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Grandma DJOnce upon a time, as testified by the mighty Kevin and Perry’s Go large, rave was all the rage. Glow sticks and whistles were actually very cool, and if you whoop-whoop’ed in a club, that was just ‘wicked’. Now, such behaviour is not wicked at all, it’s not even cosmic. Doing running man and saying ‘Mad for it’ in anything but jest and you can expect a swifty backhander.

You can still find a genuine, old school rave scene in certain more isolated pockets of the UK, for example those regions where the mullet is still fairly commonly seen in a phoenix nights style, local pub accommodating a few sheltered but very serious old school ravers with nowhere else to go. Think, Ayai Napa, Blackpool, most of Slough .. However if you are part of the new school cool which rightfully we all feel we are, you would rather eat your own head then be seen in such a place.

Here in the capital, newly launched, trendy nightclubs and cocktail bars probably have a lifespan of less than 6 months of celebrity spotlight before the heat reader crowd descend, complete with the tank top and chino wearer’s in tow, meaning you are compelled to move on if you want to be on the pulse of the next great thing and disassociate yourself from all those other ‘mainstream losers’. Heaven forbid you get caught in the same club as your grandma, no one wants to see your Grandma do the robot – your reputation would be ruined.

These bars and clubs generally tend to disappear in time, upstaged by better, trendier places or copy cats who rip off the edge our club once had to cannibalise your crowds. The length of their existence correlating with the gravity of their deviation from the boring, mainstream norm at their point of launch. This is what I like to call the nightclub effect. Something I heard on Jason Calacanis TWIST show on the episode featuring Gabriel Weinberg of DuckDuckGo.com, in specific reference to social media and email.

In his guest Tyler Crowley’s view, echoed by myself, Facebook has become no more than a platform for commenting on status updates. Using the nightclub analogy, Tyler feels social media has reached the point where the Grandmas (or in my case mother in laws) are now in the Facebook club. Recent research from Pew Internet found that between April 2009 and May 2010 social networking grew in the 65 and older group by 100%! Read more about this on mashable.com. Personally I love Facebook, but I haven’t checked it for months because it has lost the appeal it once had for regular visits. So we’ve travelled past the bell curve where early adopters are those buzzing around the channel and now we have technology laggards aplenty diluting its appeal. So what club is beyond social media? It’s hard to conceive there will be another layer of communication more far reaching than social media, so you want to head back to where there is a higher quality interaction, which interestingly in Tyler’s view was email. Although, if we’ve been in the email club before then how can this retro view resonate? Perhaps the edge the email club has is that it isn’t what it used to be. The bouncers are bigger than before and have been specifically tasked to only let the very coolest, charismatic people in. We’ve even removed the sawdust from the floor and replaced rusty speakers with a vodka luge. You’re welcome of course, just don’t bring your break dancing Grandma.

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FlowersMy sister recently got married.  It was a gorgeous day: sunny, beautiful venue, stunning bride, dashing Naval Officer husband and groomsmen, verrrrry stylish bridesmaids (well, apart from me who was 6 months pregnant at the time and ever so slightly rotund in a very snug dress!) and the champagne flowed.  The photographers snapped away in the background, and – as all good wedding photographers should be – we didn’t even notice that they were there!

However it was the process of sharing the stunning snaps after the big day that impressed me so much.  I only got married 5 years ago, but I was struck how much things had moved on in terms of showing off the proofs and circulating the photos, post-wedding.  In ‘my day’ (circa 2005), we met the photographer (word of mouth), he took the snaps on the day, we met him afterwards and showed us the proofs, we chose which ones we wanted, he gave us a set of colour and black and white prints, plus a CD of the set, and off we trotted to choose which ones would adorn our fireplace/mantelpiece/sent to the family.  Job done.

My sister’s wedding photo experience was entirely different!

Firstly they found their photographers through a long and extensive search online, checking recommendations and web reviews, reading their blog, checking out their portfolio online and basically doing thorough research.  The photographers were booked, then turned up at the bride-to-be’s house as we were all getting ready in the morning, spent the entire day snapping away discreetly, and off they went well into the evening festivities.

The new Mr and Mrs Phillips were then – in less than a week! – sent a sneaky peak of some of the better shots from the day, via email, as a little teaser. The photographers told Hannah specifically that these were the shots to put on Facebook before too many amateur shots are tagged of them to ensure the newlyweds were able to showcase some amazing photos to their friends and family.  Of course the shots were subsequently forwarded via email to close friends and family to enjoy, shared on Facebook and generally admired by all their internet-savvy mates.  (And WOW were they worth sharing!)

