Posts in Case Studies
Case Study: Social Media for Designers and how I’ve designed the curricula of my lectures

In a recent conversation, I was accused of being very critical for saying social media’s broken. While I might have never phrased it so bluntly, it would be a lie if I denied my somewhat differentiated view on the possibilities of social media.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a TEDx talk in which I publicly said I love social media. I love social media because it allows everyone to be and become the person they want to be. If someone wants to be a photographer, they don’t need a magazine to share their photographs with the world. If someone wants to be a TV moderator, they don’t necessarily need a TV channel to declare them good enough to be one. And if someone wants to be a writer, they don’t need a publishing house to select them as one of a few and proclaim them good enough to be writers. It’s, of course, nice to collaborate with such organizations and professionalize one’s efforts, yet one is free to start off with zero followers and often only need limited funds to get a venture off the ground. As someone who’s published three books that still sell via Amazon and also created several travel guides one can buy on Etsy, I’d say I have a general understanding of what’s possible when you use the internet as a tool. For my projects, I acquired the needed seed funding via Kickstarter and never needed to convince a professional gatekeeper before I began working on any of these projects.

Since last year, I’ve been teaching social media for designers at the New Design University in St. Pölten. In 2016, the university where I studied approached me about teaching one of their elective courses. There was no specific curricula, so I was free to decide what I thought was essential to convey within the 22.5 hours I have with the students.

In my lectures, I don’t talk much about the algorithms of the different platforms. I know these will be changing in a way I myself can’t comprehend and certainly not predict. I want the students to understand the bigger picture. I don’t really talk about Instagram and Facebook all that much. Just like MySpace, StudiVZ, uboot, MSN, ICQ, and who knows what other platforms, also the ones that have been around for a while, they will all eventually be replaced or how we use them will change.

My approach to social media might be different. Often, I find myself explaining the difference between community management and social media management, and thus I’d like to explain what I do with my students in my lectures on social media.

Class Project

I’ll either I ask my students to come up with a project proposal and either share their progress for 100 consecutive days (which is an exercise based on my observations of the Great Discontent’s collaboration with Elle Luna). Or, I ask them to create a collection of creative products and sell those through one of the platforms available (my approach to how I use social), which is an exercise that invites students to think about marketing and sales. I don’t judge the quality of my students’ output, and they’re also free to start a new account or even use a fake name if they don’t feel comfortable attaching their name to the quality of what they create when they first start. With my lectures and how the assignment is designed, I encourage creativity, curiosity, and the willingness to practice.

1st lecture

We live in times where people strive for perfection. We only show perfect work. We only show our perfect vacations. We only show the best sides. Such one-sided perspective has effects on how we feel about ourselves after using social media, which is what’s often discussed in the news.

Anyone who’s worked with teens and students, or even has honest conversations with adults, will realize what affect such an approach to social media has on the mental health of people. Thus, in the first lecture, I talk about how social media has changed what’s possible to achieve for creatives and how everyone can use it as a tool to find and be found by their community online. I talk about gatekeepers. I explain my journey and how I got to be where I am today, and most importantly, I talk about the creative process. I show this video:

A question I get asked a lot is: “How do I gain followers and likes?” My answer to that is: “Come up with something that’s close to your heart that you already do or would like to learn more about and improve.” I ask my students to make, and I ask my students to create. I believe that the people who connected with you because of something you’re passionate about will be the most valuable people for your projects and your passion. I don’t care if that’s five people or 50,000 – that’s why I teach how to frame creative projects and genuinely talk about them.

There’s no cheap and easy way to build up a reputation overnight. Success on social media is a multiplication of courage (to share what you’re curious about), creativity (the willingness to improve your skills), and continuity (it takes a while for people to recognize the value in your work).

If someone opts in to create a collection and sell it, the real ask is for them to think hard about how they create value and communicate it to their potential customers. The task is to adopt a service and human-centered mindset instead of just following their personal curiosity and practicing dedication to personal development.

To my surprise – and with much acknowledgment for their dedication – most of my students opt in for the #100day challenge.

2nd lecture

Do you remember Nir Eyal’s book Hooked? When I first read it in 2014, I was trying to figure out how we needed to adapt various product features of Somewhere.com to make people come back. To me, social media had a huge potential to revolutionize the way we converse. I saw it as a tool to encourage bottom-up movements. I believed the internet would be a place to find “the others,” which was also the guiding sentence of what we were doing at Somewhere. We wanted people to find their like-minds to collaborate.

To me, social media was social, and it’s also how I’ve used it since my early teens.

When I first moved to Austria in 2000, I used to go on ICQ and find people in the area. I chatted to them for some time and eventually met for a coffee. Social Media was an incredible way to find mentors and learn from inspiring people. Instagram, for example, has made it easy to create meaningful connections and I met many people on these platforms.

However, and due to the continuous professionalization of different platforms, social media has become less about connecting people. In my personal view, it’s become less “social.” Instead, brands now use social media to advertise their products. I’d even say, social has become much more about e-commerce.

Research indicates using social media has increased – not decreased – loneliness and depression. Facebook’s own former president, Sean Parker, said their platform was “exploiting the vulnerability in human psychology.” To me, and as a lecturer, I feel I’m responsible for helping my students understand how to use social in ways that won’t cause any of that, while also teaching them how to not have such an effect on others.

