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:

https://twitter.com/#!/bumblearse/status/169397520110325760

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

https://twitter.com/#!/toscobot/status/169384838313426944

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.

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.

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!

Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation – an update

Back in June I discovered that ‘Social Reading’ site Scribd had been using Facebook to personalise my user experience, but in all the wrong ways.

It’s three month’s on and I was reintroduced to the subject through a tweet from Laurence Buchanan (below). It seemed that Scribd wasn’t the only site in Facebook’s Instant Personalisation program. Rotten Tomatoes also takes the same approach. You can find out more at Techcrunch about the initial partnership.

To check the veracity of the claims, I visited the Rotten Tomatoes site. Without logging in or creating an account (this will become important in a moment) I did see my friends movie likes and dislikes. Imagine my surprise when, upon visiting the application settings page in Facebook, I was greeted with the following.

Rotten Tomatoes application setting in Facebook

I really don’t remember giving them permission to do anything. Not good.

As a result I decided to look a little further into the Instant Personalisation program.

Is this as far as it goes?

Instant Personalisation launched in 2010 with eight partners in tow. The eight were:

  1. Scribd
  2. Bing
  3. TripAdvisor
  4. Clicker
  5. Rotten Tomatoes
  6. Docs.com
  7. Pandora
  8. Yelp

A year on, I though it might be good to see how things had worked out for them.

Scribd

Hmmm…. I think we know about this one.

Bing

There was much fanfare about the launch, but as of today, I don’t get any Facebook personalisation. I can find the ‘Social Search‘ page, but when you try to connect to it, I get the following message:

Bing and Facebook - not working right now

Maybe it’s a UK thing, but I’ll take that as a ‘not working out right now…’

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor - home page menu

I can sign in with Facebook on TripAdvisor, but there’s no ‘instant personalisation’ going on as far as I can see. Another one that hasn’t worked out.

Clicker

Clicker - home page menu

Again, I can log in with my Facebook account, which all seems pretty sensible, but there’s no personalisation on accessing the home page. Scratch that one.

Rotten Tomatoes

Yep, we know about this too.

Docs.com

Docs.com - home page menu

At Microsoft’s Docs.com site, there’s a Social Plugin displaying activity from the Docs.com Facebook page and the ability to log in via Facebook Connect. No instant personalisation though, maybe it’s catching.

Pandora

Sorry, I can’t check this one, as it’s US-only. If someone could give me an update I’d be happy to publish it.

Yelp

Yelp - home page menu

Wow! This is a good one. At Yelp it seems that Facebook never existed. Not only is there no mention of Facebook on their home page, but when you try to create an account there’s no option to use your Facebook account. That’s a quick turnaround: launch partner to estranged relative in just 12 months.

6 out of 8 isn’t bad

So it looks as if the majority of the launch partners have seen sense. I have to say that I’m glad. I’ve got nothing against using my Facebook credentials to create a more social experience on the web, but it has to be my choice, not some faceless organisation’s.

Maybe it’s time Facebook updated the Instant Personalisation page at http://www.facebook.com/instantpersonalization/.

Facebook Lists – good for you? Good for Facebook

When dealing with big brands, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. And so it is with Facebook Lists. Let’s take a look at Lists from the other side, starting with a short overview.

Facebook Lists?

This week, Facebook has rolled out a number of feature enhancements; one of these is an upgraded Lists functionality. If you haven’t seen them yet, don’t worry, not all accounts have been upgraded. As is the Facebook way, they are releasing the functionality out to groups of users at a time.

