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This is a 5 star blog post

21 Sep

This is a 5 star blog post… or is it a 1 star blog post? Well you’re reading it, you decide. The star rating is the grandfather of social validation and review mechanisms. Migrating from the hospitality industry it moved to the entertainment industry before slipping effortlessly onto websites where it makes perfect sense for our attention deficit, fragmented, time-poor online world.

Copeland image: The problem with star ratings.With a single click you can sum up your entire experience of a product, service, or entity and be off to your next online destination. Conversely, no time to investigate a product? Just check the star rating. Everyone wins? Well no, and for the typical implementation of star rating systems here’s why:

It’s too democratic
The leveling power of the Internet has done some wonderful things. Bypassing the media, it has given a voice to people where previously their frustrations and delight would be confined to a small circle of friends and peers.

Mainstream social media hasn’t addressed this yet, but its problem is that in many ways influence and positioning vastly overshadow experience & knowledge. That’s for another post, but in the context of star ratings it means that everyone has the same level of authority when they rate something. So what’s wrong with that?

Well, should you really be allowed to rate something if you’ve never actually bought the product or experienced the service yourself? Why should you have the power to influence others based on hear-say, or worse, in the pursuit of an ill-informed agenda? Especially considering your star rating is elevated to the same level of influence as someone who actually paid for the product or service.

A star rating for a meal or movie accounts for a passive activity with a very short timeline. Should it be applied to a complex product or service with which you interact for a period of months or years? The blanket democracy takes no account of whether you read the instructions, ignored the warnings, let alone whether you paid for the product.

It’s open to abuse
Running a campaign or launching a product? Why not just buy 5 star reviews. Or go the extra step and buy 1 star reviews to be applied to your competitors.

Electronic Arts suffered the wrath of agenda driven star rating abuse when they released Spore, a PC game with what was seen by consumers as having  draconian anti-piracy measures. An organised backlash resulted in 837 1 star reviews being posted on Amazon within days, many by people who had never bought the game. Maybe this was a fair rating of the anti-piracy features, but it tarred every aspect of the product with the same brush.

It amplifies inherent bias.
If you pass my imaginary gate for people who have actually paid for the product then we run into the next huge failing. Inherent bias.
If you’ve committed to the point where you shell out money for a product or service then you’re pre-disposed to like it. There’s also the documented need to validate our decision. If you’ve ever looked for a review of a movie after you’ve watched it, or searched for a product review for the gadget sitting next to you on your sofa, as I have, then you’re probably looking for approval via social validation. You’ll be inclined to leave a higher rating as a result.

At the other end of the scale are those looking to assuage their anger with a 1 star review. What star ratings don’t show is the vast majority of people who find the product satisfactory. Have you ever taken the time to rate, or review  something that you were mildly pleased with, or was satisfactory? This evangelism amplifies both end of the scale, leaving the middle ground in a vacuum. It’s the reason youtube is looking for alternatives to star ratings. And if they are I’d wager the big e-commerce sites are as well.

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You hired a social media saboteur

24 Aug

social media saboteurSocial media strategies. All too often they appear to be ill-informed and poorly implemented. I suspect the working of social media saboteurs. This is how they work…

Client, in this case a Co-op: “We sell some great local products in our stores. We want to increase consumer awareness and appreciation of our supplier’s food products. We’re thinking of some sort of people’s choice award.”

Social Media Saboteur: “Building awareness eh? Well social media is huge right now so let’s run a contest using Facebook. We’ll ask people on Facebook to vote in a contest.”

Co-op: “Great, we already have a Facebook page, so I guess they vote with some kind of status updates maybe?”

SM Saboteur: “Well we could do that, but we’re going to use the Like button, that way we can trick people into receiving product updates.”

Co-op: “I see, well we do love the people who already Like our supplier’s products.”

SM Saboteur: “The real fans? We don’t want them to vote.”

Co-op: “er… what?”

SM Saboteur: “Nope, don’t need ’em.”

Co-op: “Well er… oh I get it, you’re suggesting we should focus on new audiences in other channels.”

SM Saboteur: [chuckles] “Of course not, why waste effort on an unknown entity? Everyone is on Facebook.”

