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Jan 2012

Why do more people talk about the Oscars than CES?

Posted in Technology | 0 Comments

Not sure what CES would've announced, back then. Colour photography?Now, I understand that asking why more people talk about the Oscars than CES sounds like a pointless question, as most people’s answer would be “because it’s The Oscars, Christos.” But if you take a few minutes to read through the following post, you may realise that the aforementioned response is at best misinformed and at worst completely ignorant.

The Iron Lady came out last week, a biopic of Margaret Thatcher, the first and, so far, only female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Played by Meryl Streep, it will no doubt go on to clean up at various film award events across the globe, because it’s a film that offers the precise amount of grandeur and historical scale to tip the favour of the critics in its own direction.

On the other hand, CES is in full swing this week, and features a range of new electronic products, some of which millions of us will be using by the summer. Some of the announcements made at this event will change the way you ring your partner, watch television, or play videogames. But people don’t often discuss this event at all in most circles.

This strikes me as odd. People will comment on the various political events of the day, despite rarely (if ever) watching the Prime Minister’s Questions, because they effect us as individuals, through rising taxes, budget cuts, or new laws.

Yet the technology that powers our day – indeed, the technology allowing me to write this post, and you to read it – doesn’t seem to be celebrated and followed with interest by the vast majority of people who use it. We have, at times, been blessed with some tech-celebrities, in the form of Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg, and they do draw the collective consciousness of the media-hungry human race towards the technology field for brief moments. It’s telling when even your strange uncle can tell you of his high scores in Angry Birds.

Yes, people are discovering games like Angry Birds, as well as Android apps and iProducts, at an alarming rate. Technology has swiftly and in a way never before seen, I think, turned into a fashionable concern. CES should be a catwalk, down which the latest hardware struts, hoping to wow the assembled masses with increased memory and more apps than the competition.

In an ideal world, we’d gather around the TV and catch the Microsoft keynote, in much the same way we’re content to do with other events more centred around showbiz. I hold out a small hope that we can engage with technology in the same way many of us engage with the topics of commuting, politics, religion similarly stimulating jump-off points for conversation. We’ll just have to make sure that the Android and iOS users aren’t sitting next to each other.

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Feb 2011

Is it possible to build a website with Facebook’s success?

Posted in Social Media, Web 2.0, Web Design and Usability | 0 Comments

Watching The Social Network on DVD the other night, my first experience of the award-winning portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to fame and financial success at the head of Facebook, I knew once it had finished that I wanted to watch it again. Probably another ten times after that.

It wasn’t the glamour of success, the money, the vapid groupies, the slick, suited yes-men, that drew me into the film. It was watching him code. The first hour of that film was, in my opinion, by far the most satisfying. I wasn’t anywhere near as interested in the people surrounding Zuckerberg as the little tech-wizard himself. Misogynist, traitor, socially inept, self-centred – call him what you will, but ultimately the fact he created one of the most impressively addictive and comprehensive online experiences in his early twenties, becoming a billionaire in the process, demands respect.

His motivations for building the first version came from a dark, spiteful, sexist place. This can’t be denied – the blog he writes in the film is taken, word for word, from Zuckerberg’s own LiveJournal. But I couldn’t help but marvel at how fast he put the site together, how quickly other people cottoned on to what he was doing. Such an impressive mind, and one that locked onto an idea so firmly that it was impossible to even gain his attention until he needed cash for a server, immediately securing ownership of his site beyond the average hosting deal.

It made me think about the possibilities of sites that immediately start to generate a huge community. Of course, they’re all built on the same fundamental idea – people are nosy. We all want to know where you were, who you were with, and most importantly, what you thought about that particular event, even as we throw our own judgements around our subconscious. The ability to explore someone else’s life, someone who’s ever-so-slightly different to you, is so addictive to most internet users, most people in fact, that we had no hope of resisting Facebook.

But how do you build a website based around this idea? How do you find the one niche that will hit the sweet spot in hundreds of millions of people, like Facebook, or Twitter? There’s no more avenues for social media sites, not any more. Facebook and Twitter have the market sewn up, and the few variations on their ever-popular theme have already been designed and launched.

Sites that can engender conventions are always worth a go – Penny Arcade proved that if enough people form a community around your site, and the industry you commentate on respects your judgement, to some degree, getting them to put a ton of booths up at a huge venue and selling tickets is going to make a lot of money, regardless of whether the money goes into the bank accounts of the owners, the company, or a charity.

Have any of you ever tried to build up a website that makes money solely through the traffic generated by a loyal and ever-expanding community of users? You’ll need some real USPs to get it going, and it’s not going to be easy. In fact, at first, it’s going to be a nightmare to get someone to sign up unless they knew you prior to the site’s inception, and even that’s a chore, sometimes. But keep slogging away. You’d be surprised at how many people have seen major financial success via the web simply by never giving up. Now, either watch The Social Network to inspire yourself, or don’t, and then go be one of those people. I wish you the very best of luck.

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Jan 2011

Are we too reliant on brand figureheads?

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

This month it was announced that Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple and largely seen as the face of the entire company – similar to Bill Gates – would be stepping down from CEO duties and going on extended medical leave. That this is not the first time this has occurred has many people worrying about the future of the company. I’m going to summarise my response to his departure (with all respect to his ailing health):

So what?

Does it really matter? I don’t know about you, but the last time I checked Steve Balmer wasn’t driving the Gates-less Microsoft into the ground, and I’m fairly confident that Zuckerberg’s no longer as important to the company as people think he is. The fact of the matter is that the people around this person are just as important, and any one of them could do an admirable job in the CEO’s shoes. We’ve become so reliant on a culture of celebrity that we’re struggling to face a brand’s future without that familiar smiling face.

The CEO makes the big decisions, we know this. But everything else is ultimately overseen by their surrounding team of experts, managers and consultants. These people are more influential than anyone else, and the idea that the head honcho can’t be replaced is simply either bad career attitudes by those unable to get promoted at their company or paranoid rich people who’d rather not be seen as an overpaid nodding-and-shaking head.

Personally, I think it’s too late for Apple to change. No CEO is going to swerve them away from their current course, and we can be sure of the following, as they will always:

  • put out several versions of the iPhone every 12-18 months, increasing them in price,
  • continue to make MacBooks and iMacs more compact, better protected and the operating system more visually friendly whilst remaining powerful,
  • turn iTunes into a more social media experience, through Ping and possibly with a long-shot deal with Zuckerberg and the Facebook crew,
  • charge high prices for hardware that does it better than anyone else, annoyingly justifying their mouth-watering profit margins.

None of the above will change, because they’re not that different to any other company in any one of those respects. Of course phones are getting larger – compare the 90s’ Nokia 3210 with today’s HTC Desire HD and you’ll see a colossal size increase, but the phones are getting thinner. Eventually we’ll hit a plateau of sorts, and hopefully before we’re walking around with bits of silvery A6 paper welded to our hands, with Angry Birds 3D/HD 4 blaring out of Bluetooth surround-sound speakers.

With Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, the picture shifts slightly. He, like Gates and Jobs before him, is the 2010 version of the 20something CEO with a huge, fit-to-burst wallet and an astonishing amount of influence over his sector of technology. But in 2050 when he starts to think about retirement, the press will once again mob the team around him and desperately attempt to find his replacement before HR does. Unless they’re running a book on the whole thing, I think it’s amateur dramatics at best, and worthless journalism at worst.

If you’re running a small business and you have the feeling the team of ten or so people working around you now will someday be your directors, your heads of PR and your consultants, bear in mind that you’re not invincible. Just because you’re the person grinning on-stage whilst displaying the latest overpriced doohicky everyone doesn’t need but will definitely want, doesn’t mean that someone else can’t take it off you and grin, perhaps even wider than you can, and with shinier teeth.

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Nov 2010

Should we put a face to our brands?

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

Today, Marketing Week made a very valid point, when global brand director of Firefly Millward Brown, one Rob Hernandez, spoke about the fact that large corporate entities need a “human face”. He argues that, based on statistics, large companies could benefit from a Gates, a Zuckerberg, a Jobs or even a Miyamoto.

They don’t have to be CEOs, by any means – we all know Gates has taken more of a back-seat role in recent years to focus on swimming around in his pool filled with $100 bills and gold-plated time machines (I kid, obviously, the man’s a huge philanthropist and deserves anyone‘s respect). But people who were never in charge – Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto – that are responsible for huge aspects of their corporate image tend to make the company feel more… human.

But of course, when the tables turn, it means that the press and the public will single out one name and once they’re out for blood, things can get shockingly personal. I, like many, have thrown many an insult at Bill Gates over things he doesn’t even design – Vista, the Xbox 360… the list goes on and on. Why? Because he’s the “face” of Microsoft. Similarly, I praise Miyamoto for every new Mario game, but he’s not the only one involved.

At the same time, we know that if a faceless Apple employee came onto the stage to present a new iTunes feature (streaming, guys, not the damn Beatles), we’d clap. But when Steve Jobs comes onto the stage, we cheer, we applaud loudly, we stand up to applaud even louder, and then as we leave we check our wallets desperately (cause let’s be realistic, guys, it’s not a cheap addiction, this Apple stuff). He fronts his business and he’s done so whether he’s been well or battling a serious disease, whether it’s a small release or a big deal, like the iPhone 4 or the iPad.

In the case of your business, can you honestly say you’ve one man or woman who people will look at and think “X-corp”? If not, why not consider one? I blog for MoreDigital constantly, and as while talking to my editor today it became pretty apparent that lately I’ve become the face of the company, the one name that constantly appears around the web in conjunction with our team of experts and writers. It’s something of an odd feeling, because you know that if people think of MoreDigital, there’s a chance they read the blog and think of myself, or Fay, or Leah as those who really speak out when it comes to our company.

I suppose it’s like being Lemmy in Motorhead, really. They’ve been going for decades, and if you love Motorhead, you really love them, even though you know deep down that all their songs sound relatively similar (admit it). But if they ever released a duff record, Lemmy would get it, and Lemmy would be the one criticised by his fans. Not Phil, not Mickey, but Lemmy. Because to most people, Motorhead is a band with a faceless guitarist and drummer in it, and that bassist bloke, you know the one, with the big growths on his face, the beard and the hat.

We’ve reached a point in commercialism where if you’re not the company with a human representative people can name, that people can reference in conversation, you’re just another faceless company with an equally faceless board of directors. We live in a more visual world than we did fifty years ago – people have websites, portfolios, Facebook accounts, and we can’t discount the fact that eventually, your CEO will become known to the public if you’re batting with the teams at the top of the league. So take your face and stick it on your homepage, folks! You never know, people might chant your name at E3 soon!

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Oct 2010

Bing/Facebook vs. Google: the social media battle continues

Posted in Social Media | 0 Comments

This week Bing seriously upped their game by teaming up with the Facebook developers to try once again to make Bing search results more social.

The idea is that after someone conducts a search on Bing, they will be able to see which of their Facebook friends have ‘Liked’ whatever it is they have searched for. The results which have been ‘Liked’ by your friends will come up at the top of the search results. Bing believes that this will make the results mean more for users who will gain more from the search.

At the moment it only works in the US, but if it does well Microsoft and Facebook plan to bring it to the rest of the world.

But what about Google, which currently has the market dominance? Google has added a ‘Shared by’ link. Their SERPs already incorporate real-time results and the number of times people have shared the article. It also shows you mentions on social-networks.

The difference between Bing and Google’s offerings is that Bing will show you which of your friends ‘Liked’ something, so you don’t just know that it may be popular but can put a face to the ‘liking’.

The question is, do we really need to see which of our friends have ‘Liked’ something we are searching for on Bing? Is it not enough to see that they like your mate’s picture or your amusing status update? And will it really make any difference to your consumer choices?

According to Bing we are constantly calling on our friends to make decisions. For example what was the film like? Do you think that dress is nice? We want to know their opinions and while they might not make up our minds for us, they will probably influence our choices.

At Microsoft’s Silicon Valley headquarters in Mountain View earlier this month, Mashable was live blogging from the event and reported the following:

‘Zuck is going back to when Facebook got started. “From studying psychology, I knew that a huge amount of people’s brains is focused entirely on processing information about people.” Emotions, expressions etc. This is the most interesting information that people track around the world — it’s hard-wired into us.’

There is certainly something of the truth in this, we do want to know about others around us. However what happens if, to take the example used by Bing, we are looking for a good steak restaurant in San Francisco? We search for it in Bing, the results come up and we’ll probably just choose one of the first results. But with the integration of Facebook, we will see what our ‘friends’ on Facebook have ‘liked’. This of course relies on the fact that our friends are searching for similar things that we are.

Also, I don’t know about you, but a lot of the people on my Facebook are not actually my close friends. If for example someone who I believe has bad taste ‘Likes’ something, I will be even less likely to visit the place. I don’t know whether this means I should do some serious ‘Friend’ culling on Facebook or whether there is a flaw in Bing’s latest developments.

But let’s face the hard facts. In the UK google has roughly  a 90% share of the search engine market, whereas Bing has about 4%. In the US Google has a 71% share and Bing has about 10%. So, we’re not talking about Bing merely being a little behind Google in the market, it is a long way off being the most-used search engine.

