Behavioural economics

Wrapped up in our own bubbles – part 1

There are several big picture issues floating around on the internet at the moment all of them revolving around filters, personalisation, social conversations, social media, anonymity and privacy vs conversations specifically tied to your real life and the real you. I’m going to try to tackle these issues/discussions one by one and hopefully finish up with a few summarised thoughts, potential implications and lots of questions worth mulling over in the coming weeks, months and years. The issues are too big for just one post however, so consider this to be part 1.

The first issue to tackle is the discussion around filters and personalisation. Eli Pariser, the former Executive Director of MoveOn.org, argues that more and more individuals and companies are wrapping themselves in ‘filtered bubbles’ of information, and that this is ultimately a bad thing. A ‘filter bubble’, is “A filter bubble is a concept developed by Internet activist Eli Pariser to describe a phenomenon in which search queries on sites such as Google or Facebook or Yahoo selectively guess what information a user would like to see based on the user’s past search history and, as a result, searches tend to play back information which agrees with the user’s past viewpoint. Accordingly, users get less exposure to conflicting viewpoints. And according to Pariser, the filter bubble is “that personal ecosystem of information that’s been catered by these algorithms” which, based on past choices, reflect a person’s existing viewpoint.” Source.

I strongly encourage you to watch the video below as Eli draws out, but stops short of describing, some of the impacts of a filter bubble, and what that means for individuals, groups, collectives, societies and nations.

What Eli touches on, but doesn’t go into a great deal of detail about is what this means in the medium to long-term and about the implications of companies. political and social groups trying to communicate to a broader audience. In an era of ‘over-personalisation’ where your future search and online results are influenced by past decisions it becomes easier to be convinced that you are right, because Search Engines – both algorithmic and social – deliver what you want to hear, read and see, and are influenced signficantly based on what you’ve previously asked for. How does an individual grow sufficiently to take in broad opinion if the search results they receive cater to what they know, not what they don’t know? Over time, the delivery of this personalised information leads to more like-minded searches, which in turn deliver more like-minded results. Breaking out of that cycle could be very difficult – how do you for example tell algorithmic search engines that you want to be challenged, if you don’t know what some of the alternatives are?

The challenge for business should be plainly obvious: How do you talk to the unconverted where they aren’t getting the information they might need because years of search history indicates they don’t know and an algorithm doesn’t isn’t programmed to recognise that they might need it? How do you get to individuals that should be looking at you and considering your services but where you might be prevented from delivering that information to new groups because a search engine, or personalisation algorithms have decided that your message isn’t relevant, even if it is. In an online environment a future challenge (to start working on solving now) is how to get your message to those that aren’t already singing from the same hymn sheet.

This may not be a massive issue right now because the internet is still relatively young, and personalisation more so, but consider the current generation growing up now – next generations students, consumers and leaders – how will their lives be affected, and how will businesses talk to individuals who have never known any different?

Perhaps Donald Rumsfeld said it best when he posited this:
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

On to part 2.

As easy as Yi, Er, San

One part of marketing and communications that I’ve observed companies the world over doing poorly is translating their websites into multiple languages. Western companies in English based societies, generally, are particularly poor at translating their website(s), marketing collateral and consumer contact channels into foreign languages – even where relatively high percentages of the population speak other languages.

Australia seems to be equally, if not especially, behind in this area, but I can’t really see why. Australian businesses have more incentive than most to embrace non-English based trade, internal market expansion and exposure.

Australia prides itself on being a multicultural society and a business community heavily exposed to Asian economies. Yet glancing at the websites of the companies that make up the ASX20 only a handful have foreign language options, and of those, some only address specific sections of their websites in languages. One large financial institution for example does do a very good job of translating ‘moving your banking to Australia’ in a handful of languages. But what it doesn’t do is translate the whole website, or core parts of the website into any one of those languages for domestic consumers who might prefer, and have better language skills, in their native tongue, rather than in English.

Some stats about Australia, from the always reference-able Wikipedia:


“According to the 2006 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for close to 79% of the population. The next most common languages spoken at home are Italian (1.6%), Greek (1.3%) and Cantonese (1.2%); a considerable proportion of first- and second-generation migrants are bilingual. A 2010-2011 study by the Australia Early Development Index found that the most common language spoken by children after English was Arabic, followed by Vietnamese, Greek, Chinese, and Hindi.”

 

The important statistic above is the 79%, and then flipping it. What the data really means is that 21% of the population speaks at least one other language other than English which may be their preferred language, and or,  the bilingual members in the household speak no English at all. That is a huge market, and a huge market opportunity. Using 2011 population estimates based on 2006 census data, that 21% represents approximately 4.7 million individuals – almost equal to the combined populations of Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide.

The question is not “Why should we embrace this market”, the question is “Why wouldn’t you want to embrace this market?” This bilingual market overlaps many of the current markets businesses target everyday. Being more accessible to more groups within them can only be a positive.

