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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Recommended reading – 4th March 2010

Here are six recommended reads that caught my (rather distracted) eye over the past week:

John V. Willshire has some interesting thoughts on location based services and an “immediacy effect”. We concluded a similar thing with our brandheld research and believe if mobile companies start emphasising the practical benefits of the mobile internet (rather than name-dropping Facebook) then uptake among a mainstream audience will accelerate

JP Rangaswami always has thought-provoking posts and this is no exception – his musing on sharing and privacy.

Northern Planner has some good back-to-basics advice on communication planning

Hugh Macleod has a list of 26 thoughts on being an entrepreneur. I particularly liked “In a world of over-supply and commodification, you are no longer paid to supply. You’re being paid to deliver something else. What that is exactly, is not always obvious”

This post on HBR about having ideas versus having a vision has sparked off some debate. The post (and subsequent comments) are bit jargon and cliché heavy for my liking, but I like the underlying point: Individual ideas are all well and good, but they are pretty worthless unless they form together into a coherent and unified strategy.

A brilliant reference guide from Nick Emmel listing a raft of relevant desk research tools for online planning – from industry websites to buzz tracking to user experience insight. Even though I used to work nearby, I hadn’t previously heard of the Royal Mail’s Infobank, which provides free access to a lot of the resources listed

sk

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Should we listen to every conversation?

Over on the Essential Research blog, I have responded to a post by a social media conversation monitor who eulogised the death of focus groups.

In that post, I have outlined why focus groups themselves aren’t the issue; rather it is shoddy application. Here, I want to expand on that a bit. It is my contention that conversation monitoring is more flawed than traditional research, and should not be used for major corporate decision.

Alan Partridge once declared himself to be a homosceptic, and in a not dissimilar way I am doubtful of the efficacy of social media monitoring.

In terms of numbers signing up, the social space is still increasing. However, the number of active users within this universe will remain limited – the late arrivals will be the more passive and occasional users. This space is increasingly asymmetric, with network effects and power laws distorting the flow of information.

Topics of conversation will by nature revolve around the major players – whether individuals, blogs or organisations. The larger the hub, the weaker the concentration of signal to noise.

As a small example, consider blog commenting. Aside from the odd spam comment, the contributions I get here are all genuinely helpful. Because this is a relatively small blog, there are few people commenting out of self-interest. Moving to the larger sites, comments are filled with spam, self-promotion and unquestioning advocacy/contrariness. Genuine debate and discussion still exists, but it is diluted by the inanity surrounding it. This on its own creates difficulties for sentiment analysis, but clever filters can overcome this.

But despite the internet being open, we will cluster around likeminds. Group think creates an echo chamber. danah boyd has pointed out that teenagers network with pre-existing friends. It is my observation that the majority of adults network with those in their pre-existing spheres. Planners chat to planners. Cyclists to cyclists. Artists to artists. Mothers to Mothers. These categories aren’t mutually exclusive, but the crossover is minimal compared to likeminds.

Remember the Motrin outrage? The mainstream majority remain blissfully ignorant. This may have been because it was resolved before it had a chance to escalate to the mainstream media, but it nevertheless shows the limited nature of social media echos.

Of course, some products or services target the early adopting, tech savvy ubergeeks and so for these companies they should obviously engage where their audience is.

But for the rest? Despite my assertions above, I do view monitoring as useful, but only as a secondary tool. Tracking conversations as they happen is a useful feedback mechanism, but few companies are going to be nimble enough to implement it immediately (once they have separated the meat from the gristle and verified that this opinion is indeed consensus).

Surveys and groups are indeed limited by taking place in a single point in time, and through these it is difficult to extrapolate long-term reaction. The Pepsi taste test being one notorious example.

But there are plenty of longitudinal research methodologies that are suitable. Long-term ethnographic or observational studies can track whether attitudes or behaviour do in fact change over time. These can be isolated in pilots or test cases, so that any negative feedback can be ironed out before the product or service is unleashed to the general public.

This is where traditional research still prevails: the controlled environment. Artificiality can be a benefit if it means shielding a consumer basis from something wildly different from what they are used to.

This takes time though, and some companies may prefer to iterate as they go, and “work in beta”. Facebook is an example of this – they have encountered hostility over news feeds, Beacon, redesigns and terms of service.Each time, they have ridden the storm and come back stronger than ever.

