Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Is Social Media Marketing Dying?

And once again the debate has begun. Is Social Media Marketing Dead? Is it dying? How does it affect you as a Marketing professional or Business owner?

Josh Bernoff, co-author of Groundswell, the bestselling book on the topic, says in his recent blog 'Social Media is just mostly dead'.  Augie Ray (founder of Experience: The Blog) wrote a post 'Burn It Down, Start From Scratch And Build a Social Media Strategy That Works'. Jamie Turner followed these with a post 'The end of social media as you know it.'

So what is the answer? Is it dead or mostly dead or dying? and what should you do? Do you need to scrap your Social Media Marketing efforts?

The answer actually is simple. Social media by itself is not dead or dying. Social Media is actually growing. What is happening however, is that a lot of Businesses, Marketing professionals and Agencies are realizing that what they are doing on social media is not working.

While some of that has to do with the changes happening on social media platforms itself (e.g the throttling of organic reach of Brand posts on Facebook), a lot of it has to do with what a lot of businesses have been doing on social media so far. In some ways it is like this toon from getsatisfaction.com
Over the past few years any & every business, got onto the Social media Bandwagon. B2B, B2C, small home based businesses to large corporate houses all got Facebook pages, and had Twitter company accounts and LinkedIn pages and also Pinterest Boards and Instagram accounts. They were all posting multiple times a day on multiple platforms and collecting Likes, Followers, and Shares and doing anything to generate Comments (including funny cat videos and beautiful sunsets with quotes on them). While some activity on some platforms worked for some businesses, most efforts went wasted. Why? Because likes is not equal to sales leads and shares for a photo is not the same as referrals for the brand and comments on a generic  quote is not brand engagement.
Are all social media platforms the same? Do you post your personal photos of the Friday party with friends on LinkedIn? or Offer coupons to your target audience in your Television commercial? Of course you don't. You know what social media to use for personal posts and similarly what traditional media to use for your business marketing.  Then why not use the same common sense when using social media for marketing? While audiences at times may be common across multiple platforms, what they do on each platform is different. And that's what businesses have to do also.

So the problem is not with social media but the why, what, when & where of social media marketing. And as I had written last year, in my blog post 'Does Social Media Work' - Social Media does not work. You have to make it work.

What is most important is to have a Strategy - Know what you are doing - for whom, where and why. From acquiring new customers, to getting repeat orders from existing customers, from branding to product sales, from solving customer issues to engaging loyal users and more, Social media can be used for multiple things. However what channel you use for what, depends on your business, your target audience and what you want to achieve.

For a B2B business, LinkedIn and Twitter may work better to connect with businesses and engage with them. For a fashion or lifestyle business, Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook may work better to engage with customers while LinkedIn may work better for recruitment. Customers of Commercial Airlines or Telecom or E-commerce companies, may want to engage with the business more on Facebook, Twitter or even a messaging platform like WhatsApp instead of calling their Call center.

Also some other digital marketing solution may actually work better for a particular business to achieve its objective. Do you want to attract more new customers? For a particular business or brand it is possible that Search marketing or mobile marketing may work better than Social. Do you want to get repeat customers? It is possible that email along with engagement platforms like some specific social channels and messaging platforms may work better for you.
What to do where, starts from why do it, and depends on the business & the target audience. Know what the channel is capable of, who is there and use the most appropriate channel or a mix of channels & activities for each objective and then do the right things there. Then let marketing handle all marketing advertising handle all advertising and CRM handle all customer issues, and the related channels. Don't just bundle all digital activities, from SEO to Social to SEM and E-Commerce and hand it over to a particular department or agency. Don't just be there for the sake of being there.

Build a strategy first. Social is a part of Digital and always evolving. Evolve & Grow with it. And most importantly to really succeed  - Don't just Do Digital, Be Digital.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Brands! Are you listening?

Would you spend money to ignore your customers? Would you spend time & effort to create an impression among your potential customers that you don't care about what they say? Obviously not. They why do it in Digital?

The other day I came across a sponsored post from a leading bank on LinkedIn where, in response, some readers had posted negative comments. That reminded me of the negative comments I have seen from unhappy customers on Facebook posts by a  leading airline. What was common in both the cases was that not once, had I seen any response from the company to these comments. So I checked and realized that these companies were present on different social channels, and were posting regularly. But they almost never responded to any comment negative or positive.