In an age where businesses at all levels and scales are rushing to seek market advantage using social media to connect, talk and get closer to customers, it seems that many are looking to greener pastures without tending their current crops.

Looking to grow established and new internal markets, being more culturally sensitive and aware, as well as serving tri-beneficial purposes of instantly being more accessible to foreign markets, tourist dollars and the children of parents in Australia who have limited English, it just makes sense to look to all reasonable growth paths and competitive advantage.

Language is universal, doing something with it isn’t, and therein lays the opportunity.

Making Social Media exclusive – the next evolutionary digital step

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece “not so social media” and within it I posed questions about how a business manages the balance on social media (Twitter, Facebook etc) between loyal customers, potential customers who haven’t bought, and those that joined because they might think about buying someday but equally might not.

There’s little debate that social media is huge for consumers and businesses. There’s even less debate that Twitter and Facebook is very useful for quickly spreading messages ranging from as ‘Britney Spears got a new haircut ZOMG’ through to ‘Rebellion in Libya, tell the world what’s happening to us’.

But where there is debate and discussion with Twitter and Facebook is its tangible, monetary value to business. Particularly to those businesses that see it as a ‘push’ service, not a discussion and communication medium. And internal conversations are fast evolving from ‘lets get as many people as we can‘ to asking ‘how valuable are the people we’re getting anyway?‘.

Businesses are now quickly facing up to questions about social media database value, and treating them just like any other database they might have built through ‘traditional’ channels. High-level questions such as:

– ‘How do we deliver real value to loyal customers through social media?’

– ‘When our loyal customers swim in the same pool as people who have never used us, how do we separate them to build meaningful relationships with either, or both, group(s)?’

– ‘We’ve managed to get 100,000 followers on Twitter. How much are they worth to us?’

– ‘How do we determine who is truly engaged, and who isn’t?’

– ‘Do we really want or need a huge database? Or is having a tight-knit, more engaged, database better?’

Many marketers are currently focused on evolving businesses, messaging and campaign offerings to deliver greater, more personalised, experiences – perfectly tailored to individuals or close knit groups of similar users.

How might social media evolve from here: Retention and deeper emotional connection

Social media will undoubtedly evolve from its current form. But as marketers, the challenge will be to ensure that evolution and adoption is valuable too. But how can social media play a part in that as part as a valuable communication ‘bridge’ if the conversation is open to anyone and anyone?

I believe there is an opportunity for businesses to take a more proactive approach to integrating social media into incredibly valuable, but as yet, largely untapped areas in their business, and that is ‘behind the wall’. Adapting social media technologies to membership marketing and retention marketing activities may just be one of the cheapest, and most effective ways of retaining customers. As yet it hasn’t been adopted much, if anywhere.

There is an opportunity to differentiate and add significant value to product and service offerings by qualifying individuals and approving them to join group(s) and channel(s) as a part of the entire customer experience.

The argument for making Social Media exclusive

Social media purists, observers and commentators might rear-up in horror at the thought of organisations locking up social media channels, and that’s fair enough – it’s a new concept.

Making some, or specific, social media channels exclusive to current, valuable clients, might sound ludicrous to some – ‘social media should be open right?’, but if we think about it in a real life situation, nowhere works that way. For example: If you go to a bar on a Saturday night, you don’t have a conversation with every single person in the bar. You will almost always have conversations with people you know or new people who have been introduced to the group by a friend. Now ask yourself why you don’t have a conversation with everyone in that bar? Nothing is stopping you. You don’t know for sure you won’t have anything to talk about with each person, but it might take a lot of time to find the few things that you do have in common. And in the end having the common ground you may have might outweigh the uncommon ground you have, thereby negating the effort and actually producing a negative reaction of avoidance should you see that individual again.

By pre-qualifying who can join discussion channels it actually makes the value proposition for the business and customers more valuable. Customers who are actually invested in the product or service have an open forum to discuss issues while ensuring that the conversation is only had with like-minded, or similarly interested parties. The conversation would be more engaging due to there being a higher starting benchmark and the participants would care more about the outcome of the discussion.

In a more private, like-minded environment more valuable conversations about product innovation, testing and idea generation can be developed, as well as more effectively presenting renewal, reward and retention offerings. Should the customer choose to cease purchasing, or continuing their membership, access to the exclusive social media arenas would also cease – if the customer is heavily invested in these groups some may continue using the product and services to continue having those discussions. Equally, it would allow customers to voice dissatisfaction earlier, and allow the company to respond more appropriately.

The wealth of untapped information that could be shared is mind-boggling, and unbelievably valuable, if you start to think about all the possibilities of what a loyal, exclusive, group of customers might discuss and be willing to share.

Maybe not for everyone

This concept may not be for everyone and every business. But in an economic environment where more and more businesses are competing for eyeballs and dollars, low-cost, effective customer retention and product innovation is fast becoming a major objective of many businesses. It’s all well and good to grow, but if you’re losing em’ as fast as you’re getting em’, then the business isn’t growing, it’s treading water.

People want to feel good about themselves and their decisions. People want to feel exclusive, and that the companies they choose to purchase from care about them.

Using social media as a retention tool is a new way of using a new technology to meet and exceed age-old customer expectations.

The future of marketing is platform agnostic

More than ever, with the constant development of new digital products, marketing and consumerism is increasingly divsersified and companies face a platform agnostic future.

It doesn’t matter how someone gets to your business, what is important is facilitating the opportunity for them to do so. Businesses can’t afford to not be where their current and future customers are. Businesses that aren’t able to convince themselves to open up to as many platforms and access points as is reasonable are doing themselves more harm than good.

Oils ain’t oils

Think about the petroleum industry, particularly petrol stations. Petrol Stations are one of the oldest living examples of a platform agnostic business model. Petrol station owners don’t care what vehicle you turn up in. They don’t care if you have a 30 year old 100cc scooter, a family sedan, a brand new Ferrari or a 10 tonne truck. It simply doesn’t matter to them, as long as you buy fuel (and some snacks) you’re the right customer. To them, the ‘vessel’ in which you’re going to consume the petrol isn’t their concern – they accept you’ve bought the vehicle you’ve chosen for your own reasons.

Carrying this example over, think about the ‘vehicles’ that consumers might use to research, evaluate and consume your company’s products. Consumers might use everything from various mobile phone platforms, the emerging tablet market, social networks and social media, websites, online forms, and all of the other various push and pull channels, such as EDM’s, PPC, outdoor advertising, newspapers, magazines, and retail stores etc. There are more channels than any one business can possibly be constantly across – but that’s OK.

Thankfully, fewer businesses each day are seeing digital, mobile and tablet marketing, as a way to dictate how people engage with them. Sticking exclusively with one or two technologies and expecting consumers to follow suit has all the classic trappings of losing market share and alienating whole market segments. Businesses that see the opportunity to engage with customers no matter what platform choice that customer independently made, will reap more benefits in the short and long term. Few, if any, consumers would purchase their smartphone with all of the companies they use at the moment in mind, while also making sure they’re all compatible, for example.

If your website, or app, is great on an iPhone, but not on Android, or Windows mobile, or iPad, or the Samsung tablet, or the RIM technologies tablet, that needs to be fixed, and quickly. Why? Because if your current, or potential consumers are having a poor experience trying to access you they’re less likely to try again in the future. Worse, they may just switch to a competitor offering a similar product with a more user friendly interface.  Even worse, if they can’t access your business on any of the platforms they’re using, few will bother to tell you – especially if they’re not a loyal customer – and if they are they may well be more critical in their feedback, and may well do it in a public arena, like twitter.

Being across every platform is impossible

Coming back to the example above – petrol stations don’t open up everywhere, they open up in strategically useful places. And the same sort of thinking can be applied to other businesses too.

Businesses don’t have to be across every social network, or every new technology that comes along. But they do need to have individuals that are given the time, and the explicit remit, to explore beyond ‘what’s cool’ and progress to what’s useful and what can be tangibly beneficial to both the company and the consumer. If a large percentage of your current core customer segment are Nokia’s, one might argue that there’s no need to optimise for Smartphones like iPhone or Android. But that ignores the growth potential laying behind your next generation of consumer.

This can be scary, no doubt about it. The leap of faith required to get new social, digital, mobile and tablet initiatives off the ground, where no solid figures exist, can be a hurdle which may be difficult for some to jump over.

After all, if no one else in the industry is doing it, and no one is making money from the social/app/other access product being suggested, how does anyone know it’s going to work? Well sometimes you just have to try these things – toe in the water approach if necessary – to see what happens next.

Yahoo labs discovers what a ‘like’ is worth

Likes and retweets have become big business, and front of mind for many of the world’s top publishers, marketers, commnunity managers and digital product managers. But what exactly is a ‘like’ worth? How many page views do you get? When does a like transfer to a revenue earning click? What does it mean to digital product managers/marketing managers, advertisers and publishers in real terms?

Yury Lifshits from Yahoo labs, has produced a fantastic Vimeo video (below) displaying his extraordinary, and perhaps even unprecedented, workand research into the life of a ‘like’.

Watch the video now, or return after reading some key bullet-pointed findings from the video, below.

The Like Log Study from Yury Lifshits on Vimeo.

