What’s in a name? Everything.

I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. A couple of days ago, a PR agency was being castigated for calling itself ‘Strange Fruit PR’. I knew the name was familiar but couldn’t quite pinpoint it. Was it something to do with ‘Oranges Aren’t The Only Fruit’? In what way was that controversial? Then I realised. Oh dear. Oh dearie dearie me. Oh dearie dearie dearie dearie me.

There was a link to the Twitter account. It didn’t exist. So I looked for the website. That had been taken down. So I took it as one of those strange warps in the fabric of spacetime that you occasionally glimpse, shrug your shoulders, and move on.

But today it turns out not to have been an interdimensional anomaly, but a real thing. It seems the Twitter backlash has caused Strange Fruit to change its name. Hardly surprising really. I mean, what on earth were they thinking?

This is quite a brazen example of really getting branding very badly wrong, but the closer you look, the more difficult branding gets. It’s not just a name or a logo. It has to be something that differentiates you from your competitors, makes you relevant to your audiences, and works internally, now and in the future. It’s a tough nut to crack and I’ve had several goes at it in my time, using the seat-of-the-pants method (ie making it up), going through agencies (ie doing it properly) and bringing it all together for my direct clients.

So branding is deep and wide: deep in that it gets to the heart of what a company is about; and wide because it affects everything that company does. However, the public face of a brand is its name, strapline and logo. So when I was thinking about Strange Fruit – when I’d got over the shock of how completely dumb they must be, that is – I got to thinking about other examples down the ages. Here are some:

  • Consignia. It was called Royal Mail. Then it was called Consignia. Then, after a backlash, it became Royal Mail again. The idea behind the new name was to have a brand that encompassed more than just ‘mail’. This made sense, because the brand has to reflect what the company does. I daresay the word ‘Royal’ also seemed old and out of touch. However, people just didn’t like the new name. It smacked of an awful portmanteau, that is, a word fused from other words, in this case ‘consign’ and ‘insignia’. Whereas Royal Mail had weight and authority, Consignia seemed a bit, well, plasticky.
  • Abbey. This relaunched Abbey National with the promise of ‘turning banking on its head’. This line is nonsense. What does it mean? Credits become debits? The bank gives us money which we invest and then give back to them? It became an object lesson in how to mismanage a rebrand and seriously damaged the business. Mark Ritson gives a great breakdown of this breakdown. Talking of poor straplines as opposed to names, there’s also Mellow Birds, a coffee brand that promised it will ‘make you smile’. What on earth has that got to do with coffee? So does my cat.
  • New Coke. There’s a problem with putting ‘new’ in front of anything. Sooner or later, it’s going to become old. Then, where do you go? So it was with New Labour, so it was with New Coke. Actually they did pretty much everything right, with consumer tests apparently proving that the new taste was better. Then the backlash came, and remember this was well before any social media existed, or even online communications of any significant type. Coke switched back to Classic Coke and continued to outsell its competitor. So perhaps this goes to show, sometimes you can follow the right path but make sure you’re agile enough to switch.

These are all mistakes that, when you examine them more closely, were made honestly. Portmanteau names can work, in the same way nonsense words work, especially in crowded markets where you have little choice (Google, Yahoo). You just build the brand around the name and it becomes synonymous with its values. Straplines aren’t even necessary much of the time, but the management of the rebrand needs to be tight. And New Coke got it right, then got it wrong, then got it right again.

But Strange Fruit? Gah.

Nail your content strategy with the marketing funnel

There are many takes on the marketing funnel. They go from simple – Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action, the classic AIDA model – to very complicated. Some people swear by them. Others swear at them. Still others think the funnel is actually banana-shaped. Not really, I just couldn’t resist putting that in.

The idea is that people move from not knowing about you, on a journey that gets closer to investing in you. After becoming aware, if they like what they see then they’re interested. If they’re interested enough, they put you on a shortlist. And if you’re still a candidate, they’ll act – whether actually buying, or just getting in touch.

I quite like it because it makes sense to me and I use that as a litmus test. If I understand it, then my clients probably will too. I like the simplest version, the AIDA model, but I like putting something underneath the funnel for digital marketing in particular: retention.

I also like the funnel because it enables me to do two important things: figure out which kinds of content work for each stage of the funnel; and measure effectiveness.

Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action, Retention. What on earth am I talking about? Read on and, if you disagree, let me know below. No, really, I want to be told I’m wrong because that’s how I learn…

Awareness: I’m looking for X

This is where you need to move from people not knowing about you, to people becoming aware of you. They will be looking for something and will use fairly generic, industry- or sector-wide terms to do this, such as mousetraps, washing machines, digital marketing.

This is mostly the domain of Google. Sure, there are other search engines, but Google is it. So to make sure you’re top of Google, you need to embark on an awareness programme.

My feeling on awareness? Don’t use social media for it. There is no proven link between social and SEO, with the sole exception of Google+ which is plugged into Google’s results. So when people say they want to use social media to raise awareness, they’re using the wrong tool.

Awareness is all about what happens away from your site. You need to spread your tentacles across the web and make sure people are as likely to find you as possible using those generic search terms. So, for awareness, you need to think about getting as much word-of-mouth out there as possible. This is where PR comes in, with placed articles, bylines and advertorials raising awareness offline.

For online awareness, you need to think about establishing a presence on sites other than your own. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Blogs – Comment on influencers who mention you, our your issues, or any of your content. Also consider blog exchange programmes, where you post on influencer blog and they post on yours
  • Twitter: Retweet influencers who mention you
  • LinkedIn: Interact with industry groups
  • Facebook: Like or comment on pages that mention you

Everything here is designed to establish your voice on third-party sites. In other words, to raise awareness.

How do you measure this? Well given that most of this is off-site activity, you’re looking at how much earned conversation you’re stimulating, that is, how much are people talking about you other than yourself. There are ways of doing this, mainly by building dashboards through APIs.

You can also look at your Google Analytics and see how much search engine traffic is coming to your site. This gives you an idea of how successful your content strategy is in grabbing Google’s attention.

Interest: I’ve heard about you and I’d like to know more

So people know about you, because you’ve raised awareness through PR and canny use of third-party sites. Now it’s time to stimulate their interest and this is really where you can start using your social media. Think about how each of your channels can work with each of these types of content:

  • Events – are bread and butter to social media. Blog before, during and after them. Use Twitter, Instagram and Vine during them. Put your video together for more in-depth coverage on YouTube during and after. There’s plenty you can be doing with events that will make people think you’ve got your finger on the pulse.
  • White papers – are something of a dreadnought of communications, but this content can be great for ‘slicing and dicing’, that is, releasing a small amount at a time, linking to a dedicated web page or microsite. Go one step further and ask for people’s email addresses in return for this premium content and you’re right into the retention level.
  • Press releases – should always be on your Twitter feed and LinkedIn company page at the very least. Consider repackaging them for the blog but remember that your blog should on the whole talk about industry issues rather than shouting about yourself.
  • Educational series – are where you show that you know what you’re talking about, so talk about it on your blog. Even if you think something’s obvious, other people won’t.

To measure this, you’re now looking at how engaged people are with your owned channels. How often do people retweet you? How many comments does your YouTube channel have? How many people are talking about your Facebook page? And so on.

Again, Google Analytics is important. If you’re hosting in-depth content with serious amounts of investment behind them such as white papers, then you need to know how many people are visiting those pages, and how many are downloading them.

You can also use the dedicated dashboards for each channel but I’m not a fan of them. I like metrics that I can compare across channels and competitors, such as reach and engagement.

Desire: You’re on my shortlist

Having gone from awareness out there on the wild web, to interest from what you’re saying, the customer journey is now about desire. They know about you and they like you, and you’re on their shorlist. Now it’s your job to validate their decision to opt for you.

There are three kinds of content that work really well for this:

  • Case studies – are absolutely what you need to convince people that you know what you’re talking about. Prove to them that you understood the challenge, employed the right tactics, and got results.
  • Third-party articles – by which I mean all mentions of you whether bylines, features, blog posts or news. People want to know that you’re being talked about.
  • Awards – as with the funnel itself, some people love them and others hate them. I think they’re very compelling. Whatever the politics behind them (ie a stunning correlation between the companies that win and the companies that pay sponsorship), I think most people regard them as strong endorsement from the industry.

There’s a fourth kind here which can be controversial: comparison tables. They might work well for FMCG brands – “Hey look, you can wipe your bum much more quickly with our Bum-away toilet roll” – but sometimes slagging your competitors off can reflect poorly on your shiny brands.

To measure this you’re looking at metrics such as specific engagement from known influencers – retweets, replies, comments, subscribers. On your site you should also look for downloads of content and visits to pages that host it.

Action: Where do I sign?

This is It. There’s very little you can do with social media here. People have gone from the outer space of non-awareness, to the atmosphere of interest, and have landed on your planet because they have desire. But you can’t make them sign the dotted line. The best you can do here is make sure you have plenty of calls to action. Make it as easy as possible for people to buy, or to call you, email you, get in touch in any way. Marketing’s job is to get people as far down the funnel as Action. From now on, it’s about converting, and this is where marketing hands over to sales.

For measurement, this is absolutely the domain of the website. You should monitor specific page accesses to ‘hot’ conversion pages such as Contact Us or registration pages. And, of course, if you’re selling directly via your site, you need to monitor conversion rates: how many people pressed the Buy button?

Retention: Welcome to the club

Now you’ve got people on board, it’s time to keep them there. Sure, you’ve got your social media channels chugging away happily but everyone can read them. For people who have invested in you, give some of that investment back. This is where you embark on a client comms programme, giving them the inside track on product development, special offers, invites to events and so on. And to measure this, look at the metrics your email system supports such as numbers of emails opened or unsubscription rates.

And that’s it. That’s my take on the funnel, how to match content to each stage, and how to measure each stage. Please tell me that you disagree below, because I like finding stuff out from smart people.

Four-dimensional social media analysis (no, really)

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Quadrants. Marketers love ‘em. Actually, I like them too. I like the way you can draw two axes and plot things on them, and get an instant idea of often quite complex issues.

I’ve been using this approach quite a lot recently to plot social media. There are many, many things you can measure once you start grabbing data. For example the Facebook insights dashboard is very rich, plus you can download the data and do your own analyses. The Twitter analytics are good too. However, if you really want to know what’s working you need to measure across channels, and across competitors. Measuring across channels means that you need to use metrics that work across all of them, to compare like for like. And measuring across competitors means you need metrics that are publicly, consistently, readily available.

So what to measure then?

Well, as I’ve already said, there’s plenty you can measure but that doesn’t fall into these categories. The most important measurements are obviously what you have decided your business needs to look at, which might be extremely specific such as reduced time to market, improved support outcomes and so on. But a good start is audience size and engagement.

Do this: identify a handful of competitors, and in a spreadsheet note down how many Facebook likes they have, and what their ‘Talking about this’ total is. Then go into Excel and plot them in a scatter chart. You can do this either way, with likes going across and ‘talking about this’ going up, or vice versa. What’s important is that you now see where you lie in relation to the competitors, just for Facebook. Your objective is to move across and up. In three months do the same exercise and you’ll see whether you’ve succeeded.

This is very basic, and I can just hear some of you out there wincing at the idea of reducing social media down to this. But sometimes you do need to distill to key metrics, not least for internal reports. Time-pressured CEOs might not want breakdowns of every possible metric. If they can just say a chart that shows you’re moving across and up, that might be enough.

Across channels, across competitors

So that’s just Facebook. Now think about plotting the other owned channels, and how audience size and engagement might be measured. For example, Twitter audience size is followers, and engagement is retweets or replies (hint: use Topsy to count these). YouTube audience size is subscribers, while engagement is channel comments. And so on. Note again that these all must be what works across all channels, and is readily, consistently, quickly available. I agree that view count might be attractive on YouTube, or loop count is impressive on Vine, but there’s no equivalent of these on, say, Facebook. You could go through individual comments for each video on YouTube, but that would take ages. And you could look at the number of views your blog gets, but you can’t for your competitors.

Three-dimensional analysis

Now you’re looking across your owned channels, and comparing them to competitors, and that’s a good start. But if you’re getting into pulling data via APIs and suchlike, you can also draw more insight and add more dimensions. For example, if you’re pulling in user data, you can identify the number of unique commentators. Change your scatter chart to a bubble chart, and now your audience size can be across, your engagement can be up, and the size of the bubble can be the number of unique commentators.

Or, if your data includes sentiment analysis, you can use that in some way. A nice way to show this could be to have engagement going across, sentiment going up, and the bubble size representing audience size. But be careful: automated sentiment can go wrong. That’s why I tend to ignore it, and just deal with the other three axes.

