Revisiting SoLoMo in Istanbul

If any industry sector is uniquely poised to benefit from the triumvirate of social, local and mobile, it’s the classified listings industry. The last time I spoke about whether do embrace SoLoMo or just embrace social, local and mobile I cautioned against the tick in the box approach and against adopting new technologies just because you’re exhorted to.

But at first glance, a business running classified listings does seem to put all the right ticks in all the right boxes.

Firstly local. Classifieds are inherently local, offering a way for local businesses and individuals to offer … stuff … to other local people. Implementing a local strategy needs your mainstay offering to have a strong geolocation quotient and what could be more local or more geolocation than addresses and postal codes?

Then there’s mobile. Most classifieds businesses have either fully or partially transitioned from print to online and if you already have an online presence, you’re more than half way to having a mobile online presence.

Finally there’s social. Again, there’s a strong affinity with classifieds. Nothing spreads faster than word of mouth reputation and harnessing the power of social media to allow people to say “hey, I just found this really cool stuff” is a compelling case for social.

So when the International Classified Media Association, the ICMA, asked me to talk about SoLoMo at their Social, Local, Mobile: Classified Media Strategies conference in Instanbul last week it was an ideal opportunity to see whether my preconceptions to be skeptical about SoLoMo were borne out in practise or whether I’d just overdone the cynicism a bit too much.

As it turns out, I think it was round about a 50/50 ratio. Most of the classifieds people in Instanbul fundamentally got the basic precepts around each of SoLoMo’s constituent elements.

But there were two major flies in their respective ointments.

Firstly, as with most industry sectors, the classifieds businesses are experts in … classified. They’re not experts in social, local or mobile. They’re far too busy running their business to become experts in anything other than their business. Which means metaphorical toes are dipped in equally metaphorical waters without maybe understanding or appreciating what is meant to be achieved.

Secondly and closely linked with my first point, even if a social, local, mobile or SoLoMo strategy is put in place, it’s still not clear what’s going to be achieved or how to measure success or failure. Many of the classifieds players I spoke to openly acknowledged that whilst they have social media dashboard and metrics in place, it’s a major challenge to interpret a sea of figures and work out what this means in the context of their business area.

I’m still strongly of the belief that if applied sanely and in a way that makes sense for a business, there’s a lot to be gained from social, from mobile and from local.

I’m still equally strongly of the belief that SoLoMo, even if it does have a manifesto, is too vague and wooly to be understood by people trying hard to make their business succeed and needs the basic tenets broken out and explained in language the people SoLoMo is trying to help can understand.

As usual, the slides from my talk, which will be just a tad familiar to anyone who read my last SoLoMo post, are below and my deck notes follow after the break.

Slide 2

So, hello, I’m Gary and I’m from the Internet. I’m a self-confessed map addict, a geo-technologist and a geographer. I’m Director of Web & Community for Nokia’s Location and Commerce group. Prior to Nokia I led Yahoo’s Geotechnologies group in the United Kingdom. I’m a founder of the Location Forum, a co-founder of WhereCamp EU, I sit on the Council for the AGI, the UK’s Association for Geographic Information, I’m the chair of the W3G conference and I’m also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


Slide 3

There are URLs in this talk but this is the only URL in the entirety of this talk you might want to take a note of. Although if you go there right now, it’ll 404 on you, later today or tomorrow, this is where this slide deck, my notes and all the links you’ll be seeing will appear on my blog. That’s an upper case “I” and a number “9” at the end of the URL by the way …


Slide 4

As you might be able to tell from the title of this talk, I like social and social media …


Slide 5

Based on social networking theory from the 1980’s, social networks and social media are one of today’s dominant forces for communication on the internet and the web.


Slide 6

And even though a lot of the social networks that originally launched are no longer with us, we’re a social species and social networks are here to stay in some form or other for the foreseeable future of the web

Slide 7

Whether it’s a social network for your professional profile

Slide 8

… for your friends and family to share stuff

Slide 9

… for your more technically literate friends and colleagues to share stuff

Slide 10

… or for expressing yourself in 140 characters or less, probably everyone in this room knows and uses social networks to a greater or lesser degree

Slide 11

I also like local …

Slide 12

I travel a lot, both for work and for when I’m not working. Online local sources of information, both those which are place related and via social media, are to me utterly invaluable.

Slide 13

Local is both a global and a intensely personal thing. My idea of what’s relevant and local will differ entirely from yours most of the time. Local maps and local place information allow me to find the things that are important to me, like where to find a good cup of coffee in a new city, where the hotel I’m staying at in a new city is located and other more detailed information about that place.

