Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Why Customer Experience must be at the heart of Digital Strategies

Gartner’s Hype Cycle shows how the point at which adoption and implementation of technologies by the general public and organisations lags behind the hype surrounding the technology.  That time-lag could be months, but in the case of some technologies it could be years… virtual worlds and augmented reality being a case in point.  It is only now, 10-15 years after people started talking about the potential of virtual worlds and multi-user virtual environments such as SecondLife that the hardware is finally catching up (through immersive 3D viewers such as Oculus Rift and the type of non-tactile interface provided by the type of technology running the Microsoft Kinnect gaming console), in the same way that 4G connectivity and the speed of mobile phones allows for augmented reality to become viable proposition.  Wearables have gone through a much shorter hype-cycle, with consumer-orientated products such as the Apple, Samsung or Motorola watches being desirable gadgets selling in large numbers.

But the technologies mentioned have still not achieved the critical mass for organisations to make them an imperative to achieve competitive advantage - most people still use their mobiles for Facebook, texting and that old-fashioned habit of calling people.

What has changed with the growth in the technologies are two important factors: 
  1. that there are large segments of the population, who might be a core target audience for a particular organisation, for whom these new technologies are used on a daily basis - organisations can only know this by understanding their customers through research, communication and insight; and 
  2. people are becoming more impatient as the variety of information they have available on their mobile devices allows them to be more connected, share their content more easily and find information quicker. 

A result of this is that any organisation that puts obstacles in the way of allowing a customer to complete their desired task in the moment is in danger of losing that customer to a competitor.  This could mean providing an app that allows the customer to purchase the goods or services on the mobile (at the very least, a mobile-friendly website); allowing them to talk to a customer-services representative when they want to and not just during normal office hours when the customer is at work and potentially not able to call; and allowing the customer to share their experience, or the product with their circles of friends.

For many organisations, these principles of putting the customer experience first are obvious and have been a part of the way they have interacted with the customer for many years now… but there are still shocking numbers of organisations that do not put their websites and mobile interfaces through user testing, who allow design to overrule functionality, and who fail to realise that whilst we all embrace new technologies to some extent, there are thousands of sub-groups and niches within any target audience where both the luddite and the technophile need to be catered for.

Organisations who ignore either of these groups are doomed to lag behind their competitors...

Friday, 13 November 2015

Why Cybersecurity is not a tech-imperative, but a business imperative

Lens Password by Salvatore Vuono from FreeDigitalPhoto-net.jpg
Cybersecurity is the watchword of the day.  Hardly a day goes by without mention of the hacking of a large organisation, be it a large tech company, the emails of a high-ranking security official, or a government database.  There are those who call for tighter restrictions on what data organisations hold about individuals, in the vain hope that this will help mitigate the risk of the data being hacked.  
What it should do, however, is highlight the gaping hole in the agendas of the executive boards of those multinationals, where the people responsible, ultimately, for corporate governance and recruiting the C-level executives, are unable to ask the right questions of the management and, therefore, unable to determine if the companies are being sufficiently vigilant against the threat of hacking.

An organisation’s IT strategy, which would (should) include cybersecurity, needs to be driven by the business, the organization’s board, rather than from the IT department itself, which would be a case of the tail wagging the dog. The problem is that with so few board members understanding technology, they don’t know what questions to ask – and probably feel that they should be enquiring in to the specification of the firewall, the level of data encryption or the quality of the antivirus package.

Advice_Image Stuart Miles  FreeDigitalPhotos
These questions, however, are precisely the ones for the IT department to consider. But the board needs to think about compliance, their fiduciary duty and their responsibility to increase shareholder value. When these three elements might be compromised by the implementation of the organisation’s technology, the board needs to pay attention.

And so hacking is for the business to think about, at the highest level, as it goes to the heart of one of the biggest risks modern companies now face.  Hacking will happen.

Data is needed to provide products and services for customers and to create competitive advantage.  The solution is not to reduce the amount of data held, but to ensure it is properly protected.  The boards need to know what questions to ask and whom to ask them of. They need to ask what value the data has on the open (or black) market? What are the potential losses to the organisation if the data is stolen? And how can the organization create a culture where everyone is focused on these questions and is able to raise an early-warning when vulnerabilities are found?

Monday, 26 October 2015

Why the TalkTalk hack is a crisis of leadership and culture, not technology...

TalkTalk getting talked about

TalkTalk website 26 Oct
Thursday night's news (22 October) featured an interview with Dido Harding, CEO of TalkTalk, the British telecoms group which, according to Wikipedia "is a company which provides pay television, telecommunications, internet access, and mobile network services to businesses and consumers in the United Kingdom".

The big news, for those who hadn't heard, was the sustained DDoS attack the site received on Wednesday and where personal data belonging to some (or all) of the 4 million TalkTalk customers was stolen by what were referred to as 'Russian Jihadists' (and later turned out to be a 15-year-old boy in Norther Ireland).

Ms Harding (or Lady Harding as perhaps she should be known, after being made a life-peer in 2014) did a good PR job of going around the media and saying 'mea culpa' and 'we made a mistake' and opening herself up to the public drubbing and the fall in TalkTalk's shareprice of 20% in the past 5 days.

The method of entry the hackers used was, apparently, 'SQL injection', which cyber-security experts suggest is a known access point and is easy to protect.

The PR piece

On her appearance on the BBC News she also that she didn't know if the data was unencrypted.  Even though it was later suggested that it was encrypted, it took her until 3 minutes and 20 seconds into the announcement before she gave the message that customers should check their bank accounts for unusual activity and other simple precautions they should take, suggesting customers' concerns were not the highest of her priorities.
I am a TalkTalk customer and yet, despite the impressive ability the company has to update me regularly about new channels I can subscribe to or when I've rented a new film online, they didn't get around to contacting me personally about the issue until gone 3pm on Friday... almost two days since the attack apparently happened.  Perhaps while Dido was talking to the media, someone could have drafted an email and a text?  The text wouldn't have taken long... they didn't have a message on the website for a couple of days either.

