Category Archives: general

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!

Obama, Palin and the twitterverse

Now that the dust has settled on the US election, with a clear and confident victory for Barak Obama and IMHO the US people in general, I thought I’d take a little look at my personal experience of election day, which, if you know me you’d be aware, was conducted entirely online.

Even today I received a tweet that the Obama campaign chose Apple and are very technologically aware. Gone are the days when modern heads of state can consider online communications something aides and secretaries and PAs do and stay personally removed from it. It is very interesting to hear Republican pundits talking about Obama’s “bottom up” approach and him being an “open-source”  candidate.

Alex Castellanos cites the book The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which, without going into too much detail, discusses the difference between older, Industrial-Age models of “top-down” approaches versus more modern (some might say “older and more historically successful”) models of “bottom-up”, collaborative, inclusive and flexible ways of getting things done.

That’s the place I was in while watching the election; although “watching” is a very loose description, as I was in a way, immersed in it, alongside the other activities I was involved in (coding, email, music, etc.). What was fascinating for me that day was what was happening in the twitterverse and how so many people were sharing not only the experience, but disparate online resources, to share facets of the election experience together.

I don’t need to list them all but to give you a flavour, there were people sharing links to live electoral maps of varying quality and scope, quoting and referencing mainstream news sources alongside more esoteric, specialist, independent or underground news, redistributing, retweeting and republishing opinions, facts, vids and images from the past two years, all relevant to the November 5 elections; all in their own way, personal. One tweep even corroborating a previous comment with three sources, one, an email from his aunt in the states, who got a text from Illinois. Horse’s mouth indeed! It really did exemplify what a friend called “a public conversation”.

I was also reminded of the discussions in campaigning circles these past few years about the effect of the internet on any political campaign, worried about embarassing information coming out. One tweet reminded me that YouTube was launched (Feb-May-Dec 2005) AFTER the last US election and is now already a mainstream information channel (as well as a place to watch idiots riding their bikes of of suburban rooftops) for many people. A few minutes (minutes!) after Obama was declared the winner there were compilation videos and tributes available on YouTube and uStream announced they were the official streaming partner of the campaign, ready with a video stream of his acceptance speech.This at a time when it was discovered (we knew it before they did!) that McCain staff had turned off TV displays with the live information people there were wanting.

And I am certain that even the politically unaware have heard of the Palin/Sarkozy telephone prank or the video of Palin attempting to deny she previously thought Africa was a country. Google it yourself if you haven’t.

But this is exactly the “bottom-up”, bazaar world we are now in, where news travels as fast as one can hit the return key and a million people can be reading each other simultaneously and that comments from very different sources (trad news/actors/friends/colleagues/strangers) can all have a place for us and WE do the aggregating ourselves. If you want to talk about grass-roots politics we the people are doing it for ourselves and I m very hapy to see that there is a plac e for free and open conversation, real conversation in the twitterverse.

IKEA and MSI and getting your customer right

I love IKEA!

That’s a big thing to say after blogging nothing for a few months. In particular since it has nothing to do with the www, at least at first glance. But it does, in a way, because, in my mind, almost everything has to do with the internet. It does have to do with understanding your customers though. Bear with me, friends.

For those of you who know me, you know I have moved from the UK to Australia over these past few months. Winding up work, packing up the flat, shipping it all out to Sydney, saying goodbye to loving friends, taking a well earned month off in Fiji in a hut with no electricity, (I know, hard work!) then landing in Newtown, settling into the house, buying furniture, getting listed and documented by various government agencies, sorting out broadband, telephone, finding interesting companies to approach for work, etc…..

*whew!* busy! but fun. So not much time for blogging, although I’ve been pretty busy in the Twittersphere and various IM tools like Skype and GTalk with friends and family from across the world, fun but busy.

