Tag Archives: social networks

Isn’t it about time social networking got a bit more human?

I’ve started to write a weekly column, Online Anthropologist, for Smart Company. Here’s the latest…

Will introducing interactions that are more real-world help social networks increase engagement?

I’ve always, quietly, been a fan of social network Path. When it launched back in 2010 I wrote a post highlighting its features, whilst sitting squarely on the fence and making no predictions one way or another about its chances of success.

Since then, Path has gradually introduced more and more features, I’ve managed to persuade a few fellow nerds to join, and as a result I’ve found myself using it more and more.

Path became part of my personal experience of the fragmentation of social media. It’s the network I turn to when I don’t want to broadcast my life to anyone who wants to stalk me (twitter) or a bunch of people I didn’t like all that much back in primary school (Facebook).

Then in February of this year there was that well documented privacy issue, for which Path took the fall before it emerged that everyone else was at it too. Too late, the damage was done and Path copped the majority of the flack. Whether they have any chance of success after that debacle remains to be seen: they are, after all, still claiming ‘over 2 million users’ – the same figure they claimed back in February when the privacy story broke – and that’s hardly the hockey-stick growth figures that, say, Pinterest has been able to claim, or Instagram can boast.

But Path remains an innovator. The user interface was always one step ahead of the competition: a mobile-only environment, it takes the best of Facebook and photo-sharing platforms like Instagram and rolls them together. It’s super-intuitive to use, and super-slick to look at. Now, with Path 2.5, Path is starting to redefine the way we interact on the social web.

How so? Well, there are a couple of new features that are changing the game. There’s something that Path calls the ‘nudge’. Sound familiar? Sound a bit like Facebook’s slightly dodgy-sounding ‘Poke’? Well, it IS a bit like a Poke. But it’s better than a Poke, because where the Poke button is a kind of disembodied, vaguely sexual verb that both looks seedy on the page, and feels seedy to use, the nudge is altogether more sophisticated and grown-up. See, unlike the Poke’s school-boy dig in the ribs, it actually asks some pre-populated questions, prompting the recipient to take action. So you can ‘nudge’ your mate to ‘take a photo!’, or ask ‘where are you?’ or ‘what are you up to?’:

What’s so cool about that? Well, aside from giving users a way to get in touch with their friends without a) having to think of something to say or b) having to deliver a creepy ‘poke’, it makes the social experience that bit more social – that bit more real. After all, you wouldn’t, in real life, try to get someone’s attention by jabbing at them with a pointy finger.

Of course the other cool thing, from Path’s viewpoint, is that the Nudge is a way for them to get their user base to do the work of re-engaging with lapsed users on their behalf. Good move for a network that feels like its starting to stagnate.

The second game-changer is the invite function. Path have played with theirs so that unlike on Twitter or Facebook, you can now write a personalized note asking someone to join the network so you can hook up. You can even use Siri (I’m doing this on an iPhone) to record a message.

Hardly a game-changer, you might say: but think about it. When combined with the nudge, the invite makes the virtual interactions in Path that little bit more nuanced than those on other networks, that little bit more shaded rather than black and white. And this makes it a social network that is a little bit more human, a little bit more usable and, hopefully, a little bit more engaging. Whilst I’m not 100% sure the introduction of these cool new features will be enough to reverse Path’s fortunes, I AM sure that we will start to see more of these kinds of features on the bigger networks. It’s great user experience design, and something that businesses should both keep an eye open for when it starts to become more commonplace in social networking, and take note of when designing their own web properties.

This post originally appeared in Smart Company‘s Online Anthropologist column, written by Edge’s Head of Digital Richard Parker.

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Obligatory Google+ post

Google+ screen

We thought we’d let the dust settle a little bit around Google+ before posting out thoughts up here. But since its launch on June 18th, the dust has shown no sign of settling – in fact there seems to be more and more dust being kicked up every second.

I’m going to stop with the dust metaphor now because I’m annoying myself.  Google+ has added 18 million users and notched up a billion shares a day. It’s being touted as the Facebook killer, the Twitter killer. Business is clamouring to get involved. Every where we turn in the blogosphere, the twittersphere, even in (the) Facebook(sphere) there’s a new article on Google+, and almost every website we look at now has the ‘+1’ button integrated next to their ‘like’ and ‘tweets’ counters (just scroll down toward the bottom of this piece). It feels, already, like part of the landscape.

