The Twitter backlash begins: Welcome to a world of pain and spam

A couple of days ago, Hugh quit Twitter to work on writing his book. Now I’m considering quitting Twitter, but nobody’s signed me up for a book.

The reason? Spam, spam, eggs, bacon and spam. Well, without the eggs or the bacon. The sheer volume of new followers I’m getting these days who are blatantly spammers is getting increasingly frustrating. Sure, I can block them one by one, or simply ignore them, but if Twitter could implement a “flag as spam” a la Blogspot, then we could help each other and avoid 10,000 other users getting the same spammy follower message.

Such a pain, Twitter spam takes over my inbox

To add to the frustration, a friend pointed out that spam followers could very well use your RSS feed to create random copy for spam emails or blog comments in the future. I haven’t come across it yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s already happening.

I guess for now, the less drastic route for me to take will be to create a rule where all notifications of new followers will go straight into a mark-as-read folder. It won’t solve the problem that my feed could end up as spam material for some unscrupulous asshole out there, but it’ll have to do for now.

What this means is that if you start following me and you want to have a conversation, you’ll need to send me a message @vero for me to react and add you as well. Crappy, but it’s the best solution I can think of.

Anyone got a better idea?

Ofcom says yes on more TV ads

I’m disgusted to find out that Ofcom is about to allow more advertising on commercial television channels in the UK. Somehow, in response to people using more personal video recorders like Sky Plus, Ofcom’s been fooled in believing that the answer is to slap on some more ad minutes into every show.

The geekier masses have migrated towards online sources for entertainment, and I’ve got a feeling that if UK television is heading the same way as American shows, crammed with obnoxious and imposing ads, more Brits will start relying on Joost, Bittorrent, iTunes podcasts and other services.

The advertising industry is so sick, all the way to the core, I don’t think it’ll ever recover. If you agree that this new suggested ruling, allowing more ad breaks, should be stopped, please let your comments be heard by Ofcom, do it now, and pass it on to others around you!

SXSWi 2008: "Self-Replicating Awesomeness: The Marketing of No Marketing" panel notes

For this panel, I ditched the laptop and only used pen and paper so my notes are less than clear. In fact, I’m lucky if I can read my own handwriting, but the highlights for me were finally meeting the lovely Tara Hunt, a fellow Canadian expat and inspirational blogger.

My notes might be a bit garbled but sue me, I was too busy listening.

“Self-Replicating Awesomeness: The Marketing of No Marketing” panel notes
Panel: Deborah Schultz, Chris Heuer, Jeremiah Owyang, Tara Hunt, Hugh McLeod, David Parmet
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Links of the week: Media, marketing & brand in today's world

In the past few days, I’ve read some genuinely interesting articles which I’ve been meaning to blog, but to avoid stale blog entries in my drafts, I’ll just share the links and let you read on.

Want more? Why not subscribe to my Shared Items in Google Reader?

Blog Topic Challenge: "Write about your job"

As first entry for my infamous Blog Topic Challenge, I thought I’d begin with an elementary and logical first step.

James Whatley, SpinVox blogger and great friend of mine, suggested that I should “write about your job and everyone you have ever met in your niche industry…” Great suggestion, but there are just too many awesome people I’ve met so I’ll split this into two entries, concentrating on the “write about your job” part first. LogoFrom one day to the next, I wear many hats… and wigs… and tiaras. By daylight, I’m part of a great team at Taptu. It’s my first time taking part in the early days of a startup and I’m really enjoying it. There are new challenges every day, which is a refreshing change from previous jobs where tasks were repetitive to say the least (could YOU spend 52 weeks a year sending email newsletters that always say the same thing? I couldn’t.)

These days, there’s blogging, attending events, handling search engine optimisation (which I love), researching new ideas for the search engine, speaking to our mobile search users as well as our Facebook app users to get their feedback (which I love even more!) and planning future super-secret projects which I can’t tell you about yet… unless you ply me with shiny gadgets, at which point I might just crack. Or not. (But you can offer me shiny gadgets anyways!) 😉

My job also entails making copious amounts of coffee every day and occasionally teasing Bob about his taste in movies and Lynsey about her Scrabulous choice of words.

All in all, it’s exciting and challenging. And no, you can’t have my job!