The Reality

Modern companies will be hacked. This is a fact of life. Just as employers should learn to trust their employees and embrace the possibilities of social technologies, so they should also trust the fact that hackers (who are, themselves, a social technology - allowing multiple people to work together, virtually - to break into computer systems) are going to try and attack them. It's not as if TalkTalk hadn't been victim of attack before and they should have been better prepared to respond to it.  You don't expect banks to keep your money in a cardboard shoe-box under the counter.  You expect them to take every precaution, including signature and PIN identification measures, extra iD and a big strong vault because you know that there are those with a penchant for sawn-off shotguns and wearing ladies' tights on their heads who are likely to be tempted to attempt to steal the money.

A Leadership Problem

All of this highlights the fact that the problems at TalkTalk are not ones of technology, they are ones of leadership.  Not just Ms Harding's leadership in not appearing not to fill key I.T. roles within the organisation, although the fact that there are personnel changes should not change, in the short-term, the status quo of an I.T. system.

The leadership failing is throughout the organisation, not just with C-level executives.   It seems very difficult to believe, that no one in TalkTalk's I.T. department was aware of the failings of the systems they were maintaining.  It seems more likely that they either chose to not say anything (and in so doing, showing, in my opinion, a lack of leadership and personal responsibility) or were too scared to.

Everyone can show leadership by influencing everyone else in the team to perform to the best of their abilities for the benefit of the team.  Everyone needs to take personal responsibility for their actions and the actions they can influence.  And everyone should be thinking about the ethical aspect of what they do - are they doing the right thing?

Embracing Social Technologies

“Computer Fraud,financial Fraud, Concept Background”
by hyena reality via FreeDigitalPhotos.net
TalkTalk failed, furthermore, to embrace the hacker community outside the organisation, possibly believing that if they didn't engage with it they wouldn't get hacked?  Perhaps they could have taken a leaf out of Facebook's 'White Hat' programme which invites hackers to identify bugs and vulnerabilities in Facebook's system and, if they had not been previously identified, earn a minimum of $500 (with no maximum - the bounty offered is based on the severity of the vulnerability) - with over $1.3million paid out by February this year and one hacker receiving $30k for identifying a serious hole in Facebook's security.

This kind of crowdsourcing is not new (Facebook started in 2011, Google a year before that - and crowdsourcing itself goes back over ten years before that).  

TalkTalk have failed.  The technology flaws were unacceptable, but it is the management who are struggling: having failed to think beyond the basics, failed to inspire their teams to do the right thing, and failed to prevent both customers and investors losing faith in them.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

What do you do with customers who aren't digital?

A news article today explained that "Over 12 million people, and a million small businesses in the UK do not have the skills to prosper in the digital era".  This is worrying on so many levels:

  1. how can we be sure our current and future employees understand how to engage online?
  2. how do we reach the non-digital customers, particularly if our products and services are essentially internet-based?
  3. what training can we provide, to the general public, to help them reach a higher level of engagement and comfort with digital?
  4. what can we do, as managers, within our own organisations, to better equip our teams, our peers and those further up the food-chain so that when we discuss a digital marketing campaign, a plan to manage knowledge online or engaging with our stakeholders through social media, they don't just smile, say 'there there' and mark you down as criminally insane?
The digital divide is one that affects every area of society, as I discuss in Making Social Technologies Work, there are large parts of the world getting further and further behind as their societies persist with slow internet connections, a slow uptake of connected technology (be it PCs, laptops or mobile) and, very importantly, as businesses continue to ignore the potential benefits of embracing Social Technologies.

“Laptop Against World Map” by nattavut (Freedigitalphotos.net)
Access to the internet, the World Wide Web, should not be considered a 'human right' enforceable by law... it is access to impartial information that should be considered that - however it is delivered.  But when those connected to the web benefit from cheaper products and services, greater access to information, which includes impartial information, and when they are able to create their own businesses at near-zero cost, or meet new like-minded people or watch fluffy kittens falling off a shelf (which makes them feel good for a short time), the importance of the digital divide becomes more apparent.

It is not in itself that some people have greater access than others where the problem lies, but that the benefits grow exponentially for those connected, and those who are not fall further behind.  In the same way that someone learning to read at the age of 20 will fall significantly behind someone who started learning at 5 years of age, so are the socio-economic benefits to the metaphoric 5-year-old hugely increased by starting early.

The solution, of course, is education.  Educate governments to open access. Educate businesses of the benefits of embracing the web, and social technologies, for marketing, knowledge management, stakeholder engagement, research, new product development. Educate employees how they should engage with social technologies. Educate the population of the benefits of doing everything online, from buying products to paying their taxes, from keeping in touch with family abroad to meeting new people.

The education usually needs to start at the top.  Politicians. Civil servants.  C-level executives in large organisations.  

Friday, 2 October 2015

Why do we still blame the tools, not the workmen?

On the same day that I attend an evening session at my son's school to discuss the use of an online maths resource the pupils will use for their maths homework called 'Mathletics', I see two stories about schools that have banned screens in the education process and, on one case, where they were discouraged at home too, where the school's charter says "We are against all forms of electronics for small children and only gradual integration towards it in adolescence. That includes the internet."

The articles included a report by the OECD which had been interpreted by some sites and other media to suggest that children learn 'worse' with computers than without.

The suggestion by the other schools is that screens are damaging to the education of the children.  I wonder if teachers are concerned that the kids have difficulty concentrating, and are constantly distracted by the screens.

It calls to mind the CTO who told me, while I was researching my book, that employees using social media during work hours was not a technology issue but a performance management issue. If the managers who wanted him to block Facebook so that their teams were not distracted were better at motivating the teams, distraction wouldn't be an issue. 

