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Are We Immune to the Incredible?

Are We Immune to the Incredible?

Every day, all around us, the most amazing technological advances are introduced to make the world a better, more connected place. And no one bats an eye. Are we immune to the incredible?

Last Tuesday, I was flying to Dallas. That’s a four-hour flight give or take some help/hindrance from the wind. Thanks to the rain, my trip took a little over 12 hours. Then, on Thursday, I was flying back home, which took me nearly ten hours thanks in large part to a three and a half hour delay in Chicago. There was a time when I would’ve had to call my week a wash, and let go of the fact that I had lost two days. That’s not the case anymore, and we rarely, if ever, think anything of it.

The Technological Evolution

In 1965, Intel founder Gordon Moore described the first iteration of what has since become known as Moore’s Law. At its core, Moore’s Law states (and supports) that the number of transistors that can fit onto an integrated circuit doubles every two years. Logarithmically, that looks something like this:

Moore's Law and Technological Growth

From an engineer’s perspective, this is exciting enough as it is on its own. However, how can the average consumer appreciate just what this means in terms of where we are today? Well, let’s look at the concentration of red dots (which focus on calculations per second, or, more simply, average computational power per $1,000). In the decade between 1950-60, more was done to advance computational power than in all the centuries before that decade combined. The same is true of the last decade.

We’re on the verge of opening entirely new worlds of possibility and exploration, and we genuinely don’t care.

Why Don’t We Care?

Technology has sort of become the unconscious boy who cried wolf. Of course, we do care in the sense that our lives depend on these advancements (up to a point, which I will get to in a moment) but the fact that what was once perceived as magic takes place on a piece of metal in our pockets in fractions of a second is commonplace shows that our expectations and presumptions have shifted dramatically.

Bored Mobile User

I was in the car with a friend recently and we were debating the country of origin of a particular author. Driving down the highway, I simply called out “OK, Google…” and asked a question. Then, a human (enough) voice gave us the answer we were looking for. For a brief second, I took a (virtual) step backward and vocally acknowledged my bewilderment. How amazing is it that we’re traveling at high speeds on a busy highway and have access to a virtually endless source of information, and we don’t even need our fingertips for it anymore? Not only that, but how many times a day does my life almost literally depend on this little magical rectangle in my pocket? Probably more than I would like to admit.

So to answer the question of why do we not “care” in the same way that we used to care when technologies would be unveiled at a world’s fair? I would think that it has a lot to do with Moore’s Law and Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns.

Kurzweil, Evolution and My Airport Delays

Ray Kurzweil, inventor, futurist and believer that he will live forever (in some capacity) has a theory referred to as the Law of Accelerating Returns. It is fairly simple: as evolutionary processes and progress increase exponentially over time (which holds true in the context of the history of life on Earth) so too shall the returns reaped from this evolution. In a technological context, as our intelligence and technology advance more rapidly, the power and uses of that technology shall correlatively advance.

It’s a fascinating yet simple concept when you think of it. 25 years ago, the world wide web made its debut, opening up the possibility to connect every single man, woman, child (and now so much more) on the face of the Earth. For the billions of years prior to that, there was no such thing, and now, less than three decades later, billions of years of human, intellectual and technological evolution are available in the palm of my hand.

So as I sat at the airport for a total of a full day last week, I was able to do so without skipping a beat. Four-hour delay? I’ll work on an article, a proposal and jump on that conference call I thought I’d miss. Six hours now? How about tweaking that presentation I have next week? And once I’m on the plane? Not to worry – I’m connected there too.

It’s pretty incredible when you think about it. But, alas, we rarely do.

Here’s How LinkedIn Can Save Itself

Here’s How LinkedIn Can Save Itself

There are a few important changes LinkedIn needs to make in order to save itself from a disastrous fate.

If you happened to catch a glimpse of LinkedIn’s stock price over the last week or so, you might have noticed a straight line downwards on Friday February 5th. That wasn’t a glitch; LinkedIn’s stock price has fallen by over 40% (at the time of writing) since it announced lower-than-expected earnings and lowered projections for the coming year. Investors are losing their patience.

LinkedIn Stock Price Feb 7 16

Despite having a great core product (which LinkedIn very much still does) many of the efforts of the professional network to expand have not yielded strong results. In fact, in a lot of respects, those expansion efforts have rather resulted in an almost ‘worst case scenario’ outcome.

This is not to say that LinkedIn has missed the mark every time it has done something; the acquisition of SlideShare in 2012, for example, was a brilliant move and continues to be among its best. But some of the more universal oversights have cost the network dearly, and there are a few pain points that need to be addressed as soon as possible in order to end the slide into penny stock status (though that’s still a long way off – we hope).

Spamalot Central

Facebook is consistently working on its algorithm in order to ensure that the content you see is what is most relevant to you. The result has been quarter-over-quarter growth in average session time, engagement per post, engagement per user, and more metrics that have come into existence since the advent of social media in the world of marketing.

LinkedIn has taken a slightly different approach.

In order to encourage engagement among its users, InMail exists (which guarantees a user will see the message). Of course, users pay for that privilege, but is accommodating the users who pay for mass (spam) messages like that really worth the detriment that does on the user experience as a whole?

