Category Archives: communication

Social Media, what does it mean to you?

A Social Media Consultant, a PR consultant, two agency specialists and a client walk into a bar…..

Sounds like an 50’s style joke doesn’t it?

At Social Media Club Sydney two a few weeks ago (I know, I am soooo slack! I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now) the talk was “Do you need an agency to run effective social media campaigns?” and the point that interested me the most was that everyone had a definition for what Social media was but they varied wildly, sometimes based on what that person wanted from it instead of what SM was about intrinsically.

I later asked around the audience, and also got a wild array of possible definitions, some from Social Media users and others from “experts”, many of whom could remember who’s definition on the panel they liked or aligned themselves with but, ultimately, couldn’t remember the actual definition.

I remember the response from a student, uninterested in marketing or advertising, defining Twitter as a “marketing channel”, which really shocked me, although I wasn’t surprised in hindsight, considering the celebrities using it to keep them in the public eye and “sell” themselves.

Thankfully a few cool heads, both on the panel as well as in the audience, continued to press for the simpler and more engaging descriptions, which did not focus on sales, marketing or advertising but the more intrinsic communication, connection, engagement and sharing descriptions I prefer to lean towards.

I guess this is where I put my stake in the sand and tell you my definition. Fair enough! I think Social Media is something that is detached from platform, API, protocol and application, as well as detached from marketing message or advertising reach, although it can perform with those very easily. At heart, SM is a public conversation, generally around a topic, recorded. Ultimately it is about people, conversing and interacting.

Feel free to challenge me on this, and you can do so at the next SMCSYD, How Do You Measure Social Media Engagement, on July 20.

Style over substance

Let’s cut to the chase!

Who is advising restaurants, bars and clubs that what their visitors want is a Flash(tm) animated brochure?

When I look up a bar, restaurant or club / music venue, I’m usually after a few basic slices of information, like where it is located, what the food is like or what’s on tonight or this weekend. Of course there is a lot more you’d want to know about  a venue, but these are what I would think are core pieces of information many people would be wanting from a venue’s website. Unfortunately many venues have been advised by their “web people” to publish a set of slick, glossy pictures of the venue, in a Flash slideshow/animation sequence, utilising Flash navigation, and not a great deal more.

Can anyone explain to me why these bars, restaurants and clubs don’t bother looking at what visitors want from websites and help these same prospective clients find it on their websites? Is it really in a venue’s interest to hide the location map somewhere unexpected or provide their menu as a downloadable PDF? And music venues and dance clubs: Thanks for the pictures of the pretty people who cone to your place, specially the hot babes! but since I came to your site to find out more about a night out at your venue from a flyer someone handed me, can you provide more information besides re-presenting the flyer I already have a copy of? Or did you think the babes were enough? hmm, I thought so.

Can you not tell me about the artists who will be playing, DJing there, any reviews of past gigs, what the drinks cost, whether you also have snacks, what time the club closes, when it’s not available due to a “private party” and any other thing that would make me interested in coming to your venue, instead of what YOU want to tell me?

Have you a Facebook group? A mySpace page? A twitter stream? If so, can you tie them together so I can find the others through any one of them?

If not, can you spare a couple hours a week to connect with your people out there? There’s plenty of excelent on-line tools and APIs to help you do this.

Oh, and if you want to be found through popular searches, just make sure there is something serachable and index-able on your site.

… just sayin!

Dymocks is certainly no Amazon

That’s what an associate said to me recently, when describing her recent online buying experience with the Australian bookseller. No Dymocks is not Amazon, they could be even better, if they wanted to.

I keep hearing that Australians don’t shop online much, and are afraid to commit to website purchases. I also notice how online sales are often excluded in many companies’ online strategies when updating their sites for the AU market. I have to disagree with both that strategy and that sentiment. Australians spend quite a bit of time online and would shop online, if they could find sites that DON’T make it harder than extracting teeth to do what others have proved is not too difficult to do.

