Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Ten PR Tips for Tech Startups

For startups, understanding how to get coverage in the media is often a source of frustration. Every startup I ever mentored has asked for advice on PR. By following a few simple steps, you can make a lot of progress in getting your news reported. News stories are an important part of your PR armoury and you should achieve significant success if you keep the following in mind. Just be aware that your story might not get covered simply because there's something bigger going on.

1. Research your media

Fundamentally, you should be tracking which journalists write about topics relating to your company, industry, markets etc. Note that the journalist is more important than the publication: contacting the 'newsdesk' is rarely a successful strategy.

Be aware that journalists are frequently freelancers and will often write for more than one news outlet, sometimes about a broad variety of subjects. They don't always to stick to the same broad subject matter. I knew a journalist who went from writing about architecture to eyeware. While both are strongly design-led, none of her previous sources were of any relevance anymore, and conversely, from a professional perspective, she was no longer of any use to architects. Yes, architects do PR too.

2. Get to the point

You are one of many people trying to contact a journalist. Forget the niceties: it might go against your upbringing but the opening line should get straight into the pitch rather than ask after the journalist's wellbeing.

"Geoffrey, following the news that bears have been caught defecating in the woods, grrrizz.ly has launched a smartwatch app to keep you from stepping on the stools, while out strolling."

3. Make it topical

In the above example, the pitch is linked to some news that has recently broken. Journalists get interested in a subject for a little while then move on to another subject. Your challenge is to ensure that your story relates to a current topic of interest. Nobody cares that you launched an app. But if your app solves something that is topical and significant, then you have a story.

4. Be concise

Whether or not you write a press release - some journalists hate them, others like them - keep your pitch brief. Get rid of any puffery - vague, unsubstantiated claims like 'leading', 'defining', 'brilliant'.

Many journalists want a quote they can lift from your press release and drop into a story. Make it useful rather than formulaic. I often see bland statements like: "Wizzooo is delighted to be partnering with Wazzooo on this project", said Bonita McGonigal, founder. Try instead something like: "The combination of Wizzooo's tinting technology and Wazzooo's leather-cutting devices will create the bluest suede shoes you ever danced in."

5. News is new

Is it happening now? It's news. Anything else isn't.

6. Don't ask for permission to send information

Just send it.

7. Don't ask journalists to promote you

Journalists write stories of interest to the readers of their publications, for money. Every day they have competing opportunities. If yours didn't make it, too bad. Try to work out why - without asking the journalists. Maybe you'll get some success next time.

However, never ask a journalist to tweet or retweet or do any other form of promotional form of activity on your behalf. That's what friends and family are for. If your product's any good, your customers will do it for you too.

8. Offer exclusives

Every journalist wants an exclusive. They can be useful for securing coverage from certain outlets but they aren't always necessary and, of course, the flipside is that you reduce the number of outlets covering you. Be clear that the exclusivity has an expiry date eg for the next two days.

9. Don't give 'exclusives' to multiple journalists

If you tell more than one journalist that you're giving them an exclusive, you will never get written up by them again. Unless there's some bad news; then they'll tear you apart and you'll have deserved it for lying and manipulating.
 

10. Use embargoes for major news

If you want to coordinate a major news story across multiple outlets so that they appear simultaneously but not before a certain date, you can release the news in advance under embargo, which should be clearly stated at the top of your news item, including the time and date before which it shouldn't be published. Be aware that a small number of journalists don't adhere to embargoes but they usually publicise the fact. If you research them properly, you'll know what to expect.

BONUS Be responsive

If you're putting out a story make sure that you're available to communicate immediately with any journalist who responds. If you leave it even a couple of hours to reply to an email, you've probably wasted the opportunity.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

How to improve mobile user experience to simplify creating: the example of iOS Photos

As part of the exploration that Marek Pawlowski and I have been conducting around the user experience at the intersection between consumption and creation, we looked at how various services handled the transition. This is part of a series of articles that we are publishing here and at www.mobileuserexperience.com.

The iOS Photos app now delivers a more fluid UX for photo editing. The editing functionality in the app itself is quite powerful and will fully meet most users' requirements. For those, like me at times, who want more tools or are used to tools available in desktop software, iOS now enables easy access to the editing functionality of third party apps. For example, I use ProCam. What is particularly striking here is that the app functionality appears to load directly in the Photos app.

1. Tapping on a photo within the Photos app brings up the top and bottom frame elements, which show where the picture was taken and options for returning to an album, editing, sharing (actually quite a bit more than that), marking as favourite or deleting.


2. Tapping on Edit loads the editing interface. In the bottom left is an icon, a circle with an ellipsis within it.


3. Tapping on the icon brings up a menu of apps that have access to the Photos app for editing. Tapping More will reveal further app options that can be switched on to appear in the menu. I have other photo-editing apps, like Lenca and Hipstamatic, but they don't have access to the Photos app.


