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Archive for the ‘Social business’ Category

Point of view: Social media demands strong branding

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Hands up if you hate the term ‘brand’. Yep. I thought so. The word originally comes from the Old Norse ‘brandr’ – the practice of stamping hot metal symbols on livestock – and the etymological whiff of brutality still lingers. Brands stink of globalized uniformity, of slick corporate coercion cloaked in a shiny logo and an uplifting tagline. And we hate them even more now we’re all supposed to be one, with our precious, unique, hydra-headed identities boiled down to a Klout score and a sexy one-line Twitter bio.

But the old-school principles of branding have never been more important. The organisations that are proving successful and resilient in the age of social media are those that have a strong sense of what their ‘brand’ means. Having worked with conglomerates and independents, blue-chips and charities, from Beirut to Birmingham, I have come to the conclusion that most social media problems are in fact branding problems instead. Teaching a marketing department how to use a #FollowFriday hashtag is not the issue. The issue, in the words of the great social media dissenter Jaron Lanier, is that “you have to be somebody before you can share yourself.”

Robert Bean has thirty years’ experience rebranding companies such as BMW, Honda, BT and Yo!Sushi . In his book Winning In Your Own Way, he explains that organizations must find the intersection between their culture, their product or service, and their reputation: what he calls their ‘single organizing principle.’ And listening to him talk at an event in London, I realised that social media terrifies many leaders exactly because it highlights the holes in their organisation’s SOP. Social media demands transparency, so if the truth under their tagline ain’t pretty, it’s quickly going to show.

One story Bean recounted involved a visit to a regional BMW dealership with the company’s CEO. Finding that the toilet was a little grubby, the CEO summoned the manager, pointed to the loo, and mused, ‘the ultimate driving machine?’ He didn’t need to say another word. The manager rushed off to solve the problem; he knew exactly what his boss meant.

It’s the equivalent of being able to point to Facebook, say ‘the ultimate driving machine,’ and trust your staff all over the world to understand exactly why and how they should connect with customers online. When it comes to social media – and indeed most things in life – a glut of rules, safeguards and processes is usually an indication of insecurity. Engaging in consumer conversation requires organisations to traduce boundaries: between departments, between on and offline spaces and between personal and professional selves. Having a simple SOP ensures consistency yet allows each individual to interpret that collective spirit in a way that suits their role, their personality and the conversation they currently need to have.

I may come from the box fresh end of the marketing discipline, but I spend well over half of my time running my own version of Robert’s branding process. Although teaching teams the technical stuff – platform best practice, content calendars, tools and tricks, timings and process – is important, it’s useless if they don’t understand the essence of exactly what it is they are representing when they engage online.

No-one following your Pinterest board? It’ll usually be because your images have nothing to distinguish them, no unique style or provocative purpose. That’s a problem with your visual identity, not a problem with your inability to ‘be social.’ What if your team has posted some inappropriate tweets? That’s a culture issue, not a ‘social media mistake.’ Or what if the quality of your Facebook pages varies wildly across different markets? You won’t solve it by trying to get every region to imitate brilliant Bulgaria, or by crafting a ten-page policy for them all to translate. Only once each one of those owners has understood and internalized your SOP, can they start to interpret it for their communities in a fluid and meaningful way.

The challenge is not just to define your SOP, but to make it spread both wide and deep, from the CMO to the intern. Leaders must show they are committed, but granular, practical action is also key. Start by building it into your rewards and incentives programme. You can throw up a thousand pretty wall vinyls, but an SOP will only really flourish once daily behaviours are being judged and reinforced accordingly.

If you’re struggling with social media, you probably need to dig deeper than you think. Make-up will only give you so much social sex appeal. You need to start with good DNA.

 

This article originally appeared on 12ahead.com.

Point of view: Content needs context

Friday, February 28th, 2014

How accurately do your social media conversations reflect your actions in the real world?

I spend a lot of time helping marketing teams to acknowledge and understand the living, breathing people behind the tweets, photos, videos and blogs about their brand. But I also like to remind them that our glimpse into the preferences and passions of those people is highly edited. The gregarious, fashion-savvy, culture-loving woman who features in my social media feeds is very different from the one who likes to gossip about trashy magazines on the sofa with crusty scrambled egg on her Marks & Spencer sweatshirt.

