Friday, 18 November 2011

Google+ launches pages

So five months after it was promised, possibly the most anticipated social platform launch of the year, the great hyperbole that is Google+ pages finally arrived last week.

It met with the now expected polarised coverage from:

"Why Google Plus Pages (Will) Beat Facebook. And Twitter"


"Google+ Is Dead"

Frankly how one can make predictions this early on (we smell linkbait) is beyond us.

So the facts are that Pages provide organisations with the ability to broadcast and interact with their customers in much the same way as Facebook pages. As Robert Scoble points out though they currently appear to be more suited to small companies or companies with a small social presence rather than large corporations, as the management options for multiple logins are currently absent meaning companies with advanced social strategies touching many parts of an organisation will find the management tough at present.

These types of tools will arrive over time but for now the key benefit (which is why we can't understand the ‘Google+ is dead’ headlines) is the baked in search boosting tools, which is where Google+ really has an advantage over other social platforms.

Companies that are serious about natural search rankings have the opportunity to really consolidate through their presence on the platform and this is where we think the real growth will start. The attraction of improved natural search will inevitably attract companies to set up stall (61% of the top brands already have) and if they start to run promotions through the platform the users will follow, which means there will be a natural activation of what is currently a relatively inactive Google+ consumer base. Interestingly this is the Facebook growth model in reverse.

So after 5 months of wondering we now know what Google’s ambitions are and the next year is going to be a fascinating spectacle.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The true price of free

If you've visited Facebook or read any business or technology pages in the past couple of weeks you will be well aware that facebook has made one or two changes.

The changes have been discussed at length so we're not going to explore them in any great detail, but instead consider the furore that has engulfed the user community. A survey of 1300 users noted that 84% of the base didn't like the new changes. But so what.

As Adrian Short pointed out last week if you haven't paid for the service then you have no real say. Certainly you don't have rights. As a facebook user you're merely a tenant, you don't pay anything to be there so you need to expect things to change. If you want to control your web experience then you're going to need to be prepared to pay. facebook answers to its advertisers and those advertisers are the ones looking for more time online, better targeting, greater engagement and that is what the interface change is designed to deliver.

The radicalism of the change is something that brands have to be vigilant about. For years facebook has provided a free platform to develop your brand space on. If this is the decision you're making, you need to be prepared for the unexpected. You don't get anything for free and if there is a decision in the future to change things this could affect your wall, your apps or any tools you build in and fundamentally the brand experience you're building. With a long rumoured IPO in the near future, monetising the site has never been more important for facebook and one thing we can expect is more of these types of changes in the future. facebook has been a fantastic innovation for brands, but its best to remember facebook are doing it for facebook not for your brand.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Is it milliseconds or days that count?

In 1986 the financial sector's Big Bang saw the explosion of the industry. It was the end of October 1986 when the Stock Exchange Automated Quotation system replaced the trading floor. This screen-based quotation system was used by brokers to buy and sell stock rather than meeting face to face. It's been the technological advances in the sector that has kept it competitive and continues to do so.

Work has just got underway on the Hibernian Express a 6000 mile fibre optic cable that will cost over £300 million and is being justified by the fact that milliseconds will be saved in trading transactions providing the edge that companies need to ensure they stay competitive.

However, increasingly it is not just the huge infrastructure projects that are necessarily giving the edge, but easily accessible and free platforms. Analysts at Derwent Capital Markets have launched a £25m fund that makes its investments by evaluating whether people are generally happy, sad, anxious or tired, because they believe it will predict whether the market will move up or down. How do they do that? Well it's Twitter. The millions of tweets posted on Twitter are being analysed by their hedge fund managers in conjunction with a research team headed by Professor Johan Bollen, they have developed a predictive modelling technique for the Dow Jones with 87.6% accuracy.

Paul Hawtin, Derwent's founder and fund manager, has an exclusive contract with Bollen to use his technology. Mr Hawtin told the Sunday Times "Investors have always accepted that markets are driven by sentiment, mainly fear and greed. When people are greedy the markets go up and when they are fearful they go down.

"When sentiment dropped, and people tweeted about feeling tight on money, were worried or anxious, the markets would crash two or three days later."

This is not the only tool on the market, but increasingly small houses are looking at investing in social technologies at a fraction of the price of large infrastructure projects and in some cases predicting market shifts far earlier than the milliseconds that may be won by the Hibernian Express.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

10 things Google+ has done for me

So straight off the top of my head here we GO...

