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Friday, 21 August 2015

Five things Twitter can do to grow its user base

I was pretty disappointed today to read that Twitter's stock price has fallen below the 2013 IPO price, for the first time. I admit that I am once of those who don't really get Twitter, but the site has a robust base of users who engage regularly and seem to enjoy doing it. What will be crucial for Twitter, going ahead, is to build up a user base in the emerging smartphone/internet markets of SEA, South Asia and Africa. And here, the focus has to be on youth, who still remain the most active social media users.

Here are 5 things that I would do if I were Twitter, to open the doors to new users.

1) Drop the 140 character limit
Last week, Twitter formally dropped the 140 character limit for Direct Messages, acknowledging that people trying to connect through the social media service might want to have a slightly lengthier conversation. I would look at relaxing the character limit on Tweets as well. Would that put off existing users? Maybe, maybe not, and the site can still continue to display only the first 140 characters and cut-off the rest below the break. More importantly, this move would not only bring in new users, but allow existing users to create and consume more content.

I recently read that Facebook is trying to revive Facebook Notes (remember circulating notes on your 10 favorite authors or movies, a few years ago?). LinkedIn is evolving from a recruitment platform to a content publishing platform, with the launch of Pulse and long-form posts. The message is clear - content creation and sharing will will be the core of social media. Twitter needs to see, how they can facilitate that.

2) Be more friendly to other companies
Experience shows that web companies grow and benefit from a collaborative approach. Twitter has bucked the trend by taking a confrontational stance towards external services like Instagram, Meerkat and even to third party developers that served its own user base. I would rather look to greater collaboration to develop ideas and tools that make it easier to post on Twitter. For example, a third party photo sizing app like Canva, which can automatically re-size images and creatives for Twitter. A tweet generator that can create funny or interesting tweets for me. The list can go on.

3) Re-design the mobile experience
Facebook and even LinkedIn, have taken efforts to evolve a differentiated mobile experience - some of their experiments like Facebook Home may not have worked but hey, at least they keep trying. Twitter's mobile interface remains behind the curve (and it does not help that a few years ago, they virtually shut down third party sites and apps who did a better job than they did). Do they need to spin off different sections like direct chats, lists and newsfeeds etc? I think they need to introspect on this. The mobile redesign is crucial  because a lot of Twitter users are silent consumers of content and maybe the company needs to look at a new way of presenting the content to them. People who are there to tweet, chat and interact may find a cleaner, simpler view to be more engaging.

4) Greater integration with media
For whatever reason it may be, Twitter shines when used in conjunction with traditional media - whether it is news, serials, music or movies. There is a fantastic ecosystem of journalists, actors and musicians, their fans and their shows or events, that is waiting to be tapped better. Twitter needs to liase more closely with the media entities/individuals, both on and off-site. For example, can comments on news sites be twitter-powered? Twitter has also undertaken some fabulous experiments with TV producers in the US including Tweet to turn on your television, and live tweets displayed during shows.

5) Using Real Time location to advantage
Twitter shares with Instagram and Four Square, a sense of immediacy and urgency. We associate real time updates, breaking news, and building of conversation trends, with Twitter. This is, in fact, its most powerful and real use. In Mexico, people use Twitter to communicate about shoot-outs and commute safely. In many cities including Mumbai, crowd sourced traffic updates on twitter can help decide routes. In Major disasters, political coups and more, information is unfolded piece by piece, user by user, on Twitter. I always think that Twitter should encourage us to share location data, for our own advantage. It can then help us to buy/order/ ask for quotes from local businesses, including plumbers, gyms, grocers etc. Twitter experimented with a buy button, and I think they should go all out with that. Additionally, Starbucks has partnered with Twitter in the past to do some interesting stuff, including Tweet a Coffee (a gifting program through Twitter) and ordering through a Tweet while standing in line. 