Can you beyond three dimensions?

Can we have four dimensions? Audience size, engagement, unique commentators and sentiment? Unfortunately not it would seem. It would be great to have a sliding scale of colour intensity for the bubbles but I don’t think Excel does this. If it does, please let me know! Also, it could just be a bit too complicated.

What about time? That’s another dimension, right? This can get quite interesting when you plot over time. You can do this in Excel using macros to go through the data but it can get very complicated and slow, plus your data has to be in exactly the right format for the macro to work. So I’ve been using a Windows macro recorder such as JitBit to update the date in a spreadsheet, grab the resulting chart, paste it into Photoshop in a new layer, and build it up that way. Then export as an animated GIF and you can start seeing the ebb and flow of how your owned channels are behaving. It’s a bit like watching one of those cool time-lapse videos of clouds scudding across the sky or flowers growing, blossoming, and dying within seconds.

This is what you can see at the top of this post. It’s from work I did quite a while ago and I think it’s old enough to share publicly now. You can see how the bubbles move around and I can tell you now that they do correspond to marketing activity. This actually goes beyond just charting using owned channels and in fact takes all mentions across all channels, so giving us an idea of where we lie in the marketplace of conversation.

In this instance I was able to show that the work I did had an impact, at least within just the social media-sphere. I’ve since used similar methods to prove similar effectiveness and actually secured more funding for social media initiatives. If nothing else, this shows that data analysis can lead to ROI. Now, let’s see if we can plot that…

#NewsSonnet 2: KKK, Rochester, NoTW, Brains

News sonnets: current affairs in three  iambic pentameter quatrains of alternating rhyme and a couplet.

The KKK has been Anonymized
Their concealment, by the masked, unconcealed.
So will disguise be, by the disguised
Unmasked? The pointed, burning truth revealed?
Andy Coulson served all five months, is freed.
Hang on. Eighteen into five doesn’t go.
Rebekaaaaaaaaah Brooks meanwhile is to succeed
Robert Thomson as News Corp’s CEO.
Niggle Farridge has a brand new MP.
Flashman vows he will regain the seat.
Milibean sacks turbulent Thornberry
For flags, a white van, and a reckless tweet.
Memory lapses, fainting fits, some pain.
It’s nice and tasty living in a brain.

#NewsSonnet 1: Sainsburys, Miliband, Putin, Federer

News sonnets: current affairs in three  iambic pentameter quatrains of alternating rhyme and a couplet.

So Sainsbury’s is selling fruit and veg
By exploiting World War One. Still, it pays.
What next? It’s just the thin end of the wedge.
The Holocaust to sell us holidays?
Talking of wars it’s getting very cold
As Pooty-poot expands his manly chest.
This posturing is already quite old,
Quick, fetch the ageing premier a vest.
Ed Miliband is hanging out to dry
On a lightweight night-time ITV show.
The mansion tax you see is far too high.
It’s Pure and Simple Ed, you’ve got to go.
Federer could brave such an attack
But can’t because he’s got a dodgy back.

Data, you need

This is a cross-post from Ranieri Communications…

Actual output from one of my dashboards

Have you seen Particle Fever yet? If not, you should. There’s a seminal moment when, on achieving collision, a Cern star states triumphantly: “We have data.” It’s the point at which the theorists craned their necks eager to see what the experimentalists could actually prove. Suddenly, this wasn’t theory any more.

If you’re in any way serious about your social media, you need to make sure you have data. Without data you don’t know what the current situation is, so you can’t measure where you’re heading, so you don’t know whether or not you’ve been successful. You need data to know whether your strategy is working.

What data exactly? Well, that depends on what you want to achieve. Say you want to use social media to improve your SEO. What makes you think you have a problem with SEO in the first place? What needs fixing? Better find out first, because that’s how you’re going to measure success. Or perhaps you want something more qualitative around reputation management. How are you going to quantify this? Where are you going to get the data from?

There are three approaches to getting data depending on how much time, expertise or cash you’ve got: manual, semi-automated, and fully automated. Here’s a quick rundown of each.

Manual: get typing

Everyone loves a spreadsheet. They’re amazing things and you can go a very long way by manually entering data that is publicly available and then drawing insights from it. The key here is to use data that you can compare like-for-like across social media channels to get an idea of how they’re doing. So, while Facebook’s dashboard for example is rich in data, and you should certainly be using it to improve your performance, a lot of the analysis isn’t available for other channels such as Twitter, or Instagram, or your blog.

At the very basic level, you can look at two essential metrics that work across all of social media: audience size and engagement. The audience size is the total potential audience you could reach with your message, so that’s fans of your Facebook page, followers of your Twitter feed and so on. Engagement is when people actually do something in response to reading about you, so they retweet you or they comment on your Facebook page.

Do this for your competitors too, build this up over time and you can start seeing patterns in the data. You’ll see spikes that correspond to activity, and how to develop more advanced metrics off the back of these. How about dividing engagement by reach to get insight into how engaged your audience really is? How about adding frequency so you can start forming an idea of tweet quality? How about requesting access to the client’s Google Analytics and looking at how social media referrals to the website are behaving? Develop your own charts, stamp them with your logo, and you’ve got a bespoke measurement system. Port this to an online resource such as Google Docs, and you’ve got an online dashboard. Nice.

Semi-automated: learn APIs

If you’ve got an in-house geek (the one you keep in the cage in the corner and occasionally feed with Haribo) then they might like this: you can start getting involved with Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

An API grabs the data directly rather than going through the manual procedures. So, by using the Twitter API you could directly interrogate the Twitter database and get follower figures, retweets, times of tweets and so on delivered direct to your machine rather than having to input it manually. You can also use the APIs of other social search engines such as SocialMention and Social Searcher that do a lot of the grunt work for you, by searching across multiple social media sources and aggregating them.

So, by downloading the results of API calls, you build up a store of data that you can then aggregate and analyse, again in Excel. With a canny combination of download managers, batch files and macros, you can do this all with just a couple of keystrokes.

The difference here is in quantity and types of data and therefore insight: you can accrue literally thousands of data points detailing who said what, and when, and you can start understanding who your influencers are, and what your issues might be – plus those of the competition and therefore the industry at large. At this point you really do start understanding the landscape.

If you have a smattering of statistical knowledge you can also start charting the ebb and flow of debate. Moving averages show the underlying trends. Crossovers of moving averages are highly significant. And so on.

Fully automated: bring in the Big Guns

If fully manual requires investment in time and semi automated needs investment in expertise, then fully automated is the money play. Here, we’re talking systems such as BrandWatch andSentiment Metrics who have millions of sites categorised, crunching huge amounts of data using dedicated server farms. It’s the rocket science approach and while this is mostly the domain of large companies that provide consumer services such as telecoms companies, there’s also a strong argument to be made that smaller agencies can use them profitably by sharing the cost across several accounts.

Hands, APIs, BFGs: Which one’s right for you?

If you’re not storing and analysing any data currently, then you need to start, right now.

At the very least start recording reach and engagement, ideally alongside competitors. It’s a useful exercise as of itself because you really start to understand cause and effect, and get to grips with the concepts.

When you get the hang of that, and you’d like to dive deeper, see if you have a geek in your organisation, or a latent geek, or know someone who keeps one. They might be able to ramp you up to the semi-automated solution and then you become something of a social media data guru.

And when you’re finally seeing the shiny green numbers coursing through the very fabric of the Matrix itself, and you’ve landed that major social media account – or you’re a postdoc working at Cern – it’s time to hoover up as much data as you can possibly get your hands on. Even if you don’t uncover the secrets of life, the universe and everything, you’ll know what drives conversation, and that’s a decent second.

Time to saddle up again: Brandinnnnnng

Right. So, the past few years has seen a lot of water under a lot of bridges. I’ve been a social media consultant. I’ve been a copywriter. I’ve been a marketing manager, PR manager, social media manager and content creator all at the same time. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. I’ve been undressed by kings and I’ve seen some things that a woman just ain’t s’posed to see. I’ve quoted far too much from films and songs.

