A Business Technology Place

The next paradigm shift in news delivery

Let’s stop using Facebook as the measuring stick for other social sites.
Say what you will about Google+, but Google continues to support and promote the platform as a connection tool. This week they announced improvements in the mobile application that makes it more visual, easier to use, and creates mobile inter-connectivity with video hangouts.

I don’t think we’ll ever see another social platform with the same number of eye-balls as Facebook. But it is with Facebook that Google+ is most often compared. That’s unfortunate, because only measuring a social platform by the number of users and the time spent on the site is short sighted. We really need to look at the social site in context of what it offers, the connections it makes, and ultimately if it fits into a revenue model for sustained viability and relevance.

This post isn’t about Google+, but it supports a feature that is creating some important changes.
Hangouts. In simple terms it’s a multi-point video chat that supports up to nine people. That’s pretty cool for friends looking to converse or families looking to connect. It’s a feature right now that separates Google+ from other social platforms.

But there are other uses for Hangouts as well. Here’s a discussion with Google product managers about features in a software application. Mitt Romney was the first US presidential candidate to use a Hangout for a town hall session and President Obama has used hangouts as well. So politicians and businesses from multiple industries are starting to use hangouts for touch points.

The news media continues to adapt and evolve with digital media as well.
I’m intrigued by the changes in the news media industry to connect more with readers/viewers in the information age. Earlier this year I wrote about how social media is affecting the news media, But now I’m noticing that media outlets are beginning to use live interactive video with viewers to create a new level of engagement.

The New York Times is experimenting with Google+ hangouts to discuss global issues and other news topics and Patch.com is experimenting with live chats and uStream channels. This is the beginning of another paradigm shift in the news media industry as the readers and viewers of the media become part of the news story by participating in discussions and offering their opinions and observations on topics.

Proactive news agencies are already starting to adapt and experiment as “readers” become “viewers” online. It’s those viewers now that won’t just receive the news, they’ll take part in delivering the news. Think about that and go get familiar with a digital hangout.

Disclaimer: I freelance for Patch.com although a different patch site mentioned in this article.

Your social media footprint is your history

We are fascinated with history.
Maybe History wasn’t your favorite subject in school, but I suspect that certain aspects of history get your attention now. There’s the History Channel on cable television with popular shows like Pawn Stars, American Pickers, and American Restoration. In fact Pawn Stars scores at the top of some cable TV ratings for certain age groups. There are books, documentaries, investigative reporting, etc. that all touch-on our fascination with history.

Historical information appeals to us because it’s about about how people and objects interacted to create a moment in time. They create a story and a connection for us to relate. We say life is all about relationships today and it was all about relationships back then also. Relationships are part of the fabric that makes us. So why wouldn’t we have a fascination with history.

We are fascinated with our own history.
There comes a time in the life of most people where they want to know more about their family lineage. For me, it hit during my college years. I spent some time at the local archives digging through census records and got back as far as my great great grandfather. Then just when I thought was picking up steam my grandmother told me she believed he was adopted. So it became complicated to proceed and I had school work to do and dropped my research.

Today, sites like Ancestry.com pull together information and provide tools to aid in historical research. I love the phrase I see when I pull-up the Ancestry.com site: “Ready to discover your family story?” That’s the connection with people. It’s not just a history of people and names. It’s a story about who your family was during a moment or a passage in time. It’s a story about what made you.

Social media is creating a historical record of our lives.
Now think about what digital media sites are creating. We are creating historical time lines of events in our lives. No longer will people piece together bits and pieces of their history by a photo album with names and dates on the back of the photographs. We are creating a digital footprint of our lives by our status updates.

Facebook has captured this the best with their new timeline feature. Facebook says “Tell your life story with a new kind of profile.” In essence they’ll sort your posts, status updates, blogs, photographs, etc. by date so that you can create the sequential story of your life. Just imagine if you had that for your great-great grandparents. You’d be interested to read that right?

Other social sites such as Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest are building and keeping this type of information as well. Blogging is great for this too and whether you are recording events in your life or expressing opinions on a subject, you are creating a sequential series of content.

The social sites are like our digital diaries.

The good and the bad of it.
I know when the Facebook timeline feature was first announced there was a flurry of activity and blog post recommendations to look at your timeline and remove posts that you didn’t want to be public. So for example, all the things you said about your-then “significant other” you might remove. Or maybe it was the things you wrote as an impulsive youth and you’ve grown wiser with your words now and want to remove them from the record. Whatever the reason, the idea is to make sure your history is clean. Then there are the privacy concerns. Do we want to have all this information exposed to stalkers and criminals?

But I think the idea is more good than bad. What’s really happening is that we are creating a life journal just by populating our social spaces with content. At some point in the future we can go-back and see our thoughts, our pictures, our conversations, etc. It’s our history. It’s what we have made.

Go make history.
So value your history, your story, your life. Keep a copy of it for yourself and future family members. (Google+ and Facebook have options to download a copy of all your content.) It’s your history. Go make it.

Making sense of your social media life

Should we be overwhelmed with our social media life?
Quite a few people think so. A quick search on “social media overload” returns several articles and posts on how to avoid social media burnout. There are even self-help books out to help us manage information overload from social media sites..

But the question is not so much about “social media” as it is about the volume of information within it.

How did we get here?
In the 90s, the internet became more accessible and brought us connectivity to a collection of places (web sites) for information share. Browsers became a tool for turning computer code into graphical interfaces that we could view and click. What the browser really did was remove the requirement for the average person to know how to program. Most people could now read information written by a few content suppliers. Businesses quickly made their way to the internet to get information to their customers. It was the like the wild west land grab.

Then in the 2000s social media sites and blogging brought people together with other people. Suddenly, more people became content creators. They were creating posts, adding photos, and videos. Individual sites and profiles shot up like weeds in a spring lawn.

Then, in more recent years, all became accessible on our phones. Now we are connected digitally to our social networks no matter where we are. It’s no wonder many people feel overwhelmed.

We have our limits.
It doesn’t take many active Facebook friends, Twitter follows, or LinkedIn connections to have digital dashboards that are flowing with information faster than we can process. Oh and I’m not even counting SMS text messages (smile).

The situation is ripe for new businesses and some smart people have created tools such as HootSuite and TweetDeck to help us manage multiple social media sites in one interface. But these are just tools. They don’t make the choices of which sites you use, what content you create, what content you consume, or where your audience is.

It’s all about the audience.
To begin to make sense of this we have to focus on the audience. Who are your friends on Facebook and what do you have in common with them? Who are your connections on LinkedIn and what are their interests? What circles do you have on Google+?

My friends on Facebook don’t care about content on my blog. My followers on Twitter don’t care about the pictures of my friends. As I think about this, it’s like a Marketing 101 class and studying target audiences.

So while it would be nice to have all our digital life in one place, that’s not really how it works. Which is the way real life works too. We have different groups of friends at work, the neighborhood, interest group, etc.

Our social media life is really an extension of our real life groups.
Google+ launched with this in mind talking about our people circles. The concept is pretty simple. Just create a circle that mirrors your real life connections, friends, family, etc. So the idea is to keep information segmented by the appropriate life group so that it stays relevant to your audience. That works great if everyone uses the same program. But not everyone uses Google+. Or for that matter, not everyone uses Twitter or Facebook or any other social media site.

Is the answer to avoid them all or pick just one?
I know some people would sayto avoid the problem completely, just don’t participate in social networks. I guess that’s the isolationist strategy for digital livelihood and it’s certainly an available choice.

Another option is to pick just one place. I know for many that place is Facebook. It was the first social media site to really go “mainstream” and I think many people are happy just having that one profile because that is where most of their friends share information. Oh, and I’ll be honest, I really am a little jealous of this approach because it’s simple. Simplifying life and business is another topic to itself, but is so rewarding for those who can find it.

But for many of us, it’s not an option to use just one tool. Maybe it’s because we are a marketer or business person that needs to connect with people and customers wherever they are. Maybe it’s because we are digital savvy and just want to be in more than one place to keep up with technology. I’m in this group and at the end of the day there is more than one social media tool to manage.

Making sense of the chaos.
Do I dare say that the simple solution is to use each tool for it’s intended purpose? Twitter is not like Facebook. It was created for short bursts of information. It’s evolved to a real-time stream of thoughts and news information that sometimes provides links to more content rich thoughts. Facebook was setup to allow a larger amount of content in posts along with digital attachments. Facebook has been focused more on personal relationships whereas LinkedIn is focused more on professional relationships.

