Author: chrisbell

Our musings on Social Business that we put together for a recent pitch using have been featured on the Haiku Deck website.

It only took about fifteen minutes, compared to an hour or so it would have taken if we’d taken a more traditional PowerPoint approach. There’s more on using Haiku Deck here.

 

Veooz

A new tool launched today that promises to delve into the sentiments being expressed about particular topics right across the Social Web.

Veooz (pronounced, we are informed, ‘views’) tracks trending topics across the major platforms and uses semantic algorithms to determine how positive or negative the general sentiment is. This is a step forward from simply knowing that a topic is trending. Analysis of this kind will help businesses avoid finding themselves in the midst of a twit-storm for leaping-without-looking into online conversations.

Let’s have a look

On the front page of veooz.com, there are a number of trending topics to have a look at. For instance, after Prime Minister’s Question Time this lunchtime, it is not surprising that ‘David Cameron’ is being widely mentioned. Here’s a snapshot of Veeoz’ interpretation:

It’s just semantics

It’s not surprising that a Prime Minister who is not wildly popular (even within his own party) should have a negative rating, perhaps. But have a close look at the Influential Tweets. The top one is distinctly negative. What about the other two? @SaveTheChildren use the word ‘pressure’, but given they are a charity and a pressure group hawking a petition, this can hardly be seen as negative. The bottom tweet is telling, though. The key words here in rating sentiment are likely to be “condemnation” and “ugly”, however the PM joining in with the condemnation of condemnable scenes is probably a good thing.

Let’s take this further

Danny Rose is a young British footballer who was subjected to racist abuse last night during the game in Serbia. He got himself sent off for his reaction during a skirmish after the match. Many would think his reaction, although hot-headed, was quite understandable; perhaps even laudable. Why then such a hugely negative rating for the young man?

Look again at the ‘Influential Tweets’. @piersmorgan uses the words “Disgusting” and “disgrace”, but not about Danny. Instead they are directed at the scenario he found himself in. And yet, “Danny Rose” has a 96% negative rating.

Early days

Clearly it is early days for sentiment analysis and semantic search techniques. Pulling out the level of detail that would be required to provide an accurate assessment was the kind of thing Alan Turing dreamed of. We’re obviously a long way away from that. Especially for a free-to-use system that is still in beta.

For big brands, though, with large and vocal followings there may be a degree of insight available to those with the time and energy to mine the data. Amazon will be rightly pleased with the reception Kindle Paper White appears to be getting, for instance.

For you and I, though, let’s remain sceptically intrigued.

Let me start by saying that anyone claiming your business can be more profitable simply by being on Facebook is a charlatan. Or an idiot. And I’m not sure which is worse.

For me, a Social Business is one that is outward looking. It genuinely cares about satisfying its customers. It not only acts on their feedback, it encourages feedback. A Social Business is innovative and responsive. And it isn’t necessarily on Facebook or Twitter.

Nice guys don’t get rich

Unfortunately, running a business in this way takes a lot of time. You must constantly analyse what is working and what is not. You must solicit, collate and build a plan around customer feedback. You have to stop running the kind of business that your bank manager wants to see in order to make it more social. All in all, it’s far easier to run an unsocial business. In fact, in terms of profitability and gross revenues, it seems make more sense to run an actively anti-social business. There are countless examples to back this up; in the banking sector; in flagrant multi-national tax avoidance; in tech companies’ increasingly closed, proprietary systems. The list goes on and on and gets longer each day.

If you’re here, there’s a good chance that you’re a nice person. And if you’re running your own business, large or small, you still need to sleep at night. We firmly believe that being nice and being in business need not be mutually exclusive positions.

A key characteristics of nice people is that they are open and welcoming to new people and ideas. They are willing to listen act on what they hear. It’s called empathy. The same is true for businesses.

Consider Twitter

In the early days, Twitter was held up as an example of openness. They had a simple but effective platform, but they were willing to let others develop on top of it, building their own ideas and ultimately growing the userbase for Twitter through their own efforts. Now think about the reception they get when they announce increasingly restrictive terms of use and effectively stamp out many fledgling businesses. I’m not judging Twitter one way or another. They’re clearly doing what they believe to be right, but I would argue they are losing their empathy. Whether this will be detrimental to their long-term goals is still up for grabs.

Time is money

According to Steven Covey, one of the habits of highly effective people is taking time for yourself; going to the gym, walking the dog, sitting and thinking. He calls it Sharpening the Saw and uses a story to illustrate the point.

“A man walks through a wood and finds a lumberjack logging a tree. It’s hard work. After a while the man notices that the lumberjack’s saw is blunt. “You need to sharpen your saw”, he says. “But I have all these trees to chop up”, responds the lumberjack. “I don’t have time to stop and sharpen my saw”.”

In other words, we need to make the time to stop and regroup, reorganise our thoughts, and consider new ways of approaching the future. We need to do this both as people AND as business people. A truly Social Business will build this time into its operations. And it may end up being a lot of time. And, in the short-term at least, time is money.

This is what kills many small businesses efforts on the Social Web. As we know, the Social Web is great for gathering feedback and engaging with your customers. However, most businesses aren’t set up to be Social from the start. They are built around a product or service that they believe to be great, so that is their main focus. When they decide to raise their heads and look at their place in the wider world, it can be quite scary. They are not prepared for the sheer number of man-hours that can be consumed. They have no mechanisms for using feedback constructively. So they flounder and withdraw.

Unless your business has a willingness to listen and people who care enough about their customers to act on what they hear, your Facebook page isn’t going to help your business grow. Your initially enthusiastic Twitter timeline will be unused and useless.

Take the time to stop. Spend time listening. Then act with empathy.

And sleep soundly at night.

Here’s how I assemble a presentation

  1. Think about me – what’s going to get me a round of applause and some friendly handshakes after I shut up?
  2. Think about the audience – what do they want to hear? What’s going to delight and amaze them?
  3. Get lots of paper, pens and pencils – sketch out a story that will fit 1 & 2.
  4. Fire up a browser, spend hours digging through creative commons licensed pictures, note the originator.
  5. Fire up some presentation software and load in all the pictures to support the story from 3.
  6. Carefully choose a headline to go with each picture to reinforce the story.
  7. If I’m going to share the slides, I fill in the notes section with the narrative I’m going to deliver.
  8. Practice.
  9. Deliver.

I like each presentation I give to be unique. This harks back to a time when I would have to give two, three or even four sales presentations each and every day. That’s a lot of talking. Especially over a ten year period. And I desperately wanted to avoid sounding like a member of cabin crew from a low-cost airline rushing through a safety briefing for the umpteenth time.

More to the point, I wanted to preserve my own sanity. Now it’s a stuck behaviour.

So if, like me, you want each talk to be fresh and engaging, you’ll spend a huge amount of time searching for pictures that support your stories. This is where Haiku Deck comes in to its own.

Fire up the app and you’re immediately in an intuitive place. Give your deck a name and you’re straight into choosing content.

haiku deck 1

Hit the picture icon and you get to search a creative commons library:

haiku deck 2

Once you’ve chosen your picture, you can add your headline and crunch your deck together in no time:

haiku deck 3

Of course, there are restrictions.

  • There are no builds, so if you’re an slide-animation junkie you’ll have to get your fix elsewhere.
  • You can’t use every font in the universe.
  • There are seven layout options.

But the thing about restrictions is that they encourage creativity. You only have room for maybe a dozen words and one picture – I find that exciting.

So, for a quick and dirty pitch round a coffee table, Haiku Deck is terrific. For 99% of your other presentations, it’s not too shabby either.

This is a brilliant tip for whatever you’re writing. And it is very powerful.

Think about writing emails. You might have an issue that you’ve been trying to fix. There may be a dozen or so people copied in on the email. Some are high up in the organisation, some are lower down. Everybody has a lot of emails to wade through every day.

