I keep meaning to contribute more to this (our) blog. Perhaps Twitter has made a full blog article feel too daunting. And yet 140 characters doesn’t give enough room to properly vent a view.
So I’m experimenting with a format somewhere between a blog and a tweet (a bleet - cue goat image) to catch up with various things I’ve been meaning to write about recently.
Let me know your thoughts on my thoughts and perhaps I can expand on any bleet you feel deserves it. In no particular order…
1. I welcome the death of ‘social media’
I mean the term ‘social media’. It has been annoying me almost since its inception. Like ‘Web 2.0’ I hope it goes away some time soon. For starters it is way too vague. Are we talking about online communities or social networking (they’re very different)? Are we talking about social media for search, for content, for advertising, for commerce, for customer service, for reputation, etc. (they too are all very different)?
But more than its too-vague-to-be-useful semantic challenges, my main annoyance at the term is that it suggests that this is something new, some great new discovery. But the internet has always been a social medium, an interconnected network. And humanity itself, and all of us, have always been social beings.
My children have never uttered the term ‘social media’ and I’d be amazed if they ever did. It just is what it is. Like ‘mobile’ for that matter… but that’s a bleet for another day.
2. I’m as fond of APIs, platforms and atomisation as the next man, but I’d urge extreme caution in risking your entire business on something not really in your control
Anyone who’s heard me speak over the years has probably heard me get excited about things like ‘atomisation’, ‘federated commerce’, ‘APIs’ and the like. And it is very exciting that you can now create businesses out of the building blocks (data, APIs, web services, widgets etc.) that others have created for you. But I do worry (as a business owner myself) about the dangers of having a business where critical components are not only not owned by you, but are barely even controlled by you.
Using a platform like WordPress – that’s fine. That you can swap out if needs be. It’s not a business-critical asset. But now I hear businesses talking about how smart they are, for example, in transitioning their entire customer base to, say, LinkedIn. Or businesses that are completely at the mercy of Facebook. Or companies who seem happy for Apple to own their customers (think iPad…). Or whose future success and business model is entirely predicated on the assumption that a particular web service or tool that they are using will continue to a) be free b) be owned by the same people and c) be available at all.
3. There will be a backlash against YouTube
Not from a consumer point of view, but from a business point of view. And probably not the kinds of businesses who just want ‘brand awareness / reach etc’ but those who want sales and ‘hard’ ROI.
Currently businesses are merrily creating channels on YouTube and uploading their video assets. There are two main reasons for this: 1. ‘Go where the audience is’ i.e. they’ll get more views on YouTube than they would on their own site and 2. They’re (understandably) wary of the technical challenges around the video player, encoding, streaming etc., and YouTube makes that pain go away and they can then just embed the video on their sites. The latter argument ultimately is just a bit lazy of course.
But ultimately what these companies want is traffic to *their* site, usually to sell stuff. And I don’t hear great things about clickthroughs from YouTube videos to a destination site (various reasons for this). And there’s little evidence these video postings would help your own site’s search rankings – actually… who ranks when you search? YouTube does, with your video. So you’re creating video, putting it on someone else’s site, which gets the traffic and the search rankings and you get… ‘views’? Google is certainly doing well out of this. Are you? I think we’ll see more businesses taking ownership of ‘video’ back to their own sites.
4. There’s money to be made in filtering
There was a craze for ‘filtering’ a while back. Remember Peter Gabriel’s The Filter (doesn’t look like much is happening there...)? Remember ‘vertical search’ engines? In the end it felt like most of these ideas either a) didn’t have a viable business model (who’s actually going to pay for this amazing filtering?!) or b) Google would soon eat their lunch or at least provide a good enough search experience that you couldn’t be bothered to use said marvellous filtering service.
But filtering is making a comeback. Mostly in B2B services. And, actually, mostly it is humans doing the filtering. We (Econsultancy) are currently getting more and more paid work to, essentially, filter in or out (digital marketing / e-commerce) content for large companies. We are using our (human) editorial expertise to provide content ‘curation’ services to businesses that have neither the skills, time, nor inclination to do it themselves. And often the actual content itself is free. The value is in the filtering and the packaging.
Knowledge, time, contacts… they all have a lot of value and I’m now seeing successful business models emerging that the connected nature of online greatly facilitates. Take the emerging sector of ‘expert networks’ for example. Look at the Gerson Lehrman Group – I’m told it generates $300m+ a year by matching people with questions with people with answers. Hello Yahoo! Answers… Google Answers… Mechanical Turk etc….
5. The battle in the boardroom has been won. Now it is all about execution.
It wasn’t so long ago (maybe two years ago) that many board directors remained a little unconvinced or wary of this whole ‘digital’ thing. They’d seen the dotcom crash and breathed a sigh of relief. We’d talk to Heads of E-commerce, Digital Marketing Directors, eBusiness Directors (or whatever they are called) and they’d tell us about their continued efforts to ‘make the business case’ for investing in online.
I’d say those days are over. That’s not to say that all these board folk actually *understand* much about digital but they are at least behind it now. You’d think this would be good news for the Heads of Digital types? It is in as much as they have the budget and the remit to get on with it. But there are also now extreme (and sometimes unrealistic) expectations placed on ‘digital’ – often to save the business completely. Now the complaints we hear from the digital bods are about (people) resources, about target pressures, about the lack of time, about unrealistic expectations around how fast they can make things happen, about the board pushing them to ‘do social media / create an iPhone app’ when they haven’t actually even got some other basics sorted first.
It’s now not about ‘if’ or ‘why’ businesses should commit to digital. It’s about *how* and *how fast* they can transform into more digital businesses. And this is mostly about people, about skills and capabilities, about internal education. Guess that’s why we’re so busy with custom training programs… (sorry, couldn’t resist the plug).
6. Google has won the SEO battle
And that’s a good thing. All along Google have been trying to tell people ‘focus on your customers, do a great job, create great content etc.’ and your search rankings will follow. Don’t waste time trying to game the system. It’s Google’s job to fine tune their algorithm so it rewards the right sites. In the ‘early days’ (five or so years ago now) it was easy to game the system with on page optimisation (title tags, a touch of keyword stuffing etc.) so, fair enough, why not. It became harder to game the system as off page optimisation became more important (but you could still buy links and get away with it). Now there are so many factors (semantic, geolocation, personalisation, social, behavioural etc) and signals that Google can use (including *offline* ones) that it’s just not worth playing the game. Google has won.
Furthermore, not only is it commercially just too dangerous to try and game Google (excommunication from the index is commercial death) but it also just doesn’t work well enough to bother trying. You could invest all that time, effort and money in creating a better site, with better content, with better customer service, and an overall better proposition. Then everyone’s happy, including Google. Now that’s what I call SEO…
7. Google’s probably not out to cut out the “middlemen”, but it will anyway.
By “middlemen” I mean any site which sits between the searcher and the destination. So, usually, publishers, affiliates, (shopping) comparison sites etc. I doubt Google is specifically out to do these lot out of business for commercial reasons but they *are* out to a) optimise the searcher’s experience and b) “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful”. So, if they can do a better job of “b)” than an intermediary can, and, let’s face it, they probably can, then I’m afraid these intermediaries are doomed in the long term. Just read up on Google’s recent ITA purchase in the travel sector – says it all really. I see no reason why this thinking won’t be applied to all sectors in time by the Big G.
Which is why, in my opinion, the likes of uSwitch.com and MoneySupermarket.com a) floated/sold out just in time and b) are now forced to try and create a ‘destination brand’ by, somewhat ironically, spending loads on TV advertising.
If you’re part of a customer journey which starts with Google and ends with someone else… I’d be a little worried.
8. The ‘Open vs. Closed’ debate?
I vote open. I hate the fact that I have a single ‘master’ version of iTunes that’s installed on a single physical device (computer at work). That’s just crazy. Android + Chrome… coming to every device (most obviously phones, but perhaps more interestingly your TV) very soon.