SoCol Today

It was SoCol today (the Social Collective – a social media conference), and Twitter has been buzzing with some great presentations. I liked Drew Benvie’s presentation about why Twitter is so valuable to business for marketing, PR and CRM.

Social media offers a huge opportunity to businesses to really get to know their customers for very low cost. If you’re using Facebook and Twitter properly then for very little cost you can:

  • Find out what your customers are thinking, and what they like and dislike (market research)
  • Promote your products, and get your customers to promote them to their friends (marketing)
  • Broadcast news and information about your company, increase its profile and build your brand (PR)
  • Find out about customers’ grievances and help them before the customer becomes an angry ex-customer (customer service)
  • Build true customer loyalty by showing that you’re listening, not just talking (as the ad says – priceless!)

Before the days of Twitter and social media sites, getting this sort of insight would have cost a fortune in market research, surveys, customer service reps, feedback forms – and you would still have known less than you can find out now.

Remember, the highest driver of business is still word-of-mouth. How much is it worth to your business to be in that loop, and see the discussions and recommendations online, as they happen? If you’re mentioned but you’re not on Twitter, how interested will a potential customer have to be to open a new window, and type your name into Google – assuming of course that you’re easily findable on Google? If you’re on Twitter, a mention becomes an instant ad, as any reader can click straight through to your business.

Every business with more than a handful of customers really needs an online presence. In the same way the websites went from quirk to must-have, Facebook and Twitter presences are becoming a business essential. Without them, you’re blind and deaf to your customers.

Is Social Media Content Really Content?

I saw two articles just recently that looked at the same topic from different angles. The topic in question is – is what we’re posting via social media meaningful, or just so much hot air?

The first article was a piece of research by Forrester suggesting that we’re using social media much more, but that we’re not creating any more content. The implication being, that we’re all just re-posting and gossiping rather than saying anything worthwhile. Specifically, the report says that between 2009 and 2010 the number of people on social networks increased by 11% in Europe, 18% in China, and 11% in Australia, although only 8% in the US. However none of these markets showed an increase in the number of people who create social content, according to Forrester.

It makes me wonder how we define content-makers. Is this only commercial content? What about all the bloggers writing in their spare time about their passions – whether that’s their day job, their hobby or their family. What about businesses who are creating content for their customers themselves, because they can’t afford – or find – their own social media manager yet? What about social media managers (ahem – plug), who create content for their clients, manage their online presence, build relationships with their customers, provide informative articles, answer tricky questions. Does their content count?

It seems to me that it’s dangerous to rely on statistics about what is essentially still quite a new industry. How do you know what your statistics are really measuring? Do Forrester really think that we’re all on social media sites with nothing to say? Or is it that content creation has been opened up to new people, who are not captured by the old statistics?

On a lighter note, Mashable had an article on the 11 top trends in web logo design. Take it with a pinch of salt, as you could cover most logos with the categories they’ve recommended, but it’s a good read. For those who don’t want to read the whole thing, the top three most over-used types are:

  1. Badges and buttons – you know, the rounded, shiny Apple type with gloss and shadows. See the new iTunes icon for the perfect example.
  2. Speech bubbles and megaphones – would any new social media site go without? How would people know that you can, like, talk on the site otherwise?
  3. Opacity (and translucency) – yes, graphics have improved massively. That doesn’t mean everything you can do with them is exciting. Get over it.

What are your pet hates in web graphics?

Ping – why the fuss?

So in my last post, I was fairly negative about Ping, Apple’s venture into social media, and I’m not sure I fully explained why. I said it was fiddly to use, and unattractive. But what was so bad about it? After all, Facebook regularly irritates all its users, but it’s still dominating the social media world. Why, you might ask, be so rude about Ping? Why not just wait and see?

The reason is that Ping is missing the point of social networking, and in my opinion, is there to drive Apple’s music sales rather than truly being a social network. Is there anything wrong with driving music sales? No. Is there anything wrong with putting that ahead of social networking? Well, yes, if you’re trying to be a social media site.

It’s not just random chance that decides which social media sites people like, any more than it’s just chance which businesses thrive in any other sphere. The secret to success is giving the customer what they want. And in a social media setting, which is about the personal, about friends and opinions, that means putting the customer in control of what they say. Social media is, for many people, an intensely personal space. In a world dominated by big shops, big employers, big banks and big government, social media is the place where the small guy can speak. If a business wants true customer loyalty, all they need to do is to show that they’re listening. If the customer feels that you are listening to him, that you get him, and that you will respond to him, he will do business with you at the first opportunity.

What does this have to do with Ping? Simply that Apple have missed this fact. Ping puts the chance to make sales above the chance to speak or connect. Oh, those latter two are there all right, but they’re a lesser priority. Apple has spent more time on ways to show and sell tracks than it has on developing ways to let people speak – or let businesses hear.

With Ping, Apple is talking loud, but not letting its users speak. And that’s not good social media, and it’s not good business.

