Have Google just turned G+ into a spam email tool?

Posted: January 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

What? Seriously?



I put about 500 people into circles when I was trying to figure out G+.

You’re just going to let them email me on my personal, private, email account?

I know you need to get people using G+, but this is NOT a feature anyone wanted.

EDIT: I just emailed this to 500 of my G+ ‘friends’. If you received it, leave a comment, and let me know if this all-new spam functionality is working for you.

4 things you can do right now to prepare for Facebook Trending Topics

Posted: November 5th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

For Facebook, 2013 has been about competing for Twitter’s realtime social audience . They’ve rolled out three new products in short succession:

1) Hashtags make posts public and searchable, enabling realtime conversations between strangers on current topics.

2) Embedded posts make Facebook visible on blogs, news sites and Tumblr.

3) Trending topics bring the whole Facebook community together to discuss the meme of the day.

Facebook trending topics

Trending topics are still in beta, but Facebook iterate fast. So what can your brand – or your agency’s clients – do to take advantage of Facebook’s new focus on live conversations?

1) Prepare campaigns that catch your audience on their ‘second screen’ 

Carat ran a brilliant campaign for Very.co.uk last year. They made everything in the Big Brother House, even the contestants’ clothes, available to buy. It worked because it targeted people using the Big Brother hashtag, and Big Brother trending topics on Twitter.

very uk carat big brother

Facebook advertising is bad at catching audiences at the moment of purchase decision. As Facebook becomes the second screen of choice for people watching  TV shows and live events, this will change. You can’t advertise on Facebook trending topics yet, but it’s only a matter of time – and combined with Facebook’s other data, this will create targeted, relevant, timely advertising. It’s a game-changer.

2) Get ready for realtime market research

The two best value-for-money adverts this year depended on the live conversation on social. Oreo dunked in the dark at the Superbowl:

Real time contextual advertising

And Bodyform told Richard ‘The Truth’:

The scale of Facebook means trending topics will become the place to find out what your audience is thinking right now, enabling you to give them content they care about.

3) Supercharge production cycles to surface your campaigns on trending topics

The research is easy. The challenge is acting on it. Do your creative team understand the brand well enough to create bold statements that don’t need rounds of changes? Are your agency-client relationships strong enough to withstand a production cycle measured in hours, or minutes? Would you go live on that Bodyform advert, 48 hours after it was first suggested?

This is the toughest, and the most rewarding activity on the new Facebook. Trending topics have a vast potential audience. Hit that sweet spot, and you’ll get millions of eyeballs on your content without a penny of media spend.

4) Don’t make yourself a target

The converse of that scale and speed is just how visible your mistakes become. British Gas’ social media team had bad weekend a couple of weeks ago.

If that had surfaced as a trending topic, it would have been seen by everyone.

You need the right team and the right processes in place to prevent that. British Gas have obviously decided that things weren’t quite working with the people they had in place:



In other words, if you’re not ready for trending topics, your job could be on the line…

Nielsen’s Twitter TV ratings: why they matter

Posted: October 14th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

In the Mad Men era, Nielsen audience ratings were enough to make or break a show. Today, what matters is not how many people watch it, but what proportion of them encounter an advert, rather than fast-forwarding through the breaks on Sky+, while checking Facebook on their phones.

As TV moves onto connected devices, the most profitable shows will swap advertising for e-commerce, persuading viewers to go straight to an online purchase. We have to hope that quality drama can continue to find alternative revenue models to this…

Mad men product placement

It is a smashing hat, though

Last Tuesday, Nielsen announced that they were adding a count of how many people were Tweeting about a show to their  metrics.  That Twitter rating will be all important, as it describes just how many people are making online interactions during a show, and how easily, therefore, they can be targeted with advertising linked to the products placed in the show.

 There is a symbolic importance to this new metric – the great scorekeeper of old media, acknowledging the importance of the new. There is also a practical importance. Shows like Big Brother, where literally every item in the house – furniture, kitchenware even the contestants’ clothes – are product placement are becoming enormously profitable. Programming where things like ‘plot’ and ‘character’ get in the way of efficient e-commerce may become less so.

Why do Barclays play such crappy music when you’re on hold?

Posted: September 30th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

I’ve spent a lot of time on hold to Barclays recently, while attempting to get a mortgage. Here is a recording of the noise I’ve been listening to for several hours every week.

If your UX specialist came up with this as a suggested user journey for your website, you’d sack them on the spot:

Barclays terrible customer service


How does this situation arise? Obviously part of the problem is that customer service reps are expensive. But then again…

That’s 24/7 customer service support, instantly available, on a product that costs £250.

The clue is in that terrible white noise Barclays play. Let’s just listen to it one more time:

Unless they have an actively aggressive customer-hating agenda, Barclays can’t be deliberately trying to hurt the ears of the people who are on hold. And I know they love their customers, because so many aspects of the process have been handled with such efficiency and charm.

It’s simply that this aspect of the experience has been… forgotten. No-one planned it, no-one tests it, and no-one in the business has an incentive to fix it. James Gleick described the phenomenon in the 1990s:

The telephone lottery shields institutions.It transfers the loss of time to their customers…  companies have tightened the telephone chokepoint.

I’ve picked on Barclays because they’re the latest people to do this to me – but they are certainly not the only company guilty of this behaviour. And it’s no coincidence that the institutions that behave like this are often in highly regulated industries that are have been unable to adopt social media in a big way because of the legal complications – banks, utilities and local councils are among the worst offenders.

The arrival of live online video chat – Amazon’s Mayday button is not the only example out there – should be a serious wake-up call to these businesses. The opportunity to speak to a real person at any time is soon going to be regarded as a normal, polite thing for a company to do – and those that have forgotten these dark corners of their user experience may find themselves baffled as to where their customers have gone.

Why we need to teach history to our children, the digital natives

Posted: September 10th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Brought up on the Web we think differently… We know that we are going to find the information we need in a lot of places, we know how to get to those places, we know how to assess their credibility. We have learned to accept that instead of one answer we find many different ones, and out of these we can abstract the most likely version, disregarding the ones which do not seem credible.
Piotr Czerski, We, the Web Kids

The information overload after the birth of the printing press produced greater sectarianism. Now those different religious ideas could be testified to with more “proof” and less tolerance for dissenting opinion. The same phenomenon seems to be occurring today.
Nate Silver, The signal and the noise

There are two sides to our new information overload. There is what Piotr Cerski rightly celebrates as a new independence. We are no longer presented with a single monolithic view of culture, politics, or history. We can weigh up the evidence and make our own choices. This is a true miracle of technology, especially for someone like Cerski who spent his childhood in Communist Poland.

And then there is the ‘greater sectarianism’ described by Nate Silver. After the invention of the printing press, the information overload led to  the thirty years war, the longest and most destructive conflict in pre-20th century Europe. In the 21st century, sectarianism caused by information overload has brought government to a near standstill in the US and southern Europe, and helped turn Syria into a bloodbath.

The hanging tree

Another cheery moment in the thirty years’ war

Finding the truth online, instead of seeking out information  that confirms our prejudices or trivia that makes us stupider, is a specialist skill. It requires a specialist education. The scientific method  is part of it, and so is the study of maths, and especially statistics. Literature and media studies are important – the ability to unpick a piece of content and understand how the creator uses different elements to produce the effect they desire.

Baby reading book about chicken

Digital native, analysing a piece of literature

Above all, however, what the web kids need is history. Not the ‘Our Island Story’ narratives that Michael Gove believes in, but the skills needed to analyse primary and secondary sources, to understand what a reliable authority looks like and how to search out the accurate signals from the infinite noise of data on the world wide web.

Politicians and experts are agonising about whether our children are being taught enough IT skills to prepare them for digital future, but they are fighting yesterday’s war. By the time my son Freddie (pictured above) enters the job market, any technical skills he will have acquired at school will be obsolete. What Freddie needs to learn instead is the ability to distinguish signal from noise, fact from fiction and truth from ideology. What he needs, is history.

SEO in Korea – how Naver built a closed Internet

Posted: June 18th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

It is easy to assume that the world wide web was always destined to be a cornucopia of different websites, where a few big beasts (Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Google) mingle with a long tail of millions of independents.

In fact, there was no guarantee that it would end up that way. And in at least one country, it didn’t.

Below is what most people’s route into the web looks like in Korea, where 70% of searches are performed on the social/content/search/gaming monolith Naver. The spot I have highlighted in pink is where the natural search results begin. All the other links go to sites owned by Naver, or some kind of paid result.

Naver search results

The pink bit is natural search

Why would anyone use this terrible search engine?

My initial reaction was ‘This is bonkers! How can they prefer this to a real search engine?’ But that’s not really fair. This is how users enter the web in Korea, so businesses and individuals optimise their content for Naver’s search rather than Google’s. And that means creating everything on Naver’s sprawling network of sites (social networks, dictionaries, Q & A sites, and so on). They use Naver search, because the web in Korea is built on Naver, and they don’t object to it because it provides the best results. In the same way, we don’t object to Google providing location results on Google Maps, because Google Maps consistently has the best answer to our queries.

Imagine if Google hadn’t arrived until 2004, and in the meantime Yahoo had launched a brilliant social network. Yahoo would have thus fulfilled its plan to be the ultimate ‘portal’, combining personalised social results with paid search. It would produce something just like Naver, which reluctantly guides traffic to external websites, and enthusiastically points users towards its own properties.

Does it matter?

In many ways, this is the future that Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon want to build for us – where personalised search results keep users inside a walled garden, in which they never have to interact with pages hosted by another company. The debate about the importance of an ‘open internet’ rages on (there’s a good summary on Gizmodo), but the dominance of Naver doesn’t appear to have done Korea’s vibrant online culture any harm – Korea is arguably the most digitally connected country in the world.

Still, the lack of plurality does lead to some curious side effects. Koreans have had to learn to misuse their closed digital platforms in productive ways. When teenagers use a boyband forum to organise ten-thousand-strong protests it’s a sign that they are having to hack the platforms they have, rather than  being delivered the platforms they want.


How do I get my business to appear on Naver searches?

It shouldn’t be too hard: if you’re doing your SEO properly, your search strategy is already a content strategy. The only difference in Korea is that putting brilliant content on your website won’t get you anywhere near the top of those Naver listings.  You need to transfer all that activity onto a ‘Naver Cafe’ – and you need to get people in your target audience to connect to your group. It’s not really any different to running a Facebook page, and the effective content is a similar kind: videos, photos, questions.

The big problem, is that because so few Korean websites are Google optimised, there isn’t enough data out there for Google Translate. How is your Korean?

Karl Marx and Amanda Palmer: money and the act of creation

Posted: March 24th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

If I long for a particular dish or want to take the mail-coach because I am not strong enough to go by foot, money fetches me the dish and the mail-coach: that is, it converts my wishes from something in the realm of imagination, translates them from their meditated, imagined or desired existence into their sensuous, actual existence – from imagination to life, from imagined being into real being. In effecting this mediation, [money] is the truly creative power.
Karl Marx, The Power of Money, 1844

Son, no one gives a shit about all the things your cell phone does. You didn’t invent it, you just bought it. Anybody can do that.
Shit My Dad Says, 2009

When we buy something with money we have earned, there is some of the same sense of satisfaction we would get if we had created it ourselves. Karl Marx is right, and Shit My Dad Says is wrong – the hours I spend slaving over a hot computer for Regus made me the money to buy my phone, and the right to feel as proud of its features as if I played a part in its invention. Our work in our day jobs, as Marx understands, ‘converts our wishes into sensuous… actual existence.’