I have to admit, having come from the UK where you can get anything online, including courier-delivered toast (I kid you not!) it was a bit of a shock. More so with the knowledge that the Australian government is generally good at supplying information and services online. So it’s not like online is a scary, new or tentative place for Aussies. I have a friend who buys all his music online as .wav, .aiff files, or other digital formats. Another friend buys her books from Amazon US because even with shipping and duty it is cheaper than local shops, and quicker too. Many other Australians are looking for ways to buy what they need quickly without having to drive or go down to the shops or malls.

Ok, in the UK, the market is larger with a smaller geographic area, but concern for market size and proximal advantages are questions for a business, not for doing business online. If your business idea cannot support a business plan, online or offline has little difference these days. If you are in the business of shifting easy to sell commodities, like books and CDs or other stuff that fits in small boxes, why are you NOT selling online? There is no rational reason to avoid this, particularly when both the shop and the client win from the deal. The shop has less of that expensive floorspace to manage, and wins new custom among the elderly (who are increasingly looking online for their needs), disabled, remote and busy. The customer gets to research, peruse, compare and buy at a time of their choosing, an increasingly important condition in these days of TIVO and online news and video.

Most of my attempts to buy online here in Sydney have been thwarted by sites that are poorly constructed and conceived, and lacking an understanding of user needs. A depressingly large number of brands are not connected to a shop or online outlets. Many mistakenly think that providing a downloadable PDF of their brochure is a good way to market their products. Why are the mobile Telcos still so terrible a online experience? Why do so many otherwise switched on companies fail to see the advantages of a better, or even minimal but available online shop?

Even for traditionally strong products that sell well to online bargain hunters, like electronics and computers, I feel poorly served. It would be great to find a few examples of well constructed, easy to search tech sites that work. Everyone I found was sorely lacking in a crucial quality to help me get through the process without a problem. Either they don’t reflect stock levels, if they disclose them at all, many have risible search features, ignore people who want to by several related items at once, (if you’re buying a computer, you might also want to get a printer, some blank DVDs for archives, and some cabling, for example) and otherwise forget all the rules of salesmanship online. And don’t get me started on ludicrous payment gateways that ask me to read an email and transfer funds with a special code and wait 5 days for the process to complete. yeesh!

That’s why I came here. The market is ripe for people with courage to start considering selling online, in particular small specialist shops in city centres who are happy to supply to remote areas in exchange for a creditcard payment. Looking forward to helping you all buy when You want to buy. Th tide is turning, and I look forward to helping those who really do want to engage with their customers, and give them an experience that they will want to return to and reccommend.

The train-chasing shuffle

We’re not individuals all of the time; we’re occasionally herd animals, sometimes like flotsam sometimes like wheat, and yes, occasionally the lone wolf.

I’ve been noticing how people behave when a train’s approaching. Ok, it is usually during rush hour, with that 8am grogginess or 6pm urgency that I notice this, but it’s a valid enough time to observe collective behavior.

It brings to mind the interesting point that when it comes to observing our online behavior, we are simultaneously individual and collective in our patterns. We act on our own but are affected by the ebb and flow of other users in our motions and choices.

Take for example the train chasing shuffle. This is the condition where, as the train slows into the station, people feel the need to slowly shuffle towards the door that has just passed them. Even when the next door along is going to stop right in front of them, or will be much closer than the door they are chasing, they’ll follow the train along the platform.

At first I thought it was some sort of magnetic or gravitational force, the train pulling us along with it’s substantial mass or metallic might, but that doesn’t hold up.

A force far greater than either seems to be pulling us along.

So the question is: are we being pulled, are we influencing each other, is it the actions of one of us pulling the others along?

Perhaps it is a combination of all of these answers and more, a subtlety we cannot clarify easily. As someone who likes to understand engagement, attention, usability and user flow, these are the questions I have.

Crossing the road

I’ve been watching you.
I mean, I like watching you.
I mean, you’re interesting to watch.

