It ain't all bad: 10 reasons why social media is GREAT

Social media has a somewhat shoddy reputation. This has only been heightened by the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal on Facebook. But you know what? It's not all bad - it's actually pretty great.

Three billion people (about 40% of the world’s population) use social media, and we’re spending an average of two hours every day sharing, liking, tweeting and updating on these platforms. So, with social media playing such a big part in our lives, it’s no doubt that news channels and various professionals are picking up on the negative effects of socialising behind a screen.

We’re here to tell you about the positives, and trust us, there are plenty. We’ve whittled it down to our top 10 reasons why social media is truly great.

 

1. Communication is even easier

It’s undeniable that social media increases the ease of communication in a world where people are more mobile than ever before. Facebook Messenger and Skype are the glue bonding long-distance friendships and families. It also offers a type of freedom to people who found traditional forms of communicating difficult; many marginalised groups, such as the elderly and disabled, have created online communities that connect them to people all over the world, or even just down the road. Suddenly, even if you are physically isolated, you can still feel connected and sociable.

 

2. Creating communities

In a similar vein, social media connects like-minded people into communities where they feel safe to discuss different subjects without being ridiculed. Movements like ‘March for our lives’ and ‘#MeToo’ have gained a large majority of their support and grassroots activists through social media. By using hashtags, social media users can create communities that align with their beliefs and provide support (online and in real life). This is a great example of how social media can be misunderstood as a singular activity when really it excels at bringing people together.

Social media connects like-minded people

3. Generating job opportunities

If social media did not exist, I would not be sitting here writing this article. Not because this article is about social media, but because that is my job – to manage social media accounts. Not only that, but younger generations like millennials have really cottoned on to the value of social media as a legitimate brand platform – Justin Bieber was signed to a successful record label after proving his saleability and talents uploading covers and original songs to YouTube. Likewise, Ed Sheeran’s initial success was related to his presence on the video platform. What’s better is that as fans we feel closer to these celebrities – we have literally watched them go from bedroom singers to sell-out arena artists thanks to social media.

 

4. Engaging with customers

Many tech-savvy businesses benefit from having a social media presence, after all, that’s where their audience is. Not only can businesses use it as a tool to increase customer engagement, but customers use it as a tool to contact companies for enquiries and complaints. Twitter is a great example of this, with many large brands having dedicated customer service accounts where customers can get replies within minutes.

 

5. Free lessons in pretty much anything

Have you ever watched a ‘how to’ video on YouTube or Facebook – be that make up tutorials, solving software issues, playing instruments, cooking dishes, gym workouts, etc? Congratulations, you’ve used social media to learn something new! More than ever, we are reaching for our phones to find the answers to everything and anything.

 

6. Breaking news faster than ever

Nothing spreads faster than news on social media. Whether it’s a football club signing, a terrorist incident, a political upset, or a famous couple ending their relationship; chances are, it’ll be trending on Twitter before you can say “Donald Trump”. Twitter is great at breaking the news but problematic at qualifying the facts. After the initial story breaks, the lines between facts and fiction can get a bit blurry, especially on Twitter where 328 million monthly active users can pile in with opinions. But it’s worth remembering that while mistakes can be made more quickly than traditional media, they can also be fixed just as quickly.

Twitter is great at breaking news

7. Sending messages of safety

One of the most useful features Facebook has developed in the past few years is a ‘mark yourself safe’ option, Safety Check. This feature was first established during the devastating earthquakes in Nepal in 2015 but have since been used in acts of terrorism in Paris, Brussels and London. You have the option to mark yourself as ‘safe’ after an incident or natural disaster in your surrounding area, so your friends and family all over the globe know you’re OK. Features like this can relieve some of the pressure off overloaded infrastructures where disaster has struck.

 

8. Communal learning

One unlikely outcome of the meteoric rise of social media use is a better communal understanding of some subjects. Cast your mind back a month or so and you may remember social media raving about an audio clip that divided listeners. Some of them could hear ‘Yanny’ and some of them would hear ‘Laurel’ – we bet if it did find its way onto your feed, you now know why we hear different names. This is a learned experience; something you have learnt simply from the hype of social media. Although they seem trivial trends and tend to be over in a day or two, some pretty interesting articles have been written about what we can learn about ourselves from these communal discussions.