Is this a case study for conversation monitoring effectiveness? Not really. They listened to feedback, but only implemented it when it didn’t affect their core strategy. So, the terms of service changed back but the news feed and redesign stayed. Features intrinsic to its success.

Should Scyfy have gone back to being the Sci-Fi channel due to the initial outrage? Perhaps. Personally, I think it is a rather silly name but it didn’t do Dave any harm. If they have done their research properly, they should remain confident in their decision.

Conversation monitoring can be useful, but it should remain a secondary activity. A tiny minority have a disproportionately loud voice, and their opinions shouldn’t be taken as representative of the majority. When iterating in public, there is a difficult balance between reacting too early to an unrepresentative coalition, and acting too late and causing negative reaction among a majority of users/customers.

Because of this, major decisions should be taken before going to market. Tiny iterations can be implemented after public feedback, but the core strategy should remain sound and untouched.Focus groups and other research methodologies still have an important place in formulating strategy.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeff-bauche/

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Cluetrainplus10: Thesis no.2

This is my blog post on thesis 2 of the Cluetrain Manifesto, forming part of cluetrainplus10. This is a project set up by Keith McArthur to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the manifesto’s publishing. I am one of many bloggers who has picked a thesis to cover today.

I feel like a bit of a charlatan, as I haven’t read the full book. I feel like I have, since the book gets referenced and rehashed so often but I should really go to the source at some point the get the version without embellishments and misinterpretations. I have at least read the manifesto though, and there was a thesis available that I wanted to cover so…

2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.

Without wishing to revert to school essay-writing style, it is important to deconstruct the parts of this thesis.

Firstly, markets. Straightforward enough – an exchange of a good or service between a giver and receiver. The economy is made up of a vast number of complex and interconnected markets.

Secondly, demographic sectors. Now the tighter definition of a demographic will look at the objective population characteristics of that segment. Age, gender, ethnicity and so on.

However, loosening this could incorporate location-based, attitudinal, behavioural or lifestyle factors. Segmentation is not a science, after all.

Prisoner Patrick McGoohanThirdly, and finally, there is human beings. We have consciousness, emotions, motivations and free thought. We are not numbers, we are free men.

So, on a tight reading, the thesis could be saying that we shouldn’t be grouped into segments or demographic sectors, but treated as individuals that can fluctuate in and out of pre-defined targets as and when we please.

Technically correct, but this works better for pull-markets than push. In a pull market, the seller has ceded a degree of control. I self-select myself to customise the experience within the constraints to give myself maximum utility. The web has been a great enabler of this.

But most markets are still push markets. Unless your population is a super-select group (e.g. multi-billionaires), it is technically infeasible to treat all potential traders as individuals. That is where demographic sectors come in useful. Population characteristics are pretty outdated and completely overlook the fantastic diversity of our society. Attitudinal or behavioural demographics are much more useful (and fluid).

This reading also overlooks an important element of the thesis. As human beings we are plural. We may be individuals, but we also act in groups. Some might say that we have an inherent herd mentality.

So it is feasible to target groups by attitude, but we should treat them with more grace and humility. With humanity. Not calling them targets, for one thing.

And this works both ways. We should be human ourselves. Organisations should display this emotion, free thought and consciousness that defines us as who we are.

This gets to the heart of the thesis, in my opinion. And it is ever more relevant as the economy gets destroyed by rampant, greedy capitalism. It may not bring the short-term efficiency of a quick trade on the stock exchange or a last second snipe on ebay, but it creates meaningful and long-lasting relationships. Which ultimately benefits both sides.

We are people. We may be grouped, but we are not homogeneous. We are not faceless, we have multiple faces. Our name is legion. And we should recognise this.

We have been slowly learning to treat the customer with respect by using various platitudes.

“The consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife”David Ogilvy

Now it is time to respect ourselves.

sk

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Who I am

This blog has been anonymous since it was established. The reasons for this were that I wasn’t convinced that I would keep the blog active for long (particularly given previous attempts), and that the company I work for didn’t have an official blogging policy.

For some time now I’ve felt my anonymity has constrained my interactions online. I cherish the learnings I gain from this forum, and for some time I have been uneasy at my lack of disclosure. So, after consulting with a couple of people within the office, I am comfortable with revealing who I am.

My name is Simon Kendrick and I am a Commercial Research Consultant at ITV. I am based in London, England. I work with the Online Sales team (for ITV.com, ITVLocal.com and the Friends Reunited Group) and cover three primary functions – to develop sales arguments, to measure effectiveness of campaigns, and to deliver insight.

I have been at ITV for just over a year. Prior to that, I was a Media researcher at GfK NOP.

Now I have full disclosure, I look forward to extending my involvement in the “blogosphere”. While I may occasionally reference research we carry out that is in the public domain, I will continue to neither disclose nor opine on the policies and strategies of either ITV or key competitors

This move may seem reactionary in light of recent noises about online anonymity and open identities, but it is something I have been planning for a while.

So, hello.

sk

PS Days off and Christmas drinks aren’t conducive to a regular blogging schedule. Link updates will return soon!

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Blog Action Day Wrap-Up

On October 15th, I posted an interview with Stuart Fowkes of Oxfam as a contribution to Blog Action Day.

I was one of 12,800 bloggers writing 14,053 posts on poverty that day.

Nielsen Buzzmetrics data for poverty

There were some fantastic posts written on the subject of poverty across the day.

I was particularly impressed with those that talked about the difference that their Kiva loans had made to people.

Kiva is a micro-lending organisation which lets people make direct loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world. By providing them with the means to raise capital, these people are able to set up their own businesses to help both themselves and those in their community.

I was aware of the concept of microcredit through Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, but I had not previously heard of Kiva.

I’m grateful to have been part of something that was able to create awareness of the poverty situation. I have now made my first two micro-loans (the default contribution is $25). Youssif is a Construction contractor in Lebanon who wished to purchase tools. Rohat has her own clothing business in Tajikstan and is looking to update her inventory. Through the loans to them that Kiva has facilitated, they have the opportunity to improve their situation.

Conversation is good, but action is great.

You can find out more about Kiva here.

sk

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Blog Action Day 2008: Interview with Stuart Fowkes of Oxfam

As previously mentioned, today is Blog Action Day 2008. The central issue to focus upon and to progress the conversation in this year is global poverty.

I don’t know a great deal about global poverty, but I know someone that does. He has graciously agreed to be interviewed by me.

As well as being a friend of mine, Stuart Fowkes is the Online Press Officer for Oxfam. In his own words, this means “I spent my time thinking about online media, blogging and social networks, and the best ways of using them to help us fight poverty.” In addition to this, he also co-organises the music festival Audioscope – now in its 8th year – which raises money for Shelter.

Q: Firstly, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. To kick things of, could you explain to those that aren’t aware who Oxfam are and what they do?

The standard phrase is that Oxfam is ‘an international agency working with others to overcome poverty and suffering’. That probably doesn’t get across the massive range of work that we actually do. The ‘business end’, as it were, is our programme work, which goes across 70+ countries and takes the form of everything from emergency relief (water, sanitation, shelter and food relief) through to health and education programmes.

We also campaign on a huge variety of issues – the inequalities of the global trade system, provision of health and education in poor countries, climate change issues, debt and aid, and so on. The best-known of these include Make Trade Fair (y’know, Chris Martin and all that) and Control Arms, and we’re also behind the scenes at things like Live 8.

We also have a massive trading operation – comprising of things like Oxfam shops (that glorious national institution) and the Oxfam Unwrapped gift catalogue (buy a goat for Xmas- send it to people who need it) – and run fundraising events like the Oxjam music festival and Trailwalker.

Having just written all of that, I’m not surprised that people aren’t necessarily aware of everything we do. But each thing is as crucial as the other.

Q. Specifically looking at global poverty; what major initiatives have Oxfam set up to help combat this?

Campaigns such as Control Arms and Make Trade Fair have had a massive impact on policies and systems worldwide. In a humanitarian emergency like the Asian tsunami, we’re there providing water, shelter and those things most urgently needed to save lives. Across our programmes, the range and scope is almost too wide to write about – funding long-term work worldwide to help poor people work themselves out of poverty on a sustainable and permanent basis.

Q. As you mention, you participate in and promote Oxfam through social media. Can you give some examples of what you have done to help raise awareness?

We’ve got a new blog section on the website, where we demonstrate the breadth of work we do around the world by offering perspectives and experiences from global staff. We’ve campaigned on MySpace and on YouTube against Starbucks, we’ve mobilised supporters on Facebook around humanitarian emergencies, provided repositories of emergency photos for media on Flickr, and are reporting live from festivals, events and political conferences via Twitter.