Facebook Smart Lists

Facebook Smart Lists help you to organise your friends and control what they see

The new lists appear on the left-hand side of your profile, and consist of ‘Smart Lists’ and the old-style lists. As standard, Facebook will create a ‘Close Friends’ list and an ‘Acquaintances’ list which you can populate as you like, but its the ‘Smart Lists’ that are more interesting. ‘Smart Lists’ are created for you based on your profile. The more information you’ve filled out in your profile, the more lists are created. In my case I got the following:

  1. People who live near me – this is based on your current location, in a nice touch you can adjust the radius from your home in which friends can be considered ‘near you’
  2. One list for each company I have worked for – I have three companies listed, so three lists
  3. One list for each school or university I attended – once again, three lists (high school, college, university)
  4. Family – this is based on the information you have entered for relations in your profile

Facebook uses these list in a number of ways, but primarily they are used to prioritise your news feed. With the introduction of subscriptions last week your news feed has suddenly become a lot more busy, so these lists are a welcome addition that should mean that you can see your close friends updates before the ones from the celebrity you followed yesterday (Robert Scoble, I’m looking at you…). When a new status update is posted in any of the lists, a small notifier appears next to its name, so its easy to see which groups are posting and when.

Overall, it looks like lists are good news for you, the humble consumer.

But you said it was good for Facebook?

You’re right, I did. And so it is.

When the ‘Smart Lists’ are first created it will fill them up with as many people as it can by matching their profiles to yours. So if both you and your friend have listed the same company as your current workplace, your friend will appear in the company smart list. But of course, not everybody fills out their profile with the same level of diligence, so Facebook kindly makes some suggestions of people you could add to this ‘Smart List’.

When you click the Add button, Facebook will add the friend to the list and then send them an email asking them if they want to add the company name to their profile too.

Let’s have a think about that.

Every time you add a Friend, Facebook gets them to – hopefully – update their profile with another little bit of information.

Time for some very rough maths, and not in a hunky tough kind of way.

Facebook has 750 million accounts. Let’s assume that 20% of the accounts uses the lists and each account adds 20% of their friends to a list. A user has 130 friends on average, so that’s 26. Let’s also assume that out of that 26,  5 friends actually go ahead and update their profile as suggested. By my calculations, that’s 3,749,850,000 new items of data added to Facebook’s ever-growing data store. Even if 50% of those friends overlap, that’s still a huge number. And every piece of information they have allows them to target ads that little bit better.

For a company that makes it’s money from advertising, that’s a real boon. As Mashable’s article this morning points out, Facebook’s primary focus for the next 12 months isn’t revenue, but I’d say that this isn’t a bad way to start.

Facebook ‘Likes’ – a license to be pushy

So the new currency for the web is Facebook ‘Likes’. It seems as if brands and services are falling over themselves to get people to like them as if their lives – and livelihood – depended upon it.

But that’s no excuse to abandon the tried and trusted rules of engagement with your consumers.

Still, that’s what seems to be happening. Brands are demanding that you like them for no other reason than they are a ‘brand’. I thought the whole point was that you earned a friendship?

Dale Carnegie, author of ‘How to win friends and influence people‘, wrote the following back in 1936:

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.

How relevant is that quote a full 75 years later?

I like CrazyBuzz! Not.

Today, a friend on Facebook shared a video on his wall: “Ronaldinho humiliates his teammate during warming up!” Being a football fan, I clicked through, hoping to see some piece of magical, mind-bogglingly good skill. Instead, I was greeted with this.

CrazyBuzz - Like this video

CrazyBuzz - Like this video. Errr, no thanks...

Excuse me? What? You want me to like you, even though this is the first time I’ve been to your site and I’ve never viewed any of your content? This is just wrong. Social Media doesn’t work this way and it constantly amazes me that people haven’t got to grips with this.

And this isn’t the only time I’ve experienced this. A few days ago I was contacted by a a well-known agency network – I won’t mention them by name in this case – who wanted me to like their new Facebook page. Again, there was no attempt to tell me why I should do this, or any invitation to sample the page to see if I thought it was of value to me. Instead they started their email by giving me instructions of how to create a Facebook account and ‘like’ their page. It’s a clumsy and heavy-handed approach, and could do real damage to the brand’s perception.