So what’s this about IKEA? Right; IKEA gets me right. IKEA knows me and gets it right. No only me but many other people right too. They know enough of us to get most of us right. I’ve been supremely impressed by the amount and quality of information they can fit into their assembly diagrams without writing a single word. just pictures and numbers. For IKEA experts like myself, *blush* the information is straightforward and simple. For flat-pack newbies, it starts by telling you you can do it yourself, telephone them for help or have them walk you through assembly in the shop. It tells you what should be in the box, what tools you need and what skills you should posess. At the beginning of the document, where you need to see it. At every point in the assembly process where it gets a bit tricky, the information is more detailed and methodical; where there’s easy repetitive information, it all fits in one diagram. In some ways an IKEA instruction booklet not only tells you how to assemble this particular item but it tells you how to approach all flat-pack-furniture tasks. Brilliant!

This was a very different experience to this message from the MSI website where I simply wanted to report a fault:

You think they could pay a few dollars to ANYone who knows English to try and see if it makes sense?

Here’s the text to help you read it better:

========

Attention:

  • To avoid being handed as small mail,the system will not reply to you by e-mail.
  • Before you issue the questions, we strongly recommend that you should fill out the following basic products info and system configuration.The more detailed you provide, the faster our technical staffs can handle your problems. Very sorry for your inconvenience!
  • For saving time, you can learn all about MSI products solution by visiting our FAQ where the most asked questions we have received from our customers.
  • If you solve your problem by yourself, we hope that you may supply solution to us for our reference.
  • “Online Customer Service” provides you an exclusive inquiring field. The question you ask will be your record.
  • If you have any further questions, please visit MSI Forum to find what others said in the good article forum written by moderators & power users.
  • Please use English to fill out the form.

Go to Chinese version.
========
There are so many instances of wrong in this I can hardly contain myself but a few pop out to me right away. It is not intelligible English, for a start, and it would have cost little to commission even an expensive copywriter. I particularly like how it asks you to return to the site (URL please?) and supply the solution should you find one yourself, before you have even asked them for help. It is a lot of confusing information that is mostly unnecessary. I seriously though of returning the computer as DOA and getting a refund. In fact a lot of the reviews for this otherwise excellent computer came with a warning about bad service ,already scaring some away from this particular product. I won’t go into the farcical details of the quality of further communications or how I finally fixed it myself just before they offered to have it returned for “repair” without offering some simple solutions first.

So why do so many companies take the MSI route over the IKEA route? Why do so many companies make it difficult to love their products and why do so many of them completely forget that happy people come back and the pissed off make sure they don’t?

This is what User-Centred Design (applies to a call centre or customer service website as much as a car, computer or kettle) is all about; what is the user experiencing and how can we make it a positive experience for them while making sure they part with their money with us for their next purchase?

Everyone I talk to hates visiting IKEA, they hate the maze, the massiveness, the shelves, the meatballs, the outlying distant-ness, yet it is highly successful and 4 out of 5 people go back again within 2 years for more. So they must be getting something right and I think it is the small things that bring people back, like the helpful instructions and useful website that do it.

Charles Bukowski once wrote a short story about the little things that drive people mad. Not the world wars or huge calamities, but the little things like broken shoelaces and loose handles and static-plagued telephone lines. I think it is the little things that keep people coming to you, like friendly staff, helpful instructions and looking at it from your point of view.

Don’t drive your clients mad, help them love you.

Freedom and dependence

What I want when I want it and all for free or with transparent pricing.

We have not had a television in the house since about 2002, partly as it was a TV I acquired from a flat I moved into in 1991 (!) and it was a bit tired, partly because reception got a bit crap when they repaired our roof but left the aerial dangling (!!), and finally, because we were too busy doing other things to really relax enough in front of the idiot box at the same time that something good was on.

And timing is everything these days. We don’t like swapping our personal schedules for the vagaries of the advertising markets and may want to watch Little Britain at noon, or Sesame Street at 7PM. And what exactly is wrong with occasionally passing on the news and watching a film at 6PM?

Last night we watched three episodes of a comedy program on the BBC iPlayer because we liked it and wanted to see it right then. There are several Live TV over IP offerings available like Zattoo and Joost and they are starting to get somewhere but no-one really has got it right, as the iPlayer has a short expiry rate (one week) and the two latter ones occasionally fail on decent network support, leaving you with terrible compression artifacts or no connections at all partway through the program.

