All things Google

The latest design from google

The latest design from google

Those who know me well know that I have a soft spot for all things Google. Perhaps it’s because I witnessed the development of search engines since the old days of Excite or Altavista and Lycos. When Google came out it was like a breath of fresh air.  Further on the company continued with missionary zeal along the path of innovation, another subject close to my heart. How could I not love Google therefore?

I am no dreamer, so I am sure it has its foibles and there are good and bad people in Google too (hopefully more of the former!).  Anyway, I couldn’t help pushing across to you today the excellent synopsis published only a couple of hours ago by The Verge on the 17 Most Important Things announced by Google.  Do take a few minutes to look at this article, it’s very pictorial and packed full with information about the very latest development from that company.  It would be truly amazing especially if Google really managed the provision of a cheap Android smartphone for the developing world.

There is also a new Google design, called Material Design apparently, which is truly cutting edge and fresh.  Here is the link to the Material Design page.

Short piece from me today, but I have a dawn start for a very early morning flight from LGW, enjoy the article from The Verge!

Link

Global Environmental Perception Index Way Down

Aside from my passion for B2B online communications, technology and all things that can unexpectedly go bump in the night… I dedicate most of my spare time working to preserve the environment.  I was therefore perturbed to learn that at global level environmental perception is now on the way down, despite all warnings that things are actually getting worse.

Rather than pasting the full article I recently wrote I invite you to read it in its original format from the link above.  I hope you won’t mind but it really is bad practice to copy and paste content across sites…

B2B Social Media – Not for the Faint Hearted

I have always been one of social media’s more stalwart proponents, in the firm believe that what has kept humanity going up to the present days has been, well, exactly that, human interaction and engagement; which is really what’s at the heart of effective and engaging communication through this media.

Getting on my soapbox

At the start of my social media crusade, and partly also because I have always operated in B2B, it was a hard and unrewarding battle.  Let’s face it, five years ago many B2B senior executives had barely grasped the significance of the web – social media was something they had heard either on TV or from their kids.  A few enlightened souls were always around of course, there are communication innovators in B2B too, but these were in a minority.  Then slowly, very slowly, things changed.  At first timidly too (I remember witnessing the embarrassment of the few innovators present at trade shows when they admitted using social media); then questions were raised about ROI (the classic bean counters ploy to buy time before they are forced to put money into something new).  Now these questions are of a different nature and much more significant.

The thoughts below are based on my experience of running B2B social media channels with tens of thousand of followers, so I can say, modestly, that these points come with a certain degree of authority.

Some social media stats

Some social media stats

I can’t of course begin to list every single issue, but from my perspective there are two significant topics.  The first is content.  The second one concerns organisational processes.

It’s all in the content

Content is king across all online communications.  If your organisation’s idea of content marketing is to regurgitate online the same information as the one in your printed data sheets you don’t deserve to be in business in the 21st century.  If content rules on the web when it comes to social media its significance is even greater.  Take tweets, for example. Getting someone’s attention in just under 140 characters is no mean feat (I am saying under 140 as some will be eaten by URLs).  In fact a top tweet is a true editorial achievement.  Its success is easily measured by the number of retweets and/or conversations.  A similar principle (though a little more relaxed, perhaps) applies to all other social media channels too.

Think of your favourite pub

youtubestats

from mediabistro – click to go to page

I have always likened social media channels to catering outlets. Twitter has its own peculiar atmosphere. It’s the fast food of social media channels – you expect to be served in no time, with no fuss and given goods of a consistent quality. Facebook is instead more like your traditional coffee-house, you have more time to engage, you need to be more visual because people will be looking at you for longer and are allowed to be a little, well, silly even.  I am not going to list them all here, but I hope you are getting the gist. So the corollary of all this is that you absolutely need to create content which is appropriate for each individual channel, not just of a one-size-fits-all kind.