Co-op: “So let me see if I’ve got this straight? We’ll run a contest for mildly engaged customers on Facebook. When they vote we’ll subscribe them to product updates. They’ll start loving the product and buy more?”

SM Saboteur: “Bingo!” [fires two imaginary pistols in the air and blows smoke from the barrels]

Sounds far fetched doesn’t it? Well this is exactly the perception I get when I looked at the Co-op’s Eat Atlantic Food product of the year award, One of a number of Co-op campaign initiatives currently running on the Canadian east coast.

The award component is being run as a public vote. And as is so often the case these days, the strategist appears to have defaulted to Facebook as the platform to run the competition. I’m not saying Facebook isn’t suitable for social marketing. If the product(s) and the goals align with the platform then it can be a match made in heaven, and in this case the products are actually better suited to Facebook than most, but in this case the goals and implementation fall far short of their potential.

I’ll explain and, acknowledging that just picking holes in something doesn’t really advance anyone’s knowledge, I’ll provide some ways the campaign elements might have been improved.

The saboteur’s aims:

To limit the reach:
In a news article in the Times and Transcript, Romeo Cormier, manager of public affairs at the Co-Op explains the Award are part of a campaign to:

“…raise consumer awareness and appreciation for the world-class food products made here in Atlantic Canada.”

A competitive vote is a perfectly acceptable way to motivate fans to spread the word, but the nominated products were solicited from existing Facebook fans and Facebook is used as the voting mechanism. In effect this is severely limiting the reach by only targeting existing fans on one platform.

Alternate strategy: Expand the reach of the contest. Provide each nominated supplier with a suite of tools and simple solutions to encourage them to get votes from their customers. Tweet badges for websites, suggested email copy for mailing lists, incentivise voters with a decent prize for a random voter for the winning product. Send sample packs of nominated products to influential East coast food bloggers. There’s a whole world beyond Facebook.

To exclude most of the voters:
To vote, you have to Like the product on Facebook. This seems like a great way to increase engagement by subscribing people to future updates, but there’s a huge failing here. Fans can’t vote if they’ve previously Liked the product. This is a huge mistake! It excludes brand ambassadors from voting. The very people who are going to wave the flag for you are the ones you want to activate and encourage.

An alternate strategy: If you’re targeting Facebook then the status update mechanism will allow anyone on Facebook to vote, existing fan or otherwise. More importantly, allow people to vote with the tools they’re comfortable with. A lot of people are on Facebook sure, but your biggest fans might not be. Make it easy for them and allow votes to be submitted from different platforms. There may be duplicate votes, but this can only expand reach which ultimately is the goal.

To give the favourites a head start.
The contest rules suggest that the winner will be decided by the most likes. The current contest leader had approx 700 Likes at the start of the contest. They can quite comfortably ignore the competition, go on holiday and still win by a landslide. Even more troubling is that the landing page always displays the nominees in the same order. Guess who is in the favored top spot on the page? Yup, the runaway favorite.

Alternate strategy: Level the playing field. You’re not going to build a competitive spirit by giving Michael Phelps a 90m head-start in the 100m freestyle. Set all the competitors at zero votes and introduce a way to track votes within the timeline of the competition, e.g. subject lines in email votes, SMS shortcodes, hashtags in tweets etc. This gives the smaller suppliers a chance in one arena that they can compete with the big boys; community engagement, and energising ambassadors with one-to-one communication.
When displaying the nominees, randomise the list for each site visitor, ensuring everyone get’s a chance to appear at the top.

To ignore the original goal
The voting page displays each nominee, a logo and the infamous Like button… and that’s it. Looking back at the original goal, the execution falls way short on the aims.

Alternate strategy:
Address the goal of promoting “appreciation for the world-class food products” right on the vote landing page. Alongside each product display customer testimonials, celebrate the local ingredients, get some product insight from the farmer/manufacturer. This is going to expose voters to a broader range of products and help fulfill the aim of raising consumer awareness.

Ultimately every aspect of the competition should be checked against the goals.

Essential tips for choosing domain names

19 Jul

In a previous post on choosing a name for your business Doug provided 6 great tips for naming your business. As a companion piece I wanted to provide some tips on securing a domain name, aka URL or web address.

