Revolutionary Measures

Is there space for Google Spaces?

Google

Today our internet use is dominated by just a few tech giants – Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple (GAFA) in the UK and US, with the likes of Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba leading the way in China.

What is particularly interesting is that generally each of these is good at one thing, or group of things. We turn to Google for search and email, Amazon for ecommerce, Facebook for social and Apple for mobile apps. There is obviously some competition – Google’s Android versus Apple iOS for example, but in general each giant has stuck to its knitting.

That’s not for want of trying – Google has tried to get into social media several times with projects such as Wave, Buzz and Google+, while Apple tried to launch Ping, a music-focused network. All failed, although Google+ limps on as everyone with a Google account automatically has a logon.

It isn’t all Google’s fault – the most successful social media networks tend to start small and grow from there, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp. Users are attracted by the features, rather than the brand name, and then it grows exponentially through the network effect – essentially the more people who join, the more value everyone involved gains from being part of it. Social media starts at the grassroots, and that’s one of the reasons that people join particular networks. Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook understands this, hence splashing out on Instagram and WhatsApp rather than trying to develop clones of them from scratch. This neatly neutralises the competition while keeping users within your orbit when it comes to the time they spend online.

So that’s why Google’s latest attempt at a social media network, Spaces, looks like it is unlikely to take off in a big way. Described as a cross between WhatsApp and Slack, it allows users to have conversations and share information around specific topics with groups of people, avoiding, Google says, the need to hop between apps or cut and paste links. The trouble is it means installing/learning another app, and as far as I can see there’s no compelling reason for this to make it to the mainstream in its current form. Sure, people will use it to share information, such as when planning a holiday or big event, but it is hardly a threat to WhatsApp or Slack at present.

What would be more interesting is if Google used it as a basis for more complex, artificial intelligence driven services, such as bots that could be sent off to gain information. So, keeping with the holiday idea, you agree where you’d like to go and use Google to collect and sift relevant information, such as accommodation, weather and flight times, and present it in a single place. Given how long it can take to find all of this normally, that would attract users – and of course provide Google with much deeper data on what users are looking for, enabling them to sell more targeted advertising and hence boost overall revenues.

It is early days for Spaces, but it looks like it needs a bit more of a wow factor if people are going to use it seriously. Google has been burned before on social projects that have been well designed, but fallen short when it comes to getting consumers excited – so time will tell if Spaces joins the likes of Buzz and Wave in the failure column or carves out a loyal user base. However at the moment Spaces risks being seen as neat, but non-essential – hardly the best way to attract us from existing applications.

Advertisements

May 18, 2016 Posted by | Social Media, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Where are your customers?

Looking through Ofcom’s latest report on media use demonstrates the transformation that has occurred in the past ten years when it comes to how and where we find information, communicate with friends, families and companies, and which sources we trust.

Ofcom

For every company, no matter what size, it should act as a wakeup call and be used to drive their marketing so that they are reaching the right people, in the right way, at the right time. You can download the 200+ page report here, but I want to pick out five key points for businesses and marketers alike:

1. Everyone is online
90% of adults use the internet, showing that whatever demographic you are targeting, they are now online. Adults currently spend an average of 21.6 hours per week on the internet. Interestingly time spent has not changed since the last report in 2014, showing that it has become a set part of our routines. So, whatever you are selling, your customers are online and your marketing needs to reflect that.

2. Search is the gateway
92% of adults say they use search engines when looking for information online, but more importantly many believe simply being high ranking in search results is a guarantee of quality. 18% say that if a website is listed in search results it must be providing accurate and unbiased information. 55% couldn’t identify or tell the difference between organic search results and paid for adverts, with 23% thinking they were the best/most relevant results. Clearly this will be music to Google’s ears as it shows that paid search has a major impact on buying decisions. It also demonstrates the importance of good content on your website – the more focused and useful your website is for your key terms, the higher it will rank on Google.

3. Moving to walled gardens
Aside from search, adults are now more likely to use apps or sites that they are familiar with. Just one in five (21%) – down from 25% in 2014 – say they use apps/sites that they’ve not used before each week. Clearly, audiences are becoming set in their routines and the sites that they trust. This means that brands need to be visible on these gatekeepers if they are to reach their target markets. Essentially, building a website and hoping that audiences will come is not a smart strategy – if it ever was.

