1 Nov

Turkey lifts its ban on YouTube

One of the interesting things that I’ve learned from the travels of my good friend Eric Luk (who is currently hitch-hiking from London to Hong Kong) is that YouTube is banned in Turkey.

I had no idea!

Actually, although I say is banned, that’s no longer true, since today has brought news that Turkey has lifted its ban, which was originally put in place to combat videos that the Turkish government saw as ‘defaming’ Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic:

Transport Minister Binali Yildirim, who is in charge of internet issues, said the government had been in contact with Google, which owns YouTube. Mr Yildirim said there was no longer any reason to ban the website, because the offending videos had been removed …

Speaking on Turkish television on Saturday, Mr Yildirim said the ban had been lifted after “common sense prevailed”. “But we didn’t get here easily – we have been through a lot in the process,” he told NTV.

“I hope that they have also learned from this experience and the same thing will not happen again. YouTube will hopefully carry out its operations in Turkey within the limits of law in the future,” he added. In a statement, YouTube said that it had received reports that some users in Turkey were once again able to access its content.

And indeed they can, a point proven by Eric when he now posted a video of a Gaziantep baklava shop:

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1 Nov

About Me page updated

I’ve now updated my About Me page to reflect the fact that (1) my dissertation is actually done, and (2) I’m going to graduate with distinction (which is great news!).

Have a look!

27 Oct

A birthday walk in Edinburgh

Today’s post has nothing to do with social media!

Instead, I’d like to post a few pictures that from my birthday earlier this month when my wife and I walked from Princes Street back to our flat in Newington, taking us from by the National Gallery of Scotland and Princes Street Gardens through The Meadows and back to home (although we’re moving in a few days, so not for much longer). It was a ridiculously beautiful day in this, one of the world’s most beautiful cities, so I thought it would be nice to share.

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26 Oct

A few interesting Facebook links

Several days ago the New York Times reported on a very interesting study that looked at how and why people are ‘unfriended’ (deleted) on Facebook:

BEFORE you post that umpteenth status update about your toddler’s latest witticism or your feelings for Glenn Beck, consider this: According to research by a graduate student at the Business School at the University of Colorado, Denver, the top two reasons that Facebook users unfriend people is that they post too frequently on trivial topics or about polarizing subjects — particularly politics and religion.

“One of the interesting things about unfriending is that most real-world friendships either blow up or fade away,” said Christopher Sibona, who wrote the study with his adviser, Steven Walczak, an associate professor of information systems management. “But on Facebook, users actively make the decision to unfriend, and people often don’t know why or what’s happened in the relationship.”

Not everyone, it seems, really wants to be friends with everyone. According to the study, those who initiate a friendship are more likely to be unfriended than those on the receiving side. This seems to mirror the real world. Research shows that people who make friendship overtures tend to be of lower social status than those courted. It may be that the recipient of a new friendship, whether off- or online, values those relationships less than the initiator does.

For more, see this post at ComMetrics. Overall, I have to say that this research does not particularly surprise me, and I think that the results would probably be even more robust if they had also included who people ‘hid’ from their newsfeed, since that is a step short of fully unfriending someone. I unfriend people only very rarely, but I have certainly hidden people from the news feed if they clog it up with too much trivia or half-baked political ranting, and I’m sure that I am not alone in having done so!

For brands, what this research shows, in my opinion, is the important of balance. Obviously you want your fans to engage with your content (and then hopefully convert that engagement into actual sales), but at the same time you need to be careful that you do not overdo it and annoy them, and that your messages are interesting but not polarizing, although perhaps it is ok to be controversial and polarizing if you are looking to energize a relatively small group of passionate fans.

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19 Oct

Facebook’s latest privacy controversy

One of the issues that came up in my dissertation was that, for marketers, Facebook’s usefulness is limited by the fact that it can be difficult to link social media interactions to actual consumption behaviour, because so many people hide their personal details through Facebook’s privacy controls.

For example, if a group of people ‘like’ a brand, then what does that mean?

Who are they?

Are they brand champions, are they looking for special deals, or are they just liking the brand for the hell of it?

If you cannot access demographic information or any personal information, then it is hard to draw any conclusions as to whether or not you are successfully reaching your target group. I hypothesized that at some point in the future more of this kind of linking data would become available in order to improve the targeting of social media marketing.

However, little did I know how quickly this would happen!

Today’s Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about the latest privacy controversy to hit Facebook:

Many of the most popular applications, or “apps,” on the social-networking site Facebook Inc. have been transmitting identifying information—in effect, providing access to people’s names and, in some cases, their friends’ names—to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.

The issue affects tens of millions of Facebook app users, including people who set their profiles to Facebook’s strictest privacy settings. The practice breaks Facebook’s rules, and renews questions about its ability to keep identifiable information about its users’ activities secure.

