What the 2016 Meeker report means for the digital workplace

Each spring analyst Mary Meeker releases one of the most hotly anticipated slide decks of the year (arguably, the only hotly-anticipated slide deck…). Packed with stats on adoption and use of internet technologies, over the past decade it’s become the most comprehensive analysis of the State of the Internet around.

Her 2016 report was released a few days ago (1 June), and I’ve had a chance to pick out some trends which I think may create demands on digital workplace professionals in the coming years.

Arise, the Snapchat generation

In last year’s report Meeker noted Millennials were no longer an opportunity or threat to prepare for, but now the majority in the workplace.

This year she talks for the first time about Generation Z – a group she describes as “tech innate”, using five screens at once. While Gen Z aren’t yet making themselves known in the workplace, they’re only a few short years away from doing so.

Gen Z, Meeker notes, have a notable preference for image-based platforms such as Snapchat over text-based ones. In my last blog post I warned against lazy generational generalisations – and that’s borne out by the report too.  While Snapchat use has ballooned amongst younger people, use of it and similar image-based tools is growing (albeit not as fast) among all age groups.

That’s because images work; they impact us both cognitively and emotionally, which makes them able to tell a story in the blink of an eye. By embracing the power of images and design we can make digital internal communication more effective. But at the same time this creates challenges; image-based communication is difficult (often impossible) to index for search, and problematic for accessibility. Proceed with care.

Messaging is massive

There are now an astounding three billion messages sent daily on Snapchat, Facebook (inc FB Messenger), Instagram and WhatsApp.

And a significant proportion of messenger-based conversation will be about work. Most DW practitioners will admit that WhatsApp has become the Swiss Army Knife of enterprise collaboration. With employees now carrying more advanced and more usable technology in their pockets than they’re given by corporate IT, they’ve voted with their feet and opted for shadow IT on an unprecedented scale, particularly tools like WhatsApp and Slack.

Too many corporate IT teams have their heads still firmly in the sand on this one. It’s particularly challenging for those in regulated industries to admit their employees are eschewing corporate channels for untrackable personal tools – but it’s now far too widespread to ignore.

Beyond conversation

With Facebook now over a decade old, people have become more sophisticated in their use of social tools, which they now see as delivering far more than simply messaging with friends. The growth of business-focused conversation is driven in particular by Asian IM2.0 apps WeChat, Line and Kakao.

People aren’t content to be passive consumers of information anymore; SnapChat is simply the latest in a long line of tools which enable self-expression and creativity.

Corporate communicators need to consider ways to embed and leverage this innate need to create and converse in their communication processes and tools. Lengthy news stories haven’t cut it for a long time, and they’re unlikely to win in a battle for attention with a sponsored Snapchat filter.

Messaging apps are fast becoming platforms for commerce, and it follows they will soon expect to be able to transact in a similar way using their enterprise tools. Smart companies need to start thinking now how they can use things like Slack integrations to deliver this.

People have become adept at filtering out unnecessary information, demonstrated by the explosion in use of adblockers that Meeker notes. 81% of people will mute video ads – and chances are they’ll do the same with your dull corporate internal comms video too.

But good content still works, if it’s relevant. People have come to expect hyper-targeting, and they expect something of value in exchange for their attention. This requires corporate communicators to have a radical rethink of the way they create and share information – an app or mobile intranet isn’t likely to do the job.

You talkin’ to me?

One of the most talked-about stats in this year’s report was a prediction, from Baidu’s chief scientist Andrew Ng, that 50% of searches would be via voice or image search by 2020

Voice recognition accuracy has come on leaps and bounds, averaging around 90% accuracy – a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by users. Already 65% of American smartphone owners use voice commands.

The growth of voice interfaces has a huge commercial and productivity benefits; the average human speaks at 150 words per minute, but can only type at 40 words a minute. Moreover, freeing people from keyboards makes connectivity vastly more convenient when on the move, and opens up greater possibilities for information to be more targeted and contextual.

If voice interfaces and voice search goes mainstream as predicted, people will quickly expect the same from their enterprise tools and systems. How can your digital workplace adapt to a switch in primary interface from keyboard to microphone?

Have you read this year’s Meeker report? (If you haven’t, here’s the slideshare). What were they most interesting – or controversial – points for you?

We’re all Millennials now

Another week, another report on how the demands of the millennial generation are disrupting long-established companies and industries. This week it’s the turn of Oracle, who have produced a report on banks’ urgent need to redesign themselves for the future.

Like the slew of reports that preceded it, Oracle’s Banking is changing… with or without the banks report concludes that established players are facing an existential crisis. Millennials demand more from their service providers, it contends. Banks have been slow to change, but there are a host of FinTech challengers poised to grab their custom.

Study after study shows that banking is the industry most at risk from disruption, but it’s hardly alone – insurance, law, accountancy, real estate, retail and… well pretty much every industry is on the verge of collapse under the weight of millennial demands.

Every day, hundreds of new articles and blog posts about millennials appear. Despite this, no one seems to have a clue what a millennial really is. The mental image it conjures up is of a young person, replete with a printed shirt, reasonable beard and a taste for craft beer. Yet the definitions are much broader than that; even the Wikipedia entry highlights the lack of consensus:

“There are no precise dates for when the generation starts and ends; most researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to around 2000.”

Overall, the earliest proposed birthdate for millennials is 1976 and the latest 2004.

I was born in 1980, which means I’m either a millennial or I’m not, depending what definition you use. This incoherent infographic explains why I am so awesome:

According to this I’m also unproductive and self-obsessed, so I couldn’t help myself procrastinating further by finding out one way or the other. Pew Internet have a helpful diagnostic which told me I’m 86% millennial. That I listen to Radio 4, have a few grey hairs, live in the suburbs and spend my weekends gardening in my allotment suggests something rather different.

All manner of often contradictory behaviours are typically ascribed to this group. They’re simultaneously narcissistic and self aware. Selfish but socialist. Lazy and entitled, but lacking access to secure jobs and housing. Careerless but ambitious. Fat but fit.

All of this is philosophically damaging in the extreme. My own experience of being – or not being – a millennial highlights just how meaningless the term has become. This demographic window includes people who are pushing 40 as well as those who are still at school, yet are portrayed as a single and very different cohort who are about to disrupt everything.

Millennials’ expectations, we’re told, are shaped by the experience of being digital natives and growing up in a consumer society. A study from PwC on how millennials view work found:

  • They place a really high value on flexibility – 66% want to work from home
  • They also value workplace culture – they want a work environment that emphasises and enables teamwork and collaborative working, and a sense of community.
  • They want transparency and two-way communication and expect to be able to input on decision-making
  • They want recognition for their work and the contribution they make

Millennials have high expectations of their consumer experiences, too. Oracle’s banking report recommends that banks invest heavily in delivering the omni-channel experience that the next generation of customers demand, using data to develop and deliver products that suit millennials’ lifestyles.

Those lifestyles aren’t, however, looming on the horizon for corporations and governments to prepare for; they’re already here. The oldest millennials are, like me, in their 30s, married with a mortgage. They’re leading organisations. Making purchasing decisions. Changing the world by designing amazing products.

Millennials already make up the majority of the workforce in much of the world. By 2025 three quarters of working people will come from this generation.

What’s strange, then, is how millennials continue to be portrayed as ‘other’. Their expectations – of flexibility at work, for example, or banking services that better meet the needs of the modern consumer – might be second nature to millennials, but Gen X can and increasingly do demand these too.

Millennials might have grown up in the era of instant communication, one click purchases and 24 hour delivery, but they are far from the only users of these services. Brand loyalty might be a mystery to them, but consumers from Generation X (and older) aren’t averse to voting with their feet either. Millennials are posited as the smartphone generation, but half of all Apple products are sold to baby boomers.

Rebecca Onion wrote last year that “Overly schematized and ridiculously reductive, generation theory is a simplistic way of thinking about the relationship between individuals, society, and history. It encourages us to focus on vague ‘generational personalities,’ rather than looking at the confusing diversity of social life.”

By decoupling consumer and employee demands from age brackets, we could remove the sense of otherness that has come to characterise future-scanning reports into millennial behaviours. These trends aren’t ones for the future, but for now.

The desires and consumer needs of millennials are those of the mainstream, and that trend will only increase. Successful brands are those which establish appeal across generations. Conversely, those organisations which continue to view millennials as different to the mainstream will quickly find they fall behind.

We’re all beginning to expect personalised well-designed services, delivered across devices and channels around our needs as customers. Those trends might be most visible amongst millennials, but they’re almost as commonplace amongst those born in the sixties, who are at least a little bit millennial too.

As notable modern philosopher Kanye West, who is almost 39, said at last year’s VMA awards, “we the millennials, bro”. And he’s right; when it comes to consumer behaviour, we’re all millennials now.

What Mondo taught me about the future of banking

Mondo are one of the most talked-about new players on the consumer/retail banking block (just this month they reached a $1m crowdfunding target in 96 seconds), so I was delighted to get a place on their Alpha. Here’s a few early thoughts and observations on my experience and what it might signal for the future of FinTech.

It didn’t start well, for me. Specifically, I managed to destroy a coat rack within moments of arriving in their offices, sending a pile of jackets and scarves to the floor. But within half an hour I was up and running with an app and a fluorescent pre-paid Mastercard, ready to take a look at the future of banking.

As a nerdy consumer I’ve been looking at the future of banking for a long time now — I think I got my first online bank account around the turn of the century, which was roughly the time I started earning money. For most part from an experience point of view the future of banking tends to look a lot like other online user experiences did five years previously*.

* Except my bank account in Asia. That’s more like every other user experience in 2001.

So I’d agree this is a market ripe for disruption, and that customer needs are probably better served by attempting to build a new bank from the bottom-up, based around user need, than building marginally nicer front ends for terrible legacy infrastructure.

Mondo is one of a number of UK startups attempting to do that. Fellow challenger Atom has a banking licence, unlike Mondo, but is yet to have a releasable product. Mondo is taking the reverse tack, developing its app-based bank in public, offering a pre-paid card to several thousand Alpha users and asking for feedback, while working with regulators behind the scenes on getting their banking licence.

I’ve seen the future. It’s pink with a liberal sprinkling of emoji.

Mondo is, in short, a card and an app, with ambitions to turn this into a full service retail bank in time. The app itself is neat; every time I use the card, I get an alert on Mondo, replete with carefully-chosen emoji, before the sales assistant has printed the receipt. These guys must spend a scary amount of time choosing emoji.

It’s a pre-paid, luminous pink Mastercard, and while topping up is simple this does limit its usefulness as there’s no auto top-up option. I was about to pay for a few things at the weekend but only had £20 left on the card; as Hammersmith is a weird mobile phone coverage blackspot I couldn’t add money to it, and had to fall back on my regular debit card. It doesn’t yet work with ApplePay, but the team have said this is on its way.

