Archive for the ‘usability’ Category

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Congratulations for checking-in!

Congratulations for checking-in!

Just days ago, I wrote a piece on how social media brands need more user-perceived and business-perceived depth to become truly sustainable. About that day, Ben Parr (whom I read a lot, btw) wrote a piece on Mashable on how FourSquare’s growth is “not slowing down”. Of course, nobody on this blog implied that it was, and nobody else that I saw on trending blog posts that day was suggesting that it was slowing down in terms of growth, only that fewer and fewer of the initial “elite” 4Sq users are tweeting their locations and badge-earning “out loud” like they once did, anymore. And that’s still true. Are these articles propping FourSquare’s relevance a mere coincidence? Well maybe, but knowing how keyword searches on social media platforms work for brand managers and how those brand managers communicate to major medium voices, yeah it’s probably not a conincidence. I’m flattered to think that my little blog got noticed, if only hurriedly skimmed in all liklihood, as part of the analysis of the noise on the horizon of FourSquare’s brand consciousness. Or maybe it’s just due dilligence on the part of these two fine journalists. Like I said, I’m a fan of both. At any rate, let’s get to it… 

The main critiques that myself and one or two others advanced in my last post on FourSquare, was that there is ennui afoot and it has to do with the “game”, the opportunities for abuse and the lack of forward-looking innovation to maintain the excitement. The game is tedious unless you’re the one doing it and you’re out sight-seeing or flitting about town, and even then, the numbers on how many do not elect to check-in or attach a true identity to their check-ins has not been publically disclosed, if it is even being tracked at all. The onlookers don’t care about your badges, so obnoxious tweeting of check-ins via Twitter won’t last much longer. It’s already almost stopped completely!  

And of course, the final critique is on how the limited potential for businesses is not being expanded on nearly enough to help brands justify spending money to enact internal programs that work with 4Sq. Magically, just today an article was posted by the lovely Jennifer Van Grove (again, someone I read and respect a lot on Mashable) with the title How 5 Brands Are Mastering the Game of Foursquare. It illustrates how 5 companies/brands are taking advantage of the badges to help foster knowledge about cities like New York and more notably Chicago. Badge-earning is also being used by Las Vegas venues to better serve cutomers (the ubiquitous freebies” and special attention that FourSquare customers in exchange for patronage and as a preventative against for looming the threat of customer complaints and retaliation via 4Sq). Starbucks with its internal QA program and Lucky Magazine are also fine uses of FourSquare along these lines. The only problem is…we already generally know about these kinds of benefits to businesses and customers for using FourSquare. The sole exception might be the story of Chicago and the promotion of historical tourism. That is innovative and truly embraces the community-at-large within Chicago, not just for one or a handfull of businesses. Success stories aside, there remain a lot of businesses who fid the thought of FourSquare users more troublesome than titilating. Take, for instance, big chain store with lots of traffic and too many understandbale opportunities for failed customer experiences (Wal-mart comes to mind).  

All that aside, there remain some very salient critiques forming about what’s not happening yet on FourSquare: the persistant lack of a universally-adopted FourSquare points system and the lack of a diversity of models (for now, it’s “checking in” and getting special treatment, maybe, or points, if it’s the one or two businesses using FourSquare for an internal promotion campaign). And not everyone shops in person. For instance, I’d just about rather be punched rather hard in the face than go shopping for clothing in person at the mall. I shop online if at all possible to avoid standing aroud for hours on end. I learn my size for each store I shop from, and then I do that unpleasant business in just minutes, rather than via hours and hours of driving, walking, and standing in lines. Unless it’s food, then I go local. I’m not all that unique in my shopping habits, just a better planner and time manager than many who really just want to go outside for a bit. And hey, who doesn’t? Also, I get the going out. I go out, too. Most of us do sometime. But I feel pretty weird about whipping out the cell phone and enduring the “oh, you’re checking in, now, aha…” looks. I’ve got to confess I’ve never done that. Don’t plan on it. If, however, FourSquare can devise a way to beep me in inconspicuously, nobody’s going to object to that and us private types won’t be “living out loud” to our own chagrin.  

Why am I pointing out these weaknesses? Not because I want FourSquare to fail. I don’t. I’m a marketer who wants to be able to promote this form of mobile opportunity with more confidence to clients. I think there is lots of opportunity for expanding the model to be more inclusive of things people actually want to do with a geo-targeted mobile app. The point is that…it’s just not happening yet. One, five or even 10 companies doing a rewards program isn’t going to revolutionize how people shop. It will take a universal rewards program with some real clout to get everyone on board. And until there are additional options beyond just “check-in”, it’s got a ways to go before my mother is going to use FourSquare. And if my mother doesn’t use it, let’s face it, the majority of shoppers are not being effectively roped in, not even in theory. [tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]

Who are you fishing for?

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I realize that my own blogging is still relatively young in blog years. And no, I’m not engaged in a competitive attempt to get the goat of bloggers here–it’s something else. A very tricky “something else” (I can be kind of a tricky guy).   

