The Basics will always be the same.

15254-Strong-Silhouetted-Man-Holding-Heavy-And-Bending-Barbell-Weights-Above-His-Head-In-A-Fitness-Gym-Poster-Art-Print
In three weeks time I will be attending WIT and participating on two panels.  And today I enjoyed a lovely lunch with Siew Hoon talking about the event, all the arrangements and how tweeters and bloggers can participate in the true spirit of engaged and connected consumers.  We talked a little about Foursquare and other trends and technologies that dominate the space, some of which those involved in promoting their travel products and services are still trying to get to grips with and understand how they can best use these for their promotional, marketing and engagement-making ends.  All good stuff and I look forward to some enthusiastic discussions and exchanging of ideas and views.

 After my lovely lunch and the engaging company I made my way over to the gym for an afternoon workout.  I go to the Fitness First in the UOB Centre in Raffles Place.  It’s not close to home and not even close to my last permanent workplace but the staff are delightful and being greeted by smiles is always a great start to my session.

 After my workout the manager spoke with me.  “Hi, Carl”, he said, “how are you doing? And great to see you back after your trip – New York wasn’t it?” 

“Actually, it was California and Nevada, but thanks for asking, and how do you know my name?” I replied.

“I always make a point of looking at the names of those who visit the gym” he said, “and I like to find out a bit about them.”

Hi name is Ernest and he is man who, for me, stands out because of the simple steps he took to interact with me – one of his customers.  He took a few seconds to find out my name and a quick bit of information about me so that he could address me directly and engage briefly in some relevant and timely conversation.

 There will be lots of conversation at WIT about search optimization, the implications of location-based social networks like Foursquare and what to do with those fifty thousand fans you have on Facebook.  But whilst those at WIT would do well do understand the technologies and their implications here’s a little reminder from one of your potential customers. Some simple and basic things like knowing a little about your customer and making them feel just that little bit important by engaging in some relevant and timely dialogue goes a long way towards building affinity and getting me to love you a little bit more. 

 The online space provides more and more possibilities for brands to interact with their customers but whilst potentially being swallowed up with technology driven innovation we shouldn’t forget those little emotional triggers that, when all is said and done, can often be the reason why I might choose, for example, one hotel booking site over another.  Or even one gym over another. 

 

Search without Searching – implications for the travel industry.

Search
(Originally written for Web In Travel)

I've written a couple of articles lately on websites/applications that allow us to plan a trip.  Essentially they act as a portal providing access to information around certain aspects of the trip – the flight, the accommodation, and, as I recently reviewed in the case of NileGuide, events happening in and around my destination when I plan to be there.  All good stuff and very useful.  And, quite clever in terms of some of its functionality and application but just how clever are these things?  I really don't mean this disrespectfully in any sense.  But I've been reading a couple of articles just recently on a Google initiative they call SWS – or Search Without Searching

When using NileGuide or even just booking flights online we are essentially telling the application everything about our trip – where, when, how many people etc.  We tell it where we want to stay and how much we want to pay.  In the case of NileGuide events we tell it what kinds of things we might like and through some fixed criteria (that, frustratingly, someone else decided) we are then presented with options albeit very beautifully and intuitively. 

But one of the core principles around SWS is exactly the absence of this telling.  Google talks about presenting you with search results that you didn't even know you wanted.  How do they think this might be accomplished? Well, through analyzing everything they can find out about us from our (presumably public) online profiles.  I don't want to dwell on the potentially scary privacy aspects around this here – plenty has been said before and will be said again, so for now I'd like to focus on what I see as the huge potential here specifically for the travel industry.

So, imagine that I’ve been tweeting about how stressed I am at work and need a break.  And a few days ago I ‘liked’ a friend’s pictures on Facebook from a trip they took to Vietnam.  And, the SWS algorithms were able to look at recent hotel bookings I’d made on AsiaRooms and some positive comments I’d made about a specific hotel type I liked on TripAdvisor.  Imagine all this.  Getting the idea now?  So, coupled with these and perhaps some recent search history going back a few months and some SocialGraph ‘likes’, the Google algorithms then cobble together a ‘trip theme template’ (my own expression) and then run through all the portal stuff looking at flights and accommodation etc and tie this up with my diary free time to come up with the pre-packaged trip along with dates, flights and all the usual stuff that I might otherwise have to go searching for.  I then get notified from the ‘intelligent’ travel site…”Hey Carl, we think you could do with a break now and we’ve put this itinerary together for you leaving Thursday next week and getting you back in time for your first day back at work and that important review meeting” And then there’s my full itinerary with all its components listed out perhaps with quick options to fine tune various aspects.

