First Mover Advantage

It sounds like something from flatmate hell, where the first person to move into a shared house gets the advantage of choosing the best room, or from sport where the racer first off the starting block has an advantage.

In fact this business term originated in the game of chess, where there is a slight statistical advantage for white who has the first move.

In the business world it has come to mean the advantage gained by the first significant company into a new market. Very often the “first move” has some transforming aspect to it, or combines two formerly separate products or services.

One commonly cited example is Netflix, a DVD rental service that outmanoeuvred the incumbent video rental giant Blockbuster. By developing a huge supply of DVDs, a fast delivery service, and a very simply business model that could be explained online Netflix could take over the market for DVD rentals in the US.

Apple are also often mentioned, although they did not develop MP3, and were not the first to think of portable music players (I had a Sony Walkman way back), they combined the two into a device that people would actually want to use, and developed an online delivery model, iTunes, that has left the rest of the music industry scrambling.

But the first mover advantage is not a guarantee of success, in many cases the first mover incurs expenses educating users, or on R&D, or on building infrastructure but competitors can move in easily before the real gains have been made.

Despite the risks it is something of the holy grail for business seeking to innovate into new space, so this term often pops up at marketing strategy meetings.

It doesn’t always work, just as in running a race where someone can trail the leader and make a last minute sprint to win the race. If I knew anything about sport I could point to examples. So instead a business example; Spotify is now the world leader in streaming music, but it wasn’t the first to come up with the service. It beat out early rivals Napster and Rhapsody by winning the war for user numbers by a factor of at least 20. In the platform economy user numbers are king, beating out profits as a predictor of success.

Sometimes being a smart follower is better than being a first mover – especially in a long race with significant headwind.

Image running

 

Social Media Fail – How to Lose a Job in Two Tweets

Woman gets great internship at NASA.

Woman loses great internship in two tweets.

NASA withdrew their internship offer.

Ooops.

It’s the second tweet posted by Naomi that’s problematic. Because Homer Hickam isn’t kidding around, and he’s properly famous with a wiki page, an amazon page, and an IMDB entry.

There’s an almost-happy ending to this, apparently Naomi has apologised and Homer is trying to help her find a role in the aerospace industry. I’m betting she dials back on the sweary tweeting.

This isn’t the first time a celebratory social media post has cost someone their job, there was the day care worker in 2015, and the Cisco new hire in 2009.

How is this still happening?

I think there’s a trend that our work and private lives are blending, mobile phones have freed us from the office desk meaning that we are always contactable. I am contactable on a company mobile phone but I also have access to personal social media accounts on the same device. Work itself is less hierarchical and more informal. When one of my 20-something-year-old colleagues made a significant error on social media, the reaction of my boss was that he “wasn’t fully socialised yet”. She might be on to something. For anyone entering the workforce now there’s a period of adjustment and that might be getting harder to negotiate as the gap between popular or youth culture and work culture grows.

I’m quite bad at swearing, as in I rarely do it, but I recognise the cathartic effect it has, the great release of tension following a good swear. But it’s not what I want to hear at work, especially not directed at me.

If you talk about the company who just hired you on social media, you are in some way representing them to your followers. Three tips to avoid this;

  1. Celebrate on social media – and try to sound like you want to work there
  2. Imagine the CEO of the company reading your post – before you post
  3. Save the rants, expressing your fears, and the swearing for private channels.

Maybe as a forth tip: use Google to check who someone is before telling them to suck any part of your anatomy.

Everyone looking for jobs/internships works really hard to get through the process, so this must be hugely disappointing. One day our work culture might be closer to the social media culture and all of this might be accepted, until then play nice and remember what you post online is permanent and public.

Upselling

Upselling is the practice of offering the customer a little more than their original purchase request. The most well-known example is probably the McDonald’s “would you like fries with that?”, in fact whatever you order at McDonald’s you’ll be offered one more thing – even if you’re ordering via a digital screen.

It’s a normal part of service in the US, but it’s less common here in the Netherlands, and there have been times here where I’d have welcomed a little upselling rather than trying to catch a waiter’s eye to order water.

But last week I had a sales experience where upselling almost lost them the sale. I wanted a small item, a nail buffer. I imagined the price would be in the 5-10 euro range. But I couldn’t just buy the buffer, I had to buy a set… I tested the hand cream, it smelt good. I agreed to by the set, my decision helped by it being on sale. At this point I’ve agreed to spend 3.5 times my initial planned spend.

But then they tried to upsell again, for twice what I’d just agreed to spend I could have a body scrub and a moisturiser – telling me that I had “skin discolouration” as part of the sales pitch. I declined politely. Then at the cash register, while I was standing with the money in my hand, I was asked again – I was so tempted to walk.

But on reflection I think the hard sale is one of the reasons this company is being forced to offer big discounts on their products. The Dutch are a bit allergic to this approach.

Image  french fries via pixabay

In Praise of Short Meetings

There were three messages: safety, inclusion, company performance. In that order. It was all over in about 15 minutes, and we were asked to chat to our colleagues and get to know someone new.