Blog Topic Challenge: Want to suggest the next topic for me to write about? Leave a comment here and I’ll tackle your topic soon!

2007's dumbest moments in business according to Fortune (and me)

Being the end of the year, everyone jumps in on Top lists, both retrospectively and looking to the new year. Fortune created its list of 101 Dumbest Moments in Business in 2007. From the peanut gallery, I can’t help but comment on their list and add a few of my favourite dumbest moments of the year in business and technology.

From Fortune’s list…

8. KFC/Taco Bell rats video in NYC

Did you really need a video to remind you KFC/Taco Bell is likely to kill you? Apparently, a million people did.

16. Microsoft’s PR firm sends writer own background document

Now that’s probably one of my worse nightmares when handling the PR aspect of a project. I’ve never had 13-pages long background files on anyone, but certain short notes which are helpful in remembering how to handle certain difficult people would probably not be received too well, should it fall in the hands of the person profiled.

17. Cocaine energy drink

Well, the marketing team can’t say they didn’t see that one coming when they picked the name. While I don’t approve of the choice of name, find another product that can call itself “Censored” or “NoName” yet keep a supposedly cool cachet to it due to its previous name.

36. Best Buy

“The state of Connecticut sues Best Buy for setting up in-store kiosks set to a website that looks identical to but lists higher prices than those they would actually find online.” That was a marketing disaster waiting to happen, and I personally would have put that far higher on the list. For someone to actively commission this mock-site is beyond words. How else do they screw their customers?

46. Johnson & Johnson throw a hissy fit at the Red Cross for infringement of its trademarked red cross

Here, J&J’s PR team definitely could have spent a bit longer doing their homework and evaluating how to best put a positive twist, some sort of partnership with the Red Cross rather than getting all uppity about the international symbol of rescue, safety and health being used on First Aid Kits.

51. Apple threatens to sue a 9 year old for sending ideas

Here, good ol’ AAPL could have taken a kinder approach to responding to this child. After the public uproar, the little girl received an apology for the otherwise formal and harsh response from the legal department.

58. Taco Bell “It doesn’t pretend to be mexican food”

It doesn’t pretend to be edible either, does it?

59. Radiohead “In Rainbows” available freely

Fortune gets snipey about it, saying Radiohead will follow shortly with an album called “In Debt”, but TUAW echoes my thoughts – Fortune is utterly wrong in its calculation. Only the labels have been starved from their fat paychecks in this deal, with Radiohead clearing over twice what it usually would on an album.

65. Verizon Wireless realises it’s not God

Verizon Wireless attempts to stop messages from a Pro-Choice American association to its own opted-in subscribers, but gets overruled. Good. Mobile carriers are facilitators of communication, not a censorship office.

70. Circuit City shoots itself in the food badly

In a cost-cutting exercise, Circuit City shows 3,400 of its best employees the door. Nobody ever taught these guys about the 80/20 rule where a few of your employees either make up most of your sales or, at least, serve as positive motivators for the rest of the team.

Vero’s list of top dumbest moments of 2007

1. Twitter claiming upgrades every time it went down.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter, I love their approach and style, and while I’ve never met the team face to face, they all seem like a bunch of people I’d love to work with.

However, when your community is made up of the cream of the crop of early adopters, you can’t take ’em for a ride, or they’ll head over to The Next Big Thing. So Twitter, in the future, a bit more honesty and transparency would be very welcome when you’re flippin’ us the bird.

2. Facebook Beacon launches without asking users to opt in first.

This was a fundamentally stupid mistake. There’s a fine line between giving users useful services and features, and being invasive 1984-stylee!

I find it shocking that anyone thought they were doing users a service by opting us all in by default. Coming from an email marketing background, I appreciate how difficult it is to convince users to opt-in of their own accord, but sharing this much information without our explicit permission is downright disgusting. As one of the articles on this topic said, what if I was buying a book called “Coping with AIDS”? It’s not all about purple scarves and ruined Christmas surprises, it’s personal lives that could be ruined by it.

Thankfully, Facebook did well in listening to feedback and sorting the situation as quickly as possible.

3. Apple plays hard balls over iPhone in the UK, gets fewer sales

Against any past mobile culture in the UK, Apple chooses to charge a significant amount for the iPhone regardless of the contract it is purchased on. The Register comments on the tumbleweeds rolling by on launch night. Brits and Europeans aren’t blinded enough by Apple to fall head over heels when the deal isn’t good enough.

Hopefully, Apple will shape up to the culture in the next round of iPhones.

4. A few idiots rob the blogosphere from Kathy Sierra’s writing and insight.

I still haven’t forgiven the mean kids who’ve caused Kathy to stop blogging. It may have felt like a funny joke at the time, but their impact is greater than they realise. Her style was unique and enlightening for people in my area of work. It may have been 9 months now since Kathy’s stopped writing but her words still carry.

What are the dumbest business moments of 2007 in your eyes?

Do promotions, coupons and incentive programs have any value on mobile?

[Crossposted from the Taptu blog]

Sitting in my parents’ living room in Canada, I’ve seen just how much unrequested mail they receive, flyers from supermarkets and furniture shops to clothing and hardware stores. Junkmail and couponsEach one is filled with “50% off” claims and coupons. It’s a quaint tradition that is now being shoehorned into new technologies like mobile.

Mike writes about it saying that marketers tend to think of the mobile as a fantastic advertising medium, “always on, highly person, uniquely identifiable users”. That much is true, isn’t it?

“So I end up reading about things that the folks in the industry generally tend to term “The Starbucks Example”. It’s the example where a service could somehow figure out you’re near a Starbucks (whether it be location based services or some kind of near field communication system like Bluetooth) and push you a coupon (”RIGHT THEN!”) for 25 cents off your latte. […] How often do I really want 25 cents off my latte? Is it really worth all the other junk I get in return for it?”

While maybe I’m more of a sucker for Starbucks than Mike may be, in theory, I can quite comfortably see a Bluetoothed voucher for 25p off a latte cause me to detour towards the overpriced coffee store on the way to my destination. However, it’s an extremely slippery slope, and encouraging Bluetooth marketing exercises would probably result in a heavy influx of untargetted marketing messages to my phone, which I definitely would not welcome.

Coming from an email marketing background, I know quite how poorly some “marketers” can choose to understand data protection and user privacy, giving themselves artistic license over what “opt-in” means. Carlo also echo’ed my suspicion that too often, bluespamming is so untargetted that it gets a very poor conversion. So let’s scrap Bluetooth marketing!

An unprompted SMS is even more invasive than Bluetooth marketing, since it can disturb me during a much needed holiday nap, so that’s out too.

This leaves us with user-initiated promotion. This is like the mobile equivalent of double opt-in in email marketing – Far tougher to achieve user participation but cream of the crop conversion rates as a result, since you’re only reaching those who are actively showing interest. The best example I can think of for this is Orange Wednesdays, a promotion that’s been running successfully for over 3 years, launched by Orange and Flytxt in the UK. Orange customers get a 2 for 1 discount on movie tickets on Wednesday nights, feeling they’re getting a great deal at 50% the usual ticket price, while cinemas get a fresh influx of visitors in an age where the big screen is suffering from lower footfall every year. Brilliant deal!

Using a word which needs to be texted to a shortcode is a reasonably low-effort option for the mass market, while QR codes scanning is only a suitable solution if uber-nerds are the target market. Ask anyone else what that stamp-sized black and white garble means and you’ll get an uninterested shrug.

The bottom line is that it’s got to be simple and non-intrusive, something that not all marketers can achieve successfully!

What are some of the best mobile marketing campaigns you’ve seen? What’s the wildest ideas you’d like to see using mobiles? At what point is a discount, a promotion or an incentive good enough that it should be allowed to interrupt our life?

The Secret Strategies Behind Many 'Viral' Videos or why Dan Ackerman Greenberg is an idiot

[Disclaimer: I realise the last thing I should be doing is giving this guy more visibility and mentions on the web, but his original article, as well as his follow-up REALLY rubbed me up the wrong way and I need to vent it out.]

When I took on my first marketing role, some years ago now, I quickly realised that the term marketing, like sales came with a lot of negative baggage. Since then, I’ve met enough marketers who fit the awful cliché to see why the name has been sullied for good.

I’ve made it my personal goal to never, ever fit in with the stereotype of the marketer who is willing to lie, cheat and sell his firstborn child for the sake of hitting some haphazard target numbers set by a boss in an executive leather chair in a clinical office boardroom. I want marketing to be about a great product and an honest passion for the community to whom it brings a solution to a problem. I only want to work for company directors who have visions I can agree with, and marketing managers who have their heart and their ethics in the right place. Call me idealistic or naïve, but that’s how this girl rolls.

This morning, I came across a TechCrunch guest post by a guy called Dan who claims his viral video marketing agency can take average videos and shoot them into the viral fame sphere. He candidly starts with this introduction:

“Have you ever watched a video with 100,000 views on YouTube and thought to yourself: “How the hell did that video get so many views?” Chances are pretty good that this didn’t happen naturally, but rather that some company worked hard to make it happen – some company like mine.”

Now, I’m not new to paid blog posts, fake forum users and spam comments encouraging users to go view videos. I know very well how much money some companies will pay to get some of that hard-to-get attention time from viewers. In fact, I’ve been asked in the past to take part in every single one of these types of grey-area tactics, and have held my position. The Internet is polluted enough as it is, I won’t be adding to the spam that goes around by lowering myself to talking to myself on a public forum, pretending to be some teeny bopper who loves whatever product I’m asked to market.

What rubs me the wrong way is the apparent pride with which Dan talks about his agency, while knowing very well that what he’s doing is a. ethically wrong, b. taking the lazy route, c. quite likely to one day blow up in his face.

In his follow-up post, Dan apologises for the tone he took in his article and does a 180 degrees on his claims of spam tactics. His attempt at saving face with the sudden claim that he does not spam or manipulate people is pathetic and pretty damn weak.

There are two scenarios that could’ve led Dan to require that second mea culpa post:

  • Either he does use dirty tactics and was a bit too honest, which makes him a moron for not foreseeing how others, with more ethics than him, would be incensed and angered by his post. If he can’t foresee consequences this obvious, do you really want him marketing your product?
  • Or he’s being a gusty bastard and did this specifically to get a rise out of people for the sake of some publicity, spicing his article with a few sensationalistic techniques he doesn’t necessarily always use. If that’s the case, he’s still an idiot for claiming to use frankly spammy techniques.

Either way, Dan, it still makes you an ethically-twisted little shit.

Unlike me, Ian Delaney doesn’t get his knickers in a twist, and focuses on the positives in Dan’s post, and highlights the things we can learn from successful viral videos.

  • Make it short: 15-30 seconds is ideal; break down long stories into bite-sized clips
  • Design for remixing: create a video that is simple enough to be remixed over and over again by others. Ex: “Dramatic Hamster”
  • Don’t make an outright ad: if a video feels like an ad, viewers won’t share it unless it’s really amazing. Ex: Sony Bravia
  • Make it shocking: give a viewer no choice but to investigate further. Ex: “UFO Haiti”
  • Use fake headlines: make the viewer say, “Holy shit, did that actually happen?!” Ex: “Stolen Nascar”
  • Appeal to sex: if all else fails, hire the most attractive women available to be in the video. Ex: “Yoga 4 Dudes”

So while there’s a bit to learn from Dan’s posts, I just hope everyone remembers that there are plenty of ethical, community-centered and honest people in the marketing world who will agree that dodgy spamming and paid links just isn’t fair play. While dirty tricks might work short-term, you can’t build a community through it, and in the long run, that’s what matters.

Must PR people and bloggers be like oil and water?

Last week, Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and Wired Magazine blogger, lashed out at lazy PR people. The crux of the story is that Chris gets torrents of press releases, some more or less relevant, from public relations agencies that can’t really be bothered to do their research before sending releases around. Therefore Chris chose to publish the email addresses of a few hundred PR people who’ve sent him said releases.

Bloggr cat sez ur PR is b0ringThis story really rings true for me on three levels;

  • First, I’m a blogger, albeit a small-time one. But I still get plenty of press material, ranging from jaw-droppingly excited news to awfully written, pointless drivel. More of the latter than the former, needless to say.
  • Second, I come from an email marketing background where my key concern was whether the content I was sending week in, week out, to over half a million readers was worth THEIR while. I was, to say the least, precious about Data Protection and if anyone suggested buying lists from agencies or scraping our customer database for addresses, I suggested in return ripping their balls out and cooking them in a nice tomato and basil sauce. Once I felt that the company I worked for didn’t allow me to produce content I genuinely thought could make our customers feel warm and fuzzy inside, I had to leave.
  • Finally, in my new role at Taptu, I wear many hats – one of which involves handling some of the communication and PR. I adore that part of my job but it means I’m on the OTHER side of the fence, sending press releases, praying that bloggers won’t rebuff me or, worse, publish a post claiming I’ve spammed them with irrelevant content. That’s amongst my worst nightmares, no joke.

It’s a funny place to be, to say the least. I sympathise with both camps to a certain point; the PR people who are given targets to meet, numbers of mentions and pageviews to get, and the bloggers who want real news.

At the same time, as a blogger, poor journalism in the form of bloggers who regurgitate press releases thinly veiled as news articles make my blood boil, as I know these are the people who have lulled PR agencies into a state of comfortable laziness.

There’s no denying it, working in PR and always being on top of the latest news and the important bloggers isn’t easy and requires passion. You need to be interested in your industry and personally invested. The canyon between the passionate product evangelist and the PR Joe Bloggs who’s trying to hit targets on paper is deeper and more obvious than ever, and I’ll let you guess which one manages to appeal to me, Carlo or Chris Anderson.

So PR people, make an effort to think before you send. Send quality news, don’t blow your own trumpet too much and let us figure out whether your product is “revolutionary” or “ground-breaking”. And bloggers, let PR people know when they’re hitting the sweet spot and when they’re not.

Hopefully, we can all learn to play nice together and live in a nice utopian world where bloggers and PR people walk together hand in hand, surrounded by rainbows and unicorns. Right? Right? Can’t we? Well… I tried.

[Cat picture by edmittance on Flickr]

Your call is important to us: Seven tips to use when dealing with customer service

We’ve all had situations where we’ve needed to call the customer service number for a product or service where either something’s gone wrong, Angry call centre workeror we’re dissatisfied with what’s happening. It’s normal for that to happen considering the amount of goods and services we consume in a year. Some products are bound to be duds sometimes.

What’s not normal or acceptable is to have to fight uncooperative call centre monkeys, who have no notion of service and no interest in helping you.

To help ease the pain of this process, here are a few tips to expedite the process and get to a resolution to your problem as quickly as possible.

  1. Always document your interactions: Even if you’re sure you’ll remember, write down the name of the person you spoke to, the time/date at which you spoke, and the status of the issue when you hung up. It’ll quite likely help you resolve your dispute quicker.
  2. Keep the phone number handy: The first time you use a new service, add their customer service phone number to your address book. If they “streamline” their website and remove all trace of their customer service number, you’ll still have a copy of it. Doubly good if you sync your address book with your phone.
  3. Letters still work: Sometimes, nothing will get the message across better than a firm, well-written, snail mail letter to customer relations. Clearly state the context in which the problem occurred, give detailed accounts of communications to date and end with a statement of what resolution you expect. The clearer your letter, the more likely they’ll answer it promptly.
  4. Send your letters by registered mail: Don’t allow them to pretend the letter was never received by ensuring it’s signed at the other end.
  5. Send a copy of your letter to Public Relations: Whether by email or post, copy the Public Relations department. They have to deal with public flare-ups all the time, and if yours looks like it might cause them hassle, they’ll try to nip it in the bud and might even beat Customer Services by responding first.
  6. Most importantly, be patient, polite and have a sense of humour: You’re talking to someone who’s most likely doing an 8 hour shift in a bleak, crowded pigpen of a call centre. If you shout at them or act aggressively, they’ll tune you out and maybe even mislead you to get you off the phone. Being nice pays off in situations like this one.
  7. Bonus tip – Do not swear: Ever. Even if you’re the sweetest, nicest office manager around, don’t say “f*cking weather today, eh?” followed by a couple more expletives, because they will respond with “I’m sorry mam, but you used foul language three times, I’ll now have to end this call. Good evening mam.”

[Credit to Dan Says, in Merlin’s Flickr comments, for striking some ideas that led me to finally scrapping this post together after talking about it many times.]
[Image borrowed from Think Geek]