Scaling visual messaging and the attraction for marketers

WhatsApp

The rise of mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp – used by at least 500,000,000 people a month around the world who share 700 million photos and 100 million videos every single day – is one growing facet of a multi-dimensioned object that I call “the visual social web.”

It’s not a separate thing to the social web; rather, it’s a part of it that I think will have greater significance to people who use such a service, because it’s about pictures not only words.

And what about words. aka text messaging? That was the prime reason for many to start using a service like WhatsApp: that and the fact that it lets you send and receive the equivalent of SMS messages without incurring charges from your mobile operator (because it can use wifi not only cellular networks for such messaging transmission and reception).

According to some metrics, WhatsApp users send and receive 64 billion text messages every day – it’s almost mind-boggling – so text is a huge part of overall online communication between individuals.

Yet it’s visual messaging that I think is the more disruptive, primarily because of the appeal it has for marketers who want to get their story-telling out to their target audience across social networks that are richer and more appealing than just words alone. I’m sure you will have seen or at least heard about numerous studies and research in the past year that confirm the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.

The WhatsApp metrics about photos and videos are compelling indeed in this regard, and I would expect: 1) to see those metrics increase even more; and 2) to see more interest by marketers in visual story-telling that actually engages people, not simply broadcast messages to them.

For all that to be in place, you need to know a lot more about those you wish to engage with, what marketers traditionally call the target audience that I mentioned earlier.

That made me think about a dark side that I can see happening. Maybe it’s the big hurdle for marketers to jump over in their learnings about how to really connect with people in the mobile online world.

I’m referring to news this week that Tumblr plans to scan all the images on its site for insight into a person’s sentiment about a brand.

That makes total sense to me as part of the essential need to better understand your target audience. If technology has evolved to make it possible to actually do that at scale, what a tool!

And the dark side I mentioned? Steve Hall at AdRants explains it succinctly:

[...] One wonders what will become of all the people who post “I hate brand xxx” photos. Will the brand police swoop in and pummel the person with trollish commentary? And if someone has positive things to say about a brand will they incessantly be held up as a poster child for said brand on social media? And if anything remotely like this happens, will Tumblr users game the system for their own benefit? Or simply punk a brand by enlisting all their followers for a bit of viral shenanigans?

As someone said nearly a decade ago, it’s not what the software does, it’s what the user does.

Oh, and check this out – ‘Selfie Stick’ Takes Rooftopping Self-Portraits to the Next Level of Crazy:

Rooftop selfie...

The new frontier for marketers?

(Screenshot at top via Mashable)

Would you be happier without Facebook?

99 Days of Freedom

If you were not happy – outraged, even – with how Facebook behaved over the mood experiment they conducted last month, an experiment from a Dutch creative agency might be right up your street.

What Facebook did was manipulate information posted on nearly 700,000 users’ home pages that showed that the social network could make people feel more positive or negative through a process of emotional contagion.

Now Dutch creative agency Just has come up with 99 Days of Freedom, a call to action for Facebook users to demonstrate their disapproval of Facebook by switching off from the social network for 99 days.

[...It] asks users to refrain from Facebook use for a period of 99 consecutive days and report back on how the hiatus affects personal notions of happiness. The initiative’s website, 99daysoffreedom.com, provides a set of simple user instructions, which include posting a “time-off” image as a profile picture and starting a personalized, 99-day countdown clock. From there, participants are asked to complete anonymous “happiness surveys” at the 33, 66 and 99-day marks, with results posted to the initiative’s website as they’re compiled. The initiative will also host a message board through which participants can post anonymous accounts of how an extended break from Facebook is impacting their lives.

It’s a kind of mood experiment in reverse.

It’s also a cool initiative that gets Just a lot of attention for its imagination and creativity, as well as for the initiative itself. If it gets traction, it could focus considerable public attention on broad issues of online behaviours, manipulation of those behaviours by social networks, what companies do with our personal information, how we spend time online, etc – all hot topics today and great ones for ongoing public debate and discussion.

In its press release announcing 99 Days of Freedom, Just also talks about the amount of time people spend on Facebook:

[...] According to Facebook, its 1.2 billion users spend an average of 17 minutes per day on the site, reading updates, following links or browsing photos. Over a three-month period, that adds up to more than 28 hours which, the initiative’s creators contend, could be devoted to more emotionally fulfilling activities – learning a new skill, performing volunteer work or spending time (offline) with friends and family.