Business domain names come under a multitude of categories. Real words like Amazon, compounds like Facebook, mispellings such as Flickr (there’s a great rundown on naming categories at the nameinspector). Choosing a domain name to represent your business online  takes time and insight, but it’s worth the investment to avoid settling on a domain name that that no-one can spell or remember.

chosing a domain nameChoose the right keywords.
If you’re looking to find a descriptive name based on a familiar B2C service offering e.g. mortgage advisor / tool rental, then the chances of obtaining a single common term as a domain name are good as finding a capable husband in a TV ad so you’re going to have to mix and match terms.

List the common keywords for your category of business. Listing the terms your customers use, rather than more appropriate industry terms will make your domain easier to find. If still you’re itching to explain the difference between concrete and cement then you can educate customers once they arrive at your website.

Once you’ve got your terms, play with combinations. The results will get you off to a great start, and these names can be great supporting domains for your brand, but are unlikely to provide a the distinctiveness that comes with a great business and domain name. For that you need to…

Stand Out
To stand out you should look at options that convey the personality or USP your business. This step will be informed by the previous one, but often requires an external perspective and customer insight. An agency or branding consultant can provide this, and suggest business and domain names that are more distinctive and compelling than just a combination of words. It’s the reason HomeDepot.ca isn’t HomeRenovationStore.ca, and ConnectHearing.ca isn’t HearingTreatmentAndDevices.ca

Make it easy to remember
When you’ve got a draft list from the previous steps, read them out loud, ideally to someone who hasn’t been part of your initial selection. Can they repeat each one without correction or asking you to repeat it? If a potential customer mentions your company in a conversation or sees the name on the side of a truck they’re not going to have the luxury of a clickable link or hard-copy reference. Recall is vital for word-of-mouth referral.

Keeping it short will help here with the added bonus of being easier to implement in marketing materials.

Check company registers
Does a similar name exist, or has the same name been registered in another countries top level domain? Even if you consider your chosen domain to be noticeably different to an existing one, if it’s likely to cause confusion in the mind of the consumer, you could be on shaky legal ground. Check company and business registration listings in your country and get legal advice if you’re still not sure.

Make it easy to spell
If someone can’t spell your business name, they may not find you online. Relying on spellcheckers or Google’s Did you mean… suggestions are a lot more risky than simply choosing an easier keyword combination.

If you have to choose a domain name with potential spelling difficulties then…

Predict spelling mistakes
In Doug’s post on choosing a name for your business he profiled two sole-proprieter businesses named after their strongest assets… the people themselves. Both have names that can be easily misspelled.

In this instance list the obvious misspellings. You’ll probably know some of these already from years of receiving mail. One of my tricks to find misspellings is to type a proposed domain names as quickly as possible ten times. You’ll find common miss-keys this way. If you can touch-type then ask someone with less advanced typing skills to do this for you.

If your business name incorporates numbers, then add versions with the numbers spelled out to your list.

Decide on your market
If you’re market is local or national then it’s a no-brainer to register your country specific top level domain such as .ca .us .uk, but you should also register the .com if available, especially if you ship a product abroad or offer an international service. A .com domain name carries its own weight in brand value and awareness so add it to your stable of names.

From a usability stand-point many web users are unaware that country specific suffixes exist  and assume that all websites end in .com so why exclude them? Plus it’s worth noting that Firefox and IE have built in shortcuts that add www. and .com to a term entered into the address bar.

Commit
Once you have a chosen name, add the misspellings, miss-keyed and alternative domain names then register them all, yes all of them. Is the minimal cost of a years domain registration worth losing leads for?  You can easily re-direct them to a chosen central domain name that is the location for your website.

Register each domain name for more than a year. This demonstrates commitment to your customers that you’re serious about your venture. Admittedly, the majority of customers aren’t going to see how long you register the domain name for, but it is freely available information. A long registration suggests credibility, with the added bonus of giving you a little more search juice in the eyes of Google.

6 reasons why Google+ will Zuckerpunch Facebook

13 Jul

Simply put, Google = search, Facebook = social, but when Facebook’s 2006 deal with Microsoft expanded to include search, Google got nervous. If the world’s largest social network could offer full search then why would you go anywhere else?
Fast forward and we’d all have to name our children based on availability of profile names, likes would replace exam results, BBQ invites to friends would have to be approved by the Lords of Facebook… digital apocalypse!