In a way, social media has always been about e-commerce. Thanks to social, creators can find customers. Once brands have become aware of the potential of these alternative platforms to their somewhat traditional sales channels, they too began using social to help boost their revenue. What happened is that the big fish started fishing in the ponds of the small fish, and while it’s still possible to generate revenue as a small fish, it must be acknowledged it’s become harder.

That’s why I use this lecture to raise awareness of how different social platforms generate revenue and help them understand how they can utilize these platforms to make a living. In this second lecture, we discuss the different business model of different platforms. We discuss what their role is on the different platforms; we talk about them as consumers and as creators, and we also talk about how to use the different platforms to build their own livelihood by becoming creators.

I believe that if someone understands the business model of a platform and a company, that they can also understand what role such company wants for them to play. I believe that gaining awareness of a company’s motivation enables everyone to make conscious decisions and choices, and to think about what role they want to play in the bigger construct of social channels.

In this lecture, I also show the first part of Adam Curtis’ Century of the Self to teach my students more about propaganda. I also discuss with them the main concepts described in Martin Lindstrom’s book Brandwashed.

3rd lecture

It’s hard for me to even imagine how it was when access to knowledge was limited to what someone pre-selected to make available at “my” local library. We have a vast amount of information, inspiration, and the possibility to get direct advice at our fingertips at any moment. Most of us carry the necessary devices in our pockets. When you think about it, it’s kind of amazing what’s possible.

In the third lecture, my students and I talk about collaboration and networking. In a way, it’s something I focus on in all of my lectures, given I ask my students to only give feedback using “yes, and..” instead of using “but.” I want for my students to proactively think about how they could contribute to someone else’s success, and help others get ahead with their projects. I don’t tolerate negativity. I want for my students to listen to others and build on top of one another’s ideas.

In each and every lesson, we discuss what’s happened since we last saw each other and what reactions everyone’s been getting about their projects. I team up my students in small groups and have them give feedback for each other’s projects and genuinely offer support.

In this third lecture, we also talk about how they can turn their projects into products and make those available for sale. We talk about how to present oneself online to potential employers or how to build up ground to generate a portfolio of possible income streams.

At this point, I’d like to highlight that I don’t think students should go freelance or become entrepreneurs straight out of uni. I think it’s essential to join companies and learn from more senior people. However, I want for my students to gain a general understanding of what it means to generate revenue with their creativity and how they could do that.

4rd lecture

In the final lecture, everyone gets to present and reflect on their creative project, share their learnings, insights, and also talk about their future plans. Again, everyone is encouraged to become more aware of how they communicate with one another and give supportive feedback. I don’t want my students to become self-proclaimed experts and entrepreneurs. I want them to become more self-aware creatives who understand their roles and their potential within the creative community.

Often, one question might be how do I reach my followers if a platform becomes less interesting to the people who follow me there? I’d say the question is only partly relevant, given that if people find value in what you create, they’ll also find a way to continue following you. If there’s value in what you share and you’ve created a sustainable platform for yourself, it’s likely that following will transfer. You might find this article Status as Service by Eugene Wei interesting.

Communication exercises

One of the most significant things I do in all my classes is I make my students talk to one another a lot. With around 36 students, it’s not an easy task to plan enough time for everyone to be heard, so I experiment with how I structure my classes. For example, at the start of each session, I ask my students to get up and sit next to someone they’ve never talked to in the past. It’s pretty awkward during the first session because it tempts to alienate everyone. My aim, however, is to break apart existing social circles and equalize everyone. I randomly team up people for feedback sessions and teach them how to give such. I generally make them more aware of how they communicate with one another. And I also work with conversation menus to inspire them to have a different kind of conversations. The way I approach teaching has been greatly influenced by what I’ve learned from following Sherry Turkle’s research on how technology has impacted how we communicate with one another as a society.

In the ideal case, my students become more aware of the opportunities the social web is providing them with. I want them to understand how to use social media as a tool.

If they’ve managed to follow through with their project, they’ve also gained a reference for their portfolio or even have worked on something they can monetize in the future.

Most of all, I hope my classes inspire my students to understand how to use social without it overtaking their lives.

I hope my classes help them become better communicators, and ask better questions. I hope they understand how to use social media to learn from self-chosen mentors while also understanding how to make others aware of what they are really passionate about.

What I teach is probably not what anyone who’s signed up for my classes expected them to be, yet I find these insights and gaining such understanding to be much more powerful than understanding how Instagram is changing their algorithm to manipulate us into doing something that helps Instagram generate profit from our data.

LifeStartFest: A case study about organizing a careers event for students
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What would you say are the ingredients of an exceptional event? What has to happen for you to go home and feel like attending an event was worth your time?

To me, it’s always been about the connections I’ve made and the people I’ve met. The conference or networking event could’ve been just average, yet my experience could be elevated if I met someone worth meeting again. In my opinion, it’s something that can’t be fixed with great catering or good speakers. I firmly believe that how we feel at an event is what creates a lasting impression.