Tearing down your beloved processes

Now we come to processes.  In the – not so old – days you could push something on your website and if you were smart enough your content might generate a few email inquiries. These were easily dealt by your (probably) sluggish internal processes, typical of most B2B operations.  But now social media has opened the proverbial Pandora’s box.  pandorasboxDo you have a twitter feed?  You need to monitor it almost 24/7 and respond in a timely fashion, certainly no more than in a few hours for a serious request, or even minutes in a crisis. The other consideration is that you can’t possibly just let one person deal with all those channels.  If your company is really good at social media you are probably likely to have hundreds (if not thousands) of true (as in not bought) followers.  As you crave engagement, your followers will be firing questions at you from all angles. Some of these queries will be customer service ones, others will be of a technical nature, some may be employment related and the list is almost endless.  Unless you employ someone with a super brain, pleasant, cheerful and fantastically knowledgeable (which you will probably have to pay a small fortune) you simply can’t do this without the help of a small team and preferably by assigning social media roles across your entire organisation – regardless of its size.

Here comes the rub for many companies.  For decades, executives have jealously guarded knowledge and information within all organisations, creating complex gatekeeping processes.  Now, at a stroke, we are asking the same executives to trust a large number of their employees implicitly and to show levels of openness which have been unheard of. By the way the new approach also means making people really work together (breaking down silos and all that, and not just in words).  Oh, I nearly forgot, don’t bother giving social media to agencies either, regardless of their promises they can at best help you with initial implementation and other basic stuff, after all, would you outsource your Customer Service?

Well, my dear reader, this is where online marketing in the 21st century is taking us.  Few businesses have grasped the cataclysmic nature of social media, its enormous power to engage and create true loyalty (not just its illusionary advertising concept) and therefore achieve huge profitability and growth opportunities.  Many companies will fail and fall along the way, but the remaining few will be deserving winners.

Enjoy the ridegooglepls

So, roll up your sleeves, get on with your social media activities, enjoy the new thinking and embrace the latest BIG business opportunity, but one last word of warning, you have to be true to your values and show a real human angle, if you just pretend you will inevitably be exposed as a fraud and could end up paying a very dear price.

But what about ROI, analytics, integration with other communication channels, is Hootsuite better than Sproutsocial, how about media relations, social media at events, and… I hear you loud and clear, but unfortunately there is simply no time for all of that in such a short piece.  In any event, if you don’t get your basic social media strategy right from the start there isn’t much point either in talking about the rest.

If you don’t take my words for it, listen to what McKinsey has to say on the new digital market economy: Few business functions have been as profoundly disrupted by digitization as marketing. The era of expensive campaigns pushing products through mass media has been upended, as consumers, empowered by information, are demanding more and more from the companies they choose to form relationships with. By the way, you can read the rest of that  interesting article here.

PS) if you liked this article and would like to know more about social media implementation get in touch.

Innovation 2014 three months later

A couple of months ago I gazed at my e-crystal ball and published an overview of 2014 innovation.  The first quarter of every year is always a good time to find out how the land lies and whether there are now distinct signs of progress in specific directions.

Of all the subject areas mentioned in that article I am pleased to see that the three I had highlighted as ‘high interest’ remain firmly at the top, with the Internet of Things blazing away and over 140,000 news articles written on the subject, which is ten times more than what has been written so far for 3D printing or wearable technology.

The Internet of things rules

That the Internet of Things (IoT) is at the top is no surprise.  It’s a subject that excites journalists and politicians alike, a simple concept to explain, but immensely more complex to implement (see my article on this topic of April 2013) and as such it receives wide media coverage, together with substantial amounts of government funds too.  The UK alone has committed £45M on the project, announced by the Prime Minister at recent CeBIT summit and more dosh is available across Europe and elsewhere – little surprise it generates such interest as commercial gains could also be enormous.

Pack leaders

3D printing and wearables are neck and neck and I predict that we will see a lot more media interest on these, but fewer real applications aside from science labs for the former and a few early adopters for the latter, though a smartwatch by Prada or Gucci might change all that…  As for Google goggles outside exhibitions and specialist conferences I haven’t seen anyone wearing them and I suspect it will remain thus for a while longer and not until prices decline to much more acceptable levels, or until a couple of media and entertainment celebs would start wearing them, perhaps.

