Sep 302014
management and executive training, workshops and keynotes for technology

Over the last week new social media service Ello has been in the news as the ‘anti-Facebook’ that doesn’t collect user details or push advertising onto feeds.

Certainly Ello has touched the zeitgeist with reports claiming the service is getting 30,000 new signups every hour. It’s clear social media users aren’t happy with the existing services.

Part of this discontent is due to social media’s growing pains as the platforms search for the business models to justify their massive valuations, with the consequence of users finding their streams being polluted with invasive and often irrelevant advertisements.

Social dilemmas

For Facebook in particular this is a problem as they have to balance the service’s relevance to users against the demands of ever desperate advertisers who want to post as many ads as possible into the feeds.

Adding to the discontent is suspicions on how the existing social media services intend to trade users’ information. While many internet mavens may claim ‘privacy is dead’, most people are concerned at how a history of their likes, friends or conversations could hurt future relationships or job prospects.

Which ties into Ello’s manifesto.

Your social network is owned by advertisers.

Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.

We believe there is a better way. We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity, and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership.

We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.

You are not a product.

While Ello’s founders are right that Facebook, and to a lesser degree, Twitter are advertising platforms at present it may well be that social media’s days as a marketing tool are numbered as the business models mature.

The evolving social media model

Facebook’s announcement that it is going into the payments field is an indication that the businesses are maturing beyond the broadcast advertising model that worked so well for television and radio while Twitter’s struggles to shoehorn the old marketing tools into its business continue.

The most successful social media platform to date is LinkedIn which makes less than a quarter of its revenues from advertising — down from 30% two years ago — with the company building revenues in its corporate talent finding services, something that makes LinkedIn’s ambitions to be a global content publisher somewhat strange.

So it may well be that Ello aims to solve a problem that may not exist in the near future.

Ello could turn out to be the ‘Facebook killer’ however the odds are stacked against it, what is clear though is the social media marketplace is telling the industry’s leaders that consumers aren’t happy. It’s something the marketers staking their future on social media need to keep in mind.

Sep 082014

This post is the final of a series of four sponsored stories brought to you by Nuffnang.

Boring is the comment often used about business websites, however smart companies are using blogs to spice up their sites and boost marketing, customer retention and employee engagement.

A blog can make a company’s website more dynamic and a destination for visitors, it’s an opportunity for an organisation to demonstrate its depth of expertise and the qualification of its staff.

Best at this are the big global companies like GE, Cisco and IBM that have large pools of experts who can contribute to the company blog. These enterprise blogs are sprawling sites that cover multiple markets and industries which the companies operate across.

More than a marketing tool

For smaller tech companies, particularly Silicon Valley startups, their blogs have become vital marketing platforms where they often describe the company’s journey and new features being added.

Some companies, like Uber and Nest, use the company blog as their press channels with entries acting as media releases. This is particularly useful for smaller businesses without a PR agency or in house communications people.

At a more tactical level, blogs can be used as a weapon in a fight for marketshare. One of the toughest battles on the internet at the moment is going on between accounting software companies MYOB and Xero and their blogs are at the forefront of this fight.

In this battle MYOB are the incumbent with over a million users in the Australian business accounting market and a small army of Certified Consultants to help clients with using the software while Xero is the well funded cloud computing service that grew its Australian customer base by nearly 50% to 147,000 so far this year.

Small business thought leadership

So the battle is intense with both companies using their blogs to show their thought leadership in the small business space. Both of the blogs illustrate each company’s strengths and weaknesses.

MYOB’s blog is the longest standing and is more of a generalist overview of small business and accounting issues while Xero’s focuses on the new features being added to the product, both have fiercely passionate followers which shows in the comments fields of their blogs.

Blogs though need not be about pure marketing or advertising functions, in fact the best small business ones are those that just tell their customers what’s on. These are particularly good for the hospitality and retail industries.

One plus with business blogs is they help employees understand their business better, particularly when staff are invited to contribute.

Blogging isn’t just about lonely geeks or bored mums sitting in their spare rooms. A well thought out business blog can be a great tool for engaging existing customers, motivating staff and building new markets.

Aug 152014

Gartner’s Hype Cycle has been a favourite of this blog as it’s been pretty accurate at describing where various technologies are in the tech media’s eye.

This year is the twentieth edition and the most notable aspect is the Internet of Things is shown as being right on the peak of industry hype.

Other sectors struggling on the cycle are cloud computing, big data and machine-to-machine technologies; all of them are tumbling into the trough of disillusionment.


In itself this isn’t a bad thing for these technologies as the ‘trough of disillusionment’ is where the true business cases are found, certainly for the Internet of Things this will not be bad for a sector that’s clearly overhyped.

There’s also the thought that not all troughs of disillusionment are the same as some concepts – such as Big Data – are actually trends which means they aren’t subject to the whims of corporate marketing departments.

How the hype cycle will look in five years will be fascinating as things like brain-computing interfaces and the quantified self start to take form. When they reach the peak of the hype cycle we can expect many of today’s disillusioned technologies will be on the plateau of productivity.

Jul 122014

A Virginian restaurant, the Serbian Lion, went out of business because its Google Places listing was hacked, reports Wired.

The proprietor of the Serbian Lion, Rene Bertagna, wasn’t aware his online listing showed the restaurant as being closed on weekends and as a result customers stopped showing up, he alleges in a law suit against Google.

As a result of result of the drop in earnings, the restaurant entered a death spiral of falling service standards, declining customers and further cuts until the place closed down.

While it’s difficult to judge how true Bertagna’s claim is – it’s quite possible the listing was a mistake by Google’s data scrapers or an oversight by a customer putting the data into the services – the story does illustrate how important getting the correct information into online services like Google Places, Microsoft Bing and Yelp.

Bertagna himself appears to be a classic case of roadkill on the information superhighway with his claims not to be a computer or internet user.

Bertagna immigrated to the U.S. from northern Italy when he was young. He’s 74 now, and, he says, doesn’t own a computer—he’d heard of the Internet and Google but used neither. Suddenly, a technological revolution of which he was only dimly aware was killing his business. His accountant phoned Google and in an attempt to change the listing, but got nowhere. Bertagna eventually hired an Internet consultant who took control of the Google Places listing and fixed the bad information—a relatively simple process.

The sad tale of Rene Bertagna and the Serbian Lion illustrates just how important it is for operators in the hospitality industry to be on top of their listings and online presence. This is where the customers are.

Sadly, this story isn’t news – that customers are using the web to find local businesses and read reviews of neighbourhood establishments has been the case for a decade, the move to mobile has been obvious for over five years.

For all local businesses, it’s a core responsibility to make sure online listings are correct along with having an up to date website. If you don’t, you only have yourself to blame if the customers don’t show up.

Jun 262014
How do mobile phone users reduce costs

‘Digital natives’ has been the term to describe people born after 1990 who’ve had computers throughout their entire lives.

The theory is these folk have an innate understanding of digital technologies from being immersed in them from an early age.

It’s doubful how true that theory is; the generation born after 1960 were born into the television generation yet the vast majority of GenXers would have little idea on how to produce a sitcom or fix a TV set and the same could be said for the war generation and motor cars.

Digitally native businesses

For businesses, it may be the digital native concept is far more valid. Ventures being founded today are far more likely to be using productivity enhancing tools like social media, collaboration platforms and cloud computing services than their older competitors.

What’s striking about older businesses, particularly in the Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) sectors, is just how poorly they have adopted technology. The Australian Bureau of Statistics report into IT use by the nation’s businesses illustrates the sectors’ weak use of tech.

The most telling statistic is the number of businesses with a web presence; the SME sector lags way behind the corporate sector that has almost 100% penetration.


Many of the zero to four business can be disregarded as most of them are sole trader consultants who’ve had to register a businesses for professional reason, although there is an argument even they would benefit from a cheap or free web presence to advertise their skills.

The ABS statistics show small business is lagging behind the corporates in social media and e-commerce adoption as well so the argument that local businesses are ignoring the web and using services like Facebook, LinkedIn or Google Places to advertise their services doesn’t hold water.

Old man’s business

Part of this reluctance to use digital tools is age; many SMEs were born either in the era when faxes were a novelty or when Windows computers were first appearing on small businesses desktops. They are creatures of another era.

In the current era cloud, social media and collaborative services are running business. The idea of buying a workstation for a new employee and waiting for the IT guy to set them up on the network is an antiquated memory; today’s workers have their own laptops, tablets and smartphones to do the work – all they need is a password.

Those services offer a different way of organising a business and this is the most worrying part of the statistics – large organisations are slowly, and not always successfully, adopting modern management practices while many small businesses are locked into a 1970s and 80s way of working.

For businesses being founded today, this isn’t a worry – they are the true digital natives and are reaping the benefits of more efficient ways of working. Something emphasised by Google’s updates to its Drive productivity services announced overnight.

That’s something that should focus the plans of established businesses of all sizes as they adapt to working in a connected society.

May 302014

At the Code Conference held outside Los Angeles last week, analyst Mary Meeker delivered her annual State of the Internet slideshow covering the trends and opportunities in the online world.

One of the most watched graphs is the time spent on media versus the advertising spend on that channel.

For years Meeker has shown print is receiving a higher share of advertising dollars for the amount of time consumers spend on it compared to online channels.

That implies print revenue is due for collapse and online advertising revenues will surge. Here’s the 2014 chart.


If we track this over the last five years, here’s what we see with the ‘difference’ column being the sum of print’s over-representation and online’s (mobile and web) under-spending.

Year Print time Print share Online time Online share difference
2010 12 26 28 13 29
2011 7 25 36 23 31
2012 6 23 38 25 30
2013 5 19 45 26 35

The collapse in print’s share of consumer time, down 60% in five years, is stunning and the 2012-13 changes may indicate advertising spend may is now collapsing as marketers start to adapt to the changed marketplace.

It could be however that advertising as we know it has to change; one of the key reasons for online – particularly mobile’s – spending being under represented is because no-one is quite sure what works in the newer mediums.

Advertisers may know that consumers are moving from print channels, but at least they know what works in print. Online the experts’ guesses are still not much better than the amateurs’.

In short, we’re still watining for the digital era’s David Sarnoff. As Mary Meeker keeps reminding us, it’s a $20bn a year opportunity.


Apr 202014

Could liking a brand’s Facebook page cost you your right to sue?

The New York Times has a story on how corporations are subtly changing the wordings on websites and social media pages in an effort to make it harder for customers to challenge the business in court.

It’s quite cheeky attempting to strip people who ‘like’ a Facebook page of their rights to take action against a company, it even strikes at the heart of building an online community around a brand.

The whole point of accumulating real life followers behind a brand’s social media presence is to create a band of fans; by creating suspicion, business destroy the goodwill behind that exercise and possibly render it useless.

It will be interesting to see how Facebook react to this behaviour as intimidating users and discouraging them from liking brands is a direct threat to their business model, it’s hard to see them not changing their own terms to make this corporate behaviour a breach of their own terms of service.

For consumers though it’s a reminder that corporations, at least those who operate on twentieth-century mass market principles, aren’t really their friends.

Update: Since posting this piece, General Mills has backed down on its policy but the point still remains that unfair and over legalistic terms and conditions threaten social media platforms.