4. Don’t forget email
It may have been around for 30 years, but email is still the most popular online communication medium. 93% of people send and receive email on a weekly basis, ahead of 78% who use instant messaging and 76% who look at social media. So marketers mustn’t drop email from their strategy – it still reaches the right audiences despite the rise of other channels.

5. Content isn’t just words
It is no surprise that smartphones are increasingly the device of choice to access the internet – previous Ofcom research found that we spend more time online on our phones than PCs. However what we consume has got much more varied since 2014. 48% watch video clips at least weekly (up 9% since 2014), and 47% listen to radio stations online. So, if you want to attract people to your site, don’t just rely on words, but engage them through all of their senses.

Given the findings of the report, every organisation should take a look at its marketing, advertising and communication strategy. How does it affect your particular demographics? Are you embracing the right channels to engage with them, and is your budget being spent in the most productive way? Use the Ofcom findings as a wake-up call and time to spring clean your strategy and approach.

April 27, 2016 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What follows Twitter?

The press and Twittersphere have been in tumult this week concerning the unexpected departure of five key senior managers from the microblogging site. Shares fell by nearly 5% as investors worried about the company’s strategy for growth, while CEO Jack Dorsey was forced to take to the social network to reassure the world that the departures wouldn’t overly impact Twitter.

English: Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey, co-founder...

Given that user figures stubbornly fail to increase beyond 300 million, and that the share price has dropped by 67% since last April, the executive exodus is seen as symptomatic of wider issues – particularly an inability to make money on the scale of rival Facebook. Bold ideas trumpeted to revive the network include extending the lengths of tweets from 140 to 10,000 characters, but it doesn’t seem clear how this will increase revenues. In a month that saw social media pioneer Friends Reunited finally close, is it possible that Twitter will eventually go the same way?

Twitter does have a number of problems – many of which revolve around the original structure of 140 character messages, all displayed in real-time. It is easy to meet messages of interest given the sheer volume of content on the site and the user experience is not as immediately friendly as the likes of Facebook (which has also done a much better job of collecting and monetising data on its users and their habits.) When I was in Singapore last year I was told that no-one really used Twitter as they didn’t see the point, and it is true that in the UK and US much of network’s high profile comes from its use by commentators, journalists, experts, and Donald Trump.

So, is Twitter doomed, and if so what will take its place? First off, it does seem strange suggesting that a business with 300 million users is on its last legs, but we live in a world governed by network effect and the likes of Facebook have much larger user bases. And of course, none of the 300m is paying to use the service. Twitter seems like a network that doesn’t have a clear purpose – people tend to use Facebook for personal social contact, and LinkedIn for business. Both of these have bulked up their offerings, with Facebook pitching itself as a channel for customer service, with Facebook Business on Messenger, and LinkedIn’s ability to write and share blog style content providing a channel for business insight. Essentially Twitter is being squeezed, and for many people has become just a signposting tool, pointing to content hosted elsewhere. I tweet all my blogs, and it provides a steady stream of traffic to my posts – although not as many as LinkedIn.

However, I do think Twitter has a role to play – but it needs to be simplified, made more user friendly and above all clearly monetized. Which brings me to a potential suitor/solution for the service – Google. There are three reasons for suggesting it would be a good fit:

  • Google is a master at collecting user data and turning it into a saleable commodity. You may hate the fact that it knows so much about you, but it has built an enormous business on its stated aim of collecting all the world’s information
  • Despite its relatively friendly and sensible design Google +, its own social network, has failed to gain any traction, and merging the two will bring the best of both worlds together. There are allegedly 500m Google + users, mainly because registering for other services automatically adds you to the network, providing a ready market for Twitter – and that’s before you start looking at the hundreds of millions that use Google search or YouTube.
  • Other tech companies, such as Facebook, Amazon and Chinese rivals Baidu and Tencent are offering more and more services. Google therefore risks being left behind in the long term as consumers choose to spend more of their online time with fewer providers.

So there is logic behind a deal – though I’m not sure what the new entity would be called. Gitter or Twittle anyone?

 

January 27, 2016 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

War moves online

Most people know that the funding for the prototype of the internet (Arpanet) came from an agency within the US Department of Defense, and that one of the reasons for the decentralised nature of the network was to make it more robust in case of physical attack during wartime.

