Dick Costolo: Twitter unfollows the leader as social milestones are missed

Welcome back, @jack !!

The news yesterday that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is stepping down from that leadership role next month has attracted widespread commentary and opinion, not least on Twitter itself.

There’s credible opinions that Costolo is going because he hasn’t evolved Twitter as many observers and critics expected or believe he should have. Indeed, the stock market greeted yesterday’s announcement with a 10 percent rise in Twitter’s share price at one point.

An analysis in the Guardian today – you can read the full story below – is a pretty good assessment of a real predicament confronting Twitter, not only from an investor’s perspective but also from that of users and marketers.

[…] Twitter accounts for 1.6% of the critical US digital advertising market – a market worth $50.73bn – compared with Facebook’s 7.6%. Twitter accounts for 3.6% of US mobile internet ads to Facebook’s 18.5%. And in mobile display ads Twitter has a 7% market share compared to 36.7% for Facebook, according to eMarketer.

On user numbers alone – Twitter has 302m monthly active users to Facebook’s 1.44bn – the share of ad market doesn’t seem so surprising. Yet it’s the slowing down of growth that has concerned investors: Twitter’s monthly active user numbers have fallen 30% from 2013 to 2015, and by 2019 growth – a critical indicator of future potential revenues – is heading for a slowdown to 6%.

Yet there’s a more fundamental element that needs attention – what is Twitter?

[…] who is Twitter for? How does it distinguish itself against Facebook? And how can it expand its service while remaining simple and accessible?

Those questions aren’t new at all. Even though how Twitter itself talks about what Twitter is has become more clear in the past year or so, is it how users, marketers, etc, see Twitter?

Our mission: To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.

I’m not so sure. As a Twitter user since 2006, I’m often asking that question myself even though I’m more than happy to continue my thinking out loud and occasional engagement with others on the platform. I don’t have massive personal expectations of Twitter beyond the implicit simplicity behind that mission statement (but I have a different view if I put on my marketer’s hat).

Yet maybe Twitter’s not entirely sure about that either – the mission statement is slightly different on Twitter’s investor relations page.

Twitter strives to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.

Maybe change is afoot already: Twitter also announced yesterday that the 140-character limit on direct messages will be changed to a whopping 10,000 characters. Note this is for DMs only – the 140-character limit for regular tweets remains. For now, at least.

While that news will be appealing to many who will relish the opportunity of penning short stories to DM to their friends, I fear it also opens the door to push marketing – whether you like it or not – on a grand scale.

In any case, might Costolo’s departure herald a pivot of sorts in Twitter’s next steps with the (re)appointment of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey as interim CEO while Twitter starts a search for a permanent replacement?

There are all sorts of opinions about that.

[The Guardian report below is published here with permission via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.]


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Dick Costolo: Twitter unfollows the leader as social milestones are missed” was written by Jemima Kiss, for theguardian.com on Friday 12th June 2015 09.41 Europe/London

It says something about the extraordinary scale of social platforms when a technology behemoth with 302m active users every month can be seen as failing to achieve its potential. Yet that is exactly why it appears that Twitter’s chief executive, Dick Costolo, now has to go from the company’s top post.

In after-hours trading following the sudden announcement on Thursday, Twitter stock briefly fluttered up 8% higher. It was a reflection of the uneasy feelings from investors towards a man who fell under their increased and ultimately poisonous scrutiny as he navigated the social networking firm through its public offering in November 2013, having been CEO since he took over from Evan Williams in October 2010.

Despite being a very different product serving a very different audience, Twitter is often compared to Facebook – and often unfavourably. Therein lies an identity crisis of sorts.

For Twitter’s investors the concern was less about user numbers than the growth and aggressiveness of the company’s online advertising. While Costolo was popular with many staffers for bringing structure and co-ordination to a chaotic young company, and took it to a market capitalisation of .4bn, he also oversaw the process of risk and uncertainty in pushing towards a brand new space.

