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The Long and the short of it

Why social networking will drive member focused communication

July 2009

At Black Duck Consutling we have become used to connecting to family and friends through social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Friendster and Bebo. Like many others we view videos on YouTube, photographs on Flickr. So it should be no surprise that in April 2009 Facebook itself reached 200 million users and overtook MySpace in unique visits, time spent on the site and, importantly, members over the age of 35.

This growth will continue as the younger generations grow up. Already in the US some 75% of all 13-18 year olds use social networks and virtually 100% are on the internet and use email. (FUSE Teen Advertising Study June 2009) That's a generational change that is now the norm.

But, no longer is social networking solely the province of teens and Gen Y and its broad acceptance as a private social communication tool heralds a wider use of the concept of social computing for business.

The fear of lack of control stops many commercial organisations from being active in these forums right now but for member based organisations – where communication truly should be two way already – the opportunities are almost unlimited and certainly positive.

Dan Bricklin of Socialtext, speaking at the 2009 Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, commented that “Social networking is a way of expressing yourself and collaborating. You need to have it in business to break down barriers and you need to have software to facilitate that.”

The software exists in various forms. IBM touts their SharePoint application and is working hard to link it more effectively with Lotus Notes and Microsoft Outlook. Various free applications offer versions of community software that extend the concepts of blogs and forums and customised software has been designed for specific community groups.

But the software is only half the story.

In his recent book ‘Connection Generation’ Iggy Pintado refers to the tipping point in 1995 when Netscape Navigator opened the doors to the internet. Google widened the door space in 1998 and what followed in less than fifteen years are web 2.0 and our ability to interact through blogs, wikis, podcasts, video posting and the social media websites.

This evolution to user generated content on the web has empowered us all to put forward our own views, our own information, to an unlimited potential world wide audience in a way that only governments and major corporations could contemplate a decade ago. The web is us!

Introducing online social networking to the members of an association or a commercial enterprise that is based on membership and common interests will therefore not come as a shock. The ground is prepared in our private world. In fact, it seems to me that few member based organisations will be able to ignore social networking within the next five years. Almost certainly they will be building and leveraging their communities, making them an integral part of their overall communications portfolio.

So, the other half of the story is to build a community using the most appropriate software and encourage the level of interactivity that makes it a viable communication tool and rewarding for all its users. That's about motivational skill in developing and maintaining member relationships. And that's where Black Duck Consulting comes in.

The first truly digital election

February 2009

The US Presidential campaign certainly relied on digital media to harness support in a way never seen before. The inauguration of the new President of the United States stretched digital capacity literally to breaking point. As the CNN feed collapsed at a crucial point and other websites couldn’t handle the traffic, we watched it all on an old fashioned television screen which gave us plenty of options! Since moving into the White House and discovering a rather old and poor technical setup, Obama aides have worked tirelessly to trade security issues with technological necessity to keep the Obama supporters involved and onside.

This presidency will use digital media as part of its communication strategy, involving a demographic that may not otherwise have developed any interest in following current affairs. And, at least Barack has got to keep his Blackberry!

Digital Ministry Editor, Brad Down, commented in his blog: "With the inauguration of Barack Obama there is a renewed confidence underlying uncertain times. I get the same feeling of underlying confidence from within the digital industry. It could be the continuous upbeat banter of Twitter or the optimistic commentary on the monetisation of social media."

We can hope that as we all get better at using digital media, and consumers become more sophisticated in their selection and appraisal of it, that it becomes as much a part of our marketing arsenal as direct marketing has become over the past two decades.

Online videos become standard fare

As more data about 2008 Internet usage in the US is released, online video increasingly looks like one of the year's big winners. US Internet users viewed 12.7 billion online videos during November 2008 alone, up more than one-third over November 2007, according to data released in January 2009 by comScore Video Metrix.

In Australia we are seeing a more professional use of video in online news media sites and reference to YouTube material crops up everywhere. On business sites, eTV and online video clips are being used to great effect by B2B marketers and B2C marketers alike. The only problem with this is the enormous distraction of the 'related videos' that come up alongside the one you've clicked through to! But once again, this is part of an emerging new style of consumer driven communication with customers and prospects.

And finally: Are we glass half full people?

As the year develops amidst economic gloom I am constantly reminded in Australia that we are a 'glass half full' type of people and the old adage "she'll be right, mate" still seems to apply. Christmas, annual holidays, Australia Day - all seem to give us some respite and a chance to reflect. Most people I have spoken to in business and personal life since the start of 2009 have at least some optimism about the future and their own role in it.

The recent tragic events in Victoria have confirmed the collective strength of character of Australians facing adversity and personally I have no doubt that if enough of us talk up rather than talk down the world as we see it we'll get through the next year or so.

One commentator I read suggested that we should "think about those things that are within your area of influence. Don't sweat the big picture when you can't fix it on your own." Sounds like a good start. My contribution to that is to suggest we invest wisely in resources that will assist in building and strengthening relationships with our customers for the future.

Originally published on the AHC Pacific website February 2009

Marketing principles and Super communication

August 2008

The impact of marketing principles and digital technology on the communication of Super has only just begun to be noticed. The Super industry can be slow to react at times. In this blog I want to explore the way in which these two arenas are already beginning to change the way we think about getting key messages to audiences who have important decisions to make and for whom the need to be financially educated has never been greater.

If you’re reading this obviously you have embraced the digital world of communication! But how do you approach, use and contribute to this world? What demographic factors such as age, gender and education affect your actions and do you have an ‘integrated digital lifestyle’ or is it a contemporary add-on for you?

