Learnings from a borrowed chihuahua about eCommerce marketing

I wrote a post for the Woo blog about the impact and opportunity of the sharing economy for eCommerce, inspired largely by my experience of borrowing Brigitte through Borrow my doggy in London:

“Towards the end of last year I happened upon a massive traffic jam caused by cab drivers who’d climbed out of their vehicles to gridlock central London protesting Uber. Similar protests took place in France and mostly recently in Indonesia. Why the fuss?

Disruption by the sharing economy.

You can rue the day someone bumps you out of the market with their great idea, but you can’t stop them by simply shaking a fist.

A shift in societal values and advances in technology birthed this new way of doing business, and it’s shaking up established practices. The teenage tech wizards with their laptops and bright ideas are coming, and no one can afford to sit back and smile derisively.”
Read the full article.

Rock-climbing, zipping and running in Whistler

We’re in Whistler for Automatic’s grand meetup and it has been great. The past 24 hours have been particularly active…

Yesterday started with a gentle yoga class, about ten of us greeting the morning and snow-capped mountains with some downwards dogs and creaking knees. This oiled me up well for the next activity – which was pretty much rock climbing!

The Via Ferrata was one of the activities we could sign up for, and boy am I glad I did. We took the gondola up towards Whistler peak, walked to the base and then clipped onto cables as we scaled the rock face. It was a slightly scary but exhilarating hour’s climb – and it snowed while we were on our way up!

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About fifteen minutes after I got back it was time to head off for Zip Trek, the second activity I signed up for. The course included 5 zips, one of which we were encouraged to try flipping upside down for. (Un)Fortunately there was a camera to snap our attempts…

Upside down

Loving it.

Needless to say, the jacuzzi felt good when my busy day wrapped up at 5pm. But that wasn’t all…

This morning I ran 5km with a bunch of Automatticians as part of the #wwp5k, Worldwide WordPress 5km run. We went at quite a lick so it was kind of tiring, but fun and fresh, and beautiful – our route was around a golf course in Whistler. Many trees and much mist as we huffed and puffed.

At the end everyone made a little tunnel to high five the finishers. When my alarm went off at 6:30am I felt very unkeen but am glad I did it!

Automattic is making a donation to Soles4Souls, a charity dedicated to fighting poverty through the collection and distribution of shoes and clothing, which is awesome.

Happy times in Whistler! Thankful to be part of Automattic.

“Do you want to help me?”

Today I took a train to Pisa. It was raining hard in Florence and from the looks of things it might be a little drier in the region of the leaning tower.

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Installed in good time in a window seat, snacks at the ready, off we rolled with a long tunnel making way for country scenes. Hay bales in green fields, cement bridges, yellow fields with yellow brick Tuscan houses, silver streaks reflecting skies above and trees like sentries along hilly rises.

Watching the world flash by, a new part of the world, a feeling of independence and adventure surges in my heart. ‘For sale’ signs beside blocks of flats whisper of alternate lives I could live, a few simple decisions away. Out comes the sun, warming my knees and bringing the blue out from behind clouds.

Such is the life of a remote worker. Roots? Something connected to one’s family but no longer anything to do with an office, regular hours, or a place one needs to be. Home is where one is investing.

A man walks through the train. He is holding a cigarette and lighter. My headphones are on but he stops beside me and holds my glance with smiling eyes. He speaks. And again. I lift one headphone.

“Can I help you?”

He smiles slowly, enjoying the moment.

“Do you want to help me?”

He is begging, and I am trapped by my own turn of phrase. It was meant to be rhetorical.

“No. I don’t want to.”

I look away sharply. Headphones back on, face to the window. He saunters off and engages another lady headed to Pisa (how is it that we tourists betray ourselves so).

The crisp euros in my bag wait patiently to be spent on refreshments (in the end it is on pizza, and a new perfume), train tickets, exploring.

My experience and mind tell me I’m justified in my refusal, but it was unloving. The way of law, the way of grace. The exception or the rule. A samaritan on her way to Pisa, found to have no room at the inn.

The yellow buildings continue to sail by. A man seated near me looks up from his book, his expression impossible to read. If anything it’s sympathetic, thoughtful.

We’re nearing Pisa. I chose to come here from rainy Florence. But my choices are never in isolation, incremental outcomes of centuries of choices stretching back. A butterfly flapping and causing a storm. Connected.

He passes again, not stopping this time but staring ahead as he picks his way through the swaying carriage. Watery smile, dark eyes, my uncomfortable stranger.

Do colour co-ordinated folders for phone apps save time?

A little while ago it occurred to me that I spend quite a lot of time flicking around my iPhone or staring at the screen looking for apps in the sea of dots that are my selection.

I had put them in folders by function (banking, travel, random, random II etc) but then wondered: would arranging them by color make a difference in my location speed?