The following week (and we’re talking less than two weeks after the wedding day), the photographers had put a simply stunning montage of ‘part one’ of the wedding onto their blog site (I know I’m biased but I have to say they are some of the best wedding photos I’ve ever seen).  The link was duly emailed around between friends and family and – again – shared on Facebook for all and sundry to enjoy.  The blog received loads of hits and comments from proud rellies and friends, and the photographers were able to gather a huge amount of glowing testimonials for the fabulous piccies.  An invaluable way of the photographers gathering feedback from both clients and their friends.

Blog posts ‘part two’ and ‘part three’ were shared in the following week, and less than 6 weeks after the wedding took place, all of the photos were posted onto a secure part of their website, password protected of course, and the bride and groom were able to share the link – via email of course  – with their guests.  In turn, the guests could send a link, again via email, of any of the shots to their own friends and family to encourage them to buy the photos.  Amazing!  So amazing that another sister of mine has booked them for her wedding later this year.  How’s that for a recommendation?

This is such a far cry from the process my photographer went through for our wedding just 5 short years ago.  I can’t imagine how much things will have developed in the next 5 years, exciting times indeed.

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Face book dislike buttonIs the hype over? Obviously it will not be over that fast and Facebook will very likely continue to face growth rates but these new stats tell me that they might be losing a key target group to build up into a lifelong customer.  Another new study shows that customers are becoming increasing dissatisfied with the social network due to their recent privacy issues,   click here to read more from Meghan Keane on the Econsultancy blog.

If Facebook loses a key audience how will they recover? Is it likely that us as grandparents will be telling each other via Facebook who passed away and who got new grand children? Personally I doubt that but there is silver surfer potential.  Maybe Facebook will need new features that our tech savvy youth will pick up again?  Or they will look to concentrate on a new target audience with features focused at higher income brackets?

We’re all well aware that they are still flying, as more than ever log into Facebook on a daily basis and membership is now exceeding 500million.  But the Facebook Executives can’t fail to notice that something needs to be done – and fast – if they’re to get themselves out of the bottom 5% in the customer satisfaction survey.

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Email working with social.I’ve written recently on a variety of sites about the life that is still left in email marketing – (see for example Social Penguin). With the variety of marketing channels that marketers have to contend with to reach the customer’s ear, are we missing a trick with the importance of the email address?

J-P De Clerk talks about email being his ‘interaction hub’. ”Skype sends me a mail when I missed a call or when someone left a message. Twitter does when someone sent me a DM. Facebook sends me emails when I received an invitation to be “friends” or a mail. LinkedIn friendship requests and group updates: it’s all in the inbox. FriendFeed connections: inbox. StumbleUpon messages, Digg friends, YouTube subscribers, Delicious, comments on my blogs, statistics, social media engagement data: it’s all coming via email. No wonder my email client is my RSS reader as well.”

A Clickz article talks about how the inbox is destined to become the personal dashboard of many

”The integration of social, mobile and e-mail has already begun to settle inside the inbox. Gmail lets me update my status on Facebook, send a tweet, update my blog, and write an e-mail to my mom – all from the same interface. Yahoo integrates with IM and its “What’s New” tab shows status updates from a wide variety of services. Even a beta version of Outlook 2010 integrates social networking. Facebook and MySpace have announced plans to provide primary inboxes as part of their communities. All of this is now accessible everywhere from PCs to iPads to smartphones.”

Even my own blog and Twitter accounts supply me with news about individuals interested in my thoughts.

Jonathan Macdonald of This Fluid World spoke with great engagement at the eCircle conference in Munich about the focus on the individual or citizen as he put it and that focus does need to include an understanding how they lives around using the technology of today

It seems that we are witnessing a real opportunity for the email address to be the key to the many disparate and yet connected channels that today’s consumer (for want of a better word because being a consumer is just one of the mind sets individuals can be in at any one time) logs in and out of repeatedly and frequently during their day (and indeed night).

Client marketers or their communications agencies can create a master key to each of these channels, and use that in conjunction of a better understanding of a ‘consumer’s’ mind set and the channel they are using at that point to ensure that not only the right message is sent at the right time, but also though the right medium.

Of course there are many challenges on the way – such as multiple email addresses, privacy issue and obviously understanding our customers or potential customers better.