By joining up with Facebook though, Bing is upping it’s game. Facebook is, as we know huge and constantly growing, and the network certainly has an impact on internet trends and what people are doing and buying. But it may need more than that to compete with Google. Especially as Google is realising, that it doesn’t matter what size your business is and how well you are doing, you need to get involved with social media or you’re going to get left behind.

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Oct 2010

Do we really care about Mark Zuckerberg?

Posted in Blogging | 0 Comments

As I sit discussing The Social Network, the upcoming-film focusing on Zuckerberg’s rise to power as the lord of Facebook, with a colleague in the IT department, he says something that strikes a chord with me. “But who actually cares about this guy?”

Before this film popped up, most people would be hard-pressed to tell you who ‘Mark Zuckerberg’ was, let alone pick his face out of a line-up (however, post-film, most people would end up accidentally picking Zuckerberg’s film doppelgänger Jesse Eisenberg instead). But now he’s been shoved into the limelight, and outside the cut-throat world of the Web 2.0 world of business, is his presence really that important?

There are a few names in IT that most people could name if they worked in marketing, IT or a similarly technologically-focused discipline. Bill Gates is the most obvious, followed by Steve Jobs. But after that, it begins to tail off into the obscurity of the “head of what?” names that make no difference to our lives.

Zuckerberg, he might happily claim, is in charge of a network of half a billion people, with access to their personal details. It wasn’t until this surfaced in the tabloids that most social media users glanced up from their status messages and thought about what they were entering onto a site that technically wasn’t private.

No smart admin would ever, for reasons of privacy or otherwise, deny themselves access to any part of their network. Their job requires no red tape whatsoever, and the thought that Mark might have the access to your most intimate message conversations is chilling. But are businesses opening themselves up to this as well? Surely, if someone at Facebook were to find out you were having an affair, or you’d slagged off your boss, then the results, should they make this information public, would be disastrous (though fie on you for doing either, anyway!).

But for a business, it could be much worse. Many a cast member or a media project has been leaked through idiotic updates on social media about what someone’s currently working on. It makes me shudder; if that’s what they’re giving to the public, then what are they talking about in private? We’ve never been in this situation before – one man has access to more personal and business information than any other human being on the planet, and we’re comfortable with this situation.

Sure, there must be legal fail-safes in place, and a considerable chunk of users would quit the network within days of hearing word that Zuckerberg and his cronies had abused their access privileges. But it highlights two key issues in modern communication.

The first is the amount we’re willing to share over the internet – risky amounts, at best. The other is the fact that while no one may care about Zuckerberg’s “celeb image”, but we don’t know as much about him as we’d like to. If he’s capable of stabbing friends and foes alike in the back in his rise to power, then how much further is he willing to go?

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but there are times I think I’m glad that my use of social media is a lot more subtle and focused than other people’s. If you’re in a position where people will look you up for professional reasons, by no means stick only to professional networks, but watch what you say.

It’s like drawing rude graffiti on the toilet wall at work and signing it. Sure, your work-mates might find it funny, but what happens when your new client spots it? Do we hide, or do we talk smart? I’m for the latter, but for now, I’d wait and watch Zuckerberg’s reaction to the harsh judges of his character in The Social Network when it hits cinemas this week. Not that he didn’t see it weeks, if not months ago, anyway…

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Aug 2010

Are businesses really embracing free advertising?

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

I’m sure everyone’s read this week that there’s a distinct likelihood of The Social Network, the Facebook film, being swiftly followed by a film about Google. Googled: The End of the World as We Know It, the book about the company penned by one Ken Auletta, has been optioned for the silver screen by producer John Morris.

I can’t help but wonder how the CEOs and employees in question feel about these films. Sure, they might not be representing the most positive view of the company, but surely any press is good press? I know no one needs to call attention to Facebook and Google – that’s a done job, being the two of the most popular online destinations on the internet.

But why not make a statement? Embrace the fact that the films are the talk of the town? I’m looking forward to The Social Network and the drama and controversy that the film aims to convey. Mark Zuckerberg, the film’s protagonist and arguable founder of Facebook itself, doesn’t think the film will hold to the truth. However, doesn’t he realise that Facebook’s saturation of the planet’s population means hundreds of thousands of people are going to see the film anyway?

Google’s film, however, may be far more interesting. Google is, like Facebook, a monopolistic online entity. Their market-share hovers at around 95%, they’re rapidly spreading into every digital market and medium, from their search engine to books, television and domain management and registration. I have an account, a homepage, a domain, a YouTube account and a browser, all done by Google and used by me on a daily basis.