But let’s break this down a little:

Those figures

I like to think of myself as an early adopter, and indeed, was amongst the first 18 million Google+ users. Not bad, eh? I digress. Anyway as an ‘early adopter’ messing about in Google+ feels a bit lonely. Even with all those folks on there I have about 20 people in my circles. Of which I would say 3 are posting things regularly. The rest have set up a profile and as yet have posted NOTHING – no activity. A large user base is good, lots of shares is good, but if it’s limited to a small elite then it’s not. Of course, it’s early days. There are some interesting stats on usage on Mashable if you want further reading.

UPDATE: In addition it appears that Facebook users spend 4 times as long on the site as Google+ users – again indicative of the fledgling nature of the site, but nevertheless not all that impressive as yet.

Google+ as the Twitter killer

Some commentators have said Google+ is akin to Twitter in that you can follow people without their permission (rather than them having to accept your request, as in Facebook), and therefore this makes Google+ the Twitter killer. Obviously this doesn’t take into account the stripped-down appeal of Twitter – the single-function nature of it that allows people to rapidly scan a whole load of information. And Twitter’s die-hard fanbase. And the niche it’s carved its-self as a real-time news feed. NEXT!

Google+ as the Facebook killer

Facebook killer. Well, again, no. Facebook is entrenched in Western society to the point that it is showing signs of reaching a natural saturation point, but in countries that were a little slower on the uptake, Facebook is still registering phenomenal growth. And good luck if you think you’re going take Facebook’s audience – comfortable and familiar with the user interface as they are – and prize them away. Look at the uproar that happens when Facebook change their own page layout. Oh no, people DO NOT like change. Yes Google allows you to combine multiple networks and integrate your contacts and email – but I know a lot of people who don’t have an email address and communicate online exclusively via Facebook’s messaging feature. Google has taken most of Facebook’s features (lists is basically a less sexy interfaced version of circles; video chat is coming to FB via the Skype link-up, etc etc) and made them a bit slicker in some cases, but I don’t think enough to get people to move. Having said that, I don’t think it has to be an either or.

Google+ for business

Google+ have actively asked businesses to wait for a few months until they have their specific business version ready. And that makes a lot of sense. Brand who are desperate to get onto Google+ now – why? We don’t yet have enough data on how, when and why people use it to know what your strategy should be for the medium. It took a long time before Facebook opened up properly to brands and with good reason – they now have a fantastic brand offering, which acts as a second CRM for brands that use it. Google+ are wise to follow suit.

UPDATE: here’s a little more info on Google+ brand pages, and how brands can prepare for their launch.

Summary

So in summary – I think Facebook, Twitter and Google+ can certainly co-exist in the medium term. I’m not sure exactly how my Google+ use will differ from my Facebook and Twitter posts as yet, or whether I’ll just end up replicating – it depends what my network on there ends up looking like. But I don’t see myself shutting down any of them. At the worst, Facebook gets marginally less facetime from me. At the best, I spend exactly the same amount of time on Facebook but work a longer day.

And – lame though I know this sounds – I think it’s way too early to say how useful it will be to me, you or business. But I had to contribute to that dust cloud!

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Get pickled

I was in the pub the other night. Get used to that as an opening sentance on this blog, it’s going to happen a lot. Anyway. So. I was in the pub the other night, and a friend asked me: ‘what’s the point of Twitter’.

Good one.

So I had a think and rather than start blathering on about social media this and buzzword that I gave her an example, and it was this:

I do a wee bit of mountain biking, and an oft-used abbreviation for mountain bikes is ‘mtb’. When I was up in Scotland a couple of weeks ago riding some of the brilliant 7 Stanes trails I started tweeting about what I was up to and adding the hash tag ‘mtb’ so that other twitterers would be able to find my posts if they were interested in mountain biking. I also did a quick search for #mtb myself and as a result started following a couple of interesting people, including @teampickle, @bikerumor and @LostSociety.  Team Pickle especially have been really useful, they’ve already introduced me to a couple of new areas to ride that I didn’t know existed – including Lee Quarry Mountain Bike Centre, which I intend to ride very soon. I’ve also discovered Team Pickle’s blog, which I’m a big fan of – check it out if you need a bit of inspiration to get out and ride.

new-bigger-team-pickle-logo

So to go back to my friend’s question, the point of Twitter, quite simply, is to share information – and that information can be as frivolous, as geeky or as useful as you want it to be. Guaranteed, there’s someone else out there tweeting about something that matches your interests, and your life could get a teeny bit better as a result of what you learn.

