The run away winner this year, and up from number 2 last year, this article still seems to be hitting the spot. I still get comments and emails around the subject, as it seems that nothing has changed – the number of people still searching for ‘Scribd Facebook’ on Google has not decreased.
Last year, when this rolled in at number 1, I said:
“When I first wrote this post, it was only intended to vent my own frustrations with the first season of the Walking Dead, but it seems that there are a lot of people who feel the same way. Luckily, my main issue with the series – not enough zombies! – has been answered.”
I’m extremely glad to say that Season 3, which finished a couple of months back on UK terrestrial, was the best yet. It had a strong story-line, plenty of zombies, and some very fine moments between the Governor and our band of survivors. How I’m managing to keep away from reading Robert Kirkman’s original comics, I have no idea…
I’m glad this is still in the top 5. Pixies are a group that I hold close, they’ve had a massive impact on my musical direction. Without Pixies, I can’t imagine that I would ever have ended up listening to my current favourites: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Tame Impala, and Radiohead. This look at how they were using old content in refreshing new ways across social channels to engage with the next generation of fans was a pleasure to write.
Rounding out the top 5 for 2013 is this product review of Testimonial Monkey. I don’t write a lot of reviews, but once in a while I get approached and asked to look at new products, services, or books. If you’ve got a product that you would like to put forward, please let me know using the contact form on the About Me page. Testimonial Monkey simplified the process of getting customer feedback and had some nice features, so it was a good review to write – it’s always more difficult if the product or book isn’t as good as you had hoped. Luckily, I haven’t had many of those.
Many thanks to all of you who have read my articles this year, whether you left comments or not; I hope they were useful and informative. I hope to see you all again in 2014.
It’s a word that is so overused in the business world that it has almost lost its meaning. Everyone has a strategy… for everything. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of the existence of a ‘Visiting the Bathroom strategy’ or a ‘Having my lunch strategy’, such is its ubiquity. Look at my personal portfolio, even I’m at it! A digital technology strategist of all things!
It’s time to reclaim the word, to give it some real meaning, to rescue it from the mire into which it has descended. If not for its own sake, then certainly for mine; I’ll never be taken seriously otherwise.
Luckily, that’s exactly what Howard J. Malham Jr. – or simply Malham from this point on – is aiming to do in his book: I Have a Strategy (No, You Don’t) – The Illustrated Guide To Strategy. It sounds like a lofty subject and you might expect a rather dry examination of the subject, given the length of the title, but it’s anything but that. Short, simple, fun (yes, fun) and easily digested, Malham’s book is surprisingly effective.
Malham – just who is he?
Howard J. Malham Jr. is a Co-founder and Director of Insight Labs, a Chicago-based consultancy that works on some of the world’s (read United States) biggest challenges and issues, from the state of schooling to the future of healthcare. It’s this experience, born out of trying to make sense of seemingly impenetrable challenges, that is distilled down into the book.
So this tells me what a strategy is? Right?
For Malham, a strategy is simple defined as:
A planned, doable sequence of actions designed to achieve a distinct, measurable goal.
That’s it. Simple and easy.
Malham’s book comes to life through a few carefully selected examples and the ongoing commentary from Gary and Larry – two cartoon characters that explore the serious page content a little less seriously. They’re not always funny, but it’s a nice change of pace and certainly isn’t an unwelcome addition, keeping the writing light and away from the self-satisfied navel-gazing that some ‘business’ books descend into.
The examples he uses are, by and large, good ones, including Boeing versus Airbus, and even US foreign policy. If I had one criticism, there are some smaller examples, such as REDF and AGC (academy for Global Citizenship), that although being worthy, are not recognisable. It’s a small criticism, but some readers might want to see Malham’s obviously incisive mind to throw light on some more well-known brands (Nike versus Reebok, Apple versus the computer industry, Apple versus the music industry… you get the idea).
Within each example, the elements of the strategy are broken down, supporting his initial definition:
Series of actions
It’s clear and precise, which is exactly…
Why you should read it
Malham applies a light touch to the misconceptions around strategy. In a world full of weighty tomes on all matter of subjects, it’s a pleasure to pick up something that is as simple and concise as ‘I have a Strategy’. And the best thing about it is, because of its brevity, you really remember what you have read. It makes the book actionable.
Have you read the book? What did you think? Have you changed your behaviour or your approach to business strategy as a result? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Disclaimer: This is an independent review based on a copy of the book supplied to me. I have no business relationship with Howell J. Malham Jr., InsightLabs, or Wiley (the publishers). I have not received any monetary incentives or payments, but they did let me keep the book, which was nice. I don’t need to write this bit, but I think it’s always good to be completely transparent.