It’s not here yet but, you know what, I think this kind of stuff is just around the corner and for me, at least, it represents the next kind of paradigm shift that the ever social and interactive web will lead us towards.

Creating Magic Moments

Magic_moments

Have you ever had a birthday or Christmas or other occasion
when someone has given you a gift and you’ve thought, ‘that’s just what I
wanted’?  I do hope that it’s
happened to you. Do you remember how nice it felt?

There are many reasons, of course, why that particular gift
might have hit the spot.  Perhaps
it was the latest book by an author you particularly like or the latest CD from
your favorite band.  It may of
course have had some more specific contextual relevance for you pertaining to where
you were ‘at’ in your life at that time. 
You may have been planning a trip and someone gave you a travel guide
for your destination. Or you may have simply renovated your kitchen and a kind
and thoughtful person saw some lovely crockery thinking it would look resplendent
in your new beautiful cupboards.  It’s
these sorts of gifts that can feel a lot more special than those that, whilst
no less generous, just don’t seem to have much thought behind them.

Whilst it seems like rather cold and odd language to use, these
cases of great gift giving are examples where one person had demonstrated an
understanding of the recipient.  It’s a cold way of speaking about a lovely moment, I know,
but I did warn you. 

The reason I am breaking it down to this level is that I feel
that companies and brands also have a real opportunity to create these special
moments – Magic Moments – as I’ve seen them called, by simply doing exactly the
same thing – by simply demonstrating to their customer that they understand
them – that they have made the extra bit of effort to get to know them. 

And whilst there are many ways of being very clever about
this (I’m thinking about rigorous data mining algorithms employed to churn
through millions of point of sales transactions as popularized by people like
Tesco in the UK with their Club Card) it’s often some very basic thinking along
with the simplest of customer insights that can, if acted upon, bring a smile
to the face of the customer. 

I’ve recently started using the products of two companies
with whom I have had little or no interaction before.  And, in some ways, there is a gaping chasm between the
experience I’ve had with one compared to that which I’ve had with the
other. 

I recently signed up with a cable TV provider here in
Singapore – Singtel and their MioTV package.  I should say at this point that they have generally been
very good in coming to my house when they said they would and the guys have
been helpful and pleasant in setting up the kit and helping me out.  But using the set top box is like
suddenly being asked to man one of those workstations you think of when you
visualize NASA’s Mission Control replete with Ed Harris pacing impatiently
right behind you.  Ok, I exaggerate
a bit, but I’m a very tech adaptive person (I just made that phrase up) but I
find navigating my way around this particular cable TV menu system a complete
nightmare. I’m almost always the one helping others find their way around
computers and other devices so I really wonder how some people I know would even
begin to understand what I find a real struggle.  As I side note, I should say that, despite the intense
frustration over the menu system, I am eternally grateful to Singtel for giving
me the opportunity to now watch F1 in glorious high definition. 

Contrast that experience with the one I have with an iPhone
application I recently downloaded called Walkmeter from Abvio. Walkmeter measures the time of your walk
and fully exploits the GPS functionality on my iPhone to give me distance,
average speeds, comparisons with the last time I did the same route and
overlays the route on Google Maps. 
It’s a joy to use.  And
what’s key here is that it took me no time to get used to using it and that was
without using any instruction manual. 
What was particularly engaging for me – what really put a smile on my
face – was that the application almost seemed to anticipate what I’d like to
see it do.  As I explored it for
the first time there were a couple of moments when I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be
cool if it…’ and almost before I could finish the thought the application was
doing exactly what I wanted. 
Brilliant.  What a feeling –
these guys were thinking of me when they designed this.  The application seemed to know what I
wanted and, it also seemed to know I’d like things that I didn’t know that I’d
like.  Without sounding too
Rumsfeld – like, it delivered twice – firstly by anticipating what I already
wanted from it and then by delivering great functionality I hadn’t even
realized I wanted. 

Now whilst my experience of these two products is hugely
different, I can’t help thinking that it would only have taken some basic customer
centric research or observation techniques to enable Singtel (or whoever does
their remote control user interface design) to make a better UI and ultimately
a better experience.  It wouldn’t
have taken much to ensure that I had some Magic Moments as I enjoyed with the
Walkmeter application.