Now, let me turn the question around and ask from an events organizer’s perspective: how do you make sure that creating moments of connection isn’t serendipitous and only experienced by a lucky few? How do you help your audience make meaningful connections?

On my latest assignment, I thought about this a lot. I thought about how to make it my mission to help as many people in the audience meet someone and have a conversation that goes beyond small talk. I thought about how I can make sure attendees of the event, which I got to program, feel encouraged to talk with someone they just met again, all while making sure as many attendees as possible have a fun time they’ll remember fondly.

When I was first asked to organize a careers festival on behalf of the organization I work with, Student LifeStart, in Bangor, Wales, I was wondering if that was something I could pull off easily. My first question was: how will I ever get speakers when the budget doesn’t allow to fly some key people in? I knew I’d have to have some speakers, but I also knew I’d have to think of alternative ways to fill an afternoon in a way for students to feel inspired and encouraged to think about their careers differently.

Technically, one could say the event was “branded content.” Sponsored by Virgin Money and Virgin StartUp, the business objective was to create a space to build a positive relationship with the Virgin brand. Given Virgin brands are exceptional to work with, we had a lot of freedom and were able to approach a career event more like what I’d like a career event to be. Those who know my story, and how I went from studying interior architecture to working in digital strategy and writing three books on going freelance on the side, will realize that I’m hardly someone who would tell students to decide early on what to study and how that determines the rest of their lives. If anything, I always tell people to follow their curiosities, be open about their passions, and connect with others who care deeply about the same things. (Probably what Richard Branson would also tell people he meets. :) ) In my belief, there are many ways to making a career, and the more diverse things one knows and is interested in, the more exciting their career can become. Knowing this event was about creating a branded content experience, the feeling the students would leave with was key to how we thought about this experience.

When thinking about careers and the vicious circle students face of having to have work experience in order for them to get work experience, I knew I had to invite speakers who demonstrate different aspects of how to get into the doors of a company and land a job. Simultaneously, and as someone who’s now worked for several years, often it’s the people we meet and who we studied with and have developed a meaningful relationship with that will help us get ahead in life. The students might not yet realize that who will really help them get ahead are the people who sit with them in class or at an event, such as the LifeStartFest. Thus, my personal objective was to help as many attendees as possible make new connections. In the ideal scenario, I wanted all attendees to find a new friend and someone they can collaborate with on future projects, or at best, submit to a LifeStart Challenge as a team.

We had five hours to fill, and I decided to spend more than three of them helping students connect with others in the audience. When you think about it, there’s a lot of content online and at everyone’s fingertips. In my opinion, events nowadays play a different role. The role of an event organizer is no longer so much about curation as it is about facilitating connections.

To give you some background on the framework for this student career event, which we organized under the umbrella of the Student LifeStart Project;

LifeStart is a website and a growing community for students to take real business challenges, evolve their professional skills, and receive mentorship directly from associates who work in top UK companies. The platform’s concept is grouped around multiple pillars, and there are business challenges for students to solve, which can unlock great prizes. It’s insightful content to help understand the world of work, and most of all, it’s the community LifeStart has been created for (and with).

The LifeStartFest seemed like an opportunity to take all that makes LifeStart and bring it into the room. This is what we did and how the event was different from others...

The event started at 2pm. We were ready at the door to sign everyone in. My first goal was to break those apart who arrived as a group. I wanted to create a more inclusive environment and equalize everyone by making sure that they all start out alone in order for those who arrived by themselves not to feel left out. For that, we used 12-piece jigsaws that were all designed in different colors. That was crucial, as we wanted for the students to find their new group quickly. Each of the jigsaws featured a question for the students to answer. Questions such as, “If you could go on a holiday to any decade, where’d you go?” or “If you got paid in happiness, what job would make you rich?”. (Slightly provocative I know) With every new person arriving into the group, they’d have one more piece of the puzzle and would be closer to completing it. The challenge of this exercise to actually work out is that you need people to arrive simultaneously and also not give away too many different puzzles at once while making sure friends don’t have pieces to the same jigsaw. My tip after this event is to start with three to four puzzles and then introduce new colors, and not give away pieces from all puzzles one has prepared for the event. You want for people who arrive to have a welcoming experience and also make sure they can start the conversation you’ve designed quickly.

Once we had everyone in the room, the moderator, Cleo Anderson, set the tone of the event. We didn’t start with the program immediately. Instead, we focused on helping people feel comfortable by once again focusing on the audience instead of the speakers.

When we were planning the event, we were looking for an ice breaker that would work in such a large group. We felt like introducing yourself to the person next to you is something many event organizers ask for, yet you also end up saying the same thing over and over again. I can only speak for myself, but at 32, I’m quite bored by my own answers whenever I’m asked to do this. We decided to introduce the toilet paper game, which works as follows:

Right after Cleo welcomed everyone and explained the objectives for the day, she said we now needed to have a serious conversation. Another helper and I walked along the sides of the rows and handed out one toilet paper roll to the people sitting at the end of each side and per row. While handing out the toilet paper rolls, Cleo said everyone should take how much they usually take when they go to the bathroom. This is, of course, super awkward and everyone breaks out in laughter. The exercise is quite innocent because once everyone has their piece of toilet paper, the audience is asked to say something random about themselves for each tile they took off. Having set the tone of this exercise and making everyone laugh was key, and with this exercise, we knew we had them.

