Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Has Google cracked mobile commerce?

Last week at a public launch Stephanie Tilenius, Google commerce and payments vice president stated
“Today, we’ve joined with leaders in the industry to build the next generation of mobile commerce”
Available to (US only) customers from this Summer is a new feature from Google and its partners (Citi, MasterCard, First Data and Sprint).... the Google Wallet, a new way of turning a smartphone into a smart way of paying for things. Wallet uses Near Field Communication (NFC) to make secure and fast payments conveniently by just tapping the phone on a terminal near to the checkout or payment area.

Google Wallet has been developed to work with MasterCard's PayPass network, which is already working in 124,000 PayPass-enabled stores across America. The trials of the technology have already started in New York and San Francisco, but as yet there's no word on if and when this service is to be rolled-out in the UK.

However, the technology and partners are available in the UK for Google to use when it wants.... We already have NFC phones available, such as Google's Nexus S and some versions of the Samsung Galaxy S II and BlackBerry Bold. Plus.... Orange and Barclaycard coincidentally launched their NFC payment service last week.

All indications are that this is finally the mobile payment service we've been waiting for and finally sees the convergence of an electronic payment and the one device we always keep with us.... our mobile phone.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Common eCommerce questions I've been asked

The other day I quickly posted that I was mentioned as one of seven UK eCommerce consultants to know in the UK by directorsof.com .... So I took time out this evening to consider what it actually means to be an eCommerce consultant and I’ve put together a few questions and answers based on things I’ve been asked in the past:

1. It’s all about technology isn’t it?
No. Sure without the technology you wouldn’t have the platform to transact online (e.g. the web), but don’t be fooled into thinking that the IT part of it is the most critical part.

2. So what is about then?
It is all about selling to the customer and making money. The 4 P’s of retail still apply when selling online: Product, Price, Placement and Promotion…

3. Why are some retailers in the same market so good at it compared to others?
This is a more tricky one to explain, but simply put… they have the right support (management) & culture (drive, learning, etc.), plus have made some great choices in hiring the right staff and picked the best tools & techniques to use along the way.

4. What’s the biggest mistake online retailers make?
I was recently at a presentation by Paul Coby, the CIO of John Lewis. His quote of “if you outsource your brain, you outsource your wallet” really struck a chord with me. It reminded me of the times when I’ve seen clients depend too much on the advice of external consultants or agencies and not have even a decent understanding of what they are buying and implementing. This is so very relevant in the fast-changing world of eCommerce, where its incredibly easy to buy the latest and greatest in the race to stay ahead of the competition.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Being recognised as an eCommerce Consultant

Today I was really chuffed to be mentioned on the directorsof.com website as one of “Seven E-Commerce Consultants you need to know”.

This is a pretty big accolade to have in the UK online commerce and multi-channel retailing industry.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Social Media and Solicitors

How much more proof does anyone need about the power of Social Media? It has an ability to fuel rebellions, topple governments and now revoke superinjunctions handed down by UK judges.

What is not a surprise is that out-of-touch Judges can try to suppress any form of media, old or new. However, what is far more of a shock is the obvious lack of insight about such matters that was displayed by specialist legal company Schillings, the company that recommend that Ryan Giggs chase after Twitter this week. They advised the philandering father to go after the Californian-based social networking site to find out the details of those who posted information about the footballer’s “off the ball” antics.

Are they not aware of the so-called Streisand effect; where those who attempt to hide or remove items online about themselves only make matters worse?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why PR needs to understand search and social media

Communications Convergence, a big term used by a few knowledgeable people to describe the gradual merging of the different roles done by communications professionals. As you will have seem from previous postings, I believe that the old roles of marketing and public relations are now so closely intertwined that they have become indistinguishable from each other. Awareness, interest, desire and action via digital channels are all now all part of a continuing path of online customer acquisition that defies traditional communication job roles.

Typically it has been the marketer (or marketeer, if you wish) that has been the more aggressive/assertive in online promotion areas… possibly fuelled by hard sales targets or other drivers. They were also the early adopters of social media... but as soon as consumers started asking questions back it became a problem for them.

But with existing of expertise of bringing together messages and audience (as well as being used to answering those difficult questions) PR and communications professionals are in just the right place to understand and utilise the new tools & methods of customer engagement and brand messaging…. that of online search and the social web

Ok, it is not a particularly revolutionary thing to say, but its fairly obvious that an understanding is needed of how search engines use content (notice I didn’t say “how search engines work”) and how to leverage the way that people connect with each other as well as brands & organisations. What is perhaps more challenging to those who have already got their heads around the previous two online tools, is the fact that search and social aren’t actually distinct functions, but two sides of the same arch that meet over the head of the PR pro sat underneath.

In my view the intersection of where Social Media and Search Engine Optimisation meet is the PR digital sweet spot. It’s this point that’s the true online communication convergence point. It is here that news meets searcher and where potential customer meets a shared audience with the same voice. It is therefore this point that the PR person must understand, adopt and learn to wield with all the effort and rigour that they have previously applied to their traditional role.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Integrating Facebook into my blog (correctly)

The keen-eyed amongst you (who read this blog via the original website, not one of the syndicated places or on an RSS reader) will see that I have an updated "Tell your Facebook friends" area on the right side of each page.

Previously for about a year this held a very similar function that let you "like" my content (but to be honest, most of you won't have noticed the difference). The main aim was that when you clicked on the thumb icon it would link to your Facebook account, with the secondary aim that this blog could eventually build up more than 25 followers... so I could claim a 'Facebook vanity URL'.

Why? Well, because this was the first time I had done something like this, integrating my public self with my private self in the popular social network that I share with my friends. It was more a "let's try it and see", rather than "let's try it and build followers".

However, there was one rather large problem. It didn't work.

Yup, for some reason when users clicked on the old link, it instantly told them they "liked" this blog, but that was it. It didn't register them as a follower within the Facebook page I had set up and it most definitely didn't display any blog postings into the page.

But that has now been corrected. I have not-only changed the code behind this button to correctly register any interest from my loyal or passing readers....but also any posting that I submit to this blog now automatically gets fed into the Facebook of those who expressed their interest (So if you do want to show your appreciation of the regular content I put here, please be aware that you will also get it piped into your Facebook account as well!).

The downside is that I have not retained the goodwill of those who previously liked this blog... so I now have to build up these numbers again from scratch.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Website traffic decline, the Facebook effect?

Webtrends (now calling itself a 'Social analytics company', so perhaps it is trying to measure all the social media "gurus" out there) has released a fascinating study which reveals that an astounding 68% of Fortune 100 companies are experiencing a significant decline in their website traffic.

Yup, that's right.... at a time when the web has evolved to become the communication, transactional and engagement medium we all hoped it would be, visitors are now less interested in checking out corporate websites than they have been.

Over the same period Facebook sign-ups and traffic has increased (in the UK it grew from 24milion to 30 million  users from July 2010 to the beginning of 2011). A coincidence? Unlikely. Especilly when brands are now using their Facebook vanity URL's more, rather than use their own website adresses.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Advanced SEO : Using canonical references

What is Canonicalization?
The process of picking a single site URL to be indexed by the search engines from a range of URL’s. This happens when there are duplicate versions of the same/similar content on one site. Think of it as a way of suggesting the ‘true’ URL for your page(s) to the search engines

Why would I have multiple versions of the same content?
This usually occurs when you have dynamic content delivered from a database or there is more than one URL for a single page (typically the homepage, but not necessarily).
An example of this is an ecommerce site that enables users to get the same or very similar results from different actions.
E.g. If you have the URL of a product catalogue listing page built up from a series queries or filters.

The search engines understand this stuff?
Yes, they more than understand it they use it as a signal for search engine optimization. Since early 2009 Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have all stated they support this way for website owners to say “hey search engines, all these pages may have different URL’s but they are actually the same”.

What is the issue with duplicate content?
Search engines think that everyone is trying to game them and submit duplicate content to push themselves up the organic rankings. Without this, when a search engine finds duplicate content, it won’t now if you have done this accidentally or on. This means that they may well display the URL you don’t want to display, miss pages you want to get index or even worse downgrade the value of the page(s) they find… affecting the rankings and potentially the entire optimization of your site.

So how do I do this on my site?
If you read articles about this on the web, you would think that it is as simple as embedding a link in the header of your HTML pages (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canonical_meta_tag )

In theory this tells search engines the preferred location of the page to index (the “canonical” location) instead of the one it has found.

In practice it is more complex to create and maintain a working Canonical structure within an eCommerce site, especially one that has an evolving product catalogue.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Content curation sucks

There’s been a load of chatter in the Social Media echo chamber about the increasing role of content curation rather than content creation.

The theory goes that more people will abandon blogging and other ways of producing content in favour of becoming virtual guides to these sources. Twitter even encourages this sort of behaviour by only providing you 140 characters to provide just a sentence or a link & comment.
Well, quite frankly, this sucks! (there I said it!)
  • Has nobody ever heard the phrase “too many chiefs and not enough Indians”?
  • Why is pointing at content better than producing it?
  • Have we really reached an online pinnacle where everyone now needs to go from becoming a journalist to an editor?
  • Does the world really need a plethora of people saying “check this out”, rather than “I think this”?
  • Is this really the evolution of social media, where the citizen blogger transitions to the citizen news signpost?
Hopefully not!

Hopefully there is still a place for blogging and the publication of original, thought-provoking content that develops ideas and challenges existing perspectives.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The battle for The Web has begun

The Internet has been around for about 27 years now and the World Wide Web has now existed for two decades. It is part of the daily life for more & more of us, with a growing number of people living, loving and working online.

However, unless you’re very young or old, a member of a profession that doesn’t allow you to contribute or you’ve recently unsubscribed from one… you’re probably a member of a social network. And for most countries in the Western world, this means you’re signed-up to Facebook.

Here in the UK Facebook is used by about 30 million people, having grown its numbers by 4 million in 9 months ….which means that it can count over 50% of the UK population as members!

Facebook is now the site we use to catch-up with friends and family members, engage with brands (who are increasingly seeing the value of being part of the online conversation), play games and manage their everyday lives. On top of this, if you haven’t already, you will soon be: shopping online and sharing your purchases with your network of acquaintances. It’s even managed to pull-off a partnership with Microsoft, who 3 years ago took a small ($240m) share in the company at an important time in its growth, which then meant Facebook was instantly worth $15bn! (Its now worth close to $50bn)

But… that’s not enough for Facebook, it wants more…..it wants to own your entire online experience.

Unfortunately for them there’s one fly in the digital ointment. Another company is in the way…. One who already have around 60% of the global search engine market, one of the most popular email services and provide the only real (and free) competition for Microsoft’s Office suite and Apple’s iPhone operating system…. Google.

This rivalry (or jealousy) has never really been as open as it has been in the last day or so, with the recent expose that Facebook was the ‘mysterious client’ behind Global PR agency Burson-Marsteller’s attempted smearing of one of Google’s Gmail services called Social Circle (who up until 48 hours ago, very little people had even heard of)

So now the entire Internet industry’s attention has focused in on the competition between these two giants of online as they compete for the attention, thought processes and wallets of World’s entire Internet population. Those 30 million UK users suddenly look a drop in the ocean when compared with 2 billion….

Monday, May 9, 2011

UK FCommerce: from Goldrush to Maturity

Having just received the latest Social Media Benchmark results from the eDigitalResearch survey that looked at 73 of the UK's leading retail brands, it makes for interesting reading.
Retailers are continuing to grow their legions of followers, with the top ones still attracting tens of thousands of new ones each month across the different social networks. However the main platform for engagement is most definitely Facebook, with UK market leaders such as ASOS adding the most. TopShop is still the only UK retailer over a million followers (although River Island is closing in) and fashion retailers as a whole are the obvious trail-blazers, due to their target demographic being so prevalent in Facebook usage.

However a growing trend that I’m particularly interested in is the continued introduction of Fcommerce, with nine of the top twenty retailers in the study already offering their followers the ability to shop from their Facebook pages. Its fair to say that the retailers who established a social media presence early one are now the ones who are reaping the benefits…. and its therefore my belief that those who do the same over the next few months with Facebook Social Commerce will grow their sales as well as their social footprint the most.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The evolution of digital, gently does it.

How customers & consumers interact with a brand has certainly changed in the last few years thanks to online communication technologies. There are now blogs, web forums and user-generated content (UGC) websites for every possible niche service or product out there and at every emotional point between brand fanatic and disgruntled ex-customer (and beyond).
The Internet (and in particular social media) has given everyone with an online connection the ability to find those with similar feelings or experiences – no matter how specific – and to come together to discuss, refine, support, encourage, complain or plot.

So while it seems quite strange – at least to those of us who use, and work in and around, online social space – that some organisations still choose not to venture into this area, we must also remember that we are (including our clients) all at different points along a digital adoption path, with many still relatively new to understanding it, let alone harnessing the power of, this new communication phenomenon.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Is your website driving away customers?

Yes, that's right.... your website could be harming your business rather than helping it. How?

Well, did you know that 57% of visitors will abandon a site if it doesn't load in 3 seconds?

Yup! Although internet speeds have increased significantly over the last few years (my ISP is currently offering broadband at between 8mbps to 40mbps)..... modern websites tend to be full of complex code and large images. And to make matters worse... Internet users now expect websites to download faster than ever before.

So all that bloated script, photos and video (in a lot of cases), means those key pages that you're trying to drive users to take a long time to fully render in their browser. And all the time the user is waiting for this to happen.....they are only a click away from selecting another site.

Potentially your competition's.

Ignore it and it will go away... right?

A friend of mine works in a place where the understanding by big organisations and brands of social media and digital communications are not as developed as those of say the USA and Western Europe. He’s facing the problem where his potential clients simply don’t see the benefit of communicating with digital audiences, especially on negative issues.

