Back from the brink

Posted: June 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

3 years on and I’m pleased to say that I’m back to share ramblings on all things digital, marketing and product. The good news is that the intention to grace this place is truly there, the bad news is that the next blog post is still being pressed.  Watch this space.

In the meantime, I might entertain you with some writing ventures for my employers over the past couple of years:

The Top 5 Digitalmom-wake-up- Marketing Trends - avoiding the Creep factor and the case of real-time results for real-time impact

Data Decisions: what to do with it - data driven decisions to automate your engagement activities

Driving Success with your Marketing pursuits - customers, keep on top of your performance, and know the ultimate customer experience

(source: Salmat Digital’s blog)

Enjoy!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or living in China, you would have stumbled upon Google’s latest venture: the Google+ project.

It’s funny how many forgive and forget when it comes to Google. One would expect the abysmal failure of Google Wave 2 years ago, stifling the public’s tolerance of giving any Google grown ‘social’ product another go. It seems though the leading search engine provider has succeeded in breaking its novice status with the creation and execution of Google+, now with 25m users and counting. Google’s best kept secret? Not anymore.

Having worked with online products for so long, I appreciate how difficult it is to nail an online platform that hails simplicity and sophistication at the same time. Add to this the already cluttered online community space that is dominated by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn amongst others, it’s quite exciting to see Google+ take the lead in what I would label as social media’s next generation of platforms. Why I draw this conclusion boils down to a couple of factors:

Google+ gives ultimate control to the individual. Unlike Twitter and Facebook where the rights of sharing is dependent on the message recipient’s willingness to connect with the sharer, Google+ allows the end user to freely add Google+’ians into user groups and share messages based on their personalised circles of individuals. It’s asymmetrical in nature, and it’s just what social junkies are looking for.

Google+ evolves the equation of a sticky platform. Think of a restaurant that you regularly eat at. What makes you go back there? It’s a combination of things: the food, the service, the atmosphere, the people you dine with. I used to think that the community for social networks was the primary determinant of a user’s loyalty (the key reason that I gave Facebook another go despite being dubious about its utility in my life). It seems now that being a ‘regular’ in the longhaul also requires a continued investment in keeping features (equivalent to the restaurant’s atmosphere and menu) on the platform attractive. And what’s cool about Google+ is that you don’t need an online tutorial or help tips: the environment is predictable to the end user, the Google+ diet is easy to digest!

Since its launch we’ve seen tweaks in the Circles module and YouTube sharing, driven primarily by screening usage (which is not surprising with Google’s advanced web analytics capabilities) and listening to user’s feedback. Crowdsourcing is a cool way of learning more about users and ensuring users remain engaged on the network.

This approach breathes the importance of iterative development, the importance of being agile with managing a living and breathing platform as more information about your users and their behaviours surface.  Twitter started off with attractive features (the concept of ‘followers’ and @ mentions and RT or quotes) but responded too late to third party applications who offered more convenience in features such as shortened links and in line influence scores from Klout.

It’s great to be reminded that the social media space will never stop evolving and I’m pleased to see Google+ taking a decent leap in the right direction.

What I look forward to? I see a richer user experience across other Google web properties as a result of first hand insights from Google+ users (for example, improved relevancy on Google Search); more functionality on its mobile app, particularly for Android powered mobiles; further integration of video chat properties within its cool Hangout feature and a Google+ API.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and boy have I missed doing so! Since starting a new job with a larger remit and more work to conquer, keeping in tune with happenings in digital media has been fleeting at best.

 The past 5 months have left me pondering the topic of modern leadership and what makes a great (and sustaining) leader. To me, an inspiring leader must not only articulate the purpose of any venture or project clearly and in a way that makes sense for me, they must also connect and relate to my job at hand, the challenges faced and seek to then give constructive advice on the best mode of action.

What I’ve also noticed is that the digital world has significantly influenced what others expect from a leader. The interactive nature of the social web has meant any individual irrespective of skillset and experience has equal right to voice their opinion and be heard. In the same way, the next generation breed of up and coming managers who live and breathe with an online presence will demand instantaneous gratification: this means finding direct access to a discussion that has traditionally taken place behind closed doors. Gone are the days of effective dictatorship (which might I point out is very different to taking a directive stance – proven useful particularly in times of uncertainty and constant change).

To be truly collaborative, modern leadership is about incorporating typical elements of the social web: being accessible any time by your team, involving people on big ticket items right from the start (rather than after the event) and aligning your approach using the available tools these days (eg. Creating a Yammer community dedicated to sharing ideas) that encourages creative contributions on a daily basis.

Social leadership isn’t a new phenomenon (see Charlene Li’s briefing at SXSW last year), it’s here to stay as long as we humans are!