TV will have to wake up and become aware that people will find it if the originators don’t offer it. The consumer world is now aware that you can get what you want and should be able to get it when you want it. Those that are aware of this will be the respected suppliers (whinge all you like, but iTunes, even with it’s restrictive practices and weird pricing structure, gets it right enough to use) who deliver a good enough proportion of what we want.

The issue is not Intellectual Property, really, it is about milking us for something we already paid for (how anyone in the US watches television I don’t know as there seems to be the same amount of advertising as program, even without the blatant product placement!) and the consumers WILL find a solution that fits. TV companies should be cognizant of all the mistakes of the music industry and be aware…

internet, outer space, open source and the new open space

I Read an interview with Mark Shuttleworth, a personal hero of mine, in The Guardian last night.

A fascinating story of how he wants technology to help people, but not in that overbearing, paternalistic sense but in a more fraternal, assistive way. Having done some very interesting things, like spending $20 million on a trip into space, he also started the company that oversees the Ubuntu project, Ubuntu, meaning, “I am what I am because of who we all are”. Ubuntu is about computing for people, about an environment not directed at the technically experienced but for people who want to get things done on their not so expensive anymore bits of plastic and silicon. This, to me. is usability and user-centred design in action.

Ubuntu is a very popular, respected (among the geekorati) operating system that is open-source and free. Basically this means anyone can come along and modify the code used to create it, unlike Microsoft and Apple, who lock the source code away. (To be fair, the essence, the kernel, to use the proper term, of the Apple operating system, OSX, is DarwinBSD, an open source flavour of UNIX.) I see open source as part of the next wave of personal computing, open, free and distributed, that sees the entire business model of software and digital activity in general, change dramatically. Gone will be the Microsoft model, thankfully, which is already suffering from it’s own market ignorance and inability to see where the rest of the world is going. MS is big, but they won’t be for much longer when I can get everything I need from an office application online and for free from one of a dozen diferent service providors, like Google, and others. OpenOffice Org is working on a mac port of OpenOffice (does what MS Office does but for free!) after being available for Windows and Linux users for years. Even Adobe is offering a simple version of photoshop online, for free, with 2GB storage and some very nifty graphics tools. I still haven’t figured out their business model, but I’m not quibbling when it is so easy to use, unlike almost anything I have seen MS provide.

The thing that really got me from the inteview with mark Shuttleworth was the concurrence of his expression and my realisation, just a few days earlier, that we do so much of our stuff online. I am now in a situation where the majority of my computing is in www, there is so little I do that is not at the very least, networked! I now spend a great deal of my computing time in the open space of social networking, online applications, web-based tools like the one I’m writing in now, and being entertained by streamed music to match my current moods, like with LastFM. This is in part seriously scary, but also amazing liberating, as long as I have a network connection! Why the internet is not supplied as easily as a telephone line I do not understand but surely that can’t be too far away? This is an exciting time both for computing AND the internet, when the two converge in ways that we could not foresee a decade ago.

BTW: did you see how I tied my title through the article? How open can you get! 😉

What’s in a standard

As mentioned earlier, I run the Web Standards Meetup London and really get a kick out of talking the semantics of web-page creation with the excellent people who come to these meetings. I like combining the ease of a digital meet-space like meetup or facebook or LinkedIn with the pleasure of actively listening or truly interacting with real people in meat-space. Some people might find it too geeky, but for me it’s a perfect example of what makes the internet so interesting, the people involved.

Last night for example, we had an hour long conversation about the relative merits of where and what you put in the h1 tag for particular pages in a site. I have seen (OK, read!) some very passionate but polite discussions in mailing lists and the like about issues like these and, personally, it is important to you and your granny that some people ARE passionate about these questions.

Imagine if the people who were responsible for maintaining their websites were not passionate about the lowly h1 tag, and, by extension, all the other tags involved in creating pages. Actually you don’t have to imagine, as it happens all too often and this lack of passion is the reason that visitors have trouble on their site. Badly formatted code or non semantically structured sites can decrease findability, reduce availability in web searching, and break the appearance of the site for people who use assistive technologies, like blind people with screen readers.

So, thankfully, there are some of us who care, and our clients and friends benefit from it. drop me a line if you want to hear more about it.