Marketers often aim for a non-existent target reader. It shows in how they address their as-yet-to-be-defined audience. Instead of shooting for a tin can in their backyard in the well-lit daylight, they’re aiming for an abstract moon at dusk. Why we do this is sometimes a mystery upon closer examination. And then it hits you: “I haven’t even thought through who my audience actually is yet!”   

This is a frightening thing for a content writer who blogs or writes copy for their own sites. It’s even more scary for those who write for a client. Not knowing exactly who you are writing TO is a problem more writers have then they themselves would like to admit. The reasons are mainly of one sort: time.   

The feeling is that we don’t have time to focus enough to fully penetrate who this reader really is and thus we we’re really writing this content in the first place. Copy is a misleading term, because it’s not about copying anybody or being unoriginal, in fact copy writers are expected to be original and startling, to unnerve and shake the reader’s expectations up in the blender of creative expression.   

So how is it that we become unclear whom a piece  is for? Because the illusion of time. Time is not hindering you from putting your best effort forward, a lack of focus is doing that. That just means you aren’t focusing because your environment or your mood is off, not tuned in to the creative process. It’s not that other people are hindering you so much as your lack of ability to focus.   

I’m always taken aback by people and “experts” who claim that creativity is hindered by influence…really? Really think you can create without influence? Try it some time and see just how full of influences everything you do really is! There is no creation without influence. Even your own creations of 1-2-3 influence your next creations of 4-5-6.   

A writer is ultimately doomed to be influenced in all “original” creations. Deal with that and you’re going to be able to see that it’s not what you are handed, but what you’re doing with what you’ve been handed that matters. That’s what the reader inherently knows to look for. As a writer, however, we can get lost from this realization about the creative process.   

When you think you’re writing for social marketers specifically for a particular piece, you may in fact be writing for all marketers. This piece, for example, is for all content writers, but if it were just for social marketers, I should probably want to address items in detail that they are confronted with, like say, how to writer with a hook title, how to include the best possible excerpt teaser, or how to have a burning red-hot focus on the point of the piece throughout. Since it’s not about any of those, I’m more all over the place on this one, but that’s more to the point of my purpose here.   

In hindsight, this entire post is a kind of throat-clearing as a writer. I think (I hope) it may help others in the congregation to feel it’s okay now to clear theirs, as well. At least that’s how it always seems to go the few times I found myself in a pew. Want to cough? Go ahead! Cough up a comment or two while you’re at it! [tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]

Detour Ahead

Detour Ahead

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We often get lost as site owners in seeing how our site is actually useful or not as useful from the user’s perspective. There are countless books on usability for sale and lots of free tips on the internet, but what is the essence of good usability? I’m going to say that it’s about leading… 

Let’s face it, the visitor to your site is there either: 

A) by accident (it’s not exactly what they were thinking it was) 

or 

B) to accomplish a goal of some kind. 

Assuming that the visitors that stay are in the B category, we must then assume that they prefer to have a helpful bit of hand-holding to get where they need to go.  Afterall, you simply can’t afford to assume that they already know your site, or will appreciate that “you just have to get used to it!”. 

A website (unless it’s actually intended to be used as a work of art) is used to find information in the form of text, images, and other media. All of this must happen via the visual sense of sight (or in the case of blind users, the alt tags and other accessibility user interface tools). Since most users of most sites tend to be non-blind, let’s focus on visuals. A site’s usability can be accurately gauged in terms of content scanning cues–the presence or lack of helpful scanning cues. Why? Because nobody is reading your site from top left to bottom right. Sorry if that’s a shock to anyone, but…we all scan information, epecially in our free moments when we are surfing the web, or even during research. We have to scan to conserve our time. Thus, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of visual cues (as well as alt tags where possible for the seeing-impaired users). 

Next, you’ll want to be sure to provide titles of sections of content when appropriate, epecially when your site contains different categories of content. A sub-index of media like videos, and one for images can really be helpful to researchers who are looking for the information you provided, but are not otherwise going to find it. This next step is something that is a pain in the rear, and is never finished–validation of code. My rule here is simply: keep trying to validate your site once a month or however often you can allot the time. If you don’t have the resources to have someone to webmaster every site you own, just make a schedule and try to try. Again, my own sites probably suffer the most in some cases. By validating regularly, the users will appreciate the effort over time. 

We all want our websites to be work well worth the effort. Taking the time to ensure proper usability creates more busy work for those who tend to the company website(s). In the end, however, the site’s traffic and conversions all depend upon this most crucial aspect of any website. Getting them there is nothing if they turn away in disgust upon arrival. 

Be a good host–mind the store like an undercover CEO would on your sites. Poke around, make sure the presentation meets the ideal user’s needs. I’m going to try harder on this one, too. After all, the whole reason for this post is that I noticed one of my own original sites has long languished without a validation and usability review. Don’t let my mistake also be your own. 🙂 

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