Thursday, April 30, 2009

Future's Going Mobile

It took me quite some time to make the plunge, but I finally bought an iPhone.

There was the price tag that kept me from doing so, there was the current phone service I already had, there were my worries about becoming addicted to such a device and then losing it, breaking it, or having it stolen.

On the other side of the ledger was the coolness factor, the portable computer factor, and the increasingly interconnectedness of business and general life. Finally, after my own phone broke and an online purchase turned out to be less than stellar goods (my suspicion leans toward counterfeit), my wife's phone broke in exactly the same fashion. A teacher in the process of getting an Educational Technology master's degree, she too had begun seeing the utility of an iPhone (or at least hyping the utility because she'd been bitten by the coolness bug too.)

Other friends had been sporting their Blackberries for some time, Google Android operating system based phones were making the news, but there is no tech love quite like those of dedicated Apple fans.

And so we took the plunge, justifying it to ourselves that we were just going to end up with smartphones of some kind down the road anyway, why waste money on phones that didn't have this capability and ones we'd be replacing soon anyway.

News stories about the iPhone lately swirl around rumors of a third generation of hardware coming out around the same time as the third generation of software (actually firmware) and the smashing success of the App Store. Tiny programs that are designed specifically for your mobile phone, Apps automate any number of procedures, allow you to play games or find information quickly at the touch of a button, allow you to chat in real time with others and provide direct connection to communication portals like Facebook and Twitter.

This last place is where smarthphones begin to make sense for a business branching out into social media. The development of both quick apps that allow you to interact with these services is one thing. Your social networking sites should be as responsive as any customer service offering and most likely even more so. Apps like Tweetie or Twitterfon let you update your Twitter feed quickly and easily. The recent intersection of government response and the swine flu can be best learned about through @CDCemergency, the Center for Disease Control's ongoing response to the pandemic.

While your businesses concerns and reactions might not fall into the same category of national urgency, the responsiveness of their online programs have been a calming source of information amidst a frenzied chorus of media hyperventilation. Likewise, @fdarecalls, where updates on salmonella infected peanuts and pistachios kept pace with the story's unpleasant spread and demonstrated that where Twitter excels is in its rapidity of response. Mobile media will fuel that growth and in turn, social media will fuel mobile media.

This, by definition will lead to the development of mobile versions of websites. If you're considering a website redesign now would be the time to consider including a mobile subdomain. A pared down version of your main site, a mobile page has the benefit of loading quicker on the slower wireless and cellular networks while at the same time delivering essential functionality. Consider Google Classic and Google Mobile. A small amount of coding and a relatively simple redesign of your site, hosted alongside your regular page, can lead candidates to your job opportunities the moment the notion strikes them. Meanwhile, a slow loading page bogs down mobile browsing and can put off tech savvy candidates.

As greater and greater numbers of people move various business elements of their recruitment, marketing and advertising strategies online, forward-thinking organizations are already considering the next big platform development. It doesn't take a significant investment to get yourself ready, all it takes is foresight.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

If You Don't
Someone Else Will

The examples are everywhere you look. Almost every day an example appears of one of a few things.

1.) A corporation suffers some snafu or gaffe and instead of addressing it head-on or proactively, they either ignore it, attack the critics or ham-handedly attempt to address it. In almost all three instances, they make the matter worse.

2.) A company slow to get involved with online media and social networking finds themselves playing catch up, and while everyone else has gotten sophisticated in how they approach the new online mindset, these companies arrive on the scene like complete n00bs, failing and failing hard.

3.) Letting their customers and users take complete reins of the online process, they fail to foresee that vandals will trash the joint.

In the last two weeks, we've seen and Domino's Pizza hit the number one example. When thousands of gay and lesbian titles disappeared from their rankings, Amazon hunkered down and Twitter was afire with speculation. And when YouTube videos appeared of workers spitting into pizzas (and worse), Domino's tried to play it cool and only reply in a few small ways. Neither reaction went over well and both brands suffered.

Skittles, when they launched their new online portal that allowed people to update their posting Twitter search wall, apparently didn't have anything in place to keep people from bashing the brand, leading to a not altogether too terrible but easily foreseen fail. Rude comments proliferated, but luckily the brand avoided a swarm that could have tanked the experiment.