Our online personas, however authentic, are only a particular and partial shadow of our true selves.

Image: Chris Isherwood 

So if brands want to influence our offline behaviour – whether that means buying more coffee or using a different sunscreen – is social content a reliable indicator of what we will do once we’re in the shop or on the beach? Listening to word of mouth online then using that data to improve products and create content has become very big business; Altimeter report that monitoring platforms represented the biggest social media spend for companies in 2013, an average of $62,000. But are we spending thousands of dollars drawing insight from simplistic, self-censoring avatars rather than complex human beings?

A recent paper for the Journal of Marketing Research, ‘On Brands and Word of Mouth’, found that “online data does not reflect well the offline behavior. Word of mouth is not channel neutral. One cannot automatically generalize the results from online to offline.” Using a large data-set incorporating online word of mouth (provided by NM Incite), offline word of mouth (provided by the Keller Fay Group), brand equity (provided by Y&R’s Brand Asset Valuator), and custom research on brands (conducted by Decipher), the authors analysed more than 600 of the most talked about brands in the US, across 16 product categories, over three years between 2007 – 2010. They found that the brand categories we discuss online are very different from those we focus on in person. For example, food and dining comprises 4% of our brand WOM online, but 12% offline; media and entertainment dominates 32% of online content yet only 7% face to face.

Crucially, the factors that motivate our conversations about brands differ markedly, depending on whether we’re sharing on or offline. The study identified that “consumers spread the word on brands for three fundamental purposes”: functional (“the motive to provide and supply information; social (“the motive to send social signals to the environment [such as expressing uniqueness, self-enhancement, and a desire to socialize or belong]”) and emotional: (“the motive to share positive or negative feelings about brands in order to express these emotions or balance emotional arousal”). The primary drivers of online word of mouth are, in order of importance, social, functional, then emotional; but the primary drivers of offline word of mouth are the exact opposite: emotional, functional, then social.

“Offline conversations, which are mostly in one-on-one settings, are more personal and intimate by nature and thus allow people to share emotions such as excitement and satisfaction,” the authors explain. “Online WOM, which usually involves ‘broadcasting’ to many people (e.g. Twitter), is more appropriate for social signaling (e.g., uniqueness).”

This doesn’t mean that we are ‘fake’ online and honest IRL. Our digital and real world networks serve different purposes and provoke different conversational approaches. But the research is a timely reminder that gaining meaningful social media insight requires analysis of the motivations that drive consumers to create content, rather than a simple focus on the content itself. Understanding what consumers are likely to talk about and where – rather than attempting to extrapolate their overall feelings and behaviours from their actions on a single platform – demands a far more nuanced and multi-channel social strategy than many brands are willing to accept.

Last December, CBS’s Chief Research Officer Dave Poltrack revealed that conversations on Twitter, as measured by Nielsen’s SocialGuide, are less likely to reflect TV ratings performance than offline WOM, as measured by Keller Fay. Moreover, only two programmes on the Keller Fay top 10 -The Voice and Once Upon a Time – also made the Twitter top 10 list. Poltrack’s message was clear: online conversation does not necessarily reflect what is happening in the real world, and securing social advocacy demands several distinct strategies.

As ‘content marketing’ continues to dominate industry headlines, we need to remember that content depends on context. If you’re looking to drive truly powerful word of mouth, you need to consider the why and the where, not just the what.

Point of view: The next frontier for social commerce

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Social commerce – where the act of shopping becomes seamlessly embedded in the creation, sharing and consumption of social media content – has always been the pot of gold at the end of the social media rainbow. According to McKinsey, word of mouth drives 20-50% of purchase decisions, so enabling people to buy in the same venues and contexts where they’re chatting with their peers makes total sense.

Unfortunately, it’s had a less-than-salubrious history. Facebook has found it particularly hard to nail. First there was 2007′s short-lived Beacon plug-in, which published users’ creditcard activity in their friends’ news feeds. Presumably intended to inspire copycat purchases, it actually inspired shame, lawsuits and divorce threats. Then came in-page F-Commerce stores, which were prohibitively expensive for brands and an utterly disjointed experience for consumers. Finally, last year’s mobile app, Facebook Gifts, offered users a chance to share real and physical gifts from retailers. Users promptly declined, and the service has been dramatically scaled back after only eight months.