But you find a fix for the issue. It make sense to you when you’re telling everybody to go through it in a methodical way – the kind you learned in science lessons at school. Apparatus, Method. Results. Conclusions. It’s the way we were taught to do it. And it’s part of the scientific method. At least, as far as we understand it.

So you start talking about the problem, how it first appeared, the trouble-shooting process, the things that definitely weren’t causing the problem, (we turned this off, tested again, tried another thing, tested again) and then finally say how you found the issue and fixed it.

What you should do is start your email saying “We found the issue and fixed it”. More than half the distribution list can then ignore the rest of the message. Problem solved. The ones that care enough can read through to the end, find out about your trouble-shooting process and, if they’re that way inclined, can replicate each step for themselves.

The science we’re taught in schools is quite separate from the way professional science works. At school, we’re taught to put important bit at the end. But if you ever read any kind of scientific paper, you’ll see that they tend to have the conclusions up at the beginning. Why? Because it makes it easier for science journalists to write headlines. And, although summing up scientific research in a headline may not necessarily enhance the greater understanding of what is going on, headlines tend to lead to more research grants. And scientists like research grants.

More broadly, journalists will always put the important bits at the beginning of a story. If you look at any big story in a paper it will break down into three parts – here’s a thing that happened – here’s why it’s good or bad – here are the facts. It’s always worth reading past the opinion and getting to the facts because they often change your understanding of the story. For instance – “House price rises cause cancer”, the headline may scream. “Thousands of Britons are putting themselves at increased risk of cancer as they work ever longer hours to meet high mortgage payments. This is a terrible indictment of our society, blah, blah, blah”. Tucked away at the end of the story though will be a fact about the survey, which is actually about the health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle. If you just read the headline and the opinion you’d never understand that.

So start off with where you want to get to and write backwards from there. “In the future retailers will send boxes of groceries directly to a customer’s door on miniature flying robots”. Then talk about how and why.

But where do you want the end to be?

“The End” as it relates to this tip can simply be the conclusions that you want to reach. The flying robots. You can take it a step further, though, and think about “The End” as being the effect you have on the reader. “I want the reader to have their mind blown after they’ve read this”. “I want the reader to laugh out loud six times as they read this”. “I want the reader to quit their job and go and live as a hermit in the Himalayas”. It’s kind of similar to the idea of selling to your customer’s customer. Aim through your target.

This tip works really well with presentations. If you want to give a confident presentation, before you start putting it together imagine the warm applause at the end, or the handshakes and congratulations that come when you’ve finished. If you see that as the end of your presentation, you’ll be more confident about giving your talk, because you’ve already decided that it’s going to end in a nice place. All you have to do is put together and deliver a talk that will get you to your destination.

It’s now possible to share anything from anywhere.

Apple’s latest iphone software builds facebook and twitter sharing right into the core of the phone. Newpaper websites encourage button clicking and story sharing. There are even waste bins that upload pictures to Facebook to encourage recycling.

This is known as frictionless sharing, where anything that could prevent you posting your thoughts, location and pictures of kittens is eliminated. Of course, the point of this is to cause an increase in the amount of data that is transmitted stored about you. This data is valuable both to the mobile phone companies that charge you using it, and for the social web companies who want to provide advertisers with exact profiles about their users. And, of course, it’s a bonus for those consumers among us who want to post those pictures from that night out or that holiday without having to think too much about what they’re doing.

But what does it mean for businesses?

It goes without saying that businesses engaging on the social web all have strict policies in place, that they’re working to an editorial plan for content creation, and are scheduling posts to reach the audience when they are at their most engaged. (If you’re not, you’d better get in touch)

However, because of all this frictionless sharing from your audience and their peers, your carefully planned updates are in danger of simply sliding on by. Like  the beer bottles slung down bar tops in comedy western movies, they’ll keep skidding on until they crash to the floor, but without the hilarious consequences.

There are three possible solutions.

First, increase the amount of time you and your colleagues spend creating useful and interesting content. Just keep hammering out the updates in the vain hope that some will be seen.

Second, increase the repetition. Simply repost the information you want people to see two, three or four times per day.

Third, work even harder to make your updates even more relevant and even more shareable.

Of all of these, the third is the best option. Although the first two would not be defined as spam in the strict sense, they feel spammy and that’s probably worse.

Remember that nobody is here to hand you a living wage. If you want to cut through the noise, you have to sing your song with clarity. The only real way to make your updates sticky enough to attract a big audience is to make them so interesting that they get lots of shares, RTs and reposts.

Understand that not every post is going to garner a wide audience, but believe in what you are doing. Many of the beer bottles will hit the floor. It doesn’t matter Just make sure you’re slinging the best suds in town.

If you spend any time in a stationery shop, or if you have an internet connection, you’ll probably know that Bic have launched a range of pens designed for women’s hands.  The product itself may be great. I’ll never know – I don’t have woman’s hands, so I’ll never really be able to feel the benefit. Normally, I’d look to reviews on Amazon to discover the pros and cons, but sadly they are so loaded with scathing irony that the design merits (or otherwise) are completely left out.

Designing a pen ‘for women’s hands’ is always going to come with certain risks. Especially when women have managed so well with the existing unisex product. In fact, all the pages devoted to different colours, styles and pack sizes carry reviews about the concept rather than the pen. None of them will make happy reading for Bic. I’ve read them all. There are almost a thousand all told.

Imagine my surprise, then, when this morning I had this email waiting for me:

I wasn’t alone.

I also found this tweet in my timeline:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/ancientnmodern/status/248311926524878850″]

At least Victoria has the benefit of having lady’s hands, so there is some sense in her receiving the email. But how did it end up in my inbox? I have two theories.

Firstly, I admit that I have looked at the lady-pens previously when the storm of condemnation first hit twitter. I don’t check out every hysterical micro-blogging outburst – I have work to do. I did look at this one, though. So Amazon tracked my visit. Fair enough. I’m tracking your visits, too.

If I wasn’t such a cynic I could imagine that Amazon have looked into their vast databases and pulled out a list of products that people are looking at but not buying (please, god, people didn’t buy these pens, did they?) and have simply sent out a little “You Looked At This But Possibly Forgot To Buy It” type email. Maybe that’s what I’m looking at.

Maybe.

But I am an incredible cynic. I know a bit about how these things work. Retailers make money selling stuff to customers. That’s obvious. But they also make money – masses of money – by charging brands for promotions. If you want your packets of stuff at eye-level on supermarket shelves, it’ll cost you. If you want to discount your products and have them on the ends of the aisles, that’s going to cost you more. My guess (and it is only a guess) is that some bright spark from Amazon has spoken to another bright spark from Bic and said “We’ve had millions of page-views for your lady-pens that haven’t converted into sales. People must have forgotten to buy. Give us some cash and we’ll send out some reminders”. And the bright spark at Bic agreed.

If you also received an email advertising the lady-pens, don’t get upset about it – it’s costing Bic money. They’re continuing to pay for their unspeakable daftness. They’re also inventing a process so packed with meta-unawareness that it could be explosive.

And so we enter the world of post-ironic marketing.

Here’s how it could work for you:

  • Come up with an idea. Any idea will do. Brain-storm it in the office. Maybe focus-group it enthusiastically with a bunch of punters who don’t really care. Anyway, do what ever you need to do to convince yourself that it’s a Really Great Idea. Try not to think about it too much, though.
  • Let the Hive Mind pull you up on your enormous lack of tact and insight, shoving mock reviews hither and yon and alerting the world to your idiocy.
  • Wait a couple of weeks. People are stupid – they’ll soon forget.
  • Spend some cash reminding everybody that deliberately avoided your piss-poor product that it is still available. Maybe discount it a little to sweeten the deal.
  • Watch the sales roll in.

This is only the next logical step in a process that has been serving the Mail Online well for years now – bait the intelligensia on twitter with increasing outrageous views; watch the page views come pouring in; sit back and count the ad revenue.