4. I then simply tap on the ProCam icon and the ProCam editing interface loads immediately - no switching between apps. There is some loss of functionality. Within the ProCam app there are various options for cropping, realigning and altering perspective, which don't load in the Photos app.


Video editing works in a similar way. Since there is no video editing functionality in iOS, one step is removed. Instead of Edit on the first screen, there is the circle icon, which on tapping shows third party video editors. For me, that means 8mm.

There are some slight differences to how iOS handles photos and videos that are edited within Photos as opposed to being accessed through third party apps. For one, the editing interface is streamlined, without some of the app designs. Also, the edited image is then stored 'on top of' the original rather than as a separate entity. With regards to the latter, there is some benefit to this approach, in that it is possible to re-edit the picture or to revert to the original, taking up less 'space' in the app. However, it is not possible to keep the edited version and to make a new version from the original. Ideally, edits versions could be kept in a set, as is possible in desktop software.

 The trout was delicious.

We'd very much welcome any comments or thoughts around this exploration.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

How can UX improvements encourage users to pivot from consuming to creating?

This essay, which I have written with Marek Pawlowski, is the first in a series on the intersection between digital consumption and creativity. The original is at mobileuserexperience.com. To follow the forthcoming stream of articles, UI concepts and examples, track #uxintersection on Twitter, bookmark the 'Intersection' category at mobileuserexperience.com or sign-up for the weekly email newsletter. More importantly, this is an invitation for you to get involved in the discussion - we'd love to hear your feedback and ideas for taking this topic forward.

Do you see yourself as a digital creator? Or more of a consumer? Most people will find themselves on a continuum, sometimes creating, now consuming. At times, the consumption of content - be it text, video, static image or audio - will directly prompt creativity. This 'moment of intersection', as we defined it, occurs when the consuming of content engenders creativity. It is not the inspiration itself - the instance of 'aha!' - but rather the decision to act upon it.
The intersection is the fulcrum about which the individual pivots from consumer to creator, and allows for - and enables - the return to consumption.
In discussion, we noticed how little had been said about the user experience of this intersection. Both 'Create' and 'Consume' have been individual themes at MEX but we wanted to go further and investigate the relationship between them. The motivations and the states of mind inherent in media consumption have been thoroughly explored, both at MEX and in other fora. At the March 2014 MEX, Alex facilitated a group to investigate user experience design principles to maintain focus during the consuming of digital media. A by-product of that exercise invoked some interesting modes of consumption, where the purpose of consuming was specifically to prepare for creating. While it remained tacit, the existence of the intersection was implicit: whether it leads to inspiration or is informed by it, media consumption will frequently result in various forms of creativity. Not quite as much is said, outside the worlds of art and of creative enterprises, about the creativity and the range of forms that it takes when 'ordinary' individuals turn their minds to producing new works. Nevertheless, it seems relatively well understood. Perhaps where there is a need for greater discussion is at the intersection - the transition zone - between the consumption of content and the subsequent creation of new forms. While the technological potential of mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and wearables advances rapidly, their interaction models continue to favour passive consumption at the expense of nurturing users' creative impulses.
We believe that the creative customer segment has been underserved, giving rise to an opportunity for media owners, device manufacturers, platform providers and software developers to win new users by improving the experience of transitioning between modes of consumption and creativity. In all cases, there is almost certainly sufficient capability to enable more frequent and more deliberate acts of creativity in response to consumed content.
Except in the most trivial cases, the moment of intersection is often poorly handled by app designers. In our view, even the act of sharing media is a form of creativity, however simplistic that might appear. The retweet, therefore, could be considered the most transient and low-input form of creativity that exists in digital media today. If we consider the evolution of retweeting as an action over time, we find this function of Twitter has improved the user experience around an important example of intersection. A more immersive journey might transport a user from a social media item (such as a pin, post, tweet or status update), via a web link, to a piece of content, which might itself sit within a dedicated app. The viewer, whose attention has been grasped on the social media platform, might wish to respond to the content in a more creative way than simply tapping a retweet 'button'. For example, a reader of a blog post might wish to comment; a viewer of video might produce a visual response; a music listener might create a playlist. Two points are worth noting:
  1. None of these seem examples seem like excessively strenuous activities, yet people who attempt them frequently will know that the user experience as it stands today can be convoluted and poorly designed.
  2. These methods of response have come into existence only in the past few years and some more traditional media companies have not have fully realised the myriad ways in which this creative loop could influence their content.
An example to discuss UX concept storyboard for creative transformation at the moment of intersection In the interests of prompting a conversation, we developed a rough user interface concept to show how a moment of intersection between consumption and creativity might be enhanced. What do you think of the storyboard above (you can click on it for the full-size version)? The work was grounded in 3 rules:
      1. User relevance. Addressing a common task already familiar to users rather than trying to project too far into the future. We chose the act of extracting and adding context to an image embedded in a news article.
      2. Technical viability. Referencing techniques available today, or in the near future, across a range of platforms. In this case, we took particular inspiration from the introduction of multi-window features in iOS 9, Windows 10 and future versions of Android.
      3. Fluidity. The transition from consumption to creativity should be seamless. We try to show how a single touchscreen gesture can initiate and enrich the moment of intersection, thereby kickstarting the creative process.
Our investigation focuses as much on such moments, wherever they lie on the spectrum of creativity, and from whichever mode of consumption they arise. The degree of intent on either side of the intersection is wide-ranging, and both the profound and the fleeting are valid avenues to informing the intersection. If a retweet lies at one end of the spectrum, then, for example, adapting an image to create a textured surface for a product design, is found towards the other. The research necessarily discusses behaviours associated with both consumption and creativity, but is primarily tasked with finding design principles for the distinct transition zone between these two states. The ongoing project draws on user observations, comparative research in fields ranging from medicine to art, analysing existing interaction models, original interaction prototyping and material from the MEX archive of user experience insights. We'd like invite anyone with a view on this aspect user experience of this, whether directly or tangentially, to get involved with feedback by adding your comment on this post. Some questions to get you thinking:
      • Which aspects do you find painful in your own experience of switching between consuming and creative digital media?
      • How do you go about moving back and forth between the states of consuming and creating?
      • What apps, tools and behaviours have you observed in other users?

