business Tag

Snapchat Appeals To Kids For The Same Reasons Myspace Did. But Can It Escape The Same Fate?

Remember Myspace? (I have to say that now when I intro myself to new people — my years working there are still a key part of my career history).

More importantly, can you remember the countless millions of teenagers who learnt HTML so they could ‘pimp’ their pages?

Kids Were Coding on Myspace!

That is unbelievable in retrospect. We got kids learning to handle (if not completely write) code just so they could make glitter fall down their page and have sexier buttons in their ‘contact box’. They knew how to open style tags, albeit simple ones like <b>, and then close them</b>.

Parents of course thought they had finally lost their young. They were witnessing their kids type and paste pure gobbledegook into boxes in some very confusing admin panel. Kids made their Myspace profiles resemble a sort of digital bedroom wall, plastered with a mess of everything they were into, and everyone they were associated with.

Confusing to ‘Olds’

The more I work with Snapchat (in my capacity running London creative digital agency Harkable), the more I’m struck with how this is the first platform since Myspace to appeal to kids largely because it bewilders and even scares their parents.

Even at my tender age I can still remember the sheer confusion the first time I used Snapchat. This of course was closely followed by a more composed, professional criticism of the UX (user experience).

The Thrill of the Dangerous

Just knowing you could send absolutely any kind of photo or video to anyone on Snapchat is in itself exciting.

Everything there is out of the gaze of authority. Seeing their parents’ horror just makes it all the more fun. And so it was on Myspace, you could be anyone and do anything. There were serial killers and sex offenders but we all accepted that the entire human spectrum was represented there, before everyone left for Facebook that is.

Is Snapchat Destined for Decline?

So the big questions looms. Can Snapchat avoid the fatal death spiral that Myspace disappeared into so rapidly? Ultimately the odds aren’t in their favour.

The only reason Facebook and Twitter have stuck around is because:

  1. their general utility — messaging, groups, events, photos, news
  2. their unprecedentedly high levels of adoption across all demographics — i.e. your grandparents use it, people in places with less access to technology use it
  3. integration across the web and the wider media landscape — Facebook ‘like’ buttons on websites, hashtags in TV shows etc

Will my Mum really get on Snapchat before the youth leave for something new? Will it replace current forms of private messaging like email and WhatsApp? Can it really become woven into our other media experiences such as surfing the web and watching TV?

Seems unlikely but then the entire premise of the app would have sounded bonkers five years ago, so don’t write them off completely.

So Many Users, So Little Money

The big challenge for them will be monetisation. They are the classic example of the social media startup having boomed in user numbers, only to be faced with the task of turning that into a profitable business.

They currently sell vertical video ads (portrait video as opposed to the traditional landscape) which are inserted in between Stories and Discover, kind of like TV ads. They trialled sponsored lenses — augmented reality animated overlays for selfie photos and videos — but have discontinued that for now. There’s no self-serve ad buying platform, and agencies are struggling to justify significant media spend because of the lack of any robust analytics, other than reports on views and reach.

Snapchat’s Future Is Not In Mass Market

They’ll need to bring a much more rounded advertising offering with the ability to target ads and report on exactly what the money achieved.

But like Myspace failed to do, they’ll need to keep its core users interested. And rather than trying to attract that wider demographic, it might mean keeping mum and dad a little bit scared of it.


Video: My 3 Tips For Brands To Be Heard Online

I spoke at Enterprise Nation and O2 Business’ Digital Marketing Demystified event in London last month. I met some great business owners and marketers who were looking to take their digital marketing to the next level, and my talk focussed on social media, growth hacking and making the most of small resources.

The video team there asked me what my three top tips for business to be heard online were, and here they are!

1. Keep It Small – Do Less, Brilliantly

Many brands try to take on every social network and marketing channel and end up spreading themselves too thin. Ask yourself where your content and personality works best and just go there, at least initially. For instance if you are a small fashion brand with very little time, start just on Instagram and nail that before going elsewhere, as your content will work best and fuel a community most effectively there.

2. Keep It Authentic

Don’t worry about being too professional or businesslike in social. It is after all a conversation. Consumers today understand that there are humans behind your brand and expect to hear from them, with all their personality and warmth. So just be yourself rather than a ‘brand’.

3. Spend a Little

Over time, identify what content is working best for you and start to put small spends e.g. £20 – £50 behind pieces you feel should do well. Target the promotion at those outside of your existing network to reach new audiences (perhaps that of competitors even) who you wouldn’t have reached without the boost.

And most of all, have fun with it. If you enjoy it, you’ll do it brilliantly 🙂


Want To Get Ahead? Say “No” More Often

Rusty Old Weighing Scales

To achieve great things, we need to create great opportunities. But we also need to know when to turn them down. The decision to say “no” to someone is hard to make, and saying it is harder still. So how we do we arrive at that decision?

I believe that one great project is worth more than ten mediocre ones. At Harkable, the creative digital agency I run, we want to be the best agency in the world, not the biggest.

But we’re brought up to be ‘yes’ people. Saying “yes” feels better than saying “no”, regardless of its actual impact. For anyone self-employed, acquiring opportunities as prolifically and quickly as possible is the main goal. It is against everything in our bones to then turn down work that comes in. It feels like finding money on the street and throwing it back down the drain. But taking the wrong work can have all sorts of negative impacts on you and your business. You can become unprofitable and stressed very quickly.

The Three Fs Test

Our innate tendency to say “yes” is further compounded by our emotions. You might get on well with the person offering you the opportunity. You may love the brand’s products you’re asked to promote. But is it really worth doing? This is where the well-used Three Fs Test comes in.

This test works for everyone from actors to personal trainers. Designers to global ad agencies. It’s so when you receive an offer of work, you can divine whether your response should be a “yes” or a “no”.

Each ‘F’ represents the essence of why we do what we do. How many of these boxes you must tick is up to you but make a rule and stick to it. I would suggest you demand that any project ticks two of these at least.

  • Fame — means work that gets you noticed, garners respect and is likely to get talked about. It’s important because recognition attracts opportunities. People will want to work for you and with you. It also brings the satisfaction of your work being appreciated by others, which is highly motivational.
  • Fun — do you remember why you got into your industry and not into something ‘boring’? You need to stay connected to that, and get excited about doing the work this next project entails. Imagine what each phase of the project is and ask yourself if you’d do all that, even if there was no money in it. That’s how you know it’s truly fun.
  • Fortune — will this project bring money which does more than just sustain you? Will it bring extra profit you could spend on growth or improvement? In other words, look at where that money gets you, beyond covering your bills. If nowhere, it’s not a fortune project. Yet if it would bring extra funds for new equipment or a personal treat such as a holiday, it’s a fortune project.

So go forth, win the best clients you can to make you happy, wealthy and respected. You’ll be able to look back on a career of quality work and challenges conquered. Great people you met and worked with who appreciated your efforts. And most important of all, a proud sense of having made a valuable contribution to the world in your unique way.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Photo by Sudarshan V on Flickr


How To Have Great Ideas: The 4 ‘Rooms’ of Inspiration

Thanks to my business partner Chris, who basically insisted I read it, I’ve just finished ‘A Book About Innocent’, a frank and very readable account of how three guys started (and very nearly finished) Innocent Drinks, going from a van selling 24 smoothies at a jazz festival to a business worth well over $150 million.

Their brand is renowned for its original approach and new ways of doing things. In the book they talk about creativity and reference Michael Wolff who set up a famous branding agency in the 1960’s and had the idea of ‘Four Rooms’ which you must visit to cultivate good ideas. I think we all try to do this stuff but this serves as a great checklist:

1. The ‘room of great work’

Expose yourself to the finest ideas by going to art galleries, design museums and shows. Read magazines, books and consume any and every art form. Be inspired by them but do not do your work in this ‘room’ as you will find yourself dominated by its greatness.

2. The ‘room of understanding’

Whatever your industry, make sure you fully understand how it works – the technologies and processes behind it, where the parts of it come from and where they’re going. Do not do your thinking in this ‘room’ as you will feel constrained by its rules.

3. The ‘room of precedent’

Study all that has gone before in the sector that you operate within. Do this to learn what has already been done, what was successful and what failed. Again, don’t do your work in this room or else you’ll just end up plagiarising.

4. The ‘room of creativity’ 

The final ‘room’ is where you should do your work. It is dark and the only person in that room is you. You should go into that room naked. And it is here that you should dtart to think of ideas. 

So, if you’re a creative go buy that Art Pass, check out shows of musicians you love, subscribe to some pretty magazines here, here and here. Subscribe to blogs in your industry and use Google Reader and Twitter to keep track of them and key people in that sector. And engage with those people, join the conversations online and become a voice yourself through your own blog and social media. Most important of all – make sure you actually just go create, and have fun doing it 🙂


Mobile World Congress: Top Things To Get Excited About

Mobile Phones

This Monday, 14th February, will see 50,000 people descend on Fira de Barcelona in the centre of the Catalonian capital to gather at Mobile World Congress, the biggest date in the mobile communications industry’s calendar. It is typically where the big players like LG, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Samsung et al announce new technology, phones, tablets and gadgets. LG are kindly whisking myself, @alicam and @mayhemstudios out there to witness their product unveilings, which include the much-hyped first ever 3D phone! So in anticipation of this almighty tech-fest, here’s a quick look at what I’m most excited about seeing next week:

LG Optimus 3D

OK, so LG are the reason I’m out there. But seriously, a phone with 3D screen and camera? I need to see that. The grass is always greener on the other side and having had an iPhone for so long I could very easily be tempted to switch over to Android by this phone which is rumoured to have a dual-core 1GHz processor, an 8 megapixel camera and ‘multi-channel RAM’. I’ll publish full details as we get them at MWC, but in the meantime here’s a teaser trailer LG just released:

The ‘Playstation Phone’

I love my Playstation 3 and for a long time loved my (cracked) PSP, but the poor old handheld has been gathering dust since 2008 when the iPhone 3G gave us decent games, with internet, email, a phone and all your digital media thrown in too. So it would be cool to see Sony bring the goods with its ‘Xperia Play’. The Android phone/console hybrid will run Playstation One games though we don’t know what games will be available until MWC, and that ultimately will determine this device’s success.

Interestingly, by the end of 2011 Sony plans to have allowed other mobile and tablet manufacturers to adapt their Android OS to run Playstation games and have access to the forthcoming Playstation app store. Details are scant until the press conference on Sunday. Until then here’s the creepy ad Sony ran during Super Bowl to officially announce the phone:


Let’s face it, it will be years until someone other than Apple beats the iPad at the tablet game so I, like many, will be looking on in amusement and curiosity at the tablet launches at MWC to see what lengths manufacturers have gone to to try and tempt those considering Apple’s ‘magical and revolutionary’ device away from the easy choice.

Samsung’s Galaxy has been on of the more successful underdogs and it’s successor will be unveiled on Sunday night. Rumours are also circulating that the Samsung Galaxy’s successor will be announced and that HTC are preparing their first tablet to be unveiled. LG are also said to be launching a larger version of their Optimus 3D phone, a tablet with rear-facing stereoscopic camera and glasses-free 3D screen.


Whilst the gallery of speakers at MWC 2011 looks like the members book of a white supremacist chess club, there are a few heavyweight keynotes at MWC 2011 that I’ll be making an effort to see.

Eric Schmidt should be interesting because of Google’s burgeoning stake in the mobile OS market and how advertising might develop in mobile.

Steve Ballmer because I kinda hope he’ll go a bit mental… again.

Jack Dorsey because since co-founding Twitter he’s set up Square, a revolutionary product that is as beautifully simple and useful as his first famous venture. I’ll be interested to hear where he plans to take it and which industries they’re focussing their marketing efforts on (do market traders generally have iPhones?).

Dick Costolo because he’s CEO of my favourite social website – Twitter – and I’ll be keen to hear how things are going back at HQ and where they plan to take the business. He’s also an interesting figure in the start-up world having founded Feedburner and invested in several start-ups including Twitter back in 2007. I’m sure I’ll happen across other speakers and be pleasantly surprised, which I’ll report back on right here.

So stay tuned as I post videos, photos and new product specs as they’re announced. You can also follow the #MWC11 hashtag on Twitter, and also me – @willfrancis@LGmobileMWC@alicam and @mayhemstudios to see what we’re up to!


Why Best in Class is Best

It always strikes me as odd that in the constant battle for online supremacy, the big companies like Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL etc habitually make the mistake of over-diversification. Because the competitive landscape of the internet is as volatile as a shed full of fireworks, with new trends and ventures taking off into the stratosphere every week – not to mention the vast majority who achieve no more than expending their thrust against a brick wall before falling the short drop to the ground – the opportunities seem too good to miss. No-one in business likes to feel that they’re missing a big trend. When a start-up is attracting positive attention, the online behemoths take a look and think “that’s great, but with our massive platform we could blow their impressive figures out of the water”. Not so easy.

Countless major sites and companies have tried to follow the trend of social networking. UK music retailer HMV recently closed ‘Get Closer’ only a year after launching the music-based social network. Google, the perceived leader in the online game who garner nothing but high praise aren’t immune either. They launched Orkut, a social network which is big in Brazil but failed spectacularly in most other territories when compared to MySpace and Facebook.

Twitter’s hype continues to burn bright over a year after it first started to attract mainstream attention. It’s a very simple product that does one thing very well. Their status as a major player was confirmed when the world’s 5th biggest website – Facebook – took its first cue from Twitter in March 2009, followed by a series of changes mimicking the trending micro-blogging service during 2009 which saw Facebook risk the alienation of users and app developers alike. This didn’t go down well with the Facebook crowd and rumours of further changes continue to circulate.

It can work the other way too. For years MSN Messenger (now called Windows Live Messenger) has offered voice and video chat along with their dizzying plethora of social products and functions (can you name all the things that come under the Windows Live brand? I can’t!). Look at how relative newcomer Skype took that and refined it, focussing their entire business on that one key function and making it a top product.

So why don’t companies learn? What many forget is that being on a website is not like being in a shop, to leave one website and enter another takes no more than one click on the bookmarks bar, quite possibly easier than navigating to another part of the site they’re already on. And more importantly, users are happy to use ten different websites regularly, they don’t necessarily want everything all on one site. All we care about is whether the site is performing the function required at that moment and that it’s the best at what it does.

I know what you’re starting to think – “doesn’t this guy work for MySpace? Helloooo!!”. Well, yeah. We’re slimming down the site a lot and have realised all of the above and more thanks to our shit-hot new executive team so expect to see some truly great stuff coming out of MySpace in the near future :) This is not an official MySpace communication, it is my personal blog, but need to say that in the interest of context ;)

Let me know what you think about best in class web products and if the big sites’ failures are just part of the process of building a portfolio of great products.