All posts by Louise McGregor

I am the founder of Fantail Consultancy, created to help companies, NGOs and individuals improve their online presence. I've worked in digital at the intersection of communications, technology and business for more than a decade. And I'm still crazy about digital.

Instagram Stories

2015Aug InstagramStories

By now you’ve got Instagram stories on your Instagram account.

I’ve been playing with it and the results are fun, so far I’ve created a “documentary” of a Dutch summer (5 seconds of sunshine on my living room floor), and a progress report of a cup of coffee. Here are the basics on using Instagram stories.

My personal tips to add.

(1) Text is always white, so if your photo is very light it won’t show up, you can get around this by adding a bar of colour in the background. The pen function is always added behind the text, so you can add it before or after typing.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 17.09.08

(2) Stories disappear from the story bar after 24 hours, but if you share them to your Instagram timeline (or Facebook etc), they’ll stay in your feed forever.

(3) If you share video create in Stories to Instagram it will be cropped as a square in the middle of the screen. So if you’re planning to share make sure the action and any additions you’ve made are in the centre the screen.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 17.04.59

(4) You can upload photos, existing video, Boomerangs and Hyperlapses to Stories, just swipe down on your screen to reveal a gallery of content. Note it will only allow you to select content added in the last 24 hours, you can “trick” it into allowing older images by taking a screenshot of an old photo (for example).

(5) Engagement on Instagram Stories is pretty hard to measure. While the Story is live you can see comments (and respond), and see who has viewed it by clicking on the tally of viewers at the bottom of the screen.

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 10.55.04

Once the story disappears so do the comments, and so do the view numbers. If you need this data you’ll need to collect it manually BEFORE the story disappears.

If you share the Story to Instagram you will see the number of video views, but likes are not collected. You can look back through the feed under the heart button to count them, but that seems laborious.

(6) Audience is only your followers, and anyone who looks at your profile. Stories only works within the mobile app, there’s no search and no hashtag discovery. You could exploit this with a “follow us for exclusive stories” to build your audience.

Businesses Are Telling Stories

So far the stories I’ve seen have mostly been from individuals often  playing with adding stickers, text and drawing to the image. They’re playful, which makes sense given the ephemeral nature Instagram stories. Most brands aren’t active on Instagram stories, only one of Hubspot’s 16 best brands on Instagram boasts a Story on their account. Similarly only one of the 12 Best Brands on Snapchat (according to FastCompany) has taken to Instagram Stories so far.

But brands are getting into stories, from my Instagram feed it seems to be mostly travel brands but others have entered the fray;

  • GE, already used to snapchat, came up with a series on Volcanos
  • Wholefoods is making special offers on Instagram Stories
  • E!News uses Instagram Stories to promote, well, news stories

I’m looking forward to seeing what brands do with this new tool. What’s the best you’ve seen? What’s your story?

Images: Story  |  Rossyyume  |   CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Instagram of aquarium by MrMarttin, used with his kind permission

Chat; the New Web

2016 July Chat

In those heady early days of the web personal sites were the rage. Who can remember GeoCities? I had a book review site online back then, I don’t anyone read it – not even my mother. As the web became more prevalent and a commercial option personal sites were pushed to a fringe and later into blogs.

Then came social media, with the biggest platforms attracting millions of accounts (that’s Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter et al). Increasingly social media is being exploited by business and absorbed into communications and marketing teams as another channel. Random conversations are harder, and the troll element can make using the platforms a pretty horrible experience.

Along came messenger tools, with WhatsApp listed as the second biggest social network in some analyses.

Rise of Messenger

Which is great for individuals. But much harder for businesses to exploit, they have to automate responses and processes. For example you can order a Domino’s pizza via an emoji sent via FB messenger. What a world. But to do that you need to first set up your “favourite order” and payment info on a Domino’s account and connect it to your Facebook account. So there’s a process designed to get your pizza order out to you.

