Monthly Archives: March 2014

Share Your Thoughts and Your Lawnmower: the Rise of the Sharing Economy

In 2010, I was interning at Latitude, a research consulting firm specializing in media and technology. This company, extremely curious and knowledge driven, created and published its own studies focused on innovation. When I arrived at the company, it had just completed a study on the sharing economy, then a fairly new idea. I was absolutely fascinated by this study which stated the following:

• Social media and sharing online builds trust, encouraging offline sharing.
• The internet is now being used to connect people to items.
• People are focusing on access over ownership.
• The internet is giving people a new way to exercise sharing behavior.

Latitude gave the examples of Zipcar, Netflix, and Craigslist as companies that were bringing this sharing economy to life. The study predicted that the sharing economy would become a booming industry within the next five years. (Latitude’s The New Sharing Economy Study – http://latdsurvey.net/pdf/Sharing.pdf)

In a matter of four short years, the sharing economy has grown significantly. In 2010, with the exception of Craigslist, people using sharing sites were relying heavily on the company. Netflix and Zipcar provided and maintained the assets shared. Trust in the company was still at the forefront of consumers’ minds.

We are now seeing companies like Airbnb and TaskRabbit. Instead of providing products and services, the facilitation of sharing is the new company goal. These companies work to connect people and create value for both lenders and borrowers. This creates a huge shift in how the companies must operate. Trust, relationships, and good experiences strongly influence the customers’ perceptions of the brand and these key factors are no longer solely in the hands of the company. They are in the hands of the lenders and borrowers who perform, experience, review, and report on the actual interactions.

As Latitude discovered, social media is integral in this shift. Social media was responsible for establishing sharing as a viable industry. It got people comfortable with interacting with and trusting others online. Once this trust was established, social media users were more willing to share offline. This paved the way for an entirely new industry.

Now the role of social media has changed. Social media in the form of lender and borrower pages, online interactions, and reviews is now a key business function that increases interactions, propels business, and raises many new challenges. For example, how do you ensure they are offering quality up to the company standards?

So what does this mean? Customers are no longer just customers. They are company assets. They provide products and services, act as salespeople, and build relationships. Companies need to manage these assets as they would any other. Providing social media platforms will allow the company’s assets to share, connect, and brand build while offering the products and services that the company boasts. It will also allow companies to engage and track the people that are providing its products and services ensuring quality and consistency.

Social Media – More than just a department?

Five years ago, I worked for one of the big four financial services firm a few years ago. Employees did not have complete access to the internet. Social media and personal e-mail websites such as Gmail, Facebook, Yahoo and Hotmail, were blocked at work. These sites were believed to be a hindrance at work and were assumed to be counter – productive for employees. This was common. Same practices were applied in my family business where employees were not given access to personal and social media sites so that they don’t waste time and focus on work.

Now consider any large corporation such as Nestle. It has an entire department on digital and social media which is located at its headquarters in Switzerland. It produces 1500 pieces of original content on Facebook daily, without even considering responses and comments. “You can’t just throw the word engagement out like peanuts at a ballpark,” said Pete Blackshaw, Nestlé’s global head of digital and social media. “We have to be consistent with a local/global tone of voice using speed, agility and small-screen simplicity.” His statement encapsulates the role of a social media department very well

Compare the above situations to a company like IBM at the moment. They believe in ‘social business’. They believe that social media is too big and important to just be a department in a corporation. It needs to be integrated with all functions                 and should be a core part of training. Imagine using social platforms to get jobs done for functions like finance and legal. IBM’s legal department uses blogs as means to effectively communicate important legal matters. They see social media not just as means to spread information but as a way to get work done.

What I see here is a complete transformation of social media utility. It started off as entertainment and social sharing for individual users. The corporations picked up social media as they realized it was then a way of life. They started creating departments and used social media for marketing and customer engagement. IBM, giving us a peep into the future, pushes to use social media to get daily jobs done. This is the future. It is where the company encourages employees to be socially active.

The benefits are vast. It helps sharing the collective knowledge of people; something which remains unlocked otherwise. Holistically, it leads to better resource allocation.

This approach also comes with plenty of challenges. There are numerous considerations to be made: what social media should the company promote, how can on prevent too much personal distraction while using social media, what information can be permitted to share on social networks considering confidentiality principals and should employees be evaluated on social activeness.

Like every new idea, this approach has its concerns and answers for the above questions will be developed with time. People should be aware of what the social media will evolve to be. 

The Revolution of Digital Marketing: SoLoMo

SoLoMo might seem like just a new trendy cocktail, but this new buzz word is revolutionizing the digital marketing world. Social local and mobile marketing allows brands to form a deeper connection with consumers. For the first time, brands have data of people’s demographics and location in real time. This information allows companies to target consumers more effectively at a moment in which they are close to making a buying decision.
Today, consumers have shifted from using computers to using their mobile devices. Wi-Fi is becoming widely available in most public places, which allows consumers to surf the internet and connect socially almost anywhere at any time.
For Brick and Mortar retailers who have been losing sales to e-commerce, this is good news. Brick and Mortar retailers can now can speak consumer’s language and connect with them allowing retailers to attract consumers in close vicinity and close a sale faster. This is how it works: A consumer walks in front of a brick and mortar store, and automatically gets an advertisement from that store, due to the fact he or she is in near proximity. The consumer then decides to go into the store, and automatically gets coupons sent to his/her mobile device. He/she then can use those coupons at the store.

The question remains, which brick and mortar store will be the pioneer in SoLoMo? Fashion retailers like Zara are investing heavily in mobile apps, and are expected to shift their marketing towards SoLoMo, but who will do it faster? Clearly, the one who wins the race will gain a significant competitive advantage.

 

– Carolina JaarSolomo pic

Personal Financial Planning in the Digital Age – Advice for the Ages

The last 15-20 years have brought tremendous change to the financial industry and specifically to personal financial planning.   The internet has enabled great change as well as social media to communicate business and financial information quickly between individuals.   Individuals with a computing device and an internet connection can trade individual stocks and mutual funds for less than $10 per transaction, perform online banking, electronically pay their bills, prepare personal wills, and enter in legal contacts for financial services.

However, regardless of the medium in which we invest, the need for solid, lifetime financial planning for adults remains unchanged.   Let’s explore several key financial recommendations that individuals should certainly consider in their lifetimes:

1. Obtain the best education and job career possible – While this is not directly financial planning, it’s probably the best decision individuals make as it will be the primary income provider for most people’s lifetimes.  While any education one obtains should never be taken for granted, you also need to understand what careers have growth and thus a higher probability to be rewarding for financial planning purposes.  USA Today, among other resources, highlights some of the 100 best jobs today and in the future.

2. Reduce or eliminate credit card debt – Credit cards have become a major convenience to many, but an albatross to some with some interest rates over 20%.  Try to never to take on this debt or try to eliminate it as quickly as possible.  The following resource on Realsimple.com provides some recommendations on eliminating credit card debt.

3. Retirement account matching –  Some employees have access to retirement plans at work like 401(k) and 403(b) plans, and some of these plans offer partial matching by the company.  If you are fortunate enough to receive that, take advantage of it.  Where else are you going to be able to take advantage of a 25-100% return on your investment?   Smart401k.com has an article that describes matching and vesting.

4. Pay off your student loans – College student loans have become an increasing part of a student’s payment mix.  They may be essential for going to college, but they can also become part of college graduate’s financial burden.  It is important to pay off student loans not because they always have the highest interest rates, but rather because student loans are typically never forgiven, including those who declare bankruptcy.

5. Understand the financial markets – Educate yourself on the financial markets, whether through Wikipedia, Yahoo! Finance, etc..  Bob Brinker’s Marketimer newsletter www.bobbrinker.com helps provide that education.  While it is not free ($185/year), it is an excellent monthly newsletter to help you understand the stock market and provides recommendations on specific investments.

6. Invest in Index Mutual Funds – Buying and trading individual stocks is fun and exciting (ask friends who purchased Apple and Tesla).  However, unless you “invest” significant time investigating stocks, you are more likely to lose money or underperform the market (ask everyone else who invests in stocks!)  Consider regularly investing in index mutual funds that represent a significant portion of the US stock market.  VTSMX  is such a mutual fund and can be purchased by opening an account directly at Vanguard.com.

7.  Bonus: Special financial planning considerations for children – I didn’t want to conclude without discussing financial planning when you have the great personal reward of having children.   The financial decisions most helpful here are: 1) Obtaining a reasonable, low-cost term life insurance policy (such as from SBLI.com) to cover your spouse’s and children’s housing and college expenses, 2) creating a will, and 3) creating a tax-free 529 plan for your child’s college education, such as Fidelity’s 529 plans.

The Data Brokers:  A Look into an Unregulated Industry Threatening Our Privacy

In an age where being connected has become a necessity, and, perhaps, an addiction, I find myself valuing my privacy more and more. As an aspiring entrepreneur, it seems that having a comprehensive online presence and a robust online network is essential in order to succeed.  But at what cost am I creating these so called ‘tools’?

A couple weeks ago, 60 Minutes did a story on data brokers that made me want to unplug my computer and trade my iPhone for a StarTAC. As defined by 60 Minutes, “data brokers collect, analyze, and package some of our most sensitive personal information and sell it as a commodity to each other, to advertisers, and even to the government – often without our direct knowledge.”(http://www.cbsnews.com/news/shocked-to-learn-how-data-brokers-are-watching-you/)

Never heard of data brokers?  You’re not alone.  The billion-dollar industry has flown mostly under the radar since inception some twenty years ago.  To better understand exactly how you’re affected, let’s start from the beginning.

The first thing a data broker does is collect data on you in order to put together a dossier, which can later be sold to a third party. Data brokers collect data by observing your behavior online and pulling in data from websites and applications.   For example, every time you open a webpage, any webpage, there is a third party lurking in the background recording your movements.  If you’re doing some online shopping, it records which items you’re looking at.   If you’re reading an online news site, it’ll record which articles you’re clicking on.

Another disturbing example of unwanted data harvesting occurred last December when 100 million Android users downloaded a free flashlight app that secretly turned their phones into tracking devices capable of collecting information on users’ exact whereabouts and activities. The application was eventually shut down by the Federal Trade Commission, but not before the collected data was sold to third parties.

Because data brokers have such a vast reach, they are able to not only collect basic information on you like race, age, sex, martial status but also more sensitive information like your current salary, credit history, and medical records.  This information is then sold to companies, which use it to better target consumers, or even to the government, which uses it to round-out background checks.

So what’s being done to protect our privacy? Not much.  The data broker industry is essentially unregulated, so business continues as usual.  The Federal Trade Commission and President Obama have recently proposed initiatives to empower consumers to see what type of information data brokers have amassed, but those proposals don’t do anything to block the collection of information. Further, it’s difficult to even identify data brokers since they do not call themselves data brokers. Instead, they call themselves, ‘app makers’, ‘marketing companies’, or ‘marketing retailers.’

While there is no way to avoid data brokers completely, there are steps you can take to reclaim some privacy. Please find suggestions below that range from the simple to the extreme:

  1. Stop using Google search and start using Duck Duck Go.  Google saves every search you’ve ever done while Duck Duck Go does not.
  2. Go to your privacy settings in your iPhone, scroll down to advertising, and turn on ‘Limit Ad Tracking’ and then ‘Reset Advertising Identifier’.
  3. Start using White Hat Aviator browser instead of Google chrome or safari.  White Hat Aviator has built in privacy functions that block many data brokers.
  4. Download Disconnect, a software program that exposes data trackers that are following you and then blocks them.
  5. Create fake online identities to prevent data blockers from knowing your true identify.  ‘Mask Me’ is a helpful tool that creates fake email addresses that forward to real email addresses.  You can use the fake email addresses when shopping online or subscribing to sites.
  6. Put fake names on the credit cards you use for online shopping.
  7. Carry your smart phone in a bag lined with thin metal to prevent GPS tracking data from being collected.

For more information about data brokers please see the following resources:

  1. Acxiom Corporation, one of the largest data brokers, just recently provided a link enabling people to review what types of information the company has connected to your name – aboutthedata.com
  2. ProPublica website – https://www.propublica.org/article/everything-we-know-about-what-data-brokers-know-about-you
  3. 60 Minutes Overtime – http://www.cbsnews.com/news/shocked-to-learn-how-data-brokers-are-watching-you/

 

Facebook Organic reach got cut to 1-2%. What will start ups like us do?

Have you noticed Facebook organic reach down on any of the pages you own or manage?

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ValleyWag refer from the reliable source in strategic planning from facebook that, the company is planning to cut the organice reach of all business pages down to only 1-2%. This mean that all the brands that shed blood and tears in securing their 1 Million fans will only get to reach 10k fans: For example Nike fan page that has up to 16M fans would be able to post their regular message and reach to only 160k fans.

So in conclusion facebook is going for the stone wall to get every brands pay up more and more just only to survive with their own audiences.

In my opinion, I actually understand that facebook is also another company, just like us, it needs to take in profit and money to fund their further development. They could not just let the big brands utilize their resources for free and get all the profits alone right? However, the organic reach that left for now is around 1 – 2 % is just too cruel (recently it got cut to 16%, which was already too big of a cut from the original reach). I think this is just too much for SMEs (Small-Medium Entreprises) and Entrepreneurs. Imagine this young start up, who just launched their facebook page, it wouldn’t even have any power in this social media at all since it’s fans is still in small number, at the same time, it can’t afford the expensive consecutive advertising that is required to maintain the reach to its fans. This just means that only big brands, which already had numerous fans, can really exist and maintain their facebook fan pages and beat any competition (since they would have the budget to spend on advertising to spam and prevent other players ad to show up).  In the end, this will be just like the regular market on the real world where the big players would create barrier of entry to SMEs that only hoped they could use this convoy social media to create cheap existence for their first marketing expenditure. Eventually, Facebook ads will be filled with “Mainstream” ‘boring’ ads that you would hear from radio or public transportation, while the small start ups that provide creative solutions, such as local brands that sell from niche shoe design that only focus on the particular fragmented market, would just drown and never get the spotlight.

Facebook should have offer some kind of help to the starters, may be something like if your fan page has up to 10k fans, you can still get 60% reach, but when the fans reach 1M mark then the reach can be cut down to 2%. That way Facebook can still make money while also help promote good contents to exist on in Facebook

What do you guys think will be the way to deal with this problem? This is yet the question that I can’t seem to answer myself, my business page has 33k fans and it used to get average engagement around 70-100 now it falls to only 3-5 likes per post.
How can start ups like us exist on in Facebook while also preserving our reasonable budget. I would love to hear you guys for any olinions 🙂

<EXTRA> For those who plan on jumping into big investment on Facebook ads, here are some tips I’ve learned and read: 

1) Think of Facebook campaigns as search campaigns

Buch said companies should plan a Facebook campaign the same way they do SEO keywordcampaigns. For example, a shoe company might purchase the keywords “riding boots” to have their ads appear to individuals searching for that term, rather than wasting money on untargeted ads that are unlikely to convert to sales. The same concept should apply to Facebook ads. When creating campaigns, you can work with a third-party partner to create a custom audience of people who have made purchases that are similar to your product or service.

2) Keep your ads fresh

Running the same campaigns for your products and services over and over again will quickly get old to your Facebook audience, and that could make them hide your ads from their newsfeed. Keep customers interested by updating pictures and copy for your ads.

3) Customers don’t come to Facebook to buy

When people Google a specific product or service, it’s generally because they intend to purchase that item. But when people log on to Facebook, they’re not there for the ads; they want to connect with their friends. The goal of any successful Facebook ad campaign is to grab potential customers’ attention enough that they will either go back and Google your product later or, better yet, click through to your website right from Facebook.

Social media influence to recent event in Taiwan

During this week in Taiwan, more than one hundred of students occupied the legislature because of the ruling party’s push for a trade pact with China, which they believed will hurt its economy. In addition, they considered that the process of passing the trade pact was injustice and untruthful as well. These students thought the government is lying, is faking, and is only looking out the benefit of huge corporations and ignoring those of the small ones. The vice of younger generation now is rising. However, this is not the point I would like to discuss today. I would like to focus how the social media make the impact in this event and what kind of role it plays in such situation.

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The occupation started at late night around 10pm on 3/18. Immediately the students took over the legislature, they used UStream to broadcast online live to let general population know the situation inside. At 5 am in the morning, 70,000 people were online to watch and more than 1,000,000 people have already reviewed the website. The news also quickly spread out to CNN and BBC in few hours. In the following days, the social media, such as Facebook, has full of the articles and discussions from everywhere. People in Taiwan are all paying their attention in this issue.

Comparing to the old tradition media such as newspaper and news, the social media bring the live and timely news to the general population. It provides the real situations, including the photos, to build the creditability of event. Since the social media has the great advantages that it can gather the timely information quickly, the tradition media might have no choice but get the information from the internet to complete the report.

Through the live broadcast, general population will know the truth and understand what those students are fighting for. They will not easily be misleading by the presses because they have seen the truth themselves. The social media become a connection between the student organization and the general population, a channel to bring up every kind of supports and options from different fields, and a weapon to generate enough power to get everyone’s attention. The era of social media is coming and this change is unavoidable.