I happened to also be the photographer at this event (talk about wearing multiple hats) and can say there was a significant difference in everyone’s facial expression. I’ve hardly ever taken as many pictures of genuinely happy people as I have during this event. (You can look at them here.)

After the toilet paper game, Cleo asked the audience for the most interesting answers, which helped carry the tone that was set, and we expected for the audience to actively participate in the event. We wanted everyone to know they’ll be heard.

Then, the obvious part of the program began and Cleo introduced the first speaker. We had prepared four talks.

One on the dos and don'ts when applying for jobs online.

One about not having a set path, yet still making a great career.

One given by the former LifeStart winner, who happened to get a job after his work experience week, which was one of the rewards of the LifeStart competition.

And one on using social media and turning side projects into a portfolio to get the job one wants. (I gave that one as you can guess.)

I must admit, I only finalized the program and informed everyone the night before. I was so aware of the flow of the talks and how I wanted people to feel guided through the program that I didn’t leave much up to serendipity. Before the event, and given our speakers were doing this for the first time, we spoke with everyone at least once and helped them shape their story. In my head, the flow of the event went something like this:

Inform (Dos and don’ts...), make them feel safe and understood (No set path...), give them a challenge to solve as a group (to make them feel connected and invested), give them a break (and ice cream), announce the winners after the break (to ensure the students came back), have the last winner and Bangor alumni explain his journey from participating in three LifeStart Challenges and what he’s done to win (to take away the students’ fear), then announce the new round of LifeStart Challenges (the 10 minutes dedicated to the actual branded content), close off with an actionable talk on how to use social media and get the job one would love (which fulfilled the promise of the event), then finish off with pizzas to give everyone a chance to wind down and exchange contact details.

We planned about 20 minutes for all talks. Cleo introduced every speaker before their talk and explained what they did for a living, how we met them, and why we thought they had an interesting story to share with the audience. We made sure to contextualize before we handed over to the speakers. After each session, we opened up to Q&A. Cleo was instructed to have questions prepared for each speaker should no one from the audience ask anything. It was important to us to make sure all speakers feel valued and like people were listening to their stories. Thus, and in case no one would ask anything immediately, we didn’t just want to send the speaker off the stage without giving them a final opportunity to shine.

Given the platform’s main purpose has always been about challenges and proactive thinking, I wanted to recreate that experience in the room and have attendees work in groups by having them solve a mini challenge. This was also a great opportunity to give away prizes and demonstrate that solving a challenge isn’t too hard and that collaboration is key.

We had 50 minutes scheduled for this challenge: students had 20 minutes to brainstorm how they’d improve co-living communication between students who just moved in together, which we believed was a question everyone in the room had to deal with. While students were brainstorming in groups of four or five, we assigned them to a judge by giving them a balloon, asking them to go to the judge who had the same color balloon and present their ideas to them. We made sure each judge had four to five groups to give feedback to. For this exercise, we used the space outside the lecture hall and also in front of the building. We were lucky it was sunny and warm(ish). We asked every judge to select one winner from their groups, which meant we’d give four winning groups Virgin Experience Days Vouchers.

Given each judge finished with their groups at different times, we instructed the judges to let everyone off into their break, but tell the students when they needed to be back in the hall for the winner announcements. Breaks are usually when many students leave, so we wanted to make sure they were invested in the event and had a reason to come back.

The event went on until 7pm. After the last speech, Cleo came back on stage and contextualized and summarized the entire experience. She highlighted what she’s learned to help the audience reflect on what they’ve learned. It was important to us to appreciate the experience and appreciate everyone who joined us for the day. We then invited the attendees to join us for pizza, which gave the students an opportunity to approach the speakers individually and ask them the questions they weren’t able to ask during the Q&A. We also used this time to say thank you to our speakers. Of course, everyone also got a Virgin Experience Day Voucher :)

All in all, creating this event was a rewarding experience and something I’d like to do more often in the future. I’m grateful Virgin Money and Hanzo trusted me fully and allowed me to focus so much on connecting the audience, which also meant they waved off the toilet paper game, which I know raised many eyebrows when we first presented what we were planning to do. For that, I’m thankful.

Should you be organizing an event and want to work with a community strategist, please email hello@mkanokova.com.


The best way to conduct a Kickstarter campaign.

A case study

For Kickstarter, 2015 has been the year of international launches. Given I just finalised my own Kickstarter campaign and was on the lookout for new clients, the timing seemed perfect and I was fortunate to take Kickstarter on as a client to help them spread the word about the launch in Germany. (On another note, always do the projects you’re excited about because they’ll eventually lead to new opportunities.)

While my favourite part of the assignment was to help creative teams, such as TIO care, BuddyGuard, The Future Chronicles and Mellow Boards, create great campaigns and run them successfully, I’ve also given several talks on how to best do a Kickstarter campaign.

To me, the greatest strength of Kickstarter is the creative diversity that you’ll discover every time you visit the platform. People have mind-blowing ideas and many share incredible videos to communicate what their project is about. I really think Kickstarter videos are much more fun to watch than anything else you’ll find on the internet. Just check out Butterup, the Coolest Cooler or Makey Makey.

