Revolutionary Measures

Social networks – command and control centres for terrorists?

It wasn’t that long ago that the only spies in the public eye were James Bond and prominent Cold War defectors. But over recent years high-ranking intelligence chiefs have stepped out of the shadows to appear in public, write books and give interviews. They’ll be inviting the public to tour MI5 or the Pentagon next. It all seems a bit counter-intuitive as I’d have thought keeping a low profile was one of the key skills that intelligence agencies were looking for.

Some of the satellite dishes at GCHQ Bude, in ...

The latest spy to break cover is Robert Hannigan, the new head of GCHQ. In an interview with the Financial Times to mark starting in his new role he lambasted social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, calling them “command-and-control networks for terrorists and criminals.” One of his key concerns is the spread of encryption techniques on common mobile phone operating systems – both Apple and Google have recently made encryption a standard feature that users can opt-out of rather than having to opt-in to use.

This is obviously good for privacy, but bad for those looking to monitor the activities of terrorist cells. In his article Hannigan issued a plea for more openness and collaboration between tech companies and the security services.

But in my opinion he’s overlooking two major factors. Firstly, demonising social media is a bit like criticising the telephone network for being used to plan a bank robbery. It is, as tech companies claim, an agnostic platform. If the police suspect a crime is being committed (or planned) there are processes in place to work with a social network to assist them in their enquiries. Normal people don’t see Facebook as a threat to their safety – though, given what some seem happy to share online, perhaps they should.

And secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there is a lack of trust in the security services. The revelations of Edward Snowden showed, as many suspected, that our online activities are being spied on. Recent revelations about police being able to access the telephone records of journalists without needing a warrant using Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) legislation just add to this.

The trouble with the whole debate about online privacy is that it is becoming increasingly polarised. On the one hand social networks support their ‘free’ business model by collecting and selling data on the interests of their users, allowing them to be targeted with ads. Then at the other end of the spectrum the security services are demanding more access to the very same data. The people in the middle are the users, the vast majority of whom have no idea of how much they are being tracked when they go about their business online. What is needed is more education so that it is clearer about how they can legitimately protect themselves online, rather than both sides scaremongering about the other. Terrorism is a threat to a free internet, but equally so is draconian, untargeted snooping by intelligence agencies and the erosion of user privacy by the networks that we rely on.

 

November 5, 2014 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Big Brother is manipulating you?

As anyone that has read George Orwell’s 1984 knows, the ability to rewrite history and manipulate information is at the heart of controlling behaviour. As communist Russia showed, people could simply be airbrushed from the official account and would vanish from the public consciousness. 1984

Of course, in the age of social media, the web, and 24 hour global media, this ability to control news should have disappeared. If a government blocks a site or a mobile phone network, there are ways around it that spread information quickly, bypassing attempted censorship.

However, I’d argue that the reverse has happened and that Big Brother can operate stealthily in two ways. Firstly, rumours can start and spread unchecked, with the majority of us not taking the time to get to the original source, instead believing something that has been retweeted or shared on Facebook. I’ve had people swear blind to me that a major incident took place ‘because I saw it on Facebook’ – though I can’t believe they’d be as credulous if a random stranger told them the same story down the pub. By the time the truth is out, immeasurable damage can be done – to a company’s brand or share price or a person’s reputation.

Secondly, we believe what our computers tell us, and act accordingly, particularly when it chimes with our own preconceptions. Essentially we think that the complex algorithms that control what appears on our screens are unbiased, rather than reflecting what the site owner has determined in some way.

This leaves us open to manipulation, whether by marketers trying to sell us things or more sinister experiments. Facebook received justified criticism for running an experiment where it tampered with the stories in people’s timelines, seeing what the impact would be on what users themselves wrote. Unsurprisingly the percentage of negative or positive posts had a direct link to the tone and language people used in their own posts.

Now dating site OKCupid has admitted that it experimented on its users. This included deliberately pairing up unsuitable couples and telling them that they were a perfect match to see what would happen. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a little serendipity, but deliberate meddling risks breaking the trust between a site and its users. Throwing in a wildcard of “here’s someone completely unlike you, but why not see what happens if you meet?” is one thing if it is advertised, but quite another if it is hidden behind the veil of computer processing.