1. It's cut out the noise of Twitter

2. It's helped me discover interesting content more quickly

3. It's facilitated better conversations

4. It's made me feel innovative again

5. It's made me be more rigorous about how I'm presenting myself online again

6. It's started me blogging again

7. It's helped me choose who and how to share better

8. It's made me like people I'd started to go off

9. It's sparked my imagination back into life

10. It's bumped me out of a bit of a lazy hiatus

First campaign on Google+

It's a bit clunky (and the spelling leaves a bit to be desired) but it's good to experiment, it's why I like hackers and hats off to these guys for finding the first hook

Monday, 4 July 2011

Google+: Social networking grows up

Google+ launched last week. The demand was so great that Google were forced to shut down invites within a day. Having been lucky enough to get in as one of the first though, I've been playing around for a few days now and can't help concluding this is a service that really is going to be a game changer both for consumers and for brands involvement in social.

The service has variously been touted as a Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Myspace, Skype (and it goes on) killer. I'm not going to speculate here about whether it will kill any of those, but suffice to say it does many things that all of those brands should be wary of. I believe after my first dalliances, there are four aspects that make this service amazingly strong.

First and possibly most importantly is its core strength. Google+ pulls together all of Google's services seamlessly. Your Google+ alerts are sent through Gmail. The photo upload is through Picasa. The event scheduling is through Google Calendar and so it goes on. As there are currently over 1 billion Gmail customers alone, let alone the other services, when the service comes out of beta it could well be hugely dominant.

The second is the Circles feature. Circles is an incredibly simple and intuitive way of building your friend lists. Contacts can be dragged and dropped into one or as many different circles as you like and then any content you share can be published to any of those created circles or, if you wish, made completely public making privacy simple and easy. This group function is far simpler than either Facebook and Linked In Groups and arguably far more baked in to the service than Twitter lists and therefore far more likely to be integral to its usage. It also fundamentally inverts the privacy pyramid back in favour of the user.

The third is Hangout. Hangout provides group video calling to anyone with an enabled webcam. Rumour has it that Facebook could be releasing something similar this week but the ease with which it is to fire up a Hangout is frightening and frankly Skype could definitely be under threat.

The fourth is the photo and video sharing. This sounds like the classic me to service and it would be easy to copy existing models, however Google has created a drag and drop experience which is Apple-like in its ease. You simply drag any photo onto a box and it uploads instantly. Working similarly to the recently launched Google images preview function, you can then scroll through gallery lightboxes seamlessly. The user design in this area really makes you feel this whole new proposition has been amazingly well thought through. Added to this great functionality, the upload interface with Android on the mobile side is seamless and if there are some fence sitters out there, this will definitely provide great reasons for choosing Android over the Apple iOS.

If we were to pick just one killer app over everything else it would have to be Circles, this puts privacy absolutely in the hands of the consumer and as such this really sees social platforms growing up. This is the reason we think that Google+ is a game changer for brands. Brands are going to be forced to look at more complex metrics than simply followers or fans, as it has been easy to rely on up to now. Engagement is going to have to be based around much more solid content interaction strategies if brands really want to spread through the Circles structures. This social platform is putting the power back in the hands of consumers and brands are going to have to step up their game to have real impact.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Has Facebook faltered?

It was widely reported this week that Facebook had lost customers in the UK to the tune of 100,000 users with an even larger proportion being lost in the US. It was also reported that overall the rate of Facebook's global growth had slowed significantly for 2 months in a row. Both of these facts were denied by Facebook themselves stating 'From time to time, we see stories about Facebook losing users in some regions. Some of these reports use data extracted from our advertising tool, which provides broad estimates on the reach of Facebook ads and isn't designed to be a source for tracking the overall growth of Facebook'.

Whatever the facts of this story, the nervousness that underpins the reporting and comment highlights just how reliant some, especially companies have become on Facebook as a platform. The site undoubtedly provides the opportunity for really deep engagement with customers and the explosion in Facebook Commerce (F-Commerce) just goes to prove how important it has become to the sales and marketing investment strategy for many companies, but there is an inherent danger in switching to a one channel focus and the lessons learned from sites such as MySpace and Friendster and their loss of favour have to be heeded, as history does have a habit of repeating itself.

At present the time on site per user as reported by Comscore has increased from 21 to 25 minutes per day, however relying on this to continue could be a folly. It's important that there is investment and presence across a number of diverse channels in recognition of the fact that users are very promiscuous when it comes to the way they use the net and could move on at any time.