And for those of you thinking that I’m only coat-tailing on a debacle to get some eye-balls of my own; I refer you, gentle reader, to the headline.

Stories give life colour.

Everything has a story; the tree in the forest; the ball of scrumpled up paper in the bin; how one became the other.

You have a story. Your business has a story. We want to help you tell it.

Facebook’s timeline feature is a great place to tell stories. We use ours to tell stories about simple ideas and clear explanation through history.

Here’s what we’ll do for you:

We will put the story of your business into your company’s Facebook timeline absolutely free of charge. All of the major milestones and achievements recorded for posterity. Or until Facebook collapses. Whichever comes sooner.

For free, you say?

What the hell – why not? It’s your story and it needs telling. And from a business perspective, although it will provide your customers with a bit of background colour about who you are and what you do it will almost certainly not make you a an extra sale. However, the way you go about using the social web might pull in some extra punters. We’d be delighted to talk to you about that. But we’ll build you a solid foundation first.

Tell us your story

Get in touch and let’s get cracking.

making history 1066 style

 

 

I love Family Guy. Many people do. If you’ve ever seen more than one episode you’ll be familiar with the plots punctuated with a constant stream of asides, prefigured with the phrase “It’s like that time when…”

Now, much as I love Family Guy, we all know that the fastest way to get from one point to another is in a straight line. If the stories that you tell follow this path (i.e., moving from the beginning, through the middle and on to the end without swerving off at a tangent), then they are linear.

In natural conversations with friends and family, our stories tend to wander. They take detours, they get interrupted, bits get forgotten, good bits get stretched out (sometimes beyond the bounds of truth). Occasionally, they end up in places we never expected to go to when we started the journey. It’s like that time when I was talking to Tony Wilson and Frank Sidebottom about how Northside would save pop music*. These are non-linear stories.

The business world loves a story teller. Particularly an authentic story teller. So now there are now lots of bits of software that let you amaze audiences with a non-linear presentations. We talked about some of these a while ago. We even hoped that they would improve. Sadly, they haven’t. And there are new entrants to the market, such as projeqt that let you pull in blog posts and feeds from the social web to help your story spin round with increasing non-linearity and, it’s makers hope,  authenticity.

The sad fact is that when we plan a presentation we still think in linear terms. More to the point, audiences crave linearity. They want to be able to follow the flow of your thoughts. And if you want them to accurately re-tell your stories, it makes sense to present them as logically as possible. If your story has a defined beginning, middle and end, it is much easier to recount.

I can only imagine what the ultimate non-linear presentation tool might look like. Perhaps it would require us to dump everything we have ever known or thought about or heard onto a server somewhere. It would have been trained to follow our usual set of stories to conjure the required audio-visual aid onto the screen behind us in perfect synchronicity with our diatribe. It would know who was in the room with us and whether they were secretly willing us to slip in a vignette about the first ever football match we went to. And it would always earn us a standing ovation.

In the meantime, it’s back to thinking in straight lines and putting in the hard work to be engaging and authentic people.

 

*Actual, honest-to-goodness true story. Don’t forget to ask me about it next time you see me.

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There is one reason to love infographics

They are easy to share.

There are many reasons to dislike the current proliferation of  infographics.

The main one is their very proliferation. In his essay on clear communication, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell sets out six rules to rely on “when instinct fails”. Number one in that list is “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print”. That rule needs extending to cover visual metaphors on the web. Today, infographics are everywhere and that everywhere-ness renders them all meaningless.

Of course, many of them are meaningless. And they almost all try to cover far too much ground, striving to tell a story where there is none to tell. Couple this with design that tries its very hardest to avoid matching the story being told to the screen-shape it’s being read from and all that remains is the emptiest of content.

A great infographic takes a great investment.

Look at the work of David McCandless, who’s Information is Beautiful book is never off my bedside table. Can the driest of data be made to tell a story? Absolutely. But it takes effort and enthusiasm. So unless you’re willing to patiently plot every data-point in months of painstaking drudgery, here’s an idea.

Let’s not do an infographic.

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