I wasn’t what I expected from a company meeting about annual results, and I wasn’t the only one, some colleagues who are also in their first year with the company were also surprised.

It was brilliant. It was effective. Everything about it spoke of the company’s priorities, and there was lunch.

When was the last time you joined a meeting that covered the promised agenda, inspired you, gave you lunch and finished on time?

Three things to think about when planning a meeting

What is the purpose of the meeting?

Meetings can have different purposes – informing colleagues, making decisions, problem solving, or consulting. Try to keep your meeting to just one purpose, it will make the next questions a lot easier.

Who needs to be in the room?

Steve Jobs famously asked people not specifically needed in a meeting to leave. That makes sense for consultative or decision-making meetings where increasing the number of attendees slows both processes down. However if your meeting is about informing people or problem solving the numbers matter less, and for informational meetings the audience will be somewhat self-selecting.

What is the minimum content?

A meeting is not the place to provide really in depth reporting, people can’t absorb and work with detailed data in a 30 minute time-slot through which everyone will be speaking. So go minimalist on what you present – and provide the resources/data/files later. If you’re using powerpoint create high impact slides and use appendices for the detail. The meeting I mentioned above did use powerpoint with key figures – 2 or 3 data points at most. We all walked out understanding the direction of the company and with the priorities clearly impressed on us.

And one last sneak question; do you really need a meeting? Many decisions can be made without putting an hour on everyone’s agenda. This is one area where time is money and it’s rarely factored into project costs, there are tools out there to help you measure the cost of time spent in meetings, and other tools to help you manage meetings better.

Go for a shorter meeting, your team will thank you for it.

Image: stopwatch via pixabay 

Ego Surfing

It’s a term coined almost twenty years ago, referring to the act of searching for your own name, pseudonym, or handle online to see what information appears.

We often place a negative association on displays of egos, and references to ego surfing on the internet are generally negative or sarcastic.

But ego surfing can be a smart thing to do.

Just as companies manage their online presence and their online reputation so should you, I think this should be an ongoing action, but I’m sure people think of it more when they’re job seeking.

If you’re a random, unfamous person like me, the occasional search on major search engines will be enough. Here’s how I do it;

  1. Use a browser I don’t use very often
  2. Log out of any accounts, particularly Google
  3. Clear browsing history and cookies
  4. Search for my name, and the name of the blogs I write
  5. Search for the key topics I write about in the hope that my name/blog appears connected to those topics.

It’s important to use a “clean” browser to do this as Google will give you adjusted results based on your location, browsing history and login.

If you find content that shouldn’t be publicly available you have a few options to remove it; WikiHow provides a list of actions you can take. In some cases Google will remove content that they index if it could lead to identity theft (although they won’t remove your date of birth). In some situations EU residents can ask to be “forgotten” by Google when information is dated and has a negative reputational impact.

There are therefore two very good reasons for searching your own name; to check that your name isn’t associated with negative information and to make sure that the content you are publishing is building your reputation in your field of expertise.

The algorithms used by search engines prioritise content that is useful, rewarding content sources that provide useful content, and ranking content higher that is clicked on. Most people won’t click on “next page” of a google search so it’s really important that your content is on the first page of results, in fact there’s a joke in Search Engine Optimisation about hiding anything you don’t want anyone to find on page two of Google results.

If you find that your prized content is not ranking highly in search results the thing to do is create more quality, useful content, generate more links to that content and wait. If you’re a public figure and find you are turning up in search results connected to negative events, the way to change that is to start doing a lot of good things, media will create reports on the good things and that’s what will appear connected to your name in a very short time.

Algorithms can have inherent bias, but they mostly reward content that is useful, often clicked and newsworthy.

The sculpture in the header image of this post was set alight, and burnt in a matter of minutes. So much for an ego.

 

Image: Art: Ego    |    Michael & Sandy   |   CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Who’s paying for remote working

By 2020 72% of workers will be working remotely according to Microsoft, which explains the motivation for the partnership they’ve entered with Spaces to create a new workspace at Schiphol in their old office building. Many of us already do work remotely for at least part of our week. I can work from one of two offices or from home, I just need my laptop and wifi, in fact we have such good tools available that no-one would even know which location I was working from.

Remote working has been on the rise for at least the last decade, as tools have improved it’s even become a more productive option. But who is it good for?

Proponents of remote working schemes often promote the benefits to the employee, and they do exist.

  • saves on commuting time
  • more flexibility to manage personal appointments (eg deliveries)
  • fewer interruptions which boosts productivity
  • some report a boost to morale, or in HR terms, high engagement

There are also significant benefits to the employer,

  • a productivity boost
  • shrinking office space – for example companies calculate desk space at 0.7 desks per FTE

But work is social, and we’ve learnt how to work and manage teams in a social context, so what happens when some of that social context is removed? Is this whole hot desking thing really good for everyone? Not necessarily.

Anyone who has worked in a flex-desk office will recognise some of those issues, but smart design and good tools solves at least some of them. In my current company we tend to sit in teams of colleagues so finding each other isn’t hard.

So what about the real costs? Well there’s a financial saving for companies but are there extra costs for employees?

In a recent Buffer survey of people working remotely around the world employees bear the cost for internet connection and workspace if a co-working space is needed. So the financial burden of office space has been passed to employees, given that 28% of the respondents report earning less than $25,000 per annum this seems exploitative.

If we’re all working remotely when will companies recognise this cost to employees and start finding ways to compensate? Perhaps that will become the deciding factor for remote workers looking for a new job. After all if location isn’t a factor in a job search we can be hired by anyone, anywhere.

Image : money via pixabay 

Building a Content Calendar

Using social media creates a content monster that needs to be fed. In most organisations a lot of thought and planning goes into the concept, design and development of content. Today’s post is a framework for building that content plan. I am focusing on social media, but the principles of building this plan work for other types of content.

Think about your content in terms of layers.

Content can be broken out into three types; evergreen, events and spontaneous. Each requires a different approach but when used together will increase the impact of your social media presence.

Evergreen Content

Sometimes also called drumbeat content, evergreen content can be planned and developed ahead of publishing.

Use dates that are important in your industry

Think more broadly than company specific dates. For example Philips, manufacturer of X-ray machines, posts on Marie Curie’s birthday.

Build out from campaigns and events

If you’re running a campaign on a specific product build brand content that supports your campaign message. For example, if a bank is running a campaign around savings products then the brand content could include articles on the psychology of saving.

Build a theme

Even if there is no specific date to connect it to you can build content around a theme, for example designate May as “Internet of Things” month and produce content around the trends, technology and developments in this field, of course you can connect this content to your own connected products,

Build a series

Use a specific rhythm to activate one idea. For example there’s a “Meatless Monday” trend in certain healthy circles if you’re a food company you could use this and promote vegetarian menus every Monday. Alternatively use a series of longer articles to go into depth on a specific area of your company’s expertise.

* To make this work

  • Research relevant dates for you and determine which themes/ series you want to build on.
  • Develop quality content, which means spending on design, photography, writing or filming the content you need.
  • Don’t be afraid to re-use this content, either posting highlights onto twitter/facebook, or repurposing it for other platforms.
  • Keep cultural differences in mind, not everyone celebrates the same thing, in the same way, or even on the same date. (Mother’s day is widely celebrated – but not on the same date).

Events

There are already a number dates to use on social media; those company announcements, conferences, events and campaigns that your company attends or produces.

Product launches are known months, or even years in advance, adding brand content to support the launch can increase the impact of the campaign.

Company leaders attend and speak at events throughout the year, decide which of these would be of more general interest, take any “infographic” or suitable images from presentations and re-use them on social media.

* To make this work

  • Add the known events and campaigns to your calendar, include the event/campaign contact person.
  • Work with the event/campaign lead to develop content that supports their plans.
  • Use a simple hashtag for your own event/campaign and encourage a wider audience to publish under it.

Spontaneous

Your company wins an award, there’s the announcement of a merger (or divestment), you’re finally in the ranking you’ve been working towards, you hear of an significant date that matches your company’s portfolio – on the date itself.  Every content team I’ve ever worked with has “last minute” content needs. So while I’m a big fan of planning ahead you also need a little flexibility to take advantage of these opportunities.

* To make this work

  • Prepare likely potential images for your asset library, eg relating to awards ahead of time. The more diverse your asset library is the more likely you are to have a suitable image to hand.
  • Use your social listening tools to monitor awards in your industry, and watch for the announcement of relevant rankings.
  • Maintain good contact with the colleagues who handle last minute announcements. Explain to them that you don’t need to know the content of the announcement which may be confidential, but if you know the timing and the sort of content they’ll need you can work with that. Encourage their input into the asset library to build relevant assets.

Putting the three layers together we can see that the impact of your content, whether measured in exposure or share of voice, increase when the layers are combined.

 

Planning Ahead

All three forms of what does a content calendar need good planning to be successful, but how far ahead to you have to plan?

The honest answer is “it depends”.

For this blog I have a plan that’s about 2 months ahead, with a content deadline of about a week before publication. But that timing needs to change if you’re collaborating on content with a team or you have approval steps needed. Large organisations are more likely to have deadlines further ahead of publication and the plan for content themes is probably running 6-12 months ahead. Making that “Spontaneous” category harder more important in order to stay relevant.

Tools

I use a google calendar, I can look at anywhere, on any device, I can add assets and links as I go. But my blog drafts are written directly into wordpress (not best practice). That works for a one person company and would probably scale up to a small team. For large companies there is an amazing array of sophisticated tools on the market. They enable planning and collaborative development of content, publication, sharing/editing of posts and assets, and reporting on content performance.

None of this is that hard to work out, but maintaining quality content requires a rare combination of creativity and discipline, with a dash of flexibility to take advantage of those out of the blue opportunities.

Image: Desktop via Pixabay