Archive for May, 2012
May 31st, 2012
My younger son introduced me to an intensely addictive mobile game this week, one that reminded me of the extraordinary power of brand and reinforced the way I think about brand reputation.
It’s not a game that is red-hot from the coder oven ( I think this version was April launch) but the fact that a 19-year-old likes it enough to tell his Dad ( aka Old Man Slow to Understand) about it is an indication of the mental space that brands occupy in his head, and mine.
If you’ve been there and done that, my apologies but “LogoQuiz” is the game and I have watched much less TV because of it. The game environment is 2D and simply displays elements of brand logos that you have to name by entering that in a text field.
The game mechanic is so simple that it hurts (display, guess, gain, move on up – buy). You make up the game narrative in your head as you go along. The revenues come from ads and upsells. I haven’t been sold yet but pretty sure that I will be. Game genius!
Here’s the thing – you can cheat soooo easily, just by looking up the potential brand names on Google images. But that destroys the point, the fun and means that it’s game over. Game genius!
You could play it as a team but my son was not up for that at all. It’s about the singular effort, getting there solo.
The fact that it is a simple, brilliant game (so retro, so new) also means that it has tapped an energy that is much greater than the game concept and mechanic themselves. I think this energy derives from the power of The Brand in popular culture.
And that’s where I came in. LogoQuiz reminded me that the power of branding, expressed in its strongest form through the logo, runs through our emotional pathways, informs our thoughts and choices, and at best creates beautiful, desirable objects.
What I found most interesting about playing the game were my emotional, atavistic responses to the brand logos. Those brands that I felt good about, or had bad feelings about were easier to get right than those I had no emotional connection with.
The game reinforced my feelings about the brands I instinctively did not like because it prompted thoughts about why the brand was “bad”. Conversely, the brands I liked took a dose of “more feelgood”. The game details are here.
We know that the brand can be assaulted on all sides and that there is an absolute need to manage its reputation. This is so much more difficult now, what with the web and everything (;). The propulsive force of a brand, driven by one-way messages embodied in the brand logo has been checked by audiences who, passive by historic constraint, have found that they have assumed power.
Their power is relative and highly creative and works through a new and unique dialogue. The Branded become something much more useful and relevant to the brand; they inform and reform the brand – they make it better because more closely aligned to evolving needs and desires.
This exchange is still quite rare. Far too many business siloes, believe or not, are built from Unobtanium, a lethal metal that allows ideas to permeate out but deflects every idea coming in. In this way, they reinforce the Myth of Brand Control. The few who have dismantled the containers and opened themselves to the dialogue are making the greatest gains.
Finally, LogoQuiz reminded me of the almost supernatural power of the image. A fragment of a logo can tell the whole story and I read fragments very well. Much in the same way that, if you take a line of text and cover up the bottom half, most people will still be able to read and understand it. If you cover up the top half of the text, most people struggle to understand.
Visual is as visual does. Long live the logo, long live the dialogue!
May 31st, 2012
One of the most powerful and complicated pieces of malware ever devised has been revealed over the last week by researchers at Kaspersky Labs. The Flame malware (also known by researchers as Viper or sKyWIper) has been attacking computers belonging to businesses and governments across the Middle East, for as long as five years.
Flame is a hugely sophisticated attack toolkit that leaves a Trojan on computers and can propagate itself through a local network, just like a computer worm. However, the level of complexity suggests that Flame was almost certainly developed with state-sponsorship, creating something of a political storm.
So what exactly does Flame do? According to Neil J Rebenking at PC Mag, “you might better ask what doesn’t it do. Just about any kind of espionage you can imagine is handled by one of Flamer’s modules. Among other things, McAfee’s researchers found that it can report on network resources, steal specific files, detect and evade over 100 security products, capture screens, record audio through the built-in microphone, explore nearby Bluetooth connections, and more.”
The US and Israel have been accused of developing Flame, an accusation which both countries vehemently deny. But with Iran allegedly one of the main targets of the malware, it certainly seems to echo Stuxnet, and may be another battle in the ongoing campaign to prevent the country developing nuclear weapons.
Should this be a worry to individuals and businesses? Well according to Elinor Mills at CNET: “Most of the major antivirus software now detects Flame, so updating your security software will protect you. Kaspersky also has offered tips for manually removing the malware. The software is not designed to steal financial data and does not seem targeted at consumers, so chances are your computer is safe.
Which is a relief, although the rise of cyber-espionage in general, particularly around the energy industry, will be giving governments never-ending sleepless nights. One last roundup from Kevin Fogarty at IT World brilliantly condenses the key risks for organisations and is well worth a read.