Test to Impress

Posted: January 21, 2011 in product testing, Uncategorized

I find it a little disturbing when people challenge the traditional notion of testing products or business models before they are launched. Whilst the most obvious response is to verify functionality against a set of requirements, in reality this is possibly the least of anyone’s problem. Sure, testing mitigates the risk that what we think our target market wants may not match reality, but usually we’d have a pretty good hunch, by way of conducting preliminary research on the web or talking to family and friends to verify that gap in the market.

The answer could be a host of other potential reasons:

~ It builds brand awareness:  sites branded ‘Beta’ typically signal a work-in-progress product, a type of status that brings in technology enthusiasts who in turn are most vocal about their product experiences. Free press!

~ It enables collaboration and buy-in: anyone who’s worked in large corp will know that you’d be sentenced to a life-of-foolishness if you don’t first test with your stakeholders. By stakeholders I refer to not only customers (who could ultimately become advocates of your product), but also senior management whose influencing power will help keep your business idea or product alive in a large organisation.

~ It could help you win more moolah: venture capitalists take calculated risks, and would potentially view your actions as sensible, building a pretty solid and measurable case to consider investing in your product or business model.

Test just enough though, then move on quickly. There’s definitely the need for speed…or else you might see the opportunity dissipate or be taken by an unforeseen rivalry.

2010: Dipped in, now dipping out

Posted: December 31, 2010 in Year in Review

2010: Dipped in, now dipping out

2010 for me was a year lived in snippets: short spurts of high quality time dedicated to the numerous developments and events unravelled on the web and in my life. Even this post only warrants a 30 minute sprint of reflection and fast typing as the final hours of 2010 unfolds in the wake of new years eve celebrations!

Courtesy of: Getty Images Australia

I’d like to share some of the things that have enlightened me over this year as a hyperconsumer of media:

The evolution of the social web: Facebook takes over as the most visited  web site over Google.com. Whilst comparing a social networking site with an  advertising/search platform might sound flawed, it is clear that a growing  number of individuals are finding their time spent on social networks more  appealing and rewarding than before.

This growth in numbers has paved the way for enhanced features, including  Facebook new messages and Places as well as niche like players such as photo  sharing site, Instagram emerging to address the growing sophistication of social  web contributors.

Even the good ol’ web browser is now embellished with a social element: new browsers such as Embedly, Cortex and Readon.ly are designed to simplify the process of viewing and sharing content to social networks.

The heightened importance of search and order: as information sources and the reliance on the web grow, the ability to find, organise and rediscover content becomes more and more paramount. Beyond the basic search bar and Twitter lists arrangements, there’s a call for better semantics (structured relationships within data) and tools to help extract and process data.

The likes of  Needlebase captures key sources and explores visualisation formats to present this data back to individuals in a meaningful format. Quora is also a great example of how search capability is evolving (I’m hooked!). Data storage is consequently inclined towards being cloud based, with Amazon and Google riding this trend.

The diversification and personification of smart devices: the launch of the iPad earlier this year (1m shipments in 28 days) and the iPhone 4 in July were among the hype this year. With talks of HP’s Slate, Motorola’s Galaxy and Google’s Android Honeycomb tablets coming out in 2011, the key to success in any smart device will focusing effort in achieving a great UI and attracting a sticky developer community for cool apps that enrich one’s interactions on their device.

It’s become such a part of our lives that it’s now seen as evocative: everyday devices that has the power to impact things such as relationships, ideas, emotions and memories. Spot on.

Courtesy of: Getty Images Australia

Creative destruction to traditional business models: enter Murdoch’s great paywall experiment. Since March, Murdoch’s vocal push for a subscription service across his newspapers has seen some adoption from its The Times base, however one questions the lack of creativity with his approach. For example, one better approach could have involved adapting content streams to younger readers, or taking on a more segmented approach with their advertising models. Create value first, then charge for it.

Wikileaks. Need I say more? You’ll find all the commentary out there using Google’s cool News Timeline feature (here). The point I’d make here is that we’re only seeing the start of such activity as consumers become more equipped as creators and catalysts of content.

On a personal level, I’ve completed my MBA, conquered laser eye surgery, and sought out a new job with new challenges. What hasn’t changed is my passion for social media, connecting with interesting people at the meetup circuit, and of course, fitness! Thanks for dropping by and here’s to an awesome 2011 – cheers!

I hopped along to the Digicitz event tonight, themed around 3 Social Media Experts taking the stage with advice for specific social media related challenges being experienced by two organizations – Nexus and Reach Out Australia.

Great ideas were in flight across 3 clear strategy streams: the creative strategist (@michaelwatkins from Mudomedia), the strategic consultant (@paulalexgray from Brainmates), and the strategy executor (@katydaniells from DaemonTWO) –  all of which might I say are important perspectives to consider when seeking success in a campaign or project. And yes, strategy is also about execution – business fundamentals since the Kaplan/Norton days!

