrect? I’d be really keen to know your thoughts, as I’ve found it very useful.

Article reference:

Armstrong, A. & Hagel III, J. The Real Value of On-line Communities. Harvard Business Review, May June 1996, p 134-141

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Where are we headed?

With the launch of Facebook Places, one of the established major social networks has finally taken on the mantle of pushing this technology out to the masses to see exactly how far it can go.

According to the video stream of the launch from Facebook HQ, they plan to implement places in the same way they have photos – with the tagging API and features playing a key part. Users will be able to check in to a location and then tag the friends they are there with, with the ultimate aim of painting a picture in the news feed of where they are, what they’re doing and with whom.

The benefits are that we can link it to the friends we already have, the status updates and news stories we already create and essentially extend what we do, rather than somewhere like foursquare where we have to get used to a new platform (albeit a very simple one).

Consider the way Apple took a platform we were all comfortable with (iPhone/iOS), and extended it (iPad); it seems Facebook has done the same.

My major (and as yet unaddressed) concern is whether it allows individuals ultimate control over their own check ins. Foursquare for example allows you to check in to a location and THEN links you to who you’re there with. The link only happens after you check in; therefore you have chosen to make your presence in that location public with those people.

With Facebook Places allowing friends to check you in by way of tags (“I am in place A with friend X, Y and Z”) and this story appearing in your and their news feed, this element of control is removed. This could be a big thing, especially when facebook friend numbers creep into the 6,7 and 800’s and beyond for some. You may not want all friends to know where you are and who you’re with, but someone else could tag you and your cover would be rumbled. And from the way the privacy settings appear to be structured, you either opt in or opt out to being tagged.

Practically, it’s the way at a party you’re wary of what photos are being taken of you, knowing they will probably appear on facebook the morning after without you knowing. Are we now going to be wary of where we go too?

I look forward to seeing this in action, but it looks like it’s going to be a slowly-slowly approach to flicking the “on” switch to all these settings. There’s almost 300 facebook friends that will know where I am at all times. Tread carefully.

- On a side note, Chris Cox, VP of products at Facebook painted us a picture of how thanks to Facebook places, we will tag ourselves in places that in 20 years time our kids will discover and re-trace our steps and important moments in our lives. Chris: kids don't like befriending their folks on facebook!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The good, bad and the ugly

I visited my favourite milkshake bar the other night. It’s fairly new, different from many other fast food places both in the image and design of the shop, the menu, the staff and the location for starters. In summary, they’ve got a lot of the basics such as product, price, place, people, physical environment right. Marketing 101.

They also have a lot of fans that I know locally (talking offline) - a bit of a cult following, especially amongst the local young/student population (makes sense, they’re up the road from the university).

What caught my eye this time was that they were advertising their facebook page all over the plasma screens in the shop. As I waited for my Oreo shake to be mixed, I had a browse on the iPhone. Checked in on 4sq (location listed but not owned), facebook page (150 odd fans), twitter (account with no presence) and started to chat to the owner.

We talked about the business – how it started, what they’re trying to do differently, plans for the future etc. All good background information. At which point the conversation moved on to the facebook page and social media in general - how it came about, why it came about, what was happening on it, what they were finding.

It evolved into a great example of things that should and shouldn’t be done when using social media, and it gave me the idea for this post. They were talking to their fans - responding, engaging, facilitating. All good things.

But there were some things they weren’t doing.

Sure a lot of these pointers might be obvious to some, repetitive to others…but when they’re still happening out there it means they need repeating.

1. The days of “a facebook page is all we need” are over

In the early days of fan pages and groups this may have been justifiable in some cases, but not anymore. A business that really wants to use the power of social media to spread their message, brand, business and get others to do that for them need to look wider than just a facebook fan page. Location based services, message boards, blogs, photo streams, twitter conversations…the whole spectrum.

2. It’s not just about online

For a business/concept/brand that has so many good things being said about them OFFLINE, to have barely 150 fans (at this time) on their ONLY web presence (no website either) is criminal. I know about “followers are folly, engagement is everything”, but there needs to be a minimum following, a critical mass level that you need to achieve to start getting your message spread.

