How Instagram Restored My Faith in Social Networking


If you have not played with runaway hit mobile social network Instagram, you should. Yes, it’s become known as a utility for iPhone users to send pictures to Facebook and Twitter, but make no bones about it, Instagram is its own social network, and a very enjoyable one, too. In fact, it has restored my faith in the media form.

With more than 13 million people on Instagram, you can see some fantastic sharing. It is innately personal and wonderful.

Gone from the mix is the usual social media punditry and sword fighting. Instead you simply have real experiences throughout the average day. It’s just photos, sharing and comments, and nothing more.

Instagram exists on the mobile web, and is not tethered to the web. Rather it is on your iPhone or iPad via application (soon coming to Android). It only lives on the most personal and portable electronic devices. I think that in combination with its simplicity is what makes the network so special.

You see, on the go people can only be people. It’s not contrived, and thus sharing is unusually naked and revealing. People show each other how they see the world. Yes, you can share professional or well edited photos via your phone, but generally Instagram is a social phenomena of the moment. It feels safe, and unbelievably relational.

Sure, companies are trying to figure out how to tap into the incredible Instagram phenomena. And Instagram itself is another social network in search of a revenue model (advertising looks like the probable path). With an open API, people are exploring how to harness the photos, including search by city.

But for now, Instagram is very pure in its simple peer-to-peer interaction. And in that sense, it is a welcome relief in comparison to the over-commercialized Facebook, Twitter, and blogosphere.

Why the Facebook Feature Frenzy Will Fail

Last week Mark Zuckerberg revealed video chat (see above video), the first of many new features in what will be called, “Launching Season 2011.” Yet, this announcement (conveniently timed one week after Google+ launched) only seems to add to the problems that Facebook has.

First and foremost, Facebook’s nightmare user interface offers a plethora of features, many of which don’t fit on one screen view much less a mobile application. More clutter won’t make the mess better. While an interesting business strategy — much like McDonalds’ approach to adding competitive products to its menu — sooner or later so many features are just too much. On the contrary, additions are bound to make Facebook’s menu of social offerings even harder to navigate.

Facebook needs to address its user interface, wonky personal list issues, and privacy concerns as Google+ did with its next generation offering. Google+ is not perfect by a long mile, but it did up the ante.

Google plus android
Image by Geeky Gadgets

Consider the whole mobile experience. Everyone knows the mobile revolution is upon us. Just today Pew released a study showing 25% of Americans prefer accessing the Internet on their smartphones.

If the Facebook web interface is bad, the mobile interface is from hell. Google+ was clearly designed with mobile use in mind. The Android app is fantastic, and exposes a lot of weaknesses in the half functional Facebook app. The inability to provide a great experience in a touch environment is a major competitive issue for Facebook. Not only does it have Google+ to contend with, but Twitter will soon be integrated into all iPhones. Mobile will be a two front war for Facebook.

Like other networks Google+ has privacy issues with content licensing, too. But at least it is built on an opt-in premises with circles of friends rather a big jambalaya of friends, colleagues, and family. It respects the way we work as people and our sense of privacy. This is the exact opposite of Facebook’s approach, which is empire building at the expense of its users.

You can easily make the argument that Google+ is in the beginning, and doesn’t warrant a response, even if it has five million users already. Facebook has 750 million users. But Inside Facebook recently reported that Facebook’s growth has stabilized in early adopter countries, and is even retracting in some months.

Time has shown over and over again that big web companies lose their stature. The “Death” of Facebook is not so unfathomable this month. To stave off that loss of stature, Facebook needs to address its UI and privacy issues rather than create more of the same problem.

What do you think of Facebook’s response (or does it need to respond)?

Need Mobile Intel? Read The Third Screen

The third screenSome books capture the spirit of a marketing zeitgeist just as it begins to happen in full force. Seth Godin‘s Permission Marketing and Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff‘s Groundswell were two such books. Chuck Martin’s The Third Screen is arguably of the same caliber for the forthcoming mobile marketing revolution.

Centered around the Untethered Consumer — freed from the bondage of traditional marketing methods — the book helps marketers capture the true nature of mobile media. It serves as a solid primer, going into the history of wireless communications, and explaining why businesses have so little control over mobile stakeholders. Basically, anytime a customer interacts with a business it is strictly on their terms. It is completely an opt-in experience.

Martin’s strength lies in his discussion of mobile platforms. His knowledge of operating systems, application usage, international usage and different types of mobile media (web, apps, texting) is universal.

A pragmatic ongoing conversation in the book includes media usage patterns, and how people interact with their smartphones. Social media wonks maybe disappointed as interaction drops on the “third screen” (the first being TV, and the second is desktop computers). While interactions do occur on the phone, screen size and input methods change a person’s interaction with online media.

In addition, Martin uses significant case studies to illustrate his points, including a fantastic case study. In the case study, Martin details the thorough process the company went through to adapt mobile, including some a great research and listening phase. This case study alone is worth the price of the book, and could be run in Harvard Business Review (the magazine, not the blogs).

The book was written in 2010 so there is little discussion of the now growing tablet boom, though Martin does pick up the topic here and there. Martin does a fantastic job of using market statistics to back up his theories and observations.

Nitpicks include a slow start. The Third Screen‘s introduction and first chapter were repetitive, and could stand for some editorial cuts. In addition, the Pepsi Refresh case study was very questionable based on the actual business results.

However, don’t let these small items dissuade you. From the perspective of an online marketer and a former wireless reporter, this book was impressive. The Third Screen is a fantastic primer on mobile, and is a must read for any interactive professional.

Strategy: Deciphering the Void


A Book of Five Rings, written by Miyamoto Musashi in 1645, is one of the world’s classic sources of strategy. Its influence extends beyond military schools to the entire Japanese business culture, and has made its way into Western culture, too. Musashi’s work is one of the texts that comprises the foundation of Zoetica’s strategy services. This blog series looks at each of the Five Rings (chapters), and discusses how some of the phrases apply to the modern communications market.

The Book of the Void is the final chapter of the Five Rings, following the Ground Book, the Water Book, the Fire Book, and the Wind Book. This chapter is all of one page and spiritual in nature. The Book of the Void is really about the instinctual art of strategy as opposed to timeless lessons of approach. Because the esoteric chapter is so short, this final entry in our series addresses the book’s final points broadly in a singular post.

The Book of the Void

Lake Geneva

Relevant quotes by Musashi:

  • Of course, the void is nothingness. By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist. That is the void.
  • When your spirit is not in the least clouded, when the clouds of bewilderment clear away, there is the true void.
  • …if we look at things objectively, from the viewpoint of laws of the world, we see various doctrines departing from the true Way. Know well this spirit, and with forthrightness as the foundation and the true spirit as the Way. Enact strategy broadly, correctly and openly.

The whole chapter — all seven paragraphs of it — can be seen as a meditation of sorts. It reminds us to know everything we can, not only of our own disciplines, but of other disciplines and market factors which affect our approach. In essence, the strategist must know what exists, must practice diligently, and research often. This weaves several themes from earlier chapters.

Applied to today’s communications marketplace, their is great turmoil in the market this week because of the Fortune article about Twitter’s troubles. Over investment by popular Twitter personalities that also seek to provide communications strategy advice has created marketplace conflict. The Twitter-centric popularity-focused approach departed from “the Way,” creating myopia. Now there is distress and dramatic opining about Twitter and its future.

However, while Twitter’s troubles caused obvious conflict for many, true strategists have been dissecting empirical data for months now that have clearly shown the network’s rapidly declining influence and strength. Further, knowing the way of people and online technology-based communities, experienced strategists know the law of migration to newer and different forms of media is normal (AOL to Friendster to MySpace to Facebook). People move from community platform to platform like water, seeking the experiences that offer the most ease of use, and the best value in their day-to-day lives.

These strategists have been counseling clients appropriately about the need for diversification, the current strength of Facebook, as well as other social, mobile and traditional media. They know what is working today — what exists if you would — and what is not known. They act with certain knowledge of the void.

Many strategists are focused on mobility. It is a consistent back channel (and increasingly public) conversation. These strategists are seeking to gain as much knowledge about the new technologies on smartphones and portable media as possible. Indeed, the incredible amount of tablets expected to be in the market by year-end 2012, shows that while portable media is not currently present as a dominant trend, the form factor is clearly coming. How people will develop programs for and use tablet media represents a great void in today’s communications marketplace.

There is no conflict in this. This view of mobility simply is a reflection of factual statistics and market forecasts, and at the same time this belief is nothing for it has not yet been realized. It is a path to the future, and at the same time has only a growing place in the present, just as Twitter is the past, and a dwindling part of now. Twitter may or may not recover, or it may simply settle in as a secondary network; however that is also the void, and one cannot assume anything beyond the current trajectory. One must act “broadly, correctly, and openly” in addressing all available data.

Understanding this without remorse or fear, and simply acting upon it is the Way. Strategists will learn about new rising media because it impacts their work, and they need the knowledge to inform themselves. Tactical knowledge is available by relentless practicing; a necessity to maintain an edge and the ability to instinctually understand strategy.

Conversely, communicators who have become overinvested in tactics and tools out of laziness or inward motives, and have failed to broaden their knowledge will struggle. They cannot decipher the void.


This concludes the five part blog post series of reflections based on Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings. The series hopefully inspired thought and discussion about what strategy actually is by infusing classic strategy fundamentals into today’s dialogue about communications. What are your thoughts on the strategy series? Was it useful? Are you interested in future discussions about strategy fundamentals?

Five Forms of Mobile Media

Google and the Nexus S
Image by Paul Swansen

Watching App Savvy Author (and personal friend) Ken Yarmosh speak, clarity in mobile communications becomes clear. He helps you see the primary communications forms on the medium clearly and concisely. Specifically, Ken talks about the three primary communication methods via mobile web development. There are additional tools that provide communications on top of the big three, similar to social networks that function within the larger world wide web.

From a communicators perspective, there are several ways to approach stakeholders on mobile media. Here are the five forms that most marketers use or experiment with today.

Primary Communication Methods

1) Short Messaging Service (SMS): Second generation or 2G digital cellular networks (PCS) enabled SMS, which was the death of pagers in the 90s. Twenty years later the technology is still going strong. Today, as a communication method, people love texting each other! Texting is also the primary form of donations on mobile platforms (thanks to Apple’s Machiavellian attitude about mobile app donations). Marketing via text message is not the easiest activity. People view their mobile numbers as more private than email, but if you can garner permission, this can be a powerful contact method.

2) Native Mobile Web Use: Once the domain of such protocols as the Wireless Access Protocol, native web use is still the most dominant form of mobile Internet media. HTML 5 and easy plug-ins like WPTouch make for highly accessible mobile media. Recent Pew studies show that of the 47% of Americans who read news on their mobile phones, only one in ten use apps. Another neat statistic, 40% of all Google Maps page views occur on mobile phones. Long live the mobile page view.

3) Applications: iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows… You name the OS, it’s hard to imagine that an application hasn’t been developed yet. Plus there is the whole tablet market. As Ken informed me, the applications marketplace is not the same as the smartphone market. iPhone applications are still very dominant with Android applications lagging behind in adoption rates. We’ll see if that changes with continued market domination by Android. From there, you move towards Blackberry and then MAYBE Windows 7.

This is a great way to offer a unique user experience, but please make sure it actually serves stakeholders. Marketing centric applications rarely take off. Also, it’s important to note that each application has its own development costs. Converting from iPhone to Android to Blackberry also requires separate development costs for program language coding.

Another Layer

4) Geolocation Applications: Taking advantage of the GPS enabled smartphones, geolocation networks have been the holy grail for many networks. Whether its review services like Yelp or the big geosocial plays like Gowalla, place and data are the big connections points. Coupons, gamification and integrated social networking posting have been the primary activities to date. Widespread hype has not led to mass market adoption.

5) Mobile Social: While some of the geolocation networks are social, their interactions have been primary transactional in nature. Great social networks empower relationships between people, and mobile is no different. New group texting applications like Group.Me and traditional social networks like Twitter and Facebook with their mobile applications are the leaders here. Communicating in these applications is primarily limited to participation, and posting content and outband native web links. Increasing social function in geolocation networks may become a force to be reckoned with here.

Which forms of mobile media do you like, and why?

Mobile Will Restore Brevity to Media

Motorola Xoom tablet

If social media endangered the 30 second spot, then mobile media will restore brevity to content creation. Smaller screens, less convenient input methods for text, the ability to create user generated visual media on the fly, and an evolving series of socially empowered mobile media will challenge content creators to serve a new reader. Long blog posts and articles are best read on computers and tablets, while short videos, photos and brief updates will be preferred on smartphones.

Time seems to be on mobile’s side. As 4G enters the marketplace, lightening fast wireless broadband will become an empowering technology. By 2014, mobile Internet use is expected to surpass desktop use. Consider that wireless empowered smartphones and tablets will continue to drive down the digital divide. Africa’s entire information infrastructure expects to leapfrog landline telecommunications and computers.

Serving this growing content market is not as easy as creating an app for that. As Pew research reveals, there is an app gap: “…almost half of U.S. adults get local news on mobile devices [47%], just 1 in 10 use apps to do so.” And it’s not like more folks don’t have smartphones. The app gap exists in spite of three in 10 Americans owning smartphones.

Mobile friendly web sites continue to be a critical component of success. That means rethinking content for multiple types of media will become more and more important. This is not something to sweep under the rug until a later date.

Media will need to become briefer, tighter, and should be built with the expectation of less feedback from users on mobile devices. What does brief content look like? Short videos under two minutes, microblogs with shorter content, pictures, applications, smart use of text messaging, all with an expectation that input beyond two or three sentences is too much for the average smartphone.

Going back to the Pew Research, of the above mobile news readers, 15% use Twitter vs. 4% of the news consumers. It’s no coincidence that twitter is a 140 character medium, one of the shortest media forms out there (and ideal for text message updates).

Consider the inner copywriter challenged to achieve brevity. Restoring the KISS principle, Keep It Simple… to content will be good after a period full of bells and whistles. After all, waxing poetic is the luxury of long form media. One screen’s worth of content. Can you get the job done in that short of an opportunity?