The topics however had me pondering over the following:

1. Deciding if social media is an appropriate activity to undertake requires common sense

Once you decide on your business objectives, use common sense to derive your plan: understand how your customers tick – where they spend their time, who they hang out with and what they like/dislike and understand your options in targeting them with your product or campaign.

2. It also requires humility

Head honchos within enterprises also need to recognise that social media is a playing field that can’t be learned unless you actively play in it (again common sense). As Jye quotes Katie Chatfield, it’s an ‘emergent discipline,’ in which ‘we’re all still making up the language as we go.’ This involves letting down one’s guard, and acknowledging that there is room to learn (this is what makes social media so enthralling!).

So, as social media evangelists who preach versatility and untapped potential in this space, we need to:

1. Educate and gain buy in from the top

Start with educating C-level management about the benefits of social networks. Success stories such as that from Deloitte and their adoption of Yammer across the employee network signifies that CEO’s can be convinced about radical proposals. It’s the CEO who will have the authority to infuse adoption throughout the organisation once they’re sold on the idea. [For Deloitte, the useful life of email has apparently been set to 5 years since Yammer's rollout].

2. Be thoughtful with the pitch

C-level management are concerned about the bottom line, shareholder return, and corporate reputation. Elements of a social strategy can provide benefits in all these elements. Measuring changes in brand sentiment, dollars spent on listening and conversing with online communities (labour and systems) can all be directly attributed back to net profit.

3. Respect where they’ve come from

Tonight there were a few throw away comments on bureaucratic government organizations and cagey staff unwilling to trial new things. Accept these as fact and use it to your advantage. There’d be a valid reason explaining why there is process to follow and resistance to change – understand their motivations and take them head on.

Before Agile Australia 2010, Agile to me meant taking a modern approach in developing and launching products quickly to market. Since the conference, I’ve had a sort of tip-of-the-iceberg moment, quickly realising that Agile as a methodology is overwhelmed in practice with the importance of bringing the right mix of culture, leadership and people together in order to achieve an Agile state in an organisation.

Source: Slatteryit.com.au

Agile Australia 2010 was a solid, intensive 2 day workshop themed around delivering business value with Agile, consisting of an eclectic group of speakers from blue chip organisations and specialist consulting firms.

So much great insight was wrapped into the two days (the only conference I’ve been to where all 450 or so attendees stayed until the final workshop!), that it warrants three separate blog posts – here’s the first: successfully adapting Agile practices require a new mindset (and sometimes new blood).

Firstly, I should make it clear that Agile in the context of project management and product or software development is based around short cycle releases (we’re talking weeks as opposed to months), frequent feedback loops with customers and quick iterations that tweak and improve an output to address this feedback. A good place to learn more about the principles behind Agile is the Agile Manifesto site and Martin Fowler’s New Methodology digital handbook on the topic. To this point comes the following key takeouts:

  1. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of unlearning habits and rituals. Ben Hogan of Agile Coach refers to the power of one’s comfort zone and the rather arduous process of moving from current status quo to a new desired state.  Transforming an idea for change to one that is accepted and realised by staff requires leaders rather than managers, and investment in change management. This ensures staff is embedded with a genuine belief and commitment that the change is for the better.
  2. Being Agile puts people first, rather than process first. The infamous  Martin Fowler does a frank comparison of Agile against traditional waterfall to demonstrate the fallacies that is the latter:
  • Waterfall demands predictive behaviour, whereas Agile requires adaptive behaviour. Agile recognizes that accurate crystal balling is impossible to achieve (otherwise we’d all be millionaires!).
  • Documentation and planning is still central, but only if it finetunes your development needs. Possibly my favourite point as it knocks down the popular myth that Agile follows a chaotic, freeform structure. As Jay Jenkins from Renewtek puts it, ‘Agile strips away waste, not documentation.’
  • Success of a Waterfall approach is measured by an ‘according to plan’ mentality, whereas Adaptive’s success is measured by business value: was customers happy with what they were given and has it evolved from what was originally in plan? Change is encouraged rather than opposed by the business (shock horror!).
  • Hence, recruiting small teams of people who are aspirational, highly skilled and self organizing are key ingredients to making this transition. Establishing an ‘A-Team’, as Craig Smith calls it, touches on teachings from Dan Pink’s Drive (a brilliant book I might add!) – the notion of an individual being given autonomy, seeking mastery and finding purpose in what they do as ways to drive high levels of motivation. Reference to Atlassian and Thoughtworks hackathon style days demonstrate just that.

All this from what I can see boils down to two things: accepting continuous improvement in development, integration and delivery of product as the only means to delivering value to our customers, and placing trust in your people to make critical decisions on the fly. Both of these are rationally easy to comprehend and agree to, but in practice very difficult to realise.

Which is a nice segue into my next post on Agile Australia: the importance of teams, collaboration, trust and adaptive leadership.