We just need to ask some basic questions when thinking about
these points of engagements with our customers to create our own Magic Moments
for them.  What is it they actually want to do at this moment?  What else might they doing at this
moment?  Where are they at this
moment (physically and also with reference to the rest of their day of their product / service journey with the
brand)? 

Make me smile and surprise me – give me magic Moments – and
I’ll be back.  Oh, and I’ll also
tell loads of people about you. 

Social Media Day and Social Media Strategy

Social-media-strategy-vs-social-media-campaign

June 30th was Social Media day.  It was actually Global Social Media day as declared by Mashable. It was also a day when I went to
discuss Social Media strategy with a large company based here in
Singapore.  Our Social Media Day event
at Zsofi in the evening was great fun,
and a chance to meet some great new people as well as catch up with old friends
and to also meet some more virtual acquaintances in the flesh for the first
time.

 

Something kept getting said on that day and it was this: people
kept talking about Social Media strategy as a ‘resource’ – as a person.  They were implying, I think, that one
view of what constitutes a Social Media strategy is having a person sit all day
on Twitter or Facebook responding to people’s
complaints or questions.  And,
indeed, for some brands in Singapore and elsewhere, it appears that their doing
exactly this seems to be a large component, if not the entirety, of their
strategy.

 

This doesn’t feel like a strategy to me.  In fact, what it looks like is the kind
of conversations usually reserved for Customer Support Staff (probably on the
phone or via some support email address) happening on a Facebook page or via a
Twitter conversation.  I should
point out, however, that being responsive to a customer’s query on Facebook or
Twitter is, I think, at least for now, a necessary component of being in the
space.  I hasten to call it a
component of the strategy per se because responding to customers’ queries does
not feel strategic to me – it feels just like something we should do
anyway.  I’m not going to dwell on
how brands will need to deal with this obligation at the moment.  It feels like a bit of a problem and
I’m not sure how it will resolve itself. 

 

At the moment, opening your brand up on Facebook leads, in
some cases, to a lot of niggly little conversations happening.  A typical exchange I see (on a brand
fan page) opens with the brand saying ‘Hi’ to all its Facebook page fans and
then the announcement of the day’s special offer. There will then be a bunch of
comments about the offer interspersed with complaints and moaning.  So, what the visitors to that brand fan
page are actually seeing is some essentially one-way brand marketing
communications followed by publically visible customer service issue
conversations.  All in all pretty
dull, uninspiring and boring. 
There’s an inevitability to having to respond to queries as I said, but
the sooner we don’t all have to look at it, the better.  I put it down, in part, to the ‘brands
on Facebook’ still being a model in its infancy.  I have my own ideas about how this could be managed but
that’s for another time.  Back to
strategy.

 

Putting a product offer on Facebook that you may have put in
the newspaper a couple of years ago isn’t good Social Media Strategy.  There’s some immediacy to be gained
from it I suppose and there’s no doubting that your target audience are
probably hanging out on Facebook. But re-purposing collateral and messaging for
another medium without looking at and embracing the nuances and opportunities
offered by that new medium is rarely compelling for the customer. 

 

Social media is about people coming together around your brand
– it’s about a shared experience, about storytelling and, ideally, about
content creation and sharing.  One-way
brand messaging and planning to administer your dirty laundry in the open won’t
get you where you think you might want to go.  Integrating the unique collaborative and shared experience
of what social media offers and integrating this with an event, a competition
or another (more traditional) component of your marketing and branding strategy
whilst facilitating brand advocacy might just.

 

Oh Come On! Don’t you get it yet?

Screen shot 2010-05-26 at PM 02.34.34

Ok, so I received an email
from AsiaRooms.  It had a nice
picture on it and the now obligatory logos of both Facebook and Twitter.
 

The text in the box read
as follows:

Stay up to date with all the latest
news from AsiaRooms.com by following us on your favourite social networking
site. Be the first to receive expert advice and top travel tips as well as news
of exciting up and coming events plus our best deals and newest special offers.
So what are you waiting for…?!

Now, I spend a lot of my
life encouraging brands and organizations to engage with their customers in the
social media space so what’s my beef here?  Read the text again and think about it.  Now let me summarize it for you:

Please give us the opportunity to
market at you on your social networking sites.  And please let us market at you quicker than we are
currently able to market at you (we don’t want to wait for you to visit our
website or for you to read our emails – we want to get you when you are socializing)
And we use words like ‘tips’ and ‘exciting events’ and ‘special offers’ but
actually, yeah… we just want to market at you.

