FIR Interview: Betterific Co-Founder Micha Weinblatt

Betterific

Betterific has been described by many as Reddit for customer feedback. On the social site, users complete the statement, “Wouldn’t it be better if…” Otis, the elevator company, might be intrigued by the suggestion, “Wouldn’t it be better if, when you select the wrong floor in the elevator, you could unselect the floor you clicked by mistake?”

As on Reddit, users can also comment on suggestions and vote them up or down. (The elevator idea had amassed eight upvotes, for example.)

Coca-Cola Challenge
Coca-Cola campaign with Betterific

Companies can monitor references to their own products and services, but they can also mount campaigns. ConAgra Foods brand Redi-Wip, for example, asked for suggestions on how to improve both the product and marketing.

A current campaign, from Coca-Cola, asks users to share ideas on what kind of promotional items the company should give at McDonald’s with the purchase of a Combo Meal.

In this FIR interview, co-host Shel Holtz chats with Micha Weinblatt, the co-founder of Betterific, about the company’s origins, its community, its relationship with brands, and the focused campaigns that have become a recurring feature of the site and how they can serve as a different and better approach to focus groups and customer insight panels.

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About our Conversation Partner

Micha WeinblattMicha Weinblatt is an entrepreneur from Washington DC.  He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Government and Politics degree from the University of Maryland in 2005, where he launched his first enterprise, Crooked Monkey T-shirts.  The brand has since been carried by over 500 retailers including Urban Outfitters, Nordstrom, and Pac Sun, has been worn by celebrities Ryan Seacrest and Miley Cyrus.

In 2011 he was recognized for his efforts by CNN Money, which named him one of the top 10 entrepreneurs to watch.  Along the way he was named one of the Washington Business Journal’s 40 under 40, a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, and was selected to be a member of the Sandbox Community.

After running Crooked Monkey for 7 years, in June of 2012, he co-founded Betterific, the digital suggestion box that crowdsources innovation, out of the DreamIt Ventures accelerator.  In January of 2013 TheNextWeb named Betterific one of the top 13 east coast startups to watch in 2013. Since launching, they have grown their user base significantly and have partnered with Coca-Cola, ConAgra, the Washington Wizards and others to help them connect with their customers over ideas and innovation.

FIR Community on Google+Share your comments or questions about this podcast, or suggestions for future podcasts, in the online FIR Podcast Community on Google+.

You can also send us instant voicemail via SpeakPipe, right from the FIR website. Or, call the Comment Line at +1 415 895 2971 (North America), +44 20 3239 9082 (Europe), or Skype: fircomments. You can tweet us: @FIRpodcast. And you can email us at fircomments@gmail.com. If you wish, you can email your comments, questions and suggestions as MP3 file attachments (max. 3 minutes / 5Mb attachment, please!). We’ll be happy to see how we can include your audio contribution in a show.

Check the FIR website for information about other FIR podcasts. To receive all podcasts in the FIR Podcast Network, subscribe to the “everything” RSS feed.

This FIR Interview is brought to you with Lawrence Ragan Communications, serving communicators worldwide for 35 years. Information: www.ragan.com.

Podsafe music – On A Podcast Instrumental Mix (MP3, 5Mb) by Cruisebox.

(Cross-posted from For Immediate Release, Shel’s and my podcast blog.)

How up-to-speed are you about mobile?

If you use social web services like Instagram, Vine or Snapchat, you’re probably aware that these particular services are very much designed for use on mobile devices. By 98 percent, 99 percent and 100 percent of users, respectively, to be precise.

How clear are you on other popular services? Twitter, for instance? Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr or LinkedIn? What’s the primary way in which people use those?

A handy chart by Statista offers some clarity.

Mobile first

86 percent of Twitter users are mobile-first in their use of the platform. I’d say one reason the percentage isn’t higher still is because many people (like me, for instance) use the service on multiple platforms depending on where they are, what they’re doing and what device they happen to be using. The “Twitter experience” is pretty good across all devices.

In contrast, LinkedIn is still largely a fixed-location-first type of usage, with only 26 percent on mobile. Maybe that reflects its user demographic (business people) as well as its less-than-stellar experience via mobile devices.

This snapshot view from December 2013 illustrating how most social networks are now mobile-first in their usage is yet another pointer to the bigger picture on what’s happening across the online world. It’s a picture of the US but it is a credible indicator of much of the global online world.

That’s borne out in a detailed sharing of metrics from Forrester Research in 2014 Mobile Trends, a 43-slide deck posted on Slideshare in February that offers credible perspectives in three key areas:

  1. How will mobile transform business?
  2. What will happen in 2014?
  3. What won’t happen in 2014?

The “What will happen…” section includes a really interesting prediction:

  • New mobile-centric ad formats will emerge
  • More mobile ad network will shift to the exchanges
  • Short videos (5 to 10 seconds) will make a greater impact on consumers, taking advantage of higher engagement levels with video on mobile

Look at that Statista chart, above, again.

