Monday, 29 December 2008

The youth is starting to change....

Ok, that phrase is taken from MGMT lyrics but their prophetic words encourage me.....

Amongst marketing executives, connecting with customers is perceived by 84% to be the most important benefit of social media, according to the latest MENG research. It is interesting that alongside this view, the pecentage of mobile phone users who say they access social networks from their phones jumped 182% between October 2007 and 2008 according to the Kelsey Group. is a global mobile platform that is growing rapidly with 2.5m members. More than 40% of its users have never used a social network from a PC. Many of the users are still in bed when they check their messages for the first time each day. eMarketer forecasts that by 2012 over 800m users worldwide will access and participate in social networks via mobile devices, up from 82m in 2007.

I'm not a mobile person. I don't mean my lack of gym attendance has left me house bound, i'm just not that enthused by mobile apps. I like my phone, it calls people and lets people call me. I have also been known to indulge in drunken text battles when my wit is at its sharpest. However, that's where it ends for me. I'm not interested enough to log-in to my social networks on the move when I know a computer is never far away. I guess that as much as I love technology, i'm not of the mobile generation.

Yet I am having conversations with friends on mobile devices. Take Facebook & MSN Messenger as examples. I have a good friend in LA with whom I am in regular contact but due to costs, I don't want to phone every week. So I send messages through Facebook and she picks them up on her mobile facebook app and replies. I'm also a big fan of MSN Messenger, so much better than email. We regularly have chats as she enjoys her morning coffee and i'm tucked up on the sofa with my dinner. Both applications sit easily on her mobile phone and the modern phone keyboards make it easy to type long messages. The barriers to quality communication via mobile devices are being quickly removed. It will never be the same as seeing someone in person but we regularly have to face distance as a communication barrier, so technology plays an important role.

And what does this fascinating insight into my social netiquette have to do with the commercial side of social networks? In a roundabout way I am saying that mobile will be playing an increasingly important role in connectivity, both between people and between people and applications, whether that application is a social network, a game or a company's website. 

There is a great opportunity for companies to increase the scope of interaction with their customer base via social media and mobile devices. Just think about the connections you can generate if you are regularly updating content to social networks that are accessible on millions of mobile devices. Your potential customers can access your content whenever they want, wherever they want. They can read, interact, share and buy on the move. Social networks will play an increasingly important role in the relationship between a seller and a buyer provided the sellers appreciate that it must be in a way conducive to the buyer's social preferences.

So do you agree? Will social media be important for you? Have to take the time to sit back and ask yourself how social media fits into your business strategy? If not, why not? Please leave any feedback you have.


Friday, 12 December 2008

Are tag clouds the new mullets?

This week I have been mostly indulging in tag clouds. With every new widget or technology, there is the potential for it to be a short lived fad rather than a lasting gift. The question I asked myself was “Do tag clouds really improve web browsing?” and I set about discovering whether, as Jeffrey Zeldman proclaimed, tag clouds are the new mullets.

If you don’t know what a tag cloud is, you can check out the bite size wiki entry for a handy description. Tag or word clouds are visual representations of data, used to organise content by meaning, relevance or popularity. It is a neat way of showing people what is important, often using word size as the barometer, such that the most popular words are the biggest in the cloud.  WAYN, the social network for travellers, uses it on the homepage to flag popular destinations which then take you to an optimised landing page for that destination. Flickr was one of the early pioneers and you can see the user friendly design in the ‘Explore’ section of the website.

I’ve seen tag clouds in many forms over the past 12 months, mainly on industry sites and personal blogs. What interests me is that retailers are increasingly using this technique to enhance site navigation and search, or searchandising if you want to be natty and oh so Web2.0. Tag clouds are a cool way to support site browsing and have many applications in a retail environment, provided they are integrated in a way that enhances rather than distracts the customer journey. So, to briefly name but a few…..

Enhance site search

Highlight popular search terms, showing people what other visitors have searched for, helping people find the most popular terms quickly.

Display product features prominently

Improve a product details page, highlighting the most relevant and popular features of the product to help people make the right buying decision.

Showcase content from customer reviews

Closely related to the last comment, customer review solutions like BazaarVoice enable review clouds so that the most popular and frequently used words contained in customer reviews can be browsed to help identify what other people are saying and learn more about products and services. It also enable customers leaving reviews to select attributes from the community to make writing the review easier.

