Sunday, 14 November 2010

Flying at the speed of light

So having just returned from Africa for a much needed two weeks away from it all, I have a foreboding sense of struggling to get back up to speed. 

Whether third world or not, the absence of the technology and commercialism I have just floated through has made me consider just how fast our technological lives make us thunder through our days at the speed of light. Turning off the iPhone, leaving the computers behind, forgoing Internet connections, and visiting a world that does not oblige our impatience for service has been very eye opening. 

Progress? I'm not entirely convinced.

Because we have the tools at hand to be quicker, more efficient, more accurate, I somehow struggle to take these as reasons for our impatience at life. There are some things that many of us would never consider rushing... Cooking roast potatoes, savouring the first beer, soaking up some culture in a museum, idling down a waterway in a canal boat...

Is it then that we only race through things we don't enjoy doing? In some ways that works - I am always happier to get home quicker, access, use and process files quicker, find research faster, get in touch with colleagues quicker. However, despite our rush, I still find the old fashioned lines of communication are often 10 times more effective. Efficiency, speed and technology is then a disconnection of humanistic tendencies and customs in light of an emotionless and frustrated race for... Perfection?

I do discuss this in some jest, as I AM writing on my iPhone, using my super fast cable broadband, waiting for my new BBC iPlayer program to download before watching it whilst my solid state harddrive silently crunches through it. But these are my tools, and these are my chosen devices to aid me in my Westernised whirlwind of working. What I have been asked to recognise is that life without them (and I don't mean without the cool geeky stuff, I mean sans et al), despite being very different, has been 100% enjoyable. I didn't miss the status updates on Facebook, I didn't miss the latest and greatest from my eagerly followed tweeters, I didn't miss the daily emails offering me this deal, that saving, the latest developments or the ground breaking news stories. In a blissfully ignorant way, I truly didn't care.

For me that is the epitome of a holiday. People who think they are so important they must work throughout their break are either megalomaniacs or not very good at their jobs - enough to safely wrap up a few matters for a short space of time. But Africa was one step up from that. There was no Internet, the power did frequently cut out, when the water stopped you had the choice of the sea or some more deodorant! And so... My technology driven partner and I read. Ate. Swam. Ummm, ah yes, drank. And that was about it. I have never slept so well, enjoyed others company more, relished an early morning swim or felt as revived. And all because they simply didn't have the tools that we don't take a second though about here in Europe. 

Clearly this is a tale of polar opposites, and neither one can be argued as the right or wrong way to be. What I hope it does give, however, is a sense of balance between the two. I still fly through London on my motorbike trying to beat the traffic, still moan when servers fail and will continue to hate areas with no 3G network. But what I have taken out of this is a more lackadaisical attitude to our technoville wherever and whenever I can. What do I do of an evening? I cook from scratch, I open some wine, I invariably clean something, and then I read. 

This week I am in deep sub space with a race of clones who are under threat of extinction. Is the Internet working? Is someone announcing a ground breaking innovation in cloud computing? Has Wagner been voted of the X-Factor? (oh ok I do care about that one!) Between the hours of 7pm and 11pm, honestly, I couldn't care less. 

Go on, turn of twitter... I dare you :)

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Resonance of Writing

I was discussing with a colleague the other morning how we like to make complaints when we have received bad service. Not in a - I want to moan about everything - kind of way, but when you have fair reason to discuss the poor (or lack of) service you have received.

When you open your wallet, be it to buy a cinema ticket, a pair of shoes or a slap up dinner, your money is not purely covering the cost of the consumable item. You are paying for the service as well. We are pretty well accustomed to returning faulty goods, as they are ultimately NOT what you have paid for. So why should the service you receive be treated any differently? You ARE paying for it!

We were talking about the most effective way of lodging a complaint, and were both in agreement that a letter in writing (hand writing that is) holds an air of authority that an email or phone call cannot match. It got me thinking about why...

We have such easy access to online mediums of communication today; smartphones, e-mail, the web, social media, so getting in touch with those you wish to discuss disservice with is very simple. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that electronic complaints hold no resonance - the weight of your matter is undermined by the efforts of your submission. How many times have you used an online email feature or used a customer services email and got a response? Personally my ranking would be 0. I manage my company's web comment system, and make a point of replying to each and every message, but I am very aware thy this is not the case in the most place.