Costolo and Jack Dorsey, who now takes over as interim CEO, have both insisted that the move was not connected to Twitter’s recent financial results – which saw those user numbers grow just 4.86% – so much as a decision made purely by Costolo himself, as a capstone to discussions that had been going on since last autumn.

Right now Twitter is in danger of becoming a niche product: it is beloved by journalists (guilty) and marketers, yet viewed with confusion by mainstream consumers.

Where the selective friendship groups of Facebook make sense (to varying degrees), Twitter’s public face can be more intimidating. On the other hand, the 140-character simplicity of Twitter’s platform and the potential to be the “civic square” of popular debate offers just as much value and, usually, less flatulent conversations.

In an era of endless feeds and the digital burden of email and obligatory posts from friends, Twitter’s brevity and ambience is a welcome change; what you miss is just missed – not mourned, nor added to a tedious, ever-increasing pile like email.

But in focusing its business Twitter has made some strategic decisions, such as closing off access to selected third parties – Instagram at one point, Meerkat at another, and earlier to a wider stream of third-party developers. Twitter was under pressure to protect its valuable audience and its scale, and in doing so cut off the community that helped it grow.

All of which left many users and especially those investors wondering: who is Twitter for? How does it distinguish itself against Facebook? And how can it expand its service while remaining simple and accessible?

Twitter accounts for 1.6% of the critical US digital advertising market – a market worth .73bn – compared with Facebook’s 7.6%. Twitter accounts for 3.6% of US mobile internet ads to Facebook’s 18.5%. And in mobile display ads Twitter has a 7% market share compared to 36.7% for Facebook, according to eMarketer.

On user numbers alone – Twitter has 302m monthly active users to Facebook’s 1.44bn – the share of ad market doesn’t seem so surprising. Yet it’s the slowing down of growth that has concerned investors: Twitter’s monthly active user numbers have fallen 30% from 2013 to 2015, and by 2019 growth – a critical indicator of future potential revenues – is heading for a slowdown to 6%.

For a young public company those numbers are sounding more and more like a death knell. For investors, Twitter’s plans – and Costolo carried the can for this – have not confidently set out its future. Chris Sacca, a major investor, wrote an insightful essay on the company’s challenges: “Twitter has failed to meet its own stated user growth expectations and has not been able to take advantage of the massive number of users who have signed up for accounts and then not come back. Shortcomings in the direct response advertising category have resulted in the company coming in below the financial community’s quarterly estimates.

“In the wake of this Twitter’s efforts to convince the investing community of the opportunity ahead fell flat. Consequently the stock is trading near a six-month low, well below its IPO closing day price, and the company is suffering through a seemingly endless negative press cycle.”

But he says Twitter “has boldness in its bones” and that it can improve by making the service easier for new users, more supportive for users intimidated by the site, and by making it feel less lonely.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

A new platform for a new network: the FIR Podcast Network is live

FIR Podcast Network

When we introduced For Immediate Release on January 3, 2005, we had no idea we’d still be podcasting more than a decade later. We didn’t know what the state of podcasting would be, that the scope of FIR would expand, or that podcast networks would be a thing.

When we started, we just needed a website for show notes and a home for our audio files.

Ten years later, we’re still here, with exactly the same website we started with. While our website hasn’t changed, though, everything else has. FIR is evolving into a podcast network, already home to The Hobson & Holtz Report along with the five podcasts we have spun off: Interviews, Book Reviews, FIR Live, FIR Cuts, and Speakers & Speeches.

We are also already the home to 13 other communications-focused podcasts. We have shows that report on communication disciplines (such as FIR B2B and All Things IC), skills (like TV, FIR On Strategy and FIR On Technology), channels (like Linked Conversations and TV@Work) and verticals (like Higher Education).

All this made it clear to us that the website we launched 10 years ago to host one podcast was woefully inadequate. For well over a year now, we’ve been working to develop a new site. Our goals were simple enough: Offer a site that reflects the current state of podcasting and that makes it easy for people to find, subscribe to, and engage with any of FIR’s shows, on whatever device they use; and provide our podcasters with a powerful platform that’s easy for them to use and publish their shows.