Based on my experience from running a project to fund This Year Will Be Different: The insightful guide to becoming a freelancer, when crafting the content of your campaign, generosity is the way to go. Explain what you want to create for the people who will support you and how they will benefit from your work. I would even say that you should first think about the rewards, even before you start writing the copy or making a video. When deciding on what you want to give away as rewards, always think about whether you would be willing to pay that amount for that reward yourself. Then, think if you would get genuinely excited about receiving such reward. On other terms, do you really need another T-shirt in your closet? Exactly!

Kickstarter is a place where you can open up about your creative process to people who are interested in participating. If you’re making a movie, why not collect photos from your backers and photoshop them into the newspapers you show on the screen, or if that’s too much effort, why not mention your backers' names in the credits? If you’re making garments, then why not embroider the backers' names on the inside of the clothes?

There are endless possibilities to make people become part of your work and that is why people come to support projects on Kickstarter in the first place.

Before I forget this, when calculating the costs of your rewards, please don’t forget to wrap the objects, go to the post office and make sure you know how much the shipping costs will be to different countries. This is probably the most important advice!

Of course, the video is pretty much the key to the success of a project. If the project is good enough, a simple video, such as the one I recorded to promote This Year Will Be Different, can also make the cut. Nevertheless, if you have the time and the resources, don’t be afraid to play. People love videos that are fun and unexpected. Independently of how big your team is, make sure that your video explains the features of your project; that it showcases how the user will benefit from using your product and in what situation your product will be relevant to them or why it matters that they get involved. The Coolest Cooler is a great example to learn from. What I really like about the Coolest Cooler video is that Ryan managed to explain why he was the right person to realise such a project, something that’s crucial given you’re asking people to support you financially.

When writing copy, use images to break up the long text. Visuals always win! If you already have photos of your rewards, don’t hesitate to show them too.

Once you’ve launched your project, it’s important to start spreading the word. In the beginning, you’ll need the support of your friends and relatives. If none of the people who know you personally trust your abilities to finalise and deliver the outcome of your project, strangers won’t trust you either. On Kickstarter, about 17% of all unsuccessful projects haven’t received a single pledge, which clearly shows that spreading the word among people who know you is crucial.

The majority of projects on Kickstarter raise between 1K and 10K, but if you’re planning to start a bigger project, you’ll need to take more time to prepare for your launch on Kickstarter. First, when launching a project, think about who might be interested in the outcome of your endeavour. These are the people to reach out to immediately after your Kickstarter project page becomes public. Sometimes, you might need the support of the press to reach more people. There are several ways to go about this. First, I’d always recommend to think about who you know who might know someone and who they can introduce you to. If your project is for your community, then don’t hesitate and reach out to your local newspapers. Let them know about your project. This is usually easier in smaller cities. If you don’t know any journalists or weren’t any successful with the local media houses, it’s time to do a little research. A simple hack is to go on the Google News search and find relevant keywords. When you find articles that are related to your project’s theme, reach out to the journalists who wrote them and let them know about your project. If they’re interested in your field, they might be kind enough to feature your campaign.

Once your page is up and running, you’ll have about 30 or 40 days to reach your goal. Trust me, you don’t want to shout across all your social media channels that you’re doing a Kickstarter campaign. Instead, this is a wonderful opportunity to tell people more about your work. Take the time and write regular project updates to invite people to check out your Kickstarter page. Don’t do the sales talk. Instead, talk about your progress and how your project’s evolving. Give people something to talk about; show them photos of your work space, or the material that you won’t show in the final piece. In the end, backers on Kickstarter want to be part of the creative process, so the best thing you can do is to share your work with them. It will be easier to regularly post on your other social media channels about your campaign without constantly asking people for their support. You’ll see that posting project updates will be valuable even after you’ve successfully funded your project. As I like to say, if you’ve done one campaign well, it will be easier to make the second campaign even better.

If you’re planning to setup a Kickstarter campaign and are based in Germany, Austria or the Netherlands, please get in touch with me so I can help you get up and running.

Why reading comments and reviews of your competitors' products makes complete sense.
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A Case Study

How do you start building a product? How do you decide what’s relevant and what’s not necessary? Every time you develop a service or a product, you should always think about the user experience first. Mostly, when doing research, companies look at what’s been written about their potential competitors on various media outlets. Nevertheless, the really interesting source of information is somewhere utterly different.

Sure, qualitative interviews are great, but if you don’t have the resources to invite a number of people to discuss your competitors’ products or the features of the product you’ve developed, you should look for the relevant information online. I believe that where you can really learn more about your users is when you look through the reviews on the App Store or the comments on your competitors’ Facebook pages. Tweets, mentions and what people say on Instagram when you look for hashtags is helpful too!

While media research seems okay at first, you can’t really say if the content was sponsored. It’s much harder to recognise what people value a product for. When you read the sentences and look in detail how people talk about certain features of a product, you’ll learn far more about the relevance of certain features. You’ll also recognise quickly what it is people get annoyed by.

Sure, it takes time to go through hundreds and hundreds of reviews and analyse patterns, but it’s the user research that will provide you with more insight than a journalistic piece could ever provide.

For Badger and Winters, I’ve delivered reports to highlight a user-centric perspective on digital products to help prepare for client pitches. If you need an analysis of what your target group is interested in or who the target group is in the first place, please don’t hesitate and get in touch.

How to setup a website for your business.

A case study

Launching a business is a big deal; deciding on the name of your company, what logo to use, and how to communicate your services or show your products. Often, once the website is up, one hardly ever takes a look at it again. But then, just like spring cleaning should be done once in a while, so should the digital cleaning spree happen every now and then. In other words, you should know what people think of your business based on what you show to them on your website. You should regularly look through what you say your services are, your latest references, reflect, and you should regularly check whether your company’s profile mirrors what benefits you deliver to your clients.

Just like people, businesses evolve too, and thus it’s important to keep track of how people perceive your business every time they google you. Your website is your chance to make sure people find the right information about your services, know what to book you for and know how to best contact you.

A couple of months ago, I was lucky to be invited to shape taliaYstudio’s digital appearance. The studio produces amazing work, yet nevertheless, in the past, they had faced a glass wall when communicating to potential clients. While talking to the founder Talia Radford and looking over their online appearance, several things occurred to me. First, their website was a portfolio of work the studio had previously created. It was setup just like a student portfolio where one demonstrates the work without communicating the benefits the project delivered to the clients. When planning the content of your website, you should first consider who your target group is and what you want them to do after they’ve discovered your site on the internet. In the case of taliaYstudio, the aim was to clarify to potential clients what they could hire the studio for and why they’re the best choice.

We scheduled a series of meetings to work on taliaYstudio's communications strategy; first, we asked ourselves what clients the studio is interested in working with because it’s much easier to find the right clients when you know who they are and how they could benefit from your work. It’s important to know how to respond when people ask you what your services are.

During our strategy sessions, it quickly became clear to us that Talia and her team are enthusiastic about technological innovation and they like to help innovative clients communicate the benefits of their developments through design. A perfect example is the project Thermobooth, which taliaYstudio developed for OSRAM to showcase the potentials of OLEDs in the consumer sector.

Following our analysis, the next step for us was to change the way taliaYstudio’s products and services are being communicated on their website. You’ll notice it’s all about the benefits for the client, and it’s clear what you could book the studio for and if your company can find use in taliaYstudio's services.

Looking through the portfolio of taliaYstudio’s past projects also gave us the chance to look at different ways to use social media to communicate about past and future projects. For example, we identified a way to better utilise Instagram to spread the word about the studio’s Jelly Series, for which we have developed a shareable online and offline communications strategy. Generally speaking, when working on a strategy for social media, you need to think about how you could give people incentives to take a picture of, or at least talk about, your product. For physical objects, the best way to market them is by cleverly utilising the packaging. To give you a practical example, the Jelly Series necklaces now come with a photo mission and the studio regularly organises little gatherings to learn more about the people they address with their work.

The grand finale of our collaboration with taliaYstudio was the Salone di Mobile 2015 in Milano where the studio could practice their new communications strategy on potential clients. The excited call about the results that I’ve received afterwards testifies the positive results achieved by a little time we took to reflect on the business Talia wishes to run. I am glad I could facilitate the reflection process and help build a new digital strategy for the studio. If you need help with your digital appearance, please don’t hesitate and get in touch.

How do you market the invisible?
ravenandfinch

A case study

The hardest services to market are the ones consumers don't actively perceive. Sound, scents or any kind of user and customer experience that people only notice in a negative context are much harder to spread the word about compared to the obvious products and services one can touch and see. At the same time, utilising sounds, scents and well-executed user experiences in your brand’s marketing mix leave a lasting impression when done well. I believe that today, it’s much harder to stand out and make your brand be remembered because of visual incentives. You might agree with me that the market is oversaturated and customers are much more likely to remember how they felt while experiencing your product instead of seeing an ad in a magazine or on the street.

Nevertheless, the people in charge of marketing budgets often spend their marketing allocates on the obvious. It’s very likely that they’ll invest in classic visual advertising because they aren't aware of how alternative mediums can benefit their brand.

The team behind Raven and Finch, a Vienna-based sound branding agency, doesn't just know the advantages of branded sound identities, they are also familiar with the challenges that come with communicating what marketing managers could book the agency for. Let me give you an example to make the case more specific: one of the best examples of the power of sound is the use of music in James Bond movies. I guess now that I’ve mentioned the famous spy, you immediately have the famous melody in your mind. You’ve probably never realised that what has shaped the power of the Bond brand is the strategic use of melodies and sound sequences.

Strong brands have already learned their lesson and use sound to market their products. Then again, have you ever thought about how your brand sounds and what impression people have when dealing with your company? Given the statistics of SMBs paying attention to the sound of their brands, I guess not. On the other hand, looking at what companies, such as Coca Cola, have achieved through their audiophile approach, it might be about time to have a closer look at the sound experience of your brand. But let’s get back to the question of how to market the invisible; in this case, the services of Raven and Finch.

Together with Raven and Finch, we’ve discussed what benefits the agency delivers to their clients, which then enabled us to develop an umbrella communications strategy to market their services to marketing managers who are not yet aware of what one can achieve with sound. It became clear to us that the way to go was by addressing the sort of clients the sound branding agency wished to work with. Given how progressive the use of sound in the marketing mix is, the communication strategy to showcase the benefits of working with Raven and Finch had to start at an educational level. In our meeting, we conceptualised an online magazine that will showcase different user cases of successfully executed sound identities. To launch the Pursuit of Sonic Value, we chose a more traditional approach and decided to mail the first issue of POSW to existing clients, press and people Raven and Finch admire for their work in paper form. The future issues of POSW for you to learn more about the benefits of sound branding will be available online and you can receive them to your mailbox. Just signup here.

If you’re wondering about how to best market your business, just give me a heads up. Let’s start the conversation.

How to behave professionally on the internet.
ProfessionalBranding

A case study

How does one use social media to brand oneself professionally? This doesn’t seem to be a question only companies ask to become more attractive to Millennials. Also, Millennials and generation Z wonder how to best utilise LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to stand out and become more attractive as potential employees.

After I published This Year Will Be Different to shed some light on the challenges of freelancing, I got an email from Anika Mester, a representative of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. It was a request to give a lecture on the professional use of social media to their student fellows. Given social media has always been a way for me to attract people’s attention and also demonstrate my references, I figured I had a lot to share, so I took the chance. Frankly, I was curious to know how it feels to stand on the other side of the classroom, and I wanted to know what someone who just turned twenty thinks about the online bubble I’ve been living in for so long.

Before the workshop, I sent a questionnaire to the attendees to make sure I met the expectations and would deliver a lecture they’ll remember. I wanted to give some food for thought, so I asked what career or industry they were aiming at joining after their studies, what social platforms they used, how they felt about sharing content and what sort of content they shared. It was of little surprise that the attendees were mostly aiming at a career in the traditional industries such as business consulting, medicine or journalism. Having talked many times about my personal belief that we choose our careers based on what we know from our surroundings, what we feel familiar with and what we think we are able to access, the workshop suddenly became much more than just a superficial analysis of the diverse social media platforms and their advantages. Instead, it became a workshop that taught how to broaden professional horizons and access the people, industries and jobs the fellows wished for.

In the last eight years, I’ve come to understand the social web as a place where hierarchies have become outdated and where everyone can talk to whomever they want as long as they have something interesting to say. To me, the internet is not elitist and it’s the medium that has enabled social mobility like no other because everyone can reach what they want as long as they have the information they need. While the information is there of course, we need to teach our youth how to find it.

I, as a person, embrace the internet because it has enabled me to get to where I am now in life. Nevertheless, there are many people who fear the rapid change the internet has caused because of information exchange and the willingness to share insights with others. What I didn’t realise is that people that are younger than I am could potentially be afraid of the social web, but standing in a classroom for a day showed me that there are many insecurities in need of discussion. One of the students even said: “I am glad you came today because you’re the first person I’ve met who embraces the flexible job market and the insecure future.”

Now, it’s very unlikely the world will spin slower. It’s also very unlikely that work in ten years will be what it was 10 years ago or even what it is today. To me, it sounds like great news when I think of the number of people who hate their jobs. In my opinion, the social web as a tool for shared learning finally gives us the access to opportunities to evolve as people.

So, how do you use the internet to brand yourself professionally? In a nutshell, I’d say, “do stuff, tell people.” Document whatever you’re excited about and don’t hide it in the attic, but rather on an online blog or on Tumblr. The mediums will change and so will your interests, but when looking for work, all that matters is the now anyway. One can only go step by step, so documenting how you evolve in whatever interests you will benefit you in the long run. If I was hiring an online editor to fill the lifestyle pages of a magazine and one applicant has an amazing Instagram stream of places they could feature in the said magazine and a second candidate doesn’t have such proven track work, guess who I would invite to join my team? As Dan Harmon said, “Find your voice, shout it from the rooftops and keep doing it until the people that are looking for you find you.” You might think that your career choice is not suitable to be displayed online, but in the majority of cases, I would disagree. Instead, it’s not a question if you should be sharing your interests, but in what way because even a Twitter stream with tweets about a certain topic is a great way to make others know what you’re interested in. The internet is big enough for everyone to find their spot and to find the people who are willing to listen to them. The internet is also big enough so people who are not interested in your work have the choice to ignore you. The internet, let me tell you, is filled with your people and you can only catch their attention with the content they find appealing. If you’re worried that someone might not hire you because of your interests, then it might not be the right person for you to work with anyway.

So, what are some of the more practical things I’ve said during the lecture?

  • Don’t say things you don’t want your mother to hear you say; don’t be rude, offensive or mean.
  • If you think something’s great, tell the person. Tweet at them, send them an email.
  • Whenever you meet someone and like them, ask them for their contact details and follow up.
  • If you’re insecure about something, ask your friends for feedback. You’ll open the door for them to do so too and ask you for your opinion about their work.