This is a simple transaction. It’s essentially a yes/no question you’re answering. Other uses of messenger and chat apps are more ambitious. My bank now offers support via chat, which is a brilliant idea, except that it’s all in Dutch… now my Dutch is OK for day to day things, but my spelling is pretty atrocious so I end up flicking between Google translate and the chat bot – the chat bot gets bored. (I am aware I have just ascribed a human emotional reaction to a piece of software).

Chat bots, the tools companies use to make messenger apps scalable, can only answer the questions in its data base; the “known knowns”.  Which means they can serve as a sort of “FAQ” service, which can be helpful to cost-cutting businesses but less so customers with complex questions. Which means that companies are looking to AI to broaden the range of solutions offered and make the responses smarter.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence is the ability of machines to learn and apply reasoning and from a geek perspective it’s exciting. Tech companies are competing to see who can pass the Turing Test. But it’s also a way for businesses to scale conversation, that essential element of human interaction could one day be done by machines.

The experiments in artificial intelligence are exciting and sometimes disturbing; Microsoft’s chatbot Tay was racist within a day. For something more fun, Project Murphy uses Skype and image swapping and watches your reaction to judge how well the match worked.

Most recently I found a website that is completely given over to a chat function. There is no other content at all, and you’re forced to engage, here’s the background.

So of course I tried it.

The engagement possibilities are limited, you’re clicking on a button to go forward, sometimes choosing between two options. It’s got some of the socialisation right, the humour in the interactions works and the Bear Bot cleverly waits a couple of interactions to ask my name. It’s a simple trust builder.

But then it goes a bit wrong. When asked a question I didn’t have enough space for a fully thoughtful response, and couldn’t edit it when I discovered the size limit.  Despite entering nonsense I earned “six fish” for my contribution and the thanks of the Bear Bot. This didn’t really increase my trust – pretty sure my contribution is not being “kept in mind” unless by that they mean “saved on a server somewhere”.

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 10.34.05I kept going. But I don’t get to talk in this chatbot, I’m once again a passive consumer of the information chosen for me. And then suddenly there’s a suggestion of inviting someone else into the conversation. That someone is Oliver Reichenstein, he’s kinda a big deal in user design, here’s an interview where he talks about some of his ideas.
Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 10.36.24

I said no and earnt zero fish for that answer.

But seriously was Oliver there? It seems a poor way for him to spend his valuable time.

Overall the experience of the website as a chat was disappointing.  It seems to be pitched as a way for me to discover information – I was given one interesting link early in the conversation but I’d have found the information faster with a simple search. The interaction feels regressive, most of the time I was given one or two choices, like e-Learning in the 90s. I’d enjoy the interaction on an old-fashioned discussion forum more – if you find the right group the interaction and expertise are awesome.

Having said that I do appreciate that the company is trying something new, I’m curious to see how their experiment evolves.

In Conclusion

Chatbots are useful, they may even be able to support us on more open tasks that deal with the “known knowns” using strong databases, good process design and AI.

But until we pass the Turing Test conversation and interaction will not really scale.

Socialise This

SocialiseThisIf someone suggests socialising I think of convivial chat, with chardonnay and canapés. It’s pretty close the dictionary definition. But there’s another possible use, or rather two uses.

One I heard from a colleague who works in Internal Communications. For them “socialise this” means to gather feedback on a proposal or draft from a representative group, and to do so informally, either one-on-one or small groups.  I can understand this use, I think referring to it as “socialising” is an attempt to emphasis a low-key, informal approach.

Another use is to publish to social media. Particularly as many of the companies I’ve been talking to are now putting their social media management under communications and out of digital teams. In many instances social media is becoming another marketing/advertising channel rather than a community. So we already have a perfectly good word for the action of placing a piece of content online; publish.

 

Image: MSc in Air Transport Event Networking  |  Cranfield University  |  CC BY-ND 2.0

Happy Birthday Mr President

HappyBirthday

I steer clear of politics on this blog and I’m not about to wade into the US presidential election now, except to say… I’m going to miss this president. From the world of digital I can state that it makes a huge difference to have a leader who understands the importance of digital and supports its development. That doesn’t mean they have to be expert in all aspects of digital themselves, but they need to be able to assemble experts and believe them.