Some might argue that this is just a next step in techniques such as Nudge, where choices are ordered in a way to drive particular outcomes. These are supposedly for the greater good. For example, if diners come to the salad bar first in a cafeteria they eat more healthy stuff and if you automatically enrol people in pensions, they tend not to take the opportunity to opt out. But I’d say it goes much further than this, and is about trust.

In many ways breaches of trust are similar to security breaches – something that the user relied upon unthinkingly has been removed, calling into question the entire relationship they have with a company. And like trust in any relationship, it is a time-consuming and difficult process to rebuild it.

So, anyone involved in marketing, media or technology does have a responsibility to be as open and transparent as they can be. At the very least there are legal safeguards (such as the Data Protection Act) that need to be obeyed, but I think companies need to go further than that. We live in a world where people want to have a genuine relationship with brands that they respect and trust, rather than the transactional, one-sided versions of the past. Therefore organisations need to think first about the consequences of experimenting on their users before playing Big Brother with their lives.

July 30, 2014 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media, Startup | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marketing by robots?

Technology has disrupted many industries, radically changing the roles of those that work in them. Thirty years ago, every medium or large organisation had a typing pool, with secretaries that took dictation and then typed letters, tippexing over any mistakes. Insurance was primarily sold face to face through brokers, while buying a CD involved a trip to the nearest HMV or Virgin Megastore.

Electronic typewriter - the final stage in typ...

Electronic typewriter – the final stage in typewriter development. A 1989 Canon Typestar 110 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is now marketing’s turn to feel the impact of technology change. When I started in PR 20 years ago, technology essentially involved a desktop PC, a landline and a fax machine. I remember setting my heart on being promoted in order to ‘earn’ a work mobile phone and the excitement when internet access and email arrived. Things have changed a great deal, but essentially by simply automating existing processes. Rather than physically posting press releases to journalists, PRs now send an email, and marketing campaigns are now integrated and include digital channels. And you could argue that these changes have benefited PR and marketing – the sector is larger than it was, with more senior level practitioners.

However, digital business as usual is no longer enough. Marketing is now being transformed by technology, with those working in it enabled by a whole range of new tools and abilities that completely change how the entire industry operates. This is being driven by three key trends – the rise of Big Data, social media, and improved, end-to-end measurement tools.

1. Big Data – beyond the hype
We live in a world where data is being created an astonishing rate. And much of this data is personal information created on social media and consequently of interest to marketers. You can select target audiences to advertise to using the most narrow of parameters – if you want to reach one armed female ferret fanciers in Altrincham it is easy to do. But to make Big Data work for marketing, you need to learn technical and real-time analytic skills that can be at odds with the traditional annual or six monthly campaign-based approach that many people were brought up on. You also need flexibility, a desire to experiment to see what works, a willingness to learn from mistakes and a focus on constantly adapting and improving what you do.

2. Social Media – the balance has shifted
The relationship between marketers and consumers used to be balanced firmly in favour of corporate suits. Campaigns were launched at their target markets, and while there was some market testing, it was normally late in the process. Social media changes all that – consumers have the chance to have their opinions heard by a global audience instantly, uncontrolled by marketing organisations. The latest example of this is the Comcast case, where a call to cancel an internet connection degenerated into the customer service agent berating the consumer for having the temerity to try and leave. Over 3.5 million people listened to the customer’s recording of the call in just a few days. Marketers have lost control of the conversation.

3. You can measure everything
One of the traditional issues with PR used to be that it was difficult to measure. At a simplistic level you could count clippings, or even assign them a monetary value based on advertising rates, but these were crude and didn’t link to other marketing disciplines. Now you can measure everything, seeing exactly what a prospect has viewed on the way to a purchase and use Big Data algorithms to weight the relative impact of every contact on the eventual sale. Software enables you to link different channels seamlessly, so in terms of PR and social media you could see how individual articles or tweets have moved the customer journey forward.

So, some of the skills that marketing people took for granted as useful – empathy, the ability to schmooze and being good on the phone/in meetings – are no longer enough. You need to be able to use technology as a lever to better understand customers in a scalable, real-time way, and have the strategic skills to create content that will best reach them. For a traditional industry such as marketing this does mean changing how people operate – which can be uncomfortable and even threatening to experienced marketers. However the prize is worth fighting for. Marketers have the chance to not only prove the value of what they do, but increase their own standing within their organisations by taking a more strategic role. All they need is an open mind and a desire to embrace their more analytic and technical sides.