The information Twitter delivers is also stuff you wouldn’t necessarily get to via Google. A Google search for mtb is clogged up with lots of official resource sites and commercial organisations – I got to page 5 and Team Pickle’s blog still hadn’t appeared. And yet, from a generic search term like ‘mtb’, the information I got from Team PIckle (via Twitter) was extremely relevant to me – potentially more so than the Google stuff.

So, Twitter = information delivered in an alternative way to Google. Not a great revelation to anyone I’m sure, but it’s always nice to clarify things for myself, especially when I’m in a pub.

And I hope everyone checks out Team Pickle. Go on, they look like nice folks!

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Zappos vs Amazon

The big news in e-commerce yesterday was that Amazon are set to buy Zappos, the online shoe retailer, for $927m.

Seems like a lot of money for a small oline shoe retailer, doesn’t it?

And, as Seth Godin points out Amazon already sell shoes, have great technology and have great relationships with fulfilment partners. So why do they need Zappos? According to Seth, it’s all about:

  • A corporate culture that’s not the same (and where great people choose to work)
  • A tight relationship with customers that give you permission to talk with them
  • A business model that’s remarkable and worth talking about
  • A story that spreads
  • Leadership

He’s right, obviously, although I think he under-emphasises the really big prize for Amazon: customer service. I’d like to explore that a little more.

zappos_logo

Zappos built their whole brand identity around exemplary customer service. Their tag line is ‘powered by service’. Take a look at their dedicated service twitter feed to see just how open and honest they are in their customer service dealings: they wash their dirty laundry in public, because, if you’ll forgive the analogy, they know it’ll come out clean. At the last count they had 432 employees on twitter, all empowered to do whatever it takes to ensure the customer is satisfied. And their CEO Tony Hsieh (@Zappos) is their most enthusiastic tweeter: he leads from the front. As a result they have built up a huge reserve of trust – and therefore loyalty – with their customers.

Amazon, on the other hand, seems to have grown a little to large and a little too impersonal – despite their algorithm-driven ‘recommendations for you’, and all of the great social media tools they incorporate into their site. And if you’ve ever had any issues with Amazon service you’ll know you don’t come out of it feeling like a human being went to great lengths to sort out your problem.

So it seems clear to me that what Amazon are buying, for their $927m, is customer service, plain and simple.

There’s a clear lesson there for lots of other businesses, not least the airlines, who seem to get torn apart on the social web. But I’ll save that for another post.

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Chart of the day

A friend of mine recently hooked me up to the Sillicon Alley Insider and more specifically their Chart of the Day. If you’re a bit of an infographics freak, as I am, then you’ll probably enjoy it. But it’s also a really useful resource for anyone who needs to understand what’s going on in the digital world.

I found the chart from Tuesday 21st (I know, I know, I’m way off the pace!) particularly interesting:

Sillicon Alley Insider Chart Of The Day

As we all know, the power behind the social web is the ability to share content, and it’s therefore crucial for any social network’s long-term viability that users are sharing. This chart shows that more people currently use Facebook to share links than anyone else. Not surprising given that Facebook is the size of a large country (I think it works out at around the 5th most populous). What is interesting is that Twitter, despite having only around one tenth the users of Facebook, is used by half as many people to share content. So (unless my thinking is flawed here), Twitter lends itself more readily to sharing.

There are a couple of points to consider, mostly centred around the fact that the AddToAny tool used to measure the data is biased toward certain web properties. Technorati’s top 5 most influential blogs don’t use the AddToAny widget and so aren’t included in the report, and the figures for email are not recorded accurately. There is also the fact that Yahoo owns a number of the spaces on the chart, and if combines would be second largest.

But even given these objections, I find the chart interesting. I’d actually like to see a chart that shows sharing as a proportion of the number of users – then we could really see the champion space for sharing. Any chance of that, Chart Of The Day?

Chart Of The Day picked up the story from Mashable.

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