Friday, 20 February 2015

Margaret Curran... And the Politics of Social Media

I have been intrigued with the Scottish Labour MSP, Margaret Curran's attitude towards social media this week, both the nature of, and her handling of, the complaints she has about online abuse that is targeted towards politicians.

Here's an article detailing the nature of her complaint and how she is dealing with it:
Margaret Curran Lays Down the Law to Social Media Trolls

I find this a curious way to deal with the situation, my curiosity here is more than a passing interest as;

1) Any influence and all of the fantastic connections that I've made has been through the weird and wonderful world of 140 characters and getting to grips with all things "social".

2) I realise the importance of digital citizenship and how social media can improve student job prospects... or completely wreck their future, depending on the content!

3) The inaugural Horizon Europe Schools Report highlights that the growth of Social Media in education will continue and will be ubiquitous within the next 1-2 years.(These reports have been extremely accurate in the US with regard to the uptake and timescales for the adoption of new ideas).

In the US they have "Connected Educators Month" to facilitate the use of social media by educators, what provision is there in Scotland or the UK from policy makers?
nmc_itunesu.HREU2014For all of these reasons I am doing what I can to promote good digital citizenship and encourage the kind of innovative uses for social media that I see "Connected Educators" in the US employ to good effect.

I have to admit that I would have found Ms Curran's attitude and perspective baffiling if they were the actions of a normal person, but being the actions of the "political class", they actually don't surprise me at all.

In an attempt to explore this reaction I suppose the first question to ask here is;

"Is this kind of abuse confined to politicians?"

The obvious answer is OF COURSE NOT! Every community has their fair share of idiots who either don't think before they speak/Tweet/blog... Equally there will be individuals and groups who go out of their way to intentionally wind people up.

If Ms Curran was to do any research she might find the comments and experiences of community managers useful

"Thank you to all of the idiots out there that I had to deal with. I learned a lot from you and I share this book with the hope that, when you bother the next person, he or she will be ready for you" Patrick O'Keefe Managing Online Forums
"Your worst customers are your greatest gift. They want things to be better" David De Wald.

I have just joined this weeks' #Cmgrhangout on the topic of "Diplomatic Community Management" and could not help but compare Ms Curran's course of action with the advice of the panel... And all I can say is "Chalk and Cheese!"

Curran's strategy is to ignore negative comments
Experienced community managers engage, listen &  empathise 

I learn so much from this group and would strongly recommend that others check it out too.
While the abuse is not pleasant or acceptable, I'm sure it's no worse that one week of abuse that female gamer FemFreq gets and it may be highly unlikely that any MPs will take their own life because of the nature of the abuse they receive, as Amanda Todd did.

Amanda Todd's Story: Struggling, Bullying, Suicide, Self Harm

Let me be clear that I do not condone abuse of any kind online or offline, although a good debater might be able to successfully argue that of all the people who are open to scrutiny on social media then surely it's our public figures? After all it's their job to listen to "the people"... They certainly tell us often enough that they are listening!

Personally I think that people being questioned about any failings in carrying out their work is better than a lot of other examples of abuse that takes place online! But then again I'm not a big fan of the political class.

Ironically I try to avoid talking about politics on social media because I can tend to get so angry at the level of ineptitude and this can and sometimes does adversely affect my own digital footprint.

Political Wrangling on Social Media
The next question I would explore with this story is: Why is this topical? Why raise this issue at the moment? 
Obviously we have the General Election coming up so the desire for our dear megalomaniac MPs (Not my words but Labour MP Diane Abbots on This Week) yearning to be popular and well loved reaches pitch fever... After all there are lavish expense accounts and family members future employment on the line in this popularity contest!
But social media, elections and politicians desire to be loved for breaking their manifesto pledges have been around long before #GE2015, so why have a big digital tantrum on this occasion?

Previously all parties have probably had the same level of abuse and the audience was perhaps confined mainly with card carrying party members... one group of the party faithful slinging mud at the other with few undecides bothering to take notice, so is unlikely to affect the overall outcome.

However, the Scottish independence referendum has changed this. Today we have a lot more voices joining in the chatter, it's louder and from more diverse groups... And conditions like this can change popular opinion, as we saw last September, dancing guy demonstrates how and why this happens

Momentum Matters... Social Proof influences a group
Sour Gripes?
The Independence Referendum has more people engaged in politics, but not every party is getting the same amount of "abuse" and bad press... In fact the "losers" of the referendum sure do look like winners on Social Media... Didn't I tell you so on this very blog on the day of the indyref result?

So to what extent is Ms Curran's gripes a case of "sour grapes" because the SNP is not getting the same treatment? It is my opinion that the SNP is doing better than labour on social media because;

1) They have a better brand than Labour. Labour, along with all the other main parties who are amongst the most hated brands in the UK according to a recent poll. I believe the SNP's popularity is due in no small part because of

2) Their commitment to community management and the phenomenal out reach work with various groups and sectors during the referendum.

...If your Brand Sucks Offline
So what do you do if you're up against it on social media?

If you were a politician having a hard time engaging people on social media, what do you do? If you wanted to be predictable you might opt for a "woe is me" attitude and do what politicians excel at... and blame someone else! After all, there's no possible way that the politician and/or the party is doing something wrong and/or could be doing better, is there?

It couldn't possibly be due to the fact that their previous actions have left you with a poor brand, or poor use of the medium (ie Ignoring the people and the problem), could it?

 ...And if there is an issue with the brand? Scott Stratten has a great observation regarding this in one of his "Unmarketing" videos

"There is no such thing as an over night success on social media... If you're brand sucks offline, it will suck longer and louder on social media"

Is this Post Abusive? Some Advice...
Just in case the content above constitutes as "Abuse" in the world of politics please allow me to offer some suggestions;

1) Don't make it all about you... At the core of any abuse online lies poor education regarding digital citizenship. It is my opinion that the SNP do better because they talk about what it means to the electorate, not about what it means to the party or policy.

What if... instead of making it all about you and saying how aggressive you are going to be with abuse, the message was changed to;
"The abuse that many people get on social media is concerning, what can we do to educate people? After all, abuse like this affects the troll as well as the target"

2) Try engaging with "The people" 
The advice of David De Wald is that the people who are tweeting care enough about the brand enough to comment on it," this may be slightly different for politics as they care about scoring a point against the opposition or care about the issue being discussed.
However engaging the abusers can and does win over new fans... It's certainly worked for James Blunt and O2 when they encountered bad press on social media.

Do Politicians Engage on Social media?
But engagement is something that I would question if any of the parties do on social media? All I see is either one way corporate, party political broadcast Tweets or MPs only chat with friends and colleagues where they chat amongst themselves and preach to the choir.

For me this demonstrates the true extent of their desire to "Listen to the public," never has it been easier to engage and listen to "the public." I have only ever had one Tweet whereI have @mentioned an MP and had a reply... and I've @mentioned a few MPs in, what I hope has been, a non-abusive manner.

I would welcome any politician to engage with me and here are 2 suggestions with reasons to engage;

1) I am working on some ideas that will help improve the digital citizenship of both educators and students and I am happy to discuss these ideas and plans with you.

I would be surprised to get any kind of reply at all... That is maybe until these projects become a success and MPs look for photo opportunities in an attempt to take credit for supporting a successful initiative. Is it abuse if it's true?

2) At the moment I will be voting for the SNP at the general election, but am open to any "civil and engaged" debates with anyone regarding why I should change my mind...

However, in today's age of the "halves and halve nots," where austerity does not apply to the privileged with their cosy "Old Boy" Westminster relationships that the media and banks have... With the rise of UKIP and the former Scottish Labour leader complaining that the Westminster elite pull the strings of the Scottish branch (along with the Blair/Brown "Things can only get better" mantra)'ll have some way to go to change my mind!
What got me interested in the whole "Yes campaign" was the  SNP's ability to bring people from very diverse backgrounds together in the way Jane Jacobs advocates... So you may have to come up with a a persuasive argument, I can't envisage any other party achieving this.

But I'm no good at constructing an argument so any politician who is paid for their debating skills should have a good shot if they engage with me, right?

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Product Market Fit in UK Education... It Requires Collaboration!

Yesterday's post focused on how important the culture within a startup is in order to achieve product market fit, and the need to listen to users and prospective customers. This may have come across as being a critical of suppliers at times, todays post should balance the argument by highlighting that...

It Takes Two to Achieve Product Market Fit
OK so you have a game changing idea all you need to do now is;

1) Thrash out the details and write a business plan
2) Do your market research and get user feedback on the idea
3) Get your friends together, and
4) Make it happen

Sounds so simple, but this simple plan is so fraught with pitfalls that few founders game changing ideas end up fulfilling their potential.
Front Cover
Starting up is tough...
Even for the successful ones

Those that do might be paying so much close attention to their users and the market that they are able to spot when they are on the wrong track, or when a side project has more potential than the organisations main focus.

For example, I was intrigued to read that Twitter was a side project to Odeo, an early podcasting company, but the founders admitted that the idea wasn't going to plan (No easy thing to do), and finally decided to kill the idea when Itunes entered the market.

So companies that achieve product market fit take the time to listen to the market.

But what happens if you can't reach your market to get feedback? This can be the case with education.

Evidence of this can perhaps be found in the fact that;

1) Many of the most used tools in education are from mainstream tech companies who first achieved product market fit did so in other sectors before moving into education.

2) Some of the most innovative EdTech companies are educators-turned-entreprenuers and/or worked for Teach for America after university, so had first hand classroom experiences

Outreach or Out of Touch?
When I realised that I was operating in what Dave Feinleb calls a "Bad Market" in one area of UK education (ie Small, hard to reach and has no budget), I decided to test the same ideas in other areas of education.

I had no relationship with this group of educators and, knowing how tricky unsolicited introductions are these days, I came up with the best correspondence that I could think of... which had surprisingly depressing results!

There was no selling involved in this correspondence. It was concise. A number of initiatives were highlighted. All these projects had case studies to demonstrate value. Any reports mentioned had been well received by existing connections. There was an offer for me to discuss my experience in any project or report that might be of interest.

Unresponsive... And Other Barriers?
The result? A few bounce backs. A bunch of "unsubscribes" and two meaningful replies. Two replies.
The poor response led me to wonder...
  • Is it me? 
  • If this is a challenging conunderum for myself then surely it's a challenge for others.
Some people involved in the education sector may disagree with this assessment... but these might be the same people who, when you are starting out and testing ideas, are surprisingly uncollaborative and protective about sharing access to their members.

One memorable example for me was a reply from a professional association that effectively said "If you want to talk to or engage with us in any way shape of form you need to be a member... and then you should exhibit at our conference."

Membership to another education association has a condition of being "Financially Solvent." I understand the intention here but, at the same time, no matter how great a startups ideas is the condition of "Must be in the black" has every chance of excluding 99% of new companies.

Is it Me?
"Maybe it's your approach" I hear you cry... After all plenty of other suppliers seem to manage. Right? I might tend to agree and move onto other sectors, if it were not for the fact that;

Blog stats for this week
Can you tell that the posts are
designed to engage UK educators?
1) The reception I get from educators in other countries is a lot different from this

2) My market research highlights that other suppliers face similar challenges

3) Of the "Other suppliers who seem to manage" with educator engagement... not many of these organisations create products of services that their users universally praise.

So maybe it's me. Maybe not.I'll continue to explore these issues regardless and see if I can find ways that startups who have encountered these same challenges, can engage with educators more efficiently.

An Investment in Technology?
Depending on your role in the education ecosystem you may be wholeheartedly agreeing with the assessment above, or you may be profusely disagreeing with me. Whatever your stance these have been my experiences.

Is there any ways to test the hypothesis that educators can be a challenge to engage when it comes to implementing new ideas? And if this is proved to be the case, are there any quick fixes to change this? I think there might be.

The BETT Conference was on recently and we had the usual soundbites regarding how and why an investment in Education Technology is so important and various government initiatives proudly boasting that £XYZ millions have been allocated for this that and the other.

Embedded image permalink
Prof Coe's High Cost/Low Impact Vs Low Cost/High Impact Edu examples
But would it be prudent to roll out more untried new projects at the cost £XYZ millions when educators are not adopting technology that has a proven track record and IS FREE OF CHARGE?!

I have already highlighted this to The Right Hinourable Nick Boles MP and in reply, I was told that;

"We are looking at how to get education technology embedded within education, as well as among senior leadership and governors, and any suggestions you have, including those from your experience in the US in this regard, would be warmly welcomed"

Excellent! Happy to oblige... Here is one suggestion based on my experiences with the UK and US education...

A Class (Dojo) Assessment
We should look for ways to assess if UK Educators are a challenge to engage with for startups and technology providers.

ClassDojo, the popular classroom management solution is looking to engage more UK educators and could be an ideal opportunity to assess the situation. Why suggest ClassDojo?

  • Fit for purpose: ClassDojo is currently used by 1 million educators, which has been achieved largely through word of mouth referrals
  • Relevant: ClassDojo has proven to be effective in dealing with low level class disruption, something that Ofsted has cited as being an issue with learning.
  • Culture: ClassDojo has a reputation for being innovative and listening to it's users.
  • Cost: ClassDojo is free.

Given these factors ClassDojo offers a great opportunity to assess if any investment with UK educators regarding technology should be an investment of time as much as (if not more than) any further hardware or software capital investment programs.

There is the added advantage that, based on their track record and user experiences, that any technophobic teachers who trial ClassDojo may find it such a positive experience that they may assess, trial and generally be more engaged with technology and startups in the future.

Want to find out more the first Twitter chat #DojoChatEU starts tonight at 8:30pm

As I highlight in my EdTech Report "Developing Relationships and Delivering Value" improving relationships between educators and developers could have significant and far reaching implications with regard to the effectiveness of the products and services that suppliers are able to deliver.

Look how Twitter Founder Biz Stone is collaborating with Education
What has been your experience with the issues above? Do you agree or disagree that education is a challenge for startups to engage? Please feel free to leave a comment below with your experiences.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Culture of Community & Product Market Fit

Wow! Three months since my last post... What's that all about? I hope I'm still able to put a blog post together! But where have I been? On an extended Christmas break? A lottery win? No such luck.

I've been taking John Golden's advice regarding social selling or, if you prefer, taking Susan Cain's recommendation that there is value in introverts spending some time in the wilderness.... I've been on my on-going mission to achieve product market fit.

Three Months of Research... And Counting? Will it be worth it?
Or more accurately looking for ways to effectively implement my plans in different ways. Not only has this has involved a level of research and mundane spreadsheets that has been a real test of patience, but it's also seen me drop out almost all Social Media during this period. (This includes some 10+ Twitter chats, publishing blog posts and curating various bits'n'bobs...There goes the Klout score. Lol).

The only thing that keeps me going is thinking of the value that this work may have for innovative but cash strapped, time poor EdTech startups and how it should help connect startups with educators quicker and, hopefully, in a meaningful and collaborative way using social business practices.

Among the challenges that I face in my search for product-market nirvana is re-skilling from a traditional sales background to being all together more "social"

Love this Video! 
Being based in Scotland, having an interest in startups, education and social business is an interesting experience as there are some phrases that appear with so much regularity in some communities but rarely in others.

Silicon Valley Vs Scotland
When looking at any of the San Francisco based startups and the opportunities in Scotland I can't help but notice that;

1) Recommended Reading: Any mention of the books that people like Bill Aulet recommends is met with comments like "That's a great book." If I mention these same books in meetings in Scotland few people have heard of them, let alone read them.

2) Rhetoric: Phrases like "Product Market Fit" and/or "Pivoting" until the elusive quest for product market-fit has been complete are common place in some community discussions.

Check out the inaugural #InBoundChat and see how often product-market fit is mentioned, they even included a link to a "Product Market Fit Survey" (Replace your org's name with "The Best Web 2.0")

Not only are those phrases missing in some education circles, but the entire product-market fit process can appear to have been missed out!

We can see this disconnect as company literature boasts of being "The largest/best/market leader" but educator feedback and/or their rate of growth maybe suggests otherwise. (This is not my opinion but the feedback from reports like The Gates Foundation Teachers Know Best findings).

3) Key Roles: Hiring a Community Manager at an early stage seems to be relatively commonplace (Among the first 5 positions filled). I regularly check for Community Manager positions in education and other sectors in Scotland, but few searches come up.

Are these things related? I believe they are.

Community Management and Product Market Fit... Two Sides of the Same Coin: CultureI took a welcome break from my never ending spreadsheets last week to listen in on the Community Manager Appreciation Day presentations, a 24 hour celebration of all things relating to #Cmgr.

All of the presentations that I saw were fantastic (As I've come to expect from the +My Community Manager team) but, due to the relevance of where I am at with my development I found the Determining the Business Value of Community Managers at Startups and Is your organisation ready for community? How to assess & stress test presentations to be particularly useful.

I was fortunate enough to have the first panel answer one of my questions:

"To what extent are great communities a result of great products... People won't hang around if a product is poor"

When the panel was asked "Should every company/startup have a community manager" I thought that a great answer was "Not every startup deserves one!"

Given all my exploration of product-market fit, Community Management, Social Selling etc everything seems to come back to one thing: Core values determine the culture.

If you have a culture of listening to your customers and delivering value then one of the first hires may well be in community management/social selling/inbound marketing.

It then follows that if you have the right culture and a community manager that listens to, and implements user ideas/comments, you're more likely to achieve product market fit?

Here are are three very powerful examples of Community Management helping organisations achieve Product Market-Fit;

1) Twitch: I watched "The Rise of the Cyber-Athletes" and was amazed at the size of this sub-culture which I knew nothing about. When I explored Twitch further, which  was sold to Amazon for $1 billion, I found this article:

How Twitch won the Hearts and Minds of Millions in the Gaming Community in Just 3 Years

2) Independence Referendum: Regardless of your political persuasion you have to marvel at the fantastic grassroots community building efforts of the Yes Scotland campaign organisers... A level of brand recognition and loyalty that I'm sure many a business would be delighted to have.

3) ClassDojo: I've written 3 or 4 posts in support of this service that helps educators with student behaviour and parental communications. I have no affiliation with this organisation but you can't help but be in awe of how they have achieved product market fit and the way they are obsessive about listening to their user base One Billion Points for ClassDojo

Customer Profile
When you're starting out Geoffrey Moore advises that you have a profile of potential customers in mind as this helps with your planning. For the last 2 years one of the customer profile I've had in mind has been ClassDojo.

Universally loved by their existing users, organic word of mouth roll out, 30million users... all done with a $5,000 marketing budget? Talk about product-market fit!

I recall having a discussion about how to assess if an Education supplier has achieved product market fit and with some Educators and said;

 "Ask the sales rep if they have school aged kids... If the answer is 'Yes' ask if the school subscribes to the service they sell. If they say that it doesn't then maybe some questions around product market fit needs to be asked"

I will be making my kids school know that ClassDojo is now focusing on working with UK and European educators.

The question is with such universal praise have I done enough in reskilling from traditional cold calling to being more social to add any value to an organisation like this? Time will tell, but I am working on a "Cunning Plan" that just might impress ClassDojo and other innovative EdTech organisations.

In the meantime ClassDojo, in line with my standing offer of "How can I help you achieve your goals" for anyone in education, I'm happy to help in any way I can. If your are involved in education please feel free to support ClassDojo by joining their first European EdChat #DojoChatEU tomorrow at 8:30pm and/or share details of this new chat with your colleagues.

I will also be doing what I can to promote the merits of Community Managers within Education and Scotland with Drop Box Global Community Manager Edu Giansante... and hope that we'll have enough people to be able to host a Community Manager Appreciation Day event in Scotland next year.

Still not convinced? Go and Google your faviourite product/brand and see if they have a Community Manager.