Web 2.0


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

Consumers do not like advertising algorithms.

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

If you saw the recent article in the New York Times discussing the use of algorithms to generate adverts within your Facebook homepage or your Gmail inbox, I’m sure you’re aware of how this works. The algorithm takes your personal interests and uses them to create perfectly tailored adverts. To most people, that’s a smart way of ensuring that your advertising becomes more focused and targets people more likely to finish the load-see-browse process with an actual purchase.

To me, it’s an invasion of privacy. You’ve got to think logically about this – if you’re targeting games adverts towards people browsing game sites, that’s fine. But if I log into my social media homepage and I come across a load of adverts that tell me that some bit of code has read through my life and is now pushing product information into it, I’ll get pretty irate. The location of advertising is as important as the advert itself. If you billboard a concert, that’s fine. But paste the poster across someone’s bedroom window and they’re likely to call the police.

Privacy is a huge thing. Now that we live in a world where one man has administrative access to the personal details, conversations and darkest, most intimate secrets of some 500 million people and counting, that small place we can call both “online” and “private” has become even more crucial to us. To invade this space with discounts, product offers and movie trailers borders on telling people that their tastes are based on the tastes they wish to share with new friends.

Just because we have access to someone’s top ten favourite metal bands of 1989, doesn’t mean we should actually use that data for marketing purposes. Most of the things we’ve said to a friend, a partner or a relative on the internet have likely been seen by someone, and have definitely been logged. Cardinal rule of data? Nothing is ever completely deletable. But just because we’re given the option to lock ourselves off using viewing privileges (friends-only Facebook pages, for example) doesn’t mean we should have to do so.

Think about your image, say, as a small business selling indie videogames. If you stick a few ads up on albinoblacksheep, or Kongregate, you’re likely to be marketing very well. But the idea of someone listing Balloon Wars 9838 in a status post at some point on Facebook engendering a week-long stretch of Balloon Wars 9838 2: The Reckoning adverts should make you uncomfortable. If it doesn’t, think about your identity. You’re a small business. You’re one of the good guys. Don’t let that go because you want to shift another few copies of your latest release.

Keep in touch with your community, and advertise to them through paying attention. I once wrote an article on GamersGate for The Escapist, a digital distribution platform for videogames, a site that focuses on the indie credibility and deeper subtext of gaming. It might be worth a read if you want to learn how a small company has absolutely exploded because of their commitment to their fans. As I speak, and over the last 48 hours, their latest release, Magicka, has rocketed to the top of the Steam (another sales platform) charts. One of the reasons that happened is because CEO Frederik Wester is constantly twittering away and asking people to moan at him about bugs or link him to reviews, because he wants to read them. I know this from my personal experiences with him as an interview subject and an acquaintance.

Keep people happy, just don’t crowd them too much. It’s all too easy to stop logging in to a site so swamped with ads you’d swear you’d stumbled into the CGI back-catalogue for Bladerunner. You’ve been warned.

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Jan 2011

Are your website error messages entertaining enough?

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

Occasionally I run across a really amusing 404 page. Often, it’s a cute mascot who’s sad because he or she can’t find the page. Occasionally it’s a real gem that’ll tell me I got eaten by a grue instead of finding the page. But there was one on WordPress I stumbled onto recently via the most unlikely of routes. Let me paint you a picture.

I’m working on a post, and once I’m done, I let my editor go fiddle about with it till it looks the way it should. However, I forget to close my own version of the page, and when I save (thinking I’m on the CMS for another site entirely, namely this one) it saves over his edits. All of them. A brief moment of guilt ensues, so we attempt to compare versions  to find his edits. Out of sheer curiosity (I’ve loved errors ever since zooming in too far in Paint Shop Pro caused an illegal-operation shutdown in Windows), I compared version X to version X.

The screen goes to white, and a small message types itself out on my screen:

Self-comparison detected.
Initiating infinite loop eschewal protocol.
Self destruct in… 3

And the screen goes black. Then, in an ominous but familiar green font, more text appears.

Wake up, Christos Reid…

The Matrix has you…

Follow the white rabbit.

Followed by a short message telling me not to let this happen again, and a link taking me back to the CMS.

What can you say to an error message like that? Personally, I called my entire team over and we watched it several times. There’s never any indication that WordPress admits doing this publicly, and if you already know what you’re looking for it’s only really possible to learn about it via Google. But it made my day, work-wise, and it’s something that other sites (the ed. notably lists Wikipedia as one that should really have a few Easter eggs by now) have yet to fully exploit.

So go compare versions – who knows, it might inspire you to create funnier error messages of your own.

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Dec 2010

Why can’t businesses cope with DDoS attacks?

Posted in Business tactics, News, Web 2.0 | 0 Comments

Last night, I had almost completed such a monumental task, that it seemed the world held its breath, and one of the most popular websites widened its eyes at my efforts. I was working on one of the most intense tasks that can be completed using a computer, something that truly showcases cunning, daring, intelligence and drive beyond all reasonable doubt.

I had almost finished my Christmas shopping.

However, with half an hour or so to go before I hit the checkout, Amazon died. I tried reloading. Still dead. The reality dawned on me, I realised that when Anonymous stated they didn’t have the numbers to pull down Amazon.com, they’d decided on a “smaller” target: Amazon EU. Of course, within minutes Twitter was ablaze with Christmas shoppers, irate that one of the busiest online shopping days of the year had been interrupted for political reasons.

Now, I became pretty torn. On the one hand, I think the idea of a political hacktivist is something quite incredible. If you’re a company who severed ties with an organisation who could be said to be standing up for openness and freedom of speech (the very bedrocks’ of Western democracy), then they’re coming for you. Fine. But not when it interrupts the Christmas shopping of others, right? Then I noticed a retweet of some poor bloke who’d been stuck thousands of miles from home with no cash due to Visa getting hit hard by the Anonymous chaps.

It makes you think, doesn’t it. Why are businesses so vulnerable to the biggest modern threat to their continued operation and success? DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks are nothing new, but online stores and services are likely to collapse completely whenever they occur. I’m sure Amazon has a phone network, not to mention considerable externally hosted (I’d hope, anyway) customer support, so why was everyone left in the cold?

As it is, they deny that it was a WikiLeaks-motivated hack, but let’s be realistic, here. Amazon are in essence implying their hardware is poor rather than admit they were the victims of a DDoS attack. This is ridiculous, and if anything confirms it was Anonymous, who were tweeting about it being down, but not admitting being the culprits because they were reluctant to lose their accounts again.

As for the thousands, if not millions of customers Amazon was serving that weekend, did none of them think to ring Amazon up? Of course not, because unlike a shop that has both online and physical storefronts, Amazon has no back-up plan, and therein lies the rub. If you were, like me, on the verge of not having things delivered in time (and thankfully I’ve swung it, in the end) and there wasn’t even a phone number you could call to order your goods, you were stuffed.

If you’re a small business that sells goods in an online-only fashion, take careful, careful note. The internet is a fickle thing at best, and although none of you will be hosting WikiLeaks any time soon (though credit to you if you do), be careful how you treat your customers while your site is vulnerable to an attack against which there is no defense whatsoever.

Take care of your customers – update your error pages, offer them customer support numbers and email addresses, and reassure them that while you may be getting pushed over by the big DDoS bully in the playground, their data remains safe and the site will be up as soon as possible. Don’t do what Amazon did – deny the whole thing and never offer the majority of stuck shoppers any kind of updates or support. That way leads spoiled Christmases, and Amazon’s looking like the Grinch a little too much for their liking at the moment as it is.

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Nov 2010

Are company websites still worth the effort?

Posted in Business tactics, Web 2.0 | 0 Comments

Co-Founder of Alltop Guy Kawasaki made some pretty incredible insights into the advantages of not bothering with a company website recently. Instead, he pitched an idea I can only describe as genius to you, even if it does feel like a bit of a double-edged blade: make your company website on Facebook instead. It may seem like a mad idea, but think about the sheer volume of advantages and freedom it brings, not to mention the fact you’ve got one of the biggest companies in the history of Web 2.0 doing all the major maintenance jobs.

It’s tempting to design a slick website that requires constant administration, troubleshooting and above all, tons of cash to pay the designers, but is it really going to benefit you any more than something that’s instantly more accessible, easier to find, update and customise, and links you to your customers on an unrivalled personal level? Imagine being able to send people messages to their Facebook inboxes. It’ll come up with the rest of their personal social media experience, and suddenly you can market products and services by going under their guard.

Of course, there are other, more obvious and slightly less driven reasons for wanting to get a Facebook group set up as a replacement for the dinosaur that was your 1992 display of top-of-the-line HTML coding, neon pinks and blues sitting alongside ASCII profile pictures of your CEO and his board of directors. One of them is that Facebook, as a whole and definitely in comparison to the thousands of business websites I’ve seen in my lifetime, looks pretty damn nifty. Those subtle blues, the nice font, the great layout and the integreation of the “like” button means worrying about which widgets to put in your sidebar suddenly becomes a secondary concern.

Of course, as Jon wisely pointed out to me as we discussed this idea, it’s not just Facebook that’s convincing people to give up the idea of personal websites – eBay power sellers have been doing this for longer than Facebook’s been the Next Big Thing, I’d wager. Your own store, listing on a huge database, and of course, a feedback system and a community that means once your reputation is soaring, it rarely comes back down. If you can make a living from eBay, more power to you – some of the most trustworthy online transactions I’ve ever made outside of Amazon have been on that site. I used to view it as dodgy, as a kid – too many random people and it was still quite young in the late ’90s/early ’00s – but now I think it’s the best thing since, well, since before eBay.

Amazon Marketplace also use a similar system, and of course you’re forgetting the growing popularity of websites like myhammer.co.uk, which allows plumbers, builders, electricians and the like to post their skills online, get rated, and apply for a seemingly endless amount of jobs being posted onto the site by people who don’t want to flood their new bathroom. It’s a genius system, because you’ve got the reliability of a community rating system from a consumer perspective, and of course, the infinite amount of freelance work from a tradesperson’s perspective. Win-win, right?

If I had the time, I’d set up an eBay shop. It’s a fantastic way to make money, and my few Play.com/Amazon Marketplace selling experiences have shown me that people are remarkably quick to buy something if you’re selling at honest prices. Whether you’re offering an extension built in ten days for ten grand, or you’re a large company offering financial advice, consider that some people might take more quickly to you if you’re hanging around their Facebook homepage rather than drifting through the sea of endless Google-SERP clones of what you’re offering the consumer.

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Nov 2010

Are you deleting spam, or comments from potential visitors?

Posted in Web 2.0 | 2 Comments »

Sometimes, when purging comments from the various blogs I do admin duties for, I find some real gems. “Here at MegaSpamma, we’re debating the same thing,” claims one. I’m sure you are. Of course, I’m sure you are because you’ve probably linked to my blog about the topic and left a comments thread of your own open. But there are always a few genuine links to content, and in your over-zealous deletion of what you perceive to be spam comments, you’re deleting tips-of-the-hat from other sites.

It’s not difficult to spot the differences. Here’s a clue – if someone’s URL or email address is either gibberish or something medically related, and you’re writing about cheese and wine festivals, people wanting to show you how to lose that much weight on their site is probably a small clue they’re aiming for clicks, not affiliates. Building relationships with other sites, and becoming a source of great links that people often use to back up their own online arguments, is important. But by wiping their comments, you might be sending them away from you.

Often, I find the most misleading links are trackbacks. Square brackets, snippets of their text without a clear relation to your content at all and no indication of where their anchor text (for the link to your particular blog post) lies tends to set you against them. WordPress’ “related posts” feature is also a similar source of stress and irritation, as it’s unclear whether people think your post is related to theirs, or whether WordPress does.

If you’re a popular news blog, you’ll find that sifting through comments becomes near-impossible after a while. Clearing out thousands of comments a day that may not quite refer to the text, but instead sell diets, viagra and trainers, becomes an exercise in futility unless you’ve got the budget to employ a comments-god who’ll dish out digital justice with their mouse button. Waste of money, really – no matter how good your URL and IP filters are, people will get through.

Spam is a digital arms race – you’re always going to struggle to keep up with the pill-pushing, endlessly nattering little critters leaving comments endlessly on your blog, but you’ve got to maintain a sense of zen-like rationality when it comes to the few people who do have something to contribute. For every hundred spam comments, there’s one person who’ll write a short essay in response, and your job is to make sure that person doesn’t see their efforts to communicate with you destroyed within 24 hours as part of a comments-purge.

In fact, why not start commenting on other people’s blogs? All too often we sit back and let people’s contributions roll in, but are we really linking back to the community? Link to other blogs, comment, tweet – you need to engage with the writing community around you and make them a part of your world if you want to be a part of theirs. Scratch their digital backs, and they’ll scratch yours. Even if it’s a “this was really interesting, I’d love to interview you on my blog!”, you’re contributing to the overall mish-mash of ideas and commentary.

Next time you’re reading this blog, or someone else’s, comment. Write something complimentary, critical (be nice, please) or inspiring, and invite them to do the same. You’d be surprised how quick people will recommend you if you’ve done nothing but contribute to a blog they feel looks like an endless digital monologue. But no medical stuff, right? Unless I start blogging about Twitter curing all known diseases, can you stop telling me I can lose weight easily, spammers? It’s Christmas, don’t make me feel like I’ve got to cut back before the best aspect of the season begins!

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Sep 2010

Dealing with change

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

Graph courtesy of blog.hubspot.com.

It’s not every day that big websites go through a major overhaul of their layout, and if you’ve seen IMDB‘s profile layout recently, it’s gone picture-heavy and facts-light until far down the page. This, personally speaking, is a nightmare. Finding crucial information becomes difficult, and it makes the website seem celebrity obsessed and Facebook-esque.

But what can we do? Kim Krause Berg argues over at searchengineland.com that major overhauls and changes to anything from layout to security can be a good thing, but I disagree. Let me grace your vision with a few hypothetical scenarios for large sites with many users, and what a major change to their site could do to the traffic, and even their revenue.

Business A is a leading online store of books, DVDs and music (no prizes for guessing what the “A” stands for…), and its layout has remained largely the same for around a decade. All of a sudden, it changes and looks like something you’d see on an iPhone, all slick scrolling widgets and little text. New, younger users will take to it more, but most will feel it feels less secure and less mature, and as a result begin to shop somewhere that focuses more on the product’s value than the aesthetics.
Business B is a site for a financial advice company that focuses on pensions and life insurance. Their site is updated from an old but functional, formal style into a Flash-based presentation that appeals to a younger audience (noticing a pattern, here?). Cue a lot of people who were happy with the pre-Web 2.0 style wondering what the point was.

And why the re-design? To get with the kids. From experience, unless you’re a rap star, you’re not going to be 18 and looking into a personal financial adviser – most clients are older, I’m reliably informed by my financial-adviser correspondent. So, who are you really marketing to? In addition, the 2012 Retail Distribution Review will only allow for fixed fees, so costs will likely grow to compensate for the loss of commission-based financial products.

Pointless site updates are numerous, and I think unless you can justify it in terms of performance statistics (accessibility, load times, bandwidth), then what’s the point? You’re putting a new cover on an old couch, and expecting it to be what convinces people to sit on it. But we all know once we’ve sat down, it’s still as hard as the old one and the same spring is still stabbing into your leg, so you stand up and walk off.

IMDB’s re-design was a sticking point for me simply because they took a mature, fountain-of-film-knowledge look, and turned it into a glorified poster and celebrity gallery for around 800 pixels in length. Why? To appeal to a generation who prefer to watch rather than read, and look rather than study.

We’re a generation of iPhone Apps, YouTube and Facebook, and sometimes we can’t even read unless it’s shown to us on a Kindle. IMDB’s “IMDB Pro” subscription seems a moot point on a site that seems to conform more now to teen layouts than actual film executives or actors using the site for networking and their online resume.

Kim also states that many people responded in a hostile manner to Sphinn’s removal of the voting system. Re-designs are sometimes needed, but to remove a vital part of user interaction on a community-driven aggregate site seems borderline suicidal. What would happen if Amazon removed their star-review system, or Digg decided that it would post what the staff thought was good?

Sometimes all you want is a new sofa, but before you know it you’ve bought a £3,200 chaise-longue and a set of French windows, and suddenly your mates don’t have movie nights at your house, any more. Choose your design decisions carefully, because loyal members are a stubborn and shallow bunch, and they’re also the people regularly throwing their wallets at you.

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Sep 2010

Keeping it fresh: new targets for social marketing

Posted in Web 2.0 | 0 Comments

Trying to think of new and interesting ways to keep your business’s social media marketing alive and kicking can be tough. When you get stuck, it’s important to find inspiration and the news is a great place to start. I’ve had a look at what people are talking about this week and how this can help your businesses social marketing campaign.

The kids are alright:

Last week I wrote about the Mommy bloggers and this week it’s all about the tweeny bloggers. Think of it as the revenge of the tween (young teen, to the unitiated) fed up with their mothers endlessly blogging about their nappies, then their first day of school and even their first kiss, the tweens have started to take control. The Independent reported that 15 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds are already blogging and one in four are interested in starting.
As we are all aware social media is huge amongst teenagers, so targeting the younger segment of this age group is a sure fire way to get yourself noticed. Send a tween blogger your product, ask them to review and watch as all their friends begin saying to mum and dad ‘I want one of those!’

Bugging you:

According to the New York Times, as America is trying to eradicate the recent infestation of bedbugs, the pest control companies are having a war of their own- which ad will be seen first by those searching for pest control online? The New York Times article says: According to Google, general searches for “bedbugs” have increased 83 percent in the last year and 182 percent for bedbug-related searches in the last four weeks compared with the same period a year earlier.

If there is a sudden epidemic, let’s say bedbugs or swine flu, it may be a great opportunity to generate traffic, but don’t forget your ethical compass. Nothing is more likely to alienate potential customers like jumping on a public health bandwagon. It may be all about making the most of the moment – but unless your product is relevant, be cautious.

Be more open minded:

It can be easy to get caught up in trying to drum up business in the UK and the USA. We forget that money can actually be made elsewhere and we may not be as clued up as we think we are when it comes to social media.
India, for example, is currently in the midst of a social media phenomena- Bubbly. It already has 2 million users and is popular with Bollywood stars and big companies. It is basically a voice- based Twitter, using text alerts and dial-in codes to record and receive voice updates on mobile devices. When a user records audio messages and updates, followers can listen in whenever they want.
The idea for Bubbly came from America and presumably must have been targeted to India where mobile phone usage exceed internet usage. So, if you have an idea, think about where it would really work. Do your research and don’t be afraid to target countries you are not so familiar with.

Silver Surfers:

This may seem pretty obvious but you may not be aware about just how much and how fast social networking among older adults is growing. 42% of online adults age 50+ now use social networking sites, nearly twice as many as the 22% who did so a year earlier, according to a study by Pew Research. They are officially the fastest growing demographic among social network users.
This is a big step for the world of social marketing. It is a real chance to get a product out there to what could be a new market. What’s great is that when a mature adult says they like something on Facebook, their friends will listen. Older people still do have an authority that youngest users just don’t quite have yet. Get the oldies on your side and you’re laughing.

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Jul 2010

The true cost of a business’ social media integration

Posted in Business tactics, Online PR, Social Media, Web 2.0, Web Design and Usability | 0 Comments

Drifting through the web on a peaceful Monday lunchtime, I stumbled across possibly one of the most interesting and informative infographics I’ve seen. Created by Mashable, titled “Google’s Long History of Social Media Attempts” is an entertaining insight into one of the biggest web companies in the world, and its continued struggle for social media presence.

Reading down the years, a clear pattern emerges: Google have bought their way into more social media companies and invested in more projects than the majority of all businesses, globally. But for all their attempts to break the ice with the new generation of socially and digitally savvy teenagers and twentysomethings, something’s gone slightly awry. No one seems interested.

Now, for a company as large as Google, it seems almost absurd, doesn’t it? They’ve got millions, if not billions of dollars to spare on new projects, and everything they touch is hailed as a viable alternative before it’s even in alpha. However, putting successful projects such as Blogger to one side, Google are in a unique position – one of, if not the biggest web presence of any company in the world, but with all the social media success of a ten-year-old with a mobile dongle and a dream or two.

Google Me has been rumoured to be a direct competitor to Facebook. After severely underestimating the continued growth of the social-networking giant, Google now face a dilemma that is familiar to smaller companies like Bebo and the ever-falling-behind MySpace: how to get back into the face of the people.

It seems simple enough, but Google’s single greatest strength has simultaneously become its greatest weakness. The majority of internet searches go through Google’s famous search engine. But placing results for Google Me above Facebook, or even as sponsored links, could cause opinion to turn against Google and perceive the company as biased.

The same goes for small businesses – how to break into social media? If you’re a web company with Zuckerberg-esque aspirations, then you’ve got your work cut out. But you’ve still got a head-start over Google in terms of getting ranked higher and higher without it looking slightly too quick for the few cynics and conspiracy theorists.

You’ve also got, I’d wager, a smaller budget than the colossal entity that is Google. This also gives you an advantage – a smaller budget requires more careful planning, and less public humiliation when a big project falls through. An interesting look into Google’s inner workings tells many tales of failed projects and Google’s personal investment in the employees that push it further in the direction of global dominance of all online media.

If you’re a web-design company, maybe even just a solo entrepreneur, this seems daunting and, if anything, completely de-motivational. But never fear – you can network, you can join communities, and you can build up your web presence the way you want it to evolve. With countless failed projects behind their doors and a few too many beyond them, Google are now beginning to look like a company desperate to break into social media.

Your advantage comes from your unknown status. By lacking the stigma of a money-wasting corporate entity and focusing on one specific idea rather than anything with even the remotest prospect of serious monetisation (Jack of all trades, master of none), you can put forward ideas in a less critical environment. Public reaction, especially via the web, is crucial to the initial success and the build-up and expansion that follows.

But social media maintains its presence in society, a theory confirmed by The Social Network, the film about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s rather controversial history, that will debut later this year. Taking Facebook off the internet and into the cinemas places it in the hands of yet another audience, and the genius of it is that it was never officially commissioned or sanctioned by Facebook in any way whatsoever. Hopefully, Google will be in the front row taking notes along with web-design graduates.

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Jul 2010

Applied knowledge

Posted in Business tactics, Social Media, Usability, Web 2.0 | 0 Comments

If you’re working in social media, or realistically anything that involves logging onto something once a day, chances are you’ve probably got a smartphone. I’m going to go ahead and push that even further, and wager that if you do, it’s either a BlackBerry or an iPhone. If it’s an iPhone, and unless you’re one of the many shedding tears over the recent issues with the fourth iteration, you’re likely happy to spend a little bit of cash on a huge variety of useful applications, or “Apps”. If you are one of those people, and you’d love to find out how useful a businessperson with their Apps geared for productivity can perform above their peers, then read on. If you’re not busy sending hate-mail to Steve Jobs, that is.