Online needs to be integrated with offline, and my visit was evidence of that. I saw the facebook page advertised OFFLINE, and then took my interest ONLINE. Where I saw people talking about different shakes and experiences that then brought me back OFFLINE into the store again.

3. Get the basics right

I started my conversation with the manager by talking about the basics – the story of the business, the brand, their offering, their USP etc. Only then did it move to their SM presence. I don’t know whether this was how they thought when they set up their own presence, or whether they were advised accordingly by anyone, but it’s certainly a more methodical way of thinking that does work.

4. In 2010, having your own website is essential

Facebook and social media pages in general are too ubiquitous. It needs to feed back to an individual website where you can really show off your brand and image. Especially in this case where the company’s brand was so different. They had something really great to show off and could do so much with their own website but had it dressed around facebook’s standard blue/white.

5. Don’t do things for the sake of it.

A twitter page facilitating no conversations is pointless. A fan page with (relatively) few fans isn’t doing anything. It’s dead. This particular twitter feed is being streamed directly from facebook and some of it doesn’t make sense.

Referring to a menu tab on twitter is a clear example of facebook auto-feeding gone wrong. Sure with less than 10 followers it doesn’t mean anything, but in time, it could.

It made me think, and made me realise companies and brands are making these mistakes. The real social media and online winners will be the ones that get the basics right. I do love Archie’s and I hope they do manage to spread their word on social media. It’s exactly the kind of brand that could develop a great local social media following.

Anyone reading this in Manchester (UK) should check out Archie’s shakes on Oxford Road. See what you think. And have the Oreo shake if you do nothing else. It’s amazing!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Some spicy questions

At the outset of this post I will openly admit that I am no marketing expert. I know my stuff, I’ve got a good level of understanding of the basics and a bit more, but I wouldn’t call myself a guru. Not yet anyway.

But even by my understanding, the questions currently being asked about the Old Spice YouTube viral video campaign are puzzling. Questions such as:

“What were the results?”
“What is Old Spice’s ROI for the campaign?”
“Has it been money well spent?”

The reason I’m so confused is that I wasn’t aware the Old Spice campaign was actually over. As I understand advertising and marketing in general, it’s something like this:

Advertising, at its most basic level serves to increase awareness of a product, brand, service…essentially whatever is being advertised. This awareness then needs to be translated into sales, units of a product sold, revenue, profit. Advertising is just one of a range of tools that forms part of the promotions mix. Tools also include sales promotions, direct marketing, PR, personal sales etc…

So the questions being asked of the campaign seem, to me, to be about 6 months too early.

In my mind, Old Spice was always the brand of shaving cream my dad used. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this. The current campaign has certainly served to raise my awareness of Old Spice as a more modern brand, a brand that I might use as well as, or instead of, my dad.


Surely the next step is for the Old Spice campaign AS A WHOLE to move into the stores and onto the high street. Now we start to see promotions instore involving Old Spice products, freebies in our shopping centres, offers online offering us trials in the post. And only then, when we start to get sales data, should we ask the type of questions I listed earlier.

In all the buzz about social media campaigns and whatnot, we’re forgetting that social media is not a strategy in itself, it’s a tool that is used as part of a much wider, integrated set of tools that form the ultimate strategy.

Questions on ROI need to be asked of the whole campaign, not the individual tools. Let’s not be blinded by these shiny new toys; marketing and advertising existed a long time before social media, and those traditional tools and media are just as important.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Waving it (Goog)bye

So it’s the end of Google Wave. I can’t say I’ll miss it, because I used it for about a month and whilst appreciating the technology, I couldn’t see a use for it. I tried to convince others I could see a use for it, but I was really only trying to convince myself. Perhaps I should apologise for being one of those early adopters that moved away. Or perhaps not.

So why did it not work? Here is yet another comms blogger’s probably-not-unique-but-what-the-hell-anyway thoughts on it. Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but most of these thoughts I did have at the time, just take my word for it!