July 23, 2014 Posted by | Marketing | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The first social media World Cup?

With the World Cup almost upon us, we’re in the midst of a slew of big budget ad campaigns, coupled with unrestrained hype about the potential prospects of England making it further than the group stages. And of course we have the obligatory ‘will the stadia be ready?’ and ‘FIFA is corrupt’ stories on the front page of most newspapers.

English: FIFA World Cup Trophy Italiano: Trofe...

With its global audience, the World Cup has always been a magnet for brands, something that has swelled FIFA’s coffers. Obviously you don’t need to be an official sponsor to jump on the bandwagon (provided you are careful you don’t infringe copyright). For example, bookmaker Paddy Power has already come up with a (for them) remarkably restrained campaign, commissioning Stephen Hawking to look at the factors necessary for England to win the tournament. Just avoid penalties – as the renowned scientist pointed out when it came to shoot-outs “England couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo.”

This should be the first real social media World Cup, with traditional broadcasting sharing the stage with the likes of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. As the marketing focus has shifted online, and more towards real-time activities, it does mean the playing field has levelled. It doesn’t quite let Accrington Stanley take on Brazil, but it offers a better opportunity for non-sponsors to get involved and engage with fans. Good, creative, well-executed campaigns don’t necessarily require enormous budgets, but do need brands to understand social media influencers and reach the right people if they are going to succeed.

Looking at social media, YouTube has been the early front runner, as brands increasingly put their video adverts on the site, either in addition to big budget TV slots or as an alternative for smaller brands. Castrol’s Footkhana ad, featuring Brazilian footballer Neymar and rally driver Ken Block has already had over 15 million views on YouTube, a figure that is bound to increase as the tournament nears. Nike’s ad, featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, was seen online by 78 million people in four days – before it even went on TV.

When we get to the matches themselves, expect a flurry of activity as brands try and embed themselves into second screen conversations. Facebook estimates that 500m of its 1.28 billion users are football fans, while the 2012 Champion’s League final generated 16.5 million total tweets. Social media has already become a major part of big sporting events – and the World Cup will demonstrate this. It gives non-sponsors a chance to muscle in on the action, but is going to require a combination of good planning, quick reactions and genuinely engaging content if they are going to actually reach the right audience. Competition will be fierce – as well as brands, pundits, media organisations and the general public will all be looking to have their say, so expect Twitter records to be broken.

In essence there are three competitions going on simultaneously – on the pitch, between brands and also between the social media networks as they look to monetise their members and wrest advertising and marketing budgets from traditional channels. All of these promise to be fascinating contests – however far England actually get.

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June 4, 2014 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time to hit mute on Twitter?

twitter fail image

Twitter is currently in a bit of a pickle. Since it floated on NASDAQ its stock has been falling, culminating in a drop of 10% in after hours trading when it recently announced its Q1 results. The reason for the beating? A combination of slowing growth in user numbers, a trading loss of $132 million, and the ability for staff and early investors to sell their shares for the first time.

But it is important to put things in context. User growth did slow, but Twitter still added 25% more people to its network, bringing total numbers up to 255 million. And it actually made a modest profit by some accounting standards (and certainly improved from last quarter’s $511 million loss). The company is still worth over $24 billion – about the same as breakfast cereal maker Kellogg’s for example, and a lot more than LinkedIn.

Essentially sentiment has turned against the microblogging site, with investors disappointed that it isn’t growing or adding new services in the same way as Facebook. The issue is a classic one of people expecting too much and then punishing a company for not delivering what they dreamt of.

Twitter is really hamstrung by the simplicity of its service. You go on, give a 140 character update on what you think is interesting, see what other people are saying and have a conversation or two. Yes, you can share other content, such as video and photos, but as Twitter is finding it is difficult to monetise conversations, based on the limited information it holds on users compared to the likes (or should that be Likes?) of Facebook. So any new features are correspondingly limited – you can now mute people that you still want to follow, but don’t actually want to listen to (how very polite!).