Worrying right?  I’d have preferred something like:

Here at AsiaRooms we’re keen to
understand what you think of our products and services.  Let us know by getting in touch via
Twitter or Facebook.  Share with us
and some of your fellow travelers your experiences. We are keen to see some of
your photos and videos and every month we’ll ask you all to vote for a winner
who’ll win a luxury weekend break courtesy of AsiaRooms.

Just a thought ….

 

Gliider – A Review

Siew Hoon (all round Goddess of Web in Travel)- asked me to review Gliider.

Screen shot 2010-03-30 at PM 12.44.50

A few days ago I was asked if I would test-drive the Gliider
travel-planning site.  Their
tagline, incidentally, is ‘Plan Funner Trips’ – make of that what you
will.  I’m already thinking I might
not be part of the target demographic.

Using Gliider works via a Firefox installation file that
adds a Gliider button to the browser toolbar.  This is available for both Firefox and IE and worked on my
Firefox running under Mac OS. 

Firing up Gliider I created a test trip to Jakarta,
Indonesia. The UI was slightly confusing to begin with and I was getting
strange error messages about invalid dates but it wasn’t long before I had my
trip set up.  Gliider then provides
nine folders covering different aspects of trip planning.  These included hotel, flights and
transport etc and there were two user-defined files that I thought was a nice
touch.

Gliider allows you to highlight and then drag and drop
content from a webpage into the respective folder.  This ‘web clipping’ functionality has been around for some
time now and has been packaged into applications, some of which I have heard
about but none has really caught my eye apart from perhaps
Evernote which is
more technology feature driven. Gliider has kept the functionally quite light
focusing more on making web clipping make sense from an activity standpoint.

The clipping worked quite well and Gliider handled the
formatting and the adding of images fairly slickly.  It was a little ‘buggy’ with new clippings not showing up
until I went out and then back into the folder, for example.  I also tried clipping just a URL link
but subsequent clicking on that link didn’t seem to open the linked page.  I’m niggling here a bit though because
for simple clipping of text and images Gliider worked well.

An application wouldn’t really be an application nowadays if
it didn’t pay its due homage to
Facebook and Gliider is no exception.  Using Facebook Connect I can get travel
advice from ‘people I know and trust’ as the text on the Gliider ‘Ask Around’
tab puts it.  Gliider then asks me
what question I want to ask and then posts this on my Facebook wall either for
everyone to see or just selected friends.

As well as sharing via the ubiquitous Facebook, I was able
to share my trip details with up to four other people using plain old simple
email.  I tried this with another
email address of mine and received an email notifying me that the other me was
planning a trip and that I too should download Gliider.  Incidentally the email subject line was
‘a funner trip’ which irked me again…Anyway, collaborators are able to see the
pooled content and add comments. 
Adding comments sort of makes sense but I’m guessing that in reality
travel companions would simply chat about their trip face to face or over the
phone.

The third tab on the Gliider app is for deals and
alerts.  Gliider have teamed up
with at least two third party sites and for my New York trip that I’d added I
had a load of hotel deals for New York from
travelzoo.com.  Gliider say that they plan to expand
the ‘deal’ functionality into other trip components in addition to just hotels.

You wont be surprised to hear that Gliider has its own
iPhone application that I downloaded for 3.60 USD equivalent.  I’m not sure what’s exactly de rigueur
nowadays when pricing apps but I know that I have some great ones that cost me
nothing and my paying for one that allows third parties to pump deals to me
based on privileged travel itinerary information flew in the face of what I
expect nowadays.

The iPhone application provided no additional functionality
over and above the browser plug-in although the interface was well designed –
good to look at and intuitive.  My
initial reaction to the iPhone app was that having all the clipped information
in my pocket when actually on my trip could be really useful, the visitor hours
of the New York Botanic Gardens for example.  It would be a bit like having my own personalized guide in
my pocket that my collaborators and I had populated with relevant content
before leaving for the trip.  At
the same time though I was thinking about all the missed opportunities around
linking my hotel address in Gliider to my maps and GPS for example and Gliider
proactively recommending me other stuff and talking me there based on my
profile and the recommendation of others.

I think Gliider is a nice idea and it takes some
technologies and functionality and packages then into an application area where
the whole idea of clipping content around a subject really makes sense.  The interface is generally good and the
navigation reasonably intuitive. I think there is huge potential to take
Gliider to somewhere really cool by incorporating location and context
awareness and further integrating it’s communication with Facebook and other
communities.  Let’s see how cool it
gets.
 
 

Is Facebook more important that your own website?

Screen shot 2010-03-22 at PM 05.20.43
 

Last night I was watching the Man United Liverpool game for a few minutes.  I don't really watch football but it was kicking off big time in the first few minutes with an early goal from Liverpool and then a penalty for Utd.  It was momentarily engrossing in the same way that watching a bunch of drunks kick the crap out of each other might be momentarily engrossing. 

Anyway, I'm already digressing.  I noticed that there was a URL being advertised on the pitch-side display for Barclays Football – it was something to do with Barclays anyway. What was interesting to me was that this was a Facebook page URL – the url was www.facebook.com/barclays_something_or_other …. 

It reminded me of a recent trend I have noticed on the BBC World Service where the program hosts now encourage listeners to visit their programme's Facebook page rather than the respective BBC website section. Certainly the Facebook page is mentioned more often that their own website.  This is even the case on mainstream full-on news shows like World Briefing – I'm not just talking about the techie shows like Digital Planet.

Why is this I wonder?  Is it that the BBC and others want to grab involvement from people without expecting them to leave the Facebook environment?  Is it the fact that all the Social Media functionality is already there working and available without any bandwidth issues?  Any ideas? And what does this mean for company's own domains and properties?

Social Media Expectations – Starhub and Resorts World Sentosa

Screen shot 2010-03-18 at 13.45.01

Resorts World Sentosa's Facebook Fan Page

I was asked to participate in a social media panel a month or so ago as part of a lecture course for INSEAD MBA students.  It was there last lecture on Social Media and I, along with 4 or so other people, were asked to field questions from the students.

In the couple of days leading up to the panel I had tried to engage with a couple of Singapore brands via Facebook and Twitter.  My opinion had always been up to that evening that if a brand was to have a Facebook or Twitter presence then I should rightly expect to receive an answer to any query or question I may have about their products or services within a day or so.  One of these brands was Starhub and I have had some quick and useful responses from them on genuine queries I have had. They have been very responsive over the last week on a specific issue (below)

Screen shot 2010-03-18 at 13.56.32

Some interaction with Starhub(cares)

However, on the days leading up to the panel I had asked Starhub a question and it had not been answered and I arrived at the panel venue all ready to huff and puff about this one incident. (Un)fortunately, there was a fellow panelist who worked for the agency that does a lot of work for Starhub including their twitter presence.  Anyway, I huffed and I puffed to the crowd including this guy when the opportunity arose about this one incident of no reply whilst trying to temper it with several mentions of good contact from them.

After the planel, I had the chance to speak with the guy from the agency – Vocanic (I can't remember his name – sorry) – and I got to asking myself whether or not it is indeed reasonable to expect an individually tailored reply to every query.  My benchmark has been heavily influenced by a 'campaign' I have been following from Resorts World Sentosa (top of post) who, without fail, have responded to every post and tweet I have directed at them even when it has been to simply acknowledge their excellent work. I still can't help scanning down their fan page to see if they routinely address every individual who has a question and I think that they do.  They kept doing this during some slightly turbulent times too when there was some negative chatter over the soft launch date and one or two other issues.

This is just one level of engagement I suppose and it's not far off what I have experienced with Starhub I suppose.  Indeed the one 'non-reply' from Starhub stuck out all the more because of their general consistency in responding to me.

My question is should we continue (if at all) to expect this individual service and response from organizations who choose to engage with us on Facebook and Twitter?  What should our expectations be? and how might those expectation change over the next couple of years.  I was listening to a guy on the BBC World Service this morning who clearly defined Social Media marketing as 'peer to peer' in distinguishing it from more traditional advertizing.  Maybe he still expects a personal responses but I wonder for how long he might get one…

Singapore Tweetup Update

Come and meet fellow Singaporean and Singapore-based Tweeters at
Singapore's first ever Tweetup. Ever wondered who really lies behind
that @name ? – well, come and find out! A great networking opportunity
and chance to make new friends.

There will be some free food and a great one-for-one drinks deal.

My thanks to Andrew Peters and to Geek terminal for helping organize and being so generous with their hosting.

See you all there!
Tweetup_sticker

All Are Welcome!!!!!

Date:
14 May 2009
Time:
19:00 – 21:00
Location:
Geek Terminal (Raffles Place MRT / Golden Shoe Car Park)
Street:
55 Market Street #01-01