But what about some of the other innovations like super high definition TV, e-government and so on?  Well, I can comfortably predict that super high TV will definitely be widely available and at more accessible prices too from some time this year.  Samsung is already launching a 28” 4K monitor in the US this summer for under $700 so there is no reason to doubt that this technology will not be more established by the end of 2014.

As for the poor memristors we may have to wait until 2018 or beyond….  and some of the other stuff will probably continue to remain in the realms of journalistic imagination. That’s all until the next technology overview, probably in mid summer.

With the wrong infrastructure we are all back to the dark ages.

We can talk about the latest social media innovations, or the fastest smartphones available as much as we like, but behind all this glitz and veneer of modernity there is, at least in Britain, an ancient communications infrastructure which may be failing to meet demands.

You just need to subscribe to even a handful of tech review sites to see the latest in new apps and hardware.  For the most part every innovation comes with a tag of ‘better performance’, ‘higher definition’, ‘improved sound quality’ and so on.  If you owned a smartphone you would have noticed that apps that had started their lives with a few MB of data have in a matter of months become monstrous resources hogs (why is Google+ app so huge?), demanding more RAM, ROM, whatever, for their basic use, as well as asking for privileged access to all of your phone’s inner recesses.  Movie streaming, especially HD, requires greater bandwidth despite the latest in compression, and so on.  But while software developers and hardware manufacturers are happy to push ahead with higher specs, feeding on our atavistic desire for more and greater, the infrastructure that really drives the whole experience is developing at a much slower pace.

We are all going to be on 4G – maybe not.

Take mobile data communications in the UK.  Yes, 4G is (slowly) being implemented.  But I fear once the hype’s over we’ll be back to where we are now with 3G (do you remember the 3G assurances that in a matter of months we would all be virtually on 3G?  How many of you can reliably get 3G well outside key urban areas?).  The problem is that the basic mobile communication infrastructure is ancient, set in place in the ‘80s, rather than the 21st century.  It has since been patched up, but despite all claims no real major investment has been undertaken, and certainly without a long term coordinated strategy.  I often wonder whether it would have been more efficient to have had a separate network infrastructure provider (like the National Grid), with private operators piggybacking on it, rather than lots of different masts strewn around the country but almost totally inconsistent with the fast changing demographics, like travel and population patterns. Could we really ask such a network to cope with the demands and innovations of the 21st century?

Fast broadband – but only when it works.

The situation is similar for providers of broadband through landlines.  While BT, sorry Openreach, plods along towards a  fast fibre optics infrastructure at what appears to be the speed of an elephant through a jungle, other alternative providers like for example Virgin have little incentive to offer reliable services. I happen to live in a village where the option is stark – either take BT  at speeds of between 1.5 to 3.5Mbp, or jump on the flashy, and expensive, Virgin bandwagon and get up to 60Mbp, theoretically.   I can hear people commenting that I should just be thankful and keep my mouth firmly shut,  but the truth is that this isn’t real competition and you do feel it when things go horribly wrong.  And I am afraid to say with Virgin this happens all too often, with days with no service at all, with no explanation and never, ever, an apology (let alone a refund).  It’s just tough luck if you are working and the whole things go down – consider yourself fortunate that you have had a service up to that instant and despite your regular monthly payments of course. I do wonder sometime what would happen if I simply decided to take a payment break, alleging something like ‘I am aware of the situation and an accountant is on its way to fix this’. Think again then if you seriously believe that this kind of competition adds value to customers and if this is the sort of network infrastructure that can really foster innovation.

So we plod along, we buy smarter smartphones, faster computers, download biggers apps, while not giving much consideration to the communications backbone that’s needed to drive all this stuff.  And I haven’t even touched upon what’s behind all of this – electricity. Given the parlous state of our power generation infrastructure and the current climatic conditions we could shortly revert to candles and paper (my handwriting is now appalling, how’s yours? Time to get some practice!).  Shouldn’t we give these issues more thought before we rushed to upgrade our data hogging devices?

The definitive guide to 2014 innovation

As customary at this time of year most technology commentators publish their own forecasts of the top innovation solutions for the coming months.  I decided to take a good look around some of these key sources to identify general trends, scoring them according to the number of mentions.  Let’s see whether this stuff really happens in 2014!

Internet of things to the web of things  (high mention)

Reported in some sources as ‘connected homes’ and ‘connected cars’  – this is a theme that has been cropping up almost every year.  A full implementation of the Internet of Things is still a way off and is based on large part not just on the gadgets themselves (in reality the easy part of the technology) but on more basic stuff like universally accessible high speed internet connectivity.  No doubt we shall see more solutions becoming available in 2014, but universal implementation perhaps not quite.

Wearable technology (high mention)

We have already seen Google Glasses, smartwatches and so on.  Your gurus now predict we’ll be buying and wearing more and more of this stuff.  My guess is that this will depend on prices coming down, as well as trend setters using this technology.

Gamification of business life (low mention)

An interesting concept based on the development of easy and fun to use Apps that have a strict business purpose.

Super high definition TVs, curved too (high mention)

Well they are already around, though frightfully expensive, so it’s easy to predict that as prices will come down these gadgets will become more popular.  We never say no to a good TV set, especially an interactive one!

3D printing (high mention)

Need we say more on this point?

More portable devices, less PCs (medium mention)

Guess this is a trend that has been going on for a while now, so it’s more or less inevitable, hence the slightly lower number of mentions.  By 2015 large desktop units will be confined to specialist applications.

Machines (drones) in the sky (low mention)

Call me a sceptic, but I think the Amazon story was just a load of PR stuff… however, some commentators believe this technology may become popular in 2014 – let’s discuss again in a few months, shall we?

Biometrics sensors attached to devices (low mention)

We are all fed up of constant requests for passwords, but will biometrics really provide the answer to this problem, and just in twelve months?

Ads in everything (low mention)

…ehr… as in, now?

Nanotech advances (medium mention)

Well, why not?  There are already countless innovation firms working on this so it’s quite conceivable that more advances will hit the consumer market.

Cloud explosion (high mention)

More and more people will rely on cloud solutions provided by big companies such as Google, Microsoft or Amazon with less data stored in a local drive.  This will also affect standard IT architecture

The death of email in favour of social media platform (low mention)

Could this be something akin to the mythical paperless office?  Who knows, maybe in 10 years or so we’d consider email messages as we now think about faxes, but in twelve months?  Maybe not.

E government and E learning (medium mention)

facilitating access to government (including health care) and learning has been the holy grail of the last decade, but we all know how inefficient most governments are when it comes to the implementation of IT infrastructures, mostly out of dates, hugely expensive, and seldom user friendly.  Somehow, the E of efficiency and electronic doesn’t seem to fit in well with the G of big Government.

Memristors hit the market (low mention)

I must confess I didn’t know much about memristors (nanoscale devices with the ability to remember their resistance even when switched off) but clearly these devices could speed up communication exponentially.

The web will overcome TV as a form of entertainment (low mention)

…easily done given the quality of today’s TV programmes I say!

…in short

My take is that we will definitely see more wearable and faster devices and greater use of the internet as a channel for business, entertainment and communication on the go (hence more interactive TVs and of higher definition).  While on the one hand some tasks will become easier, others may get more complex and we’ll be scratching our heads with more convoluted security and ID access levels.  Catch up in 2015!

Some of the sources used for this article:

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/technology-science/technology/ces-2014-top-10-trends-2984341

http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2014/01/01/technology-trends-to-watch-in-2014/

http://mashable.com/2014/01/02/ces-2014-tech-trends/

http://mashable.com/2013/12/31/tech-predictions-2014/

http://www.computer.org/portal/web/membership/Top-10-Tech-Trends-in-2014

http://www.itbusinessedge.com/slideshows/top-10-technology-trends-and-predictions-for-2014.html

http://www.futuretimeline.net/21stcentury/2014.htm

Six key communication points for small businesses

Every business, large or small, needs to have a comprehensive and focussed online presence, but while this may be relatively easy to achieve for a company with access to good resources and budgets, including specific people allocated to these tasks, it becomes a more arduous operation for a small business.  In small businesses other priorities tend to crop up all the time and inevitably communication issues get pushed to one side.  In the following few lines I am hoping to provide small businesses with some of the key issues to consider in order to maximise their online presence.

Establish clear objectives and key performance indicators

This is vital for any business.  You need to know what your goals are, in which direction you want your business to grow and how you measure this.  If you are aiming to attract visitors to your venue, for example, you should have profiled the appropriate market segment and established how many of them you can cater for, what exactly you are going to offer them and how much you are planning to take from specific tasks.  Stick your

Local businesses

Local businesses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

business plan on the wall where you can see it all the time, don’t bury it in your pending tray or in your hard drive!  Your goals can change, they will as your business evolves, but provided you have clear performance indicators you won’t go far wrong.  Also, don’t forget to use the SMART format for ALL your business objectives…. Specific, Measurable, Action oriented, Relevant and realistic, and Time based.  In short, be focussed and set up a realistic timetable with achievable and measurable actions – simple.

Audit your current communication channels

Take some time to look around your office and gather together all your offline communication tools (from headed paper to brochures etc), then move on to the online presence and create a short spreadsheet where you undertake a quick critical assessment of each of them.  Once you have done this create a wish list (for example, we want to have an effective social media presence and so on, we need a new brochure or a web site, etc.) and compare to the audit in order to identify shortcomings and opportunities.

Establish your communication priorities – don’t run before you can walk

Never attempt to take up more than you can chew.  Having done point 2 you will probably come up with a long list of activities.  You may feel exhilarated and because things have gone reasonably well you may wish to do everything at once.  Please don’t.  Even in the best possible business growth scenario demands on your time will increase further.  If your list of communication activities is too long you may not have sufficient time to spend on each of them.  This will result in errors or unfinished tasks at best. Don’t be tempted to pass the buck to someone else either in your organisation or outside in the hope that they can get on without any input from you.  Even if you commissioned the work outside to the best specialists around you would still need to sit down with your agency on a regular basis to set up objectives and review performance – you can never wash your hands completely.  So please establish realistic communication priorities from your own personal perspective too.

Set up a realistic budget and don’t forget ROI

When you have identified your priorities create an actions list and then allocated a realistic budget for each task.  You should really always place a monetary value next to each of these actions, even if you decided to do everything in-house – after all your time is money and you’d be surprised how expensive your own time may turn out to be.  So if you decided to tweet regularly set up a calendar action and an appropriate cost based on the time you are planning to spend, including research of course.   You need to know at the end of each period how much return this investment will bring. By the way, the ROI formula is very simple: how much you have earned from your investment, less the cost of the investment, all divided by the cost of the investment again, and multiplied by 100 so you get it as a percentage.  Don’t be disheartened, however, if your ROI is little to begin with – with all kind of communication you need to persevere and what matters is the trend, if positive stick with it and continue to refine until you reach your goal – or ditch!

Be consistent in the delivery of  your communications

By now you have established  clear priorities, have identified specific actions and have set everything in place – you have a battle plan.  The temptation now is to slacken the delivery pace. Messages gets sent out less frequently than at the outset, you get distracted and soon your twitter feed gets used once every few weeks or so, and you never retweet or follow anyone else, for example.  With online media you need to keep up your efforts.  If you neglect your online channels you will struggle twice as hard to reinstate them as your reputation would be dented.

By the way, consistency also applies to how good each message is (is it engaging, targeted and informative?) – you’ve got to strive for excellence to stand out from the crowd.

Regularly assess and review

You have followed these points to the letter, well done.  Now you need to review the way the way the entire communication plan works, regularly.  Failing to do it until things go wrong,  or when your stats show that your online presence is plummeting and it’ll be much harder to put right as you would have moved from a simpler tactical adjustment to a crisis situation.  But don’t expect instant success either, as we said before, you just need to keep an eye and apply the necessary adjustments if and when required, unless of course your business models changed drastically.

Finally, if you don’t have the time to do all of the above on your own, but you have come to conclusion that something must be done don’t be scared to look around for companies or people that could help you.  Not every organisation out there would suit you and selecting the appropriate expert will be the topic of a next blog.  But outsourcing needn’t cost the earth either, especially if you have done your homework correctly and put a value next to each of the necessary actions.   A clear vision and good will is all it takes in the end.