Google+ squares up to FacebookStepping back to reality, Google needs a social product in order to protect its search empire. Initial offerings Google Wave & Buzz were overly complex and poorly received, but its latest offering, Google+, looks to have the cojones to square up to Facebook’s dominance of the social domain.

It’s early days, but a few of us here have been playing with Google+ for a week or so  and here are 6 reasons why I think it can step into the ring.

1. The +1 button
If you haven’t seen it already then you will shortly see the Google +1 button appear alongside other social media icons on a website near you. It functions much like the Facebook Like button as a way to quickly flag something to your social network.

The difference is that the +1 button also appears alongside Google search results and if like me and millions of others, you sign into gmail in the morning, you’re going to start seeing those +1s a lot more than Facebook’s Like button. As your social contacts click those +1s their preferences will appear in your search results bringing the incredible power of peer-review to Google search, a feature that was until now, missing.

2. SEO & Control
Google have suggested that people clicking on +1 for your content will boost your web-site’s placement in search results. Dutch company SEOeffect detailed an experiment in using the +1 to augment their search rankings and found a strong positive effect.

If placing a +1 button on your website can improve search ranking and ultimately traffic to your website, this is a going to be a huge draw for millions of website owners, brand managers and stakeholders uneasy about ceding control over their loaned content by placing it on Facebook.

3. Integration
If you use one of the legion of google apps, then you’ll notice that Google+ is built into the suite interface. You can monitor all Google+ events (updates, messages, etc.) as well as share content while reading gmail or composing a letter in Google docs. A visit to Facebook requires a new browser window and login. While hardly a back-breaking chore in itself, good user experience and usability is about streamlining tasks, removing small hurdles and making the actual interaction invisible.

4. Usability
When Facebook moved the messages notification, it took me months for me to find it again, and I’ve only recently figured out that control+return let’s you force a line break in the message/update panel and not submit a partially composed update or message.
With lessons learned from Wave and Buzz, Google+ seems to have the got the balance right and delivered a product with solid user experience and clarity, sprinkled with some charming touches. It makes the usability mess that are the peripheral functions in Facebook look old fashioned.

5. Filtering
Understanding that people have different relationships with one another and what offends one audience may delight another, Google has created a simple way for user to group people. Called Circles, they allow you to choose which group will see a particular update and provide a way to filter the stream of incoming updates. Filtering is the strength of apps such as Tweetdeck and it’s still surprising to me that it hasn’t been added to the core of Facebook with its ‘everybody sees everything’ approach.

6. Curation
Built into Google+ is a service called Sparks. Think of it as an RSS reader. Sparks will find content based on your interests, but its strength is its integration into the Google+ interface. It has the same sharing functionality as the streams for your Circles so sharing is effortless. Facebook doesn’t have any curation functionality other than what your friends have already found or what’s served to you via ads. Another + for Google (excuse the pun).

HSBC you’re not for ME

3 May

I recently made a trip to France and, along the way, posted on any and all available surfaces of the airports in Victoria, Vancouver, London, and Nice were ads for HSBC.

HSBC gets full applause for their media buy. The frequency of their ads was tremendously high and the placement perfect for their corporate emphasis on personalized global service.

But that’s where the fan fare ends.

Each of their ads state some bold fact about the world and then remark that “The world belongs to those who see potential”

I found the facts to be interesting, but what really bothered me was their presumed correlation between A and Z. Still now, I can’t honestly see how the two parts of their ads relate to each other.

What potential lies in the fact that only 4% of American films are produced by woman compared to 25% in Iran?

This is an idea that to me fell flat. An idea that makes sense to someone in a boardroom- someone who already knows the answer. Unlike ad agencies and companies alike, consumers don’t know a company inside and out. They can’t recite a company’s corporate mission statement or regurgitate the brand promise.  Each ad therefore has to able to stand on its own.  

Ads should make you think and leave you wanting more. They definitely shouldn’t leave you confused.

Ads have to be intriguing but they also have to pay off- Make you laugh, show you a solution, or move you emotionally. These ads just left me scratching my head.