What does this mean? This means you put out a piece of communication that someone has read and responded to that but you ignored them. And lo! there comes another post after that. That too got some responses, some related, and maybe even some unrelated responses, but no one responded to that either! Over a period of time people realize that it's all a one way communication and stop even reading all the content you are regularly churning out. Followers drop, likes reduce and your effort slowly goes down the drain. Worse, people do not connect with your brand or company and hence stop buying from you or using your services as you have created the perception of being unapproachable and unmindful of their views.

Companies spend millions on Branding. They hire experts, create campaigns, and spend again to do brand surveys & gauge customer receptiveness to their brand. But then, they fail to even acknowledge a direct response to their presence?  Here is an opportunity to connect and engage with their current customers and to create an image in the minds of their potential customers and they ignore it? And worse - they don't realize that they are actually creating a negative impression and hurting the brand by their behavior?

Why does this happen? In some cases, it's because the 'job' of posting or churning out content is being handled by people,  or agencies not directly connected with the business, and they are doing just what they were told - to post.  In other cases it's because, people handling dissemination of the post or content do not know whom in the organisation to turn back to for answers to a comment or a query - the marketing department, the tech team, the product team, the CRM team, the CEO? or who? And in some cases it's because, well, they just don't know how to respond.

This is just one aspect of listening in Digital. There are tools out there that can help you listen in to your competitors posts, responses to those, your customers and potential customers posts, the influencer's posts and to responses to your own posts and that too in real time. But only a few companies or brand are using these tools. Listening can tell you so much about your business category, your competition, customer views and opinions, industry views etc. Listening can then help you plan products or services, or changes to the same, it can help you draw out new marketing strategies, it can help you target new customer segments you didn't know existed , it can help you serve your existing customers better, and so much more. And it can help you build a Brand.

Just as I had written in my Blog post titled "Are you listening" highlighting the benefits of listening for effective communication in general, similarly, listening is very important in today's live, always on, connected Digital world.

So are you listening?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Should you move your Digital Marketing in-house?

An article in today's Mint caught my eye. Titled 'Why marketing is moving in-house' the article has been written by Mark W. Schaefer for the Harvard Business Review, and talks about how companies are moving their marketing in-house from agencies. He also explains why. While he has written it more from the perspective of overall marketing, I think the reasons are more to do with Digital.

As a Digital Strategy Consultant, depending on the client's target audience as well as their short term and long term goals, I many a times recommend them to handle digital marketing on their own. I have nothing against agencies and in fact some of the agencies out there do a really great job, and I recommend them too. They can really help companies who are just getting started in Digital as they have the expertise, tools and experience that companies don't.

Then why handle digital marketing in-house? Here's why:

1) Digital marketing almost always, is not a one time or periodic marketing activity. It is continuous and ever evolving, and needs live monitoring and changes on the fly. For something that's always on, alive and can always be continuously bettered on to improve ROI, would you leave that to an external party to handle? or manage it yourself?

2) Digital marketing is directly measurable and results have to be tested continuously, and campaigns tweaked or altered accordingly on an ongoing basis. Creatives, landing pages, content, choice of media all have to be tried, tested and changed all the time to get the desired results. Would you be willing to lose time and money going back & forth with an external party for the same?

3) Digital marketing is almost always a mix of - onsite marketing, content marketing, blogs, SEO, SEM, Social, Videos etc, and there needs to be a coordinated effort across these for best results. Do you think external resources in different teams, sitting under different silos with their own targets to achieve, would be able to do that?

4) Digital marketing is less about broadcast and more about engagement. Frankly a lot of marketing heads and agencies are still living in the broadcast age and hence their campaigns are all about push. Being an interactive medium, digital enables customers to share their experience with your service or brand to one and all and you need to be able to respond to that in real time and in fact, encourage and also channel the same for your benefit. Can an external agency handle customer engagement as efficiently and effectively as you can?

5) Data & Analytics is a big part of digital marketing. And a lot of it is in real time too. It needs to be implemented & used effectively, and not only helps in better marketing but can also be useful for future product development. Would you rather have this in-house or handled by an external party that itself may change tomorrow?

6) Last but not the least, in digital, your product team, technology team, HR team, CRM team, delivery team, all have to work together along with your marketing team for best results. And that can only be done if your marketing strategy as well as execution is in-house.