Thanks to the hard work of some highly valued and talented volunteers, we have a new site that delivers on those goals. (We would be remiss if we didn’t point out that these volunteers are also part of the FIR listener community.) Sallie Goetsch (rhymes with “sketch”) – a knowledgeable and skilled WordPress developer through her WP FanGirl business – performed the lion’s share of the work required to create the site, while the good folks at Effective Edge Communications handled the design of the artwork for the FIR Podcast Network’s identity, along with all the great cover art associated with each show.

The new site at our new domain, www.firpodcastnetwork.com, should make it easier for you to find, follow, and interact with the podcasts that interest you. You’ll also have an easier time learning about show hosts as well as our sponsors. (If you’re in search of older episodes, you can still access the old FIR site at its new URL, www.firpodcastarchives.com.)

We’re launching the new site on the WordPress platform, recognizing the compelling advantages of a content management system that powers more than 60 million websites worldwide.

The new site is just the first step in a series of evolutionary changes to FIR. We’ll announce each of these when we’re ready; but we can anticipate at least one of your questions, and yes, we will have more new podcasts joining the network.

In the meantime, please enjoy all the great content the FIR Podcast Network has to offer you. Your participation as a member of the FIR community means the world to us, and we plan to do everything we can to deliver consistently high-quality content that entertains you, excites you, inspires you, and helps you stay on top of the ever-shifting sands of the communication environment.

We welcome your feedback and comments.

(Cross-posted from the FIR Podcast Network blog.)

Fixing a polling system that’s out of sync

Latest Voting Intention

Reading the various reports, narratives and commentaries this weekend about the results of the UK general election that took place on May 7, the overall perspective I’ve formed on all of that is how could the expert commentators, opinion-formers and outcome-predictors have got it all so wrong?

The election result produced a clear win for the Conservatives with a slender majority in the House of Commons (12 seats), and the virtual annihilation of the primary opposition political parties – the leaders of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Ukip have all quit – that confounded every single opinion poll in the months, weeks and days leading up to May 7, which had all predicted a hung Parliament as the best outcome anyone could expect.

So another coalition government looked a likely election outcome according to those polls – followed perhaps by another election in six months or so – and many column inches and pixels have been spent in offering what-if? scenarios of who might be able to form a government with whom, etc (the BBC’s interactive tool was especially good), much of it based on those opinion poll results.

About the only thing the pollsters did get right was the surging Scottish Nationalist Party which triumphed in Scotland in almost a clean sweep, winning 56 of 59 Scottish seats at Westminster.

Having been in America since May 3 with hardly a moment spare to look at the TV never mind online news, I had been shielded from any mainstream reporting and commentary back home in the run-up to election day last Thursday (our election was unquestionably not a big news item in the US mainstream media). What I did see, though, was plenty of comment and opinion on social media channels, notably Twitter, that presented a view of Labour being well ahead as the likely voting preference of a majority, and reinforced much of the mainstream feeling about a close-run election and a hung Parliament.

Socialist Media - Economist.com

And so I flew back to the UK on Thursday night US time arriving here on Friday morning UK time to the news that took me by surprise as much as it apparently did all those experts I mentioned – not a close-run thing at all but a pretty decisive Conservative victory, nothing like a hung Parliament, and a political landscape that no longer looked familiar with the downfall of the traditional political opposition.

With the nationalists rampant in Scotland and the Conservatives resurgent just about everywhere else outside the large urban centres in England, the former looks alarmingly like a one-party state with the latter arguably close to that territory. Indeed, it doesn’t look like a very United Kingdom at the moment.

But analysis on comment like that is for more knowledgeable subject-matter experts to ponder over.

What interests me mostly now is those opinion polls I mentioned earlier – how could they have got it so wrong?

You can choose from a great deal of opinion on that question, to which I add my two-pence-worth to suggest a combination of factors such as:

1. Reliance on an opinion-polling system that, largely, behaves the same as 50 years ago when few-to-many was the only communication model: the few controlled the news and methods of communication (the mainstream media companies); the many (the great British public) formed opinion based on what they read in the newspapers or heard on the radio (TV was still in its infancy) – their only reliable sources of news and information; and the pollsters formed their predictions based on what the public told them in answer to narrow questions where you read what the newspapers said to help you form opinions.

That’s totally not the picture today where the mainstream media is but one element in an immersive crowded information and communication landscape that enables anyone with an opinion and an internet connection to become a content-creator, news broadcaster and opinion-former.

Anyone with an opinion...

2. Lack of trust in, and engagement by, the political process and politicians themselves: let’s start with the Edelman Trust Barometer 2015 published in January that shows a continuing trend line for lack of trust in governments and politicians on a worldwide level, not only in the UK.

3. Public tiredness and disenchantment with politics in general and this election process in particular: so much partisan opinion and commentary – yes, I do call it propaganda – where it has been tough to filter signal from relentless noise and focus on what you think is credible and trustworthy to warrant your attention and your willingness to believe.

A case in point for me was the Leaders’ Debate on BBC’s Question Time programme on April 30. Debate? Hardly. Prepared sound-bite responses by each leader individually to questions from a carefully-controlled audience. The inauthenticity of it was breath-taking.

(Of course, I should point out that some analysts are saying that this TV event was instrumental in helping many voters decide who to vote for. If that’s true, then I’ll stick to my day job.)

4. The remoteness of much of it: so much stuff by people you don’t know, with hashtags on social media like #GE2015 that are tsunamis of opinions you don’t trust because much of it is so clearly partisan; and politicians who sound so patronising with their so-sincere-sounding and constant over-use of phrases like “hard-working families” and “working people” that you eventually tune it all out.

Some or all of this probably contributed to the huge number of “Don’t know” responses when people were asked by pollsters for their voting intentions – 25 percent of voters said they didn’t know who they’d vote for on the day, according to one report I saw.

That meant that the polling organizations, pundits and others were left to predict outcomes based on incomplete data from which to glean credible insights, along with that imperfect methodology for a contemporary society – are those the major factors that let it all be so wrong?

I read of one poll where the organizers predicted the actual election outcome with some clarity (and accuracy as it turned out) but who said they didn’t publish it for fear of being ridiculed: their poll was so totally different to all the others that were predicting a neck-and-neck close race, hung Parliament, etc.

And what was their methodology? Actually talking to voters: ringing them up on the phone and directly asking them relevant questions that they would want to answer.

YouGov’s Antony Wells summarized what he thought of the polling debacle:

[…] there is something genuinely wrong here. For several months before the election the polls were consistently showing Labour and Conservative roughly neck-and-neck. Individual polls exist that showed larger Conservative or Labour leads and some companies tended to show a small Labour lead or small Conservative lead, but no company consistently showed anything even approaching a seven point Conservative lead. The difference between the polls and the result was not just random sample error, something was wrong.

It’s worth taking a look at the 700+ comments to Well’s blog post.

So the current polling system used in this kind of significant national event has suffered a severe setback in how it is regarded from accuracy, trust and credibility perspectives. This has clearly rung a loud alarm bell as the British Polling Council, the trade body for the polling industry, has announced with some understatement that it’s setting up a public enquiry into what went wrong:

The final opinion polls before the election were clearly not as accurate as we would like, and the fact that all the pollsters underestimated the Conservative lead over Labour suggests that the methods that were used should be subject to careful, independent investigation.

The British Polling Council, supported by the Market Research Society, is therefore setting up an independent enquiry to look into the possible causes of this apparent bias, and to make recommendations for future polling.

The focus of the enquiry will be on polling methodology, according to the announcement.

Looking forward to learning what those recommendations are.

How ready are you for #Mobilegeddon ?

Tuesday April 21, 2015 – that’s tomorrow – is a date that will mark a milestone of sorts for any business with a website on the public world wide web.