Check Out ‘Checking In’

18 Jan

The key to effective social media marketing tactics is to develop genuine, meaningful relationships with your followers/friends.  Some business are aware of this, yet continue to shoot out mindless chatter about new products or upcoming events because they’re not sure how to deliver a more valuable or engaging message.

So what works?

Through designing campaigns around check-ins, companies are creating awareness and attracting and engaging their fans.

Facebook Places, for example, is location-based like foursquare and allows friends to share where they have been.  It was launched in August and is quickly becoming an impressive marketing tool for businesses.

In Australia, for example, Onitsuka Tiger by Asics launched a popular awareness campaign for Sydney Bicycle Film Festival using Facebook Places.  Over this 4 day festival, there were 10 designated check-in points which were featured as ‘Onitsuka Tiger Check-in Points.’  For a chance to win a souped-up bike and Onitsuka Tiger goodies, contestants had to check-in to 3 of the 10 points then answer a question on the Onitsuka Facebook wall.

Their results?  50% of the event’s attendees checked in as soon as they arrived.
Another great interactive awareness campaign using Facebook Places was launched by the Westfield Valley Fair shopping center of Santa Clara, CA.  The goal of the campaign was to bring bodies into the mall and to promote its stores.   In exchange for checking in, shoppers receive 15-30% off coupons to specific stores.


Westfield reported their campaign to be successful and currently have over 4,000 check-ins.
These types of campaigns are effective because they’re interactive and reward their participants.  The means of using Facebook Places and prompting your fans to go to various check-in points provides a sense of adventure, while placing incentives behind your social media campaign gives your customers a purpose.

Why everyone hates the BBC news website redesign

22 Jul

tasty poutineThe BBC has recently redesigned its news website… and the consensus  is that people hate it. Not my words, hate crops up time and time again in the comments that appeared in BBC Editor Steve Herman’s blog post introducing the new look. Also present are disappointing, awful, horrid, ugly, appalling, disgusting and a whole host of terms that would be put to better use describing what Poutine looks like.

There are some positive reactions, but the overwhelming majority are negative, with a few going as far as saying they’d stop using the site and go elsewhere, although I suspect they won’t. For the record, I love it; so to understand what might be driving the comments it’s worth considering a few things:

Updating a site of this size is a huge undertaking and a substantial investment of time, effort and money. This isn’t something that the BBC’s design and technical teams wouldn’t undertake without good reason; especially when you consider that bbc.co.uk’s global reach of all daily internet traffic is 2%, of which half of visits are to the news site.

The design team mentions that they talked to audience groups, held one-to-one user testing sessions, and invited several thousand visitors to try a prototype. Unless the design team decided to ignore all their findings you can be sure that we wouldn’t be seeing the new design it if it wasn’t an improvement, so why the disconnect?

I suspect there’s a couple of factors at play here. Firstly, there’s a common adage online that your competition is only a click away. Whilst this is true, users will often learn to cope with a site’s problems and sub-consciously work around them. User will even go so far as to blame themselves for a site’s failings, assuming that they’re at fault or ‘just missing something’.

This behaviour is especially strong if a site’s content is good, and the onerous alternative is conduct a possibly lengthy search for an alternative. Once a user has learned their way around a site’s problems, they become invisible. This acceptance is what leads people to get upset by change, even if it’s for the better.

I remember when the previous BBC News website was new. Thinking back, I remember finding the huge amount of information and links bewildering. Now stop and consider how someone with cognitive difficulties would struggle and you can see what might be driving a re-design. Especially as the BBC has a remit to be accessible to all.

social validationI also think there’s a very strong degree of social validation occurring here. However much we like to think of ourselves as strong-minded individuals, we have a desire to conform and be accepted by others. In this instance I suspect a few strong negative reactions started to influence the opinion of others. This effect is magnified as more people join in. The effect can be so strong that it can make someone question their own first impressions and reverse their opinions.

To end, I’d suggest that if you waited a year and offered all the people posting negative comments the choice of going back to the previous site? Most would reject the offer.

So until the next redesign and corresponding outcry, I’d be interested to hear what you think of the new design?

P.S. it’s fine if  you don’t love it.