Can't agencies provide that? Yes and No. Depending on the stage of your business, your budgets, current expertise & your business focus, you may decide to go with an agency or multiple agencies, and at that time that may be the best solution for you. If your business is digital, or your target audience is on digital, or if you seriously want to use digital for long term, then in-house may be a better way to do it. You may still use an agency for a part or some parts of your digital marketing, however the strategy and the core activities may be better handled in-house. 

Yes you would need tools and people with expertise, and good people are hard to get. However if you consider the long term benefits of building a team and expertise, it would be worth it.

Like I said above, I am not in any way trying to discourage companies from using Digital Agencies. All am saying is, at every stage of your business evolution, think about your current and long term needs and then take a decision that is most suited for your business.

For those of you who would want to consider an agency here is a blog I had written sometime back on 'Selecting the right digital agency for your business'. Also read this very pertinent article by Mark Traphagen, from Stone Temple Consulting on 6 signs of a valuable digital marketing agency.

Agree? Disagree? Please feel free to comment below with your views & suggestions. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

7 Points to keep in mind when going Digital

As I work with new clients helping them make the best of Digital media, or when I interact with some of my older clients helping them plan newer growth strategies, there are some key points that I find myself repeating over & over again. Some get it immediately while others take time. So I thought why not put down a few key points that are critical to anybody who is using or planning to use Digital for their business.

So here goes:
  1. Tie in all your digital presence. Is your website connected to your blog, and your social media presence? Is your pinterest page connected to your e-commerce site? Is your blog helping you draw more customers for your product or service on your website? Is your app notification helping you increase app opens and are these then helping you increase product or service sales ? Is your e-mail marketing helping you get people back to the site or to interact with you on social? Tie in your presence with your goals. Also tie in your offline presence with your digital presence.

  2. Make sure your connected digital presence is helping your customers or target audience. e.g. Are they able to know about your new collection from your social post or app notification, see the range immediately on your pinterest board and buy it from your website or e-commerce channel?

  3. Understand that you do not have to be on all social media, but only where it's relevant. Know your business, your audience and what you want to achieve before you choose the social media to be on. It's not about being on all possible Social media but being on the right ones for you, and then, doing the right things there.

  4. Remember this is an interactive medium so try and interact. Do not just broadcast - have conversations. Engage with people. A website can be more than just a brochure. Social posts can be much more than just announcements. Don't just push. Pull. Also make sure you respond to user queries & problems quickly and positively.

  5. Measure everything. Have analytics in place and use what you learn, to change, modify and improve results. The advantage of the Digital Medium is that it is measurable. So if you are not measuring visits to your website, user demographics and behavior, social media analytics etc then you not making full use of the medium. Your visitors, members, followers, what they do, when they do it, what they react to, is all there for you to see and learn, so use it. Test changes, see results and change again.

  6. Use Marketing. First market on your website, your blog, your e-mail communication, your social presence, your mobile app, and then use marketing such as SEO, SEM, Social Media Advertising, Mobile advertising, Affiliate marketing, etc. Here again run tests, measure the response and test again.
  7. Keep testing and changing. We still have a huge overhang of traditional media where we made brochures once in a few years or ad campaigns that lasted for a while. In Digital Change is the only constant so keep changing, measuring, and change again. A website once made is not done. A social media page is not something you make once and forget . Technology is changing, how and where people access is changing, and what you can do there is changing too.

While there are many things that can be added here, and many more if we get into the details of each, just keeping the above seven in mind should help you as you go about making your Digital Strategy and then implementing it.

Please feel free to add your points to the above and do write back with comments.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ask Why before you decide What on Digital

At a recent gathering, a business person I was introduced to, remarked - "Oh! You are a Digital Strategy Consultant? You know? I have tried everything, but this Digital thing doesn't really work" . When asked what he expected, he replied  " I don't know. At least something should have happened after spending so much money on all this, but it hasn't."

Turns out that wanting to 'Be Digital' they had got a fancy website made, had a LinkedIn Company page, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Pinterest account, A Google+ account, a Blog, they were on Instagram, and every place else. The problem was - That was it.

They had made it all and now didn't know what to do with it. They expected that just being in all these places, making announcements (social posts & blogs, emails etc) should have, in some way, helped their business. And when nothing changed, they blamed it on the medium.