The subjective conclusion will appeal to many users, to be sure. My view is that many other users will be quite comfortable from an emotionally-fulfilling perspective – or any other one – with spending 28 hours on Facebook during any three-month period.

You could apply the same argument to Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn… Horses for courses.

Still, 99 Days of Freedom is an interesting experiment and it will be equally interesting to see how it goes, how many people sign up to do it – 16,748 when I looked at the website just now – and what conclusions arise at the end of each person’s 99 days. I’d love to see a brand try it!

Give it a go?

Enjoy life!

 

The only way is ethics #PRethics

The debate in Committee Room No 10 / pic by Kate Matlock

Committee Room number 10 in the House of Commons in London was the setting in the evening of July 7 for a vibrant debate on a big topic, formally titled “Wearable technology is an ethical nightmare for the communications, marketing and PR professions.”

Organized by The Debating Group and sponsored by the CIPR, the motion was proposed by Stephen Davies and seconded by me; and opposed by Stephen Waddington and seconded by Claire Walker.

About 100 people formed the audience, many of whom contributed opinion and running commentary on Twitter as each of the four speakers made their cases for the motion and against it. Once the formal addresses had been made, debate chair Alastair McCapra opened the debate to the floor where 18 people offered their perspectives to the debate.

It was a most interesting few hours. Opinion during the motions seemed pretty evenly divided, which seems to me to be fairly reflected in the commentary on Twitter. But when it came to the moment of voting, we were firmly defeated – 55 votes against the motion with only 28 for it.

Yet those stark numbers hide one reality, which is that it’s clear to me that this topic is not as black and white as it seems, offering only agreement or disagreement as your options. It is phenomenally nuanced, with so many shades of grey, and where almost everything you might say needing to start with “It depends.”

It’s also clear that the two opposing sides to the motion were far closer in thinking and belief than it may seem. Closer in the view that the topic is largely about people’s behaviours rather than about the wearable tech – meaning, what the tech enables people to do and so what they do or don’t do with it – and largely about providing codes of conduct that would be the roadmap for PR practitioners’ behaviour in how they use wearable tech.

I wholly support that idea although I’m far less optimistic that PR practitioners will simply abide by a code of conduct and not do bad things. If some PRs can’t get even the basics right, why should I have confidence that they can be trusted to do the right thing on their own with something far more important? Having a code is great, but it needs by-example leadership and professional behaviour to make it work at all.

Hence the “it depends” idea where I firmly believe that there won’t be an ethical nightmare as long as we – the profession, consultancies and clients, and individuals – take firm and clear steps to make the landscape anything but an ethical nightmare. We must do this, actively and proactively, collectively and individually.

Unlike my fellow speakers in the debate, I didn’t make a prepared speech. Instead, I prepared talking points from which I highlighted my perspectives to support Stephen. For the purpose of this narrative, let me highlight the bottom line of my argument:

Is there (or will there be) an ethical nightmare for PR, marketing and communication professionals?

I have 3 answers…

Yes, if…

1. Yes, if we do nothing to raise awareness and educate our publics on the SWOT of wearable tech.

2. Yes, if we fail to recognize the critical importance of the trust consumers place in our clients, in our employers and in governments that their behaviours are ethical.

3. Yes, if we fail to take advantage of the opportunities to advance our profession at the vanguard of understanding the ethics, scope and scale surrounding the enabling technologies that are before us, and what they will do – and do not – for our clients, our employers, consumers and businesses, and society at large.

Will we do this?

You tell me.

And here’s the argument in detail by the lead debaters:

My complete notes on Scribd:

I’ve seen some great reports and commentary about the debate, notably:

And of course, the curation of all the tweets, etc, in Storify by Gabrielle Laine-Peters:

And finally, credit where credit’s due – hard to resist a pun on the word ‘ethics’ as I use in my headline above. “The only way is ethics” is a play on “The only way is Essex,” a popular (?) reality TV show in the UK. So, full credit to Wadds for first use in the debate!

Yo: Possibilities

Yo

Have you tried Yo yet? The new social messaging app for iOS and Android devices has certainly attracted a great deal of buzz this past week.

I first heard about Yo in an FT post on June 18 that described it thus:

[...Yo is] messaging without the messages. All you can do with Yo is send a friend a notification saying “Yo”. The entirety of the app is a list of friends’ usernames, one tap of which sends them a “Yo”, which arrives with a cheeky intonation of the colloquial greeting and the name of the sender. Each Yo can mean whatever you want it to mean – or have agreed beforehand with your friend. Ultra-simplicity brings wide-open scope for personal interpretation.

So what would you do with Yo? Here’s what the developers say in the description about Yo in Google Play:

The simplest & most efficient communication tool in the world.

Yo is a single-tap zero character communication tool.

Yo is everything and anything, it all depends on you, the recipient and the time of the Yo.

Wanna say “good morning”? just Yo.
Wanna say “Baby I’m thinking about you”? – Yo.
“I’ve finished my meeting, come by my office” – Yo.
“Are you up?” – Yo.

The possibilities are endless.

We don’t want your email, Facebook, there is no search, no nothing. just Yo.

Open the app, tap Yo, that’s it.

It’s that simple. Yo

Minimalism in mobile social messaging – I find the idea quite appealing!

Not everyone does, though. Writing in TechCrunch, for instance, Sarah Perez says, “Yo is a fad. Nothing more.” In my Twitter circle, Rachel Miller says, “Certainly simple to use, but baffling as to why you would!”

While it may well turn out to be a fad ultimately, and may continue to baffle in the meantime, Yo is attracting more than just buzz in the form of investor promises of $1.2 million. It’s also reportedly been hacked, but that doesn’t seem to bother its fans (currently at least 500,000 users according to Business Insider).

And then there are brands and marketing.

Brand Republic reports that Yo’s Israeli inventor Or Arbel has a big imagination:

[...] Arbel claims brands could get involved in a number of ways including Starbucks using it to let customers know when their order is ready, airline Delta informing people when their friend’s plane has landed, and Gap informing people when they have a sale on.

Someone will do one or more of those things, you can be sure. Whether it’s any of the companies Arbel cites remains to be seen.

Potential to keep an eye on.

By the way, the word ‘Maxroom’ in the screenshot above is my Yo handle. Say Yo! if you’d like to connect.

Is wearable technology an ethical nightmare for PR?

The Borg

Amongst the buzz and hype surrounding Google Glass, health and fitness monitoring wristbands, smart watches, implantable devices, talking cars  and the rest of the burgeoning field labelled ‘wearable technology,’ an important aspect is largely overlooked if not ignored.

That aspect embraces multiple issues, from privacy of personal or confidential information to ethical behaviours we expect from companies and brands who may use wearable technology in their marketing, communication and other activities that let them reach out to consumers and employees.

It seems to me that, too often, we’re overlooking a key point that technology, wearable or otherwise, is about what people do or not do, not the shiny new objects themselves.

So I’m looking forward to the opportunity to discuss such concerns as part of a debate that will take place in London next month at the House of Commons, organized by the CIPR:

On the evening of Monday 7 July in Committee Room 10 at the House of Commons, the CIPR will be hosting a Debating Group event to debate the motion ‘Wearable Technology is an ethical nightmare for the communications, marketing and PR professions’.

Chair: Lord Clement-Jones

Proposing the motion: Stephen Davies, Founder, Substantial Digital Health

Seconding the motion: Neville Hobson, NevilleHobson.com

Opposing the motion: Stephen Waddington MCIPR, CIPR President, Digital and Social Media Director at Ketchum Europe

Seconding: Claire Walker FCIPR, Chief Executive, Firefly Communications

This a red-hot topic, in my view, one that’s swimming with “It depends…” elements, and one that we must debate and get on the attention agenda of public relations practitioners.

The debate is free to attend but you must request an invitation. Details on how to do that are on the CIPR’s event page.

Hashtag: #CIPRdebate.

Valuable insights in 2014 #InternetTrends report by Mary Meeker

netflix-chromecast.jpg

Last week, US venture capitalist and former Wall Street securities analyst Mary Meeker published her 2014 Internet Trends report that offers a deep-dive look into the trends, possibilities, probabilities, scope and scale of what the global connected world will look like in the coming few years.

