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Twitter goes ‘pop’?

Is Twitter peaking or perching?

Is Twitter peaking or perching?

For those of you who hate Twitter, then this chart might be music to your ears (rather than tweets). For those of you who actually find the service to be rather useful then you might read this chart with a sense of incredulity. Take your pick.

BBC – dot.life: Has Twitter’s popularity peaked? http://ow.ly/jW6r

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Spring Sunshine Brightens a Desperate London Book Fair

LBF had an "air of desperation"  

LBF had an “air of desperation”

The sunshine yesterday in the city put a gloss on a seemingly lightly visited London Book Fair. The immediate view below the LBF banners when walking out of Earl’s Court tube stations were the numerous people outside enjoying the bright Spring day while puffing their last cigarette of hope. There were small groups of people quietly talking to each other or into their mobile phones, but there was no great buzz. Melodramatic maybe but the Fair seemed strangely subdued.

Inside, I had one meeting with a publisher lined up and an hour to kill, so I wandered over to the ‘Digital Zone’. Looking at it on the map, it was a yellow section at the far end of the exhibition. To get to the ‘Zone’ I had to make my way through children’s books, computer books, military books, distributors, printers and publishing recruitment consultants.

The computer books people I know well and, fortunately, they have been investing in digital technology for a long time to diversify their business offerings. Retail was tough but their online, direct business was starting to make them returns.

The children’s section seemed remarkably empty with several stands which you would expect to be busy looking more like a back street restaurant on a wet Monday night judging by the number of empty tables laid out for doing deals. The military book publisher looked busy. War always generates good wealth!

I bumped into an old contact who runs a large ‘print-on-demand’ business who was expanding his empire and his career nicely. On demand seems and its efficiencies seemed to be doing well. Distributors looked busy but I could see an interesting placement of a shipper and a distributor stand near to an eBook company. The fun that the show organisers must have when allocating space to their clients. Do they think like a ‘reality TV’ producer to see if they can make sparks fly?

Oh, and the recruitment consultancy stand was busy. Quelle surprise? 

And, now, I was at the ‘Digital Theatre’. But, theatre was an exaggeration. It had enough seats for about fifteen and, so, on arrival I could see there was a crowd of people spilling out watching a salesman (who had a quasi-antipodean-Dutch accent) from an eBook company explaining about the “global audience” his customers can reach with his product without the need for Royal Mail, UPS or FedEx to get their dirty hands anywhere near your products.

Bolted onto the theatre was the ‘Sony Reader Lounge’ which had several leather seats and sofas and a single Sony Reader bolted onto a table. Where was the fun in that? I am not sure if I needed a ticket to have a play with the device. Could Sony not afford anymore of their readers for the stand? And this summed up the digital area. It was the small back yard of the big mansion but crammed with people trying to get their ‘heads around digital’.

At this stage, I was getting bored of the eBook demo so I decided to have a Twitter moment and took a photo of the proceedings which I sent up to my “global audience” using TwitPic with a comment. The moment was saved when a publisher contact saw my ‘tweet’ and suggested I come and chat to him on his stand. Hooray for Twitter and ‘yah-boo’ to anyone who thinks Twitter is stupid. I picked up a brief for some potential work from the publisher after a very good chat. 

This particular publisher’s view of the Fair was that there was an “air of desperation” about the event with people as keen as mustard to do deals. There were less ‘freebie hunters’ and more serious business people. 

I met my publisher contact at 1pm and sat on the floor for a coffee and a catch up who is getting up to speed on ‘digital’, hopefully with our help. This is how finding new business should be these days. And the LBF organisers should start to provide some proper stands for the ‘digital zone’ because interest was outstripping capacity.

I think I am in the right place at the right time.

Twitter? Don’t worry, Dear. It’s Just a Tool!

Tools are very useful but not interesting at dinner parties 

 

Tools are very useful but not interesting at dinner parties

Last weekend  I saw my wife sawing off a branch of a plum tree she was pruning back with a saw designed to cut metal. She was managing to get through the branch but it was slow work. I handed her our bow saw and she finished the job more easily.

Furthermore, under my staircase is a big black box which contains most of my tools. There is a mix of spanners, pliers, screwdrivers, hammers and saws. One of these tools has a largish, orange handle and looks like a screwdriver for small screws.

In fact, the tool is a bradawl and it is used for making small holes in wood into which you drive a screw.  The bradawl is not very good as a screwdriver because it was not designed for that even though it looks like one.

Now, before you switch off, this is not a post about the contents of my toolbox or a rant about women and tools. Far from it.

Yesterday, there was an article on the a BBC blog which was talking about Oprah Winfrey signing up to Twitter and there was a big battle between her and some other media chap I had never heard of until yesterday for who was going to be the top celebrity with the number of ‘followers’ to their tweets.