In the “What won’t happen…” section, Forrester says wearable technology won’t move past a niche market: it’s still experiment time. (I’m looking forward to seeing what the 2014 hype cycle on emerging technologies from Gartner, due within the next month or so, shows about wearable tech.)

2014 Mobile Trends from Forrester Research

Insights worth understanding.

(Statista chart via Paul Fabretti)

Putting wearable tech in the business context

Google Glass

A quick search on Google for the term “wearable technology” will produce some 162,000 results, about what you might expect for two very broad key words on such a topic.

The focus of course is very much a consumer one, where there is plenty to find about products like Google Glass, fitness bands, smartwatches, wearable cameras, healthcare devices… the range and scale of products is almost breath-taking.

In the US, online retailer Amazon just launched the Wearable Technology Store, offering consumers all of the above and more.

Amongst all the consumer and media excitement such products generate, I find my focus shifting more and more to the utility aspect of these shiny new objects as they come into the business realm and, inevitably, into our workplaces.

Where such technology gets interesting in this context is precisely that – the context in business.

Shel Israel and Robert Scoble zero in on context in their best-selling book, Age of Context, published last year that speaks of five technology forces that will have a profound effect on individuals, businesses and society as a whole in the next decade – social media, mobile, data, sensors and location-based technology. I see ‘sensors’ equating to ‘wearables’ to a huge extent.

This week, the BBC reports on an academic study that addresses wearable tech in the workplace. Among its positive findings – wearable devices designed to help improve posture and concentration could boost productivity by eight percent in an office.

So we can already see some of those effects Israel and Scoble talk about through the devices we’re becoming more familiar with, such as the examples above, and how and where we use them. And I believe we will see more – and faster – acceptance and adoption in business of wearable tech when multiple tipping points converge:

  1. New or evolved devices come to market that match more closely what people wish to use in a business context.
  2. The functionality of a given device offers the user an easier, simpler, faster, more effective, more convenient and/or cheaper way to get something done or gain access to valuable and useful content.
  3. Above all, a device offers its wearer (a deliberately-chosen word: not ‘user’) a compelling experience that satisfies singular or multiple desires that form a key part of the overall experience.

Om Malik‘s description of wearable tech as “intimate computing” could be close to the mark. And that does make ‘wearer’ a far more apt choice of word than ‘user’ whatever the context, business or otherwise.

It will make you think of ‘wearable’ in a new way. For instance, if you drive a new car a lot – especially a car crammed with tech – is it just a car, or an intimate computing device aka wearable technology?

Which brings me to good old ERP, the backbone of many businesses – and the last place you’d expect to see cool tech such as this in use, right?

Wrong! Just as the cool tech of only four years ago – iPads, iPhones, the emerging smartphone landscape, and an embryonic mobile-device ecosystem that’s today hugely focused on apps – was unlikely to be seen in the corporate workplace or the factory floor, now you can’t move for tablets and other devices of all shapes and sizes, connected to networks – private and public, wired and wireless – and used universally and ubiquitously for business in ways we wouldn’t have imagined at that time.

So the idea of a smartwatch that lets you engage with content from your enterprise systems to not only read messages but also actually make transactions is one whose time is almost upon us.

IFS on Gear 2

Take  a look at what IFS Labs has developed – IFS’ business applications that run on a new Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch:

The fully working proof-of-concept demonstrates how notifications from IFS’s business applications can be delivered to wearable technology. Using Samsung’s APIs for notification alerts, IFS connected components of its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) systems to send alerts in line with updates to certain processes.

For example, field service operatives could be alerted when important items are shipped, key projects are started or completed, or be notified when invoices are paid.

This is just the tip of an iceberg and you can expect to read, see and hear reports, opinions and other content about this topic in the coming weeks.

Powerful context.

(I wrote this post for first publication in the corporate blog of IFS, a global enterprise software vendor, on May 1, 2014. IFS is a client.)

With Nomad, you’ll always find juice

ChargeCard

The bane of contemporary mobile life is your smartphone running out of juice sooner than you expect (what many would undoubtedly see as a classic ‘First World problem‘).

It usually happens to me at a conference or other event when I’m using my device a lot for tweets and pics and sharing them online, and there’s no nearby power outlet; or, more typically, I don’t have a charging cable with me that I can plug into a PC’s USB port.

