Confirmed – it’s curtains for review sites

Having had another bad experience despite trawling through review sites I decided to refresh this blog… which sites can we believe still?

Maurice Fantato PR & MarCom

A new reality
switch

This is something that has been at the back of my mind for a while: review sites and I therefore reworked this blog that I posted a year ago.

When review  sites came out I became an instant fan of them, not just as a contributor, but also as a user wanting to cut through the inevitable sales flannel to get a fair idea of whether a restaurant was good, or dreadful, if a place was worth stopping by and so on.   Times, however,  have moved on and I am of the opinion that most review sites have now become yet another tool in the extensive marketing armoury.

Trip grovellers

Take the famous TripAdvisor.  I was one of its very first contributors, so have now got a fair number of reviews under my belt and heaven knows how many of their useless (except to some very sensitive egos) badges…

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On cat videos and more

According to Reelseo back in 2014 two million cat videos had been posted on YouTube, generating an impressive 24.5bn views. But that was two years ago.  Just try checking your YouTube channel for ‘funny cats’ and you will see that it returns a staggering 5.3 million results, with the top compilations averaging around 100 million views each. Apparently every second we upload one hour of videos on YouTube, of which obviously a large proportion must be about cats.youtubesec

I don’t know what it is about cat videos, but they are vastly popular.  Having had both dogs and cats I can only say that cats on the whole display a more outlandish behaviour than dogs.   With dogs we are the masters and their principal aim is to please us.  That’s exactly the opposite with cats, so you can see how their almost unique reactions can make for some harmless light entertainment.

Clearly cats aren’t yet as popular on the web as ‘sex’, which continues to display a very high trend, up to 90% of all worldwide searches at any one time according to Google. Bizarrely, and purely out of scientific research, it appears that Ethiopia and India are the countries displaying the highest volume of searches for ‘sex’ on the web.   The social scientists among you may want to jump on an opportunity to study this phenomenon, I am certainly quite intrigued by the Ethiopian result, but I may leave this topic for another blog.

Now just imagine you were a scientist in alien and more advanced civilization. You’d almost certainly tap into the web as a research source and there you’d inevitably spot our obsession for cats and sex.  In addition you’d also see all those troubled areas of the globe affected by war and the other ills of our times.  One can only hope the scientists of those alien worlds would not create a spurious correlations between the two topics just named.  And even if the didn’t they will probably come to the conclusion that we were completely bonkers and might decide to leave this lunatic’s asylum well alone.

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.

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.

How ‘innovation’ is getting tired

See on Scoop.itPR, Social Media and Marketing

The Wall Street Journal argues that the word is being stretched well beyond its intended use when it comes to products, including a new variety of Pop-Tarts.

Maurizio Fantato‘s insight:

Do you share these views?  Have you ever been asked to report or publicise  and "amazing innovation", when it was merely an upgrade instead?  Were you honest, or did you just go with the flow? Is real innovation becoming less common these days? 

See on www.prdaily.com

Is augmented reality the way forward?

It seemed only yesterday when we were told that QR codes were set to revolutionise the way we accessed information by enabling us to scan the familiar grid onto our smartphone to either find additional product information or access a database, like your British Airways check in option for example.

Image representing metaio as depicted in Crunc...

Image by None via CrunchBase

Two years in internet terms have become like a day in politics in our times; a small change can revolutionise an entire process, dispatching a new process into premature obsolescence.  And this it seems is exactly what is going to happen to QR codes, to be brutally replaced shortly by AR.

AR? Well, Augmented Reality that is.  AR has been around for a while as a concept, but not that long as a viable solution.  Nevertheless AR is at the very heart of what Google is developing with its Google Glasses. But you don’t have to fork out the $1000 for a pair of Google Glasses to access AR these days – it’s already available in an app near you, Android or iOS.

So how does AR work?  Well, it’s really simple, you point your phone (or rather the camera phone) and that’s it, just like for a QR code, except of course you get much more.  For example, with the app developed for the teenage magazine Seventeen you can click on the fashion items you see in their mag and these are automatically added to your shopping cart, discount included.  If you don’t believe me visit their site here.  IKEA has gone a step further, with an app that literally adds furniture from their catalogue to your own room, so you can see immediately how a table, or a chair would fit into your surroundings.  Google Glasses are essentially based on the same principle so as you are walking down a high street you may get enhanced information about the reality that surrounds you, from shops reviews, to special offers and more.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Companies like Metaio from Germany have been at the forefront of innovation in this field for some years, as part of an EU funded project called Venturi, you can even take a look at some of the innovative tools this consortium is planning in theirYouTube channel.

AR is now accessible to almost every company, though at a premium for now.  But as technology becomes more widespread this tool will become much more accessible.  We can’t wait to do our first AR app.

(first published in Creativebasement.co.uk on October 15, 2013)

SEO basics every PR pro should know

See on Scoop.itPR, Social Media and Marketing

Instead of trying to win the battle for dominance, pros in the public relations and search engine optimization fields should be learning from one another.

Maurizio Fantato‘s insight:

As this article quite rightly states in its opening line, the  recent algorithm change by Google has ruffled a few feathers, especially in PR circles.  Much of it is speculation, more so as very few know what Google is really up to and how the next upgrade might even change the goalposts yet again (I speculate that more emphasis will be placed on cross platform and mobile integration).

What surprises me is all this talk about ‘quality’ as this was an attribute that had just been discovered and not something everyone should have been concerned with from day one.   It was always known, for example, which were the most coveted links; just as we always knew that if we provided really informative, engaging  and easily accessible content there was a much higher chance of it to be ranked highly by Google.

So what Google has done is to root out some of the bad practices. Some of these included rebroadcasting the same news item across many channels, in the hope it would make it to the top of the first search engine page, regardless of whether it was really newsworthy. This is now history, and good riddance too – it was just spam under a different guise.

We are all agreed that quality content is king.  Yet producing truly original content requires a professional approach, in depth understanding of the product or service on offer, the target audience and of all other related marketing issues.  It is an inherently expensive process, but then this is what quality is all about – ultimately only quality customers and quality agencies/consultants will survive.

See on www.prdaily.com