6) Creating Groups or Hangouts
The power of Twitter is to reach out to new people, who are not your friends, or professional circle, unlike Facebook and LinkedIn. You do not have to know them, follow or friend them to interact with them. I think Groups would be a great way for Twitter to bring together enthusiasts with shared interests (lists does not do the same job). 

Thursday, 13 August 2015

No more writer's block : a DIY Content Creation guide

Today everyone realises the importance of blogging, publishing and sharing information as a means of personal branding. This is important if you are an entrepreneur or consultant with a service to offer, a professional who wants to command appeal in the job market, or a senior business leader projecting his/her expertise to potential clients. 

Everyone knows it is important, but few people do it! And I can understand why. For me, content creation is key to new business development, yet it is the first ball to drop when things get busy for me at work.

In this post, I aim to practically address some of the most common barriers to content creation, and offer DIY workarounds that can help tide over busy periods.

1) I don't have the time to write!
This has to be the most common excuse I have heard, especially from senior people with experience, who can potentially share the most valuable content! I understand, but I don't think that this excuse holds. Here are some workarounds for it.
All content need not be original. There is also curated content - stuff that you have read, filtered out from the general mass of information, and shared with your readers. On days and weeks when you feel that you do not have  the bandwidth to create, don't stop curating. I want to draw a distinction between curating and random sharing of links. Curation has to be relevant to your area of interest, expertise and to your target audience. Choose interesting pieces that highlight an ongoing trend, or showcase how your business area (for example - research, analytics etc.) can solve problems. Or simply share very interesting news items that people wouldn't normally stumble across.
So, in a nutshell, even if you don't have the time to write, make the time to read. You can use a good Feed Reader (I use Feedly) to aggregate the news feeds from different sites. Or you could use Twitter Lists, StumbleUpon, Flipboard, or any service that works from you.

2) I have a writer's block
Every writer suffers from writer's block, so it's hardly surprising when people drag their feet over starting a blog, writing a post on LinkedIn, or creating an article for a third party site. Maybe writing long-form posts is not your cup of tea, so here are a few alternatives that you can select from:
a) Put up your presentations on Slideshare
b) If you are a good presenter, consider recording your voice as a narrative on your presentation and uploading it to YouTube
c) Are you a photography buff? Do you find yourself taking pictures when you are out on work? Do you snap interesting pictures that give insight into people, communities or cultures? Visual content is powerful and stimulating and gets lots of eyeballs. Consider creating an Instagram Account or using Tweet Pic. Of course, you can also simply upload your pictures to any social media site.
d) Check out the compact writing style of tech blogger John Gruber on his hugely popular Daring Fireball blog. John typically quotes a news piece or blog and adds two lines on his own opinion. Simple, effective and original, and the reader can take it in without having to spend a long time reading.

3) I'm too busy to spend my day on Facebook!
This is one of the easiest barriers to tackle. Use a social media management tool like BufferHootSuite or TweetDeck. I have a free Buffer Account that lets me schedule the posts for all my social media accounts, even a week in advance. It takes just 5 to 10 minutes to do this, and then I don't have to worry about logging in and posting regularly.

4) I can't find anything to say or share
Many people think that they should only create content that's related to their work or industry. But let's face it, that may not be the content that interests you. For example, though I have an advertising background, digital advertising does not interest me as much as pure technology. I share, and write, around my interests. You will never feel a shortage of things to say if you do this. It can make the process of content creation easier, and also make you look (and feel) interesting!

5) We do great work, but we can't share it due to confidentiality
Many of us are bound by NDAs or confidentiality clauses that prevent us from sharing our work. However, there are two workarounds that still allow us to showcase what we know, without breach of client confidentiality
a. You cannot share data, but your insight, learning and experience are your personal intellectual property, and you can always talk about it.
b. You can tap into the power of re-packaging of content. Re-packaging is a concept that requires an entire post to explain it and I will probably do that later. But as of now, it simply means, milking any content that can be shared, to its maximum potential. Have you done a pro bono project on digital marketing for a charity? It can provide food for several blog posts. Eg. 5 top visual content ideas for non-profits. 5 exciting digital marketing ideas that corporates can learn from non-profits. A slideshare presentation. A LinkedIn post. You get the idea. Whatever is in the public realm, you can maximise its reach and potential.
There are so many new mediums and channels to explore too. Not new to digital media, but new for businesses to try out. Creating courses on Udemy. Live streaming events through UStream, Periscope or Meerkat. Publishing on LinkedIn. And these are just a few.

There is no getting away from the fact that creating quality content on your own requires time and effort. However, neither is it as daunting or time consuming as we feel it is. It is possible to fit some time for content creation into your schedule, and benefit your personal brand image, or your business through it!

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Who really 'gets' Twitter?

Recently, my curiosity was piqued by this admission by the Twitter CFO that the social network has failed to gain a mass base. With 300 million active users, Twitter still reaches only early adopters and tech enthusiasts, according to Anthony Noto, and non-users are still left with the question, "why should I use Twitter?" No one asks why they should use Facebook - rather people feel compelled to give reasons why they do not use it. 
When I posted this news item on my own Facebook page, I accompanied it with an admission of my own - that I do not use Twitter as extensively, or as well, as I use Facebook. I was surprised by the number of people who popped up and agreed that they never 'got' Twitter - including a couple of friends with hugely popular blogs. All of us are social media users, and a new medium should not be hard to master. Some of my own friends are expert twitterati, and are more than happy to explain to me how Twitter works and what I should be doing on it.
But it's not that I don't know what to do, it's just that I don't enjoy it. It seems to me, as a qualitative researcher, that there must be a segment of people who are Twitter users, versus those who are not. And I don't mean in terms of demographics, but rather, the user mindset and attitude. 
First of all, I do not agree entirely with Noto's statement that Twitter only reaches early adopters. Two shining examples in my own household contradict his statement - my parents are both retired and they have taken to Twitter like a duck takes to water. My mom routes all her customer service complaints through Twitter. Dad pitches into political arguments, and his comments get retweeted more than a dozen times a day. Both of them read the news every morning through their Twitter Feed, since we stopped the newspaper at home 6 months ago. And I am the so-called tech enthusiast who does not get Twitter. By admitting this, I am being uncool :)
Here is my take on people who gravitate towards Twitter:
1) My guess is that people on Twitter prefer to have a control over the kind of online persona they build, rather than being 'out there' as real people, which Facebook forces them to do. My parents for example, are violently anti-Facebook. The last thing they want, is to advertise their opinions and activities to people that they know. They both started using Twitter because they could stay anonymous and browse to their heart's content. Once they were comfortable, they began to tweet.
2) They are interested in both participating in, and following, opinions and debates on current topics. On Facebook, I rarely get into debates or arguments with my friends. We agree on most major issues (that's probably why we are friends!). I would avoid getting into controversies with ex or current colleagues or clients. But Twitter is a place where one can express controversial opinions and disagree strongly with strangers opinions. What trends on Twitter? The current topics of discussion which invariably offer a chance to take either side. People take sides, and often dispose of opposition with very crude/rude remarks. This also ties in with the earlier point I made. When you preserve your anonymity, it makes it easier to participate in arguments with strangers, and express strong views.
3) They actually want to make new, like-minded friends. Some years ago, when I had more free time than I do now, I was an active member of several tech forums and discussion groups. There I made an entirely new set of friends - people in different countries whom I would never meet - but who shared a common passion or interest with me. As I became busier, I could barely manage to stay connected even to my first circle of friends. Along with Whatsapp, Facebook became a way to manage these connections, and that became a priority over engaging with new people. But there are people for whom the priority is to engage with newer people, for both personal and professional reasons. Paradoxically, the Twitter user may be more extroverted than the Facebook user, though both need to be sociable people. 
Do note, that none of these may apply if you are using Twitter purely for professional reasons eg. to build your business. Rather, this is about the personality type of people who naturally gravitate to Twitter.
One of my friends rightly pointed out to me that it's not fair to compare Facebook and Twitter as they serve different purposes entirely. I guess what it boils down to, is that we have limited time and need to make a choice of where we spend more time. For the sake of my business, I might make an effort to maintain a strong presence on every key social media platform. But when it comes to my personal life, I will make a trade off, and chances are, I will end up spending time where I am more comfortable.
If you have experience or data to share, I would love to hear it!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Beyond kittens and Aunty Acid - 5 social media tips for B2B Marketers