As it’s linked to your phone, it’s smart enough to work out where you are and how this might impact your spending. If you’re in Singapore and but your card’s being used in Swansea, it can let you know immediately. Which is refreshing change from ham-fistededly blocking your card every time you travel.

The app makes it easy to see what I’ve spent by vendor and category, and gives me the option of adding tags, notes, receipt images and so on to each transaction. It’s easy to see my balance and spending at a glance. A particularly nice feature is the ability to freeze the card when you can’t find it, and unfreeze again when found — rather than the big banks’ standard option of cancelling the card and waiting a long, cashless, cardless week to have a new one sent through the post.

And these are all great features. In fact, if I were my flaky 21-year-old self — on a tight budget and prone to losing my cards — the features offered by Mondo would easily tempt me to switch to it as my main vehicle for day-to-day spending.

But I am not 21. While Mondo does give me a vague sense of guilt over my cumulative spend in sandwich chains, I’m at a point in my life where I’m lucky enough not to be too concerned about £10 spent on wine or nail polish. My digital banking needs are different now I’m a proper grown-up.

I have savings. I’d like to have more savings, and I’d like my bank to help me to make saving a habit rather than an afterthought. Knowing I spent £6.38 on juice and yoghurt is all well and good, but if my bank could tell me, at the right time, that if I bought fewer cakes I could pay my mortgage off two months earlier, that’s useful to me.

I like data, but for my accounts data to work for me I need to be able to see it in one place, and I need it to be interoperable. Spend-specific emojis make me smile, but I can’t use them to reconcile transactions in my freelancer accounting software. My regular bank account has an API and allows me to download transaction data so I can interrogate it.

I also like free stuff. I chose my bank account when I began university, because they gave me a hefty fee-free overdraft and a student railcard. Like most people I have never bothered to change my bank account since. These days I have a reasonable credit rating and a taste for far-flung destinations, so I do all my spending via my credit card in order to build up airline points. A year’s worth of hotel bills, work expenses and pub visits were enough to get me two free flights via my credit card’s reward scheme. I’m willing to put up with some seriously bad UX in return for a free holiday.

Banks for brogrammers, by brogrammers

I like Mondo, and I like what they’re trying to do. What they do, they doreally well. For payments and day-to-day usage, its UI, UX and FX is streets ahead of my high street bank.

But right now it isn’t enough to make it my everyday bank, because it doesn’t (yet) meet my needs as a solvent thirty-something woman.

In that respect, it’s not so different from other startups, very many of which have cropped up to solve the problems of the unrepresentative sample of people who build apps. From Uber to Airbnb to laundry pick-up and gas delivery services, Silicon Valley et al are focused on solving problems faced by people like themselves.

To be fair to Mondo, they have at least recognised this and sought to get more women on their Alpha in order to get a wider range of feedback. But if any company truly wants to transform its sector, it needs to solve the problems of a full cross-sector of consumers. Elderly ones with rubbish phones and failing eyesight. Poor, underbanked ones. Even boring ones like me with low-risk investment needs and unsexy pension arrangements.

As my 300 Seconds co-founder Hadley Beeman said at our opening event three years ago, if we want to change the world, we need a good cross-section of humanity to be involved at every stage — to articulate their user needs, and develop products to meet those needs.

If you want to change banking, you need to solve for more than coffee budgeting.

Banking is a fully digitisable business. In a business which doesn’t deal in tangible things trust is critical. This gives traditional banks a major advantage; most people prefer to entrust their money to an FSCS-backed institution than a startup.

My short experiment with Mondo has shown how quickly a challenger bank can win the user experience battle. While my high street bank has the edge in terms of both functionality and trust for now, challengers are engaging with regulators and fast catching up.

Where traditional banks can maintain an edge is their knowledge of and relationships with a much broader range of customers, recognising that customers don’t just need an app, but a range of products and services to meet their diverse needs at different life stages. Banks have access to a wealth of data on customer behaviour and needs that they could use to develop smarter, easier solutions for customers.

Yet right now neither side seems to be getting it quite right. Startups are focused on solving too narrow a set of user needs to serve the mass market, while traditional banks are attempting to make old systems and structures deliver better digital experiences and coming up short, and resting on their laurels in the hope customers are too lazy or untrusting to try the competition.

Trust in banking and finance continues to lag far behind that of technology firms. Startups are rapidly breaking down regulatory obstacles, gaining consumer trust and building brand recognition. While what Mondo et al haven’t yet got a strong enough product to make me ditch my bank, if they can beef up their offering and combine this with quality user experience, they’ll get my money soon.

Seven signs of the social media snake oil salesman

Being on the internet doesn’t make you a social media expert any more than going for a jog makes you an Olympic athlete.

Yes, anyone who goes for a run is more qualified to talk about running than someone who sits on the sofa; but simply having a Twitter account doesn’t mean you know how to deliver real business outcomes using social channels.

Yet while it’s easy to tell the difference between a truly talented and experienced athlete like Mo Farrah  – who is considerably faster than your average Joe – and someone (like me) who finishes a marathon in over five hours, it’s not so easy to quantify someone’s expertise in something as subjective as social media.

As organisations recognise that making a mark in the social space is essential, they’re looking to hire in expertise – but often they have no idea what they’re looking for. And this provides rich pickings for a growing army of social media charlatans, peddling bad advice to unsuspecting punters.

How can communicators, marketers and executives spot – and avoid – these types? I asked my network: what marks a social media ‘expert’ out as a chancer? Suffice to say, this generated some Strong Views, which can be grouped under seven themes. Here’s the seven sins of the social media snake-oil salesman – and how to spot them.

1) Robo-posting

There’s a host of web services which post to social media on your behalf. Used well, these can be valuable – but they can’t be a substitute for real two-way interaction. Buffer, for example, can be a useful service for sharing links to interesting blog posts, allowing users to schedule posts in to create a steady stream rather than spamming your followers.

But if someone’s just spending half an hour a week lining up a stream of links, only sharing headlines – quite possibly without even reading the posts themselves – they’re no more useful to the audience than a bot. The giveaway here is if they seem to post all day, every day, but rarely reply or engage in any real conversation.

“Thanks for the value add. At least follow web best practice 101 and make it easy for your reader to get the crux of the message.”
Marged Cother

But mark of the true amateur, however, is the use of spammy services such as Rebel Mouse – what Anne McCrossan called “robo-posting, content-aggregating, click-baiting waste-of-attention platforms.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 21.09.58

Stephen Waddington agreed, “Get out of my feed. You can’t automate a conversation.”

2) Quantity over quality

Social isn’t a numbers game – it’s about generating value for your brand or company. This means giving the audience something of value to them – insight, information, even just a laugh – in exchange for their attention. It’s a value exchange.

Steer well clear of anyone who advises generating huge volumes of low-quality content – think “ooh, it’s Friday” pictures – to post multiple times daily to grow reach. You’re almost always better off posting one good piece of content daily than ten bits of crap – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Instead, look for people or firms who will help you develop and deliver content that your audience will find useful, engaging or interesting. The target here isn’t volume – of content, or engagements – but delivering outcomes such as conversion or brand awareness/consideration.

3) Self-describing as a guru

“People that write how to articles and guides that have plainly never actually worked in a crisis, managed trolls, planned a campaign or created a measurement framework.”
Stephen Waddington

“My feeling is that I/we will be the judge. It is not for them to declare themselves a guru.”
Jonathan Phillips

Like hotels called ‘Palace’ or countries with ‘Democratic’ in their name, it’s only necessary to mention this if it’s not immediately obvious from their reputation.

Look past the LinkedIn headline “Joe Bloggs – Social Media Marketing Expert” and keep an eye out for extensive, real-world experience managing social media – and showing tangible results from that.

Closely related this this are the constant ego-promoters:

“Resharing content that mentions you. Don’t get me wrong we all do it occasionally. But I’ve nothing but contempt for people who constantly reply to tweets with the RT comment function”
Stephen Waddington

4) Suspicious follower counts

There are two legitimate ways to get a big Twitter following: join in 2008, or be a celebrity. If someone’s not famous, and not a Twitter old-timer, yet has more than 10,000 followers, then often it’s because they follower-farmed or bought followers in order to inflate their influence to those who don’t have the nous to spot it.

Social media is not a numbers game: “reach” is meaningless. 10,000 followers gains you nothing if those followers aren’t real people who might spend real money.

fake-followers

Be sure to look at someone’s follower list. Are their followers real people with photos, descriptions and followers of their own? If they have a large number of followers with no profile picture, low follower numbers and/or little obvious reason to follow the person in question, it’s likely they tried to buy a following. And if they’re willing to do something so embarrassing with their personal brand, they shouldn’t be trusted with yours.

5) Sucking at search

If you’re hiring anyone, or considering an agency to provide any digital service, the very first thing you should so is Google it/them. Firstly, do the first three to five results clearly relate to them? If someone can’t even get their SEO act together to clearly own the first page of results themselves, they won’t be able to do the same for you.

Next, look at the successive few pages. Any individual who claims to be a digital specialist but isn’t visible – positively – on Google is either bullshitting, or has something sufficiently awful to hide they’ve made the effort to have it removed. Either way, it’s a big red flag.

Finally, take a look at both the agency and any named individuals they offer you to work on your account to see how they manage their social presence. If they don’t have one at all, or they have a Twitter account they barely use, that’s a warning sign.

“An eyebrow is always raised when I hear ‘but I don’t use social in my personal life…’. Say whut?”
Tony Stewart

You wouldn’t hire a Head of Press who said they didn’t read the news. Likewise, it simply isn’t credible for someone with responsibility for social/digital media not to have an active social presence. To really succeed on social you need to really get it – and that means using it, gaining a deep understanding of the community you’re trying to engage with, and demonstrating that through your own and your agency/company’s digital footprint.

6) Offering second-hand expertise

Alarm bells ring when a supposed expert relies on case studies they weren’t involved in in their sales pitch or conference deck; it’s often a sure sign they lack hands-on experience of their own.

“My issue is with those where the main parts of the conference speaking and/or training isn’t delivered from first hand knowledge” said Stuart Bruce. “Some of it inevitably won’t be and can’t be… But they should at least offer some inside knowledge gained from speaking to the people involved.”

“The same is true with ‘bad’ case studies where the reality of what happened internally isn’t what the gurus on the outside are saying as they throw criticism without understanding of the realities of operating in challenging environments”.

If someone offers a case study that’s delivered second-hand, challenge them on what inside insights they’ve sought to add value for you.

7) Claiming there are hard and fast rules for social media

Social media is ultimately about people, and like anything that relates to human behaviour, there really are no hard and fast rules.

Take, for example, the one I made above about robo-posting. I detest it, so much so that I have paper.li and all Facebook quizzes muted. And yet there are real and powerful use cases for both of these things, in the right context.

But no one can tell you that your brand is best conveyed on social by, say, posting six times a day at these specific times, because every audience will be different.