But then Rome wasn’t built in a day

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Red signal on the train Network.I have the rare luxury of finding a seat on the Twickenham to Waterloo train early on a Sunny day in May. To take advantage of this incredible stroke of luck, (did everybody sleep in today?) I’m tinkering on my Dell laptop while two other brusque and slightly portly, important looking business men do the same. A quick survey of my surrounding commuters reveals 7 out of 10 are plugged in to mp3s or iPods, and out of the three remaining, two are chattering very loudly (perhaps causing the others to plug in) and another opposite me is sound asleep, or perhaps dead, I’m not sure. Considerately, I can’t hear the ugly hiss of someone’s tinny Britney album, as everyone has their headphones turned to a respectful level. Only one is reading the Metro, a stark difference to a couple of years back when everyone would bury their heads into the latest breaking news about Big Brother or some other daily digest of brain garbage.

This all got me thinking of how quickly trends come and go, which is topical to my visit to the iMedia Agency summit last week in Brighton. I enjoyed the conference and met some great people, but the prevalence of organisations, start-up or otherwise in the social media sector was particularly eye opening. Obviously it’s no surprise that social media is an engaging topic of discussion, but the number of sector representatives all jockeying for position as the next potential Facebook did seem reminiscent of some kind of bubble akin to the email sector’s early days.

The great news from an email suppliers point of view as there was only one other email supplier at the entire event, which based on the fact that email has become an integral part of any good marketing plan was fantastic but of course, I guess it depends on why this was the case. The truth is that even though email remains one of the most effective marketing channels, of the variety of blue sky businesses which launched into the space 10 years ago, few remain. This is certainly true in context of those suppliers who managed to get through the steep learning curve of delivering sustainable long term email strategies for brands, avoiding the gold rush at the cost of the consumer or brand and only for the benefit of their brow beating investors.

Man walking next to train tracksWhat remains in the marketplace is a group of companies orchestrating healthy competition centred around delivering quality products, services and value to win the commitment of well informed brands who don’t suffer hit and run tactics or the bad practices of those companies who have long since floundered. To this day this presents my biggest obstacle at eCircle; how to re-educate the masses that the bad practice email legacy they may have seen 5 years ago is not the norm and that you can create incredible customer value leading to sustainable profits relatively easily. It’s a rational response if you’ve had your fingers burnt, but with the evolution of common sense in email marketing it’s a ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ strategy. Rather like saying from now on everyday I’m going to get up at 4am, walk the 13 miles to work in all weathers, because when I used the train last I didn’t get a seat, people had their music on too loudly and the portly man next to me died.

Now where’s the common sense in that?

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The noughties have been the decade that ‘digital’ has come of age. Where Google has gone from a dotcom start-up to a verb. Where we don’t think twice about listening to the radio online, checking our email on our mobile phones, pausing live telly or having access to every album we’ve ever bought from our pocket. Where we can watch films on a games console whilst commuting to work. Where we don’t have to worry about forgetting to Sky+ the ‘Strictly’ semi-final as we know we can go online and watch it back in our own time. Where presidential elections have been won with the help of campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. Where we can vote out odious members of the public or celebrity world from dreadful reality shows just by pressing a red button. Where we can receive emails predicting what we want to purchase next based on our previous shopping habits. Where we don’t even have to leave the house to have our weekly shop delivered. Where we can speak to granny in Australia face to face via Skype.  Where made-up words such as ‘google it’, ‘re-tweet’, ‘avatar’ and ‘blog’ have entered our vocabulary without a second thought (Source: Digital dictionary).

This very neat illustration I saw today (found from a friend’s status update on facebook!) from the BBC sums up the noughties beautifully.


 What an exciting decade. I for one am very excited to see what the ‘tens’ hold in store. Merry Christmas!

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Going socialForget going green: it’s all about going social. Everyone’s talking about their social media efforts – or lack thereof – and it seems that social commerce (or the business of monetising social media) seems to be scaring the hell out of many marketers who feel they’re missing the boat because they’re simply overwhelmed by the options. People are talking to their networks about how to live, eat, socialise, date, shop, vote etc.  This dialogue, otherwise known as User Generated Content (UGC), is going on right now, but opening up your brand to potentially negative feedback is pant-wettingly worrying…unless you open your arms wide to embrace and deal with it.

‘Tis the season for conferences (or Summits, as our American cousins more inspirationally name them) which are a great way to catch up with suppliers and clients on what’s hot and what’s not. I attended two in the last couple of weeks that had a seriously social slant: Bazaarvoice Social Commerce Summit 2009 (on Twitter: #scs 09) and Webtrends Engage Online (#wtel09).

Here’s just some of the assertions I jotted down: we’re living in an ‘enormously transformative age’ of ‘accelerated digital development’, living in an ‘Always On’ culture of ‘SO-SO’-ing (we all ‘switch on[line] to switch off’ from work) or indulging in ‘Bleisure, staying constantly connected via smartphones and doing business during leisure time (thanks to the very cool Tom Savigar, Trends Director at Future Laboratory, for those ellipses).

