Friday, 28 February 2014

Digital Marketing and Social Media - repositioning ... so take note

There are many moans when someone mentions that the marketing bods want to get involved in designing the digital offerings of a company, not least from the developers who may well be contracted to do the job. Marketeers are pushy. They have strong self-belief. They make demands. They use stats that are hard to undermine. They talk in terms of the consumers and business returns. They have wide-ranging influence as stakeholders. They stir up the politics in a company. They make the job harder.

Well, some of those things are difficult pills to swallow but marketeers do try to understand their consumers' behaviour for the sake of the business, so they can actually act in your favour too.

We all recognise that the digital landscape has evolved dramatically since it went business mainstream through the Net. Now we have to take into account social media, mobile devices and types of use and user. The new landscape has affected delivery methods as mentioned last week. But how to tune those delivery methods to suit the emerging consumer use – now that's what marketeers see as part of their job.

Stuart Crow in B2B marketing in 2014: Predictions Marketure (31st Jan 2014), may make you quake. He summarises five trends he sees as affecting the digital landscape for the rest of the year.
  1. Agile Marketing Now this seems to advocate very fast design to be responsive without planning. Failure but cheap failure appears to be acceptable.
  2. SEO is dead: Long live the content king Search Engine Optimisation becomes Search EXPERIENCE Optimisation. He cites the changes in Google search techniques, where keywords and links are no longer used as measures for ranking but relevance to topic and not back-linking are rated more, as indicators of content becoming important.
  3. One to unite them all This looks at the trend of digital analytics companies buying up competitors to create a single source for analytics. This consolidation practice usually means that the segment of the market is maturing enough for bigger players to emerge. How do you get your analytics now and what will happen in the near future? This gerrymandering may have strong consequences.
  4. Content will do some serious harm to some B2B brands Consumers have demands now in relation to the amount and relevance of content they sign up to. Those that get this wrong will fall.
  5. Unresponsive=Untenable This echoes last week’s blog here about responsive design. Business has to address the plethora of devices used and in the manner that is suitable for their use.
Stuart is canny enough to then tell you not to trust the experts (meaning his comments), but it'll be good to see if they emerge as important and for us to consider them in the light they are given. He doesn't cover social media as such and so we'll point you to some other sites that do.

Social Media guidelines and principles for digital use are now common. They have been drafted in response to the worry that social media is unregulated and can, and has been, used negatively as well as positively. Are you having to take note of your clients' social media guidelines of use yet? Do you as a company have such guidelines? A useful starting point might be Dan Thornton’s compilation of the Best Business Social Media Guidelines (7th Feb 2014), so you know what might hit you.

This use and user focus is not going to go away. We ignore it at our peril. However, there's so much going on and at such a pace, that you won't be able to get everything right for the moving market. You'll need to adjust and make your digital applications quickly adjustable too. Maybe Stuart's epithet, 'unresponsive=untenable' can have wider meaning in our context.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Listen to the grapevine – what your clients/consumers don't want!

With the rapid expansion of the mobile device market, your consumer needs have changed. Many people use their mobile devices to do some research about products and services online. Then they might follow up with more targeted research on their computers ... or not.

Decisions on the go characterise today's society, for better or worse. But that's the reality. Although iMedia people recognise that the screen size of smart phones and tablets define different needs of functionality and use, they are not always appreciating that their increasing use may cause a rethink of web use – a back-wash effect. Now if you're not aware of this, your clients may not be either. Are you complacent in your redesigns for them? Do you need to think about the interconnection of types of use between devices? Do they need to be aware and receptive to possible emerging changes?

Often it is good to take a step back and evaluate what is happening. It's easy to become too bound up with the moment by moment push within your projects. A very good way to take stock is to listen to the gripes. They'll make you rethink to avoid listening first-hand to them. So, what's on the grapevine at the moment?

Designing across devices to allow resizing of content for screen size and orientation (Responsive Web Design (RWD)) is current but brings its own problems particularly with testing, as Steve Jenkins in The Three Pillars of Responsive Design (7.2.14), notes.