Slide 14

Local is both a global and a intensely personal thing. My idea of what’s relevant and local will differ entirely from yours most of the time. Local maps and local place information allow me to find the things that are important to me, like where to find a good cup of coffee in a new city, where the hotel I’m staying at in a new city is located and other more detailed information about that place.

Slide 15

Local is both a global and a intensely personal thing. My idea of what’s relevant and local will differ entirely from yours most of the time. Local maps and local place information allow me to find the things that are important to me, like where to find a good cup of coffee in a new city, where the hotel I’m staying at in a new city is located and other more detailed information about that place.

Slide 16

I also like mobile …

Slide 17

I like the fact that the social and local services I’ve come to rely on are not tied to the internet connection at home or at work and that I don’t have to have access to a desktop computer or a laptop to use them. My mobile is more than a phone, it’s a computer with an internet connection in my back pocket. I use my mobile all the time and I’m not alone; a recent ComScore report shows that in the US more people now spend time on Facebook and Twitter on mobile than they do on those company’s respective web sites.

Slide 18

But do I like SoLoMo … ?

Slide 19

SoLoMo is one of those fantastic acronyms that the tech industry creates on a regular basis, the aggregation and the convergence of the three things I’ve just talked about … social, local and mobile.

Slide 20

It even has a manifesto for “everything marketeers need to know about the convergence of social, local and mobile”. Given what I’ve been showing you on the last 16 or so slides, I should love the concept of SoLoMo …. shouldn’t I?

Slide 21

But SoLoMo has an odd sense of deja vu for me. I freely admit this is in part down to my healthy sense of cynicism and skepticism where marketing and advertising is concerned but I’m sure we’ve been here before, where a buzzword or an acronym has been heralded to be the next “big thing” only for the harsh light of day and the passage of time to show otherwise.

Slide 22

Remember the “year of the map” … ?

Slide 23

The explosion of maps APIs, first from Yahoo!, then from Nokia, Google, Bing, OpenStreetMap and many others have revolutionised maps with only a few lines of JavaScript code. Suddenly maps were everywhere, whether they actually needed to be or not.

Slide 24

Now it’s true, that some amazing work has come out of the mapping API, such as Stamen’s Pretty Maps that mashes up Flickr’s Alpha shapes, urban areas from Natural Earth and OpenStreetMap road, highway and path data; and which showed that you could produce maps, such as where I live on the outskirts of London and here in Istanbul, that weren’t only like no map you’d seen before but were almost works of art in their own right.

Slide 25

Now it’s true, that some amazing work has come out of the mapping API, such as Stamen’s Pretty Maps that mashes up Flickr’s Alpha shapes, urban areas from Natural Earth and OpenStreetMap road, highway and path data; and which showed that you could produce maps, such as where I live on the outskirts of London and here in Istanbul, that weren’t only like no map you’d seen before but were almost works of art in their own right.

Slide 26

It also meant that people even went so far as to link the Twitter API and Modest Maps and make maps for individuals, such as this map that Aaron Cope, ex of Flickr, made for me.

Slide 27

But in becoming widespread, digital maps started to become a commodity and for every good use of a map, the number of maps that are just plain wrong started to increase, such as this, digitally produced, totally wrong map of a local bus route in London, which has been helpfully corrected by a local resident …

Slide 28

Or a combination of online digital maps, from Google and incorrect spatial data from the US State Department being used as a justification for a border dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica in 2010.

Slide 29

Then there was the “check-in economy” which was going to revolutionise advertising and local commerce through checking into a place on your location enabled smartphone. Companies such as Brightkite, Gowalla, Facebook’s Places and Foursquare were hailed by the media as the standard bearers for this. Time has not been kind here.

Slide 30

Who here remembers Brightkite? One of the earlier LBS apps to take advantage of the check-in phenomenon. Wikipedia’s entry on Brightkite says it all … “Brightkite was a location based social network” …

Slide 31

So farewell Brightkite, there’s always Gowalla, Facebook Places and Foursquare.

Slide 32

Ah. “Gowalla was a location based social network”. I’m having a bit of deja vu here again.

Slide 33

So, no more Brightkite or Gowalla. There’s still Facebook Places and Foursquare. And after Facebook’s recent IPO, surely Facebook can’t get it wrong can it?

Slide 34

Actually Facebook Places lasted just over a year and for a lot of that time, it was only available in the US and automagically turned itself on when I was in Silicon Valley and turned itself off again once I got home to London.

Slide 35

So of the 4 poster children of the check-in economy only Foursquare is left and, apparently, still going strong. Maybe the “check-in economy” didn’t really exist.