“There are no blanket rules or guidance – best time to post, when to use images, frequency of posting, this network or that network. It’s always going to be different as it depends on what your objectives are and the make-up of your community/audience/stakeholders (delete as appropriate).”
Stuart Bruce

The only hard and fast rule is that you should listen, try, measure, learn and iterate. Post different types of content at different times, measure what works – and by works, I mean delivers actual outcomes, not just ‘reach’ – and keep on improving.

People who promise to deliver big social media results using shortcuts – like robo-posting, or follower-farming – could give you some good social media stats, but these are numbers which offer little real-world value for your brand and reputation. “We should be focusing on KPIs and measurement that relate back to business objectives, not to pathetic 0.5/2% engagement rates” said Julio Romo. “What about the 98% who don’t engage?”

Why do people fall for it?

“We should be calling out these snake-oil tradesmen. But then again, is all this their problem? Or is it a case that there is still a basic understanding of social within many organisations?” Julio added.

That’s a large part of the problem – if the people who are buying, commissioning or hiring in social media expertise don’t know their digital arse from their elbow, it’s no surprise there are chancers ready to cash in.

If you were to task me with buying a car, I’d make a crap job of it since I don’t drive and know nothing about cars. I’d have to bring in people who do know about cars to help me choose. But when people fall for these chancers they’re doing much the same – admitting they lack the expertise themselves and attempting to plug the gap. So the problem is perhaps that those buying don’t know what to look for.

Maybe that’s where organisations like CIPR, CIM and BCS can help – each of these organisations can offer accreditation in their respective areas. As social is changing every profession/discipline, they have a role to play in championing good practice; by evolving their certification and advisory offers they can help buyers navigate their way to worthwhile social media advice.

Meanwhile, snake-oil salesmen give true social media specialists a bad name. To protect our own reputations and that of social media as a practice, the rest of us should be braver and call poor practice out when we see it.

Many thanks to Stuart Bruce, Paul Clarke, Amanda Coban, Marged Cother, Carol Ferro, Anke Holst, Ingrid Kohler, Anne McCrossan, Julio Romo, Tony Stewart, Steve Waddington, Steve Way, Louise Woollam for their input on this post.

Is the homepage dead?

Amongst the bits of digital lint that landed in my browser’s belly button last week was an intriguing blogpost which argued that the company homepage is dead, killed off by the rise of social media.

“There is a new Web”, John Brandon argued, “and it’s the Web of social media and links, not the Web of domains and dotcoms”.  Businesses need to accept this reality and figure out how to make it work.

And to a certain extent he has a point. The social web has transformed the way consumers find information. It’s been a long time since your actual domain name mattered; Google is everyone’s homepage now. But that simple fact means that your website still matters.

Every page is the homepage

While it’s certainly true that the number of people typing http://www.yourdomain.com and arriving at your homepage has dropped like a stone, the number of people visiting websites hasn’t. They don’t arrive through the front door anymore, but via search directly to the relevant content.

That means every page on your site is as important as your homepage. So it needs to make the right impression, answer the visitor’s question, guide them through to a specific transaction, or whatever function the content needs to serve. And it has to do all of that quickly as over half of website visitors will spend less than 15 seconds on a site before deciding whether it’s worth engaging with any further.

The actual homepage still matters too. People may not arrive through the front door, but if they’re seeking out more information on your company, chances are they’ll take a look at it. It serves both as a means of navigating to more information, and creating proof that the company is one they’re comfortable doing business with. Just as you’d keep the porch tidy and the front lawn mowed if you were selling your house, you need to keep your homepage up to date if you want to create the impression you’re a thriving business you need your homepage to reflect your brand and narrative with steady flow of relevant content.

Content without context

There is a shift happening in the way people consume content, with a growing proportion of content now read on other platforms. I read the blogpost that inspired me to write this one within Flipboard, for example, rather than on the website that published it.

That shift means your web content needs to be produced and published in such a way that makes it easy to read both on-site and within aggregators – and performs the function you want it to even when stripped of the context your site design and navigation provides. That means thinking carefully about content design, taking into account changing patterns of consumption that the mobile web has created, and of the user needs at the point of consumption.

Why not just put your content on social media?

The article’s author argues companies could skip having a website altogether. If you’re selling widgets, he contends, you’re better served having people go straight through to Amazon to buy them.

But what if you’re not selling widgets? His suggestion that legal or insurance firms looking to attract clients can use Facebook instead seems a little naive, given the awareness-consideration-conversion process that typically precedes a transaction in the world of financial or professional services. Put simply, people just don’t buy such services that way. They seek out information, go away and have a think about it, seek out information from elsewhere, and come back later, with conversion potentially taking place via a different channel (some marketeers call this the Zero Moment of Truth).

If I were looking for a new credit card, for example, I’d start with search, maybe look on a product comparison site, Google around to see if there are large numbers of people complaining about the provider on social media. But I’d also look on the firm’s own site to get authoritative, updated product information, for example on introductory offers, as information on social media or third party sites can often be out of date, or laid out in ways that are difficult to consume or understand.

Of course a brand’s social media presence matters. But web and social aren’t a zero-sum game – being on one doesn’t negate the need to manage content on the other. Quite the opposite; they need to reinforce one another in order to gain the best returns on investment in content.

The rise of the walled garden brings new challenges

One of the arguments for being on social is to extend the reach of content and drive traffic back to your site. But this is shifting as social networks are developing ways to keep users within their ecosystem.