E-communications, unless between friends, family and acquaintances are impersonal and more-so unfamiliar, and hence anonymous. Regardless of the tone, content or relevance, you can discard digital communications in an instant, with the age old fail-safe of 'I never received it' - placing false blame on the very technology that delivered the complaint. Genius.

So putting the digital option aside, what else are you left with? If you are lucky enough to find a phone number these days, AND actually get through to a human being, there is no saying that the people you speak to will a) understand your queries, b) be able to aptly deal with them, or c) know who to transfer you to in order to speak to the right person. Assuming by a stroke of luck you do get through - I can pretty much guarantee said individual is well versed in placating your concerns in a wonderful customer service/sales fashion. Always an excuse, always a get out of jail free card. Even if you talk to someone truly genuine, the argument still remains that you are anonymous, and clearly have a distance between you that ultimately poses no threat to the operatives supposedly dealing with your issue. At the end of the day, what can you really do from over the phone? Honest answer: Not a lot.

So we then arrive back at the long forgotten art of finding a piece of paper, a pen, an address, and constructing a well rounded, thorough and poignant address of dissatisfaction.  The effort involved in doing so far outweighs any of the other communications mentioned here, not least that it then requires a trip to the post office and a price paid to deliver that message. Perhaps this goes some way to emphasising the grounds of your complaint.

A letter is also tangible. You can hold it, smell it, taste it (if you were so inclined), and the writing on the letter is like your fingerprint - it is 100% unique to you. You have in effect delivered a small piece of your identity in a letter, the same way that your signature holds the authority of your acceptance, seal of approval and unique confirmation of your physical self.

Now this isn't to say that a letter cannot be discarded in the same way that an email or a text can, but it still sits in your bin/in tray/recycling box. It's still there. Even if you shred the damn thing it still exists as a physical entity. A letter hence has a permanence unchallenged by any other form of communication.

If you buy a house, your correspondence is legally bound to be in written form between sellers, solicitors and financiers. Open a bank account, you need written justification of your address. Leave the country and you'll need a physical passport. In matters of importance - only a physical letter/document will do.

As a recent purchaser of a flat, I'm all too familiar with the letter-only exchange. It's archaic, frustratingly slow, and highly prone to error, yet it's still the legal practice and only accepted form of corresponding.

In an age where our world is turning digital on every level, I find it fascinating that the written word is still the most revered form of corresponding. You may well choose to interact online with brands, businesses and services, but it would appear that there is still a superficial air to the quality of that interaction.

That's not to say you shouldn't or indeed can't continue to do so, but don't forget where the art of these interactions are born from. In the same way we should respect our elders, you should still respect the origins of the power of communication... When such needs should arise.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Choosing Social Media Platforms

The most important thing when embarking on/improving your use of social media marketing and networks is firstly assessing exactly what it is you want to achieve. This is then coupled with what information you are offering.

We make choices everyday dependent on thousands of factors... What clothes to wear in relation to weather, purpose, situation; what food to prepare based on availability, cost, time, health requirements and dietary considerations; which email to deal with first depending on urgency, person, interest.

These variables exist and are vital to determining who, what and why you intend to target social media marketing. The depth of analysis is relative to the size of your project, but ultimately, your steps are as follows.

1. Identify why you want to create a social dialect for your business.
2. Assess what information you have available to communicate.
3. Understand your audience demographic and where you can reach them.
4. Evaluate the tools available to you in the social media platforms.
5. Determine the type of interaction you wish to partake in with your chosen tools.
6. Plan your Social Media Marketing (SMM) strategy
7. Do it
8. Continuously evaluate it

I think the most important point on this entire list is the evaluation. Online marketing is now supported by a wealth of analytical tools that help you build success profiles of your marketing efforts... for free! When assessing your available online tools, don't forget to consider the Back Office operations to your implementation, and how to make it all work for you so that you can always keep your finger on the pulse and evolve in the same way that social interaction does with web content.