And back in the eighties when I was temping in over a  dozen different offices, I found plenty of ways to distract myself if I was bored or felt unchallenged.  This was before the internet.  Back then we had books. Newspapers. Magazines. Comics. Telephones. Doodling.  Tea breaks. Toilet breaks. Extended lunch breaks (down the pub for a game or three of pool).

Banning something doesn't get rid of it (drugs, alcohol during prohibition, homosexuality or abortion in decades past) and often makes it more attractive. Forbidden fruit and all that.

“Boy Choosing” by arztsamui
Children who don't have access to screens will not learn how to code. How to hack machines. They won't have access to the wealth of knowledge available on there web.  They won't learn how to create and edit videos, record music, publish their own creativity.

What is frustrating is that the charter from that London school banning all screens seems to echo the rejection of technology by the Amish societies.  Of course one can learn well without screens.  Of course screens can be distracting and can be a disincentive to concentrate. But the reality is that people have screens all around them.  

What they need is education and training on what constitutes sensible and appropriate usage. When to use screens and when not to.  

They will not, as I fear some of the children at the schools that reject screens might be, unprepared and even fearful of spending their days with screens.  That is how many, if not most, of us spend our days. We use screens.  If the screen stops someone learning appropriately, or working efficiently, then the teacher or manager needs to look hard at their own techniques.

Stop blaming the technology, and start looking for more creative solutions that do not banish technology but embrace it and put it in context.

What I can hope for is that those children will go up, clueless, and ready to read the umpteenth edition of my book 'Making Social Technologies Work'... I can but hope.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Old News dressed up as New News

As someone who tries to keep their eyes on technology, innovation and the actions of the big online companies to see what's happening next, it is rather shocking to occasionally see old news polished up as new.

An example of this is from today's BBC News showing an article about Google's wonderful email service, Gmail, providing an 'Undo Send' function for up to 30 seconds after an email has been sent.

Shocking because the feature in question has been a 'Labs' feature, available to all Gmail users, for many many years.

For me this is as heinous a crime as believing that a song on X Factor (or it's many equivalents) is original without realising that it had been written and recorded 30 years previously.

As I've mentioned previously, a fine example is those who think Steve Jobs invented digital music, the digital music player (iPod) and mp3s.  I, like many, had an mp3 player long before Apple's guru realised the potential of music and the company I worked for sold legitimate, legal, digital audio downloads long before iTunes thought people would pay for stuff online.

This is not to denigrate the wonderful job Jobs did in marketing something that the pioneers couldn't get out of the 'Innovators' stage of the Diffusion of Innovations curve... they didn't even reach Early Adopters in some cases - but they were, clearly, the future.

So Google having an 'Undo' button on Gmail is not an innovation. It's not a revelation.  it's not fascinating.  It's clearly a slow news day... and thank Christ for that. If we got through a day without a massacre somewhere in the world being reported by the news, then hooray for out-of-date tech news!

Friday, 28 February 2014

Gamification of Life

After a long time with no time to post, I find myself posting on Gamification whilst listening to a talk by @Yukaichou from Enterprise Gamification Consultancy at Hult International Business School organised by a student @NKakuev. He has been listed a 'top-5 gamification guru' on a UK Leaderboard apparently and having been to other talks about gamification, here is someone with 10 years' experience that appears to actually know what it is about.

Source: http://www.profacts.be/blog/?p=846

One of the examples he talks about is how to create a game called 'FoldIt' to help create a protein structure for the AIDs problem. The problem existed for 15 years and was solved in 10 days.

Another example listed is SAP Community Network where they added game elements into their system and managed to increase their Active Users by 1300% and Activity by 2300%. As Yu-Kai says, this is not a start-up - that 1300% growth is significant when one is talking about SAP.

Example 3: Autodesk - where people go to different countries and people solve different problems. It might be fixing a bridge (etc.) and you have to use a free trial of Autodesk - the trial use increased 54% and Sales Revenue increased by 29%.

Yu-kai wrote a list of Gamification stats that are useful to help show ROI.

He then went on, through this whistle-stop tour of Gamification, to talk about the Schopenhauer Truth Hype Cycle (compare to Gartner's Hype Cycle)

  1. Ridiculed 
  2. Violently opposed 
  3. Regarded as self-evident

Which sounds like the process people go through with feedback... which brings us to Gartner saying that 80% of gamification attempts will fail due to bad design.  So how do you get better design?

Good Game Design asks the question "How do I want my users to feel?"

Yu-kai went on to talk about 8 core drivers that make games fun (do check out his blog for the meanings behind the headlines), but that also make us want to hang out with friends. These core drivers are:

  1. Epic Meaning & Calling
  2. Empowerment
  3. Social Influence
  4. Unpredictability
  5. Avoidance
  6. Scarcity & Impatience
  7. Ownership
  8. Accomplishment

Yu-kai gave a great talk about what gamification is and what works, what does not work and how people who want to use gamification should focus on engaging users rather than just causing addiction.  He has a framework called 'Octalysis' based on the 8 core drivers above.  He plots a matrix showing Discovery, Onboarding, Scaffolding and Endgame against Achievers, Explorers, Socialisers and Killers.

What surprises me is the number of people who still don't know what Gamification is, let alone whether or not it should be for them.  This is the same noise people made when social media first came about: 'it's for kids' or 'it's not relevant for my business'.  If you can make people enjoy engaging with your business, they will.  It should be obvious... I'll watch with interest how much people continue to treat this as 'new' over the coming years.

So why the title 'Gamification of Life'?  Is life a game?  There is an end-point.  There is a level of competition in every aspect of life: key points of the game (school, university, grad-school, relationships, marriage, children, jobs, careers, career-changes, recognition, fitness, beauty, wealth, longevity, popularity, altruism....) can cause people to compete and compare themselves with others (favourably or otherwise).