If you are a B2B marketer, you are probably on the horns of a dilemma, where social media is concerned. 

You are not out to win a popularity contest, hence metrics like number of fans and likes may not matter much to you. You do want your content to reach out to the right audiences. But are they even there?

You have nothing to sell at the click of a button, but you do need to drive traffic to your website so people can get an idea of the (often complex) nature of the work that you do. After that, you hope that they will keep you in their consideration set, for the long decision making cycle that exists in the B2B sector. And you wonder if social media is upto the job, or whether you should put your faith in good old SEM and SEO.

You see that clients, media and prospects are active in social media and you would like to garner some benefit of visibility for yourself. But sometimes you wonder if more kittens, koalas and Aunty Acid are all that people are looking for. Do people seriously expect to get information from social media, or are they looking for more jokes to share in Whatsapp groups?

You have been told that spending is beneficial, spends are highly trackable through detailed analytics and you will get a complete picture of the ROI. But you are not yet even sure, if anything concrete is achieved through this medium. You do not have gigantic media budgets, and there are always bigger priorities than social media spends.

If your thoughts are along these lines, welcome to the club! All the B2B clients that I have worked with deal with these questions on a daily basis. I do not pretend to have definitive answers, but here are some areas that you can look at

1) Connect with the right people
Are their specific individuals, decision makers, influencers and institutions that you want to connect with through social media? Then connect with them - not just by following them or asking them to like your page. Interact with them. That's what social media is made for - one on one interactions. Of course, interactions needs to be at a reasonable time interval, so that you are not bothering them. And they need to be relevant. Maybe you are sharing a news story that is of interest to them. Maybe its a report or paper that you think they would like to read. Reach out individually, and thoughtfully with tailored content. Ask for their opinion on a topical issue related to business eg. taxation, laws, technology etc. You will start building 'engagement' (that beautiful social media term!) rather than just tweet/post counts. Keep the 'social' in the media.

2) Get employees involved
Employees have product knowledge and experience, which cannot be substituted by an external creative agency or copywriter lacking the technical background. It makes sense to motivate, and even incentivise employees to write blogs, tweet, post photos or share articles for social media. Young team members can be given charge of this activity, if you do not want to appoint a dedicated social media manager. Remember, the most interesting thing about social media, is people. If people are hands-on with your social media, it will make your presence interesting and 'alive'.

3) Find what interesting content you can share
Social media need not be only about product information. Companies like Oracle and Microsoft showcase their employee profiles and company culture through their Facebook and Instagram accounts. Maersk has a Captain's blog, and recounts information about life at sea. Every organisation has interesting stories, or the founders have interesting insights and perspectives. Decide what mix of content you want to showcase, and have a plan for generating and collating it. You do not need to post everyday, but 2-3 times a week will keep the account alive.

3) Get Visual
Visual content need not involve hiring expensive designers or freelancers. It can just consist of awesome photos, including ones shared by employees and users. Maersk and GE both operate hugely popular Instagram accounts, considering that neither directly touches consumers' lives through their core business. Maersk posts some amazing pictures of ships, and GE, of products that are powered by its technology including aeroplanes, wind turbines etc. The ever-evolving phone camera technology has made it simpler to click and edit high quality snaps on the fly, and this can definitely be used to boost your social media.