It highlights trends to pay attention to, offering keen insights into what’s shaping this connected world:

  1. Key internet trends showing slowing internet user growth but strong smartphone, tablet and mobile data traffic growth as well as rapid growth in mobile advertising.
  2. Emerging positive efficiency trends in education and healthcare.
  3. High-level trends in messaging, communications, apps and services.
  4. Data behind the rapid growth in sensors, uploadable / findable / shareable data, data mining tools and pattern recognition.
  5. Context on the evolution of online video.
  6. Observations about online innovation in China.

At 164 pages, the slide deck is huge in its scope, and a challenge to decipher detailed meaning from just a deck without the benefit of hearing its creator talk you through it (she did that at the event last week for which she had prepared the deck).

Many others are filling the vacuum to do that. I have some thoughts, too, on a few areas from the 164 slides. I expand on that below, but if you want to just feast on all of Meeker’s data right now, here’s the deck:

Last year’s 2013 Internet Trends report was 117 pages, a slim volume by comparison. Indeed, I found it it a relatively simple matter to quickly glean and absorb insights from her deck to come up with what I saw in May 2013 as fifteen big trends for the evolving digital age.

A year later, how does the landscape look?

Here are three elements from the 2014 report that caught my attention (and imagination).

1. The rise of the mobile internet and the mobile devices that people want to use on the web are irresistible

The first aspect is the steady increase in shipments of smartphones (Wikipedia definition) worldwide since 2009 …

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…  and, in tandem, the rocketing growth in tablet (Wikipedia definition) shipments which overtook shipments of desktop and notebook PCs at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013.

And notice the massive uptick in tablet shipments that started at the end of the first quarter in 2013 …

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… which makes it easy to understand in the context of the increasing numbers of people accessing content on the web via mobile devices like smartphones and tablets in May 2014 compared to the same time in 2013. While there isn’t a slide to show how connectivity – whether wired, wireless or cellular – is growing everywhere, these figures surely provide convincing evidence that that is what’s happening.

And global mobile usage average has almost doubled year on year, broadly reflecting the detail in each of the regions measured.

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What these metrics say to me is this: if your presence on the web isn’t attuned to mobile – meaning, your site delivers the content people want and a great experience they expect when they come to you on their mobile devices – you’re in serious trouble.

2. The evolution of mobile apps

If using the web on a mobile device is increasing at a rapid pace as smartphones and tablets eclipse desktops and laptops, the requirement for mobile tools – apps – to let you do what you want on your mobile connected device is equally increasing at a rapid pace …

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… where those apps are evolving into tools of genuine utility for the user, that let you do certain things very well.

So instead of being all things to all men, so to speak, many apps are shifting into specific use formats …

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… that offer you context-aware interactions that, as TechCrunch notes, are purpose-built and informed by contextual signals like hardware sensors to interact with you in far more compelling ways than at present to maximize their usefulness to you.

3. Game changers for mobile TV and video consumption

Meeker’s slide deck has a great deal of content about the rise of personalized television where you the user define what the content is that you will watch and where you get it from (think of custom user preferencing in Netflix and Chromecast, as examples of this), and how you control it.

Consumers increasingly expect to watch TV content on their own terms.

I have a good example: watching a film that’s delivered from Netflix where I control its output with my smartphone or tablet to play on my digital smart television via wifi connection to the Chromecast dongle plugged in to the HDMI port on the TV. No traditional TV broadcaster in this transmission/consumption equation at all.

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For me, this text slide summarizes very well the key aspects of all this, the “televisual game changers.”

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And so, a small subset of the compelling content in Mary Meeker’s 164 pages of metrics and insights that make up her Internet Trends 2014 report. My focus has very much been on mobile. That’s by accident and by design – I didn’t plan this post to be like that, yet all the things that grabbed my attention that I’ve written about here are all to do with mobile.

Well, maybe not everything. Big data trends, for instance.

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Do review the full deck and see what strikes you as compelling. And some of the other reporting on it is pretty good, adding to the ways in understanding what the report is about:

Download the PDF report here: 2014 Internet Trends By Mary Meeker or view the deck on Slideshare.