Monthly Archives: January 2009

Twitter motivations?

Do you use Twitter? What are your motives for using it?

If you don’t know what I am talking about, Twitter is an emerging social networking phenomenon that lets anyone “tweet” in 140 characters or less their thoughts, opinions or just what they are doing, right at that moment. Anyone can follow your tweets, and you can follow others. By tuning into different people, you get a stream of thoughts and comments steadily flowing through to you, and you can participate in “the stream” by replying to people, or just adding your own thoughts undirected to anyone in particular.

If you have ever used a chat room, Twitter is kind-a like a “build-your-own” chat-room, where you choose the members you listen to, but they can’t necessarily hear you or each other. Sound confusing? Sound inane? Well it is a simple idea, which has strange addictive qualities that people all around the world are discovering.

Different people have different reasons for using Twitter. In it’s simplest form it is a tool for participating in conversations with your friends and associates. Some people manage only a small group of people they follow and the conversations are personal and relevant. For others it is a tool to build professional and personal networks. They follow industry conversations. For others it is a path to Internet stardom, and having large interested audiences they can entertain. For some it is a way to tap into the broad social consciousness, to get a feel for what people are thinking and talking about around the world.

Twitter can be many things to different people, but the common thread is that Twitter is a way to have a conversation with others.

Like always when a new idea starts to get traction, and a community builds around it, people inevitably starting to think how to make money through it, how to sell your wares through Twitter, how to “cash in”. If you say this to the early adopter users of Twitter, the initial reaction is “Gawd, keep those bastards out”, the bastards being of course the evil marketers and big bad corporates. Of course no one wants to be spammed through Twitter, along with everywhere else. But more and more companies are discovering that Twitter is a way to have conversations with their customers. Not selling to their customers, but talking with them. After all you can’t stop people from talking about you or your products bad or good, but you can choose to be part of that conversation. Besides, every person, as a user of Twitter, chooses who they want to listen to, so as soon as they get the sales pitch from a company they follow, they have the choice to turn off that conversation. For companies, the best way to engage with existing or new customers is to have genuine conversations that they want to participate in. It sounds pretty simple.

So having said that, is there any threat that Twitter will one day be yet another vehicle to be owned by the marketers? I think right now Twitter is in a bit of an “Age of Innocence”, it is becoming incredibly popular, and it is an interface to conversations you would not normally be a participant of. I can tweet with Telecom New Zealand (@telecomnz) and Vodafone (@vodafonenz), and if I am having a problem with a product or service they are most helpful, due credit to both. They respond with genuine interest but still in a casual Twitter way. To be honest this beats calling their call centres hands down. But then 20 years ago, if you emailed both someone within would have responded the same, with personal interest and enthusiasm because they probably only got one email from a customer each day, and it made a pleasant change. Will it be different when they have to respond to 5 tweets a second? Is the “We have received your tweet and will respond within 1 working day” message inevitable one day?

Today you can follow your favourite celebs, and tweet with them. You can quite often even get personal replies from them too. Is it the fan mail of the new century? Stephen Fry @stephenfry has a whopping 52,000 follows, and he is in the top ten twitterers worldwide (by follower numbers) so you may not get a personal response from him, but he does write his own tweets. But when Twitter reaches critical mass will it be harder to participate in conversations with these people, and will they be less genuine?

It will be fascinating to watch what happenes over the next 24 months, and to watch as different market segments adopt Twitter. Will it be the beginning of the end when after a TV news article, they invite you to “talk back” on their twitter address? Will print advertising invite people to follow products on Twitter? Will it be good or bad? At the end of the day, I feel it will be the Twitter users who will decide.

Today I get my news headlines through twitter, I follow interesting celebs, I get information about new product releases (not sales pitches) from companies I am interested in, I get blog feeds and finally, the random thoughts of many many different people (but mostly technology geeks). All my choice. My Twitter motivation is to connect with like minded people, and have genuine interesting conversations with them. As soon as the conversations stop being genuine and interesting I may turn them off. But right now, Twitter is the wild west/new frontier phase. No rules, no barriers, and find your own way.

So what are your Twitter motivations? If you don’t currently tweet, what would (or wouldn’t) you use Twitter for?

Today’s inspirational message

Here is today’s inspirational message (well any day’s inspiration actually). This came as a reminder from Get Frank‘s @richhenry on Twitter, plus a post on www.getfrank.co.nz. You may remember this as a Saatchi ad from the 90′s. Goose-pimply inspirational (mind the pun).

For the full transcript of the ad see the post over on getfrank.co.nz.

Hooonk!

NZ Uphill

My major new year resolution came to me a little late this year. Well to be honest, I made it on New Years Eve, but kept it under my hat for a bit, just to make really damn sure I wasn’t just drunk and it is something I might like to do.

To show that the recession is less of an uphill battle than people think, I’m doing my bit by riding NZ uphill on a bike. A push bike that is. And on the way I am going to do many detours to meet some interesting people and places, and I will be sharing the whole experience through yet another blog called nzuphill.8degrees.co.nz, where you will get good lengthy posts about my prep and journeys, plus I will be updating the world via Twitter, and any other damn social media channel I can find. Also by starting at the bottom it is more of a challenge (cause it is uphill you know ;) ).

Really it is to get myself in better condition, and to do something interesting with my life. Here is my first post on why the hell I am doing it, over on nzuphill.8degrees.co.nz. Have a read or visit http://nzuphill.8degrees.co.nz anytime for updates. If you can share any tips or advice, then do get in touch via email or @rowsell on Twitter.

Ferrit, an expensive lesson.

Two years ago I wrote about the relaunch of ferrit.co.nz (with an actual shopping cart this time) and predicted that despite all the things wrong with the site, that eventually Telecom would get there because they have quite a considerable war chest to throw at it, and they will bludgeon into submission the public with advertising. But I actually thought (out of despair) they would get their act together and actually spend the money on delivering a better online shopping experience to the public. But two years later, (three years after first launch) what have they done?

Spent money (predicted $36M), did no innovation targeted for the consumer and built a site does what it did two years ago.

Where did they go wrong?

PEOPLE ARE NOT THAT LAZY: Ferrit fell for the misconception that people will shop online in their undies because they can and it is less work than going to the shops. People are not that lazy. People love shopping. The trend is to research online and then buy in store. The exceptions are books, DVDs and music and similar. But if you are shopping for a chrome toaster, people like to look at their reflection in it first. So to change this behaviour you need to give some incentive.

NO MOTIVATION OR INCENTIVE: There was no reason to actually buy from Ferrit. It is as simple as that! You could get everything in store, or even from the retailers website direct.

PRICING: If you are shopping online you would expect to get a discount, not pay the same as you would in store. Especially when you have to add shipping.

NO COMMUNITY: After the toaster review fiasco, any chance of community fell apart. At best Ferrit just became a directory of retailers and a catalogue of their products.

ANNOYING ADS: Those TV ads were a shocker. They were funny at first, but then got really annoying really quickly.

BAD COMMERCIAL MODEL: Looking at the retailer agreements Ferrit had with it’s retailers, they expected some pretty sizable commissions from the sales, and this varied depending on the type of product being sold. On top of the Ferrit commission, the retailer needs to make a commission too, so where is the room to give the consumer a good deal. There is NONE. Ferrit became just an extra clip of the ticket.

THEY FORGOT ABOUT THE CUSTOMER: I kinda get the feeling Ferrit thought the retailer was the customer, and forgot about the people who will actually part with their cash.

What amazes me most is that they ignored all the advice and criticism that came from the industry. Everyone, but Ferrit it seems, knew their model was a failure. And they didn’t adapt.

Will anything fill the gap, well is there a gap? I think Trade Me have it pretty much covered. Otherwise, if you are a retailer wanting to sell online, then there are plenty of plug and pay shopping tools that you can plug into your own site. Then you can keep the Ferrit commission, or you may actually want to give the consumer a deal, and an incentive to buy from you online.

Save NZ from the recession with tourism activism (actourvism)

Here is a nifty idea to combat the effects of the global recession in NZ.

Tourism is our biggest export earner right? We love people coming to our little bump on the edge of the planet, and as Kiwis we love hosting people and telling them how great our part of the world is.

Here is a really smart and free idea (if any are in fact free) I was toying with while CTO at Vianet. This is for Tourism NZ, or any one who wants to make NZ shine on the world tourism stage. A “My NZ” social media site. Here is how it could work.

  • The site, say www.mynz.com is a place for New Zealanders and visitors to New Zealand to have conversations about how fantastic NZ is.
  • Let everyone have a say in their own space/page, in their own words and in their own way, about why they love NZ.
  • Let them upload their NZ in pictures, audio and video. Identify the places they love in maps, favourite samples of life in NZ, music, culture, poetry, film.
  • Link off to other social channels like Twitter and Facebook, YouTube channels, Blogger and WordPress. Every time someone contributes with why they love NZ, channel it with tweets and posts out through their other networks, to their friends and associates. Make it easy for people to have conversations about NZ with the rest of the world.
  • Connect with great kiwi companies promoting NZ through technology, like ProjectX Technology/Zoomin, Vianet.travel, EventFinder, Bookabach etc. Connect it through www.madefromnewzealand.com, Tourism NZ
  • Get people blogging on mynz.com. Invite prominent kiwis to write.
  • Get Tourism NZ tweeting and twitpic-ing on twitter.
  • Give New Zealanders ownership, and make them a part of bringing people to NZ. Offer bookings of trips, accommodation, activities through mynz.com. If you bring someone in through your profile and network, and they book travel through the site, earn points, commission, tax credits, jelly beans or a ranking based on how many people you connect with and brought to NZ.
  • Make every kiwi a sales agent for New Zealand. Start tourism activism, actourvism!
  • Make it fun. Make it infectious. Spread NZ like a virus!

You could almost start it with a little bit of work for relatively low cost by using established social networks and free tools out there. You would just need to build the central cog, the glue, the brand.

It might sound wacky, but I think it would work! Think about it. Don’t you love telling the world how great our country is? What is the best form of promotion? Through word of mouth via people you identify with and trust.

Why now is the best time to invest in kiwi technology companies

I have recently been talking to a lot of people who circulate within the kiwi tech sphere, and am finding that the brilliance of the fire that burns within them is looking a little faint and off colour. It is understandable that everyone is wondering what the net affect of the global financial crisis is and is expecting the worst, which is a fair enough position to take. Always plan for the worst and then work from there I say. But what is missing is the required optimism that if you can take the worst, everything will only get better.

Now I am no naval gazer so here is one thing that I would like to point out (and do quite often). In New Zealand we have some of the worlds brightest, most experienced, hard working entrepreneurs and technologists. I would wager that per capita, we have a better saturation than anywhere else in the world, and you know as kiwis we can do a lot with #8 fencing wire, old parts from a ZX spectrum and a couple of jet engines. We don’t usually give up, and we have oodles of common sense practicality that we all learnt as kids (playing with #8 wire, ZX Spectrums and … well sky-rockets cause we didn’t have Martin Jetpacks).

So why is now a good time to invest and develop great kiwi technology companies? Simple. We know how to put our heads down and get things done.

While the markets are recovering and the recession bites, we need to be building the tools and solutions that businesses and consumers will want as they start to pull themselves out of the crater and realise that there is blue sky up there. The talent is here, and the desire is here. The only thing missing is the smart money who is not knee jerking with the rest of the financial world.

Who is the smart money? Well if you are reading this and have an appetite to invest, are an angel or an institutional investor, then this is you if you can look at the market and see that it has never been better for investing in the development of new clever businesses and technology, because:

  • PEOPLE – There are more skilled people available in the pool out there right now. To boot there is no shortage of wise minds around who like to help New Zealand businesses succeed like Sam Morgan, Rowan Simpson, Nathan Torkington, and Seeby Woodhouse. For good businesses it is not hard to get good advice.
  • COSTS – Costs will be down. Everyone knows its time to tighten the belt a notch or two. After getting the right people with the right motivation, you can do a lot with a little. If you take a stake in a company, they will be pretty reasonable with current valuations.
  • ADVANTAGE – Businesses will be looking for better ways to do things that save them money. We should be building more businesses like the Xero‘s, the PlanHQ‘s, the Nexx‘s or the SilverStripe‘s now in the down time and be ahead of the game when things get going again.
  • MATURITY – The kiwi tech sector has been mature for some time. Our people are damn good at building world leading clever things. We are not just kicking around in the garage any more.

What needs to happen? Smart investors need to invest now. The New Zealand Government needs to free up cash for developing great NZ businesses. Entrepreneurs need to take some deep breaths and keep going, knowing that the rewards will come with a recovering market.

So this is what I tell everyone who asks me about the recession and my plans ahead. It’s nose down for me, preparing for the sun that will shine in 18 or so months. I am working on a couple of great projects that are everyday increasing their potential for success. All they need is time, energy and resources and they will succeed. Just like the tens of dozens, if not hundreds, of great businesses who know that now is the best time to build their chances of success.

Are the odd years good for you?

We have gone from an even year to an odd year. Does that matter?

I have a little superstition that the evens are bountiful and the odds are hard work. Now that’s not to be pessimistic and expect doom and gloom (gawd there are enough doom merchants around at the moment). No, I actually like the odd numbered years. They are nose down kind of years, and I always seem to get a lot done. Now of course this is all silly superstition.

So what did I plan in 08?

Read more, think more, be more
This is pretty hard to measure, but I have made a concerted effort to spend more quality time reading quality, having more quality thinking time and not feeling rushed. All in all I think I am more effective. So success.

Do more to enhance my way of living without relying on buying crap
We rented no DVD’s in 08. I gave myself a “discretionary spend” budget each week and stuck to it. I did buy a new TV, but my old one was had it, and I bought an iPhone. Neither of these things can be considered “crap”. Oh and I got a boat so I can get away from things that make you want to buy crap. So I think this is a success.

Grow a really impressive moustache
SUCCESS! I thoroughly enjoyed Movember 08 and having everyone ask me if I grew my mo in sub-30 days. Yeah right. I was asked if now I will shave it off. No, I think I will hold onto it for a while. It has become kinda attached.

Avoid marketing
This one was easy. I watched only the TVNZ Freeview channels with no ads, downloaded TV series I like (with no ads), and stopped reading newspapers. Once you pull away from the mainstream media that pretty much cuts it down to mailbox circulars and online ads. Neither of these actually register with me anyway.

Be a better person
Success. I was a notorious work-a-holic and often let my work get in the way of other nuisances like, healthy relationships and lifestyle. I am now a reformed work-a-holic. I still work hard but in measured doses. I left my full time operational role with Vianet, and started part time consultancy which has quickly become a regular thing. I spend more time with my family and love them even more. I have more time for friends, and the community. And most importantly I have more time for me.

Move more
I have lost 8kg in 08. I find it much easier to get off my arse now. It is great!

Love more
I spend more quality time with my family. My youngest daughter spent the first 2 years of her life with a never there dad. And when I was I was always thinking about work. I have discovered two beautiful girls living in my house and they become more delightful everyday.

Eat less
As part of my weight loss, I watch what I eat. I count everything. It is amazing how oblivious I was to the amount of crap going into my body. When you carefully measure the inputs you can get very predictable outputs, and this is the secret to success for most things. If you don’t measure the inputs, how can you possibly expect the right outputs. As Rowan once advised, measure everything!

Hate less
Lastly, as a result of all the above I find I am much happier, and thus don’t hate as much. There is still much that “grinds my gears” but I don’t hate it as much. I find that if I don’t like something, rather than hating it, I provide constructive criticism, and see if I can help them or it out so I don’t hate it some much.

Well what is ahead for 09? I think the above worked so I’m gonna stick with it. But there is one new thing to add. There is a project I have been toying around with as an idea for some time now. Occasionally I tinker away at it. But this year I am going to get it going. I will make a plan (using PlanHQ) of what I want to achieve and then give it quality time. This is a year of hard work you know.

Also I refuse to participate in the recession. I think it is all psycological anyway. Anyone who tries to get me to subscribe to the impending doom will get a quick dose of optimisim and sunshine.