Engage or be damned

It’s all about engagement

I have already written at length about the importance of engagement on social media for B2B operations,  just like a host of other consultants, but I am still surprised by the lack of overall standards and not just on B2B but B2C too!  These days experiences still range from the sublime to the ridiculous, regardless of market segment or company size.

Good app

A couple of years ago I installed on my phone a nifty little app called WeatherBosocialmediamb.  It’s a meteo app that combines reports from various sources displaying the overall situation in graphic format in a specific locality over a 7 day period.  I won’t elaborate as you can easily download it yourself, for free, from your Google Play site if, like me, you use Android.  When a little while ago the developers issued a new release and the app crashed I reached them on social media –  in a matter of hours I had a nice reply shortly followed by a fix.  In fact it was such a nice answer that we continued to engage in conversation and are still in touch to these days.  I have since become one of this app’s most stalwart supporters – a brand ambassador, you may say.

Bad app

At the opposite end of the spectrum a few months ago I took the ill-fated decision of becoming a beta tester for Facebook own Android app.  Their developers kept spewing out new versions almost every other day (proportionally bigger and slower than the previous one) and when things went awry, which was often, there was absolutely no way of getting a response, even using their own dedicated beta testers Facebook page.  Now I know that in the grand scheme of things I was only an infinitesimal annoyance for Facebook, more like a microbe or a gnat than a human being, but you would have expected more from one of the pillars of social media, especially when their audience was a bunch of  people who like me had (stupidly obviously) agreed to help them develop a better product.  Needless to say after much frustration I simply deleted the app and woved never to install anything from Facebook again.  By the way, you can just use your smartphone browser to log into your Facebook page, it’s normally faster than using their app, especially if you just want to check the updates.  In this instance I have therefore become a brand detractor, and all on the back of my social media experience.

…and bad cooking!

And don’t think this experience is limited to apps.  My wife was up until recently an avid follower of the famous chef Gino D’Acampo.  Whether this was because of his recipes, or the dashing looks is something I don’t particularly wish to dwell on.  Anyway, she recently purchased one of his books and had a series of disasters with one of the recipes.  I tried making it too, with the same dismal results.  As we both love cooking and have a few decades under our belts in that department I looked in detail at the list of ingredients and realised there was something unusual.  I commented this to my wife and as she followed him on social media (no, don’t say anything…) she attempted to communicate with his team (you don’t really think that personalities write themselves?) but she gave up as nothing made them engage – not even an acknowledgement, nada.  I prevented her from throwing all his books away, or deep frying every page, but she now detests the man.  Another social media experience gone awry just for lack of engagement.

Risky business

So, here we have some radically different social media engagement experiences, yet I am sure reflecting everyday’s reality for most people.  Quite why many commercial ventures continue to mistake social media for push advertising is a mystery to me.  While it’s almost inevitable for behemoths like Facebook to raise two fingers at their audience, particularly when they enjoy a de facto monopoly, for smaller brands ignoring social media good practices is a risky tactic.  When it comes to social with the right processes in place it is perfectly possible to drive sales upwards at a fraction of what would be required by using more conventional channels.

I know that calculating the real value of engagement isn’t easy and it often needs the support of well established customer relationship management tools in the background, together with sound commercial practices, but it is possible with proper support from social media consultants.  For now though, if you ever thought of becoming a Facebook beta tester take the ice bucket challenge first – you may feel refreshed and therefore more open to consider investing your time in more rewarding ways.  And don’t bother contacting Mr D’Acampo either.

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?