Lately, because of my work in marketing and online modelling in the field of Super, I’ve been looking at a lot of research, reading many newsletters, blogs and forum entries and observing the habits of colleagues, friends and family. The variation in behaviour is almost infinite although there are clear generational differences. But it’s amazing how some experts have tried to homogenise our digital experience – the very opposite of the individual and highly personal world we have been led to expect from web 2.0 and beyond.

There have been exhortations to ‘go digital’ with brand messages, sales messages, public relations exercises and the basic provision of information. But how many recommendations really take into account the social behavioural aspects of communication? The difference, for example, between a Gen Y female city office worker who lives on her mobile, texts in the dark and has 257 Facebook friends and her baby boomer father who works in a suburban retail store, turns the mobile on to make a call and struggles to use Google effectively.

Both will have superannuation accounts. Both will receive the usual annual statements. Both are ripe for financial education information that may provide for a better long term future. But how should we deliver it?

She will need a direct stimulus to access information that she can understand quickly and respond to fast. And she’ll only trust your brand if she believes you are being straightforward. He will need to be encouraged gently towards finding out more, making a considered decision. And he’s more likely to trust the brand he already knows.

Why brands drive member loyalty

According to the Grey Eye on Australia Report 2008, brands do play an important role in building trust – with “individual brands rating more strongly on trust than the category as a whole. Thus ANZ, Westpac and NAB were more trusted individually than ‘banks’. Myer was more trusted than ‘big department stores’. Bunnings was more trusted than ‘hardware stores’.” This raises the question of how best to communicate our brand message to the different demographic groups, particularly Gen X & Y, using their own media of choice and speaking to them in their own language. As sources of information, the report says,” we trust our families, our friends and professional groups. When we look online for information, reviews by consumers are well trusted, trust in blogs has declined sharply, company websites are seen as more reliable, while internet banner advertisements received a very low trust score.” And there’s a general observation that all of us still spend more time watching TV than online or even talking to each other! This means the difference in tactics and language to reflect the way in which each group uses media is just as important in digital communication as in conventional print or personalised direct mail.

So how are the different generations feeling about themselves at the moment? The ‘Eye’ Report indicates that it’s Generation X who are struggling with life in Australia today, particularly worrying about everything and living financially day to day. Baby Boomers seem focused on maintaining the status quo. They’re more worried than Australians as a whole about having enough money for retirement, the environment and the loss of a sense of community. Generation Y is trying to get on with things. They’re more concerned than the average Aussie about their finances (52% vs 45%) and more likely to seek advice from others on financial questions.

As a marketer, I’m interested in the behavioural differences between generations and the triggers that make some people more tech savvy and responsive to new media and others react against it as something unnecessary and perhaps a little evil. So, almost everyone has a mobile phone these days – many web accessible – and almost everyone has access to the internet. Does that mean we should simply include ‘digital communications’ in our marketing strategy? If so, how should our messages and calls for action be constructed?

Pushing the boundaries with digital media

Digital media has attracted both positive and negative attention lately - and some commentators have questioned the ethics of marketers who have pulled a few stunts.

We've seen the excellent Queensland Tourism campaign slightly tarnished by the hoax 'tattoo lady' and the YouTube 'owner of the jacket' appeal revealed as a Witchery campaign. Both appeared to fool some people and both generated lots of additional media coverage.

Called 'astroturfing' in the US, this technique seems to want to emulate 'spontaneous grassroots behaviour' through a forced start that then gets noticed in more traditional media. It worked initially in both cases. But how different is this to a planted traditional PR story about, say, a Hollywood celebrity? Do we automatically believe such a tabloid story in the press or on the commercial TV and radio networks? And, if we don’t, do we still enjoy the story? And what role do the traditional media have in checking the original story before they run it?

Again, in both cases the clients had the courage to try something new. Perhaps the overall strategy and execution doesn’t stand up to rear view analysis but this is a new way of using media and experience will eventually help set the standards. As spoofs they were pretty harmless examples and the real question is whether the campaigns helped or hindered the brands concerned. I suspect that, given the likely target market demographics, they haven’t done any harm where it counts.

Who’s running the digital revolution anyway?

Is it the Gen Y crowd who can’t live without it... or Gen X who’ve grown up with computers all their lives? Where do the baby boomers get a look in? And what about the seniors? I have a mother in law over 80 who texts me during Wallaby–All Blacks games, sends me her digital photos by email and Skypes us once a week!

Personally I think that digital or electronic communication can reach all demographic and lifestyle groups but we need to speak to each group in their own language. In other words, the textbook lessons about advertising and direct mail are as relevant today as ever. One commentator I read even referred to ‘us old Gen-Xers find it hard to understand the Gen Y approach....’ Well, I’ve got news for you Mr Gen X ... the baby boomers don’t think they’re that old and many of them are seriously well connected and tech savvy about mobile marketing as well as the ‘traditional’ email and web based stuff.

Where does all this lead to for communication strategy for super funds? In February 2008, Hitwise Asia Pacific reported that banks and financial institutions represented “a dominant sub-category” that Australian internet users visit with a 4.35% market share. Compare that with search engines at 10.8% and social networking at 8% and you’ll see that we’re getting pretty used to accessing our financial services online. Admittedly much of this is probably transactional banking, but this still presents tremendous opportunities for super funds to use interactive web based solutions for financial education, brand building and positioning and, more importantly, developing customer relationships that result in retention and higher levels of engagement. Remember, trusted brands – and therefore engagement and subsequent business activity – come from word of mouth within trusted reference groups. So, when you combine sound marketing principles with exciting developments in the arena of digital technology, then prepare to hold on to your seats. The Super communications landscape is going to change more in the next 3 years than it has in the last 30!

Hitwise Intelligence – Sandra Hanchard, Research Analyst Hitwise Asia Pacific – February 2008
Grey Eye on Australia report extracts 2008. Originally published on the AHC Pacific website in 2008

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