 

9. A global marketplace

The integration of online shopping into a selection of different apps has made it easier than ever before to make purchases (we’re counting this as positive, but your bank balance might not agree). This isn’t just about YouTube and Instagram influencers trying to tout their newest clothing collaborations; Instagram has enabled many designers, photographers and illustrators to curate followings and sell their work to audiences all over the world.

 

10. Social media gives everyone a voice

The final point to be made is that there are no gatekeepers when you publish via your social profile (aside from each platform’s terms of use) – you can write anything, and anyone has the chance to view it. Social media tends to be more democratized than traditional print media (which hasn’t always offered the most representative sample of voices) and it has given everyone a medium through which to express themselves.

 

There you have it – our top 10 reasons why social media is great. Considering the improvements that social media has made to lots of aspects of our lives, as evidenced above, it seems a little harsh to write it off in one fell swoop.

What do you think, have we persuaded you into giving social media another chance?


Email etiquette:
Do you fall foul of these pet peeves?

269 billion emails were sent every day in 2017.

It’s no surprise that we’ve reached a point of ’email etiquette’ – unwritten rules about how emails should be written, read, and sent. The thing is, not everyone abides by these rules and it can get pretty frustrating.

So, what’s getting on our nerves about emails? We’ve listed our top offenders below.

DO “Reply to all”

Let’s say we are sending an email to person A and CC’ing person B and C. When person A replies, they don’t “reply to all”. Why?! Think about it: person B and C have been copied in for a reason, probably because they have some sort of involvement in the matter, yet when person A responds, they are ignoring those two people who probably need to know what’s going on.

The only occasion whereby you should omit the persons CC’d is if the conversation turns into something that does not involve them. Maybe they’re in Accounts and you’re now discussing design with person A – it’s perfectly acceptable to remove B and C from the conversation. Otherwise, PLEASE REPLY ALL.

NB: We should also state it’s imperative you only CC people necessary – no one wants to receive unwanted emails, ever.

No email signature

If we had a pound for every time we’ve tried to find someone’s contact details in their email signature, only to find they don’t have one, we’d be rich. Or at least £100 better off. You should make it as easy as possible for your customers or clients to be able to contact you. Adding your phone number and website address to your email signature not only achieves this but drives traffic to your website. Better yet, it’s completely free to do. It’s a no-brainer!

Clear subject lines

Remember when we said 269 billion emails are sent every day?* Think about how many emails you receive daily. Now think again – how many of these emails have a clear, concise subject line? We can’t stress enough how important a good subject line is, and quite frankly, we’re much more likely attend to an email with a clear subject line as opposed to a confusing one – or worse – NO subject line. If you deal with multiple clients/locations/stores/teams, try to structure your subject line like this: who – what – action. For example, “Wimbledon Tennis – Social media strategy – Decision needed”. Easy.

Beware of the dreaded typo.

Businesses that use anonymous email addresses

Have you ever received a generic response from a company signed off with “Sales Team” or something similar? We understand why small businesses might use this tactic – to appear larger – but wouldn’t you much rather know who you’re talking to? Even just a first name will suffice. It makes your correspondence much more personal and tells your customer/client who to contact in the future if required.

Proof-reading

Before you click “send”, take a quick glance at your email. You’ll be surprised how many emails we receive with typos and whole sentences missing. This can be extremely frustrating, especially when these are instructions that need to be followed. We use Grammarly to flag our typos and grammatical errors.

What annoys you about emails? We’d love to know. Comment below and who knows, we might even add it to our list…

 

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Is social media targeting ads based on our conversations?

Have you ever mentioned a product in spoken conversation only to be advertised that exact product on social media hours later? We have.

There could be a number of reasons for this, but we’re going to discuss the two most plausible explanations: either algorithms are much more sophisticated than we think, or companies are listening to our conversations through our mobile microphones. So which is true?

We feed sensitive information to all sorts of hungry machines from the moment we wake up until the moment we fall asleep. In fact, some of us track what’s happening to us even whilst we sleep. Our devices and phones know where we are, the route we used to get there, who we’re likely to talk to, and can predict when we’ll be on the move again. And that’s readily available information – think about what we manually input; Do you take photos of your food? Do you track your steps and calorie intake? Do you monitor your heart rate and sleep pattern? Do you use internet banking? Technology knows a lot about us.

Over the past few years users have suspected social media platforms of listening in on conversations through mobile phone microphones. For good reason too, as with the emergence of virtual assistants (Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google Home) we’re talking to technology more than ever. But here’s the conundrum: how much of this information is shared? I’m not the only one who has been targeted with extremely particular advertising on social media. So how do the likes of Facebook know what I’m talking about?

Theory one: our phones are listening to us

Do our phones listen to our conversations?

Google and Facebook categorically reject accusations that they are listening to our conversations to advertise to us. The thing is, this doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. As pointed out by Terra Ferma Media MD David, if you have an android phone, Google IS listening to and recording your conversations. It’s highly likely that Apple users have the same issue, but there’s no way to turn this off yet. So they’re listening, but both social giants insist they aren’t using this information for advertising. Facebook released a statement about this in 2016.

Google has a developer policy that all app developers must agree to that specifies apps must not breach privacy in this way (you can get lost in the policy here).

It’s also worth reminding you that Facebook owns WhatsApp and Instagram. Google owns YouTube and Google Maps. The point is these companies have a lot of information about us, whether we like it or not, and are using this information to their advantage.

Theory two: it's just a clever algorithm

Is it just a clever algorithm?

Every social media platform is governed by algorithms. Twitter is a good example of this with its trending topics; a live, fast-moving algorithm that displays the most popular topics based on a number of rules (how many people are talking about the topic, at what speed the topic arose, how many verified users are talking about it, if it’s a breaking news item, etc).

Facebook probably uses the most advanced algorithms in the game. The benefit Facebook has over other platforms is the plethora of your friends’ data. Facebook knows who your family is, who your partner is (and ex-partners), and who your closest friends are based on interactions. You and your close friends probably have a similar way of thinking, or are interested in similar topics, so Facebook will assume that anything your closest friends are talking about will be of interest to you. This also means whatever your friends are searching for, reading, liking, hiding, and following could also be of interest to you. This is how clever targeted advertising comes into play.

We also can’t ignore the fact that companies advertising on Facebook have a huge range of data available to them. They can target people living in certain locations of particular genders and ages, people who attend certain schools or workplaces, commuters, people with particular interests, and so much more. Combined, these two methods of data gathering is probably the outcome of the adverts you’re seeing. No hocus pocus.

Our advice? Keep talking.

Finally, to cover all bases, we need to mention cookies and remarketing. A cookie (apart from being delicious) is a small code left on every web page you visit, telling the website owners which pages you’ve clicked on. Take Amazon: you’ve probably browsed something on the Amazon website only to see that product advertised to you on Facebook too. This is because Amazon remembers what you’ve looked at (via a cookie) and uses their advertising space on Facebook to show this product to you again (remarketing). Even if you searched for something months ago, if Amazon wants to sell it to you, it will advertise that product to you.

So where does this leave us? Facebook and Google both deny using the microphones on our phones to listen in to our conversations for advertising purposes. Can we believe them? On the algorithm side of the coin, there are three things at play:

  1. Sophisticated algorithms taking data from your extended friendship groups
  2. Companies having excessive amounts of advertising data to target specific audiences
  3. Social platforms storing information about your online habits

These factors combined make a convincing case that could make you think you’re being listened to. It really is that clever.

Ultimately we don’t have the magic answer, and of course if large companies were indeed using our conversations to advertise to us, they wouldn’t exactly shout it from the rooftops.

Our advice? Keep talking. While there’s no evidence of any wrong doing, if you are being targeted with relevant ads, then what’s the harm? If you’re that worried why not start talking about the lottery and see what happens. You never know…

 

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Real news about fake followers

Director David Fernando sounds off about fake followers on Twitter (in other words, cheats). He writes:

News this week claims that up to 50% of Donald Trump’s Twitter followers are probably fake. That’s genuine ‘fake news’ I guess. But how do we know?

When Trump announced his candidacy for President, his Twitter account had just over 8 million followers. Today that number has swelled to 31 million. Perhaps not surprising for POTUS but according to a wide variety of sources including  The Metro, Newsweek and others – 14,776,939 of these are not real people, they are most likely to be automated “bots” – paid for by the account owner.

Donald Trump fake followers

Why? Simple. Vanity and power. A high number of fake followers can artificially boost the perceived popularity of social media accounts thus positioning the owners as influencers. You don’t have to look far to find other examples of this dubious practice, in even your local neighbourhood (and, yes, we all know who you are in Wimbledon).

Fake followers can be bought online for around $90 per 10,000. True, not all fake followers are bought, and every account will probably have a small number. But an account that has a significant number of them has probably acquired them illegitimately in an attempt to dupe people.

Accounts that have (seemingly) popular social media accounts can help win business and influence people. They can also inflate the social media assets of their company and therefore apparent value (although any decent due diligence would quickly uncover the truth).

And how do you find out the truth? Well, there are many ways. You can even try it yourself for any Twitter username here: Twitter Audit or here: Fakers.

It’s not a fake fact that when it comes to social media, sadly many businesses are still convinced that a large number of followers is more important than good levels of engagement.  But, as a sensible business knows, the real value is not the number of followers you have but the levels of engagement you achieve via your social media activities.

“Why does any of this matter?”, I hear you ask. Well, in the grand scheme of things when famine is about to claim millions of lives in Yemen, the honest answer is, “It doesn’t”.

However, in a world where the social media giants are under increasing pressure to root out deception in their channels, it still resonates and should be addressed.


A phone is a phone is a phone

Andrew Marsh - one of our mid-50's Company Directors - discusses the current use of mobile phones, and its associated terminology.

We still refer to our mobile device as a phone don’t we? “Where’s my phone?” we exclaim in exasperation, frantically collecting our keys, wallets/purses as we dash out the house. “What phone have you got?” we ask when we compare with the Joneses. The truth of the matter is that with modern day usage a mobile phone is not just for calling or texting anymore, however we still refer to it as a phone.

Some generations of mobile phone users deploy their phones for, almost literally, everything except calling or texting. Yes, I know, I’m a mid-50s Dad, but can I ever get hold of my teenage kids on their phones when I call or text them? The answer is, of course, an emphatic ‘No’ even although their phones are rarely more than six inches away at all times, day and night. It transpires that my teenagers hardly ever make or receive calls on their phones. This is an alien concept to them. And when I text them they tell me to message them instead. They use their phones constantly, but then that’s on message boards, social media, taking photos, ordering takeaways or taxis with equal ease and proficiency, making or watching videos and even streaming TV programmes or films. For this generation their phones aren’t phones at all. But they still regularly implore me with the mantra known to all parents, “Dad, I need a new phone”.

So what inspired me to pick on this topic? Well, I felt that it was my moral (and technical) obligation to speak up for the mid-50s masses who still use a phone as a phone in response to my colleague Sophie’s (our resident 25-year-old Account Executive) rather scathing review about the revived Nokia 3310. See her article here.

It got me thinking. This was a typical case in point where the mid-20s and younger still use the word ‘phone’ when an actual phone is practically the last thing they need.

"a truly simple, well-designed and reliable piece of kit"

In the office Sophie was somewhat sceptical about Nokia’s re-boot of their all-time classic model mobile phone, stating (off the record, you understand) that it’s a rubbish phone and she doesn’t see why anyone would buy it. According to (25-year-old, don’t forget) Sophie, the phone in question doesn’t do this and doesn’t do that. In effect, she was zeroing in on what it doesn’t do and all the things it lacks compared to the state-of-the-art smartphones we’re all using these days. It was pretty negative stuff I thought, rather than focussing on the real raison d’être for this piece of equipment: a truly simple, well-designed and reliable piece of kit… for when all you need is a phone to actually call and text. In debating the Nokia 3310 I highlighted the fact that it seems to be a really good phone, with robust build, good connectivity, long battery life, and it’s simple and uncomplicated. And as phones go it’s also very cheap.

So all in all an excellent phone and I feel that it will have many more users than Sophie pointed out in her article: the elderly, festival goers, phone detoxers and simply Nokia fans.

Purely because it seems to be a good old phone, then yes, the Nokia will have a wider range of users than perhaps at first expected, including users who want a reliable telephone, that doesn’t store very much personal and financial data, that they can use cross-borders without the risk of confiscation and that doesn’t compromise their personal identity and security. In this age of clever hackers we shouldn’t overlook the attraction of protecting our omnipresent identities.

I’ll come back to my original conundrum: why do we still refer to our phone as a phone? So what should we call this magical piece of equipment that we port around with us everywhere we go? This all-encompassing mobile device, performing the full suite of functions of a computer, with touchscreen interface, camera, Internet access, messaging facility to (almost) the entire global population and an operating system capable of running any form of downloaded apps you could possibly choose. I think the Nokia 3310 is a phone in its traditional sense. But the kit in everyone’s hands is far from being merely a phone. Although ‘mobile device’ seems a precise descriptor, even I would agree that those are four clunky syllables rather incongruously strung together. And ‘phone’ rolls off the tongue rather more easily…


Will anyone buy the revived Nokia 3310?

The world went crazy when the Nokia 3310 revival was announced, but will anyone actually buy it? We asked Sophie, our 25-year-old Account Executive, what she thinks.

In a questionable move to promote their latest smartphone, Nokia announced the revival of everyone’s favourite first mobile: the Nokia 3310. The limelight was instantly on the 3310, leaving any thoughts of their shiny new release in the dust. Does anyone even know what their new phone is called, or the features of it? Nope, not me.

So let’s talk 3310. Originally released in 2000, the phone was a huge hit with mobile users. At the time it was revolutionary – not only could you make calls and send texts remotely, but you could choose from multiple ringtones (and even create your own), play games and… Did I mention make calls and send texts remotely? Admittedly it’s hard to remember what the phone COULD do as opposed to now what it CAN’T do.

"A modern classic reimagined" - Nokia

So why have we come full circle? Looking back, the original 3310 has features I’m envious of even 17 years later.

It was indestructible. You could throw it onto concrete ground and it wouldn’t even crack your beloved personalised cover.

The battery lasted forever (OK, a week). Apart from when taking the phone out of its packaging for the first time, does anyone remember charging their 3310? The battery went on and on and on and on and…

Snake. Before Angry Birds and Candy Crush, there was Snake. The real MVP of the mobile gaming world, it still remains a sought-after classic.

However, there’s a huge, massive, BUT to this story. It’s been 17 years. Technology has moved on. We have moved on. We use phones differently now.

A lot has changed in seventeen years.

The new Nokia 3310 has SO MANY missing features from both modern day smartphones and the classic 3310, it’s almost embarrassing. Here are a few crucial missing features:

There is no internet. Well, with due respect, apparently there is a basic browser that can access basic versions of Facebook and Twitter. I’m not convinced.

There is no Wi-Fi. I’m not sure why you’d even bother to access the limited internet on Wi-Fi, but hey, you don’t have a choice either way.

The camera is rubbish. At 2MP, it’s a long way away from today’s phone cameras. Good luck uploading your rubbish photos to Facebook from your phone.

Snake isn’t Snake. This one I’m almost offended by. One of the main draws of the revived 3310 is that users can play Snake again, but this Snake is completely different. This one moves diagonally, in colour (reminiscent of Snake II), and it just looks wrong. Bad move Nokia.

No WhatsApp. Yep, that’s right. The new Nokia 3310 doesn’t support WhatsApp, the world’s most used messaging service.

The old-style keyboard. You’ll probably never forget how to text on a 3310 and just how fast you were at doing so. But part of the reason we were so good at texting on a 3310 was because everyone used text talk, back in the days when we were charged per character. With today’s intelligent spellcheckers and predictive texting, I think users will get fed up of the old school keyboard fairly quickly.

The battery life isn’t THAT great. Granted, any phone that lasts a whole day with vigorous use is music to my ears, but the classic 3310’s battery could last up to a week. The new 3310 battery is said to last anywhere from 22 hours up to one month (albeit on standby mode – so basically not using your phone at all). Useful.

"Play the legendary Snake" - you're not fooling me Nokia.

So who’s actually going to buy this phone? Here’s my comprehensive list:

  • Elderly people
  • Festival goers
  • Phone detoxers
  • People who only want to call and text
  • Die-hard Nokia fans

…that’s it. No one else will buy, and more importantly, use this phone. At only £42, I suspect people might buy the revival just for laughs. It’s been called a “dumb phone” for a reason.

A quick “raise your hand” in our office revealed that no one will be swapping their smartphone for a 3310. Sorry Nokia, but I think you’ve gone too far on this nostalgia trip. And give us the original Snake back.

 

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5 things beginner Social Media Managers should know

With 2.3 billion people using social media, it's no surprise that it has become a key pillar of companies' business strategies.

Major brands have dedicated teams looking after their social channels, but what if you don’t have the capacity for a social media team? If you’re about to embark on managing social media accounts, we think you’ll like these tips.

1. Use a dedicated Facebook account.

You’ll thank us for this one. To become an admin of a Facebook page you must link the page to a personal account. This means, day and night, you will receive notifications from business pages linked to your private account. You’ll be bombarded with likes, comments, and analytics from business pages and your personal notifications will become few and far between. So, create a new Facebook account to keep your personal and work accounts separate. If you need to keep on top of things you can still receive notifications, but if you don’t want to receive them out of working hours, you don’t have to. Bliss.

2. Audit, audit, audit.

It’s difficult to measure ROI with social media, but something you can track is the number of followers, reach, likes, comments and shares. Keeping on top of progress is essential for figuring out what sort of campaigns your audience responds to. Audit your channels once a month (always on the same date) to keep track of progress (or lack of). Improvements can always be made, but you need to know what’s working – and not working – beforehand.

A well thought out content plan will keep you and your client on track.

3. Create a content plan.

If you want to ‘do’ social media well, you need to plan. Posting ad-hoc day-by-day isn’t good enough when it comes to successful accounts. Yes, you need to stay current and keep an eye on the day’s news, but preparing a monthly plan is imperative. Outline key social dates as well as key dates for your business (product launches, offers, events). Your plan doesn’t need to be fancy – we use a Google Sheet – but make sure it’s clear, you include all social channels, and you have a way to share this information with other employees or clients. Hootsuite has a free social media plan you can download here.

4. Keep up with the Joneses.

Who are your competitors? What are they doing on social media? What’s the latest feature on Facebook advertising? What are the popular hashtags on Instagram? Don’t get left behind – social platforms release updates and new features all the time, and if you’re not in the know, you’re already lagging. We like to keep up with Mari Smith for Facebook updates, she really knows her stuff.

5. Have clear goals.

This might sound obvious, but it’s easy to get side tracked. Are you using social media to increase footfall in-store? To raise brand awareness online? To encourage conversation and interaction? To sell something? Whatever your goal is, stick to it. There’s not much point in advertising online if customers aren’t coming in-store – why not create an online offer that’s redeemable in-store only? Always keep your main objectives in mind.


What's happening with social media in 2017?

The social media world moves fast.

While it’s pretty much impossible to predict what will happen to social media this year, here are a number of trends you should keep a close eye on in 2017.

 

1. Paid content continues to soar

It’s extremely difficult for businesses to reach their audience with organic content. The answer to this problem is paid content (adverts), which is fast becoming a dog-eat-dog world as competition rises. Brands are paying more than ever to be seen online. Social media ad spend is estimated to surpass $41 billion in 2017.

2. Social commerce shakes up online purchasing

Customers want products, and they want them now. With 75% of consumers making a purchase because they saw it on social media, it’s no mystery why brands are bending backwards to sell on social media. Instagram’s instant purchase feature (a button under an image) is set to soar, and businesses are creating Instagram-specific pages where all items featured in a photo are listed. Brands are tapping into their follower’s emotions for purchases – 28% of consumers said a brand’s social presence was the biggest reason to try new products or services.

3. Customer service becomes a priority

34.5% of people choose to contact brands through social media for customer care, beating website/live-chat, email and phone methods (see below). Complaining on social media is public – everyone can see complaints – which forces brands to keep customers happy and up their reputation. The positive of this is that if your social media management is good, customers will also see you’re great at responding to issues. If it’s bad, well… You know the drill.

 smt

4. Millennials are moving away from Facebook

While Facebook still remains extremely popular, it is actually becoming more popular with non-millennials. 41% of millennials use Facebook every day, but it is their least popular social media platform, preferring YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. For younger millennials, disappearing content platforms are the bee’s knees. The allure of disappearing content is too tempting to ignore, with Snapchat reigning and Instagram following suit with Stories. Make sure you know where your target audience are hanging out online.

5. Live video

We can’t mention social media and 2017 without talking about video. In this case, live videos will dominate in 2017. Nothing is more in-the-moment than live video, and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram already offer brands the opportunity to create live videos. News channel CNN used a Facebook Live video during the inauguration of President Donald Trump, which gained over 4 million viewers.

 

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Shhh! The walls have ears.

2017 is shaping up to be the year of the digital assistant.

Devices featuring voice recognition digital assistants took CES by storm this year. Intelligent, voice activated digital assistants abound. Amazon has Alexa, Microsoft has Cortana, Apple has Siri and Google has… well, Google.

Amazon’s Alexa stole the show as it seems to have gained first mover advantage by not only featuring successfully in the popular Amazon Echo device, but also being the voice recognition system of choice for other companies producing everything from media streaming to fridges.

I think people are just waking up to the possibilities for – and dangers of – this technology.

We were amused by the story of a 6 year old girl using Alexa in her parent’s Amazon Echo to order herself a dolls house. When the news was reported on local TV in San Diego, the words spoken by the newscaster triggered other Amazon Echoes within earshot of tuned-in TVs to perk up and attempt to do the same. Ooops.

The trouble is – that’s how easy it can be to voice activate these digital assistants. They hear their trigger phrase (or think they hear it) and off they go. I’ve often seen my Google phone activate when it thinks it hears me talking about the Google Assistant (normally using the words, “OK Google” as part of a wider conversation on the topic).

"People are just waking up to the possibilities for – and dangers of – this technology."

Should we be concerned about this?

Maybe. You may or may not know that Google already records and retains all your Google activity. This includes keeping an audio transcript of everything you say whenever you activate Google’s digital assistant. Alexa does the same thing. You can review and delete these messages, but they are there.

You can see your Google audio transcripts by visiting https://myactivity.google.com and filtering the content to “Voice & Audio”.

When we tried this, we found that many snippets of conversations had been captured and could be replayed at the touch of a button. This included personal or work related conversations that could have included sensitive material. Try it yourself, it’s a little unnerving.

We’re not discussing anything nefarious here – but why does this make me uneasy? The thing is, these tech firms say they need to capture and retain this content to help fine tune the accuracy of their digital assistants. Maybe…but still.

On that note, whilst Alexa is the star of this year’s CES event, newly arriving Google Home (not yet available in the UK) may yet win the race. The search giant may be a late comer to the personal assistant device party but it’s own Google Assistant should, on paper, have access to a wider range of information than Amazon.

If only it had a more personal name than “Google”. My bet is that it will sooner than we think.


Digital businesses boom in London

London is open.

Facebook, Google and Apple have announced major expansions in London, proving the capital is open to the world’s biggest brands and is the leading city for trade and investment.

Facebook announced they will be doubling their presence in the UK by opening new headquarters in London’s Fitzrovia. The new hub will open in 2017, creating 500 additional jobs including engineers, marketers, project managers and sales staff.

Google, who already has a London HQ, is moving 2,500 staff into brand new digs in King’s Cross. The new 371,000 sq ft building consists of 11 floors and even includes a 90m running track for employees to let off some steam. Rumour has it the tech giant has snapped up a number of nearby properties, suggesting further developments in the future.

Rumour has it Google has snapped up nearby properties for future developments.

Earlier in the year Apple revealed that they will be making Battersea Power Station their new headquarters, spending an eye-watering £9 billion on the project. Apple will be moving 1,400 staff from multiple sites around the capital into their new campus, expected to be open in 2021. Apple will occupy six floors (500,000 sq ft) of the Grade II listed former electricity generator.

London’s position as a global technology hub isn’t showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon.