In praise of fake profiles

If you are in sales or marketing and above 25 years of age, you are probably wrong.  The assumptions you base your decisions on are severely limited.  We often thank our kids for ideas, for keeping us “in touch”, but it is much much more complicated a matter.  And extremely important.   I have hundreds of fake profiles.   Not sure if “fake” is the correct term.  I pretend to be someone I am not as a form of market research.  In fact it is often the first thing I do when presented with a new project.

It starts with a fake Google account.  This is vital.  Search results are personalized.  You will never get it all perfect, but if you at least persuade it that you live wherever you are researching and then make sure you do Google searches logged in from this fake Google profile, the world you are seeing will be a little more like your target.  Sign up for whatever products and services you are looking for from this signed in Chrome browser.    You have to try and live the part.

With Facebook things are even more dangerous.  That person in marketing you think is “up to speed with all this new stuff”, well, just isn’t.   If I have a really successful Instagram account, or a very active personal Facebook profile I only see what that particular profile’s take on the world is.   Some days I might whiz through multiple profiles to check up on them, just housekeeping.  Hard to describe just how different it feels to be in each newsfeed.  Some are simply based in different locations, with friends from a particular island or city.  Age differences are even more stunning.  The same political event which fills your friends’ timelines when you are 50, doesn’t even appear when you are 16.

It isn’t fashionable anymore, but I always make sure my fake people have a website, blog or other public trove of information on whatever topic I am researching.   This gives me unique insights into what people are looking for.   It is the “honeypot” approach.  In content marketing it is easier to just start testing ideas like this.  And when the first organic google searches land my way, it is like Christmas day!  Somebody wrote what they wanted to know in Google and came to me, fake me, this particular person.  Why?  How?  What cyberspace hole did I fill with what I just did?

If anything, building a fake profile is a humbling experience.  Because you realize just how complex a web social beings like humans create.  We earn trust.  Slowly.   A “follow” by a 13 year old is a very, very, very different action to a “follow” by a 60 year old.  He then posts what he just had for breakfast without thinking about it, while the senior citizen is carefully crafting a comment as if he is writing to the Economist.

Marketing people are often fooled by their own brand.  In the case of social media they are also sidetracked by their personal profiles and habits.  These are extremely dynamic, immature new mediums, still jostling for position, changing architecture and interfaces.   There is no agreed way to assess them, no specific assigned meaning to what we all do with them.  So get off your high horse and mingle with the natives.

The debate-izer of online noise

Was recently checking out imzy (www.imzy.com invitation only, they gave me a dozen if anyone wants one) and it got me thinking about the time we spend trying to reach a conclusion online.   Imzy has quite a reasonable user interface for a community type website.  It is surely better than Facebook’s and uses better thought out colour, graphics and notifications for what it does.  But I want more.

Very often in online discussions the whole thread becomes unreadable. Comments, responses, nested responses, people answering at the wrong place, others waffling on and some with gems of wizdom. What would be fantastic is some more automated way of turning a 150 comment saga into a “pro and cons” type exposition.

Having the “most liked” comments on top isn’t the best way.  It might just be that the online bullies are liking each others’.  My idea might need an actual person (whoever is running the show on the particular topic/page) to manually whizz through the comments and throw them into a basket of sorts.  Ideally it will present a tree like graphic which expands and contracts to demonstrate which facets of the topic had been covered.  That way we won’t be going around in the circles so common with online debates.

Older users of online forums will counter that we can do the same thing with categories and locked topics and featured topics and….well, you get the picture.  They are obviously “older users” and have missed the whole digital revolution.   Fast and furious, cute and cuddly, interactive graphics which are “good enough”.  Stuff we can take in our peripheral vision, that’s what we want now.

In the late 1380s in London the fashion was debating societies. At the end of the show the person running the two hour event, presented everyone with the conclusions, as in a summary of what had been said for and against.   For all of us who love discussion and truly seek the truth rather than trying to enforce our opinions on others this would be a wonderful thing to strive for 600 years later.

Trump, trinkets and the triumph of the twats

Next time you meet a dog, try this.  Take a fresh juicy steak and say:  “If you sacrifice this meat, you will earn a special place in Dog Paradise!”  No, a dog will not give a hoot, a steak or half a dry poo for the afterlife or any other such vague idea.  It is a uniquelly human thing to put religion, politics or fantastic creatures of our collective imagination above basic needs.