Facebook have long encouraged brands to publish to the platform rather than link out – for example using Facebook native video rather than sharing a YouTube link. They’ve developed this further in the past year with the arrival of Instant Articles, where articles are published to Facebook directly, ostensibly to speed up the user experience. Twitter is said to be getting in on the same game, with a new feature allowing content of up to 10,000 characters said to be coming in the first quarter of this year. While these developments will inevitably impact on the volume of referral traffic, they won’t do away with referrals altogether.

All of which places new and increased demands on digital teams. While the mechanics of publishing have been getting easier every year, the demands for digital expertise have not as the number of channels and touch points continues to grow, as does the competition for eyeballs online. Gaining most value from this increased channel mix means understanding the ways in which people consume content on each platform, and designing it accordingly so that it delivers its intended objective – wherever the audience finds it.

The homepage isn’t dead. It’s multiplied exponentially, and so too has the challenge for those managing digital content to ensure every interaction is as good and well-thought-through as the homepage of old.

Digital tools for digital people

Forget how people do things while they’re at work, constrained by corporate policies and culture. If you want to see someone’s true working style, you need to see how they work on their own terms. Like when they organise their own holiday.

That was a nugget taught to me on a leadership course I went to at work, and one I’ve subsequently seen to be absolutely spot-on.

You can tell a lot about a digital professional from how they digitise themselves.

After discussing this on Twitter with Luis Suarez (famously The Man Who Stopped Doing Email) and digital fluency coach Jamie Good, we got together on Blab to discuss our own personal digital workplaces. You can watch a replay here.

I kicked off things by talking about Trello. For the uninitiated, Trello is a project management tool, but it’s so feature-rich and customisable that it’s scrum board on steroids. Here’s a post on all the myriad ways you can use Trello from Lifehacker.

I love Trello. I’m inherently a very disorganised person, but over the years I’ve developed the self-awareness to know this and developed a system to organise myself.

That means I have scrum boards for all the various parts of my life. I even had one to plan my wedding.

Here’s a screenshot of my personal tasks board; this is how I manage my projects outside of my day job. My to-do list starts on the left, moving over to ‘doing’ as I start to work through jobs. I add detail, links or updates on each card, then move to done once tasks are completed.

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I work in weekly personal sprints, reviewing the board every week or so and archiving tasks that are done or dead to keep it all manageable.

I also use Trello to work with distributed teams I’m a member of, in particular my intranet blog, Intranetizen, where we use Trello to manage the content pipeline. We can assign tasks to people, add due dates, attach documents and discuss what we’re doing. Posts move from left to right as they evolve from idea to fully-formed text.

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Luis commented that this is similar to how many people use Evernote. But I much prefer Trello as it’s highly visual, has brilliant UX and integrates so well with everything else I use to work in teams.

What’s interesting, Luis noted, is the extent to which our personal productivity becomes hampered when we get to work and don’t have the choice of tools that we’d like.

Back in the 90s the computing you had at work was streets ahead of anything you might be able to buy yourself. But the consumerisation of technology over the past 15 years has shifted the balance a long way in the other direction, and now surveys regularly show people are largely dissatisfied with the tools they’re given in the workplace.

This leads to a boom in guerilla or shadow IT within organisations, as people who can’t access the tools they need to feel productive via their work desktop simply switch to using personal phones and tools like WhatsApp – beyond both the control and visibility of corporate IT or compliance.

Corporates are still struggling with BYOD, but until that is cracked the gulf between employee expectation and reality will continue to grow. That has impacts on retention as employees who can’t be as productive as they’d like leave to work in firms where they have more agency over their preferred toolset.

The onboarding process and timeline in enterprise IT doesn’t keep up with the rate at which people want to evolve their ways of working. Unless enterprise IT offers a tool that offers the same functionality and usability as WhatsApp, people will vote with their feet – or their phone – and use non-approved alternatives from the consumer space, with all the risk attached to that.

Pioneers within organisations can identify tools that can help to build productivity – they quickly become evangelists for its use amongst their friends and colleagues. Enterprise IT needs to make friends with these influencers and pioneers and figure out how to square that circle – or risk becoming irrelevant. This group can identify use cases and help work through issues with emergent tools.

The big enterprise social platforms have been improving their offering in recent years, in part in response to smaller and newer players like Slack, which all three of us are big fans of.

For example, I use Slack to work with the Parliament User Group. We have a public channel as well as a closed one for us organisers. We share notes and links through this all the time, then every couple of weeks some of us will get together on a Google Hangout to discuss plans and updates, and often from there we’ll switch straight to collaboratively editing a Google Doc. In this way we can collectively draft and agree a post in half an hour, rather than days or weeks of back-and-forth emailing, then finally share this doc with the Slack for everyone to give the OK for publication.

What sets Slack apart is the degree to which it’s integrated with others tools, bringing multiple tools together into a unified experience.

I asked Luis if, having long kissed goodbye to email, he still used documents. The answer, unsurprisingly, is no, not if he can help it. He uses IBM Connections Docs and generally uses wikis rather than documents, commenting that “the moment you put a piece of knowledge in a document, that’s the moment that you lock it in”.

Documents exist to replicate an age where information was paper-based and linear – a means of creating things that were designed to be printed in order to be shared. Documents introduce a lot of friction to the process of collaboration, requiring 3rd party apps to open and email to share.

I also prefer hypertextuality and non-linearity to capture information, as this enables it to change over time in a way that reduces friction but where previous iterations can still be referenced. For personal projects I use Google Docs, while at work I use Documents within Jive, which are actually more like wikis but with a more user friendly interface.

