March 2018

Outside of certain sectors (such as fashion and food), brick-and-mortar retail is all but done - and it’s well past its heyday inside those sectors. It just can’t compete with the cost-effective convenience of today’s e-commerce model.

It will never truly die however; in fact, it still has a good deal to teach us. Think about it; it’s been around in essentially the same form for a long, long, long time, and its mechanics have been tested and polished to a mirror shine.

So as big e-commerce companies look to out-innovate one another, let’s take a step back and review the classics to see what retail tricks we can flagrantly steal.

Here are 4 well-established retail tricks you should grab right away.

Keep Loyalty Rewards Simple

Retail store loyalty schemes all function in essentially the same way. Whenever a loyal customer makes a purchase, they get a discount and/or receive points that can at some point be redeemed for some kind of reward.

It’s a solid system that makes customers happier, gets them to spend more, and keeps them around for longer. So why don’t more e-commerce stores offer basic rewards, and why do those that try to implement schemes get them so consistently wrong?

I’ve seen some loyalty points vanish into nothingness somehow, and others pile up only to be considered insufficient to exchange for the most trivial item. I’ve actually yet to see an e-commerce store with what I would consider a good loyalty system, let alone a great one.

The margins may be thinner in e-commerce, sure, but you don’t need to offer heavy discounts to make loyalty rewards feel worthwhile; just make it a little cheaper so customers can get more of what they already want to get on a consistent basis.

Oh, and package them clearly. If the average customer doesn’t know how loyalty rewards work after several purchases, or doesn’t even realise there are any, someone should probably be fired.

Provide Interactive Elements

I remember visiting big retail parks as a kid and delighting in the numerous distractions dotted around the stores. Playable keyboards, “try me!” buttons, colouring books to use... I’d meander around and significantly impede my parents’ progress.

This isn’t a point specifically about children, but about how plain-ol’ entertainment can drastically extend a shopping trip; and the longer you spend on a shopping site, the more likely you are to buy something.

Now, in some ways an e-commerce site is more limited in what it can do to entertain its users. It can’t set up a big physical display for everyone to try, or provide a corner to rest in.

But in other ways, it can do so much more. It can add interactive elements: quizzes, polls, etc. It can tell stories in a visual fashion. It can offer customisable user experiences. It can even offer games specifically designed to connect customers to particular brands.

Through embracing elements that might not play directly into the sales process, you can greatly increase the level of user engagement and hold attention for much longer. This is something that Air Jordan took on when they dropped in the US - they were committed to creating a fundamentally interactive and gamified retail experience that combined social media with in-store perks. Interaction can help you bridge the offline/online gulf with ease.

Discount Extra Stock

When e-commerce first came into existence, it must have seemed a great boon that so much of the process could be hidden behind closed doors. An online-only business need never suffer the indignity of having large piles of clearly-unpopular items clog up its premises.

But in hiding their behind-the-scenes stock mishaps, plenty of e-commerce stores miss out on all the ways in which they could take advantage of them.

Consumers are eager to get maximum value for minimum expense, so when they see stock clear-outs, they smell blood in the water and have the urge to move in for the kill. This happens even if they don’t really want the items in question.

Some stores may contend that clearance sections and the like don’t fit their brands; they deal in high-quality items and don’t want to undermine that association.

That may be true in some instances, but in many others it’s entirely possible for an e-commerce business to accommodate varied customer preferences.

Carefully Direct Attention

The classic superstore layout is a thing of purchase-driving beauty. Everything from the ideal lighting and colours to the direction in which customers prefer to walk has been puzzled out over decades of experimentation.

While you obviously can’t take these tacks directly to a website (there being no physical space available), you can certainly learn from them and strive to turn your website into the perfect online retail space.

The home page is by far your best opportunity for this optimisation. Once a user clicks on a category, they’ll be sent elsewhere, and you won’t really be able to get away with intruding upon that kind of page without mightily annoying your prospective customers.

So consider the layout of your homepage, and think back to how big retailers configure their stores; essentials placed tactically around tempting items so that visitors can’t reach the former without also spotting the latter.

And remember the allure of till-adjacent candy when setting up your checkout area. Offer a low-cost item as a last-minute addition and you’ll no doubt pick up some extra sales.

Traditional retail may have been supplanted by the unstoppable march of digital technology, but the basic principles of retail really haven’t changed.

Look to the past for inspiration and you’ll be better placed to deliver an e-commerce experience that keeps your customers buying and coming back for more.

Before you get schmoozed with tech, read this. Image courtesy of Pixabay Amigos3D
Facebook “pauses” bots; Typeform launches an interactive article. It’s been a busy week and it’s only Wednesday.

How do we keep up with the speed of technology and SaaS (Software as a Service) launches?  When it comes down to it, no matter how interconnected and brilliant our tech is, the fundamental genius is our underlying idea.  Everything else is the glitz of delivery - but it certainly helps. 

Do we need CUI (Conversational User Interface)?  It’s cool, but not essential.  Look at how infamous “Dave’s” poster became, ironically old school printed, based on a smartphone text exchange.  The poster was commended by Swedish Designer Tom Wysocki on twitter and currently stands at 28,249 retweets and 71,420 likes.

Geofencing (the use of GPS or RFID technology to enable software to trigger responses when your mobile device enters or exits a particular area) can turn your house lights on as you drive home, or notify you of some much coveted shoes being on sale as you walk past your favourite store.

Children of the 80s had “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, a ground-breaking sensation of the time which made you the main character, choosing the path your story took.  Voice technology is changing consumer behaviour.  By 2020 it’s predicted that 75% of homes will have smart speakers.  Now, thanks to Select a Story, you can interact with a story being read aloud to seal your fate.  

Siri answers our questions and Alexa orders our food.

Are too many options resulting in decision fatigue?  In a flip side to the world of increasing tech, there’s a human angle which is desperately reaching out for old fashioned connection.  The hand-written note.  A gift through the post.  The customer experience.  Some aspects of marketing may be destined to come full circle.

Danielle LaPorte, known for her audio and online Fire Starter Sessions, Desire Map and White Hot Truth has just launched an experience based programme called “LIGHTER” which is video and Facebook-Group-Free, sent-stuff-in-the-mail, “papery, inquisitive things you can touch”.

Adjunct professor of digital marketing, founder of The Front Row community for entrepreneurs and digital marketing strategist, Jen Lehner says, “Relationships first, business second.  My MO from the beginning has been look after your people and create experiences to surprise them from time to time.  When you genuinely love what you’re doing and the people you’re reaching, it’s actually not something you really have to think about.”

In the race to enlist all the gadgets have we been overlooking the obvious?

Ideas before the internet have stood firm.  Russell Brunson recalls how, as a teenager he poured over direct mail offers before later putting them to use in the online world to create his sales funnel systems.

Some of the most iconic copywriters of today’s generation (I’m talking Frank Kern, John Carlton and Jay Abraham) have arrived at timeless principles of human communication by deconstructing the greats.

“The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches” was sold only through direct marketing by author Joe Karbo in 1973, netting him a cool $10 million by selling 3 million copies.

Social media has become word-of-mouth on steroids.  What used to take a PR person weeks to accomplish can be achieved by an influencer in a nanosecond.  One of the reasons to love the internet is because it breaks down barriers.  You don’t have to be connected to virtually connect.  The person who can change your life is but a click away.

You need self belief.  Or pluck.

Before that you need to arrive at your purpose.  Anything else isn’t sustainable.  In 1955, modern advertising pioneer, David Ogilvy famously wrote copywriting insights to a Mr Calt which included: “I write out a definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve.  Then I go no further until the statement and its principles have been accepted by the client.” 

Too often entrepreneurs are dazzled by shiny object syndrome, using it to spark ideas in order to make use of and justify the technology.  When this works, it’s great, but just like the adventure stories you’re being led down a path, only to find, on occasion, “You chose wrong”.  

Danielle LaPorte actively states she goes on regular inspiration diets, saying “I do not read other people’s work when I’m writing my own books - I don’t want to be influenced.  I want to write about my own experiences, in my own words.”

Begin with your own idea.  Make it bigger, bolder, better.  Prove it.

Only then refine the means to get your message out there.  Technology moves so fast, new ways of delivery will be unveiled whilst you’re working.  Or you might take a second glance and adapt traditional methods.

Nothing beats a clever idea, well applied.  And if it’s a strong idea, it will outlive and meld to changes in technology.  If you connect with people and have a consistent plan, all will be well.
Albert Einstein famously worried about technology saying “The human spirit must prevail over technology.”  Elbert Hubbard, American writer, born 23 years ahead of Einstein said “One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men.  No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.”  I’d like to think both men were right.  With the messenger bot on pause and online interaction clamouring for our attention maybe it’s time to get a little more… human.

YouTube has firmly cemented itself as one of the leading players in the online world, but what you may not realise is just how big the now-global platform has become. From its humble beginnings as a video hosting platform for home movies and silly user-generated content, YouTube has now become a legitimate arm of the entertainment industry in its own right – one witnessed by a great many people.

The platform’s reach and influence in the western world is widely known, but the company has also amassed great popularity wider afield. Take India for example, where affordable data and localised language content have enabled YouTube to reach across 80% of internet users across all age-groups, according to the company’s own claims. The company further claim that on mobile platforms alone, they reach around 225 million active users throughout India, making this the fastest growing country for the platform.

YouTube go on to assert that 65% online video viewers subscribe to channels on YouTube, and that 85% of them will watch a new video within two days of it being uploaded. The website’s uses go beyond pure entertainment however, with 50% of working women reportedly referring to YouTube when purchasing beauty products, automobiles, holidays and travel experiences, and even real estate.
The aforementioned claims are made off the back of recent research conducted by YouTube, in which the company interviewed 3230 respondents throughout the cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Lucknow, Bhopal, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kochi/Trivandrum.

Rajan Anandan, Vice President for South East Asia and India at Google, said, “YouTube has become a powerful platform for users, content creators, and advertisers alike. [The] huge variety of premium content combined with the growing base and popularity of our creator community truly differentiates YouTube from all other platforms.

“For brands, YouTube is now an end-to-end platform and as per the Dec. 2017 ComScore Video Metrix Multi-Platform it reaches 85% of all highly engaged Internet users, in the 18 years and above age-group, across India.”

Robert Kyncl, Chief Business Officer for YouTube, also commented, “In the last few years, India has emerged as an incredibly dynamic content and user market for YouTube. We now have more than 300 channels with over a million subscribers, from just sixteen channels in 2014.

“We will continue to invest in programs to support creators and encourage more diversity and distribution of their content. And we’re doubling down on our efforts both on product and advertising to unlock the potential of online video advertising for everyone.”

Paolo Vendramini presents "The Power of the Message" at a Fiverr Talk on 15 March 2018 in London

"No one will go home and talk badly of me this evening, because I have come here to share ideas and talk sincerely.” Paolo Vendramini said at a recent Fiverr talk on graphic design in London.

Paolo has something.  Apart from making branding sound more exciting in an Italian accent.  There is something about someone standing to speak humbly before an audience they haven’t met, sharing their thoughts on life, their approach to their career, their passion.  The culture of “can do”, a genuine approach and sincerity on a topic you love, goes a long way in a crowded marketplace. 

The pioneering Amelia Earhart said, “Some of us have great runways already built for us.  If you have one, take off.  But if you don’t have one, realise it is your responsibility to grab a shovel and build one for yourself and for those who will follow after you.”

The Americans have their dream, Aussies “give things a go”, the French have their laissez-faire but the Brits seem to be stuck with Harry Enfield’s “You didn’t wanna do that”.  There is a strange cultural dichotomy when it comes to entrepreneurship in the UK.  We celebrate eccentric inventors, yet caution our young people into conventional, often aspiring corporate job roles.  In a fast moving world of tech and startups, things are changing.  There’s a greater ability now to run with your ideas and to reach more people directly on and offline.  The entrepreneurial spirit is catching.

UK statistics are sketchy, but back in 2016, 82% of young people wanted to start a business.  

Getting your idea off the ground and taking action quickly is where online marketplace platforms like Fiverr come in.  Launched in February 2010, Fiverr now has over 11 million entrepreneurs online, selling their gigs, starting from $5.  Freelancers can join for free.  In June last year, Fiverr Pro was launched, a premium service with carefully selected professionals.

Online marketplaces give people the opportunity to outsource and project manage key aspects of their business so they can free up time, concentrate on their area of expertise and maximise their budgets.  Vincent Van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”  Tactical use of the gig economy can help small businesses make great strides.  On the flip side, sites like Fiverr represent huge potential for entrepreneurs who want to sell through a platform.  Marketplace platforms are like search engines - if your offer stands out you have access to potentially generate a lot of business. Bobby “Wingle” on Fiverr bought a house and paid for his own wedding with his Fiverr profits.

This year, Fiverr’s motto is “Year of Do” and #InDoersWeTrust.  The “doers” aren’t to be underestimated.  40 million projects have been completed since 2010, with over 24,700 gigs purchased every day.  10 million gigs have been posted since 2010 with 7,500 services created every day in 2017.  Last year 1.5 million brand identities were refined, courtesy of Fiverr.

Paolo’s presentation featured Forbes’ research that 75% of people think they know their own brand and what people think of them, but out of 75% only 15% are right.  “Design deepens your relationships” Paolo says, “design’s purpose is to tell stories with an image.  It’s an idea into an image.”  Most startups seek out some kind of brand.  It’s become part of the process to define yourself, tell your story and package your offer.  In an online marketplace that means you can check out a vast array of designers’ portfolios before commissioning your chosen work.  If you're a designer how do you stand apart?  Paolo suggests requesting to join the “Pro” part of Fiverr immediately, to put your best work into your portfolio and to be patient.

Ultimately winning business comes down to the quality of relationships you build and the quality of service you deliver.  “Be yourself fully and prove it with facts.  No one likes lies.  Ask what they think of you.  Be aware.  Go to the social media.” Paolo urges.  And his sincerity and commitment on this particular evening, earn him the respect of new fans. 

Learn more about Paolo here.

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which it came to light that Facebook had shared the personal information of 50 million users with a Cambridge Psychologist without their explicit consent - before said psychologist seemingly guided the data into the hands of election consultancy Cambridge Analytica - the #DeleteFacebook movement well and truly exploded. Unfortunately for Facebook, this mass-deletion of accounts led to many of these users following the on-screen prompt to download a copy of their info from the platform, and it turns out the social media giant has been logging more details about us than we may have realised.

As it turns out, Facebook are not only tracking website clicks, cookies, and all the other bits of often-trivial data you likely expect, but also the times and duration of calls and text messages between mobile users.

Upon downloading their data from the site users began to notice complete lists of their contacts, addresses, calls and texts were all present on Facebook’s servers, sparking widespread concern and in many cases outrage. Facebook however have downplayed the situation, pointing to their own terms & conditions as well as industry standard practice to explain away accusations of over-zealous data harvesting.

A Facebook spokesperson commented, “The most important part of apps and services that help you make connections is to make it easy to find the people you want to connect with. So, the first time you sign in on your phone to a messaging or social app, it’s a widely used practice to begin by uploading your phone contacts.

“Contact uploading is optional. People are expressly asked if they want to give permission to upload their contacts from their phone – it’s explained right there in the apps when you get started. People can delete previously uploaded information at any time and can find all the information available to them in their account and activity log from our Download Your Information tool.”

Likewise, the company had a similar explanation in regards to the logging of calls and text messages, simply stating, “You may have seen some recent reports that Facebook has been logging people’s call and SMS (text) history without their permission. This is not the case. Call and text history logging is part of an opt-in feature for people using Messenger or Facebook Lite on Android.

“People have to expressly agree to use this feature. If, at any time, they no longer wish to use this feature they can turn it off. We never sell this data, and this feature does not collect the content of your text messages or calls.”

So it does appear that Facebook are not being quite as shady as it first appeared to the flabbergasted users who did not expect the company to have such comprehensive knowledge of their activities, though it does reignite some genuine concerns regarding just how much of our personal information these tech giants now have access to.

It is estimated that the typical person spends around two hours per day on social networks, according to recent research conducted by the Global Web Index, so wouldn’t it be great if you could find a simple way of monetising that time spent online - creating, sharing, and reacting to content in return for financial reward?

Well there’s a new app emerging on the scene which aims to do just that, making use of the Steemit platform to establish itself as one of the first widely-available Smart Media Tokens (SMTs) on the market. Known as APPICS, the app will hand out cryptocurrency rewards to those creating and interacting with content on the platform. A “like bar” will give users full control over exactly how much support they wish to show for a given post when voting, with this support being expressed in the form of APPICS tokens - the platform’s currency.

The network is proposing that 65% of all revenue generated from user-created content would be returned directly to the creators themselves, with 25% going to those users who supported their post by liking it. The remaining 10% would go to the company for reinvestment into the platform and associated services.

Those behind the APPICS app have also stated that daily voting power would have an upper limit, with this being done to prevent influential accounts from liking or sharing content on a constant basis in order to artificially generate the impression of popularity, or in order to ‘farm’ for monetary rewards.

Select influencers with relevant expertise and an established reputation however will have more power than others, being designated as category judges for one of the network’s 15 categories of content. These categories include lifestyle, tech, music, gaming, fashion and more.

In an ideal world, the internet would be an accepting hub of individuals and ideas, free to express themselves however they wish without fear of backlash. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. Many popular online platforms have long been plagued by hate-filled comments and abuse, with micro-blogging site Twitter often being singled out among the worst offenders for such behaviour.

According to prominent human rights organisation Amnesty International, the problems with abuse on Twitter’s platform go beyond that which can be dismissed as an unfortunate side-effect of their industry and instead represent an outright failure on the company’s part to adequately protect their user base from online violence, in particular that which is aimed at women.

The aforementioned claims were made in a report published last Wednesday, in which Amnesty said the social network responded inconsistently when abuse was highlighted, even when it violated its own rules. In a survey of 1,100 British women carried out as part of the report, it was found that just 9% of respondents believe that Twitter is doing enough to stop violence and abuse against women; 78% meanwhile do not see Twitter as a place where they can freely share their opinion.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, went so far as to say that Twitter had become a “toxic place for women”. She said: “For far too long Twitter has been a space where women can too easily be confronted with death or rape threats, and where their genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations are under attack.

“The trolls are currently winning, because despite repeated promises, Twitter is failing to do enough to stop them. Twitter must take concrete steps to address and prevent violence and abuse against women on its platform; otherwise its claim to be on women’s side is meaningless.”

Twitter as you may well expect dispute Amnesty’s claims, pointing to the 30+ changes implemented in the past 16 months which were specifically aimed at improving user safety, and stating rather plainly that they “cannot delete hatred and prejudice from society”.

Following on from the launch of the picture-in-picture feature for Android Oreo back in November, reports have now emerged which indicate that YouTube are testing the feature across all desktop platforms and browsers.

The basic function of picture-in-picture is to allow videos to continue playing in a small box in the bottom right corner while you browse; a useful addition which gets plenty of use on the many platforms for which it is already available. The feature will function largely the same way on desktop as it does on mobile and other devices.

I say largely the same as reports do indicate one small difference. While on a smartphone you swipe the video in a downward direction to detach it and activate the picture-in-picture function, this appears to happen automatically on desktop with no way to disable it. In all others ways the feature seems to behave as expected, allowing users to view, pause and play the current video, or skip to the next.

YouTube are yet to comment officially on the speculation, but considering how long the feature has been available on others devices and platforms, and its widespread use and popularity, it really would be a surprise if picture-in-picture isn’t made available on desktop soon.

The question we aim to explore today is simply: Am I a product to sell? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is “yes”. All of us, human beings of the planet earth, are products that seek to sell ourselves in some way. We sell who we are in pursuit of a job, a girlfriend or boyfriend, friends - in short, a better life. We sell our own image and we also sell the image of other people trying to make “a perfect picture”. The important thing is to be clear about what image I want to show. These guidelines are called “Personal Marketing”.

It is essential to pay due care to how we present ourselves to the world. There are two ways to deal with this issue; the first is to present ourselves as though it does not matter at all what people may say or think about us, and the second is to mould our image to one that, while similar to our true selves, covers the expectations of the wider world and/or the market we aim to conquer. There are people who think that presenting themselves as they are can cause them to stand out from the pack - I think this is correct in a limited number of cases, as most of us must have crafted an image designed to reach our target audience.

Are social networks useful for this purpose? Of course; networks are the perfect tool to show only what we wish while hiding that which we consider undesirable or detrimental to our ambitions, instead creating an image specially designed to achieve our goals.

The first thing to ask yourself is, “How do I want to be seen?” Let’s start with a picture - would you describe yourself as sweet? Perhaps cute, bizarre, aggressive, or impulsive? What makes you, you? These traits can be conveyed effectively in our gestures and pose in a photograph attached to an online profile. Even if one says that our image cannot define us, the world will take care of talking about us and it is important to consider what they might say. The tattoos, the piercings, what do they say about me? The colours I use - do they fit with who I see myself as being?

I am a firm believer that in order to achieve the perfect middle-ground, we must be acceptable to the world without losing our essence. It is important to be clear about this; we have tastes and we must cultivate them, create a particular aesthetic, a way of seeing the world that makes us unique and special. Why should I be unique and special? Because through that individuality we will make our difference in the community. We must know who we are to know what we can contribute. Without this, we really are just one more forgotten wanderer.

For us a “like” is a sign of acceptance, of feeling part of society. I am not a pariah, I belong to this place. Actually it is a daily contradiction, I want to be original but I want to be like everyone else. So we go back to what was said in the beginning - who I am and what I want to sell depends on each one of us and such things are never easily defined.

As part of the platform’s brand new ‘Custom Intent Audiences’ suite made available via AdWords on Tuesday, YouTube is now allowing brands and marketers to  target ads to people who recently searched for related products and services on The new tool will also enable the targeting of consumers based on anonymised information that Google collects on people across its wider network of sites.

“Five years ago when we launched Google Preferred, [advertisers] wanted to navigate the entire body of YouTube a little bit more easily with more of a content lens and buying more similar to television,” said Tara Walpert Levy, Google’s VP of Agency and Media Solutions. “The ability to overlay that audience interest in order to get the right messages to the right people against that most attractive content is something the market seems finally ready for.”

Basically, the new tool would allow companies to place ads in front of people who have recently searched for or otherwise viewed relevant topics on any one of Google’s various websites and platforms, simply by creating a keyword list for the video campaign in the new AdWords experience.
“Google is taking the best of what they do with search, with maps, with some of their apps, and they’re taking that data and applying it to their TV-like object, which is Google Preferred. It’s smart,” said Susan Schiekofer, GroupM Chief Digital Investment Officer.

The new tool is just one of a series of new updates rolled out by Google in recent times, with another notable example being TrueView for Action Ads. This allows advertisers to apply customised calls-to-action along with their video ads on YouTube, with Target CPA bidding being set automatically.

In an announcement made on the official blog of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on Wednesday (Mar 15th), Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham revealed that WhatsApp has made a public commitment to not share its users’ data with Facebook following a nearly two-year investigation conducted by the ICO.

“People have a right to have their personal data kept safe, only used in ways that are properly explained to them, and for certain uses of their data, to which they expressly consent. This is a requirement of the Data Protection Act,” said Ms Denham.

“My office has just completed an investigation, which commenced in August 2016, into whether WhatsApp could legally share users’ data with Facebook in the manner they were considering.”
In short, this means that users have both the right and the need to know when their data is being collected, what that data may pertain to, and how it is being used. With the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules coming into effect from May this year, companies need to be careful as any breaches are sure to be handled seriously, and those who fail to follow proper procedure concerning the sharing of data may find themselves on the wrong side of the law. The process being considered by WhatsApp, it would seem, fell short of satisfying the required criteria.
Ms Denham reported the key finding of her office’s investigation as follows:
  • WhatsApp has not identified a lawful basis of processing for any such sharing of personal data
  • WhatsApp has failed to provide adequate fair processing information to users in relation to any such sharing of personal data
  • In relation to existing users, such sharing would involve the processing of personal data for a purpose that is incompatible with the purpose for which such data was obtained
  • If they had shared the data, they would have been in contravention of the first and second data protection principles of the Data Protection Act.
In light of these findings, WhatsApp has now signed an official ‘undertaking’ in which they have publicly pledged not to share personal data with Facebook until they can do so in compliance with the upcoming GDPR.

For those concerned about data sharing, it is worth noting that this undertaking by no means guarantees that WhatsApp will not share data with Facebook and other affiliated companies/platforms in the future, they will simply have to adapt how they do so in order to comply with the new regulations.

The prevention of cruelty to animals is no longer seen as a pastime of hippies and strange folk who sit in fields all day, and rightly so. This issue has over the past few decades taken its rightful place at the forefront of the public eye, and increasing efforts are being made to stop those who may cause harm in their tracks.

Social media is unfortunately a breeding ground for unethical and often harmful practices concerning animals. All-too-many travellers will happily post a plethora of pics showing them embracing some exotic creature, often unaware of the savage treatment, beatings and druggings the poor animal has received to place it in such a docile state. In fact, it was only fairly recently that Instagram announced their intention to take substantial steps towards resolving this particular problem on their own platforms. Photography is far from the only issue negatively affecting the natural world however, as social media is also a hub for a far more organised form of widespread cruelty – the illegal trade of wildlife.

In an effort to fight back against the poachers and illegal traders of the world who use social networks as a point-of-sale, a team of researchers from University of Helsinki’s Digital Geography Lab recently conducted a project which aimed to ascertain how we may utilise these same social networks, along with a helping hand from artificial intelligence systems, to turn the traders’ favoured communicative technologies against them.

“With an estimated two and a half billion users, easy access has turned social media into an important venue for illegal wildlife trade,” Enrico Di Minin, a conservation scientist working on the project, told Digital Trends. “Wildlife dealers active on social media release photos and information about wildlife products to attract and interact with potential customers, while also informing their existing network of contacts about available products. Currently, the lack of tools for efficient monitoring of high volume social media data limits the capability of law enforcement agencies to curb illegal wildlife trade. We plan to develop and use methods from artificial intelligence to efficiently monitor illegal wildlife trade on social media.”

So, Di Minin and the wider research team set about designing a system that they hope will be able to comb through social media posts to identify images, metadata, and phrases associated with illegal wildlife trade, including both specific products and the animals themselves. Such artificial intelligence systems are a necessity for the task at hand, as the sheer amount of data to go through would make the task all-but-impossible without.

“Illegal wildlife trade is booming online, in particular on social media,” Di Minin asserts. “However, big data derived from social media requires filtering out information irrelevant to illegal wildlife trade. Without automating the process with methods from artificial intelligence, filtering high-volume content for relevant information demands excessive time and resources. As time is running out for many targeted species, algorithms from artificial intelligence provide an innovative way to efficiently monitor the illegal wildlife trade on social media.

“Potentially, such algorithms can also identify code words that illegal smugglers use in place of the real names … by processing verbal, visual and audio-visual content simultaneously,” Di Minin concluded.

Twitter’s apparent financial woes have been widely documented throughout many an article over quite some time, so when asked to predict the best performing stock over a given year it stands to reason that you would look past the company in favour of more obviously popular apps and platforms such as the ever-present Facebook and teen-favourite Snapchat. You would however be wrong to do so.

Twitter's stock performance for the year to date has far surpassed that of rival social platforms Facebook and Snapchat, climbing by nearly 50%. This figure is over double that of Snapchat’s 24% gain and makes Facebook’s 5% look rather feeble.

Twitter’s stock is also the best performer for the past 12 months with share values climbing by more than 130% during this time. Facebook meanwhile have managed just 30%.

Whether this will prove to be an indication of an approaching end to Twitter’s financial woes, only time will truly tell. The platform does still maintain a position as one of the leading hotbeds for online discussion, and it will take a lot to remove them from the scene entirely; this latest stock report is merely further evidence of that.

There are many decent topics out there from which to derive a little humour and share a joke with the online populace; even in the case of some darker subjects humour can be an effective coping mechanism. However creating and circulating an online advert which seemingly makes light of such a serious issue as domestic violence, you would think, is obviously a stupid idea to say the least.
Some, it would seem, did not get that memo.

This time it’s Snapchat which has drawn the wrath of the online community after Twitter user @TheRoyceMann brought to public attention the fact that Snapchat had been allowing a rather controversial advert to do the rounds of their platform. The advert in question - made to promote the mobile game ‘Would You Rather?’ - can be seen below along with Royce Mann’s rather apt summary.

As I’m sure you have noticed, the ad appears to reference the 2009 incident in which Chris Brown assaulted his then-partner Rihanna in his car; a crime for which he was later convicted by a court-of-law.

After the ad became public knowledge Snapchat quickly apologised and removed the offending material from their platform while insisting it had been published “in error”.
A spokesperson for Snap Inc. commented, “The advert was reviewed and approved in error, as it violates our advertising guidelines. We immediately removed the ad last weekend, once we became aware.

“We are sorry that this happened.”

The advert was undoubtedly a bad idea, but what I do find odd in all of this is that by far the vast majority of the hate is being directed at Snapchat for allowing the ad on their platform, whilst the company behind ‘Would You Rather?’ who actually commissioned the offending material in the first place seem to have escaped scot-free. Funny that.

‘Tweetdecking’, a practice whereby teams of users, usually teens, team up to force content to go viral on behalf of a paying customer, has proven to be a highly lucrative endeavour for those orchestrating this manufactured image of popularity. It is however seen by Twitter and many of its users as a highly dishonest act which inherently undermines some of the core principles behind the social network, whilst also exemplifying the widely publicised phenomenon of the ‘social media echo-chamber’. It is also a direct violation of Twitter’s spam policy, which explicitly states that users are not allowed to “sell, purchase, or attempt to artificially inflate account interactions.”

Well it seems that Twitter have finally had enough, and decided to take drastic action against these ‘tweetdeckers’. Counter measures began in force following a BuzzFeed article which documented the practice and brought it firmly into the public eye, at which point Twitter implemented changes which prevented these users from using TweetDeck, a popular sharing app among Tweetdeckers, to retweet from multiple accounts at once. This substantially hindered their ability to easily manufacture virality at the touch of a button, but by no means solved the issue.

On Friday, Twitter unveiled their latest tactic in their quest to eliminate tweetdeckers from their platform, as they suspended several popular accounts known for not only forcing tweets to go viral for a fee, but also stealing content from other people’s tweets, if not the post in its entirety. Many of these accounts were hugely popular, with follower counts ranging from hundreds of thousands all the way up into the millions.

To be honest though, I expect these suspensions to have little if any effect in the long run. The same people will simply create new accounts, rebuild and continue as before. While creating a new account in order to circumvent a ban or suspension is in itself a violation of Twitter’s policies, something tells me these users have little regard for that fact.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on individual accounts when approached by BuzzFeed News.

The consequences of excessive social media use, in particular the potential for addiction, have been the subject of heightened focus in recent years as such technologies have taken an increasingly steadfast hold of many aspects of our daily lives. Social media addiction has been linked with a plethora of highly damaging issues ranging from isolation and depression to anxiety and in some cases even suicidal thoughts, but what are the warning signs? And what is it exactly that makes one person become addicted while others are able to refrain?

This was exactly the subject of a new research project conducted by a team from Binghamton University, State University of New York. The team, led by assistant professor of information systems Isaac Vaghefi with the help of Hamed Qahri-Saremi of DePaul University, collected and analysed self-reported data from a pool of nearly 300 college-aged students in order to explore how the interaction of personality traits can impact the likelihood of developing an addiction to social networking.

“There has been plenty of research [conducted] on how the interaction of certain personality traits affects addiction to things like alcohol and drugs,” said Isaac Vaghefi. “We wanted to apply a similar framework to social networking addiction.”

In their research the team were able to identify that that three personality traits in particular – namely neuroticism, conscientiousness and agreeableness - were related to social media addiction. Extraversion and openness to experience, the two other personality traits said to make up the well-established framework of the five-factor personality model, were found to have little if any influence in the development of such addictions.

The interesting part lay in how exactly these traits influence our susceptibility - for example on their own, the personality traits of neuroticism and conscientiousness have direct negative and positive effects on the likelihood of developing a social network addiction; when the two traits are simultaneously present and thereby playing off each other however, neuroticism seems to moderate the effect of conscientiousness as it relates to social network addiction.

“It’s a complex and complicated topic. You can’t have a simplistic approach,” said Vaghefi. “It’s more of a holistic approach to discover what kinds of people are more likely to develop an addiction. Rather than just focusing on one personality trait, this allows you to look at an all-inclusive personality profile.”

Vaghefi’s full paper, titled ‘Personality Predictors of IT Addiction’, was presented at the 51st Hawaii International Conference on Systems Science (Jan 2018).

Adding to the wave of criticism being levied on social networks recently for the way in which they allow divisive  messages and extreme ideas to circulate throughout their communities, London Mayor Sadiq Khan took to the stage at the SXSW Festival in Austin Texas yesterday to throw his own hat into the ring, so to speak. Khan spoke out during his keynote speech against social media companies acting in the name of profit, rather than social good, accusing them of empowering those with divisive ideas through widespread inaction.

Particular points of criticism included the way in which posts on these networks can be used to isolate, divide, and actively discourage engagement and/or interaction with the physical world and individuals around us.

“What we need to see is a stronger duty of care so that social media platforms can live up to their promise of being places that connect, unify and democratise the sharing of information and be places where everyone feels valued and welcome.” said Khan. He went on to warn that if these networks fail to act appropriately of their own accord, more stringent regulations may be brought into effect.

The mayor also spoke about the rise of sharing economy companies, likely inspired by the highly publicised battle between Uber and the City of London’s taxi drivers. He suggested that such companies may be guilty of pursuing market share in favour of providing such basics as a fair wage and decent working conditions.

“Without prudent oversight, this new way of working risks being used as cover to break up decades of hard-won rights. Companies that behave in this way are not genuine peer-to-peer platforms,” he said, “They are companies with an app.”

Khan went on, “We can’t confuse matters by thinking that because a business is smart, disruptive - popular even - and has a really neat app - it somehow has a right to have a different regulatory status to its competitors.”

Not long after the US Federal Election Commission (FEC) stated their intent to review current rules relating to the placement and nature of political advertisements on social media platforms, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) have revealed their plans to follow suit, seeking an increased level of transparency around such ads and their use of personal data.

Information commissioner Elizabeth Deham said visibility into ad targeting systems is needed so that people can exercise their rights - such as withdrawing consent to their personal data being processed should they wish.

“Data protection is not a back-room, back-office issue anymore,” said Ms Deham. “It is right at the centre of these debates about our democracy, the impact of social media on our lives and the need for these companies to step up and take their responsibilities seriously.

“What I am going to suggest is that there needs to be transparency for the people who are receiving that message, so they can understand how their data was matched up and used to be the audience for the receipt of that message. That is where people are asking for more transparency.”

The aforementioned comments were made by the commissioner during an evidence session in front of a UK parliamentary committee, which has been given the role of investigating the influence of digital advertising and so-called ‘fake news’ on the political process. Ms Deham went on to say during the same address that her office is preparing their own report and accompanying recommendations this spring, expected to be published in May.

“We want more people to participate in our democratic life and democratic institutions, and social media is an important part of that, but we also do not want social media to be a chill in what needs to be the commons, what needs to be available for public debate,” she said.

“We need information that is transparent, otherwise we will push people into little filter bubbles, where they have no idea about what other people are saying and what the other side of the campaign is saying. We want to make sure that social media is used well.

“It has changed dramatically since 2008. The Obama campaign was the first time that there was a lot of use of data analytics and social media in campaigning. It is a good thing, but it needs to be made more transparent, and we need to control and regulate how political campaigning is happening on social media, and the platforms need to do more.”

30 years ago, promoting your business may have been limited to the price of half a page in the newspaper and 10 seconds on local radio. In today’s global marketplace, a world where businesses from all over the world are available at the swipe of a finger on a smartphone, your online presence has never been more important. You need to stand out from your competitors, be available for questions and queries and make a connection with your customers so that they’ll use your service again and again. If you do it right, the best place to do that is on social media.

So, what social media platform should you use, what should you post and how can you make your business stand out in your industry? See the infographic below, provided by our friends over at to find out.

 Content provided by

Remember Blackberry? The ailing company once boasted a position amongst the leaders of the smartphone market, with their flagship Blackberry Messaging app (BBM) maintaining a healthy level of popularity with the youth in particular.

The company is not doing so well in the present day, and in fact went so far as to stop making smartphones altogether back in 2016 following a substantial decline in sales. Now their primary endeavour seems to be attempting to eke money out of their existing patents, and they’re making some rather outlandish claims in the process; Blackberry have filed an official lawsuit against social media behemoth Facebook, claiming that the latter’s own messaging apps and platforms have copied features from BBM in a direct violation of patent rights.

So far that sounds pretty bland and straight-forward, until you look into the features Blackberry are claiming to have ‘innovated’. BBM may have beaten Facebook to the punch by about 6 years when it comes to messaging apps and platforms, introducing many features that remain commonplace today, but claiming intellectual property rights over such simple additions as the appearance of a dot or similar icon to indicate a new message, or an icon-bases system to show when a message has been received and subsequently read, seems nothing short of absurd.

Blackberry nonetheless does claim such rights and further claims that Facebook have been aware of the ongoing patent rights violation for years, with attempts at dialogue yielding little success. A spokeswoman for Blackberry said the company remains open to a partnership with Facebook.
“However, we have a strong claim that Facebook has infringed on our intellectual property, and after several years of dialogue, we also have an obligation to our shareholders to pursue appropriate legal remedies.” she added.

Facebook on the other hand have asserted their intention to fight what they consider to be a somewhat frivolous lawsuit. Paul Grewal, deputy general counsel of Facebook, simply stated that Blackberry’s claim “sadly reflects the current state of its messaging business”.

“Having abandoned its efforts to innovate,” he continued, “Blackberry is now looking to tax the innovation of others. We intend to fight.”

Img: Sinchen Lin 
While in the western world we rely heavily upon platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and WhatsApp, over in China Tencent’s WeChat rules the social media roost. The network has gone from strength-to-strength in recent years, and has now reached the significant milestone of one billion registered accounts, as reported by the Financial Times.

There are a number of contributing factors to WeChat’s success. First of all it’s important to note that the above figure relates to the number of registered accounts globally; users are free to make more than one account and are likely to do so in order to keep work communications separate from private ones, for instance. As such the number of registered accounts exceeds the platform’s actual daily user count.

WeChat are also aided by China’s strict censorship laws, under which popular western platforms including Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are blocked. This forces Chinese users to seek out other options, and WeChat provides a more-than-agreeable alternative. In many ways, it is often cited as being superior to our own favourite apps and networks.

On that note you cannot discount WeChat’s own business savvy when citing reasons for their success. The platform is often lauded for the wide variety of services it offers, acting as a form of digital one-stop-shop for the needs of many users. WeChat now boasts 902 million daily users sending approximately 38 billion messages per day, so the company are clearly doing something right.

It’s no big secret that when it comes to video content, Facebook’s standing in the industry isn’t quite where they would like it to be. The platform performs well at least in my own experience in terms of live-streaming, with pages for bands and the like making particularly good use of the feature, but when it comes to curated content their offerings could be accused of being somewhat lacklustre.

Recently the company have made some major steps towards improving the video side of the platform, the most recent evidence of which comes in the form of two high profile new additions to Facebook’s upper echelons - with Matthew Henick, former head of BuzzFeed Studios, and Mike Bidgoli, a former Pinterest executive, both joining the ranks.

Mr Henick is to hold a demanding position within the company, taking the lead in global video content. Mr Bidgoli meanwhile will head up Facebook watch, an initiative launched to a select group of users last August which provides access to content such as women’s basketball, parenting advice, and even an unscripted series by Kim Kardashian West, all via Facebook’s various apps and of course their website.

The two high profile appointments follow a significant ramping up of Facebook’s presence in the sector as it seeks to muscle in on the television market. Whether or not their efforts will ultimately bear fruit however remains to be seen, as they have a long way to go if they are to catch the likes of YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon at the top, and that’s before you even factor in traditional television networks.

For all the good it does us, social media is far from free of criticism. Of these criticisms perhaps the most common is the belief that social media use negatively affects our social interactions and/or social wellbeing in a significant manner, however new research suggests this may not be the case.

The new research in question was conducted by a team from the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, which aimed to explore what impact if any social media truly has on our face-to-face interactions over the course of two dedicated studies. The team ultimately concluded that despite what popular opinion may indicate, social media use has little bearing in this regard.

“The current assumption is that when people spend more time on apps like Facebook and Snapchat, the quality of their in-person social interactions decreases,” says Michael Kearney, one of three co-authors on the new studies. “However, our results suggested that social media use doesn’t have a strong impact on future social interactions.”

In order to reach this conclusion Kearney and the research team conducted two separate studies, one long-term and one short-term. The first study, which followed the social media use of individuals from 2009 to 2011, found that change in social media use was not associated with changes in direct social contact. In addition, the participants’ feelings of social well-being actually increased.

The second study, which surveyed adults and college students through text-messaging over the course of five days, found that social media use earlier in the day did not have any impact on future social interactions. However, the researchers do warn that passive social media use may lead to lower levels of well-being after spending significant time alone.

“People who use social media alone likely aren’t getting their face-to-face social needs met,” Kearney says. “So if they’re not having their social needs met in their life outside of social media, it makes sense that looking at social media might make them feel even lonelier.

“People are spending increased amounts of time using the internet and other media that may replace the time they could use for speaking face to face, but that doesn’t mean that they are worse for it. People must ultimately be responsible for maintaining their relationships, whether that’s through social media or other means.”

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