So when the good folk at Nomad in California asked me if I’d like to try out their ChargeCard and ChargeKey micro USB cables, I was more than happy to say yes. Here’s what each device is –

  • ChargeCard: A thin smartphone cable in a credit-card-sized format casing that’s designed to fit into even the slimmest wallet.
  • ChargeKey: A key-shaped smartphone cable that fits onto your keychain.

They work like normal cables for charging the battery and syncing your phone – in both cases, you plug one end into a computer’s USB port and the other end into your mobile device. There are versions for iPhones and for other devices that use the near-ubiquitous micro USB standard connector (almost everyone else). As all of my mobile devices are Android, I chose the micro USB versions.

The package from Nomad arrived just before Easter so I’ve had a chance to try out both devices. They work better than I expected.

As the photos here show, you plug the micro USB connector into your phone, and the end of the charging cable into a USB port on your computer.

ChargeCard

Above is the ChargeCard connected to my Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone, plugged in to a USB port on the side of my Toshiba laptop.

As you can see, the cable connector plugged in to the laptop’s USB port looks like (and is) a very flexible rubber-and-silicon material that’s built in to the more rigid hard plastic of the credit card-sized casing.

Below is the ChargeKey on a keyring with my car key.

ChargeKey

As the ChargeCard image above shows, the connector part of each device is amazingly flexible – here below is what the ChargeKey looks like with the S4 connected to the laptop’s USB port.

ChargeKey

Note how twisted the connector cable is. It’s designed to cope with that, Nomad says, and it connects and works fine. It’s an issue you encounter with many mobile devices and charging/sync cables where each connector only fits one way, so you can end up with some contortions such as you see here.

At least part of the equation will be fixed as and when the new reversible USB connector standard makes its way into the cables and connectors we’ll see and use in the coming years when new reversible-connection USB ports get built in to PCs and other devices.

I’ve now ditched all but one of the USB cables that had homes in my various bags and that usually got tangled up in something. Having one is for the time when you can’t use either of the Nomad products – no flat surface, for instance, or it’s just too awkward, so a long cable may well serve you better.

For me, by far the most comfortable-looking of Nomad’s two devices is the ChargeCard. But both are very good and would likely serve different needs. I’m not sure keeping the ChargeKey on a carkey ring such as I have is best – it’s a bit awkward aligning the various devices on a table. I find the ChargeCard to be a better bet for that.

Still, both of these devices are really great. Did I mention sync? Not only do they charge your device, but also they let you synchronize data on your device with what’s on your computer, if you have it set up for that and if that’s what you want to do. Otherwise, they’re devices that enable you to charge up your battery – and very good ones for that purpose.

The built quality is outstanding, a best-practice example of innovative design and manufacturing – and great examples of the kind of flexible wearable technology that’s beginning to emerge: imagine the wiring within the twistable connector in each of Nomad’s devices that does its job no matter how twisted the connection, so to speak.

I did wonder about how exposed the connectors are – how easily might they potentially suffer damage without covers? Nomad addresses that one in a credible set of FAQ on their website. So I’m reassured.

And I like Nomad’s philosophy:

[...] We’re focused on building simple solutions to simple problems, problems that shouldn’t slow us or you down. ChargeCard and ChargeKey are just the start of our modern, minimalist, mobility movement.

Nomad began as a Kickstarter-backed project, exceeding its fund-raising goal by a factor of more than three. It became fully funded in August 2012.

Nomad sells the ChargeCard and the ChargeKey for $29 each in the US, with discounted pricing on quantity orders and referring a friend. They also have an affiliate program (I haven’t joined that so no links here are affiliate links). There’s good news if you’re in the UK – as well as in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain – as you can buy either device from Amazon and get your purchase quickly.

Products that get you juice. What’s not to like?

FIR Interview: JerryGarcia.com developers Mark Silverman and Amy Haiar from Critical Mass

JerryGarcia.com desktop and mobile

The websites of most musicians adhere to a highly predictable template. There’s a bio, a page hosting some music, another with photos and video, a tour schedule, and a merchandise store.

In developing the recently-launched Jerry Garcia website, the team at global digital agency Critical Mass were anxious not only to explode the traditional artist’s site, but also to take the website experience to a whole new level.

The site is a wonderland of content for fans of the iconic Grateful Dead front man, as well as a place to share their own experiences and content, and connect with friends – all within the site without reliance on third-party social networks. The concept is transferable to any brand that has a history, a lot of fans and a lot of content.

The site has earned high praise. When the site launched early this year (without the Parking Lot, where fans can share their own content), Rolling Stone’s Mike Ayers wrote that the site features:

…a massive set of archival material for fans to explore, including 15,000 hours of recorded music and 3,450 shows, as well as timelines and information about 26 of Jerry’s bands and 77 of his musical collaborators. Fans will also be able to ‘follow’ 10 different tours undertaken by Garcia’s bands. …Garcia’s family provided the site with a wealth of unseen photos, concert material, ticket stubs and even Garcia’s own artwork to augment the experience. Currently, there are no plans to charge fans for access to the site’s material and the experience has been optimized for mobile devices as well.