A lot of apps focus on this to help people eat less, do more exercise, spend more sensibly... so it would be interesting to see how this could be used to help individuals 'improve'.  Essentially, I'm thinking of how to gamify therapy: we all need that!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

How to name tech products

Image from FreeDigitalPhotos.net
What’s in a name? Would an Apple, by any other name, smell as sweet?  Would Jobs and Wozniak have had as much success with their company if it had been called Lemon?  Would a Blackberry be better as a Raspberry or a Gooseberry?  Would Raspberry Pi sell as quickly if it was Apple Pie?

With tech products there is no hard-and-fast rule of what works and what does not.  Is Apple’s habit of naming OSX versions after big cats (Panther, Puma, Mountain Lion) better than Google’s rule of naming Android versions after deserts (Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice-Cream Sandwich, Jellybean…)?  Does it make one product more likeable than another? Does it make it more reliable?  Does it sell more?  Are either of them fundamentally better (leading to greater brand recognition and helping drive brand loyalty) than Microsoft’s Windows versions (Windows 95, 97, Millennium, XP, Vista, 7)?

Some tech products have names that have little more thought behind them than no one else had the name and the inventors liked it (see Firefox).  Others used branding experts to exhaust all possibilities in the search of the one, true, perfect name (iPod).  Some brands are vanity projects (Dyson and Dell) whilst the actual product names are instantly forgettable (Latitude E6320 anyone?).

In an age of multiculturalism, anyone thinking of branding has to think how the name will be received in different countries and languages.  Mitsubishi should have consulted their Spanish office when deciding to call their 4x4 ‘Pajero’ (which has connotations of self-pleasuring in the Iberian language) and, because it has to succeed in the USA to gain global acceptance, the name must be easy to pronounce in English.

It can have connotations of space (Galaxy) or be an acronym (Vaio).  It can be frivolous (Twitter) or a compound pun (Pinterest; Instagram).   It could even evoke the beginnings of a burning fire (Kindle).


Having been asked to write something (above) for ZDNet Asia but for which I have been asked to include less questions, I created another version.  My inability to self-edit efficiently means I am including both versions in this post.... with full disclosure and apologies for repetition:

People who create, design and program tech products, have long had a sense of playfulness.  Perhaps it is the ability to create something from nothing, and name it, that gives a sense of power.  It is different from naming a child as one must consider the feelings and opinions of one’s spouse, relatives, the child’s grandparents and, in some cases, if the name is so odd, if it will lead the child to get beaten up at school.
With tech products there are no such limitations. But there are no rules either.  Some fruit are suitable names… but not all fruit.  An Apple computer would perhaps not have the image it does if it were a Lemon or a Banana.  Calling a smartphone a Blackberry might seem obvious now, but would we have embraced it if it had been called a Raspberry or even a Gooseberry?

The idle sound of birds talking led to the name Twitter…but it could just as easily have been Natter, or Cheep-Cheep, or Noise.   Raspberry Pi, the new open-source credit-card sized computer, has as much connection to its name as Apple Crumble or Strawberry Sigma.  The two main sources of computer operating systems have very different nomenclatures but neither indicates, at all, what the products actually are nor what they do. Some names, therefore, are designed to clearly differentiate themselves from the previous version, or maintain an air of seriousness some might consider appropriate for a business, such as with Microsoft Windows’s Millennium, XP, Vista and 7. Some try to exude power and passion, such as Apple’s OSX Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion and Mountain Lion over the same period.  Some try to suggest a sense of fun, as with Google’s mobile operating system Android, which uses deserts in its naming: Cupcake, Donut, Éclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean.

Some product names have little more thought behind them than no one else had the name and the inventors liked it (see Firefox).   Some brands are vanity projects (Dyson and Dell) whilst the actual product names are instantly forgettable (Latitude E6320 anyone?).

In an age of multiculturalism, anyone thinking of branding has to think how the name will be received in different countries and languages.  Mitsubishi should have consulted their Spanish office when deciding to call their 4x4 ‘Pajero’ (which has connotations of self-pleasuring in the Iberian language) and, because it has to succeed in the USA to gain global acceptance, the name must be easy to pronounce in English.

Tech products often try to suggest the future, or science fiction. So any suggestion of space is valid, as with Samsung’s Galaxy range, or Sun.    Acronyms will sometimes work, such as with Sony’s Vaio range, whilst some companies go for compound puns, such as with Pinterest or Instagram.   A verb suggesting the beginnings of a roaring fire might, for some, be a strange alternative to paper-based books (Kindle).

One can go through a complex branding exercise to try and suggest a name that summarises the essence of the product (iPod), or one can name a product after one’s daughter (Apple’s Lisa or the MySQL database) or a popular TV programme (Python) or an item of clothing the founder wears (Red Hat Linux).

In summary, there are no hard-and-fast rules about what names work and what names do not.  The only rules are:
a.        Make sure no one has used it before;
b.       Make sure it can be pronounced in English;
c.        Make it memorable.

Friday, 8 June 2012

SEO and how to search on Google

From a recent project run for Masters in Digital Marketing students at Hult in conjunction with Greenlight, the SEO specialists, one of the key learnings for students was how to build links and the importance of link equity for SEO.

It is, therefore, always nice to see learning in practice - and this embeddable widget from OnlinePhD.org is a fine example of how to do it.  Their simple graphic was on Mashable and shared from Mashable's pages over 1000 times - and each embedded copy of the widget will include (if not explicitly deleted) a link to OnlinePhD - thereby making the site more popular in the eyes of the great Google and, therefore, more likely to increase its Google rank.

So, since it is useful, and to remind myself in the future how to get better results from Google, I have also embedded it here. Kudos to OnlinePhD (or their SEO advisers).

UPDATE: In January 2013 OnlinePhD.org contacted me asking me to remove the links in this blog to their site as they are accused of Google of 'over-optimising'.  Hmm... strange...but always one to oblige...the links have been removed...

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Where do ideas come from?