1. The buzz

No, I’m not talking about Google Buzz (incidentally another Google service I don’t get). I’m talking about the buzz generated around Google Wave. I got a very early invite from Google, and once friends found out I had invites to share, my facebook page and email inbox were overflowing with “Hey, can I get an invite to Wave too?” messages. Everyone wanted a piece of it.

And every time I invited someone else onto Wave, we started a conversation which always went along the lines of:

“Hmm, so this is wave. Cool. Er, right, ok, now what?”

You see, Google had pulled us in but then did nothing to keep us there. What is it they say, customer retention is easier than new customer acquisition? Well Google had done the initial hard part but then couldn’t follow it up.

2. There were other tools out there

Granted, if Google does something then you take notice, on the assumption they are likely to do it well. As with Apple (for me at least). But let’s face it, online collaboration tools aren’t a new thing, yet this was being separately touted as Email 2.0, the service that will revolutionise efficiency and workplace collaboration and all sorts. It didn’t.

3. No one could figure out exactly how to use it

Imagine if you had been told about a great new restaurant. The best there was, serving food that no one else in the world had ever heard of. And the restaurant owners told you to come in, enjoy the food and then spread the word about it. The first time you went in, you found tables, chairs, all the standard furniture from a restaurant. But no menu, and no waiters to guide you.

This is what Google Wave felt like – lots of people being told to spread a revolution without being shown what the revolution was.

Perhaps enterprise users could have gotten first use. Built up a presence leading to other organisations following suit. Helping Google iron out the bugs. Giving us something to see…a demonstration of how this new technology could be implemented for those of us who couldn’t see it ourselves. Think Apple and the first iPad keynote speech. Showing us where to start.

In that context, rolling it out to individuals for them to send invites to their friends about next Saturday’s BBQ party seemed like a bad deployment strategy. That sort of thing happens on Facebook every day. Already. So there was no reason for them to change their behaviour. Unless…

4. It could have been integrated with Gmail

A few days ago I blogged about integration of various online tools. And how in some cases it was a good thing, yet not so good in others.

One of the first things I noticed was Wave’s lack of integration into Gmail. For me, this was essential. Crucial. Perhaps the one thing that would have led me to continue using it. If Google really did see Wave as “email the way it would be if it were designed today (sic)” then they needed to make it so that that yesterday’s emails were integrated into it. It didn’t.

Web 2.0 didn’t throw away the traditional web and start again. Simlarly, email cannot start from scratch.

5. The iPad lesson

I hinted at this earlier, and Google won’t like this, but they won’t see it, so it doesn’t matter. But they could really look at what Apple did with the iPad. A device that created its own niche, helped in no small part to Apple holding our hand and showing us exactly where they thought that niche was and giving us a starting point.

Now granted Apple has hype, fanboys etc etc that propel its products, but you could argue Google has its own fanatics and brand evangelist army. Either way, it couldn’t find a place in the market. You could say that was a failure of research, product positioning and all manner of theories, but it was a failure nevertheless.


Google have said the code and technology will be retained, and that can only be a good thing, as I don’t think it’s the end of Wave. Maybe we’re all wrong and they were right, maybe we weren’t ready for Wave. Time will tell.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Socially (un)acceptable?

I would broadly describe myself as a technophile. I like new technology and I spend at least as much if not more time than the average citizen online. And as these online activities start to take up more of my time, I find their integration of increasing benefit.

However, I’ve recently started to see where the integration should stop, an endpoint to it all, if you will.

For example, I like that I can post tweets and facebook updates from one to another and vice-versa on the go. I appreciate how my email is synced between the web, my laptop and smartphone. The way my diary is synced through online servers is a godsend. Earlier this morning I read about a new iPhone app that worked with foursquare by saving a list of your favourite destinations, and using geo-technology checked you in to these locations if you visited them, saving you the effort of having to pull out your phone and do it yourself if you couldn’t, or if you forgot. I thought this was a great idea, a great time and effort saver.

The more technically minded readers will all recognise this as Web 2.0, or cloud computing. How all our data and services are synced up to a central server or service allowing us to access all our information, all the time from wherever we are.

But the endpoint I mentioned earlier has also hit me almost like an e-piphany (see what I did there?).