There are interesting things happening on Twitter – Amazon is experimenting with the ability to add items to your shopping basket through a tweet, for example. Where it is really succeeding is in becoming the mainstay of live interaction around big events, from football matches to breaking news stories or TV shows. 5.3 million tweets were sent around the Eurovision song contest on Saturday night – a new record for a non-sporting event. And more and more companies are using the channel to give customer service support, both in terms of spotting aggrieved customers and offering a faster alternative to email.

The point is, anyone that bought Twitter stock thinking they’d got the new Facebook was, frankly, delusional. But it is time for the social network to be a bit more adventurous and start thinking outside the 140 character box. In the same way that Google is built on capturing and analysing billions of pieces of user data, Twitter needs to better understand its members and actually monetise them more effectively. I appreciate that this sounds a bit mercenary for social media purists, but as a quoted company Twitter needs to spread its wings and fly. E-commerce is one area to look at, but how about creating private twitter feeds for individual companies, enabling staff to share their thoughts in real-time, or providing ready made monitoring packages for TV shows, celebrities or organisations. Perhaps it should buy another, complementary, network such as Pinterest. It could even look at creating paid-for subscription feeds, such as stock prices or business news from the likes of the FT or The Economist. The more you think about it, Twitter is no turkey – but what it needs is to both innovate and show the market that it coming up with cool new stuff if it isn’t to go the same way as MySpace or countless others…………

 

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May 14, 2014 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Generating a network effect – why WhatsApp is worth $19 billion

As I’ve said before, the technical side of creating a new social network is relatively easy – and nowadays with cloud computing you have fast, cost-effective access to the resources you need to scale it in line with demand.

Diagram showing the network effect in a few si...

But how do you create the demand – for your social network or any other service in today’s complex and fast-moving world? Essentially you rely on the network effect – the fact that the more people use a service, the more valuable it becomes to each user. A classic example is the telephone. If one person is connected, it is worthless, but add more users and the positive effects increase dramatically – you actually have someone to call. It can also drive lock-in – if 80% of businesses use Microsoft Office there are compatibility issues for those that don’t, but who want to share documents with them.

Social networks are a classic example of the network effect in action – the bigger Facebook gets, the more people are on it who you know and supposedly want to communicate with. WhatsApp is another. It has built a base of 450 million users – 70% of whom are active on a daily basis. And as it allows free texts to be sent between users (and doesn’t cost to join for the first year), why wouldn’t you sign up to message your friends? No wonder it is predicted to hit the billion user mark in the relatively near future.

So how do you create the network effect and catapult your startup into the $19 billion bracket? There are six things I think are necessary

1              Word of Mouth
Obviously people have to know about your network or service, but traditional PR and marketing can only take you so far. What you need is people to recommend it to their friends, so start by researching and targeting the nodes of networks (i.e. those with lots of connections). If they join then their followers will as well. Approach these people and maybe even make them brand ambassadors to get them onside.

2              It has to be different
In open markets there is no point trying to simply copy what is already out there – if people are already using a service, the alternative has to be different or substantially better, if they are going to join. What issues/problems do people have that you can solve? In the case of WhatsApp it is removing the cost of sending text messages, so there is a clear advantage of moving to the service.

3              Make it easy to use (and free)
An obvious one, but if people log on and have to navigate through a maze of functions when they join, they are going to be put off. From registration to ongoing use, make things simple for people. And you have to understand and appeal to a mainstream audience – test it out on real people, rather than early adopters and fellow geeks. An intuitive user experience and comprehensive online support, including video and how to guides are a must if you are to grow. Put it where people will use it – on their mobile devices as well as PCs. And the basic package has to be free if you want to recruit major numbers of people.

4              Make it compelling
Just getting people to join is the easy part – network effect relies on them actively using the service. LinkedIn had this problem a few years back. Everyone had joined, but no-one was logging on, unless they were actively looking for a job. It changed this by adding in compelling content that aims to drive you back to the site – from the thoughts of business leaders to seeing what your peers are doing. You need to create reasons that drive people back to your site on a daily or even more frequent basis if you are going to build a solid user base. 