Sathya Sai Baba was a charlatan who amongst other ridiculous tricks “magically” produced trinkets for his audience.   That was not what they travelled to see him about though.  It was his ideas.   The trinkets were just part of the morning ritual.  A lucky few got to meet with him and be blessed.   Less lucky few suffered his sexual advances.  Silently.  For an idea.

It is our capacity to join forces for big ideas and trinkets that makes us humans such an incredible force to be reckoned with.  No matter what you think of Donald Trump, he has won.  The world is split into Trump lovers and Trump haters and both these groups go to pretty impressive extremes for him.  Much like they would a few centuries ago for their king.  In France they traded the idea of a Sun king for that of a Republicby killing their previous way of understanding how the world was ruled at the guillotine.

What this monumental advance of our species has achieved is to bring idiots like Trump to the forefront.   Twenty thousand years ago, you had to be a good runner, a strong fighter, able at fishing and hunting, fast at fashioning tools and a lot of other things.  Every day.  All the time.  But big ideas in politics and religion brought together more people than ever before, in groups larger than ever before.  And so we could support the twats.

Those with no obvious gift, strength or ability found niches.  You could make a living producing nothing edible.   One clever weird looking man claimed he heard the voices of his ancestors.  In the old days they would have killed him as a misformed baby.  He surely would never get a woman.  Now he had twenty virgins in the next room waiting for him to be sacrificed.

The leader of the clan was no longer the strongest or wisest.  It was the useless fool who insisted no matter what.

Social media diet inspired by primitive, happy humans

Heck, they do it all the time with eating habits.  Why not make a social media regime and sell it?   So here are my tips on how to be happier through changes in your social media habits.   All scientifically tested and based on decades of research:

  1. Eat everything.  Hunter gatherers where more gatherers than hunters.  Always on the look out for berries, or roots, or well, anything edible.   Do the same with your social media.  Don’t be picky which platform to use.  They all taste slightly different.  When you stumble on one, use it.
  2. Gorge on opportunities.  When a stone age wanderer found a tree full of fruit they didn’t sit around debating; they ate as much as possible before some other tribe of humans or monkeys came and ransacked everything.  When you find a new niche, milk it.  Getting a lot of likes for Einstein quotes?  Go for it!
  3. There are three ways of walking the earth.  Ancient nomads where mostly alone all day, with a very small troupe of relatives, 10-20 usually somewhere within shouting distance.  That is how they lived for days and months on end.  Occasions for meeting strangers or bigger gatherins where extremely rare. Emulate this in your use of social media.  Pick a platform for those really close and important to you.  Email, Google plus, ello, instagram, whatever.  Live there most of your day with them.
  4. Be vicious.  Our ancient ancestors were brutal.  Some killed newborns at a whim if they didn’t look nice.  Old people were knifed from behind if they couldn’t keep up, or just left up a mountain.  No regrets, just unfriend, block, send them to cyber heaven.
  5. Boldy go wherever there might be greener grass.  Our nomad ancestors never stopped exploring.   What’s that?  Snapchat?  Hell yeah, let’s try it.  No matter if it looks barren, heck they walked across miles of ice to get to America, you some sort of chicken?  Old places have stale opportunities, look for new vistas.
  6. Burn it all down.  When some enterprising bunch of sailors arrived at Australia 45 thousand years ago, they wiped out all but one of the large marsupials that roamed that continent.   They just burned down forests for fun.  Don’t save for tomorrow what you can use today.  That folder full of “good stuff I found to use some time”?   Well, the time is now.  Go for it.

I could go on with more points but of course I am developing the idea in a book.  And series of seminars, world tour and self-help audio.  Because as my ancient primitive ancestors knew, everything has a price.  Trade wherever you can!

From brain to IPO. Map out your communications

Let’s take a typical day of little Miss X, CEO of an exciting new startup.

Little Miss X wakes up from a nightmare.  She jots down what she remembers of it in a diary next to her bed to take to her shrink.  This is information just for the two of them.  Clear cut case.  She doesn’t put it anywhere else and she will probably burn the diary; it is all written in shorthand that nobody else will understand anyway.  She then goes to the toilet.  This too concerns nobody else other than her husband.  “Sweetie I’ll go first and you can shower while I prepare breakfast” she says as she goes.  Another interaction which doesn’t need to be on Facebook or anywhere else.  We are still in a very private sphere of Little Miss X’s world.  She doesn’t tell him about a strange lump she feels on her breast, he doesn’t need to worry about that.

