Tag Archives: Social Media

Are consumers turning into bullies?

No bullies

I remember, back in 2008, preparing a presentation on social media and how it was starting to have a huge effect on customer services. Twitter was starting to gain traction beyond the early adopter/techie types, and brands were desperate to leap onto the band wagon. Facebook was already massive, and a relatively small number of brands were starting to use it well with others using it badly, and still more sitting on the sidelines, enviously looking in at the party, but too scared to get involved.

My advice to the client at the time was ‘you can’t afford NOT to get involved’. There had already been a number of famous cases of brands being seriously damaged by complainers who had taken their grievances to social media, and had been ignored by the brand in question. The internet had done its thing, and before the brand knew it the grouch had been turned into a cause célèbre, the public complaint and lack of brand action had gone viral, and the brand’s reputation was in tatters.

So far, so meh. Old news, right? Well yes, but recently I’ve been noticing, and getting increasingly annoyed by a new(ish) phenomena. Brand bullying. This is where some opportunist saboteur turns to Twitter complaining of poor service or poor quality or some other perceived snub from a brand, purely to see whether they can screw some free stuff out of said brand. They invariably use a holier than thou tone and seem to think that the world will side with them purely because they’re shouting, loudly and in public. And they’re not far wrong – ‘the internet’ is the ultimate champion of the little guy.

Brands often respond to this public airing of dirty washing by doing exactly what the opportunist wants – throwing a freebie at it. No matter whether the whinger was an incredibly brand-loyal person with a real grievance, and therefore worth responding to and nurturing, or someone who has heretofore demonstrated zero brand loyalty, if they complain long and loud enough, they’ll be looked after.

This pushes a button for me. It’s inherently unfair. And it actually goes against the internet ethos: the internet has given power to the individual, but (to quote Uncle Ben Parker) with great power comes great responsibility – and if the individual abuses that responsibility the power should be taken away from them. So I suddenly find myself in a slightly unlikely position, and questioning whether brands really do need to oil every squeaky wheel. Maybe there’s a better way. Maybe there’s a way to take the sting out of the complaint without giving in to the bullies. Maybe brands should stand up to them, sometimes.

This is obviously a much more delicate an operation than I make it sound, so really I’m throwing it out there as a question. Any social media managers out there care to weigh in?

This post originally appeared on my company blog, here.

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The fragmentation of social media

Broken Facebook logo

I’m a bit of a regular at Future Human events, and a few weeks ago I attended their session ‘Social Animals’ – exploring how (and if) social networks are changing our personalities. It was an interesting session for a number of reasons, but one of the big take away points for me was around the fragmentation of social media – the idea that a number of factors are beginning to chip away at Facebook’s monopoly of social media, leading to fragmentation of social media into lots of smaller communities and networks.

One of the panel at the event was Alex Halliday, founder and CEO of Social Go, an online service that allows users to create their own, interest focussed, social networks. He talked about the fact that lots of social networkers are not restricting themselves to the big networks – Facebook, Twitter etc – but are turning away from these mass, general sites to more close-knit communities, where users can unite around objects of common interest. Obviously Alex’s business model is built on this idea, so he has an interest in talking it up, but it rang true. With so many people getting their ‘social media training’ on Facebook – and becoming accustomed to social tools and user experience styles through it – it wouldn’t surprise me to discover that users are taking these skills and knowledge and using them elsewhere on the web – elsewheres that perhaps in pre-Facebook days were principally the domain of fanboys and geeks.

Obviously Alex is not the only one to be thinking like this. The inexorable rise of Facebook may have shifted our attention away from community sites, but they are thriving still – look at the Daddy of them all (if you’ll forgive the pun), the all-powerful Mumsnet. And what’s more, community sites are building in more ‘social’ features as championed by Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to make them more useful to users. Other commentators such as Jack Wallington over on Brand Republic’s Wall Blog have talked in more depth on this niche network phenomena.

Another angle to the fragmentation theory is the social network Path which limits each user to 50 followers and cites Dunbar’s number as its rationale for doing so (there is an upper limit to the amount of people that an individual can know personally whilst also knowing how each person relates to one another – and it’s a lot less than the number of Facebook friends most people have). I find this a lot more interesting, as its often cited as a reason that we will never have a truly global society, or true homogenisation – yes we may have the same brands on our high streets, but our cognitive limitations mean that we will never be exactly the same.

Place these two ideas (the rise of nice communities and Dunbar’s number) against a backdrop of stories about Facebook losing users in its most established markets, and some people start putting two and two together and making five.

I think its early days to make any sort of rash forecasts about the demise of Facebook at the hands of smaller communities – there have always been smaller niche communities online, and there always will be – that doesn’t mean people don’t want to talk to their larger ‘friend’ base as well as a group of strangers they are linked to through common interest. I also think Facebook will be remiss if it doesn’t up its niche interest game – after all, from a monetisation perspective, Facebook’s revenue comes squarely from knowing as much about its users as possible to allow for high levels of targeting. But I do think there is something to the Dunbar’s number criticism. I think eventually we start to feel overwhelmed by the numbers, and we either ignore a huge amount of people we’re friends with – only actively responding to and interacting with a relatively small sub-group within our friend lists, go through mass culling exercises, or in some extreme cases drop out of Facebook altogether.

I’d love to generate a bit of discussion around this as I find the way the internet is developing in front of our eyes – and the way it’s so hard to predict – fascinating. So let me know your thoughts and leave a comment below!

This post originally appeared on my company blog, here.

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The shift to Social Entertainment

Last week we downloaded a free copy of GlobalWebIndex‘s annual report looking in detail at the way people use the internet.

The report re-stated some things that are obvious just from looking around, and formalised some things that for us were gut-instinct. The major thrust of the report is that a movement away from content creation to content distribution, fragmentation of the devices and platforms from which we access and consume the internet, and changing perceptions of the internet as an entertainment platform, are all bringing about a return to the traditional hierarchies of professional content generators, paid-for content, media giants, big brands and the political elite.

Good to read it all in one place and backed up by robust data though – and we like their name for it: The Social Entertainment Age. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Here’s a bit more detail on what the report says.

GlobalWebIndex identified three key themes in their report.

Social Entertainment Age

The rise of real time social

This is one of those so-far-so-obvious observations that we all knew anyway but is good to have verified by data. There has been, and is an ongoing, shift from the old text-based social media of blogs and forums, to real-time sharing of information and content enabled by micro-blogging services – such as status updates and tweets. This means that the emphasis of social media is no longer on creating content and publishing it, but on sharing other people’s content and real-time opinions about real world events. So the social web is now about distribution rather than creation, and consequently there is a shift of focus back to traditional media and professional content. This is major: for years the web has been seen as a threat to the traditional world of media giants, big brands and the political elite – now these changing trends in the way people participate in the social web are pushing us back towards those same hierarchies.

Packaged internet platforms

The way we access the internet is changing. The way we all know – the open, browser-based web – is losing out to ‘packaged’ internet platforms: tablets, mobile apps, internet connected TVs, e-readers, gaming and video platforms, PC apps. Increasingly, everything is wired in to the web. And Mobile is leading the way: over 17% of people surveyed watched TV in the last month on their mobile, and 26% watched an on-demand video on mobile. In keeping with the theme of ‘real-time social’, this is giving traditional media owners a second bite of the cherry – these packaged platforms allow them the means to create sustainable business models, to actually charge for their content – something that the browser-based web totally failed to accommodate.

The entertainment platform of choice

The online experience is now very strongly centred around ‘traditional style’ content. For hundreds of millions of consumers the internet , across multiple platforms, is about entertainment. This is caused by the growth in (legal and illegal) video sites, the rise of real-time and the sharing of traditional content that that implies, and the growth of packaged platforms.

Time will tell whether GlobalWebIndex are right in their assumptions and predictions, but one thing is for sure – the changes in behaviour that they are reporting are real, the data is good, and the drive back to the status quo seems inexorable. The question is whether this is a good or a bad thing, and for whom. What do you think?

This post originally appeared on my company blog, here.

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Bing it.

Interesting to see that Microsoft have turned on the advertising budget to promote their search engine Bing in its seemingly futile attempt to take on Google.

It’s David vs David, a clash of the titans. But Microsoft is so far off the pace it’s hard to watch as it scrambles to play catch-up.

The guys at Microsoft must have thought: OK, Google has first mover advantage (or something approximating that: they weren’t first, but they were first with a decent product), how do we break into the market?

And the answer? Well apart from the obvious (coming up with a whacky/meaningless name to mimic Google, copying or approximating Google’s algorithm and even appearence), they’ve gone for the tried and tested: we’ll pump loads of money into advertising the product. Yeah, that’ll work.

Trouble is, that’s not really the way things DO work any more. Standing on an overturned milk-crate in the street shouting your message into people’s faces as they pass by is more likely to irritate than engage. And a message like ‘our results are clearer and more concise than other search engines’ really isn’t going to do it – people will judge that for themselves, and most commentators still find Bing slightly lacking compared to Google.

So what SHOULD Microsoft do? Well, for a start, it could find something a bit more emotive than ‘clear and concise’. That claim is debatable, and not exciting or engaging, or even interesting. Maybe it could try actively setting itself up as the anti-Google. It would need to be VERY upfront, admitting all past sins: “yeah, we’re no tiny independent, and we know we’ve hardly been a big champion for customer choice, but that’s in the past. The world has changed and so have we. Customers deserve choice.”  Try to make it COOL to ‘Bing it’, a form of rebellion. There is of course a huge danger of getting the tone completely wrong and being crucified for hypocrisy/evil corporate behaviour/monopolistic empire building, but if Microsoft get it right, don’t take it too seriously, and try to have fun, then they could win. It’s a very risky strategy, but then ‘clarity’ carries no risk, but very little chance of success either.

Then there’s the medium: it’s all very well making ‘3 TV ads and an integrated social media campaign’, but why not cut out the TV ads and associated huge media spend and really ramp up the social media. Develop user generated content. Take the campaign to the streets using guerilla marketing. Give people a reason to talk about the brand, rather than telling them what to think, and maybe they’ll actually start to engage.

Or just carry on spending millions on mass advertising and hoping for a decent response rate. Yeah, let’s stick with that. It’s safe.

This blog was originally published on my company website here.

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