5              Think global from the start
When it comes to tech and the web, you need to think global. Does your proposition work in Delhi as well as Derby? The wider the target market, the bigger the potential user base, provided you make it appealing to a worldwide audience. Even if your site is initially just in English, the user experience has to be understandable by non-native speakers. As things grow you should quickly add other languages, dependent on demand.

6              Keep evolving
Nothing stands still – since its acquisition, CEO Jan Koum has announced that WhatsApp will offer voice calls on its platform, putting it in direct competition with Skype and traditional telecoms companies. You need to add new services and functions to both keep momentum going, ensure users return regularly and to recruit new ones.

The success of WhatsApp demonstrates it is less about the technology, and more about generating network effect if you want to attract a lucrative exit. Is it worth $19 billion? If it can continue its growth, introduce new paying services and bolster Facebook’s own platform it might just be.

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February 26, 2014 Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media, Startup | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

10 changes that Facebook has made in ten years

This month Facebook celebrates its tenth birthday, having come a long way from Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room in 2004. Hitting 1.23 billion active users and 2013 revenues of $7.87bn points to an astonishing growth in just a decade – though several researchers have tried to spoil the party by pointing out that teenagers have been deserting the social network in favour of cooler locations such as WhatsApp and SnapChat. On the flipside there’s been an 80% growth in those over 55 joining up – and from an advertiser’s point of view, which is the demographic with most money?

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

As the parent of a ten year old, albeit one that hasn’t delivered any revenues yet, it is amazing to see the impact that the social network has brought, not just online, but to the world around us. This is particularly true when it comes to marketing – ten years ago digital marketing essentially meant creating a website, SEO or sending out emails, rather than the relatively sophisticated profiling that is now possible through Facebook.

So here’s my top ten things that Facebook has changed:

1              Our language has evolved
Ten years ago we liked things. Now we Like them, and friend and unfriend people in the real world, as well as online. Poking publically is still frowned upon though. The language of Facebook has added and amended written and spoken English, and made it into the Oxford English Dictionary.

2              Marketers have traded control for access
If you told a marketer ten years ago that they’d move from investing their budget in their own websites to fitting their content inside the constraints of a presence on a third party network they’d have laughed at you. But essentially that is what Facebook has done – consumer marketers feel they have to follow their target audiences onto the site and interact with them, if they are to drive engagement.

3              Consumers are now in charge
The relationship between companies and consumers used to be one way and top down. The very word consumer conjured up a vision of passive purchasers lapping up whatever was marketed to them without complaint. Social networks have turned this on its head. Got a complaint? Disagree with what a company is doing? Facebook (and, of course, Twitter) provides you with a megaphone for your comments and can reach a global audience within seconds. Brands no longer have total control – as my ex-colleagues Steve Earl and Stephen Waddington have pointed out we’re now in an era of #brandvandals, that have the means and inclination to undermine corporate reputations overnight.

4              Everything happens faster
This isn’t just because I’m old, but we’ve moved from 24 hour rolling news to second by second and minute by minute activity. Move away from your computer for a tea break and you’ll be behind the curve and out of the loop. The constant need to update your status, post what you are doing and react to other people doing the same does give immediate insight, but is it at the expense of longer term perspective?

5              You cast a longer digital shadow
Ten years ago there wouldn’t be much information available online on most people. Now people live on Facebook, sharing their most intimate moments without a second thought. But unlike the offline world, this information doesn’t disappear but remains available forever. So be careful what you post as a teenager, as it may come back to haunt you when you’re Prime Minister

6              News has changed
How we consume news – and how it is collected and disseminated – has evolved beyond all recognition. Facebook profiles are the first place that journalists look for information or reaction to events. Much of our news is shared or recommended by friends rather than genuinely found through our own efforts. Consequently bite-size stories have risen up the agenda, along with a focus on cute kittens and addictive but unprovable gossip.


7              Distance is less important
It used to be that your closest friends were those you saw every day, even if the main thing you had in common was location. But now you can hang out with people you share interests with, wherever they are scattered across the globe. For many people the main focus of their social lives is Facebook, not the telephone or face to face communication any more.

8              Celebrity hasn’t gone away
Social media has allowed celebrities, from the Queen to Justin Bieber, to share their lives and build a direct relationship with an audience, unconstrained by the press. But this comes as a price – you need to actually talk to your fans and engage, rather than shutting yourself away, surrounded by minders.