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Is ad blocking immoral?

The FT reported last week that mobile operators plan to block online ads, with one - unnamed - European operator planning to switch on adblocking before the end of 2015. Given that the software it will use was developed by Shine, an Israeli company back by Li Ka-shing's Horizon Ventures, it would be unsurprising if it turned out to be the operator 3.

Martin Bryant, editor of The Next Web, responded stating "Adblockers are immoral... proud ad-blocking folk out there are happily starving sites (that they rely on for information and entertainment) of vital income." How can anyone argue with the need to compensate those who provide us with the information - and other content - we consume?

And yet...

When my reading of an article is so severely impeded by advertising, I find myself with two choices, either I stop reading that content or I block ads. That example, from nearly a year ago, is relatively innocuous compared with some of the more recent display formats. So my question for publishers is: do you want to lose revenue because your readers can't abide the awful experience and walk away; or because they block your ads?

I mostly consume text media on my phone and I don't run an adblocker on it. Instead, when I find a publisher repeatedly using overly intrusive advertising, I stop reading, unfollow them on Twitter and permanently abandon them. That means publishers with better user experience policies get more attention from me. Am I the only one who does this?

As Martin Bryant says, advertising fuels much of the web. Much of the work I have done in the past ten years has relied largely on advertising revenue. Yet the "give-and-take" of which he speaks too often is not correctly set. Ads should at most feel like passing through security but sometimes feel like a trip to the back room and an unwarranted cavity search.

Readers should not block ads; ads should not block readers.

The Next Web has apparently been working on developing 'ads so good you want to share them'. Says Martin Bryant:
We’re still perfecting the format, but I’m proud that the company I work for is trying to create ads that people won’t want to block in the first place.
As I said last week, user experience is a source of competitive advantage.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Experience as the competitive advantage

User experience, customer experience... these mean different things in business but for the consumer - the individual, the person - who encounters a business, it's all just the experience of dealing with your company.

I received an email today from the Cheap Energy Club, part of Martin Lewis' Money Saving Expert. This is how it started:

You asked us to tell you when you’re paying too much on your energy bills
So here goes: “YOU’RE NOW PAYING TOO MUCH!”


About 7 seconds later, I was looking at a list of energy companies and the amount I would save, compared with what I pay today, as well as other bits of information.

Crucially, it also told me what other Cheap Energy Club members were saying about aspects of their experience when it fell outside the norm, either good or bad; or if the provider had too few customers for a reliable reading.

There is a good piece by Seth Godin today about becoming unsubstitutable. Put simply, if there's no discernible difference between what you and someone else is offering, the customer will opt for the cheaper. However, when you're in the business of providing a commodity like gas or electricity, you can only compete on price up to the point where you aren't providing a worthwhile return on investment. So the trick is to differentiate, to stop being a commodity. I switched to Ovo Energy a year ago, when I moved home, not only because it was cheaper than the alternatives but because consumers rated the experience highly.

Today, as I looked down the list of cheaper alternatives, the decision was easy. I was not prepared to give up the excellent experience of buying energy from Ovo in return for a cheaper price. Effectively, I'm prepared to pay something like 10-15% more for it, so that I don't have to deal with the problems of other utilities:
  • "in recent months our users have reported major issues with its switching process and customer service."
  • "difficulties contacting by phone or email and in some cases it has not completed requested switches"
So whether you're responsible for the handling of calls or the design of an app, you are today fundamentally implicated in the long term value of your customer.