SmartCompany: Me on Twitter’s churn and burn

I’m is quoted in this Patrick Stafford piece in SmartCompany. It’s about Twitter’s appalling churn rate of over 60%.

Some of the reasons why Twitter’s retention rate is so bad:

  1. It’s limited – 140 characters. No video / audio / rich media / expression / detail / depth – yes you can link to those things, but that’s it.
  2. It’s neither a mass broadcast mechanism nor is it targetted. Fine if you want to get a message out to a number of followers in a single moment, but terrible if you are using it for reach or for a more personal or limited conversation.
  3. It’s very easy to set up, so there’s little in terms of “purchase investment”. You register, follow a few people and if you walk away / forget, it’s not like you’ve spent hours of your time – there’s little to “lose” by abandoning it.
  4. It’s a media phenomenon. The media are going nuts over it, when the punters are far less interested. It’s like Second Life – not a day would go by when the media wouldn’t write about Second Life – it drove a spike in interest, but didn’t drive long term usage.
  5. As written in a previous post, Twitter is for old people. Young people couldn’t care less and aren’t using it in any substantial numbers. Older people either don’t have the time, or the interest, so they join up, look around and leave after a while – they don’t keep the ball rolling.
  6. It’s not customisable. I might enjoy some tweets of some people (person focussed), or some tweets by all people (topic focussed), but definitely not all tweets by all people. It needs to be customisable. Right now, whether I like it or not, I have to read the tweets of all of the people I follow on Twitter. You could argue that there are multiple plugins and applications that allow for customisation of Twitter, but the basic beginner user isn’t interested enough (or capable enough) to then look for filters and plugins. So they get bored / frustrated and stop using it.

Read the full article here: Research casts doubt over whether Twitter fad will last – Business news, business advice and information for Australian SMEs | SmartCompany.

Dominos Going to Fall

Dominos Pizza has been embarrassed by a scandal where some employees of the business made a video that showed them doing some pretty disgusting things with the food they were preparing. It is extremely damaging to the company. The videos are here – and an explanation of what they should be doing next follows.

Part 1 – The Offending Video

Part 2 – The Reponse from the US President of Dominos (why the hell is he speaking off camera? It’s completely wrong and seems completely staged).

Part 3 – What the Dominos President’s Response reminds me of (specifically at 4’15”)

What they should do:

Stop the rot – Sack the employees that have done this – and ensure that there are no other skeletons in the closet, whether known or unknown. Make sure that whatever it is that caused this issue is dealt with – and fixed.

Apologise – not from the President (who, as I mentioned earlier, is completely lame), but from employees of the company. Other people who work at Dominos – others who are in their late teens / early 20s, who are hard working, CLEAN and responsible workers. Coming from them, it will be much more genuine. Imagine being an honest, hard-working Dominos employee right now – you’d be completely ashamed and embarrassed by the actions of two fools. If I were Dominos management, I’d be giving these employees every chance to express their sorrow and regret publicly – and have them honestly vow that they would never do such a thing. Coming from them – coming from all of them, employee by employee, store by store – it would be a company wide affirmation of their true values. It would ensure that the public would feel safe ordering food from them. It would reiterate the local presence of the company, and the care and mutual benefit that each Dominos franchise has for its community / customer base. Imagine it – a YouTube channel where every Dominos employee gets to make their own personal apology and vow to their customers – customers they value, customers who pay their bills. What a powerful statement of intent and purpose that would be.

Open up – I would ensure a rapid and public demonstration of the systems that Dominos has in place. What safety, what systems, what is in place to ensure this will never happen again. Put it all online, put it out there – every step of the value chain should be transparent. Every manager should be out there, explaining at every step how clean their systems are – from hiring to suppliers to food prep to service. This will allow people to overcome the fear they now have – I don’t know what happens in Dominos kitchens – nor do I know anything about how clean the food is.

Improve – Be daring – do something that would drive openness and engagement to a whole new level, eg: webcams in every kitchen, produce a series of podcasts on pizza making, Dominos staff cooking competitions across the country – demonstrate that Dominos food isn’t just prepared by College rejects, but by people who actually care about the food that they are providing. Build trust in Dominos as a place where you’ll have food that is not only clean, but tasty – or as the President said, delicious.

Anatomy of a social media disaster

Two recent campaigns by Australian organisations have caused a debate over trust in social media campaigns.

Tourism Queensland (TQ) recently launched a campaign with a difference; instead of attracting people to the “Sunshine State” via a traditional website, TQ created a site that advertised the “Best Job in the World”. The job, The Caretaker of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef (a brand ambassador role), was a 6 month contract paying $AUD150,000.

The earliest public response to this campaign was very positive. The social media sphere lit up with discussions about the campaign, heritage media covered the campaign, and the website itself, http://www.islandreefjob.com/ crashed after being overwhelmed with visitors from Australia and overseas.

A job applicant, “Tegan”, posted a video YouTube that demonstrated her passion for the job, going so far as to get a tattoo of Queensland on her shoulder. She also started a blog to demonstrate her passion, linked to a PayPal account in an effort to raise money to fund her job application. Another boost in coverage for the campaign. What followed has cast an enormous shadow over the entire campaign.

It has since been discovered by Marketing and Digital Media Blog Mumbrella that “Tegan” was in fact an employee of the advertising agency behind the campaign, and that she was asked to act “like a Big-Brother video application”.

“I thought it would be so obvious that it was fake, but I guess some people still fell for it including the lazy journalists who had nothing better to write about” said “Tegan”, also known as Cummins Nitro employee Rhiannon Craig.

Since then, another Australian campaign has been outed as a fake. It’s the story of “Heidi Clarke”, a girl who met a guy in a cafe, made some small talk and went their separate ways. He left his jacket behind, so “Heidi Clarke” created a YouTube video where she claimed “love at first sight”, and wanted to return a jacket he left at the cafe. The Australian media wanted to know – where was this man?

The “Today Show” had “Heidi Clarke” on as a guest. Smelling a fake, they asked her to look down the barrel of the camera and vow that it was genuine. She confirmed on national TV that it was. Since then, again, “Heide Clarke” has been outed as a fake, a woman hired by Naked Communications to promote a range of clothing for a major Australian retailer.

These examples of dishonest communications practices have brought to the fore the “Honesty ROI”, the code of conduct developed by the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).

The “Honesty ROI” has three key pillars: Honesty of Relationship, Honesty of Opinion and Honesty of Identity.

Honesty of Relationship:
Don’t shill (get your friends to represent you)
Don’t go undercover
Comply with cultural norms and regulations

Most pertinent to these cases,

“When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product which might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience) such connection must be fully disclosed.”

Honesty of Opinion:
Your opinion is your opinion;
Feel free to share it, but please:
Provide facts / links / proof points
Don’t misrepresent

Honesty of Identity
Kids can play dress up and have make believe friends; we can’t
Please practice full disclosure

Again, relevance to these cases are best described by the guideline:

“Campaign organizers should monitor and enforce disclosure of identity. Manner of disclosure can be flexible, based on the context of the communication. Explicit disclosure is not required for an obviously fictional character, but would be required for an artificial identity or corporate representative that could be mistaken for an average consumer”.

The organisations behind these campaigns (and the broader Australian marketing and communications industry) cannot be lulled into the false economy of measuring column inches and hits as the ultimate measure of campaign success. As I would say in this such campaign measurement, H.I.T.S. are How Idiots Track Success.

Tourism Queensland CEO Anthony Hayes has since admitted: “The simple answer is that we messed up”. PR isn’t about column inches, it’s about authenticity, trust and believable, honest communications across integrated channels. TQ may have won the column inches battle, but they lost the trust war; that’s what counts. Now, people aren’t sure whether any element of the campaign was real, or whether it was all an elaborate hoax, whether any of the positive claims made by TQ are believable. The public had their awareness raised, and their trust shattered. I think it’s a real shame for TQ. As for the Naked Communications campaign for the undisclosed Australian retailer, there has been no upside.

A lesson in honesty, opinion and identity – hopefully just growing pains for a burgeoning Australian digital media industry, not the sign of things to come.

What ever happened to Webrings?

In the olden days of the early-mid 90s, websites on like topics were linked via webrings; links / arrows on the bottom of the page that would link you to other sites on the same issue, topic, theme or industry.

Yahoo! carved out an audience not through search or email, but through their wonderful Directory service – one of the first user generated content sites whereby you could suggest sites to be listed. At one time almost every site in the world was listed in categories according to topic / subject. Webrings became obsolete as people could visit Yahoo! and find a one-stop “link shop”.

Webrings evolved from site based to browser based – Netscape started a “What’s Related” link on their browsers in 1999, where people could use the browser to find other related sites. However “What’s Related” failed due to privacy concerns.

Search overtook directories and webrings, as people could find the single or few most informative sites based on specific topic or keyword searches. Far more focussed and efficient, but at the cost of a broad view.

The beauty of webrings, Directory services such as Yahoo! and “What’s related” (although the latter was hardly a success), was that you could access the “universe” of websites on that subject directly – without being distracted or misled by search.

Webrings aren’t dead – Blogs have adopted a form of webrings through Blogrolls – lists of links to similar or related blogs.

But what of the vast majority of sites? Have companies and web developers forgotten about the social nature of websites – and that people want to know about the company, but also about the industry (dare we suggest competitors) through links!

So, what are the new webrings? In the era of search, are they relevant? Do we need them? Is the web too big to afford webrings? Or are webmasters now being judged on time spent ON site rather than sharing time between sites?

A trusted digital travel advisor

I recently returned from a very relaxing three week holiday in Greece and Italy. The groups that provided services and tours concluded the experiences with a request for a review on TripAdvisor.com or a mention on travel forums.

While much of my holiday involved lazing about the beaches of Leros, and meandering about the shops and streets of Rome, Florence and Venice, I took some amazing tours, two of which stand out:
1. A tour of the Vatican with Grant from Eden Walks. Grant is an extremely knowledgeable and very entertaining tour guide – someone who can discuss the intricacies of the Catholic Church and link it to a contemporary reference such as “Batman: The Dark Knight”. At the end of his tour, he asked us all to provide the tour with an honest “hopefully positive” review on TripAdvisor.com, or any other travel forums we happened to be visiting.

2. 500 Touring Club – A wonderful day driving old Fiat 500s around the streets of Florence and the hills of Tuscany. Again, Sophie and Alex, our excellent and friendly guides suggested posting about our experiences on TripAdvisor.

The request for reviews on these sites is necessary due to them being service providers. The difference between services and any other products of course is that services are:
Simultaneously produced and consumed
Cannot be transported
Intangible
Perishable
Somewhat unique or different with each turn or person

As a result, TripAdvisor and other user generated travel sites are providing these small service providers the most efficient way of communicating their good reputation to people all over the world. Without a good reputation that is easily accessible, they have nothing. They can’t send their services via the post, they can’t produce more. They must rely on the experience to tell the story – and the users to communicate that story. Advertising isn’t the best option; it’s more important that they are discovered at the right time, right place, on the right channel.

The only way these businesses can build awareness and trust is via the referrals of their users. In the old days, the primary means would have been travel media – a “pray for space”, rare option. Now, it seems to be TripAdvisor – a democratised, awareness building information source where anyone can review and rank their travel experiences, and anyone can find the reviews easily.

The network effect of such sites provides their greatest strength – people seek user generated votes and reviews via TripAdvisor, then contribute themselves, thus enhancing the experience for the next person, making the content far more discoverable, and so on.

Borders is in trouble. Not good.

The Australian arm of the fantastic chain of bookstores, Borders, is being put up for sale by its US parent company.

The US company is deep financial troubles and is selling off assets and concentrating on domestic businesses. Let’s hope the excellent service, range and strategy of Borders continues in Australia and it is not split up or dissolved in the event of a botched sale.

The key issue here is – as always – digital channels will evolve quicker than physical ones. While content stays the same: Text, Audio, Video and Images, channels are the things that change – and will change quicker as the digital revolution gathers pace.

With digitisation, we’ll see items of much larger file sizes being downloaded, until such time as the entire world moves from atoms to bits. There may be a time when Star Trek-style “replicators” create items around us, when virtual reality drives a mix of physical and digital.

Exciting times ahead; I’m not sure how Borders will cope. The printed book as a channel may have an enduring lifespan. Let’s hope it does.

Monetising Quality

…So the challenges, I guess, are to get good at predicting ‘great’ before the market takes action, and to be clear with yourself and your colleagues about what exactly you’re trying to build.

Seth Godin is writing about monetising art, but he may as well have been talking about TV programming, film making or the music industry.

After all, the great decline in the record companies isn’t because of piracy, MP3s or anything like that – it’s about really, really bad A&R. Back in the old days, people LOVED music. Now the music industry is filled with middle of the road marketers and brand managers.

People who really, really love music and have “good ears” have been driven out or now work in management, venue operators or tour promoters; the only parts of the industry which are now booming!

The thing is – quality doesn’t scale. Never has, never will.

“Participation is the new consumption” – from Trendwatching.com

participation is the new consumption

I LOVE IT. Consumption has consumed itself. Nothing is original. Affluence has become affluenza. The only thing which is original and unique is the journey that you take in life.

Participate. Join in. Does this mean we are about to see a resurgence in participatory democracy? Will membership based organisations all of a sudden reverse their global decline? Is travel going to become far less “tourist”? Will people become bloggers or have bloggers become people? Is it all about family again? Dare I suggest it, have churches such as the pentacostals led global trends?

Or is it as simple as saying goodbye conspicuous consumption, hello “joining in” to holidays, events, membership based organisations, knitting clubs and other things that we “do” rather than “buy”?

There’s definitely going to be a shift in expenditure from goods to services in a digital economy.

EMI = Every Mistake Imaginable

The past few weeks have been somewhat tumultuous in the music industry, with the departure of two of the music industry’s best regarded executives, David Munns and Alain Levy from EMI and the closure of Sir Richard Branson’s V2 record label in the USA (home of the White Stripes, among others).

HitsDailyDouble

It’s interesting how a total lack of recognition and adaption of a new business model is slowly killing the recorded music industry from the inside. Live music is still firing, music publishing is fine – but records – oh records, what a sorry state they’re in. A sad state of affairs, but few in that industry are acknowledging the fragmentation and movement from physical distribution to distributed consumption. The former is about a central factory making and distributing artefacts and physical products. The latter is the central factory placing content on a variety of channels and allowing people to consume at will; they choose the time, place and channel.

Every industry will move thorugh these phases:
1. Reduction in the cost of production due to technology and globalisation
2. Increase in number of producers / democratisation of production
3. Increase in number of channels due to digitasation and high cost of physical channels
4. Increase in ability to distribute through channels as internet speeds get higher and computing power gets better / cheaper.
5. Fragmentation of channels and consumption meaning large “culture driving companies” will struggle to impose their products
6. Changes in marketing and advertising – increased personalisation of marketing as fragmentation will lead to a need for greater relevance and “chase” of smaller markets
7. Decoupling of product from time or place (goodbye seasonality, hello songs from twenty years ago randomly appearing in the bottom rungs of charts).

What other ramifications?

Strategy vs Tactics

In the worlds I inhabit, I am noticing an increasing lack of attention being paid to strategy. Whether it be in business, or in politics, or in personal lives, where people are moving from day to day with little focus on options beyond the next few weeks or months. Tactics have become extremely trendy, while strategy is somehow seen as unattainable, esoteric, obtuse or in plain language “a waste of time”.

Why?

A couple of theories:

Younger people: Rushing to embrace the nu nu instant world of the internet and short attention spans, are unable to expand their day to day life to adhere to “goal making” and other “long term”, “esoteric” topics. Alternatively, as Hugh Mackay says, people of 30 and under have been raised in a generation of immense change: economic recession, economic boom, technological change, internet revolution, economic paradigm shift, globalisation, the internet, etc. There is so much change and it occurs so quickly that people are reluctant to commit to anything for fear it may become obsolete – hence his term, “The Options Generation”.

Or is it something else – the labour shortages in Australia are leading to a general lack of brains in management? The thought economy is largely populated by people who haven’t an original thought?

Maybe it’s people who are time poor: Too much time working IN the business and not enough time working ON the business. I liked the expression I heard from the Director of Marketing of National Foods, “our people used to have a lot of headroom, now much less so. Headroom is the 10% of work time which accounts for 90% of all good ideas”. Is there less headroom in business? Are businesses demanding much more, a false economy in terms of increased sales, accountability and billable hours whilst simultaneously ignoring the longer term planning and frameworks?

Or might it be risk aversion: Nobody wants to pin their hat on a strategy and tactics to back up that strategy in case they chose wrong and someone holds them to account. Again I talk about my massive frustration at the stale and dull state of general entertainment and advertising (anyone watched free to air TV lately?).

Sun Tzu, military strategist and all round good guy, write in his magnum opus “The Art of War”, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”.

Why aren’t people BRAVE enough to just say: “let’s look at a two, five or ten year vision of where we are going to be”? Some scenario planning, some goals, some strategy. It might just help even out the fluctuations and we might all be better off because of it…

Discuss.