Q. What would you say are the major poverty-related issues at the moment, and where would you say the most affected areas are?

For us, the two biggest issues at the moment are probably climate change and the global rise in food prices, which are to a large extent intertwined. It’s the poorest people who are hit first and hit hardest by the effects of climate change, which they had little or no part in causing, and who also have the least chance of being able to cope or adapt – just take a look at some of the effects being seen in sub-Saharan Africa or Asia, for instance. And there are almost a billion people going hungry around the world. For some people, the price of their food has tripled at the same time as they’ve lost 70% of their income due to worsening weather patterns. When you’re spending 80% of what you earn on food and then the price triples, what can you do? Those are the people that we’re there to help.

Q. Is the situation improving or getting worse?

In many ways, the situation is getting worse. The full effects of the economic crisis we’re experiencing now might only be felt further down the ‘food chain’ (as it were) in the years to come, so we will need to help the poorest cope with the aftershocks and feedback loops. It’s the biggest threat to humanity, and also one that western governments still do not seem willing to tackle with the urgency it so obviously requires.

Q. And given the economic crisis, this is unlikely to get better soon?

It will probably get worse before it gets better. Energy that could otherwise be spent developing global solutions on climate change in advance of the COP in December may now be being poured into the financial crisis. And many companies will now put carbon trading and sustainable development aside in favour of short-term cost cuts.

Q. What can we do to help?

Give £2 a month to a charity whose work you respect. Lend your voice to a campaign you believe in. Make a one-off donation to an appeal. Get angry about something and write a letter, send an email or demonstrate. Take your old rubbish down to a charity shop. It really is true that every single donation, signature, email, direct debit or hour spent volunteering is incredibly valuable and will help to save lives.

Q. And of course you are involved beyond Oxfam. Through Audioscope, you have raised over £17,000 for Shelter. Could you explain how this came about, and how Shelter have benefited from your support?

Audioscope is a festival a friend and I set up in 2001 to benefit the homelessness charity Shelter. We strongly support what they do and we know how to put on a gig so we combined the two.

We started the festival with only two guiding principles. We have to love the bands who are playing on their own merits, and we have to make money for Shelter at the end of it. The bands who have played have paid us back for holding these principles dear in lots of ways, but mostly by admiring the charity and wanting to play without taking a fee.

Shelter have not only benefited from getting £17,000, but hopefully by having their profile raised within Oxford. Beyond peripheral media coverage, I know at least two gig-goers who have signed up to a monthly direct debit for Shelter after coming to the show, one friend who did her triathlon in aid of Shelter, and a local band who donated all the profits from a video project to the charity after playing our show too.

And with Audioscope continuing, these benefits will continue to accrue.

Thanks to Stuart for agreeing to this. His blog can be found here.

I’m looking forward to reading the other blogs on the subject (when I’m back at the weekend; this is a scheduled post) and improving my understanding of the issues surrounding global poverty.

sk

Blog Action Day 2008

Blog Action Day 2008 will take place on October 15th.

This is the second annual event. Last year the topic was on the environment. This year it is on poverty.

To quote the organisers:

Blog Action Day is an annual nonprofit event that aims to unite the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, to post about the same issue on the same day. Our aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion

Global issues like poverty are extremely complex. There is no simple, clear answer. By asking thousands of different people to give their viewpoints and opinions, Blog Action Day creates an extraordinary lens through which to view these issues. Each blogger brings their own perspective and ideas. Each blogger posts relating to their own blog topic. And each blogger engages their audience differently.

First and last, the purpose of Blog Action Day is to create a discussion. We ask bloggers to take a single day out of their schedule and focus it on an important issue.

By doing so on the same day, the blogging community effectively changes the conversation on the web and focuses audiences around the globe on that issue.

Out of this discussion naturally flow actions, advice, ideas, plans, and empowerment. In 2007 on the theme of the Environment, we saw bloggers running environmental experiments, detailing innovative ideas on creating sustainable practices and focusing audience’s attentions on organizations and companies promoting green agendas. In 2008 we aim to again focus the blogging community’s energies and passions, this time on the mammoth issue of global poverty.

Go the the Blog Action Day website if you wish to sign up. I was the 2,050th blogger to sign up, and that number is expanding all of the time.

If you are in the position where you make money from your blog, there is also the option to back up words with actions, with the opportunity to donate or micro-loan your blog earnings for that day

sk