SoLoMo, Or Just Social, Local And Mobile?
One of the many things I like about writing talks for a conference is that the talk often morphs during the writing process as I research the theme and try to make the narrative at least vaguely coherent. Of course, it also helps that when you're asked to be a speaker at a conference, the organisers often want the title and abstract up to 3 months ahead of proceedings. 3 months is a long time in the tech industry and a lot can change.
Which brings me to the talk I gave a month ago at the Location Business Summit in Amsterdam and again today at the Click 6.0 Digital Marketing conference in Dubai.
I'd originally wanted to talk about the importance of digital maps in SoLoMo, the much touted convergence of social, local and mobile. The more I researched this, the more a feeling of déjà vu crept into my thinking. I was sure I'd seen a much talked about and much feted tech phenomenon turn out to be more hype than substance. Much as hyperlocal, which I approached from the point of view of a hopeful sceptic, turned out to be more hype than local, SoLoMo gave me the same feeling of unease.
For those of you who like this sort of thing (and I really need to check my web analytics sometime to see if anyone actually does like this sort of thing or whether I'm merely deluded; either one of these options is entirely plausible), the slide deck, with titles helpfully annotated into Arabic by one of my colleagues in Nokia's Berlin office, plus notes are below.
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Welcome back. Now I’m aware that you’ve all just had your lunch but maybe, just maybe, the observant amongst you will have noticed that this slide behind me isn’t the talk that’s advertised in the conference brochure and schedule. This talk was supposed to be “The 3rd. Generation Of The Map; The Importance of Location in SoLoMo”. But during the process of writing and researching this talk, it changed and became “SoLoMo, Or Just Social, Local and Mobile?”. This is not a bad thing. My talks often morph during their creation, hopefully becoming something which is a bit more focused and relevant for a given audience. But firstly, I should introduce myself …
So, hello, I’m Gary. I’m a self-confessed map addict, a geo-technologist and a geographer. I’m Director of Places 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.
As you might be able to tell from the title of this talk, I like social and social media …
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.
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
Whether it's a social network for your professional profile
... for your friends and family to share stuff
... for your more technically literate friends and colleagues to share stuff
... 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
I also like local ...
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.
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.
I also like mobile ...
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.
But do I like SoLoMo ... ?
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.
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?
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.
Remember the "year of the map" ... ?
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 Dubai, that weren't only like no map you'd seen before but were almost works of art in their own right.
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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" ...
So farewell Brightkite, there's always Gowalla, Facebook Places and Foursquare.
Ah. "Gowalla was a location based social network". I'm having a bit of deja vu here again.
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?
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.
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.
Fast forward to today and in addition to SoLoMo, there's The Cloud
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
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.
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.
So back to SoLoMo and back to the convergence of social, local and mobile.
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.
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.
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.
Ditto for YouTube, started in 2005 and acquired by Google a year later.
There's also Tumblr, founded in 2007
And of course, Facebook, launched in 2004.
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.
Another truism is that there's much much more to mobile and to mobility than just Apple's smartphone offering.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But there's more to mobile than just smartphones, there's also the growing number of tablets
From Apple's iconic iPad
Through Amazon's newcomer, the Kindle Fire plus many other table variants running Android.
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.
Finally, in addition to social and to mobile, there's local. But local is more than just localised and relevant information, deals and coupons.
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.
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 ...
... 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.
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 …
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.
And as a recent study has shown, there’s an Arabic speaking market right here in the Emirates and surrounding nations that is ready and waiting for localised content, localised commerce and localised services. In April of this year, a study by Plus7 polled over 4000 local phone owners giving a unique insight into what people are looking for on their mobile device. More interestingly, the study showed that consumers usually look for information on the mobile web and via mobile apps before they purchase a product or service. Although most of the people surveyed preferred cash on delivery for products and services, mobile e-commerce is increasing across the region. Sagar Shetty, co-founder and Director of Plus7, commented that
“Although mobile advertising is still in its infancy in this region, this study demonstrates that the uptake of mobile internet and e-commerce is quite high. The adoption of smartphones, 3G networks and data plans provides a ripe environment for advertisers looking to reach consumers through a variety of platforms including mobile browsers and apps. As usage increases, mobile advertising will play a key role in the development of the mobile ecosystem.”
So please, do mobile and let your products and services break free of the desktop ...
Do social and build a presence and community around your offerings ...
Do local and bring local relevance to your content and to your audience ...
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
If recent commentary is to be believed, you now need to invest in ToDaClo ... touch and data and the cloud.
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.
Thank you for listening