Changing our approach

Yes, there are precedents in Marketing practice. The tried and trusted method of offering whitepapers and other resources in return for supplying your details is still used today. But in a content-led web, the effectiveness of these ploys is questionable. It takes content with a high perceived value to generate the response, and even then we (as marketers) tend to offer freely available content prior to this point. In a digital world where Social Media is growing ever more dominant, organisations must adapt their approaches to be more sensitive to the needs of the consumer. They are now in charge of the conversation, and to earn their trust and their support you have to make it worth their while. Going back to Dale Carnegie, the way to gain ‘Likes’ is to show interest in them through providing meaningful and useful content.

Following my experience with Scribd, I had hoped that I’d be spared this kind of thing for a while, but it seems not. We still have a long way to go, and I’m sure there will be many mistakes along the way. But they are avoidable mistakes and some simple preparation and reading will arm organisations against them. After all, it’s not as if you need an expert…

Have you had any similar experiences? I’d be interested in hearing about them.

Google +1 and Facebook Like – two sides of the same coin?

Yesterday, Google launched its +1 button, an attempt to make search more social by using your friend’s recommendations to influence and enhance search results. At a basic level, the +1 button allows you to ‘+1’ information available on the web, indicating that you have found it useful in some way and that you recommend it to others.

How much this will affect search results remains to be seen. I must admit to being vaguely sceptical about its effectiveness. After all, there are billions of pages on the web and the chances of your friends +1’ing the same information you then discover via a search seems a little small. Of course, this is a slight simplification, +1 results will be also be used to give context to the popularity of a page – a more human Google PageRank. But then this is no longer your friend’s recommendation, but the wisdom of the crowds. Will it have the same effect? Possibly not.

Google +1 might be likened to the Facebook ‘Like’button; on the surface it seems to perform the same function. But, no, it’s not the same. And the reasons why provide illumination on the challenges that Google faces.

I’m sure most of us are familiar with the phrase ‘go where the fishes are’. On the whole, our friends don’t exist in Google, they exist in Facebook. Where as Facebook is a destination, Google is the map. Clicking a Facebook ‘Like’ button shares your preferences with a captive audience in a central place, encouraging comments, and building conversations and engagement.  +1’ing a page puts your preferences out in the ether, waiting to be discovered. Oh, and only if you have a ‘standard’ Google account; Google Apps users, you’ll just have to wait until Google Profiles works with Google Apps. For all the traffic and advertising revenue Google generates, it doesn’t have the close relationship with its audience that Facebook does, and in the end it may cost them dear.

Google’s ex-CEO, Eric Schmidt, admitted on stage at All Things Digital’s conference that Google had failed on social:

[Schmidt] repeatedly fell on his sword about missing the social/ identity revolution. He said four years ago he wrote memos about it, but did nothing about the memos he wrote. “I clearly knew I had to do something and I failed to do it,” he said. When asked why he responeded he was “busy, but the CEO should take responsibility and I screwed up.”

+1 is part of the long journey back towards social for Google, but the question has to be: ‘Is too little too late?’

Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation

Scribd – Where the World Comes to Read

Scribd is the world’s largest social reading and publishing company. We’ve made it easy to share and discover entertaining, informative and original written content across the web and mobile devices. Our vision is to liberate the written word, to connect people with the information and ideas that matter most to them.

Or, alternatively:

Scribd – Where the World Comes to Look at Your Facebook Data.

Just a few weeks ago I wrote a post about how data was the future – and the past – of the internet, and how it could be used to really improve the user experience. Sods law states that just days later I’m faced with an example of how to use it to destroy the user experience.

I read articles every day, everything from white papers to blogs to news stories. It was only a matter of time until the document I wanted to read was hosted on Scribd. I don’t have a problem with that, and initially it all seemed pretty good. Yes, I needed to log in to get hold of the document, but Facebook Connect was available and that should have eased the process. All cool so far.

It was here that things seemed to take a stroll downhill.

First, there was the odd policy of having to upload a document before I could download a document from the site. At this point I didn’t have anything ready to share, so I declined and decided to read the document online instead. A bit like SlideShare. Odd, usually you would give users an opportunity to try a service before deciding to participate in it, but not a problem.

Scribd – I get a few emails

Then came the emails. 9 emails. All telling me that I was being followed by someone. Impressive I thought… for approximately two seconds. My next thought was ‘unlikely’. Unlikely that two of my Facebook friends happened to be online at the same time and had both seen me join the service. My spider-senses were tingling.

An hour later they were deafening. Especially as my wife was following me on Scribd. She is on Facebook, she also writes a blog, but she most definitely wasn’t on Scribd. Being inquisitive, I clicked to view her profile. Apparently she joined in January 2011 – before I did.

Scribd – Julie’s ‘profile’ – note the joining date

So not only is Scribd grabbing my friend’s information from my profile, its also creating accounts ready for them. It’s just plain wrong. That’s their data, not mine, and they haven’t given permission for Scribd to hold their data; I’ve given Scribd permission to hold and use mine. And yes, I do see their name and picture being used in conjunction with an account as being a breach of that trust. They are associating their service with someone who they don’t know and have not had any interactions with.

And at no point have I had the option to opt-out of this happening.

Being kind, very kind, I can see a reason why they might act this way. After all, if you’re a Facebook Partner for the Personalisation product, you want things to look good. But if your service only has a small user base then the chance of a group of people you know stumbling across your account  – or even more unlikely, a group of people you don’t know stumbling across your account – and choosing to follow you, is very small. I can imagine the product brainstorming meeting that morning: “Hey, I’ve got a great idea, let’s just create a load of accounts every time someone logs in using Facebook! Brilliant! That’s thinking out of the box!”. Unfortunately, yes, it is out of the box, and for all the wrong reasons.

I’m not the only one who has had a similar reaction to this behaviour. Rohit Mishra made similar points in his blog post in February; although he found out what was happening in a different way. They’ve also got called out in Wired last September. You would have thought that they had learned their lesson by now, but obviously not.

Data sharing – executed correctly – has the ability to create immersive and rewarding social experiences. I think we should all take a look at Scribd so we know exactly how not to do it.

**** UPDATE 29th September 2011 ****

It was brought to my attention by a tweet from Laurence Buchanan (below) that Scribd isn’t the only site in Facebook’s Instant Personalisation program. Rotten Tomatoes also takes the same approach. You can find out more at Techcrunch about the initial partnership.

To check the veracity of the claims, I visited the Rotten Tomatoes site. Without logging in or creating an account (this will become important in a moment) I did see my friends movie likes and dislikes. Imagine my surprise when, upon visiting the application settings page in Facebook, I was greeted with the following.

Rotten Tomatoes application setting in Facebook

I really don’t remember giving them permission to do anything…

If you want to read more about this, I’ve looked further into Facebook Instant Personalisation here.

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Company websites… who cares?

Yesterday, Jeff Bullas posted a blog entitled ‘Is Facebook killing off the company website?‘ It’s based on a study by Webtrends that looks at the effect that Facebook has had on the website traffic of a selection of well-known brands. It’s a good post, and one that raises a key point, but unfortunately like some businesses it is 80% concerned with Facebook and 20% everything else. The issue here is not Facebook – internet behemoth that it is – but about the value of the company website and its place in the wider online strategy of all companies, large or small. In fact, Facebook won’t be the most relevant social network for a lot of companies, especially those without a B2C focus. The real gem inside the post is simple – make the most out of aligning all your digital assets. But how do we go about that? And what is the value of my company website in this scenario?

Taking a step back

I love the 90'sIt isn’t the 90’s anymore, but let’s pretend that it is. As businesses start to realise the value of a burgeoning internet, they are all lining to up to create their own little piece of web real estate. Things start off simple: just a name, an address, some contact details, a little blurb to say what you do. Really it’s nothing more than a glorified entry in the Yellow Pages.

Over the next decade, that online directory entry will grow and grow, getting ever more complex as businesses try to cram more information into it, desperate to be relevant to any visitor. It’s understandable though, because it’s pretty much the only place you have:it has to try to be relevant to everyone.

We’ve now reached a point where the question of relevance has changed in emphasis. Relevance isn’t just content, it’s also channel.  And as a result, the company website has to change.

What is the value of a company website?

The value of a company website lies in its authenticity. It’s the one place where the company has control, from the carefully selected domain name to the honed and polished content. At the very lowest level, if you want to find out how a company positions itself, you visit the company website.

But that’s it.

Your company website is no longer the best place to engage with prospective employees, to advertise your services, to create thought-leadership positions, or to generate leads. The explosion of social networks and other web services has meant that there are a host of specialist services available that can be utilised to increase a company’s web presence. It’s a similar scenario to digital TV; channels have become more fractured and more focused, and for each channel there is a target demographic that they are designed to exploit in a way that more generic channels cannot do.

The Twitter Fail Whale

Twitter's Fail Whale has become an iconic symbol, despite its negative connotations

Hold on, you want me to trust everybody else with my stuff!

At this point I’m sure there are a few people who are asking this; it’s a completely valid question. The answer is yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying, but you don’t need to worry about it for a number of reasons. I’m going to put my IT hat on for a moment, so bear with me.

  1. The people behind a lot of the services are quite likely as well prepared for downtime as you are. Online services are always susceptible to downtime, whether from DDOS attacks , weight of traffic, hardware issues or simple human error:  the Twitter ‘Fail Whale’ has become an iconic symbol over the last 5 years. But they are businesses too, ones that rely on being able to provide high-quality outage-free services, and as such they will have structures in place to deal with these issues.
  2. A distributed network of services delivering your online presence is more resistant to failure than a single site. If you have one site and its down, it’s down 100%. Having a number of independent services providing content minimizes the risk of 100% downtime. We do the same on a hardware level at our data centre; spreading elements physically across locations and logically across multiple nodes.
  3. You’re not alone. Many companies have started using third-party services for online communications. The internet is the great equalizer, small or large you can use these tools to your advantage.
  4. Having a third party service go down doesn’t reflect poorly on your brand, it reflects poorly on theirs.

So there’s no reason why you shouldn’t create a more distributed web presence, but how do you go about doing it?

Mapping your online real estate

The first step to working out how you create your online presence is to work out what sort of content you have. From the content you can then work out the most relevant way to present it.

Here’s a theoretical example for Acme Corp.

Blended services - example

Acme Corp - online presence map

I’ve identified four types of content that are pertinent to my users: Social content, Positioning content, Communications content and Functional content.

Social content is about building personality around the company. Its purpose is to entice the best new employees by showing what it’s like to work here. The content is upbeat and slightly frivolous, so I’ve selected two matching online services. Facebook will be the main area for photos and stories about social events, and for sharing information that we find interesting outside of work. The main contributors will be the staff themselves. We’re also using Last.fm; music is really important to the team in the office, so we’re going to share our musical playlist with the world. Later on we might also include Spotify and Flickr.

Positioning content create a clear set of focus areas around the business. I want to create a thought leadership position around the key personnel within the business and make sure that their thoughts and opinions are heard. Personal brands are a big topic right now, so I’m going to leverage those personal brands, exposing people’s strengths and experience. For this I’m going to use LinkedIn and maybe Flavors.me (if they have a profile). To provide these people with the platform to talk I’ll use a WordPress blog, and maybe Lanyrd to spread the word if they’re speaking anywhere.

Communications content is all about publicity and PR. Whatever happens in the business, it will get published as communications content, from official press releases to office parties. Twitter is the obvious platform of choice for this.

Finally, functional content is the real nuts and bolts information. Where are we, who are we, what are our products and services. All this will go on our company website, which will form the hub of all the other services we use, pulling them altogether.

Of course, there will be an element of crossover, where we push content to other channels once in a while – using individual Twitter accounts for positioning work for instance.

As we can see from this example, there are numerous ways to blend services together to create the right online presence for your business.  And within this blend there is still room for the corporate website; we just need to be aware of what its purpose is and why people will want to visit it.

Maybe it is the 90’s again?

Well, it might be for the company website at least. It’s time to go back to the basics. Your company website still has a part to play, but it’s a limited one.  Give it the attention it deserves, but let’s not forget that there are many other ways to connect to the audience we crave – and it’s not just Facebook.