Buying in store vs online: advice for stores from Graham Charlton

If I'm buying a commodity that I'm familiar with (or have had recommended), I usually get it from Amazon. If I'm in a tearing hurry, I get if from a shop. Rarely do I look at something in a shop and then buy it online. And, recently, the price differences/hassle factor often combine in the store's favour anyway.

A recent example is a mattress: next day free delivery and they took the old one away. And the company – Jones & Tomlin - had a brilliant website and price matched anyway. What wasn't to like?

But many retailers – and I know John Lewis suffers (suffered?) from this – are plagued by the 'touch and feel' and 'advice-seeking' brigades who then, having found what they want, go home and order from Amazon.

Graham Charlton, who I don't know, but who seems to talk a lot of sense on this subject has blogged about various strategies stores can adopt in his post, "13 ways for retailers to deal with the threat of showrooming".

Thought you might be interested. Lord knows what it has to do with my blog theme though. 

 

Crowd-sourced elearning from mylearningworx

Do you have expertise and passion in a subject? Would you like to share it with the world? For free or for money?

mylearningworx officially launched itself yesterday. The event was marked by an e-learning workshop for the many friends of the company and the beta testers. You can read about it in Kate Graham's blog post.

Now you can see what my last post was about. One of the people behind the company was my publisher at Information World Review. Knowing my penchant for software and training, he asked if I'd like to give the system a whirl. That's how I came to make Tebbo's Kick Ass Writing Class.

Like many SaaS systems, this one is under continuous improvement. It's finished enough to enable people to upload pre-recorded courses. You'll find quite a few on the website ranging from free (like mine) to £50. Low prices should mean plenty of customers. Revenue is split in favour of the author. Free courses are an ideal way to establish the author's credentials.

The site lists all the courses. You can scroll through them, search them or see them by category. Authors can assign courses to multiple relevant categories to maximise the chance of them being found.

The people behind mylearningworx expect e-learning professionals to adopt this platform for hosting their private and public offerings, quite apart from the hoi polloi like me who'd just like to share a bit of useful knowledge with the world. (Although I'm being encouraged to do something more substantial.) They have plans to expand to Australia and have Spanish, German and French versions too.

I think that's probably enough from me. Except to say that I like what I see, I know it's not perfect, but they are listening to (and acting on) feedback from their growing community. If you're at all interested in this sort of thing, mylearningworx is certainly worth a look.

 

Know any passionate pragmatists?

The Right Thing To Do? is a blog where experienced people share their insights – the 500 or so words that they hope will inspire others in their quest to make the world a better place.

Posts are run fortnightly and they provide a useful link for the writer's portfolio. In time, we'd like it to be seen as a reliable place for inspiration and conversation. It is non-commercial.

We make it as easy as possible for contributors, often ghost-writing pieces for those who are too busy to do anything but spend 15 minutes on the phone. Everyone, whether ghosted or edited, gets to approve the final piece.

Each post is about life and work and is non-promotional, although contributors usually mention their affiliations (with hyperlink) in their 40-word bio (plus headshot).

The About us page is probably the best place to check us out.

Do you know anyone who's passionate yet pragmatic? (Including yourself, of course.)

Please let us know.

Thank you.

We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Here's a list of the posts we've run so far:

Why things will get better from the work of Matt Ridley, December 22, 2011

Entrepreneur Extraordinaire, Felix Dennis, on Good Fortune January 12, 2012

Never mind GDP, what about Gross National Happiness? from the work of Chip Conley, January 19, 2012

Reconnecting kids with the school curriculum by Ray Maguire, January 26, 2012

Has the Khan Academy found the right way to educate? by me with Jim Farver, February 1, 2012

Why green makes business sense by Ben Goldsmith, February 9, 2012

Is sustainable growth a myth? by Clive Longbottom, February 23, 2012

Rag and bone men of the information world by Euan Semple, March 7, 2012

The power of community by Mark Chillingworth, March 21, 2012

Where's the 'social' in 'accountancy'? by Martin Banks, April 4, 2012

Mind the gap by Hussein Dickie, April 18, 2012

Inhumane HR behaviour by Tracey Poulton, May 2, 2012

Listen! (To the right people) inspired by the Cognitive Edge folk, May 16, 2012

Get on the trust trajectory by Rob Wirszycz, May 30, 2012

Baby, bathwater, beware … by Anne Marie McEwan aided and abetted by me, June 13, 2012

 

 

Online Marketing 101

If you need a crash course in online marketing, you could do worse than browse my recent collection of articles and blog posts by experts on the matter.

I had started off, a month ago, intending to investigate what's out there on the subject of 'web-based business to business collaboration' but, as I collected the links on Scoop.it, I found that 'marketing' was the theme that bound most of my discoveries together. Hence the title of this blog post.

When I was a journalist, I didn't really like having to interview marketing folk because they were too sanitised, too in control of their messages and hard to get real stories out of. (Good stories to a journalist are those which carry at least a hint of disclosure.)

However my Scoop.it investigations gave me a new respect for marketing, it really does seem to belong at the centre of B2B collaboration activities. 

Here's a snap of part of my Scoop.it collection (click on the image to see it full size):

B2BCollaboration1

It was 'curated' by looking at hundreds of suggestions from Scoop.it, reducing them to fifty or so, then throwing out the four or five that didn't live up to the promise of the extract.

The result is a neat little package of pieces, admittedly of variable quality, but all of which helped to round out my existing perceptions of how to approach online B2B collaboration.

Since so much work went into the curation, I thought it would be silly to keep it to myself.

See what you think. It's at http://www.scoop.it/t/b2bcollaboration

 

An evening with PR/Marketing Guru, Larry Weber

Back in May, I trotted off to meet with marketing/PR guru, Larry Weber and a bunch of other interesting people, including Jack Schofield (IT man at the Guardian for donkey's years and erstwhile competitor – we both edited PC magazines in the early eighties) and Bill Nichols an academic and marcomms/reputation consultant who, when Jack and I were competing, was Clive Sinclair's PR man. They were both on the speaker panel with Larry. The other notable people were in the lively audience.

The occasion was the UK launch of Larry's (then) most recent book: Everywhere. It's about social networking being at the heart of the future of business. He calls this 'anytime, anywhere' access the the fourth wave of computing. (I ought to know what the three earlier waves were, but I've forgotten. Maybe it was brains, internal networking and internet, or something.)

No surprises so far then. But I don't think Larry set out to surprise us particularly. More that he wants to share his familiarity with the subject matter in a non-frightening manner. After all, the people who really need his insights are those who are probably the most fearful of openness, transparency and genuine dialogue. You might think of them as the 'command and contol' brigade. While this has its place, it's probably not where the rubber of the corporation hits the road of the marketplace.

Sorry, I should be talking about Larry's evening. (And, if you're wondering why it's taken me so long, it's because I was suddenly pitchforked into a new company and I've been more than a tad busy. My conscience was pricked by a Facebook post about his recent presentation to the Public Relations Student Society of America. The headline of the post was "Social media's impact bigger than television's.")

At his book launch, he predicted that, by 2015, "you'll be hard pressed to find any newspapers or nightly news on TV." He says, "TV ads have got to die sometime." He may not always provide answers but he knows how to provoke fresh thinking. Let's hope the revenue replacement doesn't put the TV companies even deeper in hock to corporate sponsors.

With regard to the Fourth Generation thing, he told the story of how he sent off for brochures from all the prospective colleges for his daughter. She didn't look at one  of them. She'd already done her research online. Except she didn't refer to it as online. When Larry once said to her, "I'm going online", she replied "Oh Dad, we don't go online any more. We just are." Online, that is. And a lot of people reading this will know what she means. If you're not one of them, then it's likely that his book will interest you.

Another thing he talked about was Innocentive. Companies give it problems and money and it gets its community of 'solvers' to apply their brains. Larry gave examples of $100,000 here and $25,000 there. It's all online (of course). And the winning contributor exchanges their IP for the cash. That's a great commercial application of crowdsourcing. Related to this were his comments on how social networking allows for the intense, focused, sharing of knowledge. I think his book goes further and talks of micro-segmentation of the internet so that you can find a community and go deep into just about any subject that interests you.

He is very clear that successful companies (especially consumer-facing) will have to become radically transparent, be willing to share and also to stand for something that will resonate with customers and prospects. Core values that permeate the company's business. Larry doesn't claim it will be easy, but he sprinkles his conversation with stories old and new of how companies have turned on the proverbial dime. Dell, of course. BP to a certain extent. And so on.

I was quite taken with the idea that, "big sites will die under their own weight." He said this because he believes that all the power is now in the network. Not sure that a behemoth like IBM would totally agree with this sentiment, despite its strong advocacy of social networking values. With statements like this, the evangelist in Larry seems to pop out of the closet. (My views of evangelists are here.)

Let's turn to one of the other speakers, Bill Nichols. He scored a hole in one for me with his observation that "People respond to emotion and fairness."

I have the sense that the former has been faked and the latter missing for a long time.

If Larry and Bill are right, we would seem to be heading towards a better and much more harmonious world.

Let's hope so.

Homo Imitans. People do what we do, not what we say

The human body has two circulatory systems, the veinous and the lymphatic. They are connected, but largely independent.

Hi Leandro Herrero's latest book, Homo Imitans, reminded me that the body corporate also contains two circulatory systems, the hierarchy and the networks. And, while each plays an important role, the networks – rather like the lymphatic system of the body – have incredible power which is underestimated, if not ignored, in most organisations.

This is a mistake, says Dr Herrero, describing the two systems as 'World I' and 'World II'. His book is mostly about World II, with the occasional nod to the enabling and encouraging role of World I in enlightened organisations.

His fundamental thesis (building on his earlier Viral Change book, which I reviewed here) is that people are more inclined to change their behaviour by copying peers that they respect than commands from on high. And, since behaviour is the only thing that counts when it comes to real change inside organisations, this is where (change) management should be focusing its energies. Dr Herrero gives due credit to authors of social networking books which cover a lot of similar ground, but his talent is in directing his thoughts and guidance slap bang into the heart of organisations that want to change but don't know how. It is also, very occasionally, a 'sell' for his Viral ChangeTM practice, should you not want to go it alone.

Influence travels through networks completely independently of the company hierarchy and, in many cases, without the hierarchy even being aware of what's going on. In an organisational example, we saw it when Greg Dyke left the BBC after the stink around the 'sexing up' of the Iraq dossier – the crowds of staff, some in tears, seemed to appear out of nowhere but they were actually galvanised by the internal network.

In a non-corporate example, the recent rioting and looting in England came about largely through social networking and many people caught up in it were simply copying others who appeared to be 'getting away with it'. (The book contains a very useful 40-page annex which describes in detail many examples of social contagion with references to Dr Herrero's source material. It's called The Human Condition: a guide for the perplexed.)

All of which brings us back to the title of the book (Homo Imitans, if you've forgotten). We see what others do and we copy them. If others who respect or like us, see us doing something in a new way that makes sense to them, they copy us. If just three people copy what 'someone like them' is doing, then it's clear that such a social infection will quickly reach epidemic proportions.

The trick espoused by Dr Herrero is to find those key people in organsiations, wherever they are, and persuade them that a new way of behaving is good for them. (Obviously, it has to be good for the organisation, otherwise there's no point in doing it.) Much has been written about finding such 'champions' but less has been written about focusing on their behaviour.

Words alone are not enough. Dr Herrero likes to collect "Don't do that" posters which usually have little effect but can actually encourage whatever it is they're trying to stop. ("ABUSE OF STAFF WILL NOT BE TOLERATED", etc.) People will respond much more readily to what others do than to what they say.

The book is rich in structure and entertaining in style. It hammers home its messages and suggests new practices from a variety of perspectives. Each chapter reinforces what went before but, maybe because I've spent the the last 35 years as an enthusiast of behavioural psychology and the last seven deep in social networking, I felt I'd well and truly got the message before the end. Nevertheless, I notice I've still made margin notes right up to the last page.

I particularly like his encouraging penultimate paragraph:

"Viral ChangeTM … doesn't depend on behavioural sciences, network theory, social sciences, storytelling and leadership studies. Or even us as consultants!"

Leandro Herrero provides a wealth of persuasive examples and evidence which will help you make the case for socially-driven behavioural change in your own organisation.

Recommended.

Managing Brand and Reputation in a Social Media World

Last week I co-presented a BrightTALK webinar on the impact of social media on branding and reputation for an audience of media and marketing professionals.

The lead presenter was Cathy Pittham, MD of the European arm of global PR company, the Racepoint Group. (Its chairman, Larry Weber, is something of a new media marketing guru and has been writing books on the subject since before most of us knew it was a subject.)

I went to Cathy because I felt she’d have far more practical advice to offer than I possibly could. After all, I was a bit of an outsider to marketing and PR – mainly an observer or a victim, depending on your point of view. So it ended up becoming ‘her show’ with me asking questions on behalf of the audience.

As we went through the preparation, it became clear to me that operating effectively in the social media world requires many of the hard-won skills from the traditional media world. It also needs a cultural shift by all participants towards openness, giving genuine value and two-way engagement.

Nothing new there, I hear you say. Which is true. Which is why the presentation focuses primarily on what good stuff and processes can be nicked or adapted from tradtional PR and Marketing activities.

As we discussed the powerful combination of traditional and social media techniques, I desperately wracked my brain for a suitable parallel. All I could think of was a nuclear chain reaction, which is triggered by combining two volumes of fissile material to make a single ‘critical mass’.

Which is what led to me slipping this final image into the slide deck.

Boom

The webinar (BrightTALK calls it a webcast)  lasts a tad under 45 minutes, unless you skip from slide to slide to make it quicker (and jerkier).

The social media world changes all the time but we hope that this presentation will offer you a durable ‘framework’ for your own planning.

Track what’s important with paper.li

To my (slight) shame, I periodically purge the list of people I follow on Twitter. I simply don't have the time to read the minutiae of some of their lives, despite the fact they occasionally come up with worthwhile gems.

Now, I've discovered a way of getting the best of both worlds: I can keep up with the more interesting/useful Tweets from whoever I like while keeping down the number of people I follow in Twitter itself.

So, three cheers for paper.li – a free service that builds online daily newspapers: from a Twitter user and the people they follow; from a twitter list; or from a hashtag. It looks for Tweets that contain links and publishes an extract from the destination, crediting the Tweeter at the foot of the piece. You can click the headline to go to the original article/site

Paper.li earns its money from small display ads dropped into your newspaper.

Paperli

'envirolist' is my Twitter list of people who specialise in environmental and ethical stuff.

You probably can't see the detail in the above picture, but it has a 'trending topics' cloud and a live Tweet stream from the people in the list over on the right.

I currently have two papers running and I can create a further eight. My two are paper.li/tebbo and the one above, paper.li/tebbo/envirolist.

As a quick way to catch up on what's going on, paper.li is a corker. It requires minimal effort to set up a paper and it will even announce each new edition to your Twitter followers if you want, complete with the inclusion of some contributors' names.

Envirolisttweet

[Update Sept 7: I switched the notification off two days ago. While no-one had complained to me, paper.li updates were beginning to annoy some Twitter users. This could only get worse as the service became more popular. Today, the company has changed the notification to top story only and it has dropped name plugs. It helps, but if anyone wants to follow my papers, the links are in my Twitter bio. I'm not switching notification back on.]

With paper.li's simplicity comes a lack of flexibility but, once you start complicating things, you have to start learning stuff. This turns (some) people off.

As it stands, paper.li reminds me of my first encounter with Google – it was a shock to just see a text box and a search button. And look what that led to…

One Tweet leads to an improved infographic

Although I was delighted with the infographic I ended up with in the last post, I knew it could be improved. If only I could figure out how to use just a single .gif, sliding the overlay elements into view as the finger or mouse hovered over them.

If you've not read the post, I used over 20 separate transparent .gif files, laying each one over the top of the background image in response to the mouse/finger hover position.

My CSS skills (or lack of them) meant I was spending days wrestling with the single .gif problem. And the work I'd already done was doing a good job anyway. The total size of all the files involved was about 180k and I figured I'd be unlikely to save more than a third of that. But, the elegance of a two-file solution (HTML/CSS in one, all the images in the other) appealed to the erstwhile programmer in me.

At the point of giving up, I thought I'd throw out a plea for a CSS wizard and, blow me down, one Ben Summers responded. I'd written a piece about his Information Systems company, OneIS, in 2008.

I explained pretty much what I said in the previous post and within the hour, he sent me an email outlining how he would tackle the problem. He broke the log jam. I'd already prepared the new graphic in anticipation, slightly jazzing up the images as I went along, so all that was left was to replace bits of my code with bits of Ben's and insert the coordinates of the various bits of the new image.

This is a shrunken version of the new image with a ghastly yellow to show up the transparent areas:

ArchImage

The layout looks a bit peculiar because each overlay element needed to occupy its own rectangular area.

Ben's CSS used the z-index attribute to make sure that the hover layer was nearest the user, the overlay layer was next and the background layer (taken from the top part of the gif) was at the bottom. In my fumbled attempts to achieve a result, I got the hover and overlay layers the wrong way round, which meant that the hotspots were often hidden by the overlay element. Ben's code did it right, of course.

The hover layer was the bit that was giving me the most grief because I wanted to associate multiple hover areas with one overlay element. Here's the blended Ben/David answer for the transition element (the loopy thing about halfway down the image on the right):

#tr  .p1  {left:168px; top:301px; width:74px; height:70px; }
#tr  .p2  {left:243px; top:330px; width:46px; height:35px; }
#diagram #tr a:hover span.img
{
  left: 172px; top: 307px;
  width: 407px; height: 124px;
  background-position: -553px -1222px;
}

The first two lines define the hotspots and the third determines the hover action which is to display the overlay element defined in the lower curly braces. The first two lines in these braces determine where the overlay should be placed and the third shows where it can be found in the .gif image.

The HTML part for this same element looks like this:

 

#tr stands for the transition element. The 'a href=' anchor goes nowhere on click (but it could take you off somewhere else). The first two spans deal with the hotspots while the third slides the overlay in between the hotspot layer and the background.

If you want to explore the CSS/HTML and .gif in detail, they're at http://www.tebbo.com/howtohandlethemedia/index.html  and  http://www.tebbo.com/howtohandlethemedia/newarch.gif

Of course, it didn't end there. I offered to give Ben a hand with something he's doing. And, who knows, that may end up the subject of another blog.

Cheers Ben. Cheers Twitter. And good luck to you if you plan to go down the interactive infographics route. I've quite got the taste for it and I'm already planning my next one.

Under the covers of a hand-crafted interactive infographic

In my last blog, I said I’d share the experience of creating an interactive infographic which needed only CSS/HTML and some .gif image files. I used mainly low cost or free PC software.

Two bits took up a lot of time. One was figuring out how to deal with nested (and curved) shapes. The other was capturing all the coordinates for the hotspots. As I mentioned to a pal this morning, “It was mind-bending stuff. A bit like cleaning the windows of a skyscraper with a sponge and a bucket while learning to abseil.” Not one of my most eloquent analogies, perhaps, but it was off the cuff.

The start point was an image of the basic architecture for handling the media plus a header line. The image is quite old, but I’m pretty sure I created it using the GIMP. I typed the elements of the header line into Word, then took a screen shot, pasted it into IrfanView, cut out the bit I wanted and dropped it into the GIMP. This was the base, or background, image for all that followed.

Bg

I thought about tarting up the architecture illustration – making the lines three-dimensional, for example, but it was beyond my competence. Having said that, the interactive infographic is intended to mirror my business card and the ‘greybeards’ slide deck. (That’s my post-hoc justification, anyway.)

So, to the task at hand:

I used CSS to recognise and display the three layers: background image, hotspots and replacement image. I’d done it before, but in different ways. (I Googled ‘CSS HTML hover hotspot map’ or similar and found the interesting work of Stu Nicholls.) I liked his idea of redefining the <i> element in CSS to display each replacement image.

If you want to see the actual code, just ‘view source’ of the web page. The CSS and the HTML are all in there together. (You’ll notice some ‘z-index’ references: these determine the stack level of each element: cursor, hotspot, replacement image and background image. The higher the number, the nearer the user.)

I used the GIMP to create separate .gif files for the background and each of the replacement images. I felt it was cheating (compared with other image-switching work I’ve done before where I kept all the elements in a single file and shuffled them around, such as the grid here and the photo here.) Doing it with separate files was fairly quick and straightforward and the files are tiny – less than 50k each.

UPDATE 27 JULY: They’re over five times tinier now. Only the changes to the background image are stored in transparent .gif files.

I created the text boxes and drop shadows in PowerPoint for speed. I scaled the presentation pages to match the iPad-sized ‘architecture’ graphic, then took screen shots of eight boxes at a time and pasted them into IrfanView.

From there I cut and pasted each box in turn into the appropriate GIMP image. (Each lives in its own layer and they can be selectively merged, so they all start off transparent, apart from the background which shows through the whole lot.) Because the cut images were rectangular and the text boxes had curved corners, I had to use the GIMP’s tools to effect a repair when the underlying graphics were obliterated.

To create each .gif, I saved the visible image (the highlighted area and text box on a transparent background with the base, or background, image showing through).

Se

The HTML simply bolted together the hotspots for each image. I used the TextPad text editor for the HTML and the CSS (which I embedded in the HTML header) so it’s all just one file.

The hotspots could only be determined in rectangles, which was okay for the triangles side but a nightmare for the circles side. (I admit I did try to figure out if I could nest HTML’s ‘circle’, ‘rectangle’ and ‘polygon’ image maps to achieve the desired effects – a long story, but I gave up.) The hotspots also needed to be ‘finger aware’ for iPad users, so I made some of them bigger than the underlying image element.

I worked out the hotspot coordinates by cursoring over the GIMP image and taking the top/left height/width readings. To keep myself on track, I temporarily gave the hotspots a light grey background colour and used TextPad’s ‘View/In Web Browser’ option to check progress.

Grey

Elegant it is not. But it works well enough.

And that, my friends, is it. No JavaScript, no Flash, no dependencies on anything except an HTML file (with embedded CSS) and a deck of .gif images.