May 31st, 2012
According to a report issued by Gartner this week, corporations are starting to embrace technologies used to monitor employee Internet use, with 60% expected to watch workers’ social media use for security breaches by 2015.
Currently, less than 10% of companies monitor their employees’ use of Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and other social media sites for security breaches, although of course many companies already monitor social media for brand management and marketing purposes.
So why is the monitoring of employee social activity necessary? The report suggests an example of ‘employees posting unauthorised videos of company activities‘ and with some people’s urge to share every aspect of their lives without consideration of the longer term, or knock-on, effect, I can understand how this could be a concern to employers, at least in theory. However, organisations need to tread very carefully.
According to the report’s author Andrew Walls, research vice president at Gartner, “There are other times when accessing the information can generate serious liabilities, such as a manager reviewing an employee’s Facebook profile to determine the employee’s religion or sexual orientation in violation of equal employment opportunity and privacy regulations.”
He went onto confirm: “Enterprise surveillance of employee activities on popular social media sites has led to disciplinary actions against employees that are often supported by the law but violate cultural expectations for free speech and personal privacy in most Western countries.”
This issue is going to be a difficult one for employers to navigate as they try to balance what is legally acceptable, with what is morally acceptable. Furthermore, accessing social-based information in some circumstances can generate serious liabilities, such as a manager reviewing an employee’s Facebook profile to determine their religion or sexual orientation, in violation of equal employment opportunity and privacy regulations.
The practise of asking for Facebook passwords at interview, as reported earlier this year, surely goes too far. I believe that social media, at least to a degree, is self policing as the culprit of any security breach can be tracked and will likely be highlighted as the source by any mentions or simple analytics checks. Therefore, are these pre-emptive measures relevant? Should we be looking at social media any differently to traditional media in this regard? Or is that a case of trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted?
Obviously in some industries security is a huge concern and sharing of valuable/private data would have a very real and negative effect, but in general is this a panic reaction to what ‘could’ happen, rather than a result of issues that actually have occurred? Should we be talking about education and guidelines rather than monitoring and punishment?
Gartner believes monitoring can enhance threat detection and response: security organisations are beginning to see value in the capture and analysis of social media content, not just for internal security surveillance, but also to enable detection of shifting threats that may impinge on the organisation. This might be physical threats to facilities and personnel revealed through postings concerning civil unrest or it may be threats of logical attacks by so-called hacktivists. Early detection of shifting risks, it says, enables the organisation to vary its security posture to match and minimise negative impacts.
Gartner’s advice on monitoring social media is: Employee accounts should be non-intrusively monitored to discover data breaches as soon as possible, but also to prevent corporate equipment or offices from being abused or misused.
But it goes onto warn: While automated, covert monitoring of computer use by staff suspected of serious policy violations can produce hard evidence of inappropriate or illegal behaviours, and guide management response, it might also violate privacy laws.”
It seems the lines between morality and legality will have to be drawn up by individual organisations, and it will be interesting to see the reaction of employees, and potential legal issues that will follow.
May 24th, 2012
While everyone else has been preoccupied with the Facebook IPO /Zuckerberg marriage/bank investigations over the last week, Microsoft quietly launched its new social search network, So.cl. According to the company it’s “an experimental research project focused on the future of social experiences and learning, especially among younger people.”
Developed by FUSElabs, the branch of Microsoft working on research tools that complement social networks, So.cl has many of the features we’ve come to expect such as user profiles, shared posts and options to follow others. However, unlike other sites all your posts are filtered through its Bing search tool, so it’s dubbed “an experiment in open search.”
You sign-up to So.cl through Windows Live ID or through Facebook, and once registered you can invite your Facebook friends to join you. From there, you can share searches around general interest categories such as sport, music and movies and even curate your post so that it includes only the most useful search results. There are also multimedia options, such as the ability to create or join video parties.
But what exactly is Microsoft’s aim? Most people need another social network like a hole in the head, with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn already competing for time and energy. And Microsoft has clearly marked this out as a tool for students, rather than a challenger to those other social networking sites (pointedly ignoring Google+ in its roundup of competitors).
As Drew Olanof at The Next Web explains: “Positioning the product as a research tool aimed at students is such an obvious way of saying “Hey, if this doesn’t work it doesn’t matter, it was a research experiment for students”, so no harm done.
Drew also comments that “with So.cl, Microsoft is going to attempt to fight off any of Facebook’s “ankle-biters”, and it’s not a bad idea since the company is so heavily invested in Facebook’s success…if Facebook ever does introduce a search product, it’s more than likely going to be a collaboration with Microsoft’s Bing.”
So it could be a canny move into the social space, or an experiment too far. Whether or not people will want to share their search results in this way is still very much up for debate.
May 24th, 2012
Earlier this week, IBM issued the findings of a survey of 1,709 CEOs from 64 countries and 18 industries, which showed only 16% of them currently participate in social media, but this percentage is likely grow to 57% within 5 years.
This means that while social media is the least utilised of all customer interaction methods today, it stands to become the number two organisational engagement method within the next five years, a close second to face-to-face interactions.
The survey explains that this leap is due to a growing recognition that using social technologies to engage with customers, suppliers and employees will enable the organisation to be more adaptive and agile. This adds to the general feeling that using traditional communications methods such as email and the phone to get the message out isn’t sufficient anymore.
The move also perhaps reflects the growing influence of the social customer and according Saul Berman, a partner in IBM’s global business services organisation and one of the leaders of the survey: “It’s all part of this move towards openness, both with your customers, with your employees, your business partners, and engaging them all together in what I call this redefinition of the organisation-more broadly defined.
“As CEOs ratchet up the level of openness within their organisations, they are developing collaborative environments where employees are encouraged to speak up, exercise personal initiative, connect with fellow collaborators, and innovate.”
The evolution of the social business is often debated, but this is strong evidence that the change is happening, and those at the top of the organisational ladder are not only understanding the issue, but beginning to lead the change.
Although hard to influence, CEOs are generally willing to accept change when faced with hard evidence of success, and perhaps this movement towards social business has been influenced because companies that outperform their peers are 30% more likely to identify openness, (often characterised by a greater use of social media) as a key enabler of collaboration and innovation.
Further evidence is also being sought through customers, and the IBM survey confirmed that 73% of CEOs are making significant investments in their organisation’s ability to draw meaningful customer insights from available data.
In addition, CEOs are also looking to change the skillset of their teams for the social future. The survey highlights that employees will need to operate in a more complex and interconnected environment, meaning skills such as collaboration (75%), communication (67%), creativity (61%) and flexibility (61%) will be increasing important.
May 22nd, 2012
Charles Arthur, technology editor at The Guardian, has just published Digital Wars, a definitive history of the battle for internet dominance between Microsoft, Apple and Google.
It reads as a battle plan for the next global online war, indicating the strengths and weaknesses of the Big Three companies who dominate the terrain and, through example, hints at how to repeat history, with the essential twists that will propel a new company to success.
Digital Wars offers an uncomfortable narrative at times, as the great men leading these companies are revealed, warts and all. Charles Arthur is an iconoclast by preference, a healthy trait for any independent journalist. Hagiography rarely provides enduring, trusted sources for historians and commentators.
What distinguishes his book from the many volumes written about the Big Three is a passion for detail, checked and referenced facts, laced with anecdotes collected over decades of his professional writing career. There is a forensic quality in his writing that is as impressive as it is much welcomed.
The book’s scope is also a source of bemused wonderment. I do not know many writers who would move such a project beyond the initial-idea phase because the first imperative is to have detailed knowledge of and a firm historical perspective on each of the Big Three, a thorough grasp of the sectors in which they have grown, and a bullshit detector with the dial turned to 11.
Digital Wars chooses 1998 as the effective starting point for the closely-woven narrative, although it references earlier elements in the story of Microsoft and Apple, and there never is a Year Zero or An End in history. The chosen year is predicated on the arrival of the third of the Big Three, a start-up called Google.
There are so many lessons to be learnt from this book, not least that very, very clever people who team with very bright business people stand a better-than-evens chance of succeeding; and that the success or failure turn on a very few significant choices. And that if you want to build a global internet business, move to the US.
This book has a much to do with ethics and business culture as it has to do with the structural fault-lines and innovations of the internet over the past 14 years. Whether Microsoft is seen as “the Evil Empire” now by many, as it was in 1998, is unsure. But that cultural view clearly hindered its progress in responding to the threats posed by Apple and Google.
In contrast, Apple was a dying company at the end of the last century, but one that attracted passion and trust in equal measure from its customers, because they had internalised the Apple vision – “focus on the user”. All it took to revitalise the company was the second coming of Steve Jobs.
A second commandment in how to build a global internet company, identified by Charles Arthur, is “Don’t moon the giant.” Netscape got that wrong and were crushed. Google didn’t and went into “submarine mode” for five years. The rest, you know – or will when you read Digital Wars.