© Geek & Poke

There have been a few good examples of brands building social elements onto their own ecommerce sites – see Levi’s Friends Store – and some interesting experiments in group buying from the likes of Groupon and Living Social. But the anticipated wholesale transformation of online retail by social media has failed to take place. Mostly, that’s because the people with the technology have failed to understand the behaviour.

Social commerce has the potential to be powerful, not because we want to share what we’ve bought, but because social content and conversation inspires us to buy. If you can make it easy for us to shell out in the very midst of our moment of emotion – the joy, envy, hope, hunger, lust, relief, or even guilt which we experience when we see a picture of a gorgeous interior, read a tweet about a brilliant book, or watch a how-to make-up video-then you’re quids in.

is why Pinterest has been so successful. An unashamed arena of aspiration where brands are more than welcome (and not edited out of user feeds, as with Facebook), Pinterest requires users to make at least two clicks on an image before it leads out to a shopping site. Nonetheless, shoppers referred by Pinterest are 10% more likely to follow through with a purchase than visitors from other social networking sites, and an estimated 47% of US online shoppers have made a purchase based on a recommendation from Pinterest (more stats here).

Why? It’s pictures. On Pinterest, there are no elaborate storefronts, no sales bumpf or lengthy reviews – the whole site is one big aspirational catalogue, where our peers filter, curate and endorse the products they love.

It looks like investors have scented an opportunity. This summer Fancy, a Pinterest imitator which allows users to purchase any product direct on-site, raised $53 million from the likes of American Express and actor Will Smith, and is now said to be valued at $600 million. And the excitement is transferring to moving images too. ‘Hotspotting‘ – a technology which allows viewers to click on and directly purchase any object in a video – is gaining traction, particularly with fashion brands.

But what if you don’t have a visual product? If Chirpify can live up to its claims, hashtags are the other big social commerce hope. Having already pioneered a system whereby consumers can buy or sell products in-stream on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, using keywords and hashtags such as ‘buy’ and ‘gimme’, the Portland-based start-up is now launching ‘actiontags’ for brands.

Effectively turning hashtags into hypertext, actiontags allow brand followers and fans to click on commands such as #buy and #vote in order to do, instantly, just that. Founder, Chris Teso, believes that ‘hashtags are the new URL’, and considering that they’re simple, flexible, cross-platform and increasingly dominant in pop culture, he could certainly be right.

This August, Twitter appointed ex-Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard as its new head of commerce. It’s clear that social’s big players know that the time, and the technology, is finally ripe for social commerce. But as new and more sophisticated developments unfold, it’s important for brands to remember one thing. You can build mechanics that make purchasing your products as easy as pie, but if your content and conversation don’t inspire emotion, we just won’t bite. Technology won’t distinguish you – passion will.

The conversion of social media to sales, whether it’s achieved through a click, an actiontag, or some yet-to-be-discovered in-stream wizardry, will only come if you make us feel something first.

Flexible working is essential in a social world

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Yesterday saw the delivery of the Institute of Direct Marketing’s annual lecture, presented this year by Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer of Microsoft UK. Coplin focused on his new book: Business Reimagined – Why work isn’t working and what we can do about it, and his comments felt extremely aligned with the sort of change many of our clients are going through.

As technological change marches forward, every business should be looking to how they harness the tools we are now blessed with, to connect their customers directly with the problem solvers they need. Customers and employees alike already self-organise their lives with social tools, and they expect the same flexibility of communication and location when at work. Furthermore, with staff turnover a natural part of the modern age, it feels vital to grasp the continuity that knowledge sharing in wikis and social networks can provide.

The interesting thing about Coplin’s book is that instead of talking endlessly about the potential of these tools, he asks pointedly – if social tech is so great why have we yet to fully harness its potential at work?

With a nod to Kahneman’s iconic Thinking Fast and Slow, the answer lies partly in our innately human lack of self-discipline and how we project those failings onto others. We see this in our personal lives where the mobile phone has become a proxy for being less than punctual. Our future lives demand more self-discipline, professionalism and respect for each other’s time, not less. As Coplin points out, in Star Trek we don’t see Captain Kirk wrestling with his inbox. Always one to practise what he preaches, Coplin’s book is short enough that I could buy the book yesterday morning, attend his lecture last night, read it again on the train home and write this blog post this morning – amen to that!