Samsung Galaxy S2

I made this

When something is free, we get none of that sense of ownership. The infinite free music collection offered us by the Pirate Bay does not give the same sense of personal pride as a few dozen CDs we accumulated in the pre-download days. Other cloud services – even the ones we pay for – have the same problems.  Spotify is something you borrow, not something you own.

So when we offer a cloud service, whether it’s free or paid for, we need to give people a sense of participation.

Amanda Palmer has one answer – ask people to give up their money and time, and they will. It’s a fair transaction. A few dollars in exchange for a sense of real ownership:

The route that Amanda Palmer uses won’t work for every industry. It won’t even work for every musician: you can fund ‘Punk Burlesque’ this way, but I don’t see the next Straight Outta Compton or Dancing Queen coming from Kickstarter. But this still looks like the right  way to think about getting things funded in the future.

NWA Kickstarter

NWA: Comin’ straight outta Kickstarter

All those industries being disrupted by digital and cloud services, whether it’s taxis, publishing, music, offices, journalism or bed and breakfasts need to remember the same thing: people want to spend because by spending, so long as it is acknowledged in the right way, they get to feel ownership.

3 Facebook Graph searches that can damage your brand

Posted: February 17th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

In my last post about Facebook’s new Graph Search, I suggested that one of your top priorities should be “Tell your employees to clean up their profiles.”

This is why:

(I’ve used Microsoft as an example here, but this could be any large brand)

Search 1:

Q: Are some of your employees neo-Nazis?
A: Yes 

Employees of Microsoft who like British National Party


Search 2:

Q: Are your employees regularly breaking the law?
A: Yes

Microsoft employees who like Cannabis  Weed


Search 3:

Q: Do your employees hate your brand and love your competitors?
A: Yes

Microsoft employees who like Apple Inc. and I Hate Microsoft

And for a special bonus, here’s the search that all your creepiest middle managers are going to perform.

Q: Who should I be targeting with my horrible chat-up lines at the office Christmas Party?
A: These lucky ladies…

Single female employees of Microsoft under 25 years old


5 things you can do right now to prepare for Facebook’s Graph search

Posted: January 21st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

On Tuesday, Facebook announced their new Graph Search engine. I’m with Brian Reilly: it’s a game changer. This is the first genuine competitor Google have had in search. And that means that your company needs to take Facebook Graph Search Optimisation as seriously as you take your Google SEO.

Here are 5 things you can do to prepare for the full launch.

1) Get all your physical locations onto Facebook
If there is just one page for your multinational digital agency, or your chain of Indian restaurants, and you have given it the address of your head office in London, then your other branches are invisible.

Users search for ‘Indian Restaurants in Birmingham Liked by my friends’ and ‘Digital agencies in Rio de Janeiro Liked by Marketing Experts’. Your Facebook presence must match your physical presence – or you won’t show up. (If you work in locations where you don’t have an office, a virtual office might be useful for this).

2) Tell your employees to clean up their profiles
If you thought your employees were oversharing on Twitter, you should see the crap they’re putting on the Facebook profiles they think are private. Customers and journalists will search for ‘People who work for <your company>’. Get the bad stuff off there before they see it.

3) Start thinking hard about who is liking your page
Graph Search is all about connections: ‘a pub Liked by people who Like Manchester United’ or a ‘Cookbook Liked by my Friends who Like Nigella Lawson’. It’s more important than ever before that the people who like your brand are people who like other relevant stuff.

Log in to Facebook, switch to ‘Use Facebook as <your company page>’, then go and look at your recommended pages. These are the other things that your current lot of fans actually like. Reckon that people looking for your brand will be searching for these terms? Didn’t think so. Sort it out.

4) Don’t spend any more money on Facebook chasing Likes
Graph Search will be Facebook’s most profitable advertising channel – it can do what Facebook has never done before and deliver adverts to people when they are at the moment of purchasing decision.

But it stands and falls on the accuracy of its results.

In order to make search more accurate, they’re going to need to distinguish between authentic, heartfelt Likes, and the ones that come about because you have offered someone the chance to win an iPad in exchange for liking your page. Just as Google periodically changes its algorithm to hammer illegitimate SEO, Facebook is going to do the same with insincere Likes (and that includes the ones you paid Facebook to deliver to you).