Slide 36

Fast forward to today and in addition to SoLoMo, there’s The Cloud

Slide 37

Now the notion of storage and services hosted remotely and accessed via the internet is nothing new. You can argue that the IMAP server which holds my email and my web host provider are as much cloud services as Amazon’s EC2 and S3 and DropBox are

Slide 38

But unlike the digital map and the check-in which are fairly clear and unambiguous, no-one really seems to know precisely what the cloud is; take an unscientific straw poll of 5 people and you’ll probably get 5 different answers.

Slide 39

So the “year of the map”, “the check-in economy” and other buzzwords, such as hyperlocal, never really materialised and either were over-used or failed to live up to their much hyped potential.

Slide 40

So back to SoLoMo and back to the convergence of social, local and mobile.

Slide 41

It has to be said that I’m very wary of SoLoMo as a concept, though not of the converging technologies that make up SoLoMo and I encourage you all to be equally wary, as I hope you’ll see.

Slide 42

Firstly the concept of social. SoLoMo encourages your business to be social. But almost everything on the internet now is already social, either as an established social network or as a component to existing ventures.

Slide 43

Although Twitter launched in 2006, it’s over the last 4 or 5 years that it’s become an established part of the internet. Sharing people’s thoughts and trivial day-to-day activities, through to breaking news, from celebrity news, through political events to natural disasters.

Slide 44

Ditto for YouTube, started in 2005 and acquired by Google a year later.

Slide 45

There’s also Tumblr, founded in 2007.

Slide 46

And of course, Facebook, launched in 2004.

Slide 47

All of these services and plenty more besides have permanently changed people’s expectations and habits of how they use the internet and how they share content with their social community. Even before Facebook’s recent IPO, this one site has become a magnet for how brands reach and interact with their customers.

If you’re looking to bring a social aspect to your business, how do you compete with the existing platforms and how can you compete with the massive attention that your brand rivals already have on social media platforms? Unless you’re bringing something radically new to the table you’ll have a hard time competing for your audience’s attention. You can take the common route of literally buying attention with deals, coupons and special offers, but that’s not a sustainable method of engagement in anything but the short term.

The often overlooked solution to vying for social attention is to make social a key aspect to all of your business and all of the departments that make up your business. “Doing social” can have a benefit but only if it’s a core part of the way in which you interact with your customers, past, present and future. Simply having a Twitter account or a Facebook page does not a social strategy make.

Slide 48

Another truism is that there’s much much more to mobile and to mobility than just Apple’s smartphone offering.

Slide 49

There are a lot of smartphones about and that number continues to grow. In the last 2 years in the United States alone, smartphone growth has risen from under 30% to 50%, whilst there’s been a corresponding fall in feature phone growth, from just over 70% to meet smartphones at 50% in March of this year.

Slide 50

It’s true that most companies these days go down the mobile app route and that often means that the starting point is to focus on a single platform. Yet despite what you read in the media, often the social media, there are other platforms out there besides iOS.

Slide 51

There’s Windows Phone, and despite me working for Nokia and having a potential bias here, I have to say that this platform is growing fast and offers a differentiating factor to a startup or company expanding into mobile that iOS, with it’s massive array of apps, can’t now offer.

Slide 52

And then of course, there’s Google’s Android OS as well. By all means develop, launch and keep updated a mobile app. But don’t get complacent and think that your mobile strategy will be successful just because you have a mobile presence on a single mobile platform. Even if you’re aggressive and target all of the mobile platforms, there’s still the cost and effort involved in maintaining a mobile presence across disparate environments.

Slide 53

Although relatively recent and still somewhat fragmented from a standards point of view, HTML5 is looking to be a viable alternative option for a mobile presence and indeed, some companies, including the Financial Times, are focusing entirely on HTML5 to cut development costs and to work around the restrictions and limitations that each platform’s app store or app marketplace has, particularly around revenue generation.

Slide 54

But there’s more to mobile than just smartphones, there’s also the growing number of tablets

Slide 55

From Apple’s iconic iPad

Slide 56

Through Amazon’s newcomer, the Kindle Fire plus many other table variants running Android.

Slide 57

And beyond the smartphone and the tablet, there’s the connected TV, which is becoming more and more one of the every growing number of screens that vies for our attention on a daily basis.

Slide 58

Finally, in addition to social and to mobile, there’s local. But local is more than just localised and relevant information, deals and coupons.