I’m not saying social media branding will bring you the perfect job tomorrow. All I’m saying is that when you do things you want to get paid for eventually and you do so publicly, it will be easier for you to get there one day. Because it’s the people who open their mouths that get the jobs you dream of. Once you start applying for jobs, you can point to your blog, Twitter or Instagram stream and prove your excitement. If you now think you’re too busy to invest your time in the future you want, then think of all the other people who will invest the time and once you point at the ones who are doing the jobs you wanted to have yourself, remember that they’ve worked for it for free before someone offered to pay them to do so.


The day I spent in the classroom at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung went, of course, much deeper and was also much more practical. All I wanted to capture here was the initial thought behind professional branding. If you’d like to book a workshop or a lecture, please don’t hesitate and get in touch.

What’s important when building digital plugins for partner websites?
sched

It’s not unusual to handle the most diverse tasks when working with startups. When Taylor asked me to support him with the concept for a SCHED plugin for Eventbrite.com, I was very excited about having another opportunity to work directly on a digital product, and so, we kicked off January together.

For everyone who doesn’t know what SCHED is, it's the perfect software for every event organiser who wants to give their attendees a personalised schedule on their mobile device. When SCHED was founded, their MVP was to give every event organiser a mobile app. Now, years later, the service SCHED replaces the need for a separate web presence. Their product is sophisticated, customizable, and simple to use. In short, SCHED offers everything you need when organising a conference, educational gathering, or any other event. 

When Eventbrite approached the team at SCHED to provide a plugin, it was an incredible opportunity for SCHED to grow their user base by doing what they do best; building a great service for people in the event business. SCHED was asked to provide two features – the iconic feature for organisers to upload thumbnails of speakers to make their event pages look better and a customisable toolbox to visualise session calendars. While both of these features eventually make the event pages look better, they serve a different purpose. When Taylor and I discussed SCHED’s product features, we figured that it didn’t make much sense to provide both of them under one and the same name in the menu, originally planned as the “SCHED plugin.”

When building digital products, names play a significant role. They must be intuitive and immediately give the user a clue what to expect. I didn’t see much sense in trying to combine both of SCHED’s services. Can you think of a digital service that succeeded because it could do it all and could do it all from the beginning? 

When you start building a digital product, it’s important for it to have one feature that works really well. You need to be able to summarise the use of your product in one sentence. On Wunderlist, you can create to-do lists. With Mailchimp, you can send beautiful emails to a large group of people. On Kickstarter, you can realise creative products. Do you see my point? These companies don’t try to pitch to you all the small services they provide: when you see their name, you know what these products are useful for.

Ok, let’s go from a macro-perspective and look at the micro-perspective of digital products, such as a website’s directory. When you click on ‘about,' you expect to get a description of what a company does. When you click on ‘references,’ you want to know who the team has worked with in the past. You have expectations and probably no patience to ‘search’ for content you cannot find immediately. 

For the reasons described above, when Taylor and I conceptualised SCHED’s plugin for Eventbrite, we decided to make two single purpose plugins. We knew that the Eventbrite team might not want to give us two menu referrals immediately, but we had a clear explanation why it made more sense to only focus on one feature at a time. 

Knowing we would build two separate concepts, it gave us the opportunity to focus on one thing at a time – “SpeakerList by SCHED” and “Visual Schedule by SCHED”. Two names that immediately tell you what to expect even before you click and read the copy. And let’s be honest here, how many of us really read the descriptions on websites? 

With the possibility of having a permanent link to one’s service on such a great website such as Eventbrite, we knew we wanted to be one of the teams Eventbrite always mentions when explaining why they collaborate with third-party services. There were several other companies Eventbrite could mention in their announcement, so what did we do to have Eventbrite choose SCHED as one of their top plugin partners? 

It’s a very simple idea…we did everything to make them look better: our entire approach to building a feature was to make it as seamless and as native as possible. It was important to us to give Eventbrite everything that would make their users feel even better about using Eventbrite. Every decision we made was completely user-centered while respecting this user to be Eventbrite’s user and not SCHED’s user (yet). If you follow Eventbrite’s blog or their newsletters, you might have already noticed that our approach has worked. 

When you build a plugin for a third party service, you of course want to increase your user base, too. Everyone who installs SCHED’s plugin on Eventbrite and agrees to share their details with SCHED automatically creates a free account on SCHED. In the first instance, our aim was to have as many people as possible install SCHED’s plugin. Our next aim was to have a number of these new users upgrade to the paid version of SCHED. We decided to follow up with everyone via email and showcase how upgrading to SCHED’s full version would benefit them and their attendees. We knew all our efforts paid off when Eventbrite suggested another collaboration that will eventually benefit both sides. Of course, also financially.

I am still plugged into SCHED’s back-end and receive daily reminders of the increasing number of signups. Another project we have worked on together with Taylor was a communication cycle to keep these users looped in, which I’ll blog about another time. Now, to summarise what I’d recommend to consider when building third-party plugins, here are three bullet points:

x) When choosing names, make it obvious for the user what to expect. Your company’s name won’t make the cut.

x) Make your plugin look as native as possible to the website where it’s featured.

x) Whoever the partner website is, make them look better to impress their users. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

I hope my take on building digital products for third-party websites has inspired you in one way or another. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out: monikanicolettaATgmail.com