running before you can walk

Running the wrong way

You don’t have to look too far to find half-a-dozen tips on how to make this or that social network sing for you. A series of tips to increase engagement, or to having a more disciplined content creation schedule.

Engagement is a good thing – having someone keen to read what you have to say is great. But this can be a case of losing sight of the forest when concentrating on the trees.

There is a time for refining the exact words of your social media post, for understanding the current trend with regard to images or videos, knowing the emerging trends: virtual reality, the Internet of Things, even working out what kind of metadata you can gather from your visitors’ interactions so you can be informed as you make changes over time.

But all of this is too specific and hands-on: it’s running before you have learned to walk.

Instead, ask yourself some more fundamental questions.

What change do you want to see: in yourself, from creating all this content? Do you want to meet new influencers who can help you understand your craft better? To improve your reputation as an expert? To have a structure for the reading you’re already doing?

What change do you want to see in the people who see your content? Are you seeking to create a community where nothing existed before? Do you want to augment an existing community (offline or online) with new conversations, content and opportunities? How will you manage the risks involved in making these changes – to help people change is generally more challenging than we think at first.

Before you try to decide on metrics, networks, and even platforms, you need a criteria for success in your endeavour. Before you improve your skills and understanding of tactics, you need to make sure your vision and strategy is well-aligned to what change you want to see in the world.

Photo Credit: Marcelo Nava via Compfight cc

rather die than change

Around ten years ago I read an article on heart attack survivors that proved people would rather die than change – given simple lifestyle changes to make, that would literally save them from having another, this time fatal, attack, the majority of people were unwilling or unable to make the change.

Changing (especially after a certain age) is tough.

I was talking to a friend about our respective social media intake. Lately I’ve found myself spending more time sourcing articles to read from Facebook, going beyond what I need to look through for work, flicking through in search of the latest fix of information. It quickly becomes a habit, and a tough one to break. Such is the genius of Facebook at some level: giving a gamified cookie to the people who continue to scroll through, like and comment on things, helping Facebook sell more ads.

While there is the occasional exception, and something of more significance will filter through, it can be tough to change gears from soaking up the shallows of the average social media post, to reading something longer and more in-depth.

My friend talked about the need to deliberately curate what goes into your mind. Instead of listening to the (unhelpful, or at best unexamined) habits that you’ve picked up, and doing what they say when choosing what goes into your mind, spend some time thinking carefully about what you want to be thinking about.

On the rare occasion when you bump into a friend who you haven’t seen in a while, will you have anything to say to them? Or will their Facebook feed have taken the place of small-talk, leaving you less connected than you might have been.

There are a number of risks with a sustained social media diet. Taking time to think about what it is you want to be thinking about, rather than always chasing bite-sized bits of new information. It will see you in a better frame of mind, and will pay dividends in years’ time that an unexamined consumption of everything you see.

Making sense of Facebook Page Insights

Sending a message out on social media (well, any digital communication, really) is like sitting on a desert island with a message in a bottle, waiting to be rescued. Your message is very important to you, but to someone sitting on the beach at the end of the world, it is much less interesting.

And this is the dilemma that Facebook has had to deal with. The organic reach for company brand pages has dropped significantly since the “good old days” of 2013. In their official response to the drop, Facebook said that it’s not about pushing company pages toward paid promotion of posts, but about providing its users with content that best matches the reason they come to facebook.

As a company, FB is looking to put the most relevant content possible in front of its users, so they spend more time on the site, and consume more advertising. Thesse ads take up more and more of the “feed”, in both mobile and desktop versions. 

For page owners, what do we then do with the audience that we’ve built up? When a given pitch can only reach a single-digit percentage of the overall audience base, is there any point in having fans anymore? Of course there is. And a well-written post can still reach a good number of people, even without promotion.

If you’re looking to improve the effectiveness of your page, you will want to have a look at the analytics that FB provide for free. But how to make sense of them? There are infographics and blog posts that can help you make sense of the terms involved. This will help you see what percentage of your fans are seeing the posts you are putting out, to the limit of accuracy of the data provided, but don’t be too distracted by these numbers.

The number of likes, comments and (most importantly for reach) shares are one factor in determining the success of your facebook page, but unless you’re looking at the facebook page as an end in itself, what you should really be tracking is how the facebook page is helping you reach your actual goal.

If your goal is to have people read an article, then track the number of clicks through from the facebook post to the article (and then look at your analytics to see how long people are spending on the article page, or if they are scrolling down to the end of the article page). 

If your goal is to sell products, then you want to measure – at the very least – how much traffic you’re getting to your site. Perhaps moving straight from reading a post to making a purchase is too much of a challenge – is there some way you can measure how a call-to-action in a post can move them further into your sales funnel, so that you can make a stronger connection? Perhaps an email list would be the next logical step?







cafes on instagram

Instagram (a social network bought by Facebook for around $1B, even though they had no revenue source at the time, and still have a fairly low level of revenue coming in) is still in its early stages as a social network. I’m fairly selective with who I follow on instagram, which means I’m still able to look at all the photos of the people I follow.

This is significant: I crossed the line a long time ago with twitter and with facebook, and just dip in occasionally and read whatever I can make time for. Instagram feels different, though: with its minimal (effectively nil) advertising, it still feels like a place that’s about the exchange of ideas rather than a commercial place where everyone is providing data for the service to sell.

Sure, Instagram is building up a database of places, connections, images, networks of sharing the same as the other players, and its (rarely seen) error messages are now hosted on facebook servers, not independent servers, but it still *feels* different.

And so Instagram is still a place where brands can interact with their followers in a more human way. I realised this when I started unfollowing brands/commercial accounts that they were managing to reach my subconcious in a more profound way than simply advertising. On Instagram, everything is just a photo, so commercial messages are, I think, less prone to banner blindness than on other platforms.

What does this mean for cafes in particular? I follow quite a few coffee-related accounts, many of whom for people I have met (though, with the exception of the occasional free coffee sample, none of whom I have a commercial interest in), and thought I’d share a few observations.

There are many types of coffee-related accounts: equipment vendors (eg thejuggler_ssm, lamarzocco, synesso_factory), roasters (eg griffithscoffee, tobysestatecoffee , camposcoffee), cafes (eg brewtownnewtown, circaespresso, fleetwoodmacchiato, kitchenbymike, thegroundsofalexandria, reformatorycoffeelab, smithteacoffee, vellanero, johnsmithcafe, substationcafe), cafe staff (eg charlescameron, tobyornot), hybrid accounts (eg atallandsundry, fleetwoodmacchiato, grindespresso), and – it could be argued – cafe bloggers or patrons like myself (eg bitterbliss, cafedave, beansproutcafe).

As with any social media approach, if you’re looking to be effective in your use of Instagram, you need to start by asking yourself why you’ve set up your account: what you’re hoping to get out of it. Ideally this will align with some higher-level business goals that you have.

The one outlier in the set of accounts above is the hybrid account. As a cafe owner, there are some big hours. It can be difficult to separate out your personal life from your cafe, but the experience of following the cafe when you don’t know the owner can be confusing.

The best of cafe accounts highlight those times of day when you would most like to visit a cafe: muffins fresh out of the oven, a new menu item becoming available, or the new beans you’ve brought in. Bringing in the personality of the staff from your cafe is a good way to remind your customers of why they visit the cafe.

While encouraging customers to take photos of your cafe might be a negative in terms of turning over tables, if you want to increase the level of engagement with instagram, there are a variety of steps you can take:


  • improve the quality of plating your food, or of your latte art
  • prominently add your instagram account name to your menus / at the cash register
  • repost the images of your followers
  • make sure your cafe location is on facebook places so people who visit your cafe can discover each others’ photos
  • increase the amount of lighting / natural light in the cafe
  • serve foods / place settings in a way that is easier to capture in a square frame
  • create a unique visual feature in your cafe that people who visit can include in their photos
  • create a uniquely named menu item (eg brewnut) to make sharing easier


Adding an instagram strategy to your cafe’s social media marketing mix can be a helpful way to gain more customers, and more repeat customers. Make sure you build in a way to see how many people are coming to the cafe from Instagram (some free stats are available at the time of writing from iconosquare – here’s the hashtag search for #brewtownnewtown – you’ll need to log in with an instagram account to see it).

Let me know in the comments below if you have a favourite cafe on instagram.

the next generation of social games

One of my favourite iPhone games is Andreas Illiger’s Tiny Wings. It’s cute, child friendly, and once you’ve bought it, there are no ads, no distractions, you get the entire thing. It’s a rarity in the App Store world, and in the online gaming world in particular. I worry that I spend too much time, even now, in my thirties, playing games. i should put them aside entirely, and focus on serious things.

When Draw Something came out, I was enthusiastic, and spent a lot of time playing it. Then Zynga (the company that owns Words with Friends and a lot of other games) bought the company (for $190M), and it started to go downhill. The tendency to extract money for players became stronger and stronger, and it felt like I had a never-ending to-do list of drawings to interpret and return.

When the privacy policy changed to be more generous toward Zynga and less toward me, I deleted it, and haven’t felt the need to go back. I can’t say the same for words with friends. I would say that I log into that game several times per day, but having bought paid version of the app, there’s not much they can do to extract further money from me, so I can concentrate on playing the game.

What I’m seeing in some other games, though, is a greater reliance on in-game currency. One game – different to bejewelled but clearly of the same lineage – is Diamond Dash.

Not only does this game have the “wait 8 minutes to be able to play again, or pay money to be able to play Right Now”, but they have two different types of in-game currency on top of this. So it’s possible to buy two lots of tokens for the game and still not have the feature that you want.

If you don’t want to pay, you can use social media to buy in-game currency, for a while. You can ask a friend to give you a life in the game, and they will receive one too. This clogs up your Facebook notifications, and theirs, but doesn’t particularly invoke positive sentiments towards the game.

These mobile devices that we use for games, and the social networks we connect them to, have so much capacity than merely to add in-game currency to existing games from the 1970s and 1980s. But we’re not seeing a lot better just yet.

I felt that Zyngapocalypse Now (And What Comes Next?) was asking some good questions about the future of gaming.

 If Yahoo was “Search, Generation One” then Google was “Search, Generation Two”. The first generation was the one which became cluttered with all manner of complicated ambitions, poor performance and a whole load of “conventional wisdom” which often proved contradictory. Generation Two, on other hand, realised what mattered and delivered just that. A similar shift is what will make “Social Games, Generation Two” real.

I’m interested to see the future of gaming, but mindful that I need to be ever more disciplined in how I use my time. Future games will work even harder to make sure that players will have “just one more game”: I’m hoping I can find a way just to dip in and out, without losing hours.

social media and online cruelty

Jeff Roberts, writing on GigaOm about a recent online cruelty case:

How many restless women wouldn’t fall for an animal-loving firefighter who sent gifts and liked to talk on the phone? One Illinois woman fell hard and now she has nothing but a hole in her heart and wallet after a court refused to do anything about a sick online prank.

Paula Bonhomme met James on a site for fans of the HBO series Deadwood. She soon realized the EMT and volunteer firefighter was “the one” after an intense flurry of messages, calls and gifts. Paula started communicating with James’ friends and family in California and soon a visit was in the works.

You can guess where this is going. As it turns out, there was no James but instead a twisted 58-year old woman, Janna St. James, who had fabricated James and more than a dozen other online identities to support the fictional romance. The phone calls? Janna had used a voice disguiser to sound like a man. The planned trips to California? Called off after “James” first attempted suicide and then suddenly died of liver cancer…

With the laws around cyberbullying still moving slowly, it’s possible to work these complex deceptions, and still see no significant consequences. This should be a serious encouragement to be careful with what you disclose online, and how you interact with people when you’re not certain who they are.

facebook and faith

I had the privilege of speaking at Wesley Institute today on the topic of “facebook and faith”.

I’ve tweaked the slidedeck so that it makes some sense without me talking in front of the screen. I’d love to know what you think!


The cutting room floor: some rambling under the heading of “theology”.

Marshall McLuhan famously said “the medium is the message”. The method that you use to consume information shapes the way that you understand that information.

How do we come to know about God? By reading the bible.

How do we read our bible? Perhaps ten years ago, we took a book off the shelf – maybe it had a fancy bible cover on it. You would open up the bible cover, flip the paper pages over, maybe skim through the underlined passages and notes you’d made on the pages. You would work slowly (or quickly) through the text, then close the book, close the cover, and put it back on the shelf or table where you’d found it.

What do you do now? Maybe you’re still using a book, but more likely you’re using some kind of electronic device. You no longer turn pages, but instead you punch in the reference and wait for it to appear. Maybe you’re reading the bible on a website. Maybe you’re reading it on a device that’s also a phone: an interruption could arrive at any second.

I don’t want to tell you that electronic bibles are wrong. I do want to tell you that the medium that you use to consume biblical content is shaping the way that you interact with the bible. A device that’s designed for short bursts of text reading is not going to encourage reflection or meditation.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but why make your bible reading harder when you don’t need to?

As you move your relationships with people, who are made in God’s image, onto social networks, this will change your perception of the people, and ultimately will impact the way you understand God.