History never ends and Charles Arthur continues to map the progress of the Big Three. His recent article on the dangers of growing too big, with reference to Google is well worth a read.
May 18th, 2012
Two interesting pieces of research came out this week, each focused on the change in customer behaviour online, and the ever-growing importance of social CRM and social customer experience.
The first piece from Fishburn Hedges, which we picked up via econsultancy, highlighted that more than a third of UK consumers (36%) have engaged with brands through social media, which has doubled from 19% since August 2011 and equates to 18million people.
The survey suggests that the increased interaction is driven by the widespread belief among respondents (40%) that social media improves customer service, compared to only 7% who feared it would harm service.
Furthermore, 68% of those who have engaged with brands through social media believe that it “allowed them to find their voice.”
More than two-thirds (65%) also believe that social media is a better way to communicate with companies than call centres, and interestingly, more than a quarter of the 55+ age group had dealt with a brand on social media, rising to 49% of 18-24 year olds. (A break down of age groupings can be seen in the image below.)
The second survey is from customer intelligence agency Indicia, which highlights the growing trend of what it calls BIOR or ‘brand in their own right’, which is apparently how 20% of consumers see themselves.
BIORS understand the value of using social media to communicate their preferences and data in the hope of attracting targeted offers from brands.
More men (23%) consider themselves a BIOR compared to just 16% of women, with almost a third of BIORs aged between 18 and 34. BIORS also have looser purse strings and out-perform non-BIORS in six of 11 spend brackets (e.g. £751-£1,000) particularly in the higher spend categories of over £1,000 per month.
These research pieces reflect the evolving nature of the consumer, which we have referred to on this blog previously as the social customer. (you can find out further information in our guide to social CRM here)
In brief, the social customer is dynamic, hyper-connected and can shape business and brand reputation by defining an organisation’s value, relevance and reputation. As a result, social customers have compelled organisations of all types to be more customer-centric and have transformed the way in which organisations need to communicate with and, most importantly, listen to their customers.
Put simply, the social customer now owns the relationship, and every organisation needs need to earn his/her trust.
The social customer is also a driving force in the development of the online economy, which is rapidly growing and currently contributes 8.3 per cent to the UK economy. This is more than the healthcare, construction or education sectors.
UK consumers also buy far more from online retail sources than any other major economy and this is expected to continue expanding by 11% per year for the next four years, reaching a total value of £221bn by 2016. Compare this to growth rates of 5.4% in the U.S. and 6.9% in China.
Taking these points into consideration, the question becomes: are brands ready and able to listen and engage with social customers? Those that have evolved their approach to offer an open and relevant response will gain advocates and prosper, those that have not will miss out on a growing opportunity at best, and risk damaging the brand’s reputation at worst.
May 10th, 2012
Online privacy, child safety and security threats are a triple whammy that could lead to the end of the commonwealth of the internet.
Our internet, as I see it, is a global network free from constraint on ideas, products and services. The benefits of this freedom are self-evident and are embodied in the brilliance of knowledge transfer and the centrality of the internet in global commerce.
This freedom has quite naturally also allowed the dissemination of ideas that are repugnant, the provision of services that clearly damage both the provider and the user, and the availability of content that is rightly illegal.
It has also given enormous commercial power to the arbiters of social information and exchange, this power gained through the active process of maintaining user ignorance of what is actually going on.
While these effects are unwanted, no one with any interest in our internet commonwealth can have failed to see the astonishing and growing pressure for changes in the past month to the way the network operates, predicated on the need to stop all bad things on the internet.
Online privacy is a strategic concern for all states and governments around the “free world” are moving rapidly to create the conditions where they control the process of information exchange and methodology of the internet, using concerns over privacy as the lever to effect these changes. The EU data-regulation changes, and the new laws being proposed and enacted in the US are indicative of the process.
I think that child safety online is also being targeted as subset of this strategic plan, with the management of online engagement by children ripe for appropriation by government agencies. EU ideas around an ID system give a flavour of what is to come in that sphere.
Security threats, the third and potentially most devastating effect, are being used by national and supra-national political agencies, to grab managerial control of our internet.
In each of the three impulses for change, I believe the case for concern and need for action has been overstated and this “threat triumvirate” has been identified as a useful tool by states to pursue their strategic aim of reforming and controlling our internet commonwealth. There is an interesting article on the IEEE website and the New York Times has recently run a great opinion piece on the topic of cyber-threats – The cybercrime wave that wasn’t.
Our internet commonwealth has always been a gift of agencies funded by government. The science of the internet, we know, grew from a defensive need to provide a network that was self-healing. The culture of the internet has not been informed by this defensive imperative but has benefited greatly from it. See Wikipedia and HowStuffWorks. Highest-level control still remains within the US.
I also fear that with greater control from the top, there will be a rapid fragmentation of the internet, with the increasing roll-out of services based upon the network’s protocols but which fulfil a range of specific needs, in health for example, and are more strictly controlled by the governing agents of nation states. More info here.
Managerial control of the net by states is now very high on the political agenda. The US and the EU are leading the charge, with the UK also pitching in by suggesting that security services should have the right to monitor and read anyone’s email, if there is a good reason to do so.
Things change and the net commonwealth is not immune from this essential truth but the forces ranged against the net as we know it are strong, defiantly narrow in their view, and have taken squatters’ rights on the terrain. We need to be vigilant and active in the debate that is currently attempting to re-form the net in ways that destroy the essential point and brilliance of our online commonwealth.
May 10th, 2012
Like lots of people, I initially liked the idea of reading and sharing news articles on Facebook. It seemed like a civilised way to exchange thoughts and see who reads and likes the same kind of media sources. But the novelty quickly wore off as my newsfeed was bombarded with endless spammy updates and I switched off.
So the news this week via Buzzfeed that social reader apps are taking a nosedive in popularity wasn’t much of a surprise. The general consensus seems to be that these apps are pretty irritating, and also create ongoing privacy concerns around “frictionless sharing”.
It’s now clear that the reason for the sharp decline isn’t as simple as users getting frustrated, but rather the mighty Facebook moving its goalposts. Facebook introduced a ‘trending articles’ module as a new way of displaying social news articles in users’ feeds. And publishers are getting their fingers burnt.
Jeff Bercovici at Forbes first reported that the Washington Post’s app on Facebook has seen its monthly active users drop from 17.4m to 9.2m in the past 30 days. And other publishers had similarly spectacular declines, with The Guardian users dropping from 600,000 to 100,000 in the same period.
As Matthew Ingram points out, handing control over to Facebook is a Faustian bargain – “The lure of these giant platforms is undeniable: they can expose your content to far greater numbers of people than you could ever do on your own. But never forget that they control every aspect of the crucial levers driving that business, not you.”
Google, Facebook and the like can all change the terms of APIs at the drop of a hat, decimating business models in their wake. So is this the end for social readers? Well no, not for now, but this certainly seems to be a lesson learned that pinning everything on the ever-fickle Facebook might not be the best long term strategy.
May 3rd, 2012
The platform, which was originally developed by MIT, will include video lessons quizzes, immediate feedback, student-ranked questions and answers, online laboratories and student-paced learning.
EdX has also made the decision to release its learning platform as open-source software. As a result, MIT and Harvard expect that over time other universities will join them in offering courses on the edX platform and because the learning technology will be available as open-source software, other universities and individuals will also be able to help edX improve and add features to the technology.
This is a smart move as it encourages the knowledge base that is normally spread across numerous universities to come together in this single learning platform. This is not just a move to take learning online, but also a strategy to enhance the global reputation of these already respected learning centres.
It is no secret that further education has been through a number of changes in recent years and has also faced criticism that methods and courses have not moved quickly enough in line with current techniques and opportunities. Although it would be hard to level that criticism against these two giants of the education sector, it is a strong sign that they wish to lead from the front and take learning to a more open and accessible level.
MIT and Harvard will also use the jointly operated edX platform to research how students learn and how technologies can facilitate effective teaching both on-campus and online. The edX platform will enable the study of which teaching methods and tools are most successful. The findings of this research will be used to inform how faculty use technology in their teaching, which will enhance the experience for students on campus and for the millions expected to take advantage of these new online offerings.
The platform will be overseen by a not-for-profit organisation, which will be owned and governed equally by the two universities. MIT and Harvard have already committed to a combined $60 million ($30 million each) in institutional support, grants and philanthropy to launch the collaboration.
Anant Agarwal, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, who has led the development of the MITx platform under the leadership of MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif, will serve as the first president of edX.
At Harvard, Provost Alan Garber will direct the Harvardx effort and Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith will play a leading role in working with faculty to develop and deliver courses.
It is anticipated that initial course offerings from a range of Harvard and MIT schools will be included on the edX platform, and the first courses will be announced in the summer, and are due to begin in the autumn of 2012.
Here’s the edX video: