Post Of The Month - March 2015 - Nominations

Post of the Month nominations are now open. Somewhat spoilt for choice for my initial shortlist this month, but I have a starting list below. If you've read something in March that you thought was great, and would like to put it forward for the vote, please nominate it in the comments below or direct and I'll pop them all up for a vote in a couple of days. So, my start list is:

Great Planners are Schizo by Heidi Hackemer andArmando Turco

Unconscious Consumption, The Rise of Low Involvement Digital by Patricia McDonald

The Web's Grain by Frank Chimero

Why We Should Design Things to be Difficult to Use from Brian Millar

Please do nominate your own choice of good reads.


The Future of Fraggl

Fraggl-health

You'll know by now that I'm working with the smart folk at AdaptiveLab on our Twitter curation app Fraggl. The core concept and methodology behind Fraggl - curating the best content shared on Twitter through a combination of human, social and algorithmic curation and delivering it straight to your inbox every morning - has not changed since its inception (James calls it an 'awesome catcher' which I really like).

But we have iterated a lot over the past year that the beta has been live. It's been fascinating how the algorithm has had to change in response to changing use of Twitter which has impacted the balance of social signals that we use as a key part of the curation process. And we've also made improvements to design and content presentation in that time.

So, continuing in that vein we've made some more ongoing improvements including ensuring that every link is presented with a snippet of text that tells you more about what you'll find, changes to deal with representation of content behind paywalls, and foreign language content (sorry non-English speakers but concentrating on English language content first). 

We also have a shiny new website to improve on-boarding and better explain what we do. But the big news is that we have now created a brand new version of Fraggl specifically for the health sector that is designed to surface forward-facing, interesting content and trends around the intersection of digital and health. The source list for this content has been curated by Pritpal S Tamber, a well-known specialist in the future of the health sector. We've been trialling the new product for a few weeks now and it seems to be surfacing some fascinating content so we'll be working to improve that over time. In the meantime, you can sign up to Fraggl health here.

The health product hints at a broader future direction that we want to explore with Fraggl. We already have products that cover advertising and health. This joins the bespoke version we created for Google. And there is lots of potential to develop this concept to cover a broader spectrum of verticals, enabling people to get insightful, tailored, relevant content delivered to their inbox every morning. We're really excited about where this might go. Our subscriber numbers are growing at a faster rate now than ever before, and we'll continue improving the product as we go, launching new versions when we can. We'd like to thank everyone who has been a part of the process so far, and given us such valuable feedback along the way. If you're interested in developing your own vertical, or a version of Fraggl for your company, get in touch. And don't forget to subscribe.


Two Great Quotes on Strategy

This from Good Strategy/Bad Strategy (via @amayfield):

"The first natural advantage of good strategy arises because other organisations often don't have one. And because they don't expect you to have one either. A good strategy has coherence, coordinating actions, policies and resources so as to accomplish an important end. Many organisations, most of the time, don't have this. Instead, they have multiple goals and initiatives that symbolise progress but no coherent approach to accomplishing that progress, other than 'spend more and try harder'."

...and this, from Russell's extract from an interview with Roger Martin which also makes a good point about not confusing planning with strategy:

"The very essence of strategy is explicit, purposeful choice. Strategy is saying explicitly, proactively: 'We're going to do these things and not those things for these reasons.' The problem with a lot of strategies is that they are full of non-choices. Probably most of us have read more than a few so-called strategies that say something like, "Our strategy is to be customer centric." But is that really a choice?"

Martin goes on to say that you only really know that you've made a real strategic choice if you can 'say the opposite of what that choice is, and it's not stupid'. And how, in a similar vein to the first quote, developing strategy so often becomes 'an exercise in agglomerating initiatives, assigning responsibilities without a coherent set of choices that help bind them', meaning that most strategic plans are more accurately described as 'budgets with prose'.

So true.


Organisational Structures from Scratch

Starting-line

Ashley Freidlein, CEO and Co-Founder of Econsultancy wrote a recent post on the Econsultancy blog as a first take answer to the question: 'With a blank sheet, what organisational structure would you choose for marketing and digital?'. It's an interesting question, and the answer he came up with incorporated a structure that brought improved customer focus to the organisation, and integrated marketing and digital to a far greater extent with other other customer facing and support functions and roles.

I think that there are some big questions around how we design our organisations in response to the ever changing environment in which we find ourselves, and so I built on Ashley's post with a response of my own which you can read here. As you'll hopefully see, asking ourselves what it would look like if we started with a blank sheet leads to some interesting possibilities, but also the question of whether it isn't time to have a more challenging debate about how we structure organisations (particularly functions like marketing, customer experience and digital) for a digitally-empowered world. I'm interested to know what you think.


Distributed and Destination Thinking (Redux)

Distributed

It's been almost three years since I wrote about the importance of combining distributed and destination thinking into strategies, and quite a bit longer since I first started talking about it. But the concept has become ever more relevant, and I was reminded of it again last week in reading about Facebook's plans for Messenger. It's not hard to see where a strategy that focuses on people being able to send money to each other (and surely soon to companies too), integrating with third party apps, and enabling Messenger to be integrated with online retailers and other businesses as a direct channel for customer service, receipt and shipping notification, is headed. Like many aspects of Facebook itself, Messenger is becoming a service layer. As well as incorporating interaction via a destination site or app, they are (in the words of The Guardian) weaving themselves 'into the fabric of the internet'.

People may think that the term 'platform' is hype but to me, this is what it really means. The same is happening with Facebook ads capability, as their ad platform Atlas increasingly enables you to amplify the use of Facebook's huge data repository beyond Facebook itself to find and target users across the internet. A capability that, as Simon points out, potentially goes a long way toward solving critical issues of targeting, attribution, measuring reach and optimising frequency, even across devices (and in doing so highlighting the weakness of cookie based systems).

Google takes a similar distributed approach of-course, with it's Ad Sense network, embedded search in third party sites, development of Doubleclick, cross-device analytics, joining up of offline and online. And the similarities don't end there. At F8 Facebook also unveiled an embedded video player, bringing it more into direct competition with YouTube, and meaning that Facebook video (and no doubt the advertising that accompanies it) will now not only sit on the site itself, but be woven 'into the fabric of the internet' via countless other sites.

All of which puts the discussion around Facebook's rumoured plans to directly host publisher content on the site into an interesting light. Media owner strategies have traditionally been focused far more on destination models. On bringing as much traffic back to owned media assets likes websites and apps and keeping it there as long as possible to derive value. Even distribution of content onto third party platforms is typically focused on bringing traffic back to destination sites which might be monetised through strategies that have typically focused on maximising ad impressions, often through maximising page impressions (leading to ridiculous tactics like splicing long articles into multiple page views, or creating image galleries that can generate larger numbers of impressions, or putting banners on timed rotation). Such tactics may provide a short-term minor boost to revenues but sacrificing user experience to revenue is a slippery slope (and surely a lesson we learned fifteen years ago with the explosion in commercial pop-ups).

There is significant potential downside of-course from hosting publisher content on Facebook (captured in these questions from John Battelle), not least potential loss of control, loss of revenue, loss of customer data. But as Battelle also says, there is reason enough to test and learn (whilst walking into it with your eyes open) and it could be that in some situations it could well make sense

Whilst at SXSW I heard Jonah Peretti talking about Buzzfeed's counter-intuitive 'network integration' strategy which values impressions and views that occur in the stream without necessarily an expectation that traffic will brought back to the site. Whilst they might get over 420m referrals in a month back to the site, their content attracts over 18 Billion impressions across networks like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

Buzzfeed1

Peretti described the value he sees in going where the eyeballs are. For most publishers the big question is of-course about monetisation. But my impression was that Buzzfeed believe strongly in the value of the impact and reach that those 18Billion impressions bring. So much so that this distributed approach is a key part of their over-arching strategy:

Buzzfeed-network-integration

This requires producing content for a single story in multiple formats for wide distribution, and the payback is the data and learnings they get which feeds back into the content generation work. Buzzfeed have of-course concentrated on native advertising rather than banner ads, which makes sense in the context of this network integration strategy. Whilst banners are destination focused, and arguably failing on mobile, native is highly portable and works in the stream. Which makes me wonder if, in the context of this Facebook strategy, there isn't greater opportunity for publishers to think more laterally about how distributed content might work for them.

But on a broader point, whilst combining both destination with distributed content might make for a sound content strategy, it is often the latter that is harder for people (used to destination thinking) to get their head around. But whether it is people talking about what we do, highly portable content like mobile cards, embeddable content, or the notification layer in mobile, or integrating with other services, there are surely many ways in which we can develop greater opportunity from distributed thinking.

Image courtesy