4) Give away generously
You cannot run contests and promotions as a B2B company, but you can share your knowledge and insights, and this is what will build brand image, and create respect for your company. Share interesting news, write white papers, compile statistics - whatever you can do, which is above and beyond pure promotion, will be appreciated. This is not a short term, but long term activity. Knowledge capital is invaluable and content based on knowledge will always find traction. Companies in the development sector like MicroSave and the Helix Foundation, regularly publish white papers, case studies and notes on ongoing projects, which help to increase the knowledge of the community as a whole, while also demonstrating their work and skill. Marketing software experts HubSpot and Moz, write fantastic blogs and freely share content that drives prospective clients and new business.

5) Have fun, and a sense of humor
No one ever said that B2B companies need to be boring and staid in their imagery, but often that seems to be treated as the unspoken rule! Humor works especially well on Twitter, where people are at their wittiest best. There are not too many examples of B2B brands that do well at humor, but HootSuite, the social media management platform, is a great example. So is supply chain management company Kinaxis. Both brand subtly use humor in social media, through visuals and choice of words (Hootsuite famously launched its new dashboard with the copy 'Hootsuite's UI looks like crap!", spoofing Jimmy Kimmel's mean Tweet series. Office humor would work just as well too.

There is a huge opportunity waiting for B2B brands in social media, because  it's a space where not too many have cracked a formula for success. Your brand could be the one to forge a path for itself. 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Welcome to the new 'push web' (WWW is dead!)

Dries Buytaert is the founder and lead programmer of Drupal, the open source CMS (Content Management System) that powers millions of websites around the world. When he speaks, it certainly makes a lot of sense to listen. Here's what he has to say about the future of the web, on his blog:

The current web is "pull-based", meaning we visit websites or download mobile applications. In the next 10 years, we will witness a transformation from a pull-based web to a push-based web. In the future, content, products and services will find you, rather than you having to find them. Puma will let us know to replace our shoes and Marriott will automatically present you room options if you missed your connecting flight....The dominant function of the web is to let us know what is happening or what is relevant, rather than us having to find out.

Sceptical? Disagree? No one can predict anything with 100% accuracy in the dynamic mobile age, yet some of the things Buytaert speaks about, are already unfolding around us. 

Google Now in its latest avtaar, embodies this principle. It (scarily) always knows too much about you. From where you have parked your car, to surprising you by pulling your flight details out of your Inbox, to turning emails into Calendar Appointments. You might be put off by it, but if you are like me, you may keep it enabled, simply because it is fascinatingly convenient.

Well, the future looks like more of the same.

1. Proximity based marketing 
Gone are the days when we need to ask people to log in, check in, or even open an app, to interact with our product, service or brand. It's a few years since Apple introduced the iBeacon technology to the world, and just now, Google has introduced their own version of it. Beacons are simply, Bluetooth transmitters that push information to smartphone apps that are tuned to listen to them. Let's say that I am at Croma, drooling over the latest display of top-end smartphones. And I happen to have the Croma App (or any Tata app) on my phone. A beacon transmitter located nearby judges where I am standing, and pushes me an offer - 10% discount on the HTC M9! Walking past a KFC, at lunch time? A beacon can push a meal offer to passersby, increasing the chance of footfalls.

Few organisations have learnt yet, how to deploy beacons efficiently, yet this is set to change. Now that Google has anounced their own open source Bluetooth beacons, we should definitely see larger scale deployment.