According to Coplin, the whole notion of flexible working does not leave the starting blocks because of the very real and borne-out fear that the process of choosing those who are granted that flexibility will lead to a sense of entitlement and resentment. This approach fails to ask the question “What if a whole section of our company CAN be trusted to work flexibly and will produce better outcomes and better knowledge sharing resources because of it?” The cornerstone of success in a policy like this is to do it disruptively, at a large scale, and for the right reasons. Employee satisfaction and retention is but a healthy side product.

Netflix is one example of a company that has built its business around being able to recruit and retain high achievers. Through its cultural manifesto, Netflix creates an environment which makes it easy to:

• Anticipate changes in the markets they are working in and make timely decisions to adapt, as opposed to being reactive and fire-fighting
• Create great resources and pass on their knowledge such that they make themselves dispensable and able to take lots of time off
• Use the flexible holiday policy to broaden their horizons and work in other ventures (paid and unpaid) ultimately for the benefit of Netflix while still having time to chill out

Arguably, it is this culture which has allowed Netflix to out-innovate its competitors and overtake HBO in the pay-TV market.

Many readers of this blog will no doubt argue that working in a high-tech engineering company is very different to working in a marketing department. But that argument misses the point. Yes, the gap between excellent and mediocre does not seem as high as is noticed amongst the programmers at Netflix, but perhaps that is because the rest of us are not truly stretching our creative muscles to the limit.

In fact, marketing and engineering are converging at an alarming rate – didn’t you just ask to get the product development team more involved in producing Facebook posts? Aren’t you looking for ways to integrate the maker revolution into your marketing activity? All of these things depend heavily on discretionary effort from your employees and a can-do, can-learn attitude. Flexible working is a great way to unlock that potential.

The last word belongs to Dave Coplin (nip out and buy the book, a bargain at £6.99 and a lunch-time read). At the end of the book he thanks his employers for “creating the cognitive headroom for us to explore something that was not necessarily part of the day job.”

That sounds like a working future I want to be a part of.

Conversations and Innovation in Australia

Friday, November 1st, 2013

On my recent trip to London, I spent a lot of time catching up with friends on a one-to-one basis. I find this useful because I get more time to ask questions, hear about projects, and share my experiences and responses. It’s something you just don’t get enough time to do at parties or at noisy networking events. But it isn’t just useful for friends; it works for business conversations, too. Only in one-to-one or small group meetings is it really possible to be hear and be heard. And only in such environments is it possible to create and to innovate.

Over the past few months I have been tracking blog posts and articles on the importance of conversations. Obviously some are clearly selling services, usually monitoring technologies. But beyond the mere selling there is a consistency that reflects the zeitgeist of our times for authenticity, transparency and improving customer experiences. And probably more importantly, there seems to be a growing body of evidence that there is a correlation between a culture of conversations and innovation, and consequently, competitive advantage.

It is not easy for me to acknowledge publicly that Australia has more of a reputation for innovation than it currently deserves. While we went through a strongly innovative period up to and including the first few years of the 21st century, our innovation capacity has been seriously compromised by rising costs of production and, somewhat perversely, the very solidity of our current economic position. This shift in innovation has been discussed by much better commentators than me, but at a time when the global economic situation is so fragile, Australia needs to take a serious look again at its fostering of innovation. And I think its attitude and failure to foster a culture of conversations may be a good place to start.

In many respects we are the ideal country for adoption and capitalisation of social technologies for business. We have a small population spread over a vast geographical area, so technology-facilitated conversations are a logical solution for overcoming those geographical challenges. Instead, our massively risk averse nation is setting such absurdly restrictive policies on social communications among employees, that open conversations are virtually impossible. Further, there is a low tolerance to dedicating working hours to engaging in conversations on a one-to-one level as I described above. Conversations generally are considered productivity sinks in Australia, rather than safe venues for exploration of innovative tools, techniques, applications and services.

The consequences for this lack of a culture of conversation are serious indeed. As global business becomes more open, more transparent, more customer-focused and more tolerant of failure, Australian business risks being excluded from emergent corporate collaborations, partnerships and ventures, inevitably impacting on its competitive positioning and economic stability. It will be a case of the paradox of risk aversion; the more risk averse you become, the higher the risk to business.