How often do you receive unsolicited messages on LinkedIn offering to sell you traffic, invest in a business opportunity, or, in some cases, enlarge or enhance something? In the last month alone, I’ve been included on over a dozen chain-style message threads (another issue) from users (and including users) with whom I’ve never connected. I pay close attention to who I allow into my professional circle, but all that seems to factor into is my feed content, and has no influence on what kind of trash I’m sent from peddling affiliates.

A better spam filtration system needs to be put in place by LinkedIn and it needs to be put in place fast. More and more users (as exhibited by time on site and people I’ve spoken to) are using LinkedIn for little more than a place to host a resume and highlight some skills, rather than a network where actual business can get done. These filters don’t need to be all that complicated either for them to work (and improve the experience).

First, these kinds of promotional messages (and chain messages) should be restricted to second or third points of contact. Introductions (with character limits or standard content set by LinkedIn) should be the ONLY content that non-connections are allowed to send at the outset. If someone send me something along the lines of, “Thanks for connecting, I look forward to talking to you a little bit more about how we might be able to work together!” I’ll be significantly more likely to look through his or her profile, see what it is they do and, if I see potential, engage with the user and open up a professional dialogue.

I wonder what kind of horrific return these affiliates and marketers see when they purchase InMail packages and generate nothing. That might be a nice short term gain for the network, but as we have seen with this year’s earnings reports, it’s not a solution.

Improved Ad Dashboards

Advertising is any social network’s (even a professional one’s) bread and butter. So, as we’ve seen with Facebook – the shining example of social advertising that marketers love – constant improvements should be made to a dashboard in order to make it simpler, more effective and more evolved. This is an area where LinkedIn has really struggled.

As someone who has been involved in social advertising for years now, it is not hard to tell which network (of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) has seen the slowest evolution in its ads platform. As Facebook and Twitter have introduced new capabilities and made the management of campaigns and creative much more efficient, LinkedIn has done little to evolve its dashboard.

It has certain undergone some aesthetic changes, but ad campaigns function in an archaic fashion. It is almost as if marketers are publishing magazine ads and hoping that they work. Why do I say this? Well, ads can be created…but that’s about it. Editing is a nightmare (if not entirely non-existent) and as you create varieties of your creative, your campaign become overwhelmingly populated with different variations. For a network that is built on professionalism, the ads dashboard is far too disorganized.

A simpler, more tasteful segmentation, like that of Facebook’s setup (which modelled itself after Google) would make life much easier. Moreover, the ability to edit ads and feature proper creative to populate a link preview (as opposed to a tiny window with a fraction of what’s actually on the ad) would go a very long way in driving marketers to use LinkedIn ads more frequently.

Improved Ad Placements

And again with the ads.

Most marketers can agree that the age of the banner is dead. And yet, the right-hand side ad lives on. Granted it is a viable bit of real estate, and LinkedIn has done a better job than Facebook of optimizing the appearance of the RHS ad (instead of several ads scrolling, one appears in a noticeable box at a time) but for advertisers the value is in sharing content to a targeted user’s feed.

That can still be done on LinkedIn, but where both Facebook and Twitter have the network beat is in how to drive traffic from these ads. As noted above, the tiny image that populates a link is completely worthless. A large, eye-catching piece of creative with a clear call-to-action and a different visual structure than a regular post or update is what makes an ad worth the marketer’s budget. LinkedIn needs to make changes to how creative we can get with those ads.

There is no denying the viability of the audience on LinkedIn. Barring those users that are simply sharing spam (I’ll get to that again in a second) there is the most targeted group of people active on the network than any other social platform. So it would make sense that LinkedIn charges a little bit more than other networks for its ad space, but you’re paying five, ten even twenty times as much per click (trust me I’ve done the comparisons) for an ugly, boring ad that can’t be changed once you click ‘Start’.

Ads need to be more visually stimulating if marketers are to see results from them, and their placements need to be more apparent in the timeline than simply allowing users to create Sponsored Updates.

User Purge

LinkedIn has registered about 414 million users. Based on the content I mentioned above that floods my inbox, I wouldn’t flinch if you told me half of those were spam.

OK – maybe not half. But you get my point.

It’s time for LinkedIn to clean up its network. Hitting that critical mass is exciting, and it means charging more for advertising, but as more bots and tactless affiliates join the network, the value of that ad space goes down. Now, the cat is out of the bag as far as how people are using the network. Several are using the online space to store a resume. Others are using it to share content and find a new job. Recruiters are using it to find those users. And so, so, SO many are using it to tell me about an amazing business opportunity that I need to act on or sell me traffic.

To rebound from this devastating hit, LinkedIn may need to sacrifice a huge portion of its user base. That might seem counterintuitive, but one theme that has been apparent in a lot of what LinkedIn has done has been short-term thinking. This is looking at the value to marketers in the long-run.

Conclusion

Nothing here is vastly complex. I’m not suggesting a paradigm shift in how the network functions or what it offers. These are existing models that simply need a tweak.

Of course, this won’t happen overnight. It will take time and it will take just as much (if not more) time to see the effects of this working. But I really do believe that in order for LinkedIn to survive this downward spiral, it needs to look towards simplification, rather than expansion.

As Wall Street begins to shake and the memories of 2000 start to creep back up in their minds, they are taking good hard looks at what is working and what is not. Right now, there is a lot about LinkedIn that scares them. But the potential is certainly there and the product is fantastic. Taking heed of a few of these suggestions might just help it get back into the good graces of the powers that be (and drive up active advertiser numbers as well).

What do you think LinkedIn needs to do to come out of this mess?

Quantum Computing: First Steps to Creating a Mind

Quantum Computing: First Steps to Creating a Mind

Google’s newest super (duper) computer is a major step towards creating a mind.

Where to even begin on what it possibly the most exciting topic I’ve covered since I started writing. This is a subject so dense that I had to research plenty just to write a subjective blog post. Google recently unveiled the superest of super computers that recently proved its capable of something special: quantum computing.

Google Quantum Computing

Perhaps the best place to start is with a brief discussion about Ray Kurzweil.

Creating a Mind

Google’s Chief Futurist (and, I think it would be safe to say, humanity’s chief futurist) is, put simply, a genius. He predicted the demise of the Soviet Union as a result of increased access to technology and the age of intelligent machines (capable of winning a chess match) correctly, and in 2012, he wrote How to Create a Mind.

In his book (a fantastic read if you find yourself looking for something to flip through over the holidays) he details the complexity of the human mind, paying special attention to the neocortex and its higher functions such as conscious thought. Ultimately, Kurzweil aims to explain how one might create an artificial mind, and uses the vast landscape of the human mind to showcase the difficulty in doing so.

Complexity of the human mind

What makes the structure of the human mind so complex (and therefore makes the process of trying to mimic its functions such a daunting task)? There are roughly 100 billion neurons in the human brain. Each neuron can have upwards of 10,000 connections to other neurons, and is capable of passing signals via as many as 1,000 trillion synaptic connections. Put that into machine terms, and you have the equivalent to a computer with a 1 trillion bit per second processor.

The point is, it’s a lot, and its easy to see why Kurzweil cites the creation of a mind or mind-like mechanism as a daunting task. But not impossible. (For more on that, I would recommend reading Kurzweil’s book The Singularity is Near, which you can buy here.)

Understanding Quantum Computing

I’ll be the first to admit that I am far from an expert in the field of quantum mechanics. Like a lot of people, I find the area of study to be fascinating, but I don’t profess to know the first thing about atomic and subatomic processes. That said, I’m happy to share a (very) laymen’s explanation in the way that I understand it in order to give you a better understanding of quantum computing. (Watch Cosmos for a clearer definition with Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s soothing voice explaining it to you.)

In the large-scale world of energy, we have checks and balances. We see movement and change and shifts in our universe as continuous. For example, if I have a scale, and I place a weight on one side, that side will drop. Quantum physics studies the behavior of matter at the atomic level. While we might observe a uniform movement of an object (like the scale) quantum physics shows us how energy is actually absorbed and released in small, discrete quantities (quanta). Suffice it to say, it helps explain a lot (and gave us lasers!).

Quantum computing and the superposition principle

The superposition principle of quantum physics tells us that is stimulus A produces result X and stimulus B produces result Y, then (A+B)=(X+Y). I won’t go into much more detail, but this principle is what led to the theorization of quantum computing. Your average bit can either be on (1) or off (0) but what if, at the quantum level, it could be both? Then we go from 0 or 1 to 00, 01, 10, 11. This is what’s known as a qubit, and it’s at the root of quantum computing.

What Does This Have to Do with Google?

Quantum computing is not a new theory. In fact, it dates back about thirty years. What’s important is that now we can see the potential of quantum computing in action thanks to Google.

Earlier this week, you might have heard that Google created a computer that is 100 million times faster than the average PC. That’s clickbait at its finest. Google did build a $10 million quantum computing system that it tested on a  number of controls (successfully) but don’t expect a quantum computer on the shelves of Best Buy next Christmas. As Kurzweil predicted, we are still a few years away from that (closer to 2020). The important thing is that we’re getting there.

The Exciting Part

Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors in a circuit doubles every two years (based on technological development). If this law proves true in perpetuity, then we should reach the Singularity by 2045 (you can either take that as a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your stance vis a vis artificial intelligence). A functional quantum computing system is key to getting us there.

Moore's Law and Quantum Computing

As more data comes into existence, the computational systems that currently exist simply will not suffice. Think about that on a small scale, like YouTube. (Small, of course, being a relative term.) Every day, the YouTube community watches hundreds of millions of hours of content, while decades more worth of content are uploaded at the same time. Now scale that to the Internet as a whole. Without more powerful machines, none of this would be possible.

Processes like machine learning, artificial intelligence and, of course, the expansion of deep neural networks are facilitated with quantum computing. Soon enough, one hopes, we might be at that stage where we can create a mind, but for now, it’s exciting to watch the whole thing unfold before our eyes.

(Unless we face a Judgment Day-like scenario, which I’m guessing is why Elon Musk is not a fan of AI.)

An Important Facebook Lesson Worth Sharing

An Important Facebook Lesson Worth Sharing

I was locked out of Facebook for five days, and this is what that ordeal taught me.

On Friday morning, I woke up, went about my usual routine, and when I sat down to go through a couple of every day work checklist items, I realized something: I was ‘temporarily’ locked out of Facebook and I couldn’t seem to get back in.

When the message first popped up, I thought to myself, “No big deal. I’ll just change my password and I’ll be back in any second to get some work done.” Then it seemed as though I was caught in a never-ending loop, where the closest I could get to accessing my News Feed, Messenger and, most important, Facebook for Business account and ad campaigns was this:

Locked Out of Facebook

It was a pretty helpless feeling, particularly when you realize that Facebook has made a great effort to prevent individuals from reaching out to them with problems. Luckily, as an advertiser (and a few peers working there) there are alternative routes to dealing with this kind of thing. Granted, it wasn’t until after the holiday weekend that the engineering team was able to help me out, but I was fortunate enough to have a contact there that helped me deal with this issue quickly.

During my five-day Facebook-less stint, I realized a few things.

Facebook and the Hierarchy of Needs

Somewhere between love/belonging and self-actualization lies access to Facebook.

MaslowsHierarchyOfNeeds

I remember talking to a friend who works at Facebook recently and she said something that has resonated with me for quite some time:

“People talk about the decline in Facebook usage and how ‘Facebook is dead’ but the truth is that when people stop paying attention to how much they use it and it is simply with them and accessible wherever they go, Facebook has won.”

Nothing has ever rung more true than this thought while I was locked out of Facebook. So much of my daily routine – both personally and professionally – relies on unblocked access to the network. I was lucky enough to have a contingency in place that allowed me to resolve the issue, and all I could think to myself was, “What would happen if I needed access to all of this and was just…helpless?”

Marketers: Make Plans

For one reason or another, I was locked out of Facebook. Maybe it’s because there were issues with our email server (and my business email was connected to the account) maybe it’s because of a glitch on Facebook’s side, but whatever the case was, I was locked out with no end in sight. On a personal side, I wasn’t happy, but I would get over it and move on. On the professional side, if I hadn’t had contingencies in place I would have been in a very bad spot.

As an agency, t2 has been active on Facebook for Business for quite some time. (On a side note, if you’re not currently using the platform for your client management, you’re missing out on the network’s best feature for agencies.) So, when my account went down, administrators within the agency could still access and manage ad campaigns and client Pages. That won’t be the case for everyone.

So, if you haven’t taken the necessary precautions to protect your clients, ads and assets, stop reading this article and do it now.

Take Advantage of Security Options

While Facebook might not make it easy to reach a human being at the company, they do provide several security measures that are designed to both protect you and help you out in a case like this.

Make sure to have a few emails set up, a phone number or two, a security question to which you know the answer, a credit card on file (assuming you’re an advertiser) and – the one that I forgot to set up and wonder now if it would have made a difference – Trusted Friends.

Your trusted friends can be found in the Security menu within your Facebook settings, and it is a pretty simple way to get your closest friends on Facebook to verify your identity with a code sent by the network. Take some time and really complete your profile in order to ensure that you never find yourself in the same kind of situation.

Conclusion

I was lucky (and, again, many thanks to my friends at Facebook that helped me out of this jam) but not everyone will be. As soon as I got back into the network, I went above and beyond in creating multiple redundancies in order to ensure that if ever this happens again (and who knows – it might) I won’t sweat it. Do yourself a favor and do the same; it’s not fun to realize all of the things you’ve overlooked once it’s too late to take any action.

Digital vs. Analog: Looking Towards the Future

Digital vs. Analog: Looking Towards the Future

The future of tech is here, and it is very exciting.

On the heels of Microsoft’s big set of sweeping announcements and updates, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at what the future of tech has in store, and discuss one common trend that the entire industry is witnessing.

That shift has to do with going from the world of digital computing to analog.

What is the difference?

Normally, when we refer to the terms ‘analog’ and ‘digital’, the first thing that comes to mind is a clock.

Digital vs. Analog Future of TechIn this case, we tend to lean towards the digital clock. After all, that’s the one that appears to be more technically advanced. But when it comes to things like sound, or, in this case, computing, analog is far more advanced. It is uninterrupted and does not rely on relaying lines of code in the way that digital does.

The difference between these two concepts when we move away from the traditional image of the clock looks something like this:

Digital vs. Analog Future of Tech 1Perhaps the easiest way to understand how these two concepts differ is to compare them side by side.

Analog

Digital

Signal Analog signal is a continuous signal which represents physical measurements. Digital signals are discrete time signals generated by digital modulation.
Waves Denoted by sine waves Denoted by square waves
Representation Uses continuous range of values to represent information Uses discrete or discontinuous values to represent information
Example Human voice in air, analog electronic devices. Computers, CDs, DVDs, and other digital electronic devices.
Technology Analog technology records waveforms as they are. Samples analog waveforms into a limited set of numbers and records them.
Data transmissions Subjected to deterioration by noise during transmission and write/read cycle. Can be noise-immune without deterioration during transmission and write/read cycle.
Response to Noise More likely to get affected reducing accuracy Less affected since noise response are analog in nature
Flexibility Analog hardware is not flexible. Digital hardware is flexible in implementation.
Uses Can be used in analog devices only. Best suited for audio and video transmission. Best suited for Computing and digital electronics.
Applications Thermometer PCs, PDAs
Bandwidth Analog signal processing can be done in real time and consumes less bandwidth. There is no guarantee that digital signal processing can be done in real time and consumes more bandwidth to carry out the same information.
Memory Stored in the form of wave signal Stored in the form of binary bit
Power Analog instrument draws large power Digital instrument drawS only negligible power
Cost Low cost and portable Cost is high and not easily portable
Impedance Low High order of 100 megaohm
Errors Analog instruments usually have a scale which is cramped at lower end and give considerable observational errors. Digital instruments are free from observational errors like parallax and approximation errors.

Table credit: Diffen

What does this have to do with tech?

In the world of tech, the safest method of computing has long been digital. The reason for that is the repercussions of causing errors in analog computing. An interrupted signal interrupts communication, whereas digital computing allows for a virtually error-free communication. But that comes with limitations, like the necessity for both the sending and receiving devices to be speaking the same languages.

Analog, if working optimally, allows us to communicate seamlessly with devices in natural language. This opens new doors, like holographic imaging, shown recently by Microsoft at their event.

In a recent interview with Alex Kipman, Microsoft’s chief inventor, he was quoted as saying, “[The next era of computing […] won’t be about that original digital universe.] It’s about the analog universe.”

Wired senior writer Jessi Hempel goes on to explain, “You used to compute on a screen, entering commands on a keyboard. Cyberspace was somewhere else. Computers responded to programs that detailed explicit commands. In the very near future, you’ll compute in the physical world, using voice and gesture to summon data and layer it atop physical objects. Computer programs will be able to digest so much data that they’ll be able to handle far more complex and nuanced situations. Cyberspace will be all around you.”

Now, if that isn’t a concept to get very, very excited about, I don’t know what it. Welcome to the future!

Dear Hotels: Stop Charging for Bad Reviews

Dear Hotels: Stop Charging for Bad Reviews

Regardless of how much a hotel ‘fines’ guests for a bad review, it will never make up for the lost business.

I’m sure you’ve heard at least one story of these hotels (or restaurants, or ay other establishment for that matter) threatening to ‘fine’ guests for negative reviews on social review sites, like Yelp! or TripAdvisor. In fact, some of these businesses go so far as to include this provision in the terms and conditions of a guest’s stay. (That’s the case in one of the more recent examples below.)

Well, for your own benefit, stop doing this. The amount of business that you stand to lose from this backhanded technique is significantly more than the ‘fine’ will generate.

Social review sites are simply a way we, as consumers, conduct our research. There might have been a time when all we could do was bad-mouth a hotel to a friend or the Better Business Bureau, but these social review sites and other mass, social media have made it much easier to share the truth about an experience. And in some cases, the truth of the aftermath.

Here’s What Happened

There are plenty of stories like this, but the most recent one (and the inspiration for this article) revolves around the Jenkinsons.

Tony and Jan Jenkinson are your average tourist, and a few weeks ago, they stayed at the Broadway Hotel Blackpool in England. The hotel wasn’t particularly expensive (roughly $60 per night with the exchange rate), and when they arrived, they soon realized why they booked the hotel at such a good deal.

Broadway Hotel Blackpool

Taken from the video posted to the Facebook page of Tony Jenkinson.

As any media-savvy traveler would do, and in an effort to protect others from the negative experience, Jenkinson took to TripAdvisor to post a long, detailed and scathing review of their experience. Here is some of what was shared in the review entitled ‘FILTHY, DIRTY ROTTEN STINKING HOVEL RUN BY MUPPETS!’:

“Couldn’t believe the state of the room. The hot tap didn’t work, when we reported it we were told they knew about it and it would be fixed in the morning (we were only there for one night.) The drawer fronts fell off when we opened the chest of drawers. Again, they knew about this and it was supposed to be dealt with in the morning. The kettle wouldn’t work, were told you had to switch on the socket it was plugged into, also switch on another socket to make it work. This was because the whole place was rewired wrongly according to the member of staff who dealt with us, and they couldn’t afford to have it put right. There were instructions on how to make a phone call, we would have had a job as there was no phone!!”

And it doesn’t get much better than that. And neither does the story.

It turns out that the hotel anticipated these kinds of reviews (considering most of the reviews online are rather negative) so in a dark corner of the terms and conditions, the hotel actually charges for negative reviews:

Despite the fact that repeat customers and couples love our hotel, your friends and family may not. For every bad review left on any website, the group organizer will be charged a maximum £100 per review.

Sure enough, when the couple shared this story with friends, family and the Internet, it went viral. The hotel ultimately refunded the charge and will now be doing away with the policy, but that came long after terrible reviews circulated the web, local news agencies all over the world reported the story and officials from Trading Standards in the UK announced that they will be investigating the hotel.

Let It Go

Just as the award-winning song from Frozen goes, hotels need to let it go. As anyone in the service business will tell you, you can’t win ’em all.

For as hard as you try, there is always a chance that someone is going to be dissatisfied. That holds true for the rundown shacks of the world, like the Broadway Hotel Blackpool, and the five-star resorts that pride themselves on perfection.

Reviews like this are excellent opportunities to reach out to unhappy customers, show them that you listen and care, and potentially turn them into brand advocates. People not only look ay reviews, but also at how hotels handle these issues. That goes a very long way.

When you bully and blackmail guests into keeping their opinions to themselves, it gives them all the more reason to take to the web and post to these social review sites. And ultimately, this is going to cost you a lot more business than hiding the bad review ever would have saved, or the fine ever would have generated. Do you think that the lost business as a result of this story is worth the £100 charged by the Broadway? I think not.

Again, instead of trying to falsely improve your ratings, look at these as twofold opportunities to both improve your establishment based on what guests are saying they want, and a change to cultivate new brand advocates that can lead to a fast-growing audience both online and in your hotel.

If you would like to learn more about how the hotel and hospitality industry can benefit from these kinds of experiences, come and join me in London in February for the International Casino Conference at ICE!

15 Websites to Visit Every Day

15 Websites to Visit Every Day

These are a few of the hidden and not-so-hidden gems of the web that are good for the mind and job.

On occasion, I’ll guest lecture for undergraduate classes, and when I open up the room for questions, there is one that always seems to come up: “What would you think is the most important quality that makes a marketer successful?” It’s a great question and while there are plenty of answers that can be given, there is one that I always share.

student asking best marketing websites

I truly think that keeping up-to-date with the goings on in the industry and familiarizing oneself with the ins and outs of new and trending techniques/products is key to a marketer’s success. Not too long ago, I wrote an article about some trends I have noticed after attending ad:tech in New York. One thing I noted is how quickly this industry pivots to accommodate market trends and demand. Therefore, I think it is absolutely essential that any good marketer be on top of everything that is happening.

To help with this, there are several websites that I like to visit every day. Some of them are industry-specific, some are broad and some might seem like they’re on this list just for fun, but they often feature a gem or two that can make life a lot easier.

best marketing websites thumbs up

So, to get started with your daily education on this industry and its tangents, here are some of the best marketing websites that you should be visiting every day.

Mashable

This seems like a pretty obvious one to have on here, but it’s a great resource nonetheless. The ‘Social Media’ section on Mashable is filled with plenty of news and information about developments in the field, and simply sifting through some of those articles can be very helpful when it comes to keeping up to date with the goings on of the industry.

TechCrunch

When it comes to the world of the up-and-coming, TechCrunch is among the best. With a seemingly endless stream of updates focused heavily on the startup world, you’ll always know what’s new and what might be worth trying.

Venture Beat

While the name suggests that, like TechCrunch, there is a focus on startups, there is a lot happening on Venture Beat. Yes, there is news from around the startup world, but there are also lots of up-to-the-minute announcements about new features, new ventures, acquisitions made in the tech world and plenty of practical news about how these bits of tech are being used in different industries.

The Next Web

The Next Web has tons of great information related not only to tech, social and marketing, but also news from around the world. That news tends to have some sort of affiliation with the tech world, but there are a lot of great insights that can give you a more global picture of the world of marketing and technology.

Mental Floss

Though not technically a marketing, social media or tech website, Mental Floss shares some of the most interesting bits of information and stories on the web. If you haven’t checked out this gem yet, I highly recommend it. There is always something interesting, and a lot of articles related to innovative ad campaigns (both throughout history and today) that are great for inspiration.

Marketing Profs

Just as the name suggests, Marketing Profs shares a ton of great information about the world of marketing and social media. There are articles written for beginners and ranging all the way up to some pretty high-level stuff. Though the technical side is not necessarily the focus (as with some of the sites listed above) the practical insights are hugely valuable.

Socialnomics

Erik Qualman has created something extremely valuable in Socialnomics, and that value pierces through in his blog. If you haven’t read the book yet by the same name, I highly recommend it. But if you’re looking for insightful and easily digestible content in the meantime, the blog is a good place to start.

eConsultancy

The eConsultancy blog is filled with lots of great information about the field of marketing, interesting and innovative campaigns, rising trends and a lot more. One of my favorite genres of article on their blog is the series of case studies they publish, often great resources to help keep up with trends to see how they are implemented practically.

Social Media Today

If you’ve stopped by Social Media Today, you might have read an article or two I’ve written for them. Social Media Today aggregates content from writers throughout the social media industry related to virtually any central or tangential topic in the field. There’s never a shortage of content flooding the website, so you can always find something new and useful.

Business 2 Community

Though social media is a topic on Business 2 Community, it is really about communications in general. If you work in the field and are looking to keep up-to-date with the goings-on both in and out of the socialsphere, this is definitely a resource to add to the list.

Search Engine Journal

Another great aggregator that I’ll write for from time to time, Search Engine Journal sounds like it’s all about that SEO, when in reality it is all about anything that can help your brand get discovered. That said, there is some of the best search engine marketing content of any blog/e-magazine/e-journal out there on SEJ.

Fast Company

There is a lot about business trends, advertising and general insights that make Fast Company one of the best out there. With lots of valuable interviews, case studies and guest posts, you can find almost everything you need on the Fast Company blog.

Business Insider

Though the Business Insider Facebook Page might read like an UpWorthy stream every once in a while, there are always lots of gems peppered throughout the website. Some of their best content are their reading lists, which feature books that every entrepreneur/marketer/startup CEO/etc. needs to read.

Occam’s Razor

For those of you who are not familiar with Avinash Kaushik, he is the Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google, and Occam’s Razor is his marketing/analytics-heavy blog. It truly is filled with insights from the best of the best, and it is a must-read for every marketer (regardless of specialization).

Advertising Age

As the name suggests, Ad Age has plenty of information about the advertising field, but considering the field has much to do with social and data, there has been a shift in the central topic of the content to focus on those elements as well.

BONUS: t2 Marketing International

Of course, I am a little bias putting this in here, but what can I say, I like what I write. As the primary author for our corporate blog, everything you see on the t2 Marketing International blog is usually written by me, and I like to think that, at least more often than not, it is pretty valuable information.

So start your day off by checking out these great resources and enjoy!