It’s the day when a company like Legal and General Group will start to see its ranking in Google search results begin to be influenced by how friendly its website is when viewed on a mobile device rather than on a desktop or laptop computer.

Unfortunately for Legal and General, their website is not very friendly at all. Here’s what it looks like on my Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone running the Android operating system:

Legal & General website as seen on a smartphone

It’s the regular desktop website formatted for how it would appear when you visit on a desktop computer and interact with a mouse, but squeezed into the small screen of a smartphone where taps and swipes with fingers rule the roost, not clicks with a mouse. And note you’re seeing a screenshot that shows the website considerably larger than actual size on the smartphone screen.

It’s not a good experience on my phone or on an iPhone or iPad; indeed, on any contemporary mobile device, all of which are increasing in use and have already overtaken the use of PCs.

Legal and General is the first company in the FTSE 100 that I picked at random to look at its website on my mobile device. Others, too, that are not yet mobile-friendly – Intercontinental Hotels Group and BHP Billiton, to name just two more.

What will start to happen now to companies like these is that when someone searches for them on a mobile device, the search results will decrease if your website is not mobile friendly.

Google search results have already begun indicating if a particular site is mobile friendly or not, as this screenshot shows for my website:

nevillehobsonmobilefriendly

Google recognises my site as mobile friendly – note the phrase “mobile-friendly” that I’ve highlighted in the screenshot. It has been mobile friendly for well over four years.

Google flagged this deadline in February:

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.

The bold is my emphasis.

It really is extraordinary that any business with a website hasn’t paid attention to a huge trend that’s been gathering momentum for some years now – the growth of the mobile internet and the eclipse of the desktop.

Some – many – of the FTSE 100 are ready for mobile. The first company I found that is, is Antofagasta, a Chile-based copper mining company which also has the “mobile-friendly” label against its name in a Google mobile search.

Antofagasta mobile-friendly website

It’s not too late to get your website seen as mobile-friendly by Google when anyone searches for you on a mobile device. Google has free tools you can use, starting with its Mobile-Friendly Test Tool that will analyse your site and tell you in some detail whether it’s mobile-friendly or not. If not, it will give you useful insights and guidance on what to do about it.

If your website runs any recent version of the WordPress content management system, you have the opportunity to get your site mobile friendly very quickly via responsive design themes readily available for the platform, many available at no cost.

While the deadline is tomorrow, it doesn’t mean the sky will suddenly and immediately fall in when someone finds your mobile-unfriendly website in a Google mobile search. But it looks quite clear that Google will penalize you over time, so making your website mobile-friendly just seems like good sense.

You can avoid #Mobilegeddon!

Useful reading:

Sprinklr gets satisfaction

Get Satisfaction

It looks like the $46 million that Sprinklr raised from investors earlier this month is powering the enterprise social media firm’s expansion drive with its announcement last week that it has acquired Get Satisfaction, an online customer engagement community platform connecting companies with their customers to foster valuable relationships.

This is Sprinklr’s fifth acquisition in just over a year.

In its press release, Sprinklr said the addition of Get Satisfaction adds industry-leading, community-based customer support to its Experience Cloud and will enable enterprise brands to create, manage, and deliver relevant experiences across almost 25 social channels and brand websites.

Sprinklr said it will integrate Get Satisfaction into its Experience Cloud, the new platform announced in tandem with the $46 million investment-raising – what I described as an “omnichannel offering” – that gives enterprise companies a complete, integrated, and collaborative set of social capabilities for managing social media, brand websites, content, paid advertising, and listening.

Sprinklr CEO Ragy Thomas noted in an email:

The addition of Get Satisfaction to the Sprinklr Experience Cloud enables our clients to deliver world class community-based customer support, while leveraging the same  practices and processes they use for social customer care with Sprinklr today.

When all is said and done, our clients can create, manage, and deliver experiences that customers will love across 20+ social networks and brands’ websites.

One aspect of this deal that strikes me as especially significant is what it provides to Sprinklr in terms of access to and control of customer data and metrics for social media monitoring and analysis.