This kind of approach privileges people over documents, focusing on the interaction and information rather than the tool. Manny Wilson produced this powerful graphic which illustrates how using wikis (or similar) to share information rather than documents reduces complexity and friction.

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We wrapped up with Luis making a call to arms for more of us to be brave and call out practices that simply aren’t productive – and have the courage to find and use alternatives that can make work better.

Digital professionals are at the forefront of that change; it’s down to us to keep challenging our colleagues, and our IT departments, to deliver a better and more productive digital workplace.

What tools do you swear by to manage your work? Join the conversation in the comments below. We’ll arrange a follow-up Blab session if there’s enough interest.

#hashtagfail: What to do when a social campaign goes bad

Inviting audiences to share their content or comments via a hashtag campaign has long been a social media staple. But that comes with considerable risk that the campaign could go sour – at best failing to inspire engagement, at worst inviting outright ridicule.

The latest brand to invite Tweeters’ fury was IBM, who this week launched a well-meaning but nonetheless ill-considered campaign inviting women to consider careers in STEM by hacking a hairdryer.

The response from women on Twitter was a storm of rage and ridicule:

 

 

While IBM have provided a textbook example of User Generated Fury, there’s a lot others can learn from their response. First, they apologised – quickly and unreservedly, acknowledging why people felt the campaign was offensive.

 

They also deleted the offending tweet. While this opens up brands to accusations of trying to rewrite history, or pretending the incident didn’t happen, it also limits the damage. A ‘offending’ tweet can continue to be in circulation – and generating ire – long after the apology is issued. This was a tough call to make, but in my view the right one.

Many commentators are surprised that IBM, longtime champions of diversity in tech, made such an elementary error at all. Where I think they fell down is in failing to anticipate the response. They could and should have foreseen that a tactic that perpetuates gender stereotypes might go down badly in a campaign about combatting those stereotypes.

If you’re planning on any hashtag campaign, invest some time in planning. Before launch ask your entire team to think of all the ways in which it could go wrong.

Conducting a campaign pre-mortem like this helps you to identify and mitigate the risk things will go wrong – and help you plan what to do if your hashtag becomes a bashtag.

Hashtags are still one of the most effective ways to build engagement and participation with a campaign. While #HackAHairdryer highlights the risks in running social campaigns, it also shows that a swift apology can limit the reputational damage. Spend some time planning to avoid and manage disaster and proceed with caution.

Have you had a social campaign go south? What lessons did you learn? Let me know in the comments below.

Social media in financial services: six trends for 2016

Last week I had the pleasure of debating the role of social media in banking and finance with Nick Jones (Head of Digital Communications at Visa Europe) and Keith Lewis (Social Media Manager at Zurich) in the latest CIPR C-Suite podcast. Podcast host Russell Goldsmith has blogged about it here, and you can listen to the podcast on iTunes.

Social has transformed the way businesses engage with their customers and potential customers, and that’s as true in financial services as any other industry. Despite the three of us coming from quite different parts of financial services, we all felt that this is an exciting time for social in the sector.

Digital is now the primary way most of us access our banking services – I haven’t been in a branch or even phoned my bank in years – and social is a central part of that experience. So what lies ahead for social in the financial services sector? Let me jump on that year-end bandwagon and predict some trends for 2016…

Consolidating rather than innovating on platforms

As Nick commented on our podcast, when we were first getting into social four or five years ago, new channels would come along and everyone was happy to experiment for a month or two before disposing of it. Platforms would rise within weeks – and fall away even more quickly (who remembers Ello now?).

Social has grown up, and as it gains the attention of the c-suite there’s more demand to focus attention – and spend – on platforms that already have established audiences, ensuring these deliver tangible returns. Tolerance for experimentation will fall.

Fighting for attention on Facebook

Facebook recently rolled out its Instant Articles feature – which means users are served a version of content from Facebook’s servers, rather than directed to publishers’ own sites. Early indications show this could be a huge change to the way the internet giant directs traffic to websites outside of its own ‘walled garden’.

Commentators are widely predicting that Facebook’s algorithms will prioritise Instant Articles over links to websites. And while it’s traditional media publishers who are being courted to publish direct to Facebook now, brand publishers are the next logical extension. Expect to have to pay Facebook to get eyeballs on your blog content before long.

Banks finally embrace Instagram

2014-15 saw many brands dive into Instagram, but financial services firms have been slow to follow suit. Financial products are necessarily complicated – as are the regulatory demands to explain these in detail, which has led the sector to focus on long-form content.

But people find finances complicated – scary, even – and snackable content provides a means by which we can demystify what we do. A few are starting to dip their toes in the water, most notably Capital One and American Express. In the coming year more banks, insurers and payment providers will switch to visual formats in order to make their products simpler and more appealing, particularly for millennials – learning from media and other industries how to boil down messaging for the format.

Making conversation to conversion seamless

The growth in mobile wallets means that in a couple of years payment has gone from being the most annoying part of any e-commerce experience, to being simple.

Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram have introduced buy buttons, making social and mobile commerce integrated. App developers have monetisation front of mind, so that conversation leads seamlessly to conversion. FinServs are likely to get in on the game this year, using social to collect leads directly from apps.

Mobile wallets get social

Taking that one step further, mobile wallets are becoming even more integrated into IM 3.0 apps. This innovation has been driven from the East, with Chinese banks offering payment services within WeChat as long ago as 2013.

WeChat has continued to build more financial products into its offering, from merchant payments (a bit like Shopify) to a nascent Private Bank called WeBank.

This trend continues to spread across emerging markets – where people are less likely to have traditional bank accounts – with WeChat-powered payments breaking through in Africa.

This innovation could spread to mature (Western) markets in 2016, as tech firms become bigger players in the finance space. Millennials, in particular, don’t just expect to talk to their bank on social – but expect to be able to transact there too.

Keeping it real(time)

While the integration of transactional and lead generation features into a wide range of social platforms could allow financial firms to generate tangible income from social, at the same time it places greater demands on those managing social channels. Customers expect 24/7 presence for customer services, and the growth of channels like Periscope require community managers to be more responsive to spot and respond to issues.

2016 looks set to be a demanding year for social media managers in finance, with increased demands from both consumers – to respond and provide better and more integrated services – and from those in the boardroom to show value. But if we rise to the challenge, the year ahead could be when social grows up and becomes a transformational force in finance.

What do you think of my predictions? What do you think we’ll see in 2016? Let me know in the comments below.

 

The email-free future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.

It’s over five years since Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg predicted email is probably going away, and yet I returned from holiday this week to a bulging inbox. So what went wrong?

Here I explain why email alternatives haven’t yet made the breakthrough – and what needs to happen to really see an end to inefficient email culture.

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Underestimated the need for culture change

Cultural barriers in moving from email to enterprise social have been wildly underestimated. Email has had a long (20 year +) period of dominance, and has found its way into a vast range of tasks (many of which it’s inappropriate for, but nonetheless). Old habits die hard, and email is quite some habit – taking up 28% of employee time. Intranet expert Sam Marshall once commented that only two things will survive a nuclear winter – cockroaches, and email.

Email, for all its faults, offers privacy, preservation of silos and hierarchy, and the hoarding of knowledge – all things which fit with traditional ways of managing business. For enterprise social networks to really make a difference they need to form part of a massive change management programme – one that sees the ESN as a small part of a change to make the organisation fit for the future.

If an organisation is serious about embracing openness, meritocracy, flexibility and collaborative working, as a means of making itself more agile and innovative, and engaging its people, then an ESN will enable that. But the organisation needs to lead that change – the tool is merely a means of delivery, and can’t be seen as the culture change itself.

Few organisations have done this successfully yet. Most have barely started. But as hardly a day now passes without another news story about how traditional industries and business models are being disrupted by smaller, newer players – firms who are already embracing those values and working in open, collaborative and innovative ways – big business has to adapt or die. That culture change isn’t a nice to have: it’s existential.

The tools sucked

Back in 2010, the tools to go email-free just weren’t widespread enough; few enterprises had rolled them out, and where they had they were found wanting. Let’s be blunt here: they sucked compared to what was available on the web.

Enterprise social tools lacked powerful enough functionality to make people ditch their long-held habits. They were typically rolled out organically, which meant they relied heavily on enthusiasts and failed to gain critical mass.

All that has changed, though. Social intranet products such as Sharepoint, Jive and IBM Connections have continued to grow and evolve their functionality. At the same time, products like Salesforce, Oracle and SAP have moved on from token inclusion of social functionality to offering fully social systems. And a host of new entrants like Slack have come along to shake the whole enterprise collaboration market up, forcing everyone to raise their game.

The current crop of enterprise social tools now offer substantial and realistic alternatives to email with functionality and usability that are as good as anything offered to consumers.

The challenge, then, is ensuring the organisation has the right tool or set of tools. And that means focusing on user needs…

Lacked understanding of user needs

Too many intranet projects are conceived and designed from the corporate centre, designed without a detailed understanding of how, when and why people work – so that social fits the way people work, rather than expecting people to change the way they work to use social tools.

In this (old) blogpost, Andrew McAfee suggests that the continued use of email when superior alternatives are available is an example of the 9x problem. That is, that people are generally averse to change, so they overvalue what they have by a factor of three, and undervalue alternatives by 3x. So something needs to not just be better than the alternative for people to be convinced to change, but it needs to be 9x better.

The number one driver of adoption is utility. Intranet and digital workplace professionals need first to understand what people do and how they work – and why they use email – then select and configure tools so they provide a compelling alternative – one that users perceive as genuinely useful enough to be worth investing their time in learning.

Poor integration

All too often social intranets are yet another in the plethora of workplace portals, presenting users with a hot mess of interfaces and user experiences. It’s no surprise that people reached for the comfort blanket of Microsoft Outlook.

Email dominates because it’s familiar, and it’s made its way into almost everything we do at work. Email doesn’t force people to think about what tool to use – and nor should your digital workplace. The current generation of enterprise social tools are easy and cheap to integrate with each other, and with other systems. Crack that and present a coherent, integrated digital workplace that doesn’t require users to think, and you reduce the barriers to change.

Too inward looking

Finally, they didn’t extend beyond the firewall, forcing people to go back to email if they want to collaborate with anyone outside of the organisation. In this day and age collaboration can’t just be inward-looking; it will necessarily involve third parties like agencies – and ideally customers too.

With most vendors offering robust cloud-based solutions, there’s no longer a need to limit collaboration to inside the firewall, nor to force people to go back to email to collaborate externally.

The future

These five factors can explain why predictions about the imminent demise of email have failed to come true. While the tools have improved markedly, implementations must focus on user needs so that users feel social tools are substantial and realistic alternatives to email.

As William Gibson commented, the future is here… it’s just not evenly distributed yet. While the tools now exist to deliver on Sheryl Sandberg’s prediction of an email-free future, without significant investment in culture change email will persist.

Photo credit: Daniel Voyager