Thinking about this, it’s not particularly surprising to me that companies are figuring out ways around the privacy walls – it is just too tempting to go after all of that information! For Facebook itself, it’s a fine line to traverse, since their product (as Andrew Brown argued) is not the social networking experience, but the actual users and all of the demographic, social, and cultural information that they willingly provide. The advertisers pay the bills, and what the advertisers want is access to all of that juicy personal information. This is why I think that Facebook is likely to side with the advertisers (and I’m sure they’ve been winking at marketers accessing more personal info than they should have), despite the privacy concerns of the average person. And I really do understand these privacy concerns, because although from a professional standpoint I understand that it is useful to have lots of personal data, there is much about me personally that I would rather be known only to my close friends and family, which is why I try to limit what I put on Facebook and Twitter to those things that I don’t mind other people knowing.

The big question is whether or not large numbers of people are going to leave Facebook if they feel that it doesn’t really respect their privacy, and whether they believe that it is effectively allowing marketers access to their personal details. My gut feeling is that they won’t, because people will tolerate a certain level of intrusion for being able to access Facebook and other social networking services for free, but I could be wrong. What is probably happening, though, is that people are becoming savvier at managing their online presence in order to keep private what they want to keep private, so it may be the case that this will be a pyrrhic victory for the data scrapers, because they will only be able to access selectively-edited profiles that do not provide a full picture of the person, not the full warts-and-all portrait they would hope to be able to provide to their customers.

14 Oct

Follow me on Twitter

Just so you know, my Twitter account is @sonicrampage.

11 Oct

Suitably Social: How FMCG Brands Can Best Use Social Media for Engaging with their Customers

I am very proud to present to you my MBA dissertation for the University of Edinburgh Business School, Suitably Social: How FCMG Brands Can Best Use Social for Engaging with their Customers. This report draws on a range of primary and secondary research, including eighteen interviews conducted in person, over the phone, and via email with a number of professionals from FMCG brands, consultancies, and digital marketing agencies. It is the fruit of several months work, and I am very proud of the final result! Finally, I hope that you find it interesting and useful, whether you work for an FMCG brand, in social media, in marketing more generally, or even if you are just interested in the topic.

To download the full dissertation, please click on the image above.


Social networking is a genuine cultural phenomenon, having become the UK’s most popular online sector in less than ten years. As social media consumes ever greater amounts of leisure time, how to use this new channel effectively has become perhaps the most important question facing the marketing profession. Although social media presents challenges to all sectors, this report looks at how marketers of Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) brands can best use social media to engage with their core customers.

In answering this question, this report draws on the results of a program of primary and secondary research, including eighteen interviews conducted in July and August 2010 with professionals from a number of FMCG brands and digital and social media marketing agencies. Among the topics covered in these interviews were identifying core customers, customer engagement, defining and measuring ‘success’ in social media, using social media for market research, working with influencers, tracking the online conversation about a brand, what specific challenges FMCG brand managers face in the social space, as well as social media’s downsides for marketers.

The research showed that it is impossible for FMCG brands to segment their social media audience in order to identify their core customers. Instead, it was revealed that social media is an effective tool for engaging with a brand’s existing customers, whether ‘core’ or not, and that there are a number of best practice principles that can be utilised to help achieve a brand’s goals in the social space. Although a number of interviewees claimed that brands should only be involved in social media if they are willing to commit the proper resources, the fact that none said that their brand was better off outside the social space shows that a social media presence is no longer optional, but is instead essential to the work of the modern marketer, even for FMCG brands which, as the research showed, have not been on the cutting edge of the social media phenomenon.

Social media is more than just a marketing channel because it offers marketers a direct, unmediated connection with their customer, and this relationship can be leveraged for insights relevant to new product development and market research. This is particularly important to FMCG marketers, because social media offers them direct access to their products’ end users for the first time. This engagement can provide a better understanding both of the customer as well as what they want from the brand.

The research also uncovered a number of problems with social media, such as the difficulty of defining Return on Investment and the fact that social media can be extremely time-consuming. Furthermore, many FMCG brands face the additional hurdle of having relatively uncommitted customers due to their lack of brand resonance.

Drawing on these findings, the report then presents a series of ten best practice principles for marketers of FMCG brands wishing to work with social media:

  1. Set clear goals
  2. Establish metrics to measure success
  3. Understand the different social media tools
  4. Get closer to the customer
  5. Take care over the message
  6. Be flexible
  7. Identify influencers
  8. Invest in success
  9. Create a Social Media Response Centre
  10. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to fail

Note: All work in this report is the copyright (2010) of Randall Helms. This report has been made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. For more details of the licence, please visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/3.0/.

8 Oct

Interview: Brett Keintz, Director of Social, Groupon

Note: This is the full transcript of an interview conducted by email with Brett Keintz, Director of Social at Groupon. Before joining Groupon, Brett was CEO and founder of Sharethrough.

Only a few quotes from Brett were included in the final dissertation (which will be available Monday, by the way), so I would like to thank Brett for allowing me to post the full interview here.

Randall Helms: I am working from the hypothesis that, for brands, social media is better suited to engaging with existing customers than it is for reaching new customers. Do you agree or disagree with this hypothesis? Why?

Brett Keintz: It really depends on how you define social media.

Do you mean on Facebook or Twitter, period?