Apps: tasks made convenient

If you’re on the run and you’re needing to work on the accounts for last year as April’s creeping up on you a little too quickly – then don’t worry. Grab your iPhone, launch the App Store, find Spreadsheet, pay just under six dollars, and you’re able to edit a spreadsheet on your phone. I’m not joking, and it’s even visually appealing. Personally, I’m on a hiatus from Apple products, but I have to admit that the appeal of being able to do mundane tasks on the commute and the more enjoyable ones in the office sounds fantastic, and why not up your productivity?

If that’s not enough, why not Documents To Go? That’s your PowerPoint, Word, Excel, PDF, iWork (c’mon, it’s still an Apple phone), Google Docs… the list goes on, quite literally. Netbooks are all good and well, but if you’re a city-dweller, you know as well as I do that bar Starbucks, taking a computer out in public is a risky proposition, at best. However, an iPhone is literally the size of a phone, and unless you’re an optimistic-but-misguided person trying to pocket an iPad, it’s perfect for the job.

The main advantage is functionality, and of course, portability. Being able to ensure your presentation runs the way you want it to, or correcting a typo or two moments before taking to the stage is a vital business advantage, and you’ll find your productivity soaring. If you’ve got the phone, take advantage of it – not doing so is like having a car but never putting it in reverse – you can keep going forward, sure, but when everyone else is squeezing into the smaller spots you’re going to be aiming for the bus lane and praying for the warden to look the other way.

But there are other smaller benefits – simply having a smartphone as a manager or a CEO is crucial in today’s digitised economy. Missing that vital email or PDF contract just before you’re in a phones-off meeting can be disastrous, and making sure you’re hooked into the biggest communications network on the planet is all too logical. It’s a pity one of the best phones on the market is rather pricey, but if you’re after something that lets you edit, record, document, process and approve almost as smoothly as on your office computer, then invest.

Anyone else out there?

Of course, one of the biggest draws of smartphones, and the iPhone in particular, has to be the ability to social network. Twitter and Facebook have become a huge part of almost everyone’s everyday lives, and with a massive 400 active Facebook accounts and the mind-bending Twitter statistics from one of my recent posts, you’re looking at a lot of time invested in other people’s comings and goings. So, with that in mind, and the business tactics we’ve discussed on this blog quite often about getting more customers through good social networking on behalf of a company, how do we engineer the smart use of Apps in order to facilitate this?

The answer? Ensure people know you’re thinking on the move. A CEO who’s in a meeting but still finds time to Tweet about his breakfast is a bad thing. A CEO who Tweets about the important and public aspects of said meeting is an honest, open, respected CEO. If you’re sitting high on the employee hierarchy and you’re feeling a little left behind by the office’s dedicated social media buff, then take it into your own hands. Of course, it’s worth making sure you know what and what not to say, as not everyone will appreciate a mix of your charity work and a TwitPic gallery of your new boat, but otherwise, why not ensure everyone knows you’re not someone with more money than time?

There are, of course, other benefits – subscribe to the Twitter accounts of your competitors, even with a subtle account. Being able to monitor them on the go, especially if they make an announcement five minutes before your annual press conference, is a key business strategy. All too often, announcements go unheard by competitors until they see it on the showroom floor later that day and, hand clasped firmly to forehead, stagger towards the hungry press-hounds to redeem themselves. Even tweeting in response to a competitor’s announcement moments after they make it can have a huge impact – you’re aware, and you’re critical but appreciative of your rival’s business presence.

We live in a world where Stephen Fry’s more interested in tweeting on his iPhone than anything else, and when one of the UK’s leading minds is into Twitter, it’s worth taking note. But being able to do so, as Fry has done, in the middle of a television broadcast, and watch the presenter laugh at Fry’s tweet from across the set is something quite exceptional to watch. Now, imagine that Fry is your competitor, and the rest of the room represents the show’s host, and you’re the only one with no iPhone App for Twitter. Sound isolating? It is, and if you’re going to rocket to the top, you’re either going to need a lot of chemistry and astrophysics, or you’re going to need a phone heralded by a man called Steve that has turned public transport into a phone-rotating, music-heavy, endlessly tapping festival of productivity.

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