Image by chanpipat from FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Creativity is easier said than done.  Where do creative people get their inspiration from? Where do ideas come from? When is an idea a good idea, and when is it fantasy?  In business terms, how do you identify an idea that has 'legs' or potential to become a sound business?

Much has been written on the creative process and how to become entrepreneurs. Much comes down to luck.  Malcolm Gladwell, in his book 'Outliers', points out how the biggest names in technology: Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer (founders of MicroSoft), Steve Jobs (from Apple) and Scott McNealy (from Sun Microsystems) were all born between 1954 and 1956 and, through the luck of location and access to computer facilities at a young age when most could only dream of using a computer, were able to get large amounts of experience (10,000 hours according to Gladwell's rule).  Had they been older they probably wouldn't have had access to the tools to get that valuable experience - any younger and someone else might have got their first.

However, luck suggests there is nothing one can do about 'ideas' and creativity.  A quote often attributed to everyone from Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Goldwyn via Mark Twain and Thomas Edison says:
"I'm a firm believer in luck, and I've found that the harder I work, the luckier I get."
It isn't just about hard work either.  As Seneca, the Roman philosopher from the 1st century AD, said:
"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."
So if one wishes to take these quotes as guidelines for achieving success, one has to work hard and be ready to embrace new opportunities.  If one takes that a little further, identifying opportunities is no easy task. It involves risk. It involves change.  The risk averse are unlikely to be successful entrepreneurs, but there is no reason to think they might not be highly successful corporate executives.

Coming back to the issue of ideas, again much has been written about where ideas come from.  Online guru Seth Godin has also posed the question and produced a list of 20 points that might help.

Steven Johnson wrote a whole book on the topic (although, focusing on "Where good ideas come from") which he's presented at TED:

Johnson has essentially summarised that which many others have said many times.  Steve Jobs said:
"Creativity is just connecting things."
A very wise woman once said "Ideas come from connections."  Jared Diamond's book on the fates of human societies: "Guns, Germs and Steel" connects all the dots of human development to show how luck and connections were fundamental to some societies developing more technology, infrastructure and art at a faster rate than others.  Luck in terms of the natural resources available where they were (including minerals and beasts of burden) and connections in terms of being able to exchange ideas and technologies ("I'll swap my axe for your spear") with other societies.

In conclusion, therefore, one should not think that one needs complete isolation to think, meditate and that an idea will materialise, fully formed, in one's mind.  The mind will reach that idea through a long line of connections.  The thoughts might rest on a window, and from there one might think of the glass in the window, the sand that makes the glass, the liquid nature of glass, the liquid falling on the glass (rain) and eventually to the irony of liquid protecting us from liquid.  Or with more knowledge of the chemical properties of glass, one might be able to connect the dots and create a window that is more liquid in hot weather providing a cooling effect, and more solid in cold.  Clearly, I am not an engineer...

So if you need an idea, connect your subject matter to others.  See how other societies live. See how other specialists work in their field.  Can their knowledge be useful in your field? Can yours be useful in theirs? Connect to people. Connect your business to others. Network.  Through connections, ideas will flow.

Surely therefore, Google+ and Facebook, and LinkedIn, and Twitter) will generate endless ideas...right?  Just as soon as everyone stops talking about Justin Bieber...

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Why we self-filter information...

Reading a post by Jeff Jarvis on lazy journalism and the easy target of new technology bringing the end of the world as we know it, I was inspired to add my tuppence-worth....

This is the issue that affects much of media.  Bias. It has been accepted for decades, if not centuries, that different newspapers will prefer different political parties and will skew the reporting to reflect that.  The paper one reads (if you still read dead trees) will usually reflect your political stance and how you vote - certainly in the UK.

Strangely there are still many who believe that editorials in traditional media are more worthy than blogs, which are ultimately editorials by unsponsored individuals. No less coherent or knowledgeable, necessarily. But by not having a behemoth organisation behind the writer, the opinions are for many less relevant.

And so it goes with new technology.  If one wants to believe Google is evil, one will self-filter news and articles to focus only on those that conform to one's world-view.  Ditto Apple.  Ditto Facebook. Ditto the internet. Mobile. Location...

It is frustrating, therefore, for those of us who 'get' technology, to see the myths being repeated time and again by lazy journalists.

I haven't self-filtered the various stories to focus on the Jeff Jarvis one that agrees with me, have I?! ...oh wait...

But heaven forbid that I should ever find a newspaper or site that agreed with me completely.... sometimes one needs naysayers and the small-minded in order to rant and vent....so long as everyone does rant and vent and does not simply accept the words of the sponsored without question...

This message has been sponsored by the Campaign for Ranting At the Press.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

How does Google Drive controversy?

Having been a fan of Google's products for many years, with Gmail, Google Docs, Google Maps, Google Desktop (RIP), Android, Picasa, Google Scholar, Chrome, Google Books and Google Translate figuring prominently in my private use of technology (oh - and I use Blogger too) - not to mention the work use of Google Analytics and Google Adwords - I was looking forward to the long-awaited Google Drive - an online storage facility for all and any files so that I don't need to remember a USB stick or have my laptop to ensure I can get to any file anywhere.  I already pay around $5 a year to increase my storage on Gmail/Picasa etc. to 20GB.  Very reasonable I think....although I've noticed that this deal no longer exists and the nearest other option is to pay $2.49 per month (just under $30 per year) for 25GB.  I'm not happy about this...but it's not a huge burden on finances.

When I got an iPad from work, I discovered the joys of Dropbox and having all my documents sync'd on the work laptop, the home desktop and the iPad... but being very price-sensitive, chose the basic version (i.e. free) with a 2GB storage limit.  It forces one to clear out documents and folders every so often rather than continuing to accumulate files that will never be read again - which is no bad thing.

So with the launch of Google Drive announced yesterday I immediately thought that as soon as there is functionality built-in to the various iPad apps that currently link to Dropbox, I'll be able to switch to G-Drive.