Ping Pongs – Apple’s foray into social media

Last night Apple released an update to iTunes, 10.0.1, which changes the way Ping works and promises great things. Ping, for those who have somehow missed the news, is Apple’s iTunes-integrated try at social media. The idea is that you create a profile, connect with your friends in iTunes, and share reviews and the details of your purchases. Being the social media geek that I am, of course I’m signed up. Here’s what I thought.

Sign-Up and Privacy
Firstly, the sign-up. Apple get a point straight away for making it opt-in. You have to choose to share information, and it’s good to see that they got this right first time. However, they then spoil it and lose several points for the poor choice of privacy options. You can choose to (i) “Allow people to follow me” – everything will be public, including all your purchases, or (ii) “Require my approval to follow me” (oddly, a sub-option of (i)) – name, photo and location are public, everything else becomes public if you approve someone to follow you, or (iii) “Don’t allow people to follow me” – you can follow others, but no-one can follow you, and your name and photo only appear if you write a review or comment.

Ping Privacy Screen

Privacy? We don\’t need no steenkin\’ …

The options seem quite restricted (only three levels), and quite hard to follow. Why is (ii) a sub-option of (i)? I THINK I know what I’m signing up for, but I wouldn’t be that surprised if something was shared that I wasn’t expecting. Couldn’t they ask us what we want to share, whether name, location, age, purchases. Better yet, ask me each time I buy whether to share that information? Everything I buy is listed, no filtering. Once it’s up, I can delete it, but I get no choice about whether it’s posted.

Oh yeah – opting out again? That’s a bit hard to find. If you do want to turn Ping off, you need to go to the iTunes ‘Store’ menu, ‘View My Account’ to open your webpage, and then under the Ping section, you can choose to turn it off. There’s no off-switch directly in iTunes. It’s a logical place to put it, but not really designed to make it easy. Why not make this a menu option, Apple?

Ping bit in Your Account

Turn it OFF! Turn it…

Set-Up
The front page is a fairly standard social-media layout, which shows links to your profile, allows you to search for friends or invite them, and lists your updates. It was pretty plain even allowing for the fact that I wasn’t connected to anyone yet. But that wasn’t the main part of the page, and here’s the first sign that Apple hasn’t quite got it. The biggest prime chunk of screen is recommending artists for me to follow. It’s not about connecting with people, folks, it’s about selling you music.

Ping welcome page

Start. Go on, what are you waiting for?

The “Artists We Recommend You Follow” came up with some pretty lousy choices, too. There were 173 pages – at 6 per page – and left me with the feeling that they just wanted me to follow everyone. Why not give me a list of everyone in my music collection, or the 20 artists I have most tracks by? They were recommending artists I’d never listened to, and not in a “Genius” way.
It was also buggy – sometimes clicking ‘Follow’ changed the button to ‘Following’, other times it left it unchanged but when I clicked again told me I was already following. And the display didn’t check whether I was already following an artist before showing me them – but if I clicked on one, up popped the error message again. It got old very quickly.

Persistent Ping Error Message

Not again?

Once you’ve signed up to follow a few artists, it’s still underwhelming – the same sort of information about artists that you get on Facebook, only most of them don’t have updates on Ping yet. But it’s early days yet for Ping, and this part of the experience should get a lot better when there are more people using Ping and more reviews available.

At the end of the first page, I was unimpressed. The first rule of social media is to put the user in control, and Ping never quite does that, it always wants to be in charge. I got the distinct impression that Apple don’t really know what Ping is for. Is it really social media – allowing people to connect, talk, swap opinions – or is it for selling more music? Is there really anything here that couldn’t have been done – better – by letting users post the track link to Twitter?

Ping in iTunes
Things improve when you look at how Ping is linked in with iTunes itself. Scrolling through your music, playing a track, you can ‘like’ or post it straight away from within iTunes. You even have two options – a Ping sidebar, or a pop-up menu from each track. This is the part that’s new with last night’s release, and it makes it easy to tell everyone what you’ve just downloaded and liked, or just played and liked.

iTunes 'Ping' sidebar

This is more like it

The sidebar also shows updates from the artists or people I’m following in iTunes itself, so I don’t have to go to the Ping pages. Maybe this is why Apple didn’t waste money getting the Ping pages right – they’re not expecting you to use them.

Ping Pop-Up Menu in iTunes

Same again, but pingier?

Conclusion
It’s a bit unfair to be so rude about Ping – it’s a first try, and I don’t have many friends signed up to the service yet. No social media site is at its best without your friends on there, as connecting and swapping opinions are what it’s all about. But I would still have thought that Apple could do a first try that’s better than this. It doesn’t seem to offer anything that Facebook doesn’t already give me, except the opportunity to do track or album reviews. And to be honest, I don’t buy music because my friends recommend it to me – I buy music because my friends PLAY it to me. Sending a link is somehow less contagious than putting on music and listening to it together.

Summary
Content: 3/10, but should improve with time
Privacy: 4/10, and unlikely to get better until there are complaints. Apple, you really should know better.
Usability: 3/10 – there’s no flow to the experience, and those errors are annoying. Buggy and fiddly.
Overall must-join factor? 3/10.

Ping never quite lets you forget that the aim of all this is to sell more music. It’s buggy, it’s limited, and the content just isn’t there. And when you get right down to it, you’ve got a pretty limited range of things to do – tell your friends you like a track, or write a review of a track. Ping just never stops being a music store add-on and lets you take charge.

But of course if all your friends join, it will jump to 9/10 for you straight away. Because after all, that’s what social media is about.

Has anyone else tried Ping? What’s your experience?

Twitchange raises $0.5m in a few days


A Twitter campaign to raise money for a Haitian shelter raised $540,631.25 in just a few days – by auctioning celebrity tweets. It’s an interesting twist on celebrity auctions, as people were paying thousands of dollars for something that would be scrolled off their screen in moment. Celebrities auctioned either a follow, a mention, a retweet – or a package of all three. As the auction went on, the famous names were adding extras to increase their value – such as a phone call or Skype call.

The auction was organised by Eva Longoria, and the list of celebrities she signed up was impressive, and truly global. A handful of celebs quickly became a very long list through peer pressure. You might turn down a charity appearance if you’re a celeb – but if you’re asked in public? As each celeb forwarded it to their contacts, the list grew to encompass nearly everyone famous on Twitter – and many who you’ve never heard of.

It all goes to show how quickly life moves in the social media world, and how much impact a public conversation can have – very quickly. And it’s an amazing use of social media to do some real good to help those in need.

The auctions are now over, but you can still see the list of celebrities who participated – and you can donate – here.

Twitter users aren't idiots

Okay, you knew that and I knew that. We use Twitter to hear news, hear gossip, talk to friends, share opinions – to be human. And we retweet something if we think it’s interesting or funny. We filter – we just ignore the rubbish out there. We unfollow people, or block them. Twitter is the new word-of-mouth. It doesn’t replace talking – it’s just another way to talk, alongside face-to-face, phone, email, Facebook and all the other ways we connect with people.

Some days, you’d never know this from media stories that describe Twitter as a waste of time, and full of trivia. However, now there’s research to prove it. A study shows that famous people, although they may have lots of followers on Twitter, are not influential unless they’re actively tweeting on stuff they know about. If someone is just spouting opinions, we don’t tweet and don’t start discussing it. If they’re tweeting about their area of expertise, then we’re more likely to start talking about it.

In short, we apply our brains to use Twitter in just the same way we do in normal conversation, deciding what’s interesting. If someone wants us to hear them on Twitter, well then they’d better be interesting. And if you’re trying to be heard on Twitter – well, you’d better be saying something that interests your followers. Else it’ll be forgotten in two minutes, no matter how many times you post.

The Telegraph has an article about the study right here.

PS. The link in the Telegraph article is wrong at the time of posting this, but you can find the researchers’ website here.

Charities using social media for big wins

The charity sector, even more than business, needs ways to reach its customers for less money. Is it any wonder they’re signing up for social media in a big way?

A recent poll showed that 93% of top US charities have a Facebook page, 87% have a Twitter profile and 65% have a blog.

Have a look at this interesting article about how three smaller US charities have made social media work for them.

http://mashable.com/2010/09/23/small-non-profits-social-media/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Mashable+%28Mashable%29

Twitter joke trial continues

The appeal court is reviewing the case of Paul Chambers, who was convicted of posting a “menacing” message on Twitter.

Paul was due to fly to see his now-girlfriend in Belfast, when the airport was closed due to snow. In frustration, or with wry humour, he tweeted “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!”.

A joke, or a threat? The court found that it was a threat, and he was convicted. The appeal will be heard today, and his lawyers are claiming that his message was “obviously facetious”.

It goes to show how difficult we’re all finding it to adapt to social media. Is it like conversation? Or like a letter? Can we joke? Will people know we’re joking? It can be difficult to get the tone just right, and get your message across clearly, without experience. And anyone can make slips.

How do you get your message across on twitter, facebook or email? Do you always flag a joke, or trust that people will ‘just get it’?

Facebook down. Panic in the streets.

Facebook had some major downtime yesterday, with the majority of its users unable to access the site for about an hour from 11:30am Pacific Time (that’s about 7:30pm for us UK types). @TheDollSays said on Twitter that FB users were roaming the streets in tears.

A bit of an exaggeration, but there’s no doubt that people can feel very reliant on Facebook, and very cut off if it’s suddenly unavailable. It’s their first point of call for pinging friends, arranging nights out, and catching up on gossip.

The story was major news too. It wasn’t only covered by the usual tech news sites (CNet, The Register), but also by the mainstream news channels. It made the front page of the BBC news site.

Are we getting worked up about nothing? Or is Facebook now an essential social tool, that we’re stuck without, like mobile phones?