And throughout all this, I’ve completely and utterly lost the blog habit. I couldn’t really see the point because I’ve been actually doing all this, so why bother write about it? I’ve decided to take it up again because:

  • It keeps me off the streets. Like Ishmael, it prevents me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off.
  • While things got boring a couple of years back, they’re a bit more interesting and write-worthy now. Mobile has changed a lot of this game, and new platforms such as PInterest, Vine and Instagram are making a real impact.
  • Whereas I thought blogging had died, people like Shel Holtz think I’m wrong. I still think blogging is really only useful when you get comments back, rather than just a load of shares or likes, but I’m prepared to try this again and see if I genuinely do get what I would call ‘engagement’.
  • I probably should do this because I’m back in the self-employed game – or, rather, I contract now, under the guise of SuperCooper Comms. Catchy isn’t it? I thought long and hard before that one, threw away company names that sounded like cures for constipation (actually, nearly all of them were like that strangely enough), and really should get the .co.uk domain pointing to this blog but I can’t be arsed.

I know, I’ve already fallen at the first blogging hurdle: I’m talking about myself rather than things you want to hear about. That’s because I’m quite rusty.

So, from now on, this blog’s going to be mostly about comms – earned, owned, paid, mobile, desktop, advertising, PR, social, digital – but from time to time I’ll put what I like on it. For example, isn’t the Philae lander an amazing thing? And aren’t otters cute?

Branding: The truth

Anyway, back to comms. Branding. That’s not comms so you could say that having blundered through the first hurdle I’m now staggering through the second. But wait. Branding is the root of comms. It informs what you’re going to talk about, and how you’re going to say it.

I’ve somehow become a branding person too along the way. What happens is, you go further and further upstream, beyond copywriting, up through social media, then messaging, then marketing, then you realised there’s more, so you start looking at branding. It’s a bit like Captain Willard travelling up the Nung River.

The key to branding is figuring out a way to make yourself different from your competitors, and suited to your audiences. It seems deceptively simple, but it’s not easy. Just Google ‘brand positioning’ and you’ll see that everyone has their own take on it, from the big stuff like what a brand is, to the nuts and bolts such as brand values, vision statements, mission statements and the like.

The important thing is that it’s the truth, which can sometimes be harsh. And as we all know, many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. So you need to get a lot of points of view.

The Outside-in view

  1. Choose a handful of key clients, partners and friendly peers.
  2. Ideally call them, not ideally mail them to say something like “We’re doing some thinking about our brand and would really value your input”, arrange a call for, say, 30 minutes or so.
  3. In the call, ask them:
    • What do you think we do well?
    • What do you think we could do better?
    • What three words describe how we work?
    • What do you think you’ll want from us in five years’ time?
  4. Create a quick slidedeck breaking this out into the core (ie what do all of them say), the common (what do most of them say) and the unusual (are there any that stand out for saying something the others don’t).

The Inside-out view

Do this internally too. Make people feel this is something they contributed to so that it becomes ‘real’ and ‘owned’. Also by comparing your responses to the clients, you start to identify gaps.

There is one additional question here too, for the MD or CEO, and maybe your senior leadership team, which is: where do you want to be in five years’ time?

The Industry view

  1. Spend an hour looking for articles that talk about what the future holds for your industry or sector
  2. Pull out the most significant summary points into a slidedeck
  3. Go through them and identify the top three

The Competitor view

  1. Spend an hour going through the websites for your competitiors and figure out:
    • What is their SEO description (if any)? Right-click on their home page where there is white space, and then click ‘View page source’ and search for the text <meta-description>
    • What is their strapline (if any)? If not under their logo, then sometimes they’ll have a sort of strap line on the top of their ‘about’ page.
    • In their ‘About’ page, what are the top three things they talk about, ideally relating to how they work rather than what they do?​
  2. Create a quick slidedeck breaking this out into the core (ie what do all of them say), the common (what do most of them say) and the unusual (are there any that stand out for saying something the others don’t).
  3. Email your team and ask them to give them a score of 1 to 10 where 1 is least and 10 is most, for the following:
    • Impact
    • Sophistication
    • Contemporariness – awful word I know, but what I mean is, how up-to-date do they look?

Web view

Create a ‘taxonomy’, by going through everything you can think of – websites, social media, wikipedia etc – and create a cloud of the most commonly used words in your industry.

Bringing it together

  • The outside-in view is the most important, by far. It’s your opportunity for you to find out, genuinely, what your strengths and weaknesses are.
  • The inside-out view is quite important, so long as you trust your staff not to be too blinkered in their outlook. By comparing this with the outside-in view you get an idea of whether or not you’re deluded.
  • The industry view shows you what the main challenges and opportunities are. Now that you know your strengths and weaknesses you can start developing a position that plays to your strengths, while addressing any potentially disabling weaknesses.
  • The competitor view gives you insight into how to differentiate. Do any of your competitors mention the industry challenges or opportunities? If not, they’re not branded very well, and you don’t need to worry about them too much. If some of them really do have a good position then you need to work out how not to overlap with them.