Right now, Twitter is better for existing customers because they don’t have an ad product. Facebook does, and they find new customers for games and Pepsi and other products through their advertising products. Anything that is as invasive as traditional advertising works to get new customers. But for beverages and other companies that spend a lot in traditional media, the volume of new customers you can gain just isn’t there yet for even Facebook, much less Twitter.

So in short: I think you’re right now for Twitter, and mostly right for Facebook; but I think that will change as you see more invasive (interruptive) advertising products released on all of those platforms.

Randall: I am looking specifically at how consumer goods brands can best use social media; do you see that there are any specific challenges for such brands in the social space as compared to other branded products/services?

Brett: It’s a 24/7 job, which is different from tv advertising. You have to have people monitoring and responding and engaging all the time, which makes it more like a customer service/support position than a traditional marketing position. And it is much harder, requiring creativity and latitude for those engaging with their consumers in order to do it well. Command and conquer doesn’t work nearly as well with social media, because individual brand ambassadors have to be able to engage and react quickly or be rendered ineffective.

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7 Oct

Social media is not a broadcast mechanism

It is essential to remember that social media is interactive.

This may seem obvious, but too often the implications of this are forgotten as marketers try to replicate within social media approaches that worked in the past in other marketing channels. This is the wrong approach, because people do not experience the internet in the same way that they experience newspapers, radio, or television. This is especially true for social media, and it is imperative that marketers remember that because the experience is different, therefore the marketing approach has to be different.

Social media is not just a broadcast medium. Simply putting out a message along the lines of “our brand is really great, you should buy it, and if you do it’ll make you cool” is the wrong approach. It might bear a little fruit, but this is not an effective long-term approach, especially as consumers become more sophisticated and more resistant to obvious marketing messages. Instead, marketers need to remember that the conversation is itself of value, because they can better understand their brand by seeing it through the eyes of their customers. It’s one thing to speculate about the role of a brand in people’s lives, and another to actually understand it.

5 Oct

A Brief Post-Mortem

So, the good news is that I finished and submitted the dissertation last Thursday.

What a relief!

I will have the full version online within the next couple of days. Honestly. However, in the meantime I will be posting some new content, including some of the interviews, as well as some of my thoughts on various social media issues.

To start off with I thought that it would be worthwhile to jot down a few thoughts about what I learned from writing (and not writing) this blog.

The first lesson is that keeping up your motivation to blog is not easy, as can be seen quite clearly from how I let this blog fall to the wayside! In the end, it proved very difficult – ok, impossible – for me to devote the time to blogging after spending an entire day researching, writing, and thinking about social media. The motivation simply wasn’t there, and so I let it slip.

Which wouldn’t have looked very good for anyone arriving at this page, whether from a search engine, LinkedIn, or from another source. This was one of the ideas explored in the report, that starting some kind of social media presence and then giving up looks worse than not starting in the first place.

And this was something I was guilty of!

Oh well, in any case, this was actually a very good example of one of the themes of the report, which is that whether you are a company or an individual, if you want to use social media to help achieve your business goals then you need to be willing to devote the appropriate resources to the job. Depending on the circumstances, this may be a matter of money or manpower or time, or some combination of the three. In my own case, it was simply a matter of time – because I was spending so much of the day working on the dissertation, I didn’t really have the time to devote to creating proper content for this blog.

Last week, Lucy Kellaway of the FT published the following question:

I am employed at a Fortune 25 IT company that is forcing the senior technical leaders to blog and engage in social networking. I have told my management that I don’t have time to write a blog that will mean something to those outside the company. The response was: “Just do it … you only need to spend a couple of hours a week in the evening working on this.” Why should I sacrifice my time outside of work on this? There is no way that a good blog on some technical topic can be done in an hour or two. Should I protest further or get with the programme?

Director, male, 40s

This is a great example of a social media venture that is doomed to failure. OK, maybe not doomed, because strange things do happen in the world of business, but I certainly feel confident in stating that this is unlikely to work. Why? There are a number of reasons why. The first thing that struck me when I read this was that the company doesn’t have a clear idea what they are trying to achieve with this blog. Obviously I am working on limited information here, but from this description it seems like there isn’t a clear business rationale for this project. ‘Other people are doing stuff with social media, so clearly we need to do something as well!’ If only things were that easy … if you aren’t clear about what you are trying to achieve, how will you recognize success or failure?

Furthermore, the company is treating it as an afterthought by asking its employees to devote their own personal time to this project. With the best will in the world, life has a tendency to intervene, so it is very likely that an initial burst of enthusiasm could carry this project forward before the volume of new posts got lighter and lighter before finally grinding to a halt.

Which would just make the company look bad.

If they really are serious about this project, then they should devote the proper resources to doing it well, by building time into the schedules of the employee-bloggers so that they can write on company time. If this project is not more important than any of the work that these employees are currently doing, then they should not be asked to contribute, which means that the writing should either be done by other, less important employees or someone should be hired explicitly to write the blog, whether as a full-time employee or on a freelance basis (depending on what they want to achieve). If the company is not willing to take these steps, then they shouldn’t start a blog in the first place.


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