  • Stories about Facebook, Apple, Verizon, Groupon, future and infographics are universally popular across technology blogs. Articles about Microsoft, Amazon, Samsung, cloud computing, TV and search see much less engagement.
  • There are around 10 likes per 1000 pageviews (across several websites with public PV numbers). Decay of engagement is extremely sharp, with less than 20% likes happening after the first 24 hours.
  • Lifespan of a story getting likes or retweets is very short. Yury discovered that even the website Engadget, where tech stories, which are more popular prevail – over 80% of likes occured within the first two days. See the image on the right for the average life cycle of a news article via social media likes and retweets.
  • Among the top stories only four are fact-based political news and three are about celebrities. The most common type of hit stories is opinion/analysis. Other common themes include: lifestyle, photo galleries, interactives, humor and odd news.
  • What’s popular depends on the publication, the audience, and naturally enough, what those readers deem to be shareable. Yury discovered that stories about Barach Obama or Wikileaks was particularly popular from NYTimes.com, but stories about Google and China are less popular.

Yury also revealed an absolutely amazing statistic, (emphasis mine):

“At this stage, the average reader of the New York Times (website) only shares one story per year“. Yep, you read that right, the average NYTimes.com reader only shares one story PER YEAR. Only one, every 365 days. That’s incredible.

That means that the NYTimes has a lot of readers, and more importantly, if they could improve that statistic by as little as 10 or 20 percent they would see an absolutely huge increase in traffic on their website, which would be a boon for their revenue.

Yury goes on to draw five conclusions, and the full five are available at the bottom of this page.

I’ve extracted the two that product managers, advertisers and editorial teams need to consider the most:

  • Improve promotion of your best content. According to our measurements, web stories are practically lost 24 hours after publications. Only 20% likes are coming after the first day. This engagement pattern discourages production of “big stories”. To get maximum return on your hits, change your frontpage policy. Best stories should be highly visible. Consider hits-only RSS and twitter feeds, month-in-review / year-in-review programs. TechCrunch Classics is another example of hit promotion. And internal efforts are not enough. Breakout success comes when other media (top TV networks, newspapers and magazines) are picking your story and link back to it.
  • Improve your median story. Sort all your stories by engagement and pick a story right in the middle of the list. This is called a “median”. A median story has less than 50 likes for majority of websites in our study. In other words, every second story takes more effort from a writer than it brings value to the readers. Recently leaked “The AOL Way” reports their median story to have only 1500 pageviews, and they aim to grow it four times. Publishers should ask themselves: Why do we write so many weak stories?

 

There is only one suggestion of Yury’s that I would offer a slightly different perspective on and this is his suggestion and question about producing content that doesn’t work as well, or isn’t as popular. If a publisher only produces content they they know works well, and they know their audience specifically tells them they like now, then only producing that content could box-in that publisher in the future. Further, that content will only serve to reinforce the current consumer behaviour, and will only attract like-minded individuals, thus potentially limiting growth and also risking becoming typecast as a specialist provider of a specific type and genre of content.

Publications need to have a broader range of content for a few reasons:

  • You need broader supporting information as a meta-SEO-framework for ongoing online growth
  • A bigger net catches more fish – and by saying that I mean that even if lesser stories don’t always do so well, the publication doesn’t become known only for doing a limited range of content, and may in-fact initially draw a new user in via the content that isn’t as ‘liked’ by their regular audience. This traffic, in volume, matters significantly over time to archive value and size and referencing potential
  • Dropping less ‘important’ content may be a viable thought-strategy for some businesses, but in the long run, and particularly in technology blogging and publishing we often see that trends quickly shift. If Facebook reporting suddenly became less popular and Tablet reporting rose in popularity does that mean you drop all of it? Not at all, you may pull back a little on the throttle for a while, but that content is still valuable because worldwide there will still be a thirst for that information from niche volumes of readers.
  • Just because it’s not being shared socially, doesn’t mean it isn’t getting read and isn’t useful.

Publishers, industry analysts and those interest in the inner workings of social media should absolutely take note of these findings. A great many questions unfold as a result of reading this research.

Replays make all the difference

 

If you’ve ever watched a replay you’ll know exactly how powerful they can be. Whether it’s re-watching English Premier League Football, NFL or Starcraft II, replays give you all the insights possible to improving next time round.

While research and analysis that delivers as close to real time as possible is useful for brands, rarely do management prioritize time to look back at what has happened to date. Like replays, reviews can be incredibly useful learning experiences. However much of the time, reviews are glossed over, with the elephant in the room being any shortfall that may have to be made up in the coming months. Reviews in effect become an opportunity not to diligently and thoroughly review the past, but rather, to talk about the future.

If a campaign has been a spectacular failure, much of the time, the entire campaign is written off, but with proper analysis it may be that just one part of the marketing chain misfired – or failed to fire at all.

Brands that review, and take the time to learn from the information received can, if then used to the company’s benefit in future endeavours, prevent them ending up like the boy above: eyes closed, thinking he’s doing the right thing, hoping that it all works out OK.