'Fish where the fish are' is a wise strategy, but you have to also keep one eye on the potential future migration patterns to ensure that the pool doesn't get over-fished and you miss out as the fish swim elsewhere. At the moment, Facebook is still where all the action is but you need to keep an eye open for where the action could be in the future and be ready to move.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Who cares about online security

Online privacy and data security are increasingly in the spotlight. Whether it be the recent Sony Playstation Network hack or this week’s issues surrounding the Chinese hacking plot on Gmail. And of course, when you entrust your personal details to a commercial organisation in the hope that those details are securely stored then you absolutely, have the right to expect that those details are safe.

However a couple of instances have emerged this week in which online denizens appear to be willingly giving up their private details in a way that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. First was Intel’s quite brilliantly executed Museum of Me, which promised (and indeed delivered in spades) to ‘create and explore a visual archive of your social life’. The application fantastically visualises, photos, video, links, profile pictures and status updates from the day you signed up to Facebook and onwards and in order to do that they ask you to giveaway pretty much every Facebook access privilege you can, but hey it’s Intel they’re OK they’ll be responsible and indeed to date 224,000+ users have happily done so, but there are those that are warning against giving away so much willingly.

The second is maybe a little less blatant and involves Google Wallet. The mobile payments solution unveiled by Google last week promises the mobilisation of payments via your smartphone and an NFC chip. Potentially ending the need for cash and indeed of your card wallet. Fantastic, how convenient, but what is the price of using the technology. Well, potentially you give companies access to your purchasing behaviour. So far, so loyalty card, but on top you also open up your location, your predilections and therefore to some extent your soul. There’s definitely work that needs to be done around the privacy settings that are fixed to mobile payment solutions and before you blindly plough in, you need to make sure your privacy is protected.

Consumers have the right to expect companies they give their data to, to encrypt it, protect it and ensure that it can’t be hacked and stolen, however life on the internet comes with responsibility and before we give our lives away more and more freely we all need to be thinking about what it is we’re giving up.

Friday, 18 February 2011

It started with a tweet

This week National Australia Bank (NAB) launched a campaign that looked particularly unbanky. Choosing Valentine’s Day as their launch date @NAB tweeted this rather cryptic teaser (on 11th February):

They followed this with a tweet on Valentine’s Day linking to a video of the bank writing their break up letter

The bank is trying to separate itself forcefully in both proposition and use of these social platforms to create complete differentiation. The campaign is also supported by a Facebook page and they are curating all the content relating to the bank on their dedicated site. On both their Twitter stream and their Facebook page they have transformed the environment to field customer enquiries and certainly it would appear that they are being managed by Bank employees rather than an agency to fulfil that remit.

This launch has resulted in 78% of all online conversations around banking in Australia containing reference to NAB which is undeniably huge. Interestingly the launch came in the same week that Ovum released research suggesting retail banks are still resisting social media and with some banks still viewing online activity as highly dangerous NAB's move is certainly bold. There is little peer comparison possible in the UK where the closest we have currently is probably First Direct, which interestingly has recently stopped running live sentiment on their First Direct Live site, but is now using both Twitter and Facebook more effectively.

I take my hat off to @NAB for this fresh approach. I'll be watching the campaign follow-up with interest . When the budget's there to support a strong campaign theme using social platforms the momentum can be fantastic. The proof comes in what those social platforms are used for beyond that initial burst.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Contactless mobile payments closer to a reality

Over the last few weeks there have been a flurry of much firmer announcements suggesting there will be a significant roll out of Near Field Communications (NFC) services across the UK, but with a real focus on scaling up for the Olympics in 2012.

Google's Nexus S has been making a lot of headlines for a few months. Built as a mass market smartphone its integral NFC chip has got tongues wagging. However, two recent announcements have meant the NFC subject's exploded into life.

First was Orange's partnership announcement with Barclaycard that will mean Everything Everywhere customers will be able to take advantage of what is claimed to be the UK's first mobile payments service. NFC hasn’t been embraced by lots of brands yet, but is already installed in Pret a Manger, Little Chef and National Trust, however the roll out gathered pace with McDonalds announcing they would be implementing the technology and Everything Everywhere stated that the proposition could definitely extend to T-Mobile customers. With O2 having already tested mobile contactless transport payments as a replacement for Oyster Cards it's a fair assumption that they may well be next up as it would be a comfortable fit with their O2 Money product.

The second big announcement was from Apple who would appear to be shaping up to make mobile payments a key launch message for both the iPad 2 and the iPhone 5. The firm states that both devices are being built with NFC chips installed. It is more than likely the payment system would integrate with iTunes which already holds users' card details and while it's probably going to launch first in the states, pressure from payment service providers in the UK as terminals grow in number will see the move to the UK quickly.

This move to the UK will undoubtedly be galvanised by the 2012 Olympics which seems to be shaping up to be the 'mobile Games' with many of the food outlets and transport hubs aiming to be fully contactless enabled and also BlackBerry announcing their intentions to join the game.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Will Money Dashboard change the way people save in the UK?

This week saw the launch of a new UK based personal finance (PF) site. Money Dashboard moves squarely in to the territory, not quite conquered by Wesabe and definitely vacated by Kublax after its demise in early 2010.

Operating in the same way and utilising the same backend technology as the hugely successful US PF solution,, Money Dashboard's CEO, Gavin Littlejohn is hoping that providing customers with the ability to aggregate their current, savings, credit card, loan and other accounts into one place, and displaying it through an easy to understand online dashboard, will allow them to analyse their financial health holistically and make the appropriate investment decisions for themselves. “Here in the UK, there is very little access to financial advice. Most people don’t know their bank managers, and few people have access to a financial adviser,” says Littlejohn. has been quick to point out some of the potential security risks of the site, but as a read only environment, the risk of fraud is minimal. In fact went on to state 'In five or ten years, this could be so common that all today's security whines and gripes look like childish folly'. They then make the bold claim that this could be a glimpse of the future of UK banking. Certainly account aggregation services recently launched by First Direct and Egg suggest that there are some very real concerns about the impact of online PF sites. If the US and Canada based's 4m customers are anything to go by the concerns would appear valid.

Money Dashboard is in an interesting space. Solutions similar to the service have either come and gone, or not quite taken off yet in the UK, however with solid angel investment backing totalling $3m, there is plenty of scope to have a good pitch at success. When it comes down to it though, success could all rest on Mint's future global expansion plans. If those plans are imminent and the UK is a target, Money Dashboard could struggle.

Friday, 14 January 2011

How financial services brands are using Quora

Something happened over Christmas. A hitherto quiet little start-up social network, that had gained a little traction in H2 2010, suddenly exploded into life. In the first week of 2011 every second tweet and all the headline technology articles seemed to be about Quora.

So what is Quora? It's slightly more complex than your average social network, but has been described as a combination of Twitter, Linked In Answers and Yahoo Answers. You can find out a little more here or here. Essentially the promise is, that it will build communities around core specialities, meaning that if you are looking for an opinion or just a straightforward answer to a question - about anything - those questions can be addressed by 'experts' as opposed to an amorphous mass with a passing interest in the subject. So far, so good.

However, as Vikki Chowney pointed out this week the low volume of users and sheer volume of content that is being posted is leaving an awful lot unanswered, or alternatively there can be a similar echo chamber feel that can sometimes come from spending too much time on Twitter, and as a result the service maybe just requires a watching brief at present.

Interestingly though where brands are engaging in this new network the content is becoming very rich and there are a couple of financial services brands that have thrown themselves in to it. Bank Simple has really embraced it with open arms, with a strong presence and engagement in some tough and complex questions around its place in the market and its offering. Similarly has engaged with the site tackling challenging questions head on.

Both of these engagements hint at the possibilities of effectively tackling extremely challenging customer issues online in a way that possibly couldn't in some other online forums. The site therefore holds a new potential for more direct online reputation management.

Quora is undoubtedly more transparent than the vast majority of social sites and therefore arguably, quality and consideration of answers is higher than some of the throw away comments that can occur in other online destinations. Whether it's successful or not is the million (actually, probably billion) dollar question, but it certainly seems one of the strongest new social network contenders for some time.

Friday, 7 January 2011

The gamification of Financial Services

In recent months financial services brands have increasingly been turning to gaming experiences as a way of engaging their audiences with fun online brand experiences.

Last October Barclays launched 56 Sage Street a role playing game aimed at educating users about how to make and then safeguard money through hard work and the avoidance of scamming.

Similarly in the US, Bank of America developed the Morris Code specifically aimed at educating college students around managing their finances. Largely video-based it aims to deliver the content in a fun and engaging way and interestingly buries the Bank of America brand as far away as it possibly can.

This week a US start up Payoff launched their personal financial planning service as a game experience. Picking up on some of the features of Facebook and Foursquare, it allows users to set financial goals such as paying off a loan, which in turn can earn them badges which can then be turned into real cash rewards. It has effectively taken some of the classic features of Social Networking and activated them in real terms.

The increase in the use of gaming as well as video as a marketing platform really is a mirror to what consumers actually spend their time doing on the net and how they most enjoy consuming content. Good marketing has always relied on providing an extension of an experience that makes the audience feel good, which is why we should expect to see a lot more gaming-type approaches throughout 2011.