Therefore it is ironic that the underlying internet infrastructure is used as a platform for new kinds of attack, from cyber warfare by individual states and as a way of disseminating propaganda by terrorist organisations such as IS.

Of course, governments and terrorists have always aimed to use communication channels to get their messages across. Hence censorship in times of war, and even reporting restrictions during peacetime – I remember the ban on members of Sinn Fein (and other Irish republican and loyalist groups) from speaking on TV in the 1980s and 1990s.

anonymous

Photo David Shankbone via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/ao6MNZ

The internet, and more particularly social media, has opened up completely new ways of reaching audiences, and groups such as IS have been particularly strong at using these sort of channels. One study claimed that IS and its sympathisers controlled 90,000 Twitter accounts for example. Governments have tried to fight back, but the combination of the size and global spread of the internet and the difficulty of pinpointing specific individuals has made their job more difficult. The latest measures, recently announced by David Cameron, include ensuring that ISPs do more to remove extremist material and identify those that post it. However in a fast-moving world, the concern is that it is impossible for governments to move fast enough – as well as worries about the impact on free speech.

Some people are therefore taking action independently. Hacktivist group Anonymous is targeting alleged IS supporters online, recently publishing a list of over 750 Twitter accounts that it claims are spreading IS propaganda. It is also trying to take down Facebook pages, blogs and websites used by supposed supporters of the group. To try and influence search engine results it is flooding some Twitter accounts with images of Japanese anime character ISIS-Chan, making it more difficult for those looking for information from IS to find it.

I must admit that the attacks by Anonymous leave me in two minds. On one hand, anything that reduces the online footprint of a group that advocates cold-blooded killing of those that it disagrees with, can only be a good thing. But at the same time Anonymous is setting itself up as judge and jury – there is no right of appeal if someone innocent is targeted in error. It feels very much like the justice of the Wild West, perhaps because that is what many parts of the internet have become. For example, other groups linked to Anonymous recently took down the website of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, after one of its officers shot and killed a protester, an action that could have hampered the ability of the public to find out information or potentially report incidents.

I’m sure Anonymous is confident in the information it is working with, and when it comes to IS its mission is laudable in many ways, and seems to be getting some results. But surely it is something that a combination of social networks and the authorities should be leading on? The real issue is that the majority of those with the technical skills to hack perceived wrongdoers don’t want to play by the rules – they’d much rather operate outside the law, rather than as part of it. The challenge for governments is therefore not only to persuade the online population of the dangers of IS, but to enlist the help of hackers to work with them more officially if they want to use their skills for good. That won’t be easy, but is vital if there is going to be a united front when it comes to the online War on Terror.

July 22, 2015 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The battle for banking – Amazon enters the fray

In a previous post I talked about how the big four internet companies Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon (GAFA) had quickly developed their businesses. They’ve all moved beyond the sector they started in, extending what they offer to compete with each other in areas such as ecommerce, social networks, mobile devices and mapping.amazon_logo_wb_2328

How have they done this? They’ve used the four strengths that they each possess:

1. Agility
With the exception of Apple, GAFA was born on the internet meaning they aren’t burdened with long-established corporate structures compared to their traditional rivals. So they can make decisions quickly, unhindered by the warring departments and turf wars that characterise first and second generation technology companies.

2. Data
Rather than purely physical assets, GAFA’s USP is data and what it does with it. From selling our search histories to monetising our personal pages, the four companies have built up extremely detailed pictures of their users and their lives. This allows them to accurately predict future behaviour – how many times have you bought something suggested by Amazon even though you had no idea it existed until the recommendation popped into your inbox? The advent of even cheaper machine learning and potentially limitless cloud-based resources to crunch data means that this is understanding is only going to get more precise.

3. Focus on the customer experience
Even though the majority of interactions don’t offer the personal touch of a bricks and mortar shop, these companies have gone out of their way to create a simple to use customer experience. Compare the Apple iPhone to previous ‘smartphones’ – the only difficulty for users was unlearning the convoluted way you had to access information on Microsoft or Nokia devices. I know, I had one of the first Windows phones – the user experience was terrible. Innovations such as one click ordering, reviews and simple sharing all mark out internet companies from their rival.

4. Scale
The final differentiator is scale – and the speed at which it is possible to grow on the internet. Rather than taking 20 years to become dominant in an existing market, companies can create a sector of their own and expand globally within months. Part of this is down to the network effect, but scale has also been achieved by moving into adjacent markets and just adding them onto the offering for existing users. This lowers the cost of entry for the company with the user base and creates a barrier to entry to rivals.

