Tag: social networks (Page 2 of 7)

Conference season: Where I will be…

Yes, conference season is firmly upon us and, before I descend into the mayhem that tends to come with it, let me tell you where you can find me over the next couple of weeks.

This week sees London at the centre of a lot of things gaming: the Mobile Games Forum opens its doors on Wednesday in the Hilton Tower Bridge in SW1, which combines with the Social Games Forum. I will be speaking on a panel on “How to engage cross-promotion for social game discovery”.

There is also ICE in town but not the freezing variety but the big gaming (as in proper gaming for money and such) expo over at Earl’s Court, which rolls a variety of gaming-related tracks into this. I will be speaking on a panel on their mobile gaming track with the concise title “Incorporate Social and Mobile to create the Ultimate Modern Gaming Experience”.

Only a little later, on 7/8 February, we will be in Amsterdam for BlackBerry DevCon Europe. It is well worth coming to this to get a glimpse of the “new” BlackBerry and our plans there [disclosure: I work for BlackBerry]. Sign up here and hit me if you are a developer; I have a few discount codes left. I will lead a breakout session on Social Gaming with Scoreloop there.

Onwards to my old stomping grounds in Hamburg from there for the annual European edition of Casual Connect where I will deliver a talk on how BlackBerry will deliver on gaming (yes, you read that right!).

After that, there is a two week (conference) break before heading to Barcelona for the monster that is Mobile World Congress. I’ll be there all week!

Barely a weekend’s rest and the Game Developers Conference (or GDC) opens its doors at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Again, it’ll be a full week for me there.

I hope I will meet you at one of those. Sorry that Asia isn’t featuring in this tour de force this time but, hey, it’s still early in the year, huh? 😉

Image credit: http://gapingvoid.com

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So social lost its sizzle, huh?

Happy new year, everyone! (that is, if you are inclined to follow that particular calendar…)

Have you, like me, been reading some of the predictions on what is and what is not going to happen this year? What buzzwords to remember, which ones to avoid? What to focus at, where to “pivot” to, what to ignore?

One of the predictions I read was that social media has lost its sizzle. Markets saturated with products, failed to live up to the lofty ideas of monetising it, done, begone… Now that is, of course, the prediction of either someone who looks only what seems investable by Sandhill Road this quarter (and by that notion, he is probably correct) and/or someone who forgets that one actually doesn’t create social but would need to seek to use and aid existing sociality. People are social, you know…

To be fair let it be known that the author of this prediction, Vivek Wadhwa (@wadhwa), a man with impressive job titles and scholarly assignments, did in fact mean it in the former sense (see his comment to a reply on RWW here). However, are we declaring anything dead upon hype-deflation only?

“Social” battles with the challenge at the moment that lots of me-too-business tried and failed to harness its power and make money from that at the same time. Now, I wonder whether that means it’s dead though…

On the “Facebook for rabbit breeders” side of things, I would just say that there can only ever be so many useful things for so many people. Get on with it. However, a lot of businesses think they have tried out “social” and have largely failed at it. That is a little more substantial perhaps but there are a number of reasons for this (and these are only the very few I could cook up on the last calm day before the office beckons again, so feel free to add any number you can think of!):

Reason 1: Categorizing “social media” as a marketing tool

Organizations tend to try and categorize certain “functions” or “verticals”. Social media? Ah, that’s marketing. Ooops. There are still tons of companies out there whose marketing departments conscientiously update their corporate Twitter accounts and Facebook pages twice daily, whilst blocking access to such services by their employees at the same time. If you are an engineer or product manager in such an organization, you won’t even get near anything that even smells remotely social. Now, what will your products, services, overall perception of the world take that into account?

Reason 2: Accounting for social media impact by “analysing” links, etc.

The “power” or “impact” of social media often is attempted to be measured for instance by how many leads were created (and converted into hard sales) by that link that was at the centre of last week’s social media campaign. This approach is merely mistakenly trying to press analysis of social dynamics in known measurement parameters whilst disregarding that it is an entirely different creature all together: social dynamics cannot be measured by counting the number of clicks on a link tweeted by the marketing folks (and I thought that should be pretty obvious to anyone even remotely familiar with the space by now).

Because these numbers will then be used by senior management (who are all too often not digitally native in the present-day sense of the word; doing e-mail and knowing what an IM is, is NOT where digital is at!), and, alas, social will again be relegated to the back benches of, well, marketing (because, you know, we are reading so much about this; we do have to have a report about our social media activity for our next AGM).

Reason 3: Social is a business of its own

“Social” is not offer walls, new ad-placement algorythms, check-ins, likes or otherwise. These are only fairly cruel (though effective) tools to harvest some of the fallout from social interaction: you can coerce people in using offer walls because competetiveness, peer pressure or any other familiar trait might make it desirable enough. You can put “Volker likes Brand X” bits next to your banner ads and hope you can borrow some of my (presumed) credibility with friends (although: what tells you that the fact that I like Jazz would make me buy T-shirts…) but all of these are merely utilising perfectly “normal” behavioural patterns of people: they like to socialize with those who are close to them (friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, supporters of your favourite club, you name it). It is not in itself a new business at all and, most important of all, it is not a business in its own right (I grant it to Facebook and the likes [how generous of me, huh?] that they invented a new way to make social interaction in certain contexts easier actionable (and those might indeed be difficult to replicate though if you take, say, Group On, there would seem to be tons of businesses out there that still cry out for some sophisticated new take on the models). But, again, their business is not “social”, they “only” use the combination of social behavioural patterns and unpredented scalability (and filtering abilities) of digital platforms to make what was always there easier and more accessible.

Social is witin us

The trouble then is that “social” lives with and within us. Humans cannot (normally) survive without social interaction. Outside investor presentations and elevator pitches,

social refers to the interaction of organisms with other organisms and to their collective co-existence.

(and, yes admittedly, if you have ever heard me speak, you will be familiar with this one). Does that sound like marketing? Does it sound like a check-in app? Does it sound like an online network with digital pinboards and such? No, not in itself. The real trouble is then of course that this definition misses the all-important commercial angle. You see, social interaction does, per se, not really care for gross margins, ROI and such.

Social business = aid interaction

The answer to what comprises a social business is then really is quite simple: make sure you create products or services (or indeed tweak or expand your existing products and services) to aid interaction between organisms. Period. Zappos shows it so well. Not by tweeting lots. But by interacting with their customers, by allowing the normal human to be seen, heard, recognized and appropriately responded to with whatever their question, concern, inquiry, problem at the time is. The commercial results are well-known but Tony Hsieh is still being seen as one daring bugger – I mean: how can you possibly offer people free returns without even asking? How can you possibly allow your telesales folks chat with a granny for an hour; the examples are plentiful (btw: make sure to read his book “Delivering Happiness”; it’s good!). Well, you can because it creates the social glue. It makes sure you interact with people in the way they seek to interact, and that is not normally a link-clicking way.

But they’re not a social media company, you say? They are only selling shoes by mail order after all (and tons of other stuff by now). But the way they sell them added the social fairy dust that made for this great business success. And good business it is. Just ask Amazon (who acquired them for a ton of money). But, more importantly, ask their customers! They are humans, you know…

The Internet Business is a People Business

Business on the Internet, social or not, is – as all businesses – a people business: if you do not find people to who you can add value, there is no business for you. Given how little of it has been “socialized” in the VC-speak sense, I do struggle to see why the sizzle should be gone. If you look to raise a ton of money and then flip your loss-making business on the back of a couple of buzzwords, yes, it might be over, but perhaps you should then not have been able to do it in the first place… For everyone out there seeking to create true value (and that value needs to be with your customers as they will otherwise feel horrendously ripped off the very moment they see through your tactics), then I would predict social in its current state only being the crisp morning of a bright fresh day.

To quote the legendary Buzz Lightyear: to infinity and beyond! :)

Image credit: http://heidicohen.com

Finding the User: the case for gaming operators (with slides)

Earlier this week, I gave a talk at the Mobile Gaming Conference at ICE, the premier i-gaming (that’s gambling to you and I) event in London. Below, you will find the slides to the talk.

Let me outline briefly though why I think that social elements to gaming is something that I find the gaming (as in gambling, real-money gaming, etc) sector should be excited about (and it was hard to tell if many people were; ’nuff said):

“Social” games work if they address or are based upon a community of sorts. This needs to be supported by the game design and its mechanic as well as through tools that actually allow those communal juices to flow (and, yes, that’s what we at Scoreloop are doing and that’s why I am preaching about the subject so regularly). Now, the gaming folks have a lot of this sitting on a big silver plate right under their noses: “proper” gamers, i.e. those who spend money on their pastime, are tied together by that particular passion (this of course equally applies to all those passionate about lost puppies, cows and golden eggs…). For the real-money folks, there is also the billing side to consider: their clientele is used and quite willing to pay, and a billing relationship is often already in place.

The addition of social elements to such “real” games can essentially do two things then:

Cement existing customer base and avoid promiscuity of users

I have been hearing this a lot: users on, say, real-money poker sites often play on multiple sites. This is painful to the gaming operators as they spend considerable amounts recruiting their folks. It is a race to the bottom (of sustainable margins) and the adjustment mechanisms are scarce and largely reduced to bounties and clever marketing. Adding social elements adds that glue that increases the likelihood that players will stay with you. Why? Because they receive value over and above the core proposition: they feel better nestled into their community, which is – albeit a little intangible – real and not only perceived value. Incidentally though, it is also value that is not that expensive to create (cf. above under “margins, low).

Attract new users

Outside the hard core of gamers, there is a whole lot of people who are quite content to play for fun (Zynga Poker still has more active users than most “real” poker sites combined). Funnily enough, Zynga also makes more money with its soft version than a lot of gaming operators do with its real one. This is because a) they tie it into the social graph and b) a lot of users just like to play for fun – but they still spend money, only in more manageable increments.

I suggest that this is a major entry gate for gaming operators to attract new users (though I do not suggest that “hooking” people is something good!). A softer approach that introduces many shades of grey rather than only offering black and white will make it so much more compelling to play, properly or only trying it out and the very folks that are in the prime spot to capture these users (because they have all the experience, background and know-how) leave a lot of money on the table there (pun indeed intended).

But now, without any further ado, here are the slides:

For those of you who like that better, I have also uploaded it to Sribd here.

Carnival of the Mobilists # 243

This week’s Carnival of the Mobilists is up at Andy Farrell’s MobiThinking blog, and it’s a big one this time. Andy assembled intriguing posts from contributors old and – more importantly – new, including pieces on:

  • Mobile music
  • Phones to improve health
  • How mobile operators struggle to own the social graph
  • an interview with the MMA’s Michael Becker on brands and consumers
  • mobile commerce and fragmentation
  • smartphone platforms (posts on Nokia/Symbian, Android and Windows Phone 7)
  • and, finally, also my post on the thorny path for movie licenses on the iPhone.

As always, a very worthwhile read. Go and check the posts!

If you want to contribute to future editions of the Carnival, please provide a link to the post you want to be considered to mobilists@gmail.com.

Mary Meeker’s Wisdom, 2010 Edition

Every year at Web 2.0, Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker unveils her Internet Trends. I will not rattle down the entire list (the briefest of brief summaries over here at TechCrunch) but one thing that is really noteworthy as compared to last year’s edition (which I briefly covered here) is that mobile takes centre stage: in 2009, she started covering mobile in earnest on pages 28 et seq. This year, it is topic # 2 (but even topic #1 [Globality] has more than 50% mobile in it).

Now, the learned readers of this blog have (I suspect) known this all along but it is good to see that one of the more influential analysts of the web at large “decrees” this on the Web 2.0 (sic!) stage, too.

And it is of course blindingly obvious: large parts of the world leapfrog the desktop Internet simply because they do not have access to desktops. The access instrument of choice is mobile. And these parts of the world just happen to be the ones where most of the growth occurs.

Incidentally, Meeker’s third point was social ecosystems. And there as well, we are seeing the huge impact of mobile. If you take Tencent, China’s IM/Social Networking solution of choice with a whopping 637m active IM users, and compare that with the Chinese Internet users (384m), we have a delta of 250m people who are accessing this via mobile. Just like that… Again, it is not that surprising: after all, mobile is – by design – the most personal digital medium we have ever had and when this coincides (as it does) with it being the prime access for digital content bar none, you create a very powerful mix indeed. And this will not be constrained to the somewhat crude experiences of feature phone WAP browsers either: in 2011, we will see smartphone penetration breezing past the PC size (desktop and laptops alike). It is mobile, mobile, mobile!

If you want to have a read through the presentation, you find it here.

Conference: Social Gaming Summit, London

Sometimes, the good things come quickly and without much fanfare. Tomorrow (that’s 11 November), the Social Gaming Summit will open its doors at the Stamford Bridge home of Chelsea Football Club in London. And  I will talk about how to bring the social element into the mobile sphere (and, yes, regular readers of this blog will be rather familiar with my stance on this).

So if you fancy a trip to Fulham to hear from the social games gurus from Playfish, Facebook, Playdom, RockYou, PopCap, etc, etc, please come along (a full speaker list is here). It is a tremendous line-up and should be tons of fun!

The conference programme is here and you can sign up here.

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