From MusicTimes:

The sheer amount of recordings available isn’t even the best part of the deal. Fans will be able to trace ten of the tours Garcia embarked on with various bands throughout his career. For example, you could follow the entirety of the ’77 Grateful Dead tour, listening to every concert set included. Nine of the included tours are from the Dead, but the ’93 Jerry Garcia Band tour is included as well.

In this FIR interview, co-host Shel Holtz speaks with Mark Silverman and Amy Haiar, who headed up the Critical Mass team that developed the site after Silverman’s outreach upon discovering the sorry state of the domain. (A big shoutout to original Inside PR co-host David Jones for letting us know about the work Critical Mass was doing on the site.)

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About our Conversation Partners

Mark SilvermanMark Silverman, Planning Director – A culture-loving, creative problem solver, Mark is a user experience strategist focused on delivering extraordinary, results-driven, digital experiences for some of the worlds biggest brands.

With a background in science and technology, sociology, social psychology, and cultural studies, Mark joined the Critical Mass team in 2008. He is inspired by the ever-changing digital landscape and all things geeky.

Mark has covered various roles during his tenure at Critical Mass, including UX strategy, brand planning, analytics, content analysis, and account management.

Amy HaiarAmy Haiar, Creative Director – With over 15 years of interactive experience, Amy has delivered thought leadership and award-winning experiences for brands like Harley-Davidson, Nike, Hewlett-Packard, Vail Resorts, USAA, and United Airlines.

She also led the creative effort for the first ever fully responsive, fully accessible heath care website for Humana.

With an eye for innovation and pixel perfection, Amy believes craftsmanship is critical to the art of web design, and lives by the overarching philosophy: make beautifully simple work.

FIR Community on Google+Share your comments or questions about this podcast, or suggestions for future podcasts, in the online FIR Podcast Community on Google+.

You can also send us instant voicemail via SpeakPipe, right from the FIR website. Or, call the Comment Line at +1 415 895 2971 (North America), +44 20 3239 9082 (Europe), or Skype: fircomments. You can tweet us: @FIRpodcast. And you can email us at fircomments@gmail.com. If you wish, you can email your comments, questions and suggestions as MP3 file attachments (max. 3 minutes / 5Mb attachment, please!). We’ll be happy to see how we can include your audio contribution in a show.

Check the FIR website for information about other FIR podcasts. To receive all podcasts in the FIR Podcast Network, subscribe to the “everything” RSS feed.

This FIR Interview is brought to you with Lawrence Ragan Communications, serving communicators worldwide for 35 years. Information: www.ragan.com.

Podsafe music – On A Podcast Instrumental Mix (MP3, 5Mb) by Cruisebox.

(Cross-posted from For Immediate Release, Shel’s and my podcast blog.)

Twitter eight years on

Public. Real-Time. Conversational. Distributed.

Today marks the eighth anniversary of Twitter, the communication platform that is globally ubiquitous today, the eleventh most-visited website in the world.

From co-founder Jack Dorsey‘s first tweet on this day, March 21, in 2006, the number of active users of the service now exceed 240 million per month worldwide who tweet in more than 35 languages, with over three-quarters of people now using Twitter on a mobile device. Users range from the average Joe to celebrities, big brands, the mainstream media, presidents and PRs.

Who would have imagined Twitter would become such an integral part of the way in which a lot of people connect with others and with things that interest them?

Twitter monthly active users

The platform (for that is what Twitter is) has changed in these eight years from the cosy curiosity of public and private text messaging between geeky early adopters in a little social network out of San Francisco to a sophisticated service from a publicly-listed company that reported annual revenues of over $660 million in 2013, and that now lets you record and share short videos and lets governments and other organizations alert you to emergencies.

I first heard about Twitter in early summer of 2006 and joined in December 2006, mainly because I wanted to see for myself what others I knew were increasingly talking about. The service really began to take off after SXSW Interactive in March 2007.

From the communicator’s perspective, there’s no doubting the value of this tool today as a method of listening to what people are talking about – a foundational step in communication planning, something you do before you start talking. It also offers you terrific opportunities to engage with others once you do start talking.

In my view, there’s no right or wrong way to use Twitter from the business communication perspective, only effective or ineffective ways. And like all online communication tools and channels, Twitter is a mirror on the behaviours of people, reflecting what they say and do.

Just like the real world.

To mark this milestone, Twitter posted #FirstTweet, a nifty tool that lets you find your first tweet.

#FirstTweet

Mark your milestone.