But part of the problem is it appears that so many of the social media sites are competing with each other for the same audience instead of trying to assert their unique value and attributes in the market place. So in some cases the audience is blending across the sites.

You can’t read and process it all.
There is too much information. Part of the “overload” in our lives is self inflicted. We can’t keep up with every bit of information that is published. What we can do is segment the information by group or source into areas that fit our life groups. We can make our digital life an extension of our real life. That will bring some order to the chaos.

 

A multi-channel approach for customer communications and profiles

A friend and colleague Jim Marous shared an article from American Banker on Googe+ entitled Banks Underuse Mobile for Communication. The article discusses challenges that financial institutions have with communicating with their customers through mobile devices. While mobile device applications and mobile optimized sites are becoming more common, and expected by account holders, financial institutions are not using the mobile channel for proactive communication. Kael Kelly, senior director at Varolii is quoted in the article “Banks don’t have the data that they need. A lot of the phone number data doesn’t easily distinguish between a mobile number and a land-line.”

So the idea that banks don’t know what data they have made me think about some other data that Jim Marous shared about financial institutions and customer data. Like this tweet about banks not having email addresses for their account holders.

The pattern I see is missing or unintelligible customer profile data. That problem expands beyond the boundary of the financial services industry. It’s really a common need for any type of business. There’s no doubt that many organizations have good process to manage customer profile data and communication.  But for those that don’t, I believe there is a fairly simple solution.

A simple multi-solution for collecting profile data.
The first step is to collect accurate information at the time of new account opening. That seems obvious, but for many businesses this may require updating the customer/client profile record to support addresses for current communication mediums. That means distinguishing between phone number types such as home, mobile, work etc. It means a place for an email address as well.   Depending on the business, you may also want to include a variable field for social media type contact information. At a minimum require one phone number and one email address.  If the customer insists they do not have an email address then fill the field with an agreed upon standard such as (noemail@yourbusinessdomain.com)

I understand there are regulations governing anti-spam communications via email and SMS text. But I don’t think banks or other businesses need to over think/engineer a basic solution to keep accurate profile data.  The email and phone number should be required and make sure the customer knows when they establish the account that you may use this information to contact them with important notices about their account. You can optionally create a permission indicator (opt-in) that is designated for future marketing.

A simple multi-channel solution for communicating with customers to keep their profile data active.
I suggest sending notifications through multiple channels annually for customers to check and update their profile contact information.  Here are some possible touch points:

1. Pop up in the online account area after login.  Remember, customers are in your system by their own choice.  So this is a fair message to display to them. This is also an area where the customer can self-serve any updates they need to make.

2. Email reminder. Don’t ask the customer to login from the email message or reply to it. That’s a technique used by phishing attacks and creates mistrust. Rather, use the email to notify and request the customer update their profile information the next time they login to their online account or the next time they visit a branch/store location.

3. Post the reminder message on Facebook/Google+/Twitter and other social sites where customers may follow your brand for the purpose of receiving communication. These social medium platforms are broadcast platforms. You don’t need permission to place messages there and customers that see a message from your account page are there by their own choice.

4. Put the reminder message in a recording for customers holding for live assistance. It’s a simple reminder that they should keep their profile information up-to-date to help with important account notifications.

5. Have any branch/store employees verify with customers on the designated day (annually) that their information is up-to-date information. This only covers the customers that are serviced in-person for that day, but it’s a great touch point for interaction and shows that your brand is proactive to keep good records.

Since some customers may have fees associated with SMS texting, it’s not advisable to use that channel unless you have established that as part of their profile setup.

The email channel is different in this multi-channel approach because it is a message to an individual area. In fact, email addresses that are not accurate may return as undeliverable. Consider monitoring undeliverable emails and putting these customers on a list for follow-up through other means such as phone or postal mail.  Alternatively, remove email addresses from the profile record if they are not deliverable after three attempts.

What do you think? Should it be difficult to keep accurate profile data and request the customer update/verify it with recurring frequency?

Social Media is Affecting the News Media

News agencies around the world are constantly challenged with finding and keeping consumers of their published content. Content is certainly king, but the business model has been stressed for many organizations over the past decade based on the advancement of technology and changing consumer habits.

It’s still about getting the attention of readers, listeners, and watchers. But now, your news source wants you to consume their content through digital media and share it within your friends, family, and professional circles.Social Media Logos

Consider that the traditional subscription model is based a one-to-one relationship. A consumer subscribes to a publication, and the agency pushes their content to the subscriber at a specified interval. If you want a newspaper delivered to your driveway each day, then you can have that with your paid subscription. You might share that printed paper with a single friend. But it’s not likely that you would share it with more than that one friend. In many ways, you are limited by the physical copy that you have.

Paul Grabowicz, of the Knight Digital Media Center, writes about the transition to digital journalism, stating there has been “a steady decline in print circulation and a  precipitous drop in advertising revenue” in recent years. News agencies that have not adapted to technology that consumers use have filed for bankruptcy, closed their doors, or merged with competitors.

Consider that the print subscription base for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Monday through Friday circulation was 183,415 in May 2011 down from 318,350 in November 2007.  That’s a 43 percent drop in a 3 1/2 year span.

All those print subscriptions of yesteryear have been replaced with different types of digital access such as mobile applications, Internet browsers, tablet applications, podcasts, and YouTube videos.

Traditional news sources relied on an intentional decision by the consumer to receive the content of the publisher. It was an individual decision between the consumer and the news source.  With digital media this can still be true. But evolution of technology and tools is leading to a new change in consumer behavior.

In recent years, social media sharing and linking has become mainstream, and the average consumer has access to share their favorite content with many people just by clicking a button. In contrast to the subscription model, that’s a one-to-many relationship and it’s beginning to have a changing effect on the mass media industry.

The consumer has become a free marketing engine for the news agency by sharing, liking, and commenting on publications. This very act replicates the content of the publication in a way that was once impossible.

Andrew Phelps, of the Nieman Journalism Lab, describes the sharing habits of consumers in his post news shows up in the least expected places. Phelps states that “A lot of readers get their news just like this — incidentally — according to a growing body of research. That is, they don’t turn to the web seeking news. The news finds them. And that has implications for how that news gets produced and distributed.”

So, just as with any industry, news and media companies will have to adjust to consumer behavior.  AOL, parent company to Patch.com, understands this. A note in the management discussion section of the 10-Q report filed with the SEC on 11/2/11 states “As the behavior of internet consumers continues to change, a migration on the internet towards social networking could adversely affect usage of AOL products and services. This trend may have an adverse effect on our ability to rely on traditional sources of traffic and revenues. We seek to mitigate these potential competitive pressures by leveraging social networks to deliver our content.”

But social-sharing timelines such as those found on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter have a challenge as well. They contain an enormous amount of information that is updated constantly.  In fact, there is so much information hitting those timelines that we can’t possibly process it all.

It’s what link shortening service Bit.ly calls the half life of a shared link. They define half life as “the amount of time at which this link will receive half of the clicks it will ever receive.” According the Bit.ly study, “The mean half life of a link on Twitter is 2.8 hours, on Facebook it’s 3.2 hours and via ‘direct’ sources (like email or IM clients) it’s 3.4 hours. So you can expect, on average, an extra 24 minutes of attention if you post on Facebook than if you post on Twitter.”

For discussion sake, let’s call the half life of a shared link three hours. After that, your link is considered old news. The findings of Bit.ly study have prompted some news organizations to develop a policy of re-posting their content after certain time intervals. There is no additional cost to repost the link, and it will very likely pick-up new consumers.

Enter Google to this discussion. Google shook up the digital media and search world when it posted on its blog a post entitled Search, plus Your World.

Google states “We’re transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships.” The latest search algorithm now includes results that are personal to your Google+ and photo sharing information. Controversies aside, about the what social data is included in the search results, what this means is that sharing news links socially could give that link a second life in future search results.

For news agencies, that’s good news. It means when a link from their content is shared with others, it could create additional impressions in Google’s search engine index. That can increase the probability of additional visits to their media properties in the future.

So the race for your attention continues. But the game has changed. It’s not played with college students selling you the covenience of home delivery through a subscription, but with digital publications and the quality of the content.

You the consumer are both the audience and the marketer. Your influence, and it’s a good one, drives more people to the published content when you share or recommend it to a friend. Social is as social does.

This post is from my column on technology and business from the Suwanee Patch.  I cross-post the entire contents here for the Merchant Stand audience. The original version is online here: