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.
All year I get invites to attend conference after conference, but LeWeb is the only one that really interests me. Why? Simply because it has a broader outlook, better speakers, and a more philosophical approach than other events (it even had a session on meditation!)
Where some events focus on the ‘doing’, LeWeb looks at the ‘why’. As a result the content is fresh and invigorating; it actually makes you think.
In London this June, the focus was on Sharing Economies (which I wrote about for Forbes). This time around, in Paris, it was looking at the Next Ten Years. The interesting thing about a conference like this is not in what the individual speakers say, although they are very interesting, but in the feeling that you get from the conference. There’s a sense of it being one giant ‘meta-presentation’, with trends leaking out and pervading the atmosphere around you, and speaker after speaker adding to the big picture. So, in light of this, here are three trends that have emerged from LeWeb 2013 that I want to share with you.
Trend 1: Human experiences, not technology, will rule the next ten years
Just to be clear, technology is still underpinning everything – in fact I can’t think of a more exciting industry to be working in at the moment – but the face of this technology will be human. Technology will be applied to create human experiences and meet human needs, it will not be a goal in itself.
Forrester CEO, George Colony, described the next ten years as ‘The Age of the Customer’ – an age in which enterprises will need to reinvent themselves in order to be successful. This age will require completely frictionless customer experiences to be created, based around the maturing technologies of mobile, sensors, location, social, and data. Products will be highly personalised and anticipatory in nature – knowing what you need based on where you are and what you are doing. Robert Scoble’s ‘Age of Context‘.
Colony, quite fittingly, gave the example of a taking a trip to a conference. In this example the products and services were completely transparent: when entering the airport you would be directed to your gate automatically, your seat would indicate itself when you came near, and when you got to your hotel the lift would take you to the right floor by communicating with your phone, with your door unlocking itself when you arrived at your room.
The companies that can create these experiences will be the ones that thrive.
Trend 2: You are your product
It’s easy to think of a product as something separate from you, but actually it’s more than this. The best innovations come from the heart, and are linked tightly to things you care about solving. In this respect, you are your product. If the product is central to your purpose, if it isn’t your passion, then the chances of succeeding are much lower. Being able to stay on the path, to believe on your idea, and to have the courage to see it through are the outstanding characteristics that will build the successful products of the future. Ask yourself, why do you do what you do? What is your purpose? What drives you to act? It was no coincidence that the majority of successful entrepreneurs speaking at LeWeb had started their businesses based on a very personal experience. This was exemplified by Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber. Uber was founded at LeWeb in 2008, when Travis was unable to get a taxi to the conference. That frustration, and his sweaty appearance onstage, gave birth to the idea that would disrupt the taxi and ride-sharing industry. It’s a personal crusade for Uber, one that has led to bigger ideas in its wake. Expect big things from the $3.5 billion-valued ‘Urban Logistics’ company over the next few years
Trend 3: In future, all companies will be software companies
This is a trend that is very close to my heart, and very close to my purpose. Products are evolving, customers are evolving. In the next ten years, it will be the company that adds value to its products, be it smoke detectors or tyres, that has the competitive advantage. As a result, all companies will be come software companies, as this will be the primary medium through which companies add value to their products. For example, Nest are disrupting the home safety market through building smoke detectors that communicate with you proactively, that give you warnings that are useful to you. What if a tyre company could produce tyres that told you when they ended to be changed, or informed you – or your car – how to drive more appropriately for the current conditions. the possibilities are endless, and it touches every industry, every product.
I’m really excited about the possibilities for technology in creating a better user experience for us all, actually, a better life experience for us all. It’s going to be great to watch develop, even better to be a part of. The ability to create new businesses and disrupt existing industries has never been more accessible. Even if some of the predictions don’t turn out to be right, there’s no doubt that things will be a lot different in ten years time.
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.
Another blog, another set of guest posts, and another Top 5. The Central Desktop blog covers a whole range of topics around collaboration systems, from selecting the right system for your company, to integration and change management.