Why Facebook and OkCupid Aren’t Totally to Blame

Why Facebook and OkCupid Aren’t Totally to Blame

We’re the guinea pigs of experiments by Facebook and OkCupid! But we were kind of asking for it.

By now, most of us are aware of the fact that the evil geniuses at Facebook and OkCupid have been experimenting with us for quite some time. Naturally, there is a lot of outrage over the matter, and understandably so. No one likes to hear that they have been a part of a real-life Truman Show-like test environment, and by all accounts, that’s the case. But are these networking giants completely to blame?

First, let’s take a look at exactly what it is Facebook and OkCupid have done.

The Story Behind the Facebook and OkCupid Experiments

In March, an issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was published featuring a very interesting article. It appeared that in 2012, Facebook decided to run a silent study on 689,003 users, testing to see if they could alter their emotions based on content shared to news feeds. Put simply, an algorithm was developed by the Facebook Data Science Team to omit keywords associated with positive or negative emotions and measure the results that had on its users.

When people found out about the experiment, they were not wowed by the anomaly of human emotion (we won’t get into the findings here). It was quite the opposite. They were furious about the experiment. AnimalNewYork.com wrote, “Apparently what many of us feared is already a reality: Facebook is using us as lab rats, and not just to figure out which ads we’ll respond to but to actually change our emotions.”

Facebook and OkCupid experimented with our data

Image Credit: Shutterstock. Used under license.

A little more recently (at the end of July) it was revealed the OkCupid had done something very similar. A July 28th blog post on OkCupid very unapologetically confirmed that they had, in fact, been experimenting on its users as well. Having seen the PR nightmare that Facebook has been dealing with, they decided to steer into the skid: “But guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work.” (Admittedly, the tone of the post was a smart move by the PR team at OkCupid.)

Granted, OkCupid’s experiments were more about how their platform works rather than trying to “manipulate” emotions, so to speak. But at its core, the issue is still the same: people feel as though they have been lied to and used like lab rats. Even though the experiments described by OkCupid are designed to improve the performance and accuracy of its service.

Now both Facebook and OkCupid might be investigated by the Federal Trade Commission, on the request of a Virginia Senator. (But we can probably assume that not much will come of that.)

So, the real question we have to ask is this: are companies like Facebook and OkCupid entirely at fault here, or are we a little too quick to check the box stating that we agree to Terms & Conditions?

Why We Need to Take Responsibility

Facebook is a business. OkCupid is a business. Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google and any other place where we spend an abundance of time on the Internet are businesses. As businesses, they employ large legal staffs to protect them when they decide to use our information to conduct these kinds of studies and experiments. And they make that very clear.

There are plenty of privacy laws that protect us, and those are important. When companies violate those laws, they deserve to be punished (a la Snapchat). But when we sign up to use these networks, we should recognize that our information won’t necessarily be stored in an impenetrable cloud that only we, as individuals, can access. It might be used for a number of reasons.

In the case of OkCupid, the company ran experiments to try and get a better understanding of what drove success, then modify their service to capitalize on that. With regards to Facebook, it’s easy to see why their experiment might be perceived as unethical. People do not like being toyed with, and that’s exactly how they feel. There wasn’t an effort to improve the user experience, they simply wanted to find out if a claim made about the network – that people feel less positive when their News Feeds are flooded with positive articles – was true or false.

Now, by show of hands, how many people read the Terms & Conditions they are presented with when signing up for a new online service? (You can put your hands down – I can’t see them.) The answer is probably verging on zero. Frankly, most of us have no idea what can and can’t be done when it comes to our data and these kinds of experiments.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook claims that everything that was done was completely legal (and it probably was). But that doesn’t change the fact that the whole notion of being used for an experiment is off-putting.

Conclusion

In hindsight, Facebook probably should have nixed this experiment. They didn’t gain much from it and are facing a backlash much more severe than the benefits the findings might have provided. But on the user front, we need to ground ourselves in the reality of the situation.

As businesses, these social networks are going to do what they can to grow and capitalize on the infinite amounts of information they have at their avail (in the most legal way possible). When we check that little box, we’re telling them that we understand all of this and that we accept it.

South Park Human Centipad

South Park Human CentiPad Screenshot taken August 1, 2014.

It might still upset us when we find out that they have actually done something with it (thinking back to that episode of South Park with the Human CentiPad) but we can’t levy all of the blame on the shoulders of these giants.

‘Silicon Valley’ Highlighted Every Problem with the Startup World (in a Montage)

‘Silicon Valley’ Highlighted Every Problem with the Startup World (in a Montage)

In case you missed this week’s hilarious episode of ‘Silicon Valley’ on HBO, here’s what captured perfectly.

In Sunday night’s (hilarious) episode of HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’ the Pied Piper team traveled to TechCrunch Disrupt to compete in the Startup Battlefield. In a brief, two-minute or so montage, the show brilliantly captured everything that is wrong with the startup world and probably made a bunch of buzz-word happy programmers rethink their pitch. (Disclosure: I have, on multiple occasions, used several of these terms and my laughing at the episode was a form of pseudo self loathing.)

For those of you unfamiliar with the Disrupt Startup Battlefield, it is a showcase during the tech mecca where new companies enter to win a (not so important) cash prize of $50,000 and the (very, very important) grand prize of the Disrupt Cup. For anyone who has dabbled in the world of startups, a few problems are abundantly clear right from the get go, not the least of which is the fact that everyone describes their product in the exact same way.

The big problem with startups from a recent episode of 'Silicon Vallet'.

The terms ‘revolutionary’, ‘game changing’ and ‘groundbreaking’ are used ad nauseam to describe products with simplistic (if not unnecessary) functionality. People talk about ‘making the world a better place’ by launching an app that communicates directly with a dog collar. In recent years with the success of products like Instagram and WhatsApp, the startup market has become incredibly over-saturated, and ‘Silicon Valley’ took advantage of the hilarity that results from bandwagoning.

What was so funny?

In the episode, as we observe a brief montage of startups pitching their often idiotic products – like the jacket that emits microwaves to heat individuals instead of turning on their heaters, thereby ‘making the world a better place’ – we see that the rhetoric of every hopeful is virtually indistinguishable. Whether it is a mobile yoga app or algorithms for consensus protocols, everyone touches on the three most important points: their product will ‘revolutionize’ industry X, it somehow makes the world a ‘better place’ and, of course, the company is completely SoLoMo, or MoLoSo, or they have gone from MoSoLo to LoMoSo (variations of Social-Local-Mobile).

Perhaps the funniest part of the montage came at the end, when the judges, sick of listening to dozens of the same presentation, tear apart the maker of the microwave jacket, telling him that no one will ever be convinced to use his product. And therein lies one of the few problems with the startup world highlighted by this episode of ‘Silicon Valley’.

What are the problems?

As noted above, this brief montage highlights the over-saturation and, quite frankly, monotony that has swept over the startup world. While every product might be unique (in some way, if only barely) and offer a niche a value added, not every one is going to change the world.

The problem with startups is they all sound the same.

What’s more, terms like ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘revolutionary’ are so greatly overused, that the moment we hear them we jump immediately to the conclusion that a product’s USP is not good enough to stand on its own. Penicillin was groundbreaking and revolutionary – an app that allows you to start your coffee maker from your phone is not. (OK – bad example. But you get my point.)

What to do? What to do?

I am not saying that there is anything wrong with hoards of young entrepreneurs looking to make something new and innovative, I just think that the grandiose notions associated with these microscopic applications need to be scaled. There is a lot of great, exciting stuff happening out there. But when it comes to the tech world, not everyone is sitting on the next Google, WhatsApp or Facebook.

Not long ago, while working as a marketing consultant for a startup, I decided to do some due diligence to learn more about the app development world. I spoke with a number of developers and one gave me some advice that I immediately passed on to my client. Here are the three things to remember when creating the ‘next big thing’:

  1. Shut up and take criticism.
    Anyone who has spent enough time with any app developers (or, as noted above, watched the painfully awkward Q & A with the microwave jacket app in ‘Silicon Valley’) knows that most app developers can’t see anything wrong with their products. And why would they? They have worked tirelessly to build something. If someone told you that your child wasn’t suited to do something, wouldn’t you defend him or her to no end? That’s how developers feel about their products and that’s a barrier that needs to be broken before any success can be reached.
  2. Start small and work your way out.
    Facebook wasn’t designed with the idea of one day hosting the third largest population on Earth. Dell and Apple were garage projects that seemed like a neat idea. Google was just a simpler, easier way to search through online content. Think of the micro version of the solution you are offering and start from there. The beauty of this market is that expansion is limitless as long as you consistently offer a product people want and can navigate easily. You can always add functionality as your product grows.
  3. Please don’t say ‘revolutionary’.
    Even if your product is the next step in the evolution of computing and your CEO is Jobs incarnate, you’ll lose the respect of plenty of people when you start throwing around buzz words to boast your product’s capabilities. Instead, just let the product do all the talking.

P.S. If you haven’t watched ‘Silicon Valley’ yet, I highly recommend that you do.

 

Starting From Scratch (Kind Of)

Starting From Scratch (Kind Of)

Why Do I Have a Digital Business Blog?

Here’s why I’m here.

Those of you who know me know that I have long been sharing content to the t2 social business blog. I plan on continuing to share content there on a regular basis, but I thought this was the perfect opportunity to broaden the scope of conversation and start discussing a few new topics – and with a little more candor.

What do I plan on discussing, you ask?

My passion (business-wise) is digital business. Whether it is data applications, economic theory and its relevance to the new business order or, as we all know, social media, I love discussing all things digital. I plan on pursuing that passion here, and, of course, going off track every once in a while. (I also love food.)

But when it comes to the meat and bones of this blog, that is where you’ll find most content falls. But who knows, if business has show us anything in these last few years, it is that in the digital landscape everything is subject to the laws of fast evolution. So we might find that this project turns into a whole other animal very quickly.

But for now, I’ll stick with digital.

Where does the audience come in?

Anyone who has attended any of my speaking events knows that I have a bad habit of running over time because I love answering questions and engaging in lengthy discussions. I hope to see that same dynamic here.

Not everyone will agree with what I have to say. Some people might take it as gospel. I welcome both points of view – even though the latter is right. (Just kidding.) But seriously, feel free to comment with whatever comes to mind. Of course, let’s try and keep it civil. I know that debates about the state of business can get pretty heated, but we’re all professionals here.

Anything else?

Nope! Looking forward to sharing with everyone.