A blogging break…

Due to injury and illness, blogging is taking a back seat at the moment…

Apologies and normal service will be resumed as soon as possible…

When novelty becomes necessity

When technological advancements such as the printing press, telegraph or the car were invented, it took a while to get going. Even something as simple as sliced bread took a good few years before becoming widely adopted.

And yet the increasing pace of change means what seemed a novelty just a short time ago soon becomes expected.

The free wifi on National Express trains is one case in point.

When it was first introduced, it seemed like a minor miracle that I could now access the internet and get work done whilst travelling, for no extra charge, even in standard class.

But within a couple of years I’m amazed that other trains don’t have it, and I’m immensely frustrated and disappointed that the speed and reliability hasn’t improved. In fact it’s got much, much worse as more and more people are using laptops and netbooks on the train.

Mobile broadband is similar. It took a while for the mobile phone to become widely adopted, but now mobile internet access is becoming a standard and expected part of any new mobile device. And it’s data costs and anything less than 100% access that become the talking points, rather than the fact I can access the web from something in the palm of my hand.

And that frustration we feel is because we don’t just become accustomed to this access.

We come to rely on it.

For work, home, and everywhere in between.

Postscript:

Just remembered that apparently, 53% of British mobile phone users suffer ‘no mobile phobia’, or nomophobia, ‘with 48 per cent of women and 58 per cent of men questioned admitting to experiencing feelings of anxiety when they run out of battery or credit, lose their phone or have no network coverage.’ (HT Textually.org).

Following the Herd

I’ve long been a fan of Mark Earls, and his writing on ‘herd theory’, which suggests that we tend to follow what other people do, rather than following the logical, rational decisions we often claim after the fact.

And I’m reminded of that theory every day on my commute to London. First comes the ‘Finsbury Park Standing Experiment’, whereby the first person to stand up in an attempt to gain a couple of vital minutes between leaving the train and joining the queue for the London Underground suddenly inspires everyone to fill the aisle of the carriage for the last 10-15 minutes of the journey. Despite the logical problem that after the first handful of ‘standers’, the rest of the queue fail to gain much time, if any. And people like me stay seated and working and then tend to be sat near the door anyway.

And if I don’t head underground, I then get to watch the ‘traffic light lemmings’. With any large group waiting to cross a road in the morning, it takes just one or two people to begin to cross, and the herd will follow, regardless of whether the lights are red, green, or there is a large lorry hurtling towards them with the lights on and horn blaring.

Meanwhile I undergo a strange transformation:

While I cycle to the station, I find myself becoming irritated by cars and pedestrians..

While I’m on the train, I miss not travelling by car/motorcycle – especially when the wifi fails.

When I’m walking to work, it’s cars and cyclists that cause problems.

Who I perceive to be causing problems and irritation is entirely dependant on which form of transport I’m using at the time, even in the space of the same journey. Am I herding myself into the mass view of that form of transit, or just setting myself apart from the stereotype of each mass transport group?

Ditto.net gets put to one side by Bauer Media

It’s with a little sadness that I’m writing about the decision by Bauer Media to shelve Ditto.net – the social entertainment guide which I was fortunate enough to have been involved with for a time.

It’s an understandable decision by Bauer Media. Having apparently spent £1 million on funding the site and development, there wasn’t a huge amount of either revenue or growth becoming available. And it makes more sense to use the technology to enhance the already popular brands in the portfolio than to continue trying to develop an entirely new one which hasn’t quite made it.

It’s understandable – but not necessarily the right move.

With some tweaks and some more time I still believe Ditto could be a major success.

If anything the need for a product to filter the sheer volume of entertainment content available has become greater in the time since Ditto launched. The amount of text and video online outweighs the production output of the printing press and the celluloid camera by some considerable margin. And there are relatively few solutions that work effectively – and even fewer from any established media companies.

But building growth, particularly organic, sustainable growth, takes a longer amount of time to show a return than a comparable print launch, because the combination of purchase price and higher advertising rates in print make an instant impact against the costs. It took Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Ebay, Flickr etc a surprisingly long period to reach the exponential growth which gave them the ‘overnight success’ tag.

Combine that with a revenue model which relied on traditional display advertising sales, and there was always going to be a problem.

Having said all that, there were some really interesting successes, including the promotion of ‘The Rock Stars of Web 2.0’, in conjunction with Dave Cushman, and which showed how traffic and inbound links could be generated.

Still, at the end of the day I enjoyed a great learning experience helping the Ditto team (And just to clarify after a flattering mention on PaidContent, I was involved as a marketing manager, rather than a developer. Sadly I can only aspire to the technical skills to be a developer!). And the co-founders have and will continue to have great success – Colin Kennedy was recently announced as the new Editor of FHM, and Dhiraj Mukharjee will always be working towards something interesting.

My only regret is not pushing harder for the revenue model I proposed for the project (but that means it’s still up for grabs one day!), and never managing to get them to redesign the Ditto Blog!

7 reasons why companies need social media managers

There has been a lot of debate recently about the need for companies and organisations to employ social media managers and specialists in a dedicated role – the main criticism appears to be that the role isn’t needed because employees already use social media.

That might be the case in a limited number of small organisations, but someone will end up as an unofficial social media expert. And as someone who performed the role for a large organisation, I know there are a number of good reasons for having one person as the focal point – even if every employee is actively representing the group or company.

1. Justification: Are employees going to use social media effectively when they have senior managers questioning whether it’s worthwhile?

2. Guidelines: Most people have a reasonable amount of common sense, but if you haven’t got clear guidelines for employees to refer to if needed, you’ve got no excuse when they get things wrong. And all it can take is one personal attack for even the most responsible employee to make a mistake. That’s assuming they even keep up to date with the latest legalities of using social media in addition to their day job.

3. Analysis: Do you know what’s working? And is a social network referring the most traffic because of scale, or because other social networks are being ignored or done badly?

4. Co-ordination: Do you trust independant employees to know where exclusive news should be revealed first? Or could a status message or tweet destroy your carefully planned campaign? Is the right content going online at the right time, to coincide with the right development work?

5. Research and Development: Is Facebook more relevant to your company than Bebo? Will you reach the right people on Twitter? And should you be improving the forum on your site, or developing a widget for social networks? The answers are different for every organisation, and indeed, every campaign

6. Coordinating external resources: Do you know enough to decide between a good and bad external agency when it comes to social media? And in a large company, are you sure other departments aren’t hiring other agencies at the same time?

7. Crisis management: When something does go wrong, you need a plan in place, and someone who can manage an effective response.

Whether or not social media is a specialist role, or part of a wider remit, there needs to be someone with the authority and accountability to ensure that the work feeds into the wider business effectively, with an effect on product development, customer service, SEO, and business strategy.

140Char Links 05/19/2009

  • Shorten your urls and send 55% of any referral fees you earn from affiliates go to charity.
    Better than nothing – if you’re not looking to finance yourself or a business.

    tags: 140Char, twitter

  • This will appeal to anyone who has taken part in a Twitter backchannel during a live event on TV – for instance #Eurovision. No more sitting with a warm laptop on your knees or trying to watch your mobile at the same time as the TV.
    Not sure if it’s really a selling point to justify a new TV though

    tags: 140Char, Twitter

  • Interesting that they’re not selling ads simply because they don’t have the staff – surely selling analytics features to mainstream businesses generally also requires a sales pitch? Or are there really enough businesses experimenting with statistics and analysis accounts to drive the revenue they need?

    tags: twitter, 140Char

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Why Mark Zuckerberg is right to dismiss Facebook users

As a specialist in online communities and social media, it may seem a little strange that I would suggest Mark Zuckerberg is right to ignore the complaints of Facebook users over the recent changes to the social network, but stick with me on this one.

Mark Zuckerberg by Leafar. on Flickr (CC Licence)

Mark Zuckerberg by Leafar. on Flickr (CC Licence)

The story so far:

Facebook releases a redesign which shows more of a Friendfeed/Twitter influence. Users react badly and an app is introduced to vote on the new design. The app has over 1 million votes so far, with 94% against the new layout and 600,000 comments – Facebook has over 175 million users for context. (A suitable time to remind everyone of ‘the supermarket effect‘ when it comes to redesigns?)

Then on Friday, Gawker posted details of a memo by Mark Zuckerberg to Facebook employees, supplied by an anonymous tipster.  ‘He said something like ‘the most disruptive companies don’t listen to their customers’

Sadly, the memo hasn’t been published anywhere, so like everyone else, I’m going on the third-hand hearsay. Cnet has a reasonable summary of the split between people attacking Facebook/Zuckerberg for his apparent lack of concern about users, and those who are supporting Facebook. So far, though, only Robert Scoble appears to have addressed why Zuckerberg is right to dismiss user concerns in this instance.

So why is Mark Zuckerberg right?

There’s a difference between collaboration and co-creation (which I evangelise), and, as Scoble puts it, ‘letting the customers run our business mode’. Think of every product that has been dulled by focus groups until it fails to ignite any interest from anyone.

Zuckerberg wants to keep Facebook disruptive – which is completely correct if it will avoid the loss of interest associated with the previous big social networks – look at the current state of Friendster and  Myspace. Both are still sizeable, but when did either of them ignite any sense of passion or controversy?

Too often, a great idea gets lost in repeated meetings, discussions and trying to meet the expectations of everyone involved – now try applying the views of 175 million people to a business plan.

Leadership by Dunechaser on Flickr (CC Licence)

Leadership by Dunechaser on Flickr (CC Licence)

And it takes strong leadership to lead any project, no matter how democratic in nature – from Wikipedia to Twitter, users contribute, collaborate, create, build-on and influence – but eventually someone has to pick a strategy and run with it.

And the redesign is leading to reports of the benefits for brands and for Facebook advertising.

Meanwhile Scoble points to user data and recommendations leading to businesses. And the fact that people may claim they’re rushing to leave since the redesign, but what people say is often different to what they do, and with such a critical mass, there are a lot of strong ties to break, with no like-for-like alternative really getting any attention.

They just don’t get it:

Part of my reason for posting is an article by Frank Reed over at Marketing Pilgrim, and others like it. We shouldn’t confuse customer service with customers dictating business strategy simply by an immediate backlash – all customer input should be acknowledged, and then a decision has to be made to act on it. It’s the same confusion that portrays Open Source as impossible to make money from, or social media as the only place to bother marketing in.

(And for the record, I don’t like the new design, I’m not going to leave over it, and I probably use Facebook 1-2 times a day for pleasure and 3-4 times a day for work, preferring Twitter and Friendfeed).

How cool are these?

Even if I wasn’t working with FHM on various promotions, I’d be just as impressed by the posters they’ve produced for the 100 Sexiest voting. Particularly these two from the selection to download as posters and wallpapers:

limacrop300

FHM 100 Sexiest Voting - Adriana Lima Poster

olgacrop300

FHM 100 Sexiest Voting - Olga Kurylenko Poster

Meanwhile I’m helping with their Twitter account, and new Facebook page amongst other things.

Amongst the doom and gloom about the print industry, it’s nice to highlight some of the work done by incredibly creative and talented people that will translate to whichever medium they work with.

Testing Windows Live Writer…

In an effort to be able to update a little more often….

The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript

So far we’ve lost Woolworths, MFI and  Zavvi, while Whittards has been bought by a private equity firm after going into administration.

At least MFI and Zavvi still have websites notifying people of their current status – Woolworths has: ‘Our site is currently undergoing essential maintenance. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.  Please check back later.’

What’s interesting is that there are various reasons for the first three disappearing – the problems with the music industry, the downturn in the housing market, a drop in consumer spending etc.  And despite the possibility of a buyer for Woolworths, there’s nothing happening fast. Meanwhile Whittards was snapped up quickly.

Which makes me think this could be the start of something I’m going to call:

The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript:

In Case of Bankruptcy, Please Help Yourself - by Noaz. on Flickr

In Case of Bankruptcy, Please Help Yourself - by Noaz. on Flickr

Put simply, Woolies, Zavvi and MFI all had a problem, in that they didn’t have a clear belief and description. Woolies started as an American ‘five and dime‘ store – but mutated over the years, leaving Poundland as the modern equivalent. (I’m not linking to the Poundland site due to the annoying auto-playing explosion that just burst my eardrums!). In the end, Woolies was a strange amalgamation of Pic’n’mix sweets, entertainment, soft furnishings etc.

Zavvi came out of a management buy-out of former Virgin Megastores, and at the time left a lot of people asking friends what had happened. Apparently the aim was to be different from competitors by having ‘exclusive and limited edition products in the future’. An aim buried in a wikipedia entry, and an interview in industry publication MCV.

MFI had all sorts of problems, but most importantly, look at who it’s up against – Ikea. I’d guess most people already know what the Swedish success story stands for, but if not, try here, and here. Functional, well -designed furniture that everyone can afford, with Swedish names, Swedish food stores, and bargain hotdogs at the end of the trip.  My girlfriend has been known to forcibly demand Ikea trips to placate her homesickness for Sweden!

I may have had similar excitement at the sight of a Marks and Spencers are months without a sausage roll or pork pie in the U.S, but can you imagine curing your homesickness with a trip to Zavvi or MFI? Even Woolworths?

This isn’t about having a national identity – it’s about having a distinct belief and identity that everyone can clearly understand, and that people can align themselves with.

This isn’t an absolute rule:

I’m not going to say that having a belief will ensure success, or that you won’t make it through 2009 without one – there are far too many other factors involved, from changes in consumer spending to Government bailouts.

But I do think that within each industry and category, we’ll see a greater survival rate for the companies we can believe in.

So I’m going to start tracking what happens, and I’d appreciate your help. It may become a wiki page, but for the moment I’d just ask you to let me know in the comments if you see companies going under, and whether they had a clear belief or not.