Are you guilty of secret number two as defined by Rhys Little in Four Secrets to Modern Web Design that Agencies Won’t Tell You (27.1.14). Do you push your own specialism because that gives you work? He notes that an agency needs to be thinking strategically, but where's the awareness we're advocating about use across devices? He makes good points for web design that may well may be valid. How do they stand when the digital mix is involved?

But, the strongest set of don'ts for design we came across are heartfelt and ring true. Owen Radford in, The Top 7 Mobile Sins (5.2.14), makes you think long and hard about the effect of some design features on mobile devices. He lists seven sins; getting the size wrong, irrelevant landing page, unclearable pop-ups, re-direct hell, prompt for your app, going direct to the app store, and 'I forgot how to scroll/I want to constantly reload some small element of the page'.

Criticisms can help design get better if you take them in the spirit they are offered. Do you compile a list of criticisms of your projects in your company to focus the design teams on improving? Maybe that’s a good place to start.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Shut up and code

You'll have been on a desert island if you haven't seen something of the flak surrounding the UK government's initiative to introduce programming into the school curriculum: the Year of Code. Rory CJ on the BBC web site, gives a good background to what's been going on including such hot topics as whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes for a good front man on the web site and whether the admission by the project's head that she does not know how to code herself is actually an issue. I'm not going to retread that flooded pasture here but I do have some thoughts.

There's a whole generation of programmers, mostly games, who grew up with the 1980s BBC Computer Literacy Project. At this time the UK government subsidised hardware for schools, with the famed BBC Micro and computers from Sinclair and Research Machines being the choice. RM is still going and still in education.

The idea was just like the one espoused by the Year of Code: how do computers work and how do you make them work?, rather than the usually disparaging comments about being taught to use Powerpoint. It worked then and so could well work now.

Is programming (now apparently called coding) on a par with being able to read, write and 'do maths'? In the old project, much was made of teaching BASIC but that would be totally inappropriate now and in any event the really keen people got into the guts of the computers and wrote in machine code. You could teach something like Objective C, so pupils can program apps for their phones, but would that be useful in the long term? Perhaps there should be an emphasis on task analysis and algorithms. Great as a way of abstracting the learning from current technology but, I have to admit, probably not much fun; and you do learn more by doing something useful rather than working with abstractions. Plus, learning how to write any kind of computer program, from machine code to (even) HTML and CSS, teaches you to think logically. The computer is a very fast, literal idiot. It only does what you tell it and the skill is in telling it the right thing.

Back in the Computer Literacy Project days I was asked what a computer could do and I responded by saying that it's rather like a pencil. It's not what it does ... it's what you do with it that matters. Don't underestimate the potential here - it could make or break the UK for the future.

The final question may actually be the most important. It is not just what you teach, it is how will the content be structured, presented, and assessed and over what period: and just who is there to do this?

[Later] More views in this interesting article in Computer Weekly.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Taking stock of the interactive media industry

For those who have followed us over time, it will come as no surprise that we see that iMedia is still evading recognition as an industry in its own right. Do you see yourself fitting in to the traditional industries of media, technology or telecommunications, for example? iMedia's skills, its impact on the economy, its recruitment concerns, its lack of funding, its educational challenges across all levels of traditional education and its needs, are subsumed into traditional industry definitions in a devastating fragmented chaos.

While iMedia used to be a niche within each traditional industry and given some token attention for innovation, technology changing business models and so on, now it is mainstream in each area but it still hasn't gained collective understanding and rating. The penny hasn't dropped. They haven't joined the dots. They still can't see the woods for the trees. Unfortunately this seems to be true for those responsible for top level strategic research - and not only in the UK.

So, where are we now? Well, KPMG seem to have many of the dots right (literally) with a great infographic on the state of technologies for today and tomorrow that surprisingly isn't industry bound. This really is worth a look whether you follow any of the other links in this blog or not. It is worth a deep look, especially as you can contribute to its polling.

Back to that industry niggle, then. Prompted by KPMG's report into how fast the UK job market is moving in January 2014 and the consequences on skills shortages for the up-gearing, Report on jobs – strong growth of staff placements continues in January’, we took a look at how they are evaluating their definitions of the media, technology and telecommunications sectors. Guess what? They have recognised how pervading digital developments are for each. We direct you specifically to the following KPMG pages out of the three respective sectors:
The skills shortage for iMedia has been apparent for many years. We've relied on reactionary youths who have tended to go out on their own to get experience of emerging digital environments. We've ignored traditional attributes/qualifications, set our own tests and standards for recruitment, built up skills through mentoring while fire-fighting innovatory digital demands, and generally re-skilled to suit the workload and clients. Sound familiar? But, enter some sobering thoughts from David Knight, again from KPMG, with The Silver Lining.

The premise here is that the skills shortage is so bad in the UK that the attitude towards more mature people might have to change. They have been a skilled but wasted resource and they'd like to continue working because of the changing pension reality. Do they have skills that can be repurposed for iMedia? Perhaps the contract mentality that drove iMedia at the initial stages might suit? Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Can we learn anything from their knowledge and experience? This would certainly be a major challenge for iMedia when anyone past 35 is seen as past it. Food for thought indeed.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Copyright is ... what? Answers required by Europe.

Copyright is definitely a difficult subject. It's part of a range of intellectual properties and protects your creativity in art, literature, music, photography and such like. It started with literature and music and added new technological things like photographs, sound recordings and movies over time. Other kinds of intellectual properties include designs (for physical objects such as a chair), patents (for processes such as making a new and novel kind of chair), trade marks (such as the chair on the chair-maker's logo) and good will (such as their reputation for making the best chairs). We have just over three hundred years of copyright law trying to keep pace with technological change.

In what seems an attempt to hasten the pace of change the European Commission asked back at the start of December for answers to questions on copyright for Europe with an original deadline of February 5th which was later extended to March 5th. The Europa web page is here. The thought that the Commission want to re-open a broad debate on the European copyright directive is somewhat disconcerting to many; mainly because the directive itself is relatively recent (2001) and took five years to pull together. However, in the intervening thirteen years we've seen an explosion of consumer re-purposing and combining of audiovisual stuff (known as remixing) and widespread web publishing of text, images and even video by consumers.

The key point about intellectual property is that legally (in English law) it is seen as property and the rights holder - who could be the creator or could be someone delegated by the creator - has the right to control how their creative work is used. Now, while no-one would or could take my car and blend it with a cement mixer to produce a new art form without destroying the original, they could do that with some of my photographs. Should this be possible without my permission? That Victorian pastime of cutting out images you liked and pasting them into a scrapbook is strictly illegal if you do it on a computer, and becomes especially contentious if you then publish the result. See ... not simple.

Into the fray launch two web sites, both from 'Copyright is Broken' pressure groups. Fix Copyright! and This side of the copyright debate suggests that intellectual property law needs to be knocked down and rebuilt from scratch. This is to better balance the rights of creators and consumers (or, as Fix Copyright put it: "public interest in access to knowledge, culture and education".) You note your scope of interest and the sites lead you to the appropriate parts of the 80 question document from the Commission and offer help for your answers. The hints don't show a significant bias one way or the other and will genuinely help you navigate a convoluted form. That said, you are asked about problems you have had rather than positive experiences, which would tend to steer you away from reporting 'no problem' and lead to generally negative responses. The EU form itself has 'no' and 'no opinion' as alternative answers but it too seems biased towards bad experiences.

So, if you want to use either of these web sites to produce a response, please think as broadly as you can about the issues. Or, even better, use the EU form itself. There is now a further month to do so.

As far as I know, organisations representing creators such as writers, musicians and photographers and those representing the conventional public-facing side of copyright such as record companies and book publishers, have not produced any guides to dealing with this form, even though there is general concern about the risks to the creative industries if 'tried and tested' mechanisms for copyright law are shaken about.

Intellectual property law should strike a balance between the rights of the creator and the consumer (noting that consumers and creators can be the same person), but should that always be a strictly equal balance? Should there not be a bias towards the creator because it is the creator who initiates the whole process and everything else derives from that?