Number two is where things will really start to get sticky. I won't go so far as to call out brands by name for this particular embarrassment any more than I'd not laugh at someone telling a bad old joke. The public shame is too much. Think of how you cringe now when someone new to the online world forwards you the ancient "Bill Gates and Intel will pay you to forward emails" chain letter.

The longer companies and organizations stay on the sideline, the more uncomfortable their transitions are going to be. Caught behind the times, their learning curve will have to be much steeper than those who jumped in on things while there was still time. New apps, new third party software, the general etiquette of online behavior, how to speak with your customers/audience instead of at them, all of this will not only be a foreign language by the time these late starters get on board, but their late-to-the-party game of catch-up might just be a case of too little, too late.

Worse still, in an organization's absence in the online sphere, others will filled the gap, and not necessarily with the kind of thing HQ would like to see. The ability to influence this online reputation will start from a weak posture and take additional time to counterbalance.

All in all, with a modest investment in time, research, and in delegating responsibility, brands, organizations, companies and others can mark out their territory online, can become participants in the word of mouth world we call social networking. It's a small price to pay for being ready when a storm arrives.

Just ask Dominos.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Googling Twitter, or,
Twittering Google

In yet another in an ongoing series of pet peeves of mine is the constant discussion about Google and Twitter. Which is the better search engine? Who will businesses pay more attention to to find out just what the customers are saying? Can Google compete with the awesomeness of Twitter's real-time search results?

These questions, quite frankly, are ridiculous. They almost read as though they were written by someone who didn't understand what Google or Twitter is/does. Try Googling any particular phrase from your Twitter feed. What's the result? You get your main profile page, if that. My second Twitter message ever doesn't turn up in the search.

The sheer volume of people out there using Twitter, the constant updating and flow of information across Twitter will overwhelm any search engine not dedicated solely to Twitter itself and nothing else. Perhaps you may have noticed an increase in Twitter down time. Perhaps you may feel that you are on more intimate terms with the Fail Whale than some of your coworkers. That's a result of extreme growth coupled with Twitter's slowness in getting additional servers up and running and their tinkering under the hood to provide additional services.

The point is, however, that Twitter is an awesome and amazing data stream, but it will never, ever, ever replace Google as a search engine, for very obvious reasons.

First off, there is no real upside for Google to begin collating every single blip, bleep, and squeak of every single Twitter user. None at all. Are there really that many users out there who want to know what someone's tweeting about fig newtons? I doubt it. The volume of Twitter data would overwhelm even Google, especially as they've tasked themselves with documenting every other corner of the web they can reach, not to mention all the books, blogs, maps, medical records, patents and every other nook and digital cranny they have their fingers into.

Twitter has their own search engine, thank you very much, and it does what it was designed to do very well. Do you really want to find out what people are saying about fig newtons? Here you go. If marketers and businesses and organizations and data junkies want to know what's going on through Twitter they can check the search, they can check hashtags, they can check Nearby Tweets or Yahoo! Sideline or Tweefind or any one of a hundred thousand million new sites that seem to pop up every single day.

But the number one single reason that Twitter will never replace Google for getting at what people are saying is so obvious that I'm astonished I have to say it at all.

Twitter searches only find out what people are saying on Twitter. It doesn't matter if Twitter has just over one million active users or 12 million current accounts. It doesn't matter if Twitter has over 25 million users. In the United States alone there are over 306 million people, almost three quarter of which are adults. If you shoot for 12 million users of Twitter, your demographic sampling is about half a percent. Plug those figures into worldwide population and you can see why Google's going to dwarf Twitter every time. Everyone is online somewhere. Google can find them. Twitter, not so much.

With smart use of filtering and various boolean operators, data junkies can get a much broader picture of what's being said about their brand by sticking to Google. If they want to know what Twitter users are saying about their brand, that's a whole different proposition. But the idea that somehow Twitter's going to take over from Google as the search gold standard is so ludicrous I can't understand why otherwise intelligent people write about it as though it were a going proposition.

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