Writing by James

Articles and opinions on technology, social media and innovation

How Iron Maiden turned piracy into paying customers

Iron Maiden Stage Show

I will freely admit, without embarrassment, that before I fell in love with Pixies, my favourite band was Iron Maiden. It was the perfect partner for my ‘angry-on-the-inside-blank-on-the-outside’ teenage years. Although the music might not be to everybody’s taste, they are an amazingly successful band, playing to over a million fans over the course of 2013.

So it was with interest that I read this article on Citeworld, about how Iron Maiden is using social media analytics to guide decision-making around its tours; the basic premise being that by looking at this large data set, they can capitalise on download activity by planning opportunities for fans to buy merchandise legitimately.

Like Pixies, it’s great to see a band embracing the changing landscape. It just goes to show that change is not just inevitable, but that it is also the source of opportunity.

*** UPDATE: Since the post was created, an update has been posted on the source article stating that Iron Maiden did not work with the analytics company mentioned. Although its disappointing that the article was not researched correctly, I believe it does show a valid use of data analytics and we will see more businesses using this kind of insight moving forward. I wasn’t the only one to follow up on this article; you can find out more over at Techcrunch.  ***


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Why First Contact is So Important

First contact is so important. No, not that First Contact, this isn’t a story about aliens coming to Earth peaceably or otherwise. This is a story about first contact with your brand.

Still from Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Close Encounters of the Third Kind – meeting a brand for the first time shouldn’t be this daunting

We’d like to think otherwise, but the majority of people make assumptions. and they make those assumptions within the first few seconds of encountering something new. That’s why it’s important to make the right impression straight away; even more so when first contact is made through social media channels. Go back five years and the majority of contact between consumers and brands was at arms length and through traditional media channels. This one-way communication meant that there was a lower expectation from the consumer as to the level of the relationship – there was an acceptance that you (the brand) spoke to them and not the other way around (the only exception to this was through customer support channels, but by that time you’re already a customer). The advent of social media changed this paradigm forever. Now there is an expectation that brands will respond to consumers on their terms, and if they don’t consumers will feel ignored. It’s like going on a first date and having your date sitting in silence looking at the guy on the next table – a real slap in the face.

A slap in the face – the case study

Not me I hasten to add; I’ve never been slapped in the face, although I have had a drink thrown at me (I was innocent-ish). No, this was my first contact with Dollar Shave Club.

Dollar Shave Club is a US-based company that is taking a fresh look at the business of shaving. For a small amount of money each month, they’ll send you a new, simple razor. It’s a refreshing step away from the big brand name razors with all their 7-blade, vibrating, cut-repairing, super shielded, built-in shaving gel monstrosities. I first encountered them through an article online and from there, the Facebook page and their website. Dollar Shave Club have really embraced these platforms as a way to do business, relying on the viral nature of their marketing to spread the word. And, for me, it’s really effective. You can see their video below, complete with swearing, bears and machetes.

As a result of this I was keen to find out more about when the service would be available in the UK, so I tweeted them at @DollarShaveClub. Not just any tweet, but one with a vaguely amusing picture attached (that played up to British stereotypes), I was quite pleased with the result of my efforts. The picture is, of course, the wonderful Terry Thomas (IMDB).

I sat back and waited for a reply, sure that I would get at the very least an acknowledgement or a canned reply. Nothing was forthcoming, so I left it a couple more days, still nothing. In Twitterland, two days is a massive amount of time, so by this time I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get a reply at all. I was disappointed. It had shaken my faith in the brand. If it had been Nestle or Unilever, I wouldn’t have expected anything, but for a company like this – that lives online –  I did.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s a great idea, and if they do set up in the UK, I’ll be on the list straight away (I’m terrible at buying new blades, mainly because they are so damn expensive). But they lost the chance to create an real advocate.

There’s a lesson here

Yes, there is a lesson here. Any business that goes online in this way, looking to generate sales through their online presence (and that’s just about everybody these days), has to understand that they’ve opened a communication channel. Facebook pages, websites, Twitter feeds; they’re all part of your relationship with customers and potential customers. As such they have to be given the same level of attention as a any other customer support channel. If I phoned my bank and they just decided not to answer my phone, or worse, answered it and then just didn’t say anything, they would be held up as an example of bad customer service; so why is it okay to do this online? The simple answer – it’s not.

If you’re moving your business online and taking advantage of all that social media has to offer (as 90% of US small business are), make sure you don’t make the mistake of  leaving your offline experience behind. Your existing customer support processes are just as valuable now as they ever were. Social Media is just one more channel to add into the mix.