I guess it was a little test of whether my brain was best guided by color. Also I thought it would probably look nice. And I was bored on the bus. So I tried it.

And, I love it! Without being able to explain exactly why, I navigate more quickly to find certain apps with them in these little folders.

And I have convinced some of my friends to try, and they like it too:

Exhibit A: Gemma

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Exhibit B: Talisa Jane

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Suffice to say: try it!

The best part is naming your folders things like Skittles and Fruity. And noticing trends in app colour design (blue logo on white for banks is actually the only one really).

If you do try it, holler back yo.

40 days without social media

Yes it’s been my job for over six years, which is perhaps why it feels even more significant to have given up social media for lent. Some work-related bits I will need to crack on with, but for 40 days I’m closing the door on personal Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Five days in, it feels good. Some things I have noted:

Craving. I have never taken drugs, the most addictive things I consume are probably coffee, sugar and Coca-Cola, but the way I found myself reaching for my phone to check Facebook felt compulsive for sure. It was so habitual. The first day I found myself with phone in hand a couple of times, the next less so, and now the inclination is gone. But boy was it there in the beginning.

World news comes to me over social media. Twitter has become my way to find out about things happening worldwide as they unfold, which I like. I do get some email alerts but aside from those I now need to log on to news sites to proactively get news. Or God forbid, buy a newspaper. I miss this, but perhaps no news makes for better news.

Thought-sharing, including others in the random things that pop into my mind, also happens on Twitter and on Instagram. Mostly my aim is to share the things that make me smile or feel hope or wonder, with the hope to spread it. A brazen sticker on a lamp post, a chocolate smile in a slice of marble cake, general musing or something alliterative – sharing such things as they happened with no one in particular but everyone, was a bit of a hobby. It made me feel connected. Do I need to do it? Do my arrows reach any targets and leave them better off? If I were to journal these things and note them privately, would anything be lost? Is what the world needs from me most random musing?

Connection. This is probably the key one. With a smartphone in hand one is never truly alone. Even at 3am, the world is a slide away, lighting up the dark and the quiet. Something I noticed the first day of not being ‘on’ social media was that I paid more attention to the clouds. I am so used to walking looking down it’s no wonder I have neck ache most of the time. It is a strange feeling to not have a social world at my fingertips. Now, sitting drinking coffee it’s just me, the coffee and the real world. Something about that feels quiet, and slower, and good.

I think it’s too soon to note any other differences, but I suspect my levels of content and peace of higher and will continue to be over the course of this month.

A happy experiment, thank you Easter.

8 Tips For Loving Your Trolls

I have to admit that when a troll pipes up at WooThemes on social media, I get kind of excited. It’s not that I look forward to it – that would be insane – it’s just that each one presents such a fascinating opportunity. Trolls are my teachers. Whether harbingers of inconvenient truths or nutters picking fights over nothing, they don’t half make life, well, life-y.

The Year Of Outrage

Go ahead and get 100% outraged in zero to ten seconds, everyone else is doing it. Once upon a time it took effort to complain, one had to put pen to paper (a letter to the local newspaper, perhaps). The time it took would often be sufficient to quell the sting and you’d end up crumpling your letter and having a cup of tea. Damage to a brand’s reputation stopped at the edges of one’s literal social circle and brands could snuff out sparks, localising the pain to where the original wound was inflicted. Social media? It changed all that.

Slate Magazine explored this phenomenon in their article, The Year Of Outrage:

“Over the past decade or so, outrage has become the default mode for politicians, pundits, critics and, with the rise of social media, the rest of us. When something ‘outrageous’ happens, it’s easy to anticipate the cycle that follows: anger, sarcasm, recrimination, piling on; defences and counterattacks; anger at the anger, disdain for the outraged; sometimes, an apology … and on to the next.

Twitter and Facebook make it easier than ever to participate from home. And the same cycle occurs regardless of the gravity of the offence, which can make each outrage feel forgettable, replaceable. The bottomlessness of our rage has a numbing effect.”

Here’s the thing though. We can all be wenches. I once lost it at McDonalds on Twitter for giving me a burger that made me throw up and then felt acutely ashamed when the terrified branch manager phoned moments later and offered me a free ice cream. I could hear the tremble in his voice. Had I got what I wanted?

When a troll has climbed on their social media soapbox, why to lose thereupon would be worse than death itself. Social media is way too public a forum to give up without a fight, but if you are prepared (as a social media manager, particularly) the interactions that follow can be not all bad. Good, even.

Here are some tips for loving your trolls, one must never lose sight of the fact that behind every brand and every sharp word shared at them on social media, is a human.

8 Tips For Loving Your Trolls

Remember the keyboard confidence factor. It is strange, true and slightly unnerving that people don’t behave on social media as they do in life. This extends to the lives we craft through careful curation and sharing, and the way we speak when we feel watched. I imagine people on soap boxes, yelling for attention. It is a different kettle of fish, unassuming folk who wouldn’t say boo to a goose become remarkably peppy when it is from behind the safety of a keyboard and tend to state their case more strongly in order to justify their stating it. Factor these hyperbolic tendencies in when you first read what your troll has to say.

Engage empathy (you’ve been there). Mirror emotions. You need to be expert at picking up what emotion the person is putting out, and mirror it. If they are fuming and you crack a joke, best you know where the nearest bunker is located.

Don’t be defensive. Don’t embarrass. On behalf of your brand, lay down your right to be right. It might feel like the most important thing to achieve public vindication for whatever you are being accused of, but winning the battle will never win you the war. Put down or brush off an individual in your online community and you inadvertently set up an atmosphere of nerves and unapproachability. If you seem like a brand who will punish me for being vocal, I will be silent in the bad times but also silent with praise, and less likely to risk engaging but it seems risky. Reasonable people can always see the wood from the trees and will respect your brand for taking a punch even when it wasn’t deserved. Don’t be a doormat but don’t try to be a hero.

Know who you’re speaking to. Having a precise idea of who you are dealing with can sometimes make all the difference. Take the time to click on the bio of your troll, maybe it will ring a bell? Check for previous message history (if you use a program like Sprout, conversations your team members have had with the person will show up, which is super handy). And listen to your gut. If something is pinging, there is usually a reason. Maybe they are one of your top customers, maybe they are your competition’s CEO, maybe they are habitually feisty and checking out their conversations with other brands will help you proceed.

Humour is a marvellous medicine. Don’t play the fool or be trite, but if you feel confident to take a gap to make a little joke or be self-deprecating (‘Sorry to hear it, Ben. Being average is certainly not what we strive for”) – go for it. Mastering the art of drawing a wry smile with your responses, will stand you in very good stead.

If you’re not winning just take the punch. You’ll know from their reply to your first-reply if you are in a better or worse position that before. You simply can’t fight fire with fire on social media, and if your first squirt of water isn’t working it is unlikely you will get far. In instances where someone remains on guard, try to take the engagement to DM / email or offline. I’ve been amazed at how quickly raging lions turn into mice when one simply gets them away from the crowd.

Trust Twitter to self-regulate. If someone is being a jackass, they probably know it and your community will, too. If you are honouring of the angry person in these times, your followers will respect you for it. Being kind and not shaming a complainer for being rude sets a positive tone in your community. Respect begets respect. I relish chances to be the more relaxed, pragmatic and calmer ‘older’ sibling in the face of someone’s wailing and best attempt to elicit a response. And remember, it is not happening in a vacuum. Social media gives you a chance to build a public record of being the ‘bigger person’. Think about the individual you are talking to, also think about the echo.

Leave the door open. If someone has a go at you, chances are they will regret it later. Even if they don’t, their impression of you will be that you are blindingy annoying / disappointing etc but at the very least, civil. In their angst, you get the chance to say something to them, and if you respond kindly you leave the door open for an instance in future where they might pop up on the radar again. Mind how you tread and don’t burn bridges even with the most exasperating of characters, today’s troll might be tomorrow’s big spender.

Here endeth my musing on trolls. If you’re a social media manager or business owner handling your own social accounts, I’d love to hear how you and your team wrangle trolls and diffuse sensitive interactions, so hit me up.

A Lesson In The Merit Of Staying The Same, From Dulwich Village Stationers

Yesterday I visited Dulwich, where my mum grew up and I spent time visiting my grandparents, and popped in at the stationery shop I worked in for a month when I was seventeen. It was, quite literally, exactly the same, with seemingly no attention paid to the passing of thirteen years. The same products on the same shelves with the same people visiting, and Mr Green – now in his eighties – greeted me like it was yesterday. There is something almost unbearably beautiful about its not having had to change or update to survive in the surging charge of today.

All this time, all this life that’s been had, and it’s just been there silently keeping on.

Things like that, make me think. Also being sick makes me think. Last week I had to stay in bed with flu for four days and it felt like a lifetime. Initially all I wanted to do was sleep and be still in my room-cocoon but as soon I felt a bit better – and still needed to be home, snug and resting – I began to itch for the pace I am used to operating at, and felt distinctly uncomfortable without the usual stream of information, alerts, notifications, news and more that I drink in from being online and connected for at the very least least nine hours a day. As I became aware of it I became determined not to pander to it. And it wasn’t easy.

Especially working in social media, and remotely, I have decided I need to be more cognisant of unplugging. I love growing in knowledge and awareness but there are downsides to the never-ending story of the internet. Plus, being a healthy and happy part of a distributed team is going to take more discipline than I have been exercising so that my soul knows when we are no longer ‘in the office’. Continue reading “A Lesson In The Merit Of Staying The Same, From Dulwich Village Stationers”