I’ve seen the idea crop up repeatedly from a number of sources that “facebook is for all the friends you’ve made, twitter is for all the friends you should make”. It essentially says that people use facebook to communicate with the people they know, and twitter for the people they’d like to know. Well in that case do I really want constant cross integration between the two? Are the messages I post to one group the same messages I’d like, need or want the other group to see? Certainly not in my case.

Last night I participated in my weekly communications tweet chat – essentially a collection of like minded individuals who come together online and have a communications debate. Messages are exchanged for an hour at a relentless pace, and I certainly wouldn’t want my facebook friends news feeds clogged up with this. It would be like a foreign language and I’d lose them all as friends.

Nor do I appreciate foursquare and twitter linkages. They clog up my twitter stream and I find them irrelevant most of the time. Meanwhile, none of this should appear on linkedin. I can think of many more examples, but the point essentially is this: we’re using and integrating these online services to make our lives easier, but in doing so are we making others lives more difficult?

I think in some cases we are. For me it’s all about self concept, considering how our actions impact on others and how they see our actions from their frame of reference.

In the same way we (used) to be self conscious about how we use our online services and mobile phones in the presence of others in the real world (offline) I think we also need to take a step back and be a bit more self conscious about how we use our online services in the presence of others ONLINE.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Social security

There’s a lot of talk about security and privacy on social networks.

Recently this has involved foursquare, and how users log in at home thereby identifying the location of their home to the public. This then results in thieves knowing when they are or aren’t at home, leaving them vulnerable to break ins and theft.

Of course, this is terrible news. Inevitably, there’s outcry. How can this be allowed to happen? What a huge failure on the part of social networks that this takes place. We should reconsider the whole concept of geo-technology and social networks.

But should we – as users – not start taking responsibility for our actions?

I wonder whether users are considering the consequences of what they do online. The reason I say this is that online security is not a new phenomenon. It’s been an issue for along time. Viruses, malware, cookies, online banking, keylogging etc. All these buzzwords have been in the public consciousness for a long time. We’re always encouraged to guard our data and self-police our online activity.

Are we carrying these principles into our social networks? I’d argue we aren’t.

There seems to be a feeling that the information we put on social networks should be guarded. Protected for us. Private. But why? Where has this assumption come from? We’re placing an unreasonable amount of trust in technology and in companies/individuals that we really don’t have any rational reason to trust so much.

The Internet is arguably the single greatest invention there has ever been. It has connected the world in ways we would have thought unimaginable even ten years previously. Its accessibility, however, is a double edged sword. There should be no reason to put anything online that you would be wary about others finding. Use the same security principles you’ve always lived by offline, and take them online.

Would you ever leave your diary and home address details open in public? No? Then don’t tell the foursquare world when you will and won’t be at home, and where this home is. Would you leave photos of you and your friends on a night out all over your local town in public? No? Then consider leaving them off facebook too. Would you put a note up in a local store about how you’ve pulled a sickie off work knowing your boss frequents the same store and could see the message? No? Then don’t befriend your boss on facebook and put this on your status.

It’s common sense. Unfortunately, most of this is being left on the login pages of social networks.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The first post

This is a dilemma - what do people post as the first post of a new blog? I've been wondering about this for a while. Perhaps the best topic would be what prompted me to start this blog in the first place.

I was participating in a twitter chat (#commschat, every Monday, 8pm UK) this week and one of the topics of discussion was whether or not companies should outsource social media to agencies.

I'm torn on this.

Whilst I understand why they would (expertise, logistical reasons, consistency of messaging with other communications), I also think that because social media offers such a direct link with a company's customers, it should remain a window into the company. Therefore not handled by a 3rd party, or a ghostwriter.

Of course, if a company is large enough to have an in-house PR team, then they could easily take ownership of the account and that would be it. But for the smaller companies that don't have that internal expertise?

It might be easy to get a message out there, but a company's reputation can rise and fall on that simple message, so maybe it is important to let the professionals do what they do best.

But then as a consumer, I'd appreciate a company getting involved directly.

As I said, I'm torn on the issue.

I'd like to be convinced either way.

Or is there a right answer?