Taking these four factors into account, banks should be worried about Amazon’s latest move as it builds on all four of these strengths. Amazon Lending will make loans to small businesses in the UK that sell through the company’s Marketplace platform, after the service was successfully launched in the US. The beauty of the scheme is that Amazon knows exactly how the small business is performing as it can track their sales, and then use this data to offer selected companies short term working capital to improve their business. As it handles all the billing and cash collection for Marketplace sellers it can even take repayments directly from their profits, before they it pays them, minimising risk.

Adding to this data advantage, it is also offering the same simple to use customer experience that sellers are already familiar with. Compared to faceless or unhelpful banks, this is just the sort of thing that expanding small businesses are looking for.

The ironic thing is that, on the face of it, there is nothing to stop banks offering something similar. Their merchant services arms handle online and offline debit and credit card transactions, so they have access to data that could be used to work out creditworthiness. They have a network of branches to provide loans through, as well as a significant online presence. But all of these are separate departments and banks don’t have the agility to bridge the silos and provide the one stop shop that businesses are looking for.

In the same way that Apple Pay is disrupting payment services, Amazon Lending will take another bite out of the traditional business of big banks. And, as more and more of such services launch that nibble away at banking profits, then they face being outmanoeuvred by nimbler, more customer-focused and cleverer competitors. It is therefore time for retail and business banks to get joined-up or face becoming low margin commodity businesses in the future.

July 1, 2015 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The future of advertising – no ads at all

Aggressive marketing campaigns are common, thi...

Think about it – what was the last advert you saw that you really remember or which made you take action? The likelihood is that nothing comes immediately to mind. This is ironic as we are now surrounded by more and more ads, whether on the internet, TV or billboards. And they should be increasingly better targeted given that advertisers can see our browsing history, previous searches and even what we Like on Facebook.

Why don’t we remember ads? I think there are three reasons. Firstly, we’re getting better at blanking them out ourselves. Our brains are struggling to cope with the huge amount of information around us, and are therefore becoming more ruthless and ignoring things that aren’t relevant.

Secondly, as well as giving us greater opportunities to see ads, technology is also helping us to skip them. Most of us fast forward through the ads on recorded programmes, and given that more TV is no longer watched live (or on a TV), we can save time by avoiding commercial breaks. Even if you begin watching a recording of a programme on ITV 15 minutes after it starts, you’ll catch up by the end, without missing anything but the ads. Websites are also waking up to the idea that you can offer a premium, ad free product to increase revenues. YouTube is looking at subscription model that means you don’t have to see any ads on the site, for example.

Finally, most ads aren’t actually that interesting anymore. Big budget TV ads still exist, but the vast majority are much more basic and programmatic – you do a search for a toaster, and small, mostly text-based ads then follow your round the internet for a week, appearing on every page you visit for example. The creativity is more in the algorithm that understands your intent, finds a corresponding ad and then keeps tracking you from site to site. It would be physically impossible for the advertiser to create hundreds of creative ads telling you about how their toaster will change your life – there simply isn’t the time or space to do it.

I’m sure there are wonderful long form TV ads out there, but apart from the Christmas campaigns (which have become part of the festive experience) I’m not watching them, and I don’t know who else is either. There don’t appear to be ads that tell your friends about, like the Tango, Guinness or Levis campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s. Too many TV or billboard ads are generic or ‘good enough’ in the eyes of the client, rather than pushing the boundaries. Targeting is replacing creativity as the key factor in success, so what does this mean for the advertising industry?

It could mean the end of ads as we know it. Brands are looking for different ways to engage with customers, so are putting their money into sponsorship of programmes, sports and events, content marketing and campaigns on social media. However swapping the TV ads you’ve always done for a Facebook or YouTube-based programme requires a leap of faith from marketing directors and ad planners alike. At the moment many have added the internet to their campaigns, for example sharing their ads on their own site, Facebook and YouTube and using cut down versions for internet advertising.

However I think that there’s going to be a moment when the advertising industry becomes ‘digital first’ and the swashbuckling creatives and Don Drapers will be replaced by data scientists and content marketers who can use technology to understand and reach audiences, as opposed to untargeted TV ads that may win prizes for creativity but don’t deliver ROI. In many ways this will be a shame, but shows that whatever industry you are in, digital can and will disrupt everything you do.