Slide 59

In just the same way in which the “check-in economy” never really materialised, the “deals economy” is not having an easy time. Groupon, once the poster child of local commerce, has had a rough ride, with vendors finding out the hard way that good deals for their customers doesn’t necessarily equate to good business for a business. Indeed, the rumours of Groupon’s near bankruptcy have forced the company to postpone their promised IPO. And as with social and mobile, the local marketplace is already filled to near overflowing point with competitors and it can be hard for a newcomer to vie for customer’s attention against the competition.

To do local successfully, it’s not just about choosing to partner with the right tool, say Foursquare vs. Gowalla or Groupon vs. Living Social and hoping that you’ve chosen a partner with longevity. As with social, it’s not just about engaging with your audience. As with mobile, it’s not just about putting the tick next to the box that say “have mobile app”. It’s about looking long and hard at your business and its offering and rewiring it from a local perspective in a way that makes sense for your offering and your audience. It’s about convincing your staff and your investors that doing this makes sense for you and for your business. Putting a tick next to the box that says “do SoLoMo” simply isn’t enough.

Slide 60

So if SoLoMo is more than just adding social, local and mobile together to be buzzword compliant, what is the success factor in all of this? The answer is content. The internet remains one of the best ways we have today to reach an audience, both as an individual and as a business and that audience is hungry for content …

Slide 61

… specifically for digital content. More specifically, an audience that is hungry for quality, current and relevant content. Content that can tell a great story which can boost your brand, content that explains your products and services clearly and unambiguously, content that creates loyalty, that makes your social, mobile and local presence compelling and sticky, content that builds a community around it, via comments, Facebook Likes, Tweets and so on. The harsh fact is that in the fields of social, local and mobile there’s a simple equation … no content or irrelevant content equals no business. You may have an iPhone app or a Facebook page or a deals coupon but these will never make up for a lack of quality content.

Slide 62

But to be more precise, it’s not just about digital content to connect with your audience and with your customers, it’s about local and localised content. This means that you need to reach your audience in a manner with which they’re familiar and comfortable with. Localising to a local language is a good first step but just as importantly, it’s about local knowledge. You, as business owners or employees are in a unique position to know your local area and to give unique insights that other people just don’t know. Let me give you a specific recent example …

Slide 63

I fly in and out of Berlin’s Tegel airport because Berlin is the European headquarters for Nokia’s Location & Commerce group. This airport is as well known in the city by its airport code, TXL, as it is by its’ full name, Berlin Otto Lilienthal Airport. Last week, whilst in Berlin I was given this tee-shirt. Everyone I know in Berlin immediately understood the local reference, not only to TXL but also the hexagon on the tee-shirt, because the main terminal at Tegel is hexagonal in shape. Local knowledge, local information, local insight.

Slide 64

I fly in and out of Berlin’s Tegel airport because Berlin is the European headquarters for Nokia’s Location & Commerce group. This airport is as well known in the city by its airport code, TXL, as it is by its’ full name, Berlin Otto Lilienthal Airport. Last week, whilst in Berlin I was given this tee-shirt. Everyone I know in Berlin immediately understood the local reference, not only to TXL but also the hexagon on the tee-shirt, because the main terminal at Tegel is hexagonal in shape. Local knowledge, local information, local insight.

Slide 65

I fly in and out of Berlin’s Tegel airport because Berlin is the European headquarters for Nokia’s Location & Commerce group. This airport is as well known in the city by its airport code, TXL, as it is by its’ full name, Berlin Otto Lilienthal Airport. Last week, whilst in Berlin I was given this tee-shirt. Everyone I know in Berlin immediately understood the local reference, not only to TXL but also the hexagon on the tee-shirt, because the main terminal at Tegel is hexagonal in shape. Local knowledge, local information, local insight.

Slide 66

Now, if any industry sector can be said to have a wealth of local, digital, content, it’s the classified market. So, as I begin to wrap this up, I thought it would be a good idea to look at a case study of how one player approaches the trinity of social, of local and of mobile. I choose a classified business from a purely personal perspective. A classifieds business I’ve known as a consumer for a good many years and one who has transitioned from printed media to take on digital media … so, with the caveat that this is very much a critique and not a criticism …

Slide 67

I looked at Friday-Ad and for the purposes of this case study I’m looking to get my hands on a nice cheap MacBook Air. The first experience on my laptop is good. The site works out that I’m in the United Kingdom, probably via the domain name and possibly some IP geolocation. Now most modern browsers have built in geolocation facilities so I was a bit surprised to be asked to manually enter my postal code when my browser could have a pretty good idea of where I am. There’s a nice set of social icons present, with the usual suspects of Facebook, Twitter and Google+. To be honest, for an organisation with the pedigree and heritage of Friday-Ad, 1,500 likes and 425 Tweets sounds a bit low to me and it’s not clear what, precisely is being liked or tweeted about. The site, the UK site, or something else? What’s more confusing is the second set of just Facebook and Google+ icons below; this time with 22 likes and no +’s. Maybe this is for me to like of plus the UK site. Or … not. For an end user, this is not clear at all, in fact it’s contradictory and confusing.

Slide 68

… but let’s not get bogged down in details, so I punch on my postal code and click the button helpfully labelled “Go Local!”.

Slide 69

Good. My postal code has been accepted and the site knows that I’m in Teddington in South West London. But hang on a moment. Remember those confusing social buttons? They’re still here and I’m more confused. The one’s at the top are now at zero and the ones underneath, which I previously thought might be for the UK are now for Teddington and yet the numbers are still exactly the same, 22 likes and no plus’s. I’m still confused.

Slide 70

So in an attempt to find what it is I’m being asked to like I hover my mouse pointer over the like button. But nothing happens. No clues and I’m left clueless. So I mouse over the tweet button and nothing happens here. But wait. I’m a bit of a geek and I notice that there’s a URL in the browsers status bar. I’m also geeky enough to work out that I would be Tweeting about Friday Ad in Teddington. But I wonder how many of the Friday Ad’s non geeky, or to put it another way, normal users would notice this.

Slide 71

So, after searching, I find the MacBook Air I want. It’s not really local but it’s a good price. Then I notice another set of Tweet and Like buttons. This time on the right hand in a box helpfully labelled Options. I am now officially confused. On this page there’s 3 Like buttons, 2 Tweet buttons 2 Google+ buttons, one Email To A Friend button and one Send button which I have no idea what would happen if I click it. Friday-Ad obviously has a social strategy but it’s just not clear how it works for the user and what it is that I’d be liking or plusing or recommending or sending. I have social button overload.

Slide 72

So I retreat from the laptop web experience and go mobile. My first port of call is my phone’s app store but there’s nothing I can find. This is not a bad thing as it does allow all flavours of today’s smartphone market to reach Friday-Ad. I go to www.Friday-ad.co.uk and the site notes I’m on a mobile browser and redirects me to the mobile site. This is good. Again, it knows I’m in the UK and this time, unlike on a laptop browser I’m offered a use current location option.

Slide 73

I click through the phone’s warning and I can see that the mobile site now knows where I am. Good.

Slide 74

Not let’s find that MacBook Air. OK. There’s nothing in my local area. Let’s refine the search. Oh, I see. The default is within 10 miles. So I tap the little “x” to remove the distance and tap go.

Slide 75

Still no results. But I found my MacBook Air on the non mobile site. So I tap refine search and then the penny drops. I need to tap refine search, remove the distance constraint, and then tap on refine search again. Really?

Slide 76

So eventually after some experimentation, I find my MacBook Air. And the social element, well if I scroll down I can tweet or like this ad. At least I think it’s that ad. Once again there’s absolutely no context here at all and if I want to do something with Google+ which is on the main site, well I’m out of luck,

Now I want to re-iterate this was a critique and not a criticism. Friday Ad has a business built around local content and local content with a strong and intuitive way of allowing people to interact with it. Friday Ad has a mobile presence as well and one which works intuitively and simply, leveraging browser detection to offer me the mobile site and geolocation. Friday-Ad also knows and uses the major social networks, but it’s this one piece of the puzzle which isn’t cohesive or intuitive for a non technically literate user to comprehend. But overall I think Friday-Ad does a pretty good job. Yes, there could be some more polish applied but overall the key elements of social, local and mobile are all there, even if the fit isn’t a snug one in places.

Slide 77

So please, do mobile and let your products and services break free of the desktop …

Slide 78

Do social and build a presence and community around your offerings …

Slide 79

Do local and bring local relevance to your content and to your audience …

Slide 80

But unless you have money to burn, don’t do SoLoMo just because you hear that it’s the current trend you need to be part of. It’s interesting to note that even as SoLoMo continues to be trumpeted as the next big thing that you have to invest in, there’s a buzzword compliant newcomer snapping at SoLoMo’s heels.

Slide 81

If recent commentary is to be believed, you now need to invest in ToDaClo … touch and data and the cloud.

Slide 82

Buzzwords do not make a successful business, service or offering, and I leave you with the ultimate buzzword offering, which Schuyler Erlse sprung on an unsuspecting audience at FOSS4G recently.

Slide 83

Thank you for listening.

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