Highlight featured content

A good example is on the blogs on Technorati. Here the tags relate to the content of the blog to help you determine the relevance of the content. This is helpful when navigating the site, looking for new blogs. Simply click on the tags that you are interested and get results that match your requirements. In the words of John Barnes, it “gets to your thirst, fast”.

For the best on-screen example of tag clouds in action, visit Smashing Magazine. Here you’ll find a deluge of screenshots of tag clouds from various websites….if you still don’t get the concept after reading this blog, give up!

If anyone has a view on the commercial benefit of tag clouds for retail websites, please post comments and suggestions. If you have any examples of websites using tag clouds to good effect, please post the URLs to this blog. In the meantime, get tagging!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Tweeters Anonymous

I now tweet. No, I don’t need to see a doctor and yes I meant to say that. Whilst I’ve been banging on about the potential of social media for what seems like eons, it is only very recently that I’ve embraced the joy of tweeting. I’d known of Twitter for a while but I never really got it. Then I decided I should get it because if I’m going to get you excited by the social melting pot online, I’ve got to embrace everything and find out how it really works.

So, I put myself on Twitter, absorbed the language [tweet, twittersphere etc] and went to work. Initially I found a few friends lurking around who it turns out don’t actually have much to say, which is a surprise as I’ve found they never really shut up. Then I realised that I see them at least once a month, so why Tweet with them? So that got me thinking, why would anyone use Twitter and how can you get excited by it?

That’s when I discovered Twittervision. If you don’t know what this is, get online now and the strange addiction will grow! Twittervision is as basic as it gets as an opiate for the masses but I love it; it gives you a world map and overlays the latest tweets from around the world. I have no idea what Muki in Japan was saying but I want to know. Perhaps this is bringing out my more voyeuristic impulses but it’s strangely compelling. I’m sure there will be concerns about internet security and the potential for cyber stalking but there are no personal details on this site, simply a name (that you choose)and a link to a map of your geographic location (we’re talking general here, not a zoom into your bedroom). You can upload a personal photo or use something generic, or even arty if you feel that way inclined. Spend long enough on Twitter and you’ll find all sorts of weird and wonderful profile pics. There is also the obligatory link to Facebook with a Twittervision application to enable you to tweet from your Facebook account.

I like the fact that Twitter is unashamedly basic. It is not Facebook, or MySpace, or Bebo. It isn’t about turning yourself into a vampire, throwing sheep or inviting people to virtual reality happy hours. I’m not knocking these networking sites, they have a place and they are successful and I’ve been known to chirp away (see what I did there) on Facebook walls of a winter’s eve. However, I crave simplicity in life. I have an attention deficit and the brouhaha of Facebook gives me cold shivers. Twitter is allowing me to satiate my desire for playing with the rest of the world without having to think too hard about it.

What really excites me though is the commercial potential. I don’t mean that cynically because I love the fact that the ethos of social media is about community, sharing and engagement on your terms. However, there is a real opportunity for the more enlightened brand darlings to be smart and build a thriving community. People buy, people respond to marketing, people like to talk about their experiences, people like to belong. So why can’t you leverage these drivers via social media to create dialogue and build lasting relationships?


If you want some proof, take a look at the meteoric rise of the Stephen Fry tweet which has seen his website become the #1 visited site. Blogs have been spawned over the Fry phenomenon, including Mark Higginson, a well know social purveyor. I’m also currently following Starbucks, not because I have an affinity to or like of the company, but because I’m fascinated by what they are tweeting and seeing how a global brand can engage people via Twitter. They recently posted a cute tweet about their charity link up with the Seattle Space Needle for World AIDS Day. Twitter is not a direct sales channel, it is a communication opportunity to share interesting information with the wider world and let people get to know you better. And, I’m not embarrassed to admit, it is quite enjoyable.

To put my money where my mouth is, I am planning an e-inbusiness twitter feed and will be launching this to the world at large. The great thing is that only interested people will follow, so there will be a qualified audience to talk to. Finally, my voice will be heard……

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

2009 will see social media hit the mainstream for UK retail

If 2008 saw the UK tentatively engage with social media tools, 2009 will see us embrace with open arms. The early adopters have ducked in, experimented and put in place creative, compelling social media strategies that have engaged their customers and created a lot of noise in the online maelstrom. There have been a few learning curves to boot and the occasional backlash. Social media is not a passing fad, the concept of enabling your customers to engage with your brand on their terms is one way to start building an online buzz. Some individual tools may be short lived but the concept is not. The experience online is becoming increasingly important and as the world descends into discount fever, those brands that compete on more than just price will benefit.

Take a look at what the more enlightened companies are doing in the social media space. Firstly, let’s look at Facebook. Very much maligned yet undeniably has had a huge impact on how people interact. There are 8.4m UK users alone and 67m active users worldwide. Wiggly Wigglers has taken the ethos of Facebook to heart and developed a branded page that offers excellent content and value to members, interacting with them at both the personal and company level. What it has done well is to post regular content that informs customers as well as posts that are light hearted, humorous and engaging. This has resulted in 1,063 members of the group who are all sharing information with each other, much of which is related back to Wiggly Wigglers products and service. The company has recently won the Global Dell Small Business Excellence Award. An interesting move saw Amazon acquire Shelfari (a network site dedicated to book lovers) in October 2008. This was a commercially cute way of developing its social media presence whilst giving direct access to a highly targeted audience who can buy books direct from Amazon.

You Tube is another interesting prospect for customer engagement. Hitwise data shows that UK traffic to online video websites has roughly tripled in the last year and You Tube accounts for 70% of that traffic. The number of branded video channels is increasing, with major retailers like Diesel embracing this channel for brand engagement. Diesel has 516 subscribers and 17,968 channel views (as of November 24th). If creating a channel is not your bag, then it is easy to load videos to the site to showcase your company. Acquired by Google, You Tube also displays Google Adwords adverts on search results…. A nice way for them to get more click revenue!

One of the more intriguing sites is Twitter. This dispenses with the bells and whistles and simply enables you to give a status update (max 140 characters, aka microblogging) and to follow other members and be followed too. You have a basic update list to tell you what you and your followers are up to. Many companies are now monitoring the twittersphere [go with it….]for reference of their brand and then engaging with the twitterati where relevant. JetBlue in the US is a great example and their actions have spawned blogs on the subject. At the same time, these companies are tweeting [Twitterspeak for posting updates] to their heart’s content. Even the UK Government has muscled in with the kids, creating a twitter feed for No.10 Downing Street with 6,056 followers. If you’re feeling voyeuristic, check out twittervision where you can view the latest tweets on a global map! I really should get out more….

Similar to tweeting is the global phenomenon of blogging. In the blogosphere [detect a theme?] content is being generated rapidly by both individuals and companies. In the last 3 years, UK traffic to blogs has increased by 208%. With pingback and trackback functionality, blogging is increasingly linking people together and having a significant SEO effect. Is this relevant to your brand? Definitely. Take a look at what Ikea is embracing with the Ikea Fans site. I’m also a fan of the Topshop style blog; simple and effective and you can also sign-up to the RSS feed. The secret to a successful blog is….. well, I’m not going to give that away for free am I!

I’ve saved the peak of my enthusiasm for the subject of Customer Reviews. There has been increased uptake of the major UK providers Feefo, Bazaarvoice and Reevo and some retailers are also implementing bespoke solutions on-site. A good example of how to do reviews is Boden. If you really aren’t convinced about the power of reviews, take a peek at some of the stats. People inherently trust independent feedback more than your own product information. Providing customer reviews not only adds validity (and SEO friendly content) but has also been proven to increase order values and conversion. I don’t think customer reviews is a competitive advantage so much as a necessity.

So, social is the new black. I’ve not even touched on the more gimmicky but nevertheless popular aspects such as widgets, wikis and applications. For examples of e-inbusiness Clients going forth into social waters, take a look at New Look’s My Look community forum, and the Facebook presence of both New Look and Radley.

The eCommerce industry is itself using blogs, forums and reviews daily on sites like Chinwag and eConsultancy, so why have so few committed to social media for their customers?

I think we will see more exciting uses of social media in 2009 and we hope to help you become one of the converted! I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, so to embrace the social media theme I’ve started this blog which is also linked to Technorati. The blog starts with this article, so please tell me what you think. Are you excited by the social media potential for your brand? Do you have a SMO strategy? Or are you finding it hard to work out how your brand can be relevant in social spheres? Or can you share new information to increase my socialsphere? All comments will be welcome.