This is something that I thought had bee addressed on a global scale a few years back. So I was a little surprised to hear that the large organisations he is talking to still have an “ignore it and it will go away” attitude.
So what should he say to those he is pitching to who believe they can ignore negative sentiment and that online comments cannot affect a brand?

So let's take each part separately:
1. Ignoring negative sentiment
  • Remember that any comment (negative or positive) stays on the Internet for as long as it is hosted. This means that content posted to popular blogs and social platforms could stay there indefinitely. You can no longer bury bad news on the web!
  • Search engines love popular, relevant & regularly-updated content, therefore its possible that a popular negative article or blog posting could affect a brand’s organic rankings (meaning they could even get deposed from the top of Google for their own brand terms or more realistically that more SEO budget is needed to keep them there).
  • Those people who post negative comments don't go away, they pop up at any time and continue their comments (especially if there is new activity around the subject)
    As an example of this, I once had a prospect who had the same negative TV clips uploaded to YouTube about them. They wanted to send a lawyers letter, I wanted them to film a response. (They eventually did what they wanted and the same clip then appeared in several other places online).
    These have been called Badvocates (Bad advocates), the opposite of brand ambassadors, and I even blogged about this in 2009:
    So you should expect the same sort of passion that your most prized followers and fans have... but in reverse. 
2. It's impossible to impact the information about the company or brand
Ha ha ha.... that's both arrogant and ignorant in this modern world

For a really good example of this from several years back (but that is still relevant today) check out the case about "Dell Hell" that I have blogged about a few years back:

In short, Jeff Jarvis wrote about bad service from the PC manufacturer and it snowballed into a huge customer service & reputation issue for Dell. In the end Dell decided to address this and eventually set up a focused social media team to monitor, address and grow engagement across the web.

Now why would Dell do this? Because it was creating a negative effect on its brand and its revenues.....
A few years on from Dell Hell there are now loads of examples about how brands have had to spend lots of money to counter negative publicity that either started or grew online.

For example:

Sure, you can spend your way out of trouble each time to try and bury/block/buy strategies. But that can be both expensive and reactionary, neither of which are approaches that the shareholders of large companies appreciate.

Taking the 20th century view that these issue will just go away over time is no longer the way to communicate, engage and grown your business.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

PR and Marketing – the race to Social Media Maturity

In the old days… if you were in advertising you made commercials (or told people you did, when really you made posters for bus shelters or newspaper adverts), if you were in marketing you bought TV slots (or space in shelters and the press) and if you were in PR you spoke to journalists or created events (hopefully not in bus shelters).

Basically, everyone knew what they were doing and everyone had their own budgets and; responsibilities to worry about. Yes sure, occasionally the client would want a fancy ‘integrated’ approach, which generally meant every respective agency would rock up at the client’s offices at the same time and try to pretend they both understood and wanted to get along with each other.

Note: As we all know, in an integrated campaign everyone tried to steal each other budgets, but only the clever ones managed this (usually by merging with another agency).

But now those rules have changed.

As you may have seen from my posts, the roles of PR and Marketing have now blurred so much that both agencies and clients cannot differentiate between them. Digital communications in the shape of: search engine marketing, social media listening & engagement and their like are now part of the digital toolbox that can be used by all disciplines. What was once a pure marketing campaign is now typicsally also a part PR one and also has a direct input on the client's online business (e.g. conversion on an ecommerce website).

PR has also grown up to embrace the digital techniques that were once the domain of the geek. Perhaps because the technology has become easier, but also because the agencies and clients have both become more acceptable of digital methods… as they invariably consumers of it as well. PR has now evolved from a producer of one way information (e.g. press releases) to become far more about developing a two-way dialogue in the larger market and about building relationships with a complex range of stakeholders and influencers.

What is clear is that both disciplines have now learnt, to a lesser or greater extent, to understand and use the wide range of tools available, especially Social Media… as this is where the collective client mind and budgets are right now.
  • Both are now competing in the same arena.
  • Both are now in the same space race to build a better Social Media offering as quickly as they can.
  • Both are prone to calling themselves experts or guru’s as way of trying to prove that their growing knowledge is better than anyone else.
  • Both are trying to show their level of maturity in an immature market
However, everyone needs to be aware that there are no Social Media gurus. Yes, that's right, in a world where everything as so new and is changing & growing in depth every day, there are no real experts in the subject..... merely those who have perhaps days, weeks or maybe just months worth of experience more than those who are just learning about this stuff.

So if you work for an agency that is offering Social Media skills or are a client looking to hire someone to look after this complex area... consider the background of these individuals (e.g. are they from a decent marketing and or PR background) and understand just how mature are they in this market.