This isn’t mere scaremongering; Australia has a serious problem with its attitude to conversations, and to innovation. There is strong evidence emerging that conversations are not just crucial to business reputation from a marketing perspective, but from the perspective of productivity and innovation. And unless there is a tectonic shift in business understanding of the importance of conversations, then the innovative future of my country looks bleak.

Comfortable with your social media strategy? You should be worried

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

To survive and flourish in today’s social media landscape, established businesses have had to recalibrate their structures, processes and understanding of media and communications. The scale of change required is an endless spectrum, dependent on the type of organisation, the existing set-up and the people within it. But, needless to say, most businesses have had to change at some level or another.

Working at a specialist social media agency has given me the opportunity to witness and support this change for numerous brands. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with many talented people, from all kinds of sectors, who deeply care about the company they work for and its customers, and, although the needs and challenges of each client differ wildly, one thing remains the same: change is hard. Especially when you know that the future will only hold yet more change.

What does that change look like? How do you know when it is appropriate and effective? What do the first steps look like? Re-structuring a business for social disrupts culture, communication and process in numerous ways, but for now, let’s focus on the adoption of branded social presences and community management skills.

Over the recent years, brands have gone to great lengths to ensure that they can successfully manage and grow a community in social media. They have invested a lot of resource and budget into developing their ‘owned social’ strategy, considering how they track and measure success, how they respond to their community in a timely way outside of ‘traditional’ working hours, and how they can continuously engage with their community through daily content creation.

This demands significant effort to get right. Most organisations have needed to find new employees, or even a whole new team, to make it a reality. The skills possessed by the ‘community manager’ or ‘social team’ are a unique mix, requiring a deep understanding of the organisation, alongside knowledge of social platforms, professional writing skills, and, most importantly, the ability to talk to people in a natural and human way.

Of course, agencies of all stripes have observed the emergence of this new requirement and quickly added the appropriate skills to their CVs. To begin with, many brands were keen to embrace the opportunity to outsource their community management needs – it was simply the quickest route forward. However, over time, most have re-designed their business, allocating budgets, creating new teams or even departments, and taking community management in-house.

But many still struggle to identify the value of this new activity stream and to integrate it with the wider business objectives and outcomes. Brands have arrived at a new juncture within this quest to own community management. Platform understanding, good writing skills and the willingness to work outside of ‘traditional working hours’ is no longer enough, as both consumers and colleagues become more demanding of what ‘being social’ really means.

Throughout 2013 we have seen a rise of new platforms, and new features on established platforms, which have led to a whole raft of new skills landing on the ‘check-list’. Creative, design and production capabilities have skyrocketed, especially when it comes to mobile.

Images, Gifs, Vines and videos are now in high demand as essential fuel which allows brands to progress their community management efforts. Text updates, enhanced by the odd low-res asset, will no longer suffice. Rich media assets are now part of a staple content diet needed to realise the ambitions of a solid social or community marketing strategy and to achieve the required KPIs around views, engagements, brand positioning and competitor benchmarking. As I write this, I can see two people from our production department crafting a Vine for one of our clients. The skills, patience and time required for six glorious seconds of stop motion animation are very real indeed.

Led by social technology, brands need to keep pace and acquire the relevant production and communication skills, not just for their existing presences but for the emergent communities that they wish to join. Agencies must also adapt to ensure that their clients can rely on them to cater for these new platforms and their users’ preferences for more digestible, personalised, engaging and accessible content. As we see this inevitable upgrade, we will start to see content production skills that are currently quite novel become a regular feature within both ‘Community Management’ teams and agency service menus.

A truly social approach is never finished, comfortable or entirely fit for purpose. It is essential that organisations design a team and a way of working that is flexible enough to embrace continually emerging new platforms and tools, and to incorporate the relevant skills required to harness them.

Nobody said it was going to be easy. But then nothing really good ever is.

This article was originally published on 12ahead.com 

Perfectionism strangles social media

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Do you hesitate to release anything into the public realm until it is exactly right? Do you dread negative feedback online? Do you believe that if you can’t do something properly, it’s better not to do it at all? If that attitude sounds familiar, you may well be suffering from what Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck calls a ‘fixed mindset’.

First published in the States in 2006, Dweck’s book ‘Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential’ has been garnering some serious attention this side of the pond following last year’s UK paperback release. Dweck defines mindsets as “beliefs about yourself and your most basic qualities. Think about your intelligence, your talents, your personality. Are these qualities fixed traits, carved in stone? Or are they things you can cultivate throughout your life?”

People – and organisations – with a fixed mindset, base their worth on a sense of who they ‘are’. They often demonstrate perfectionist traits such as extreme control, risk aversion, the creation of complex processes to stay safe and a reluctance to react quickly – all strategies developed to protect a sacred self. To a business with a fixed mindset, social media appears deeply chaotic, threatening the brand’s carefully constructed identity with its playful irreverence and insatiable hunger for real time, relevant content.

A growth mindset, on the other hand, values ‘becoming’, in which the process of communication is as important as the end result. A growth mindset sees identity as constantly in flux, and develops it through working hard, pushing beyond comfort zones, and failing and learning fast. To a business with a growth mindset, social media is an inspiring sandbox, full of chances to evolve and collaborate.

Traditional marketing channels have always allowed companies to don a mask before they face the world. The very word ‘brand’ implies a ‘carved in stone’ stasis. But if you’re going to try and apply professional production values to every video you upload to YouTube, or issue a three-page list of ‘on brand’ and ‘off brand’ language to be applied to every tweet, there’s a serious mismatch between you mindset and your medium.

A grainy instagram snap of a hot-out-of-the-lab new product, taken by the dev team on a smartphone, is more engaging than a beautifully shot press image. A spontaneous back-and-forth with a customer on a forum is more satisfying, and likely more productive, than a template email. Consumers feel more involved in your brand if you’re willing to show the process behind the product, particularly if you allow them to be part of it, perhaps through crowdsourcing ideas or releasing experimental beta trials. An authentic sense of rawness fascinates consumers – and terrifies fixed-mindset brands.

Perfectionism has its place, of course. Steve Jobs’s exacting ideals helped create iconic products. Industries such as finance, law and pharma have a very real duty to protect their customers, so rigidity has to be built into their DNA. And there’s never any excuse for bad spelling and grammar, or sloppy basics online; it only takes a few seconds to ensure that you have the correct logo on your Vine or the correct link in your tweet.

But there is a difference between upholding high standards and letting them hold you back. Perfectionism is virtually impossible to sustain, and has a tendency to lead to inertia. To participate in social media, which is a petri dish of continual growth, you have to jump in, take risks and improving by doing, not by theorising. If you operate in a closely regulated industry, be honest about your constraints; we’ll respect you all the more for it. But you can likely still find new ways to share content – perhaps by creating advisory videos or infographics illustrating complex issues – that won’t compromise your integrity.

A growth mindset is equally important when it comes to social media monitoring. “If, like those with the growth mindset, you believe you can develop yourself, then you’re open to accurate information about your current abilities, even it it’s unflattering,” Dweck explains. “What’s more, if you’re oriented toward learning, as they are, you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively.”  Yet too many companies panic at the sight of negative word of mouth, and only see online conversation as successful if it aligns with their desired messages.

A fixed mindset will get snapped in social media. A growth mindset will blossom. You can talk hashtags and content calendars all you like, but if your team’s mindset isn’t right, being social will be a struggle every step of the way.

Watch Dweck do her brilliant thing for the School of Life below.

The true meaning of a digital enterprise

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

As part of the work the 1000heads Sydney team is doing for clients right now, I’m coming across a lot of literature focused on the digital enterprise and the use of technology to improve business productivity and profitability. But while digitisation of a business can appear to improve productivity in the short term, unless the entire culture and processes of an organisation are assessed, the value of digitisation can be limited.

In the marketing world, there appears to be a wilful blindness to the fact that digital advertising does not equate to an improvement in business processes. It doesn’t actually make targeting much easier, and it doesn’t cost less. The thing that does improve is ROI for advertising. But I often wonder why companies are engaging in advertising at all (digital or otherwise) when what they really should be doing is research, to find the right people who need products and services, at the right time, and in the right manner.

It’s not always about buying. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to communicate in my sector. Emergent technologies enable better understanding of audiences. They facilitate tracking, audience profiling and crowdsourcing of information. This *should* change product development and processing improvements at least as much – and probably more so - than sales. Yet enterprises keep measuring sales, rather than savings and changes in the product development process.

Of course, it’s easier to track sales. And because sales are directly tied to profitability in the commercial sphere, it’s common to disregard the opportunities for internal efficiency gains arising from digitisation of a business, in favour of what would best be termed ‘digital advertising’. Even in the government and non-profit sector, there is still an overly simplistic approach of measuring the number of clients served, or the cycle time per client, rather than considering renovation of the whole engagement process.

In reality, renovating process requires substantial investment. Technology is essentially dumb. Not even the most sophisticated artificial intelligence systems can do much more than make a few predictions about behaviours. We may have invented a few machines that can (sort of) beat the Turing test, but these aren’t much use in a digital enterprise. Organisations need to invest in digitisation with one eye on consumer behaviour, and the other on the potential benefits across all facets of the business.

The opportunity of a digitally facilitated social enterprise is in knowledge sharing, fast problem solving, added agility to respond to changing market conditions and a growing emotional intelligence within the firm and between a firm and its stakeholders (customers, suppliers and distributors). The very thing that divides us from machines – our ability to comprehend, analyse and evaluate - is what needs to be optimised.

In other words, a true digital enterprise is one that deploys technology in a manner that makes us more effective in being human.

Video on Instagram vs. Vine: what should brands do?

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Facebook announced yesterday that their immensely popular photo-sharing app Instagram is launching a video feature. Designed to compete against Twitter’s much-celebrated video app Vine, many already speculate Video on Instagram will be Vine’s reaper.

Will Video on Instagram sideline Vine? Only time will tell, but there are some strong indicators already. The real question brands should be asking is: which platform should we invest in?

Photo: Instagram

Instagram has a key advantage in that, unlike Vine, it has a large and vibrant community of users independent of its owner. Aside from the technical differences both apps are offering, one crucial point to be taken into account is how well they integrate within the respective social media giants they are tied to (and via whom the majority of sharing will take place).

Facebook does not allow Vines to  be viewed from its news feed, and Twitter does not allow Instagram videos (or photos) to be viewed from its timeline. The fact that Instagram did get support from Twitter Cards before the former’s acquisition by Facebook shows the somewhat petty war that is going on between the web’s two largest social platforms.

Regardless of this, brands should concentrate their efforts on the platform that makes the most sense for them, their objectives and their audience – and assess the relative roles of Facebook and Twitter within their social strategies in order to determine which video-sharing app to use. This is not the end of Vine: both platforms can co-exist, just as their owners do.

Are women better at social business?

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

It’s true: women use social media more than men. Studies on the topic vary in quality and focus but the findings remain pretty consistent. A 2011 survey from Rebtel found that 14% more women use social media than men; one from Social Technology Review found that we create 55% more Facebook wall posts; and this month Pew Research found that women are 9% more prolific in social, especially when it comes to visual platforms such as Pinterest, which has 5x more female than male users.

When it comes to the industry, women are also riding high. Forbes’s recent list of Top 20 Women Social Media Influencers outlined some impressive industry leaders and spawned a raft of satellite blogs naming many lesser-known behind-the-scenes players as well. And now a book published in the UK this month suggest that ‘feminine’ skills are essential to the sort of flexible, collaborative, socially-oriented companies we need today, and that the old command-and-control ‘masculine’ values are dragging many legacy companies down.

The Athena Doctrine

“Feminine values are at the operating system of the 21st century” writes social strategist John Gerzema, co-author of The Athena Doctrine: How Women (And Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule The Future, current No.2 on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list. He believes the “positive energy and collaboration and discussion”between women transforms the workplace, and although he emphasises that both sets of gendered traits are essential for a balanced outlook, the modern demand for openness, trust and sociability makes traditionally female skills more valuable than ever before.

On a topic like this it is so easy to fall into sweeping generalisations and untested clichés. If I’m honest, as a (youngish) woman that trains predominantly male, director-level teams in the skills and tools of organisation-wide conversation and collaboration, I think my main advantage comes in being able to slip under the defences of change-resistant leaders and challenge them with a strength that might raise their hackles if it came from a (youngish) bloke. Frankly, I find the distribution of ‘feminine’ skills to be pretty gender-agnostic; I know just as many women who cling onto brand control with an iron fist as I do men who are outstanding community managers.

But one thing I do agree with: these skills are essential. And if your business has a tendency to dismisses them as ‘soft’, you’re most definitely heading for trouble, beacuse they’re the way to hard profit in today’s marketplace.