But then, of course, the controversy starts with some people trying to show that Google is now 'evil' (in contrast to their motto 'Don't be evil') by combing their Ts&Cs, adding 2 and 2 together and getting 3.14159.   ZDNet, a site that is usually a reliable source of tech news, has an article entitled "How far does Google Drive's terms go in 'owning' your files?" by Zach Whittaker.  Zach tries to highlight a difference in the Ts&Cs for Google Drive which say:

Your Content in our Services: When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.

What was missing from the article is the same line in the Ts&Cs that both Dropbox and Microsoft have, which says:
Some of our Services allow you to submit content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.
And of course the post is riddled with comments explaining the 'what's yours is yours' part with others saying that Google is the anti-christ, should be burnt on the circuit-boards of public opinion and wondering what Google would do with their data?

So, with no other information available other than my own common sense, I imagine that what Google wants to do is have the right to crawl our files to identify trends and gather data. They won't be 'reading' our files, but if they can identify x% of G-Drive users have Britney Spears photos, or y% have a last will and testament, that might be of use to the wider public.

There is another use, however. Google Translate works not by translating every word in turn like a first-year language student with a well-thumbed dictionary, but by comparing phrases and finding the same phrase on the internet with a translated version and making an assumption that the translated phrase will hopefully work as a translation for the new text also.  Surely, therefore, if Google suddenly has access to more data with which to mine such translations, the better?  Surely the ability to see how documents are written (by people who probably do not have a blog or a website) will help formulate semantic language generators for artificial intelligence?

In the same way that you should not leave sensitive data on a laptop, iPad or mobile phone without having a password block on the machine and encrypting the actual document (how many laptops, iPads and mobile phones are stolen every day, compared to successful hacks of online document repositories?) one should be careful about encrypting documents before storing them online.

But there is a big difference between actively reading my emails, documents and data, and allowing computer code to analyse it.  If it were not for Google's 'bots' identifying key terms in my emails, they would not be able to offer me a great email product for free subsidised by ads that I was able to quickly blank from my vision.  If it were not for my house being on Google View, I would not also be able to use the service to see other places that help me when driving or walking to an appointment.

Google hasn't sold its corporate soul to the devil.  I personally don't think they have abandoned the ethos of 'Don't be evil'.  But corporations, as with all organisations, are just like people.  And as Joe E Brown (right) said at the end of Some Like It Hot:  "Nobody's perfect!"

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Using Social Media to Get a Job

As more means of communication become available, different managers in different organisations have varying degrees of familiarity and ability with those media.  In short, some are tech-savvy, some dream of the time of parchment and quill pens.  

Unfortunately, for the job seeker, this means you have to cover all the bases to try and get your CV and job application in front of the recruiter: including sending a CV and covering letter printed on quality paper (100gsm) in a large, hard-backed envelope, with the address printed and not hand-written.

Screenshot from LinkedIn profile
Fortunately, however, more and more managers are embracing new technologies and trying to find out as much about prospective employees as possible in the shortest time possible. They do this by using the internet and social media in particular.  So, tips for the job-seekers are:

  1. Google yourself.  See what sites the first 10 links refer to and what images come up.  Are they suitable? Are they the kinds of links you would like a future employer to see? If not, do what you can to change the websites listed or remove images that are less than flattering.
  2. Manage your settings in Facebook to ensure no embarrassing information is public. 
  3. If you intend to specialise in a specific area, build your personal brand by posting comments and opinions both through Twitter and by creating a blog.  On Twitter follow people interested in the same subject area. Find interesting news and information on the subject and retweet it. Connect to people when relevant.  Blog on the subject, particularly if you have several years experience and are able to share insights into the issues affecting your industry.  Remember to keep everything professional – you want a future employer to find it and rate you on the strength of the information posted – and you need to ensure others who see the blog (including former employers, co-workers or clients) will not take offence.
  4. Build your profile on LinkedIn. This involves putting as much information as possible on the platform as you would on a CV – giving employment history, skills, responsibilities, achievements and so on.  List the university and post-graduate education... unless you’re very young, school information should not be relevant.  Ensure you have uploaded a photo and connect to all colleagues, former classmates, clients and other business contacts.  Get colleagues, former employers and clients to recommend you on LinkedIn. The more senior the person the better.
  5. Use LinkedIn and Twitter to connect to people in organisations that interest you.  If you see a vacancy in organisation ‘XYZ’ and a friend’s contact on LinkedIn works for ‘XYZ’, then ask your friend for an introduction through LinkedIn and, if granted, ask the contact, nicely, if they can give you any suggestions on how best to present yourself for the advertised role. What is the organisation looking for?  Who would you be working for?  Use social media as your future employer would and find out as much as possible about the organisation and the people you would be working for.  This will allow you to adapt your application and, hopefully, the interview, to show how you are a perfect fit with the company.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

What is Glocial Media?

I started running sessions on Social Media and its impact on business in 2006.  I would often use the byline for the sessions “It is not just Facebook and Twitter…” which even today seem to be the only platforms large parts of the business world have heard of. Even some of the post-graduate students I teach now are still ‘offline’ when it comes to social media.  Some of the students, however, are far ahead of the curve and are harnessing social media to create new business ideas.

However, just as social media is another country to many people, social media in another country can be completely different.  Most English-speakers will think only of platforms from the USA when they think of social media… the ubiquitous  FacebookTwitter and YouTube.  Whilst those platforms do have international reach and dominate the global social media netscape, individual countries and regions often use them in different ways or have their own platforms that have proven far more popular with the native population.

Students from the Masters in Digital Marketing at Hult International Business School gave a presentation during Social Media Week in London at 01Zero-One in Soho, in the heart of London on just that.  The presentation, entitled “Views from inside: Social Media from around the globe” gave a whistle-stop tour of ten countries and how social media has been used there.

Fernando Martinez (@fermart19) kicked off talking about Colombia and how Groupon enjoyed first-mover advantage for a year, at most, before two clones were produced by the large media organisations in Colombia who had direct and easy access to the local businesses.  He also explained how Colombia has a very high level of creative digital talent, to the extent that a lot of web design for the USA is outsourced there.  In summary, there is a lot of competition and with a young and tech-savvy population, only good products and services will survive there.

Staying in Latin America, Larissa Sabino Erbacher explained how Brazil, with over three times the population of the UK, uses social media as it behaves offline, to be friendly and communicative.  E-commerce and business networks are growing, but the vast majority of social media use is ‘traditional’ social networking through Orkut (Google’s first foray into social networking before Google+) which accounts for 60% of Orkut’s total traffic.

From Brazil, the talk took us to Germany where Jennifer Bahr (@jenny_bahr) over 35 million people are registered on social networks, with 96% of the 14-29 age group on a network.  Over the half of the German inhabitants are online and 90% of them belong to the group relevant for advertisement between 19-49.  Whilst Facebook and Twitter are the most popular platforms in Germany, three related networks appealing to different age-groups and are by invitation only: ‘SchülerVZ’ is for school kids, StudiVZ is for students and MeinVZ is for professionals.  Wer-kennt-wenn connects people by geography whilst if you want to do business in Germany, you cannot rely on LinkedIn alone: XING is the German equivalent to LinkedIn and is three times more popular.  With over 22% of Germans accessing the internet on a mobile phone, it is little wonder that ad-spend for mobile has doubled at the same time as TV advertising has fallen.

It is hardly surprising that Germany, the richest country in Europe, uses social media differently to Greece… hanging on to solvency by its fiscal fingertips.  Ioanna Koliou (@IoannaKoliou) explained Greece doesn’t really have local social networks apart from zoo.gr, with 33% of the population on Facebook and LinkedIn seeing a surge in popularity thanks to the growing unemployment rate.  A key role of social networks in Greece, however, is for protest.  The “Bring them Back”  campaign aims to apply pressure on the British Museum to have the Elgin Marbles returned to their home, not helped by the recent theft by armed robbers of ancient artefacts from Greek museums).  The online campaign incorporated a YouTube video that went viral in Greece.  The global economic crisis has hit Greece harder than most and Facebook is being used to organise protests against the austerity measures and, to those who are tired of Greece’s image on the global stage, Peter Economides  has tried to ‘Rebrand Greece’  using social media.

Moving across the Mediterranean, Africa is the 2nd most connected region by mobile subscriptions and Egypt has the second largest internet usage in Africa.... (Nigeria is the first).  Yasmeen Marie (@Yasmeen_Marie) showed how social media in Egypt became an international issue when a Facebook group was set up to protest on 25 January which went viral. There was no specific intention to create a revolution, but when the government tried to stop the 25 Jan meetings, people got behind the movement, with over 2 million people at one of the protests in Tahrir Square.  When the authorities blocked internet access, Google and Twitter provided a service called ‘Speak-to-Tweet’ where users could call an international number and dictate a message. The messages would be tagged #egypt and were available to those in Egypt by dialling the same numbers or going to  twitter.com/speak2tweet.  An interesting example of how an online phenomenon was able to transfer offline to overcome censorship.

Russians” meanwhile “are the most engaged users of social media in the world, spending an average of 9.8 hours on social networks. This is almost double the global standard.”  Stacey Boguslavskaya (@Social_Net_Pro) explained, however, micro-blogging (such as Twitter) is not popular and Russians are not keen on location based services. The big winners in Russia are local social networks such as: vkontakte.ru and odnoklassniki.ru; perhaps partially due to the weather encouraging people to stay at home and connect online.  Russians prefer to use local platforms, so there is huge potential for entrepreneurs who can create Russian versions of Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Yelp, Quora, Kickstarter or Pinterest. Finally, Russians have an average of 1.5 mobile phones, but only 11% of them are smartphones.

India, in contrast, has far lower mobile penetration with only 5% of the total  population. But with a population of 1.2 billion people, that equates to 61 million people or almost the entire UK population.  India is, according to Priyanka Ganguli (@priyaganguli) , a country where change is a constant.  What is popular today will be old hat tomorrow… Hi5 was the leading social network before giving up its place to Orkut. That in turn gave way to Facebook, but Twitter is now more popular.  What matters is how trendy the site or platform is and how connected it is – whether one’s own network has made the move or not.  Another issue to think about is how the government in India is implementing monitoring and censorship of social media.

From the biggest country in the world to one of the smallest, Angela Cheong (@angelacfw) explained how Singapore has a household broadband penetration of 104% and 70% of the 5.1 million population have smartphones – the highest in the world.  The smartphone is fundamental to accessing the internet in Singapore with mainstream Western sites such as Facebook, Blogspot, Twitter and LinkedIn dominating social media behaviour.  Corporate use, however, has not matched that of individuals, with only 30% of organisations using micro-blogs, 40% using social networks and 50% using video sharing – and when they use social media, they do not always understand how. An example shown by Angela was how SMRT, the main train company, failed to respond with information when a train was stuck underground with thousands of commuters on board, in the stifling darkness. The company ignored its Facebook account to feed information to the general public and only set up a Twitter account several days later after a series of further mechanical failures.  They tried to make a big deal of not fining a passenger who broke a window on the train to let in air – with a resulting public backlash to the mere suggestion that the passenger could be fined having a far worse effect on their public reputation.  A study has shown that local brands can achieve the same level of recognition as major brands like LV, Adidas and Gucci with a good social media strategy.

Taiwan could not, however, be more different to Singapore.  In Taiwan, Facebook penetration has grown by 7000% in Taiwan in the two years since a Chinese language version was launched – essential for any platform hoping to launch in Taiwan – but still tends to be the preserve of good looking young people who like posting photos of themselves.  Michelle Chen (Pin-Hsien Chen @pinshian) explained that ‘normal’ people tend to prefer the anonymity offered both through not needing to post photos nor use real names on Bulletin Board Systems (BBS).  The two largest BBS in Taiwan are PTT and PTT2 with 1.5 million registered users and around 10% of total internet users in Taiwan.  The boards focus on specific topics, such that there is even one on ‘gossip’ which is used by journalists as a pseudo Wikileaks. To show the importance of BBS in the minds of the Taiwanese, it is worth mentioning that they had a film, á la ‘The Social Network’:

Finally, the Philippines is not, as  Aaron Joshua Barroso (@mraaronjoshua) explained, just about eating dog, nurses and caregivers.  The event was nothing if not informative and I, for one, did not imagine the Philippines to have a population of 94 million people spread over 7000 islands.  The internet penetration is not that high at 30%, but there is an 80% reach of mobile phones and the country is the SMS leader with over 2 billion text messages sent every day – an average of 26 texts per person per day.  Most people going online to watch videos, blog and engage with global networks such as Facebook, Friendster and Multiply, but it does have home-grown clones such as PicLyf and Churp Churp for photo sharing and microblogging.

So what does this mean for the future of social media?  Facebook is all-dominant and there is no micro-blogging service to rival Twitter.  There are, however, still very large regional clones of the social networking platforms that are more popular – an important point to remember when trying to reach audiences in those regions.  Mobile is, as has been pointed out often, huge in some countries – meaning digital marketing must think of the platform of distribution and not assume everyone will have a large computer screen to view the content.  Finally, social media is about people connecting with people – for socialising, dating, gaming, recruitment or revolution.  People will find a way to connect regardless of the channels. If the internet breaks, they will go mobile. If technology breaks, they will go back to offline methods. They will connect, however, and will look favourably on those that facilitate those connections.

And what is 'Glocial Media'?   A term I thought sums up the trichotomy of social media today: it must be global, local and social.   

Monday, 30 January 2012

What new marketers need to know

Following a request from a colleague, I thought I'd turn this into a post.  Five questions (with my answers) aimed at newly graduated marketers:

  1. How did you discover the world of Online Marketing?
  2. I was an expert in music before finding gainful employment in the internet and was recruited as Director of Content & E-Commerce to a start-up selling CDs and other music-related products online. They needed someone who knew their ABBA from their Zappa and could segment music lovers from medieval madrigals through to garage and grime.  My role naturally included all non-music related content and marketing too and expanded to include all areas of digital.  The slow death of the music industry helped me decide to focus more on digital in the future than music.

  3. What are 3 common mistakes that marketers make?
    1. They forget who the competition is.  Marketers often only focus on the brand competitors, and ignore the other things that compete for the customer’s attention and wallet.

    2. They forget who the customer is and what they want. Marketers often focus on showing how great their brand is and how different and special it is compared to the rest – when in many cases the customer simply wants something reliable and to know they have made a sensible purchase.  This all comes down, clearly, to buyer behaviours and psychographic segmentation.

    3. They forget about the marketing mix (on a basic level, Product, Place, Promotion, Price) and focus only on the Promotion or advertising side.   Zara is an example of a highly successful global brand that has had minimal advertising, but has been extremely effective using other elements of the mix, by paying a premium for core locations of their stores, competitive pricing and ensuring the client base know that their products are fashionable and also only available for a limited time before a new collection arrives.

  4. What advice would you give to young marketers after they graduate?
  5. Image: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    1. Don’t set your sights too high at the beginning;
    2. Get experience in as wide a variety of roles and jobs as you can; and
    3. Only think about specialising after a few years.

    The reason for this is that if you start work in an agency you might find it very hard after a few years to get work on the ‘client side’ where the demands are different (you might have to do a lot more stakeholder management inside the organisation).  

    Equally, if you are only ‘client side’ within an organisation, you might find it very hard to make the jump to agency.  Equally, if your role is more offline or broadcast media, then you might find it difficult to convince a future (or existing) employer that you are also capable at the digital side, and vice versa.  

    The analytical side of SEO, PPC and so on can be less attractive to some than, for example, being on the creative side. But having those analytical skills is essential and will grow in importance as more data becomes available through the use of mobile devices by larger sections of the population.

  6. Google has recently introduced a new social media platform, Google+. Do you think that one day it can take over Facebook and Twitter?
  7. Can it? Yes. Could it? Yes. Will it? No idea. Remember that 5 years ago MySpace was the all dominant social network, and 5 years before that it was sites like ‘Friendster’ or ‘Friends Reunited’.  It looks like Facebook has achieved now a global domination that makes it harder for  others to overtake, but there are still more people not using the platform than are.

    And many people choose not to have a social life on social networks and only use them for business connections or as productivity tools. So there is still scope for someone (it might be Google, it might not) to produce a platform that adequately deals with all those other uses.  All the social networks are currently limited and, for me, frustrating. Twitter, equally, is a very limited tool and there is no reason why another tool cannot topple it.  

    Remember in the 90s Yahoo! was all-dominant, everyone had a Hotmail account and there were dozens of search engines available that people would use according nothing more than aesthetics (they all worked equally badly).  Any firm that thinks it is unbeatable is setting itself up for a big fall.

  8. Do you believe that Facebook’s $100B IPO is setting a precedent among all the social media competitors? 
Is it setting a precedent where the social media competitors believe now that the market is ready to understand they have a future?


Is it setting a precedent where good business models in the social media world can have successful IPOs?


Is it suggesting that all social media organisations are worth tens of billions?

No. Like everything, it depends.  

Some large organisations might get equally high billing, but it all comes down, unsurprisingly, to the business model.  How do they make their money? If they rely on advertising (as Facebook does) is there enough revenue to sustain it? Is it profitable now? Is it likely to be profitable?

There are companies that have great ideas, as many did in the dot-com boom of the nineties, that haven’t properly thought about how to make a business out of the idea.  Any organisation that successfully bridges that gap should feel confident about being able to have a successful IPO… but it is unlikely that they will get close to Facebook’s evaluation.