What was interesting were the comments (of which I was one commentator) from readers. The first commentator stated that ‘TWITTER IS STUPID’. A later comment talked about lazy journalists using it and businesses using it for cheap research. Another comment said the discussion about Twitter was not adding to the sum of human knowledge. Fair point.

I used to be a cynical about Twitter. But, being cynical about Twitter is a bit like being cynical about bradawls. Imagine this statement- “BRADAWLS ARE STUPID!” It sounds odd, doesn’t it? Bradawls are extremely good for making holes in wood but they are not very good screwdrivers.

Talk about Twitter is dull, just as talking about screwdrivers or hammers is dull. But seeking how to use a tool is very useful, just as learning that a bow saw is better for chopping off branches from a tree than a saw designed to cut metal.

And talk of Twitter being used by lazy journalists is like saying that farmers who use tractors for ploughing fields should be ashamed of themselves for not doing it by hand. And what is the difference between a business using Twitter for cheap research and a business not using it and buying expensive research? It might be your job.

Twitter is a very good tool but I can’t say I am going to be talking about it at dinner parties. I will be helping clients find more customers with it. I will be using it to find work for myself. But, as with anything, a better version may well come along. And until that comes along, I will continue to use Twitter as a tool, as I will continue to use my bradawl to make small holes in wood.

Think Inside Someone Else’s Box

Think inside the box first

Think inside the box first

 

How many times have you been asked to think “outside the box” at work or on a training course?  Countless times, no doubt. It is a cliché now although it remains a good practice for problem solving. But when you are finding new clients the one thing you need to do is to find out about your prospects or customers and their challenges or opportunities. You have to get to know them, to ‘think inside their box’, so that you get to know what it feels like from their position. 

An example of this from my military experience was learning about an Army officer serving in Northern Ireland who had become the most successful platoon commander to that point in finding caches of terrorist weapons. He and his platoon became experts in finding where the IRA hid their weapons. The officer thought like the enemy and began to understand their methods and soon cracked their modus operandi and forced them to rethink how they hid their weapons.

And today, in a regular business breakfast networking I attend, I heard one business who was thinking inside their customer’s boxes. His business supplied telecom services to small businesses which is a fiercely competitive market. Many of his competitors had far greater resources to market themselves, with slick sales teams and slick marketing. But his competitors failed to live up to their promises of what they would provide and constantly called their customers and prospects to sell them more products even though they had failed them. 

He understood this and some of his competitor’s customers were at the networking meeting and told us how they had been treated. His business revolved around being straight and honest with his customers. He simplified and lowered their telecoms bills and regularly checked whether their solution was working. He found new customers by networking, relating to his customers and by doing what he said he would do. 

And this is where larger business are going to face major problems from now on. Because marketing is no longer about slick brochures and coiffured salesmen. It’s about being useful to your customers and prospects and providing them with an experience that will make them believe you and come back for more. Giving away some of your expertise for free through your blog, web site, through Twitter or at a networking event are just a few simple ways to win against fierce competitors with deeper pockets but less ability to understand the customers. 

So, before you start thinking outside the box, do some thinking inside the box. It will give you a competitive edge without costing you an arm and a leg.

Being Sociable Loses Meaning Online

Relationships are made face to face

Relationships are made face to face

 

Is it just me? Social networking is all the rage but it is so shallow. Don’t get me wrong. It’s terrific for finding information and making connections with interesting people. But most relationships are transitory within these tools. I expect I have made more connections and had more chats people through Twitter since 1st January this year than my ancestors had in their lives. 

I just get to the point when my head is frying with the amount of information (or tweets) that I have to sift through that I want to reach for the brilliantly titled book ‘Taming the Information Tsunami‘ by Bill Bruck to cool it down. And I have learnt that I am not being rude when I ‘unfollow’ people so that I can get my life back under control and keep the guilt in check for not reading all those damn tweets. 

I have noticed that whenever I join up to a social networking tool or site such as the business networking site, ecademy.com, I get a small wave of people sending a message saying something like “Hi, I’m Greg. Let me know how I can help you“. What? Are you mad or just socially inept? I have seen this today on Twitter too. “Let me know what I can do to make your day!” You can get real for a start! 

I’m afraid that’s a big turn off for me when someone gushes how they want to make my life extra-super-special. It feels like the unwanted attentions of someone who fancied you at school but from whom you could not run away fast enough. 

But, I am hooked by the usefulness of all the tools such as FaceBook and Twitter. FaceBook helps me keep up with my past and Twitter helps me keep up with my future. I have been in touch with some terrific old friends and workmates through FaceBook. And with Twitter, I have managed to learn vital lessons in connecting with people with shared interests, and even experience contributing to a radio programme.

For instance, the highly skilled radio presenter (William Wright at BBC Radio Lincolnshire) reminded me, unwittingly, of something very important last night on his show. Technology is poor at helping to make meaningful bonds with other people. 

At the end of the section to which I had contributed, William took his headphones off, looked me in the eye and said thank you. He then asked me if I had done any radio work like this before , to which I said that I hadn’t. He then suggested that if it was easier for me, we could speak over the phone or through the internet next time rather than come into the studio. 

But, the reality is that I got to know about William through Twitter. And I got to know William by sitting in his studio with him. And that is human. Connections can be made now through the internet and relationships are made face to face.

Does Twitter Drive Sales?

       

 

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

 

Cutting through the hype and understanding the realities of trends or statistics is an action which happens instinctively. After setting up several of my own businesses, which were not always successful, I have learnt to scrutinise information more thoroughly through experience. It saves money and time in the long run.

Twitter is one such trend which I have been signed up to since its early days, although I confess I was unsure of how to use it, attract followers and find interesting people to follow.

I also saw that in December 2008 that Dell uses Twitter to advertise special offers for their products, which they now offer exclusively to their Twitter followers. They claim to have gained $1m in sales through this channel. This is good business although it might be easier if you already have a name and brand like Dell to gain followers. 

After a six week business trip to India in the autumn of 2008, where I spent much of my spare time keeping up with my family, friends and workmates through Blogger, Skype, Facebook and SMS, I decided to use my Twitter account in earnest to see if it was any good for business.

Like most new ‘tweeters’, I expect, I had to find my way around the ‘system’ and to work out a way to measure its effect. I decided my goal was to promote my blog.

The starting point was from having one or two visitors a week to my blog in November 2008. I now have between forty and sixty visitors to my blog per day at the time of writing.

Currently, I have 595 followers on Twitter to my alias (http://twitter.com/whawkins). I follow about 800 people, although I do cut down the number of people I follow each week. So, it would seem that about 10% of my followers visit my blog from my Twitter ‘tweets.’

I then set up a Twitter alias for our business (http://twitter.com/mmt_digital) to see if I could attract visitors to our web site. In the first week, this increased web site visitors by 14.6% according to our Google Analytics account. Two of us sent out about four tweets per day on subjects relevant to our business.

Attracting followers is achieved by following others who are interested in the same things as you. They generally follow you back. This can be automated to save time. There are various tools to help you with this such as ‘TwitterPerch‘.

Being a bit fanatical about the ‘numbers’, we also used ‘Hootsuite‘ to measure the amount of clicks on our tweets and to test out which subjects were more popular.

Have we gained any new business yet either from the business site or my blog? No, not yet. But this experiment has shown that it is a good way to get interest in your site or blog. I have been invited to talk about technology by a local BBC Radio station which originated from a Twitter conversation with the show host.

Has it cost anything yet?  No, apart from an hour a day for the last two weeks.

Will we carry on ‘Twittering’? Of course. It is a good publicity tool and a good way to find information out which you are unlikely to have found through Google unless you knew what you were looking for. The more we work on writing interesting tweets, the more traffic we will gain, which is likely to raise our Google rankings when people are looking for digital communications agencies or bloggers like me.

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Marketing needs to be meaningful, not just entertaining

My social network

Image by luc legay via Flickr

There are certain things in life which are definite. For instance, you can always answer the question “Is the Pope a Catholic?” with a “Yes.” Or “Will the French go on strike this year?” can be answered with a confident “Yes.”

Other certainties used to be that marketers entertained their audiences with spectacular advertisements or beautiful websites.

But we, the audience, have changed. We have greater freedom to express ourselves with our own blogs. We gather information and news from social networks and spread them around our own networks rapidly.

For instance, three days ago on Twitter, I picked up a Tweet fro Stephen Fry about a complaint to Virgin Airlines from a passenger about the food he was given during the flight(http://tinyrul.com/virginfood). It was one of the funniest articles I had read for a long time.

Naturally, I ‘Re-Tweeted’ the article to my network and emailed to some friends and family. Three days later, the breakfast news did a piece about it. It was old hat by the time it came up on the BBC news and Virgin had already made statements to say that Richard Branson had seen the letter and they were taking action.

Furthermore, consumers will soon be able to watch TV programmes when they want to rather than when the broadcaster tells them to watch.

So, marketers can no longer interrupt their audiences to grab their attention, when it is more likely that consumers are already gathering an opinion about their product through their networks which has for more impact than the biased opinion of the marketer.

So, how do you work as a marketer in the new world to grow your business? Marketers have to ensure that they make the experience with their brand a meaningful one so that the perception of it is transformed. You have to go beyond entertainment and move into providing branded applications which give your audience a service which enhances their experience with your brand.

For example, the VW web site is a wonderful piece of work which makes choosing car easy. Rather than having to do cumbersome comparisons as you do on other sites, you can filter down using a simple set of tools on one screen. They provide a set of tools to help you make sense of the wide variety of choices and options in their cars.

As someone said to me the other day, "…when you get in a VW, it feels like they know what they are doing."  I agree. It does not get much better than that in marketing. No flashy videos showing me how the car is good at missing puddles. Just branded applications to provide a meaningful experience.

It was so good I bought a VW.

 

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