Spreading birthday cheer

Yesterday was my birthday. Among the birthday messages I received was an email from Stick Sports.

This is an online game that I hadn’t thought about for a while, let alone played. Yet they used the information I provided in my sign-up, to send me a message. This in turn has reminded me of the site (I haven’t gone back to play Stick Cricket or Stick Baseball yet, but I’m writing about it).

Some people might consider this an invasion of privacy since I didn’t give explicit permission for them to contact me. But it is an innocuous yet relevant message to me, that is extremely simple to administer. As such, I’m amazed more companies don’t do it.

For instance, the majority of emails in my inbox yesterday were Facebook notifications, informing me of friends writing messages on my wall. Although personal information is becoming more private, many people do have their birthdays visible. There is a great opportunity for brands or celebrities to send birthday messages to their fans, either to show they are there and listening, or to inform them of a special birthday-only offer. A simple, but effective means of communicating with supporters.

This is a ploy that can also be used for research panel respondents. For instance, why not give them additional tokens for prize draws on their birthday? It doesn’t cost anything and has the potential to improve their engagement with the panel.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gizzypooh/539662773/

Twitter, unlike Facebook, is socially mobile

The reciprocity of relationships is, in my opinion, the most fundamental difference between Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, both sides need to agree before the connection is made. On Twitter, people can follow whoever they like.

Does this make Twitter more “social”? I think it might.

I’m writing in broad terms, since different people use the services in different ways, but this makes Twitter aspirational. The more socially mobile, to reuse the pun from my title.

Facebook is who you know. Twitter is who you want to know.

Facebook reinforces social conventions. Twitter does not.

Facebook maintains the status quo. Twitter breaks it.

Facebook is about the past. Twitter is about the future.

Facebook is a constant reminder of our past actions and relationships. Nostalgic of both the recent and distant past.As Don Draper points out in this scene (embedding is disabled, but I’d recommend watching or rewatching it), nostalgia literally means “the pain from an old wound”. This is powerful, but also static.

It is about who we know and what we did.

The good moments but also the bad.

The people we’re glad we’ve stayed in touch with, but also those we’d rather keep in our past.

Yet the social pressure is there to accept these reconnections and intermingle the different worlds and circles of our past (I’m sure Don wouldn’t appreciate that). These relationships are hugely powerful, but they’re not the whole story.

Twitter is about the future. It is social networking in terms of forging new connections, rather than maintaining old ones.

We seek out people who we perceive to have similar interests or ideas to our own.

We recommend people to one another.

We follow macro and micro celebrities, whether to vicariously bask in the reflected glow or to learn from them.

Whatever our motivations, we are able to do this. There is no requirement to justify the people we follow. Likewise, there is no pressure to reciprocate when an individual (Or organisation. Or bot) follows us.

This fluidity of Twitter is a major advantage it has over Facebook. And if Facebook is seeking to keep more of our browsing behaviour within its network, it is something it needs to address.

It’s not just about who we are. It’s also about where we want to be.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyermonkey/2842941601/

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Return on conversation

EDIT: As has been pointed out, I made a rather embarrassing miscalculation in the original post, which made me seriously underestimate the CTR. I evidently need to evaluate my quantitative credentials

My previous post on conversation monitoring was tweeted and retweeted by several individuals. Firstly, I’m grateful that people both read this blog and are motivated to share something I’ve written.

However, the additional traffic that this Twitter activity generated has left me wondering how valuable this social activity is to individuals or organisations that look to spread their message through this sphere.

What follows are some rough numbers given that:

  1. WordPress.com stats are pretty basic
  2. I’ve left it two weeks to do the maths, and so follower numbers will have changed
  3. Follower overlap and actual exposures are unknown

Nevertheless:

  • To my knowledge, the post was tweeted/retweeted 10 times
  • Combined number of people following those who linked the post is 10,354 as of today
  • The post probably got 100 additional hits as a result of Twitter activity

A couple of guesstimated calculations:

  • At an absolute level, this represents a click through rate of 1%
  • If I made the assumption that 5,000 followers are unduplicated (the largest follower count for a retweeter is over 3,000), the CTR changes to 2%
  • How many of the followers would have seen the tweet? A fifth? That changes the CTR to 10%

10% is OK for a CTR, but it isn’t spectacular. The best ad campaigns with a strong call to action (e.g. competition entry) would achieve that.