Collaboration should be easy. Right? I mean, we talk to each other every day, we share documents, and most of us have more email than we know what to do with. Moving to an online collaboration system should just be a simple step forward. No? Not always.
Successfully adopting new working paradigms, especially those that have the potential to move employees out of their comfort zone, can be tricky. Luckily, there are some tips that can make the whole process a lot smoother. Here are eight to consider when you’re faced with implementing a collaboration solution into your business.
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.
‘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.
The 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.
What makes a successful product? It’s the question that people all over the world try to answer, day after day, month after month, year after year. And not just in the technology sector. But at the moment, it’s the technology sector that should be looking hard at itself. The last two years have seen a few so called ‘products’ garner heavy investment from venture capitalists, when, in reality, there has been very little to invest in. Color raised $13 million in Series A funding in 2010, only to fail with its ‘revolutionary’ take on social photo sharing. Hipster had more technology press coverage than if the Pope got caught in a girl’s school gym locker, only to underwhelm massively on launch (yes, they were bought by AOL last week, but since when did AOL make something work?) Jason Freedman’s post from the 8th April highlights some of these issues, and this from the perspective of the start-up.
That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with failing. The ability to companies to ‘pivot‘ their products shows an agility and a will to succeed that is admirable; it is a lesson we should all learn. Both Color and Hipster have done this, but I think we should ask some serious questions when we see the amount of money invested in these products.
What does make a successful product?
The true measure of success is to make the transition from product to platform, that’s where the real money is. On a day that saw Facebook ready itself for a May 2012 $5 billion IPO, we can see the real effect of this transition. Facebook has made the jump from a standalone social network – if that’s not a oxymoron – to a platform upon which many other brands and products depend. From social reading apps to gaming, Facebook facilitates sharing and communication; it provides the infrastructure behind the social in the same way as switches and routers are the infrastructure behind the internet.
They’re not alone in making this transition. Here are some other examples:
Amazon started off selling books, plain and simple. But it has evolved into the shopping platform. The introduction of Amazon Marketplace, giving other sellers the ability to sell directly through Amazon to its userbase, was the turning point. Amazon no longer has to source all its goods – although it still does – as it can generate revenue from the transactions that flow through its shopping platform.
Steve Jobs took a different approach when building iTunes – he started with the device, the iPod, and used it as the basis for building a closed infrastructure for purchasing music, TV and films. It’s not an open infrastructure in the way Amazon or Steam is, but due to the ubiquity of Apple devices (phones, music players, tablets, laptops or desktop), it doesn’t need to be. Now, being on iTunes is essential for content producers.
Steam started with Half-Life, the smash-hit game from Valve. Following the hug success of the first game and its expansions, the sequel was launched with the Steam platform baked in: installing Half-Life installed Steam. The reaction wasn’t great at the time, but it was a shrewd move. It’s large initial userbase meant that Valve could now use its platform to deliver games from other publishers, taking that all important percentage cut. This in turn has allowed Valve to innovate: the platform funds game development, including hits such as Portal 2, and allows new business model, such as the one found in Team Fortress 2. Team Fortress went free to play last year, but has its own in-game (in-Steam) marketplace where players can buy additional content (yet another revenue stream). In 2009, Steam was estimated to have 70% of the digital games distribution market.
And of course there is Google. Google’s control of the search marketplace has enabled it to create the most powerful ad platform in the world.
Hipster and Contently
So why does Hipster suck? Simply because they went to market with something that can never make this transition. The ability to create postcards doesn’t make for a platform, just an interesting application of existing technologies. Hipster was built only to be a talent or IP sell – short-term.
And why doesn’t Contently? I believe that Contently has found a niche will allow it to transition – albeit in a limited fashion. In an environment where content is becoming more and more important, Contently is positioning itself as the glue between the content makers and content consumers. By putting writers in direct contact with publishers, they creating a commercial relationship that has legs. If they develop it in the right way – thinking of themselves as representing all groups of content producers, not just writers – they have the opportunity to be come a pivotal service in the new content economy. For me, that’s admirable.
Whether Hipster or Contently are successful in the long-run, only time will tell, but I know who I’m supporting.