But the minute she sits on the toilet and opens Facebook on her cell phone she is out and about.  For starters, all her friends know she is awake.  They see her “Likes” on their posts, then a few of her comments and emoticons.  Her sister sends a message:  “Goodmorning sis!  Nervous about the big event today?”  Miss X posts a picture from her trip to Bali, a Budha at sunrise.  Only her Facebook friends can see it and she is very picky about who is her Facebook friend.  Privacy concerns apart, this is still what she considers a private area.

Over breakfast she scans the news online.  There is an article about her industry in the New York Times.  She posts a small comment on her personal blog, careful not to mention the article directly, but answering the main points.  After all the blog has all the legal disclaimers.  It is her personal opinion, not her company’s official position or anything like that.  But already her mind is at work.

On the drive to the office she snaps a pic of a rainbow landing on the billboard announcing their IPO.  No time to waste, post that straight to the company’s Facebook page.    “A bright new start” seems like a good title in view of what is coming up today.   Sally in Marketing will see it and maybe use it somewhere else later too. 

Little Miss X get to her desk and sits behind the computer.  Now she is at work proper.  Reviewing the press releases and other official communications of the day, thinking about her speech.  From the lump in her breast which absolutely nobody knows about, to her words in front of the cameras in a few hours which will get retransmitted in as many ways possible.  Her success as a person and a businesswoman hinges on mapping them out:

This information goes there.   That information you can expect to find here.”   If you are my personal friend and you send me a message via Facebook I will probably respond immediately.  If you follow my personal blog and write a comment, expect a friendly and unofficial vague response within the day.   If you find the rainbow on the billboard great, someone in marketing will write something marketingey within 15 minutes.   If you don’t like my speech during the IPO I will get full business on you and hit you with data, facts, figures very carefully.”

We all need to be clear about these information flows.  When I say “map it out” I literally mean a map.  You have Pinterest page which you never check up?  Write it on your Pinterst bio:   “I don’t use Pinterest much, check out my Twitter feed if you want to keep up with my latest.”    Started that Path account back when it looked cool?  Well update it.   “If you want to get in touch, I hardly ever check up on this account, so please don’t send a message here.  Catch me on my personal blog.”   LinkedIn?   Sure, but I check it up about once a week.   Draw up all your communication channels and tell everyone about it.

Be clear or be smeared.

Google is evil. But not like you imagine it is.

“Ah, yes, you’re the guy that has a thing against Google.”

It wasn’t the best of introductions but I knew what he was on about. I do have “a thing” with Google.  I am jealous as hell!  Because a select few people in Google are literally the closest a homo sapiens has ever come to being an all knowing God.

This is not some conspiracy theory.  Some time ago Google started hiding search results.  Out of on thousand people coming to a website via Google search, almost nine hundred are now a blank slate.  Google doesn’t tell us which keyword sent them here.  “Unknown search terms” is their way of admitting they are evil.

Worse still, the kind of keywords not appearing in results is far from random.  Google has used all their deep learning algorithm prowess to skilfully select categories so you can’t game or reverse engineer it.  Even in languages other than English, their technology is awesome.  90 per cent of the planet is using a search engine which then sends them to results based on a completely secret method.  And then it tells us nothing about where and how it did it.

So what?  Well, for starters, Google can hide or promote any idea, product, brand or other entity.  There are extreme examples, whereby a government or rich person pays them to do it.  Relegating a search result to page two of search results is usually good enough, though I have seen cases where the unwanted result disappears completely after on phone call.  Completely.  Like it never existed.

But that isn’t the biggest issue.  The real question nobody is asking is “how does Google sell all this knowledge?”  If you want to know what teenagers in your region will be buying tomorrow, Google can tell you.  Yes, it can sell you the information.  The corellations between search results and real life transactions and trends are pure gold.  Google knows if your next export idea is good or not.  Google knows what will sell and what will fail.  Much like they did with influenza, Google knows better than anyone at any time in human history, what is going to happen tomorrow.