My suggestion to them all - First ask "Why"?

The problem is, if you don't know why you want a website, or an e-commerce site, or a Facebook page, or an app, or any other digital presence, then - 
  • You will be doing it all, or nothing at all, or doing something that you really didn't need.
  • Doing it all wrong, because there is no particular result you are looking for.
  • Losing time and money, as you would have done it and will then ask "Now what?"

And hence you will finally get nothing out it.

So first ask yourself a few basic questions to define why you need a Digital Presence. Then get down to where, how and what of it. Start with simple questions with specific answers. 
  • What Business are you in? 
  • What  business problem are you trying to solve? 
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What problem are you trying to solve for your Target Audience?
  • Where is this Target audience present?  What channels, devices, technologies do they use most, and are likely to use in the future?

These will help you decide digital medium to use, to solve what problem.

Next ask
  • What do we do there? 
  • How do we do it? Do we have the required expertise in house, or do we need to hire externalresources?
  • What is the right way to do it so that we get the desired result? How do we make people come there?
  • How do we know it is really working or not? Is there a way to measure the effectiveness of the channel?
There are just too many businesses out there with a website that has no traffic, those who are posting daily on social media but ignoring customer queries or remarks, those that have build apps that no one downloads, those with company blogs that no one reads, and those with e-commerce websites that make no sales. Being there and doing that is not the solution unless you know why.

So start with a strategy, know why you are doing what you are doing, and work towards achieving what you set out to achieve. You can do brand building, connect with your existing or potential customers, increase sales of your products or services, service your customers better, acquire new customers, sell more to your existing customers, improve business efficiency, reduce customer acquisition costs, increase customer retention, and a lot more depending on what You set out to do.

All digital channels are just the medium. Digital will not do it for you. You have to do it using Digital. And No, it's not a fad to be on Digital. So please don't just do it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Create & project the Brand YOU!

Want to get that promotion, land that job, or just stand out in a crowd? Well what you need is, to create and project the brand you. And that is what an Image Consultant can help you do. Based on your short & long term life goals, an Image consultant can help you develop & project the image that can help you shine.

How confident you are, how well you make that presentation, how you dress in office, and for social dos, how you network with people, your leadership skills as well as social skills, your digital presence, your people handling skills etc are all part of your daily life and create a perception about you in the minds of others. That perception is what impacts, your career & your life.

An Image consultant helps you understand & navigate this world of perceptions that we live in. Be it office etiquette, making impact-full  presentations, public speaking, dressing and grooming (based on your height, body shape, industry, position, face shape, etc), networking, dining etiquette, and even social etiquette - s/he helps you understand and develop these skills.

Yes you do need to be good at what you do to succeed in life, and success comes with skills, hard work and passion. But hard work, passion and skills need to be seen and appreciated to be rewarded. People need to see it and appreciate these and you. Our lives - professional as well as personal, involve other people and it is their perception of you that counts at each step. Understanding your strengths, and building the right perception therefore is equally important.

So go ahead & connect with an Image Consultant today! Or Write to info@stellant.in

Friday, June 5, 2015

E-commerce in India - A simplistic perspective

Almost every day we read about how e-commerce companies in India are growing. How valuations are increasing with millions & billions of dollars being pumped in. How newer business models and e-commerce verticals are starting every day and getting funded. And how India is today a hotbed of e-commerce start ups and VC's.

We also read about questions being asked  - are these valuations justified? Is it another bubble? They are losing money on each sale so how long will they last?

I don't really think there is one answer for these and more such questions. And I am not a retail business expert or a financial wizard. What I do know is that finally - the success or failure of any business is also dependent to a large extent on the customer. Is it fulfilling a need? is it solving customer problems ? & is it delivering value to the customer? And a customer here is a buyer for some businesses and buyers and sellers for others (marketplaces).

Let's look at this - Flipkart is said to be currently clocking $4.5 billion in GMV (inclusive of Myntra), Amazon is said to be closing in on the $2 billion mark and Snapdeal is reported to have hit a sales run rate of $3.5 billion this month. Yes it's all GMV - gross merchandise value in e-commerce parlance. And yes they are making losses on every sale. But this increasing GMV in billions of dollars also means  - sales are happening, and increasing month on month for all players.

The important thing to note here - People are buying online. More and more people are buying more and more online and more and more people are selling more and more online. THAT I think is the key.

Someone may say - Oh! But they are buying because of the deep discounts. Yes that is also right. But that is just one of the reasons. The sharp increase in numbers over multiple players and categories over a period of time, does not happen just because of discounts. There is more to it.

When I ask people the fundamental question as to why they buy online I get varied answers, but probe further and it fundamentally boils down to 3 key reasons and they are
1) Price
2) Convenience
3) Choice

I say price because I see that people do factor in everything - discounts, competitive offers for the same products by multiple sellers, cost of commute, cost of time saved etc.

Convenience because people do value the ability to be able to buy anything from anywhere anytime, as well as get it delivered to their doorstep (and at times even on the day and time when they want it delivered). And that too, after reading reviews, and taking the opinion of their friends, family and then even sharing their choice with others after purchase. Then they can also easily return the items and get a refund if the item is not up to their expectation.

Choice because they can compare, items, features etc, and get the latest model, design or even a vintage piece, at the best price, and not be bothered if it is available in their vicinity, town or city or even country at times.

Sellers too are benefiting from the increased reach leading to a larger audience, and ease of collecting payments and delivering across the country that e-commerce has enabled.

So the questions to ask are : if we temporarily remove the price benefit to some extent (reduction in discounts), will people stop buying ? I don't think so because the other benefits are enough to keep existing customers online. Will a reduction in price benefit stop new customers from transacting online? It will definitely slow down the pace, but the other benefits are strong enough to keep customers coming.

Now assume there is a downturn tomorrow for whatever reason, and money flow trickles down and valuations drop drastically. What will happen? Customer acquisition due to discounts and price only benefits will reduce.  Those businesses that are currently investing in delighting the customer (choice & convenience) and not only in marketing (price discounts and advertising) will be able to ride out this period and still continue to grow. Some early stage companies at that point in time or others who are only focusing on offering a price advantage may have to shut shop.

Currently FlipKart, Snapdeal, Amazon, LocalBaniya, BigBasket, UrbanLadder, and a lot of the others, be it a marketplace or an e-retail business are using the discounting option to attract more and more new customers. However a lot of the millions and billions we see being pumped in these companies is being used for - Marketing, Price competitiveness, Warehousing, delivery, returns and tracking, and merchandising and technology. What is important is that how much is being spent for what and when. Finally what will decide who survives and who does not, will be on the basis of who is acquiring customers fast and also delighting them in all aspects, Price, Convenience & Choice and that too consistently.

E-Commerce as a business model is definitely here to stay, simply because of the benefits it brings to the customer . I don't think anyone can argue that. And e-retail in India by various estimates is less than or about 1% of the total retail business as of now meaning that there is still a lot of growth potential. A downturn can happen anytime due to many reasons and can't really be predicted. Valuations will grow in good conditions and shrink at other times. In my view it makes sense to use the high valuation good period to raise monies & use part of it to offer a price advantage and acquire customers, and the rest to build other business essentials. In a lean period the focus can be changed. In the long term, companies that focus on the customer first will survive a downturn or a market blip as that too is temporary.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Should you buy a fitness band or a Smartwatch ?

Everyone has their own reasons to buy a fitness band or a Smartwatch.  For some it's utility, others  it's fashion or flaunt value, and for some it's - well - just having it? For me it was trying out new technology to see if it helped & how.

I bought my first Fitness Band "FitBit Force" more than a year ago, and my "Pebble" SmartWatch a few weeks back  - Long after they were launched, & people were already using these or similar smart wearable. FitBit Force was soon recalled in the US (due to skin allergy complaints), but I could not return mine from here in India so I stuck with it.

So should you buy a fitness band or a Smartwatch or both? Well, here is my perspective.
Am not much of a fashion guy so, If you are planning to buy these for fashion or flaunt value or just for the love of technology - yeah sure go ahead. Choose what looks best - the shape, colour, brand and go for it. You really don't need to read any further.

Still reading? Well then here goes -

Fitness bands have a lot of features to help you monitor and manage your fitness levels. You can monitor steps taken, floors climbed, calories burnt, sleep quality, and some more. You can log events or activity, see graphs and charts, input calorie intake, weight, BP, Glucose etc.

On the FitBit Force, like some other bands, one has to add food intake manually (on your web account) to measure calorie intake. One, that is tedious, and secondly the preselection of food etc that's given, is mostly American/European so, you will need to input your own food items and nutritional value of each to log the same. Now I have no clue how to do that for something like a punjabi paratha or a neer dosa, and even if I could find out, the diversity of our food plus the different styles of cooking the same dish, would make it virtually impossible to be even close to accurate. (I mean how do you account for the one spoon of homemade butter, or 2 spoons of ghee or one spoon of coconut oil each time an item is cooked?)

Similarly you have to input your other activities such as gym exercise, or swimming or weight lifting, or yoga and the time taken for each and then trust the system to calculate the right amount of calories burnt or input those also manually, IF you know.

Floors climbed is nowhere near accurate and, if you travel in a car or bus over a flyover it counts it as floors climbed. On a particular day, it said I had climbed 102 floors!!!!!Really?

All other things such as heart Rate, BP or Glucose also have to be logged manually. So unless one is a sportsperson or fitness enthusiast, and has the inclination and the knowledge, or help, to do this, I don't think one would use those. All I ended up using after some weeks of trial were steps taken, sleep quality and the activity tracker to log my exercise. That's it.

Of this Steps and Sleep I can now monitor on my Pebble Smartwatch with a fitness app. Since I use Pebble and Fitbit both, I know that they are equally accurate.

What else? Well on the Smartwatch you can set alerts for your text messages, WhatsApp messages, mails, calls etc. You get to decide what apps from your phone you want to receive notifications for on your watch. Right on your watch display. Cool? Yes! Utility? Depends on the way you look at it.

From the way I see it, most men carry their Smartphones in their hand. So getting an alert on your watch from your phone, when your phone is in your hand, may really not be that great a benefit. Not for some people at least. And while Pebble allows you to send predefined (5) messages in response to messages right from your watch, well, you could just as well reply from your phone as it's in your hand. Yes, it is useful if your phone is in one room or you are in another or when you have to keep your phone silent in a meeting or party, but still want to make sure you get to know if that important mail or message or call comes. That's where it comes most handy for me.

Having said that, I must also say that for ladies, it may be different. Mostly ladies carry their Smartphone in their bags, hence getting alerts on the watch and not missing a call, or an important message could be useful. Also the quick response right from the watch could be handy.

The next Pebble that is due to come out soon "Pebble Time"  will, I believe, also allow you to send quick voice replies and take notes. Now THAT could be really useful. (One of the reasons I have pledged for it and backed it on Kickstarter).

Ok! what else? Well it has a lot of apps that you could use such as notes, news, health and fitness, games, Pandora and many others. Some are easy and quick to use and others take some getting used to. There are some that require "Companion Apps" on your phone to be able to use them. There are apps that let you control your phone camera from your watch too. So take your pick. And then there are multiple watch faces that you could choose from. Analog, digital, with weather etc etc.  Utility of all these? Well that depends on your personal priorities.

To answer another question I frequently encounter - "Why would you want to be continuously connected? " My answers is -" I don't. But when I do, then I would like to make sure I am. And when I don't, I shut off my Smartphone. Don't you?"

Overall, the Smartwatch phenomenon is still happening and there is a lot more to come. From better managing phone calls to taking photos to more intuitive interfaces, better looking designs, more companies in the fray and more app development is happening as you read this.

The Fitness band phenomenon too is still happening and there are now personal trainers that you can subscribe to when you buy the band (for an additional recurring fee of course), to help you monitor and manage your fitness better. There are now Fitness Bands from Indian Companies that would also help you track calorie intake etc better too.

In my opinion, if you are a fitness or sports enthusiast then a Fitness band will give you lots more in terms of logs and charts and reports. Else a Smartwatch would do fine for everyone else, as it would monitor fitness activities, plus mimic your phone for a lot of things. Similarly, if you tend to leave your phone in a bag or a room and still want to be able to monitor your calls and messages etc then a Smartwatch would be very useful. Else stick to your Smartphone for now till watches become even smarter.

Oh and before I forget, remember that all these items need to be charged. Regularly. So charge your phone, charge your power bank for the phone, charge your fitness band, charge your watch.......  To give you a perspective, when I bought my current Smartphone it needed to be charged every second day, now after a few months, it needs daily charging. Fitbit needed to be charged every 12 to 14 days earlier, and now after a year it needs to be charged every 10 to 12 days. The Pebble watch I use needs charging after about 7 days depending on usage.

And last but not the least, am I happy with both my devices? Yes. Are they useful? Yes. Will I discontinue using one? Yes.

Do comment me your views or fell free to ask questions if any.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

And now an App Store for Kids!!!

About an year back I was standing in one of those loooong never ending lines at the Passport office to get my passport renewed, brooding about how in spite of technology and online application etc one still had to stand in long queues to ultimately get things done. Brooding done, I got to doing what I did, in most such circumstances.... observing People. As always, most were glued to their cell phones...doing something or the other.

And then there was this small boy (must have been around 4 to 5 years old) who had come in with his mother and while she was waiting her turn in the line, he was busy running around the lines climbing on the bench, jumping down, making noises etc etc. Seeing the looks from people who seemed quite unhappy from being disturbed from their cell phone screens, the mother tried scolding him, making him stand with her while tightly clutching his hand but he clearly didn't quite like the idea. So he started making even louder noises. Then his mother took out her cell phone, put on a game and gave it to him. That did it. Worked like a charm. He took the phone, went to the bench and sat quietly on the corner playing the game for the next 30 minutes. And people got back to burying themselves in their cell phone screens.

That reminded me of how I had seen this happen at homes, in the super market, buses and all sorts of places. Want the kids quiet and out everyone's hair? Put on their favorite TV show or game or video on the nearest screen, be it the TV, Tablet or Cell phone and voila! Job done.

Yes, I know how a lot of us - specially those brought up in the era of no TV, or single channel TV, and land lines that mostly dialed wrong numbers, don't quite agree with the idea of children spending so much time in front of or with back-lit screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against any media exposure before the age of 2. And like any other research while some says the exposure is bad even later, others show how playing games etc increase hand eye coordination among kids etc etc.. There are studies new and old and articles on it and those interested can read some of them here...

But l am not here to pass any judgement on this as am not an expert, and, that's not the point of this blog.  Let's face it. Children today are exposed to more and more digital devices and also seem more quick to learn to use these and are in fact at times more adept to learning how to use them than most of us. Struggling how to use the new cell phone, or remote or computer or any other digital device? ask the nearest kid and they will sort it for you. 

Most parents I spoke to, limit the usage. They keep the exposure moderate ensuring kids get enough of other real life exposure too. 

So one can limit time for ensuring moderation, but what is actually more difficult, is to moderate content. It's not only 'How much' but also 'What' that's important and that needs to be monitored. What are the kids doing? what are they watching? What are they getting exposed to? Is it helping in any way? Is it harmful? What is appropriate for what age? The "What" question needs parental intervention and lots of time.

The kid at the passport office was playing a game on the cell phone but the game most likely was pre-selected by his mother. At some point the mother or the father would have searched for the right content, screened it, judged if it is appropriate for the kid and then saved or downloaded the same for their kid.  And I thought WoW!!!  Parents today have it a lot tougher than our parents. There are Millions of videos on You Tube and videos, games & apps on the app stores. Hats off today's parents who can search, view, judge appropriateness and download content and then monitor its usage too!!!! Means... come on!!! I find it difficult to search and find the right apps for myself given the sheer numbers out there. And to do that for a kid would mean being much more vigilant and in the know!!! These parents must be super Dudes!!! Or Super Dads and Moms. And I guess they are.

A few months later I was meeting my friend and CEO of one of India's leading Mobile Media companies. Knowing that he was the father of two small kids, I asked him if he was a super dad too. He said "Oh!! That's why we are developing India's first app store for kids." (You can read his blog on this here) And my immediate response was "App store for Kids??? Really???"  He explained that it was not really for kids but for parents to be able to find age appropriate, videos, games and apps for their kids, that would not only help entertain but also educate kids. Not only have they gathered all kinds of content from around the world but they also took on board some experts to help segregate the content based on age and learning areas. The store I believe is now launched and has scores of content just for kids up to the age of 6.

The Greek philosopher Plato was right, again  - Necessity is the mother of invention. So for all you super Moms & Dad's out there, Appystore.in is here to help you.

Would love to hear from parents on their experience with kids and technology and their views on the same. Do write in your comments and share.