And if it sounds daunting, start off small. If facebook can do it, so can you! Besides, evolution is the ultimate raison d'etre of the web!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Fitting It In

We all have busy lives and whether running your own biz or just working for 'the man', I'm certain we all plug away at things outside of our 9-5's (wishful thinking).

The question many people ask is how. When I met my partner, I have to admit I was somewhat bemused and a little worried about the time, energy and stresses he went through OUTSIDE of his day job. For over 6 years he has been building an enterprise, utilising his skills and fueling his passions - but all of this ON TOP of the daily grind? Youch.

I had a lot of admiration there, but was genuinely dumb founded at his stamina to keep everything in the air... Not multi-tasking I might add. He's good, but he's still a man ;)

However, as our partnership grew, and my knowledge, understanding and interest in his emporium grew, my desire to help increased in parallel. I have skills and experiences that the business has not benefitted from in a professional sense. So most nights we can be found, post home cooked cuisine and a G&T, plugging away on the PC, iPad, MacBook etc.

My point here, is that upon reflection, and without consciously adopting more, I am working 16 hour days. Now if you were presented a contract from a new job that expected an 80hr week, I can pretty much imagine your response. However, here I am... And still alive more to the point.

The important thing to note here, is that time management is the only thing that keeps all the fires in check. You should never be scared of starting up a business, setting up a blog, learning a new skill, taking up a new hobby (or finding time for an old one). Just make sure you allocate the right time to it... In the age old saying - Rome wasn't built in a day.

My commute is for twitter, blogs (reading and writing) and emailing things of interest for those times when I have a spare couple of minutes in the day. Cue work... I'll see you on the other side of 6pm, another commute, another SM hit, and then home to tackle the next task - all in a days work.

In the same way you structure your work day, your extra curricula actinides should follow suit in a time allotted fashion. Of course, there will be days and times that override all the best laid plans - in which case you have to forgive the missed opportunities and accept that today you just don't have the time. Tomorrow is always another day, another fad, another news story, so don't beat yourself up for potentially missing something. Life will always be chewed up, swilled around and regurgitated, so you never really miss what you need to know.

As often in the nature of my writing, I am also formulating and affirming a point to myself as well. There are days and times that I just cannot indulge in my 'normal' days' plan. And this is a justification to myself as well as the world.

My point, however, is this. We are more capable and resilient than we give ourselves credit for, and one way or another we find time to tackle the dishes served up on our plates. So get to it - start a tweet, write your essays, expand your horizons, and plot your world domination... You will find time to do it.

Eastenders will not serve to provide you with a sense of achievement or fulfilment - only you can do that. I know I want my epitaph to read more than a lifetime's dedication to fictional consumption!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Redesigning for the 25th Century

My partner is currently undertaking a redesign of his online motorcycle magazine and community. Coming from a programmers' point of view, as well as an avid web digester, his approach to the redesign was somewhat different to how I would have begun mine. 

I have seen many a revision throughout the redesign process, all with differing functionality, UX, JavaScript requirements and processing needs. Ultimately, however, I still see form, composition, framing and space. I myself come from an artistic background, and although I have left the practice behind aside from a hobby, the history, technique and consumption still plays a central part in my everyday perception of interacting with design.

Together, we make a good team, as my feedback is the yang to his yin. Hopefully the consumers will agree once it launches! 

It got me thinking however about some of the best ways to approach a redesign, be it logo branding / corporate material / consumer sites or social media personas. Last night, when the energy was burning out of my partners design candle, we took a break and started looking through the past versions of the site. We had a giggle about old logos, identities, promotional assets and also the website. When you begin to evaluate the steps that have been taken to get you where you are, you gain a rounder perspective on what you are trying to achieve in moving forwards. You can spot obvious mistakes, and see what never worked... As well as what did work. You can also track the development of web interaction through the various years of website transformations; with higher quality video and image content, ever-more sophisticated JavaScript elements, social media API's and elaborate SEO qualities. 

With the nature of the web developing so quickly, the need to provide branding that is also flexible is hence highly important. Who knows when the next Twitter, Foursquare, Latitude or Hot Potato will spring up and sweep the fascinations of the world. 

Taking all of these ideas into account, however, does not belie the most important element in my opinion - interaction. I'm sure we all have a few websites or apps that spring to mind that drive us potty for one reason or another. Interestingly, most of mine are gravitated towards some of the biggest consumer businesses. Have they never heard of the fold!? No - I do not want to scroll through reams of news/media that doesn't interest me before I find something that I want to view. I am acting as a UX (user experience tester) for my partners redesign, and he has found the input invaluable. He has a lot of content to get across on the homepage, and together we have established coherent and simple formulas for getting all the top editor and user info in the fold, without losing fundamental readership experience. A lesson that be well adopted by other online magazines who bombard you to the detriment of the quality of their content.

And interaction has another string to it's bow these days. Social interaction on the web is rapidly expanding, eternally evolving and displacing the previous 'distance' between business and customer. It's time to think multi-platform and hybrid technology as I can currently see 12 different forms of media consumption on my morning train commute so far. Think iPhone, iPad, digital reader, android, blackberry, smartphone other, netbook, tethering, laptops, palm things, the list goes on. It's very rare that I get to use my desktop for web browsing - I'm always to busy. So web consumption is happening on the move - and too many websites and apps haven't thought clearly enough about how to hone their content for a tenth of the viewing portal.

I have focused heavily on web-based branding, promotion and marketing, but after reading through, perhaps you understand why. Not only are we so much more web focused and involved now, ensuring all of you PR, marketing, promotions and branding encapsulates a n exponentially expanding social media platform is essential. 

Have you got your twitter, facebook, linkedin, buzz, myspace, blog links on your signature or business card? If not, why not? They're as much your online identity as your website. Personal or corporate.

So there is a lot to think about eh? Precisely. Take your time, track where you have come from, where you want to go, AND where the web is going to go. Make sure it's user focused design as opposed to internally assumed - your customer relationships are your ticket to business conversion. Take serious time to evaluate your UX... It's more important than you realise. And finally think sci-Fi, think insane futuristic, think Avatar+Tron+iRobot+Star Wars... It ain't that far away - so make sure whatever your recreating is ready for it! 

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Ghost Blogging

Discussions around ghost blogging are a current theme among SMO bods. There have been some interesting points on both sides of the coin... However I think my view is clear.

There is an inherent reason why at the age of 5, schools begin to teach you to read and write. This concept develops throughout your education, albeit in differing modes, topics, style and comprehension. The underlying purpose however, remains the same; to digest, analyse and present your findings. What you digest, how you analyse, and what your findings are therefore totally individual based on the the variables of all three. Writing is hence our personalised way of presenting our ideas to the world, about the world. I see no loophole in this equation that would allow for another individual to copyright on behalf of another. 

When we consider who might partake in ghost blogging, my thoughts turn to those who may be less akin to Social Media or those who cannot find the time outside other business and social demands to write blogs... i.e Senior Management personnel. 

These are also the normal candidates to use services from Executive and Personnel assistants. In many cases an EA or PA is as much an extension of the executive as an assistant, but that's not to say they are in anyway the same. Other cases involve EA's and PA's handling confidential matters on behalf of the executive and providing essential administrative services to facilitate said executives day-to-day business dealings. But again, the handling of someone else's information and thoughts does by no means qualify the EA / PA as worthy of producing supposed thoughts of their executive in modes such as a blog. 

I blog because I make opinions and judgements on the material I encounter on a daily basis. I often elaborate at length in my head about these ideas. Like everyone else, however, my head is a busy place, and one that unintentionally does not always afford the room for non-constructive thoughts and ideas. In the same way we make lists to ensure we remember those things that cannot be lost in the ramblings of your head, blogging allows you to tangibly work through ideas that might otherwise get lost. You provide a record, of which you can reference later, like recalling a memory, and also share with the world in the chance that you might help another to get a different perspective on an idea, or even educate on a topic that had not previously been encountered. But mainly, I blog for myself. 

Through the process of writing, having to carefully cherry pick words to elucidate on my thoughts and ideas often makes space for new thoughts and ideas throughout the process, helping me to form rounder more substantial opinions. It is hence a very useful tool for mapping and expanding your thoughts and interests. As such, there is a merit for everyone to get blogging. It doesn't matter if nobody reads your material. It's your personal teaching and learning space. Quite how otherwise intelligent people think they can farm out a set of notes to be tackled and published by another goes against the essence of blogging and social media interactions. A skeleton of ideas does not replace the act of writing. 

As an accompaniment to this blog, the article by Brian Solis entitled Social Media's Critical Path: Relevance to Resonance to Significance encapsulates the ideas discussed here about the relevance of personal blogging and the best way (and person) to communicate those ideas on a Social Media platform.’s-critical-path-relevance-to-resonance-to-significance/ [Weds 17th Aug 2010]

Monday, 16 August 2010

Calling All Computers...

My highly intelligent sources (AKA my wonderfully talented techy partner) are planting new scenarios in my head with regards to voice-controlled computing. We are already seeing the early stages of this on smart phones, and having a bit of a giggle with it along the way as it innocently searches for pornographic content when what you were actually looking for was 'a tasty duckling'...

However this is likely to take off in a much bigger way than simple phone interaction. It's a wonderful tool for the blind and those with severe dyslexia, for those of us who's brains work faster than our fingers ever can - the list is endless. Writing this post on my iPhone is already making my fingers ache - so what a cool premise to have a faster, more intelligent way to control our devices. However - in my current scenario there is one major factor that would stop me using this technology. Privacy.

You already get stared at for mouthing the words to a song whilst listening to your headphones in public, and the world thinks you've gone mad when you start aimlessly chatting away to yourself (until they notice the headphone wire you're ACTUALLY taking to). So what on earth would people think if you suddenly continued to write up the next section of your blog / text / book / essay / e-mail via oral interaction with your computing device? Unfortunately, they'd probably find it very interesting as we all enjoy nosing in on other people's lives, be it glancing over a shoulder on the tube, to watching 'reality' TV shows on the box. Call me snobbish, but personally I don't want anyone else to hear my intimate messages to my boyfriend, or my personal emails to my doctor, or my wholly honest reports of my staff performances.

Now think about this scenario in the workplace. We are already subject to noisy environments, what with phones ringing, iPhones tinkling and whooping, heated debates, couriers, meetings, gossips laughing in the kitchen. Add to that every single employee TALKING at their devices. ***shhhhh*** I like nothing more than to disappear into my headphones when I need to put my concentration solely into whatever piece I am working on, drowning out the unnecessary work noises around me. How would you do this if you had to be conversing with your device? And more so - just how are you to concentrate when everyone around you is doing the same thing?

I work in an open plan office, with wooden floors and wooden roofs. Its a glorious place to work, but it does nothing to sound proof from area to area. We are a media office, though, so tranquillity and calm are not part of the job description, so a bit of noise is to be expected. Enter the advent of voice controlled computing devices and we would have to enter a completely different environment; consisting of solitude and grey partition walls. No more free interaction. What an daunting prospect. Granted many people already work in places like this - but in my world of marketing and media, it simply doesn't work.

As a marketing team player, and all round employee, interaction with my direct team and the company as a whole is imperative for me to do my job. I need to turn the inner workings of the company into tangible and socially digestible tit-bits, and hence need an open platform to so. I do, however, appreciate that intellectual property is a very important thing, and whilst I embrace the open-source attitude to sharing marketing principles and strategies, there are times that an idea I am generating requires my sole attention to shape and develop before I unleash it on the world and claim the recognition for it in the fullness of time. How would you do this when you are having to audibly voice your thoughts, ideas, plans and formulas at your devices? You know the age old saying - the walls have ears. 

Would it not require a whole new level to Copyright and Patenting ideas?

As a complete geek, I have just finished listening to my Peter Hamilton audio book on the iPad, filled with the most radical sci-fi fantasy and outer-world ideas. In Hamilton's world, people have evolved to datavising - a telepathic form of communication that is controlled by the dataviser - i.e. your thoughts are still private - you only communicate your thoughts when you wish to converse. I'm sure that in time (although sadly not likely in my time) we will indeed have progressed to this; beyond audible communication between devices and indeed people. In 2010 this is not the case. But voice control is very real.

Many questions hovering over what is ultimately a very cool development in the computing world. Whilst I am a big fan of innovation, I think this will be next in line of a very long line of moral dilemmas in the digital era...