I’m digging myself a hole, aren’t I?

I like to watch people using technology in a public place, to see how considered their planning might have been, just like I like to watch people use websites, to learn how to make websites better.

Since coming to Sydney, I’ve been watching how the crossing signals and crossing buttons are used here, as Sydneysiders are a bit different to Londoners and Canadians with this.

At crossings here, there are assistive technologies with big obvious buttons, audio and sensory feedback (the crossing buttons make noises as well as vibrate in an obvious way) to let pedestrians know what’s happening. What I love is watching people use the big button.

There’s nothing simpler than a one button device is there?

My favourite users are the ones who hit the buttons VERY hard, as if it were their worst enemy, or repeatedly, as if several hits make it react more quickly.

The problem with one button devices is that we think of them like light switches; click should be on, end of story. Even when we know different, because we know the traffic lights will not change at our whim, we still treat it like a light switch.

So even a one button device, controlling something we’ve known well since childhood can throw up some surprises. Think of how many surprises your website can uncover.

Like I said, I’m watching you.

CPOTD (Commuter Pic Of The Day)

subtitled: shitty clouds, that’s why I left London innit?

Analogue with a digital on top

Bought a guitar on eBay last week, out of some sort of desire to be a bit more analogue, and realised I had no good way to know if it was in tune. So back to eBay for a tuner from the US.

Now who’s an eejit!

Completely forgot I have an iPhone and that there’s an app for just about everything (there’s three fart apps FFS!!). So my new dilemma is do I just use the tuner coming in the post eventually from the US, or repost it on eBay and buy the app?

My loyalties to analogue are in conflict with my loyalties to my lovely new iPhone.

Guess who’s going to win!

Commuter pic of the day to follow.

BTW: played guitar for 40 minutes last night in an attempt to strengthen my fingertips. Can I just say the left side of the keyboard is my enemy this morning? fingertips over on the left of QWERTY is ouchy!

Just sayin’!

On the road

Yep, finally got my iPhone. So on the interest of usability I thought I’d try to blog on the train into work. Yes, the N96 is great and the blackberry does email like no other, but I have to say that the iPhone has them beat on usability even with the tiny letters on the keypad. Why?
Because you don’t need to RFM (Read the Frikkin’ Manual) to get things done. Not only does it put things where you expect them to be, it helps you understand the way it works while you use it without reverting to a manual.

So I only have 18 minutes for my blog so best be quick about it!

Usability is all about not forcing me to do all the work to figure out your device, your device should work hard to make me understand it without a manual. Like all our favourite tools do.

So to finish it off here is a pic from my view every morning as I step off the train.

(posted from my iPhone) đŸ™‚

It’s the little things

I remember a Charles Bukowski poem, The Shoelace (AUDIO or TEXT), I may have mentioned it here before, but it’s the little things that drive people crazy, make them mad beyond the scope of the little thing. There’s no reason your broken shoelace drives you crazy but it does. Listen to people talk on the morning bus or evening after work drink. Before the personal stuff there is usually a story of how some meaningless inconsequential event, a late train, a missed call, a broken accessory, a lost earring, made their day that much more unpleasant.

I remembered this when I got my morning coffee today, lazy; didn’t make my own.

The coffee shop give out loyalty cards, you know the ones, buy ten, get one free; that sort of thing. Great! I said! Thanks!

But it won’t fit in the space wallets have for credit cards.

I stood there while the steam gushed through the ground coffee, smelling my morning Javanese fix getting closer and I was forced to think up new places to put this card, away from other loyalty cards, bus ticket, etc. Find a new place to keep the thing that was meant to make me feel better. You made me have to think about you when I was busy thinking about me.

My morning started with a problem, when I am on my way trying to solve big problems for other people that is worth a lot of money for them. The coffee was supposed to make me feel good, but I had a problem even before I plopped at my desk.

OK, it was a small thing but your small things shouldn’t get in the way of my enjoying your company, because it’s the small things that drive us crazy.