The argument is that these 10% are going to be of a much higher quality than random visitors – they have acted upon a social recommendation and are likely to be engaged and interested in the content.

But that argument should work for the click through itself. If someone you follow and trust is recommending something, shouldn’t you be more likely to click through than if it were a random link or ad?

There a few issues at play here, which are causing this level of CTR

  • Noise – Twitter is popular; there are a lot of tweets and links to browse and skim
  • Ambient intimacy – often, it is enough for me to know that person X has linked to a post on conversation monitoring by @curiouslyp. I may prefer to browse the remaining tweets rather than click through to this post
  • Power laws – if the post on conversation monitoring was by @jowyang or @chrisbrogan I may click through since they are renowned experts. Who is @curiouslyp and what would he know about this topic?
  • Nature of followers – my prior post was relevant to the PR community – very active on Twitter. I suspect posts of a different subject matter are unlikely to be spread and consumed to the same degree

It is nice to think that the future is social, and that these networks will power traffic in future. But those perpetuating this – in my opinion – myth are those for whom power laws benefit, and who spend an inordinate amount of time on social networks (most likely because it is there job to do so). The average person does not have the time nor inclination to follow through on many, let alone all, posts or links.

So, in my opinion, the return on conversation is pretty minimal. Nevertheless, I did find it interesting to map how my post spread through Twitter via social graphs and, to repeat, I am grateful to the few that took the time to read and pass on my post.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ironmonkey480/

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Crowdsourced consumption and product development

We are all consumers. We choose what to consume. But we also choose how we consume it.

This may be completely different to how the inventor anticipated, or expected, usage. It is the law of unintended consequences.

Contrary actions may prevent a product or service succeeding. But equally, an innovative use that builds on the original concept can be game changing. As Cory Doctorow points out in the article, unintended consequences include such inventions as

Even in a planned economy, inventors can’t dictate how their product or service is used. The community decides. No matter how tightly controlled a campaign is, the product owner cannot dictate outputs.

Similarly, companies cannot dictate perceptions or experiences. Products facilitate actions, but the consumer decides what these actions are. Faris Yakob argues that “A brand is a collective perception in the minds of consumers” while Justin Porter says that “Designers do not create experiences, they create artifacts to experience”

The internet and social networks may enable individual customisation and organic social constructs but these aren’t new phenomena. The community has always had power.

To jump on the bandwagon, I’ll use Twitter as an example. Media coverage of Twitter concentrates on either celebrity uptake, or its position within breaking news stories. These are popular expressions of Twitter use, but were they anticipated?

One of Twitter‘s co-founders says that it was initially conceived as a text dispatch service. Did they foresee that Twitter could be used for, among other things

  • Microblogging
  • Socialising publicly
  • Socialising privately
  • Linking
  • Echoing
  • Syndicating
  • Following
  • Polling
  • Tracking
  • Searching
  • Reporting
  • Announcing
  • Promoting

I suspect that some of these actions would have been considered. But not all of them.

Friend or Follow is a simple tool that can highlight the different ways that people use Twitter. Promoters will have more followers, followers will be fans of more people, and socialisers will have a high proportion of friends. Each person will use Twitter in a slightly different way.

The Twitter founders accepted and embraced this. And took it a step further. Recognising that business development is constrained by their own imaginations (among more prosaic factors such as finance), they opened up their API to outside developers and effectively told them to “go wild”. Individual consumption is supplemented by devolved development.

These tools may have contributed to the growth in popularity as those not convinced by the core offering may be sold by a new application. Some of these – such as Summize – have even been incorporated into the core offering.

This movement takes the concept of community power to the next stage. Product development has joined consumption, perception and experience in being co-opted by the crowd.

But the consequences aren’t wholly positive. Twitter had to buy Summize. With a closed API, they could have introduced a search function organically with minimal cost. A multitude of functions could create a paradox of choice, or confuse the core offering (while perceptions are individual, a company needs a core offering as an anchor). Not to mention the Firefox levels of bloat that could ultimately occur.

By effectively trusting the masses to create Twitter apps, the company also leaves itself open to nefarious or incompatible activity. This could be fake services phishing passwords, or a service that – for example – could promote fascist behaviour.

This makes the path of product evolution far more unpredictable than within a tightly controlled environment such as Apple (though their iPhone apps store does partially relinquish this). How can Twitter remain confident in their product experience. Is some level of control necessary to ensure a coherent thrust, or can the community be relied upon to promote the positive innovations and marginalise the negative?

I don’t know the answer to this, but it also poses some questions regarding usability testing. Is the only way to facilitate this in real-time through public beta testing, rather than closed-shop research initiatives? A balance between organic, crowd-sourced improvement and publicly known missteps need to be found.

To conclude this wildly incoherent post, I remain fascinated by the ability to appropriate not only imagery but functionality. Whether Twitter, or the burgeoning RFID-enabled internet of things, it is an area producing a myriad of innovative activity.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/heyyu/

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Links – 8th February 2009

I know it’s overkill, but the snow excitement is yet to abate. I didn’t create this snowman, but he is so exceptional that he deserves all the publicity going.

Picture by me

Anyway, things I would recommend reading include:

  • Live | Work have an absolutely brilliant post on Service Thinking – a must-read
  • Umair Haque’s Smart Growth Manifesto proposes a focus on outcomes rather than incomes, connections rather than transactions, people not product, and creativity not productivity. Very thought-provoking – another must-read
  • Asi Sharabi channels Sturgeon’s Law to sober up from digital. Some digital campaigns may be great, just as some TV campaigns are great and some press campaigns are great. But a lot of advertising isn’t great. There is a great observation in there about social media helping brands become more humane.
  • Dave Trott’s blog is fast becoming one of my favourites – a regular must-read. I particularly love this tip on great management.
  • Silicon Alley Insider set up a Twitter contest, inviting people to propose a business model for the service. They chose a market research tool as the winner. Commenters were unimpressed – largely, I think, because the proposed revenues were quite modest. (Via Tom)
  • The Compare the Market/Meerkat campaign has been getting a lot of attention online (and rightly so). Amelia Torode, a Planner at the agency responsible, summarises the success
  • And finally, Neil Perkin’s presentation on community created by the community has justifiably gone down a storm. He requested readers submit a slide, and received 30 replies (including one from myself). It highlights about both group thinking and individual ideas can be harnessed for maximum effect by some sort of moderator/curator/director/benevolent dictator. Great stuff. Click through the link above to get the transcript of the deck.

Additional links and pictures can be found at my tumblr

Hangover permitting, I’ll be at the coffee morning on Friday

sk

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Links – 9th January 2009

Enjoy your Friday

Products

  • Jon Canter rants against the rise of personalised copy on product packaging. “We’re the couple who love to make crisps.” It sounds like a personal ad in Snackmakers Weekly: a couple seeks another couple who also love to make crisps, in the hope of meeting up in a car park in Colchester. (Comment is Free)

Social Media

  • Rick from Eyecube rails against the personal branding phenomenon. He argues (correctly, I believe) that it is about value and not chasing numbers
  • Alan Wolk talks about “Scoble blindness” – something which I strongly believe in. People within the tech bubble live complete different lives to the average member of the public, which often creates a disconnect between hype and reality. Even now, Twitter hasn’t crossed over (though @wossy, @the_real_shaq and @stephenfry may change that)

Consumer Insight

  • More Intelligent Life argues that rather than society dumbing down, we are in an age of mass intelligence – societal fragmentation has allowed niches to grow and flourish

Online resources

  • Getty Moodstream allows you to filter images and videos on a variety of settings

I would particularly recommend 10 constituents of the WOW factor, The rise of the personal media platform, “Scoble blindness”, How behavioural ad targeting punishes web publishers and The science of shopping

And check out my Tumblr for a few more links

sk