Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Truth About Consumers' Role in Innovation

Innovation is a buzzword that never dies. Every company, no matter how risk-averse, fearing that control of their brand has been ceded to their consumers, flogs employees and consumers alike with their innovative-ness, if not with actual innovation.

In the entertainment sector, innovators have quite literally cut out all the layers between themselves and getting the material almost immediately - for free. Creators are disfranchised from their own work and distribution companies have been marginalized, forced to run after new technology like a dogcatcher chasing an errant mutt. The only people who gain from this are the innovators...but this is not sustainable. This kind of innovation is choking the industries it feeds upon.

In thinking about how this innovation has not only not helped, but has negatively impacted some industries, it dawned on me that the idea of innovation by consumers is backwards. Innovators are rarely consumers. They drive consumption by their innovation, but they are rarely buying the products themselves. Why? Because they can do it better - that is what drives them.

A strong company breaks its own toys and rebuilds them differently. If you're waiting to see what your consumers come up with, you've already fallen behind the curve...and while you're playing catch up, the innovators have moved on to break the toy 6 different ways, run rings around your security/DRM/ and have provided people 3 different ways to use your product for free.

I've never really understood Apple's closed community before, but my own explanation makes it make sense to me now - they break their own toys.

If you're letting consumers drive your brand innovation by breaking your toys, you've already lost the market.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Difference Between Buzz and Sustainable Growth Strategies

You may have see a headline that looked like this recently:

10,000 Free Round-Trip Tickets to Japan

Articles go on to say that the Japan Tourist Bureau is planning to (possibly) give away tickets to (possibly) influencers and mega-bloggers to come to Japan, and (possibly) write about their experiences there.

This is a fine short-term strategy, but it's not what JTB should do.

Here's what's wrong with this plan:

1) JTB is (planning on) giving free tickets to people who are already highly likely to travel.

2) It's a short-term boost that might create a minor bump in tourism, but has no sustainability.


I love Japan. I love visiting it as often as possible and I write about my experience there for people to enjoy. There's a pretty good chance that I'd get one of those free tickets. But that's relatively pointless, because I go there anyway.  The people who are pro or semi-pro travel writers, or have compelling Japanese business interests, are not avoiding Japan because of a high yen or fears of radiation. And, people who are worried about radiation are unlikely to go to Japan just because a travel writer says it's safe.

I might motivate one or two people a year to really get over there - I did motivate a whole crowd to come in 2005 for an event I ran in Tokyo. And, if those people liked it, then they might go back. If 10,000 people motivate one or two people to go, it's a nice little blip on the tourism radar.


This is not sustainable. This is buzz.

JTB can't afford to give away 10,000 free round-trip tickets every year and not all of the people who get those tickets will go again, bring a friend, or instill desire in readers to visit Japan.

For a short-term campaign, they'd be better off giving free tickets to people who have never been there, have a compelling reason to visit and who are likely to bring spouses and children with them.

There's still no sustainability, but then their campaign would also express some goodwill and get people who might not otherwise visit Japan over there.The problem is...

Buzz is not a Growth Strategy

To create a sustainable way to increase tourism, JTB ought first to look at cost. Airfare to get to Japan from my part of the country is ridiculous and is heading higher in the next few months. This presents a tremendous hurdle for anyone who might want to go there, especially if they have a family. A trip to Japan now costs what you might pay for a used car, or a year's tuition for a community college. This seems like the most obvious pain point in the world to me.

JTB - you want more people to come to Japan? Make it cheaper to get there.

13 hours in the air is a long time, but it takes me that to get to just about anywhere outside North America. The cost is the problem, not the time. Work with airlines to bring airfare to something a normal human with a spouse and kids can handle.

There was a time when airlines sold cheap overseas travel fares. I remember a coworker going to Japan for 3 nights, 4 days with hotel for $400 as an airline special. If I could get that deal, I'd go there every month for a long weekend and to pick up manga and magazines. I'd eat out, too. And not just ramen on the street.

Work with airlines to bring back airfares that don't take being a millionaire to afford. I have no doubt that tourism rates will rise right back up.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Confession Time: I Don't Take Google+ Seriously

Okay, I know it's all the rage to heap praise upon praise for Google's new Mom-free social media sharing space, Google+. But being the trend-bucker and sooth-sayer I am, I'm going to make a public confession here:

I don't take Google+ seriously.

I've been using "Social Media" since the days of Bulletin Board Systems, when I had a Panasonic Senior "portable" computer (that weighed 18 pounds and had a thermal printer on the ass end) and had to take my phone offline to pretend to have a drink and a chat online with a friend who lived ten minutes away. So, whenever a new social platform opens up, I'm glad to take it for a spin, click the buttons and kick the tires. And, after serious consideration, I just cannot take Google+ seriously.