April 15, 2015 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Wandering lonely as a smartphone

Can you remember life before the internet? While your response obviously depends on your age (I can recall fax machines, video recorders and black and white TVs), the number of people in the world with analogue memories is dropping. For example, just comparing my time at university twenty years ago (no mobile phones, no email, handwritten essays) with students today demonstrates a real gap in experiences.

English: Daffodil Daffodil.

English: Daffodil Daffodil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This sobering question is the basis of a new book by Canadian journalist Michael Harris. In “The End of Absence: Reclaiming what we’ve lost in a world of constant connection,” he starts from the premise that soon, nobody will remember life before the internet. It is easy to point to what we have gained in terms of access to unrivalled amounts of information, available instantly at the push of a button or a swipe of our smartphone screen.

However, as Harris points out, we’ve also lost out in multiple areas. We experience our world through technology, with a screen or camera between us and the real world. This combines with the ability to meet all our wants much more easily and faster than ever before. We can buy things quickly, communicate instantly and indulge our wants without having to wait or often make much effort. And this has a knock on effect – we should be satisfied, but we don’t have time as we’re onto the next thing. The risk, as Harris says, is that we believe that things matter less, simply because they are easy to achieve.

The other impact of the internet, and in particular mobile devices, is that we don’t have the opportunity to be bored or to appreciate the world around us. We lose our sense of wonder, as rather than studying a bird building a nest while we wait for the bus, we’re checking our email. Rather than writing about wandering lonely as a cloud, would Wordsworth today be taking selfies of himself with daffodils and posting it on Instagram? We’re always connected and continually worried that we’re going to miss out on the Next Big Thing.

On the positive side, I think Harris isn’t alone in understanding the need to disconnect. I see an increasing number of people running, cycling or walking, and while they use technology to show where they are, listen to music and see the speed they are going, they are at least unhooked from the broader internet for a few minutes at least. But what we need are more opportunities for solitude and day dreaming. When was the last time you did nothing without worrying about what you are missing out on?

It is easy to come across as a Luddite when it comes to being concerned about the impact of technology – after all I’m typing this blog on a PC, posting it online and then shouting about it on social media. However, as Harris’s book argues, it is probably time to take a hard look at what we risk losing with the onward march of technology and to take action (or should that be inaction) to reclaim solitude, human to human interaction and a bit of plain idleness.

September 10, 2014 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The internet – too much choice?

Bangor Pier, Bangor, North Wales

Bangor Pier, Bangor, North Wales (Photo credit: timdifford)

I’ve just been booking my Summer holiday and like most people nowadays turned to the internet to sort everything out. And some of it was fun – such as using my iPad and Google Maps to zoom in on unsuspecting French villages to check exactly how far a potential holiday home was from the beach and how close to major autoroutes. But after trawling through what felt like hundreds of properties on multiple websites to read reviews and get the best possible house at the best possible price I eventually wondered if it was really worth it.

Instead of spending extra hours surfing and comparing could I have just saved the time by walking into my local travel agent, giving some basic details and letting them do the rest? If it all went pear-shaped I had someone to blame (compared to which I’m on the hook if the villa of our dreams is next to a sewage works) and while I’d have paid over the odds I’d not have to experience some of the truly unhelpful travel/tourism sites that seem to litter the web.

I appreciate I’m coming over all Luddite here, but it made me think of a broader point. The internet has revolutionised our lives and made it as easy to book a weekend in Bangkok as one in Bangor but overall it hasn’t really saved us any time or removed stress. Think about car insurance – 15 years ago it was a question of going to a broker or renewing with your existing insurer. Now you can spend days tracking down the best deal and then playing off two companies against each other as you haggle to save an extra £5 or so.

Essentially we’re stuck in the middle – we want the benefits of the depth and scale the internet gives us, but even with search engines finding what you want is akin to locating a needle in the proverbial haystack. You’re more likely to find a cute kitten instead. What we actually need is a way of making the internet smart so it understands about us, learns what we like/dislike and uses this to run our lives – like an enormously powerful Amazon recommendation engine. Or alternatively I should find someone I can just outsource my holiday planning to……………

Enhanced by Zemanta

May 8, 2012 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment