Communicating with Pie Charts

Dark Horse Analytics are back with the third instalment of their 'Data Looks Better Naked' series. This time they're improving the pie chart

I don't quite agree with their conclusion because pie charts are a useful communications tool when you want to communicate simple part-to-whole relationships without having to talk through the numbers.

Using charts to tell a quick story

For example, I find pie charts useful when showing the proportion of men vs women in a particular sample set. Or the results of a series of yes/no questions.

Take a look at these pie and bar charts: 

If I was going to use these charts to tell a story during a presentation, I'd much rather put those pie charts up on the screen and say something like: "Most people voted 'yes' in Question 1; about two-thirds voted 'yes' in Question 2; but a little under half voted 'yes' in Question 3". That explanation wouldn't work as well if I had used the bar charts, instead.

On the other hand, if I had wanted to talk about the actual number of yes-vs-no votes cast for each question (or their percentage values), then I'd use the bar charts.

Of course if I wasn't going to show this on a big screen at all, but was instead including the results in a written report, then I might not even use charts. I might just put all those numbers in a table.

Communicating a rough sense of the numbers

The other situation in which pie charts are useful to me is when I want to communicate approximate results for a slightly larger data series but, again, without having to talk about the actual numbers.

For example, every Tuesday at work I email around a social media activity report that tells my colleagues how we did on our various social media channels over the previous week. One of the charts I include in my report is a Twitter sentiment pie chart for various geographical regions. This chart gives you an idea of how people felt about us on Twitter over the previous week.

The thing is: the people I send this report to don't particularly care whether 15% or 20% of people expressed excitement about our brand on Twitter last week. They really just want an approximate sense of how things went. They want to be able to say "a lot of people were positive about us on Twitter last week" or "people didn't like us very much on Twitter last week." And the pie charts I get from Hootsuite (one of the social media management tools we use) helps them reach that single-sentence conclusion pretty quickly.

Here are the Twitter sentiment charts for three of the regions we keep an eye on. The 3-D pie chart plus data table combo in the top row is what we get from Hootsuite (and is what I include in my reports). Below that I've converted this data into stacked 100% column charts and into bar charts: 

Each of these charts tells a slightly different story. The pie chart plus data table combo is nice because you can quickly look at the charts and think: "Okay, not too much dark red or dark green for Region 1; so a mostly average week there. Quite a bit of orange, but no dark red, for Region 2; so people were unhappy, but not angry. And plenty of dark red and dark green for Region 3; which suggests some people were very happy but some people were very upset. And I know that last week we had a great sale but a bunch of flight delays in Region 3 so this result makes sense."

The stacked column charts help you tell a similar story but, in my opinion, it's harder to judge the proportion of one colour to the whole in this type of chart so you're forced to look at the numbers to give you additional context. So you'd look at Region 3's chart and think: "Okay, 24+8 = 28%, so a little over quarter of the people were unhappy. And 21+12 = 33%, so about a third were happy." But now you're stuck comparing 33% green to 28% red instead of just getting a sense of what people thought, and then moving on.

The bar chart at the bottom does possibly the best job of comparing one colour/sentiment with another - but what you're missing here is the relative proportion of that colour compared to the whole. So, for example, you'd look at the Region 2 chart and think: "Okay, light orange is the highest bar so a lot of people were unhappy with us." But then you'd have to add 42% and 17% to see that about half the people were unhappy (though not angry) last week. You could reach that same conclusion with a single glance at the pie chart which shows that it's about half light+dark orange.

In my opinion the pie chart plus data table combo works best. If you just want to get a feeling for the data you only need to look at the pie chart and get a sense of the colour spread. But, if you want to dive deeper it's easy to move on to the table and add the numbers to do a more detailed analysis.

But no other pie chart use

Those are the only two situations in which I use pie charts. In most other situations I'm showing a data trend (as opposed to a snapshot) or a larger series of values - both of which require a different kind of explanation and, therefore, a different kind of chart.

So what I'd recommend is that, if you're ever not sure about which chart type to use, just chart your data in multiple different ways and then try use each type to tell your story. The one that works best (i.e. tells the best story, is the easiest to explain, and has the least chance of being misinterpreted) is the one you should go with. And if this happens to be a pie chart, then so be it. 

My Career Progression Through Microsoft Products

It occurred to me today that I can roughly track my career progression using the components of the extended Microsoft Office suite. That is, you can tell where I was based on which Microsoft software product I was using the most at that time.


Word & Access

When I first started my career, for example, the two components I used the most were Access to Word. This was when most of my work was technical in nature and I was the guy who built things - like Access databases - from the ground up. I then documented them and wrote manuals about them in Word.


When I moved into more of a senior developer or project lead role my focus shifted from Access to Project. This is because I wasn't building things any more, I was tracking the progress of my team and the products we were building.


My next step up was into an analyst role and in this I used a lot of Excel. I used that for both analysis (technical, business, and financial) and reporting (productivity, web traffic stats, budgets, and so on).


Later, after my MBA, I did more of the same but this time I was also a big user of Outlook. That was my step up from the start-up and nonprofit world into the corporate and enterprise world.


Now what I use the most is PowerPoint. I still use all the other tools, of course - though not Access and not too much Project these days - but I've gone from being purely a professional to being a manager and an ideas person, hence the need for good presentations.

Come to think of it, I can also track my career progression just by talking about what I used Word for. That is, I went from using it to document and write manuals to writing proposals and reports to writing policies and strategies.

Neat, huh? :)


Analytics & Tracking on Online News Sites

Ever wondered how you're tracked online? In my continued research on online news sites (e.g.  here's a chart on how much they traffic they get every month) here are a couple of charts that tell you which tracking tools Australia's top online news sites use.

This list was generated using Ghostery so it covers everything from web analytics tools and beacons to ad serving tools and social network platform connectors - basically, anything that's capable of tracking you on the web. 

You can find out more about these tools in this Digital Trends article and in this 'Tracking the trackers' map by the Guardian (part of their larger 'Battle for the internet' series).


Alphabetical List of Trackers

Source: Ghostery tracker alerts on each news website
Pro Tip: To view full-size, right-click and open image in new tab

List of Trackers by Popularity

Source: Ghostery tracker alerts on each news website
Pro Tip: To view full-size, right-click and open image in new tab

Facebook Serves Me Ads

As someone who works in social media I look at the ads I get served on Facebook with a professional interest. Given that I haven't actually put that much information about myself on Facebook, it's fun to see how good (or bad) a job marketers and ad buyers have done in targeting those ads to me.

Of course Facebook does have a lot of my demographic data as well as my detailed social graph (though I do keep getting asked to "complete my profile", which is entertaining). It also has a history of all my likes, comments, and shares; each of which probably has multiple keyword and category associations. 

So, in what I'm hoping is the first of an ongoing series, here are the ads Facebook served me today and my thoughts on them:   

What ads do you get served on Facebook? And are they any good? 

Where do I go for News and Opinion?

While trying to decide whether I’d sign up for a Fairfax Digital Subscription or not (I ultimately decided not to) I thought it would be fun to document my news media consumption habits. (Being a nerd is so much fun!)

Here’s what I came up with.

Breaking News 

Where do I go to get breaking news? 

When a news tory breaks the first site I check is Twitter.

I then move on to Reddit to see what news content has been aggregated and bubbled-up by the online community. There I get both first-hand news and news that’s been collected by various outlets.

Next I check the BBC because they'll always have the most reliable and least biased story.

Finally, I go to Google News because that service quickly aggregates lots of news stories from multiple online sources, covering multiple angles.

If the breaking news is Australia- or Melbourne-specific I also check the Age and the ABC (though, in most cases, their news stories get captured pretty quickly by Google News anyway). I sometimes also check the online streaming versions of ABC News 24 and a few radio stations like ABC NewsRadio, 774 Melbourne, and 3AW.

More in-depth news and editorial opinion

What if I want more depth? 

When I want a little more depth to a news story my first stop is usually the BBC. Those folk not only excel at presenting an overview of what’s going but they also give a bit of background and then flesh out those bits of the story that are important at the time. (I usually follow this up by a few quick searches on Google and Wikipedia if I want more information.)

However, if want a much deeper analysis or some high-quality editorial opinion on a particular topic or story then the sites I go first to are academic news outlets like the Conversation, a bunch topic-specific blogs (I subscribe to a lot of blogs via RSS), and sites with strong editorial voices and traditions like the Guardian and the Economist.

I then visit a bunch of independent news outlets or, categorizing them more broadly, sites from which I get smart, well written, and mature news reports, opinion, and discussion. These include ProPublica, The Global Mail, New Matilda, Salon, Slate, the Atlantic, and a handful of others. 

Aside from those major sources I also read some blogs and feature pieces on the ABC and Fairfax websites (e.g. stuff written by Lauren Rosewarne or Sam de Brito). However, ABC and Fairfax don’t have the depth of coverage that the sites mentioned previously do; nor do they have as many contributors whose editorial opinions I value that much.

Local News & Opinion

What if the story is local? 

When a news story is local my preferred sources are the Age and the ABC (including, as mentioned above, the online streaming versions of ABC News 24, ABC NewsRadio, and 774 Melbourne). Though, increasingly, the Guardian with its new Australian edition is becoming a bigger part of my regular local media consumption.

Meanwhile, 3AW and the Conversation, while good sources, don’t cover as much as the Age and ABC do.

Daily Media Consumption

Speaking of my regular media consumption, these are the news sites I check on the tram both to and from work every day and also on weekend afternoons:

Daily Media Consumption.png

The top four are the important ones: I check the Age for updates on what’s happening in the city and around the country. I check the BBC and the Guardian to find out what’s going on in the world. And, I check the ABC to read more about what’s going on in both Australia and the world.

If I have time left in my commute then I then close that folder and check Reddit (the app in the background in the top left hand corner).

And if after that I still have more time I sometimes check my RSS feeds via NewsBlur and occasionally read the stories I’d saved earlier in Pocket.

As you can see, restricting my Fairfax consumption to thirty articles per month isn't going to be difficult because Fairfax is already a pretty small part of my news media consumption mix. This despite the fact that I check the Age website every morning because, when I do, I only occasionally click-through to read a whole article - I usually just skim the headlines.

So there you have it, my media consumption preferences. What sites do you visit to get news and opinion? 

Cost of a Fairfax Digital Subscription

Before deciding that I wouldn't be signing up for a Fairfax Digital Subscription I did some research to try to figure out what one of these subscriptions was actually worth.

Since I'll take any opportunity to make a good chart, here's a comparison of news outlet subscription rates (annualized so they're easier to compare): 

Source: News outlet websites

And how to Australian news media outlets rank in terms of popularity (which might help explain how much they charge for subscriptions)?

Here's another chart showing how much web traffic (unique audience) these sites received in May 2013:

Source: Nielsen (via mUmBRELLA)

Combined, the Age and SMH get over four million uniques a month. That's almost 20% of the Australian popular. Not bad. 

Why I Won’t be Getting a Fairfax Digital Subscription

On 2 July 2013 Fairfax Media will launch its digital subscriptions and erect a paywall around its two major newspaper websites, the Age and Sydney Morning Herald. From that day onwards Australian visitors to those sites will be able to read thirty free articles per month but, should they want to read more, they’ll need to sign up as paying customers.

I won’t be one of those paying customers and this mind map explains why:


Geek Productivity Chart

This 'Geek Productivity Chart' from Bruno Oliviera is surprisingly accurate at describing how I tend to work (ignoring, of course, the humorous generalization about what non-geeks apparently think): 

I'm most productive at the office from:

  • 11am-1pm, which is when I'm trying to finish stuff off before taking my lunch break
  • 3-5pm, but only if I'm not interrupted and I've timed my caffeine intake right (I usually have a mug of coffee at about 2pm)
  • 6-8pm, which is when most people have left and so the office is relatively distraction free (though at least 2-3 people from my team are regularly there till 7pm so I'm usually wearing my headphones during this period)

At home I'm incredibly productive from about 9pm to midnight, which is when I do most of my big-picture, strategic thinking and planning. (And blogging.)

You Can’t Build a Free Global PR Wiki Like This

MyPRGenie, a social-media focused PR firm, wants to create a “free global PR wiki” that will crowdsource contact information for “journalists, bloggers and media gatekeepers”.

Free global PR wiki to crowdsource media contact details

A crowdsourced listing of media contacts is set to launch, providing the PR industry with a database of information on journalists and media professionals.

Launching out of New York in March, the wiki-style platform will be open to PR professionals who contribute to the community by sharing information they’ve collected on journalists, bloggers and media gatekeepers. By sharing their contacts, users earn points which can then be spent to gain access to the global database.

Interesting concept. Probably won’t be successful, though.



The only free global wiki that’s ever managed to collect a large amount of quality information is Wikipedia – and Wikipedia is run by a non-profit foundation whose philosophy revolves around cataloguing and freely sharing information.

From the sounds of it MyPRGenie’s service will be “free” (i.e. available for you to use) only if you contribute to it yourself; and presumably even then there will be some additional restrictions to what you can access or do once you have that information. Which, of course, means that, unlike the Wikipedia style service they want to be associating themselves with, their service not actually free.


MyPRGenie say they already have a database of over half a million “journalists, bloggers, and content creators” which my guess is they’ll use to seed their wiki. While that number is large I’m not sure this endeavour is a pure numbers game.

When you hire a PR firm to work for you, you pick one based on their knowledge of your industry and the local media market, plus their relationships with various media people. You don’t pick them because they have the largest contacts database.

If I worked for a rival PR agency my argument against using this service would be: “Why would you want to use that? They’ll just send your press releases to a bunch of media and social media people. I’m on a first name basis with the influencers in your specific industry and in your specific market so when I send them something they know it’ll be worth their while.”

PR Wiki

Possibly the biggest problem they’ll face is that I don’t think many PR departments or agencies will want to participate – certainly not major companies with a large contacts databases. Why on earth would companies (or agencies) want to share their PR relationship IP with the rest of the world (which, of course, includes their competitors)?

Wrong Business Plan?

MyPRGenie’s business plan for this service seems to be “build it and they will come (to crowdsource)”. That doesn’t works unless you do things like offer fabulous incentives for sharing IP, have dedicated editors maintaining content quality, and don’t blatantly make money off the data you collect. Now they might actually do all these things and the resulting service might end up being useful to small and medium-sized companies with limited PR budgets and limited relationships with the media. But that’s probably about it.

Basically, I don’t think you can crowdsource this kind of information unless you make it completely free and open like Wikipedia or you run a freemium model like IMDb or LinkedIn in which you get both the demand and supply side to pay for the professional, fee-based version of that otherwise free service.

MyPRGenie seem to be trying a third approach to this information cataloguing problem – one that relies on a few assumptions that I don’t think are particularly valid. It’d be nice to be proven wrong but I don’t think I will be.

Working at Jetstar is Like Working at a Startup

I'm not sure if this applies to all Low-Cost Carriers (LCCs) but working at Jetstar feels like you’re working at a startup. This, of course, is one of the reasons why I love working here.

In a guest post on Venture Beat Elli Sharef wrote about the ‘5 Things You Need to Know Before Working at a Startup’. Three of these apply directly to life at Jetstar:


Working at Jetstar you really have to own what you do and, of course, believe strongly in what you're doing. So, for example, if you're the one who comes up with a great idea then you're the one who has to implement it. Sometimes you get to do this literally all on your own from start to finish.

And when you're given ownership on one part of the business – in my case, Jetstar's social media presence – it's all yours to do with whatever you want (given, of course, that what you do makes business sense and fits well with what others are doing; and, if it’s something drastically different, is approved by senior executives).

This level of ownership, control, and direct responsibility is both exciting and terrifying.

Mentoring and Guidance

Because in a startup you're often doing stuff that is new and innovative you don't really have people who can guide and mentor you in your role based on their years of experience in this field. Case in point: before Jetstar no other full-service carrier (in our case, Qantas) had launched a low-cost subsidiary that was as successful as Jetstar is now.

On the social media side of things, for example, I certainly don't know of any other large, customer-focused, seven-year-old Australian company that, while partnering with a large sixty-year-old Japanese company, is providing customer service to people in Japan in Japanese via Facebook and Twitter.

A lot of what we’re doing here is new and innovative. This is stuff that no one or very few people have done before and it’s incredibly exciting to be at this leading edge.


This third point is important because it determines whether you'll be at Jetstar for six months or five years. Sharef puts it really well:

The pressure to achieve results, hit metrics, achieve growth, and get more traction can be overwhelming for many. We’ve seen lots of people quit startups because they realized the emotional pressures were simply too much for them. It’s awesome to know your work can help make or break the business, but with great opportunity comes great responsibility!

The good thing is that, while the pressure may be high, the rush I get from making a real difference to what Jetstar does on social media is incredibly rewarding. Certainly at this point in my career I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing and anywhere else I’d rather be working.

My 0.4 Cents on Click Frenzy

Today is the much-hyped-in-the-media Click Frenzy sale. Here are my 0.4 cents [1] on this ‘event’.

Cart Before Horse?

Cyber Monday, which Click Frenzy is based on, was a term coined after US retailers noticed a spike in online shopping on the Monday after Thanksgiving. That is, this behaviour (the increase in online sales) existed before the term describing it (Cyber Monday) was coined. That term ended up reinforcing this behaviour, yes, but I think it’s important to remember that the behaviour came first.

The folks behind Click Frenzy, on the other hand, are trying to create a behaviour. They are trying to lightning rod a lot of October and November retail sales into a single day because, as consumer behaviour research tells us, people respond positively to time-limited offers (regardless of whether those offers are genuine or not) as well as sales (regardless of whether those sales are good or not).

Creating behaviours – particularly online behaviours of this kind – is difficult.

The organizers of Click Frenzy do have a few things going for them, though:

For starters, they’re using Cyber Monday as a reference so the whole single-day-online-sale concept isn’t something they have to explain to consumers in too much detail.

They have a lot of brands on board so, at the very least, they’ve got everyone’s attention.

They’ve also built a bit of hype around the event – which is crucial if you want to change behaviour. A lot of that hype is offline, though, and that is both good (they’ll have reached a larger audience) and potentially bad (a lot of that larger audience might not be the online shopping type).

They have a single point of entry for these sales which should, in theory, make it easier to find the deals you’re looking for. (Unless, of course, that single point of entry becomes a bottleneck.)

They also have a bunch of things going against them:

While being secretive about actual sale details works well for building excitement and curiosity, the fact is that we don’t know what deals will be on offer and how good they will be. Online shoppers are smart enough to shop around.

The way I understand it, most online shoppers in Australia buy stuff from overseas retailers because:

  • equivalent items are much more expensive when bought from Australian stores (sometimes costing two or three times as much)
  • there’s more variety in overseas stores
  • the online shopping experience of many local retailers is poor (assuming an online store exists in the first place)
  • the in-store shopping experience (including customer service) of many local stores is also poor

So, for Click Frenzy to be truly successful it will have to give Australian shoppers all of these benefits. That is:

  • the prices will have to be good (and potentially better than Cyber Monday prices that customers can make the most of if, again, they buy from overseas)
  • the variety of goods on sale will have to be considerable (and items will need to be in stock)
  • the online experience will have to be exceptional

Do You Even Lift?

Do you even liftWill Click Frenzy deliver on all those fronts? I have my doubts.

Why? Because I don’t quite trust the Australian retail industry to get it right.

They’ve already demonstrated that they don’t understand ecommerce all that well (aside from a few possible exceptions). If they did, they might not have participated in Click Frenzy in the first place. (For more analysis on one aspect of this topic I recommend you read Michael Pascoe’s article in the Age called: ‘Myer, DJs’ online plans: tell ‘em they’re dreaming’).

I am also of the opinion that many Australian retailers simply aren’t all that good at marketing. They seem to be much more sales-oriented than marketing- or brand-oriented. That is, instead of deeply understanding and then tightly targeting their chosen customer groups, they tend to adopt a warehouse approach to selling stuff. That’s great if you’re selling in bulk (e.g. you’re Dan Murphy’s) but not so good otherwise.

My fear is that Click Frenzy is a bunch of retailers jumping on the ecommerce bandwagon without basing their decision on a proper, well-researched, well-thought-out, innovative (for them) approach to online selling. Because of this lack of understanding and lack of underlying strategy these retailers won’t have a suitable online offering during Click Frenzy and, as a result, they won’t see any benefit from participating in future Click Frenzies or, worse, ecommerce in general. I sincerely hope that’s not the case, but I have my doubts.

The other aspect of Click Frenzy that doesn’t bode well is that it seems, once again, these retailers’ strategies revolve around an increase in sales being the solution to their problems. Participating in Click Frenzy certainly won’t help them target their customers or build their brands. So while this might give them a short term boost in sales, it’s probably not a good long-term fix.

There is Hope

On the other hand, there is hope. If Click Frenzy does go well this might encourage retailers to finally hire the right people and lift their ecommerce game. We might finally get a good proportion of quality online stores with a decent ecommerce strategy behind them.

I’m not going to hold my breath, but I’m not all that jaded and pessimistic about the whole thing either. Here’s hoping.

Further Reading

Here are some other thoughts on Click Frenzy that are worth reading:


[1] 0.4 cents is 80% off from my usual 2 cents.

What’s My Hoodie?

In ‘Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager’ Michael Lopp talks quite a bit about managing nerds. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about this particular bit of wisdom that he also shared in his ‘Managing Nerds’ blog post:

What is your nerd’s hoodie? I write better when I’m wearing a hoodie. There’s something warm and cave-like about having my head surrounded — it gives me permission to ignore the world. Over time, those around me know that interrupting hoodie-writing is a capital offense. They know when I reach to pull the hoodie over my head that I’ve successfully discarded all distractions on the Planet Earth and am currently communing with the pure essence of whatever I’m working on.

It’s irrational and it’s delicious.

Your nerd has a hoodie. It’s a visual cue to stay away as they chase their Highs and your job is both identification and enforcement. I don’t know your nerds, so I don’t know what you’ll discover, but I am confident that these hoodie-like obsessions will often make no sense to you - even if you ask. Yes, there will always Mountain Dew nearby. Of course, we will never be without square pink Post-its.

Don’t sweat it. Support it.

It turns out my ‘hoodie’ is my pair of rather large (and thus easily seen) Shure SRH840 Reference Studio Headphones:

Ameel wearing his 'hoodie' at work

Those things cost quite a lot but they’re really worth it. Not only do they sound fantastic they provide a strong visual cue to all my open-plan-office colleagues that I’m concentrating and shouldn’t be interrupted unless it’s urgent or important.

And, apparently, when I wear them I look like the Nova FM logo character (not sure if that’s the old one, on the left, or the new one, on the right):

Nova FM logos old and new

Over the last couple of weeks, as I’ve been experimenting with my working style, I’ve also discovered that, if I pop these on first thing in the morning (well, after I’ve booted up my PC and have settled down with my mug of tea), my morning productivity increases greatly. Not only that, with these on in the late afternoons (right after I’ve AeroPressed my afternoon mug of coffee), I get a lot of work done towards the end of the day, too.

These productivity spikes happen for different reasons, though. In the mornings the headphones let me kick-off and focus on my priority projects for the day. (I track, schedule, and prioritise all my work via the fabulous Trello web app, by the way.) In the afternoons they help counter the productivity dip I was otherwise having because it turns out that 2:30-5:30 PM is the time that most colleagues from other parts of the office come to my part of the office to talk to the people sitting around me. With my headphone on, though, it becomes really easy to block out all the conversations going on nearby so I can focus on the work that needs to get done.

So, yaay for useful self-analysis and yaay for my awesome headphones. And, I suppose, boo for open plan offices…which I’ve never actually liked and which is why, aside from my headphones, I have the three computer screens arranged around me on my desk.

Further Reading

What People Want From Social Media

Thomson Dawson published an article on Branding Strategy Insider a couple of weeks ago called 'Social Media Marketing Is An Oxymoron'.

In it he argues:

There is no place for marketing in social media.

Think about being at a party having an enjoyable conversation with someone of like mind, then some annoying person interrupts your conversation to tell you how great they are and why you should engage with them. This is basically what most "social media marketing" really is.  People hate being interrupted.

While I agree that people hate being interrupted by companies who are trying to talk to them or sell them something, I don’t agree with his generalization because I think the situation is a little more complex than that.

You are the Product

I think people understand and accept that, when companies provide them with free online services (such as an account on a social networking site), those companies aren’t doing this out the goodness of their hearts. Even Governments don’t provide services for free (yaay, taxes!) so there’s no reason to believe that any company would.

Instead of paying money for those services what people give these companies in exchange is:

  • information about themselves and their relationships with others online (referred to as their ‘social graph’ – a term coined by Facebook),
  • information about their interests and where they spend time on online, and
  • their attention (so that third parties can market stuff to them via advertising).

The Silicon Valley way of putting this is:

If you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold.

And people are more or less okay with that ‘product’ – that online version of themselves – being sold to companies. They know that, in turn, those companies will use this opportunity (i.e. the time they spend on various social media platforms) to sell stuff back to them. If this sounds familiar that’s because this is essentially the advertising-based free-to-air TV model (though with more sophisticated ad targeting).

So people expect to be marketed to on social media.

Not the Whole Story

But, that’s not the whole story because, sometimes, people don’t just expect to be marketed to, they want to be marketed to.

They want companies to sell them the stuff they want, when they want it, where they want it. In addition, they expect to talk to companies about their products and services – both before and after purchasing.

What People Want From Social Media

The way I see it, people seem to want five broad things from companies in the online and social media space:

1. Information

This includes things like product information, contact details, terms and conditions, sizing charts, and so on. People look for this information on websites and Wikipedia pages and they search or ask for it on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and forums. They also discover products on sites like Pinterest.

2. Help

This covers everything from help with product information (when you’ve just entered the market for that product) all the way to customer support (after you’ve bought the product). People look for help on websites or they ask for it on Facebook and Twitter. And, depending on what the company offers, people might also ask for help over the phone, via Skype, or using live web chat.

3. Deals

This includes things like exclusive or early sales/deals, as well as prizes or other kinds of loyalty rewards. People look for deals on websites, in mailing lists, or on company/brand Facebook Pages and Twitter streams. These people aren't the most brand loyal but they do drive a lot of sales.

4. Connection

This covers a whole bunch of engagement, participation, and ownership needs that include a continuing two-way dialog; input into what companies do and how they operate; and a general sharing of thoughts, ideas, and values. People look for this connection on company blogs, on Facebook and Google+ profiles, and, in smaller chunks, on Twitter. The people who engage with companies in this way are generally the most loyal and are often the company’s strongest advocates. Or, in the case of engagement via Kickstarter, they’re also the company’s founding members and/or financial investors.

5. Jobs

For a specific group of people who are in the job market, what they want from companies also includes job offers, engagement with HR teams, and information about the company and its culture. People look for this information and engagement on websites, via Google searches, on blogs and forums, on LinkedIn, and, increasingly, on other social media platforms (i.e. not just on LinkedIn).

It All Comes Down to Targeting

What it comes down to, then, is the idea of audience targeting. Companies need to have different approaches for engaging with different audience groups. And, if an audience group is receptive to being marketed at, then companies should jump right in.

For example, if was on a message board talking to people about a specific kind of computer that I wanted to buy in the next six months, I’d be more than happy to hear from a company representative about a product they sell that’s in this category. On the other hand, I would be upset if I was marketed to when I wasn’t looking for that kind of communication or engagement.

So, if companies get that targeting aspect right, then ‘social media marketing’ is a completely valid concept.

We’re Still Not There Yet

Sadly, a lot of companies are terrible at this kind of communication. They continue to treat ‘social media’ as just another advertising channel though which they talk at people.

Which, by the way, reminds me of this fantastic cartoon from Hugh MacLeod:


I guess it’s this kind of misinformed approach to marketing via social media that prompted Dawson to write his article in the first place. And, in that, I agree with him completely. A lot of companies still don’t get it right and that really needs to change if they want to make the best use of the social media opportunity that they are currently wasting.

How these companies need to change is, of course, a whole other massive topic. Fortunately, it’s a topic that will keep people like me – people who understand both marketing and social media – employable for at least the next few years :)

New Job: Social Media Manager at Jetstar

Yesterday was my first day as Social Media Manager at Jetstar. Yes, that means I have a new job :)

For those of you who might not know, the Jetstar Group (usually just referred to as Jetstar) consists of four low-cost airlines:

Jetstar was launched in 2004 and, with its 79 aircraft and over 7,000 employees, currently flies to 56 destinations in 17 countries across the Asia-Pacific region.

My job is a Group role (i.e. it’s a corporate function that works across all four airlines) and is based at the Jetstar corporate headquarters in Melbourne, Australia.

Why did I change jobs?

For a number of reasons:

  • I love the airlines/aviation industry and working for an airline is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.
  • Jetstar is a great brand that is run by good people who provide a valuable service. It’s a brand I respect and is a brand whose values I share (i.e. providing good value for money, making smart use of technology, and making travel to popular destinations accessible to lots of people).
  • I’m making a career path adjustment that sees me changing my focus from building and managing websites to helping companies and customers communicate better with each other using social media. And while this is a slight narrowing of focus (e.g. in my current role I won’t be looking after the Jetstar website) it is also an increase in overall responsibility (i.e. I get to work on more strategic corporate communications objectives).
  • My new role is more challenging because the scale and scope of customer engagement is greater (e.g. it’s across the entire Asia-Pacific region as opposed to just within the state of Victoria) and the aviation industry is more exciting, more innovative, and moves much faster than the water industry.
  • I have a greater opportunity for personal growth because I now get to employ my social media skills to their fullest. I had been wanting to increase my social media focus at Melbourne Water but, with all the other work I was doing there, this wasn’t something I was able to do.

I also get to work with one of my former managers who I really like and work really well with. And finally, as someone whose family is spread across multiple countries, the travel benefits of working for an airline are important to me personally.

What does the new job involve?

Broadly speaking, my overall objective is to improve the communication, engagement, and understanding between Jetstar and its customers. Specifically, I get to do this via social media. Though, practically speaking, this engagement will be integrated across multiple communication channels.

How exactly I go about doing all this is something I will share on this blog (and probably also on Twitter) over the coming weeks, months, and years so stay tuned.