Tuesday, 30 September 2008

More justification of Twitter

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase
Increasingly, at meetings and networking events, I am finding that Twitter is getting into my conversations with people. It has clearly grown up a lot and the profile of this tool is spreading way beyond the geeky, nerdy space that it was initially supporting.

However, the usual thing I get is "yeah, I looked at Twitter, but I just dont have time for any more social stuff" or "ok, but what's in it for me, there's no revenue I can earn, is there?"

Others use it, but dont have a clear justification as to why - they just "do".

Me? I used it initially to keep friends and family up to date with my activities, filling a useful, non-invasory, more personal space where they can look if they want, or ignore if not.

I've expanded on that to keep up to date with other people who's work or profile I am interested in, and hopefully vice versa. I have definately gained leverage, and here's a good example:

There was someone who's blog I used to read fro time to time, that I then followed on Twitter, got to understand the real them a little more, then entered into infrequent dialogue. Then I was able to connect to them on LinkedIn, and a while later, when I was looking for a contact at a particular organisation, I found that I was connected via this original individual, so was easily able to effect an introduction. Fantastic!

There are lots of ways to use Twitter to engage, or to disseminate useful information, and I have blogged before (and again) about some, but I found out recently that some enterprising soul (Tom Morris) has set up a London Underground Twitter tracker to spread service information on the lines - its starting to catch on, what would you rather have - an SMS every 10 minutes, 90% of which you dont want to receive (as you are already at work?!), or a feed that you can look at at your leisure, whilst en route to a station?

I think this is another great example of an application for the Twitter tool, just think how easy it would be to do the same if you were a small courier company, with the drivers texting back the last delivery they made, the traffic situation and so forth to a central operator, with the other drivers able to find that information via SMS or WAP; a really simple, non-invasive and time-saving business tool. what do you think?

There's a whole load of tools, tips and advice on how best to use Twitter, which Connie Benson has kindly recently summarised here.

At the very least I recommend visiting these (my favourites):

> Twitter in plain english (well, American, anyway) on YouTube

> A Bloggers guide to how to use Twitter

Rather than aim for a follower profile in Twitter of thousands and have no real strategy for it, there are many ways you can use it effectively in a small scale; I'd love to hear more examples.

What do you think? How are you using it, or why wouldnt you?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, 8 September 2008

Building your personal brand

Chris Brogan, social media expert blogger and speaker in the US, often writes about building your own personal brand in his blog.

He has recently published this excellent, free e-book on the subject and, whilst in the web 2.0 / social media / online world it is something that is perhaps easily understood and related to, in the less-aware offline world of networking amongst business professionals, the same thoughts are valid and have formed the cornerstone of many a business person's networking for years - Chris manages to link the on and offline "rules of engagement" really well.

Many years ago, at a previous company, my boss had several simple mantras that ran through every aspect of his business focus;
He would tell me "people buy people" and
"its not what you know, its who you know"
and, having generated the bulk of his work through personal recommendation for his whole life, would always ask clients "if you are happy with our work, please tell someone else, if not, please tell us!"
It worked.
And he had an impressive, yet simple database of all contacts, clients and prospects that he could easily sift to find a particular person.

I learned early on the value of these words and have always valued my contacts - you just never know when you are going to need a bridge to someone or somewhere, maintaining trust and respect with your network is essential to being able to use those contacts.

Over the years I have stayed tight to those mantras and with the advent of social tools, the whole process is much simpler to put into place and manage.

I can use LinkedIn to manage my business contacts (and now have a clearer idea as to who they can get me in touch with by), Twitter to keep my network up to date on what I am doing, my blog to publish thoughts and insight and garner response from my network and Facebook and other sites to manage personal contacts whilst maintaining a consistent profile across all sites.

Having a clear idea about your personal brand is essential, knowing how to implement it online is the next stage and Chris Brogan's ebook covering strategy and 100 tips on tactical suggestions and ideas should be on everyone's reading list this week. Thanks Chris!

The key things I think anyone should take from it at the very least are:
> Be yourself
> Be honest
> Listen
> Be confident and passionate, but dont brag
> Apologize if you mess up, and be sincere
> Dont try to SELL. Few people like being sold to, but most like buying. Help them to buy.

I hope that my old boss will be pleased that I have developed his ideaology into my own variant:
"Its not (just) what you know, but who, and how you can use it for and with those contacts"

What do you think?

Picture credit Brymo

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Tag clouds - identify your core messages

Tag clouds have been used for a while in blogs and article publications on the internet. They provide a means for any casual passer-by to gather, at a glance, what an article or blog is focussing on. Usually they are made up of the keywords the writer has used to categorise and reference their articles, but often are an indication of the most recurring words in a site. In a tag cloud the most frequently used tags are shown biggest, reducing in size as the frequency diminishes.

Some tag clouds are interactive, so you can click on the tag and be taken to relevant articles, others are merely informational, visual indicators.

Now there is a (fun?!) tool for any blog, article, or indeed, any section of text - www.wordle.net.

You can use it to either trawl your entire blog, or paste an article into the "wordleizer" and let it (after removing all common words such as and, the, in etc) give you a tag cloud where the most repeated words are presented in a stylised fashion.

It's bit of fun, but is useful to see which key words come up most often in a particular block of copy and a great visual check to see if the core messages and aims of your writing are coming through.

Here's one I did for a recent post on Social media opportunities for Businesses:

And the really nice thing about it is that it is free to use, since it is licenced under the Creative Commons initiative

Saturday, 19 July 2008

New BMW Advert - no test pilots

BMW have without doubt got a fantastic and valued brand that has its values deeply embedded, which makes for a great platform for creative advertising and marketing.

This interesting new advertising campaign draws on the implied faultless nature of their pre-owned cars, making a (nearly) seamless jump from a car manufacturer to human beauty, with all their brand values intact. A great example of advertising brand value rather than product.

I was going straight to my local dealer to kick some tyres and arrange a test drive (!!) before I realised that the ad would work just as well as part of a Government STD awareness campaign.

Replace the BMW inset panel with "Get yourself tested" - hey presto!

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Are you missing out on a social network opportunity?

social sheep
The BBC report that Gartner have announced that many businesses are failing to embrace the "huge" opportunities of social networks.

The point of the article, however, is for once not about trying to market via social networks, but about how firms can understand and embrace how their staff engage via social networks to make efficiency savings and improve communications within their business.

But the opportunity goes further. Open-minded businesses can help be involved as staff build tighter communities in their organisations, places where they can share and innovate, in really constructive ways that are so fluid that staff will not even realise they are doing it.

So you get innovation.
And honesty.
And communication.
And community.
Which gives stronger loyalty and almost without doubt, numbers that hit the bottom line and therefore please the men in grey suits in finance, too..

Of course, this will not happen on its own, but an open-minded business can use social networks to truly engage with it's staff to ask questions and embrace collaboration, understand (and then potentially counter) areas of distrust or disenchantment and, in a broader sense, start to show the external world how they are listening to issues and feedback internally.

Its not just about listening, or even throwing sheep - careful use of tools like LinkedIn enable individuals and businesses to use the power of referral and networks of contacts, resulting in richer relationships and ultimately, better business with shorter lead times.

We all like to be heard and social networks enable ALL of us to share our innermost (or shallowest!) thoughts with our friends and peers.

Whether a business likes it or not, its staff, stakeholders and clients WILL be talking about it online, somewhere. So it is best to, at the very least, open an ear to what is going on and try to understand. If the business can engage, then there are potential riches that are otherwise almost certainly out of reach in this new, open World.

Picture credit Powi

Friday, 4 July 2008

Our government using social media to engage us?!

I am going to have to bite my lip very hard to avoid becoming partisan regarding the current (and past!) government, as this is most definately NOT a political post!

As I have posted before, I use Twitter frequently to update my peers and co-workers on what I'm up to, and to keep track of other people's news, views and movements - this is very insightful and I often find things out well before they are reported in the daily press, or even on major news feeds.

So I was delighted recently to discover that I could use Twitter to track events and developments at Number 10, even though I do only have a passing interest.. The point is, Twitter enables a rich stream of news and events in real time, but you dont have to read everything and dont need to respond or save the communication, either.

And, you might even get greeted by this in your inbox, too, which is nice:

The way Number 10 are using it appears to be a combination of manual updates (so they must have a social media manager employed!) and some automated routines that feed a "ticker" of short news clips through the twitter engine. The balance of collaboration over transmission is pretty good too, as I felt included rather than spoken at; many of the "tweets" (a message post to Twitter is called a tweet) offer a link to a webpage where you can interract and feedback on opinion or news.

Whatever your political persuasion, I dont think you can deny that it is a useful and interesting way of keeping up with what is going on at the core of our Government. (And I reckon, due to the limit of 140 characters for each tweet, there is a lower chance, though not impossible of course, of spin!)

Show us a better way!
I was also pointed to another interesting engagement attempt via Twitter - The Power of Information Workforce has launched a competition to find and develop better ways to publish the vast swathes of non-personal information that the government collects & creates along its way. Its an interesting social media project and some of the ideas already submitted show how relevant and how much desire there is for such an initiative.

I was slightly disappointed that no real effort had been made to provide any social bookmarking tools (such as Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon, thereby rendering sharing and conversations about it more difficult, but I guess they have to start somewhere!)

I shall be keeping a close eye on it to see what wins and what else happens as spin-off social projects from this.

What do you think? Is this further careless spreading of our private data, or do you agree its an interesting and progressive project from the traditional and protective civil service?

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The Orange Balloon race is on!

Here's an interesting viral brand campaign. Orange have commissioned this fantastic social media project where you can race a balloon across internet miles and the winner gets a VIP trip to Ibiza with some mates.

The graphics and execution of the race are superb, and the team at Poke have done a great job on it, though I think it is seriously aimed at techies as there is little instruction on how the thing actually works for the layperson. It feels like they got so caught up in the clever trickery of making it all work that someone forgot about the user experience as there is little to help you through some of the registration and starting stages - it seems to assume you already know how it all works already?!

However, an innovative viral concept from which Orange get a rich stream of prospect data and huge amount of brand presence in exchange for interraction with a truly innovative and fun application!

You get to choose a balloon, then steer it over websites along the course (that you can also submit, so other balloons can visit your site, too) and friends and contacts can give you a boost to help you on your way.

We've joined the race, so search out the "preview" balloon and give us a boost! You can see the progress of our little blimp in the panel on the right of this blog.

Hurry, there's less than 6 days to blow our sleek dolphin (yes, I did that on Porpoise!) balloon along!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Get your press releases up to scratch

I was forwarded some information on an intriguing application recently - Hubspot's Press Release Grader.

(hat-tip @mikeashworth) "A friend of mine has developed a tool which evaluates your press release and provides a marketing effectiveness score. This score is based upon basic factors from public relations experts including the language and content of the release, plus advanced factors from Internet marketing experts such as links and search engine optimisation characteristics."

Sounded interesting, but the email sat in my inbox for a few days until I had a chance to write something appropriate (conveniently, I was then asked for something on Go4Fresh's launch to go out to the wider vending and retailing community)

Now, I don't pretend to be an expert copywriter, or indeed, a PR guru, but my experience in marketing has given me an insight into what my target audience is likely to want to see, and in my opinion, the chance that a PR expert is going to know about MY skill, product or service as well as I do is slight, so I am better placed to draft or write the initial release at least. However, since I don't do this every day, it is still a case of learning as you go as to how to construct a press / news release.

So, I duly wrote about 250 words and structured the document as I would for a news release, conforming to expected formats for contact and the level of technical detail. I was happy with it, and without the grader application intervention, I would probably have sent it on for release as it was.

The application is really simple to use, intuitive and helpful - a good start.

It assumes no technical knowledge or PR expertise (so probably will bother PR professionals - though I think that gaining an understanding of how an expert does something helps you to better engage their services; there's only a minority who would want to take it all on and cut the expert out)

The fully-automated report takes moments to come back with a decently organised and well-structured report on your release. I was shocked that I only achieved 32/100 on my first pass, but easily fixable things including; slightly too few words (I needed over 250), I'd missed off some contact details (easily done!) and a slight restructure to provide the information in a better hierarchy, quickly gave me a more respectable 60/100.

The great thing for me (apart from the service being free at the moment) is that it provides a great opportunity to have someone else (something else?) proof-read the document without fear of them rewriting it totally. It is very easy to miss something obvious, or to forget to structure in a certain way.

It is very online-savvy, so helps to create releases that are social media friendly and, if I were using a PR agency, they would now be getting something from me that is virtually ready for them to distribute and work on immediately..

I suppose the only downside is that there is a danger that releases could start to look too similar if all were parsed through this software?

But that's a way off, so try it for yourself (whilst I go and try to eke out another 30 points at least before I distribute it), let me know what you think.

Social media analytics meets Big Brother 9

Now, I am NOT a big fan of Big Brother these days, but I found this very interesting.

We use the clever guys over at www.brandwatch.net to help us "listen" to online conversations, the sentiment and relevance of where and how people are talking about people, products and brands so that we can assimilate the information into a social strategy and advise clients how best to engage with them, and feed the findings into other media campaigns and so on.

However, this application of the software is fun and high profile (in the UK at least); London newspaper Metro feature a chart on all the BB9 competitors and how the public feel about them.

This is not a poll or direct-feedback mechanism, rather a results list indexed by brandwatch scouring the data in over half a million English-speaking sites and rating the views with a score derived from the sentiment towards the person, combined with the number of times they are mentioned, and the profile of those sites on which they are mentioned.

What I find interesting is that, despite this measuring online data only, it is already showing how relevant that monitoring is as a barometer of general opinion. It will be interesting to see if a clear pattern develops between those who are evicted and what the index says - ie do we keep those who we talk about the most or we like the most or maybe even we dislike the most?

Downside to finding this is that I shall now have to keep half an eye on BB9 now...

see the barometer and read more | digg story

Friday, 30 May 2008

10 Tips for blogging for business

I was asked recently if I could suggest some light reading or advise how to set up and run a blog for an expert in his field, who was setting out on a new venture, but had little depth of knowledge of the Internet.

I thought initially, "oh, yeah, guide to blogging, no problem" - then went and looked and discovered I couldn’t easily lay my hands on anything that I would recommend to someone of his skillset - most articles and blogs assume that the reader already knows a fair amount about the media in which you are reading the article itself!

This might be fine for industry people, but not much use for most REAL business people, ie those NOT just in the internet industry.

Like this page you are reading, a blog (shorthand for Weblog) is merely a type of website that is enabled to allow you to add and amend the content yourself - it stores all the entries in an easy hierarchy and offers a simple way of gaining other's input and feedback on your posts (or blog entries).

And there's no need for you to be an IT prof to use something that can add value to your business, through building trust and engagement in your networks.

So, here's my 10 step quick guide to setting up and maintaining your own professional or company blog.

1/ STRATEGY - Before you rush off and launch a web browser and fire up Google to find a blogging tool, let’s get the basics in place and sort a strategy out. Just start with the simple (but usually ignored) top level things:

  • Why are you considering using a blog – what’s its purpose to be?
  • Who will read it – who are your audience?
  • Who is going to write and maintain the blog? (Even who is going to write it, it doesn’t have to be you. You might be a brilliant expert, but are you a copywriter? Is there someone else who is really expert and good at communicating?)
  • What will you write about? (If you don’t have a plan of articles, you can soon dry up and there’s little more lifeless than a blog that’s not been updated for months)
There’s a raft more questions that are worth consideration here; my advice is just to put yourself in the seat of a potential reader and try and think from their view but basically, if you don’t plan a destination, how will you know if you’ve arrived!

2/ TITLE and URL - Your blog will be located at a web address (URL) of your choice either under a blogging service (like Blogger as I use currently) or it can be directed to a page under your main company URL.
Think about a URL and also short blog title that makes sense to your audience – something that people may search for, and easily recall.
Is it your own name, a product name or company name that the audience will remember most? If it is your name, then you can set up a "digital footprint" of your name and use it as similarly as possible across blogs and other social media sites if you use them. Or is it your company or a product or skill? If so, incorporate that into the title This is an important step, as, once set up, it is difficult or impossible to change a blog name and title.

3/ PLAN - Detail a simple plan as to what you will blog / write about over a period of time - I recommend starting half a dozen or so posts (blog entries) so that you can add notes and research and make them comprehensive and thorough whilst in draft. In your plan it is worth detailing the main topics you will cover (eg mechanical, equipment, techniques etc) so that all entries can be tagged (a means of labelling posts to classify them) for ease of cross-reference. Also, with a plan, there will most likely be weightier topics that could warrant more detailed "white-papers" that could be included or referred to during your blog.

4/ GO! – Ok, you can start with the online meccano now! Its straightforward to set a basic blog up using one of the free services online (using Blogger or Wordpress for example) - there are help guides and how-to's all over YouTube (search for "how to blog" or "how to set up a blog") to help achieve this if needed. There are other ways to do it, too, where a free service doesn’t offer everything you want or you’d like to add certain functionality an maintain a strong brand presence, in which case talk to your web agency (or contact the team at Preview!)

5/ BRAND - Think carefully about your audience and your values. How do you engage with your clients now and how will the audience engage, what do they want to read / hear about and what tone of voice do you take with them? - is it sincere and professional, or friendly and conversational? Be consistent and then deliver your copy / blogs in this tone. Note also, your brand is incredibly powerful and is not just limited to your tone of voice, there’s colour and imagery in a website and you must be consistent. If you don’t have brand guidelines, its worth thinking about, otherwise you are potentially cutting out hooks with your audience.

6/ CONTENT– Don’t forget the pictures! Blogs, like printed material that doesn’t include pictures can be incredibly boring to look at and read. You are working in a rich media and one where rules for copy and content are very different to print.
Keep the sentences reasonably short, and use paragraph spaces to separate the copy up. With a clear, relevant picture here and there the copy is broken up and draws the audience’s eye.

What also helps bring blog content to life are dynamic links. Where you mention something that refers either to another section of the blog, or requires an external reference, simply link to it with an embedded link, a hyperlink. You might refer to a peer, manufacturer or reference site - if it adds value, its worth linking and re-using their content (as long as there is no copyright issue!)

7/ FEEDBACK- Ok, so you’ve published a few entries and are enjoying it. Now encourage feedback. A blog that no-one interacts with is, well, a website of old!
Be controversial if you can, have an opinion and get others to feedback to you, on the blog. That way your audience can join in the conversation and learn from each other as well as you.

There is a consideration for moderation here, but most systems (eg Blogger, Wordpress) allow you to turn on and off moderation capability, so you can check feedback and comments before it’s published. One word of warning; if you don’t like what someone says, unless it's spam, resist the temptation to delete it – publish it, but respond to the criticism or comment and engage, just like you would if you have a problem with a client in the business world. You are building trust, after all.

8/ ADVERTISE – Publicise the blog - put the address on the footer of your emails, mention it in your newsletter, put it on your business card and link to it from your website. Get contacts to forward it. If you write good and regular content, it will propagate naturally as people refer it on, but make it easy for them to do so, especially if you add social bookmarking tools like Digg, Stumbleupon and Del.ico.us.

9/ MEASURE - Dont forget to measure the success of your blog. Google Analytics can do this for you, but you'll probably need technical help to incorporate the code into your blog. It’s well worth it, as you can track the take up of your blog and what interests people and what doesn’t, and then hone the direction of it to make it more popular.

10/ FREQUENT – Keep your blog up to date. If you’ve decided that you will only blog once a month, fine, but it is generally better if you can write an entry at least once a week, or every day, if what you have to say is relevant. Short, punchy articles, or news stories that relate to your audience, re-distributed with your opinion are usually well-received.

One word of caution. Don’t forget that the internet is for ever. Even if your blog is only aimed at close friends or a small client list, the mighty tendrils of the search ‘bots will find everything you publish. It gets viewed, stored, distributed and archived, even if you think you’ve deleted it from your blog, it will most likely have been cached or copied within a few days and could come back and haunt you, so be careful what you write!

Once you have a few good results under your belt (and don’t lose sight that you have a product to offer and you are encouraging an audience to buy it, it’s not just free opinion), then you can look at other ways to promote your blog and increase engagement with your audience - see a great article here by a great blog writer

Have I missed anything significant? Please comment or feedback.

Let me know how you get on!

Monday, 21 April 2008

look after your brand

There's one downside to being involved in the design world, and that is having an unavoidable eye for details..

Give me a menu at a restuarant and I will be mentally cringing at the 7 different typefaces and lack of design consideration that has been given to the main piece of communication between the restaurant and the customer before I can even try and take in the actual offering.

Flyers drop through my door, and I cannot help myself but note how if the vendor had just spent a few moments thinking about their ideal audience and then a few pounds having the communication designed appropriately it might have hit a mark (before I then drop it in the recycling bin)

It will therefore come as no surprise that this typographical abomination caused me to squirm uncomfortably until it had passed out of view. What was interesting on this occasion was that my travelling companion (who by his own admission is to design what Jade Goody is to haute couture) spotted my flinches and acknowledged the heresy that was evident outside the ferry window immediately and required no convincing that this was not good brand portrayal and he too read it as "Norf-olkline" as the font metrics are completely wrong. (it acutally looked worse, if that is possible, outside the lens of my camera as the kerning between the o-l-k is also all wrong)

Norfolkline must be aware that this particular ferry has been "decorated" in such a way, but I am intrigued as to how it came to be so - it surely cannot be down to cost-saving, though I can understand that could be why it has not been corrected since. Maybe there is an opening for a position as Brand Manager!?

Ok, so, in the scheme of things and in comparison to world peace and global warming, this hardly needs a mention, but my point is that, with a small amount of care, the right communication to the contractors doing the painting, or a tiny amount of education as to what the company's brand stands for, this would surely have not happened?! I know that it's not what's on the tin, but what is in it, but we dont buy premium baked beans from a dented, scrawled wrapped can, do we..?

If a company cannot look after their own brand or present their products and services to to the best of their ability, how am I supposed to feel that they will they look after me as a customer?

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Talk WITH your consumers - or else!

Whatever size company you are and whoever your customers, clients or consumers are, you have to take note! We, as consumers are fed up with being talked AT, the relentless PUSH process from advertising that results in little or no dialogue whatsoever and certainly is rarely a two-way street.

Those that get it right, and engage with their audience with honesty and integrity, are already showing signs of getting results, and it works no matter the size of your organisation . Who looks after your customers, who REALLY looks after them? Marketers talk about CRM systems and customer DATA, where we are all neatly stored and categorised for the benefit of the supplier..

..but we dont want to be a meaningless number, in fact, we dont want to be categorised - we want to feel valued and er, well, loved! Then we'll come back and buy more of your products and services, tell our friends and recommend you, tell you what it is we love about your products and how you can improve or develop them, all valuable stuff that you will struggle to get accurately through any other means.

Here's a fantastic portrayal of this issue, does it ring any bells with you?

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

How does the web see you?

In the offline world of networking and contacts, it is quite difficult to track exactly how much impact you have made and over what area, unless you count the piles of business cards on your desk, or the number of people you know when you walk into a networking or business event?!

However, in the digital space, EVERYTHING you do leaves a mark to some extent, and that those marks can lie around forever, popping back up to haunt you at a later stage! (In case you dont believe me, take a look at the Wayback Machine, where all previous iterations of your website are hoarded!)
Herald the Social Web, or Web 2.0 - a World Wide Web where collaboration and sharing of information, ideas, products, whatever you like, form the cornerstone of online conversation. The key ingredient is about maintaining a high degree of credibility, and honesty - if you fake information or your conversation online, you will get found out and getting back your credibility can be a long and difficult process (as many big brands have found out!).

Have you ever Google'd yourself? (Searched for your own name online). Try it and see where you currrently appear - you may be surprised - recently I suddenly appeared at the top of page one for the results of a swimming competition that I took part in some 8 years ago! Sites today are being constructed better and the search engines are getting cleverer at indexing that data, so its no real surprise that previously "hidden" information is popping to the surface now and again. It's worth keeping an eye on how you appear on the search engines - if you dont look, your employer, competitors and peers may do so. Using Google, Yahoo, Ask, MSN and so on, and looking at how many times you appear in say, the top 20 or 50 entries, gives you a good idea of how visible your online presence is, but that's about it.

Which leads nicely onto Qdos. Qdos is a (currently free) way of monitoring online personal profiles - reflecting the significance of what it is that you've created. Produced (I would suggest) as a by-product of their main product, Garlik monitors online data to prevent identity theft, which in itself is a very useful product.
You can search for any person by name, and, once signed up, you enter your location (so the system can determine which you is really you!), then you will get an initial profile, probably based on an aggregation of web searches. To help the system refine what it knows about you, you can then feed in more information about where you converse, shop, blog, comment etc. Qdos then ranks your popularity, Impact, Activity and Individuality. Effectively your digital footprint.

All a bit of fun at first glance, but if you want to make an impression on the social web from a personal, or business viewpoint, you need to know where you appear. (There's Friendfeed, too, that I found out from Chris Brogan here, which shows an indication of how you appear on the web, a different tack, but another useful tool!)

Once you have gotten your head around your personal (or any person's) digital profile, there are other tools to monitor your online "buzz", notably products like Brandwatch that enable tracking and monitoring of mentions, sentiment and credibility for your product or brand. And if there's no conversation about you? Well, decide if there needs to be and set up a strategy to implement something!

Monday, 11 February 2008

Disability inconsideration...

Is this really how much space a marketing flyer can offer its disabled audience?

I find this quite appalling from both a design and usability perspective; I would like to think that the designers of this promotional flyer would surely not have promoted themselves or any element of the information within it at this size (I reckon the point size of the type is no more than 1 point, it doesnt even show against the ruler!) so why even bother?!

Is it an example of token disability conformance? More likely a total misunderstanding of what their audience need and want.

One of the most common usability issues that websites can address is that of improved readability, yet when it comes to print, few companies do anything about it. I get frustrated when we come across websites that have been developed that completely ignore usability and accessibility issues; it is not just about adhering to another set of guidelines (the DDA in this case), but because it demonstrates a lack of understanding (or consideration?) of who exactly the audience might be, and what they want and might need.

And, back to my point, the fact that this flyer was from the TFM&A (Technology for Marketing and Advertising event) is even more shocking IMHO.

Maybe one of the technologies I shall see at the event on Wednesday will be a hi-tech magnifying glass to read the aforementioned flyer!

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Twitter - misunderstood tool or total twaddle?

Ok, so I am really interested in the whole Social web thing, community building and social networks.
But I've never really GOT the Twitter thing.

I've been intrigued by it, but, having left my Tricenarian years behind last year, and the lack of requests for my twitter-presence, it appears that I either dont have any "cool" friends who use such tools, or that they too are unsure what to do with it!

So, on finding this post last week and reading another viewpoint from a contact I made at a Green Marketing event today, I finally got round to setting up an account to see if i can find a use for it.

To be honest, I was a late entrant to the Facebook "thing" but quickly found appeal and got hooked. It's enabled me to get back in contact, and easily maintain contact with a whole bunch of friends from the "pre-company" years that I thought I would never see or hear from again. (I've never been very brilliant at keeping regular contact with friends who've moved away..) And for that, I thank you Facebook!

So, onto Twitter - The idea is that you can send a text (SMS) to a central point on anything that you are doing, and then your friends and followers can be updated automatically by the same service. AND interact.

It's really easy to setup an account, then validate it to your mobile, and you are ready to go, so I have. And then - well, as I had suspected, having let it trawl through my email addresses, it found ZERO people that I know with accounts on twitter, so I am left able to twitter to myself!

BUT HANG ON! - Then it hit me - Its a micro-blogging tool, one that would enable me for example, to text ideas and thoughts back to a blog, some of which could be worth sharing (!?) but others could be referenced later and written up in full or acted on.

Take, for example, the event I was at today; I met loads of new contacts and made some notes of blogs, website URLs and great ideas - I could have twittered (such messages are called "Tweets") these back to my micro-blog (and via a cunning widget, I suspect pulling them directly onto this blog too) and therefore been contributing to this post hours ago!

Today I had paper and a pen with me, but what if I was in the pub, or at a sporting meeting or similar - I can now whizz ideas and updates, even if they are only really of interest to me, back to my micro-blog, at any time.

And, thinking laterally, say you are a small courier company and want to keep track of your drivers, why not get them to twitter a customer or delivery code / report back on completing a drop-off, or traffic update.. then any potential delays could be co-ordinated for the cost of an SMS, AND all other drivers could receive the update automatically.

I know you can text to multiple recipients, but this sorts it all out for you, AND provides a log of events that a manager or administrator can use (AND more!)

So, although my account setup is still drying, I can already see that there are loads of potential applications already, and that's without trying to find friends to update on my every movement! Thumbsup from me!

Have you used it? what do you think?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Designing Demand..

I had a flyer thrust at me yesterday from a long term business advisor and mentor about "a programme pushing the benefits of design for business and how good design can lead to a real return on investment".

This struck a chord, its something that rings very true with me - long have I been espousing the benefits of good design consideration to our clients!

It's sponsored and run by the Design Council and they certainly seem to have done some homework; the stats are impressive, they claim:

Thats a pretty bold statement, however, in my view its not the complete story. For example, you can have a beautifully crafted and designed website, but no strategy to launch it or get it to market, so the great design doesnt get aired and the business gets no return on its investment; or a brilliantly designed advert, but not have considered your target market or their needs and completetly miss the spot.

However, if the design is part of a coherent business strategy that encompasses business objectives, target market, purpose, measurement and delivery, then you have a really good chance of your good design hitting the mark.

And its not just about good visual design and branding; (though there's a huge amount to be said about positioning your products and services appropriately for the target market, and why brand perception is given so much consideration by the FMCG marketers!) - its about designing a good product in the first place...

I met with a friend today, who has a fantastic business concept but is struggling to work out what will sell best and how to pitch it, but doesnt want to launch it early or malformed for fear it may get snaffled, or miss an opportunity; ah-ha I thought - he needs to get his idea aired and get some feedback from a sample market, or a focus group to help him work out how others will actually take to it.

Trouble is, most entrepreneurial types dont have the money to invest in this kind of activity so go off to market with a half-baked idea or it stalls and never sees the light of day.

But what about the social web? There's a huge opportunity, on a tiny budget, to set up a forum, or microsite, or a blog (!!?) that could be published to a select (and controlled initially, if IP is an issue) group to engage with them to run the idea in its barest form - its an online / easy access, brainstorming session. There's loads of ways to setup and run this kind of social community for pretty much zero cost, and you get free product / service design feedback that can make or break that leap, and, assuming they liked it, you know that part of your target market are already buyers of the product you are about to launch. And if they didnt, they either help you shape it ("Ok, so what about if we offered it in blue, with a handle on this side?") or go back to the drawing board and start on something else.

The great thing about communities is that if you listen properly you can often find a need, even if its not what you thought they wanted. I was ranting recently about how some big brands are doing this, but the great thing is it can work for any product, any market and size company - welcome to New world marketing - conversational marketing, where your audience can define and then buy your products.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Pats on backs

I'm not sure what the correct blog-i-quette is for self promotion, but in this case, I dont care!

Preview has been through a lot of changes and reorganisation over the past 18 months or so, and its all paid off in our new team and the work they've been doing.

To cap it all, I had another look at our 2007 yearbook today, that Martyn Reding (our Creative Director) put together, and it reminded me, it's blimmin great.

If you do nothing else, please take two minutes, pop over to our news page and have a read of THEIR yearbook - its worth it, honest!

Great stuff everyone - thanks, I'm really proud!

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Who are your brand guardians?

I was at a company in Crawley a while ago, fairly sizable - they turnover about £800 Million, and was delighted to see that they really take their brand and values seriously. They realise that every staff member is an ambassador for their company and empower them to be positive brand guardians from the day they join. EVERY new employee they take on has to complete a 3 day course in the values, personality and structure of the company, ensuring they understand and buy into the whole ethos.

The company realise the strength and power that they have and how, by empowering their staff, they can deliver it consistently from board level to shopfloor. It not only improves understanding of what the company is, but also where it is going, why and how. Maintained, it's an direct route to great communications, whilst also building brand perception and ultimately, brand value.


Ask yourself this, If you could be a fly-on-the-wall for ANY single employee within your organisation and hear them out socially (for example in the pub) with their mates being asked what it is they do and what the company was like, would they answer it how you or any member of the board would...? And if they cant answer that consistently, what would they say about the mission and direction of the company..?

At Preview we have worked hard to ensure that our core values and the company ethos are something that not only exists through the company but are actively challenged and developed - the team are always questioning communication and marketing activities to check that we are following our own rules - I'm not saying it's easy, but its well worthwhile - I think it also makes change management one helluva lot easier to confront.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Marketing to a niche market

In my other business we make specialist livery and graphics kits for emergency vehicles.

But we have an interesting set of problems to surmount.

We are one of only a handful such specialist companies in the country, and largely, the UK leads the world due to our research and development into acheiving high visibility on our roads. However, our specialism makes for an interesting marketing case:

> There are 3 manufacturers of suitable materials for this work, and we all buy from the same sources at very similar prices.
> There are guidelines as to the designs and layout of the livery we make and we all have to follow them (within reason)
> There is only one method (currently) of manufacture to cut and seal the materials we use - we all use that technology
> There are a finite number of users in the UK in the emergency services, and we all know who those contacts are already

Therefore, the only obvious ways we can differentiate from our competitors is on service or price. Trouble is, clients EXPECT good service and support, or change suppliers, and if you compete on price, well, anyone can cut their prices, cant they - it doesnt actually offer a better product, does it!?

We were a late entrant to the market (and my background gave us none of the advantages or hindrences of legacy information or knowledge) and from day one I saw that service was a key route, but also that our competitors were all parts of bigger organisations, so we were able to offer one unique point - Specialism. I also strove to set up a brand that conveyed all our key attributes consistently and clearly. We have always been free with our technical and legal knowledge; my belief is that if you empower people to understand your offering, they will lean more naturally toward you when they come to purchase - and it's worked so far, through our regular newsletters, thorough website and technical bulletins - we do have a great name for helpful, knowledgable staff and good quality service.

However, thats all great, and we have grown to a point where we are a pain to the other competitors, but we want to gain more market share of the core, relatively static, emergency service business.

The only way I can see to differentiate is to dip back into the bag that got us here in the first place and INNOVATE. We've had some fantastic open days recently that have attained great feedback and we'll be acting on some of that.

The conclusion I have come to this week is to really engage again with our target market and open up opportunities for them to share and discuss the issues they face, so that we can use the feedback to hone our offering. Not just online, though that would be innovative(!), but face to face, over the phone and at exhibitions etc. A truly rounded "Customer First" approach that I think will reveal completely different issues and requirements than just price... we'll see!

If you have any suggestions for how I might approach this, I'd welcome them - it all helps in the mix!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Out with the old web!

This has been around for a while, but I love it for two reasons; firstly, the content is spot on, explaining what is really under the skin of Web 2.0 and how it lays the foundation for 3.0 and 4 (if you are into versioning of something as immense and intangible as the web!) . It also really makes you think about all the things that are having to be reconsidered in the light of communities and collaboration online..

Secondly, the production is superb and its a joy to watch!

Well, what do you think?

Thursday, 17 January 2008

How to engage with your customers?

I've been using a couple of great real-world examples of how brands can learn (yes learn!) from online opinions and engage with communities for everyones greater good, but importantly to gain an increase in both brand perception (and therefore perceived brand value) as well as generate those all important shareholder returns.

The best example of how TO do it was Cadbury, who learned that there was mounting opinion urging them to reinstate the Wispa bar. They listened to the chatter, engaged with the audience and discovered they had a really loyal and approachable customer base that they could use to bounce ideas off and therefore help with product development. They reinstated the Wispa bar, but also used this new channel to converse freely with a wide range of people crossing all demographics. By feeding this marketing information back into product development, they now have a unique opportunity to harness the chatter and build better products that people already want to buy!

On the how NOT TO do it side is HSBC, who, on finding there was a huge gathering of negative opinion regarding their decision to abolish interest free overdrafts on Facebook, eventually agreed to reverse their decision and refund the students. All sounds great, except the way they went about it has been perceived as a cave-in from the giant bank in blogs and forums the world over. Surely not the result the brand and marketing director would have planned!

And today, another example - Facebook have been asked to pull Scrabulous by Scrabble manufacturers Mattel and Hasbro. Now, dont get me wrong, I think copyright is an important and necessary principle, though it is one that continues to generate debate with the advance of the digital media, but here again Mattel / Hasbro appear to have run scared and simply quashed a really popular application (some 600,000 are registered to it) when there must surely have been another way. Now there are "Save Scrabulous" groups appearing all over Facebook and lots of negative sentiment toward the big brands involved.

Come on guys, wake up, listen to your "customers" and put their needs first occasionally!

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Really fantastic stuff


I swore (again!) that I would not stoop so low as to use "stuff" in my blog, and here I am only on my second post and it's in the title already. But I've deleted and pondered it and really cant find a better word in this instance - any suggestions?!

I am currently reading a book - Marketing to the Social Web which is fascinating, but not in the way that you might expect. The book details how the new social web is opening up new ways of communication and new channels to (and from!) market, at the same time causing the need to revisit and overhaul age-old marketing principles. It is an excellent book.

The reason I find it fascinating is that over the past year or so my interest in the social web and the whole online community captivation has grown and grown to almost an obsession; much of what Larry Weber (the author) says I find myself saying out loud "yes, thats what I've been saying", which is not a good thing if you are on a train, believe me!

I dont think I have ever encountered a book that so well distills a lot of thoughts and ideas that I had, in such a concise and usable way. And business books almost NEVER hold my attention!

So come on all you blue chips and big brands, sit up, listen to your audience, customer communication is now, more than ever before, a two-way channel. Ignore it at your peril.


Ok, I've finally gone and done it. Finally gotten round to listening to my own advice and started my own blog.


Has global warming slowed down?
Has President Bush shot up in the popularity ranks?
Has it even stopped raining?

I doubt it.

But that's not why i've started this.

I often post comments on other's blogs and want to point them back to my own (unpublished) thoughts. Thats one reason, but more importantly, my head is always awash with thoughts, ideas, plans and schemes, all at various stages of development; from embryonic to fully-formed, go-get-em offerings that need unleashing, or at least, airing in the cold air of day to see if they look (and more importantly, function!) at least half as well as they looked on the inside.

So, please, comment, criticise, jeer and praise at your leisure - 'cos if the only person reading this is me, then its going to be a pretty one-sided arrangement!

The need to start a blog (although to confess I did start a personal one several years ago, but it was too narrow focussed and my interest waned) has grown daily over the past month to the point that I could (almost) sit and write an entry for each day I've missed, all in one sitting! But now I have the benefit of retrospect, many of those flash thoughts and observations seem dull and tarnished, so anew it must be - bring on the shiny thoughts!

toodle-pip - thanks for reading!