Have you had a similar experience? If you’re selling online, how have you adapted your customer support processes to cope? Has it been a smooth transition, or a 24/7 nightmare? I’d be interested in your comments.


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Medmeme: Does an Effective Corporate Website Really Matter?

MedMeme Logo

I now have a new post available at Medmeme.

Does an Effective Corporate Website Really Matter?‘ questions whether an effective corporate digital presence really translates into digital success, or whether pharma companies still need to do more to use digital communications effectively for patients and healthcare professionals.


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Guest posts now online at Medmeme

MedMeme Logo

Just a quick post to say that two pharma-focused articles are now up at Medmeme.

Pharma and Facebook: Gone for good?’ investigates the relationship between big pharma and the world’s largest social network, whilst ‘Two Rarely Mentioned Reasons to go Digital’ looks at the less obvious reasons for moving towards digital marketing: money and compliance.


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DoNanza: The easy way to establish your expertise using Quora

DoNanza - QuoraThe 15th April saw my first article published for DoNanza. DoNanza is an online service that helps freelancers find work, providing a range of tools to help them get noticed by potential employers.

“The easy way to establish your expertise using Quora” covers the basics of using Quora to demonstrate your expertise and knowledge across multiple subject areas, and highlights how you can use this effectively in creating your own personal brand – opening up job opportunities.

As well as the website, you can find them on Twitter or on Facebook.

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Landing Pages – the unforgiveable sin

This article was republished at Unbounce as a different version with a focus on QR codes (it was edited from the original). This article is included here only for the purposes of showing the editorial process – from first submission to published article. As stated in my previous post, I’ll leave it up to you to tell me whether you think the quiz structure works or not.

Image credit to fuzzysaurus on Flickr

There are many ways to get people to your landing page, but it’s not the channels that you use that ultimately drive conversions, it’s something else entirely. And that’s where many marketers go wrong. You see that guy in the picture above; you don’t want your users to feel like that do you, just because of something you did, or didn’t, do?

But all this negativity, it’s a bit heavy. Why don’t we lighten it up a bit by taking a little quiz? You know the type: just read the questions, decide on whether you would A, B or C, then total up the number of A, B and C’s. It’s just like reading Seventeen magazine again. Just promise me you won’t look down the page to see the answers…

Question 1

You’re sitting in your kitchen having breakfast. You’re reading the back of the cereal packet for the third time in the last five minutes, when you see a QR code tucked away next to the ingredients panel. By visiting the site you can find out exactly how many calories are in a single cheerio. Do you:

A.    Immediately start looking elsewhere on the box for a URL, spilling cereal on the table when you look on the bottom of the packet, then, when you find it, run upstairs to your desktop PC to find out more.

B.    Get your Android phone out of your pocket. Scan the code. Go to the Website.

C.    Do nothing. What is this QR code business anyway?

Question 2

You’re at the store. You’ve got a new box of cereal to replace the one you dropped on the floor during breakfast. Standing in the queue you notice a sign on the counter offering discounts for regular customers, with double-discounts at your local store. All you have to do is check in on their Website. Do you:

A.    Steal the sign surreptitiously when the cashier isn’t looking and run home to check in from the comfort of your home. Then realize you left your cereal at the store.

B.    Take out your iPhone. Go to the URL. Check-in. Get a discount.

C.    Do nothing. Who wants to check-in? Check-ins are for airports.

Question 3

You’re home from the store–and slightly out of breath from the run–so you turn on the TV. An advert for a new, even bigger TV catches your eye, and they’ve got deals for their Twitter followers. The links to their offer pages are right there in their Twitter stream. Do you:

A.    Scribble the Twitter name down on a piece of paper, then hunker down in your home office to follow them on your 32″ widescreen monitor.  Yeah baby!

B.    Pick up your brand new Samsung Galaxy. Fire up the Twitter app. Search for the account. Follow it. Click through to their deals landing page right there on your phone.

C.    Twitter? Why would I want to know what the world is having for lunch?

Okay, that’s it. It’s time to tot up those answers.

How did I do?

If you got mostly A’s:

Okay, those who answered mostly As are online, but missing a big piece of the picture. The good news: of anyone out there, marketers have the most to gain from this audience as it moves from desktop-bound activities to mobile converts.

The way people access the Internet is changing. They’re moving away from a reliance on the desktop browser and moving toward the mobile device. And that change in browsing habits is having a knock-on effect in our offline behavior. We’re much more likely to use mobile devices to inform our purchasing choices, either in-store or in our downtime.

The three scenarios outlined above show just a few of the ways in which smart retailers are using these changes in customer behavior to their advantage. The use of QR codes to connect offline printed media with an online presence is rising and they can be an efficient way to drive traffic to your landing page. There’s no fiddly typing of URLs on a tiny keyboard, you simply scan the code and are taken directly to the website. It’s also possible to brand QR codes with a logo for maximum brand impact.

Using advertising at Point of Sale is also a great way to appeal to a captive audience. By catching shoppers at the point of purchase, you have the opportunity to influence the decision-making process. If a customer is already with you, you want to make sure they come back again. The ability to geo-locate customers through their mobile devices can be used effectively to serve local offers and generate customer loyalty. Adidas successfully used geolocation to support six popup stores in Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

And finally, there’s good old social media. Social networks, especially Facebook and Twitter, are becoming an integrated part of many companies marketing strategies, with the importance of these channels increasing year over year. It’s also true that the a growing percentage of activity on both these platforms is from mobile devices (55% on Twitter, 33% on Facebook). Chances are that, if you’re driving people to your social media presence, there is a good chance they are doing it on a mobile device.

If you got mostly B’s:

Well, you may be preaching to the converted here. These customers are true mobile surfers. They may be part of a growing demographic that accesses the Internet primarily through a mobile device, but for marketers this doesn’t always translate into best practice for campaigns unless their landing pages are optimized for mobile browsing. Take a look at your company’s web presence, whether it’s a campaign landing page or the main company website. Would they work in the scenarios outlined in the quiz?

If you got mostly C’s:

Well. Those who scored mostly C’s are in need of a digital refresher course. But don’t worry, more and more become converted online shoppers and eventual mobile users everyday. Keep trying to engage them.

But what has all of this got to do with landing pages?

There’s a change taking place. The way that people access the internet is changing, and with it, the way that they are accessing your Web pages. Mobile devices are becoming more and more prevalent and we can no longer predict how and where users interact with our brand, so we must be prepared to support every potential channel and engage prospects wherever they choose to engage with our products.

The unforgivable sin for a landing page is a poor user experience. If you’ve done the hard work and directed people to your page but the user experience is a poor one, you’re simply throwing away time, money and effort. Creating a strong user experience, regardless of how the user accesses your page, is paramount. By making sure your landing pages are mobile-optimized, you’re giving yourself a head-start on the road to conversions and revenue. By making it easy for you users to read and navigate the content on your landing page you will increase conversion rates. Leave them trying to read tiny type on a tiny screen and you’re fighting a losing battle.

Don’t be left out. Engage the customers who choose B.


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Stop tweeting, start listening

Image courtesy of dangermain on Flickr

This week I attended the Ogilvy Keynote as part of Social Media Week in London. It was a good keynote, full of valid, open discussion around the topic of ‘Socialising the Enterprise’, with contributions from IBM, Ford and American Express. But that’s not what this post is about.

It’s not about chips either, but bear with me, it will make sense eventually.

At the end of the keynote, I was prompted to tweet the following:

What was it that possessed me to make my feelings known, apart from the bloke next to me who spent the entire hour and a half on his iPhone? Simply the fact that if we are not careful, we will be so distracted by technology that it will become our master, rather than our tool. If we as individuals are to make the most out of these gatherings here’s a few reasons why we should think about not tweeting (or posting, I’m social-media-network-agnostic)

1. Tweeting is a distraction

We like to think that we can multi-task, but it’s really not true. By tweeting your way through a presentation you’re not giving it your full attention. If you’re going to make the effort to attend, make the effort to participate fully.

2. Random quotes with no context have little value

Just because someone said something that sounded good at the time, like “culture eats strategy for lunch”, it doesn’t mean you have to repeat it verbatim (or in text-speak) to your followers. 140 characters is not enough to provide any context to what is being said and it just comes over as a bland statement. If I said “long ones are better than short ones” whilst eating a plate of chips, would you tweet that? Why does culture eat strategy for lunch; that’s what people want to know. Which brings me neatly to…

3. Don’t just repeat, think

If you’re attending an event and you’re lucky enough to be in the audience, and even better, the event is really turning out some valuable learnings, don’t just regale us with quotes, give us your opinion. Step back for a moment and think about how those learnings affected you, or your business, or your understanding of the subject. Think about it and then tell us why it should matter to us. It’s too easy to just take what others say as gospel, especially when they are sitting on a stage – don’t fall for it, you matter just as much.

Don’t miss the opportunity

Social Media gives us the ability to communicate. When people communicate we can achieve amazing things (see the Arab Spring for details). However, it’s good communication that we need, not communication for its own sake. Let’s make sure we think before we speak (or tweet), not just for our benefit, but for those that are listening too.


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When 5000 followers isn’t enough: the future of Twitter

Twitter Bird

Around 2 o’clock in the afternoon UK time, America gets online.

I have no need for a clock. I know it is around 2 o’clock because my Twitter feed suddenly goes apes**t. I see it accelerate exponentially over the course of a few minutes. I can no quicker press the ‘(x) new tweets’ banner to refresh the page, than it appears again.

I follow only 200 people (give or take a few).

Which leads me to wonder what your Twitter feed must be like if you follow 5,000 people. Or even 10,000? I daren’t imagine.

At this point in time, I can only see two reasons why you would follow 5,000 people:

  1. You are hell bent on gathering a massive following yourself. And you are following people in the vain hope that they will follow back[1].
  2. You have the latest cyber-implant from Sarif Industries which allows you to directly upload and pre-process Twitter’s firehose feed into your brain, so it’s no issue.

The end result of this is always the same, an unmanageable torrent of content. How are we supposed to make anything of this? How is it in anyway ‘useful’? Surely following a small number of people whose opinions and judgement you respect and value would be a better way to go? Yes, you’ll miss out on a few links here and there, but the majority of information you get will be useful to you.

However, there are opportunities lurking in the large datasets that Twitter is home to.

Twitter’s opportunity

Let’s face it; having a constructive conversation over Twitter is about as easy as playing pat-a-cake with your arms cut off. But what Twitter does do very well is facilitate the sharing of content. Even back in September 2010, a whole year ago, Twitter was sending 22.5 million tweets containing links.

Twitter Trending Topics

Twitter's Trending Topics in the UK (22/11/2011)

Twitter’s Trending Topics (TTs) are a fairly feeble attempt at uncovering the trends within their dataset, and suffer from being self-referential; as soon as a topic starts to trend, it immediately trends more as people start to investigate it and as the Twitter spam accounts start broadcasting tweets that simply repeat the TTs. They do nothing but scratch the surface of what is possible.

TTs incorrectly focus on common words and hashtags, instead of looking at something much more valuable: what people are sharing. Twitter could be seen as a content producer in some (limited) ways, but its value lies in its ability to distribute content quickly to large numbers of people. And it is here that the opportunity lies.

Social content

By mining its data stores, Twitter can understand the most popular content at any one time, across the whole network, by country, or even within our own sphere of interest.

Imagine a Twitter where we could see the most influential content available, ranked and ready for our attention. Suddenly, following 5,000 or even 10,000 people is not an issue, because we are being presented with the salient data from those people without having to wade through every tweet.

Twitter has enough data to be able to do this. It can provide its users with targeted and valuable content because:

  1. They know who we follow and who follows us
  2. They know what we have shared in the past (first tweet and retweeting)
  3. They know who we engage with most regularly, either through DMs or open tweets.
  4. They know what content is being shared (even that which is obfuscated behind URL shorteners)

From this they can provide us with a new view based on content relevancy and social importance. Alongside our standard view, of course, because this isn’t about either/or, it’s about augmenting what we have with a layer of intelligence.

Twitter always argued that they don’t want to lose the simplicity of the product, but by enhancing the third party tools that people use to access Twitter they can have the best of both worlds.With the purchase of Tweetdeck earlier this year, and with the greater control it is now exercising over the third-party applications that work with the service, Twitter is now well positioned to take advantage of the opportunity. As in, right now.

One step further – Goodbye Google Ripples, Goodbye Klout?

No, not really…   but kind of.

Google Ripples is an experimental visualisation of how a piece of content is shared, emanating from the source like the titular ripples from a stone thrown into water. It enables you to see how content moves through your social ecosystem and provides valuable insight to marketers. But compared to Twitter in terms of the amount of content, it’s a minnow. Imagine seeing ripples for Twitter; they could do that right now.

Klout purports to be the standard for measuring influence across the web. It’s going through a little bit of a sticky patch right now due to a change in the way it works (although I’m not complaining. my score went up from 45 to 69), but it could get a lot worse. Its weakness is that it measures from the outside and only has access to a limited set of information from each of the networks it interfaces with. Twitter has access to everything you do on their platform, so could easily understand who is producing content and how it is being shared. If it is true that Klout base their scores heavily on your primary network, why have a Klout score if you could have an ‘official’ Twitter ranking that shows the true value of the content you produce? They could do this right now.

Opportunities, opportunities

Twitter hasn’t ever had a problem with its product, but it has always had a problem with understanding what its business is.  As one of the principle ‘big data’ companies, now is the time to start making more of its most valuable asset. Content suggestion and referral, arm-in-arm with their nascent advertising model, could be a powerful product.