But the end of the world? Is this really bad market for them, or is it an opportunity for Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page to show off their PR muscle and demonstrate they’re serious, business-minded entrepreneurs whose determination meant they were able to place themselves at the centre of the internet. How many companies can lay claim to inventing a verb?

It’s an interesting, online-focused Russian doll concept to consider; the film’s advertised on sites, some of which using domains sold to them by Google, to talk about a Google movie that people will research using Google. No other company can claim to act as such a seller of information, and they could raise or sink the film depending on the complex, secretive algorithms they use to determine what comes first in their search engine – the excited Google critic, or the excited Google fan.

Both Google and Facebook have had their fair share of third-party controversy – Facebook has stalkers, kidnappers and rapists, and Google’s safe-search features aren’t always as “safe” as they proclaim. But what other companies will we now see drifting into the limelight? McDonald’s PR staff must’ve had minor aneurysms after Super-Size Me was released to the public, and they’re the most dominant fast-food chain on the planet – I discovered only last night that if you’re visiting the pyramids of Egypt and fancy a Happy Meal or a Big Mac, it’s only over the other side of these sacred architectural relics.

It begs the question; are you really coping with your critics as well as you could be? Everyone releases statements, denial-esque press releases, and product changes to respond to critics without actually responding. But what if Google’s founders sat down, tomorrow morning, and used Google Video to release a vlog of them discussing what they’d love to see discussed in the film. It calls attention to a film that could be dangerously critical, while making them seem involved in how they’re perceived by the public.

As with all the major shifts in the online sphere, time will tell on this one, but hopefully we’ll get a Google film that pulls no punches and stays neutral. The Social Network seems fun, but a little dramatic. An adaptation of a critical work of non-fiction about a company with monthly online visitors numbering in the billions deserves to be taken seriously, and the company should take the opportunity for a little serious marketing of their own.

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Jun 2010

Facebook advertising for the future?

Posted in Advertising, Business tactics, Social Media | 0 Comments

500 million users? That’s not nearly enough, well according to Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg who said that they are on target to have one billion users.

Speaking at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival on Wednesday, Zuckerberg who picked up Media Person of the Year, revealed his plans to maintain growth for Facebook.

The aim is to crack the markets in China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. These are the only countries where Facebook is not the leading social network, he said: “We are down to [the above] four countries that we are not the leading social network in, now for the first time we are focused on doing some specific things in specific countries.”

The most interesting part of the hour long Q & A is the company’s attitude to advertising. According to Ian Maude, an analyst at Enders, “The fact that Zuckerberg is going to one of the main advertising events shows they are taking that very seriously.”

And it has been reported that they are expected to make $1 billion this year from revenue. Zuckerberg has big plans, saying “It’s a similar dynamic on marketer side as it is on developer side. We’ve built an A-class developer platform and we need to do the same for advertisers.”

But in case you thought they haven’t put their plan into action yet, Zuckerberg argued that advertising on Facebook is “squarely out of the experimentation phase.”

He pointed out that Nike’s recent decision to debut its World Cup ads on Facebook had led to the rapid addition of 3 million connections to the brand’s pages. And he said that Disney/Pixar’s decision to support Toy Story 3 ticket sales on Facebook is an example of a brand helping users connect with each other.

But what does this mean for smaller businesses? Well, the future is looking good for you, it seems Facebook could help even the smallest of SMEs (Small and Medium size Enterprises).

In the US Facebook took over from Yahoo! as the top publisher of display adds on the Web. AFP reported that according to online tracking firm Comscore, Facebook delivered 176.3 billion ads to US users in the first three months of 2010, a 16.2 % market share, more than double its 7.5 % share of last year.

However although Facebook may be running more adds, MSN Money reported that Yahoo! is still making more money because the ads rates for social media sites tend to be lower.

So Facebook aren’t making much money but will you? The thing with Facebook advertising is that you won’t instantly make money from it. What Facebook does is give you a change to get social with your potential clients so you can really build up a relationship with them.

Facebook is different from other advertising techniques because instead of targeting absolutely everyone it is much more specific. There are 11 different factors that Facebook uses for its advertisers, they are location, age, sex, keywords, education, workplace, relationship, interested-in and languages.

Zuckerberg said at the conference that Facebook is close to providing location-based advertising services:

“We are working on this, knowing where a person is and being able to personalise what’s around them,” he said.
This would be great for businesses as they could deliver ads to users who are near their place of business or they could let them know about any deals.

So is this the future of advertising? Will all businesses go via Facebook in the future?

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