Reinventing Online Shopping With ‘Social Commerce’

Thanks to The Globe and Mail (Toronto) for this article published yesterday, entitled ‘Retail Giant’s @Walmartlabs plans to reinvent shopping with ‘social commerce’.  You can read it by doing the light clicktastic on this word here.

Working in retail in 2000, as I did, one of the questions that ‘brick-and-mortar’ retailers were often asked was ‘do you feel threatened by the rise of e-commerce?’ To which the answer was ‘no – people will always want to experience real goods, in real time, in real surroundings, sold by real people.’ At the time they were right, the tech bubble imploded and things (briefly) went back to how they were.

But, d’you see, we got it wrong – both the question and the answer. We got the question wrong because we didn’t know what to ask – social media had not been invented – and we got the answer wrong because we could never have imagined how reliant people would become on the opinions, statuses, needs, wants and ill-informed dogmatism of others.

The question now is – as a ‘brick-and-mortar’, offline retailer, do you feel threatened by social media?’ And the answer really should be ‘yes’. When Walmart are bringing social media to the in-store shopping experience (want a review of the microwave you’re looking at? Post a message – a member of staff or another customer will respond to you. Want to know where the peanut butter is? Post a message – someone will respond) then you can be certain that this – or something like it – is the future.

And as for the boy turd Zuckerberg – yes, of course he’s in on it. To quote the article – ‘this is where Shopycat comes in. The Facebook application uses social media profiles and comments to generate gift ideas’. Back to Walmart’s breathless tech spokesperson, Venky Harinarayan. (No disprespect to Venky, he (or she, I suppose) has already made a sizeable fortune selling Walmart a thing called Junglee, a shopping comparison site. Well done, that capitalist.)

“It is becoming clear to us that one of the shopping behaviors that people have that is inherently social is gifting. We are building a product that we believe makes peoples’ gifting much more efficient, because all of your friends and family, within reason, are on Facebook. We are leveraging that information to help you buy better gifts and make it easier for you. We believe gifting and social networks are fundamentally made for each other, so getting that right over the next year will be important to us.”

D’you know, snorkellers mine, I’m going to leave it there. I’ll let you work out the number of different levels on which this is just so wrong.  I’ll start you off.

‘Efficient gifting.’

The Unbearable Lightness of Twitter

By which, blog snorkellers mine (hello everyone, by the way, been a while) I mean that Twitter remains, as I’ve said before, a not terribly effective communications tool. Much of the content, as we know, is at best banal, and at worst ego-driven and self-important.  Unfortunately, it is the lightweight nature of much of the content that denies it the gravitas and – perhaps – respectability that might render it effective as anything more than a rapid response, or a means to provide service updates. That and, of course, the fact that it’s difficult to say anything of meaning in 140 characters or less. I know that there are serious Tweeters – politicians and thinkers etc – but I cannot but believe that they’re there because they feel, somehow, that they should be, not because they genuinely feel there’s value. What you might call ‘down with the kids’ syndrome. (Absolutely no pun intended, for the easily offended.)

(And yes, Alanis, it is ironic that I shall be attempting to augment awareness of this post via Twitter and also – if you, dear reader, stick with me for a little longer – that I shall, from one point of view, be seen to debunk one of my most fondly held beliefs. Ooooooh, but yes.)

Proof, if any were needed, is supplied by a piece on mediabistro.com, a site which, I freely admit, I know nothing about but (I am afraid) sounds like the sort of place that I would sprint over red-hot, barbed-wire-coated scorpions to avoid.  That being said, the article is called Twitter’s 13 All-Time Most Epic Tweets, it does what it says on the tin and you can view it via the usual swish and flick – engorgio!

(No, of course you won’t. Sigh.)

Anyway, read it for yourself, but I think a couple of comments are in order – not least of which is, if these are the ’13 All-Time Most Epic’ (quite a build-up, do you not think) – why are they mostly rubbish? Why would Jack Dorsey’s first tweet (or twt, at the time) count as ‘most epic’? There was no-one there to read it.

Why would the first tweet from space be the ‘most epic’? Is a radio conversation with the space station considered ‘epic’? Not really – but it’s a sackload more informative that 140 characters of badly-spelled randomness.

Twitter helped a bloke get out of jail in Egypt. Great. I’m delighted. But it’s not ‘epic’. It’s a communication device. If bloke had time to tweet and he could use his ‘phone, why didn’t he call someone? More effective, I’d have said.

None of this stuff is ‘epic’. None of this stuff could not have been done (arguably better) through other forms of communication. It is only seen as ‘epic’ by those who have a vested interest in keeping the service fresh, relevant and – yes – well-used. Normally these people are the ‘social media gurus’ and those who write about social media. I am afraid – dearest blog trotters – the Emperor is still wearing little in the way of clothing.

And finally – and here’s where the lie may be seen to be given to one of my most deeply-held and widely advocated beliefs – to whit – that social media is of no use in selling stuff. Well, on the ‘epic’ list is a tweet from some chap on the top of Everest and – obviously – the first thing he does is get his twat on and namecheck both the service and the brand of mobile device he’s using. Good try, Samsung!

Samsung obviously invested some considerable time and effort and possibly money in this – but my gut tells me that next to no extra devices were shifted on the back of it. I can’t imagine the market for Samsung Galaxys amongst committed mountaineers is that huge.

I am, however, prepared to be wrong. Hell, I would like to be wrong.

I’m not though, am I?

Regulating Social Media

Before we start running headlong at this topic, like participants in the annual Cheese Rolling festival at Cooper’s Hill (with similar consequences), let us first consider definition:

Social media, to my mind, includes the likes of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (owned by Justin Timberlake – who’d have thought it?), Foursquare et al. Linkedin’s a sticky one – business social media, anyone? (It’s like ‘business casual’ – a concept that no-one really understands and no-one gets right. Ever.)

Digital Media – again, to my mind – includes email, instant messaging, blogs and corporate, business or personal websites.

Therefore – social media is a subset of digital media. This is important, because in all the hysteria that’s tsunamied up around social media as the new Jesus, there is a tendency to apply the term ‘social media’ to anything to do with t’internet in or on which some hapless sap is expressing an opinion. A corporate blog is NOT social media. This blog – lovely, bijou and jejeune though it is – is NOT social media. Instant messaging – in its traditional and most basic form – is NOT social media.

One more thought then, before we rush off into the weeds of the regulation of social media debate – is Blackberry Messenger social media (because you CAN form groups, and add statuses – statii? – share pictures etc) or is it, as a glorified instant messenger, digital media and thus a less insidious thing altogether? Simply, you might say, a method of communication – like email, telephone, fax, telegraph, post or a bloke in a loincloth with a piece of parchment in a cleft stick? (Bring back cleft sticks!)

And this is important, because – clearly – what’s driving this post is the recent events in London, and the allegation that riots and looting were organised on Twitter and Blackberry Messenger. Now this is clearly horseshit. As Sophy Silver of Facebook said in a recent PR Week supplement on reputation management – “a house party that gets out of hand is not a ‘Facebook party’ – it is just a house party”. In the same way that riots in London are not Facebook riots or Twitter riots or Blackberry riots – they are simply riots, occasioned by the feral, primitive, selfish urges of the uneducated, immoral, lumpen few. In the not-very-distant past, they’d have used ‘phones to organise their neanderthal, simian rampages – yet no-one would have called for the telephone network to be more stringently regulated.

And now I read that David Cameron is to call representatives of Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry to the House of Commons to discuss “stop(ping) people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality”. What he’s talking about – in the bigger scheme of things – is regulating the internet.

Another voice, advocating roughly the same thing, but for different reasons and from a different viewpoint, is Anthony Hilton, City Commentator on the Evening Standard (London) and writing in PR Week. (Sorry, you’ll have to subscribe to the website to see the article.) In brief, he’s saying that the internet allows for anyone to broadcast what they like, without any sort of filter – the filter that traditional media (journalists) provide.

See, here’s the thing. I actually agree with Cameron and Hilton. I feel there should be regulation of the internet. There’s too much shite that goes on for it to be unregulated. There’s no recourse, d’you see, no comeback. There’s anonymity, which allows any charlatan to charlat about without a care in the world. It’s irresponsible.

But, and here’s another of those things. It’s arguably too late. Someone should have regulated the internet in 1996, when is started to go mainstream. But they didn’t and now – unles you’re the UAE, where your population are used to being told to stop what they’re doing and get in line – you can’t just bring in random firewalls and prohibitions. It’s fine for the boy turd Zuckerberg to say that ‘privacy is no longer the norm’, and it may, in some senses, be true, but it’s not what people want.

People want privacy, they want anonymity – mainly because it’s a right and because it allows them to live their lives the way they want to without being put under a spotlight and sold insurance and instant whip via cold calls and doordrops – but also so they can hide behind it when they are phishing, spamming and trolling.

I want privacy and anonymity.

Luckily, real, effective regulation of the internet is probably an impossibility. That being said, I was talking to an Enterprise Risk professional the other day – and one of his major concerns in terms of threats facing business today was the ease with which rumour, falsehood and propaganda can be spread via the internet (social media especially) and the potentially enormous audiences that are available for this rumour, falsehood and propaganda.

His solution? A type of global identity card. If you want to use the internet, you will have one identity and one identity only. Every time you launch your browser, you will be greeted by a pop-up screen – let’s call it Global Authentication Portal (get into the GAP!) – into which you will have to type your identity and password.  (Probably a one-time password to prevent identity theft.) From then on, everything you do on the internet will be recorded (not monitored necessarily – but recorded) and should you be a rioter organising a riot, and you are caught, this internet record would be used to bring you to justice. As an alternative scenario – if you are a nasty troll, persecuting someone on Facebook, and you persecute them to death, again your internet record will show your responsibility.

And as I listened to this, I thought – what a marvellous idea. And then I realised that some form of authority would have to run the GAP, and that, undoubtedly that authority would not be able to resist using the internet records of all the world’s internet users for its own ends.

You see, regulation of the internet is a laudable goal. But it will take away privacy and anonymity and will bring us one step further towards Orwell’s 1984. (Which, obviously, was 27 years ago.)

And just imagine the Facebook riots that would take place when the GAP was announced.

Paddling in Twitter

Why am I paddling in Twitter, dear blog snorkellers? Because it is irredeemably shallow, that’s why. Why is it irredeemably shallow, then? Because you cannot express anything of any value in 140 characters.

The fundamental truth of this is beautifully illustrated by the current horoscopes featured on satirical British website thedailymash.co.uk, which you can find here. For the hard of clicking, I reproduce the entry under ‘Leo’:

“Leo (23 JUL-22 AUG)
It’s a shame Twitter restricts me to 140 characters, because that’s not even close to being enough for me to truly express how much of a cu”

So I thought about this, and stuck a couple of pins in t’interweb. What follows are some musings of great men, as they would have been if the poor blokes had had to communicate through da Tweet.

“To be, or not to be – that is the question: whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take”

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. Fi”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it”

“Load up on guns Bring your friends It’s fun to lose and to pretend She’s overborne and self-assured Oh no, I know a dirty word Hello, hello,”

Is it any wonder that despite Tweet-ups and Tweet-ins, Tweet-mobs and Tweet -nights, the service remains little more than the 21st century equivalent of “hello? hello! Yeah! I’m on the train!”

Rubbish.

Social Media – Good, Bad and Ugly

Very brief post – just to keep everyone thinking. So Twitter right, it’s all about stuff and conversations and motivation and – sometimes – some primeval horsesh*t from those who should know better – check this out (and no, I don’t care that it’s out of context, it’s frightening nonsense from a grown – well – human – I presume):

“More PR hip shooting I see.

 The empirical research show us that it is about commonly held and and understood values.

 I thought that was what Bruno Amaral showed at Bled.

His work is not based on counting fairies on a pin head it accesses tens of thousands of discourse items analyses them and identifies relationships.

It can be about ‘me’ but unless me is part of ‘me and me look alikes’ it will fail.”

This is a comment on a post found here – it’s not about Twitter, mind, per se, it’s about scial media. It’s a shocker. Enjoy.

Anyway, Twitter. Here’s a couple of things.

First, here’s the Williams Formula 1 twitter feed from the daughter of the team principal (Sir Frank), which has been posting interesting updates on pre-season testing over the last week. If you’re an F1 fan ( and I am, I am), you can dip in and out of this for news and views, without compromising your integrity and without – I have to say – a single brand mention. Works for me. Other teams are doing it as well.

And this is how Twitter – if it does have any use – actually serves a purpose. Distributing ‘what are you doing now’ posts for those who have an interest. When are the social media gurus going to realise that this is not an answer to the marketing ill – it’s merely another tool in the marketing toolbox and (if I can mix a metaphor) in the toolbox it is at best a signpost. Not a megaphone. (Yes, of course I have a megaphone in my toolbox. Don’t you?)

It doesn’t sell product, it doesn’t change opinion, except on an oily tanker sort of basis. (That’s an opinion turning circle of several hundred miles.)

To back this up, I present this. This is Advertising Age ‘Top 10 Most Tweeted Brands” survey from last week. Have a look and shudder with the realisation that it’s all – without exception – stuff that people have learnt about elsewhere.

Don’t know about you, but if I was a marketer, or a comms professional – oh! I am. If it was me, unless I had unlimited budget, Twiiter is the last place I’d be allocating time, resource or cash.

What some of F1 is doing is good. What overzealous, over-funded and overpaid marketers are trying to do is bad. The reality of Twitter is ugly.

Go figure.

Social Media – Who Will Rid Me Of These Troublesome Twits?

It’s genuinely insidious. Barely a day goes by without a further example of a misguided attempt to bend Twitter to a purpose for which it is clearly unsuited. In fact it isn’t actually suited to anything except self-promotion by a few deluded individuals – sorry, influential socmed evangelistas – now I come to think about it. What is it about Twitter that makes people think it’s some kind of digital messiah? I think it’s possessed of some sort of electronic voodoo and is turning otherwise sane people into the living braindead. It seems to be well suited to people living in the ‘Bay Area’ (wherever the hell that is, but it sounds deeply troubling) who appear to have an all-encompassing desire to tell people about their tall, decaff, skinny, soya lattes and the new to-die-for herbal muffin at Pratt’s Deli, but other than that, it’s pointless mojambo. Oh yes it is.

Anyway, there’s a few recent examples which I will list here, in the hope that, by listing them, I can break some small part of the Twittery spell. If just one Twitterator reads it, stands back, and says (a eureka moment): “I see it all now! What a fool I’ve been! It’s crap!” (oh yes it is), Then I will feel justified. So:

Why did the BBC feel the need to broadcast live coverage of the Chilcott enquiry on the telly, and split the screen to feature live tweets from the self-same enquiry? This is so wrong on so many different levels – not least of which is I’m watching it on TV, I really don’t need someone giving me 140 character commentary on what I’m watching. Especially when that commentary was along the lines of ‘Tony Blair is looking visibly shaky’. I know, you f*ckwits, I can SEE it.

Twitter from space – big noise about how the astronauts on whatever cosmic caravan is currently spinning happily along the Earth orbital are tweeting about their tasks. Well, they clearly aren’t fulfilling one of Twitter’s major ‘selling points’ (what are you doing now) because a) there’s little or no mobile device network coverage in space and b) even the iPhone is difficult to manipulate when you’re wearing a spacesuit.

Olympic Twitter – apparently (here’s a random piece from a Google search I did) there are athletes at the Winter Olympics twittering. For those people with such a small amount of life that they’re following competitors in a winter sports event. And again, it’s not really of much real use – is it – because it’s not about what they are doing now. No downhill skier is going to be tweeting his experiences as he hurtles down a mountainside, barely in control, at 90-odd miles per hour.

So, there you have it. Three examples of totally superfluous Twitter use. It is the answer to the question that no-one asked. It is a tool for the horrifically self-important and the sadly less than self-worthy. It is shallow and superficial. Unfortunately, even athletes, TV producers and astronauts have ego and validity issues – and Twitter just feeds off them.

That’s why it’s called a Twitter ‘feed’. It’s like a tapeworm of the soul.

Ew.

Social Media – PR ‘Students’ And Twitter

You couldn’t make it up. This is another one of those jaw-dropping, what-the-f*ck moments. A moment when – for someone who’s spent the best part of two decades in the corporate communications business – I actually begin to question why I’m here and why the industry exists.

Here is a link to a post on the Teaching PR blog (May 2009), from Grady College, University of Georgia. I can only presume that this is a seat of learning with the same level of gravitas and respect that is accorded to Keele here in the UK.

It provides some hints and tips to PR students on ‘what not to tweet’. I’m not going to paraphrase it here. Trust me, you need to read it in all its truly frightening originality.

Without beating about the bush, the hints about ‘what not to tweet’ are not bad. Basic, but good guidelines for those embarking on a Twitter feed. But they’re all about image and communication – things that, arguably, a student of PR should have a natural feel for.

Personally, if I came across a potential communications practitioner making any of these mistakes, I would advise them that perhaps they have made the wrong career choice and that they should f*ck off and trouble some other industry with their ridiculous and naïve viewpoints and attitudes. (Hey – call me harsh.)

On top of that, if Grady College feel the need to give these hints and tips to their students, then they have wholly failed to engender any sort of PR sense into them – thus, arguably, their course should be shut down.

It’s this sort of misunderstanding, naivety and ill-informed behaviour that will provide the comms industry with the next generation of PR lovelies – all blonde hair and parties – that will perpetuate the crass mythology of PR as a business of fluff and spin and will continue to deny the industry its seat at the top table.

My faithful blog snorkellers will know my feelings on social media. This scary nonsense does nothing to change my opinions, or give me any faith in the future of our profession. I’ll leave you with the following:

“Earlier this semester, @BarbaraNixon tweeted a wise suggestion to her students: go to the Web and look at your last page of tweets. Is that really how you want to represent yourself to the world?

If not, it’s time to rethink your twitter strategy.”

No, it’s time to rethink your life.