[1] The sad fact of this is that there are many people out there who profess to ‘Always follow back’. Quite why you would offer to follow someone back without at least looking at their content first, I don’t know.

This article is also available at , also available at Business2Community.

Pixies - Bossanova album cover


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The album that saved my (musical) life

Pixies - Bossanova album coverThis is a post about the Pixies.

It’s August 1990 and my life is about to change. I’d like to say that someone had passed me a copy of the seminal album, Doolittle, with its dark, jagged lyrics, but they hadn’t. The album I had heard was the smoother and less predatory Bossanova, and from that day on my musical taste changed irrevocably. A large part of my existing music collection never got played again.

I’m sure we all have an epiphany of a similar nature at some time in our lives, I’m glad mine was musical. That was over 20 years ago, but here I am still listening to the Pixies.

Why are you telling me this?

I’m sure that’s the question you’re asking. Twenty years is a long time, especially in technology. The internet – as we know it – didn’t even exist in 1990. So you might think that a group like the Pixies are no longer relevant.

But it’s not the case, and I, for one, am glad.

The Pixies, or just Pixies (no The) to be exact, have embraced digital media as part of their touring comeback. They’ve grasped the essential nature of the social web to create an online community that is both forward-looking (new fans) and reminiscing happily (old fans like me), successfully spanning the generation gap.

They’ve done this by:

1. Creating a multi-platform web presence

Each platform has its own strength and weaknesses. The Pixies are harnessing this by creating a central hub (pixiesmusic.com) surrounded by a mobile app (iPhone and Android), a Facebook page and a Twitter account. The Twitter account is mainly push messaging, the Facebook page is for discussion, the mobile app pulls the web presence onto mobile devices (including streaming capabilities), and the main site contains all this plus e-commerce functionality. They’re not the greatest designed sites in the world, but they work.

2. Creating a core content pot

The main site is built around one idea, to create a single source of Pixies information online, from the basic discography to an ever-growing gigography – a complete list of all the gigs the band has played. Fans are encouraged to provide their thoughts, memories, pictures and even recordings of these gigs. The same content structure is used in the mobile applications.

3. Giving something for nothing

If you want people to give something to you, you have to give something to them. For signing up to the site you get a free live EP in digital format and access to stream old live concerts and demo’s. It’s an immediate value-add for the consumer. By showcasing their live sound (which is excellent), fans are also encouraged to see the band play live (tour dates and tickets available on the site) or to buy recordings of other shows, spanning from the early ’90s to the present.

4. Keeping content fresh

The web is a bottomless pit of content it seems. By mining its depths, the Pixies are regularly sharing old interviews, live performances and TV appearances. These are mostly from YouTube, but sometimes highlight content from fan-sites. Just a few days ago, I came cross a site that was streaming a recording of an interview with the Pixies on John Peel’s radio show. It had been taken from a tape recording and cleaned up. I have a tape of the very same interview in my loft, and was compelled to comment that it was the case. These constant reminders of the past make great fodder for discussion amongst the faithful and Facebook posts regularly get a lot of comments.

It’s great to see this kind of renaissance. They’ve approached it just the right way, and are reaping the rewards.

For the interested among you…

The music of the Pixies is fantastic, but don’t take my word for it, take a listen:

Bossanova – where it all started for me – listen to Bossanova

Come on Pilgrim – the debut 8 track mini-album from March 1987 – listen to Come On Pilgrim

Surfer Rosa – the first studio album from 1988, a short, but not so sweet, chicano-influenced mix produced by Steve Albinilisten to Surfer Rosa

Doolittle – the iconic Pixies album – listen to Doolittle

Trompe Le Monde – the last studio album, a sci-fi inspired piece of alt-rock that’s so good that it’s over before it’s started – listen to Trompe Le Monde

Or for a single album overview there’s always Death to the Pixies, a collection of album tracks – listen to Death to the Pixies

Enjoy!


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What’s the value of community?

What’s the value of community? It’s a pertinent question in today’s marketing landscape. I was invited to contribute an article to Business 2 Community and this seemed a good time to start looking into the question in a little more detail. As it turns out, the article heavily features one of Volume’s software products – SociView – providing an overview of the system and its capabilities. It’s not my usual approach to blog posts, I prefer to be a little more independent and objective than that, but it’s a start. Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking into the subject in more detail, delving into what it really means to create, retain and then leverage a community as a marketing channel.

In the meantime, for those that are interested, you can find the article here: What’s the value of community?