All large organizations have more or less secret divisions.  When Microsoft decided to target governments all around the world, they didn’t call the division “blackmail and coerce department”.  It was lobbying.   Unfortunately Google works in much shadier ways.   Kings of industry have personal and secret relationships with Google.  Not their “head of sales” or “head of Research and Development”.  It is outside the office where this sort of information is exchanged.  Like insider information for the stock market only much much more powerful.

Google not only knows which government will win the elections, Google can greatly influence the result.  Google doesn’t even care, they can sell advertising and information to everyone on all sides involved.  Their rising levels of secrecy and the pittance of data they do allow us access to proves Google is more powerful to do evil than any other organisation in the history of mankind.

What your girlfriend can teach you about online communication

“Chat?  That is for my teenage daughter!”  Yeah, right.  Only while you are busy pretending to be serious, she and her entire generation are learning communication skills you need to work on.  Some best practices to think about:

  1. It is easier!  From a scientific point of view it is well established that we use much less energy processing computer related situations than we do with face to face interactions.  You don’t need to constantly scan eyes, body language and all those other non verbal cues which are brains are optimized to scan through thousands of years of evolution.  Everyone keeps harping on about “stop emailing, get face to face!” but there are many situations which demand reversing that thought.
  2. Urgency indicators.  The great thing about modern technology is that you can, if you want, decide when to respond.  This goes for chat too.  As long as you let it.    Most people have a mental map of how urgent each channel is.   “Email for slow things, guess he will respond today or tomorrow maybe; Facebook chat for the quickies, if he is online, he should write back briefly immediately;  SMS for urgent, telephone for really urgent stuff.”   Make sure you are clear everyone knows how you prioritize them.
  3. Sort of not synchronous communication.  Telephone is live, immediate.  Email is not.   That sort of dichotomy however melts away if you think of a Skype call.  You might send a message like “is this a good time?” and then ten minutes later actually do the video part.   Or maybe some parts of the meeting will involve exchanging documents in the chat window and discussing them.
  4. Emoticons.    Do you know why there are so many?  Because we need them!  They are the fastest way to recover from a written statement which may be misinterpreted.  Emoji, Kimoji, whateveroji away.  You can put across emotional support instantly when you need it.  There is more diplomacy or even cunning power games in a well placed smiley than you could get through three paragraphs of artful writing.  In terms of filling in for physical presence they can help with body language, intonation, facial expressions or even alluding to touch.
  5. Devil in the details.  In terms of the girlfriend analogy of the title, this is the equivalent to a couple trying out news things.  Go to a different restaurant, pick an unusual holiday style.  Same with online chat.  I noticed today that in Viber you can change the background of the chat window.   Before you say “oh, just a silly gimmick!” try it out.  It changes your mood dramatically.  In fact every single messaging technology I have tried over the past decades feels different.  It puts you in a different mood.  Always try it first before dismissing it because some of the differences are very hard to explain.

I could add many other big or small items on my list, some would seem silly in a business context.  But they are important.  And much like any other communication, whether it is with your girlfriend or your boss, it is all about picking the right channel and the right time.

Don’t think about it.  Try it out.

The Asian Toad and Google research for business

My friend James is probably the smartest person I know.  Whether he is teaching himself music in order to do the soundtrack to an amazing documentary of his, building innovative mammal free zones in New Zealand, riding a motorbike or in Madagascar fighting the Asian toad.

The what?  When a modern human comes across something unknown, we Google it.  Just like that.  Which means that billions (3.2 billion) of searches a day globally can tell us a lot.  People in the UK search for “toad” more than other countries, but of course there are toad in books, children’s series, music band and all sorts of other things.   Maybe there are opportunities in those for some sort of co-promotion.  The English are followed by Ausies, Americans, Canadians, NZ and …Nigeria?  Following Google searches is a bit like the dictionary game.  I just spent five minutes learning about “The Grasshopper and the Toad”, a short story by a Nigerian, as well as the use of the word “toad” in Nigerian politics.  Which is exactly the sort of peripheral knowledge you need as a business when researching your topic.

For example searches for “toad” have seasonality.  Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be because of some amphibian habit.  For example in the UK, October seems to be the main month for “toad in the hole”, a popular local dish, comfort food for many.  By contrast in the America, searches for “toad” peak every year at May and Arkansas is the state leading in interest.  If you are planning a campaign for the Asian toad, maybe do it in the winter when people so you don’t compete with all the people asking “what is the difference between a toad and a frog?”    In Australia searches for toads are in the Northern territory, don’t waste any ad money elsewhere.

Of course Google “normalises” the data.  Which means they try and mess it up enough so you can’t reverse engineer it, or use it to compete.  Still, with time, even without numbers, you can see that there are more searches for a “horned frog” than an “asian toad”.  You can follow that path too and look for promotional opportunities if you want to.

I picked the example of the Asian Toad on purpose.  If you are using a business problem you are often too close to the topic to explore.  For example searches for “toad” correlate in seasonality in the U.S. with searches for “vinyl siding”, “house paints”, “insects” and “utility trailer”.  Each of these terms merits some online detective work.  Working around the limitations of data provided by Google is actually inspiring.  Searches for “frog” correlate mostly with “garden clogs” in America but while checking this out I discovered “save the frogs”, a poetry competition in Australia which made quite a digital dent in terms of stats.

Searches for “toad” in Australia correlate with the term “religious”.  The search to figure out why this occurs won’t fit in a blog post.  But you see the point:  playing around with Google search data brings new ideas to your project.  It changes priorities by giving new angles.  Something you consider secondary might be a huge business opportunity in a specific segment.    New ideas are born, old ones improved.  We are all essentially trying to build a model of how things work.  Use Google’s model to tweak yours.

It is a big and complex world.  Don’t let your assumptions narrow things down too quickly.  Oh, and check out http://jamesreardon.org/ – tell people about the Asian toad and let’s all do something about it.

I saw your teapot

I saw your teapot,

it was small.

Quite clean, and stylish

very neat.

.

Looks like you use it now and then

but yet,

it didn’t fool me.

.

Not one of those well crafted ones,

that make ten cups a day.

Nor one of the enormous ones,

when we’ve a lot to say.

Or well respected older pots,

with patches, cracks, decay.

.

I judge men by their teapots now,

and yours is lacking greatly.

Takes more than water and a bag,

to brew a proper Tetley.

 

Mastercard hits rock bottom in advertising

The poster in the Athens metro featured a young man next to a swimming pool at Santorini.

“Waking up in the sky: Priceless 
With your MasterCard you are welcome all
in resorts, hotels, villas and spas.”

Oh really?  Welcome are you?  Whoever wrote that hasn’t travelled much in Greece, have they?  Sure, major hotels and fancy spas in major tourist locations might accept Mastercard. But that is the tip of the iceberg of course.  Most rooms to let don’t have any way to accept a Mastercard.  At best they might take you down to the tourist shop, charge the card and get cash from their friend there.  (I have done this!)  But wait, another ad:

“With your Mastercard you are welcome all over Greece, in supermarkets, fruit markets and grocery stores.”

Yeah right!  Outside of major cities and big supermarkets, if you try showing a credit card in a “fruit market” everyone will laugh at you of course.   And any small “grocery store” on an island is more likely to accept your jewellery as payment than a Mastercard!

I tried hard to think what else Mastercard might want to achieve.  Maybe they want to pressure store owners to install credit card machines.   So advertising in the summer when everyone involved in tourism isn’t in Athens to see their campaign makes loads of sense….not!   Maybe they will just run it for a couple of weeks, take pictures and then tell everybody that they did it, see if that impresses them!

Coming face-to-face with
your schoolbook pictures: Priceless®
With your MasterCard, you are welcome all over Greece,
in museums and galleries

This one cracked me up.  If I had a pen with me I would have added “if the museum is not on strike, or the keeper hasn’t left early that day, or it isn’t some weird holiday you have never heard of, or it isn’t one of those little museums with just one guard and no electricity or internet connection which doesn’t accept credit cards….”   The picture of a statue was also really weird, some angle which felt distinctly uncomfortable.  Surely not an image any one found in “schoolbook pictures”!

But the fourth advert of the series in the metro was probably the best:

Forgetting to update your status: Priceless
With your MasterCard you are welcome all over Greece
in bars, night clubs and discos

This whole campaign is some sort of weird fiction.  As if some exec in the US dreamed up a campaign in ten minutes projecting a long term goal from one of his powerpoint presentations.   It is in many ways like holding up a “everything that is wrong with Greek tourism” summary in four advertisements.   In an upside down world maybe you can go to a noisy bar and pull out a Mastercard to pay for your drink.   But surely not in Greece!

Oh, and it is impossible not to “update your status” because all the Greeks do at the club is play with their cell phones…