2. App Engagement through personalisation
If you have used Amazon for some time, you would have appreciated how accurately they assess your purchase preferences to target you thoughtfully, with products you want. I have never received general promotions from Amazon, only specific to products that I have spent active time considering - coffee machines, cookware, books, audio equipment....the list continues. That was in the desktop era, now in the mobile era, apps are taking a cue from these tactics with the added advantage that mobile data is highly personalised, and experiences can be customised for each viewer. Apps quickly understand what you are interested in from your first one or two uses, and then try to shape what they offer to your personal taste, supplemented by information from Facebook Logins. Analytics plays a big role here - I wanted to buy a Nexus 6 and I was googling for reviews, so Google Now presents me with Nexus 6 user op-eds every day. Not only that, it presents reviews of competition phones in a similar spec and price bracket, making me curious. Many e-commerce apps claim to practice re-engagement but the two examples I have chosen, are from the companies who do it best for me. I am sure we will see more and better examples soon. For instance, e-commerce companies can present top reviews, rather than just low prices and promotions. Myntra is already taking this route, by giving style and fashion tips through its app, rather than pure sales. So is Urban Ladder. 

3. The Internet of Things through your smartphone
People have been speaking of the Internet of Things for a long time, and now, smartphones will make it practically possible. Manufacturers will take a long time to change processes ie. a talking toaster may be a novelty prototype but it will take a lot of time and cost a lot of money to bring it into production. But your phone already comes with lots of capabilities inbuilt. It has multiple sensors for light, movement, temperature etc. And it has multiple connectivity options like Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-fi, IR etc.

It's easy to put a module in any equipment, to connect with your phone through bluetooth or even the legacy Infrared port. For example, some mobiles already allow you to control your TV through the IR Blaster option. A home surveillance manufacturer I interacted with, discontinued working on designing an expensive monitoring device, in favor of using a mounted smartphone. It reduced the cost of his device by more than half, potentially opening up a much wider market. Car navigation systems are struggling to survive, as Navigation on Google Maps can do the same job. Eventually, you will also see the iOT in your car work through apps that connect to your phone to log mileage, control the music and more (and this already happens with manufacturers like Ford connecting their in-car multimedia systems to your smartphone through an app. Expect to see the smartphone, as the nerve center of smart homes, in the not-so-distant future!

Friday, 29 May 2015

Three pre-requisites to build a successful app in India

1) Think Light

While I was putting together a presentation on Digital Trends in Asia Pacific, a blog post written by LightSpeed India Venture Partners caught my attention. It makes an observation that while the ideal app size is 10-15 MB globally, in India and other emerging markets, it is less than 5 MB. Conversion rates dip by 50% for games and apps larger than 15 MB. And that is not surprising, in a country where 2G connections outnumber 3G, and according to a graph by the International Labor Organisation, it takes 17 hours work at the minimum wage to pay for a 500 MB data plan.

(Source : JANA Blog)

It is the age of the 'light web' when apps need to be otpimised, cloud based and play nice with low/slow/intermittent data connections.

2) Think Brand Building

It is not a co-incidence that chat apps like Line and WeChat with millions-strong user bases, are into horizontal diversification. Line has piloted a grocery ordering service in Thailand and WeChat, a beauty services location business in South Africa. Uber has launched UberCargo in Hong Kong as a logistics business to hire vans to transport your goods.

There are more than 1 million apps apiece in the Android and Apple App Stores and app discovery is increasingly becoming a challenge. Brand building, through capitalising on the existing user base, is a great way to reduce the cost and risk of app discovery and keep engaging with current users.

With Indian online startups going the mass media route, and tying up with celebrities for promotion, it seems reasonable to assume that they will also look at brand building strategies similar to those in other Asian markets.

3) Think retention
Research from Appetetive shows that after  install, the average app retention rate is around 57% if the app reaches out to engage the user in the first week after install. By the second week, it drops by more than half to 25% if the app does nothing.

Retention strategies are crucial for apps because as we know from our own experience, we download apps, get bored, or forget about them, or delete them to make way for new apps.

User engagement depends on collecting detailed analytics on user behaviour and interests, which is more easy with mobile apps, than with the web. But this information also needs to translate into effective strategies and actions that prompt users to come back and use the app more often.