9              We’re more open
Perhaps too open judging by what many people post. But the stereotype of shy and retiring, emotionally awkward Britons has been completely destroyed by the advent of Facebook. There’s no limit to what people think is shareable or that they believe their friends will find interesting………….

10           We’re beginning to grow up
Our attitude to how our private data is mined and used is changing. When Facebook began, few were bothered about what happened to their personal information – but that has changed as we’ve grown savvier about what it is worth. The next decade will see a fascinating struggle between Facebook (and marketers) and users, as each side tries to shift the needle on privacy.

 

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February 5, 2014 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The all-seeing eye

People are still coming to terms with the lack of privacy that social media and the online world have brought. Some are happy with the fact that ‘privacy is no longer the social norm’ (to quote Mark Zuckerberg). However for many more of us the fact that our every online move is tracked (whether by large companies or the NSA) is a big worry. But at the moment, the usefulness of free online services, such as search and social media, outweigh the intrusion. After all, it is confined to the virtual world and provided you don’t do anything stupid, like give out your house number on Facebook, you can keep your real life separate from the web.google-glass

But the shrinking size of cameras, and the forthcoming launch of Google Glass, promise to merge the offline and online worlds like never before. Whether deliberately or by accident you can photograph and share images, video and audio in real time, without the knowledge of those around you. Combining this with the vast store of digital information on the web enables people and places to be easily identified, tagged and shared. So far Google Glass has privacy safeguards built in – it bans facial recognition apps and requires either a voice command or tapping the top of the glasses to take a photo. However given that there is already a hack to take photos by winking, I can see developers getting round this all too easily.

Should we be scared? The normal argument trotted out by those in favour of increased surveillance is that only the guilty or those with something to hide should be worried. And obviously the ability for the police to identify criminals and terrorists is a major positive of ubiquitous cameras. But what about the person who happens to be snapped where he or she isn’t expected to be – on their way back from a secret rendezvous with a lover, or a job interview that they don’t want their existing employer to know about? The difference between official surveillance, where access to the pictures is tightly controlled, and the world of personal photo sharing, is that everyone can see everything, without safeguards to limit access. There’s already issues with unauthorised photos taken upskirt or down blouse by low lifes with camera phones. Add in facial recognition to these, enabling the victims to be identified, and it makes the whole practice much more sinister.

For me the even more disturbing thought is what businesses can do with this data. Advertisers already have access to your location, your past browsing history and what you have previously bought. Add in what you are looking at, and your reaction to it, and it gives a 360 degree view of your behaviour. Spend five minutes idly staring at a poster at a bus stop? Look at a pair of jeans in a shop window? Expect it to be noted and used to sell to you.

Don’t get me wrong, the proliferation of personal cameras can be a good thing. They can be used to provide information on the world around us – want to know what that plant is or what bird is singing nearby? Google Glass can help. They benefit dementia patients, enabling them to fill in the gaps in their worsening memory. Personal cameras provide a tamper-proof record of conversations that can prevent litigation against doctors, couriers or the police. But in my opinion, the negatives outweigh the positives.

What is needed is a fundamental review of privacy and how it is enforced. And that needs to happen now, before Google Glass and its competitors hit the streets and become mass-market. Social media failed to do this – there privacy was an add on rather than built in from the start and this has had a major impact on how our personal data is shared. When it comes to something even more personal, what we see and what we hear, governments and businesses must act now to guarantee privacy before it is too late.

November 20, 2013 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pick up the phone!

Telephone

Everyone in business today has a plethora of communication channels to choose from, split between analogue (face to face, phone) and digital (email, social media, text, web). But is it a good thing?

As a member of Generation X (roughly defined as born between the mid 1960s and early 1980s) when I started work in public relations the only ‘digital’ communication was the letter (and extreme cases of urgency the fax). So analogue channels were pretty much the sole way of interacting with colleagues, talking to clients and pitching to the press. That meant that you had to develop verbal communication strengths such as being able to respond quickly to questions, give succinct answers and carry a conversation.

And PR was typical of all professions at the time – we were forced to speak to people (even if it was scary) and consequently got reasonably good at it.

But this has changed with the entry into the workplace of Generation Y. Weaned on new technology, these digital natives never had to learn to use email, social media or text as new channels – as far as they are concerned they’ve always been there. Lots of people I know comment on how much quieter today’s offices are as people are simply not on the telephone.

Which brings me to my issue. At the risk of sounding old, Generation Y need to start picking up the phone rather than hiding behind email and social media. It is very easy to craft a wonderful email, hit send and believe the job is done. Research quoted in Fresh Business Thinking found that 1 in 20 18-24 year olds is terrified of using the phone in work – and I reckon that’s a gross underestimate. The survey also found that 40% of 18-24 year olds were made nervous by telephone communication, against 28% of the total workforce.

We’ve all ducked making that call and sent an email instead (whatever generation we are), but here’s three reasons I think it doesn’t always get results:

1              Lost in transit
Most people get hundreds of emails every day and with the best will in the world it is easy to overlook one out of the many, whether deliberately or not. So the end result is that you don’t get a response and either have to re-send the email or try another channel.

2              Lost in translation
Even if everyone in the email conversation speaks the same language the chance of misinterpretation is high. Something that you can explain verbally can appear rude or just unclear, giving the wrong impression or leading to being ignored.

3              Lost in the gaps
With a phone call, or face to face, you need to think on your feet and try and build a rapport. You can change your tone, explain things and actually persuade someone by listening to what they are saying and responding accordingly. You simply can’t do that on email. While someone might come back with a question they are more likely to just hit delete and move to the next email.

I’m not Luddite enough to suggest going back to the days of telephone only communication, but people need to understand that there are advantages and drawbacks to every channel and pick the right one for each particular task. That might be email, social media or text – but it is vital that today’s workforce doesn’t neglect the telephone or we’ll end up as a nation of business mutes rather than engaging communicators.

October 30, 2013 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

easyBrand Damage?

Aircraft: Boeing 737-33V Airline: EasyJet Regi...

Like a lot of people I’ve been impressed by the current easyJet TV ads. Celebrating ‘generation easyJet’, the group of travellers that the airline claims was created due to its low fares and wide range of destinations, it is modern, engaging and aspirational. There’s no overt mention of price (in contrast to Ryanair’s pile them high and sell them cheap advertising), and the overall approach is grown up and comparable to ‘proper’ airlines. The message is travel with easyJet to do the things you love.

However in an age of social media and consumer activism advertising can’t trump reality. Two recent easyJet blunders threaten to undo the slick ads, damage its brand and put off prospective passengers.

Firstly, it initially refused to let a passenger who criticised it on Twitter board his flight. Lawyer Mark Leiser sent a tweet after his plane from Glasgow to London was delayed, potentially preventing a soldier on his way to active service reaching his base in Portsmouth. easyJet allegedly said they wouldn’t help pay for him to get to his destination. After tweeting Leiser was pulled out of the boarding queue and told by a manager that he couldn’t get on the plane as ‘you can’t tweet stuff like that and get on an easyJet flight.’ It was only when the manager found out that Leiser was a lawyer that they changed their mind and let him on. easyJet later apologised and denied that it was its policy to ban passengers based on what they’d said. However by then the damage was done as Leiser’s original tweets were shared around the world and then picked up by major media.

A couple of weeks later easyJet managed to leave 29 passengers behind even though they’d passed through the boarding gate and completed check-in (and had hold luggage on the plane). Interestingly statistics from YouGov found that nearly 10% of UK Twitter users heard about the story, showing the power of social media to spread bad news.

Obviously easyJet is not the only airline to suffer at the hands of social media. After BA lost his parent’s luggage, Hasan Syed invested in a campaign of promoted tweets focused on the airline’s target audience, leading to the #BASucks hashtag trending. Eventually BA customer service responded, apologising for not getting back sooner but (I kid you not) the global airline’s social media team only works 9-5. Like easyJet, BA has an ambitious new ad campaign out now, highlighting its “To Fly, To Serve” motto. No news on whether they are going to amend that to “To Serve (business hours only).”

easyJet has invested over £5m in its new ad campaign and I’m sure BA has spent a lot more. But it looks like a classic case of being distracted by shiny things. A much smaller investment in social media and staff training might not look as impressive, but in today’s world may well go a lot further.

October 16, 2013 Posted by | Creative, Marketing | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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