Access to data from a social network is typically via an API controlled by the network. If it’s shut down, or access otherwise is no longer allowed, the data flow stops which could be damaging to a business that relies on it for its service. A current case in point is Datasift and Twitter (and see the discussion in Robert Scoble’s Facebook post).

As TechCrunch reported:

[…] This is where Get Satisfaction becomes an interesting acquisition for Sprinklr. What it will give the company is the ability to collect data from customers, about businesses and brands, on its own platform, which it can then use to power its wider analytics services.

“We have to honor third party terms and conditions, and we do,” [Carlos Dominguez, Sprinklr’s president] said, but the data that Sprinklr will have greater control over will give it much more flexibility in how that data is used and also presented, he added. “You can provide a richer experience to people. This tech has benefits for the brand and their customers. It enhances the experience.”

(And remember, Get Satisfaction has been around since 2007, giving it eight years of data collected already that could be used for analytics.)

Sprinklr didn’t disclose the terms of its acquisition of Get Satisfaction nor the value of the deal. Sprinklr says Get Satisfaction’s technology will be integrated into the Sprinklr platform “in the coming months.”

Plenty to like in Project Spartan

Project Spartan

Will Microsoft’s Internet Explorer see the sunset later this year?

It’s certainly not my browser of choice. Indeed, I don’t use it at all, preferring Google Chrome on the desktop and mobile and, lately, experimenting with Vivaldi, an impressive new browser that’s based on Google Chromium code.

Since it first appeared in 1995, Internet Explorer has come with the Windows operating system. Unless you manually install an alternative, that’s what you end up with. In Europe until recently, Microsoft was forced by EU law to offer users across the EU a choice of browser on first running Windows.

All this may become just a Windows-and-browser history footnote with Windows 10 – the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, successor to Windows 8.1, and currently in pre-release public beta – and Project Spartan, a new browser that will come with the new OS and will be the successor to Internet Explorer.

Currently, you can only get Spartan if you’re a member of the Windows Insider testing programme and install the latest build 10049 of the Windows 10 Technical Preview (as the test version is known), released to testers last week.

I’ve been part of the Insider programme for the past six months or so, and was able to install build 10049 this weekend and so get a glimpse of Spartan.

First impressions are always key:

  • Pleasing interface, a very attractive contemporary look to it.
  • Write or type notes directly on a web page, and optionally save them. If you use Spartan on a tablet or other device with a touch screen (and stylus) you write; on a non-touch-screen device – like the Dell desktop PC I’m running Windows 10 on in its own disk partition – you type.
  • Save web pages to a reading list, not just as the traditional favourites bookmarks: a different content organization (and sharing) method.
  • It loads fast and gets content from the web fast. Probably depends on internet connectivity speed for some of that.
  • Impressively quick search-term prediction functionality with the Bing search engine. If this is consistently fast and accurate – getting you what you want and quickly – then I would very likely use it more, maybe even instead of Google search.
  • A reading view sans all the clutter of menu bars, etc. Think of the Kindle.
  • Ask Cortana, voice-activated spoken search. Haven’t tried that yet.

And there’s more, too, that I haven’t looked at yet either. Experimentation to come.

For a beta software product, it’s very advanced and polished, much like the Windows 10 Preview itself.

It’s not entirely ready yet, though, as I discovered when I tried to visit my Google+ page in Spartan.

"Your browser is no longer supported"

At least it gave me an opportunity to try out the Web Note functionality by typing a note directly on the web page as you can see.

I imagine such errors will be addressed before too long. Or that Google does read the memo.

In summary, I think Spartan resets the bar for a contemporary web browser that works well across all platforms, ie, desktop and mobile, and gives you a great experience. But others such as Vivaldi are challenging that bar, not to mention what we’ll no doubt see in upcoming versions of Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari. It’s no guarantee that Spartan will be the browser of choice for a Windows 10 user. Not to mention users in enterprises where Internet Explorer is the king of the common standard imposed on users.

Still, if you are trying out Windows 10, you’ll like Spartan. But will you love it?