Tag Archives: twitter

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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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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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.


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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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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Blogs, Twitter and old-school media

Nice graphical piece from one of our favouritesgood.is. Apparently, a study byjournalism.org in the US has found that most of the thousands of stories that are passed around the internet via blogs and twitter each day are actually generated by “old-school media” – ie the press.

What The Tweet

This should come as no surprise. There is a myth that the web is full of ‘free content’, that blogs and twitter can replace traditional media, which patently isn’t true. Someone pays the journalists who write these stories. That bloggers read the stories and then comment on them via blog posts, or tweeters distribute the stories by linking to them in no way replaces the origination of those stories. As they say over at Good: “We may like to share information via Twitter, but the information we share comes from the morning’s newspaper”.

There has been a lot of discussion around how to monetise online content, and with Murdoch’s empire erecting paywalls and the Guardian’s championing of free content leading to large losses for GMG, we seem to be on the cusp of working out a paradigm. Although no-one seems to have come up with a new model that isn’t advertising-funded or reader-funded.

Either way, this study seems to show that old-school media consumption is alive and well, regardless of who pays.

I’d like to see the figures from journalism.org – the proportion of stories shared that come from ‘old media’ – as the post and infographic on Good don’t furnish us with that information. But I would imagine any Twitter user or blogger instinctively feels the truth behind the claim.

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