Circles Aren't All That (much less a bag of chips)

Circles seem like an exciting and revolutionary idea, but if you have ever created a mailing list, it's really not. Even on Facebook, you could always just message a few friends and share something with them. It wasn't hard. Circles are useful, if you have passion around three or four separate areas and don't want them mixing. I'm not a big fan of segmenting my conversations. Segmentation isn't privacy, either.

When Circles first showed up, there was a lot of conversation about good Circle taxonomy. I thought about it at length and came up with the following Circle names:

  • People Who Think They Are My Friends
  • People Who Want Me To Listen To Them Talk
  • People Who Want To Hear Me Talk
  • People I Follow on Google+

In reality, I have only one Circle, called "Following." Because that is what I do - I follow you because I want to read what you have to doesn't matter to me which of the many topics I'm interested in that you write or share info about. In fact - I'd prefer to get a nicely varied mix of different kinds of information on different things, because otherwise, it'll all start to sound the same. I like variety. If you want to follow me and put me in a bucket, fine. I post and share on multiple topics, so you're as likely to get Social Media articles mixed in with Comic/Manga news, British Archaeology and Physics.

The Main Topic Discussed on Google+ is...Google+

This morning I open my feed and no less than half of the conversation is about how good, bad, indifferent, useful, useless, growing, dying Google+ is. At least Facebook is mature enough as a platform to only have this kind of navel-staring happen with particularly obnoxious updates. This morning's headline was trumpeting Google+'s failure to retain users. I wasn't surprised because the true power of a new social platform is access to a new audience. Google+ lacks this because:

The Audience on Google+ is People You Already Know

The early adopters of Google+ were Social Media wonks, who naturally want to poke and prod any new system...and folks fleeing from Facebook because their Mom was on it. These people were likely to be in your network already, if you were on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora or any number of platforms. I know of exactly one person who found a whole new community there - and it wasn't organically grown on Google+, it migrated there guessed it, Facebook.

Last, and quite possibly the biggest factor I have in not taking Google+ seriously is...

It's Google. They have long ago shown that "Don't Be Evil" has no meaning to them, and they track, trace, follow and measure our behavior. This is better than Facebook why? Google sells our information and stares back at us, unblinkingly, completely unable to see any irony.

Why am I confessing this all of a sudden? Because this morning I came to a sudden, shocking conclusion.

Here is the avatar I use for almost every single social media platform I'm on:

This painting was done by talented artist Mari Kurisato based on a photo of me. She takes commissions and her art makes great site avatars. If you're looking for an exciting, unique way to make an impression, I recommend her work highly.

And here is the avatar I have on Google+:

This is the avatar I've had on my Gmail account since I began using it. These are my two favorite anime characters.

And, that's about how seriously I take Google+.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Measure Twice, Post Once

When developing a Social Media Strategy, it's absolutely critical to know a few things before you begin:

Who Are You Talking To?

What Are You Trying to Say to Them?

What Do You Want Them to Do?

Before you try to answer any of these questions, think about where you're getting you data from. Are you out there listening to your audience, measuring your market and do you know how your strategy is supporting your business objectives? To do this, you must measure twice, so you only have to post once.

There are any number of free and proprietary social listening and measuring tools. They change so quickly that any list will almost immediately become obsolete the moment I hit "publish" on this article.  Here are a few of the tools I use to track influence, sentiment, response and engagement:

SocialMention - Social Mention tracks your keywords (company name, personal name, tagline) across the social internet. It tracks passion, sentiment, strength and reach, which gives you a good idea of what kinds of responses you're getting and from whom.

Klout - According to their description, Klout measures the likelihood of response to you. Higher scores mean that any given post/status will engender response, sharing or action. Unfortunately, many people are using Klout scores as a measure of expertise or elite status. Avoid this, as it indicates a lack of understanding about Klout. Klout has also spawned what Animenewsdotbiz has coined as "Credibility hobo." This would be asking users for shares, +1 on Google and other assistance for upping your score. "Brother can you spare a +K?"

Topsy will give you a overall picture of your activity online. It's doesn't dig deep into analysis, but if you want to see a quick overview of your activity - and any activity engendered by it - Topsy is a good tool.

And as I posted previously, I'm finding Crowdbooster to be a very useful tool to get a visual impression of the popularity and response to any given post.

Of course, any savvy company should have a Google Alert and Twitter Search set up to see what people are saying about them.

Now that you know who is listening to you, acting on your links, sharing and responding, and what they are saying about you, you can answer the above questions appropriately. You will know who you are talking to, when they respond, and to what. You can see what language works and which kinds of posts get the most response on your platforms.

Listen and measure before you post for the most effective use of Social Media.

Project Wonderful