Archive for business insight

Tin Eye reverse image search engine

Tin Eye is a great tool for finding out who uses your images online…

I went to a school reunion last weekend. One of my old school friends is now a bit of a ‘business guru’ and, inspired by the 30 year interval between seeing people, blogged about change – including a picture of a yellow road sign reading ‘change ahead’.

‘I wonder how many times that sign’s been used?’ I thought to myself – and went to consult Tin Eye, an amazing image reverse search engine. You upload the image you’re interested in (a screen grab of the yellow sign picture in my case), hit a button and in seconds it will find a whole list of instances where that image has been used. Since the file names of all these occurrences are different, this operation can only be by analysis of the bitmap itself – quite some mind-boggling feat.

Tin Eye found 17 instances of this image (but I’m sure there are a lot more out there). In each case, the wording had been changed but Tin Eye found it anyway based on the overall composition of the picture. I decided to add mine to the list but be a bit more… honest about it :-)

Treat everyone like a criminal: a business lesson from Premier Inn

Premier Inn Edinburgh Haymarket’s ironing facilities remind me how easy it is to get stuck in a defensive mindset

I’ve been staying in Premier Inns quite a bit on business over the last month. Nothing wrong with them. As I said in a Tripadvisor review, they do all the basics just about right. But something occurred to me tonight, while I was ironing my shirt for tomorrow’s sessions.

When you’re away on business, and unless you’re wealthy and staying in the very best hotels, ironing a shirt in preparation for doing business the next day is a vital part of getting ready. I don’t know about you, but I can face just about anything with a nice quality, well-ironed shirt.

So why do hotels pay this vital activity so little attention? Why is the equipment they provide of the lowest quality?

In the case of Premier Inn, the irons and boards are kept in ‘Guest Services’ cupboards on each floor. No problem with that but it goes downhill from there. The iron & board combo is a fiendish contraption of a regular (if cheap) steam iron shackled by a curly wire to a metal holder unit fixed to the board.

The problems this arrangement causes are staggering. First, you can’t fill the iron with water. Why? Because there’s no container in your room with a spout. Using a glass results in nothing but a soaked floor. You can’t take the iron to the bathroom – without taking the entire ironing board with you, which is what I ended up having to do. Once there, you STILL can’t hold the iron under the tap – but you CAN now use the glass (spilling gallons of water safely down the sink in the process). Finally the iron has water in it. And now the real fun begins.

Premier Inn has managed to buy the kind of cheap steam iron that, no matter what setting you have it on, leaks water copiously onto your shirt as you go, leaving great stripes of sodden cotton in its wake. These streaks then promptly soak up all the stains on the ironing board underneath (which, of course, isn’t covered in any periodically replaceable fabric cover, but the basic ‘silver’ heat resistant cover).

That’s not the end of things. There you are, ironing yellow stains into the nice clean white shirt that you managed to get the entire length of the country without getting dirty when you realise that the restraining cord is causing the electrical cord to drag sideways against your shirt along the edge of the board. This rucks up the shirt (where you’ve already ironed it), causing immediate and permanent creases.

There are two main lessons here. The first is that this hotel (like so many) fails to spot the opportunity to improve my experience because it doesn’t stop to think about the situation from the customer’s point of view. The second and more important lesson is that to treat everyone else like criminals because someone once stole a cheap iron from you is very short-sighted.

When you’re out and about tomorrow, take a look at how much of the world around you – from the buildings you work in to the processes and systems you use – is built to accommodate the worst possible kind of person, not the best. The worst passenger, the worst employee, the worst patient, the worst consumer.

Then ask yourself: “Do I do this too?”

TripAdvisor: sliding down the trust curve?

TripAdvisor changes its logo yet again in the face of reality.

For a long time I’ve been watching TripAdvisor. This online hotel review site is a classic ‘user generated content’ business: it has to juggle making it easy for users to add content (reviews) from a position of effective anonymity, with trying to ensure those reviews aren’t gamed for advantage (or disadvantage). It has to try to do these while avoiding litigation from hotel owners and disgruntled travellers alike. And it has to somehow make the content relevant enough to drive valuable and qualified traffic to parent company Expedia.

As I’ve said previously, I think this is an equation that can’t possibly work out. Not particularly because TripAdvisor is doing something wrong, but because you simply can’t mix anonymous reviews with commercial interests and create ‘trust’.

Without trust, a business like TripAdvisor has nothing.

While the ‘downgrading’ of its strapline from claims about truth and objectivity (what the traveller REALLY needs) to claims about itself being a big site (who cares??) is at least realistic, it’s a shame. It goes to prove that somewhere in TripAdvisor, the decision has already been made not to try to build a business with trust at its core and to pursue a shorter term strategy instead.

Why shorter term? Because many people using TripAdvisor or watching it professionally get the impression that hotel owners (and others) are gaming the system. Given the precariousness of the economy and the struggle that most hotels are experiencing, it is hardly surprising that many will seek to raise their standing in what is still the most frequently-consulted hotel review site.

Tripadvisor RSS feeds: dumped, apparently…

TripAdvisor’s quiet dumping of RSS feeds raises interesting issues

RSS – on the surface, a great mechanism for delivering your content to a wider world. In reality – as it appears that TripAdvisor has quietly concluded – completely counter-productive for sites dependent on on-site advertising for their revenues.

For a short time, RSS feeds allowed the traveller to monitor a hotel over time to pick up any worrying reports before booking or travelling. A hotel owner could use RSS to have latest reviews delivered so he could monitor and respond to any potential reputation problems as they arose.

It all sounded good – until somebody at TripAdvisor presumably realised that providing RSS feeds of reviews achieved absolutely nothing except keeping the potential clickers at a distance from the on-site sponsors. Doh.

What’s interesting is that now, if you search Google for Tripadvisor RSS feeds, there’s no clear information. TripAdvisor seems to mumble on a bit about RSS being available at various places on the site, but I didn’t see any when I did a quick search just now.

So if you’ve arrived here trying to work out why something that seemed so useful to the general public suddenly disappeared, the answer can only be that RSS, pushing content TO subscribers doesn’t work with the Google Ad Revenue model.

This also hints at something I’ve thought for a while – that online revenue mechanisms default to the Ad revenue model when direct monetisation or other methods fail.

Social media fatigue

Deeply unfashionable though it might be to admit this, but the truth is I’m bored with social media

I never got into Facebook. I tried to use it for a couple of months but it just infuriated me. The benefits in no way matched the value of my personal data. Despite people telling me “it’s just about being sociable..” I quit over a year ago. That’s not strictly true. I have a Facebook account for my cat where I post pictures of her friends and victims.

I tried to use Twitter for a year or so, but found myself stuck reading tweets from the same hundred and fifty or so people.  It turned out that I wasn’t interested enough to go find more people to follow. Since I never followed anyone who followed me just for the sake of it, my Twitter network stalled about there. And like many people, I got bored of the spam and the social media gurus talking endlessly about…yes, you’ve guessed it, social media.

I joined Xing and connected with a girlfriend from a long time ago,  but apart from that, didn’t use it. I quit Ecademy after a couple of years listening to people bullshitting about their egos and prowess.  I spend a year commenting in 4Networking, UKBF, UKBusiness Labs and other such forums until I got tired of the inevitability that everything online degenerates to argument and abuse.

I still have a LinkedIn profile but, like many people, still don’t quite know why – although I quite like the way that LinkedIn seems to be following the ‘softly, softly, catchee monkey’ approach and avoiding the vulgar rush to ‘monetize’ that has characterised most of the other online networks.

I’ve joined and left hundreds of social media sites, without the slightest sense of loss of anything I cared about or couldn’t do without.

Throughout that time, I’ve also been doing more and more work in the real world and less and less in the online world. Coincidentally (not!), my real world network has increased; I’m doing more valuable and fulfilling work and enjoying it far more and I’m learning a lot beside.  The range of opportunities open to me has increased in inverse proportion to the amount of energy and time I’ve spent online.

In the last year alone, I’ve traveled to India, Taiwan, Spain, Norway and the US on real-world business, earning a real world salary and working working on real-world projects with real people. It’s been great and most important of all, it’s been interesting.

I can’t help noticing that the more successful and confident I feel, the less appealing spending time on social media becomes.

Am I alone in that?

Breaking with a difficult client

Letting a difficult client go can be an uncomfortable process – but it has to be done

This morning, I had a call from someone who is now, finally, an ex-client – and probably an ex-friend as well. The conversation was difficult for both of us but by the end of it, there was a conclusion.

Despite the discomfort, it was vital that we had that conversation and stopped the project because otherwise we’d be carrying this unresolved business forward…probably forever :-)

So what was the difficulty? This client is one of those people who wants a website she can add things to herself, but has no idea about the process required to make one or maintain one. We agreed that I would build a WordPress site for her.

After several months of trying, I realised that she was never going to get clear about what she wanted.  She changed her mind regularly and we couldn’t stick with one thing long enough for us to develop it properly. The end result is that she has a site, but it’s undeveloped – it’s the last in a series of false-starts. And even if it was complete, she still wouldn’t have the understanding required to use it.

I put in three or four times more time and work than the £400 fee I was paid, but eventually I had to call time on the project and tell her that it wasn’t in either of our interests to continue the process.  I offered to refund her half the money.

I felt it was the fairest solution considering the amount of work I put in set against her expectation of getting a website. I was also grateful that she brought her business to me when times were tight.

Looking back, I realise now that I shouldn’t have accepted her business in the first place – for her sake and for mine.

So how can you avoid it? I think it’s pretty simple. Next time you come across a client you shouldn’t work with, I believe that there will be a little voice inside you saying “Stop! It’s not worth it”

I didn’t listen to that voice. So make sure you do. And make sure that no matter how much you think you need the money, remember that you need peace of mind even more.

In today’s difficult conversation, both of us were working hard to be respectful, self-respecting and calmly assertive about getting our needs met. I’m proud of behaving that way in a difficult conversation – and I hope that she is too.

My #1 business use for Twitter

My #1 business use for Twitter: the Twitter Search Widget

What’s great about Twitter is that everybody uses it in a different way.

For me, the #1 business use of Twitter has got to be the Twitter Search Widget. You can see it in action over there at the bottom of the nav bar on the right (scroll down to see it).  For me, it’s a kind of ‘oxygen’ supply to my website. I’ve set it up to pick up mentions of “online reputation”.

What that gives me is a constant, up-to-the-second flow of interesting links into discussions about online reputation management on my site. I don’t know whether or not readers of my blog use it to link off to other things but I certainly do.  It’s like having your own news stream on tap – and it’s faster and more responsive than any mainstream media channel. Every day, I’ll come to my own website as a jump off point to get into a wider discussion about online reputation management that’s going on out there.

Oddly enough, the Twitter search widget isn’t exactly easy to find unless you’re looking for it.  The link is at the bottom of your Twitter home page titled ‘Goodies’. You set up your search term, tweak how you’d like your widget to appear, then copy and paste the code into your site or blog.

Paying for online news? No, no, five Times NO!

But is the Times plan to charge for online news really as bad as it sounds?

From June this year, TimesOnline (currently a free news website) will become two separate sites: the Times and Sunday Times accessible only to paying subscribers. The traditional newspaper market is in freefall and the move to charge directly for subscription to news is seen by many as a pivotal moment in the industry’s history.

In the 15 short years we’ve had the internet in our homes, we’ve become very used to consuming free content and somewhere near the top of the list has been news.  It’s hard enough to market and sell content online as it is but the idea of trying to sell something that’s always been free comes across as madness.

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BA strike: my recent passenger experiences

After two less-than-ideal experience in the last 6 months, I can’t help but support the strike

If you listened to Willie Walsh, you’d think that the BA cabin crew are striking out of greed and self-interest. If you listen to the cabin crew, on the other hand, you’d think they were striking against the progressive erosion of the service offered to First and Club Class customers.

I’ve been lucky enough to have flown BA twice in the last few months – once back from Mumbai, once return to Houston.  I say ‘lucky’ firstly because I’m always grateful to travel and see more of the world, secondly because I didn’t pay for these trips myself.  I’d be furious if I had.

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Online reputation management top tip: Don’t REACT!!

Top Tip for managing your online reputation: don’t react.

As useful definition of ‘reaction’ is the ability to do something quickly, and more importantly, without thinking. In the animal world, this looks like a gazelle running like hell just long enough and fast enough to avoid being a leopard’s dinner.

In the human world, it’s more often than not a recipe for disaster.  Of course, there are times you have to react physically without thinking for your own safety. Crossing a road, avoiding a fight… you know the kind of thing. We’ve all been there – but realistically, the times when our safety is really threatened are rare.

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