Barack Obama used social in his election campaigns and built teams of young, highly skilled experts who used both the democratising potential of social media and the data analytics to develop and improve their campaign.

Once in the White House he’s built a digital team and improved their visible presence online and opened up digital communication – very much a digital coming of age.

He’s taken the stage at SXSW, where he spoke about the importance of technology and digital;

So with Obama leaving who replaces him? Which world leader has an understanding of technology and digital and the courage to lead in a digital world? Well, Justin Trudeau can understand quantum computing, and explain it to a room of reporters. I have some hope for the Canadians.

In the meantime, Happy Birthday Mr President.

Image: IMG_0791 |  Yaniv Yaakubovich  |  CC BY ND 2.0

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble

Disrupted

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble

Dan Lyons

Dan Lyons, a journalist with a respectable career covering technology accidentally started working at a start up. He finds a lack of transparency on decision making, a dysfunctional culture and some serious time-wasting; it’s depressing until he realises that it’s great source material and recasts himself as a cultural anthropologist. The result is this book.

Lyons has form for subversive writing, he was the writer behind the Fake Steve Jobs blog. In Disrupted he covers his own motivation for joining a startup; financial and curiosity – but mostly financial. He tried to pitch good ideas, and tried to understand what he was working with. Most of the book is his memoir of the year and he’s funny about his time at Hubspot, he takes shots at the company including the paradox of a company supposedly dedicated to automating sales having a high pressure telephone sales team. He explains the drive for growth and connects it back to the venture capital.
financial instrument

Disrupted covers the economic downside of the startup/digital industry with a personal perspective, fantastic wit and a healthy irreverence. He has the highly evolved bullshit meter of a journalist. I think reading this made it easier for me to digest and comprehend the more theoretical discussion in Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, which I read at roughly the same time.

It’s an entertaining book, with interesting commentary on the startup industry, and he adds his voice to the call for more diversity across the digital world. You can read an excerpt of the book on Fortune – it’ll give you a feeling for his year at Hubspot and a taste of the humour of the book. Reading the excerpt was enough for me to want to buy the book.

Productivity in 10 Minutes

Productivity in 10 Minutes

Here are some things that you can do to improve your productivity, each step will take 10 minutes or less.

(1) Find out where you waste time

RescueTime is an application that tracks which sites and apps you go to. You can set it up on all your devices and really track your distractions. Initial set up takes five minutes, but you’re probably going to need to fine tune the settings later.

Quick and Dirty solution; check the sites you visit the most from your browsers default page. If these aren’t your most productive sites you need to change your behaviour.

(2) Avoid distractions

StayFocused is a Chrome extension that will block your distraction websites for a set period of time. Wordpress offers a distraction free writing mode, and there are lots of other tools out there to create a distraction free work screen.

Quick and Dirty Solution; I use two browsers, I have all my work stuff set up in Chrome (across multiple devices) and all my “fun stuff” set up in Firefox. In work time I stay in Chrome.

(3) Plan and monitor tasks

There are loads of diaries on the market, and this range of free tools. There are as many theories as there are tools. I’ve tried lots of different online options, but I come back to a paper-based checklist. I break the checklist up by project, and then add tasks to my (online) calendar as timed appointments. It’s the planning the tasks into my calendar that is key.

Quick and Dirty Solution; I use a chrome add on that can time activities and add it back into the calendar – you can see it in more detail in an earlier post.

(4) Use the small moments

When you’re really busy there always feels like so much to do and any time spent waiting feels wasteful. Here are seven ways to use those gaps of a few minutes to improve your productivity.  The article offers long term and short term fixes – spoiler alert I’m working on the long term solution for #7 in the coming weeks.

(5) Evaluate the value of what you do.

As Peter Drucker said.

productivity quote

But that might take you more than 10 minutes to solve.

Image: Hour Glass  |Chris Zúniga  |  CC BY-NC 2.0

Still  |  Hendrik van Leeuwen  |  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

10 Books to Read on your Summer Break

The Great Summer Reading List

It’s time to run away on your summer break, finally you’ll get time to read, what should you pick?

Leadership

(1) I will be reading Leadership BS, by Jeffrey Pfeffer. Which promises some ways of rethinking leadership.

(2) If you’re trying to re-think how you manage your team, then Why Work Sucks will take you through the concepts of a results only work environment – there are things there you can implement when you get back from summer.

(3) Your own leadership style comes out of your own attitudes The Art of Possibility is my favourite book to focus on personal leadership.

Innovation

(4) I’ll be reading How to Fly a Horse: The Secret of Creation, Invention and Discovery, a refreshing look at creativity.

Business

(5) I’ll be reading Industries of the Future, by Alec Ross. It seems to be a mashup of predicting trends and business applications.

(6) I want to read Phishing for Phools, reviews vary with some economists deriding it and some business people applauding it.

(7) The last business book I read (and reviewed) was Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, which challenges our current monetary system and looks at some alternative models for the future of business.

Biography

(8) I want to read the biography of Elon Musk, although I usually am wary of biographies of living people. Musk is such a fascinating entrepreneur for me, he seems driven to solve the world’s challenges as opposed to building a better widget.

Personal Effectiveness

(9) I want to read The Happiness Track, I’ve thought a lot about the way we work and the demands we put on ourselves. I’m hoping this book challenges the ideas behind our current cultural definition of success.

Fiction

(10) If you’re more into fiction – I’m halfway through The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes, one of my favourite writers. The BBC has a list of ten books to read that’s making me itch for a bookstore trip.

Happy reading and happy summer.

Image: Summer Read  |  LWYang  |  CC BY 2.0

Circle Back

Circle Back

I must have looked puzzled, my colleague stopped trying to explain to me and said; “Let’s circle back on this”.

Circle back. It’s not a new term, I can find references to it online from 2009. But this was the first time I’d heard it in the wild.

He could have as easily said “let’s talk about this next week”, with the same meaning. But not quite the same feel or tone.

The Urban Dictionary gives the definition of “circle back” as

Middle-management buzzword for the need to discuss an issue at a later time.

 CNBC’s definition is a little more pejorative and includes a quote

It usually means we just had a meeting where nothing was accomplished, and we need to ‘circle back’ to have another pointless meeting,

I doubt my colleague was trying to make such a strong point, the sense I had was more “we can’t answer this now, let’s agree to do the research and see if we can answer it when we meet next week”.

Image: Light Circle  |  Louise McGregor  |  CC BY 2.0

Book of the Month: Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus

Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus

Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus

Douglas Rushkoff

Like many people I tend to use the products of the digital revolution more easily than I think about the economics of it. I see the astonishing figures of acquisition value for companies that have yet to make a profit and something seems odd – but I’ve never sat down and examined what. I suspect I’m not alone in this. Rushkoff’s book examines the financial industry, particularly around digital startups to show us just what is wrong with our economy, and offers the beginnings of some solutions.

The main  argument are that our existing economy is set up to serve constant growth, and the wealth generated in that economy accrues to a minority at the top, leaving the majority worse off.

BOTM Googlebus quote1

The book begins with a discussion of an unusual protest; local residences of San Francisco’s Mission District lay down on the street in front of some of the Google buses that were used to ferry employees from their homes to the Google campus. This is a symptom of the dysfunctional economy.

Growth

We have all bought into the growth myth; we need and deserve more – in financial reward for our work, the size of our homes, the shininess of our possessions or the pool of money for our pension. But in nature things grow to maturity and then stop growing, they reach a size that’s appropriate for their physical limits and their ecosystem. An oak tree doesn’t keep growing, it maintains itself over time, growing new leaves each year, but the size remains more or less constant.

Companies have a growth imperative, the market expects growth in their market capitalisation to give investors a return. Which is why the market gets excited about huge audiences on Pokemon Go, and gets jittery when Apple iPhone sales stagnate.

In the theories of business that I learnt in business school a company had to manage multiple stakeholders and keep them all happy to ensure long term success. Put simply a company must keep employees well-trained and motivated to make customers happy, ensuring income for the company to return to investors over a longer term. Stakeholder theory says that the needs of all three must be kept in balance and that neglecting the needs of one will affect the other two.

Rushkoff explains that in today’s market there are relatively few investors in the sense of people wanting to own a piece of a company and be vested in its success. Instead the market is full of traders, those who trade shares amongst themselves and might never know what the company makes or what is on its balance sheet. The most advanced of these is using sophisticated technology and complex algorithms and trading on minute shifts in share price. This trading is done digitally, using microseconds of difference in share price enabled by digital, and the activity is so removed from actual business activity according Rushkoff, that it is creating a distorted market.

The startup economy takes all this to the next level, it effectively gamifies investment.

Startup Economy

In the start up economy it’s venture capitalists doing the investing, and they are not interested in the long term profitability of your company, they’re looking for a maximum return “on exit”, which is either your company being acquired by a larger company or an IPO. Here’s a simple breakdown of how the funding works and the share of return at the IPO stage. Venture Capitalists invest significant amounts in multiple startups and expect some to fail. Conversely the ones that succeed need to do very, very well.

The drive for high valuations of startups is less about the net present value of the company, and more about the expectations of the venture capitalists. The VCs expect a return on their investment not of percentage points, like a traditional investor, but in multiples.

History of Money

Rushkoff points out that it wasn’t always this way. In simpler times we bartered our goods directly, and then as trading grew in the bazaar towns developed a form of script allowing more exchanges. Quality was ensured by a set of guilds who could control a trade. As the bazaar emerged Europe enjoyed rapid economic expansion. However, he suggests, the nobility feared losing their system of value creation, as feudalism broke down, and instituted measures to limit or eliminate local currencies.

The discussion of the changes in how money functioned in the past points to ways that it could function in the future.

Potential Solutions

Money has two functions, measuring accumulated assets and transactional, the system we have now works far better for the former function and not that well for the second. Solutions revolve around changing the currency system in various ways.

  1. Local currency; eg the Massachusetts Berkshares
  2. Free money; eg; the Worgl currency
  3. Cooperative currencies; eg; Fureai Kippu
  4. Local bank; reforming banking to enable local investment
  5. Crypto currency; eg Bitcoin, which frees up money for transactions.

Rushkoff also points to some different models of business building, where businesses are established specifically not to grow – or at least not to grow beyond their chartered purpose. He asks that new entrepreneurs think of more in the stakeholder model that delivers long term sustainable growth.

You can see a discussion of the book at the Commonwealth Club;

The book explains all the history and the theory very clearly, I think it’s a must read for digital professionals, economists and those with an interest in sustainability or social justice. There are plenty of examples throughout the book – most real and a few hypothetical. The book answered a lot of my “how does that work?” economic questions, but also made me curious at how do we solve this for ourselves and for future generations.

I look at the overwhelming wall of opposition, the “vested interests” and the conflicted interests – after all even as I see the sense of this revolution I am relying on the growth of investments to pay for my future, and the solutions offered seem too small and too vulnerable. For real change it will take government regulation to change, in the meantime I’ll look for alternative models that I can employ today.

Mobile Customer Journey


J
ust stop presenting desktop sites to mobile users.

The use of mobile phones has risen and for some uses has overtaken the use of a desktop. Companies have taken advantage of this in a big way, including online retailers. I’ve produced and translated screen captures to demonstrate the issue.

Firstly I received an SMS, telling me I could, via a link, choose a delivery time.

Just Stop It SMS
I clicked on the link and got a internet site with all my order information displayed and the proposed time of between 8am and 10pm. Well as I’d like to leave the house sometime during the day I clicked on the link to change the appointment, and here’s where it went a bit wrong…

Just Stop It… because a new page opened that was impossible to read.

Just Stop ItI could stretch the screen and make the change I needed (delivery between 9am and 1pm).

If you’re using mobile for customer service – particularly if you’re directing customers to use mobile – you need to make sure that the whole experience works on mobile. Just stop thinking it’s OK to expect customers to navigate desktop sites on a mobile screen.

garden - 1
Postscript; my order was delivered at 12.53, and set up in my terrace garden half an hour later. 

 

 

Image:  Stop  |  Kenny Louie  |  CC BY 2.0