Friday, 30 September 2011

Google to + Brands

Well it was certainly only a matter of time, but Google+ is now set to officially launch ‘brand profiles’. Clearly there was no point in Google taking such a punt trying to rival Facebook if there wasn’t a nice revenue stream attached. Of course, much like Facebook’s company pages, which are working so successfully for many brands, now Google+ has revealed they are set to add a similar service to their arsenal.

The next question is: will these profiles offer anything that Facebook doesn’t? Of course one thing they can’t offer just yet is a widespread and active set of users. Although much has been made of Google’s new social network breaking records for sign up levels (we’re now at around £50m users on G+), what they have been less than vocal about is that a not-so-impressive percentage of these users are not actually going back and using their Google+ profile on a regular basis. Of course this is a major contrast to Facebook, where many users live half of their life on Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild.

We also have to consider that with 50 million users in total, how many of them are actually in the UK? A million perhaps, a reasonable starting point but if you’re a brand targeting a specific audience, once you’ve put in the search criteria for your ideal demographic, how many people will you be left with? Plus (excuse the pun!), who says any of them have even been back to Google+ since they first registered?

The brand profiles are expected to be unveiled in November, but it’s difficult to imagine any company outside the major international players seeing any real benefit of creating one until well in to 2012. We know that the likes of Burger King and Starbucks have tried to be clever and create brand pages under people profiles already but were quickly booted off. However, you can get a feel for how the brand profiles will look by checking out the Ford test profile (if you’re on G+). At first look, I think we could be in a position to answer my first question about if they will offer something different to Facebook company pages….? Answer = No, at least not yet anyway. But perhaps they have something clever up their sleeve that they don’t want to publicise just yet, they are Google after all!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Murdoch suffers at the hands of ‘Generation Won’t Pay’?

It’s been a torrid year for the Murdoch family and Rupert in particular.  The media mogul was ‘humbled,’ during hacking gate, closed his only newspaper which actually made any money and was even accosted with a custard pie.  You’d forgive him for thinking that things couldn’t get much worse, but, as they say in old blighty, ‘when it rains, it pours.’

It would seem that Murdoch’s venture into the digital world has not provided the ray of sunshine he hoped it would be and I’m not talking about paywalls.  The tablet newspaper ‘The Daily,’ launched in February, is averaging a rather pitiful 120,000 readers a week.  Bearing in mind that when the paper was launched in February it was declared that it would need an average weekly readership of 500,000 to break even, it’s safe to say that so far it has not been a success.

Why?  It would appear that once again News International is falling foul of what is fast becoming a cast iron law of digital communication that, if it is on the web, then ‘Generation Won’t Pay’ wants it for free.  No matter how insignificant 99 cents a week is, against a plethora of quality and more importantly free content online, we just won’t reach into our pockets.

It is hard to over-emphasise how much of a blow this is for Murdoch.  The tablet was seen as a way of extracting revenue from a bust financial model, namely print media.  Now it would appear that it is back to the drawing board unless of course he makes the Times / Sunday Times paywall actually work.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for any subscriber figures on that though!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Dinner with an American Friend

At the risk of sounding like a stuck record (now there’s an analogy that will pass the iPod generation by) I feel compelled to return to a favourite current hobby horse, namely the divergence between economic reality, particularly in the manufacturing sector, and economic reporting.

I had the good fortune of being able to catch up with the President of one of my clients’ North American operations at a dinner on Tuesday evening in Hannover. He was in Europe to promote his new valve body production machine at a German trade show and was in good form covering a range of topics.

We started with business performance. “How are things at the moment?” I asked.

“Great,” he replied, “we’ve taken on 200 extra employees this year already.”

Noting the slightly sceptical look on my face he went on: “I know, it’s like there’s a parallel universe between what is actually going on and what the media are saying!”

Well yes quite, I’ve certainly read enough in the Washington Post or New York Times to suggest that the American economy is shrinking at an alarming rate. “Oh I tell my guys not to read any of that stuff. You wouldn’t get out of bed of a morning if you took them seriously.”

He offered as an example, recent reporting of the American version of our Purchasing Manager’s Index. “The Index had fallen from 65 to 55 and it was reported as if the world had fallen in, but 55 is still growth!”

However, my American friend did concede that wider economic problems outside of manufacturing could make life difficult for Obama in 2012. “He’s going to find it awfully difficult to get re-elected because of problems in the wider economy. The big advantage he has is that the Republicans can’t find anyone to rival his political charisma that is also electable. If they do find someone then he’s in real trouble.”

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Monkey See Monkey do: Facebook gets more like Twitter and Google+

Well it was only a matter of time before the ‘me-too’ skirmish began amongst the top guns of the social networking world. It’s Facebook that is now off the mark with the introduction of some new features that are strikingly similar to that of its closest adversaries. 

So it’s not called a ‘Follow’ button, but users can now ‘subscribe’ to Facebook users that they aren’t already friends with –such features already being commonplace on Twitter and new boy Google+.  Furthermore, users can not only follow key journalists, celebrities and people of interest, they can now organise their news feed in to lists (hardly an inconspicuous Facebook version of the Google plus Circles).

No doubt the competition between the three networks is heating up and there will be all the more monkey see monkey do activity in the year ahead. However, as a PR person I have to say the most interesting question to pose now is how will developments like the above change the way brands use the three networks.

With Facebook already a hub of b2c activity I wouldn’t be surprised to see certain branded pages acting as an umbrella for many official profiles whose posts will unsurprisingly be public. With more and more findings demonstrating the influence of Facebook on the SERPs, more public profiles could add to the social layer of a brand’s SEO.

For Twitter, many social media boffins may now argue that the pressure is on for it to develop. However, I can’t see any big changes in how brands will use the social network, only in how Twitter opts to generate revenue from it.

For Google+ it’s still a case of the chicken and egg. No doubt many social media savvy brands are salivating over the opportunity laden space that is the fastest growing social network to date but what comes first, the brands or the users? We call it user generated content, but more often than not it is facilitated by a brand. Either way it would appear that Google+ has indeed caused a stir in the social networking market which will no doubt influence brand activity across all three networks in the years to come.

I want high quality, intelligent, thought-through analysis and I want it now!

Roy Greenslade, whose blog at the Guardian website should be obligatory reading for those in media land, wrote an excellent piece in last night’s Evening Standard about the strange death of Sunday newspapers which can be read HERE.

Greenslade rightly hangs his article on the ‘lost’ 700,000 News of the World readers that have not gone over to another Sunday newspaper since the demise of the NOTW in June. However, Roy points out that Sunday newspapers have been in decline for years due to changing lifestyles (Sunday is no longer a day of calm reflection, you are more likely to be on the golf course, sailing a boat or paragliding apparently) and the demise of the NOTW has only accelerated the process.

The real crux of the matter though is that, in the era of 24 hour news, the agenda has moved on by the time Sunday comes round. It used to be that something would happen on Tuesday or Wednesday and the daily newspapers would report the facts leaving it to the Sundays (the Sunday Times was especially good at this) to provide the in-depth analysis and the behind-the-scenes story.

Thatcher’s downfall in 1992 was reported in this way, with lots of juicy gossip about which grey-suited men had actually gone in to see her and tell her the game was up. Of course the journalists who wrote that analysis would probably have known much of the background on the Thursday or Friday but were able to hold the information back for Sunday’s paper.

Now, in the era of blogging, the juicy details come out much quicker. I suspect if a Conservative Prime Minister was dethroned nowadays the likes of Iain Dale, Conservative Home or Guido Fawkes would be able to tell me who said what to whom that very evening.

That ultimately explains the strange death of Sunday newspapers. If I want good quality analysis nowadays I can get it almost instantaneously from a myriad of sources – why wait until Sunday?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Cutting MPs will shrink the talent pool even further

I’ve been reading the second volume of Chris Mullins’ diaries, the former MP who stepped down at the last General Election. Entitled Decline and Fall the diaries chart the final two years of New Labour. Before you ask, yes Gordon’s behaviour was as bad as we have been led to believe!

The book is chock full of lovely little anecdotes about the great and the good, from Gordon punching the headrest of his chauffeured limo in frustration, to a weekend with Prince Charles discussing environmental issues at Highgrove (“of course he’ll make a bloody awful King, he wants to change things”) along with a series of cameos by my own favourite former MP, Alan Simpson.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that Mullin was granted the honour of a valedictory speech in the House of Commons before the last General Election. During the course of his speech he said this about Government:

“Mr Speaker, government needs to become a little less frenetic. The practice of annual reshuffles is massively destabilising and confers enormous power on the civil service. There have been eight secretaries of State for work and pensions in the ten years since that department was invented. Of late we have been getting through Home Secretaries at the rate of almost one a year. Goodness knows how many Health and Education secretaries we have had. We are on our tenth Europe minister. Our ninth or tenth Prisons minister. I was the sixth Africa minister, the current incumbent is the ninth. Mr Speaker, this does not make for good government.”

From personal experience I can add to this. During the time of New Labour from 1997 to 2010 we had 10, (count them, 10) Energy Ministers! As one of my clients in the building products sector supplying renewable energy equipment, once said to me, “we get one Minister up to speed and then we have to start all over again.”

Why do I bring this up? Because today our Coalition Government is proposing to reduce the number of MPs to 600 from 650. That means future Governments will be taken from an even smaller talent pool than previously (unlike the American President who gets to appoint a Commerce secretary for example who has actually worked in industry!).

This is bad policy as Michael White points out today in The Guardian. At best it is ill-thought through and populist (after the expenses scandal I suspect it will gather a lot of support in the country), but at worst it is gerrymandering!