Taking stock of the new interactive world we live in, there are some equally bald statistics giving weight to the commercial potential for social media:

  • 70% of the digital universe will be generated by individuals by 2010 (Source: TechCrunch 2009)
  • Facebook is now the 4th most-visited website, with more than 300 million active users of which 50+% are logging in every single day. The fastest growing demographic is 35+ yrs old, people have 130 friends on average and the most prolific users are on Facebook for mobile (Source: Facebook)
  • It’s not just the under 30s who are constantly connected: 33% of 45-54 yr-olds and 23% of 55-65 yr olds are always online, a hugely lucrative demographic segment (Source: Future Laboratory + Virgin Media 2009)
  • Bazaarvoice clients using Ratings & Reviews or Ask & Answer UGC products report big increases in conversion (>10% increase for top-rated products on Argos.co.uk; 40% increase for mistergooddeal.com)

 Putting personality into your brand to create a real, human, emotional connection with consumers, is the first step to a serious social strategy.

 At the Bazaarvoice Summit, the keynote opening talk was Feel and be Felt’ Ze Frank, a frankly bonkers video blogger-cum-social-guru. He advises us to always strive to connect with consumers in an implicitly personal way to provoke a response. Achieving a truly emotional connection is tricky, but if you’re listening to what people are saying – what moves/upsets/amuses/annoys them – there should be common themes upon which to build ‘projects’ or viral campaigns which will strike a chord in your collective customer consciousness.

Take this YouTube clip of an epic water slide off the side of a house that some kids in America made,  which was picked up by Microsoft Germany for the launch of their ‘megawoosh’ website for Microsoft office 2007,…and is surely not far away from the hugely popular Barclaycard water slide ad,  which has in turn been spoofed by Specsavers, my point being of course that these companies seized on water slides because they resonate with everyone.

Creating a community for your brand of online conversations has worked for many early-adopters, either on the website itself or on a network such as Facebook or Twitter:  Topshop has nearly 500k fans who can clickthrough for the latest Kate Moss or Christopher Kane launch, and the  ASOS Community has nearly 700k profiles. Of course, as cool of-the-moment fashion brands, they have a clear identity and loyal/instant user base, but a more unlikely community success story is eSpares (spare parts) – their reviews have become a way for customers to interact and advise others how to fit spare parts properly.

Once the floodgates are open, there’s no going back, so, as Argos, EPSON and eSpares all advised during the Bazaarvoice Panel Q&A, it’s critical to have response plans in place for both negative and positive feedback, with customer service teams, suppliers and manufacturers. Respond to feedback quickly and personally – there have been examples of ‘turnarounds’ where furious customers, tweeting their spleen about a recent purchase or service issue, are spotted by an astute and nimble company representative monitoring their #tags closely, and offer a swift free replacement or discount vouchers – unsurprisingly there’s a tweet volte face and the astonished customer can’t praise the company enough.

To keep the conversation about your brand going, encourage multi-network dialogue and multi-channel distribution of content: share website UGC with your Facebook page and encourage tweets and re-tweets: keep the conversation going! Bazaarvoice also unveiled their Social Network Accelerators, similar to Social Fusion  or share-to-social email products, which ‘close the loop’ to automatically post email content to social sites. Spread the word across other online/offline channels: feature reviews in email, brochures and instore – ‘social syndication’. The Body Shop share reviews and suggestions in email campaigns to drive sales of their star products.

I spoke to one conference delegate last week who was angry with the term ‘social media’, saying social conversations and interactions are entirely organic and cannot be commercialised. But that’s not the point: it’s more a case of capturing their hearts, then their minds and wallets will naturally follow. Instead of focusing on direct returns, through really listening and interacting online, companies have a huge opportunity to use all the multitudinous digital tools at their fingertips to create a real relationship with customers. The Them&Us divide of Corporation&Consumer is blending – a natural convergence of rapid digital growth, a timeless public appetite to interact and a dissatisfaction with the previous unaccountability of Big Corporates in a recession.

Another term I’ve been hearing a lot of in the last few weeks is ‘Building Brand DNA’ (or personality). Thanks again to Tom Savigar at Future Laboratory for summing it up with the latent identities of these global brands: Virgin + British Airways, Apple + Dell. I like to think my company, eCircle, has a very different ‘DNA’ to our more American Corporate competitors too! But if social media is integral to building brand DNA, and brands now reach far into the digital stratosphere, how on earth are we to measure and optimise, as all good marketers ought?

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