A few weeks back, Google announced that its Reader product was to be shut down; the reaction was instant and vitriolic, as we would expect from the internet community. Now, with hindsight, the reaction all seems a little silly.
Headlines such as these remind us of the value of objectivity and reason – being reactionary, a trait that seems to manifest itself across the journalistic world, might drive page views (or newspaper sales), but it doesn’t necessarily help or inform anyone.
Here are four reasons why we should not get our proverbial knickers in a twist over the death of Google Reader.
1. There are plenty of alternatives
Reader is your favourite RSS aggregator, that’s fine. You’ve got a Google account and it all fits nicely together, that’s fine too. But if an RSS aggregator is that important to the way you work, there are many other alternatives: Mashable listed five in its article ‘RIP Google Reader’, including Feedly and Newsblur.
For those that make the move – not that you have any choice in the matter after the 1st July 2013 – it’s possible to export your feeds using Google Takeaway or through generating an OPML file. The OPML file is a standard format and is accepted by other RSS readers; here’s an example from Netvibes. For other services it’s even easier to transfer your data; adding your Google account to Feedly or Flipboard will automatically synchronise all your feeds from one service to the other.
2. Things have moved on
More importantly, although there are straight ‘apples for apples’ alternatives for Reader, there are a slew of new applications and services for interacting with RSS.
The most visible of these is Flipboard, a self-styled ‘Social Magazine’, which is created from a number of RSS feeds pulled together and displayed in a magazine format. It’s the format that really makes the difference here, moving away from text to a visually-rich experience with hi-definition imagery and print styling. It’s engaging and hooks into existing paradigms – books, magazines – to create a more compelling interface for news and information.
Even Google has got in on the act with Google Currents, a mobile-only application that works in a similar fashion to Flipboard. Summly – now purchased by Marissa Meyer’s Yahoo – is another strong product in the same space.
I’ve not included Twitter lists in this list, even though Mashable marked it as a candidate replacement application. For me they’re different: one is real-time, miss it and it’s gone, whilst RSS aggregators are archives, building slowly over time.
3. It’s not the death of RSS
Maybe I should have put this first, rather than third, as it seems as if the internet is equating the death of Reader with the death of RSS. But of course, it isn’t the death of RSS. All the products listed above use RSS to gather information – it’s just the way they display the information that changes from product to product.
For those of you worried that Google is in charge of everything related to the internet, from standards to connectivity and anything else you want to mention, they’re not. RSS will continue to live, and it will continue to be a brilliantly simple way of sharing data automatically between services, from Twitter feeds to blog posts.
4. For Google, it’s not a core product
Last of all, from Google’s perspective, Reader just isn’t a core product. When Larry Page took over the reins he was clear in his intention to strip away anything that was deemed non-critical. Some may argue that he hasn’t held to this completely – what with the driverless cars and Google Glasses still on the agenda – but there’s no doubt he has performed some spring cleaning.
The fact is that Google Reader does not add anything to search. It doesn’t provide contextual information like Google+, it just exists on the periphery. It’s user base may be loyal, but that’s no reason for a business to continue with a product.
All Things D technology reporter, Liz Gannes, also added that the issues around Reader’s shutdown may be linked to privacy and compliance, but this is unconfirmed by Google.
Google Reader – it doesn’t really matter after all
Google Reader may have been held dear by it’s power users, but I suspect – personally – that your average internet user will not mourn (or even be aware of) its passing. The internet is not static, it’s not the same even from hour to hour, and the way we interact with information will – and must – change with it.
For those that do want to stay with the “Reader experience”, they can still have it, but I will happily move on to something more visual, more interactive, and more engaging.
It’s the start of 2013 and time to post in the new year with a product review of the slightly oddly named Testimonial Monkey.
I wanted to review Testimonial Monkey for two reasons:
Those of you who follow my blog will be aware of the guest posts I write for Unbounce – the landing page specialists. One of the key elements of a when building trust with a user is the testimonial, and it’s something that I look for in a well designed landing page.
My wife runs her own business, creating bespoke lampshades and teaching people how to make them (find out more over at Gilhoolie), so I understand the pressures of marketing a small business.
Having worked in the real world for quite a few years now – on the agency and client side of the fence – I know that turning your consumers into advocates is no easy task.
Testimonial Monkey is a service designed to help organisations of all sizes gather and share testimonials easily, so it sounds like it might be the answer to our problems, but the $64,000 question is: does it work?
Setting up your account with Testimonial Monkey is a simple business. Creating a profile (of which you can have a few) is a simple matter of entering contact details and some basic preference information, and it can be completed in a few minutes. You’ve then got the option of further personalising the service through some additional options, such as uploading a logo, setting your testimonial requirements (do you want to collect job titles, do you want to show all testimonials or just positive ones, etc). It’s easy to use and you’re prompted to complete actions through some basic gamification techniques, such as an account completion progress bar and a list of ‘To Do’ items (see left). They’re a welcome addition, but I couldn’t help but think that this approach could have been taken further, so that it was a more integral part of the set-up process, rather than an aside.
Once your profile has been set up, you’re ready to send your first request.
As you would expect, Testimonial Monkey provides a number of options for requests: you can send them manually on an individual basis, upload emails in bulk, or – as most will probably do – set up automatic requests.
The individual requests are simply a matter of entering a name and email into a pre-populated form. It’s easy, but for the majority of users will be a last resort, as sending individual requests will become time-consuming. I used it for my testing purposes only. The bulk option allow you to upload a series of email addresses to be used.
In both cases, you can select a questionnaire that will be appended to the email. These questionnaires can be created through the administration tools, and add depth to the data you can collect. Be aware though, the more information you ask a user to complete, the less likely it will be that they will comply. If you want to collect more structured data, it may be worth doing this separately.
Finally, the automatic requests can be configured through the use of a personalised email address created for your account. This email address can be bcc’d on any email communication you have with your customer. Once the blind copy has been received the system will automatically send a request a number of days later. Like a lot of the integration features available on Testimonial Monkey, its easy to use and set up.
Although it does have the questionnaires, Testimonial Monkey doesn’t have features that some of the competitors do (including the ability to record audio and video testimonials), so you’ll have to make a call as to whether that’s important to you or not.
Sharing your success (or failure)
So you’re all set up and you’ve sent out your first request for a testimonial, even better, you’ve actually got a response; so how do you share it? This is where things can get onerous if it’s a manual process, but Testimonial Monkey covers the bases with a range if options that are flexible enough for most needs.
You get a hosted reviews page as standard, but the flexibility comes with the integration options. Dependent on your package, there are standard connectors for Twitter and Facebook, two or three widgets – including badges – to allow you to display the latest testimonials directly on your website, and an RSS feed for general use.
Each of these can be set up to display testimonials with a minimum rating (so only 4 or 5 star ratings for example) and there are basic theme options available too.
Regardless of the options selected, the integration is seamless, with posts appearing a regular intervals once received. It’s easy to use and requires no further interaction – which is perfect.
Packages and features
As with most services, Testimonial Monkey comes with a range of packages, ranging from Lite to Enterprise.
There is some confusion on the site in respect to pricing, as the Plans and Prices page shows a different set of one-time costs to the ‘Free Trial’ page, which quotes costs on a per month basis. I’m sure this will be cleared up.
Regardless of this, the features don’t really start kicking until the Professional level. It’s here that the vast majority of functionality becomes available. The Enterprise level adds the ability to completely white-label the product, removing the Testimonial Monkey branding that is otherwise displayed throughout (including customer emails and review pages). I haven’t seen the Lite/Essential version working, but without the ability to share via the social networks, it won’t be as useful to the majority of businesses (as they bring social media marketing into their marketing mix).
Does it work?
Yes, overall it does. The set-up is fairly easy to complete and the site does a pretty good job of keeping you on track. The site isn’t perfect, I think it could be slicker and more streamlined in taking you through the initial set up, and it would be nice to have more inline help available at times, but it’s a satisfactory experience.
It would be good to have some better advice on how to use the testimonials you collect. There’s functionality available that allows you to limit the amount of testimonials you publish through each of the channels (five Facebook posts or five Tweets for example) and this is more important than it seems. New users might be tempted to push all their positive testimonials out of the door and into the public limelight, but it is judicious use that is more effective. There’s space here for Testimonial Monkey to be our guide, not just our conduit. This approach is hinted at in the free eBook you receive when signing up and the appointment of a ‘Success Manager’ for Enterprise customers, but it could be more obvious.
Would I recommend it? Would I give them my testimonial?
In the spirit of testimonials, here’s one to finish.
Testimonial Monkey is effective at delivering and sharing testimonials with minimum effort and input. A little more polish on the administration side would help, but it doesn’t detract from what is a well-thought out and focused product. 4/5.
James Gardner, 8th January 2013
Have you used Testimonial Monkey or a similar product? How did it work for you? Have you seen an increase in conversions or responses? Let me know your experiences and thoughts in the comments.
Disclaimer: This is an independent review based on a professional account supplied to me for the purposes of reviewing the service. I have no business relationship with TestimonialMonkey. I have not received any direct monetary incentives or payments, but they have allowed me to keep the account if I so desire for no cost. I don’t need to write this bit, but I think it’s always good to be completely transparent.
It’s the end of the year, so alongside the rest of the blogosphere, that means it is time for a retrospective look at my most popular posts of the year. For those of you who have taken the time to read my articles this year, guest posts or otherwise, a heartfelt thanks. I hope you found them useful and informative; I’ll do my best to make 2013 just as productive.
When I first wrote this post, it was only intended to vent my own frustrations with the first season of the Walking Dead, but it seems that there are a lot of people who feel the same way. Luckily, my main issue with the series – not enough zombies! – has been answered.
Unlike my rant at the Walking Dead, this was an article that had some substance beyond the personal. Scribd’s use of Facebook Instant Personalisation hit all the wrong notes and deserved to be pilloried.
Another rant, this time at the misconception of some Twitter users that you should only follow someone if they follow you back. Poppycock, I say! You should follow people who you think add value, not just for the sake of a followback.
You might be a great designer or an exemplary coder, but the quality of your end product is no guarantee of getting the job. We’ve all been through the experience of pitching for work, losing out, and then being stunned when you see the finished article online or in print – “I could have done better than that!” you exclaim. It hurts professionally, emotionally, and on the bottom line, financially. And the thing is, the reason you didn’t get the job is not usually about output, it’s with the ability to pitch an idea effectively. Pitching is an art, and not one that everyone gets the hang of, but there are some simple rules you can use to improve your batting average. In this article I’ll take you through some of the key lessons to learn when putting together and delivering the ‘perfect’ pitch.
“Hey!” you might shout, “I’m a freelancer, I don’t pitch, that’s for agencies, not for me; I’m just resource for hire.” Unfortunately you would be wrong in that assumption. Everyone pitches pretty much everyday of their life, whether you’re turning up at a job interview, networking at a social event, or delivering an idea to an existing client. In all these situations we’re trying to get people to see what we want them to see – and that’s the heart of every pitch. So, one man band or small company – even large ones if you’re reading – these are the three things you need to know to create great pitches.
Lesson 1 – Research
Have you understood the brief? It’s a good question to ask yourself, because the client’s requirements aren’t always written in black and white, or in what you’ve been told over the phone. When reading a brief, look behind the actual requirement (”I want a website”) and into what the client is trying to achieve. The client could be looking for a new way to connect with a particular demographic or launch a new product. Make sure you ask the right questions of your client; understanding the issue that lies behind the requirement gives you an opportunity to go beyond and give them something spectacular that they may not have even thought about. It also shows that you have an understanding of their business goals, positioning you as a partner, not just a vendor.
Lesson 2 – Frames of reference
“People buy from people”, that’s the common quote that people draw on. The reason: it’s true. It’s not the whole story, you have to have something to sell, but it goes a long way towards sealing the deal. That’s why it’s important to know who you are pitching to, as well as what you are pitching for. Luckily, this is a lot easier to do than it used to be. Even if you can’t talk to them directly prior to the pitch, you can research them online, using tools like LinkedIn and Twitter, and corporate resources such as the company website. This research will give you an insight into what sort of person they are: are they aspirational, big-picture people, or are they into the details? Understanding distinctions like this can give you a headstart in creating your pitch, and help you to connect to them during a pitch. If you get it right, aligning your world-view with theirs will elicit the response, “Wow! You really get it!”
Why, because we’re telling them what they want to hear.
Lesson 3 – Preparation
You’ve got the what and the who, now you’ve got to deliver. Writing a pitch can be daunting, but it’s really the art of storytelling, and with the information you’ve already gathered you’ve got the right ingredients. A good pitch will consist of three elements, woven together to create a compelling journey for the client. They are:
An understanding of the situation – both the logical requirements and the emotional ones.
Your solution to that situation
How you’re going to deliver it
The language you use will change dependent on the person you are speaking to, details for detail people, aspirational “this is what you could have” messages for big-picture people, but the content remains the same. And once you’ve written your pitch, make sure you run through it. Knowing it off by heart means you can spend more time talking around the solution and making the connection with your audience, and less time reading from slides.
Taking the time to work through these steps each and every time you get the opportunity to present will pay benefits. Yes, pitching is an art, but it is a skill that can be worked on and improved. Over time, you will find yourself better equipped to understand what you are being asked to do, how to articulate it, and ultimately, to deliver it.
If you would like to find out more about pitching, here is some suggested additional reading:
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.
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.