Now, you have three bubbles: your culture (the three words that describe how you work); the industry issues and opportunities they present; and your strengths. You need to find a common position that works at the intersection of those three bubbles, and doesn’t impinge too much on a competitor.

See? It’s all about bubbles. And it isn’t easy. That moment of insight can take quite some time. As is often the case, the process involves leg-work, but the insight means being in the right place at the right time, usually with a G&T on the go.

Finally, the web view gives you an idea of the kind of words you should use when you come to express all of this. You can be a maverick, and that’s fine, but you also need to make sure the words you use, are the words people are looking for.

So it’s about words too.

Good luck, and hopefully it won’t be three years before I post again…

What will happen come Twittergeddon?

So it’s been a very long time since I blogged. The main reason is that I’ve been getting to grips with mobile advertising for the past nine months – long enough to have a baby, or two-fifths of a baby elephant – and aligning Adfonic’s communications channels.

One key project has involved ‘classic’ social media: identifying our influencers, ranking them, and setting up mechanisms to monitor them. This just simply helps us to gain insights into the main industry issues, from the people who matter, and engage with them on a very human level.

The only stumbling block is: Twitter. Lists are great. But that’s just the ‘who’ part. To know what they’re saying, about a specific topic (ie mobile advertising) you need to be able to filter these lists. And that’s causing me headaches.

For example Hootsuite, while providing filters, does not do this persistently. When you add a filter, then select a different stream or tab, the filters disappear. Not good.

Tweetdeck used to have great filtering in the classic ‘Yellow’ version. But then it was revamped after being bought out by Twitter, and lost most of the features that made it useful in the process, including filtering.

So what is to be done? I’ve been running the old Tweetdeck as a backup solution, and it does a brilliant job. Every Twitter list, filtered for an extra smooth taste, gives me an instant overview of what our most influential Tweeters are saying about mobile advertising. It enables us to be informed across all our influencers, and agile in our response.

But I have a bad feeling. Come 5th March, Twitter will deprecate its old API, and at that point, I do wonder what’s going to happen with the old Tweetdeck. I expect it will just stop working, and I’m back to Hootsuite, or investigating more sophisticated – and expensive – tools that will do this very important job.

I know change is inevitable – George Harrison kind of said the same. But why on earth Twitter won’t enable filtering for lists, I do not know. Perhaps they think their servers will melt. Possibly they just want us to return to the ‘needle in a haystack’ approach of old. Or maybe – just maybe – someone somewhere will figure out a cool way to do this. And then charge us through the nose for it.

The old web is dying and I’m not sure I like the new one

BlogPulse has no pulse

So I was playing around with dashboards and the like yesterday  – as one does – and noticed that BlogPulse has disappeared. BlogPulse was not the greatest blog search engine around, but it was the only one offering anything like useable charts. So, given that Technorati charts disappeared years ago (although they still have a page claiming they’ll be back soon), and other solutions such as IceRocket don’t enable you to pass keywords to create live charts, it would appear there is no longer any blog charting widget out there.

Is this the final nail in the coffin of blogging? Are we really so uninterested in blogging activity that charts are no longer considered viable? It would seem that way, and the ‘blogging is dead’ meme is very much alive right now.

Charting generally seems to be suffering

Recently, tweetcloud.com disappeared, without even a whimper. It just vanished. I seemed to be the only person who noticed, but tweetcloud.com was, like BlogPulse, the only solution that did something incredibly useful: it would create a tweetcloud for a search term on the fly. In other words, you typed in what you were looking for, and it created a tweetcloud for that search (not a tweetcloud of your own timeline, which really isn’t that much use but I suspect a lot less processor-intensive). Plus it did it quickly, and there was a widget for it, which enabled you to build dashboards giving an instant overview of the latest terms associated with any topic. It was great. And then it wasn’t. There are sort-of alternatives still such as Visible Tweets, Cloud.li and Twendz, but, while they’re very pretty, you can’t build them into dashboards.

And today, Trendistic, the only (again) solution for live charting of Twitter trends, is down. It was down yesterday too. Look for it on Twitter search and there are just a load of weird Polish references to it (who knows, maybe Trendistic is a Polish pop group). Surely – sssssurely – Trendistic can’t have disappeared too? And surely, again, it can’t just be me who thought it was an absolutely brilliant idea?

RSS is dying

If you’re detecting a pattern here, you’re not alone. It does seem that really great ideas are failing as the web grows bigger and faster. They just cannot keep up, it seems – or, at least, not until/unless they’re snapped up by one of the walled gardens such as Facebook. Free information – as in, really free, readily available, easily manipulated and shared across the entire web – is disappearing.

RSS was supposed to be the great hope of free information. Peel the content away from the format, and hey presto, you can share pretty much anything across any platform. But therein lies the problem: something free is not something you can fence off and charge for. It is free in every sense of the word.

So it seems RSS is suffering too. Google Reader used to be a really nice way to bring feeds together and create a static web page of the results as well as a newly aggregated feed. Not since its recent revamp however. All the sharing features have been ported across to Google+, presumably because Google+ is a neat, walled garden whereas RSS was messy and free. Yahoo Pipes was the ultimate RSS aggregator/mash-up tool but suffered from underinvestment by Yahoo. Even after a supposed major overhaul, it’s flaky and too slow to power a dashboard (unless you’re prepared to wait for a minute or so while the results load up). Another RSS mashup tool, XFruits, died a couple of years back. Do a search for RSS aggregator tools and it’s like a graveyard. The only viable tool that I can see is called FeedRinse which, while it offers aggregation and filtering (the two most useful features of Pipes), also feels a bit overloaded and slow. And, as with TweetCloud and BlogPulse, it’s the only game in town, which leads me to believe it won’t be for much longer.

RSS from search has been abandoned by major players too. Such as the bookmarking platform Delicious. You used to be able to search across the Delicious database and pull an RSS feed from that. Stunningly useful, as it showed you what other people considered important for any topic. Not any longer. Twitter has also demoted RSS from search: you can still do it, but you have to look around to find out how. It’s another candidate for the cull, I believe.

Mash-ups are harder

So where does this leave us if we want to create our own mash-ups or dashboards? Well we can dive into the APIs if we fancy it, and learn a smattering of HTML and javascript. But we still need reliable platforms to base our dashboards on. The familiar theme of ‘only game in town’ is revisited here, in that the only solution offering public dashboards – that is, pages that you can show to anyone without them needing to log in – is Netvibes. And every time I create a dashboard in Netvibes, I find I have to spend quite some time figuring out what works still and what doesn’t. Quite apart from discovering over the past few months that third-party sites have disappeared, I’m finding that third-party widgets in Netvibes are broken, or even that Netvibes itself is cranky. So for example, my attempts to create a dashboard yesterday were frustrated by HTML widgets only displaying the top portions of any image or javascript output, widgets generally not staying in the same place when I refreshed the page, RSS feeds not being imported correctly, and on recourse to their support forum, finding it full of spam.

It seems the free tools that were once so useful are now decaying or falling apart. I don’t know what ‘Web 2.0′ really meant, but I have a sense of something dying, something that was slower and smaller than the web today, that shared more freely but was doing so with less immediacy and monetary return. Whatever we’re moving towards, if it’s Web 3.0, then it’s becoming more consolidated, monetised, bigger, faster, noisier.

So the ‘roll your own’ approach is going to get harder. The smaller, innovative sites that did one thing, and one thing well, just cannot survive the double onslaught of vastly increased traffic and expectations of real-time delivery unless they can make money from  it.  The old, fluid, free web that comprised many islands of activity is solidifying into separate continents of influence. The game is so much harder now, that it’s only the really big players that can make sense – and money – out of it.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be

Me? I preferred the more innovative, dynamic environment. I liked the way that RSS could be readily shared, and smaller enterprises could create neat tools that let you do things with it, without really needing to be a developer. I guess those days are gone. Nostalgia certainly ain’t what it used to be.

Postscript: … and no sooner do I file this post then I read this Observer piece by John Naughton, entitled “Has the Internet run out of ideas already?”, on the progression of information technologies: “from somebody’s hobby to somebody’s industry; from jury-rigged contraption to slick production marvel; from a freely accessible channel to one strictly controlled by a single corporation or cartel – from open to closed system.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. In fact, I didn’t.