5) Get Facebook into your staff social media training programmes
The people who can really deliver that authentic network of Likes are your employees. They’re in the right place, they know the brand, they have lots of friends. They should all be liking your page, and linking to your products, your blogs and your updates. (If they’re reluctant to spam their friends’ timelines, then show them how to create Facebook lists -that means they can modify their settings so that all this Liking and Commenting shows up in search, but is invisible to their friends).

Anything I’ve missed? Stick it in the comments below

17 things I have learnt about charity email copy

Posted: January 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

I’m leaving email marketing and the charity sector tomorrow, and going to work in B2B social media for Regus. Here are a few of the things I have learnt about writing copy for charity emails:

  1. The ONLY bits that matter in terms of conversion are

    1. subject line
    2. first sentence
    3. link copy
    4. call to action

    Write these bits FIRST. The rest of the email should proceed from them. These are also the bits which will have the largest impact in tests.

  2. READ IT OUT LOUD – if it doesn’t sound like a real person speaking, start again.
  3. Cut, cut and cut again. If the meaning remains the same, you’ve almost certainly made it more elegant by cutting.
  4. You are allowed to begin sentences with ‘And’ or ‘But’.
  5. Abbreviate “not” to “ ‘t “ (eg “do not” becomes don’t). Do not abbreviate “have” to “ ‘ve”. Abbreviating “is” to “ ‘s “ is a judgement call. And read out loud to check – abbreviating makes it friendlier and more natural, but can reduce impact.
  6. There should always be some version of the Call-to-Action above the fold.
  7. Avoid sentences with multiple clauses and sub-clauses – it’s what we learned to do at university, but it’s awful copywriting. Full stop. New sentence. Every. Single. Time.
  8. Steer clear of adverbs. They’re uneccessary. It is stronger to say ‘I believe’ than ‘I passionately believe’. ‘Your Country Needs You’ is stronger than ‘Your Country Really Needs You’.
  9. We deal in facts, not opinions. Avoid ‘could’, ‘would’, ‘ought’ and ‘should’. Never begin a sentence ‘we think’, or ‘we believe’. People ARE going hungry because of biofuels. It IS a scandal. It MUST be stopped. Not ‘We believe that the evidence shows that biofuels may be causing hunger. We think this a scandal – it’s one which we think should be stopped.’
  10. The message must be about the recipient, not the sender. Always talk about ‘you’, never ‘we’. ‘You can stop the biofuels scandal’, not ‘We need you to stop the biofuels scandal’.
  11. Email content is a less-than-zero sum game. Talk about three different things, and you won’t get three times as much engagement. You won’t even get the same amount of engagement, split three ways. You’ll get less in total. One message ALWAYS trumps two.
  12. That doesn’t mean you can never communicate more than one thing: put the simplest, most appealing message in the email. The landing page can include more in-depth messaging, secondary actions and links to the really detailed policy stuff. That way the content aimed at the more engaged only  gets seen by them, and the content designed to persuade people to click through stands out more strongly. If it’s an action, and there’s stuff that only the most engaged supporters will be interested in (shares, reports, campaign guides), why not save that for the thank-you page?
  13. Most of your readers won’t see the images – so write good alt-text (especially for call-to-action images) and don’t rely on pictures to convey your main point.
  14. You have 3 seconds to convince someone to engage with your email. That’s all. If they read the first sentence, and they don’t know what you’re trying to tell them, they WILL delete.
  15. Never, ever write a boring or cryptic subject line. Questions, or teasing ambiguity, can be very effective. But if you don’t mention the basic subject matter, it will get ignored by your most important audience: the people who actually care about that subject.
  16. About a third of your readers will have their email set up so they only see the first 21 characters of the subject line. Frontload the best bit.
  17. Read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King. It’s absolutely gripping, and contains some great copywriting tips. Other good places to look include: